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Our Brothers and Sisters Need Our Help

When Jesus said, “In this world you’ll have tribulation,” He might have had Africa in mind.

Imagine, if you can, that you hear rumors of Muslim terrorists coming to take over your hometown. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You don’t even know whether to stay or flee. Finally, someone you trust tells you they have started burning down churches. Frantically, you gather up your family and a few meager possessions and run as fast as you can in the other direction—praying they won’t catch you.

After days of exhausting, harrowing effort, you and your children finally arrive at a relief camp for the displaced and you get in a food line. But when you come to the front, the man in charge says coldly, “This relief is not for Christians.” To the Muslims running this camp, you’re a mere pagan. To add insult to injury, you find out that Christians here are not even allowed to gather for worship.

Christians in Nigeria’s Borno state have been living this scenario since 2009, when Boko Haram began wreaking havoc.

Africa’s tribulation seems never-ending. From the Ethiopian famine decades ago to the more recent chaos in Sudan, the headlines we receive here in the West are nearly always grim. In fact, Africa is facing yet another seemingly unprecedented crisis—a famine stretching from Somalia, to South Sudan, to Nigeria, in which 20 million people are at risk of starvation. That’s right, 20 million.

According to our friends over at Open Doors USA, an average of 184 children die each day in Nigeria from malnutrition. The saddest fact of all is that this famine is caused by people, not the weather. It’s caused by instability, war, economic collapse, and discrimination.

Here’s another fact—Africa is heavily Christian. Its share of Christians has exploded from about 9 percent in 1900 to almost 50 percent today, including two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa. These are our brothers and sisters facing this tribulation, and we owe them more than a quick shake of the head before moving on to the next news story. Whatever our differences, those who follow Jesus Christ are members of the same body. When one hurts, we all hurt—and compassion fatigue is no excuse for looking away. As Jesus said, when we serve the “least of these,” we serve Him.

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by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

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Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading: 88 percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles?

Root Issue

When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough.

We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We often think it’s all about us, and that opening Scripture is only useful when we think we need it. We don’t understand how amazing the Bible really is.

Word that Lives

We shouldn’t read the Bible like we do any other book, or treat it like a source of entertainment. Instead, we should consider what makes Scripture special. Paul tells Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

Notice the verbs: Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. It’s not that Scripture was inspired but now isn’t as relevant. It was and is and will be inspired and profitable.

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“Sin demands to have a man by himself. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church
by Wendy McElroy

A destructive myth haunts World War II. It is that a flaw within the German character allowed the rise of Hitler and Nazism. How else can you explain the Holocaust coming from one of the world’s most cultured nations? Oddly, no one seems to consider Mussolini to indicate a flaw within Italians or view Stalin as proof of a Russian defect.

The ‘German character flaw’ is a destructive myth because it deflects attention from the crucial task of analyzing the dynamics that allowed Nazism to rise. It permits other nations to believe “it could never happen here.” But totalitarianism can happen anywhere, to any nationality. Understanding the evolution of totalitarianism involves institutional analysis, especially of the interrelation between institutions that were active or complicit in creating tyranny.

Two institutions are commonplace and powerful around the globe: the state and the church. In Hitler’s Germany, most churches went along with the Nazis. Some did so reluctantly, many were enthusiastic. But there was also dramatic resistance by churches and religious leaders who opposed Hitler at great personal risk. For example, the German Protestant Church became a battleground between the majority who supported the Nazis, either explicitly or implicitly, and a minority who resisted them. At the core of the conflict was the question of how the church should respond to the “Jewish question.”

No man spoke more eloquently on behalf of the civil liberties of Jews than the Protestant pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He became a prominent voice in ‘the Confessing Church’ that was founded when approximately 3,000 Protestant pastors broke off from the main religious body in protest.(Konfession is German for denomination.) Bonhoeffer reminds us that there are people of conscience and moral courage in every nation. He is also a window into the institutional dynamics of church and state that both facilitated and hindered Hitler.

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“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Andrew Camp

6 Reflections on Community Inspired by Bonhoeffer

“I don’t know about you, but I am constantly tempted to get so caught up in my vision, planning and execution of community.”

My church has recently launched a series on community called Better Together. In conjunction with the sermon series, I, in collaboration with my senior pastor, wrote a small group curriculum to complement the series. I love community, which is why I love small groups. Like many of you, I work hard on our small group system at my church to equip leaders and to help many in my church experience the fullness of community—the good, the bad and the ugly.

However, as I continue to reflect on community and work toward helping others experience community, I constantly find myself drawn back to and challenged by the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his classic work, Life Together. In it, he writes:

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. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly…. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness and His promise. (pp. 27-28).

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly tempted to get so caught up in my vision, planning and execution of community, that I rarely stop to seek God’s heart for the community which He has called me to shepherd.

Please do not misunderstand me: I do not believe God wants you or me to be laissez faire when it comes to community either. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Structure and guidelines are good as it relates to community; they can help foster an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable.

So how do we draw the balance. Here are some preliminary thoughts:

1. Pray for your specific community. Thank God for placing you in that specific community. Don’t repress your frustrations about your community, but in the midst of frustrations, be thankful as much as you are able.

2. Listen to God. Don’t spend so much time in prayer for your community that you miss God’s voice to you regarding your community. Remember that God has already laid the foundation.

3. Spend time listening to your people—not just your leaders, but others as well. Know where they are at and what they need to continue to grow spiritually.

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 30 September 2016 | Ronald Osborn

In the final two years of his life, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote several letters from Tegel prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge in which he spoke of the need for what he referred to as a “religionless Christianity.” “I shall not come out of here a homo religiosus!,” he declared vehemently in a note dated November 21, 1943.  “My fear and distrust of ‘religiosity’ have become greater than ever here.  The fact that the Israelites never uttered the name of God always makes me think, and I can understand it better as I go on.”  On April 30, 1944, Bonhoeffer offered one of his most famous and controversial statements on the meaning of discipleship in what he elsewhere called a “world come of age.”  “What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today,” he wrote. “We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore.”

Piety and religiosity had not vanished from German society in Bonhoeffer’s day (any more than they have from American society in the present, confounding the secularization theories of several generations of sociologists of religion).  Yet this very fact, Bonhoeffer concluded, was itself ironically symptomatic of the irrelevance of religion to the problems facing most men and women. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it,” he wrote, “and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’” Under these circumstances, what did it mean to be a follower of Christ?  In the aftermath of the failure of the institutionalized churches and self-professing believers in Europe to withstand the onslaught of totalitarian ideologies—indeed, in the light of the church’s own authoritarianism and its ability to carry on uninterrupted even as the ground fell out from under it, with hymns being sung and sermons preached without pause amid the march to war—the question that now confronted Christians was one of first things.

Did the very language of spiritual inwardness, of evangelism, of apologetics, and of churchly authority that had marked Western Christianity from its beginning still make any sense? Was it the task of believers to somehow refill the vessels of a failed Christendom project that had been thoroughly corrupted by political evil with lost or forgotten meanings?  Or were believers now called to bear witness to Christ in a secular age in radically new ways, and not as “religious” persons at all?  Did “religion” itself need to be left behind as a historical stage, a human construct and sociological phenomenon, that was in no sense synonymous with the presence of the living Christ in the world and in history?  But if so, what would such a “religionless Christianity” even begin to look like?

“Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world,” Bonhoeffer wrote to Bethge on July 18, 1944.  Three days later, after learning of the failure of the Officer’s Plot to assassinate Hitler—a plot in which he had been complicit and for which he would be executed at the age of 39 when his role was uncovered by the Gestapo—Bonhoeffer wrote of the “this-worldliness” of the Christian faith:

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…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 man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

We do not know how Bonhoeffer might have developed these highly allusive ideas had his life not been cut short. His enigmatic and provocative words have often been pressed into the service of agendas Bonhoeffer himself would have resisted, from liberal death-of-God theologies to highly conservative forms of evangelical Protestantism. Yet there are perhaps a few lessons we can learn from Bonhoeffer’s witness as we face the abuses of power, the smallness of heart and mind, and the betrayals of leadership that have led to mounting crises in our own day—both inside and outside of the church.

How can we be faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of unsettling new realities, in which by faith we trust that God is still at work? How can we be certain of Christ and speak meaning into the lives of our fellow human beings when we can no longer put our trust in church officialdom or attach our confidence in the Holy Spirit to the outworn habits of religious thinking and speech that mark our church structures?  How can we testify to the living Christ when “religion” itself turns the Word of God into a dead letter and takes on the marks of dehumanizing “kingly authority”?

For Bonhoeffer, the answers to these questions lie not in any nostalgic retreat to the past.  He ultimately refused the path of shoring up decaying institutions and exhausted forms of piety.  Rather, Bonhoeffer insisted, believers must now repent of the power and control game that they have been playing for far too long.  They must instead enter with fear and trembling into the dangerous drama of Christ’s kenosis—his self-emptying and co-suffering identification with all of humankind.

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7 Types of Christians God Can’t Use

God can't use armchair Christians.
God can’t use armchair Christians. (iStock photo )

About 17 years ago I prayed a very dangerous prayer while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8 (MEV): “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would mess me up good in order to use me to touch others for Christ.

I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.

It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.

Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21 (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:

1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord, and He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42, MEV).

2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the Accuser, so if you are accusing others you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.

3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today are worried about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?

4. Carnally-minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Unmarried Christians are living together, some pastors are experimenting with adultery and some denominations have voted to sanction homosexual relationships. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on this trendy bandwagon does not mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.

People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.

5. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.

I have only compassion for any victim of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s Plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with its God-ordained leadership.

6. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.

7. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 90-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st century stress we lost the meaning of discipleship.

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“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

~ 1 Peter 1.8-9

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