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So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 18.

Great words from a man who knew what it was like to be among “the scattered lonely.” The ability to visible gather with believers is a blessing to be thankful for. Not the local body that you wish you were apart of. But the body you are apart of now. The body full of weak Christians who sing music off key. You are there, gathered, as the exiled believers encouraging one another till the Final Day.  This is a grace and privilege!

Can there be a legitimate time to leave a church? There can be times.

But what we can learn from Bonhoeffer is the needed attitude of our heart. And attitude of gratefulness for the fact that we have a fellowship to gather with. Not every believer gets to experience it week in and week out.

Yes things are not as you want them to be. The preaching is not of great quality. The youth program is next to nonexistent. The style of worship is strange. The policies are indecipherable. But it is still a gathering of believers.

So be thankful for the grace to visibly gather with the believers you do.

How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty;…

-ibid., 29

bonhoeffer-conf

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both…He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

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.

…because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ…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.

…Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it is so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deed, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together-the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 27-29.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

The Word of God is not a neutral thing. Based on one’s response to God’s spoken Word it can give life or it can give one over to death. Thus, coming to church can be a dangerous thing. Because when we come to church we sit under this Word.

We do not come and judge the word. We tend to think of ourselves as the judge of everything. We judge what ice cream we like, what we are going to wear, what TV shows we find acceptable and enjoyable, and many other things. But when we come to the Word of God the judge’s seat is taken from us. And this happens whether we think it does or not. God’s Word is the authority not us. His Word is the based by which all things are measured.

The Word judges us. The Word of God takes the judges seat and gives its pronouncement about our lives. The reality is we do not render judgment about the bible, even when we think we do! Instead we are judged by our response to what the Word says and its pronouncements are true no matter one’s response. If one stood condemned under the laws of our land their response would mean nothing. Their condemnation and punishment is final and real. And we are in the same state. We can either submit to the bible’s pronouncements or we cover our ears, and thus our hearts, and try to ignore it. But doing that leads to dangerous consequences.

We can become hardened by our refusal to heed the pronouncements of God’s Word. This is the frightening part. If we refuse to listen and so take the life offered to us we will become harden. Every time we refuse to heed the Word of the Lord another layer of lies encases our hearts. This builds up silently but firmly. The Word which would offer us life becomes death to us as our heart becomes more and more encased in the lies we tell ourselves to cloud out the Word’s pronouncements.

This should communicate a fearful respect of the Word and give warning. This Word is not a neutral thing to stand back render opinions about. It is a pronouncement to continually heed and enjoy or reject and be condemned by. We should know that we are not spectators when the Word is preached to us. We are having very life and death put before us! Our response to it, by the working of the Holy Spirit, will determine which one we obtain. But we should not think that just sitting and hearing the Word Sunday after Sunday, in and of itself, is a good thing. Indeed, it can be a deadly thing!

If we, however, cease putting up our lies and fall in submission to this Word we find the opposite of death: life! For the Word to us is simple at its heart, “Repent and believe!” Repent of your sin of not obeying the Word of the Lord. And believe in the finished work of Christ for all your payment of sin and restored relationship with God! That is the Word to us! When we heed this Word fear, shame, and guilt are gone and righteousness, power, and hope our ours. A new heart is given and we will find the commands of the Lord sweeter than the honey comb! Oh, that we would respond to God’s Word like this and find true life! May church not prove dangerous but life to you!

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil 2:2-3)

The beauty of community is essential for Paul. The oneness of thought and love that that community is to have is what makes Paul’s heart very glad.

What is one of the greatest dangers to this community? Interesting enough it is not everyone having the same Ts crossed and the same Is dotted. Paul doesn’t move from the desire of unity to having people dress the same, act the same, think the same, and like the same things. He doesn’t even move into doctrine. Instead he moves underneath it all to what supports lives of godliness and doctrines of truth.

The sinful self is exposed as the greatest danger to community. “Selfish ambition or conceit” is the poison of community. It is the person who does not see the imperfect church as sinners like himself but messed up people who have crazy ideas. It is the person who looks down on those who do not have the education he has and disregards their contributions to the discussion. When one’s “service” in the church is about recognition and self promotion instead of real service. Theological study that is not about helping others see the beauty of Christ but about proving oneself right over others. Writing off people who have studied at seminary because they are probably “bookworms” and know nothing of true spiritual power. And thousands of others ways the self seeks its own ambitions and own exaltation. Both heresies and godlessness have come from this.

In contrast to this, I have to ask myself a question when living with my brothers and sisters of Christ. Is what I am doing or planning on doing aimed at lifting them up? Or is it about lifting me up? Christ is clear about which one I am suppose to be aiming for. Their interests and their needs are to be over mine. All the way from theological studies and discussions to inviting people to lunch all are to have this founding aim.

And when I am seeking this, I am going to land in orthodoxy and godliness. It is the humble that fear The Lord and listen to His Word. It is the humble that seek to please The Lord in all they do. By His grace this can be sought after.

Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange. When we imbibe the Zeitgist (the spirit of the age) of worldliness, then we feel strange trying to think Christianly and act according to the Bible’s mandates. That is, when we think the world’s thoughts after it and do not think God’s thought after him, we will not be motivated to do the things that God wants us to do, but we will only feel comfortable acting in a manner that fits into the world’s way of doing things…

…this is why regular attendance at church is so important. At church we worship by hearing God’s Word, praising God, praying, partaking of the Lord’s and fellowshipping, all of which encourages believers and convinces them that they indeed are the ones who are normal and that the world is strange before God’s eyes.

-G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, p. 300

Everyone has probably come across the video entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” You can watch it below if you have not seen it.

I think the best thing I can say about it is to refer to to what others have said about it.

Jared Wilson posts a good short critic of the video here.

But the most comprehensive overview of the video is by DeYoung here.

I am thankful for men like this who know how to engage these issues with biblical wisdom and Christ like love. No matter how good something sounds, we always need to apply biblical truth to it. Nothing should go without seeing if it matches what the bible says. Passion never covers over error. While, at the same time, we must bring correction with a humble, kind spirit. Let us not drive away the passionate by being cold and heartless. Instead, if we win them then we get passionate Christians who are filled with sound teaching. A double win!

I am happy that Jefferson Bethke wants to tell the world about the grace of our savior. Hopefully he will be encouraged to do it in a way that clearly communicates that grace without unknowingly distorting it. For every word from a Lord is a message of grace and peace.

UPDATE:

Jefferson Bethke emailed DeYoung and humbled himself to say that the critiques were correct. Go over and read the exchange between them, it is wonderful to behold. Jeff showed himself greatest by becoming the least and teachable. May I grow to be more like him.

__________________________

Below is a video that Challies linked to a few days ago where college students were  interviewed over the question, “can men and women just be friends?” The result from the video was very fascinating (Note: video interviews can be deceptive things. One can just choose to include the interviews the person wants to include and so show the results they want to. So that warning must be understood and considered when watching such things). In the video several men and women are asked the question. All the women shown give the initial answer that they can be friends with no hesitation. The men, however, give the exact opposite answer stating it cannot be that men and women can just be friends. You can watch it below,

This is a very important topic because relationships play such a prominent aspect of each of or lives. And as believers relationships take on a very important role. Our God is one who exists in relationship and so have crafted His creatures as those who need relationship.

On top of that He has created different genders that are to relate to one another. They are different in that they are created equal in worth and dignity while intended to fulfill different roles. The differences are not part of the problem but instead part of ascribing glory to the God who created them. And the primary purpose of the created difference is that man can cleave to a women in marriage to fulfill the creation mandate (Gen 1:27-28). Thus, man and woman have woven into the fabric of their structure the functions of relationship and desire that will pull them towards marriage when they relate together.

Yet, there is more about how they are interact than just match making for marriage. The church is made up of both men and women. And these two genders are given commands to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 12:10, 15-16; 13:8) and many other commands of love, service, and exhortation.

I remember hearing about a distinguishing mark of Christian churches in Turkey not to long ago. And the mark was a fascinating one. Out of all the things one could think of when the believers I knew met with these churches one of the things that stuck out to them was that men held conversations with women. In the surrounding culture you do not see men holding open conversations with women. Rules, regulations, and inward chauvinism keeps that from happening. But when Christ does a transforming work, by the Spirit, with the gospel relationships change. Men and women who are made anew in Christ start treating one another as family and the weirdest thing happen…they start talking to one another.

Believing men and women  are called to live together in community. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Christ calls His people to become part of Him, one body united, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Philippians 1:27). Thus, as members of the same body, Christ, there is more to the relationship than just finding who to marry.

So how does this all work out when we come to this issue? Is is right or wrong for men to make friendships with women when there is no intention for marriage.

As already laid out there is to be a relationship between believing men and women which is not mere acquaintance but which is not marriage. We could not fulfill the Biblical commands listed above if either of those were the case. So maybe it is how we think about what is a “friend” and what constitutes “friendship.”  I believe that Scott Croft gives some great guidelines about what constitutes a friendship that the bible envisions between brothers and sisters. He answers how brothers and sisters are to interact with one another,

First, with care and concern. We should be concerned for each other. First and foremost, each other’s relationship with Christ. But additionally how are our lives being shaped to be more Christ like. Furthermore, we should treat each other with care. Protecting the reputation of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is part of glorifying the Lord.

Second, with interest. Relationships require some knowledge. Now I want to be careful here because the world will often tell us that more knowledge is always a good thing. In fact, that might well be inappropriate. But I think you will all agree that it is nearly impossible to have a relationship without any knowledge. Generally knowing each others lives is critical to brotherly or sisterly relationship.

Third, with encouragement. We should be spurring one another on in the faith. To do so, we need to know each other generally. We need to sit under the word together, be shaped and molded by the public proclamation of the word, discussing it and its implications.

Fourth, with service. We should be serving one another. Sacrificing our own needs and time for each other in order that others might see we are Christians in the way we love and serve each other.

Finally,…with absolute purity. Knowing how sin has twisted the good gift of sexuality , Paul exhorts Timothy to be pure so that his relationships with sisters in the faith might glorify God and not confuse or obscure the Gospel.

I think this is very helpful in understanding how we relate to one another. As different situations arise these principles of loving, honoring, protecting, and serving one another can guide us to the most faithful actions. If this level of relationship exists between us I believe it will produce much good. But beyond this I believe there is danger.

Sin is a ever present reality in our lives which works to destroy the joys of relationships. One of the things that stood out in the interviews is that both parties are working from a mentality of using someone to get what they want. Men enter into the friendship so that their might be the possibility for something more. Women enter into the friendship so that they can get what they want. Notice that most of the women knew that their guy “friends” had feelings for them that went beyond friendship. In other words they liked the attention and knowledge that a guy liked them. Lets call the drive for a lot of “friendships” for what it is, selfish ambition. Both parties are just putting themselves in a position where they can use the other to get what they want. This is in complete contradiction to the biblical command for believers to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Sin brings its destructive effect upon relationships in many ways such making people, “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

Also, It is the reality that God designed men and women to marry. There is a level of relationship between a man and a woman which is only to be reserved for progress and attainment of marriage. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). The Lord knows how he has created us. Men and woman are designed to be attracted to one another so that they can become married. Their relationship capabilities are created for that end. We would be foolish to live as if this did not exist. Thus, our relationships should not communicate what we do not intend for them to communicate or try to live as we are not made to live.

When these two things are combined I think it is a strong word about not developing deep friendships with members of the opposite sex (and by deep I mean a relationship that is more than the the guidelines laid out by Croft). We play with fire where one can read more into the relationship than there is and we can easily be using one another for our own selfish purposes.  The dangers out way the pros in this case.

In Conclusion, we should not retreat from brother and sister relationship. Instead, by God’s grace, we can move forward in growing to become better brothers and sisters of the risen Lord. And because we want to become better brother and sisters to one another we will guard one another in how we relate to one another. If we understand friendship in the parameters mentioned above I believe that we can live in harmony, joy, and holiness together. Yet, we must be careful that we do not let sin slip into our relationships where the only thing we are concerned about is ourselves and getting what we want.

Life in this world for a believer can sometimes seem to be anything but victory. Looking around we can see governmental systems continuing to become more and more debased. The treasures of our faith are becoming viewed as scum by the world around us. Justice never seems to be done for innocent people murdered for the selfish pleasures of others. And that is only the outside world. One can look into themselves and sees sins that are persistent in their lives.  The constant failings and struggles. If this was not enough the pain that flows into their lives adds even more weight. Unborn babies of relatives (and even their own) loosing their lives out of health conditions. Teenagers having their lives taken from them. Constant health issues racking the body with pain. Heartaches and broken hearts.  How can this be victory? The life we live around us seems to communicate the clear message that life is meaningless and defeat is sure.

But God has given the believers a gift, a ray of light to pierce through the dark clouds.

Every Sunday the believers are called to gather. They are called to meet on a specific day, the Lord’s day. The day that their Lord made that ultimate pronouncement about this world: He has won! Sin and death lay dead before His feet as He arose on that Sunday.

And now believers meet to remind themselves about the truth: we have won in Him! “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Every time that the local church gathers it is a reminder about the fact that we are victorious, no matter what our sight may suggest. We get to meet together to encourage each other that Christ did win and a day is coming when His victory will be finalized. But even now the fact stands true, the war is over; the victory has been won. Each Sunday is the believer’s Victory Day.

Thus we see that the Lord’s supper is intended to be to us a full store house—an overflowing fountain of spiritual blessing. It is designed to furnish us with an abundant supply for our manifold wants…

It gives new ardour to our hopes. It looks back to the first, and forward to the second coming of the Lord. It points to future glory. It carries us forward to the inheritance—the kingdom, the crown, the restitution of all things, the rest that remianeth for the people of God, the bridal day, the marriage supper of the Lamb.

We sit here as at our eastern window to watch the first rays of coming day; to see star after star fading from the heavens as the dawn approaches, and the sun prepares to rise, “the sun of a morning without clouds,” bringing in the splendour of the everlasting day. We seem to hear the voice which sounded over the lonely rocks of Patmos in the ears of John, “He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.” And with him we eagerly echo back the joyful words, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

Horatius Bonar, Christ is All, p. 177, 180

Every time I take the Lord’s Supper it is a tangible reminder that I have a greater supper awaiting me. It is a physical promise that through this world of pain and trials there is a coming feast at which I will sit down at. Though the food is simply now, it will be glorious then!

Not to long ago my church, Immanuel, changed our practice or having the Lord’s Supper. We went from having it once a month to having it every Sunday. And it has been a wonderful change. Now, every week, I get a tangible reminder that the greatest feast of all is in my future. Every Sunday I am reminded that I will sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)

Paul knew the Savior he followed. In human eyes, there was nothing powerful about this Savior. He came to earth and let Himself be executed by the most humiliating way possible. According to human standards, Jesus is weak.

Yet, Paul knew the rest of the story. Divine power reversed the execution of the Beloved Son. The power of God broken the very reign of death which had been sentenced on humans. Christ arose from the dead by a power that was unstoppable yet unnoticed by the wisest men of this world.

And so with ministry,

When our ministry is identified with Christ in its purpose, authority, and methods we enter into the weakness of Christ. “we also are weak in him.” We are not powerful according to worldly standards.  Instead, there is a disarmament  of any human ability and strength. We are striped of any human power and prestige, as the one our ministry testifies too was striped of any dignity and prestige. A crucified ministry should show strength, power, prestige as much as a real crucifixion should.

Yet, when our ministry is at a lost of all human power because of it identity in our crucified savior another power comes into play. A power that ushered in the eschatological age by destroying the bonds of death itself. The power of the resurrected Savior.

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