A Bridge Still has Value

Recently a friend challenged me on my reading of a popular devotional by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (2004, Thomas Nelson Inc.)  Since I have referenced at least two of her daily devotions in this blog, I thought I should discuss the book here.  Here is my reply:

Jesus Calling

I re-read the Introduction to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling plus a few devotionals, listened to Warren Smith’s presentation last year on You Tube about the book (July 24, 2013), and checked out Hank Haanagraf’s remarks from one of his Bible Answer Man broadcasts (November 16, 2012).  I see valid criticisms.  Sarah Young fails to put a clear focus on the sovereignty of God separate from us; by speaking in the first person she blurs the line.  Missing is mention of a clear path to salvation (and the gifts of eternal life in addition to true peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control) that comes only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  She tends to bring God along with her instead of placing God as head of the body of Christ; this is often the sign of a carnal Christian or new believer.  The book also uses metaphors and popular analogies that are not necessarily Biblical to bring the reader into the perspective of how God might view our daily lives.  Her focus on these types of experiences can be problematic for many reasons including misleading a person who tends to be led by emotion instead of the immutable truth of the Word of God.  And lastly, the book does nothing to point a seeker to the Bible, a healthy well-balanced Christian church, fellowship with other believers, or educate him or her on the basic tenants of Christian faith.
If Jesus Calling were a Bible commentary, it would fail.  If Jesus Calling was intended as a tool for evangelism, it would fail.  If Jesus Calling was designed to be used by apologists to defend the faith, they would lose the debate.  While she quotes relevant verses with each devotional, her applications might not be universal to everyone (and Warren Smith knocks down many of them).  Perhaps she could be more accurate.  Perhaps she was taking a little extra literary license to illustrate the softer themes of life represented with verses that are more easily understood?
I am sad that a warm and friendly book that greases the seeker’s heart with a beginning understanding of the nature of God cannot also be more direct about essentials of the Christian faith too.  Perhaps a Max Lucado book would do better?  He uses poetry and prose with loving imagery to reach the broken hearted as well.  Maybe at some level both authors are similar?  You could say that their feel-good books distract a person from delving into the Bible yet they could also give another person a place to go when the Bible is just too intimidating.  A scholarly book (i.e. the Bible or a commentary) and a scathing review by a New Age fear-monger such as Warren Smith, will not comfort the heart of a person in crisis!
Sarah Young’s book could use some other improvements.  I don’t know why her testimony in the beginning does not include a salvation story per se.  Does this mean that she is not saved?  We just don’t know.  Again it is often literary license that an author uses more general terms of faith so as not to scare off wounded seekers that really need Him!  Jesus Calling may still be useful as an introduction to a more personal God for a lost soul who may have been hurt by religion or a skewed view of who He really is.  Seeing how God really does understand, cares about the details of one’s daily life, and is ever near is clear on these pages.  Reading this could help old wounds to heal.  Women often need this most.  Their minds will still need truth so the seeker should not end his or her search with Jesus Calling, however.  The book should have ended with an invitation to a closer relationship with God through His son, Jesus Christ and encourage the reader in his or her next steps as noted in my first paragraph.  It does not.
Is it New Agey?  The fact that Sarah does not go deeper into essential matters of Christian doctrine could make it look like just another feel good book about a generic God.  One might begin to pick apart themes in the devotionals and say that the God in Jesus Calling is not the God of the Bible.  And if the God in the book is not the God of the Bible then it must be about Satan or some New Age alternative that is neither one.  So the next step could be to claim that Jesus Calling is a New Age book because of this and because of its use of terms reflective of popular culture, the New Age movement.  Yes all of this could be true and indirectly move a seeker away from the One true God that he or she had hoped to find in an empty book.  Or maybe not.  I have more faith in the Lord’s plan for those who earnestly seek after Him.  He calls His own.  Her or she will find Him in a babbling brook if that is His will!
Many would criticize my own bridge to faith in Christ that was built through the 12 steps of Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics.  The daily devotional, One Day at a Time, is quite vanilla.  The God of the 12 Steps is generic albeit consistent with the basic tenants of a Christian faith from the Bible.  Tis sad that many stop at “recovery” and faith in a Higher Power in these meetings and never find the God of the Bible.  But the Lord had a plan for me from that feel-good experience and used those 9 years for His glory.  I would have never approached the throne of grace had I not healed from so much while sitting around the tables, held in the basement of many churches and not in the sanctuary.
I make two references to Jesus Calling in my eBook, Hope Beyond Lyme:  The First Year.  In the first I quote a nice encouragement Sarah Young gives about:  1) many of us seeing only a part or the “tip of the iceberg” when faced with confusing situations and 2) our needing to trust God for that which we cannot see or comprehend:  mysteries.  The second time I quote the book I name both Mrs. Young’s devotional along with a secular book of comedy as books with some wisdom but that both are second to the Bible.  I wonder if my friend misunderstood me:  Jesus Calling is not my second favorite book!   I read Jesus Calling over these past 2 years when I was in crisis every day and struggled to hold a heavy Bible let alone concentrate on it.  Because it comforted me I included it when writing the eBook.  I read my Bible most days anyways, of course!  The centrality of the Bible for me and for the eBook should be clear by the over twenty passages of scripture quoted and referenced.
No book is a replacement for the truth, hope, and eternal significance of the Holy Bible.  Today I am grateful to have a Bible App on my smart phone that I can easily hold in the palm of my hand in bed during trying times.  The Lord has opened my mind to more of His Word and the ability to concentrate on it too.  I am grateful for a temporary tool, a small devotional book, that the Lord used to comfort my heart until I could read His Word again.  I pray for spiritual armor to protect me and wisdom to discern any unsound doctrine that would harm my relationship to my King, my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I also pray that the millions of readers of Jesus Calling would continue to seek the Lord and find Him in the person of Jesus Christ alone.  Thank you Lord for my friend’s willingness to dialogue on this important topic.  May it all be for Your glory, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Jesus is for the Wounded

In the wee hours of Christmas morning, it is.

My body isn’t happy and my heart feels a little smaller than usual.

I wonder when this or that will change:  when the prayers will be answered?

Sadly, some did not say hello when I made it to church for the first time in a month.

Crying could be in the cards tonight, or at least a little pouting.  And what would that accomplish anyways?

I have so much goodness in my life, outside of this illness and its related difficulties.  About these I have written time and time again.

Why is it so easy to forget the blessings?  The roller coaster of life when it gets complicated too easily pushes my focus off of what is most important again and again.

Put the robe back on, take it off, no put it back on again as the sweat episode comes and goes; am I hungry or is it low grade nausea this time?  Oh yeah, the tic attacks have started again.

There is no end to this kind of thinking in my own strength.  I go on about it here only to illustrate that even as a believer in Jesus Christ, I am tempted, taunted by the darkness of this world.  Perhaps the difference between me and someone who does not believe will be what happens next.  Others may attempt to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and cheer up with positive self talk.  Still more will use a substance or dark distraction to erase the reality that can be so difficult to face.  Those comforts will be temporary and fail to something else that must replace it eventually.  Well this Christmas morning, these will not be me.  I will turn somewhere else.

But wait, can a baby born in a filthy village to a teenage girl and out of wedlock possibly comfort me in my anguish?  Even if He spoke wise words, did countless miracles, and 500 people testified that he rose from the dead, does that have anything to do with me tonight?  What if His life, death, and resurrection were perfectly predicted 500 or so years earlier without the benefit of the internet, does that mean anything for me or for you either?  And if He was part of God, the three persons of the one entity that is “God,” does that mean that He had anything to do with me being created?  So if He did create me, did He have really some purpose or plan for my life that included allowing me to get Lyme Disease?

Guess what?  The answers are yes.  Jesus is for the “wounded.”  Jesus is for this wounded woman who doesn’t feel so hot.  Jesus is for those who do good and those who do not.   Jesus is for those who think they are good but can never really be good enough because of our shared human condition:  we are all flawed by sin.  Jesus is for the sinner and those affected by sin in this fallen, imperfect world.  Jesus is the answer now and always.  And when I lift my eyes from my limited life and fix them on He Who is infinite, seek His forgiveness, claim that He is Lord, my eternal life comes into view.  This trial of illness will give way to an eternity in heaven with Him:  and there will be no more pain, weeping, or sorrow.  Yeah God!  How do I know this?  He promised it in His Word!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1-3)

The answers are all in the Bible and the Bible is God, one and the same.  How does that work?  Finding the answer to that begins in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Creator of all people, places, things, events, and spiritual entities.    Some go to His Word first.  Some cry out to Him before realizing Who is out there listening and waiting for them with perfect love.  Some find Him through a person who knows Him and draws a bridge to the heart of Christ by his or her actions, tenderness, words.  In the end, we can all find Him if we but seek Him.  Don’t stop with that spiritual friend or influence either.  He, she, or it will fail us at some point.  Trust God to be perfect; just love people (spoken first by my former Pastor, Bill Hybels).  Jesus will not, never, ever fail us.  Jesus is for the wounded.  He “knows” the cries of our hearts as He was also wounded physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually too.  He does care about our sorrows.  He came to save us from the consequences of the sin of this world.   If all this wasn’t true, He would have never left the heaven realms to be born into this world only to die a tortuous death on a cross.  Would you leave paradise for me?  Er, no.

Tonight my heart is transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  Thank you Jesus for coming to save me (Luke 19:10).  Thank you for watching over me (Psalm121:5) and ensuring that the trials will not be wasted (Jeremiah 29:11).  Thank you for caring about me (1 Peter 5:7) and taking care of my true needs (Luke 12:22-30).  Thank you for Your gift of salvation and eternity with You (John 3:16).  One day I know that I will be well, whole, and rejoicing in Your presence!  (Psalm 30)

Merry Christmas indeed.