Friday, April 23, 2010

Costly Grace

After I finished reading Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I immediately searched my home library for his book, The Cost of Discipleship, or simply titled in German, Discipeship. I

The Resurrection of Lazarus  by Vincent van Go...Van Gogh The Raising of Lazarus

started reading the first chapter and discovered notes in my own handwriting, but only in the first chapter. It is a very important chapter. It's titled Costly Grace, but it's where he discusses it's antithesis, cheap grace. He boils down the distinction to one sentence.

The justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of sin and the world. p. 50

He places one of Luther's famous seemingly contradictory quotes in its correct context. Luther says, "Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly still." In short, Bonhoeffer concludes,
Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away fro it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don't try to become what you are not. But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? p.53
As Bonhoeffer says later in the book, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," p.89. Jesus himself tells us ,"Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find/save it," Matthew 16:25 and Luke 9:24. However, this radical call of Christ gets swallowed up by the offer of cheap grace. We are tempted to reason,
But if grace is the data for my Christian life, it means that I set out to live the Christian life in the world with all my sins justified beforehand. I can go and sin as much as I like, and rely on this grace to forgive me, for after all the world is justified in in principle by grace. I can therefore cling to my bourgeois secular existence, and remain as I was before, but with the added assurance that the grace of God will cover me...The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world for the sake of grace. The upshot of it all is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. pp.50-51
If we are inhabited by a new life, why would our lives be the same? It reminds me of the angels question to the women who came to dress Jesus's body in the tomb. "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5) If dying to ourselves gives us new life in Jesus, why would we return to the habits of the dead? As James says, "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) When Jesus calls us out of the tomb of our sinfulness, like Lazarus, we walk out still bound up in the grave clothes. We need to shake them off, we even need help as Laz's sisters helped him take them off, John 11:44. How foolish Laz would have looked to say to his sisters, "No thank you. These are actually quite comfortable." They might be comfortable, but they stink, they blind him, and they bind him.

Our Father in heaven loved us so much, he exchanged the life of his son to save us. That is the cost of grace. That is the depth of His love. How can we look back to the comforts of our tomb and refuse to exchange our grave cloths with a new tunic. In Luke 15:22, the overjoyed father calls for a new robe to be placed on the shoulders of the repentant and formerly profligate son. Shall we shake it off and tell our rejoicing Father, "no thanks." As C.S. Lewis says we are too content with mud and ignore the feast spread out before us. We don't know what transcendence is like until we leave the tomb, shake off our zombie rags, take our tongues out of the mud, and try the new wine our Lord offers us.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

book report: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Not every book I review for Booksneeze is a winner, even though the books come gratis. But this is the best book I have reviewed yet. Like the author, Eric Metaxas, I came to this man's life with little knowledge. I haven't read any of his famous books, such as the Cost of Discipleship or Life Together or Ethics. Since finishing this biography, I have already started reading Discipleship, which has been sitting in my home library for years, neglected, perhaps even feared by me.

I always enjoy biographies in which the biographer adores their subject. Certainly, Metaxas wishes he had the opportunity to meet Dietrich in this life, but shares the same faith and has the same hope that they will meet in the next life with Jesus Christ.

At 600 pages, Metaxas spends time understanding Dietrich from before his birth through his early childhood and school days. He quotes generously from Dietrich's letters and books as well as those of his contemporaries. My only disappointment is a weak discussion of how this conservative theologian arrived at his conclusion to participate in several assassination plots against Hitler, not as an assassin but as facilitator in light of numerous Biblical injunctions against such things. The multiple attempts were foiled repeatedly as well as numerous coup plans. I want to know how did this brilliant devout theologian reconciled Christ's command to love our enemies and pray for them, from his sermon on the mount which Bonhoeffer's Discipleship is based on, with his participation in numerous plots to execute his enemy, whom he considered evil incarnate.

I take a strange comfort in knowing that even the most brilliant theologians have their blind spots as well. Overall, this book is written wonderfully and is hard to put down. It has served to prod me onto reading Bonhoeffer in his own words.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

Suicidal tendencies: cinema and music

I'm not talking about that band from the 80's. But I was close friends with someone who had those feelings.

On the Threshold of EternityImage via Wikipedia

You come to me with your scars on your wrist
You tell me this will be the last night feeling like this
I just came to say goodbye
I didn't want you to see me cry, I'm fine
But i know it's a lie

This is the last night you'll spend alone
Look me in the eyes so I know you know
I'm everwhere you want me to be
The last night you'll spend alone
I'll wrap you in my arms and I won't let go
I'm everything you need me to be

I lost many nights of sleep to take phone calls from that friend who was a depressed insomniac who would call me from a pay phone, before cell phones (BCPh), at the beach where he sat with a razor blade in his hand. He didn't have Jesus. But we became friends in Latin class in high school. I was a melancholy kid myself, but I had Jesus. Somehow, in his eyes, I had something transcendent.
Your parents say everything is your fault
But they don't know you like I know you
They don't know you at all
I'm so sick of when they say
It's just a phase, you'll be o.k. you're fine
But i know it's a lie

This is the last night you'll spend alone
Look me in the eyes so I know you know
I'm everwhere you want me to be
The last night you'll spend alone
I'll wrap you in my arms and I won't let go
I'm everything you need me to be
The last night away from me

The night is so long when everything's wrong
If you give me your hand
I will help you hold on
Tonight, tonight

I didn't want him to die without Jesus. I told him he could call me anytime in the night to talk. And he would. But I considered myself suicidal to a degree. I refused to wear a seatbelt, there were no laws then mandating seatbelt use, hoping for a car accident that would take me to heaven.
This is the last night you'll spend alone
Look me in the eyes so I know you know
I'm everwhere you want me to be
The last night you'll spend alone
I'll wrap you in my arms and I won't let go
I'm everything you need me to be

I won't let you say goodbye
And I'll be your reason why
The last night away from me
Away from me

We made it through high school. He even decided after a couple years of watching me, and I refused to hide my struggles from him, and we even skipped an evangelistic Christian movie outing because the line was long to go see a goofy secular movie, he wanted Jesus as well. He got saved. But I grew more depressed.

I went to a Christian college and experienced extreme disappointment in the hypocrisy of the students. It was my fault to expect the New Jerusalem, but I had no one to prepare me. I had no one to warn me. I also discovered the concept of the dysfunctional family. Probably nearly every one in Gen X grew up in one as well, but I got so mad and depressed. The details are unnecessary, but my attempts to address that issue at home were rebuffed hard and I contemplated slashing my own wrists. The pain was caused by loneliness and disappointment and frustration.

I saw the band who wrote those lyrics above this weekend at a local casino with the wife of my youth. This band, Skillet, are a bunch of Christians who bring intensity to their music that I just love. In a recent interview, lead singer and songwriter, John Cooper, says
I can’t tell you how many hundreds of people we have talked to, have received messages from at MySpace, or have handed us written letters at our concerts who've expressed how the song “The Last Night” has impacted their lives. We've had so many people share their stories on how they decided to stop cutting or how they decided that they were not going to commit suicide after they listened to that song. It was literally hundreds of people, which is just absolutely amazing to me! I definitely knew that God had given me the song, and I had a feeling it was going to affect people. But I had no idea it would be to that extent—and I’m honored to be a part of what God has done with that song!

When I watched them perform that song, and since when I hear it played, a scar on my heart tears a little, and I choke up a little. That pain is still so raw, even though I had forgotten it for so long. I don't think I would be as sensitive to that song if I hadn't seen one of those Christian movies, To Save a Life, with my adolescent daughter and a friend of hers. Unlike my experience with Christian theater 23 years ago, there was no line out the door for this showing. There were only a dozen of us in the theater. I came into the showing with very low expectations. In my experience, Christian movies tend to suck because they want to be about the ultimate reality, but they wrap up everything like a birthday present with a pretty bow on top. The stories are too saccharine. But this movie was about suicide.
Even though there was plenty to be desired in the acting and the story, it wasn't on the level of cheese someone from Gen X would expect of an After School Special. It's about a kid's suicide. It's about his former friend's subsequent social suicide in response to his guilt over abandoning his friend to pursue popularity. He walks away from his crowd to hang out with losers and Christians, though not a believer himself. He does become a believer, but his life gets worse. He has a catharsis and ends up beginning the journey of life anew, but with many loose ends dangling.

On the ride home, I told my daughter a little bit of my story. I wanted her to know that I struggled with suicidal tendencies and I sought professional counseling. I began on a path to healing with assistance. I told her, if she gets overwhelmed, her mother and I will completely support her if she wants help. I told her, the brain gets broke like a leg sometimes and doctors can help. I told her there is medicine that can help as well. There are no guarantees in the Bible that says Christians do not suffer from depression. One of the bloggers I enjoy to read for his honest and eloquent defenses of the faith, C. Michael Patton, wrote about his current state of depression this weekend. It's bleak. He is not feeling any transcendence. I'm glad he finds encouragement from Tommy Nelson's story and the relief he found from anti-depressants, a blog post that I still get traffic from, though posted here 3 years ago. Tommy Nelson is a successful and popular Christian preacher who came under a black cloud.

But Jesus knew depression as well.

Isaiah 53:3-4 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

That's the kind of prophecy to look forward to. Not! But Jesus came to suffer. He walked his life knowing a death sentence hung over his head even before he made enemies. He knew he came to die. But he also had faith in his Father. He trusted Him. It's no sin to be depressed. It's no sin to get treatment for the weakness. It might be a sin to keep it all to yourself though. Reach out. Don't isolate. You can even reach out to a stranger like me. There is an email link on the sidebar and a Facebook link if you want to contact me. I'd be happy to encourage you and refer you to someone closer. I have some connections. I also know a God who loves you. He has more connections than I do.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Does anyone ever compare love to drugs?

If you keep your radio station and MP3 collection to just "positive, family" music you might not know that many songs compare love to chemically induced states. Lately, on our long drives to and from grandma's my family listens to the "scan" station. We experience a wide diversity of music, We introduce the kids to songs we know from the 70's and 80's and they tell us what they like from their world. Tonight I heard for the first time Kesha's, "Your love is my drug." Since I wrote last week about our common pursuit for the transcendent, some choose drugs, some choose love, some choose religion, some get Jesus, I was interested in her version. Her lyrics mention things like,

Because your love, your love, your love, is my drug
Your love your love your love
I said your love, your love, your love, is my drug
Your love your love your love

I don't care what people say
The rush is worth the price I pay
I get so high when you're with me
But crash and crave you when you are away

It's got a good dance beat and perhaps conveys her acquaintance with chemically induced rushes and finds her beaux's love is reminiscent of that. Nothing like ripping the soul out of song like that sentence does. But, then, this isn't high level poetry. But I was reminded of a song from my high school days by Huey Lewis and the News, "I want a new drug." He talks about the negative side effects of his chemicals, but the difference of his love high. He wants, "one that won't make me nervous, wondering what to do, one that makes me feel like I feel with you." The lyrics are worth reading to learn vicariously all the problems Huey has had with the chemicals.

People take drugs in search of something. I contend they are in search of love. The drugs don't provide that, but they provide a quick, but expensive, route to the sensation of love. But the song writers tend to admit that despite all the costs of love, they are worth it relative to the costs of drugs. As I said last time, drugs kill. Romantic love can provide transcendence over a life time. It's such a good and powerful thing that there is an entire book of the Bible that is strictly about a romantic relationship, The Song of Songs, a book I blogged through a couple years ago. Also, as I said in the previous post, it's one of those relationships that God created to testify of his own relationship to his people. The most intensely happy marriage one can think of is only a shadow of the intensity of Jesus's love for his church. When Christians try to help addicts, they get them to focus on the true satisfaction for their longing, a relationship with Jesus. When Christians try to help those with unwanted same sex attractions, they get them to focus on a relationship with Jesus.
the idea of “gay-to-straight” therapy is not something that Exodus subscribes to. The mission of Exodus is to help those affected by same-sex attractions grow deeper in their relationship with Christ as they embrace God’s true intent for their identity and sexuality. While many have experienced change in attractions and orientation, that isn’t the focus of Exodus nor is it through any technique or tool that Exodus uses to get such a result. Exodus blog.
Exodus blog. When Christians help people leave the addiction of pornography, they don't make them sit down and watch The Waltons episodes over and over. Rather, they try to introduce people to an intimacy with their creator. This former porn producer concludes, My friends, we can talk all day long about accountability software, small group meetings, support groups and all the other things often mentioned when dealing with addictions and compulsions, but I'm telling you from personal experience, NOTHING works as well as intimacy with our Father. But like any relationship, it's something that must be included in our daily life schedule or it becomes distant, stale and ineffective.

One of Jesus's closest friends when he walked the earth, John, wrote simply and profoundly, God is love, 1 John 4:8. For some explanation of that statement try out this place, All about God. I write this stuff so people like my friends who are searching for something other than God will reconsider Him. Unlike any other religion, mine is one that worships a God who proved himself by walking out of a tomb several days after being tortured to death. The eyewitnesses changed the world as the world tried to force them to recant under threat of similar deaths. None of them did and the relationship they proclaimed has rocked the world.

I don't walk around high on God's love, but I do walk around confident in a life bigger and longer than this one in this frail flesh. The perspective changes everything. Sort of like falling in love.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

need that lovin' feelin? Jesus or magic mushrooms?

I almost enjoyed Mark Galli's essay in Christianity Today called The End of Christianity as we know it. He wrote in response to a recent NYT article (proving that blogging is mostly a midrash of the NYT) regarding medical use of hallucinogenics to treat depression and anecdotes of their induction of transcendent experiences. The NYT article probably was recycled from the 1950's. These aren't new assertions. Neither am I saying they are false assertions. Galli doesn't either. For the sake of his argument, he let's it lie, then proceeds to wonder whether the American church need exert so much energy on creating worship experiences so that people can encounter God. Perhaps he should ask that of all those cathedral builders. Perhaps he should have asked Solomon to reconsider building the temple his father David designed. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Galli writes,
From the point of view of experience, it seems it's impossible to tell the difference between drug-induced and "natural" mystical experiences. Both are powerful. Both enable people to enjoy a transcendent moment. Both seem capable of transforming people so that they feel a greater sense of empathy for and unity with other people—what most people would call love.
* * *
This sort of thing makes many a Christian nervous, and for good reason. We live in an age in which religious experience is the centerpiece of faith for many, many Christians. We disdain faith that is mere intellectual assent or empty formality. We want a faith that is authentic, that makes us feel something—in particular, one that enables us to experience God. When we describe the one time in the week when we put ourselves in the presence of God, we talk less and less about "worshipping God" and more about "the worship experience."
Basically, like any good evangelical, he wants his readers to know, you can't base your relationship with God on your feelings. True. It reminds me of something from Bonhoeffer's wedding sermon, written as a nuptial sermon for his niece and best friend, while he sat in jail. He wrote, "It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love." Yes, feelings are not the core of commitment, but they can make the commitment easier. For Galli, the crux of the issue for him is this, "If religious experience is something that a drug can induce even more easily than spiritual ritual and disciplines, it may be time, for example, to rethink what many churches are trying to do on Sunday morning: create a memorable 'worship experience.'" However, as many recovering addicts can tell him, those experiences are not gifts that keep on giving. The transcendence of your first week of nicotine can never be repeated. But it's a low cost, low level flight, the cost of the ticket being cancer many decades down the road. As the altitudes increase, depending on the vehicle used, the greater the danger of frequent flying and the greater the danger of relationship destruction. No one enjoys being around someone who is high all the time. That person can't support themselves and become economic, emotional, and even physical leaches on those around them.

Those who seek religious transcendence do not accrue the same costs, unless they are in spiritually abusive systems from $cientology to high demand prophet centered cults of Christianity or other world religions. But even "normal" religious experiences are not unique to Christianity, which Galli is not afraid to point out. "In short, what Christians uniquely have to offer the world is not religious experience or even a unique religious way of life. We're not hawking 'your best religion now,' for our religion, upon close examination, seems no more admirable or sinful than any other religion. Christianity stands under the judgment and grace of God—as do all religions."

So what sets us apart. I quoted Eric Metaxas's biography on Bonhoeffer coming to the same point, like a difficult pitch coming to a talented batter. Bonhoeffer has the talent to find plenty of ball to connect with and send it far.
"Factually speaking," he said, "Christ has given scarcely any ethical prescriptions that were not to be found already with the contemporary Jewish rabbis or in pagan literature." Christianity was not about a new and better set of behavioral rules or about moral accomplishment. He must have shocked some of his listeners, but his logic was undeniably compelling. He then aggressively attacked the idea of "religion" and moral performance as the very enemies of Christianity and of Christ because they present the false idea that somehow we can reach God through our moral efforts. This led to hubris and spiritual pride, the sworn enemies of Christianity. "Thus," he said, "the Christian message is basically amoral and irreligious, paradoxical as that may sound."
Now that was a loud crack of the bat. The ball might not have cleared the fences, but at least the fielders have to chase it around. Galli is not Bonhoeffer. His response to this tricky pitch seems to me like a dribbler up the base line. He offers,
The Christian faith is, at its core, not about ethics or religious experience, but a message about a God who has gone to extraordinary lengths to be and remain on our side, to become the-God-with-a-name, Emmanuel, "God with us." Christians are not primarily mystics (those who experience God in a special way) or activists (those who live the way of Jesus). We are mostly witnesses of who God is and what he has done and what he will do in Jesus Christ, the God who in Christ has "a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:10).
Yes, and...certainly there is more coming. He concludes,
People will never figure this all out—and thus never be able to enjoy a full and saving encounter with God—unless someone tells them. And who will tell them if no one's been sent, because we're mostly creating wonderful worship experiences and teaching mere ethics?
Bonhoeffer provokes me, Galli lulls me to sleep. With such strong points at the front of the essay, he leaves me with this?
People are finding transcendence by getting high.
It's easier to get high than to experience God.
Churches are wasting their time competing with drugs.
Churches are wasting their time preaching morals. All religions do that.
If the church can only offer sub-prime transcendence and average morality, what's then left?
We are the only one who have a story of a God who loves us and seeks to re-unite with us.
So get on out there and tell it.

That conclusion didn't answer the difficulties. This solution sucks. It doesn't sound any better than the alternatives. How does that solution answer the desire for transcendence?

There is a large missing connection in this essay. The topic is there, love, but it is not applied. Falling in love produces transcendence. Chemicals, from the simple, ethanol, to the complex, psilocybin, produce a rush of chemicals in our brains that affect our perceptions of reality. The initial wave of love is intoxicating. It can so affect us that it becomes the new normal for us. We can even get bored with it, leading some to move on quickly. It's the "marriage that sustains your love." It's those date nights that blow fresh on that steady state of love. It's the intimacy in all it's forms, emotional, sexual, spiritual, that blow on that flame of love.

St. Paul tells us that marriage is a picture of Jesus's relationship with the church in Ephesians 5:22-33. Those weekly worship "experiences" are like those date nights. They are times when we seek together to taste heaven. Heaven is God's home base. It's the place he will bring us after we die. It's the place where we will experience his love to the fullest extent possible. The experience will be so amazing he will provide us with new bodies to accommodate it.

Galli asks a good question, which he doesn't answer so well, "So, to hear that people can have even more powerful religious experiences without Christian faith gives us pause. It's a lot of work to fast and pray and worship and deny oneself—and even then, experiencing God is a hit or miss proposition! What's the fuss if we can pop a mushroom and have a nearly guaranteed religious experience?" Because the chemical lies and we know it. But the need for love, a love that will cover a multitude of sins, both the wounds we cause and wounds done to us, is so deep, makes it's experience transcendent. We were born to be loved.

But what of other religions? They too, like the chemicals, can bring about the sensation of transcendence. But no other path points to a source of the transcendence. Doesn't a belief of dissolving into the cosmic nothingness while transcending take a little something off the buzz? Does the ambition to lose all ambition and desire make that need to be loved go away? Does seeking to appease a deity who might or might not accept your efforts even bring a buzz? Without love, it's acting, it's prostitution, it's hypocrisy. Religiosity and transcendence, even transcendent religiosity, disconnected from love are nothing. Again, I'm only repeating something this Jewish follower of Jesus said 1900 years ago, 1 Corinthians 13.

Ultimately, Galli is right. The answer is, as Barth said, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." But like the typical evangelical who my friends tend to ignore, the gap between the options and the answer was never bridged.

Drugs provide a loveless transcendence that kills.
Religion provides a loveless transcendence that lies.
Jesus loves which brings about transcendence.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Bonhoeffer on being a change agent

There so many great quotes to pull from Eric Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know this man. He was incredibly bold to break away from the state church, it's Nazi compromised form calling themselves "German Christians". He also had many sympathizers who wanted him to help them change it from within, but Bonhoeffer had no hope for that approach.
He had become convinced that a church that was not willing to stand up for the Jews in its midst was not the real church of Jesus Christ. On that he was quite decided.
He was far ahead of the curve, as usual. Some wondered whether he was just kicking against the goads, but when someone asked Bonhoeffer whether he shouldn't join the German Christians in order to work against them from within, he answered that he couldn't. "If you board the wrong train," he said, "it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction." pp. 186-7
He was part of a polite and submissive Christian culture weakened by it's theological liberalism and pride in it's historical place in Christian history. Bonhoeffer grew up liberal but became more conservative through university and after experiencing the black churches, specifically the Abyssinian Baptist Church, of New York City while taking classes at liberal Union Theological Seminary. As he sought to distinguish the true church in Germany from the Nazi-compromised one he wrote a confession.
The chief goal in writing the Bethel Confession was to spell out the basics of the true and historic Christian faith, which contrasted with Ludwig Mueller's facile and inchoate "theology." Bonhoeffer and Sasse had the task of making the distinctions between the two sides crisp and clear.
After three weeks of work, Bonhoeffer was satisfied, but then the document was sent to twenty eminent theologians for their comments. By the time they were through, every bright line was blurred; every sharp edge of difference filed down; and every point blunted. Bonhoeffer was so horrified that he refused to work on the final draft. When it was completed, he refused to sign it. As would happen so often in the future, he was deeply disappointed in the inability of his fellow Christians to take a definite stand. They always erred on the side of conceding too much, of trying too hard to ingratiate themselves with their opponents. p.185
I think it is a lesson all american believers have to pay attention to, whether conservative or progressive. Hitler was hailed as a savior for the country. The same has been claimed by many presidential cheerleaders in America. All disappoint. There is only one savior. There is only one faith. Like healthy food, it can be presented in many ways, but eating compromised food is dangerous to anyone's health. The ways it can be compromised are legion, but it is possible to be constantly reforming and reexamining the expression of our faith against the text of our faith, God's word to us, and comparing everything against it. If it results in persecution without deviating from its historical expressions, then we may be closer than ever to our persecuted Lord. If it results in the partnership of politicians with small compromises, then we may have moved further away from the good news.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dorothy Sayers on the resurrection of Jesus

During this Holy Season, we have been reading aloud around the table at dinner

Cover of Cover via Amazon

selections from Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. The readings are deep, a little too much so, for the kids, but I love them so much, especially something I read today from Dorothy Sayers, a wonderful apologist from the perspective of a writer and poet. This is an excerpt from her essay, The Greatest Drama Ever Staged.
Now, nobody is compelled to believe a single word of this remarkable story. God (says the Church) has created us perfectly free to disbelieve in him as much as we choose. If we do disbelieve, then he and we must take the consequences in a world ruled by cause and effect. The Church says further that man did, in fact, disbelieve, and that God did, in fact, take the consequences. All the same, if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving. Very well, then: “The right Faith is, that we believe that Jesus Christ is God and man, Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who although he be God and man yet is he not two, but one Christ.” There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequences.

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational. p.295

If it is true, then we can agree with the hymn from 1899, There is Power in the Blood by Lewis E. Jones.

  1. Would you be free from the burden of sin?
    There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
    Would you o’er evil a victory win?
    There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
    • Refrain:
      There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
      In the blood of the Lamb;
      There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
      In the precious blood of the Lamb.
  2. Would you be free from your passion and pride?
    There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
    Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
    There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
  3. Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
    There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
    Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
    There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
  4. Would you do service for Jesus your King?
    There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
    Would you live daily His praises to sing?
    There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

And if there is power in the blood, then there indeed is freedom because of this good news. Death no longer has a sting. This is our hope, 1 Corinthians 15:53-58, available to us by faith in this risen Lord who loves us and wants us to love like him.

53 For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die. 54 When this happens -- when our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die -- then at last the Scriptures will come true: "Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! 58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

I know a few believers who died this weekend. Their journey is bittersweet. We are bitter because we miss them, but we are happy for them that their pain is over and they are able to enjoy the presence of God like we here on earth haven't. As Dorothy Sayers writes, this news is exhilarating. Hope makes all the difference as the storms of life buffet us.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jesus vs. religion in Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

I'm in the process of reading for review my complimentary copy of a new biography on Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. It's over 600 pages and some of the quotes are so good

{{BArch-description |comment= |biased= |headli...Image via Wikipedia

that they can't wait until I'm finished. Also, I fear there will be too many to quote in one review. Here is one on the distinction between Christianity and religion.
In this lecture, Bonhoeffer tipped one sacred cow after the other. Having dealt with the idea of Christ as no mere great ethicist, he proceeded to explain the similarity of the Christian religion to other religions. Then he came to his main point: the essence of Christianity is not about religion at all, but about the person of Christ. He expanded on the theme learned from Karl Barth that would occupy so much of his thinking and writing in the years to come: religion was a dead, man-made thing, and at the heart of Christianity was something else entirely - God himself, alive. "Factually speaking," he said, "Christ has given scarcely any ethical prescriptions that were not to be found already with the contemporary Jewish rabbis or in pagan literature." Christianity was not about a new and better set of behavioral rules or about moral accomplishment. He must have shocked some of his listeners, but his logic was undeniably compelling. He then aggressively attacked the idea of "religion" and moral performance as the very enemies of Christianity and of Christ because they present the false idea that somehow we can reach God through our moral efforts. This led to hubris and spiritual pride, the sworn enemies of Christianity. "Thus," he said, "the Christian message is basically amoral and irreligious, paradoxical as that may sound." p. 82.
Bonhoeffer is unmistakably from a Lutheran culture. I doubt he would disagree with this quote attributed to Luther, "We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone." Luther, Bonhoeffer, and many evangelicals, including little old me, is what God says in Isaiah. Apart from faith in God, all our good deeds are like filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6. An ethical life apart from faith brings no one any closer to heaven. In fact, Bonhoeffer is only expanding what Paul wrote to the Galatians so tersely, 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Galatians 3:2-3.

I love this stuff. I love Jesus. It's all about him. He didn't come and say, "Here is a new way to heaven." Rather he said, "I am the way to heaven." God walked among us and asks us to walk with him in faith and love and hope.
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Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday re-post

I started this blog 5 years ago right before Good Friday. I like what I wrote then, so I'm re-posting it, my 2nd post of the Umblog.

Crucifix of Black JesusImage by Biały via Flickr

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This is the Good News! This is why this terrible death is celebrated as Good.

These are things worth thinking on today, the last words of Jesus on Good Friday.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) -compassion
"Amen I say to thee, this day you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) -hope
"Woman, behold your son...Behold your mother." (John 19:26-27) -family
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46) -spiritual suffering
"I thirst." (John 19:28) -physical suffering
"It is finished." (John 19:30) -victory
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46) -faith

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