Given my recent sermon, “Connecting Together,” on what it means to be the church, I wanted to share again some thoughts from one of my favorite thinkers on the church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book Life Together is, in my opinion, the best book written on the nature of true community in the church. Here are 5 must-read statements on the Church from Bonhoeffer:
- “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” [26-27]
- “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. 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.” 
- “Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” 
- “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, not discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” 
- “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men….Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.” [29-30]
[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together. A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]
One of the greatest challenges for any parent is trying to communicate with a child. With young children, there are times when you have to sit them down, make sure they have steady eye contact, and then slowly speak your points. After that, you may ask the question, “Do you understand what I am saying?” The parent can only hope the message has gotten through. (Of course, some children have the same concern with their parents!)
One of the ways we can hear from God is through the voice of another person. As we continue the ||40days|| journey through Lent with attention to listening for God, we look today at what it means to hear God in another person. Even as God speaks primarily through Scripture, what does it mean to hear from Him in another person. Let me suggest seven things to consider when evaluating whether a person is worth listening to as a representative of God, whether at a personal or corporate level:
- God speaks through people who love God’s words (2 Timothy 2:14-3:10). When Paul offers instruction to the young pastor, Timothy, he calls him to hold to the truth in contrast to those who lose focus through godless chatter and a departure from the truth.
- God speaks through people who bring His truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). What we hear from others is not God’s word if it is devoid of biblical truth or biblical love. If those elements are there, however, we do well to listen for God in another person’s words.
- God speaks through people who help us develop and grow (Proverbs 27:17). We read inRead More »
There are some people who mock the idea of a personal God, or a ‘Personal Jesus.’ There are some reasons why this is completely understandable. Particularly when we hear people say things like:
- “Jesus is my buddy”
- “Jesus is my homeboy”
- “Jesus is like my boyfriend”
Such statements convey the idea that God is in our back pocket, so that we can pull Him out at our whim and ask for whatever we want. It sounds like He is ready to meet whatever need we have in the moment. This conveys an over-familiarity with God that we should question.
At the same time, however, we must uphold the truth that God is personal. From His earliest interactions with Adam and Eve on through His conversations with Abraham, David, and the first disciples, we are brought face-to-face with the truth that the Scriptural God is a personal God. He relates to us individually and uniquely.
Some may ask: “how could an eternal and almighty God know each one of us personally and uniquely?”Read More »
[I wrote this article for Relevant Magazine’s online edition a few years back. It is no longer available online, so I am re-posting it here.]
I have a friend who is in the midst of a separation from his wife. He’s hurting. We were talking in another friend’s kitchen tonight about all that is going on in his life.
There are the practical things about the separation: phone calls with lawyers, figuring out the timing of who has the kids at what time, and looking for a temporary place to live.
Then, there are the relationships with others around them. How do you re-approach your own parents and in-laws in this sort of situation? What happens with the relationships in a small group when both people are involved in it? They are trying to figure out who their support network is, when everything is so intertwined.
At the core is their relationship with one another. Do they want to work this out or not? What if they don’t even agree about that? What if he’s blown it too many times? What if she’s hardened toward him? What happens when the pain traces back through years and multiple events? Did they get married too young? What about the kids? Is there still hope?
All through the conversation, he kept breaking down in sobs of tears. It’s not too often that three grown men stand around in a kitchen drinking coffee and commiserating with tears and hugs. His shoulders shake. His face scrunches up in anguish. His lips quiver. The end of his nose is pinky-red and moist. He’s a mess. And the outside is nothing compared to all that is within.
I try to listen. I really care. What would I do in his place? What if Kelly and I were there? My God, are we headed there? What would keep us from the same spot in two more years?
My friend is broken? It’s sad and difficult to see. I never enjoy seeing someone in this state. It’s not pretty or neat. It’s not controllable. It’s not one of those places any of us ever imagines ourselves in when we’re asked to think about who we’d like to be or what we’d like to be doing in five or ten years.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” we’re asked. Would we ever answer, “Ruined”?
I hate being weak. For me, the only thing worse than seeing another person being broken is to be broken myself. I like to portray the image that all is well at all times and in all ways.
“How are you, Matt?” someone might ask.
“Fine,” I casually offer in response.
“Fine?” they ask quizzically.
“Really, good,” I elaborate mildly.
“Good?” they query me again.
“I am doing quite well,” I firmly conclude.
It really doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life at all. The portrayal tends toward automatic similarity.
I hate being weak. But the awful truth is that I hate being weak before others more than being weak itself. Even if I feel shattered, God forbid that I should have to talk with someone else about it. “We just don’t do that!” reverberates in my head for some reason. “It’s not our way. We are above that.”
Somewhere along the way I learned this avoidance of any appearance of weakness. “All is well. All matter of things is well. And even if they’re not, you’d better not tell.”
So, I stand in the kitchen with my broken friend: nose dripping, eyes watery, hands wringing, not knowing what to do, where to go, how to do anything. In his anguish, he’s trying to run to Jesus daily and be held there.
I keep thinking of the words of a psalm:
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:18).
Perhaps my friend is in the best place he could possibly be right now with God, himself, his marriage, his kids, and everything else.
Broken and weak.
Learning the right sacrifices of God.