Monday, January 24, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: BONHOEFFER - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy


Christians and other moralists are sometimes quick to preach comfortable ethics that can be followed with a sense of certainty and righteousness during peace-time.  We do not often get to be so mouthy in the face of unmasked evil.  We rarely see into the world of persecution.

This is the first biography in decades to give us a glimpse into Germany's own Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian who was hung on Hitler's order, just before the defeat of Nazi Germany.

How did a man of deep faith and conviction move from being a pacifist with a penchant for Gandhi to a double agent working towards the assassination of Adolf Hitler?  He did not rescind his faith, but embraced it all costs with humility and deep conviction.

This is a must read for all champions of social justice, particularly those who feel conflicted by the inaction and naivety of comfortable Christianity.  You will find plenty of inspiration to drive you deeper into becoming a disciplined follower of Jesus Christ.

_______________________________________



Book provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications.  Available from Thomas Nelson Publishers wherever good books are obtained.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

DEEP ROOTS

Throughout the changes of your life, what truths will remain?  Which values will survive the transitions and grow into something? How much is dependent on God’s hand in the changes you experience?  As your life is scattered and thrown into new situations, understand that it is God’s hand at work in the pressures and rapid movements of life.  He uses diaspora to move you to a people and place where you can thrive.  He gives you a place where you can lay down your life willingly.

Are you like the guy James described who looks in the mirror and walks away unchanged?  He sees the mess staring back and feels bad.  It’s sometimes easier to walk away from the mirror than to clean up the mess.

Jesus said you cannot have two masters.  Has following Jesus been in competition with other interests and passions?  You will eventually love one and hate the other.  Following Jesus requires that we take up a cross.  Self-denial and dying to self characterize discipleship.

The seed is supposed to be buried in dirt and die.  It cannot become anything but a shell unless it breaks and dies.

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest who wrote over 40 books on the devotional life.  He was powerfully used by God throughout his life to inspire and teach. What many people did not know was his lifelong struggle with homosexual desires.  He never publicly identified himself in this way but chose to live a life of celibacy. In the latter part of his life he was a member of the Daybreak community in Toronto.  Daybreak was founded by L’Arche, an intentional community where adult caregivers live full-time with others who developmental disabilities.  On the matter of being rooted in God, he wrote:

“Trees that grow tall have deep roots. Great height without great depth is dangerous. The great leaders of this world – like St. Francis, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., – were all people who could live with public notoriety, influence, and power in a humble way because of their deep spiritual rootedness.
Without deep roots we easily let others determine who we are. But as we cling to our popularity, we may lose our true sense of self. Our clinging to the opinion of others reveals how superficial we are. We have little to stand on. We have to be kept alive by adulation and praise. Those who are deeply rooted in the love of God can enjoy human praise without being attached to it.” [i]

What do you do with seed?  You plant it in the dirt and let it get rooted. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

DIASPORA GENERATION

Young adults are leaving the local church in extraordinary numbers. We all have friends who decided that the snooze button was their answer to the Sunday morning dilemma.

Drew Dyck[i] is the author of ‘Generation Ex-Christian’. In Christianity Today he wrote:

Some striking mile markers appear on the road through young adulthood: leaving for college, getting the first job and apartment, starting a career, getting married—and, for many people today, walking away from the Christian faith.
A few years ago, shortly after college, I was in my studio apartment with a friend and fellow pastor's kid. After some small talk over dinner, he announced, "I'm not a Christian anymore. I don't know what happened. I just left it."
An image flashed into my mind from the last time I had seen him. It was at a Promise Keepers rally. I remembered watching him worship, eyes pinched shut with one slender arm skyward.
How did his family react to his decision? I asked. His eyes turned to the ground. "Growing up I had an uncle who wasn't a Christian, and we prayed for him all the time," he said wistfully. "I'm sure they pray for me like that."  [ii]

This trend begs the question; “Where has the good seed landed?  Why have many people not had a healthy outcome after years in church? Drew Dyck believes: “A faithful response requires that we examine the exodus and ask ourselves some honest questions about why.” [iii]

Several factors emerge that we can point to if we want to assign blame:

·         Irrelevance of church experience to daily lives
·         Hypocrisy choking out youthful optimism
·         Intellectual doubts lacking intelligent response
·         Tired of guilty conscience and helpless to address sinful lifestyle patterns
·         Belief that the church is small-minded about addressing problems
·         Lack of care expressed to new believers and those outside the church
·         Consumerism of churchgoers looking for goods and services instead of being good servants
·         Shallow discipleship focused on self-realization more than encountering the living Christ

 


Drew Dyck continues:

Most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are "good, nice, and fair." Its central goal is to help believers "be happy and feel good about oneself."
Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it’s one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It’s in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of any age walk away. [iv]

Sunday, January 16, 2011

SCATTERED BY GOD'S HAND

The term diaspora (a scattering or sowing of seeds) is used to refer to any people or ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands, being dispersed throughout other parts of the world, and the ensuing developments in their dispersal and culture.

The Greek word diaspora literally means a ‘scattering or sowing of seed’.  How has your life experienced diaspora? What can you identify as the seed in your life and how has the hand of God scattered it?

Jesus told a story that speaks to a process that happens throughout the seasons of our life. It is a story that our agrarian friends in Essex and Kent Counties can relate to.

Luke 8:  (The Message)
5-8 "A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was tramped down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn't have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop.
   "Are you listening to this? Really listening?"

Jesus went on to explain that the Word of God is the seed. Truth will grow into something lasting and fruitful when it lands in the good soil. But what happens to the seed that never gets beneath the surface? Truth is in your path and you walk over until it is stuck to the road.  It cannot be blown by the wind to open soil; so in fly the devil birds with an appetite! How much truth have we lost because it landed on the hardness of a worn path?

Seed has life in it. It will die and produce life whenever it lands in soil. Have you ever seen a blade of grass grow through a crack in a sidewalk? No-one bent down and carefully inserted seed into the cracked concrete. A little openness to the sunlight and rainwater brought about new life to the dying seed or pre-existent root beneath the surface.  But we don’t want grassy sidewalks or trees growing in the middle of a road.

If you really want to see what a seed can do, plant it in broken soil with the right conditions. 

At my friend Steve’s house, I have watched him gut pumpkins and collect the seeds. I’ve seen little containers and boxes filling up with all kinds of seed. It would be a strange and meaningless hobby if he didn’t also think about where and when he would take his collection to the dirt. 

It would also be strange if God collected truth as a hobby and never did anything with it.  He saves truth so He can throw it out into good places.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

CHANGE WILL COME

I am interested in the movement and migration of people. Very few people stay fixed in one place for a lifetime. World history tells many stories of beginning, exile, idea, exodus, exploration and conquest.  

Your history and life story includes a similar pattern.  

From your beginning as a zygote you have been on the move chasing ideas and sources of comfort.  While change is continuous, there are a few basics that we will always want to include.

Everyone wants something to eat.  A comfortable place to sleep makes the next day better; and we want something worthwhile to do tomorrow.

Who does not want a few other people to share life with? Even the hermit who chooses to live alone can reference distant relationships in their past. One of our church neighbors lives alone in a small, dilapidated house.  When you have a rare conversation with him, he often will talk about his aged mother and the landlady he is in love with.  Neither of them are a regular part of his life, but they define him.  They are part of his thought life and represent certain ideals and unmet needs.

Everyone we know has a measureable distance from us. Some we want to have closer and others we want to distance ourselves from.  

In finding our place in the world, we experience many movements and migrations looking for someone to eat and sleep with. Somewhere we want to settle into meaningful, purposeful activity.  If we’re not there yet, we will either move on or stay in place and die.

Monday, January 10, 2011

PEACEMAKERS & PUNCHING BAGS

I remember Pastor Ken Gill once saying something to the effect that “if you stick your neck out you are more likely to get your face slapped.” 

The implication is that action will lead to reaction.  Whether we like it or not, following Jesus comes at a cost.  Jesus often said things that indicated it would cost us everything, but would be so worth it in the end. 

The last two Beatitudes are about sticking our neck out and the consequence of doing so.

Matthew 5:
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Often the path to peace comes at a great price.  Injustice and insult await those who follow God’s call to be peacemakers.  The applause for peacemakers does not often come until they have suffered for the cause. 

The cost of discipleship is very high, but the reward is found with God.  His children will be rewarded in this life and the next.  Peacemakers take a few punches and turn their cheek often because they see another Kingdom emerging through their obedience.

Who calls the peacemakers ‘children of God’?  The persecutors are more inclined to demonize them and say horrible things.  The recognition comes from brothers and sisters who share the family values.  God calls those who love peace His own sons and daughters.

So what is a peacemaker?  Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who has written extensively on issues of justice and spirituality.  He says:

A peacemaker is the one who reconciles quarrels and overcomes conflicts, first of all within himself or herself. Clearly you can see Jesus is not on the side of the violent but on the side of the non-violent, yet we did not have the English word “non-violence” until the 1950’s. You do not have a word for something that is not even in your consciousness.
It is almost impossible to believe how most of Christian history was unable to hear Jesus’ rather explicit teaching on non-violence. It seems that we started, encouraged, idealized, and fought in most wars that were ever available to us. The only time—until very recently—that a Pope ever condemned a war was when the Turks invaded the Papal States! But, thank God, there were a few smaller groups like the Mennonites, Quakers, and Amish who always took Jesus’ teaching seriously.[i]

This brings us to a serious question about the use of military force to do violence against those who reject national and international laws and rights.  Should a Christian support military action of any kind?

Without going into lengthy explanations at this point, most Christians fall into one of three positions on this matter:

1.       Just War – this position believes that war is not preferred, but occasions surface where it must be fought and in doing meet the criteria of philosophical, religious or political justice.  There is a right time to fight, but you need to fight within a moral framework.

2.       Pacifism – any form of violence is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.

3.       Non-violent resistance – achieving socio-political goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience and non-cooperation with unjust policies.

In the camp that you find yourself, the words of Jesus still stand true.  Peacemakers will be recognized as possessing the character of their Heavenly Father.  The children of God will behave like the Father.

Though misunderstanding and hurt befalls the children, the Father is painfully aware of injustice and will reward those who live by His Kingdom values.



[i] Richard Rohr, Jesus’ Plan For The New World, p. 139

Saturday, January 8, 2011

CATASTROPHES, CALAMITIES & CASUALTIES















Near the end of his days on the earth, Jesus talked to the disciples about how things would be in the days to come.

Matthew 24:
6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

These words were at the front door of his crucifixion and centuries of persecution for his followers.  Jesus said that war is inevitable but his followers don’t need to be fear-mongers.  Until the end of the age there will be catastrophes, calamities and casualties.  But don’t get focused on that—understand that the world is going through a process that will lead to the birth of a new kind of kingdom.  The King is coming back and will bring a reign of peace to the entire world.

If anyone thinks that Christians are overly dramatic about the state of world affairs, consider this 2002 statistic from the WEA Religious Liberty Commission:

“We estimate that there are more than 200 million Christians in the world today who do not have full human rights as defined by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, simply because they are Christians. We believe that this is the largest group in the world without full human rights because of their beliefs.” [i]

Maybe you have not been tortured, slandered or denied rights for your faith, but Jesus could foresee the reality for any who would follow Him. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached the values of God’s Kingdom that would outlast the turmoil and chaos of this world.  Michael Spencer said:

The Beatitudes are pronouncements of pure grace. They announce the in-breaking of God’s upside-down Kingdom. God is not bound by the current, fallen, corrupt value system that expects him to shower blessings on rich, successful, and powerful people, on “worthy ones” who are universally recognized and applauded by the world.[ii]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

EVERY 'ONE' HAS A WAR


The world has always known war and conflict.  When there were only two people in existence in the Garden of Eden, sin brought conflict into their lives.  


The cursed effects transferred to their children.  The first murder happened when their son Cain killed his brother Abel.  Cain lived his life as an exiled refugee from his own people.

According to Globalsecurity.org[i] there are presently 36 conflicts raging in the world.  This includes wars, insurgencies, civil unrest, genocides, etc.

The Nobel Prize website indicates that the form of war today is shifting.

War did not decline during the course of the 20th century, but there were some remarkable changes regarding the types of war that were fought.  From 1900 to 1910, wars of all categories were represented rather evenly, whereas from 1990 to 2000 most were civil wars.  Today there are few interstate wars with clearly defined parties, but civil wars have become increasingly internationalized.  Few internal wars today take place without the intervention of foreign states.  One illustrative example is the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where as many as five neighboring states are involved.  The shift from interstate to civil war is perhaps the most significant change that has occurred in the last century.  Of course civil wars have always existed, but only recently have they become the dominant type of war. [ii]

There may be complex reasons why civil war is the dominant form of massive conflict.  Could it be that people are more easily offended by the enemy close at hand than by some invading foreign power? 

Are there more wars today than previous centuries?  The answer is a qualified ‘yes’.  There are more conflicts, but also a multiplication of world population.  More people equates to more wars.  I believe the problem can be reduced microscopically to the number one.  Every ‘one’ is engaged in some form of conflict.  We are at war with God, with ourselves and/or with someone else.  Everyone has turmoil at some level.

Just yesterday, I received an email from someone who was offended by something I said to them fifteen years ago.  They wrote to let me know that they had become embittered and now wanted to forgive me.  The sad truth is that I had long forgotten what the issue was and did not know they were so affected.  I hope that we can have a healthy resolve and establish peace between us.

I wonder how many wars and rebellions have raged over an escalated offense involving just a handful of people.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

TOO MUCH TURKEY, NOT ENOUGH HOSPITALITY

Having just come through the holidays, my body is feeling sluggish from too many sweets and not enough exercise.  I find myself looking forward to a return to normal eating and lifestyle.  My body requires a healthy way to live.

It is the same in the life of the church.  If we live with an excess of whipped cream, our health suffers over time. 

The holidays are also times of hospitality, but usually to our favored friends and family.  We spend extra time with them, usually with good intentions and gift-giving. 

But could we sustain the holiday lifestyle year-round and remain healthy? 

In Corinth, Paul was concerned with members of the church who lived with an abundance of food and likely sat with their family and a few favored friends.  Every gathering on the Lord’s Day was treated like a holiday, not a holy day.

1 Corinthians 11:
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

The Corinthian partiers were humiliating to others without knowing it.  That is how self-focused they were.  Instead of the meal being a model of the Lord’s table, it reminded Paul of a private club.

When we come together as a church and when we consider our social life, let’s make sure we are not humiliating others by exclusion.  Let’s not smear the Lord’s name by turning a blind eye to the people God wants to share at our table.

Paul was writing a letter and not leading a service.  He continued with a reference to the Lord’s Passover with His disciples.  In it is the model of what our table of love should be.

1 Corinthians 11:
 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Let us approach our lives together with more emphasis on inclusion and hospitality; less on what we are going to stuff ourselves with.

We could get by with less turkey and more hospitality.  Fewer guest lists and more open homes. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

PARENTS WHO LOVE GOD

The act of child dedication is an expression of your desire to invite God into the process of parenting.  As fathers and mothers we realize that we need God’s help to be wise and loving in our care of children.  The very basis of parenting is demonstrated in the Godhead with the Father and Son.  The prophets also describe God showing mother-like care of the young.

As parents, you have within you the image of God.  Is it any wonder that Jesus was so receptive to children and outspoken on the danger of offending little ones?  As parents, we need to learn to build our families on the basis of love, not fear.

The best parenting combines loving approval with measured boundaries.  It is the role of parents to provide a reasonable way of living to their children.  As the child matures, we launch them towards independence and self-reliance.

No matter how much your own childhood and upbringing affected you, a relationship with God can give you the opportunity to learn new ways of living and parenting. 

When God was preparing His people to enter the land of promise, they were a people who had lived with oppression.  As slaves, they were at the mercy of others and had no freedoms.  They were entering into a new way of living with which they had no previous experience to compare to.

He gave them a life principle that would keep them moving in the right direction.


Deuteronomy 6:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.


God tells parents to center their lives in Him.  To impart your passion for God to your children requires talking with them, walking with them and being part of their bed-time and rising.  It involves your house and your priorities.

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