Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 36

“The prayer of the Psalms, concluded with a hymn…is followed by a Scripture reading…Here, too, we will have to overcome some harmful prejudices before we achieve the right way of reading Scripture together.

“…for many the Scripture reading consists only of a few brief selected verses that are to form the central idea of the day…but…there can be little doubt that brief passages cannot and must not take the place of reading the Scripture as a whole…The Holy Scriptures do not consist of individual sayings, but are a whole…The Scriptures are God’s revealed Word as a whole. The full witness to Jesus Christ the Lord can be clearly heard only in its immeasurable inner relationships…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 32.

These “harmful prejudices” which Bonhoeffer writes about remain a great enemy of the church today, and I think even more so – for whatever the attention span may have been when Bonhoeffer wrote, it is much less today. We must see the Bible as a whole, and yet we read it piecemeal, we often preach it piecemeal, and we study it piecemeal – and we therefore do not see or live the full witness of Jesus Christ the Lord.

We do not watch movies by pausing frame after frame, we watch the entire movie and then we go back and explore what we’ve seen and heard. We do not read biographies or historical narratives or poetry or novels sentence by sentence, reading a sentence and then stopping to ponder it as if it were from a fortune cookie. Nor when reading a novel or biography or historical narrative do we read a sentence or paragraph form one chapter and then read one from another chapter and then from another and another. How would we ever know and experience a book or an author if we normally read this way? How would we ever experience a movie or a play or a symphony? And yet we think nothing of reading the Bible as if it were a collage of fortune cookie sayings without narrative and without connection.

Suppose my neighbor and I both ordered the exact same car from an automaker to be delivered the same day. On the appointed day a representative from the automaker drives up to my neighbor’s door in a glistening new car and hands him the keys. However, a dump truck drives up to my door and drops a load of parts at my doorstep. When I run outside and ask where my car is the truck driver points to the pile of parts and says, “It’s right here. Can’t you see it?”

My neighbor has a car he can drive, one in which the parts are in right relationship with each other; he has a machine in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I have parts, and I have a problem. The way we often read the Bible makes as much sense as someone delivering me a truck load of car parts when I’ve ordered a new car – the parts were manufactured to be assembled in a certain order so that they would be in right relationship with each other and so that the end result would be a certain type of car.

I may not have the patience for the car to be rightly assembled and may insist that the automaker simply deliver me the parts, and therefore I may have my “car” well ahead of my neighbor having his car – but in the end who will drive his car first? It is also likely that I will never drive my “car”, but no matter, I’ll have all those shiny new parts.

If this illustration is crazy, it is no more crazy than the way we treat the Bible. I have been in Bible studies in which people did not want to read the Biblical text. I have been in churches where the preacher and congregation did not want to spend time reading the Biblical text. And yet people expect to have a car to drive…they expect to read the Bible piecemeal and hear it preached piecemeal and they think that they therefore “know” the Bible, when all they really know is what other people have told them; and sad to say that many of the people doing the telling are only working with a truck load of parts rather than with a fully assembled automobile. A sculpture made of junk is still a sculpture made of junk, it is not the real thing it represents – the parts and pieces of junk are not in right relationship with each other in harmony with their original design; Paul tells Timothy that we are to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” he does not write that we are to make junk sculptures.

To overcome “harmful prejudices” regarding the Bible means that we must learn to be overcome by the Bible; we must learn to be still and to submit ourselves to the Word of God and to respond in obedience to that Word. As we listen and meditate and read the Word our souls will be molded by the Word and Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus Christ, our life together will be formed into His image and each of us, each member of Christ’s body, will find our proper relationship to one another.

Do we see the Scriptures as a whole? Do we see Christ throughout the Scriptures? Do we see the inner corridors and relationships that Bonhoeffer writes about? Are we willing to embark on a journey through the Scriptures and continue that journey until the day we see Him face to face? Are we committed to beginning each day, to living each day, and to ending each day, in the Word of God? 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 35

“…is there not a suggestion that every word of prayer must penetrate to a depth of the heart which can be reached only by unceasing repetition? And in the end not even in that way! Is that not an indication that prayer is not a matter of a unique pouring out of the human heart in need or joy, but an unbroken, indeed continuous, process of learning, appropriating and impressing God’s will in Jesus Christ on the mind?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 31.

Sometimes we can be so caught up in the grandeur of one understanding and perspective that our hyperbole dwarfs and even negates other perspectives – it may not be our intention, but it does happen; perhaps that is what we see in the above quotation. I think that Bonhoeffer’s own prayer life, right up until his final moment, was that of a son with his heavenly Father, pouring out his unique human heart in need and in joy; and yet at the same time it was also a unique heart learning to pray in the Heart of hearts and in so doing learning God’s will in Jesus Christ, God’s will for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and God’s will for His people.

There is vain repetition, but there is also the repetition that Bonhoeffer writes of on page 31, “In all our praying there remains only the prayer of Jesus Christ, which has the promise of fulfillment and frees us from the vain repetitions of the heathen. The more deeply we grow into the Psalms and the more often we ourselves have prayed them, the more simple and rewarding will our praying become.” Bonhoeffer uses Psalm 119 as an example of repetitiously praying on the same subject so that the subject matter and prayer enter deep within us. There is a sense in which we become the prayer and the prayer becomes us as we experience union in Christ. We become the psalms and the psalms become us in Christ – the incarnation continues.

We don’t think it unnecessary repetition to drink water and eat bread every day, and not just every day but throughout every day. Why should we recoil at praying the psalms throughout the day? Why should we shy away from meditating in the Word of our God day and night? The psalms are a feast spread before us by our heavenly Father, indeed, the Bible is a banquet prepared by God for us to partake of throughout each day, it is bread to share with others, sustenance to our souls; and like the bread which Jesus multiplied, we can break it and break it and break it and give it and give it and give it and there will always be an abundance so that we can give more. But we must break it and eat it and give it…lest our souls become hard and eating becomes difficult.

“Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Psalm 119:54). God has given us two houses; our physical body and the body of Christ; our individual pilgrimage is merged with our collective pilgrimage; as individuals are called to be conformed to the image of His Son, so the people of God are called to grow up into Christ in all things as “one new man”. Our hearts and minds and voices are called to sing the statutes of our God, His commandments are not burdensome to those who love Him but rather liberating, they draw us to Him, freeing us from the bonds of sin and death and the gravitational pull of the age – drawing us into the age that is coming in which Christ is all in all.

Just as the priests of the ancient Temple were called to present sacrifices and offerings throughout each day to the True and Living God, so we are called to “…continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15). “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 (Colossians 3:16).

Knowledge of the Word of God, offering up praise to God, teaching one another…these are no longer the exclusive purview of the few, but this is that to which all are called as a royal priesthood – life together means life in which all the members of the community participate, in which all the members live in the Word, in which all the members offer worship, in which all the members speak to one another and teach one another as all of the members learn what it is to live under the Word and in mutual subjection preferring others above themselves.

I heartily agree with Bonhoeffer and with the tradition and practice of our fathers that we should read, pray, meditate upon, and sing the Psalms daily. There are various approaches to this, and it is often wise to vary our approach from year to year, or from season of life to season of life – this helps us see and experience the psalms in fresh perspectives. I have had seasons of life in which I read five psalms a day, each psalm being in a different part of the book of Psalms, starting with 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121 – this brought me through the entire book in one month. During another season of life I meditated on each psalm for one week until I traveled through the entire book; while this was a good journey to take in one’s life, I would not do it again because I missed the psalms I was not reading regularly. Sometimes I will read the Psalms of Degrees at one sitting for it provides me with a certain perspective. However we may incorporate the Psalms into our lives, they are our ancient heritage from eternity and we would do well to live in them daily; as individuals, as husbands and wives, as families, as friends, and as the Church of Jesus Christ. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

It All Seemed Normal

Jesus says that the coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:36 – 42). When we think of the days of Noah we think of wickedness (Genesis 6:5), and I’m sure that is part of what we are to think of when we consider Matthew 24 and its association with Noah, but that isn’t what Jesus points out, Jesus says, “They were eating and drinking and marrying,” they were doing normal things, the things people do every day – they didn’t know that a flood was coming; but Noah did, he was warned by God (Hebrews 11:7).

Yes, elsewhere in Matthew 24 and elsewhere in the Bible are what we might call “the signs of the times” (I think in some respect every generation lives in its own “times” with signs), but the specific things that Jesus points out about the days of Noah is that people were doing normal things, the same things we do today. So I think it might be wise not to get too hung up on looking for the dramatic and thinking, “When I see the dramatic I’ll adjust my way of living”; because it isn’t in the midst of the dramatic that we necessarily ought to be awake and alert, but rather in the midst of the mundane, of the normal, of that which lulls us to sleep. There is a day when eating and drinking and marriage are interrupted, and that is the day we need to be prepared for – and we ought to live as if today is that day – after all, Jesus concludes his observation about the days of Noah with the words, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming…for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.”

It all seemed normal – the eating, the drinking, the wedding, the workday…it all seemed normal…and then it wasn’t. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Father Patrick Henry Reardon Part Two:

Continuing with Patrick Henry Reardon’s reflections on Psalm 12 in his book, Christ in the Psalms (see May 18), Reardon writes:

“At the beginning, before the Fall, Man was possessed of an accurate perception into reality. He was able to name the animals because he could perceive precisely what they were. His words expressed true insight…Human language then was a reflection of that divine light with which heaven and earth were full. The speech of unfallen man was but the voice of vision.”

“Human speech was already rooted in the vision of truth before it became the expression of human communication.”

“Moreover, the Fall itself, when it came, derived from that demonic disassociation of speech from truth that we call the Lie: “You will not surely die.” Eve’s acquiescence in that first lie was mankind’s original act of metaphysical rebellion.”

The language we use and the way we use language is critical, the names we give things is critical; when we adopt duckdog language (see May 7 and 18) we create ourselves and others into our own images, images that fracture, fracture again, and then fracture again; we expel truth from our minds and consciences as the thought police patrol our schools, businesses, governments, civic associations, and churches.

“Has God said that that is a duck?” “Has God said that that is a dog?” “What do you mean that God didn’t create a duckdog? Of course He did – it’s right there before your eyes.”

The question asked in many seminaries, the question introduced to many congregations, the question proclaimed within many denominations, is the question we call the Lie: “Has God said? Does Genesis mean this? Does the Gospel mean this? Can this really be? You misunderstand what God really meant.”

Why launch a frontal attack before subverting the people? But then once doubt has been introduced, once mistrust in the Word of God has been sown, then it is time for the coup de grace – then the faith of the people can be put to death. The enemy thinks he has time, time for the termites of demonic teaching to eat away at the faith and trust of the people, and it does seem that the termites have done their work – for now we see things that are not there but that we think are there – we think we see duckdogs and dogducks and any number of other strange things which the common sense of our ancestors would not have entertained for a moment.

We have turned the divine gift of speech into babel. The Word which was God and which was in the beginning with God came to show us the perfect harmony between Word and manifestation, between Word and expression (see John Chapter One) – and now we have taken His words and His life and have asked, “Did God say? Did Jesus really mean this? Did Jesus really live this? It could not have been for we know better. The record which Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John left us could not possibly be what was, so let us define ourselves and while we are at it let us define Jesus and mold him (turning Him into him) into our image and while we are at that let us make God into our image (turning God into god).”

And this is why those who still profess to follow Jesus Christ must learn to submit to the Scriptures, must learn to allow the Biblical text to mold them rather than attempt to make the text submit to them – because if we will not bow before the Lord of the Word and receive His Word as He has spoken it, then no words anywhere can mean anything and we find ourselves doing what the duckdog people do…we just use religious language when we do it. It is not enough for Christians to be well meaning, not enough for preachers to be well meaning – we must learn to obey what God in Christ has spoken and learn to allow the text to form us in Christ…we must stop the insanity of forcing the Word of God into our pragmatic and utilitarian molds and programs and entertainments and marketing.

Perhaps we should return to the picture books of toddlers: A is for apple, B is for book, C is for cat, D is for duck…it is not for duckdog…at least it didn’t used to be.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pondering Proverbs – 9

“For Yahweh gives wisdom; for His mouth come knowledge and understanding, He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones,” Proverbs 2:6 – 8.

This is a parenthesis between verses 5 and 9. Verse 5: “Then you will discern the fear of Yahweh and discover the knowledge of God. Verse 9: “Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course.”

The assurance of our seeking wisdom and knowledge (verses 1 – 4) is the Person of Yahweh; “And without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him,” (Hebrews 11:6).  We trust God, we trust His character, our hope in our seeking is rooted and grounded in Him, in who He is; He is our expectation and we know that the wisdom and knowledge and discernment that we seek is but Him – for all discernment and knowledge and wisdom is in Him – He is all judging, all knowing, and all wise.

It is an error at worst and immaturity at best, to treat wisdom and knowledge and understanding as things that can be acquired and known and developed apart from God – for these “things” as we might call them, are given to us as God gives Himself to us and as we, by His grace, give ourselves to God. It is God who gives wisdom, so James encourages us to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5); it is from God’s mouth that we receive knowledge and understanding – do we read and “hear” the Word of God?

Consider the great storehouses of wealth in the world, the royal jewels in the Tower of London, the gold in Fort Knox; these treasures are nothing compared to the sound wisdom which God stores up for the upright, for those who seek Him, who cry to Him, who listen for Him. How would we feel were we to be given the keys to Fort Knox and told that we could remove an inexhaustible supply of gold, not just today, but tomorrow and the next day and the next day and as often as we wanted? How do we feel to know that our Father has stored wisdom up for us so that He might give that wisdom to us – that as his sons and daughters we might draw on that wisdom in our relationship with Him – to His glory and the blessing of others? How would we live our lives if we knew that we never had to balance the checkbook to see if there were funds remaining – for our Father has given us an inexhaustible supply of knowledge and understanding? We are told (verse 4) to seek these things as if we were seeking silver and hidden treasures.

Our uprightness (verse 7) is found in our Lord Jesus, He is our righteousness, and we do well to remember that; because Jesus is our righteousness we are called to walk in integrity – Jesus tells us that if we love Him that we will keep His commandments (John 14:21) – we are called to be holy as our Father is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16); we are not to be as the Prodigal Son who squandered his inheritance. As we are good stewards of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge we will receive more of the same.

We can be assured that our Father is guarding the paths of justice and that He preserves the Way of His saints – no matter what we see around us. Even though it may appear that there are no straight roads, no secure paths to travel, no sure way to navigate life – we can live in the knowledge that God preserves His people and that the Way that He has sent us will ever be the sure and certain Way to live within, the Way to travel, the Way to negotiate the vicissitudes of life. This is the one Way to which we can invite others – knowing that in this Way that God our Father has given us a shield…given us Himself.

In the midst of a world gone mad, spiraling out of control, descending into the abyss of darkness and ignorance and violence – we can live in the Light of the Word, we can live in inexpressible light, drawing on an infinite storehouse of wisdom, discernment, and knowledge – as seek the face of God in His Son Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 34

“We can and we should pray the psalms of suffering…because all this suffering was genuine and real in Jesus Christ…What happened to us on the cross of Christ, the death of our old self, and what actually does happen and should happen to us since our baptism in the dying of our flesh, is what gives us the right to pray these prayers…these psalms have been granted to his body on earth as prayers that issue from his heart.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 30.

One can hear the echo of Paul in Bonhoeffer’s words, “We cannot elaborate on this theme here.” He wants to say more but can’t, he has gone as far as he can within the confines of the treatise; but Bonhoeffer offers the hope that “we can only grow into the Psalter gradually.” Those who cultivate a relationship with the Psalter, those who enter into the prayers of Christ again and again, those who make a seldom-trod path a well-worn way, they will dwell in the secret place of the Most High, they will learn to abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Perhaps Paul knew something of this when he wrote, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,” (Colossians 1:24). Perhaps Paul’s yearning to know the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10) and to be conformed to His death was born, in part, out of Paul’s fellowship with Christ in Psalms.

Dying with Christ we are identified with Christ, on the Cross, in the grave, in the resurrection, in the ascension; identified with Christ we pray with and in Christ – we pray as His people, His flock; we pray the words of our Good Shepherd. In our life together we learn to pray as His people, our united prayer ascends and as it ascends to the throne of God it also covers the new creation, the Israel of God; we make intercession for one another, we make intercession for the world – we are a body of intercessions – praying and living for the sake of others. As the Father sent the Firstborn into the world, so the Firstborn sends us into the world – the Incarnation continues and will continue until the consummation of the age.

So we pray not as men and women of the natural, but as those who have received the Spirit of adoption that causes us to cry, “Abba Father!” We do not approach the Psalter as “mere men” (1 Corinthians 3:3), but rather as those who have been called into the fellowship of the sufferings of the Son of God.

Bonhoeffer writes (pages 30 – 31), “The body of Christ is praying, and I as an individual recognize that my prayer is only a tiny fraction of the whole prayer of the church. I learn to join the body of Christ in its prayer. That lifts me above my personal concerns and allows me to pray selflessly.”

As we learn to pray the Psalter we enter into the intercession of Jesus Christ, who “ever lives to make intercession for us,” (Hebrews 7:25), and in doing so we participate in His priesthood, for we are a nation of priests (1 Peter 2:4- 10). Many of the psalms echo the groanings of prayer and intercession which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26 – 27), many of them, while having words, lead us to places too deep for words, lead us to places where we are at a loss for words, lead us to places where all we can do is to allow the Holy Spirit to pray through us – we can do no more. If the Psalter is the prayer of Jesus Christ then this is what we expect; if the Psalter is the prayer of the Body of Christ transcending time and space and yet touching the most intimate elements of time and space in all of their joy and sorrow, heartache and glory, hope and despair – then this is what we expect. To enter the Psalter is to enter the cathedral of the New Jerusalem, to approach the throne of God, to live in the Presence of the True and Living God in our life together

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 33

Beginning on page 27, after quoting Ephesians 5:19, “Speak to one another with psalms,” and Colossians 3:16, “Teach and admonish one another…and…sing psalms,” Bonhoeffer explores what it means to pray the Psalter. He begins by pointing out difficulties in praying the Psalms as our own prayers – there are places where what we read just doesn’t fit with who we are – the psalms of innocence are an example, when I arrive at verses that speak of my own innocence I cannot pray them directly for, as they are written, I am not innocent. Then there are psalms of vengeance – and I sense that I ought not to touch them as they are written, that they are above me; and then there are the psalms of suffering…while I may identify with some of them, I cannot identify with many of them. What to do? How to pray them? They are God’s Word so I am called to pray and sing them, but they are not me so how can I speak them?

Bonhoeffer’s answer to this dilemma is the answer that Christians down through the centuries have given – these are the prayers of Jesus Christ; he writes, “The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word. He prayed the Psalter, and now it has become his prayer for all time…The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for his congregation” (Page 28). [See Patrick Henry Reardon’s, Christ in the Psalms, for a wonderful treatment of this subject.]

According to Bonhoeffer there are three reasons to pray the Psalter: 1) It teaches us to pray as Jesus Christ prays; 2) we learn what we should pray; 3) we learn to pray as a community. On page 28 he writes, “Now that Christ is with the Father, the new humanity of Christ – the body of Christ – on earth continues to pray his prayer to the end of time. This prayer belongs not to the individual member, but to the whole body of Christ.”

We have at least three difficulties encountering Bonhoeffer’s text; the first is that few people in the West appear to set aside daily dedicated time for prayer and praise; the second is that congregational prayer has mostly become like congregational Bible reading, something to quickly get through on Sunday mornings; and the third is that in the West, even in our Eucharistic churches, we have become so individualized that we do not think in terms of the Body of Christ, either locally, globally, or transcending time and space.

The Psalter is not a soft drink that is to be gulped and guzzled; but rather wine aged through suffering, joy, perseverance, thanksgiving, despair, hope, and the holiness and majesty of God. The Psalter is complex, spanning ages and generations and reaching from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven. There is always someone somewhere praying and living each psalm, whether verbatim or in the crucible or euphoria of experience – we are invited to the fellowship, the communion, of the psalms. The voice of Jesus Christ is the voice of Psalms; to hear His voice we must be listen, even as we read aloud the words we must listen – whose voice is it that we hear? Is it our voice? Is it our voices? Is it Christ joined with us? Is it us being joined to Christ by Christ? Can we hear the voice of Christ in His Body through the ages?

In an age of distraction we are called to mediation, contemplation, antiphonal reading and praying and singing, sustained engagement; in an earth-bound world we are called to enter His courts with His words on our lips, His images on our minds, beholding Him and entering into His glory. We come not just individually, but we come as His people, His flock…we come as we experience life together.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pondering Proverbs – 8

“My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as sliver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of Yahweh and discover the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5 NASB).

I love the words “my son”; there is something about them when I read them aloud, when I think of them, when I meditate on them. On the second of the month (at least most months) when I come to this chapter and begin with the words “my son” there is a sweetness and encouragement, a reminder that my heavenly Father is ever present for me and always desirous that I draw nearer, ever nearer, to Him – that my koinonia in the Trinity be ever more delightful and intimate – the Holy of Holies is vast, vast and yet intimate.

I ponder the action I am called to: make my ear attentive; incline my heart, cry for discernment, lift my voice, seek her, search for her; make – incline – cry – lift – seek – search; I am called to action, called to engagement, invited into participation with my Father. I am reminded of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father”; then He beckons us to ask, seek, and knock; Jesus then promises, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11).

I am called to seek “her”, the one who in Proverbs 1:20 “shouts in the street” and “lifts her voice in the square”. I am called to seek her who is rejected by the scoffers, ignored by the wayward ones. I want to receive the words of my Father and Lord Jesus, I want to treasure their commandments within me; as James says, I want to receive the engrafted word of God – but it is a continual gardening process, morning by morning, day by day, season by season. I want to learn how to receive the words of my Father and I want to learn how to treasure His commandments – I am still learning, I am still undervaluing His words; it hurts to write this but it is true. Would I treat the Hope Diamond, were it mine, the way I treat the Word of God?

Again, the words “my son” comfort me because they remind me that I am the child and that He is my Father; no matter my chronological age I am still His child – yes, hopefully I am learning to live and think and feel and joy as a son growing into the image of the Firstborn Son…but I am…after all…still a child…and as a child I desperately need to hear the words, “my son”.

So I ask my Father to teach me again and again what it is to make my ear attentive to wisdom and to incline my heart to understanding. I want to learn to make some noise, to get serious, to become desperate, to cry for discernment and to lift up my voice for understanding – I don’t want to play around, I want to pursue the words and commandments and wisdom of God.

Paul reminds us that it is in Christ Jesus that we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians Chapter Two); I know that it is in Christ that I will find what my Father calls me to. I also know that then I will discern the fear of Yahweh and discover the knowledge of God. I am not afraid of the fear of Yahweh for He is my Father, in His fear I find comfort and shelter and I know in some measure what David meant when he described Yahweh as his rock, his fortress, his strong tower, his shelter – that is a fearful place to live and yet it is a place of safety; it is fearful because it is holy and just and good…and holiness and justice and Divine goodness is foreign to us, and that which is foreign can be fearful.

I hear my Father, our Father, saying in this passage, “Oh my child, I have so much for you, come and listen, come and learn, come and seek, come and find – I am coming to you, I am waiting for you, and I will guide you to myself. I am your Father and you can trust me; and when you discover the fear that gives wisdom and knowledge, in the midst of that fear you will know inexpressible love and care and shelter. Come my son, come my daughter…come to me.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Language - Something Deeply Erroneous and Dangerous

Father Patrick Henry Reardon writes in his reflections on Psalm 12 (Christ in the Psalms):

“The idea is now common that the primary purpose of speech is communication, the sharing of ideas, impressions, and feelings with one another…Human speech is widely interpreted as a matter of arbitrary and accepted fashion, subject to the same vagaries as any other fashion…Thus the sense of words can be changed at will…”

“According to this view, words are necessarily taken to mean whatever the present living members of a society say that they mean, so that the study of language really becomes a branch of sociology.”

Reardon goes on to say that this thinking is “deeply erroneous” and that “It is also egregiously dangerous to spiritual and mental health, for such a view of language dissolves the relationship of speech to the perception of truth, rendering man the lord of language without affirming the magisterial claims of truth over man. Declared independent of such claims, language submits to no tribunal higher than arbitrary social dictates. Human society, no matter how sinful and deceived, is named the final authority over speech, which is responsible only to those who use it, subject to no standards above the merely social.”

I wonder if the destruction of language could occur anywhere else than in postmodernity – at least to the degree that we now witness. As Reardon points out, the demonic and humanistic overthrow of language (my words) has been with us since the Fall – that was Satan’s assault in the Garden – God didn’t really mean what He said. While this assault has continued through the ages, it seems to be reaching a crescendo as it attacks the image of God and the words, “Let us make man in our image.” The “us” is attacked; the “man” is attacked, the “image” is attacked – until there is nothing.

Professing Christian institutions are now using the language of non-language; words without enduing meaning; they are using terms and descriptions of that which is not, adopting the fleeting fractured linguistic elements of the rebellion. One make-believe “reality” comes after another, states of mind are given words and terms and images conjured from the abyss – and any semblance of language that cries out to be coherent and consistent and to correspond to reality is attacked until is withers beneath the fusillade. The duck has become a dog and the dog has become a duck and there is also the duckdog and the dogduck and what is a duckdog today may be a dogduck tomorrow and professing Christians use the terms and language of the rebellion so that they may show proper empathy and sympathy and lest they be accused of being closed-minded.

There can be no true truth for the truth that is true must be true today and must have been true yesterday and must be true tomorrow – and well, we know that cannot be for just look at how language is changing. Rather than insist that language conform to truth we now use language to dismantle truth; language which once was an expression of truth is now a weapon against truth.

“With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (Psalm 12:4).

Really? We will see. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 32

“Scripture reading, song, and prayer should be part of daily morning worship together. Daily morning worship will take as many different forms as there are communities…the word of Scripture, the hymns of the church, and the prayer of the community should form a part of every daily worship that they [the community] share together.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 26 – 27.

We are no longer a people who sing, we have become a people who listen, and in listening to music and lyrics we, in spite of our protestations, limit our participation in worship. Yes, we can open a hymnal and sing on Sundays or gaze upon a screen and sing the words, but are we singing throughout the week and are we singing as we meet and greet one another? When we gather for prayer meetings or small groups are we singing? In the mornings do we lift our voice in singing praises to the Trinity?

My recollection of church history tells me that significant seasons of renewal and awakening are accompanied by singing, that God’s people cannot help but sing when they are renewed in their relationship with Him. I have noticed that many of us are no longer inclined to sing and I wonder why. Is it because we have abandoned singing to the professionals and to the vocally gifted? Is it because the words and music of many recent songs do not lend themselves to singing by average people? Are we so self-conscious that we have lost our voice when we are outside church buildings in which our voices are hidden among many?

I have been in many home gatherings where singing was central to the feast of koinonia, whether or not the group sang well – for what is singing well if it is not singing to the Lord? All singing to the Lord is singing well. And so should I not sing to the Lord at the break of day? Should I not lift my voice, whether in key our out of key, in praise to the God who has given me another day in which to worship Him, love Him, and serve and love others?

Perhaps a good question when we meet one another is, “Brother (or sister), what have you been singing lately?”

A challenge when reading this section of Life Together is that it is focused on Christians living in community, in close relationship and proximity to one another. Bonhoeffer envisions Christians gathering together at the beginning of each day to worship – this is difficult when people live apart and not in close proximity to one another. How can we respond to this challenge?

On the congregational level we can encourage early morning gatherings, whether at a church building, at offices, or in homes; whether these are daily or weekly. By doing so we teach and model a way of life in Christ and in life together. We can encourage families to begin their days with the Word, singing, and prayer. We can encourage individuals to do the same. We can teach early-morning worship as a way of life, we can model it, we can walk alongside others as they learn it.

Parents can learn to speak the Word to their children and to engage their children in worship before they leave the house and go into the world, thus hopefully instilling a sense of mission and calling and witness and holiness. Spouses can offer themselves to the Trinity at the start of each day, asking God to draw them ever closer to Himself (and to each other) and to walk with them and talk with them throughout the day; asking God that their marriage reflect Christ and His Bride. Those who are single can worship with the assurance that they are part of a family that transcends the ages and that even as they lift their voices to God that around the world, at the very same time, their brothers and sisters are doing the very same thing and that they are not alone, but that they have myriads upon myriads of family members.

We must recover the early-morning ground that we have lost. We must love one another enough to challenge one another in discipleship. It is not acceptable not to read the Word of God, it is not acceptable not to pray with our (believing) spouses and with our children. It is not acceptable not to give God the firstfruits of every day. We must recover our voices and learn again to sing praise to God, forgetting about how we sound and simply yearning to offer our love and adoration to the One who gave His all to us and for us. It is not enough simply to read a verse or two of the Bible and to think that we have eaten a healthy meal. We were created in the image of God to worship and love God with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our mind and all of our strength – anything else in the early morning is a distraction.

The fabric of life together is woven in prayer, the Word, and singing praise to God; the community of Christians is to be a worshipping community – worshipping in the Word, in prayer, and in song. The first moments of the day are critical – it is where we take our stand for the entire day, it is where we set our course, it is where we declare our testimony, it is where we proclaim that the day belongs to God and that we will offer the firstfruits of that day to Him. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 31

“The early morning belongs to the church of the risen Christ. At the break of light it remembers the morning on which death, the devil, and sin were brought low in defeat, and new life and salvation were given to human beings.”

“If we were to learn again something of the praise and adoration that is due the triune God early in the morning, then we would also begin to sense something of the joy that comes when night is past and those who dwell with one another come together early in the morning to praise their God and hear the Word and pray together.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 22 - 23.

The second section of Life Together is titled The Day Together, and Bonhoeffer begins this section with how we should begin each day in our life together, “After the silence of the night and early morning, hymns and the Word of God will be heard all the more clearly…the first thought and the first word of the day belong to God,” (page 25). Bonhoeffer portrays the morning as a time of prayer, the Word, and singing for the church – but not just any part of the morning, rather the first moments, the first minutes, the first movements of the morning – “at the break of light”. It is not enough say, “I’ll do this and then that and then I’ll have my devotions,” for Bonhoeffer writes, “…the first thought and the first word of the day belong to God.”

He begins the section by quoting Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” life together under the Word means beginning each day under the Word – it does not mean beginning each day reading or listening to the news, or sports scores, or checking email, or catching up on work – Bonhoeffer writes, “For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and haunted by the various kinds of concerns they face during the working day. The Lord stands above the new day, for God has made it” (page 25-26).

Bonhoeffer fills the first pages of this chapter with quote after quote, and reference after reference, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, showing the importance of early-morning prayer, worship, singing, and time in the Word. This is a challenge for most of us in a culture where we are taught that “time is money” and that money is everything; a culture in which we are driven to perform and in which we strive to stay ahead of the curve. Our lives are often filled with more than we can do, or at least do well. Every minute is precious (unless we are engaged in entertainment for then the hours pass without accountability) and we make excuse after excuse why we cannot worship God “at the break of light”. Surely God understands why the first word and the first thought cannot belong to Him.

Distinctive thoughts toward God in the morning lead to distinctive lives lived toward God during the day; prayers with others and prayers for others lead to fulfilled prayers within others during the day. Bathing our hearts and minds and souls in the Word of God every morning prepares them to engage a hostile world, to bind up the brokenhearted, to be agents of grace and mercy to others through Jesus Christ. Eyes that see the Word of God and the image of God in Christ Jesus at the break of light are eyes that are trained to see the invisible throughout the day, they are eyes that learn to see the frailty and mockery of the world, and they are eyes that are ever looking for His appearance in the events and challenges of the day. Ears that hear the Word of God as the first sounds of the morning are ears that are tuned to listening for His voice throughout the day, they are ears that discern the voice of the Good Shepherd through the static and cacophony of the culture.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 30

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” This is the Scripture’s praise of life together under the Word. But now we can correctly interpret the words “in unity” and say “when kindred live together through Christ.” For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. “He is our peace.” We have access to one another, joy in one another, community with one another through Jesus Christ alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.

“…life together under the Word.” In Christ we are called to “life together under the Word.” Only in Christ can we have life together and only as we live under the Word can our life together be formed into the image of the Firstborn Son. The Word is in Christ for the Word is Christ, and Christ is in the Word for Christ is the Word; we are to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ and we are to live under the Word – the two are inseparable.

Living under the Word means more than submitting to an authority in the way we normally think about submission to authority; while it includes submitting to the authority of our Lord Jesus and His Word in the normal sense of the words, it is more than we normally think of, for we normally think of submitting to an external authority – but submission to Christ, for the believer, is greater than submitting to something external, it is bowing our hearts and minds and souls to the Presence of Christ within us as we are joined to Him – the same is true of living under the Word. James writes of us receiving the engrafted word; Peter writes of us being born again through the living and imperishable word of God – the Word of God is alive within us, and living under that Word includes allowing that Word to form our souls and recreate us in the image of God in His Son Jesus Christ. The hope of the New Covenant, as seen in the Prophets, is that of the Law of God being written in the heart and mind, no longer would it be external, something only for the mind to perceive externally, but it would be woven into the fabric of our innermost being.

The community of Christ is called to grow up into the image of Christ as the community lives under the Word of Christ and that Word produces transformation into the image of Christ. We must allow His Word to produce transformation; we cannot do this if we insist on forcing the Word to submit to us, superimposing our images and desires on the Word and molding the Word into our own image.

Regarding our unity in Christ, not only did Paul plea more than once for unity among believers, but Jesus prayed that we would have the unity of the Trinity (John 17). What does it say about us that we, as a rule, do not strive for unity? We live in our own little denominational and doctrinal houses while the house of Yahweh lies waste (see Haggai). Yes, there are probably a thousand hurdles to unity, but there is no hurdle that is a reason we should not strive for unity and prefer one another above ourselves. How can we read John 17 and not strive for unity? How can we read John 17 and think that we can engage in evangelism without also striving for unity? Better to be rejected again and again by the professing church while seeking to obtain unity than never trying; better to fail in obedience to Christ than seek self-preservation and protection behind a thousand excuses. Too often churches are like shop keepers vying for customers, keeping to themselves, not engaging in the big picture. Those shopkeepers will continue their parochial ways until the big box store of the present age devours their community. Other shop keepers have merchants’ associations designed to promote the economic health of their communities, these people have learned that in putting the welfare of the group first that they are benefiting their individual economic health. Will the church ever learn that its parochial and proprietary ways are an impediment to its witness, a barrier to growth into the image of Christ, and disobedience to the Word of God? God is not in the franchise business, our churches are not our own – if they are our own then they are not His.

““He is our peace.” We have access to one another, joy in one another, community with one another through Jesus Christ alone.” In concluding our reflections on the first chapter of Life Together, we can be challenged and encouraged by Bonhoeffer’s Biblically-based vision of Christians living in peace with one another. Do we primarily focus on our common life in Christ or do we focus on our differences? A recognition of the peace we are called to have in Christ ought to challenge us to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Let us look to build bridges so that we may use the bridges to fill up the chasms that separate us – how can the Body of Christ be divided?

Having “access to one another” can be a frightening idea. This means that I let down my guard and allow others into my life, into my heart, into my soul. But again, if we are to live in the unity of the Trinity then this is that to which we are called. In this life together we can know the joy of Jesus Christ just as Jesus knows joy in the Father and the Spirit, so we can know joy in one another. Having “access to one another” means that we encounter one another not merely in the world of ideas and actions, but in the world of the heart – “deep calls unto deep” in our life together.

Let us pray for the Church without ceasing. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 29

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” This is the Scripture’s praise of life together under the Word. But now we can correctly interpret the words “in unity” and say “when kindred live together through Christ.” For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. “He is our peace.” We have access to one another, joy in one another, community with one another through Jesus Christ alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.

Bonhoeffer begins this chapter with Psalm 133:1 and he ends it with Psalm 133:1. Bonhoeffer begins with Christ and he ends with Christ; Christ is the foundation and Christ is the roof – Christ is the author and completer of our life together. There are five sections in Life Together: Community, The Day Together, The Day Alone, Service, and Confession and the Lord’s Supper; each of these sections is challenging, each deserves reflection, and each has to do with life together. In the West we generally do not think in terms of life together, and sadly when we think of church we often think of it as we do any other organization. When I listen to the language professing Christians use when talking about church it is typically the language of organization or business or even entertainment – it is anything but Christocentric, missional, or supernatural – this is true of vocational ministers as well as everyone else. I write the foregoing to say that we need what Bonhoeffer has written; not that we should agree with him on every point, but that we should be challenged to think about what he has written and to work through it as people desiring to recapture the Biblical understanding and experience of koinonia in Jesus Christ. I know many a pastor who can easily talk about his or her denomination, movement, or doctrinal “distinctives”, but who is unaccustomed to thinking about the Biblical call to community in Jesus Christ – that is not only unfamiliar territory to many pastors, it is frightening to many pastors – frightening because it has the potential to affect their ministries, their paradigms, and the life of their congregations.

Bonhoeffer faced opposition from pastors for “practical” reasons: What will the government say? What will the denomination say? What will congregational leadership say? What will colleagues say? Will this affect my employment? Will this affect church attendance and offerings? Bonhoeffer was first too radical for the state church, then he was too radical for much of the confessing church that broke away from the state church. At first Bonhoeffer thought he had allies in the ecumenical movement outside Germany, then he found that he was too radical for many of them. Sounds a bit like Paul the Apostle.

The Biblically theological almost always gives way to the practical and expedient. The Christocentric almost always gives way to the anthropocentric. That which serves Christ almost always gives way to that which serves man. The Cross almost always gives way to self-preservation.  Who has the courage to say, “Christ and Christ alone”?

There are apparent inconsistencies in Bonhoeffer, but this can be said for us all. The great point with Bonhoeffer in writing Life Together is that he was passionately seeking to work through Biblical community in Jesus Christ for the sake of the people of Jesus Christ in a time when society and the church were collapsing around him. Who would be around to pick up the pieces when the military, the dictator, civil government, and the organizational church were all in ruins? Hopefully a remnant of Christians living life together, with faithful shepherds who were willing to walk with God’s people in an environment of apostasy and spiritual prostitution. In writing Life Together Bonhoeffer is on mission to both the church and the world. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Language – the Duck and the Dog

In a previous post about language I wrote about governments being careful about discerning between legitimate and illegitimate rulers and ruling parties of other nations – and of whether to confer official recognition on them. Official recognition means that the new rulers will be the entity that other governments will establish relationships with, governments will not officially deal with more than one "legitimate" ruling entity in a nation. Language matters in foreign affairs.

Language matters in all that we do and in all that we think. The person or group of persons who dictate language, what it means and how it is used, controls the minds and behaviors of others. Who can stand against massively programmed collective language? Those who know the value of language and critical thinking, those who are plumbing the depths of belief and thought and moral and ethical character, and those who are courageous and who insist on using language representing transcendent truth while refusing to use the language of those who are attempting to destroy the image of God in humanity.  

If a group of people decide to begin programming society to believe that a duck is no longer a duck, but a dog, they might begin by using a new term, perhaps “dogduck” or “duckdog”. These people train a group of ducks to do dog tricks, they walk ducks on leashes, they allow ducks on the furniture. They lobby local governments to issue duck tag licenses arguing that duckdogs should have the same recognition as dogs. They protest at pet stores insisting that there be the same amount of space for duckdog food and other products as there is for dog and cat products. They insist that television and movie scripts represent duckdogs the same way they represent cats and dogs – even to the exclusion of cats and dogs.

Children are taught about duckdogs in school, that duckdogs are part of family life, and that families need not have a dog or cat, but that duckdogs are to be preferred.

What is one to do in such a situation? The first thing has to do with language – it is critical that a duck be named a duck and called a duck – no matter whether it has a leash or a metal tag around its neck or whether it is sitting on the family furniture or whether pet stores have sections with the name “duckdog”. A duck is a duck and a dog is a dog no matter what the social dictators say, and the moment we use the language of social dictatorship our minds and thinking and behavior changes to accept not only the terminology, but the image behind the terminology, and then we accept the lie behind the terminology…and soon we are thinking that there are actually animals who are duckdogs.

When schools and governments and news media collectively launch a campaign to reengineer language and thinking with an assault of duckdog terminology and articles about duckdogs the masses will crumble and acquiesce – especially when economic sanctions are used against individuals and pockets of individuals who resist bowing before the duckdog image. Those who had no firm convictions about ducks and dogs prior to the assault with wither and collapse; there will be those who have an inkling that there is no such thing as a duckdog, but many of them will begin to doubt their own thinking and will eventually, for the sake of job and family and social connections, accept the duckdog as a fact of life; perhaps they will see it as another step in the evolutionary process.

There are those who will delude themselves into thinking that there is a silent majority – but the majority will have been swept along with the new language, otherwise the language could not endure. Just listen, the majority is using duckdog language – the deed is done. The courts have recognized duckdogs, and in doing so have relegated dogs to the periphery of society – soon dogs will be ostracized, soon families will be apologizing for having dogs.

In a duckdog society who has the courage to use to words “duck” and “dog” and not to use the term duckdog? Who has the courage to resist an unprecedented attack on the true nature of life? Who are the pastors who will equip their people, and where are the congregations who will support one another and other congregations who refuse to bow before the duckdog? Where are the Christians who insist on using Biblical language and Biblical images in the midst of a social engineering project that rivals that of the overtly totalitarian regimes of the 20th century? 

Friday, May 6, 2016


What do you do when madmen run about the cruise ship blasting holes in it and telling others not to worry? What do you do when the madmen throw the lifejackets overboard and jettison the life boats?

Last year there was an airplane crash in Europe with a madman at the controls. The pilot left the cockpit, the madman locked the door, and they realized he was mad only moments before he flew the plane into earth.

We are oblivious to the water that is engulfing us.

We are drunk to the point where we do not discern the descent.

How long before our ship sinks?

How long before our flight crashes?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pondering Proverbs – 7

“Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words know to you,” Proverbs 1:20 – 23.

Verses 8 – 19, and 20 – 33, are repeated trajectories, double images, of two ways, two paths, two directions – one upward into light, the other downward into darkness; one of righteousness, and one of lawlessness; one of wisdom, and one of foolishness; one of the humble, and one of the rebellious; one of the reverent, and one of the scoffer. These two passages, just as Psalms 1 and 2, are stories of individuals and of peoples. Within groups of people are individuals, and all individuals (whether they see themselves so or not) are joined to a people.

Verse 8 gives the counsel of the father, incorporating the teaching of the mother; verse 20 introduces us to the personification of wisdom, lifting her voice, crying out in the streets, in the square, and at the entrances to the city. The longsuffering of God is seen in her cry, “How long, O simple ones…?” The answer is until it is too late; too late to repent, too late to hear, too late to learn.

The simple-minded and scoffers and fools treat life as a joke, tearing down what is beautiful and desecrating the image of God, taking what is holy and trampling it into pieces. Fools seek to destroy righteous thinking and living by first undermining it and then directly attacking it. Scoffers seek to obtain a critical mass of influence and power, and then call upon all to bow down and worship their humanistic image.

The Biblical writers exhort the people of God to be sober-minded, for we live in a world of drunken thinking. If we make light of drunken thinking, if we laugh with or at drunken thinking, if we accommodate ourselves to the humor of the world we will find ourselves alongside Saul of Tarsus, holding the coats of those throwing stones on the testimony of Jesus Christ; and who knows….maybe we will unwittingly pick up stone ourselves.

When Paul warns against foolish talking and coarse language (Ephesians 4:29; 5:4) he is doing so because we are called to walk in the Way of life in the new man, in the image of God; we are to be renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ephesians 4:20 – 24), speaking words of grace and thanksgiving.
When we laugh at sin we accept sin; when we laugh at coarseness we become coarse – when life becomes a perpetual joke then the joke is on us – while we may laugh now we will not laugh later.

There are those who “hate knowledge” (Proverbs 1:22, 29) and do not choose the fear of Yahweh (1:7, 29). They are called to turn to the reproof of wisdom (1:23), but they do not want it (verse 25) and so they spurn it (verse 30). Then comes the terrible judgment of God, the terrible consequences of those who hate knowledge: “So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices” (1:31). We hear this echoed in Romans Chapter One, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…Therefore God gave them over in the lust of their hearts…for they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” As C.S. Lewis observed, there are two kinds of people, those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

The promise to those who listen to the wisdom of God is that they will live securely and will not fear evil (Proverbs 1:33). This is a peace that is beyond our comprehension, it is a peace that comes from heaven and returns to heaven, drawing us into heaven. As we see the world for what it is, a place of rebellion, of lies, and violence, we see the stark contrast between the Way of life and the way of death; we see that the fear of Yahweh is a homing beacon, a rock, a shelter – a place where our minds find right thinking and our hearts find peace, where our souls find wholeness, where our spirits find life, and where our bodies learn obedience.

The wisdom of Proverbs is found in Jesus Christ, for He is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3). When Jesus says to His disciples that He is the Way He is saying that He is the wisdom they have read about and heard about from infancy, He is the source of all right thinking, of all true truth, of all righteousness and obedience to God.

Do we see the contrast presented in Proverbs between the wise and foolish? It is the contrast between God and Satan. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 28

“We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.

In the previous post I pointed out that there is a mission within the community and a mission without the community and that both missions are animated by love. Mission outside the community responds to the command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” by loving our neighbors as ourselves and by allowing the Father to give us to the world as He Gave His only begotten Son to the world – to be sure there is an upper case “G” and a lower case “g”.

Love within the community, love in life together, finds itself in the words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:34-35). Note that there is an evangelistic element to this love within the community – it is such a distinctive love that by it all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples.

Later in the Upper Room, after Jesus has spoken the above words, He comes back to them with amplification lest there be any question as to the quality and essence of the “even as” love that he is talking about, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you,” (John 15:12– 14). Jesus is laying down His life, He is calling the apostles, and through the apostles He is calling us, to lay our lives down for one another.

The Apostle John echoes these words in his first letter, “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).

The faith that Bonhoeffer writes about that binds us together is a faith that is inextricably woven with love and with hope. Hope in the revelation of Jesus Christ in His saints, love for the saints; but not any kind of love, but love with a peculiar definition – love defined by Christ and His Cross. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, we are called to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Notice that we are not exhorted to lay our lives down for God, or for Jesus – but rather for one another. The context of 1 John 3:16 is about the way we love one another. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” (4:11). John argues, how can I say I love God if I do not love my brother? As Paul makes clear again and again in 2 Corinthians, life together is sacrificial, it is intercessory living in community.

Sacrificial love not only makes us willing to “forego” the experience of koinonia that Bonhoeffer writes about, but it compels us to suffer for the sake of the community so that everyone within the community might grow up into Jesus Christ, individually and as the body of Christ. We are not simply speaking about the absence of something (the experience of community); we are speaking about the presence of something – suffering in love for the community and on behalf of the community. This is the love of Jesus Christ, laying down His life for us…this is the love to which, in Him, we are called. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 27

“We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.

Being “bound together by faith” is, I think, the spiritual community that Bonhoeffer has been writing of in this chapter; I wish he had continued to use the term to eliminate ambiguity just as I wish he had continued with the term emotional community; I take his use of the term “experience” in the last part of this chapter as being the same as his term emotional community.

Bonhoeffer is an example of another reason why God’s people can be “ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them”, and that is for the sake of others – in the realization “that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all.” While there is a spiritual reality in the heavens in Christ that constitutes our “firm and certain faith” (page 21), we are called to walk out that firm and certain faith in this world, in the community of faith, for the sake of those called to know Jesus Christ.

Paul writes toward the end of his life, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake for those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory,” (2 Timothy 2:10). There is mission outside the community; there is also mission inside the community. We suffer in bringing the Gospel to the nations; we suffer in bringing the community of faith unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13); both within and without the Christian community we are called to suffer for others (see 2 Corinthians for the former and Acts for the latter). Bonhoeffer writes Life Together for the sake of the Christian community; Bonhoeffer’s life and suffering has been increasingly devoted to the church and to the world – he is suffering for those within and without, he is suffering on the basis of the spiritual reality in Christ in order to bring others into that reality.

But this is more than an outward obedience to the call of God in Christ, and this is more than an obedience based on “seeing” invisible realities in Christ; this is an obedience born of love, love for those within and without the community. The love for those without the community is a love that desires to bring them within the community, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

The love of God that gave His only begotten Son is the love of God that continues to give his sons and daughters to the world so that the world may believe in the only begotten Son; the brothers and sisters are continually given to the world so that the world may believe in their Elder Brother, the One who is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). God gives, then He gives again, then He gives again, and God keeps on giving. To be sure there is no gift as that first Gift, and all subsequent gifts point to the One who is the first Gift, and all subsequent gifts are expressions of the first Gift, just as all the brothers and sisters of Romans 8:29 are to be conformed to the image of the Firstborn.

When we refuse to witness we refuse to be God’s gifts. When we refuse to witness we refuse to be God’s expressions of love to the world, and most particularly to those around us. If we are going to preach or teach or recite John 3:16 we ought to ask ourselves whether we are the incarnation of the giving of God; are we the incarnation of the Incarnation? Is the Incarnation expanding through us and in us? Is God’s love for the world our love for the world?

In the next post I’ll come back to love within the community…