Experiencing God, Experiencing Rest

Over the past couple of weeks I have been posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. This last study focuses on Experiencing Rest and relates to Acts 16 v 11-34.

The Big Idea

Experiencing God brings an experience of rest as we no longer feel the need to prove ourselves or to establish our own identity.

Summary

Luke tells the stories of three very different people who became Christians during Paul and Silas’ time in Philippi. Together they illustrate the different ways an experience of God brings rest.

Lydia is a wealthy, independent woman. But her wealth has not satisfied her for she is searching for God. God opens her heart to the message of Jesus.

The slave girl is economically and spiritually oppressed and tormented. The power of Jesus sets her free.

The jailor is probably an ex-soldier who has earned his citizenship. He may be terrified at being a failure and losing his identity. But he welcomes the message of Jesus and cares for Paul and Silas.

The message of Jesus brings:

• satisfaction to a life unfulfilled by wealth (Lydia)
• freedom to a life troubled by spirits (the slave girl)
• joy to a life scarred by violence (the jailor)

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

Bookmark  and Share

Experiencing God, Experiencing Passion

I have been posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. This fifth study focuses on Experiencing Passion and relates to Titus 2 v 11 – 3 v 8.

The Big Idea

Understanding the grace and glory of Christ makes us passionate about serving Him.

Summary
God redeemed us to be people of passion – a passion for serving Him. (The word translated “eager” in 2 v 14 of the NIV is the word “zealous” or “passionate”.) God Himself is passionate. The Bible talks about “the zeal of the Lord”.

Not all passion is good (2 v 12). Worldly passions can be passions for bad things, or passions for good things that are bigger in our life than God. When a passion for anything causes us to behave in an ungodly way, then in that moment that passion matters more than God. Such passions lead to slavery and conflict (3 v 3).

The grace of God teaches us to say “no” to ungodly and worldly passions (2 v 11-12). The truths of the gospel should make us passionate for God (2 v 11-14; 3 v 4-8). And our passion is expressed not just in excited praise or effusive talk, but in self-control and in good works (2 v 12, 14’ 3 v 8).

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

Bookmark  and Share

Experiencing God, Experiencing Joy

I have been posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. This fourth study focuses on Experiencing Joy and relates to Philippians 1 v 12-30 and 4 v 4-13.

The Big Idea

Valuing Christ leads to an experience of joy that transcends the circumstances of life.

Summary

Paul is in prison (1 v 13) and some Christians are stirring up trouble for him (v 17). But Paul still experiences joy because he message of Jesus is being preached. Paul values Jesus above all things – even life itself (v 21-23). So his joy transcends circumstances.

The goal of Paul’s ministry is that other people might experience this joy. This does not mean he wants people to have an easy life or that he avoids confrontation. He wants people to have joy in Christ – so much joy in Christ that they are willing to suffer for him.

Paul commands us to have joy. We can do this by remembering the all-surpassing value of Christ and all that He has done for us. “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (3 v 8).

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

Bookmark  and Share

Experiencing God, Experiencing Love

Over the next couple of weeks I am posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. The second study focuses on Experiencing Love and relates to Luke 7 v36-50.

The Big Idea

A deeper understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ produces love in our hearts for God and other people

Summary

Jesus is a guest at the house of a Pharisee named Simon, when a notoriously sinful woman bursts in to anoint Jesus’ feet. Simon interprets the response of Jesus to the woman as a sign that Jesus is not a prophet, since He does not seem to recognise her background. But Jesus sees the heart of the woman and the heart of Simon. In the heart of the woman He sees genuine love arising from her understanding of God’s grace in Jesus. In Simon He sees little love because Simon has little sense of his need and therefore little sense of God’s mercy. The message of Jesus is that a deeper understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ produces an experience of love in our hearts. Our love – or our lack of love – reveals our understanding of God’s grace. “Her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (v47).

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

Bookmark and Share

Experiencing God, Experiencing Christ

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. The first study focuses on Experiencing Christ and relates to 1 Colossians 1 v 24 – 2 v 1.

The Big Idea

Growing as a Christian means having a deeper experience of Christ based on a deeper understanding of Christ. It does not mean less emotion, new revelations or new experiences.

Summary

Some people think growing as a Christian means moving on from emotional experiences to a calmer, more knowledge-based approach. Others believe growing as a Christian means discovering new experiences. Still others believe growing as a Christian means acquiring new, advanced insights or spiritual techniques.

But in Colossians Paul says we already have “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1b27) and in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2b3). We do not move on from Christ. Instead we “continue” in Him (1 v23; 2v6). Growth means a growing understanding of what is already ours in Christ. This deeper understanding leads to a deeper experience of God in Christ.

Our relationship with God should affect every part of our being including our emotions. We should respond to God with joy, love, peace, assurance, confidence, and so on. New birth gives us a new desire for God, a hunger for his word and a love of His people.

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

Bookmark  and Share

Bonhoeffer’s Ethics Pt 12: The Concrete Commandment and the Divine Mandates

While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.

This manuscript continues the argument of the previous one, expanding on the nature of the commandment of God and its relationship to the mandates.  In previous German and English editions it was printed as if the two were one.

God’s commandment is to be found in the divine mandates: in the church, marriage and family, in culture, and in government.  ‘By “mandate” we understand the concrete divine commission grounded in the revelation of Christ and the testimony of scripture; it is the authorization and legitimization to declare a particular divine commandment, the conferring of divine authority on an earthly institution.  A mandate is to be understood simultaneously as the laying claim to, commandeering of, and formation of a certain earthly domain by the divine command.’ (389)  The mandates can only be understood ‘from above,’ from God, not from the perspective of earthly powers.  The bearers of the mandates (humans) are ‘in a strict and unalterable sense God’s commissioners, vicarious representatives, and stand-ins.’ (390-391)

The commandment of God in the church

Bonhoeffer explores how the commandment of God encounters us.  He describes the role of the church and critiques the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Continue reading

Bonhoeffer’s Ethics Pt 11: The “Ethical” and the “Christian” as a Topic

While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.

What is ethical should normally be self-evident and should not be a topic of constant debate. Humans should not be constantly wondering what they ‘ought’ to do; most moments of our lives don’t require a conscious decision between right and wrong.  Many moments of our lives are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; some moments have no ‘higher purpose’ and we should not always be seeking a higher meaning or duty in life’s day-to-day events.  Limiting ‘the ethical phenomenon’ to its time and place ‘does not imply its rejection but, on the contrary, its validation.  One does not use canons to shoot sparrows.’ (366)  ‘Viewed sociologically, the persistent effort to hold on to the ethical as a topic beyond its appropriate time springs from the frustrated desire for continued prestige by those who have excellent attitudes but who are ineffectual in life.’ (369)  There will, however, be occasional times when what is ethical is not clear but after those needed times of debate, one should return to a time where what is moral is, again, self-evident (269).

Ethics is not about creating a rule book for life ‘that guarantees flawless moral behaviour’ (370) and it’s not about judging every human action.  Rather than constantly meddling in life, describing being good, the ethicist is to ‘help people learn to live with others’.  ‘Living with others means living within the boundaries of the ought—though not motivated at all by the ought—in the midst of the abundance of the concrete tasks and processes of life with their infinite variety of motives.’ (370)

Also, the validity/authorisation of an ethic depends on who says it.  Youth, for example, have less authority than those who have experienced life (371).  This authorisation is bestowed on people, rather than claimed by them.  Bonhoeffer calls this ‘the orientation from above to below’ where certain people (e.g. the old person, the parent, the teacher) have authorisation for ethical discourse and others don’t (the young, the child, the student) (372-377).  Again, ethics is not about cold principles removed from reality, but certain times, places, people and events. Continue reading

Bonhoeffer’s Ethics Pt 10: Church and World

While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.

Church and World I (339-351)

This manuscript explores how suffering results in the recognition of the origin of things.  Values like reason and humanity ‘come back home’ (to be recognised as originating in Christ), as do those people who Christ calls to himself.

Reason, culture, humanity, tolerance and autonomy used to be used against the church but now (in the Nazi era) these ‘children of the church who had become independent and had run away now returned to their mother.’  They ‘found new meaning and new strength in their origin [Jesus Christ]’. (341)

Bonhoeffer explores the two verses, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mk 9:40) and ‘Whoever is not for me is against me’ (Mt 12:30) and explains how he has experienced both to be true.  ‘When the exclusive demand for an unequivocal confession of Christ caused the band of confessing Christians to become smaller and smaller, then the saying, “whoever is not for me is against me,” became a concrete experience for the Christian community.’ (343) On the other hand, ‘Wounded justice, oppressed truth, humiliated humanity, violated freedom—all these now sought the Christian community, or rather its Lord, Jesus Christ.  And thus it came to know the other saying of Jesus as a living experience; “Whoever is not against us is with us.   Both sayings necessarily belong together, one as the exclusive claim, and the other as the all-encompassing claim of Jesus Christ. … The more exclusively we recognize and confess Christ as our Lord, the more will be disclosed to us the breadth of Christ’s lordship.” (343-344)

Going back to the origins of values awakened through suffering, ‘It is not Christ who has to justify himself before the world by acknowledging the values of justice, truth and freedom.  Instead, it is these values that find themselves in need of justification, and their justification is in Christ Jesus alone.  It is not a “Christian culture” that still has to make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; instead, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and claim for these higher values and their defenders who have been made to suffer.’ (345-346)

On the Possibility of the Church’s Message to the World (352-362)

The German editors call this manuscript a rough draft.  The paragraphs are numbered, with sub points.  Bonhoeffer explores the issue of the Christian message to the world: What do Christians have to say to the world, to its problems, its questions?

Although it isn’t the task of the church to answer all social and political questions, Christianity does have something specific to say about worldly things (353-356).  Bonhoeffer has four points: Continue reading

Bonhoeffer’s Ethics Pt 9: God’s Love and the Disintegration of the World

While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.

Here Bonhoeffer comes back to the first issue raised in the first manuscript: that ethics is not about knowing right from wrong, but discerning and living by the will of God.

Bonhoeffer traces the origin of the knowledge of good and evil.  Whereas humans had previously known only God as their origin, in the fall they gained knowledge of good and evil.  ‘In knowing about god and evil, human beings understand themselves not within the reality of being defined by the origin, but from their own possibilities, namely, to be either good or evil.  They now know themselves beside and outside of God, which means they now know nothing but themselves, and God not at all.  For they can only know God by knowing God alone.  They knowledge of good and evil is thus disunion with God.  Human beings can know about good and evil only in opposition to God.’ (300)

The Pharisees are a good example of this.  ‘Pharisees are those human beings, admirable to the highest degree, who subject their entire lives to the knowledge of good and evil and who judge themselves as sternly as their neighbours—and all to the glory of God, whom they humbly thank for this knowledge.’ (310) They are the epitome of the contrast between the old disunity and the new unity in Christ.  ‘Just as the question and the temptation of the Pharisees arise out of the disunion of the knowledge of good and evil, so Jesus’ answer springs from unity with God, with the origin, from a place where the disunion of human beings from God has been overcome.  The Pharisees and Jesus speak on completely different planes.’ (311)  The Pharisees’ questions to Jesus are not unlike many of ours’, ‘questions with which we call on him for a decision in cases of conflict’, either-or questions on vital life decisions. Continue reading

Bonhoeffer’s Ethics Pt 8: History and Good

While I’m away Dan is guest blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US (part of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Series which I recently reviewed). Dan has served with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea and is currently spending some time with us in The Crowded House.

History and Good [2] (246-298)

I’ve summarised the second draft of  ‘History and Good’ first, however I’ve also included something on the first draft below.

The  theme of this chapter is how to live ‘responsibly’.  Primarily we are responsible for giving a response to the questions people ask about Jesus (255).  In doing this we do not take responsibility for ourselves, justifying ourselves, but for Christ, answering for Him (255-256).

The structure of responsible life

In this section Bonhoeffer describes the structure of responsible life with the concepts of vicarious representative action, accordance with reality, taking on guilt, and freedom.  I have focused on the latter two.

‘The structure of responsible life is determined in a twofold manner, namely by life’s bond to human beings and to God, and by the freedom of one’s own life  it is this bond of life to human beings and to God that constitutes the freedom of our own life. ‘ (257)

Responsible action ‘involves both willingness to become guilty [Bereitschaft zur Schuldubernahme] and freedom.’ (275)  So, for example, there will be extraordinary circumstances that dictate that one cannot strictly observe laws of state.  This is acceptable because Christians have ‘free responsibility’ before God (274).  Jesus is the ultimate picture of one who acted responsibly and broke laws, becoming guilty, ‘for love’ (275, 278-279).  ‘Those who act out of free responsibility are justified before others by dire necessity [Not]; before themselves they are acquitted by their conscience, but before God they hope only for grace.’ (282-283)

Christians should not act against their conscience but our natural consciences should be ‘set free in Jesus Christ’ so that He becomes our conscience, not laws (278).  Likewise we are not to be guided by principles.  Bonhoeffer criticises Kant’s ‘grotesque conclusion’ that one should always tell the truth, even when that means telling a murderer where someone is hiding in your house (279).  Things are not that simple.  ‘Responsible action must decide not simply between right and wrong, good and evil, but between right and right, wrong and wrong.’ (284)  Humans do their best in Christ and God ‘looks upon the heart, weighs the deeds, and guides history’ (284).

The place of responsibility

Here Bonhoeffer considers what we are responsible for.  Where do the limits of our responsibility lie?  Central to the answer is the concept of vocation.

Life in Christ is the Christian’s vocation, his responsibility.  ‘This rules our two disastrous misunderstandings, that of cultural Protestantism and that of monasticism.’ (290)  I.e. we are not to simply perform our earthly vocations faithfully (as workers, parents, etc.), and we are not to escape from the world.  Also, as vocation is not restricted to certain aspects of our lives, our call to life in Christ as a vocation should affect all areas of our life.  ‘Vocation is responsibility, and responsibility is the whole response of the whole person to reality as a whole.’ (293)

Finally, Bonhoeffer speaks out against not only legalism but also ‘enthusiastic transgressions‘ of the law (294).  Any transgression of a law should aim to ultimately reinforce it.  ‘The suspension of the law must only serve its true fulfilment.  In war, for example, there is killing, lying, and seizing of property solely in order to reinstate the validity of life, truth and property.’ (297) Continue reading