Category Archives: Meditations

The Cost of Discipleship: Thoughts on the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived a life of sacrificial significance.  I won’t bother here to attempt a story of his life, but I will note some things that stood out to me as I have been studying his life and works lately.  These areas were a challenge to me because I fall quite short in these areas on a daily basis:

Personal Communion with God: Bonhoeffer’s relationship with God was one of intimate fellowship.  This glows in his writings.  When the German pastor speaks of fellowship with God it is not a sort of academic exercise or a list of attributes set out by a scholar.  This is fascinating to me as I consider that Bonhoeffer achieved his doctorate at age 21.  He was a scholar, but he did not allow his Christian faith to become a mere intellectual assent.  I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the Psalms and how to pray them.  He especially pointed out the help of lifting a Psalm to God every morning.  To Bonhoeffer, this directed his day and made the most mundane moment a joyful reunion with he Father.  It really is no wonder that his fellow prisoners wrote of him, after he was killed by the Nazi regime, that he was one of the few Christians who really lived what they said they believed.  How would it change my life if I pursued a similar fellowship with my Father?  What would I need to give up?  What would I gain?

Personal Sacrifice for the Kingdom: On the month that Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer preached on national radio regarding the problem of seeking out an idol to solve the needs of the German people.  He was active prior to the war and during the war in ensuring that individuals physical and spiritual needs were met.  In life and in death, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a model of personal sacrifice.  He gave up an appointment in the Nazi-approved church for a life on the edge as an outspoken opponent of the Nazi takeover of the German churches.  He gave up his ability to stay in the United States during the war in order to serve the need of the German people.  He knew the danger this posed, but returned to his people.  Even after his imprisonment he constantly looked to the needs of his captors and fellow prisoners above his own.  How would my life be different if I focused on serving God and others to this radical degree?  Do I stand up for what I know is right or do I cave when the pressure builds?  Do I run from danger or do I stand my ground?  Am I radically committed to the suffering that is necessary in the life of a disciple of Christ or do I fear the commitment of taking up a cross and following Him?

Personal Focus on the Gospel: One major theme glows throughout Bonhoeffer’s writings – the cross-work of Jesus Christ.  Bonhoeffer was a man who lived daily in the recognition of his need of the redemption that Christ alone provides.  He realized the need of his heart and the guilt of his sin.  When writing of praying Psalms that speak to the guilt of the writer, Bonhoeffer wrote, “here it is clear that the believing Christian certainly has to say not only something about his guilt but also something equally important about his innocence and his justification.  It is characteristic of the faith of the Christian that through God’s grace and the merit of Jesus Christ he has become entirely justified and guiltless in God’s eyes, so that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  And it is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God’s word and thanking [God] for it.”  If I lived in a daily recognition of the depth of my sin and the height of Christ’s righteousness provided to me in the Gospel, how would I then live?  Would I not live with a greater love for God, thankfulness for His gift, and passionate desire to live for Him?  O that I might have a crisp focus on the Gospel this week that it may shape my life like that of Pastor Bonhoeffer.

Spiritual Eyes: Meditation on “Be Thou My Vision”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this song lately and I wanted to share a personal testimony from the song that we often sing without thought or consideration.  I will quote the song in poetry and then paraphrase the meaning below each stanza.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Master of my inner-most being, let my spiritual eyes be focused clearly on You.
Do not let anything else mean anything to me except You.
I want You to be that which thrills my mind all day and all night.
When I rise and when I sleep, let Your presence, like the sun, light my path.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Lord, You are my wisdom and my living Word
I will live with You forever and you will be with me too.
You are my father and I am Your son.
You live in me and I live in You.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
I will not pay attention to money or acclaim
You mean more to me than anything money can buy.
You and You alone have first place in my heart.
You are my King and my Treasure.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys,
O bright Heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
 
As the King of Heaven, You have won the war for me.
On this basis I will see Heaven and the Son that lights it.
Because I desire You with the deepest part of my being, no matter what happens,
let my spiritual eyes be focused clearly on You, the King of my life.

Blind Spots

What Sounds Smart Today May Look Stupid Tomorrow

This morning my pastor quoted Matthew Henry’s commentary on James 2:1-4, where the great Christian writer stated as follows:

But we must be careful not to apply what is here said to the common assemblies for worship; for in these certainly there may be appointed different places of persons according to their rank and circumstances, without sin.

Interestingly enough, the passage is speaking to exactly that same issue, but Henry is blinded by the culture of his day and perceives the established tradition to be acceptable.  Its easy to throw stones at Matthew Henry, but I realized that I need to take a moment to look at myself.  If a guy like Matthew Henry can study his Bible and invest his life in Christian service and still miss the mark in his life, I’m certain I’ve got some blind spots that I need to be on the lookout for.  This morning I took a few minutes to think of some ways to identify blind spots in my life.

  1. Pray for wisdom from God to recognize where I’m not living as I should.
  2. Listen to the Word of God and apply its light to all traditions, practices, and applications.  Nothing is off limits.
  3. Listen to critiques of Christianity by unbelievers.
  4. Listen to critiques of my Christian subculture by those who are not part of it.
  5. Listen to critiques of individual of other generations.
  6. Seek insight from Christian brothers I rub shoulders with.
  7. Repeat.
If you have any more ideas, please feel free to share!

Why Does Food Taste Good?

Thoughts on the Digestive Process

 

I’ve been trying to loose weight lately.  It’s not easy.  When I got married 3 years ago, I weighed around 180ish.  I recently weighed in at 225.  The first time I really caught on was when I reported to my wife that she must have scratched me in the night.  She just smiled and said, “Honey, those are stretch marks.”  I figured it was getting out of hand when I couldn’t tie my shoes without getting out of breath.  What now?  A life of eating junk food and fast food was over.  My life as I knew it had ended.  But then I smiled…I actually like salad.  And I even like the healthy dressings (balsamic vinaigrette and Italian); however, my wife informed me that if I put the usual quarter-cup on my salad that I might as well eat a cheeseburger.  Bummer.

Ok, so I’m actually going somewhere here.  In my slight abstinence I have come to realize something deep.  I hope you have your proverbial seatbelt on, because this will jar your mind.  Ready???  Here it goes…food tastes good.  So maybe that’s not really so earthshattering.  But, maybe it is.  Just think.  Our digestive process only needs to be mastication, digestion, absorption, and excretion.  Nobody ever said it had to taste good!  How did a sense of taste evolve?  If the eating process was only designed to sustain life and nothing more, then why did we evolve the ability to enjoy the process?  Or, to put it in the negative, why did we evolve the ability to dislike certain foods that are necessary for sustaining life?  It really makes no sense outside of Creation.  God has built within His creation the ability to feel pleasure and pain, joy and sadness.  In its most elevated form, these expressions are uniquely enjoyed by humans.  Why does a warm sunshine make me feel happy?  Why does the song on the radio lift my spirit?  Why is sex fun?  Why do I enjoy it when my team wins?

God created me to enjoy things.  God created me so that I can be happy.  But if He created me to be happy, is it not necessary that I must be able to experience sorrow and sadness, guilt and despair?  Although these were not what He intended for me, it was necessary that I be able to experience those feelings if I were to experience pleasure.  There can be not positive without a negative.  God made me to find happiness, but so often I find myself in seasons of suffering and sadness.  What happened?  Interestingly enough, there is this little story in the beginning of the Bible that tells why.  God made man and woman perfect and happy.  They thought something else would make them happy so they rebelled against God.  They plunged the rest of humanity into a rebellion against God.  Now all of humanity struggles to find happiness apart from God.  Every time we taste the deliciousness of a well-crafted pizza or savor the beautiful tones of a popular song, we testify that we were created for something more.  We were created to be happy, but this happiness only comes from our Creator.

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find their rest in you;
so lead us by your Spirit
that in this life we may live to your glory
and in the life to come enjoy you for ever;

through Jesus Christ our Lord
who is alive with with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
Amen.

– Saint Augustine

Driven by Hope: Letters to God

 Thoughts on faith, life, and suffering

Two thoughts stood out to me as I watched the movie: (1) Simple yet deep faith gives strength for suffering.  (2) A life lived in light of eternity will never be regretted.

Entering the kingdom as a child takes on a whole new meaning after watching this little movie (based on the true story of Tyler Doherty).  Tyler draws strength for his fight with cancer from his relationship with God.  Every day he communicates with God by writing letters.  Such a simple faith ends up transforming his struggle with the disease and the lives around him.  The movie ends with a number of examples of others who have, in faith, committed their sickness to God and found hope and strength for the battle ahead.  Though some may object that Christian faith is merely a crutch for the weak-minded, I would object that everyone has a crutch because we’re all broken and need help.  The real question is which crutch is stronger.  Tyler’s testimony is a witness not merely to the strength of his faith, but the strength of his God to bring him through the trial.

Life is too short.  Tyler lived in this reality and allowed it to shape the way he treated others and the seriousness with which he pursued a relationship with God.  All of our lives are like puffs of smoke on the horizon.  We have only a fleeting chance to live a life that matters here on earth.  If we knew that this week would be our last, how would it change our priorities?  I am praying that God would allow me to have spiritual eyesight to see what really matters on this earth.

Only in the Gospel

In the most ancient of civilizations we find a very basic principle.  We read in the African continent of the divinity of the Pharaohs and in the Americas, the worship of the Mayan rulers.  Not far removed we find the imperial cult of the Romans in Europe and the emperor worship of the Japanese in Asia.  From the elevation of Buddha, to the feats of Hercules, to the superiority of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, man has sought one goal – to become a god.

In some sense this could be seen as a unifying theme of the religious tradition of the entire world.  The ultimate desire of the world religions could be simply seen as a process of attempting to make men into gods.  Indeed, in the Bible, we find that the first sin was committed in order that man could be like God and that the first perversion of religion was found in the attempt to reach a tower to heaven.  “If only we can reach heaven,” they imagined, “we can take our rightful place again.”  Every civilization has taught different methods of becoming a god, but they all hold to the same basic thesis.

No doubt, the same essential thought prevails today.  Nietzsche well captured the view of his burgeoning modernistic society by teaching that man could become god only by overcoming the inhibitions of society and religion.  Post-modern philosophy takes this principle a step further.  The post-modern worldview holds that all men are equal gods.  We all deserve to be “supermen.”  What each man speaks is absolute truth to him.  The cardinal sin is to offend the esteem and worship due to the deity who lives across the picket fence.  Man controls his own fate.  Man makes or destroys his own universe.  All men have become gods.

In the face of these paradigms, the Christian religion stands with pure exception.  Only in Christianity do we find the opposite!  Man cannot become a god.  In fact, man cannot even become good.  Man is hopeless because of his sin.  In spite of all God’s actions, man only demonstrates his inability to even begin to make things right with God.  Oh what a helpless state man is in!  But here comes the greatest paradox in the religious traditions of the world.  There is no man that becomes god to lead others to godhood, rather God all God, robed in glorious splendor, transcendent, majestic, and clothed in light, becomes man!

And why would such a God reveal Himself in such a manner?  Was it to bring judgment on the rebellious men whom He had created?  Was it to mock and to scorn those who could not attain divinity?  No, God became man so that He Himself might bear man’s judgment, mockery, and scorn so that He might reconcile man to God.

Only in the Gospel do we find such a radical philosophy, namely that man cannot become a god, but that God became a man to bring all men to God!

A Meditation on the Gospel

from Galatians 3

My life was filled with sin and guilt,
I wanted to be free.
Look now I see Him crucified—
Cursed on the tree for me!

By His grace, Christ took my sin,
And by His grace I now have peace.
By His grace each day I win,
And by His grace I’ll be complete.

The Gospel preached to Abraham,
Is free for everyone:
The just will live by faith in Christ,
Bought by God’s grace alone!

By His grace, Christ took my sin,
And by His grace I now have peace.
By His grace each day I win,
And by His grace I’ll be complete.

But now to follow Christ my Lord,
Through flesh the laws I’ve done.
But how did I receive the gift?
By faith in grace alone!

By His grace, Christ took my sin,
And by His grace I now have peace.
By His grace each day I win,
And by His grace I’ll be complete.