Two books provide labor of love on Labor Day weekend

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It’s Labor Day as I write this, and I have just completed what turned out to be a fairly relaxing weekend of reading about some rather heavy subjects.

These books – “Love Wins” by Rob Bell and “Isaiah 53 Explained” by Mitch Glaser – actually were quite easily read. Both authors used short sentences and avoided pin-sized typefaces, so even this slow book-reader could fly through them fairly quickly. But the subjects required pause for reflection, prayer for discernment and some good, old-fashioned Bible study.

I started by reading the book by Rob Bell, the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. It was this book, which examines Heaven and Hell, as well as the fate of all humankind, that caused a rift that led Bell to leave a church that had averaged more than 11,000 in worship. Bell reportedly had a falling out with many in the congregation over this book.

Honestly, I didn’t know that story when I decided to read it, but based on some scripture study of my own of late, I decided to explore a different take on the subject of salvation, judgment and what happens to our eternal souls. In a nutshell, Bell argues that a loving God wouldn’t damn an unbeliever for all eternity without giving that person even more chances to repent after death.

Of course, that doesn’t jive well with my Baptist upbringing. And while my longtime church, the United Methodist Church, believes firmly in the concept of grace, many of us do still hold it important for a person to make a commitment to Christ in this life.

Still, I have to admit that Bell makes some compelling arguments based on a simple but powerful concept: God loves us. I found myself turning to Romans 8:38-39, which says that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us. I found myself pausing to contemplate what I really believe about salvation. I found myself praying for discernment so I teach the right thing to people who entrust me to facilitate a Bible study with them.

I reflected on John 3:16-18. Many people know the 16th verse by heart, but if we continue to read the chapter, we learn even more depth about this amazing gift of grace given to us.

After reading Bell’s book, I decided I needed a little inspiration by reading about the way Jesus sacrificed himself for all of us. That led me to a book I received free in the mail but that had been gathering some dust on my shelf. The book by Glaser, a Messianic Jew, makes the case that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah using the prophecy from Isaiah 53.

I can’t say that I had ever read that chapter from the prophet in the era of the Babylonian exile with that much focus before. In fact, I know I had not read it in such a way. But Glaser’s purpose is plainly stated early on: He wants his fellow Jews – and any other non-believers – to consider the prophecy and, by doing so, accept Jesus as the Messiah.

As a Gentile, it was interesting to read this book in this way. And Glaser does a good job of explaining the text while also exploring such subjects as why atonement is needed, why Jesus sacrificed himself for us all, the validity of the New Testament and the importance of reading and keeping your mind open while exploring what we Christians call the Old Testament.

I can’t say that I agree completely with Bell’s book. But I can tell you that he challenged me in a way that I realize I need to study this subject more thoroughly. And I can tell you that even people who are firm in their belief about Jesus being the salvation for the world can benefit from reading about the Messiah from a Jewish perspective in Glaser’s book.

Reading these two books took some work on my Labor Day weekend. But it was time well spent.

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