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.