Category Archives: Bible

My first sermon – the actual text

Good Morning. As you can imagine I am a bit nervous, standing in front of you like this for the first time. And I am even more nervous because I will be unconventional, radical even right now: I will be sharing my thoughts on how I read today’s gospel with you and standing up there behind the lectern would imply that I know more than you and am trying to teach you, which is not what I am doing. However, if I am standing down here, Andrew and Richard are at my back. And apart from that making me even more nervous, I also don’t want to develop a crick in my neck trying to look at them once in a while! So, here is the radical part: Andrew and Richard, would you please come and sit down here with us?

Coincidentally, being unconventional and even radical is a big part of what I read in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us a story of a shepherd and his sheep. He calls them, they come, and they certainly don’t listen to the thief climbing over the wall, they only listen to their shepherd. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? All is good, the sheep are safe and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? I don’t see this in the world as it is today. Not at all. It is more like the opposite of what I see!

There has to be more to this story. So let’s have a closer look. One really important image in this story is humanity as a herd of sheep. This image is used again and again in the bible both in the OT and NT. We are quite used to it by now and most of the time we take a look at what the shepherd does. Today I would like to take a look at the sheep in the story. Sheep are rather simple minded, they follow each other, panic at the slightest provocation and all of these mean they sometimes run over the edge of a cliff. We, the humans, can be quite similar to this: We focus on the easy-to-understand things in life, follow each other – listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and so on – and sometimes this actually leads to our own destruction.

Being German I maybe have a special relationship with this behaviour. My grandfathers were volunteers for the army in 1939. They were excited to defend their country and restore its honour which they felt had been destroyed at the end of WW1 and the following years. They had seen the economic successes of Hitler and the 3rd Reich and were looking forward to a bright future for Germany and for themselves. But essentially they were good people. And so I grew up with one grandfather telling us children over and over again how stupid he had been and that he regretted nothing more than signing up for war. The other never spoke to me about his time as a soldier nor, as far as I know, to anyone else. I can only imagine that it was too painful for him. Only after he died, did we find some letters he wrote to his sister during his time at the front and in prison just after the war. The letters started off very happily, war was all sunshine and fun. But bit by bit the tone changed and though he couldn’t very well tell his sister explicitly, it is obvious that he lost his faith in the war and realised that it had been a terrible idea.

My grandfathers only realised what their mistake when it was already too late. They were caught in a flood that was just pulling them along and they could not find a way out. Of course theirs is a rather extreme example, but aren’t we all sometimes caught up in something we know is wrong? A lie leads to more lies until we have woven a tight net we can’t seem to escape, gossip divides us from each other and building a bridge across the divide becomes impossible, we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We literally cannot help ourselves.

So now, instead of it being happily ever after, everything is all doom and gloom? We always follow the herd and it leads us away from the shepherd towards the thief?

No. If there was no hope, there would have been no Jesus! The point I see in today’s Gospel is this: Jesus calls for us. Then, when the watchman opens the gate and the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, they follow him.

I’d like to talk a little bit about this calling from Jesus. When I was writing this sermon I was not sure I could do it. This was not because I don’t have the ability to speak in public or because I didn’t think my English was good enough but that Jesus calls me the same as all of you. I don’t know more than anyone else!

I have a confession to make. When I asked Andrew and Richard to come and sit down here I didn’t really do it because of my neck. I asked them because Jesus calls them the same as everyone, there is no one called more or called less, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, postulant, come to church regularly or never at all – Jesus is calling you!

You might not realise you are hearing Jesus’ call. Rarely do we experience this call consciously – it only happened twice in my life, both of which were the most awesome experience and really changed me. The clarity and understanding of the beauty of God’s love and forgiveness were truly amazing.

Most of the time though, we don’t get that but we still can hear the call. God is talking to us by other means and they can be anything: other people, poetry, songs, hymns, really anything. For example, when we had the vision day, the young people decided to start a home group. There was no bright light shining down from heaven but I know it was still God calling us to do it. And you being here today is also answering God’s call, no matter what other reasons you might have. My family is here to support me, yo0u might come every week or for any other reason but today Jesus called all of us together to experience fellowship with each other, praise God and to listen for his call.

Often we cannot hear Jesus calling us. We are too caught up in our lives, we are distracted by our own lives. My grandfathers were full of pride for their country, anger at the other countries and seduced by their desire for the acceptance by others.

I wish there was a recipe to follow that works for everyone but there really isn’t. There are as many ways to open up to God’s calling as your imagination permits. They do all have one thing in common: We need to pay attention! We need to make sure that we are NOT too distracted to hear it blasting in our ears.

Because we can be sure of one thing, no matter whether we have experienced it or not:

Jesus calls out to every single one of us because he knows that, as sinful as we are, as many mistakes as we make, we are worth it and we CAN get it right! Jesus believes in you!

He believes in you so much, that he died for you on the cross and defeated death. Jesus loves you and he believes in you and he is calling for YOU!

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First sermon – the (not) writing of it

I don’t know if you have ever written a speech. The only ones I have given before were presentations at school or university, with power point slides, very technical requirements, none of which were inspiring the audience but mostly the dissemination of information. I had been successful at that but in preparing my first sermon, I quickly realised that this would be very different.

You are supposed to put yourself into your sermon. Your own thoughts, your understanding, your private recollections are really the only way to make it truly meaningful to your audience. And this is frightening. The idea of standing in front of a lot of people you know and will continue to know and basically undressing your soul for them is not something I relished doing.

When I was given the gospel for the day and it turned out to be John Chapter 10, I was stumped. I had nothing to say. I only had a question: Why is the world not perfect if we answer to our shepherd?

Thankfully, the Minister had a good idea – why not talk about that question? So simple and so great. Once I had that theme decided on, thing just flowed. I am lucky in that my mother is something of an expert on the art of rhetoric and for two months every night in bed I played with what I wanted to say. I even had a first version written down about two weeks before I was supposed to give the sermon and had planned to practice it on my friends – that never happened. I was too chicken and it didn’t feel like I had gotten it right yet.

I am one of those people who will start something in good time, get a first draft with plenty of time left and then won’t finish until the last minute when the pressure is on maximum. Accordingly I completely rewrote the whole thing on the Sunday morning at 9 o’clock (the service starts at 11.45h), practiced it in my hallway, rewrote some parts again on little note cards (there was no actual text until after I had to hand it in to the DDO) and left for church at 11am. I was nervous like you cannot imagine as I pulled up in the car and entered the church.

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Being inspired by his Word

As you know, I am a scientist. and as such I have had my problems with the Bible. For years I bought into the myth that you either belived it all or you believed nothing. I know better now.

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The Bible – a very short history

First of all, it’s not a book, but many books. Second of all there is no agreement how many books are in it. Third of all, we don’t really know who wrote any of it (except for a very few books).

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I am called… to his Word

A priest is called to proclaim the gospel to the community he or she lives in. In order to be able to do this I will need to be immersed in scripture, to literally marinate myself in it so its essence can be spread around. I will therefore be diligent in prayer, expose myself to scripture systematically and prayerfully and will study with regard to deepening my faith. A priests combines a passion for God’s word with a passion for living in God’s world and lives with attentive wonder. I will point out God’s work to others and listening to both the parish and God will help me to grow stronger and more mature in my ministry. As part of my prayer time, I read one chapter from the Old Testament and one chapter from the New Testament as well as a psalm each day. Only by truly opening ourselves to the many ways God communicates with us can we do his work in the world. Scripture for me is one of the most immediate ways God talks to me. Many times have I come to him with a problem, exhausted, tired or also happy and found some answer, comfort or joy in the chapter or psalm I was reading that day. Just as many times I was taught a lesson or inspired to be a better person through reading scripture. As a priest I will have a better understanding of scripture, both what it means and better skills to find meaning in it. Combining what I read in the Bible with what I am experiencing in the world and in my life brings me comfort and insight not least into myself.

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Worship with my children

No, I am not married and I never had children. But organising a prep course for first communion and since then leading the Sunday School services in our chaplaincy have provided me with a small group of great kids with whom I get to learn and worship about once every two months.

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Prayer and I – a short history of growth

Prayer is the ground on which my relationship with God stands. As I said before, my praying has evolved slowly, and the more I pray, the more I want to and the more I need to. Of course this has not happened over night but over years.

In 2010 I started praying intermittently, feeling slightly foolish when I was praying. I had never truly prayed by myself before and it was a very new experience. It felt like I was saying these (often not very meaningful words) into thin air and there they just vanished. I had a few good experiences, too, when God’s presence was very tangible and his comfort and support manifest in the words I was reading. And so I realised, that it helped me be at peace to talk to God and I prayed more regularly. Eventually I designed my own daily prayer with a psalm being read in the morning and two readings from OT and NT in the evening. The Daily Office provided by the CoE was too stuffy and structured – and also too long!  – for me at the time.

In 2013 I also started a prayer diary, after our chaplain suggested it in one of his sermons (see, some people really do listen!). Writing down my prayers helps me to focus and think about what is important for me at the time. It helps to make my prayer seem more real and shows me when God answers my prayers. Also, it gives me a way to trace how oftyen and how regular I pray. If I miss a day or two, I ask myself why and try to not let that same reason divide me from God again.

Around November 2013 I discovered “Time to Pray” on Amazon and I feel using it gives me the structure and routine I need while leaving me with the free space to make the prayer a time I can open up to God and his word. It is based on the Daily Office but I use it creatively, with my own Bible readings and reflections. Sometimes I ignore it and just talk to God. mostly though, it is very helpful to have a framework on which to base my prayers. Praying daily has helped deepen my relationship with God and reach a new level of commitment. At the beginning prayer was very much a chore I had put on myself, now it is something that I look forward to.

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The Nature of Calling

Molnár József: Ábrahám kiköltözése

Molnár József: Abraham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago I wrote about how I had had two upheavals in my faith and I told you about one of them. The reason, that I didn’t talk about the second one is, that I am not quite sure myself yet. How do you know that God is calling you? There are many, many stories about God calling people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every calling seems to be quite unique ad at the same time they all seem to be similar in some way. It confuses me. I thought I knew what my calling was going to be and I was ready for it and happy but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that it is not happening and I am finding myself at a loss. What am I doing? Did I completely miss the point? How can I get back on track, and was it the right track? If not, how do I find the right one?

Reading about Abraham being called by God to just up and leave with only his faith in God as reassurance that things would work out, I feel similarly. In a kind of limbo, not seeing where I am going and even struggling with where I am coming from. I know I am just supposed to have faith and happily follow along but, honestly, I hat this. It is horrible not to know. I am sure as much as Abraham believed in God, he also had doubts and wanted to know where he was going to go. All he had was this vague promise, that God will show him the land. Well, I have a not-so-vague promise that God is always with me and guides me and will rescue me at the end of time but right now that doesn’t seem very helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I draw a lot of energy from my faith and God and the community in my church and all of this is amazingly helpful in itself. Yet, sometimes, rather often, I think to myself: But what am I doing? And I wish God would answer that question. And I know that eventually he will. (But can’t it be sooner, rather than later, please?)

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Having faith

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engr...

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my discipleship course today we studied (some of) the story of Sarah and Abraham. At first I thought, that since I already very much knew this story (backwards and forwards and all) it wouldn’t be a great session and I’d probably not get very much from it but it might be fun anyways. Well, the joke’s on me. I didn’t just have one but two major shifts in my perception of God and his nature. It was amazing how much a new perspective can change the meaning of a story and how talking about the Bible changes how you read it so much. I am starting to think that reading the Bible by yourself is really almost futile (although also important) if you don’t also read it with other people! Preferably with someone who knows what they’re doing.

But yes, I learned something today. I learned, by reading the conversation between God and Abraham, that it wasn’t important to God what Abraham thought or believed so much. He made him promises and “signed a contract” (by moving a torch between carcasses of Abraham’s sacrifice, there is no accounting for culture, is there?) and he didn’t ask anything from Abraham in return. He had faith in him and that was it. And when Sarah laughed at him, at the idea of her having a child, that didn’t matter either (so much for being vengeful and jealous, I always knew that was not the God I know), he just reaffirmed his promise. And when I thought about it, this happens again and again; he calls Moses and promises him he’ll free his people, and Moses says: No! Not me! but God has faith in him. And he talks to Solomon who says: I don’t know what I’m doing! but God believes in him. And then, of course there is Jonah who needs a lot of persuasion before he finally knows that he can do it, too. And eventually God sent the world his son and never asked anything in return. He had faith in all of us, that his suffering would not be in vain. It is an amazing feeling and I needed quite some time to process all of this. And now I feel very, very lucky.

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1 John 4:16 (b)

 God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

And that is the most important truth about God. He loves us. Always. Whether we know it or not. And it is his love that brings out the best in us. Feeling his love can turn a life around forever.

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Creation and… well, what?

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not believe in Evolution. What I mean by that is, that I know evolution took place and therefore I don’t need to believe it. Whereas I believe that God created the universe. I believe that because there is no scientific proof that he has. There is a lot of scientific proof that evolution happened. But this post isn’t really supposed to be about evolution at all (maybe I’ll write more about that later but it will be less a post about what my faith tells me and more a post on science and knowledge), it is a question I ask myself whenever I start thinking about it. About what? The Fall. You know, when Adam and Eve supposedly ate the apple (or whatever fruit it might have been) and found out that they were naked and so on and so on. The Fall is almost the second thing that happens in the Bible (after everything is created and named and told its purpose) and without knowing what the Fall actually is, I find it difficult to understand almost anything else. Because everything in me tells me that creation is a good thing, that God is proud of it and that none of it is bad or evil. Yet, obviously, I cannot say that humans are good and everything they/we do is exactly as God wishes it to be. I have put quite a bit of emphasis on free will (see my posts on Invictus and what it means to me) and I honestly do believe that God gave it to us as a present. But! If it is such a good thing, why do we need rescuing from it? For me, Jesus dying on the cross feels weird if it was necessary to redeem humanity from the Fall. And what might the actual Fall be anyways? Is it when humans started to think abstractedly, develop a sense of self (animals have that), became creative? All of these together? And, since I believe (but don’t know the proof) that evolution was ultimately responsible for all of these, were they in God’s plan from the beginning and if so, why didn’t he change the plan again? As you can tell I am thoroughly confused. Please help me, tell me what you believe the Fall was/is and how it fits in with God’s plan. I will continue to ponder.

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God’s Holy Word

English: Bible in candlelight.

After writing extensively about the Bible (see here and here), I am finally tackling the big question: What is its spiritual value to me or, how do I actually use it as the foundation of my faith in God. Well, this is a difficult question for me and I haven’t quite figured it out completely.

Is it inspired writing?

I believe, that the people who wrote were mostly inspired to write it but I think that their inspiration is still coloured with their cultural preconceptions. I believe that they mostly acted out of genuine passion for the sharing of God’s deeds and were trying to write these down as truthfully as possible. I don’t think they were infallible in any way; they were human and therefore subject to human failures. Those who spoke to God were not protected from misunderstanding or misrepresenting because it suited them better.

So why bother reading it?

Apart from the intrinsic value of reading something as beautiful and interesting as the Bible, I find that it gives me a connection to those people in the past who had had that special connection to God and Jesus and wanted to share it with later generations. There are a lot of rules and advice in the Bible and most of it is really useful for everyday life – once you translate it to modern times of course!I don’t use it as a textbook for worldly matters (such as history or science) but rather for spiritual and theological matters. At the end of the day, we only have our own and other people’s experience of God to rely on.

Most importantly:

There are some verses or chapters or sections that just seem important; they can be inspiring or beautiful or sometimes they are neither but they still speak to me. They ring true. Sometimes they remind me of my own life circumstances. I believe that this is God speaking to me through the scriptures – and every time it happens it is an amazing feeling. I get to feel a wonderful moment of  connection with God. It doesn’t happen regularly, or even very often, but if I don’t read the Bible it cannot happen at all. So for me, the Bible is one of the ways that I make contact with God (or rather, he makes contact with me!) and while it is not the only way it is an important one.

How do you  read the Bible? Is it important in your everyday life?

I especially suggest you read Justin Hiebert’s take on the power of storytelling here.

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Why bother?

English: An image of Psalm 23 (King James' Ver...

English: An image of Psalm 23 (King James’ Version), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home. Scanned at 800 dpi. Français : Illustration du Psaume 23 (version autorisée par le roi Jacques), en frontispice de l’édition omnibus du Sunday at home. Version numérisée à 800 dpi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My post The Book poses the question of why would I read the Bible if I don’t think all of it is true? Well,  I will talk about the spiritual side later, but even if you don’t believe in God at all, I think, reading the Bible is not the worst decision you can make.

There is beautiful poetry in the Bible.

Everyone (or almost everyone) knows Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd… with all its beautiful imagery. And ther are many, many more beautiful Psalms in this section of the Bible alone; some of my favourites are Psalms 23, Psalm 100 (mostly because I sang it in an amazing song once) and Psalm 103. But that is not the only poetry in the Bible, not even close to it. Lamentations are heartbreakingly hopeless and regretful (plus a very small section that is heartbreakingly hopeful) and the Song of Songs… well you really wouldn’t expect language like that in the Bible! But you can feel the love the lover and beloved have for each other and it is full of joy. Ecclesiastes also has some amazing poetry. Then there are the many canticles; the song that random people sing to God throughout the whole Bible, my favourite being the Magnificat, sung by Mary after the visit of the angel who told her she was going to have a child. Maybe it is because I have heard and sung it many times over the years but every time time I read her humble and yet joyful praise, I feel the same way. Powerful language is present throughout the Bible but it starts right at the beginning with Genesis 1. A beautiful poem on the beginning of the world and its beauty.

Many, many good stories

Whether you like romance or adventure or political thrillers, there is something for everyone in the Bible. There are battles (in too much detail for my taste, but maybe you like that sort of thing), bad Kings (who tyrannise their people and decide that the Law doesn’t apply to them), wise men who get killed for telling the truth – you can find the whole nadwidth of human idiocy and its results in here. My favourites are the story of Susanna (actually in the Apocrypha, for Protestants and part of Daniel for everyone else) who gets falsely accused of adultery and is on the verge of being killed when Daniel the prophet rushes to her rescue and identifies the true culprits (who tried to rape her in this legal thriller) and the story of Deborah who shows the men of her time what a true woman is capable of (gender issues are not all that new it turns out).

There is a lot of wisdom to be found

If you’ve never looked into a Bible you won’t know this but a lot of the sayings and phrases in English (and also German, and I’m sure in many other languages) are direct copies of things written in the Bible. It’s because they are just universally true. Especially Proverbs is a great source of these, but if you have the chance to read the Wisdom of Solomon (again the Apocrypha for Protestants) you will actually find a lot of Wisdom there.
A lot of it, and this is true for much of the Bible actually, makes you think, it challenges you on a deep level and you start to consider how something relates to your own life. I like the challenge and often find, that even if I disagree with something I can usually find a way to learn from it.

How many books can do all of the above? (If you do know one, please tell me because I’ll want to read it, too.) Even if you are not at all interested in spirituality or the existence of God, reading the Bible can enrich your life and help you to understand yourself and the world around you in a different way.

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John 15:12

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

My favourite verse in the New Testament is this one. It really shows the priorities we should all have and what Jesus expects of us. If only it were as easy as it sounds…

 

 

 

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Interesting, interesting, interesting! A thought provoking look at women in the New Testament:

ben.edictions

I decided to jot this down after reading an essay by Scot McKnight of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  The point of his essay is that for whatever reason (he gives a few but I don’t necessarily agree) these women are pushed to the margins of both biblical studies and church teaching and have there for much of Christian history.  A few names on this list are familiar, but most I know only through scattered references and some not at all.  Even of the prominent, their true role as portrayed in Scripture and the implications of that role are almost universally minimized.  Simply put, I’m writing this post to stop being part of the problem.  After reading through the following I hope what I mean here will become clear.  I am not trying to advocate for any certain theology or way of life.  I just think it is time…

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The Book

bibles

Over more than a thousand years, many, many different authors and editors (most of which we don’t know the name) wrote, edited and combined the writings; the collection of which is commonly known as “The Bible”. The Bible has always fascinated me (as a child I read and re-read my children’s Bible semi-obsessively) because we know almost nothing about it for sure and yet, its story is alive and inspiring millions and billions of people every day. Therefore, and because the Bible was this week’s topic in my discipleship course, I will take the next few days to talk about the great, big, mystery that is the Bible.

Today I am just going to go over some general information that I am sure most of you know already, but it is important to make sure we are all on the same level regardless. So, first of all, we don’t know who wrote what in the Bible – mostly. Despite the Author being named for almost every book of the Bile, there are actually not that many we know for sure about. The New Testament epistles are actually the majority among those few. This, of course, leaves us with the question; if we don’t know who wrote it (and only have a vague idea about when it was written) how trustworthy are the accounts in the Bible? I am not going to pass judgment on this, I definitely don’t know enough about it. Wikipedia has some information about this, but, remember it’s good old Wikipedia and not necessarily trustworthy.

Then there are the apocrypha. They are those books whose presence in the Bible is disputed (see again Wikipedia) since quite a few books in the Old Testament are only acknowledged as scripture by some of the many Christian traditions plus a few books of the New Testament that didn’t make it into the official canon (which is the same in all traditions as far as I know).

On top of all this, the books of the Bible were written in Hebrew and Greek and even in the original languages there are quite a few different versions. Once you add the many, many different translations existing today, things become even more complicated. Reading more than one translation can both clarify the meaning or confuse it more.

Now, what the Bible is actually about, is, in my opinion and there are many, the history and the relationship between God and his people (mostly Israel). Over the millenia, the people refuse to listen to God’s rules and laws again and again and are accordingly worse off (the stories are told as punishments, but I don’t believe that). Every time they decide to return to their good ways, God welcomes them back with open arms. God communicates with and warns his people through the prophets. The Old Testament has its main focus on the Exodus from Egypt, the Davidic kingdom and dynasty and the exile in Babylonia. In the New testament, God (who apparently is finally fed up with the endless cycle of obedience and rebellion) has sent his only son to Earth and for three years, Jesus teaches and lives the Good News (or Evangelion or Gospel) of God’s salvation for his people. After Jesus’ death we read about the struggles of the new church and the early believers through their letters to each other.

How literal can we read it?

Looking at the picture painted above, I think it is save to say that literal reading, especially of the Old Testament, is not advisable.  I believe, that there is some truth to most of the histories and experiences described in the Bible but also that they were changed over time, or written down long after what they are telling us about happened and therefore I try to take everything with a pinch of salt. I know there are many Christians out there who believe that everything written about in the Bible happened exactly so but I do not share that belief. (Feel free to discuss this in the comments.) So, if I don’t think all of it is true, why would I even bother with it? I’ll tell you more soon…

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Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

This is my favourite verse in the Old Testament. The promise expressed through it is truly comforting and heart-warming. Yes, it is true: We are not alone. Thank you, God, for giving me this message.

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Why I don’t capitalise

When I saw someone writing about God capitalising the words He and Him for the first time, I was surprised and not in a good way. Coming from Germany, where capitalisation is very commonplace, I had come to like the English system, where capitals are only used for very special purposes. So I could see why people would do it but to me it just looked very, very strange. I never understood why, until I had a discussion with my housemate about it. Talking about it made me realise, that God for me is a friend, someone close to me and spelling his personal pronouns with capital letters seemed to put a lot of distance between us and not very helpful when trying to establish or maintain a relationship. Still, I wondered, was I being disrespectful? After all, God is a massively superior being and writing capitals when talking about him makes complete sense. Who am I to dispel with such a tradition, I thought.  Then, I was reading the German Bible, I realised something. To understand, I’ll need to tell you a little about German, so bear with me. In German, we have two ways of addressing someone; the formal way “Sie” which is spelled with a capital and used for people of a higher rank, older people or people we don’t know very well, and the much more informal “du” which is spelled lower case and used for people you know well. Both of those would simply be “you” in modern English. In the German Bible, every communication between God and humans takes place with the informal you; God uses it for us, people use it when talking to him. I don’t know, of course, whether the original Hebrew has the same distinction but the fact that the King James Bible, who was written at a time when English also had the same distinction, also uses to more informal version (thee and thou) leaves me to believe that it does. And if, in the Bible, God is fine with the informal address, surely he won’t mind if I don’t capitalise personal pronouns when talking about him?

What do you think? Am I being too fussy about it?

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Two or three

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new testament tells us the most astonishing story of God being born as Man and coming to Earth. And not only does he condescend to our rather low level of existence (as it must seem from his point of view), he also let’s himself be tortured and killed, and all in the name of saving us. This must be the ultimate proof of God’s love for mankind. Only a God who really wants to help would do that. And in the form of Jesus he tells us quite a bit about his love.

 

Matthew 7:7

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”

So, while the initiative is our responsibility, God will always be there for us. All we have to do is ask. Isn’t that amazing? We know that we never need to be alone, whatever happened, whether we were hurt by someone, are ill or in pain, or if we screwed up; God is there, ready to assure us that he loves us and always will. It doesn’t get more comforting than that!

 

Matthew 18: 20

“For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”

Additionally, whenever there are people together, talking about or to God, they will not be alone. God will be right there with them, supporting them and helping them help each other. He explains how he does it: He will work through the other people (which is why he needs at least one more person there). So there won’t be lightening and thunder to help us but someone else, of our own kind. While it might seem a bit of a let-down that God won’t change the course of history or science because we ask him to, it also means, that God has probably helped us many times already without us even noticing.

 

Matthew 28: 20

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

All of this really leaves no room for interpretation; God is there, he hears and listens and he helps us through the work of others. And the best thing is: No matter what happens, he always will.

 

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A life can never be given back

English: Footprints from Westhaven. Looking ba...

Today I was listening to a lecture on Christian ethics, originally to try out whether I liked the speaker or not. Then I realised he was talking about the death penalty and what the Bible says about it and I couldn’t stop listening. This is something very important to me, not least because a friend of mine was murdered a few years ago. Now, you might think that I would want the killer to die, maybe even, that I should want him to die but actually I don’t. In fact, when I first thought about it (being from Germany where the death penalty is not an option, it didn’t cross my mind until someone asked me) I realised that I felt quite the opposite. This man had taken my friend’s life and I wanted him to realise what he had done (he never showed remorse or apologised to her family or anyone else as far I know) and then live with it. Because wouldn’t that be so much worse than just dying? I feel terrible whenever I do something to hurt anyone else and while I realise that not everyone feels the same, I hope that killing your girlfriend would result in that. I think if the guy was killed because of the society I am a member of I would actually feel guilty (and I agree that that would go a bit far and not be a reasonable reaction at all). There are a lot of reasons for and against the death penalty and I cannot possibly list them all here but if you are interested here is an extensive list of all the arguments. The lecturer, I was listening to, made some arguments for and against it  and finally came to the conclusion that the Bible allows the death penalty if it is applied justly and fairly. This is a big if of course and he also concluded after giving a few examples that the process cannot ever be completely just and fair. While I agree with the latter I don’t agree with the former. His arguments were compelling but mainly based on the Old Testament and I choose to believe that God told us in much more detail about himself in the New Testament. Even as early as Deuteronomy we are told that revenge belongs to God and Paul explains it to us in Romans: Do not take revenge my friend… on the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Also, using my moral sense it just feels very wrong. Like I said, it would be too easy for the killer and he would never have the chance to repent and try to atone his crime. I believe, and maybe this is a little wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, that everyone can give something to society and that every single person plays a role in the greater scheme of life. Letting somebody live, even if it is just in prison, gives him (or her) the chance to give something back. Even if it is writing a book and becoming rich or just sowing footballs (or whatever it is they do in prisons these days). I am just a normal person who likes to hold a grudge as well as anyone, so don’t think I am some angelic weirdo. In the beginning I was so furious (and so very sad!) and as I found out more details about her Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.death I became angrier and angrier. For a while all those feelings took over my life. When the trial was finally over, after almost a year, I was so glad that his terrible crime was acknowledged by awarding him the maximum sentence possible (15 years, if you are not considered a menace to society in Germany). As I write these lines and remember it all, the tears come back into my eyes.  I am very glad I was asked about my friend’s killer because it helped me to find out, in a moment of amazing grace, that I had started to forgive him.  I realised that I didn’t want him to suffer in prison and that I hope when he leaves, he has used the time in prison to get an education and make something of his life. Enough lives have already been destroyed because of his actions. I don’t think I will ever stop being sad but I am eternally grateful that I have stopped being furious. Sometimes I am still angry but it passes quicker every time.

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Filed under Bible, Ethics, good vs. bad, New Testament, Philosophy, Prayer