Posts Tagged With: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Five Books Every Christian Should Read (Besides the Bible)

After almost 20 years in our current residence, my wife and I are preparing to move. We have already filled a lot of boxes (I have lost count) with some of our belongings. Quite a few of those boxes are filled with books (again, I have lost count). We are only a fraction of the way through our books. We realized we have books in almost every room of our apartment.

A few books from my collection.

We love books. When we first met, we hit it off over the fact that we are both fans of C. S. Lewis. I think my wife and I both love reading almost as much as I enjoy writing (maybe more so). Books have played a major role in my life and great Christian authors have shaped my faith significantly.

With that in mind, I would like to offer the following list of five books, besides the Bible, that have influenced my relationship with Christ. I would encourage all Christians to read them at some point:

  • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis—Lewis is one of my favorite authors. Early in my relationship with Christ, several people encouraged me to read this book. Lewis provides a simple, concise, intelligent defense and explanation of the essentials of the Christian faith. For someone who prides himself on being an intellectual and independent thinker, it was refreshing to read a book that shows that you do not have to lock your brain in a corner when you become a Christian. You can be a thinking Christian and a sincere believer.
    • Honorable mention: Another of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters, which imagines a series of letters where a senior demon tries to mentor his protege. A few other great Lewis books include The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia children’s books. Lewis wrote in numerous genres, so you are likely to find something by him that suits your style.
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence—I found this little book among my father’s belongings after he passed away. I still have his copy. Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth-century monk who concluded that a committed Christian life primarily involved a continual acknowledgment of God’s presence at all times. Whatever you do, wherever you are: Keep your mind on the Lord, remember He is always with you, and rejoice in His love for you. It is a very brief book; each of its chapters (my copy contains 26: four conversations, 16 letters, and six brief “spiritual maxims”) can be read in less than five minutes. A book like this is best read by reading one chapter at a time and then allowing yourself time to reflect on its message throughout the day.
  • Of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a’ Kempis—Another monastic spiritual classic. Kempis was a fifteen century monk with a view of the Christian life that complements Brother Lawrence’s. As the title suggests, Kempis urges his readers to imitate Christ. Is book is somewhat longer than Lawrence’s, but the chapters are likewise very brief, allowing the reader to devote time to reflection and meditation on their truths throughout the day. It is actually four books, with a total of 114 chapters: “Admonitions Useful for Spiritual Life,” “Admonitions Pertaining to Inward Things,” “Internal Consolation,” and “A Devout Exhortation to the Holy Communion.” While both Brother Lawrence and Thomas a’Kempis write from the perspective of men cloistered in ancient monasteries, their writings will provide insight and encouragement for those of us living twenty-first century lives.
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—“When Christ calls a man, He bids him ‘come and die.’” Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, and seminary professor whose ministry coincided with the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Cost of Discipleship is probably his most easy-to-read book, most of it being a devotional commentary about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Living at a time when it was impossible to be a committed Christian and a loyal supporter of one’s government, Bonhoeffer could relay some of the conflict between Jesus’ teachings and the mindset of the world. He would eventually be executed for his involvement with “Valkyrie,” an attempt to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime.
    • Honorable mention: Bonhoeffer wrote prolifically during his brief life. I have not read his Letters and Papers from Prison but understand that this book is quite popular. Life Together examines Christian fellowship and the church from the perspective of his seminary, which was forced to live and study “underground” after it was outlawed by the Nazis.
    • I strongly recommend the biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. It examines Bonhoeffer’s writings and thoughts in the context of German history at that time. One would be wise to read it to see the conflict a Christian may face as his nation gravitates toward tyranny. I believe there are lessons there that modern American Christians need to learn quickly.
  • Anything by Andrew Murray—I have read many of Andrew Murray’s books; all of them have blessed, inspired, and challenged me; and I really cannot pick a favorite. I have quoted him several times on this blog, most recently when The True Vine inspired parts of my recent series on “Abiding in the Vine.” Some of this nineteenth-century South African pastor’s other works include Abide in Christ, The Deeper Christian Life, The Master’s Indwelling, The Ministry of Intercession, The Spirit of Christ, and The Power of the Blood. All of Murray’s writings are full of wisdom and zeal for the power of the Holy Spirit to be seen in the lives of Christians. Most of his writings address the subjects of prayer and the Spirit-filled Christian life. His books are generally brief, written to an audience of ordinary churchgoers. They are not overly complicated or hard to read, but they are spiritually deep. Read thoughtfully and be challenged to go deeper with Christ.

These are just a few of the books that hold a permanent place on my bookshelf. I would love to hear some of your favorite picks. What would you count as “books every Christian should read”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Judging Others or Examining Ourselves

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5, ESV).

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

5194572I wrote at some length about Matthew 7 about two years ago. This week, I have given it some more thought. During a season when many churches encourage a time of self-examination, this passage deserves a little more thought. Since I have written extensively on this passage previously, I offer the following as an addendum to that previous meditation.

bundesarchiv_bild_183-r0211-3162c_dietrich_bonhoeffer_mit_schc3bclern

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with several of his students, ca. 1932. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Although Jesus forbids judging others, and the other New Testament writings agree with this commandment (see, for example, Romans 14:1–12), He never commands us to approve of evil. Sin is sin. The Bible clearly defines certain attitudes and activities as sinful. “Judge not” does not mean we should accept sinful behavior.

However, there is an unusual irony when we quote Jesus’ command to others: If we tell someone else to “judge not,” are we not in fact judging them by accusing them of the sin of judgmentalism? Or, if they tell us to “judge not,” are they judging us? It seems hypocritical and ironic, but perhaps that is the point.

“Judge not” is not something Jesus tells us to say to others. It is something He tells us to say to ourselves when we interact with other people. Are they going to sin? Yes. Might it get on our nerves? Perhaps. Will they commit sins we would never commit? Possibly. Does that mean we are in a position to judge them? No. Our pride deceives us into thinking that others’ sins, the ones we would never commit (or so we think), are worse than ours. How often does the glutton look down upon the smoker or alcoholic? How often does the heterosexual who views pornography or has sex outside of marriage look down on the homosexual? We think their sin is worse, but God does not share our sliding scale:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10–11).

When I look at the sins of others, it is easy to minimize my own sins and shortcomings. I can easily ignore my own failings, or make excuses or justify my own sins, if I can accuse the other person of committing abominations. However, as I examine my own conscience and measure my own life against the teachings of Jesus, I am able to confess, repent, and seek a more holy life. My goal should never be to be a better Christian than the next person: It should be to have a closer relationship with Jesus than I do now, and to reflect His glory more today than I did yesterday.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Confession and Deliverance—James 5:16

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV)

james-5-16Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to reflect on a series of verses from the study guide of a Bible study my church’s men’s ministry is following [A Man and His Traps, Volume 3 of 33 The Series, published by Authentic Manhood/LifeWay Church Resources (2013), pp. 56–59 of the study guide]. The series focuses on the idols that lead men into temptation. The verses provide ammunition for renewal of the mind (Romans 12:1–2) to transform our perspective from a worldly attitude of defeat to Christ-centered victory. The study participants are urged to meditate on these Scriptures, memorize them, and gain a new perspective as a result.

Personally, I find that writing and study are a great way to assist myself in this process: A blog post challenges me to think thoroughly about a passage, and the feedback and other responses that follow (comments, readers clicking “like,” and so on) allow me to come back and think some more throughout the days that follow.

Although inspired by a men’s study, the reflections should help women as well. In Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28), and although we may struggle with different temptations, we share access to the same spiritual blessings.

With that preface in mind, let us reflect on James 5:16.

Many Christians are uncomfortable with confession. Some will say that it sounds too “Catholic” and therefore should be avoided as a form of legalism. Others say it is unnecessary: Since we are forgiven, why should we even think about our sins? Isn’t this just heaping condemnation upon ourselves?

Perhaps these arguments are merely excuses. The verse above is clear. It is a command: “confess your sins” is not preceded or followed by “if you wish” or “you might want to try this sometime.” James also commands us to confess your sins to one another. Some people are not afraid to confess their sins to God, but they do not want another person to hear it. Those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians should not avoid a command of Scripture merely because another denomination emphasizes it more, or it is uncomfortable.

The root of this perspective is pride. We like to pretend that we are better than we really are, and we do not want others to think we are imperfect. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic Life Together, proposed that when someone is uncomfortable confessing his sins to another person and only confesses privately to God, he is merely confessing to himself and granting himself absolution: “Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

It is important that we find someone through whom we can experience the presence of God. Twelve Step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous urge their members to take a personal moral inventory and then admit the exact nature of their wrongs to themselves, God, and another human being. That other person should just listen: They should not judge or condemn; they should quietly listen, without interrupting to interject advice or ask questions. Most importantly, they will not tell anybody what you have said: Your admitted failings should be a secret shared by the two of you and God alone. Through that time of listening, the person who is making confession can find healing by unloading their spiritual garbage.

So, if you are struggling, you may want to consider some kind of confession. Take some time first to reflect on your life and note the areas where you have failed: Twelve-Step programs frequently have excellent resources to help you with this. Then, find a trustworthy confidante. If you attend a church that offers formal sacramental confession, you may speak to the pastor; if not, find a trusted mature believer, one with whom you have a close relationship and who you know will never gossip about you.

If you are asked to hear such a confession: Sit back, listen, and do not say anything. Maybe, after the person has completed their confession, you may offer some guidance, if you feel the Holy Spirit has revealed anything to you or you have successfully overcome one of the person’s besetting sins. Most importantly, do not judge or belittle the person.

Finally, pray for one another. When one believer has admitted his sins to another, they should pray for deliverance and for the power to resist temptation. Confession is the first step to repentance, restoration, and deliverance. Your prayers are the greatest tool you have to bring this to fruition.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: