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.

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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?

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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!