Wednesday, October 21, 2009

“What Difference Do It Make?”: A Book Review

Ron Hall and Denver Moore, the authors of “Same Kind of Different as Me”, return (with Lynn Vincent) with the sequel to their New York Times bestseller. I have not read their original work but, after reading this one, plan to do so in the near future.

Even if you have not read their first work, you learn enough of the history of the authors in this book to enable you to understand their message. Denver was a homeless person, befriended by Ron’s wife, Deborah. Deborah’s passion for the homeless and for Denver had a significant impact on her husband and, when she died as a result of cancer, Ron picked up her message and, together with Denver, ran with it. This book is a continuation of Ron and Denver’s story, covering much of what has occurred since the success of “Same Kind of Different as Me”.

The chapters mostly alternate between Ron and Denver’s stories. These stories are testimonies of God working through painful situations and awkward moments, and changing the lives of many individuals from varying backgrounds and life histories. The reader comes away understanding that, with God, one person can make a big difference in the lives of others.

While I enjoyed almost everything I read, I found myself more attracted to the simple wisdom of Denver. For example, listen to his wisdom from pages 45 & 46.

And needy people don’t need no perfect people neither. When Jesus sent His disciples out, He sent Peter right along, knowin Peter had a bad temper and a potty mouth and was gon’ deny Him three times. He sent John and James even though they was full a’ pride and fightin over the best seat at the table. He even sent Judas, knowin Judas was goin’ etray Him. Even though Jesus knowed all a’ their sin and weakness, He sent ‘em anyway.

Listen, if the devil ain’t messin with you, he’s already got you. If you is waitin to clean up your own life before you get out and help somebody else, you may as well take off your shoes and crawl back in the bed ‘cause it ain’t never gon’ happen. Jesus don’t need no help from no perfect saints. If He did, He wouldn’t a’ gone up yonder and left us down here in charge.

Or, here’s another example from page 61:

Now Denver completed his verdict and gave me (Ron) an ultimatum. Keeping me pinned with that eyeball, he said, “You know what you did? You judged a man without knowin his heart. And I’m gon’ tell you something. If you gon’ walk these streets with me, you gon’ have to learn how to serve these people without judging ‘em. Let the judging be up to God.

Those have to be some of the most profound words I have ever read outside of Scripture on the subject of not judging others!

The book is laced with real stories from others who were touched by “Same Kind of Different as Me”. Also, Ron and Denver relate stories from the lives of some of the people who intersected their life. In particular, the story of Mr. Ballantine in chapter 17 and the “Big Chicken Dinner” man from Seattle described in chapter 24.

This work is a very easy 201 pages to read but, more importantly, an enjoyable and profitable 201 pages to read. I would encourage everyone to pick up a copy and see for yourself.

In the meantime, I need to get my hands on a copy of “Same Kind of Different as Me”!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is My Desk "Captive to the Word of God"?

I actually have two desks facing each other in my work area at home (plus several filing cabinets and bookshelves). On one of these desks I do most of my work: sermon prep, lecture prep, grading papers, secular computer work, paying bills, etc. My other desk was intended to be used as a secondary work area when I had multiple activities going on at once.

Well, I turned around and the state of my second desk finally hit me. What a mess! On its surface are folders containing notes, several books (many of them Bible translations or Scripture related), pictures, pens, pamphlets, church items, and homeschooling software. I can barely see the desktop itself!

This is NOT what I mean by the title of this blog: "Captive to the Word of God". Yet, that is almost how I feel when I look at this desk, namely, a captive! It is time to put some of the folders into my filing cabinets, books back into their shelves, and the "junk" into the trash can.

The title of the blog actually refers to a statement made by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521. His remark reflects my desire to be like him in this sense: may every step of my life be so governed by God's Word that I become a captive to that Word.

Appearing before members of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in the German city of Worms, the exchange provoking Luther's statement went something like this:

Archbishop of Trier, Eck (pointing to books on a table): "Are these your writings?"

Luther: "The books are all mine, and I have written more."

Eck: "Do you defend them all, or do you care to reject a part?"

Luther: "Most serene emperor, most illustrious princes, most clement lords, if I have not given some of you your proper titles I beg you to forgive me. I am not a courtier, but a monk. You asked me yesterday whether I would repudiate them. They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort. Some deal with faith and life so simply and evagelically that my very enemies are compelled to regard them as worthy of Christian reading. Even the bull itself does not treat all my books as of one kind. If I should renounce these, I would be the only man on earth to damn the truth confessed alike by friends an foes. A second class of my works inveighs against the desolation of the Christian world by the evil lives and teaching of the papists. Who can deny this when the universal complaints testify that by the laws of the popes the consciences of men are racked?"

Emperor Charles V: "No!"

Luther: "Should I recant at this point, I would open the door to more tyranny and impiety, and it will be all the worse should it appear that I had done so at the instance of the Holy Roman Empire. A third class contains attacks on private individuals. I confess I have been more caustic than comports with my profession, but I am being judged, not on my life, but for the teaching of Christ, and I cannot renounce these works either, without increasing tyranny and impiety. ... I commend myself to Your Majesty. May you not suffer my adversaries to make you ill disposed to me without cause. I have spoken."

Eck: "Martin, you have not sufficiently distinguished your works. The earlier were bad and the latter worse. Your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing but renew the errors of Wyclif and Hus. ... Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? ... I ask you, Martin--answer candidly and without horns--do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"

Luther: "Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."

April 18, 1521 (taken primarily from Bainton's work "Here I Stand", pp. 141-144).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bearing Fruit in Your Old Age

I am 59 years of age and there are days when I physically feel every second of my years! Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I am still alive and in fairly good health. Medication helps my blood pressure remain "normal", my heart from going "a-fib", and my blood sugars close to where they should be. I am thankful God has granted wisdom to men and women who have developed such medicine.

Yet this year has yielded some evidence to my physical decline, evidence I have not seen in the past. My right eye was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy essentially meaning diabetes is slowing destroying sight in that eye. Furthermore, two tears were found in that retina. A couple of laser treatments have repaired the tears and also assisted in reversing some of the retinopathy.

Also, while accompanying one of my daughters to her doctor's appointment, a dermitologist took more interest in me than in her. She recommended I set up my own appointment with her which I did. Her examination concluded I had some pre-cancerous skin cells on my right arm as well as on a portion of my face. She treated the right arm in the office but, given the extent of the damage she saw on my face, recommended I use a prescribed cream to treat that area. She told me to use the ointment twice a day for 3 weeks but not to begin until the weather was cooler, around October 1st. She forewarned me that the medicine would make my face "perfect" for Halloween!

Well, the treatments have begun and, after only one week, the bad cells are beginning to show up as dark spots on my face. My face has become sore and aches when I wash it. I discovered yesterday that shaving above my beard is so painful now that I will bypass that act until my skin has recovered from this treatment. Indeed, I am looking more and more like an ogre every day and still have two more weeks of applying this cream!

I say all of this to explain how all of this has made me feel quite old this week (plus my oldest child turned 36!). My reflexes are slow, my eyes ache, my face hurts, my joints experience pain with minimal use: I am a mess. How can the Lord continue to use such a servant?

My daily Scripture reading brought me to Psalm 92 today where I read:

"They (the righteous) still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him" (Psalm 92:14-15, ESV).

Wow, what a great text! "They still bear fruit in old age". Well, I'm old and getting older every day. What a great promise to know that, despite my age and my aches and pains, I can still be fruitful in the work of our Lord. I can still declare the Lord is righteous. The Lord will still use me even with a face that might rival that of the Frankenstein monster!

The phrase "full of sap and green" bothered me a bit because I figured some family member or friend might read this blog entry and make some comment about me being "sappy". So, I checked out the passage in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and read this:

"They will stear bear fruit in old age, healthy and green, to declare: 'The Lord is just; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.'"

In the midst of our ever increasing age, our mounting pains, and our reduced physical abilities, REJOICE in the promise that, in God's Kingdom, even the old bear fruit. They declare to everyone that crosses their path, whether by preaching, teaching, sharing, giving, singing, worshiping, or writing, "the Lord is just".

May Jesus be praised for not only redeeming us and providing the righteousness by which we are declared just before God, but for using us as His servants, even in our old age!