Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Learning through the Crisis

These last few weeks have been challenging for many of us. Most are us experiencing this level of extended uncertainty for the first time in our lives. For those that have gone through a difficult season of life before, these feelings are an unwelcome friend that has returned. Here in Austria, we are a little over a week into the process of being in some sort of stage of "lock down." In the face of all of this difficulty, I wanted to share a few things that I've been learning and processing. I don't mean to say that I have mastered any of these things, but I see how the Lord is working in my heart through these uncertain times. I don't want to waste this time. It is valuable to examine our hearts and see where God wants to strengthen our trust in Him.

A Focus on Prayer:
We believe prayer is essential to the Christian life. It is our lifeline. It is a chance to share our troubles and struggles with the almighty God. As we confess the things we know to be true, our hearts are strengthened. We pull our gaze away from our anxieties and fears and fix them on the unchanging truth of the Word made flesh.

For us, this has taken the form of a daily prayer meeting with folks from our church. I (Nate) was looking for a way to encourage people in our church and also frankly feeling disconnected and struggling with a lot of anxious emotions. So we started a Zoom prayer meeting once a day. The first week we looked at a few different Psalms and heard David's words about distress and anxiety. This week has been focused on 1. Corinthians 15 and the resurrection as the foundation of our faith. It was really wonderful to connect and pray for one another where we were at.

We want to continue a focus on prayer in our church plant. We believe wholeheartedly that when God's people pray, He moves. Based on this, we want to be people of prayer. We want to cry out to God in our distress and carry this focus beyond these times.

Meeting God through Song:
Music has a special place in my heart. I can strum a few chords on the guitar in a worship band, and I also listen to a fair amount of music as I work and for fun. As I've been processing the stress and uncertainty of the last few weeks, I've had some powerful moments of connecting with God through song. There is something about a well-crafted piece of poetry that cuts through and delivers its medicine right to the heart.

A few days ago, I was on the bicycle trainer in the basement (which itself has been a huge gift). The song from Andrew Peterson called "His Heart Beats" came on my mix and I found it so moving.

He took one breath
and put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know his heart beats

These words put so much in perspective for me. We need these moments. We need to refocus our vision. I need to look to Christ and his victory as my only hope. Which brings me to my final thought...

Our only Hope - The Gospel:
I have been consistently reminded through this time that our hope lies squarely and singularly by one thing. The gospel itself. Our hope is not in a test or a drug, a vaccine or a government. Our riches and our homes cannot protect us. A virus doesn't care how many hit movies you've made or if you're a big-time pop star. We only have one hope. Just over a week ago, I preached to an almost entirely empty church and a webcam for our church's first ever live stream. I quoted the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own,
           but belong with body and soul,
           both in life and in death,
           to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

The answer goes on, but this central theme is not to be overlooked. In body and soul, in life and death, as Christians we belong to Christ. He is our comfort and our safe harbor. We have a place to bring our anxiety. We have a place for our worry. The resurrected Christ is our hope.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Experiencing Coronavirus in Austria

Eating homemade sushi
Like many people around the world, we are staying at home right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Before Corona became a big issue in the U.S., Europe because the outbreak's epicenter when the disease spread rapidly in Italy. Since we border Italy to the north, it wasn't long before Corona was also here and the government in Austria began rapidly ramping up measures to try and slow the disease's spread. One day, the government banned gatherings of 100 or more. A day or two later, they closed the university. Then they closed the schools and soon after, they told everyone to stay home and only gather in groups of 5 or less, and they closed the playgrounds and sports fields. Every day, the intense of the measures ramped up and quicker than we expected, we were all in a "lockdown" state. 

So here we are, having been home for 8 days so far. The time has had its ups and downs, but overall,
Craft Time!
we have found the time at home as a family restful and relaxing. We have had to get creative about how to fill the time, but the kids have adjusted well to new routines and to playing with each other and not going out (except for walks around the neighborhood). We have both continued working on some projects, and Nate has been leading daily prayer times with our church to keep people connected and encouraged.  We are blessed to be in an easy phase with the kids, who aren't in school yet and don't have any requirements of what they have to learn during this time. We have been filling the time with crafts, podcasts, kids yoga, games, food adventures, experiments, and some screen time. For me, I am feeling much less stressed in some ways than I was a few weeks ago, as many of my big projects have been cancelled.

Introducing Battleship
There is, of course, some underlying anxiety about how long this phase will last and what the coming months will hold. Will all of our plans for the summer be cancelled? How can we reach out to people during this time of need, when we can't meet or communicate very easily? Will we get sick and if so, when? We are praying for peace and for the safety of our family and others, while also acknowledging that much of this situation is out of our control and many of us will, eventually, get sick with the virus. Our small town already has several cases and who knows if we touched the same grocery carts as those people. It's requiring patience, trust, and also creativity in how we can stay connected and stay strong in our faith. 

It's a lot to process, as I'm sure it is for all of you reading this. Our prayer is that during this time of uncertainty, many people are confronted with the most difficult questions of life and about what they believeWhat happens when we die? What do I believe about the world and about God? Is the foundation upon which I built my life strong enough to carry me through this time? God can certainly use a crisis like this to work in people's hearts and our prayer is that many people who come to know Jesus for the first time. Please pray with us that the gospel would spread!

Bonfire in the backyard

Family worship time on Sunday morning

Teaching Ellie how to play Mario Brothers