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The Realization of Reality

March 2016
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When I worked those seven months at that ill-fated job in Houston back in 2008-2009, I had two large framed posters on my office walls (along with my academic credentials since I was working at a college-level educational institute). One poster was a large print of a Picasso titled, The Dance of Youth,” and the other poster on the wall behind my desk was a very large poster that included a quote made famous by John Lennon: Reality leaves a lot to the imagination (quote source here–I wasn’t able to find a link to that specific poster). The meaning behind that quote (one of 11 quotes by John Lennon in an article titled, 11 Must Read Life Lessons from John Lennon,” is stated in that article as follows (it is quote #5):

Reality plus a sprinkle of imagination turns that which seems impossible into something that is possible. If you can imagine it, and you can believe it, you can achieve it. Dare to be as a child once again and imagine by asking yourself the question, ‘What if?’ Then go do. (Quote source here.)

In Matthew 18:1-4, Jesus’ disciples came to him asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

In Christian circles we often refer to this as “childlike faith.” While the words “childlike faith” are not actually in the Bible, the implication is there. In answer to the question, Does the Bible instruct us to have childlike faith?” GotQuestion.org states:

Unquestionably, faith is the essence of the Christian life. Faith is exhorted throughout the Bible and is presented as an absolute necessity. In fact, “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 is about faith and those who possessed it. Faith is a gift from God, as we see in Ephesians 2:8–9 and not something we come up with on our own. All Christians have received the gift of faith from God, and faith is part of the armor of God—the shield with which we protect ourselves from the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

The Bible never exhorts us to have “childlike” faith, at least not in so many words. In Matthew 18:2 Jesus says that we must “become as little children” in order to enter the kingdom of God. The context of Jesus’ statement is the disciples’ question, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (verse 1). In response, Jesus “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (verses 2–5).

So, as the disciples focus on what constitutes “greatness” in heaven, Jesus provides a new perspective: the way “up” is “down.” Meekness is required (cf. Matthew 5:5). Jesus exhorts the disciples (and us) to seek to possess a childlike modesty in addition to their faith. Those who willingly take the lowest position are the greatest in heaven’s eyes. A young child is destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness and is therefore a good example for us. Children are characteristically humble and teachable. They aren’t prone to pride or hypocrisy. Humility is a virtue rewarded by God; as James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Although faith is not mentioned in Matthew 18:1–5, we know that it isn’t just humility that ushers a person into heaven; it is faith in the Son of God. A humble, unpretentious faith could rightly be called a “childlike faith.” When Jesus wanted to bless the children, He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14–15). How does a child receive a gift? With openness, honesty, and unbridled joy. That type of happy authenticity should be a hallmark of our faith as we receive God’s gift in Christ.

Of course, children are easily fooled and led astray. In their artlessness they tend to miss the truth and be drawn to myths and fantasies. But that is not what is meant by having a childlike faith. Jesus promoted a humble, honest faith in God, and He used the innocence of a child as an example. Emulating the faith of children, we should simply take God at His Word. As children trust their earthly fathers, we should trust that our “Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11).

For the Christian, it is a matter of faith (as noted above and in Hebrews 11), as in having a “humble, unpretentious faith like a child,” mixed with the promises of God that makes that which seems impossible something that is very possible. And this type of faith (believing for the impossible) is expressed throughout the Bible. Here’s a list of 15 verses that clearly states that all things are possible with God (source here):

1.)  But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~ Matthew 19:26 ESV

2.)  For nothing will be impossible with God. ~ Luke 1:37 ESV

3.)  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:13 ESV

4.)  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” ~ Mark 10:27 ESV

5.)  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ Matthew 17:20 ESV

6.)  And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” ~ Genesis 11:6 ESV

7.)  I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ~ Job 42:2 ESV

8.)  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16 ESV

9.)  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ~ Mark 11:24 ESV

10.) Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~ Isaiah 41:10 ESV

11.) Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.  ~ Jeremiah 32:17 ESV

12.) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ~ Romans 8:31 ESV

13.) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

14.) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

15.) Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me? ~ Jeremiah 32:27 ESV

One of the 20th Century’s most enduring examples of this kind of faith is found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). I’ve been reading a book titled, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today (2005) by Dr. Mark DeVine, Associate Professor of Divinity, History and Doctrine, at Beeson Divinity School, Stamford Universityabout the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who died one month past his 39th birthday at the hands of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. A brief background on Bonhoeffer from Wikipedia states:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, antiNazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship became a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing. (Quote source here.)

450-dietrich-bonhoeffer-quote-on-discipleshipIn Chapter 2 of the book, titled “Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” the author states that “Bonhoeffer cannot be understood apart from the vital refuge he persistently pursued and found in prayer and meditation on the Word of God.” Here is the section from which that statement is gleaned on pp. 46-48:

Discipleship means following, obeying, acting. Reduction of the Christian life to matters of sentiment or matters of the heart becomes incomprehensible in the fact of biblical teaching. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (quote in “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 99). Such words from Bonhoeffer’s pen cut us to the quick because eight years after the ink hit the paper Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenburg. Bonhoeffer was not only a theologian of action but also a man of action , a man of course. Any pursuit of Bible study and prayer as an escape from responsible, risky obedience in this world must be rejected as not only sub-Christian but anti-Christian. Yet Bonhoeffer cannot be understood apart from the vital refuge he persistently pursued and found in prayer and meditation on the Word of God (e.g., the Bible).

Bonhoeffer’s quest for the will of God drove him to the Bible and to prayer. Because Bonhoeffer expected the Bible to answer all crucial questions for the Christian and the church, he embraced a daily discipline of Bible study and meditation on the Word of God. This discipline, while in no way opposed to academic study of the Scriptures, was distinct from such scholarly analysis. Bonhoeffer never completely repudiated the higher critical study of the Bible then flourishing in German academic circles, but he did insist upon the limits of such approaches to the Word of God. Bonhoeffer conceded that the Christian believer may and perhaps should approach the Bible as any other book alongside secular academicians and unbelievers. Yet, as a believer, he must go further. With the saints across the centuries, he expects to hear the voice of the living God in the Bible. At some point the results of academic study must be, not cast aside, but made to serve their purpose for the Christian and for the church. The voice and will of God must be sought with all one’s heart. In the words of the prophet (Jeremiah), “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Bonhoeffer’s yieldedness to the Bible resulted in an expansion of the notion of the will of God beyond a cut-and-dried search for answers to ethical questions. God in his Word provides not only or first of all the answers to the believer’s questions, but the questions themselves. Prayer and meditation serve primarily the pursuit of the living God himself. Now God’s concerns, God’s values, God’s purposes, God’s demands, and God’s promises take center stage. Reality and relevance become identical with God’s own word to humanity and God’s own judgment of the world. In a striking sense, for Bonhoeffer, as for Karl Barth before him, reality is defined by, even equated with, God’s view of all things as revealed in the Holy Scripture and supremely in the crucified and risen Christ. There is no reality apart from Jesus Christ. “The place where the answer is given, both to the question concerning the reality of God and to the question concerning the reality of the world, is designated solely and alone by the name Jesus Christ (quote in “Ethics,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 192). In him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). Through the witness of Holy Scripture, Bonhoeffer found himself drawn into a whole world, the real world, or in the words of Karl Barth, “The strange new world of the Bible.”

Believers who meditate on Scripture in pursuit of the living God are caught up in the great sweep of God’s creative and redemptive acts in history. As the objects and beneficiaries of that redemption, Christians recognize their own stake in the great divine acts of deliverance on behalf of his people in the past. They fall under God’s insistence that these great acts be remembered and recognized as windows into the character and purposes of the living God. (Source, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today” pp. 46-48.)

As DeVine states on page 49, “It is crucial to our understanding of Bonhoeffer’s ethic and… his conception of the will of God” that we understand “the realization of reality.” He states (pp. 49-50):

It points first to all of Bonhoeffer’s profound sense of God’s providential ruling presence in the world here and now. When Bonhoeffer lays responsibility for shaping the future upon Christians and the church, it is not because he doubts God’s power and intention to fulfill his own purposes in the future but because of his certainty that God will do so. Certainty and hope must and may characterize the believer’s anticipation of the future precisely because God has bound himself to his promises. Our confidence in his promise frees us to participate in God’s own work, first as witnesses to Jesus Christ and then as his disciples in the world. For Bonhoeffer, following Jesus involves the realization of reality.

What is reality? Reality is what God says it is. Reality is what God makes it to be. In Scripture we are confronted with what God has said, done, and promised to do. God’s activity, speech, and promises trump and displace rival interpretations of reality. God determines that meaning of everything, period.

What is the realization of reality? It means yielding to the truth. It means reflecting in one’s own life the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Walking by faith means trusting God’s revelation of reality against all supposed evidence to the contrary. (Source, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today” pp. 49-50.)

While there is much in this book I could add (the book is available at Amazon.com at this link), I’ll stop at this point by adding one more thought by the author stated on pp. 50-51:

Bonhoeffer believed that Christians could move into the future with boldness and even optimism born of hope and participate responsibly in shaping of the future in accordance with God’s will. In what follows, these three significant terms–boldness, optimism, and hope–indicate crucial dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s ethical thinking.

Bonhoeffer was obsessed with the desire to know and to do the will of God. He embraced both the burden and the exhilaration of the Christian’s happy duty to obey God’s will today, in this time, in ways demanded by one’s concrete, real-life situation. And yet, amazingly, Bonhoeffer also believed obedience must typically proceed without claims to direct access to the mind of God. Bonhoeffer rejected the notion that believers must or even should expect and thus wait until the claim of special revelation could be advanced to defend the final shape of one’s action. There was a freedom before God to do one’s best, in humility, without making extraordinary claims of certainty or special knowledge. Bonhoeffer did expect obedience to proceed with a particular certainty but not that of the illuminists from who one hears, “God is leading me to . . .” or worse, “God has told me . . . .” The certainty Bonhoeffer sought for himself and expected within the church was one of intention and biblical faithfulness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and him crucified. The Christian must intend to follow the path of the cross set out in Holy Scripture.

Christian action could be scrutinized with reference to the Bible and especially in its compatibility with the revelation of God’s will in Jesus Christ. Moral absolutes held little attraction for Bonhoeffer, but “following Christ” was absolutely necessary. God in Christ came to serve, came to seek and save that which was lost, and did so by allowing  himself to be pushed out of the world onto the cross where he was crucified and on the third day rose from the dead. These things are not cloudy but clear and provide abundant guidance for Christian decision making.(Source, Bonhoeffer Speaks Today pp. 50-51.)

I found the reading of this information on Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be very inspiring today. If we will but yield to God and his leading (without any claims of “special revelation” or “direct access to the mind of God” as stated above which occurs in some Christian circles today), we might be very surprised by what unfolds. I never dreamed, almost seven years ago when I lost that job in Houston, that seven years later and all that has transpired in my life during this time would have been what it has been. I assumed, way back then, that God was going to provide another job for me in the very near future . . .

. . . and the reality of these past seven years hasn’t been anything like I thought it would be. We do not know the mind of God, and God doesn’t require that we do before we move in the direction he wants to take us, which might run contrary to everything we think should be happening in our lives. And while I am still living in a hotel after a year and a half of living in hotels with nothing opening up in the way of more affordable housing (or in other ways, too), and I still don’t know where all of this is leading, I do know that God knows, and He has a purpose for it, which is usually far greater than just one person’s situation (in this case, mine). It has to do with God’s “mission statement” in this world, which is found in 2 Peter 3:8-9:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

I hope you have found these words to be as inspiring as I have today, and that they encourage if you are in need of some encouragement (and after this wild political year leading up to the Presidential election in November here in America, it is good to remember that God is in control no matter the outcome).

And remember that with God . . .

There is no such thing . . .

As impossible . . . 

YouTube Video: (No Such Thing As) “Impossible” by Building 429

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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