Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Church: Reflections – 3

“…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts Chapter Two

Throughout the Upper Room Discourse in John Chapters 13 – 17 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit coming to live within His people. After His resurrection He says to His people, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, see also Acts 1:4 – 8). Throughout the New Testament we read of the Holy Spirit in the people of God, He is, if you will, the biosphere of the church; the church lives within the Holy Spirit…and the Holy Spirit lives within the church. God is one with His people and His people are one with God.

The people of God are people of the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? For some of us it appears to more conceptual and theoretical than holistically experiential. For others the focus seems to be on feelings and having certain palpable experiences. Excitement can be a litmus test for some, contemplation for others.

Do we need the Holy Spirit to have a church? To be a church? Can we “do” church without the Holy Spirit? From a pragmatic perspective what is our answer? How do we actually live? How do our congregations actually function? What would an unbiased observer conclude?

How does our experience today with the Holy Spirit compare with what we see in the New Testament? The coming of the Holy Spirit into the people of God was a cosmic line of demarcation in Biblical history, in human history – it was a watershed event. Is this evident in our lives today? Once again, do we really need the Holy Spirit to “do” church? How reliant are we on the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit a hallmark of our congregations?

If religious people did not recognize Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, is it possible that Christian religious people do not recognize the Holy Spirit today?

I am not speaking about miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, though I believe we could be asking questions about those as well; I am speaking of whether or not we are dependent on, and obedient to, the Holy Spirit in our churches. I am addressing both those who believe in the present-day “gifts” of the Spirit and those who do not – I am writing about how we actually live and relate to God and to one another.

I am asking, in part, whether we are so good at making things happen that pragmatically we can function quite fine apart from reliance on the Holy Spirit. I am asking whether or not it has been so long since God’s people were people of the Holy Spirit that we no longer have a context within which to understand who the Holy Spirit is and who we are in Him. Is the Holy Spirit of any importance, other than as a rather archaic doctrine?

My questions are not about what we say we believe, they are about how we actually live. Could it be that our denominational (and nondenominational) “natures” define and determine who we are? What is our core identity? What are the headwaters of congregational and religious life?

For those of us who emphasize the Holy Spirit, what does this look like? Are we submitting to the Holy Spirit or are we deluding ourselves into thinking and acting that if we do this the Holy Spirit will do that? Has our relationship with God become a quid pro quo relationship? If it has, and I think among some of us that we come dangerously close, then perhaps we ought to take a step back and reconsider what we are thinking and doing. Drawing crowds and creating excitement is not the same as being a people submitting to the Holy Spirit, is not the same as the Holy Spirit doing a deep work of grace in the people of Jesus Christ; it is not the same as Jesus being revealed in and through His people. Could it be that at times we approach paganism?

Well, this is a bigger ocean than I can comprehend, and I write all of this in charity and as one who has fallen into, I imagine, all the traps of trying to do it myself, trying to make it happen. When I write of approaching paganism I write as one who has come perilously close – the idea of quid pro quo frightens me. Just because my “doctrine” was right didn’t mean my actions were.

We can be assured of one thing, that the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ. The revelation of Jesus Christ to His people results in His people building each other up and witnessing to the world, sharing the Gospel. Why then do we look at witnessing as a marketing problem? Why then do we tend to rely on prepackaged programs to drive church activities and relationships? (I am not saying teaching programs have no place, any more than I’m saying writing a book or a blog has no place. I trust that the Holy Spirit can use a program just as I trust the Holy Spirit can use a book or a blog – I am talking about the engine under the hood).

Are we honest enough to look at the Bible and compare what we see in Scripture in both teaching and experience with our present thinking and experience without making excuses should our present experience and thinking not measure up? Most of us, if not all of us, tend to look at this question and respond, “Yes…but.” I understand this, we are the products of our individual and collective experience. Perhaps one of the tragedies in all this is that not only do people need one another, but different traditions need one another, for traditions, by their very existence, are products of different emphases; if we are going to emphasize some things we must de-emphasize others. Ah, but then we must listen to one another and ask questions and seek to understand…it is a hard thing to listen and not talk, to seek to understand rather than seek to convince.

Just some thoughts…

What is the nature of the church? Does it matter?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 100

“…in that community [the community of faith] Christ made the other Christian to be grace for us. Now each stands in Christ’s place. In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend…Christ became our brother in order to help us; through Christ other Christians have become Christ for us in the power and authority of Christ’s commandment. Other Christians stand before us as the sign of God’s truth and grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 88. [Italics mine].

Bonhoeffer prefaces the above with John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I am not sure that the above can be understood apart from John Chapters 13 – 17; or perhaps I should say “touched” apart from Chapters 13 – 17, for I don’t know that they can be understood. I am also aware that our experience informs our approach to the above, especially our bad and painful experiences. Some of us used to think that we could not know God intimately but that an approach to God required a human mediator; others of us have trusted others and been hurt; others have been raised with prejudices against other Christian traditions that cause us to instinctively react against certain ideas without considering possible Biblical foundations. Were the “I” of today to meet the “I” of decades ago the “I” of decades ago would label the “I” of today a heretic, for the “I” of decades ago was a narrow-minded self-righteous religious bigot. This was fostered, I believe, by an insecurity born of not knowing the reality of the Atonement, of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. My bigotry was sustained by my insecurity.

If there is a central mystery to John 13 – 17 it is, to me, the mystery of the koinonia of the Trinity in redeemed humanity and the koinonia of redeemed humanity in the Trinity. This is, necessarily, a “we” experience, just as the “we” of the Trinity is shrouded in the mystery of God is One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am drawn to Christ, we are drawn to Christ; I live in Christ, we live in Christ; Christ lives in me, Christ lives in us.

And so we have Christ sending us into the world as the Father sent Him into the world; we have Christ telling us that we can forgive and retain sins. James (James 5:19 – 20) writes those who turn wanderers from the truth back to the truth “will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” John writes (1 John 5:16), “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death…” I am quoting verses I don’t understand, I may have touched them but I do not understand them. I have a sense that I have probably been touched by them more than I have touched them because I can’t imagine being where I am (wherever that is!) without the patient intercessory prayers of others. I should be a castaway, yet I am not – others must have prayed for me, others must be praying for me…I would be a fool to think otherwise. If nothing else, what James and John write in their letters should remind us that there is a lot we don’t know – rather than explain it away let’s admit there is much we don’t know.

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). This is a statement of reality – the Head is not apart from the body, Christ and His people are a unity. We then are the presence of Christ to others, and others are the presence of Christ to us – to see this in some measure is to be careful how we treat one another, how we think of one another, how we pray for one another. To make merchandise of this is to profane it, to embark on a trajectory that exalts “self” and seeks to usurp the Head of the body.

Bonhoeffer writes above that, “In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend.” But what is our experience? Pretending is often what is socially expected, whether explicitly or implicitly communicated. After all, we’re talking about “church” and there are certain ways we are expected to behave “in church” and with other Christians – we have images to live up to, decorum to maintain, masks to wear.

When we gather I do think that we need to be sensitive to one another, for not all things are edifying in a large group that may be necessary and desirable in a small group or with close friends or with those to whom we are accountable. We can learn from Paul’s desire that “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). As we love and pray for one another we can acknowledge that we are all in the process of being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) and that includes God working deeply within us about some things that may be best shared with only a few. I also think that there are some things best shared only among other brothers or only among other sisters. Let us keep in mind Bonhoeffer’s warning in the previous chapter that, “Other persons have their own secrets that may not be violated without the infliction of great harm. Nor can they divulge them without destroying themselves” (pages 81 – 82).

Pretending has to do with trying to make people think that I am someone I am not. I am not perfect, so let’s get that out of the way as soon as we can. I do not know everything, so let’s burst that balloon right away. I have not lived a perfect life, so while I will not delve into the past I will tell you that I have great remorse over many things and am thankful that Christ has forgiven me. I am still tempted, pray that I will flee to Christ and my brothers for help. I still sin – please pray for me and affirm the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

If we could see the glory of Christ in those around us we would know that we are surrounded by grace and mercy, and if those around us will acknowledge that they are the presence of Christ to us then we will find ourselves in a safe place, a healing place, a place of redemption. God is in His holy Temple, but does His holy Temple know it? 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Where is the Cross?

It is one thing for the Cross to be on a hill,
Calvary, Golgotha, call it what you will.
It is outside the city, placed between two thieves,
Rooted in history, in time and space,
This I believe.

But there is yet another place
Where I must behold the Cross,
Where it must work the work of Christ
To which I must submit, and in Him I must die,
So that in Him I shall live.

That place is in my heart, in my soul and in my life;
O Lord Jesus do Your work,
Let me know no life apart
From You and from Your Cross,
Planted in my heart, forever in my heart.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

An Anchor of the Soul

“In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, guaranteed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:17 – 20).

The recipients of the letter we call Hebrews knew what it was to live and suffer in uncertain times (Hebrews 10:32 – 34); in this way they were much like the people who constituted the seven churches to which the book of Revelation was written. Both Hebrews and Revelation have a particular focus on the transcendent and the unseen. They are both enigmatic, being enigmatic they draw us out of ourselves, above our circumstances, and they point us to Jesus. In Hebrews Jesus comes to us and then we come to Him. He, who is higher than the angels, comes to us; and then He draws us to Himself as we seek Him and His City. As we journey on our pilgrimage we have the assurance that Jesus is making intercession for us. As we journey we learn to live in the Holy of Holies together. We are on earth to be sure, but we are also in the heavens – and as our days become brighter and brighter the veil between the heavens and the earth becomes thinner and thinner, the river before us becomes narrower and narrower.

In the midst of uncertain times the people to whom Hebrews was written had taken refuge in Jesus, and in taking refuge in Jesus they found strong encouragement – they also found a hope that was an anchor of the soul. In Chapter 12 the readers of Hebrews are encouraged to keep looking at Jesus, the Author and Finisher of their faith. Later in Chapter 12 the readers are reminded of the transcendent community to which they belong, a transcendence that remains when all things in the heavens and on earth are shaken. In uncertain times these believers had an anchor of the soul.

An anchor keeps a ship in one position, keeping a ship from drifting away and from being damaged. For an anchor to work it must not only be dropped, it must be embedded in the sea bed – if the anchor is not embedded it will not work.

In our own uncertain times, are our anchors embedded in Jesus Christ and in the certain hope that we have in Him? If they are not we will find ourselves are the mercy of the storms of current events, at the mercy of trends, at the mercy of fear and anxiety – and all of these things have no mercy, they are ruthless and will destroy us. Awareness of what is around us is not the same as becoming subject to what is around us.

The souls of men today are without godly definition, they are shaped and molded on a daily basis by what they see and hear, they assume the flavor of the latest story that is “trending”, of popular “culture”, of religious charlatanism. When some souls do drop anchor they do not ensure that their anchors are embedded in the hope we have in Jesus, they will not take time, they are in a hurry, they want to move on to the next latest and greatest teaching or doctrine or movement.

We ought not to ignore the pain and suffering of those around us, we ought not to ignore inequity and injustice. But we need to remember again and again that unless our anchors are embedded in Jesus Christ that we will become participants in the storm and unable to rescue others. In order for us to rescue others clinging to the wreckage of false hopes and shattered expectations we must be a light-ship that is firmly anchored so that not only others can swim to us, but more importantly so that we can launch lifeboats into the storm to rescue others and so that those lifeboats will have a safe ship, firmly anchored, to return to.

Is my soul anchored in the hope which I have in Jesus Christ? What about yours?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Church: Reflections – 2

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4.

“…and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41b.

“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47b.

Prior to the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter Two there had been many assemblies of God’s people over the centuries. Under the Law that Yahweh gave to Moses the people of God were to observe feasts and holy days throughout the year, assembling before the Tabernacle of Moses, and later assembling at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. During the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple the people assembled at various times. During the Intertestamental Period the people assembled in Jerusalem as well as in synagogues throughout the region. During the time Jesus walked the earth people continued to assemble in Jerusalem and in synagogues; Jesus and his disciples went to many of these assemblies. Yet, the assembly of Acts Chapter Two was different from every assembly of worshippers that had preceded it – what was the difference, what was the distinction?

When the Tabernacle of Moses was dedicated God’s Presence filled the Tabernacle but not the people. When the Temple of Solomon was dedicated God’s Presence filled the Temple, but not the people. In Acts Chapter Two God’s Presence did not fill the Temple in Jerusalem, He filled the people – “…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” A New Reality came into existence on the Day of Pentecost, a New Temple appeared on earth – not a temple made with wood and animal skills and metals, nor a temple made with stone, but a living breathing Temple of people filled with the Holy Spirit.

We often think of a temple as a place where people go to worship, but originally a temple was the place where a god, or gods, or the True and Living God, lived. People went to temples to worship because that is where the gods lived. This is an important distinction – temples were where gods lived and therefore people went to temples to worship. People did not go to temples to worship hoping that gods would come to meet them, they went to temples to meet the gods who were already there.

With this background, think what must have been going through the minds of Paul’s readers when they read, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple (or sanctuary) in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19 – 22).

Here is a radical reorientation of worship, of relationship with Deity, of identity, and of relationship with others – whether Jew or Greek. That which was once outside is now inside, and not just inside “me” but rather inside “us”. Jesus says (John 14:16 – 17), “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” Prior to Pentecost the Holy Spirit was with Peter, James, and John; on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled Peter, James, and John and from that day forth lived in them.

As Peter says (Acts 2:33, 38, 39), “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear….Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

Acts Chapter Two shows the birth of a Living Temple, a People, and it shows that others were being added to this Temple, to this People (verses 41 and 47). Paul writes (1 Cor. 12:12 – 13), “For even as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

No longer must people go to special geographical places to meet God, for God now lives within His people and they meet God within one another. Collectively they are the Temple of God, and as the life of Christ flows through His Body His people respond to Him and they serve both Him and one another. Note that the manifestation of God dwelling within His people, of His people being filled with the Holy Spirit, was that the people were together; together in the Word of God, together breaking bread, together in prayer, together in meeting the needs of one another (Acts 2:42 – 47; 4:32 – 35). (Just because we don’t go to Jerusalem anymore doesn’t mean that we don’t still assemble – if we don’t assemble we can’t be together).

It has been said that the Book of the Acts of the Apostles could just as easily, and perhaps more appropriately, be titled the Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. In the pages of Acts we see the Holy Spirit animating the People of God; the Holy Spirit is inspiring, directing, encouraging, comforting, and warning God’s People. The People of God are not separate and apart from God, they are the dwelling place of God; they are also the Body of Christ, not separate and apart from the Head; they are also the Bride of Christ, not separate and apart from the Bridegroom.

There is an essential unity of God and His people which is the fulfillment (in an already-not yet sense) of Jesus’ prayer, “…that they may all be one; even as You, Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us…I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected into one…” (John 17). The nature of God lives within the people of God; this, after all, is what the new birth is all about – we were dead in trespasses and sins without the life of God, we have been raised to life in Jesus Christ and now the life of God lives within us (Ephesians 2) – we live by the life of God.

What is the nature of the Church? The nature of the Church is Jesus Christ – we are not of the world, our nature is not of the world, we do not belong to the world, nor to ourselves, we belong to God in Christ. The Biblical Church is filled with the Holy Spirit, this is the nature of the Church – the Spirit of God, the life of God, worshipping God in Spirit and Truth (John 4). Since the Church begins with the filling of the Holy Spirit, how can we understand the Church if we do not begin at the beginning? The Holy Spirit is present at the creation of the world (Genesis 1:1 – 2) and the Holy Spirit is present at the birth of the Church – the difference is that while the Holy Spirit does not live within nature, He lives within God’s people.

If we consider that many Christians know little, if anything, about the Holy Spirit; if we consider that many Christians do not experience being led by the Spirit of God as a way of life (Paul writes, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”); if we consider that many Christians have no awareness of God dwelling within His people – then we must conclude that much of the church does not know its true nature and identity. This leads to the question, “How can we think about what we do and how we do it if we do not know who we are? If we do not know our true nature, if the indwelling Trinity (John 14:16 – 24) is not at the core of our thinking, feeling, and soul – then how can we possibly live as the people God has called us to be, live as the People we are?

Outward conformity to Biblical precepts and commandments is not the same as obedience to Christ that springs from relationship empowered by the Holy Spirit. Mimicking a religious pattern, even a pattern with Biblical elements, is not the same as organically living in the image of Christ. I am reminded of a quote that goes something like (I can’t recall who said it), “There are those who have a life they never live, and then there are those who try to live a life they do not have.”

What is the nature of the Church?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (VII)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Looking for Jesus, hoping for Jesus, having our eyes fixed on Jesus, looking toward that Day when we will know Jesus as He knows us – “everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Our hope is to know Jesus better today than we did yesterday. What more can we possibly hope for? Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We cannot purify our own hearts, but Jesus Christ can as we behold Him.

We know that we did not create ourselves. We know that the world is not as it should be. We know that we are not as we should be. Those who know Christ are aware that they were once dead in trespasses and sins, and hopefully they have a sense that while the “already” is indeed true, that the “not yet” is also true. What better thing can we do than to seek Him who seeks us? To look for Him who looks for us? To fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1 – 2) who is able and desiring to transform us into His image?

We look to be improved and transformed by earthly things, forgetting that it is foolish, having begun in the Spirit to seek perfection by the flesh (Galatians 3:1 – 3). Our souls are being molded for eternity in Christ, should we not seek the eternal? Do we have difficulties within us? Do we wrestle with our imperfections? Do we have fears? Jesus knows everything within us, Jesus knows us and He loves us with a love that transcends our comprehension – and if we would only learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, on the things above (Colossians 3:1 – 4), knowing that in Jesus Christ are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) – this Jesus whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

Is this too simple for us? This idea of having our hope in Jesus, our eyes fixed on Jesus? We are not talking about an idea, a philosophy, an image, a literary figure – we are speaking of the resurrected Son of God who created all things and in whom all things are held together (Colossians 1:15 – 18). We are talking about God coming to earth, and not just coming onto the earth, but coming into humanity in Bethlehem, the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us. Think of it, the Creator of the universe, of all that we see and all that we cannot see, the Almighty, the All-knowing – God of very God came into humanity because He loves us, because He loves you.

Can there be any doubt that He desires to transform you, His beloved, into His own image? He says, “Look to Me and be transformed. Put your hope in Me and allow Me to purify you.” Do we not think that a relationship with the Living God is transformational? Why divert our attention to anyone other than Jesus? To anything other than His Word? We are little and His is big. We are weak but He is strong. When our legs become tired He will carry us, when our hearts are weak He will strengthen us. When we put this house of flesh off He will clothe us with inconceivable glory.

Can there be a purer thought than Jesus? Can there be a greater hope than Jesus? Can there be a greater joy than His appearing in our lives? Can there be a sweeter sound than the voice of His Word? Can there be a more refreshing breeze than that of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus yearns for a wedding Day. Oh my, “what a Day that will be when my Jesus I shall see, when I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace” (lyrics by Jim Hill).

Simplistic? Think about it. How can yearning for Jesus be simplistic? How can knowing Jesus be simplistic? Have we so overeducated ourselves as to blind ourselves to the reality of the ever-present Christ in His people? Have we so overloaded ourselves with therapeutic deism that we have lost the transformational reality of Jesus Christ in His people? Do we have so much noise in our lives that we cannot hear the Gentle Shepherd calling to us? Does Jesus walk among us and we not know it? Do we talk so much that we do not listen? Do we look at ourselves rather than at the Cross?

Are we too religiously busy for Jesus? Are we so enamored with religion that we do not know Him and fail to count everything else but garbage, waste, disgusting sewage? (Philippians 3:1 – 14). Do we seek the thrills of ecstasy? Do we seek the intellectual satisfaction of theology? What is our litmus test? What is our benchmark for Christian legitimacy? Our mode of baptism? Our mode of the Lord’s Supper? The type of building we meet in? Our polity? The way our services should start, progress and end? Where do we find our validation?

There can be no validation other than that which comes from Jesus, no justification other than that which comes from Jesus, no transformation and sanctification other than that which comes from Jesus; no hope, no glory, no lasting peace of mind, no joy unspeakable and full of glory – there can be nothing of lasting value unless it comes from Jesus Christ.

Simple? We will not think Jesus simple on that Day when He is unveiled in all of His Father’s glory – we will fall to our faces and every knee will bow and every tongue confess (Philippians 2:5 – 11).

“But of Him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that, as it is written, He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30 – 31).

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 99

The final chapter of Life Together is titled Confession and the Lord’s Supper. Bonhoeffer beings the chapter quoting from James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another.”

While there is much in this chapter that I agree with and that I think critical for life together, this again is one of those passages that I would like to talk to Bonhoeffer about to better understand what he was thinking, and to challenge some of his terminology and (what I think) are his assumptions about other Christians.

“Those who remain alone with their evil are left utterly alone. It is possible that Christians may remain lonely in spite of daily worship together, prayer together, and all their community through service – that the final breakthrough to community does not occur precisely because they enjoy community with one another as pious believers, but not with one another as those lacking piety, as sinners. For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community…So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 87.

As I will explore later in these reflections, I think, as does Bonhoeffer, that confessing our sins one to another is needful. I think there are times when we need to hear a brother say to us, “Your sins are forgiven.” There are times we need to be affirmed in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ – there is something about actually hearing words of forgiveness spoken aloud; not just from an elder to a congregation, but from a brother to a brother, or from a sister to a sister. There are also times when we need to confess our sins to our brother (or to a trusted group of brothers); there are times we need to verbalize what we have thought, what we have done; we need to hear ourselves say the words aloud to a brother, to expose the sin; then once we have said the words to our brother we can hear the words of forgiveness from our brother in Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer is right when he says that we can “remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy.”

When appropriate, we ought also to verbalize temptations we encounter. Persistent temptation, when unveiled verbally, is often defeated for it can no longer hide, it can no longer dig its tentacles deep into the soil of our souls. The longer a particular temptation persists, the greater likelihood it will gain a foothold within us, and when we give temptation a foothold we are more likely to succumb to it – better to tell a brother and expose the temptation, better to unveil it so that the light of Christ and His Word can do its work of deliverance. Better to have a brother stand with us than stand alone and possibly be defeated.

Bonhoeffer fails to distinguish who we were before knowing Christ and who we are since coming into a relationship with Jesus; in this he, as many others, uses the language of man and not the language of God’s Word. This demonstrates how powerfully we are influenced by religious tradition, even those traditions that have a high view of Scripture. When he writes, “…we are in fact sinners” he uses the language of man and not the language of the Bible, he works within an extra-Biblical construct. As I have written more than once, the word the New Testament uses to refer to Christians more than any other word is “saints”, used as I recall over 80 times. We have the freedom to confess our sins to one another not because we are sinners, but rather because we are saints.

Sinners (in the Biblical sense) confessing sins to one another means little, if anything, because sinners need Jesus Christ and new life in Him. Saints confessing their sins to one another means much because as the children of God they are exposing things in their lives which do not belong there, and they have assurance of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:5 – 2:2 was written to saints, not sinners.

Sinners cannot experience life together in the Biblical sense of the term because they are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1ff); only saints can experience life together and it is that very life that frees them to confess their sins and disclose their temptations to one another.

I am not sure how Bonhoeffer uses the term “pious” in this passage. I am not an expert on Bonhoeffer. However, based on what I have read elsewhere in his writings I tend to think that he is referring to the pietistic element of the church in Germany. If this is the way he is using the term then Bonhoeffer is mistaken. Pietism is often misunderstood, and while we can certainly point to elements of pietism that are off-balance and perhaps even extreme, we can do the same with any Christian tradition. If those critical of pietism were to use the same yardstick to measure other Christian traditions, including their own, I suspect they would be a little more thoughtful about their criticisms. One of the great renewals of the Lutheran Church in Germany came about through pietism. If nothing else, pietism, whether we see it in Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, has often been used to breathe new life into moribund churches.

There is a seldom-seen contradiction when many of those critical of pietism, or even of the charismatic movement, accuse those groups of being overly informed by experience; when these very critics themselves often succumb to experience when they insist that Christians are sinners – since they cannot base their insistence on express and explicit Biblical teaching and terminology, they must base it on experience; “we sin so we must still be sinners.” Well, if we are going to base life on natural observation and experience then empirical evidence might suggest the death of Jesus Christ means nothing…we believe something we can’t see and we believe something that experience often contradicts.

If God’s Word is authoritative in our understanding of the Atonement, then let us submit to that same Word as it teaches us that one result of the Atonement is that those who come to know Christ are no longer sinners but saints. Who has the courage to believe?

Bonhoeffer is also mistaken when he argues that pietism fosters hypocrisy; while I cannot argue that there may not be some group within the pietistic tradition that may do so, the pietistic traditions and people with whom I am familiar often have a heightened sense of sin and unworthiness, especially of ego and self. It seems to me that all traditions face the danger of hypocrisy, we can find hypocrisy throughout various traditions and the average congregation; the average congregation knows little of what Bonhoeffer describes in life together whether that congregation is in a pietistic tradition or not.

I think the beginning of this chapter unfortunate in the above aspects and I think Bonhoeffer’s attitude toward pietism (if indeed this is what he is referring to) is most unfortunate. Consider, “Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious” (page 87). What is the purpose of such a statement?

As you will see, there is much in this chapter that is important for life together, much that we do not practice, much that we need; saints do sin and when they sin confession is critical, including (when appropriate) confession to one another. Saints are tempted, and revealing the temptation to another brother can be the means by which the temptation is dispelled.

We were not born with masks, but as we grew to adulthood we were taught to wear masks; having worn masks for so long it can be difficult to remove them, it can be frightening. Perhaps sometimes we need to say to a friend, “Will you please help me get this off? And once it is off, please still love me and accept me in Jesus Christ.”

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Love of God

Over the past few weeks the song “The Love of God” has been deep in my heart and mind. Its chorus goes, “Oh love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong, it shall forevermore endure, the saints and angels song.”

And while all three verses resonate with me, the last verse is something I’ve been singing over and over:

Could we with ink, the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

The message of God to man is a resounding, “I love you!” John writes (1 John 4:9, 10a), “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us…”

Paul writes (Romans 5:8), “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We are going to meet people today who do not know the love of God; will we share God’s love with them? God manifested His love by giving, we are called to manifest that same love by giving. As the Father sent Jesus so Jesus sends us. Will we go as Jesus goes?

As God in Christ gave Himself, so we are to give ourselves. We cannot love others without giving ourselves. We cannot love others without sacrificing ourselves. God’s love is a sacrificial love, He did not take shortcuts and neither can we.

Ponder the third verse of the above song; consider the height and depth and width and length of God’s love that passes all comprehension (Ephesians 3:14 – 21). Meditate on this third verse and then try not to share God’s love, I do not think it can be done – God’s love is all encompassing and overwhelming, and if we will allow the Niagara of His love to envelope us we cannot help but to share it with others.

God’s love should have the excitement of “first love” and the depth of “mature love” – when we are in love who cares what others think (in context). When we are in love we have joy, and yes we can have pain, for our senses and souls and perceptions are heightened. Love cried out in Gethsemane, and that same love touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable. What a calling to be allowed to participate in that love!

We are not here very long, some of us less than others, some more than most others. But however long we are here, and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, could there be anything higher or anything deeper or anything wider or anything longer than participating in the love of God toward others? To touch others with the love of God, to tell others of the love of God, to sacrifice ourselves so that others may know the love of God…

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Church: Reflections – 1

In a recent post I lamented the fact that few people are writing about the church. Yes, there is much written about church growth, and about healthy churches, and about small groups, and about leadership. Some of it is well thought out and bears reflection and some of it is ephemeral. Much of it could be taken from Madison Avenue or from the Harvard Business School. My point is that if we don’t have a Biblical foundation for thinking and acting then how can we act and think? If we don’t know who we are then how do we know how we are supposed to be living and thinking? If we don’t have the Biblical fundamentals down in our minds and hearts then how can we filter our thoughts, our problems, our challenges, our accountability? If we don’t have a Biblical context for thinking about the church then how can we negotiate church life? What is the nature of the church? Are we an organization or are we an organism? How should people in different congregations think about each other Biblically? How should denominations think about other denominations? How should people in distinct traditions think about those in other traditions?

It is my observation that most of us capitulate to the immediate; we deal with the immediate and tell ourselves that we’ll think about the big picture later. Sometimes we can live in a house and never think about how the house was actually built. As long as the house does not have problems that may be fine, but should a bearing wall start to sag or a foundation begin to crumble then we may find ourselves thinking about the people who designed and built the house. Why did they do this and not that? Couldn’t they have foreseen this problem? If I ever build a house I’ll make sure to do this and that.

We are less likely to ask these questions if we are in a hotel or inn, or visiting friends – after all, we are there and gone. Perhaps this is one reason we don’t think deeply about the church, we see each other once a week, or twice a week, or sometimes maybe even three times a week; but since, for most of us, the church is not our life but only part of our life we don’t think too much about the foundation and walls and roof – as long as things are working reasonably well we try to make do with the church we attend…and if that doesn’t work out we can always try the new place down the street.

Things tend to move too fast for us to think deeply. Plus, if we think deeply we may find things we’d rather not know. If we find things we’d rather not know who will we discuss them with? Who will we tell them to? Better to leave things are they are.

There are at least two ways to think about the church and the Bible. One way is to take the Bible and place it within our understanding of the church. If we do this then we will mold the Bible to fit our understanding. The other way is to explore the Bible to learn about the church and then see how the Bible’s teaching about church compares with our understanding and practice of church.

There are many impediments to thinking Biblically about the church, and being aware of them may help us. The first impediment, and perhaps the most obvious, is our experience. Some of us have had great church experiences, some not so great, and some pretty horrible. Christian traditions vary greatly in terms of polity, order of worship, music, and any number of other items – when we’ve lived a certain way for some time it tends to color our vision – for good or ill.

Some of us look at church primarily in terms of continuity and stability – we honor the past and place great value on tradition. Some of us look at the church as a place of service, of action – serving people within and without the church, helping them. Then others of us look at the church organizationally and pragmatically. Yet others look at the church in terms of the experience we and others have – how we feel when we are at church. Still others view church primarily in terms of relationships, of harmony, of people getting along. All of these elements are touched on in the Bible and most of us, if not all of us, are disposed to approach the church with a primary mindset – it can not only make it difficult to see other facets of the Biblical church, it can also make it difficult to understand other Christians who have a different primary viewpoint.

Surprise! We are different from one another, we are not all the same. Two passages of Scripture that point this out are Romans Chapter 12 and 1 Corinthians Chapter 12. These two passages are, in many ways, foundational to our understanding of the church – there are other foundation stones as well which we will explore later, but for now let’s remind ourselves that we are different, we have different gifts, we are a body, the Body of Christ.

We will not see things the same way, but we can still believe what is true and we can still honor our brothers and sisters and honor the way they primarily see things. I’ve been to the refrigerator more than once in our marriage to look for something Vickie assures me is there, yet I can’t find it, yet I can’t “see” it. Vickie then walks right to the refrigerator, opens the door, and (normally) reaches her hand in and takes the item I was certain was not there. I have coworkers whose gifts and talents are much different than mine, I need them to perform my job well because they often “see” things that I do not have an inclination to see. I have to trust them, I have to trust what they see that I don’t see. My coworkers have taught me to “see” in new ways, I still don’t have their natural ability to see certain things, but the longer I work with them and the longer I trust them the better able I am to see things I couldn’t see before.

As a pastor I have trusted my parishioners with ideas and initiatives that I could not “see”, but because I believe that Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 are true, because I believe that every member of the Body of Christ is given grace, because I believe that Jesus (and not Bob) is the head of the Church, I have given others my support and encouragement whether or not I could “see” what they felt called to do. This is also true with my circle of Christian friends, I don’t need to see things their way to honor them and support them.

My vision is limited and I know that as I reflect on the church that I will be working within those limitations; I hope you will allow me room to work within my limitations and that you will understand that my experience no doubt influences my vision as, I suspect, your experience influences your vision.

You might want to ponder Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, to read them through, then go back and read them slowly over a week or so. What do you see? What catches your attention? Where do you fit in? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (VI)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

It sounds simple, and perhaps because it sounds simple we ignore it and substitute the complex in its place; it is about an Other and not ourselves, and because of that we ignore it and substitute other things, especially ourselves, in its place.  John writes in a time of falling away from the Gospel by professing Christians, he writes in a time of false teaching (which sadly all times seem to have), he writes, at least in part, to counter heresies. His first letter is a simplistic letter to many contemporary readers, it has redundancies, emphases and reemphases – and yet read as a whole, the point-counterpoint, the ebb and flow, the call and response, the weaving of primary-colored threads strengthens and reaffirms our fellowship with the Trinity and with one another (see 1 John 1:1-4) and exclaims to us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen,” (1 John 5:21).

We all have a primary idol within us, a deity central to our lives, and one which must be dethroned and put to death by the Cross of Christ, and that idol is “self” – it is an idol that does not go away without a fight, it is an idol that knows how to wage guerrilla warfare, it is an idol that seeks any and every opportunity to reassert itself. This idol craves attention, it want us to pay attention to it, and we in turn what others to pay attention to it. Oh if we could only orient the universe around ourselves all would be better!

When our sin is revealed to us we rightly recoil, when our selfishness in manifested to our hearts and minds we repent, and we often ask ourselves, “How can this not happen again? How can I change?” A church may ask, “How can we change? How can we grow?”

To be sure there are many dynamics to transformation, and perhaps nowhere in the Bible are these dynamics as systematically portrayed as in Romans; we are justified and reconciled, we were once one thing in Adam but we are now another thing in Christ, and now we work this new thing out in community in Christ. Central to all Biblically-based change is Jesus Christ – He is the Alpha and the Omega of change, of our lives, the Beginning and the End – the Foundation and the Capstone. It is into His image that we are being changed and when we lose sight of this, when we lose sight of Him, the idol within us rears its head, for we invariably substitute ourselves and our own self-improvement for Jesus Christ.

This is insidious to the point of often being virtually indiscernible. We are seduced into embarking on self-improvement projects that divert us from Jesus Christ, and the insidiousness lies in these projects looking so very good – how could anything so good be so bad? The Bible has one solution for the old self, and that is death on the Cross in Christ (Romans Chapter 6). God is not interested in renovating the old self, but He does desire us to live in intimacy with Him in Christ in and through the Cross and Resurrection.

Our passage tells us that when Jesus appears that we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is – transformation occurs when we behold Jesus Christ. Here again we have the “already – not yet”; for while Jesus will certainly appear in His fullness in the future, He is also most certainly appearing today to us, the question is “are we looking for Him?” When we see Jesus He transforms us into His image – we become more and more like Jesus in our life on earth.

Paul writes (2 Cor. 3:17 – 18), “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 by the Spirit of the Lord.” Our life in Jesus Christ is to be transformationally spiritually dynamic; we are to be presenting (as a way of life) ourselves to God as living sacrifices so that we will be transformed and renewed and live in the perfect will of God (Rom. 12:1-2).

There is a vast difference between seeking my own self-improvement to make my life better and seeking the appearing of Jesus Christ that will result in His glory as I am transformed into His image. The very reason we are told that “all things work together for good” is so that we might be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28 – 29) – rather than have our lives made better. Bluntly speaking, God is not interested in our lives being made “better” as we normally think of these things – He is interested in us knowing Jesus and becoming like Him so that we, in turn, can lay down our lives for others so that they can be like Him. This is a far cry from the heresy rampant in the contemporary church that God is passing out cotton candy and wanting us to have our “best lives now”.

At the risk of being misunderstood, if we understood and taught Romans 5:12 – 8:39 we would have a lot less self-improvement and self-help programs in the professing church and a lot more people experiencing the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. (Yes, we need to believe the finality of justification by faith as found in Romans 1:1 – 5:11 in order to enter into Romans 5:12 – 8:39, but we seem to fight that just as we fight Romans 5:12 – 8:39).

Colossians 3:1 – 4 encourages us to have our minds fixed on Christ above, and reminds us that that have died and that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. I cannot go to a graveyard and enroll its occupants in a self-help program. Paul gives us the same dynamic that John does, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” This is another “already – not yet” and ties into 2 Cor. 3:17 – 18, for as we see Jesus we are changed from glory to glory, yes, a greater glory awaits us (Romans 8:18 – 21) but we are (hopefully) experiencing a measure of that glory today – and if we are not experiencing it today it is not because it is not here for us, it is here in Jesus Christ and our Father deeply desires us to know Him and His Son in their glory.

Not to know and experience the glory of Jesus Christ today is akin to the child of a billionaire living in a dumpster and living off refuse – never tasting what is on the earthly father’s dinner table.

The desire of every child of God ought to be seeing Jesus more clearly and intimately today than yesterday, and ultimately beholding Him as He is in all of His glory and grace and love. Why should we desire this? Because of His great love for us. Oh, if we would only realize the passionate love of Jesus for us…for me…for you. Paul writes (Gal. 2:20), “He loved me, and gave Himself for me”! Well He loved YOU too and gave Himself for YOU too! Can you believe it? Do you believe it? It is true. How true? It is the story of the ages, of the cosmos; the story that will be told and retold when all other stories have run their course. It is a story sung by angels and the redeemed, the story written in the heavens, the narrative that stretches from before time to after the second hand has made its final movement.

You are deeply loved, and your Lover, Jesus Christ, says, “Behold Me, come to Me, let Me love you, let My presence transform you, let my glory envelop you, let My Word renew you.” Our Father says, “Come to Jesus and be like Him.”

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 98

“Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the words of Jesus, “you have one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matt. 23:8). The community of faith does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and of one another…The question of spiritual trust, which is so closely connected with the question of authority, is decided by the faithfulness with which people serve Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary gifts they possess.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 85 - 86.

How unlike our models of leadership today, whether from the top down or from the bottom up. Leadership gurus within the church often look outside the church for models, which they then import into the church. Congregations clamor for successful leaders who will grow the church numerically, no matter if it be a mile wide and an inch deep. Just a week ago I read the multi-page profile of a pastor of a local church, detailing his numerical success in the places he has been prior to coming to our area. I recall nothing about Jesus, nothing about discipleship, nothing about mentoring others, nothing about the spiritual maturation of congregations. Charisma and numbers are the measure – but is this Biblical?

A growing leader ought to have growing people around him or her, and they should have people growing around them. They should be different and not the same, why not a fisherman and a tax collector and a zealot and a member of the establishment? Why all the same? Why all the same education and social and economic and racial background? Why all the same temperaments? Why all blue collar or white collar?

Bonhoeffer lived at the center of political, economic, and theological power – he was accustomed to circles of power in his well-connected upbringing and in his academic and professional life. Bonhoeffer knew and engaged with world-famous theologians based in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. Bonhoeffer did not write as person outside circles of authority and power, but as an insider – and as an insider he wanted to save the church, to strengthen it, he desired that the church discover life together and this entailed a Biblical view of leadership and authority.

Why do we not desire to hear what a janitor has seen in the Word of God? Why do we not want to hear what a shy person has to say? Why do we functionally dismiss those who have nothing apparent to offer us? Do we not see the glory of God in those people? As C.S. Lewis wrote in what is surely his greatest message, The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Biblical leadership not only sees the glory of God in others, it draws that glory out, it encourages it to fly from the nest, to soar, to catch the thermals of the Holy Spirit. There is a sense in which Biblical leadership looks to Jesus and says, “He must increase but I must decrease.” And then it looks to others and also says, “They must increase but I must decrease.” Biblical leadership takes joy in seeing the Bride and Bridegroom united, in seeing them take joy in each other – when the Bride takes her eyes off Biblical human leadership and beholds Jesus…then Biblical leadership has fulfilled its calling.

Biblical leaders want to hear Christians talk about Jesus, about the Word of God in their lives; not the Word of God as it has been filtered down to them. Yes, of course there is a vital place for hearing and reading the Word as it has been given to others for the church; but if that is the main diet, if that constitutes the life of the believer – then we have a life mediated by others, lived by others, experienced by others. We ought not to speak or write to make others dependent on us, but to encourage others to engage the Word of God so that they can contribute to the conversation and to life together. We have all been given grace, we have all been given glory – is it not a tragedy that so many live life without ever knowing the glory of their Lord within them, without ever sharing the Word, without ever venturing out of the nest?

As Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people.” Biblical leaders know that, how do we know that they know? Not by what they say, but by how they live what they say.

“Authority in pastoral care can be found only in the servants of Jesus who seek no authority of their own, but who are Christians one to another, obedient to the authority of the word,” (page 86). These words conclude the chapter titled Service. The chapter envisions a fully functioning community in which all members matter, all are valuable, all are accountable, all speak the Word, all submit to one another, and leadership within the community washes the feet of all.

Is such life messy? Of course it is. Are there problems in such a life? Of course there are. Bonhoeffer tells us that challenges will come, he doesn’t teach that they may come, they will come. He wants us to prepare for them by Biblically thinking ahead as to how we will respond.

I have a friend who is about to assume the role of interim pastor for 18 – 24 months. The pastor who had been at the church had been there many years, at least 20 as I recall. The church leadership expects there to be a significant drop-off in attendance as a result of the pastor’s retirement. I have another friend whose church is between pastors, during the tenure of a recent interim pastor attendance and offerings took a nose dive, now they are seeking another interim pastor. These scenarios are not atypical; if we are experiencing life together then how can these things be?

As I have written before, I seldom see a book exploring just what the Biblical church is. There are books about church growth, there are books about programs (including small group programs), there are books about denominational polity, or polity related to certain theological traditions – but the fact is that the heart and soul of the church is something that we seldom think about, talk about, teach about. The Bride for whom Christ died is shut in a closet. We think and live organizationally, pragmatically, and according to our various religious traditions – but the Wedding Supper of the Lamb will not be about Pentecostals, or Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Anglicans, or Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox, or any other group that, more often than not, claims our allegiance (including non-traditional groups such as house churches) – it is about the Bride, the Church, that wonderful Woman whose heart beats for her Bridegroom, and whose Bridegroom yearns for her.

One day Jesus will set her free and she will dance and sing and smile and weep and look at herself and say, “Oh my, is this who I have been all this time…and I didn’t know, I didn’t realize it. I had no idea how much, how very deeply, He loves me.” Perhaps she will be in holy shock and it may take a while for her to gain her composure.

Can we hear her heartbeat? Can we sense it? Are we listening for it above all the religious noise surrounding us?

What beautiful music surrounds her! See the angelic attendants escorting her.

“Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty, because He is your Lord, worship Him.” Psalm 45:10 – 1.