Life Together

25 08 2015

The pastor of the church I attended while a student at university often mentioned the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This charismatic Swedish Covenant pastor spoke of the ecumenical German Lutheran pastor with so much respect that I decided to buy some of Bonhoeffer’s books.  These included The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, Letters & Papers from Prison, and Life Together.

Decades have passed. Recently, I was inspired to pull that last one listed from the shelf and take a new look at it. Even though the book was first published in English by Harper & Row in 1954, reading it anew in 2015 has been a renewing experience.

As the blurb on the back of the Harper Jubilee edition says, “This story of a unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years reads like one of Paul’s letters. It gives practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups. The role of personal prayer, worship in common, everyday work, and Christian service is treated in simple, almost Biblical, words. Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.”

Many fine Christian scholars over the years have taught that, in this Age of the Church (which is also called the Age of Grace), the office of prophet is performed by those who preach and teach the Bible. In Pastor Bonhoeffer’s case, that title is indeed befitting. He really does sound like a New Testament apostle speaking with the authority and accuracy of an Old Testament prophet. In this epistle on how to be a church, and how to do church, Bonhoeffer’s words become, in those of an earlier minister of the Gospel, “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

This is due in great part to Bonhoeffer’s reverence for the Word: Christ Jesus the Word of the Triune God, and the words spoken and written by the prophets and apostles on behalf of the Triune God. As Bonhoeffer insists, not a person and not an assembly can be any good in the Church of our Savior and Lord Christ Jesus without centering in thought, speech, and action on the Word.

“The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself.  He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to the Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

“But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

Bonhoeffer presupposes this occurs in church … that is, within what we typically designate as church: services and ceremonies both formal and informal conducted inside ecclesiastical buildings.  But Bonhoeffer has other assemblies in mind, too, such as monasteries and convents, communes, families and households.  As Jesus Himself said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

And Bonhoeffer has much to say to individuals. “We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in fellowship. Only in fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in fellowship. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

Life Together is not one of those books to be skimmed and then cast amid the jetsam navigated by garage sailors. Read it and read it again. The book is worthy of the kind of meditation encouraged by Bonhoeffer.

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Holy Water

16 08 2015
Holy Water

Holy Water

 

“Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus the Nazarene





The New Year

1 01 2015

Be welcome, year! with corn and sickle come;
Make poor the body, but make rich the heart:
What man that bears his sheaves, gold-nodding, home,
Will heed the paint rubbed from his groaning cart!

Nor leave behind thy fears and holy shames,
Thy sorrows on the horizon hanging low–
Gray gathered fuel for the sunset-flames
When joyous in death’s harvest-home we go.

George MacDonald





Watering the Earth

29 12 2014

clouds

Isaiah 55:9-11 

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways,
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For just as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and they do not return there
except they have watered the earth thoroughly
    and cause it to bring forth and sprout,
and give seed to the sower
    and bread to the eater,
11 so shall be my word that goes out from my mouth.
    It shall not return to me without success,
but shall accomplish what I desire
    and be successful in the thing for which I sent it.

Lexham English Bible (LEB)2012 by Logos Bible Software. Lexham is a registered trademark of Logos Bible Software





Merry Christmas!

19 12 2014

Cranberry 2

And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people: that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.  And this will be the sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10-12  (Lexham English Bible)

 

 Think this in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

 who, existing in the form of God,
    did not consider being equal with God something to be grasped,
 but emptied himself
    by taking the form of a slave,
    by becoming in the likeness of people.
And being found in appearance like a man,
 he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        that is, death on a cross.
 Therefore also God exalted him
    and graciously granted him the name above every name,
 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
    of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth,
 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (Lexham English Bible)

 

 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace
    among people with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:14 (Lexham English Bible)





The Incarnation

14 12 2014

Glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend;
Now God comes down, He bows the sky,
And shows Himself our Friend!
God the invisible appears,
God the Blest, the Great I AM,
He sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is His Name.

Him by the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King;
Lo, tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring;
Emptied of His majesty,
Of His dazzling glories shorn,
Our being’s Source begins to be,
And God Himself is born!

See the eternal Son of God
A mortal Son of Man,
Now dwelling in an earthly clod
Whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, look at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies
Low humbled to the dust He is,
And in a manger lies!

So do the sons of men rejoice
The Prince of Peace proclaim,
With Heaven’s host lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel’s Name;
Our knees and hearts to Him we bow;
Of our flesh, and of our bone,
See—Jesus is our Brother now,
And God is all our own!

 

Charles Wesley

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A Child’s Prayer

13 12 2014

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Fain I would to Thee be brought,
Dearest God, forbid it not;
Give me, dearest God, a place
In the Kingdom of Thy grace.

Put Thy hands upon my head,
Let me in Thine arms be stayed,
Let me lean upon Thy breast,
Lull me, lull me, Lord to rest.

Hold me fast in Thine embrace,
Let me see Thy smiling face,
Give me, Lord, Thy blessings give,
Pray for me, and I shall live.

Lamb of God, I look to Thee,
Thou shalt my example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild,
Thou wast once a little child.

Fain I would be as Thou art,
Give me Thy obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have Thy loving mind.

Let me, above all, fulfil
God my heavenly Father’s will,
Never His good Spirit grieve;
Only to His glory live.

Thou didst live to God alone,
Thou didst never seek Thine own,
Thou Thyself didst never please:
God was all Thy happiness.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart.

I shall then show forth Thy praise,
Serve Thee all my happy days;
Then the world shall always see
Christ, the Holy Child, in me.

 

Charles Wesley’s poem hearkens further back to a brief story contained in the New Testament. Here it is, as presented in one of the three Gospels that record it:

 

Mark 10:13-16  Lexham English Bible (LEB)

 And they were bringing young children to him so that he could touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the young children come to me. Do not forbid them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a young child will never enter into it.”  And after taking them into his arms, he blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Wesley’s poem also hearkens to a brief, but potent teaching contained in three of the four Gospels. Here is one rendering:

Matthew 18:1-4  Lexham English Bible (LEB)

At that time the disciples came up to Jesus, saying, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And calling a child to himself, he had him stand in their midst and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn around and become like young children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven! Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child, this person is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

(2012 by Logos Bible Software. Lexham is a registered trademark of Logos Bible Software)

What Jesus is saying in His teaching is that a person must recognize his/her utter dependence on God the Heavenly Father. The human being is as dependent upon God as a little child is dependent upon his/her father and mother. A child may tell his parents, “I want my own way,” or “I can do it myself,” or more simply, “No!” But doing so is folly; it is foolish and as deadly as letting a child play with matches or a loaded gun or sharp knives.

Note: childlike does not mean

  • naïve,
  • simplistic,
  • ignorant,
  • uneducated,
  • unsophisticated,
  • juvenile,
  • gullible,
  • immature, and/or
  • puerile

 

Childlike does mean

  • trusting and
  • guileless

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