Showing posts with label Eric Metaxas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eric Metaxas. Show all posts

Monday, August 20, 2012

Life Together. . . Bonhoeffer Style

As I've been saying in a few posts now, I'm reading the most excellent book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson, 2010) which has made the New York Times Bestseller list.  Previously, I've given quotations from the book.  Now I'd like to reflect on the nature of how Bonhoeffer lived, and why the way he lived was and is attractive, moreso to those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up with some advantages.  He had a father - and what a father! - and a mother - with familial lineage to some of Germany's past and present theologians and learned men - and his siblings.  His extended family of aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins simply added to the pastel of relationships Bonhoeffer enjoyed and benefited from. 

His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, had a way of conducting family business.  He was a believer in gathering the family around the table at mealtimes for discussion.  From there, discussions about anything and everything would ensue.  But the structure had the indelible imprint of Bonhoeffer's father, for his way of conducting a conversation around the table was this:

"Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say.  He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride.  His children loved and respected him in a way that made them eager to gain his approval; he hardly had to say anything to communicate his feelings on a subject.  Often a cocked eyebrow was all it took."  (Metaxas, Page 15)

His children were taught to be in firm control of their emotions, according to Metaxas.  While a certain part of this was cultural and familial practice, some of it is not, imho.  The drive from Karl Bonhoeffer to his children was to know what you believe and what you think before you say it. . . so as to not be embarrassed when others find fault in your reasoning and logic.  Fair enough, and actually, quite a gift . The art of speaking and debating around a table at mealtime - and learning how to speak - is quite the lost art in the current culture. 

Structure, whether it be from the direction of conversation conducted by father Karl, or the ministrations of activities and learning from mother Paula, was a given that gave root and order. . . and a way to explore the world and find meaning in it. 

From this foundation, Bonhoeffer was allowed to bloom in his own time.  Bloom he did!

He would invite his students to his parent's house, where his father would engage, with his son, Bonhoeffer's young charges in discussion and lively debate.  Of course there was food to eat, the centerpiece of any good conversation.  Once established in a cabin in the woods, he would invite his students to come visit him there, away from Berlin and the big city, to talk and reflect.  At one point, he told his landlady to allow some hooligan type students from the government run and funded state school (similar to a public high school in a way in the United States) to come in to his quarters.  She complied, but wondered in amazement at the amount of trust he gave such young, undisciplined, potentially troublesome youth.  And he would feed them there.  His kitchen and icebox (or refrigerator, not sure without further research) weren't off limits to their hungry appetites.  Such a draw, eh?  (wink)

Now, I've got to confess. . . as a public school educator, if I allowed my students, once outside back in society, to do that, my wife for one would wonder if I had gone nuts or if I was losing it.  That kind of act of hospitality is truly a mark of a believing follower of Christ.  And that he did, but not from his childhood.  The moment of trusting Jesus Christ to save him from his sins took place when Bonhoeffer was a young man, while still learning and preparing for his life's work.  And he would revisit his faith and beliefs from time to time, deepening his relationship with Jesus and with those who are of the ekklesia - the called out ones of God - who knew and walked with Jesus.  This is not the same group of people known in that day as the government state supported Lutheran Church (to be German was to be Lutheran).  Not at all!  It was the voluntary group of people who confessed Christ as Lord. 

Other ways of showing people care were visiting the sick in the hospital, showing up at home after class to inquire as to the health of a student (and to give him classwork and/or tutoring), and visiting relatives regularly and often.  Letter writing, the thing back then instead of texting or emailing, was de rigueur for Bonheoffer and his family.  In this way, through letter writing and visits, he got to know a good deal of his extended family in person in his abbreviated days on this earth. 

These kind of actions are familiar to me.  They were not always demonstrated or instilled from my childhood, but as young believer in Jesus Christ, I saw them demonstrated over the years in his people, the church.  I particularly remember my Young Adult Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, M. Craig Barnes, delivering his message - actually sermon quality stuff - to our assembled class in the Cathedral Room in Hansen Hall, then ending it with this invitation: "I invite you all to come - well, not all you, but as many as Ann and I can fit into our living room - to our house.  I'm going to leave the address and directions on the board so you may copy them down.  Phone number is on the board should you get lost. . . there's a hill or two out east on our street for those who don't get out that way much.  Hope to see many of you there tonight where we'll continue our conversation. . . this time by you asking the questions, instead of me posing them for you."  Golden words by a gifted pastor, then as now.  Who could resist such an invitation to come and spend time in great conversation. . . and ice cream to boot?  I learned much from my time spent with Craig at his house.

Ice cream. . . makes me think of another gifted pastor, Todd Dubord, and his wife Tracy.  Back in the days when he served as Pastoral Assistant at First Presbyterian Church of Palmdale, Todd would invite the church to come out to a local restaurant for "Pie a la mode," as he termed it.  This was in reality his "dry run" for his sermons he gave on Sunday mornings at the church. . . but not everyone caught on to that.  Todd would pose the provocative question for the day, and we would discuss and debate the thing. . . sometimes for hours.  I never stayed past Midnight, though, if I recall correctly.  Fun times, and a great time to get to know others who were passionate and willing servants of Jesus. 

Life together. . . Eating together, conversing together, doing tasks together, helping one another together. . . this is how Bonhoeffer realized how Christians should live - in community.  To learn from one another. . . together.  Of course, one of Bonhoeffer's written works is titled Life Together.  This isn't a review of that book, however. . . but nonetheless you get a flavor of where he was coming from in this reflection here from Metaxas' excellent biography of the man. 

My adult Sunday School class at Grace Chapel had in attendance this past Sunday two young missionaries to the Middle East.  I asked the question: "So how do these folks who know the Muslim faith quite well hear you out. . . how do you reach them and communicate with them the Good News of Jesus Christ?"  Words to that effect.  The answer is disarming: "I simply say God's Word to them from the Bible.  The Holy Spirit will illumine their hearts and help them to turn to Jesus Christ, if they will but let him."  See!  Our battle is not against flesh and blood. . . for these Muslim folks are just the same spiritually speaking as anyone else in the world who is without Christ. . . lost and in spiritual darkness. 

This is what Bonhoeffer eventually realized.  Without God's Word, we are all lost and in spiritual darkness, being apart from Christ and his blessings of Heaven.  So, as I always strive to do, I'll leave you with an applicable Bible passage that speaks to the topic at hand.  From 1 Corinthians 6 (New Living Translation):

3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. 4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us,[c] and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. 8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. 12 There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. 13 I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!

Open our hearts to us!  The call the Apostle Paul had for the Corinthian church, and the call Dietrich Bonhoeffer had for the students and community he served.  Don't withold. . . don't keep back. . . but open wide your heart, not only to us, but to Jesus Christ, the Living One, the Firstborn of the Dead, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  What a charge to keep this is. . . and may God help me to do it day by day, in his power, not my own.  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Quotable Bonhoeffer (and Metaxas)

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I am reading Eric Metaxas' excellent book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010 by Thomas Nelson Publishers) which made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list in 2011.  I've only made it through the first nine chapters so far (there are 31 chapters in all), but I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book.  The first few chapters establish time, place, and circumstances of his early life.  Once past that, the story picks up and becomes engrossing.  One to reflect upon and not read quickly. . . and one to use a highlighter and/or pen to mark important passages with.  I've done so. 

Bonhoeffer, to those who don't know, was a German pastor in pre-Hitler and pre-World War II Germany, as well as during the war.  He could have established residency in the United States in the 1930's, but declined to do so.  Instead, he followed the call of God to speak God's truth to the secular power of the age. . . Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich itself.  Bonhoeffer actually participated in a failed plot to assasinate Hitler just before Bonhoeffer himself died in a German war camp just prior to World War II ending.  Exciting times, and an eventful man with God's leading.  May we be the same in our generation!  With that background given, here's some worthwhile quotes.  All are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer unless otherwise indicated.

*  *  *

Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.  (Page 85)

A summary from Metaxas: "In an attempt to be more sophisticated than the fundamentalists, whom they (theological liberals) hated, they had jettisoned serious scholarship altogether.  They seemed to know what the answer was supposed to be and weren't much concerned with how to get there.  They knew only that whatever answer the Fundamentalists came up with must be wrong.  For Bonhoeffer, this was scandalous."  (Page 103)

The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. (Page 106)

.  .  . 

In New York they preach about virtually everything: only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.  (Page 106)

So what stands in the place of the Christian message?  An ethical and social idealism born by a faith in progress. . .

The (liberal) church (is) as a social corporation. . . (Page 107)

From Metaxas: "Bonhoeffer quickly grew weary of the sermons in places like (theologically liberal) Riverside (Church, New York City), so when Fisher invited him to a service at Abyssynian (Baptist Church, New York City), he was thrilled to go along.  There, in the socially downtrodden African American community, Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested.  The preacher at Abyssinian was a powerful figure named Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr."  (Pages 107-8)

Again, from Metaxas: "By the mid-1930's, Abyssinian boasted fourteen thousand members and was arguably the largest Protestant church of any kind in the whole United States.  When Bonhoeffer saw it all, he was staggered."  (Page 108)

Metaxas again: ". . . the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering."  (Page 110)

I still believe that the spiritual songs of the southern negroes represent some of the greatest artistic achievements in America.  (Page 114)  I'll add this note: Bonhoeffer was so struck with the power and influence of the negro spirituals he listened to that he took these recordings with him back to Germany, to allow his students and others to listen to them as he first did so.  They were some of his most treasured possessions, according to Metaxas.

From Metaxas: "He seemed to want to warn everyone to wake up and to stop playing church."  (Page 122)

When I took leave of my black friend, he said to me: 'Make our sufferings known to Germany, tell them what is happening to us, and show them what we are like.'  I wanted to fulfill this obligation tonight.  (Page 128)

From Metaxas: (from one of Bonhoeffer's students) "Among the public, there spread the expectation that the salvation of the German people would now come from Hitler.  But in the lectures we were told that salvation comes only from Jesus Christ."  (Page 128) 

If you want to be pastors, then you must sing Christmas carols.  (Page 129)

From Metaxas: "He loved.  And by being with his disciples, he showed them what life was supposed to look like, what God had intended it to look like."  (Page 129)

From Metaxas, again: "Bonhoeffer aimed to model the Christian life with his students.  This led him to the idea that, to be a Christian, one must live with Christians."  (Page 130)

Leaders or officers who set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.  (Page 142)

From Metaxas: "The words of the decree (Reichstag Fire Edict), produced and signed into effect before anyone had had time to think carefully about it, made possible most of the horrors ahead, including the concentration camps."  (Page 149)  Yup. . . there went the German people's individual liberties and civil rights, just like that!

All of this reminds me of the famous quote by philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
"Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,"  the Apostle Paul advised in another context in 1 Corinthians 10:12, but one connected to the issue at hand: the allowance of evil and idolatry in one's life and in the culture at large.

I hate evil, because God does.  It's real.  C'mon. . . you mean to tell me that the Aurora, Colorado Batman movie theater killer was a good guy?  He was and is mentally troubled, for starters.  Or how about the Iranians rattling their sabers at Israel?  Is that good?  No!  Or how about what happened to Kelly Thomas, the homeless man who was beaten and killed at the hands of the Fullerton, California police department?  Is that good?  Look at all the demonstrations that event caused.  No!  How about the inclination of my heart to not be with God's people, the ekklesia, the called out ones of God, and share my life transparently in front of God and man as I do Sunday by Sunday?  Is that good?  No! 

See, evil is everywhere in every person, because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," Paul wrote in Romans 3:23.  "All our righteousness is as filthy rags," the prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 64:6).  This is why Jesus came.  To allow us to exchange our filthy rags for a white robe, where we are judged "not guilty" by God the Father, because he sees "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).  "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow," Isaiah the prophet declared (Isaiah 1:8) 

This is the Great Exchange. . . one Bonhoeffer had, and I've had as well.  It's the best exchange you'll ever have in your life, to rid yourself of all your guilt and shame you have before God the Father and let Jesus bear the burden and the punishment of your sin. . . a subsitutionary sacrifice. . . which is one main reason why he is worshiped as God the Son, part of the Trinity.

Questions about the above?  Please do leave a comment below.  I do check regularly for them, and I'd be honored to help folks deal with this issue in a gentle, loving, compassionate way.  I know.  I've been in that position.  


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Kindness Club

My wife, who is a Registered Nurse, referred to me, her loving husband, a patient of hers who for reasons I won't go into couldn't get transportation to the doctor.  So I took this woman to her doctor's appointment, which is some 70 miles away from her residence.  As is my habit, I brought along a book to read while waiting in the waiting room.  Lately I've been reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas whose link is here: .  I'll be posting my reflections on the book, a very engrossing and captivating read, in the days to come.  But I digress.  

While I was in the doctor's waiting room, I was asked by a woman patient, "who's that on the cover on that book?"     

"Bonhoeffer.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Do you know who he was?" I asked her kindly. 

"Was he Russian or something?" she replied.

"No, he was German," I answered back. 

"Oh, what kind of German?" she inquired. 

"The kind who gave up his life to be against Hitler and the Third Reich," I matter of factly stated. 

A long pause ensued.

"So Hitler killed him?" she timidly exclaimed.

"Those under his authority, yes," I answered calmly.  He was executed in prison weeks before the Allies had a chance to find him and to set him free."

Another long pause ensued.

"Who wrote the book?" she asked.

"Eric Metaxas," I replied.  He's a guy the late Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship mentored, who now shares the commentator duties like Chuck did on the Breakpoint program found on the radio and the Internet."

"Charles Colson?" she excitedly exclaimed.  "Prison Fellowship?"  Her eyes grew wider and her expression of recognizing a friend was unmistakable. 

"Yes, Charles Colson of Watergate fame and Prison Fellowship Ministries.  You've heard of him?" I asked.

"Oh, I certainly have!" she exuded.  "I have a son who is a young adult in State prison in Delano."  I gave a sad looking look of recognizance in reply.

She gave her story of woe to me about her son.  Long story short, she is concerned that he will reoffend again and break the law, landing himself in prison once again, becoming an habitual offender and be locked away for years. . . maybe decades.  His heart is not at peace with God, and even though he has watched the thought provoking film The Shawshank Redemption over and over while in prison, is in contact with the chaplain there and sees Prison Fellowship volunteers, he has yet to truly give up control of his life and turn the control over his life to God.  This is the stark reality he is in in the midst of the extreme lack of privacy and the confinement prison affords.

Funny that my employment happens to be behind bars these days as an education professional. . . well, no.  Serendipitous, actually.  The Lord knows what he is doing, and placed such a one as this mother in my purview while I was waiting for the one in their doctor's care.  Get this: seated right next to this woman was another lady, whose husband is locked up in prison for a longer period - decades, from what I heard.  In his case, he has made his reconciliation with God and has received forgiveness for his many sins, and though he is a prisoner and locked up for many more years, the Lord has truly set him free in his heart and spirit!  Across the aisle, yet another woman knew of Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship. . . I don't remember any of her other details right now.  Was this a God moment or what?

The most natural thing to do in a moment like this, after our first lady poured our her heart concerning her fears about what could happen to her son, and seeing the literal "cloud of witnesses" that shared in her suffering and related to her situation. . . was to pray.  I led us in doing so, all of us holding hands right there under the watch of the medical office's receptionist, who I suppose didn't bat an eye!  (smile)  Tears of joy were shed at the end, and warm hugs as well.  

This kind of moment I'll call "The Kindness Club."  To become a member of it, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew so well, one must endure suffering.  But not suffering alone. . . hope is present as well.  Hope in the things of Eternity, where there is no prison except in Hell. . .  and we shall feast at His table, rejoicing at what the Lord Jesus did for us in remitting our many sins. The Apostle Paul knew of suffering and its connection with hope, to wit:  

(Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

  3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James also knew of trials and suffering through the testing of one's faith, and its response in (unnatural from the world's perspective) joy:

(James 1:2-4, NASB)

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various [a]trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [b] endurance. 4 And let [c] endurance have its perfect [d]result, so that you may be [e] perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

John records Jesus saying these immortal words on our subject:

(John 16:33, ESV)

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John, later in his life, undoubtably reflected some more on these words of our Lord in this part of his letter (1 John 5:4, ESV):

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.

Hence the title from the old Gospel hymn, "Faith is the Victory!"  I love indeed the refrain from that song so much. . . in fact, the whole song.  Here it is:

Wonderful to see folks from the United Arab Emirates who are - I take it - literate or becoming literate in English partaking of the Christian faith and singing this marvelous, uplifting old Ira Sankey hymn.  This is how I learned the words to 1 John 5:4. . . and how you can too!  It is part of the "music rumbling through my head," as I mentioned awhile back in a previous post. 

It's not how polished you are in singing it - or living out your faith.  It's about taking His hand and letting him completing the journey with you, taking his yoke upon you, and having a lighter burden, since you allow Jesus to carry the load.  Trusting Jesus, walking with Jesus. . . all the way.  That's how to have true freedom in a place like prison, my friends!  Out of prison too. . .   Until next time. . .


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Freud's Last Session

 And now, a (live) theatre alert. . .

If you are in the Los Angeles, California area or will be in the near future. . . and have the opportunity, you might wish to take an unbelieving friend - and yourself - to see a new off-Broadway play coming to LA.  Intriguingly titled "Freud's Last Session," the play pits the famed 20th Century psychoanalyst against another famous 20th Century figure, Athiest turned Christian author and professor C. S. Lewis of Oxford.  The imaginary debate, set in the early World War II period, is both witty and profound.  It's also downright winsome, according to Eric Metaxas, Breakpoint radio commentator and noted author in his own right. 

The link to the Breakpoint commentary on this subject is here:
This sounds like a splendid opportunity to invite your intellectually oriented and/or skeptical friends to come hear an evenhanded discussion about the meaning of life.  I'd encourage that.  Should I find anyone who meets the intellectually oriented criteria - like many of my workplace sites' faculty colleagues - I will likewise do what I can to invite them to come and view this new smash hit play. 

More information on worldwide locations for this play is here:

And here, via their press release:

Nothing with definite dates for Los Angeles or other world cities at the moment from what I see, but it's always good to have that "heads up" on knowing about this play beforehand. 

Hat tip: Eric Metaxas/Breakpoint

Monday, June 4, 2012

Does Anyone in the Media Ever Read the Bible?

Today's guest post is by Eric Metaxas.  You'll note from my last post that I am quickly becoming a fan of his and his work, whose site is here:  This op-ed is one which I easily could have written. . . it's that good!  But he did it, and the necessary research that provides the screws that tighten up the irony inherent here.  Kudos to Eric for all that. 

Here's the link, courtesy

I'll be spending today preparing for my role as precinct Inspector for the Registrar of Voters and  prepping our neighborhood polling place for the election Tuesday.  I've read one account where statewide in California the election turnout may well be light.  Hope you take the time to vote Tuesday June 5th. 

You'll note this post is in a larger Font size and a different Font than past posts.  I'll eventually get around to changing the previous posts to this Font scheme.  Thanks for the feedback from those who gave it.  I appreciate your input to my work here. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Few Words About Being Real

I came across (hat tip to Jonathan Macy on Chris Johnson's Facebook page) an incredible video of a gentleman who I have never heard of - at least I think I haven't as yet - giving a very compelling, winsome, humorous, engaging talk at the National Prayer Breakfast held last February 2.  The speaker is Eric Metaxas.  The President and First Lady were present, as were 4,000 others at the Washington Hilton that day.  Lots to digest and learn from here.  Enjoy!