Catholic Culture Shock

I hope my catholic friends will forgive me for the title of this blogpost, but it truly reflects my heart and experience over the past year.  I have been shocked and shaken in a positive way by my catholic brothers and sisters. (Für diesen Blog in Deutsch clicke hier)

You must know that I grew up like almost every American evangelical as anti-Catholic.  Much like Nathanael I said in my heart „Can anything good come from Catholics“.  I cringe at my pride and prejudice as I write this, but this is what I believed in my heart for so many years.  Fueled by doctrinal disputes and my upbringing I always was ultra-skeptical of anything coming out of the catholic church.  I do not wish to elaborate on the doctrinal issues that differ in this blog, but instead let you take part in the change in my heart that has taken place this past year.

My first culture shock actually came years back when I was introduced to Thomas a Kempis‘ „Imitation of Christ“ through my research on Vincent Van Gogh, who was greatly impacted by this reading.   Thomas a Kempis, a catholic monk, wrote this devotional book in 1418, which for centuries was the most widely read devotional book.   I was greatly impacted by the practical theology and the daily truths won out of this reading.

But that reading is nothing compared to what I experienced this year at the prayer house in Augsburg.  I knew when I started at the prayer house that it was an inter-denominational place founded by a catholic theologian, Dr. Johannes Hartl.  I didn’t expect though to be so touched by such deep faith.  I have been struck many times by the bible-centered heart that is displayed in the powerful teachings of Johannes Hartl.  What clarity, what passion for Christ!   (here link to youtube messages )

Another shock came when I found out that my prayerhouse leader for the morning shift is a catholic theologian from Vienna, Austria – the same city I grew up in with my so anti-Catholic thinking.   Was this God’s sense of humor?  I am touched by this man’s sincerity and deep faith.  He has already at his young age written great worship songs that are being sung all throughout Germany.

Further ripples of this shockwave touched my heart when I realized that so many of our financial supporters are devout Catholics.  Our family even benefitted twice by the kindness and hospitality of dear catholic friends who let us stay in their homes for vacation.  You get to know people even better when you are in their home and realize what books they read.  John Piper, C.S.Lewis and Pete Greig next to books by Cantalamessa and Pope Benedikt.

Almost everyone in  my morning shift has a catholic background.  I am still today often dumbfounded when I hear their testimonies and greatly overjoyed.  I love the Christ-centric interdenominational spirit of the prayer house.   It is only at the prayer house that an American evangelical, like myself, can be asked by a catholic priest to sit down with him for a cup of coffee and have a tremendous heart to heart conversation about faith. I wish everyone could experience this.  If you are interested you can come and visit us at any time or come to our big Conference MEHR  in January where over 8000 people from all kinds of Christian backgrounds come together.

I am utterly humbled by the faith of my catholic brothers and sisters.  All my preconceptions and prejudice have crumbled and left me ashamed for how I used to think.  A couple of weeks ago I asked my shift leader, the theologian from Vienna, if I could ask him as representative of all Catholics from Vienna for forgiveness for my pride and prejudice towards them.  It was a very moving moment in my heart when he spoke out to me forgiveness on behalf of the Viennese Catholics.

I still do not understand many things out of the catholic tradition.  Words like Medjugorje, Eucharistic adoration, veneration of the saints still bring utter puzzlement to my face.  Perhaps that will never quite change, but what I know has changed in my heart is my love and acceptance for my catholic brothers and sisters.

This culture shock, like most, has been good and healthy for my soul.

(For further thoughts on this, I encourage my German evangelical readers to read „Katholisch als Fremdsprache“ by Johannes Hartl.)

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Working on the 90%

“Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% of how you react to it.” -Charles R. Swindoll

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Today should have not happend this way… I, sure didn’t plan it this way!

I woke up at 5 am today ready to go to the prayer room.  All thankful for the car I have, I drove off through the empty Sunday morning streets.  Just before I got to the Prayerhouse – my front left tire blew.  Just barely making it over a big intersection, I parked the car in a side road and walked the last bit to the prayerroom to begin my 2 hour prayer time.

How do I start a prayertime when I am just so frustrated about what happened?!  How can I truly pray when there are so many worries going through my mind?  “How will I get home?” “I didn’t want to buy new tires this month!” “How do I put on a spare tire ?”  “How do I get the car back home?” :  A thousand little thoughts distracting me.  I sat down in the back of the prayerroom thinking:  “These are going to be long 2 hours!”

Thankfully though I remembered that I do have a choice!  A choice to worry and a choice to trust God.  I can sit in the prayerroom full of worry,  planing and sceaming on how to get my problem fixed or I can choose to trust in God who said he sees everything and will take care of me.  So 10 minutes into sitting in the back worrying I took a stand!

Litterally – I stood up.

One thing I have learned lately is that my physical posture in prayer has a direct influence on my heart attitude.  It matters what I do with my body in prayer and it can make the defining difference.  So I stood and began to walk and pray.  I began to remind myself of all the attributes God has. I started to see my situation from a different perspective and realized that my worrying was not going to change a thing.  Prayer has so much to do with the perspective from which you are praying.  Standing still, facing the wall I said: “God, I choose to not worry about this.  I choose you!”

I choose to work on the 90%.  How about you?

(I was later that day able to put on the spare tire and get the car home – I’m going tire shopping today 😉 )

 

Prayer: The Clash of Worlds

I’ve experienced Prayer lately as the place where my worlds clash. I’ve had this happen to me several times these past weeks during my time in the prayer house in Augsburg.  The business of my heart crashes into the wall of prayer.  Do you know this feeling?

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Prayer in all its “uselessness”, otherness, strangeness, unproductiveness – clashes with the values of this world – with the values of my heart.

My time in the prayer House in Augsburg is structured in a way so that 25 hours of my week are spent in the prayer room praying.  The remaining 17 hours are work hours.  Slowly but surely my work hours are getting filled with larger projects and long To-Do lists.  As head of the Prayer House Shop there are a lot of new things we are tackling as the ministry of the Prayer House begins to reach even more people.  Due to my background in Human Resources I have also been given additional tasks that will structurally change some things for the organization.  All of this gets me excited and pumped with new ideas – full of things to do.  Then on top of that I have realized that there are a lot of things I want to do differently in my role as husband and father at home…oh! and then there things that need to get fixed, the car tires that need to get changed, … more To-Do Lists.

Last week I had one of those “clashing-Moments”.  I came extra early to my desk at work (I love early mornings!) and had two hours of real productive work before my prayer-shift started.  I was on a roll:  tackling emails, finishing a PowerPoint presentation for the leaders, Mindmaping and finalizing a template.  Then 8 o’clock came around – my time to start prayer for the next 4 hours.  I was furious!!!  What an interruption to my productivity.  What a waste of time…

I walked up those steps to the prayer room with fear and grumbling.  Do you know the feeling?   When the business of life screams for attention and it seams so counter-productive to be still and pray.

One thing I have learned these past weeks, when I enter God’s presence, is to keep giving Jesus my “yes” – no matter how I feel.  And so this is what I did – I let God know how I was feeling and yet told him to do what he wants to with this time.  It took some time for my busy thoughts to calm down – but then once again the beauty of his presence gloriously put everything into perspective.  The great eternal realities crashed into my little business setting my priorities into the proper order again.

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And so I am glad for this daily challenge that we all face!  The clash of these worlds takes place every time we refuse to let the business of life be our slave driver and set our eyes on the loving Son who calls us His brothers and sisters saying: “My yoke is light”

In such busy times I have to always think of the book title from Bill Hybles:

“Too busy NOT to pray.”

6 Hours for 11 Verses ?!?

How can this be?  How can you spend 360 minutes reading and reflecting on just 11 verses of the bible?  How is this possible?

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I started writing about this experience in my last blog.  This is now my third week spending 4 hours almost every day in the prayer room at the prayer house in Augsburg.  Every Thursday is a very unique Prayer Session between 10:00 – 12:00 called Worship with the Word (www).  It is a two hour session where God’s word is read, sung and meditated on.  You get to take your time – there is absolutely no rush – no agenda of having to sing a certain amount of songs or get through a whole chapter within the time.  It is litterally a slow digestion of what you hear.   (how often do I rush through what I read?)

I must admit I am absolutely fascinated by this!   Time seams to stand still – or better yet basically not exist when in these sessions.  It all starts with one of the musicians singing the bible passage.  Then the prayer leader reads the text out loud.  Next the musicians take up a word or phrase that the prayer leader just read and start singing this.  They sing God’s word.  Then the next singer picks up another facet of what was just read or connects it in a beautiful way with another truth or verse.  And so it goes on and on and keeps going deeper.  Then all of the sudden out of all the truths that were sung a chorus is built together.

As I sit there in the room with my bible in front of me, I join in the choruses singing what is on the pages in front of me.   It is then that I realize that I am not just intellectually reading or understanding something – or singing some song…but there is truth falling like a heavy stone deep into the well of my heart.  I am caught up in the moment.

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The 11 verses we meditated on in the last three thursday sessions were Revelations Chapter 4 – The throne Room in Heaven.  It almost defeats the purpose if I put in words what sunk into my heart in those 6 hours.

The Throne // the 24 other thrones // the elders clothed in white // the sea of glas // the 4 living creatures // the laying down of crowns // the constant worship

The simple truth is – there IS a throne room and one day I will be there.

The meditation culmitates in verse 11 with:

 “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power.  For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created”

What a counter cultural statement in-and-of-itself that is!    A literall expression of what is done 24/7 at the prayer house.  There is a reason for all the wasteful extravageance of talent and time and it is found in these 11 verses (and many others).  It is all so diametrically “OTHER” to the laws and principles of this world.   Everythings obtains and loses its meaning before His throne.

And then the stone of truth hits rock bottom:  I am created for HIS pleasure – and every cell of my body seams to respond by saying “Yes”!

10 Days in the Prayer House in Augsburg

Changes! – A whole new lifestyle – A whole new way of living and working isn’t done in just one day.  It doesn’t just happen on the first day.  Less than a month ago I was still in my corporate job at Infineon.  And so these past 10 days have been full – full emotionally, full with changes, full with adjustments.

(Für diesen Blog auf Deutsch hier klicken)

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But let me start with my time away alone in the „Westlichen Wälder“– A large forest west of Augsburg. It was beautiful and I simply enjoyed the silence.  The Stauden-Meditations Weg is definitely worth it.  I was filled with thankfulness.  To be honest I thought being alone would cause me to drop off into melancholy reflection.  Giving up my position, my team, my security.  But I was surprised by the deep peace I felt and how full of a thankful heart I was for how God had opened this door, how God had led me.  I was just thankful to finally start at the Prayer house.  I did so much hiking – walking 15-30 km each day.  I felt as though I literally had to put distance between my job and the start at the prayer house.  Something new was about to start and so I needed to leave the past behind me.  On my last day I decided to hike the 30 km home instead of taking the bus.  So after 6 hours I ended up at a café in Bobingen.  I didn’t plan this, but that was the exact same café where I had sat together with one of the leaders of the prayer house 5 months ago.  It was here that I began to think about leaving Infineon and take this leap of faith.  Trusting God to provide the finances for me and my family.  That was very meaningful to me.  To top it all off, God allowed me to receive an email as I was sitting there from a family that decided to support us.   It was as if He was saying: „ Look I will take care of you!”

12814426_10153672046854821_1990389052464429317_nSo with tired feet and a happy and firm heart I started on March 1st.  I felt such a privilege on that day.  How great it was to be commissioned and prayed for.  And how great to have such peace and see His confirming hand.

One of my big questions (that I have already written about here) was:  How would it feel to pray 4-5 hours each day?

I admit I had a hard time the first two days entering this prayer lifestyle.  Still filled with a desire to DO a bunch of things – to accomplish – to gets stuff off my “To-Do” list.  I quickly ran out of things to pray for and felt then so hard to stay focused.  Just having left Infineon – a high performance company, I was struck by the stark contrast of what I was entering into.  “What I waste! – What abandonment!

  • Why are those 5 talented musicians playing two hours with such professionalism worship songs when the room is half empty?
  • Why pray for the needs of this country with such earnestness when no one is listening?
  • Why spend all this time in prayer?

A waste of time?  Did I really leave my career for this?

On my third day in the Prayer Room I decided to stop “doing” and to try to just be present.  I was hit in full force on that day for whom all this is being done.  All the hours – all the songs – all the prayers – all the stillness – all the talented musicians.  All this because Jesus is risen – He is Lord and He is worth it.  All this abandoned “waste” felt like a culture shock to my effectivity, results driven business lifestyle.

Isn’t that what love really is?  Extravagant “wasteful” “over the top”?  Going all out for your loved one!  Love isn’t really love if it is all about effectiveness, getting something out of it or fulfilling some duty.  Love is always about going the extra mile.

In the midst of a two-hour worship session where in song and prayer we were contemplating only two verses from the throne room of God (Revelations 4) I became aware that there is actually nothing more valuable than this.  To sit at His feet and give him all my worship.  I can’t imagine a worthier use of my time.

Good-byes & Good-readings

A decision made in November became reality last thursday when I had my last day at Infineon.  Sadness, joy, anticipation and persistance all seam possible to feel within a single emotion.  So many heartfelt “goodbyes” said in one day were not easy to handle.

I am filled with such thankfulness for my team at Infineon and the many challenges and victories we won together.  They were intense 2,5 years.  We re-invented recruiting.   I am sure I will need to reflect so much more on the past 12 years in Business – from Bank Teller, to Salesman, to Headhunter, to Project Manager, to Talent Attraction Manager to Prayer House Missionary.   I write this with a smirk on my face.  😉  I’m sure more reflections on this will follow.

I will miss my Dream-Team:  the creative mind-changers, the extreme hard workers, the practical professionals, the fighters who closed the ranks to help out, the innovators, the many laughs and the fun.

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My farewell gift from my Team – A Calender to remember the good times

Next week I start at the prayer house in Augsburg, devoting most of my energy and time to prayer.  I am sure this will be an adjustment – I still feel very much “stuck” in my mind in the business world.  What will it be like to spend most of my energy and time in prayer?  Will God surprise me?  Will it seam as crazy at it sounds at times when I’ve shared it with people?  Or will it feel like “coming home”?  I am filled with a curiosity and look forward to a new lifestyle.    Today I had an initial meeting with my future morning-shift leader at the prayer house.  It made it all become more real.  I am so excited to be working together with a fellow Viennese.

On Friday I will leave for a couple days for “alone-time” – off to explore the Stauden-Meditationsweg in “Westliche Wälder” – a huge Forest west of Augsburg.  I have such a longing in me to reflect.  I am so thankful to my wife who made this possible and gave me these days as my valentines day gift.

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Along with me, I will be be taking some of the most explosive and dangerous books I have read.  These books have been such a challenge and encouragement to me over the past 6 months. They have challenged me to embrace life – to live it to the fullest! – to challenge the status quo – to not let fear dominate my decisions – to go deeper and fight mediocrity.  So in case you are looking for a dangerous read… here is my strong recommendation:

Perhaps you have already read one of these books? – I would love to hear your thoughts!

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  • don’t waste your life by John Piper  (German) Dein Leben ist einmalig: Vergeude es nicht! available here
  • In meinem Herzen Feuer: Meine Aufregende Reise ins Gebet by Johannes Hartl available here
  • All the places to go.  How will you know? by John Ortberg  (German)  Die Tür ist offen! available here
  • All In by Mark Batterson  (German) Nachfolge Total available here
  • Risk is Right by John Piper

Global Grading vs. God’s Grading

2 more days left at my job – Infineon!  I cannot describe what an emotional rollercoaster it has been for me these past weeks.   It is hard for me to even put it in words.  Leaving my job for the unkown.  Leaving a good team.  Leaving a great boss.  Leaving a very good paycheck.  Leaving a career.  Leaving security.  Leaving success.   I cannot deny it, but leaving hurts.   At times it has felt like I am cutting off my arm.  And on certain days I have been fighting my natural instincts as a man to hold on to success, praise, security and career.    “Stay the course!” and “Be persistent!” – phrases that have been filled with tremendous meaning for me in the past days.

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So now there are a lot of “Goodbyes” ahead of me.

With our ministry at the prayer house in Augsburg being completely funded by support – we are entering into a totally new lifestyle of dependence.   And I need to share this secret with you:  It is a privilege!  – and just like the emotion of fear has come over me in the past weeks –  I have also felt great joy and anticipation thinking  – “God: How are you going to pull this off?”  I am beginning to feel the thrill.

Infineon like every other Global DAX Company is a part of a Towers Watson Global Grading system which categorizes each job, each role according to its influence and scope into a grading system that thus determines your income.  If I would have stayed on at Infineon it would have been in these days that I would have received my promotion: entering an elite group within the company.  I would have left the collective agreement (IG Metall) and join the circle of GG employment (“Außertariflicher Angestellter”).  I would have become a Global Grade employee.  Certainly a great honor within the company that is always accompanied by a visit from the CEO and a laudatio held by your boss in front of your colleagues.

But now I am leaving and being promoted to a different GG Level – I call it “God’s Grading”.  He will now be the One who categorizes my job;  Setting the scope and the pay scale.  It is a promotion of a different kind.   Now I know that my Infineon Colleagues reading this might consider this extreme naïve thinking.   But I have the feeling it is closer to rock solid life than a paycheck.  And my big dream is one day soon to be able to testify about how wonderful this promotion has been.

As I was struggling through our financial setup with the lady responsible for the finances at the prayer house, she said something to me that put much of my fear I was feeling into perspective: “Jeremy, sometimes you have to make space in your life in order for God to break through”.  How true.   And so with anticipation I wait……because it is worth it all!

Where is God calling you to make space – to give up control- in order for him to show up?

This song from Jake Hamilton has been an expression of my heart these past days.

It feels like there’s something that’s just beyond reach
There is a wall that I’ve yet to breach
There is a truth that I finally see
I have no idea what I am doing

And You are still there
And You lead me there
Just beyond the breaking

There is a road that’s less traveled upon
And there is a lover and there is a song
And lets all agree we should all get along
We have no idea what we’re doing

And You are still there
And You lead me there
Just beyond the breaking

All I can offer is skin and bone
to the greatest love I’ve ever known.

It’s gonna be worth it. It’s gonna be worth it all.