Showing posts with label Theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theology. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Way? No. . . His Way

Living here in the Mojave Desert, I find a lot of people escaping.  Escaping from what?  An ex-spouse, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, another relative, big city life in Los Angeles, you name it.  They end up here, where I live.  I see them all the time in my daily errands and such. 

Since people need to buy food and drink, whether of the supermarket variety or restaurant kind, you're bound to rub shoulders with them.  So I do.  One such person was in line for a sandwich and drink on a hot Summer day recently, kid in tow.  I, having my Bonhoeffer book in my hand - I am working to complete more chapters as time goes on, as you may know from my previous post - strike up a conversation.  Kinda like a pre-evangelism conversation, springing from my Bonhoeffer book's cover photo.  I forget what I mentioned to her now, but I do remember her response: "I'm not here for anything heavy.  I'm just here to eat!"

Well. . . not that I was being too forward or anything. . . at least I don't think so.  Just a different kind of person that you find here versus other parts of Southern California. . . like the kind that has major four year universities, for starters.  Anyways, probably yet another instance of narcissism restaurant style. 

Another woman, with their mother, was in a discount store in line for the cashier ready to have their purchases rung up.  She saw me come to the back of her, and asked me, "would you like to come in front of me?"  Hey. . . that's my line I say to people, especially people in a hurry.  I, with few items and in no particular hurry, decline the gracious offer.  Then I asked her if she might know a certain person whose first name starts with "J" and ends with "s."  She says yes.  I smile, and ask her, "so, where do you go to worship each week?"  Right in front of her mother, she replies, "We don't go anywhere.  Churches are too judgmental around here, you know."  I wince at that statement.  I counter with a statement of where I attend and am a member, Grace Chapel (listed as one of the links in "Links for the Journey" to the right of this page).  "We aren't one of those judgmental churches," I reply.  "In fact, we place a particular emphasis on Loving God and Loving People" (the church's motto).  I make the invite to come and check it out, and - Ack! - didn't have any business cards with me at the moment.  My bad.  I tell her anyway.  She smiles and says she will come.  One never knows, of course.   

There's a common thread here, of course.  Doing things my way.  Cafeteria style disengagement and faith a la carte.  Picking and choosing what you believe and how you live as though you were in total control and in charge.  Not heeding and respecting what the Word of God says on such matters.  Heck, probably not even knowing what the Bible says, period!

For those who don't know the lyrics to the song My Way, popularized by the late Frank Sinatra, I give you this link:

Lots of bravado in those lyrics to be sure, laced with liberal doses of humanism. 

*  *  * 

God has an entirely different perspective on the issue of "how you do it."  It's radically different. From Philippians 2 (NASB):

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any [a] affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete [b]by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing [c]from [d] selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude [e]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped, 7 but [g] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [h]on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Being of the same mind. . . love, united in spirit, intent of one purpose.  That describes the North American and Western culture to a tee, right?  Nope.  That's one of our problems. . . this constant, unremitting rebellion seemingly for the sake of rebellion.  Why. . . no one seems to know.  I smell deception from the Prince of the Power of the Air. . . 'nuff said!

Much more could be said about the above passage, but I'm focusing here a bit.  Pardon me. . .

From Hebrews 10 (NASB):

, 22 let us draw near with a [h]sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Let us draw near. . . having our hearts. . . our bodies. . .

Let us hold fast. . . the confession of our hope. . . and let us consider. . . one another. . . not forsaking our own assembling together. . . but encouraging one another; as *you* see the day drawing near.

That's six uses of us, our and one another.  Only one form of the first person singular, you, in the entire passage.  That speaks volumes to me, my friend!

Not only is ministry a team sport, but so is Christian community and worship.  Worship is to be done corporately, together as Christ's body assembled, as the writer of Hebrews instructs above. 

Countercultural, to be sure.  Radical, even.  But that's what following Jesus and being on the Pilgrim Journey is all about.  Leaving the City of Destruction and traveling by God's grace to the Celestial City, where all this discordant nonsense will never abide and will be forgotten in the midst of celebrating at His banqueting table, where those this world thought nothing of, Jesus thought everything of. . . to the point of obediently dying for them on a Cross.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Quotable Bonhoeffer (and Metaxas)

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I am reading Eric Metaxas' excellent book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010 by Thomas Nelson Publishers) which made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list in 2011.  I've only made it through the first nine chapters so far (there are 31 chapters in all), but I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book.  The first few chapters establish time, place, and circumstances of his early life.  Once past that, the story picks up and becomes engrossing.  One to reflect upon and not read quickly. . . and one to use a highlighter and/or pen to mark important passages with.  I've done so. 

Bonhoeffer, to those who don't know, was a German pastor in pre-Hitler and pre-World War II Germany, as well as during the war.  He could have established residency in the United States in the 1930's, but declined to do so.  Instead, he followed the call of God to speak God's truth to the secular power of the age. . . Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich itself.  Bonhoeffer actually participated in a failed plot to assasinate Hitler just before Bonhoeffer himself died in a German war camp just prior to World War II ending.  Exciting times, and an eventful man with God's leading.  May we be the same in our generation!  With that background given, here's some worthwhile quotes.  All are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer unless otherwise indicated.

*  *  *

Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.  (Page 85)

A summary from Metaxas: "In an attempt to be more sophisticated than the fundamentalists, whom they (theological liberals) hated, they had jettisoned serious scholarship altogether.  They seemed to know what the answer was supposed to be and weren't much concerned with how to get there.  They knew only that whatever answer the Fundamentalists came up with must be wrong.  For Bonhoeffer, this was scandalous."  (Page 103)

The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. (Page 106)

.  .  . 

In New York they preach about virtually everything: only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.  (Page 106)

So what stands in the place of the Christian message?  An ethical and social idealism born by a faith in progress. . .

The (liberal) church (is) as a social corporation. . . (Page 107)

From Metaxas: "Bonhoeffer quickly grew weary of the sermons in places like (theologically liberal) Riverside (Church, New York City), so when Fisher invited him to a service at Abyssynian (Baptist Church, New York City), he was thrilled to go along.  There, in the socially downtrodden African American community, Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested.  The preacher at Abyssinian was a powerful figure named Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr."  (Pages 107-8)

Again, from Metaxas: "By the mid-1930's, Abyssinian boasted fourteen thousand members and was arguably the largest Protestant church of any kind in the whole United States.  When Bonhoeffer saw it all, he was staggered."  (Page 108)

Metaxas again: ". . . the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering."  (Page 110)

I still believe that the spiritual songs of the southern negroes represent some of the greatest artistic achievements in America.  (Page 114)  I'll add this note: Bonhoeffer was so struck with the power and influence of the negro spirituals he listened to that he took these recordings with him back to Germany, to allow his students and others to listen to them as he first did so.  They were some of his most treasured possessions, according to Metaxas.

From Metaxas: "He seemed to want to warn everyone to wake up and to stop playing church."  (Page 122)

When I took leave of my black friend, he said to me: 'Make our sufferings known to Germany, tell them what is happening to us, and show them what we are like.'  I wanted to fulfill this obligation tonight.  (Page 128)

From Metaxas: (from one of Bonhoeffer's students) "Among the public, there spread the expectation that the salvation of the German people would now come from Hitler.  But in the lectures we were told that salvation comes only from Jesus Christ."  (Page 128) 

If you want to be pastors, then you must sing Christmas carols.  (Page 129)

From Metaxas: "He loved.  And by being with his disciples, he showed them what life was supposed to look like, what God had intended it to look like."  (Page 129)

From Metaxas, again: "Bonhoeffer aimed to model the Christian life with his students.  This led him to the idea that, to be a Christian, one must live with Christians."  (Page 130)

Leaders or officers who set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.  (Page 142)

From Metaxas: "The words of the decree (Reichstag Fire Edict), produced and signed into effect before anyone had had time to think carefully about it, made possible most of the horrors ahead, including the concentration camps."  (Page 149)  Yup. . . there went the German people's individual liberties and civil rights, just like that!

All of this reminds me of the famous quote by philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
"Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,"  the Apostle Paul advised in another context in 1 Corinthians 10:12, but one connected to the issue at hand: the allowance of evil and idolatry in one's life and in the culture at large.

I hate evil, because God does.  It's real.  C'mon. . . you mean to tell me that the Aurora, Colorado Batman movie theater killer was a good guy?  He was and is mentally troubled, for starters.  Or how about the Iranians rattling their sabers at Israel?  Is that good?  No!  Or how about what happened to Kelly Thomas, the homeless man who was beaten and killed at the hands of the Fullerton, California police department?  Is that good?  Look at all the demonstrations that event caused.  No!  How about the inclination of my heart to not be with God's people, the ekklesia, the called out ones of God, and share my life transparently in front of God and man as I do Sunday by Sunday?  Is that good?  No! 

See, evil is everywhere in every person, because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," Paul wrote in Romans 3:23.  "All our righteousness is as filthy rags," the prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 64:6).  This is why Jesus came.  To allow us to exchange our filthy rags for a white robe, where we are judged "not guilty" by God the Father, because he sees "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).  "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow," Isaiah the prophet declared (Isaiah 1:8) 

This is the Great Exchange. . . one Bonhoeffer had, and I've had as well.  It's the best exchange you'll ever have in your life, to rid yourself of all your guilt and shame you have before God the Father and let Jesus bear the burden and the punishment of your sin. . . a subsitutionary sacrifice. . . which is one main reason why he is worshiped as God the Son, part of the Trinity.

Questions about the above?  Please do leave a comment below.  I do check regularly for them, and I'd be honored to help folks deal with this issue in a gentle, loving, compassionate way.  I know.  I've been in that position.  


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Words (and music) from a fellow Pilgrim

No, I didn't say it, but I wish I had.  Guess who is our guest blogger?

*  *  *

We get awfully big when we have all that assurance, and all that confidence, and all that jazz.  It's just hard to give it up and get in to where you really want to go.  If you're a very brave person, I highly recommend a serious reading of the scriptures, and instead of always trying to understand it, so that it fits your theology, I would just really like to challenge you to read it and say, "That's what it says; of course it doesn't make sense, it's true!"  And Truth very seldom makes sense. 

We want to become healthy and prosperous and unaffected by the world, and He wants us to encounter the world in such a way as He did, which is a way that will eventually kill us.  So we ask for all the wrong things and we get all the wrong things.  That's why I think it's hard for a rich person to get into heaven, because they've been going the wrong direction for so long it's hard to turn around. 

*  *  *

These words are from the late great Rich Mullins, who may be gone from this present Earth but not forgotten in many a Pilgrim's heart, including especially mine.  Rich spoke them during one of the last concerts he ever gave two weeks before he died in a tragic Jeep/commercial truck accident in Illinois in 1997.  The story of how he came to give this concert and stay with a family there, plus the concert, words, music and all, are on the following YouTube video.  Enjoy!

If you're looking for the song Rich sang after saying the words I quoted above, here it is:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Is Death a friend?

Yesterday my wife and I attended a funeral for a friend's husband.  He had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for several years before the moment of death occurred, and his memory departed, leaving his wife, a jewel of a woman, with someone whom she knew. . . but he no longer knew her. 

I give great credit to her for staying with her husband and caring for him in the Alzheimer's facility he was cared for at, even in the face of cross words and unkind thoughts verbally expressed.  Great, great credit.  Difficult to keep with such an unlovely person. . . but by the Grace of God, she did.  The easy approach is to run from and disown such a one. . . and again, to her great credit, she relied on the Grace of God to allow her to love her unlovely husband in the midst of the trial and heartbreak that is Alzheimer's.  That is a great story that she may be proud of to tell others for the rest of her life!

So we attended the funeral at her church.  The pastor there, whom I've not ever met, stood up and offered some words.  Considering what trials her husband went through, and that of the surviving wife present, thinking of the "slow goodbye" which is Alzheimer's, where one's memory eventually fades and is no more, he offered the following thought: "Death can be a friend," the pastor confided to the assembled friends and family in attendance.  He proceeded to say other words in the vein of comforting those present, considering his audience with certain care and forethought.  No words chosen at the last minute from what I could see.  Again, I'm giving this pastor the benefit of the doubt.  I really believe his aim was to be of comfort and encouragement at that moment.  This particular church has gone through a lot of change of late, not much for the better either.  It is now comprised of elderly women as its mainstay, with not many men in attendance anymore.  Not many in their younger years go there anymore, either.  So this church probably deals in death more often than it would like, I would hazard.  Again, I'm seeking to be charitable, especially since this pastor and I have never met or discussed the content of his words spoken yesterday. 

After a nap, my wife and I left for a Gospel Quartet music fest in Bakersfield.  Delightful evening, and loads of unity in the Spirit and hand clapping to boot. . . with moments of funnin' and letting one's hair down!  Wonderful time there.  But I digress.  

As I was driving down the road, I asked my wife, "did you hear that pastor talk about death?"  "Yes," she replied.  "Did you hear what he said about death, though?" I shot back.  "What?" she quizzically mumbled as she relaxed in semisleep with the seat laid back for rest.  

"He said death can be your friend, or death is your friend. . . words like that.  Remember?" I recalled to her.  "Uh, huh. . . I remember that, yes," she said.  

"Now think a minute.  Death is your friend.  What kind of person thinks that kind of thought or says it?" I warbled my forming thoughts out to her.  

"I dunno."

"How about folks overdosing on drugs, suicide victims, people like that?" I pointedly zinged back.  

Ouch. . . 

"You mean. . . " she began as she sleepily formed some thoughts.

"That's right, dear.  This pastor we heard probably meant to say words like 'God was merciful to him by allowing death to finally occur,' but instead it was less precisely said. . . to a point where if one didn't listen closely or know the situation of this man's life or know this pastor well, you might reasonably conclude he believed that death is your friend.  Nothing could be further than the truth, though, right?" I convincingly proffered.  

"Right, honey," she swiftly vocalized to me.  "Death is never good.  How then could it be your friend?"

"Exactly!" I exclaimed.  "You've got it!  Death is never your friend.  In fact, the Scriptures say that Jesus is the victor over Death.  If Jesus defeated death, and Jesus abhors death, how could a state of being that Jesus hates ever be our friend?"

*  *  *

"The thief comes only to kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly," Jesus told us in John 10:10.  "I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?" Jesus asked Martha in John 11:25-26.  I get chills up my spine when I remember these verses from John 11.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:6-10, ESV)

The King James Version renders 2 Corinthians 5:8 as  ". . . to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."  Rather countercultural, that.  Yep, this present world isn't all what it's cracked up to be, for sure!  Note that the believer is taken from the body, which dies, and is immediately in the Lord's presence.  Pretty neat, eh?  From death to life. . . Jesus is about life!

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, ESV)


He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4, ESV)


17   . . .  “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.  (Revelation 1:17b-18, ESV)

I think it's rather evident from the above Scripture passages that Jesus is not a friend of Death.  Instead, he put death away forever and holds the very keys of Death and Hades! 

Is Death a friend?  I think not!  Time to unfriend Death. . . it separates us from the love of God.  Jesus is the friend of sinners, but not of Death.  We need to be that same way. 

Jesus is the author of life. . . and Satan is the author of death. . . God always being good, Satan always being evil.  Goes with the territory.  Those who say, "God took (name of loved one) away from me!" are speaking from uninformed emotion, methinks, and not from searching the Scriptures with all one's heart and soul and mind.  Angry at death?  Me too!  But get angry at Satan, not God.  Satan is the originator of death.  God isn't.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Spiritual. . . But Not Religious

How many times have you heard from others "I'm spiritual, but not religious?"  I have!  It's cropping up more and more often when I converse with people these days.  The "rub" here is that if you are "spiritual," you have it together, you're real, you're a good person.  The "religious" person, by contrast, is not together, fake, and a bad person. . . in short, a "hypocrite." 

I ran across the following dialogue lately, and thought I might share it here. 

*  *  *

In George MacDonald's novel Robert Falconer, there is a bit of dialog which highlights the folly of today's conundrum regarding "spiritual, not religious" ideas. The segment is taken from Chapter 8 "My Own Acquaintance."
‘We are a church, if you like. There!’
‘Who is your clergyman?’
‘Where do you meet?’
‘What are your rules, then?’
‘We have none.’
‘What makes you a church?’
‘Divine Service.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘The sort of thing you have seen to-night.’
‘What is your creed?’
‘Christ Jesus.’
‘But what do you believe about him?’
‘What we can. We count any belief in him—the smallest—better than any belief about him—the greatest—or about anything else besides. But we exclude no one.’
‘How do you manage without?’
‘By admitting no one.’
‘I cannot understand you.’
‘Well, then: we are an undefined company of people, who have grown into human relations with each other naturally, through one attractive force—love for human beings, regarding them as human beings only in virtue of the divine in them.’
‘But you must have some rules,’ I insisted.
‘None whatever. They would cause us only trouble. ...'"

*  *  *

Hat tip: the late Chuck Colson/The Colson Center for Christian Worldview 

 One of the Christian nonfiction books I read early in my Christian life was Ray Stedman's 1972 classic Body Life.  Stedman, longtime pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, brought to life just how the Body of Christ is meant to live and operate. . . then, now, and for the future.  A classic easy to read primer on what Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts and the ekklesia, the Body of Christ, and yes. . . the worldwide, universal church.  Another way of saying it is the catholic - "notice the small "c" denoting "universal and worldwide - church.  A useful passage is Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV): 

  11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Lots to chew on in that passage!  I'll briefly point out a couple of observations.  The Body of Christ is plural.  It is made up of many persons ("saints") who the Apostle Paul refers to as "we."  So the church is plural, not singular.  Many persons, not one. 

We may start out as children in the Christian faith (v. 14), but we don't stay there.  We are to grow up!  (v. 15)  This reminds me of the famous line in the film Shadowlands, where Anthony Hopkins as C. S. Lewis declares to his church congregation, "We need to grow up!"  We do. . . and so do I.  All of us.  Staying as children is unnatural and does not become us.

As I tell my wife on a regular basis, "Ministry is a team sport!"  No "Lone Rangers" in the Christian life! 

Worshipping God together assembled as Christ's Body, the church these days and being connected and accountable to Christ as He expresses Himself through His body is so countercultural in the present day culture.  Yet it is scripturally taught.  The easy way out is to say "I'm not religious. . . I'm spiritual!"  The harder path is to - as the Apostle Paul and C. S. Lewis would say - grow up and be a willing part of Christ's Body. . . the church, warts and all.  No, the church is not perfect.  But she is still Jesus Christ's bride whom He sought and bought with His precious blood on the Cross.  Respect her - the church - at least that much.  Work to better her and let God cleanse her from her sins, not condemn her and walk away like a Lone Ranger.  Hope to see many of you in church this Sunday.  


Friday, June 1, 2012

A Few Words About Being Real

I came across (hat tip to Jonathan Macy on Chris Johnson's Facebook page) an incredible video of a gentleman who I have never heard of - at least I think I haven't as yet - giving a very compelling, winsome, humorous, engaging talk at the National Prayer Breakfast held last February 2.  The speaker is Eric Metaxas.  The President and First Lady were present, as were 4,000 others at the Washington Hilton that day.  Lots to digest and learn from here.  Enjoy!