cura librorum

mlk and bonhoeffer

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

…but the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

– MLK Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together” (translated by john doberstein, based on experiences from the 1930s)

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day – January 15th. I am also, at the moment, halfway through “Bonhoeffer: Pastor Martyr Prophet Spy” by Eric Metaxas. I never thought to make connections between these two men before. Both men were pastors, martyrs, prophets, and were executed for holding to their convictions. Both lament an experiential yet theologically-based disillusionment with the church because of its failure to respond to truth with action. Both had hope in an “ecumenical movement” of sorts, that would galvanize support across churches and denominations in the name of God’s truth and that could lead to change. But both had experience pleading with fellow pastors who were complacent and lacked the same sense of urgency to respond. For Bonhoeffer, many fellow Christians failed to resist, see the threat of, or act against the Nazi regime. For King, the white pastors failed to resist, see the threat of, or act against segregationist policy and its enforcement. Yet,  both express hope in God’s leading them back to hope out of this disappointment and a redemptive aspect to this frustration.

It’s fascinating to think about how both were strongly influenced by Luther – one obviously has his namesake and another was steeped in his culture and theology from infancy. Luther, who famously said, as quoted in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK says, “Was not Martin Luther an extremist when he said [this]?”

Lord, let the truth be so compelling and powerful in our lives that it leads us to love; to action. Let me refuse complacency and silence.

Let my hope in the gospel be so deep that it can overcome even cynicism or disappointment when evil seems to have the last say. Let me remember the third day.


CS Lewis – the Problem of Pain
May 31, 2016, 10:48
Filed under: Christian, prayer, Thoughts

On Heaven. – C.S Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have found that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all you life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw – but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported…

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, which, beneath the flux of desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have every deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.”

Lord, how I long for that day when the the unspoken can be understood without the confusion of words. For when the “yawning gulf” between myself and another will no longer have to be traversed by my faulty, failing words. You are the perfect Word and I cannot wait to be in Your presence.

Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction… God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it – made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

It is from this point of view that we can understand hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

Lord, let me behold You and not another. I submit and ask that you would have Your way, no matter the cost or no matter the painful journey that You will lead me on. Because You know what I was made for and You are lovingly shaping and disciplining me that I might “fit” into Heaven, where I can have a relationship with You.

In the Days of His Flesh
October 10, 2010, 23:14
Filed under: Christian, Thoughts

[7] In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. [8] Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10 ESV)

This verse is one that has continually encouraged me since I’ve graduated from college and had to face many truths about myself. I wanted to do a quick in-depth bible study on it to solidify some of my thoughts.

+ “In the days of his flesh…” Jesus was, without a doubt, a man at one point. What does this mean? This means that he was subject to all of the same limitations, frustrations, desires, and weaknesses that we inherently experience as humans. What does it mean to be in the days of flesh? It means physical weakness. It means temptation to satisfy our loneliness by clinging onto people or daydreaming about being fulfilled through lust or romance. It means finding satisfaction in status or material things, impressing people.

Our flesh longs to be satiated. We long for transcendency, sufficiency, and attention… yet we attempt to satisfy it through the immediacy and tangibility of the flesh when we were made in the image of God, to only be fulfilled by God who is our living water of eternal life . Therefore our flesh is what we must fight, since we know the good that we ought to do, but cannot. Our flesh is the source of our sin, we fight against it a losing battle so long as we depend on ourselves.

+ ” Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears,” The word “supplication” derives from the Latin supplicātus- he who begs on his knees, submissive, suppliant (from the verb supplicāre). It is a physical act as well as a spiritual one – thus the act of supplicating in prayer is one of submitting both the body and the spirit in prayer to God. The prayer formed in the mind and heart is accompanied by a parallel action in the mouth and the body, devoting all parts of the self in address to God. Loud cries and tears are embarrassing, they are exposed, they are outright. Am I raw and honest in my prayers to God, clearly addressing my need with the proper attitude?

The flesh is such that even Jesus needed to offer up complete, desperate prayers the first part of healing occurs when we truly acknowledge the power of the flesh, and our helplessness against it. we know that Jesus understands the forces with which we fight and pities our enslavement to it. He understands it and its power, which is why he prays and anguishes as he does. Do I approach my sins and my flesh with the same sort of desperation? Knowing that I am nearly helpless against it, save for my convictions that are so weak that I even need to ask God to intervene for me.

+ “to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” There is no point in praying to a God who cannot save, or who cannot actually effect change. The prayer in part depends not on the tone or the desperation with which we are offering, but it depends on that entity, that being to whom it is being offered. After all, anything can be prayed to, or the object of supplication or desire. We too often lay our sacrifices at the wrong altars, altars that are temporary and indeed cannot “save us from death.” So many people nowadays sacrifice everything, family, friends, other relationships, investments, commitments, uprooting their own families and affecting other people, because a perceived career opportunity opens up. Somehow in today’s day and age this has been deemed completely normal. Abandoning all relationships except that one romantic relationship is now somehow seen as a right, a natural consequence that ought to happen. People run through each others’ lives, damaging and scarring others in the race to the top or to one-time self-fulfillment… so many things offered at the altar of self.

But are these altars able to save us from death? The resounding answer is no, no, and no! Despite the right career or the right spouse, death and time stop for now one, makes no exceptions. Ultimately they are not worth our supplications and prayers. These altars are not worthy of our stress, yet too often they are the main source of anguish in our lives as we strive to hold on and offer some of ourselves on the altar of God, some part on the altar of self.

With reverence in supplication, to the right and proper entity, God is able to save us from death (the helplessness of our flesh) in the same way that he saved His Son. Not an ephemeral altar, but an eternal one built upon the eternal character and promises of God. And miraculously, if we believe in the truth of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, then it actually can save us from death! Is there anything else in all the world that is worth our attention and our lives? All else is waste and  folly.

+ “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” The suffering is not pointless. Jesus was not made flesh just so that he could feel pain, but for a couple of reasons. One is so that Jesus could complete the symbolism of being the substitute for our sins, making the promise and the sacrifice real – if Jesus did not experience everything that we experience, then we would not be able to claim His blood as our salvation. The sacrifice would be incomplete, and it would not be valid. Only through suffering through the experience of the flesh could Jesus’ sacrifice be made fully manifest. And by being human, and fleshly, Jesus was ultimately destined to experience separation from God, as Tim Keller puts it, cosmic separation from God, being cut off from the one source of life and truth. He did this so that He could provide an example for us of complete obedience to God, even to death, with the promise of resurrection and eternal life.

Second, to display the nature of true love. True love elevates, disciplines, does what is hard and often unbearable in order to mold and shape a person to the best and highest form possible. Love from the Father, the creator of life and purpose, means subjecting our flesh to suffering and obeying because we know that this world is passing away… Another favorite verse of mine is I Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” One day we shall not see truth through this clouded and tainted body that twists and distracts us from true vision. One day, then, shall we know fully God’s love for us, and we will no longer be burdened by sins incurred from our wayward hearts. Oh Lord, let that day come when we’ll be perfected in your presence.

“Whoever things that in this mortal life a man may so disperse the mists of bodily and carnal imaginings as to possess the unclouded light of changeless truth, and to cleave to it with the unswerving constancy of a spirit wholly estranged from the common ways of life – he understands neither What he seeks, no who he is who seeks it.” (St. Augustine)

Elisabeth Elliot: The Shadow of the Almighty
October 10, 2010, 08:31
Filed under: Book Reviews, Christian, Thoughts

Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot
Many different publishers and versions available.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot (nee Howard) were my age only, oh, about 50 years ago? And yet the kind of passion that they display in their service for the Lord, the yearning to be constantly learning and nearer to Him, is something that feels almost ancient and intangible for us, so hopelessly mired in and tied to the swiftly passing world.

For example, even when Jim was not fully aware of God’s will for His life, two things kept him passionate and alive: he used that time to align his heart with God’s and reflect about how these even these dull, slow-seeming times could be used for God’s purpose in Him, and although Jim feels this dull weight of uncertainty and monotony inside of himself, he never forgets God’s greater narrative, and God’s heart for the lost. In the chapter, “The Test of Free Time,” Jim longs to join the missionary teams in South American to reach the thousands upon thousands who have not yet heard the gospel, yet because of family obligations must wait until the time is right for him to go. At this time, he’s also struggling with his commitment to Elisabeth (Bets) and the limits of how much of his heart he can (or should) offer her in light of his plans to become a missionary. He was 22 at the time that he wrote these particular entries.

July 19th, 1949 (Providentially, the day that I started work in 2010): How easy it is to lag spiritually at such times! … there is a very decided tendency to let the days slip through your fingers. I have had to reconcile myself to staying in the U.S. until I’ve proved myself in the work here. The brethren would have it no other way, so unless I go out with Dad to British Guaiana, I will have to wait until the way is clear for the Regions Beyond. Still, it is not wasted time, as I’m sure you, if anyone, will understand, Bets… Confident of the Lord’s glad promise, ‘He will give grace and glory, no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’

July 23: Painted part of the hall today. Restless to do other things more directly related to the Glod’s work. Longing for a companion who will be a David to me, and me his Jonathan. Lack spiritual stamina to keep fresh in all this eating and doing. Oh there is time to read, and seek God, but my desire slackens. Lord, uphold thy lily-saint, Stay me Jehovah, for Thine is a strong right arm, and mine so weak! Saturday night again, and weary from work but seeking something from the Lord now. How shall I build with these weak and slack hands, Lord?

July 26:  Confession of pride must become an hourly thing for me. How vile and base my thoughts have been lately. Not just unkind or unsympathetic, but rotten. lewd thinking that cannot be overcome simply by willing to be rid of them. How dare I minister to God’s saints in such a condition? Lord, rebuke my flesh and deliver my heart from evil.

August 4: I must confess much leanness of soul today, Oh Patient Shepherd. How often I have been angered at delay, short-spirited, anxious to criticize. I noticed tonight, too, that one does not live to himself in this regard, but that a little leavening of dissatisfied temper will spread through a group and change outlooks. Then too, Meek Savior, I must bring a boisterous tongue, roguish lips to Thee for cleansing. Oh to be holy! Just to sense for a moment that I have somehow, however feebly, stimulated some measure of Thy character, Lord Jesus.

August 21: I sense tonight that my desires to be great are likely to frustrate God’s intents for good to be done through me. O Lord, let me pray again with earnest, honest heart: I will not to be great — only, God, grant to me Thy goodness.

Reading passages like these, prayers and supplications poured out to God on a daily basis for cleansing and holiness by a man who by today’s standards was already doing “more than enough,” often prompts me to suddenly put the book down and blink back tears of regret and fight that sudden thrill that comes when you feel too much all at once – the practical side of you that turns you back to your desk, to your thoughts about what you have to do during the day, little worries and fears. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big dreams like this anymore, because too often, our view of God is too narrow, based on the institution of church-going, or guilt-based, as we ask for forgiveness in not keeping up with His word or loving people properly. After all, does this kind of passion, intensity, longing for God exist in our world today? A constant desire to be with Him, honor Him, know more about Him? I do not think so, and if it does, I have yet to see it.

And I lament the lack of such a passion within myself as well. This was especially clear to me as I was reading this book when I first started working in mid-July, and Jim & Elisabeth’s lives kept me sane in the midst of so much temptation to throw God’s standards to the winds and give into social pressures, a sense of entitlement about working in a place with so many benefits, and to see my work and advancement as most important. Though this couple I’ve never personally met, I feel such fellowship and encouragement from them by virtue of the example of their lives and the intensity with which they pursued God’s will in their lives.

My prayer for myself, through this book, was that I would keep my mind and heart open to God’s vision for my life, and not let the mundane and the quotidian cloud and narrow His purpose for me, even though it’s uncertain right now. He has a plan for me, for each of us, and if only we’d long for Him and seek His will, it would be made manifest in us! Let us be dissatisfied with this world, disgusted at our own desire to cling to rags rather than the proper garments of beloved sons and daughters of God.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:11-14 ESV)

Elisabeth Elliot: Discipline – The Glad Surrender
June 19, 2010, 03:15
Filed under: Book Reviews, Christian, Thoughts | Tags: , ,

Discipline: The Glad Surrender
(Grand Rapids, Revell, 1982, 160pp, paperback, $9.99)

I know I gush about Elisabeth Elliot enough on this blog, but I need to post a quote from her book Discipline, a short 13-chapter volume that never fails to return to the basic gospel message of our sinfulness and the need to discipline our minds, bodies, and hearts in order to actually be able to call ourselves disciples and followers of Christ.

She espouses an honest look at reality so that we can learn to be mature people who deal with truth appropriately:

It is the man who is most realistic about his own need who is most likely to turn from it ot the shining reality of a savior. Evil is never a reality in itself. That is, it has no existence apart from the good, of which it is a corruption. Hell has no light. It is murky. Therefore, the more clearly we apprehend the nature of evil, the greater our revulsion and the more wholeheartedly we turn from it and welcome the true. This is what makes real men and real women, not the poor self-indulgence that passes for honesty today when people “share” their worst attitudes in order to get, not forgiveness, but merely common sympathy and consent.

And she also urges us to make our minds Christlike, in an encouraging exhortation towards an imitation of his love as best we can even in the worst of circumstances:

A renewed mind has an utterly changed conception, not only of reality, but of possibility. A turn away from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God provides a whole set of values based not on the human word, but on Christ’s. Impossibilities become possibilities.

The mind made over from within begins to think Christ’s thoughts after Him. I have found it necessary sometimes deliberately to refuse thoughts of what someone has done to me and to ask for help to dwell on what Christ has done for that person and wants to do for him and for me, for I am sure hat my treatment of people depends on how I think about them.

She even has a lovely, literary-theory-like passage that speaks to exactly how we have this human faculty of sympathy: imagination is a gift that enables us to be like Christ in that we can call “things as if they were not,” we can love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, endure hurts and pain:

Imagination is a power given us surely in order to enable us to enter into another’s experience.

Overall the emphasis is that Jesus himself was a man of utmost discipline, but driven by love to it. He was able to love us noncircumstancially, and drove himself to the Cross in order to enact his forgiveness. Elisabeth Elliot does a wonderful job as always of intertwining hymns, poetry, literature, scripture, and anecdotes to present a book that needs to be taken slowly, and repeatedly.

Passion & Purity (Elisabeth Elliot)
August 6, 2009, 02:12
Filed under: Book Reviews, Christian
by Elisabeth Elliot

Passion & Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control
(Fleming H. Revell, 1984, softcover, 192 pp, $12.99)

“I have spent the event by a little pool which held the silent sky in its heart. There was no ripple, no stir. Lord, let me be that pool.”

Elisabeth Elliot has this marvelous ability to put the most profound and heart-stopping pieces of wisdom into succinct prose. Anyone who complains that they cannot wait, that they are lonely, that they worry, will be immediately reprimanded by the story of Elisabeth and Jim, waiting for God’s will.

It’s not just an “encouragement for single women” type book. It’s very challenging for both men and women, who, though they may not necessarily be struggling in this area, may be steered towards the proper attitude of complete submission to God’s will. It is not romantic passion but the passion of any desire. Nor is it merely sexual purity but purity of heart and mind. For example, I am fairly sure that passages such as the following could address any Christian who is learning to submit to God’s will could feel addressed by points like these:

“It would be the easy way if the desire itself simply disappeared… but if the yearning went away, what would we have to offer up to the Lord? Aren’t they given to us to offer? It is the control of passion, not its eradication, that is needed. How would we learn to submit to the authority of Christ if we had nothing to submit?”

I will definitely be reading this book again.