Monday, April 05, 2010

What price Jesus?

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, devotional, exhortation, christian faith

Having reviewed nearly 600 books in this web log, it is rare that I encounter a new genre. A family friend has given me a book she wrote and self-published, which is a combination of devotional and exhortation, with the emphasis on exhortation. Is Jesus Your Pearl? by Karen Knoettner is published by Xulon Press, which helps new Christian authors print their first books. We know Karen because she taught piano to both our son and myself, beginning seven or eight years ago. She is a dear Christian woman about midway in age between numba-one-son and me.

First, let's get a doctrinal quibble out of the way. Matthew 13:44-46 reads (NIV), "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

Strictly speaking, in the context of this chapter on the Kingdom of Heaven, the treasure, composed primarily of gemstones, refers to the transformation of the people of God, even though they are living in the world (the field); the pearl refers to the church as the composition of redeemed persons. For the church, represented by these two valuable things, Christ gave his life (everything he had) and poured out His Spirit (on Pentecost).

There is, however, a significant interpretive principle, that those who follow Jesus walk in His footsteps and experience what He experienced. In particular, Paul wrote (Colossians 1:24, NIV), "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." Does this sound like heresy? What could be lacking of the afflictions of Christ? He was afflicted for our redemption, and we cannot share in that, but he was also afflicted for the sake of building the Body, and we do share in that. This is a strong aspect of our purchasing the Pearl of great price. That Pearl is not just Christ singly, but Christ corporately, Christ in His Body the church.

In her book, Mrs. Knoettner relates her own experiences of learning to hold Jesus as that most precious Pearl, her "first love." Near the end of the book, she recalls the second epistle to Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7), in which the Lord complains that the church as lost her first love (for Him). This is very relevant for us today, as the author makes plain throughout the book.

I confess that the level of devotion she expresses made me uncomfortable. It reminded me of what I have gradually lost as I have "mellowed" with age. Oh, we are not supposed to age in our love for the Lord! My early Christian experience was among people who delighted to be "crazy lovers of Jesus". I am a quieter person now, and sometimes that's simply not good.

Though the book is not large, the author packs a lot in. Chapter 8, "Lessons from the Oyster ... A Pearl is Born!!", is particularly precious. A pearl grows because of an injury or irritant to the oyster (The irritant is often a small parasite, a point she doesn't mention, but it is telling!). The oyster uses nacre to overlay the irritant, layer after layer, very slowly. This represents, first, God's longsuffering, culminating in the cross to redeem His people; then, it represents our longsuffering as we "take up the cross", bearing all things for the sake of loving God and His people. Paradoxically, this brings us closer and closer to Jesus.

Yet, obtaining this Pearl is not all about suffering, by no means. Pearls are beautiful. We gain much grace from continual contact with God, and grace is enjoyable. Simply put, we enjoy God. I like to call grace, "God's anesthetic." When we enjoy God, day after day, many things that may once have seemed great sufferings pass almost unnoticed. Further, relations among fellow church members improve in measure, which pleases our Lord, who paid so much to obtain that church.

I do hope many of my Christian friends will enjoy this book as much as I did. Simply search for "knoettner pearl" to locate a source.

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