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Last Sunday in church we sang Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen.” What a moving experience, to sing these words which Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi concentration camp. His words, originally a poem to greet the new Year of 1945, were later put to music. Just months after composing this joyful, confident hymn, Bonhoeffer was hanged by Nazis.

The poem reads:

Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last,
ach, Herr, gib unsern aufgescheuchten Seelen
das Heil, für das Du uns bereitet hast.

Und reichst Du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus Deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

Doch willst Du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört Dir unser Leben ganz.

Laß warm und still die Kerzen heute flammen,
die Du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, Dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all Deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag

One English version of the poem reads:

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting, come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter sorrow, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

MATHEW GILBERT

nazibarbedwireThe Christmas season is a time when even the Scroogiest curmudgeon can strain out a smile. All of the trees, lights, carols, gifts, and family gatherings birth smiles and laughs that get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. Still yet, for some Christmas is just another reminder of absent joy in the midst of a joyful season. When others are smiling, you are sitting in the ashes of suffering and sorrow. Maybe you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Maybe you or a loved one is suffering with cancer. Maybe you are single and the holidays are a vibrant picture of the depths of your loneliness. The point is, the expectations of a joyful heart at Christmas are often lacking when satisfaction is sought in the pleasantries of the Christmas season. When joy is sought in the things of Christmas, there is sure…

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Life Is Worship

The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) in a letter to suffering friends in Christmas, 1942 as WWII raged

HT: Desiring God blog

The Christmas Psalms

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 This is Eric Metaxas. Today on BreakPoint, Chuck Colson tells us about a beautiful Christmas Day, behind bars.

Chuck Colson

Bessie Shipp was spending Christmas in jail. A slender black woman, Bessie was watching her life slip rapidly away. Though she had not been sentenced to death by the state, she was under a different death sentence: Bessie had AIDS.

I met Bessie that Christmas Day in a North Carolina prison for women. I had come to give a Christmas message to the inmates there.

The atmosphere was glum. The small crowd that gathered to hear me preach was somber and subdued.

After the service, a prison official said, “Do you have time to visit Bessie Shipp?”

“Who’s Bessie Shipp?” I asked. When they told me, I confess, I was taken aback. This was several years ago, and I had never visited an AIDS patient.

And yet, just the night before, I had seen a television story about Mother Teresa and the AIDS patients she was caring for. How could I do anything less?

“I’ll go,” I said.

We walked down a narrow corridor, and a heavy door was opened to reveal a small, dark cell. There, sitting in a hard-backed chair was this tiny woman, wrapped in a bathrobe, shivering in the cold. To my surprise, I saw a Bible on her lap.daily_commentary_12_25_14

After chatting a few minutes, I came right to the point. “Bessie,” I said, “Do you know the Lord?”

“I want to,” she replied softly. “But I don’t always feel like He’s there.” And her voice trailed off.

“Would you like to pray with me to know Christ as your Savior?” I asked.

Bessie looked down, twisted a Kleenex in her thin hands, and finally whispered, “Yes, I would.”

So we prayed together in that cold, concrete cell. And Bessie made a decision that would change the rest of her short life: She gave it to Jesus Christ.

Only days later Bessie was paroled. Friends and prison officials had been trying to get her released for a long time. But the timing was providential. She stayed long enough to meet Christ, and then she went to her home as a new Christian.

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship    

 

The year was 1943, and another Advent had dawned for Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer loved Advent and had often preached sermons on this holy season of waiting and hope as a metaphor for the entire Christian life. Just one year earlier, during the Advent of 1942, Bonhoeffer had written a circular letter to some of his friends and former students.

The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.

Those words took on a deeper meaning in December 1943 as Bonhoeffer found himself one of eight hundred prisoners awaiting trial in Berlin’s Tegel military prison.

At this point, Bonhoeffer still hoped he might be released, perhaps even in time to spend Christmas with his family and his nineteen-year-old fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer.

For the rest of the post…

Pure Church by Thabiti Anyabwile

December 21, 2014

I went to bed last night heartsick and distressed over the shooting deaths of two New York Police Department officers. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were sitting in their cruiser unsuspecting when an African-American gunman opened fire on them. The gunman made his way from his home in Baltimore, where he shot his ex-girlfriend earlier in the day, to the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn where the officers were on duty. After killing the officers the man fled into the subway where he took his own life. Judging from his social media account, he was a deeply troubled man bent on killing officers. His actions were more than cowardly or tragic; they were evil.

There is no biblical, logical or social justification for such violence and wickedness. None. This shooting must be seen for what it is: a heinous and evil act. The damage done is incalculable and irreparable.

Officer Wenjian Liu was a 7-year veteran of the NYPD. He was married two months and before the honeymoon was over his wife finds herself a grieving widow.

Officer Rafael Ramos served the NYPD for two years. He, too, leaves behind a wife and a 13-year old son. Ramos was also a faithful member of his local church. He was to the Christian more than a public servant. He was a brother in the Lord. His wife will mourn today and for a long while to come. His son will grow through his most formative years without the strong hand of his father to guide him. His church will worship this morning feeling the pain of this amputation from the body of Christ.

Getting Justice Right

The wicked and unjust action of a lone, disturbed shooter will result in incalculable loss. Those who protest in favor of the valuing and protection of life, if we would not be hypocrites, must protest just as loudly in support of faithful officers serving our communities. We must not champion a one-sided “justice,” for that’s just favoritism pretending to be righteous. It’s merely a grab for power wielded unevenly.

Dr. King once spoke of the relationship between power and justice, saying, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” That’s what we want in all of this: power implementing justice, justice correcting everything against love. We must get this right or we will only perpetuate all that’s wrong, all that’s partial, all that’s life and soul destroying.

We cannot let the acts of a lone and disturbed gunman define the protest, whether we find ourselves on the side of protests or against. If we allow this to define anyone, then we’re misrepresenting ourselves or misrepresenting our neighbors.

For the rest of the post…

 

The Third Reich, 1933-1945, was arguably the most heinous regime in history. Comprised of some equally malevolent characters, this administration was responsible for initiating the biggest and most costly war mankind has ever known, and perpetrated one of the worlds biggest acts of genocide, in what is now referred to as the Holocaust. This list could have been bigger but I settled on these 15 (mostly) NSDAP members.

#15 – Hermann Goering

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A WW1 veteran, the Reichsmarschall was head of the luftwaffe, and the founder of the gestapo. After the fall of France he stole millions of pounds worth of art from Jews, and amassed a personal fortune. Goering took part in the beer hall putsch of 1923 and was wounded in the groin. Subsequently, taking morphine for pain relief, he became addicted to the drug for the rest of his life. In 1940, the Marshal ordered the bombing of the civilian population of Britain (the Blitz) and was involved in planning the holocaust. Goering was the highest ranking defendant during the Nuremberg Trials. Sentenced to hang, he committed suicide in his cell the night before his execution by cyanide ingestion.

 

 

 

 

#14 – Ilse Koch

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Known as The “Bitch of Buchenwald” because of her sadistic cruelty towards prisoners, Ilse Koch was married to another wicked Nazi SS, Karl Otto Koch, but outshone him in the depraved, inhumane, disregard for life which was her trademark. She used her sexual prowess by wandering around the camps naked, with a whip, and if any man so much as glanced at her she would have them shot on the spot. The most infamous accusation against Ilse Koch was that she had selected inmates with interesting tattoos to be killed, so that their skins could be made into lampshades for her home (though, unfortunately, no evidence of these lampshades has been found). After the war she was arrested and spent time in prison on different charges, eventually hanging herself in her cell in 1967, apparently consumed by guilt.

 

#13 – Joseph Goebbels

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Dr. Paul Josef Goebbels was the Reich Minister of Propaganda, and a vehement antisemite. Goebbels speeches of hatred against Jews arguably initiated the final solution, and no doubt helped sway public opinion to the detriment of the Jewish people. A sufferer of polio, Goebbels had a club foot, but this did not effect his standing as the second best orator in The Reich. He coined the phrase “Total War”, and was instrumental in convincing the nation to fight long after the war was effectively lost. At the end of the war, a devoted Goebbels stayed in Berlin with Hitler and killed himself, along with his wife Magda and their six young children.

 

 

 

 

#12 – Franz Stangl

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Born in Austria, Stangl was a commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps. In 1940, through a direct order from Heinrich Himmler, Stangl became superintendent of the T-4 Euthanasia Program at the Euthanasia Institute at Schloss Hartheim where mentally and physically disabled people were sent to be killed. Stangl accepted, and grew accustomed to the killing of Jews , perceiving prisoners not as humans but merely as “cargo”. He is quoted as saying, “I remember standing there, next to the pits full of black-blue corpses…. somebody said ‘What shall we do with rotting garbage?’ that started me thinking of them as cargo. Stangl escaped Germany after the war and was eventually arrested in Brazil, in 1967. He was tried for the deaths of around 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings, but argued: “My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty”. He died of heart failure in 1971, while serving a life sentence.

 

 

#11 – Paul Blobel

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During the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he commanded Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, that was active in Ukraine. Following Wehrmacht troops into Ukraine, the Einsatzgruppen would be responsible for liquidating political and racial undesirables. Blobel was primarily responsible for the Babi Yar massacre at Kiev. Up to 59,018 executions are attributable to Blobel, though during testimony he was alleged to have killed 10,000-15,000. He was later sentenced to death by the U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunal in the Einsatzgruppen Trial. He was hanged at Landsberg Prison on June 8, 1951.

 

 

 

#10 – Josef Kramer

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Kramer was the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dubbed “The Beast of Belsen” by camp inmates; he was a notorious Nazi war criminal, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Kramer adopted his own draconian policies at Auschwitz and Belsen and, along with Irma Grese, he terrorized his prisoners without remorse. After the war he was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hameln prison by noted British executioner Albert Pierrepoint. Whilst on trial he stated his lack of feelings as he was “just following orders”.

 

 

 

 

#9 – Ernst Kaltenbrunner

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Austrian born Kaltenbrunner was chief of security in the Reich where he replaced Reinhard Heydrich. He was president of Interpol from 1943 to 1945, and was there to destroy the enemies within the Reich. Kaltenbrunner was a physically imposing man with scars on his cheeks, which made him look like the tyrant he really was. Kaltenbrunner was one of the main perpetrators of the holocaust and he was hanged after the Nuremberg trials on 16th October 1946. He was the highest ranked SS man to be hanged.

 

 

 

 

 

#8 – Friedrich Jeckeln

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Jeckeln led one of the largest collections of Einsatzgruppen, and was personally responsible for ordering the deaths of over 100,000 Jews, Slavs, Roma, and other “undesirables” of the Third Reich, in the occupied Soviet Union during World War II. Jeckeln developed his own methods to kill large numbers of people, which became known as the “Jeckeln System” during the Rumbula, Babi Yar, and Kamianets-Podilskyi Massacres. After the war he was tried and hanged by the Russian,s in Riga on February 3, 1946.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 – Oskar Dirlewanger

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WW1 veteran Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger led the infamous SS Dirlewanger Brigade, a penal battalion comprised of the sickest most vicious criminals in the Riech. Dirlwanger raped two 13 year old girls on separate occasions in the 1930s, and lost his Dr. title after being imprisoned, only to have it reinstated after his bravery Fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He volunteered for the SS at the start of WW2, and was given his own battalion due to his excellent soldiery, Dirlewanger’s unit was employed in operations against partisans in the occupied Soviet Union, but he and his soldiers are widely believed to have tortured, raped and murdered civilians (including children) and he allegedly fed female hostages strychnine in order to entertain his soldiers whilst they died in agony. Dirlewanger was captured by the French in a hospital after being injured at the front as he had always led his soldiers into battle. The French handed him over to the Polish, who locked him up and beat and tortured him over the next few days. He died from injuries inflicted by the Polish guards around June 5, 1945.

 

 

 

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