All posts by Benjamin

Some say Christianity is easy in our culture, as in, it's easier to live the Way of Jesus now than in other times and places. Perhaps they’re right. But, much of what I’ve seen has been mirage after mirage — very little Living Water. I intend to map out what I see and what I don’t see. I feel like I’m surveying the way of Jesus within a spiritual desert. My family and I live in Kansas City, KS. We’ve joined friends and live as an intentional Christian community there. The kingdom of God unfolds in vivid ways here and we've enjoyed rhythms of daily prayer, Scripture, and dinners. I am currently (2014) a director of Christian education with the people of Trinity Lutheran Church, in Mission and Shawnee, KS. But now they're sending me to the LCMS Specific Ministry Pastor program (2015).

Vicar Ben and a Class on “Two Kinds of Righteousness”

My class on Lutheran Distinctions finished in February. It was the best class in this seminary track so far, in part for the professor’s enthusiasm; in part, I had a lot of questions. One question was how faith and good works play together. How do you encourage one without taking anything from the other? Example: How do you encourage a specific, Christ-like way of life yet never have people wondering if God completely loves them (because he does)?

A better way of saying it might be: How do we live in imitation of Christ, because Christ knows how to fully live (he is the fully human one) yet not put our faith or trust in how we pull that off?

Some say, “Ah, Christ did what he did because he was also divine.” Our professor (Dr. Biermann) said, “Not so quick, boys. Jesus calls us into a new way of life that he teaches, and he himself lives. Let’s look at that.” Biermann wrote a book on this topic called The Case for Character. There he said, “[A call or invitation] of the Christian is to live all of life in conformity to Christ.” (Kindle loc 241)

So how do we practice this? Our old Lutheran document, the Augsburg Confession has some helpful words. Article 6 reads: “Likewise, it is also taught that this faith is bound to yield good fruits and that it ought to do good works commanded by God on account of God’s will and not so that we may trust in these works to merit justification before God.

“Faith believes that sins are forgiven on account of Christ, consoles the conscience, and liberates it from terrors. Thereupon good works, which are the fruit of repentance, should follow.”

We were shocked to hear such a command to do “good works.” Biermann walked us through helpful language of “two kinds of righteousness.” He said, “The goal is to become fully human. This is what God is doing for us, desiring for us. Salvation is to be fully alive now and forever, and to be fully alive, fully human, is to be in right relationship with everyone and everything around us.”

One relationship is with God. To make this right, God poured out his life for us on a cross through Jesus, declaring us once-for-all loved and forgiven, embraced to God’s self through the power of resurrection. The sheer message of this grace kindles faith in our hearts and with this gift of faith we hold tight to what God says. This relationship is made right through pure grace.

Another vital relationship is between ourselves and other people, even creation as a whole. This is where good works come in and why they are necessary. God desires good works in our lives not because he’s watching to see if we measure up, but because he wants us to live in right relationship to others according to his will and design. As Luther said (I paraphrase): God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does. It’s God’s love that propels this! And this, my friends, is why the law is at once a curb (restraining lawlessness) and mirror (showing our sin) and also a guide (showing a good way of living).

When we hear language like this, we often think two things. One, we agree. Yes, God’s designs are good. We see life and vitality in Jesus’ teachings and desire to walk in his likeness. Though, two, we struggle to sustain a pure way of life. We often desire the bad, the opposite of God’s desires (and shoot, sometimes even the opposite of our desires!). We are stuck and ailing sinners.

In a moment like this we must remind one another of God’s love. Our struggle will not separate us from God’s love. He loves us no less because of our failures. Yet we also must remind one another of God’s direction or “law.” God never ceases for our hearts to be changed, that we might walk in a way that is full of life — this is done by grace for our own good, and especially for the good of our neighbor and becomes a way of life lived by God’s direction.

This is how great God’s love is! He refuses to stand back but even sends his Spirit within us, a gift we receive when we are baptized. God himself works new life within us, just as Ezekiel records:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27 ESV).

May we walk with God by grace, knowing his love and forgiveness given to us for Christ’s sake. May we walk in newness of life, propelled by the Spirit of God to grow in the imitation of Christ, which is abundant life in motion. Amen.

Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus by M. Scott Boren (A Book Review)

M. Scott Boren has written another helpful, thought provoking book on disciple making. I appreciate his simple, though meaningful, approach to small group life.

LEADING SMALL GROUPS IN THE WAY OF JESUS is a next-steps book for current small group participants. It answers, “What’s supposed to happen with groups?” and, “How do we actually share a meaningful life together, listening to and practicing the Way of Jesus?” Boren writes several insights and practices, things I resonate with and have even practiced a little. It feels great to read and resonate with something he’s been practicing.

I most resonated with Boren’s words about great questions and how curiosity (more my word than his) leads to nurturing disciples of Jesus. He writes:

“[We must] develop eyes to see and ears to hear. For that, leaders need to ask questions and foster conversations. When we ask good questions, we provide opportunities for people to discover for themselves the radical nature of the kingdom of God” (p.54).

“We do not [really] “make” disciples. We are formed as disciples in community together as the Spirit works in us” (p.61).

“We cannot force people to enter the way of Jesus. Many of them may agree with the vision, but that doesn’t mean they actually ‘hear’ it. This is where the questions are so important. Listen to how people respond. Who is already asking questions like these? Who is expressing frustration with the status quo? Who wants to talk about distinct ways of following Jesus? Who is willing to put some extra thought and time into answering these questions?

“The goal is to work with people who already have a sense of urgency to experience a different kind of group life. One way to determine this is to lead people through a short-term experience…” (p.62-63).

Boren would then add that by focusing on people who are already hungry and thirsty for the kingdom of God, nurturing their desire, kindling their flame within, will in turn bring life to others. This idea reminds me of Thomas Merton’s analogy of the Desert Fathers and Mothers who upon fleeing to the desert were not fleeing people but recognizing that society and the “christianity” present was a sinking ship. Someone needed to get a foot to shore in order to reach a hand out for rescuing. I think this continues to be the largest need in the western church today. Many who are faithful to Jesus wonder how the religiosity they see relates to Jesus and Jesus’ Way. It just isn’t connecting. Some say it’s a sinking ship and they’ve swam out to get a foot to shore, and then they’ll toss a rope our way.

If this is how you see it too, I think Boren’s book will make you happy.

Dear Grandmother

You’d have turned 101 today and we, the family, would have asked again, “Tell us a story from when you were a young girl,” just like Matthew used to ask.

We still ask for those stories, you know, and we flip through pages till we find where we wrote them down. We do. We find them and smile, remembering our childhoods with you, our mother.

The Bare Maple

October’s luminous, flaming maple
stands almost bare
with a few worn, brown
leaves for covering.

Her beautiful red dress
now thin and tattered.
All she had was taken,
blown away.

She, with beauty deep within,
will let go of what she treasured,
what drew our eyes to her,
and she will wait.

There is something God can do
in the season of Lent.

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton (a Book Review)

Merton provided words for what I was experiencing and what I wanted to nurture in the life of prayer. More than devotional stick-to-it-ive-ness, I felt and wanted to continue to feel drawn to simply be with God.

But, while my heart desired more than accountability or discipline, I’ve also known by experience that, for me, the sense of being aware of God’s presence often occurs within the frame of my disciplined life. When I am making space, clearing time, attentiveness to the God who is always present occurs more freely. The opposite happens when I slip out of disciplined rhythms or Continue reading