Prayer Wednesdays: A bountiful treasure

I love writing down my prayers. For me, writing prayers is a devotional experience. Starting on Wednesdays, I’d like to share portions of some of these prayers. My prayers, like everything else I write, do not carry the authority of Scripture. My words must always be tested and approved. However, I hope that through this form of devotional writing, that it will minister to your souls in ways that my other writings do not. And perhaps these prayers will draw you into a time of prayer as well. To the glory of God. Amen. 

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Hallmark, Idealization and the Gospel

hallmarkThe night after Thanksgiving I sat down to watch my first Hallmark Christmas movie of the season. My husband, who was close by in the living room and curious as to what I was watching, was struck by the “perfectness” of the main male and female characters. “Everyone is perfect in this movie! Perfect teeth; perfect hair; perfect skin; perfect body.” For the rest of the movie he teased me for watching such an unrealistic, cheesy movie. Finally he couldn’t hold back the question that was bothering him: Why would you watch such an idealized movie when reality is so different?

I thought about it for a moment. To be sure the characters were nauseatingly good-looking and the plot was super predictable. But my answer to him was simple: escape. What the Hallmark movie did for me was to provide an escape from a world filled with gun violence and radical, tyrannical Islam on one extreme and bad breath, tantrums and a messy toy room on the lesser extreme. It provided a “perfect” world where none of these things existed and I could pretend, too, even if just for a moment that I existed in this “perfect” world. The Hallmark movies are an idealization.

Hallmark has learned how to capitalize on women’s desire for the ideal, specifically for the ideal love and relationship. In fact if you watch enough of these movies, you realize the actors, setting and character names change from move to movie but the plot basically remains the same. Yet it still makes us feel good and warm and fuzzy.

I believe this desire for the ideal is something that God has placed in each of us in order to point to Himself. Living in a sinful, broken world even professing non-Christians idealize their own imagined heaven. Surely this messed up world cannot be all we get! We see this concretized in Hollywood as it has even capitalized on “heaven” movies like What Dreams May Come, City of Angels, and, my favorite, Dogs Go to Heaven.

But these feeble attempts miss the mark and idealize the lesser instead of the greater. The world idealizes what they believe is the ultimate of all relationships and love – romantic love between a man and a woman. This is Hollywood’s and Hallmark’s ideal. But their ideal fails, for as soon as the escape is over we walk into a kitchen with dirty dishes, or go to sleep next to someone who no longer loves us, or walk out to a beat-up old car that puts out more exhaust than it does breathable air, or go home to an empty house that reminds us we are truly alone. The escape they provide lasts momentarily; it doesn’t change our reality. Their idealization is of something that they cannot ever promise we will receive.

And sometimes we reject others’ attempts at idealization and create our own. Christmas-time seems to be the perfect stimulant for idealizations, and we parents are the most susceptible. We want to give our children the same, if not better, idealized Christmases that we remember. Christmas becomes a 6-week long, “magical” event where we become so consumed with creating the ideal Christmas that by the time Christmas is over we and our children experience the biggest let down of the year. Our idealized world has ended.

Small doses of idealization aren’t bad, I believe, as long as we recognize that they aren’t the end in themselves but point beyond themselves to the True Ideal which actually becomes our Reality and is the Ultimate Reality.

In the Incarnation, the Ideal has broken into the Real. Put another way, heaven came to earth. God became flesh and dwelt among us. And this Ideal is God’s ideal as defined by Scripture not our ideal defined by our standards. If it were our ideal, we would have placed Jesus in a castle not in a manger (not to even speak of the crucifixion!). Yet in Christ, we are not only shown an ideal love, the apogee of all loves, a I-lay-down-my-life-for-you kind of love, but it is a love that doesn’t remain on a TV or movie screen. It’s a love that goes with us and transforms us. It is a love that doesn’t make you sick after too much of it, but a love that continues to give you life upon life so that you can never have enough.

Sometimes when we use the word ideal it is a word that describes something that will never become real. This is not true of Jesus, the Incarnation or God’s love for us. The “ideal” is so real, it is even more real than what we call our reality. What we find in Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality.

It strikes me that when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, the first thing he tells his disciples to ask of God is for heaven to break into our reality. It is a prayer that asks for this world to mirror and become perfect world of heaven. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13). Heaven is the sphere where God reigns as King and where his will is completely done. Since God is perfect and sinless, good and love, heaven is the place that reflects this majesty and character of God. Jesus tells us to pray for that perfect world to break into our world so that earth will become like heaven.

Until that day comes in full, Jesus promises those who he redeems and who follow him that we enter into the Kingdom of God (also known as the Kingdom of Heaven) partially while on this earth. In Jesus Christ, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Or, put another way, we have one foot in reality and one foot in the perfect world that is yet to be.

For some of you the following will make your toes curl, but I am guilty of reading the last page or sometimes the last chapter first when I begin a new book. I did this for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I can’t help it. I want to know how the story ends before I begin so that when I get to the difficult, scary, they-aren’t-going-to-make-it parts of the book, I can press forward because I know how it will end.

God, who loves us and wants to be known by us as Father, does the same thing for us. He gives us the book of Revelation so that we will know how the story “ends.” We can brave the middle parts; we can preserve during hard reality moments. We can have faith and hope because we know that his ideal will one day become real to us, and that God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

After watching two Hallmark Christmas movies this season, I have already had my fill. I can’t take another. But watching them reminded me of my need and desire and longing for that ideal, perfect world. A world that actually began away in a manger where God pitched his tent among us, a world that I taste every time I worship with my church family, pray and read Scripture, and a world that I know is coming, which will be God’s answer to our prayer: let your Kingdom come.

 

Chipped fingernail paint and the gospel

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This past weekend was one of those tough parenting moments. As an aside, I am thankful for those friends who debunked the myth early on that it’s only the 2s that are “terrible” or else I would be completely unprepared for the 4s! Our son Philip threw the tantrum of the year. We had never seen him that angry. Because he didn’t get something he wanted on Friday night, he lashed out at us in every possible way. He was like a mad dog with his teeth sunk into his anger, and he was not going to give it up. Finally after a long time of us holding his bedroom door shut and telling him to get on his bed and calm down, he gave up. His anger gave way to tears, but the damage had already been done.

 

We grounded him for the first time ever. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because he was grounded, it meant that he missed his best friend’s birthday party on Saturday and the first birthday party of the new school year.

 

Saturday morning after waking up, Philip went into his playroom and played quietly by himself. After some time passed, I went to him and told him how much we loved him but also how much he hurt us by his sin. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, please give me a new heart.”

 

“We know all too well our sins and offenses.”

 

Sunday morning we rushed to church late as usual. Even though I had little time to get ready, my hair and make-up were satisfactory, and I was wearing jewelry and new clothes. Quite a feat for a mom of a little one! Everything about my outward appearance looked put together except for my fingernails. My dark blue fingernail paint was chipped and ugly. My fingernails gave me away that all wasn’t put together on the outside.

 

“It turns out Jesus doesn’t even want the best we have to offer.”

 

One of the main reasons that my husband and I left the Baptist church and have come to the larger Anglican church (our church is actually an evangelical Episcopal church) is because of weekly Communion. In part we love taking weekly Communion as it is a constant, visible reminder of the gospel. But we also love the way in which Communion is taken at the Anglican Church. Instead of little cups of juice and fingernail size crackers being passed to each person individually without ever needing to leave your seat, the taking of Communion in the Anglican tradition involves getting out of your seat and kneeling next to brothers and sisters. Communion isn’t just an individualistic experience but one the church does together. (As an aside, in a way, Communion is also more of an individual experience in the Anglican tradition as the priest or vicar gives each person, individually, bread and wine, looks into their eyes, and says, “Take this and remember Christ died for your sins.”) I remember the first time the significance of the act of taking Communion truly sunk in. I walked forward with open hands, bringing nothing with me, kneeling in reverence and submission, and receiving the bread and wine. This was the message of the gospel. I bring nothing of my own merit to Christ. Instead I kneel at the feet of Christ in reverence and submission waiting to receive from him in faith his body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of my sins. Instead of taking Communion, here I’ve learned to receive Communion just like I have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

“What does Jesus want? He wants you.”

 

Sunday morning after listening to Dean Andrew Pearson’s wonderful sermon of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have been quoting here, Communion was offered. We were sitting on the last row that morning. As I waited for my turn to go to the table, I prayed and watched people of different kinds get up from their pews to receive Communion. Then, a few rows ahead of us, a man on crutches got up and limped forward to the Communion table. He was lame. Yet while he is lame on the outside, it occurred to me we all approach the table of Jesus Christ limping, lame with our own, invisible crutches and bruises. Just like Philip asked me on Saturday, so I, too, that morning came limping to the table asking, “Jesus, please give me a new heart.”

 

When it came for my turn to get up, I looked down at my chipped painted fingernails and was thankful. I was thankful that there was something on the outside of my body that wasn’t perfect, that needed fixing, that was ugly. Because it reminded me that stripped of all of my pretenses and outward appearances, I am one in great need of Jesus. I need a new heart. Every day. I, like Philip, make my Father sad. At times, I, too, sink my teeth deep into sin, into my selfishness and pride and refuse to let go. I, too, need the Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify and make new my heart. I, too, come to God on crutches knowing that he heals the sinner, cures the brokenhearted, and makes new the old. Only in Jesus do we find what we’ve always been looking for – love so perfect, love divine.

 

“Every time we celebrate Communion we issue an altar call. We say, The table is set. This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He has died and is risen again. And he is alive. Come forward and simply receive by faith Jesus Christ. What do you bring when you come forward? Nothing. You just come forward, and whether you are rich or poor, young or old, whether you got it together or you’re a total wreck, whether your bruises really hurt or whether you are still struggling with your bruises, we all take the same posture on our knees and open our hands like beggars and simply receive. We say ‘yes’ to Jesus and surrender our hearts and lives to him.”

 

For the full sermon, listen here.

Rest in God: Reflections on biblical rest

 

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“Jesu, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast:
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

What creates unrest in your life?

Worry? Fear? Relationships? Health? Your children’s extra-curricular activities? Bills? Money? Violence?

We live in a world of unrest – of restlessness.

The search term that brings most people to my blog is restlessness, which leads them to “An Answer To a Restless Spirit,” a post I wrote last year. We are people who struggle with unrest and want to know how to overcome it. As I was thinking about what causes unrest in our lives, I thought of the following.

ISIS creates unrest for people who will not convert. Planned Parenthood creates unrest for babies who were once living restfully in their mothers’ wombs. A white racist created unrest for African-Americans worshipping in a church. Gangs create unrest in neighborhoods. The gossiper creates unrest for the gossiped about one.

Sin creates unrest in all of our lives. There are varying degrees of unrest, but it touches each of us because sin touches each of us.

In the United States, I believe, egocentricism and narcissism eats away at our rest like cancer in its last stage. The more we feed on ourselves the more unhappy and restless we become.

How do we find rest? How can we cultivate rest? Or, how can we overcome unrest?

To answer this question we must begin at the beginning – Genesis 1.

In the beginning God created. The creation account describes God making order out of chaos and thereby creating a good and perfect world (Genesis 1-2). At the end of each day “there was evening and there was morning,” language to communicate the completion of a day. Whether or not this was a 24 hour day or a longer period isn’t important for our discussion. But don’t miss this! Guess what happens on Day 7?

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

The seventh day was never meant to end. It is the only day that did not have an evening and morning! The seventh day was not a 24 hour day; it was the reality or the space in time in which God was to live with his people forever.

The seventh day commemorated the fulfillment of his creating acts. His creation and creating was complete, perfect, and good. Each creation day ended with the same refrain, “and behold, it was very good.” When God rested from his work he did so because his work was perfectly finished and completed.

On Day 7 we see God, the Creator, resting in a perfect and unbroken fellowship with his creation, most importantly with the man and woman. Rest is not equal to relaxation. Sometimes I feel worse after waking up from a two-hour nap than I did before the nap! The Hebrew word for rest means “to cease.” God rested or ceased from creating work and rested in a good world in which he created. Therefore, biblical rest is the description of the state or reality where sin is not and everything is perfect and completed.

Notice how the work week doesn’t start over for God. Again, it is complete. It is finished. Creation was meant to live in a state of rest with its Creator forever. 

In Genesis 2:3 God does something that he does not do for any other day. He sanctifies the day as belonging to him. God sanctifies rest. God doesn’t sanctify his other days of work; rather, he makes holy the reality (the day) in which he and his creation would live. Creation was meant to live in unbroken fellowship with God, and creation (including you and me) was created to take part in Day 7 with him. Rest was God’s idea from the beginning – “divine rest in a perfect creation.” (See quote below.) The original couple were invited, created with the intention, to enjoy and participate in that rest with God.

This reality did not mean that the original couple did not work nor did it mean that work was a rest-stealer. Work in a sinless, perfect world was good and not hard (Genesis 2:15).

What disturbs the rest that our Creator was enjoying with his creation in the perpetual seventh day?

Genesis 3 tell us it was sin – disobedience.

Sin disturbs this rest and creates unrest. Or, put another way, sin undoes rest and creation.

The perfect, unbroken fellowship with God is now messed up and broken. Good and restful work now turns into hard work with pain, thorn, and thistles. Adam and Eve are sent out of the place where they once dwelt with God. Their physical reality (moving away from God’s presence) is indicative of their spiritual reality – being separated from God. Creation, which was also once at peace with one another because of it being at peace with God, now turns in on and against itself. The first example we see of this unrest within creation is Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother because of jealousy. After the Fall, there are continuous patterns of sin taking the people further away from God and from one another into unrest.

We do not hear of the Sabbath after creation until Exodus 31 when Moses is on Mount Sinai.

“But sin ruined that rest in fellowship with the Creator, as well as God’s rest in a creation unspoiled by sin.” This made it impossible for God to impose the Sabbath on a fallen humankind, because the thing it memorialized — divine rest in a perfect creation — had been destroyed. … The idea of the Sabbath, therefore, disappeared from Scripture until it was reinstitute at Mount Sinai for the people whom God redeemed.”[1]

At Mount Sinai, after God has rescued the Hebrew people out of Egypt, God makes a covenant with his redeemed in order to reestablish a new creation. This is known as the Mosaic covenant.

And the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:12-17; See also Lev. 23:3 and Deut. 5:12-15)

Because of what the Sabbath memorialized – peace with God – God does not reestablish the sanctification of the day until he makes a covenant with people whom he had redeemed (pictured perfectly in the Passover as God passed over every household that had blood of a lamb on its doorposts). We cannot enter into God’s rest without first being redeemed. Redemption is necessary to experience rest.

The law of the Sabbath points back to the first Sabbath. In the celebration of the Sabbath the people are sharing in the intended reality of rest with their Creator and now their Redeemer. In God’s redeeming act (as seen in the Passover and release from captivity in Egypt) is the idea of rebirth – God recreating a people for himself. And because God chose to redeem them, he invites them to share with him in his holy day. In return, those who keep the Sabbath will show themselves to be the faithful, true followers of God.

“As the people of God, the Israelites were identified with their Creator and Redeemer by sharing that Sabbath.”[2]

While this day had physical rest implications (garnering strength for a new work week), it was more than that. The day was a day of worship not for personal pursuits. Worship of God ushers us into rest. When we elevate and feast on ourselves, we become more and more restless. When we elevate and feast on God, we find more and more rest. The promise of rest is often given in conjunction with the promise of land. Think of the Israelites as they leave Egypt. God, through Moses, promises both rest and land. The idea of land and rest brings to mind the garden of Eden when the land also saw rest.

The celebration of the Sabbath also points to a future Sabbath – eternal, eschatological rest. Since the time of the Fall, God in salvation history has been working to bring back the seventh day. In Jesus Christ, God has been working to restore and recreate what was lost in the Fall, a time when what once was will be a present reality again.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, however, we read that the people of God fail to enter rest and the land because of rebellion and unbelief. The three commandments that the Israelites are most often accused of disobeying are: not worshipping idols, not intermarrying, and not keeping the Sabbath. Unbelief delayed the fulfillment of the promised rest.

As we turn to the New Testament, something changes after the Incarnation. The Sabbath is no longer commanded or imposed. Rather, the Sabbath is descriptive of the reality for those in Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives a promise for those who will follow him. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus says he alone holds rest, and therefore he alone is able to gift rest. How is it that Jesus can promise rest, and, therefore, how can we trust that Jesus is able to give it?

First, because he is the lord of the Sabbath. As the incarnate Son of God, through whom the world was made (John 1), Jesus is rightful lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8 and Mark 2:28). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus with the Father and the Spirit created the world. As Creator, Jesus with the Father and Spirit rested and sanctified rest.

Second, because of Jesus’ salvific work on the cross and in the resurrection. God recreates us through Jesus’ death and resurrection by reconciling us to himself. Listen to how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 21.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this if from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. … For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus puts us back into right relationship with God our Creator. As a result, when we are in a right relationship with our Creator we experience rest. Our proximity to God determines whether or not we will experience rest.

Our four-year-old son has always had difficulty with sleep. Ever since he moved out of a crib, we have struggled with him getting out of his bed in the night to come to our bed. Whether it is us lying by him in order for him to fall asleep or him climbing between us to fall back to sleep when he’s woken up in the night, he can’t seem to find rest unless he is as close to us as possible. Our presence brings comfort and rest to him.

The same is true with us and our Creator, our God, our Father. His presence alone brings true and lasting rest for our souls. The further away from him the more restless we are.

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God also establishes a new covenant. Jesus tells us this when he institutes the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper or communion is the divine interpretation of the cross. We cannot understand the meaning of Jesus’ death without the Lord’s Supper.

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says this is my body given for you and this is my blood poured out for you. Just like we could do absolutely nothing to bring about our own creation, we, too, can do nothing to bring about our redemption. Just like we were completely dependant upon God for our physical birth, we, too, are completely dependant upon God for our rebirth. Rest, therefore, cannot be earned, bought, or worked for. It is a gift of God that we receive through Jesus Christ, the lord of Sabbath.

What kind of rest does Jesus give us?

First, as just discussed, we rest from works of salvation, from any and all attempts to get to God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). For those who come from other religions or perhaps from a misconstrued type of Christianity, this type of work is very wearisome and burdensome (just like it was for those trying to keep the Sabbath). Taking Jesus’ yoke is to accept the work of salvation he has done on our behalf, and as a result find rest from works of salvation. Works attempted on our own are hard, but works that are a result of the Spirit of God are light and easy.

Second, we rest from sin and the guilt of sin. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5b). “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).”To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts. 10:43).

Third, the rest we have is peace with God. We are at peace with God because we have been reconciled to God. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

So what do we do with the Sabbath commandment as Christians?

Since the Sabbath is no longer commanded or imposed, we must not confuse what we do on Sunday as the Sabbath. We come together on Sundays to worship Christ and to celebrate what he has done for us in ushering us into this eschatological rest, but we are no longer under the law of the Sabbath. Instead, in Christ every day is a Sabbath because we are reconciled to God. We are reminded of this reality through worship. And it’s not only spiritual rest, but we also are given physical rest in worship because of who we are worshipping. Therefore, we are able to enter into God’s rest even while still living in a world and a land of unrest that is still waiting for its final redemption because we are at peace with God. This is counterintuitive to what the world offers. The world says to exalt yourself and trust in yourself to find “your best life now.” God says, Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, those of you who are tired of running away, turning inward, rebelling, and I alone will give you rest.

It doesn’t matter how much we declutter our lives and our homes, how many times we say “no” to good things, how organized we are, how many naps we take, or how many hours we sleep at night. These are good things to give our bodies rest. But we cannot create rest for ourselves. We might look restful or happy on the outside, but without Jesus, without a relationship with God through Jesus that is spent feasting on his Word and in prayer, any rest we have is only a mirage. It is a fake and so thin that the slightest thing will break it, undo it.

But in Christ, we have a foretaste of the seventh day. The not yet will one day be. There will be no more unrest or restlessness when the kingdom of God comes.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”

No matter what is causing you unrest or restlessness in the present, daily troubles of this life, rest in Christ. Rest in his salvation. Find rest in your Creator and Redeemer. And rest in his promise that he will one day bring you into his eternal rest where we will once again dwell in that “seventh day.”

 

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Finkenwalde: In the School of Bonhoeffer

As many of you know, in May I took a job at Beeson Divinity School (of which I am a graduate and where my husband teaches) as its marketing and communications coordinator. It has been a wonderful experience, and I am blessed to be able to serve at and for a place such as this one that seeks to train called men and women for service in the church of Jesus Christ.

One of the responsibilities of my office is to create a booklet that accompanies each semester chapel theme as a worship and reflection aid. This fall the semester theme was chosen before my arrival — Finkenwalde: In the School of Bonhoeffer.

Many people don’t know Bonhoeffer as a theological educator when in fact he was a seminary director for longer than anything else he did in his life (1935-40). This work would’ve continued if the Gestapo hadn’t finally closed it down. When he was first called by the Confessing Church to come serve as a seminary director, his group of first students and he met temporarily at a place called Zingst. They lived here for a couple of months before securing a more permanent location at Finkenwalde.

They would spend the longest time at Finkenwalde, which is why the name became synonymous with his seminary. But they actually met in three other locations after the Gestapo closed down Finkenwalde. This was an illegal seminary from the beginning.

Beeson’s Old Testament professor Dr. Paul House wrote a book on this period of Bonhoeffer’s life, “Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision,” that recently came out by Crossway. His book is the inspiration and text for our fall theme.

When I first began work on the booklet, I was given a portion of House’s book for the booklet, which was to serve as the text. So what I really needed was pictures for the book. One of the most exciting finds of the book was Bonhoeffer’s Zingst seal. While researching for the booklet, I came across an image of a seal/emblem that had never been noticed or seen before by scholars (Dr. House, Dr. Timothy George, Dr. Victoria Barnett). With the help of Dr. Barnett (the general editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works), who contacted a colleague in Germany on my behalf, she found the only mention (at least that I know of) of the seal in a memoir written by Bonhoeffer’s friend Eberhard Bethge that has yet to be translated into English. He writes that Bonhoeffer had the seal created when they first came to Zingst and even though they had other seals created later after they moved they continued to almost exclusively use the Zingst seal in the books of their library and, as we know, on fliers and possibly letters or other documents.

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The seal is also special because of its confession of “Christ alone is Lord” a direct affront to Hitler and the German Christians who claimed Hitler as lord (or fuhrer). Unlike the German Church, which had a swastika imposed over a cross, this seal only has a dominant cross with the confession surrounding it in the middle of the seal.

After discovering the seal, I asked my graphic designer to recreate the seal for the booklet (as seen above). He did a beautiful job! By having the seal throughout the booklet and in our weekly chapel worship guides, we are giving something back to the public that has been forgotten of Bonhoeffer’s. We are paying a tribute to the work and confession of his seminary as well as joining him in the same confession. We, too, confess, “Jesus alone is Lord.”

On August 20, we launched the Finkenwalde emphasis at Beeson. Hear from our Dean Timothy George talk about why are we looking at Bonhoeffer again in chapel (this is the third semester we have studied Bonhoeffer), from me as I talk about the booklet, from Dr. House as he talks about his book, from Dr. Mark DeVine as he talks about his book, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today,” from Dr. Robert Smith, Jr., about Bonhoeffer’s time in the States and his love of the African-American church and spirituals, and from Christy Harper about our upcoming Finkenwalde Day. It’s a video full of rich content that I think you’ll enjoy!

Also, if you live or are ever in the Birmingham area, come join us for chapel services in Hodges Chapel on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. as we seek to become students in the school of Bonhoeffer once again.

My unexpected sabbatical: A look back at Cambridge

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There is a clock in the center of Cambridge, England. Actually there are as many clocks in Cambridge as there are churches in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am from). But the clock I am referring to is a special and unusual clock.

The Corpus Clock draws the attention of visitors and residents alike. For one, there are no hands on this clock. In fact, at first glance, one might not know that it is a clock at all! What draws people to it is its unusual appearance. Amongst a sea of brown and grey bricks and stones sits an encased 3-dimensional circle, almost 5 feet across in diameter, plated in 24-carat gold, and worth at least 1 million pounds if not more.

What is even more unusual about this clock is that the time is accurate only once every five minutes. Sometimes the clock slows down and at other times it races forward. Not to mention that what sits on top of the clock is a strange creature that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a locust. This creature, also known as the Chronophage or “Time Eater,” opens its mouth as if he is eating time and occasionally blinks to show his satisfaction.

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Although the clock isn’t always accurate it truthfully represents our perception of time. For often time feels as if it has slowed down: when school or a work day feels like it will never end; when waiting for an appointment; or when waiting for test results. At other times in life time feels as if it is moving too fast, especially as a parent when you watch your children grow. Yet, no matter whether time has “slowed down” or “sped up,” it nonetheless passes and what is in the past will never be present again. This is why the Time Eater makes such an impression. For it illustrates this reality in a haunting way: time is eaten until it is eventually all gone, evidenced by the Latin inscription that marks the top of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passes away and the lust thereof”) from 1 John 2:17.

One year ago my family packed up what we could fit in six suitcases and moved to Cambridge, England, for six months for my husband’s sabbatical. I’m crying now as I write this. Those were some of the best months of my life!

My husband teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and was up for his first sabbatical since being at Beeson Divinity. He was under contract for a new book, The Acts of the Apostles: Essays in Interpretation, History and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming), which meant he wanted to spend his sabbatical at a good, theological library. Cambridge is home to the world’s largest (and best!) evangelical library, Tyndale House, not to mention that by being at Tyndale House he also had access to the Cambridge University libraries.

When our family of three moved to Cambridge, we did so for my husband’s sabbatical. Sabbatical comes from the Latin sabbaticus, which means to cease or take leave from work. You might also recognize the connection with the word Sabbath.

While Osvaldo was taking a paid leave of absence from his work as a theological educator, he wasn’t ceasing from work entirely. Yet, his reprieve from teaching allowed him to do something else that he loved – research and writing.

Then there was me. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom. Moving to England didn’t mean that I was ceasing from my work. I just carried it with me. His name is Philip, and at the time he was three. This won’t be a sabbatical for me, I thought.

What I soon discovered, about a month after being in Cambridge, was that indeed God was gifting me with a sabbatical of my own. But not in the way that you or I would think.

What moving to Cambridge did for me was that it took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a reprieve from expectations, commitments, temptations, cultural priorities, and even idols that came with where I was living. In this way, I was gifted a sabbatical.

The power of contrast allowed me to see those areas in my life and heart that had been controlled by culture or worldly things rather than by God.

Our way of living drastically changed. We were now living in a place without a car, TV, or 4G Internet access away from Wifi hot spots. Our home had no air conditioner, which surprisingly was a problem during the summer months, and no electronic clothes dryer. Part of my daily routine was to hang all of our clothes, towels and sheets! To get anywhere in town we would mostly walk or cycle and occasionally take the bus. This meant spending more time getting around town, which, consequently, meant more time in communication with my son, reflection, and prayer.

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This contrast brought clarity. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see those things in my life back home that were superfluous, that created unrest in my life (the opposite of Sabbath), and that were unpleasing to Him. Like looking at my reflection in the glass window of the Corpus Clock, by living in Cambridge the Holy Spirit allowed me to see myself more clearly. In many ways I had been living like that person for whom the Corpus clock is true – as if time was a limited commodity that I had to utilize before the Time Eater ate it up.

I’ve heard it said, “That’s the thing with idols: when you think you have a control on them that is when they really have control of you.” For me, one of those idols was time.

The ironic twist in my sabbatical was that as life became more difficult (no car, TV, clothes dryer, etc) and thereby in many ways more time consuming, as I spent more time in communion with Him, and as time became less of an idol for me, the more time I had. My days felt longer. I had time for tea. For relationships. For conversations. For adventures. As a result, I experienced more freedom.

Within a month, I noticed a change in my spirit. Burdens that were once there, often placed by me, were gone. Life was simpler. Less time was spent caring what others thought, what others were doing and saying on social media, and trying to keep up with Pinterest, while more time was spent visiting parks. (We visited a total of eight while in Cambridge.)

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We took adventures. My first month in Cambridge, I was invited to a tearoom with other moms and children, whose husbands and fathers were studying at Tyndale. Going would mean cycling with Philip almost four miles one way without having a GPS. I screenshot some maps, packed a backpack and our basket on the front of the cycle, and we were off. With the help of several, kind English people, who gave me directions along the way, that little adventure took us down ivy-grown paths, along a river, past open, green fields, into an apple orchard where I eventually sat down for tea and scones with other women while the children played under apple trees.

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Whereas time before Cambridge was rushed and there never seemed to be enough of it, in Cambridge I was finding more time with the cessation of expectations (i.e., making a wreath for my front door or planning parties), material things, and the need to work and be productive all the time. Whereas my time in prayer and Scripture were rushed and not always made a priority before Cambridge, in Cambridge there seemed to be ample time for me to hear from God through His Word, prayer and Christian friendships.

As I reflect on our six months in Cambridge now that I sit back in our home in Alabama, where we have two cars, a TV, 4G Internet, air conditioner (hallelujah!) and an electronic clothes dryer, I am not the same person. Despite my longing to be back in Cambridge to have that way of life once more, God’s unexpected gift to me (and really to my entire family) of a sabbatical has stayed with me. Although I find myself back in a busier culture with different values and temptations than that of England (which has its own temptations and negative values), God reoriented my mind and heart so that I could discern better and easier between what was important and unimportant, what was good and what was stealing my rest and joy, and what was necessary for life and salvation and what was cultural.

As I think back to the Corpus Clock, it strikes me that the inventor of the clock only put the first part of 1 John 2:17. Either he didn’t know the rest of the verse or didn’t believe it. “The world is passing away along with its desires” would leave anyone depressed. Life is frivolous. Life is just a breath. You’ve heard it said, “Drink, eat and be merry for we may only have the night.” I feel that as Americans we often live in this kind of reality. Live this life to the fullest because we all have just “one life to live.” Perform, do, work. Hurry up! Time is passing, and you only have a short amount of time to accomplish so much before you die. In this way, even for the Christian living in the States, life can be hard, restless and pressed from every side.

Yet this is not how the story ends. In Jesus we have a “salvific but” in this verse. The “but” tells us there is an alternative to the prior reality. For some, there is a period after “the world passes away and the lusts thereof,” but in Christ there is a comma. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” What is the will of God? Jesus answers this question for us in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The world may pass away, but those who do his will – believe – will live forever and will never die.

You see, by Jesus Christ destroying sin on the cross and overcoming death in the resurrection, he destroyed the Time Eater. Those who die with Christ – by faith – will be raised to everlasting life. We won’t need a clock that tells us that time is passing by because time will never end. Instead of a Time Eater, we will have a Time Giver: Jesus Christ.

Before I went to Cambridge, I lived by a clock. Now that I am working outside the home full-time, in some ways, I live by the clock even more! But by the grace and mercy of God, the gift of my sabbatical continues. The reality that Jesus gives us is not one that has to wait until we pass from this life to the next; rather, it is one that begins here and now if we allow Him to be first in our life. You don’t need to go to Cambridge, England, to have this kind of sabbatical. As Jesus continues to reorient our hearts so that it is no longer bent inward toward self, time, and the things of this world, but arched outward to Him, He gifts us with rest, freedom and, ironically, more time.

 

 

 

 

 

Media and the sexualization of children: Thoughts from a concerned parent

spot_thumbA scene from Tylenol’s new commercial, #HowWeDoFamily

The Today Show’s article about a transgender child came up on my Facebook newsfeed once again.

This is the third time I have seen an article from The Today Show featuring children whom, they say, have realized they were born the wrong sex.

These children are 10 years and under. They have yet to hit puberty. Their minds, personalities and bodies are still maturing, and, therefore, we would not consider them adults.

Yet, these children have become the poster children for a sexually hungry and motivated media. They are Exhibit A for a liberal, sexual agenda.

The unnaturalness of same-sex marriage or transgender practices has become naturalized, and if they can prove that people are just born that way, starting with young children, then they believe they have their argument made.

What has resulted, I think, is an overt sexualization of children.

In an important but disturbing article, Katie Yoder makes the case that the media is transfixed on transgender children and its movement.

But the media is not just using children who express a desire to be the opposite sex or love the same sex for its agenda. (This is the first problem.) Those few elite personalities behind the media are trying to influence and change the way our children believe, think about and view sexuality as evidenced in the kinds of shows targeted to our children.

Just take a look at the shows playing on ABC Family, whose tagline is “A new kind of family.” Becoming Us is about an “ordinary” (note the use of this word) Midwestern boy named Ben whose father, after his parents’ divorce, is now transitioning into a woman. Or, how about Baby Daddy, which is about another main character named Ben, whose ex-girlfriend left their baby on his doorstep and who is now raising this child with two other single male adults. Then there’s The Fosters, which is about two lesbian women raising six children. They are described as a “close-knit, loving family.” I could list other popular shows aimed at our children, like Glee, that are hyper-sexualized and seem to blush at nothing.

In addition, the media is obsessed with Bruce-turned-Caitlyn Jenner since this popular, all-American athlete makes the perfect model and spokesperson for the transgender movement. (He also was recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN).

I fully expect to see cartoons, video games, children books and movies reflecting these changing views of family and marriages. Already last week I saw a new Tylenol commercial that is trying to redefine conventional family by including scenes of both lesbian and gay couples with children using the hashtag, #HowWeDoFamily.

So where does this leave me as a parent, who believes traditional marriage is best for society and children and who doesn’t share the same views and sympathies as those shared in media?

I don’t have five suggested steps or three answers that will solve our problems. I’m simply sounding the alarm. For some, an alarmist is a bad thing. But for me, alarms have always saved my life – whether it was when my apartment burned down or when a tornado passed by our home. I am grateful for alarms.

I want to provide information and pose questions. As a former journalist, the best starting place is becoming knowledgeable. Knowledge truly is power.

I want to become vigilant and aware of how a minority is trying to change the views of the majority. I want to speak up where necessary and say “No” where needed, even if it isn’t a popular thing to do. Instead of watching Disney and Pixar movies on ABC Family (which has a ridiculous amount of commercials anyway), I can rent those movies. We lived for six months in England without a TV; it is possible (and wonderful!).

Most importantly I do not want to give the media any voice where it concerns my family, particularly my son.

I remember watching the show Friends in college, while my roommate’s favorite show was Will and Grace. We laughed and made excuses for the promiscuous hetero- and homo-sexual lifestyles. They won us over with comedy. It was just so funny. However, these shows, over time, can act like guitar strings on fingers, making us calloused.

But I see more clearly now that while these shows did not change my view of sexuality, over time it has played a part in changing our society’s views. Like a stream that over many years changes the appearance of mountains, the media over time has helped to change and bend hearts and minds to its will.

I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to be vigilant and prayerful. I pray that as my husband and I teach God’s view of sexuality, according to Scripture, to our son, that the Word of God and our feeble attempt will be a louder voice than that of the media.

Like King Solomon, I, too, will say to my son, “Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.” (Prov. 3:1-2)

Concerning the media and those who wish to pervert sexuality, I will tell him, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.” (Prov. 5:3-6)