Thursday, February 24, 2011

Villa Scriptura on Villa Noir

As some of you may already know, I have been leading a Bible study through the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews since June 2010.  We have enjoyed learning more about the high priesthood of Christ, the "so great salvation" to be inaugurated at His coming as King, and the call to the "holy brethren who share in a heavenly calling" to endure as they make pilgrimage toward the city of the living God while it is still called "Today."

Every two weeks or so, I have been producing a podcast for each of our studies.  With our study in Hebrews nearly at a close (we have one more chapter to go in the epistle), I wanted to post our studies to our family blog.  If you'd care to download notes to go with each study via PDF file, you may do so by going directly to the Villa Scriptura Site.  You may also access the studies  at this link--(Podomatic Site for our Bible Study)-- and find an iTunes "subscribe" sync link on the right side for automatic podcast updates for your iPhone, iPod, or iTouch devices.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Gospel Demands a Changed Life!

Our top family highlight this summer was traveling throughout Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado on what I deemed our "Wild, Wild West 2010 Expedition."  We undoubtedly traveled 2,000+ miles visiting extended family in Post Falls, Idaho and Big Timber, Melville, Livingston, and Billings, Montana.  After dropping my mother and niece off in Montana, Sabrina, Cortni, and I traveled down to Colorado Springs, Colorado for an unforgettable and spiritually enriching conference at Glen Eyrie (Navigator HQ).  It was a spectacular time of meeting new and old friends from Ireland, Kazakhstan, Missouri, Ohio, Georgia, and British Columbia.  We studied the Epistle to the Hebrews, truths from Romans, and discussed the implications of the conditional "if" statements addressed to the redeemed throughout the holy scriptures.  On top of that, we so enjoyed the opportunity to forge new relationships with others who are thirsty to understand and apply God's Word and encourage and exhort one another as the Day draws near (Heb. 10:24-25).

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

One of the many privileges at the "Pressing on to Maturity Conference 2010" included benefiting from some fabulous and deep teaching from friends and brothers-in-Christ Iain MacMillan, Tony Stinson, and brothers Bill and Steve Ramey (both of whom I shared last summer's "Kingdom Ride 2009" with).  As we studied the current role of our Great High Priest , the reality of a coming kingdom under the worldwide rule of Christ Jesus (the Son of the living God), and the sober implications of the call on disciples to walk in holiness and be partakers and companions in that kingdom on this earth, one of the themes brought out in the conference continued to ring in my ears and heart: "The gospel demands a changed life." Tony preached a sermon recently at a church near Atlanta  that reflected that theme and I was so inspired, encouraged, and challenged by what he taught, that I wanted to share it with as many as possible.  If you'd like to discuss the contents of this message with me, I'd be happy to.  You can contact me via email at 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

North! Or Be Eaten Book Review

A couple of years ago, while listening to one of Michael Card's In the Studio podcasts, I was introduced to the creative songwriting abilities of Andrew Peterson. My wife and I had the opportunity to attend one of his concerts in the Portland area several months ago and were thoroughly blessed. His Behold the Lamb of God and Resurrection Letters, Vol II albums are just two of his works I've come to enjoy listening to repeated times. I have since discovered his literary creativity, most recently with his second book in the Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten.

The fantasy adventure novel picks up where his first Wingfeather Saga book--On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (2008)--left off. We rejoin the three Igiby children--Janner (12), Kalmar (11 and nicknamed "Tink"), and their younger sister Leeli (9)--as they are pursued by the evil, lizard-like Fangs, accompanied by their mother Nia, ex-pirate grandfather Podo Helmer, and trusty and valiant dog Nugget. Discovering that they are the "Lost Jewels of Anniera," heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, they race from their home in Glipwood toward the refuge of the Ice Prairies, where the reptilian Fangs are not prone to venture...that is in most cases.

Peterson writes with a style reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Dickens. His imagination outruns itself as he pulls villainous creature after villainous creature from his pen. Toothy cows, giant rockroaches, quill diggles, horned hounds, bumpy digtoads, and snickbuzzards are just a few of the dangers that await the protagonists of this great odyssey through Glipwood Forest, the Stony Mountains, and beyond.

Andrew Peterson is the author of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Book One in the Wingfeather Saga, and The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats. He’s also the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter and recording artist of ten albums, including Resurrection Letters II. He and his wife, Jamie, live with their two sons and one daughter in a little house they call The Warren near Nashville, Tennessee. Visit his websites: and

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kingdom Ride Report (July 2009)

Thanks for praying, you all! I arrived safely home on Saturday, July 25th, and so good to be back with Sabrina, Cortni, Chris and Amanda. Cortni heads off to Multnomah Bible College at the end of August, so I was happy to be back to spend as much family time as possible with her and everyone else. Sabrina and I are not accustomed to being apart for so long and it was such a blessing to have her encouragement and support when I first mentioned how much I wanted to go on this trip. As we biked through the beautiful Austrian countryside, there were many times when I turned to my old friend David Knauss and said: "You know, we really need to do this again with our wives." It was an absolutely great trip on various levels.

First, reuniting with old friends from my ministry days in Central Asia--Dave Knauss and Steve Ramey--was something I was so looking forward to. Both of these men have poured so much into my life. And even though we have seen relatively little of each other in the past several years, their impact has been extensive. In addition to this, it was a joy to meet Dave Charleston and Steve Andrews. Both of them, I discovered, had prayed for all of us as we served in Central Asia. Getting to know Bill Ramey was an absolute delight as well. He has a terrific sense of humor and challenged all of us with his well prepared and deep teaching in the epistle to the Hebrews. Father and son Austrians Fritz and Felix were on the trip as well. The trip simply wouldn't have been the same without their kindness, humor, generosity, perspective, knowledge of the culture and history, sincere brotherly love, and, in Fritz's case, his guitar (which I was able to borrow from time to time). My only regret about our ninth Kingdom Rider--Bill McElheney--is that he had to leave us at Grein due to a previous commitment with the Salzburg Festival. He used to play trombone for the Vienna Philharmonic and now works on the staff there.

After a few days in Vienna, we traveled up by train to Passau, Germany, to get our bikes from the rental shop. We then proceeded down either the north or south bank of the Danube River, along the impressively maintained bike paths. Austria knows how to cater to their bicyclists, let me tell you! Each morning, we would usually begin our day with a healthy breakfast, then proceed to a study in Hebrews. As we'd continue along the way on our bikes, we had additional opportunity to discuss the day's topic or learn more about one another. Although we had our disagreements here and there, brotherly unity was maintained to the end. This was a point of prayer requested earlier, and the Lord was really present in this regard.

I thought Steve Ramey summed up the teaching well in one of his recent posts:

" The highlight of the trip was the depth of our study with the clear lesson concerning the present work of our Lord as High Priest in the heavenly tabernacle. The book is clear in stating that there is one and only one High Priest and He is the only one worthy of our worship and the only one where we can find forgiveness of our sins and help and mercy in time of need. There is a great future inheritance for those who draw upon the sufficiency of Christ and who persevere in this life by faith in Him. The book also contains warnings to the redeemed who decide to find and seek a salvation by any other means than Christ. Hebrews makes it clear that while we rest firmly in the redemptive work of Christ, our salvation will be fully realized upon His return and in His Kingdom. Therefore, we walk in gratefulness and security that we have been "redeemed" out of Egypt, yet now set our eyes on the inheritance to be gained at Christ's return. We are on a journey to that inheritance and therefore we are not passive in our faith, but we actively participate in Christ's Word and seek daily obedience. A lesson for me comes from the children of Israel who, while being redeemed out of slavery and therefore are and remain God's people, still fell short of receiving the promised land due to unbelief. When we fall short, He is there as our High Priest to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. No wonder Paul says in Titus 2 that we are to look to the blessed Hope of Christ's return when the faithful will fully realize the so great of salvation that Hebrews talks about. I could go on, but what an encouragement the time has been to stay faithful, but to remember also it is the wonderful grace of our Lord that has provided all the means to be faithful!"

Our visit to Mauthausen Concentration Camp was interesting in that the skies darkened toward the end of our visit and the lightning and thunder came suddenly upon us, accompanied by an absolute downpour of drenching rain. I had just been walking up from the rock quarry with Felix, where the prisoners were forced to haul enormous stones up a steep rock-hewn stairway. Felix had just been sharing with me how the Nazi guards would, as they termed it, "parachute" prisoners off the 100 foot-plus cliff to their deaths, then this dramatic storm suddenly hit. It was surreal, to say the least. As I walked along the walls and barracks of the camp, gazing at the barbed wire, gas chamber, ovens, dissection room, and all the other horrors, I couldn't help but think "Man, this STILL goes on in my lifetime (Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan, abortion clinics in America, etc.)" The depravity of man is never far from each one of us.

In terms of beauty, my favorite places to ride were in Grein and through the Wachau Valley. Grein was yet another charming Austrian town and our hotel was situated in a mountainous region, reminiscent of the Oregon Cascades. The Wachau was charming village after charming village, interspersed with vineyards and apricot orchards. I will never forget the incredible fruity aroma as I rode through this region...absolutely stunning!

Upon our arrival back in Vienna, we took a few final days to check out the museums, take in a couple of outdoor music concerts, and join some Austrian and American brothers and sisters on the Stephanplatz , a big tourist boulevard/shopping street in the central region of Vienna near St. Stephan's Cathedral (Stephansdom). Each Friday night, the assembly of believers that Steve and Marie Ramey have long been associated with do street evangelism on the street. After I sang a couple of praise songs, Steve Ramey started out by sharing the gospel using a version of the "Bridge" illustration. After a break for some post-discussion with listeners, I sang a couple more songs, a new crowd gathered, and Bill Ramey preached on our Great High Priest Jesus from Hebrews. Later, a couple of the Austrian brothers shared the gospel in German, while Steve translated in English. When Steve and Bill preached, Felix would translate into German. I was encouraged, inspired, and challenged as I reflected on my Austrian brothers faithfully and courageously coming down to this busy thoroughfare in one of the world's most famous cosmopolitan cities, tirelessly preaching the simple message of the gospel every Friday evening. It was an experience I'll never forget. I was amazed at how many Muslims would stop and politely listen, at children who would happily take an offered gospel track, and onlookers like one Chinese woman who would linger behind for more follow-up discussion.

What a privilege to have had this opportunity! Many thanks to Steve and Bill Ramey for their preparation and servant-hearted leadership and teaching. I was very thankful for Steve Ramey's and Steve Andrew's generosity as they always allowed us to use their array of technological devices to contact home or load up pictures on Facebook, yet they were the "mules" hauling it wherever they went. What a great group of guys! God has blessed me with experiences in life that have allowed me to cross paths with some incredible folks. Thanks for praying, brothers and sisters!

Here's a little video clip of one of the Austrian brothers--Horst Stelzer--sharing the gospel on the Stephanplatz, with Steve Ramey translating in English

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Villa Noir Gets a New Look

Seems like forever since my last post, perhaps because my time on Facebook and Twitter has more than occupied my limited time on the computer. "Limited," you ask? Yes, now that Sabrina has her own Facebook page, computer time is at a premium at Villa Noir.

The school year finally came to a close, with a couple of big house projects right on its heels. After a great trip to Cove Pallisades State Park (Lake Billy Chinook) with our new in-laws (Greg and Susan), Chris, Amanda, and Cortni, we prepped the house for a long overdue paint job. After battling with a couple of changing Oregon weather forecasts, we finally got the job done (see before and after pics below). After that, we took on restaining the deck in the backyard. It seems the stain on the newly built deck didn't take well enough last year. I sprayed some "30-Second" on it in April to remove the mildew and it actually started stripping off some of the semi-transparent stain I had applied last summer. After talking to a few folks, I concluded that the wood hadn't had a chance to season enough and might have been too green to absorb the stain well enough.

Now that all of that is done, I can focus on "training" for my upcoming trip to Austria and eight-day ride along the Danube River. I have been looking forward to this trip for several months now--"The Kingdom Ride"--a combination study, ministry, and sightseeing trek from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria. Nine of us will go (Americans and Austrians), studying the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, reflecting upon our sufficiency in Christ Jesus and implications as pilgrims on earth and kingdom-bound citizens, learning about Austrian history and culture and taking in some amazing sights, and sharing the gospel on the streets of Vienna with Austrian brothers in Christ. Great stuff to look forward to and I would heartily appreciate your prayers.

That's it for now. If you are on Facebook and want to follow me there, just hit the button in the right margin of this blog. You can also follow this link:

I wish you all a great summer!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Two Funerals and a Wedding

The title of this blog post pretty much sums up the last year or so for us. My dad passed away on June 13th, our son Chris was married to Amanda on July 19th, and Sabrina's mom passed away on February 13th, 2009, a little more than a month ago. Her service at Beaverton Foursquare Church was beautiful, with the emphasis on her faith in the Lord, precious and kindhearted things she did for one and all, and cherished memories held by friends and family members. One of the high points for all of us was hearing Pastor and Uncle Aaron--a patriarch and anchor of faith in the family--read this poem he composed for his sister. He is considered a Poet Laureate of sorts in the family and always comes through with wit, charm, and creativity.

A Lady of Grace

On the twenty-eighth of October, the year nineteen thirty nine,
Came a very special infant girl, by God's unique design.
Albert and Elsie Knapp, her parents, felt pure delight,
And they chose the name, Muriel, and it fit her just right.

Archie and Randall greeted their new sister that day,
Aaron, Edith, and Frieda came later along the way.
Still later came step-siblings, Irwin, Ginger and Gayle,
That was way before microwaves and Internet e-mail.

Muriel was a very good student, head of her class at school;
At home, laundry and dishes she did as a rule.
And life was quite difficult in her growing up years;
Occasionally there was laughter, more often there were tears.

Muriel decided as a young lady it was time for her to wed,
And in God's providence came a young man named Fred.
In a short time it seemed marriage the "Noble" thing to do,
And they formed a union of one, from those who were two.

From their union God blessed them with children, count five;
In spite of a flurry of activity, they all did survive.
Desiree, Sabrina, Derek, Rachelle and Elissa, that's all;
In Muriel's eyes each of her children truly stand tall.

All of her grandchildren (grand and great) are the best on earth,
All created by God and have incredible value and worth.
Some of her best times were with them at her side;
Her love and pure enjoyment were impossible to hide.

Muriel excelled in many ways as an employee at the bank;
As a servant and a leader at the top she would rank.
It was said of her integrity, she was "honest to a fault,"
As a teller at the window or with a customer in the vault.

Traveling with Fred was an adventure to be sure;
For almost any troubles it seemed a welcome cure.
They often shared weekends at a beach nearby,
And for an appointment in London, they took to the sky.

We'll miss the good conversations, hot coffee by the fire,
And the warm plate of brownies, the appetite to inspire.
The holiday meals were always fit for a king;
In Muriel's preparation, she never missed a thing.

In her last days, Muriel's life took a rough turn;
Of her courage and faith, we were all certainly to learn.
She held fast to her hope, when hope seemed to take flight,
She wrote, "God's in control" and everything is all right.

Her suffering is all over; she fought the battle and won;
Muriel's having a celebration with Father, Spirit and Son.
She has a brand new body, perfect in every way,
And in her forever new home she has decided to stay.

(By Aaron Knapp, Muriel's brother)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Love Is a Good Thing

Our family's challenging season of life continues to steamroll over us as we witness the deterioration of Sabrina's mom's health due to the ravages of oral cancer. She is now in hospice care at home and we really don't expect her life to be extended all that much longer. We are encouraged that she will soon be with Jesus and free of the cruel imprisonment of cancer. It has been hard to watch her go this way and so, so sudden.

Yesterday, I was out walking and listening to a song by Andrew Peterson from his recently released Resurrection Letters Volume II album. It is called "Love Is a Good Thing" and prompted me to reflect on what God is trying to teach us when it comes to loving others through a difficult season of life. Quite honestly, the song moved me to tears. I so often want to learn how to love like Jesus in the "packaging" I'd prefer, usually the packages with soft edges and lots of bubble wrap inside to cushion the blows. His plans are usually vastly different from mine, often involve much more creatively painful refining in His furnace, but yield far better and lasting results for Kingdom living in the end. I'll just leave you with the lyrics and a little explanation of the song from Andrew himself.

Love Is a Good Thing
It knocked me down, it dragged me out, it left me there for dead.
It took all the freedom I wanted and gave me something else instead.
It blew my mind, it bled me dry, it hit me like a long goodbye,
And nobody here knows better than I that it's a good thing;
Love is a good thing.

It'll fall like rain on your parade, laugh at the plans that you tried to make;
It'll wear you down till your heart just breaks and it's a good thing.
Love is a good thing.

It'll wake you up in the middle of the night, it'll take just a little too much.
It'll burn you like a cinder till you're tender to the touch.
It'll chase you down, and swallow you whole;
It'll make your blood run hot and cold.
Like a thief in the night it'll steal your soul, and that's a good thing
Love is a good thing.

It'll follow you down to the ruin of your great divide,
And open the wounds that you tried to hide;
And there in the rubble of your heart that died,
You'll find a good thing;
Love is a good thing

Take cover, the end is near.
Take cover, do not fear.
It'll break your will, it'll change your mind
It'll loose all the chains of the ties that bind.
If you're lucky you'll never make it out alive, and that's a good thing
Love is a good thing.

It can hurt like a blast from a hand grenade
When all that used to matter is blown away;
There in the middle of the mess it made you'll find a good thing
Yes, it's worth every penny of the price you paid
It's a good thing
Love is a good thing, love is a good thing
Do not fear.