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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Learning from Psalm 46


Perhaps one of the most familiar beginnings to a Psalm is this one: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. I love this. It uses the words refuge, strength, and help. God is that for us. He is there for us in trouble. He’s present.

It’s interesting to note that the first part of this Psalm is the title: “To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.” It was a special song to be sung by soprano voices (Alamoth).

What comes next? Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. I have some friends who have lived through mudslides and floods. Even in those awful situations, the Lord is there. He alone can keep us from fear. God is our refuge in trouble.

The next verse changes our focus to heaven. I think most of us lose sight of heaven when we’re going through hard times. But, look at this contrast with the last verse about mountains being carried out to sea: There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. This is peaceful, beautiful, and glorious—and God’s presence is there, too. He is just as present in our troubles as He is in Glory. Wow!

Now, the Psalm moves to a historical view of God’s power and His sovereign care. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

An invitation follows: to gaze on our victorious God. Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. He brings peace.

Then, this invitation is even more beautiful: Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The wrap-up? The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Is the Lord of hosts your refuge? Do you know that He is God? Are you pausing for a moment to drink these truths into your soul?

I can only imagine beautiful, young soprano voices proclaiming God’s being there—and everywhere—for us. It must have been amazing.

Notice, Psalm 46 doesn’t say God can be a refuge and strength. It says He is. What a wonderful concept! God is our refuge, strength, and help. May we be ever mindful of Him.


And, may we never lose sight of heaven.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: Riven, by Jerry Jenkins


Jerry Jenkins, author of more than 180 books, says Riven is one of his favorites. On that recommendation, I bought this book. To say it’s not at all what I expected is one of the understatements of the century.

Jerry starts off by telling two stories. One is about a pastor named Thomas, married to Grace (double meaning, there), who takes a new pastorate. It falls through before he even gets started. It’s another personal failure on top of a whole list of failures. Thomas begins to doubt his effectiveness—even though he’s been faithful to his divine calling. An opportunity opens up for him to be a chaplain at a maximum-security prison. He accepts, desiring more than anything to make a difference. The only problem is, the prisoners have to petition to see him—and not many of them are interested. Make that almost none. After witnessing his first execution, Thomas hits a low point. Adding to that, Grace has leukemia.

The parallel story is about a young high schooler named Brady. He’s a mess. Brady’s from a broken home. His mother is a drunk and rarely home. His little brother Petey is his best friend. Even though Brady is a terrible example, he wants to protect his brother. Brady’s attitude basically is, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Brady finds he has a talent for acting. (It probably comes from a lying habit, but he is good. If only his grades would let him act and make it big.) Brady’s life is colorful but not happy, and his habits and desires lead him down a path he would never recommend to his little brother.

In order not to spoil, I can’t reveal more of the plot.

There are multiple layers of meaning in this book. Many pastors and their wives can identify with Thomas. Many church people need to identify with him—and pray for their pastors. Many can also fall in love with Brady. I know I did, and I wanted to believe in him, just like his aunt and uncle and two others. I wanted him to succeed. Perhaps, he did.

There are several clear presentations of the gospel in this book. I loved the different contexts and the emphasis on Jesus and His willingness to forgive anyone. It's powerful.

The last quarter of Riven is about something Brady requests—and is granted. I understand why the author did this. (It’s a shocker.) And, I am glad that I read this book. But, I am not in agreement, and I don’t think a lot of other readers will be, either. It’s about a method of capital punishment. In the book, there’s a reason behind it. But, I believe it sensationalizes someone's death—the killing of this person is televised—and I just can’t approve. The author describes it in graphic detail. I flipped through those pages. Again, I understand Jenkins’ point, and you will, too, if you read the book. This part wasn’t for me, though, and it’s not for the squeamish.

I was also disappointed in the title. It’s one of those one-word titles in vogue today. The problem is that Riven is not represented in the story. It's outside the story.

Riven grabbed me from the beginning. It is well written, though not literary. I loved the characters—all of the main characters. This book made me think and analyze and mull it over in my mind. It is strong, and its impact is amazing. What a concept!

This book is for adults only. I believe some of the thematic elements would be disturbing to young people and to young Christians. There are no curse words (though cursing is mentioned), only passing references to sexual conduct, and it is clean. There are: lying, cheating, stealing, mocking religion and Jesus, the graphic description of a horrible death, and another disturbing death scene.

If you’ve read Riven, I’d love to know what you thought about this book.