Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 61

“After the day’s work has been completed, we ask for God’s blessing, peace, and preservation for the whole of Christianity…for the poor, the wretched and lonely, for the sick and dying, for our neighbors…When could we ever have a deeper awareness of God’s power and working than in the hour when we lay aside our own work and entrust ourselves to God’s faithful hands?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 52

Bonhoeffer continues to envision Christians gathering in life together throughout the day, into the evening and night. While circumstances may preclude us from doing this every night of the week, we can seek to connect with one another through various avenues of communication – we can seek to acknowledge one another. We can also continue in our prayer for one another. The cultivation of life together is an intentional and daily effort – yes effort. We should seek how we can “exhort one another while it is called today” – not think about doing it tomorrow, not regretting that we didn’t do it yesterday – today is the day of salvation.

In the evening, as we reflect on the day in the light of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word we can keep in mind Bonhoeffer’s words, “It is a decisive rule of every Christian community that every division that the day has caused must be healed in the evening. It is perilous for the Christian to go to bed with an unreconciled heart,” (page 53).

Life together is daily koinonia; koinonia in prayer, in the Word, in encouragement, in mission. It is the life of the “we” and “us” as opposed to the life of the “I” and “me”; it is the life of the “our” and not the life of the “mine”. We are called to live the day as members one of another, preferring one another above ourselves, forbearing and forgiving. My victory must not be my concern, I must seek our victory. We are called to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16) – this is how we know love, it is how we know life together.

Churches can program its members to death. We are not called to death via programs, we are called to life in Christ as we share life together. There is holistic health in community, there is Divine life in koinonia in Jesus Christ.

As we conclude this chapter of Life Together (The Day Together) let’s seek to be intentional in connecting with one another on a daily basis, throughout the day. A morning connection, a mid-day connection, and an evening connection. What can that look like in our lives? In my life? In your life? How can we facilitate the gathering of brothers and sisters during the week? How can we break bread together? How can we laugh and cry together? How can we encourage one another?

For the next seven days can we be intentional in touching our brothers and sisters three times a day, every day? Can life together become a way of life?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 60

“The day belongs to God alone. Hence in the middle of the day, the Christian community of faith gathers and lets God invite them to the table.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 51.

Bonhoeffer envisions Christians sharing life together gathering in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. While this is a challenge in our society, it is also a goal to which we ought to strive. Even if we cannot physically always gather at these times, we can gather more than just on Sundays and we can strive to incorporate koinonia into our daily lives by prayer, phone calls, other forms of communication (and less personal in the sense that nothing is as personal as being together or as the human voice) – and we can do our best to meet with one another during the day as often as possible. This can be for breakfast, for lunch, or for an afternoon coffee – as well as in the evening.  

When we do not gather, when we do not meet with one another, we are saying that the body of Christ is not vital to our lives – we are saying that we can live without fellowship, we are saying that the demands of this present age take precedence over our brothers and sisters…over our Lord Jesus Christ. When we quote Hebrews about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, and think that the author is writing about an hour on Sunday morning – we deceive ourselves. The writer of Hebrews is speaking of living in the Holy of Holies as people who have been made pure by the blood of Jesus, who are living in the presence of God in full assurance of faith, stimulating one another to love and good deeds and encouraging one another. This is a way of life that is to be lived every day, it is a way of life that is to be The Way of Life Together in Christ and with and in one another in Christ. Such a life cannot survive on one or two hours a week of Bread and Wine and Water and Word. While we may not live in communes we can live in community – indeed we must if we are to preserve the testimony of Jesus Christ in this generation.

When I take time for my brothers and sisters during the day I am saying to them and to the world, “You are important to me. You are important to Christ.” If the measure of my day is limited to productivity, to the “things” I do at work or at home, then I have missed my calling to worship God and testify that “the day belongs to God”. Better not to receive the promotion of man if it means that I am not encouraging and nurturing the body of Christ.

If the “day belongs to God alone,” then not one hour, not one minute, not one moment, belongs to me. God has entrusted His day to me as His steward – will I be faithful to Him? Will I be a thief and steal that which belongs to God, or will I hold in trust the hours and minutes and moments and offer them up to Him for His glory?

When we are too busy for the people of God we are too busy.

How can we connect with our brothers and sisters during the day? How can we encourage them?

“The day belongs to God alone.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 59

“The whole day now acquires an order and a discipline by winning the unity of the day. The order and discipline must be sought and found in the morning prayer. It will stand the test at work. Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day.” [Italics mine]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 50.

Bonhoeffer writes that morning prayer affects our work in the way we relate to others, in the way we organize our time, and in facing temptation. He also points out that the decisions we make “will become simpler and easier when they are made not in fear of other people, but solely before the face of God.” I find his latter observation especially insightful for the fear of man is a snare that the pressures of the workday can drive us into if we are not beholding the face of God, if we are not living in His presence.

While I realize that some people are “morning people” and others are not, the morning sets the trajectory for the day and what we think about, what we take in, what we ponder, and who we speak to (prayer) in the morning sets the tone for the day. But this is not a matter of a morning spent in prayer here and a morning spent in prayer there, this is a matter of morning upon morning upon morning devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ, to His Father, and to the Holy Spirit. This is a matter of a way of life – a life of morning prayer weaves a tight-knit fabric of life that can withstand in Christ the world’s attempts to tear that life apart. Just as Bible reading must be more than a verse here and a verse there, or even a passage here and a passage there, so morning prayer must become a way of life, a discipline practiced whether we are hot or cold, enthusiastic or lethargic, confident or hesitant. No matter what we think our pressing needs are, there is no need pressing over and above morning prayer.

This is especially challenging in our electronic age where televisions cry out to be turned on, email demands to be checked, cell phones beckon to be viewed “just in case we missed a call or a message”, and twenty-four-hour news insists that we watch the top stories another twenty-four times. For sports fans – isn’t it more important to see how the late-night game ended than to first devote time with our heavenly Father?

The day we have been given is not our day, it is God’s day, indeed, in Christ it is God’s Day, God’s New Day. If we are in Christ then we are in God’s New Creation – how shall we live in that New Creation? It isn’t just that we have been made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16 – 17ff), we have been transferred into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). We are not new creatures living in an old kingdom of darkness and death, we are new creatures living in Christ’s kingdom of light and life. The attempted encroachments of the old creation must be seen for what they are – attempted invasions – and must be repelled. The Day belongs to God and I will therefore worship Him in the morning…I will worship Him before I engage in anything else…I will present myself as a living sacrifice in morning prayer, Bible reading and mediation, singing – the Day belongs to God, I belong to God – that is the knowledge in which I am to begin every day – that is what I am to conform my life to.

In Life Together Bonhoeffer envisions morning prayer as communal prayer; I pray but also we pray. This is all the more reason to seek others with whom we can pray in the morning, for most of us do not live in communal (physical) community with one another. Meeting with a small group, even if only once a week, can be critical in weaving a fabric of morning prayer. Praying with our spouse or with roommates before leaving the house assists in stitching together a life of morning (and continuing) prayer. If we pray alone let us not pray as if we are alone, but rather pray in realization that we are members of the body of Christ, that we pray “Our Father”, that we join our voices to the voices of brothers and sisters across time and space in Jesus Christ.    

Rockets launched without a guidance system are dangerous, so is a day and a life without morning prayer. I doubt that few (if any) ship captains leave port without first having charted their course for the cruise. I have never met anyone who thinks that he can drive 400 miles on an empty gas tank. But this is about more than mechanics, this about more than cause and effect, this is about more than pragmatism – this is about who God is and who we are – this is about the relationship with us that Jesus Christ purchased with His blood on the Cross – let us begin each day as who we are…new creations living in God’s New Creation, living in Jesus Christ.

“Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day.” 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

No Place For Self-Justification In The Church

Eberhard Bethge, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, writes about a meeting that Bonhoeffer attended in June 1933 to discuss, among other things, the church’s response to the political, social, and religious climate in Germany. The minutes of the meeting included the following:

“Bonhoeffer discussed the meaning of the struggle. If God had involved the church in struggle, it was to humble it. There was therefore no place in this dispute for self-justification. Anyone who simply made accusations without also accusing himself had failed to understand the meaning of the struggle. (The strength of the church rests in her ability to enter into repentance.)” 

As was becoming usual, Bonhoeffer was in a minority – a word that Bethge uses more than once to describe Bonhoeffer during the time leading up to WWII is “isolated”.

In the current climate in our own country it seems that when Christians speak of repentance that they mean anyone and everyone but the church. Christians want the nation to repent but they do not want to repent themselves. The church wants its “cultural” adversaries to be humbled, but it does not want God to humble it. The church wants politicians, civic leaders, and academic leaders to embrace a “Christian worldview” (whatever that is it seems more often than not crafted in the image of prosperity), but the church has little desire to repent of its own narcissistic ways and change its own behavior.

Much of the American church is doing the very same thing that Bonhoeffer said that the German church was doing – justifying itself. How can we call others to repentance if we don’t first repent? How can we accuse others if we don’t accurse ourselves? How can we desire others to be humbled before God (a dangerous desire in most of us for it can lead to pride and self-worship) if we do not allow ourselves to be humbled by God?

A prophetic voice is a broken voice, a humbled voice, a voice clothed in sackcloth and not in the trappings of power and fame and prestige and prosperity. Jesus became poor for our sakes, but we will not become poor for Him or for the world. He bore our sorrows and our sin – but we insist that others serve our desires and allow us to sin as we please as long as it is Christianly acceptable, as long as it is clothed in a “Christian worldview” – whatever that is.

We reject any criticism, and we refuse to accuse ourselves, and we steadfastly refuse to humble ourselves. Instead of being models of repentance we are fools and tools who are manipulated by political, social, and economic agendas that are divorced from the Gospel and the Cross. The only power that matters is the power of the weakness of the Cross of Jesus Christ, the only victory that of suffering for Christ and on behalf of others.

Woe to the church that justifies itself – one day the beast it rides will devour it. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 58

“The prayer of the Christian reaches, therefore, beyond the time allocated to it and extends into the midst of the work. It surrounds the whole day…it promotes work, affirms work, gives work great significance and joyfulness. Thus every word, every deed, every piece of work of the Christian becomes a prayer…” [Italics mine]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 50.

Do we believe Paul’s words, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17)? If we believe them, what does obedience to them look like in our lives?

Do we believe the Holy Spirit when He says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily [from the soul], as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23 – 24)? Do our lives demonstrate our belief in these words? Can others observing us see something different in our work, something different about our attitude?

Yes, work can be hard, it can be challenging, and it can be unfair; it can also be rewarding and fulfilling and provide us with venues and circumstances to exhibit the grace and mercy and love of God to others. If work is difficult or unfair then all the more reason to worship God in the midst of work, all the more reason to offer our work to Him, knowing that we offer our work and ourselves to the righteous and just One, committing ourselves and our work to a loving and faithful Creator.

When we share life together we hopefully affirm our callings and vocations, we hopefully support one another in work, we hopefully encourage one another in our work. Questions to ask one another are, “How are you worshipping God in your work? How is God revealing Himself to you in your work? In your place of work, how do you sense yourself being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ?”

Work should be sacred, not secular. Work should be sacramental, a means by which we receive the grace of God and disseminate that grace to others. Those in vocational ministry of the Word and sacrament ought to affirm the sacredness of vocation in the lives of others, rather than (usually unwittingly) disparaging other vocations by promoting a sacred – secular dichotomy…as well as a clergy – laity dichotomy.

The gift of work is the gift of coming alongside our Creator – Father and learning to work as God works. The gift of work encompasses our heart and mind and hands – and all work, no matter what it may be (other than sinful and rebellious) is on a level field when it comes to worship, just as all hearts and souls are leveled in the Cross of Christ. The well-swept floor offered to God is as much exalted worship as a well-preached sermon, a well-written book, or the leadership of a powerful and influential organization. A sparkling clean commode offered to God takes its place alongside a complex symphony written for the glory of Christ. After all, we can but do what we are gifted to do, we can do only what we are given grace to do – and perhaps even more importantly, since we are one body (do we believe that?) then what one member does all members do – so that all glory is given to Christ Jesus and none to us (if we believe that!). Life together means work together, supporting and encouraging one another in vocation whatever that vocation might be.

In calling and vocation we are not accountable for the gifts and graces that we do not have, but for those which we do have.

Prayer imbues our work, and our work is to be our prayer. To profane our work is to profane our worship, and to sanctify our work, to offer it to Jesus Christ, is to offer ourselves in worship – both as individuals and as His people - sharing life together

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 57

“After the first morning hour, the Christian’s day until evening belongs to work…Praying and working are two different things. Prayer should not be hindered by work, but neither should work be hindered by prayer…Prayer requires its own time…The inseparable unity of both will only become clear when work and prayer each receives its own undivided due. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer; and without prayer, work is not work…Thus it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes apparent.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 49.

In the next post another quote from Bonhoeffer will clarify his thinking about the relationship of prayer and work – his trajectory is their “inseparable unity”. We can all pray at work and we can all receive insight about work when we are praying during set times. That being said, “prayer requires its own time” and work requires that we focus on it. Prayer can be the “wing man” of work just as work can be the “wing man” of prayer – both are (or should be) forms of worship, both are dance partners – sometimes one takes the lead, sometimes the other leads.

What does Bonhoeffer mean by, “Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer”? Perhaps he means that engagement in everyday life, which includes keeping and tending the earth that God placed us on and therefore includes work, drives us to prayer – God gave us life, God gave us creation, God gave us the means to sustain ourselves – how shall we do it, how shall we live? How shall we relate to one another and how shall we cooperate with one another? How shall we build familial, social, and civic community? Because of the Fall, even in those who are redeemed and have the mind of Christ, our thinking is fractured and impaired, as is our discernment, as are our emotions. We think we know what is outside us, we think we see things are they “are”, but we remain "less" experientially than we were meant to be. If my knowledge of God remains imperfect, so does my knowledge of others, of circumstances, and of myself. I cannot see things, even in a glass darkly, without prayer, without communion with the Trinity.

Prayer, communion with God, is our calling. Work is also our calling. Prayer is worship. Work, in the Biblical sense, is worship. As I offer prayer to God, so should I offer work to God. God loves communion with mankind; God is also a worker and He invites us to work with Him – He invites us to invite Him into our work so that our work may be offered back to Him in worship and in service to humanity and in stewardship of creation.

This can be the shared experience of mankind across the planet – whether rich or poor, formally educated or not; whether the floor of the home is earth or concrete or carpet or rough-hewn logs; we can all arise in the morning and commune with our Father – Creator and then engage in work that glorifies Him, serves our neighbor, and stewards creation. This is a common denominator across the planet, it is the calling of humanity, and if we miss this essential essence we miss the In the Beginning of Genesis – we miss the baseline of life, including of our redemptive life in Christ.

Those Christians who see a dichotomy between worship (prayer) and work, who see one sphere as sacred and the other as secular, live life apart from the Biblical foundation of Genesis in which life in God is holistic – in our communion with God we work and in our work we commune with God. Our redemption in Christ Jesus restores us to this holistic life and we are taught that all we do should be done in the name of Jesus Christ to the glory of God; we are taught in the Bible that when we work we don’t primarily serve our earthly masters but rather God. When we use the terms “secular” and “sacred” to distinguish work from worship we reinforce a dichotomy of death that has no Biblical foundation – in fact, it works against the holistic Biblical mandate of work and worship – worship and work.

A solid prayer life, especially prayer and devotions in the morning, provides a firm foundation for work; a work life in which work is offered to God, in which we see ourselves as stewards and servants, provides a firm foundation for prayer. Together they result in a life holistically lived for God, a life in service to others, and a life that stewards God’s creation.