Critical community

~ Sam Storms on the value/need of community:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared:

“If somebody asks [a Christian], 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 as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word . . .

But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. 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 man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother’s is sure” (Life Together, pp. 11–12).

The question we want to explore is this: How crucial is it to our salvation and endurance in the faith that we be committed to community and the encouragement and rebuke that come from other believers? To answer that question, look at Hebrews 3:12-14 –

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

A couple of observations are in order.

First, we need to be energetically attentive to what is happening in our hearts. Sin is deceptive and powerful and the world, the flesh, and the Devil are conspiring to lead you into unbelief and ultimately into departing from the living God.

Second, John Piper explains: “Hebrews sees two possibilities for professing Christians: either they hold fast their first confidence to the end and show that they have really become sharers in the life of Christ, or they become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from God with a heart of unbelief and show that they did not have a share in Christ.”

Third, and most important, is that the means God has ordained and provided by which we persevere is the consistent, faithful, loving exhortation and encouragement that comes to us from other Christian men and women (v. 13).

Again, Piper explains:

“It is written that the saints will persevere to the end and be saved. Those who have become sharers in Christ by the new birth will hold their first confidence to the end and be saved. But one of the evidences that you are among that number is that when God reveals in his holy Word the means by which you will persevere, you take him very seriously, you thank him, and you pursue those means. This text makes it very clear that the means by which God intends to guard us for salvation (1 Peter 1:5) is Christian community. Eternal security is a community project. Not just prayer, not just worship, not just the sacraments, not just Bible reading, but daily exhortation from other believers is God’s appointed means to enable you to hold your first confidence firm to the end.”

How and where is this done?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Where should we “meet together”? Anywhere and everywhere! Here at Bridgeway Church this would include our corporate assembly on Sunday mornings, in our community group gatherings during the week, and in our D-groups whenever possible. And let’s not leave out the coffee shop, around our kitchen tables, at the soccer field, etc.

The author of Hebrews refers to “the habit of some” in not meeting together on a consistent, regular basis. At no time in the history of the Christian Church have we seen this more in evidence than today. Energized and affirmed by the spirit of western individualism and consumerism, professing Christians feel increasingly “led” (often claiming that it is actually the Spirit who is behind it!) to neglect local church life, mock covenant membership, ignore small group dynamics, cast aside any notion of commitment, and pursue their own personal “spirituality” on the back porch, at Starbucks, somewhere between the seventh and tenth holes on the golf course, at a Thunder game, or sitting around a table playing cards.

So, how urgent and critical is it that we pursue a ministry of encouragement, accountability, rebuke, and love? Consider the following scenarios before you answer that question.

• The man who is excessively devoted to his career to the neglect of time and involvement with his wife and children . . .

• The woman who squanders her daytime with soap-operas, reality TV, and romance novels and whose resultant fantasy life undermines her commitment to her husband . . .

• The man whose growing addiction to pornography is distorting his view of women and destroying sexual intimacy with his wife . . .

• The woman whose infatuation with gossip is justified under the guise of “gathering-information-so-that-I-can-pray-for-them-more-specifically” . . .

• The man whose emotional insecurity and ego-driven desire for stature and respect have led him to rationalize low-grade embezzlement and income tax return fudging . . .

• The woman whose body-image obsession has led to dangerously unhealthy eating habits, exercise routines, and an excessively seductive style of dress . . .

• The man whose relationship with his personal administrative assistant is perilously close to adulterous, being justified in his mind by the sexual and emotional neglect of his wife . . .

• The woman whose spending habits have spiraled out of control and driven her family into debt, symptomatic of an idolatrous dependence on things to the exclusion of a singular love for God . .

• The man who, as he passes through middle age, feels increasingly bored with life and finds the excuse “You only go around once in life so grab for all the gusto you can” more and more reasonable with each passing day . . .

• The woman (or the man) whose anguish over a rebellious child, an unbelieving and emotionally distant spouse, a terminal diagnosis of cancer, or the mounting financial pressures of life, leads to increasing bitterness toward God and doubts about whether faithfully following him is really worth it . . .

These are only a few of the countless reasons why people are vulnerable to that “evil, unbelieving heart” that threatens to lead them “to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12b). The potential for being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13b) is so real and relentless that we must “exhort one another every day” (Heb. 3:13a) and aim “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), “not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25).


Whatever Happened to Discipleship?

A Point of Concern

Several years ago, I remember reading The Cost of Discipleship by the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer laid out what he believed it was to follow Christ. This book was published during the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. It was during this period that Bonhoeffer’s view of costly discipleship was put together. And it was his view of costly discipleship that ultimately led to his death.

Over the years I have talked to plenty of people about the Gospel. While I run across plenty of people who have never heard the message before, I also I come across plenty of people who profess to be Christians but are not going forward in their faith. If I meet an individual who says they are a professed believer, I always ask them where they are in the discipleship process. Many times when I ask, “Are you becoming a disciple?” I usually get the response, “What’s a disciple?”

Many are oblivious to the importance of discipleship. Therefore, I find myself exhorting hundreds of people to get rooted in congregational/community life—get back to the basics (e.g., read the Bible, prayer). I always give these individuals contact information of local churches that they can attend. It saddens me to see what is happening in the transition from the point when someone makes a professed/salvation decision for Jesus and the overall discipleship/commitment aspect to our faith.

What is a Disciple?

Read on at:

The Glorious Incarnation

“No priest, no theologian stood at the manger of Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders: that God became human. Holy theology arises from knees bent before the mystery of the divine child in the stable. Without the holy night, there is no theology. “God is revealed in flesh,” the God-human Jesus Christ — that is the holy mystery that theology came into being to protect and preserve. How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat, ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! Its sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend, and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery. This and nothing else, therefore, is what the early church meant when, with never flagging zeal, it dealt with the mystery of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ…. If Christmas time cannot ignite within us again something like a love for holy theology, so that we—captured and compelled by the wonder of the manger of the son of God—must reverently reflect on the mysteries of God, then it must be that the glow of the divine mysteries has also been extinguished in our heart and has died out.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger

Full Of Wonder

“To those who recognize in Jesus the wonder of the Son of God, every one of his words and deeds becomes a wonder; they find in him the last, most profound, most helpful counsel for all needs and questions. Yes, before the child can open his lips, he is full of wonder and full of counsel. Go to the child in the manger. Believe him to be the Son of God, and you will find in him wonder upon wonder, counsel upon counsel.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger

The Glorious Incarnation ~ The Mystery

“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty. A human life is worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery. We retain the child in us to the extent that we honor the mystery. Therefore, children have open, wide-awake eyes, because they know that they are surrounded by the mystery. They are not yet finished with this world; they still don’t know how to struggle along and avoid the mystery, as we do. We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary of our being, because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal, and that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery…. Living without mystery means knowing nothing of the mystery of our own life, nothing of the mystery of another person, nothing of the mystery of the world; it means passing over our own hidden qualities and those of others and the world. It means remaining on the surface, taking the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated and exploited, and not going beyond the world of calculation and exploitation. Living without mystery means not seeing the crucial processes of life at all and even denying them.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Greedy Eyes

“Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespected hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

The Glorious Incarnation ~ His Wonders

Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas