Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy... Prayer Warrior

Eric Metaxas has written a terrific biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Reading it (which I highly recommend) has prompted me to pull my books by Bonhoeffer off the shelf (alas, I only have two) and read the man himself. His little prayer book on the Psalms is rich and rewarding and prods me to do more than just read about prayer:
The phrase "learning to pray" sounds strange to us. If the heart does not overflow and begin to pray by itself, we say, it will never "learn" to pray. But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings--all of which the heart can do by itself--with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Read Them and Weep

OK--I know I'm biased. I studied Bible and Biblical Languages in college and grad school. I have a passion for God's Word. That's why I majored in it and am spending my life teaching and preaching it. But as I tell my kids, the Bible is the most important thing you will ever study. Don't just take my word for it. God has a few things to say about His Word. (See Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Psalm 119; Proverbs 30:6; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; Revelation 22:19.) Consider, also, what some of our past presidents have said. Read them and weep.
"It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." George Washington, 1st President

"I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world." John Adams, 2nd President

"Almighty God hath created the mind free . . I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively . . Nothing is more certainly written in the Book of Life than that these people are to be free." Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government ... not in the Constitution... (but) upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments" James Madison, 4th President

"So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society..." "The first and almost the only book deserving of universal attention is the Bible. I speak as a man of the world . . . and I say to you, 'Search the Scriptures.'" John Quincy Adams, 6th President

"That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests." Andrew Jackson, 7th President

"I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong . . It is the duty of nations as well as men to recognize the truth announced in Holy Scripture and proven by all of history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord . . I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man." Abraham Lincoln, 16th President

"I do believe in Almighty God! And I believe also in the Bible . . Let us look forward to the time when we can take the flag of our country and nail it below the Cross, and there let it wave as it waved in the olden times, and let us gather around it and inscribed for our motto: "Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever," and exclaim, Christ first, our country next.” Andrew Johnson, 17th President

"Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet anchor of your liberties. Write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this book are we indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future." Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President

"If you take out of your statutes, your constitution, your family life all that is taken from the Sacred Book, what would there be left to bind society together?" Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President

"Almost every man who has by his life-work added to the sum of human achievement of which the race is proud, of which our people are proud, almost every such man has based his life-work largely upon the teachings of the Bible." Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President

"The strength of our country is the strength of its religious convictions. The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country." Calvin Coolidge, 30th President

"The Bible is the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God, and spiritual nature and needs of men. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture." Woodrow Wilson, 28th President

"Menaced by collectivist trends, we must seek revival of our strength in the spiritual foundations which are the bedrock of our republic. Democracy is the outgrowth of the religious conviction of the sacredness of every human life. On the religious side, its highest embodiment is the Bible; on the political side, the Constitution." Herbert Hoover, 31st President

"We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. Where we have been the truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity." Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd President

"The fundamental basis of this nation's laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings we get from Exodus and Saint Matthew, from Isaiah and Saint Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days. If we don't have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the State!" Harry Truman, 33rd President

"The spirit of man is more important than mere physical strength, and the spiritual fiber of a nation than its wealth. The Bible is endorsed by the ages. Our civilization is built upon its words. In no other book is there such a collection of inspired wisdom, reality, and hope." Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President

"Of the many influences that have shaped the United States into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible." Ronald Reagan, 40th President

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Begin Again, Believe Again

I have a new friend (via Facebook). Her name is Sharon Hersh. She has written a book called Begin Again, Believe Again. Here is an excerpt of a recent blog on the same theme. Perhaps you'll find a friend in her as well.
I haven’t written a blog for a long time. I have a lot of excuses. It was a rough summer, and yet despite the vicissitudes of hope and despair of the past months this new book hits the bookstore shelves October 29, 2010. I can’t think of a better theme for my own heart and life right now than Begin Again, Believe Again. Perhaps the most important word in the title of this book is again. Whatever season of life we are in, we inevitably face the opportunity to try again, risk again, hope again, forgive again, love again –to begin again and believe again. I am coming to believe that the word again is probably one of the most important and difficult words to live out. Whether it’s beginning a diet again, a relationship again, sobriety again, a letter to a long-lost friend again, an apology again, or time with Jesus again — living in “again” is humbling, challenging, and absolutely necessary if we are to become who we long to be and who God intended us to be.

One of my neighbors is crazy. At least that’s what we’ve said — I hope with some compassion — during the fifteen years that I’ve lived here. She only leaves her home at night, and then in a dark coat with a scarf wrapped around her head no matter the weather she walks quickly to the mailbox to get her mail. I’ve often wondered if she’s waiting for a letter or a card from someone who could help her with her overgrown lawn, peeling paint, and lonely hours. She has a basement full of cats that keep her company. I learned from a neighbor who has lived in this neighborhood longer than I have that she went through a messy divorce about twenty years ago and has never been the same since. She quit her job (she was a therapist!), pulled down her blinds, and has spent her days in the company of her cats. My neighbor told me that on the day of her divorce from her husband of twenty-five years my “crazy”, cat-loving neighbor told a few women in the neighborhood, “I’m done. My heart is broken, and I will never love again.”

Today when a box full of my new books arrived at my front door I pulled out a book and ran my finger over the raised letters of the title, Begin Again, Believe Again, and I thought about my neighbor. Ten years ago my family broke into a million pieces that all of the counseling and wisdom of this world could not put back together again. I think I’ve gone a little crazy along the way. I’ve relapsed in addiction, and in the process, I’ve hurt and scared a lot of people, including me. I’ve seriously thought about never leaving the house again. I’ve thought about getting a fish, because I’m severely allergic to cats.

This new book tells my own story and the stories of other women with broken and battered hearts, and again I’m contemplating hiding out in the basement. Making one’s failures public is a scary thing. Yet I know that if you ask anyone over the age of thirty if their relational lives have turned out as they dreamed, you’re almost guaranteed to hear stories of hard relationships, broken relationships, and evn unbearable relationships that make people go a little crazy.

In his wonderful book, A Taste of Silence, Carl Arico writes, “Transformation is the process of God’s recreating our very selves . . . . All the phases of transformation are not done through our strategies. They are done because we are open to remaining in the presence of God.” As I consider the realities that have resulted in hopelessness, uselessness, despair, abandonment, rejection, lack of understanding, loneliness, and vulnerability — realities that assault my equilibrium, I am learning that when I am in the place where I must begin again and believe again, God is closer than I realize.

An intimate relationship with Jesus is for crazy people — not because it’s untrue but because this whole world is untrue, and nothing proves that more than our relationships. Yet these very difficulties are what can compel us to want Jesus more than we want any human relationship. When we ignore His knocking at our door in the midst of painful or difficult relationships, we build dungeons for our souls. When we don’t realize that relational realities are intended to compel us to hear His knocking, we miss the Truth and we miss being discovered by the Truth.

In revealing his desire for a relationship with us, God chooses foolishness — broken, painful, confusing, heartbreaking, crazy, human relationships. The New Testament expresses it this way, “God chose the fooish things of this world [risking in relationships again] to shame the wise [playing it safe]; God chose the weak things of the world [brokenness in relationships] to shame the strong [looking like we have it all together]. He chose the lowly things of this world [difficult relationships] and the despised things [failed relationships] — and the things that are not [loneliness] . . . so that no one may boast before Him.”

I do want to invite you to read my new book – knowing that the very ability to write and process my own life has kept me from hiding in the basement living with a room full of cats — hoping that in considering the ups and down of our relationships that Christ Jesus might “become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:37-30).

What keeps us from going stark-raving mad when we experience heartache again and again? Knowing that we are loved. Loving because we have been loved. And in loving, knowing intimately the One who is the beginning, middle, and ending of all our stories.

“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well . . . .” Philippians 1:9

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What's Out There?

Here is a passage from Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart. Besides my wife, Heather, and my mom, Alice, she has more than any other woman shaped my thinking, feeling and (hopefully) some of my doing. The data from the Time magazine article may be dated, but her point remains. Check her science and check out her faith. Seriously, read anything she has written. Start here.
Time magazine once reported the discovery of the most massive object ever detected in the universe. The odd thing is nobody knows what it is. The Kitt Peak telescope picked up two quasars ("intensely bright bodies so far away that the light they emit travels for billions of years before reaching the earth") which seemed to be identical, an occurrence astronomers consider about as likely as finding two people with identical fingerprints. Something called a "gravitation lens" seemed to be bending the light (get that!) from a single quasar in such a way as to produce two identical images. Nothing astonishing about that--Einstein predicted it more than seventy years ago, and Arthur Eddington confirmed it a few years later.

The great question is just exactly what is acting as a gravitational lens. Whatever it is, it has to have the mass of a thousand (1,000) galaxies. If it's a black hole, it is "at least a thousand times as large as the Milky Way (which consists of hundreds of billions of stars, including the sun)." Got that? I was bemused by the statement, "Astrophysicists find it difficult to explain how so tremendous a black hole could have formed." I guess they do. They're turning over a third possibility, much too arcane for me to peer into at all, but it has to do with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

The most numbing of the facts of this story for me is that people go to such elaborate lengths to avoid mentioning one vastly prior fundamental possibility that (surely?) stares them in the face: creation.

How much faith does it take to believe in God? Less, I venture to say--a great deal less--than to believe in the Unconscious generating the Conscious, Mindlessness creating Mind, Nothing giving birth to Something.

What we know of God we have seen in His Son. He in whom we are asked to trust is Love, creative Love; thinking of us, I suppose, before He thought of gravitational lenses; giving Himself in sacrificial love long before He gave us His own breath of life--for the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world.

My Lord and my God. Forgive my faithlessness.