Skip navigation

Category Archives: On My Bookshelf

On the morning of April 9, 1945, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp. The camp doctor, H. Fischer-Hullstrung, later remembered:

[Just before the execution] “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to God…so certain that God heard his prayer…I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Others testified that, up to his last day, the 39 year old Bonhoeffer remained cheerful. He knew what he had to do, was reconciled to God’s will, and was able to climb the steps to the gallows “brave and composed.”

Who was this man who died so bravely–who Hitler himself, from his bunker beneath Berlin just three weeks before his suicide, ordered to be “destroyed?”

Eric Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer is a gripping picture into the heart of Christ-follower who seeks to be faithful in a very difficult time.

Metaxas emphasizes Bonhoeffer’s theology and how it played out in his life. In contrast to “cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer believed that true grace influences all aspects of a Christian’s life. Christianity is more than going to church. It requires believers to be willing to sacrifice everything to God. Christianity is also more than legalistic morality. Ethics, according to Bonhoeffer, can’t be reduced to a set of rules. These beliefs are what led this humble and devout follower of Christ to be involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

Instead of buying a new coat this winter, wear the old one and use the money to purchase Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas.

One week before his execution, Bonhoeffer wrote his famous poem, “Who Am I?” It gives a glimpse into the heart of this Christ-follower’s struggles in prison and his final resolution.

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Jim and Cindy Siegfried are close friends to many people. I count them as dear friends.

I remember when Jim was diagnosed with cancer several years ago. The prognosis was not good.

Treatment began – and Jim’s spiritual growth curve turned straight up. So did Cindy’s.

They launched a ministry called F.a.i.t.H. – Facing An Illness Through Him. Dozens of families have been touched through the support group they established. They have inspired me – and been my counselors on more than one occasion.

I was privileged to baptize a dear man Jim led to Christ in the hospital, just before he died. It was the first time that I sprinkled someone – and it was thoroughly Christian!

When I asked Jim to share his testimony as part of my sermon in chapel at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary, Jim upstaged me. I was glad. After all, my sermon was soon forgotten – but not his words and example.

Several weeks ago, the news came – Jim was declared cancer-free. He could only weep and praise God.

Now, Cindy has written the story of how she persevered, as the caregiver. The book is honest in its description of the roller-coaster of emotion. It is also filled with humor and faith in our sovereign and good Father.

I highly recommend Cindy’s book. She reveals the secrets to joy when you have to take a trip you would rather avoid – and cannot. She is quite a writer!

Recently, in a major Christian conference, one of the speakers referenced Spurgeon’s sermon on Paul’s request, “Bring the books and parchments.”

Spurgeon said…

We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. . . . A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle!

He is inspired, and yet he wants books!

He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books!

He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!

He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books!

He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books!

He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.

Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.

Amen!!

My friend, Larry Osborn, writes…

It is no news flash that smart people can do some pretty dumb things. But lots of times we forget that smart people can also believe some pretty dumb things.

What possessed a military genius like Napoleon to think that the harsh Russian winter would be no match for his troops? Sure, they were well trained and well equipped, but it’s not as if he had a shred of historical evidence to support his decision to march on.

What caused the leading scientists and thinkers of Galileo’s day to ignore evidence they could see with their own eyes and brand him as a heretic and a quack?

And why would an otherwise brilliant leadership team at IBM bet the farm on main frames and practically give away the PC, as well as the underlying operating system, to a young programmer named Bill Gates?

All of these, and many other equally baffling decisions, were made by people far smarter than you or me. Yet, in hindsight, they all look like idiots.

What happened?

In each case, an otherwise intelligent person badly misinterpreted the facts, made an incorrect assumption, or relied upon information that we now know to be completely false—with disastrous consequences. Sometimes they were confused by cultural bias (which at times can be so strong that it literally blinds us to the truth). In other cases, their underlying assumptions were so widely believed and accepted that no one thought to question them. Sometimes they were done in by a bad case of wishful thinking. But whatever the cause, they weren’t alone. History is filled with examples of otherwise intelligent people who acted upon amazingly goofy assumptions—and paid a high price for doing so.

We, as Christians, aren’t immune. Even a highly moral, deeply sincere, smart Christian, with the best theological pedigree, has no guarantee of protection from the consequences of a bad decision based on flawed assumptions. I like to put it this way: the wisdom of Solomon + inaccurate facts or faulty assumptions= a fool’s decision

A spiritual urban legend is just like a secular urban legend. It’s a belief, story, assumption, or truism that gets passed around as fact. In most cases the source is a friend, a Sunday-school class, a Bible study, a devotional, a book, or even a sermon. Because they sound so plausible and come from a reputable source, spiritual urban legends are often accepted without question and then quickly passed on. Once widely disseminated, they tend to take on a life of their own. They become almost impossible to refute because “everyone” knows they’re true. Anyone who dares to question their veracity gets written off as spiritually dull, lacking in faith, or liberal.

Admittedly, the consequences of some spiritual misconceptions aren’t particularly devastating. For instance, if someone mistakenly believes that the Bible says that “God helps those who help themselves” or “a penny saved is a penny earned” or that Jesus was some sort of soft-skinned Western European guy with blue eyes who walked from town to town in an old bathrobe saying profound things in a wispy voice—kind of a mystical hippy on Dramamine— it will throw them off a degree or two, but it will hardly destroy their faith.

But far too often the consequences are spiritually devastating.

Think of the disillusionment that sets in when someone writes off God for failing to keep a promise that he never made. Or the despair that follows a step of faith that turns out to have been a leap onto thin ice.

I look forward to reading Larry’s book.

10 Characteristics of a Spiritually Plateaued Leader

1. Avoids relationships of personal accountability

2. Rarely applies the truths of God’s Word to himself personally

3. Has replaced his joy, peace, and love with envy and resentment

4. Frequently looks for greener pastures in other places

5. Finds faults in others more often than in self

6. Burned out with busyness that has been substituted for simply intimacy with Christ

7. Compromises on ethical principles once held dear

8. Stays w/in safe areas of expertise rather than new learning endeavors

9. Unable to acknowledge the wisdom of others

10. Has reduced the Christian life to a routine

(Taken from Neil Cole’s book, Organic Leadership, pg. 22-25)

The Apostle once told a group of pastors:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. Acts 20:28 

John Stott, in his great commentary on Acts, states… 

It should humble us to remember that the church is not ours, but God’s. And, it should inspire us to faithfulness.  For sheep are not at all the clean and cuddly creatures they may appear. In fact, they are dirty, subject to unpleasant pests, and regularly need to be dipped in strong chemicals to rid them of lice, ticks and worms. They are also  unintelligent, wayward and obstinate.  

I hesitate to apply the metaphor too closely and characterize the people of God as dirty, lousy or stupid! But some people are a great trial to their pastors (and vice versa). And their pastors will persevere in caring for them only if they remember how valuable they are in God’s sight. They are the flock of God the Father, purchased by the precious blood of God the Son, and supervised by overseers appointed by God the Holy Spirit. If the three persons of the Trinity are thus committed to the welfare of the people, should we not be also? 

Then Stott quotes Richard Baxter’s book, The Reformed Pastor (written in 1656)…

Oh then, let us hear these arguments of Christ, whenever we feel ourselves grow dull and careless:

“Did I die for them, and wilt not thou look after them?

Were they worth my blood and are they not worth thy labour?

Did I come down from heaven to earth, to seek and save that which was lost; and wilt thou not go to the next door or street or village to seek them?

How small is thy labour and condescension as to mine? I debased myself to this, but it is to thy honour to be so employed.

Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation; and was I willing to make thee a co-worker with me, and wilt thou refuse that little that lieth upon thy hands?    

For what it’s worth, these books are on my nightstand and bookshelf for reading in early 2008.

 With the Old Breed, by  E. B.  Sledge. Just finished this story of the marines who took Peleliu and Okinawa in WWII. Written by a private who appears to be a Christian. Very good – and very graphic on the horror of war.

Stonewall Jackson: the Man, the Legend, the Soldier, by James Robertson. Jackson is widely recognized as one of history’s greatest military leaders. He was also a committed follower of Jesus, who sought to live God-centered. Recommended by a friend as one of the best books he had read in many years.

The Transforming Community, by Mark Lauterbach. Subtitle: the practice of the gospel in church discipline. The subtitle sparked my curiosity. The first couple of chapters are very, very good.

 The Living Church, by John Stott. Now in his 80’s, Stott continues to write Bible-saturated books. I buy all that Stott writes.

 Church Planting Movements, by David Garrison. I want to learn how 15,000 new churches were started in a single year and how 150,000 Muslims turned from Mohammed to Jesus.

Reveal, by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson. The study that produced a confession by Bill Hybels that the Willow Creek programming had not produced spiritually-mature people as hoped.

 Direct Hit, by Paul Borden. I met Borden years ago, and was very impressed by his understanding of church life and growth. This work deals with systemic change in church life.

 Church and Culture Revisted, by D. A. Carson. What does it mean to be in the world and not of the world? How do Christians relate to the culture in which they live. I try to read everything Carson writes.

Putting Jesus in His Place, by Robert Bowman and Ed Kosmoszewski. A case for the deity of Jesus.

 John Newton: from Disgrace to Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Aitken. I’m halfway through the book – great biography!

 E. V. Hill was a great leader of courage and biblical conviction in the Watts community of Los Angeles.

I just finished the biography of Ravi Zacharias, Walking from East to West. It is the wonderful story of the brilliant apologist who came from the streets of Delhi and an attempted suicide to speaking at the United Nations, teaching at Oxford, and debating on behalf of the Christian faith at the most prestigious universities of the world.

   

I highly recommend the story of this modern-day apostle Paul on Mars Hill.

I’m reading  Jonathan Aitken’s  biography of John Newton, the ex-slave ship captain, friend of Wilberforce and composer of Amazing Grace. It is a wonderful story, and a well-written book. I recommend it.

Enjoy this video from the movie Amazing Grace and Chris Tomlin’s beautiful and haunting version of the great hymn,   

Like many parents, Ruthe and I read books to our children when they were small. Lots and lots of books. We did have the advantage of living in another country where…

We were learning to speak the language, so entertainment options were limited

We did not have a television, and would not have understood programming, had we had one.

We had no computer or internet.

We played lots of games together, play-acted, talked, wrestled, argued, and read to each other. For example, in one year, I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia to our children.

Today, I would read the Jesus Storybook Bible. The subtitle is intriguing: “Every Story Whispers His Name.”

Check out these wonderful lines from the book:

The Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story… You see, the best thing about this Story is — it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

The center of the story is a baby who is like the missing piece to a puzzle that makes all the other pieces fit together.

The illustrations are really nice – easy to show to children, and attractive to look at.

I bought the Jesus Storybook Bible for my grandchildren, and I recommend it to adults.