Review: Life Together: A discussion of Christian fellowship

Life Together: A discussion of Christian fellowship
Life Together: A discussion of Christian fellowship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent look at body life of the Church

Reread this book. Insightful.

He considers individual and corporate piety, briefly, with freshness.

I especially liked his critique of the "wish dream," some ideal or agenda that gets set up in the Christian community. The visionary becomes proud and dictatorial. The vision must be shattered or it will shatter the community. Do we love our vision, our ideas of Christian community, or the actual community itself?

The chapter on praying and singing and reading Scripture together is strong. The importance of the Psalms, and reading longer passages of Scripture. At times he helpfully turns us to Scripture's direction, turning away from our own heart or experiences directing us.

The last two sections, on ministry, and confession/communion were also excellent. As another friend said, something quotable on nearly every page.

Highly recommended!

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Fight the Impulse to Despise

As we think about food, here's a good few paragraphs from Doug Wilson:

"if you are a fastidious eater, and cannot be troubled to be a charitable guest at the table of another, then you are an enemy of love.

"In the meantime, every Christian who understands the gospel must fight — as part of our sanctification — the impulse to despise the food that God has given to somebody else. This applies even if the apple was not locally grown, if the coffee was not certified fair trade, if the bread came from a monoculture crop, if the asparagus was modified to taste horrible to asparagus predators, or if the food in question has “chemicals” in it.

"We live in a sinful and fallen world, so food must indeed be sanctified. But the only thing that sanctifies it is the gravy of grace and gratitude (1 Tim. 4:4-5)."


Giving Each Other the Word

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
Here are some quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" (pgs 105-109) that I found compelling enough to type out for you in full - on the Ministry of the Word in the Christian community.


"The basis on which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner, who, with all his human dignity, is lonely and lost if he is not given help.... We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need.... Do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition?

"This is the point where the limitations of all human action toward our brother become apparent: 'None of them can by any means redeem his brother...' (Ps 49:7). This renunciation of our own ability is precisely the prerequisite and the sanction for the redeeming help that only the Word of God can give to the brother."

"The desire we so often hear expressed today for 'episcopal figures,' 'priestly men,' 'authoritative personalities' springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.... This hankering for false authority has at its root a desire to re-establish some sort of immediacy... in the Church.... The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren."

"The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own., who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word."


Review: Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates
Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't believe I made it through an upbringing in Holland, Michigan as a descendant of Dutch Immigrants, without having read Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates before now.

A good third of the middle of this book is a travelogue of the Netherlands, with some history thrown in. There are some classical references I had to look up, even though it's a children's story. It was written in 1865.

It's full of pithy sayings, supposedly from the Dutch. My favorite was "Humble wife is husband's boss." Sometimes the wife wanted to oppose and contradict her husband, but this saying was drilled into her, so she didn't.

The book popularized the story of the boy who plugs a leak in the dike with his finger all night. The main plot centers on the husband who suffered an injury and was imbecilic for ten years. The internet tells me the author based this on a true story.

It is quaint and a bit too sentimental for my taste, but I don't think this is severe enough to be detrimental (note that it can be). Main characters set aside self interest and are willing to associate with the lowly. Excellent reading for the 11-15 age range.

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The Weight of Glory

Product Details
C.S. Lewis preached this sermon in Oxford in 1942. I appreciate many aspects of it.

1. Perspective on modernity.
He distinguishes Kantian from Biblical ethics. Desiring your own good is all right with God, as that leads to His glory. Desire isn't the problem, as many moderns and Stoics tend to think. Misplaced desire is the problem. We fool about with paltry things when pleasures forevermore await at God's right hand (Ps 16). We hope for a future we can barely imagine, like Latin grammar students who will one day enjoy Virgil, but can't see in the grammar stage what it could be good for. Modernity tries to convince us that this world is all there is. Lewis wants to cast a spell to break that enchantment. There is a glory outside ourselves and outside this wold to which our desire and this world point us.

2. Humble honesty.
When faced with the puzzling or repellent parts of Christian revelation in the Bible, Lewis doesn't flinch, evade or make euphemisms. He calls them repellent - a very impious thing to do! He admits there must be something there he needs. His thoughts are not the ultimate criteria of truth. He sees that modernity has trained him to not be drawn naturally to thrones or robes, and works to understand glory through other Christian writers. He is quick to recognize and reject false humility and self-posturing as hindrances to true piety.

3. Biblically corrected psychology.
By this I don't mean counseling or adopting Freudianism. Rather, he helpfully analyzes his own emotions and how they affect his thoughts about God. Part of the glory of heaven is receiving approval from God. "Well done, good and faithful servant." And part of us (wrongly) retreats from this in false humility or an over-developed worm theology that says that heaven could never be "about us." Well, no, but God did go to the trouble of making and redeeming you for a reason.

4. Antithesis
In the end, God's countenance confers glory or shame. We stand outside or inside of glory. We haven't yet got in - we are this side of immortality, not that side. Lewis is a clear, black-and-white thinker in this way.

5. Coram Deo.
C.S. Lewis senses the presence of God. It weights heavily on him. When we stand before God, we will be inspected, and might even survive it! The ultimate glory is being known by God. Without using the pious jargon, he gets at that uncomfortable feeling of being convicted, purified, corrected, in God's presence.

6. Practical.
This is a very under-appreciated aspect of Lewis, not often thought of in connection with children's stories, or academic essays (his standard writing fare). But there are many lessons in his stories (not preachy, though), and much in his abstractions to affect our actions. The surprise ending of this sermon is that we deal with immortals in our neighbor, with many of whom we will spend eternity. This should influence our relationships, our merriment, our charity, even our politics (during WWII!).

We shouldn't give glory to any but God alone.
But we can thank God for giving gifts to the church (Eph 4:11), in teachers and story tellers like Clive Staples Lewis.


On Getting a "Happy Holidays" from the Store Clerk

Doug Wilson nails it in the first few paragraphs of this post, and this one:

"conservative Christians ought not to be whining about any of this. There is nothing here to surprise us, and subbing in Winter Holiday for Christmas is not exactly a fiery trial yet....

"We ought not to complain because we are told not to complain about anything, because it does absolutely no good to complain, and last, because complaining is actually a white surrender flag in the face of what actually is genuine persecution. He says it is “paper-cut martyrdom,” i.e. not martyrdom at all. I say it is the real deal, but a harbinger of more radical mistreatment to come, and we need to treat this kind of thing as a time of training for when things get really hot."


Pulpit Politics

Here is part of RC Sproul, Jr.'s answer to this question:

Should American pastors ever preach warning us of our burgeoning police state and the erosion of our liberties?  
The answer to the question- what should pastors preach, is simple enough. They should preach the Bible. The Bible, according to the Bible, equips us for every good work. There is nothing of importance, and surely all would agree that liberty is important, that the Bible does not speak to. Where it speaks so ought the preacher to speak. We don’t come to the Bible, or any of its texts, hoping it will support our own message. Rather we come hoping we will communicate its message.
The more difficult question is one of priorities. The question is not if we should preach against the grasping state, but how often ought we to do so? And that, I would argue, is answered not by knowing the Bible, but by knowing ones congregation.  Too often we tickle the ears of the flock not by speaking well of them, but by thundering against the sins of their enemies. A steady diet of “We are the oppressed minority who are being overrun by the state that hates us” may increase our blood pressure, but isn’t likely to increase our holiness.


Jovial Masculinity

The Merry Adventures of Robin HoodThe Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rollicking good time. This long version by traditional storyteller Howard Pyle hums with the merriment of Robin's band of brothers. Their adventures involve bringing justice to folks in need, at the expense of the apathetic or oppressive rich and powerful passing near Sherwood forest.

It struck me that Robin Hood presents some lessons from the 1200s on masculinity, which we might not learn in our culture. The typical reference to Robin's merry men today tends to be an off color homosexual reference, which only shows how little we understand true masculinity.
1. Good men are quick to laugh, not because they are fools but because they pursue a life of joy.
2. True men can laugh at themselves. They are not so caught up in their ego, pride or machismo that they don't see when they have BEEN the joke.
3. Real men aren't afraid of others of superior ability, but invite them to join them in common cause. This strengthens them in a community that depends on others. It is amazing how many times Robin loses a fight, then asks the winner to join him.
4. Men trust other friends with their lives. We need friends to share our fight, walk our road, and tell our stories with us.
Be a real man like Robin Hood.

I'm not sure it was intended originally, but the premise presents a powerful parallel with David, outlawed from Saul in 1 Samuel. Both David and Robin gather those indebted or out of favor or outlawed to the king. Both are really in the right and will be vindicated in the future. Both work for the good of the kingdom (and themselves) before that time comes, by plundering God's enemies. Both are pursued by the oppressive authorities (Saul, the Sheriff), but are vindicated by higher authorities (God, King Richard).

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Don't Get Distracted by Faith Itself

Douglas Wilson:

"God wants us to have assurance of our eternal life (1 John 5:13). But this assurance cannot be had through close introspection of our own hearts—all we will find there is reason to be unsettled in our assurance. At the same time, we know Christ is present in those He is saving.

"We reject moralism—good deeds don’t put us in with God. We reject liturgicalism—prancing in God’s courts doesn’t please Him. We reject doctrinalism—mouthing the right words doesn’t do it. We are saved by the instrumentality of faith. We are justified by faith alone. We trust God. We come before Him in trust.
But how do we detect the presence of this faith? Faith does things, and it makes its presence known. It makes its presence known through good deeds, and through worship that is acceptable to God, and through affirmation of the truths that God has given."

Enter the Joy of Your Lord

For the Life of the World
Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)
“Joy, however, is not something one can define or analyze. One enters into joy…And we have no other means of entering into that joy, no way of understanding it, except through the one action which from the beginning has been for the Church both the source and fulfillment of joy, the very sacrament of joy, the Eucharist…the Eucharist is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord. And to enter into that joy, so as to be a witness to it in the world, is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential leitourgia, the sacrament by which it ‘becomes what it is.’”

Random political musings

Observations from the November 2013 Virginia’s governor race
The one mainstream media article I read was predictable in its analysis: the conservative Republican Cuccinelli lost because he was too conservative. Right, (sarcasm alert) that’s objective and trustworthy information. Or it’s the standard playbook attempt by the media to influence the Republican establishment, intimidating them to not run such a great candidate again, for fear of losing.

Lieutenant Governor candidate EW Jackson, a very conservative African American pastor, got only 20,000 less votes than Cuccinelli. I think the real story here is that such a conservative platform got so many votes, only losing by 1 percentage point. The Republican establishment wants middle of the road guys, but the conservatives like Cuccinelli garner votes.

If half of the voters for the libertarian party had voted for Cuccinelli instead, he would have won. How many Christians did not vote? I don’t know. Instead of blaming let’s exhort for the future. Know the issues and elections in your area. Ask candidates about social issues (Republicans are ignoring them, more and more – don’t let them.) Go vote.

For lack of 56,000 voters, out of 2 million, we have a Clinton crony at the helm of our state.

On health care
Americans seem to expect nationalized health care. It’s the only way, we think, to keep the system from crashing. But we also want to keep our own plans.

Obama led us on in thinking we COULD keep our plans. “Some of the less fortunate need health care plans, too, but that won’t affect you.” Right. We’re trying to get something for nothing, and until we quit it, we’re headed for trouble. I’m glad mainstream America is seeing Obama’s deception, but why are we so selfish and stupid, to believe it in the first place?

Only when the economy is growing and jobs are increasing can all parties prosper more. But this Obamiasma we are in from his heavy regulation and business-hostile environment won't get us there.


A Grand Testimony You Can't Remember

This is an excellent couple minutes from John Piper on how to think of your conversion rightly.


He is speaking of 2 Corinthians 4:6
"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Eric Liddell

The Flying Scotsman: The Eric Liddell StoryThe Flying Scotsman: The Eric Liddell Story by Sally Magnusson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chariots of Fire made Eric Liddell famous. He refused to run on Sunday in the Olympic Games, and wound up winning the gold in another event as a result.

This book goes beyond the movie, to the rest of Eric's life. He gave up a life of sporting fame for the mission field in China, during a turbulent, war-torn period of her history in the 20s and 30s. He was often caught between Japanese and Chinese armies, seeking to bring the gospel to the natives.

He died in a Japanese internment camp in china. Few know this.

During his time there, he coordinated sporting events, but refused to participate on Sundays. Still, he refereed a sporting event on a Sunday there. Read the book to find out why.

There's a bit too much uninteresting detail - thus the four stars instead of five. But this is a worthy and inspiring biography.

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Review: Empire of Bones

Empire of Bones
Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading the series out loud to my family, it's so good.

Here is rich imagery and exciting story that potently portrays the story and Savior of the Bible. Wilson does this without being preachy or opaque about it. It is clear at points, though unbelievers probably wouldn't notice it much.

The violence is a bit intense in places, not suitable for under 7-8ish.

Wilson glorifies virtues sorely needed in the (young fiction) world today: courage, loyalty, recognition and rejection of evil, honoring parents and family, and self-sacrifice for others.

If you have 8-15 year olds in the house and wonder what they could read, get this series.

Five stars!

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