Archives For June 2015

#dontfollowthecrowd

Instead, question it:
“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”
– Luke, 6:39, ESV
But be careful:
‘He that does good works for praise or secular ends, sells an inestimable jewel for a trifle; and that which would purchase heaven for him, he parts with for the breath of the people; which, at best, is but air, and that not often wholesome’
– Jeremy Taylor, c.1650 Holy Living
Because:
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
– Luke, 14:11, ESV
Therefore:
‘Follow him who, by diligently ploughing his field, sought for eternal fruit: Being reviled we bless, being persecuted we endure, being defamed we entreat, we are made as the offscouring of the world. If you plough after this fashion you will sow spiritual seed. Plough that you may get rid of sin and gain fruit.’
– Ambrose Of Milan, 4th Cent. Concerning Repentance

Loving pride

GnadeBarth’s main starting point in his discussion on the Holiness of Grace, is that the freedom of God is framed by Jesus Christ. [i]

The freedom of God is His love actualised for us in covenant and Christ. E.g.: promise, fulfilment, and promise of future fulfilment.

God’s love and holiness are inseparable characteristics of grace.

On one, rests, ‘love: grace, mercy and patience. On the other, freedom: holiness, righteousness and wisdom.’ (p.352); ‘To say grace is to say the forgiveness of sins; to say holiness, judgement upon sins’ (p.360).

According to Barth, ‘grace shows its power over and against sin. It reckons with it, but does not fear it. It is not limited by it. It overcomes it, triumphing in this opposition and the overcoming of it’ (p.355)

More significantly:

‘Where God is revealed and objective, He is always the gracious God’ (p.356) […] ‘He is so even when He is the God who is denied and hated by us, and therefore provoked against us. He is so even as the God against whom we sin and who therefore judges and punishes us. We know and rightly understand our sin only when we have realised it to be enmity against the grace of God. And we turn from our sin only when we return to the grace of God’ (p.367).

God, in covenant and Christ, reveals himself as both firm and approachable.

What God does comes from who God is[ii]: ‘God makes Himself the gift, offering fellowship to us’ (p.354); ‘Grace is how God loves. This is how He seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us’ (p.357)

It’s important to Barth that we understand why ‘we may distinguish, but we shall certainly not separate between God’s grace and God’s holiness’ (p.360). Because the ‘holiness of God is not side by side with, but in His grace, and His wrath is not separate from but in His love (p.363). The law which slays and the Gospel which makes alive are interwoven in the most astonishing way: God is as gracious as He is holy and holy as He is gracious’ (p.365)

Through this we can come to understand that ‘only where God’s love is not yet revealed, not yet or no longer, can there be a separation instead of a distinction’ (ibid).

It’s this point that Barth wants to emphasise:

The ‘command then to be Holy as I am Holy[iii], is a not a command by which God urges sinful humanity to secure for themselves a status or merit in His presence. But as God’s command it is quite simply the command to cleave to His grace.’ (p.364)

However,

‘that God is gracious doesn’t mean that He surrenders Himself to the one to whom He is gracious… to accept God’s grace necessarily means, therefore to respect God’s holiness; [His gracious and loving “yes” and “no” – Proverbs 3:12]. It means accepting God’s grace in thankfulness, to be contentedly replenished by it.’ (pp. 361 & 367)

The holiness of God’s Grace is actualised in the act of correction. Any rejection of God’s grace is also a rejection of instruction.

Applied to today, it might serve us to seek out where there might be a separation of holiness from grace?

As Barth suggests, if there is, then, perhaps we’ve created an idol; something other than God.

Grace cut off from God’s holiness is a grace transformed into what we want grace to be. It is nothing other than cheap grace. It denies the reality of Jesus Christ.  Cheap grace is mistaken for being God’s actual grace. It’s transformed into a ‘positive optimism’, tethered together by an unteachable arrogance and blissful ignorance. It’s weak, but sells well. Its future is bleak, but cheap grace is easily reinvented. It’s easily manipulated.

Cheap grace is the master of all disguises. Made up primarily of inoffensive fragments picked out from an offensive grace. God’s Word is sanitised.  As a result, God’s true nature and being is compromised; obscured from us. Even though we are slowly and subtly dragged back into darkness by a Frankenstein of our own making.This new understanding is celebrated as a revolution.

Still, God is not numb to our reality. Barth interprets the mainstay of the Biblical text: Rescue and remedy. God does not and has not abandoned us.

He loves us despite the rejection and counterfeit grace that is confused with real grace.

Examples of this include the “progressive” salesperson, who, sells a new tolerance and yet demonises anyone who questions, challenges or outright opposes them. This is humanity supported by God’s achievement; held firmly by God’s grace, but it is humanity choosing to bathe in the presumed glory of its own independence and sovereignty. The part of modern humanity that is hell-bent on buying and selling others into destruction and despair, because the fear of seeming intolerant or offensive towards our neighbour has hindered us from actually being able to love our neighbour. Which requires both a responsible “yes” and a loving “no.”

Men and women following crowds that proudly claim God’s grace, yet quietly erase God’s holiness and by default His freedom, make it all the more important to hear Barth when he says:

‘The holiness of God’s grace is this: “For whom the Lord loves He corrects; as a Father to a child” (p.361)

Notes:

[i] Pages 351 to 368 of Karl Barth, 1940 Church Dogmatics II/1, Hendrickson Publishers

[ii] Ibid, p.334 ‘The Perfections of God’

[iii] 1 Peter 1:16/Leviticus 20:26

IMG_3273Last Friday I set out to restring and tune two small classical Valencia guitars.

The mission was to reverse the order of strings for a pre-dominantly left-handed Yr 9 homeschool student. I wanted to accommodate her left-handed ability.However, I stopped mid-way through winding up the third (G) string.Up until then, it hadn’t fully occurred to me that our daughter might be better served by learning to play right-handed.

Guitars and the necessary accessories are expensive – she has to use mine until we’ve saved up enough money to buy her one of her own.

In addition, most guitars are stringed for right-handed players; it was impractical to restring my own guitars when she might want to borrow them.

In the end, my wife and I handed her the choice. Our daughter agreed and said that she’d be fine with learning to play right-handed because she’d already been practicing to use the guitar, right-handed, by herself anyway.

For me it was a hard call, but this sealed the deal.

So, yesterday, with her sister, she jumped right into learning about pick technique, rhythm (strumming), and a simple blues riff.  It was from there that I showed them how to form their first chords.

With some spare time left over we had our first ever homeschool jam. We kept it simple, just focusing on melody and rhythm. They struck each string with downstrokes, holding A7 in almost perfect unison, while I added some improvised melody over the top.

The effort made the experience more than just a lesson. It certainly wasn’t about impressing others – as you can tell from the raw, unrehearsed recording.

It’s what we like to call, a joyful noise.

 

Red celestial road.

One light narrow line marks the way.

We are more than just dust.

……

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. I do not run aimlessly […]
So let us run with endurance looking to the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” [1 Corinthians 9:24 & Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV]

IMG_3226


(RL2015)

Mahalia Jackson Source The King CenterMartin Luther King Jnr stood at the microphone, preparing to address part of the Freedom gathering in Chicago.

To his right, Mahalia Jackson starts singing. As her voice fills the room, the words ‘Joshua fought the battle of Jericho’ ring out, igniting conviction.

Distracted by this spontaneous support, King, unprepared to comment, looks and smiles awkwardly in her direction.

Jackson’s melodic voice rises above the noise and this unplanned introduction takes off. The momentum transforms the sea of applause into an ordered rhythmic harmony. Her smile is contagious, and her hope beyond doubt.

The song ends. The crowd cheers. King speaks:

‘I think I can say, concerning this great Gospel singer, in our midst, our dear friend, my great friend, Mahalia Jackson, that a voice like this comes only once in a millennium’ [i]

I don’t disagree.

Here’s Mahalia singing, ‘Elijah Rock,’ before a large audience on her European tour in the late sixties.

Worth noting are her comments at the end:

‘One day we shall overcome. That’s why my faith is in the Lord. My hope and my strength is in the Lord. For one day, you and I shall overcome. One day, we’re going to stop trying to take God’s ways and make it our ways cause Jesus said, “I’m the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the father, but through me. Cause it all looks like man is trying to make everything his way, but we goanna overcome. The saints of God will overcome. […] The world is confused and frustrated all over. If it isn’t one problem, it’s another. And we must overcome, but we must come back to God.’ (5:50-7:22) [ii]


Notes:

[i] Link: Mahalia Jackson singing – Martin Luther King Jnr preaching.  (Worth watching)

[ii] Just a note on the block quote transcript of Mahalia: I’ve done my best to get this right word for word, however, as may be noticed, in the video some words are harder to discern than others.

Photo: Mahalia Jackson, sourced from The King Center: Freedom Fund Festival Leaflet

Elisabeth Elliot QuoteOne benefit of my upbringing is how deeply it instilled in me a passion for justice, a sense of empathy and the importance of personal responsibility.

Growing up, our next door neighbours were Indigenous Australians. Overall there was a heartfelt respect for those who struggled and reverence for those who gave their all for our current freedoms.

My parents benefited from welfare programs that enabled us to have a home, food and basic clothing. We also witnessed the darker side of a community when it goes from being a welfare dependent season-of-life, to being a welfare dependent culture.

Even though my agnostic-at-the-time parents were cultural Anglicans, my sister and I attended a Catholic Primary School, where we found ourselves part of a denominational minority.

We didn’t always fit.

We rarely owned brand new school clothes, trendy school bags or school shoes. There were also times when the schoolyard elite were more than happy to go beyond just verbally measuring our worth by my parents socio-economic situation.

Yet, God reigns. It is by His grace, that through these experiences, I can teach my kids about what it means to live in victory, not victimhood. Working through those experiences has provided me with a great deal to reach for when I’m teaching my kids about mercy, justice, fairness, compassion, and personal responsibility.

It’s a lifeline akin to the hope established by Joseph’s words to His brothers, ‘You meant for evil against me, but God meant it for good’ (Gen. 50:20).

Some great examples of this are found in African-American history. It’s here that a recent lesson began. Our starting point was Louis Armstrong’s ‘Black and Blue’, which then led to a few comments read aloud from Booker T. Washington’s, ‘Up from Slavery’ and an introduction to Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation.’

From there I directed our homeschoolers attention to the lament in Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’. Introduced Martin Luther King Jnr. Talked about his assassination in 1968 and listened to some of his preaching. We then encountered the magnificent voice of Mahalia Jackson and identified some jarring truths found within the poetry of Maya Angelou.

Of historical significance, each document, word and song gives a different perspective. Each delivered through a unique text type. All expressing, through their very existence, the promise of those who chose, by God’s grace, to live in victory, not victimhood.

There the theological reality forms a solid ledge for us all to safely stand on. It’s established in knowing the difference between human triumphalism and God’s triumph in Jesus Christ.

We have victory because Jesus is Victor! It means that we shall indeed overcome. With this comes the need to recognise that even  with our effort, the entire credit belongs to God (Psalm 115).

It is on our behalf that God acts. Through His act we are pointed beyond our broken stories, beyond ourselves, towards His Word to where the roar of new life breaches the walls of apparent darkness.  It is by His act that we are released to respond boldly to the present, bravely forgive, learn from the past and teach towards tomorrow.

‘The past not only shapes and illuminates the present but anticipates the future.’
– Alistair McGrath [ii]


Source:

[i]  Quote: ‘God still owns tomorrow’ is from Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Woman 1999, p.31

[ii] ‘Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution’ HarperCollins, 2007, p.10

Paula Bonhoeffer and Her KidsTwo chapters in and I’m seeing the importance of Eberhard Bethge’s epic, ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography’.

Bethge begins by covering Dietrich’s family-history, education and home life. Each forms the background for his discussion on Bonhoeffer’s life as a student and his decision to study theology.

In these chapters, two things shine:

First:

‘Bonhoeffer saw theology as branch of knowledge. His path to theology began – despite the Christian foundation of his parent’s home – in a secular atmosphere. Only later did the church enter his field of vision. Unlike theologians who came from families that were active in the church & theology. (p.44) [i]

 

Second: The Bonhoeffer children, including Dietrich, were, for a time, schooled at home.

Bethge explains,

Before moving to Berlin, Dietrich’s mother, Paula ‘gave the children their first schooling […]
She gave lessons at home to the older and younger children together, along with the children of some of her husband’s professor friends, and at the year’s end she was always able to register her pupils successfully for the state examination, where they did very well.
Thanks to the excellent start she gave them, they were able to skip entire grades and eventually take the school graduation examinations at a remarkably early age, as Dietrich did.
This home teaching, of course, implied some criticisms of traditional schooling. The Bonhoeffer’s did not want to hand their children over to others at an early, impressionable age. One of the family sayings was that Germans had their backs broken twice in the course of their lives: first at school, and then in their military service […]
Without the aid of textbooks, she taught them a large repertoire of poems, songs and games […]
Dishonesty and lies were severely punished; in comparison, broken windows and torn clothes hardly counted. Talents were encouraged at an early age. The Children knew it was not impossible for any of their real wished to be granted, and when others’ wishes came true they were expected to share in the pleasure. What their parents told them to do, had to be done without hesitation or argument, and complaining about work or unfair treatment was not tolerated. The Children’s day followed a disciplined pattern; they always knew where they were, and the routine never struck them as restrictive, for they also knew that their parents arranged happy surprises and outings every now and then.’ (pp.16-19)[ii]

On the difference between Bethge’s version and the more recent Eric Metaxas version, I still think Metaxas’ strength is that it meets a wider audience. It’s accessible at an affordable level.

For example: at the time of purchase the Bethge version cost $75.00au as compared to $39.95au for the unabridged Metaxas version.It’s also worth noting that the Bethge version took three months to arrive.

Although my thoughts here could change the further I read, I still think, that the Metaxas biography holds its own; Metaxas makes the Bonhoeffer story more accessible. It’s easy to purchase, has a reasonable price-point and the retelling seems to flow better.

As I stated in a recent review of ‘No Ordinary Men,’ Metaxas may not augment the work of Eberhard Bethge, but he certainly doesn’t diminish it. Instead, what could be said, is Metaxas steers a larger audience in Bethge’s direction.

 


Notes:

[i] Bethge, E. 2000 Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Revised Edition, Fortress Press

[ii] ibid

Photo: Paula Bonhoeffer with her children, date unknown. Source: Paula Bonhoeffer