Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 1

For Christmas Vickie gave me a four-volume set of Bonhoeffer, a reader’s edition newly published by Fortress Press: Discipleship, Ethics, Life Together, and Letter’s and Papers from Prison. I first read Discipleship as a teenager and it has been part of the fabric of my life ever since then (to varying degrees!). I also read Letters and Papers from Prison as a teenager, but it was a much smaller volume than the current one. When I read Life Together at Christmastime my soul was filled with joy.

Bonhoeffer begins with: “The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies…He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies.”

He then quotes Luther, “And whoever will not suffer this [being in the midst of enemies] does not want to be part of the rule of Christ.” (Page 1, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works – Reader’s Edition; Fortress Press, 2015)

Bonhoeffer begins with mission. In this sense life together (the church) is not about us, it is about others; and it is not about others that we get along with, it is about others who are hostile to us. If Jesus came to bring peace to the enemies of God, then we are called to bring peace to the enemies of God – how easy it is for me to forget this in the midst of daily life. Jesus says to us in John, “As the Father has sent me I send you.” We forget this – we live as if we think we were never God’s enemies, and if we do think that we were once God’s enemies then we live as if God has brought peace to all the enemies he desires to, we live as if once we entered the ark of salvation that God closed the door on everyone else. We live as if we think that God desires to destroy his enemies rather than save them through us.

Church life should not be considered apart from mission, for Jesus says to us, “Go into all the world.” When a church exists without mission it becomes introverted and obsessed with its own existence – the irony is that this obsession ensures its own death – whether numerically or spiritually or both. It is little wonder that such congregations cannot “go” to others, for their legs have atrophied and they can no longer walk.

We experience koinonia with Jesus Christ when we seek the peace of our enemies; yes, when we lay our lives down for them. The Gospel irony is that as we lay our lives down for others that we experience what it is to be “more than conquerors” in Jesus Christ, as we fall into the ground and die we learn what it is to be united Him in His resurrection. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wheaton College and the word Narrative

I no longer like the word “narrative”. This dislike has been building for the past few years until it has finally become unpalatable. A narrative has become akin to an imaginary friend, a fantasy, into which we now invite others to share our delusion. We now have “virtual narratives”.

Sporting games have narratives, political candidates construct narratives, corporations produce narratives, and worst of all people who are supposed to be academically and theologically astute now churn out fantastical narratives, often to the applause of their colleagues.

The faculty member who has apparently departed from the articles of faith of Wheaton College is inviting others into a “narrative” that she has constructed. If a grandchild asked me to play with him or her in a narrative fantasy the grandchild would likely know that she or he was pretending. However, if the grandchild actually came to believe that the imaginary friends were real, or that there were real Orcs or an army of aliens in the backyard – then we’d have cause for concern.

Members of the academic community (along with politicians, news media, and all too often preachers and pastors) construct narratives with impunity. They build a narrative and invite us to experience it with them. We are not invited to critique the narrative, we are not invited to measure the narrative against the facts – for the narrative purports to be its own reality. Narratives compete with one another for popularity – is it any wonder people move from one narrative to another without apparent forethought?

As the faculty member at Wheaton should know, the one narrative that matters is God’s narrative. Thankfully God has not left us to speculate on what His narrative might be for He has disclosed it to us in the Bible. We can test all narratives, and all truth claims, against God’s self-disclosure through the Scriptures and through Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

The word “narrative” is now a buzz word, a word that is used to allow adults to create worlds of fantasy and to invite other adults into the fantasy. Let me go find a child to play with – children still (I hope) can distinguish between make-believe and objective truth. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Wheaton College

First Wheaton was in the news when its students sought to counter Liberty University’s stance on guns and attitudes toward Muslims. Now it’s in the news because of a faculty member who allegedly is not adhering to mandatory articles of faith. This is the Christian life; when you seek to guide your life, whether individual or collective, according to the Gospel, you are not going to please the crowds.

As we might expect in a postmodern society which cares little for unified thinking, the few lines I’ve read in popular media regarding the controversy with the professor do not explore the fact that Wheaton College not only has a theology, but actually expects its faculty to adhere to the theology – and as with all sound theologies, it begins with God and Jesus Christ.  The nature of God is the cornerstone of all belief; the revelation of God, God’s self-disclosure, is the foundation of all belief.

Alas, when we make God in our image the image constantly changes and we have no cornerstone and no foundation; no North Star. When an institution like Wheaton actually seeks to maintain consistency and accountability many are aghast – such a position is now so countercultural.

Most colleges and universities with Christian roots no longer make any fuss over their family tree – whether originally Catholic or Protestant.  These institutions are often more friendly to those who oppose Biblical Christianity than those who call Jesus Lord. The same can be said for many seminaries. This is also sadly true of not a few denominations and local churches – one wonders why they keep it up; a case-study on institutions preserving themselves.

I hope that Wheaton College will maintain courage in the face of the media storm, I hope its responses will be calm and thoughtful, and most of all I hope that the administration, faculty, and students will remember their roots in the Gospel – that their love will “abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that [they] may approve the things that are excellent” (Philippians 1:9 – 10). 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 10

“A fool’s anger is known at once…There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:16a, 18).

“A quick-tempered man acts foolishly…He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick tempered exalts folly… A tranquil heart is life to the body…” (Proverbs 14:17a, 29, 30a).

It seems that our society is not only driven by anxiety, but also by anger. Anxiety produces anger which produces more anxiety which in turn produces increasing anger; anger and anxiety feed off each other. People think that a display of anger will get them what they want, and they are often right because the level of anxiety is such that those to whom anger is directed will cave in rather than attempt a reasoned response – it is easier to just give the angry person what he wants.

People are drawn to political leaders who are angry; the leaders become channels for collective anger. People are not looking for reasoned and thoughtful approaches to problems, they are looking for leaders who will allow them to vent their anger and anxiety – the cycle becomes exponential. Will it burn itself out?

In the midst of this ocean of anger and anxiety we have an opportunity to share the peace of Jesus Christ, we have an opportunity to be different. If we are going to talk of the Prince of Peace we need to also live in the Prince of Peace and extend His peace in the midst of anxiety. We are ambassadors of the One of whom it is written, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,” (Isaiah 9:7). Ambassadors do not represent themselves but the government which sent them; we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), therefore we ought to think carefully before we act and speak and we ought to only say and do things which are in harmony with the One who has commissioned us and sent us (John 20:21; Matthew 28:19-20).

Our words are not to be like the thrusts of a sword - stabbing and tearing and ripping and gashing the souls of men and women and children; our words are to bring healing. I have often been a fool, I desire to be a fool no longer. This is a decision, it is an act of our will to submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ and to allow Him to use us to bring healing to others.

When we submit ourselves to Jesus and wait on Him, rather than vent anger, we gain understanding. A reason “he who is slow to anger has great understanding” is that when we slow down we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us, to order our thoughts, to direct our hearts, to fashion our souls into the image of Jesus Christ. As we cultivate submission to Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit cultivates understanding within us; one of the fruits of this is a tranquil heart, which contributes to holistic health – a healthy person. A life of anger will kill us; it will kill our words, our thoughts, our relationships, and our health…it will kill our testimony of Jesus Christ. Anger will kill a church, shattering it in myriad pieces. A life of anger is a life of death, it is no life at all.

We live in the midst of a society of anger, hence a society of death. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be agents of peace and tranquility and life in the midst of the plague. We are called to bring words of healing in a culture permeated with the disease of anger.

Will we be obedient to our calling today?

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Friday, January 8, 2016

They Have Seen For You The False And Foolish

I’ve been reading Lamentations…more than reading…experiencing to some degree, perhaps visualizing is a better word. This is an intercessory book written by an intercessor, inspired by Another Intercessor. As Jeremiah bears the sin of his people, so the Root of David bears the sin of His people and the Lamb of God bears the sin of all people. The judgment is horrific, sure to offend our sensibilities…well…maybe not anymore.

I am struck by 2:14: "Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity.” (NASB). It is the mercy of God that exposes our iniquity so that we are (hopefully) driven to seek Him. Faithful prophets, pastors, teachers, brothers and sisters expose iniquity so that we will have the possibility of restoration from our captivity of sin and rebellion. Judah and Jerusalem did not appreciate faithful messengers, they were not welcome – how do we respond when our iniquity is revealed through the faithful preaching of the Word of God?

Jerusalem and Judah followed prophets who saw false and foolish visions; false and foolish teachings; false and foolish assurances of peace; false and foolish promises that everything would be fine. The result was the horrific judgment of God executed by people who showed no mercy.

While it is true, and seldom understood, that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus and that we called to an amazing liberty in Jesus Christ as we repent and follow Him; this does not mean, as Paul reminds us, that we can use our liberty as an occasion for carnal and sinful living – that is not the liberty that Christ calls us to – He calls us to the liberty of obedience to His Cross, a liberty of laying our lives down for Him and others – a liberty of surrender to Him.

As a friend reminded me, the prosperity gospel has many forms, including the idea that God is interested in providing us with personal peace and affluence, and material and economic security. Perhaps the sin of the popular prosperity gospel preachers is that they flaunt in public what the rest of us only think about in our hearts; they don’t have the good sense not to be ostentatious, no one taught them to be religiously proper. They seem to be enjoying themselves. Many of us seem to be enjoying ourselves. The people of Judah and Jerusalem were enjoying themselves to the point that they could not conceive that God would hold them accountable for their sin – their prophets saw false and foolish visions for them.

Lamentations is a Biblical book the church would do well to include in its intercessory prayer for the world; will we bear the sin of the world in intercession?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Note to a Friend

Good morning dear Friend,

As I was praying for you and your family this morning I had a sense to share this with you:

"My Dear Lord, I can but tell thee that thou knowest I long for nothing but theyself, nothing but holiness, nothing but union with thy will. Thou hast given me these desires, and thou alone canst give me the thing desired. My soul longs for communion with three...Wrap my life in divine love, and keep me ever desiring thee, always humble and resigned to thy will, more fixed on thyself, that I may be more fitted for doing and suffering." Taken from The Valley of Vision, pages 230 and 231; a collection of prayers.

Then Paul's words in Colossians: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions...We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ."

A prayer of mine over the past few years has been based on something I've often heard you say, "I want to love Jesus more today than I did yesterday." I pray that for myself, I pray that when I pray with Vickie, and I pray that when I pray for and with others. 

As I pondered the season of life you're in, I sensed that you are experiencing the inexplicable and mysterious dynamic of Colossians 1:24 - not that this hasn't been with you for years, but rather that you've gone from black and white to color (the Wizard of Oz). Sometimes you have three friends to bear the burden of the fifth friend with you up to the roof and down through the roof...and sometimes it seems as if you are bearing the litter yourself. 

The intercessory life, living as incarnational intercessors in koinonia with Jesus, is the Way of the Cross... “so then death works in us but life in you” (2 Corinthians). 

Be encouraged my dear brother...

Much much love,


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Here We Go - So Sad

Yesterday, New Year's Day, I received an email (sent to a Bible study group) from a professing Christian criticizing President and Mrs. Clinton. I thought that at least the person would have the courtesy to wait until January 2, but no, I guess that would be asking too much. Below is my response:

Dear Brothers -

I have to assume that one someone sends me an email that he or she expects me to read it. So I have read this, and I am once again challenged with my own sin, and with the fact that we all fall short of the glory of God. I am also challenged as to whether or not I faithfully pray for leadership in government - whether I agree with them or not. 

Paul writes to Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”

Paul writes to Timothy: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness opposing those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. Having been held captive by him to do his will.”

I have come to anticipate that every election year will be a challenging year for professing Christians, especially years with national elections; I anticipate this because these seem to be years when professing Christians forget the fact that God is sovereign and that the Bible teaches us that God is in control of the affairs of men (check out Daniel Chapters 1 – 5 for a refresher course).

Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, (Philippians 3:20).

The Great Commission Christ gave us is to bring others to Him, not to convince others concerning a political or economic agenda. The Great Commandment He gave us is to love Him with all that we are and to love others as ourselves. Anything that pulls us away from our central mission is a distraction – when the world hears a keynote other than Jesus from the professing church there is a problem.

I don’t know anyone who can be as sarcastic as I can be; my capacity for sarcasm exceeds anyone I’ve ever met or heard or read – and that scares me when I read the Bible – I am convicted of my sin and I realize that when I engage in vitriol and cutting sarcasm that I am not drinking of the cup of my Lord Jesus, but rather from the cup of the enemy.

Comments such as (in the email sent to us): “Electing Hillary Clinton president would be like granting Satan absolution and giving him the keys to heaven!” are simply not helpful and obscure meaningful discussion about issues. Plus, I am not aware that this statement has a Biblical basis.

While I certainly don’t endorse much of Mr. Clinton’s behavior when he was president, I also know that the professing-church is promiscuous in that we have many lovers other than our Lord Jesus. And while I don’t endorse people in political power leveraging that power for financial gain, I know that I have not shared my own resources the way I should have over the course of my life – and I know that we as a professing church have not done so either (2 Corinthians Chapters 8 – 9 for a refresher course). I also know that we can likely find unethical behavior in all political administrations.

Then there is this from the email: “Please pass this on. Our way of life may depend on it!” This lacks such detail that I’m not certain what “way of life” the author is writing about. My Way of Life is Jesus Christ, and I hope He is your way of life – thank God our Way of Life in Jesus Christ cannot be affected by politics – unless it challenges us to be more like Jesus.

While in legal terms “liable” and “slander” occur when something untrue is written or said, this is not the case in Biblical thinking. In Biblical thinking the devil is a slanderer not because what he says about us is untrue in terms of our sins, but because what he says about us is untrue in the light of Jesus Christ dying for our sins. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are no different than we are: Jesus Christ loves them just as much, and if we know ourselves outside of Jesus Christ then we all know that they don’t have anything on us in terms of sins – would we want our lives put up on a projector?

If we insist on talking about people rather than ideas, then let’s talk about Jesus.

Jesus is not only the Reason for the Season, He is the Reason for Life – including life in an election year.

Much love,