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.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

It Takes a Village

It takes a village to raise a child, the saying goes.

It also takes a village to care for the elderly.

I grew up in a village. I grew up in a culture and at a time when people aged at home, still part of a family and with a role to play. My grandmother cooked for us until I graduated from high school, we ate lunch at her house Monday through Friday, she ate breakfast at our house on Saturdays and Sundays. When she became too frail to spoil us with handmade Spätzle and a pork roast that remains unequalled to this day, my family started to spoil her. I was already in the US by then, but they - three generations worth - took turns taking care of my Oma and for that I will be forever grateful.

Times have changed. Families are scattered all over the place. Life is busy for us and for our children, and more often than not the elderly in our lives grow old alone. That is why it takes a village. That is why somebody in Washington State is thankful that I visit her mother in Washington, D.C. That is why I am thankful that my brother and his family are there for my parents in Germany when I can't be. Of course we visit. Of course we spend Christmas or Thanksgiving together. Of course we call every so often and send a birthday card every year. But it takes so much more than that! It takes a continuous, physical, loving, patient and hands-on presence, day after day if necessary. It takes more than one person, it takes time and commitment and yes, it takes courage. Where do you find all that? You got it - in a village! Our focus has shifted so much toward the young and able, the ones who can and are expected to achieve great things. We focus on our careers and the eduction of our children. We strive for the next big dream, the next promotion, the next degree, the next milestone and we seem to have lost sight of those who have already achieved all that and now simply can strive no more.

We are appalled at the way previous generations treated the mentally ill, for example. It is time for us to take a hard look at how we treat our old and frail. Barbaric is the word we use to describe insane asylums of the last century. Have you visited a nursing home lately? The system today is not working and in a few decades it will crumble completely if nothing changes. More and more elderly patients, less and less qualified and caring help, who do we think will pick up the slack?

Of all the pain, fear and anger I encounter at hospice, the loneliness and isolation upsets me the most - because it could so easily be avoided. All it takes is a village. If your parents live a thousand miles away, there is somebody a thousand miles away whose parents live down the street from you. I guarantee it. Given that we are all in the same boat, wouldn't it make sense to invest in a solution now? If we started that village of people who care and help today, that same village would be going strong by the time we need it. Let that motivate you if nothing else will.

Hospice care is my marching order from God. But even without God's push, we have to step up to the plate for the sake of our parents, ourselves and our children. Personally, I recommend walking into it with God by your side, it is hard and gut-wrenching work. I couldn't do it without Him.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Peace

There are a lot of pieces to peace and the Bible strings them together like pearls, one more beautiful that the one before:

"A peacemaker is someone who experiences the peace of God (Philippians 4:7) because he is at peace (Romans 5:1) with the God of peace (Philippians 4:9) through the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), who, indeed, is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and who therefore seeks to live at peace with all others (Romans 12:18) and proclaims the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) so that others might have joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)". (Compiled by Dustin S., found on desiringGod.org)

There seem to be two components to this peace: one is the peace I get from faith and the other is the peace I strive for with my neighbor. Peace is a bridge, a bridge from me to God and a bridge from me to you. Looking at it that way, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would include the peacemaker in His Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

Christmas has come and gone, 2017 has started - and being a peacemaker is my new year's resolution. It is also an act of obedience... two birds with one stone, how very efficient of me. I know that this won't be easy. Everything worth having in life requires hard work and sacrifice, blessings included.

Being a peacemaker is personal. It is the time-consuming, tedious, repetitious work of a bridge-builder. It is also risky and potentially hurtful and often thankless, regardless of whether I am one of the feuding parties or a bystander trying to step in. A few months ago I slipped and landed smack between two fighting dogs. Coming eye to eye with the flashing teeth of two snarling, growling, attacking dogs is the perfect image of what my new year's resolution may get me into. At the end of the day, we all love a good fight and nothing is more upsetting than a seemingly self-righteous do-gooder who won't take your side and tries to make peace instead.

Being a peacemaker is also against human nature for that very same reason: we all love a good fight. I am far more likely to be the one who is upset, outraged, insulted and mistreated. Rising above to make peace requires just that: to rise above, to look toward God, to seek His peace first.

I am not naive, I am also not likely to win the Miss Universe pageant. But if I was, I don't think I would make "world peace" part of my acceptance speech. All that does is make the goal so lofty and impossible to reach that it becomes a utopian dream rather than a call to action. I am not talking about  world peace here. I am taking about a bridge; a bride from me to you or from you to somebody else. Like the old-fashioned marble game where the ball rolls down one track, falls onto the track below in a different direction, rings a bell or spins a wheel on its way down, and on it goes... countless bridges with some excitement along the way.

James says, "And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:19) Righteousness can only come from Christ and it can only be shared in peace if I make peace - and those are my marching orders for 2017: stay close to God through Christ, feel His peace through faith and trust, and then share it with you. Just like the marble, peace starts at the top and trickles down. My resolution is to clear the tracks and keep the marbles rolling - and I will be plenty busy just clearing up my own tracks. So if you and I are having a tiff, if our bridge needs mending, expect a phone call. It is the beginning of January and new year's resolutions are still going strong. I will show up, brick and mortar in hand, to be the peacemaker God wants me to be... one bridge at a time.

Happy New Year!