Friday, March 9, 2018

Peace of the Soul

We call it 'peace of mind' in English. In German we call it 'Seelenfrieden' - peace of the soul.

Oddly enough, for me this peace of the soul comes from a restless heart. The minute I stand still, the peace of my soul dissipates. You would think it was the opposite, but not for me. My faith pushes me to action, that is just the way it is. But I  have learned over the past few months that love for Christ and action in faith need to be carefully balanced. Focus can get out of whack quickly even if the motivation is right.

There is a huge, fundamental, life and faith changing difference between living faith with Christ, and living faith for Christ or because of Christ (as discussed in the book With by Skye Jethani).

It is a question of my focus - on God, not self. It is a question of my motivation - on love, not obligation or fear. And, above all, it is a question of Christ's focus and motivation - on relationship, not religion.

When Christ tells me to go and sin no more, He isn't telling me to try harder. He is telling me to come closer. When He tells me to obey, He isn't telling me to work more. He is telling me to come closer.
And when He tells me to love and worship Him, He isn't telling me to pray longer or sing louder. He is telling me to come closer.

That's what Paul means when he tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Without ceasing only works if you are talking about a state of being. There is no activity under the sun that I can do without ceasing. But I can be without ceasing. I can be with Christ until the end of time. 

The same is true for the "peace of God that surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). This is not an event or a mental exercise. It, too, is a state of being.

To truly be with God does not need words or deeds. It is being, not doing, not feeling, not expressing, just being. All activity and reason come later - much, much later.

This is a huge turn-around for me, as you can imagine. It does not mean that I stop doing the work. But it does mean that I approach it differently. I need to go with Christ, not in His name, not for His glory, not in obedience. All of that will follow if and when I go with Him. If I go without Him, my action becomes self-centered halo-polishing not convincing anybody, least of all God.

One final thought: my excitement of a life with Christ is not meant to convey the image of an equal partnership. Christ is with me as my Lord, nothing less. The minute I lose sight of His sovereignty, I start pulling away and I head straight back into the self-centered halo-polishing. In other words, this takes work. Being with Christ means submitting to Him and that does not come naturally, but it can be learned. Better yet, it can be cherished.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Another Christmas Carol

Another Christmas Carol…

… not quite by Charles Dickens

Marley is dead. So is Scrooge. Even Tiny Tim, who lived to see his 71st year, has passed. It is, don’t you know, the year 2017. More than 150 winters have come and gone since Charles Dickens brought to life the three ghosts of Christmas and their lessons on charity and love.

We don’t believe in ghosts these days. Ours is the age of knowledge, intellect is what we believe in and the hero of this story is no exception. Meet Lukas W. Arm. His friends call him Luke. God calls him LukeWarm.

Let me make clear from the start that LukeWarm is a harder nut to crack than Scrooge ever was. Scrooge had a cold heart that shattered at the sight of a ghost and a glimpse of a miserable future. But LukeWarm is not touched by ghosts and such tomfoolery. His heart is the master of deception, immune to self-doubt and afraid of nothing in its warped sense of truth.

You see, LukeWarm appears to be a good man, a righteous and religious man. At Christmas, he gladly buys a coat to keep a poor child warm. He puts coins in the bucket of the Salvation Army with a smile. He thanks God for his good and well-deserved fortune. He sings carols, he invites the neighbors, he reads the Christmas story of the Bible to his wife and children. Yes, Lukas W. Arm seems to keep Christmas well.

No point in sending him a ghost.

Instead, God sends him a child. Christmas after Christmas, God sends him a child. An infant, helpless and sweet, humble and real, tugging at Lukewarm’s heartstrings.

Oh, won’t you listen, LukeWarm? Won’t you hear the voice of God begging you to love Him? Nothing more. Just love Him. Don’t go through the motions of Christmas this year. Look at the child, lock eyes and hearts with Him, see the gaping hole in your soul and listen to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. All is not well with you. Look beyond your lukewarm heart and see its icy-cold core. And then, just like Scrooge, let it melt: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year!”

It starts with a child. God’s child. God’s love. He asks for nothing else in return and everything else will fall into place because of it. Faith, worship, awe, obedience, strength, peace, joy – they all follow love. None come before.

It is through His child that God blesses us, everyone. Can’t you feel it, Lukas W. Arm?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones can break my bones but words cannot hurt me", so the old English children's rhyme says.

That, I am afraid, is a bit of wishful thinking that in our age of bullying and cyber-bullying. It is also not biblical. James says our tongue is like a spark that can set ablaze anything in its path, a spark "set on fire by hell." (James 3:6)

We have all been there. We have all hurt somebody with a careless word and we have all been hurt by  somebody else's careless words. And since this blogpost is not going to be about taming the tongue and reflecting Christ with what I say (God knows I have written enough about that), I am tempted to say, "big deal" - if it wasn't for the fact that in God's world it is not just important what happens but also when it happens. Timing plays a crucial role in how God reaches and teaches me.

I am on a quest to see God's marching orders for me. If you read my posts chronologically you will see that I have written on not much else lately. What does God want from me? Passionate speeches to protect His church or passionate hands to do His work? So now you know why two careless words spoken by a Christian friend a few days ago have a bigger impact than just getting me upset for an hour or two. It just may be God's not so subtle push for me to finally hold my tongue and get back to work. "See what words can do? I know you, your passion combined with your tongue can be a toxic brew if you are not careful. And you are not always careful! Use your passion to love, I have made smarter people to use their passion to talk!" This is what I hear Him say when I am still enough to listen.

Time to obey. I will double my patient-load at hospice and I will bow out of the countless Bible studies I am currently using to run my mouth. And I may stop posting for a while. If you are patient and loyal enough to wait, I will report back to you, I promise. But I have to give this a try or else my entire blog will be nothing but meaningless words leading nowhere. Or, to quote another English saying: "The proof is in the pudding!"

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Spiritual Love and Passion

Mine is a passionate soul. I have already said that and it does sound great, doesn't it, but if I am not careful it will simply mean that I am an opinionated bully. I won't ever allow lukewarm faith to cool down my passion, but I have to find the love that Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians to go with it. Without love, "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal". Without love, I am nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1)

As it is, I am too intense for most people. And I talk too much. My views are too uncompromising, my interpretations too action-focused. And worst of all, I appear to be self-righteous and arrogant because in my mind I know that I am right.

Here is the problem: I am right. I am right about Christ's unbending command to love God and to love others above all else. I am right about avoiding sin and fighting against it with everything I've got, not ever taking it lightly. I am right about real faith leading to a "new me," and if it hasn't, faith wasn't real to begin with. I am right about  repentance based on a brutally honest look at myself - daily. I am right about Christ's crystal-clear command to share my faith and do His work. And I am right about always keeping in mind who it is that I am serving: the awesome, just and holy Almighty, God of all.

But just because I am right does not mean I have to keep on talking about it, does it? Especially since Christians are incredibly hard to convince of anything other than what their study and interpretation has lead them to believe. And all of us cherish our faith in Christ for the love, peace and comfort He promises. Who wants to constantly be pushed and challenged on the not so cozy parts of our faith? Who wants to have half-truths exposed when they provide such a comfortable cover to hide behind?

Actually, I do. We all should. Having half-truths exposed, being challenged and motivated to better live my faith and being pushed to learn and understand more and more of God's word is what we should all want - and it is what we should all offer to each other. With love.

Keep your eyes on Paul's writing about love in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul says that no matter how brilliant I think I am, no matter how many answers I think I have found, I am still only halfway there, if that. Knowledge of God can only be partial for now simply because He is God and I am not. Everything I have ever proclaimed, written, lectured on, or debated will fade away. The only thing that will remain of my brilliant thoughts is the love with which I shared them. Faith, hope and love abide. Those three come closest for me to see God clearly. And of those three, love is the most important - because love is the only state of being that lets me take my focus off myself and shift it to somebody or something else. When it comes to faith, love and this shift in focus are the starting point of true worship.

Passion for Christ is good only if it is wrapped tightly in love for Christ. Unless my love for Christ covers everything I do and say, I am better off not doing or saying anything. And since me not saying anything is about as likely as a snowball fight in the Gobi Desert, I'd better make sure that love is what drives me.

And if it doesn't, please push and challenge me!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Book of Acts - Then and Now

I was asked to give a short talk, three long minutes to tell you the truth, on the Book of Acts. And boy, did I give a talk.

I am posting my transcript knowing fully well that half of Germany and half of the US will not agree with me. That is a lot of people to upset! But then believers have been praying for courage to be God’s voice against all opposition from Day One. Who am I to break that chain?

Here goes:

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalm 51:12)

That has been my prayer, my cry, for quite some time.

I was born in Germany. I was raised and educated in Germany and I share Germany’s guilt of the holocaust. 

We took a group of people, dehumanized them, slapped a label on them, blamed them for all our trouble and then we killed 6 million of them. And when I say WE, I mean WE, not a handful of Nazis, but the German people and worse – the German church both Catholic and Protestant. And that is the chapter of Acts that was written some 60 years ago in Germany: it is the story of the church selling out to the devil.

Here we are, 2017 in the United States of America, writing another chapter in the book of Acts… and I am so afraid that we are still not getting this right. We are still not the church Christ wants us to be.

Can we truly say that we are His love, His compassion, His generosity, His mercy? Is “There not a needy person among us” – as it says in Acts 4? 

I am disillusioned and scared. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history again. But I don’t know what to do about it. What does God want me to do with my “willing spirit”?

The way I see it, this can only go one of two ways:

I can either quit my church, all organized religion and go back to the source, just Christ and I washing feet, focusing on His love. Or I can find my voice and start defending His church against the enemies within and without. Neither option is appealing to me. I would much rather cuddle under our cozy Bible study blanket and pretend that all is well in Christ’s church. But it isn’t, is it? And I am not talking politics here! I am talking about my heart and my worry that as a church we are straying too far from the gospel. We are watering down and twisting around Christ’s commands to the point where He, I am sure, has a hard time recognizing His bride.

Here is where this gets really scary: Just now I said that it can only go one of two ways. The same is true in heaven. It can either go “well done, my good and faithful servant” – or it can go “get away from me, I never knew you!” 

Christ had questions for the German Christians. As a white, evangelical, privileged Christian in the US today, Christ will have questions for me, too.  I don’t want to then stand there without an answer, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history again! And clearly, the answers I have today are not good enough or else I would not be so unsettled. 

The Book of Acts is the story of Christ’s church. I am part of Acts. We all are. I find that an overwhelming burden these days. And thus my prayer: restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Amen.

Are you still with me or have you signed off right after I shouldered the sins of the Holocaust? Here is the good news: the church that failed so miserably during the Nazi regime, that same church has been working tirelessly for more than two years to welcome, help, integrate and love 1.8 million refugees. 1.8 million desperate people flooding a small and densely populated country. Contrast that with 45,000 refugees allowed to resettle in the US next year.

In other words: there is redemption. Individually and as a church, we will make mistakes, horrific ones at times. In either case, redemption will follow repentance. There is no hole too deep for God to get us out of, if we only admit our sin and ask for forgiveness. Germany has done that. But this post is not about Germany. It is about my church, our church, in the US - today. Maybe this should be my prayer for us all: “Forgive Your church, Lord. Forgive those who lead your flock astray, forgive those who blindly follow, and forgive those who allow it to happen!”

Remorse comes before repentance and repentance comes before redemption. We have a long road ahead of us.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Meeting an Old Friend - Peace and Passion Continued

"Reaching for the old pitchfork again, I see." Jesus says.

"Before we set out on that road, let's go over the rules again:

1. I am love.
2. You are to love.
3. If you don't love, you don't know me and you are on your own."

(Based on 1 John 4:8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.)

Scary how well He knows me. And reviewing the rules can't ever hurt. In my case, it means dusting off an old favorite and writing it on my heart again:

"She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy." (Proverbs 31: 20)

"Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." (Proverbs 31:25-26)

That is how I want to be part of God's workforce: generous with both my money and my time, offering love, compassion and tangible help to those who need it. Strong and dignified, full of joy that comes from trust in God and hope for the future, wise and kind in what I say and how I say it.

Reading these verses is like hugging an old friend. They bring comfort and excitement at the same time. I didn't exactly forget them, I knew where to find them if I needed to, and even though I have moved on to other verses, it surely is wonderful to see them again.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am all over the place in my faith. From Mother Theresa to Martin Luther, from all love to all rebellion. You are right... but that does not make me wrong. As long as I am willing to dig and ask the tough questions and as long I am willing to listen and hear God's tough answers, I don't see anything wrong with an erratic walk of faith. It is the standing still I have to watch out for.

At the end of the day, all I can do is react. I am not in control. I am not all-knowing. But I do have my faith and my general marching orders - and now, thanks to Proverbs 31, I have rediscovered my how-to manual. God knows where it will take me!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Peace and Passion

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (Galatians 5:22-23)

I am looking at this list and I am thinking, "Peace... now that would be nice." I have visions of a blissful, carefree existence that will then allow me to be loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. How could I not be?

Of course this has absolutely nothing to do with the picture the Bible paints. Follow Christ and you may be persecuted, beaten, stoned or killed. At the very least, Christ guarantees that we will have trouble in this world. Where is the peace in that? But He goes on to say, "... Take heart for I have overcome the world... in Me you will have peace." (John 16:32-33)

How can trouble and peace be in the same statement? Only if Christ is in there, too.

The peace that comes from faith is the peace that comes from trusting Christ. And that is fundamentally different from the peace that comes from not giving a damn. Not caring what is happening around me, being oblivious to trouble or pretending that none of it has anything to do with me is not Christ's peace. It is the devil's way of making me ineffective.

In Christ's world, peace and passion are not mutually exclusive.

The ostrich is known for two things: it is the only bird that cannot fly and its defense mechanism is to  run in circles and stick its head in the sand. That does not make it one of God's more impressive creatures in my book. Christians who cannot (or will not) do what they are designed to do and who deal with trouble by hiding from it, aren't all that impressive either.

For years now I have felt that my job was to wash feet and serve others. I focused on my work at hospice and thought that I was stepping up for my faith in might ways. Trouble? What trouble? As long as I share my faith and do God's work, somebody else can deal with the world's trouble. How is that any different from the ostrich sticking its head in the sand - except that my halo won't fit? Am I on my way to becoming an unimpressive and ineffective Christian?

If you call my husband fat and lazy, if you tell me my children and stupid and ugly, would I just sit there and say nothing? Well... let me just tell you: my husband looks like George Clooney and works 70 hours a week; my sons are brilliant and handsome and awe-inspiring - and if you ever say anything like that again, you have a picked a fight you will not win.

So where is this passion when they tell me that God wants a wall, for example? Where is this passion when they tell me that being an evangelical stands for any number of political views? Well...  let me just tell you: God hates walls, He despises everything they stand for, and being an evangelical by definition means standing for the gospel and nothing else! So there, how's that for passion?

There comes a time when we have to stand up for our faith. There comes a time when being Christ's love means looking up from washing feet and loudly proclaiming His truth. There comes a time for defending the gospel even if it means defending it against fellow believers. For me that time is now.

Christ has overcome the world, but He has put me squarely in it. I am not after being an impressive Christian, but heaven help me if I ever become an ineffective one!

And do you know the strangest thing: I feel more at peace now than I have in months.

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