Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Immeasurably More

Wow.  I literally can't believe that I have less than a week left on project.  In the next two days we are wrapping things up on campus and then heading to our time of debrief.  I honestly don't know where the past five weeks of my life have gone.  In a blink of an eye I find myself at the end of our summer project.  As I reflect on this project I am overwhelmed by the many ways God has been at work.  I have seen God at work in the lives of students here in Slovenia, the students on my team, and even in my own life.  I am so blessed to have had this opportunity to be here in Slovenia for the past five weeks.  It will be sad to say good-bye to the Slovene friends I have made while being here, but it has been encouraging to see God at work in their lives and know that He will continue to be at work in their lives.  I feel like God has opened my eyes to the spiritual brokenness in our world.  My heart breaks when students sit there and tell me there is no possible way God could exist.  There have also been moments where people have told me I'm crazy for believing in God and that they will never believe in God.  It is hard to walk away from conversations like that.  I have come to learn though that God is in control.  God has the power to break through the hardened hearts of these people and to remove whatever is blinding them from the truth of the Gospel.  I find peace in knowing that God's power speaks through my words.  There are moments when I am sharing the Gospel and I think I have to try and convince people that God exists.  Yea, it doesn't work like that.  And I find myself humbled to know that God uses me in my brokenness to proclaim His perfect and powerful message to these people.  I may never have any idea how my conversations were used in people's lives.  I trust that God can do immeasurably more than I ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21), and I find peace in the truth of that.  I have literally seen God do immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined while on this project.  So many people in Slovenia are hearing the Gospel for the first time in their lives.  God is on the move in this country and He will continue to raise up laborers in this country.  Doing ministry is not easy, but totally worth every moment of the challenges, persecutions, and praises.  I am encouraged by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2-5

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

Paul focused on the message of the cross, not his own words.  He wanted people to put their faith in Jesus rather than in the ability of himself as a human messenger.  Intellectual persuasion is not what saves people.  The power of the Holy Spirit is what changes people's hearts as the Gospel is proclaimed.  Paul experienced many trials and fears in his years of ministry but he chose to persevere.  He trusted in God's faithfulness and sovereignty.  Paul did not strive to live a comfortable life but rather a life surrendered to the will of God.  The Gospel is worth it.  Time and time again I see God's faithfulness and deliverance in my life.  In the moments where ministry is hard and I just want to give up, or even when the messiness of life gets hard and seems hopeless - God sees and He knows and He answers. The Lord inclines His ears toward our cries. (Psalm 34:15) God walks with us through the trials and crap in our life.  He delights in holding our hand and victoriously walking through life with us.  God's love is deep and the deeper we allow Him to go into our hearts and deal with the brokenness, the deeper we will experience His love.  God's grace is such a beautiful picture of His faithfulness and love.  I could go on and on in ways that I have experienced God's grace in my life and it's so humbling to be able to go on and on describing how God has been at work in my life.  I believe that God wants the people of Slovenia to experience the depths of His love and the beauty of His Gospel as well.  I pray that I never forget the beauty of the Gospel.  I am so thankful for this opportunity to experience God at work in the country of Slovenia and I can't wait to see what He has in store for the restoration of this country.  Sorry if my thoughts don't run together, it's just a combination of what I've been processing for the past couple of days!

Pray for the safety of my team as we travel to Austria on Sunday and then head back to America next Wednesday.  Also pray for our transition home and back into normal every day life.  Pray that we don't forget what God has done in our five weeks here and the ways He has changed our own hearts.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Call to Endure

It's crazy to think that I have already been gone for three weeks.  People weren't kidding when they said this flies by.  Our schedule here is so busy that I seriously have to stop somedays and think of what day it is, and next thing I know the week is over.  There has been so much going on here and I feel like I have barely had time to process everything.  Praise the Lord for a day off to process. I also apologize if this is kind of scatterbrained.  Ministry here in Slovenia is very challenging.  Amidst this being a challenge, I recognize more and more how much I need to be reminded of the Gospel in my life.  As I continue to share the Gospel with students around this city I am overwhelmed by my daily need for the Lord.  The Gospel literally is good news and there are moments where I am brought to tears while sharing it with other students.  The Gospel is powerful, and the power is within God's message.  I am only the messenger.  I have no control over the power of the Gospel and how others may receive it, I can not add anything to it nor can I take anything from it.  Through this, I am reminded more and more of how beautiful this message is.  Earlier this week I was reminded of a passage in Romans 10:13-15 

"For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news."

After reading this passage it hit me - there are people in the country of Slovenia (and everywhere in this world) who cannot call upon the name of the Lord.  As I look at my life and see how God has completely redeemed me and in the trials I go through in life, that I am able to call upon His name.  He delivers me, He walks with me through life, God is my strength, my purpose, literally my everything, and there are people who cannot experience this joy in life.  God's love is deep, unconditional, intimate, and personal.

There are moments where I am overwhelmed by everything God is teaching me through this experience.  Lately I feel as though I've been learning a lot about suffering and enduring through suffering.  I mentioned a little bit in an earlier post about suffering for the Gospel.  I believe suffering can happen in many different forms.  In 2 Timothy, Paul continually reminds Timothy of his (Paul's) suffering for the Gospel.  He is writing to Timothy from prison because of the Gospel.  Even while Paul is suffering in prison for the Gospel, the message of the Gospel is not chained - it spreads!  Paul encourages Timothy to endure through suffering.  Suffering is real, but for the Gospel it is worth it.  James 1:2-4 "Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  Man, considering trials pure joy is not always my first response.  I so wish that it was my first response to a trial, but this just goes to show how much I need the Lord daily in my brokenness.  My human nature is broken, just like the nonbelievers that I am sharing the Gospel with.  I need the Gospel in my life just as much as they do.  There have been many different trials to face on this trip, being in a different culture, not understanding people when they talk in Slovene, being persecuted in such a way of people making fun of me for believing in God, believing lies in my mind, being homesick, and many more.  Ministry is not easy and the enemy wants nothing more than to keep the Gospel from spreading.  My strength to stand against and persevere through those trials is in God alone.  If anything, these trials are drawing me closer to the Lord because He is the one who is able to deliver me from them and walk with me through them.  John 1:5 "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  I could go on and on with scripture that compels me to endure suffering for the Gospel and to walk with Jesus.  I am continually reminded that the goal of following Jesus is Jesus.  I pray that my heart desires to seek after Jesus.  I pray that I endure through suffering and experience pure joy amidst it.  This morning while I was praying, I found myself being thankful for the trials and suffering in my life.  If that's what draws me closer to the Lord and allows me to intimately know Him more, then I am thankful.  I pray that I trust Jesus and His promises to deliver, heal, and redeem me.  There is so much hope in the power and love of Christ.

Monday, May 13, 2013

God is on the move ..

Well I have been in Ljubljana for almost a week now.  There are moments where it seems like I have been here forever and at other times I feel like this past week has gone by so fast.  So much has happened in the past six days that we have been here.  First off, Slovenia is absolutely beautiful!! As I stand in the city and look up around me I see mountains on mountains.  It's crazy, especially when I'm not used to even having hills being from Northwest Ohio.  I am just blown away by God's beauty through His creation here in Slovenia.  The first night we were able to get dinner in the city of Ljubljana and walk throughout the center of the city.  I was still trying to process the fact that I was actually in another country.  Luckily most Slovenes speak English, but that doesn't mean that everything you read throughout the city is in English.  I felt so out of place, so much of me just wanted to see English printed somewhere throughout the city.  In most restaurants they have English on their menus, which is great!  Everything is just so new and different.

I easily recognized how much out of my comfort zone I am.  I have never been good at adapting to change of environments, and never really thought about that until I was actually in Slovenia.  These past six days have been a whirlwind of emotions.  I am excited to be able to have the opportunity to share the Gospel in a nation that is so spiritually dark.  (in Slovenia they call their Campus/College - "University" and their colleges that they are studying within the University are called "Faculties")  So Thursday was the first day we had to decode the city and different faculties throughout the city.  I had the opportunity to sit down with three girls and talk about their culture and even had a chance to talk about what they believe spiritually.  It was interesting to hear their view on the Catholic Church and Religion.  The girls I talked to said that many Slovenes would identify themselves as Christians because they have a Catholic background.  They mentioned a lot about their grandparents being very religious but they themselves were not very religious at all.  There seems to be this disconnect between generations.  The girls also mentioned that going to church meant that their grandparents were able to know what their neighbors were doing, also known as a "social event."  Very few Slovenes have heard the message of the Gospel.  They know of God, but there are also many different beliefs amongst these people.  My heart breaks when I realize that these people have never heard the truth of the Gospel.

I was able to sit down with a girl today in the cafeteria of their dorms.  She started off by saying that she believed in a god, possibly our God, but she wasn't exactly sure if there were many gods or just one.  She was willing to allow my staff member and I to share the Gospel with her.  We got to the end of our conversation and asked her if an actual relationship with God was something she would want at some point in her life.  She responded by saying "yes, I have that."  I wish so much I could tell you that she did have that, but after we shared the Gospel with her she told us that she had never heard the story of Jesus.  Major disconnect in her thinking that she had a relationship with God.  After we tried explaining to her that she can't have a relationship with God without believing and receiving Jesus she seemed more interested to learn what this was all about.  I pray that she comes out to our bible discussion groups tomorrow night to learn more about a personal relationship with God.  Sadly, she is from Lithuania on a student exchange program and will be leaving Slovenia next week.  I pray that God softens her heart towards the truth of the power of His Gospel and that she is willing to meet up and talk more before she heads home.

Ministry here is hard.  People can just have very interesting beliefs or not really believe anything at all.  Friday I began to tell a girl that I was a part of Christian student organization with the University and she told me she wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.  In 2 Timothy 8-9 Paul says
"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner.  But join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done, but because of His own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time."
Suffering for the sake of the Gospel is real.  God has called us to share in proclaiming His Gospel not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.  Dang.  In my imperfections God chooses to use me to proclaim His perfect message to a broken world.  God is on the move in this city.  He has provided a student office (a place where we meet in the city as a group) for our student organization.  He has worked in the hearts of Slovenes to draw them to Himself and they have chosen to receive and believe in Jesus and have chosen that personal relationship with God.  We have 12 Slovene students that are joining us on our Summer Project.  Praise God!!  God has made it possible to have a weekly meeting with the students involved with Cru at the University of Ljubljana.  There are bible studies for men and women that are happening throughout the week and Bible discussion groups that happen on Tuesday nights.  God is so at move in this city.  This city is His, and I pray that my team and I continue to trust in His Spirit to lead us to people throughout this city longing for something more in life.

I am recognizing that I can be totally self dependent on my ability to share the Gospel.  The power of the message of the Gospel does not depend on me.  It is God's message, not mine.  He chooses to use me to proclaim this message to the nations.  I pray that my heart and mind are continually saturated in God's word.  I want nothing more than to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I pray that Jesus is the main desire of my heart as there can be so many distractions while doing ministry.  Pray that my love for God is constant and does not depend on what type of day I had as far as ministry.  I am also learning how driven I can be by my feelings and I am praying that I not be.  Feelings and emotions are good to have, and trust me I have a lot of emotions.  But I want to choose to love God when life is hard, I want to choose to love my team and even people back home when things get hard.  Love is a choice, following Christ and being obedient to His word are all choices.  I pray that I choose Christ.

Here are a few pictures from my trip so far -
The Alps in Austria

A side street in the city. Outside seating is everywhere!

A view of the city from a Castle at the top of a smaller mountain.

There is a river that runs through the city!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Roller Coaster of Emotions

Well .. this is it.  Today is the day I begin my adventure to Ljubljana, Slovenia.  There are so many emotions going through my mind right now.  I'm not exactly sure how to feel.  I'm anxious, scared, and excited all at the same time.  Not to mention God has been faithful and provided my support to even be able to go on this trip, along with all of the support for my teammates.  Yesterday my team and I met at a hotel east of the airport to begin our briefing.  It was great to be able to have time before our day of travel to get to know most of my team.  Our team consists of students from Ohio State and Ohio University along with one student from Marietta College, including staff members we have a total of 35 people on our team.  We spent most of our day in meetings talking about what to expect while in Slovenia and a lot of other useful information.  After dinner we were able to have time playing games that allowed us to get to know more about each other.  The past 24 hours has definitely been a roller coaster of emotions, but most consistently I find myself being more and more excited for this journey the Lord has me on for the next six weeks.  In the past couple of weeks I have recognized how hard it can be for me to trust God with the unknown.  I have heard stories on stories of what Slovenia is like and even what the ministry there is like (which have been great!), but at the same time I still stand in a state of not knowing exactly what to expect.  That's where faith comes into play, being sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see.  My hope is in Christ and in His eternal glory.  I pray that I choose to trust God.   I'm recognizing that I like to be in control which can even lead to self dependence at time, so of course I like knowing what is next or what to expect in a certain situation.  I literally have no idea what to expect in Slovenia .. maybe a little idea from the stories I have heard, but for the most part there is a lot of unknown.  I pray that my heart desires to trust God and that I am ridden of selfishness and self dependency.  I am absolutely not capable of this on my own, but praise the Lord that He empowers me with strength and the truth of the Gospel to share with others.
I can not wait to see how God works in Slovenia while I am there.  The great part about this trip is that God has already been at work in the cit of Ljubljana and we are going over to join a team of college graduates who have been there for the past year.  As I sit here and think about the fact that I am even going to be a part of God's mission in Slovenia I am completely humbled.  In my brokenness and the messiness of my life God chooses to use me to further His kingdom in another country.  Say whaaat?!  I can't even begin to fathom what is going to happen while I am in Slovenia.  I have been reminding myself that even when ministry is hard and people I talk to do not grasp the reality of our state of sin and God's love and grace that redeem us from that state of sin, God is still good and He is in control.  God never changes.  His love never fails and He never forsakes us.  Even as I write this I feel like my mind is in a million different places.  I'm excited when I think of taking the Gospel to the nations, I'm distracted by little kids running around the air port, and I'm anxious when I think about flying on a plane for nine hours.  I pray that my soul finds rest in God alone.