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Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

It is not always given to us to have the privilege of a clear choice. Good parents are anxious to help their children learn the difference between right and wrong and encourage them to choose right on all occasions. They are right to do so because without such a foundation little of value will be achieved in life and whatsoever of value does emerge will be unintended. We might wish such a foundation to be sufficient to guide us through every challenge that we might meet throughout our lives but sadly this will not always be the case. We will meet occasions in which there will be no good alternative that we can choose.

Such is the challenge that faces Frodo as he prepares to continue his journey after his encounter with Faramir and after the unhappy recapture of Gollum at the Forbidden Pool beneath Henneth Annûn. Such too is…

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Singapore Christian

We live in a world where many pulpits are teaching “cheap grace” — an imitation form of grace. In the essay below, WW2 martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, compares “cheap grace” with true and costly grace, that is able to save the soul

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church’s inexhaustible treasury from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using…

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 You make known to me the path of life;
  in your presence there is fullness of joy;
  at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
~ Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

lifeWriting from Germany on the precipice of war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic on Christian community. In Life Together he called attention the grace of Christian community, calling it “the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life” (21).

In our country, where freedom to worship remains unchecked, his words provide a needed corrective to any laissez-faire attitude we may have towards biblical community. While church membership and attendance are generally affirmed by Christians, I don’t think we see how much grace there is in our ability to gather. By contrast, Bonhoeffer watched the Third Reich run over the church and the Church in turn to compromise with the state.

In such a context, he came to see just how much grace there is when brothers dwell together in unity—true spiritual unity. Consider his words and give thanks for the community of believers he has given you. May his words spur us on to press deeper into the life of our church, or to start such a community of spiritually-minded believers, if one is not present.

Christian Community is a Profound Gift

He introduces his book with the idea that Christian community is a profound gift, but one not experienced by all Christians alike.

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. (17)

So between the death of Christ and the last day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist David, how they went “with the multitude… to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude the holyday (Ps 42:4). But they remain alone in far countries, a scattered seed according to God’s will. (18–19)

It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day maybe taken from us, that the time that still separates us from other loneliness maybe brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. (20)

Christianity Community is Covered with Warts

While adamant about the importance of Christian community, Bonhoeffer is no idealist. He makes it clear that the church is a place for sinners, warts and all. While Christ died to beautify his bride, that beauty is still forthcoming.

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung up from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But god’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. … He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. (26–27)

Bonhoeffer stands against what he calls “wish dreaming.” The church is not a utopian club for the well-polished. Rather, God intends for us sinners to abide with other sinners, to look to the cross for our daily justification, and to be polish with the friction that results. He writes,

Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words or deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. (28)

What a strong antidote Bonhoeffer provides for Christians seeking self-satisfaction in the church. God aims for our eternal holiness, not our immediate comfort.

Via Emmaus

lifeWriting from Germany on the precipice of war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic on Christian community. In Life Together he called attention the grace of Christian community, calling it “the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life” (21).

In our country, where freedom to worship remains unchecked, his words provide a needed corrective to any laissez-faire attitude we may have towards biblical community. While church membership and attendance are generally affirmed by Christians, I don’t think we see how much grace there is in our ability to gather. By contrast, Bonhoeffer watched the Third Reich run over the church and the Church in turn to compromise with the state.

In such a context, he came to see just how much grace there is when brothers dwell together in unity—true spiritual unity. Consider his words and give thanks for the community of believers he has given you. May his words spur us on to press deeper into…

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September 22, 2015

Today, Pope Francis will arrive from Cuba for his first visit to the United States. The head of the Catholic Church, Francis is the spiritual leader to more than one billion people around the globe and one of the most influential people on the planet. But why should evangelicals know basic facts about the pontiff? As Chris Castaldo has said, “whether we like it or not, the pope is, in a certain (global) sense, the single most significant Christian voice in the world.” (UPDATE: Please see the addendum at the end of this article.)

Here are nine things you should know about Pope Francis:

1. Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936 to an Italian immigrant father and a mother of Italian decent. He is the first pope from South America, and the first pope born outside Europe since Gregory III, who was born in modern-day Syria and elected in 731.

2. Francis studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires and also has a master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires. He worked as a teacher of literature, psychology, philosophy, and theology before becoming the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

3. Francis was ordained a Jesuit priest on Dec. 13, 1969, and is the first Jesuit pope. A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

4. Francis served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013. He developed a reputation for eschewing luxury as an example to others and to show solidarity with the poor. For example, instead of wearing the extravagant robes of his position, he would wear the more humble robes of a simple priest. He also used public transportation for local travel and lived in a small flat with an older priest rather than in the archbishop’s palace. Despite having access to a personal chef he also would make his own meals himself.

5. When he was elected to the papacy on March 13, 2013, Bergoglio took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” the same created world “with which we don’t have such a good relationship.” No other pope has chosen the name Francis. (See also: 9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy)

6. In June 2015, Francis released Laudato Si’ a controversial encyclical on the environment that was directed to “every person living on the planet.” The goal and purpose of the document was “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environment challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (You can find my section-by-section summary of the entire encyclical here.)

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StationVI Blog

September 10

Theological work and real pastoral fellowship can only grow in a life which is governed by gathering around the Word morning, and evening and by fixed times of prayer.~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The disciplines I practice are not necessarily those The Lord would have me practice. Discipline is nothing more then habit born over time out of repetitious actions. We are all disciplined at something but the discipline of The Lord is something altogether different then those – even the ones that would be considered good – then the discipline God speaks of in His word.

The discipline of God is the repetitious actions we form born of, first our thinking on God and second our acting out of compulsion that this kind of thinking ultimately brings about. It begins in our thinking on Him but is carried out in our willingness and readiness to respond…

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“Do not try to make the Bible relevant. It’s relevance is axiomatic… do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it… trust to the Word.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus taught. Jesus would've taught to the left as the Rabbis sat - probably astonished - on the bench just to the right

The Gospel will change me when I become immersed in it. Infused with Power, strength and energy, radical changes take place in my heart and soul that will become evident in my daily life. The human soul thirsts for something True and reliable and unquestionable to lead it and fill it but only God’s Word is capable of fulfilling this need.

The Gospel leads me to God’s deep desires and as I dive deeper and deeper into His Word.

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Kim Davis: A Model of Christian Conduct?

For those of you who have not followed the news, Kim Davis is the Kentucky County Clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses on the basis of her religious beliefs. Davis, a professing Christian, believes that homosexuality is a sin. After the US Supreme Court (in Obergfell v. Hodges) gave the legal right to homosexuals to marry in all 50 states, Davis, not wanting to issue any marriage licenses for homosexuals, decided not to issue any marriage licenses in her county. Many Christians view Davis as a courageous Christian who is standing up for her beliefs. Her case certainly indicates that Christians are more and more faced with hard circumstances because of their beliefs. However, Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses in her capacity as county clerk is not an example of courageous or obedient Christian conduct.[1]

I do not believe that Davis’s decision to remain in office and refuse to issue marriage licenses is the best way that she can model obedience to scripture in her situation. The US Supreme Court has given to homosexuals the legal right (according to US law) to marry. The governor of Kentucky has also ordered the county clerks in the state to give marriage licenses to homosexuals. I am aware that there are some who challenge the governor’s authority to give such an order. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has given to local governments the duty to recognize the marriages of homosexuals. Davis has been mandated by a higher authority, the US Supreme Court, to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals. I believe that by defying this authority, in the way that she is, Davis is modeling unbiblical rebellion against authority (cf. Rom. 13).

It is understandable that Davis’s conscience would be bothered if she signed marriage licenses for sodomites.[2] But she is not in a position where her only options are to refuse to issue the licenses or sin by agreeing to grant them. She also has the option of quitting her job. I believe that this would be the right thing for Davis to do as a Christian. If the government forced her to sin by requiring that she remain the county clerk and sanction homosexual marriages, she would be right simply to refuse to issue the licenses. But this is not a case where the government is forcing Davis to sin. She has the option to resign her position. By resigning her position Davis would show due honor to the authority of the civil government and be a better model of what it means to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ.

I am sure that I have said enough to spark a lively discussion. What are your thoughts?

[1] In criticizing Davis’s conduct I have decided not to focus on the fact that she is hardly a qualified defender of the biblical doctrine of marriage because she has divorced three times and married four times. Upholding the biblical condemnation of homosexuality while ignoring the biblical condemnation of divorce is hypocrisy. But even if Davis separated from her current husband (number 4) and tried to reconcile with her first husband, it would not justify her decision to hold office and refuse to carry out the duties of her office.

[2] However, I am not convinced that it is necessarily sinful for a county clerk to issue a marriage license to a homosexual couple in fulfillment of his or her duty as a government official. If the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality is the reason that it would be sinful, aren’t there many other cases when it would be sinful for a county clerk to sign a marriage license?

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