Tag Archives: Bonhoeffer

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Why Gender Matters 5: Otherness Nurtures Family

Besides the obvious reasons why a man and a woman need each other to bring forth life, he and she together help the lives that they create become creative.

That takes effort: surmounting the fear that her difference from me is precisely what I most need to thrive. And trusting God that my gendered gift supplies something essential to her. We must foster that reliance upon each other so that otherness breeds more appreciation than annoyance. Or intimidation. Or judgment. I love Bonhoeffer words: ‘God created this person in His image, not mine.’ When I am tempted to forego her vantage point for mine, I recall those words and realize that I am setting myself over the Creator by denying the gift of her difference. Disagree with each other? Of course. Deny her gift? Perilous!

Lent helps here. One discipline we undertake together in this season is daily prayer and reflection on a devotional guide. I never cease to be amazed at her take on the material. It is a window to her soul that I can only discover if I look. And listen. Her splendid difference from me is precisely what engages and challenges and summons my best. She knows that her voice matters. That frees her to respect mine with the editing rights that her conscience demands. I return the favor.

At times such engaging reveals my worst. Before her I face what I do not want to express. In tough areas that I would rather leap over than submit, I must give an answer. And there I discover an ally. In the searchlight of the one I love most, I expose my own demons so that love can have its deepest way in me. My dark silence casts the longest shadow on her. So too does the light shine most brightly when we confess our faults in order to heal each other (James 5:16).

We gathered for a family birthday for Annette last week. My gratitude lies in how our kids look out for each other. I see this as a gift of how Annette has looked out for their best interests. Each of them said just that, in the particular ways she has served them. She gives generously, a mother par excellence. Might her security in the love we share stoke her freedom to offer herself?

Maybe. If so, then I consider my love for her—freely given, with all the fullness I can muster—the best offering of my life.

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November 14, 2014: Freedom for the Other, Part 1

‘Jesus and His apostles reclined at table and He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you”…’ (Lk 22:14, 15)

Jesus’ ‘eager desire’ to give Himself to us liberates our freedom to give ourselves to one another. We already glimpsed how His self-giving at Calvary releases the flood and food that render us good gifts. We then must give the gift! How else will the body of Christ become whole without our gift? We must eagerly desire to offer ourselves to persons who share our passion for Jesus.

Many of us who have experienced inordinate desire for others may struggle with such an eager desire for fellowship. We are tempted to interpret our yearning for fellow saints as lustful or prideful; we fear we may infect other members with impurities. We then restrain ourselves foolishly, misperceiving our isolation as wisdom.

Does not Christ dwell in you? Is He not magnified and glorified in our seeking His face together? In my efforts to overcome same-sex attraction, I have found that I must press into fellowship amid a mixture of motives, certain that the prevailing power of Jesus in me and in the Church will render me a good life-giving gift.

My fears and illusions burn off as I offer myself in His name and for His purposes in the fellowship. I find my yearning for community is satisfied as I seek to build up the Church. In this I am merely being faithful to the Bridegroom Jesus. The Bride is better off because of me.

And I because of her. Bonhoeffer writes joyfully of ‘body’ life: ‘The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. With great yearning, the imprisoned apostle Paul calls Timothy “his beloved son in the faith” and implores his coming in the last days of his life…The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were too fleshly. A human being is created as a body; the Son of God appeared on earth in the body for our sake and was raised in the body.’

We too gather in the one Body to become bodily gifts, one-to-another. What breaks the power of illusions about the other is our renewed awareness that we are mere icons of the Savior—imperfect mediators of His love. That frees us to give and receive gifts without getting caught in the trap of idolatry. We do that when we conform others to our needs rather than releasing them to the Creator.

We are all gifts, freely washed and fed by Jesus, freely given to build up the body. That frees us to welcome what others can give and to freely give only what we can. Jesus alone frees us from playing ‘savior’ or placing someone else in the role of saving us. He frees us to be like Him—a free gift that springs forth from His saving hand. In Christ, we help others realize the gift that they in truth are.    

‘Live in freedom, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.’ (1Pt 3:16)

  Please join us as we pray for:

  1. Ohio, Crispin & Annelyse DeBellis – Coordinators: For strength and vision for Cris & Annelyse, for existing groups and to see new groups established. Blessings on partnership with their church to establish more Living Waters groups throughout Ohio.
  2. Aguas Vivas: Cordoba, Argentina, Maria-Innes – Coordinator: For Lord’s guidance, strength  and protection as they their first Aguas Vivas (LW) group.   
  3. Harrisburg Diocese: Discernment for timing and team of new Living Waters group.

“Courage for Pope Francis, that he would ensure that the Church becomes a clear fountain of transformation for persons with same-sex attraction!”


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New Birth and Battle

New Birth and Battle

‘Now burn, new born to the world!’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins

I recall one December when two warring nations agreed to a cease-fire. In light of the Prince of Peace, they agreed to a temporary peace, only to resume the battle a day later.

Like you, I will awake on Dec. 26th to the sounds of air-raids and bombs dropping. I will not linger in misty dreams of an eternal cease-fire; I must face the battle.

I derive courage from Bonhoeffer who warned his ‘army’ opposing Hitler to not use Christmas as a fantasy island, a nostalgic defense against the threat of death. Rather, he implored them to welcome the Child-King into their depths, the Christ who descended there on Christmas to make them His freedom-fighters, faithful and true!

My church bears witness of this Christmas passion eloquently, upon the altar. Christ Crucified remains central, even at Advent. But from the Lamb a sash of royal purple descends and frames a small figure of Mary on the side. She is illuminated, open and humble, and one can see that the strand of purple that descends to her also ascends from her to the babe, her Son Crucified. In a flash, the symbolism helped me recognize the indivisible bond between the God who became flesh, and the flesh that was pierced.

Mary helps us here, as we can understand the whole of Christ’s human life through her eyes, from the crib to the cross. In her humanity, we can understand His: her marvel of the Babe, and the sword that pierced her soul at His piercing.

Christmas peace brings a sword. From the cradle to the tomb, He waged and won the war that we must still fight—the fight for all to know Mercy, and be reunited with their original dignity.

Deeply grateful this Christmas, I still grieve over the state of the wounded and deceived. I just read that one in five women in the United States has been sexually assaulted, that the Obama administration recently championed gay rights as fundamental human rights to all the nations of the earth at a UN Council (a secular view of human sexuality, at least), and that divorce is now so common among conservative Christians that ‘anti-divorce’ arguments have all but disappeared’ from our ranks.

We run the risk of losing our bite and our fight as Christians, choosing to dull the darkness rather than combat it with the radiance of Jesus.

This Christmas, let us welcome the Babe who composes us in order to rouse us. From the crib to the cross, He gave all. He won our hearts, that we might hold nothing back to win the world. May His peace prepare you for war.

Like Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein was executed in a Nazi death camp. She writes: ‘The way from Bethlehem leads inevitably to Golgotha, from the crib to the cross. When the blessed virgin brought the child to the temple, Simeon prophesied that her soul would be pierced by a sword, that this child was set for the rising and falling of many. His prophecy announced the passion, the fight between light and darkness that already showed itself at the crib.’

‘Now burn, new born to the world!’

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Holy Week of the Merciful Cross: Knowing Him More

On Palm Sunday, Lent becomes Holy Week—the seven days leading to the cross. Perhaps the parallel between Jesus’ 40-days in the desert and His commitment to crucifixion is becoming clear.

Jesus sanctified the desert for us. He made a way in our wilderness. Instead of a place of temptation unto despair, He transformed ‘the desert of loneliness into a garden of solitude’ (Leanne Payne). His reliance upon the Father there grants us grace to encounter Him in the harsh realities of our lives.

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert had another purpose–it helped prepare Him for Calvary. Enduring harsh circumstance and demonic temptation was a practice run for His ultimate desert: the bitter cup of abandonment unto death. Just as He made the ‘burning sand a pool’, so shall He transform the grave into the ground for new life.

As we followed Him into the desert, so shall we follow Him to His death. Our hope lies in mercy: the first fruit of Calvary. We already believe that He died and rose again in order to unite us to the Father’s unfailing love. Yet partaking of the benefits of the cross does not exempt us from the crosses He asks us to carry.

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Cheap versus Costly Grace

It would be wrong to assume that all if not most churches overreact to homosexuality as if it were a landmine, ready to explode. In truth, the churches most influential in our land today seem to have detonated the issue altogether. How? By avoiding it.

Rick Warren, arguably one if not the most powerful Christian leaders in the USA, was recently described in a Time magazine cover story as avoiding ‘sin issues’ like homosexuality for less controversial ones like poverty and AIDS in Africa.

Perhaps the strength of ‘seeker-sensitive’ churches is also its weakness. Gather people on the basis of what is inoffensive, and lay aside the topics that rouse and challenge the Christian consumer. Certainly homosexuality is one, especially if preaching a transformational view for individuals and a cautionary one for those in a culture intent on normalizing homosexuality.

But in the age of ‘gay marriage’, how much longer can churches cease to give a clear and redemptive answer to the question of homosexuality?

A muddled response permeates ‘emergent’ churches—a loose coalition of youthful post-modern believers. In their amazing book, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be: Moody, 2008)), Kluck and De Young expose the persistently ambiguous response of emergent thinkers to homosexuality.

For example, Brian McClaren all but mimics liberal Protestants of the seventies who initiated the still raging battles for same-sex blessings and gay ordination when he says about gay unions: “We are not sure if or where lines are to be drawn…” Another thinker in this arena, Tony Jones, mused: “The very nature of theology is conversation and dialogue, not safeguards and boundaries for historic orthodoxy…”

In the emergent world, an open-ended, ‘who knows?’ approach to those with same-sex attraction symbolize a new generation so committed to tolerance in sexual matters that they have nearly lost the capacity to know and apply biblical truth to them.

Is this not the wrong kind of tolerance for which Jesus judged the Church of Thyatira? Her sin was not out and out blessing of sexual immorality, but rather a tolerance of those in her midst who did, namely Jezebel, ‘who by her teaching misleads my servants into sexual immorality…” (Rev. 2:20). She incurred death upon herself and her children.

Perhaps ‘emergents’ are still reacting to the fundamentalism of their youth in which sex, especially homosexuality, seemed a scapegoat for smug hardliners. To be sure, we have much to repent of. But in our awakening, we read the paper, counsel our friends, look within and discover that the image of God is in shambles. We need help; our gender and sexual selves need fortifying and defense from good Christian theologians.

The gates protecting humanity have been burned in the fire of addiction and perversion. In that mess, none of us are innocents, or solely victims of heavy-handed religion. We are damaged and we do damage simply by being members of an idolatrous culture.

In that way, seeker sensitive, emergent churches are right in drawing people with kindness; they are wrong if they will not answer a culture so messed up it is unsure whether gays should marry.

Grace has meaning only to the degree that we know the truth—the truth that defines God’s intent and boundaries for our broken sexual humanity. We Christian consumers need to hear again the words of Bonhoeffer when he says:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and Incarnate…

We poured out rivers of grace without end, but the call to rigorously follow Christ was seldom heard. What happened to the church whose teaching watched so carefully over the boundary between the church and the world, over costly grace? What happened to Luther’s warnings against a proclamation of the Gospel which made people secure in their godless lives? Cheap grace was very unmerciful to our Protestant church…

Costly grace is the grace that must be sought again and again. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our life, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and it is grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son.”A Testament of Freedom

Honor Marriage for the Good of All. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“O God, forgive us for cheapening grace. Make it costly for us once more. May we Your church awaken to the damage done and dare to offend those who refuse the grace that calls them to arise out of the chaos.”

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