A Higher Education

To the already stunning list of monikers on the Dietrich Bonhoeffer resume — pastor, martyr, spy, author, faithful brother — Paul R. House has added another:  theological educator.  In Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision, the author has fulfilled the promise of his subtitle by making A Case for Costly Grace in higher theological education, but there is more on the agenda as well.  I have not attended seminary (not to make a virtue of ignorance), but I found House’s book to be immensely practical on four levels:

  1. Whether or not one has read Life Together or The Cost of Discipleship, House has created a companion volume for these books (as well as some of Bonhoeffer’s lesser known writing), that will either serve as a guide for a first time reader or as a tool for enhanced appreciation of these classic works.  Written during his five year tenure as a seminary educator in Nazi Germany (1935-1940), the principles in these practical and deeply theological works were formulated in the crucible of preparing ten separate groups of students for pastoral ministry under hostile conditions.  Far from being the prototype for a Protestant monasticism in Germany, Bonhoeffer’s practices were a means to the end of shaping shepherds to “lead communities of costly grace.”
  2. For those with the delightful option of attending seminary in the future, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision will provide an enhanced check-list for weighing the merits of various schools.  The prospective student, counting the cost on every level, may find that Bonhoeffer’s students displayed a degree of commitment that will encourage the formation of iron in their own souls.  For example, of the approximately 180 students who trained under Bonhoeffer at the seminary level, 27 spent time in prison for their faith; most were denied positions or lost existing salaries because of their association with the Confessing Church’s seminary; most were drafted and sent into the heaviest areas of fighting.  A few relevant criteria to ponder based on Bonhoeffer’s model:  Will this institution help me to become a Bible-formed pastor?  Is the educational experience provided there a visible expression of the body of Christ?
  3. Individuals and churches who are influential in the formation of seminary curriculum and educational philosophy will want to give long deliberation to the questions Paul House raises and the biblical answers he suggests.  He recommends that the body of Christ rethink the CEO model for pastors in favor of a shepherding leader.  He questions whether the concept of distance education aided by technology can truly provide a community of faith that will result in pastoral formation.  He contrasts Bonhoeffer’s incarnational method with the predominant “industrial model” of today.
  4. House, Bonhoeffer, and Zechariah the prophet have spoken, and I have been rebuked for “despising the day of small things” in my own ministry.  One of the best things I do all week is to sit down in the church library on Sunday morning with a group of women who are there to learn the Word of God.  It’s a small space, so it’s full with a half-dozen of us, and I have wondered if my work of study and preparation is a good investment.  Is this meager response, or is this an opportunity to build well into the lives of an intimate group?  I am encouraged by my reading of Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision to view that time as an opportunity to participate in “preserving a cross-bearing community” in our harsh world through common prayer and serious study.  My prayers for my students will now include the words “rigorous thought” and “rigorous practice.”

True to Bonhoeffer’s vision on every level, Paul R. House advocates for a weighty and refreshing ecclesiology, supporting the truth that the training of pastors, yes — but also the training of every Christian in a life of costly grace is “worthy of our ultimate commitment.”


This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you are new to the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I highly recommend Eric Metaxas’s excellent biography.  For my review of the student edition, click here.

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Reflections from the Lamp: Remembering Elisabeth Elliot

I have read Elisabeth Elliot’s A Lamp for My Feet at least a half dozen times in the past twenty years, but turned to it again at the outset of 2015.  Like an old friend, its words are familiar to me, and my copy is underlined and dog-eared and covered with scrawled verse references.  It’s a simple little book based on Elisabeth Elliot’s own personal devotions with six months of daily reflections on whatever Scripture she happened to be reading at the time.

Although I own and have read (and re-read) nearly everything Elisabeth has written, this book is in my top three, and in many ways, I have been mentored through her writing. I began reading her books with a dictionary nearby — her vocabulary far surpassed mine.  I have never met her, although I did go to hear her speak once, but was, frankly, too intimidated to go to the book table and talk to her.  By that time, she was in her early seventies and had acquired the bearing and the force of character that one would associate with Huldah, the Old Testament prophetess in King Josiah’s day, (see II Kings 22:14-20).

During the mid-90’s Elisabeth had a daily radio program, so while I was raising babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I arranged my mornings around Gateway to Joy.  A Lamp for My Feet covers those themes for which Elisabeth was so well known:  obedience, the sovereignty of God, sacrifice, and suffering.  Her Christianity was of the bracing and invigorating variety that sustained the heroes she looked up to as a child and wrote about as an adult —  the likes of  Amy Carmichael, Lilias Trotter, and Gladys Aylward, all pioneer missionaries.

Known for being blunt and emphatic, Elisabeth Elliot brooked no excuses and suffered no whiners.  Her second husband Addison Leitch said once that some people call a spade a spade, but Elisabeth called it a bloody shovel.  In the seventies, when everyone else was talking about feminism, she was talking about femininity.  Her life was a spectacular balance of assertiveness and submission, and the fleet of present-day complementarian bloggers are among her spiritual grandchildren.  What I came to understand about Elisabeth Elliot is that she spoke with the certainty of one who had stepped into obedience enough times, who had chosen the way of faith often enough to learn the secret that the resulting joy and the deepening intimacy with God is priceless.  I find it nearly impossible to mourn her passing, because she is now experiencing the fruit of her surrendered life.

Her exhortation in the introduction to A Lamp for My Feet is classic Elisabeth Elliot:  “If you have only five minutes, don’t read my book, read God’s.  It will be a lamp for your feet.”

Capture

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Another Generation of Anything

Reading Hebrews 11 reminds me that today’s “yes” to God is a ripple in the pond of generations.  The #livefree Thursday prompt today is “whisper yes.”

I’m blessed by the record of others’ obedience to God, and challenged to add my “yes” to the choir of faithful followers.

//

In the age of Twitter and of typing on micro-keyboards with one’s thumbs, we are a concise people, and we see this in the title of Jennie Allen’s book, Anything, about a one-word prayer that will change everything.  Reading her heart in its pages, my mind was carried to the historical prayer of Betty Scott Stam, a missionary to China who became a martyr in 1934:

“Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes
All my own desires and hopes and accept Thy will for my life.
I give myself, my life, my all
Utterly to Thee to be Thine forever.
Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit
Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt
And work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost now
and forever.”

Jennie acknowledges that she stands on the shoulders of saints through the ages who have also said, “Anything,” to God, and she tells the stories of a few of them:  Bill Bright, D.L. Moody, and Jim Elliot.  She also tells the Anything stories of the lesser known and the unknown who are spiritual dominoes in the long progression of obedience to Christ, praying like breathing and submitting to the Spirit’s prodding.

Jennie’s Anything prayer process began the night she read the story of a young woman named Katie who left everything behind to raise orphans in Africa.  Stunned and challenged, Jennie and her husband, item by item, treasure by treasure, began offering the trappings of their “normal” life to God in exchange for a better dream.

Since the original release of Anything, the newly revised edition has been updated to include an eight-week Bible study along with a chapter on life in the Allen family since the Anything prayer, which has revealed that when life on this planet is put in its proper perspective, it is exposed for what it is — small and inadequate.  Offering all one’s “plans and purposes, desires and hopes” (Anything!) to God reveals Him as very big and very adequate, and I was stopped in my tracks by Jennie’s high view of God:

  • “When God gives us grace, He is also taking something from us.  He takes our control.”
  • “In one act God did what no amount of effort on our part could do.  He sacrificed His perfect Son, placing every sin on Him.  No sin would be exempt from this ransom.”
  • “If God is really real, and we are going to live with Him forever, shouldn’t He be the only thing?”

This is theological high ground, but even so, the Anything prayer comes down to every day obedience, forgiveness, acts of mercy, and surrender in the mundane details of life.

And so, the question hangs in the air for all who believingly follows Jesus:  What is your Anything?


This book was provided by Thomas Nelson through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular updates and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link up with these communities on a regular basis:  Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday,Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way

Lonely on the Pinnacle of Truth

People have a tendency to view the population of the world on a continuum.  Everyone whose ideas and opinions are to the left of mine is, by definition, “a liberal,” and is to be most conscientiously converted to my way of thinking.  Everyone whose ideas and opinions place them to the right of me on this imaginary bandwidth is, by definition, “a raging fundamentalist,” and is most assiduously to be avoided lest s/he try to convert me.  As members of the evangelical tribe, Andy Braner maintains that we stand on “the pinnacle of truth,” and our beliefs certainly line up with the plain teaching of the Bible, but in No Fear in Love, he makes a strong case for the fact that most of us stand there, on our pinnacle, alone.

“Fear makes us hold on to what we know and what we know works.  Fear doesn’t allow for us to engage in new environments with people who think differently than we do.”

As part of his ministry to teens and college students, Andy has traveled all over the world with a message of deliverance from the fear that leads to polarization, misunderstanding — and more fear.

Part One of No Fear in Love dissects fear in all its forms.  Sky-diving and a near miss with a forest fire are on Andy’s list of fear-factor experiences, but, in his work, he continually encounters the truth of John 10:10:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

We focus on the thief, instead of on the full life.  Instead of sharing our lives with people, we hide and refuse to engage people who are seeking the fullness we claim to know.

Andy’s words will startle you and make you wonder; they will cause you to read slowly and analyze; and they will push you to ask yourself the reasons for what you believe about morality and reconciliation.  His examination of Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is worth an annual re-read before Good Friday because of all that is says about fear and suffering.

Part Two applies the principle of “loving others the way God loves us” in the complicated realm of personal evangelism with people whose world view is absolutely unscriptural.  Will we view these individuals made in the image of God as another notch on our belt to be earned?  What happens in the mind and heart of a follower of Jesus Christ if s/he befriends a Muslim or a Mormon?  Is it possible to show respect for their culture without seeming to embrace it?

Part Three moves right into the living room where Christians disagree with one another.  When we differ on issues around the sanctity of human life and the definition of marriage, is it necessary that we move to our separate plots on the continuum and never enter into dialogue?  Andy Braner helps his readers to see that our fear of engaging in the conversation “blinds us to our real calling, which is mainly to be servant leaders. . . We need not fear the discussion.”

Given the nature of eggs and omelets, the fear of making a mess robs us of opportunities to communicate openly with people whose world is vastly different from our own.  I’ve always felt a little sheepish about listening to predominantly left-leaning NPR, but No Fear in Love has affirmed what I’ve always thought, but never felt free to share widely.  It is important for me to hear about books I may never read, to learn about ideas that are foreign to my way of thinking, and to listen to the words of people who believe things that I know to be false.  Why sit on the pinnacle alone?  With a little understanding and a lot of mutual respect, there’s no reason for fear.


This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular updates and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link up with these communities on a regular basis:  Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way

Rounding Out the Narrative

Character development is my favorite part of reading a book, whether it’s a work of fiction, a biography, or an historical account.  The individual’s motivation, inner dialogue, sense of humor, use of language, and interaction with other characters is fascinating to observe.  In Empire’s End, Jerry Jenkins has taken on the challenge of melding a biographical account of the Apostle Paul with fictional events and characters to round out the narrative where the historical record is thin.

Saul of Tarsus, a small, balding, and bookish man in his thirties, was thrilled with the effectiveness of his tireless efforts to destroy a cult known in first-century Palestine as The Way.  Driven by his ambition and by his zeal for a pure Judaism, he and his team were merciless, swift and brutal in extinguishing followers of the so-called Messiah, until one day, on his way to wipe out a community of Christ-followers in Damascus, Saul was blinded by a bright light, heard the voice of Jesus Christ, and his life was forever altered.

Any Sunday school child could provide an overview of Saul’s new life as Paul the Apostle, for it comprises over half the book of Acts and his journeys have been mapped, color-coded and included in curricula and Bible studies the world over.  Empire’s End includes what every storyteller worth her flannelgraph has been incorporating for decades:  the addition of details from sound research and a sanctified imagination to bring the story to life. Whether it is called “biblical fiction” or “fictionalized scripture,” this genre provides at least three important services to readers:

1.  Enhanced descriptions of setting and historical context.
The political shenanigans behind the scenes in the Roman Empire, the harsh and unforgiving landscape that Paul traveled, and many cultural norms are simply taken for granted in the New Testament.  Luke’s purpose in penning the book of Acts was to record, or, in his own words, “to give an orderly account,” (Luke 1:3) — not to capture attention or to entertain.  A biblically astute reader will distinguish between the author’s additions and the basic details given in Scripture.

2.  Transformation of the beads into a necklace
We all know that Paul went over the city wall in a basket, but then the next verses in the Acts account put him in Jerusalem.  Later, we learn that somewhere along the way he spent time in the desert.  Jerry Jenkins has pieced together all the exciting cliff hangers of Paul’s early ministry and suggested how Paul might have travelled, where he might have lived, and even whom he might have met in his travels.  Jenkins has invented a few miraculous occurrences to account for things, but when you consider that he’s writing about the guy who restored Eutychus to life, survived a poisonous snakebite, and was transported out of the body, it’s hard to accuse him of straining the imagination.

3.  Flesh layered onto the bones
Returning to Paul’s narrow escape from Damascus in a basket, have you ever wondered who lowered him over the wall or what it felt like inside the basket?  How did he escape once he hit the ground?  How did Paul’s background and knowledge of Scripture impact on his new life?  How did he receive teaching during his three years in the dessert, and how did he even survive?  Did his sin-tendencies and old habits from his former life ever flare up?  These are some of the questions Empire’s End addresses.  Extremely powerful are the instances in which Jenkins uses content from Paul’s epistles in his reconstituted and hypothetical thought processes.  For example, when Paul is struggling to accept the authority of the watchmen guarding the apostles, the words of Philippians 2 come to his mind:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a servant . . .”

Paul’s tender relationship with Barnabas, his instant and promising connection with his young nephew, and the fact that the story comes to a screeching halt before Paul begins a single missionary journey make Empire’s End a story that absolutely begs for a sequel.  Therefore, I expect that readers looking for a follow up to book one (I, Saul), and Empire’s End will not be disappointed . . . or Left Behind.


 

This book was provided by Worthy Publishing in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular updates and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link up with these communities on a regular basis:  Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way

Finding the Way Forward

My faith unraveled at a Christian college. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and I can remember wishing that a hostile, atheistic professor had bludgeoned me into my doubts with brilliantly irrefutable arguments.

It would make for a much better story.

Instead, the truth is I just got numb. The constant barrage of meaningless requirements that were, somehow, mysteriously related to Christianity: plowing through a three-inch thick commentary on Romans with no specific assignment in mind (other than to reach the back cover), fending off the desperate and over-bearing overtures of my “dorm mother” who wanted to befriend all “her girls,” and trying to stay awake while the combed-over, suited-up preacher-of-the-day got carried away and stole time from the class that followed our mandatory chapel.

One day it all got to be just too ridiculous.

Eventually, of course, I realized that the problem was localized and that what I had been objecting to was not “Christianity” itself, but a mindset that existed on a particular campus in a specific zip code. Having said that, it would seem that the road back to faith would have been like flipping a switch—yesterday I doubted, but today I am choosing to believe. However, the truth is that calluses on the soul are even tougher than the ones on the soles of our feet, and it’s a long exfoliation that thins their numbing presence.

My first mistake in trying to live my way “back into faith” was my direction. There is no going back into a former faith. There is only going forward. In looking for yesterday’s faith experience, I was forgetting that I was not the same kind of believer I had been before. Even so, mysteriously and graciously, through the blur of career and ministry, then marriage and four children, a sprout of faith was growing again, but in a brand new way.  This time, I was being guided by Truth rather than by the “experts,” attempting to live in the moment of showing a spring daffodil to a tiny boy and then sitting on the damp grass to talk about the God who made it.

Always in the back of my mind during this quiet rebirth was the idea that I wanted to do something meaningful for God. “Something meaningful,” naturally, could only happen if I had to learn another language, live in another culture (the more remote and risky the better), or, most important, if I could see results for my efforts. Unfortunately, this was the polar opposite of what I happened to be doing at the time, which was caring for my young children, trying to write, and shoveling a path through the house every few days. Worshiping at the altar of “results,” I certainly could not see how ministry (as I defined it) would ever be part of my life again.

Then one day a back injury flared up, and I was lying on the floor trying to get relief from the daily pain, while at the same time entertaining my toddler and baby. Surrounded by building blocks and picture books, I grabbed my Bible for a quick read and was handed a job description from an Old Testament prophet:

“He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple. Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

There it was, and it made perfect sense. There’s nothing like a diaper pail in the bathroom for 11 years to serve as a reminder not to take oneself too seriously. But even after it was retired, there were little boys who mirrored back my character flaws and stretched me to the limits of where I could confidently practice “fair and just.” Lately, it’s the puzzled amusement of teen boys: “Yeah, Mum, I check out your blog every so often.” My patient husband of 25 years shows me every day what compassionate and loyal look like, but most especially on the day when, standing in front of an empty sock drawer he declared, “Hon, even with all the studying you’ve been doing lately, you’ve hardly missed a beat around here.” (Is he a keeper, or what?)

For me, finding the way forward doesn’t mean that I never look back, but I’m careful how much time I spend looking in the rear view mirror–either wistfully or regretfully. The doing and the being of my Micah 6:8 job description are all present tense.

So, even though it will always be important to me to be learning about God and to be able to articulate what I am learning in some way, the difference, going forward, is that I really want to stand beside someone else and share the view.

To crack open the Word of God and dig for truth as if my life depends on it. To stand in awe of truth that feeds my faith and then sit at the table with my Sunday School class and be amazed together. To read, and re-read, and read again the words about Jesus that translate ordinary faithfulness into radical discipleship and that transform baked macaroni and cheese and a bowl of home-canned green beans into bread and wine. To put flesh on the bones of God’s commandments before my sons and grandson, even though I understand that they will see me contradict daily the truth I teach.

To read a book that presents theology like a laser show of worship and then pass it along to a friend. To come to the end of a blog post knowing that I understand some aspect of the walk of faith better than I did before I wrote it. To desire God, not as a means to the end of fulfilling my own wishes, but as the end Himself.

This, for me, is the way forward.

//

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

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I Love You Mow-er Every Year!

I wasn’t born yesterday, so I could see it coming.  The family lawn mowing business has been getting bigger every year, giving rise to spin-offs where, one after the other, the boys have bought their own equipment, found their own customers, and moved on, leaving . . . yup.  She who used to just make the sandwiches, pack the cooler, and watch over the youngest wee mower is now driving the John Deere.

Who would have thought that this could be a good thing?  But lately, on the odd Saturday, when Morins are moving in all directions, it’s been just the two of us — my patient husband and I sitting alone in the front seat of the forest green pick-up truck having an entire conversation.  As we drive to the first lawn, we catch up on our read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year-together-out-loud resolution, and maybe . . . just maybe, we’ll  even get ahead on our reading.  We spend moments talking about what we’ve read, because hearing the Truth allows us to listen to the words as they are formed, to  notice different details.  Reading chronologically, we delight in the soaring cadence of the Psalms, and then sputter together over the decline, the gradual but steady wheels-coming-off of the kingdom of Israel.  And just as no one — not even one king over Israel — got out of his royal bed one morning and said, “Let’s apostacize and spurn the living God until we drag the whole nation into judgment and exile,” neither do the wheels come off a marriage all at once.  Time spent together is like routine maintenance, necessary for our mowing equipment, and even more critical for our relationship in which time is needed for saying essential words:

How are we doing?
You’re still my favorite.
I love you.

In the summer time, in the beauty of green leaves and blue sky, we each notice privately that our years of working together in other ways have bred a wordless communication in our approach to a mowing job.  As we open the cooler for lunch, we remark on the fact, gratified at this evidence of compatibility.

“Yes, this relationship could work.  And it could keep on working.”

We gas up the thirsty mowers and tip back our frosty, cold water bottles in the shade, thankful to be filling up the tank of our relationship with time, meaningful work side-by-side, and leisurely conversation.

It’s true that we’re working hard, and the sun gets hot, and the routine gets monotonous.  I look forward to dates with my true love that involve dress-up clothes, food that doesn’t come from a cooler, and leaving my grass-stained sneakers at home. Even so, I’ve noticed over the years only the slimmest correlation between expense and the enjoyment of an event; how an ice cream cone savored on a warm day with felicitous company is more scrumptious than a meal in a posh restaurant; how the chance symphony caught on the radio has, betimes, surpassed the concert hall.

Summer is short here in Maine, and even as its rich fruition is fleeting, so are our days.  Teach me to number them, Lord, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.  In this, the year of our twenty-fifth anniversary,  I see clearly that a day spent mowing lawns with just the right person fulfills all the qualifications for a perfect date.


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