Listen . . . Prepare . . . Wait

This coming weekend begins the season of Advent. Advent is a preparatory season of four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a chance for us to wait in anticipation for the coming of Christ, both as a baby at Christmas and as the victorious king at His second coming. The term ‘advent’ derives from the Latin word adventus, which means arrival.

As a child, my family took the season of Advent seriously. Each evening, we would gather around an advent wreath to sing songs and read a brief devotional about preparation. Although I was more excited about lighting or snuffing the candles than the substance of the time, the way we stepped outside of our normal hurried lives to focus on Jesus’ coming made an impact on me.

This weekend, our family worked on decorating for Christmas. It’s always interesting to unpack the boxes of decorations and supplies that you only see once a year. “I forgot about this one!”, one of our kids said as they held a memorable ornament in their hands. Another of our boys laughed at a particularly interesting crèche set we have from another country. The anticipation is growing.Read More »

Bonhoeffer on Praying the Psalms

dietrich-bonhoefferIt’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of Discipleship and Life Together. I encountered his writing very early in my faith and while in high school picked up a slim book by him, The Prayerbook of the Bible, I found while browsing a Christian bookstore. That book transformed my reading and praying of the Psalms. As we make our way through the Psalms of Ascent, I wanted to share a few of Bonhoeffer’s introductory remarks on the psalms and prayer.

Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ….

If we want to pray with assurance and joy, then the word of Holy Scripture must be the firm foundation of our prayer. Here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words that come from God will be the steps on which we find our way to God.

Now there is in the Holy Scriptures one book that differs from all other books of the Bible in that it contains only prayers. That book is the Psalms. At first it is something very astonishing that there is a prayerbook in the Bible. The Holy Scriptures are, to be sure, God’s Word to us. But prayers are human words….

In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes God’s Word. When we pray along with the prayer of Christ, God’s Word becomes again a human word. Thus all prayers of the Bible are such prayer, which we pray together with Jesus Christ, prayers in which Christ includes us, and through which Christ brings us before the face of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ….

The Psalms have been given to us precisely so that we can learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ….

Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.

[Quotations from “Introduction” of The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5, pages 155-162.]

Faith and Grace

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a weekend focused on two major Reformation themes: “Faith and Grace.”

The first part of the message focused on historical background and context of the Reformation. I eventually took us into an exploration of three Scripture passages central to Reformation thinking on faith and grace: Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:21-24; and Ephesians 2:8-10.

Even as I would identify myself within Protestant Christianity, I wrestle with purely celebrating the Reformation. Because of that, I took a moment to recognize two cautions of the Reformation: division and hero worship.

You can watch the message via Eastbrook’s Vimeo channel below and follow along with the sermon outline. You can also access the message at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

 

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The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

woman-in-shadowA friend shared this creative rewriting of the Apostles’ Creed from an immigrant perspective with me this week. Apparently it was originally written by Rev. Jose Luis Casal, the Director of Presbyterian World Mission and an immigrant to the USA from Cuba. It is thought-provoking.

I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home, who fled
his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.

I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.

What is our picture of Jesus?

We must examine the picture of Jesus that we have in our minds.

Many times, we have a sentimentalized picture of Jesus. It is a hallmark picture of Jesus that is not reflective of the Jesus of the Gospels. We idealize and romanticize the person and work of Jesus to the point where He is no longer connected with the real world in which we live.

Jesus is the eternal Son of God, but He was also the incarnate Messiah of God. He was a middle-eastern man who did not have a place to lay His head. He walked dusty roads. He ate, He grew tired, and He slept. He spent time with people, both the socially important and the socially unimportant. He loved parties and He loved upsetting peoples’ expectations.

And Jesus loved children. Not just sentimentalized children at their best, but everyday children at their worst and in the worst positions possible.

Jesus went to the blank spaces and invites His people to enter into the blank spaces of children with Him.

God does not need to call us to the comfortable spaces because we naturally go there. God does not need to call us into peace because that is the natural desire of every human heart. But God calls us into the uncomfortable, distressed blank spaces because His love cannot hold back.

I love the words of South African missiologist David Bosch: “Mission has its origin in the heart of God. God is a fountain of sending love. This is the deepest source of mission. It is impossible to penetrate deeper still; there is mission because God loves people.”[1]

So, because of God’s love, we are called into love.

Because God goes, we too must go.

Because God enters into blank spaces, so we too must enter into blank spaces.

[For more on this theme, access my message “God of the Little Ones.”]

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[1] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 392.