Surprised By Paradox (book review)

Many years ago, as I struggled with some of the either-or challenges of Christianity, I read C.S. Lewis’ wisdom that the safest course between two either-or extremes was a course straight between them. Jen Pollock Michel embraces this profound wisdom in her thoughtful book Surprised By Paradox—The Promise of And in an Either-Or World.

Jen wrestled with many of the same either-or struggles I wrestled with, which I actually found encouraging. The reason I find this encouraging is that it tells me that I’m not alone in my wrestling, and you aren’t either! So embracing the same C.S. Lewis wisdom that helped guide me, Jen opens up her heart to us in an intimate journey of discovery. 

Surprised By Paradox felt like I was getting a glimpse at Jen’s personal diary. Every chapter seemed like it could start out “Dear Diary…” with Jen sharing what prompted her wrestling thoughts, the alternatives she considered, and then the AND solution that God revealed to her. I could feel her growing in insight and confidence as I turned to each successive chapter. 

This book will cause you to question and ponder and wrestle as well. And that’s a good thing! To help you along the way, there are some very helpful discussion questions sprinkled throughout the book. Although these would be fine questions for you to answer on your own, I encourage to invite someone else alongside you on your journey. Surprised By Paradox will help you and your friends grow in your spiritual maturity. 

I am an IVP book reviewer. 

Expository Thoughts On The Gospels (book review)

J.C. Ryle was an Evangelical Anglican bishop who lived in England in the latter half of the 19th century. When Ryle’s words—written over 100 years ago—still resound with truth today, I would call that “a classic”! That is exactly what we find in his Expository Thoughts On The Gospels. 

The Gospels obviously focus on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Ryle takes how Jesus lived and taught and pulls out of them practical applications for Christians in his day, which still have perfect application for Christians today. I think what keeps his words so relevant is how closely he sticks with the biblical texts, seldom straying into his own opinion, but simply saying to us, “Did you see that?” 

His thoughts are presented to us section-by-section, not verse-by-verse as many biblical commentators do. This method has two distinct advantages for us: (1) It’s easier to get a “big picture” view of what Jesus was doing and teaching, and (2) It’s more manageable to use this book as a complement to a personal or group Bible study. 

In fact, Ryle himself suggested that the design of his commentary was with family devotions in mind. Purposely, he doesn’t delve into deep doctrine so that the youngest or most novice of Christians can gain much insight. But don’t confuse that statement with this being “light reading.” On the contrary, even the most tenured Christian will find ample thoughts to challenge his mind. 

I highly recommend this series of commentaries to those who want a deeper Bible study time.  

Thursdays With Oswald—How To Understand And Apply The Scriptures

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

How To Understand And Apply The Scriptures

     In order to understand the Sermon on the Mount, it is necessary to have the mind of the Preacher, and this knowledge can be gained by anyone who will receive the Holy Spirit (see Luke 11:13; John 20:22; Acts 19:2). The Holy Ghost alone can expound the teachings of Jesus Christ. The one abiding method of interpretation of the teachings of Jesus is the Spirit of Jesus in the heart of the believer applying His principles to the particular circumstances in which he is placed. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” says Paul, “that you may prove,” i.e. make out, “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” [Romans 12:2]. …

     Every mind has two compartments—conscious and subconscious. We say that the things we hear and read slip away from memory; they do not really, they pass into the subconscious mind. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring back into the conscious mind the things that are stored in the subconscious. In studying the Bible never think that because you do not understand it, therefore it is of no use. A truth may be of no use to you just now, but when the circumstances arise in which that truth is needed, the Holy Spirit will bring it back to your remembrance [John 14:26]. … 

     We do not hunt through the Bible for some precept to obey…but we live so in touch with God that the Holy Spirit can continually bring some word of His and apply it to the circumstances we are in. … The teaching of Jesus Christ comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with, because it is out of all proportion to our natural way of looking at things; but Jesus puts in a new sense of proportion, and slowly we form our way of walking and our conversation on the line of His precepts: Remember that our Lord’s teaching applies only to those who are His disciples.

From Studies On The Sermon On The Mount

What Chambers says about the Sermon on the Mount is true of any biblical passage we read: we need to have the Holy Spirit’s help to understand it and apply it to our unique life setting. 

Think of this—the same Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical writers is the exact same Spirit who will assist you in understanding that Word! Before I read the Bible I often pray: May the Spirit who inspired this Word now illuminate my mind to understand it and obey it. 

Try that prayer yourself and see how God’s Word is opened up to you. 

Saturday In The Proverbs—What A Waste! (Proverbs 29)

[Each chapter in the Book of Proverbs contains thoughts that fit into a theme; they are not just random thoughts gathered together. In this “Saturday In The Proverbs” series, I will share a theme that I see in each chapter. But the cool thing about God’s Word is that you may see an entirely different theme. That’s great! If you do, I would love for you to share it in the comments below.]

He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).

God gives us SO MANY opportunities to experience His blessings, but when we continually flout His laws, we squander what we could have enjoyed. 

We waste things like…

  • …personal growth (vv. 1, 19)
  • …nurturing relationships (vv. 2, 5, 8-11, 24, 27)
  • …wealth (v. 3)
  • …leadership opportunities (vv. 4, 12, 14, 18, 26)
  • …escape from heartache (vv. 6, 15, 17, 20, 21)
  • …relieving others’ suffering (v. 7)
  • …revelation / insight (vv. 13, 19)
  • …growing in righteousness (v. 16)
  • …lasting peace (vv. 22, 23, 25)

Don’t waste what God wants to give you! 

Thursdays With Oswald—Jeremiah 27-28

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Jeremiah 27-28

[These are notes from Oswald Chambers’ lecture on Jeremiah 27-28.] 

     God does not act according to His own precedents, therefore logic or a vivid past experience can never take the place of personal faith in a personal God. … God is constantly stirring up our nests that we may learn that the only simplicity there is is not the simplicity of a logical belief, but “the simplicity that is in Christ” [2 Corinthians 11:3]. … 

     Never try to explain God until you have obeyed Him…. The only bit of God we understand is the bit we have obeyed. … Never be surprised if there our whole areas of thinking that are not clear, they never will be until you obey (John 7:17). …

     We never gain any knowledge by intellectual curiosity, but only as a relationship of simplicity to God is it maintained. In John 9 Our Lord was dealing with religious teachers who had known God’s way in the past but they were blind to His ways in the present. … Our Lord’s phrase “blind leaders of the blind” was used of those who built their teaching as to how God would act in the future on their knowledge of how He had acted in the past, instead of on a personal knowledge of God. …  

     We have to keep in unbroken touch with God and give every soul the same freedom and liberty before God as God gives us. …

     No silence is so profound as the silence that falls on a soul that has quenched the Spirit of God by concentration on religious convictions. … Our only safety is in concentration on God with nothing between.

From Notes On Jeremiah

God is infinitely creative—He never has to repeat Himself. For proof, just look at the billions of unique snowflakes! 

We must be very careful not to say, “God, You worked just like this last time so I expect You to work exactly the same way this time.” Let God be God; let Him do what He knows is best to do. Don’t tell God how He’s supposed to work, and don’t teach others to interact with God the same way you have interacted with God. 

Let God be God—unique, inimitable, creative, sovereign, omnipotent, personal—with you and with others. 

Notes On Jeremiah (book review)

Oswald Chambers always gives me unique perspectives on passages of Scripture—even ones that I thought I already knew quite well. He does this again as he dives deep into one of the major prophets in his book Notes On Jeremiah.

These Notes are really his lecture notes from his classes at the Bible Training Institute. Once again, these classes were cut short by the outbreak of The Great War (what we now call World War I), so we only have his brilliant insights through Jeremiah chapter 29. 

Chambers himself noted, “The conception of these studies is that man must look higher for the source of life and salvation than the experience of life. … Jesus Christ is the only One Who can throw light on the prophecies of Isaiah, and He is the only One Who throws any kind of light on the acute suffering and amazing misery of this prophet [Jeremiah].” 

Indeed, many of Chambers’ lectures start with “the experience of life” that most of us have had (or are having at present), and then he tries to take us both higher and deeper. Using Jeremiah’s prophesies like a searchlight, Chambers shows how these Old Testament words find their ultimate relevance and fulfillment in the dazzling Advent of Jesus Christ. 

Jeremiah was prophesying in the darkest days of Judah, just before the city was overthrown by the Babylonians. In the face of this darkness, Jeremiah shines out a light of Ultimate Hope. This is a valuable resource for Christians today who are living in sin-darkened days.

If you are looking for a great companion resource for your Bible reading time in Jeremiah, please add Notes On Jeremiah to your library. 

Thursdays With Oswald—Jeremiah 11

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Jeremiah 11 

[These are notes from Oswald Chambers’ lecture on Jeremiah 11.]

     Misapprehensions of God arise from not understanding that His way for us is obedience until we discern, not waiting to obey until we know. The only way to know God more fully is to obey what we have discerned, then we shall know something more. …  

     If we will obey, we are backed by Omnipotence; but if once we begin to be cunning and suspicious and to doubt, we are backed by diabolical inspiration as compelling on the wrong side as obedience is on the right. … 

     Unless we keep in touch with God by obedience it is possible to pray for a wrong thing. In this case [Jeremiah 11:9-11] the people have rebelled and do not intend to obey, they only pray because they are suffering, not because they want God’s will to be done in them. … 

     “My Lord and I” is a very beautiful sentiment, but before we know it as a living experience we have to fight our way through all the contradicting things to the un-afraid, simple life that trusts in God. 

From Notes On Jeremiah

Most of us have an attitude that says, “As soon as I understand, I will fully believe.” But Oswald Chambers points out that the Scriptures teach that we are to be fully obedient to what has already been revealed to us in order to receive more revelation. 

A loving God would not reveal things to us that we are not yet ready to obey. So if you want God to show you deeper things, obey what He’s already shown you. 

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