One of my pastors recommended that I read Embracing the Love of God by James Bryan Smith. I ordered this book a few months ago from the bookstore at my church, and decided to follow through on his suggestion and read it.The only reason I ever heard of James Bryan Smith is from reading one of his more recent published works titled, The Good and Beautiful God. Other than that, I know nothing about him. On the back cover, it states he is the chair of the religion department at Friends University and is also a key leader for the Renovare Organization. However, this information is based on a book that was released in 1995. Would this information be outdated 21 years later? Well it appears not. Based on more recent bio sections, little has changed. His role, position, or title may have changed at Friends University and Renovare, but he is still there. The bio found in Amazon also states that Smith is an ordained United Methodist Church minister and has served in various capacities in local churches. He has published or co-published 9 books so far with this one being one of his first publications.
The title is pretty straight forward in terms of what to expect. I would expect the reader would learn to know how much they are loved by God and to learn how to not only accept it, but to embrace it. The book cover is the 208 reprint edition. It has a simple design with a simple black, white, and red colour scheme with a black serif font. When I first received this book, I thought there was already some yellowish stains, but upon a further look, it actually is part of the cover. Nita Ybarra did a great job designing these covers as I like the simplicity of both covers. I actually like this design more than the original cover back in 1995. However, when it comes to the back cover, I do not like how close the text is to the edge of the cover. Was this a layout error or a printing error? I do not know. It just looks like the text is about to fall off its own cover, and holding the book actually forces me to cover some of the text. To me, the margin space should have been a bit larger as the room was already there to make it possible. I know I am nitpicking over something small, but to me, there is no excuse for this. Every type of publication whether it be printed or digital knows that there should always have a minimum amount of margin space so the text is not right at the edge. It seems like a small petty thing to criticize about, especially over a back cover, but small things like this can make a difference when it comes to viewing the book for the first time.
To sum up this book in my own words, Embracing the Love of God is a book that tries to free people from a bondage self judgement and self condemnation. This book points people to the power of God’s Love and Grace that so many fail to realize of understand. We all hear so many times how much God loves us, but we often do not stop and think and actually grasp what that truly means. This book helps the reader to not only understand God’s love, but to embrace it, hence its title. This book shares how God’s love can spiritually transform us as well as our relationships with others. It reminds believers of God’s promises in hope that it will steer believers back to the basics of living out the Christian life. This book is comprised of three major parts (Knowing God’s Acceptance, Receiving God’s Forgiveness, and Experiencing God’s Care) with each part consisting of three chapters each. I suggest to anyone that may read this book, that you should have a Bible beside you, as Smith supports many of his teachings with scripture. There is even a scripture index provided at the end of this book.
I would say the first chapter of this book struck me the most. It is a message we all want to be reaffirmed with. I could feel the shame and guilt was slowly melting away as I read that first chapter. The first part was to me, the strongest and most meaningful of the three parts. I also appreciate the mini chapters within chapters. It made it so easy to get quick reads in before having to put the book down knowing easily where I had left off without having to backtrack. The stories shared by Smith were enjoyable, easy to understand, and practical to each point he was trying to make. Two of my favourite stories he shared was how Tony Campollo, a guest speaker at a Christian women’s banquet, was able to raise $4000 for a missionary in need. The way he did it is what is fascinating and a teachable moment. The other story was of Myrtie Howell, who was declining in health, and not sure what she could do for the Lord during her remaining few years. God told her to write letters to prison inmates. The result of her obedience led to phenomenal results and impact that also served as a teachable moment. Smith also mentioned one of my favourite Christmas movies “It’s a Wonderful Life” as another example of how much our lives really matter. Smith beautifully uses these stories and examples to remind us how much of an impact our lives have made even when we do not see it ourselves.
"God, in his love, always leaves room for us to doubt. But God also gives plenty of reason to believe." - page 113
"If we fail to care for others, we have most likely failed to know that God cares for us. When we grasp the magnitude of God’s love for us, we will begin to feel it flow out of our hands and feet and mouths and into the lives of others. God has given us his Spirit, a Spirit of love that will drive us to care for one another." - page 151
If I didn’t know I was reading a book that was published in 1995, one of Smith’s quotes gave that away when he states, “We live in a culture that hurls words at us through television, radio, and newspapers” without the mention of the most influential medium today, the internet. While the internet did in fact exist in 1995, it definitely did not hurl words at us in the way it does today. The internet has grown far more powerful than what is was in 1995. This explains why the internet was not mentioned in a 1995 book.
While I found a bit of humor in that, I was confused by a more serious quote. Smith uses Psalms 139 to describe God’s love in a way that there is no place we can go where God is not. He states, “If we descend even into Hell itself, God would follow us there”. After checking the NKJV of Psalms 139, Smith correctly explains the verse as it is written. What makes that scripture confusing is that Hell is suppose to be an eternal separation from God. A person goes to Hell when they completely reject God at the end of their life. While the depth of God’s love is incredible that he would supposedly follow us to Hell, it seems contradictory that God would go to a place that is meant to be an eternal separation from people who completely reject Him to begin with. Why would God even go to a place of eternal separation? While Smith is not teaching anything inaccurate, some further clarification and explanation could have been used for this scripture before using it to explain his message.
I will not say that this book returned the joy in my life that is currently lost, or transformed the relationships I have with others, or at least not yet, but it has given me a map with a compass on what relationships with others can look like. This book gives practical real life examples what embracing the love of God can look like for those that read this book. While this is a helpful book, I find that Crazy Love by Francis Chan still holds a greater impact of explaining God's Love to readers. That certainly does not discredit this book by Smith. We must remember that for its time, this was sort of the Crazy Love book for the 1990s as Crazy Love did not even exist until 2008. With that being said, this book served its readers well for that era. The overall message is a special meaningful one that was important for me to read. I hope those that facing the struggles of absent joy in their lives can also discover this well written message that still stands strong over 20 years later.
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