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On the Present and Eternity

The questions in the back of the Bonhoeffer book are thought-provoking, as if the book itself isn't stimulating enough! I have to work hard to turn my mind off at the end of the day; I lie in bed trying to sort out my thoughts and deal with my heart. 

The questions, along with the book, which is full of Bonhoeffer's thoughts on Christian living, make me realize how little I know about so many things. Really know, deeply know. Like Tim Keller says in the other book I'm reading, regarding his own experience, when someone has spent a great deal of time in "the life and works of a single figure, something interesting happens. You don't just get to know his writings; you get to know how his mind works." A congregant had told him that when he was prepared for a sermon, Keller quoted and cited many various sources, but when he wasn't prepared he only used C.S. Lewis. Keller noted that he was correct because he was so comfortable with and steeped in Lewis' writings that "he (Lewis) is part of my (Keller's) thought life." (74) Lewis' words and thoughts would come almost unconsciously out of Keller's mouth.

Isn't this what it means to have the mind of Christ? If I were to dive in, as Keller describes it, to Jesus' life, what he said, how he lived, and what he meant to the early church, then how could I not be captured (to use another word that Keller uses) by it all such that Jesus' thoughts and actions did, indeed, come out of me spontaneously? And that it would be so much a part of who I am that it "becomes the cast of [my] whole mind."

I have a long way to go to get to that point. Hopefully, knowing that is true is a good first step on the journey. 

The third set of questions in the Reading Group Guide have to do with death, eternity, and life in the present. When Dietrich was young, three of his brothers were involved in World War I; one of them died from a shrapnel wound. Before his brother's death, several cousins died in the war. The younger Bonhoeffers "would often lie in bed at night and talk about death and eternity. Do you spend much time thinking about eternity? Should a person concentrate on life after death, or is it better to keep one's focus soley on this life and what can be accomplished now?"

I do think a lot about eternity, and often for selfish reasons. I would like to hurry up and get to that age because life is hard. Relationships are hard. Having children is hard. Being married is hard. This gets to sounding whiny after a while, and I realize it. Then I consider what is truly hard: the oppression in the world, the slavery that still exists, the poverty and empty bellies that are in my own city and in every place that is populated on earth. I long for the time when there is no more pain, when cancer is not devastating people, when cruelty is no longer, when suffering comes to an end. 
Mike preached a sermon on Heaven a couple of years ago, and I gained fresh perspective on eternity. The new heavens and the new earth, Heaven, will be a physical place. There will be matter. We will have bodies, not just spirits. These things I already believed. What he said, though, is that what we do now is important for eternity's sake. There are many things that we can do in this world to make God's beauty known, in every field, and in every aspect of life. Beauty in his kingdom now prepares us and those around us for the eternal beauty of his kingdom. There is nothing too small, if it is honoring God. So I think that one should not focus solely on either living now or on living in eternity. It must be both. This is something I am looking forward to reading more about in the Scriptures. How do we live this out? How do we engage in our culture, seeking to work for God's kingdom, loving the world and the people who are in it, and yet not become worldly. Jesus told his disciples,"Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16 Such a balance seems tricky, but something worthy of figuring out. At least as well as one can.


Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)

The following is a comment I left on Miz Booshay's blog Quiet Life (I will mark where the comment begins, since I am adding to it at the start here). She proposed a reading group for the book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and when I asked Mike about the book, he said,"Yes, we have that one." So I decided to join the group reading the book. We were supposed to read chapter 1 for this week's discussion (there are actually questions in the back of the book for such a study). 

I am on page 261. I could not put the book down. Of course, I had to now and then. My children kept wanting to eat at mealtimes, for example. But I read late into the night (justifying the late hour by thinking,"With the time change, it's only 1am!") and during the middle of the day and any time that I had a quiet ten minutes to myself. That might sound uproariously funny, since it was Spring Break and all three kids were home, but somehow I did have these moments to sit and devour page after page of this story. 

Just reading the title page brought tears to my eyes, as I was a bit familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story: how he was a German pastor/theologian during Hitler's rise to power, how he was involved in an assassination plot/attempt on Hitler, and how he ended up in a concentration camp and was hanged just weeks before the Germans surrendered. I knew that I was in for it. 

But really? I had no idea. I was about to say I don't have words for what I think of Bonhoeffer, but apparently I have a great deal of words. The words that poured out earlier today, though, were a response to what I have read more than my thoughts regarding him. Although I'm not quite halfway through the book, it seems quite clear that he was a man for such a time as that one. From his upbringing to the growth of his theology and how it worked out in his everyday life, he was a unique person. His legacy is undeniable. His story is gripping. 

While this is emphatically true, I want more than anything for his story to point me to the Greater Story. The Jews in Nazi Germany were treated brutally, for no reason but their heritage. They were powerless to stop what was happening. My heart is broken for the horror of what those living at that time experienced. The attempt to wipe out an entire nation leaves one speechless with a sense of dread at the depth of evil of which a person can be capable. Yet there was another Jew who was treated brutally, but he was wholly innocent. He was not powerless to stop what was happening, but he experienced cruel and hateful treatment willingly. He was spat upon. He was mocked. He was whipped. He was pierced with thorns, which tore his skin about his face and through his hair. He was beaten. He was forced to carry his own cross, upon which he would be nailed to die a death that he did not deserve to die. He would be abandoned by his closest friends. He would endure suffocating pain. He would cry out to his Father. He would not hear an answer, this time. He would refuse to beckon the hosts of angel armies which could come and relieve him and avenge, because of two things: his great love for his Father, and his great love for us. His love for his Father led him to obey, even though it meant dying on a cross, bearing the burden of the shame and the punishment for our sins. His love for us led him to this. 

Bonhoeffer seemed to know what terrible things were coming, well before there were very clear signs of just how far Adolph Hitler was going to go. Bonhoeffer's solid theological foundation held up a solid faith; his thorough knowledge of Scripture did more than inform him. It changed his life. So much so that he was willing to obey a very hard command, especially at that time. He was willing to risk his life for the lives of others, and for all that he has contributed to God's kingdom, he is well-remembered. But I think that what he would most like is to have pointed others to the Lord God Almighty, God's son Jesus Christ, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who is with us forever. And while I am gripped by Dietrich Bonhoeffer's powerful story, I am even more gripped by the story of our Savior Jesus. I pray that his story will remain the most powerful, the one that gives true meaning to all the other stories. Our Savior's story is the one that gives Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story a good ending, in spite of what the world may say. Dying in a concentration camp? Hanging for a crime? This cannot be a good ending! Having loved his God, and having loved the people of his God, Bonhoeffer went to be with the Lord. This is the hope that we have. This is the good news that we can grasp. The love of God would stop at nothing. Even in the face of unimaginable trials, his peace and hope can be ours. 

(And here is where my comment begins. And I thought I was long-winded before. Hmph.)

"In the Prologue, the author wrote that "Winston Churchill fused the Germans and the Nazis into a single hated enemy, the better to defeat it swiftly." Who is our nation's "enemy"? In our own society, are we, like Churchill, ever prone to fusing another group of individuals with this enemy, thus creating a 'single hated enemy"? What do you think about this kind of grouping?" (This is part of the first set of questions in the back of the book.)

What a difficult, terrible time to live in, those years prior to and during WWII, especially in Europe. (Of course, the US was dealing with its own difficulties...) I think that Churchill did what he had to do. I can imagine at the time it was very hard to differentiate between "good" and "bad" Germans. And it likely felt impossible not to equate Germans with "bad." These days, I believe it's very complicated. I would suppose we (the U.S.) do have enemies, and yes, I pluralized it. However, with the globalization and interdependence that has occurred in the last however-many decades, each nation treads lightly. I have grown quite cynical in the last few years, and find it hard to trust anyone at all who is in a high political position, in any country. If anything in the history of the entire world is well-documented and could be proved with evidence as far as documentation has existed, power can be a dangerous thing. Even the best leaders struggled (and struggle) with what it means to have a great deal of power (or even just a little). If the writer(s) of the question is(are) getting at a particular group, it would likely be Muslims. In light of events in the last decade +, it is easy to make an entire group a target. We know that there is wrong in the world. We want to see that it is accounted for, therefore someone must be blamed. Someone must be held responsible; justice needs to be served. (Please note: I myself am not saying this is how I feel: the Muslims must be blamed!) I think it's equally true that other groups get lumped-together-blamed for things: Southerners-racial issues; Christians-social issues; minorities/poverty-stricken areas-crime issues. I believe that the problems the world has stem from sin (so I have a definite world-view, one that does not see people as inherently good, but instead fallen and now sinful from the time they are born), and while we can make progress on this side of the new heavens and the new earth, until the day comes that God restores all things, there will be trouble. As Christians, especially, we need to be on guard against any kind of prejudice or judgment that belongs to God alone. We are called to love one another (and please hear me when I say I am the most belligerent lover of the unloveable that I know...I do not want to sound self-righteous. This might be my biggest weakness as a Christian, and one that often makes me question whether or not I even have the Holy Spirit living in my heart. Just fyi); Jesus says those around us will know we are Christians by our love for others. Grouping an entire group or nation as an enemy (even if it were true) does not leave any room for grace and mercy. And looking at Germany at that time, there were many people who did not agree with what was going on, but likely did not have a single notion of what to do, how to stand for what was right, or which direction to go for help, much less the strength to stop such a leader. If this book is correct, Bonhoeffer was a man for such a time as that one. The stronger a foundation one has, the more able one is to withstand an assault. Bonhoeffer had a bulwark foundation, and one that was unlike anyone else around, it seems. And even he did not want to be involved in war. He answered one young man regarding war,"I pray that God will give me the strength then not to take up a weapon." However, as I said before, Churchill was in a tricky spot. A time of war both makes things black and white and creates areas of gray. What an impossible situation! And somewhere along the way we will learn that Bonhoeffer did indeed get involved, in fact, in a plot to assassinate the German leader of the Third Reich. 

(The next set of questions)
Chapter 1

"In chapter 1 we learned that during Dietrich's childhood, the Bonhoeffers rarely went to church. Their faith was "mostly of a homegrown variety," Is God satisfied with a homegrown-variety faith, or are Christians meant to attend church, living out their faith together? What Scriptures support your view? Can a person still be influential for good while practicing "home-grown" faith? How?"

It is clear from the book (as far as it is correct, biographically speaking) that Dietrich's mother had a tremendous influence, on her family as well as on those outside of her home. I must say, though, that the family life of the Bonhoeffers seems rare indeed! The dynamic between husband and wife seems one that is far from my own experience. (This sounds like a disparaging remark toward our marriage...I don't mean it that way. I don't know of any couple that has a marriage that seems like the way their marriage is portrayed. Just a very unique couple, and family.) It is also hard to compare raising children at that time to now. So many things are different! But their family, specifically, seems to have been unusually capable, even for then, of cultivating a highly intellectually stimulating environment without being snobby or too good for others. There was a beautiful blend and appreciation of intelligence, beauty (through art and music), discipline, humor, love for family, respect, and hospitality! It really makes me wonder at how God prepared Dietrich for the future, for his future. (I think I'm getting ahead of myself. I could not put the book down. I steamed through 17 chapters this week...sorry!) Getting back to the question: no one can question whether or not God used the faith of Dietrich's mother, the firm and solid foundation he received from her, for what Bonhoeffer would do in the future. And I believe that God also used the strengths of Dietrich's father to prepare Dietrich for what he would face, and to wrestle with the Scripture and the Church at the time. Having said this, I do believe that Christians are meant to go to church. Christians ARE the church, and one cannot be the church alone. From the beginning of time, God created people to be in fellowship, as he himself is in fellowship with the Son and the Spirit. We are meant to know God and be in a relationship with him; we are meant to know others and be in relationships with them. It's how we are wired. When God made Eve and gave her to Adam, Adam basically cried out,"Finally! This is the one I've been waiting for!!" For the Israelites, living in community was life. I think this translates to the New Testament community of believers as well. Even right after Jesus' death, the disciples were huddled together. None of them wanted to be alone. In fact, they likely couldn't bear it! And once they were given the Spirit: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages believers not to give up meeting together, so that they can encourage one another (10:25).

Paul speaks regularly regarding the meeting of Christians. He laid out guidelines for leaders. He encouraged the leaders of the churches as much as he could. The letters we have from him stand as a testimony to the fact that there were churches and that they were good (supposed to be in existence). The people devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, and shared everything that they had. Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians with these words: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." The church exists for the glory of God, and in and through the church he is able to do more than we can imagine! 

Jesus speaks to the seven churches through John's vision; he doesn't tell them they should not exist. He exhorts them to behave like they ought to, as the church. 

I think that going to church, being with other believers, hearing the truth of the Word of God preached, worshiping corporately, confessing corporately, receiving forgiveness corporately, passing the peace of Christ, is the way that Christians ought to live. And yet, not to the exclusion of interacting with the world. (Here is my own weakness again!) When we stand with other Christians or sit under the teaching of the Bible with other Christians, we are strengthened and renewed, yes, but we are also united to say,"Glory to God!" Worship should always be central to a gathering of Christians. (For that matter, our everyday lives should be full of worship. I need to work on that one.) We go to worship to give God honor, not to receive entertainment, or even in order to get fed. The beautiful thing is, though, that we do get nourished when we worship. 
There are probably many stories about how individuals from a "home-grown" variety of faith made huge impacts in or for God's kingdom. In the book, we even learn that Bonhoeffer looks to Gandhi and his community for inspiration on how to live because they (non-believers) were living as Christians ought. God can use anyone he wants for his purposes. And from Scripture, we know that he often uses surprising people or circumstances to accomplish his plans!! :) But I think that Christians in community is best; it's his design. We often live it out imperfectly, but we ought to strive to live it out anyway.  (End of my comment)

Wordy, aren't I?

As I have said many times, I struggle a lot with the part about living in the world, and reaching out to others. I don't want to get dirty. (I am confessing here, I literally don't want to get dirty, or deal with germs. I don't think it's right, but I have germ issues. I often think I could live in a bubble.) It's hard to love people if you aren't willing to get dirty. But God's word doesn't mince words, does it? We are undoubtedly commanded to love others. And love is not an emotion (my books are crossing paths...this is what Tim and Kathy are reminding us of-love is action, not emotion). Emotion cannot be commanded. Actions can. God tells us to love. And the reason we are supposed to be able to do it? Because he loved us first. He isn't asking us to do anything that he is not willing to do and has not already done. 

The path I have been called to walk on is narrow, but it is not as hard as some paths. It is not as hard as the path that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was called to walk down, in the ways that it will play out in my life. But the truth is, my life ought to look different than it does. I know a lot of the right things to say, and I even know the right things to do. Now it is a matter of looking to God for the strength to do them, whatever those things might be. 


Christmas, A Long Time Coming (in progress)

Longing glances, stumbling feet, flashing swords
Thorns for those Eden-dwellers, paradise relinquished
Blessing, Precept, Curse, Promise
Staggering words
Firstborn joy, sibling hate, guilty exiled
New line, favored one, obedient man
Grief, judgment raining down
Cypress and pitch, pitch and rise
Two and two and two and two
Some in sevens
Covenant sign, colors bowed
Breaking dismal clouds apart
Everlasting promise
Called out, led on
A nation from one
Who had no son, yet the promise
It hung there, given
And laughing, they became three
Impossible life demanded
Withholding nothing, made greater, rescued from the depths
Branches ever growing
Bending, brothers, nations, dreams and battles
Sold, and yet greatly used to save
Evil redeemed,
But worldly kings suppose greatness
Broken backs, death sentence
Water saves, burning bush a holy place
And the staff and the signs make a way
Towering watery walls, chariots crushed
A people passed over, 



From the Pieces

It fell
And broke wide open and far
There was a potter with
Careful hands
He knew just what to do
Made it whole again


I Need a Savior

When striving leads to failing
And strength shows up as weakness
When undone overshadows done
And anger hides in meekness
I need a Savior
I need a Tower
I need a Shield
I need your Power
I am helpless
You are holy
I am falling
You still love me

Do you still love me?
How can that be?
You are so holy.
You're grace and mercy. 



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