Thursday, May 18, 2017

Witness

In Christian lingo the terms "to share the gospel" and "to witness" are often used interchangeably. This has always confused me, being my literal and analytical self. Per definition, a witness is somebody who has seen an event, can testify to the truth of the event and serves as proof that the event actually took place. If you witness an accident, you saw what happened, you can explain what happened and you can attest to the accident as a true event rather than hearsay.

In that sense I have no problem with the apostles witnessing for Christ. They were there, they saw Jesus prove His deity over and over again. And it is not just a chosen handful who can make that claim. The Bible is full of witnesses to the ministry of Christ all the way to His crucifixion and resurrection.

I believe every word they said. From David to Isaiah to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and countless others, their witness is good enough for me. But that is my faith, not personal observation - and while my life is full of proof that Christ is at work in me, that still doesn't make me a witness. It makes me a believer. If you want a witness account of my faith, you'll have to ask the people around me. They are the ones who should see Christ in me. I have no proof that the Bible account of Jesus is true. I wasn't there. But if I live my faith the way Christ demands me to, my life will the proof of His existence to anyone willing to look. And that puts a whole new spin on the often used and abused term "to witness". It is a call to action above all else.

The book of Acts gives a clear example of what faith like that should look like: Peter and John had just healed the lame beggar in front of the temple and were arrested for it. They were dragged before the Council and asked to explain themselves... which they did by sharing the gospel as witnesses in the true sense. This is Peter and John we are talking about, if anybody personally knew Jesus Christ it was those two.

"Now when they (the rulers and elders and scribes) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition." (Acts 4:13-14)

Peter and John did something that was completely out of character: not only did they heal a man, they then stood in front of the Pharisees (the smart guys) and boldly held their own despite their lack of education and training. It had the Council members speechless. Why? Because for all intents and purposes, this should not be. Illiterate fishermen are not supposed to deliver eloquent speeches.

Peter and John were clearly identified as followers of Jesus both because they had physically been with Him and because they were now testifying for Him. They made none of this about themselves.

And finally they had their proof standing right next to them. The healed beggar was right there for all to see. No wonder there was nothing to say in opposition, who could argue with the facts?

If I want my life to be a witness of my faith, this is my blueprint:

1. do something that I could or would never do out of my own steam
2. give Christ all the credit for doing it
3. have my "proof' ready for all to see

I have heard people with speech impediments deliver the most amazing sermons. I have seen my boys as small children serve the poor in Ecuador without speaking a word of Spanish. I have seen rich men humble themselves to scrub floors and I have seen poor men stand up courageously to remind the church of its call to love. I am a witness to all of that. My prayer is that you are a witness of my faith. Do you look at me and see Christ in action? Are you amazed and ask yourself "how does she do that day after day?" Is the proof of my faith standing right next to me, so to speak? If not, I am failing miserably. No blogpost, no sermon, no Bible study can take the place of faith in action. They are just words, and words without living proof will not convince anyone, nor should they.

The closest I come to giving others a chance to witness my faith is hospice. If it was up to me, I would have quit years ago. I give Christ all the credit and there is no question in anybody's mind why I keep showing up. And nobody can argue with the value of the work that I do, death affects all of us and it scares most of us. Even so, this is just the beginning.

My walk with Christ has to be uphill. It has to push and challenge me, it has to make me grow and it has to change the world around me more so today than it did yesterday. There is more to come, I can feel it. Peter did not stop with the healing of one man. In fact, Peter did not stop until the day he died and by then he had truly changed the world for Christ. Don't let it be said that I set my goals too low.




Saturday, April 29, 2017

Double Standard

So you think praying "thy will be done" is hard? Try praying it for your child.

Only a few blogposts ago I announced with much fanfare that not even a cancer scare can keep me from praying God's will. A few weeks later I am praying for my son's health and my prayer goes something like this: "Lord, about Your will... wouldn't healing him be an awesome will for You to have? Just heal him! This one time, can my will be the one we're going with? Please, Lord, just make him well!"

Before you shake your head in disappointment, I don't think this prayer is altogether wrong. God's will is done with or without my permission. Whether or not I give Him my consent at the end of each prayer, God is in charge. But He is also compassionate and He wants to hear my honest, heartfelt, desperate prayers - even if they don't end with "thy will be done". He loves the ones that end with "please, oh please, Lord hear me!" just as much.

At the end of the day, it is all words anyway. God goes so much deeper than that. He knows my heart, my deepest thoughts and fears, guilt and regret, my worries and my hopes. And He knows if I am sincerely trusting Him or merely offering lip service.

And so I pray my prayer for complete healing unashamedly and confidently. Because it is my heart's desire, I can't think of anything I want more.

"But what if your son won't get well?" you ask. "What will that do to your faith and trust in God's compassion?"

What will it do? It won't crush it, if that is what you mean. I will not turn away from God with a pout because I didn't get my wish. I will continue trusting Him and pray for the next thing: "Lord, let his medication protect him and not harm his body." The depth of my faith does not depend on the number of answered prayers. Which is why I don't care much for devotionals that talk about a miracle in answer to a prayer... you know, the ones where the rain stops five minutes before the bride walks down the aisle or the tumor disappears to the utter amazement of the doctors. We wipe away a tear, we applaud with enthusiasm and we praise our awesome God. It is uplifting and beautiful. And it truly is, I am not dismissing the existence and beauty of God's miracles - but to me, true and enviable faith comes from trusting God when the storms just will not cease. No breaking of the clouds,  incessant rain instead, one downpour after the other, and still unshaken faith. That is the kind of faith I want. Who knows, it may be the kind of faith I'll need. And with that in mind, I pray big and take it from there, not for one second doubting God's perfect will for me and the ones I love. And not for one second fearing that my faith will be shaken if His will does not coincide with my prayer. This is the faith that glorifies God and this is the faith the world marvels at.

Here is the thing, as a side note: you may trust God's will with everything you got, you may see it in everything you touch, but please don't ever offer it as comfort to others. Having been told years ago that my boy's health battle was the will of God very nearly cost me my faith. It hurt and it did nothing to help. It is not for others to declare God's will for me and my family, it is for me to figure out - with His help. So next time you are holding a friend in pain, instead of declaring God's will, just be His love -  you can't go wrong with that.

Back to my prayer. Paul tells me to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18).

God's will is for me to pray. And pray I will, without ceasing, for my son's complete healing... and I will find something to give thanks for, come what may. It is how my husband taught me to pray that day our son came home from the hospital: "Thank You Lord for everything that could have happened but didn't". Amen to that.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

En Masse

I have this thing about crowds. I can't stand them. Any crowd, any size, for any reason makes me uncomfortable. Large, uniform crowds scare me to death. I am not talking about a phobia of being in a crowd. I am talking about the frightening reality of what people in crowds have been lead to think and do over the centuries. You may argue that there are bad crowds and there are good crowds. The blind masses following Hitler on one side, the peaceful masses bringing down the Berlin wall on the other. Bad or good all depends on where you stand of course - and just to be save, I stand as far away from crowds as I can get, even if I believe in their cause.

Needless to say, when friends asked me to join them at a concert of contemporary Christian artists I very politely declined. I like contemporary Christian music, at least some of it. I believe that singing God's praises with thousands of other believers can be up-lifting. I don't doubt that the Holy Spirit can move souls during a Michael W. Smith concert. But the Holy Spirit will have to find my soul somewhere else... somewhere quiet and private.

Jesus was surrounded by crowds from the very beginning of His ministry. He tried to avoid that. He instructed those He healed not to tell, but obviously that wasn't going to work. So He had to push through curious crowds, cheering crowds, desperate crowds, threatening crowds and hateful crowds, all the way to the cross. Yet despite all the people and the noise, He interacted one-on-one with those who came to Him for mercy. Even the ones trying to just touch His garment for healing He turned around for. There is no "en masse" treatment with Christ.

He interacted with whoever was committed to get to Him, whatever it took, crowd or no crowd.  They had the faith, they had the desire, they had the courage and they had the determination - and so they sought Him. And they expected great things from Him.

That, in a nutshell, is the definition of great faith. Great faith is to seek God, to expect great things from God and to do great things for God.

Back to the crowds: it is easy and tempting to hide in the crowd when you stand before Christ. Like at school when you sit head down, eyes averted, hoping the teacher won't pick you to solve the next problem in the front of the class. You can go through years of church service that way, singing the songs, praying the prayers - but unless your heart reaches out to Jesus and begs Him to look at you, to see you, to love you and to save you, you are missing the entire point. You are doing religion, you are not doing faith. Religion works en masse, faith only works between you and Christ.

With Christ, there is no strength in numbers. You are enough.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Another Step Closer to "Your Will Be Done"

I come from a long line of pragmatists. "Was sei muß, muß sei" is our family motto - which roughly translates to "what cannot be cured must be endured." Or, more to the point: "just get it over with!"

"Was sei muß, muß sei!" Schwäbisch for "Your will be done."

My soul longs for that kind of faith, my brain tells me that another little biopsy won't be so bad... but my heart is beating out of my chest, my hands a sweaty and my mouth is dry.

"Your will be done." How can something that is so obviously right be so difficult to do?  Fear and worry are powerful roadblocks to submissive prayer. On the other hand, fear and worry are exactly what could get me there. Look what I found in Romans 8:26-29, verses in red.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. 

There is no shame in questioning, asking, rebelling even – I am weak, I am human, I get scared… God knows that and He gives me the Holy Spirit to counter my human side when it gets in the way of communicating with Him. If I tie myself in knots, He untangles the mess to keep the prayer line open.

For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

… "as we ought" means that there is a right way to pray and there are right things to pray for; there is a way I ought to pray. And at times I just won't know what that prayer should be. Pray for healing, pray for a miracle, pray for God’s will? If I run out of words or thoughts, the Holy Spirit prays on my behalf without words, heart to heart. It is still all about the open prayer line.

And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

God knows my heart, no matter what prayers come out of my mouth, and if my heart is not aligned with the will of God, the Holy Spirit will correct course. I may kick and scream, I may threaten, offer deals, make promises or beg… at the end of the day, my prayer will align with the will of God. That is the result of an open prayer line.

The most beautiful example of this is Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane: "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14: 36)
Here is the Son of God calling on his Father, buttering Him up, pleading and begging to be spared the hard road ahead, only to submit to His will in the very next sentence.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 

"For good" and "according to His purpose"  must never ever be separated! Good according to God is not necessarily good according to me. Healing sounds good to me, heartache and trial may sound good to God. But if I love God, I accept that His will is perfect, better than my own. This is what trust and submission look like.






Friday, March 3, 2017

Your Will Be Done

The storm is howling, waves are raging, water is beating down on the disciples - and Jesus is asleep. They must have been scared out of their wits - and they must have been frustrated. Here they are, fighting for their lives - and there is Christ, their Savior, asleep.

Three gospels record this story, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

In Matthew 8:25 the disciples wake up Christ by saying: "Save us, Lord; we are perishing."

In Mark 4:38 they say, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"

And in Luke 8:24 they say, "Master, Master, we are perishing!"

Three different ways to get His attention:

a plea for help, "Save us, Lord";
a dramatic accusation, "do You not care?";
a simple statement of fact, "Master, we are perishing".

Three different ways to pray, but one and the same response from Christ: "Where is your faith?" He asks. And then He calms the storm.

I am looking at this and I wonder about my prayers. How do I try to get God's attention? A cry for help, drama, accusation or simple statement of fact? "Save me, Lord, things aren't well!" or "Lord, do You not care that things aren't well?" or simply "Jesus, things aren't well!"

How should I pray so that He will not look at me and say, "Where is your faith?"

"Pray then like this: ... Your will be done... " (Matthew 6: 9).

Years ago, ending my prayers with "Your will be done" seemed like hedging my bets. Some may even call it cowardly. After all, that little statement, afterthought if I am honest, guarantees 100% of answered prayers. So why not throw it in for good measure?

Today I don't think it is cowardly at all. In fact, it is hard and frightening. It is a prayer that is putting God where I ought to put Him: in control. And it is demanding my strong, mature, reverent and utterly trusting faith. The kind of faith that let's me say, "Come what may Lord, Your will is perfect and I will be ok."

Things are not well, Lord. Give me the faith to say, "Your will be done!"
Amen.















... even asleep in the boat, Jesus isn't snoozing on the job! You can trust Him, o you of little faith!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Focus!

I  wrote this blogpost weeks ago but didn't want to post it in the heat of the moment. After the most incredibly relaxing vacation away from home, I am now ready. Nobody can accuse me now of being an angry rabble-rouser, I am calmness personified and I want to say what I need to say without drama or self-righteous indignation. But say it I must, there comes a time when silence is no longer an option. All of this has been said before and it has been said better, but one more voice can't hurt, can it?

The relationship between church and state is complicated. It shouldn't be. And it wouldn't be if we kept our eyes on the Truth, capital T. Man has tried to chip away and reduce the 'T' to a 't' since the beginning of time... pardon the dig, but now it appears we have abandoned even the lower-case t'', 'alternative facts' is the catch-phrase of today.

A bit of history: one of Hitler's first moves in the early 1930s was to tie the church in Germany to his ideology. I wonder if even he was surprised how easy that proved to be. The Deutsche Kirche, "German Church" formed almost immediately and the distortion of Christian faith and the gospel message began. Opposition didn't take long to form either and the Bekennende Kirche (Professing Church) started to proclaim Biblical, non-political truth. They didn't succeed. They failed not only because they went against an evil and increasingly ruthless regime, they also failed because the majority of Christians around them had sold out their faith by then. And so when Hitler's henchmen started to burn books, houses and eventually six million Jews, the German churches stood by and did nothing - and that is the best-case scenario. Some claim that the church played an active and horrifically brutal part in Nazi Germany. And that is the danger of distorted, politically motivated and fear-based faith.

Fast forward to the US in 2017 - a bit of a stretch, I admit. But if America has not gone off the deep end, it is not because we are defending Biblical truth with greater ferocity, it is because the political environment isn't pushing us to completely sell out... yet. But by building walls and by showing no compassion to those in need within and outside of our borders, we are blatantly disobeying our Christian calling to be the light in a world gone dark. We are selling out the gospel for political crusades, fear mongering and selfish greed.

Opposition has formed, again. Christians are fighting to get the gospel back. They are rebelling against the corruption of their title "evangelical" and they are calling out church leaders and political leaders who are distorting Biblical truth for their own agenda. The question is, will the Christians around them follow?

Enough with history and politics. The Bible sums this all up in Christ's words, read them carefully:


Matthew 7:22-23

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’


Matthew 25:35-40

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’


There really isn't anything left to say, is there? The louder we scream, the loftier our goal, the more abstract our mission, the less likely Christ is to recognize us. Be careful not to focus on the demons, be cautious of falling for mighty works. Our business is feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, taking care of the sick, welcoming the stranger. "As you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me".

The church in Germany has taken decades to recover from its lapse in judgement and distortion of faith during the Nazi era. Truth with a capital 'T' is hard to reclaim once you have damaged it. People simply won't believe a word you say about "love your neighbor" after they have seen you attack and beat up that very same neighbor the day before.

"God is Love" and "America First" are mutually exclusive and if we shout them both, we will not only lose countless souls who are watching, we will also lose Christ's approval. I can't think of higher stakes.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

All Authority

Jesus is in Capernaum, the house and the yard are packed with people and four men with their paralyzed friend on a stretcher are desperate to get him closer to Christ. So they climb on the roof, dig a hole and lower the stretcher down for their friend to be healed. Countless devotions have been written about this parable (found in Mark 2:1-12), from the power of faith to the power of friendship to the power of determination and perseverance. Don't give up, have compassion, keep searching for Christ, have faith, trust in Him... all lessons to be learned here.

But they only scratch the surface. As so often in His parables, Jesus delivers the strongest punch in His last line: "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" - He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." (Mark 2:10-11)

Get this: to Jesus, healing is a means to an end. He heals so that we may recognize His full authority and might: Jesus forgives sin because He can. And He can because He is the Son of God. Accept that and life cannot ever be the same again.

Jesus is not a do-gooder who heals to be known as a nice guy. He heals the body to show that He has the power to heal the soul, the gift of forgiveness. And I am not called to be a do-gooder who volunteers to be known as a nice gal. I obey and do good as the single most natural response to that gift. Forgiveness and compassion go hand in hand for Christ and they should for me as well.

This is such a crucial point, so immensely important and life-changing - but it is one that is much too easily brushed aside in our quest to life the Christian life. Have you ever asked yourself why Christ is forgiving your sin, day after day? Why is everything, literally every last thing He did on earth, all the way to His death on the cross, directly linked to the forgiveness of sin?

"Because He loves us," you are bound to say. And that is true, of course. God so loved the world that He gave His only son (John 3:16). They nailed Him to a cross because of this love. Don't you think that love like this deserves, no, demands a response from us?

I am 51 years old. My parents are in their eighty's - both well and going strong, but they are getting old and I look at them with a new tenderness and love. I owe them my life. Everything I am, I am because of their love, commitment, sacrifice, generosity and support. And they did it all because they love me. I could stop there; they love me so they did what they did - end of story. Truth be told, for years I did stop there. My gratitude and my desire to honor their love was anything but apparent - and for that I am wholeheartedly ashamed.

Just like I am wholeheartedly ashamed for all the years I was complacent about Christ's love. He, too, does what He does because He loves me - but I must not stop there! How can any of us accept His gift of forgiveness as matter of fact, as something that we deserve or is owed us? "None of us deserve it," you'll be quick to say next. And again, that is true. But good Lord, shouldn't we bend over backwards and try to be worthy of at least the tiniest bit of it? How else can we show our gratitude and devotion in return?

And so I come back to my original question: why does Christ forgive your sin? What is that supposed to do for you and to you? And what are you supposed to do because of it?

Seeing Christ for who He really is, recognizing His authority over you will change your life. It is meant to. Don't be satisfied with the loving, healing, blessing version of Christ. Comprehend what lies underneath, understand His objective and your only response can be submission and obedience. Nothing else will do once you have met the Son of God.