Friday, April 29, 2016

Hospitality, the key to building relationships

Guest post by my wife, Hannah.

The best friendships I’ve had as an adult have been cultivated sitting around a dining room table with a cup of coffee or lounging in a backyard gazing at a fire pit. Inviting people into your home or going to others’ homes is key to developing life-long friends. A house is not just a gathering place; it’s a reflection of you. From vacation souvenirs to family photos to the messy closet, your house tells your story. It’s where families are typically the most comfortable and conversation occurs naturally. When you ask someone to visit, you’re opening up your life to them. While relationships do grow in other places, the best friends typically aren’t people you happen to run into once a week at church or the kid’s soccer practice. Restaurants are helpful, but they don’t offer the intimacy of a home and they can be costly. Families may be reluctant to stay long as they carry their little ticking time bombs with them.

So with this great potential for strong relationships, why is hospitality becoming a lost art? It seems increasingly unusual for a new friend to invite someone over.

Our culture fears being judged more than anything. Inviting someone to your home carries the risk that the person will judge your income level, house size, cleanliness, approach to raising children, and much more. Yet people tend to be thankful for the invitation and often don’t notice half the mess you think they will. When a couple we met agreed to come over last minute and share a quick spaghetti dinner, I knew they would be close friends. They have been ever since. When you put on a fa├žade of formal dining and extreme cleanliness, people don’t feel at ease. The insincerity leaks out into your friendship. Be prepared and feel free to serve a meal, but don’t spend hours making your house look like Martha Stewart visited. The goal isn’t to impress, but instead to open up your home.

Many are too busy to have others in their home. Even with a scaled-back approach to hospitality, they can’t spare the time. If you have so many activities that you don’t have time to build relationships, particularly with other Christians, it’s time to cut back. Consider what prevents you from spending a few hours a week hosting people. If the children’s activities take up the majority of your time, weed out the unnecessary events. Your kids will also benefit from the opportunity to hear others’ stories, make new friends, and develop life long friendships. When my 4 year old makes a new friend, she always asks me when the friend can come over. She’s learned it’s a natural part of relationships.

It’s true that having people doesn't always result in a life-long friendship. Sometimes you won’t connect with an individual’s personality or like them at all. But more often than not, you’ll enrich your life as you do life together with others. Your children will gain mentors and have a great example of hospitality to follow. Stop worrying about your house, clear off your schedule, and invite someone over this week.

Offer hospitality to one another without complaining. 1 Peter 4:9

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Adventure Bible sticker book

My kids have loved stickers since the time they could walk—probably even before then. After I had to explain to my daughter the difference between stamps and stickers (and salvage about 12 of the former from a household art project), I decided that stickers were a worthwhile investment.

My church has used the NIV Adventure Bible in their children’s ministry for the last few years, so when I saw that Zondervan had a sticker book under the same brand, I asked for a review copy and let my four-year-old have at it.

She enjoyed coloring on the pages with both crayons and markers. The pages are very thick—not your dollar store coloring book—so nothing bled through. She also enjoyed playing with the stickers.  Some pages have five or six scenes from a Bible story that are grayed out, and she was able to match them up, no problem. There were other stickers for putting anywhere. The stickers are technically reusable, but their sticking power drops with use. At 32 pages though, she’ll probably be finished with the book before too many become unusable.

The back of the book says it’s good for ages 4-8, though only the older kids will be able to make full use of it. The crossword puzzles and word searches we beyond my four-year-old’s abilities.

One aspect of the book that made little sense was the arrangement of the Bible stories. It skips forward and backward, going from the Garden of Eden, to Noah, to Jesus, back to Moses, back to the Garden of Eden, and all over the place. They might have been trying to spread out the activities, but a chronological order would have made more sense.

I could see bringing a book like this on a long car trip, over to grandma’s house, or using it as a prize at VBS or Sunday school. Kids love activity books, and the Adventure Bible: Wild About the Bible Sticker & Activity Book will keep them busy for a while.

I received this book from the publisher.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peru fundraising has begun!

Peru is known for the headwaters of the Amazon river, the mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu, and the Nazca lines. Tourists from all over the world travel there to take in these wondrous sights, and having visited the ancient Incan citadel myself, I can say that it's a worthy destination for anyone's bucket list.

Twelve years ago I boarded a plane in Lima, the capital, bound for the United States at the conclusion of a two month mission trip to the country. This October I'm returning, but not for sightseeing. I'm going to a small town called Chazuta. It's way up north on the eastern slopes of the Andes away from the tourists and foreigners. There I and a few other men will conduct a weeklong training seminar for local pastors, some of whom travel for a week along the Huallaga River in order to attend. These seminars occur a few times each year and are the only formal religious training most of these men have ever had.

The overall cost of the trip is $2400, which covers airfare, lodging, food, and materials for the attendees. So far I've raised $300, which is more than 10% of the total trip cost. I'm grateful for those who have donated already and for those who have committed to donating in the near future. If you're considering donating, you can do so quickly and easily online at Be sure to put my name, ANDREW WENCL, in the notes field.

If you'd like to give by check, you can write it out to Reaching and Teaching and mail it to

Reaching and Teaching
PO Box 122
Wheaton, IL 60187

Please include with the check (not on the check) a note with my name and "Chazuta October 2016 Trip."

If you're not in a position to give towards the trip, I'm still grateful for your prayers. Whether you donate, pray, or both, please send me a message to know that you did. It's encouraging to know that others are lifting me up to God in their prayers.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Portraits of Faith

I primarily know Joel Beeke for his book Meet the Puritans and his involvement with Reformation Heritage Books, a great book publisher.  In addition to his more scholarly works, Beeke also writes shorter tomes, like the rerelease title Portraits of Faith, of which I was able to snag a review copy from the publisher.

Portraits of Faith is not written for the scholar.  In fact, it’s geared more towards newer believers and is based on some messages he gave a few years back.  Explaining what faith is can be challenging.  Most people can say it’s believing something or give the “Sunday school” answer that it is trusting in something.  Others might quote Hebrews 11:1, that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Rather than give a textbook answer to the question, Beeke highlights four Bible stories that highlight what it means to have faith.

This is where I have an issue with the book.  The subtitle on the cover reads, “What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us about Our Life with God.”  While this is technically true, it sets the expectation that we’re about to learn from five different people in the Bible.  Instead, Adam and Eve are each counted—Beeke only deals with four biblical stories.  The others are the Shunammite woman, the Canaanite woman, and Caleb.

I most appreciated Beeke’s treatment of the Canaanite woman.  I’ve heard more than one sermon try to downplay what Jesus said to her (it comes off as quite harsh).  Beeke explains what Jesus was doing, and his explanation deals appropriately with the text.  His treatment of Adam and Eve was not as strong.  While I would agree that Adam and Eve had faith in God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, Beeke draws more out of Adam’s naming his wife “Eve” than is warranted, at least more than is warranted without a big caveat.  It’s making a mountain out of a molehill, much like that pastor who preaches a whole sermon on each word in John 3:16.

Beeke’s writing is also influenced by his church tradition, which holds that Sunday is the new Sabbath, churches should sing the Psalms, and the King James Version should be the preferred translation.  I can’t fault him for writing in accordance with his convictions, but criticizing those who don’t observe all Ten Commandments won’t win points with people who don’t hold his views on the Sabbath.  Likewise, quoting from the King James has it’s place, but when Beeke has to define multiple words because they are so archaic, it points to the fact that the King James Version has outlived it’s usefulness for regular Christian use.

I would like to give Beeke higher marks, particularly because I love his work on the Puritans, but the treatment of Adam and Eve and the use of a translation that he has to frequently provide definitions for makes it an okay book, but not outstanding.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life and Ministry Update

I've recorded an audio update on our move to Buffalo and my mission trip to Chazuta, Peru, in October 2016. You can listen to it here:

If you would like to give towards the trip, you can do so online at Be sure to put my name, ANDREW WENCL, in the notes field.

If you'd like to give by check, you can write it out to Reaching and Teaching and mail it to

Reaching and Teaching
PO Box 122
Wheaton, IL 60187

Please include with the check (not on the check) a note with my name and "Chazuta October 2016 Trip."

Stories of persecution in Muslim lands

I remember back when I was in youth group and the book Jesus Freaks came out. It was kind of like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs meets Chicken Soup for the Soul. The focus is on presenting true stories in an inspiring way. “Although these narratives are true to actual events, some dialogue and descriptions are based on reasonable consideration of time, place, and circumstance” (pg. 17). This approach leaves me a little uneasy. I appreciate the honesty of the author(s) up front, but I don’t know how much of each narrative should be caveated with the moniker “based on a true story.”

Voice of the Martyrs, the organization behind Jesus Freak, recently released I am n. It’s a book in the same vein as the first, except it focuses primarily on modern-day believers who are persecuted in the Middle East. The title refers to Islamic terrorists who tagged the homes of Christians in Iraq with a spray-painted nun (Arabic n) to identify the believers there as followers of Jesus the Nazarene.

The chapters are arranged around certain themes: sacrifice, courage, joy, perseverance, etc. Each story fit well with its corresponding theme, but that could be due to the author emphasizing certain aspects of the stories to fit the themes—that’s the problem with books that take liberties with “dialogue and descriptions.”

For what it is, I am n accomplishes its goals of inspiring readers to be concerned for their persecuted brothers in the Middle East. Voice of the Martyrs does much good in the world, and I’m glad they can use books like I am n to raise awareness of our persecuted brothers as well as supplement their revenue to continue their ministry.

On a side note, the audiobook makes use of both a man and a woman narrator, which seems appropriate given the stories come from both men and women. The narrators alter their speech patterns for dialogue, which makes the book more interactive than a monotone narrator could do.

I received this book from christianaudio for the purpose of providing this review.