Monday, September 25, 2017

Hello SeptEmber

Well, I cannot say it's been a great sabbatical... but I have appreciated the time off. But we aren't quite done yet - there are at least a few leaders the Lord has entrusted to Ember for this upcoming season.

Here is a bit of what we are working on:
+ ProtoGuide 17-18
MB started with us a few weeks ago, excited to tell you more about her soon. She started with the StrengthsFinder [Empathy, Belief, Consistency, Adaptability, Connectedness] and has started digging into Movements that Change the World. For those of you not familiar, ProtoGuides work with me for a school year at a Staff level. The ProtoGuide experience is our best effort at resourcing and engaging the best, brightest and most passionate emerging global student leaders we can find.
+ Monthly Ember staff dinner
We are hosting a monthly Ember staff dinner which will feature special guests doing some of the most creative, innovative and interesting global missions, nonprofit, charitable projects around. Invite only - mostly so our staff can get to meet these amazing people.
+ Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax
I'm speaking at a missions conference hosted by Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax in early October. We'll have some of our teams there too - would love to say hi if you are around.
+ Perspectives
Teaching Lesson 12 at 2 classes near Lancaster in late November. There will also be three classes in the DMV in the Spring so if you are thinking about taking the class, it is highly recommended.
+ And more...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Grand Canyon - 2009

Saying goodbye to her body over the next few days but not her spirit. And that's the Gospel - death to life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Madre

I used to joke routinely with The Madre that Chinese people were taking over the world by marrying into one Caucasian family at a time. We are grieving losing her a few evenings ago and yet thrilled for her that she is now healed, reunited with her husband Rudy and promoted to Glory.

In many ways, she was more than a mother to me than even my own mom. And of course I'm part of a lot of people that benefited from her investment of raising three incredible kids. If you knew her, you knew she parented with compassion and character, grace and truth, perseverance and prayer, sarcasm and wit. Especially sarcasm and wit.

The Madre was also a huge patron of student missions, supporting Ember in many ways. She hosted numerous teams of high school kids at her house over the years, living out an ethos of hospitality. She traveled with us this past Spring - her first time traveling out of the USA was to the Middle East. You are never too old for an adventure.

Thanks to all of you for your messages, comments, texts and emails - we have read and cherished every one of them. We are looking forward to celebrating her life in a few weeks.

Photo: Sir Bani Yas Island, UAE. April 2017.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Book Notes - The Last Arrow

If you submit to the idea that you can be mentored by someone from a distance [which I do], I'll tell you that I've been mentored by a handful of people from a distance, including Erwin McManus. So of course, his latest book, The Last Arrow, is a must read for me. He packs lots of cool stuff in there, like adventure, risk, faith, relationships and leadership and will get you to think in new and different ways about those ideas. The Last Arrow will push you to consider what you are about, who you are devoted to and what your life will amount to. Highly recommended.

The Last Arrow is not a call to never settle in every arena in life; The Last Arrow is a call to never settle about what God intends to do with your life. You have to know what matters; you have to know who you are; you have to know what your life is to be given to. For in the end, the one thing where we must never settle for less in is the calling that God has on our life; the purpose for which he has created us, the impact he designed us to make in the world.
The great tragedy that I have witnessed over and over again is that we keep underestimating how much God wants to do in us and through us. Too many of have believed the lies we have been told, that we're not good enough, we're not smart enough, we're not talented enough, we're just not enough. One of the facets of God that makes him extraordinary is the ability to do the impossible through the ordinary, everyday, common people like you and me. This book has one intention, that whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, live a life of celebrity or anonymity, that when you take your last breath, you will know that without reservation that you have given everything you have, everything you are, to the life you have been entrusted with.

While my family has had the great privilege of traveling across the world, I am reminded that Jesus never walked far from the place of his birth. The great adventure that God calls us on does not require jet-setting across the planet. Sometimes our greatest quest is within walking distance of our front door. Sometimes the great challenge that God has placed in front of us comes in the most unexpected places - like being a good husband, a good wife, a good parent. Sometimes your geography doesn't change at all but the journey is still long and hard. Becoming the man that your family deserves is no small endeavor.

Sometimes God needs you to go somewhere so that you can take others there as well. When you choose to stay behind, the future moves on without you. When you refuse to stay behind, you become a conduit to the future.

Perhaps the reason so few of us have received a double portion of God's spirit is that the lives we have chosen require so little of God because they require so little of us. I do not want to watch God work from a distance. Neither do I want to hear the amazing stories of God's activity in the world as if they are fables made for other people in an ancient time. I want to live the kind of life that cannot be lived without the fullness of Christ in my life.

You need to act like your life depends on it because it's never just your life involved. You need to never settle for less because the world desperately needs everything you can bring to the table. There's a subtle spirituality that has a deep disdain for ambition and hides apathy behind a language of simplicity. If you want to life a simple life, that's a beautiful thing. If you want to use it as an excuse to live beneath your God-given capacity, that is negligence.

People like Shammah create a problem for the rest of us. One person who chooses to live a heroic life disrupts the narrative 'we are living a lesser life' as the acceptable option.

You can't fight the future, but you can create the future. To fight the future is to ensure that you will be lost and left behind to the past. For some, the idea of standing your ground is a desperate resolution to find some way to make sure that the past is the future and that the future never happens. Frankly, the apocalyptic tone of the Christian faith has postured the church as an enemy of the future. The faithful hold on to the past and fight for the future. If I have had one struggle in my faith journey, it has been that the church seems to march into the future walking backwards. For many, the only hope of faith is that one day we will leave this earth and be free from a future which filled as with fear. Often our best hope has been that Jesus would come back soon. Yet I am convinced this is exactly the wrong posture for any of us who live by faith. Faith is the fuel of the future, and if God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, then tomorrow should fill us with inexplicable hope. No matter how bleak the present may seem for those of us who believe, the future is always full of hope.

So who are we to believe - Solomon when he says there is nothing new under the sun, or God who says, "I am doing a new thing?" The same God who says, "I am making everything new," the same God who tells us that he gives us a new heart and makes us new creations, the same God who calls us to sing a new song and whose mercies are new every morning.
For me, the future is my field of lentils. I have found the church strangely walking backward into the future. The church has become an institution that preserves the past and fears the future. It is not an overstatement to say that the church has become more of a reflection of what we are running from than what we are running to. No wonder we have lost our power to change the world. No wonder the church has lost its magnetism to a world searching for hope. We are seen as the guardians of tradition. The church is known for fighting for the future rather than creating the future that humanity desperately needs.

I have a limited number of copies to give away - leave a comment and I'll ping you if you are a winner.

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sabbatical Reading

1 The Last Arrow Erwin McManus *
2 5Q Alan Hirsch
3 What is the Bible Rob Bell
4 Only the Paranoid Survive Andrew Grove
5 Whisper Mark Batterson *
6 Alone Together Sherry Turkle
7 Jesus of Arabia Andrew Thompson

1 out Sept 5
5 out Oct 24

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

SeptEmber

My yearly sabbatical from The Ember Cast starts later today with a little road trip up north. This time off is one of the best ways I take a little break from being bivocational. Even though many people I know don't consider themselves bivocational, they truly are, investing a lot of effort outside of a vocational job with faith based communities, nonprofits and humanitarian projects. I cannot recommend this yearly rhythm enough.

Ember is so generative for me and having this break means margin to ask what the Lord is doing with it. The sabbatical every year is meant for this but this year was more unique than others so it's even more important now. Some years, I start this time not sure Ember will continue when I am done.

We have some interesting and exciting things lined up for the Fall and I'm excited tell you more about those things in SeptEmber. I hope some of you will join us for them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Called

Regardless of church governance, you are not called by a church board, senior pastor, or denominational leader. You are called by God. And for the record, he’s the only one who can un-call you. You can get fired, or get burned, by a human employer, but they cannot un-call you.
- [Classic] Mark Batterson. Seven Hard Earned Lessons on Calling.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Summer 17 Financials

We've reconciled most of the summer expenses so maybe this will help you with your future planning or give you a baseline for comparison. This is all the big stuff even though there are some small incidentals here and there. Some notes below since this is The Ember Cast and nothing is ever straightforward around here.

11334 - Italy Airfare
3160 - Poland Airfare
1685 - Italy Lodging
1200 - Poland Lodging
~1500 - Poland on the ground costs including food, excursions, incidentals, etc.
~2200 - Food, for 2 weeks for both teams
350 - Insurance
1032 - In Country Transport
1900 - Future
58 - Bank fees
2577 - Ministry
~27200 - Total

Italy
- team of 6
- 13 days long
Poland
- team of 2
- 44 days long + 7 days in Italy

+ Two teams that overlapped in both time and locality means that some of the costs are shared and were not easily categorized.
+ We used two Airbnbs which were extremely inexpensive. Our team also felt like it gave us a better flavor for living like a local. I was a fan of Airbnb even before this trip - this is the definitely the way to go.
+ We had two people drop last minute so there was both a credit for airfare and some much smaller sunk costs due to one of the flights being non-refundable.
+ In country transport included a rental car, subway/tram and taxi fares.
+ We purchase overseas medical insurance for each person. We have a great insurance person - let me know if you need an intro.
+ The best way to get cash is to go to an ATM in country. My credit cards do not charge foreign transaction fees but my ATM cards do. Annoying.
+ Ministry costs included costs to do the stuff as well as some monetary funding to our partners.
+ In the case of the people that dropped last minute, when we can, we like to hold the money they raised to be applied to something they do in the future, whether it is with Ember or another 501C3 nonprofit.
+ Spending $27K in 13 days... Make no mistake, spending this kind of money every summer always gives me pause. When it comes to short term missions, we should always be asking whether this amount of time, money and energy is worth it but ask it with a 500 year horizon.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday Burn

::: My Life as a Suburban Church Planter
This is an excellent read.
Link


::: Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?
Also an excellent read.
Link


::: Natural Wayfinding Tips
Link


::: The World's Most Dangerous Cities
Link


::: Honor the past but be more loyal to the future - Brian Houston

Photo: Italian subway, July 2017.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

AA

Long ago, in a previous life, this middle school girl in the blue in the center of the picture came on a homeless community impact thing we worked on. Twelve years later, she is the point leader for a team from our church that our younger daughter Em is on this week. Back then, I helped run student missions for our church but transitioned out of that in 2008 and then started The Ember Cast in 2010.

This is Em's first missions thing apart from The Ember Cast - that is a good and healthy thing. Running your own parachurch/nonprofit thing sometimes means that you naturally 'lose' your church. If you start something on your own, make sure your kids are still connected somewhere.

Running your own thing also means that sometimes you will behave with a worldview focused on scarcity instead of abundance. This manifests itself by hoarding instead of being generous and tells you what you really believe about control. You might struggle with this especially when it comes to what your kids are involved in.

Anyway, all that to say that Alyssa is an awesome leader and we are grateful for Em's involvement on this team this week.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Future Casting from 2017

+ Migration
When I speak about student missions, I almost always say that we are living in some of the most amazing times in human history. One of those reasons is because of human migration. This incredible movement of people has never happened before and will continue for the foreseeable future and will be both a major challenge and opportunity for those of us called into this kind of work. This summer reminded me that not only are we in the middle of this huge global phenomenon, but that those of us called to follow Jesus must continue to engage with this issue. Whether it's learning a new language, engaging the sojourner on your street or traveling somewhere to encourage people serving in this issue, we all can play a small part - there is room for everyone. A conversation with one of our hosts also reminded me of the demographic time bomb that is also at play. The interesting twist, also an observation from our host, is that this immigrant influx could be the one thing that saves certain countries and communities from their own demographics. Watch this play out over the next 5-50 years.

Attention
Your smartphone holds an incredible amount of power. With mine this summer, I was able to stay in touch with people at home, post quick updates to my blog, and translate Italian to English so that I could order that very most important Sicilian pizza correctly - all good and important things. But I also got caught up in a ridiculously useless game [1010!] and spent too much time goofing around on Mombook, instead of hanging and engaging with our team. But let's be clear - it isn't about the phone, it is about attention. While our team of students spent lots of time on their phones, Ember does not have an explicit phone policy except no phones at the table. The future, specifically my future and your future will be determined by what we give our attention to. Sure, you can spend months binge watching your favorite television series. But is that what you want your life to amount to? Instead, set up a series of habits to help you give attention to the right things. Change this tomorrow and you'll see a difference in the next 30 days and who knows what that will lead to for the rest of your life.

Dechurched
Most youth mission experiences are centered around a local church student ministry. This summer, a good portion of my team was not connected with any local student ministry and this marked a change in the makeup of our teams. Since one of Ember's distinctives is to engage 'emerging global student leaders,' the vital question to be answered is, "If you can't find these kids in churches, where will you find them?" I believe that there are students who have a vital walk with Jesus and this relationship informs their passion for the world, but they aren't connected with a local church for whatever reason. We've relied on local church leaders to help us find these emerging leaders and that will pivot and change moving forward. This will also play out in how mission agencies engage these leaders when they are ready for vocational missions. Side note: Ember holds local churches in high regard, but the church in its apostolic, missionary form is just as equally "church" as the church in its local parish form. We will see this at play in the next 3-5 years.

::: "Seeing the future first may be more about having a wide-angle lens than a crystal ball." - @profhamel

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ember Poland Has Returned

Our second team, the Poland ladies, landed yesterday afternoon after 2 months in Poland and one week in there with our Italy team. By all accounts, it was a grand success and I'm proud for how these ladies worked, served and represented Ember.

We had intentionally set this experience up with elements of cultural engagement, history exploration and startup ministry and probably our best decision was to give it a very light tempo. It was not a 40 a week job. Instead, it gave them lots of room to experience this global city as cultural explorers first and summer missionaries second.

Ember has wanted to grow this type of summer send for a while now. This is a great alternative to the 10-15 day summer team we usually do, helping give the right people an extended field experience with some great hosts being creative and innovative for the Gospel. Maybe you'll dream with us about this kind of thing in 2018.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chickens

How many times have you heard the following?
"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
"What goes up must come down."
"Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

The truth is, we've been programmed to avoid risk, play it safe and only go after what is predictable, definable, quantifiable, acceptable...and possible!
But if you want to take ground for God, fulfill your destiny and live a life of faith, then RISK must become your friend.
- Christine Caine

Monday, July 24, 2017

Learners and Sponges

RH, holding court with Tess and Lindsey, who are asking deep and engaged questions about refugees. Humility and the passion to learn are some of the most attractive qualities of our leaders.

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." - Alvin Toffler

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Burn

::: In Urban China, Cash is Becoming Obsolete
Link


::: Last week, Verily - formerly Google Life Sciences - began releasing bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in Fresno, California.
Link


::: 60 Countries Ranked on Digital Competitivness
Link

Photo: Warsaw tram stops.