Where to find myself in Bonhoeffer’s story.

18951182_10155519444883442_4132200671926882046_nAs a part of our “The Cloud” series I recently taught our faith family a bit about the life and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The talk mentioned a bit of the religious and political climate that led to Germany embracing Adolf Hitler as their Führer.

As I read about Bonhoeffer’s life and the forces he confronted, I began to wonder how he would respond to the events, issues, and leaders in my lifetime.  My guess is that Bonhoeffer is claimed by all sorts of folks with varying views.  I’ve heard one person apply his life, resistance, and moment in history to the Obama administration and another apply it to the Trump administration.

The challenge with Bonhoeffer is that he is so accessible to so many. You can read about his life, his passions, his beliefs, his story – and everyone seems to find something they can embrace.

He is theologically conservative and firm on who Jesus is, the importance of Scripture, the essentialness of the church and the priority of following Jesus right here and right now into eternity.

But he also was a champion of some causes that often seem to be more focused on by those who prioritize social justice and acting on behalf of the oppressed. Issues like racism, pacifism, non-nationalistic tendencies, and a more global perspective.

Therefore, the temptation is to make him in our own image. It’s easy to read his story and try to apply it to our own political issues of the day. We apply our own perceived Hitler to Bonhoeffer and feel like we are following in his footsteps. We should read his story and seek to apply it where we can in our issues of the day. However, I don’t trust us to do it truthfully or well. We must have the humility to see ourselves in the German church of that day. Some opposed Hitler and the Nazi’s (Confessing Church) and others hitched their wagon to Hitler (the “German Christians”). Perhaps, we need to relate ourselves to them more than to Bonhoeffer.   A number of the churches and the leadership were closely aligned with the politics of the day and followed their leader above following their Lord.

Some were more desirous to grow their national and personal kingdom more than having a vision for God’s kingdom. 

So, instead of quickly applying Bonhoeffer’s story to our own political biases and enemies, I think it’s vital to ground ourselves in Scripture and the life and teachings of Jesus. To learn to truly follow after Jesus even when the path gets uncomfortable or challenges our own views.

I reckon we need fewer Democrats and Republicans with party platforms and more people who declare with their life and their words that Jesus is King. 

Audio Devos – – More on the Way!

As a church family we have had times in which we’ve encouraged everyone to read a particular section of the Bible together. I think that a community engaging God’s Word together in sync can be a powerful experience.  However, I’ve had a number of people who have told me that they desire to engage the Bible, but they despise reading and struggle to stay focused and understand what is going on in the text.

These conversations led our teaching team to develop audio devotions. For the past couple years we have done audio devotionals through a book of the Bible.  In 2015 we walked with Jesus through the book of Luke in the New Testament. This is the story of Jesus and his life, death and resurrection.  In the first part of 2016, we walked with the Spirit through the book of Acts in the New Testament. This is the story of the first followers of Jesus (the church) as they were sent out into the world to share the good news of Jesus.  These audio devotions were well received and hundreds of people regularly listened and went through a book of the Bible together.

The basics of the audio devotional are: 

  • We break a book of the Bible into sections to read and reflect on each day.
  • We have a variety of Watermarkers who participate in putting together these audio devotionals.
  • Each devotional includes a reading of the section of Scripture that day, some comments to better understand what is going on, a personal reflection on the impact of the text, and a closing prayer. They are typically around 10 min (although I have been known to stretch it to 13 min…. sorry).
  • Monday-Friday we upload a new devotional for that day and it can be downloaded from a variety of sources.

The benefits of the audio devotional have been:

  • People, who are not big into reading, are learning the story of the Bible.
  • We are all on the same page about what we are reflecting on. There is a sense of unity.
  • Our church family’s vision and values can spring forth from different moments in the text.
  • It provides people an opportunity to grow in studying the text and teaching it.
  • The additional background helps people, new to the Bible, understand more of the text.

Anyways, I have really enjoyed helping put these audio devotions together. They have been incredibly impacting for me personally.  We’ve had a lot of people ask us to do more.  So, we decided to go through the book of Nehemiah with audio devotions this Summer.  We are calling it, “Building with God through Nehemiah.” We will start it Monday, July 4th.

BWGTN_podcastWhy Nehemiah?

  • We wanted to do an Old Testament book. We’ve done a lot of New Testament study lately and decided going through an Old Testament book would be beneficial.
  • Nehemiah is a book that covers helpful themes that apply to our faith family. It deals with change, courage, leadership, dealing with challenging people, and pursuing a mission. Our church family is in the process of preparing for launching a new site and this text will be helpful in this time of transition.
  • Nehemiah is a bit shorter and we can walk through it quickly for part of the Summer. We will skim through some long lists of names that are difficult to pronounce. 🙂

S0, I encourage you to subscribe to the audio devotional podcasts on our website or with your podcast application. Check these options out HERE.

Influence

13335722_10154320747023442_6564329083036334395_n

I’m working on the message for Sunday for our “influence” series. The series is about learning to lead/influence like Jesus. I was thoroughly burned out by leadership conferences, books, talks, and conversations in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. I appreciated the growth as a leader, but I am thankful that God led me to focus on becoming a better follower. I like how Paul, in the New Testament, sums up his leadership strategy: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1.  Christian leadership is following Jesus and learning to lead people to follow Jesus.  Any.ways, my hope is that our series will have this tone to it. You can check out one of the talks and see the rest of the series HERE.

As I think about those who have influenced me to follow Jesus and grow as a person, I am filled with gratitude.

What if each of us looked outward and considered how we might be able to encourage and invest in even one other person?

 

How to Handle an Evil Report

Years ago Dennis Jackson shared some wisdom regarding how to handle an evil report. An evil report is when someone comes to us and shares negative or accusing information about another person. It can be easy to just listen, empathize and even desire to hear such information. However, followers of Jesus are called to live in peace with everyone and gossip/slander is considered sin. So, how should we deal with reports that appear to be negative toward another person?

Here is the wisdom I received and so I’m passing it on to you.

Six questions to ask the person BEFORE listening to an evil report:

1. “What is your reason for telling me?”  Widening the circle of gossip only compounds the problem.  If it doesn’t involve you then you don’t need to be in the mix.

2. “Where did you get your information?” Refusal to identify the source of information is a sure signal of a evil report.

3. “Have you gone to those directly involved?”   Spirituality is not measured by how well we expose an offender, but by how we effectively restore an offender.  (Galatians 6:1)  (Matthew 18:15)

4. “Have you personally checked out all the facts?”  Even “facts” become distorted when not balanced with other facts or when given with negative motives.

5. “Can I quote you if I check this out?”  Those who give evil reports often claim that they are ‘misquoted.’  This is because their words and overriding impressions are reported.

6. “What is the sin issue in this situation?”  Is this a sin issue (has someone been wronged), or an expectation, personality or style issue (someone has a different opinion and preference)?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Some helpful passages: 

Romans 15:5-6 

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other–each with the attitude of Christ Jesus toward the other.  Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

1 Thessalonians 5:11

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

 

Ephesians 4:2-6

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

 

Living in community with others (who are not perfect) leads to disagreements, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. One way to encourage healing and resolution is to not participate in passing along negative or divisive comments. This is very difficult because it is always juicy and sometimes the information will reinforce our own struggles with a person.

What if I chose to pray instead of complain? What if I chose to seek understanding instead of seeking my way?  What if I put myself in the shoes of the person being spoken of? What if the main goal of my life (and how I handled conflicts and personal issues) was to glorify and honor God? These questions are easier said than done. We need the Holy Spirit and supportive brothers and sisters to live in oneness together.

7 Letters Resources

7letters-940x528

I have thoroughly enjoyed studying and teaching through the seven letters to the churches in Revelation found in Revelation 2-3. What makes the teaching even more meaningful is that I was blessed to learn about each city/church this Summer by traveling to each place in Asia (western Turkey). The trip was outstanding, the teaching was challenging, and I was able to go on this trip with my father.

Below are some of the resources I have used for this series (besides the Bible):

1) Traveling to Turkey on a Biblical Study Tour with Brad Gray. This trip was a spiritual, intellectual, and physical experience. I highly recommend going on a trip with Brad. It is worth the investment. I hope to take a group of Watermarkers to Turkey or Israel someday for a trip like this!  Here is Brad’s info and trips.

2) Guidebooks: A couple good guidebooks help you walk through the site, learn more of the background, and present some interesting information. I’ve used “A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey” by Fant and Reddish. I also utilized “Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor” by Mark Wilson.

3) Commentaries: I used a number of commentaries, but I enjoyed “Revelation” by Ben Witherington III and “Revelation” by Mark Wilson the most.

4) Book: “The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse” by Roland Worth is an outstanding book that puts together a wide variety of resources to explore each church community being addressed in the letters. This book is out of print and pricey, but I used one from a library. Yeah for libraries!

5) Websites: Ray Vanderlaan has good stuff on Israel and Turkey on his site: “Follow the Rabbi”.  I like to explore sites through pictures at “Bible places”. Another site/publication I enjoy is Biblical Archaeology Society.  Mark Wilson has a website with some information at “Seven Churches Network.”

All of these resources were very helpful, but the most impacting was the trip to study the letters in the places they were written to. The trip pulled together the passion, the pictures, and the information into a transforming experience. The best part of the trip and the study was that I experienced God, His love, and His mission.

I am thankful to my church family for giving me the gift of time to travel this Summer to experience God and His story in this way. I am grateful to the group that I traveled with, for the impact on my life. I am also thankful for my father who traveled with me, and helped make the trip possible. Finally, I am blessed to have a wife and family that encouraged me to go and experience this (even though I was gone a couple weeks).

You can watch the “Seven Letters” teaching here (with follow up questions for small groups).