Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Some people love New Year's resolutions. Just like Thanksgiving beckons us to reflect on the past, New Year's Eve seems like the perfect time to plan for the future. Whether we need to loose weight, have a healthier lifestyle, be more organized, or work on relationships, this is commonly viewed as the perfect time-window to set concrete goals. While I applaud the desire to make plans without which life might otherwise stagnate, I don't often get my own act together. Perhaps the liveliness of a 1000sqft household, which my husband and I share with 6 active kids (and usually some extras), a guinea pig, a parakeet, and the hens that wander in, whenever the door is left open, seems to leave little room for extra plans. In fact, that is exactly what I told a friend this year, when she advised  me to read Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. She would not take "no" for an answer, so, thanks to her tenacity, I not only read the book, but also realized that one must plan ahead, in order to fulfill the purpose for which God made each one of us. This, as opposed to regular New Year's resolutions, is an ongoing goal that we seek to accomplish on a daily basis, each day presenting a new beginning. To give you a concrete example, I have decided to let you peek at part of my "purpose statement", which I wrote after reading Rick Warren's book. Perhaps this will encourage you to look over the notes you might have taken years ago after reading The Purpose Driven Life, or it might motivate you to create a totally different kind of New Year's resolution.

My Purpose is to Worship God
God made me, exactly the way he wanted me to be. He loves the way I look, my personality, my gifts, talents and interests. He does not want to change a thing about them. God has entrusted me with this life. It makes him happy, when I accept it, thanking him for it and running with it for his glory.

God is my creator. I can trust that his ways are better than mine. Surrendering to the hands of the potter, the clay becomes exactly what the potter had intended. He is also my king, who desires my love, trust, obedience and praise. Above all, he is my father, passionate about his relationship with me. I choose to run into his open arms, sharing my life with him, by spending my days talking to him and listening as he speaks to me. I don't want my walk with him to become meaningless or blocked though sin or by believing a lie about God or myself. Therefore I desire to be quick to confess my sins, thankful that I am given Christ's righteousness. I will make every effort to daily focus on him, drawing near through adoration, making sure my thoughts are scriptural, my walk sincere, my prayers thoughtful, and remembering what God has already done. This is my act of worship.

"One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple."
"You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, Lord, do I seek."" (Psalm 27:4+8)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Perfect Timing

After graduating from high-school, I felt called to spend a year in Uzbekistan. All Summer long I worked as a nanny, in order to purchase the necessary plane ticket. The next hurdle was, coming up with the funds needed for living expenses. I had never heard of support raising. The day before my departure I was still penniless. This was a Sunday. On my way to church, I poured my heart out to the Lord, "Father, you know that I am supposed to have $75 for each month in Uzbekistan. You have brought me this far; please show me where to get $900 from." After the service I positioned myself at the exit, in order to say goodbye to my beloved church family. As they filed passed me to give me hugs, many also unexpectedly pressed money into my hands. This body of believers truly sought to support me in any way they could. Not until I was back in my apartment, did I count all that I had received. It was exactly $900! God came through in the last minute. I understood that God had made me wait, in order to teach me to trust him. From this, I jumped to the conclusion that God always waited until the last moment to answer prayers.

Fast forward six years. By then I was living in Aberdeen, Scotland, preparing to fly home to Germany. This time it was not the money that was lacking, but my passport, which was held up by the British Immigration Center in London. I was so sure of my "Last-Minute-God", that it came as a complete shock, when the passport did not arrive until four weeks after the scheduled departure date. "What is up with that?" I questioned God in confusion, while having to buy a whole new ticket. "Why did you not come through this time?" A month late, according to my schedule, I finally arrived in Berlin on the exact day that my grandmother passed away. God had planned this all along, so that I could be there for my mother, when she really needed me. I learned that God is not a "Last-Minute-God", but that he has his own time schedule - he does things at just the right time. Even on Christmas we rejoice in Gods timing, because "when the set time had fully come, God sent his son." (Gal. 4:4)

Today I am given a new opportunity to trust in God's timing. My husband became unemployed, yesterday. The pressure for him to provide is magnified by the fact that we have six young children. Remembering the experiences of the past, I have learned, not to make predictions or to have certain expectations, but merely to rely on God, who will not let his children go hungry.

Only six hours after writing these last lines, a kind lady called, whom I had briefly met, four weeks prior. She knew nothing of our financial situation, but felt urged by God to contact me, timidly asking whether we would accept her help with Christmas gifts for the kids and with paying our electrical bill. To see God come through in such a tangible and timely way, is a great faith-booster.

His timing is perfect!  

Friday, December 11, 2015

It is Worth the Wait!

"Bene, bene! Speak to me!" This was the famous saying of the Egyptian shopkeeper at my favorite Italian hang-out, when living in Aberdeen, Scotland. Ahmed liked saying this phrase so much, in fact, that it was even printed on every menu. Unfortunately, he was equally infamous for never taking the time to listen. He would say his phrase in a generous, almost pompous manner, and then walk off, satisfied with himself for having posed his request, without ever waiting for a response.
Great food though!

I must confess, that my dealings with God are often very similar. I ask God to speak to me, and then walk off, assuming that I have done my part, and that God had nothing specific to say to me that day.
Let us rethink that for a moment. This month we are celebrating The Word having become flesh (John 1:14). If Jesus is called The Word, is it not highly plausible that he wants to speak to us? In fact, all throughout the Bible, God has shown us, that his desire to be heard by us is even greater than our desire to listen. He is asking for people to stand in his council, that they should hear his word (Jer. 23:18), always revealing his plans before they come to pass (Amos 3:7). But he sadly recognizes that the ears he has made are not being used for hearing him (Ezek. 12:2).

God's main motivation is not the transfer of information, but a calling towards deeper intimacy with him. After all, he is addressing believers, when he says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me." (Rev. 3:20) God, the maker of the entire universe, seeks us out to share his secrets with us (Ps. 24:14). He wants us to listen for him, in order to have fellowship with us. What an incredible gift!

Knowing that God desires to speak, let us ask, like the Egyptian waiter, "speak to me!" But instead of rushing on, let us echo Habakkuk: "I will stand on my post and station myself on the rampart; and keep watch to see what he will speak to me. (Hab. 2:1)

It is worth the wait!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

God Pierced the Darkness on Christmas

It was Christmas Day 1992. A seventeen-year-old girl sat alone in a small apartment, located in the dismal industrial suburb of Berlin, Germany. Motionless she stared at her exposed wrist, agonizing over one thought - consumed by the desire to end it all. Giving way to emotional pain blurred the clarity of her perception, causing her to believe, "there is no hope", and "it will never get better."

Only 2 1/2 years earlier, her life had been transformed, when she committed herself to Christ. Immediately the joy of a soul set free was mixed with the repercussions she felt, as her step-father revealed his hatred for God. Living under the same roof, she would hear his endless salve of curses from the neighboring room, when she invited friends over for a Bible-study. He would scream and yell, should she have the audacity to pray out loud before a meal. Finally she decided to leave this verbally abusive situation by flying to Australia.

Here she hoped for a new start, living with her father and his new wife. These dreams were short-lived, when, after a matter of days, she heard her step-mother utter the words, "I wish you were dead!" Ten days after her arrival, she found herself in the passenger seat of her dad's van. "Where shall I drop you off?" he demanded, refusing contact for the next fifteen years.

Turning to the church for help, she found refuge in the home of a local elder. In him she experienced the father-figure she had always longed for. Mistaking this for a romantic relationship, her host-mother revealed her antagonism to her, saying, "I wish you had never been born!", and insisting that her husband send this girl away.

Broken and humiliated by her perceived failure, she returned to Berlin, thinking that she might be received back into her stepfather's home. When he offered to pay for a one way ticket back to Australia, with the expressed desire, never to see her again, an acquaintance gave her the use of his one-room apartment for the duration of his three month business trip.

So here she sat, abandoned and depressed, mulling over the hurtful words, which cut into her being to such an extent, that the destructive thought of a physical cut to end all pain, seemed like a soothing promise. "No-one wants me to live" was the demonic mantra in her head, when suddenly a different voice broke through the darkness: "Even if no-one else wants you to live, I do. I have made you, my plans for you are to prosper you, and I will never forget you."

God, who had pierced the darkness of the world, by sending his son 2000 years before, pierced the darkness of my own life that Christmas. Yes, if you had not guessed it before, this is my own story. Just like after my conversion, life did not immediately get easier. Two weeks later, when the apartment was re-claimed, I checked myself into an orphanage, in order to have the financial support to graduate from high-school. Still. God's truth instantly changed everything. No matter what lay ahead, I knew, "He loves me, he desires me, I want to live for him alone." Suddenly, nothing else mattered.

Isaiah 60:2 "See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you."

For further thought:
Christmas is a terrible time to be alone. Is there anyone among your acquaintances who might be without family? Consider including them in your Christmas festivities.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


During the coming week, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a traditional harvest festival, stemming from the early settlement period of America by Europeans, where natives and newcomers communally celebrated God's provision. Nowadays families gather around a wonderful feast. Following the biblical mandate to be thankful, many people use this time to reflect on all the blessings of the past year. They recount wonderful memories with loved ones and express their thankfulness for material blessings and good health.

But what if, when looking back, the past year seemed dominated by sickness, financial struggles, perhaps even the death of a loved one. How do we find the resolve to be thankful, when we are feeling all but thankful? To me, the most challenging example of thankfulness in the face of trials, is found in a Bible passage, which also centers around a meal. This feast takes place in the upper room of a little house in Jerusalem. Here, Jesus is celebrating the Passover with his disciples, usually referred to as "the last supper". Jesus, knowing that his betrayal is underway, picks up bread, thanks God for it, and breaks it. This goes far beyond the grace we speak before a meal. In this simple act, Jesus is thanking God for his own physical body, symbolized by the bread, and acknowledges God's right and control over it. He is thankful for being part of God's amazing plan, willingly giving his body to be broken for mankind, knowing that this brokenness will be for the healing of many.

Jesus is thanking his father for pain, suffering, humiliation and grief, believing that God is good, faithful and trustworthy. In this, Jesus is challenging me to thank God for entrusting me with painful experiences, knowing that they are part of his good plan. He is challenging me to value my thorns, knowing that they are part of the path which leads me to him. Anything that makes me need God is a blessing.

Thankfulness doesn't just happen. We must make a conscious decision to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1. Thess. 5:18), asking the Holy Spirit to remind and strengthen us to "give thanks always and for everything" (Eph. 5:20). It is not easy to break the habit of focusing on ourselves, fretting, complaining and resenting, but it is well worth it! Not only are we obedient to God by practicing gratitude, but we will also reap contentment, joy, resilience and freedom.

So, when you gather around a feast with your loved ones, what will you thank God for?

For further study, read Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh De Moss

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Attitude Check

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matth. 11:28-30)

If there were a top ten Bible verse chart, this passage would surely be one of them. The popularity of this verse is easily explained. We can immediately identify with burdened and heavy-laden one. Often we feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of life, and are glad to claim Jesus' promise of rest. While it is doctrinally true that God provides rest in his presence, I would like to submit to you, that Jesus is making a completely different point in this passage

Jesus offers ease for labor and a light burden for a heavy load, but looking closer, there is another, unspoken, contrast. In inviting us to learn gentleness and humility, it becomes obvious that Jesus is implying that our incorrect attitude towards others and ourselves is the source of our burden. The context of this passage is the Pharisees' continual attack on Jesus and his followers for not adhering to their strict rule of conduct. The Pharisee is a prime example of someone, who continually judges others' actions, while arrogantly thinking of himself as superior. Jesus knows that a Pharisee's whole life feels laborious and heavy-laden. Such a man constantly tries to live up to his own standards and feels like everyone else should, also. In these verses Jesus expresses his compassion for the Pharisaic like me. He wants to free me from that oppressive yoke, in order for me to experience his rest.

Jesus does not reject us, when we are tempted to react judgmentally to someone else's words or actions. He asks us to come to him to learn to replace this habit with gentleness. Jesus sorrows over the burden we place on ourselves by trying to live up to our own standards. Instead, he longs for us to humbly realize that we are attempting to accomplish what only he could do. Our value comes neither from making others look smaller, nor from making ourselves look bigger than we are. God gives us value by justifying us, accepting us, loving us, and making us new. Our new yoke is to accept in humility what God has done for us.

Let these verses become our favorite for a new reason: Anytime we feel burdened by our expectations of others and ourselves, let us run to Jesus, to learn gentleness and to humbly accept, that what he has done is sufficient.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Depth of God's Love

"For I am convinced that... neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8: 38+39)

Do you know, why? - Because both are part of God's love. In Eph. 3:18, Paul prays that we "may have power... to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ."

We all love to experience the height of his love, namely the ecstasy of his presence and the exhilaration that comes with the joys of life and the amazement about the beauty of nature. It is uncomfortable, even scary, to think about a God, who is willing to allow hardship, removing the hedge of protection, even to a point where evil seems to win the day. It explodes the neat picture of God, removing him from the box we have placed him in. Suddenly we agree with the Narnians, "He is not safe!" It is true that God does not tempt anyone to evil, but in his sovereignty he sometimes chooses to allow it.

I have experienced some of these depths,
- when checking myself into an orphanage as a teenager.
- when going through four years of depression.
- when loosing our beloved firstborn daughter and walking through the resulting marriage crisis.

That is when we stand with Job, crying out, "Why?", hammering our fists at the chest of the Almighty, only to realize that we are not to expect an answer. The key to grasping the purpose of these depths is "being rooted and established in love" which is the preceding verse to Eph. 3:18. By understanding that God is for us and that he loves us, we no longer shrink back in fear, when hardship comes our way. Knowing that God chose to allow suffering even in his only begotten son's life, does not provide answers, but enables us to trust that God is good and that his thoughts are higher than ours. Jesus descended lower than we will ever have to, namely to the depths of hell, for our sake. This gives us the courage to trust that, in his compassion, he will only bring about pain necessary for our healing.

In all these things, God purposefully removes any confidence in our own strength, or in the support of others, in order to satisfy our aching hearts, with which we finally come running to him. If we are willing to trust God, our hard times will result in knowing him more intimately and will create in us a yearning for more of him. The depth cannot separate us from God's love; God meets us and embraces us in the midst of it.

Therefore, let us pray with Paul that, "being rooted and established in love, we may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." (Eph. 3:17+18)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cling to the Lord!

"Kerstin, you would not pass for a blind person in a million years!" This was my friend, Christopher, talking. In spite of his blindness, he was determined to live a normal life. He attended regular high-school, went swimming with us, in the lakes around Berlin, and was the drummer in a jazz-band. He adapted amazingly, but his steps were uncertain, always walking in complete darkness. The day I borrowed his cane and confidently walked down the sidewalk with my eyes tightly shut, he heard by the rapidity of my steps, that I knew where I was going. I had seen the path only seconds earlier.

As believers, we sometimes feel as if we were walking in darkness. We don't understand what God is doing and he feels far from us. I am not talking about a separation caused by sin, but a feeling of distance from God, sometimes accompanying a traumatic experience, exhaustion, or without explicable cause. God wants to use this time to mature us in our faith. We are given the choice to either grope around uncertainly in the darkness, believing the lie, that there is no hope, and that God does not care - or we can cling to God by standing on his truth. These are some verses, which are helpful to remember in this situation:

"The Lord is good!" (Nah. 1:7))
"I, the Lord do not change." (Mal.3:6)
"I will never leave you, nor forsake you." (Heb. 13:6)
"The Lord will guide you continually." (Is. 58:11a)
"For I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jer. 29:11)
"His plans cannot be thwarted." (Job 42:2)

This is where our walk can be different, because, in spite of the darkness, we have a clear picture of where we are headed. Let us not be mistaken for a blind person in a million years!

"Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God." (Is. 50:10b)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Now is Your Chance!

This morning on our trip to town, my eight-year-old daughter, Toria, sat beside me, happily drawing a picture. Her silence was interspersed with questions about heaven, the theme of her art-work. "Mom, are there castles in heaven?" "How about dogs?" "Will we share things?"
That last question caught me off guard. Of course we can share smiles, share songs and share stories of what God has done. But the kind of sacrificial love, demonstrated through acts of giving to the point of suffering loss, will be impossible in a place where there is no want. Only here on earth can we forgo sleep to take care of a sick child, can we forgo food, to see someone else filled, can we forgo warmth by giving our jacket to provide comfort for someone else.

Christ has demonstrated this love to us, by leaving the glory of heaven, to live a life of poverty and suffering. He demonstrated it even more so, by giving his life to save ours. We could not understand even a glimpse of this kind of love, had we been born in a perfect world. Only here do we have the privilege of following in his steps, giving sacrificially as an act of worship to him. In Extreme Devotion by Voice of the Martyrs, a Romanian captive is mentioned, who would stand in the place of his fellow prisoners, when any name in his cell was called to receive a beating. He gladly took their beatings, knowing that Christ had also taken his punishment. Through this prisoner's sacrifice, many understood the gospel, and God was glorified.

Of course, our daily sacrifices pale in light of these examples. None the less, this is what we are called to do. So, whether your daughter is crying at 2AM, your son needs help with a project while you had hoped to settle down with a book, or whether you give away that last slice of pizza you had been eyeing, thank God for his willing sacrifice and for your opportunity to glorify him in this practical way. Now is your chance! You won't be able to do this in heaven.

Romans 12:1 "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." (ESV)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

His Grace is Sufficient

"I hate it!" I yelled, flinging my New Testament at my fiancĂ©'s feet, all the while, cringing inside at the hideousness of my own behavior. At the time, I really didn't understand what had triggered this reaction, neither did my stunned fiancĂ©. All I knew was that I was tired and burned out. This Christian religion was not working for me. Truth is, I was believing that my worth was based on my ability to keep all of God's commandments. Most days I thought I was actually doing well. Pride is quite blind. This day was different. God, in his severe mercy, removed the blinders from my eyes. The Bible, acting like a mirror, revealed every blemish and wrinkle, making me see my own ugliness. Over the following weeks and months I became increasingly depressed, until I reached a point where my sins overwhealmed me and my strength completely failed me. Little did know that this was the exact place God wanted me to be. Realizing that I had nothing to give to God, but my weakness and ugliness, I was surprised to find out that God had known this all along, and still loved me! Grateful to a God, who created everything out of nothing, and who was willing to take my empty, dirty hands and fill them with forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ, I finally began to understand grace. He took my ashes and turned them into something beautiful!
Five years after our wedding, my husband actually became a professor of NT. He is very glad that I have stopped flinging Bibles. Instead, I daily come to my Lord empty-handed. His grace is sufficient!

2. Cor. 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

For His Own Glory

Little kids sure can ask a lot of questions! Mine definitely do! Sometimes my brain gets so exhausted from diligently trying to answer each one of them. When older children come to visit, I enjoy a reprieve. They take over my role and I am intrigued by their simple but concise answers. A while back, my oldest son, Daniel wanted to know, "Why does that boat have a door?" While I was still trying to formulate an explanation, our visitor piped in, "So you can open and close it." To my astonishment, Daniel was completely satisfied with that answer.
This morning at 6:30,  David, my five-year-old, was already thinking up a storm. While playfully moving his toy animal along his mug of hot chocolate, he threw me a tough one: "Why did God make dinosaurs that are so big and dangerous?" Trying to squeeze God's creativity, might, sovereignty and  wisdom into a child's vocabulary, I suddenly realized that David knew the answer already. Remembering last night's catechism practice, I asked him, "Why did God make you and all things?" A wide smile spread over David's face as he gave his reply: "For his own glory!"
Yes, often the simple answers are the most satisfactory. David's reply not only helped him understand the world around him, it is also having a great impact on my day. Everything I look at, God created for his own glory. That is exactly why he made each one of us. I am so thankful for a God who gives our lives meaning and purpose.

"Walk in a manner, worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." 1 Thess 2:12