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. . . Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

Do you remember the time you were lost as a child, or slipping over a precipice, or about to drown? Then suddenly you were rescued. You held on for “dear life.” You trembled for what you almost lost. You were happy. Oh, so happy, and thankful. And you trembled with joy.

That’s the way I feel at the end of the year about my rescue from God’s wrath. All day Christmas we had a fire in the fireplace. Sometimes the coals were so hot that when I stoked it my hand hurt. I pulled back and shuddered at the horrendous thought of the wrath of God against sin in hell. Oh, how unspeakably horrible that will be!

Christmas afternoon I visited a woman who had been burned over 87 percent of her body. She has been in the hospital since August. My heart broke for her. How wonderful it was to hold out hope to her from God’s word for a new body in the age to come! But I came away not only thinking about her pain in this life, but also about the everlasting pain I have been saved from through Jesus.

Test my experience with me. Is this trembling joy a fitting way to end the year? Paul was glad that “Jesus . . . delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He warned that “for those who . . . do not obey the truth . . . there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8). And “because of [sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).

Here at the end of the year, I am finishing my trek through the Bible and reading the last book, Revelation. It is a glorious prophecy of the triumph of God, and the everlasting joy of all who “take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). No more tears, no more pain, no more depression, no more sorrow, no more death, no more sin (Revelation 21:4).

But oh, the horror of not repenting and not holding fast to the testimony of Jesus! The description of the wrath of God by the “apostle of love” (John) is terrifying. Those who spurn God’s love will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:10–11).

“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Jesus will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15). And blood will flow “from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 184 miles” (Revelation 14:20). Whatever that vision signifies, it is meant to communicate something unspeakably terrible.

I tremble with joy that I am saved!

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klan
DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA FILE PHOTO

This image of two individuals wearing what appears to be Ku Klux Klan-style hoods is being condemned by school officials after being distributed on social media among some Strath Haven High School students.

 

To the Times:

An important responsibility of a newspaper is, not only to report the news, but also to express its own views in editorials

I find it disappointing that the Daily Times did not use such a opportunity to comment on the recent incident involving hateful messages by four Strath Haven High School students aimed at classmates who were “different.” Instead, it left it to 20 representatives of Delaware County faith communities to do the editorializing via a letter to the editor.

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who had the courage to speak out against Hitler, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”

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Image result for Bonhoeffer

December 25, 2018

Article by John Piper

The assumption behind this article is that the preciousness and pleasures of Christmas will be deeper, stronger, and more intense if we experience Christmas as part of something vaster than all creation and endless ages. The wisdom of God that planned for Christmas existed before the universe and embraces all that happens.

The universe is a theater for the display of God’s wisdom. Jesus Christ is the center and sum of that wisdom. It was executed by the Son of God and for the Son of God. Therefore, “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). God’s purpose which guided his plan was “set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him” (Ephesians 1:9–10).

This Christ-exalting plan for the universe was eternal — God had it in mind forever. The plan “was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). It was a “mystery that was kept secret for long ages” (Romans 16:25) — “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:26). Imbedded in the long-hidden mystery was a promise of eternal life which God “promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).

Unfolding in God’s Theater

It was a plan that would turn the cosmos into a theater, with angels and devils seated in the heavenly galleries to watch the plan unfold. The plan was to put God’s wisdom on display with Christ at the center. The infinite divine wisdom would be seen in Christ’s great achievement — a bride for the Son of God, snatched from Satan’s hold, redeemed and beautified by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity.

At last “the mystery hidden for ages in God would come to light, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9–10). This is the eternal wisdom of God “which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7).

This eternal, divine, cosmically displayed wisdom was summed up in the wonder of the God-man, Jesus Christ. “God’s mystery is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2–3). Thus, in the incarnation, God “made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time” (Ephesians 1:9–10).

In other words, Christmas is a central act in a cosmic “plan” (oikonomian, Ephesians 1:10; 3:9) and cosmic “purpose” (prothesin, Ephesians 1:9, 11; 3:11). The plan existed before creation. It was not a response to sin in creation. Creation and redemption were pursued with sin and redemption in full view as part of the plan. Grace was not an afterthought to creation-gone-wrong. God gave us grace “in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Second Coming, and Consummation were the eternal purpose and plan of creation, not a response to its fall.

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The artist Ben Wildflower’s depiction of Mary, based on the Magnificat. (Ben Wildflower)

December 20, 2018

When I was 15, I was cajoled into playing the role of Mary in our church’s Christmas nativity scene. I was embarrassed, stuffing a pillow under a robe to signify pregnancy, but I felt I had no choice: I was the pastor’s daughter, and there was no one else who could play the role. My cheeks burning in shame, I remember feeling little connection to Mary, the mother of God. I was silent in the play. Mary, in our tradition, was a vehicle for Jesus: a holy womb, a good and compliant and obedient girl.

Much later in life, I was shocked to discover that Mary wasn’t quiet, nor was she what I would call meek and mild.

Go read the first chapter of Luke. Read the song, called the “Magnificat,” that Mary sings.

The first verses were always familiar to me: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Same for the next few lines about Mary being overwhelmed at the goodness of God looking upon a humble girl, that God is mighty and has done great things, that he is holy and will bless those who fear him. But then comes this:

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.”

In all my long years of being in church, of knowing the Christmas story backward and forward, I never heard these verses emphasized. Here, Mary comes across less like a scared and obedient 15-year-old and more like a rebel intent on reorienting unjust systems.

I loved this Mary. Where had she been all my life?

Throughout history, I would learn, poor and oppressed people had often identified with this song — the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament (and a poor, young, unmarried pregnant woman at that!).

Oscar Romero, priest and martyr, drew a comparison between Mary and the poor and powerless people in his own community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis, called the Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”

Revolutionaries, the poor and the oppressed, all loved Mary and they emphasized her glorious song.

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In the midst of Nazi resistance, this Christian martyr offered three models for the season of waiting…

Bonhoeffer: Advent Is Like a Prison Cell

On November 21, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter from Tegel Prison. “A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent,” he said. “One waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

The comparison between Advent and a prison cell may seem strange. It evokes powerlessness, perhaps even hopelessness. However, it is this particular type of waiting that Bonhoeffer believes best prepares us for Christ’s coming.

Although a Nazi prison gave him this metaphor, the sermons he wrote during his time of active ministry also present a similar vision of Advent waiting. In these sermons, Bonhoeffer sees the season before Christmas as a sharpened liturgical expression of the tension that informs our entire lives as Christians. Celebrating it prepares us to live as people who have made a radical break with the present world of sin and death and are also preparing for the redeemed future that God has already, in one sense, accomplished. Through Advent, we learn how to live in these two concurrent realities: We have already been delivered, and yet our deliverance is still to come.

Bonhoeffer’s Christmas and Advent sermons highlight three figures who exemplify life amid this tension and, by their example, might guide us through this season. Learning how to wait from these figures will not be warm and cozy but deep, dangerous, and shot through with sorrow and pain.

The first figure is Moses. This is not the triumphant Moses leading the people of Israel through a miraculously parted Red Sea or the lawgiver Moses carrying the stone tablets down the mountainside. Rather, the Advent Moses is the one found in Deuteronomy 32:48–52. Moses knows that God’s promise will be fulfilled, but he also knows that the promise will not be fulfilled in his lifetime. Instead, he will die on Mount Nebo, gazing across the river into the land. This Moses seems at first like the very antithesis of Advent, since he is the one for whom the promise is never fulfilled.

However, Bonhoeffer finds in Moses’ experience an expression of our own Advent waiting. Just like Moses, we know that the promise has been fulfilled—Jesus has come—but not yet completely. Through Moses’ punishment—his death before entering the Promised Land—we are also reminded that Advent is the season for death, judgment, and repentance. In a reversal of the world’s order, we pass from death into birth and new life. This awareness of our own death and judgment is crucial for us to understand that we only enter the Promised Land due to God’s victory, not our own. As Bonhoeffer puts it, “God is with us and we are no longer homeless. A piece of the eternal home is grafted onto to us.”

The second figure is Joseph

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John Newton (1725–1807)

Article by John Piper

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Throughout his 82-year life, John Newton was a depraved sailor; a miserable outcast on the coast of West Africa; a slave-trading sea captain; a well-paid surveyor of tides in Liverpool; a beloved pastor of two congregations in Olney and London for 43 years; a devoted husband to Mary for 40 years until she died; a personal friend to William Wilberforce, John Wesley, and George Whitefield; and finally, the author of the most famous hymn in the English language, “Amazing Grace.”

Why am I interested in this man? Because one of my great desires is to see Christians become as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover — unshakably rugged “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7), and relentlessly humble and patient and merciful in dealing with people.

Tender Hearts, Tough Roots

It seems to me that we are always falling off the horse on one side or the other in this matter of being tough and tender, durable and delightful, courageous and compassionate — wimping out on truth when we ought to be lionhearted, or wrangling when we ought to be weeping. How rare are the Christians who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.

John Newton did not always get the balance right. But though he had feet of clay, like every hero other than Christ, his great strength was “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). He carried in his heart a tenderness that loved the lost, lifted the downcast, welcomed children, and prayed for enemies. And his tenderness had roots as tough as a redwood’s.

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“He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Image result for life together

…Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like his brothers and sisters, grew up to be a citizen of Berlin, despite the Swabian, Thuringian, and Silesian influences. His eventful life cannot be considered apart from this background. All the other places that were important to him in the course of his life–Breslau, Tubingen, New York, London, or Finkenwalde–certainly influenced him. The decisive influence, however, was Berlin and its complex diversity… 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 23.

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