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My kids need some kind of special award in heaven for their patience with me on my Reformation outings. Like the day they said “where are we going today dad?” And I answered, “Eisleben.” And they say, “cool, what’s in Eisleben?” And I say, “Luther’s death house.” And they say… “oo ooh K?!”

Here’s the kind of thing one sees in Luther’s death house. Pardon the bad pics, as usual, I’m snapping photos against the rules – like this one I took of his death bed – the pic was taken with the camera hanging indiscreetly around my neck down my belly – I felt like I had a wild west six shooter at my side firing off rounds.

Luthers deathbed

Interesting to me that Luther was born and died in the same town. For a guy who changed the entire world he sure didn’t wander far from home. This pic creeped us all out – the photo does not do justice to the spooky glow in his eyes as he gives up the ghost. The pic also doesn’t do the size of this painting justice– it’s ten feet long, 8 feet high. Trust me, you notice it when you walk in the room!

Luther's death painting

As is customary with important figures, a death mask was made. Unusual though was to also do a hand cast. Here, rigor mortis had already set in so they had difficulty making his one hand look like it was holding a pen and his other hand holding flat a paper as if he’s ready to write yet something more.

Luther's death mask 2

Here’s what they call his “deathbed portrait” of which many copies were made and circulated.

Luther's death portrait

And here is his burial spot at the foot of his pulpit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The kids took one look at this thing and wondered if he was a midget. Answer… no. We did see a full size burial cloth that sat over his full size casket. And I saw a rusty iron handle from his casket (now in the Luther House, Wittenberg) that they found when they were doing church renovations 150 years ago. My guess is at that time they collected what was left of him and made this new burial box for his bones. But, I’m not sure. Maybe since they we never able to contain Luther’s influence while he was living, they appeased his foes by stuffing him in a small box for the centuries he awaits resurrection.

Luther grave and pulpit

Sorry for such a creepy, and pretty much pointless post, at least up until this point. I’ll try here to share a few of my thoughts as you can imagine I have a lot flowing through my head in these types of places.

First, you will find none of the type of stuff I’ve included above for the Swiss Reformer Zwingli. No deathbed, deathmask, portrait, or even tomb. The reason is Zwingli was a chaplain in the Swiss army and died in a battle fighting the pope’s forces. His body was quartered, burned and his ashes were mixed with dung and thrown to the wind.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be masked and preserved as Luther was, but I’m no fan of cremation either. (Why? It’s more fitting for Hindu or Buddist theology than Christian eschatology. As N.T. Wright says about cremation, “the underlying implication, of a desire to be merged back into the created world, without any affirmation of a future life of new embodiment, flies in the face of Christian theology.” He says the huge swing toward cremation in the last century reflects the total confusion in the church and the world about the future resurrection.)

Did you know I am related to CH Spurgeon? He was a mega-church pastor in London in the 19th century. I’ll share a Spurgeon quote with you… in Lectures to my Students he tells all the students at his pastors college about the importance for the minister of frequenting the death bed. He says it’s critical to our ability to keep eternity and salvation at the forefront of our thinking that we are regularly with the dying.

I feel as if I’ve had more than my share of exposure to death, in my immediate family and certainly as a police chaplain (and hospital chaplain before that). I’ve been on a leave of absence from my police chaplaincy post for 18 months and I’ve been asked by the PD and Sheriffs dept (even while I’ve been here) to jump back in with both feet in September (which I will). With the deaths in my family, I was really having trouble doing death notifications and being on the scene of bad accidents and suicides.

In terms of my reading plan for this sabbatical, I completed all the Reformation reading I had planned and am now into the first of three NT Wright books on my list – more on them later. For now, Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” has been just what the doctor ordered. He totally dismantles sloppy and errant ideas most Christians have about heaven and the future resurrection. It should be required reading for those taking the Omega Course.  (Randy B…. get on that!)

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This morning I preached in Zurich on walking in step with God and discerning the pace of the Holy Spirit.  Then came the Sabbath nap. Then a large block of delightful reading hours – cool, kind of rainy today – my the beauty out on the second floor patio – I’ve been blowing through highlighters and found I could get a couple more chapters out of this one simply by touching the dry tip to the raindrops that periodically hit my arm.

Part of my reason for the extended read time today was I wanted to get through my book on Calvin before we head 2.5 hours south tomorrow to enjoy the city in which he served… Geneva, Switzerland. I grew up going to our family’s cottage on beautiful Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. To be heading to the real Lake Geneva makes me wish my mom would have lived long enough to have joined us here.  I regret that she died during some very hard days in our household last fall and know she would have benefited as we are from this heavenly respite. (Those of you who knew her may not know she and my father were fluent in German – though Geneva is Swiss-French, not the Swiss-German up here by Zurich and Germany). We would have had trouble getting Kaitlyn and Grandma out of the cool clear Lake Geneva water that’s for sure.

Kristen says my posts are way way too long so for now I will spare you the five or six lengthy posts that are in my spirit from the two Zwingli books I’ve read and now this Calvin one. Three of them center in some way on how brutal we are to others in the Body of Christ.

Luther was the worst (of the Reformers), Zwingli was deeply hurt by him (and many others – but it hurts far more from those who are supposed to be on your side). My big Zwingli book here says the story of the Luther/Zwingli relationship was “one of the saddest in the history of religion.” These apostles of grace (not works) were sorely lacking in grace toward others. Wow. 

Even though Zwingli was abused by Luther (who didn’t even consider Zwingli a Christian because he disagreed about the meaning of the word “IS” in Jesus’ last supper statement… this IS my body), Zwingli himself showed not shred of grace to the anabaptists or the spiritualists (those having Holy Spirit encounters, trances, dreams, visions, etc). It all reminds me of ex-church folk who have tried to influence others to come out from among us because they “care” and “want them to go heaven” as if staying in our midst, under my “heresy,” calls ones salvation into question. Ha! Please.

Look in the mirror. Repent. Love. Why do we so often strain gnats yet swallow camels?

Calvin was so violently opposed (his friend poisoned, false accusations, riots/mobs firing into his house at night) they evicted him from Geneva (he was later called back to his post there after his four main opposers each died suddenly– accidently/fell out a window or were executed/for killing a man in a fist fight). Calvin was so deeply wounded he, at first, refused to even consider going back to the church in Geneva having “made up my mind never again to enter any ecclesiastical charge whatever unless the Lord should call me to it by a clear and manifest call.”

Imagine that, one of the greatest theologians in church history was content to leave ministry forever and go back to being a lawyer because he felt pastoral ministry was too abusive. He did decide to go back to serve the parish and city in Geneva. (BTW, it wasn’t any better for him when he went back (1541) but he did stay until his death twenty three years later (1564) – great stuff in all that about following the hard call of God on your life, making a city/territorial commitment, staying the course, staying steady, crossing finish lines, etc).  Though Geneva was “an unstable city” he still “felt a responsibility” and his sufferings there “ought not to prevent me from embracing it with paternal affection. For God, when he charged me with it, bound me to be faithful to it forever.” As you can see, in case you are wondering, there are powerful and positive things I have to reflect on too.

I’ll leave you all to your own armchair pscyho-analysis of me as to why those aspects stand out to me and why I felt like getting them out of my head and plopping them here first- but don’t think too long and hard about it – those of you who have been following my sabbatical musings here know I’ve been soaking in the seven parts – one a week – of what I’m calling my sabbatical verse (given to me before I left by CATG friends/elders Glen and Dianne Heynen).  That verse again is 1 Peter 5:10;

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you
and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

The phrase for this fourth week has been… after you have suffered a little while. We covet your prayers for week five’s focus phrase… will HIMSELF restore you!!!  Can’t wait for that!

Today is Day One of my sabbatical and to quote Thomas (who is quoting the Office)… we are off like a herd of turtles. He has a little video clip on that theme coming up on his blog soon – it’s fun so you’ll have to check it out.  Our blogs and Twitters are the best way to keep up with us. I hope you’ll take time to dialog with us here. I think only Thomas has started blogging but Kaitlyn will be dropping in photos on hers, Caleb will surely be philosophizing on this somehow and Kristen will cover things from her viewpoint (which will surely be historically rich). Caleb and Kristen have lots of WWII sites mapped out on a tour we are doing next week – Normandy/Omaha Beach, Dachau Concentration Camp, Bastone, etc..

Here are my first couple Tweets in case you missed them:

  • Caleb’s German is coming back to him nicely. Except the part where we just bought 5lbs of swiss cheese from deli. #1/2lbFAIL
  • Fam/luggage made it to Zurich. Lots 2see and do. I’m like a dog who has to sniff my entire surroundings B4 doing what I’m here to do. #rest

Much prayer and planning has gone into these weeks – the plan is to be restored and refreshed. Not sure how to force that, but I have given much thought to how to position myself best for that to happen.

A verse that was given to me as a send off verse by Glen and Dianne Heynen will be my sabbatical theme verse.  It’s 1 Peter 5:10 – “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Seven important gems jump out at me as I read that verse.  So, I’m going to soak in those seven gems, one a week for the next seven weeks. No better place this first week to dive into the first –  the grace of God – than right here in the geographical ground zero of the Protestant Reformation. I just learned that tomorrow after church I will be given a private walking tour of the Zwingli sites in Zurich, including his church and his study, by a fellow in the church who does these tours for a living.

Those coaching me on this sabbatical reiterate it is not time off but time away so it needs to be stewarded well. Not being one who is accustomed to slowing down I’ve wondered how to do that – should I structure each day so they don’t fly-by wasted? Or, should I do nothing for two weeks and then reengage? Probably neither.

Most important, careful consideration has been given to what I read this summer. More on that later. For now I’ll just say I’m already 100 pages into a superb book on Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation. It was written 200 years ago (in German) by J.H. Merle d’Aubigne. I have far more in common with Zwingli than Luther but I can’t wait to visit the sacred sites where these these guys were used by God to change the expression of Christianity for generations to come.

I’ll post some key insights as I go from these books. Next is a far tougher read on Zwingli that comes out of Cambridge University.  Then I’ll switch for a while to a few N.T. Wright books – I’ve been in the same room with him a few times and know of no one more solid – I can’t keep up with what he cranks out but I aim to try. I’m excited to get into his recent book where he pulls the rug out on our present misconceptions of heaven.

Church tomorrow for me is at the Powerhouse in Zurich. I’m speaking there, not tomorrow, but the two weeks thereafter.  But, as always, my heart is at CATG and we are praying God visits there tomorrow.  I’m told tomorrow’s service  here includes baptisms in the Lake of Zurich and we are supposed to bring swimming stuff (no joke – speedos are the norm for guys here, American men’s suits are frowned upon). I’m sure you’d see footage of it on CNN if I donned a speedo in public. Not to worry, as the kids say, modest is hottest.
Gute Nacht from Kandern, Germany – day one.  (FYI – You all back home are seven hours behind us here.)
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