Greetings from Germany dear brothers and sisters,
The last weeks and months have been – like it seems everywhere in the world – quite demanding and extraordinary. Thanks be to God that we had to refrain from worshipping together as a church no more than six weeks, which nevertheless has been an experience of loss and separation. We could start the services with special hygienic regulations from the first possible Sunday already, which has been a great blessing. Meanwhile, we met as elders and deacons and hold a “service” in the empty church building streamed via the internet, where the rest of the church members and quite a group of visitors and even another whole congregation joined online.
Nevertheless, these months have been quite “dry” in the sense, that the reduced private and public meetings, the distance in sitting, singing, speaking, etc. and the whole challenges in work- and private life left their marks on the members. In this time, it has been harder to be nourished with spiritual food, to receive comfort and embrace the promises of God, while everything seems to go off the rails.
One sermon that had a great impact has been the story of Hagar and Ismael in the desert. While she lost orientation and water, she was sure to see her son die, having forgotten about God´s help some years before in a similar situation, having suppressed the promise of God and being blind for the well of water directly at the place, where she sank down to give up all hope. This narrative and the lasting truths of Gods faithfulness and grace proved to be a spiritual refreshment in a seemingly dry surrounding and it reminded me of the unchanging power of God to bring forth streams of water in the dry places and how desperate people need the comfort and strength from the word of God in their daily lives.
Water in the Wilderness
During these weeks people asked much more often for counseling, help, and guidance. I have spent more hours on the telephone and video chats then ever in my pastoral ministry. There were so many limitations and restrictions that brought even believers into perplexity and need of help. The being together in a lockdown or the separation of those, who are not married yet, brought much concern and difficulties into some relationships. The nerves were raw, the impossibility to plan ahead hard to bear. Yet it was not a special-Corona counsel, but the wisdom of the Apostle’s letters, then brought so much light and hope and truth into the situations, that it brought me anew to marvel at the effective and operating grace of Christ in the hearts of men by his trustworthy Word. I was deeply moved by a short message after a very long and difficult video chat with a couple, expounding the Scriptures into their situation. They wrote “Hello Nathanael, we thank you from all our hearts for your ministry on us. Today we have been stirred up profoundly and been led to repentance. Thank you.” This is where I see God opening the eyes for His wells in the deserts.
Some people showed quite unexpectedly, great difficulties in accepting the political regulations and demands of keeping some distance and wearing face masks, in order to gather for public service. As elders, we had to face slandering and great accusations of compromising loyalty to Christ by obeying these laws. Others just gave a very poor testimony into their environment, thinking, speaking, hoping, and writing more about those issues, than trusting, confessing, and hoping in God, who sovereignly controls even these upheavals. As elders we needed much wisdom and gentleness, to deal with it in a right and spiritual manner, discerning well where the root lies, like Paul, is advising the Thessalonians in 1Thess 5:14. On the other hand, it was very encouraging to see, how the majority of the congregation stepped in with much love, care, and mindfulness.
Also, some challenges of the soul come up anew, sorrows, and disappointments that so easily lead the souls into isolation and depression. God is enough in all our temptations and sufferings, but to open the eyes and trust, what God is revealing in His word is such a necessary path. An older couple who have never come to church asked also for counseling in this time and I pray that this will lead not only to an armistice, but to the fountain opened, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness (Zach 13:1).
It came to my mind that in natural sustenance there is no drinkable liquid for men that has not water as their basis, no matter if milk or juice or lemonade, the only thing that can appease thirst is water. Likewise, only the gospel can appease the thirst of the soul and it needs to be the basis for every counseling and guidance. “Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” John 7:37.
Voices in the Wilderness
With the young men of the church, we started with training on how to understand and exposit the Scriptures. It is very encouraging of how much zeal and desire to learn, God has planted into the hearts of some of those men. Although a video-chat creates a very different setting than meeting in person, it has been very profitable to study together and to learn how to find water wells and gold mines in the Scriptures. It seems this group has been one of the major reasons for a Romano-Spanish brother to desire church membership, for he confessed, he believes that in this church he will be best edified and equipped in the faith.
Among these men, there are some very faithful evangelists. Almost every Saturday they share the gospel on the streets, and every mid-week prayer is full of reports, where there have been opportunities on the streets and very often in the workplaces.
Following a common Bible reading plan, I started asking a couple of questions from one NT chapter, to encourage the devotion and to train in hermeneutics. The response has been overwhelming and it seems we should think about some sort of more comprehensive theological training, so that there will be more clear voices to be heard in this wilderness of Germany, preaching repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A small group of Latin-American brothers contacted me a couple of months ago. They came to reformed convictions and long for a sound church, but live 1.5 hours far away. Some weeks ago, they have been thrown out of their liberal Baptist church, because they were not able to accept the vote of a female pastor as biblical. So, we are thinking about helping these brothers to be equipped, and possibly plant a church in their area, for those who hunger and thirst for the true Word of God.
Rain in the Wilderness
I have to confess that I personally often feel discouraged, weak, and exhausted. Yet our Lord is so faithful, he knows to comfort and refresh at the right times by the right means, and often unexpectedly so. Next to the personal devotional, being refreshed by the pure Word of God written by the prophets and the apostles, I was greatly strengthened by Boston´s Crook in the Lot. I helped the publishing house with the cover design and got it for free. It proved a source of profound wisdom and biblical guidance and a refreshing rain in a dry time.
Also, within the church, two men and one woman joined membership and gave wonderful testimonies of how God changed their lives, granted them grace and faith in Christ, and led them to this small church to worship our Sovereign God. There is hardly a joy comparable to witnessing God work in the hearts of man.
One of the greatest comforts yet is the knowledge that brothers and sisters are praying to the Lord of Life even for me and the ministry here in Germany. Within two days I received a message, that a brother from Australia prays every Sunday morning and a couple from California prays every Saturday night for the Service and especially the preaching here in Germany. What an encouragement, what a joy, what an assurance and comfort! The hearer of prayers is asked for these tasks of leading a church and preaching to the people in the spiritual wilderness of Germany. Now that is a welcome and refreshing rain for my heart and I gratefully thank everyone who supports this ministry through prayers. If there is anything I sense the daily need for, it is the grace of God through praying saints.