February’s Book of the Month: The Loveliness of Christ

At the end of 2014, I decided to read a short (~100 pages), spiritually nourishing book each month during 2015. About half of the books I lined up are ones I have read before, but they’re the sort of books that a man ought to come back to again and again throughout his life.

Being as I was on a blogging hiatus in January, I didn’t record my thoughts from January’s book of the month (Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle– it’s one of my all-time favorites), but I’d like to do so from here on out– “and this will we do, if God permit.”

February’s book was one I hadn’t read before: The Loveliness of Christ, by Samuel Rutherford. It’s a collection of excerpts from his Letters, and most of them are only a line or two (the excerpts, not the letters). It’s very encouraging. Rutherford seems to have suffered much in his life, or been around people who suffered much, because most of the saying in this little book concern trials, crosses, scourges, deep waters, and the like.

I see two prominent themes from these pages: Christ’s nearness to his people in their sufferings, and the strange and wonderful ever-newness of Christ to those who seek him.

The way Rutherford talks about Christ’s nearness to his people in their sufferings is so comforting and so encouraging. Consider these gems:

He delighteth to take up fallen bairns [children] and to mend broken brows: binding up of wounds is his office.

There is no sweeter fellowship with Christ than to bring our wounds and our sores to him.

He taketh the bairns in his arms when they come to a deep water; at least, when they lose ground, and are put to swim, then his hand is under their chin.

It is our heaven to lay many weights and burdens upon Christ. Let him find much employment for his calling with you; for he is such a Friend as delighteth to be burdened with suits and employments; and the more homely ye be with him, the more welcome.

I could go on– there is so much in these brief pages of the sweetness of Christ, his tender healing hand, his eagerness to take the sorrows of sinners up into himself and to soothe them!

Equally, Rutherford’s descriptions of how new Christ is every day and how fathomless is the knowledge of Christ awakens wonder and worship in my soul. Him again:

Every day we may see some new thing in Christ. His love hath neither brim nor bottom.

There are infinite plies [folds] in his love that the saints will never win to unfold.

I think I see more of Christ than ever I saw; and yet I see but little of what may be seen.

I am sure that the saints at their best are but strangers to the weight and worth and the incomparable sweetness of Christ. He is so new, so fresh in excellency, every day of new, to these that search more and more in him, as if heaven could furnish as many new Christs (if I may speak so) as there are days betwixt him and us, and yet he is one and the same.

O, we love an unknown lover when we love Christ.

I am glad I read Rutherford in February– I’ve needed him this month. I’m not much for books of quotations or pithy sayings, but The Loveliness of Christ is well worth it to read a saying or two with your Bible reading in the morning, or on your lunch break, or before you go to sleep at night. Let the Spirit use his gospel words to cause faith to rise within your heart. You’ll be glad you did.

-Daniel

 

Athanasian Dance

Good morning!

I just finished Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man, and I highly recommend it. It’s like reading a good coffee stout.

In one of his final chapters, Chesterton comments on how strange, how contra mundum Christianity is. He notes that if there is one thing the enlightened and liberals of every age have pointed to as exemplary of the endless argument and disagreement that is Christian theology, it is “this Athanasian question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son;” and that if there is one thing that these same enlightened and liberal offer as simple, pure and unspoiled Christian thought, “it is the single sentence, ‘God is Love.'” He then says this:

Yet the two statements are nearly identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other. The barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is love? The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the moderns really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the Athanasian Creed.

Thanks for that, GK. Eschewing a logical Christianity for a colorful one leaves us not with a colorful Christianity at all, just the hopeful and ultimately substance-less idea of color. A God who is able to love, yet not eternally, is more Athenian than Athanasian.

-Daniel

Theology in C Minor

Listening to the jazz station right now. I don’t listen to jazz much, simply because it’s so hit-or-miss in my opinion. But a little jazz can be good for the soul, and this wouldn’t be Flotsam and Jetsam if I didn’t try to enumerate how I think this may be so.

When I was in high school, I thought I might try my hand at writing music. It was awful, but I didn’t know that at the time. I remember showing one of my pieces to my band instructor and asking his opinion. He was trying to be kind, and so instead of shredding it, he simply told me “you need to know what the rules are before you can break them.” He was exhorting me to go further in my music theory before I attempted to put notes to paper, and he was right. I’m not one of those naturals with music running in their souls.

I was reminded of that incident just now whilst listening to Donald Byrd’s rendition of “Ray’s Idea.” Half-listening to the song, it sounds like the drummer is spazzing out while the pianist is playing with fat fingers, and the bassist has had waaay too much caffeine. It makes me wonder what any of the old greats would have thought of it. Would Chopin be impressed? I’m reminded of the scene in The Majestic where Jim Carrey sits down in front of the piano and the community waits with baited breath to see if it’ll jog his memory (if you haven’t seen the movie, you should; it’s the only Jim Carrey film worth watching), and how his old classical piano teacher is scandalized when he starts playing these wild jazz riffs. Certainly, when jazz came on the scene, it broke all the rules. But when I tuned in fully, the song came into focus in a way that not only made sense, but fit together beautifully. It’s the bass, I believe, that ties the whole thing together, keeping the key while the piano dances all around it with it’s accidents and licks and arpeggios (forgive me if I misstep, music mavens– I’m no expert). What appears to be thick fingers incapable of hitting one key at a time is, in fact, an intentional part of the whole scheme. These composers and players know their way around a major scale. They aren’t making mistakes, they’re making music, exploring the qualities of their instruments and of the notes and chords themselves in a way that no one had done before.

The Sanhedrin though Jesus didn’t know his doctrine well enough, or that he was flouting it on purpose. They thought he was ignorant of the law. A man can’t pick grain on the Sabbath– don’t you know that? A man can’t eat with unwashed hands. A man certainly can’t claim to be God; can’t extend forgiveness to sinners; can’t associate with gentiles, whores, tax collectors; can’t claim to interpret holy writ; can’t raise himself above Moses, Abraham, and the Fathers; A man can’t rise from the dead.

The scribes and Pharisees, those teachers of the law railed and railed, and Jesus just smiled. Listen closer, he says. The deep music of redemption threads its way through his works and teaching. Jesus isn’t sabotaging the sacred things, but saving sinners. And once you know that, you can see it on every page.

 

Coffee: The Slow-down Stimulant

Morning!

CoffeeA word on coffee- one I hope will prove timely as you enter the weekend. We think of coffee as a pick-me-up, speed-me-up, wake-me-up kind of brew, and it is, of course. It’s a stimulant. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either- God knew it was a stimulant when he made it, and it’s one of those trees from which our first parents were commanded to eat. But have you ever noticed how unpleasant it is to chug a scalding hot cup of black, unsweetened coffee? We cool it down with ice or cream and sweeten it up with syrups and sugar to make it a drink to go. I suppose the Philistines do this just to make their java palatable, and in their case the crime begets the judgement– but I digress.

To properly enjoy a freshly-brewed cup of hot, black coffee, you must slow down. At least, I know no other way to appreciate the warmth of the cup in my hands, the sight of white steam swirling on a black surface, the unique smell that coffee has, and its bitter, rich, bold taste. I love to sit on my couch on a morning when I have no where to go and look out the window, holding my cup against my cheek and letting my mind take me where I will. And it is the coffee which forces me to do this, to slow down, because stimulant though it is, I just can’t gulp liquid this hot.

I don’t have much of a point, I guess; just an exhortation to slow down. G.K. Chesterton said that often an external hum of busy-ness belies inactivity rather than productivity. He gives as his example a street busy with cars containing people not moving at all. I wonder if he might say the same thing about men and women bustling about the skyway in downtown Minneapolis with their cups of coffee clutched in their hands. Would he say all that movement just disguises minds which don’t know how to handle silence, stillness, and meditation?

Who knows. Just take some time this weekend to slow down with a cup of your favorite brew and think. I think you will enjoy it.

-Daniel

Herbaversary

Hello,

This month marks two years since I met and befriended the greatest poet the English language has ever produced. To honor the man, I reproduce here one of my favorite poems of his, “The Holdfast.” It has helped me through some dark times recently, and I pray you will be comforted and strengthened by it as I have been.

I threat’ned to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might.
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confess, that nothing is our own.
Then I confess that he my succor is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought. I stood amazed at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

Thank you George Herbert, for showing me the God who cannot fail or fall.

-Daniel

Et Cetera, Et Cetera

Hello. Late-night thoughts here.

Why are there so many stories in the Old Testament? It’s chock-full of tales. This is God’s word to man- can’t we just cut out the fluff and get to the important bits? One possible approach to one possible explanation occurs to me, mediated by Leithart filtered through the Wagner and Beethoven I’ve been listening to all evening.

All music has this quality of repetition to it. In most songs there will be a section of music which repeats several times, and while sometimes there is development from iteration to iteration in the form of a crescendo or the addition of instruments or underlying strains, sometimes the sections just repeats. And repeats. And repeats again. And then, just as the listener becomes aware that he is waiting for something to happen, the cycle breaks and a new section begins. It builds tension. It builds anticipation. Often these sections end on a leading tone, causing that sleeping musician’s ear in all of us to long for the resolution brought about by a tonic or dominant note or chord.

God doesn’t just want your mind, and so his book isn’t a list of propositions. He doesn’t just want your obedience, and so his book isn’t just a list of commands. God wants your worship, and so his book is all about the majesty of his Son, the Deliverer of Israel who appears at the end of the song to put away sin for all time. Something happens to a person when they read the unfinished story that is the Old Testament, and hear the broken deliverer theme over and over and over again. We were created listening for the resolution to come in Christ. Thank the Lord, the sweet strains of that resolution have come, and it’s a catchy tune.

-Daniel

Worth Reading: A Higher Call

Hey, Since I took such a long break from posting, I need to do a bit of back-writing. It’s been a while since I recommended a book, and I read some humdingers in the last year. One sticks out particularly in my mind: A Higher Call by Adam Makos.

2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown and his crew were aboard their B-17 bomber (“Ye Olde Pub”) in their first bomb run to destroy an aircraft production facility in Bremen on December 20th, 1943. Before the plane could release its payload, flak from anti-aircraft fire hit the plane and took out two of its engines, forcing it to throttle down and drop behind the formation of B-17s, making it a target for the enemy fighters which were mobilizing to repel the attack.

A Higher CallThose enemy fighters, over a dozen German 109 fighter jets, swarmed the crippled B-17 and attacked in a series of manuevers for about ten minutes before disengaging, during which a third engine was lost, the tail gunner was killed, the planes systems thrown into complete disarray, and Charlie passed out. He awoke to find the plane in a dive and managed to right it at 100o ft.

Charlie now had a choice to make: he could try to make it back to base by flying over the northern coast of Germany out over the sea and toward England, or he and his remaining men could parachute out of their severely damaged plane and hope that the Luftwaffe would find them, rather than the SS. Given that some of his men were too badly wounded to survive a parachute drop, he decided on the much more risky flight home, knowing the odds of their survival were slim flying over Germany’s coast with its anti-aircraft defenses.

Shortly before reaching the heavily fortified coast, another German 109 came upon the limping bomber. With 8 of her 11 guns taken out, the crew of Ye Olde Pub were defenseless against the smaller craft, and could not even perform evasive maneuvers. Charlie Brown was desperate, and sure that death had come to them at last. Strangely, then, the German pilot did not fire. He instead flew in formation with the American vessel, ensuring safe passage past the ground defenses who saw the outline of the German plane and did not fire on either aircraft. The German pilot flew wingtip to wingtip with the B-17 until they were safely out over the sea before saluting a mystified Charlie Brown and peeling away back toward Germany.

Well-written and compelling from start to finish, this book may be one of the best I’ve ever read. The events I’ve just described form the crux of the book (It’s all on the back cover, so I haven’t given anything away), but the backgrounds of both the German and the American pilot are what make this story so engaging. A friend complained to me not long ago that we’re now being inundated with WW2 stories, but if they’re all as heroic and selfless as this one, then there is a reason for the wealth of novels, biographies, and movies coming to us from that era. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It’ll inspire you and even encourage your faith, if you’ve eyes to see it.

A Higher Call is definitely a must-read. Let me know what you think.

-Daniel