On the Importance of Biographies

Biographies are one of my favorite types of books. I thoroughly enjoy learning about different people. I especially enjoy biographies about Christians. From Jonathan Edwards to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Karl Barth to William Wilberforce, reading about men and women who have contributed mightily to the Church always spurns an excitement and a desire to do more.

Adoniram Judson is one of those gentlemen by whom I am always encouraged and convicted. In the February 2017 print of the Banner of Truth journal a brief recap of the life and ministry of Mr. Judson is given. I am amazed at the difficulties this man overcame. Personally, I do not think I could handle the death of one of my children, let alone all of them. Added to that the death of my wife? I would find myself as an irrecoverable wreck. But Adoniram Judson pushed on (though he definitely experienced a difficult road).

(I have also received much encouragement from other materials printed through the Banner of Truth journal. Read about it here.)

One of the aspects of his life that I am always touched by (and incidentally reminded by) in Philip Arthur’s address is the letter to Miss Ann Hasseltine’s father. In pursuing his love for Ms. Hasseltine Judson writes a letter to her father, John. I am overwhelmed at the severity and seriousness of the note. I am convicted at how wonderfully real the issue of preaching the Gospel is to Mr. Judson. I felt led to share the contents of that letter, as reprinted in the journal of the Banner of Truth. I imagine, as a father, this letter would make me extremely proud but also quite terrified.

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress to degradation, insult, persecution and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations [sic] of praise which shall redound to her Saviour [sic] from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

[Philip J. Arthur, “Adoniram Judson”, The Banner of Truth, February 2017, 15-28.]

I am overcome with both excitement and grief. How could one turn down such a request? How, as a parent, would I be if my son proposed to a girl in such a manner? What are we doing, as parents, to encourage this seriousness of the task to which the Christian is called?

I am reminded, upon the reading of this section, of the importance of biography. My brothers and sisters, read biographies!

 

Advertisements

Rabbinical Insights into Inspiration

9781565637078_p0_v2_s260x4201

I have begun the task of reading the Babylonian Talmud. It is a monumental work spanning several centuries years and written in at least two languages.i Its importance to Judaism will never be overstated. To our interests as believers in the Messiah, it draws on a “long period of oral tradition ca. 450 B.C.E. To 200 C.E.”ii

I have been incredibly blessed by reading this work. Most of it is rather boring reading, to be honest. This rabbi says this, another says the opposite. And then three to four paragraphs of attempts to justify each rabbi’s position.

But hidden within the earth of wordiness are little gems such as I am going to share with you now. In a section covering the time necessary to recite the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6.4-6) I found this:

“Did David really know exactly when it was midnight? Now Moses, our master, did not know, for it is written, ‘At about midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt’ (Ex. 11.4). What is the sense of ‘at about midnight’ cited in the preceding verse? If I should say that that is language which the Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, that is, ‘At about midnight,’ is it possible that before Heaven there is such a doubt [as to the exact time of night? That is impossible.] Rather, [God] said to him, ‘At midnight,’ but Moses is the one who came along and said, ‘At about midnight.’ It follows that he was in doubt as to exactly when it was midnight. Could David then have known exactly when it was?”iii

I find several points of interest here. To begin with, in regards to the matter of inspiration, we find that God allows the individual author to shine through. When Moses wrote ‘at about midnight’ it seems that God allowed some freedom of expression. As the Rabbis conferred, if God should choose to be more specific he would have had Moses express it that way.

Another point that I find fascinating is that there is some ambiguity in the Scriptures. There are numerous times when estimations are given rather than exact numbers (Exodus 32.28; Joshua 7.4; Judges 15.11; 16.27; and Acts 2.41). This, in turn, can be applied to the rest of Scripture. It is important not to force exactness when exactness is not intended. We can find ourselves in much trouble when we attempt to force something that is intended to be taken loosely.

The last point that I get from this is to be comfortable with not having all the answers. In the context the Rabbis were discussing whether Moses knew when midnight was.iv But they were comfortable acknowledging that Moses didn’t know (or it was at the very least a possibility), and they were fine with that. There may some issues, some matters, that believers never fully grasp. Are we comfortable with not having all the answers? Are we honest to admit that we don’t know everything?

So the rabbis have much to teach us, if we would simply have ears to hear and eyes to see.

iJacob Neusener, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I Tractate Berakhot (Peabody, Hendrickson: 2011), xv.

iiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, xxv.

iiiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, 10-11.

ivIt may seem such a trivial matter to discuss when exactly midnight is, particularly when we know when midnight is. But to the ardent follower of Judaism preciseness is a non-negotiable, specifically when regarding the recitation of the Shema.

“So, You Want to Be Like Christ?”: Five Sources of Mind Clutter

I’ve been reading through Chuck Swindoll’s “So, You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There”. I’ve been using his section on prayer as we study this in our small groups on Wednesday evenings.

It is a relatively small book, numbering 188 pages. But this morning I came across an excellent chapter on simplicity. Toward the beginning of his chapter he wisely states, “Christlikeness is a journey, not a destination….” [Swindoll, 2005]

I think that we often forget that our journey is one of a lifetime. In our society our goal is efficiency, productivity, the mastering of each and every second. I am wired this way. I miss so much because I feel as those I am wasting time if I am not doing something. I can’t just sit and rock in the rocking chair. I have to read, write, plan. And while there is definitely wisdom in capturing every moment (Ephesians 5.16) there are times when we simply need to sit. Just sit and listen. 


Imagine yourself as the individual in the picture. Hear the birds chirping, the cicadas as the sing to each other, the wind rustling the leafs, and the waves lapping the shore. This is simplicity. Imagine hearing that still, small voice of God speak peace to your heart (I Kings 19.11-13, cf. Mark 1.35).

So what keeps us from this simplicity? What “clutters” our minds, as Swindoll discusses? He offers “five sources of mind-clutter common to the twenty-first century.” [Swindoll, 2005]

  1. First, most of us today say yes to far too many things. -How often do we say no? I mean simply say no? We almost think it is rude to turn down that lunch invitation, that movie request, that hang out time with a friend. But it’s okay to say no. And in order to simplify our lives, we must become more accustomed to saying no.
  2. Second, most of us do not plan time for leisure and rejuvenation. – My wife is one of the most organized individuals I have ever met. She schedules everything. And once she has made a schedule she sticks to it. I love that! I was fairly organized before we got married, but I’ve learned so much from over over the past six years from her. And one thing she schedules is down time. Now I used to think that was insane. Like, why do you need to schedule that? Don’t you just simply take a break? But the problem is that we don’t take breaks. We find more tasks to be completed, more projects that need starting, and so on. So, if you are a planner, plan time to rest.
  3. Third, most of us rarely experience the joy of accomplishment.– Swindoll references Proverbs 13.19. How true is that? When was the last time you completed a project? Finished a book? How many times have we started something only to leave it to begin another? Simplifying our lives means focusing on a given project, assignment, or desire to its completion. 
  4. Fourth, most people living in wealthy countries owe more than they can hope to repay. –This is something a vast majority of Americans struggle with, including myself. The desire for more and the ease of credit cards has helped create a society built on covetousness and greed. We work to pay bills for items we purchased to have no time to use or enjoy. Simplifying our lives means enjoying the things we have, taking time to enjoy that cup of tea, watching the sunset, or simply sitting in stillness. 
  5. Fifth, most of us fool ourselves into thinking that with out modern technology, we have simplified our lives. –Swindoll writes, “In an age when, thanks to technology, most everything requires a tiny fraction of the time it did just a century ago, we have less unoccupied time than ever!” [Swindoll, 2005] I often lament this fact. My wife and I love watching Andy Griffth, and one of the things I love about that show is the pace of life. Now certainly they were busy, and assuredly they had busy seasons of life. But in more than one episode you find Andy reading a newspaper while drinking coffee, Opee sitting in the floor playing with a toy, and Aunt Bee knitting. It seems so peaceful. Now we are all on our smart phones, multitasking between emails, texts, the latest breaking news, planning that trip to the parents, paying that electric bill, all while binge watching the popular show on Netflix. What a vast difference! And while I love many of our advances in technology, I often wonder what we have lost for the exchange of convenience

So what needs to be eliminated? How can we simplify our lives? Life is a journey. Don’t become so bogged down on the road map that you miss the amazing people, places, and perspectives you come across.

‘If You Can Keep It’, A Review

Eric Metaxas’s addresses a vital need for the hour of this country. The views that one holds of one’s own country will affect how one lives. How one lives affects how a country functions. And how a country functions determines the lives of countless others.

There is no doubt that Metaxas loves the United States of America. Almost every story is told with attention to detail, but more than that, a love of the people who helped shaped this land for over two centuries. He writes with the tone of a mother who is grieving for a wayward son. He writes in the introduction, “We have a charge to keep. This book is about seeing that we understand this again—and that we keep that charge, that republic, that glorious promise.” [Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (New York, Penguin: 2016), 15]

His book reads as if he is sitting across from you, briefly taking sips of steaming coffee before continuing his discussion about the country he loves. He tells you of stories about many men and women who have stood firm in the face of unsurmountable difficulties, who forged ahead on uncertain and challenging roads, and who made incredibly tough decisions. From great men like Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr., Eric Metaxas draws on an even greater idea, that of self-government. In fact, more than the individuals he addresses, Metaxas’s focus is on the basis of the greatness of this country and the wild requirements to maintain such a place.

The book encourages the reeducation of Americans, whether they are Jewish or Muslim, whether agnostic of atheist. He draws on personal experience and history from America to help create a hunger for the rich diversity that is the United States.

One drawback is the lack of citations. There are only eight notes, and of those only four are citations. If one is familiar with the writings of Metaxas, particularly of his historical biographies, one may feel disappointed. However, it is more of a manifesto for a revival of love for America. So it suits his purpose to provide a more readable and less dense work.

Eric Metaxas is a Christian, so it should not come as a surprise that his work is filled with Scripture and references to accounts of the life of Jesus. For some this may be an issue, particularly to those who tend to hold negative views of religion. But it is written from a neighborly perspective, and not as one who is simply speaking to one to make a proselyte.

If you would like to know more about America, this is a great start. Addressing everything from our beauty to our warts, Metaxas presents a magnificent view of the United States. If you have lived in this country for long, then it is more than likely that you have ill-feelings toward this nation. Metaxas’s work is a wonderful reminder of the genesis of America, a birds-eye view of arguably the greatest nation in the history of civilization.

Purchase your copy now!

 

Reading- Random Thoughts Part Three

How we read is also another important factor to consider. What I mean by this is, what the location is when we read, our physical position, digital versus hard copy, etc.

I personally prefer reading while laying belly flat on the ground. I find this the most comfortable position. Others may prefer a chair on a porch on a nice warm day. Whatever your choice is, go with what is most comfortable for you. The chances you will read more are higher if the conditions are conducive.

Next find the location that you can focus your attention what you are reading. Some people need complete silence when reading, so a family room with a lot of activity would definitely be a distraction. Others may prefer the outdoors, where birds sing their songs and crickets make their rhythmic hum. I read best when there is noise. Whether it is a show on tv or my daughter playing in the room, I need noise in order to concentrate.

Lastly, find your preference of reading material. In other words, if you like digital copies then use it! With the availability of so many tablets, phablets, and smart phones, there are a variety of options from which to choose. On top of this, there are several apps that can be downloaded for the use of reading. Some cost money while others are free. Either way you decide to go the main thing is to read! If, on the other hand, you are like me, you prefer hard copies. I like to write in my books.

IMG_1675.JPG

Sometimes I write thoughts I may have, such as “I agree”, or “Where is the proof?”. Most of the time I write how the passage, paragraph, or statement has made an impact on me. I also like to write cross references in order to ease future searching. The key difference in digital copies and hard copies, for me at least, is that I can personalize my books by adding myself into each one.

Reading- Random Thoughts Part Two

So as we contemplate reading, one of the sure threats to excellent reading is “skimming.” We do it all the time. I would venture to guess you’re probably doing it now!

It’s something we all struggle with daily. The amount of material we come in contact with is astounding. From news and sports channels on television to Twitter and social media, Americans have access to a seemingly infinite amount of information. It is impossible to process all this information.

Because of the amount of information we have available we have developed the ability to skim read vast amounts of material and get the gist of what was written. This can be very beneficial for matters that are not related to truths that have eternal results. Sports scores, daily news, stock prices are all easily observed and stored into the brain.

However, for Christians, we should develop the ability of reading comprehension. After reading an article, magazine, or book the Christian should be able to give what was read in his or her one language. Skimming will not suit this desired goal. While skim reading has benefits, it should be avoided when reading the Bible and other books that can help develop the character and life of the individual. So as you read throughout today, stop; take the time to actually read with the ability to comprehend what you have just read. You’ll notice a difference in your ability to process what you read!

IMG_1714-0.JPG

Reading- Random Thoughts Part One

So we all desire to read more, read deeper, and probably finish some books. But we all have the same problem, no matter what stage in life we may be found in at the moment, we are all busy. Time is a precious commodity, and from the busy mom to the working dad, from the teenager involved in all sorts of activities to the young children busy playing, we all struggle to find time to read.

For the Christian, reading is a necessity. Reading the Bible is of utmost importance. It is how we grow in our relationship with The Lord, it is how we learn more about the Christian faith, and it tells us how we should live in the present world.

But the Christian shouldn’t be satisfied with just the Bible. This is not to say the Bible isn’t all the Christian needs, but that other books can prove to be helpful, encouraging, and informative.

There will be additional posts coming soon, but for now, purpose to read at least ten minutes a day. You may be surprised at how much you can work through a book with only ten minutes a day.