Monthly Archives: September 2019
Steadfast Love #4
|The Steadfast Love of the Lord, Post #4 Bonhoef Execution |
“Great salvation he brings to his king and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever. Psalm 18:50
With great joy, the Bonhoeffer family celebrated the birthday of their dear husband-father-grandfather, Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer. (p. 431). It was the last day of March, 1943, and also the very last time that the family met as family for such a grand celebration of life in the presence of God – Dietrich playing the piano, Rudiger Schliecher on the violin, several in the choir, Paula reading scripture, all of them in prayer.
Pause with me for a moment at this point. I believe that the “steadfast love of God” mentioned in our Psalm 18:50 text, is on open display in this Bonhoeffer family celebration. I see God Himself right in the midst of this occasion. God is there celebrating with them. They are not breaking bread and drinking wine but they are communing with their God, and God is lifting them into heaven as they revel in their communion with Him. This grand event preceded and prepared them for a much darker chapter in their lives.
Notice how I have been using this Biblical phrase: “the steadfast love of the Lord.” I believe it is a most powerful description of God at work among us. By His “steadfast love” he works for us and in us. I further believe that His “steadfast love” comes to its fullest and most powerful expression in the DEATH AND RESURRECTION of our Savior, our dear Lord Jesus Christ. And I still need to add a further thought to this wonderful reality. I need to add that God is using His “steadfast love” through the DEATH AND RESURRECTION of Jesus to ACTIVATE US, enable us, empower us, move in us so that we become what we were at creation – the very IMAGE OF GOD.
Five days after the Bonhoeffer celebration of God’s “steadfast love” on April 5, the Gestapo called in the Bonheffer home and arrested Dietrich. The Gestapo took him to Tegel prison. Here he spent most of his next two years, the rest of his life. The Gestapo had discovered Dietrich’s role in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He had been drawn into this plot by his growing conviction that it was his responsibility before God to take such drastic action against this wicked mad-man.
It is important for us to see the value Dietrich put on his part in the conspiracy. In a January 23, 1944 letter from prison to his fiancé, Maria Wedemeyer, Dietrich remarks, “As I look back on your past, I am so convinced that what has happened hitherto has been right, that I feel that what is happening right now is right too. To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human. (p. 463).” These are compelling words from this man. He had to do what he had done in order to be either Christian or human. His celebration of his Father’s birthday was a witness to this kind of faith in God, a faith that was carrying him through his prison experience.
Cost of Discipleship was a 1937 book which Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave us. In this classic work, Bonhoeffer deals effectively with the distinction he makes between “cheap” and “costly” grace. He states, “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.”
He continues, “Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was caught up in the grand spirit which the Apostle Paul expresses when he writes in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had spent his life discovering the beauty and power of the grand truth revealed here in Romans 12. We must be praying that God will do that with each of us. We are discovering the wonders of the DEATH AND RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ as it applies to us when we willingly “take up His cross and follow Him.” It is right here that God reveals to us “His steadfast Love” as He did to King David and is doing with all of King David’s children like you and me.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave confident testimony to the very end. Perhaps this is best stated by the Flossenberg doctor who watched Bonhoeffer climb that ladder. Dr. H. Fischer-Husstrung said, “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of the execution he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God. (p. 532)”
Once again I must say, “Thank you, Eric Metaxas, for giving us a glimpse of God at work in His servant, Dietrich Bohoeffer.” You helped us believe with Dietrich, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21.
— Pastor Paul AlexanderFOLLOW US AT CLAY2GLORY.COMCopyright © 2019 All rights reserved.
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Steadfast Love, Post III
THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS
The Steadfast Love of the Lord, Post III
“Great salvation he brings to his king and shows
steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.” Psalm 18:50
REVIEW: In my first two posts, I gave you two stories about dear Christian brothers whom I have known well, Jim Ward and Kurt Lutjens. In these two stories, I was illustrating the way God works in fallen sinners. I was showing you that God takes a hold of fallen sinners by giving them faith in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Both Jim Ward as a teacher of music and Kurt Lutjens as a pastor of his people were beautiful examples of the way God works in fallen sinners. God brought those two men to life through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, enabling them to lovingly and effectively serve Christ, His church, and the lost world. Through The Death and Resurrection of Jesus, our great God and Savior enables sinners to bless us and our world. That is a wonderful fact!
We must thank our great God for this beautiful work He is able to do in us and through us.
NOW, I want to give you one more such illustration, one more example of God at work in sinners. Only this time my illustration may seem much larger to you. It will seem larger because it covers several years and a most significant event in history. It is the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his thirty-nine years on this earth, and his involvement with the second world war and Adolph Hitler. A large picture.
Eric Metaxas has done a magnificent job withthe story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I heartily recommend your reading of his book, Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy. Though Metaxas does not refer to the text quoted above, Psalm 18:50, I personally see Bonhoeffer’s life reflected in this verse. I am saying that the “steadfast love” of God was at work in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. From the moment of Dietrich’s birth on February 4, 1906, until he died by hanging in Flossenberg prison on April 9, 1945, we can see our God showing His steadfast love at work in and through the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
You may be having a problem with that last paragraph. Shouldn’t everybody see Pastor Bonhoeffer’s death as a dreadful miscarriage of justice, outright murder of an innocent man by a wicked mad-man? How can there be anything beautiful in such a horror?
I feel that objection with all my heart. There is sorrow beyond description on the face of this whole story. Yet I must insist that God is at work here, giving a wonderful kind of beauty even through the shameful death of this dear man. Remember that I am also insisting through this whole blog that THE DEATH OF JESUS is beautiful. At this point, I am insisting that we must recognize that the death of Bonhoeffer and the death of Jesus fit into the same story, the same history, the same sequence of events, the same fallenness that we all experience. If one death can be beautiful, as the death of Jesus certainly is, so can the other. It is just the way God often puts life together.
We expect to fully understand this kind of beauty only after we personally experience the resurrection. But while we are still struggling with the realities of this age, we can profit by seeing present influences at work. The present influences that the Holy Spirit used so powerfully in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer were simply his parents. Metaxas tells the story very well, showing how each parent made separate contributions to Dietrich and how they combined beautifully to make the priceless contribution of family love and unity.
The particular contribution which his mother, Paula, made to his life was her spiritual leadership. Her father and grandfather had both been theologians and preachers of Lutheran persuasion, both ardent lovers of God who filled life with joyful teaching and singing of hymns. Paula had spent a brief time in school under the influence of the Moravian Herrnhut tradition, which emphasized a vibrantly personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Renata Bethge, Paula’s granddaughter, said of her grandmother, “She was the soul and spirit of the house.” Metaxas writes, “Daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing all of it led by Frau Bonhoeffer. Her reverence for the scriptures was such that she read Bible stories to her children from the actual Bible text … she sometimes used an illustrated Bible, explaining the pictures as she went.” (page 12)
A remarkable effect of Paula’s leadership was the Saturday evening gatherings of the Bonhoeffer family. We learn from Metaxas (pages 10-12, 23, 25, 431) that the family did not frequent church services, but that their Saturday evenings were often spent singing and celebrating the beauties of life as given to us by our loving God. Metaxas recognizes the Bonhoeffers as a “genuinely happy family,” and regards this kind of Godliness as a reason why Dietrich was able to bless the church and the world with Christian leadership.
The particular contribution which his father, Karl Bonhoeffer, made to Dietrich’s life was his vigorous intellectualism. Metaxas notes that when Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer was called to Berlin to serve as chair of psychiatry and neurology (1912), he exercised a strong influence over his field. Metaxas makes the point that Bonhoeffer refused to admit “unorthodox theories,” holding the ideas of Freud, Jung, and Adler at “arm’s length with a measured skepticism born of his devotion to empirical science” (page 13). Throughout his years in Berlin, Dr. Bonhoeffer continued to exercise this kind of healthy intellectual command over his field, earning him the coveted Goethe medal (page 431), awarded to Bonhoeffer on his 75th birthday. Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer’s eight children all gave evidence of their father’s intellectualism. Each of them entered the kind of science, law, and teaching professions that demanded the same kind of reasoning and deliberation that had characterized their father. Dietrich was not an exception.
As Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer had “stiff-armed” the Freudians, Jung and Adler, so his son Dietrich stiff-armed the Nazis who tried to take over the church. Having already distinguished himself as a Biblical and theological leader, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stepped forward to refute Nazism in 1933. In early April of that year, he read his essay on “The Church and the Jewish Question” to a group of pastors in Berlin. Several of those pastors had been supporting Hitler’s insistence that all Jews be removed from membership in German churches. It appeared that Hitler was going to win his point and evict the Jews from the churches.
Bonhoeffer’s essay was a bombshell! Reasoning from such texts as Galatians 3:28 and Psalm 110:3, the assembled German pastors heard Bonhoeffer conclude his essay with these decisive words (page 150):
What is at stake is by no means whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with Jews. It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say: here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God, here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.
The rest is history. Hitler seemed to be winning in April 1933. His apparent victory, however, was short-lived. Yes, he succeeded in murdering more than six million Jews, but then went down to humiliating defeat, committing suicide on April 30, 1945. (The next blog-post will complete this World War II episode. Stay with us for this beautiful conclusion!)
— Pastor Paul Alexander
Steadfast Love #2
THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS
The Steadfast Love of the Lord, Post II
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,..who redeems your life from the
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:1 and 4
On January 5, 2015, Pastor Kurt Lutjens and I were standing together in front of Ethan Yount (my grandson) and his intended bride, Allison Nurnberger. Pastor Kurt and I were sharing the honor of uniting Ethan and Allison in marriage. What a great joy it was to lead them in their sacred vows and then pronounce them man and wife, “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
But, what a dreadful surprise it was to learn just a few weeks after the wedding that Pastor Kurt Lutjens was in the grip of a deadly cancer, stage-four metastatic angiosarcoma. Kurt’s three loving children, Heidi, Jeff and Carrie stayed beside their dear father during his next few weeks of agonizing pain. Then on March 29, 2019, Kurt died peacefully, entering into the eternal glory which God has promised “to all who have loved His appearing.” II Timothy 4:8.
On a last visit to Kurt’s bedside, I read the first 14 verses of Psalm 103, partially quoted above. Three times in that passage King David refers to the steadfast love of the Lord. I am convinced that it was that steadfast love of God that enabled Kurt to be the loving, caring, nurturing pastor that he proved to be during his 23 years of pastoring Grace and Peace Fellowship. Just as Jim Ward was enabled to teach music to children because of the steadfast love of God at work in his heart, so Pastor Kurt Lutjens was enabled to pastor his people through the steadfast love of God performing its miracle of grace in Kurt’s heart.
Pastor Kurt was intimately acquainted with the DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS, the awesome wonder that most fully expresses the steadfast love of God to all of us. Kurt’s whole life reflected the wonder of God’s love expressed to him personally in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the bodily resurrection of the Savior from the grave. Through this wonder of the Savior’s redemption in Kurt’s behalf, he experienced the joy of the new birth and enablement of the Holy Spirit to give his life in service to his family, his congregation and the lost world.
A KEY OPINION OF PAUL ALEXANDER: That the “Steadfast love of God” theme, so powerfully and so frequently proclaimed in scripture is especially crucial for a pastor. I am convinced that our loving Lord Jesus works in a pastor’s heart to fill him with this wonderful grace, the “Steadfast love of God.”
I reminded you in my last post that this beautiful theme occurs 117 times in the Psalms. Alongside that simple fact, take notice also that it occurs prominently in the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (II Chron. 5:13, I Kings 8:10-11). In that same passage we are informed that the cloud of God’s glory filled that temple so wonderfully, so overpoweringly, that the priests could no longer stand there. The awesome glory of this occasion was a forecast of the supreme Glory of God that came upon us in the DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS. In this pair of wonderful events, the “Steadfast love of God” comes to its most glorious expression.
Pastor Kurt Lutjens was one of those dear brothers in Christ who was ministering humbly to his beloved people. We should recognize him as a miraculously blessed brother who was, in effect, clothed in the “Steadfast love of God” in a way that enabled his ministry at every step along the way.
At my invitation Kurt visited Ukraine with me in October and November, 2011. It was my great joy to see the Holy Spirit at work in Pastor Kurt, ministering to Ukrainians. At that time, I led an adult leadership seminar on MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY, and then traveled to the city of Izmail to lead worship and minister in a small church. Kurt was working alongside me on these occasions. You can see him pictured with me and others in the picture attached. Through our time together, I was deeply pleased with the loving and thoughtful care Kurt was showing our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. It was evident to me that the Holy Spirit was graciously enabling Kurt to reach across the culture barrier and touch the hearts of our Ukrainian friends. The “Steadfast love of God” was enabling my brother Kurt.
During this time Kurt’s minear’s disease and my chronic esophogeal distress periodically attacked us. Our mutual care for each other had to come into play. We were two struggling old guys trying to minister to others in spite of our own ailments. Comradeship is what you call that. The Holy Spirit’s enablement was crucial to the whole process. And I could tell you so much more! Another time.
Kurt’s funeral on Saturday, April 6, was a grand “Amen” to his ministry at Grace and Peace Fellowship. On that grand occasion, we heard two powerful sermons preached by African American pastors who had been Pastor Kurt’s associates. The music, scripture reading, and prayer were beautifully joined in a God-honoring, soul-refreshing way that the Holy Spirit could use to enable all of us to glorify our Lord. Furthermore, we heard stories about Pastor Kurt’s ministry which were too numerous to list, but I have to tell you at least one – one that reflects the pattern of his life.
It is a very brief story. A couple signed up for six to eight sessions of premarital counseling. Instead of their prescribed six to eight sessions, they received 34! And, as I understand it, that was not overkill. They needed 34 sessions! Wonderful that pastor Kurt was willing and able to meet their need.
And that brief story is important to me personally. My grandson, Ehtan Yount and his new bride, Allison Nurnberger were scheduled to receive postmarital counseling which Pastor Kurt had scheduled for them. His premarital counseling had brought them to their wedding as mentioned above. Since our dear brother Kurt Lutjens has now entered his heavenly home, he will not be conducting those counseling sessions.
It seems to me that this is the right place to end this blog-post. We have far too few of those Pastor Kurt Lutjens types around these days. Who will step in to give those post-marital counseling sessions for Ethan and Allison?
And just how do we go about developing that kind of pastors for our churches, communities, mission stations around the world? Our Seminaries and our Presbyteries are struggling with this issue. We must all be praying fervently for our great God to answer those prayers and help us fill our pastorates and mission fields with men whose lives are filled with the “Steadfast love of God.”
Furthermore, I want to assure you that God is answering this prayer. God is supplying pastors whose hearts are filled with the “Steadfast love of God,” The Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in the world drawing people to Himself (John 12:32), working in their hearts the twin miracles of Repentance and Faith.
I regard this as the most mighty power at work in our world today! The Holy Spirit is that power.
And that same Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, enabling your giving and praying for the worldwide triumph of our great Lord and Savior.
–Pastor Paul Alexander
Steadfast Love #1
THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS
The Steadfast Love of the LORD Post #1
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.” Genesis 24:27
While I was a pastor in Huntsville, Alabama, I invited our favorite singer-musician Mr. James Ward to help with the music at our summer youth camp, Camp Agape. This happened sometime in the late 70’s, early 80’s. For five days Jim gave himself with his musical gifts to our young people at camp. His teaching was an amazing spectacle, beautifully enabling all of us to celebrate together “The Steadfast Love of the Lord.”
Jim captivated those kids with his remarkable skills. He played the piano with both hands, his left foot on the peddle. Then, while singing lustily he was standing up and dancing on his right foot. His performance in front of those kids was a formidable display of enthusiasm and athleticism mixed with exquisite musical talent. Those kids were charmed out of their sox, they sang their hearts out. I am confident that many of them still remember with delight their week under Jim Ward’s able and exciting leadership. Always pointing to His Savior, Jim led us heart and soul in celebration of our Lord’s saving love for us all.
We have to ask, “What in the world enabled Jim Ward to be such an inspired teacher of Christian music?!” You might be scratching your head about that question, but I am convinced that I know the answer. It is very simple. The Holy Spirit had filled Jim’s heart with the wonderful reality of the DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS!
The redeeming work of Jesus dying on the cross and then rising bodily from the grave were not just religious stories that Jim heard from his parents and pastor. They were wonderful realities, historical events that towered over his life filling him with joy and compelling him to express that joy with compelling energy and love. In his teaching of gospel music Jim’s whole life became a vibrant interpretation of our Lord’s death and resurrection. He has been teaching the daylights out of us ever since!
KEY TO THIS BLOG SERIES: In the first blog post of this series I am signalizing this magnificent Biblical phrase: The steadfast love of the Lord. This phrase is used for the first time in the Bible in the 24th chapter of Genesis. In this chapter we see Abraham’s servant Eleazar using this phrase 4 times. Each time Eleazar uses the phrase he is asking God to show His steadfast love to Abraham in the simple matter of finding a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son. In later passages you will see it used for many loving acts of our great Trinitarian God.
I want you to take special note of this phrase. It will remain important in this entire series. The ESV version of the Bible is the version that translates these words with this beautiful expression: The steadfast love of the Lord. It is used 117 times in the Psalms alone and occurs in many other important scripture passages throughout the Old Testament. We are well advised to see it as a major theme of the Old Testament and of the whole Bible. We should see this beautiful phrase as a prophecy of wonderful things to come, even of the gospel itself.
Though this phrase is not used in the New Testament, we should see the reality of “the steadfast love of the Lord” in the most familiar text in the Bible. That has to be John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have ever lasting life.”Yes, we shouldsee John 3:16 as fulfillment of prophecy inherent in the phrase “the steadfast love of the Lord.” This magnificent phrase, so often used in the Old Testament, comes to its supreme fulfilment in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior.
Though Jesus does not explain the details of this important fact to Nicodemus, the Savior was fully aware that his own DEATH AND RESURRECTION, wasthe only thing that could transform Nicodemus, sweep him into the Kingdom of God, and give him hope for eternal life. This two-fold event, the Savior’s DEATH AND RESURRECTION is God’s most glorious display of The Steadfast Love of the Lord. In the simple words of John 3:16, Nicodemus was hearing this from the lips of our dear Savior Himself. This was wonderful good news for Nicodemus and for all of us poor sinners.
This will be the theme of this series of blog-posts. I will summarize. The Steadfast love of the Lord has been beautifully and powerfully demonstrated to us needy sinners through the DEATH AND RESURRECION of our LORD Jesus Christ. He, our LORD Jesus Christ, is at work in history today saving us sinners from our sin and enabling us to live God glorifying lives in this present world, all this through the DEATH AND RESURRECTION of our LORD Jesus Christ.
There is so much to unpack in that summary statement. In these blog-posts, I will begin with an illustration or two or three, such as I just gave you in my JAMES WARD story. I will go on from there with a brief study of just how the first disciples and apostles were impressed with the death and resurrection of Jesus and how they responded. I will be watching for your responses and responding if need be. Then, I will continue with deeper examinations of texts and doctrines which help us all understand the beauty, the wonder and the infinite love of God set before us so powerfully in our Savior’s acts of redemption.
Along the way I will give some attention to the failures and causes of failure in the church today. These have real importance and significance for us, BUT, my main point will remain our praise to God for His Steadfast Love, and thanksgiving to Him for the saving power of the DEATH AND RESURRECTION of our LORD Jesus Christ.
Please join me in this thoughtful, prayerful effort to minister to each other and bless our world through this blog and its various posts.
–Pastor Paul Alexander