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Christian Growth Through Experience: Joni Eareckson Tada’s Story

July 28, 2017 Leave a comment

It has often been observed that people who have little difficulty in life remain shallow and do not mature as much as those who experience more problems in life; and trials are promised to believers, to help us grow.  Sometimes also we can learn from the lives of others, and see the similar inward growth that they have experienced. The personalities and the actual trials and experiences are very different, yet God works the same new birth and growth in His people.

One of my readings in the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge is a memoir/autobiography:  Joni Eareckson Tada’s “The God I Love:  A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus,” from 2003, a Kindle deal earlier this year; regular price is $4.99.  I think I had heard of Joni’s story from other kids, while growing up in the late 1970s, but first read Joni in my early Christian years, around 1990; in the late ‘90s I read the sequel (her move to California, learning to drive, and relationship with Ken Tada).  This later book does not include all of the same details from the previous two autobiographies, but looks at her whole life from early childhood on (the accident, the beginning of the first book, comes at the Kindle 40% point), through her later successful years in the ministry Joni and FriendsThe God I Love is a tribute to her parents, but also her perspective in later life as she wonderfully describes the providence of God and her inner spiritual growth through the years, in response to the accident as well as later events.

Joni’s background included a happy childhood in suburban Maryland, in an affluent and naturally gifted family (her father was on the 1932 Olympics wrestling team, and an artist), as well as a strong Christian and healthy (normal) family; her personality was friendly, outgoing, popular and well-adjusted, and a good network of family and friends who supported her after the accident — though with a very strong daredevil trait, as evidenced in her many experiences in horseback riding.  Despite these many outward differences (from me), though, the inner life and spiritual growth of a Christian is one that all maturing believers can relate to:  the “wow” moment of regeneration, when suddenly everything became clear, the new heart to love God and desire to follow Him (for Joni, at age 14), and the initial interest stagnating at a shallow, superficial level (and her subsequent backsliding);  then an event which put a stop to the backsliding (her diving accident) and began anew the serious focus and study of God – a gradual process over several years.  Then, after the great trial: building new memories and realizing God is still with you, that “it will be okay.”  Later, having overcome the initial trial and taking on a new challenge in life – thinking that now you have it all together and can coast along; finding out by experience the daily need to stay close to God.  That lesson must still be learned again, years and decades later; when you think you have accepted the life circumstance that God brought to you, and doing okay there, then God throws another problem on top of the original one.

Besides being a great artist, Joni writes so well and expresses her life lessons learned, including several gems such as these:

(Seven years after the accident, in 1974)

We had entered another ordinary, brown-paper-packaged moment and unwrapped it, discovering a hidden grace—grace that was able to suffice, atone, and make up for anything I might have lost.  Whether howling like a coyote over some newfound truth in the Bible or blending my voice with others’ in an ancient Latin antiphon, the moments kept whispering, “Hang on.  One day you’ll bathe in joy like this.  Satisfaction will shower you, peace will encompass you—and it will last forever.”

After her initial fame and doing the Joni movie:

With rest came repentance.  A lot of sucker shoots had sprung up during the year the movie was made, … I took inventory of what was worth keeping and what needed to be cut away.  Things like neglect of God’s Word …. trifling in prayer… cherishing a puffed-up idea of my own importance … most of all, feeling I could run my life on cruise control.  I repented of it all and asked God to give me his strength.

… Each mile I put between the past and the future in your hand, I learn more of your providence and I find out who I am.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in her new life of exciting travel to Eastern Europe:

I knew God was requiring me to make choices.  He was revealing walls in my life he wanted to tear down—not Berlin-sized walls, such as confinement to a wheelchair, but small ones: pride that raised its ugly head, the temptation to rehearse successes, my still-fierce competitive spirit, the constant itch to have things my way.  Now Jesus was taking a sledgehammer to my despised walls, reminding me that his freedom doesn’t mean merely, “Obey my rules,” but, “Obey me.” The old guard was crumbling…

The point made in the Challies’ Reading Challenge, and noted by others in reference to the value of reading, is so well taken: read a variety of different types of books.  Reading serious Puritan theology books, and Spurgeon sermons and other devotional material, have great value.  But it’s also good, and part of a well-balanced Christian life, to also read biographies and memoirs, especially of strong and mature Christians.  Joni Eareckson Tada’s The God I Love is a superb autobiography, a story that puts so much of life into perspective while realizing more and more that we all have our trials, and that maturing Christians will experience great trials, great difficulties – some have it in outward hardships, or physical problems (it was necessary for God’s purposes, for Joni to literally break her neck, to get her attention), while others experience it in more inward ways of depression and the “slow martyrdom” described by Spurgeon, of difficulty in family relationships – yet we all grow and come to learn the need for daily dependence upon God, and to have greater love for God, the One who is in control of each of our lives.

 

 

 

The Forgotten Spurgeon: The Controversy of 1864

June 27, 2017 4 comments

From the recent donation of free Christian books, I have been reading Iain Murray’s classic The Forgotten Spurgeon, a second-edition paperback (reprint from 1994).  As I have learned from reading it, it is not so much a biography of Spurgeon as a look at Spurgeon’s preaching ministry, centered around three major controversies he was involved in: his early years, then “the controversy of 1864,” followed by the later down-grade controversy.  At the time of Murray’s book (second edition 1973), Spurgeon certainly was more “forgotten,” especially the Spurgeon revealed in his sermons, and the 40+ years since then have benefited from the republication of Spurgeon’s writings – plus now especially our Internet age access to the complete collection of his sermons, all available free in PDF format at Spurgeon Gems.

From my continued sequential reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last 8 years (now reading the 1867 volume), much of what Murray brings up is already familiar territory, and much of the work consists of direct quotations from Spurgeon’s many sermons.  What I especially appreciate is Murray’s own commentary, providing more of the historical context of what was going on in England, and London specifically, during these years—beyond what Spurgeon directly mentioned in his sermons;  I have now reached the part dealing with the second controversy.  Less than two years ago, I read the actual sermons noted here:  #573, “Baptismal Regeneration” from June of 1864, #577, “Let Us Go Forth” later that month; and #591, “Thus Says the Lord—Or, the Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balance of the Sanctuary” from September of that year.  Much of the controversy is explained in the sermons themselves – the inward creeping of Roman Catholicism and formalism, and the teaching of baptismal regeneration of infants, in the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer;” sections of it directly quoted by Spurgeon.  The notes at the end of these sermons, listing the sermon numbers and dates as being a part of a series, brought to my attention that these sermons were considered of special importance at the time.  The references to the Book of Common Prayer, I connected in my own understanding, to my previous reading from Puritan writers, recalling especially the story of John Bunyan and some of his objections to the “Book of Common Prayer.”  In reading again about it now, it also relates to my recent reading about the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century (Sketches of the Covenanters, by J.C. McFeeters).

Iain Murray here contributes more of the historical background, which is quite interesting as a follow-up to the story of the Puritans and the Reformation in England.  The strife of the 17th century, between the Anglicans and the non-conformists, had been eradicated by the close of the 18th century.  A new controversy arose, beginning in 1833 (the year before Spurgeon was born) with the publication of tracts, ‘Tracts for the Times’, from Oxford; the initial excitement over the tracts died down by 1841.  The Tractarian view advocated apostolic succession from the times of the apostles, and appealed to the content in the Anglican Book of Prayer for its Anglo-Catholicism.  The weakness in the 19th century came from Evangelical Protestants who used the Book of Common Prayer understood in a non-Romanist way, and who even tried to argue for consistency between the two 16th century documents: The Anglican 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.  As Murray notes:

Significantly, the debate over Tractarianism demonstrated that the wheel had come almost full circle since Puritan times.  In the 17th century the prelates and authorities in the Church had complained that the Puritan scruples over full conformity to the Book of Common Prayer were groundless, seeing there was nothing in the Book which supported the errors of Rome.  To this the Puritans replied by pointing out the very things which – for an altogether different purpose — the Tractarians pointed out in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Puritans claimed that the Prayer Book revealed the insufficiently Reformed character of the Church of England; it allowed nests of Popery to remain, and to these, they prophesied, ‘the rooks’ would one day return.  But the strange thing was that it was now evangelicals who asserted that there were no ‘nests’ in the Prayer Book, whereas dignitaries and bishops began to talk about the ‘Catholic’ character of the Book.  Either the Puritans or the 19th century evangelical churchmen were wrong.

Murray also here contributes quotes from Spurgeon’s contemporaries, including J.C. Ryle, and indicates his own disagreement with Spurgeon here (regarding the position of infant baptism) while noting the distinction between his own (covenantal) view of infant baptism and certain ideas of baptismal regeneration that are indeed found in the Prayer Book:  evidence indicates that “a number of those associated with the formulation of the 1552 Prayer Book did believe  that an efficacy accompanied infant baptism at the time of its administration and it is very hard to deny that this belief is taught in the Catechism.”  Murray further adds that the “warrant for the administration of baptism to children is not qualified in the Prayer Book in terms of the covenant promises of God to believing parents.”

The reading here is interesting, both in terms of Spurgeon’s part and the overall situation, this part of church history that he was a part of. After this section in “The Forgotten Spurgeon” comes the “Down-Grade Controversy,” which I have only read a little about.  I look forward to reading this as well, in reference to Spurgeon’s later years (sermons I will eventually get to in the Spurgeon sermon volumes).

Reformation History Reading: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 1

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

For the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, and especially appropriate for this the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, I have read the first volume (out of five) of J.H. Merle D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century.”  Available free in the public domain, Librivox recording has recently completed a full audio recording of the first volume; the complete work is also available in PDF format, 1137 pages plus footnotes.

The reading is straightforward and clear, and a good selection for audio listening.  Though of great length and detail, the material is interesting as it tells the story of the early years of the 16th century, especially with reference to Martin Luther and his life, but also including the major players in Luther’s life.  Chapters introduce and provide details concerning Melancthon and Erasmus, as well as lesser known figures such as Reuchlin, Spalatin, and Staupitz.  (Here the PDF version is helpful, for spelling so many German names.)  D’Aubigne’s narrative combines his own commentary on the important events, along with many personal letters of Luther and his friends, and interesting anecdotes, to provide a detailed picture of what was going on in early 16th century Germany.  The focus is mainly on Luther, but we also see the many influences on his life, the friends placed in his life at various points, and the rising support from the leaders, students and the common people of Germany.  The section on Tetzel, the itinerant indulgences merchant, provides rich details and humorous accounts, such as “the trick of a nobleman,” who obtained an indulgence for a future crime to be committed:

A Saxon nobleman, who had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, was much displeased by his falsehoods. Approaching the monk, he asked him if he had the power of pardoning sins that men have an intention of committing. “Most assuredly,” replied Tetzel, “I have received full powers from his holiness for that purpose.” — “Well, then,” answered the knight, “I am desirous of taking a slight revenge on one of my enemies, without endangering his life. I will give you ten crowns if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall fully justify me.” Tetzel made some objections; they came however to an arrangement by the aid of thirty crowns. The monk quitted Leipsic shortly after. The nobleman and his attendants lay in wait for him in a wood between Juterbock and Treblin; they fell upon him, gave him a slight beating, and took away the well-stored indulgence-chest the inquisitor was carrying with him. Tetzel made a violent outcry, and carried his complaint before the courts. But the nobleman showed the letter which Tetzel had signed himself, and which exempted him beforehand from every penalty. Duke George, whom this action had at first exceedingly exasperated, no sooner read the document than he ordered the accused to be acquitted.

Volume 1 book 4 deals with the events shortly after October 31, 1517, through the friendly session at Heidelberg in the spring of 1518 and the beginning persecution in Augsburg that fall.  This section shows Luther’s desire to remain loyal to Roman Catholicism and the Pope –even writing a respectful letter to the Pope, thinking that the Pope would agree with him—yet, in the face of unexpected opposition, his courage and boldness.  The Roman Catholic leaders expected a simple case of a humble Augustine friar who would quickly recant, and soon became impatient, seeing an unexpected quality in Luther.

A sample from Luther’s letters, shortly after the theses were nailed to the church door in Wittenberg:

They require moderation in me, and they trample it under foot in the judgment they pass on me!……We can always see the mote in our brother’s eye, and we overlook the beam in our own……Truth will not gain more by my moderation, than it will lose by my rashness. I desire to know what errors you and your theologians have found in my theses? Who does not know that a man rarely puts forth any new idea without having some appearance of pride, and without being accused of exciting quarrels? If humility herself should undertake something new, her opponents would accuse her of pride! Why were Christ and all the martyrs put to death? Because they seemed to be proud contemners of the wisdom of the time, and because they advanced novelties, without having first humbly taken counsel of the oracles of the ancient opinions.” –late 1517. From Volume 1 Book 3 Chapter 6.

Volume 1 is a great beginning to this History of the Reformation.  Since Librivox has now completed volume 1, I hope that they will soon add volume 2 and beyond.  Either way, I plan to read Volume 2 by next year, possibly in next year’s reading challenge.

2017 Challies Reading Challenge: Mid-Year Update

June 9, 2017 Leave a comment

In this previous post, I listed a set of 13 books to read, for the “Light Reader,” for this calendar year.  Since then, I have found that I can read many more books, and have gradually expanded the list, to a current list of 26.  As I near the end of these, I’ll update accordingly; again, as with the original list, the categories I’m using are not the actual set of 26 books for the Avid Reader, but include some books from other categories (beyond the “Avid Reader” list).  As noted before, the book list includes books I already own or have easy access to: free audio books as well as Kindle free and low-cost (sale) Kindle books.  Providentially, this year has also brought me many more paperback titles, thanks to a “used book sale” at church one Sunday this spring, as well as the large donation of free theology books from another church member cleaning out and sharing his large book collection.  From Challies’ daily-updated “Kindle deals” page I have also purchased a few more on-sale Kindle books.

The multi-format approach has worked well, with additions to the free audio book collection (past free offers including books from Kevin DeYoung and Steve Lawson), and, for Kindle books, the use of a simple Kindle book-stand on the counter while doing chores, and so I have completed most of the original 13 books – plus a few more in an expanded list.  For the 26 books goal, the following are now on the list:

From this expanded list, I have already completed three books: Walter Chantry’s Call the Sabbath A Delight and Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?, and Sketches of the Covenanters, by J.C. McFeeters. Two others are in progress, nearing completion:  Sam Waldron’s The Lord’s Day and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World.

From the recent reading, I have especially appreciated Sketches of the Covenanters; published in 1913, available as a free recording from Still Waters Revival Books, the recording is older, from cassette tape, and it took a little while to get into it – but the overall history and events, along with many stories of individual martyrs, is quite interesting, a part of church history I had not been aware of.  Another good one (nearing the end) is Sam Waldron’s The Lord’s Day: Its Presuppositions, Proofs, Precedents, and Practice.  The book is not lengthy in pages, but good writing (sometimes complex thought, along with basic diagrams describing the concepts) and very detailed in its consideration of various issues, including many quotes from the early church and John Calvin, with a balanced presentation and responses to anti-sabbatarian ideas as well as a few ideas advocated by some sabbatarians.

Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge

December 20, 2016 2 comments

I became aware of the 2016 Challies “Reading Challenge” this summer, an interesting idea of planning a certain number of books to read in the next year, all from different categories or types of books.  Now, Challies has introduced the 2017 version, slightly modified but the same basic idea of reading a certain number of books.  Goodreads also has an active group with discussion and a place to keep your own reading list for the yearly challenge.

I probably read close to 13 books (or equivalent in sermon audio series) per year, but have always just picked out a book or two at a time, then later decide on another one to read.  So this approach is different for me, to plan out the reading for the coming year.  I’ve decided to follow the “Light Reader” plan of 13 books, though slightly modified – removing three of the “light reader” type of books, instead  substituting three from the second category (The Avid Reader).  For all of these I am including books I already have: either on my Kindle from previous purchases of free or near-free books, or ones that are available as free electronic books or free audio recordings (such as from SermonAudio.com or Librivox.org).  My busy schedule (including a very busy full time job) means my reading time is limited, and thus a good mix with several books in audio recording format is necessary–the audio books for commute and exercise time, plus the reading time as available, weekday evenings and weekends.

Here is my reading list for 2017:

The Light Reader

_ 1. A biography:  The Biography of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, by Andrew Bonar
_ 2. A classic novel:  Charlese Dickens, Hard Times (Librivox recording)
_ 3. A book about history: Edward the First, by T.F. Tout (Librivox recording)
_ 4. A book written by a Puritan (from the Avid reader list):  Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices– Thomas Brooks  (Sermon Audio available)
_ 5. A book about theology:  Divine Covenants, by A.W. Pink
_ 6. A book with at least 400 pages:  My ongoing reading of Charles Spurgeon Sermon Volumes
_ 7. A commentary on a book of the Bible (Avid reader list): Andrew Bonar’s Commentary on Leviticus
_ 8. A book about Christian living:  From the Grace Gems website, J.R. Miller’s “A Life of Character”
_ 9. A book more than 100 years old:  Many books would qualify for this one, but I added Charles Spurgeon’s All of Grace here
_ 10. A book about the Reformation (Avid reader list):  Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, volume 1  (most of the first volume is also now recorded and available at Librivox).
_ 11. A book for children or teens:  The Hobbit (a great classic for re-read; I’ll reread the audio recording)
_ 12. A book of your choice:  Be Worshipful:  Glorifying God for Who He Is:  OT Commentary Psalms 1-89, by Warren Wiersbe.  This is currently on Kindle sale for 99 cents, one of several books in this series, the sale recently noted at Challies’ blog
_ 13. A book about a current issue:  Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue, by R.C. Sproul  (A past free electronic book offer, not yet read and still on my Kindle)