Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm a teacher!

This is the first post I've done in a couple of years. The honest truth is that for a long time it didn't feel like anything in my life was happening. But God's been faithful and been providing for me. I've had great opportunities to get involved with things in my home church since I moved back up to the San Francisco Bay area a couple of years ago. I started working as a substitute teacher at The King's Academy and Fremont Christian High School, and have had many opportunities to build connections with the faculty, staff, and students at both schools. So as great as that has been, something new has come up. On to the big announcement.

I finally got a job as a Bible teacher!

Now, before you get *too* excited, it's really only part time. It's at a small school called Live Oak Academy, which is an outgrowth of a home-schooling co-op. (http://www.liveoakacademy.org/) I'll be teaching a Biblical Exegesis class for freshman, twice a week. Even though it's not a full-fledged position, this is exactly the kind of thing I've been wanting to teach. I'm still going through new teacher training right now, and getting the lesson plans and curriculum together. What's also great about this is I can keep subbing at King's and Fremont during the times I'm not teaching at Live Oak. I'm super excited for this to start and to see what God does with this unique opportunity.

I may start using this blog as part of my class to engage in discussion with students or post topics that arise which I can't directly address in class. Should be interesting. Again, I'm so excited that God has opened this door and provided this awesome opportunity!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bret and Lucie's Wedding!!

Now that I have some down time, I figured it’s time to blog about my brother’s wedding. It was this last Saturday, and it was an incredible event! My brother (Bret) has been living in Prague, Czech Republic for roughly the last 6 years. During most of that time, he’s been dating a very sweet Czech girl named Lucie Fricova. Almost every time we’ve seen Bret when we’ve traveled to Europe or when he’s flown home, we’ve seen Lucie as well, and thus have had many opportunities to get to know her. She’s an incredible person, so we were excited and supportive of Bret when he told us that he proposed to her last Valentine’s Day. Well, the day came yesterday, and it was a great celebration.

We arrived in Prague about 5 days before the wedding, and spent time doing a combination of sight-seeing and helping Bret and Lucie with various items to prepare for the wedding (mainly my dad and I getting fitted for our tuxes with Bret, but there were other small things). This was our third trip to Prague, so we didn’t feel the need to do a whole lot of sight-seeing around, but it is an incredible city, and I highly recommend anyone go to visit. Most of my extended family was not able to come, other than my oldest aunt and uncle from PA. But many of my parents friends from their care group/bible study from PCC were able to come out! We were joined by Don and Marian Block, Bill and Ute Hayes, and Phyllis Brown. All of our actual relatives are in the Midwest and on the East coast, so these other folks are like a second family to Bret and I, so it was wonderful to have them there to celebrate.

Prague Castle

My dad and I with the Prague Golem
Tyn Church in Old Town Square

My parents and I

Dinner with Lucie's family

The wedding itself was at a castle about an hour’s drive outside of Prague in a place called Krivoklat. It was the first day-trip date that Bret and Lucie went on together, so it was a fitting location for them to get married. It’s a small charming town, and the castle is very cool (most of us were able to get a great tour of the castle the morning of the wedding). They got married on a pathway on one side of the castle, underneath an archway. While the weather wasn’t the greatest at the start of the day, the clouds and wind mostly cleared up by the time of the wedding, so it was very nice and comfortable outside. Lucie looked beautiful, and all of us were incredibly joyful about the whole thing.

Some shots of Krivoklat Castle

The happy couple

We could take James Bond on!!

Czech weddings are quite interesting. The Czech Republic is predominantly atheist, which is ironic considering how many cathedrals there are in Prague. Like most of Europe, they have a very rich religious history, but Communism really does do a lot to wipe out any sentimentality towards religion or spirituality. I often explain that in the US, most people will say they’re spiritual or that they believe in God. In the Czech Republic, people aren’t even all that spiritual. Most don’t bother to take the time to have any concept of God, let alone Jesus. The worldview is really simple – just enjoy life and be a good person. It will probably be another generation or two before any sense of spiritual renewal among Czechs becomes prominent. Needless to say, Lucie is an atheist, and Bret likewise doesn’t have any faith beliefs or practices that are part of his life. So, when they asked me to speak at their wedding, I knew it was going to be a unique experience.

Because of the lack of religion, the typical Czech wedding is more about the legal issues of marriage than anything else. Love and relationships are definitely talked about, but what’s most highlighted are the legal bindings of marriage. The person that performs the ceremony is a registrar who works for the government, someone who has no personal relationship with the bride and groom. But Bret and Lucie wanted their wedding to be more substantial, which I think is part of the reason why they asked me to speak. The wedding was done with a translator, and I spoke in between the portions where the registrar spoke.

Bret and Lucie asked me speak at their wedding maybe 6 months or so ago, so my ideas for what to say had been marinating in my mind for a long time. I told Bret that out of my own personal convictions, I had to talk about God in my message. I didn’t mention Jesus, but I talked about how God has created us to love and be in loving relationships, and that God helps us to love when we fall short (if you want to read my message, it’s posted here). Finally about a week before we left for Europe, I sat down to write the wedding homily, and emailed it off to Bret and Lucie to make sure it met their approval. They approved the first draft, absolutely loving it! I was amazed, as I expected that I would have to write 2 or 3 more drafts. Lots of prayer went into the writing, my speaking, and ultimately into how it was received by everyone, but particularly Bret and Lucie. Thanks to all of you who were praying about this, the fruit of it came through incredibly! Everybody enjoyed the message, as I received a lot of encouraging compliments from our friends and family, and from many of Bret and Lucie’s friends and family. During the reception afterwards, I definitely had a lot of fun but interesting conversations with people about Christianity, but more about my desire to be a youth pastor. Most people there think I want to be a priest!

After the ceremony, we moved on to take pictures in the castle courtyard and then the reception. The family and wedding party had a special dinner separate from everyone else. We had a fabulous dinner, but the rest of the guests’ buffet options looked quite good as well (they were slow roasting a whole pig and served it!) During our dinner, Bret and Lucie had to eat the soup out of the same bowl, and had a large bib wrapped around both of them! I guess that’s the Czech version of the bride and groom feeding cake to each other. It was pretty funny. Both my dad and my uncle gave toasts, but who knows if Lucie’s family understood or not (the translator from the ceremony said his job was done for the day!).

Eating soup with a giant bib!

Cutting the cake

After cake, the dancing began. Bret and Lucie’s choice in music was also interesting, because Bret’s not really a fan of mainstream pop or rock and roll music (mostly industrial, electronic, and drum & bass). He loves DJ-ing, and had one of his friends run the music. Not too many of the songs were really dancing songs, but Bret and Lucie and others managed to work with it. Early on, they played a few traditional Czech polka songs, and a man who was a longtime friend of Lucie’s family was a very good dancer. Bret and Lucie, meanwhile, faked it, and then polka’d right out of the room together!

Various dancing shots. Can you tell which ones are the polka ones?

I like this one in particular.

Another Czech tradition that is unique to us is the kidnapping and ransoming of the bride. At some point in the evening, the groom’s friends kidnap the bride, take her to a bar or pub and begin to get her drunk with a bunch of shots. The groom has to come find her and pay the tab to “ransom” her back. Fortunately, Bret knew about the tradition, and only noticed Lucie was gone after about 20 minutes or so. And because Krivoklat is a really small town, there were only two or three possible places where she could be. So they found her pretty quickly before the tab got too expensive!

Sorry that this is such a long post, but it was quite a day, and worth taking the time to tell of the highlights and how special it was. I know for me, it was a great day to see my brother and Lucie get married, as they truly are in love with each other. I’m confident that God spoke and said what needed to be said. I’m thankful for all the encouragement and affirmations I received from my friends and family. I even got to pray for Bret before the ceremony started, something I haven’t done with him for a VERY long time. Everything turned out great, and I’m thankful that God provided and guided and spoke through the whole thing. Who knows, maybe God planted a few seeds in Bret and Lucie’s hearts and minds. Keep praying for them to come to know Jesus. I confess I’ve had my doubts in the past (and sometimes still do) but am hopeful nevertheless.

Bret and Lucie Wedding Message

This was the message that I gave when I spoke at my brother's wedding:

Friends and Family,

We are gathered here today to celebrate Bret and Lucie as they enter a new stage of life together in the bonds of marriage. They have chosen to marry each other because of their great love for each other, because of the commitment to each other, and because they wish to declare their love in the presence of those closest to them. Their relationship has been quite a journey, hasn’t it? Can you believe, Bret, that it has only been about 6 years since you decided to leave everything familiar in the United States and come here to Prague to begin a new stage in life? Did you ever expect that it would lead you here, to marry the woman who has not only become the love of your life, but whom also has become your best friend? Probably not, I assume. Or Lucie, did you ever think that you would fall in love with an American aspiring-artist-turned English teacher? Maybe, maybe not, some people aim very high!

Nevertheless these two found each other. And what has been amazing about their relationship is their commitment that they have demonstrated to each other even from the earliest stages. The quality about Lucie that Bret always pointed out from early on was how sweet and kind Lucie is, and how she desires to take care of people in need, doing so with a grateful heart. There’s a reason she enjoys her work with Unicef. She wouldn’t be so good at it if it she didn’t care so deeply about helping people around the world in need. Their first meeting late one night at a bar in Prague speaks to that caring quality of hers. My parents and I have never learned the full extent of Bret’s (*cough*) state of mind that night, and something tells me we never will! Bret was still new to Prague and had yet to fully learn his way around the city, particularly how to get back home. But Lucie clearly saw that Bret was in no condition to take care of himself that evening. So she did what came natural to her – stepped in and gave a caring hand by opening up her home for him to stay for the night. And after encountering each other enough times after that, their dating relationship began.

Bret also demonstrated a commitment to Lucie early on. When Lucie began having some health problems, Bret stood by her to make sure that she was being taken care of properly. I don’t think they had been seeing each for that long, or if their ability to speak in English to each other was very developed. Bret has often joked with us how Lucie’s English improved significantly in their time together, but his Czech was much farther behind. But Bret knew that Lucie needed someone to help her through her sudden changes. And in the long run, they have helped each other become better people, ultimately learning to love each other through the different seasons of life.

You see my dear friends, we are created to love each other. With all my heart, I believe that God has created each person on this planet with the desire and the capacity to love. It is why we need our families, why we need a community of friendships. God has created us to love, and calls us to show that love in real, tangible ways. We are God’s creation, and because of that, we seek love and desire to show love for each other because of the love that God has for us. Let me read to you a passage that describes what this love that God calls us to looks like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This is real love. Love is always shown in our actions with each other. But let’s be honest, we can often make a lot of mistakes along the way as we try our best to love each other. Bret and Lucie have been through many things together, and have worked through them. And they will continue to struggle together. But they are committed to each other, because today they are swearing their total love and devotion to each other, a commitment that requires us to give every bit of ourselves to. And I believe that in the times we are unable to love each other to the fullest degree possible – with patience, kindness, without boasting or anger like those lines I just read to you – it is in those times that God helps us and gives us the ability to love each other when we feel like we have nothing of ourselves left to give! That is how potent and how important love is, and why marriage is such a huge deal.

I like to think of the marriage commitment that Bret and Lucie are making today as a covenant relationship. A covenant relationship is a love relationship that is defined by the most intense commitment, the greatest passion, and the greatest desire to remain together through the thick and thin. It is the kind of love relationship that fails to be captured only with words, but is always being demonstrated in their actions, in their time together, and in guiding each other on this journey of life together. It is a vow that is not and should not be taken lightly. It is the kind of relationship that when you see two people like Bret and Lucie together demonstrating their love for each other and to those around them alongside each other, that people look and say, “Wow! That is real, that is special, and that is good!” I can’t think of a greater calling for two people in love than to make this kind of commitment to each other. And it’s because of this vow, this commitment, this covenant, that Bret and Lucie have so much to look forward to as they enter this new and exciting stage of life together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is it ok to be addicted to baptisms?

Hey all. Just thought I would share this video from Bass Lake. Thanks again for all your prayers and support. Be encouraged, it is making a difference!

BASS LAKE 2009 BAPTISMS from Brian Holland on Vimeo.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jesus freaking us out at Elevate!

Hey all, thought I'd write a quick entry to cover what God's been doing lately with the high school ministry at Pomona First Baptist, where I've been serving as a volunteer/intern for the last four years. I don't know how much time I have left with this group, but I'm enjoying what God is allowing me to see and be a part of.

Of the last four years, this is really the most exciting time in our ministry. About 3 or 4 months ago, Brian Holland, the high school pastor, changed the vision/mission statement to "Insideout ministries exists to exalt Jesus as the greatest, one student at a time." Before the mission statement always had to do with creating community of disciples who love Jesus and serve Him, but the focus was on the community. Now we've changed the focus on exalting Jesus, and things are VERY different. We're now calling Wednesday nights "Elevate" as part of changing the vision.

Our time of worship singing has been explosive every single time. Brian's teaching out of this series on the sermon on the mount titled, "No perfect people allowed," and it's some in-your-face stuff. We're challenging students to bring their friends, and they've been doing it! When there have been opportunities for kids to respond to specific things in the message, they've been doing that as well. We've talked about some serious things like the importance of forgiveness, sexual purity, all stuff in the Sermon on the Mount. This last Wednesday, we talked about divorce and the pain that comes from that, and how it is not God's plan for marriages. Our numbers have been up way higher, and this last Wednesday night was an all-time high for us in the last four years, about 120 kids (not that we're about numbers, but usually during this time of year, our numbers are down because of summertime. But, this is clearly a sign that God is doing something incredible). We haven't changed our method, except for the fact that every Sunday and Wednesday, we're inviting students to surrender or recommitt to Jesus. And almost every single time, someone has stood up!

Here's a video of Brian sharing what happened.

Update: 08-13-09 from Brian Holland on Vimeo.

Here's a comment from one of our staff who was gone most of the summer serving Jesus directing a camp in Alaska. She hasn't been around to see what God's doing, so her perspective really brings it home.
“This is NOT the same youth group. I left a little over six weeks ago. It was amazing to be in Alaska working with kids, seeing God change lives as we learned about how to have a lifestyle of 24/7 worship. I was able to read about what was happening at Elevate, but being here and experiencing it in person was a thrill. God is doing great things and changing lives! It’s so good to be home.”

Here’s what high schoolers said about ELEVATE last Wendesday night:

“Every was just worshipping like nothing else mattered. And I was able to worship however I wanted without being judged.” - Mitchell

“Sam gave her life to Jesus and so many new people came!” - Tyler

“I could feel God’s presence strongly through both the message and worship.” - Nicole

“Jesus totally rocked my face off last night...! Well yeah!” - Aubree

“Sam was led to Christ!” - Brittany

“It was amazing because we all were focusing on God and not our friends. We all gave 100% last night. And someone gave their life to the Lord!” - Laura

“It’s amazing because we can see our community growing day by day, and we can see how God is moving everywhere through everyone!” - Cheyenne

“I thought it was awesome because you could totally see God working. No one was ashamed to show God their love for Him, and no one cared what the person next to them was doing. Our only reason for being there was to bring God glory, nothing else.” - Elise

“Jesus was so present.” - Hannah

“It was amazing because you could feel GOD there, and seeing the room just filled with people who wanted to exalt His name.” - Tabitha

“The worship was amazing. You could feel everyone seeking God and wanting to give him praise, and the message dealt with a difficult subject in a way that everyone could relate.” - Victoria

“It was amazing because Jesus was there.” - Shawn

“Last night at ELEVATE the Spirit of God was so present! It felt like the place was going to explode during worship! MAN IT WAS SOOO AWESOME!” - Rebecca

“I walk into ELEVATE expecting God, and the best part about it is I know he is going to show up and rock our faces off everytime!” - Kyle

“I was blown away by Sam committing her life to Jesus. Worship was crazy. It was cool!” - Matt

“...everyone was so on fire for Christ and I would sometimes just sit and listen to everyone worship and I was just thinking, “God, how awesome is this. You must be so happy right now!” - Cosmo

“Elevate was amazing last night because it was really obvious that God was there and because it’s so exciting to witness someone surrender to God!” - Megan

“Worship at ELEVATE was amazing! :) Very moving. I could feel the Lord in us all. Great message to everyone.” - Kinsey

“It totally rocked my face off, when we started the second set of songs... I got goosebumps.” - Josh

I get chills just reading those. I feel so blessed to be part of what God is doing. Thanks so much for your prayers for when I'm called to teach or serve in any way. I really wish more of you were nearby to actually see this, cause this is just friggin' awesome! I'm not writing this to boast or anything, please don't misunderstand me. But it's just so exciting, I can't help but share what's happening. Thanks again for your prayers, they are working! I don't know how much longer God will let me stay down here, but I'm enjoying seeing all this happen.

Bass Lake 2009

Thanks so much for all of you who were praying last week while I was at Bass Lake with PFB’s high school students. It was an amazing trip! We had about 95 kids and around 15 adults on this trip, and God did incredible things in the lives of our students there throughout the week. It was a wonderful week of relaxing, playing in the water, tubing, banana-boating, wakeboarding, volleyball, etc. But most importantly, I really believed that God spoke uniquely to our students there. Our theme for the week was “rescue,” and the first night I taught and spoke on the reality of “What it means to be rescued.” God led me to teach out of Mark 4:35-42 where Jesus calms the storms, and closing out with God’s promises of eternal and worldwide restoration and redemption in Isaiah 25:8-11 (I had previously blogged about God teaching me through that passage, here http://kerry-vanderberg.blogspot.com/2009/07/isaiah-25-speaks-to-without-trace.html). I got to play my djembe for percussion for many of our times of worship in singing, which I greatly enjoyed and hadn’t had the chance to do for awhile. Here’s a few pics to give you an idea of what our time looked like.

A couple of my small group guys, getting freaked out before the boat gets moving!

Us on the banana

Our time of worship singing together.

We had 20 people get baptized! I was particularly excited about this, because two of the guys that I’ve been mentoring in my small group in the last two years got baptized! And I got the chance to baptize them! It was one of the most incredible things to witness, and to participate in. I’m really proud of my guys, as I’ve seen them grow in their walk with Jesus, get ignited with passion, and have seen them step up and love God through serving and loving on people. They’re awesome! I really wish I could take credit, but I really can’t. I’m so grateful to God that He gave me the chance to see and participate in what He’s doing in their lives.

Chris getting baptized! The before shot . . .

And the after shot. Awesome!

Guillermo (aka Billy) getting baptized. Take a deep breath . . .

And back up! Jesus is amazing! (Billy tried pulling me down with him, but I didn’t go all the way in, hehe)

The first group that got baptized! After we did them, we opened it up for anyone else, more kept coming down, a couple in their full clothes (like long jeans)!

Us together later waiting for the banana. Dylan (all the way on the right) got baptized too.


On the last night of the week, Brian Holland the high school pastor gave the final invitation for students to surrender to Jesus for the first time, and for recommitments, and 11 or 12 kids stood up! It was getting dark, so we couldn’t quite make out who all stood, but it was still great! Finally, Brian called everyone to stand up if they are willing to commit to be used by God in exalting Jesus and continuing this mission that He’s called us on. The vast majority of our group stood up. Afterwards, we continued our time of singing in worship and sharing about what God was doing in our lives around a campfire. I always love those times, because it’s a chance to hear what God has been teaching these kids.

With all that said, I was really hoping that this trip would be something special, and it was. I felt that when I taught, God was definitely guiding my thoughts and the overall flow of the message. I started to pray for clarity for my own life, particularly for where God is moving me within the coming months. While I didn’t get any immediate answers, I felt like God has kept me at PFB for a whole year after I finished seminary so that I could see two of my small group guys get baptized, and to see how God is growing this group. So, that was some clarity for why God has kept me around for this last year. Where God is leading me now? Well, I’m still praying about that one and seeking, so I’d appreciate your continued prayers.

What's also been amazing about this trip is what is going on since we've gotten back. Worship on Sunday morning was AWESOME, and felt like what Wendesdays have been feeling like. And then Wendesday, HOLY COW, Jesus is working! I'll think I'll need to save it for another blog post, but I think what's going on is not just everyone coming back with the spiritual camp high. I think our time at Bass was an important step on this journey that God has for this ministry, and is just going to continue freaking us out. More on that later, but for now, thanks for your prayers and support, because Bass was AMAZING!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Isaiah 25 speaks to “Without a Trace”

Last night I was up late watching an episode of the show “Without a Trace.” It’s a fictional show about the missing persons unit of the FBI, and in this episode they were investigating the disappearance of a young high school teacher. Their investigation reveals that the teacher had an abusive and alcoholic father. When she was a little girl, the teacher saw her father shoot her mother in a fit of rage and drunkenness. Her father goes to prison and serves 15 of 20 years of a sentence. The teacher tries to move on in her life, even changing her name so that her father won’t find her. She lives with pain and refuses to forgive her father. What prompts her disappearance is when she discovers that one of her students is being abused by his own father. Yet her student later reveals to her that it is not his father that beats him, but his mother! The FBI team finds out the truth of all this, finding the teacher and her student safe. The teacher’s father ends up committing suicide out of guilt for never being able to control his anger, and the boy returns home safely with his father while the mother stays in the FBI’s custody.

Needless to say the show is sometimes tough to watch. While the FBI team often finds the person they’re looking for, that’s not always the case and sometimes things turn out quite the opposite. I like the show because the main characters are interesting, and the cases are often quite intriguing. Yet it is gritty and often shows the darker side of life. For some reason this episode got to me more than most. It made me think of how many children suffer from broken and abusive households, or how many people feel trapped in life because of painful relationships or the difficulties of life. It reminds me of how truly fallen our world is, and the great evil that people are capable of.

With my mind wrapped around these ideas, these verses really hit home as I was reading Isaiah 25 during my devotional time before going to bed.

“He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and he will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, THIS is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. THIS is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’ ” Isaiah 25:8-9 (emphasis mine)

In context, Isaiah 25 is a song of praise for God’s favor which directly follows a series of descriptions of how God will bring his wrath and judgment upon various nations and the whole earth. Yet in spite of all that, Isaiah speaks of God’s promises of full restoration healing, defeating death and pain and removing sin from His people. This is exactly what began in the ministry of Jesus as he ushered in the Kingdom of God, bringing wholeness, restoration, forgiveness, and reconciliation to a broken world. And as Christ’s disciples we’re charged with continuing this task, assured that God has already been working in our lives to heal and forgive us. As Paul says, we’re new creations because of Jesus, and God has committed us to the word of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-19).

I love the fact that God’s promises for full restoration of this world has already began in Jesus, and that we get to see glimpses of it happening in our churches. I’m continually blown away by how God does this stuff in our lives and in those around us, working in powerful miraculous ways. God’s promises are everlasting and are shown to be true because of Jesus and because of the crazy things we get to see! One day our world will be fully restored and redeemed of all the pain and sin and wickedness! I love working with high school students because of how you get to see God work in their lives in these exact ways. Check out this video of my friend Brian Holland talking about how God is working in our high school students at Elevate, Pomona First Baptist’s high school group where God currently has me serving. http://bigbholla.com/bhollasite/Teaching_Updates_&_Prayer_Requests/Entries/2009/7/9_Update_about_ELEVATE.html I love this place! "THIS is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. THIS is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation." !!