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)

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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)

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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)

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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).

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Our main task as leaders

In Philippians 1 Paul says he is sure he will survive his imprisonment “and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (25). It is an intriguing glimpse into how Paul saw the goal of his ministry. His goal was to make people happy, to bring them joy. This, of course, we much more than merely enjoying happy circumstances. Paul himself expresses joy in the midst of persecution, imprisonment and opposition (12-18). This joy is joy in Christ. And for Paul this ministry begins with his own joy in Christ. He himself says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (21) “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all tings.” (3:8) Our aim is to treasure Christ above everything so we naturally and sincerely extol Christ to our communities so that they might find joy in Christ. Then as they treasure Christ, they too will extol Christ to a lost world so that other join us in treasuring Christ.

We might express this through the following diagram …

The exciting thing is that when we extol Christ we do so to oursevles as well as to other so we nurture our own treausing of Christ. In the same way when our communities  extol Christ they do so one another and to us so together we extol Christ the more. These “feedback loops” create virtuous circles.

Consider again our simpler diagram. It highlights our starting point and therefore our main task as leaders: to treasure Christ. My main task is to nurture my own joy in Christ. Everything else flows from this point.

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)

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Answering People’s Questions

What about when people ask difficult questions like Why does God allow suffering? or Surely science has disproved Christianity? First, answer with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) and grace (Colossians 4:6). This means listening to people, asking questions, being patient and showing love. Less is often more so give people time to think about what you have said.

Second, answer by pointing people to Jesus. People often ask intellectual questions and we show respect by treating their questions seriously. But the Bible says that when people reject God the problem is not an intellectual one, but a moral one (Psalm 14:1). The problem is not that people do not know the truth; it is that they will not know the truth. They decide against the truth because they don’t want to face its consequences and submit to God (Romans 1:18-25). So don’t be afraid of intellectual arguments. Make it your aim to introduce people to Jesus Christ and his word. Try to answer their questions by directing them to Jesus – to some of the words he said or something he did. This means that they are not being confronted by something which they can dismiss as your point of view. They are being confronted by Jesus Christ – the person who is the truth.

We do not need to tell people the whole gospel every time we get the chance. This is because evangelism is not an event, but a lifestyle. It takes place in the context of an on-going relationship in which other opportunities will arise. We believe God is the great orchestrator of mission. So we look for opportunities to talk about Jesus, but we need not be overbearing when those opportunities arise.
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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