Tag Archives: boldness

Antagonistic Psalms

There are many places to go in the Bible if you’re interested in evangelism but you see evangelism most clearly in action in the book of Acts. Peter and Paul and many others in the church were incredible evangelists who loved God and who loved those to whom they witnessed. They boldly held forth the offer of salvation to all who would believe.

In Acts 4 Peter courageously stands up to the authorities who tell him to stop proclaiming Jesus. Peter’s response is classic: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

After being released Peter and John returned to the rest of the disciples and together they immediately went before God in prayer. Their prayer is instructive. They praise God for his sovereignty in creation and in redemption and they ask him to give them boldness and to show his power. In the middle of the prayer are the words from Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.” The disciples were well versed in the psalms. This was their worship book. The psalms were foundational and motivational for their evangelism.

Since I’m preparing to preach on Acts 4 this Sunday I decided to take a cue from the disciples and dive into the psalms, asking God to allow the psalms to shape my prayer – specifically as I, with the disciples, prayed for courage in evangelism.

But as I read through the psalms a thought dawned on me: Why did the psalms inform the disciples’ evangelism? Many, many, MANY of the psalms, and especially psalm 2, speak of God’s enemies. These are rather antagonistic psalms. Psalm 2 basically states “Get on God’s side… or else!” Wouldn’t the idea that God has enemies (and that, by extension, God’s people have enemies) squash evangelism? Wouldn’t being informed by these “antagonistic psalms” lead to an inward focused church, more concerned with holding to its own tribe than risking its neck by declaring Jesus as the Messiah and the only way of salvation?

For the early church, the answer is obviously no. Why?

The first answer is that when the disciples spoke of God’s enemies, they spoke of God’s enemies. In their prayer they didn’t say “everyone is against us” but “everyone is against your holy servant Jesus.” This seems to make the sting of opposition less personal and, in the case of the disciples anyway, more theologically accurate. They were being opposed because they were accurately representing Christ and their opponents were opposed to Christ. The enemies of God are by extension the enemies of God’s people in the sense that they oppose what God’s people are doing, but the relationship is not direct.

The second answer is that confessing that God has enemies does not preclude God’s people from loving those enemies or from seeking their good or praying for their salvation. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, not because they are not our enemies, but because God also sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Jesus himself died for us while we were his enemies. The fact that all of us, because of our sin, were once God’s opponents precludes us from an us-vs-them mentality even with a recognition that God does indeed still have enemies and that God’s people, in representing the gospel, have enemies as well.

In fact, this recognition can be a motivating force for evangelism, and that on multiple levels. First it’s a motivation for evangelism because we know it’s exceedingly dangerous to be God’s enemy. The warning against God’s wrath in Psalm 2:12 is severe (“your way will lead to destruction”) but the hope of salvation is just as sweet (“blessed are all who take refuge in him”). One of the roles of an evangelist is to warn, and in a way motivated and informed by love. The second motivation comes from the recognition that God is sovereign and that, as powerful as God’s enemies might be, all their plotting is ultimately in vain (Acts 4:25) and even the worst they could do, putting to death God’s son, actually played right into God’s hands (Acts 4:28) in his work of redemption. Acknowledging that God has enemies can be scary, but not when we realize that in terms of power, there is simply no comparison, and this realization is exactly what led to Peter and John’s courage in evangelism.

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Book Review: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship

My copy of The Cost of Discipleship is filled with underlined passages and notes in the margins, all indications of time where Boenhoffer led me on a mini inner-dialog. I would love to bring those notes and reflections to bear on this review. However time constrains me to deal too much with the content. I have done so a little bit here, in regards to Bonhoeffer’s view of discipleship.

As much as I was struck by the message of this book, I was perhaps more impressed by Bonhoeffer’s tone. Bonhoeffer wrote to a church in the crisis of Nazi Germany. Many in the Church capitulated. For others who resisted and chose instead to follow Jesus, the cost was high. Bonhoeffer speaks often of suffering and martyrdom and the Christian life being a life shaped by the cross. He not only wrote about this – he bore this out in his life and death.

Whether it is because of the crisis in which Bonhoeffer wrote or not the style of The Cost of Discipleship is bold. His language is stark. He loves to draw sharp distinctions between ideas, his most famous being his distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. This draws the reader to a point of internal conflict. Is this distinction really so great? Is there really so much on the line? Is the way really so narrow? Is this cost really so high? He does not often call the reader to decision, he just points out that there is one, and that decision is of utmost importance.

The Cost of Discipleship is devoid of the fluff so common in most modern popular books. Bonhoeffer simply says it as he sees it and grounds it all in a rich understanding of Scripture. In fact, most of the book is simply exposition on Scripture. Part 2 is an exposition on the Sermon on the Mount.

I hope that a bit of Bonhoeffer’s boldness and style can find its way into my preaching and writing (and even personal conversation.) I so often couch everything I am saying, and sometimes that is necessary. But sometimes I am being soft and cowardly.

There are many “talking-heads” today who are “bold,” but they are the bold for their own sake, for their own brand. Their “boldness” is really only added for shock value. It is ultimately empty. Bonhoeffer was not bold in that way. He speaks often of the “hiddenness” of the righteousness of the disciples. A disciple’s good works are hidden from himself. A disciple looks only to his Master, never at his own works. That is the sense I get from Bonhoeffer’s style. He was simply focused on obeying Jesus and the boldness followed naturally. It did not need to be manufactured on its own. In fact, it could not be and still be worthy of praise.

It is this kind of discipleship the Bonhoeffer draws our attention to – a single-minded focus on obedience to the call of Jesus – and it is this kind of discipleship that Bonhoeffer lived.

Book Recommendations

The Cost of Discipleship

Ethics

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community

5 Crazy Acts of Faith (And a 6th That Will Blow Your Mind)!

It's a trap!

It’s a trap!

If headlines like the one above are any indication we are a culture obsessed with the extraordinary. I’m pretty sure that what’s true in the broader culture is true in the church as well. We love amazing stories of faith. They inspire us to dream big and act boldly. This is all good unless it means we begin viewing ordinary acts of faith as something sub-Christian. Sometimes God uses ordinary acts of faith for extraordinary purposes. Case in point: Daniel. Daniel is by every standard a hero of remarkable faith but what did he actually do? Here are his 5 (+1) crazy acts of faith:

  1. Daniel obeyed God’s laws. Daniel and his friends were carried off as exiles and eventually found themselves in the court of the king. To get them in top condition they were assigned a daily portion of royal food. Daniel, observing God’s laws regarding diet, “resolved not to defile himself with royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way.” After some bargaining Daniel and his friends were allowed to eat only vegetables and drink only water. Because of their obedience God blessed them with knowledge, understanding, and favor with the king.
  2. Daniel gave God glory. OK, so Daniel did have one extraordinary ability. He could prophetically interpret dreams. When the king had a troubling dream Daniel stepped forward to interpret it. The King asked “Are you able to tell me what my dream was or what it means?” Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician, or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” Daniel was always careful to give honor and glory to God.
  3. Daniel had integrity. Eventually Daniel became a ruler of significance in his land of exile. Far from protecting Daniel, his new position made him a target. His coworkers became jealous and looked for a way to bring him down. But they couldn’t. Daniel 6:4 says, “At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”
  4. Daniel worked hard. Did you notice the last word of 6:4? Daniel was neither corrupt (he had integrity) and nor was he negligent. He worked hard. He carried out his responsibilities to the best of his abilities.
  5. Daniel prayed. When those who wanted to bring Daniel down couldn’t find anything wrong with his life they looked for some other way to trap him and they eventually discovered they could trap him in his piety. They convinced the king to issue a decree that said that anyone who prayed to someone other than the king would be thrown into the lions den. So what did Daniel do? “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
  6. Daniel did all these things all the time: Going to pray got Daniel in trouble. You know the story. He was thrown into a den of lions but God miraculously saved him. But what did Daniel do to get himself into that crazy situation? What were his extraordinary acts of faith? He worked hard. He obeyed God. He prayed. He gave God glory. He did all this when he was a lowly exile. He did it when he was boss over much of the kingdom. He did it when he knew to continue to do so would lead to his execution. And that’s what is truly remarkable. God used some pretty ordinary acts of faith to bring Himself glory.

We as the church in America are coming to grips with the reality that we do not live in a Christian nation. I’m inclined to think we never really did. Perhaps it’s just the veil being lifted. Regardless, those who want to remain faithful to God will find themselves in positions like Daniel. What will set the faithful apart will not be extraordinary acts of faith, but rather simple piety and obedience carried out in good times and in bad.

Poll: Which is a bigger problem in the church today, lack of grace or boldness?

I’m curious, based on your experience, which is a bigger problem in the church today, a lack of grace (Christians being jerks, misrepresenting Christ) or a lack of boldness (Christians being silent, NOT representing Christ)? I know both are problems, I’m just interested in what others think is the BIGGER problem today.

On Faith: In Victory and Defeat

Hebrews 11 sprints to a finish with a list of characters and accomplishments of faith.

First, the characters:

Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah were all judges in Israel together had a list of impressive military accomplishments. In each case, their victory came, not from military might, but from the strength of God. David, Samuel, and the prophets have their own impressive resume of faith.

Second, the accomplishments:

The list of accomplishments is impressive and each item refers back to a great story. Thematically, there are two kinds of “accomplishments” in faith. One list (33-35a) is obviously positive. The second list (33b-37) is not, at first glance, so great. The first list shows how faith leads to victory. The second shows how faith gives us strength, even in defeat.

The accomplishments of faith in 33-35a include military victories, preservation of life and limb (“escaped the edge of the sword”) and receiving back their dead. These are obviously feats of miraculous victory. Sometimes, God gives us victory against all odds when we are faithful to Him. Daniel, whose story is referenced in this list, is the perfect example. He boldly prayed, in view of everyone, despite the king’s command, but was ultimately saved from the mouths of the lions.

The accomplishments in 35b-37 start with this: “others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.” From there it moves to enduring flogging, jeering, imprisonment, destitution, and death by stoning and the sword. It’s worth noting that by faith some “escaped the edge of the sword” (34, first list) and by faith some “were put to death by the sword” (37, second list). The outcomes were different even though both were acting by faith. One was an obvious victory, the other what appeared, at least to those on the outside, as a defeat.

The accomplishment of faith in the second list is this: by faith the people of God remained faithful to God, even to the point of death, and for it received a better resurrection.

Looking for, and finding, a better home:

The passage concludes by saying “the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” This reaffirms what the writer said earlier about Abraham, that he lived in tents because, “he was looking for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (10) and again, “people who says such things show that they are looking for a country of their own” (14). Those who were rejected by the world because of their obedience found their home with God.

In the world I live in, I do not face the threat of active persecution. I live in a remarkably free country by historical standards and for that I am extremely grateful. However, the world could turn, and already shows some signs of doing so. The offense of the cross is ever present. Even without the threat of persecution, we American Christians are still called to boldness. To that end, this passage teaches us two things.

First: Defeat for the sake of Christ is really victory.

Second: If you live by faith your reward will come. It might not come in this life, but it will come.

I will conclude with the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecute the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

On Faith: Increasing Boldness

“On Faith” is a series I have been doing at our church’s after school program for Middle and High School students. This week I covered Hebrews 11:29-31.

I began by asking the students, “What is an action that requires boldness?” My favorite answer was this: “Taking on Chuck Norris.” In fact, most of the answers had to do with combat, which is not surprising considering that our after school program has skewed largely to adolescent boys – a fact I contribute to the general awesomeness of the male leaders.

Then I asked, “What is something we do in following Jesus that requires boldness?” The answers were decidedly less violent this time around but still (for teenagers anyway) require a fair amount of courage: Standing up for God when no one else is. Waiting to have sex before marriage. Standing up for someone who is being picked on. Witnessing. Etc.

Interestingly, the stories related in yesterday’s Talk Time had more to do with the answer to the first question than the second – they were stories about battle. But they were also stories about faith, obedience, and courage.

The three stories in Hebrews 11:29-31 all hold together because of their common theme of Israel’s ultimate conquest of the Promised Land. They are also stories of increasing boldness.

The first story is about Israel crossing the Red Sea. The initial response of the Israelites, when the Egyptians approached, was actually fear, not courage, doubt, not faith. God intervened, however, and ultimately turned their fear into faith. Hebrews says that they passed through “by faith.” Still, it’s kind of hard to characterize running away as boldness.

We see boldness more obviously in the story of the fall of Jericho. Here, it’s a smaller group – just Joshua and the armed men. Their actions, walking around the city of Jericho and raising a shout, certainly required faith because, from a human perspective, that’s just no way to take down a city. The boldness here comes from the sheer strangeness of their actions. It comes from doing something conventional wisdom (or peers) say is weird – trusting God.

The third story is the most obvious picture of boldness in faith. It precedes the Jericho story because it’s about one of the citizens of Jericho – Rahab. Rahab demonstrated boldness when she put her life on the line to protect the Israelite spies. She did this because she knew it was actually more perilous for her to oppose the people of God than to risk her life before the officials of the city. Because she spared the lives of the spies, they spared hers and she went down in history as one of the great examples of faith.

There is an interesting observation to be made here about increasing boldness and decreasing numbers. The “least bold” action came from the largest group (the nation of Israel running away from the Egyptians) and the “most bold” action (at least in my estimation) came from a single individual.

Craig Groeschel in Altar Ego (just reviewed) devotes a full one-third of his book to boldness (bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, bold obedience) and he regularly draws the connection between faith and boldness. He says, for instance, in the chapter on bold words, “You speak boldly about what you believe deeply.” Faith always leads to boldness. Godly boldness (as opposed to human arrogance or recklessness) always comes from deep faith. If you want to be bold, live by faith.