Monthly Archives: October 2013

When Sinners Act Like Sinners

We have such great expectations for church, but people get hurt so often! What’s wrong with the Church?

Brother Lawrence, a layman who cooked for the Carmelite monastery in Paris during the late 17th century, wrote one of the great mystical books of Christendom called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” In it, he observes that he is never surprised when a sinner acts like a sinner.

He was talking about people who did not believe the Christ, and who were still completely in their sins. But the truth is, even those of us who do believe in Christ still manifest our wicked nature sometimes. When we’re together in churches, we’re in a room full of other people who, like us, manifest their wicked natures sometimes. Some of them don’t even recognize their actions as wicked.

The secret to surviving hurt in the church is simply to remember that every one of us is a sinner in recovery. It is no surprise that in a church full of recovering sinners, sometimes we get hurt, and sometimes we hurt others despite our best efforts not to. That’s actually to be expected.

What’s great about the church is that God is there to help us pick up the pieces, resolve the hurt, and do better next time. In fact, He’s still there even if we flub the recovery. We might get offended and run off to another church. That’s silly, because we’re carrying at least part of the problem with us when we go. But God’s there at the new place, and He does not abandon the project of reforming our character just because we stupidly ran off.

The remarkable thing is that sometimes, we or our church-mates do genuinely good things by the Holy Spirit. When that happens, the world becomes a vastly better place for somebody. That makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

Do not expect the Church to be sin-free. You’re in it, and so am I, so we know it cannot be sin-free. But let’s devote ourselves to creating more instances where the Holy Spirit has directed our actions and produced life.

Books That Every Christian Ought to Read

I was asked elsewhere to recommend books for young Christians wanting to round out their Christian education. I made a list, and am reproducing it here. It’s heavy on Christian experience and light on systematic theology, but that’s me. If you want recommendations for learning systematic theology, you’ll have to ask guys who take systematic theology more seriously than I do.

Books that every Christian ought to read at some point, in no particular order:

  • Mere Christianity, CS Lewis
  • Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton
  • The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
  • Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby
  • Knowing God, JI Packer
  • The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges
  • The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer
  • Eternity In Their Hearts, Don Richardson
  • The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer
  • The Pilgrims Progress, John Bunyan
  • The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • The Great Divorce, CS Lewis
  • Confessions, St. Augustine
  • The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
  • My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
  • With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray
  • The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

I have read pieces of all of these, though there are some I have not finished.

A few notes:

You can actually read most any of Francis Schaeffer’s books and get more or less the same education. Elsewhere I recommended “The Church at the End of the 20th Century,” which is a less well-known title of Schaeffer’s, and “How Should We Then Live,” which is actually a book full of plates to accompany a film strip and lecture. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. “How Should We Then Live” has the added benefit of being a birds-eye survey of the history of Western culture.

“The Practice of the Presence of God,” by Brother Lawrence, is written in 16th century French. It matters very much which translation you buy. Pick up the copy you’re looking at and read several pages. If it sounds simple and a little repetitive, you’ve got a good one. If it sounds thick and complicated, put it down and find a better translation. The one I use is from Whitaker House; it’s an abridgement, but the English is clear and simple.

Some people say “Peace Child” instead of “Eternity In Their Hearts” for Don Richardson. There is nothing wrong with “Peace Child,” but I don’t agree; “Eternity” says things about missions that people need to know. Also, some people add “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” by Elizabeth Elliot. I won’t argue with that. You can get “Splendor” as a documentary film. You can also get the dramatized film “The End of the Spear,” which is outstanding and tells the same story. “Peace Child” is also available as a dramatized film. It’s all good.

A lot of people recommend “The City of God” by Augustine, instead of “Confessions.” “Confessions” is personal, “The City of God” is theological. “City” is also huge, which is why I haven’t read it, but it is reflected everywhere in Christian theology.

A number of these can be found for free download on the Internet, as they are in the public domain. Familiarize yourself with CCEL, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. It’s a gold mine.