Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back: Our Top Blog Posts of 2011

It's just about time to ring in the new year! And what better way to do so than to look back on our year of blogging.

As you flip through the cable channels in late December, it's easy to spend most of the day watching "Top ___ of 2011" specials. Who wouldn't want to laugh through the top 100 sports bloopers of the year or revel at the funniest commercial of 2011?

Well, we'd like to follow suit. So here are our top blog posts from 2011:

8. Video Blog: 2011 Christmas Update
7. A Ministry Opportunity - Aspern Seestadt
6. Why Do Americans Act Like That?
5. Fund-raising as Ministry
4. Video Blog:  Austria Bound
3. Video Blog: Wrapping Up 2 weeks in Austria
2. Thoughtful, Funny and Surprisingly Christian
1. What Color is Your Underwear?

No surprises with the number one... we knew the provocative title would pull people in!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Invitation to Breath

I just read Marshall Shelley's most recent Leadership Journal newsletter.  He was reflecting on the week between Christmas and New Years as a chance to slow down and catch a breath.  When I was working I looked forward to this week as a time when no one else would be in the office.  I was one of the few hold outs that had used all my vacation days through out the year, and I was using that uninterrupted time to sort files or take care of those things that sank at the bottom of my "To Do" list.

Life can feel like a train we got on years ago, one that has gathered momentum with every small decision. And when we reach for the break leaver, it comes apart in our hands. With the life changing steps we have taken, we have the chance to re-imagine things like this.  I get to ask the question, "How do I want to spend this week between Christmas and New Years?" I don't think I expected that preparing to serve Christ is Austria would push life so off the rails that I'd have this much of a chance to rethink how I invest my time. I am thankful for the opportunity.

What do you want for this week of quiet time?

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Bells On Christmas Day

For me (Nate) Christmas can be some what of a mixed bag. I really love an opportunity to remind myself of the incarnation. I love to remember this beautiful, impossible, redemptive act of the God who pursues us. I also love wonderful times with family and friends to celebrate and enjoy each others company. It is always a special time of year, one that will be especially hard when we are over seas.

But as my wife will confirm, I am not an intensely sentimental person. I am not usually one to get caught up in that part of any holiday. The consumerism built into the American celebration of Christmas and the ways that plays at my heart also can make this time of year challenging.

This Christmas I have meditated on a carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Besides being an amazing piece of poetry, it is a moving exploration of how it often seems as though God is far off.

Here is Johnny Cash singing the song.

to read the full text of the poem hit the read more link (I really encourage it, there are some great extra stanzas in the poem that the song omits).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Our Last Christmas?

Photo credit: paulabflat from

I recently received a Christmas e-card from our team leaders in Austria. When we arrive in Vienna, they will be our mentors and guides as we adjust, learn the language and begin ministry. In the card, they wrote a short note that struck me: they encouraged us to enjoy our last Christmas in the States.

I hadn't really thought much about it until it was put into words...that this hopefully and probably will be our last Christmas in the U.S. for awhile. With that realization comes a lot of mixed emotions. Hope and excitement that in less than one year, we will begin the journey for which God has been preparing us. Sadness that the next holiday season may the first of many spent away from our families. Anticipation of new cultural experiences, new traditions and new relationships.

But with all of this also comes the realization that we might still be here next Christmas. God's timeline is not always the same as ours and He could keep us here for longer. That would be difficult...but we need to rest in the fact that God's timing is always perfect. If His timeline is longer than what we are hoping for to get to Austria, He will surely use it for good and for His glory, to continue teaching and molding us.

When Christ came into the world, it was at exactly the right time. Romans 5:6, 8 says, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly....But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." This verse is a good reminder of God's providence and sovereignty. Just as Christ came at the right time, so our future and our journey is in God's hands and will happens when He wants it to.

This may or may not be our last Christmas in the States for awhile. But I know that we will arrive in Austria at just the right time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas time is here...

Photo credit: click from

This Christmas, we sent out our first printed newsletter! It was a good learning experience for us, working with WorldVenture to get over 300 newsletters in the mail. But it was a fun project and a new way for us to get the word out about what God is doing in Austria and in our lives!

If you don't receive a newsletter in your mailbox this week, but would like to in the future...let us know! Shoot us an email with your address and we'll update our records.

In the meantime, you can download this year's Christmas newsletter here. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Video Blog: Christmas Update

This month, we've put together a brief video blog. Click the video below to get an update on our progress and learn ways to pray for us and for Austria.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A See-Through Church

Skye Jethani is a writer, speaker, friend and all around great guy, and he has an excellent blog that we would encourage you to check out.  One of his recent posts grabbed my attention.

Two Belgian architects have worked together to create an art installation that makes a bold statement. The photo to the right shows their work of art - a church constructed with stacked steel plates. When viewing the structure from some angles, it appears to be a solid building; however, move to one side and you can see right through the church, as if the walls are disappearing before your eyes.

Belgium, like Austria, is a secular, post-modern culture where God and church are seen by many to be empty, meaningless pursuits devoid of truth and value. Through this artistic portrayal, these Belgian architects are seeking to make a statement about churches in many European countries that are increasingly empty. But perhaps the statement goes beyond that, suggesting that the church is not only an empty building, but also an empty pursuit. If we read between the lines, what else can we see in this art installation?

Last year in Austria, 90,000 people officially revoked their membership from the Catholic church and the number of people walking away increases year over year. There is much darkness and need for the gospel. Please pray for us as we go to a country where, like Belgium, the church needs to be rebuilt, restored and revived in the hearts and minds of the people.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pastoral Answers About Giving

Photo credit: penywise from

Giving to the church and God's work around the world has always been a passion of mine. I was raised in a family who values giving and I was taught this from a young age. I also believe it's biblical. But now that we are on the receiving end of financial giving, it is a whole new adventure, one that is constantly challenging, humbling, and clothed in prayer to the One who is the Ultimate Giver!

I recently stumbled upon an excellent article written by Kevin Miller, priest at Church of the Resurrection in Glen Ellyn, IL. The church is in the midst of a giving campaign to raise funds for a new building (their first building, actually), and Kevin has been approached by church members and attenders with many questions about giving. In the blog article, He does an excellent job of addressing common questions about giving money to the church, questions that I think everyone asks or wonders about.
  • How do I decide how much to give?
  • I want to be stretched in giving, but I have lots of debt to pay off. What do I do?
  • What if I want to give more but my spouse wants to give less?
I would strongly encourage you to read the article, especially if you are thinking and praying about How God is leading you to donate your funds. Kevin's responses to these questions is biblical and thoughtful.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me from Kevin's thoughts on giving...

"[Giving is] not sparing but generous: 'Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously' (2 Corinthians 9:6)"

"You should be able to say of your gift: 'I chose this. I wanted this. I wasn’t manipulated or guilt-ed into it.'”

"I do not advise waiting until your debts are fully paid off before giving to God. You need to give for your spiritual health, for your connection to the church, and for your own dignity."

"It’s in this kind of decision where married people learn how to do what Paul said: 'submit to one another' and to 'bear with the failings of the weak.' What I’ve seen is that when couples bring this spirit to 'how much should we give?' they end up closer to each other."

How is God challenging you to be stretched, but also prudent in how you use your funds?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christ and Culture: Two Simple Questions

I just read a quote about missions that applies to all of us:
"If [Christians] are to have any influence at all, [we] will touch upon culture every time [we] speak and wherever [we] work. For better or worse...[we] are agents of cultural change in accordance with the commands of Christ (matt. 28:20). It is important, therefore, that [we] have a biblical view not only of Christ but also of culture.  [We] must recognize that every culture has elements of divine order and satanic rebellion; each has potential for the revelation of God's truth and for its concealment or mutilation." - David Hessselgrave
For better or worse, we are all ambassadors for Christ. There is a tremendous need for the people of God to understand and engage with the culture that surrounds them.  This doesn't mean that we seek to blend in; we are not cleverly disguised.  

The question of cultural engagement is a challenging one, and not something I hope to tackle in this post, but the reality is that every action we take is in a cultural context.  

The questions become: 

Are you aware of what you are communicating? 

Are you communicating what you want to be communicating?

These aren't questions to answer easily, and they must be answered prayerfully and in community.

Photo credit: grietgriet from

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Post-Thanksgiving Meditation

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 107:1

Last weekend was Thanksgiving, which in some ways feels like a 2nd class holiday in American culture.  All over twitter, I have seen people refer to it as “Black Friday Eve.” And usually we are all to quick to move beyond thankfulness and into consumption, shifting the focus back to us.

This year I wanted my thanksgiving to be a bit different. I intentionally meditated on Psalm 107, especially the first phrase: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good, His steadfast love endures forever.”  We know that we need to be thankful.  Objectively, even non-Christians would say that thankfulness is important.  So it isn't just that we should be thankful, or even that we should be thankful to God just because He is God.  The psalmist gives a clear call to worship not just to be thankful, but why we should be thankful.

We should be thankful for God’s goodness.  This is His moral excellence.  Every choice He makes, every gift He gives, everything He does is completely correct and is set up for our good and His glory.  This is a hard thought in today's world. There are so many things that aren't good. Yet in a world of "not goodness", God is the only one that is truly good. We can trust His leading and His word. Furthermore, his “steadfast love” endures forever.  There will never be a time in which God’s steadfast love runs dry.  This is His covenant-keeping love. His love is unshakable.

So this Thanksgiving I sought to give thanks to God. Not just because He is worthy, but because He is good and His love endures forever.

What part of God's character are you most thankful for?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Special Thanksgiving

We have something very special to be thankful for this year... 

Just yesterday, we reached the halfway mark in our monthly support! 
We are now at 51% of our monthly financial support!

We have so much to be thankful for, even beyond this special milestone. We're thankful for our wonderful family whom we get to celebrate with, the generosity and support of friends and family as we journey to Austria, and above all else, a God who has graciously saved us and given us an eternal hope.

"Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
   let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
   and extol him with music and song.
 For the LORD is the great God,
   the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
   and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
   and his hands formed the dry land.

 Come, let us bow down in worship,
   let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for he is our God
   and we are the people of his pasture,
   the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:1 - 7

Monday, November 21, 2011

Praying for a BOLD GOAL

This month, we began a concerted prayer effort for a big goal. Would you join us in prayer? Watch this video to learn more...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lily's Story

A while ago, we were up in Detroit Lakes sharing with a church. We had a really great time up there and we were really blessed by the wonderful community.  While we were there, we met a woman named Lily*.

When we arrived at the church and got into the sanctuary before the service began, I took a second to look around.  In a room full of people chatting and greeting each other, I saw one head bowed and hands folded.  An older woman was deep in prayer before the service began.  I noticed her against the contrast of chatting but didn't think much of it until after the service.

We had a fellowship meal afterward, and Lily stopped us in line and asked if we would stop by her table to talk with her. When we had a second, we broke away and went to visit her table.

She told us about her many friends and family that were in religious traditions focused on works and not salvation by grace through faith.  As we talked with her, you could see her heart breaking for those that knew who God was, but had never had a true relationship with Him.  The more she talked, the more we could see how emotional of a subject this was for her.  She told us how glad she was for our ministry and promised to pray for us.

We are very passionate about reaching lost people in western Europe, but I was truly challenged by the fervency of this woman.  We need to continually ask God to break our hearts and show us the world through His eyes. Our prayer is that we can have a heart like Lily's for the lost people around us.

How is God breaking your heart for the people around you? 

Do you need him to break your heart again?

*Lily isn't her real name
Photo credit is here user TACLUDA on

Friday, November 4, 2011

How do we pray boldly?

During this journey of preparing for Austria and building our financial support team, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to pray boldly.  I believe that God answers prayer, and I believe that we should pray boldly and specifically if we want to see Him work. Scripture tells us to go before the thrown of God confidently (Hebrews 4:16) and to pray continually (I Thessalonians 5:16). Scripture even says we can move mountains through prayer.

"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him." - Mark 11:23

This all seems plain and simple, right?

While I know all of these things to be true, I also know this: God doesn't always answer prayers, at least not in a way that we can see or understand.   I've experienced times where I've prayed boldly for someone to be healed and they weren't. I've prayed for missionaries to get to the field quickly and it took them years. We've all experienced this in one way or another.

So what I have been wrestling with is this... How do we pray boldly, while also humbling submitted to what God wants? How do I pray and hope for something, while knowing in my heart that God may not answer my prayer the way I want to or according to my timeline? How do I do this without getting discouraged or disappointed?

Right now, Nate and I have boldly been praying that we reach an important and lofty goal: 60% funding by January 15th. Reaching this goal will enable us to attend pre-departure training at WorldVenture in January, which will set us up well to leave for Austria this summer. Not meeting this goal will slow our timeline down. I want to pray for this confidently and boldly, but I've been struggling with fear that we won't reach the goal. I want to prepare myself for that possibility, while at the same time still hoping and praying that we make it.

I don't have answers to all of this. I know that the Lord is sovereign over all of it - of the funding, the timeline, the training and everything else in between. So what do I do?

I keep praying.

My prayer is that He brings me peace and shapes my heart, so I can pray boldly and rest in His will for our lives.

 How do you reconcile praying boldly and submitting to the Lord's will?

Photo credit: dieraecherin from

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Fruit of Partnership

A few weeks ago, we spent some time up in Detroit Lakes, MN.  We had a few great stories from that time, but one of my favorites begins with my time at Moody Bible Institute.

When I was at school, we talked a lot about how to chose a stateside missions organization to partner with.  There are so many challenges to get overseas, and you need to work with an agency that is a good fit for you and will best help you navigate those challenges. As I started to look at different organizations, I met a guy named Phil from WorldVenture.  We chatted a couple of times each year and I got to know more and more about his organization.  He wasn't just a recruiter trying to make numbers...he got to know me and built a relationship with me.  He also communicated clearly about the organization's strengths and weaknesses, shared with me about the application process, and advised me about what would be the best timing to begin the process of joining WorldVenture.  We stayed in touch for quite a while until it was time for Bethany and I to begin our application.

So how does this connect to a church up in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota?  The night before we were to present, we stopped by the church to test out all the technical stuff and make sure we were ready to present.  We saw the board on the wall with pictures of all the missionaries the church supports.  One face jumped right out at was Phil and his wife! The church had been supporting Phil and Mimi for many years as they ministered to Americans who are looking to go overseas as missionaries.

The next morning, it was so great to get the chance to preach the word to this congregation, a group of people who had already partnered with our ministry by supporting my friend Phil.  We are a product of their prayers and support! It was such a gift to know that this church understood the need for people like Phil to coach new missionaries along in their journey to the field.

Photo credit: alvimann

Friday, October 28, 2011

Left to Tell

I love to get absorbed and lost in a book. When a story is well-written and compelling, I can easily spend hours engrossed in its pages, pulled into the plot and characters.

Fictional stories are fun to read, but a true account is especially powerful. And that is why I want to recommend my most recent read entitled Left to Tell. It is the true autobiographical account of Immaculee Ilibagiza, a strong woman who survived the Rwandan genocide. Her story had a huge impact on me. It was not just her own personal strength that pulled her through and helped her to survive the genocide; it was the strength she found in God, who gave her the hope, tenacity, and resilience to survive and the grace to forgive.

The book is a quick read, but a memorable and powerful one. Reading her story helped to put my own struggles into perspective. If the Lord can carry Immaculee through this horrific experience, how much more will He carry me through my difficult days? What are ways that I can emulate her by forgiving those who hurt me and praising God's name when He answers prayer?

Looking for your next read? Definitely consider Left to Tell.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Surviving the Shelling

I just read an interview on Leadership Journal with Tullian Tchividjian about the very public challenges he faced when he took over Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  He faced something that I hope most pastors won't ever have to face: open and personal opposition to his pastoral ministry.  What resulted from this intense period of time is a wonderful closeness with his savior and a renewed passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ!  Here is one of my favorite sections.
"There is only one thing that will enable you to survive, and that's the gospel. It's not whether your church grows or not. It's not having the right leadership principle. All of those things might be helpful, but the gospel is the only thing that will save you in ministry." You inevitably face crises, slander, unfair criticism, pressure to perform in your professional and personal life.
While this quote is directed at pastors, we can just as easily say that the only thing that will keep you alive in ministry, in marriage, in your profession or in family is the gospel.  

Most of us will never encounter someone sending out slanderous mass emails about us or anonymous blogs decrying our professional abilities.  But we will be given things we can't handle.  God uses the things we lose sleep over to pry our idols out of our hand and sets our focus on Himself.

Here is the link to the full interview "War and Peace"

Your Turn: How is God prying idols out of your hand? Pop your answer into the comments below.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Welcome to Detroit Lakes

Our display in the church lobby
Yesterday, we had the pleasure of visiting First Baptist Detroit Lakes, about 3.5 hours north of Minneapolis. We arrived there Saturday evening and spent the night at Pastor Jim Hinson's house with his family. From the moment we arrived, we were welcomed in and had an enjoyable time getting to know the Hinsons.  On Sunday morning, we shared our ministry story with several Sunday school classes and then also during the worship service.

Nate preaching on I Samuel 10 - the anointing of Saul as king.
Sharing about Austria in the Sunday morning service.
A highlight for me, though, was seeing Nate preach the Sunday morning sermon. He brought to life the story of Saul being anointed as King of Israel by Samuel. Through the story, he reminded us that there are times when we are in over our heads and when God brings into our lives situations that we cannot handle on our own. Our natural reaction can be fear and uncertainty. But God uses these difficult times to draw us closer in dependence to Him and to bring Him all the glory.

I was very encouraged by Nate's sermon and it is so applicable to where we are at in our process of moving to Austria. This journey has been difficult, especially during the times when it feels like progress is slow and we may never get there. But we have been pushed to depend on God so much more than we ever have before. And in the end, when He provides the funds and the support to make it to Austria, it will truly be miraculous and He will get the glory!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Journey Through the Wilderness

[Author's note: This is a long one! But it was so helpful for me to type out my thoughts...I hope they are helpful and insightful for you, too.]

We had a great time on our recent canoe and camping trip. We laughed, enjoyed the scenery, rested, and spent quality time together. But it wasn't always easy. There were tough portages when we carried the canoe further than we wanted to, sore muscles, tired legs, and long nights of sleeping on the ground. But we endured and we were proud to make it through to the end

As I've reflected on our journey through the wilderness, I've begun to see how our time in the boundary waters is similar to the journey we're on right now towards the mission field.

A long, challenging journey inevitably has ups and downs.
Throughout each day on the canoe trip, we would go from a relaxing morning, to a grueling paddle across a windy lake, to a long, intense hike, to an enjoyable evening in front of the campfire. Each day was a tumultuous series of highs and lows.

Similar to our days in the wilderness, our journey to Austria has been fraught with mountain top experiences and low valleys. Some days, we are excited, encouraged and focused on God's hand working in our lives and ministry. Other says, we are giving in to feelings of discouragement, rejection, fear and worry. 

The difficult times can feel long when you're in the midst of them.
When Nate and I were carrying heavy packs, paddles and a 70-lb. canoe for a mile, there were times when we thought we would never make it to the next lake. In the midst of a difficult portage, the road seemed endless.

And in this journey to Austria, we sometimes feel the same way. We find ourselves asking, "Will we ever make it? How will we stay strong and persevere to the end? Can I take one more step towards our goal? Will it ever get easier?"

A journey through the wilderness requires simplicity.
When you're backpacking or canoeing, you are forced to carry everything you need with you. To make the journey easier, simplicity is key. You pack light and you pack only what you need.

Our nomadic life has also forced simplicity on us, and this has been difficult but also freeing. To be living unencumbered by "stuff" helps you realize how little you really need and makes you more dependent on the Provider of all things.

There is strength in a unified team.
Our camping trip required team work and unity. If we were carrying the canoe together, we moved quickest when our feet were in step and we were communicating clearly. When we paddled across a large lake, we needed to work together to accomplish the job.

Every day, we work together as we pursue God's calling on our lives to move to Austria. And when we are unified, it shows. When we are encouraging each other, communicating well, and bathing the process in prayer, we strengthen each other as a team.

Surviving one "valley" better prepares you for the next one.
A portage is when you carry your canoe from one body of water to another. And our trip included a lot of portages. The first few were rough, as we experimented with strategies to best get us and our equipment from point A to point B. After working through a few of them, though, they began to get easier. We were better prepared as each portage approached, knowing the best means and methods to make it through.

Raising financial support has led me to hit a couple of difficult low points. There have been times when I've hit bottom, broken down and felt uncertain if I could make it any further. But God has carried me through and taught me something new about Himself or myself each time. And now, when I approach a difficult time or sense those feelings returning, I am better prepared to face them, knowing God will continue to be faithful as He has been.

It is the tough stretches that make the fun times that much better. 
At the end of a long day of canoeing and portaging, sitting by the fire enjoying mac 'n' cheese felt so fantastic! Working our muscles hard and pushing through made our times of fun and rest so much sweeter.

And that has continued to be true each and every day for us. In life, we experience joy and sorrow, ups and down, difficult times and celebratory ones. But if it weren't for the sorrow and frustration and struggle, we would not revel in the celebration like we do. We thank God for the lessons we learn in difficulty and celebrate the joys that much more! 

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Legacy of Faith

Gathering for a meal and singing the doxology at the Grand Beach Inn
This past weekend, my Dad's side of the family (the Veermans) all met up in New Buffalo, MI for a weekend family reunion. It was a sweet and special time, where my immediate family plus nearly all of my aunts and uncles, cousins, and cousins' children got together for fun, food and fellowship. The group of 40 laughed, played silly games, cooked, ate, caught up, sang and shared together for four days. It was wonderful!

Family is really special to us, and what amazes me every time we get together is that even though we don't see each other often, we can immediately share intimate life details and openly share our hearts. There is a closeness that comes from shared history, shared family roots, and especially our shared faith.

One special time of the weekend for me was on Sunday morning, when my Uncle Ralph gave a devotional on the importance of passing down faith from generation to generation. My dad and his siblings shared about the faith of my grandparents and the values they instilled in their family, which were then passed down to the next generation. I am who I am today in part because of their faith, love of God, commitment to church and missions, and family values. Their legacy shaped my dad, which in turn shaped how I was raised and who I have become. 

In scripture, God calls us to teach our children and our children's children the ways of God and to remember what the Lord has done. Deuteronomy 4:9 - 10 says, "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."

I am so thankful that my grandparents responded to God's instruction and passed on their faith, and I pray that Nate and I will do the same so our family legacy of faith can continue.

How has your family passed faith down to you?
How do you hope to pass your faith along to the next generation?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What God Told Me in the Wilderness

A beautiful sunset on our last day of camping
When I am exploring the wilderness and experiencing creation, I meet God. It is inevitable;  when I'm given the opportunity to get away from the conveniences  and comfort of home, technology, buildings and society and escape to places of natural beauty, I cannot help but see God's character demonstrated in the stars of the sky, the colors of the leaves, and the pristine beauty of His creation.

And in the wilderness, I am no longer distracted by the noise of everyday life. I can more easily listen to God, and in the peace and quiet of the forest, I hear God's still, small whisper.

Last week, we ventured into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a 4-day, 3-night canoe and camping trip. For 3 days, we explored lakes without seeing another person. Each night, the stars were bright and beautiful. And I was overwhelmed by the bigness of God's creation. The Boundary Waters alone are over 1,000,000 acres of natural forests, rivers and lakes! And God crafted this area just as precisely as he designed the deserts, oceans, lakes, rivers and mountains all over the earth. God is so big - so much bigger than all of this, even the vast creation that we experience when we venture into the wilderness.

This wilderness experience was a good reminder for me. God is so big and great; He is above all of His creation. He is the beginning and the end. So, why is it that I spend so much time worrying? Why is it that I expend emotional effort concerned about the financial support we need to raise and the preparations we need to complete before heading to Austria?

Isn't God so much bigger than all of that?
If He created the world, how much more can he handle our fears, concerns and challenges?

In the wilderness, God reminded me that He is big. He reminded me that He has all of this under control. Not only did He create the heavens and the earth, but He also directs and guides our lives and meets our needs.  I have nothing to fear.

Friday, October 7, 2011

BWCA Canoe Trip

Last Sunday Bethany and I set out on a great adventure.  We traveled to one of the great wilderness areas of the US for 4 days of canoeing, camping, and adventuring.  The weather was perfect and so were our times together.  It was wonderful to see God's creation.  Over and over that place confirmed Psalm 19:1-2

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2Day to day pours out speech,
   and night to night reveals knowledge.

I hope that the photo slideshow does just a bit of justice to the glory of God in creation we experienced.

How have you seen God's glory in creation recently?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Surprised by Community

Last night, Nate and I drove an hour south to Kenyon, MN, to share about our ministry with a small group of New Life Church-goers. We first got connected to New Life Church through former missionaries to Austria and the church invited us to share during their missions Sunday in late July. It was a wonderful experience; we were immediately welcomed into the community from the moment we stepped in the church that Sunday. While there, we met a couple who had lived in Vienna for 3 years, working at the International Christian School of Vienna. We immediately connected with them, and after a few months of effort, they were able to pull a small group together last night to learn more about our ministry.

When we entered the farm house of our hosts, we were welcomed by smiling faces, sweet treats and the scent of brewing coffee. After enjoying cake and introductory conversation, we sat down and shared about our ministry and the darkness in Austria. Seven adults gathered to hear, and we enjoyed an evening of dialogue, thoughtful questioning, scripture reading, encouragement and prayer.

Coming from a small rural church, it was evident from the moment we arrived that these people knew each other well and cared for one another in a way that was refreshing. Their sense of community with each other was contagious and their laughter inviting. We had only met them once before and several months ago at that, but I felt like I belonged even after a few minutes. And God used them to provide great encouragement for us in our journey to the mission field through their prayers and the words of scripture they shared. Although they didn't know us well, their words were exactly what we needed to hear.

I walked into the evening thinking that Nate and I were there to talk about Austria. But as I reflect, I think the more important reason we were there was to be encouraged and to experience community with other believers. This group set the example for me in how to welcome someone new into fellowship and how to be united with new friends by our common faith. When we are in Austria, our Christian community will be small and close-knit, and I pray that we can welcome others in just like this small group did for us last night. Isn't this what it is to live out John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."?

What was a time when you experienced sweet fellowship and community with other believers?

Photo credit: fieryn from

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Avoiding Suffering and Loss

This last Sunday, we attended the Shakopee Campus of Friendship Church, which is the church that I grew up in.  Pastor Mike spoke about the story of Joseph (staring in Genesis 37) and all of the challenges that he faced leading up to his ultimate reign over all of Egypt.  It is a pretty great story.  Towards the end of the sermon, Mike made an observation about the story of Joseph that stuck with me.

He said, "If you take away the suffering in Joseph's life, you have to take away the blessings, as well."  If you go through the long list of horrible things that happened to Joseph and all the injustice he experienced and take it all away, if you spare him of all that pain and hurt, then you must also take away God's provision for His people and the family of promise.  You can not have one and not the other.  Joseph would never have ended up in a position of power at the end if he hadn't first been sold as a slave by his brothers. These realities are two sides of the same coin and inextricably linked.

Our American culture often tells us that suffering is something to be avoided, something to flee from. We work very very hard to avoid difficulty and keep ourselves safe and secure. But if we avoid suffering, we also give up the blessings of that suffering. So many times as I look back at my life, I say to God, "If that had not happened, life would not be so hard" or "God, if you would only shield me, if you would only take these hard things away, my life would be more full."

But if God takes away these hard times, if all we get are the good times, then we also have to give up those moments of release where we hand our life over to God and say, "I can't do this. Please help."  We also give up the meaningful relationships that are formed in the fieriest furnaces.  We give up the deep communion we get with God as our heart becomes more and more dependent on Him and holds less and less to our emotional anesthetics. And finally, we give up God's miraculous provision that is seldom early and always on time.

Photo credit: clarita from

Monday, September 26, 2011

When Do You Need Prayer?

I came across this quote made into a video from David Platt who spoke at the Desiring God national conference we attended last weekend (more to come on processing our experiences there).

Do you think we show that we need prayer, that we thirst for prayer?

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Color Is Your Underwear?

If a stranger walked up to you and suddenly asked, "What color is your underwear?", how would you respond? In most cultures, this question would be considered personal, offensive and inappropriate.

Click below to hear a story from WorldVenture missionaries Mark and Lisa DeNeui about how this offensive question relates to sharing the gospel in Western Europe.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Voices from Across the Globe

I was pleased to come across a series on Ed Stetzer's blog interviewing an MBB leader.  Listening to these global voices will become more and more important as the "church of the south" takes on greater theological and numerical prominence in Christianity. Here are links to number 1 and number 2

It was a comment in the third post that really grabbed my attention. Here is the quote from the post (bold is Ed Stetzer's question and non-bold is the response):

Bob Roberts is a friend of mine and he recently challenged me: "If American Christians loved Muslims like Paul loved the Jews it would change the world." What do you think? It would. So much of it is hospitality toward strangers. America tends to be a very unfriendly environment for the stranger. But a huge Old Testament concept is how we relate to the stranger. If simple hospitality issues were addressed, taking the initiative is important. In my country, you ask somebody how to get somewhere and they're probably going to walk with you there, not just give you some directions. So I think that if the Christian community began taking initiative to practice hospitality toward the Muslim immigrants in their area, that would just go a long way. If we will do it, they will reciprocate. And in that context you will find it very easy then to get into gospel conversations.

What a call towards true Christ-likeness! Imagine if the American church reached out with true christian hospitality to the cultural strangers in our community?  What if we invited them in for meals, built relationships with their community leaders, or even just had a cup of tea in the name of Christ?

So what is the hardest part about all this? Compared to many other cultures, we Americans aren't really all that hospitable. We are very protective of our space.  I am sure we can all think of examples that contradict this, but our individualism bleeds in to our concept of "personal space" (which isn't even a concept in some cultures). This is an incredibly counter-cultural encouragement!

How have you seen strangers welcomed into your church community?

Photo credit: kevinrosseel from

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adderall vs. Simplicity

Photo credit: taysm from

I was struck by a recent blog post by Her.meneutics, drawing attention to the growing issue of adderall and ritalin abuse on Christian college campuses. There are numerous pressures facing many college students these days to achieve academic success, enhance their resumes before entering a challenging job market, build relationships, and, for Christians, get involved in ministry and service. It's no wonder that many students are handling this pressure by turning to drugs prescribed for ADHD to pull all-nighters and increase their energy levels...all so they can live up to expectations and accomplish more.

What I really loved about this blog post, though, was how Marlena tied the issue at Christian Colleges to a larger issue: a lack of simplicity. And this issue is not relegated to the student demographic. We all experience the pressure to accomplish, fill our schedules, stay busy, and "do more" for God, our families, and others. I know I have this tendency, not only because of the pressures I allow on myself from society and our culture, but also because of my task-oriented personality.

What are we missing? We are forgetting the spiritual discipline of simplicity. We are forgetting that God instructed us to honor the sabbath for a reason. Rest is important, and when we live a simple life, we are better equipped to respond in obedience to the times when God calls us to serve.

I especially loved this quote that Marlena included from Lauren Winner:

"...getting eight hours of sleep may very well be the most holy thing we do as followers of Jesus. It’ll help keep us from making ourselves and everyone around us miserable. Busyness, hurry, and over-commitment are not badges of honor. On the contrary, they are indicative of a sick soul."

I hope you are challenged by this blog post as much as I was to re-consider simplicity today, and how God might be calling you to simplify your life to better honor and serve Him.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mentors are Golden

For as long as we had cable in our apartments, I have been a fan of Mike Rowe.  His show Dirty Jobs has highlighted jobs all over the country  and the silent heroes that make our life possible. I have found him thoughtful, as he testified to congress on the lack of skilled labor in America today and the systemic issues that underlay that problem.

This morning I stumbled upon a story Mike wrote and recorded remembering his mentor Fred King. I encourage you to grab the audio file and sit with a nice beverage or in the car on your next 30 min. car ride and listen to they story.  You will be glad you did.

Photo credit: mconnors from

Friday, September 2, 2011

It is Good to Have Goals

So disclaimer number 1 here is Bethany and I are NOT pregnant!

I stumbled upon an article recently from Backpacker magazine about carrying babies along on backpacking trips. It lead me to a few other articles.  Seems this is a whole new niche of backpacking and outdoor adventures.  These people strap 30 lbs of gear to their back and then a 20 lb baby to their front.  Now, they usually will cut their distance in half and aren't usually hiking over rough terrain...  I really like this concept. I aspire to this when we have a family.

I know that having kids is one of the hardest things that you could ever do, but I think there is something intrinsically healthy about doing something like this. I think when some people have kids, they feel as though their life has completely ended.  There is a turning inward that happens, much of which is natural and similar to what happens when two people get married.  But I also know that in times of massive transition, we need to fight for things that help to keep us sane, even if they can look harder and more daunting than the hill we are already climbing.

I think that is something we are learning right now.  Through seasons of difficulty, we need to push beyond the immediate comforts we hold to into greater communion with God and stronger community with others. Often those first things that we cling to are the least healthy.

Photo credit: jeltovski from

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Three Rs...

When I was little, I learned in school that the three R's stood for "reduce, recycle, reuse". Taking care of the environment certainly stuck in my mind! But this past week, I decided that the three Rs most important in our current phase of life are words like rest, refresh and rejuvenate.

This week, Nate and I drove up to a family cabin on Lake Nebagamon, WI to spend 2 days on a spiritual retreat. The retreat is something required of us by WorldVenture, to help ensure that we are staying mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally healthy during each phase of the process as we prepare for the mission field. We really love that WorldVenture values this and pushes us to rest and get away.

Our time at the lake was exactly what we needed. We spent time in prayer and study, focused on worshiping God and reading about what true worship is. We read the chapter on worship from Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline and each of us studied worship on our own through sermons, books and scripture. We also spent time resting and relaxing. After a few days, we definitely came home rejuvenated!

Here are a few photos from our time at the cabin...

A favorite spot - sitting at the end of the dock gazing out over the water

Sitting in front of the fire

The view of the cabin from the shoreline

Reading time

A great way to start the day - a good book and a cup of coffee!

When was the last time you took a spiritual retreat? It can be hard to get away amidst the busy-ness of life, but you will come back refreshed. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Kind of Seeing - Imagination, Faith and Story

I just finished an article by Brandon O'Brien titled Can You Imagine? that he wrote for His main thrust is that a major casualty of the modernist worldview that still hangs in our culture is a loss of imagination.  Stories use our imagination to access our hearts in a way that reasoning and logic are not able to.  Here is an excerpt where O'Brien sets up his thoughts:
The reasonableness of our faith has been a major preoccupation for many Christians, especially in America, for the last few generations. Apologists and theologians have worked hard to amass scientific and historical evidence that supports Christian claims to truth. We've developed complex and compelling arguments in defense of the faith. This research is geared to provide intellectual support for Christian belief. And it is important work. Unfortunately, this vigilant war for the truth can have—and has had—collateral damage. Christians dedicated to shoring up the intellect often do not think too highly of the imagination. If we let the imagination run wild, they fear, we risk sacrificing the truth.
But imagination is not the opposite of reality or the enemy of truth. In fact, we do ourselves an enormous disservice when we ignore the imagination (whether intentionally or accidentally) and only develop the intellect. For the intellect is only half the equation. Imagination is the partner of the intellect. One is not more important than the other; they do different things.
The relationship between imagination, story, and theology fascinates me. So much of how we relate to one another is by way of story (think of the last summer BBQ you were at - how many stories were told?).  We don't talk enough about the role a sanctified imagination has in shaping our view of God and our view of each other.

Here is the link to the article on ChristianBibleStudies.  Give the article a read and head back here to discuss:

What is the relationship between faith and imagination? In what way does Christ's stories and explanations of "the Kingdom" use the imagination to access our heart? (such as Matt 13

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Adventures in the blago-sphere

As Nate and I have increased our own blogging, I have developed a new found interest in reading and following other blogs. Reading blog posts has provided an interesting source of entertaining, thought-provoking and challenging reading material for me. It also offers a fun way to stay connected to friends and family far from us who enjoy the written medium as much as we do.

I use google reader to keep track of the blogs I follow. It pulls all recent posts from the blogs of my choosing into one convenient place for me to read. My google reader feed has lots of variety in it, so I can choose content to suit my mood!  Here is a sampling of the blogs I'm currently enjoying...

Nate recommended I check this one out (since he used to work at Christianity Today), and I'm so glad he did. The post topics are varied and the content is always challenging, biblical and relevant.

the longest shortest time
I stumbled on this while listening to The Story podcast. Reading honest, raw and informative blog posts about early parenthood has helped me relate to my many friends who are becoming first-time parents, as well as hopefully prepare me for our future adventures in parenthood!

healthy food for living
I love cooking, and I love eating healthy. I learned a few years ago that when I eat well, I feel blogs like this one provide great ideas on healthy  recipes that taste delicious but are also good for you!

5 hunters
Many of the missionaries we met when we visited Vienna have blogs they maintain about life and ministry in Austria. Stacey Hunter's is my favorite. Brad and Stacey planted a great international church in Vienna, but Stacey's blog chronicles family life as well as ministry. She's an excellent photographer and her blog helps me envision what our future life may look like in Vienna!

my baking addiction
I love to bake, and when I do, I am often inspired by this baking blog. Her writing and photography are just as amazing as her baked creations!

Note: These endorsements are completely my opinion and I am not being compensated, bribed or coersed into giving any of them! Just thought I should mention that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We Did Not Know!

During our Vision Trip to Austria in April, we spent time with Dougg and LeAnn Custer. The Custers are WorldVenture missionaries who serve as International Ministry Directors, overseeing all WorldVenture workers in Europe and the Middle East. Before their current role, they were church planters in Austria for many years and in some ways, their heart is still there!

Last May, Dougg Custer attended the Global Missions Consultation in Tokyo, Japan.  This meeting was a part of the centennial celebration of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910.  The history of these global conferences is an amazing story of God's working through the modern missions movement.

Here is a powerful story Dougg shared with us from his time in Tokyo.

Special thanks to for the images and video from the conference.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Structure, Structure... Where are thou, O Structure?

Photo credit: roganjosh from

Most people who know me know that I embody the "task oriented" personality. I enjoy and find satisfaction in making lists, accomplishing tasks and organizing people, places and things. This is probably why I spent 6 years in the events industry...

Ironically, my current lifestyle completely lacks structure. Each day is different and although we have many tasks to accomplish, the regularity and predictability of our life has completely changed. Knowing my personality, I knew that this season of life would lead to new challenges...and I was right! Nate and I have been learning how to create structure within our days when there is none. We have been wrestling with finding a balance between working diligently and finding time to rest and relax. We have been learning how best to communicate about daily tasks, work together and compromise.

Through practice and the guidance of some valued mentors, we have devised several "strategies" to discover structure and balance in this phase of life...
  • We schedule "work hours" into to our day, so we can be sure we're working diligently and faithfully on ministry, but also not neglecting rest and fun
  • My mind is always mulling over details...but now I write down my ideas and thoughts when I think of them, and share them with Nate when we are "working". This way, I don't bombard Nate with details all the time. 
  • Nate and I share google documents and calendars to keep track of tasks and our schedule.
  • In ministry, there is always more to be done. And life is like that now for us, too. There are always more people to call, more books to read and more german lessons to complete. We are discovering strategies now to create structure and balance that we will surely use on mission field!
  • When we are not traveling, I have decided to make certain things a daily priority, such as prayer, bible study, exercise, reading, and german lessons (with Rosetta Stone). I don't always succeed in accomplishing all of these, but focusing on them helps to keep my actions in line with my priorities.
What do you do to create structure? When do you avoid structure to allow for flexibility?