31 August 2005

…on the impact of the written word.

The title of this column—Take Up and Read—was not chosen by chance. It comes from the conversion story of one of the pillars in the history of the Christian church. Aurelius Augustinus, better know as Saint Augustine, lived in the 4th and 5th centuries and led a wanton early life full of dissipation and lustful pleasures. He eventually became enamored by pagan philosophies and a dualistic heresy called Manichaeism. His growing drive for truth and understanding carried him to Platonism and eventually led him back to the Christian scriptures. Through the Bible, Augustine was brought before God in all His holiness and before a mirror that clearly revealed his sin before God. At the age of 32, in the midst of an intense internal turmoil that Saint Augustine described in his Confessions as “being beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity,” Augustine withdrew in utter despair and conviction over his sin. Book 12 of The Confessions of Saint Augustine describes his state and subsequent conversion.

While laying in this state of bitter sorrow and despair, Augustine overheard a child chanting as if it was a nursery rhyme, “take up and read, take up and read” which he interpreted as a command from God to once again pick up the Scriptures. He opened Paul’s Epistles to read Romans 13:13-14; “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.” Upon reading, Augustine had a “light of confidence flood his heart” and came to receive and understand God’s grace and the forgiveness found by faith in Christ. Shortly thereafter, he reported his awakening to his mother, Monica, who had been praying for his salvation most of his life and who immediately “leaped for joy and triumph and blessed [God who is] ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.’”

The full account of his awakening and the subsequent impact of Saint Augustine’s work—especially the later impact on Luther and Calvin leading to the Reformation—is one of the most amazing testimonies of God’s grace in church history. It is a testimony to the power of the Word and the reading thereof. Let us all take a lesson from that child outside Augustine’s window, from Augustine’s confessions, and from God’s providential work of grace in Augustine’s life and take up and read!

(First published in DeiLight August 2004)

28 August 2005

…on seeing “large things largely.”

It is to our advantage to have both mentors and protégées in life; that is, one or more (usually older and wiser) who are models to us in conduct and character and who can give us advice and guidance, and also those (perhaps younger and less experienced) whom we can give counsel and be an encouragement to. Those relationships of witness and of being witnessed to aren’t always personal. One of my recently acquired “mentors,” gained through the reading of his biography during long hours in the hospital at my wife’s bedside”, is John Adams—the patriot, statesman, and our Nation’s first Vice President and second President. In Adam’s life of incredible personal sacrifice, his abiding love for his wife and family, his steadfastness and integrity of character, and his sense of duty to public service draw my admiration and cause must reflection; but it was his devotion and accountability to Christ and his awareness of and trust in God’s providential ordering of times and circumstances that most captivate my thoughts.

As Adams led the process toward declaring independence from Britain, it was said of him that he “saw large things largely.” In other words, as he navigated the “trees” of great endeavors, he always did so with the “forest” clearly in focus. Adams was able to do that primarily because of his Biblical worldview (even then in the minority) and because of his awareness of and duty toward Providence. That perspective on “things large” came through knowing the Scriptures as well as through reading widely. From “his treasured books” and reading he knew history, the lessons from the history of nations, and God’s providential hand in history. Even at age 25, he recognized that a man could not apply wisdom, knowledge, and virtue “unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.” Let us all take a lesson from John Adams, endeavor to understand the “large things” of life under the hand of Providence through good books and the Good Book, and take up and read!

(Originally published in DeiLight in June 2004)

25 August 2005

Recommended: Guinness' "The Call"

The Call, by Os Guinness. W Publishing Group, 1998, 2003.

Certain phases of one’s life are often characterized by questioning the purpose in life. Many books (among them several best sellers) have been written in recent years that attempt to address those questions. Few if any have the breadth and depth, as well as the practicality, of this book by Os Guinness. Unlike typical how-too books that offer superficial formulas, The Call is an in-depth and profound work that brings the reader to wrestle with the fundamental issues of life. A reflective work, it is a book to be slowly and deliberately chewed and digested. The author offers a good suggestion to read and contemplate each of the 26 chapters one day at a time. Each chapter is introduced by real-life and largely unfamiliar illustrations from historic figures. Guinness introduces the reader to nearly 20 classic books that are sure to stimulate further reading. He also introduces the reader to much history—bringing application to ones calling—from battles between the Greeks and Persians to post-Cold War world events. The Call is not light and easy reading but, with a little devotion of time and thought, it is not difficult or technical either. Whatever stage of life you are in, it will take you to the depths, challenge your thinking and focus your direction. The book includes a study guide for groups.

24 August 2005

Recommended - Packer's "Knowing God"

Knowing God, by J.I. Packer. Intervarsity Press, 1993.

Christianity is about relationship, specifically a relationship with God because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. Relationship has to do with knowing another, and we can only know God by what He has revealed to us. J.I. Packer, in this “modern classic” first published in 1973, writes from the premise that much of the weakness in the church today is a result of ignorance of both the ways of God and the practice of communion with Him. He writes, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life…with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.” We are to have knowledge of Him. Knowing God is just that—Packer opens up the Scripture and brings the reader face to face with the God of the Bible, with all His attributes and His works. This book is highly recommended. Read it slowly and, then, read it again. Give it to family or a friend. Use the companion Knowing God—Study Guide and make it a small group study. So that you can realize the answer to Christ’s prayer, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

...On Cultivating the Mind

Nobody can deny the role that television plays in the typical household and in our “view” of the world and all the elements of life. Sitcoms, movies, documentaries, sound-bite news, and recently, “reality shows” feed our perspectives on life’s issues. That has brought challenges that any parent can relate to. Images and sound bites quickly jumping from one topic cultivate a short attention span and a need to be entertained. TV blurs the lines between fiction and reality and tends to produce moral indifference and civic/political apathy. We have become “channel-surfers” not looking for anything intentionally but merely seeking to be stimulated. Shallow thinking is fostered making us susceptible to being “tossed to and fro” by every fad, advertisement, or political mantra that comes along.

Responsible citizens, and particularly Christians, are called to be different. We are to think actively and critically, grounded in the ability to discern between truth and falsehood. That comes from cultivating our minds through reading, studying, contemplating, and applying the written word of the Bible, like the Psalmist who found “his delight in the law of the Lord…meditating in it day and night.” (Ps 1:2) Cultivation also comes from reading good biographies, history, topical books, history and literature. It starts with reading, so let us develop the discipline of reading. We can keep our TV but let us watch it intentionally and critically. And let us turn it off regularly so that we can take up and read!

18 August 2005

...On the Discipline of Reading

A Christian friend of mine once said, “The world belongs to those who read.” In the light of history, where Christianity has gone literacy has always followed. That is particularly true after the Reformation when the Bible was made available to all who could read. Reading teaches us to think more logically and with more depth. It helps protect us from buying into the latest sound bites or images that are splashed in front of us. In the public rhetoric we often hear of the fight to rid illiteracy in the far corners of the world. Sadly, closer to home we suffer not so much from illiteracy, but from “aliteracy;” that is, having the ability to read but not the will.

We ought to be about the business of cultivating a habit of reading. Of course, God’s Word should be on the top of our priority list but we also should be reading other good literature, fiction and non-fiction. People frequently ask me for recommendations on what to read. Start with what interests you. Search beyond the latest best sellers. Try some of the classic literature we read in school. Read biographies. Among the most encouraging accounts are of the lives of early church leaders, as well as the founding fathers of our Country. Read about other places and cultures in the world. Read books which cultivate your profession. Read for recreation. Above all, take up and read!

(First published in April 2004 "DeiLight")