Archive for the tag “Forgiveness”

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs: The Chaplain to Nazi War Criminals


They walked to the gallows together, pastor and penitent. Each step up took them closer to the abbreviated, fatal fall to come. The criminal stood above the trapdoor. Moments later, it would open to rope himfence-444416_1920 into eternity. An officer asked him if he had any final words. “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul,” he said.

Then he turned toward the man who had been the shepherd of his soul, his confessor, his preacher, the one from whose hand he had received the body and blood of Jesus in the Supper. To this pastor, he said, “I’ll see you again.”

Then noosed, hooded in black, and legs tied, he dropped out of this world into another.

As gripping as this account is, no doubt many similar scenarios have played out in the course of history. Condemned men have found repentance and faith when certain death loomed nigh.

What makes this story remarkable is that this man, along with others hanged that day, was among the most hated men in human history. He was guilty of atrocities so horrific only words forged in hell could adequately describe them. These were Hitler’s men. His closest confidants. His very own pack of wolves. Yet in the months leading up to their executions or imprisonments, many of them had been transformed from Hitler’s wolves into Christ’s lambs. Thanks to the ministry of a farm boy from Missouri, who grew up to be a pastor, and who reluctantly agreed to be the chaplain of the fifteen Protestant war criminals during the Nuremberg trials at the close of World War II, these men heard the Gospel.


Chaplain Henry Gerecke

Henry Gerecke was in his early 50’s when he went, cell by cell, to introduce himself to his infamous “congregation.” He invited them to chapel services. Some refused, others wavered, and still others promised to be there. Of the fifteen chairs set up for the first service, thirteen of them were filled. Scriptures were read, sermons preached, hymns sung, prayers prayed. And, through it all, hearts were changed.

Soon some of the very lips that had once barked, “Heil Hitler!” spoke an Amen as they knelt to receive the body and blood of their forgiving Lord. They expressed a desire for their children to be baptized. One of them began reading the Bible to find justification for his unbelief, but ended up being led to faith by the very same divine words. So reliant did these men become upon their pastor that, when a rumor surfaced that he might be relieved of his duty and allowed to return home, they wrote a letter to Mrs. Gerecke and begged her to ask him to stay. On that letter were the signatures of all these former Nazis. Men who had enjoyed power and rank were now humbly beseeching a housewife in America, who had not seen her husband for two and a half years, to let him stay.  In her brief reply to her husband, “They need you,” is packed a whole volume about sacrifice and love.

Pastor Gerecke’s story has already been told (see links below), but it deserves to be retold, again and again, to every generation, for two very important reasons.

The first has to do with the men to whom he ministered, the ones who repented and believed in Christ. The scandal of Christianity is not that these men went to heaven; it is that God loved them so much that he was willing to die to get them there. Had it been a human decision, many would have thrown these men into the flames of hell. But the truth is that people are not condemned because they murder, or steal, or lie, but because they reject Jesus as the one who has already endured hell for them on the cross, and earned a place for them in heaven. Should an opportunity arise in the future for the Gospel to be shared with ISIS militants who have been captured, this same Good News would be for them. They too would need a chaplain like Pastor Gerecke to call them to repentance, to preach Christ’s grace, to declare to them the mercy of God. There is no one who is so vile that he is beyond redemption, because the redemption of Christ envelops all people.

Another reason Pastor Gerecke’s story needs to be remembered involves his vocation, and those who share it. What pastor, knowing he was about to visit men such as these, would not have struggled to find any hope in their possible repentance? But Gerecke visited each cell anyway. He invited each man to hear the Word and left it to the Spirit to do the work of making new creations of these hardened criminals. Nor did he mince words, surrender his convictions, or water down the truth for them. On the evening before he was to be hanged, one of the men, Goering, asked to be communed, just in case he was wrong and there was some truth to the Christian claims. But Gerecke refused to give the Sacrament to one who so obstinately refused repentance, who treated the Supper as if it were an edible, just-in-case, insurance policy. When Christ calls men into the office of the holy ministry, he calls them to be faithful—not successful, not popular, not practical, not winsome, not cool, but faithful. They are to preach even when they doubt it will bear fruit. They are to give the word of Christ to sinners, and let the Christ of that word do his work. And he does. He convicts, he calls, he saves, he baptizes, he feeds, and, finally, he welcomes one and all into his kingdom with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In 1961, at the age of sixty-eight, Pastor Gerecke passed from this life into the next. He entered that innumerable company of saints who had gone before him. Some of them had been among his flock during his years of ministry. One of them, standing atop the gallows, had promised, “I’ll see you again.”  And he did.

Online Resources:

I strongly urge you to click on one or all of the links below to read Pastor Gerecke’s story.  The details and quotes I included above are from these resources.

Gerecke’s story, in his own words, was published in the Saturday Evening Post, 1, September, 1951, pp. 18-19, under the title, “I walked to the Gallows with the Nazi Chiefs.”

Don Stephens, in War and Grace:  Short biographies from the World Wars, (Evangelical Press, Faverdale North, Darlington, DL3 0PH, England) devotes a chapter to Gerecke and his ministry.  The chapter is available online at:

In 1950, Gerecke was called to be Assistant Pastor at St. JohnLutheranChurch, Chester, IL.  That congregation’s website includes audio files of Pastor Gerecke speaking about his experience.  These can be listened to by following the link below, and clicking on the audio files on the right side of the website.

Other Resources:

Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis, HarperCollins, 2014.

F. T. Grossmith, The Cross and the Swastika, Henry E. Walter Ltd., Worthing, England,  1984, which tells Gerecke’s story.

N. M. Railton, “Henry Gerecke and the Saints  of Nuremberg,” Kirkliche Zeitgeschichte,  Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2000, pp.126-7.

Many of the primary sources about Gerecke, including his own My Assignment with the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg, Germany, are found at Concordia Historical Institute, St. Louis, MO, the official archive of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.


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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!


Will God Forgive Me for Having an Abortion?

womandespairI had an abortion. I was young and naïve. And now it tears me apart on the inside. If I could do it all over again, I would have my child. Now all I have is the heartache that I suffer for what I did. Now I worry that God will punish me and won’t give me other children. Can God forgive me for failing him, myself, and my baby? Will God stay mad at me for taking a life? Please, help. I don’t know if God will forgive me.


Dear M.N.,

We do things in life that turn on a voice in our head that never seems to stop talking. Sometimes that voice is like a scream, sometimes like a whisper, but it’s rarely if ever silent. You’ve heard it. The words you write are painful proof. It’s a voice that has no mercy. When it speaks, it always has the tone of accusation. It won’t let your mistakes die. It shoves them in your face. Again and again and yet again. This voice says, “God won’t forgive you. He will punish you. He’s angry with you. He will always be angry with you.”

Sometimes well-meaning people try to help you silence that voice by telling you what to do. They say that if you do this or that, the voice will go away.

“If you confess your sins, it will go away.” But it doesn’t, does it?
“If you get your life back on track, the voice will be silent.” But it isn’t, is it?
“If you commit your life to God, he will make the voice go away.” But it still accuses.

There are things too big for us to change, voices too loud and too persistent for us to silence. Guilt is one of them. Heartache over what we’ve done. When you’re torn apart on the inside, you can’t do surgery on yourself to repair the damage. You need someone else to do that. You need someone else to make the voice go away.

Let me tell you about another voice. It is a bigger and better voice, a merciful and loving voice of a Father who thinks the world of you. In a voice rich with compassion, he said to his Son, “Jesus, will you go and take care of my daughter’s sin?” And in a voice equally rich with compassion, Jesus said to his Father, “Gladly I will go. I will, in fact, take that sin away from her and not give it back. I will make it not hers, not even hers and mine, but mine only. I will become the one who had the abortion. I will transfer the guilt and regret and heartache she feels onto myself. I will make the voice that accuses her, direct is accusation against me. Once and for all, dear Father, I will become the ocean into which every river of wrong empties itself. No sinner will be left in the world except me. I will be everyone. The guilt, the punishment, the anger, the judgment will all be mine and mine alone. Yes, Father, I will take care of your daughter’s abortion. And once I have, we will not speak of it again. We will not remember it again. It will cease to exist.”

It is not a question of whether God can forgive you, or even if he will forgive you. He already has. When you see a cross, you see the smile of your Father. He’s not mad at you. He’s overjoyed that you’re his daughter. He’s happy that you are part of his family. He talks of you to the angels. “Look at my daughter,” he says. “She is beautiful. She is pure. She is the apple of my eye. She is just the way I want her to be.” All of heaven resounds with angelic voices that sing songs of how dear you are to the Father’s heart, how precious your life is to him, that you are his princess.

Your Father will not punish you for something that he doesn’t even remember. Even if he did remember it, he would remember only that Jesus had the abortion, that Jesus paid the price for that abortion, that Jesus has taken care of everything. You are loved by God more than you will ever realize. His love is the voice that drowns out all other voices. It says, “You are my daughter. I loved you even before I created the world. I chose you in Jesus to be in my family. When I look at you, I do not see even a speck of wrong in you. I see you through the prism of my Son, your Savior. In him you are forgiven and perfect and clean and without shame. In Jesus you are everything I want you to be.”

Your mistakes do not define you. The love of the Father in Jesus Christ defines you. His voice alone speaks truth. It is the truth that nothing can separate you from his love. Now and always you are more precious to him than life itself.

You are free. You are beloved. You are forgiven.

Your brother in Christ,


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christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

What Would You Want for Your Last Meal?

Image“What would you like to eat for your last meal?” That question, at some point, is posed to the criminal awaiting execution. Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, chose two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream. John Wayne Gacy, a serial murderer and rapist, selected shrimp, a bucket of KFC chicken, fries, and strawberries. The ticking clock may have run out of ticks before these men digested all they consumed, but the food was served anyway. All the condemned get to choose their omega meal.

What would you want? Not just if you were on death row, but if somehow you knew that tomorrow would be the final day of your earthly journey, what would you like on your plate? A sweet dessert? A thick, juicy steak? Some variety of comfort food?

Given such a choice, and given the finality of this feast, I’m afraid my imagination might just go into the what-if overdrive.

What if my lips, which have tasted the kiss of one I was forbidden to kiss, could taste food that consumed those sins until not a tiny morsel of immorality remained?

What if my tongue, which has spit out words in hate, feasted on rumor, and lapped up a million lies, could banquet on food and drink that cleanses my palate of even the deepest verbal stain?

What if my teeth, which have chewed up reputations, bitten into the backs of friends and foes, masticated plans of revenge, could chomp down on a divine delicacy that makes my blood-stained teeth as pure and white as light from above?

What if my throat, down which I have gulped words I should have spoken to defend others, could swallow a meal that swallows death and hell itself?

What if my stomach, indeed my whole body, could digest and be permeated with a feast so rich in celestial love, that rather than me transforming the food into my body, that food transformed me into the body of God himself?

What if. But there is no what if. There is the real meal, the real deal, the feast of feasts. There is a supper that belongs to the Lord. And to that supper he invites all who hunger and thirst for him.

I am lord of all I eat. I lord it over meat, potatoes, pecan pie. I make those foods serve my body, transforming them into me. But it is not so with the meal of Jesus. It is not my supper but the Lord’s supper. Of this meal he is Lord. He feeds me his body. He gives me his blood to drink. When I do, what I eat is Lord of me. His body transforms my body into his body. I am a member of the body of Christ. His blood transforms my blood into his blood. I pulse through the veins of the body of Christ. The Lord I eat, the Lord I drink, devours in me all this is opposed to life, to holiness, to immortality. I am made to be as he is, even as he has become as I am.

What’s more, if this meal is my last meal, it will not be my last meal. For if I am in Christ, even though I die, yet shall I live. The day my body dies I will be with Jesus in paradise. There I will dine at the feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end.

So, I ask you again: what would you want for your last meal?

All Sins Are Forgiven, But Some Are More Forgiven Than Others

ImageImagine a church where members are nicknamed for the most well-known sin they’ve ever committed.

Sitting on the next-to-last pew is Bob the Drunk. He’s now in his late seventies, and he’s been sober for the last three decades, but up into his forties he was still hitting the bottle pretty hard. And everyone knew it.

A few pews up from him, surrounded by her doting husband and three children, is Backseat Betty. You see, her oldest child was conceived out of wedlock, when Betty was in her senior year of high school. It was the talk of the town back in the day.

The man in the starched white shirt and blue jeans is Mike the Thief. He served a prison term for holding up a convenience store. Although it was in a different town, and even a different state, the story had a way of catching up with Mike. So when he joined the congregation, the nickname was soon forthcoming.

Bob the Drunk, Backseat Betty, Mike the Thief, and other nicknamed sinners gather every Sunday with other sinners who are not nicknamed. They’re just Margaret, Paul, Cindy, John. It’s not that these others have not sinned; it’s just that their sins haven’t been big enough, or public enough, or scandalous enough to earn a nickname.

The preacher proclaims from the pulpit, to everyone assembled, that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, all their sins are forgiven. But in this particular church, all sins are forgiven, but some sins are more forgiven than others.

Every year, in the springtime, Christians around the world gather in their respective communities to celebrate Good Friday. It is the day Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of the world. It is the day that he dies for Bob the Drunk, Backseat Betty, Mike the Thief. On Good Friday, they become Bob, Betty, and Mike.

Anyone who dares to attach a nickname to them seeks to uncrucify Jesus.

All sins are forgiven, and none are forgiven more, or less, than others.

If you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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