Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanksgiving!

So I know it's a little late to write about Thanksgiving with everyone focused on Christmas and all, but I wanted to give Thanksgiving the time it deserves.

Thanksgiving this year was quite different for us. Instead of trying to figure out how to balance seeing all of our family at the same time, we found ourselves without any family. It was a bittersweet time. I think I took it harder than Anthony (boys always seem to have this annoying habit of compartmentalizing things)... I had a little breakdown the night before Thanksgiving. I guess I was holding out hope that one of our sets of parents would visit, but it didn't end up working out for either one. BUT, Anthony and I decided to cook a turkey anyways and have a traditional Thanksgiving meal. We were invited by quite a few families from the church to join their festivities, but we just felt like doing it ourselves this year. In my humble opinion, I think our turkey/meal turned out great! Check it out:

Over the next week, we found ourselves in a battle with the leftovers. Try as we might to eat it all, the leftovers ended up winning and we were eventually forced to toss some of the food out :( It was still worth it to try our hand at a Thanksgiving meal.

Later that weekend, Anthony and I got out the Christmas stuff and decorated our tiny apartment. I always love decorating for Christmas. Anthony loves that I love decorating, but that's as far as his love goes :) We had fun anyways. We even found a local Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. Here's Anthony after fighting with the tree to get it in our stand:

It fits perfectly (if not a little big... we currently don't have use of our dining room table...) Here's an after shot:
P.S. Why is it always so hard to take a good picture of a Christmas tree?

We survived our first Iowa blizzard this weekend! Nasty cold temperatures, horrible wind, and about 6 inches of snow. It didn't stop blowing all day on Saturday. It was so bad they pulled the plows. We spent the weekend locked inside watching movies and reading books. It was actually quite lovely not to have to go anywhere. Church ended up being canceled on Sunday, which in some ways was a blessing. Anthony's been battling a cold, so it was probably for the better that he didn't have to lead worship.

That's about all that's happening here. Tomorrow begins our round of Christmas parties with my office party.

Oh we are for sure coming back to Indiana from December 26th - January 1st. It's kind of short trip and we'll be with family for a lot of it (celebrating Christmas), but we would love to see as many people as we can. Let us know if you want to get together and we can try to work something out!

Much love,
Emily

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Anniversary
Almost a year ago (December 11-13, to be exact) Emily and I drove 10 hours from Mishawaka, IN to this little podunk town called Okoboji to interview at Good News Community Church. We had so many emotions on that trip. Do you take a job out of desperation? We had always wished to leave Northern Indiana. But when faced with leaving our friends and family, it was actually pretty scary. Not to mention that trading Northern Indiana with (even further north) Northern Iowa wasn't exactly what we had in mind.

But details like this seem small when compared to God's will. And though we couldn't necessarily see all the ways that God was pointing us towards the Iowa Great Lakes a year ago, we can look back and confidently say, "We belong here."

Advent
I love Christmas, but the few weeks before Advent begins can always be scary as a worship leader. Expectations are higher, traditions can accidentally get trampled on, and somehow you have to come up with (yet again) another unique way to present the birth of Jesus.

But fortunately, I remembered I don't lead worship for people, for a congregation. I lead worship for an Audience of One, for God alone. And His expectations are always the same: surrender. Not performance, not checklists, not resumes. Just me allowing Him to love me, change me, shape me.

Wisely, I think, Good News also has intentionally decided to not plan pageants, parties, and extravagances in the name of Christmas. Jesus came to bring peace. Someone named Him the Prince of it, actually. And so, in that spirit, we're trying to make Christmas simpler. More peaceful. Less stressful. We're giving more time to spend with friends and family, brothers and sisters by blood (the plasma, red cell kind) and by blood (the redemption kind).

Trips
In a few weeks we'll be making yet another 10 hour drive back to Indiana. It will be wonderful to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with our friends and family. Though it is always stressful balancing our two families and our friend group all living within the same 30 mile radius, it is always worth it, and we will of course look back longingly as soon as we drive away.

But then a couple of weeks later we'll be heading to Hawaii! We'll be heading to the island where I did my internship, as well as where our friends Matt and Jamie Metzger are pastoring. I am so looking forward to showing Emily all my haunts. Not to mention get a nice respite from the ridiculous Iowa cold.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Update

November is here already, believe it or not. I have been so thankful for the warmer weather this fall. we had some days in the upper 70's in October, and even the past week or so has been in the 60's. I am happy to delay winter as long as possible. They're predicting snow for Saturday, but I am blissfully ignoring that bit of information :)

This past Sunday, Anthony and I were able to go horseback riding with a couple from the church. It was a gorgeous day and it seemed as though we had the park all to ourselves! It felt great to be on a horse again (I used to ride). This time, the horse did not run away with me, so that's always an accomplishment. At one point as we were riding, we even saw a couple of bald eagles flying overhead. Now, this might not seem special to you Iowa folks, but we did not have bald eagles in Indiana, so it's still pretty exciting to me when I see one.

This past Saturday, I had my first opportunity to speak for Cherish Center (the place where I work). A baby bottle campaign was being kicked off at a Catholic Church in Spencer. Our normal speaker was not able to be there, so I filled in. It was a good experience to get to speak about the organization. And it was nice to attend a mass. It's been a while since I've been to a Catholic mass, and I always find things I appreciate about the service.

Good News is gearing up for the holidays. Or at least the staff is. Anthony has been working hard the past week or two planning for Advent. It's coming sooner than I realize! We have no plans for Thanksgiving yet. Not sure if we're going to just celebrate ourselves or if we will join a family from the church. For Christmas, we're hoping to make it home, but we're still working out details.

Currently, I am working on reading through Harry Potter in preparation for the 1st of the last movies coming out next week. My goal was to make it through book 6, but as of now I am in the middle of 3. Not sure it's going to happen in time. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I always love rereading those.

I can't think of anything else too exciting going on right now. Mostly life as usual. I will try and be better about updating more often :)

Emily

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"The Red Letters Project" Review

SUMMARY: Ambitious project fails to make music.

 As I worship leader, I was excited about the idea behind "The Red Letters Project" (despite, perhaps, the theological mis-step of highlighting certain parts of Scripture and not others, but I digress). I love "Scripture songs" and find that the closer a lyric is to the Biblical text, the more profound that songs tends to be. (For example, check out Psalm 62 by Aaron Keyes). So, if that had been the case thus far in my experience, why not for the “Red Letter Project” as well?

For those of who don’t know, “The Red Letters Project” was a project by Tyndale to take the whole of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew (NLT) and put them to rock music. Sound like a good idea? Sure, why not. Right? Well, the problem was that there was little to no artistic license with the songs. If the words of Jesus don’t happen to rhyme, neither does the lyric. If the words of Jesus don’t seem to have a particular rhythm to them, neither does the song.

You can begin to see the problem immediately.

What is the purpose of a song that doesn’t rhyme or have lyrical rhythm? I mean, even Eminem understands that! Perhaps this project is a meditation on “Christian art.” Though we may call a certain piece of art “Christian,” it doesn’t automatically make that art good. I mean, here we have the actual words of Jesus, every single one of them, and yet this projects fails to impact, it fails at its grasp for beauty.

Conclusion: I cannot recommend “The Red Letters Project” at all. It is unenjoyable to listen to and tends to be grating rather than graceful.

Zero Stars.

Check out more review of Christian media at http://viralbloggers.com/

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wait? You Mean God Can Refuse to Listen to Me?


While reading Isaiah today, I came across the very startling Chapter 58. Here we find the nation of Israel asking God why they have fasted and God has not answered, why they have humbled themselves before God, and it doesn't seem that He's noticed.


But then the prophet Isaiah points out that on their days of fasting and worship,


"You do what you want. You exploit your employees. Your worship ends in quarreling and strife and fist fights" (verse 3-4, paraphrased).


And then the really scary part:


"You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high."


Wow.


God - speaking through Isaiah - has just let the Israelites know that they can worship wrongly. So wrong, in fact, that God actually doesn't even pay attention to their prayers. He outright tells them, "Don't even expect your voice to be heard in heaven."


It could be very easy to try to foo-foo this away. "Well, but, God has to listen to me. I'm a sinner, saved by grace, a child of God, so of course God has to listen to whatever I say."


But this is an awfully small view of God. In fact, we make God out to be stupid. Even (responsible) parents realize that we don't raise our children by listening (and presumably obeying) all of their requests. A kid who is throwing a fit in the toy aisle should not be rewarded by an ingratiating parent. Why? Because we're telling the kid by our actions that they're reprehensible behavior is, in fact, effective to get what they want.


God, however, wants us to get beyond the whole "want we want" thing. "Why have we fasted," the Israelites say, "and you have not seen it?" It is the equivalent of putting on sackcloth, covering ourselves in ashes, going on the church stage, and yelling at the top of our lungs, "Look how humble we are!"


Fortunately, God doesn't leave us guessing as to how we are to worship. Verse 6:
"Is not this the kind of fasting [or worship] 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, clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
Worship, it seems, should be focused on others. God, first and foremost ("Love the Lord with all heart, soul, mind, and strength"); our fellow humans second ("And the other is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself").


The point of fasting, the point of gathering together each Sunday, is not  to point at ourselves and say "Look how humble we are! Look how worshipful we are!" It is to point to the Lord's glory and by pointing at it, reflecting it. What God has done - breaking chains, untying bonds, setting the oppressed free - is what we are to be doing.


The words "if and "then" are each used five times in Isaiah 58.


IF you do away with the yoke, pointing finger, malicious talk
IF you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry; satisfy the needs of the oppressed
IF you keep the Sabbath
IF you honor the Lord's holy day
IF you walk in God's ways


THEN your light will break forth like the dawn
THEN your righteousness will go before you
THEN you will call and the LORD will answer
THEN your light will rise in the darkness
THEN you will find your joy in the Lord.


What does this mean? That you can refuse to obey all these things and God will NOT answer when you call.


Scary.


Now, of course, none of us have arrived. None of us individually or corporately or have reached perfection in our worship. We are still learning, walking the way of pilgrim, growing, and changing. The majority of the Gospels is the narrative of a perfect Jesus walking with a bunch of imperfect (and, at points, imbecile) disciples. And when they messed up--Jesus kept walking with them.


The Lord is slow to anger and rich in love. But He is calling us to grow, to be reformed and yet reforming; saints already, yet called to be saints (1 Cor. 1:1). So may we never stay at the "look at our humbleness" part of our worship; may we move beyond the "I got so much out of worship" part of our Sunday Gatherings; may we become worshipers that give to God and give to others.



Monday, October 11, 2010

Moving Worship Outside of the Sanctuary

 One of the things I've been thinking about recently is how to help people realize that communal worship (what happens most obviously Sunday morning around 9:30) can happen outside the walls of a church. More and more often, Christian communities are meeting in smaller and smaller spaces. House churches, small groups, like minded people gathering in cafes. Even families are (or at least should be) getting into this. As they should; if our children see us only worship one day a week, what habits can we count on them having? Anyway, these groups usually have the desire to engage in worship of our God in one way or another, but it can be difficult to see ways to do this in such a small setting.

Now, clearly, worship is more than singing (and Scripture reading and praying). Worship involves the whole of our being and of our lives. So I think it should go without saying that these smaller, outside-the-church-building Christian communities should be involved in some of the other actions of worship: community service, fighting for justice in our communities, and of course personal discipleship--study of Scripture, mediation on God and His Word, etc.

But I don't think there's anything wrong with these smaller communities--the dispersed church--wanting to just sing in worship as well.

Two obvious resources come to mind immediately: 1) someone with a guitar; 2) the iWorship DVD's from Integrity Worship.

But what are some other good resources that you are aware of or can think of that can aide in helping small groups, classes, etc. worship? How can we creatively extend worship-by-singing outside of the Sunday morning sanctuary?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Fantastical Conference

 In many ways, David Crowder*Band's Fantastical Church Music Conference was not at all what I was expecting. The first thing we realized was that it was smaller than what I thought: only 2,000 attendees. I know that sounds like a lot, but when you consider the venues that these bands and speakers usually are at, you realize that 2,000 is pretty small when next to 20,000 (it's like a whole extra zero or something!).

Anyway, I think in some ways I almost expected the conference to be a bit fluffy and predictable. That the large group gatherings would be kind of "rally style," in that the bands would play songs we all already knew and the speakers would be more inspirational than educational.

But--fortunately, I think--we were wrong. The first session immediately challenged both Emily and I in the fact that we didn't know the songs. We didn't even know the bands. And that takes a lot for me because I know a lot of worship music. It's kind of my job. So, each session had a band and songs that we didn't know, couldn't sing along with, couldn't as--dare I say--thoughtlessly, effortlessly "enter into worship" (whatever that phrase means). And so, just from the songs, we were at least subliminally reminded that worship shouldn't be thoughtless, effortless. Just because we didn't know the songs and could shout them from the top of our lungs didn't mean we couldn't worship.

The speakers were equally as challenging. Francis Chan gave the very difficult message that singing without repentance is worthless. No one likes to hear this. No one likes to be told that God actually can refuse to listen to our prayers. We can pray, sing, and worship wrong. Badly. Poorly. In a fashion that God can say, "Take this noise away from me," (see Malachi 1, Isaiah 58, Isaiah 59). Jesus said that before we give our gift at the altar, lay it down, go reconcile with our brother, and then give our offering. Repentance and confession is important to God and it should be important to us individually and as congregations.

Rob Bell spoke about the importance of words and creativity. In the New Testament, we see the writers (and Paul in particular) engage multiple metaphors about what Christ did on the cross and through resurrection. We see language of sacrifice (religion); adoption (family); slave-redemption (economic); reconciliation (relationships). A very silly question then would be "Which one is the correct one?" Well, obviously, they are all correct. That is the point. The New Testament writers knew that what Jesus did couldn't be summed up in one nice theological word; it had to be explored and shown in many different ways. "It's kinda like this. Oh! You don't understand this metaphor. Then, then it's kinda like this."

So, if Paul felt the liberty to use the world around him to explain Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, shouldn't we be just as creative? The fact of the matter is we don't do a whole lot of blood sacrifice and slave-redemptions anymore. These metaphors are important, perhaps crucial, to understanding Jesus. But they aren't the only metaphors out there. So how can we as worshipers--artists, songwriters, dancers, singers, instrumentalists, technicians, congregants--how can we as worshipers be more creative and more in tune with the culture around us in communicating the message of Jesus Christ.

So, overall the conference left me with a lot more questions than answers. It wasn't a prepackaged experience that explained "And THIS is how worship ministry is done." No, instead it prodded me into thinking of how we can reach more people; think more critically of why we sing; concentrate harder and how we can be better at what we do. Not for our sake, but the sake of Jesus' here-and-coming Kingdom, for the sake of His fame and glory.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our Trip to Texas

This is going to be a long one folks, so you have been warned!


Anthony and I made it safely back from Texas! We had a lot of fun, and it was a wonderful week. Plus, we got to extend our summer for a little bit :) Here's the story of our week:

Part 1:
We spent the first 3 1/2 days in Huntsville with Anthony's brother and sister-in-law and their family. We arrived at 3:30 am Monday morning partly do to our flight getting in at a late hour and partly because we underestimated the size of Texas. Anyways, we had such a good time with them. Justin, Anthony's brother, works at a big Christian camp in Huntsville, and we were able to spend a bit of time there seeing what he does. We also got to go canoeing! It was my first time, and it was a lot of fun! Most of the first part of our trip was just spent relaxing with their family. We got to know our niece and nephews a little better (ages 3, 1.5, and 7 weeks). We played some cards, ate a lot of food, and played some basketball. I'm so glad we had a chance to visit and spend time with them.

Part 1 1/2:
On our way to part 2 (the conference in Waco), we stopped by College Station where a friend from college lives. We met up for lunch and got to catch up a bit. Thanks Katie for meeting us and showing us around a little! It was good to see you!

Part 2:
We spent Thursday - Saturday in Waco, Texas for the worship conference. I must admit that I am still processing the conference. It was great, but it left us with a lot to think about. Not to mention they had so much packed into 3 days. The speakers were amazing. Rob Bell was by far the most challenging speaker of the event. Though I was given a new respect for Francis Chan, and you really can't go wrong with Louie Giglio. The music was probably the most interesting part of the conference. It was not your typical worship bands playing your typical worship music. David Crowder really wanted to bring in some different bands and different genres of music with the goal of exposing worship leaders to different styles. This was great, but not necessarily the most emotional worship experience, if that makes sense. We heard everything from liturgical to post modern rock. All good stuff though. Oh and of course Hillsong London was there (!!) and David Crowder Band which gave us some of more familiar stuff. We also attended 3 workshops while we were there. Anthony was able to learn a little about sound equipment, and I chose to attend a workshop on hearing God's voice. Then we attended a workshop together about incorporating liturgy into conptemporary worship.

All this to say it was a packed, but wonderful event. It was on the small side (about 2,000 attenders) which gave it a more intimate feel. The end goal of the conference was to get worship leaders to be thinking about key questions such as "Why do we sing?" It might seem simple to answer, but in reality it goes much deeper. The conference didn't necessarily provide the answers, but instead offered a lot of insight and asked more questions. All good stuff.

Oh and it was at Baylor University, so it was fun to explore their campus a little. And do they have a beautiful campus! Plus, they have Chick Fil-a on campus, which Anthony and I took advantage of *cough* twice.

Part 3:
As soon as the conference was over, we hopped in the car and drove down to Austin, Texas where my Aunt Sherry lives. Though we weren't able to spend too much time there (only a day), I still feel as though we got some good visiting in. We were able to have some yummy Texan BBQ and have dinner with my cousins. Then we explored a little of downtown, which included seeing a huge (1.5 million) bat colony emerge from a bridge downtown. Mostly, we were just able to chat and catch up. Sunday morning we packed everything up and drove back to Dallas to catch our plane home.

Conclusion:
It was a whirlwind week. But also a wonderful one. Strangely, it felt relaxing, though we were always moving from place to place. I must say though, it's good to be home. Though it's a little colder here than it was in Texas :)

That's all for now. Maybe if you're lucky Anthony will take some time to blog so you can get his perspective on things.

Love,
Emily

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Camping, Texas, and Haircuts

Ahhh! It's been a while since I've posted... I've been a bad blogger. Anthony's not feeling well (he caught a cold), so I'm awake still while he's been snoozing since 8:30. I thought it would be a good time to catch up.


I had a birthday since I last wrote. 25. Quarter of a century. Not too sure how I feel about that, but so far it's been great! Anthony and I went out to lunch together and I got to Skype with my parents. Then we went camping this past weekend and got to celebrate with friends from home. Needless to say, it was a wonderful birthday!

Camping. Ah, camping. It was a blast! Even though it rained quite a bit, I still consider it to be a success. It was so wonderful to see some friends from back home. There's something about being with people who truly know you inside and out. It was truly refreshing and not nearly long enough. Though probably enough to hold us over til Christmas. We also enjoyed some hiking... not nearly enough thanks to the rain... but some nonetheless. I'll be honest... it felt amazing to sleep in a bed when we got home. And shower. Showers are always nice.

Next up... TEXAS! We leave on Sunday afternoon for the state of Texas. We'll spend some time with Anthony's brother and sister-in-law and their family for a few days, then head to Waco for a David Crowder worship leading conference. The whole week should be wonderful. I'm excited to spend time with Anthony's brother and sister who we don't get to see as often.

In the spirit of randomness, I will share a quirk about myself. I got my haircut yesterday. First time in about 5 months and it really needed it! However, for some reason, I really hate getting my haircut (unless it's with you, Little One). I never like spending the money that it can sometimes cost to get a good hair cut. And I ALWAYS feel awkward making conversation with the hairstylist, who is usually much much cooler than I could ever be. I shrink back into my shyness and my mind goes blank for conversation. Then I feel like I can never go back to that stylist because it was so awkward. So I wait forever til I desperately need a hair cut again and the cycle continues. I probably just need to get over myself, but that's my story for you all to know.

Alright, Anthony's stirring in bed. I think my typing might be affecting his subconscious. That's my cue to sign off!

Until next time,
Emily

Friday, September 3, 2010

Septemeber

September is here! Which means cool, crisp weather, football games, sweatshirts, bon fires, and camping! It also means that my birthday is right around the corner. There are many reasons to love September. Everyone enjoys the cool relief from the muggy, sticky August weather. School starts again (though unfortunately not for Anthony or me). Leaves begin to change (though perhaps September is still a little early for that...). It's just a good time of the year.

This September will be a busy one for me and Anthony (though a fun one as well). Anthony gets to preach on Septemeber 12th... he's already been mulling over his sermon. Good News kicks off their small groups and classes this month (both Anthony and I are leading one of each). My birthday is on the 14th (yay me!)... I'll be 25 (yikes!). We also have a couple of trips planned.

One of those trips is a camping trip with some wonderful college friends. Anthony had this brilliant idea a while back when we were trying to figure out how to ease some of our homesickness. He thought it would be fun to see if our friends wanted to meet us half way for a camping trip this fall. The only problem was that we really only had one weekend available before it got too cold. That weekend happens to be Sept. 17th-19th, and that weekend also happened to work for a lot of our friends! We are so pumped! We didn't know if it would work out or not and it seems to be coming together. We'll meet at a state park along the Mississippi and it should be a joyous time.

Another trip is one that I might have mentioned before: Texas. Anthony and I get to travel down to Texas at the end of the month to attend a worship leading conference hosted by David Crowder. As if that weren't cool enough... we get to take some extra time and visit Anthony's brother and sis-in-law and my aunt! It will be a fun mini-vaca, and a good chance to catch up with some family we don't get to see very often. Not to mention the awesomeness of the conference.

AAAnnnnddd since we are talking about trips, I suppose I should mention that we did something kind of crazy last week... we bought tickets to HAWAII!!! Yeah, I know, be jealous. We had been thinking about it for a while now, and we happened to catch amazing airplane deals, so we had to do it. We have friends out there who just had a baby. Not to mention that this is the island that Anthony interned on (Kauai). Not to mention we'll be going for our anniversary in January. Is it a splurge? Yes. But worth it? Totally. I don't know if we'll ever be able to do this trip this cheaply again, so we might as well take advantage of it while we can!

I think that's about all going on in our lives right now. Or at least all of the exciting stuff. One thing Anthony and I really wanted to be intentional about before we had kids was traveling. It's so exciting to see some of that start to happen :)

Happy Labor Day to everyone!

Em

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reasons to Miss Home

Sometimes homesickness hits more often. It's not that I don't enjoy living here. It's not that we don't have friends. And it's not that anything bad is happening here. Right now homesickness is prevalent because of what's happening at home not because of anything in Okoboji. Here are a few reasons why I've been thinking about home lately:

1. One of my closest friends just had a baby! A beautiful boy! She's really the first one of us to get pregnant, and it makes me sad that I can't be there. Even though her and her husband don't live back at home, it makes me wish we were all still living in the same town. I wish I could visit her and her husband at the hospital and hold their baby boy. But alas... I must keep in touch from Iowa.

2. Another one of our closest friends from college/home are moving to South Korea next week. They will be teaching English just outside of Seoul. I'm sure it will be an amazing opportunity for them! It's hard not being back home right now because we're missing out on our last chances to hang out with them before they leave. It will be especially hard to miss out on their going away party. They were able to come out and visit us over Memorial weekend and we knew it would probably be our last time with them for a while. But now that the time has come when they are leaving, it doesn't make it any easier!

3. My brother was in a serious car accident Wednesday afternoon. He's ok... it's a miracle, but he's ok. He was caught between 2 semis and was thrown into a median on a highway. The car is smashed, but somehow he managed to walk away from it. When my mom called I just wanted to be able to come over and be with my family, but I couldn't :( It helps knowing that nothing serious is wrong, but it's still hard to be 10 hours away.

With all these things running through my head recently, it's been hard not be home. That being said, there have been a lot of exciting things happening here as well. This past Sunday we had a lakeside baptism. 10 people were baptized and about 100 people from the church showed up! It was a great celebration. A lot of us stayed afterwards and enjoyed a meal together. Even though it's hard missing home at times, it sometimes amazes me how quickly we've attached ourselves to this area. Now that we're here, I can't imagine my life without some of these people in it!

Hopefully we'll be able to make a trip home somewhere around the holidays. If not, Skype is helpful and so is the phone :)

No other big updates from the Parrotts. My job is still going well. I can't believe how fast time flies now that I'm working! Anthony is still as busy as ever over at the church. And he's still loving his job. Well, it's almost the start of the weekend, so I should get going!

love,
Emily

Monday, August 9, 2010

Muggy, Muggy Days

It seems as though time is going by rather quickly as of late. Today marks the beginning of my third week at Cherish Center, and I have found that working 4 days out of the week really causes my weeks to fly by. Work is still going well. I feel as though I'm getting the hang of things, and every day I feel more comfortable. It's always hard to start a new job and try to learn everything, but so far I think I've done well. I really like the organization, and I am excited to be a part of it.

This past week was uneventful besides the Bible Conference. Anthony and I both enjoyed attending a handful of services together. Anthony even got a chance to play with the worship band on Saturday night. I was pretty jealous though, because Anthony had the chance to attend the morning "communities" or classes. He was able to go to Dr. John Walton's (from Wheaton) class on Genesis 1. I would have loved to listed to that. Apparently, it was a fantastic class and it started some great discussions between Anthony and some of the other attenders.

It's been really hot, muggy, and buggy here as of late. Typical mid-west August, I suppose. It's actually made me yearn a bit for the crispness of fall. I do love fall (hello! my birthday is in the fall!), but unfortunately it leads to winter. And I know come January I will be wishing for the heat that August brings. Anyways, to fight off some of the heat, Anthony and I went to the beach on Sunday. We took our rafts and just floated in the lake. It was very peaceful and very relaxing.

Other than that, not much going on. Ministry wise, we're gearing up for fall. Both Anthony and I will be leading small groups as well as teaching a Sunday School class, so that will make things even busier. Therefore, we are enjoying this last month of summer.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mostly Last Week...

Jogging went much better last week. We actually ran all 3 days! I was impressed with us. Especially since some of last week we stayed up a little too late.

Last week also marked the beginning of my new job. It went well, though it was a little overwhelming. My boss was on vacation for most of last week, so I had to just dive right in. But I think I'm getting the hang of things, and I'm slowly learning the ins and outs of the organization. I think overall, it will be a good fit, and I'm excited to be involved.

Apparently last week was a busy week, now that I think about it. It also marked the leaving of our dear friends, Ben and Jennifer. They've moved out to Baltimore so that he can attend law school, and we will dearly miss them. We met them when we came out for our interview back in December. Since we've moved here, they've been so wonderful and we've really appreciated their friendship. They provided most of our social life, and being that we were the same age we could relate to being in the same stage of life. We also had the privilege to be a part of and attend their wedding back in April. We weren't looking forward to saying goodbyes here in Iowa so soon. In some ways, we're still recovering from all the goodbyes we said in Indiana not so long ago.

On to happier thoughts. Saturday Anthony and I ventured to the lovely town of Mankato, MN to do some shopping. Both of us are bad about spending money on ourselves especially when it comes to clothes. We've been talking for a while about updating our wardrobes and this past Saturday was the day! We had a lot of fun together and got some fantastic deals! And it was nice not to feel guilty about spending the money. Also, the nice thing about shopping in Minnesota is that there isn't any sales tax on clothing. Score! We kind of laughed at the fact that we do most of our shopping in South Dakota or Minnesota. Who would have thought we would be living in small town Iowa where the only reasonable way to shop is to leave the state?

We got back from shopping just in time to catch the beginning of the Okoboji Bible Conference! It's a big deal around here (this is its 76th year), and it pulls in a lot of big names. For example, last year Dallas Willard was the main speaker (oh how I wish we could have been here for that!) and this year we have names like Josh McDowell and John Walton. Anyways, the kick off was a free concert by Selah. They have phenomenal voices, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were also in awe of how the Tabernacle transformed into a real stage. They did a great job! Anyways, Anthony will be attending some of the morning classes and we will both try and make it to the evening sessions. It's like Bethel's Spiritual Emphasis Week all over again!

Well that's about all that's going on here. We're finally back to 2 cars again after our Sunfire's brakes broke down in every single way possible. $1,000 later and we're driving safely once again. Anyone else hate putting tons of money into a car that's a junker anyways? Sigh, at least $1,000 is cheaper than buying a new one. The joys of life.

Much love to our readers out there. Indiana friends, we miss you and love you!

Until next time,
Emily

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rain

Well, Anthony and I recently started a new workout regiment. We've been attempting to jog/walk 3 times a week in the morning before he goes to work. This was working great, but in the midst of all our visitors we fell out of step. Now we're trying to get back on track, but both yesterday morning and this morning we were lazy and slept in. Soooo in order to make up for not running, we decided to bike to small group tonight (about 7 miles there and back). I check the weather to make sure we won't get stuck in any rain (it's been off and on cloudy today) and it assures me that it will be clear. At 5:58, two minutes before we were going to leave it starts pouring rain. And I mean pouring. Out of nowhere! You could still see blue sky!


So now we will be driving which gives me an extra few minutes to blog. This weekend was kind of crazy. On Saturday evening we had some horrible storms hit this area. I knew it might rain, but we heard nothing of storms. Anthony and I were cuddled on the couch watching a movie when all of a sudden the tornado sirens go off. We look confusedly at each other and then run to our front porch. It looked calm and wasn't even raining yet. Without tv, we felt kind of lost, but we eventually found a radio station that declared us under a tornado warning with severe storms and high wind. We live in a 2nd story condo and have no basement. Normally we don't worry about it, but this sounded bad. We debated about leaving or staying. Finally, just as the storm was hitting and the power went out, we decided to run to the church, which at least is on ground level. We were there from about 10:15-12:00am. It definitely made for an eventful night. Really bad lightning and up to 80 MPH winds. We made it back safely and no damage was done to our condo, though there is tons of damage all around us. Trees are down everywhere and power was out all over the place. We were awoken Sunday morning with the news that both the church and the conference grounds were without power. Aka no instruments or mics for music. So Anthony managed to pull off a simple Hymn sing for everybody. The power did end up coming on right before service, so that helped. But man, it was a crazy night and morning.

Sunday afternoon was so pleasant, you would have no idea (except for the fallen trees everywhere) that a storm had passed through the night before. Anthony and I were able to enjoy a boat ride with some friends and then see the movie Inception. Very good movie, by the way. We ended the evening eating pizza and playing games with Ben and Jen and their siblings. We're going to be very sad when they move away next week :(

Alright, well we're off to small group via car.

Emily

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Visitors and More Visitors

I might have mentioned this before, but the hard part about blogging when it's been a while is that you don't know where to start. Do I tell a little of everything? Or just pick a few key things and expand on those? Yes, these are the difficult questions in life.

Here at the Parrott Inn in Okoboji, we have been quite busy. We've had guests for almost 2 weeks straight, which has been both amazing and tiring. Over the 4th of July weekend, Brett, Little One, and Mozy came to visit. We had so much fun with some of our closest friends. We played lots of games and even completed a crazy difficult puzzle. And I got my wish and was able to laugh til I cried with Little One. We also got to experience the chaos that is the 4th here in Okoboji. We loved the fireworks and being out on the green space with the thousands of other people. There was just an excitement in the air. Needless to say, it was hard to say goodbye when our friends left Monday morning.

We didn't have too long to be sad though, because on Wednesday my parents arrived! They came for a week and just left this morning. It was so good to be able to show them around and for them to see where we live. The more and more people from back home can understand and experience where we are right now the easier it is for me to be here. I don't know if that makes sense or not, but it keeps connections back home strong.

I guess that last piece of big news that's going on in our lives is that I finally got a job! It's true, I'm officially employed. I will be working a part time office job at the Cherish Center (for those of you back home, it's kind of like a Hannah's House). It'll be 28 hours a week, and I will be the front desk person. I'll direct phone calls and emails and greet people when they come in. Plus I'll be able to fill in the gaps with some of the other ministries. I'll know more when I start next Wednesday, and I'm excited. I think it's a wonderful ministry, and I feel blessed to have an opportunity to be a part of it.

I think that's about all the important stuff. On the side of non-importance, I tried m&m pretzels the other day and was disappointed. Chocolate covered pretzels are so much better.

With that thought, I leave you.
Emily

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Chapter 1, Part 1 - Friendship

 “Friendship between the sexes may take us not out of ourselves but beyond ourselves…we are being prepared ultimately for that vast friendship which is in heaven in which we…all share in the love of God.” Gilbert Meilaender


In Chapter 1, Brennan explores sexuality and friendship and the question of whether or not sex gets in the way of friendship across genders. Many Christians could quote this line and think of it as near-biblical:


“What I’m saying—and this is not a come-one in any way—is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”


However, this line is not spoken by a biblical author, but rather by Harry from the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally. But is Harry right? Should we take Harry’s view and see it as the end to any further conversation about the topic? Brennan, of course, says no. He suggests that our Western culture has taken sexuality and reduced to merely genitalia. Of course, some of us can’t imagine sexuality meaning anything other than, well, sex. So what does Brennan mean?

First of all, he suggests that we must re-evaluate what friendship really is. Because of the West’s obsession with sex, we tend to say things like “they are just friends.” Just friends? Isn’t that trivializing most of the relationships we have with people? Victor Luftig points out that the awkwardness of speaking of male-female relationships because we define them by “what it is not.” He says, “To begin defining friendship according to the absence of sex may be to say much about one’s expectations concerning gender relations, but it is also to offer little hope for being able to say what friendship actually is.”

And according to John Scudder, in our culture “it would make no sense to say that couples became friends in order to not have sex.” So we are forced to ask the question—have we unnaturally forced friendship between the sexes to be “a merely temporary stage on to the way to something…scarcely nameable as thing unto itself”? (Luftig).

Brennan points out Christianity’s need to be counter-cultural. We must not assume cultural norms simple because they are cultural norms. “Is it possible that Christian friendship between a man and woman is an authentic, embodied witness pointing to a greater reality than the image offered by romantic comedies?” He even points out the example of Jesus who “intentionally met with women…traveled with them…shared intimate, private conversations with them. In the presence of others, he pursued new social possibilities thought inappropriate by religious leaders.”
Lilian Calles Barger suggests, “…people are looking not for a no-holds-barred sexuality but for a sexuality to be defined more broadly than erotic…people are longing for a broadening of what it means to be a sexual person.”

What do you think? Has Western culture reduced friendship as a merely a stepping stone to sex? And have reduced a Biblical view of sexuality to simply intercourse? Is it possible that Christian friendship between a man and woman is an authentic, embodied witness pointing to a greater reality than the image offered by romantic comedies?”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions Introduction

Over the next few posts I will be giving a summary and (eventually) analysis of Dan Brennan’s book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. Brennan’s book is about the necessity of intimate yet non-physical male-female relationships in Christian community.

His opening paragraph in the introduction summarizes his purpose quite well—

What would our marriages, our friendships, our churches, and our communities look like if men and women were not afraid of connecting with each other in deep ways? What if men and women could really know each other without sex getting in the way? What if we did not have to be so afraid of our own and other’s bodies that we cannot trust ourselves with them.

He continues that in our contemporary culture “friendship love between a man and woman is poised to become...a love coexisting with marriage not a rival love to it” (emphasis original). And again he posits that “[c]communion between sexes is not solely contained between husband and wife” (emphasis original).

Brennan’s book wants to suggest that “the possibility of deep spiritual friendships between the sexes” may actually decrease the divorce rate among Christians, that “cross-sex” relationships can help us in our journey closer to God (Brennan wisely avoids the phrase “nonsexual.” Humans are embodies sexual beings; it is innate in their crated nature; therefore intimacy can be chaste, but it can hardly be nonsexual).

In Chapter One Brennan makes it clear that if you are looking for a “’Focus on the Family’ value system with safe, predictable, cut-and-dried boundaries to protect marriages and ‘family values’ then this book might prove terrifying.”

What do you think? Does this book have any potential to ask interesting questions, or is it simply treading on holy ground that no one should dare question? 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some Updates

Summer is in full gear here at the Lakes and Emily and I are loving it. Saturday and Monday we spent the day on a boat. I even tried wake-boarding! I managed to fall on my face a magnificent number of times and yet had fun doing it.

Good News Community Church has been meeting at the Tabernacle for well over a month now. It's been a lot of fun. Everyone just seems more (for lack of a better word) "clappy" at the Tab. And not in a cheesy, fake sense. There's a true sense of worship going 'round and that is always, always exciting.

The folks at GNCC have been wonderful to Emily and me. The transition from "this is new" to "this is home" has gone much more quickly than I think either one of us could have hoped for. This is perhaps one of the great joys of working for a church: you are immediately part of a community of brothers and sisters, being loved and accepted for the simple fact that you love Jesus too.

In April I had the privilege of preaching at Good News. Preaching is one of my great loves (right up there with Emily, playing piano really loudly, and Walmart chicken strips). I hope one day to be able to do it much more often.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Avoidance

I don't have anything interesting to say. I am simply avoiding cleaning the kitchen. For some reason, the kitchen is my least favorite room to clean. It looms over me with icky dishes (yes, even though we have a dishwasher now, I still hate icky dishes) and counter tops that need wiped. I think my problem is that no matter how clean it is or how much work I put into it, it doesn't make a difference. the next meal happens and all that work is for naught. I can vacuum and not have to worry about it for the rest of the week. But not the kitchen. Nooo. It has to be the annoying room in the house.


That being said, I decided to blog instead of clean the kitchen.

Life is still good here in Okoboji. It's really feels like summer with sunny days and temps in the 80's and even 90's! We were actually feeling kind of miserable for a while because our AC wouldn't work. And without a fan, our apartment got really hot really fast. We had plans to call our property manager to see about getting it fixed when our lovely friend Dave Steffen reminded us that the switch in the fuse box probably hadn't been flipped. Embarrassed, we discovered that we were fighting the heat for no reason. With a flip of a switch we soon had cool air circulating through the apartment. As least we were saved from an even more embarrassing visit from an AC repair man! Thanks Dave!

We purchased a grill last weekend. Which consequently meant that we had burgers 3 nights in a row. Yummy, but a but repetitive. We're aiming to try steaks this weekend when the Board's are here.

Our trip to Arnold's Park on Friday was a lot of fun! We got to check out all the rides for free, which was awesome! Found out that if you sit in the back car of the roller coaster, it is extremely bumpy (as in you-need-to-see-a-chiropractor-afterwards bumpy) and you are actually lifted out of your seat a few times. Also discovered that Anthony is terrified of ferris wheels! Ha! You should have seen him... hilarious! Something about the rocking motion of the cart freaked him out. The roller coaster he handled just fine, but the ferris wheel? No way. He wouldn't sit next to me for fear of unbalancing the cart, and he held onto the pole in the middle the whole time. Didn't even enjoy the view of the lake. It's a shame. But it provided some entertainment for me. And he survived, so all is well.

I think that's about all. The Board's come tomorrow night, and we are pumped! So excited to show them where we live and to hang out and to enjoy the sunshine.

Alright, I guess it's to the kitchen I go. Wish me luck!

Emily

Friday, May 21, 2010

Unofficial Start of Summer

Summer has unofficially started here in the Iowa Great Lakes area. Every day it seems that more and more shops and restaurants are opening up (we tried this great new smoothie shop!). And of course, this Sunday marks the first Sunday meeting in the conference grounds. The sun has been shining all week and the temperatures are supposed to be in the 80's this weekend and into next week. Even though it's not Memorial Day Weekend yet, in my mind it's summer.

Backing up a bit, our trip back home to Indiana was wonderful, though a bit crazy. We thought that extending the trip from 4 days to 9 would make things easier as far as seeing everyone. Nope. Not really. I don't even want to think about how hard it would have been if we had stuck to our original 4 day visit. Even though we spent a lot of time hopping back and forth, it was definitely worth it to see everyone! We got some good family time in on both sides as well as some good friend time. We got to play games, eat at Hacienda and Cold Stone, celebrate a graduation, and relax and laugh with people we love. Oh and we managed to do a bit of shopping too (I really miss having a mall or department stores near by!). We battled my mom's concert week, a good friend's grandpa getting sick, a choir tour, and Anthony's parent's leaving for vacation and still managed to see everyone! I consider that to be quite an accomplishment! To give you an idea of how much running around we did... the trip from Iowa to Indiana is somewhere between 600-620 miles depending on which route you take. While we were in Indiana alone we put on about 350 miles to our car. That's a lot of back and forth! But well worth it!

Now we are back... got back just in time for the prayer vigil and move to the conference grounds. The prayer vigil went... ok. It was kind of disappointing that so many slots were left open. But Anthony and I camped out at the church Saturday for a good long while and covered a lot of it. We/the church was praying for the summer, for the move, for outreach. For those who don't know/don't remember Good News changes location in the summer. One reason for this change is that we simply cannot fit the congregation in the current sanctuary with the summer traffic. Another big reason is that the conference center is downtown, right next to the lake, and it provides a great way for us to reach out to people. The building is like a big pole barn with garage doors on the side that roll up. Very camp-like. Anyways, we did the big move on Monday and it went pretty well considering this was Anthony's first time. The big problem is with the wiring and the projection. Getting everything to work right and go through the right channels is tricky. Hopefully everything will be set to go this Sunday. It'll be an adventure, that's for sure.

In other news, we have the privilege of entertaining our first guest next weekend. The Board's are driving out to spend Memorial Day Weekend with us! We are so excited to hang out with them and show them around. Especially since they will be moving to South Korea at the end of the summer. We are definitely spreading out!

Well, I think I've made this post long enough. And it's about time to enjoy the weekend. Arnold's Park (the local amusement park) is opening tomorrow and they are having a free preview night tonight, so I think we are gonna check it out. I'm excited to ride the roller coaster!
Much love,
Emily

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bible in 90 Days: Days 7 and 8: Exodus 29—Leviticus 14

 The later part of Exodus and the entirety of Leviticus are infamous for being some of the most difficult Scripture to read. Verse after verse of descriptions of furniture, the slaughter of animals, and different sort of sins can cause even the most dedicated reader stop dead in their tracks. It’s chapters like these that make us take a look at 2 Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching”) and think to ourselves, “Are you sure?”

But it is in these chapters that we see some aspects of God that are crucial to understand. First of all, we can see that God does indeed care about the details. The end of Exodus details the building of the Israelites’ first place of worship, a tabernacle. What we have to understand now is that if we are in Christ, we are now temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 6). The Holy Spirit of God resides, lives, and abides in us and us in Him. If that is the case, and if it is the case that God cared so deeply about how the tabernacle (and eventual the Jewish temple) was treated, how much more, then, does He care about how His new temple is treated?

Secondly, in Exodus and Leviticus, we discover God as the great Forgiver and Provider. The middle third of Exodus details punishment for sinning against God and against His people. Leviticus, however, shows us that God provides atonement and forgiveness. Atonement is a (if not THE) key word in Leviticus. It is repeated over and over again. Despite our sinning against God, He provides a way to be reconciled to Him.

So, yes, although reading about how to wash the intestines of sheep may not immediately seem inspirational, it is in these chapters that we come to find that God is a God who cares about our lives and is a God who desires relationship with His creation, even if we keep screwing up over and over again. God wants us to know Him and Leviticus shows us a glimpse of the ultimate reconciliation between creation and Creator that will culminate in Christ Jesus.

Craig Keener, "Gift & Giver," Chapters 5 and 6


Chapters 5 and 6 of Keener’s “Gift & Giver” focuses specifically on spiritual gifts. Chapter 5 asks, “Are the spiritual gifts for today,” and chapter 6 presents some ideas about the specific ideas.

Perhaps for most (all?) of the Christians I know, asking “Are the spiritual gifts for today?” seems a bit silly. We are well acquainted with spiritual gift inventories; I cannot tell you how many of those long, tedious exams I took in high school. We readily admit that God’s Spirit still works miracles and gives gifts to His children. But the post-enlightenment/anti-supernatural society we live in many times causes many of us to be closet “cessationists,” i.e. those who believe that the gifts ceased to be given after the time of the Bible. As Keener notes, “Many other Christians who acknowledge that God can still do miracles in answer to prayer claim that supernatural gifts have ceased, thus doubting that God does miracles the same way he did them in biblical times. Given the frequent abuse and feigning of some gifts today, this position has a measure of appeal” (p. 90).

I have to admit to at times being dangerously close to this view. In high school and in college I saw some manifestations of what people called “spiritual gifts,” but what was actually deception and spiritual flashiness. Since then, I never came out and declared that I didn’t believe in spiritual gifts, but whenever I heard of miraculous healings, speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, etc. I always met the news with an unhealthy bit of cynicism.

But after being a student of Scripture for many years, I simply cannot believe that the gifts have stopped. Keener notes three reasons (p. 95-96) for this:

1)  1) “Luke presents the empowerment of the church at Pentecost as a normative experience for Christians.”
2)2)      “...[T]he Gospel writers...present Jesus’ miracle-working ministry as a model for disciples.”
3)3)     “Paul’s presentation of the gifts is inseparable from his view of the church.”

Keener concludes chapter 5 by saying “we must seek the gifts” and now only seek them but seek them “with the right motives”(p. 112). This is something where I and most of the Jesus communities I have been a part of have utterly fallen flat on their face. I have either sought the gifts for the entirely the wrong motives or stopped seeking the gifts at all. But Paul specifically says to “desire spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1) for the sake of the edification of the body (see entirety of 1 Cor. 12-14).

In chapter 6, Keener moves on to specific gifts. Keener immediately says, “we should not limit God’s gifts to those discovered in...inventories” (p. 113). We have to find the balance between gifts we are born with and gifts that are given from us seeking them in prayer. There are some who will focus only the supernatural gifts and some who focus on their “talents.” But God gifts both to the church and both should utilized to their fullest.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bible in 90 Days: Day 6—Exodus 15:19—28:43

These chapters contain so much action, theology, and detail that it’s hard to decide what to write on. I’ll try a little bit of everything.

The Importance of the Desert
First off, we find God has led the Israelites out of the Red Sea...and into a desert! A series of deserts, actually. But each desert is important in that it allows God to show His great power and grace to the Israelite community.

1)     The Desert of Shur: turning bitter water into sweet water.
2)     Desert of Sin: giving of manna (bread) and quail (meat).
3)     Desert of Rephidim: water from rock; victory in battle
4)     Desert of Sinai: Giving of the Law

Each of these deserts is crucial to the growth of the Israelites. And yet in each desert the Israelites grumble, complain, or outright sin against the Lord.

Wisdom from a Father-in-Law
In Exodus 18, we find Moses sitting alone as judge for the entire community of Israelites. Jethro, the father of Moses’ wife Zipporah, sees this ridiculousness and says, “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out...select capable men from all the people...and appoint them”! Moses was trying to do the job of dozens all by himself. Jethro shows Moses the wisdom of NOT trying to be all things to all people.

Justice and Mercy in the Law
Perhaps where most people struggle with the Old Testament is in the Law. It is in the Law that we find such difficult verses as

“Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death”;
“Anyone who beats their male or female slave...are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property”;
“...life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth...”

This is rough stuff. But also this is where we see God begin the process of getting things back to the way they were before the Fall. But it has to be incremental. This is why Jesus declares, “I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law.”

For instance, slavery was NOT abolished in the Old Testament. But God sets up guidelines of proper and improper ways of treating a slave. “If you guy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything” (21:2). Or “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result.”

Polygamy is NOT abolished in the Old Testament, but God says about concerning husbands and second wives, “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing, and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

And then we find such gems as
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (22:21);
“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan” (22:22);
“If you lend money to one of my people who is needy, charge no interest” (22:25);
“...help your enemy” (23:5);
 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits” (23:6);
“...during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it” (23:11).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Craig Keener "Gift & Giver" Chapters 1-4

 This past week I’ve been reading Craig Keener’s Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today.  Inevitably, while reading this book, I experience two intense feelings—conviction from the Spirit and attack from the enemy. Keener, a first class New Testament scholar, is also what you could call a charismatic, that is, someone who regularly practices the spiritual gifts, including tongues, prophecy, etc. His book is the first I have read that has (thus far) presented a “fair and balanced” view on the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.

The first few chapters of the book emphasize that in order to hear God’s voice, we must know and recognize God’s character.  “To recognize God’s voice, we should begin by knowing, as best as possible, God’s character as he has revealed it already. That is, before we listen for what God might say, we should heed what he has already said. Listening to the Spirit means listening to the God of the Bible” (p. 27). Seeking to hear the voice of God while only living with a cursory knowledge of the Bible invites confusion and deception. The dedication that we show to our favorite musician or TV show should pale in comparison to our dedication to knowing God’s Word.

I know in my own experience I have simply wanted to know God’s answer for a particular question in my life. But I think God has said to me what he said to Keener: “Don’t seek my will in this matter. Seek me—and then you will know my will” (p. 37). If we become obsessed with knowing God, then I think we can assume our obsession with knowing where our lives are going next would fade. “Knowing God is more than simply getting guidance for the details in our lives” (p. 39).

In chapter 4, Keener emphasizes the Spirit’s work inside of us, transforming us from the inside out. We have been created new in God’s image and are to reflect that image. “As we learn to know Jesus more intimately, and like Moses spend time with God on the mountain, we will begin to reflect his glory more thoroughly” (p. 73). But “[h]aving his new nature in us does not mean we can be passive about our transformation” (p. 73). This is why Paul instructs to “take off” the old man and “put on” the new man. We are called to obedience (Eph. 4:25-32). And with these two things hand-in-hand—the Spirit abiding in us and us obeying him—the fruit of the Spirit develop within us. As N.T. Wright points out in his After You Believe, it is no accident that “self-control” is in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. Having this fruit requires action on our part; action that is given by the grace of the Spirit, but action nonetheless.

Keener notes, as well, that the Spirit “empowers us for worship and relationships with others” (p. 82, emphasis my own). If we think that our spirituality is simply between us and God, then we have missed the point. “Love the Lord your God...and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the summary of the law.

How can we 1) Get to know God’s character better so we may better hear His voice? 2) Allow the Spirit to transform us and take action in that?

Bible in 90 Days Day 5: Exodus 1:1—Exodus 15:19

Beginning this week I began to take a journey through reading the Bible in 90 days. I think reading projects like this are important in order to understand the breadth of the story of Scripture. Word and individual book studies (which you’ll soon see for Isaiah) are important for depth, absolutely. But a journey like this helps readers understand the Grand Narrative, the big picture.

So, in order to help me stay focused, I’d like to journal through a tidbit of what I read each day. Feel free to comment or to ignore. I decided late to start this blog thing so we begin in Exodus 14.

Exodus 14 finds the Israelites standing between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. The Israelites, as soon as they realize their predicament, begin to cry out “It would have been for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert” (Ex. 14:12) This, I think, can serve as a summary of the human condition. We would rather sit comfortably in slavery than follow God uncomfortably in the desert.

God’s response, however, I think is priceless. “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on” (14:15). Here the Israelites are, thinking they are trapped and soon to die. There is a quite large body of water in front of them and yet God tells them, “Just move on. Keep walking.”

I think we have all had times in our lives when we have felt paralyzed, like a rather large body of water and a rather angry army was sitting on us. But God will provide a way; we have to keep walking in faith. I mean, if our faith dies at any sign of trouble, did we really have faith in the first place?

Now, this story doesn’t promise that walking in faith is going to be easy. As a matter of fact, the journey out of the Red Sea led them straight back into the desert (Ex. 16). God’s path for us is at times strange and unpredictable. But it is still a path that God says to “move on” in.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt trapped, but kept walking, and things ended up okay?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Full Speed Ahead

Things have been moving along here in Okoboji. It seems we've moved into the fast lane and will probably be here for a while. Here's a bit of an update from my side of things.


A couple of weekends ago, we had the privilege of traveling to Minneapolis to spend a couple of day with Anthony's brother and sister. They have birthdays just a few days apart so we went up to take part in the celebration! We had a great time! We got to eat at Benihana's (which was quite possibly the best food I've ever tasted), stay in a casino, tour Ikea and Mall of America, and even ride the roller coaster inside of Mall of America. A big thank you to Jolee and David for taking the time to hang out with us! Now it's your turn to come and explore Okoboji! :)

Last week was quite the week for Anthony. He played for a funeral and a wedding and led worship and preached on Sunday! Ben (the pastor's son) and Jen were married on Saturday afternoon. The sun shined despite weather forecasts of storms and everything was beautiful. After the past year, I feel as though Anthony and I are quite the experts when it comes to weddings. The amount of weddings we've been to/been in has totaled somewhere around a dozen... that in combination with the fact that I grew up with a wedding photographer as a dad makes me think I should be qualified as some sort of wedding consultant :) Anyways, the next day Pastor John understandably took the day off and with Pastor Chad involved in a youth fundraiser that left Anthony to preach. He did a great job. If you're interested, he posted a script of the sermon just after this post. I was very proud of him for speaking God's word and sharing about himself to the church. It was a great way for people at the church to get to know him a little bit.

This week is prep for our vacation home. We (or should I say Anthony) have to get everything in order before we make the long drive home on Sunday. As soon as Anthony and I get back, the church is prepping for the move to the conference center. Then we launch into summertime here in the Iowa Great Lakes.

Time to get reflective. The longer and longer we are here, the more and more this place feels like home. I wasn't expecting it to be this easy. Don't get me wrong. I still miss Indiana and friends and family, but I was expecting this transition to be a lot harder than it has been. I'm continually surprised at how easy friendships have been with people from the church. It makes me excited to see God at work in our lives and in the lives at the church. I truly believe that this is where we are supposed to be and that is a reassuring feeling.

Well, tis all for now. The sun is out and Anthony should be coming home from work soon. A bike ride might be in order for tonight.

Love,
Em

"My Father...My Mother"



This Sunday I had the honor of teaching at Good News Community Church. Here is the manuscript of the sermon.


Good morning, brothers and sisters.



I’d like to invite you to turn to the book of Deuteronomy chapter 26.



About 3,000 years ago the Israelites, led by Moses, were about to enter their Promised Land for the very first time. Their story is well known but is one that deserves repeating.

In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, God creates the world. Out of chaos, came beauty. Out of nothing, came life. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters, said, “Let there be light, sky, ground, veggies, sun, moon, stars, things that live in water, things that live in air, things that live on the ground.” Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule.” And God blessed them and told them to be fruitful, to multiply, and then He said, “This is very good.”

But the human beings, made in God’s own image, were deceived. And so humanity fell. All of creation was cursed. And humans were kicked out of a Garden that provided life into a wilderness that caused toil and pain.

But just a few chapters later, Yahweh calls a man named Abram out of a land called Ur and declares to this man—

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Abram’s name is turned into Abraham. Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac. Isaac and Rebekah give birth to Jacob. Jacob’s name is turned into Israel. And Israel has 12 sons, who eventually move down to Egypt. In Egypt they live for 400 hundred years, eventually put into slavery.
But then Moses is called by God to call the Israelites, the descendents of Israel, out of Egypt into what was then called Canaan, what we now call Palestine or Israel. After a series of miracles, Pharaoh the king of Egypt releases the Israelites out of Egypt. And so the Israelites leave, off to make their 300 mile journey to the Promised Land. 300 miles is admittedly a long distance to walk. But even if you only travelled at the excruciatingly slow rate of 1 mile per day, you could still make the trip in less than a year.

But Deuteronomy is written at the end of a forty year wandering. An entirely new generation of Israelites has been born and few even remember the events that happened in Egypt. God, speaking through Moses, is aware of this. And so this new generation of Israelites is asked to do a few things when they enter The Land the Lord Is Giving. We pick up the story in verse 1. Moses tells Israel—

“When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.”

So essentially, the Israelites, after wandering for 40 years, and after finally arriving to the land promised to them, are to grow some food, put it in a basket, and give it as an offering to the priest, who will then use it to feed the poor, the widow, and the orphan. After this happens, the Israelite is to offer up a prayer or a creed. Take a look at verse 5—

“Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”

Everyone has a story.

Everyone has a prayer or a creed they could say at the end of the day. It may not have the words ‘Egypt’ or ‘milk and honey’ in it. But we may be more familiar with phrases like “My father was a…” Or perhaps words like misery, oppression, and terror are too common for comfort.

My story goes like this:

My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic. And she, believe it or not, actually wanted to go down to Egypt. I was baptized Roman Catholic and lived alone with my biological mother Toni in a crime and drug infested apartment complex in Northern Indiana. I never met or knew my father. It was just Toni and me, scrapping by. Toni’s mental condition went un-medicated and so she couldn’t keep a job or any sort of income. When I was seven years old, Toni’s mother died, my biological grandmother, and left Toni a car and a large chunk of money. And so Toni’s very broken and very diseased mind decided to pack up the car with trash bags full of all of our belongings and drive the two of us out of Northern Indiana and into Egypt.

As you should be able to figure out, driving to Egypt has a few logistical issues, not the least of which is a small pond in the way called the Pacific Ocean. But Toni was unaware of any such logistical issues and so we drove. For a month we drove, through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, into Washington, and finally up Canadian Highway 97 into Alaska, until we finally arrived in a small berg called Seward, population 3000, on the southern shores of Alaska.

Toni drove into a gas station that day and did something that changed everything—she put gas into the oil tank and oil into the gas tank. Here might be a good time to make a joke about the dangers of mixing women and automobiles...

The point is that the gas station attendant saw all of this—an apparently mentally unstable woman with a small child and a car stuffed to the brim with trash bags. He could have brushed it off as simply weird, but instead he called the authorities.

We continued on, however, and our car putt-putt-puttered down the road until it finally died from having all sorts of wrong fluids flowing through its inner parts. And so not only car died, but so did our source of warmth, something rather important while it’s autumn Alaska. We stayed with a young couple for a few days but when we had returned to the place where we had left our malnourished vehicle, it was gone. It along with the trash bags of belongings inside of it. We soon found ourselves at City Hall, who had towed the car since it had been abandoned. As Toni sorted it out with the authorities, I remember a woman politely coming into the room and asking me to follow her. Innocently—I was seven at the time, remember—I followed and soon found myself in a car with a woman I didn’t know, but who had been just given foster custody of me.

And I haven’t seen Toni ever since.

I lived in Alaska for only a couple of months with my foster family. It didn’t take them very long to realize something was wrong with my health. I was taken to a hospital in Anchorage and they ran some tests on me. It came out that I had several holes in my heart and had had them since birth. It was a defect that should have been repaired at birth but Toni, with her paranoia in action, trusted a doctor as far as she could throw a doctor. And so for seven years I lived with large portions of my blood never receiving oxygen. Any amount of walking, standing, much less running and playing would turn my fingernails and my skin blue. After only a few steps I would squat down in exhaustion and pant for air. And I just thought I was normal. I thought every mother yelled at every child for being lazy and slow. I thought no one, certainly no one my age, was running around and playing much more than I was.

The fact of the matter is that someone with the severity of my birth defects shouldn’t live to age seven. And mothers who drink while pregnant and refuse to take their schizophrenia medication probably shouldn’t raise children for more than seven years at a time. But these things happen.

It was decided that I was to move back to Indiana, this time to Indianapolis, to live with my maternal uncle his wife, and to receive immediate open heart surgery. Before the surgery, I was baptized for a second time, this time Lutheran, but still having no real clue as to why. Even at seven I was aware of the concept of God, but had no real idea as to why I was supposed to care.

I had the surgery. If you couldn’t tell, I survived. The doctors put a patch—a literal, high-tech fabric patch—on one hole and sewed up another. I lived with my uncle and aunt and their daughter for 3 years, receiving a proper Lutheran education at the private school I attended and recovering from a literally broken heart as well as recovering from being torn away from Toni. Toni, with all of her faults—verbal and occasionally physical abuse, drinking and smoking, and complete inability to take care of a child—was still the only mother I had ever known. And I missed her.

I was never meant to stay forever with my uncle and aunt. My uncle’s wife was more than a little anxious about raising the son of a schizophrenic, who himself had gone through three different therapists. I remember those therapy sessions. Ink blots and games of Candy Land. One time, after learning about John the Baptist in school, I went on and on to my shrink about wanting to become the next John the Baptist. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t aware that Johnny only ate locusts and honey. I once threw up at the smell of sauerkraut; I’m pretty sure locusts aren’t for me.

Anyway, after living with my relatives for three years, I was put back into the foster system for one last time, this time to live with Deb and Dale Parrott and their five other kids. They had had three kids of their own, fostered almost 40 kids before me, and adopted 2 others. They had actually decided not to take in anymore foster kids. Why they decided to take me in, I’ll never understand. In the foster system I was known as a throwaway kid. I was ten years old, had a congenital heart condition, had been raised by a crazy person, and had gone through three therapists myself. But to little Anthony the Parrotts opened their doors one last time and I will be forever grateful.

It did not take long for me to realize that the Parrott household was an altogether different kind of place. Christianity was not simply a religion or a denomination they subscribed to. Jesus pervaded their entire home. By the age of twelve I got baptized one last time, this time my own choice and with full awareness of what was going and why I was doing it. I loved Jesus and—more importantly—I realized that He loved me, had died for me, had been raised so that all of Creation would be restored, and He wanted me to be a part of that Re-Creation of all things.

At fourteen I was adopted into the Parrotts. Anthony James Rohn ceased to be the day I was adopted. I became a new person. I was even issued a new birth certificate. I was in a sense born again. If you don’t quite understand what salvation is all about, take a child who has physical and mental health problems, love that child as your own, and then tear up their old birth certificate and write them a new one. You might then get a glimpse of what Jesus wants for every single person.

I started taking piano lessons when I was twelve. The girls in the sixth grade choir would constantly play the song “Heart and Soul.” I went home one day to the family piano determined to learn it. Within a day or two, I had. Within a week or so I was writing my own stuff. And so Mom and Dad got me lessons with Dr. Matthew Hill. He had two graduate degrees—one in piano performance, one in teaching piano. The man could have taken Pinky the Local Drunk and made him into a great piano player. I studied under Dr. Hill for almost six years. By the time I was fifteen, my youth pastor had pulled me into the youth worship band and I haven’t stopped leading worship since. Electric guitars, organs, Beatles songs, Gaither songs—I’ve been a part of more worship services than I can count. And I’ve loved doing it.

By the time I was 18, I decided to go Bethel College, Indiana, which was about half an hour from home. I started out as music major, actually. It took me all of a month, however, to realize that I had studied classical piano for six years and really didn’t want to do it for four more. I dabbled in theater, communications, and writing, but I realized my true passion was in teaching, teaching God’s Word. So I ended up with a degree in Bible, Ministry, and Philosophy. I studied with Bible translators, commentary writers, and an archeologist.

My freshman year, I met a wonderful sophomore named Emily. We became close friends and eventually I asked her out on a date the summer after my freshman year…she said no. I, however, have been known to be quite persistent. And so we started dating 4 months later in the fall of 2006. We got engaged the spring of 2008 and got married January 2009—1 year, 3 months, and 15 days ago.

That first year of marriage was a combination of bliss and trial. Emily had graduated the year before me, so when we got married I still had one semester of college to finish. Emily had a full-time, well-paying, full-benefits secretarial position at the college. The plan was for me to get credentialed in my denomination—known as the Missionary Church—and for us to start looking for a ministry position.
However, Emily was laid off in May. I had just graduated with absolutely no job prospects and Emily had just had ripped away our secure source of income and health insurance. I did become a credentialed pastor, but the simple fact of the matter was that the economy had affected churches just as much as everything else, so churches were shedding associate staff, not hiring them. Emily worked a couple of retail jobs. I worked as a housekeeper for the college.

And so there I was. A college graduate with a degree in Bible and philosophy, a credentialed pastor of the Missionary Church, and I scrubbed 30-40 toilets and urinals a day.

In Deuteronomy 26, the Israelites are getting done with a 40 year wandering in a wilderness, a desert, a forsaken place where they have to completely and utterly rely on the miraculous in order to eat and drink. When they enter the Promised Land, they are to declare something, to proclaim something about themselves. And what are they to say?

“My father was a wandering Aramean.”

An Aramean was a nomad, someone who moved from place to place constantly seeking their next meal, source of water, day-to-day sustenance. The Israelites, who could be understandably bitter about this whole wandering around—seemingly lost—in a desert for 40 years, are to not try and forget about this wandering, not try to put it out of their memory like some bad dream. Instead they are to grow food, take it to the altar of the Lord, give it the priest, and proclaim, “My father wandered.”

As American Christians, we are totally uncomfortable with wandering. The American nature is to have purpose, drive, destination, mission, vision, constitutions, declarations. The American temperament gets prickly when our lives and our plans get waylaid by things we didn’t plan. Things we didn’t set out to do. We are at A. We want to get to B. Show me the straight line of how to get from here to there. We are never comfortable or content with “here.” We always want “over there.”

And yet in Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses tells the Israelites, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years.”

The Lord your God led you through the wilderness.

Never in Scripture will you find a calling to accept a Three Step Plan. Never in Scripture will you find a presentation of how the Gospel is as easy as A, B, C. Instead we find words and phrases like, “God has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness.” (Deut 2:7). Or “walk in God’s path; journey in God’s way.” (Deut. 5:33; 8:6; 10:12; 11:22; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 30:16). Or “follow the footsteps God.” (Deut 13:4). “Or take of your cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34-35). God doesn’t call us to a point-by-point, bullet-point outline of an existence. Rather we are to follow a Way, a Journey, a Road, a Path, a Wandering (Deut. 5:33; 8:6; 10:12; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 30:16). We are told the Way is narrow (Matt 7:14). Christians are called Followers of the Way (Acts 9:2). Jesus does not call Himself the Destination, the Truth, and the Life.

When we reach the Promised Land, we are to look back and remember our history and proclaim boldly and proudly, “My father was wandering Aramean, a nomad, someone who simply followed the path that God put in front of him.”

My mother was paranoid schizophrenic. And she really wanted to go down to Egypt.

Not even a year ago, I was scrubbing toilets and urinals; removing maggots from the trash that students had left in their dorm to rot over the summer.

Partially in faith and partially in desperation, I sent out a slew of resumes to a bunch of churches and places I had never heard of. Not too long after, Emily and I fasted. We took a day, didn’t eat food, and instead prayed and asked God for guidance. The very next day, Kathy Skalbeck called and said, “Hi, I’m part of the search committee from Good News Community Church and we were wandering if we could setup a phone interview.”

There are some of you here today who feel lost, dazed, confused, and alone. Your life doesn’t look at all like what you planned and purposed it to be. You thought you were on the way to the Promised Land and instead you find yourself in a wilderness. Maybe your body is rebelling against you, giving you pain and ache. Maybe your spouse has decided that your marriage isn’t worth keeping alive. Maybe your career has been lost or you’re in a career and you don’t know why anymore.

Maybe you just got your college degree and now you’re scrubbing toilets.

And yet in Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses tells the Israelites, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years.”

To those lost and confused—God is on your side.
To those beaten and broken—God is on your side.
To those who feel abandoned and forsaken—God is on your side.
To those whose body is sick and diseased—God is on your side.
To those who can’t keep a job—God is on your side.
To those who struggle with addiction and sin—God is on your side.
To those who battle with sadness and depression—God is on your side.

When Jesus was baptized, Matthew 4 says, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested…and after fasting forty days…he was hungry.”

Deuteronomy 8 says, “The Lord led you in the wilderness to test you. He humbled you, causing you to hunger.”

If you are in a place where you are hungry, where you feel like there’s no water, no food, no shelter from a blistering sun, maybe you are exactly where God wants you to be. And if you are in a place where you are well-fed and well-watered and sheltered from anything the world sends your way, maybe it’s time to allow to Spirit to lead you into the wilderness.

Not all who wander are lost.

Our father was wandering Aramean. My mother was paranoid schizophrenic. Our Savior took up a cross and was obedient even onto death.

So may you not be afraid to journey and to wander in the path God is leading you in. And may you never forget that no matter where you are on that journey, God is on your side.