Obligatory Posts

The Bible says we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

I’ve gotten better at this as I’ve gotten older — maybe partially due to diminishing reflexes, partially due to accumulated wisdom — but I’m still challenged to know exactly how to live out these principles in everyday life.

It’s especially challenging when my quick(ish)-listening ears hear trustworthy people telling me that I need to quickly — not slowly — speak out. In anger! How do I balance these competing principles? I don’t want to be slow to listen. But neither do I want to be quick to speak nor quick to anger.

Suffice to say: I have been troubled by the last week of news and commentary, regarding the recent rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia and subsequent violence against those who came out to protest against the rally. In no uncertain terms, I want to be clear that I find the ideals and rhetoric of the white supremacists repugnant. Further, I think it’s especially reprehensible — and downright wrong — that the beliefs of Neo-Nazis and Alt-Right thugs get so frequently wrapped up with the beliefs of “Christians” or “Evangelicals” (to the point that I genuinely don’t know what to do with these terms of identification any more!).

At the same time, I’ve also been troubled with the idea that I have to make a grand declaration of my sense of repugnance and reprehension on social media. I’m not exactly sure why, but this pressure and sense of obligation works as a deterrent to me, more than an encouragement. It’s a broader phenomenon than social media; I have similar attitudes toward, say, American militarism, or Disney vacations, or vegetarianism, or the Harry Potter books (anything that others say I “must” do, say, buy, or endorse). Not that a social media denouncement is all that difficult or opposed to my principles. I’m just like, “Who am I to ‘make a public statement’ about race relations in the American South?” “Why should anyone care what I have to say?”

As I listen to the voices of minorities and activists, however, I’m convinced that there is benefit in voicing my vehement opposition to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the Alt-Right.

I’m particularly compelled by historical voices: speaking into situations which have allowed some time for perspective. Being reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail this week has been especially convicting: “I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” But another point of compulsion and conviction came yesterday, from an unexpected source. I was taking pictures of my kids on their first day of school and preparing to post the pictures to social media when my first impulse to caption the pictures was literally, “Obligatory first-day-of-school photos.”

How can I be willing to oblige the social media standards for posting photographs of my (blue-eyed, blond-haired) children, yet stubbornly resist the obligation to say something publicly about the hatred and violence fomented against people of color in my country?

So here and now: I recognize that I am a part of the problem when I stay silent about oppression which ultimately has the effect of benefiting me, in a position of privilege. I recognize that the American Church has uncomfortably-deep roots in white supremacy, even though this is patently contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I repent of my own sins of omission (not talking about racism) and commission (even harboring racist attitudes in my own heart). To whatever extent I carry authority in the American Church — though my part feels so small — I repent on behalf of my people who have allowed these evils to persist among us. I commit to being active, not passive, when it comes to responding to white supremacy, fighting against voices of hate, and working against the systems of oppression in our country. And more than anything, I want to say that I’m here to listen: especially to people of color.

I may not always succeed in finding the right balance between quick-to-listen, slow-to-speak, and slow-to-become-angry. But at least I want to try.

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The Pact of the Waterfall of the Gods

The waterfalls in Iceland are awesome. Not “Awesome” in the sense that I used the word in high school (basically as a synonym for “Really good”) — but “Awesome” as in genuinely awe-inspiring, awe-inducing.

Reading through all the guidebooks, I’d thought the waterfalls in Iceland would be sort of interesting but sort of redundant or tiresome after awhile, like, “Yeah, yeah… Blah, blah, blah… Another waterfall… How many different ways could you possibly combine water, rocks, and a change in elevation?” But I was wrong with that way of thinking.

All the major falls I saw across Iceland were mesmerizing. Truly awesome and amazing. Some were slender and graceful, threaded between hillsides and rocky outcroppings. Some were shockingly broad, like the length of a football field of falling water. Some were incredibly powerful, with mist curling way back into the air, thunder filling our ears — but perhaps the most impactful thing about the falls was just how close we could get. The squareness and solidity of the rocks at Dettifoss allowed us to get within a foot of the main flow of the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The “responsible parent” in my friends and I would later look back and shake our heads, that we would ever allow ourselves to take such risks, at the edge of such powerful falls — but it was so fun and so awe-inspiring that our systems for processing fear or risk were overwhelmed. The awe overwhelmed us.

The Waterfall of the Gods, the Godafoss, was one of the last waterfalls we visited, on our last evening in the rugged northern parts of Iceland. The falls are reportedly so named because of its role as a dumping ground for pagan idols, in the days when Iceland first converted to Christianity, back in the Middle Ages. In the twilight, the falling water was silver and white — reminiscent indeed of liquified religious statuary — but at our feet it was as clear as a diamond. So we stooped and drank deeply from the ice-cold water. With wet chins, we fixed our gaze at the ring of falling water and started picking our way across the rubble to get closer.

While gazing at the falling water, we decided we needed to make a pact to mark the end of our trip. But what exactly? As we considered our options, we got out Cuban cigars purchased at the duty free shop and a lighter borrowed from our AirBnB host. The lighter didn’t work well, but we managed to get one cigar lit, and from that one we managed to light the other two: Three spots of glowing orange embers in the deepening darkness, like coals placed in our mouths by angels. The pact crystallized as we puffed and pondered. It went something like this:

We’re there for each other. We’ve got each other’s backs. We won’t let each other fall victim to the idolatry of wealth, or power, or sexual immorality, without doing our best to maintain accountability and purposefully intervene when necessary. If there ever is a stumble or fall, however, we’re still there for each other. We won’t turn our backs or disown each other in times of disgrace or difficulty. We’re brothers. We love each other. And if God allows us to keep our pact for another twenty years, we will come back to this place — to these waterfalls, or their emotional equivalent — to solemnize the occasion and re-up for as long as we may live.

After we affirmed our love and commitment for each other, we put out the stubs of our cigars and stooped for another drink from the river. We walked away from the Waterfall of the Gods and into a future of unknown opportunity and opposition, together as brothers.

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Midlife Cr_Iceland

I recently read a book by a pastor who used the Dakota Badlands as a metaphor for middle-aged life and ministry. It borrowed imagery from his family vacations, driving from Baltimore, Maryland (his adopted home and church) out to Kalispell, Montana (the place where his family had its roots). He described the slow transition from industrious factory-towns to fertile farmlands to wild grasslands and then barren rock as a way to understand a transition from early-career successes and the achievement of goals to a time of perceived stagnation and aimlessness. I appreciated and acknowledged the effectiveness of the Badlands’ name and barrenness as an effective literary device, but I pushed against the imagery because I personally love driving through the Dakotas more than the farmlands or mountains.

On our third day — and worst day — in Iceland, however, I found a new way to relate to these concepts. With apologies / credit to Eugene Petersen, I’m going to appropriate and adapt his imagery to talk about my journey through Iceland’s Grimsá River Valley.

We knew it was going to be a travel day, shifting from our southern base near the city of Selfoss to our northern base in the city of Akureyri with a relative dearth of tourist attractions to stop and see along the way — but we never realized how challenging the day would be. As we drove northwest, through one of the large national parks, we kept looking for a gas station. Based on the number of tourists we had seen the previous day in this national park, we figured it wouldn’t be hard to find a place to refuel. But we never did find a place to stop, and before long the pavement gave way to gravel and we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere.

I found it simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying to be driving across the interior of Iceland on Route 52. This was the rugged remoteness I had come to find! It was like my favorite drive from Wyoming, earlier this summer, with all the vast vistas and lack of traffic — yet even more so, on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic! At the same time, our vehicle was running desperately low on diesel. There was no sign of civilization for miles in any direction. And, of course, it started to rain. It would continue to rain for the rest of the day.

As the roads got rougher, I also started to worry about the dire warning issued at the rental car company: No off-roading… Avoid gravel roads… Driver assumes full liability… Insurance doesn’t cover gravel damage, etc… Combined with my concerns about fuel efficiency, we crept along at 50 kilometers per hour (about 35 miles per hour), trying to stay light-hearted and enjoy the scenery. But failing.

It was a massive relief when we made it to the Ring Road (Route 1) and the N1 Gas Station. After refueling we tried to enjoy some waterfalls. They were beautiful — super-wide, light-blue opaque water — but everything was dampened by more rain and gravel. A lot more rain and a lot more gravel. We had to eat our packed lunches in the car as we pushed back toward the north.

As we neared the northern coast, I suggested a detour to the hot tubs at Drangsnes, up a ways into the Western Fjords. My thinking was that it would only be an hour off our route (thus, two hours of total detour) — but it would allow us to get a taste for a whole other region of the country we wouldn’t otherwise get to see and why not enjoy the hot tubs when we’d be getting wet anytime we stepped out of the car anyway!?! Chad disagreed, however. He thought it would be better to just make it to Akureyri for a more relaxed evening. I persisted. Jason stayed out of it until a couple of miles before the turn-off, when he ultimately cast a reluctant vote towards Drangsnes.

The regrets started pretty quickly as we started climbing into the fjords. More rain. More gravel. Anxiety-inducing cliffs. All of the white-knuckled hairpin turns with none of the snow-capped peaks to show for it. Everything shrouded in gray mist.

The hot tubs were unique: three of them, right up against the water. A green square, a blue octagon, and a light-blue octagon. They were fun and free, in an otherwise-obscure village. They were popular, though. A young couple from Switzerland, a small group from Italy, two others who never spoke, and (later) a brother and sister from Buffalo (New York) plus the brother’s wife and a total of four kids. Not the traveler’s secret I’d thought it might be. Sure, it was a pleasant experience. We got some valuable intelligence on Akureyri from the Americans. But it wasn’t worth the two-hour detour.

We got dinner afterwards at Holmavik, across the bay from Drangsnes. One of two cafes in the whole fjord. The service was terrible: slow and rude. I ended up spending way too much for really bad fish and chips, and then we had to drive back through the fjords to the mainland and then on to Akureyri. It took way longer than expected. We didn’t make it to our destination until after midnight. Persistent rains through massive mountains we couldn’t see. Not at all the day we expected.

Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that the day was an apt metaphor for middle age. The coming — and current — season of life for us.

There was plenty of room for adventure (if anything, a bit too much adventure!), but things felt hard and heavy. Everything was coated in gray: overcast skies, dark-gray gravel on the road surfaces and stuck to the exterior of our rental car, mountains wearing trench coats of mist, a steady wind and rain in our faces.

We almost ran out of gas. We got dinged up by gravel kicking up off the ground. We experienced indecision and lost our way, resulting in more dings and more grime. I mean, it’s almost too easy — to clichéed — to make metaphors out of all these elements!

It’s sobering to think about middle age in this way, but it also feels like insight. Being “grown-up” ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Adulting is hard (more clichés). At the same time, I find encouragement in the fact that there were three of us, close friends, sorting our way through it all together. I also take solace in the fact that we survived all the shenanigans. The middle-aged, middle-of-Iceland stuff didn’t kill us. It just challenged us to rise to the occasion, enhanced our appreciation of the other (more pleasurable) parts of the journey, and gave us a good story to tell.

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Glacial Perspective

White clouds tumble into white sheets of snow and ice, sliding down off the Öræfajökull, into the Fjallsárlón. It moves at a glacial pace because, of course, it’s a glacier. Still, I’m overwhelmed by the sight of this ice-covered volcano dropping its icy mantle into this iceberg-studded lagoon. All right in front of me.

I wasn’t fully prepared for the superlative scenery of Iceland. I’d read guide books and researched quite a bit on the internet. I’d talked to other people who had visited. Still, the actual experience overwhelmed me.

We set out for our second day in Iceland with simple objectives: Head for the black sand beaches at Vik (the southernmost tip of this most northerly country) and take whatever adventures may come our way. If we felt up to it, we might push on to the glacial lagoon at Jökullsárlón. But that was about as much as we dared to hope might happen on this, our first full day of touring Iceland for our 40th Birthday Celebration of Life, Friendship, and Adventure. #Iceland3x40 #MidlifeCr_Iceland

Before we even made it to Vik, however, we were compelled to clamber out of the rental car to spend an hour and a half climbing over, under, around, and through the four waterfalls at Seljalandsfoss.

Just a short drive further, we made another spontaneous stop to scamper into the spray at the bottom of the mighty Skógafoss and have a Spaniard take our picture before jumping back into the car and continuing southward.

Along the way, we found ourselves laughing at the other apparently-unnamed waterfalls and cataracts spilling down from impossibly green and impossibly steep hillsides.

As we passed cloud-covered volcanoes, secret lagoons, and other sites of interest, we kept saying to ourselves, “I hope we’ll have some time to stop and see that on the way back!”

Just before Vik, we crept up to the top of the cliffs at Dyrhólaey — in hopes of maybe, possibly, spotting an Arctic Puffin, likely somewhere in the distance — and we were delighted to find thousands of the birds out on the water, swarming the air, nestled into the cliffs right at our feet, and seemingly mugging at our cameras while we took photographs of them and their breathtaking surroundings.

Even when Vik was clearly in sight, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the cave where medieval Vikings regularly met to hold council.

Then finally at Vik, we watched white waves crash onto black beaches and then found shelter in a cave as a brief rainstorm passed through. As we ate our lunches, we agreed that the adventure should continue: eastward to the glacial lagoons.

On the way to the glacial lagoons, we passed more hulking volcanoes with their heads in the clouds… A hitchhiker with a creepy half-smile on his face… Vast yellow plains stretching between mountain and sea… Strange green bubbles of grass- and moss-covered lava on either side of the road… An older couple stopped in the road, with a twitching, dying sheep lying on the pavement in front of the vehicle while the gentleman talked on his mobile phone and the lady sat wringing her hands in the passenger seat… So much to see, and so little time in which to see it all!

The glacial lagoons, though, made us forget everything else.

The shades of blue, green, and gray — reflected in the water, the ice, and the sky — were otherworldly. The icebergs drifted like clouds: some as big as my house back in Kent, some the size of a basketball. Seals ducked and dived in the water between the icebergs. Tourists scrambled for pictures (we knew we were visiting during a busy vacation season, but even so we were surprised to discover that Iceland is not the desolate, uninhabited wild lands it’s often purported to be). Even with all the crowds, though, it was somehow easy to tune them out. To feel like we had our own private wonderland for skipping stones, taking silly pictures, and quietly soaking in the scenery. We were all glad we traveled the extra miles, to see the Jökullsárlón. What’s Iceland without the ice, right? We shot a ton of pictures: the icebergs, the seals, the mountains, my friends, everything! It was other-worldly. Magnificent. Awe-inspiring. I kept muttering, “I can’t even…” Sometimes the muttering became bellowing. “I. Can’t. Even.”

The real coup de grace, though, was the second ice lagoon: the Fjallsárlón. We didn’t even know it existed. Even when we turned off the road to see it, on a whim, a glimpse, a road sign, we didn’t expect much. In fact, we told ourselves we were going to speed-walk our way there and back to the car, just to say we saw it, snap a picture, and move on.

But then we saw it, like a vision of heaven coming down to earth: the clouds, the glaciers, the icebergs, the water reflecting the setting sun. I simply couldn’t do the quick visit / tourist thing. I had to sit on a rock and breathe. The moment overwhelmed me and made me think — which was, actually, kind of the point of the whole trip. Our mid-life crisis. Our celebration of the passage of time. I couldn’t just snap-and-run. I had to sit down on a rock and breathe. Absorb the enormity and stillness. The blue of the water. The white of the clouds and ice. The gold of the fields off further to the east. I heard an echoing crack off to the north, high up the glaciated hill: a massive sheet of ice sliding, slipping, shifting, breaking, drifting, settling. At a glacial pace.

“It makes me sad,” Jason said, breaking the silence.

“Hmm?” I asked, with my eyebrows as much as my voice. I had a feeling of what he was getting at, but I wanted him to say it.

“I know it’s strange, but it’s sad because I know I’m never going to experience this again. Not in the same way, at least.”

“We never would have thought of that when we were 20 years old,” Chad adds. “But we couldn’t. We weren’t capable at that point in our lives.”

This is the thing about middle age. 40 years old. A couple of decades providing some time to love and to lose. To put beauty in perspective. I still haven’t completely figured it out, but it seems that the pacing is a part of it. The way time slows down and speeds up, it adds complexity. And complexity adds beauty. And beauty adds awe and submission to that which is beyond us. A life of worship.

It’s a hopeless exercise, isn’t it? Trying — fumbling — to put words to this inexpressible apprecation. For life. For time. For God. I can’t even. I. Can’t. Even.

Still, the moment is significant enough that I must try to capture it. To freeze it in ice and stop it up in one of the stillest places on earth. Even if it keeps sliding, slipping, shifting, breaking, drifting, settling. I take solace in the fact that it’s at least moving at a glacial pace.

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3 x 40

We were born within a year of each other. We graduated from our respective high schools the same spring and entered Bowling Green State University the same fall. 

During our college years, we spent hours and hours together on-campus as underclassmen. Then as upperclassmen, we signed leases to the same off-campus apartment complex and moved in together. We even traveled together for a Spring Break adventure in Florida in 1997.

All along the way, we pushed each other to grow spiritually, through our mutual involvement in H2O. We pushed each other to grow academically, each excelling in our respective fields — Communications, Physical Therapy, and Business Education — at BGSU. We pushed each other to grow physically, too, through working out at the Rec Center together and playing on intramural sports teams together.

After graduation, we kept in touch. We got married, had kids, developed our careers — and often enjoyed opportunities to celebrate with each other along the way. In the last decade, we’ve even become colleagues and co-pastors in ministry.

More recently, we’ve all turned 40 years old within a year of each other. And to mark the occasion, we decided to set out on another adventure: traveling to Iceland together. It’s a rite of passage in a place that’s rugged and manly and wild. I’ve always wanted to visit the Iceland, but it’s never been a top destination for a family vacation or an anniversary getaway… So this seems to be the time and circumstances for making this happen.

We’re squeezing the trip in during a busy season of life and ministry — but I’m so glad we’re making it happen. Together.

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Fun, Full Week with Family

My Dad retired this summer. His career spanned 40 years of ministry employment in three small church pastorates, in the Richland Correctional Institute (both as a business school administrator and as the President/Founder of Berean Institute offering Bible classes for inmates), and as a mentor/helper for pastors. I’m proud of what he was able to accomplish through all his years in ministry, and I’m honored to be following in his footsteps as a missionary / pastor.

Still, it seems like my Dad’s most enduring legacy (and hopefully mine someday, as well) may be his (and my Mom’s) family. We all converged in Kent over the past week, traveling in from Philadelphia, Fort Worth, and Cleveland: to celebrate my Dad’s retirement and to enjoy each other’s company.

It’s been a fun, full week.

We’ve eaten lots of good food (especially ice cream).

We’ve taken in a baseball game on an absolutely gorgeous summer evening.

We spent a day at the Munroe Falls Metro Park.

And we’ve sat around our houses, talking and playing games.

It’s been a lovely way to celebrate this milestone in my parents’ life, our family connections, and the end of the summer.

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Cor’s Collarbone

Untitled

Cor had to take a trip to the Emergency Department at Akron Children’s Hospital earlier this week to be treated for a broken collarbone. He sustained the injury while doing some backyard stunts in our neighborhood.

It puts a bit of a damper on the summer, for sure, but I’ve actually been surprised to notice that none of us are too bummed about it.

UntitledSome of that may be due to the minimal impact Cor’s broken collarbone has on our lives right now. He’s not in school, so we don’t have to worry about mitigating the effects of the injury on his studies. We’ve got family visiting later in the month, but it sounds like a decent possibility that he’ll be able to take the sling off by then anyway (though he’ll need to be careful about playing sports with the cousins). As far as broken bones are concerned, it’s a fairly common injury and fairly simple healing process. Long-term consequences should be minimal.

The most striking aspect of this situation, however, has been Cor’s own positive attitude toward things. As the “baby” of our family, he tends to be the most demonstrative when it comes to pain, and he tends to “need” help more than the other kids. You would think that a broken collarbone would exacerbate these tendencies, wouldn’t you? But it hasn’t!

UntitledIn fact, I think this situation has highlighted the benefits of Cor’s position as the “baby” in our family. He’s always been a bit more ready to take risks (which is a general tendency of third-born children) — and we (as more experienced parents) have been willing to let him take risks — and we’ve all learned to accept the outcomes that are associated with taking risks. Cor also tends to live in the moment, so he’s chosen to embrace the fun and funny stuff that comes along with an injury like this: extra attention from family and friends, extra ice cream and media time, and stories to tell from the experience.

I’m sure there are still going to be moments of discouragement and discomfort through the recovery process ahead, but I’m proud of how Cor has handled things so far.

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July 2017 Prayer Letter


Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him… soon… (Philippians 2:21-23)


Greetings from Kent! We’re in the midst of a season for travel and adventures. Olivia just recently came back from a missions trip to the west side of Akron, where she worked with a program called Project Shine to bring hope and help to a distressed and disadvantaged neighborhood. Elliot just left for a mission trip of his own in the Dominican Republic, where he will help pave the way for a new church plant in a village of sugarcane farmers. Cor is not going on any mission trips this summer, but (not wanting to be outdone by his older brother and sister) he did take a trip to the Emergency Department at Akron Children’s Hospital a week ago to be treated for a broken collarbone, sustained while doing some backyard stunts in our neighborhood. So many adventures!

There just seems to be something about this time of the year that involves a lot of coming and going, receiving and sending. This is true in ministry life, as well as in personal life. On the “going” and “sending” level, I was recently ecstatic to receive a text message from my friend Aidan, conveying special news of prayers that had been answered: “Friends, it is with extreme delight and humility that I get to say: God has answered our request, and I’ve been offered the PhD position in Stockholm!!”

Ever since I was invited to visit Sweden’s capital city in September of 2015, I’ve been praying for inroads to mission in that city. Shortly after the trip, I wrote a blog post saying, “Stockholm is a really beautiful, interesting city… that seems to be at a really interesting point in history: a surging immigrant population, combined with shifting Swedish perceptions of those immigrants, combined with an uncommon level of openness for American partnership, combined with a sense of supernatural stirring in the hearts of key Swedish leaders and American missionaries that’s brought a team together in a strategic corner of Stockholm… It seems like the stage is set for God to do something really special in Sweden. Especially among university students.” As soon as I returned to the United States, I started sharing stories of Stockholm and the amazing opportunities for the Gospel I saw there.

Within a relatively short time period, my conversations intensified with a small group of Staff and students here in Kent. One couple played a particularly strong leadership role: Aidan and Chelsea Rinehart. Chelsea has been a part of our Staff Team at H2O, and Aidan has been an aerospace engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. They’ve distinguished themselves as “All Stars” in their respective fields here in northeast Ohio, yet they have been compelled by this idea of international church planting. Even before I started talking with them about Stockholm, Aidan and Chelsea had already helped to lead short-term missions trips to Amsterdam and Berlin. They were primed for the opportunities in Sweden.

In May of 2016, Aidan and Chelsea led a team from Kent to Stockholm. They connected with some of the same people I met the previous fall. They spent time exploring the city and praying for God’s direction. And indeed, by the end of their visit, it seemed like God was directing a whole team from Kent — Aidan, Chelsea, AJ, Michelle, Janelle, and Bennett — to step out in faith and start making preparations for an eventual move to Sweden.

I’ve been really proud to see the way the team has approached this venture. They’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting to know themselves. They’ve reached out to build strategic bridges with believers in Stockholm. They’ve prioritized good communication and coordination with us, as their sending church. And together, we’ve all soaked this whole thing in hours and hours of prayer. One of our biggest points of petition has been the provision of visas. AJ hopes to transition from working on Staff with H2O in Kent to working as a full-time missionary in Sweden. Michelle and Bennett are looking into opportunities for higher education. Janelle hopes to find a job with an non-governmental organization, working with the refugee populations that have recently flooded into Sweden. Aidan has been applying both for jobs in the engineering sector and for opportunities to pursue a PhD at the Royal Institute of Technology (knowing that one of these positions for him could also secure a visa for Chelsea). There have been many moments of doubt and discouragement, as we’ve looked toward a prolonged transition period between the summer of 2017 and the summer of 2018.

So: you could probably understand how Aidan’s PhD position at the Royal Institute of Technology felt like a breakthrough. The Rineharts are now planning to move in October, and the rest of the team has been given a new boost of energy and encouragement in their own processes of transition and seeking God’s provision. Would you please pray with us for this team? Pray for Aidan and Chelsea, as they prepare for this big move. Pray for the rest of the team, that God would work out the logistics for them just as He did for the Rineharts. Pray for H2O Kent, as we’re going to have some big shoes to fill upon their departure. And pray for me, too, that I can be a good coach and support to the team, applying some of the lessons learned through our experiences of church-planting in northern Europe.

Thanks, as always, for your partnership in the Gospel that makes all of this ministry possible: here in Kent and around the world! We’ll be in touch…

Posted in European Missions, Ministry, Prayer Letters | Comments Off on July 2017 Prayer Letter

Ὁ πατήρ μου

ἢ τίς ἐστιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἄνθρωπος,

The… who / what / which… is from you… man…” All right: look for the nominative, the verb, the prepositions, and shift the word order around accordingly. “Which of you men…” I’ve been taking Greek lessons from my father for almost a year now: every Thursday at one o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes, we follow lessons from J.G. Machen’s New Testament Greek for Beginner’s; but more often, we just wade into the text and figure out a way forward, together.

ὃν αἰτήσει ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἄρτον,

I don’t know the first two words, so I skip ahead to the part that I recognize: “the son… of him… a bread” Huh? Maybe those first two words would help it to make a little more sense. It’s a bit discouraging that I already need to break out the research materials, after so much study through the months. But my Dad never seems to mind the detours and slow-downs, so why should I?  I look up ὃν αἰτήσει in the anlex and discover that the first word is a prounoun, referring back to the subject of the sentence, and the second word is a verb, αἰτέω (to ask, to demand, to ask for), parsed: Indicative, Future, Active, Third person, Singular. So putting it all together, roughly: “whose son would ask for a bread (or a piece of bread)…” OK. We’re getting somewhere.

μὴ λίθον ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ;

No stone… [something]… to him?” I have to look up ἐπιδώσει — and I decipher a rough translation: “would give.” So here’s my attempt at the whole sentence, from the beginning of the verb up to this point: “Which of you men, whose son would ask for a piece of bread, would say ‘no’ and give him a stone instead?” I confess that I’m playing loose with the Greek a little bit. The final word, “instead,” is not in the original text, at all. But I’m getting a feel for it. The original text is familiar enough that I can fill in some of the gaps from my memory of the English translations. But even if that wasn’t the case, it’s all there. I can see the meaning coming up out of the page. It’s a thrilling feeling for an amateur linguist like me. And my father before me.

ἢ καὶ ἰχθὺν αἰτήσει, μὴ ὄφιν ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ;

The second sentence goes quicker because it uses a lot of the same structure and vocabulary: “the… and… fish… he asks… no [something]… would give to him?” Look up the missing word, use my recollection of Greek grammar to restructure the sentence in a way that sounds more natural to English ears, and I’ve got it: “And if he would ask for a fish, [which of you men] would say ‘no’ and give him a snake [instead]?

εἰ οὖν ὑμεῖς πονηροὶ ὄντες οἴδατε δόματα ἀγαθὰ διδόναι τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς δώσει ἀγαθὰ τοῖς αἰτοῦσιν αὐτόν.

If therefore you guys… [something] being… you know… gifts good give to the children of you… [something] [something] the father of you… who… in the heavens… give good… to [something] of him.” I look up the missing pieces and check my parsing of verbs and declining of nouns according to the endings of those vocabulary words whose stems I succeeded in recognizing. It’s rough. It takes me maybe twenty minutes to come to a satisfactory translation of these three verses from the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

Which of you men, whose son would ask for a piece of bread, would say ‘no’ and give him a stone [instead]? And if he would ask for a fish, [which of you men] would say ‘no’ and give him a snake [instead]? So, if you guys (being sinful humans) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give good stuff to those who would ask him!

It’s an imperfect translation, but it’s my translation — and I’m proud of it. The truth revealed in this passage of Scripture is a reason for pride and gratitude, too.

My Dad is a giver of good gifts. He takes time to patiently instruct me in my studies. He regularly tells me that he’s proud of the way my skills are progressing. He equips me with the tools I need to keep learning. And he’s just there, to enjoy the process with me. Our Thursday afternoon studies have become a special part of my week, and as time has passed I’ve become keenly aware of the ways that our Greek Lessons serve as a metaphor for the rest of my life, as well. I’ve received a lifetime of instruction, encouragement, equipping, and personal engagement. What good gifts from a good father! What’s best of all, though, is that my Dad would be the first to admit that he’s a sinful human, and thus he would point me towards our Heavenly Father, who takes all this goodness to another level entirely.

There’s much for me to celebrate this Father’s Day. And for that, I am grateful.

Posted in Family, God, Introspection, Language, The Bible | Comments Off on Ὁ πατήρ μου

The Great Plains are great.

For most of American history, the Great Plains have been an afterthought. Early pioneers crossed through the prairies and plains on their way to seek silver in Colorado, gold in California, fur trade in Oregon, or religious sanctuary in Utah… But not many stayed put out on the grasslands. The Great Plains are considered a part of the journey, for sure, but not really a destination. Most people I know talk about the sparsely-populated states of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas as elements of the westward journey that must be endured, not embraced.

But I just don’t get it. The Great Plains are great.

Seriously! I love driving those roads, witnessing the slow blend from woodlands, to farmlands, to wild grasslands, to the rocky contours of the Badlands and Black Hills. Out on the prairies, I feel fresh and full. It’s open and vast and wild and free and beautiful.

There were a couple of times on this most recent visit to the Great Plains when I felt so happy that my heart was going to burst until I let out a full-throated, deep-chested bellow in the car. At one point, I got off the interstate to drive up into the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, eventually following a small dirt road for a few miles into the middle of “Nowhere” — and man! It was so refreshing to have all that elbow room.

It takes a long time to get across the Great Plains — even driving at 85 miles per hour — but that’s part of the joy of it. There’s all kinds of space: to think… to pray… to listen to podcasts… to soak in silence… to play music, whole albums at a time. It’s a truly lovely place.

My friend Paula says that the Great Plains of North America (and South Dakota, specifically) is like the “solid spouse” of regions. Perhaps not the most dashing, or daring, or debonair. It’s beautiful in its own way, though, and one especially grows to appreciate its beauty — and integrity, fidelity, and solidity — as life rolls along.

I like that way of thinking about the Great Plains.

Driving westward on this most recent trip, I thought about more similes of my own. The Great Plains are like the mini-van of landscapes: maybe not the sleekest or sexiest, but spacious, comfortable, and secure… The Great Plains are like the jumbo-sized Cherry Coke of geography: probably not the most intoxicating or trendy, but oh-so-sweet, smooth, and refreshing…

The Great Plains are great.

Posted in Photography, The United States of America, Travel, Weather | Comments Off on The Great Plains are great.