Monday, December 2, 2013

Simply Jesus, a book review

I had such a hard time writing this book review. It wasn’t because I couldn’t figure out what to say. In fact, I had a hard time figuring out how to stop talking about it!

Simply Jesus was written by Joseph M. Stowell, the president of Moody Bible College. I will admit that I know very little about Moody Bible College and did not recognize Stowell's name. I read this book with no preconceptions about the author’s belief system and enjoyed the book simply for what it is – a concise look at how to strip away our misconceptions and religious traditions about Jesus Christ.

We preach and teach about His will and His ways; tell His stories by heart; celebrate Him in worship; and serve Him with enthusiasm. Yet underneath it all (if we are truly candid), there is a gnawing sense that there should be something… well, more to this relationship (6).

Bingo. I feel that way. I was raised as a Christian, have read the Bible cover to cover several times, attend church most weeks, spend time in Bible study or devotional reading almost every morning, and still feel like I’m missing something. What am I missing? And why?

Jesus intends for you to experience the pleasure and reassuring peace of His presence at the core of your life. He wants to be more than just another volume in your encyclopedia of biblical facts. He didn't die for you to simply strike a deal guaranteeing heaven. He died for you to make His own and to grant you the unspeakable privilege of experiencing Him personally (6).

Look! Here I stand at the door and knock.
If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in,
and we will share a meal as friends
(Revelation 3:20, NLT).

First, so there is no confusion, keeping clear ledgers in our lives is basic to experiencing Christ. As long as there is residual sin in our hearts, there will always be distance. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). And the tenses in that pronouncement are not futuristic but present. In other words, if you are not pure in heart today, don’t count on experiencing Christ in a compelling way (12).

Ouch. The author gives examples of bitterness, unresolved anger, sensual thoughts and actions, pride, untruthfulness, or slander and gossip. I struggle with selfishness, a quick temper, and a harsh tongue. Does that mean that I cannot experience Jesus on a personal level until I conquer those things? Or can I experience Christ more and more as He continues to mold me into His character?

The author showcases this text as a way to cleanse our hearts:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there by any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23-24

Stowell next talks about what two attitude shifts are necessary to help the believer experience Jesus. The first attitude shift is to always rejoice in the Lord.

This is what the Lord says:
"let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!"
Jeremiah 9:23-24, NLT

Boasting is a healthy activity when it centers on Jesus. You can introduce Him to others with as long a string of superlatives as you want. You can list His accomplishments, cite His wonderful qualities, talk constantly about His kindness and mercy and love, and sing His praises for the rest of your life … if you and I are ever going to experience Jesus in the way we love to experience Him, we need to learn how to get beyond ourselves and our achievements to get all the way to Him. We need to cultivate a reflex response that immediately triggers gratefulness and praise to Him for enabling us to accomplish what we do… when something good happens in life… when we've performed well and received a few strokes… when we've been acknowledged and affirmed… when our fondest dreams have come true. When we are blessed, we need to master the response that takes that spark of joy we feel about ourselves and lets it explode into the joy of celebrating His preeminent provision and grace in our lives. The moment you do this, you connect with Him and lose yourself in His abundant goodness.

The psalmist tells us that He inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3, KJV). Strangely enough, it doesn't say that He inhabits our complaints or our self-serving compliments. If you heart is full of complaining or self-pity – or of self-congratulating applause – you won’t experience His nearness. Positioning our lives to experience Jesus requires seeing beyond the blessings and burdens of life … to fill our hearts with Him alone. In the process, we learn the sweet skill of boasting on Him, regardless. He inhabits the praises of His people. Meet Him there (28).

This is definitely something I need to cultivate in my life. I remember to praise God for the good things that happen but it is not always immediate. My first response is to celebrate and embrace the joy. My second response is to bow in gratitude. I do think this order needs to be reversed; first I need to thank God for how He just blessed us and then enjoy the blessing. I know I'm getting better at this, but it's still a delayed response to thank God. When we received news of orphanage approval, I danced with joy and then later prayed to thank God for granting us the approval. I hope that eventually my first thought on receiving good news is, "thank you Lord for blessing us so greatly!"

The second necessary attitude shift is to value Jesus above everything. Stowell gives several reasons why this is important, but this is my favorite reason.

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith
Philippians 3:9

At the Cross we are placed ‘in Him’… apart from ‘being found in Him,’ we could not approach the throne of God in prayer. We could not draw near to the majestic presence of our God without being instantly vaporized. But covered in our Lord’s own righteousness, we can approach a holy God with confidence and worship Him without fear. We can share our deepest thoughts and longings, knowing that He hears and cares. And we can find grace and mercy to help us in our time of need (35).

There were a lot of other quotes that I highlighted as I was reading through the book. It really made me think about why I sometimes still feel so distant from God even though I try to do all the right things. I wish I had received a physical copy of this book instead of an e-copy (as I much prefer turning pages!), but am grateful for the opportunity to have read it. It will definitely be a reread at some point in the future.

Many thanks to Random House for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions. I received no compensation other than a free e-copy of this book.

1 comment:

Julie Fukuda said...

That looks like a tough review to write. I know I could never have managed to read it on a computer screen, let alone take notes. (no place to put the post-its and book marks and side notes.