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From Saxony to Texas

Well, the time has come.

Tomorrow, the 21st of July, we will be flying from Dresden, Germany to St. Petersburg, Florida and then on to Arlington, Texas, which will be our new home. We have lived 10 years in Germany and….well….I just don’t know what to say. I’ve been talking about it in Facebook statuses for a while now and doing my countdown thing…but today is officially Day 1 to the USA and I’m not sure what to think. I could literally think of a hundred emotions I’m feeling all at once right now all the way from ‘depressing sadness’ to ‘buoyant jubilation’ but most of all I just feel….weird. I guess that’s my definition of ‘weird;’ something you can’t understand or describe very well.

We had a nice last day in Dresden…slept in, lunch with friends, saw some more friends, ate our last German meal at a great restaurant and hiked all over the place to find Olivia her favorite food-a crepe. We took a few more pictures and I shed a few tears…but it was a good day.

Tomorrow we step into uncharted territory on the next adventure that God has given us. We’re ready because He’s prepared us for it without us even knowing it. The relationships and experiences we’ve had we will surely never forget and thankfully–yes, mainly to Facebook–we can keep those relationships going. But we’re also excited to see what our new friends will be like and where God will lead us, in order to help others we have not yet met.

Farewell Dresden and hello Arlington. Strange words that I didn’t know ten years ago that I would utter, but there they are.

Let’s see what happens…

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Isn’t it great that we have each other? Gut, daß wir einander haben!

I really enjoy small group worship. I also enjoy large group worship. There are benefits to both kinds of groups-both the small group meeting in a circle on Sunday morning, like we are in Dresden and the large group meeting in a huge building singing to each other with hundreds of voices like so many places in the US. This morning we were about 17 people in attendance and we had a prayer/song service. I enjoyed the sun coming in the windows, the homemade communion bread and the sound of each individual voice which I could hear because of the smallness of the group. I know that when we go back to the US I will miss these things, but I will also enjoy the encouragement of so many voices being raised in song together that I cannot begin to distinguish one from the other; looking at so many faces of people who are ready to lend a hand, be a friend and exemplify the body of Christ as one. That is also a wonderful sight to behold.

One thing however, that I will truly miss is singing some of my favorite songs in German. There are some that are translated old American or English hymns, but there are also many hymns written and composed by German writers and one thing about the German language is that it is so simplistically descriptive. Oftentimes a verb is so descriptive in and of itself that it needs no adverbial helpers to go along with it. The texts are also oftentimes more simple, to-the-point and get right to the heart of the matter. One such song that I enjoy is one we sang today called “Gut, daß wir einander haben” or “It’s good that we have one another” by Manfred Siebald. For my German friends, it’s 407 in the green songbook 🙂

Isn’t it wonderful that regardless of the size, the family of Christians you worship with is there for you in all their fallible glory but that we have that in common which makes us pure as gold…Christ.

(English translation below)

Chorus (sung first in many German hymns):

Gut, daß wir einander haben, gut, daß wir einander sehn,

Sorgen, Freuden, Kräfte teilen

und auf einem Wege gehn.

Gut, daß wir nicht uns nur haben, daß der Kreis sich niemals schließt

und daß Gott, von dem wir reden,

hier in unsrer Mitte ist.

1. Keiner, der nur immer redet; keiner, der nur immer hört.

Jedes Schweigen, jedes Hören, jedes Wort hat seinen Wert.

Keiner widerspricht nur immer; keiner paßt sich immer an.

Und wir lernen, wie man streiten und sich dennoch lieben kann.

2. Keiner, der nur immer jubelt; keiner, der nur immer weint.

Oft schon hat uns Gott in unsrer Freude, unsrem Schmerz vereint.

Keiner trägt nur immer andre; keiner ist nur immer Last.

Jedem wurde schon geholfen; jeder hat schon angefaßt.

3. Keiner ist nur immer schwach, und keiner hat für alles Kraft.

Jeder kann mit Gottes Gaben das tun, was kein andrer schafft.

Keiner, der noch alles braucht, und keiner, der schon alles hat.

Jeder lebt von allen andern; jeder macht die andern satt.

Chorus:

Gut, daß wir einander haben, gut, daß wir einander sehen,

Sorgen, Freuden, Kräfte teilen

und auf einem Wege gehn.

Gut, daß wir nicht uns nur haben, daß der Kreis sich niemals schließt

und daß Gott, von dem wir reden,

hier in unsrer Mitte ist.

And in the best English translation I can manage without help (send me a message if I got something wrong!):

Good, that we have each other, good, that we see each other,

We share cares, joys and strengths as we walk one path together.

Good, that we not only have each other; that the circle is never closed,

And that God, who we talk about together, is in our midst.

1. There is no one who always talks; there is no one who always listens.

Silence, listening and words all have their worth.

There is no one who always contradicts; there is no one who always fits in.

And we learn how to love one another even when we argue.

2. There is no one who is always joyful; there is no one who always cries.

Often God unites us through our joys and through our pain.

There is no one who always carries others; there is no one who is always a burden.

Every one has been helped; everyone has taken hold.

3. There is no one who is always weak and no one who always has strength for everything.

There will always be those who can use their God-given gifts to do the work that others cannot.

There is no one who needs everything and no one who has everything.

Every person lives off of everyone else and every person gives the others enough.

Chorus:

Good, that we have each other, good, that we see each other,

We share cares, joys and strengths as we walk one path together.

Good, that we not only have each other; that the circle is never closed,

And that God, who we talk about together, is in our midst.

Stand up…

…for what you believe in.

Yesterday I had other blog themes on the brain, but it was a very important day of remembrance in Dresden, Germany. On February 13th, 1945, the heart of Dresden was destroyed by Allied Forces.  You can read about it here, because I have neither the qualification nor the heart for recounting it in my blog. It’s a sad story, but one that I am glad to have read and had recounted to me as a reminder of what war does to humankind. Not just to soldiers abroad, but to average families who find the enemy at their front door.

"Nazis, No Thank You"

I find it fitting, though, that the infamous February 13th…a day full of sadness and hate…is followed by the beloved February 14th…a day of love and hope. Today on Valentine’s Day I saw some pictures from Joel, our H.I.M. worker from the demonstrations downtown and it made me think of some verses from Romans 12. You see, in Dresden, the Germans don’t simply remember their fellow countrymen who passed away on that horrible night.

They also stand up for love and tolerance against Nazi protesters who choose the day of February 13th to make their own demonstration and who, for years, have made it not only a day of remembrance but a day of political turmoil. Last February 13th in 2010 was an important day in this regard as Dresdeners formed a peaceful human blockade to stop the largest Neo-Nazi march in the post-war era.

Human Chain against neo-Nazis

Romans 12:9

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

They were standing up for love and hating evil. I love this phrase “stand up.” It implies doing something. Obviously, you can’t stand up to something when you’re sitting down. You have to get in the way and show your sincerity by saying with your physical presence, “this is not okay with me.”

Romans 12:18

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I love that the Menschenkette (human chain) formed of 17,000 people yesterday to symbolize blocking out the neo-Nazis was a peaceful event. We should hate what is evil, but leave justice and vengeance to God, as Paul goes on to describe later in chapter 12. Our job is to actively stand up for love in as peaceful a way as possible.

Human Chain of 17,000 in Dresden 2011

That is why I’m so proud of my German friends and friends of other nationalities who have gone downtown to say “I stand for love.” Though I, as a Generation X American cannot fully comprehend what this emotionally- and politically-charged day means to my fellow Dresdeners, I have still learned so much from their example and I rejoice in the fact that after spending 10 years in Dresden, each February 14th, the “day of love,” holds new meaning and hope because of what I witness each February 13th.

Gott wird dich tragen (God will take care of you)…

Isn’t it strange how a song will strike a chord with you (no pun intended!) for some reason even though you’ve sung it many times before?

We had a pretty small group in our German worship today due to sickness; It was a nice, cozy sort of atmosphere and I was present for the first time in a while, since Randy was home sick with most of the kids and I didn’t teach the children’s class.  We listened to Joel’s first German sermon–of which I was very proud!–and I was reminiscing about a time when I, too, was still very unsure of my relationship with the German language. When I still made funny or not-so-funny unintentional mistakes (which Joel did not do, I should mention!) or just nodded and smiled at something I didn’t understand, while desperately wishing I did. When I suddenly realized I followed an entire conversation and secretly rejoiced on the inside or used a colloquial phrase correctly for the first time. These were very uncertain times in my relationship with the German language and I often went back and forth claiming it as my friend or declaring it my worst enemy all in one day.

Of course, reminiscing about learning German took my mind back over the years to all the memories I’ve made here in Germany and all the ways I’ve tried to get to know the culture and the people–eventually coming to love them in a way I didn’t think possible.

And now we’re leaving.

At least we will be at the end of July and already we are having to make preparations and shift our focus from Germany to the United States. We made our decision fully aware of the consequences both happy and sad and I’m coming more and more to grips with such a dynamic change in our lives. However, lately, I have certainly had feelings of insecurity in our future. We know our deadline for finding another source of income and we know when we will have to have preparations made, but we still don’t know WHAT job or jobs we will have, where we will live or exactly how we will accomplish everything we need to accomplish. At times, it sort of feels as if the bottom has dropped out from under us and we’re only being held up by God’s grace. By His hand. I trust in Him, but at times I feel a little like Peter and feel myself sinking when I let my fears get the best of me. So it is times like these when God sends an encouraging message through a song like this one that reminds me God’s hand is the best and safest place we could be…exactly where we need to be.

(English below)

“Gott wird dich tragen” Satz: Friedrich Hänssler

1)Gott wird dich tragen, drum sei nicht verzagt,
treu ist der Hüter, der über dich wacht.
Stark ist der Arm, der dein Leben gelenkt,
Gott ist ein Gott, der der Seinen gedenkt.

2) Gott wird dich tragen, wenn einsam du gehst;
Gott wird dich hören, wenn weinend du flehst.
Glaub’ es, wie bang dir der Morgen auch graut,
Gott ist ein Gott, dem man kühnlich vertraut.

3) Gott wird dich tragen durch Tage der Not;
Gott wird dir beistehn in Alter und Tod.
Fest steht das Wort, ob auch alles zerstäubt,
Gott ist ein Gott, der in Ewigkeit bleibt.

Refrain:

Gott wird dich tragen mit Händen so lind.
Er hat dich lieb wie ein Vater sein Kind.
Das steht dem Glauben wie Felsen so fest:
Gott ist ein Gott, der uns nimmer verläßt.

English original version written by Fanny J. Crosby

“God Will Take Care Of You”

1) God will take care of you, be not afraid;
He is your safeguard through sunshine and shade;
Tenderly watching and keeping His own,
He will not leave you to wander alone.

2) God will take care of you, through all the day,
Shielding your footsteps, directing your way;
He is your Shepherd, Protector, and Guide,
Leading His children where still waters glide.

3) God will take care of you long as you live,
Granting you blessings no other can give;
He will take care of you when time is past,
Safe to His kingdom will bring you at last.

Refrain:

God will take care of you still to the end;
Oh, what a Father, Redeemer, and Friend!
Jesus will answer whenever you call;
He will take care of you, trust Him for all.

I really liked the German translation of the refrain that we sang today which is quite different than the original English:

“God will carry you with loving hands. He loves you like a father loves a child. There is a faith that stands as firm as a rock: God is a God who will never leave us.”

Beyond the Pond

Whenever people are flying “across the pond” and will be in Dresden at some point, they always ask me “what do you miss from the US?  Can I bring you something?”

I used to have a quick answer for this:  Candy corn! Root beer! Brown sugar! Cake mixes!  Oh yeah, and some chocolate chips for baking and….and and and… the list went on and on. It seemed like I missed so many things that first year we were here.

Now, 9 years later, I have to put on my thinking cap…chocolate chips?  No, I usually just cut up a Milka bar. Brown sugar?  Well, I guess I could ask for that, but I know how to make it now with molasses, so would that be a waste of space?  Same thing with canned pumpkin…each Halloween I hollow out a pumpkin or two, bake the pumpkin, puree it and voila!  Pumpkin for pie in the freezer.  In other words, I don’t feel like I need or crave anything.  I’ve learned to do without and in some cases I’ve found substitutions that are even better.  When I DO give a list of things it’s usually for convenience…if someone wants to bring a can of pureed pumpkin, then I won’t stop them…it saves me a lot of steps!

So today I get an email from an English-speaking contact of mine and she says an acquaintance has opened a new store called Beyond the Pond with British and American foodstuffs.  We should all go over and support her!  “Okay, sure,” I’m thinking, “but I probably won’t get anything.  After all, I’ve gone for YEARS without a box of Rice Krispies…”

The store is literally three blocks from my house, so I took my bike over there this afternoon.  It’s a virtual hole-in-the wall, with no sign out front, yet, so I missed it twice before I found the door.  I walked in….to food overload.  It actually only consists of two short walls of tall shelves on either side of the small room and some stuff in the windows.  British stuff on one side, American on the other, so it’s not like I even walked into a gas station sized store.  But my first thought was “be still my slavering salivary glands!”

Starburst! Cake Mixes and blueberry muffin mixes and cornbread mixes!  DR. PEPPER! Cheerios, Lucky Charms!  Pop tarts! Stuff I hadn’t ever SEEN before from the Doritos brand!  SALSA! and the list went on and on.  The owner is a lady with children who had visited our English playgroup once so we sort of recognized each other and had a nice chat.  She’s been in Germany since ’94, so she’s got me beat on “living without” for sure 🙂  But she knows many ex-pats and therefore, shrewdly guessed that many, like myself, would be interested in those products from “home” that you get a craving for once in a while.  After my eyes stopped popping out of my head I realized with some humor that all the foods I “missed” were actually not that good for me!  We’ve been trying to eat healthier as a family and I was chagrined to realize that my style of eating has changed so much that I shouldn’t actually buy 90 percent of the stuff! (I did put in a request for diet Dr. Pepper for future orders 🙂 )  I did buy a few items and it was fun to see Randy’s face when I got home…we’re so used to only seeing this stuff once every two years when we’re stateside.  And the kids were enthralled with the poptarts 🙂  I’m sure I will be visiting Beyond the Pond in the future, when I feel like I ‘have’ to make fudge for Christmas (TWO kinds of Marshmallow Cream!) or Rice Krispie treats for a party, but I’m also realizing that “doing without” was actually a great life-style change for us since we’ve been in Dresden.

One thing’s for sure…the people of Dresden will never be the same again…Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is in town…

I Love Jesus

This is a cut-and-paste of the lecture I gave in Filzmoos, Austria last week at a ladies retreat.  I translated it and gave it in German, but since most of my blog readers are English speakers, I posted it here to my blog in English.  Let me know if you want to read it in German.  The theme of the retreat was called “Das, was ich liebe…,” or “My Favorite Things…”  The topic I was given was “I Love Jesus.”  Since this blog also holds my musings and thoughts, I decided to post what I’ve been thinking about for the last several weeks!

I Love Jesus

I love to sing.  If you didn’t know this fact about me before, I’m sure you’ll figure it out before the retreat is over!

I love music so much that I sometimes tend to think “in song.”  Often, when someone is speaking–when I hear a lecture, participate in a discussion, or even am just sitting around at a party chatting–it triggers a memory of a song I have heard before, and I find myself remembering melody with lyrics that further illustrate what that person was saying.  I believe that even if you are NOT a musician, music is a real blessing when it comes to committing information to memory. What I love about hymns from the Bible is that we can learn parts of scripture by heart that we otherwise might not be able to remember.  In fact, if I thought anyone would agree with me, I would suggest that we come together just to sing for five days at this retreat.  After all, our hymns come from God’s word and Christians’ life experiences, both of which we talk about when we come together here in Filzmoos.  I experience no greater joy with my Christian sisters as when we are singing together.

As a child I loved to sing about Jesus.  Though I didn’t know much if anything about the bible, there was just something about the idea of all that Jesus stood for that I loved.  As one of my favorite songs quotes, he has “the sweetest name on earth.” In fact, most of my favorite songs are about Jesus, so in my lecture today, I hope you don’t mind that I’ll be quoting some of my favorite hymns, alongside the scriptures to illustrate three important reasons that I love Jesus so much and why just the sound of his name is so precious to me.

I. I love Jesus because he first loved me.

In your hand-out, there’s a song titled “Oh How I Love Jesus.”  I told you I often think in song.  When Becki asked me to speak on the topic of  “I love Jesus,” this song was the very first thing that popped into my head.  Well, actually, to be honest, panic at speaking in front of people was the first thing that I thought of, but it was closely followed by this song.

Let’s look at the last of the refrain of “Oh How I Love Jesus:”

Oh, how I love Jesus, because he first loved me.

The song comes directly from this text in the bible: 1 John 4:19We love because he first loved us.

Every parent has the advantage of being able to love their child before their child even understands what love is.  A child experiences feeling loved before they even know how to express their love in return.  God loved us before we even existed.  How do we know this?  The bible.  Eva gave a wonderful lecture yesterday on God’s Word.  One of her reasons for “I Love The Bible” was, “I love the Bible because it’s the truth.”  Probably the first song I remember singing is “Jesus loves me this I know; for the bible tells me so…”  I sing this song in its entirety with my children so that its message is always in their hearts to draw on when they need it.  How important it is to know that you are loved!  Even those who claim to have no belief in God admit that love works wonders in this world.  Without it, life could not go on.  Let’s go to God’s word to discover His love for us.

Let’s read for a moment, part of Psalm 139. This entire psalm is one of my favorites, but we’ll read just a few verses here.

Psalm 139:13-16:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

I loved my children before they were even born.  Even when my children were still inside my body I dreamed about them, prayed for them, loved them—and I didn’t even know who they would turn out to be!  Not so with God. God knew exactly who we would be before we were born, before our parents even came together, before even the creation of mankind, he knew us—each and every aspect of our personalities.  I was only involved in one small aspect of my childrens creation, but God was involved in every single part of it since before the moment of ALL creation.  How insurmountable is His love!  God’s love for us was there before we ever could conceive of loving him in return.

Let’s turn to the gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 1-3:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

The bible tells us that Jesus loved us while he was still with God, before he ever came to earth.  In fact, Jesus himself was our creator as we read in John 1 that “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

My children and I like to read a popular childrens book called Guess how much I love you? by Sam McBratney.  In this story, the little rabbit tries to show how much he loves big rabbit by trying to measure his love with how wide he can stretch his arms or how high he can jump.  But no matter how big he thinks he can measure his love, big rabbit’s love is always bigger–because big rabbit, of course, has longer arms and a higher jump!

How big is Jesus’ love for us?  Can we measure it like the little rabbit tried to measure his by stretching out his arms as far as they would go?  Certainly, not with our arms, but I think we can indeed measure it with God’s word.

Let’s turn to 1 John 4:9-10 to see just how much he loves us.

“9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Revelation 13:8 references Jesus as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” He loved us so much that even though he knew that with that first breath of life into Adam, he would eventually be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for his own creation.  Jesus stretched out his arms with nails in his hands and feet, cuts on his back and a crown of thorns on his head and said, “I love you this much.”

II. I love Jesus because he gives me eternal life.

My original heading for this second reason was a little more specific: “I love Jesus because he reconciled my relationship with God, so that I would not die an eternal death, but instead live eternally with him in heaven.” This heading, however, is not quite as easy to remember!

My last reference in Revelation revealed that Jesus knew from our creation that our relationship with God would not remain perfect—that it would go astray.

At the end of the sixth day of creation, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good” Genesis 1:31.  After God created heavens, waters, land, sun, moon, stars and animals he proclaims that it was good.  After he created man he proclaimed that it was very good.

In Genesis 3:16-17 we read:

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

We all know that later Eve and Adam both ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge and it was at this point that their relationship with God was broken.  God says in Genesis 3:22:

“The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

We see that at once their relationship with God took a downhill turn since the first thing they did was try to hide their sin from God and makes excuses for their behavior.

Now there is an important thing here that can be observed and applied to our lives about Adam and Eve’s relationship with God:  Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God before they disobeyed him.  God actually walked among them in the Garden! They knew no shame. They knew no pain or death or even hard work. They had eternal life.  We can read about all of these things in Genesis 2 and 3.  Yet they somehow managed to break their relationship with God by choosing a path of sadness and pain, which ultimately led to eternal death.

How many times have we made excuses that we would have a good relationship with God if we just had the time to spend with Him?  If we just hadn’t been born into a horrible family that hurt us and depressed our spirits?  If we didn’t have so many worries about our jobs or our children or our spouses or our futures?  If we weren’t slaves to an addiction?  Sometimes we kid ourselves that we would have a great relationship with God if He would just make our lives easier.  Well, Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God in the paradise that He created for them and they still sinned.  They still sinned.

All of us have also sinned—I have sinned—many times.  And as Paul tells us in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.”  There can be no eternal life with sin on our souls. God has no sin in Him because he is holy. He cannot coexist with it and so when we sinned, from that point on, we could not be with him.

Isaiah fully grasped this significance when he had a vision of the throne room of God in Isaiah 6. Let’s read in Isaiah 6:1-7:

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;  the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah brings this vision “down to earth” by saying in Isaiah 59:2 saying,” But your iniquities have separated you from your God

Because we sinned, we were separated from being in the presence of our God, because were no longer holy.  And just as God is holy and cannot be with sin, He is also righteous and requires justice for our sin, which is something that we cannot by word or deed undo on our own.

Ephesians 2:8-9

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”

We cannot reconcile our relationship to God by ourselves.  We cannot bring reconciliation by good deeds.  That leaves us with an eternal death—separation from God–instead of eternal life with God after this life on earth ends.

I am doing a bible study right now that was written by a woman named Beth Moore called “A Woman’s Heart-God’s Dwelling Place.”  It is a very interesting study that compares the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness in Exodus 25 to the coming of the “true tabernacle” Jesus Christ as a means to better understanding our relationship with God.  In this study she asks: “Have you truly accepted that Christ died not only for you, but also instead of you?”

Let’s take a moment to look at what purpose our lives would have if Christ had not loved us enough to intervene for us.

  • Life would no longer be times of love between times of sadness and pain.  It would just be sadness and pain, knowing that our love for our husbands, children, family and friends must one day permanently end.
  • Any kindness shown to us would have no further meaning beyond happenstance or coincidence.
  • Our purpose in raising our children or educating others children would have no further meaning than trying to ensure survival skills in order to live successfully as long as possible before we die forever.
  • Love for ourselves would take greater precedence than love for others, which would lead to a life of loneliness.

I’m sure you can also imagine some additional things in your life that would lose meaning altogether if you thought about it for a few minutes.  But hopefully, all of us in this room know the good news!  This life is NOT all there is and despite times of fear, sadness, pain and hatred it can also hold much beauty, joy and love.  Just as God planned a beautiful life for Adam and Eve before the fall, he planned a glorious salvation for his sinful children so that they could be reconciled with Him again.

Romans 5:6-11:

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

This is why we sing songs like, “This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made”,  “Prasie the Name of Jesus!” or “Jesus, Name Above All Names.”

And that is why it is written in Romans 8:37-39:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither 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.”

III. I love Jesus because he gives my life purpose.

I used Beth Moore’s question to ask “Have you truly accepted that Christ died not only for you, but instead of you.”  Now I ask, “what does that mean to you?”

When I was 18, I was contemplating being baptized and becoming a follower of Christ. I had been reading the bible with some friends and on my own and I knew that God had spoken to my soul.  I had come to a critical point—a point that every person comes to, who is faced with becoming a Christian.  I believed that Jesus had died for my sins—and I felt a new-found love for this person, that he would suffer so much for me.  But I knew that I had to do more than just love him; I had to live for him.  God had not only spoken to me through his word of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, but also of a transformation that had to happen on my part.

Romans 12:1-2:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

And in Ephesians 5:1-2:

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

And further in verse 8:

8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

I had been putting off my decision to be baptized into Christ because I knew that it was more than just actions and words.  It was a commitment to change my life, to change my whole purpose in life.  Eventually, I realized that my life had no real purpose until I accepted Jesus’ love and started living for him.

Psalm 127: 1-2

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Let’s look at the words of Jesus himself in John 15:5-8:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

When I discovered that my life in all its smallness and insignificance could indeed have such wonderful purpose and meaning, I couldn’t wait to proclaim Jesus as my savior and jump into the water!

My life has not been the same since.  I’m not saying that I’ve always lived an exemplary life since then—of course not.  I make my mistakes—big and small—just like everyone in this room, but throughout my life as a Christian, my purpose has not changed.  In the words of Paul, “14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” as he says in Philippians 3.

And what is our purpose?  What is the fruit that we are to bear?  Let’s go to Jesus for the answer.
John 13:34:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

For each of us our love for Jesus and for one another manifests itself in different ways.  For some of you, like me, it has led you to devote your lives to ministry in the church, even the church outside your homeland.  For others of you, it has led you to work Christ’s love within your family, bringing those that are dear to you to Christ—or simply planting the seed in their hearts.  And for still others of you, it has led you to shine your light among your co-workers or even perfect strangers, bringing love and kindness into difficult situations.

Paul shows us how we can fulfill this purpose in our own lives in Ephesians 4:11-13:

11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

We each of us have our talents and abilities that God has given us with which we can spread Jesus love and good news.  Jesus had many dealings with people of different professions.  Some of them, he called away from their positions to do his work in a more direct manner.  Others, such as centurions, tax collectors and businessmen he left to do his work among their circles.  We see an example of this in Mark 5: 18-20:

18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

This man wanted to be with Jesus, but Jesus knew that the man’s family and others around him needed to hear the good news from him.  And what do we see from those who were healed by Jesus? They were so excited by the love they had found, they had to express it!  We see stories through the gospels of people proclaiming the miracle of Jesus and his healing.  What drove the apostles to fulfill their purpose of spreading the gospel even though it ended in grisly deaths?  Their love for Jesus. Because of their love for Jesus, his message of love was spread and soul’s have been saved, God’s glory has been shown, for generations to come.

If you look at your life today, what motivates you to step outside your comfort zone to invite a neighbor to a bible study?  What checks your anger and helps you act in wisdom when someone insults you or your family or cuts you off on the road or in line at the store?  What keeps you from putting yourself first in your church family, but instead helps you to humbly serve your brothers and sisters in Christ?  I know why I strive to do these things…because I love Jesus.

Where is your home?

Today is September 11th, 2009, coined “9/11.”  It’s what one can now term an infamous date in history and it’s a date that won’t be forgotten.  I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and who I was with September 11th, 2001.  I wasn’t even in the U.S.A.

Eight years ago (2001), I moved to Germany with my husband.  My dad and my great-aunt were taking a cruise along the Rhine River and we agreed to meet them in Rothenburg, a quaint little Rhineland town, for lunch.  I also happened to be in my second month of pregnancy with my first child and besides being severely nauseous, I was excited to tell my dad.  We were walking along the streets, window shopping and we ducked into a little store selling collectibles.  A man who lived in the apartment above came downstairs and heard us speaking English.  He knew there were a lot of Americans in town because of the cruise.  He begged Randy to go upstairs with him to see what was on the news.  “World Trade Center!”  “New York!  It’s falling down!”  He tried to say in English.  He kept tugging on Randy’s sleeve.  I was reluctant to let Randy go, because the guy seemed a half step short of an octave, if you know what I mean.  Randy assessed the guy and decided he could take him down if push came to shove and told me he’d be right back.   My dad and I kept shopping.  Then Randy came back down and said he saw video on CNN that showed a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.  Me and my dad just said “huh?”  We couldn’t take it in.  It was too surreal with little romanticized medieval shops surrounding us on a narrow cobble-stoned street.  Even on the drive back to Dresden later, Randy and I still thought there must be some mistake.  I remember keeping the TV tuned to the English CNN for at least a week after we got home.  It took a while for the scope of the horror and tragedy to sink in, but once it did, I discovered a very confused feeling…”my entire homeland is hurting, suffering…and I can’t be there.”   I felt…disconnected.

9/11 happened fairly early after we moved to Germany.  We had only been here 3 1/2 months, but I had already broken ground with something that I would struggle with for the next eight years–feeling culturally homeless. That feeling of disconnectedness I experienced on 9/11 has only compounded over the years.  I’ve become intimately familiar with another culture other than my home culture.  I speak German when I shop, when I talk to friends, when I worship, I sing in German…I even speak German sometimes to my children.  I eat differently than I did when I lived in the U.S., my opinions on many worldly issues have altered since I left my homeland.  My views on organized religion have also changed somewhat. Enough so, that on my last trip to the U.S. this summer with my family, I felt so changed that I wondered if I could ever feel like I was truly part of American culture again.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent in the States.  I don’t know what it’s like to even have a child in the States…from what I’ve heard, other than the obvious fact that a baby comes out, there are many differences in the whole procedure.  I don’t know what’s on TV or the radio or what books are written these days–I’m missing cultural changes in society–and it hurts.  More specifically put, does the label “American” fit me anymore?

I know that I could not wear the label “German” either.  My German friends here in Dresden joke sometimes that I have been “germanized,” complimenting me, I know, on embracing the German culture.  I have many friends here; we love so many things about German culture–some of which we don’t find in American culture.  But I will never be able to connect with them about their upbringing.  There are so many things I won’t understand about growing up in East Germany, going to German schools or cultural and family traditions–and that hurts, too.

I can relate perfectly to my American friends who grew up in the U.S. as I did, but I cannot relate to many things going on in America today.

I cannot relate to my German friends upbringing at all, but I have embraced their culture to the point of feeling “at home” in Dresden most of the time.

Where is my home?  The answer lies neither in the U.S. or Germany.   During my on-going contemplation of this dilemma of feeling like a stranger in a strange land–whichever land I’m in–I was working on a lecture for a different topic and I had a vague idea that I wanted to maybe use the text from “This World Is Not My Home” to illustrate a point.  As I dug out an old songbook, I read the text.  Then the meaning finally hit me.

This World isn’t my home!  I can’t tell you what relief washed over me after I truly realized that fact.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t fit in perfectly with American culture.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t fit in perfectly with German culture.  It doesn’t matter if everyone labels me as “crazy” for lobbying for deposits on shopping carts in the U.S.  It doesn’t matter if I feel affronted when Germans tell me my kids are too loud.  I can let it go.  I can let it go.  Because my focus is elsewhere.  Why was this burden so heavy?  Because I was focusing on this world instead of the next.  I was so concerned about pleasing two cultures at once–which, by the way, is not humanly possible–that I was forgetting that my true home awaits my attention.  I was trying to be all things to all men, but it wasn’t with God’s glory in mind, it was with me in mind.  Christ was also a stranger in a strange land, but he focused on sharing God’s message of love and reconciliation to the people in his time and in ours instead of trying to please ideas of what he should be or how he should appear.  His treasure were definitely “laid up” in heaven with the Father and not here on earth.

What happened on 9/11 is evidence that Christ’s message of love and reconciliation is desperately needed.  It’s a message that transcends all countries and cultures.  In a world where Satan is wreaking havoc, it’s a relief to be able to look forward to a beautiful home with the Father, to be able experience and share his message of love and reconciliation…wherever I may live in the meantime.

As a final note, I would like to reference this post on my friend, Caryn’s, blog.  This is not what spurred me to write this post today, but it illustrates a beautiful message about this topic.