Come, Let Us Return to the Lord

I experienced an interesting and heart-warming intersection in my devotions this morning.

I always start out with the day’s reading from Daily Light on the Daily Path, and today’s passages were all about coming back to God in repentance and being lovingly welcomed and forgiven by Him.

Then in my Bible reading, I was in Genesis 44-45 today, a picture of that very thing in the life of Joseph forgiving his brothers who had sold him into slavery 22 years before.

Blessed truth, that He’s waiting and wooing us back to Himself! It reminded me of several songs that perfectly express it, the foremost that came to my mind being this one:

 

Book Review: The Loveliness of Christ

loveliness-of-christPuritan Samuel Rutherford’s writings were the inspiration for one of my favorite hymns (“The Sands of Time Are Sinking“) and he’s the author of one of my favorite quotes, but I had never read anything else from him. So when The Loveliness of Christ came through on a 99 cent Kindle sale last week, I decided to give it a try.

I was disappointed that the selections weren’t essays or letters (except for a few letters at the very end): rather, the book is mainly a selection of quotes gleaned from Rutherford’s letters. The writing is a little hard to understand in places, but there are some gold nuggets here.

After a brief biography of Rutherford, the quotes are listed. I am not sure if they are in random of chronological order: except for the full-length letters at the end, we don’t know to whom or when they were written.

Here are some that most spoke to me:

You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.

Christ’s cross is such a burden as sails are to a ship or wings are to a bird.

Let our Lord’s sweet hand square us and hammer us, and strike off the knots of pride, self-love and world-worship and infidelity, that He may make us stones and pillars in his Father’s house.

The devil is but God’s master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.

They are not lost to you that are laid up in Christ’s treasury in heaven. At the resurrection ye shall meet with them: there they are, sent before but not sent away. Your Lord loveth you, who is homely to take and give, borrow and lend.

O, what I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus!

Why should I start at the plow of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle husbandman, He purposeth a crop.

How sweet a thing were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden, and making our Lord’s will a law.

Our fair morning is at hand, the day-star is near the rising, and we are not many miles from home. What does it matter if we are mistreated in the smoky inns of this miserable life? We are not to stay here, and we will be dearly welcomed by Him to whom we go.

When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time – suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.

Let not the Lord’s dealings seems harsh, rough, or unfatherly, because it is unpleasant. When the Lord’s blessed will bloweth cross your desires, it is best in humility to strike sail to him and to be willing to be laid any way our Lord pleaseth: it is a point of denial of yourself, to be as if ye had not a will, but had made a free disposition of it to God, and had sold it over to him; and to make of his will for your own is both true holiness, and your ease and peace.

Welcome, welcome, Jesus, what way soever Thou come, if we can get a sight of Thee! And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bedside and draw by the curtains, and say, “Courage, I am Thy salvation,” than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God.

Faith liveth and spendeth upon our Captain’s charges, who is able to pay for all.

Glorify the Lord in your sufferings, and take his banner of love, and spread it over you. Others will follow you, if they see you strong in the Lord; their courage shall take life from your Christian carriage.

Ye may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as he was yesterday; and it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon wheels of your own making, neither have ye to do with a Christ of your own shaping.

If Christ Jesus be the period, the end and lodging-home, at the end of your journey, there is no fear, ye go to a friend…ye may look death in the face with joy.

My Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with His joys, my losses with His own presence. I find it a sweet an a rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christ’s joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with Himself.

The favorite quote I mentioned at the beginning was here only in part: I had seen it in one of Amy Carmichael’s writings as having been a comfort to her when one of the children at her compound died. It was written by Rutherford to someone who had lost a child. The larger quote is “Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven.”

As a collection of quotes, some quite thought-provoking and others requiring thought to process, it seemed to work best to read a few a day rather than trying to take in a lot at one sitting. Even doing that, though, it only took about a week to read.

As you can see from the sampling of quotes here, some of the themes of Rutherford’s writing include the goodness of God in the face of any circumstances, His ability to use those circumstances to shape us, the joy of Christ in this life but especially in the life to come.

I’m glad I spent time with this little book and I’m sure I will again in the future. I’m even inspired to go on to the fuller Letters of Samuel Rutherford some day.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
Potenti
al objectionable elements: None
My rating: 10 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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When the Cross Is Too Great

As I was compiling our church ladies’ booklet for this month, I came across the following in my files. It made me think of a couple of women in our  church whose husbands have passed away in the last few weeks as well as one couple whose wayward son has spent time in prison and is still unrepentant. I’m sure many others are carrying crosses that I am unaware of. I know some of you are weighed down with burdens or crosses of varying kinds as well: may you be blessed in knowing God’s presence and care.

“The road is too rough,” I said;
“It is uphill all the way;
No flowers, but thorns instead;
And the skies over head are grey.”
But One took my hand at the entrance dim,
And sweet is the road that I walk with Him.

“The cross is too great,” I cried–
“More than the back can bear,
So rough and heavy and wide,
And nobody by to care.”
And One stooped softly and touched my hand:
“I know. I care.  And I understand.”

Then why do we fret and sigh;
Cross-bearers all we go;
But the road ends by-and-by
In the dearest place we know,
And every step in the journey we
May take in the Lord’s own company.

 ~ Author unknown

 “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and
take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23

See the Destined Day Arise

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”

~ Lyrics: Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-600), tr. Richard Mant (1837), Public Domain (original lyrics here); Alt. words, chorus lyrics, and music: Matt Merker, © 2014

Book Review: Knowing God

Knowing GodEven though I’ve been posting weekly summaries of my reading from Knowing God by J. I. Packer, I still wanted to do a general review, partly for those who did not want to keep up with the weekly readings, and partly for me to have a general review to link back to.

Even though this book has been considered a classic and has been in print for over 40 years, somehow I had never gotten around to reading it before, though I had heard of it and wanted to.

Packer says the most basic definition of a Christian is that he or she is a person who has God as Father. We are not all God’s children: we become His when we believe on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Packer begins with the virtues of studying about God as well as the warning not to stop with just the academics, but to use what we learn to get to know God personally.

To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it (p. 22).

The psalmist [of Psalm 119] was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand (pp. 22-23).

He talks about what it means to know God, how knowing Him differs from knowing others, the different analogies the Scriptures use to illustrate our relationship to Him.

John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you. Knowing about him is a necessary precondition of trusting in him (‘how could they have faith in one they had never heard of?’ [Romans 10:4 NEB]), but the width of our knowledge about him is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him (pp. 39-40).

He discusses the need to know God as He truly is, not as our mental picture of Him is nor as He has been falsely portrayed by others.

All speculative theology, which rests on philosophical reasoning rather than biblical revelation, is at fault here [emphasis mine here]. Paul tells us where this sort of theology ends: “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor 1:21 KJV). To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper, the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination (p. 48).

He discusses what it means to believe that Jesus is God Incarnate and yet also fully man, the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the truth of the Bible, the need for and nature of propitiation, what the Bible means by adoption, how God guides us, why we still have trials if we know Him and He loves us, and His full adequacy to handle whatever He allows in our lives. He covers in great detail several of God’s attributes: His immutability (His unchanging nature), His majesty, wisdom, love, grace, judgment, wrath, goodness, severity, and jealousy. Each of those topics is the subject of a whole chapter, and it’s impossible to give an overview of them here, but they were quite beneficial and helpful.

As I said in one week’s summaries, sometimes in the middle of a given chapter, it was easy to get occupied with the individual topics or chapters and forget that they are there in connection with how we know God, so it helped me to stop periodically and remember to tie the individual chapters back to the main point of the book. They do all have that connection even though it might not seem like it from the titles.

Though I didn’t agree with every single little point, especially those emphasizing a Calvinistic viewpoint, I did benefit from and can highly recommend the book. I appreciate that it is not full of theologicalese – terminology that only an academic could understand. I wouldn’t call it simple reading: there were a few places that were a little hard to follow. But for the most part I think an average reader could handle it fairly easily.

I am glad I finally made time for this book and thoroughly understand why it is considered a Christian classic. There were multitudes of places I marked and many memorable and helpful quotes in the book, many more than I can possibly recount here. But I’ll close with this one:

In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven (p. 249).

For more information, my thoughts on a couple of chapters a week are as follows:

Chapters 1 and 2, “The Study of God” and “The People Who Know Their God”
Chapters 3 and 4, “Knowing and Being Known” and “The Only True God”
Chapters 5 and 6: “God Incarnate” and “He Shall Testify”
Chapters 7 and 8: “God Unchanging” and “The Majesty of God”
Chapters 9 and 10: “God Only Wise” and “God’s Wisdom and Ours”
Chapters 11 and 12: “Thy Word Is Truth” and “The Love of God”
Chapters 13 and 14: “The Grace of God” and “God the Judge”
Chapters 15 and 16: “The Wrath of God” and “Goodness and Severity”
Chapters 17 and 18: “The Jealous God” and “The Heart of the Gospel” (Propitiation)
Chapters 19 and 20: “Sons of God” and “Thou Our Guide”
Chapters 21 and 22: “These Inward Trials” and “The Adequacy of God”

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: The Face of Jesus

Elisabeth Elliot2This is from Elisabeth’s book, A Lamp For My Feet:

The face of Jesus:

marred more than any man–
spit upon,
slapped,
thorn-pierced,
bloodied,
sweating,
the beard plucked,
twisted in pain–

For my salvation.

A glorious face, now.

Let its light shine on me, O Light of Life.

Let Your radiance fall on me, Sun and Savior,

Lighten my darkness.

Then grant me this by Your grace:

That I, in turn, may give

“The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6 AV)

As I see it in the face of Jesus Christ.

_____________________________

See all the posts in this series here.

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DaySpring.com is celebrating all of the amazing Write 31 Days readers who are supporting nearly 2,000 writers this October! To enter to win a $500 DaySpring shopping spree, just click on this link & follow the giveaway widget instructions by October 30. Best wishes, and thanks for reading!

Book Review: I Dared to Call Him Father

I Dared to Call Him FatherI Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh is, as the subtitle indicates, the story of how an aristocratic Pakistani woman, a lifelong Muslim, became a Christian in her fifties.

Bilquis’ family was well-known, hosting people from all over the world and often visiting London or Paris. Her husband was the Minister of the Interior, but they had divorced five years before, and feeling “the shame of rejection,” she secluded herself in her family’s ancestral home in the village of Wah. She lived with her servants and four-year-old grandson, and for the most part only visited with other family members.

After her grandson recovered from an illness, she started reading the Quran, not out of duty or obligation this time, but to see if it “would help explain the events and at the same time fill the emptiness within me.” She was “impressed by its many references to Jewish and Christian writings that preceded it” and wondered if it would be helpful to read them. Muslims believed that “the early Christians had falsified…much of” the Bible, but she felt compelled to obtain one and to read it. One of the first verses she came across was Romans 9:25-26: “I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” Somehow that passage gripped her heart and stayed with her for days. As she continued to read more, particularly about Jesus and His claims to be God and the way of salvation through Him, she was confused, because the Muslims believed that Jesus was only a prophet, not God. After more reading and two vivid dreams, Bilquis decided to visit Christian missionaries in the village to get more information. One of her questions was, “What has Jesus done for you?” After sharing and praying, the missionary, Synnove Mitchell, kept in touch with Bilquis.

Bilquis continued reading “the Quran because of the loyalty of a lifetime, delving into the Bible because of a strange inner hunger.” She knew “God couldn’t be in both books…because their messages were so different.” When her grandson experienced pain in his ear to the point that he needed to be hospitalized, someone at the hospital asked Bilquis about the Bible she was carrying. Bilquis answered that she was “earnestly searching for God,” told about her experience so far, and admitted, “I must find God, but I am confused about your faith.” This person suggested, “Why don’t you pray to the God you are searching for? Ask Him to show you His way. Talk to Him as if He were your friend. Talk to Him as if He were your father.”

“The thought shook my soul in the peculiar way truth has of being at once starling and comforting…No Muslim, I felt certain, ever thought of Allah as his father.” But thoughts of her loving earthly father encouraged her to think of God in the same way, so she prayed to Him. In part of her prayer, she confessed her confusion and asked whether the Bible or the Quran was His book. He seemed to answer in her heart, “In which book do you meet Me as your Father?” And “that’s all it took” to convince her. She shut herself in her room with the Bible, read, thought about the consequences to herself and her family if she became a Christian, and finally opened her heart to Him.

The rest of the book details her growth and experiences, including those consequences.

There were several things that impressed me about this book and Bilquis’ story: the power of the gospel to change a heart, the love and courage He gave her to withstand persecution, her reaching out to family members during times of grief, even though they had shunned her.

When I reviewed Nabeel Qureshi’s biography, I mentioned that at first I was troubled by the mention of God speaking to him through dreams, believing that God speaks primarily through His Word. As I said there, I do still believe that, but I have come to understand that many Muslims experience dreams that aid them along the way to the gospel. In an afterward, it is said of Bilquis that when others who had experienced dreams and visions came to her, she “carefully brought attention to Jesus by praying for them and claiming the promises He Himself had made, and applying those promises in simple faith to their specific needs. She was concerned not only to give her visitors truths about God, but to bring them into the presence of Jesus, the Truth.”

One aspect of Bilquis’ testimony that troubled me was her frequent reference to experiencing or losing God’s presence depending on what she did. Sometimes she said “the sense of His presence,” and that I would not have had as much of a problem with. But she goes so far as to say that “the Spirit left” or “His Presence would disappear” if she disobeyed in some way. God is omnipresent and He is with His children always: He doesn’t leave us ever. And He deals with us on the basis of His grace. Yet He does still require obedience, and, just as we experience an uneasiness and lack of peace when there is trouble in any of our relationships until we talk about it, confess whatever we need to confess, and make things right, so we can experience that with God. Yet one can be walking in perfect step with Him and not sense His presence (see Job and many of the Psalms.) In Evidence Not Seen, Darlene Deibler Rose wrote of the comforting sense of God’s presence when she was a POW. But one day that sense was gone, and she searched her heart and couldn’t find any offense she needed to confess, prayed for it to return, but it didn’t for a long time.She finally realized it was something she needed to take by faith even if she didn’t always “feel” it. Bilquis doesn’t sound like she understood this truth. Perhaps what she meant is what we would call today “feeling peace” about a decision or action (although that’s not a foolproof indication of God’s will, either).

Nevertheless, God clearly worked in and through her, and it warmed my heart to see how He did and how she responded. Her obedience to what she determined to be the will of God at any given time was a rebuke to me, and the way He sustained her through many trials encouraged and blessed me. I like what someone shared with her: “God is always stretching us…until we don’t have a safe handhold left except Him.”

This book was originally published in Bilquis’ lifetime in 1978. The version I read was a 2003 reprint, and I am very thankful it contains an epilogue in the back, telling about the end of Bilquis’ life, along with a couple of afterwards by Synnove Mitchell, one of the missionaries Bilquis became friends with. In one, she tells of Bilquis coming to see her from her vantage point, which was neat to read. Then in the final one, titled “Enriched by the East,” she shares some of the differences between Eastern and Western ways of thinking (group culture vs. individuality, hospitality vs. punctuality, indirectness vs. bluntness, etc.) and talks about how we need each other and how we can enrich each other instead of clashing with each other.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)