Book Review: The Vanishings (Left Behind: The Kids Book 1) by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

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The Vanishings (Left Behind: The Kids Book 1)
by Jerry Jenkins & Tim LaHaye
More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 4 Stars

Whether or Not Some Will Be “Left Behind” Someday, Live in Light of Christ’s Soon Return

When I was a teenager I did a fair amount of reading. I enjoyed fantasy and science fiction and when it came to novels rarely did I go beyond these two genres. Series such as Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and the like were ones I devoured. One of the few series (maybe the only one) that I read in its entirety was Left Behind: The Kids. Written for ages 10-14, this series of 40 books (based on the adult series with the same name) follows the adventures of four teenagers—Judd, Vicki, Lionel, and Ryan—who are “left behind” following the rapture as they seek to live for God during the seven-year tribulation period as the end draws near.

Left behind? Rapture? Seven-year tribulation period? These terms may be new to you, or perhaps you’ve heard them before in church but aren’t quite sure what they mean. All of them refer to a specific interpretation of the end times as spoken about in the book of Revelation. As told in the novel, here is a good description of what is meant by the term “rapture”:

As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings got off on his kick about what he called the Rapture. “Someday,” he said, “Jesus will return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won’t that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?” (8-9)

The idea is that one day Christ will return for His bride, the Church, and secretly snatch them from the earth to be with Him in Heaven during a seven-year period of unprecedented tribulation that will occur on the earth as God pours out His wrath. This book (along with the rest in the series) portrays what life might be like for those “left behind,” a term referring to folks who thought they were Christians and who realize once the rapture happens that they were fakers all along.

As far as fiction goes, this book and the rest in the series are well-written. They are engaging and the authors do a good job of developing the four main characters and weaving their lives together as they fight for survival in earth’s last days. The issue I have is whether the whole notion of a secret rapture is biblical. And then, of course, there’s the speculatory nature of how such a rapture might occur. To begin with, I am not convinced that a secret rapture is mentioned anywhere in Scripture, not even in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. I encourage you to look up those verses and try to imagine how Paul could have been more clear that this was a public and loud event that all or most would see. After all, he describes that the event will include “a cry of command,” “the voice of the archangel,” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.” I’m not sure how he could have been clearer. My main point here is not a detailed refutation of the pre-tribulation rapture scheme, but to get you, my reader, to honestly consider the underlying assumptions that are inherent in the view.

Furthermore, I find it interesting how the rapture is portrayed on a global scale. A few quotes from the book describe it well:

A nurse vanished as a woman was about to give birth, and the baby disappeared before it was born. A groom disappeared as he was putting his bride’s ring on her finger. Pallbearers at a funeral disappeared while carrying a casket, which fell and popped open, revealing that the corpse had vanished too (89).

Over the backs of the seats ahead of him he saw blankets, pillows, and full sets of clothes. Glasses, jewelry, even a man’s wig lay on his seat (84).

every single little child on the plane had disappeared (88)

mass disappearances that occurred in every country at approximately midnight, Eastern Standard Time (97)

I give Jenkins and LaHaye credit for imaginatively coming up with—in a compelling way—how the world might be affected one day by a rapture (at 12:00am EST, no less), but I’m not sure that this sort of fanciful thinking is particularly helpful for the Church. It’s no surprise to me, at least, that hardly anyone outside of North America holds to this view of the end times.

Regardless of whether there will be someday a rapture akin to what is described in this novel, all readers can take from this book the importance of being ready for when God will wrap up all of history. Whether His church is secretly taken away to be with Him in Heaven for seven years or instead meets Him in the air to welcome His return to wage war on the earth and also rule with Him, we should all be reminded to live in light of His soon return.

The Joys of Heaven Will Far Outweigh the Sufferings of Earth

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Suffering has a way of messing with our hope. In the midst of experiencing pain, loss, or hardship, we as Christians can easily lose our focus on what matters most and on our certain future. I was reminded of this reality recently and encouraged as I read the following story from David Jeremiah’s book What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith (see my review):pilot_flying_airplane

Suppose you won a free trip around the world for you and a loved one. It included first-class accommodations at five-star hotels, private planes, lavish gifts, and personal tours. (See how powerful the imagination is?) But suppose as you opened the envelope containing the tickets, you suffered a paper cut on the end of your finger. You might say to your companion, “Oh, I cut my finger!” You’d grimace for about half a second before grinning from ear to ear and saying, “Who cares? We’re about to take the trip of a lifetime!” I would say nothing to trivialize disease [or other intense suffering]; I know the misery of it firsthand. But according to Paul, and from the perspective of our eternal God, the sufferings of this present world are less than a paper cut in relation to the glory yet to be revealed to us (p. 56).person-flying

The Apostle Paul’s perspective that David Jeremiah mentions comes from Romans 8:18:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Paul was no stranger to suffering. Later in Romans 8, Paul gives a long list of potential sufferings that some might think separate us from God: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, angels, rulers, powers, etc. The truth is that for the Christian, none of those things mentioned or “anything else in all creation” can separate him or her from the Lord! Paul himself faced many of these sufferings:

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

So when Paul said that the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” this glory must be great to outweigh all of the intense sufferings that he faced. Indeed, this glory did outweigh Paul’s sufferings and it does outweigh ours!

Meditate on Heaven and the joy to be found there deeply, so that you can be of great earthly good and endure whatever may come in this life!

Let the example of Paul and the truth that even your hardest sufferings cannot separate you from God be an encouragement when you face suffering of any kind, whether small or great. If you know Christ, you have hope beyond measure and a certain joyous future in Heaven with Him!

Book Review: What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith by David Jeremiah

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What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears With Faith
by David Jeremiah
More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 4 Stars

Overcoming Fears with Faith in the Goodness and Power of God

I have to admit it—often when I read a nonfiction book I am hoping for fresh insights and fresh perspectives. I want to learn something new, or at least hear something in a new way that strikes me. As I began reading David Jeremiah’s What Are You Afraid Of?: Facing Down Your Fears with Faith, this was my desire. While I found fresh material throughout—especially three of his chapters—the rest sounded like what I’ve heard before. Don’t get me wrong. There was little I disagreed with. It’s just that most of the book wasn’t exceptional. It was standard fare—things I have heard numerous times from numerous speakers. This isn’t all bad, for there is a place for reminders (cf. 2 Peter 1:12). I just prefer my reminders stated in fresh ways, I guess.

For a sampling of which fears Jeremiah addresses, go ahead and peruse the table of contents:

  1. Disaster: The Fear of Natural Calamity
  2. Disease: The Fear of Serious Illness
  3. Debt: The Fear of Financial Collapse
  4. Defeat: The Fear of Failure
  5. Disconnection: The Fear of Being Alone
  6. Disapproval: The Fear of Rejection
  7. Danger: The Fear of Sudden Trouble
  8. Depression: The Fear of Mental Breakdown
  9. Death: The Fear of Dying
  10. Deity: The Fear of God

As can be seen, Jeremiah addresses a wide range of fears. I think it’s fairly safe to say that all of us have feared at least something on this list, so for that reason alone, this book would be worth looking at. Honestly, while much of the book is ordinary as I mentioned above, the one chapter worth reading is the very first. In fact, it alone is worth the price of the book in my opinion. It is a great summary of the fear of natural calamities stated in ways that are fresh and engaging. Here’s an example:

Those who define God solely by the evil He allows overlook the flip side of their complaint. Yes, there is evil in the world, but there is also an enormous amount of good. If God is not good, as they claim, how do they account for all the good we experience? Is it fair to judge Him for the evil and not credit Him with the good? [...] In a world that contains tragedies, we must realize that they’re vastly outnumbered by blessings (16).

Here’s another familiar reminder that’s worth hearing again:

The one way to walk boldly and confidently into an unknown future is to stake everything on the power and goodness and faithfulness of God (xiii-xiv).

Maybe I’m being too hard and unfair on Jeremiah in calling most of his book “familiar” and “standard fare.” I just don’t find his writing all that more engaging than most. Therefore, I give this book 4 stars because of solid content, yet not 5 because of its average delivery.

Why is Sinning Against an Infinitely Holy God Such a Big Deal?—An Analogy

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Many have wondered (myself included) how we as finite creatures who have not trusted in Christ will be punished eternally for finite sins. Consider this story as shared by David Platt in his booklet What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me? (see my review here):

Azeem, an Arab follower of Jesus and a friend of mine, was talking recently with a taxi driver in his country. The driver believed that he would pay for his sin for a little while in hell , but then he would surely go to heaven after that. After all, he hadn’t done too many bad things. So Azeem said to him, ‘If I slapped you in the face, what would you do to me?’ The driver replied, ‘I would throw you out of my taxi.’ ‘If I went up to a random guy on the street and slapped him in the face, what would he do to me?’ ‘He would probably call his friends and beat you up.’ ‘What if I went up to a policeman and slapped him in the face? What would he do to me?’ ‘You would be beat up for sure, and then thrown into jail.’ ‘And what if I went to the king of this country and slapped him in the face? What would happen to me then?’ The driver looked at Azeem and awkwardly laughed. He told Azeem, ‘You would die.’ The driver got Azeem’s point and realized that he had been severely underestimating the seriousness of his sin against God (pgs. 4-5).

When we as finite creatures sin against an infinitely holy God, we are deserving of an “infinitely” just penalty—eternity in Hell. The magnitude of our rebellion against God is far greater than any human analogy can put into words. When viewed in this light, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf is seen more clearly for what it is—glorious!

Book Review: What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me? by David Platt

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What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me? by David Platt More Info on Amazon.com  My Rating: 5 Stars

What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me?
by David Platt
More Info on Amazon.com
My Rating: 5 Stars

Following Jesus is More Than a One-Time Decision

Churches are filled with people who seem content to have casual association with Christ and give nominal adherence to Christianity. Scores of men, women, and children have been told that becoming a follower of Jesus simply involves acknowledging certain facts or saying certain words. But this is not true. Disciples like Peter, Andrew, James, and John show us that the call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it is a summons to lose our lives (p. 23)

It is possible to have a prayed a prayer to receive Christ with as much sincerity as you could muster and still not be a Christian. Following Jesus entails far more than repeating a short prayer. As David Platt makes clear in his booklet What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me?, there is a cost in following Jesus that is born out in one’s life. When we come to Jesus in saving repentance and faith, our thoughts, feelings, and actions are decisively changed by Him.

As we trust in Christ, he transforms our tastes in such a way that we begin to love the things of God that we once hated, and we begin to hate the things of this world that we once loved (p. 30).

Platt is concerned by the stories of so many folks who have prayed a prayer and then went on to live as if nothing had changed. The reality is, maybe nothing did change! The evidence that one has truly come to Christ is found in how one lives, thinks, and feels.

Platt is careful not to say that salvation is based on the changes in our lives. We are saved by faith alone in Christ’s finished work alone—in fact, no amount of works on our behalf can earn salvation in any sense. Faith trusts in what Christ has accomplished for us. We cannot save ourselves, and Christians know this.

Salvation happens apart from our works, but it always leads to works. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we will bear fruit. Not perfectly, but really bearing fruit. And ultimately, we want to bear fruit! In coming to Jesus, we taste and see that He is good and we begin to desire Him above all else! Our affections are decisively changed.

We discover that Jesus is the supreme source of satisfaction, and we want nothing apart from him. We realize that he is better than all the pleasures, pursuits, plaudits, and possessions of this world combined (p. 29).

All who profess to be Christians need to know these truths. Some may learn them, realize they were never saved, and truly turn to Christ for the first time. To God be the glory!

Platt’s booklet is a great reminder and summary of all of these truths. Therefore, I recommend this resource as very helpful for evangelism and discipleship to aid folks in understanding that following Jesus involves one’s whole being. In fact, this is one of the best, shorter resources I know of for such a purpose!

A couple more great quotes:

Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adap tation, innovation , or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives , our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live (p. 26-27).

Jesus did not claim to be one dish on the buffet line of spirituality from which we can pick and choose the elements that best suit our taste. And if his claims are true, then his call demands everything, and we have no other choice—like those fishermen before us—but to drop everything and follow him (p. vii).

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