Back at work more full time these days, and this project is taking me 4 hours away from home Sunday night through Thursday. So I’m still trying to settle into the new routine, but it’s taking time away from reading and thinking…although I’ve started listening to all the good Christian authors I have on CD while I’m on the road, so maybe that time will spur some thought processes. 🙂

When I think of service to the church, or to God, I think of the jobs and evangelism opportunities that exist around the church. I had never considered this aspect of service to the church that Bonhoeffer brings up in Life Together:

Is the invisible presence of the Christian fellowhip a reality and a help to the individual? Do the intercessions of others carry him through the day? Is the Word of God close to him as a comfort and a strength? Or does he misuse his aloneness contrary to the fellowship, the Word, and the prayer? The individual must realize that his hours of aloneness react upon the community. In his solitude he can sunder and besmirch the fellowship, or he can strengthen and hallow it. Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship” (Bonhoeffer, 1954, pp. 88-89).

The more I consider and meditate on this paragraph, the more I see how it is true. If I live a more rebellious life outside the church, when I am with the body, that attitude will translate into how I interact with the members of the church. But if I’m walking in the Lord throughout the intervening days, when I’m with the body, I will be more attune to God and more able to say the right word someone needs, or have a more supportive mindset as I interact with them.

In todays world, we love to think our actions don’t affect those around us. But that really isn’t the case, is it? That’s the current lie of Satan.

— Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Yes I know, it’s hard to believe, but I am. How? Well, let’s take an accounting:

  1. I have lied,
  2. I have cheated,
  3. I have stolen,
  4. I have worshiped other gods (money, position, power, influence…yep, those were gods),
  5. I have not honored my father or my mother (thankfully they don’t own computers),
  6. I have taken the Lord’s name in vain,
  7. I have coveted,
  8. I have been proud…

Well, you get the idea. I am a sinner. I can say that I haven’t ever committed adultery…technically. I’ve never been married, so technically you can’t commit adultery without being married…right?

“28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).

DA$%! … Oops! Umm, be right back, I have to have a little conversation for a few…

One of the reasons I love my church is that they are primarily a group of truly accepting, loving, and forgiving people. Coming from churches where perfection was the order of the day, it’s like taking a deep breath up on a mountain top – exhilarating and freeing! It truly is when you begin to experience the grace of God. I think that was God’s design, that we experience more of His grace through his church rather than directly from Him. For if we experienced it from Him alone, we wouldn’t need the community of believers as much. And without that bonding of community, we wouldn’t be able to help each other with our struggles and trials. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums it up really well:

He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners! (Bonhoeffer, 1954, p. 110).

I know what he means when he says “left to their loneliness.” Trying to maintain a hidden world is so tiring and separates us from each other. You can’t let someone in so close as to see the *real* you, for they might not like you then. Talk about being lonely!

So, just to set the record straight…I am a sinner.

— Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1954). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

The New King James Version. 1982 (Mt 5:28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Something that can be hard for me to keep in mind when I struggle to get through each day is this idea from the book Life Together that I’ve been reading. The author is talking about the “fellowship of the table,” or the idea of community around a table while we share our food:

… the fellowship acknowledges that all earthly gifts are given to it only for Christ’s sake, as this whole world is sustained only for the sake of Jesus Christ, his Word, and his message. He is the true bread of life. He is not only the giver but the gift itself, for whose sake all earthly gifts exist. Only because the message concerning Jesus Chris must still go forth and find believers, and because our task is not yet perfected, does God in His patience continue to sustain us with His good gifts” (Bonhoeffer, 1954, p. 66).

How easy hard [oops] it is when we’re struggling just to make ends meet each day to remember that everything we have is a gift from God to use to get the message of Jesus out to everyone. Sometimes it’s too easy for me to think of what I have in terms of money, time, or food as mine. It’s not really mine though is it? It’s God’s money, time, or food, and my responsibility is to use it to tell others about Jesus and the eternal life He offer. Sometimes as I sit in a coffee shop and think about the $2 I just spent on a tea and wonder if that money could have been better spent buying some boxes of food to give to the poor. Or if when I’m too lazy or tired to cook food at home and I buy something on the way home, if that money could have been better spent feeding a few people for a few days. I have a friend who reminds me that by being in the coffee shop, I have had the opportunity to talk to others about Christ and to also make two good Christian friends that I would not have known otherwise. I don’t mean to beat myself or anyone else up over how they spend money, but it makes me wonder sometimes if I am spending it with this idea in mind.

I am reminded of this prayer that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:

24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

These three verses really blow me away when I think about what they really mean, at least to me. “… that the love with which You loved Me may be in them…” The idea that we have the same love in us with which God loved Jesus is just astonishing to me. I think this is the love that is trying to surface when we see someone in need and we stop our life in order to try and help them overcome their situation. Sometimes we allow it to surface for awhile, sometimes people are really attuned to it and are always helping someone, and sometimes we stifle it by being self-focused.

My goal, not only for this month of Thanksgiving, but also for the rest of my life, is to keep the concepts in this paragraph in mind:

The table of fellowship of Christians implies obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another not only in the Spirit but in our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our fellowship links us together in a firm covenant. Now none dares go hungry as long as another has bread, and he who breaks this fellowship of the physical life also breaks the fellowship of the Spirit. ‘Deal thy bread to the hungry’ (Isa. 58:7)” (Bonhoeffer, 1954, p. 68).

— Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

–The New King James Version. 1982 (Jn 17:24-26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

I started a new book by a man who led an interesting life. He escaped Germany just prior to World War II, and then felt a calling to return and help the Christians who were still there and suffering under Nazi Germany. He did go back, and ultimately died at their hands in April of 1945. Knowing that small bit of his history makes this paragraph take on a new meaning for me:

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?’ (Luther)” (Bonhoeffer, 1954, pp. 17-18).

This is one of the traits that drew me to the church that I have made my home, the outward focus of the church and its people. I was blessed recently to help out in providing a prom-like party one night for over 800 handicapped (MRDD) people around the city. To see those people who probably never had a prom that they went to when they were growing up, have a whole night dedicated for their happiness really touched me deeply. Over 1000 people volunteered that night, each guest had an escort, each guest was provided with a donated suit or dress so they would feel special, and all of us were dedicated to their happiness.

I know there is a “friction” in the big church/small church debate, but I think we should worry less about what size the church is and more about how we’re impacting our community. If you go to a large church, do the big promotions that are possible in that environment. If you’re in a small church, reach out on a person-to-person basis. But either way, volunteer and get out there. Do something for those in your community, show them the love of Jesus in a real and practical way.

— Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1954). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Just for a few laughs.

One of the thoughts bouncing around in my mind over the past couple of weeks is an offshoot of this post. I remember over the years people saying how blessed by God we are as a nation. We were (or are) a “land of plenty.” But let me throw something out that I’ve been thinking about.

Can we agree that our time on this earth is designed by God to grow us into Christian maturity? By Christian maturity I mean we realize that we are here to do God’s will, to follow Jesus’ teachings, to care for those around us, to keep us dependent on God – the only source of strength to accomplish what He wants, to grow in a deep personal relationship with Him, and to show God’s love to the unsaved. I think most of us would agree that these are the goals of life on this earth.

Now, picture in your mind life in this country (the U. S.), and life in China, as a Christian. Which do you think will accomplish the end results of being a mature Christian better, the life of plenty we have, or the struggle of being a Christian in China? It occurred to me that in reality, living in this country isn’t a blessing, if we have a Biblical worldview, and knowing we are supposed to grow in maturity with God. There are too many distractions and too much “busyness” around us that keeps us focused on the “things” of this world rather than on God. But life in China, where just surviving each day requires the intervention by God in numerous ways, is more likely to keep our minds where it belongs – on Him.

Maybe, this is why we are having a small “wake up call” in the financial markets. It could be God’s way of sounding an alarm that the things we look to for security around us – income, employment, home – are not what really will give us security and happiness. Or as Jesus said in Luke 12:34:

34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

That one hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it about a month ago. It made me start thinking, “What do I treasure more than God?”

— The New King James Version. 1982 (Lk 12:34). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.