Meditation 11: "Bonhoeffer," by Eric Metaxas: A Book Recommendation for the New Year

In case you are looking for a good read, I commend for your consideration Eric Metaxas's "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." It is a masterfully written biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At 542 pages, it borders on a tome, but is still only half as long as the 1000+ page definitive biography written by Bonhoeffer's closest friend, Eberhard Bethge. The book is at once gripping and exhausting! Metaxas gives us a wonderfully comprehensive (albeit distilled) portrait and narrative of Bonhoeffer's character, life, and theology. Interestingly, throughout the book, Metaxas also draws special attention to Bonhoeffer's prophetic instincts and intuition which I think you'll find are particularly prescient.

Until I read the book, I had little appreciation for the incredibly complex moral and ecclesial questions with which Bonhoeffer was confronted. Some of these questions were thrust upon him by the exigencies of historical circumstance, others by his indefatigable pursuit to discover and live out the will of God as it applied to the corrupted church and culture in which he lived. Metaxas does a fabulous job of drawing the reader into Bonhoeffer's heart and mind as he wrestled with the ecclesial conflicts that led him to advocate establishing the Confessing Church, and as he grappled with the grave moral dilemmas that eventually compelled him to become a spy and co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate Hitler!

One of the many important lessons I take from Bonhoeffer's life is that he believed it was the call -- indeed, the duty -- of the Church not to compromise with Evil, but rather to confront it with moral clarity, unbending will, and relentless resolve. As Bonhoeffer's erstwhile pupil and closest friend, Bethge, put it, Bonhoeffer opened the eyes of the Church to the truth that at some point we must go beyond confession (that is, beyond sermonizing on or calling out the Evil of our day) to resistance (that is, to action). There comes a time when we must move beyond resisting Evil by way of confession to confessing Evil by way of resistance!

I'm sure many of us have gleaned wonderful wisdom and inspiration from some of Bonhoeffer's well known writings. But as Metaxas so ably demonstrates through this biography, there also is much wisdom and inspiration to be reaped from his life!

I end with a brief excerpt of some of Bonhoeffer's provocative insights on the state of the Western Church:

[T]he most grandiose of all human attempts to advance toward the divine [is] by way of the church. Christianity conceals within itself a germ hostile to the church. It is far too easy for us to base our claims to God on our own Christian religiosity and our church commitment, and in so doing utterly to misunderstand and distort the Christian idea.” . . . The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this. (Bonhoeffer, pp. 84, 260).

The time has come, indeed!

Any takers?


Meditation 10: On Hebrews 6:10

For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. (Hebrews 6:10) (NLT).

This passage of Scripture provides wonderful insight into the character of God, profound instruction about one of the many ways in which we demonstrate our love for Him, and great encouragement concerning the service we perform in His Name.

First of all, Paul reminds us of our Lord's matchless mercy and boundless grace: He does not forget our faithfulness, but remembers our sins no more! Our Heavenly Father blots out our transgressions, consigning to oblivion even our darkest of sins, but remembers and rewards even the smallest act of kindness we show His children: "I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again. . . . Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward." (Isaiah 43:25 (NLT); Mark 9:41 (NIV)).

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul provides a comprehensive definition of love, in terms of its fundamental nature -- viz., love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, etc. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In Hebrews 6:10, however, Paul gives us a very helpful and practical example of how to love God -- by caring for our fellow believers. Put differently, we love God by loving each other! Every act of kindness we show another believer is an act of kindness to the Lord! Every act of service we perform for another believer is an act of service to the Lord! When we demonstrate our love for each other, we demonstrate our love for the Lord.

Finally, Paul encourages us to persevere in serving God, by caring for one another, because God will not forget a single act of love and service we perform in His Name. He is a just God who rewards the hard work we do for Him and the care we show His children. Not a single sacrifice of love for the Lord and His saints is done in vain! One day, our faith, love, and hard work will be rewarded with an inheritance that far exceeds anything our minds can conceive. And this hope serves "as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Hebrews 6:19).


Meditation 9: A Tale of Two Appetites

"All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied." (Ecclesiastes 6:7).

In this passage of Scripture, Solomon personifies our flesh -- our carnal nature -- by describing it as a "mouth," and observing that Man spends all of his days and expends all of his energy seeking to fill his "mouth." The problem, however, is that our "mouth" (that is, our flesh) will never be satisfied. It is like a bottomless pit, an open grave that cannot be filled.

Solomon had personal experience with this unfortunate truth. In the second chapter of Ecclesiastes, he says that he tested himself with pleasure to see what was good, but found that this endeavor "proved to be meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 2:1). He writes that:

I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. . . . I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. . . .

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:3-5, 8, 10-11).

Solomon spent his life seeking to satiate his carnal appetites, denying himself nothing. But in the end, he found it was a wasted and meaningless pursuit! He possessed great wisdom, but the appetite of his "mouth" controlled him and caused him to live as a fool. The many addictions with which people struggle in the West reflect a brokenness like Solomon's. Our addictions to money, power, gambling, drugs, pornography, physical beauty, and food all reflect our own futile (and foolish) attempts to satiate an appetite that will never be satisfied. Our existential angst -- the overwhelming sense that "everything [is] meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:11) -- is the inevitable fruit of our efforts to fill a void that will always remain empty. And that is why, for example, "[w]hoever loves money never has enough" and "whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income." (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Like Solomon, I struggle with my own fleshly cravings, chief among them is a desire to be accepted, respected, and powerful. Fortunately, Paul's Epistle to the Romans explains a simple and effective way for me to overcome those carnal cravings:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6).

In other words, the most effective way to combat the appetite of my "mouth" is not to fill it, but rather to starve it. And I do that by feeding my spiritual hunger for the Lord, rather than my fleshly appetite for sin. The more I feed my flesh, the greater its cravings become. The less I feed it, however, the less I am controlled by its ravenous appetite and the more I am directed by my hunger for the things of God. And in those things I find unparalleled fulfillment, joy, and peace!

Jesus promises us that if we pursue our spiritual hunger and thirst for Him, if we are driven by our appetite for Him, we will be filled to overflowing and we will live "rich and satisfying" lives:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. ... My purpose is to give [you] a rich and satisfying life." (John 6:35;10:10) (NLT).

Purpose, peace, and fulfillment in our lives is just one meal away. It simply depends on which appetite, which "mouth," we choose to feed!


Meditation 8: Do the Work!

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you!
(1 Chronicles 28:20).

These were some of David's last words to his son, Solomon, who was a young man at the time, and was overwhelmed by the challenges before him. He was faced with the task of governing a large nation, a people who were "as numerous as the dust of the earth." (2 Chronicles 1:9). More importantly, he was charged with the responsibility of building a temple, a dwelling place for the Most High. His father had prepared all the plans for the temple, but the Lord chose Solomon to build it. It was both a glorious honor and a formidable undertaking. Solomon (understandably) was terrified and overwhelmed.

Apparently, David noticed his son's fear. So, he reminded Solomon that God would empower and equip him to do all that was required of him, and that the Lord would neither fail nor forsake him. David was sympathetic to the reality that Solomon had been charged by God to carry out an intimidating task. But that was not an excuse for him to cower in discouragement, or to govern in fear. Hence, David's admonition that Solomon be "strong and courageous, and do the work." God had given David the plans for the temple, it now was Solomon's privilege and responsibility to build what the Lord had designed.

You and I face an assignment that parallels Solomon's, but is superior in its scope and more glorious in its grandeur. Like Solomon, we have been charged with building a temple for our Lord. The difference is that the temple we are building is one made of flesh, not of stone. It is a temple comprised of people, not of bricks! The temple we are building is the body of Christ, the Church. We are called to build for the Lord a people on whom His glory will rest, and in whom His Spirit will dwell. (Matthew 28:18-20).

Like Solomon's, ours is both a glorious call and an awesome responsibility. The temple the Lord has empowered and commissioned you and me to build is the greatest wonder in all of God's creative order. It is the awesome power and matchless majesty of the Lord revealed by His Church, in whom His Spirit and glory dwell. May we "be strong and courageous, and do the work."

Soli Deo Gloria!