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 SpƤtzle 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!











Thursday, December 15, 2016

Oh Tannenbaum

My men love a big Christmas tree. The bigger, the better - even if it takes them hours to put the lights on. I, on the other hand, want a small tree. A humble, tiny tree, preferably with roots to plant it in the  yard in the new year. Negotiations broke down about 10 years ago and now we have both: a majestic, beautiful 12-foot tree in the family room and a humble, also beautiful 2 foot tree in my office. Decorating the big tree is a family affair, the little tree is all mine. I cherish the hours decorating it, glass of champagne in hand, strolling down memory lane with German carols and ornaments from home. And then I get homesick... but that is another story.

Today's story is about the big tree. For the past 22 years, we have had near-perfect Christmas trees. Twelve feet of natural perfection; impeccably shaped, dense, fresh and fragrant.

This year... not so much. This year we ended up with a 12-foot version of a Charlie Brown tree. Misshapen, gaping holes, branches sticking out in the strangest places, crocked, it doesn't even have a top to put the star on. Slightly concerned we set it up, added water, went to bed and hoped that it would open up over night to awe us with its beauty in the morning. No such luck. As if to dare us, the hole got bitter, the branches stuck out further, it even tilted to left. "Go ahead," it sneered, "miss the entire meaning of Christmas and burn me. Exchange me for a perfect, man-trimmed, forced-into-shape tree. After all, perfection is what Christmas is all about, isn't it?"

2016 was a not-so-perfect year for many of us. For many in the world, it was the most horrific year ever. So why not end a crooked, imperfect year with a crocked, imperfect tree?

We trimmed a few branches on top just to make room for the star. We didn't touch the branches sticking out nor did we try to fix the hole. And we have learned to love our distorted tree. The lights still sparkle, the decorations still bring back memories, and it is still the symbol of our faith that promises hope and joy and love. It reminds us that especially in less-than-perfect years, this hope, joy and love have to be shared with a desperate world.

I am merrily busy celebrating an extra-meaningful Christmas this year. Christ was born some 2,000 years ago to make a year like 2016 bearable. "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world," He says in John 16:33.

Christmas is about redemption. It is about forgiveness of sin and closeness to God. But to me, this year it is about "take heart, I have overcome the world." I may be skipping 16 chapters in the gospel of John, but my crippled, misshapen tree stands for the promise that imperfection will not last. We are told to put our love around an imperfect world, make it better, learn to love the ugly parts and decorate it with the love of Christ.

And our wayward, stubborn and flawed tree this year may be our best one yet.

Wishing you a merry, blessed and hopeful Christmas. May God fill you with His peace, and may He give you the courage to be His love in 2017. The world around you needs it so!













Friday, November 25, 2016

Asking for Blessing

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent... . Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. As I called, and they would not hear, so they called and I would not hear', says the Lord of hosts..." (Zechariah 7:9-13).

You know you are in trouble when you read an Old Testament reprimand from God and every last word stings - because every last word applies to you.

I can almost hear God add one more thing to this long list of grievances: "... and then they had the gall to ask me to bless their nation!"

When you ask God to bless you, make sure you are bless-worthy, so to speak. Make sure God likes what He sees when He looks at your heart. As a church and as a nation, we must ask that same question. Are we worthy of God's blessing? Does God look at us and say, "Bless you??? You must be kidding!!!" or does He say, "Well done, my good and faithful servants!"

I am going to stop with the "God bless America" for a while and make sure that we - and I - are right with God. At the moment it's not looking so good. "True judgements, kindness and mercy, no evil against another"... oh boy. On the other hand, "diamond-hard hearts, refusal to hear, ignoring the Word of God"... now that sounds more like us, doesn't it?

"As I called, and they would not hear, so they called and I would not hear, says the Lord of hosts."

God will not hear our call for blessing if we will not hear His call to live the gospel. It is time to quiet the noise and peel back the layers we have piled on top of the message of Christ. Whatever happened to "love God above all else and love your neighbor like yourself"? That is not a political platform, it is a statement of faith and a way of life. It is a source of reason the world around us so very desperately needs. We can't expect God to dig through the rubble of watered-down Christian truth to look for a nation worth blessing. Just like we can't expect to find God's peace and joy in the rubble of watered-down Christian truth we have allowed to corrupt our faith.

We have thrown faith, patriotism and political goals into one big pot and stirred it so hard that we ended up with an indistinguishable blob - and not a fragrant one, if you ask me.

So I am taking a step back. I want God's blessing more than anything else. I want it for myself, my family, my church, my country and the entire world. But one step at a time! It starts with my heart - and yours - and from there we set out to reach the remaining seven billion hearts with the untainted, loving, forgiving, caring and non-condemning message of Christ.

Now more than ever the world needs us Christians to do our job - and nothing else. We need to be the voices of love in a world that is screaming hatred and vile. We need to be the hands of mercy in a world that cares for 'self' above all else. And we need to step back from politics in a world were everybody is scrambling for a seat at the table.

May God bless our efforts to be His love, and may He encourage us when we fail. Let's start there and see where it takes us. Actually, Zachariah tells us exactly where it will take us: "Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts... saying "let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." (Zachariah 7:22-23).

That is the goal. Christ's uncompromising call for love is how we reach it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Life and Death

"Death is part of life," they say. How very true. And how very unimaginative and void of meaning.

If you want to add meaning to this thought, you have to reverse it: "Life is part of death." Do I have your attention now?

If death of natural causes is my destiny, then how I have lived will affect how I die. Not in terms of  the physical course of events but in terms of the emotional process it will be. A lifetime's worth of experiences, good and bad, will influence my final days. Because in the end, everything else will cease to matter. People will no longer be recognized, voices will no longer be heard. Food will no longer be of importance, personal appearance will matter no more.

My life's story here on earth with all its dreams, hopes, plans, successes, disappointments and hurts will be part of the equation, whether I view death as the end or as the beginning of eternity. It is a transition either way.

God knows this, of course, and that is yet another reason why He is teaching me the importance of forgiveness now. A lifetime of forgiveness brings the peace that will reign as death draws near. Think about that for a moment. If a lifetime worth of experiences - good and bad - will influence my final days, then forgiveness will ensure that the good outweigh the bad. That is peace.

We all lug baggage around. Apologies neglected to be made. Wounds not allowed to heal. Forgiveness not asked for or not granted. But there will come a time when it is too late, when all that will be left are regret and sorrow. And it will show. I have seen people die with a smile on their face, peacefully and gratefully. And I have seen people fight to their last breath, clinging to life for that last chance to fix what has been broken years ago. Waiting for the estranged child to show up and be held. Waiting for the abusive spouse to finally break down in grief and remorse. Waiting to forgive or be forgiven.

Don't wait too long. Live your life today in a way that lets you hope to die in peace tomorrow. No loose ends, nothing left unsaid. "... as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Paul said that. (Colossians 3:13) If I let that simple command govern my life, it will impact every single day, up to the very last one.

This is easily my heaviest blogpost yet. It is the result of a hard, hard week at hospice. And I will be the first to admit that I am way out of my depth here. But even if my underlying theory is wrong, the conclusion is still right: "... as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." There is peace in forgiveness.