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“The Psalter is the great school of prayer.”

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“If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”

“The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”

“Furthermore, [the unchristian environment] is the place where we find out whether the Christian’s meditation has led him into the unreal, from which he awakens in terror when he returns to the workaday world, or whether it has led him into a real contact with God, from which he emerges strengthened and purified. Has it transported him for a moment into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so securely and deeply in his heart that it holds and fortifies him, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works? Only the day can decide.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Life Together 

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian most known for his book The Cost of Discipleship and his involvement in the plot to assassinate Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, suffered a great deal at the hands of the Nazis, including his eventual execution. In the summer of 1937, just as the Gestapo was arresting Bonhoeffer’s friends, the pastor preached about God’s judgment in Psalm 58 — but he didn’t say what a modern American might expect.

“The wicked are perverse from the womb; liars go astray from their birth. … O God, break their teeth in their mouths; pull the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them vanish like water that runs off; let the arrows they aim break in two. … The righteous will be glad when they see the vengeance; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. And they will say, ‘Surely, there is a reward for the righteous, surely, there is a God who rules in the earth'” (Psalm 58:3, 6-7, 10-11).

So how did Bonhoeffer, a Christian who lost his life trying to assassinate Hitler, apply this verse to his own life? Did he rail against Hitler’s evil? Not exactly. (For the full letter, read Meditating on the Word, a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s works compiled and translated by David McI. Gracie.)

“Is this fearful psalm of vengeance to be our prayer? May we pray in this way? Certainly not! We bear much guilt of our own for the action of any enemies who cause us suffering,” Bonhoeffer declared in a sermon on July 11, 1937

This message is powerful, given what had happened to Bonhoeffer in the months — and even days — before. In January 1936, he lost his grandmother — who defied a Nazi boycott of Jews by shoving through brownshirts to buy strawberries from a Jew. Throughout 1937, the Gestapo carried out interrogations, house searches, confiscations, and arrests against Bonhoeffer’s seminary students. Ten days before this sermon, they arrested his friend and fellow pastor Martin Niemöller (the man famous for the “first they came for the Jews …” poem).

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“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

~ 1 Peter 1.8-9

First Thoughts: Biblical meditation (part 1)

By Adam Bradley

As I continue to share with you some of the things God spoke to me about whilst on sabbatical, I want to focus this week on the important but often neglected tool (or, in old money, discipline) that is meditation.

It’s amazing how, as I write the word meditation, my mind drifts swiftly to images of people with crossed legs, chanting some repetitive religious mantra. Why is it that, as Christians, we so quickly lose sight of the central place that biblical mediation has played in the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) for the last two thousand years? Take for example Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was executed by the Nazis. When asked why he meditated he replied, ‘Because I am a Christian’. In addition to the witness of so many in the church over the last 2,000 years, we find the practice of mediation used by those faithfully following the Lord again and again in scripture – at least 55 times in the Old Testament alone! Find examples in Genesis 24:63, Psalm 63:6 and Psalm 119:148.

So what is biblical mediation?

Richard Foster describes biblical meditation as ‘very simply, … the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word‘. How does it differ from just reading the Bible?

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Proverbs 24:10 says: “If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited.”  This Proverb teaches us a very practical principle: if you have not conditioned or prepared yourself for times of difficulty, you are going to have a very difficult time managing it through your trial. You need to prepare yourself in advance. This is especially true regarding our practice of the spiritual disciplines, and the trials that we all eventually face.

A good example of this may be found in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas, in his biography of the German pastor & theologian writes of how the practice of the spiritual disciplines played a significant role in his ability to deal with his imprisonment and eventual martyrdom:

From the beginning of his time (in prison) until the end, Bonhoeffer maintained the daily discipline of scriptural meditation and prayer he had been practicing for more than a decade.  Each morning he meditated for at least half an hour on a verse of scripture.  And he interceded for his friends and relatives, and for his brothers in the Confessing Church who were on the front lines or in concentration camps.  Once he got his Bible back he read it for hours each day.  By November he had read through the Old Testament two and a half times.  He also drew strength from praying the Psalms, just as they had done at Zingst, Finkewalde, Schlawe, Sigurdshof, and else where.  Bonhoeffer once told Bethge, who was about to embark on a trip, that it was all the more important to practice the daily disciplines when away, to give oneself a sense of grounding and continuity and clarity.  And now, rudely thrust into an atmosphere intensely different from his parents’ home, he practiced these same disciplines. (Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas, p. 438)

Bonhoeffer practiced in prison, the disciplines which he had already learned and practiced in advance. It is highly doubtful that he would have fared so well during his time of trial had he not built these spiritual practices into his life beforehand.

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On Hitler, Grace, the Cross, Our Cross, Church and Life Together

1930s, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, England and the United States

“Cheap grace [false, unBiblical perversions of God’s word translated “Grace”] is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

“Costly grace, Biblical grace, is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Bonhoeffer knew that twisting the Truth to sell it more effectively was inexcusable. For Bonhoeffer the challenge was to present the Truth as purely as possible without attempting to help it along or dress it up.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

“Bonhoeffer’s church is a sect [a cult], in fact the worst sect to have ever set foot on the soil of German Protestantism”

June 1935 “Evangelical Theology Magazine”
-Hermann Sasse, prominent “religious leader” of the day

“Where the world despises other members of the Christian family, Christians will love and serve them. If the world does violence to them, Christians will help them and provide them relief. Where the world subjects them to dishonor and insult, Christians will sacrifice their own honor in exchange for their disgrace. Where the world seeks gain, Christians will renounce it; where it exploits, they will let go; where it oppresses, they will stoop down and lift up the oppressed. Where the world denies justice, Christians will practice compassion; where it hides behind lies, they will speak out for those who cannot speak, and testify for the truth. For the sake of brothers or sisters-be they Jew or Greek, slave or free, strong or weak, of noble or common birth-Christians will renounce all community with the world, for they serve the community of the body of Jesus Christ. Being a part of this community, Christians cannot remain hidden from the world. They have been called out of the world and follow Christ.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Bonhoeffer knew that something of this unwillingness [of the “christian churches”] to speak out with boldness [against Hitler or anything controversial] — had to do with… money. The state provided financial security for the pastors of Germany, and even pastors in the [more “fundamental” and somewhat dissenting] church would jeopardize their incomes only to a certain point.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

“The Nazis did their best to portray Germany as a Christian nation. The Reich church erected a huge tent near the Olympic stadium. Foreigners would have no idea of the internecine battle between the German State-approved “church” and the [more “fundamental” and somewhat dissenting] church; it looked like there was an abundance of Christianity in the midst of Hitler’s Germany.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

On December 11, as with most of his sermons, Bonhoeffer began provocatively, putting forth the notion that Christ had been exiled from the lives of most Christians.

“Of course,” he said, “we build him a temple, but we live in our own houses.”

Religion had been exiled to Sunday morning, to a place “into which one gladly withdraws for a couple of hours, but only to get to one’s place of work immediately afterward.” He said that one cannot give him only a “small compartment in our spiritual life,” but must give him everything or nothing. “The religion of Christ,” he said, “is not a tidbit after one’s bread; on the contrary, it is the bread or it is nothing. People should at least understand and concede this if they call themselves Christian.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

“Then what’s the use of everyone’s theology?” Bonhoeffer asked. There were now an urgency and a seriousness to Bonhoeffer that had not been there before. Somehow he sensed he must warn people of what lay ahead. It was as if he could see that a mighty oak tree, in whose shade families were picnicking, and from whose branches children were swinging, was rotten inside, was about to fall down and kill them all. Others observed the change in him. For one thing, his sermons became more severe.

For the rest of the article…

I am praying and writing in my journal and meditating on Hebrews 3:13…

“But exhort one one another every day, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

 Oh yeah, in the background on TV is the World Series! My team, the Red Sox are playing the Cardinals.

May 2018
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