Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hebrews Chapter Eleven: 5

“…he was pleasing to God” (Hebrews 5:5).

Is there anything more that we could desire than to be pleasing to God? This is the testimony that God gives to those who trust in Him. This is the testimony of the Father to the Son, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:6). The faith of Hebrews Chapter 11 is a faith manifested in the heart, the mind, the soul, the body. It is a faith lived out in daily life, in word, in action, in thought, in affection. Enoch “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24), and Noah “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9) – Noah and Enoch moved in God, they lived in God, they knew koinonia with God. The writer of Hebrews is able to describe what faith looks like by describing the lives of the men and women recorded in Chapter 11.

“…for he who comes to God must believe that He is…” (Hebrews 11:6). We can to come to God and not believe that He is, or we can come to God and believe that He is – which will it be? We should not assume that just because we come to God, that just because we move in the direction of God, that we believe that He is. This is, I admit, a curious thought. How many churches have people who don’t really believe that “God is”? They are there on Sunday; they recite the creeds, they sing the songs, they may teach a class – but their movement toward God is more a movement toward an idea, an ethic, a tradition, a social practice, or a sense of “spirituality”, than it is toward an actual Person who rewards those who seek Him.

“…He is a rewarder of those who seek Him,” (11:6). We must not only believe that “He is” but also that “He is a rewarder”. In other words, we must believe that God is going to respond to us. Why would I speak to someone who will not respond? Why would I communicate with someone who will not reply? When I call a phone number it is with the expectation that someone will say “hello”. When I send an email it is with the expectation that someone will write back. When I knock on my neighbor’s door it is with the hope that he will answer. Jesus encourages us to ask, to seek, and to knock – He tells us that if we will do these things that we will receive a response.

If we were created for relationship with God, if we were created to worship Him, to enjoy Him, to love Him; and if the Lamb has restored our relationship with our heavenly Father – then should we not expect and anticipate a response when we approach God? Especially when we consider that He is the One initiating the relationship by His mercy and grace in Jesus Christ?

Abel, Enoch, Noah – God testified that these men lived in faith, palpable faith – faith manifested in flesh and blood, faith living in beating hearts, in minds that were alive with the fire of fellowship with God. One was murdered because of his faith, one was “taken up” because of his faith, one built an ark because of his faith (how foolish that must have looked!) and saved his family and animals. 

What do our offerings look like? What does our walk with God look like? What ark are we building for the salvation of others?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Read the Bible in 2017

Here's a note I sent to one of my small groups this morning:

Good morning brothers,

As we approach the new year I want to encourage us to read at least the entire New Testament in the coming year. In the past I've sent out a reading schedule to help us do that, but I can't find it this morning so I'm including a link to a website that contains a number of Bible-reading schedules. I hope if you are not currently using a reading plan that you will select one of these.

Reading one NT chapter a day means that we can read the entire NT by mid-September.

If someone still has this year's NT plan I'd love for you to send it to me - I hate losing files that I've worked on. 

Here's the link:

Of course, we are called to know the Old Testament as well, and so a plan to read the OT on a regular basis is also important. 

There are many reasons to know the Bible - the greatest reason is that in the Word of God we meet the God of the Word. If we don't know the Bible we will always be at the mercy of others and we will be kidding ourselves if we think we can "wing it" as Christians without knowing the Scriptures. 

One of the main points that Harry continually worked with us on was that we need to always ask the question, "What does God say about this subject? What does the Bible say?" In one sense it really doesn't matter what I think or you think - what matters is what God says and whether we are going to align our thinking and actions and feelings with God. 

Francis Schaeffer said that one reason he read the Bible daily was to cleanse his mind - I like that. We live in a toxic world, what people say, what our eyes and ears are exposed to, what assaults our minds, is toxic. We are deluding ourselves if we don't think all of this toxicity affects us - the Word of God, the Bible, is the best defense and antidote there is to toxicity. 

In addition to the above, in my own life I read the Bible for the sake of others; for my family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I need to be connected to God's Word so that I can be, by God's grace, a blessing to those around me. I need to be anchored in God's Word so that I can be, in some measure, a place of peace and encouragement and witness for others - because in case you haven't noticed, the world is drunk on anxiety and madness. 

As Ed Cole used to say, "Being a male is a matter of birth; being a man is a matter of choice." Men who follow Jesus Christ read and meditate on the Word of Christ, the Word of God. Frankly, the Bible give us courage to live in a world of cowards, it gives us courage to go against the grain, to be identified with Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Much love,


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 72

On page 63 Bonhoeffer transitions from a focus on “prayer” to a focus on “intercession” – prayer offered on concerted behalf of others (my distinction). He first points out that our intercessions should be tied to “the words of the Bible”. This can take many forms: We can draw from prayers of the Psalms; we can draw from prayers written elsewhere in the Bible, such as Ephesians 1:15 – 23 and 3:14 – 21; we can intercede based on Biblical promises and instruction; and we can intercede according to intercessory patterns that we see in the Bible (Abraham, Moses, Habakkuk).

Bonhoeffer writes, “A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed…Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 64.

Intercessory prayer is more than checking someone’s name off a prayer list; this is not to say that we shouldn’t pray short prayers for others, but it is to say that short prayers do not always have the characteristics of intercessory prayers and that short prayers are usually not intercessory prayers. At the risk of simplification, a “one and done prayer” is not an intercessory prayer. We need short prayers so that we can pray for many people by name, but we are also called to sustained intercessory prayer for others. However, short prayers for individuals prayed consistently over the course of months and years may take the form of intercessory prayer – they are seeds that are planted and that, having been watered and nourished consistently, grow into sustained intercessory prayers.

Here is an example of how what begins as a short prayer can transition into sustained intercessory prayer: I come to a new place of work. I begin praying for my coworkers by name. Due to the number of coworkers I have limited time to pray for them (though hopefully I also pray for them during the day as I work with them), so my prayers are necessarily short. As weeks turn into months and as months turn into years I continue my “short prayers”, however, the short prayers take on new characteristics as link after link in the chain of prayer is forged – there is greater depth, greater care and concern, greater love, and greater insight; there is also greater sustained commitment and identification on my part with the people I’m praying for.

Some elements of intercessory prayer are: Identification with the person or people prayed for; sustained commitment to intercede until answered; praying based on the Bible – having the Word of God as the foundation of intercession, the form of intercession, and the appeal of intercession – the latter means that we appeal to God on the basis of His promises and His Word. Intercession may involve fasting, whether a long period or dedicated short periods. Intercession always includes putting the interests of others before our own. As we learn to intercede we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit as He directs our prayers.

How vital is intercession? In addition to Bonhoeffer’s words that, “A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed…Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day”; the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26) and our Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest, “always lives to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25). Intercession is the work of God and when we enter into the koinonia of intercession we enter into the koinonia of the Trinity. Our intercessory prayers transform us into the image of Christ, living intercessory lives; and the more we live intercessory lives the more we will find ourselves living in intercessory prayer. The Cross is the great intercessory proclamation and manifestation of the cosmos – with Christ proclaiming that He and He alone is the Great Intercessor; He invites us to know Him in His sufferings, His resurrection, and His intercession.

All Christians have work to do, and a work that all Christians can do, a work that we should all do, is the work of intercession. The only barrier to intercession is self, the great open door to intercession is Jesus our High Priest.

What does intercession look like in our lives today?

Saturday, December 24, 2016



By: Thomas C. Pfizenmaier

The One who wove the helix, woven now in flesh,
Bound fast together on the earth, God and Man enmeshed.
Ineffably committed, no way out, nor back.
It is finished; God is Man, of mercy now, no lack.

Echo of sage and prophet now find your voice in him,
Present now for all – or none – to hear his joyful hymn.
Deep shadow now illumined, in flashing flesh grown bright,
Present now for all – or none – to see his holy light.

The roadless way is travelled, with tiny fetal feet.
She sweats and cries and thrashes, all for him to meet.
Seraphic eyes now shielded under pinioned wings,
Creation gasps upon his birth, and heaven starts to sing.

Oh Healer of the primal wound, who wounded must become,
Join us here in our travail, and be of sin our sum.
We welcome you, we WELCOME you! – Come well – Lord Jesus come,
For in the chasm of our souls you’ll find your journey’s run.

Oh deep long night of winter, when all is dark and drawn,
Arise now all creation sing, the glories of your Dawn!
The endless end is ending, God’s kairos now has come.
The Son is here to save us, “it is finished,” just begun…

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hebrews Chapter Eleven: 4

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 11:4-5).

One lived and one died but both live. Sometimes our pilgrimage has many years, sometimes few years; sometimes when it looks like it will be many it is shortened, sometimes when it appears that it will be shortened it is lengthened. Abel was a man of faith; Enoch was a man of faith – one was killed and the other was taken so that he wouldn’t see death. God was pleased with both of them, both of them lived by faith and not by sight. One was murdered because of his faith; the other did not see death because of his faith. Both trusted God, both are now with God.

Paul writes that “whether we live or die we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8) and that he and his companions “…prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:8-9). Abel died, Enoch lived, but both are present with the Lord – both live in Christ.

The writer of Hebrews makes the point that Jesus came to free us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15); while this deliverance was not consummated until the Cross, and while it will not be fully expressed until the resurrection of the righteous when all creation will be delivered from the bondage of decay (Romans 8:18 – 25), the men and women of Hebrews Chapter 11 lived in deliverance from the fear of death “so that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35); the mystery of the Cross works backward and forward and who can understand it?

Faith is connecting with the unseen reality of God and His Kingdom and His Word; when our lives correspond to the unseen God we live by faith and not by sight – our natural eyes are prone to deceive us, the eyes of faith make us aware of real reality, not passing- away reality. There is dying and there is transformation in the life of faith in the true and living God – it is not either one or the other, it is both. We die with Christ and we live with Christ, we are buried with Him by baptism into His death so that we might be raised in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans Chapter 6). “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20).

The life of faith is a life of translation and transformation. We present our bodies, our entire selves, to God as living sacrifices, we reject conformity to this world, and we ask God to transform us by the renewing of our minds so that we may live in the will of God (Romans 12:1-2). Abel made an offering, we make an offering of ourselves. We can make an offering of ourselves because Christ Jesus offered Himself and we offer ourselves in and through Him.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit,” (2 Cor. 3:17 – 18). The Spirit of God translates our lives upward into Jesus Christ, our hearts, our minds, our souls…and one Glorious Day our bodies (Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:13 – 14).

Regarding the contrast between Cain and Abel, F.F. Bruce writes, “…sacrifice is acceptable to God not for its material content, but insofar as it is the outward expression of a devoted and obedient heart. Let Cain gain the mastery over the sin which threatens to be his undoing, and his sacrifice will be accepted as readily as Abel’s was.” Bruce quotes Calvin, “Abel’s sacrifice was preferred to his brother’s for no other reason than that it was sanctified by faith…But how did he [Abel] obtain his acceptance, save that his heart was purified by faith?”

Our text informs us that without faith it is impossible to please God.

Contrary to certain “apostles” of the “faith movement” in our own time, the way of faith is a way of suffering, of rejecting the world’s values and way of thinking, and of identification with the suffering of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gospel and others. The way of Biblical faith is confession that we are strangers and pilgrims here, it is an anchoring of our hearts in the heavenly city of God (Hebrews 11:9 – 11; 14 – 16). We are not interested in time kept on a Rolex, we are interested in the God of time.

Contrary to others who isolate the Gospel, and hence faith, to the intellectual realm, to a series of propositional statements; the way of faith is holistic, enveloping spirit, soul, and body – animating our thoughts and emotions and reaching to the deepest recesses of our beings – we are sons and daughters of the living God and our spirits cry out, “Abba Father!!!!” (Romans 8:15 – 16; Galatians 4:1-7).

We may be living in an earthly realm of decay, but we are not people of decay. Jesus tells us that the one who believes in Him will never see death and has “passed out of death into life” (John 5:24ff; 8:51). Paul writes that we have been translated into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13) – are we living in the awareness of our translation from death to life? Our translation is a present reality – are we living in that reality in Jesus Christ?

Are we offering ourselves as Abel? Are we living in translation as Enoch?     

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 71

On pages 62 and 63 Bonhoeffer transitions to prayer and then to intercessory prayer, exhorting the reader to “pray on the basis of the words of Scripture” (page 63).

“And we may be certain that our prayer will be heard because it issues from God’s Word and promise. Because God’s Word has found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, all the prayers we pray on the basis of this Word are certainly fulfilled and answered in Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 63.

The above words presuppose, I think, a belief in, and an experience of, union with Christ and His Word. The belief leads to the experience and the experience fosters the belief. Faith is substance and it is evidence (Hebrews 11:1), faith is palpable. Hebrews teaches us that when we stretch ourselves out toward God that we must believe not only that He is, but also that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6). James writes that when we ask God for wisdom that we are to ask in faith without doubting – certainly this is true of all of our asking; we are asking God “who gives to all generously and without reproach” (James 1:5 – 6)

It seems as if we have two extremes in the American church; there is the formulaic and blind “Name it and Claim It” approach; then there is the passive approach that peeks its head out of its turtle shell to say a quick, “Thy will be done” and instantly retracts its head lest it risk exposure to the unseen realm and lest its faith should be challenged by a call to growth and perseverance. Neither approach is based on the Word, neither stands on the Word’s specific promises and eternal verities, neither is Biblically thoughtful.

Paul writes, “For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us – by me and Silvanus and Timothy – was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2 Corinthians 1:19 – 21).

Paul writes the above in the context of suffering, and he writes it just after sharing about a time in his life when he “despaired even of life” and had the “sentence of death” in himself. This is no blind “Name it and Claim It” approach to life, and this is no passive approach to the Word of God – this is faith and prayer and intercession forged in the crucible of suffering, forged as the Word of God forms Paul and his companions into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), forged as Paul and his companions look not at the things that are seen, but rather at the eternal things that are unseen (2 Cor. 4:16 – 18).

Peter writes that it is through God’s precious and magnificent promises that we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4); yet if we don’t know the Word of God we cannot know the promises of God and if we do not know the promises of God we cannot pray and intercede based upon those promises.

We are to have confidence in answered prayer in Jesus Christ as we pray based upon His Word and as we have confidence, faith that is palpable, in our ever-faithful Father. First we meditate on the Word, then we pray in and through and upon the Word – this is Bonhoeffer’s progression, and this is a dimension of Biblical prayer. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Incarnational New Testament

This Advent I have been struck by how little professing Christians think about the meaning behind the story of the first Christmas – and consequently of how little we realize the mysteries inherent in the Gospel – not only the Gospel as it unfolded in the life of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, but the Gospel as it lives within us today. I have had some of my own moments when I’ve realized how much I have missed when reading the Bible, even in passages which have resonated with me for a lifetime.

A few weeks ago when I was preparing notes for the Tuesday morning men’s group that I meet with, I asked myself, “How can I tie this passage in Ephesians to Advent (we are studying Ephesians)? What follows is a section of the notes I sent out to the group in preparation for our time together. The leading question was sent out on one day and what follows was sent out another day – I wanted the guys to work through the question by themselves before I shared my thoughts.

How can we link Ephesians 3:14 – 21 to Advent, to the Incarnation (John 1:14) of Jesus Christ?

Here are some of ways we can do this – look at the following:

Verse 16: “through His Spirit in the inner man”.

Verse 17: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts”.

Verse 19: “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”.

Verse 20: “according to the power that works within us”.

What do these phrases have in common?

Read John 7:37 – 39 and John 14:16 – 17. Notice in 14:17 that Jesus says to His disciples that the Spirit is “with you” but will be “in you”. What is the distinction? Can you illustrate the distinction with an example?

The promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31 – 34; Hebrews 8:7 – 13) is that God would move from the external to the internal and that He would write His Word on the hearts of His people. No longer would God dwell in an external Temple, He would come to live internally in the Temple of His people (Ephesians 2:19 - 22; 1 Peter 2:4 – 10).

The language of Ephesians 3:14 – 21 is the language of the New Covenant, the language of the New Testament, it is the language of the Incarnation. In Bethlehem God moved from the heavens into the earth in His Son, and as a result of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God now lives and moves in His people. This is Incarnational language because in Christ we live incarnational lives – for Jesus Christ lives in us.

Perhaps we are so accustomed to reading this language that we miss what it means, and we miss how radical it was when it was written. We will not find this language in the Old Testament to describe a way of life – we will find it looking forward to the Messiah, but we will not find it describing the way people lived in OT times. This is the language of the New Testament, and in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal (John Chapters 13 – 17) we see Jesus again and again focusing on the fact that the Spirit was coming to live within us, and that Jesus and the Father were coming to live within us.

Ephesians 3:14 – 21 could not have been written without the birth of Jesus Christ. How can an awareness of the Incarnation affect our lives today? How can it affect our relationships with others? How can it empower our sharing the Good News of Jesus with others?

Lastly, here is a witnessing question to use in December, ask someone concerning the birth of Jesus, “Is it true? Did it really happen?” Ask at least one person this question this week and then next Tuesday share what happened.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hebrews Chapter Eleven: 3

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible,” (Hebrews 11:3 NASB).

In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in may portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, though whom also He made the world,” (NASB).

The Greek word translated “worlds” and “world” in the above passages is aeon, which is normally translated “ages” or similarly. The following comment by F.F. Bruce regarding Hebrews 1:2 is helpful:

“It was through him [Jesus Christ] that God “made the universe.” The Greek word here rendered “universe” is aiones, which primarily means “ages”; but its meaning cannot be restricted to “ages” either here on in 11:3, where it reappears in a similar context. The whole created universe of space and time is meant, and the affirmation that God brought this universe into being by the agency of his Son is in line with the statements of other New Testament writers…” (underline is mine). The Epistle to the Hebrews, Revised, NICNT, F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans, page 47.

There are at least two points I want to make in this post, the first is that time and space and that which occupies space have been framed and created by the Word of God; God did not only create space and the material things and creatures that occupy space, but He also created time and the unfolding of time.

The second point is that understanding the first point is integral to living lives of faith, it is foundational – to live lives of faith we must believe that we live in a framework of creation – creation of space and materiality and personality, and creation of time and the unfolding of time. God prepared what we see and the time that we experience, He framed the context of the life of humanity and of our individual lives in particular.

When we understand this then we know that what we see with our natural eyes is not all that there is, and that the chronological time that we experience has been orchestrated by God, and that furthermore within chronological time we also have “Kairos” time – seasonal time if you will – and as we grow in Christ hopefully we are better able to discern “Kairos” time when we are near it or in it. When we know that what we see with our natural eyes is not the whole picture then we can look beyond the natural into God’s Kingdom and God’s truth and God’s Word and we can learn to see the things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18). Our lives and decisions are then hopefully based on God’s eternal reality and not on man’s transient and rebellious understanding of life; hopefully we can make decisions based long-term wisdom rather than short-term reaction.

The men and women of faith that are described in Hebrews 11 are people who lived within an understanding that creation and time and the unfolding of time come from God and are in God’s hands. Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and others need not be intimidated by current events, including the rise and fall of kingdoms, because they know that the seasons of governments and empires and ethnic groups are governed by God, having been prepared, set in motion, and sustained by Him.

I prefer to translate aeon in the above passages either “ages” or “worlds and ages” – in Greek it is plural in both verses. If I have to choose one word I like “ages” because it represents the unfolding of time and trajectory – it emphasizes that the seasons of life and the grand events around us have their genesis in God – a message found from Genesis to Revelation. We are called to rise above the age that is passing away and to live in the age to come in Christ; we are called to live in harmony with the seasons of the Kingdom and not the seasons of this world. We can reject the ways of this age when we realize that Christ is the Way, we can reject the evil of the present age when we realize that there is a higher and unseen reality, a real reality, in Jesus Christ.

There are two trajectories unfolding simultaneously; the trajectory of rebellion and darkness spirals downward (even though it might seem to some to be moving upward); the trajectory of the Kingdom of light in Jesus Christ ascends upward (even though it might seem to some to be overcome by opposition).

Those who live by faith are those who learn to see things differently than the inhabitants of the world do, they understand that all time and space and matter and historical trajectories have been created, planned, framed, prepared, and sustained by the Word of God, so that “what is seen is not made out of things which are visible.”

This is a different way of life; it is the life of faith in and through Jesus Christ – it is the faith and life of Hebrews Chapter 11. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 70

“Above all, it is not necessary for us to have any unexpected, extraordinary experiences while meditating. That can happen, but if it does not, this is not a sign that the period of meditation has been unprofitable.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 62.

Sometimes we will sense the presence of God, sometimes perhaps we will not. Sometimes we will feel one way, sometimes another. Sometimes there may be great emotion, sometimes no emotion. Sometimes our intellects will be greatly stimulated, at other times they will be dull. There are times we may sing for joy, there are other times we may sing in sorrow, and there are times when we do not sing. We may shout, we may weep, we may be struck dumb. There are times when it is as if we are drinking sweet water flowing from a rock; then there are times when we are parched with no water in sight. If we are seeking the Giver of the Word, if we are receiving His Word by His grace, if we are presenting ourselves to Him as our reasonable way of life (Romans 12:1-2); then we do well, then we do all that we can do, then we can trust or God to do the rest in faith that His Word is accomplishing that which He desires.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with having “bad experiences” (page 62) and Bonhoeffer counsels that we should not “take [them] too seriously” (page 62). He writes, “It is here that our old vanity and the wrongful demands we make on God could sneak into our lives in a pious, roundabout way, as if it were our right to have nothing but edifying and blissful experiences, and as if the discovery of our inner poverty were beneath our dignity,” (page 62, italics mine).

Do we trust God in His Word? Do we place our lives in His care, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)? If we trust God then we need not think that we need to make something happen in our meditations, we need not think that the proof of our spirituality or relationship with God is the experience we feel when we meditate, we need not think and act as if we need to conjure thoughts and feelings and experiences. Yes, having a relationship with God is an experiential reality, but obviously not all experiences constitute a relationship with God. Bonhoeffer warns against the “net of introspection”. Only God knows us, only He knows our hearts – we want to measure ourselves – oh but when we do we fall into a trap, when we do we descend into a bottomless well – and then only God can draw us out, out of the well, out of ourselves, and back into Him (in a manner of speaking).

Bonhoeffer observes, “But there is no more time to observe ourselves in meditation than there is in the Christian life as a whole.” When we meditate, is our focus on God and His Word or is it on ourselves? Throughout the day, is our focus on God, His Word, and others; or is it on ourselves? Of course we cannot help to be, in some measure, self-conscious; the question is whether our self-consciousness drives our lives or whether God is our center of gravity, the center of our thoughts, our emotions, our words, our actions.

“We should pay attention to the Word alone and leave it to the Word to deal effectively with everything,” (page 62). Is the Word enough for us? Is God enough for us? Will we be satisfied with Him alone or do we insist on particular feelings, thoughts, and experiences? Will we trust God to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29) or are we on a self-help project? Are we seeking God and His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) or are we superimposing our agendas on the Word, on our meditations, on our lives?

Having said all of this…we have the promise that we will encounter God (Hebrews 11:6; John 16:12-15; Romans 8:12ff) and we ought to live in that continual expectation; in fact, encountering God should be our way of life in Christ Jesus.

Let us meditate expecting that we will meet God, but let us also remember that we may not meet Him in the way that we expect.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hebrews Chapter Eleven: 2

One of the themes of Hebrews 11 is “witness”; faith is the witness of the unseen, and faith produces witness to others. The former is found in Hebrews 11:1:

“Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for [expected], the evidence [conviction] of things not seen.” (NASB – note that in keeping with the NASB’s practice that the first “things” is italicized indicating it is supplied in order to help with the translation from Greek).

There is a correspondence between faith and the unseen; faith perceives the unseen and it acts accordingly. The witness of the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11 is that of lives lived not based on the perception of natural eyes and natural understanding, but rather lives lived based on supernatural perception and supernatural understanding.

Noah is warned by God about “things not yet seen” (v.7). Moses endures “as seeing Him who is unseen” (v.27). The very idea of approaching God involves believing that He is; believing that the One who is invisible exists, believing that He is; and not only that He is, but that He will respond to us in our coming to Him (v.6).

In the early verses of this chapter we see that the “elders”, those who lived long ago, “gained witness”. Able obtained “the witness that he was righteous” and God “witnessed to Able’s faith”.  Enoch “obtain the witness that…he was pleasing to God”. While English translations tend to use different English words in these verses, the Greek root word is the same and so I think this is an instance in which translators would do better to use one English word in order to maintain the emphasis found in Greek.

When we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) we live lives of witness; we can talk about what we believe but if we do not live in correspondence with the invisible God and His invisible realities then our speech is empty. Belief is not simply intellectual assent, as it has been made out to be by well-meaning Christians; belief is not simply verbally agreeing with statements of faith – with “propositional truth” – Biblical belief, Biblical faith, is living life in correspondence and harmony with the invisible God and the reality emanating from God in and through Jesus Christ. That which is invisible is made manifest in our lives – we reach into the unseen and the unseen reaches into us.

Verse 1 is telling us that faith is “hard evidence” – it is substance. As we stretch ourselves in hope we connect with the unseen reality of God’s truth and Kingdom; then we have a decision to make, will we live in response to that real reality or will we shrink back into our materialistic shells and pretend that the real reality does not exist? Will we pretend that we are not who we are? Will we pretend that God is not who He is?

We are trained to live in the closets of our physical bodies, our egos, our minds, ourselves. We are trained to keep within ourselves, to not open doors of truth and faith and hope and questions. When we venture out of ourselves we may only do so in conformity with social and political constraints. When we express definitive “Christian” forms of religion or “spirituality”, we are given permission to only do so in designated spaces. This is the antithesis of faith, this is not living in correspondence with the invisible God and His real reality and Kingdom – this is not the way of Hebrews 11.

Sadly much of “Christian” life is taken up with rationalizing why we should not live lives of faith, of why we should not go against the grain of society, of why we should dampen our response to God and the real reality. This is not the way of Hebrews 11.

The elders in ancient times received the witness of others that they were people of faith – they lived in correspondence to and in connection with the invisible – specifically the invisible God.

When people look at our lives do they see us living in harmony with this world and its dictates; or do they see us listening to something different, seeing something different, responding to something which cannot be seen, which is not practical, which makes no earthly sense? Noah was a fool for God in building the Ark. Whose fool are we?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 69

“It is not necessary for us to find new ideas in our meditation. Often this only distracts us and satisfies our vanity.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 61.

To encounter Jesus in His Word is, I hope, enough; it is, I hope, satisfying. To receive Him as He comes to us in His Word is, I hope, all that we could ever want as we meditate in His Word. It is one thing to seek “new ideas”, it is another thing to seek Jesus. Yes, there are treasures in His Word, but all of these treasures are found in Him (Colossians 2:3).

Originality should never be our goal, we should but humbly seek Jesus. Originality should not impress us nor cause us to glory in ourselves or others; our only glory should be in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:26ff). Novelty appeals to our pride and vanity, the Cross of Christ keeps us centered on the Christ of the Cross.

“…so as we meditate God’s Word desires to enter in and stay with us. It desires to move us, to work in us, and to make such an impression on us that the whole day long we will not get away from it. Then it will do its work in us, often without our being aware of it (pages 61 – 62).

Peter writes that we are “born again not of seed with is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). When we submit to the Word, when we meditate on the Word, this living Word lives and works within us, it animates our hearts and minds and souls and bodies. The Word becomes the air that we breathe, just as we are seldom conscious of inhaling and exhaling and yet our body does the work of breathing, so the Word does a work within us of which we are often unconscious – we cannot see the seed we plant taking root, we often cannot see the deep inner work of the Word of God prior to fruition.

When we plant seed in a garden we expect it to take root and grow. We prepare the soil; hopefully we prepare our hearts. We can expect God’s Word to grow within us as we receive it, we can expect to be transformed into the image of His Beloved Son. However, it is not for us to measure our growth or to admire it or to focus on it – our perspectives cannot help but be self-conscious and self-centered, we must trust our heavenly Gardener to tend the trees of His orchard. Bonhoeffer warns against being entangled “ever more deeply in the net of introspection” (page 62). We meditate on the Word, we do not meditate on ourselves.

As we till the soil of the Word, and as the Word tills the soil of our lives, the Holy Spirit will bring forth fruit that we can share with those around us, and the leaves of our lives in Christ will be for the healing of the nations.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Heresy of Political Salvation

To hear many professing Christians tell it, we have been saved by the election. This is an old heresy, as old, at least, as the Tower of Babel. We have many arguments to support our contention of salvation in political victories and agendas, but all fall short of the Gospel and the glory of God. The Scriptures starkly declare that the governments and leaders of this world are in rebellion (Psalms Two), and yet many of us are immersed in political and economic agendas that take precedence over the Gospel, we are more passionate about politics than we are about Jesus – how can this be? We cannot distinguish between our nation and the Kingdom of God – how can this be?

While God tells us that the kingdoms of this world will be brought to nothing (Daniel Two), we insist on making our own nation the exception, we insist on glossing over and denying our sinfulness. While we are not the first, perhaps we are the best at teaching the world that money matters above all things, that character is a concept for fools.

Yes, the world is what the world is, but when professing Christians assume the garb of the world and make the agendas of the world a substitute for the Gospel – then we are no longer faithful to our husband, the husband of the church, Jesus Christ. We can’t witness to others about Jesus but we have no problem witnessing to others about our political viewpoints – how can this be?

In my reading of Bethge’s biography of Bonhoeffer I have been struck by the political pragmatism of the church, both within and without Germany, that Bonhoeffer stood against. There was pragmatic argument after argument made by his contemporaries on why Bonhoeffer was not being realistic in his insistence on a faithful witness to the Gospel – “compromise” was the watchword for most of the church. Few were the church leaders who spoke a prophetic word to their congregations – for the rest, their salaries were more important, their positions more critical…they found no reason to suffer for the Gospel – Bonhoeffer was unrealistic.

The church in our nation needs to know that looking for salvation in a political party or agenda is heresy. We need to be ashamed that we will seek political converts but not sons and daughters for Jesus Christ. Conversely, those who now have anxiety over the economic and political climate need to be told to place their lives in the hands of Jesus Christ – that salvation lies no more in those who lost the election than in those who won.

And finally, at least for this piece, we need to unplug the 24/7 media and learn to meditate in the Word of Lord both day and night – the incessant barrage of media, whether from the right or left or center can breed nothing but fear and anxiety and pride and arrogance; we cannot help our generation if we are wallowing in the mire of our generation.

Let others know us as people of Jesus Christ and His Gospel; as people belonging to the Kingdom of God. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Tabernacle of God

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,’ ” Revelation 21:3.

“…Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit,” Ephesians 2:20b – 22.

Between John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3 we live in Ephesians 2:20 – 22. The Son came to bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10), the Cornerstone came to make us living stones in Him, the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us so that He might tabernacle within us (John 14:23; 17:20 – 26). Advent is progressively rooted in history, in time and space – but then stretching beyond time and space into ages past, through the corridors of time, and into the ages to come. The Seed planted in Bethlehem, that fell into the ground to die on Good Friday, is the Seed that on Easter came out of the earth bearing a new creation, a new family – the Last Adam went into the ground, the Second Man arose from the dead.

Advent is more than an external observance, it is an internal reality for those in relationship with Jesus Christ. This internal reality is a shared reality, it is the reality of koinonia in the Trinity with one another – it is the reality of being built together as living stones to form a dwelling of God in the Spirit. The mystery of the Incarnation is the mystery of our life in Christ. God walked the earth as Jesus of Nazareth, He now walks the earth in His People. We are the Body of Jesus Christ, He is the Head (Ephesians 4:14 – 16).

One stone does not make a temple, and one leg or arm or eye or toe or kidney does not make a body.

Let us not just celebrate Advent, let us observe Advent with one another throughout this pilgrimage – let us allow Advent to continue in us and through us – let us learn to be the people of an ever-unfolding Advent in Jesus Christ.