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I rarely quote poems during my sermons. But on Sunday, I will quote the poem, “Guests” by Martha Snell Nicholson. We all have the unwelcome guest of pain in our lives. That is why we also need Jesus to help us.

Pain knocked upon my door and said
That she had come to stay,
And though I would not welcome her
But bade her go away,
She entered in. Like my own shade
She followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword
No moment was I free.

And then one day another knocked
Most gently at my door.
I cried, “No, Pain is living here,
And there is not room for more.”

And then I heard His tender voice,
“Tis I, be not afraid.”
And from the day He entered in—
The difference it has made!

For though He did not bid her leave,
(My strange, unwelcome guest),
He taught me how to live with her,
Oh, I had never guessed

That we could dwell so sweetly here,
My Lord and Pain and I,
Within this fragile house of clay
While years slip slowly by!

 


At 70, I am energized to dream great things, because this year Hillary turns 69, Bernie turns 75, and Donald turns 70. My rising energy has nothing to do with their policies or character. It has to do with the incredible fact that all of them want to spend their seventies doing the hardest job in the world.

This is wonderfully counter-cultural. I doubt that it’s motivated by a passion to magnify the greatness of Jesus. But that makes it all the more inspiring for me, because nothing gets me more excited than spending my seventies spreading a passion for the glory of Christ and his word. Paul is still my hero when he says, “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

So if Hillary and Bernie and Donald want to bear the weight of the world for the next four to eight years out of man-centered, philanthropic motives, I find my seventy-something zeal for Jesus heating up. They only get to be president of a tiny territory called the U.S.A. I get to be an ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe. They only get to change the way some people live for a few decades. I get to change the way some people live forever — with a lot of good spill-over for this world in the process.

But this is not an article mainly about me. It’s about the 70 million Baby Boomers coming behind me. I’m the oldest (born in 1946; the youngest born in 1964). Ten thousand Americans turn 70 every day. And they will continue to do so for about nineteen years. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to get us to waste the last chapter of our lives on leisure. I’m spending one afternoon to plead with the rising seventy-somethings: Don’t waste it.

A History of Impact over Seventy

Hillary, Bernie, and Donald are not unique. Let them — and all the others — inspire you.

Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are over 65, and three are over 75. Ronald Reagan served as president from age 70 to 78. He was shot at age 70 and recovered. Then at 76, he stood against the U.S.S.R. in West Berlin and said to Mikhail Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!”

Winston Churchill became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940 at the age of 66. He wielded his mighty eloquence against the Nazis till he was 70. Six years later, he was reelected and served till he was 81. At 82, he wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

Theologian Charles Hodge (1797–1878) lived to be 80. His biographer, Paul Gutjahr, wrote, “His last years were among his most productive . . . wielding his favorite pen to compose literally thousands of manuscript pages, which would eventually become his monumental Systematic Theology and his incisive What Is Darwinism?.”

At 70, Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence. John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at age 77. At the same age, Grandma Moses started painting. Started! At 82, Goethe finished writing his famous Faust. At 89, Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Africa. At 93, Strom Thurmond won reelection after promising not to run again at age 99. He lived to be 100. At 93, P.G. Wodehouse worked on his 97th novel, got knighted, and then died.

“Make no mistake. The Bible believes in retirement. It’s called heaven.”

I heard J. Oswald Sanders lecture when he was 89. He said, “I have written a book a year since I was 70.” So I have just arrived at the beginning of this writing life. The beginning! What a thrilling example!

For the rest of the post…

The pressures on these young clergy were immense. At the 1934 Dahlem synod, the Confessing Church had decided to train, certify, and ordain its own clergy. Bonhoeffer’s seminary at Finkenwalde was one five Confessing Church seminaries. In August 1937, however, Heinrich Himmler banned these seminaries, and the Gestapo closed Finkenwalde and the other seminaries one month later. The Confessing Church continued to examine and ordain its own candidates, but its examination commission in Berlin was arrested and tried in 1941.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945, 4

Dietrich Bonhoeffer born FEB 4, 1906

Dietrich BonhoefferAmerican Minute with Bill Federer

The National Socialist Workers’ Party leader, Adolph Hitler, became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, and began implementing a plan of universal healthcare, with no regard for conscience.

The New York Times reported October 10, 1933:

“Nazi Plan to Kill Incurables to End Pain; German Religious Groups Oppose Move…

The Ministry of Justice…explaining the Nazi aims regarding the German penal code, today announced its intentions to authorize physicians to end the sufferings of the incurable patient…in the interest of true humanity…”

The New York Times continued:

“The Catholic newspaper Germania hastened to observe: ‘The Catholic faith binds the conscience of its followers not to accept this method.’…

In Lutheran circles, too, life is regarded as something that God alone can take…

Euthanasia…has become a widely discussed word in the Reich…No life still valuable to the State will be wantonly destroyed.”

When Germany’s economy suffered, expenses had to be cut from the national healthcare plan, such as keeping alive handicapped, insane, chronically ill, elderly and those with dementia.

They were considered “lebensunwertes leben”-life unworthy of life.

Then criminals, convicts, street bums, beggars and gypsies, considered “leeches” on society, met a similar fate.

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger had been the editor of The Birth Control Review, a magazine that published in April 1933 an article by Ernst Rudin, one of the ‘fathers of racial hygiene.’

Ernst Rudin advised the Nazi Socialist Workers Party to prevent hereditary defective genes from being passed on to future generations by people considered by the State to be inferior mankind – ‘untermensch’.

Labeling the Aryan race ‘ubermensch’ (super mankind), the National Socialist Workers Party enacted horrific plans to purge the human gene pool of what they considered ‘inferior’ races, resulting in 6 million Jews and millions of others dying in gas chambers and ovens.

U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated in 1977:

“When the first 273,000 German aged, infirm and retarded were killed in gas chambers there was no outcry from that medical profession… and it was not far from there to Auschwitz.”

British Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge explained:

“We have…for those that have eyes to see, an object lesson in what the quest for ‘quality of life’ without reference to ‘sanctity of life’ can involve…

The origins of the Holocaust lay, not in Nazi terrorism…but in…Germany’s acceptance of euthanasia and mercy-killing as humane and estimable.”

Then there was an event of domestic unrest and violence.

The German Reichstag (Capitol Building) was set on fire in 1933, under suspicious conditions.

Hitler declared an emergency, suspended basic rights, arrested his political opponents and had them shot without a trial.

Hitler forced old military generals to retire, thus purging his administration of any who might resist him.

He swayed the public with mesmerizing speeches.

Then Nazis confiscated weapons.

An SA Oberführer warned of an ordinance by the provisional Bavarian Minister of the Interior:

“The deadline set…for the surrender of weapons will expire on March 31, 1933. I therefore request the immediate surrender of all arms…

Whoever does not belong to one of these named units (SA, SS, and Stahlhelm) and…keeps his weapon without authorization or even hides it, must be viewed as an enemy of the national government and will be held responsible without hesitation and with the utmost severity.”

Heinrich Himmler, head of Nazi S.S. (“Schutzstaffel”-Protection Squadron), stated:

“Germans who wish to use firearms should join the S.S. or the S.A. Ordinary citizens don’t need guns, as their having guns doesn’t serve the State.”

When a suspected homosexual youth shot a Nazi diplomat in Paris, it was used as an excuse to confiscate all firearms from Jews.

German newspapers printed, November 10, 1938:

“Jews Forbidden to Possess Weapons By Order of SS Reichsführer Himmler, Munich…

‘Persons who, according to the Nürnberg law, are regarded as Jews, are forbidden to possess any weapon. Violators will be condemned to a concentration camp and imprisoned for a period of up to 20 years.’”

The New York Times, November 9, 1938, reported:

“The Berlin Police…announced that…the entire Jewish population of Berlin had been ‘disarmed’ with the confiscation of 2,569 hand weapons, 1,702 firearms and 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

Any Jews still found in possession of weapons without valid licenses are threatened with the severest punishment.”

Of the Waffengesetz (Nazi Weapons Law), March 18, 1938, Hitler stated at a dinner talk, April 11, 1942 (Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations, 2nd Edition, 1973, p. 425-6, translated by Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens):

“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing…

So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt stated of Hitler, December 15, 1941:

“Government to him is not the servant…of the people but their absolute master and the dictator of their every act…

The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which seemed to the Founders of the Republic inalienable, were, to Hitler and his fellows, empty words…”

FDR continued:

“Hitler advanced: That the individual human being has no rights whatsoever in himself…no right to a soul of his own, or a mind of his own, or a tongue of his own, or a trade of his own; or even to live where he pleases or to marry the woman he loves;

That his only duty is the duty of obedience, not to his God, not to his conscience, but to Adolf Hitler…

His only value is his value, not as a man, but as a unit of the Nazi state…”

FDR stated in his State of the Union Address, January 6, 1942:

“The world is too small…for both Hitler and God…

Nazis have now announced their plan for enforcing their…pagan religion all over the world…by which the Holy Bible and the Cross of Mercy would be displaced by Mein Kampf and the swastika.”

Churchill, in From War to War, (Second World War, Vol. 1, ch. 4, p. 50) described Hitler’s Mein Kampf as:

“…the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.”

Originally, Hitler was going to allow Jews to be deported to Palestine, but the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, convinced Hitler to pursue another solution.

Mufti al-Husseini attempted to follow Hitler’s example by expelling Jews from Palestine, as the Muslim Brother would also do in Egypt.

He recruited 30,000 Bosnian Muslims to join Hitler’s Waffen-SS.

Hitler gave al-Husseini financial assistance, and then asylum in 1941, with the honorary rank of an SS Major-General.

During the final battle in Berlin in April of 1945, around Hitler’s bunker, making their last suicidal stand, were 100 Muslims of the Mufti’s Arab Legion.

Hitler’s view was the Nazi’s had the right solution but the wrong religion, stating:

“Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers…then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies the heroism and which opens up the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world.”

Hitler stated:

“The peoples of Islam will always be closer to us than, for example, France.”

According to Albert Speer, Third Reich’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, Hitler stated in private:

“The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity…with its meekness and flabbiness?”

Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels confided in The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41, that in reality Hitler “hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.”

Though early in his career Hitler pretended to be a Christian in order to get elected, once in power he revealed his nazified social Darwinism and became openly hostile toward Christianity.

Franklin D. Roosevelt stated December 15, 1941:

“To Hitler, the church…is a monstrosity to be destroyed by every means.”

Ministers who resisted Hitler’s attempt to “nazify” the German Protestant Church were imprisoned, such a founder of the Confessing Church, Rev. Martin Niemöller, who wrote:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Another Confessing Church leader who resisted Hitler was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born FEBRUARY 4, 1906.

He studied in New York in 1930, where he met Frank Fisher, an African-American seminarian who introduced him to Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.

He was inspired by African-American spirituals and the preaching of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., who helped Bonhoeffer turn “from phraseology to reality,” motivating him to stand up against injustice.

Bonhoeffer helped found the Confessing Church in Germany, which refused to be intimidated by Hitler into silence.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer rebuked nominal Christians:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer stated in a 1932 sermon:

“The blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith.

On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant.”

For the rest of the post…

In June of 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was safe and sound in the United States. He could have remained there but on June 20, 1939, he made the “fateful decision” to return to Nazi Germany. Why? In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, he gave the following explanation:

I have made the mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945, 1.

December 27, 2015 in Column, Opinion

Michael Gerson: Bonhoeffer resisted Nazis, offered hope

Michael Gerson The Washington Post

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions …

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions of Weimar Germany, America has fewer footholds for fascism. But the reaction to fascist darkness in the 1930s produced a figure, a bright light, who should guide us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who resisted the Nazis and the influence of Nazism in his own church. He spoke out on behalf of German Jews, was implicated in a plot against Adolf Hitler’s life, was imprisoned, wrote and ministered for years from confinement, then was led naked to the execution ground and hung with a noose of piano wire, just weeks before the end of World War II.

As a theologian, Bonhoeffer was farsighted. Modern Western societies, he argued, were becoming “radically religionless.” It is not possible to reimpose this consensus, and mere nostalgia is pointless. But religion – in Bonhoeffer’s view, a changeable form of “human self-expression” – is not the same as faith. “If religion is only the garment of Christianity – and even the garment has looked very different at different times – then what is religionless Christianity?”

It is a question that could occupy a theologian’s entire career. Bonhoeffer’s was cut short at age 39. But it is worth noting one thing he did not find outdated. He believed that Advent and the story of Christmas speak directly to the modern world.

The appeal of Christmas to a prisoner, from one perspective, is natural. Christmas upends the normal calculations of power and influence. “He takes what is little and lowly,” said Bonhoeffer, “and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. … He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

This is not merely a sentimental insight. In Bonhoeffer’s view, this revelation about the character of God involves a kind of judgment. “No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.”

For the rest of the post…

A month later (May 1942) two Lutheran clergymen made direct contact with the British in Stockholm. These were Dr. Hans Schoenfeld, a member of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the German Evangelical Church, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an eminent divine and an active conspirator, who on hearing that Dr. George Bell, the Anglican Bishop of Chichester, was visiting in Stockholm hastened there to visit him–Bonhoeffer traveling incognito on forged papers provided him by Colonel Oster of the Abwehr.

Both pastors informed the bishop of the plans of the conspirators and…inquired whether the Western Allies would make a decent peace with a non-Nazi government once Hitler had been overthrown. They asked for an answer–either by a private message or by a public announcement. To impress the bishop that the anti-Hitler conspiracy was a serious business, Bonhoeffer furnished him with a list  of the names of the leaders–an indiscretion which later was to cost him and to make certain the execution of many of the others. 

~ William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1320-1321.

“I  believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe God will give us the strength we need to resist in all times of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, After Ten Years in Letters & Papers From Prison, 10. 

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.

For the rest of the post…

Article by: KIRK O. KOLBO

The wise words of the theologian executed over a plot to kill Hitler still have resonance for us in today’s troubled times.

Seventy years ago Thursday, Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany for participating in the conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler.

There is no doubt that Bonhoeffer was “guilty” of being one of the conspirators. Although he had been in prison for two years at the time of his execution, beginning more than a year before the failed July 20,1944, Stauffenberg bomb attempt on Hitler’s life (Operation Valkyrie), Bonhoeffer had been a member of the conspiracy since 1940. He had been brought into it by his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, a lawyer and official in the Abwehr, the military intelligence office and a center of resistance to Hitler.

Bonhoeffer was determined from his early teens to become a theologian. His first pastoral church assignment was to a German émigré congregation in Barcelona, Spain. In the early years of the Nazi regime, he had a similar position with a church in London. His biographers point, however, to a visit to the United States in 1930-31 as a turning point. Bonhoeffer came as an exchange student, studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Among the friends he made there was an African-American student from Alabama who introduced Bonhoeffer to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he was moved by the depth of conviction he witnessed in the preaching and worship.

Bonhoeffer also traveled to the South, where he was appalled at the racial injustices he observed. He wrote home that the segregated “conditions are really unbelievable … for example, when I wanted to eat in a small restaurant … with a Negro, I was refused service.” He had not previously given much thought to the issue of race and the church, “especially since we don’t really have an analogous situation in Germany.”

For the rest of the article…

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