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Some customers began boycotting Starbucks when they learned that a white employee called Philadelphia police after telling the two men they couldn’t use the restroom without buying anything. (Getty Images/JohnFScott)

Starbucks closed 8,000 of its stores this week so its baristas could undergo four hours of racial sensitivity training. The company took the drastic action to counteract negative publicity it got last month when two black men were handcuffed and arrested simply because they sat in a Starbucks store in Philadelphia without ordering any coffee.

The ugly incident on April 12 triggered angry reactions. Some customers began boycotting Starbucks when they learned that a white employee called Philadelphia police after telling the two men they couldn’t use the restroom without buying anything. CEO Kevin Johnson then went on an “apology tour” and announced he would give his 175,000 employees a racial sensitivity seminar, but some people viewed the training as a publicity stunt designed to protect Starbucks—which makes $14 billion a year in profit—from a customer backlash.

I’ll admit I don’t have high hopes that a four-hour seminar will end racism in America. Yet when I learned about Starbucks’ plan, my first thought was: Maybe we need to close our churches for a day and do the same thing. Because racism is alive and well in American congregations—and we need to face it.

If I were going to offer racial sensitivity training to a church, I would include the following steps:

  1. Teach more about the Holy Spirit. Whenever the Holy Spirit shows up, racial barriers fall. The first Pentecost was a multicultural miracle; no one can be called a Pentecostal if he doesn’t embrace racial and ethnic diversity. Many churches limit the work of the Holy Spirit’s gifts and manifestations. Is it any surprise that churches that quench the Spirit are racially segregated? If you want racial diversity in your church, encourage people to be filled with the Spirit. He will tear down the walls that divide us!
  1. Address racism from the pulpit. Jesus boldly confronted racism, especially the Pharisees’ snobbish attitude toward Samaritans. Jewish leaders hated Jesus because He showed compassion to everyone, regardless of ethnicity. And the apostle Paul’s decision to take the gospel to Gentiles offended Jewish people who didn’t believe God cared about anyone but them. The gospel is not the gospel if it doesn’t call people to repent of racial pride!
  1. Lead the way in apologizing for past injustice. In my city of LaGrange, Georgia, a black man named Austin Callaway was cruelly lynched by a white mob in 1940—and the murder was covered up. But 77 years later, our chief of police, who is white, organized a public apology service at a local church. Pastors, community leaders and descendants of Callaway joined hearts to heal an old wound. If your community has been divided by racial injustice, public repentance can bring transformation.
  1. Model diversity from the church platform. I’ve talked to many white pastors who say they want racial diversity in their churches. Yet when I look at their stages, I only see white. At the church I attend, New Community Church in LaGrange, our pastor, Lamar Hardwick, is black; one associate pastor is a white man and another associate is a white woman. The music team rotates each week and is a perfect blend of white and black; even the greeter team at the front door of the church is mixed. It’s no surprise that our congregation is about 70 percent black and 30 percent white.
  1. Train leaders from all racial groups. For years, I’ve met African-Americans who attended churches led by white pastors; yet it’s rare to find white congregants in churches led by black pastors. Why is that? Many white Christians hold an unspoken belief that they could never submit to a black leader. That’s silly, especially when you consider that black leaders helped lead the early church. In Antioch, for example, Paul served alongside two black men, “Simeon who was called Niger” and “Lucius of Cyrene” (Acts 13:1). Simeon’s nickname literally means “the black guy”!

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With remarkable frequency the Scriptures remind us that the men of God rose early to seek God and carry out His commands, as did Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua (cf. Gen.19.27, 22.3; Ex.9.13, 24.4; Josh.3.1, 6.12, etc.). The Gospel, which never speaks a superfluous word, says of Jesus himself: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1.35). Some rise early because of restlessness and worry; the Scriptures call this unprofitable: “It is vain for you to rise early… to eat the bread of sorrows” (Ps. 127.2). But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God. This was the practice of the men of the Bible. 

~ Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together43-44.

BreakPoint: The Greatest Love

Memorial Day Memories

Today on BreakPoint, we hear Chuck Colson’s thoughts on Memorial Day and what he called, “The Greatest Love.

It was February of 1945—three months before the end of World War II in Europe. Eighteen-year-old Sergeant Joseph George of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, was stationed in Lorient, France. It was evening, and George was preparing to go on patrol. The Americans were hoping to locate landmines buried by the Germans.

Sergeant George had been on patrol duty the night before. As he told his friend Private James Caudill, he was tired—tired and scared. Private Caudill offered to take the patrol on his behalf. He pointed out that, at age 36, he was nearly two decades older than George. He told George—who had already been blown off a torpedoed ship in the English Channel—“You’re young. Go home. Get married. Live a rich, full life.” And then Private Caudill went out on patrol. A few hours later, he was killed by a German sniper.

The actions of Private Caudill echo the values and valor of generations of military men and women we remember today. And they are an example of the sort of behavior we almost take for granted when it comes to our men and women in uniform who fight just wars.

What is a just war? One that is defined as providing a proportionate response to evil, to protect non-combatants, among other considerations. Today, our military men and women around the world are fighting to resist evil. Ridding the world of Islamo-fascism—by just means—is a good and loving act.

This willingness to sacrifice on behalf of our neighbors is why military service is considered such a high calling for Christians—and part of what makes just wars just. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica puts his discussion of just war in his chapter on charity—the love of God and neighbor. John Calvin agreed; he called soldiering justly a “God-like act,” because “it imitates God’s restraining evil out of love for His creatures.”

A world in which free nations refuse to fight just wars would be a world where evil is unchecked and where the strong would be free to prey on the weak—as we are now seeing in Darfur.

Our soldiers’ willingness to defend the defenseless around the world makes me proud to be an American. Their willingness to lay down their lives is a reflection of how the Christian worldview has influenced our society, which is why American soldiers, by the way, are welcomed all over the world, as historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, while soldiers from other cultures are feared.

So what of Sgt. Joseph George? He returned safely home. He married, fathered five sons. One of them—Princeton Professor Robert George—is a good friend of mine. He’s devoted much of his life to fighting the moral evils of our time: abortion, embryo-destructive research, and efforts to redefine marriage in a way that would destroy it.

In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that [he] lay down his life for his friends.” The story of Private Caudill and Sergeant George makes one realize more deeply what a tremendous gift this is. It’s why the George family has remembered Private Caudill in prayers for sixty-one years.

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Generation Z, Justice, and the Gospel: A Call for Balance

Generation Z, Justice, and the Gospel: A Call for Balance

Writing about these “young evangelicals who have ‘expanded their mission’ to include social justice along with evangelism,” pastor and author Tim Keller says, “Many of them have not only turned away from older forms of ministry, but also from traditional evangelical doctrines of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement and of justification by faith alone, which are seen as too ‘individualistic.’”

And for all the good they’re doing—and they are—Generation Z Christians have become unbalanced. That’s not old fogeys like me or Tim Keller talking; it’s coming from one of their own: Jaquelle Crowe, the author of “This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years.”

Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Crowe says, “The fundamental problem is that we’ve created a false dichotomy. When you pit justice and gospel against each other, you miss the point of the Bible and devalue God’s heart for both. Justice fits squarely in the framework of biblical Christianity. It flows fiercely out of the gospel as a practical implication of loving God.”

Now, that’s a common theme of the Colson Center. John Stonestreet, my colleague here, has talked a lot about truth and love not being in opposition. And he’s exactly right. As the letter of James reminds us, what good is it to say, “Stay warm,” without giving someone a blanket? That is how we can begin bringing balance back to the gospel.

Pointing to the shining examples of William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Crowe says we need a biblical balance not of justice or the gospel, but of justice and the gospel. But Crowe goes a step farther. She says we need to make the gospel our priority, because only a right understanding of the human predicament before heaven will power our passion for justice on earth.

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“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his awakening Word.

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together, 43.

The Cost of His Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45)

On July 20, 1944, the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler failed. The very next day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to Eberhard Bethge, his former student and future biographer. Bonhoeffer had been in prison since April 5, 1943. In the wake of the failure of the Valkyrie plot, Hitler led a crackdown on the resistance movement. Hundreds were immediately arrested; many in the movement already held in prison were moved to higher security prisons. Many were put on expedited paths to their execution. Bonhoeffer was one of them.

But on July 21, 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote about a conversation he had in America in 1930. He was in the United States to learn of theological developments. He was to spend the year at the patently theological liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He found it wanting. “No theology here,” he reported back to Germany. But he did find dear friends, and he found adventure on a road trip from New York to Mexico City.

Somewhere along the way, as they camped in pup tents and sat around a fire, they asked each other what they wanted to do with their lives. One of them, a Frenchman named Lasserre, said he wanted to be a saint. Bonhoeffer picks up the story from there in his letter to Bethge the day after the failed plot:

At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. . . . I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy man. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.

As we reflect on that list in that last sentence, there’s only one word we really like, “successes.” We tend to avoid the other things mentioned by Bonhoeffer, but those things are part of life, of “this-worldliness.” Bonhoeffer then adds that by living life in this way, “We throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of the God-man in the world — watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer learned this in a very short time in a very short life. He died in his thirty-ninth year. While most people are only beginning to make their mark and offer their mature thought as they turn forty, Bonhoeffer never made it to that milestone.

Young Professor in Berlin

He was born into an academic family. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Berlin. One of his brothers, a chemist, would go on to discover the spin isomers of hydrogen. The family home had a large library, a conservatory, and walls lined with very impressive looking oil portraits of his predecessors. Dietrich excelled as a student. He took his first doctorate as he turned twenty-one and a second doctorate three years later. He served in the academy, initially. But he loved the church.

As a young professor at the University of Berlin, he noticed an appeal for a teacher of a confirmation class at a Lutheran church in Berlin, on the other side of the tracks from where the Bonhoeffer family home stood. These were rough kids, who had already chewed through a few prospective teachers. The pastor was hoping to get an idealistic seminary student who didn’t have the better sense to not do this. Instead, the pastor and this band of prepubescent ruffians got a theology professor in wire-rimmed glasses and tailored suits.

Within minutes, Bonhoeffer had won them over. When the day came for their confirmation — a day the pastor was almost sure would never come — Bonhoeffer took them all to his tailor and got them all suits. He was the kind of professor who would just as soon pull out a “football” and hit the soccer pitch with his students as he lectured to them. During the time he spent in America, he got an armload of 78s of blues and negro spirituals. After the soccer games, he would spin records with his students and talk theology. For Bonhoeffer, education was discipleship.

Life Together

When the German Lutheran Church endorsed the Nazi party and became the Reich Kirche, Bonhoeffer quickly became a leader among the Confessing Church, despite his very young age. He lost his license to teach at the University of Berlin, and his books were placed on the banned book list. He was appointed the director of one of the five seminaries for the Confessing Church. At this seminary in Finkenwalde, he taught his students the Bible and theology, and he also taught them how to pray. Bonhoeffer saw these three things — biblical studies, theology, and prayer — as the essential elements of the pastoral office.

Eberhard Bethge, one of his students at Finkenwalde, exemplifies what he was taught by Bonhoeffer. Bethge wrote, “Because I am a preacher of the word, I cannot expound Scripture unless I let it speak to me every day. I will misuse the word in my office if I do not keep meditating on it in prayer.”

The Gestapo found out about the seminary at Finkenwalde and shut it down. Bonheffer spent the next year in his parents’ home. He wrote Life Together, memorializing what he practiced and what he had learned at Finkenwaldeab, and he visited his students and kept them on task with their studies and ministry.

Letters from Prison

The next years of Bonhoeffer’s life, 1940–1943, are debated. He joined the Abwehr at the urging of his brother-in-law. But it does not appear that he is actually much of a spy at all. He used his position to travel freely around the country — a way to keep up with his students and keep up with the churches they were pastoring. Then comes the contested episode of his life as he became part of a group seeking to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s role was not one of providing strategy — that was supplied by the other highly placed military and intelligence agency officials.

Bonhoeffer appears to be the pastor in the room, the one who gives the blessing on the undertaking they were about to embark on. Bonhoeffer wrestled with it, wondering if what they were doing was right and not at all presuming it was right and righteous. It was war, and these Germans were convinced that Hitler was an enemy to the German state and the German people, as well as to the other nations plunged into war. Whatever Bonhoeffer’s contribution was to this group, he did not make it presumptively or rashly.

The plots, like the Valkyrie plot, all failed. On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and sent to Tegel Prison. For the next two years, he would live in a 6’ x 9’ prison cell. He spoke of missing listening to birds. He missed seeing colors. Early in his time at Tegel, he despaired for his life. It was also in Tegel that Bonhoeffer wrote about living a “this-worldly” life. It was at Tegel that he spoke of learning to have faith in life’s failures, difficulties, and perplexities. At Tegel, he wrote poetry. He wrote a novel. He wrote sermons for weddings and baptisms — they were smuggled out and read by others at these occasions. Bonhoeffer’s time at Tegel yielded his classic text Letters and Papers from Prison.

In one of those letters, on June 27, 1944, he wrote, “This world must not be prematurely written off.” He was in a Nazi prison cell while Hitler was unleashing madness upon the world, and Bonhoeffer wrote about being a Christian in the world, in the time and place in which God had put him.

Cost of Discipleship

In 1936, Bonhoeffer published Nachfolge. It would be later published in English as The Cost of Discipleship. In it he declares, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

In Christ, we are dead. The old self and the old way is dead. And, in Christ, we are alive. After the Valkyrie plot, Bonhoeffer could write simply, “Jesus is alive. I have hope.”

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by
Chris Brauns 
May 15, 2018

I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat. This year we are studying the Gospel of Mark and our guest lecturer is Mark Strauss of Bethel seminary. 

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

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