Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our Christmas Prayer Letter

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Merry Christmas from Ireland!  All the preparation is over the day has arrived, and we're celebrating Christmas.  We've been in Ireland 18 month... it hardly seems possible.  God has provided in SO many ways.  He has opened doors and done miracles that are beyond our wildest dreams.  We have met some wonderful people and are making what we hope will be lifelong friends here in Ireland.  You might say it feels more and more like home. 

I'm sitting in our living room and above our fireplace is a nativity scene... it's made of Olive wood from Israel.  Annette got it when she visited Israel growing up.  As I look again at this scene I'm speechless.  Think about it... GOD sent his son into our world.  Isn't that incredible?  Doesn't it leave you scratching your head?  I mean ponder the distance He traveled.  He truly did empty himself.

There is no greater metaphor for missions than the picture painted by His birth.  Talk about crossing barriers... HE did it!  We should be challenged again to GO into our world, to enter the lives of those around us... and NOT with answers, but by laying down our lives... like Jesus with love.

As I think about 2013 my prayer is simply... Lord, help me incarnate YOU to those around me.  Help me to be what YOU want me to be.

Can I be honest with you?  I need your help... would you pray for me, for us.  Would you?

Pray that while we might not have clarity all the time... we'd learn to trust Him more in 2013.
Pray for the new things that will begin with the new year, (i.e. a Parent & Toddler Group in the community where we live, Wicklow.)
Pray for Ted & Sarah Voigt as they join us in January.
Pray for the CHURCH in Ireland, that we would rise up and BE the people of God.

Thank you... again!  Thanks for reading, for praying, for partnering with us in this great adventure.  Thanks also for the cards, support and Facebook posts... we love you!

Blessings & Merry Christmas!

Stephen & Annette, along with Matthew in Ireland(and our daughter at MNU) 


Sunday, December 23, 2012

When you lose your voice...

Can I ask you a question… what do you do when you don't know what to do?  What do you say, when words feel so empty?

I found myself in that place on hearing the news from Connecticut… I mean what do you say?  I was sitting in the library reading the paper where they had pictures of the 20 children who lost their lives, alongside the adults… and I find myself dabbing my eyes.  What can you say?  For all the power of words, sometimes they can seem so powerless… and this is not just true about this tragedy it's true for many of the losses in our lives… in fact it's also true for some of the great moments.  I remember someone asking me about the birth of our son, Matthew.  How do you put that into words.  Even 17 years later I struggle to find the words to express the joy, the love, the power of that moment.

So I ask you again, what do you say when you don't know what to say?

Throughout history men and women have used song to find their voice.  Moses led the people of God in a great song, recorded for us in Ex 15 this on the heels of their great deliverance through the Red Sea.  They were overwhelmed with the greatness of their God.  Hannah, does the same thing in 1 Samuel 2 in response to the birth of Samuel.  David, following his dismal failure penned the words of Psalm 32 and 51.  Even Jesus on the cross… sings Psalm 22  Frederick Handel, trying to express the glory of the gospel, found his voice in scripture that is so powerfully rendered in the Messiah.  Many of us have probably sang or embraced those words in a way that speaks meaning into something that is beyond words.

That's what Mary does… You might think she's penning her own song, but that's only partly true…. you see she's recalling the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2.  The word of God has become her voice.  And Mary is not the only one…  Jonah from within the belly of the whale, cries out to God… but again, these are not his own words, we find him proclaiming God's word… or should I say embracing God's word as his own.  You may find it hard to believe but in his prayer there are more than 10 references to various Psalms.

This got me thinking… This word has the power to give us a voice to us when we've lost our voice.

I can't tell you how many times I have NOT known what to say in my prayers to God… only to discover HIS word on my lips.  I have grown up in a tradition that values spontaneity, and originality in its prayers, but the reality is sometimes we can't find the words… I mean what do you say in response to the terrible things have taken place in Connecticut?

I would suggest the WORD… can give us back our voice… in this case to grieve.  I found myself reading Lamentations and some of the Psalms of Lament. 

Mary, even though she was a young girl still ruminated on God's word.  It was a part of her life.  I wonder… is it a part of our lives?  I'm not talking about just memorising it… some of us struggle to do that, but we can all meditate on it, we can all live into it and out of it and with it.

In fact I wonder, instead of reading God's word for answers… perhaps we should read it to find our voice.

As Mary found her voice… we too can find ours in God's word.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The JOY hope brings...

We're getting ready to celebrate our second Christmas in Ireland.  It hardly seems possible.  We got our tree in the house yesterday.  It smells divine.  We picked it out on a tree farm that's owned by someone Annette made connections with at a Knitting Club she joined in Ashford. It's SO good to make friends.  You might say these connections make us feel more and more at home.

I'm working with Wicklow Rotary on an incredible project.  We're hosting a Tree of Remembrance here in Wicklow.  I got to stand in the cold with another new friend the other day as people came to write names on ribbons to be placed on our community Christmas tree.  They placed the names of Grandmas and Grandpas, but also mom and dads and brothers and sisters.  I watched as a little girl wrote the name of her sister on a ribbon.  Just last week we were in Carrickfergus and attended a service at the Carrick Church of the Nazarene where they lit the tree in remembrance of those who had passed, specifically this past year. 

Christmas is a season of happiness, but I'd imagine that for many this year this happiness may be tempered by the loss they experience.  Tempered by the empty seat around the table on Christmas Day, the person we miss as gifts are unwrapped.  Annette's grandma, a wonderful lady, went to be with Jesus this last week, and she'll be missed(massive understatement).  Most of us are touched by loss at one point or another. 

All this got me thinking about the third Sunday of Advent.  If you're church is traditional at all and you have an advent wreath, you'll notice something about the third candle.  It's a different colour... in most cases pink.  It's the JOY candle.  There is SO much joy surrounding the Christmas story.  To be sure, the birth of a baby brings joy, but the more I've thought about it... I think the reason for the joy in Mary and Joseph or the shepherds and wise men is the HOPE that this baby named Jesus brings... a hope our world desperately needs.

Truth is we can have that same hope, no matter our loss or failure.

I'm a sinner!  I've messed up more times than YOU can imagine.  To be sure I'm an ordained elder, a member of the clergy, but that doesn't mean I'm perfect, it simply means that I take the gift offered to me in Jesus.... and as I do, I discover the HOPE there is for a person like me, a person like you... a hope that brings PEACE, but also JOY.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.


I hope this Christmas... you discover the JOY that HOPE brings.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our HOPE for Peace

Christmas in Bethlehem...
Peace... seems to be a state that eludes our world.  It sometimes feels like we're on the brink, like it might break out then someone does something stupid and suddenly we find our selves on the brink... not of peace, but war.

Isn't it interesting that something we all want never comes?  Something everyone wishes for each year around this time seems just beyond our grasp... it leads one to wonder.

I've seen pictures of Christmas today in Bethlehem. Stars are a common decoration... and why not!  Isn't it sad that in the place where Jesus was born, the place where the baby Jesus entered our world, there is still so much violence?  Even as I write this post there is a fragile cease fire in the region.  How long will it last? I guess that explains our cry for peace.... it seems so rare. 

If you remember, it was just outside of Bethlehem where shepherds watched their flocks that angels showed up proclaiming: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests."   Just think... in Bethlehem the Prince of Peace arrived.. and unfortunately we're still searching for peace.

All over our town there are lights.  In one window I saw a simple star in the window... and I think in that is the secret of peace.  That star reminded me of the story of those wise guys that got lost on their way to Bethlehem because they didn't follow the star.  They were looking for the Prince of Peace and ended up in Jerusalem... I'd imagine they just figured when the star was obscured for whatever reason that Jerusalem was the logical next stop.  How wrong they were!

And that's our problem... we look everywhere but to HIM.  We look to the UN... or others who we think have the ability to bring peace... but like those wise guys we end up miles from where true peace can be found.  Isn't in fascinating that peace is found not in the halls of power, but in the fragility of a helpless babe.

The hope for peace in our world... is found in Jesus.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Expectant Hope

The Wicklow Gaol at Christmas!
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent... Christmas is coming!

There is a cautious realism in Ireland.  I wanted to say optimism, but the reality is there is very little of that... and with good reason.  Austerity has it's grip on this republic.  They're talking about cutting another chunk from the national budget and we're not talking pennies.  They're talking billions of euros.  Businesses are wondering what will happen when even more money is taken from the pockets of those who frequent their shop.  Homeowners are wondering where the funds will come to pay the property tax on their home, a home for which they owe much more than it's worth.  Meanwhile mums and Dads are wondering how they'll manage Christmas with all the expectations.  I mean reason suggests somethings got to give.  We already pay 23% VAT(sales tax) and they're talking about adding other revenue streams because the coffers of the government are still empty.  The HSE (the government health service) is also having to cut services and increase costs. It seems the very vulnerable will be hit hardest... again!  Even pensioners, those on fixed incomes, are now on the governments radar.  I recently read in the Wicklow Times a plea to shop local... or risk having NO local shops in the new year... and this was no idle threat.  The white flag is being waved! What else can one do? 

All this reminds me of some words in the Old Testament by Jeremiah.  He finds himself in jail.  Why?  He was predicting doom for Israel.  Babylon had them surrounded, the city was under siege.  It wasn't a matter if Jerusalem would fall, it was simply a matter of when.  In truth they already had... their king was a puppet of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  It was a dark time.  People in the city were tearing down their homes to repair a wall that would NOT hold. The only thing that happened is more people died.  It was over... the axe was at the root of the tree, the light was being snuffed out.  The promises of God, it seemed, were forgotten, the future had been hijacked by the enemy and the present was no gift.

It's into this scene that we hear these words from the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 33... words that remind us of what I read in a post by James Petticrew... "God always has the last word."

14“ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

       15“ ‘In those days and at that time
       I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
       he will do what is just and right in the land.
       16In those days Judah will be saved
       and Jerusalem will live in safety.
       This is the name by which it will be called:
       The LORD Our Righteous Savior."

I wish we could really grasp these words in the light they were first proclaimed... or should I say the darkness.  There was no cause for optimism.  The light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.  It was OVER!  The fat lady had sung. There was NO future.... all they had was the past.

And yet into this darkness, Jeremiah, from a jail cell, speaks of days coming... as a good thing.  Just think about that! He speaks of God fulfilling HIS promise.  Notice... it reads HE will fulfill the good promise... HE will make a righteous branch sprout from that dead stump.  HE will do what is just and right.  This was not about the people.  It was not their works of righteousness.

Something else, nothing changed in the moment Jeremiah proclaimed these words.  He remained in jail.  The Babylonians still surrounded the city...in fact the people to whom Jeremiah proclaimed these words were still destined for Babylon and captivity... BUT everything changed.  Jeremiah proclaimed HOPE... not the hope that wishes for sunshine instead of rain, but rather the hope that recognizes that ALL is well, because God is God.  The hope that leans into a future that WILL be, again because God is God & Jesus is Lord.

As I walk the streets of Wicklow... my heart is heavy for people at the end of their rope, businesses who have no cash and moms and dads who wonder how they'll provide for their families this Christmas.  It would be easy to hopeless, but I was reminded in this advent text that there is HOPE... even in despair, even what Christmas light can't cover up the problems.  And this hope is not found in anything or anyone but Christ.  Circumstances may be grim, you might be surrounded, the circumstances you face may be awful... but we can still be people of Hope.

HOW?  Because hope is not dependent on our circumstance or ourselves, but rather on the character of God.

Erich Fischer, the pastor of Greystones Nazarene recently shared with me an expression that is used by some in Germany when speaking of someone who is pregnant.... "in guter Hoffnung"  Loosely translated it means to be in good hope.

May we this Christmas be in good hope... expecting!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New things...

Have you ever noticed how new things grow?

You plant a seed and nothing.  You water… nothing.  You wait… nothing.
Then suddenly one day… out of the blue… when you're just about to give up hope it happens.

A small green shoot breaks through the dirt… new life begins…. or does it.  In many ways new life began long before we saw that shoot… long before there was any evidence declaring it's arrival. 

I remember as a child planting seeds in a class somewhere and celebrating when the first signs of life emerged.  I remember watching chicken eggs just sit under a heat lamp… until suddenly on that wonderful day baby chicks burst forth.  I remember when we found out we were going to have our first child… We danced around the house in celebration even though in what had been weeks leading up to that moment of confirmation… incredible things had been happening inside my wife's body… and we had NO clue.

We've begun to plant the church… some days my perspective is simply… NOTHING is happening.
And yet, I'm reminded from these musings and from something Reuben Welch used to say all the time… "When nothing is happening something is happening… because God is always working."  For as Reuben also would say, "Where God is most hidden… he is most revealed." 

I'm praying and fasting today… inviting God to speak into my life in some fresh way. 

I'm realizing that I'm always looking for some proof… some demonstration that what I'm about is making a difference.  I think God is telling me… Stephen… trust me.  "Open your eyes…. look at the fields, they're ripe for harvest."

Perhaps God has called you to invest in a life… and to date you've seen NOTHING to suggest you're making a difference… be encouraged.  God is working… even when we have NO clue.

Friday, October 5, 2012

leave your nets...

I have a sculpture.
It pictures the call of Peter.
It's a call to leave…
a call to follow.

Peter, a fisherman worked the sea…
casting nets… catching fish.
Then Jesus shows up and calls him to leave it all.
he calls him to walk away…. to follow…

All this on the heels of his greatest catch.
That must have been hard… I mean
it's easy to get caught in your nets.
it's hard to jump without a safety net, right?

Looking at the sculpture I cannot help but think about His call.
to leave the nets.
to trust in Him, instead of the nets.
How about you?


Do you hear the call…
The call to abandon yourself unto Him.
The call to get rid of those things that entangle you,
those things that keep you from His call.

Jesus clearly called Peter to leave it all…
even when he'd just hauled in his greatest catch.


Crazy… but it reminds me of Philip…
one of the other disciples.
He too was called by God
to leave a vibrant ministry in Samaria and to travel a desert road.

What might God be calling you and I to do?
I wonder… would He be calling us to drop our nets
I wonder… what entanglements keep us?
what fears hold us?

Let's not get caught up in the nets…
Let's follow Him… wherever He leads.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

God... in the storm!

If you look carefully, you'll notice a rainbow
The Irish sea is angry this morning... it's foaming and filled with whitecaps.  I went down to the harbour and stood out in the strong winds and watched the powerful waves breaking on our shore.  It was amazing.

I thought I'd share a couple of pictures and some thoughts I had while watching in amazement....





"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall in the the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam..." Psalm 46:1-3


Can you imagine walking that pier?






"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you..." Isaiah 43:1-2

Not bad words, huh?  Let's just say I left there encouraged and powerfully aware of HIS presence...


Oh that we would always have eyes to see the myriad of ways God is present in our world and in our lives.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

a CONSTANT... the Love of God for You!

It's time to cut the grass...again!
I'm sitting here watching the grass grow... actually I'm thinking about how I need to cut the grass.  It's amazing how fast it grows... It seems every time I turn around it needs cutting again.  I guess it has something to do with the great weather here in Ireland (i.e. liquid sunshine)  I was looking towards the horizon earlier today and all you could see was green fields with white dots (sheep) on them. Beautiful.  They call County Wicklow... the Garden of Ireland.... it's easy to see why.  It truly is amazing.

Anyway, back to the grass... did I mention that it needs cutting again, and then again!  It just keeps growing.  In fact, you'll even hear lawnmowers in the winter months.  It's a constant.

I was reading this morning in Romans 8 about how NOTHING can separate us from the love of God, nothing.  His love for me, for you... it's a constant.  There is NOTHING you can do to change it. So now as I sit here looking out into my back garden I cannot help but think, not so much about the constant need of our grass to be cut, but about God's constant love for me.

There's a problem... just about the time I decide to get out there and cut the grass it starts to rain....(yep, I just saw a drop of rain... what a shame) Just about the time I begin to embrace the truth that God loves me... I hear another voice giving reasons why this is too good to be true.

I've failed him more times than I can remember.
I've sinned... and not just yesterday.
I've allowed fear to hold me back... I know it's shameful.
I've withheld my love and instead offered judgment.

And yet Jesus loves me!  To be honest I don't understand... but in this mystery is the glory of the gospel.

Even as we rebel against his love... even as we allow sin mastery in my life.... He loved... he loves...

In fact, "at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6-8

So as you walk through this day, or as you lament having to cut the grass again... ponder this...

God loves YOU... really!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sign Up TODAY!

MISSION: IRELAND
Prayer Letter

September signals the beginning of so many things.  Generally our lives get busier and the routines more easily discerned as school starts for our children and new programs begin in the life of the church.  There is always a danger in these times… the danger of filling our lives without the leading of God, the danger of filling our lives with so much stuff that we have no room for God to work, and the danger of filling our lives with so much busyness that we miss the voice of our Lord.  Yet it's also a time filled with opportunity.  Over the next few weeks and months we see opportunities to become part of peoples lives, sharing the love of Jesus. 

This is the beginning of our September prayer letter.  Would you consider signing up and joining us through prayer.  All you have to do is simply go to our page "ways to partner" and then follow the link "praying for Ireland".  In your email subject line of the email simply write... ADD ME.  We'll add you a growing list of people who receive our monthly prayer letter.  Thanks!

There are so many things for which you'll be invited to join us in prayer...

Our family
Our community
Our friends & neighbours
Ted & Sarah Voigt
Greystones Nazarene

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Basically... we need YOU!

Blessings!

Steve & Annette






Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Prayer Walk...

I walked into town and as I walked I prayed.... I got thinking why don't you join me.  I took my camera and snaped some shots of what I saw as I walked.  Perhaps as you view them you could join me in praying for this place I call home.

Time to hit the foot path. Time to pray
Praying for commerce, for business men and women in town

Praying for those who make their living from the water...
Praying for our harbour and the fishermen.
Praying for "The Way Project" a group that helps in our community.
My Barber.... and a great place to buy flowers.  Praying for these businesses.
Praying for Anne Harris Jewelry & the Trim Bin





Praying for those driving our streets.... draw us to yourself. Lord!

Praying for our Wicklow Town Council and the services they provide.
Praying for the community
Praying for the places where people gather together.
One of our Pubs... where people gather together.

Praying for the variety of people who call Wicklow home... we have a sizable population from Eastern Europe.
Our Real Estate Market is suffering... I pray for my friend Eugene and the market.


I don't know if you can see.. but there are at least three butterflies in this picture.... In fact in one place I must have seen hundreds of them.  I was reminded of "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  What a prayer to pray!
Join us in praying for the homes and families of Wicklow...


Thank you Lord for reminders of your presence.... I just sat in this park that is located in the heart of our community and pondered God's presence in our lives... and in the midst of this community.












In this picture is a small child, a grandparent and a expectant mother... Lord work in their lives.





I pray for our Doctors, those who bring physical healing.



Would you bring healing to those who hurt in our community...



Lord.... would you open our eyes... would you bless your church in this community... may YOUR kingdom come in Wicklow!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sabbath Reflections...

Reaching... Remaining


34 Marlton Grove... our front garden
Tender shoots… vulnerable and alone
reaching for the sky, reaching to connect.
tender greens looking to the sun.
reaching into the unknown
in the grasp of unseen forces,
tossed back and forth by the wind
connected to the vine.
no struggle…
simply reaching out.

I see these tender shoots
I see myself…
reaching out, grasping…
longingly looking…
for connection,
for meaning in this new place
struggling against the wind,
against… I don't know what
sometimes feeling alone and vulnerable.

oh that I would remain connected to the vine.
oh that I would simply reach out, vulnerable…
yet never alone.
oh that I would allow the wind,
the wind of the spirit to guide me.
always remembering…

"I am the vine; you are the branches.  
If you remain in me and I in you, 
you will bear much fruit; 
apart from me you can do nothing."
Jesus

Friday, July 20, 2012

You... God's temple...

My imagination has been captured recently by something I read in my bible reading...

Do you remember the scene where Jesus cleanses the temple? We find him entering the temple in Jerusalem only to see him do… what at first seems crazy.  We see him with a whip, turning over tables, sending the merchants and bankers scurrying for the exits.  In all of this he commands the attention of the people who are coming and going.  Jesus is angry.  We call it righteous indignation, but it's raw anger none the less.  Jesus is ticked off.  He's had it.  He’s angry with what he sees.  He proclaims at one point how they’re turning a place of prayer into a place of deception and deceit… a den of robbers.

Someone suggested it was a Monday when all this took place… but that’s not the reason he goes off.  If you go back to the very first temple, King David was told this temple would be the seat of divine presence among the people.  It would be where His glory would rest.  I especially love the picture we find painted in Isaiah’s encounter with God recorded in Isaiah 6.  The temple was filled with smoke.  The thresholds shook and the whole place was filled with God.  It scared Isaiah to death.  He thought it was over or that at least his life was done… yet in the midst of his holy, awesome presence we see a picture of grace as an angel lifts a coal from the altar touching the prophet on the lips and cleansing him of all guilt.

This was the same temple that Jesus enters to discover money changers and people buying and selling.  No wonder Jesus was angry.  No wonder he threw out those who were turning that place into something much LESS.  Can you see him wielding a whip?

I think somewhere in the depths of my psyche I like it.  Jesus getting angry… it’s about time, right?  After all there is SO much hypocrisy… so many lies.  I understand Jesus is meek and mild, but there has to be an end to it, right?  There is a moment when you get ANGRY… at least I find myself feeling that way.
Yet while I love the picture of Jesus with the whip I also struggle with it.

Before I explain do you remember these words…

YOU yourselves are God’s temple…. God’s Spirit dwells in your midst.

Or these words from the pen of Paul to the church in Ephesus...

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Maybe you’re already grasping where I’m going with this… or should I say where God took me.  You see I find myself wondering what God might do on entering our temple, on entering my scene.  Would he be angry, disappointed?  Suddenly the image of Jesus wielding a whip is not so attractive.

I wonder do we allow things in our “bodies” our “temple” our “community of faith” that Jesus would take a whip to?  Do we allow thoughts, attitudes, actions in our lives that destroys the work of God; that make us into a den of iniquity instead of a house of prayer?  Suddenly I find myself looking for the angel with those tongs carrying the coal of fire from the altar.  Suddenly I’m very aware of my own sin.  Suddenly I’m aware of HIS presence and thankful for His mercy and grace.  This really is the seat of divine presence.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

GO Team...

Have you ever pondered how Paul did ministry?  He was a missionary, a catylst, a starter.  Yet the idea that he did this alone is ludicrous.  Just the other day I was reminded again of this fact.  I was studying Colossians.  If you go to the end of that short letter, you'll discover a host of individuals who are mentioned by Paul.

For whatever reason we have seen Paul as a lone ranger, someone who blazed the trail all by himself.  Yet the reality is even on his missionary journey's he was surrounded by a great team, and I'm not just talking about those on the road with him.

We probably think of people like Barnabas, John Mark, Luke, Timothy, Silas...  Yet think about it, what about the church at Philippi? Or the brothers and sisters at Antioch?  Paul was not a loner by any stretch of the imagination.  Truth is the mission of God is bigger than any one person.

We just returned from a time of deputation.  I reported, preached, shared in a number of local congregations.  I shared the story of what God has been doing... the vision he is birthing in our hearts.  Yet the reality is it was not MY report... it was our report.  There are SO many who have already come alongside us in ministry.  I think of the church at Hillsboro, Oregon.  They've entered into a partnership with us,we skype with us, we pray together, and they bless us.  I think of Oregon City Nazarene... and myriad of ways they have blessed us since our arrival in Ireland.  I think of Richland Nazarene... what an incredible group who got behind their pastor and SENT him and his family.  I think of new relationships that were formed with Victoria First Nazarene, Gateway, Whitehorse, Wildomar and Penticton. I think of Ephrata, Sunnyside, Countryside and Tillamook.(by the way they have more than good cheese... there are some wonderful people there who believe in the call to cross barriers whether in their own community or even in Ireland.  I think of Canby, Pasco, and Lakeside.  I could go on... I probably should.  There are SO many.  YOU are or can be a part of what God is doing.

I think of a great church that gives to the World Evangelism Fund - the fund that provides the foundation of our support.  2 Million Nazarenes supporting us in their giving.  I think of individuals who give monthly to support our placement here in Ireland.  I think of Virginia West and the great group that join her in praying for us and many others.  Ministry is NOT something we do alone.  God works in teams.  Think about this.  Jesus came to earth to walk amongst us, and die for our sin... but even HE didn't come alone.  All along the journey you see the Holy Spirit coming close, the affirmation of God... even the presence of angels.

What am I saying?  I believe God is putting together a great team here in Ireland.  I'm glad!  Why?  Partly because I don't have what it takes, but also because I believe God works best with people who come together with Him - the church.

If you haven't heard.  Ted & Sarah Voigt will be joining us here in Ireland in the fall.  They will be joining us, having served in Richland, Washington... Sarah was pastor of Children and Families there.  They also served in Paraguay prior to that assignment.  We're excited to have them come on board.  You can follow their unfolding story at www.voigtsandme.com. They need our prayer and support.

I'm also praying about the development of church partnerships, district partnerships and of course partnerships with individuals.  You see I'm discovering that what God is calling us to do is beyond our ability and resources.  Go figure! The Great Commission is indeed GREAT, overwhelming.  It's something that requires the investment and participation of the whole church.  God needs YOU to join HIM in what He is doing... where you live and I pray where God has place us here in Ireland.  I believe God is wanting to put together a team that will help us reach Ireland. We need people who will come alongside us physically, in prayer and financially.  I wonder... might YOU be a part of our team?

Now is the time!  We believe God has given us a window of opportunity.  Today... the doors are open.  I wonder might God be speaking to YOU about joining with us.  I think of Philippi and how they came alongside Paul, enabling him to do what alone he could NEVER have accomplished.  WOW!  Could you or your church do the same?  I think of Luke and how he supported Paul, could you do the same?

We believe that as God has given us HIS vision, he will put together HIS team.  Join us in praying, and if God taps you on the shoulder, email us at partnerships@missioneire.com.  We'd love to hear from you.  Who knows what God might do!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Margins...

A beautiful narrow two-way road in Co. Wicklow Ireland
I just finished reading a post by Verne Ward.  His post (with his permission) is found below mine and attached to this post. He was speaking about margins.... it got me thinking.

Prior to our arrival in Ireland I pastored for 20 years.  Each week I would prepare at least one message.  My habit was to take a yellow pad and at some point in my study to jot down an outline with some notes.  As I continued to think I would fill in the outline, adding illustrations, thoughts, and ideas.  It always amazed me on looking back at my note pad how the best thoughts could often be found in the margins.  We all need to live with margins in our lives.

A number of years ago I was reading a book by Richard Swenson, M.D.  The books title is Margins.... He was speaking about the need to restore emotional, physical, time and financial reserves in our lives - margins!  As I was reading the post by Verne Ward... I could not help but think about this book... and how vital it is we have margins in our lives for our own health, but how we also need them in ministry... space where God can work in ways we'd never imagine.  It's true we all need to live with margins in our lives.

I've already mentioned how I was a pastor for 20 years prior to our move to Ireland.  Can I confess something to you? Much of my life lacked any real margins.  My life was so full I didn't have time for so many things.  I didn't have time for my neighbors.  I didn't have time for casual conversations in the store.  I was driven.... I was always going somewhere to do something.  On arriving in Ireland I found myself in a very different place.  I didn't have a congregation.  I didn't have a sermon to prepare.  I didn't have meetings to attend.  I struggled.  I was so used to going from meeting to meeting from responsibility to responsibility that I felt I was doing nothing.  I found myself missing those things.  I know I'm crazy!  We've now been here a year and some of those things are creeping back into my life... BUT I am resolving to maintain some good margins in my life.

We've been in Ireland just over a year now and I'm finally getting comfortable on those narrow roads.  You might say they have NO margins - there's certainly no room for error.  While I may be getting use to driving these narrow roads... I never want to embrace a life without margins again.  Why?  Because so often it's in the margins that GOD does His best work.  In those place you'd never imagine.  In those conversations you didn't engineer, but which just happened... that HE works.

How are the margins in YOUR life? 

Why not determine to create some space where God might do something you'd never imagine?  Wondering what I'm talking about?  Read Verne Ward's post below as he shares a story about life in the margins for he and his wife, Natalie...


Living with margins
When we lived in Singapore, a city of 5.2 million people on a very small island, we shared our personal space with strangers regularly. Even so, it’s not easy to strike up a conversation with someone during daily commutes by train or bus. We quickly learned the importance of building open margins into our day and our schedules, so we could take time to notice people and talk to them if God gave us the opportunity.

One day, Natalie was on a crowded train, standing close to a young woman who was wearing the dark, shapeless, full covering of her traditional religion. Natalie noticed a bright splash of red peeking out from the hem and said to the woman, “Your shoes are beautiful!”

The woman’s eyes brightened and she thanked Natalie for the compliment. Natalie asked what the woman was doing in Singapore, and learned that she and her husband were newlyweds who had just moved to Singapore for his work.

“Congratulations!” Natalie said.

“Thank you,” the woman said. “How long have you been married?

My wife answered, “Thirty-three years.”

The woman was impressed, saying, “That’s a long time.”

“Our marriage gets better all the time, and I love my husband more now than the day we got married,” Natalie remarked.

“It’s not like that for us,” the woman replied. “Sometimes I get very angry with my husband.”

Natalie smiled and replied, “I get very angry with my husband, too.”

“What do you do when you are angry?” the woman asked.

“Usually I just stop and pray, asking God to help me be the woman He wants me to be, and in my anger that I would not do anything He would be displeased with.”

In a rush of emotion, the woman took hold of Natalie and said, “I could learn so much from you.”

They exchanged contact information and soon they were meeting regularly to talk about marriage and living a life pleasing to God. Eventually, I met her husband and we became good friends, too.

Now we live in Kansas and our friends have moved to California, but our story has not ended. We remain in touch and visit when we can. The young man and I exchange encouraging text messages, and we have tried to help them understand U.S. culture, and to overcome their fears about moving here. Natalie and I pray for them often.

Margin in our lives is required to be able to respond to Him in obedience when He puts opportunities for Christ-honoring relationships in our path.

Verne Ward III

Global Mission Director
Church of the Nazarene
 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

GREATER EXPECTATIONS!!!

One year ago we arrived in Ireland.  12 months have passed, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes... and some incredible moments.

It's time to reflect back on the year that has been.

What an incredible year.  We've seen some incredible answers to prayer.  We've seen God provide in some wonderful ways.

If you've been praying with us you know the obstacles and challenges we have faced.  Yet at every turn we have discovered God to be "our very present help in trouble".  He is SO faithful.

You might say that God has surpassed our expectations, again!  We really shouldn't be surprised, but we always are... Why?  I think it has to do with our limited expectations.

Allow me to explain... We live in a world where spoken and often unspoken expectations overwhelm.  Someone proclaims LeBron James the second coming of Michael Jordan before he even stepped on a court.  Someone proclaimed Wayne Rooney the saviour of English Football before his career even really got started.

Yet for the myriad of ways we expect great things... we so often fall short when it comes to God, really!

We arrived in Wicklow knowing NO ONE, except our real estate agent.  Yet this past week I shock hands with the mayor of our town and he called me by name.  Amazing.  I've got to know countless individuals and look forward to meeting many more. God is working... we see it in the relationships that are being formed and the wonderful friends we're making in our community.

What I'm trying to say is we need to get away from OUR expectations... why?  Because as BIG as we might imagine them to be they're NOTHING compared to God's GREAT EXPECTATIONS  Just ask Moses.... Moses you'll lead my people out of Egypt... are you crazy?  Moses expectations didn't meet God's.(see Ex 3 & 4)

I don't know what our second year holds for us here in Ireland, but I do know this.  It is God who holds us. 

God is helping us... to let go of our expectations... and to embrace HIM.
HE is opening doors.
HE is helping us build relationships.
As we begin year two there is a sense of anticipation... because the future is bright with God.

Join us! Or should I say, join Him!

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" Eph 3:20-21






Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Call for Shortsighted Ministry!


If you're wondering why this blog post is written in such large letters... you'll soon understand.

Have you ever missed something that was right in front of you?

I remember attending PLNU... if you haven't been there you've missed out.  Besides being a great school, it sits on some of the most incredible real estate in the world.  The views of the Pacific are amazing.  Anyway... I remember walking out of the library as a junior(3rd year student), I was talking with a brand new student.  They stopped, I kept on walking.  They were marveling at the colours of the sunset.  If they'd not been there I'd have missed it... even as it was right in front of me.  It's so easy to miss what or who is right in front of us, our family, our friends... GOD!


Lord, help us!

The other day I walked into town, again asking God what our ministry should look like in this place.  In less than an hour I was standing on the street with a bucket collecting monies for MS.  As I stood watching the people pass by, some eager to help... I began wondering how I'd ended up with a bucket in my hands.  I entered into a conversation with one of the officers who gives tickets to cars parked illegally.  I received monies from a lady who had just buried her sister... she'd died from MS.  But, why was I there?  The short answer: I'd been asked to help... and I thought why not... the better answer has to do with the opening question of my blog.  You see I don't want to miss the people who were right in front of me.

I believe ministry starts with who and what is right in front of us.  Ministry needs to be short sighted.  That's right!  Short sighted.

This has become real to me in recent months as I'm finding it harder to see things close up.  You might say, my eyes are struggling to see clearly what's right in front of me - my arms are just not long enough... if you know what I mean.  While this is troubling for me... it's not life and death.  There are bifocals.  You can get reading glasses.  I'm resisting for now. I just bought a large print bible, BUT it doesn't look like a large print bible... Oh vanity!

Anyway, while not seeing what's right in front of you is NOT the end of the world, it might be for ministry.  You see ministry shouldn't ignore those who are right in front of us, should it?

Maybe you're thinking this is a little counter intuitive for a missionary.  After all missions is about crossing barriers... which seems to signify distance.  While there may be some truth to that, the reality is missions is fundamentally incarnational; it's about entering the lives of people. And we can ONLY enter the lives of those who are right in front of us... Oh to be shortsighted!

Lord, help us!

I wonder... are you shortsighted? 

Oh... we arrived back in Ireland only to find out that we needed to find a new place to live. The owners of our current home want back in... and who can blame them.  Anyway... you'll never guess where we found a place... it was right in front of us... actually right across the street.  Maybe it is good to be shortsighted!  I'm just sayin...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"I'm doing a new thing..." God

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
I've been thinking recently... which is always dangerous.  I've been thinking about something Jesus said, and I'm left wondering what it all means.

Jesus had been in the home of Matthew with a crowd that caused quite a stir amongst the religious community of the day... it seems Jesus was hanging with sinners! Can you believe it?  Moments later some of the religious establishment questioned the religious practices of the disciples of Jesus, evidently they weren't fasting... a real problem, at least to some.

Jesus shares that perhaps then was NOT the time to fast.... then he spoke using a parable.  He spoke of a garment needing a patch and some new wine needing a new wineskin.  It's these words that I cannot get away from.  They're challenging my thinking.  Listen to them,

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

As I look around the church today I believe God is doing a new thing.  What exactly does that mean though?  Is it a call to disregard the past?  Perhaps Luke's telling of this parable might help us.  In Luke, Jesus, at the end of this parable, shares... "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ ”  Immediately we begin talking about Jesus doing a new thing there are those who suggest we're dishing the past.  However in this parable for all the talk of the need for a new vessel... Jesus still suggests the OLD is better.  Go figure!

So what is Jesus suggesting?   Let me start by saying I'm not sure!  In fact if you're looking for answers you've come to the wrong place.  I look at the context and see the establishment of the day struggling to fit what Jesus is doing in the box of their own religious experience.  Their understanding of worked out faith doesn't mesh with what they see in Jesus. 

Fasting was a vital part of the Jewish faith.  It was one of the three pillars of expressed religion... and eating with sinners would leave one unclean... unable to enter the temple, the very presence of the Almighty God.  This was serious.  They were certainly not being flippant.  And yet Jesus responds by telling a parable... a parable that suggests that what God is doing won't fit into the vessel they've crafted.  So what is this new thing God longs to do?

Again, I'm not sure... perhaps it's too early to tell, or perhaps I'm to close to see it... I simply know this: God is doing a new thing!  He's stirring the heart of his church!  He's stirring my heart.  I've been in ministry for just over 20 years and I"m realizing I can no longer do ministry the way I've always done it.  I bought the whole church growth movement.  I swallowed... hook, line and sinker... the call to build the church.(As if I could...) 

I can't do it any longer or to put it another way... I'm realizing the futility of ME building the church.  We've come to Ireland... our task... plant the church. Don't get me wrong I'm more convinced than ever that God is wanting to build HIS church.... but did you notice the difference.  HE will build HIS church.  This leaves me with two questions.... First, what will this church look like?  And secondly, what am I called to do?

Let's be honest, if God is doing the building... perhaps I don't have the control I thought I had.... perhaps I should simply get out of the way and allow God to do what HE is going to do... remember even the gates of Hades cannot prevail against the church.

So what should I be about? I keep going back to the words of Paul... "now YOU are the body of Christ (the church) and each one of you is a part of it." 1Cor 12:27  We have a part to play... remembering that it is Jesus who said, "I will build my church... in other wrods we're NOT in control, we're NOT in charge... we're simply called to follow.  The question becomes about where?  Where is HE leading?

Jerry Porter, at a recent meeting I attended in Glasgow Scotland challenged us to plant churches... this in a city full of steeples and incredible churches.  This, in a part of the world that has been saturated with the church.  What was he talking about?  I think he was talking about the NEW things God is doing, even in Europe... a new thing that has nothing to do with what we've made church about in recent past.

We've made church about buildings and facility.  We've made church about talent and money.  We've made church about programs and numbers... when in reality all those things are simply products of what the church really is all about.  You see the church is not about buildings, or programs or money or talent... it's about people who yield their lives to God and who share HIS love with others.  We've been called to plant the church in Ireland... guess what there are plenty of churches in this land of 'Saints and Scholars'.... they don't need another building, another program.... what they need is Jesus.

Much of the church has got out of the church planting business because we couldn't afford it, because we didn't have the right talent or enough money... perhaps God is wanting to do a new thing... perhaps God is wanting to get away from the programs and power... perhaps he's looking for people like YOU and ME... who are willing to walk across the street and share HIS love, by being very present in people's lives...

I've recently been reading from a book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, it's called "The Tangible Kingdom" in it they quote Henri Nouwen who shares some words that capture what I'm feeling.  Listen to them.

"More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball and be known as someone who wants to live with them.  It is a privilege to have the time to practice the simply ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.  My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets.... but I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own and to let them know with words, handshakes and hugs that you do not simply like them - but truly love them."

Maybe Jerry Porter is on to something...maybe church planting is NOT about buildings, programs, the talent we think we need or even the money we don't have... maybe it's about YOU and ME sharing the love of Jesus.

What do you think?   I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Step by Step...

I've been in the states for the last six weeks sharing about our journey in Ireland, meeting new people, catching up with old friends... and in the midst of this journey God is speaking into my life about something, something that is changing me.  I guess you might say I'm learning something... go figure!

Let me start by asking a question.  When do great things happen?  When are lives changed? 

My mind goes to moments like these: Moses at the burning bush.  Paul on the road to Damascus.  Those were significant moments...great moments.  Yet I'm learning that great moments can happen in places and ways we'd never imagine.  They can happen through things that we might see as insignificant or even mundane.  Allow me to explain.

Someone shared how a conversation we'd had around a kitchen table had impacted them... they remembered it like it was yesterday, and I remembered NOTHING!  Another individual came up to me this last week and shared how a phone conversation I'd had with them changed their life.... The crazy thing was I didn't even remember it, even when they described it in detail... not even a faint recollection.  I missed it, or did I?

You'd think we'd be aware when something significant was happening or about to happen, right?  You'd think we'd know when we're being used of God.  Yet even as I missed it... I really didn't.  I was present in the life of another and God was there too.

I'm coming to see in more vivid ways that we often make ministry about BIG stuff.  We think ministry happens on Easter Sunday... or on Sunday, period. Those of us in "professional" ministers...whatever that means... even think we can orchestrate the movements and action of God in the life of another.  Pretty funny when you think about it.  Yet all through these last six weeks I've been reminded that God often uses insignificant and mundane things and moments to do radical work in the lives of people.

To be honest, I sometimes struggle because I feel what I'm doing is SO insignificant. I'm in Ireland and I'm simply walking into people's lives, something anyone could do.  No great skill required. And yet, I'm coming to understand that EVERY moment, EVERY step, EVERY seemingly insignificant action can be filled with God's presence and used for HIS kingdom sake, no matter how insignificant it might seem. 

As Paul states in Colossians 3:17  "Whatever you do, whether in word of deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Let's embrace God in EVERY moment and place... who knows what will happen!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The incarnation & the Cross...

Missions is about incarnational living... it's about enter the life of another with the love of God. 

Most of the time when we think of incarnation we think of Christmas... not Easter.  Let's face it, the manger scene is a much more tranquil picture of what we'd like incarnational living to be about.

Yet I was reading Philippians and read again the Kenosis Passage, the hymn we find in chapter two...

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
       Who, being in very nature God,
       did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
       rather, he made himself nothing
       by taking the very nature of a servant,
       being made in human likeness.
       And being found in appearance as a human being,
       he humbled himself
       by becoming obedient to death—
       even death on a cross!


These words are a powerful picture of what incarnation is all about.  As I read them on this Maundy Thursday, I cannot help but lift my voice in praise to a God who came ALL the way into MY world.  But, remember, we're called to live out His incarnation in our own lives.  The question becomes: what does that look like where I live?  What does that look like as I seek to enter the community where God has placed me?... as I seek to be missional in my world, in my community?

Perhaps these words from 1John can help us... or at least stir our imagination... leading us again to wonder.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  If anyone of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?"

Lord, help me to enter into my world as you entered into mine.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An IDEA for St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day is almost here.  It's a celebration that reaches beyond the shores of Ireland all around the world.  Many will wear green, eat Corned Beef and Cabbage and drink beverages, some that are green in color.  It's a great day to think, pray and reflect on Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day is named after the man who was used of God to bring the gospel to the Irish people.  He came and walked among the people of Ireland and many lives were transformed. 

On this St. Patrick's Day would you make MISSION: Ireland a part of your celebration.

ONE
Pray for the nation of Ireland, it's leaders and it's people.
Pray for the church in Ireland, that we would be the incarnational representatives of Christ in this land.
Pray for us, Stephen & Annette, as we seek to minister in this nation, planting the Church of the Nazarene.

TWO
Give to missions in your local church, allowing them to participate in the Great Commission.
Give to MISSION: Ireland HERE!
Give some food to a local compassionate ministry.

THREE
Invite a neighbor or coworker to share a cup of tea, or other drink... share life together.
Reflect on St. Patrick's call to walk among the people of Ireland, and ask God who he is calling YOU to walk among!
Wear GREEN to church the next day and invite others to join you in praying for Ireland.

May God bless you & may God bless the people of Ireland.

Steve & Annette

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sharing your faith...

what does evangelism look like?
what posture should it take?

I remember being told that you better be ready to "do" evangelism.  They would quote 1 Peter 3:15 which shares how we should, "always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you." 

Maybe the thought that enters your mind as it did mine was simply... when will they ask?

It's a good question, actually it's a great question. 

Peter understood that if we embody the message, living out our faith... questions will come. By the way, this is NOT a cop out!  I'm not suggesting we just sit around and do nothing... actually I'm suggesting we get busy.  I'm suggesting we do something that calls for an incredible investment.  After all people need Jesus, they need hope, they need peace.  What I believe God calls us to do is over the top.

In case you're getting worried, I'm NOT talking about buying a bullhorn and heading to the corner of a busy street.  I'm not talking about buying a bunch of tracts and leaving them on the tables of those places you frequent for lunch or dinner.  I'm not even talking about knocking on doors in your neighborhood to tell them about Jesus. I'm talking about something that will require SO much more of you.  I'm talking about something that will take more than a few minutes of your time. I'm talking about something that will call on you to give everything.

As we've moved to Ireland we've been confronted with the call to make disciples in the nations.  Everyday we think about this calling, this mandate, this challenge.  These are critical days... we must find ways to share the good news, right?  So what do we do?  What is it that God would call us to...that is harder than knocking on doors, leaving tracts, or buying a bullhorn?

I think the answer can be wrapped up in one word... Incarnational.

Now before you think I've gone all theological on you allow me to explain.  This great word informs our evangelism in ways we often miss.   Anyone remember the great commission?  How does it go? 

"Go and make disciples of all nations..."

This call to go implies movement... yet consider this... we're not called to do anything that God has not already done.  Just consider the incarnation.  When we think of the incarnation we think of Christmas.  We think of God entering human flesh and walking among us.  As it states so clearly in John... "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." John 1:14

Do understand what this means?  God didn't put his message on billboards or in a commercial, HE entered our world.  He actually sat and ate meals with people in the first century, he drank from their wells, walked their dusty streets, and caught their colds.  What am I saying?  He entered their lives.  The Son of God, shared life with the people he had come to save.  He did so much more than bring a message, He WAS the message. 

I think God is calling us to do the same thing.  He is calling us to enter the lives of those around us, to spend time with them, to love them, to become their friends... in short to walk the road of life with them.  As Paul shares in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, 

"We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." 1Thess 2:8

I think that's it!  We make evangelism into a program of the church, something we do... when in reality evangelism should simply flow from the love of Christ that is in us.  It's SO much harder than standing on a street corner and letting people know their lost.  It's about entering lives, getting our hands dirty and loving people where they find themselves.  It's about being there when they need a friend, it's about seeing them as individuals, not projects.

We have come to Ireland... and we're in the process of getting to know people.  We're graciously being invited to be a part of some of the lives we're meeting... but they are NOT projects, they are becoming our friends... some who need Jesus, but friends none the less.  We want to be part of their lives and in turn for them to be part of ours.  As you do, you'll discover why Peter was so convinced that we "always be ready..."

When was the last time you were asked?  If it's been too long, put down the bullhorn and pick up the phone... ask a neighbor over for dinner... no agenda just dinner.  Let God use you like NEVER before!