Books


I recently finished reading  Brokenness by Lon Solomon. In this book, Lon Solomon details something which he calls brokenness, which he defines as “the process by which God dislodges our self-life and teaches us to rely upon him alone in every facet of our lives”, a term he uses as a sort of loose synonym for what other people would probably call the process of sanctification. Solomon takes a specific aspect of sanctification – that of sanctification through trials – and addresses it, terming it a necessary and central part of the Christian life. He is not wrong in this, but where he does go wrong is in assuming on the one hand that this is the full answer(he mistakes a part for the whole) and on the other hand stopping short of the full implications of his topic and failing to discuss the purpose, the end result of this process of “brokenness”. The end result of brokenness is not brokenness itself, though by portraying it as a state of humility and godly blessings Solomon attempts to reconcile it as such, e.g. when he says after Moses’ time in the desert “Moses is not a fully broken man, but the shattering blow has been delivered and the rest of Moses’s life now becomes a chronicle of God’s deepening and maturing this man’s brokenness”.  The only purpose which he presents, right at the end of the novel, is for an individual’s usefulness for God to be increased.  I would say, rather, that Moses’ story, and all brokenness, is a chronicle of God’s deepening his people’s holiness. A more precise view of the matter would be that the end result is not brokenness but holiness – by the gradual and never-ceasing work of sanctification by the Spirit in our lives, we are granted an ever-increasing holiness. Brokenness, otherwise known as a series a similarly never-ceasing trials, struggles, and problems, is merely a facet of this work of sanctification; clearly, God doesn’t need to bring us to misery every time before he can bless us spiritually! And of course one by-product of holiness is an increased usefulness for God. But that’s not the main purpose of the trials we’re put through here on this earth – God desires worshipers above all else, not servants – he desires faithfulness and love more than works or service, though the latter certainly spring naturally and inevitably from the former.

In summary: Solomon is certainly right in highlighting the purifying through trials and misery which God works in our lives – he simply takes too narrow a look at it, without putting it in the broader Christian perspective.  Overall, I probably would recommend this book.

Some quotes:

“Not every broken follower of Christ will be another Finney or Moody. Such ministries belong exclusively to the sovereign will and plan of God. But any Christ-follower who will allow God to break them will see a new intimacy with God, a new level of relationship with people, and a new power for service in their lives. God will give those believers greater fruitfulness for Jesus than they’ve ever known or dreamed possible.”

“Through brokenness, God replaces:
-our self-sufficiency with a dependence on the sufficiency of God;
-our self-reliance with a reliance on God alone;
-our self-wisdom with a wisdom rooted in the ways and word of God; and
-our self-will with a surrender to the will and timing and plan of God, tempering our human zeal with a deep waiting upon God.”

“Many of us were told to read our Bible, pray, witness and fellowship and God will make our life smooth sailing. So we do all we’ve been told to do and, instead, our life falls apart. We go to our knees and begin searching for sin in our lives, but we find no areas of open, defiant disobedience to God. We search harder and still nothing shows up. At this point, we often become victims of our ignorance about brokenness and trouble sets in. Rather than submitting to the process, we head off in other directions that work against what God is trying to do in breaking us. These other directions generally fall into one of two broad categories: anger and false guilt”

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Of the two daily devotionals I read fairly frequently, Elisabeth Elliot’s online daily devotional is one(find her in the blogroll to the side), and today’s I found particularly good.  I like her because she writes with terse profundity about faith.

“The God who determined the measurements of the foundations of the earth sets limitations to the scope of our work. It is always tempting to measure ourselves by one another, but this easily leads to boasting or despair. It is our business to find the sphere of service allotted to us, and do all that He has appointed us to do within that sphere, not “commending ourselves.”

Paul said, “We will keep to the limits God has apportioned us” (2 Cor 10:13 RSV). Jesus did that–willing to become a helpless, newborn baby, to be a growing child, an adolescent, a man, each stage bounded by its peculiar strictures, yet each offering adequate scope in which to glorify his Father.

Lord, glorify yourself through me and in the place You’ve set me. Let me not covet another’s place or work or glory.”

“Who has saved us and called us to a holy life” – 2 Timothy 1:9

“Those whom the Saviour saved upon the cross are in due time effectually called…God neither chose them nor called them because they were holy, but He called them that they might be holy, and holiness is the beauty produced by His workmanship in them….Such is the believer’s privilege – a present salvation; such is the evidence that he is called to it – a holy life“.

C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, June 12 Evening

This month’s free audiobook over at Christianaudio is Not For Sale by David Batstone, about the slave trade-

“Award-winning journalist David Batstone reveals the story of a new generation of 21st century abolitionists and their heroic campaign to put an end to human bondage. In his accessible and inspiring book, Batstone carefully weaves the narratives of activists and those in bondage in a way that not only raises awareness of the modern-day slave trade, but also serves as a call to action.”

Download here for free(coupon code is right above it)

A friend referred me to a good article today.

Continuous Conversion – “. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” —Matthew 18:3

Have begun reading Lord Teach Us to Pray by 19th C Scottish Presbyterian Alexander Whyte, who was apparently quite famous as a preacher and writer in his own time.  Found it online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

An ejaculation, a sigh, a sob, a tear, a smile, a psalm, is far greater to God than all the oblations, and incense, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and calling of assemblies, and solemn meetings of Jerusalem, because repentance and faith and love and trust are in that sob and in that psalm. And the magnificence of all true prayer—its nobility, its royalty, its absolute divinity—all stand in this, that it is the greatest kind of act and office that man, or angel, can ever enter on and perform. Earth is at its very best; and heaven is at its very highest, when men and angels magnify their office of prayer and of praise before the throne of God.

I. The magnificence of God is the source and the measure of the magnificence of prayer. “Think magnificently of God,” said Paternus to his son. Now that counsel is the sum and substance of this whole matter. For the heaven and the earth; the sun and the moon and the stars; the whole opening universe of our day; the Scriptures of truth, with all that they contain; the Church of Christ, with all her services and all her saints—all are set before us to teach us and to compel us indeed to “think magnificently of God.” And they have all fulfilled the office of their creation when they have all combined to make us think magnificently of their Maker. Consider the heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars, which He hath ordained: consider the intellectual heavens also, angels and 6 archangels, cherubim and seraphim: consider mankind also, made in the image of God: consider Jesus Christ, the express image of His person: consider a past eternity and a coming eternity, and the revelation thereof that is made to us in the Word of God, and in the hearts of His people—and I defy you to think otherwise than magnificently of God. And, then, after all that, I equally defy you to forget, or neglect, or restrain prayer. Once you begin to think aright of Him Who is the Hearer of prayer; and Who waits, in all His magnificence, to be gracious to you—I absolutely defy you to live any longer the life you now live. “First of all, my child,” said Paternus to his son, “think magnificently of God. Magnify His providence: adore His power: frequent His service; and pray to Him frequently and instantly. Bear Him always in your mind: teach your thoughts to reverence Him in every place, for there is no place where He is not. Therefore, my child, fear and worship, and love God; first, and last, think magnificently of God.”

That’s the marvelous thing about online works – you don’t have to laboriously type it up but can simply copy and paste 🙂

Suffering is a topic which has grown increasingly to interest/trouble me over the past few years. Why suffering, and why Christian suffering? I want to know why there’s so much suffering in the world, and also why Christians suffer, so much. I know some of the answers already, theoretically. But it’s not enough – I need to confront this, and face it and wrestle with it until I’ve wrested out some peace, or at least a more grounded faith about it.

Hence I asked for two books about it for Christmas – C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, and John J. Murray’s Behind a Frowning Providence. Two very different books, and authors – one from a Christian apologist whom I’m hoping at least deals with suffering as an overall problem faced by the world(within a Christian context of course) and one from a well-known writer who deals with things from a strictly Biblical standpoint. The former hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ve begun the latter and am finding it both satisfying and lacking. Murray deals with suffering in a straightfoward, pratical, Biblically-focused way; and this is at once his strength and his weakness. Strength, because his points and arguments derive directly from the Bible and are therefore both convincing and clearly truthful.  Weakness, because there’s none of the eloquence or rhetoric or wide vision characteristisc of C.S. Lewis in his other book, A Grief Observed.  But Murray is answering some of my questions, and this little booklet will definitely need to be read and studied over more. Beginning in, I was plagued by a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, and then I realized that it’s because I was subconsciously hoping/expecting that he would deal with suffering on a wider level – but why should he? He is dealing with it as it applies to Christians, and that’s enough for him. For now, it’s enough for me too. After all, it’s probably the fundamental question I’m asking, even as I wonder about the fate/state of the world.

Excerpts:

“Providence is that marvellous working of God by which all the events and happennings in His universe accomplish the purpose He has in mind.”

“People are looking for a problem-free Christianity.”

“C.S. Lewis once referred to sufferings as ‘blockades on the road to hell’. The same sun the melts the ice also hardens the clay. Says Andrew Fuller, ‘Afflictions refine some, they consume others’. The test of a person’s Christianity is what happens in the storm, when the house is battered in the winds of affliction.”

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

3. I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

4. Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part”

-from John Newton’s hymn “I Asked the Lord”

“We might be tempted to ask whether God can build character without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so. ”

“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.”

-Robert Browning Hamilton

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Been reading (or rather skimming through) Jonathan Edwards’ Basic Writings lately. During his college years, Edwards made a gradual list of 70 resolutions to guide his life, and vowed to read over them once a week. A few of them stood out to me:

“6. Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

28. Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, Never to count that as a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, not that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

56. Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, When I fear misfortunes and adversity, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it, and let the event be just as Providence orders it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty, and my sin.

65. Resolved, Very much to exercise myself in this, all my long, viz. With the greatest openness, of which I am capable, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all I speak.”

Elsewhere, in his Diary a bit of practical advice on prayer he recorded for himself stood out –

Sabbath, Nov 15. Determined, when I am indisposed to prayer, always to premeditate what to pray for; and that it is better, that the prayer should be of almost any shortness, than that my mind should be almost continually off what I say. ”

On the other hand, he occasionally says highly amusing things too.

“Jan 1728. I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early.”

Really, Edwards? 🙂 Little things like that underline how vast the gulf is between his century and ours.