Thursday, March 16, 2017

Escape Routes by Johann Christoph Arnold (a review)

Wisdom is gained by life experience and the aged often have profound pieces of advice to share with those of the younger generation; often, however, the young are too busy to stop and listen or even heed the advice of the older and wiser around them. Johann Christoph Arnold was different. He did stop to listen to the advice offer by a much older and wiser woman. Her name was Maureen and she shared this sage advice when the author mentioned his desire to write a book about heaven and hell:

"A book on heaven and hell? I just don't know. I'm not sure it's a good use of one's time - to worry about the afterlife, and where you'll go when you die. It's probably unhealthy. There's plenty to do right now, here on earth. You can find joy in the present, real joy, through serving others - by helping them or easing their load. You can also look out just for yourself, though if you do you will always be grumpy. You will never be satisfied. maybe that's hell...Now, I suppose if I were concerned about the afterlife I would have something more to tell you, but I haven't."

After hearing her perspective, Arnold began his book. He felt all of us have some form of hell in our lives and with that hell, there also comes a kind of happiness or a glimpse of heaven, too. As a pastor for over 40 years, Johann Christoph Arnold heard many stories of sadness along with stories of joy. Each of those stories contained a deep searching heart longing for a place of belonging and love. Many of the tales revolved around loneliness. As Arnold gathered information for his book, he found many people today also suffer from extreme loneliness. Even in the midst of community, there can be an unsatisfied need for purpose and belonging. Arnold blames some of those feelings on social media and the false sense of community it offers. He says, " The rise of the Internet has not, as some hoped, ended our isolation. True, people use social media to interact with others daily, even hourly. Yet when it comes to building relationship between people, these social technologies may actually reduce social involvement and psychological well being, in the words of one scientific study. It's common sense. The time we spend online cuts down on the time we could devote to a spouse, a child, or a coworker who might be sitting right next to us. Even the best virtual exchange is disembodied and cannot possibly replace face to face interaction with flesh and blood friends."  Mr. Arnold says "loneliness is so hazardous that people who are physically healthy but isolated are twice as likely to die during a given decade as those who live surrounded by others."

Escape Routes is a book about how we live our lives and the questions each of us have about our future. Arnold shares stories from different types of people in his book. The common thread between all of them is they want and need to feel like they belong and are valued. Arnold doesn't spend time in his book on preaching the message of salvation, instead he wants the reader to understand how disconnected we call can feel in today's world.

The book causes the reader to consider his own mortality. Do we truly understand the meaning of suffering? Can it be beneficial to helping us understand the importance of focusing on being present in the moment? The most important question of all is will we choose to love?

I found the book to be thought provoking and I enjoyed reading about the lives of others. Some of their stories did not end well but not all lives do end well. Mr. Arnold did a good job of expressing how others cope when they feel unloved. He poised many questions to his readers throughout the book about life here on this Earth and about life after we leave this place.

Readers interested in sociology or humanities would enjoy this book. It is written well and is a quick read. I would have liked to have see Mr. Arnold present the plan of salvation in his book or at least quote Scriptures from the Bible offering his readers hope. I felt it was his responsibility, as a Christian, to point people to Christ. He did quote many famous authors in the book and did speak often about love, but did not put as much emphasis on Christ's love as I thought he should have done.

I was given a copy of Escape Routes by Plough Publishing in exchange for my honest review. I was not encouraged to give a positive review although it is my pleasure to do so. I would like to thank Plough Publishing for my review copy.

If you're interested in purchasing the book, you may do so here.

About the author: Born in Great Britain in 1940 to German refugees, Arnold spent his boyhood years in South America, where his parents found asylum during the war; he immigrated to the United States in 1955. He and his wife, Verena, have eight children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Arnold is the Senior Pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.


Monday, March 6, 2017

A Life for God, A Rabbi's Analysis of Life, the Cross, and Eternity

Reading a Biblical perspective written by a Jewish author was very enlightening for me. As I read Rabbi Greg Hershberg's book, I felt I'd received a secret key to unlock some of the deep mysteries of the Bible. The more I read about Jewish history, customs, and word meanings, the more the Bible came alive for me and I realized, even after having been a Christian for 50 years, there were things I did not completely understand about God's Word. Scripture became alive and fresh as indicated by this verse: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

Rabbi Greg Hershberg, is a Messianic Jew. Messianic Jews are Jewish people who believe and have accepted Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) of Nazareth as the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. These people do not stop being Jewish, but they continue to remain strong in their Jewish faith. Many Messianic Jews refer to themselves as “completed Jews,” since they believe their faith in the God of Israel has been “completed” or fulfilled in Yeshua (Jesus).

A Life for God is Rabbi Hershberg's written effort to help both Jews and Christians alike come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He presents an abundant amount of information gleaned from the Torah and from the Bible. He covers topics such as Eternal Life, Covenants, Offerings, the Crucifixion, the Greatest Commandment, and Gematria (Biblical symbolism of numbers).

Rabbi Hershberg writes his book well. It is easy to understand and filled with Scripture references. Not only did Hershberg take time to include specific Scriptures to illuminate topics, he also included history from Jewish manners and customs. The Greek and Hebrew word studies Rabbi Hershberg included were relevant and helped me gain a better understanding of Scripture. As I read each chapter in the book, I learned something I'd never known before. For instance, in the chapter entitled, "A Sacrifice, Living and Set Apart for God," Rabbi Hershberg is explaining details of the crucifixion. He describes the various types of wounds Christ endured before and on the cross. He tells about the Roman custom of breaking the legs of those crucified. This was usually done to hasten death so the bodies could be removed before sundown but in Jesus' case, his legs were not broken. Rabbi Hershberg states this was because they noticed he was already dead but more than that, it was to fulfill Scripture, Psalm 34:20, "He protects all his bones; not one of them gets broken." Next Rabbi Hershberg speaks about the wound Jesus suffered from the spear tip of the Roman when his side was pierced. Blood and water gushed out. I always wondered why water poured forth and I understood after reading the Rabbi's explanation - "By thrusting his spear into the side of Yeshua, the soldier actually fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah. And from this wound, blood and water flowed, blood for the forgiveness of sin and water for the washing away of the guilt of our sin. If we recall the brazen altar and laver, we realize that Yeshua fulfilled that requirement for approaching the father. The blood was shed at the altar, and the guilt washed away at the laver, just as the blood and water flowed from Yeshua's side. He laid down His own life as a voluntary act. The incised wound was one of the last prophecies to be fulfilled while Yeshua was on earth."

A Life for God fills the reader with hope. If a devout Jewish Rabbi can understand and accept the truths of the Bible and share his understandings in such a clear and concise way, anyone who reads this book should be able to receive the message of salvation. For the skeptic, Hershberg presents practical evidence. For the Christian, Hershberg presents rich history stepped in Jewish tradition. For the Jew, Hershberg presents the gospel with tenderness and compassion but also with power and truth.

I enjoyed this book immensely. I have always wanted to learn and understand more about the Jewish life and Rabbi Hershberg helped me do that. I'm thankful he took time to include information about the Jewish faith and their history in this book.  I feel I have a better understanding of the Bible and a clearer picture of what life was like for Jesus as a Jewish man.

I was given a copy of the book, A Life for God, in exchange for my honest review. I would like to thank Aneko Press for the opportunity to read this book and I would like to recommend it to others interested in learning more about the Messianic Jewish movement and about how we should live for God.