Saturday, November 29, 2014

Barcelona & History

with Ellen on The Ramblas (Boulevard)
It's been a wonderful two days - not quite over yet - getting to know new friends in David & Ellen, whom I met through Athletes in Action. They are church planters who do a lot of ministry through sports. Ellen's background in synchronized swimming connected us in the aquatics world. The primary purpose for coming here was to talk about aquatics ministry around the world and what we (along with our friend, Jacqueline in Switzerland, and others) can do to encourage Christian athletes and coaches as well as be open to conversations with others.

Jacqueline is a former world class diver, Ellen a former world class synchro swimmer and me - definitely not a former world class pool swimmer! I just tag along and open doors for these amazing ladies!

We've had some great conversations about next steps. Now to put them into action.

Last night I was up until 12:30 a.m. with these crazy people! WAY past my normal bedtime, but we saw some wonderful things after enjoying a great home-cooked meal.

The day began being reminded that love is something we all have in common around the world. We are far more alike than we are different. I discreetly captured this picture which quickly took my mind to my love at home, to our need for love in our lives and thankfulness for God's love that surrounds us.

That was Friday.

This morning, David was off to a prison to do some ministry through basketball, and I slept in! Later Ellen showed me the Medieval part of the city. Everything is decorated for Christmas and in one square we came upon row after row of booths selling Nativity scenes, complete with buildings for the whole countryside. There was a large Nativity in the government square with a wonderful interpretation for a seaside city. I was told that Barcelona is known for its Nativity's and if you're going to put up one thing for Christmas, that's what it should be.

From Roman columns unearthed within the past few decades to stunning cathedrals, it's a beautiful city. Tonight we are headed to the Olympic ('92) village and park areas and then I insisted on taking them out to eat. As young married missionaries, that's a luxury they don't often get.

The Cathedral of Barcelona

The Cathedral of Barcelona

Courtyard of The Cathedral of Barcelona

The Cathedral of Barcelona

Roman columns from 1st Century

In the government square

In the government square

The "Sailor's" Church

Friday, November 28, 2014

Adventure into the Unknown

Never travel the day before Thanksgiving! I'm not sure what I was thinking! The snowstorm up the East Coast didn't help, but thanks to a wonderful United ticket agent at the Dayton Airport who engineered a new route, I was able to get moving in the right direction.

I'm presently in Barcelona on my way to Doha, Qatar as an official for the Short Course (25m) Swimming World Championships.

My hosts here at David & Ellen, church planters with a special interest in sports ministry. Ellen and I connected because of her passion for aquatics. We've Skyped a couple of times over the past year, praying for open doors around the aquatics world.

Being that it was Thanksgiving Day - and Ellen is from the States - she prepared a traditional meal for some friends and I brough the pumpkin pie filling, which she couldn't find here. It was a great introduction to some of their circle of friends, a wonderful meal and yes, the pumpkin pie turned out great!

The sun has appeared this morning, which was not in the forecast. Looking forward to a day of conversations about ministry and walking some streets of Barcelona.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Don't Discount a Double Check

I learned many years ago to never presume that I know everything that went into a decision of which I was not a part. I know far less than I think about my own decisions, much less someone else's! I tend to lean toward trust while finding some way to learn and grow as I observe the results of a decision. So when Mars Hill Church announced today that they would cease to exist, either merging with other churches or closing all 15 campuses, I'm not about to presume I know everything that's gone into that decision.

I began this post with some "fear and trembling," feeling like I'm treading on thin ice (as it begins to snow for the first time this Winter). I write so that I can learn - journaling is a great discipline for anyone. I write now so that I can look back and see how accurately I'm perceiving and where I need to grow.

I did this same exercise almost 2 years ago when I learned I would be leaving a church I'd served for a decade. I sat down that afternoon and wrote 2 pages, or more. How was I feeling? What was I thinking? Where did I agree? Disagree?

I re-read it just before my last weekend there and was pleased with the accuracy. It served as a check on my personal perceptions and self-awareness. So here goes, into a potential abyss that has the power to expose new blindspots.

Mars Hill's founding Pastor went through some trouble and difficulty, some might call it persecution, over the past year. Regardless of what you name it, he accepted some shortcomings, acknowledged his imperfection and decided to step back from leading the Church. Within weeks the leadership made this stunning announcement.

My mind went through a double check of questions and foundational beliefs. I do not for one moment suggest that any of these are or were the pitfalls of Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll. Here are the rest areas I pull into as I journey through my own soul. They are questions I've asked again this day.

I asked myself: "What's best for the Kingdom?"

I know that no church should stand or fall on their Pastor, no matter how charismatic the person is. So I ask the question: "What can I learn about leadership from this situation?" When I departed the church mentioned above, I was offered the financial and people support to start a new church. It was never a thought. It wasn't best for His Kingdom.

It's not about me. The people who make up the Church are not "mine." While it's painful to move from a place you and your family have settled into and called home - and hoped to call home for a longer time to come - I have no right to think that what's been built has been due to me. Sure, God uses leaders, but as His instrument I work only with His hand on the bow. Only as He strikes the keys or strums the strings does music flow.

A favorite seminary professor at Asbury once said: "We are temporary assistants to the Holy Spirit." Later I read Henri Nouwen's book "Making All Things New," in which he wrote about a "ministry of absence" and the professor's phrase birthed new life in me.

Jesus told the disciples: " is best for you that I go away, because if I don't the Advocate (Holy Spirit) won't come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you."  (John 16:7) Pastors and church leaders who worry about what might happen when they're gone (for a Sunday or a vacation or a Sabbatical) would do well to mediate on these words. My task as a parent is not to make my children dependent on me, but rather to unplug them from me and plug them into Jesus. As a Pastor, I'm called to do the same.

As church leaders, we would do well to consider the signposts that line the road of personal charisma & giftedness, leading away from dependence on God's Spirit. I know I don't know them all but I do know a few:
"I'll never invite a guest speaker who is better than me."

"I don't take all of my vacation. I can't be away from the church that long or often."

"I have to be at every meeting."

The attitude that if you disagree with me, I'll sideline you.
In other words, I'm not open to feedback or criticism.

Who doesn't thrive a bit on the positive response to a sermon or teaching? But if my goal is great sermons and Bible Studies rather than measuring how many people are reading their Bibles at home, I'm probably in danger of drawing people to me instead of Jesus.

A question I ask: Are my hands open or closed?

How tightly am I holding onto the ministry God has led me to? This Mars Hill announcement has been an opportunity to double check why I do what I do. Is it mine or is it God's? If it's mine and it's taken away - whether by personal decision, moral mistake, denominational move or leadership ouster - closed hands will tear it apart, holding on to that which I believe is mine.

EGOnomics is one of my life-changing books. It can be a painful read if approached with open hands. Ego can be my greatest asset or most expensive liability. Closed hands serve my ego. Open hands serve God's Kingdom. It comes down to taking things personally. How I take feedback and criticism is an arrow pointing inward to my kingdom or outward to His.

I ask myself: To whom am I accountable?

I am grateful to a group of guys who walked with me through one of my deepest valleys and have become consistent companions on my journey. This announcement has made me double check my accountability patterns.

When I have tough decisions I ask others for their thoughts and insights, starting with my wife. The older I get the more carefully I walk, not away from risk but away from personal preference in favor of the insight of community.

These are just some of the questions I'm reviewing in my own life. I'm not immune to temptation. I definitely have imperfections. A trending news story like this causes me to pause, to double check my heart and life. What can I learn? What should I do differently moving head? How can I pray for those involved? We're on the same journey, on the same team. I won't criticize because I don't know everything. How will you double check your life?