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?