by Max Lucado
Reviewed by Martin I Anthony, Director, Trans-European Division Stewardship/ Personal Ministries Department
A stream of devotional works by Max Lucado in recent years has established his reputation as an author who targets people conscious of the nitty-gritty problems of daily living. Readers of this latest publication whose hearts need exposure to the warmth of God’s love will not be disappointed for this book examines one of the greatest biblical doctrines: the matchless gift of God’s grace.
An examination of the chapter headings ostensibly presents the book as a commentary on the first eight chapters of Paul’s letter to Romans, but it almost certainly did not evolve from this purpose. It seems more likely that the author took material presented in devotional form over a number of years and re-shaped it with a Romans-like format. Whichever the case, the resultant work is not a whit diminished in its powerful impact upon the reader.
The initial Parable of the River sets the tone for what follows. In this vivid recasting of the old story of the prodigal son, the futile attempts of four rebellious brothers to return to their family castle find their parallel in different lifestyles pictured by the apostle in the opening chapters of his letter. Hedonism, legalism, judgmentalism—all are put to the sword in succession. Sin has one answer alone, and that is Jesus. In a graphic illustration, Lucado compares the frantic attempts of Chairman Mao’s medical staff to embalm his corpse in a life-like way to those who try to extort true life from a lifestyle that leads only to death. Sin does to a life what shears do to a flower . . . . Surround it with water. Stick the stem in soil. Baptize it with fertilizer. Glue the flower back on the stem. Do what you wish. The flower is dead (p. 60).
Lucado proceeds to share a string of further illustrations, largely from his own experience, of the marvelous nature of divine grace. We read of an insurance company letter terminating coverage after a string of accidents; his loan of a personal credit card to his son; the fun of reserve team baseball players when the regulars went on strike for more pay; the blessings of Christmas pot-lucks for an impoverished ministerial graduate; and an altercation with a no-entry sign. From all of these, Lucado draws practical insights that match the thesis of the apostle as the book of Romans unfolds.
This is a must for Seventh-day Adventists is my conviction. Perhaps we are especially prone to personal achievement: we who exalt law, not as a means of salvation, but as a standard of life, yet who have so often stumbled over the very principles that are our blueprint for living. Perhaps it is especially easy to look on ourselves as deserving of special praise because of our roll as a prophetic people. Lucado cuts the prospective legalist down to size as he exalts Christ as the answer to boastfulness or self-pride. Many phrases linger on in the memory after the book is laid aside.... The fruit is more important than the name of the orchard (p. 168). God would prefer we have an occasional limp than a perpetual strut (p. 137). To return to sin after baptism is like committing adultery on your honeymoon (p. 115).
One impression towers above all others as you peruse this book. The author is in love with Jesus. No wonder Jesus’ grace is so rampant in his thinking. In the final chapter, What we Really Want to Know, Lucado examines five questions of the apostle Paul in the final verses of Romans 8 that in a sense sum up the whole Christian experience. He concludes, You wonder how long My love will last. Find your answer on a splintered cross, on a craggy hill. That’s Me you see up there, your Maker, your God, nail-stabbed and bleeding.... That’s your sin I’m feeling. That’s your death I’m dying. That’s your resurrection I am living. That’s how much I love you (p. 180).
One thing is for sure, start this book and you will certainly finish it! And when you have done that, you too will love Jesus more than ever.