Book Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Book Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks
Cover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spolier Free Summary: (Note: Once more, it’s very hard to review a final book in a series. I’ll do my best.)  The Burning White is the final novel in the Lightbringer Saga by Brent Weeks. Gavin finally faces the truth about the existence Orholam, and the truth will set him free. Kip, accepting the role of Lightbringer, returns home for the final defense of his chosen home. Karris and Andross scheme. Tia walks down a dark path of death, hoping a light shines anywhere. Everything comes to a head, and all questions are answered in this final volume. I have to admit, I didn’t get the answer that frustrated me so much with The Blood Mirror. I think that’s just a whiff that Weeks will have to accept. Lucky for him the series as a whole is great.

 

Character:  Tisis stole the show in the last book, so I was mad she didn’t get that much attention in this book. That said, every one of these character arcs were amazing! I must give proper respect to Gavin, who’s growth was beautiful. I also must give a nod to Andross here. A lot of cool things happen that reveal motivations, and that amplifies the sympathy of all of these characters.

Exposition: We still have a few dumpy sections, but that’s going to happen in a series this deep. I’ll say that while there was some slow-down here and there, the general pace of the novel (and series) was just fine. The dumpy sections are portions I think most fans of epic fantasy have come to expect so long as the author doesn’t abuse the privilege. Weeks doesn’t.

Worldbuilding: The world only gets bigger, and we see a lot more of the religion in this world in this book. I don’t know if Weeks is Christian or not, but I can promise you he did his research. It was actually super fun for me to count off the sheer number of Bible Easter eggs as I saw it, particularly near the third act to the end. I don’t think people who haven’t read the Bible or aren’t that familiar with it would catch as much (or mind), but it’s hard to know given how much of the Bible I read. I found those ties to be satisfying, but I wonder how others might respond. I expect they wouldn’t notice.

three-book-covers
Other books in the Lightbringer saga.

Dialogue:  I’d still say the same that I’ve always said. I can’t argue the characters all have unique voices (though I do think so). Yeah, they’re all pretty much flippant, arrogant people with sly comments for every situation, but it’s fun to listen to. It’s witty and entertaining.

Description: Weeks is still a minimalist in this regard. There was more description in this book than others, but the necessity was there given the number of action scenes and new locations to account for.

Overall: This was a wonderful start to my 2020 year in reading. It’s going to take a strong book to take its spot at the top of my best-read stories of the year, and I can say that nothing so far has com anywhere close. I don’t know if I’ll finish the new Stormlight book before the new year, but that would be the competition I expect. Who knows though. I loved this book, and at the moment, it’s the best I’ve read so far in 2020. This book is a fantastic end to a satisfying conclusion. While I still enjoyed it, I’d have to say I liked Night Angel better, but I think that’s more of a compliment to Night Angel than a knock on Light Bringer. There’s a lot to love about this conclusion.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?

Musings on Christianity 24

Musings on Christianity 24

Why Read The Bible?

In my time growing as a Christian, one of the things that took me longer than most to understand was the value of reading the Bible. I’m not even sure why when I consider my personality. In the Navy, I hated the idea of people telling me what they thought. I had several people say, “That’s not the way to do it,” or “That’s against policy!” I always wondered, “Where are they getting all these rules?”

I don’t know that every person who ever corrected me or yelled at me (not that it happened a metric ton in the Navy) or even talked to me about policy was ignorant about it or not, but one day someone sat me down to show me what I’d done wrong. Instead of yelling or barking about ephemeral concepts, he printed the actual Navy policy in question. He let me read it. There wasn’t a debate. There was no yelling. There was no overly-long lecture or self-elevating speech. It was policy, and allowing me to read it made it about what the regulation said. I loved it. It was simple and true with no bias toward emotion or personal preference.

From that day, I always wanted to look at the policy. At my current job, I periodically read my unit’s information guide because I really do want to do what is right. That’s always been a guiding principle of mine, and so I grew to love the law. Why then, did I never read the Bible?

Please don’t misunderstand. There were several times and periods of my life where I read the Bible. What I didn’t do was read and study it daily or read it all the way through even once.

One day, while talking to one of my protégées in the Navy, I told her how important it was for one to always read the policy. For some reason, that was the moment I realized I was avoiding the source. I was angry at “organized religion.” I was angry at “Bible thumpers.” Now I realize a great deal of those “Bible thumpers” hadn’t read the Bible (at least not all the way through). They’d shout at people whatever scripture they thought was relevant, but they did it from the mindset of convincing others to do what they want rather than focus on what God wants.

We see this all the time. We see it in people who falsely claim that people of color are cursed (they’re not). We see it in people who falsely claim that people of different nationalities are lesser (they’re not). Those people love picking one verse out of context and running with it.

But the Bible is one book with sixty-six parts. If you don’t study and see how they go together and interact, your doctrine will be wrong. That doesn’t mean a person can’t study for certain things. This very book is a Biblical research project, and that’s what led to this particular chapter. You see, those who would degrade the word of the Bible probably do so because they encountered several of the people who abused it (like those above).

It was hard for me to believe the Bible was the word of God. (Wasn’t it written by men?) It was hard for me to believe the historicity of the Bible. (How could the things in the Bible be true?) What convinced me? Sure enough, I actually decided to sit down and read the whole thing. I had questions, but I didn’t declare those questions inconsistency and put it down. Rather than let my questions become reasons to stop reading and growing, I let my questions drive me to seek answers. Rather than check history, archeology, and science (real science driven by fact and not “commonly believed” bias), I checked those things against the Bible, and thus far, the Bible has won every time.

Even in the most easily recognized areas of dispute (you’re saying the world was created in six days? What about … ) the very things people use to dispute the word of God are not provable by the very science they claim debunk the Bible. The theories of the universe and evolution (and other long-held beliefs called “science”) are at-best theories that scientists are seeking to prove. The best of those scientists are objectively seeking truth based on that hypotheses, understanding that a hypotheses is just that. The worst of them have the same dogmatic rigidness they accuse a Christians of having, believing without real evidence or even the scientific desire to seek consistent evidence on the subject.

While I believe I have a scientific mind, I don’t have the scientific knowledge to prove anything, nor will I try. What I will say though is even a casual investigation into man’s biggest questions from the Bible are only (at-best) as challenging as the same “proofs” scientists have been striving to find.

If I were more scientific, the remainder of this chapter would be used to help secure one’s faith by using scientific evidence to prove the validity of the Biblical record. (Or even prove the truth of it. Truth and validity aren’t the same thing.)

That science is being conducted, and the information is out there. I’m studying it as we speak. I’m just not as versed as I’d like to be, and any effort I make in that vein will only cause more skepticism. 

Instead, I want to use my time in this chapter to tell you what reading the Bible has done for me.

Reading the Bible keeps me centered. I’m a passionate man. I’m a man of high emotion and drive. I’m also one who believes in doing what is right. I’m not without error by any means. I get distracted at work. I can be argumentative. But when I see someone doing something I know is wrong, I can be pretty unloving about how I point it out. I hope I’ve grown in this, and the people who know me have said this is true. But I was pretty thunderous in my rebuke of people who “weren’t doing it right.” I was also pretty hypocritical, pointing out the wrongs of others without any regard to my own transgressions. 

Reading the Bible puts my mind on God and his commands and how a person should live. It gives me balance between love and truth. It gives me humility when I want to be prideful. It gives me patience when I want to be hasty. It gives me discipline when I want to be wrong.

Reading the Bible gives me knowledge. A few years ago when I had so many questions, I could use those questions to excuse what I wanted to do or avoid things I knew I should be doing.  A good portion of the Bible (the epistles), are all about guiding young believers in their walk and helping them grow. The answers are there if you read and seek. Reading the Bible (go figure, in the same way you’d read any book) gives me scope. I see how things come together. I better understand doctrines that used to elude me.

Reading the Bible gives me confidence in my faith. That same period I had questions, I also used those questions to feed my doubt about Christianity. Reading the Bible removes that doubt. Do you worry that there are inconsistencies in the Bible? Don’t, while there are parts that don’t match exactly, the Bible is amazingly consistent from Old to New Testament.  Most of the reasons things don’t line up exactly have more to do with the intended audience of the work than errors in factual reporting.

This is something I teach my students. A journalist writing a story for Navy News Stand is going to format a story very differently than if he were writing it for the Yuma Daily Sun. The facts are in there. Some are left out because they matter less to one reader than another. Some are emphasized because they’re more important to one audience than another. But there is no one verse of the Bible that directly contradicts another. Only a passive scan of the Bible with the intent to find discrepancies (rather than a thorough reading with the intent to find truth, in this case to learn what it really says and why) would find evidence. However, that evidence of discrepancies never holds up against a careful reading of all the context and other accounts.

I’ve come to learn this by reading the Bible carefully. I had doubts. I may have even started my first full read through of the Bible expecting to find discrepancies and inconsistencies. They just aren’t there.

Reading the Bible fills my spirit. My human heart is prideful, arrogant, resentful, and unkind. Do I reflect those qualities more than say … a maniac? No, but just because I’m not as evil as one man doesn’t remove those characteristics from my flesh. My flesh is weak, but my spirit is so very willing to grow, and it is the overcoming of those fleshly desires that glorifies God. Reading the Bible strengthens my spirit. It arms me with the tools I need to be loving in my rebuke and humble in my mindset. I need this so much. The more I read, the easier it is to recognize when I’m thinking with a self-centered mind. (I think. I want. I believe.) The more I read, the more readily I think with a god-centered mind. (What does God say? What does God want me to do? How are my actions glorifying Him? How am I bearing Him fruit?)

There are other books that speak about the historicity, validity, and truth of the Bible, and the panel is more than welcome to contribute to those subjects. But a communication teacher who has only read the Bible all the way through one time probably isn’t going to convince anyone of those things. But a guy who reads twenty-thirty five books a year talking about what reading this book does for him? That’s probably a bit more effective. If you haven’t tried it, try it. Even if you just read it for the sake of reading anything, you’ll see how the whole story comes together in a beautiful and comforting way.

For our panel: What are some other reasons to read the Bible? Did you have any doubts in your walk in the faith? How did reading the Bible remove those doubts? Was there a particular portion of the Bible that was harder for you to believe or help others believe? How did you use the Bible to learn the truth, or how did you find certainty?

Musings on Christianity 23

Musings on Christianity 23

What Are Other Ways to Rebuke?

A Few chapters ago, I mentioned rebuke. I took a brief detour at anger, to establish that anger is not in and of itself sinful. Now we can look at rebuke and see how it was done in the Bible. A quick search of the Bible online shows 89 instances of the word “rebuke.” That would be translations of ga’ar (most commonly), yakhach, and ribh in the Old Testament. We will also see the translation of the word “epitimao” in the New Testament. We’ll also see the word “elegcho.” 

This list probably isn’t extensive. Also, I don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek. All of this research is done online looking as closely as I can in the time I give myself to write these words.

Some of the times the word “rebuke” appears is more about rebuke than a demonstration of it. They are warnings or requests that one be rebuked or rebuke someone. One example of this is in 1 Chronicles 12:17, where some mighty warriors came to pledge themselves to David. David basically says, “If you’re here to help, great, but if you’re trying to trick me, I pray God rebukes you for it.” 

Because scenes like that are more warnings or requests, we’ll set those aside and only look for actual demonstrations of rebuke.

My studies of the Bible (small and brief though they are), have revealed in my opinion four types of rebuke.

The most common type of rebuke I’ve found is a conviction or an announcement of grievance. Just tell a person what they have done wrong and/or how that wrong made you feel. We see men do this in several instances of the Bible, but God himself does this also.

“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.’”  (Job 42:7)

This is a great example of this type of rebuke because it both states the wrong (“You have not spoken of Me what is right … “) and expresses how that made God feel (“My anger burns against you … “) 

It is loving to rebuke. Convicting a person of what they’ve done to you and expressing your feelings (in love and truth) is not wrong, but a valid, Biblical course of action only a fool would scoff (Proverbs 9:8)

The next style of rebuke is slower. I actually recall several other examples of this throughout Christ’s ministry, but a lot of those examples aren’t stated overtly as rebukes. This style of rebuke is to allow the wrong doer to expose himself. The one overtly stated example of this is in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. David had just arranged the death of Uriah to cover up adultery. Here Nathan comes and tells David about two men, and how one man who had many sheep stole from a poor man who had only one.

Sure enough, David lashed out in anger and condemned that man. It was only then that Nathan revealed that David himself was the man. That rebuke came with a stern punishment, another form of rebuke in itself. However, there are several examples of Christ Himself placing people in position to convict themselves. That rebuke can often bring people to repentance. I find it interesting that there is only the one overt expression of the word, and even that is in a header, not actual scripture. (Headers, chapters, and verses weren’t any part of original manuscripts.) Still, this is a powerful tool to one who uses it wisely.

I know I’ve just hinted at punishment, but stick with me for a minute while I discuss the third type of rebuke. Punishment is a slippery slope, and I want to give that a bit more context. I also want people to see the other forms first (and there’s a reason for that, too).

The third form of rebuke is to hold back or deny action. You see, we don’t have to wait for someone to do wrong. We can prevent that wrong if it is in our power. It took some study, but I found this method to be true because there were times when people were denied or tried to deny one from taking action.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:11)

“The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:31)

It bears mentioning that I’ve only seen one instance of someone holding another back and it not being overridden, Malachi 3:11. This is because man often tries to hold back one doing what is right. It is possible to hold one back from sin (2 Timothy 4:2), but you must be working to prevent sin. The example in Malachi is a promise from God.  Still, if you see someone about to sin, you don’t have to wait for them or watch them do it, nor do you have to wait for someone to harm you.

In each of these examples, the rebuke was verbal. The characters are telling other characters to stop or be silent. None of the examples I’ve seen that fall under this form of rebuke are physical or violent. That may be coincidence, but I don’t think that should be taken lightly. A stern warning against action can go a long way to helping a person resist temptation.

So, now we come to the final, most extreme form of rebuke. I mentioned punishment in the last chapter, and I still see that pattern holding true. The right of rebuke in the form of punishment is reserved for God Himself and those he places in authority.

Each time punishment is used to rebuke people in the Bible, it is God acting as sovereign ruler. In 2 Samuel 22:16, in a prayer to God, David states (and later quotes himself in Psalm 18:15) that things are laid bare at His (God’s) rebuke.

Hezekiah describes a time of pain and disgrace as a day of rebuke. (2 Kings 19:3)

A more overt example may be Psalm 9:5, “You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.”

I can’t stress enough how firmly I believe that punishment is reserved to specific people God places above us to enact his chosen punishment. It is His right to rebuke us in this way, and His alone. This is something someone more experienced and trained than I am may be able to help me understand differently, but in the time I’ve been studying, I’ve only ever seen the right of vengeance, punishment, and wrath belonging to God, and the Bible overtly says as much in passages like Romans 12:19.

That leaves us mortals who aren’t in positions of authority (to one degree or another) three other ways to rebuke, and we should. If we rebuke those who wrong us (and more importantly, God), we have an opportunity to gain our brother. More importantly, we have the opportunity to turn this person away before God evokes his right as sovereign judge to punish the wrong doer more sternly.

For those who are interested in my notes, I left a number of them below. They all have Biblical examples where the word “rebuke” is used. I imagine some may want to study this themselves. The references are there for your review if you wish.

 


 

Convict. Speak of wrong and how it made you feel

(Genesis 31:42)

(Genesis 37:10)

(1 Samuel 2:22)

(2 Samuel 19:1)

(Job 42:7)

Allow the wrong doer to expose himself (and punish)

(2 Samuel 12: 1-15)

Hold back (prevent action)

(Malachi 3:11)

(Ruth 2:16)

(Matthew 20:31)

(Mark 4:39)

(Mark 10:48)

(Luke 4:41)

(Luke 19:39)

(1 Timothy 5:20)

Punishment (All of these were from God. Rebuke as a punishment is from God, and it’s usually Biblically bad.)

(2 Samuel 22:16) Poem. States that things are laid bare at his rebuke

(2 Kings 19:3) (punishment is a rebuke)

(1 Chronicles 16:21)

(Psalm 9:5)

(Psalm 18:15) (a quote of 2 Samuel 22:16)

(Psalm 39:11)

 


 

For our panel: Are there other ways to rebuke I haven’t been able to find examples of? What can we do if the one we rebuke refuses? Are we obligated to remain near one who grieves us constantly? Do you have story about a time you’ve had to rebuke someone and how it went you’d like to share? How many times are we obligated to rebuke someone? Yes, we’re taught to forgive as God forgave, but does that also mean we must constantly rebuke a person for the same transgression over and over?

Book Review: Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur

Book Review: Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur
Cover
Image taken from book’s Goodreads page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur is another book in the vein of Twelve Ordinary Men.

This story talks about 12 heroes from the Bible, but they may not all be the heroes you’re thinking of.

This didn’t have the staying power or resonance that 12 Ordinary Men had on me, but it was nice to read. Most of the stories show how people pass from fear to faith, so people who are struggling with spiritual issues of courage would certainly benefit from reading it.

The book also does a great job of showing how it is God who equips men who can then serve Him to do His will.

I think what I liked most about this book was the insight it gave regarding God’s grace and patience when calling people to action. This book talks about a few judges (from the book of Judges), and each of them had moments of extreme doubt. Honest, humble prayer always yielded results. That is an encouraging thought.

John-MacArthur-Primary-2I don’t know if there are more books from MacArthur of this sort, but I still think Ordinary Heroes was the strongest of the batch. However, this book is still a nice look into characters of the Bible. It lets us study those characters and glean insights about how God works (or can work) in our lives.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Testimony: A Trial of Faith is Available For Preorder!

Testimony: A Trial of Faith is Available For Preorder!

Greetings all,

200113-Testimony-Cover2It’s my great joy to announce Testimony: A Trial of Faith is available for preorder for just 99 cents!

If you’ve read the blog series, you already know the story. This project is here for two primary reasons:

  1. I wanted to testify what God has done in my life in as broad a way as I could think. Having this as a title makes it possible to spread this testimony.
  2. I had always intended for this to raise money for cancer research.  As promised, all royalties from this title don’t go to me; they go to the American Brain Tumor Association.  To be clear, I will use some of the money to pay for printing and marketing (AMS campaigns and the like), but any actual profit goes to ABTA.

There are a few things I want to make clear.

  1.  This is a Christian book. I’ve never made a secret about my religion. I love entertainment and fantasy as much as the next person, but God is the most important being in life. This story is mostly about my growth in Christianity as my mom battled with cancer.
  2. This is personal. There are truths here that aren’t flattering toward me. This project isn’t designed to make me look good; it’s designed to show how God could take someone as sinful as me and open his heart. Reading this might very well change what you think of me. My hope is you see how I have changed. I still have so very far to go, but by the grace of God I am who I am.
  3. This has some edits. Rather than focus on my family (who I didn’t get to do much with), I focused on my own reflections through the process. There are interactions and discussions, but the story is far more about my reflections on what I learned about Christianity than it is my mom and her struggle with cancer.

I love God, and I pray every day that He wipes cancer from the face of the Earth. It is my great prayer that this testimony is pleasing to Him as an offering. It’s my great prayer that he work through this to provide a lot of funding for brain cancer research and maybe even (if it is His will) a cure.

If this can help lead to more effective treatments, perhaps some other son won’t have to mourn his mother as a result of this disease. I’d be honored if you’d help in this manner.

You can preorder the story here or in the link above.

Thank you for reading,

Matt

Musings on Christianity 19

Musings on Christianity 19

Does God Accept Me For Who I Am?

The short answer is no. It sounds brutal and cruel, but that’s just the way it is. Neither is it true to think that Christ doesn’t turn people away. We want to think that He wouldn’t. We want to believe that we can do whatever we want (no matter how sinful) and Christ will just be “cool with it.” But, I say again, that just isn’t true.

There are many who might be outraged by this fact. They will talk about how Christ loved us and Christ died for us. Indeed He did. However, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to Heaven. I want to put a pin on that last clause long enough to finish this first, and most important, thought.

The words of Christ Himself:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Readers, if you are under any sort of impression that the simple lip service of “Christ is king,” or “I believe in Christ” is in and of itself enough, you are under the incorrect belief. Those of who you think Christ “doesn’t turn anyone away,” needs to read that entire chapter of the Bible much more closely. 

Who then will he not turn away? Christ gave the answer in the above passage: “ … the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

Sin is not in any way a part of God’s will.

Why then do we want to pretend otherwise? The answer is in the sin that you love. As a Christian, I want to seek out those sins I’m coveting. Those sins I love more than God. They exist. All people sin. The Christian seeks sanctification. The lost live in their sin.

“No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.” (1 John 3:6)

I’m of the opinion that we live in a world where we want to be able to sin and still get to Heaven. We want to pervert the love of Christ to mean, “He’ll let me do whatever I want and still take me.” 

It’s a very terrifying moment to realize that’s not true. It was for me. So the next thing people tend to do is try to minimize sin. They try to make some sins more terrible than others, and there are indeed sins God hates more than others, but that doesn’t make the other sins acceptable.

Our human rationalization is, “My sin isn’t all that bad, so I should be OK.”

Sin is bad. You’re not OK. If you live in sin, whatever it is, you don’t know Him, and you haven’t seen Him (see the above verse).

So, let’s go back up to that statement I mentioned above.

Assertion: Not everyone is going to Heaven. I think most would agree. I think if I talked to 1 million people, not one of them would claim everyone is going to Heaven.

But if you’re willing to acknowledge that not everyone is going, you have to then also acknowledge that Christ does indeed turn people away. Who then does He turn away? Refer back to the first passage I quoted in this chapter. Any who doesn’t do the will of the Father, will be turned away.

I’ve said several times that sin is sin. I even tend to not focus on any one sin. It’s just too volatile. Why? Because there are people who love their sin more than their brother (which is actually another sin). There are people who love their sin more than God (yet another sin).

So what happens is mortals rationalize. They say sin is sin from one side of their mouth, and then live in their sin as if that’s justification. Such actions then imply that one can do whatever he wants because sin is sin, but no rational person believes this.

To allow this mental debate to have a resting place, let’s pick a sin that no one fights for the right to do: murder. I’m not even talking about how Christ further defined murder in Matthew 5:21-48. For the sake of this mental experiment, I’m talking about the actual, physical murder of one person by another. I’m fairly confident no one is going to try and justify this act to me in any way. (Of course now some one is going to try some round about manner of justification such as the death penalty or self defense. Please just acknowledge then that all you’re doing is arguing for the sake of dissension and move along.)

I’ve never once seen a social media post or campaign topic that tries in any way to make it OK for people to kill, so I’m sticking with that to avoid more common, more politically acceptable sins.

  If saying, “I believe in Christ,” is enough to get into Heaven in and of itself, then do you believe that a man, a serial killer, could claim such and then continue to kill whomever the thrill of it called him to kill? Of course not! I’d venture to assert that even if a man had killed a hundred people and genuinely repented, falling down on his knees to beg Christ for forgiveness, paying for his crimes by turning himself in and accepting his punishment (You see, punishment by a court of law isn’t murder, those dissenters referenced above), never killing again, you would still want to condemn that man to Hell.

This is because killing is wrong. It is. It’s a sin, but so is the sin you’re holding on to. So too is the sin you want to keep and justify in doing so because that sin is more socially acceptable.

The truth of the matter is the angels rejoice over that murderer who repented and turned away from his sin. They do so more over him than the (self) righteous person who’s never killed a person, but committed several “lesser” sins, believing he is above the need to repent and turn away.  (This is a personal paraphrase of Luke 15:7.)

In my life, I’ve thought about people I wanted to go to Hell. They’d done things no one would argue are evil. I wanted wrath for that sinner and that sin. Then, I wanted grace and forgiveness for my own sin. Am I God that I should choose who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t? No, and neither are you.

Just as man can not condemn another man for their sin, neither can man declare another man righteous. We are not the way to Heaven; Christ is. (John 14:6) 

We only have the written word to guide us, but we need to pay attention to it. We can’t fall into the belief that lip service is enough. We can’t say we believe in Christ and continue to do all the things he said are wrong. We can’t do that any more than an abusive husband can claim to love his wife and continue to beat her. We can’t do that any more than an addict can claim to love her child and then lose him while drugged out of her mind. Even if those people mean what they say, and those statements have some immeasurable truth to them, they can’t argue they love their loved ones more than the sins they commit. No one in Heaven or Earth would believe them.

So then where is this leading to? I beg you to remember the two most important commandments given to us by Christ Himself:

“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27. See also Matthew 22:36-40 and Mark 12:28-31)

Therefore, anyone who puts any sin above God, whatever that sin is, is in violation of what Christ says are the most important two laws. We have to cast aside our sin for the God we claim to love just as we have to do for our neighbors.

This explicitly tells us we do in fact have to change for those we love. If we refuse to change, we are in fact, showing how little we love them. How contrary to popular philosophy and self-help books that statement is! 

But don’t we do that? Don’t we break up with the boyfriend or girlfriend who wont’ give up smoking or some other undesirable habit? Don’t we leave the relationship where the person is selfish? 

So if we on Earth know to turn away those who refuse to love us enough to turn from the wrong they do, so don’t we also realize Christ will do to us?

And now for those who feel this truth is a little on the “unloving” side. All the cases I used above were clearly things anyone would accept as reasonable. But what about that guy who never, ever, puts the lid to the toilet down. What about that wife who works a bit more than you’d like and doesn’t have time to help around the house or even just offer time for affection that you’d like?

Well, this is where forgiveness and Christ’s infinite love comes into play. We mortals have all sorts of deal breakers. Think about this. We have several (sometimes difficult to understand and/or explain) things we will immediately end a relationship over. We want to do that, but imagine a God who would be OK with anything? How does that even make sense?

However, where we would summarily end any relationship over any number of deal breakers, God, through Christ, is much better than all of us. You see, Christ is forgiving. For those who repent and turn away, there is no deal breaker. There’s no crime so great one can commit that Christ’s blood can’t wash away. This, is how glorious he is. And in that grace and mercy, Christ understands us. He advocates for us. (1 John 2:1)

That means that murderer is indeed forgiven, even if you don’t like it. That means anyone can be forgiven, if he but accepts Christ into his heart and repents of his sins. He did this for a thief on a cross who minutes before was ridiculing Christ. (Luke 23:43)

Sin is sin. There is not greater or lesser sin you could choose to live in and do continually that Christ, in his perfect, righteous glory as king of kings, would ever accept.

However; Sin is sin. There is no sin Christ’s blood can’t wash way. We may stumble, but Christ knows our hearts. He knows our desire to change and be more like Him. Those who accept Him and obey Him are among his elect. Those who strive to live as He lives and do as He does will be welcomed.

Consider this as you look at your life and the sins you carry. I’m not beyond this scrutiny. I look at the sin in my life and it horrifies me. Some sins fell away, but it seems like sin is some sort of hydra, popping up with two heads more each time I turn from one sin. The goal is the keep growing. The goal is to aspire and live to be more like Christ. Then His grace and mercy will be with you, and nothing will take you from God’s hands when you are His. (Romans 8:39)

For our panel: How does one turn from sin? What does it mean if I repent of a sin (whatever it is) and then succumb to it? Is backsliding a real thing? Does being a Christian mean being perfect?