Thursday, October 27, 2016

My Chariot of Fire

Tonight I went out to meet with a group of young men and women as I do every Thursday night.  It’s a great group of young people from around Europe led by three middle aged American missionaries of whom I am one.  We teach the Bible and are trying, by God’s grace, to help them grow into the future leaders of the Church in Europe.

Tonight it was my night to teach.  I love teaching.  I especially love teaching about the Bible.  I have heard that where passion meets talent is where one finds his sweet spot in life.  My talent is teaching, my passion is God’s word.  Bible teaching is fun for me.

Fun may not be the best word to describe it actually.  Fun is watching a baseball game.  Fun is playing a board game with my daughters.  Fun is bowling with my wife.  For me, teaching the Bible gives me a sort of high.

This is not like a drug high, or an endorphin high that one might get from a good run in the morning.  It’s not an emotional high like the one I had the day I asked Sasha to marry me or when my daughters were born.  It’s a sweet spot high.  It comes from being right where God made me to be and doing what He wants me to do.

Eric Liddell was a very famous and very fast runner.  The movie "Chariots of Fire" was largely about him.  He was once quoted as saying, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

God did not make me fast.  He made me to teach His word, and when I do, I feel His pleasure.

You who are reading this, I don’t know what your purpose is.  I don’t know what in your life will be like running for Eric Liddell or teaching for me, but I encourage you to find what in your life gives God pleasure.  When you do, you might just find out what Eric felt when he ran and what keeps me awake in the middle of the night writing this blog.

May you find what in your life gives God pleasure, and may it bring you the joy you were made to have in Him.

Eric Liddell Running on July 19, 1924

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The First Decade

On October 16, 2006 our family of 4 landed in Berlin, boarded a van, and drove across the border to Szczecin, Poland.  This was day one for us, and it was a day we had worked hard to get to.

Here we are ten years later still serving in ministry in Europe (though now in Sofia, Bulgaria).  We have lived in four homes, in three cities, and in two countries.  We have had 5 wonderful teammates, two of whom are still serving in Europe with us.  We both learned Polish, and I learned Bulgarian.  We have worked with people from every inhabited continent, and made what we hope was lasting impact in people’s lives around Europe.

None of this was accomplished by our own power.  Everything we have accomplished came through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  God has changed lives for the better.  We have been privileged to see people from around the world come to Christ, grow in Him, and go out to reach others.  There are people we have worked with now serving God on at least 4 other continents.

Thousands of years ago a servant of the Lord named Zerubbable was responsible for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem to reestablish praise and worship there.  God sent a message to him:

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.”  (Zechariah 4:6)

It is the same for us.  Everything we have accomplished, and have yet to accomplish is not by our might, our power, our planning, our intelligence, or our character, but by God’s Spirit working through us.

We are privileged to be used by God here in Europe.  We plan on being here for years to come, and look forward to seeing how God will use us to His glory.

It has been a good first decade.

Monday, October 10, 2016

What I've lost and What I've Gained

I’ve been living in Europe for about a decade now.  It’s interesting every time I go back to the U.S.  One would think that in this digital age people would stay up to date on the goings on around the world, but I never cease to be surprised by the things I miss out on by living thousands of miles from the place I grew up.

The first time I went back to the U.S. I had a conversation with my brother.  He told me how he would soon be getting his first iPhone.  He was quite excited.  I smiled and nodded at his excitement, but inside I was thinking, “What’s an iPhone?  I think I remember hearing about that once.”  They have iPhones in Europe now of course, but at the time, they were seldom seen in Eastern Europe.  I wasn’t sure what they were, but apparently they were important.

Another time, I heard a lot of buzz about these people called the Kardashians.  I had no idea who they were or why they were so important.  (I’m still not sure to be honest.)  They were not actors, or musicians.  They did not produce anything important, and when I finally saw a picture of them I realized that they really weren't even that good looking, but they seemed to be a big deal in the U.S.  I had no idea why.

Politics are a hit and miss thing.  I am up to date on the presidential election (more so than I would like to be), but I couldn’t tell you what the most recent thing is that Trump blamed Clinton for or vice versa.  I could probably name the Senators from my home state, but I’m not sure who my representative is.  Yet, I am surprisingly well informed on the scandal in the Stillwater, Minnesota school district thanks to a couple of Facebook friends.  (You know who you are.)

I am also disconnected from the Christian subculture.  Just today I realized that I have no idea who the big names are in Christian music.  I wanted to buy a praise album to listen to on my road trip tomorrow, and I had no idea what to get.  (My non-Christian readers will understand where I’m coming from.)

The last time I was in the States I was paying for gas at a station.  The cashier saw my phone and said, “A flip phone.  Old school.  Nice.”  This was about two years ago, and I still hadn’t gotten a smart phone because they are expensive, and I’m not someone with a lot of spare cash.  Apparently I had even fallen behind gas station attendants in my technological advancement.

Though I have fallen into much social and technological ineptness in my time abroad, I have also gained much.

For one thing, I’m not afraid of people from other cultures.  (I never really was, but I'm more comfortable around them now.)  I know that many of my brothers and sisters in America are concerned about refugees from the Middle-East.  I’m concerned for them, not about them.  I see them as people in need, not a threat to my way of life.  This is largely because I've already surrendered my way of life to God's will.

I’ve also found that there is a lot to learn from different cultures.  For example, I grew up in a loving family, but I never realized how close knit and supportive a family could be until I came to Eastern Europe.

By far, the best part of my time in Europe has been the friendships I have forged.

Actually, friendship is a mild term.  Family-ship is probably a better word.  There are people here that I am closer to than many of the people I grew up with.  I can’t explain why this happens psychologically, though I have my theories.  The best answer I can offer comes from Jesus:

“Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

I’ve gained a lot living here.  Perhaps many who read this will not understand what I mean by this.  I left my comfort zone.  I have much less money than I would have had if I had stayed and worked just about any other job.  I also have fewer rights here than I do in America.  I even have less security.  How can I think I have gained from such a venture?

I don’t know that I can explain it to you.  If you want to find out just how much you can gain by packing up and leaving your home, then I suggest you try it.  If you are doing it for the sake of the kingdom of God, you will be surprised just how much you gain.

Come and see.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Gathering of the Clouds

As we sat by the Black Sea we noticed what we thought was a cloud gathering.  But it wasn’t a rain cloud.  It was a gathering of birds—storks to be exact.

A small portion of the storks over Nessebar, Bulgaria in August 2016

Every year in late summer storks from around Europe visit Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.  They hover over the beaches for a while flying in circles, and then as a massive group, the fly south to Asia and Africa.  Some go as far as South Africa.

Why is Bulgaria their meeting place?  Just look at a map and the answer becomes clear.

Stork migration map from Notice all the lines in Central and Eastern Europe converging in Bulgaria.

If you want to get from Europe to Asia and Africa by land, you have to go through Bulgaria.  True storks don’t actually travel by land, but they do have to fly over land in order to find food, water, and a place to rest when they get tired.  So they meet in Bulgaria and travel in a group for protection over the Middle-East, into Egypt, and down the Nile into the heart of Africa.  A stork that was hatched in central Bulgaria might now be nesting in Cape Town.

Storks are not the only ones who make their way through Bulgaria to the rest of the world.  People do as well.  Be it refugees from the east, businessmen from the west, or Bulgarians going abroad, our little country is a place that the whole world passes through.

This is why we are here.  Just as the storks fly throughout the world, we want the message of salvation through Jesus to spread throughout the world as well.

Come to the crossroads!  God is at work here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rosa Damascena

Rosa Damascena in all its common beauty

Rosa Damascena is the name of a specific breed of rose that is very popular in certain parts of Bulgaria.  It grows on a big bush, and is small and rather unimpressive compared to other roses.  You are not likely to see it in flower shops because it is just not that good looking, yet all of our lives would be dramatically different without this rose.

Rosa Damascena is harvested in Bulgaria like corn is harvested in Iowa.  It is the best rose in the world for the production of rose oil.  After being harvested, the rose pedals are put through a complex process to extract as much oil as possible from every blossom.

This rose oil is then shipped around the world for use in most perfumes, colognes, and soaps.  Without rose oil, the world would smell a lot worse, and about 80 percent of the world’s rose oil comes from this homely looking blossom found in the heart of Bulgaria.

If you are like me, you may occasionally look at your life and wonder if anything good can come from you.  You may think of yourself as just an average person without much to contribute.  You may see value in yourself, but it is the everyday ordinary kind of value.  If you were a flower, perhaps you would think you were a very plain looking flower like Rosa Damascena.

Yet if an ugly rose like this can be used to change the world, surely you can be too.

Think of the people who have had the most impact on your life.  If you are like me, most of them are relatively unknown.  Looking at my life, I can't say that it has been greatly transformed by any famous person, powerful politician, or great speaker of our time nearly as much has it has been transformed by the people closest around me.  These plain ordinary people have made a great impact on my life, and their legacy will live on in me even after they are gone.

I doubt that I will ever be known as a great man.  I am not a beautiful rose that will sit as a centerpiece in some great palace.  I am a common rose like Rosa Damascena.  And I am ever so grateful that God has made me common.  For it is the common people of the world that make the greatest impact on it.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."  -Paul (I Corinthians 1:27-29)