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2017 is the Reformation 500 year. In 1517 Luther nailed his 95 protests to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

In the midst of my research this week I came across a vivid description of the tumult of that entire century. It was “an era of great social ferments, natural catastrophes, famines, plaques and unusual men.” There was a Pope who was the father of four illegitimate children and another Pope calling down curses on a second Pope who set up shop in Avignon, who responded in kind. Then I read the following and thought about our century, particularly how the climate change prophets and people who tell us a warm summer means we are all about to die.

“The fourteenth century was a strange century indeed. In this period the ice drift cut off communication with Greenland, and the advancing glaciers almost literally pushed the settlements into the sea. European chroniclers of the century recorded two excessively cold winters. Crops failed in Norway and then in England and in France. There were excessive rains. The Sequoia tree rings in California ran to abnormal width, the Caspian Sea expanded, and the Rhine, the Danube, the Thames, and the Elbe froze. Fifty-five summers of this century saw violent floods, and the Cathedral of Mayence was submerged to the famous frieze over the door. In the Netherlands seventy-two cities were destroyed by the sea in one night and 200,000 people were drowned in one year….”

Hit pause.

Imagine if the Prophet Al Gore were alive then?

No wonder above the 1500 “Nativity” painting (still hung prominently at the National London Gallery) the painter inscribed: “This picture was painted by me Alexander amid the confusions of Italy at the time prophesied in the Second Woe of the Apocalypse, when Satan shall be loosed on the earth.”

Resume…

“…The Black Death, the Asiatic Cholera, The Athenian Plague, and famine killed thirteen million people in China and reduced the populations in France an England by one-third. The common people were impoverished, ill-fed and ill-housed. Yet, at the same time the secular and ecclesiastic princes lived in a byzantine luxury that only accentuated their aloofness from the common hoi polloi (the many). While the peasants complained that they “haue the payne and traveyle, rayne and wynd in the feldes,” the doorways of the castle of Vincennes had to be raised in order to accommodate the three-foot tall head-dress of Isabelle of Bavaria. A rigid caste system, perpetuating itself by a ruthless exploitation of the common people, was entrenched on the whole continent of Europe, upheld by secular powers and sanctioned “urbi et orbi” (To Rome and to the World!) by the Church. The popes and the princes knew the difference between a good statue and a bad one, but they knew not the difference between good and evil; they fought each other in palace and the field, with daggers and with crosses…” (Enrico C.S. Molnar, doctoral dissertation, 1947)

There is more but you get the idea. Maybe we could say when the Lord’s patience runs thin with a Church that has entirely lost its way, no longer looking or acting even remotely like Jesus, he shakes the earth, even the natural order, and sends in Reformers.

I only wish that a hundred years before Luther the Bohemian reformer Petr Chelčický had prevailed. His was a Reformation back to precepts of the Sermon on the Mount calling the Church to more resemble Jesus. Misreading Romans 13, Luther gave God’s sanction for the State to crush with great cruelty the masses in the Peasants Revolt of 1520. Oy.

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Maybe I should wait to write this until I’ve actually completed my PhD. But, since I’m nearing the half-way point, and not new to theological studies, but mostly since I’ll be one hundred years old in fifty years and my health is already waning, I thought I’d better put this on paper while it was fresh in my head.

The last thing the world needs is another spiritually dead academic to lead another generation away from the wonders of God.

  • Having a connection to a local church is vital – and not just filling up a pew. Involved, serving, teaching. This is as important as any course or seminar available to you. Christian community is the incubator for discipleship and theological studies should be discipleship on steroids. Submit to spiritual disciplines and become a disciple of Christ.
  • Seek out professors and people who are praying people. Yoking to a dead man will soon kill you. One of the things we loved about sending our boys to the House of Prayer in Kansas City for their bachelor degrees was the dean of the school said they require their instructors to be in the prayer room every day— they want the students to see the back of the head of the professor in the prayer room two hours for every hour they see the front of the professor’s head in the classroom. If you can’t find a spiritually vibrant supervisor, make sure your area of study puts you at the feet of the vibrant. Be suspicious of theology that comes from people both living and dead, who weren’t often on their knees and tender before God.
  • Ask God to speak to you and to lead you, to guide your search, highlight what you need to see/find/understand. Ask for discernment – eyes to see, ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to you– , ask his help understanding and articulating such that you can tear down speculations that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. Ask God to make you a voice, not an echo – to give you a new word and a now word. I used to pray before pastoral counselling sessions and preaching and because I now have a long history with God giving me the right things to see/say, I now pray before reading and writing. And, I ask God to activate the testimony and revelation that has been resting and dormant in the Cloud of Witnesses. The greatest source of underutilises encouragement in the Body of Christ comes from the Cloud of Witnesses. You do understand, don’t you, that theological studies puts you in the midst of testimony and encouragement of the Cloud of Witnesses?
  • At some point long past I wrote on the blank page in the back of my Bible; “if you don’t shout it when you are preparing it, they won’t shout when you are preaching it… preparation must be worship.” I feel the same about theological studies. In my office at the university I have on the bulletin board this clipping from J.I. Packer… “Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology.” My supervisor is a Christian Ethicist who is writing books on things like: Singing the Ethos of God.

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I have a friend who recently got a PhD and when I asked what the focus was he rattled off something that he obviously wasn’t passionate about and then said; My dissertation was read by two people and maybe they really didn’t even read it all that close and it will never be read again.

It made me sad. Basically, he made no contribution to the Kingdom with the stewardship of time he was given to dive deep into the things of God. He used the time to get a degree so he could get a job in a university. And to think parents like myself have paid top dollar to send our sons and daughters to the universities to sit at the feet of these dry wells.

My wife had one concern with me taking this hiatus from ministry and pursuing the PhD… that I’d spend a few years working on something that will make no Kingdom difference. I can report that God has me on the trail of defining and laying the foundation for an obedience movement which is something the Body of Christ has yet to see. We’ve seen movements of all sorts–– holiness movements; monastic movements; ecumenical and social gospel movements; Zionist and restoration movements; faith, charismatic, health/wealth and signs and wonders movements; missions movements; and the Church globally is enjoying a prayer movement presently taking shape in a variety of ways including a New Monasticism movement.

However, in two thousand years, has the Church ever seen an obedience movement where a generation of Christians takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously? No. If God has me on the trail of this theme, maybe it is because those days are soon to come.  When I study these things, there is some shabba (special sauce :-), anointing) on them and to handle these sacred things with prayer has become vital to me.

Karl Barth

“The believer need not fear fate, even though it might be the devil himself.

The devil may plague and tempt and harass us… It is God that we must fear,

the God to whose Word the believer is directed and clings.”

– Karl Barth, Ethics, 301.


I’m reading Barth’s Ethics for discussion each Monday afternoon with other Ph.D candidates in the Divinity Department here. Some of the reading for today had to do with fate. Got me thinking about the fate of nations versus the choice of an electorate.

Reminded me of an argument I found myself in back in 1999 while eating fish on a beach in Gaza City with a Palestinian Christian friend named Ahed. Kristen and I were privileged on a humanitarian mission to stay as a guest in the compound of Yasser Arafat. Yasser’s rooster woke us up at five in the morning that week.

That evening sitting together at a wicker and wood beach table only a few feet from the Mediterranean Sea, an argument ensued. Actually, I wasn’t arguing, but something I said set Aed off and he stood and burst out angrily about how I don’t understand fate. My comment was in regard to how the first thirty years of his life were lived entirely within the land prison called the Gaza Strip (only 5 miles wide and 25 miles long – imagine living your entire life within a space that small and never being allowed to leave it) and my hope that things will change for the better and he can leave that place.

Basically Ahed said: “NO! This is my fate! To be born here, to live here and to die here is my fate. You Americans don’t understand fate. If you don’t like where you live, you move. If you don’t like how things are in the land where you live, you vote to change it. In America you are the masters of your own fate but here– fate is our master.”

What do you say to that?

Sucks to be you?!

I really don’t remember what I said. Probably something like, “Sorry I’ll give that some thought.” I did give that some thought. I thought about it for a very long time and it wasn’t until after I had left the Gaza Strip did I think of what I wish I would have said. I wish I would have put my arm around his shoulder and looked with him at the sea and said, “Ahed, my friend, our God still parts seas.”

I don’t believe in fate.

I believe in God and in His Sovereignty over the affairs of men. He still raises up kings and tears them down.

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If I can’t make America great by living the way of Christ, then I want no part in that greatness. And I don’t think God does either.” We should all shout a hearty AMEN! to this comment from Pastor Chris Gilmore on the Huff Post blog.

There is a time for everything under the sun, including a time for national humility. I’m afraid, this is that time.

Even so, enough with the insinuations of a rising fascism because Donald Trump wants to Make America Great Again. There is nothing wrong with that aspiration. The path to greatness is what is important to scrutinise, not the ambition itself. Living on this side of the pond there is little toleration for any sense of American greatness. Certainly I understand but usually it smacks of some ingratitude to me. America has been generous in internationally-unparalleled ways and paid dearly for freedoms people enjoy all over the globe. And yes, sadly America has fallen so so so far from her height and she is dead wrong if she thinks greatness has anything to do with great military strength. But my point is patriotism and national pride don’t always equal fascism. I enjoy Scottish national pride, and Irish pride, and Greek national pride, and the pride of wherever else I am. My family has wonderful memories of sitting late at night with friends from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe laughing at their jokes about how much better they are than the Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge. National identity and pride aren’t necessarily bad things.

No, we shouldn’t baptise patriotism and replace the cross with the flag. However if the church is to be a House of Prayer for Nations then carrying nations to the altar for mercy and blessing is what we are called to do. Really, it is no different than the high priest of Israel having twelve precious stones representing each tribe on his breastplate as he goes into the Holy of Holies.

When I read the passages of the Bible that speak of all nations bending their knee before the Lordship of Christ I don’t see anything that would indicate they must first give up their national identity, calling and culture. Like the Twelve Tribes that made camp each under their individual banners around the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, national identity is part of God’s beautiful diversity in the earth. Each nation has redemptive gifts, purposes and callings.

The promise to Abraham was national greatness: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”  (Gen. 12:2) And the promise wasn’t just for one nation; from Abraham’s great nation would come a company of great nations (Gen. 17:5-6; 35:11). Where it gets really fascinating is in Genesis 49 where Jacob blesses his twelve sons and speaks prophetically about who they will become as great nations at the time of the end of the age (Gen. 49:1ff).

Through migrations over four thousand years these blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are now scattered all over the earth– God even promised their sons would sit on the thrones of nations, would possess the gates of their enemies –both things identifiable even into the modern age. God’s promises to the descendants of David came true. They did and still do sit on the thrones of nations and historically they have and still do control the main geo-political gates of the world; Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, Singapore, and Hong Kong to name a few.

I’m sitting in Aberdeen, Scotland as I write this only 55 miles north of Arbroath. In the fifteenth century, Mary Queen of Scots traced her royal lineage back to King David and this was made evident in the Scottish Declaration of Independence, also called the Declaration of Arbroath, which expressly states:

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that… the Scots… journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long time in Spain… Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they live today… [The Scottish Declaration of Independence reprinted in The Declaration of Arbroath, The National Trust for Scotland, 1970.]

It is apparent that five centuries ago the Scots considered themselves blood descendants of Abraham and were aware of the specific migration routes that brought them to their new homeland. Elsewhere I’ve written on how we have lost any awareness who we really are; just like Hosea 1:10 said would happen. More on that from me here: I call it Recognition Theology. Yep, I made up that term and others are now using it.

With regard to America, of particular interest is to look carefully at where the people of Joseph ended up (vs. 22-26). Later Joseph’s blessing was divided between Ephraim and Manassah, making a 13th tribe, if you will. The prophetic fulfilment and end time placement of the nations in Genesis 49 is one of the most exciting Bible’s studies one can do. You’ll never look at world news the same.

Whether or not any of that is agreeable to you, or even makes sense, at least get the point of this post which is to say God blesses nations to be a great blessing. Greatness should be an aspiration because greatness is God’s intention for nations that call on his name. The opposite of greatness is mediocrity or worse. The path to greatness is humility and servanthood.

My world for the next few months is all things Tolstoy. I’m onto an important linkage between Tolstoy and Bonhoeffer but I’ll not spell all that out here. Hopefully some of my findings will make their way into a book I’m writing called: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey The Sermon on the Mount.

Obey the Sermon on the Mount. What a novel idea, huh?

Here’s a crash course to give the basics needed to explain this fascinating Fresco which is my interest in this post.

Leo Tolstoy in Hell. Fresco, 1883. In the lower tier at the far right of this fresco (originally in the church at the village of Tazovo in the Kursk Province), Tolstoy is shown embraced by Satan who received him in hell while the holy prelates and apostles of Orthodoxy gave blessing to the act. The Fresco was removed at Lenin’s special order during the Bolshevik crusade against religion in the early years of the Soviet regime. The fresco was later transferred to the Museum for the History of Religion and Atheism of the Soviet Union in Moscow.

Leo Tolstoy in Hell. Fresco, 1883. In the lower tier at the far right of this fresco (originally in the church at the village of Tazovo in the Kursk Province), Tolstoy is shown embraced by Satan who received him in hell while the holy prelates and apostles of Orthodoxy gave blessing to the act. The Fresco was removed at Lenin’s special order during the Bolshevik crusade against religion in the early years of the Soviet regime. The fresco was later transferred to the Museum for the History of Religion and Atheism of the Soviet Union in Moscow.

Tolstoy was a famous and successful nineteenth century Russian novelist who wrote what is considered the greatest novel ever written, War & Peace. That would be what I’m calling First Tolstoy – his literary writings. Second Tolstoy is my designation for the second half of his prolific life– his religious writings; mostly a call to obey the Sermon on the Mount. He was anything but orthodox and rejected significant dogma we’d think is orthodox, and he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that but simply put, he believed the Church had become a great hindrance to the Gospel and was full of superstition, paganism and idolatry. Tolstoy was a reformer who had no interest to reform the Church. The Church was too far gone. Best to go back to the plain meaning of the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.

Tolstoy died in 1910. However this Fresco was sanctioned (27 years earlier) by the Orthodox Church in 1883, the year Tolstoy published his first book on obeying the Sermon on the Mount (My Religion – What I Believe).

Gotta love the Church /S.

Tolstoy was deemed a “madman.” If Tolstoy was mad for his adherence to Jesus’ teaching, what would that make Jesus? What a paradox that literal obedience to the teaching of Christ is still considered crazy radical even in Christian circles today.

 

 

This is a repost of an article I did for the Justice House of Prayer in Washington, D.C.

Today we call it a global prayer movement. For centuries it was referred to as monasticism. Today we call them Houses of Prayer, or HOPs. For centuries they have been called monasteries. We call ourselves intercessory missionaries. For centuries our types were known as monks. At every point and place where Christianity came into crisis or compromise, God raised up a prayer movement, a new monasticism or faithful praying remnant to ensure that discipleship, grace and the Gospel were kept pure.

Most notably in the third century when Christianity became easy, grace cheap and the path wide, holy men and women went out into the dry places and deserts to die to self, stay pure, to encounter God, to learn to love him and obey, radically obey. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire into the Medieval Period it was the monks of Ireland who literally saved civilization (Good read: How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill).

Hung by his neck in a German concentration camp, pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of “a new monasticism” also suffered an early martyrdom of sorts. Eight years earlier Bonhoeffer was leading an underground seminary in a chilly remote place called Finkenwalde. There he taught what we we know today as his Cost of Discipleship, much of which is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. There he and his students lived in community the daily rhythms of life and prayer which is spelled out for us in his short book Life Together.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer with students at Finkenwalde Seminary

In a earlier letter to his brother Karl-Friedrick, he made a very prophetic and important statement that many of us have adopted today as our guiding charge.

The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this. (14th of January, 1935)

For Bonhoeffer, the Finkenwalde rule included life together in authentic Christian community, or in his words, banding together. In a 1936 letter to the Finkenwalde community, Bonhoeffer noted that it also included “assembling together every day in the old way to pray, to read the Bible, and to praise our God…” This illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was both a school of prayer and a singing seminary; the daily prayer rhythms and worship life of ancient monastic orders he revived in fresh form. The foundation of the curriculum was “The Discipleship of Christ” as given in the Sermon on the Mount.

The next generation of pastors, these days, ought to be trained entirely in church-monastic schools where pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount, and worship are taken seriously–none of which are at the university and cannot be under the present circumstances. (DBWE 13, 1/147, 217)

Bonhoeffer became captivated by and fascinated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the expectation Christ had of his followers. Bonhoeffer saw “these words of mine” in Matthew 5-7 as foundational for the Christian life and putting them into practice to be the key to successfully weathering the storms to come. The Sermon on the Mount ethic of enemy love was to Bonhoeffer the summit of the mount and his seminary at Finkenwalde was a training outpost for Christ-like passive resistors. He trained his students to use spiritual weapons and not take up the world’s weapons of war.

The crucible of political hostility and societal animosity toward Christians is definitely on the rise in the world and it tends to produce a more pure discipleship. And even though it only existed for two years before being shut down by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer’s illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was a snapshot of Bonhoeffer’s prophetic vision of the essence of discipleship training within the context of a new monasticism resulting in the renewal of the Church.

In our day when church leaders more resemble CEO’s and celebrities than self-denying devotees of Jesus, and in our day when religious liberties are increasingly in peril again, Bonhoeffer’s model at Finkenwalde is truly a call back to the fundamentals of Christian discipleship, Christian community, a daily rhythm of prayer, Sermon on the Mount lifestyles and ethics.

CLICK HERE TO SEE JHOP DC’S DAILY PRAYER SCHEDULE

A book I’ve been recommending to those in our house of prayer is the book, Punkmonk, by Andy Freeman and Pete Greig. The title conveys how today’s monks in 24/7 prayer/furnace rooms in the major cities of the world look more like a pierced and tattooed generation of youth. The monks of the earlier centuries looked different too. It’s no different than what our friend Lou Engle is calling us to with the Nazirite vow. It is my intention here to open our eyes to the breadth of what the prayer movement looks like in the world today. It spans all the traditions.

To keep the discipline and perseverance required to pray continually means that you begin to experience different styles and types of prayer: New models, ancient disciplines, silence, liturgy, open prayer, prophetic prayer. Our prayer flows in rhythms. (Punk Monk, 127)

I want to reawaken the contemplative you if the contemplative you isn’t already awake. There are daily rhythms of prayer and communion and encounter with God that we must never step out of. Far back into Judaism, and far back into Christian history, the faithful had set times for prayer and set prayers for those times – and there was a unison chorus.

Spirituality is very varied and there is a time and place for all kinds of praying and expression. Many reading this are no doubt fluent in things like authoritative and warfare prayer, healing prayer, intercession, declarations, binding and loosing and so on.  But the ancient spiritual disciplines need to be reawakened too; Meditation, Fasting, Study, Simplicity, Silence, Solitude, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship.

Our spirituality needs to wider and deeper.  It will take a deep root in God to withstand the days to come!


A native of Kansas City, Steve Hickey is pastor emeritus of Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, SD and a former South Dakota Legislator. He and Kristen live in Scotland where he is doing post-graduate work at the University of Aberdeen on Bonhoeffer, the Forerunner at Finkenwalde. He’s written several books including Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and The Fall Away Factor.

If you are a Christian free-market Republican or Libertarian who opposes our 36% rate cap on payday and title lending on the grounds that the sacred FREE MARKET will keep things fair, this is for you….

The Mercat Cross, Aberdeen, Scotland

The Mercat Cross, Aberdeen, Scotland

This is the Mercat Cross here in the market centre of Aberdeen, Scotland. ((They spell market like they say it here in Scotland, mercat. And no I’m not intentionally using British spellings now (i.e. center or centre), autocorrect does that – apparently it can tell where I am.))

These structures are in many European cities that existed in the Medieval Period. These were erected as designations of Royal permission to physically designate a spot as a market for free trade. Markets were forbidden elsewhere and it was because at Mercat Cross buying and selling and trading could be overseen by the Soveriegn. These rulers of medieval Christendom erected these to regulate economic activity to thwart bad actors and make sure the poor had access to necessities. Mercat crosses effectually policed economic activity and kept trade fair. In the name of economic justice their times were regulated to ensure common poor people had access to goods in preferance to financial speculators. These markets were free and not taxed because the rulers knew that fair buying and selling helped everyone in the society. A purely free market like we long for today was considered barbarous because of the ease in which “it graduates into the exploitation by brigands.”

Today these exploiting brigands are payday and title lenders who dish up the financial equivalent of rotten meat to serve the starving (poor). We need market crosses in every place of our economy. I’m not saying over regulation but there is a Christian duty to make sure the poor aren’t being exploited. We are probably past the day when a state government like ours can erect a cross in the middle of an economic market. However, through strict rate caps and oversight we can effectually ensure these Christian values of concern for the poor govern our economy.

One hundred and twenty men at Church at the Gate have committed to a year long process we are calling Tailgate Jesus!!  More on all that here, and here.  You can follow it here on Facebook, and Twitter.

The basic idea is that we are called to follow him and many guys today are having trouble following him closely – we let many things get between us. It’s not too late to jump on board, we start book one now. The next segment starts mid-July and that is another on-ramp for men wanting to join in. Every 5-6 weeks we will open the door to additional guys.

I’ve been in Greece these last three weeks and was bummed to have missed the Tailgate Jesus kickoff last Saturday. However, I did a little eleven minute video message for the guys back home. Here it is:

Bonhoeffer reminded us of the Cost of Discipleship. For a few weeks now in a series I’ve titled Martyrs Guide to Life, I’ve been talking about the Skyrocketing Cost of Discipleship. Basically I’m referring to the forecast Jesus gave us in Matthew 24:9-14.

In light of the fact that more have died for their faith in Christ in the last century than in the first twenty centuries combined, and in light of the fact that the Bible forecasts a greater age of martyrdom at the end of the age, it seems helpful to talk about the skyrocketing cost of discipleship in a latter age of (unprecedented) persecution. By unprecedented I mean to underscore how the latter age will be far more intense and global than the first two centuries which we typically consider the “Age of Persecution.”

Yesterday I posted a new chart I’ve titled Degrees of Religious Persecution to illustrate how there is a discernible continuum with persecution from mild to moderate to severe. (Actually mild is normal as persecution is an indicator all systems are normal.) Here I offer a chart to illustrate the skyrocketing cost of discipleship.

skyrocketing cost of discipleship chart

Obviously, I don’t subscribe to the Left Behind bestselling notion that we will be rescued via a Pre-Trib Rapture. Extensively in other places I’ve shown that to be a recent, extra-Biblical and dangerous error as it leaves us ill-prepared for what is coming. My chart is based on a Classical or Historic Pre-millennialism understanding that the Rapture and the Second Coming are different stages of the same event.

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Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was stripped naked and hung by his neck on April 9, 1945 in Hitler’s concentration camp at Flossenbürg. In his now classic Cost of Discipleship he wrote: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The world is increasingly a dangerous place for Christians. Globally, in unprecedented numbers, Christians are being beaten, imprisoned and killed. Yet here in America, pastors preach “dying to ourselves” to people sitting in comfortable chairs and then they serve them jelly donuts and Starbucks after the service.

Though there is this uniquely American deception among Christians that Jesus suffered so we don’t have to, or that we will escape it—the Bible actually says the opposite: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) It’s time to revisit the central Christian message of suffering for Christ. Even in free nations religious liberties are being taken away.

This season of Lent through Easter as Christians worldwide remember Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, Pastor Steve will underscore how the LIFE of Jesus is revealed in ridicule and mistreatment, mockery and martyrdom. You won’t leave forlorn, fearful or depressed.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Messages are free for downloading or streaming here.

Here are some of the highlights of the first three messages in the series:

– This aversion to Christian suffering and persecution is extra-Biblical and uniquely American.

– There is a grace for suffering and persecution; martyrdom is a spiritual grace/gift. How could it be a gift? Certainly that would be a gift no one would want?! Spiritual gifts aren’t toys to play with they are graces for spiritual breakthrough. There is a grace to give up your life for Christ. Martyrdom is the one spiritual gift you aren’t sure you have until you need it and it’s the only spiritual gift that you can only use once.

– The propellant behind the grace of martyrdom is love. Martyrs are sustained by grace and propelled by love. (1 Cor 13:3, John 15:13)

– Martyrdom is simultaneously a holy detachment and a holy attachment as we love Jesus not so much our lives. (Revelation 12:11)

– You can’t even be a disciple without taking up your cross and following him. (Mt. 16:24)

– Martyrdom was the expectation of the early Christian Church, not the exception.

– The cost of following Jesus is about to skyrocket. There have been 45,400,000 twentieth century Christian martyrs – more in the last century than in the previous twenty centuries combined. We typically refer to the first century as the Age of Persecution or martyrdom. However, the Bible teaches the latter age of martyrdom will be far worse and we are in that latter age of martyrdom. (Matthew 24: 9-14)

– Lots of wasted human life these days. Yet there is no such thing as a martyr dying in vain.

– If grace is what sustains a martyr and love is what propels him, loyalty is what describes him. The epitome of love and loyalty is martyrdom.

– If grace sustains martyrdom and love propels it, loyalty is what describes it and willingness is what allow it. Martyrdom isn’t accidental or unavoidable, it’s a choice. It’s choosing to follow Jesus down the path he took. Hebrews 11:25 says “Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”

– Fear of death is not a Christian concern. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “do not worry about your life…  who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” He was saying don’t worry about preserving or prolonging your life.

– When the martyr dies, who wins and who really loses? Tertullian said: the death of the martyr is the seed of the church. Something greater comes forth. But we think of death as a horrible defeat. That’s not how God sees it. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Ps 116:15).

– This confidence in facing death comes from good theology. This fear of death among Christians is evidence of a shallow theology. Many have ungodly beliefs about death and dying.We have this ‘fraidy cat view of death, that it is this travesty. We see it as final, as the worst thing that could happen. God views it very differently. Jesus took the sting out of death for the believer and the believer doesn’t have to face the dreaded second death (Rev. 2:11).

– Self-preservation is not a Christian virtue. It certainly is a human instinct but it is not a Christian virtue. A Christian virtue is… greater love has no one than this, that he lay his life down for others…

– Letting go comes natural for the martyr as they lived a life of faithful giving in the little things.

-If you can’t give your stuff, you won’t give your life. If you can’t give your money, what makes you thing you’d be willing to pay the skyrocketing cost of discipleship?

– Giving your life to Christ means giving your life up for Christ.

This summer we are focusing on some of the heroes of the Christian Faith—men and women who have been faithful witnesses for Christ in their generation. The Book of Revelation says testimonies pack power to overcome adversaries and the Book of Hebrews teaches how all ages are encouraged on by the example of those in the Great Cloud of Witnesses.
Each Wednesday evening in a special mid-week service, we will introduce one of the trailblazers of the faith and set forth the distinctives of their contribution to the Kingdom of God. You’ll meet people like Amy Carmichael, Rees Howell, George Muller, Watchman Nee, Smith Wigglesworth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and, among others, revivalists and patriot pastors from our nation’s past. On Sundays, I will be basing my messages on the testimonies of key Biblical trailblazers like Joseph, Caleb, Gideon, Josiah, Deborah, John the Baptist and Anna.
More importantly, you will be challenged to be bold with your testimony throughout the week as God gives you occasion and to live as an example knowing others are following closely.

Sixty-five years ago today (April 9, 1945), German pastor/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung in the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp for his participation in an assassination plot against Hitler. With this anniversary in mind today, Thomas Nelson Publishers released the first new biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years — Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.

(((If you missed it, click here for my earlier post/pics on my recent visit to the Bonhoeffer home in Berlin.)))

Fox News did a story today on this newest Bonhoeffer book:

“There were many German churchgoers, whether they were Christians or not I don’t know, but they went to church and somehow they made peace with the Nazis,” Metaxas says. “They thought there was nothing wrong. Bonhoeffer had such a devoted faith he knew without any question that the Nazis were anti-Christian and they were evil, and if he didn’t stand against them he would have to answer to God.”  Bonhoeffer believed he was called by God to help those who wanted to assassinate Hitler. “Bonhoeffer was not a pacifist,” Metaxas says. “And that will be news to a lot of people who think of Bonhoeffer as their hero, as some kind of pacifist.” He was willing to be involved in a plot to kill Hitler. “He wasn’t helpful as a gunman; he was helpful with contacts all around Europe,” Metaxas says. “He had the ability because he had ecumenical church contacts to work as a double agent, and that is what he was, he was a double agent.”

Read that first sentence again, the part about church-going “Christians” making peace with evil. Bonhoeffer was a prophetic voice to a church paralyzed by false grace, cheap grace.  Metaxas writes:

What was left in its wake was the murder of 6 million Jews and a legacy that has tarnished the Christian faith in Europe. But the legacy that Bonhoeffer leaves future generations is of the untold dangers of idolizing politicians as messianic figures. Not just in the 1930s and ’40s, but today as well. “It’s a deep temptation within us,” says Metaxas. “We need to guard against it and we need to know that it can lead to our ruin. Germany was led over the cliff, and there were many good people who were totally deluded.” Bonhoeffer, says Metaxas, was a prophet. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. He was God’s voice at a time when almost no one was speaking out against the evil of the Nazis.

Good church-going people in Germany were deluded and led over a cliff,,,, by four hundred years of a Lutheran theology of non-engagement with society. As I say in my earlier post:

Bonhoeffer criticized Luther for two things; 1) focusing the Reformation only on the church (whereas Zwingli sought to influence – salt and light – all of society). Bonhoeffer believed Luther’s views on this set the stage for the German Church of the 1930’s to stay out of Hitler’s business. In the 1000+ plus pages of Reformation history I’ve read this month, I’ve had the sense that had Zwingli been in Germany and not in Switzerland, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. Bonhoeffer also was one of the earliest voices in the German Lutheran Church to renounce 2) the anti-Semitism and treatment of the Jews.

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