Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 5

Team Dungannon is starting to settle into the routine: We wake up, have times of prayer and prep for the day of ministry. This is followed by going into neighborhoods, passing out flyers that announce that the YFC here is having a fun day in the park (see my Facebook for photos of the parks that exist in each "subdivision") and we go and wait to see who shows up.

We've done face-painting for the little ones and frisbee/soccer for the older ones, and all of it is to invite the people we meet to one of two things: First, the "drop-in" center at Youth for Christ which is the town square (which, incidentally, is on a street that has tremendous historical & political consequence--historically, during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, it has become the most bombed street in the world, and politically, it serves as almost a dividing line between the Protestants and Catholics). Secondly, we invite them to a much bigger deal that will take place on Saturday with a bunch of bouncy houses for the kids and a climbing wall for the teens.

This morning highlighted the reality here. Several kids showed up to play soccer and the game went well, adding more players once they saw a real game on. They were in a proudly Protestant community and we told them they were welcome to come to the drop-in center this afternoon from 2-4 and play table tennis or shoot pool or play Wii. They asked where it was. We told them on the square above retail store they all know.

"We won't be allowed." The message was clear: You can't come that close to the line of historical and political significance.

Nonetheless, it was a good morning of ministry, and they might come to the Saturday fun day. The game ended in a 7-7 tie as the international team played against Milltown residents.

Last night, several of us left the senior high "drop-in" time (which is after dinner, and the middle schoolers all "drop-in" in the early afternoon) to attend a prayer meeting at the church with the Methodist church that invited us. I have to admit that I wasn't really looking forward to it because it was a decidedly older church community that has a few theological differences...

...but it turned out to be one of the high points of my trip to date.

It was a privilege to pray with people that had a true heart for the Lord...which was evident in their eloquent words. They weren't repetitive phrases they learned by hanging out with other Christians. They were only the kinds of words that people who have studied Scripture for decades and prayed consistently for decades and lived in community with people who took prayer seriously. It was a 45-minute time with other saints who have loved the Lord for a very long time. It was 45-minutes I won't soon forget.

So, the ministry is going well, and our team here is hearing good reports from all the other teams. I'm really trying to stay in the "now" because I can't wait to get all our CBC kids back together in one room to hear how God worked in and through them. Thus far, it's been a great mission trip!

I'll try to be better about blogging, but keep checking the Facebook page for photos. Just don't have time to put them all here. I know it's inconvenient to go back and forth between the two, but I appreciate your taking the time to do that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 4

We broke into our various teams yesterday...9 teams total, and the best I can tell you is that we're all doing the work of our various ministries in our various locations in the Republic of Ireland as well as in North Ireland. You can scroll way past my anniversary update of yesterday to get the breakdown, but basically, you're looking at about 125 workers on 9 teams.

The common thread each team is supposed to accomplish together involves a prayer ministry, a service aspect, a children's ministry and a youth ministry. Our team in Dungannon arrived yesterday morning, got settled and began work on our service project.

We were serving Youth for Christ's Dungannon office specifically. They recently acquired a new "drop-in" center in the town square and needed help moving their stuff from their storage facility. Now, in the U.S. there are trucks and plenty of room on the streets and the whole deal. However, here, not so much...we had one small car, 10 people, and about a 2-block walk. We managed to get everything over in about 2 hours.

A second project in the office involves making their prayer room an actual prayer room (instead of extra storage). Three team members are part of that.

We then spent some time in the afternoon planning our team's children's ministry. Basically, we're hoping to go into local "estates" (in the U.S., they're usually referred to as "projects.") and put on a VBS-type carnival with games, snacks, skits and a message. We had a fun putting some ideas into our "super-hero" theme.

We ate dinner...which evolved into everyone on the team sharing their testimonies. I was blown away at the work of God in the folks I'm working with on this trip. What was extra cool was that I got to hear parts of the CBC team's story that I didn't know about already. We were there almost two hours and it was certainly a great way to kick off a week of ministry with these folks (just so you know, our team has 4 from Dallas, 4 from Calgary and 4 North Irish members).

Then our first ministry event was last night...they call it Safe Haven. It's a ministry to the folks who have been out drinking on the weekends. See, the YFC office is right on the town square and within walking distance of many of the pubs. YFC works in tandem with the city to help keep some sort of limits once the pubs stop letting people in at midnight. Eventually, they all come out of the bars at 1AM or so and eat or head home or whatever and YFC takes advantage to show love to these people. How? By giving them hot tea if they're waiting outside a restaurant for food, or by giving girls who are having trouble walking in their high heels a pair of flip flops, or getting taxis, and they even have a little first-aid kit in the backpack full of goods for any cuts/scrapes. On colder nights, they might even open their "drop in" center for snacks and such. It is a pretty cool little ministry and I got to take one of the rounds. Nothing eventful on my watch, but other team members had some chances for real ministry (and a few laughs, to be sure).

Then this morning we all attended the Methodist church in Dungallon. It was a strange juxtaposition of the old building (complete with church bells ringing out 15 minutes before service) with LCD projectors inside and the computer-driven sound equipment with the old-time replaceable hymnal numbers in a wooden sign. Gotta admit it was hard to sit through an old-time service on about 4 hours sleep.

Tonight we'll be leading the evening service at the church. Grayson will lead worship and our team will be presenting testimonies & readings and such.

One small side note: We may not be as frequently updating as our Internet is about 3 blocks away from where we're staying.

Anyway, thanks for keeping up with what we're doing!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

23 for the 23rd

23 years, man.

8,401 days, man. (Gotta count 6 leap years, don't forget)

201,624 hours, man.

12,097,440 minutes, man.

725,846,400 seconds, man.

That's how long I've been married to my lovely wife, Tracy. And, yes, this is yet another anniversary we've spent apart...occupational hazard of sorts. When you work with high school students for a church, well, you wind up working a lot of summertime hours. As best I can figure, it's the 17th one we've spent apart. The third one in which there's been an ocean between the two of us.

But, don't worry about us, kids. We're like everyone else in life when it comes to stuff like this. Plenty of folks work jobs that require travel or other kinds of time away. We'll find time to celebrate when I get back!

So, in honor of our 23rd anniversary, I thought I'd find 23 quotes from pop culture that, in some weird way say something about us and our strange life together. In no particular order, here are some snippets from pop culture and some commentary about us/life and why I picked it to describe something I appreciate about my wife. Here goes:

1) "I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not."--Kurt Cobain, singer/songwriter for Nirvana

Tracy has put up with my poor fashion sense which, on most days, resembles Kurt's clothes. My Doc Martens or flip-flops, the jeans, the t-shirt and button-down over it. As I've said many times that you can dress me up but you can't make me care about fashion. And she just rolls her eyes and moves on. She never picks on the minors, man. She accepts me for who I am more than most women I know ever would. She lets me be myself, which, for those of you that know me, is quite an act of grace.

2) "Ed McDonnough: I'm not gonna live this way, Hi! It just ain't family life!
H.I. McDonnough: Well... it ain't "Ozzie and Harriet." (from the movie Raising Arizona)

Tracy has accepted the role of minister's wife and all the idiosyncrasies that come along with it. Her home has been invaded, her dinners interrupted, her husband's emotions given to others at her expense, her life more public than she'd like, given up more creature comforts, done without more, and put up with more than most women ever do or will have to. And she's done it with an understanding smile, or a timely hug, or closed mouth far beyond what we ever thought or planned.

3) (all the following are from famed photographer Annie Leibovitz)
"You don't have to sort of enhance reality. There is nothing stranger than truth."
"A very subtle difference can make the picture or not."
"A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people."

Others have said it so often that I don't really have to, but the facts of the matter are I'm married to an incredibly gifted and talented photographer. I had no idea when we were in college that this would be something that she'd discover almost a decade later...but discover it she did, man. And she's so lassaiz-faire about her talent, too. She gets more out of the same opportunities that others can't. Sure, some people think they're good photographers and tell others all about how good they are a lot and act like they know a lot...but Tracy just quietly takes amazing photos. A blind guy with one eye can see it. I'm so proud of her and her work...not to mention how cool it is to be inspired by her.

4) (The Old 97's, from their song "I'm A Trainwreck")
"I’m a train wreck, And so are you.
And if you don’t know where your going do you mind if I come too?...
I’ll say I love you what the heck
I’m a train wreck."

I constantly feel like I'm getting the better end of this marriage deal. I guess I always feel the ways in which she's a train wreck are endearing. The ways I'm a train wreck seem so alienating to others, I guess. I love her. What the heck? I mean, what have I got to lose? She, on the other hand, is amazing.

5) "Now, here in the desert, Auburn's journey is complete. Fifty-three years of waiting, of hoping, of dreaming, of coming so close, it's all over. The Auburn Tigers are on top of the college football world. And the view from here is sheer perfection." (Auburn University radio announcer Rod Bramblett's radio call of January 10, 2011)

She puts up with my undying AUbsession with our college football team. She, on the other hand, keeps it all in a proper perspective. I, on the other hand, live and die with them. But I can tell you this: When that field goal went through the uprights and AU won it all, I'm glad her hug and kiss let me know that SHE knew exactly how much it meant to me. She was happy, sure. She likes them, too. But she knew that for me, I could now die happier with this little item crossed off my bucket list.

6) "One ball, two strikes, two outs. Six to one the Rangers lead in the top of the 9th. Feliz the high-set. Here comes the pitch. Breaking ball...STRIKE THREE CALL! THE RANGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!" (Texas Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel's radio call on October 22, 2010)

She also tolerates my love of the Great Game. She also knows that one of the absolute best times I've ever had thus far in life was sitting next to her at the first ever World Series game in Arlington. I was so happy to be with the girl of my dreams at the game of my dreams. And we won that night, too. Another bucket list thing and I got to see this one in person with her. Very cool.

7) (George Harrison, from his song "Got My Mind Set On You")
"It's gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It's gonna take patience and time, ummm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you"

Can you believe that I proposed and MTV was on in the background and this song was playing? This woman has learned that if romance is about flowers and creative dates and poems and big plans, well I don't know a thing about romance. But if love is about devotion and faithfulness and all those things, well, I'm all in. She does without a lot of the romantic stuff because she knows every time I try it somehow goes awry.

8) (from Disney's movie Aladdin)
"One jump ahead of the lawman.
One jump, and that's no joke.
These guys don't appreciate I'm broke."

The reality is that she's an incredible mother. And when we were super-poor instead of Flower Mound poor, the hours we spent just playing with our kids were some of the best times of our lives. Kid1 playing with her guys and singing these words in such a way that they were unintelligible to any outsider but perfectly understood by us reminds me of those times when I first saw her be who God created her to be. Manalive was that beautiful.

9) (Pearl Jam, in their song "Go")
"Oh, please don't go out on me,
don't go on me now
Never acted up before, don't go on me now
I swear I never took it for granted, just thought of it now
Suppose I abused you, just passing it on

She put up with all sorts of my goofy parenting, understanding that was one way she could be a great parent. For some reason, when Kid2 would point at the stereo and want to dance around with Dad to Pearl Jam and I'd crank it up and we'd thrash around, well, she just laughed and joined in after the obligatory eye-rolls. We still have that CD Kid2 loved to hear so much and laugh about those times when the song comes on satellite radio.

10) "The most difficult lie I ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me." (Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz)
I'd heard that marriage would give you character. I've come to believe that statement is nonsense on stilts. The reality is that marriage exposes the character that is already existent in you. She's allowed me to grow and change at my own rate, and her patience with this selfish oaf of a husband is incredible when you think about it.

11) "Ladies and gentlemen, the City of Orlando and the Executive Committee of the Citrus Bowl proudly present, for your halftime entertainment, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers!" (Public address announcer for the 1987 Citrus Bowl game between Auburn and the University of Southern California)

The day after our first kiss at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando we were at the coldest New Year's Day bowl game ever in Orlando, and the Gatlin's played for half an hour. We were freezing but still had the best time laughing at the Gatlins and the USC band's stupid war chant. It seems like all my best times are with her...and Auburn won that day, 16-7..

12) (From the Song "Birmingham Tonight" as performed by Telluride)
"And I can't help but feel
That everything would be alright
If I could be in Birmingham Tonight."

I love Tracy's get-up-and-go mindset. I'm a homebody. She's always up for a 3-day trip to Paris with Kid1 when she won airline tickets, or staying out late with friends or a late movie or some sense of adventure that I simply don't have. This song is from our college days and a college band she loved (that I wasn't much for, but what else is new?) where she'd say things like, "The floor of the Supper Club is orange and blue, didn't you know that?" When I asked how she knew, she talked about how many times she'd been out with friends and was there so late they turned the lights on so the clean up would go more smoothly. I don't think I've ever been in a club when they turned the lights on. Granted, now that we're older, I'd be surprised if she knew the color of floor tiles, but she's probably heard a few more "last calls" with her friends than most. My wife is a fun girl, man. Still.

13) "I noticed you have braces. I have braces, too...come to Butt-head." (from the Mike Judge movie Beavis & Butt-head Do America)

Yep. She puts up with my love of incredibly juvenile movies. And even supports it with thoughtful gifts on Father's Day. Sure, other dads get ties and soap-on-a-rope, but I get complete box sets of Beavis and Butt-head DVD's. Not even kidding.

14) "Oh yeah this is happening. Oh, and by the way, it's your day on dishes." (Jack Fuller from the movie What Happens in Vegas)

She puts up with my ability to obsess over all sorts of strange the time a silly romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz was on HBO every hour for like a month. For some reason, the more I watched that movie, the funnier it got, and the more I thought it was funny, the more she laughed at me. She constantly reminds me not to take myself too seriously, because, let's be honest: In my job, sometimes you can believe your own PR and she's been just the girl to keep my balanced with a proper perspective of who I am, what I do and Who I serve. I'm glad she reminds me of those things, because without that accountability I be dead in the water.

15) (From the University of Texas fight song)
"The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Texas Fight, Texas Fight"

Watching my wife grow into the role of parenting our kids who are growing up is cool to watch. Kid1 went off to college and she was incredibly thoughtful and encouraging with stuff like care packages of holiday goodies and making sure our first-born still felt that family connection even though she was growing up and truly becoming independent. I'm amazed at how good a mom she is, equally as good at letting them go as she was when they required full-time attention. A rare balance.

16) "You make mistakes, but I don't have any regrets. I'm the kind of person who takes responsibility for it and deals with it. I learn from everything I do. I work very hard, I have so many things going on in my life. Get to know me and see who I am."--Kim Kardashian

Watching Tracy be able to pick out the subtle differences in our kids is beautiful, too. We've been blessed with two kids with very different personalities/interests/talents/passions, etc., and Tracy's been able to navigate those and adapt her parenting style to the needs of each kid. If Kid2 would rather read Kardashian than Hemingway, so be it. She's taught me to be flexible and roll with the punches of parenting, but moreso how to truly appreciate and love those differences and to be students of both. And I do...because Tracy teaches me that stuff.

17) "Having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit."--Bill Cosby

Again, parenting exposes your character, and watching her parent with such grace and patience has been encouraging to me. The days of parenting are indeed long, and the years of parenting are indeed short. As we come to the end of the day-in and day-out oversight of children, she continues to teach me how to let go and still be there at the same time. A delicate balance she has the natural feel for that I don't.

18) (from the song Private Idaho by the B-52's)
"Get out of that state,
get out of that state you're in.
You better beware.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
Keep off the patio..."

One of the best vacations we ever took was to a lake house in Idaho and what it made it so great was that we were together with people we love and just spent time together. It can be in Idaho, a beach in Alabama, or at our church's family camp in Colorado, or Disney World or just in our den renting a movie and buying pizza, but I just like being with her. She makes me happy wherever she happens to be.

19) "I'll tell you where. Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I'm talking about a little place called Aspen."--Lloyd Christmas, in the movie Dumb & Dumber.

Again, with the stupid movies (it's right there in the title, right?). But in this case we named our dog after Jim Carrey's character in the movie...and the fact that we have a dog is testament to her willing to be flexible. I detest & loathe cats and she grew up with cats. Yet, when we got married, she let me get a dog (even though allegedly it was for HER birthday) a big old mixed black lab that shed big time but raised our kids after being our first kid. Then we get Lloyd, the Shih-Tzu that has his own Facebook page. But Tracy was a cat person, but chose to be a dog person because she knows how much I'm NOT a cat person. She's a giver. As much as I joke that I'm a giver, she's REALLY a giver.

20) (from the song Outsider by the Ramones)
"I am an outsider
Outside of everything
I am an outsider
Outside of everything
I am an outsider
Outside of everything
Everything you know
Everything you know
It disturbs me so"

Tracy has to deal with a husband who really feels like an outsider in any arena he finds himself in...doesn't matter, really. At dinner parties. In church circles. At the parent's nights or PTA meetings. At the little league softball games. At the ballet studio. I'm outside of everything you know. And everything you know, well, disturbs me so. See why the Ramones were my band of choice as a teen? But it's hard on a wife to be married to someone who lives this way most of the time. She loves me anyway, even if she doesn't understand my feelings...which I appreciate more than I tell her.

21) "And lord, we're especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream. Anyway, we'd like to thank you for the occasional moments of peace and love our family's experienced. Well, not today, you saw what happened! Oh lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?"--Homer Simpson, praying on the Thanksgiving episode in Season 2.

Tracy has had to change her view of what spiritual leadership in the home actually is. Or at least how it plays out. I feel confident that she had a different view of it before we were married, and she allowed God to work in me rather than trying to change me. Now, don't get me wrong, she was just as much against the lavender-colored devotional over a cup of coffee view of the way married couples do the spiritual life together, but even as flexible as she is, I'm not sure that long hair and tattoos and finding spiritual lessons in the Simpson's was in her original way of thinking. But she's given me the grace to do it the way I have to do it before God, that's for sure.

22) "There's no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion." (Author Edgar Allen Poe, quoting Francis Bacon in the short story Ligeia.)

I won't get all sappy here. But my wife is exquisitely beautiful, and the strangeness that makes it so are things I truly love about her. But exquisitely beautiful does her justice. So, I'll leave it at that. Not many women could take my breath away in flannel pants and a t-shirt while carrying a laundry basket through my living room, but she still can. She's getting more beautiful to me each year. No joke. And I'm not just saying that to be nice.

23) "And in the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, I was trusted more than I trusted, and I was loved more than I loved." (Jefferson Edward Briggs--a.k.a. "Jake"--in the movie She's Having A Baby)

If there's a statement more true that describes where I fit in our marriage from a John Hughes movie or anywhere else, I haven't seen or heard it.

So, Tracy...

...thank you for the 725,846,400 seconds, man.

...thank you for the 12,097,440 minutes, man.

...thank you for the 201,624 hours, man.

...thank you for the 8,395 days, man.

(and thank you for the extra six leap year days. I didn't forget)

...thank you for 23 great years.

I love you very much.

And I'll see you on the 26th.

Happy Anniversary!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 3

I love my job.

One more time, for emphasis: I...

...LOVE... job.

Okay, sure. Today started off with a child protection seminar. It was all good & necessary information. But, no matter how you slice it, a seminar is a seminar.

Then we broke for coffee and some more cage soccer (see Facebook) in which Charlie led Team USA to a victory against Italy, 3-2. The soccer world may never be the same.

Followed by a few hours roaming around which most of you reading this will likely be getting some souvenirs from so I won't spoil the surprise. What I will tell you is that one of you WILL NOT be getting a Guinness Beer glass, which was dropped on the bus apparently. My guess is you'll be getting something else. Shame. It was a REALLY good glass, too.

Then we went to our 2nd dinner at The Seasons restaurant. Again, the owner and his wife closed their restaurant to the public and fed the entire Project 32 team...tonight it was a choice of lasagna or Chicken Tikki, but you didn't have to go either/or on the deal. You could go both/and, and followed it up with a parfait. Last night it was Pavlova. Google that and make the recipe. You won't regret that.

Afterward the team went to a very special event at City Church Belfast where we were commissioned. The worship was honest, and prayers were offered for the leaders/teams/cities we're going to. Parents and friends of all the local people who are involved in Project 32 were there to support the mission. I even got to greet the congregation on behalf of Crossroads--it was a pleasure to represent a congregation that wants us to be here.

And, yes, that is one of the parts I love.

But here we are.

Some 9 months after this idea came about to send a team of students on an 8.5 hour plane ride to tell people about Jesus in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland... has been raised. member applications have been screened and members chosen.
...prayers have transpired on both sides of the ocean.
...and the team arrived and has been trained.
...and the team has now been commissioned.

Vanessa, Cheri & Nicole are off to Nenagh Baptist Church in Tipperary, Republic of Ireland.

Charlie, Macy and Kathleen are off to Gorey Methodist Church in Wexford.

Parker & Lauren are off to Enniskillen YFC.

Ryan & Elli are off to serve the churches in Garvagh in County Londonderry (truth be told, this is going to be one in a city I'd really love to spend a week in in North Ireland).

Me, Sue, Justin & Grayson are off to Dungannon YFC.

Each team has different ministries involving everything from children's vacation Bible schools to nursing homes to teen clubs to serving churches and prayer ministries.

(as an aside, now that all the team members are scattered for the next 8 days, they're on their own for Facebook updates and tune in. I'll have access to the Internet for my team, but not all will, and so all my entries will be from my own perspective. So make sure to check their pages and such--they were told to update as often as possible!)


I feel confident that God will be at work through the teams as they work with international teams from France, Italy, Canada, Ireland & Northern Ireland. And yes, that's another of the reasons I love my job.

But I just had a conversation with one of our teens.

She told me she felt like God has erased the whiteboard of plans she had drawn up for her life.

She told me that she felt like, for the first time, she was going to hand God the marker and let him draw what He wants on it.

She told me that it might look like the one she drew up. It might not. But she was sure she wanted Him to do the writing, and she wasn't going to put a lot of pressure on herself to figure it all out right now.

She told me that she was going to enjoy simply knowing that God was up to something in her life and that she has time to see what that looks like...but she didn't want to miss what He has for her today.

What she didn't know is that she was reminding me of why--


--that I truly love my job.

It's what He does IN my kids, moreso that through them, that reminds me He's at work and all I have to do is water and plant.

He'll grow them.

And manalive is it beautifully terrifying to watch.
Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 2

As I'm sure most of you gleaned, the tone of this trip has changed a wee bit. (Everyone has started interjecting wee into conversation, and I'm telling all of you to be prepared for phrases such as "Shut your bake" when we get back) The Irish students joined us yesterday for training sessions all day.

We learned about the importance of culture and how it shapes worldviews. We got a short lesson in Irish culture, including politics, religion, history, traditions, etc.

And we learned how to engage the culture (anyone back home paying attention?) to get to a point of conversation with young people to eventually get to an age-appropriate way to get them thinking about 3 questions:

1) Does God exist?
2) Does Jesus love me?
3) Is Jesus' offer of an abundant life "work" better than my life now?

We've also been hearing a lot about how to tell our "story" (again, anyone back home paying attention?) and more importantly, how to listen to *their* stories.

We enjoyed a dinner as guests of a local restauranteur who is highly involved in supporting Youth for Christ here in Northern Ireland. Apparently, they'll be serving us dinner again tonight as well.

The evening closed with a discussion of the way St. Patrick, and all of Ireland, took the Gospel to the world: A practical walk with Christ that engaged the whole of life...starting with an authentic walk with Christ in yourself and then loving others.

Now, if you have about 10 minutes, check out this video of the story of St. Patrick brought to you by our friends at Veggie Tales. It's surprisingly historical and a great way to learn a bit about his influence. They showed it at our meeting.

Anyway, the night closed with worship and prayer...suffice to say it was an incredibly meaningful time. Trying to describe it wouldn't do it justice, but based on discussions with our teens, adults and other Project 32 team members afterward, God is really provoking our minds and hearts about this whole mission.

He is certainly working in us.

And we're looking forward to seeing how he works through us...

(Again, don't get too used to all this Internet access. We simply don't know about availability once we leave for our individual cities on Saturday morning)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 1

So, Facebook and Twitter are helping keep everyone in touch with family and friends at a pretty good clip, but there are a few things here and there that I can expound on beyond a status update or a photo or that 140 characters just won't cover.

However, don't get too accustomed to this. It looks like our access to Internet and such is it's possible even the FB/Twitter stuff will slow down as well.

At any rate, the travel over was uneventful, really. We did have a delay of half an hour (or "ur" as our new friends pronounce it)...and a bit of an "uh-oh" moment when the flight before us on the same airline to Chicago was cancelled due to weather, but other than that not much. Wasn't too bumpy, one of the in-flight movies was "The Adjustment Bureau" and everyone grabbed a couple of hours sleep.

The crossing into Dublin went smoothly, too. Cued up, waited our turn, got our passports stamped, grabbed our luggage and met Ian & Alan who were our bus transportation to Belfast (about 1.5 hours, "urs"). We grabbed some coffee and waited on the team from Minnesota (Crown College) to arrive.

One thing our students noticed: The "pace" of the different airports. In Dallas, everybody's moving quickly and seems in a hurry to get where they're going. You can pick up that vibe. In Dublin, everybody's having a leisurely stroll and seems to be enjoying the moment. Charlie and I wondered if maybe we'd been born on the wrong continent when it comes to that mindset. Believe me, we'd both prefer to mosey.

Once in Belfast, we spent a little bit of time getting into our dorm rooms, key distribution and a little bit of unpacking. In order to keep our teens awake we had planned on a long walk to explore a bit...and we were in LUCK. See, we'd arrived on July 12 here in Ireland. It's a celebration of a Protestant victory over a Catholic king in 1688 complete with parades and such.

The difference in our July 4 celebration is that these celebrations tie in political and religious overtones...and we walked down a parade route from a parade that ended recently and you could feel the tension. You can feel the passion both sides feel for their causes in the air, too. One side commemorating, one side seething. Add alcohol to the mix on both sides and see what you get.

But, in the morning parade there didn't seem to be any violence, so we took a walking tour of our little area. We saw the Belfast City Hall(which is incredible), a view of one of the remains of the previous night's bonfire (click the link for July 12 to see what that's all about) as well as got a view from the top of the mall observation deck. You could see the shipyard where they built the Titanic, tall church spires, and grassy knolls.

We also got a tale of love from the security guard who agreed to take a photo of some of us together...he'd asked where we were from and when he found out we were Christians, he said, "I'd like to tell you a Christian story. Now, I'm not a Christian, but..."


I didn't know if we were being set up for a joke, or if he was going to belittle us or what, but it turned out to be a snippet from his toast at his daughter's wedding and a touching story. Anyway, the gist of it is that his daughter had a part-time job as an elf for Christmas and one of her co-workers noticed she was tired and offered her a Twix candy bar and nice conversation while in the break room. His daughter was 17 at the time. Four years later, this girl had gone to a youth conference while in university and become a Christian. When she moved back home, she told the family she was looking for a church and after several months she settled on one a mile from their house. At that very church she'd discovered the guy that offered her a Twix bar years earlier was also a Christian and they fell in love and eventually got married. The guard delivered it with the local accent and much more flair...but all I could think about what how God might use that very story in his own life to reveal Himself. We all applauded and he took our picture. It was a great spontaneous moment.

We walked the 3.5 miles BACK to the dorms and were walking through the crowd assembling for the next parade. This is a big-time holiday, folks. Kids were banging on toy drums & blowing whistles & parents were festive and drinking and the tone of walk back seemed much more celebratory. Turns out that while we were blissfully back in our dorm sleeping, well, in the words of our hosts, "We had an interesting night last night." Passions certainly run high. I'm actually glad our teens got this little history lesson from a safe distance. I'm glad I got to be here to walk through it, and truth be told, I would've liked to been a little closer to the action of that night to see that side of it.

One of the interesting things about the people I've met and gotten to know a little bit about are where they are with regard to their views on church and how it's done in the U.S. and all that. Suffice to say that all I've been reading lately (namely the books I've blogged about here and a few others) about where the church is headed and what we need to be doing, well, these guys are in that same ideological place. They've read the same books. I mean, we're all the same age, we're reading books that describe what we're seeing, and we're coming to many of the same conclusions. Very interesting to see what God is teaching me in a bigger picture sense being confirmed by pastors from Calgary and Minnesota.

Yesterday was a sightseeing day along the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland. It seemed like every view was camera worthy. We went to a pretty little coastal town (I'll try to get the name of it and edit this later), followed by a trip to a rope bridge with views of the sea and cliffs, then to the Giant's Causeway (we could see Scotland in the distance because of the sunny day) and finished with a beach rest at Portrush. The kids have walked a total of 12 miles in the last two days...

...but my guess is most of that will come to a halt as we begin training for ministry in about an hour (ur) and it's going to last for two I'm not sure how well we'll be able to access Internet much, but I'll try to fill you in as time permits.

I'll close with a fun fact: We discovered that you can fit 8.5 Irelands into 1 Texas.

Kind of a scoreboard...but when you compare aesthetics, well, they win hands-down.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Thoughts on "The Tangible Kingdom" by Hugh Halter & Matt Smay


I know.

A great deal of my "professional" reading has been in the realm of all the ways the current Western Church's methods are coming up short when it comes to making disciples or even leading people to a relationship with Christ. I'll leave it up to you to determine whether or not this is because--

--as someone who has intimate knowledge of the absolute highest levels of evangelicalism's inner workings (professional experience seminary, parachurch & churches for the last quarter century as well as growing up in it)--

I see the fault-lines very few others get to see. See, I'm a deep deep deep insider.

Or rather because the "system" truly hasn't been accomplishing what a church is supposed to accomplish and American publishing is catching up with it (and please know that I'm aware of what the Church is doing in China, Africa and other "closed" nations, but the American/Western church is what I know/experience, so know that my comments are limited to that arena).

Or maybe it's somewhere between or in orbit around that dichotomy. Again, I'll leave it up to you. But whatever the reason, I'm reading a lot about our shortcomings...and there's A LOT of current publishing out there about them. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

At any rate, here's a few insights from Halter & Smay to get your mind vitamins for today. And, as always, feel free to jump in with your contributions to the discussions.

As is common in these types of books, the authors point out their views on what's gone wrong in our churches. Here's a few snippets:
"Individualism is a deep-seated WestMod [their term for the post-modern church in the West] bias that fights against commitment to anything that doesn't directly serve our individual interests. Most specifically, this relates to our interaction with people. Although we may want a deeper sense of community, we're not going to make the changes in our lives so that we can commit to it." (page 150)

Conviction, anyone? Er. Let's move on before we think too much about that, shall we?
"Church can be a huge consumer trap. We provide large comfortable worship centers, encourage pastoral staff to give us everything we need spirtually, and, at the end of the day, we don't have any money or time left to extend blessing and resources toward mission." (pg. 152)

But once you get past the "programming" issues they talk a bit about how those folks that aren't followers of Christ view us as a Tribe:
"Christianity is now almost impossible to explain, not because the concepts aren't intelligible, but because the living, moving, speaking examples of our faith don't line up with the message. Our poor posture overshadows the most beautiful story and reality the world has ever known." (pg. 41)"

Let's move on again, shall we? Of course, this is nothing new. Francis Schaeffer was writing about the same things in the early 1970's, but my experience is that now the cultural view of the church has shifted significantly from what it was 40 years ago.

The authors expound on a thought by Alan Hirsch (the author I spent a few days talking about his book in earlier entries) about this shift, which he calls "cultural distance":
"It can be applied to missions and church in the sense that certain people and groups are really close to the Gospel and others are very far away. That is, some share much of what evangelicals hold dear, so all you need to do is provide a church in the middle of a suburb that provides safe child care, school tutoring, ice cream socials, divorce and alcohol recovery, and basic moral training, and you'll probably see some growth in the church...
...It all depends on who you are called to reach. If your calling is to influence those with the most similarly held values, then you can keep providing the same thing. But if you want to influence the massively growing percentage of people who are much further from the Gospel, you'll have to provide, model and invite people into an inclusive community that welcomes people with alternative values." (pg. 72)

See, those people think like this:
"People in America are not ignorant of Christianity. They've heard the message, seen our churches on every corner, they flick by our Christian TV shows, they see our fish symbols on the backs of our cars. They've seen so much of pop Christian culture that they have a programmed response to us: ignore, ignore, ignore." (pg. 125)

So, what's the solution of the authors? Basically that a church needs to unique in contrast to what's already out there, as they train their folks to answer these questions as they plant a church:
"What's going to be the unique thumbprint of God on your congregation? What is different about your calling than what God may call other churches to?" (pg. 173)

They also ask this question earlier in the book to set the tone for later:
"If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of their behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested?" (pg. 10)

Great question, don't you think?

And, of course this will require leadership to lead, which may cause a few ripples in the church:
" may understand that you can't keep everyone together when you move forward to the ancient incarnational way. Some people will be like Milo [a guy from an earlier illustration in which he didn't like the changes his church was making]. They don't want to go and make it very clear. Let them 'not go.' Some will be like Mitten [a contrast Milo from the same illustration], who seem to want to go but really don't. They are the ones who pay your bills if you're a pastor, give you nice strokes after your sermon, who generally make life peaceful for you as long as you make it peaceful for them..."(pg. 27)

Then the authors talk about how once the people you're trying to reach will upset your church's apple cart and leaders have a choice to make:
"Wise leadership requires that you steward everyone well; pastor everyone well; be honest with where you want to go and try to express what your journey will be like, what they won't get to take if they go, and what will cost them if they do. Then let people decide for themselves." (pg. 27)

So what this comes down to is that the church needs to make some changes...
...people won't want to make those changes...
...and leadership needs to clearly communicate why and what and how and all that...

And do so in a way that's okay if the folks leave for more traditional confines. In fact, the one thing I appreciated about this book in contrast to the last one I wrote about extensively is that these guys said it was "okay" for there to be different degrees of this sense of "mission." That some older folks could lovingly be uncomfortable yet be supportive and the younger folks could lean on them and serve them to go forward and much more supportive pace and all that jazz. This book wasn't as much of a "blow it up and let the chips fall where they may" approach but was much more understanding of the reality of implementation and doing so in a loving way.

I must be mellowing in my old age if I lean towards this approach, right?

But anyway, that's enough mind vitamin.

Grab your cup o' joe & discuss. This should be a good one, right?!
So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that I saw where Social Distortion and Foo Fighters are playing in Atlanta in November. That might be worth an 839 mile drive, man.
...most of us don't know that we lose $400 per year in the electricity it takes to run a DVR because they suck so much power even when the TV's off. The awful thing is that set-top boxes that go to sleep cost the same and would save us $220 per year or so, but the cable companies (which admittedly could get them for the same price since everyone in Europe uses them) don't use them because Americans won't wait the 45 seconds it takes them to "wake up." Sometimes, we get what we deserve, man.
...that I got a Kindle and can now read on the elliptical machine. This is NOT a good thing as I read one book in 4 days in time I usually killed watching DVD's or listening to the radio or sermon podcasts. Much like the iPhone, I could afford the initial investment, but it's the after-purchase use that could kill me financially (and yes, I'm getting some of the free classics available, but even one of those per month and I'll be back buying them in a year and a half).
...that I don't get when any minister says things slow down in the summer. No youth minister gets that, because after graduation, leading a mission trip where 81 of us camped out in the desert with 4 days of driving and a two-week stint leading a trip to Ireland (it ain't the vacation you think it is when you're the group leader) and a week of staycation after that to keep my head together, well, it'll be time for our Fall ministries to kick off.
...that sometimes the Christian community can really be brutal toward those faithful pastors that lead them. I'm seeing that in several situations with colleagues in ministry lately, and it does two things: 1) stun me because I can't believe people would treat their pastors that way, and 2) well, reminds me that even though I may get under the skin of folks at my church a great deal they haven't come close to pulling stunts like I'm hearing about. Sometimes, we get what we don't deserve, man.
...a new life-station: Just had a beer with my daughter's boyfriend over dinner. I can't believe she's old enough to date someone "legal."
...that I got invited to a Google+ testing thing and even after filling out a profile and all, well, I think I've got plenty of social networking going on in my life and I'm not exactly sure how this is an improvement at all.
...I don't get the sadness about the ending of the shuttle flights by NASA. In fact, I'd much rather get our scientists full-throttle on the business of getting wind/solar/any other power and alternative fuels and going. I mean, if we've got money, I'm not too into space right now. I'd rather spend our money, time & energy on things that will work practically here and now right now. We can deal with space later. I mean, if we're talking about manned flights to Mars or an asteroid, we've done all we need to do up there for a while, right? Discuss.
...that I can honestly say I didn't watch one minute of the trial of Casey Anthony. However, a quote from Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss sums up my feelings on the matter: "But too many cable-news talk shows are set up with hosts who channel indignation and guests cast as dueling voices. You don't get the most airtime by offering a measured point of view." She also said that "juries consider evidence, not outrage." So, before you blame the system, folks, maybe you should ask a few pointed questions to the prosecution, right? Discuss.
...that the 10-day forecast for Flower Mound has 10 days all over 100 degrees, never getting below 80. One of my friends described this oppressive heat as the equivalent of winter up north: You stay inside and clean closets and organize stuff. What wears on you isn't the high temp each day, though. It's the low-end that never cools off. Even in the Arizona desert on our mission trip, sure it got to 113--for about two hours every day. Then at night it would get into the low-60's and take 4 or 5 hours after the sun came up to get warm. Not here, man. It just stays hot. Glad I'm going to Belfast for two weeks where the high for the entire time is supposed to be 65, suckers!
...that I've lost 30 pounds since I started my diet. That stuff about counting calories and exercising more really works. Who knew? But 10 more pounds to reach my goal, and I've heard these are the hardest.
...things look bleak for Auburn's football team this year. Graduated too many players who were incredible and while they're talented, they're young and will struggle. My guess in 8-4 or 7-5. Of course, I remember when those numbers were considered successful for my college's football team, but the words "defending National Champions" for the first time in 53 years have changed expectations all around.
...that the Old 97's new CD is incredible. I'm always amazed at bands that have made great music for over 15 years that wallow in relative obscurity while singer-songwriters in Nashville can virtually create money-making stars almost at will. Sometimes we get what we deserve, man.
...I tried to call a lawn-care guy to handle my lawn for July 16 & July 23 while I'm gone and he hasn't returned my call yet. Know anybody that wants a two-week paying gig to handle my yardwork?
...that I've already taken up enough of your valuable time, so I'll get on with my day.