Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Sabbatical Journey Takes Us to the Land of Sweden

Earlier this week, Sandi and I returned from what will probably be the biggest highlight of our 12 week sabbatical.  It was our 12 day trip to Sweden, the country where all four of my grandparents were born; the place of my heritage. The trip had highs and lows; times of incredible blessing and insight into our family story, and times of challenge and struggle as we traveled some long days, and I tried to pack too much into one rather short trip!

We stayed with one living relative family for 3 nights, as they showed us around the area where my mother's father and his siblings and parents were born and grew up (the Sundsvall, Sweden area). One wonderful highlight during these days, was talking with my mother by phone on mother's day, and listening to her carry on a conversation with our Swedish hosts in Swedish! It brought tears to our eyes. We traveled to the area where my dad's father and mother were born and grew up (Kumla and Kristinehamn, Sweden). In these areas, we visited churches, homes, and schools where my grandparents learned of Jesus, and studied. We learned about our family story by tracking down burial sites of my ancestors (really interesting!!). We even spoke with one farmer who had lived in the area where my great grandmother lived.

We wrapped up the trip with 4 nights in Stockholm, Sweden's capital city.  We walked and walked and walked.  We visited numerous museums and sites of interest.  We ate dinner in local cafes. We tried to get to know some of the hotel and restaurant workers.  All in all, we had a fabulous time, in what to us is a world class city.  Stockholm has so much to see and experience. It's a city essentially built on a series of islands.  It has incredible history, and it is a thriving, and seemingly prosperous city.

As Sandi and I reflected on this amazing experience, there are at least 3 major takeaways that made a lasting impression on us.  For me, these are really some life changing things.

The first takeaway is the incredible sense of appreciation for my spiritual heritage.  All 4 of my grandparents grew up in a country and a time when the state church in Sweden was the dominant strand of religious activity.  It was, for the most part, a formal, perhaps orthodox, yet with no vitality, life, or spiritual passion. Children and their parents would go through the rituals of religion, most likely without knowing Jesus Christ in a personal and vital way, much less in a way that impacted every day living.  In this backdrop, my dad's father grew up in a home of a man (my great grandfather), who came to a personal relationship with Christ in a home Bible study. This home Bible study was a part of the early pietistic movement throughout Sweden. It was the forerunner of our own Converge (Baptist General Conference movement). My mother's dad (my grandfather) started attending a small evangelical church in their village.  It was a church where the Bible was prominent, and where the need for a personal relationship with Christ was taught. This heritage, which made a huge impact on my father and on my mother is hard for me to fathom.  What an incredible privilege and blessing!  What a profound heritage!

The second takeaway is the amazing sense of appreciation for the hardships and struggles that my grandparents and their parents endured. My mother's father was orphaned at a young age, and struggled for food and even a place to live.  My father's grandfather wandered around central Sweden as a young boy, just trying to find food and some kind of work to support himself.  My mother's mother grew up in a village on an island in Sweden where her father was a sailor. In the prime of his life, with a large and growing family, he ventured out on a sailing trip one day, never to return, perishing at sea. In the midst of these hardships and incredible challenges, however, all 4 of my grandparents found a way to eventually emmigrate to the U.S., at age 16, age 18, age 18, and age 25.  What an amazing story of God's protection, God's provision, and His sovereignty in the midst of adversity.

The third major takeaway is the incredible need for spiritual renewal and revival in Sweden today. In talking to people, in observing the lifestyle of so many, and from all we have heard and read, Sweden is again in need of a movement of God's Spirit that is real and powerful.  Converge is presently partnering with a movement leader from Stockholm who is seeking to plant at least 20 churches in the coming years.  Both Sandi and I would like to learn more about this opportunity, and explore ways that our network of churches may be able to get involved as well. We are committed to making this a matter of prayer.

We are very grateful to my brothers and sisters, to other family members, and to a number of our Converge leaders who encouraged us to take this journey.Each of our personal stories are unique. I see God's hand all over my personal and family story. It's really amazing!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sabbatical Reflections - Week 5 - Studies from Joshua

During the months of April and early May, my sabbatical devotional study has been from the Book of Joshua.  What a fantastic study of re-exploring how the reign of God advanced in the days of Israel as God used Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land.  What a cool reminder of some of the principles God will use today to see his reign advance in communities in our region and around our world.

Some of many spiritual principles and teachings I observed from this dynamic book include:

  • The reality of God's protection of His people - God used Rahab to protect those spying out the land of Canaan.  What a reminder of how God protects his people today.  He is on our side.  As the song we sing reminds us: "If our God is for us, then who can be against us". We can be on mission for Christ with courage and confidence.
  • Our need for full dependence and reliance on God in all we do. It was God who brought deliverance for Israel as they captured the city of Jericho.  Today, we must be in prayer and complete dependence on Christ in all we do.  The men of Israel were circumcised prior to going into battle.  We too, must be spiritually prepared as we do battle with the enemy of our soul.
  • The use of sound strategy in our mission efforts for God - As Israel went into battle at Ai, we see a clever and effective ambush strategy that God gave to Joshua. We must be wise and strategic in our efforts to push back to realm of the enemy as well.  We must give our best mentally, emotionally, physically, and of course, spiritually to see God's reign advance.
  • God wants to see specific communities reached and His reign impact specific places in our region and our world.  In Joshua 12-13 and later in Joshua, we see a detailed listing of all of the cities that were taken by Joshua and Israel, of course, through God's hand. The writer goes to great length to describe each and every city and each and every king. To me, this a great reminder that God wants to use us today to impact specific communities, specific cities and specific regions for the Gospel.  It also reminds me that these specific communities have strongholds that need to be taken down in order for God's reign to advance.  God give us courage, wisdom, and spiritual discernment as we seek to impact the specific communities that you have called us as a movement and each church in our movement to transform.
  • Faithfulness over the long haul - probably the story that touches me as much as any story in the Book of Joshua, is the story of Caleb, and his desire at age 85 to take one more mountain for God. When he makes the statement to Joshua that he is just as strong now as he was 45 years earlier, wow, what a challenge and inspiration!  God, help me to remain faithful over the long haul, and give me the faith to continue to dream great dreams for your glory!
  • God's faithfulness to His people - This theme runs through the entire Book of Joshua, but is so clear in the closing chapters as Joshua repeatedly reminds the people that "every promise that the Lord your God has given to you has been fulfilled". He reminds Israel that "I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build, and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant". Wow, what a statement of God's faithful to us as His people.  He has blessed us in many many ways.  He has given us salvation, redemption, made us a part of His family, given us a great and wonderful privilege to be involved in His mission; all of this is due to His faithfulness, not ours.  None of this is due to anything we have done.  Yet, of course, it is that which leads us to seek to surrender all that we have and all that we are to this faithful and gracious God.
What a blessing and encouragement it has been to focus my reading and devotional thoughts on one Book of the Bible - to see these great themes of God's faithfulness, and of the mission that He has called us to fulfill. As Joshua challenged Israel of old, "how long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land?"  God, give me the courage to act upon all the promises that you have made to me.  Help us as your people today to do the same!

Dan Peterson
Ontario, OH