Friday, August 26, 2016

The Image of God

We talk about the image of God but we don’t believe it any more than Adam and Eve believed it. When the serpent said, “Has God said?” they doubted whether God had said, they gave credence to the serpent’s words and discredited God’s.

In Christ, God has restored us to His image, but we don’t believe it. We say we believe it. We say we believe in justification by and in Jesus Christ, but we don’t believe it. If we believed it we would call one another what God calls those restored to His image – we would call one another the term the Bible uses – we would call one another saints. But we allow our natural eyes to deceive us, just as Adam and Eve did, and just as Adam and Eve we think, “What we thought God said doesn’t make sense,” and we too eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than from the Tree of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, Pentecostals and charismatics may allow their “experience” to influence their interaction with the Biblical text (don’t’ we all?). But what about the rest of us who allow our experience of life to so influence our interaction with the Biblical text that we steadfastly refuse to call a saint a saint, who refuse to acknowledge the identity that we have in Christ, and who are aghast at those who dare to use the language of God as opposed to the language of common-sense man?

A people robbed of their identity is a people in slavery. As long as we think as slaves to sin we might as well remain in Egypt. Isn’t it time we took our eyes off ourselves and focused on Jesus Christ? 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 56

“The breaking of bread together teaches Christians that here they still eat the perishable bread of the earthly pilgrimage. But if they share this bread with one another, they will also one day receive together imperishable bread in the Father’s house.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 49.

Life together is communion with one another in our Lord Jesus Christ, sharing both the Bread of Life and life’s bread together on a shared pilgrimage. Americans migrated to the far West via wagon train – there was guidance and protection in numbers. In the ancient Near East people often traveled in caravans – traveling together was a way of life to better ensure that one reached his destination. People who live in koinonia experience holistic health and comfort and as they face the vicissitudes of life they need not face them alone – for they are members of one another.

Because we are on pilgrimage our travels are not without internal conflict and the challenge of growth, nor are they without relational challenge. However, Bonhoeffer begins his book Life Together focused on Christ, His Word, and Mission to the world – when the Christ of the Cross is our center, when we live under the Word of God rather than seek to dominate the Word, and when mission to the world is woven into our threefold purpose (worship God, edify one another, make disciples through witnessing), then our conflicts can be offered to the Cross and we can see Jesus beyond seeing ourselves…then we can learn to prefer one another and to deny ourselves.

We know from the New Testament (and subsequent history) that the enemy seeks to create and sustain conflict within the church – to divide the body of believers in Christ. This conflict takes many forms, from ego and vanity and self-seeking to doctrinal heresy and immorality. Time together, meals together, praying together, getting to know one another, laughing with one another, rejoicing with each other, crying together, bearing one another’s burdens, relaxing together, playing together…time together binds us together, allowing our hearts to be knit together by love.

But this garden must be cultivated; the ground must be tilled, the seed must be planted and watered, the weeds must in wisdom be pulled (not haphazardly!), and the garden must be protected from creatures and elements that would destroy it. There must be intentionality – gardens do not just happen and gardens do not maintain themselves. Untended gardens revert to their surroundings and the garden plants are overrun with weeds until they are indiscernible; whatever fruit the garden may have produced is eaten by insects and animals and birds and what is unconsumed finds its way into the earth, into the soil – falling short of its intention to feed the body of man, to be shared in the body of Christ.

We too often view ourselves as sliced bread rather than as a whole loaf in Christ – and in this sense sliced bread is not something to be thankful for (any more than sanitized communion wafers?), perhaps it is not a stretch to say that we are what we eat – do we see ourselves as one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:14-17) or are we little wafers and individual slices? What we act out is important, our imagery is important. If we must use little wafers, and if we must use little cups, let us remind ourselves and one another that we are partaking of One loaf and One cup…otherwise our minds will play tricks on us and we will exclude our brothers and sisters from the table of our hearts and minds. The only style of eating that the body of Christ is called to is “family style” – family style is life together.

If our calling and trajectory is to eat the Marriage Supper of the Lamb together, doesn’t it make sense to also eat the rehearsal dinner together? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 55

“Christian community at the table also signifies obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another not only in the Spirit, but with our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our community unites us in a firm covenant.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 48.

How has it happened that, more often than not, we eat alone? How has it happened that members of families often eat alone? How has it happened that even when people are physically together that they often eat alone – not sharing hearts and minds with one another but rather watching video or texting or speaking on the phone? A line from a favorite prayer says, “The enemy is within the citadel, come Thou in almighty power and cast him out…”

We cannot be a city set on a hill unless we are a people, and to be a people we must share life together; it is not sufficient that we subscribe to the same worldview, or gather in the same venue once or twice a week – after all, we gather with coworkers five times a week but that does not make us a true people and it does not make us family. We gather publically and then we recede into our isolated lives with our isolated thoughts and our isolated needs and our unused and undeveloped gifts. My bread is my bread and your bread, if you have any bread, is your bread – let us not get our bread confused.

While it is true that Paul did counsel the Corinthians to eat at home before they gathered (1 Corinthians 11:17 – 34), he did this as an immediate response to an immediate problem – the Corinthians were not gathering to share bread, when they gathered they had the attitude that “my bread is my bread and if you don’t have bread you can be hungry.” Paul’s extended teaching on sharing the material things of this world in 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 – 9 portrays a way of life in Christ that is a life of sharing with one another so that no person goes hungry. What Paul, in 2 Corinthians, expects the Corinthians to do in their relationships with Christians outside Corinth, he certainly expects them to do at home in Corinth. 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 – 9 is a threat to our materialistic way of life in the church, at least in the West, perhaps we had better not preach those chapters – too dangerous – better not question our use of time or money or resources – after all, they are “mine, mine, mine!”.

Bonhoeffer continues (page 48), “As long as we eat our bread together, we will have enough even with the smallest amount. Hunger begins only when people desire to keep their own bread for themselves. That is a strange divine law.”

Yes, perhaps it is a “strange divine law,” a law that goes against our desire for self-preservation – but isn’t the way of the Cross the way of denying ourselves and following Jesus? And isn’t the way of following Jesus the way of loving others as ourselves and laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters? Can we not trust God to feed us as we feed others? Can we not trust Jesus to be at table with us all and to care for us?

Life together is a way of life, it is the way of Jesus Christ – He gave His life for us…surely we can give our lives for one another…surely we can live our lives with one another…surely we can break bread together.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lives of Worship

We are called to live lives of worship – worship has many forms, as life has many forms, and all of life’s forms are to be forms of worship.
John 4:21 - 24
Colossians 3:17
Romans 12:1-2

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Think First the Kingdom

If we are going to "seek first" the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), we must learn to think "first the Kingdom" in our daily lives. If we are not thinking "first the Kingdom" we will not be seeking first the Kingdom.

Daily News or Eternal News?

If the first things we talk about are the headlines, then First Things are not our main things.

If our minds are slaves (despite our protestations) to the ever-changing news, then they are not washed in the Good News.

If our preoccupation is our national government, then we are not seeking first the Kingdom of God.

All flesh is grass and all it loveliness is like the flower of the field (Isaiah 40), only the Word of God abides forever – so then, which word is living in us? We cannot serve two masters, we cannot serve two kingdoms. When we speak to others we will speak for one or the other, when we relate to others we will relate as either citizens of this age or citizens of that Age which is breaking into this age.

We will either make deposits in the bank of heaven or the bank of this age – where exactly is our treasure? What does our speech reveal about our heart?

What will the meditation of my heart be today? What will my words say about my heart? What about you?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 54

Bonhoeffer asks, concerning the three communal meals, “What does it mean to recognize Jesus Christ by way of these gifts?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 46.

The first thing it means, Bonhoeffer replies, is that we recognize Christ as the Giver of all gifts. Secondly it means that all gifts are given “only for the sake of Christ” and “for the sake of Christ’s Word and its proclamation.”  Christ is worthy to be praised because He (and the Father and Holy Spirit) has created all things and for His glory and pleasure they were created. When we gather for a communal meal our gathering should have Jesus Christ at its center and focus.

Thirdly it means that our Lord Jesus desires to be present with us and we are to confess the “gracious omnipresence of Jesus Christ” (page 47) when we gather. “Every breaking of bread together fills Christians with gratitude for the present Lord and God, Jesus Christ…Christians recognize their Lord as the true giver of all good gifts,” (page 47).

“At the table they [the community of believers] recognize their Lord as the one who breaks bread for them. The eyes of their faith are opened,” (page 47).

Thus there is a sacramental element to communal meals, whether it be the Eucharist, or a lunch together of hot dogs and potato chips. Both of the foregoing acknowledge the Presence of Christ in His people and they both look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – they not only look forward to that Supper, but they draw their strength from the reality of the Supper as they live as who they are in Christ. When those in life together gather, they gather in unity and communion with the transcendent people of God (Hebrews 12:18 – 24), they gather acknowledging that they have come to “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22) and to “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (12:24). One wonders why we don’t eat together more often.

It must have been a grand time of grace and love and communion when those first disciples in Acts gathered from house to house sharing both the Word of God and communal meals.  In communion the sum is greater than the parts, but the parts living in isolation are less than they are – for they are only who they are when they are joined to one another. In unity there is witness of Jesus Christ and the Gospel (John 17), in isolation there is….what?

Communal meals and communal living (however that may look, and I think it may look a number of different ways), represent a statement that we are putting the Kingdom of God first and that our primary family is the family of God, Yes, we want to draw all of our natural family into our primary family, just as Noah no doubt wished to draw all of his family into the Ark, but when we come to Jesus Christ we, in a sense, are called to leave our father and mother and be joined to Christ. We can and must trust God in this, trust Him to give us wisdom and love and grace for others, trust Him to give us a sensitive compassionate witness, and trust Him for grace to be obedient witnesses. But it is Jesus who said that He would create division – we cannot explain that away as something that He really didn’t mean – there is a cost to following Jesus Christ.

If we believe Jesus, then unity in community is essential for witness (John 17) and therefore community (koinonia, life together) as a way of life (and community can only be found and experienced as a way of life) must be nurtured, encouraged, and sought – which necessarily means leaving behind the spirit of this age and living in the Spirit of the new creation which is coming in us and through us in Jesus Christ. We must be about building the Lord’s House and not our own individual houses (see Haggai).

Who knew the potential in a shared meal of hot dogs and potato chips?  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 53

“Ever since Jesus Christ sat at table with his disciples, the community at the table of Christ’s congregation has been blessed by his presence…The Scriptures speak of three kinds of community at the table that Jesus keeps with his own: the daily breaking of bread together at meals, the breaking of bread together at the Lord’s Supper, and the final breaking of bread together in the reign of God. But in all three, the one thing that counts is that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 46.

“When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight…[after they returned to Jerusalem] They began to related their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread,” (Luke 24:31, 35).

“Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,” (Acts 2:46).

Luke, with a physician’s eye for detail, perhaps pondered the similarity of what he wrote in Chapter 24 of his Gospel and Chapter 2 of Acts. Not only is Jesus Christ present in the institution and continuance of the Last Supper in the Upper Room (Luke 22:1-23), but He is also present on the road to Emmaus as well as in those sharing life together in Acts. Furthermore, since Luke was a companion of Paul’s, he may well have considered Paul’s teaching, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless communion in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break communion in the body of Christ? Since there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread,” (1 Cor. 10:16 – 17). 

God’s people are meant to eat together. When we eat together we love it; we love the time together, we love the food around which we gather, we love the conversation, we love getting to know each other, we love trying dishes from other families, we love the laughter – when we eat together we experience life together. One wonders why we don’t eat together more often, why we don’t do it as a way of life.

When we eat together we testify that we are the people of God, the flock which Jesus Christ has purchased by His blood. When we eat together we announce by our actions that we are family, that we share a common life in Jesus Christ. When we eat together we make time for one another and in making time for one another we declare that our brothers are sisters are important to us, important enough to take time to be with them, important enough to place them above other demands of life, to place them above the demands and expectations and callings of the world. When we gather around a table for a meal we not only partake of the meal, we partake of Christ and of one another and we partake in expectation of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. There is the cacophony of the world, and then there is the melody and harmony of the Kingdom of God – when we gather together with our feet under the King’s table we live in unison with God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of His Christ, rejecting the world’s chaos, noise, demands, facades, and false promises.

Life together in Christ is implicitly a rejection of life joined to the present age, the present world order. The present age, which is passing away, says, “Live this way!” Life together in Christ says, “No, do not live that way, live in this Way, live together in Christ as one bread, as one body.”

In baptism we explicitly reject the way of the present age, we testify to our death with Christ and our death to the present age; in coming up from the waters of baptism we declare our joint resurrection with Christ and our deliverance from the present age. Just as in drinking from the cup of koinonia we drink not just individually but collectively, so our individual baptism is joined to the baptisms of all saints in all times so that we partake of the one great baptism of death and resurrection, that of Jesus Christ. We are all passing through the Red Sea in Jesus Christ – and if we could see time from eternity we would see not myriad individual crossings of the Red Sea from bondage to redemption, but rather one great people of God in Christ crossing together in Christ, one great multitude which no man can number translated from darkness into the light and life of Jesus Christ.

Such as we are in Christ, so should we live. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Priest Yields

In a sermon on May 28, 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “What is the use of the church, if [is it] only left to wait? No, our church ought to have something. We want to see something in our church…The priest is not driven out, he is told: “Do your duty!” “Preserve religion for the people, give them worship services”…[Aaron] looks to his office, to his consecration, he looks to the people. He understands their impatience, they thirst for action, and their pious raging only too well – and he yields…

“The human race is ready for any sacrifice in which it may celebrate itself and worship its own work…” Quoted by Eberhard Bethge in his book, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Biography; pages 282 – 283.

I hope I have repented of trying to make things happen in the Kingdom of God. I hope I have repented of trying to take the place of God among the people of God. I hope I have repented of trying to create a certain experience. I hope I have repented of not abiding in the Vine. And I hope I have repented of making golden calves.

We condemn idol makers, and yet what idols do we make and worship? Ours can be more entertaining, more seducing, more acceptable, more pragmatic, than little figurines or towering statues. There is nothing quite like the idol of the heart, and within the temple of the heart there is nothing quite like the idol of self. Yes, we want to celebrate ourselves and worship our works – we will not wait for God, we will not wait for Christ – and so we wander – never entering the inheritance but always deceiving ourselves that our next idol will be the solution to our problems, that it will bring us to the pinnacle of success, that it represents the portal into the promised land.

Sadly, one of the idols we contend with is the politicizing of the church – we abandon our prophetic calling for the allure of the political arena; we drape the Cross of Christ with nationalism and in doing so cloak the Cross in darkness, obscuring its message. We evoke the idol of mythical national history without critique, demanding prophets who tell us what we want to hear, that which justifies our own thinking and which spares us Biblical reflection. We engage in eisegesis with the Bible and with history – we are the great manipulators. Those who call us to critique are met with aspersions and sarcasm – no matter their credentials – they are accused of having “agendas” when all they ask us to do is to examine the facts – to at least be open to the possibility that there may be more to the story.

A couple of years ago I read a popular biography of Bonhoeffer [not the one by Eberhard Bethge]. It was so poorly written that I had to force myself to read it. Last year, when I discussed it with a friend whom I respect and found that he liked the book I decided to read it again – maybe my first impressions were wrong. The second time around I found the book just as poorly written, both from a literary perspective and from an historical one. Little wonder that Bonhoeffer scholars and historians have problems with this particular biography, suggesting that the author created Bonhoeffer in an American evangelical image. This same author now has a popular book about America and God and liberty; and even though historians such as Robert Tracey McKenzie (Wheaton College) and John Fea (Messiah College) have, I think, demonstrated flaws in the book, there are people reading the book who not only do not want to consider any critique of the book, some have attacked these historians – not with reasoned historical analysis, but rather with sarcasm and belittlement.

The context of Bonhoeffer’s sermon was the alignment of the German church with Nazism – draping the Cross with the flag. Bonhoeffer was in the minority of pastors and theologians in standing against this alignment. Most of us have either worshipped, or been tempted to worship, at the Golden Calf of mythological nationalistic history – this is history that either does not recognize the sin of the nation, or minimizes national sin. I have worshipped that calf.

Whether is it religious activity, the pressure to be religiously successful, the desire for numbers at the expense of people actually knowing Jesus Christ in discipleship; or the intoxication of political power and nationalistic fever that lacks repentance, holiness, righteousness, and justice – I hope I have repented of this…for I have worshipped at these altars, and sadly have at times been vehement that others worship with me…thereby missing the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ.

Only Jesus Christ can justify us; not our religious activity and success, and certainly not our national history. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 20

NOTE: Almost a year ago I started a series that I've called "Peace or Anger?" It was in response to a request from a friend who struggles with anger. While my postings on this have been infrequent the past few months, this particular posting is the result of months of pondering Moses striking the rock - before I wrote this I pondered it and pondered it. As far as I know this is the final page of this letter to a friend.

With so much anger being exhibited in our society, in so many areas, it seems a fair warning to all professing Christians - we are not called to be people of anger but rather peacemakers. To be people of anger is to court the real possibility that we will fall short of God's calling in our lives - that is a shame, not just for us, but more so for those who we are called to serve. 

If we engage in the anger we see around us we will be consumed. This is a warning to me - I don't know about you.

“…and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble before the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water”…and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth…

“But Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Numbers Chapter 20).

Time after time the people of Israel complained to Moses about God and disobeyed the Word of God. How much can one man take before his anger reaches a boiling point? As Moses led Israel through the Red Sea and saw the sea engulf Israel’s enemies he must have thought that they would soon be in the Promised Land. The Egyptians who pursed Israel were dead, the Red Sea was an effective barrier against immediate pursuit, and it was likely that it would take Egypt time to mount a pursuit after recovering from the loss of its king and the flower of it army. Moses could now look forward to the fulfillment of God’s call to deliver God’s people and to lead them into Canaan.

The days, weeks, and months of tension between Moses and Pharaoh were over. The years of slavery for his people Israel were over. Israel was returning to its ancestral home, the home God promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to Moses. Moses was going to know rest and fulfillment and he could live out the rest of his days in peace…blessed peace. Soon Israel would be through the wilderness, soon Israel would displace the peoples living in Canaan, soon Israel would enjoy peace and live under the special domain of Yahweh, the True and Living God.

But life for Moses did not turn out as he expected…once again; there would be forty years of desert wanderings. While the text does not explicitly say that Moses was angry, his words “Listen now, you rebels”, and his action, “Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod”, indicate anger. Apparently Moses thought that the rebellious attitudes and actions of Israel justified not only his anger, but also his disobedience of God’s Word to “speak to the rock”. This is was costly action, for it cost Moses that for which he longed, to enter the land of God’s promise.

Did Moses think that God would understand his anger and not require accountability? Did Moses think that God would justify his anger? Did Moses think that, based upon his close relationship with God (and it was indeed intimate), that God would make allowances for him? We don’t know what Moses thought about God when he struck the rock, but we do know what God said, “…you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel.”

When Moses realized what he had done, how he had violated his relationship with God and what the consequence of that disobedience was, Moses tells us in his own words what he did:

“Then I pleaded with Yahweh at that time, saying: O Lord Yahweh…I pray let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon. But Yahweh was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me: Yahweh said to me. Enough of that! Speak no more to me of this matter,” (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 29).

In human terms, for what other terms can we use, this brought sorrow to God – after all these years God must say “No” to Moses; even as Moses’s heart’s desire was unfulfilled, so God’s heart’s desire for Moses was not fulfilled – Moses did not experience all that God desired for him because Moses did not guard the holiness of God when he indulged in anger.

Just as there was no excuse for Moses’s unrighteous anger, there is no excuse for our unrighteous anger. If we think that God will excuse our anger by realizing that “that’s just the way I am”, or “under the circumstances it was natural that I react like that”, or “God understands and because He will forgive me I don’t need to be concerned about my actions”; we would do well to consider Moses – God will forgive us, but our actions have consequences. Our self-indulgent anger violates the holiness of God, it is our attempt to take control of life, not only our own lives, but the lives of others.

Moses took the things of God, the rod which God had used to equip Moses, and the rock which was God’s witness and provision, and used them in the service of his anger – Moses not only disobeyed the Word of God, he also profaned the things of God. Furthermore, if we consider the New Testament perspective that the rock represented the Messiah, the egregiousness of Moses’s action is shown in a greater light.

Our anger can keep us from fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose in our lives. We are to live life in obedience to Jesus Christ, submitting our will to Him and Him alone, and acknowledging Him as Lord over all of life – sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15) and living lives of witness to Him.

I hope, as I close this letter my friend, that we, that you and I, will together learn to sanctify the Lord in our hearts, in our actions, and in our words. I hope we will remember the good things that our Father has for us, I hope that we will remember that He has called us to bless others in Jesus Christ; and I also hope we will remember that our self-indulgent and foolish anger, our attempt to control life, to exert our will, has the potential to cause us to fall short of God’s full purpose for us in Jesus Christ.

We can take rest in the One who said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). Let us trust and rest in Jesus Christ, submitting ourselves to Him and Him alone – and we will not need to be men of anger, but rather men of peace.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 52

“We have considered thus far the daily morning worship of Christian everyday-life communities. God’s Word, the hymns of the church, and the prayers of the community of faith stand at the beginning of the day.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 46.

Can we relate to the term, “everyday-life communities”? Bonhoeffer envisions Christians living in close proximity to one another, either in immediate communal settings or in neighborhoods that lend themselves to daily gatherings that nurture communal life. As he witnesses the broader church washed away by the onslaught of National Socialism and heresy, he sees that small groups of faithful disciples living life together is critical for the preservation of Gospel witness, the preservation of the true church, and the preservation of families and individuals within the true church.   

Is such a thing possible? Can we live in “everyday-life communities”? Can we experience life together? What are the challenges to “everyday-life communities”?

Bonhoeffer has laid the foundation of the community by beginning with Jesus Christ and His Word, and then moving to prayer and singing (worship). Without the centrality of Jesus Christ and living under the Word in worship there is no firm foundation for life together. No novel idea or doctrine or practice, no rejection of other traditions, no need for self-preservation, no desire for esoteric knowledge or spiritual experience – none of these things is a sufficient foundation for life together, in fact, they are all detrimental to the Body of Christ. Life together must be rooted in Jesus Christ and lived under His Word or else it is but a matter of time and circumstance before the community disintegrates. Only Christ and His Word endure forever and through all things; everything else falls away, everything else is dust, everything else will rust. As Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter, “Outside the Bible everything else is uncertain.”

Living in proximity to one another means more that geographical closeness, it also means relational closeness. This idea is frightening or troubling for many of us for we are accustomed to living closed and selfish lives. We are careful about close relationships lest they expose our vulnerabilities and make demands on us; we have our own life agendas which cause us to hoard time and resources. Our resources and our time and our vulnerabilities are our own and we don’t care to surrender control of them.

Time has become our master – not Christ. We work, we eat, we seek entertainment, we sleep (or try to), and the cycle begins again. We convince ourselves that we deserve what we have, what we seek, what we indulge in – our lives are privatized (at least in the West). In church we may have small groups that meet periodically, but more often than not the groups are not rooted in systematic Biblical thinking and understanding and require no cost of discipleship. We are people of convenience and relationships are not always convenient. There can be no life together if life is about me, there can be life together when life is about Jesus Christ and His people and others.

Am I practicing community? Am I nurturing relationships in Jesus Christ? Am I encouraging other disciples to live in relationship with the Body of Christ? Am I fighting the societal and cultural elements that feed my selfishness? Am I allowing Jesus Christ to be Lord of my time –or am I the slave of time?

I don’t know if “Christian everyday-life communities” are possible in North American.

What do you think?

What does my life say about Christian everyday-life community?

What does your say?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 51

“The use of set prayers can be a help even for a small community living together under certain circumstances, but often it becomes only an evasion of real prayer. By using ecclesial forms and the church’s wealth of thought, we can easily deceive ourselves about our own prayer life. The prayers then become beautiful and profound, but not genuine…Here the poorest stammering can be better than the best-phrased prayer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 45.

Continuing our reflection on the above passage:

Life together is life lived patiently and in longsuffering. We simply can’t, or at least shouldn’t, tightly orchestrate communal prayer. We can model and we can coach and we can encourage, but often our own struggles are not the struggles of others, and often our perspectives are limited – perhaps better…usually they are limited, quite limited. This is to say that we ought to give others room to work out their own prayer lives; to be sure we can nurture and encourage a corporate life of prayer; counseling those who are reluctant to pray aloud to let go and speak, and counseling those who are quick to engage in extended prayer aloud to give room to others and to support others in prayer. We can model extemporaneous prayer, we can model praying the Scriptures, we can model praying “set prayers”, and we can model silent prayer.

The more diverse the backgrounds of those living in community the greater sensitivity we should have to perspectives of those in the community – they will not all be our perspective. Furthermore, it is amazing how the Lord of the Body will work His will through the members of His Body if the leaders will get out of the way and allow the members of the Body to interact with one another – the leaders need not mediate the prayer experience, they need not filter it, they need not insist that it follow a certain form in every expression and every gathering. Often those young in Christ, coming from different backgrounds, can more easily build one another up in guileless love than a seasoned leader can – for they tend to speak the language of the heart and not the mind, and they tend to live in awe of their Lord Jesus and newness of life than those who have trodden many miles of pilgrimage. Sometimes leaders know too much and what they know eclipses the Jesus they know – better to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do. I have sometimes thought that seminary graduates ought to be placed on the ministerial sidelines for a year or more lest they fall into a knowledge trap – knowledge surely puffs up but love edifies. Perhaps we should be sent to work on a farm or in a factory? Then we could re-observe life and the Holy Spirit could test what we have been taught as it is tested in the lives of others – if it is not real in our lives in the factory or on the farm or in the restaurant then we need not preach it and we need not preach.

Let those in life together learn to support one another in prayer, however that prayer may be expressed; and let it be expressed in such a way that we speak for the community of believers and on behalf of a dying world.

I may never pray as some brothers and sisters pray, but I can ever pray with them.

Life together, lived in Christ and lived under the Word of God, is organic and as such the life of prayer of the community is organic – the form of expression today may not be the form of expression tomorrow, we live in times and seasons. Whatever the season, we can confidently gather in the assurance that our Lord Jesus will meet us and commune with us in the Holy Spirit, we can confidently expect that our kind heavenly Father will draw us to Himself and to one another.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 50

“The use of set prayers can be a help even for a small community living together under certain circumstances, but often it becomes only an evasion of real prayer. By using ecclesial forms and the church’s wealth of thought, we can easily deceive ourselves about our own prayer life. The prayers then become beautiful and profound, but not genuine…Here the poorest stammering can be better than the best-phrased prayer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 45.

I was a little surprised when I read this about “set prayers”, after all, Bonhoeffer previously encouraged us to pray the Psalms, and “set prayers” by the church are only a step removed from the Psalms (provided they are Biblically based). We want to encourage others to live lives of prayer, this means intimacy with God, conversation with God, prayer-engagement with God in its many forms, including in groanings which cannot be articulated. This also means praying the Scriptures and it can mean prayers written and prayed by other disciples through ages and generations. If we can sing hymns written through the centuries which are directed to God, we can pray prayers directed to God.

Absent a commentary from Bonhoeffer that answers the question, “Why did you write this passage?” we can only attempt to reconstruct why Bonhoeffer thought it important to use limited space within limited time to coach his readers in this fashion. The driving force was, of course, the preservation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in His church, manifested in life together – Christians living in Christ and Christ living in Christians. His emphasis on “real prayer” shows his desire for Christians to really be Christians – to know the indwelling Christ as individuals and as a community – it is not enough to mouth the words of others without experiencing the relationship from which those prayer words were birthed by the union of the Holy Spirit and the individual; as Paul wrote, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” If we are to pray the Psalms at some point they must become our psalms, if we are to sing hymns they must become our hymns, if we are to pray prayers that others have prayed then at some point they must become our prayers. All of the foregoing must take possession of us and we must take possession of them – as we are given grace and understanding by the Holy Spirit.

Mere formalism is not enough, in fact it is toxic – the heart must be engaged with God and the mind must be renewed. Bonhoeffer himself did not discover the Bible in his own life until the early 1930s and it was around 1930 and 1931 that he experienced a “change” in his life according to his primary biographer, dear friend, and niece’s husband - Eberhard Bethge. So while Bonhoeffer is likely addressing the formalism he witnessed in the church, he may also be thinking about his own life in addressing “real prayer” – the two were intertwined.

Was he also reflecting on his American experience in the black church and contrasting the worship and prayers he heard there with the formalistic-established church in Germany? Might he also have thought about his work in poorer sections of Berlin and how removed those people were from the formalism of the church? Could he also have pondered the academic - theological environment and considered how it was intellectual and philosophical but not Christocentric or Biblically based? Since all of the foregoing were part of Bonhoeffer’s life, since he had experienced them all, I think they were all in his heart and mind as he wrote about prayer and envisioned what prayer should look like in life together. Maybe Bonhoeffer was more pietistic at times that he would have liked to think.

The next post in this series will continue with the above passage from Life Together.