Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Double Blessing - Mark Batterson

Pastor Mark has long been a hero of mine and lucky for us, we are close enough to NCC to drop in here and there. We've also had some dear friends on staff so we've gotten a front seat row for watching them innovate as they bless the DMV. Always inspiring. Pastor Mark's new book is out today and it is a great read.
Before original sin, there was original blessing. And so life is! That first blessing sets the tone, sets the table. It establishes the emotional baseline and spiritual trend line of Adam's life. But it's not just Adam's earliest memory. It also reveals God's most ancient instinct.
Blessing is God's default setting - His first and foremost reflex. If you don't believe that, you'll doubt the goodness of God. And if you second-guess the goodness of God, you'll forfeit His blessing.
God wants to bless you beyond your ability to ask or imagine.
There. I said it. And I believe it. The question is, do you?
Double Blessing - you'll be encouraged at how God's default setting is unequivocally for you; you'll be challenged to uncover no longer trivial blessings in your daily life, and you'll be implored to best steward your talent, time and treasure.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Oct 2019 - City Fathers, City Mothers at NCC's Capital Turnaround.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Book Notes - Microchurches - Brian Sanders

In the summer of 2008, I became friends with a church planter named Frank, who with his wife and 5 kids, had started a church in Paris. A little while later, they moved back to the States and settled in Tampa/St Pete. He told me there was this incredibly potent expression of church multiplication in that area that they were involved with called the Tampa Underground. Tampa Underground was run by .... Brian Sanders. This is Brian's second book describing how they do it.
Once we have settled on the irreducible minimum of the church (that all churches must express the three heuristics of community, mission, and worship somehow), the what of church, the rest is left to the localized leader to dream, create, and contextualize. This is the next level of empowerment because it is not just giving people permission to lead, it is also giving them creative control over what they lead. Part of what is so breathtaking about the great commission is the transfer of authority (empowerment) that seems to take place.

Those of us who care deeply about the church are often bound by an aspirational anxiety about leading and growing churches. Many bright and capable leaders who have jobs, families, hobbies, and passions that are not in the “ministry” as we know it (are not pastors or missionaries) believe they must not be called to be church planters or disciple-makers. All because of our overly complicated definition of the church. Many pastors and formal church leaders of traditional churches are striving and burning out in pursuit of a kind of church that is neither biblically prescribed nor contextually desirable. All because of our overly ambitious definition of the church. I mean to give us an alternative.

The idea of church planting in America today is a duty relegated to pastors or full-time paid workers. And the new churches being planted, therefore, do not tend to understand or respect the simplest, grassroots expression of church. We can change that. Church planting is the business of every Christian, we just need to reimagine what we mean when we say church.
The microchurch at its best bottles the lightning of warmth, hospitality, sincerity, and human contact. It is precisely because microchurches can be awkward that they can also be community. I am just not sure you can have one without the other. As much as I wish you could. I don’t like feeling awkward any more than you, but if you can feel awkward then that means you are close enough to people to also feel loved and known.

My prayer is that every committed disciple would imagine themselves responsible for the future formation of the church. To dream about starting something small that is very much the church for their lives. To see it as something intimate and precious. To make the fundamental shift from believing the church is something someone else starts and runs that we choose and consume, to believing the church is something like a family that each of us pursues in the course of our life with God. The where of it then is less important than the who.

A worshipping community on mission is the church. This broad definition frees the church to form itself where it is most needed and be led by the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9) while still carrying its sacramental power. It is my contention that when these three conditions are met by the life and work of the same group of people you are looking at the church.

That is not to say that the church cannot be (and is not usually) more than that. It is just to say that there is some point at which a group of people with the intention of being the church actually becomes the church. The first work of ecclesiology is to ask when and under what conditions that group of people pass from being something other than the church to being the church. Launching a worship service then (no matter how big) does not satisfy the basic conditions. Gathering a group of Christians to study the Bible or share a meal does not satisfy the basic conditions. Engaging the poor and meeting a real need, with no mention of Jesus, does not satisfy the basic conditions. These are all good and meaningful endeavors, but on their own doing these things does not make a group the church. When those three conditions are consistently met in one group of people, no matter how small, however, we then have an expression of the true church. They would not need a building, or money, or leadership hierarchy. They would not need to be ordained in order to preach. They would not even need training or oversight. Those are all good and meaningful things, but they shouldn’t be required to be the church. The bus stop is not a church, but if a group of people gathered there every day submitted themselves to Jesus as Lord, and lived in community, making sacrifices for each other, and shared the love of Jesus to all who come to that bus stop, then guess what, that is a church.

When I share these ideas in high church circles, people fear losing control, such as losing their grip on proper doctrine or accountable leadership. They are afraid that being a smaller expression of the church will cause us to lose our sense of history or orthodoxy. But my response is that the microchurch is a way to preserve those very things. When we ask every Christian to take ownership of the church, we do not risk losing our history and orthodoxy.

When the people in the pews are not asked to be the church, then the people of God no longer embody what the church is supposed to be in the world. Any honest appraisal of the current church form will come to this conclusion. How we are doing it now is producing more heretics than a microchurch movement ever will.

It is one of those things that often creaks under the weight of self-consciousness. As we have discussed, trying to become a community can be an elusive quest. Instead, the best way to bond with people, to build a sense of community or family, is to pursue something else together.

This is one of the challenges to thinking about churches as essentially a building with a congregation and a budget. Leaders can be handed the leadership role of that kind of preexisting enterprise. They can simply apply for the job and suddenly have a church to lead. While this may be a way of transferring leadership between existing churches, it has nothing to do with the way churches are born. They are born in the fire of mission.

Before you can articulate a vision, build a team, or even define your church, you have to be someone who is engaged in mission. Because a church is not something that is planted but emerges from the seed of mission. We plant a mission; if that mission is fruitful and miraculously touched by God, it will grow into a church.

There is a school of thought that either overtly or by implication says that numbers do not matter. That we should not care about growth in numbers. I would agree that if what we mean is an obsession with growth that is rooted in performance, obsessing over numbers is not good. Trying to impress other Christians with our numbers is toxic. On the other hand, a total disregard for growth, taking pride in low numbers, or refusing to care that no one is changing or finding new life in Jesus is also toxic.

We must celebrate with equal conviction the addition of people to our microchurch as we do the sending of people into another mission. The irony of course is that the people who are generous in this way, who give, to them will be given more. If you are willing to empower people to obey the voice of God in their lives, the result may be fewer people in your own mission but more expansion in the kingdom of God. Whenever we give, we are depleted by it. But you are also shaping the nature and culture of the group you lead to be open handed, selfless, and concerned for the kingdom above all things. That kind of commitment is exactly what will be attractive to other people.

Instead, our multiplication or reproduction came out of a posture of giving freely our best people to the God who loved and called them. People are not our possessions. They belong in the group, but they do not belong to the group. They are not pawns to be moved around our gameboard. They are not a means to our growth. It is our love for God and others that leads us to want them to go where they are led and to become leaders of something themselves. It is not that we need to devise a system that will mobilize people to be part of a growth scheme. We should see the gifts and calling in the people around us and insist they let nothing stand in the way of a wholehearted pursuit of that. I am convinced that one of the reasons there have always been new people in our living room every week is because we are a sending church. It is a safe place to learn and grow precisely because it is a place that, when the time comes, you know you can leave. Microchurches need to have both a front door and a back door, and both are pathways to grace and the will of God.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Parent Launch - The World Race Gap Year

We spent this past weekend in Atlanta participating in the Parent Launch for Emily for The World Race Gap Year. I was a teary mess most of the weekend - saying goodbye to Emily was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

We cannot say enough great things about the ethos and execution about Adventures in Missions and The World Race. Since of course this kind of thing is my jam too, I went through the weekend both making mental notes about how good their ideas were and being in total admiration of their execution of these great ideas. They really do an incredible job in preparing both the Racers and their parents - this weekend it was around 300 Racers and most of their parents. Our time as parents included sessions about insurance, risk, our journey as parents, releasing our kids, Q&A with past Racers and parents and Adventures' thinking about discipling this generation. I heard this multiple times and believe it - they love this generation.

+ The Race is not incredible every day. Some days, it is just tough work. There is fruit on the other side of brokenness and sometimes we need to be challenged to push through rather than quit early.
+ Jesus apprenticed the disciples through a journey. It was a rite of passage and these are now rare in our culture.
+ We are stewarding the collapse of the church in the US [in the context of the Nones and Gen Z.]
+ 12 percent of this generation has an anxiety disorder.
+ The Holy Spirit is still the best at giving the answers.
+ There should be a transfer of the primary voice in your kids lives from yours to the Lords. [Peterson]
+ Put what God is doing in their life above wanting them home.
+ Pay attention to stirrings in your heart this year - one of the worst things you can do is to be in the exact same place you are now when your Racer comes home.
+ Release your racer from their past experience with God. Don't expect God to move in the same way.
+ There was a worship and teaching session the night before everyone left with all the Racers and parents. It was unforgettable - I haven't seen such intensity and passion from young people in a long time.

I could not imagine a better experience for Emily after finishing high school and before college and we are so thrilled for her. Thanks for so many of you who have supported our family in this. Follow along with her updates here.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Summer 19


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The four of us for 3 weeks together in June - Venice, driving down the coast of Croatia, the greek island of Spetses and working a small Ember project in Athens with 4 other leaders. Who knows where our kids will end up in the next few years so we try to get time like this.

In August, I went to visit Katie in Cape Town for a few days and although we had a great time being together, getting there and getting home was full of misery. Miserable: 3 missed connections and over 24 hours of flying on the way there including an unexpected leg through Doha, driving a rental car home from NYC on the way home because of another missed connection, and a stomach bug during the whole trip home. And there was a traumatic accident on my last day there when I ended up hitting and killing someone's dog. I would not have wished this on anyone.

Katie started her senior year in the UAE this past week. This coming weekend, we send Emily off for 9 months. Time doesn't wait. Put a mark in human history today.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Good Hope

Flying home from Cape Town later today after visiting Katie for 4 days, where she is working at an internship on social protection and poverty.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Last Match

The Poland ladies returned a few weeks ago and we had a decompression session a few nights ago. You should know this but if you don't, decompression is one of your big responsibilities if you are involved in cross cultural teams. It is the make or break, the smoking gun, the silver bullet. If you help students process their experience, they might change and grow. If you skip it, they almost certainly will not.

We worked through Ember's decompression toolkit, something that we have put together over the years of our experience. It includes things like having students write a few different summaries of their trip, exploring re-entry patterns, and thinking about missional imagination and idea models. As good as this is, I've said for many years that Seth Barnes has the treasure trove for debriefing here.

This was our last Ember project for the foreseeable future. Since these ladies are some of Emily's best friends, we've known them for years. Not only have them been involved with lots of Ember's projects, they've been an integral part of our lives. We've gone to the beach with them, they've spent countless hours at our house, they have eaten so much of our food. Could not think of a better last match for The Ember Cast.

This blog goes into pause mode for a little while. Thanks for joining us for the last incredible 16 years.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Travel Notes - Corinth, Spetses, Athens, Greece

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

Here are some details about our time in Greece. Greece is, of course, a travelers destination with lots to see and an incredible amount of places to visit, so you will have to accept the fact that you won't be able to do it all. For us, since we spent a few days in Athens last summer, our goal was to get on an island, see another city and spend some more time in Athens. See part 1 about Venice here and part 2 about Croatia here.

We left Croatia from Dubrovnik and flew into Athens. From there, we picked up a rental car and drove an hour into Corinth, that place from the Bible. We opted to stay one night near ancient Corinth instead of modern Corinth and we were definitely glad. Ancient Corinth is fascinating and the museum there is excellent. Well worth the price of admission. There is also a quaint little town right outside ancient Corinth where we had dinner the night before. Probably the best gyro I have ever had and no ATMs in this little village.

From Corinth, we drove about 2 hours through the mountains to Kosta, a little port. The only thing I know about Kosta is there is a parking lot that you can park your car there for multiple days for cheap. Our goal was to get to Spetses, a tiny island and an easy (!) ten minute boat ride from Kosta. No cars except for delivery vehicles are allowed on the island and there are 4 or 5 different beaches there. Lots of places to eat and hotels to stay in. We spent four nights there and it was beautiful. Our goal for these few days was just to sit and relax and our mission was accomplished. We did take a bus 20 minutes around the island one day to go to a different beach and Katie and I rode [electric] bikes back. Deanna and I also went on a horse drawn carriage ride and every meal we had on the island was excellent. We stayed in a hotel right down the street from the port - convenient because of too much luggage - long story.

As we were sitting on the sea wall watching the sunset one night, there was an older lady fishing with a hook on a line and clumps of bread. The first night, I only saw her catch small fish and she had me and a stray cat as the audience. The second night, I saw the real catch - a squid.

Our hotel, family owned and run, was managed by two brothers. As beautiful as the island was, they said it was dismal in the winter. Cold and rainy with no visitors - the same boring people in the nightclubs every night.

Our time in Athens was centered around hanging with the Streetlights team, although we did see the Acropolis Museum, had our good friend Spyri give a little reflection about the apostle Paul on Mars Hill, and a few of us went all the way up to the top of the Acropolis. The Acropolis is a little expensive but definitely worth it. If you go there with students, people aged 18 and under are free. Like I referred to in this post, 4 Ember students joined us for our time in Athens at the end of this little family excursion. And this excursion, man, this was one for the books.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Travel Notes - Croatia

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

Here are some details about our drive down the coast of Croatia. Stunningly beautiful, if you get the chance to visit, take advantage of it. See part 1 about Venice here.

We picked up a rental car in Umag after taking a train from Venice to Trieste and then a shuttle from there through Slovenia into Croatia. It would have been far easier to take a ferry directly from Venice to Croatia, but I'm not a big boat person. Also, renting a car through more than one country was prohibitively expensive. I've had good luck with Sixt rentals in a few places in Europe. Umag is a cool little beach town.

We spent one night in Pula, where we hiked up to some ruins and saw the Roman amphitheater. No tour, just a walk around. We then drove to Zadar and spent two nights there. You can drive from Pula to Zadar via the highway or on a little road that hugs the coastline - do the latter. It's about a 4 hour drive with stunning views of mountains and beaches and lots of places to stop for a break and food. Also lots of places to stop to jump in the ocean. June in Croatia is nice and hot so the ocean is perfectly cold.

Our Airbnb in Zadar was a bit outside of the old city so we didn't see much of Zadar. Instead, we planned it so that we could take most of a day to see the Plitvička Jezera National Park which was pretty incredible. Very worth the beautiful drive through the Croatian countryside. There are a few circuit hikes with some combination of lake crossings via boats you can choose from in Plitvička so do a little bit of planning before you get there. There are a few restaurants in the park so you can grab lunch and coffee there. The water falls are incredible but you can't swim in them although you can at the Krka National Park though but we didn't make it there.

After Zadar, we spent one night in Sibenik which also turned out to be a favorite. Sibenik is an old stone city on the beach that's been inhabited since around 1066. The King Kreshmir Heritage hotel is an amazing property. The property is brand new with an incredible staff and each room has a toilet/bidet combination. No cars in the old city of Sibenik so we had to hoof our luggage up lots of stairs. This was a common theme for us though this whole trip - it's a long story. Sibenik also has a quaint aquarium that takes about an hour to go through.

We got some recommendations for our trip from Paula, a Croatian friend of one of our kids and although we couldn't do everything on the list, the ones we did were awesome. One of the best tips was dinner at Baćulov dvor, a historic farmhouse where the owners give you a tour of the property and treat you to a traditional Croatian dinner. Really incredible experience including trying to find it, seeing houses that are centuries old and the great food. Paula arranged this for us - she's an up and coming travel professional so ping if interested.

Next was two nights in Trogir, another car-less, old stone European city. Trogir has 2300 years of continuous urban tradition and is busy with tourism. During our stay here, Deanna and I took a boat [boat count is 7 in 8 days at this point] to Split for an afternoon while our kids went to a local beach. We stayed in an apartment in a guest house in the center of the city - sort of like a budget hotel - and our host was named Diyanna.

Split was packed with tourists but worth it and one of our best decisions was taking the boat instead of driving. It is a large city so you might not want to deal with the traffic. Seeing the remnants of Diocletian's Palace is definitely worth it, especially the basement - pay the roughly $7 to get in. It will give you a nice break from the heat too.

Our final city was Dubrovnik and it was just as beautiful. We instead should have spent more time here as well. A huge walled city with lots inside and just as much outside the walls. We had a good amount of trouble finding our Airbnb here, it was just off one of the main roads but to actually get to it, we had to weave through a neighborhood as well as squeeze the rental car down a walled road with our mirrors in. Spend a whole day here if you can. The Dubrovnik airport is 20 minutes outside of the city and we flew from here to Athens.

Croatia is unbelievably beautiful - really stunning. It reminded me a lot of Iceland - that touch of wild with water, islands, mountains and rock, all tumbled close together. Granted, we didn't make it very inland in Croatia and all of the places we went were tourist attractions. But what we saw was fantastic and I would easily go back. The people were overly hospitable, there was lots of history we didn't even know about and so many old European cities. And believe it or not, we've never seen an episode of Game of Thrones but we saw a lot of the sights.

We definitely could and should have slowed the pace down of this, except there was so much to see. Paula told us in advance that Croatians don't serve coffee to go, instead Croatians choose to sit and enjoy coffee together over conversations. Next time, we get more coffee and slow it down.

Monday, July 08, 2019

WRGY Training Camp

Em is off to training camp for WRGY for 10 days. Proud and excited, go Em!

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Travel Notes - Venice, Italy

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

I believe that parenting requires both quality and quantity time [I picked this idea up from Mark Oestreicher] and this requires that sometimes, you and your kids go on a trip somewhere. And travel is one of the best way people learn important things: navigating the unknown, solving problems, resiliency, and of course, the world is a big place to see.

Below are some travel notes in case you are interested in trying the same thing or visiting these specific places.

+ The Journey
Fly into Venice, Italy.
Take a train from Venice, Italy to Trieste, Italy.
Take a shuttle from Trieste, Italy to Umag, Croatia.
Pick up a rental car in Umag, Croatia. Renting a car for driving in more than one country was very expensive compared to just staying in the same country and I'm not much of a boat person, which is why we did the train and shuttle. It would have been easier to take a ferry from Venice to Umag.
Drive down the coast of Croatia, stopping along the way, eventually to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Fly from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Athens, Greece.
Pick up a rental car and drive from Athens, Greece to Corinth.
Drive from Corinth to Spetses.
Spend a few days in Spetses.
Drive back to Athens.
Spend a few days with youth and community leadership dev org in Athens, Greece.

Venice is one of those bucket list cities, you really must see it. But it was very, very crowded - there were times where the smaller, tighter streets were jam packed with people. We stayed in an Airbnb right in the middle of the city and loved being able to do that. We also went to Murano for an afternoon. We were fortunate enough to have an old friend who lives in Venice and just started a lifestyle and travel curation service so she gave us great tips and advice. Like connecting us with a great gondolier - a gondola ride is a must.

Skip going in San Marco Basillica. Going in the Bell Tower is worth it when not crowded but you might want to try going to the roof of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi instead. Lots of places to eat cheap so take advantage of that and cicchetti is their version of small plates. Some of the places in San Marco Square that have live musicians charge you money for that, so do it only if you really want to. You can get to Venice on a boat directly from the Venice airport. There are tons of fresh food markets right near the Rialto Bridge but go in there in the morning. Spend an afternoon just wandering around, getting lost. If you have more time, take a vaperetto, which is the public waterbus, ride to Murano and watch the glass blowing demonstration in Ex Chiesa Santa Chiara. There is nothing like a gondola ride in Venice. Mestre is a neighborhood on the Venice mainland is starting to open up lots of hostels and hotels and the Venezia Mestre train station is right there. Join Genius Card Lifestyle, run by one of my local friends, for some local discounts.

One morning, I was walking behind this delivery man. His cart looks like an expanded hand truck, a bit wider with two extra smaller wheels by extension off the front. He will use those smaller wheels to help get over the many steps in this city - all those lovely bridges have steps. It made me realize that for all the beauty and novelty, transporting stuff in this city is difficult. Stuff like my luggage. Or if you run a retail store or a cafe, materials to run your business, which must come via boat and then to a delivery man and his cart like the one I was following. Our friends told us most restaurants get their deliveries in the middle of the night when the streets and waterways are clear of tourists. Some of us are aware of some of the logistical challenges in the developing world and this is a similar example - very expensive and laborious transportation costs.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Day 20

Today is the last full day of our family trip. We've had a great time and I'm thankful for such an opportunity to see what we have seen together. When we were planning this, we knew that if we were going to be in Greece, we wanted to see our friends at Streetlights, a youth community leadership development org in Athens. I also felt a bit of obligation to offer something to Ember students that had spent time with us this past school year. So we combined the two and a team of 4 ladies have joined us the past few days here.

Today is also our last and kind of only day of ministry with Streetlights. The ladies were delayed in London for a night so they missed Friday. But the neighborhood here is all about presence so although there was no formal ministry, there certainly was being present. Present in getting gelato and visiting a church and watching the jump-over-burning-flowers festival. Present in riding the bus and dinner on Fokionos. Being present among 30 or 40 some nationalities in one of the most dense communities in the world. This is what the future looks like: urban, Eastern, dense, pluralistic, multi-lingual, coffee until late in the night.

We send three of these ladies to Poland tomorrow to work with another Ember partner of ours doing some church planting. The ladies are eager, learners and creative. The picture above is them sketching and journaling with the Parthenon in the background. For our last Ember project for a little while, I'm super proud of this one.