"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Faith, Attentive Life, Called to Die (book reviews)

The Faith by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett is a book seeking to answer the questions about "what Christians believe, why they believe it and why it matters. The authors note

"Christians must see that the faith is more than a religion or even a relationship with Jesus; the faith is a complete view of the world and humankind's place in it. Christianity is a worldview that speaks to every area of life, and its foundational doctrines define its content. If we don't know what we believe -- even what Christianity is -- how can we live it and defend it? Our ignorance is crippling us."

Charles Colson argues that the truth "is the faith given once (Jude 3) and shared by all true Christians from the apostolic era to today."

This books covers topics such as God Is, He Has Spoken, Truth, The Invasion (God became flesh and invaded our world), God Above, God Beside, God Within, Exchanging Identities, Reconciliation, Be Holy - Transform the World, The Sanctity of Life, The Joy of Orthodoxy and more. I enjoyed the examples and stories shared including the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA, Speratus from North Africa in AD 180, the Chinese house church movement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jesus Amado Sarria, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mohammed Bouyeri.

A few things that I made note of include the following:

The Trinity "answers the deepest needs of the human heart, offering a depth of spirituality unknown in any other religion." The authors state, "The Creator God of Christianity is not a distant, unapproachable, judging God as in Islam. Neither is God so diffuse within creation as in Eastern religion that God cannot be found. The Father is close beside us in the Son, as we encounter this God in the person of Jesus: 'God with a human face,' as Pope Benedict likes to say. Further, through the power of the Holy Spirit this God comes to dwell within us -- God gives us His life. The Holy Spirit enables us to live out God's will with its heroic demands." (pg. 104)

Concerning time -- "As Christians we do not need to live oppressed by the ticking clock -- the tyranny of the urgent. Life's value doesn't depend upon where we are in time; whether we are young,middle aged or old. We see life, all of life and all of the time that God created for us, as a gift. The greatest time of our life, then, may occur at any point in our lives. Maybe the most important insight we'll ever have or the greatest contribution we'll ever make is in our dying words or in a youthful experience of learning. Maybe it will come during our most productive years. But the point is we are not restricted. Each moment of life is a gift open to the possibility of eternity, and so what we do now matters for eternity. The gift of time enables us to prepare ourselves for an everlasting relationship with God. This is what gives significance to every one of our actions." (pg. 109)

"In Beijing, an American journalist recently encountered one of China's foremost scholars, a man who had spent long years studying the West. His colleagues and he had investigated the reasons for the West's success and preeminence, examining our history, politics, economics and culture. Their first conclusion was the West's success was due to its more advanced military; later they believed it might have been the political system; or perhaps the economic system. But 'in the past twenty years,' one investigator said, 'we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.'" (pg. 215)

"The orthodox Christian faith is the one source that can renew culture because it relies on a wisdom far beyond humankind's own that can yet be known by reason. It constantly calls people to the practice of virtue and charity guided by this greater wisdom." (pg. 224)

"Chesterton explains why Christians are change agents. There are, he says, optimists and pessimists in the world. The optimists are always trying to do good things, and the pessimists are always wringing their hands in despair. But the Christian, he argues, is the only one with a balanced view -- a pessimist because he knows that this is a fallen world and things do need fixing, but an optimist because he knows that God is all powerful and in charge and that all things therefore can be fixed." (pg. 225)

"Christianity does not seek to impose, it proposes. The Gospel is the great proposal: Come to the wedding feast, one and all -- black, white, rich, poor, East, West, Muslim, Jew, Christian -- all are welcome, and it's never too late. God turns no man or woman away, not one. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Father brings us into His Kingdom. This is the promise He holds out to individuals and nations alike, a Kingdom not of eating and drinking or of marching armies and clashing swords, but a Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (pg. 225)

In closing, I want to make note of a verse that the Mr. Colson uses in his prison ministry. It was taken from Jesus' message in the Nazareth synagogue as he read from Isaiah's scroll: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18,19 & Isaiah 61:1,2).

The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford caused me to ponder many things. In defining attentiveness, he said it "may be just the opposite of ' fixing our attention.' Instead it involves a letting go of our usual need to control, an opening of ourselves to what we are being told or shown. Our instinct is to hold on." This book was one you had to read slowly and with care. Things that stood out to me include the following:

* This quote from French philosopher Emile Caillet's account of his own discovery of the Bible as "the book that understood me." (pg. 73)

* A prayer from the Bible,

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God ...
Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:1-2,4-5 NIV)

* This quote from Henri Nouwen about prayer

Prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts -- beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful -- can be thought and expressed in the presence of God ... This requires that we turn all our thoughts into conversation. The main question, therefore, is not so much what we think, but to whom we present our thoughts ... Prayer is an outward, careful attentiveness to the One who invites us to unceasing conversation. (pg. 93)

* Robert Llewelyn wrote about the "'constancy of God's love. No power in heaven or on earth - and that includes sin -- can stop God loving us.' When we fall into sin, said Julian, it may seem that God is angry with us, but actually we are often projecting our own disappointment onto God. The truth is that God is present with his forgiveness whether we choose to take it or not." (pg. 128)

* Something about Mother Teresa: '"We do our work for Jesus and with Jesus and to Jesus,' ... ' and that's what keeps it simple. It's not a matter of praying some times and working others. We pray the work.' She also told us how she and the other sisters sought to see Christ in the face of each one they served." (pg. 132)

* From Hwee Hwee Tan -- "That's the profound truth: you are what your mind looks at. You are what you contemplate." (pg. 199)

* "The destination is Christlikeness. The wonder is not only that we will be like him, but that when we are like him we will most truly be ourselves." (pg. 203)

* "Love is seeking us, the only Love that redeems time, that takes the fragments of what is past and the hope of what is coming and binds them together in the 'love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.' That love is reaching out even now, calling us to our heart's true home." (pg. 204)

* Paying attention to our tears

The old spiritual teachers used to say that it is very important to pay attention to our tears. Athanasius prized ' the gift of tears" as the outward sign of God's puncturing of our heart. Deborah Smith Douglas recalls hearing a wise priest say that we should be grateful for whatever breaks our heart: "Reflecting on God's promise to write 'upon' our hearts, rather than 'within' them, he suggested that our own hearts are so hard that all God can do is write upon the surface (Jeremiah 31:33). It is only when our hearts break, that they break open: then the word of God can enter deeply, like a seed in a harrowed field."

We should prize the gift of tears? What a hard saying that is. Yet I concur with Leon Blum: "Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence." Looking back, I know there are in me "places of the heart" that have opened to God's presence, or to welcome the hurt of others, places that I might never have explored had it not been for the dark passages I have come through. In a very strange and mysterious way the light shone in and opened up the darkness. So when tears come, instead of avoiding them I am trying to learn to pay attention, to pause and ask: What makes these tears come? (pg. 145)

Called to Die by Steve Estes is a book I received from The Voice of the Martyrs and is the story of American linguist Chet Bitterman who died at the hands of a terrorist group in Colombia after being held hostage for many days. The terrorists wanted the linguistics missionaries to leave Colombia because they said the Westerners were trying to destroy the native cultures. When the linguistics institute refused to meet their demands, they killed Chet. I especially enjoyed the talk of called to missions (pg. 83-85-- instead of asking "why go?" it changed to "why not go?"), and the story of how Wycliffe Translators was born (p.89 "if your God is so great, why doesn't He speak our language?" -- from a bilingual Cakchiquel), and also the responses to Chet's murder (pg. 251 -- "The guerrillas had intended to oust the translators; instead, they entrenched them. Almost a decade of negative press gave way to supportive editorials. ... Strangers embraced Al in the streets, tearful and smiling. 'I saw you on television,' they would say. 'We're glad you stayed.'" In the US people stepped up to fill the ranks and applications for overseas service with Wycliffe Bible Translators doubled and this trend has continued.) What M-19 guerrillas meant for evil, God meant for good.

Romans 8:28,
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

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