Monday, May 18, 2020

Salted

I have to admit that this corona thing hit me a bit unexpectedly. I was just planning on starting several different opportunities to reach out in the city when we all had to go home, stay home and only meet digitally. For the church I feel we were ready and moved quickly and fairly seamlessly into not only meeting together but greatly encouraging one another. But looking at the opportunities to reach out with the gospel, I was at a loss for a while. The thing is, I have always believed that we should always be speaking of our King and Saviour - whenever we are talking. So when we talk to people on a walk, God enters our conversation there. When we go to the store, God is in our conversation as well, if in no other way than to thank and bless the cashier. 
But suddenly, people seemed to be wary about speaking. People even seemed wary to look you in the eye. And our digital contacts were minimal. It has been exciting to hear how some people have even increased there conversations, have come across people who are seeking Christ in these uncertain times. And this is great, because Jesus is indeed the only way to find peace and certainty. And a few of our conversations have indeed increased - opportunities to look at who Jesus is and consider how He desires to walk with us in giving real life. 
Am I making good use of my time and conversations? Maybe. Maybe not.  I AM thankful for all of the opportunities we are afforded. I have had much more time to record songs for use in the church - which means that God’s word will speak to those who listen. I have had the chance to write - as a matter of fact, it feels like I am doing more writing now than ever before. But perhaps that is good use of the time. I am writing and translating articles for a new website for those who are seeking God. Or writing lessons for summer camp - which may or may not be possible. So there is plenty to do. And perhaps some of the newer digital methods of reaching people will also light up as people become aware. 
In any case, I need to keep asking myself the question: am I using my time wisely. And I need to keep speaking of my Lord wherever I am. Be salty. 

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6

Monday, April 27, 2020

Disrupted

It is probably nothing new to you. You probably already know. I did, but I had forgotten. When things just go along as they should, or as I think they should, when everything is normal, we tend to fall asleep. I remember traveling with a recruiting group from York College called “Friends”. We would often travel from a summer camp in Wisconsin or Minnesota to a camp in Kansas or Texas, driving through the night to get there on time. We all shared the driving duties, but the night shift was for our manager, Scott Lambert and Brett Osborne, who was reliable. We didn’t want anyone falling asleep at the wheel. 

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

It is interesting to see that when God is saving His people, He never does it the way that they anticipated. As a matter of fact, it is almost always in a way that no one expected and most have difficulty accepting. The people fleeing Egypt ask Mozes why he brought them to this sea where they are caught between a watery death and death by Pharaoh. But Mozes hadn’t brought them there, God had. 
When the disciples finally come to Jesus and ask/plead to send the crowd away to get something to eat, Jesus has other plans. He is the one who talked so long and knew that it would come to this. He knows what He can do with a young boy’s lunch. And when the disciples tell Jesus about his friend Lazarus who is sick, Jesus decides to wait a bit longer because he knows what he is going to do. God likes to surprise us. Or is it that we simply have a hard time expecting what God can do and are thus always surprised?
It is not God’s purpose that we all have a nice quiet life together. That is not why we are here. We have come to Jesus to join his kingdom and fight to free ever more people from the slavery of sin and death. Paul tells Timothy, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Tim. 2:4). So I shouldn’t be surprised when my life gets turned upside down. I should hunker down and move the direction God is taking me. After all, that is why Paul mentions the footwear of the Roman soldier in Ephesians 6 - the gospel of peace. 

God is the Master of using disruption for good. Satan likes to disturb and destroy. There are all sorts of ways that Satan keeps us busy. And sometimes he just wants us to fall asleep. But that is not why we are here - and God makes sure that we know that. So I am trying to see best how God can use me in this time. Wait a minute - let me rephrase that. I don’t need to see how He is going to do it. I don’t need to understand. I simply need to keep doing what I know He desires and trust in His strength and might. Then He can use me mightily - however He wishes. 
We still cannot get across the border, where most of our work was going on. We are trying to keep in touch with seekers in other ways - using computers, phones or good old snail mail. The church has jumped into the silence, stirring up the ‘everyday’ with all sorts of ‘unique’. We are talking to each other more now than before, concerned with each others spiritual health and growth. We are praying not only for the good health of those around us, but are more than ever aware of the need to pray for spiritual salvation. 
The sun is shining outside and has been for the last several weeks. We have started to get used to the way we do things in these corona days. Each day often looks like every other - so much so that we sometimes have a hard time remembering which day of the week it is. Time for this to be disrupted. The government here has communicated their plans to move out of isolation. I am excited and wondering what God will do next. No matter what, I am trying to remain faithful and ready to follow wherever He will lead in the coming days. 
Maybe we will go back to some of the activities we had before. We are still hoping that our summer Bible camps will be allowed to continue. Maybe we will be forced into some completely new ways of doing things. But no disruption will be able to take me away from Him who has conquered and makes me a conqueror. 

It is time to wake up, O sleeper. Walk in the Light, every day. Here is one of my favorite songs (written by my colleague) expressing this mighty passage: Romans 8:31-39.  


Monday, April 13, 2020

A Robe and a Crown

It has been more than a month now since we started taking care to keep our distance in social situations. Belgium went into ‘lockdown-lite’ on March 12, but we were already looking and planning how we would meet digitally that coming Sunday. Now we are old hands at meeting together and have become a place where others in the country can also meet. We have members joining us from around Belgium and even from Prague. 
But corona (the crown) has definitely changed our work. When the borders closed, it severely hampered our ability to help our members in Maastricht (since we live in Belgium, just across the border) and meant that all of our planned activities in the Netherlands had to be cancelled. Of course most activities - including a concert at the end of May with Harding University and three other choral groups - were cancelled anyway because of the government rules. 
So, instead of meeting with people in the Netherlands, we have been spending more time encouraging members via internet and telephone. I have never been a big fan of phone calls - I tend to like email better - but we have several people who are non-digital, so telephone is the only way to really reach them. It is amazing to see (or hear) how much a voice can mean to people. Especially as this time of self-isolation grinds on. 
It strikes me that Jesus suffered for us - accepting the mocking robe and crown of thorns before dying on the cross. Peter says that we should follow his example (1 Peter 2:21). And Paul tells Timothy that we will receive a crown from the Lord if we are faithful (2 Timothy 4:8). But he also mentions that we will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). These are persecutions and suffering in connection with following Jesus. So in times of this crown that may feel at times to be so thorny, I am reminded that this is not really that hard. And we can endure, knowing that we have a future that is certain and confirmed. 
And since we have plenty of time on our hands, we are using other ways to reach out. I am writing some articles for a site that is being developed by two young evangelists in Eindhoven. The site is focused on those seeking God and presents answers to all sorts of questions. And we continue some of our Bible studies, but then digitally, of course.
For the church I have been working on getting more songs available for all members in various forms. There is a new app for the phone developed with a brother in Haarlem. I have added lyric video’s to the song website for the Dutch churches (geestelijkeliederen.nl) and we are working on putting more songs together with a virtual choir. Not a video choir, but one where we can all sing together and present the songs again to the churches for use. 
We are waiting, somewhat impatiently, to hear from the government this week if activities in the summer will be allowed to continue or not. This will impact our summer Bible camp. We pray that all will be allowed to go forward, but if it is not allowed, then we will start figuring out how to do things digitally. Nothing can stop the word of God and God has made us creative and given us all sorts of tools. We pray that we ill be able to use them well. 
Above all, we have been so very thankful for brothers and sisters who have clearly shown how important it is to join together and encourage one another. Some might have thought that members would slack off, since no one could really see if they were not attending or not. But we are seeing people wanting to gather even more - and using every opportunity to get together. It is exciting to see this spirit. 
How has God been blessing you in your faith during these times of thorny questions and blessings for the future? 

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8

Friday, March 20, 2020

Conversations

1st Friday conversations
Isn’t it amazing how God loves to talk? Look at the Bible. It is full of amazing stories. God has been telling us His story for a long time. But He also loves to listen. He is constantly asking us to talk to Him (pray) and has promised us that He is listening - very closely. Listening and talking are part of being with God (goes along with that walking bit I talked about recently). 
Our lives have changed a bit in our most recent season of life. We (Shirley and I) have more possibilities to go together and listen to conversations, take part in conversations. I am so thankful that we have these chances. Sometimes we are meeting with members from the congregation in Maastricht - on Wednesday evenings, Thursday mornings with the men or Friday mornings with the women (or Monday evenings further away). Sometimes we are singing and speaking to one another in spiritual songs - on first Fridays or third Wednesdays. 
But more recently I had also added some other options. On Tuesday morning and evening I hold a consultation for those who have questions about God or the Bible. The Dutch allows me to make a play on words and offer a “Speaking hour” when they can come talk - about any question they might have. Mid-March I was going to start with a Bible study group in the city. That has been put on hold for a bit (corona), but we will see how that works out in the coming months. Modern technology and social media makes these kinds of meetings possible. 
But everyday we notice that there are opportunities to listen and speak - if we pay attention. And technology also makes this possible. And even necessary in ‘Corona” times. We call a member of the church who is housebound at the moment. We email or whatsapp other members who can use an encouraging word. We get a text message from people looking for help, or offering help. Everywhere, people are speaking. I hear the cashier repeating her litany and try to remember to look her in the eye and wish her a good day, thanking her for her work. I wave at the car behind me that just let me in, thanking them for their kindness. I listen to the young one tell all about the funny story (that he told me yesterday three times already). 

God wants to talk to me and you. He is always listening to me and you. And we are made in His image, made to be able to listen and speak. What conversations have you had recently? How has ‘social distancing’ affected your conversation?

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.                 Hebrews 1:1-2

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Walking in the rain

Yesterday I took the dog out. I do that every day. Twice. In the morning it is usually a wonderful time to think, to pray, to be aware that it is a new day with God. In the evenings, especially now since the days are getting longer again, the sunset might remind me of the blessings that continue daily. Chester’s joy and simply running around, sniffing, putting his ‘signature’ everywhere he can, lifts my heart. 
But sometimes it is raining. We live in Belgium, after all. I almost always take the umbrella with me, whether I think it is raining or not - because it might start after I get going on the walk. And the wind might be blowing. Hard. Which doesn’t always go well with carrying an open umbrella (and why would I have the umbrella shut if it is raining?). Water streams across the path and my socks get wet. I pull down my cap over my ears on the mornings that it is still freezing (which are quickly passing away). 
But I am just thankful that I can be outside, walking. I know people who cannot go outside and they really miss it. People in these days are being asked (told) to stay inside. Don’t get together with others. Don’t meet. Don’t greet. Don’t touch. But I live in a place where there are not that many people. I can walk. I can put a coat on and go outside and walk. And I am with God, wherever I go. 
I am thankful for how blessed I am. And I am thankful that no matter where I go I can walk with the One who created me, who knows what is happening in my life, who guides me and gives me strength each morning as the sun rises (even when I do not see it) and calms my evenings with a beautiful sunset and a night of rest (if I am willing to accept it). Isn’t it amazing that the one thing God did with Adam and Eve in the garden was take a walk?

Take a walk today, even if you can’t. Spend time with Him and be thankful for all the good that He continues te provide. Some days are going to be harder than others. But He is walking with you. And that is what He has always wanted to do. 

If we are walking in the light ,as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us of all sin.  1 John 1:7

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Chewing on meat

How precious it is to sit and share together at the table! This past week I was blessed again to spend a few days at ABSS - Advanced Bible Study Series in Gem√ľnden, Germany with people from all over Europe. The lessons are always challenging on various levels and there is time and opportunity for real conversation about spiritual topics. It is also a time to meet new people and where young and old gather to learn from each other. 
I usually also go hoping to see and experience some snow, but that was certainly not to be this year. Instead, I was able to play some good, energetic basketball with a good group from Marseille. In the past we have played in the snow, we have played when we only had three and we have played with anyone - even those who don’t really know anything about basketball. This time we had at least 4x4, but the challenge was to play with a ball that was almost flat. Lots of passing, very little dribbling. 
As mentioned, the lessons challenge. This year brought questions about what third-culture leadership looks like. It even reminded me that anyone who is in Christ is essentially third-culture, as is anyone who is married. Another series asked us to look at our bias and consider how we approach others with the word of God. For me it was nice to get some lessons on Judges, since I will be teaching this at our Teen Camp this summer. It is always nice to get some information and different viewpoints at a week like this. 
Shirley and I are always apart during this study week. We cannot easily find someone for Chester for those days. At the end of this week (Thursday), Shirley heads out to the Ladies Retreat in Germany, so it will be her turn then for the challenging lessons, conversations and good fellowship. We are thankful that we have these opportunities and that we are able to take advantage of them. 
How has God been challenging your heart and mind around the table with others recently? 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:14-18

Friday, February 07, 2020

Winter Light


As usual, time flies by when you are not looking. And suddenly we are in the second month of a new year, having rushed through the last days of a decade (or do we still have one more year?). Although, to be honest, we did not really rush through December. We especially did our best to enjoy the few days we had with a Christmas visit from Sean and Jill. They could only spend a few days with us, but it was so good to enjoy meals together, laugh at some game times and just be able to hug on them before they headed back to the Big Apple. 

The end of December was a beautiful segue into the new year with Winterkamp in the Ardennes. In a weekend of winter sun, a intimate group of young people examined the powerful reality of silence - being quiet so that we can hear God and being silent so that He can do His work. It was a needed reminder of how mighty God is and how wonderful it is that He wants us to walk with Him. 
And suddenly, we were walking into a new year, a new decade (unless we have another year). But as always, this means simply taking one day at a time and giving that day to our King of kings. After a month of special get-togethers and activities, we returned to our ‘normal’ schedule of studies and days of service. As we have mentioned before, our week is never really quite ‘normal’, but it is an exciting flexible challenge where we are confronted with questions: What do you believe? What keeps you going? How do you serve? Who is on your team? 

I want to pay some attention to some of those questions in the coming days here as I find time. But for now, we are preparing for a Spring concert with Harding University chorus and looking at how we can help members from one of our supporting churches (Muscatine) serve while visiting us here and in Ghent. 

In the meantime, the crocuses have popped their heads out, down in the yard under the walnut tree. It froze this morning, after several weeks of warm weather, so we will hope they survive. Sunday is supposed to bring a storm (and many of you have already experienced challenging weather). But we walk in the light, as Jesus mentioned to His disciples. There is plenty to do. Thank you for your support and encouragement of us here, and thank you for your faithfulness in serving Him where you are. 
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

There are a few pictures up about our end-of-year activities (and some of Chester) if you are interested.