Bonhoeffer on the Christian life…a post by Rich

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work the “Cost of Discipleship” was the most significant book I read in the decade of my twenties. It was a book given to me from a pastor in Alton, Iowa who was retiring and dispersing his library.  Bonhoeffer’s reflections on what it means to follow Jesus changed my life.  It was the first time I came to realize the meaning of God’s grace. After reading the book I was motivated to become a serious student seeking to bring all of my life under the Lordship of Christ.  I came to understand in the economy of God their was “no cheap grace.”  Bonhoeffer taught me that grace was costly. Consequently Christ in grace continually invites us to give our entire life in service of him as we respond in love for being so generously loved by God.

Eric Metaxas’ work “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” is well worth a place on your summer reading list.  Chad Lewis, a friend of mine, recently sent along to me a quote from Metaxas’ book that summaries Bonhoeffer’s life.  I have returned to these words numerous times in recent months as I reflect on what is it means to be a follower of Jesus. Here is how Metaxas summaries Bonhoeffer’s Christian life.

“He had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not  reactive. It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or  teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets. . . . It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one  who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny. It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom that was what it was to obey God.”

How we imagine what it means to follow Jesus eventually becomes HOW we follow him. Bonhoeffer imagined a way in following that was about becoming fully human, “a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom.” Perhaps Metaxas’ summary of Bonhoeffer’s manner of loving God and living as a child of God can help us all imagine a way of being with Jesus as Jesus hopes we would!

Dark Night…a post by Tom

Jeremiah 20:7 (ESV)

                        O Lord, you have deceived me,

and I was deceived;

                        you are stronger than I,

and you have prevailed.

                        I have become a laughingstock all the day;

everyone mocks me.

 

This is not what the prophet Jeremiah signed up for. He was doing everything he thought he was supposed to be doing. He was following God. He was getting pounded in the process. I love Jeremiah’s unabashedly bold and emotional words of honesty. It is one thing to feel that Satan has deceived you but God? Wow. This is truly a place of ultimate defeat and undoing. God has won and there are no moves left. Check mate.

Real growth happens in the dark. The seed must shed its protective covering and venture out exposed and vulnerable into the unknown. Intuitively being led to the surface it must grow through the darkness, the decomposing plant material, manure, and bugs. Was this what the seed signed up for when it dangled in the beautiful tree dancing in the sun and breeze? What was known inside the safe cocoon must be set aside. It must evolve and change at all costs or else Life will not go on.

All of us establish ways of relating to God that work in the beginning. But then this gets dramatically shifted. The Bible reading, prayers, songs, and relationships no longer feed the soul. Is something wrong or is something right? For sure something is being shed and something is being solidified. We might even feel ‘deceived’ by God because we thought we were doing the right thing and now everything seems so wrong. This is what is so unnerving about the Dark Night. The equation for life changes at a very profound level. Something is happening and we don’t have the categories for naming it and I can no longer hold my present experience. I must now be held. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

I Desire therefore I Am…a post by Jim

“What do you want me to do for you?” This was Jesus’ question to the blind man. Why ask that question. Isn’t it obvious what the man would want? It is. But Jesus asks about his desire because he knows it is critical for us to own and name and take responsibility for our desires. We must pay attention to our desires because they tell us something VERY important in the Christian life. Desire, more than our cognition, volition, or conscience, define what we believe is true, good, and beautiful.

Last week a community of devoted souls met for the fifth retreat of eight in the experience we call A Deeper Journey. It was a great couple of days of discussion around the topic of DESIRE. Rich and I proposed two basic propositions: 1) all of us have deep desires and 2) it really helps if our desires are motivating us in our Christian walk rather than working against us.

The desires we have look backward and forward. By means of memory desire have a reference point for what is true, good, and beautiful. The memories of our own experience (e.g a really good steak in the past sets the trajectory of the steak I want tonight!) as well as the primal memory we have of the Garden (“He has set eternity in our hearts” in Ecclesiastes 3:11). Desire needs memory to look backward to help tell us what is something really worth wanting. And by means of imagination desire has a future orientation. We image what the true, good, and beautiful could be in our future. It is ultimately a longing for heaven.

But both memory and imagination can create a lot of pain when we desire. We didn’t get what we wanted and we may not get what we hope for. So whenever we live alive with desire we can expect to feel both the delight of fulfilled desires and the pain of unmet desires. No wonder Ronald Rolheiser said Christian spirituality is what we do with desire. It must be informed by the history and heart of Scripture if desire is to be our ally in our walk with Christ.

“Lord, make me to be a person of deep desires. Help me to be aware of them, to name them, to feel them and ultimately to surrender them to you. Amen.”

Do you want to be healed?…a post by Tom

John 5:1–9 (ESV)

The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath.

 

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asks the sick man. Of all the many hurting people he is the one that Jesus approaches.   He has been there for a long time.   He does not answer Jesus’ question directly but instead lists out all the reasons preventing him from being healed. His answer includes being cut off by others thereby thwarting his attempts at wholeness. Given the amount of time he has been there it would be understandable if his identity was tied to that ailment, that locale, that sweaty mat, and the day in day out helplessness. Who would he be if he weren’t “that” sick guy there everyday? Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk”. Go against everything physically, neurologically, sociologically, emotionally, and spiritually grooved into his 38-year suffering. The man was healed and his “picking up his mat” violated religious law.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asks me. Of the many hurting people in the world I am the one considering this verse. I have been hurting for a long time. I do not have to answer Jesus’ question directly because I have many reasons preventing me from being healed.  All the times others have cut me off in my attempts at wholeness. There are many reasons why I am not whole. Given the amount of time it would be no surprise that my identity has somehow been tied to my situation. Who would I be if I weren’t the victim of ‘xyz’, telling the same storyline, in the same psychological space? Jesus says to me, “Get up right where you are, take up your life story, and walk.” A shame free, guilt free, fear free countenance is there for the taking but it may violate the expectations of others.  Do I want to be healed?

“We all want something real; we’re just going about it in a way that can’t work.” –Russ Hudson

Seasons of Life…a post by Joy

Seasons of life come to us whether we want them to or not. It’s interesting that this is the way God organized and planned the rhythm of life from the beginning. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8;11 states:

There is a time for everything,

a season for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal

A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to lose.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace….

God has made everything beautiful for its own time.….

The great thing about the change of seasons or a “time for everything” is the simple truth that it really IS “for a season” . When our appointed time comes to leave this earth, our season here in this life is complete.

In our journeys of Christian spiritual formation, there are seasons that are joyful, ambivalent, or sad even to the point of grieving the loss of the old season to make room for the birth of what’s coming with the new season. It’s a way that we are able to pay attention with our finite minds and hearts to the grief and the blessing of what we have just experienced through the season of Lent, Good Friday and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is always going to be the cycle of endings (“death”) and beginnings (“resurrection”) as Christ transforms us day by day in His time.   May we be mindful of the presence of Christ in our lives all the times.

How Do I See? (Part 2)

One’s perspective impacts what one sees and experiences. This is not to say that a change of perspective means a change in what is true. It simply means what is true is impacting me differently. That happens in our journey of faith as well as life in general. In my last post I (Jim) noted three perspectives on the Christian faith (status, qualities, relationship) and mentioned things that influence which perspective is more ‘natural’ for us (religious background, life experiences, etc.). It seems that God uses everything about us to give us a glimpse of what we have in Christ. Continue Reading

Living with Longing – Part 2

A recent conversation I (Rich) had with a missionary in Cambodia we found ourselves discussing the relationship between our longing to enjoy God in heaven and our desire to experience God here and now. An awakened Christian with a sensitive spirit longs for Christ and heaven. But she/he also is very much attuned to this present world’s suffering, brokenness, and severe limits. The incompleteness we experience is not only outside of us, but also within us. We live in a world that groans for something more. Our longing for more in the here and now is very real. Continue Reading

Living with Longing – Part 1

“Spirituality is what we do with our desires” (Rolheiser). From my (Jim) perspective I couldn’t agree more. Every human being is crammed full of desire. Christian spiritual formation depends on the direction and condition of our deepest longings, on their object and how they are expressed. David said, as the deer pants after the water, so pants my soul after thee, O God.” He knew he had a longing heart and he did his best to have his longings reaching for God. Continue Reading

Designed as Male and Female

Taken from The Relational Soul – Maleness and femaleness is the fundamental way in which we carry our relational design. Interestingly, the English word “sexuality” comes from the Latin word sexus which means, “being divided, cut off, separated from another.” We typically don’t think of sexuality in terms of separation, but that is precisely what it is. Our sexual desire, drive, and energy show we are separated and long to be connected (both physically and emotionally).

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Self-Disclosure

I (Jim) love to travel to beautiful places. From Maine to southern California the glory of creation touches me deeply and sometimes it takes my breath away. Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs is one of those places. The rock formations and colors shout without words.

From a Christian perspective creation is a grand self-disclosure of God. So full of glorious creativity is the Triune God that we could rightfully proclaim that all of nature is the “Garden of God.”

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