Monday, December 24, 2012

Looking for the divine in the routine

The Alphabet of GraceThe Alphabet of Grace by Frederick Buechner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has a poetic, meandering quality that doesn't really appeal to me, though at points it felt good. Buechner has a way with words that is wonderful at some points and distracting at others (acknowledging, of course, that his way with words, even at his worst, will probably always trump my way with words).

Essentially, Buechner walks through one particular day of his life (the date is not specified), and draws lessons from it and points out grace in it. Is one's life charged with meaning? Though the unglamorous routine of it would indicate no, the author, looking under the surface, comes to a positive conclusion. "'The dry clack-clack of the world's tongue at the approach of the approach of splendor.' And just this is the substance of what I want to talk about: the clack-clack of my life. The occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace. The muffled presence of the holy. The images, always broken, partial, ambiguous, of Christ" (7-8).

I enjoyed the following excerpts:

I am a part-time novelist who happens also be a part-time Christian because part of the time seems to be the most I can manage to live out my faith: Christian part of the time when certain things seem real and important to me and the rest of the time not Christian in any sense that I can believe matters much to Christ or anybody else. Any Christian who is not a hero, Leon Bloy wrote, is a pig, which is a harder way of saying the same thing. (vii)

Introspection in the long run doesn’t get you very far because every time you draw back to look at yourself, you are seeing everything except for the part that drew back, and when you draw back to look at the part that drew back to look at yourself, you see again everything except for what you are really looking for. And so on. Since the possibilities for drawing back seem to be infinite, you are, in your quest to see yourself whole, doomed always to see infinitely less than what there will always remain to see. Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are. (24-25, the last sentence a reference to Oblonsky in Anna Karenin)

When Mark Twain’s second child, Susy, died, he said that her death was like a man’s house burning down—it would take years and years to discover all that he had lost in the fire. (63)

I hear you are entering the ministry … Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised? (109)

I pick the children up at the bottom of the mountain where the orange bus lets them off in the wind.... Not for keeps, to be sure, but at least for the time being, the world has given them back again, and whatever the world chooses to do later on, it can never so much as lay a hand on the having-beenness of this time. The past is inviolate. We are none of us safe, but everything that has happened is safe. (110)

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

You should read J. B. Phillips' New Testament

The New Testament in Modern EnglishThe New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A couple quotes can sum up this book. The book is about the mission and work of the Son of God

("Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners." [1 Timothy 1:15])

and the resultant transformation of the people of God

("But you are God's 'chosen generation,' his 'royal priesthood,' his 'holy nation,' his 'peculiar people' ... In the past you were not 'a people' at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.'" [1 Peter 2:9-10]).

This translation is delightful to read as it is homey and thought-provoking, even on familiar passages.

Beyond that, some of the wording was just plain fun, like:

"What is this cock sparrow trying to say?" (Acts 17:18)

Meanwhile some were shouting one thing and some another, and the whole assembly was at sixes and sevens, for most of them had no idea why they had come together at all. (Acts 19:32)

They din it into my ears that he ought not to live any longer ... (Acts 25:24)

I cannot believe that any of these matters has escaped his notice, for it has been no hole-and-corner business. (Acts 26:26)

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Character more valuable than talent

Chapter 9 of Warren Wiersbe's On Being a Servant of God is on the importance of character and holiness.  It's a great chapter.  Below are some of the thoughts that stuck out to me.

Wiersbe starts out with an excerpt from Robert Murray M'Cheyne's letter to a friend going to Germany for missionary service: I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.
M'Cheyne again, preaching at an ordination service: But oh, study universal holiness of life!  Your whole usefulness depends on this.  Your ... sermon lasts but an hour or two--your life preaches all the week.

Life is built on character, but character is built on decisions.

Too many Christians think they can "get by" in spiritual ministry because they have charisma and can attract and hold an audience.  But it takes more than a winning personality to influence people for Christ; it takes godly character.

Somebody asked the wealthy banker J. P. Morgan what the best collateral was for a loan, and Morgan replied, "Character."

Holiness is to the inner person what health is to the body.

A holy life isn't the automatic consequence of reading the right books, listening to the right tapes, or attending the right meetings.  It's the result of a living, loving union with Jesus Christ and a life marked by godly discipline.  It means setting the alarm clock so we can begin the day with God and pray and meditate on the Word.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I like Conrad's "lesser" works better

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I struggled to understand the point, and that's because, as I discovered later, I missed some key insights along the way. This novel was too subtle for me.  A second reading would probably yield richer insights, but the story wasn't interesting enough to give it a second read.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Root problem of gun violence is character

The way in which gun talk has dominated the news in recent days is incredible.  The Newtown tragedy that provoked the national discussion is horrible.

The debate is nothing less than a clash of worldviews.  I'm not necessarily opposed to some forms of gun control.  It seems we have a fair measure of gun control as it is.  The reality is that we will never get rid of all the guns.

The root problem, however, (and this is my worldview talking) is not guns.  The root problem is character, or lack thereof. 

I have a few friends who legally carry guns.  Am I concerned for my safety or the safety of my children when we're with them?  Not at all.  They are men of character.  Now if I were with a scoundrel who had a gun, I might be looking for a way to exit his presence soon. 

Notice the difference in those two scenarios.  It's not the gun that makes the difference, it's the person who holds the gun. 

Now the point could be made that if the scoundrel didn't have a gun, I wouldn't be as concerned.  And that's a fair point.  But don't make it so that honest people who obey the laws cannot obtain guns, but scoundrels who ignore guns can still obtain guns illegally.  It makes no sense to unbalance the equation further by making guns among the honest scarcer while the number of gun-possessing scoundrels remains the same.

Re-reading a favorite from my kid years

The Black Stallion (Black Stallion Series, Book 1)The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this along with my 12-year-old, Anna. I loved it when I read it as a youngster. It's a great book for tweens.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Silent night

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
One of the aspects of the Christmas season I enjoy is the occasional silence.  The quiet.  Moments like now, 10:41 p.m., when I’m sitting by the Christmas tree, the tree lights lit, the house lights dark. 
Two years ago at this time, the house would be dead quiet, everyone except me asleep.  But my kids are older.  Andrew often doesn’t get to bed until he’s given the new day a firm handshake.  But still, the house is relatively quiet.
I need the stillness, the occasional quiet, to connect with the Savior. 
Christmas is meaningless if you don’t at all connect with the Savior, person to person.  Imagine going to a birthday party for a friend and never once greeting your friend, not even with eye contact.  I love most of the trappings of Christmas.  But what a waste if I engage all the trappings, yet never once worship the Lord.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A time for enjoying your daughter

I had a wonderful day with my daughter yesterday because we sat together a lot. 

The first time was in the worship service.  I finished playing the keyboard.  Callie was sitting with her Grandpa; all other relatives were elsewhere, including her mom, who was home with a fever.  As I headed for the pews, Callie caught my eye and beckoned me to her.  She snuggled up to me until it was time for her to leave the sanctuary for Children’s Church.

We attended our neighbor’s wedding in the afternoon, just Callie and I.  We sat around tables in the refurbished Baker Street Train Station for the wedding and reception.  She pressed in close to me because she didn’t know anyone else.  Even after she connected with her friend (the bride’s daughter) and became more comfortable with other girls, she still kept coming back to me to sit on my lap a bit.

This evening the ladies of the family were splayed in front of the TV, watching a PBS cooking show.  Callie invited me to sit with her on the floor.  Initially declining, I changed my mind and sat down.  She curled right up to me. 

After a bit, I knew she was getting tired.  So I carried her to her room and helped her with her PJs.  Then I carried her upstairs to brush her teeth.  Then I read a story to her.  Then I carried her back down and set her back with her sister and mom, where she fell asleep.  Then I carried her to bed.

I am working to savor these times.  It’s been a long time since Caty’s sat on my lap; it won’t happen again.  When Anna was 6, I used to joke that when she turned 7 I wouldn’t be able to carry her because she’d be too big.  She’s 12 now and quite independent.

The sands of time slip quickly through the fingers.  It’s hard to hold on to.

Lord, give me a heart of wisdom, and teach me to number my days aright.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Promoting traditional marriage good for the state

In a case in Nevada whereby the US Circuit Court upheld traditional marriage, District Judge Robert Jones wrote,

“Although the distinction the State has drawn (between one-man–-one-woman marriages on the one hand, and any other gender- or number-configuration of spouses on the other hand) largely burdens homosexuals, the distinction is not by its own terms drawn according to sexual orientation. Homosexual persons may marry in Nevada, but like heterosexual persons, they may not marry members of the same sex. That is, a homosexual man may marry anyone a heterosexual man may marry, and a homosexual woman may marry anyone a heterosexual woman may marry. In this sense, the State of Nevada has drawn no distinction at all. Under this conception of the (lack of) distinction drawn by the State, the laws at issue would receive no scrutiny at all under the Equal Protection Clause.”


“As Justice O’Connor noted in concurrence in Lawrence, there are additional reasons to promote the traditional institution of marriage apart from mere moral disapproval of homosexual behavior, and these reasons provide a rational basis for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples in the context of civil marriage.

Human beings are created through the conjugation of one man and one woman. The percentage of human beings conceived through non-traditional methods is minuscule, and adoption, the form of child-rearing in which same-sex couples may typically participate together, is not an alternative means of creating children, but rather a social backstop for when traditional biological families fail. The perpetuation of the human race depends upon traditional procreation between men and women. The institution developed in our society, its predecessor societies, and by nearly all societies on Earth throughout history to solidify, standardize, and legalize the relationship between a man, a woman, and their offspring, is civil marriage between one man and one woman.

( “It is an institution, in the maintenance of which in its purity the public is deeply interested, for it is the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.” - See
Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190,211 (1888) )

“Should that institution be expanded to include same-sex couples with the state’s imprimatur, it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons would cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently, opting for purely private ceremonies, if any, whether religious or secular, but in any case without civil sanction, because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined, leading to an increased percentage of out-of-wedlock children, single-parent families, difficulties in property disputes after the dissolution of what amount to common law marriages in a state where such marriages are not recognized, or other unforeseen consequences.

Because the family is the basic societal unit, the State could have validly reasoned that the consequences of altering the traditional definition of civil marriage could be severe. It is not beyond rational speculation to conclude that fundamentally altering the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions might result in undermining the societal understanding of the link between marriage, procreation, and family structure.”

HT: email from Micah Clark, AFAIN

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jesus is Lord of all because he is the source of all

I like the way the J. B. Phillips translation words some things.

Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all.  (Colossians 1:18)

Commenting on the cross:
And then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act!  (Colossians 2:15)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Apologetics isn't always required

Simply telling about your faith is often persuasive
Don’t feel like you have to explain everything. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers.

When it comes to telling others about anything Christian, don’t feel like you have to explain everything.
It’s easy to think that unless you explain everything carefully and thoroughly, your friend or co-worker or the guy at Wal Mart isn’t going to be persuaded by the truth of Christianity. And if that’s the way you think, then the thought that follows is, “Why bother?”
Now there’s a place for apologetics. There’s a place for a careful, reasoned, evidence-filled presentation of the Christian faith.
But let me tell you something else. The devil may be the biggest promoter of Christian apologetics there is. Why? Because he knows most of us aren’t experts in Christian apologetics. So if he can get us to believe that apologetics is absolutely essential to the conversion of anyone, then he’s cowed us into not talking to others about our faith.
Here’s the point: There is power in simply telling, so don’t be afraid to simply tell. I did not say “simply telling and defending;” just, “simply telling.”
People tell us stuff all the time that we believe as true without them going into reasons why. People don’t always require explanations in the real world. Sometimes they do, but not always.
Further, we as believers have added power in our witness; he’s the Holy Spirit. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8).

Many times all you have to do is tell the truth, not defend it. Even those who clamor for proof may not be able to shake the persuasive power of the truth you share and the Holy Spirit’s heavy hand of conviction. So even on those occasions when people ask you for reasons and evidence and you can’t seem to satisfy them, don’t automatically think the truth has dropped from their minds. What they wave away may in fact be eating away at the lies and deception that cocoon their hearts and minds.

Don’t feel like you have to explain everything. Don’t be afraid to simply tell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wells's The War of the Worlds: shoe's on the other foot

I finished reading The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, on Saturday.  The initial excitement at reading the book waned as the Book One progressed.  But as I got into Book Two, that changed.  Especially with the entrapment of the narrator and the curate, the terror of their situation became a bit more real.

Wells’s evolutionary assumptions manifest themselves in his occasional comparison of human beings to animals.  With the domination of England’s populace by the Martians, human beings are compared more than once to rabbits and to ants.  “It never was a war, anymore than there’s war between man and ants” (Bk 2, Ch 7).  Now human beings can empathize with the animals they’ve dominated for so long.  “For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away” (Bk 2, Ch 6).  Wells seems to be making two points with this.  First, he may be signifying that we need to ease up on our domination of the animals kingdom.    “Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity—pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion” ( Bk 2, Ch 6).  Second, we need to recognize that we are like the animals, and one day, a higher order may dominate us in the same way.  Humanity is nothing more than animals, albeit a higher order of ones.  Both the introduction (Karl Kroeber) and the afterword (Isaac Asimov) highlighted the fact that Wells may have been writing against the colonizing practice of his country, The War of the Worlds being a means of putting the shoe on the other foot.  What Britain gets from the Martians is what she was dishing out to the Africans, for instance.  Now that is an interesting thought!

Is this a jab at Christian theology?  It’s interesting that a curate figures prominently for a while.  He is not an admirable character.  His belief system can’t seem to handle the new situation.  He struggles with insanity, and in the end dies for want of reason and clear-headedness.  The narrator himself comes to pray at one point, but his prayers to God are given such a context as to make them seem foolish.  “… now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place--a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God” (Bk 2, Ch 6).

The ending was unexpected and interesting.  Who was really the more advanced?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Graphic Scripture

After witnessing the queen of Israel, Jezebel, being thrown out of a window and killed, Jehu, the man who called for her hasty demise, enjoyed a good meal.  Feeling better, apparently, he also felt some mercy.  He ordered her body to be collected and buried, "for she is a king's daughter."

But apparently while Jehu had been eating, so had the wild dogs.  All they recovered of Jezebel were her skull, feet, and palms.  (Some of the dogs apparently enjoyed finger food.)

When he heard of this, Jehu graphically described Jezebel's commitment to the earth: "This is the word of the LORD, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, 'In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; the corpse of Jezebel shall be like dung on the field ...'" (2 Kings 9:36-37 NRSV).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Long before there were cars, there were bad drivers

Bad drivers aren't a contemporary development.  Bad drivers precede automobiles by a few thousand years.

Consider the renegade king of Israel, Jehu, who apparently had a reputation in this regard:

The lookout reported, “He has reached them, but he isn’t coming back either. The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a maniac.”  (2 Kings 9:20 NIV)

I enjoy some of the other translations:

The troop’s leader is driving like a lunatic, like Jehu, grandson of Nimshi.  (GWT)

The driving is like the driving of Jehu son of Nimshi—crazy! (Message)

he drives like a madman (HCSB)

with madness he driveth (YLT)

it is headlong speed with him (Knox)

That one man is a reckless chariot driver—it must be Jehu! (CEV)

Friday, November 30, 2012

God gave us the Law of Moses to make us sin more

What was the purpose of the Law of Moses?

Romans 5:20 is pretty clear.  “Now the law came in to increase the trespass” (ESV). 

Come again?  God gave the law in order to increase sin?  The NIV translation runs like this: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.”  God’s Word translation seems starker: “Rules were added to increase the failure.”

Galatians 3:19 conveys the same idea.  “Why then the law?  It was added because of transgressions” (ESV).  Several scholars believe the idea behind the Greek word (translated here “because”) is to increase.  The Modern English translation by J. B. Phillips gets closer to the idea: “Where then lies the point of the Law?  It was an addition made to underline the existence and extent of sin.” 

Those who think that by obeying the law they will be saved miss the whole point of the law.  It wasn’t given to provide us a means of salvation.  It was added to highlight our need of salvation.  The law actually increased sin!  (Also helpful in this regard is Romans 7:7-13, where 13 says, “But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it [the Law] produced death in me … so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” [NIV].)

One of the primary points of Galatians 3 is that the only way to be saved—the only way to enter heaven, the only way to avoid hell—is by faith in Jesus Christ.  Obeying the Law of Moses doesn’t get you there, because it’s impossible to obey it perfectly; God knew that before he even issued the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

“That seems wrong.  How can God be considered loving and good if he actually gave to us something that actually increases our guilt and condemnation?”  The truth is, it is because he is loving and good that he gave us something (the Law) to increase our guilt and condemnation.

Galatians explains:

“The Scripture [i.e., Law] imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (3:22 ESV).

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (3:23 ESV).

“Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him” (3:24 Phillips).

The purpose of the Law is to reveal the hopelessness of our condition—we are utterly sinful—so that we will feel the weight of our sins and the horror of our future (condemnation and punishment).  In feeling that, we God’s goal is that we will seek salvation, the only salvation there is, faith in Christ.  The NIV translation of 3:24 captures the idea: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (emphasis added).

We human beings are inclined to overlook our own faults and overemphasize what we do right.  If that is our habit, why would we seek salvation?  What do we have to be saved from?  We’re not aware of our utter sinfulness.  God gave the Law to make us aware.  Why do some people not want to go to the doctor?  They prefer the bliss of ignorance.  If they become aware of something wrong, then they have to deal with it.  So are the doctor and his x-ray machine a foul ogre or an agent of mercy?  We tend to see them as the latter.  Even though the news isn’t pleasant, at least it tells us the truth so that we can pursue procedures that will bring healing.

So the statement, “God gave us the Law of Moses to make us sin more” is true.  But it isn’t the whole truth.  Better: God gave the Law of Moses to drive us to seek salvation through faith in Christ.

The whole intent might be diagrammed as follows:

People ignorant of their sins and guilt
> God gave the law
> sins increased
> people became aware of their sins and guilt
> felt their helplessness and hopelessness
> sought salvation
> embraced by faith salvation offered through Christ

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Philosopher admits bias against God

In philosopher Thomas Nagel's recent work, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, he makes his case for rejecting materialist naturalism.  His reasons for rejecting this contemporary creed of science would lead one to think, according to reviewer Alvin Plantinga, that Nagel would at least be "sympathetic to theism."

But he is not.  It seems that his statement in The Last Word (1997) still holds:

"I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.... It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that."

Well, at least he admits his bias.

(Plantinga's full review is worth the read.  Nagel's case against Darwinism is fascinating.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Be with me and protect me

This lyric is a great prayer for Christ's presence and protection.

O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide.

O let me feel Thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.

(Author: John E. Bode)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to serve difficult people

Insights from Warren Wiersbe's On Being a Servant of God (chapter 4)

[W]hen … difficulties come, our tendency is to pray for deliverance instead of growth.  We ask the Lord, “How can I get out of this?” instead of “What can I get out of this?”  When we do that, we miss the opportunities God gives us to develop spiritual maturity.
You’ll meet problem people and problem situations wherever you go, so make up your kind to expect them, accept them, and let God use them in your life. The devil wants to use problem people as weapons to tear your down, but the Spirit can use them as tools to build you up. 

Many of us confess that we’re not capable of loving people the way Jesus loves them and us…. God doesn’t ask us to work up our Christian love in our own strength because He offers to create it within us when we need it: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5); “But the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22)…. When the people we serve irritate us or disappoint us, the first thing we usually do is pray for them and tell the Lord to change them. What we ought to do first is pray for ourselves and ask God to increase our love.

It’s always too soon to quit. 

Remember always to keep chin up and knees down! 



Friday, November 16, 2012

Memory verses that ministered to me today

The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.  (Psalm 103:19 NIV)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:21 NIV)

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.  (Revelation 2:10 NIV)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.  (2 Chronicles 16:9 ESV)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

4 simple actions that lead to success

Last year I heard a successful, retiring, Canadian pastor (Laurel Buckingham of the Wesleyan Church) speak on self-discipline. One of the disciplines he talked about was the discipline of the "can-dos."
He shared 4 things that are easy to do that contribute to the success of many successful people. There are certainly more keys to success than these 4 things, but these cannot be neglected.
He said most successful people do all 4 (or at least 3) well. Losers (my word, not his) are proficient in 2 or less.
They are:
1. Be on time.
2. Do what you say you're going to do.
3. Finish what you start.
4. Say "please" and "thank you." (i.e., be appreciative)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Good book

The Mauritius Command (Aubrey/Maturin, #4)The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy the friendship and interplay between Aubrey and Maturin; Captain Jack Aubrey who struggles like a fish out of water on land but who is at home on the sea (nicknamed in the Navy as "Lucky Jack Aubrey"), and Stephen Maturin, quite the opposite--injured twice just changing boats, but otherwise a capable physician, scientist, spy, and Renaissance man. The battles and constant life at sea did become a bit wearying for me about 2/3s of the way into the book, but still a good read.

This, book 4 in the series, was probably my second favorite thus far, with the first book (Master and Commander) being my favorite.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 2, 2012

Humility is great

HumilityHumility by Andrew Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was formative in my thinking and life several years ago. It was good to read through it again and be reminded of the centrality of, the path to, and the blessings of humility.

Some meaningful quotes from the book:

As God is the ever-living, ever-present, ever-acting One--who upholds all things by the Word of His power, and in whom all things exist--the relationship of man to God could only be one of unceasing, absolute, universal dependence. . . . Man need only look back to the origin of existence and he will acknowledge that he owes everything to God. (9-10)

To many of us it has been a new joy in the Christian life to know that we may yield ourselves as servants, as slaves to God, and to find that His service is our highest liberty--the liberty from sin and self. We need now to learn another lesson--that Jesus calls us to be servants of one another, and that, as we accept it heartily, this service too will be a most blessed one. It will be a new and fuller liberty from sin and self. At first it may appear hard; this is only because of the pride which still counts itself something.
If once we learn that to be nothing before God is the glory of man, the spirit of Jesus, the joy of heaven, we will welcome with our whole heart the discipline we may have in serving even those who try to vex us.... no place will be too low. No stooping will be too deep, and no service too mean or too long continued, if we may but share and prove the fellowship with Him who spoke, 'I am among you as he that serveth' (Luke 22:27).
Brethren, here is the path to the higher life. Down, lower down! (31-32)

The insignificances of daily life are the importances and the tests of eternity because they prove what spirit really possesses us. (44)

It is easy to think we humble ourselves before God. Yet, humility toward men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real…. When in the presence of God lowliness of heart has become, not a posture we assume for a time when we think of Him, or pray to Him, but the very spirit of our life, it will manifest itself in all our bearing toward our brethren.... (43-44)

The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God's presence he has learned to say with Paul, "I am nothing" (2 Corinthians 12:11). (44)

How can I die to self? The death to self is not your work; it is God’s work. In Christ you are dead to sin. The life there is in you has gone through the process of death and resurrection. You may be sure you are indeed dead to sin. But the full manifestation of the power of this death in your disposition and conduct depends on the measure in which the Holy Spirit imparts the power of the death of Christ. And it is here that the teaching is needed. If you want to enter into full fellowship with Christ in His death, and know the full deliverance from self, humble yourself. This is your one duty.
Place yourself before God in your utter helplessness. Consent heartily to the fact of your weakness to slay or make yourself alive. Sink down into your own nothingness, in the spirit of meek and patient trustful surrender to God. Accept every humiliation, look upon every fellow-man who tries or vexes you, as a means of grace to humble you. Use every opportunity of humbling yourself before your fellow-men as a help to remain humble before God. It is by the mighty strengthening of His Holy Spirit that God reveals Christ fully in you. In this manner, Christ, in His form of a servant, is truly formed in you and dwells in your heart. God will accept such humbling of yourself as the proof that your whole heart desires it. He will accept it as your very best prayer for it, and as your preparation for His mighty work of grace. It is the path of humility which leads to perfect death, the full and perfect experience that we are dead in Christ. (75-76)

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Read the Bible like a book

Read the Bible for information.

I've encouraged students to not just read the Bible, but to study it and meditate on it.  We took a few weeks in my Sunday School class earlier this year to talk about different ways to study the Bible.

I still believe that walking through Scripture slowly, taking time to observe details and dig deep, is important.

But in this post, I just want to advocate simple Bible reading.  Biblical illiteracy is not only a mark of Americans, it’s a mark of American Christians.

So read the Bible just to know it.  Just to know the stories.  Just to know the details.  Just to know the names and the facts. 

Each time you read, you’ll pick up more details.  Names like Mephibosheth, Gehazi, and Ehud won’t seem so strange to you.  And the more details and stories you know, the more the Holy Spirit will help you draw deeper connections between Scriptures.  The difficult Scriptures will become clearer in the light of other Scriptures.

What’s your Bible knowledge right now on a scale of 1 to 10?  A three?  A seven?  Reading the Bible regularly—how can that number not go up a year from now?

There’s a place for studying Scripture and meditating on it; I firmly believe that.  But there’s also a place for reading Scripture through without taking notes.  Reading through it in a year.  Reading through it in 2 years.  Reading through it in 4 months (10 chapters a day).
So read it for information.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Humanity, not the creature, the real monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Frankenstein (Signet Classics)Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who's the monster?

Humanity is. The creature never has a chance. He is created, and as soon as Victor Frankenstein gives him life, he abhors what he has done and abandons his creature. The creature, hideous and monstrous in appearance, never gets a break. All his human interactions are negative. He is singularly reviled by every human being he comes in contact with except for one blind man. By his own testimony he was originally good, loving goodness and beauty and desiring companionship, friendship, and the mutual exchange of kindness and love. But humanity's consistent mistreatment drove him finally to declare war on humanity.

While Victor is the narrator, one struggles to fully sympathize with him. His drive to create life was humanitarian, but his sudden abhorrence when the creature first lives is never explained. Two years later when the creature tells his tale of woe and attempts to reason with his creator, Victor never fully accepts the logic of the creature's pleas, though the reader does. One thinks that if just someone could have gotten past the creature's monstrous looks, things would have turned out so much different.

The creature becomes a monster to humanity because humanity first acted the monster towards him. Victims become victimizers. It is easier to sympathize with the creature (who is, significantly, never given a name) than it is with his creator, though the creator (Victor Frankenstein) spends the whole book trying to justify himself. If this is Mary Shelley's intention, it is brilliantly done.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Lord of the Flies tells the truth about us

Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies by William Golding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't like Lord of the Flies, and I liked it. I didn't like it because it was so dark, and I liked it because it tells the truth.

Several boys are stranded on a deserted island when their plane goes down. No adults survive. The boys organize themselves to maintain life until they're rescued and to maintain a signal fire in order to be rescued. At first the boys are governed by the strictures and relative morality of adult civilization, but as time progresses many of them slowly cast aside their inhibitions with the absence of a credible accountability.

As examples, Jack hesitates when he first has the chance to kill a wild pig, and the pig escapes. As time progresses he feels himself swallowed up by a compulsion to kill, though he twitches when he mentions cutting the throat of his first pig kill. Later he revels in the blood on his hands after a pig kill and presides over the death of something else.

Roger early on tosses rocks at one of the younger boys, but never hits the boy. He obviously means to torment, but actually hitting the boy is "taboo." "Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and law" (ch. 4). But later, when Roger's meanness has conquered his social conditioning, he is the one who leverages with deadly aim a boulder against another weaker boy.

The boys who join Jack in the end are simply called "savages."

The book tells the truth about the sinful nature. Men and women, left to themselves, are savages. We are by nature sinful and wicked, selfish and hateful, violent. Lord of the Flies does a great job of showing that--demonstrating both the reality and the terror of our dark inclinations.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Examples of "It's a small world"

While visiting with a family from church, Gerry told me about a time when his dad took him over to the Alpine to play guitar for a party involving Bob H.  "Who did you say?" I asked. 

Flashback to yesterday when Pat asked me what Terry H.'s son's name was.  It wasn't Bob, was it?  No.  OK, because Bob H. from I&M is coming over today.

"Gerry, does Bob H. still live in town?"  Yes.  "Where does he work?"  Oh, he's been with I&M for years.  "How are you connected with him?" He was my sister Cheryl's first husband. 

So I told Pat: Bob H. isn't connected with Terry H., but he IS connected ... to Gerry and the family.  Small world.

Further conversation revealed that Esther and Vicki sing in a multi-church choir where Shirley P. has been the organist.  She was my elementary music teacher, and I took organ lessons from her for 5 years as a teen.

The pianist is Larry M.  He was the director of the Summit City Chorus when Jeff, my dad, and I sang in it.  He also trained Jeff's and my barbershop quartet.  Small world.

Shirley P. was, as mentioned above, my first elementary school music teacher.  My second music teacher was Phyllis B.  Before I was even born, my future mother-in-law roomed with one and then the other when they were in college.  Small world.

Pat relayed this to me today: Eric and Amy, when they were dating, discovered they were second cousins by marriage and they had once been in the same wedding together as young-uns, him a groomsman, her a flower girl.  They later had a wedding of their own.  Small world.

Friday, September 21, 2012

You gotta stand in another man's shoes to really know him

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A John Grisham novel before there was John Grisham.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a great story on the stupidity of racial prejudice and yet its persistence and difficulty to overcome.

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in Maycomb County, Alabama, is the admirable character of the story, the man with (un)common sense in a town where that seems to be in short supply. He is an Abraham Lincoln in a town of plantation owners. At one point in the midst of the Tom Robinson trial, when Scout and Dill step out, Mr. Raymond tells Scout, "... you don't know your pa's not a run-of-the-mill man, it'll take a few years for that to sink in--you haven't seen enough of the world yet. You haven't even seen this town, but all you gotta do is step back inside the courthouse" (ch. 20). (There are other citizens, one comes to see, who also possess sense--Heck Tate, Judge Taylor, Miss Maudie, and even Mr. Raymond, not to mention most of the black characters: Tom, Calpurnia, Rev. Sykes.)

Hooray for a book that portrays a father in a positive light--Atticus, a widower, wisely navigating his son and daughter through the trials of childhood in a town where his views on race and justice are in the minority.

Throughout he teaches his children that empathizing with others leads to understanding and mercy. This was certainly the case with Mrs. Dubose, the elderly woman with a poison tongue, even as it was with Tom Robinson, and even Mayella Ewell, Robinson's accuser. "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them" (ch. 31). At the end of the book, Scout, the daughter, remarks about their neighbor: "Atticus, he was real nice," to which Atticus responds, "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them" (ch. 31).

Who knew that a story told through the eyes of a 3rd-grade girl could be so interesting? (My own prejudice coming out, I guess.)

Some of my favorite lines in the book:
"... but they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County a name synonymous with jackass." (ch. 1)

"Atticus said naming people after Confederate generals made slow steady drinkers." (ch. 16)

Introducing the readers to one of her neighbors, Scout relates the most important details: "Besides making change in the collection plate every Sunday, Mr. Avery sat on the porch every night until nine o'clock and sneezed." (ch. 6)

I can relate to Scout's description of her father, Atticus: "Our father didn't do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.... He did not do the things our schoolmates' fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read." (ch. 10)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reflections on the Psalms

Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh perspective on themes in Psalms (judgment, cursing others, death, dealing with wicked people, the Lord's beauty, nature, praise, Scripture, and second meanings). Lewis's routine approach is to lay out the problem he had with each theme, and then to explain the new understanding that he arrived at. Following are a couple of my notes.

1: “Judgement” in the Psalms
We moderns fear judgment. We don’t look forward to God’s judgment. But the ancient Hebrews rejoiced in it and talked of it fondly in the Psalms. The difference is that we think of ourselves as defendants, but they thought of themselves as plaintiffs. They were looking forward to God coming and judging their oppressors, that they would finally get justice. They would identify with the widow in Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8).

9: A Word about Praising
Lewis early on as a Christian was bothered by the repeated calls to praise in the Psalms and the notion that God demanded our praise. But praising God is a means of enjoying him. Praising him completes our enjoyment of him. Our world and our lives are full of praise. Enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. We praise a multitude of things, favorite poets, creation’s beauty, our children, etc. What’s more, we try to get others to admire what we delight in. “Isn’t she beautiful?” “Wasn’t that cool?” Praise not only expresses enjoyment, it completes it. “It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” Glorifying God and enjoying him are the same thing. “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bible: kill the dragon, get the girl

Holy Bible: English Standard Version Holy Bible: English Standard Version by God through his prophets and apostles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you think about why Jesus came--to destroy the works of the devil and to save sinners, i.e., the bride of Christ (1 Jn 3:8; 1 Tim 1:15; Eph 5:25ff.)--then the message of the Bible is both simple and exciting. It is (in the words of Douglas Wilson as I remember them): Kill the dragon, get the girl. That's the story from Genesis 1:1 all the way through Revelation 22:21.

The ESV is currently my favorite translation. I succumbed to the heavy promotion it received when it came out 11 or so years ago, and it hasn't disappointed. I prefer a more literal trans. to the dynamic equivalent approach, but I don't find the ESV as stilted as the NASB (though I have not read the updated NASB).

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Jesus did it all, all to him I owe

The Transforming Power of GraceThe Transforming Power of Grace by Thomas C. Oden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thorough treatment of grace. Emphasizes that grace goes before faith, works all through faith and repentance, and continues to keep and shape those who respond to God's call to salvation. A deft Arminian treatment of grace, highlighting dozens, it seems, of aspects and categories of grace. This is no Semi-Pelagianism. The effectiveness, power, and comprehensiveness of grace is emphasized alongside the responsibility of each person to respond with appropriate faith. When people refuse Christ, the defect lies not in grace, but within the fallen will.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thankful for release

Idiopathic neuropathy was the eventual diagnosis for my wife's pain that exploded in her body and hung on in her extremities, primarily the feet and hands, for a few years.  "Idiopathic" means "unknown cause."

She was on strong meds for a few years, and then she began to cut back some, eventually reaching 75% reduction in med strength.  The Lord was healing her. 

Then she tried going off the meds completely a few times, but unsuccessfully.  Until a few months ago.

Today she saw Dr. Shah, and he gave her a full release from his care! 

Eight years ago was when the neuropathy set in.  What a journey.  We don't know what caused it, but we do know the Lord has healed her from it.

This release is reason for praise.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book on memory fascinating, not life-changing

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingMoonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As one who perceives (and is anxious) that his memory is diminishing, I was hooked by Joshua Foer's subtitle, The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.

The storyline of the book is the author's year-long journey from covering the 2005 U.S. Memory Championship as a journalist, to competing in 2006 ... and winning!

Moonwalking is an entertaining blend of the science of memory, case studies of mental abnormalities, and Foer's own training for the Memory Championship.

Throughout the book Foer introduces readers to such individuals as EP, who can only remember back to his most recent thought; Kim Peek, inspiration for Rain Man who remembers everything, including the contents of phone books he scans at 10 secs. per page; and S, who has synethesia, a condition where the senses are intertwined in such a way that forgetting anything is next to impossible.

Tasks that mental athletes train to do include memorizing the order of a shuffled deck of cards (Foer did this in 100 secs. at the Memory Championship), memorizing random lists of numbers (1000 in 5 mins.), random lists of words (300 in 15 mins.), and poems. The technique most often used is called the memory palace, where picturesque and bizarre images are stored in various locations within a building (house, library, etc.) in the athlete's mind, and later retrieved. Memory palaces, contends the author, are far more effective than rote memorization.

To me, the stuff these guys work so hard to memorize is banal. I'm far more interested in remembering concepts, ideas, arguments, and sources, than I am in a deck of cards or the digits of pi (the world record currently at 67,890).

True confession time: I was looking for tricks; effortless ways to significantly increase my memory. Big take away from the book: memorizing takes a lot of work, whether by rote or by memory palace. At this point I doubt I'll change my rote memorizing ways.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"I can't give them everything they need on Sunday"

So said a pastor friend of mine this morning as he prayed for his congregation.

Many church-goers act like going to church once a week (or less) is enough spiritual nutrition to carry them through life.  They don't realize they're starving.

The song writer who wrote, "I need Thee every hour," expressed a universal need. 

We were made to walk with God, even as Adam did in the cool of the garden.  We were meant to companion with God, not meet with him once a week to catch up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Be a better spouse

For a Glory and a Covering: A Practical Theology of MarriageFor a Glory and a Covering: A Practical Theology of Marriage by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Douglas Wilson seems to come at every topic from a different angle that makes reading him intriguing, entertaining, and helpful.

This book has fresh applications of traditional marriage Scriptures, and it deals with other texts that I've never heard discussed before in relation to marriage (much less applied), texts like Ex 21:10-11; Titus 2:3-5; Mal 2:15; Prov 9:1-6. I've heard 1 Cor 11:2-16 debated a few times, but used to lay out practical guidelines for marriage? Wilson does it.

The chapters are short, and the topics are both the usual and the not-so-usual. I appreciated his discussions of jealousy as a virtue, the nature of masculinity and femininity (how they're not precisely equivalent to male and female), the duties of husbands and wives, lies about equality, and divorce.

As an example of his unique approach, in his chapter on respective marital duties, he details the duties of husbands as protection (physical and spiritual) and (based on Ex 21:10-11) provision (complete cupboards, complete closets, and complete union). The duties of wives (based on Titus 2:3-5) include a pleasant home, a well-run home, and the home as a course of study.

In sum, Wilson's book is deeper theologically and wider applicationally than most marriage books.  I guarantee you won't agree with everything, but your thinking on marriage will be sharpened by reading this book. And maybe your marriage will be enhanced, too.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

The virtue of jealousy

Douglas Wilson, pastor in Moscow, Idaho, explains good jealousy in his marriage book, For a Glory and a Covering:

"Godly jealousy is not really about making particular accusations—jealousy builds a fence but does not make assertions about the individuals who don’t know why you put the fence there.  You can lock your doors at night without accusing every person who walks by of attempted thievery, and you can pull back when someone crosses your “friendly line” without accusing that person of “attempted adultery.”  Godly jealousy sets particular standards—for friendships, for get-togethers, for business lunches, for entertainment standards, for dress, and so on.  Many fathers, for example, are not nearly jealous enough when it comes to how their daughters dress.  And they might be surprised at how much it costs to have a daughter look that cheap…. 

"A man or woman should be jealous over things like sexual infidelity, emotional flirtation, significant amounts of time spent elsewhere when it should be spent at home, money squandered when it should be invested in the home, and so forth."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Doctrine of the Trinity not irrelevant

Our Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-OneOur Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-One by Philip Graham Ryken
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a good introduction to the Trinity. The authors discuss the concept of the Trinity, the various roles of the persons of the Trinity, and our responses to each of the persons.

What I appreciate about the book is that it highlights the relevance of the doctrine of the Trinity. Too many believers see the Trinity as a biblical teaching, but one that doesn't make much difference in their everyday lives. Bogus thinking.

Nonetheless, I was looking for more depth. The book is great for those who are investigating the doctrine of the Trinity for the first time; but I was looking for more.  If I were a new Christian, I would have rated it higher.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's like Treasure Island, only different

Victory: An Island Tale (Modern Library Classics)Victory: An Island Tale by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spoiler alert: If you're going to read this novel, you might not want to read the last paragraph of this post.

An island adventure on the other side of the world in the days of the British Empire. A misunderstood man, an abused woman, a vengeful enemy, bad guys. Love, pity, jealousy, slander, greed. It has the makings of a great story.

The book slowly builds (and sometimes very slowly) into a mighty crescendo at the end. The point of view switches around so you see inside Heyst and Lena, as well as the bad guys. Some times the psychologizing is heavy-handed and unrealistic. But overall, not a bad tale.

The biggest puzzle to me is the title. Since everyone dies at the end, where's the victory? Unless it's Schomberg, the German hotel owner, a despicable character. He is avenged on his contrived enemy Heyst, but he still lost the girl. Cliff Notes suggests it's Lena, the girl Axel Heyst rescues from the orchestra at the hotel; she finally wins Heyst's love. But I think she already had it before she made her sacrifice, even though he had difficulty expressing it. Perhaps it's Heyst himself; he overcomes his indifference to the world when he experiences feelings for Lena and does what he can to protect her. When she dies, he cannot be indifferent to that, and he kills himself beside her, burning everything down around them. Now that's love, baby.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The blessings of Christian fellowship

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in CommunityLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is about the reality and blessedness of Christian fellowship, demonstrating that genuine fellowship is more than what evangelicals realize.

All five chapters--"Community," "The Day with Others," "The Day Alone," "Ministry" [i.e., service], and "Confession and Communion"--feed the mind and the heart.

Especially interesting to me was ch. 2, "The Day with Others," and Bonhoeffer's comments on such topics as the Psalms (especially interesting when compared with C. S. Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms; Bonhoeffer says the Psalms are the prayers of the corporate church as well as the prayers of Christ through his body), reading the Scriptures (read whole chapters to your family), and work/employment in the world (having a secular job is good for the soul).

My other favorite chapter was ch. 4, "Ministry." Lots of good thoughts on the primacy of servanthood and how we can serve one another.

Below are some quotes I especially enjoyed, though without context:

"So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?' (Luther)." (ch. 1 pp. 17-18)

"Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate." (ch. 1 p. 30)

"[S]piritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ ..." (ch. 1 p. 36)

"Work plunges men into the world of things. The Christian steps out of the world of brotherly encounter into the world of impersonal things, the 'it'; and this new encounter frees him for objectivity; for the 'it'-world is only an instrument in the hand of God for the purification of Christians from all self-centeredness and self-seeking. The work of the world can be done only where a person forgets himself, where he loses himself in a cause, in reality, the task, the 'it.' In work the Christian learns to allow himself to be limited by the task, and thus for him the work becomes a remedy against the indolence and sloth of the flesh. The passions of the flesh die in the world of things." (ch. 2 p. 70)

[Commenting on Rom 12:16] "Because the Christian can no longer fancy that he is wise he will also have no high opinion of his own schemes and plans. He will know that it is good for his own will to be broken in the encounter with his neighbor. He will be ready to consider his neighbor's will more important and urgent than his own. What does it matter if our own plans are frustrated? Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way?" (ch. 4 p. 95)

[On the ministry of listening] "Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking." (ch. 4 p. 97)

[On the ministry of helpfulness] "This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.... It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God's 'crooked yet straight path' (Gottfried Arnold). They do not want a life that is crossed ad balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our scheule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God." (ch. 4 p. 99)

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Insightful Biblical look at challenges of our day

The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual OpennessThe Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mohler does a good job of evaluating current issues facing the church in the light of biblical theology, and he does so with power. Imminently readable, helpful, and sobering, the book puts steel in one's backbone.

The issues he takes on include, but are not limited to, the new understandings of hell, the Emerging Church (and Brian McLaren), Open Theism, and post-modernism. This is no long, mind-numbing tome, either; Mohler communicates an much in short, succinct chapters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Prayer book hasn't lost its luster

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and DevotionsThe Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur G. Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my fourth time through praying the prayers of this book, and it has not lost its luster. Very helpful in obeying Ps 103:1ff.: "Praise the Lord, O my soul." The book helps me to exalt the Triune God and to humble myself.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finding more in a book than the author intended

Commenting on novelists, C. S. Lewis writes,

He will find reviewers, both favourable and hostile, reading into his stories all manner of allegorical meanings which he never intended.  (Some of the allegories thus imposed on my own books have been so ingenious and interesting that I often wish I had thought of them myself.)*

Wendell Berry is not so charitable.  One finds this at the beginning of his novel, Jayber Crow:

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

Googling for the Jayber Crow notice, I came cross this notice of Mark Twain's at the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Perhaps not all reviewers are as smart as they seem.  Perhaps all that's meant to be gotten from some good stories is a good story.

*The C. S. Lewis quote comes from Reflections on the Psalms, ch. X.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

50 times through the Bible in 5 years

Homer Inniger, 97, died Friday.  His funeral was yesterday.  He was my wife's paternal grandfather, her last living grandparent, my children's last living great-grandparent.  Those are a few of the bare facts. 

Homer Inniger, 97, read his Bible cover to cover around 50 times since the age of 92.  His family reported during the funeral that he was reading his Bible through each month!  I once read the Bible through in 4 months, reading 10 chapters a day.  My dad reads through the Bible twice a year.  But once a month?!?!  That's an average of almost 40 chapters a day.

Homer Inniger was a living illustration of Psalm 119:99: "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes."  How could a man read his Bible through 50 times (and who knows how many total times through in his entire life?) and not breathe out and live out the wisdom of God's Word?  He did.  Number one testimony at the funeral from all the sympathizers who came to the viewing?  "He was the best Sunday School teacher I ever had."  Homer didn't make it past the 9th grade because he worked the family farm, but I would stack the wisdom of a Bible-trained man like Homer any day against that of a Ph.D who does not know Christ.

Homer never pastored, but he was a layman who made a difference--in his family, in his church, in his community.  He made a difference because he was saturated with the Word.  Because he studied it, he knew it, and because he knew it, he lived it; it was a part of who he was.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.  (Psalm 119:97 NIV)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Literary picture of life in North Korea not a pretty one

The Orphan Master's SonThe Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book details the life, sufferings, decision, and triumphs of a young boy in North Korea, following him into adulthood. In the process, one is given a picture of life in North Korea, and it isn't pretty.

Very few reviews center on the brutality of life and the constant fear in North Korea caused by the totalitarianism of the top leader (in the book, Kim Jong Il), but that is what gripped me most. I was both horrified and riveted. I had already known of the extreme poverty of the country and of the worship that is expected to be paid to "our dear leader." But I was not aware of the prisoner camps, where people are tossed on a whim, or because of association with others who have fallen out of favor with the dear leader. And I was very little aware of the tremendous torture and suffering and deprivation that takes place at these prisoner camps.

The lack of freedom is also depicted starkly in the way the government regulates the lives of its citizens; indeed, their very thinking, through public address systems even within individual homes. The government tells you even when to get up and when to go to sleep. And the government is not predictable. The fates of many rest on the whims of the top leader.

The protagonist, instead of submitting to the system, eventually bucks the system in order to help the one he loves escape. The story is well-told, and told from three different perspectives, which makes it interesting. There is some sexual content.

I would recommend this to anyone seeking to empathize better with those who live in Communist countries. It certainly helps me empathize with my Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea, and I am left speechless again at man's cruelty to his fellow man. How evil evil can be!

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Novel extols practical Christianity

That Printer of Udell's: A Story of the Middle West That Printer of Udell's: A Story of the Middle West by Harold Bell Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in the early 1900s, That Printer of Udell's (first copyright 1902) is an entertaining tale of the churches of a small town, Boyd City, IL, having a reputation with outsiders as being generally unhelpful to society. They love to talk about theological points, but they don't offer any practical help to those who are down and out. The two protagonists of the book, Dick and George, are both lauded in some ways as more Christian than the Christians, though both resist Christianity and the Church, thoughtfully, because of the seeming hypocrisy and lack of compassion of the Church in general.

The key text of the novel is from Matt 25: Inasmuch as you have not done it unto the least of these, you have not done it unto me.

The book reveals the tension between loving Christ but not his imperfect Church. I appreciate the fact that the book doesn't completely abandon the Church, but shows that the Church can be reformed, and even in its impurer states, often offers more than the world.

On a sidenote, President Reagan read That Printer of Udell's at age 11, which prompted him to declare his faith publicly by means of baptism.  In a letter to Mrs. Wright (the author's widow, I presume), he acknowledged that Dick served in many ways as a role model to him.
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