Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Transforming Grace

Author: Jerry Bridges
Publisher: NavPress
ISBN: 978-1-63146-864-3

Cover Synopsis:
Grace is amazing because it is God’s provision for when we fall short of His standards. Unfortunately, too many of us embrace grace for our salvation but then leave it behind in our everyday lives. We base our relationship with God on our performance rather than on His love for us, even when we intuitively know that our performance cannot earn us the love we so desperately crave.

Isn’t it time to stop trying to measure up and begin accepting the transforming power of God’s grace? The product of more than ten years of Bible study, Navigator author Jerry Bridges’s Transforming Grace is a fountainhead of inspiration and renewal that will show you just how inexhaustible and generous God’s grace really is.

Review:
As you know, I've done a lot of book reviews before.  This one is unique (with the possible exception of Ben-Hur) in that I kind of knew what to expect going into it.  I'd heard the late Jerry Bridges' expanded view of Grace before,  and when an opportunity came up to get a free copy of one of his books, I snapped that deal right up!

First off, I want to start by saying this is a difficult book to review.  It isn't that I disliked the subject, nor was it at all difficult to understand.  (Far from it, on both counts!)  The trouble comes when you read two chapters and go, "hmmm", and have to think about it for a day or two before continuing on.

In other words, this book leaves you a lot to think about along the way.  The word "Transforming" is much more than just a snappy title.

I think the first thing that has to be discussed is the underlying premise of the book.

The Christian life is often broken down into three high-fallutin' buzzwords, namely:
1) Justification - This is when you accept the gift of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice on your behalf and are declared "clean" as you exchange your sin for his righteousness.

2) Sanctification - That is, living life as a new creation.  You no longer live in ignorance and sin, but instead have the power to overcome it!  You are being transformed from a filthy, egotistical sinner into somebody who is holy and good.

3)  Glorification - Though we have a new drive to be holy, we still mess up constantly, and that gets frustrating fast.  In Heaven, where we are headed, there is no such aggravation because we'll given the ultimate extreme makeover.  We get a whole new body and everything!  More importantly, total immunity from sin.

Perhaps a simpler way of putting it:
1) Free from the consequences of sin.
2) Free from the power of sin.
3) Free from the presence of sin.
But you can get that much in any good, Bible-believing church.

This is where Jerry Bridges steps in and says, "hold on a minute..."  Justification comes from God's Grace and not of your doing.  Glorification is from God's Grace and not your doing.  So why is it, that Christians living the life in between act as if it IS their own doing?

"I've got to buckle down.  I've got to work harder and be a better... Husband... Father... Christian, in general." we say to ourselves.

One time a friend and I were walking through our local bookstore.  He pointed up to a sign and said "Irony".  I didn't get it for a minute.  There was a whole section labelled, "Christian Self-Help".  But then it hit me.  SELF... help!??  That says a lot about the boat we're in, doesn't it!

To counter that mentality, Jerry Bridges looks to Philippians 1:6 "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ".  Who's job is this, again?  Mine?  I don't think so!

Couple that with the idea of freedom, Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  This idea of doing stuff... that gets called a "burden" and "slavery".

This is one of those special sorts of concepts that you hear, and then next time you go read your Bible find it all over the place... when you know to look for it, that is.

The premise, though simple, is really pretty revolutionary, and it leads to quite a number of different and startling ideas, which the rest of the book is devoted to pointing out. 

(P.S. I'm pretty sure some of these ideas will creep into my writing from here on out.  How could they not!??) 

For example, Bridges points out the revolutionary difference between "have to" / "ought to" and "want to" / "get to".  Most Christians are living under the "have to" mentality, which is oppressive.  I "have to" go to church, or I "have to" stop this sin or that.  That's burdensome, and certainly not the thinking of a transformed heart!

Like if you're walking along the beach with your wife and a pretty girl goes by.  Try telling her, "I'd really rather be with that person, but I made a promise when we got married so I have to go home with you instead." 
Yeah.  Thanks a lot.

That, verses, "She's okay, but I'm glad I get to go home with the best girl on the beach."  Both have the same net result, but which one has the right heart?

Bridges, quoting an old English preacher points out that for something to be truly good, it consists of three parts:  The right thing, done the right way, and achieving the right end.  We get all legalistic, looking only at the right end, but never even pause to consider the motives that led up to it.

In fact, he says that more often than not, we're usually motivated to do "good" soley because of what we get out of the deal!  Whether it means recognition from others, a check-mark on some imaginary score card, or simply personal feel-good, the motive is the same:  Selfishness.  Only when we recognize and admit that Grace is truly 100% un-earned do we gain freedom from acting under the wrong motivation.

But you're probably reading this, thinking, "That Bridges guy... he's teaching that people can just run amok and sin all they want!"  He is not into that at all, and discusses it at length.  Furthermore, he also quotes Dr Martin-Lloyd Jones (who also no slouch when it came to righteousness).  "[Dr. Lloyd-Jones] was saying that the presentation of salvation by grace alone [...] leaves us us to the possibility that people may charge us with saying, 'It does not matter what you do; sin as much as you like.'"  He even suggests that if we're not in danger of being misunderstood, then we're neglecting the message!
 
Now, at this point, either one of two things have happened:
1) I've done a bad job of writing this article and you're thoroughly confused.

- or -

2) You're holding your noggin' going, "wooooah" like some washed-up flower child.
I'm hoping for number 2. :)

The thing is, what I've said barely scratches the surface of what the book has to offer.  The it goes on and on like this - one "aha" moment after another.  I obviously recommend it, even to the level of importance of the classics such as "My Utmost for His Highest".  It's that important.

Quality-wise, the points are all fully supported by large blocks of scripture.  Likewise, he has a good command of the wise teachers of old, and though the topics tend to meander, Bridges does a great job of explaining mind-blowing topics in a way that is both simple and solid.

If you look for the exact ISBN rather than just the title, this new edition also comes with a discussion guide (approximately the last 1/4 of the book) and a "Help for Leaders" section in the back, which would be useful in covering the material in a group setting.

I can think of no better way to end this review than with Brides' own words:
I invite you and urge you to lay aside any remnant of self-goodness you may think you still have.  Admit your total spiritual bankruptcy, and drink deeply from the infinite grace of God.  And then in deep awareness of what you received, extend that same spirit of grace to others.
Amen, to that!


Live YOUR Adventure,
-E.L. Fletcher.


[DISCLAIMER: The preceding unbiased review was performed in exchange for the book.]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Chapter 35: Surprise Guests


The the following is the next exciting next chapter of the ongoing eBook:
Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study.  If you just tuned in, start reading here!

The team camped out in the woods that night.  It was discussed whether they could find another town and secure lodging, but they were thoroughly enough lost that there was no guarantee of finding anything.   Worse still, the one thing they knew for sure was out there was whatever force had wasted an entire village -  presumably within seconds.  Not the type of thing you'd want to stumble into in the dark.

For that reason, they turned a direct ninety degrees from the road and the path of destruction, drove along an old logging road as far as the terrain would allow, and then hiked another five miles for good measure.

In later years, they'd be more likely to pursue the enemy all night rather than running and hiding.  Tonight, however, they were still very young... and very scared.

As an extra precaution they decided to set a watch.  Jack scooped up three dry pine needles from the forest floor.  Snapping them off to different lengths, he stuck them in a closed fist, tips lined up evenly.

After all had drawn, they held out their lot to compare in the flickering firelight.

Jack's was clearly the shortest.  "Blue watch." he declared, using the same Navy terminology that Ms McCready had used during training.  "Figures."

"I got white." said Wendell.

"Red!  Woohoo!" Misty cheered, having pulled the earliest watch.

She wasn't cheering long, however, when the boys retired and she found herself left alone with the strange sounds of the night.  These seemed all the more frightening, being in a foreign land and without even a sliver of moon to shed light on whatever made them.

"This European tour is turning out nothing like the brochure." she said aloud.

The sound of her voice startled some unseen something, which ran up a tree.  She decided not to speak again.

Despite jumping out of her skin every time an owl hoo'd, the time passed uneventfully.

Wendell, after much shaking and threats of personal torture, was roused at midnight and set to work.  Once the strange sounds of the night hit him, however, he was wide awake.  At first, he doubted that he could hear any approaching danger over the thud of his own heartbeat echoing in his ears.

As the night wore on, terror gradually gave way to boredom, and then boredom melted down into weariness. 

Despite Misty's unveiled threats that military watchmen who fall asleep on duty are executed, Wendell found himself drifting.

His head sagged.  His eyes drooped.  Rough bark rasped along his cheek.

Snap!

Like lightning he was awake and on his feet, pistol drawn and pointed at the inky void from which the sound had come.

He squinted hard into the darkness for a long time.  It proved too thoroughly black for even night-adjusted eyes to pierce.  No second sound ever came.  The silence rang in his ears as he strained against it for some clue.

He even tried to 'use your nose' as Michael Moast had taught them all.  He inhaled deeply.  Well, maybe Michael could have gotten something out of this, but all Wendell could smell was enough tangy pine needles to make snorting an air freshener seem tame.

Not even Micheal could smell anything over that.  he thought.

Well... maybe Michael wouldn't have camped here.  his mind argued back.

And then his eyebrows shot up and mumbled. "Michael wouldn't have camped here!"

A chill ran up his spine.  He glanced around.

They were on top of a hill.  The fire could be seen for miles.  Stupid.

The fire was made with green wood, and not enough air.  It was very smoky.  Stupid!

They hadn't concealed their abandoned truck, nor their footprints.  Stupid, stupid!

Now that he had completely freaked himself out, Wendell was in no mood for sleeping.

"Cappuccino?"

He spun and fired long before he registered it as a word. 

Boom!  Jack and Misty's nervous systems flew out of bed, dragging the rest of their bodies with them.  When they landed, Jack had his weapon cocked and pointed in both hands in perfect police officer form, where Misty reflexively dropped to a solid fighting stance.

If mind, reflex, and emotion were separate individuals, then the first member of the group finally got its lazy bones out of bed.

"Say,  what's going on here?"  asked Jack, now taking a good look at the scene.

Wendell stood facing a woman.  She held a dainty china coffee cup in one hand, and Wendell's upraised wrist in the other.  The drink and the recently-fired pistol in his hand each let off a spiraling tendril of smoke that drifted long and high into the night air.

"Irmingard..."  the sound trickled from Wendell's throat.

It really was her! 

She really did have coffee!

After a moment of staring like an idiot, Wendell realized that he'd started a sentence and never finished it.  He didn't know what to say until he saw the smoking gun.  "I could've killed you!"

"No you couldn't." said another voice from the far side of the campfire.

All heads turned.

None could make out where the voice was coming from.

Jack noticed it first.  One of the surrounding bushes seemed to have inexplicably moved itself closer to the fire during the night.  Not only that, but among its branches was one that was far too perfectly straight to be a product of nature.  It was the barrel of a rifle!  And with camouflage skills like that, there could be only one person holding onto the other end of it.

"Lola."  concluded Jack.

Wendell almost asked, 'How did you find us?', but then remembered his earlier argument with himself over their poor woodcraft skills.  Instead, he asked, "What happened?  How did you get away from the compound?"

"We should talk about that over coffee.  Aren't you going to ask me to sit down?"

Wendell stepped aside, and gestured toward the fire in a gentlemanly way.

"Thank you." she said, and moved to take her seat.

Looking up, Irmingard addressed the bush,  "Lola, I'm sure we're all very impressed, but we've seen it now.  Let it go, okay."

The bush grunted.  With a rustle of leaves, the elder Rabishaw sister popped from the foliage and made her way to the rest of the group.  They had a lot to discuss.


NEXT CHAPTER ... COMING SOON!


The preceding has been a chapter from Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study
(Copyright 2016, Edmund Lloyd Fletcher.)

For more on this story, please visit its main page.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to the email list so you never miss a thing!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Chapter 34: Trailer Park


The the following is the next exciting next chapter of the ongoing eBook:
Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study.  If you just tuned in, start reading here!

Row after row of trailers slid along, their reflection distorted against the sleek lines of the freshly-polished Mercedes SUV.  The woman inside wore darkly-tinted shades and a gauzey silk scarf.

She swung the wheel of the powerful machine around with an expert hand, and slid it into a narrow strip of driveway next to a gleaming red Ferrari.

The car was at strange odds with the faded teal trailer house next to it, but some people have their priorities straight in their own mind, whether they make sense to others or not.

Though a woman of a different social class, Melinda Moast didn't pass any judgment as her footsteps creaked up the wooden steps to the front door.  She reached out to press the doorbell, but her finger was snatched out of the air by a meaty paw.

"Don' wanna be touchin' that now, dearie."

Melinda looked down at the pudgy form of the old Bible Study (and Special Forces) veteran Ms McCready.  She must have heard the deck creaking.  In fact, it may even be the reason why she maintained a creaky deck.

"W-why not?"  Melinda asked, surprised in spite of her dealings with the strange Irishwoman.

"Just heard some ol' friends o' mine are in town.  Got 'er wired up to 110 volts in case they decide to try anythin'."

"Old friends?"  Melinda asked, her gaze fixed on the small silver button, imagining how bad it would have hurt to touch it.

"Guerrillas, mostly.  We helped put 'em in power, but they botched it and might blame us."  She hesitated.  Looking Melinda up and down she added, "Well, enough o' that.  No sense standin' out here on the porch, listnin' to an old woman go on about the good ole days.  Come on in.  I got a kettle on the stove and a scone with yer name on it."

Melinda took up the invitation and was soon seated on an old couch with a crocheted orange afghan, still trying to wrap her mind around how some kind of jungle warfare translated into 'the good ole days'.

She tried to bring up the reason for her visit, but her hostess wouldn't hear of it until tea and scones were served in proper fashion.

"Baked these mesself." she announced proudly as she offered a plate of raisin scones.  "T'aint as easy as field-strippin' an AK-47, but it's what old, retired people are s'posed to do."

Then she looked Melinda deep in the eye.  "I am still retired, right?"

Melinda tried to wave the insinuation away and gave a smile that didn't come off nearly as positive as she was trying for.  "Of course, of course."

Ms McCready raised an eyebrow.

In response, Melinda hastened to explain, "It's just that Michael is out of town and he needs help hunting down clues for this new kind of weapon somebody is building..."

The skeptical look remained.

"No, it's not what you think.  He wants me to join him in the project.  What we really need is somebody to check up on our new recruits while we're away.  They're in the middle of a cultural tour of Europe and, well, I got this message this morning..."

Melinda lifted the phone she already held.  A quick flick of her index finger started the recording, while her thumb held the [Vol +] until it reached a sufficient level.

"...should about do it."  came Jack's voice in the background.

"Hello?  Hello?" said Misty. "This is a message for Melinda Moast.  We tried Michael's phone first, but couldn't get through."

The trail end of the sentence was warped and disappeared in a burst of static.  It picked back up again a moment later.

"... to build his own private army, but we stopped him!  No we're in the middle of..."

More static.  Longer this time.

"... completely destroyed!  We're in way over our heads here.  Please send help."

An electrical sounding snap was heard and Jack shouted, but his cry of pain was cut off by the sound of a relay click and a dialtone.

"Well, go figure on that 'un..."  Ms McCready said.  She stood, and paced the floor, lost in thought.

As she passed a tacky full-length mirror she paused and looked at herself in it.  She shook her head at what she saw.

"You sure I'm still retired if'n I do this?" she asked.

Melinda nodded.  "Of course.  All it is is a little outing.  Fly out, see what they need, fly home.  You can be back to baking before Wednesday."

"Good.  I feel better about tha'." Ms McCready replied.

She reached up and pressed the corner of the mirror.  A magnetic catch released and the whole thing swung aside to reveal a small arsenal.

She snatched up one of her favorite semiautomatic rifles, squinted into the chamber with one eye, and then, satisfied, let it snap shut.

Now it was Melinda's turn to be apprehensive.



The preceding has been a chapter from Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study
(Copyright 2016, Edmund Lloyd Fletcher.)

For more on this story, please visit its main page.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to the email list so you never miss a thing!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Official announcement

Some of you may be already in on this, and thank you, but others might not have heard yet.

I decided last minute to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

If you are involved as well and want to be "buddies", here's a link to my account:
https://nanowrimo.org/participants/edmund-lloyd-fletcher

Since this wasn't accounted for the Moast Unusual series plans, I decided to go a completely different direction with the story I'm writing.

The idea I chose to go with was:
(And, yes, this is only a work-in-progress cover, so please don't judge my artwork too harshly.)









What if Beauty didn't make it in time, and he had to stay a beast FOREVER!??













If you think about it, the original fairytale is easy.  He just has to behave himself long enough to win Beauty's love.  How many marriages are like that, where a guy puts on a good front while dating, but then after the wedding he turns out to be somebody else?

Looking at it from another perspective, concerning the whole curse thing, the spell is broken and things are all fine again.  Poof!  Is that how a good marriage works?  What about having to stick it out and work through your problems?


Finally, in the standard tale, we miss out on a lot of deliciously deep emotional turmoil.  What about the Beast's self-image?  Does he struggle with feelings of inadequacy?  How does that manifest itself?  Does he push her away?  Build up emotional walls?  What about jealousy when she talks to somebody who isn't ugly like he is?  The list goes on and on.  

There are a lot of things to explore.


So, anyway, I thought that this twist made the retelling worth exploring.


As usual, let me know what you think over on the socials.


Live Your Adventure,
-E.L. Fletcher


======================= UPDATE =======================


Pardon my ASCII art there, but I thought you might like to know how it all worked out, so...

Boom.



#NaNoWriMo #NaNoWinner2017

I really liked how it turned out.  I'll definitely have to edit it up all purdy and come up with a release plan.

Thanks for all the moral support, folks!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Chapter 33: Airport


The the following is the next exciting next chapter of the ongoing eBook:
Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study

The two villagers entered the international airport.

They looked around at the strange sights and sounds, appearing for all the world as if they were already in another country, rather than their own.

The old woman seemed oblivious to the hectic madness going on all around her.  Her grandson, on the other hand, made himself dizzy looking at all the different things. 

Up until this point in his life he had never even seen a Western business suit.  This place was filled with them.  Even some women wore suits, which made no sense at all within his cultural mindset.

The people also pulled tiny, little bags with wheels on them.  This made him look at his own yarn-tied bedroll and wonder how these people could fit all of their blankets into such a small box?

They had been here once before three days ago.  The place baffled the boy then, every bit as much as it did now.

The two waited their turn in line.  Just as before, those around them seemed strangely taciturn and uninterested in their conversation.

Once they reached the front, Antonio approached the woman at the ticket counter.  She was not the same woman from the other day, but he assumed that surely the other would have passed on the information that Niñera and her grandson would be back once they obtained a 'passport'.

Antonio still wasn't sure exactly what those were for.  All they contained was a photo and information like height, weight, hair color... all things that any fool could see just by looking at them.  In the end he decided that the papers were there to help describe them people with poor eyesight.

"Buenas tardes, ma'am." said Antonio. "We are the ones you sent to get passports."

The woman had a distant look that communicated anything but recollection.

Antonio offered the papers and continued, "We would like two tickets to fly to America."

The woman made a face.

"On an airplane." Antonio said, attempting to fill in whatever confusion the lady had.

"Where in America?" she finally replied.

"W-where?"  He pondered the question for a moment.  "What are the choices available."

The woman made a frustrated noise.  "Listen, kid.  There are over 300 major airports in the United States as well as 500 local services.  The country is over 500 million square miles in size!  If you want me to sell you a ticket, you need to be a little more specific than you are right now."

Antonio and his grandmother conversed with one another in low tones.  The line behind them was growing frustrated. 

After a painfully long time, the two reached a conclusion.

"Niñera says she wants to deliver a message to a man she saw in a vision.  Please sell us a ticket to where he lives."

The woman began to bang her head on the counter.

"What is the matter señora?  Still not specific enough?"



The preceding has been a chapter from Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study
(Copyright 2016, Edmund Lloyd Fletcher.)

For more on this story, please visit its main page.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to the email list so you never miss a thing!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chapter 32: Ruined Town


The the following is the next exciting next chapter of the ongoing eBook:
Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study

The three regrouped after searching the town.  None found any survivors.

"Did you check those houses?"  Misty pointed to a long row of flattened buildings.

"Yes."  said Jack.

"And the people?"

"Still inside."  He looked pale.

There was an ugly silence.

"And anybody outside is shot to bits." added Wendell.

"I drove up to the hill."  offered Misty.  "Whatever did this..."

"What do you mean, 'whatever'?"

"Look around.  Something big came through here.  If those buildings were knocked down by rockets or earthquakes, they'd be in piles, not laid out flat like that."

She continued, "Like I was saying, up on the hill you can see the direction the rubble falls and pretty well trace its path.  It entered the valley over there.  That gap in the trees."  She pointed.  Then she traced an imaginary line across the scene with her finger.  "Came in through the center, here.  Made a lap around the outside to catch anything that was left.  Then back out the way it came."

"That makes sense." said Wendell. "All of the shot people were on the outskirts where I was.  Like they were trying to get away."

Jack added, "And all of the others were in the middle like they didn't have time to."

He looked at the others who were looking back with wide eyes.  "So whatever it is, is fast, huge, and well-armed.  I think we need to call Michael."

Wendell pointed.  "The phone lines come in from the East.  We should be able to tap a fallen cable and get a call through."

Misty hugged herself.  "Better do it fast.  I don't want to be here when it gets dark.  They might come back!"



The preceding has been a chapter from Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study
(Copyright 2016, Edmund Lloyd Fletcher.)

For more on this story, please visit its main page.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to the email list so you never miss a thing!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chapter 31: The Road Home


The the following is the next exciting next chapter of the ongoing eBook:
Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study

The old army troop transport swayed a little as it drove down the dusty road. 

Perhaps "road" was going too far.  It was a pair of tracks down a debatably flatter section identical to the surrounding plain.  Misty had long since given up checking for cell service.  They really were in the middle of nowhere, though a gradual increase in the number of trees hinted that they were nearing a more habitable area.

Jack drove, while Wendell sat in the passenger seat drumming on the open window's sill along with the staticy radio station.  The lyrics seemed to be in Bulgarian, but it was hard to tell.

"You know, the native tunes around here... at first it's not much but after awhile..."

Jack looked down at his fingers.  They were drumming on the steering wheel.  "Yeah, it kinda grows on ya, man."

Misty, who lay between the boys: eyes shut, and feet propped up on the dash, now spoke up.  "Just get us home, and I promise to buy you their greatest hits album."

"I'll hold you to that.  It looks like there's a town up ahead."  Jack pointed at something just before it disappeared behind the crest of a hill.

"All right!  Now all we need is to borrow a phone to call Micheal!"  Wendell poked Misty's arm, "And see if they have a Sam Goody!"

Wendell and Jack smiled at eachother.

Everyone was riding an adventure high.  Eventually, they no longer hold it in.

"Woo! Team!", shouted an overjoyed Jack Savage banging happily on the steering wheel.

Wendell joined in with the banging and added,  "Oh yeah!"

Misty raised both fists and shouted, "Woo!" as well.

The team continued to cheer and congratulate themselves until they crested the last hill between them and the town.

Misty and Jack saw it first.

"...well that was awesome, but how bout when you were like..."  Wendell was going on until he noticed that the smiles were now wiped from their face and looked out the windshield.

"How...!??"

The entire town was gone -- blown from the map!



The preceding has been a chapter from Juggernaught: A Moast Unusual Bible Study
(Copyright 2016, Edmund Lloyd Fletcher.)

For more on this story, please visit its main page.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to the email list so you never miss a thing!