Bonhoeffer

Just a few weeks ago I finished reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. The book is about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who took on many roles in his life: he was first and foremost a pastor, a spy, and, later on, a martyr.

In this book, Eric painted a picture of Bonhoeffer’s upbringing, schooling, family life, and actions during the World War II. Bonhoeffer is a man who was convinced that the God of the Bible is real, which had very real implications on how one must live.

Without having a foundation of what’s good and bad, it’s easy to follow along with what’s acceptable and not acceptable in society. But because Bonhoeffer trusted God as all knowing of what’s good and evil, he was able to see where Germany was heading towards when so many did not.

“The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully. To try to explain “right” and “wrong”—to talk about ethics—outside of God and obedience to his will is impossible: “Principles are only tools in the hands of God; they will soon be thrown away when they are no longer useful.” We must look only at God, and in him we are reconciled to our situation in the world. If we look only to principles and rules, we are in a fallen realm where our reality is divided from God.”

Throughout the book, I was amazed by Bonhoeffer’s boldness and drive to stay true to the Church. In those days, a new church arose. The German Christians were anti-Jew; they removed the Old Testament from the Bible and they claimed that the New Testament needed to be modified to portray a Jesus who corresponded entirely to National Socialism. To go even further, they claimed that the Church must no longer put an emphasis on the crucified Christ, but instead focus their attention to a heroic Aryan Jesus. In order to combat all of these outrageous changes, Bonhoeffer was at the forefront of separating the real Church of Germany (Confessing Church) from the pro-nazi Reichskirche.

However what may have piqued my interest the most in the book was Bonhoeffer’s confidence in his decision to become a part of the plot to assassinate Hitler–an idea that can sound outrageous to any Christian. Bonhoeffer didn’t impose his decisions on others and didn’t want to create trouble as the Confessing Church was already suffering in the hands of the Nazis. In this decision, he was described to have moved into a very lonely place. To gain others’ confidence, he saluted to Hitler and pledged his allegiance to him — convincing even some people from the Confessing Church that he had gone to the other side.

Eric Metaxas explains Bonhoeffer’s relationship with God so well,

“For Bonhoeffer, the relationship with God ordered everything else around it. A number of times he referred to the relationship with Jesus Christ as being like the cantus firmus of a piece of music. All the other parts of the music referred to it, and it held them together. To be true to God in the deepest way meant having such  relationship with him that one did not live legalistically by “rules” or “principles.” One could never separate one’s actions from one’s relationship to God. It was a more demanding and more mature level of obedience, and Bonhoeffer had come to see that the evil of Hitler was forcing Christians to go deeper in their obedience, to think harder about what God was asking. Legalistic religion was being shown to be utterly inadequate.”

Bonhoeffer was confident that he was taking the right step. It’s something I definitely admire him for. Many times I believe that it’s our temptation as Christians to just avoid sin rather than do God’s will. We are reminded that,

“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”

Overall, it was a very good read and a huge encouragement to me. I admired Bonhoeffer’s bravery and his faithfulness towards God in the midst of all the terror and confusion within society.

If you’re interested in reading another Christian’s account of World War 2, you can also check out Corrie ten Boom’s book called, The Hiding Place.

– P

The Hiding Place

It’s been a while since I last read a non-fiction Christian novel. I’ve had my share of Christian fiction books like Redeeming Love, The Mark of the Lion Series, and the Chronicles of Narnia. All of them are great and encouraging books that I recommend, but I forgot how much more powerful non-fiction books can be.

For the past couple of weeks/months, I’ve felt myself dive into a dry desert. Though I attended Church and Bible studies, I felt as if I was stuck or stagnant in my walk with Christ. A lot of it was because I found it hard to believe that God was really listening to me. It was hard for me to feel or to know His presence in my prayer life. I felt as though I was talking to thin air, and I would always come out of prayer wondering if I was just self-reflecting or talking to God.

I always knew that we could come before God no matter how small or trivial our problems or circumstances could be, but the question remained in my heart if He really was interested in my work, my relationships, and generally my life.

The Hiding Place is an autobiography of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker in Holland during the time of World War II. She, along with her family, hid Jews during that time, was captured, and was sent to a concentration camp in Germany. Throughout the book, Corrie showed great dependence and trust in Jesus in the midst of all the horrible circumstances she found herself in. When she had nothing, she was rich because of what Jesus offered to her. In the concentration camp, she was able to smuggle in a Bible and would lead worship nights with her sister Betsie and lead many people to Christ.

Corrie wasn’t perfect. She struggled to love the Nazis, and she struggled to forgive the man who betrayed her family, and yet she was able to do these things because of Jesus’s help. Her pain and her sufferings were very much real, which made it all the more easy for me to see God’s love and care for her every step of the way. Her life was filled with too many little miracles to call all of it sheer luck. God’s hand was at work.

After Corrie was released from the concentration camp, she cared for people traumatized from the war and traveled all over the world sharing God’s story of how he continuously and actively tries to redeem us. She did this all the way into her nineties.

What fascinates me the most about this book is that it’s real. It’s easy to see the apostle Paul as a super Christian who’s on another level and who never struggled with sin (which isn’t at all true), so it was encouraging for me to see another Christian from a different era carry the same strong faith and trust in Jesus in spite of her circumstances.

After reading this book, I felt encouraged. I craved for that kind of faith. I found myself praying more and relying on Jesus day by day. Suddenly, I was hungry for the Word and hungry to know this great and powerful God. Thank you Corrie for pointing me to this good and sovereign God who cares about all the big and small things.

– P

The Effort of Pursuing Holiness

In The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges exhorts Christians to a life of complete holiness – moral blamelessness. Without compromising on the idea that our holiness before God depends entirely on Christ’s work on our behalf, he declares each Christian to be personally responsible for its pursuit. In the forward to the book, he uses the analogy of a farmer waiting for a harvest. He writes,

“A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates – all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God.

Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities to plow, plant, fertilize and cultivate, he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season. In a sense he is in a partnership with God, and he will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his own responsibilities.

Farming is a joint venture between God and the farmer. The farmer cannot do what God must do, and God will not do what the farmer should do.”

Although this metaphor is certainly not perfect or exhaustive, it makes the point that in order for holiness (or anything for that matter) to grow, active participation is required. We will not grow by accident, we must be intentional about cultivating holiness.

However, anyone who has tried to cultivate holiness knows the challenge one faces when things start to get tough. Bridges comforts Christians who have experienced that the struggle is real. He writes that the same grace of God that saves us, gives us the desire to pursue holiness. That if gave the Holy Spirit in us, the spirit of Holiness, then He will be faithful to lead us in the pursuit. What God requires of us, he also provides for us. There is no pursuit that God calls us to, that he also hasn’t empowered us to. Even conviction of our sin serves as a means to stimulate our desire for holiness. It is only by seeing the dark backdrop of our sin that the gospel of grace (God’s completely unmerited favor) shines like a diamond.

I haven’t finished the book yet, and I’m sure there’s much more nuggets of wisdom and truth to mine from Bridges’s writing, but I’m thankful for what I have read so far. It has been a helpful reminder that following Christ does mean pursuing after holiness, striving after moral blamelessness with everything we have, by the grace of God alone.

– W

 

My Struggle With Impatience

I hate lines. Lines at the Post Office, the DMV, literally anywhere on Black Friday are all places you will never ever see me. I will go to great lengths to avoid waiting in lines, even putting back clothes I really like because the line is just a little too long. Unfortunately, I will be forced to wait in a line next week at the airport as I fly from to NYC the Philippines, and I already know my patience will be tested, and I’m dreading it.

My disdain for lines is just one way that the impatience deep in my heart plays out externally. I’m so used to having things come quickly, easily, and comfortably that when I have to wait even ten minutes or so in a line, my patience runs low and I either get frustrated or give up on whatever I was doing. For me, instant gratification or instant annoyance are the only options.

The impatience in my heart is starkly contrasted by the patience that Christ shows for me. He never gives up on me, regardless of how many times I fail him. He is incredibly slow to anger, when I am instantly angry. When I am reluctant to change or recognize Him for who He is, He is gentle in bringing me back to himself. When I reflect on my impatience, it only leads me to greater praise for the One who is infinitely patient toward me! I am thankful that my God is so unlike me, His ways and thoughts are higher, praise His name!

– W

Why I’m Thankful for my College Church

It has been about a month since my college career has come to a close. Is it too early to feel nostalgic about my college days yet? As I look back at the four years I spent in Happy Valley, I grow more and more thankful for the church I attended there, Alliance Christian Fellowship. It was a place where I was called to a deeper relationship with the God of the bible, and a greater love for people (the church and also the world). ACF was so many things for me, a safe haven, a home, a community, and this message exists to say thank you to the institution and the people who God used to shape me into the image of Christ. ACF kept me under care, gave me a family, and empowered me to serve, and I’m eternally grateful for that. So why am I  thankful for my college church?

It was a church, so I was under care

As a college student, it’s really easy for a young Christian to leave the institution of the church to pursue spirituality in a broader and “free-er” sense. However, every Christian knows that it is impossible to walk the Christian life alone. This reality is why Christians are commanded to join churches, to be a contributing member of a local manifestation of the body of Christ. I was part of a church, served by a pastor and in covenant with other believers. In that way, I was under the spiritual care of the people around me. Being part of a church gave me an accountability to stay tethered to the Vine that is Christ in a way that is unique. I was interdependent with the people around me. College can be a dangerous time for the Christian, and I’m grateful that when I was not strong, I had people around me who were willing to pick me up when I fell down. I’m thankful that I was surrounded by people who were as committed to my sanctification as I was. I was able to take communion alongside my brothers and sisters at Penn State, as a reminder of Christ’s finished work for us. I was also able to celebrate the baptisms of those who came to know the Lord, sacraments that are unique to churches. I’m thankful to have been connected to a church because it reminded me that the world is a lot bigger than I am. Being part of a network of churches allowed me to remember the world does not revolve around Happy Valley, USA, and that God’s Kingdom is growing all around the world.

It was a family, so I was unconditionally loved

Let’s face it, in a church full of college students, there will certainly be strong opinions, large egos, and not a whole lot of wisdom to go around. The beauty of the young man’s courage, zeal and fervor can very quickly turn into misguided stubbornness. But I was forgiven, even when I died on the wrong hills. This was because I was welcomed into a family. On my best days and my worst days, I knew that I had a home, a group of people who loved me and wanted to see me grow in knowing the Lord. Being a part of a family means we forgive. It means that we don’t give up on one another when life gets tough, but we do speak truth to one another when the struggle is real. My church is where I learned to relate to one another the way God relates to us, by His grace. I learned that my problems with others are just a shadow of the problems I had with God, and he chose to forgive. How much more then, should I forgive those who sin against me?

It was student led, so I learned how to serve

As well as being a church, ACF is a place for college students to learn how to serve the church and the world. Almost every bible study, small group or other ministry (outside of the Sunday morning preaching of the Word) is led by students, for students. Many college students spend their entire university career being spiritually fed by staff members, but I am so thankful that I was called to serve. College students leading ministries definitely comes with its own host of problems, but God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of these imperfect teachers. In college, I made lots of ministry mistakes. I often emphasized the wrong things and didn’t accurately portray God at all times. I undoubtedly misinterpreted scripture and fell short of the call to preach the whole counsel of God. I also learned that age or anything else does not qualify a person for priesthood, that having the Spirit does. I learned that ministry isn’t just for the “professionals” who had degrees and their lives together. The students at my college church minister the Word of God to one another, and I could not be more thankful for the experience I gained during my four years there. I’m thankful for the examples I had walking before me, and I’m thankful that God used my imperfect, immature efforts to help build His Kingdom on the campus of Penn State.

My time at college was certainly not all highs and no lows. During our weekly small groups, there were often as many “Waahs” as there were “Wins”. I was never a perfect church member, and I was really never a perfect church leader. There were seasons of discouragement and seasons of fruit, and praise God that he uses both to grow our love for Him. Throughout the good and the bad, I am thankful for the community God placed me in at Penn State. Praise God for ACF, and churches like it who encourage and equip young people to do the work of ministry in the United States and all around the world!

– W

Why The Happy Exiles?

Hello!

Walter and I are so excited to be starting this blog together. It took us a couple of tries before we ended up with The Happy Exiles. We threw words around like: grace, joy, redeemed, and tried to find ways to turn it into a title without it being too cheesy or too Christian-y. We ended up with a ridiculous amount of two-to-three word expressions that were all okay, but sounded silly in some way.

Walter really liked the word “exiles,” which in my opinion, holds such a negative connotation; however, it does hold some truth about who we are as people who are not yet “home”.

Before we start typing away, we would like to explain why we called ourselves The Happy Exiles.

An exile is someone who is far away from home. It’s easy for me to feel this way because I am not a Philly native. I was born and raised in the Philippines and left for the US when  I went away for college. After graduating, I landed a job at a health insurance company in Wayne, PA where I still currently work.

Walter has lived in Philly all his life, but he is as much of an exile as I am. You see, Walter and I are not “home,” in the truest sense of the word. We believe that no one is home. Not really. We may love the place we live with our whole heart (and trust me, we love Philadelphia), but at the end of the day, we were designed for a different place.

In Christianity, we believe that we were created to be with God in heaven. However, because man chose sin over God, we disrupted our relationship with our holy and perfect Father and were exiled from Heaven. Since the fall, every man, woman and child has been subjected to a broken world, filled with pain, hurt and suffering. All of this to say that although we love this Earth, we are not home yet. As a result, we travel light, remembering that where we are is temporary, but where we are headed is eternal.

Therefore, here we are now – living as exiles. Why are we happy, you ask?

As most of you know, exiles are typically unhappy. When you first think of an exile, you imagine a person who has been unwillingly removed from their home, and since home is where the heart is, they have been removed from the things that they know and love. But this is where the analogy starts to fall apart for us. Most importantly, we are happy because despite our exile status, we have been redeemed. We have an unshakable hope that we will one day call heaven home. We are happy because we may be exiles, but the time we spend away from home has a purpose, we truly are here for a reason. God has called us to participate in his redeeming work in the here and now, and he has created an entire world for us to work and keep. Although we are sojourners away from our eternal “forever home,” we still put down roots where we are at. We are happy because there is so much to see, experience, and love by God’s grace here on this Earth.

We hope that as we share our sights and experiences with you, that you might read and be inspired. We hope that through this blog, we might be able to point you to Jesus in the day-to-day. Even if religion isn’t really your thing, we still hope that you can read our blog and be encouraged that we are two people who strive to love the world and its people. These words are a gift from us to you.

Thank you so much for reading! We can’t wait to journey through life with you.

– P + W