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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding the Meaning of Life in the Austrian Alps

Finding the Meaning of Life in the Austrian AlpsThen there I was, sitting alone on the shaded back step of the youth hostel chalet, Bible in my lap, gazing across the mountain meadow. I continued my weeks-long search for a Bible verse that would give complete meaning to my life. Finally, in that distant, elevated place, it landed.

Five great questions of life: Life * Love * Learning * Labor * Leadership

Life: What's My Spiritual Center?

Finding the Meaning of Life in the Austrian Alps

By Evan Nehring

Crossing an ocean and climbing a mountain are two extraordinary ways to get perspective, to see the big picture. Distance gives space. Elevation helps you rise above it all to a place of timelessness.

Off to Europe!

When Larry Bach first approached me about going to Europe as bass player for the college Concert Chorale, I turned him down. As wonderful as the experience sounded, really, I wouldn’t have the time to raise the money the rest of the group had. And I had plans. When he approached me a second time and offered to cover half of my expense, I was in.

My part would be with the combo: drums, sax, keyboard, and electric bass. So I would have the privilege of hauling bass guitar and amplifier across Germany and Austria, complete with the little European conversion kit for the electrical gear.

Musically, it meant learning the bass line for Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, a black gospel rendition of the traditional Latin mass...from Gloria, Kyrie, and Acclamation-Hallelujah to Agnus Dei, Credo, and Sanctus. The music was challenging, but what did Larry ever give us that wasn’t?

Hurricanes of Applause

The newspaper headline from one German newspaper read, translated: Hurricanes of Applause for Lawrence Bach. True enough! There was standing ovation after standing ovation. The echoes of harmonies and applause still ring in my ears.

I remember climbing onto our tour bus and being guided miraculously by our driver through the narrow village streets. At one particularly tight corner, someone got out and adjusted the side mirror on a parked car so the bus could get through.

Todd and Dave entertained us one day with this goofy translation bit where one would speak in straight English into the bus microphone and then the other would speak in English with a thick German accent and give a translation that had no meaningful resemblance to the original words. Fine intercontinental humor!

Up into the Mountains

And we wound our way, one day, up into the Austrian Alps to a youth hostel outside Vienna, where we would spend a day and a night to rest up and relax.
Finding the Meaning of Life in the Austrian Alps
As I read back through my journal from that season of life, I’m inspired by the constant passion that burned in my heart. Every day was eternal and infinite and ultimate. Whether it was girls or music, ministry or friendship, spiritual disciplines or personal goals, every day was loaded with experiences and meaning. 

The Moment

Then there I was, sitting alone on the shaded back step of the youth hostel chalet, Bible in my lap, gazing across the mountain meadow. I continued my weeks-long search for a Bible verse that would give complete meaning to my life. Finally, in that distant, elevated place, it landed.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21. It might seem morbid to some, the whole idea of including death in the theme of your life. But I wanted it to include everything, beginning to end and the whole wash of things in between.

Then there was something ancient and powerful about reciting the verse in the original Greek:
Emoi gar to zane Christos, kai to apothanane kerdos.
To zane Christos, to live is Christ, and to pass on is to be with him forever. So all of life became about this singular idea, to live is Christ. To zane Christos


Do you have a life verse? I'd love to hear about how it inspires you or why you chose it! What brought you to that place in your life? Inquiring minds want to know!

Too personal for public consumption? Shoot me an email at I'll write back.

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  1. What a cool memory, Evan. I didn't know you toured Europe.

    I'll never forget how God reminded me of Proverbs 3:5&6 before Shawna and I made our big career/life transition. It was night. I was skiing around Fumee Lake in the UP by the light of a headlamp. I was skiing hard and praying harder. I was fighting making a career move that I knew God was directing but that I wasn't so sure of because of what people would think of me and how the money would work. The scripture came into my mind in a voice that was not the sound of my own thoughts:

    "Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
    in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight"

    It was a kind reminder that we can trust his leading. It changed our lives.

    1. Yes, there was the Chorale trip and then a short-term missions trip to Brussels, Belgium in 1994. It's been a while.

      Jason, the skiing story is really amazing. I know you experienced direction in many ways, but I didn't know about that moment. How great is that! I think it's good to remember and linger a bit. Ultimately, the fruit of the decision is more important than the moment, but the moment is still pretty great.

      Thanks for sharing the kind reminder! I'm excited to see the fruit of your altered future.

  2. John 15 says, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first... As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world..." and John 17 says, "... but I say these things while I am still in the world... for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."

    So it's not a verse, but I've always been a fan of chunks of verses to help them make more sense. This has been summed up by many as "being in the world but not of it". This means much to me because it helps me separate myself from things more readily that are unnecessary for a great life - the things that clutter our lives & distract us from God. It appears in that most Christians in the West are in the world, but also of it. If we don't look any different than our unbelieving neighbors, then what are we? What example do we set?

    Israel always looked different - just as God wanted them, so that all other peoples would know that they belonged to him. Heck, the wouldn't eat pork! Where has that gone for us believers today? I am not perfect in this, but I hope to separate myself more and more each day. Not separation from the lost people of the world, but separate from the distractions, etc. (need more space to get into that)

    Not to get into it too much, but I... maybe not now. I think I need to separate from the internet :)

    1. Brian, you're a kick man! Great reflections on what makes us different as Jesus-followers. I've got a whole set of posts coming on core values. Oh, and your "key chunk" is great! Shoot, if someone wants to have a "key book" or "key testament", the whole point is that it gets personal. I love the "in the world but not of it" idea!

  3. Man, this is a really sweet story of your life Evan! Being a rockstar and a Christian at the same time!!!! Now, that is what I'm talkin' about :-).

    As you made it obvious about your love for music, music is also a gateway for many parts of my life. Specifically, music and worship is my main connection to the Lord. I have many many favorite bible verses, but one always sticks out to me.

    Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

    Knowing that our God is with us, what do we have to fear? We have our life guarded by the Almighty! So comforting, encouraging, and simply awesome!

    One of my favorite artists wrote a song based on this verse. Matt Redman's "You Never Let Go."

    Check this out: ....

    1. Twoomz, the Matt Redman video is definitely a worthy watch. Great verse, great song! Yeah, worship rocks and the Psalms rock for sure. "We have our life guarded by the Almighty!" Sweet!

  4. The photo reminds me of what I call my "Psalm 23" place in Romania. So beautiful and majestic- clearly pointing to God's creative hand and heart. I have a few life verses, but my main two are Isaiah 61 and Galatians 5:1. Galatians says "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free". I just love that- that really exemplifies the drive behind everything I do. It is FOR FREEDOM that he set us free. To not live in that freedom would be like standing in a prison cell after the guard already unlocked the door- pretty stupid! And then Is 61 verse "the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me to..." that verse really gives me my mission. It sounds like such an awesome verse, and it is, but it is also deeply challenging. It speaks of all these cool things but to actually DO the "cool things" you have to go into and live among some pretty tough stuff. Anyway- Good stuff Evan :) To live is Christ! Indeed!

    1. Psalm 23 place. That's good. It amazes me that the Psalms, written about 3000 years ago, still resonate so deeply. Isaiah and Paul do OK too. Lovin' the variety, the way God connects so personally and uniquely to each of us.

  5. Luke 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    Ok... I know not exactly A verse... but it is my favorite... it is what drives me toward my dream of creating a emergency backpack project and start a camp for abused and neglected children.

  6. "Drives me toward my dream." Love that Heather. Holy Spirit will lead you...

  7. Evan, so enjoy your blog! Awesome story!
    I would have to say Psalm 119:105 "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path “. Is the verse that is mine. My oldest brother Darrell for years told me that one over and over and for the longest time I as usual did not listen.
    Then I had Thomy, it was a time of many thoughts and decisions that had to be made. As you see I was going to give him up for adoption, I figured I got into a great family, he deserves one too. Evan, I will never forget the night, we were all out at Troy and Debi's and I had Thomy in my arms, and just finished saying how it will be the "firsts" that I will miss the most. Todd said that he would have a life time of firsts. My dad's cousins whom I had contacted to see if they would like to adopt Thomy called and said that they just found out that they were pregnant! What awesome news, as they had already adopted two children in the past. I was so confused, I did not really find any families in the agency that I could see my boy going to, my cousins cant, and I have this beautiful baby. When Darrell said, Tar Tar dont think far in the future. One step at a time. God will direct you and even it is a toe in His light at a time, the more you go ahead and let Him lead, the more light that shines down your path. You can do this Tar Tar. Now I knew that he was serious he only whips out my name from childhood when he is completely showing love.
    From then on, I listened and that I have held dear to my heart. And each time in which I think I got this, no no I dont I am reminded to stop and listen, and let God be my light.
    Over the years there have been other verses that I have held fast but none that I know of that define and mean so much to me.
    Thanks Evan! You rock!