When Hatred Became Politically Correct

[In writing this, I do not promote any specific actions, except prayer. God is your source, Jesus is your advocate, and the Scriptures are your guide.]

Two generations ago, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Europe because he blamed all the right people.

That may be a simplistic observation of a complicated time in world history, but that is my reaction to reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” — Thomas Nelson, 2010).

What frightens me is that lately I hear reverberations of the same hatred, reflections of the same kind of finger-pointing coming from leaders and political candidates in the U.S.

I approached this biography with a question in mind: What did the Christians in Germany do as this upheaval was taking place? Was the Church powerless?

What surprised me most was the author’s description of how the Nazi movement redefined Christianity into something more to its liking.

Hitler said Christianity preached “meekness and flabbiness,” but Nazi ideology promoted “ruthlessness and strength.” Mercy was a sign of weakness.

Hitler labeled himself a Catholic, but he was an admirer of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “Society has never regarded virtue as anything else than as a means to strength, power and order.”

So Nazi leaders encouraged a “German Christian” movement, which adopted Aryan racial principles, working toward the paganism of tribal Germanic gods and Nazi extremes.

They blamed Jews, Poles, Communists, Gypsies — anyone not of pure Aryan descent — for the plight of Germany in the wake of the first World War.

In the German Christian church, Jesus was redefined as Aryan, not Jew. And the idea of Him being sacrificed for our sins — certainly too Jewish a concept.

Alfred Rosenburg planned a National Reich Church, which would halt publishing and disseminating the Bible in German and declare Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” as the greatest of all documents. It would remove the Christian cross from churches and chapels and replace it with “the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.”

Hitler himself would become the Messiah, leading Europe and the world into a new era of power and peace. He outlawed all dissent, arresting pastors who spoke boldly. Eventually, all pastors were required to swear allegiance to Hitler. Those who didn’t faced execution.

As the teachings of Jesus were twisted into pure evil, the German people were torn between love of God and love of country.

But the teachings of Jesus are just what we need to return to now, as many of us are caught in that same dilemma. Our Master and our Bible say “Love.” Our leaders say “Hate.”

They play on our emotions and even our national pride to draw us away from what Christ taught. We hear strident voices urging us to blame Arabs, blame Mexicans, blame homosexuals, blame activist judges, blame the 1 Percent, blame Democrats, blame Republicans, blame lobbyists, blame liberals, blame fundamentalists, blame gun nuts, blame welfare moms …

It’s no wonder our “one nation under God” is foundering, being torn in so many directions. God is nowhere in those blames.

Is it too far a stretch to see an “American Christian Church” being formed around such voices?

Amid all this frustration, where is the Church?

Does it respond to the culture, or does it affect the culture? Does it withdraw safely behind the security of its walls, or does it find a way to reach out?

Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a devout man of learning and prayer, wondered if the Church would even survive the Nazis. But through his writings, he offers us some answers.

He observed in his native Germany “the confusion that inevitably arises when the Christian faith becomes too closely related to a cultural or national identity.” In his journeys to America, he observed in liberal churches that tolerance often trumps truth. “Liberty is the only unifying factor,” he said.

Instead, he insisted, “Community is created through encounter,” people searching the Scriptures in humility and devotion to Jesus, discovering together what it means to follow Him.

Denominational labels are unimportant, he said. “The important thing is God’s word. … One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared to really inquire of it.”

Taking direct action, Bonhoeffer helped organize the Confessing Church, which would assert traditional Christian teachings. It stood against the heresies of the Reich church and against the inhumanity of the Nazi regime.

Allegiance to anyone but Christ, he said, even to one’s own nation or political leaders, is heresy.

The Church has an obligation to victims of the “ordering of society,” he said, even if they are not of the Christian community. Also, the Church should take action against the state to stop it from perpetrating evil.

To that end, Bonhoeffer became part of a conspiracy to return Germany to something he could be proud of again, to overthrow the Nazis, even to assassinate Hitler himself.

Bonhoeffer knew he was risking his own life by carrying his faith to such extremes. The Nazis were not about to tolerate direct resistance.

This man of God must have gone through intense inner turmoil to arrive at such conclusions, to justify such actions. One statement stood out to me:

He likened Hitler to a drunken driver mowing down pedestrians. It is the responsibility of everyone to prevent the driver from killing more people.

He wrote: Commitment to God “depends on a God Who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith and Who promised forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.”

Bonhoeffer was more zealous to please God than to avoid sin.

Can you put your name at the beginning of that statement?

[to be continued]

Joy is Infectious. So is Strength.

This is an excerpt from “Lena,” one of Margaret Jensen’s wonderful books.

Lena Rogers worked as a cook in a college infirmary, and she became a trusted confidant and a source of wisdom for many of the students. A young woman came to Lena to pour out her fear of being ridiculed for wanting to remain a virgin. Lena described her own experience of having felt weak-kneed when a certain good-looking, sweet-talking man came calling.

After encouraging the young woman to call out to Jesus and trust in Him, Lena said:

“I hope you listens, child — not just your ears, but your heart.

“But love suffers long. It be patient to wait and [be] kind so no sweet girl gets in trouble, and love isn’t selfish, but gentle and understanding. That kind of love be strong. Come Sunday morning, my knees feel so strong and my soul feels so good I just start singing, ‘Precious Lord, take my hand,’ and the choir come right along and sing, ‘O sweet Jesus, take my hand.’

“You know why the choir can sing right along? That be soul music. We feels the same burdens, the same lonesomeness, the same hunger, the same tired from a long week, but we feels the same Jesus taking our hand, and first thing you know, we got the whole church singing, ‘Precious Lord, take my hand,’ then the joy comes and we can sing, ‘Every time I feels the Spirit in my heart, I will pray.’ Then we gets happy.

“The Bible says the joy of the Lord is your strength. Now I ask you, child, how you be strong if you not happy? You gets your joy from the Lord, not from the world.”

Power in the Name

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus — There’s just something about that name.” — Bill and Gloria Gaither

In the days immediately after Jesus’ followers had received the Holy Spirit, they witnessed many wonders and signs. People sold what they had, to give to those in need. They worshiped and ate together, and they “enjoyed the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:49)

But before long, Peter and James interrupted that peace with a single act of compassion: They got in trouble with the authorities for healing a lame man “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” People who had witnessed the healing approached the disciples, and Peter explained, “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.”

The religious authorities grabbed the two disciples and threw them in jail. The next day, the leaders interrogated the two, asking them, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Peter didn’t soft-pedal his response: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The authorities couldn’t deny the lame man’s healing. All they could do was threaten the disciples and order them to stop speaking out the name of Jesus.

The disciples defied the authorities, and we should be grateful for that. Our presence as the Church is testimony to their courage and commitment and to their faith in Jesus’ name. They had seen Him conquer death, which is a much more formidable adversary than any government could ever be.

Nowadays we are seeing powerful reactions to those who speak Jesus’ name. We see the world becoming more and more polarized, more hostile to Jesus and His message of “Love Thy Neighbor, Love Thy Enemy.”

When we speak His name and stand on His authority outside our “safe” Christian circles, we are likely to be scorned and be called bigots. In some places, we are taken to court or lose our jobs. And in some places, we face harsh persecution where, like the original disciples, we are jailed, beaten and killed for preaching Jesus.

Even though many people throughout history — and still today — have used the name of Jesus to justify stupid and atrocious words and activities, that does not negate its value. Its value is rooted in the man from Nazareth, the Son of God, the coming King.

So let us speak that name with care, always with compassion, and with awesome respect for its power.

Let us not be casual in the speaking of the name Jesus. It’s not just the end of a prayer, or a word in a song. It is the most powerful name — perhaps the most powerful word — in the universe. Its use carries massive responsibility.

As we do good works in His name, let us expect results — and consequences..

— Steve Brown

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

Leaning on Each Other

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort — we get a full measure of that, too.” — 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5 (MSG)

We are not built to handle death. When it is expected, as in a protracted illness, we can steel ourselves with the expectation of loss and grief. But when death comes suddenly, it takes our breath away.

Our little community of believers at Gather Church has been rocked by five deaths in the past couple of weeks, and we will never be the same. While we know and trust that lives in Christ never end, we who are left behind must deal with something that just does not fit.

On April 6, just two days after she was dedicated to the Lord by her parents, 3-week-old Raelynne Hussey stopped breathing and died in her sleep. Shawn and Amanda and their two young sons need your prayers.

Another couple from our church community, George and Michelle, gave birth to their son on April 7. Baby George had been diagnosed in utero with Edwards Syndrome and was not expected to live long outside the womb. His heart beat for just 15 minutes as Michelle held him.

Lester Thomsen, who was a regular at our Thursday evening meals, was hit and killed by a train in Centralia on April 2.

Andrea Dickey, the 23-year-old daughter of Officer Kevin Dickey, who is involved in Gather’s Into The Light recovery ministry, was killed in an auto accident April 8 in Seattle.

And we just learned that a body found a couple of months ago in the woods between Centralia and Chehalis was that of Sarah Candice, a woman who visited us regularly early last year.

We find ourselves devastated when sorrow upon sorrow enters our lives, and words fail us. We sob. We cry out.

“It tears me up inside,” my wife Marcia said, “like someone took a sharp weapon and gutted me, and I haven’t even been able to cry.

“God is talking to us about life being precious. We realize we don’t have any control. It’s up to God to decide who lives or dies.”

Grieving is a very individual thing, as each of us tries to grasp for some kind of reality. For some of the younger people at Gather, this is their first glimpse of this life’s end. Others of us have seen death up close, yet there is nothing familiar about it.

Grieving is also a community thing. In the past week, we have grown closer together than ever. We join in hugs and tears. We make sure the families are getting meals that they are in no shape to prepare. We change our schedules to meet each other’s needs. We listen, and we talk. And we are silent together.

And we pray. Pastor Cole said that last week seemed like a month, and with each step he has taken he has been keenly aware that people are praying.

Marcia and I learned how substantial prayer is when our grown son Joffrey was killed eight years ago. We could not have even breathed had it not been for God’s constant presence. He was down there with us, and our family and friends were, too.

Now many families are on the receiving end of loving and tearful prayer, on the receiving end of God’s intimate and infinite grace.

Things will never be the same. Understanding, if it ever comes at all, is far off. Compassion, though, is right here, right now. Love has been showered on this extended family, a family that includes those who hear the news through social media and respond with prayers through the Holy Spirit. We are not alone.

“When two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” — Matthew 18:20 (MSG)