Thursday, April 30, 2015

Best of Luck Brent

That is Brent Lutz on the left, sitting on a tarp covered recliner with shaving cream all over his face. Our daughter Emily is in the center of the posse of girls on the right. A pie in the face - consider this a middle school send off.

Last Sunday was Brent's last Sunday in his position as middle school pastor at Grace - his family felt a call back to Ohio where they have deep roots. These girls, and our family, have been fortunate enough to have a middle school pastor that loved Jesus and was crazy enough to hang with middle schoolers for 3 years. His impact has been tangible and visceral.

Thanks Brent for investing in the middle schoolers of Howard County and best of luck!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Prague Team - Mtg #4

Served for a morning together at The Samaritan Women, a local human trafficking victim services organization, as a team, or as many as could come. They do a fantastic intro to the whole subject of domestic and local human trafficking and serving on their property is both a great project and gives you a great sense for their mission.

Planning lunch with most of our team where we outlined and put down some structure to the program we are going to execute. We got some juice now.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Burn

::: Why Some People Are So Good at Persisting
Trust me on this - click the link and read it. Nathan is fast becoming one of my favorite writers.

::: The Wirecutter's Travel Guide

::: Dan Sadlier celebrating Hope Church Roosevelt Island's First Year
Some of the Ember team had lunch with Dan in 2011. Super insightful post.

Photo: Community Garden, Salvation Army West Philadelphia. April 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Young Young Adults

Pictured is the leadership team of the young adult ministry at our church - a phenomenal group of young people. I had the privilege of being with them for about 18 hours a few weeks ago for part of their spring leadership retreat. Huge privilege.

During our time together, we watched a few of the videos from the Verge Conference, best described as a gathering of future-centric church leaders. I loved the content of the talks and my role there was to help facilitate discussions with this team. Some of the concepts that we talked about included movement thinking, releasing and ordaining ordinary people to do ministry, and postures and gestures. The other idea that I walked away with was the reminder that vocabulary creates culture - the words that you use and their definitions matter and help define the ethos of your team.

Much has been said about the decline of church involvement among young people and how the American church is in crisis mode. I don't dispute any of that and certainly agree that the future of a movement of Jesus followers will see many challenges. But people like these people - who love each other incredibly through good and bad, who are bound so tightly by a sense of impacting the world for God's glory, and who are willing to break the mold of how we have done it before - yes, I'll hang with them and cheer them on.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ember Philly 15

This past weekend, I spent about 24 hours in Philadelphia with some 10th grade boys and their leaders from a local church youth ministry. Long time readers might remember that Ember has used Philadelphia as a context for a few of our cultural and leadership immersions and this weekend was a similar experience. I loved our time together with this group, I've known one of their leaders for a long time and their leader team has been with these boys for almost five years straight. Every leader here was humble, sacrificial and fun. Every student loved learning about what we were doing and was totally engaged. Dream job.

Here are some of the elements of the weekend - feel free to steal with attribution.
+ Friday night - Chinatown immersion.
I love Chinatown Philadelphia for this kind of thing. You actually see lots of Chinese people there and it feels like being immersed in a totally different culture for a short period of time.
Dinner at Chinese restaurant with peking duck and frog.
Cultural observation - what are the icons, what is the narrative of the neighborhood and what is similar and different from where you live?
Urbanization, global urban migration, gentrification, demographics.
Dinner and discussion with Ember guide Tess and her roommate from Eastern.

+ Saturday - Salvation Army West Philadelphia
We had another Ember experience with Salvation Army West Philadelphia in 2011 so I knew a little bit about what to expect. It is part community center and part church, and the local envoys there, Tony and LaVerna Lewis are a joy to work with and really are there as pastors to the community. They have a fantastic facility that has been there since 1980 right next to a senior citizens apartment complex. The projects included weeding their community garden and sorting through toy and clothing donations.
The nonprofit dillemma of not having enough resources.
Missional imagination [like using this property.]
The requirement of missional imagination for leadership for the future.
Incarnation - when someone moves in to the neighborhood. Jesus being the ultimate example of incarnation.
The tension of bringing suburban kids into an urban environment for a few hours.

+ Saturday - Rocky Stairs
You cannot talk about the context of Philadelphia effectively without referencing Rocky.

+ Saturday - Tony Lukes.
Cheesesteaks - another significant icon of Philly.

Here is hoping that this weekend was catalytic for the potential in some of these students. More pictures here.

UPDATE: One item of feedback and I'm updating it here so I don't forget: we didn't walk around the neighborhood at Sal Army with the team like we should have.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Burn

::: The Seven Lies of Living Cross Culturally
...the big reality shocker comes when you realize that living cross-culturally is not simply TWO cultures but it requires MULTIPLE layers of cultural adjustment.
Must read of the week.
Link via Joyce, one of our Ember board of directors

::: Passports Ranked by Power
Link via JD Payne

::: Arcade Games at Airports for Charity

::: Ikea Refugee Shelters

::: Walt Disney was turned down 302 times getting financed for Disney World. 303 was the number that built an icon. - @AshleyJensen

Photo: Spring in DC.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The In Plain Sight Showing

Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant. - Robert Louis Stevenson

Great turnout for the showing of In Plain Sight this past weekend. Katie did a fantastic job and we are proud of all of her efforts over the past few months. Could not have gone better.

Packed house, the panel included some of the most influential people in our area in the fight against human trafficking and Chick Fil A was a sponsor. All this spearheaded by a 17 year old.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Prague Team - Mtg #3

I almost always do the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test with teams that I have. It's an easy and fun way to learn about each other, and yourself, and how the team interacts with each other. We talk about each of the four pairs of letters, what they mean and what teams specifically have conflict around. We also pass around the chart, filling in your name in your block, until everyone has everyone elses type on their chart.
+ Logistics
When and where.
+ Theme brainstorming
What kind of theme could ground the whole experience and how could we expand on that theme if needed. And how could we provide some advance promotion to this experience? And how could we add in just pure fun activities based on this theme.

Oh and we watched this promo thing from Hungary 2008. Wow.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Burn

::: Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts, on Short Term Missions
This means that one key factor in planning a healthy STM is to be very intentional about learning. Research is showing that STM do not have transformational impact unless they are embedded with deliberate pre and post trip learning that lasts about a year. We are emphasizing that STM are just one part of a longer learning process that prepares people for the experience, guides them through it, and then reflects on it afterwards in healthy ways.
Lots of good stuff in here.

::: 7 Cities that are Starting to Go Car Free
Link via Alex McManus

::: The World's Economic Center is Moving Towards China

::: 10 Places to Go Before They Are Gone
Link via Chris Guillebeau

Photo: Iceland cold. March 2015.

Thursday, April 09, 2015


One of the things we do when we can while traveling is to visit a local church. If you are like us, it's a great way to understand more of the subtleties of a given culture. So when Katie and I were in Reykjavik, we visited Loftstofan. Their gathering met in the early afternoon, perfect timing for us after staying up late chasing the Lights, and gathered at a local school about a ten minute drive outside of the city center.

Iceland seems pretty postmodern, both in thinking and in visual cues, like with art and architecture. They talk about elves and fairies as real beings and give lots of value to having the first openly gay Prime Minister. We saw a handful of state run church buildings that looked similar in design and layout. Most church planting and missions readings on the spiritual state of Iceland says that less than 1% of the population attend a church.

Loftstofan was the kind of place people like us would end up at. Emerging and organic, Gospel based, and culturally engaged, it seems to also have the DNA of reproduction and catalytic and movement thinking. Although the lead pastor was away during our visit, one of the elders taught. He had spent sometime in grad school in Richmond, but didn't stay there during the summers because it was 'way too hot.' Yup.

Monday, April 06, 2015

A New Era of Mission Support Letters

Every year, we try to raise the bar on mission support letters. We want the letters associated with Ember to look beautiful, to be thoughtfully written and to be an investment in relationships. Between this year and last year, I think we've gotten some momentum around this and a new default expectation.

Here is a quick view for some of the letters that are going out for our team this summer. Each of them meets those goals above and I personally would love to get one of these in the mail. These kids spent a good amount of time putting these together and Tess was instrumental in helping coach them to make them stunning.

Support letters are a tool. Most people that you send one to are excited to hear about your life and to be a part of your ministry. But overall, you should be trying to elevate the person that is receiving it. It is not simply about a transaction.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Friday Burn

::: The Breathtaking Beauty of Yemen

::: Nick Kristof on Respect for Evangelicals
But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I've met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.

::: Is there a Silver Bullet to Ending Poverty?
Three principles and three ideas for getting started.

::: What Do Those Airport Codes Really Mean?

::: When in doubt, use fear as fuel. @storynashville

Photo: Loftstofan Church, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Iceland - Trips with Dad - 2015 #2

At the end of 2014, I decided to be a little more intentional about time with my kids, culminating in a decision to take each one of my kids [and my wife] on a trip, just the two of us, in 2015. This was the second of these, a trip with Katie our older daughter, to Iceland.

The quest for this trip was to see the Northern Lights, an item on Katie's bucket list, and, frankly, a little adventure would be good for me. The trip was definitely an adventure alright, we had an amazing time. Iceland is a visually stunning country that takes your breath away everywhere you look. They love tourists there, everyone speaks English pretty well and the cultural distance from American culture is small. Iceland was also highly recommended by our friend Terah who had traveled there last fall.

Here are some tips if you make it there:
+ Citywalk Reykjavik is a great thing to do. Marteeen is a fantastic tour guide.
+ If you want to drive around in some awesome modified Land Rover Discoverys to see the Northern Lights, is what you want. [And you do.]
+ Fish, mens beards, the constant change in weather, and water are pretty significant cultural icons.
+ Gullfoss and Geyser are pretty easy to get to - we had a rental car and the road to both of these locations were plowed every day. You should get to these if you can.
+ The first day we were there, it alternated snow and sunshine every 10 minutes. Most of the next days were clear, sunny and cold. That being said, don't underestimate the weather in the winter, especially if you drive out of Reykjavik.
+ We saw a few short and fast snowstorms on mountain passes and those mountain roads can get covered with snow from drifting. We rented a Toyota Yaris, 2 wheel drive, but most of their rental cars have studded tires in the winter. Drive a little bit out of Reykjavik and it can seem pretty desolate.
+ Seljalandsfoss is definitely worth the drive. It is a little further out of Reykjavik as Gullfoss in a slightly different direction. Don't miss going to the fourth waterfall away from the highway.
+ The Blue Lagoon was fun but I would rank this a little lower than Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss if you were limited on time. Other people we know loved it a lot more though.
+ Hot water smells a little like sulphuric but it's not a big deal and you get used to it. Icelanders pride themselves on the purity of their water.
+ Wifi is plentiful everywhere. I did not have an international data plan, although that might have helped with directions at times. But like I said, adventure. One day, we stopped at a gas station and I got on the wifi there and skyped with home.
+ We are definitely suburban people and got to all of this stuff pretty easily on our own. We did purchase some quality cold weather gear though - hats, gloves, and insulated clothing.

Fantastic adventure and Katie and I had a great time traveling together.