12.21.10

Where does the time go?

Posted in Ancona, church, family, kids, Newsletters at 12:42 am

Do you ever wonder where the time goes? Sometimes I ask, and sometimes I don’t. Right now, though, looking at this growing family sitting in front of the Christmas tree, I have to wonder how we slid through this year so quickly? Just last year, the kids still seemed like kids (not the pre-teen  mess I often see staring back at me :) ). We had a new Christian sister and brother among us (Jacob was baptized in October and Cristina in November). We were getting ready for Christmas, including a fun Christmas Open House that we hosted at church. We were preparing to head off to Germany for the Mid-Winter Rally. So many things lay before us.

Now, I’m looking at all that we have accomplished as a family and church this year. Our own Chloe was baptized on July 25th. I would have to say that that is our biggest thing that we celebrated as a family. We also rejoiced with Daniel and Simona as they were baptized in October. They have been with us for so long, and it is so wonderful to see them really growing in their faith. This year was a real turning point for them. Let’s continue to pray that they can get rid of all of the hindrances (like superstitions and other things from their former ways of thinking).

We celebrated birthdays and beach days. We hosted many in our home. We shared in an awesome Bible Study with our friends Simone and Marianna, and then started a new one including one of the newest members of our church, Sam. Which brings me to the new folks that have joined us. We have a new family. Sam and Roxanna, their daughter (a precious 3 year old) Diana, Roxanna’s 18 year old brother Paul, and her parents, Michela and Stellian. What a joy they have been.

Like you, I can’t always recall each and everything that has happened throughout the year. Fortunately for us, God helps us forget the bad (though I’m getting older and starting to forget the good, too). I know that the kids have grown taller. I’ve noticed less hugs in public, and more heart to heart talks in private. I see a man I married 13 years ago, and couldn’t be happier with that decision. I see a growing community of believers that God has called us here to disciple. I see a blank slate before me. I look out the window at the amazing amounts of snow falling (it never snows like this here) and know that if there is anything I messed up this year, anything that didn’t go as planned, that’s OK. Why? Because His word tells me that he will make me whiter than snow! I have a chance for renewal, for change. So, I look at last year with joy! And I look at this next year with hope! And I’m praying that you can do the same, too.

Until next month…

12.14.10

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:29 am

I felt a little bit like a secret agent.

Some friends of ours who work in a country where Bibles are basically illegal recently asked if we could be the middle man for them. They would order the Bibles, we would pick them up, store them in the attic at church, and they would smuggle them into their country when they got the chance.

I was happy to help, and even happier that the process involved much less paperwork than I thought it would.

As I flipped through the Bibles (and thanked God that I don’t have to learn that language!) I found a little drawing that looked very familiar. Even though the writing was gibberish, I was looking at the Four Spiritual Laws.

Fact - Faith - Feeling

Almost 20 years ago, when I first started attending church, my youth minister invited me out to get a Coke. We ordered, and he pulled out a tiny booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. A Gospel tract. It was illustrated with little pictures that summarized the simple words and concepts introduced in the booklet. I was amazed that being a Christian could be summarized into something so easy. Simplistic, even. Grace and forgiveness and God’s plan for humans were all described, along with brief references from the Bible.

In all my time as a pastor in Ancona, I have never once used a Gospel tract. Occasionally, well-meaning friends back in the US suggest that we be more bold and pass out tracts in the piazzas. I try and politely decline, explaining that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for that even here, and their reputation is less than ideal. If they continue to insist that Gospel tracts are the key to planting a church here, I simply ask when was the last time they passed out tracts as an evangelistic outreach, and how much success they had. That usually ends the discussion. People seem to bristle against tracts. It seems forced, artificial. How can one little booklet possibly explain things like grace and forgiveness and God’s plan for humans? How can you describe the relationship between facts and faith and feelings with a train?

And here I was, staring at 1,000 hot-off-the-press Arabic Bibles with The Four Spiritual Laws in the back.

I have no clue about its effectiveness, but the fact that it was in there seemed to say something. Do we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be? Should we create new symbols, new metaphors, to describe our faith? What is the 2010 version of a Gospel tract?

12.13.10

Big Goals

Posted in church, Newsletters at 8:05 am

Do you ever find yourself in a routine of doing “safe” things?

I was recently convicted by a chapter I read out of a book called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. There was a section that talked about our tendency to staff our churches with the best people, develop the best programs, and build the best facilities. And it’s this self-reliance that we have that makes it easy for us to start churches using our own gifts and abilities, leaving God out of the picture all together.

We talked about this chapter in staff meeting the other day. No one on this team is a “rock star” pastor, out to impress everyone with their amazing gifts and talents. But it can be easy for us to fall into the trap of playing it safe – of taking fewer risks.

The author stated that the best way to counteract that tendency is to set goals that are so high only God could achieve them.

We thought a lot about that challenge during our staff meeting. Planting a church is no easy thing. We’ve read a lot of books, talked to a lot of wise people, and said a lot of prayers. And some days we still feel like we’re making it up as we go along.

If you’re like me, when faced with a big uphill climb, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making nice, easily-attainable steps.

You may remember from previous newsletters that the Caseys, who have been here in Ancona for over ten years, will be headed back to the US in January. Their departure has caused all kinds of mixed emotions from the church. It’s as if the church is saying, “Wait … you all aren’t planning on being here forever? We’re supposed to learn how to do all this stuff?” Some have reacted positively, and others less than. Some have stepped up to the plate and have grown, and others seem to be taking a step back.

And I feel convicted that it’s at this time that we need to keep making those impossible goals. We’re setting out to accomplish things that only God could do: disciple believers, train leaders, and seek out non-believers.

God has done great things this month. Our weekly Life Groups are meeting and discussing deeper things each time. I see how people are calling and checking up on those who are sick or struggling. We had two different events for the youth, which were open to invite friends. Our church spent another 24 hours in prayer. I’ve had a conversation with a man in our church who seems to have gifts in leadership.

I can’t wait to see what impossible things God does next month…