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