Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

August 31, 2004

Book Report

For the last couple of days I’ve been in a very unusual condition: I’ve been between books. That’s right. Usually I’m reading two or more books at once, and so there’s almost never a time when I’m not in the middle of at least one of them. But over the weekend, having finished the inspiring Life Together and the excellent historical narrative, Paul Revere’s Ride, I found myself without a book to read. That’s a dreadful condition that requires immediate remedy, so I did what I had to do: I went to my friendly nearby public library.

Well, now I’ve got three books to read!

Having just read two excellent books on the American Revolution, I opted for another in the same vein: Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis.

The library doesn’t have much in terms of current Christian writing, but I did find something that looks quite right for me to be reading just now: Authentic Faith, by Gary L. Thomas. You can be sure I’ll be sharing its nuggets of truth with you in the coming weeks.

Finally, I needed a novel. Earlier this year I’d read the Tolkein trilogy, and then the C. S. Lewis space trilogy, both of which were just extraordinary, so I wanted to continue with something along those lines. So: Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer. What an ominous title–but Wolfe is highly regarded and also a Christian (although his books are not marketed as such), so I thought I’d give him a chance.

So there you have it. My current reading. Ah, three books at once. That’s more like it!

August 30, 2004

Getting Acquainted with Some Fresh New Blogs

Lately I've added a few new blogs to my "A Few Blogs" list at right. I like to give that list a stir every now and then. Occasionally dropping a blog (usually because of infrequency of posting, but sometimes because the blogger used the adjective "post-modern" once too often for my taste--the frequent use of the word "emerging" doesn't win my allegiance, either), now and then adding a few that seem like they might be worth a return visit.

So--drumroll, please--here are a few newcomers to the list:

CowPi Journal--the blogger is a Catholic and math teacher, two things I have trouble relating too. Cowpi Journal helps. He begins each post with a really interesting quotation. Today's quote is here.

King's Meadow--blogger George Grant is a professor and a prolific author. No permalinks--just go check it out!

In a Mirror, Dimly--I'm just getting to know this one. He's been blogging lately on home groups. Like it so far!

Not Perfection. I'm breaking one of my rules by including this blog--since it tends to feature a lot about the current election here in America. But hey, rules are made to be broken, right? This post is a good recent example.

Sand in the Gears--this is another that I've really only glanced at once or twice, but have a good feeling about. There I go listening to my FEELINGS again! Click here for an amusing little post.

A View of the Stars--another thoughtful blogger who struggles to keep his priorities in order, as this post demonstrates.

All these bloggers are well worth a look. Good readin'!

Confession: Breakthrough to New Life

Two more posts concerning the Bonhoeffer book. The third of the four “breakthroughs” that Bonhoeffer connects with the act of confession is the breakthrough to new life. You begin to see, don’t you, that confession is tied up with the very dynamic of salvation. There is the dying to self, then the rising to new life. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great man, wrote somewhere of the “withering” ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is very important to get a handle on. We must sink before we rise, go to the lowest place at the table before we can be called to the place of honor.

Last night I watched Jack Hayford on TV. Hayford said, you can’t go far wrong if you remember always that you’re a sinner saved by grace. And confession is the real concrete action we take that is the natural outgrowth of that reality. It is, indeed, the very provision of God through his Body for such sinners. To hear the encouraging word of forgiveness from a brother or sister is to hear the very heart of Jesus spoken through one who, as a Christian, has been given the ministry of reconciliation. Where else is that ministry carried out but in the authoritative declaration of the forgiveness of God for a specific sinner burdened by his very specific sins.

Bonhoeffer says, “Confession is conversion.” Is that too hard for us, who are so used to speaking of conversion as something that happened to us in the past? But salvation is a continuing reality, an ongoing journey. Conversion, the turning from sin and to God, is re-lived again in the act of confession. “In confession the Christian begins to forsake his sins. Their dominion is broken.”

That has been my experience. As long as I have struggled in private with my sin I have continued to slave away under its power. But when I have brought it into the light, I seem to receive new authority over it. Confession, Bonhoeffer says, is the renewal of the joy of baptism. We are born again.

August 28, 2004

Confession: Breakthrough to the Cross

This is an artist's depiction of the humiliation of Jesus . . . on a Catholic church near my home. Posted by Hello


The root of sin is pride. The inclination or thought pattern that underlies pride is, as Bonhoeffer says, “I want to be my own law, I have a right to my self, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death.” This is the inclination that lay within Adam and Eve, and that was stirred up by the serpent. “You can be as gods.”

But confession is the breakthrough to the Cross because it is the willing acceptance of, in a word, humiliation. Now, this is a very hard word for some people. After all, no one likes to be humiliated. To be, instead of “as gods,” as nothing. To make no claim, have no defense. To confess one’s sin openly to a brother or sister in the Lord is to say, without excuses, here am I, and here are my sins. This runs against every inclination of the flesh. Bonhoeffer says, “In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother.”

And yet, because it is so hard, because every inclination of the flesh works to deny us this blessing, we scheme like mad to avoid it if we can. If we cannot hide (perhaps by serving more at church, or some other means of publicly demonstrating our piety), we rationalize. My sin is no worse than that of other men, we tell ourselves. Not so bad as many, in fact. Thus we have create for ourselves the category of the better sinner, for who need never feel humbled by his sin, let alone "humilated.".

But Christ was not ashamed to suffer publicly the humiliation of the Cross. Bonhoeffer says: “It is nothing else but our fellowship with Jesus Christ that leads us to the ignominious dying that comes in confession, in order that we may in truth share in his cross. The Cross of Jesus Christ destroys all pride.”

According to Bonhoeffer, in confession we find our Christ-likeness. Not that Christ was sinful and needed to confess, but that we accept the judgment of God for sin. And is this not the burden that, though it seems so heavy, turns out to be light?

Bonhoeffer says, “The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him.” Now, through the word of forgiveness, spoken through a brother, we rise from death. Now, having shared in his death, we share in his resurrection. This is all that Paul really desired. This is the death to self, and living to God.

Next up: Confession is the breakthrough to new life.

August 26, 2004

Confession: Breakthrough to Community

Back again. I'm so glad that this series of Bonhoeffer posts seems to have prompted a few people to read Life Together. It's interesting to note that Bonhoeffer was in New York when he was asked to lead the underground confessing church in Nazi Germany. All he had to save his life was to say no. Saying yes, on the other hand, was quite likely tantamount to martyrdom. Yet Bonhoeffer did say yes, because--not knowing how long the Nazi Regime was going to hold sway over Germany--he knew that the discipling of the next generation was all-important if the church was to go on. That's why he wrote Life Together, and that's why this book, despite its brevity, has a seriousness and a depth of perspective that is quite moving.

In my last post I mentioned the four "breakthroughs" that are connected with the act of confession among believers. The first of these was "Breakthrough to Community."

As Bonhoeffer says, "Sin demands to have a man by himself." Sin separates us from each other. Just the way it broke the unity in the relationship between Adam and Eve, just the way it separated both of them from their Father, so that as He walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, they hid in the bushes, hastily applying their figleaf disguises, so it separates Christian from Christian.

Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness it poisons the whole being of a person.

And since we all sin, since we all fall short of the glory of God (how's that for understatement?), we all face this sin-effect. Have you ever read C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. In the beginning of that book, all the people are living in a place called Gray Town. There's constant bickering and mistrust, and so people are always trying to move to the outskirts, further from their neighbors. People are driven, it seems, to separate themselves from one another. Ultimately, this separation, as Lewis envisions it, becomes Hell itself.

But for the community of believers there is an alternative. It involves, instead of drawing away from one another, coming near through the act of confession.
In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107:16).

We spend much of our mental energies simply trying to justify what we've done. In confession this last and most formidable stronghold is breached--self-justification comes to an end. Now the sinner "stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ."

This is no matter, you see, of the morally deficient approaching their moral superiors and begging forgiveness. This is the essense of fellowship among sinners. Pretending is laid aside. One sinner is willing at last to bring his sin into the light, to confess it, and another sinner is willing to be the vessel of God's spoken word of forgiveness and restoration through the blood of Jesus. And the power of sin is dealt a severe blow.

Everyone agrees that Christians need to forgive. But confession is the flip side of that coin. Don't expect to take the "high seat" of the merciful judge to whom all come for fogiveness, but never the low place of the guilty sinner seeking mercy.

Here's a personal note: I went for a walk with a friend of mine. I told him all about what I'd been reading concerning confession. I had a feeling it was something he needed to hear. So we sat on lawn chairs in a park by the harbor and he began to confess some things to me. Hard things. Things that have been weighing on him. And I proceeded to pronounce the forgiveness of God for him personally. Then the roles were reversed. I confessed, and he absolved. And all I can tell you is that since then it seems that, yes, the power of that sin I'd confessed seems to have been broken. The forgiveness of sinners was won for us on the Cross, but it must be walked out in relationships. Must be lived. Must be received again and again, even as we sin again and again.

August 23, 2004

Back to Bonhoeffer

As my regular readers know, I’ve been meandering verbally around the issue of relationships among Christian believers. I blogged in several places on Kingdom communication, and here, here, and here on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. For a quick introduction to the life of Bonhoeffer himself, see this post. All of these jottings have in common a desire to visualize redeemed relationships. And when we do that, as I’ve tried to say in a variety of ways, we’re really visualizing in our oh-so-imperfect manner the eternal things of God. Didn’t Paul admonish us, after all, to set our minds on things that are above. Relationships of absolute purity, transparency, honesty, and authenticity will be the very bounty of heaven, and it is our duty–no, it is our privilege as a people in whom the Spirit of God truly dwells, to reach bravely for these things even here in the wild and wooly scrum of daily living.

Now, if you’ve been following me so far, or if you’ve read Bonhoeffer yourself, you know that Dietrich doesn’t play games. There is a passion and a seriousness about his writing that reminds me of the Apostle Paul himself. Like Paul, Bonhoeffer is deeply concerned for the state of his reader’s soul. Through these pages he is calling every reader to a kind of discipleship that is intensely and unremittingly authentic. And it is Bonhoeffer’s burden to remind us that this authentic discipleship is lived out in relationships or it is probably not “lived out” out at all. And one of the ways it is lived out is in the act of confession.

In summary, he makes four fundamental points. He says that in confession the believer:

  • breaks through to community.

  • breaks through to the Cross.

  • breaks through to new life.

  • breaks through to certainty.

  • What I hope to do in the next few posts is to reach a deeper understanding of the significance of confession for the Christian. Bonhoeffer calls it a great mercy. James, the brother of Jesus, says quite plainly that, since our sins will be forgiven, we should confess them to one another. (5:15-16) Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

    He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship and service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur, because, though they may 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. 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.

    I suppose that’s enough for one post. Next time: Confession as Breakthrough to Community.

    A Tree Moment

    Without really meaning to I’ve neglected the blog for a couple of days. That’s okay though. I never said I was another Tim Challies, who has honored his early pledge to not let a single day go by without a post. He the man!

    This morning I’m just stopping by to let the Fab Four or Five (that’s what I call my loyal readers) know that all is well. I don’t have a lot of time this morning to do anything but show you my favorite tree, which lives in a park across the street from the post office in Portland, Maine.

    Isn't she a beauty? Posted by Hello

    Meanwhile, I have not exhausted all I have to say about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, so in my next post or two I hope to return to that theme. Specifically, to the subject of confession as a crucial and wonderful aspect of body-fellowship. I hope and pray that the Fab Four or Five will be truly blessed.

    August 20, 2004

    A Summer Locust, and a Recollection

    Whenever I hear the high-pitched whining-buzzsaw of the locust--in Maine, that's always an August sound--it seems to connect me up with similar warm summer days in my childhood. For a moment, only for a moment, I am almost fooled. For a moment I almost believe -- almost -- that I'm a little boy again.

    We lived in a double-block on Spencer Street, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. There was just a narrow walkway between our house and that of our neighbor. Your shoulder rubbed against the scratchy faux-brick shingles as you walked along. The back yard was a little space of flat stones.

    Once, for reasons I no longer recall, I ran away from home. I told my mother I would, and she said, Go ahead then. See if I care.

    So I walked up the big hill (paved with yellow bricks, if you can believe that) to Union Street. Traffic raced by, and no one seemed to notice me. I was afraid to cross, so I turned left and simply walked around the block. It seemed a very long way, and I was very far from home. I was both frightened and proud. In the end, coming back to the house seemed only natural. I had really run away, and now I was coming home.

    My mother was watching for me. She said, Back so soon?

    I said, hoping to impress her, I ran away. I went all the way around the block.

    My mother said, Well that's a long way. That's quite an adventure.


    What brought all these scraps of memory back to me? A locust. A locust in the maple tree. Funny how a sound--or a taste, an odor, a color--can bring in its wake a distant, shimmering world.

    August 19, 2004

    What ever happened to Bruce Caruso?

    Pay no attention to the great gaping ape in the picture below. I am going to write just as many words as I have to this morning in order to move that fellow down the page, so that he’s not the first thing you see at Mr. Standfast.


    Who do you wonder about when you wonder, “What ever happened to . . .”

    I wonder about Bruce Caruso.

    Bruce was a friend of mine in high school. Not a bosom buddy, not a guy I hung out with all the time, but for a brief while a member of our little click. He lived in the little town of Larksville, Pennsylvania. Let me tell you about Bruce Caruso.

    Bruce was a fat, exuberant kid with the longest hair in school. It was sleek and black and down to his belt. His favorite band was Black Sabbath, and Ozzie Osbourne was, in his opinion, the guitar-god. This was 1973, mind you. Back when Ozzie was Iron Man. Bruce used to call me on the phone, every night. He had a phone in his bedroom, rare in those days, and he’d be playing Black Sabbath on his 8-track with the volume turned all the way up, so sometimes I couldn’t even hear Bruce because of Ozzie.

    Yes, most of our relationship was on the phone. He’d say, “Bob, you gotta hear this song,” and he’d lay the telephone receiver in front of the speakers. So I’d be subjected to Black Sabbath, whom I detested (I was more of a Crosby, Stills & Nash sort of guy), and Bruce would simply walk away, completely forgetting about me. After a while I’d hang up in frustration, but in those days hanging up the phone would not necessarily break the connection. A half-hour later my mother would pick up the phone to make a call and be greeted with Ozzie’s, “I AM IRON MAN!!!” I can well-remember her none-too-polite response!

    Bruce’s father owned the Ace Moving and Storage Company. His house was chock-full of gaudy furniture and lamps, etc., that had been "left behind" by people using his moving and storage services. At least once a week he would fly into a rage and throw Bruce out of the house. “Pack your rags and get out!” was his standard way of putting it. Bruce would laugh about this. He never seemed disturbed by his father’s anger. He seemed to know it was only for a moment, an episode, and would soon pass.

    At one point Bruce’s dad decided he was going to build and in-ground swimming pool next to the house. So he hired the back-hoe and had the hole dug, but then he flew into one of his rages over something one of the kids had done or failed to do. “That’s it!” he shouted. “No swimming pool!” So: just a big rectangular hole in the ground right next to the house.

    I can tell you more, but you get the picture. Bruce’s family was text-book disfunctional. I smoked my first illegal cigarette with Bruce, sitting on the loading dock of Ace Moving and Storage. I remember walking home and wondering, “Am I high? Is this what being high feels like?”

    The last I heard about Bruce was a couple of years after high school. He’d been seen handing out tracts on a street corner in Philadelphia. He was a born-again Christian! It was my friend George who’d run into him there. George was the ultimate anti-Christian cynic. I remember him saying he wasn’t surprised about Bruce. Bruce, he said, was just the type. “People like him always get religion.”

    Well, now it’s many years later, and I’ve got religion too! And I wonder where Bruce is, and how he’s doing, and if he's still sweet and exuberant, and if he still loves the Lord.

    August 18, 2004

    Not Another Lawn Ornament!

    Who is this rather Shrek-ish fellow? Posted by Hello

    August 17, 2004

    Lawn Ornament of the Week

    Actually, I'm just testing this Picasa photo upload thingie. Seems to work right well. As for lawn ornaments, well, I can tell you stories!

    An admonishment to dog-walkers everywhere! Posted by Hello

    Stopping Just Long Enough to Catch my Breath

    Well, Laurie was able to hook up with Tim and Meaghan and Chris without too much trouble. It turns out they weren't at the Phish concert. [Shows you how much I know!] They just happened to be in the same state as the Phish concert (and since the state of Vermont is so very small, that's almost like being AT the Phish concert). Anyway, they were camping in the Green Mountains, and Tim's car broke down. And it rained. And they were all very tired when they got home late last night I'm sure. I told Laurie that some of my far-flung Blogging friends (btw, how does it feel to be "far-flung"?) had been praying for her, and she was really moved. There is a bit of a back-story here concerning Tim which I won't get into just now, but thanks for your prayers.

    By the way, Tim's car is now sitting in a service station in Brattleboro, Vermont. And the owner of the service station is an elderly gentleman who uses spare auto parts to create elaborate garden-sculptures in his back yard. He says he once studied under Alexander Calder. Since Tim and Meaghan are both art students themselves (here), this is just, well, kind of neat.

    August 16, 2004

    The News from Here

    Son Tim, the Brave and True, spent the weekend at the Phish concert in Coventry, Vermont. Trouble is, his car broke down, and he and his friend Meaghan have been stranded there for two days. The Lovely L is on her way now to pick them up, a 3 to 4 hour drive. As for the Phish concert, it's already becoming legendary. 65,000 people and lots and lots of mud. Kids parked their vehicles in the fields, which were then promptly inundated with the torrential remnants of Hurricane Charley. Local tow-companies will be busy for days to come, they tell me, hauling those cars out of the mud!

    Anyway, pray that Laurie connects up with Tim and Meaghan without difficulty, works something out with the broken car, and that all make it home safely.

    August 15, 2004

    Life Together: Chosen from Eternity, Accepted in Time, & United for Eternity

    Okay, we’re moving on to the third of Bonhoeffer’s three points from chapter 1 of Life Together. I just want to mention here that the reason I’m going on so about this is because I need to learn it for myself, to take it in, digest it, and then live it. And for me the best way to learn something is to write about it. So here goes:

    Bonhoeffer’s third point: In Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

    This is heady stuff, my friends. We are talking now about eternal things. About forever things. About things that were true before time began, and will be true after time as we now know it is nothing but a distant memory. And you and I, Christian, are standing right in the middle of these eternal realities. When I look at you, Believer, I see one whom
  • God has chosen from eternity,

  • God has deemed acceptable now through the blood of Christ,

  • and who will be united with God in perfect love for all eternity.

  • If, when I look at you, I “see” anything less than this, well then I need to put on my kingdom spectacles, because I’m not seeing the eternal in you.

    Bonhoeffer says, “He who looks upon his brother should know that he will be eternally united to him in Jesus Christ.”

    Now, that eternal relationship will be one of transcendent love. And it is God’s divine undertaking to teach us this love here and now through Jesus Christ. Paul says (Romans 15:7), “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

    Accept one another. Receive one another. Welcome one another. You and I, in the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit, are now capable of walking in just that kind of love. The Father has taught us, through Jesus Christ, how to do it. How to love one another. How to meet one another as Christ met us, with open arms. Bonhoeffer writes:

    “When God was merciful, when he revealed Jesus Christ to us as our Brother, when He won our hearts by His love, this was the beginning of our instruction in divine love. When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with our brethren. When we received forgiveness instead of judgement, we, too, were made ready to forgive our brethren. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meager our brotherly love, the less were we living by God’s mercy and love. Thus, God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.”

    Man, this is good stuff. When I meet my brother or sister in the Lord, I meet one whom God chose from the beginning of time for the purpose of eternal unity, and for whom God accomplished that salvation by the blood of Jesus Christ Himself. It is this and this alone which constitutes our family resemblance. It is this which makes us brothers and sister in the Lord.

    One of the ramifications of this is that I don’t have to-–indeed, I dare not-–require anything from my brother or sister that God Himself has not required. As my friend Tom Cornwell says, “You don’t have to get cleaned up.”

    Get it? The Christian mustn’t wait for his brother or sister to be good enough, to be pious enough, to go to church long enough, or go to the right church, or go to church at all! The grounds for love and acceptance between Christians is the blood of Jesus. Therefore, I am eager to meet (to accept, to be united with) the one for whom Christ shed his blood. I am anxious to know the one who was loved by my Father before the beginning of time. I can’t wait to meet you, Brother, Sister, if not in time, then in Eternity, in the company of all the heavenly hosts, and sing praise to that same Father in perfect harmony because he loved us both from eternity past unto eternity future.

    Wow! I hope this is as exciting for you as it is for me. There’s more, much more, to be said on this matter. And as the famous folkie-theologian Arlo Guthrie once said, “I’m not tired . . . or proud.” See you soon with more from Life Together.

    Life Together: A Christian Comes to Others through Jesus Christ

    I’ve been sharing lately from some of the riches of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. What a wonderful little book this is. Bonhoeffer wrote this book for those followers of Jesus who continued to meet and worship God together in Nazi Germany. They were rebels against the state each time they met in their underground church. In staying true to Christ, they were quite literally putting their lives on the line, and Bonhoeffer was one of those who was ultimately martyred in a Nazi concentration camp, just one day (I think it was) before the camp’s liberation by the Allies. But this book, which was his manual for those underground Christians, continues to inspire and instruct today. It has inspired and instructed me, and I hope and pray it will do so for you as well.

    You may recall that in my last post I summarized the first of three fundamental points from Bonhoeffer's first chapter. These three points are:

    1) A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ
    2) A Christian comes to others through Jesus Christ
    3) In Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

    Today I'd like to focus on the second point. A Christian comes to others through Jesus Christ. What does Bonhoeffer mean, and why is it important?

    Now, hold onto your hats, folks, because this is an exciting truth. This is like the wind sweeping through your hair as you stand at the summit of some mountain, because this is a mountaintop truth, people! To quote Bonhoeffer: "Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man."

    Do you remember that discord? I do. I don't want to ever forget it. I use to rave at God because he seemed against me, and I raved at men because they were against me to. But the message of Christ is a message of reconciliation and peace, making it possible to look at another and see not an enemy or competitor, but another for whom Christ bled and died at Calvary. And it is only through that blood that peace is really possible. That we can come, to put it another way, with open hands, defenseless, to our brother, our sister, bringing the word of peace that is the Gospel itself. Bonhoeffer says: "Without Christ we would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way would be blocked by our own ego."

    You can see that, when Bonhoeffer speaks of "coming to" a brother or sister, he is speaking of meeting them in a place of authenticity, of absolute reality. No masks, no games, no pretending. One sinner, terribly messed up, coming to another. Both of them having made a whole truck-load of mistakes, having hurt people who tried to love us, half the time confused and the other half lost, but trusting God's Word of peace for men and women just like us.

    "Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother. Now Christians can live with one another in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one."

    Christ made possible a whole new way of "coming to" one another. We will understand this better in the Kingdom of Heaven, because there it will be a living reality, encompassing every aspect of every relationship, forever. Until then, we need to intentionally cultivate that reality here in this fallen world, living the Kingdom day by day, relationship by relationship.

    Which kind of leads into the third of Bonhoeffer's three points, which will be the subject of tomorrow's post. To close for now, I just want to say that each one of us has to grow into this way of being and of "coming to" each other, and it is not always easy. This isn't pie-in-the-sky religiosity, but God's empowering presence in relationships, which is just a fancy way of saying, "Peace, Brother!"

    August 13, 2004

    Life Together: A Christian Needs Others Because of Jesus Christ

    In the first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Bonhoeffer makes the following three points about Kingdom community:

    1) A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ
    2) A Christian comes to others through Jesus Christ
    3) In Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

    What I’d like to do in the next few posts is look at each of these in more depth, and show how understanding these things can really help us in our relationships within God’s family.

    First: A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.

    Bonhoeffer begins his explanation of this point by recalling the fundamental Reformation doctrine of grace. We were helpless to save ourselves, but have been justified in Jesus Christ alone. Our own internal resources were not enough. Our physical prowess, our will, our supposed righteousness, our good intentions, our intellect, no internal attribute we call our own could ever be the grounds of our salvation.

    No, our righteousness must come from the outside. As Bonhoeffer says: “The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him.” Then:
    If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? He can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is alert as possible to this Word. And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
    Now, the thing is, this reality is lived by way of relationships. It must ever be this way, for it is by God’s design that His Word is communicated by people to people. In other words, the basis of all communication in the Kingdom of God is the offer of the living Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all our human interactions. Bonhoeffer says:
    God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. . . . And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.
    That last point is so important, I want to repeat it for emphasis. Brothers and sisters in the Christian community “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

    Get it? The bringing of the Gospel of salvation is not simply an act of evangelism to the world of unbelievers, but it is the fundamental and continuing nature of our relationships in the Body of Christ. When you speak to me, when I speak to you, we are to be bringing this message. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ here in the present moment. Wherever we happen to be on our path toward Christian maturity, this is the sum and substance of our relating with one another. We bring this message to our brothers and sisters: the message of salvation through the glory and goodness of Christ alone.

    Finally, Bonhoeffer says, “this is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.” I long for you because I know that you are called to be a bringer, a vessel, of Jesus Christ and His Word of salvation even to me. And I am tremendously excited by the prospect of seeing Christ in you and hearing Christ from you. As Bonhoeffer says, “A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.”

    Life Together: A Few Opening Remarks

    Last week I began rereading an old favorite of mine: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Well, in truth, I’ve simply read and reread the first chapter only, because I really wanted to be sure to get what Bonhoeffer is saying there. Somehow I knew that this book would strike a very powerful cord with me just now. You see, God has been teaching me all over again this summer that the Christian life is essentially relational. That is, it is walked out in relationship. It is walked out “with others.” And that Bonhoeffer’s phrase, “life together,” is truly a fundamental descriptor of life under the Lordship of Christ.

    Now, I’ve been blogging an awful lot lately about “kingdom communication.” And communication is, we might say, the very currency of relationship. Where there is no communication, there is no relationship. So what we are talking about when we talk about life together according to God’s plan, is a quality of communication that is, as I’ve been saying, a real foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

    So you see I’m not going off on a tangent here. Kingdom relationship IS kingdom communication IS “life together.” How you and I relate to one another, how we speak to one another, how we know one another and share ourselves with one another, that is the measure of our love for one another. And I want my life to be about doing that well. I want to live like Paul said the Thessalonians should live: increasing more and more in love.

    So I’m going to let Dietrich Bonhoeffer be my guide for a while, and yours to, if you’re willing to come along. What I plan to do in the next post or two is summarize Bonhoeffer’s first chapter at some length, lifting many quotes from the book. Needless to say, I think this is very valuable stuff. I am honored by those of you who choose to come along with me. I pray that you too will be blessed by this book, as I have been.

    August 11, 2004

    Kingdom Communication, Revisited

    I'm still thinking about "kingdom communication." I said before that the Holy Spirit makes possible a foretaste of the kind of communication that will be the norm in Heaven. That's right. We're not left to our own devices, thank the Lord. Now, I've been blogging away on this subject for a few days, and I think it's about time I came to the point! What, pray tell, is Kingdom Communication really like?

    Well, it bears the "easy yoke" of the Gospel from one soul to another. It is Jesus Christ reaching through one to another, forming bonds, building up, strengthening faith, giving hope. Its message is essentially reconciliation. Peace with God and peace with men. So much of human communication is marred by a lack of peace. By mistrust, fear, even hatred. Where there is peace, a whole different kind of talking becomes possible.

    What is kingdom communication NOT? Well, of course there is no falseness or posturing in it. It is not defensive or self-serving. It is without pretension, claims of authority, power-plays, or gamesmanship. It is not quarrelsome, petty, grudge-holding, back-biting, gossipy, condescending, hurtful, cynical, or faith-destroying. It never focuses on the negative or the tawdry.

    Its purpose is to enlighten, so kingdom communication strives patiently for clarity, even on difficult matters. It is at all times intrinsically and forthrightly honest. Its intent is always to serve and to build up the one addressed. It does not require acceptance or agreement, because it does not see the act of communication as a game to be won. It is exactly like love: patient and kind, not envious, boastful, or proud. Not rude, self-seeking or easily angered, keeping no record of wrong. Not delighting in evil, but rejoicing in the truth. Always hoping, always persevering.

    When one is addressed in such a manner, one feels lifted up, honored, and trusted. To answer in the same manner is to enter into a relationship of such forthright honesty, such acceptance, such an atmosphere of understanding and forgiveness, that it can only be called the verbal form of agape love.

    And that is kingdom communication. How much of what we say each day can actually meet this joyous standard? Let us observe ourselves as we speak. Let us test our words against the standard of love set by Jesus Himself. Let us love one another in both word and deed.

    A Lovely Day

    I'm writing this post in the midst of a wonderful thunder storm (which however is scaring the doggy half to death). Yesterday was bright and sunny, and the lovely L and I walked a mile or two on this, which is a short distance from our house. We strolled all the way to here, which is a lovely spot. Along the way, though, we stopped here, where I had clam chowder and a blackened tuna wrap (mmmm!) and the Lovely L had shrimp and scallops in linguine. All this on a gift certificate which Nate gave me for Father's Day. Life is good!

    August 10, 2004

    The Dream of the Black Dragon

    During the night, when everyone’s asleep, the sea comes rippling along our quiet streets, pouring into basements, rising around swing-sets and SUVs, lapping at the eaves of porches. I wake up, as usual, and wading to the window, see what I always see: my father’s sloop, the Black Dragon, her sails glowing like cream in the moonlight, her black hull shining like polished coal, coming sharply about. There you are at the tiller, Father, guiding her in close to the house, gesturing with your broad open palm for me to come aboard. And now the rocking deck of the Dragon is directly before me, gliding past. “Heartily,” you say. “The time is short.” And there’s your hand stretched out now, reaching, and I know I must take hold before a spectral wind carries you off again, as every time before, but I’m afraid, and timidly I shrink back, and all at once you’re sailing off among rooftops and treetops, heading for open water, shouting that you’ll come again, when the tide is in, and the wind is right.

    Sanctified Communication

    Still thinking about communication.

    At one point Jesus asked the Pharisees, "Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say."

    Our receivers are busted. This is the normal condition of men in the world. We can't hear what we need to hear. It's sin that has done this, of course.

    I sometimes wish that God has chosen to tell us a little more about Adam and Eve after their banishment from Eden. I imagine they didn't talk at all for some time. Bitterness and blame had entered into their relationship. Mistrust. It marred their relationship forever, perhaps.

    Yes, mistrust. That seed had been planted by the serpent, who coaxed them both into mistrusting God himself. Once they began to doubt God, of course they would doubt each other.

    But I often think of that moment, just before the banishment, when they're hiding from God. They've disobeyed him, and guilt is upon them, and they're fearful of what he might do if he should find them. But nothing and no one is hid from God, of course, and he calls them out. I often think that at this moment they still have an opportunity to make things right. Their banishment from Eden is not yet inevitable. But when God confronts them, they obfuscate. To explain why they were hiding, Adam says, "I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

    In truth, he was afraid because he had disobeyed God. Fearing God's anger, he proceeds to blame Eve for the whole mess, and indirectly God--"the woman YOU gave me," he says.

    What a shame. He might have forthrightly confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness, but the serpent's seed of mistrust had done its work. So instead he chooses to obfuscate, to mislead, to cast blame, to claim innocence.

    And so it goes. Communication among the descendents of Adam, even to this day, remains of a type with this last conversation between Adam and God in the garden, before the Fall.

    Except, when the Spirit brings new life. It is possible to speak truth. God has not left us helpless. Of Samuel the Bible says, "None of his words fell to the ground." Samuel was capable of sanctified communication. The God who saves us, who is saving us, makes this possible. In fact, He calls us to this.

    Sanctified communication. Hmmm. I'm going to think about this some more. Back soon!

    August 09, 2004


    Imagine a castaway on an uninhabited island, whose only hope of rescue is the weather-beaten short-wave radio he’s found. The problem is, the transmitter is fouled up. Both his sending and receiving is confused, distorted, almost unintelligible. Every message is garbled by static. Vital information is lost, and rescue is therefore uncertain.

    Now, this is a pretty fair metaphor for human communication, I think. As fallen men and women our transmitters and receivers are seriously flawed. How often what we say falls short of what we would have liked to have said, what we should have said, what we later wish we’d said. We leave things out, or we speak them poorly. At best, we fall short in our speech of what might be called , in a court of law, “the whole truth,” and at worst we give out false information, misleading our would-be rescuers.

    Then again we misunderstand or misinterpret the words of others. We mix in our own prejudices and presumptions. We're defensive, and hear insults where none was intended. Or we're prideful, and treat the words of others with disdain. Or perhaps we suffer from self-contempt, so that we fail to trust words of love or comfort, for we can't really believe anyone could possibly love us. In these and a thousand other ways we garble the messages that our sent our way.

    You see, our metaphorical castaway doesn’t just have a hardware problem. He has a sin problem. The distortion of his message is sometimes intentional. He can’t seem to help it. He drives away hope with mixed signals, with lies, pridefully declaring that he doesn’t need any help at all, thank you.

    In John 7 we see Jesus’s brothers speaking to Jesus in much the same tone as the Pharisees. If you are truly who you say you are, go up to Jerusalem and declare yourself publicly, they say. They seem to be goading Jesus in order that he might prove himself to them. And the Apostle John adds, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

    Later, one of those brothers, James, would right: “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep the whole body in check.” James, no doubt speaking from experience, is pinpointing the central importance of communication in our own growth in righteousness. He continues,
    “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”
    So, you see, our castaway is in a fine predicament. Sometimes he thinks he might save himself by his own speech, but he condemns himself further. But the important thing to remember here is that all is not lost. Our castaway does have a rescuer. One who knows the exact coordinates of his little uninhabited island, and who is coming soon to save and transform. Not only that, who has placed a hope in the castaway’s heart that, despite the bleakness of his outward situation, yet buoys him up and keeps him alive. More on the castaway in my next post.

    August 06, 2004


    I'm still working on a second part to yesterday's Kingdom Communication. I want to do the subject some reasonable semblance of justice, so I don't want to hurry through. But in the meantime, I'll leave you with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. I've just begun rereading this little book, and I think I'm going to spend some time next week summarizing it here at Mr. Standfast. But before I do, here's a quote from the introduction, written not by Pastor Bonhoeffer but by an unnamed English officer who was imprisoned with Bonhoeffer at Flossenburg, the Nazi prison camp.
    Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.... He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near.... On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, 'Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.' That had only one meaning for all prisoners -- the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside: 'This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.' The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.
    By the way, the text on which he spoke, that last day of his life: "With His stripes are we healed."

    August 05, 2004

    Kingdom Communication

    Communication in the Kingdom of God is going to be perfect. Did you ever think about that? What you say to me then, and what I say to you, is going to be perfectly understood. It's going to come across with perfect clarity. There will simply be no possibility of misunderstanding. This is going to be totally amazing, don't you think?

    The Bible says, "We'll know even as we are known." That means, we'll know God even as we are known by Him. But I believe it can be applied also to our knowing of each other. I will see to the depths of you. You will see to the depths of me. We'll know each other even as God knows us. Nothing hid. Nothing. And my response to you will be one of pure love, despite that I'll know the worst about you, and you're response to me will be one of pure love, despite that you'll know the worst about me.

    Think of it. Right now we don't know each other that way, and we don't know ourselves that way. There is mistrust and fear between us. There is deception. We deceive each other, and we deceive ourselves. We are mixed up people and we don't even know just how mixed up. We don't appreciate, most of the time, the depths of our own depravity. And yet, in Heaven we will. We will know ourselves, and each other, even as God knows us. We will understand--thoroughly understand--what we have done and what we have been! And the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ will be all the more precious, all the more amazing! And the praise of him that will then rise from our whole being will be worship "in purity and truth," as Jesus promised the Samaritan woman.

    That's going to be remarkable. Of course, we can hardly do this theme justice. Words can only hint at the wonder of it all. There is no model in our own experience for this kind of pure communication. It's rare in all human history that one man might trust another so much, so thoroughly, that (if it were possible) he would be willing to be completely and shamelessly transparent. But that will be the relational norm in the Kingdom of God. Perfect trust. Pure love ruling all our interactions. The old bad things not forgotten, but understood, and responded to with pure love.

    Now, as I said, we don't ever have this kind of communication now. We're sadly diminished creatures, we fallen men and women. And as far as communication goes, both our transmitters and our receivers our fatally messed up. We don't give messages "in purity and truth," and we don't receive them that way either.

    I'm running out of time, so in my next post I think I'd like to look briefly at our transmitter problems and our receiver problems. God bless you, my friends, and may the Spirit of God inhabit your praises this day, in the name of Jesus, your Savior and friend.

    August 04, 2004


    I met a guy named Vin. Short for Kevin. He's homeless just now. A sturdy-looking fellow, maybe thirty, thirty-five. He'd drifted here from another state. Was staying at the Preble Street Shelter. An old man who lived at the shelter once told me that he tries to stay out on the streets as much as possible, because "the devil is in the shelter."

    But getting back to Vin. His clothes were dirty from sleeping on the ground, and yet he struck me as a competent person. Probably somebody's husband, somebody's dad. It was easy to picture him romping with his children in a suburban back yard. An SUV and a fancy new pick-up in the garage. He talked about finishing his degree. About getting into an architecture program somewhere. I would've pegged him for a builder, a carpenter.

    He'd come into the library where I work, probably just to get in out of the heat. He asked for the university's course catalog, but he hardly looked into it. I explained to him who to talk to about admissions, about financial aid, but he thought if he could just write a letter to the dean of the engineering school, they'd surely let him in and pay for his education perhaps. You see he had a potentially revolutionary idea about heating buildings with "heavy water." In the course of explaining this idea to me he often digressed. He talked of building codes, geometry, zoning ordinances, rocketry, horticulture. In all these matters he showed a wealth of knowledge, as if his mind were a storehouse of millions of facts . . . and yet there was no cohesion. His conversation wandered off-topic very quickly, and he sometimes had to struggle to refocus. He'd ask a question, but lose interest in the answer before you were even finished. Then he'd be off on a tangent again, explaining to me the difference between flora and fauna, or going on about the turning-radius of large jets.

    It was really impressive, the knowledge he showed. I'd be willing to bet that everything he told me was absolutely correct. And yet something was missing, something was out of joint. He began to repeat himself about the letter to the dean. He really pinned his hopes on that. I kept redirecting the conversation to the more mundane matter of filling out applications, etc. But all that talk seemed only to sadden him. As if he knew there was really no use.

    All along I felt I knew this man, or at least I knew men very much like him. He was almost the model of competence and understanding. Almost. But somewhere, somehow, he'd lost his grip. And the thing is, he knew it. You could see it in his eyes when his conversation drifted--a frustration with himself, a slight embarrassment, as if he wondered, how did I get on that again?

    There was such a feeling of incompleteness about Vin. He's another fellow who has found himself in a tight place. How did he get there? A bad knock on the head? Drugs? Depression? Tragedy? Perhaps even a demon or a curse of some kind. I pray for Vin.

    August 03, 2004


    Eden, as I imagine it, was a very spacious place. Adam and Eve had complete safety, if only they'd kept on trusting God. Not that there were no limits at all, of course. Only God is limitless. But even the limits were for their ultimate safety and good. God set the limits, and they were good.

    But when they trusted Satan instead of God in regard to these limits, they fell from grace. They fell from a nearly limitless freedom in intimate relationship with their Father-God, to an existence of narrowness, labor, and the shadow of death. From the broad place, to the narrow place. From freedom to the slavery of the flesh, and the yoke of mortality.

    I know a lady--Let's call her Eleanor--an eighty year old woman, who lives in a tiny apartment with all the accumulated belongings of her long life crowded into that one room. And she often mislays things. An old photograph, batteries, a blouse. Well, Eleanor is convinced that her neighbor across the hall possesses a key to her apartment and is sneaking in and stealing these things. Everyone tells her it's not so, but Eleanor is certain. The building superintendent, the local police, everyone has had a go at convincing her that she's just misplacing these objects. But it's no use.

    Think about poor Eleanor for a moment. She's in a tight place. She wants desperately to be believed. She wants desperately to be considered "in her right mind." And she's terribly hurt that her own children don't believe her. Instead, they trust the other woman, rather than their own mother. It seems to her an act of disloyalty.

    It's hard for Eleanor--as with all of us--to admit to the usual failings that come with old age. She wants to be considered sharp, even youthful. She doesn't want to die, and she resists admitting to weakness. And so instead she conceives of her neighbor as her enemy, someone who's out to get her. Probably a member of some cult. A stupid woman. An evil woman. She thrusts upon this innocent bystander the explanation for her increasingly common mental lapses.

    I don't even know what to pray for Eleanor. I just pray that the Lord will resolve this problem somehow. Old age can seem very much like that fowler's snare, can it not?

    August 02, 2004

    Just saying Hello

    Just stopping in this morning for a quick hello. Yesterday my friends Tim and Matthew (father and son) took me and the Lovely L sailing! This was my first time ever on a sailboat! I'm here to tell you it's just an amazing experience. I'm still basking in the memory of it. The water is so restful, so relaxing, that all I'm going to do today (a day off from work, btw) is a few necessary chores in the morning, then sit in the sun sipping iced tea and reading a good book. How's that sound?