Book Notes

Being There

  • This book was a reminder that our ability to help is grounded in our faith and walk with Jesus. That we are first rooted in Jesus, and His life flows in us, and from here, we can learn to offer unconditional love to others, to wake up and learn to serve our friends again and again (or to walk in love alongside non-Christians, even when we do not see change).
  • One part I really liked was the comment a president of a ministry made to him, on his hopes for those who serve in his ministry. It was not growth of their ministries, or even length of years served, but just “that they would love God more when they left the organization than when they started.”
  • So our goal should be to ask, “Do I love God more today than when I first stepped into —-” (and, by God’s grace, answer in the affirmative).
  • Even as we are learning to love the hurting, to remember to ask ourselves, “Have I drawn closer to God as I try to help my friend? Are my affections for Christ higher than they were before the trial began?”

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice

  • A book on God’s design in creating males and females, the purpose for our design, what has gone wrong in the past that may make some desire more equality today, and what Christians can do in society and in church so that God’s design can be lived out, that we may experience joy in how He made us

Now and Then

“Listen to your life. All moments are key moments… Because the word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word — a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see – the chances are we will never get it just right…”

“In the end justice is almost always done in literary matters, I believe, and if they are worth enduring, they will endure…That life is grace, for instance — the givenness of it, the fathomlessness of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself…We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit.

But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we might hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.

In that sense, autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.”

  • Tonight, I finished F. Buechner’s ‘Now and Then.’ Before this, I’ve come across his quotes every now and then, but it wasn’t the same as reading his thoughts all together at length.
  • The way he writes is different than other Christian writers; in his writing, you feel his uncertainty… his roundabout way of arriving at what is true.
  • He acknowledges of the presence of good and bad days in the life a Christian.
  • He tells of his vast influences, and questions of how life may have been had different choices been made, and tells of how he lives with the choices that he made…
  • And it is in this — the chances given and choices made — his uncertainty and vulnerability, that makes his journey more human and palpable. That in all our imperfection, the faithfulness of God and of Jesus’ grace is more clearly seen.

Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind

Reflections on Psalm 101:

  • Psalm 101  names four great qualities a believer must possess in order to discern his or her divine purpose. Without these four virtues to clarify one’s vision, confusion abounds. Verse 1 describes honor. Below are the other three godly qualities: integrity, honesty, and purity.

Integrity

I will give heed to the blameless way. When will You come to me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.  (v.2)

“The first part of this verse has to do with public integrity as David says, literally, “I will give heed unto the way of integrity.” The original Hebrew term translated “blameless” or “integrity” means “to be whole, complete, finished.” It carries with it the idea of being totally honest, thoroughly sound. The king of Israel knew that his life before the people had to be solid and honest for the kingdom to remain strong.

 

The second part of this verse has to do with private integrity — he mentions being sound in “my house” and “my heart.” Integrity is about authenticity, which doesn’t change based on the audience or venue…”

[Remember] the roles of honor and integrity in how you focus your energy and direction.

 

Honesty

I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. (101:3)

“As king, David had the political power to set any agenda and then commit the resources of the entire nation to accomplish his goal. His predecessor, Saul, used his political influence, the nation’s wealth, and the might of the Israelite army to hunt down and kill David, who God had anointed as King! David, however, resolves to avoid every unworthy aim and ambition. To do anything less would inevitably lead to his “falling away” from fellowship with his Lord. Moreover, he resolved to “hate” the accomplishments of those who “fall away.”

In the Ancient Near East, to “hate” something is to reject it in favor of something else. For example, Genesis 29 tells the story of Jacob’s two wives and how he “loved” Rachel and “hated” her sister, Leah. The term indicates Jacob’s choice to favor one over the other. He wasn’t repulsed by Leah. After all, he did conceive several children with her! David has determined to choose the Lord’s way and to reject the deeds of evil people, those who have fallen away from God.”

 

Purity

A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. (101:4)

“David has resolved thus far that he will be a man of honor, integrity, and honesty. Now he resolves to be a man of purity—knowing no evil. This has to be one of the reasons God called David “a man after My own heart.” Rare indeed are those people in this world who could say what David says in this fourth verse.

David’s son Solomon also wrote of the value of personal purity in Proverbs 11:19–21:

 

He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life,

And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.

The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD

But the blameless in their walk are His delight.

Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished,

But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.

Don’t miss the last part of that passage. A pure life is actually a spiritual investment, the dividends being enjoyed by your children. God has a purity layaway plan, a spiritual account you establish now and your descendants later cash in on…

I cannot overemphasize the value of a pure life. We have an inordinate curiosity about perversion and evil. We are not only aware of wickedness, but we are drawn to it with interest. The news media capitalize on this interest by highlighting the evil in our world. They have found that public interest is high when it comes to impure, wicked activities. David realized, however, that “a perverse heart” would only lead to a weakening of his spiritual life…

Perhaps that is the reason David resolved to “know no evil.” This world’s system puts a brand upon us that is the next thing to impossible to erase. How much better it is to be pure and inexperienced than to be scarred by impure memories that are quick to play back their reruns at a moment’s notice.”

No God but One: Allah or Jesus?

“When I came on board, I found that the young mothers were facing an insidious disease that had not been diagnosed: depression. In their cultural circles, depression bore the stigma of being an imagined disease of unstable women. For my project, I trained the resource mothers to detect major depression and postpartum depression in the young mothers they were educating. Many of the resource mothers, especially those who were suffering with depression themselves, were surprised to hear that it was a real disease. They had always been told that depression was just in their heads and that they simply needed to “cheer up”; but no matter how hard they tried, the depression was real.

Clinical depression is an all-encompassing disease and can be harrowing if not diagnosed. These women had tried everything, but they never found relief because they did not know the real problem. When I finally spoke to them about the reality of depression, many of them broke down in tears, relieved to hear that their disease was real and that there was help for them.

I share this story because I believe the spiritual realm has this in common with the physical: If we misdiagnose what ails us, the treatment will not work, and we will continue to suffer. Islam diagnoses the world with ignorance and offers the remedy of sharia, a law to follow. Christianity diagnoses the world with brokenness and offers the remedy of God himself, a relationship with him that leads to heart transformation.

What is it that truly ails mankind, and is there a cure?

From my perspective, the gospel resonates with reality: People are broken in their hearts and souls, and no matter how educated or self-reflective we become, it does not appear that following rules will be enough to address the problem. The problem of mankind is deeper than what we do; it is embedded in who we are. Having spent some time working with the dejected and downtrodden, such as those whose lives have been ravaged by various addictions, I do not think ignorance is their problem. It is brokenness. Having seen families torn apart by abuse or anger, I know the answer appears to lie not in knowledge or following rules but in transformed hearts.

This leads me to a second observation: Mankind seems incapable of saving itself. In our natural selves, we perpetuate cycles of destruction. Our hearts are broken, so we break other hearts. We were abused, so we abuse in return. Our families were fractured, so we leave fractured families in our wake. When loved ones are killed, we kill in revenge. This is the way of humanity, and we need an otherworldly solution—something radical to break these cycles. We need God to save us. The gospel is that radical solution. It teaches us that God gives us that otherworldly grace, forgiving us no matter what our sins. His love is extravagant: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:38–39 NIV). He loves us, and we are forgiven. Our souls can rest in our loving Father and his all-embracing grace.

When we realize the depravity of our sins and the depths of our rebellion against God, it exceeds the mind’s capacity to grasp this grace. What could we do to deserve such forgiveness? Nothing at all! He engulfs us with his infinite love and absolute mercy, though we cannot earn it.

It is into that overwhelming flood of grace that our hearts release their poison. When we have been forgiven so much, how can we hold our fellow man accountable for so little? In his love, our hearts are made new. We no longer begrudge, no longer desire revenge. Renewed by the restoration he has brought about in us, we desire to uplift the abused and restore the broken. He transforms our hearts, and we in turn are driven to transform the world around us.

And that leads me to my final point: The gospel is all about God and what God has done. God introduces life into the world, and when we rebel, God saves us. When we sin against God, God pays for our sins. When we sin against one another, God gives the grace of restoration. This message is all about him, not at all about what we can do or have earned for ourselves.

Not only does this free us from the anxiety of having to save ourselves, but it also frees us from the pride that comes with successfully following rules and assuming that we have won our own salvation. Being so unburdened by anxiety and pride, we are free to live for others. So the gospel accurately diagnoses the problem of humanity, which is our own brokenness. Through his otherworldly, heavenly grace, he transforms us and frees us from our cycles of destruction. Through it all, he is at the center, disentangling us from pride and anxiety, helping us focus on others and not on ourselves. The gospel is not just an answer that works; it is the only answer that will work.”

Of God and Men: Cultivating the Divine/Human Relationship

“God and men and their relation to each other—this I believe to be all that really matters in the world, and that is what I have written about here.”

—A. W. Tozer

“SOMEONE WROTE TO THE GODLY Macarius of Optino that his spiritual counsel had been helpful. “This cannot be,” Macarius wrote in reply. “Only the mistakes are mine. All good advice is the advice of the Spirit of God, His advice that I happened to have heard rightly and to have passed on without distorting it.”

There is an excellent lesson here that we must not allow to go unregarded. It is the sweet humility of the man of God. “Only the mistakes are mine.” He was fully convinced that his own efforts could result only in mistakes, and that any good that came of his advice must be the work of the Holy Spirit operating within him. Apparently this was more than a sudden impulse of self-depreciation, which the proudest of men may at times feel–it was rather a settled conviction with him, a conviction that gave direction to his entire life. His long and humble ministry, which brought spiritual aid to multitudes, reveals this clearly enough.

In this day when shimmering “personalities” carry on the Lord’s work after the methods of the entertainment world, it is refreshing to associate for even a moment in the pages of a book with a sincere and humble man who keeps his own personality out of sight and places the emphasis on the inworking of God. It is our belief that the evangelical movement will continue to drift further and further from the New Testament position until its leadership passes from the modern religious star to the self-effacing saint, who asks for no praise and seeks no place, happy only when the glory is attributed to God, and he is forgotten.

Until such men as these return again to spiritual leadership, we may expect a progressive deterioration in the quality of popular Christianity until we reach the point where the grieved Holy Spirit withdraws like the Shechinah from the temple, and we are left like Jerusalem after the crucifixion–God-deserted and alone. In spite of every effort to torture doctrine to prove that the Spirit will not forsake religious men, the record reveals plainly enough that He sometimes does. He has in the past forsaken groups when they had gone too far to make a recovery.

It is an open question whether or not the evangelical movement has sinned too long and departed too far from God to return again to spiritual sanity. Personally I do not believe it is too late to repent, if the so-called Christians of the day would repudiate evil leadership and seek God again in true penitence and tears. The “if” is the big problem–will they? Or are they too well satisfied with religious frolic and froth even to recognize their sad departure from the New Testament faith? If the latter is true, then there is nothing left but judgment.

The devil is adept at the use of the red herring. He knows well how to divert the attention of the praying Christian from his subtler but deadly attacks to something more obvious and less harmful. Then while the soldiers of the Lord gather excitedly at one gate, he quietly enters by another. And when the “saints” lose interest in the red herring, they return to find the newly baptized and pious enemy in charge of proceedings. So far are they from recognizing him that they soon adopt his ways and call it progress.

Within the last quarter of a century, we have actually seen a major shift in the beliefs and practices of the evangelical wing of the church so radical as to amount to a complete sell-out-and all this behind the cloak of fervent orthodoxy. With a Bible under their arm and a bundle of tracts in their pocket, religious people now meet to carry on “services” so carnal, so pagan, that they can hardly be distinguished from the old vaudeville shows of earlier days. And for a preacher or an editor to challenge this heresy is to invite ridicule and abuse from every quarter.

Our only hope is that renewed spiritual pressure will be exerted increasingly by self-effacing and courageous men and women who desire nothing but the glory of God and the purity of the church. May God send us many of them. They are long overdue.”

The Knowledge of the Holy

“Teach us to know that we cannot know, for the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Let faith support us where reason fails, and we shall think because we believe, not in order that we may believe. In Jesus’ name. Amen. The child, the philosopher, and the religionist have all one question: “What is God like?” This book is an attempt to answer that question. Yet at the outset I must acknowledge that it cannot be answered except to say that God is not like anything; that is, He is not exactly like anything or anybody. We learn by using what we already know as a bridge over which we pass to the unknown. When the Spirit would acquaint us with something that lies beyond the field of our knowledge, He tells us that this thing is like something we already know, but He is always careful to phrase His description so as to save us from slavish literalism…

“The intellect knoweth that it is ignorant of Thee,” said Nicholas of Cusa, “because it knoweth Thou canst not be known, unless the unknowable could be known, and the invisible beheld, and the inaccessible attained.”

Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

If all this sounds strange to modern ears, it is only because we have for a full half century taken God for granted. The glory of God has not been revealed to this generation of men. The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power. If what we conceive God to be He is not, how then shall we think of Him? If He is indeed incomprehensible, as the Creed declares Him to be, and unapproachable, as Paul says He is, how can we Christians satisfy our longing after Him? The hopeful words, “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace,” still stand after the passing of the centuries; but how shall we acquaint ourselves with One who eludes all the straining efforts of mind and heart? And how shall we be held accountable to know what cannot be known?

“Canst thou by searching find out God?” asks Zophar the Naamathite; “canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?”

“Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son,” said our Lord, “and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The Gospel according to John reveals the helplessness of the human mind before the great Mystery which is God, and Paul in First Corinthians teaches that God can be known only as the Holy Spirit performs in the seeking heart an act of self-disclosure.

The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its Source. How can this be realized?

The answer of the Bible is simply “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Christ and by Christ, God effects complete self-disclosure, although He shows Himself not to reason but to faith and love. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and love an organ of experience. God came to us in the incarnation; in atonement He reconciled us to Himself, and by faith and love we enter and lay hold on Him.

…“What is God like?” If by that question we mean “What is God like in Himself?” there is no answer. If we mean “What has God disclosed about Himself that the reverent reason can comprehend?” there is, I believe, an answer both full and satisfying. For while the name of God is secret and His essential nature incomprehensible, He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself. These we call His attributes. ”

  •  I realized that we live in the midst of a generation that is turning more and more away from God. And unless we continue to look to Christ that His truth from His Word is our truth, we risk being conformed to the world. But we continue to live in the midst of this generation, and we must familiarize and prepare ourselves for these conversations, to know our views which are based on God’s truth (a reminder of Colossians 4:6).

 

Prayer

  • “Of course, all Christians know about these benefits in their minds, but the prayer is for something beyond that — it is to have a  more vivid sense of the reality of God’s presence and a shared life with him.”
  • “Prayer is also “a kinde of tune.” Prayer tunes your heart to God. Singing engaged the whole being — the heart through music as the mind through words. Prayer is also a tune others can hear besides you. When your heart has been tuned to God, your joy has an effect on those around you. You are not proud, cold, anxious, or bored — you are self-forgetful, warm, profoundly at peace, and filled with interest. Others will notice. All “heare and fear.” Prayer changes those around us.
  • “God does not merely require our petitions but our selves, and no one who begins the hard, lifelong trek of prayer knows who they are. Nothing but prayer will ever reveal you to yourself, because only before God can you see and become your true self. To paraphrase something is to get the gist of it and make it accessible. Prayer is learning who you are before God and giving him your essence. Prayer means knowing yourself as well as God.”

On a submissive trust of God.

  • [Calvin said,] “Anyone who stands before God to pray… [must] abandon all thoughts of his own glory.” We are to trust in him even when things are not going as we wish them to go. This was Jesus’ “law” for prayer too, because all who pray must say, “Thy will be done.” One of the purposes of prayer is to bring our hearts to trust in his wisdom, not in our own. It is to say, “Here’s what I need — but you know best.” It is to leave all our needs and desires in his hands in a way that is possible only through prayer. That transaction brings a comfort and rest that nothing else can bring.

On praying with confidence and hope.

  • And yet… We are to pray with confidence and hope. Calvin writes, “[Though] cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered.” He immediately acknowledges that “these are indeed things apparently contradictory.” Then he goes on to argue why the contradiction is only apparent, not real.

If God’s will is always right, and submission to it is so important, why pray for anything with fervor and confidence? Calvin lists to reasons. God invites us to do so and promises to answer prayers — because he is good and our loving heavenly Father. Also, God often waits to give a blessing until you have prayed for it. Why? Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and diligence. Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure.

Finally, Calvin argues that these two balancing truths are not only not contradictory but are complementary. On the one hand, we know that we “have not because we ask not” (James 4:2). There are many goods that God will not give us unless we honor him and make our hearts safe to receive them through prayer. But on the other hand — what thoughtful persons, knowing the limits of their own wisdom, would dare to pray if they thought God would invariably give them their wishes? Endless stories of genies, lamps, and wishes illustrate the almost cliched truth that our desires are, as we have seen, “discordantly arranged” and often fatally unwise. However, there is nothing to fear. God will not give us anything contrary to his will, and that will always include what is best for us in the long run (Rom 8:28). We can, therefore, pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want. “He so tempers the outcome of events according to his incomprehensible plan that the prayers of the saints, which are a mixture of faith and error, are not nullified.”

Praying with submissive trust AND confident faith.

  • [Praying with submissive trust and confident faith] creates enormous incentive to pray. “Ask and you shall receive” (Matt 7:7-8) — Ask with confidence and hope. Don’t be afraid that you will ask for the wrong thing. Of course you will! God “tempers the outcome” with his incomprehensible wisdom. Cry, ask, and appeal — you will get many answers. Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

“God will either give us what we ask for in prayer or give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything God knows.”

  • God knows what He’s doing… Though sometimes the way is mysterious and makes little sense to us…

‘Obedience means you cede someone an authority over you that is there even when you don’t agree with him.’

  • Conversation with his son, where he asked his son to obey an instruction, and the son answered that he doesn’t make sense to him, and he wouldn’t do it unless it made sense. And the father answered, (I paraphrase, and made up the age) “Son, if you only obey because you understand it, that wouldn’t be obedience, that would be agreeing. I’m asking you to obey me. I’m 39 and you’re 9. There are things you don’t understand now.”
  • That story had stayed with me and I remember it every now and then when there are things in life that make little sense… What does it mean to really see, trust, and obey our Lord as Lord?

Why couldn’t Jesus have eliminated the evil when He came. Why was He humble, why did He choose to be wounded, why did God choose to hurt Him that He should die. And even if He should die and be resurrected, could He not also take away evil at the same time?

  • The first is that if He came the first time to judge and to overcome evil, then we, too, would be eliminated. He came to submit Himself to man who is less than Him, who would have no power over Him unless He allowed them. And He came to die that we may be saved.
  • So that in His second coming, when He does come to judge, that we may be with Him, secure and safe.
  • The second point was that eliminating temporary evil has ever been the focus of man, but as Tolkien puts it, evil is never eliminated, but it only comes back in a different form. Man is ever evil, and our nature always turns to evil.  An example was that even though the world wars were over, we still have threats of nuclear wars or technology which is good can be used for bad and turn our world’s economy into chaos.
  • Jesus could overcome the Roman power of the day, but I suppose it was never so much about the social causes as it is about redeeming the hearts of sinful man.
  • There was a story about a Muslim man and a Christian at a university lecture, and the Muslim’s concern was “how preposterous was the claim that the Creator of the universe should be subjected to the forces of his own creation—that he would have to eat, sleep, and go to the toilet, let alone die on a cross.” He thought that it was illogical that God, the “cause of all causes” could have pain inflicted on him by any lesser beings.
  • The Christian minister felt he had no comeback for this, but simply thanked the man for making the uniqueness of the Christian claim so clear. “What the Muslim denounces as blasphemy, the Christian holds as precious.”

Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church

  • On congregational singing, on God’s design of it, on how He made us to sing and delights that we praise Him in song (that it matters less how well we sing, and more that we sing, the heart for Him). Some practical questions and tips in there, too.
  • On the need to train children to sing and to learn about God through songs infused with Scripture, that it teaches them much about God’s truth and points them to Jesus at a young age.
  • For the joy and encouragement of singing together. Music in worship not just to prepare us to listen to a sermon, but it is an act of worship that God gifts us.

The Holocaust — Where was God

  • “Certainly, as many have learned who have earnestly raised this question, previous conventional and tidy views that sufficed before, now become shattered. We must either forsake entirely our inadequate faith and be abandoned to a worldly cynicism — or, be brought into new and unplumbed depths in the knowledge of God that must radially affect and change everything…
  • Let us not rob our own humanity of that which distinguishes it, namely, the ability to seek ultimate meaning in the face of seeming meaninglessness.”
  • “The Holocaust was a shocking assault on every belief that the 20th century was an age of progress and human betterment, or any other thing for which men had hoped…”
  • “The whole way in which we view a phenomenon reveals our mindset and way of perceiving reality. If we relate to God on the basis of our abstractions and our imagined suppositions, then we are in a place of unreality, not only with regard to God but also with regard to everything else. God is the ground of reality, not what we think Him to be or what we would ascribe to Him, but what He has demonstrated His character to be, especially in the hard dealings with His own people and in the mercies that follow. What a remarkable lesson the Holocaust is for time and eternity…”
  • “I took up these questions and began a search which can be summed up in this all-consuming question: Why was God silent?”
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