Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Ongoing Illumination of Advent

Advent is my favorite season of the year. I go weeks with, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" stuck in my head. I feel a sense of anticipation. The nearness of the Second Coming is almost tangible during this time. I find myself over and over again in awe of God's presence.

This Advent in Poland was no exception. This Advent season, we had the privilage of visiting a Dominican church for their Sunrise services each week before Christmas. Last year in Poznan we went twice a week, but this year we chose instead to do one instead. When you have to leave the apartment at 5:20a.m., you begin to re-think how often you really want to go! This year, I was especially moved by the first and last Advent services we attended.

Just to let you in on what it's like: it's a pre-dawn, candlelight service with lots of gentle singing and a short homily--about 45 minutes. For a video clip of one of last year's services in Poznan, click here.

This year, the first service blew me away. It had been a year since I had attended a Dominican service and--let me tell you--these guys know their stuff. The entire service I was in awe at the desperation of God's people for His presence. Throughout the service, people kneel, pray, listen, and respond. Each participant seemed so in tune with the cry of the Priest for God's presence. I found myself praying, "Lord, hear the prayers of these, your people!"

At the last service, a woman caught me on my way out. She handed me a tiny bracelet of
wooden beads and asked me to pray for her 4 God children. Of course I said yes, but she could
tell I was a little confused.

"You know," she told me, "after each of these advent services, you give someone your beads and explain your prayer request. They give you their beads in return and tell you their own prayer requests. There are 10 beads on the ring--one for each time you should pray for them today."

It was a beautiful tradition, but I had no beads to offer her.

"It's okay, I have 2." Wow.

I was overwhelmed. I have a friend whose grandmother is struggling mightily with cancer, and I asked this kind stranger to make that my prayer request that day. Through these 2 different early morning experiences, I have not only felt the presence of God this advent season, but I have felt the presence of His people! It warms my heart at Christmas to know that all over the world, God's children are crying out for Him to re-enter our reality and turn it upside down all over again! Amen!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eating the Bread of Anxious Toil

Aaron spoke in the Krakow house church's Sunday service a few weeks ago. His sermon, titled "Eating the Bread of Anxious Toil," was based on the previous week's suggested Bible passages and sacred readings in our favorite devotional book, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God. Notes from his talk are included below.

AFFIRMATION: "Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours." Psalm 128:1-2 (NIV)

PETITION: "Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one." Matthew 6:9-13 (NLT)

SACRED READINGS: "Keeping Sabbath" by Dorothy C. Bass, from Practicing Our Faith; Taking Flight by Anthony de Mello

DAILY SCRIPTURE READINGS: "Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves."* Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV)
*Or eat— / for while they sleep he provides for


"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

MY RESPONSE: "The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Psalm 23 (NIV)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sheep, Goats, and Stewardship

A few weeks ago, Brit gave her first "real sermon" in Poland. It was by no means her first sermon, nor was it the first (or even fifth) time she's been primarily responsible for bringing the message to our weekly meetings. However, SNU Theology & Ministry graduate that Brit is, it still felt like a big step for her...and if you ask me, she took on a tricky subject and hit it out of the park. Her sermon was loosely titled, "Stewardship: it's about more than just money."

During worship, we read a passage from a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola: "Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and all I call my own. You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me. " This is a simple, challenging prayer!

Between the Children's Message and Family Communion, we read together (in English and Polish) from one of our all-time favorite chapters of the Old Testament.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: 'Here am I.' " -Isaiah 58:6-9a (NIV)

What an amazing, inspiring, gut-wrenchingly simplistic summary of God's purpose and promise for his people, a people who are called to do justice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. THEN says, the LORD, will he bring light, healing, righteousness, and glory; an answer to his people's cry for help. Amen!!

Brit's sermon opened with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25, a passage that's been dear to us since our college days (while at SNU, we both belonged to a student-run compassionate ministry organization called "Least of These Ministries").

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" -Matthew 25:31-40 (NIV)

Immediately after we read this challenging passage together, Brit shared two fascinating "sheep facts" with us that really informed the way we understood the parable's meaning. First, she pointed out, sheep possess a nearly-320-degree field of vision. This means they're excellent at tracking members of their flock, as well as sensing danger, even from long distances. Second, Brit noted, sheep have an unusual gland between their hooves that secretes a find-the-flock scent that serves as a sort of homing beacon for lost or straggling members of their herd. Who knew that we could learn so much about the life we are called to as the Body of Christ from simple sheep?!

Brit's second supporting text was excerpted from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. "For who makes you different from anyone else?" Paul admonished his readers. "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" -I Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

"What do you have that you have not been given?" Brit challenged us. Then she read to us from's definition of stewardship: "Historically, stewardship was the responsibility given to household servants to bring food and drinks to a castle dining hall. The term was then expanded to indicate a household employee's responsibility for managing household or domestic affairs. Stewardship later became the responsibility for taking care of passengers' domestic needs on a ship, train and airplane, or managing the service provided to diners in a restaurant. The term continues to be used in these specific ways, but it is also used in a more general way to refer to a responsibility to take care of something belonging to someone else."

"When you look at the Christian life this way, we are all stewards of God's love in the world," Brit pointed out. Then we read from Matthew 25 again, with a new appreciation not only of sheep, but of the ways the "sheep" in this parable cared for other as stewards of God's love. Clearly, we are called to be stewards; sheep-like stewards, that watch out for each other, generously provide for each other's needs, and help wayward members find their way back to the flock.

The third portion of Brit's sermon focused on some of the specific needs that we are called to meet as faithful stewards of God's resources. We began by reading from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about God's promised provision for our physical and material needs:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." -Matthew 6:25-34 , 7:9-11

"God's got this," Brit bluntly summarized. "He knows what we need, and he's promised to provide. So we have no excuse for worrying about our needs or allowing them to limit our generosity to others." Not only that, but there's a big difference between our wants and genuine need!!

The fourth and final section of Brit's sermon emphasized perhaps the single most important aspect of stewardship: Christians' ability to see -and seize- our opportunities to live out God's love in the world every day. Even the "sheep" in Christ's parable seemingly struggled with this: "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" -Matthew 25:37-40 (NIV)

Christianity, therefore, revolves around our willingness and faithfulness to seek out these sorts of opportunities to tangibly share God's love with others throughout our daily lives. And nowhere is this more true than in relational, coffeehouse-based ministry!! We were forcibly reminded of a passage from Colossians 4, one that was brought to our attention very early in our fund-raising journey by our dear friend Dr. Doug Samples. We've since used it at every presentation we've given about our ministry here in Poland, and we continue to be challenged as we pray it here together:

"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 (NIV)

As our discussion time drew to a close, I was strongly reminded (and profoundly encouraged) by reminders of all of amazing individuals and organizations we've been privileged to know that ARE "getting it right," both here in Poland and back home in the States. These included Lake Overholser Church of the Nazarene's strong connection with Angel Tree Ministries, spearheaded by our friend Kelsey; Bread of Life's homeless ministries founded by our friends Pastor Rich and Brooke (now run almost entirely by Polish nationals, some of whom are among our closest friends anywhere); and OKC First Church of the Nazarene's recent Block Party, founded on the visionary leadership of our dear friends, Pastors Jon and Lance. We are so incredibly proud of (and indebted to) them all!!

We were also encouraged and energized by the ways in which members of our local church family here in Krakow are beginning to seize these sorts of opportunities in their own lives. These include our friend (and co-minister) Sławek's willingness to connect with a local Gideon's group to secure more polish-English Bibles for our church to give away to seekers and new believers; our friend Basia's interest in helping Brit organize a used clothing drive for the needy in our community; and Sławek's family's decision to provide "emergency foster care" to young children caught up in the Polish court system.

It is so inspiring to be reminded of God's will for our lives, and his promises for those who follow it. It is even more exciting to see the ways in which his people are seeking it out, and the ways it is beginning to shape who we are as a local church community! I'll close with a favorite verse from Jeremiah, one that I first heard quoted in a sermon by legendary Nazarene missionary Rev. Elmer Schmelzenbach, and that continues to encourage and enlighten me on even the toughest days:

"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." -Jeremiah 33:3 (KJV)


Monday, September 12, 2011

"I love you anyway."

Disclaimer: We love the Green Book. :)

This week's blog post is taken verbatim from one of the Readings for Reflection selections from Week 45, whose theme is "No Condemnation" (only 9 more weeks until Advent, people)!

Anyway, we loved it...especially its beautiful description of the way a loving, perfect God must sometimes see his unloving, imperfect creation:

"Recently I was in a doctor's office...when a young mother with long brown hair and a gentle face entered, pushing in a wheelchair a child three or four years old. The child obviously was disabled: her hands unable to grasp anything, her arms and legs flailing helplessly, her eyes unable to hold focus. Her voice could not make syllables but only squeals or little wails. The mother positioned the child's chair so that they were face-to-face.

"She began softly singing and doing the hand motions to the 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' directly in front of the child's face, to attract her attention. She repeated it over and over, sometimes catching the child's hand and kissing it, stroking her hair; she looked into the child's eyes and whispered, with enormous tenderness, 'I love you.'

"When God's love touches us in our neediness, the sorrow and suffering inherent in the human condition, we name it mercy. Mercy is perhaps the loveliest of all God's qualities. This is the love that reaches into dark space of our flailing and our failing, our losing and our dying. Mercy enters that space, picks us up and holds us tenderly until we are healed.

"Little by little, this love draws our groping hands and wasted energies to purposeful service; it looks directly into our uncomprehending eyes, hears our futile wail, and says, 'No matter, I love you anyway. Come on...' And so mercy brings us to ever-new life."

-From "Living in the Mercy," by Elaine M. Prevallet

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's the little things...

It's funny.

Every time it feels like my life is coming just a little bit unhinged, I hear the same small voice.

It's God.

He says, "Just take it one thing at a time right now. Do the good, simple things you know to do. Let me handle the big picture for a while."

And I do. And he does.

And it's beautiful. :)


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Romans 12: Words to live (and love) by

"Love must be SINCERE. Hate what is evil; CLING TO what is good. Be DEVOTED to one another in brotherly love. HONOR one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the LORD.

"BE JOYFUL in hope, PATIENT in affliction, FAITHFUL in prayer. SHARE with God's people who are in need. PRACTICE HOSPITALITY.

"BLESS those who curse you; bless, and DO NOT CURSE. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. LIVE IN HARMONY with one another. DO NOT BE PROUD, but be willing to associate with people of low position. DO NOT BE CONCEITED.

"Do not repay ANYONE evil for evil. Be careful to DO WHAT IS RIGHT in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE.

"DO NOT TAKE REVENGE, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge, I will repay.' says the LORD.

"On the contrary: 'If you enemy is hungry, FEED him; if he is thirsty, GIVE HIM SOMETHING TO DRINK. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'" -Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)


Monday, August 1, 2011

The (true) meaning of (absolute) sacrifice

At our house church service in Krakow yesterday, Dr. Dennis Johnson lead a devotional discussion about the meaning of sacrifice, as evidenced by God’s response to Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 and Paul’s exhortation to the church at Rome church in Romans 12.

"...Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.'"-Genesis 4:2b-7 (NIV)

Dennis’s thoughts: “Everything God wants from us –everything he asks of us- is in our best interests, not (just) his.”

My thoughts: “God is holy. If he’s not holy, he’s not God. If he is holy, he can’t abide compromise with sin or selfishness. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to think about God and his nature. He’s not an angry, punishing taskmaster; he’s just holy.”

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will...Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality."-Romans 12:1-2, 9-13

Dennis’s thoughts: “God knows that we won’t be satisfied with giving anything less than our best, because we are made in his image.”

My thoughts: “Love first; act second; speak last.”


Monday, July 18, 2011

Rest Easy

One more mile 'til I lay rest.
I have put myself through this rigid test.
But the mile has never ended no distance has been gained.
I do not see greatness I wanted to obtain.
Where is my embrace from the race that I have run?
I have kept a steady pace but still I have not won.

Rest easy, have no fear.
I love you perfectly; perfect love drives out fear.
I'll take your burden; you take my grace.
Rest easy in my embrace.

I am such a sinner, I fear my evil ways.
I fear my imperfection, I fear my final days.
I just want to take control and snap this rusty chain,
drop my heavy burden it seems to be in vain.

Rest easy, have no fear.
I love you perfectly; perfect love drives out fear.
I'll take your burden; you take my grace.
Rest easy in my embrace.

I am not a bold man, even though I want to be.
I am just a dreamer with a timid history.
Scared of confrontations, I fume all through the night.
The world has its hold on me, and I just want to fly.
The sky, the sky is open wide.
But I can't fly 'til I step aside

Rest easy, have no fear.
I love you perfectly; perfect love drives out fear.
I'll take your burden; you take my grace.
Rest easy in my embrace.

Rest easy, rest easy, in my embrace
Rest easy.

-Audio Adrenaline

Saturday, July 16, 2011

(Pretty) Urgent Prayer Requests: July 2011

Hey friends! Couple of (pretty) urgent prayer requests like to share with you Re: our roles in the coffeehouse/house church ministry in Poland:

1.) COPENHAGEN! We are leading the fundraising efforts to take 12+ volunteers and staff members from our Poznań and Kraków locations to the 2011 Nordic Barista Cup coffee summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Attending this conference is an AWESOME opportunity -one God used to work genuine educational and relational miracles in the lives of our staff members last year- but it's also a fairly expensive one. Please pray that God will provide the necessary funds in time...he always has before, and we're trusting him to do it again! :)

2.) ROASTING! It's possible that a church in States will be sponsoring the purchase of a small, commercial coffee roaster to serve all three Sweet Surrender shops in Poland (and possibly interested Nazarene churches in the States). Many things have to fall into place before that can happen, but among the most important concerns is Brittany's need to find a master coffee roaster in Kraków that is willing to grant her a crash-course apprenticeship this summer and fall. Please pray that God's will might be done in this situation, and in his time!

Thanks so much for you prayers and support...we could have never made it this far without you!

Aaron & Brit

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Love of God

"The Love of God is greater far
than any tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star,
and reaches to the lowest hell.

"The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave his Son to win.
The erring child he reconciled,
and saved him from his sin.

"Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made.
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade.

"To write the love of God above,
would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
if stretched from sky to sky."

-Rabbi Mayer & Frederick H. Lehman

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Forgive us as we forgive..."

At last Saturday's Bible study/worship service in Poznań, Pastor Josh Stines continued our exploration of the Lord's Prayer (Ojciec Nasz) with an examination of the phrase, "forgive we forgive." The passage reads like this:

“This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV)

Josh (aka "Jam Master J") led an examination of these ideas in light of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant that Jesus told in Matthew 18:

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Taken together, these passages inspired several thoughts for me (Aaron):

1.) Josh pointed out that the first amount (10,000 talents) was the equivalent of 150,ooo years' wages(!) for Jesus' audience. In other words...this was a huge, insurmountable un-payable debt (not unlike ours to God). The second amount (100 denarii), however, constituted only about one day's wages. In other words...this was a petty, eminently forgivable debt (not unlike ours to each other).

2.) My Papa Els often says, "you can't out-give God." I think this passage also illustrates that it's impossible to out-forgive God, too! God forgives us of so can we fail to forgive each other of so LITTLE?

3.) When you think about it, this is kind of an intensely scary way to pray. If we're going to ask God to "forgive us as we forgive" others -and Jesus indicates that we are- well, we want to be really, REALLY good at forgiving others!


Monday, April 11, 2011

EuNC Leadership Conference: Devo #1

So I (Aaron) have been looking back over my notes from the 2011 European Nazarene Leadership Conference this week, and I got so excited about some of the ideas and issues presented by Dr. Len Sweet, Rev. Jon Middendorf, and a couple of guest devotional speakers that I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

This first installment is taken from Pastor Jon's first devotional message on the night of 17 January, about the love of God and how our perceptions of him (and it) shape our faith and practice.

Jon's jump-off text was from the sermon on the Mount (a passage that's a personal favorite of mine): "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13, 16, NIV)

Jon began by positing that the ways we see God directly shape the way that we reflect his image to others. "What your God looks like -your functioning image of God- is an excellent indication of what your faith and your ministry look like," he noted. "And I'm not sure that it's possible to minister effectively without a specific image of God to communicate."

Jon therefore argued that our perceptions of God ought to be deeply rooted in our understanding of his central attribute: love. For this Jon pointed to Paul's explanation of God's love from Romans 5:8. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, NIV) In other words, Jon argued, God's love for us (his children) is both unconditional and prevenient! "If we are saved, it has a lot more to do with God than it does with us," he poignantly observed. "This is the work of grace."

Jon closed with an illustration of God's love taken from his real-life experience as a pastor, an incident that touched my and especially Brit's lives quite directly: the story of Ron & Allison Lester.

Allison was a high school friend of Brit's at OKC First, and she suffered from a fatal disease that severely stunted the growth of her skeletal structure and made it difficult for her to breathe. Allison outlived her doctors' initial diagnosis by more than a decade, but finally succumbed to her disease shortly after her high school graduation. When the time came, Ron (Allison's dad) rode with Allison in the ambulance that transported her to the hospital for the last time.

When Jon and Brit arrived at the emergency room, Ron was sitting up straight on the gurney, supporting Allison in his arms as she struggled for life; it was the only position they had found in which she was able to breathe. "And there in that emergency room, I finally found my image of God," Jon related (through his tears, and mine, and Brittany's). "He's the God who cradles us in his arms...because he loves us so, and because it's the only way we can breathe."


PS: Pastor Jon preached Alison's funeral at OKC First in 2005. The sanctuary was packed with her fellow congregants and friends (like Brit) and people who knew or had worked with Ron (like me and my grandfather). Jon also sang a song -Chris Rice's Untitled Hymn- and every time I hear it I think about Ron and Allison on that gurney, and about God's love for his children.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Love Wins.

Disclaimer: this post isn't about Rob Bell's new book.

It's about something much bigger than one man's earnest examination of the merits of hopeful universalism (a concept I first heard espoused, by the way, in a conservative Christian college): the all-consuming, all-surpassing, all-encompassing love of God.

God made us. He loves us. He LOVES us. Unconditionally, and in a way that defies human preconceptions and stereotypes. His love is so big, so embracing, and so foundational to who he is as our Creator-Father that it's almost too easy to take for granted.

Which is where the music comes in.

Lately, Brit and I have come to to more fully understand/grasp/appreciate God's love through three specific songs, written in three completely different styles, more than one thousand years apart.

The first is Frederick Lehman's The Love of God, an early-20th century adaptation of a poem written by Rabbi Mayer in 1096. The lines of its epic third stanza are so true, and so movingly beautiful!

"Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above would drain the oceans dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky."

The second song that's been teaching us about God's love for us (especially during this Lenten season) is Stuart Townend's "modern hymn," How Deep the Father's Love for Us. This is one of Brittany's all-time favorite songs, and one that always reminds us both of the Good Friday Service of Shadows at OKC 1st Church of the Nazarene. The first and last stanzas are our favorites, and the ones that stick in our minds (and throats) every time we sing them:

"How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure,
That he would give his only Son, to make a wretch his treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns his face away,
As wounds which mar the chosen one bring many sons to glory...
Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart: his wounds have paid my ransom.

The third song that continues to shape our understanding of our relationship with a loving God is John Mark McMillan's How He Loves. It's another song we first heard at OKC 1st, and have since introduced to the congregations we worshipped with in Stillwater, OK and now here in Poznań. The pre-chorus and chorus just blow us away...and they sum up God's desire for relationship with us so perfectly:

"And oh...HOW he loves us SO!
Oh, how he LOVES us...HOW he loves us SO!!
Yeah he LOVES us, whoa how he LOVES us
Whoa how he LOVES us, whoa how he LOVES!!"

God's love for us is so amazing, so pursuing, and so unconditional that we can scarcely grasp it. God -the Master and Creator of the entire universe- loves us. He LOVES us! And so every day, we pray for the grace and perspective to understand, embrace, reflect, and live out our Father's radical love for us a little more.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Colossians 3 is stalking us! (Part 3)

And finally, the passage(s) from Colossians 3 that originally began to burrow their way (back) into my (Aaron's) consciousness a few weeks ago as I hauled a couple of dripping trash bags out to the dumpster after closing down the coffeehouse one night:

"And WHATEVER you do, whether in word or deed, do it ALL in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him...Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as WORKING FOR THE LORD, NOT FOR MEN, since you know that you WILL receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. IT IS THE LORD CHRIST YOU ARE SERVING." -Colossians 3:17, 23-24 (NIV)

On the surface, this might seem like a pretty easy passage to break down. We're called to work at whatever God has given us for his glory, not our own. And that is a profound way to redeem the otherwise seemingly mundane! Of course there are tasks and challenges every day that I might not bother with for anyone else, save for the powerful motivating factor of "doing it for God."

But even more than that, I've found that it's an incomparable blessing to quietly attack some thankless chore, and to work hard at it...and when it's finished, to silently breathe a prayer that says "for you, Jesus," and get on with my day. How sweet it is to serve!

Not only that, but as my Papa Els says, "God will get even with you. We believe in that!" :)

Colossians 3 is stalking us! (Part 2)

The following is the second in an a series of passages from Colossians 3 that have spoken powerfully to us in recent weeks:

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, HOLY and DEARLY LOVED, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. BEAR WITH EACH OTHER and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. FORGIVE as the Lord forgave YOU. And over all these virtues put on LOVE, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ dwell in you richly, since as members of one body you were called to PEACE. And BE YE THANKFUL." -Colossians 3:12-15 (NIV-ish)

Wow. So much to like here. So much to love. So much to be humbled by!

First of all, our house church here in Poznań has been studying the Lord's Prayer recently, beginning with (of course) the phrase , "Our Father." How amazing it is, then, to be the dearly loved children of the all-powerful Creator God!!

And how telling it is that our Father calls us to bear with each other in times of stress, misunderstanding, and disagreement. He even calls us to a seemingly impossible standard - to forgive each other as he has forgiven us! In other words...there is nothing that anyone on earth can do to us to make them unworthy of forgiveness. And we must also remember that God -in his love and infinite forgiveness- sought us out in our place of sin and brokenness, and called us to himself. So we are called to love each other (and the world)!

And finally: Paul reminds us that as Christians the peace of Christ can and ought to have full sway in our hearts and minds...not just as individuals, but as members of one body, the Body of Christ. As members of that body, he points out, we are inherently called to peace - not just with the world, but (first and foremost) with each other!

And finally the last bit, which I cribbed verbatim from Mr. Martin's King James Version (because I like the weight and phrasing so much - it sounds like a playful, mock-serious scolding from a loving uncle): "And BE YE THANKFUL." Paul stresses that God's love for us, his forgiveness for our sins, and his calling on our lives (individually and collectively) are not limitations; they are gifts from a loving Father who loves us so much and wants the very best for our lives.

Thanks be to God!

Now Colossians 3 is stalking us! :) (Part 1)

You probably know the drill by now (and so do we): when God has a specific message for us as a couple, he often repeatedly confirms it to us in the course of our devotions, individual readings, sermons, etc.

Over the last few weeks, one passage that we keep coming back to (and keeps coming back to us) is Colossians 3, which I (Aaron) first memorized all the way back in 5th grade at Mingo Valley Christian School. We had to memorize the whole chapter back then (in the KJV, no less), but there have been a few specific verses that have spoken to us recently. To wit:

1.) "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. FOR YOU DIED, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, WHO IS YOUR LIFE, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." -Colossians 3:2-4 (NIV)

For whatever reason, the freeing finality of these verses has never hit me so hard before. Surrendering our will and desires to God's seems a whole lot easier when viewed from the perspective of one who understands that a life lived for him demands nothing -absolutely NOTHING- less. Maybe what I love the most is Paul's easy, almost-taking-it-for-granted assertion, "Look, we're already dead. We DIED. And CHRIST is our only hope for life! Where he goes, we go. What he does, we do. What he values, we value. The end."


...and More Photos!

Hey all!

You can check out our most recent attempts at cultural self-education and edification below. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Photos, Photos, Photos!!

Hey all!

I know, I know...long time, no post. Hoping to right that wrong in the near future. In the meantime, there are new photo albums of our life in (wintry) Poland now up on Aaron's Facebook page:


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Isaiah + Matthew = Encouragement

3 brief related, encouraging passages have come across my path today.

The first, shared by long-time friend-of-the-blog Melanie, comes from Isaiah 58:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. " -Isaiah 58:6-11 (NIV)

Wow. WOW! God's will for our lives seems so simple sometimes. Justice, Freedom, Equality, Love. Easy? No. Simple? Yes.

On to passage 2, inspired by an old Baptist hymn popularized by the African Children's Choir:
"These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give." -Matthew 10:5-8

This passage (and song) always remind me of a story my mom tells about God's desire for us to freely share what he's given us with others...I think about it every single time we donate something to a food bank, homeless shelter, or a friend in need.

And now for passage 3 (also from Matthew), which always takes me back to my days as a youth group sponsor at the Lake Overholser Church of the Nazarene:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" -Matthew 25:34-40

The longer we live here in Poland, the more we are convinced that God's will for his church boils down to these basic principles...loving and meeting the most essential physical, spiritual, and relational needs of others as if they were Christ himself. Every day we
we trust him to meet our own needs, and to refresh us as we strive to help meet the needs of others....and every day we ask God for the wisdom, strength, and humility to recognize and act on our opportunities to do so.


I. Heart. The. Green. Book.

At the end of a tiring work week, and then a frustrating first few hours of budgeting, calculating, and more budgeting on Sunday morning...I came (back) across these consecutive gems from last week's Green Book Scripture readings:

THURSDAY: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

FRIDAY: "Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand." -Mark 6:39-44 (NIV)

SATURDAY: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience."-Hebrews 4:9-11 (NIV)

Encouraging thoughts for the week, then:
1.) As a proud alumnus of Mingo Valley Christian School, I've recited Isaiah 40:31 about a hundred million times...but I forget how much I really, really love the verses that precede it, especially the Creator God's specific promises to strengthen the weary and empower the weak.

2.) If God can turn 5 loaves and 2 fish into dinner for 5,000+, surely he can be trusted with guardianship of our ministry (and personal) bank account(s). It's a good thing, too! :)

3.) No matter how real and pressing our human needs are, God always offers us a Sabbath-time and -place of spiritual and physical rest and we use (or misuse) it is up to us.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

John Wesley = Good Advice.

In the early days of the Methodist church, John Wesley received a letter from a colleague complaining that his spiritual life was "withering." Wesley's response was (and is) a classic call to personal devotion and development:

"O begin! Fix some part of your day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not: what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days." -from Prayer and Devotional Life of United Methodists, by Steve Harper

Hear now the Word of the LORD:
"The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD as been good to you." -Psalm 116:6-7 (NIV)


Monday, January 31, 2011

Words of Rest and Renewal

We've been carrying a pretty heavy load for the past few weeks, but have really been encouraged by the knowledge that another volunteer couple is coming later this week to work in both the coffeehouse and the house church ministry. With that in mind, you can imagine our delight when we read the title of the this week's entries in our devotional guide: "Come and Rest Awhile." :)

AFFIRMATION: "The beloved of the LORD rests in safety - the High God surrounds him all day long - the beloved rests between his shoulders." -Deuteronomy 33:12

GOD'S PROMISE: "And you will have confidence, because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid; many will entreat your favor." -Job 11:18-19

MY RESPONSE: "So then, a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall." -Hebrews 4:9-11


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Count it all Joy!

If Jeremiah 29 is stalking us...then James 1 is lurking somewhere in the shadows, waiting to finish us off. :)

In the past month, two different sermons and our devotional guide have reminded me (Aaron) that not only is God always with us, and not only does he always have a plan for our lives...but he is also -always- at work when we encounter circumstances and opportunities that grow and challenge our faith. Not only that, but such development and maturity are often essential for God's future purposes for our lives!

So without further ado, another passage that has challenged and inspired us lately:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe, and not doubt, be cause he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. " -James 1:2-6

Several things immediately jump out at me when I read these verses. The first, as I'm sure my little brother Alex can attest, is an old episode of the Christian radio drama "Adventures in Odyssey" called 'Count it all Joy!" :) Beyond that, however, I offer the following:

The joy that James is talking about is so pure, so big, that it doesn't leave room for any other (perhaps less noble) feelings or emotions; the trials ARE coming, so we might as well prepare for them; testing can (but does not necessarily have to) develop's up to us and how we handle things; perseverance leads to maturity and wholeness in Christ, through which he can use us to minister more holistically and effectively; the wisdom we need to handle trials the right way is freely attainable, but comes only from God; -and- God's response to our requests are perhaps most limited by our own doubts and self-imposed limitations!

That's a LOT to digest in one reading (or even many readings), but it's nonetheless heartening to be reminded that the God who creates, chooses, and calls us is also the God who encourages and equips us to deal with trials and temptations that accompany the fallen nature of humanity. Moreover, he is also the God who promises to develop, mature, and complete in spite of -and often because of- times of adversity. "And that," as J.R.R. Tolkien might say, "is an encouraging thought." :)

Hear now "God's Promise" from Week 7 in "A Guide to Prayer for all who Seek God": "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, yo are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you wal through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you. For I am the LORD you God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." -Isaiah 43:1-3 (NIV)

Thanks be to God!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jeremiah 29 is stalking us. :)

It seems like everywhere I (Aaron) go these days, I am repeatedly confronted by a familiar (and profoundly encouraging) bit of Scripture. It's one we've blogged about before, I think, but that just KEEPS coming up in sermons, conversations, and (most recently) in "A Guide to Prayer for all Who Seek God." So here we go again:

"This is what the LORD says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" -Jeremiah 29:10-14a (NIV)

This passage is inspiring for many reasons, not the least of which being A.) God has a plan for us -and- B.) he longs to hear and answer our prayers. Beyond those assurances, however, both Brittany and I have become increasingly convinced in recent days (and especially during our time at the Church of the Nazarene's European Leadership Conference) that God is even now preparing a specific and exciting...something...for our future. In the meantime, our mandate -individually, as a couple, and as a church- is clear: to call, to come, to seek, to pray, to love.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Advent: Reflections on the Conclusion

One of the most significant Polish Christmas traditions we've had the privilege to participate in here is (sporadically) attending daily 6:00 AM Advent-themed services at a nearby Catholic church.

Perhaps my (Aaron's) favorite part of the beautiful candlelit services is the communal singing of a Latin hymn called "Rorate Caeli," or "The Advent Prose," during the opening processional. This gorgeous, haunting song is based on passages from the book of Isaiah; the English lyrics are posted below, and a YouTube link (one whose tone and acoustics sound very similar to our church's) is available here.

"Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Be not angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity : behold the city of thy sanctuary is become a desert, Sion is made a desert. Jerusalem is desolate, the house of our holiness and of thy glory, where our fathers praised thee.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

We have sinned, and we are become as one unclean, and we have all fallen as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast crushed us by the hand of our iniquity.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

See, O Lord, the affliction of thy people, and send him whom thou hast promised to send. Send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth, from the rock of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion, that he himself may take off the yoke of our captivity.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Be comforted, be comforted, my people; thy salvation shall speedily come. Why wilt thou waste away in sadness? why hath sorrow seized thee? I will save thee; fear not: for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One."

We particularly enjoyed sharing these daily communal celebrations with both our Polish neighbors and visiting friends & family from the States. It's tough to get up for church at 5:30 AM when your work day just ended seven hours earlier...but one visit and we were hooked. :) We can't wait to go again next year!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's a Quiet Week in Lake Poznan...

We were blessed with a week off! The week between Christmas and New Years Day was declared a Sweet Surrender holiday and the shop was closed. We love our work, but the idea of some rest was exciting, especially for me (Brittany). Well, it was one of those "be careful what you wish for" kind of weeks, because after all that praying for rest....I got it.

Monday night of our sabbatical week, I woke myself up several times coughing (I had felt the sore throat during the day on Monday, but I didn't have a cough). It quickly became bad enough that I went to the doctor first thing Tuesday morning. After diagnosing me with two different infections (one in my ear and one in my throat), she looked me in the eye and asked, "You weren't planning on getting out of bed for 3 or 4 days, were you?" "Uh, I guess I'm not now."

So, I got the rest I was hoping for--and a lot more. The great news is that I was able to read. I LOVE to read and had been doing less and less of it since we arrived in Poland 6 months ago. I read the Bible and our Guide to Prayer. I read Man's Search for Meaning and Redeeming Love. I also read The Professional Barista's Handbook that Aaron got me for Christmas (thanks, love!). Through all of this I rediscovered something I had forgotten I had ever known. To understand this, I need to back you up a couple of months.

After talking to many people here and reading "A Generous Orthodoxy" in October, I began a search for a more simple way to "explain" Jesus' coming. I'm sure this is a topic I will explore in many, many ways throughout my days, but lately I have been praying for something specific. Something simple that could resonate with a searching person about my age. This week, I found it (again). I'm sure this explanation has been given to me before, but for some reason, this time, it hit home....

Imagine you are God. You are all-powerful, in and through everything, and yet invisible. You have created people share life and love with. You have reached out to man in various ways over the years, again and again. Prophets, scrolls, rocks, and bushes have worked together to show your love and protection. But after many, many years of receiving these messages, man seems to begin missing them. Suddenly, the declarations and prophets you send are no longer getting your message of love, peace, and hope through to your people. As time goes on, they begin to be lost within themselves, no longer recognizing your presence among them. Fighting brews among them as they forget they are Your creation. You must do something. You must give your children a way to understand you. It's got to be intimate, a language they will finally understand. A language that is their own. Their own. That's it. You've tried everything, there is now no other choice. You must become one of them. It is the only way they can understand the invisible God now. You must go to them and show yourself (even if it means they are afraid of what they see and seek to destroy you). Suddenly you realize that to show that you are a God who is personal, you must show yourself God as a person. "At last we can talk about God in terms we understand, human terms." -Reuben P. Job

This is a little dramatic, but for the people I have encountered here, it is going to make so much more sense than legal or individualistic ways of "explaining" Jesus. Granted it is not perfect, just a beginning.

Colossians 1:15, 19-20 "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation....For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

For more on this topic, see, "A Guide to Prayer for All God's People," pages 47-55