Saturday, January 29, 2011

I was blind but now I see...

A few days ago, Nate and I were climbing and I got whacked in my right eye by my climbing rope. Not a big deal at first (I recovered after a few minutes), but when I woke up Friday morning, I knew something wasn't right. Friday afternoon, I went to see an Ophthalmologist and learned that I had scratched my cornea. After a few uncomfortable tests and a prescription, I was sent on my way.

Friday night and Saturday were supposed to be a "spiritual retreat" for us. We went up to Evanston, IL to stay in a hotel and spend time in prayer and meditation. But Friday night and most of Saturday were really rough for vision was blurry and I was in pain. It took me about 3 hours to fall asleep and on Saturday, I spent 3 - 4 hours laying down with my eyes closed to give them a rest.

I write all of this not to seek out sympathy, but to share the lessons God taught me over the last 24 hours. I was very frustrated when we arrived in Evanston... I had been looking forward to this retreat and having time to relax and renew. Instead, all I could think about was my eye and how uncomfortable I was. I was discouraged that it seemed like our spiritual retreat would be ruined for me. However, God took a bad situation and used it for good. Here are a few things I learned through this experience...

  • God speaks when we are quiet and still. Most people who know me know that I don't sit still very well. Even when I have free time, I fill it with something. With my eye, I was forced to lay still for hours... I couldn't even read or study or watch TV. So Nate read scripture to me and I spent time praying, meditating (we read some of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline) and napping. In the end, it was very restful and spiritually rejuvenating. God used the situation to remind me what it means to actually rest. Hopefully, he won't have to use injury to teach me this lesson again in the future!
  • Oh, what joy the blind man must have felt... When Jesus heals the blind man (recounted in Mark 22), Jesus told the man not to tell people about his healing experience. It must have been so difficult to keep that inside! When I was without sight for only 24 hours, I was desperate to get my eyes back to normal. 24 hours! That is nothing compared to a lifetime. I can only imagine the joy the blind man felt and how much he wanted to shout it from the mountain tops.
  • Our bodies are fragile. My eye was injured in such a quick instant. And just as quickly, any of our bodies would be taken from us. How much more should we use every day to glorify God and live out the gospel! I forget this all the time and I assume that each day, I will wake up alive and healthy. Instead, I should be living with a sense of urgency, striving to use my time of earth as well as I can while I am still here.
  • It's ok to depend on someone else. I've always been pretty self-sufficient and independent...but being incapacitated meant I needed help from Nate. It was really freeing to ask for help and receive it. It's probably no surprise that I act self sufficient in my relationship with God, as well as my relationships with other people. Being forced to depend on Nate reminded me that I should also function with dependence on God. Simple concept, but hard to put into practice. In life, I act like I can see clearly and make my own decision, when in actuality I truly am "blind" with sin and need God to lead me.
In case you're wondering, my eye is now improving and should be healed in a few days. But hopefully I'll ponder these things I've learned even after I can see again!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walking away from the Catholic Church...

New stats were recently released on the vast number of people leaving the Catholic Church. Membership in the Catholic church in Austria has steadily been dropping for decades, but this year has set a new record. In 2010, 87,393 people decided to officially revoke their Catholic Church membership. Not only that, but mass attendance has also been drastically down. In the 1980s, attendance on a Sunday morning was at about 1.5 million. By 1998, the Church counted just under a million in the pews and by 2008, attendance dropped to 729.879. (Check out the website - translated into English by Google Translate here. Another great article is posted here.)

What does all this mean to us? Since the Catholic church has a different mission that most evangelical Christians in country, you may think that we are happy about these stats. Perhaps people are leaving the Catholic church and going to evangelical churches after hearing the gospel message? Unfortunately, no. I think what these stats really point to is this:

  • A declining interest in faith and "organized religion" in Austria

  • A belief that the Christian church, in any form (Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, etc.), is no longer relevant for real life

  • An increased secularization of Austrian society

  • An increased need for the gospel! And an increased need for Austrians to understand what it means to have a personal relationship with a living God, not just formal membership to the Catholic church...something that is transforming!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Random Encounter

I was flying back from Orlando this week and had a random encounter at the Orlando airport with well-known pastor Mark Driscoll. I was waiting out a flight delay, curled up in a lobby chair with my Perspectives in Missions textbook, completing homework assignments. Two gentlemen sat down next to me and one of them noticed (and recognized) my textbook. We struck up a conversation and then I realized who I was talking to! I actually recognized Mark's voice before his face, since Nate and I listened to his fantastic sermon series together on Song of Solomon last year (check it out here, if you're interested.) We got to chat for about 5 or 10 minutes and I enjoyed telling him how much we appreciated listening to his series. He was very chill, kind and down to earth.

Even though Mark might not be considered a "celebrity" by most, he is well known in the Christian community. After meeting him, I felt a little "star struck", like I had met a movie star or something. I think that feeling stemmed mostly out of the great respect I have for his teaching ability and charisma, which I believe are the reasons why he has become so well-known. But part of my star struck feeling made me feel a little juvenile. In reality, Mark Driscoll is just like you and me... he is a regular guy who has been given a gift and has obediently made that gift available for God's use. Rather than putting him up on a pedestal and praising him for how talented he is, I should instead be praising God for the fruitful ministry He has accomplished through Mark and many other gifted pastors. Mark isn't the star - God is!

Twenty years from now, after much experience and ministry in Austria, my hope would be that my life and ministry always point others to Christ and not to myself. Whether we help lead 1 person or 1,000 people to Christ in Austria, I hope no one ever puts me up on a pedestal. I'm guessing Mark feels the same way and my conversation on Wednesday was a good reminder of that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas in Atlanta

We had a great 4 days celebration Christmas in Atlanta. We already shared some of the photos from our climbing adventure with the kids, but here are a few more highlights from our time with my family at my brother's house.

My niece, Meg, really enjoys crafts (as do I). We bought her a friendship bracelet making kit for Christmas that I spend awhile figuring out how to do and then we sat and worked on crafts together (her on her bracelets and me on my knitting).

Our nephew, Nate, got a cool electrical circuit kit that can create over 300 different projects. Uncle Nate and little Nate spent time figuring out a few of the projects...and honestly, I'm not sure who enjoyed it more. Uncle Nate was pretty stoked.

The four Veerman kids in front of the tree (Caleb - 2, Nate - 6, Meg - 8, Kate - 4). This was before my sister and her family arrived.

My parents ("Grammy" and "Grampy") with all 6 nieces and nephews.

A group family photo, which we snapped just before Nate and I left for the airport. Literally...we have our coats on in the picture!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What I'm Learning About Titus

I’m currently working through an inductive bible study with my mentor on the book of Titus. (Haven’t heard of an inductive study? It’s basis is using scripture to study scripture. Check it out.) We had a great first meeting this morning where we worked through our thoughts on the first lesson together. Here are some highlights of what I’m learning…

  • In his letter to Titus, Paul talks a lot about the importance of good deeds. Not good deeds that can save us or earn us salvation, but good deeds that are a reflection of the sound doctrine by which we live our lives. A lot of people say that Paul is “all about grace” and James is “all about works”…but I think Titus is a good example of Paul emphasizing the importance of living out our faith through actions. “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14)

  • Paul established the several churches in Crete and then left Titus in charge to lead and appoint elders. But the text infers that Titus was young for a leadership position like this. Paul urges Titus to not let people disregard him because of his youth, but to be an example in his leadership and godly nature. This is an important thing for Nate and I to keep in mind - that God can use us to serve and lead, even though we are young.

  • The best defense against the opposition? Living a life that is above reproach. If we focus on integrity and godly doctrine, the evil one will have no footing to stand on. “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:7 – 8)

Feel free to share comments...any other insights on this book? What are you learning from your bible studies right now?