Book Review of BONHOEFFER by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson: 2010), 544 pages plus Foreward by Timothy Keller, 20 pages of Notes, 3 pages of Bibliography, 12 pages of Index, 15 pages of Reading Group Guide which altogether puts the number of pages of this book at 608.

It took me two years to read this book.  Mostly because I started it one summer, then became involved in a volunteer position with adults and small children which takes a lot of my time and energy during the school year.  If you enjoy reading and are less encumbered, then you can probably read this book much faster.

Bonhoeffer is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who lived in Germany from 2/4/1906 – 7/27/1945.  Hitler, personally, ordered his execution one week before taking his own life and ending WWII.  Hitler wanted Dietrich Bonhoeffer executed because Bonhoeffer was from a wealthy, prominent German family –what Hitler considered the super race—and yet Bonhoeffer and many of his family and friends had worked together for years to remove Hitler from office and restore Germany to a free and democratic state not a socialist, Nazi regime.  Bonhoeffer personified Hitler’s ubermensch, his superman.  Dietrich was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, young, strong, healthy, wealthy, intelligent and well-connected.  The problem for Hitler is that Bonhoeffer rejected Hitler.  Bonhoeffer, his family and friends rejected Hitler from the beginning.  Dietrich and his family went so far in their rejection to plot to assassinate Hitler.  Bonhoeffer also talked to Heads of State in England and Switzerland about Germany’s place in the world if it was not ruled by Hitler and no longer a Nazi regime.  Hitler wanted to create a master race.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a poster boy for that master race, but he could not submit to Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer’s Sermon the Day Hitler Took Office:

“He began by explaining why Germany was looking for a Fuhrer.  The First War and the subsequent depression and turmoil had brought about a crisis in which the younger generation, especially, had lost all confidence in the traditional authority of the Kaiser and the church.  The German notion of the Fuhrer arose out of this generation and its search for meaning and guidance out of its troubles.  The difference between real leadership and the false leadership of the Leader was this: real leadership derived its authority from God, the source of all goodness. Thus parents have legitimate authority because they are submitted to the legitimate authority of a good God. But the authority of the Fuhrer was submitted to nothing. It was self-derived and autocratic and therefore had a messianic aspect.

“The good leader serves others and leads others to maturity.  He puts them above himself, as a good parent does a child, wishing to lead that child to someday be a good parent.  Another word for this is discipleship.  He continued:

‘Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached.  And before this Authority the individual knows himself to be completely alone. The individual is responsible before God.  And this solitude of man’s position before God, this subjection to an ultimate authority, is destroyed when the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority.…Alone before God, man become what he is, free and committed in responsibility at the same time.

“Forty-eight hours had passed since Hitler’s election, but with Bonhoeffer’s speech the battle lines were drawn.  According to Bonhoeffer, the God of the Bible stood behind true authority and benevolent leadership, but opposed the Fuhrer Principle and its advocate Adolf Hitler.  Of course Hitler never publicly denounced God.  He knew well that there were many churchgoers in Germany who had some vague idea that real authority should come from their God, but unlike Bonhoeffer, they had no idea what this actually meant.  To embody the kind of leadership that rejected this idea of submission to God’s authority, one must at least give lip service to that God, else one would not last very long.  Hitler was ultimately a practical man, and as all truly practical men, he was a cynical man.

Hitler’s Speech the Day He Took Office:

“So Hitler gave a speech that day too.  He was just forty-three and had already toiled in the political wilderness half his life.  Ten years had passed since the Bierhall Putsch that landed him in prison.  Now he was the chancellor of Germany.  The original come-back kid had triumphed over his enemies.  But to convince his followers that his authority was legitimate, he must say the necessary things.  Thus the opening words of his speech that day were: ‘We are determined, as leaders of the nation, to fulfill as a national government the task which has been given to us, swearing fidelity only to God, our conscience, and our Volk.’  If his conscience was not already a corpse, it might have felt a twinge as he spoke.  Hitler then declared that his government, which was a lie, instantly annulled itself.  He ended with another appeal to the God he did not believe in, but whose Jewish and Christian followers he would thenceforward persecute and kill: ‘May God Almighty take our work into his grace, give true form to our will, bless our insight, and endow us with the trust of our Volk!’

Karl Bonhoeffer’s [Dietrich’s Father] Thoughts on Hitler:

“‘From the start, we regarded the victory of National Socialism in 1933 and Hitler’s appointment as Reichkanzler as a misfortune—the entire family agreed on this.  In my own case, I disliked and mistrusted Hitler because of his demagogic propagandistic speeches…his habit of driving about the country carrying a riding crop, his choice of colleagues—with whose qualities, incidentally, we in Berlin were better acquainted than people elsewhere—and finally because of what I heard from professional colleagues about his psychopathic symptoms.’

“The Bonhoeffer’s saw through Hitler from the beginning, but no one believed his reign would last as long as it did.  Surely the Nazis would have their moment, perhaps even a long moment, but then it would be gone.  It was all a terrible nightmare that, come morning, would disappear.  But morning never seemed to come.”  (pp. 140-144)

From the start, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his father Karl Bonhoeffer and many of their family and friends saw Hitler for the problem that he was.  This book explores an aspect to Nazi Germany that I had not considered before—religion.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor.  He was born into a noteworthy German family.  He recognized Hitler and the Nazis as bad for Germany, so what would he do?  How would he reconcile being a Christian pastor under a government that hated Christians?

“Bonhoeffer went on to say that to ‘confess Christ’ meant to do so to Jews as well as to Gentiles.  He declared it vital for the church to attempt to bring the Messiah of the Jews to the Jewish people who did not yet know him.  If Hitler’s laws were adopted this would be impossible.  His dramatic and somewhat shocking conclusion was that not only should the church allow Jews to be a part of the church, but that this was precisely what the church was: it was the place where Jews and Germans stand together.  ‘What is at stake,’ he said, ‘is by no means the question whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with the Jews.  It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say; here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not’.”  (pp. 153-155)

It was one matter to theoretically understand the situation Germany was facing under Hitler.  It was another matter to act on those principles while still remaining alive and not being killed by Nazis.  While Bonhoeffer was thinking deeply about the church’s role in Germany, the Nazis were busy inventing their own new religion.

“Hitler seems to have believed that Nietzsche had prophesied his coming and rise to power.  In The Will to Power, Nietzsche prophesied the coming of a race of rulers, ‘a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will.’  Hitler believed the Aryan race was this ‘race of rulers.’  Nietzsche referred to these men as ‘lords of the earth.’ William Shirer said that Nietzsche’s rantings along these lines met with Hitler’s approval: ‘[They] must have struck a responsive chord in Hitler’s littered mind.  At any rate he appropriated them for his own—not only the thoughts but…often his very words.  ‘Lords of the Earth’ is a familiar expression in Mein Kampf.  That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophecy can not be doubted.’  (Page 168)

“Since Hitler had no religion other than himself, his opposition to Christianity and the church was less ideological than practical.  That was not the case for many leaders of the Third Reich.  Alfred Rosenberg, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and others were bitterly anti-Christian and were ideologically opposed to Christianity, and wanted to replace it with a religion of their own devising.  Under their leadership, said Shirer, ‘the Nazi regime intended eventually to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists.’

“Hitler wouldn’t let them do this at first, hence his constant battle to rein them in.  But he was not opposed to their doing it when the time was right.  He couldn’t take it very seriously, but he thought that  the neopagan stew that Himmler was cooking up would probably be far more useful than Christianity because it would advocate such ‘virtues’ as would be useful to the Third Reich.” (pp. 168-171)

The new Nazi religion wanted to replace the cross with the swastika, replace the Bible with Mein Kampf, and replace Jesus Christ with Adolph Hitler.  Nazi Germany was an unfriendly place for Christian pastors.

The draft was calling many young German men to fight for the Fatherland—Nazi Germany—and that included Christian pastors.  Bonhoeffer first considered being a conscientious objector and not fighting at all.  Eventually he decided that was unfair to other young Christian pastors who were fighting and that he would be turning his back on the greater problems Germans were facing.  So, he decided to join the Abwehr to be a spy.  As a German spy he was involved in several plots to assassinate Hitler.

Abwehr:

“On February 24, the Abwehr sent Bonhoeffer to Geneva.  His main purpose was to make contact with Protestant leaders outside Germany, let them know about the conspiracy, and put out feelers about peace terms with the government that would take over.  Muller was having similar conversations at the Vatican with Catholic leaders.  But at first, Bonhoeffer couldn’t even get into Switzerland.  The Swiss border police insisted that someone inside Switzerland vouch for him as his guarantor.  Bonhoeffer named Karl Barth, who was called, and assented, but not without some misgivings.

“Like others at the time, Barth was perplexed about Bonhoeffer’s mission.  How could a Confessing Church pastor come to Switzerland in the midst of war?  It seemed to him that Bonhoeffer must have somehow made peace with the Nazis.  This was one of the casualties of the war, that trust itself seemed to die a thousand deaths.

“Such doubts and questions from others would plague Bonhoeffer, but he certainly wasn’t free to explain what he was doing to those outside his inner circle.  This represented another ‘death’ to self for him because he had to surrender his reputation in the church.  People wondered how he escaped the fate of the rest of his generation.  He was writing and traveling, meeting with this one and that one, going to movies and restaurants, and living a life of relative privilege and freedom while others were suffering and dying and being put in excruciating positions of moral compromise.

“Even if Bonhoeffer could have explained that he was in fact working against Hitler, many in the Confessing Church would still have been confused, and others would have been outraged.  For a pastor to be involved in a plot whose linchpin was the assassination of the head of state during a time of war, when brothers and sons and fathers were giving their lives for the country, was unthinkable.  Bonhoeffer had come to a place where he was in many ways very much alone.  God had driven him to this place, though, and he was not about to look for a way out any more than Jeremiah had done.  It was the fate he had embraced, and it was obedience to God, and he could rejoice in it, and did.”  (pp. 376-377)

Bonhoeffer was very much alone as a spy.  The aloneness caused him to surrender his life even more fully to God.

Spy:

“In light of the events in Germany at that time, everyone was trapped in a situation of ethical impossibilities.  In light of the monstrous evils being committed all around, what could one do and what should one do?  In letters from his ordinands, we read of how tortured they were in knowing when to protest and when to accede when to go to war, even if they knew it was unjust, and when to take a stand.  One of them wrote to Bonhoeffer about having to kill prisoners and was obviously torn up about it, knowing that if he didn’t comply, he would himself be killed.  This sort of thing had become commonplace.  Who could fathom the horrors of the concentration camps where Jews, hoping to preserve their own lives, were forced to do unspeakable things to other Jews?  The utter evilness of evil now showed itself clearly, and it showed up the bankruptcy of man’s so-called ethical attempts to deal with it.  The problem of evil is too much for us.  We are all tainted by it and cannot escape being tainted by it.

“The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully.  To try to explain ‘right’ and ‘wrong’—to talk about ethics—outside of God and obedience to his will is impossible: ‘Principles are only tools in the hands of God; they will soon be thrown away when they are no longer useful.’  We must look only at God, and in him we are reconciled to our situation in the world.  If we look only to principles and rules, we are in a fallen realm where our reality is divided from God:”  (pp. 468-471)

Bonhoeffer was an intelligent, educated, cultured, connected and privileged man with family and friends scattered throughout the world who decided to surrender his life to Jesus Christ.  Dietrich’s father was a prominent atheist.  Dietrich’s mother was a Christian.  Dietrich felt God called him to himself at a young age.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempted to lead a life of excellence, surrendered to Christ Jesus.  During the course of his life, Adolf Hitler came to power and created Nazi Germany.  Largely this fact forced Bonhoeffer to think deeply about God, the Bible and Jesus Christ and what it all meant to be a Christian pastor at that time and in that place.  The more deeply he thought, the more bold and surrendered his claims became. This biography follows that journey for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together, The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics.

This book review originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on June 27, 2017.  You can find out more about Eric Metaxas at his website at http://ericmetaxas.com/.  His books include:

Advertisements

Book Review of THE GOD FIRST LIFE by Stovall Weems

The God First Life (Zondervan 2014), 172 pages with 8 pages of endnotes.

 

This book looks deeply at Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Stovall Weems explores the depths of this advice from Jesus by considering the concepts of first, which implies order; kingdom of God, which Weems believes is community with other believers; righteousness, which Weems interprets as the decisions we make to pursue and obey God: read the bible, help others, and live a life that honors God. And the result and all these things will be given to you implies freedom, joy and fulfillment. We find our greatest fulfillment when we partner with God and follow Jesus’ wise advice.

 

Here are four of my favorite excerpts from The God First Life.

  1. “My walk with God began solely and completely by his grace, and yet somehow I thought that everything after ‘the prayer’ was based on the sheer force of my own willpower and self-discipline. Every time I felt spiritually empty, lacking in zeal and power, I prayed to ‘get more’ of God, more of his nature, grace, love and power. The problem was that I didn’t need to ‘get more’ of God. I just needed to understand the treasure he’d already given me.  It wasn’t until nearly a decade after I was saved that I truly understood the power-of-God treasure that was within me. Paul tells us that we ‘have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.’ [2 Cor. 4:7] I was all too familiar with the earthen vessel. I knew every chip, crack, and leak in mine. I thought that the best way to ‘carry’ the power of God was to patch up that old clay pot and make it as strong and efficient as humanly possible. I wanted my vessel to be worthy of the treasure it was carrying. Even with all my good intentions, the point of Paul’s statement was totally lost on me. The jar will never be worthy to carry the treasure within it. In fact, the opposite is true—it’s the treasure that gives value to the vessel.” pp. 70-71.
  2. “John 13 tells us that Jesus left the table where the disciples were sitting. He took off his robe, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist, filled a basin with water, and then proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples. In Jesus’ day the outer robe signified a person’s position in society. Jesus wore the robe of a rabbi, signifying his role as a teacher. It was an honored position in Israel. When Jesus took off his robe, he was laying aside the symbol of his earthly rank. He was sending a message: Status does not define my disciples; servanthood does.  Next, Jesus put on the servant’s towel and washed his disciples’ feet. In doing so, he redefined greatness just like he redefined happiness. In his kingdom, we climb down the corporate ladder to success by taking on the identity of a servant above whatever other role and position we may have in life.  One of the most unexpected things about this account of the Last Supper is the statement that leads into the foot-washing moment. ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.’ [John 13:3] Jesus knew. He knew the extent of his authority: over everything. He knew where he came from and where he was going: from God and back to God.  Jesus was secure. He was not having an identity crisis at this moment. He was not pandering to his disciples for affirmation. He was doing what he had always done, teaching them how to love one another. Serving like Christ means serving from a place of strength, not of insecurity, compulsion, or the need for approval. We never have to prove ourselves when our identity is rooted in Christ. Our worth is not in question; only the condition of our heart.” p. 121.
  3. “From the time we are born, our soul (mind, will, and emotions) is programmed and shaped by our experiences. Everything we see, observe, learn, hear, and experience through our five senses is mapped out in the soul. Some of that learning is good, necessary, and intentional (like formal schooling). But a great deal of that programming is just plain toxic.  Everything from traumatic experiences (accidents, death, war, abuse), generational patterns (behaviors adopted intentionally or unintentionally from family), cultural patterns (prevailing ideas in our society)—all of these shape our conscience and program our mind and emotions in destructive ways. Sexual abuse in childhood, for example, warps the normal development of the soul. It fundamentally changes the way that a developing child will think, feel, and behave. A soldier returning from the horrors of war will have seen and experienced things that reshape the soul, and that soldier will look at the world through a new (and possibly distorted) mental and emotional lens.  When experiences like these are imprinted on an individual, the inevitable result is unhealthiness and injury to the mind, emotions, and will. See the problem? This vital part of the soul, which is responsible for making choices, is led to make those choices based on corrupted information. In most cases, this hurt soul goes on making those same unhealthy choices, establishing a pattern of sin and shame that continually repeats like a broken record. That pattern might lead to a coping pattern, such as drug or alcohol abuse, further fracturing the soul.  These tendencies toward wrong thinking, wrong behaving, and wrong choosing can run deep. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit so that those old patterns are erased and new, healthy, Spirit-led patterns are created. The Bible tells us to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ [Hebrews 12:1] The power word in that reference is “entangles.” Some translations read, “ensnares.” To ensnare means to set a trap. When we fall into the trap of sin, we are bound to its consequences and pain. Thank God that Jesus can truly set us free and make us whole again.” p. 139.
  4. “When you choose to live the God-first life, you are making the choice to restore order. Not things first, stuff first, or me first, but God first. When order is restored, blessing is released.  You will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced—God’s way. The truth is that ‘first’ is not a place you can fill; it never was and it never will be. As long as you rule your world, the weight of it will fall on your shoulders, but when you step aside and let God step into his rightful place, the weight of your world falls on his shoulders. In the end, he is the only one who is truly able to hold it in place.  Everything around us and within us tells us that the secret to happiness is a world where it’s all about me. But Jesus consistently says the opposite. True success is not a world where I am at the center but a world where God is at the center and my life is in proper order. First place belongs to God alone.  Why do so few people in the body of Christ experience true blessing and freedom? They may no longer be bound in sin, but they are trussed up by the cares of this life—the baggage of their past, the worries of the present, and anxiety about the future. They are repeating old patterns, behaviors, and habits that shaped them in their old life, not realizing (or having forgotten) that God has given them everything they need to walk away from those things.  The God-first life comes down to decisions. Adam and Eve decided not to put God first. Faced with a choice that looked tasty and attractive and would put them in the know, they bit. And we do too if we forget that we’re not in the choosing game. We’ve decided, and now we need to simply maintain, what we’ve already committed to…” pp. 154-155.

In The God First Life, Stovall Weems is giving us biblical keys to victorious living: put God first, remember that it doesn’t depend on me and my power, it depends on God’s power in me. Serve others from the strength of knowing who you are in Christ and what gifts and assignments God has given you. Reconcile yourself with your past. Forgive those who harmed you and receive forgiveness from God and others who want to be reconciled to you. And honor the choices you have made soberly. Weems believes we can accomplish these things by contemplating deeply on Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

You can find out more about Stovall Weems at www.stovallweems.com and www.celebration.org.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of The God First Life from Icon Media Group.  However, neither Icon Media Group nor any other entity paid me for my book review.  This book review of The God First Life originally appeared in jaynechaseloseke.com on April 17, 2014.

Book Review of NAZARETH NEIGHBORS by Sheila Deeth

Nazareth Neighbors by Sheila Deeth (Cape Arago Press: 2014), 181 pages.

I just finished reading an advance copy of Nazareth Neighbors by my friend and author, Sheila Deeth. I was charmed. Sheila has taken Jesus’ parables from the four gospels and retold them using the narrative of Jesus’ childhood. She imagines Jesus as a small child, a school age boy and a teenager, growing up in Nazareth in Mary and Joseph’s home. By reimagining the parable of the good shepherd, the prodigal son, the lost coin and the pearl of great worth, and many others through the lens of a child, she is able to make the underlying lessons accessible and easy to understand.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Nazareth Neighbors.

“Do you suppose that sweet little boy, Jesus, growing up in the nice normal town of Nazareth, on its hill above the vineyards of the Jezreel Valley, knew what was going to happen at the end of his story? He obeyed his parents for all those years, growing ‘in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.’ Then he obeyed God, and gave his life for us.” (p. 3)

 

This is the frame of reference from which the narrator tells these stories about young Jesus Christ. In this next excerpt Sheila Deeth examines the parable of pouring new wine into new wineskins, but again from the vantage point of a young boy growing up in his parents’ home.

 

“Mary finally found a piece of cloth that was nearly right for Joseph’s robe. Then she asked Jesus to get a bowl of water from the river for her. He hurried away down sandy streets, feeling the wind on his legs. Then he scooped up water in his bowl and ran back with cold wet trickles dibbling onto his knees.

“Mary soaked the new piece of cloth in the water, rubbing it with stones and tugging and stretching at it, until she was ready to sew it onto Joseph’s robe.

‘Why do you do that?’ Jesus asked. ‘Why are you making the cloth all messy?’

‘I have to make it match,’ said Mary.

‘But the colors don’t match,’ said Jesus, and he was right. The robe was brown, and the cloth was grayish white.

‘I know,’ said his mother. ‘But I have to make the material match. If I sew something too new or too old into the hole it will just tear away. Then we’ll have a bigger hole to mend.’

 “When Jesus grew up, he remembered Mary’s cloth, and he remembered how to mend holes. When some important church leaders asked why he’d chosen such poor, uneducated people to be his most important disciples, Jesus explained, ‘I’m teaching something new. I’m filling in the holes in what you’ve learned. But I can’t teach people who think they’ve already learned it all. That would be like sewing new cloth onto an old garment. It would tear away and everything everyone knew would fall out through the hole.’” (p. 8)

 

This sweet vignette helped me better understand the new wineskin parable. Since I’ve never seen a wineskin I always had trouble visualizing what the difference was between old and new wineskins. Sheila points out that the parable isn’t really about the wineskins, it is about the old and new covenants. This final excerpt illuminates the parable of sowing seeds. Some seeds fall in rocky soil, some fall on the path, some fall amongst the weeds, and some seeds fall in rich soil.

 

One rainy morning, Mary gave Jesus an extra thick slice of bread for his breakfast and some goat’s milk to drink. Then Joseph took Jesus by the hand and said, ‘You’re a big boy today, young man. Today’s the day you start helping me in the fields.’

‘I want to help in the workshop,’ Jesus replied, but Joseph said he’d have to be even bigger to do that.

“Jesus and Joseph set off with their donkey through the streets of Nazareth. Jesus’ friends were kicking a rather soggy ball around. But Jesus splashed proudly in puddles, thinking how nice it was to be doing something new. Soon he’d even be old enough to go to the synagogue school. And after that he’d grow up to be a carpenter, just like his cousins.

The red roof of the synagogue shone in the falling rain. Jesus dawdled, staring at the older children who’d gathered on its walls. He even began to climb the hill toward them, but Joseph pulled him back. ‘Not yet, young man. You don’t start school today.’

‘But I want to study the scriptures,’ Jesus said. ‘I want to learn about God.’

‘Today you’re going to study God’s creation,’ Joseph replied, ‘and learn about seeds.’ So Jesus shook the rain out of his eyes and followed Joseph and the donkey to the field. A heavy sack rattled on the donkey’s back, and Jesus asked what was inside. ‘My tools,’ Joseph replied.

‘Oh good,’ said Jesus. ‘Can we do some woodworking in the fields? Are we going to make a gate?’

‘No,’ said Joseph. ‘These are my tools for plowing. I’ve got my blade and handle and grain, and the donkey’s harness too.’

“When they reached the field, Joseph rested the wooden yoke on the donkey’s neck and attached the plow. The dusty ground had turned into thick soggy mud. But the mud crumbled like cake as Joseph guided the donkey and plow over it.

“Jesus rolled the earth between his fingers. ‘It feels like bread dough,’ he said, but Joseph said, ‘Don’t eat it.’

“Jesus pointed to some stones tossed up by the plow. ‘They look like raisins, Dad!’ But Joseph said don’t eat them either. Instead he asked Jesus to pick up the stones and move them out the way. Soon the field was full of churned up earth, black and shining in the rain, with rows of stones like fences at the edge. ‘What do we do now?’ Jesus asked.

‘We plant the seed,’ said Joseph. He pulled a bag out from the bottom of his sack and hung it around Jesus’ neck. The cloth was scratchy and heavy, and seeds flowed like a river in its folds.

“Joseph tucked a bigger sack under his arm. Then he showed Jesus how to scoop the seeds and scatter them on the ground, like waterfalls of grain. ‘Don’t let too much seed land on the road though,’ said Joseph, pointing to flocks of birds which swooped down hungrily to eat whatever they could. ‘And not on the rocks; there’s not enough soil there for them to grow in.’

“Jesus scattered his seeds very slowly and carefully, shouting at the birds when they got too close. ‘It’s not your seed, birds. This is to make people’s food.’ Then he tripped over some thorns, and Joseph pulled him out.

‘Don’t let too much seed land in the thorns either,’ said Joseph.

‘Don’t let me land in the thorns!’ Jesus replied, rubbing mud over his scratches and cuts, while Joseph smiled at him.

“When all the seed had been scattered, Joseph pulled one of Mary’s old long brushes out of the sack on the donkey’s back.

‘What do we do with that?’ Jesus asked.

‘We spread the earth on top of the seeds so birds can’t eat them all.’ Then Jesus swept the brush gently back and forth until all the seeds were hidden. The brush was ruined afterward, of course, but Joseph said he’d make a new one soon.

“In spring, Jesus started going to school, but he checked on Joseph’s field every day before walking up the hill. Tiny seedlings appeared from the seeds in the ground. Some plants grew tall really fast, but then they withered in the sun. Others poked their heads above thorns, then shrank away and died. But the seeds sown on well-tilled soil grew thick and strong until harvest. Joseph’s two bags of grain turned into more than a hundred bags. Then Jesus smiled, pleased at what his work, and God’s sunshine had done.

“One day, Jesus told his friends to make their lives like a farmer’s well-tilled field, so the seed of God’s word wouldn’t land on dry stones or be choked by weeds, but would grow a hundred-fold in their lives too.” (pp. 52-54)

Nazareth Neighbors is 57 chapters long. Each chapter is two to four pages long and covers one parable. Each chapter ends with a simple prayer. Reading one chapter to a child at bedtime could be a lovely bedtime story. Nazareth Neighbors is now available in an e-version at amazon.com. A hard copy version will be available from Cape Arago Press in April, 2014.

 

Other books by Sheila Deeth include:

The book review of Nazareth Neighbors originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on April 2, 2014.

Book Review of FOR WOMEN ONLY by Shaunti Feldhahn

For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn (Multnomah Books 2004), 189 pages.

This small book is a discussion of a survey of 1000 men that Shaunti Feldhahn conducted.  Her original survey of 300 men was scientifically conducted and yielded unexpected results, so she refined a few questions and polled several hundred more men.  Here is a sample of seven of the eighteen survey questions she covers in this book.

1.  Think about what these two negative experiences would be like to feel alone and unloved in the world OR to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone.  If you were forced to choose one, which would you prefer?  Would you rather feel:

  • Alone and unloved                                  74%
  • Inadequate and disrespected                    26%

2.  Regardless of how successful you are in your current job, which statement most closely describes your feelings about your work life?

  • I try to perform well and look as competent as possible, when inside I sometimes feel insecure and am concerned about other’s opinion of me and my abilities.                                       71.7%
  • I always feel secure in my abilities and rarely consider what others think of me.                                                   29.3%

3.  Men who are taking risks and progressing in their careers will inevitably face many situations that are somewhat unfamiliar and challenging.  Think back over several situations like that in your career.  Which one of these feelings were you most likely to experience?  (Choose one answer.)

  • I can handle it, no problem.                                                        26.7%
  • I’m somewhat out of my depth here, and I hope it doesn’t show.   60.7%
  • I feel a bit like an imposter;  I’m not fully qualified to do this and I hope no one finds out.                                                                               14.7%

4.  Suppose your wife/significant other earned enough to support your family’s lifestyle.  Would you still feel a compulsion to provide for your family?  (Choose one answer.)

  • Yes                                     78%
  • No                                     22%

5.  Under what circumstances do you think about your responsibility to provide for your family?  (Choose one answer.)

  • Never                                                                                       3%
  • Only when I’m unemployed or facing financial challenges.           6%
  • It’s occasionally in the back of my mind.                                    20%
  • It’s often                                                                                 21%
  • It’s something I’m conscious of most of the time.                        50%

6.  Suppose you had to plan an anniversary event for your wife/significant other.  Do you know how to put together a romantic event that you know your partner would enjoy?  (Choose one answer.)

  • Yes, I can do it with style.                                                    54%
  • Yes, but I’m not sure that I would do a very good job.              34%
  • No, she may not like what I did.                                            8%
  • No, I really don’t have a clue.                                               4%

7.  Is this statement true or false?  “I want my wife/significant other to look good and feel energetic.  It is not as important that she look just like she did the day we met.  It is more important that she make the effort to take care of herself for me now.”  (Choose one answer.)

  • True                                                                           83%
  • False                                                                          17%

Finally, Shaunti asked the men what was the most important thing they wanted their wives to know.  Thirtytwo percent of the respondents said they wished their wives knew how much they loved her.  For Women Only discusses the results of this survey.  Shaunti offers ideas and anecdotes from participants as to why the men responded as they did.  Shaunti Feldhahn conducted further surveys of women and teenagers to write the companion books For Men Only, For Parents Only, For Young Women Only, and For Young Men Only.  The survey and further information is available at http://www.forwomenonlybook.com/.

The book review of For Women Only originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on March 20, 2014.

Book Review of CHRISTMAS! By Sheila Deeth

Christmas! by Sheila Deeth is a 31 page book, written for families. Christmas!_Genesis_t_Cover_for_Kindle

Have you ever owned an Advent calendar and not been quite sure how to best enjoy it?  Ms. Deeth’s book may be the answer you are looking for.  Each page has about 100 words, which walk the reader through the books of the bible chronologically.  Page 1 tells the story of creation from Genesis.  The story of baby Jesus birth is on page 25.  A family could read one page from Christmas! each night before opening a door on their Advent calendar.  Deeth’s writing style is family-friendly.  She uses humor and dialog to illumine aspects of biblical stories which interest children.

Christmas! is available on-line at http://sheiladeeth.weebly.com/, as well as at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo and Goodreads.

http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Genesis-Revelation-100-words/dp/1478149132/  Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Genesis-Revelation-words-Bible-ebook/dp/B00AKSL35S/ Amazon kindle
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-genesis-to-revelation-in-100-words-a-day-sheila-deeth/1112663681?ean=9781478149132 Barnes and Noble
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-genesis-to-revelation-in-100-words-a-day-sheila-deeth/1112219753?ean=2940044703674 Barnes and Noble nook
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/179427 smashwords ebook
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/christmas-genesis-to-revelation-in-100-words-a-day kobo
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6277300-christmas-genesis-to-revelation-in-100-words-a-day Goodreads

The book review of Christmas! by Sheila Deeth originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on November 20, 2013.

Book Review of WHO IS THIS MAN? by John Ortberg

 (Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, MI) 2012.  202 pages of text.  17 pages of references.  Forward by Condoleeza Rice.

 

I enjoyed Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus
It is an overview of the areas of life today affected by the life of Jesus Christ.  The areas Pastor Ortberg considers are the value of children, women’s rights, slavery, education, leadership, forgiveness, health care, separation of church and state, marriage and art.  The undergirding concept is that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in a small town in Israel.  He worked for three years in the region of Galilee as an itinerant rabbi who travelled from town to town, teaching and performing miraculous healings and displaying signs and wonders.  He was revolutionary in his time.  He caused people to think about God, themselves, their religion and others in new ways.  Two thousand years later we are still trying to understand his teachings.

John Ortberg includes quite a few quotes from Aristotle, Winston Churchill, St Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, William Shakespeare, Origen, Pliney the Younger, the bible, Plato, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, G.K. Chesterton, ancient Roman laws, Dallas Willard, Tertullian, Tacitus, Plutarch, Caesar Augustus, Thomas Cahill, and many others.  I enjoyed the quotes from famous people.  The author compares quotes of famous people, which were popular concepts in their day, to Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus’ teachings are still relevant and challenging to us today.

The author also includes interesting statistics.  I had not heard before that so many girl babies were abandoned at birth, that the biblical population was affected.  Pastor Ortberg claims that during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were 1.4 million men and 1 million women alive.  Why were there 400,000 more men?  Because baby boys were preferred over girl babies at that time, too often new parents would leave girl babies outside to die of exposure.  Eventually the population ratio reflected that value of the time.

Forgiveness is another topic Pastor Ortberg discusses.  He quotes Aristotle’s “great-souled man,” among other contemporary Greek and Roman sources, to point out that forgiveness was not valued in the Greco-Roman world.  Forgiveness was seen as a sign of weakness.  People in those days valued strength, military might, power, wealth and beauty.  John the Baptist taught the ministry of repentence.  Jesus taught the ministry of reconciliation and the necessity of forgiveness.  These were radical concepts in their day.

My favorite quotes from this book are:

1)      “Aristotle’s ‘”great-souled man” is extremely proud.  He despises honors offered by the common people…He indulges in conspicuous consumption, for “he likes to own beautiful and useless things, since they are better marks of his independence.”  Incidentally, he walks, slowly, has a deep voice, and a deliberate mode of utterance.’”  (page 74)

2)      “In Bath, England, at the hot springs that formed a combination spa/Roman worship center 2000 years ago, scores of prayers have been excavated that ancients paid to have written down and offered there.  They are called “curse tablets” because by far the most common kind of prayer was a curse.  People would give the name of someone who hurt them, tell what their crime was, then specify how they wanted the gods to harm them.  ‘Docimedus has lost 2 gloves.  He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple at the place where the goddess appoints.’  No matter how much you love your gloves, this seems a tad harsh.”  (page 87)

None of the 2000 prayer tablets asked Zeus or Bacchus to bless their enemies and forgive them.  People didn’t pray for forgiveness for enemies to Zeus.

3)       “Leadership, says Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.”  (page 102)

4)        “To that world, the movement of these followers of Jesus was ‘like Churchill’s description of Russia:  ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’  Christians were actually called atheists by Romans because of their neglect of the gods.”  (page 130)

5)       “Luther in turn deeply influenced composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who would begin each work by writing “J.J.”—Jesu, Jusa, “Jesus help me” –on his manuscript.  (It is a universal prayer for all writers, but often they wait until they are desperate.  I’m praying it right now.) at the end of a piece, he would write three letters—S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)—that meant “To the glory of God” on all his music.  (page 158)

I recommend this book.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  It took me about a total of 5 hours to read. 

I would like to read more of John Ortberg’s books.  His books include:

Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

Know Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

Teaching the Heart of the Old Testament: Communicating Life-Changing Truths from Genesis to Malachi (Truth for Today: From the Old Testament)

When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box

The book review of Who Is this Man? originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 11, 2013.