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The First Reason Dietrich Bonhoeffer Can Impact Us: Scripture Meditation

Introduction:

The first reason why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact our preaching is the high premium on the meditation on the Scriptures. To Bonhoeffer, meditation on God’s Word was absolutely essential for every follower of Jesus. In his work, Meditation of Psalm 119, he wrote:

Therefore, it is never sufficient simply to have read God’s Word. It must penetrate deep within us, dwell in us, like the Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary, so that we do not sin in thought, word or deed.[1]

To Bonhoeffer, scripture meditation was even more important for pastors and preachers because if the word of God did not become full in his heart through meditation and prayer, how could he expect to properly explain the word to his congregation. He wrote, “I will offend against my calling if I do not seek each day in prayer the word that my Lord wants me to say that day[2]  

Biblical Foundation:

Meditation on the scriptures is a biblical theme based on passages such as Joshua 1. As Joshua succeeded Moses and was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land, God said to him…“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord  your God will be with you wherever you go” (vs. 8-9). God made it clear to Joshua that success and obedience will grow out of meditation on God’s word.

The Hebrew word for “meditate” means to “ponder” and “study.”[3] The word can be translated “recite it quietly.”[4] Matthew Henry wrote that Joshua was granted a “great trust” by God. Therefore, “he must find time…for meditation.” In regards to us, Henry continued: “Whatever affairs of this world we have to mind, we must not neglect the one thing needful”[5]

Psalm 1 also makes it clear that God will bless those who consistently meditate on his word: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

There is a connection between scripture meditation and being blessed by God. The Hebrew word for “meditate” is the same word in Joshua 1:8. God will bless the person who recites slowly and studies and ponders the word of God. To be blessed by God is more than being happy. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that the word “blessed” in Psalm 1:1 is a “very expressive word: 

The original word is plural…Hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God hath justified, and the perfection and the greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, “Oh, the blessedness!” and we may regard it…as joyful acclamation of the gracious man’s felicity. May the like benediction rest on us![6]

Benefits of Meditation:

As seen in Joshua 1, God will also bless with success and fruitfulness. Bonhoeffer knew that the promises of Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 were true. He offered the following reasons why he meditated on the word of God:

Because I am Christian. Therefore, every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me.

Because I am a preacher of the Word. I cannot expound the Scripture for others if I do not let it speak daily to me. I will misuse the Word in my office as preacher if I do not continue to meditate upon it in prayer.

Because I need a firm discipline of prayer.

Because I need help against the ungodly haste and unrest which threaten my work as a pastor. Only from the peace of God’s Word can there flow the proper, devoted service of each day.[7]

Bonhoeffer’s years of scripture meditation may have benefited him in his final years, months and days in prison. Even when he knew he would be executed, he continued to be characterized by joy and peace. Bonhoeffer’s outlook was witnessed by British officer Captain S. Payne Best. Best was captured by the Gestapo in 1939. They were fellow prisoners during Bonhoeffer’s final weeks. Best wrote that Bonhoeffer: was all humility and sweetness; he always seemed to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness, of joy in the very smallest event in life, and a deep gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real and ever close to him[8]  

In a letter to Bonhoeffer’s family, Captain Best wrote that “Bonhoeffer was different (from the other prisoners); just quite calm and normal, seemingly perfect at ease…his soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison.”[9] No doubt the promise of Psalm 1:1 was fulfilled. Bonhoeffer was blessed because be meditated on the word of the Lord day and night; and he was a tree planted by streams of water that yielded fruit (Psalm 1:3).

Scripture Meditation for Twenty-First Century Preaching:

Because twenty-first century preachers and pastors face many demands on their time, it is crucial that a portion of time be set aside daily to meditate on God’s Word. What would this look like in the daily schedule of a preacher?  John Piper explains the process of scripture meditation:

Now what does this meditation involve? The word “meditation” in Hebrew means basically to speak or to mutter. When this is done in the heart, it is called musing or meditation. So meditating on the Word of God day and night means to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it—to mull it over, to ask questions about it and answer them from the Scripture itself, to ask yourself how this might apply to you and others, and to ponder its implications for life and church and culture and missions.

One simple way to do this is to memorize a verse or two and then say them to yourself once, emphasizing the first word. Then say them to yourself again, emphasizing the second word. Then say them a third time, emphasizing the third word. And so on, over and over again, until you have meditated on the reason why each word is there. Then you can start asking relational questions. If this word is used, why is that word used? The possibilities of musing and pondering and meditating are endless. And always we pray as we ponder, asking for God’s help and light.[10]

Piper’s understanding of biblical meditation is similar to Bonhoeffer’s perspective. In Meditating on the Word, he defined it as:

In the same way that the word of a person who is dear to me follows me throughout the day, so the Word of Scripture should resonate and work within me ceaselessly. Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word spoken by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said, so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation…Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.[11]

A twenty-first century pastor and preacher must possess the discipline to set aside portions of the day to meditate on God’s Word. In doing so, “we are taking the time to ponder the Word of God, allowing for the Holy Spirit to reveal the riches of wisdom.”[12]

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[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word, (Nashville: Cowley Publications, 1986), 127-128.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), 32.

[4] The NET Bible: First Beta Edition (2001), 434.

[5] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume Two (Old Tappen: Fleming H. Revell Company), 5.

[6] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume One (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), 1.

[7] Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word, 30-32.

[8] S. Payne Best, The Venlo Incident (London: Hutchinson and  Co. LTD, 1950), 180.

[9] Quoted in Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A  Testament to Freedom, (San Fransico: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 43.

[10] John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 125.

[11] Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word, 32-33.

[12] Douglas J. Rumford, Soul Shaping: Taking Care of Your Spiritual Life (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996), 252.

At the time of his confirmation he had started reading his Bible for himself, and did not hide an exciting novel between the black covers! 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 37.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quote

“It might be asked further: How shall we ever help a Christian brother and set him straight in his difficulty and doubt, if not with God’s own Word? All our own words quickly fail. But he who like a good “householder…bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13.52), he who can speak out of the abundance of God’s Word, the wealth of directions, admonitions, and consolations of the Scriptures will be through God’s Word to drive out demons and help his brother. There we leave it. “Because from childhood thou hast known the holy scriptures, they are able to instruct you unto salvation” (II Tim. 3.15, Luther’s tr.). 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together55

It remains to be seen how a recent controversy will affect evangelist Greg Laurie’s annual SoCal Harvest Aug. 17-19. However, considerable media coverage in the Los Angeles area could ultimately boost attendance at the 29-year-old event.

Laurie, who leads the Riverside-based Harvest Christian Fellowship, was featured in a promotional billboard holding a generic Bible. After two weeks, the Irvine Company removed billboards from a Newport Beach mall and the Irvine Spectrum because of complaints.

In a blog post last week, Laurie pointed out the book didn’t say Bible or have a cross on it, although he affirmed it was a Bible.

“Why are people so frightened of the Bible?” Laurie asked. “Think of the words of George Washington: ‘It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.’”

For the rest of the post…

“Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together53.

“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.”

Today former gymnast Rachael Denhollander had 40 minutes to address the court—and her abuser—during the sentencing hearing of Larry Nasser, the former Team USA gymnastics doctor who molested her 16 years ago at his Michigan State University clinic.

What she said directly to the man—who gratified himself off of her innocence and abused countless other girls in a malicious and manipulative way—is an incredible testimony to the grace and justice of Jesus Christ.

(At the 25:40, she addressed Nassar directly and powerfully spoke the gospel into his life. But the previous 25 minutes are essential background for her conclusion, and they contains lessons for all of us, inside and outside the church, to prevent and report sexual abuse.)

You can read the entire transcript at CNN. Here is an excerpt:

You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others and the opposite of what you have done is for me to choose to love sacrificially, no matter what it costs me.

In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well.

Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says:

My argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?

Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.

When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.

I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.

For the rest of the post…

Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading: 88 percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles?

Root Issue

When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough.

We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We often think it’s all about us, and that opening Scripture is only useful when we think we need it. We don’t understand how amazing the Bible really is.

Word that Lives

We shouldn’t read the Bible like we do any other book, or treat it like a source of entertainment. Instead, we should consider what makes Scripture special. Paul tells Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

Notice the verbs: Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. It’s not that Scripture was inspired but now isn’t as relevant. It was and is and will be inspired and profitable.

For the rest of the post..

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The screen printer standing in my living room was trying to sell me on a new four-color process for the kids Bible club shirts my church needed. One problem: he came to the door asking for “Mike,” not “Mark” because I kind of forgot to tell him the truth… (I used to use a pseudonymous email address out of overblown security concerns.)

We still joke about that. He’s now one of my best friends. But back then I had no idea of the wonderful story of God’s grace in his life. He and his wife were brand new to the area, and my wife and I invited them over and started a friendship. We found out that this clean-cut young man had, not too many years back, been a drug addict. As a last resort his non-Christian family had sent him to a Christian program in a rural area. Most guys go there to get clean, and they’re willing to use the God stuff temporarily if it will help them get their lives back from drugs and alcohol.

But my friend’s experience was different: God wouldn’t let him be temporary. He got hold of this young drug addict’s heart. After graduating from the program, he immediately went on staff, then married the daughter of another graduate. The screen-printing gig was his first venture into “the real world” since coming clean and turning to Christ. He was full of faith, hope, love, and zeal. He and his wife found a church that was known for engaging (ahem, read: wild) worship services, not so much for theological depth.

Pins and needles

So I was surprised when, one Sunday, he called me and asked if he could come to my church, where the proportion of wildness to theological depth was rather different. “Of course!” I said; I was thrilled. But I immediately became afraid, too. My pastor was going through Isaiah. We had just made it to chapter 21, a somewhat recondite passage full of judgments on people such as the Dedanites, Temanites, and Kedarites. I had to listen to a lengthy expository message through the ears of a guy sitting next to me who, as best I knew, had never heard an expository sermon.

To make matters worse, the title of the message that evening was “Shuddering Over a Harsh Vision.” That was me: I envisioned my friendship with this guy ending. In my vision, he was looking at me like I was an alien, and he was heading back to a church where he could be sure he’d never have to hear about the Dedanites again.

My pastor, an experienced expositor who also taught preaching, said something at the beginning of the message that I’d never heard him say before: “This is one of those obscure passages of Scripture that, if it went missing, no one would notice.” Oh no, I thought. The pins and needles under my pew cushion grew longer, and I was required to sit on them throughout the detailed explanations required to get us all through Isaiah 21.

When the service was over, I couldn’t bear to ask my friend what he thought. I didn’t want to put him in the awkward position of having to tell me with a glazed expression, “Church is not supposed to feel like a sentence-diagramming party.” So I changed the subject of our conversation to something else, maybe football.

He changed it right back. With deep feeling he said, “Wow. . . Now there’s one part of the Bible”—and here he held up his hands to indicate the space of about a chapter—“that I understand.”

Shortly thereafter my friend and his wife were eating up the kind of in-depth Bible teaching I was afraid to introduce him to that Sunday; they listened with the zest of someone who has just discovered that meat exists.

Exposition

Expository preaching is sometimes criticized (and sometimes rightly so) for being all about understanding and not about feeling. All head, no heart. But you had to be there to see my friend’s eyes. Few people get excited about hour-long expositions of Scripture. He did, because he had the new heart of the New Covenant. He hungered to know God’s words.

John Piper advocates preaching that is what he calls “expository exultation”—head and heart. And in my experience there’s nothing quite like it. The capacity for deep feeling is itself made deeper by a greater depth of exposition. I’ll never forget singing “The Church’s One Foundation” with my fellow church members after we’d been treated to an exposition of that foundation in Ephesians 2.

As is nearly always the case, Piper’s “expository exultation” is only an encapsulation of Jonathan Edwards, who said in Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with. (387)

After hearing a message on a harsh prophetic vision, a congregation is supposed to shudder—as Isaiah himself did in this portion of his book (“My heart staggers; horror has appalled me”). The Bible, rightly preached and rightly understood, creates negative feelings as well as positive in hearts made soft to God’s words. The Lord evidently thinks we need to hear passages of comfort as well as of warning. The Bible clearly instructs us both to love the Lord and to fear him. A New Testament preacher must bring in gospel comfort, too, but not by removing the teeth from God’s warnings.

For the rest of the article…

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