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When we go to war, in some sense we go without God, at least without his favour and blessing. How could he bless it, he loves our enemies too? Is it too utopian, this scary-silly Sermon on the Mount of that radical but woefully unrealistic Jesus, to suggest that our national leaders could one day decide that we want God more than we want war– that we want God more than we want revenge or victory– that we want God more than we want to punish and rid the world of evil– that we want divine protection not drones?

Here’s to the hope that one day when provoked our national leaders will declare that we want the favour of God, not war, and instead of revving up the war machine they call every person of faith and parish in the land to fight this one in the heavenlies asking God to settle it all in the earthlies. What might result if people of faith and parishes humbled themselves, repented and renounced their trust in horses and chariots? Is it not when we are weak that we discover his strength? When did we all become such Deists who disbelieve in a God who breaks in to intervene?

bennett

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Nonviolence is inspiring and possesses an indomitable spirit. Few things are more unsettling, unpredictable and unstable as the mob spirit in the atmosphere of riot. And nothing neutralises a violent atmosphere more effectively than nonviolent gestures.

The world got to see this in full-color yesterday in the intensification of tensions at the Standing Rock No Dakota Access Pipeline standoff in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Riot police showed up to this peaceful event in Bismark as Native communities gathered to discuss recent court rulings and updates on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Tension was high at first and then this happened that changed the tone.

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Note the language in this eyewitness report; tension was high at first, then this happened that changed the tone. Discernible hostility in the atmosphere is a reality. Some would say it is a sociological phenomenon. Others, me included, know it to be spiritual. There are demonic spirits behind violence, hatred and war. Those are only fed by responses of violence, hatred and war. When will we learn?

Demonic spirits are happy when both sides kill each other. Gestures of love and peace break their hold and neutralise them. Instantly there are discernible shifts in the atmosphere.

Black Lives Matter, please take note.

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After coffee with friends at Barnes & Noble last night I was paying for a book and noticed the most recent cover of TIME magazine and then went to bed wondering why: one US soldier a day commits suicide. Then this morning I woke up to the horrific news of the theatre shooting in Colorado during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. At this writing, 13 are confirmed dead.

Reports I’ve seen say the shooter wore a gas mask, tossed a smoke grenade in the air and started shooting which is precisely the scene Warner Bros. used as a teaser in their trailer for this movie. My first tweet this morning was:

Prayers for hurting CO families. Is it too early to ask: Last night did Hollywood reap what they’ve sown? #violence #batman #buckstopswhere

I’ve been a minister and police chaplain long enough to know those who minister on the front-lines of these tragedies are out of line if they start moralizing in those early moments. When I’m a first or early responder on the scene of devastation, or with hurting family, my role is to just be there and bring the presence of Christ, provide strength, offer comfort and sympathy, and enter into the hurt and cry with those who are crying. For sure my ministry colleagues in Colorado are doing just that this morning. However, it’s high-time pastors and community leaders everywhere else rise up and decry the root causes of the dark sides of our society. How long will we keep smiling and say nothing? Is it really true church youth groups are having Batman marathon movie lock-ins and going to this movie this weekend with their youth groups as they did for Twilight movies?

Over my dead body.

Bonhoeffer spoke of the victims of evil society and said the role of the Church is not just to tend to victims but to drive a spoke in the wheel of evil itself. In that vein, after Batman’s demons got the best of Heath Ledger while he was making the last Batman movie in 2008, I decided someone should say something so parents wake up. Here’s what I wrote about this subject, Batman and the Twilight movies, in 2008.

I haven’t heard yet any details of this twenty-four year old shooter in Colorado last night but I can say, personal responsibility for his actions aside, society holds a greater complicity in these horrible things and Hollywood in particular. One might hope Hollywood would have toned it down in honor of what the last Batman movie did to Heath Ledger.

In meeting this past spring with the Governors staff on the topic of our states high incarceration rates I asked: how radical a solution are you willing to consider? We were talking about what our bordering states were doing and I asked how far beyond our borders are we willing to look for solutions? Then I mentioned some places around the world I’ve been to where they are closing prisons because there have been spiritual awakenings and revivals.

My point: more money, more education and more therapy isn’t working to drive out the darkness. We will continue to deal with devastations until we have courage to stand boldly against the true causes which we presently tolerate and even encourage. Those who clamor for more strict gun control laws need to wake up to what Hollywood and other roots causes are doing far far more to contribute directly to these increasingly frequent societal episodes of violence. Sadly, many of these same folks view Christianity as harmful to society and Hollywood as helpful. Crazy.

Now, back to the movie. My testimony is that I came to Christ in the midst of executing a suicide attempt. I know first hand about the occult and demons. The Bible talks about having a gift of “discernment of spirits” and all I’m saying is I know the spirit of death when I smell it. Many times I’ve seen, up close, the fruit of this foul demonic spirit- a daddy’s brains dripping off the inside roof of his pickup truck or splattered on the wall of his office behind his desk chair, a lonely single gal found by her mother in her running car with garage door shut, or the gray stiff body of a teenager on the back deck of his home right after the fire department cut the rope he was hanging from, etc., etc.

Here I’ll get even more transparent, probably too transparent for all you arm-chair psychologists. Two weeks ago I watched the recent three minute youtube clip of the California millionaire who committed suicide in the courtroom seconds after his guilty verdict came in. It’s all right there up close on video: the verdict was “guilty”, he then closed his eyes, put his face in his hands and obviously put something in his mouth. Turns out it was a cyanide pill. A minute later he let out a loud God-awful snort and fell out of his chair and writhed for a second on the floor. He was gone before they got to him.

Here’s what simply watching that did to me: I felt a numbing blanket come over me, felt a bit breathless and heavy-chested, things I was dealing with that week felt more hopeless and for a day or so later I was still having random thoughts like: that’s a good way to go, I wouldn’t go to jail for life either. Don’t worry, I know how to have victory over demonic thoughts.

Why do I tell that story? To plead with parents to be careful what you expose your kids to these days. The devil and darkness are real, and Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for these foul spirits to have full access to this generation.

My youth pastor reminded me just the other day of a story I told in some sermon once about when my boys were little. Kristen and I noticed our boys would get notably aggressive and violent after watching Batman- they’d grab the nearest thing and smash it into the face of the other. The fix seemed too easy to be true : no batman, no bruises. And there was peace in our house. Now, imagine society where the glorification of violence and death is reined in.

It’s possible to change the world’s political architecture through prayer! The most recent (and most grossly under-reported) example of this is with regard to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This post will be the first in a series where that story gets told, including interviews with those who were in the battle behind the battle.

Kristen and I both read a great book (loaded with pictures!) recently on the Berlin Wall and it’s fall called “Check Point Charlie and the Wall” but regrettably only one sentence in the book spoke of what really took down the wall… “In the top secret document ‘MfS, ZAIG, nr. 496/89’ he confirmed the rapid increase in politically motivated meetings organized by religious institutions and the sharply higher numbers participating in open air demonstrations.” Another book I ordered and can’t wait to read also mentions what I will tell you about more fully here – that book is Voices in Times of Change : The role of Writers, Opposition Movements and the Churches the Transformation of East Germany. (The role of writers and churches?? Uh oh, perhaps this will only encourage my blogging!!!)

I know of only one book (in English, though now out of print) that is devoted to this topic, Candles Behind the Wall. Author Barbara Von Der Heydt writes… “Six candles in Leipzig did more to topple the wall than 6000 missiles in Western Europe.”

The guy behind those six candles is named Rev. Christian Fürher. It is perhaps my only regret on my six weeks this summer in Europe that a meeting between us didn’t materialize.  However, we are in communication and a meeting is pending. There are few people alive today who more encapsulate nearly all of my callings; strategic-level prayer, pastoring and politics, Bonhoeffer, the culture war and the Sermon on the Mount.  (If only he was a church planter too!)

His name, Christian Fürher, is the first curious thing about him, at least to the English speaking world. When we hear “Fürher” we think of Hitler, but in German the word simply means leader. (Two weeks before Hitler was elected, Bonhoeffer rebelliously said on German radio, “Jesus is my Fürher. “) Christian Fürher was born March 5, 1943 in Leipzig, just south of Berlin. Little did the world know that as one murderous Fürher was ascending in power, God saw to it that another was being born – Christian Fürher – his name, Christian Leader, is quite prophetic in terms of how God used him.

The Berlin Wall (1961-1989) was 65 running miles of concrete, another 79 miles of alarm-equipped electrical fence in the rural areas, 20 earthen bunkers and 302 watchtowers. Unlike other city walls throughout the centuries, the wall was built not to keep people out, but to keep people in. Over 170 people died trying to defect by crossing the wall from East Berlin to West Berlin. 

Here I am at one of the only remaining segments of the wall today.

Berlin wall 1

Berlin wall 2Just as the picture was being taken I quickly recoiled away from the wall as someone had just pointed out to me that I was leaning against a bunch of chewing gum. Yuk

This pic is of a hole in the wall – I’m bummed the view on the other side is blurred. Family members on each side of the wall would gather at these types of places to talk or exchange things. When that got out of hand, even the windows of the buildings facing West Berlin were bricked shut. 

A museum and place for old ladies to die OR a grassroots counter-movement
In 1980, Rev. Fürher, started a November teaching series in his church (Nikolaikirche) in Leipzig on the theme of peacemaking. His zeal on the topic was fueled by the rising nuclear threat from proposed Soviet SS20 missiles and American Pershing Missiles. Rev. Fürher took the bold political step and opened the doors of his church to “alternative” young people who were forming protest groups for disarmament. He’s says “I suddenly realized that if we would open our doors for these types, the communists would no longer be able to say the church was a museum, a place for old ladies to die. The church could again become a grassroots counter-movement.”

In 1982, Rev. Fürher started a Monday night prayer meeting at his church – the prayer meeting lasted seven years (until the wall fell). Every Monday night at 5 p.m. a handful of people gathered, and at every meeting the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount were read in unison. These prayer meetings marked a new level of engagement. The meetings were called Friedensgebate (Prayers for Peace).

In 1988, a few protesters were arrested in Berlin and Rev. Fürher dialed up the prayer resistance a notch… he held his prayer meetings daily. Rev. Fürher frequently quoted Bonhoeffer, “the church is only the church when it is there for others.” People coming to pray daily for the release of the protesters quickly reached two thousand in number.  Obviously the government was on high alert and they sent hundreds of their undercover STASI agents into the prayer meetings. Rev. Fürher began the meetings and joked about the undercover agents there – everyone laughed except the agents and everyone could easily look around identify who they were by who wasn’t smiling. (STASI secret police had over 100,000 agents and had assembled files on one-third of the East German population!!) Rev. Fürher did not mind the agents in his meetings but said “this is great that the government sent its employees to church and they were forced to listen to Jesus’ teachings!

In September of 1989, other churches around Germany began to hold similar prayer meetings. At first that sounds like something great to report, and it is certainly. However, as one who has been in some similar battles what I see there is that Rev. Fürher had little help from other churches for six and a half of the seven years of his struggle. In his book, only available in German, he speaks of the discouragement he had to deal with of being the lone radical following the path of the Sermon on the Mount. He comments that he and his church experienced ten years of suffering and defamation prior to this point.

 In October 1989, 60,000 people gathered in and around the church which was the largest demonstration ever held in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). All the people came with candles in hand. Rev. Fürher says “the Lord reminded me of this Scripture that says, ‘It’s not by might, and not by power, but by His Spirit.’ The only successful revolution in Germany was a non-violent one. Later the police said they were prepared for everything but not for prayers and candles.” 

With two hands on a candle you can’t pick up a stone
The Berlin newspaper reported that the counter-revolution would be put down on Monday October 9 by “whatever means necessary.” Rev. Fürher reports that the day before some doctors came and visited his church to tell him that “hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wound…

…So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen. The police had NOT been briefed for this possibility (candles and prayers). Had we thrown stones, they would have known what to do. They would have attacked. But the tanks had no choice but to withdraw without a single shot being fired…. we had the sense that something extraordinary had happened but we really only understood the enormity of it later… thousand of people with candles. People who have never met before, suddenly a family. They lay their candles at the feet of the armed soldiers and police. The steps of the STASI building, the organization that spied on, abused and sold people out, now awash with candles. It looks like a river of peace and light.  …When more than 2000 of us came out of the church – I will never forget the sight – tens of thousands more were waiting outside in the square. They were holding candles. When you hold a candle you need both hands. You have to guard the flame, stop it from being blown out. You can’t hold a stone or club at the same time. And then the miracle occurred. The Spirit of Jesus, a spirit of non-violence, took hold of the masses and what resulted was material, peaceful violence. The army, fighting patrols and police were drawn in, started conversations and retreated.

On Oct. 18, these prayer meetings (protests) led to the resignation of Erich Honecker, the communist East German politician later tried with crimes against humanity. Honecker was contemplating the “Chinese Solution” to shut down Rev.  Fürher’s prayer meetings – the Chinese Solution referred to the massacre at Tienanmen Square in Beijing only five months earlier. A leader in the old GDR regime said before his death… “We had planned everything. We were prepared for any eventuality. Any except for prayer and candles.”

Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate was June 7, 1987 – “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Rev. Fürher contends that the reason Gorbachev didn’t come and tear down the wall is because the request was made “in a spirit of war.” Two more years on contending in prayer were necessary to undermine the real foundations of that wall. Rev. Fürher stood at the same wall (on the other side) and led hundreds of thousands of others to call on God to tear down the wall. God answered and the Belin Wall fell November 9, 1989. 

Brandenburg Gate

That’s a pic of us at the Brandenberg Gate a couple weeks ago.

The Sermon on the Mount in two words
Later when asked how he was so confident that peaceful prayer protests would work Rev. Fürher commented, “we were not in the least confident. We were afraid day and night, but we had the courage of our convictions. The Bible had taught us the power of peaceful protest and this was the only weapon we had. Resorting to violence makes us no better than our enemies, and then we are no longer blessed.” Obviously he’s strong in the flow of the Sermon on the Mount.

About the Sermon on the Mount he said; “It still moves me today to recall that in a secular country the masses condensed the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount into two words – NO VIOLENCE (KEINE GEWALT!) and they practised what they preached.” Keine Gewalt became their slogan.

In the same way this unjust system has fallen
There was a particular Saturday in 1989 about which Rev. Fuhrer writes: “Fourteen hours, uniformed men beat the defenceless people, who did not retaliate, and took them away in lorries. Hundreds of them were herded into stables in Markkleeberg.” During this period, Markus Laegel was only 13 years old. Today he heads 24-7 Germany and has written here of his memories of that time.  Later, at the fall of the wall Markus says he sensed the Spirit of God saying, “in the same way as this unjust system was fallen, so every other unjust system will fall.” He notes that the reason he is doing this 24-7 prayer thing is because he sees his generation has “merely swapped communism for consumerism and they are no more free.” 

The street and the altar

Christian Führer

This is long enough, but it’s powerful stuff. I have a number of specific questions for Rev. Fürher and I’ll post again on this topic and include his replies. I’ll have to arrange another time/place to meet – perhaps in January. I believe that his story and testimony need to be told in the prayer movement outside of Germany. Here’s a pic of him today in his cut off jean-jacket and white spiked hair, both of which have become his signature look.  Also, here is the New York Times article which was a story about his retirement from the church last year. I’ll conclude here with his statement: “I always wanted also to move in the earthly realm. It is not the throne and the altar but the street and the altar that belong together.”

There are a number of important Martin Luther sites in Germany besides Wittenberg. (I’ll devote a few posts later to some things that are significant to me about my time in Wittenberg.) I’m writing in the order of what is in my head and right now I want to share my favorite historical happening at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. Here I am with the boys right after the tiring hike up.

wartburg castle with boys

After the famous Diet of Worms (where Luther was condemned as a heretic and enemy of the state), he fled north toward Wittenberg (fyi- Worms is the name of a German town, a “diet” was a meeting of church/govt. legislators). En route Luther was captured by horsemen and taken to the Wartburg Castle where he stayed for ten months. At the castle he discovered that those behind his capture were actually on his side and sought to get him to safety before others did him harm. They actually saved his life as the Edict of Worms declared him an outlaw and anyone killing him at that point would not have been tried for murder. He referred to his time at Wartburg his exile or wilderness period. He grew his hair and beard (as a monk he only had the ring of hair) so he’d be unrecognizable and adopted the name “Junker Jörg.” He was unrecognizable even to friends.

At Wartburg he was restless, lonely, and in his words tormented “by many devils.” He struggled there with severe depression and had an extended digestive infirmity (due to the rich food they fed him, far different from a monks simple diet). He lamented of his struggle with insomnia during this period and how for eight days he wrote nothing, read nothing and prayed nothing. Dreadful noises in his chamber at night would awaken him from sleep. Howling as of a dog could be heard at his door. As the spiritual warfare intensified, he felt abandoned by God. Even so, his time at Wartburg proved to be one of the most productive periods of his life. In these ten months, in the very room I’ve pictured below, he translated the New Testament into German and wrote 14 other important works.

I found it fascinating during the tour to learn that centuries earlier a regional Count Ludwig der Springer climbed the peak of this hill on a hunt and, impressed by the beauty of the spot, cried out “Wait mountain you shall be my castle.” In German “wait mountain” is “wart’ burg”. Interesting to me that God brought Luther here to the wilderness of Wait Mountain. These days I feel a bit as if God has me on my own wait mountain.

Luther study at wartburg

His “study” in Wartburg is a place I’ve long wanted to see with my own eyes. Here’s why… in this room, while he was translating the New Testament into the language of the German people, a demon manifest and he threw his inkwell at the harassing spirit leaving a large ink-stain on the wall (visible for centuries). You’ll notice today that treasure seekers throughout the centuries took knives to cut slivers (initially) and even entire sections of the ink-stained wood panels home as souvenirs. Here is a very difficult-to-find centuries old oil painting depicting that demonic encounter. There was a no-flash-rule so the pic is very difficult to see (we actually took this pic in Wittenberg at the Luther House). Thomas adjusted the brightness/contrast on photoshop which helps some.

Luther inkwell 4

I’ve been looking in the Luther gift shops hoping to find a copy of this print. No such luck. I really want one for my office. A flash of entrepenurial ingenuity did come over me in one of these gift shops and I have been talking about it for a few days with the family. My idea is to screenprint, sew, stuff and sell little inkwell-shaped bean bags. Hundreds of thousands of visitors tour these sites each year and every pastor I know needs a little bean bag inkwell on his desk to throw at his office wall. If they’d have sold these I would have bought ten. (If you are reading this, don’t steal my idea, I’m seriously thinking about producing these. They’d sell like hotcakes to pastors back in the states. Not sure quite how to go about it, but we are praying about additional streams of income for our work and this one really makes me smile. Maybe it’s just pastor humor.)

What they did have for sale in the gift shop is this frog-looking demon for €19.90 euros. Scroll back up and look really close in my picture from his study and you will see an old dark iron one hanging there just to the right of his desk (follow the line on the top of the picture above his desk to the top of the green stove, the iron demon is hanging about halfway). Nobody there could tell me why it looks like a frog but my friends in deliverance ministry may have a hunch (Rev. 16:13). Here’s the “toy” version available in the gift shop. It would seem to me that whoever decided to put blue/white striped boxer shorts on this thing has never personally dealt with the manifestation of a harrassing demonic spirit.

Luther inkwell demon 2

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