Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 9

“Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the common life, is not the one who sins still a person with whom I too stand under the word of Christ? Will not another Christian’s sin be an occasion for me ever anew to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 11.

The above should be printed in every church bulletin, stenciled on every church wall, pasted in the front of every hymnal, projected on every video screen, and recited along with the great creeds. We are to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32) and love one another just as Jesus Christ loves us (John 13:34 – 35; Ephesians 5:2). We are to seek the restoration of our brother or sister in a “spirit of gentleness” and to bear one another’s burdens and “thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).

All too often divisiveness in the church is not initially the result of sin, whether in practice or in teaching, but rather the result of a clash of preferences which nurtures selfishness which in turn produces sins of pride and arrogance and conceit – rather than being “subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), we seek to subject others to ourselves. If we feared Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, we would know that He is the only one to whom we collectively are called to subject ourselves…and in subjecting ourselves to Him we subject ourselves to others.  

Bonhoeffer calls great disillusionment with others “incomparably wholesome”. This is not only true of the individual, it is also true of the church. If we do not see redemptive relationships modeled in the church how can we expect to see redemptive relationships in marriages, in families, or in friendships?

Sadly, oh so sadly, there is little understanding of the Biblical church within the church, including within vocational ministry. To many professing Christians the functional truth is that the church is no different than any other voluntary association of people. Others associate a particular form of polity with the church. Still others may associate church with a certain set of core beliefs or traditions – the emphasis being on assent to those traditions and beliefs as opposed to living those beliefs. The idea of church being life together is seldom found within professing Christendom, and yet if Christ is our life then our life is not isolated to ourselves as individuals, or as husbands and wives, or as families – our life is the shared life of the entire body of Christ. As Paul writes, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread,” (1 Cor. 10:17). We are called to be “perfected into one” (John 17:23) so that we may, as His body, share the life of the Trinity.

“For even as the body is one and has many members…so also is Christ,” (1 Cor. 12:12). This is a reality, not an ideal. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it,” (1 Cor. 12:27). This is a reality, not an ideal. If I have an injured or diseased member of my physical body I seek to heal it lest my entire body be affected – my first reaction is not amputation or removal. I want to restore my physical member to a healthy relationship with my entire body…that is my first instinct.

Again, so often division in the church is over hurt feelings, misunderstandings, not getting our way – it is seldom over substantive Biblical issues at the congregational level. If we are the body of Christ it should be no surprise to us if different members have different preferences, nor should it be a surprise if members gravitate toward different emphases in teaching and doctrine – all the more reason to keep Jesus Christ and His Cross central to our life together.

The church does not so much need coaching on how to resolve conflict, it needs a Biblical understanding of what it is in Jesus Christ. There is a fundamental failure of understanding and teaching in the professing church as to what the church is in Jesus Christ. Life Together means for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Life Together means through misunderstanding, through sin and a process of hopeful reconciliation, through hurt feelings, through flare-ups of anger, and in working through our selfishness and fears.

We will continue to reflect on this Bonhoeffer quote in the next post in this series. There is much in it to ponder.     

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 8

“Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves…They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way they call a failure.” [Italics mine]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 10 - 11.

This is hard to read, harder to live. As I wrote in the previous post, this is not a “one and done” proposition; this is a working out of our salvation together, trusting that it is God who works in us to will and do His good pleasure. When I see this in others it is only because I see it in myself; I look back on my life and with pain see it in my attitudes and actions. And yet, and yet, it is an exercise in discernment and in mutual submission; and it is a challenge to negotiate the inherent tension in Bonhoeffer’s observation. While I find this section of Life Together beautifully challenging and deeply convicting, Bonhoeffer does not appear to address the ongoing challenge that most of have in this area – how do we live with the tension of the ideal versus the reality? How do we distinguish between the two? How do we maintain unity in koinonia as a diverse body?

I would love to know whether Bonhoeffer was self-critical in this area, for there are times in his writings when he distinguishes between his own thinking and that of other professing Christians. Such writing is natural and warranted in our quest to “rightly divide the word of truth”; perhaps our challenge is to rightly divide the word of truth without dividing the body of Christ. When we speak or write to distinguish practices and doctrines within the body of Christ do we write or speak with a sensitivity toward preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond peace?

Unfortunately, we often divide the body of Christ when attempting to rightly divide the word of truth; we are like children playing with adult swords – we hurt people and we are often too dumb to know the pain we’ve caused – we ignore the pain because we think we’re right. After all, the other person wouldn’t be in pain if he’d just realize he is wrong and I’m right.    

Bonhoeffer’s warning about forcing ideals on our life together as opposed to living in the reality of Jesus Christ in His people is strident and relentless, he writes (page 10), “God hates this wishful dreaming…” Unless we’ve experienced the shattering of a congregation we may wonder why Bonhoeffer devotes such time and energy to the subject, but if we have walked among the ruins of a people then perhaps we can appreciate why he identifies this ever-present danger in the body of Christ. Beyond the local church, we need only to look at the attitudes of denominations and traditions toward each other to know that the tyranny of idealization is global as well as local.

Paul asks the Corinthians, “Has Christ been divided?” “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you…and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.” The Corinthians were acting like they didn’t have what they had. They had everything in Jesus, the reality was Jesus; but they were acting like they didn’t have everything in Jesus and they therefore gravitated around the “ideals” represented in Paul or Apollos or Cephas and in doing so they were carving up the body of Christ. To the adherents of Paul the rest were failures, to the adherents of Apollos the rest were failures, to the adherents of Cephas the rest were failures. Aren’t we glad this attitude was confined to the First Century?

How I wish that Bonhoeffer’s Life Together was required reading in seminary. This dynamic of substituting our ideals for the reality of who Christ is in us and who we are in Christ (which is reality) is always a danger in koinonia – and to know the danger, to talk about it, to work through it, to acknowledge its threat, to know that we all carry the virus – can help protect our life together in Jesus Christ and strengthen our witness to the world. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 7

“Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment [with others] with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it…Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 10.

I’ve been guilty of this more than once, and I’ve seen people do it more than once. There are three possible results from having an ideal of Christian community shattered or not realized: 1.The community is destroyed; 2.The community becomes one where conformity is valued above Biblical truth; 3.The community learns from the experience, works through it as a community of brothers and sisters, and grows in Jesus Christ.

While Bonhoeffer does not address this (at least as I recall), the issue of “great disillusionment” is not something that is “one and done”; that is, it isn’t something that a community will likely experience just once, work through it, and then not experience it again. Certainly there can be watershed experiences of “great disillusionment” that tower above lesser disillusionments, but since the community is on pilgrimage and since the community is organic with members coming and going and growing and learning and experimenting; it is natural that idealizations in various forms will present themselves from time to time. A healthy community is like a healthy body, it can tolerate germs that a sick body would succumb to; idealizations brought into a healthy community will often dissipate as a natural course as sisters and brothers prefer one above another and as Jesus Christ remains the head of the body.

There is also a process of discernment in distinguishing an idealization from the fact of community. In other words, it is not always readily apparent what we are dealing with – something may be a legitimate Biblical insight that the community needs to hear; the problem often comes when one insight becomes a substitute for genuine community which Jesus Christ has established and which can be found only in Him.

There are three safeguards (I’m sure there are more) which can guard us against exalting our ideals of community above the community that Christ has established.

The first is that Jesus Christ must always be central, the head of the body from whom we all receive light and life to share with one another; He must always be our message. When anything takes the place of Jesus there are problems.

The second is that we recognize the present unity of the community which Jesus has established. Paul (Ephesians 4:3) writes that we are to “preserve” or “guard” the unity of the Spirit. The unity of the Spirit is the reality, that we are being built together in Christ as a holy temple is a reality – our call is not to attain that reality but to recognize (and as a result live) that reality. This is a reality in Christ that we are to submit to, rather than force others to submit to our ideal of what community should be.

The third is to prefer others above ourselves and to submit ourselves to one another – Christian community is community of mutual appreciation, encouragement, and submission. If we practice mutual submission then we are less likely to attempt to seek to encapsulate others within an ideal and we are more likely to discern any attempt to do so.

Engaged Christians want to grow and they want others to grow. Disciples want to learn and they want to share what they’ve learned. Recognizing that we all have a propensity to want things to be a certain way, and recognizing that we must submit what we “see” and what we want to the Lord of the community and not attempt to force others into the mold of our idealization, will help us preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The disillusionment that Bonhoeffer is writing about is a fact of life together; better to recognize it, anticipate it, and work through it…than allow it to destroy community. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 13

“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out,” Proverbs 17:14.

“He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent,” Proverbs 17:27 – 28.

Luther translated “like letting out water” with “one who tears away the dam from the waters.” The idea of “letting out” is to “let go free”. I think whenever there is disagreement that we must be aware of the turns that disagreement can take. We will have disagreements in this life, with those close to us and with those not so close; disagreements often should not be avoided because they can concern things that matter, they can concern telling the truth about what we think or feel in a close relationship, they may revolve around matters of eternal life and death; we are to speak the truth in love.

When disagreeing it is good to be aware of the potential force of the water constrained by the dam and what will happen if the dam is breached; water from a breached dam can carry all before it – and then what was the point of the quarrel other than the annihilation of a relationship or of ensuring that nothing fruitful will come from the issue around which the quarrel revolved? People who live by a river or a dam are aware of the damage water can do – when they see it rising the wise among them take precautions. We should learn to gage the waters of peace and anger in our souls and when we sense the waters of anger rising we should not build a wall of sand bags to protect us from its rising, but rather submit our hearts to the peace of Jesus Christ so that the waters of anger will dissipate at His command.

“He who restrains his words has knowledge…” I think there is a reciprocal relationship in this verse so that we could also write, “He who has knowledge restrains his words,” or “He who restrains his words will learn knowledge.” If we will just shut-up and listen and observe we will learn. Often when we do shut-up it is only to wait our turn to say what we’ve already decided to say or to do decide what we’ve already determined to decide – it is not to listen and observe and learn. Consequently we may miss what the other person is thinking and feeling, and why he is feeling and thinking that way; we may miss the other person’s perspective and the other person’s goals and the other person’s fears. We may also miss important information, and we may miss insights into how to improve the relationship or situation. We can learn a lot by listening and we can save ourselves heartache and embarrassment by listening, as well as learn to be a blessing to others. A person who listens and observes will be a lifelong learner.

“…he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In normal life fire melts ice, but in the life of the spirit and soul a person at peace, a person with a cool spirit, can be in the midst of a heated argument or problem, surrounded by those whose anger and souls are red hot, and yet remain cool and at peace as he abides in our Lord Jesus. Flames of anger may be engulfing everyone else, but the man or woman who lives in Jesus and who is learning the Way of Peace will maintain a cool spirit, in part because he or she understands what is happening and understands the danger of moving from cool to hot, and further understands the necessity of living life in and through the Prince of Peace.

When the fire cannot melt the ice the fire does not know what to think. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 6

“First, Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality; second, Christian community is a spiritual and not an emotional reality.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 9.

We can recognize the “divine reality” and live our lives based on that reality, or we can ignore the divine reality and construct an ideal for us to strive toward. We can displace what Christ says is reality with what we say is reality, and if we do then we have made Christian community (along with much else) an ideal that denies the reality of Christ.

An ideal is something we strive for, and in striving we confess that we are not there. When an ideal becomes the test of community, of relationship, then it is but a matter of time and circumstance until a clash of ideals or a clash of methods used to attain an ideal results in the disintegration of community. An ideal may be so strong that it tyrannizes a community; a quest for conformity oppresses the community’s members, stifling growth, expression, and organic life. 

We all have images of what Christian community should be like, but we must submit our images of community to the divine reality, and this divine reality means that we look at the spiritual and not the emotional or therapeutic. We cannot trust the emotional, we can only trust Christ.

As an example, if we look at Ephesians we see that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3), we see that we have been redeemed (1:7), we see that His body is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (1:23), there is no more Jew and Gentile (2:14), we are a holy temple (2:22). These are facets of the divine reality. We see divine reality throughout the Scriptures in Christ; the question is whether we recognize and live in this reality or whether we discount what the Bible teaches because we focus on what the natural eye sees and what the natural person emotionally feels. The “walking out” of our calling that begins in Ephesians Chapter Four is based on the divine reality set forth in chapters 1 – 3.

Often our response to the divine reality is “yes but”. That is, what Christ has done and who Christ Jesus is can be well and good and we may believe it on some level, but we also believe that it is impractical to live on the basis of the reality of Jesus Christ alone, and we make His reality our ideal. In making God’s reality our ideal we provide ourselves with an excuse for not living His reality, and we also set the parameters for Christian community – we justify our own community, and we may acknowledge other Christian communities – but to live as if there is only one community in Christ is not a reality we choose to recognize – it is nice as an ideal, but impractical.

As an example, the divine reality, if we are to believe the New Testament, is that we are saints. Our “ideal” is that one day in the sweet bye and bye that we will be saints – hence our ideal conflicts with the divine reality. If I accept the divine reality and see my brother as a saint (as opposed to a sinner) then I will encourage him to live out of this divine reality in Christ Jesus, a reality set forth in Ephesians Chapter Two. Our identity in Christ, according to the New Testament, is that of a saint – as I live in that reality the reality of the work of Christ in manifested in my life; as we as a community live in that reality then the reality is manifested in us as His people, His community, His body.

In the next post or two we’ll look at our frailty in community, disappointment in community, and disillusionment in community; hopefully we’ll see that these are opportunities for koinonia and also see that in the midst of disillusionment that we need to remind ourselves that “First, Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality; second, Christian community is a spiritual and not an emotional reality.”

[Note to the reader: I don’t know whether Bonhoeffer would entirely agree with what I’m writing or not and it is not my intent to interpret his thinking in everything I write. The reader who wishes to thoroughly explore Bonhoeffer should actually read Bonhoeffer – always good advice when desiring to understand or know a person. My intent is to interact with what Bonhoeffer has written. I do think Bonhoeffer would say that most everything he wrote was a work in progress – one can only speculate what might have been had he lived longer. I highly recommend the Fortress Press Reader’s Edition of Bonhoeffer’s Works, the four volumes can be purchased as a set at an attractive price.]

Monday, February 15, 2016

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 12

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city,” (Proverbs 16:32).

Anger is often an attempt to control a situation; this in turn means that it is often an attempt to control people. It is not others whom we should be concerned with controlling, but rather ourselves. Our eyes deceive us if we think that the mightier person gets his own way, just as they deceive if we think that the general who captures a city is mightier than the person of reflection and peace.

What is that which is carried into eternity? A conquered city or a quiet spirit? What do I want to be embedded in my character as I cross that last river of life on this planet – a root of anger or a soul at rest? Which is it that draws from the nature of our Lord Jesus? Anger which seeks its own way and strives to dominate others; or the wisdom above which expresses itself in peace toward all mankind?

Behold the mighty conqueror who has subjugated cities and nations; we hail great generals and shower parades and accolades upon them.  Mighty they may be, but not so mighty as that woman or man or child who has learned the way of peace in the spirit and soul. The conqueror or general can possess land and money and power but for a season; but the spirit abiding in the Prince of Peace is possessed by Him, and possesses Him, for eternity.

Show me not a map of the great conquests of history, show me the map of a soul and spirit conquered by the peace of Christ, show me a man who has not conquered others but rather who has been conquered by Christ, and then we will see a man who under the lordship of Christ is slow to anger.

If we cannot rule that which is within us, how can we influence, let alone rule, let alone lead, that which is without us? 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 5

“We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we really do have one another.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 9.

Bonhoeffer believes that the foundation of our community, of our life together, is “what Christ has done to both of us.” If that is true, then it isn’t found in shared interests, in a common ethnicity, in education, in politics, or even our growth in Christ or doctrinal emphasis and understanding. Koinonia is found in Jesus Christ – period.

Bonhoeffer views life together as eternal, he sees community reaching into “all the future and into all eternity…We have one another completely and for all eternity.” Do we see this eternal view in the professing church? Do we view one another as eternal companions in Jesus Christ?

Bonhoeffer observes that if Christ is the foundation of our life together, if our life together is forever and always to be in Him, then when we want something more than what Jesus Christ has given us that we have a problem – we have an internal threat to life together. People look for what Bonhoeffer calls “extraordinary experiences” in the church that they did not experience outside the church. People confuse true community, community with real men and real women and real children with an image they have of what Christian community should be, and when they don’t get what they want, when they can’t convince others to be the way they think they should be – then there is discontent and poison in the community. This is one reason why it is critical to be focused on Jesus Christ, to see one another in Christ, to encourage one another in Christ, and to encounter one another as Christ encounters us.

Just as Jesus should be (and is) enough for my salvation, so Jesus should be enough (and He is) for our life together. We can find definition and description of what life together should look like in the Scriptures, both descriptive and prescriptive – but they are to be read and interpreted within our community in Jesus Christ, with Jesus always being the focal point, always our object of worship, always our Lord. We are to encounter others as Christ encounters us.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

If You Can't Kill The Interpretation - Then Kill The Text

If the fifth column within the professing church can’t kill the divinity of Jesus Christ by twisting the Biblical text to its advantage; then it can seek to undermine the authenticity of the text so that there is no text to interpret.

This reminds me of Chesterton’s observation on Darwinism, “It didn’t kill God, it killed man.” Those in the professing church who focus on the destruction of belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ do not put Him to death yet again (He is risen forevermore); they drive nails into their own souls. While it is a sad thing see a man drink himself to death on the hemlock of the rejection of the God and Savior who loves him and died for him; it is a sadder thing to see a person offer the hemlock to others. 

There really are seminaries that are cemeteries.

Monday, February 8, 2016

I Do Not Understand – Musings On A Friend

Shortly after moving to the Richmond, VA area in 1989 we met two couples who lived north of the city. Their friendship has been precious to us over the years. The two husbands have met much to me, men to whom I could reveal my soul.  

When I first met them, my two new friends (the husbands) had been friends, it seemed, before time began. They had a friendship that I, at times, envied; at all times I respected it – their friendship, and that of their families, was a wonderful model of love and friendship. Over the years these two couples have been a constant source of love and encouragement for Vickie and me. Whether in good times or bad, whether in celebration or in stress, our friends have always been there for me, for us…always, always, always.

The friend who I am thinking of this morning, and praying for, is one of those men who has a presence; when he walks into a room you know he is there, when he writes his thoughts they are powerfully communicated, when he speaks he draws your attention the way a magnet draws iron shavings. He is soft spoken, he is kind, he is generous. I envisioned us always being together, if not in physical presence, then in communion with our Lord Jesus.

But now I look and I don’t see him and I don’t understand why. He once shared his testimony about coming to know Jesus Christ, he once read the Scriptures to discover Christ…wherever he might be reading…whether the Law and Prophets or the Gospels and Epistles. But now I look and I don’t see him and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why he now says the Gospels and Epistles are man’s fantasies; I don’t understand why Jesus is but another man to him…to him my friend. And I don’t understand why he, my friend, now strives to turn others from knowing Jesus, the Son of God.

I am convinced of two things which my friend disputes; that Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God and that the New Testament is a reliable document in terms of textual transmission. My bookshelves are lined with English translations of ancient Christian writing that span many authors and centuries; the writings contain quotation after quotation, and allusion after allusion, to the New Testament as well as the Law and the Prophets – it would be a grand conspiracy indeed if this mass of documents (along with other documents that are not on my bookshelves but are from the same period) were found to be the result of forgery, fabrication, and lies. Whether one believes the assertions and witness of these documents, the textual integrity of the Scriptures is open for all to see. It is arrogant for people who live two-thousand years after the fact to dismiss that for which countless men and women have given their lives for down through the centuries. Dispute the witness if you will, but to dispute the textual transmission is something that requires a suspension of historical tests that are otherwise applied to other ancient and historical documents and witnesses. Why would men and women disseminate this poison? My friend was poisoned by others, now he passes the poison on.

Then there is Jesus; Jesus is Biblical Christianity and Biblical Christianity is Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God. My friend would likely now say that since he does not view the New Testament as Scripture that my idea of Biblical Christianity is not important to him. My response is that I know Jesus Christ and I know others who know Jesus Christ. For the past 2,000 years there is a record of countless men and women and children who have known Jesus Christ. They have not just known about Him, they have known Him. These people have come from countless backgrounds – social, economic, educational, ethnic, political – and they have had personal and collective relationships with Jesus Christ. It is not likely that they have all had the same delusion or illusion; in fact, many people I have known have shared the same experience of Jesus without preconceived notions of what that experience should be.

The historical record indicates that countless people in history have not only believed the Biblical witness – but they have experienced the Biblical witness – they have known Jesus Christ in much the same way we know our spouses and family members – in personal relationships. Many of these people have been functionally illiterate or have otherwise had limited knowledge of the Bible – and yet there is a commonality of experience of Jesus Christ – a commonality we would expect when talking about actually knowing a person…rather than simply knowing about a person. The Biblical witness guides and authenticates our experience, and our experience authenticates the Biblical witness – in other words, the Biblical witness corresponds to the reality we see around us and the reality we experience within us and with others.

My friend would point to caricatures of Jesus as seen in Christians and in organized religion – I cannot argue that the professing church has often desecrated the image of Jesus and the Gospel, I cannot argue that the professing church can often be on artificial life support as it seeks to sustain itself rather than trust Jesus Christ to sustain it. I cannot argue that professing Christians often act as though they know nothing of Jesus Christ – the Biblical Jesus Christ. But my friend pays too much attention to the ugly and not the beautiful, he focuses on the counterfeit and not the real…and in so doing he employs one counterfeit to counter another counterfeit.

I love Jesus Christ. I have known Him for around 51 years now. He is my life. He is not an idea, He is not a belief, He is not an icon, He is not a painting, He is not a figment of my imagination. He is my Lord and my God and I owe Him my life. His love and presence surrounds Vickie and me as we walk though this life together. We do walk with Him, and we do talk with Him; as individuals and as a husband and wife. We experience Him with others, and we long to see Him face to face.

Our society may teach that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance, and we may be encouraged to live as if there is no eternity. Others may entice us with promises of a higher way of thinking or learning and promise us a hidden spiritual wisdom and experience not available to others. Toxic teachers and false prophets under the guise of scholarship may spin webs of deceit with systems of thinking that in any other discipline of study would likely be rejected due to lack of objectivity, and in doing so they may lure others into a spiritual opium den. All of these groups and individuals may do what they may to make us “men without chests” (from C.S. Lewis) and desecrate the one message of hope in the world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – but we have the promise of Jesus Christ that He will never leave us or forsake us and that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, the true Church, that transcends time and space and natural origin.

Life is about Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone there is life. This is not an esoteric or academic or sociological game.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 4

“When God had mercy on us, when God revealed Jesus Christ to us as our brother, when God won our hearts by God’s own love, our instruction in Christian love began at the same time. When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with one another. When we received forgiveness instead of judgment, we too were made ready to forgive each other. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meager our love for one another, the less we were living by God’s mercy and love. Thus God taught us to encounter one another as God has encountered us in Christ. “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” ” (Romans 15:7). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 8.

This idea that we are to “encounter one another as God has encountered us in Christ” is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus says that we are to love one another “as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us…” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2). John writes, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

We are not only to encounter believers as God encounters us as His sons and daughters, but we are to encounter the world – both believers and unbelievers – as God encounters the world. Jesus says:

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous….Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44, 45, 48).

We are not only to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, we are to love others as God loves them, we are to bless others as God blesses them, we are to care for others as God cares for them, both within and without the community of believers. The one area in which we are not to do as God does is the area of vengeance and final judgement; in the temporal world this is reserved for the state, in the eternal sphere this is reserved for God. While there is a time and place in which we shall judge angels and nations (1 Corinthians 6:3; Revelation 2:26-27), we are incapable of this in our current condition and God graciously protects us from this burden and potential toxin to our souls.

In the community of believers, in life together, we are to be to others as Christ is to us. In the world we are to be to others as God is to the world. How is God to the world? God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

Life Together is life distinct from the world; it is life out of death, righteousness out of sin, holiness out of profanity. The koinonia of the ekklesia is a called-out people sharing the communion of the Trinity, and as the life of the Trinity permeates the people who are now bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, we encounter one another as God encounters us in Christ. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Note to a Friend

Good morning dear friend,

Remember our Sabbath - we can rest in Him...truly rest...and...

Remember to play!!!! I think play may be a testimony to our rest in Jesus - in a utilitarian world we can play. While the play of the world is for diversion, so that it need not think upon eternal matters, the play of the follower of Jesus is that we might bathe ourselves and our loved ones in His joy - rejoicing in Him as our Sabbath.

Much love!!!


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 3

“When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people. God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings.” (Page 6, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works – Reader’s Edition; Fortress Press, 2015)

Mission, Jesus Christ, the Word of Jesus Christ – this is how Bonhoeffer begins Life Together. Can there be true life together without mission, Jesus Christ, and the Word of Jesus Christ? There cannot be Trinitarian life together, there cannot be Biblical life together, there cannot be transcendent life together.

If Bonhoeffer is right in saying, “When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people,” then what does that indicate about the health of churches in which direct encounter with the Scriptures is limited (knowledge of the Bible is filtered through others), in which people seldom carry Bibles (yes, I understand carrying a Bible can mean little in and of itself), and in which men and women do not naturally, as a way of life, speak to one another about the Bible?

Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God.”

When gardeners gather they speak to one another of what they are growing; they share and solicit insights. When Christians gather ought we not to be excited about what we and others are seeing of Jesus in the Scriptures? Instead we often talk about everything and anything other than Jesus and the Bible. Gardeners are more excited about gardening than Christians are about the Word of Christ.

We all need to work the soil of the Bible and to share the produce of the land with one another. We need to speak the Word of Christ when we meet one another, when we gather together; and we ought to seek the joy of sharing the Word with those who have never heard it. Life together is life animated by the Word of Christ, and speaking the Word of God to each other ought to be just as natural as when gardeners talk gardening, when baseball fans talk baseball, and when art aficionados talk of art.

When the Christ of the Word is our life, then our life is lived in the Word of Christ. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 2

Bonhoeffer writes, “First, Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone.” (Page 5, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works – Reader’s Edition; Fortress Press, 2015)

This seems a given, but it was not a given in Bonhoeffer’s time and it is not a given in ours. In fact, church history tells us that it has never been a given. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to address this, and many other New Testament letters call its readers back to justification and sanctification in Jesus Christ alone.

When Bonhoeffer writes “in themselves” we could just as well write, “in anything other than in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone.”

Christians do not talk about Jesus because we are convinced that we need something or someone more than Jesus. We are convinced that we need to add to Jesus and the work of Jesus. We believe that while Jesus has started us on the road that we are on that we now need something else, something more, something in addition to Jesus if we are to continue life’s journey.

How many times have we been in a fellowship, experiencing life together, when a brother or sister arrives to proclaim, “Look what I’ve brought! Look what they are doing over there, look at what those people are experiencing! Look at how we can improve our spiritual lives by joining this movement. Come and listen to this deep insight.”

Might we ourselves have done this in the past? Might we be doing it now? Of course if we did it we’d be well-meaning, and if we did it it would certainly be because God was leading us to do it…but are we looking to anything or anyone for justification and sanctification in addition to Jesus Christ? Are we adding to the person and work of Jesus?

Is Jesus Christ in our life together enough? 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 11

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Proverbs 15:18).

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).

A fruitful habit of the heart is pondering before speaking. That this has always been an issue with humanity is evident from the fact that Proverbs was written many centuries ago – every heart born into this world today is like every heart born into this world when Proverbs was written, a heart alienated from God. While we were created in the image of God, that image was desecrated by Adam and Eve and we have been desecrated children ever since then with desecrated hearts. Hearts once in the image of God are now hearts that need to be transformed into the image of God.

The path to heart transformation, after we have come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, is the submission of our hearts to the Lord Jesus. Our hearts are to ponder not what we think is best, but are rather to ponder how we are to submit to the Word of God and our Lord Jesus in any and all situations – including situations in which others are coming at us with anger, including situations in which we are being unjustly treated.

The promiscuous hot-tempered person creates an atmosphere of anger, vitriol, and intimidation. There are three responses to such a person: to become subservient to the tyrant, to respond in kind, or to ponder and answer reflectively, gently, and firmly. The first response, which is the norm, is that the anger is not questioned, or if questioned submitted to, and hence we have the herd mentality – we allow the biggest mouth to drive us off a cliff. The second response, responding in kind, is often the equivalent of a military term – “mutual assured destruction”, also known by the acronym MAD. Someone may win for the moment, but only for the moment; both may lose and in their losing inflict loss on those around them.

The third response, for the follower of Jesus Christ, does not have either ourselves or the other person as the primary focus – it has Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ first, the redemption of the other person second, and our transformation into the image of Jesus Christ, as the outworking of our obedience to Jesus, third. We would do well to ponder Jesus before the high priest and other religious leaders on the night of His betrayal, then we should ponder Him before Pilate and Herod, and we should then behold Him on the Cross – there was not a word of anger, not a word of vitriol, not a word of self-defensenot a word of self-assertion. Jesus Christ was in submission to His Father as He listened to lies, lies, and then more lies spoken about Him – and when He was offered the opportunity to assert Himself before Pilate He said little. To be sure the Holy Spirit gave Paul wisdom before his false accusers during his long imprisonment, but the words that Paul spoke were words in submission to our Lord Jesus and not the words of a spiritual or moral anarchist.

Pondering how to answer is a habit and discipline not easily developed or maintained in a world in which communication is conducted with the speed of email, text messages, tweets, and cell phones. Pondering goes against the grain of Western culture. Our political leaders do not generally ponder but react, our business leaders generally do not ponder but react, and sadly our religious leaders often appear to cater to the whims of the masses rather than ponder and challenge them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pondering and sharing reflective answers often brings peace to troubled relationships, diffuses confrontations, and at the very least for the Christian centers our hearts in Jesus Christ. We are not called to perpetuate anger and discord, we are called to be peacemakers.

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