Monday, April 30, 2012

Time & Effort

Just reflecting this morning on a few places where my time and effort are going lately, at least as far as work goes.  If you're within reach of the Elk River area, maybe you want to know about these things:

1. This weekend, (May 6) I'm preaching at both the WHY Church (at the Elk River YMCA, 10 am worship on Sunday morning) and the Gathering (at Central Lutheran, 6 pm Sunday evening) about the address to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2.  Basically we're going to dig into the question, how do you follow Jesus in a world opposed to Christianity?

2. Starting the week of May 7, I'll be teaching a 5-week introduction to the book of Revelation.  This runs concurrent with our 7-week sermon series on the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.  You can choose either Monday evening, 7-8:30 pm, or Thursday morning, 10:30-noon.  We'll be looking at the historical setting of the book, its sometimes mystifying symbolism, and what it means for Christians today.  Going to be a fun class!

3. The evening of May 11th, 6:30-8 pm, join our Philippines Flight Crew GAT team -- come see pictures and hear stories of our trip to the Philippines.  We thought the trip was done, but this weekend I met a man who is considering relocating to the Philippines specifically to help Protestant churches develop Alpha.  So that is a very exciting possibility!

4. Our pastorate leaders are meeting this evening to celebrate what God has been doing in the launch of these groups.  I'm thinking, talking, and praying about how we can best support these key leaders in their work.  What kind of study, prayer, conversation, and support will be most helpful?

5. Lots of others, but those are the key things that are taking my time and effort at work right now.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Central is launching pastorates.  For those who have not been following this process, a pastorate is a group of 25-35 people of all ages who meet in a home a couple times a month for worship, God's word, prayer, and sharing life together.  At this point Central has launched eight pastorates with about 240 people participating.  The pastorate leaders have been trained in four non-negotiables that are part of our meeting together:

1. Meeting regularly -- as I said, twice a month.
2. Word and sacrament -- each pastorate at Central will spend their first year digging into the gospel of Mark.  Pastorates will share communion on a regular basis as they meet, and as the need arises, we anticipate baptisms will be done in the pastorates as well.
3. Multiplication -- pastorates are not static groups, but dynamic, growing groups.  As new people come in, either from the body of Christ at Central or through individual invitations, pastorates will train up new leaders and give birth to new groups.
4. Missional -- pastorates will find creative ways to give their lives away, maybe through a partnership with ministries across the world or maybe by adopting a cause or ministry in our own community.

Last night we had the privilege of sitting in on our first pastorate get-together.  I realized as I talked, ate, laughed, listened, and prayed, that I was delighted with the experience on two distinct levels.

First, as a pastor, I have been studying, praying, advocating, and laying foundations for pastorates since 2006.  What fun to see this movement coming to fruition!  On this level I watched the first beginnings of a bond forming within the group last night and could not help the silly grin that dominated my face all night.  What joy to see believers in 2012 acting, talking, and looking so much like Acts 2:42-47!

Second, as a human being, last night's gathering felt like coming home.  Several people talked in our pastorate about their desire for an extended family, and that's exactly what it felt like.  Or more accurately, it felt like it has a ton of potential to grow into an extended family.  I am so excited to live into this experience, to grow into these relationships, to be part of this way of being church together.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Birthday Stuff.

I firmly believe that between the ages of about 30 and 70, birthdays are sort of like deer flies.  They buzz around your head without doing much damage, mostly just a minor annoyance.  Every so often (every decade or so) one gets beyond your defenses and bites you.  My advice?  Swat it and move on.

So today, the 46th anniversary of my first glimpse of this world, I was simply enjoying all the smiles and Facebook happy wishes, and ignoring another year gone by.  Not in denial, but not really engaging the whole birthday thing either.

At Central, at 9 am each morning Monday through Thursday, our staff meets to read the Daily Texts and to pray together.  I have noticed that God frequently has a sense of humor in the way the Daily Texts (one verse of scripture from the Old Testament and one from the New) seem to connect with the business of the day.

Today was no exception.

Here are today's verses and prayer, chosen at random by a group of Moravians, for my 46th birthday:

Today's Old Testament Verse

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
Psalm 71:9

Today's New Testament Verse

Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
2 Corinthians 4:16

Today's Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that with my earthly tent failing, you still revive my spirits. I’m sorry that I cannot let go of old expectations. Trusting that you make all things new, I ask you to release me into a new beginning today and show me what I can do. Renew my inmost being with your Spirit.  Amen.
Who says God has no sense of humor?  Surely not me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Philippines trip stories and pictures!

Get May 11th on your calendar!

Our Philippines "flight crew" will be sharing stories and pictures from our GAT (Global Alpha Training) trip on Friday, May 11th, from 6:30-8 pm. We'll be at Central Lutheran Church, 1103 School Street, Elk River, MN, in the Student Ministries Room.

Come hear about your Filipino brothers and sisters who are learning to use Alpha as a tool for evangelism. See firsthand what it's like to participate in a GAT. Learn how to drink from a fresh coconut!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Our senior pastor distributed this at our staff meeting on Tuesday. Good, thought-provoking stuff. I've looked for the source and it's most likely by a Benedictine sister named Ruth Fox, c. 1985:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.


Monday, April 16, 2012

The illusion of control

You don't have it, and you're fooling yourself if you think you do.

Take children. As parents we spend so much time and effort over them when they are infants that we buy into the illusion that we have some control over their lives. I mean, if I can control what they wear, where they go, what they eat, and whether they have clean diapers or not, I have control, right?

Wrong. You don't control anything. The older they get, the more they try to teach you this, but you don't want to learn because that would be terrifying. Socks are a good example. As soon as your child is able -- a few months after birth -- she (I raised girls but boys are just as bad or worse) will start pulling off socks. She doesn't have the motor skills yet to put on different ones, but she will certainly take off the socks you carefully chose. Over and over and over.

The lesson is there to be learned, but you just laugh and put them back on her. As parents, one of the great advantages of putting shoes on your child is that now, finally, she will be unable to remove her socks. Until, of course, she learns to remove her shoes, to put them on the wrong feet, to hide them under the couch, to drop them in the toilet. Then she will scamper delightedly barefoot around the house and you will die just a little bit in your heart of hearts because you don't have control over your child.

Then comes the day when she picks out her own socks. Matching? Of course not. Different colors, different patterns, delightfully different textures. You carefully explain how the world works: "No, sweetie, these don't match. Let's find a match for this one, and look! These beautiful yellow ones match your outfit!" No, she pulls them off and chooses the plaid red and green Christmas sock for her left foot and the fuzzy penguin sock for her right foot.

Parents, be careful at this point. You will do something next that guarantees trouble in the future. You will browbeat your child (oh, so gently, but you do this because "I am the parent and I know best"), teaching her about fashion, about matching socks, and the absolute tyranny of color coordination. This is Just The Way The World Works, you think, and you believe you are doing a good job of teaching your child about reality. NOTE for parents who are feeling smug at this point because they have not browbeaten their children in this way: You do exactly the same thing, only you do it with eating your broccoli, or waiting in line or not interrupting, or something. You force your child to adapt to the Rules of How The World Works in some fashion. Realistically, this is good and necessary -- and we could go into a long scriptural diversion here in Galatians 3 about the Law being our custodian to bring us to Christ, and that would be fun but we won't go there right now -- but it is also damaging and destructive. You can't do this without causing damage. That's not the point at the moment. The point at the moment is that in doing this, you teach yourself, as a parent, that you are in control of your child. It's an outright lie, but you come to believe it.

Let's move on to where this becomes really dangerous.

You feel a tremendous responsibility as a parent to keep your child safe. You baby-proof your house when she starts crawling. You put plugs in the outlets, safety latches on the cleaning supply cabinet. You get rid of every five gallon bucket and maybe even put safety latches on the toilet seat for fear of your child drowning. Good for you. You are a responsible parent. The problem comes when you start to blur the line between being responsible for your child and being in control of your child. Yes, you're responsible for your child's safety. This means that the latch on the toilet seat might be a good idea. But you are not in control of your child's safety, not ever. Control is simply beyond you.

Trouble is, responsibility and control look the same for many years. They start to diverge as a child begins to take risks. (Some children begin this behavior at about six months of age. Others wait until you're complacent and spring it on you later.) It's tempting to try to control the risk factors. You want to pad the sharp corners and put up guardrails on the edges of the cliffs. Only safety scissors in our house, thank you very much. Put the knives out of reach. Responsibility begins in subtle ways to look like control. "Don't do that -- it's not safe!" becomes a mantra.

Inconvenient Truth: Your child is designed for unsafe behavior.

Corollary: If you protect your child too much in order to guarantee a safe life, at some point you will prevent your child from experiencing a full life. Safety and fullness of life eventually become mutually exclusive.

Unsafe behaviors children will automatically engage in include eating (they might choke), playing (an activity full of hazards), breathing (see "eating"), learning (requires moving beyond the tried & true safe behaviors), loving (every relationship is risky), growing (ever heard of "growing pains"?), and the like. Every one of these activities requires your child to move beyond guaranteed safety, beyond your control. From the moment they emerge from the womb -- and quite possibly earlier -- children are designed to explore and interact with and influence the world around them. It's how God created them. It's part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Curiosity, exploration, relationship, influence -- all these things are part of God's good creation.

Your job as a parent is to set appropriate boundaries that give your child enough territory to explore, within safe limits. Brace yourself now -- because your child's job is to test those limits, over and over and over. It's what they're supposed to do. And when they cross those boundaries, your child is supposed to receive consequences. Not punishment, but consequences. (The book Setting Limits is the best summary of this idea I've ever read.) Best case scenario is that you don't have to dispense consequences, but your child just experiences them as the natural consequence of crossing a boundary. Your word about boundaries (you did warn your child, didn't you?) is thus proved truthful, and the unpleasant nature of the world as a place with consequences is firmly planted in your child's mind.

Why is this so important? Because you want your child to know two things: How to take risks, and how to take them appropriately, with an eye to the potential consequences. If she doesn't take risks, her life will be bland and meaningless. If she doesn't know consequences, she will go off like a loose cannon, damaging herself and everyone within range.

My girls are 17 and 20. I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of each of them. One of the things I'm most excited about is that I see each of them stepping out into the world, taking appropriate risks, challenging the limits, reaching beyond what's safe to try new things. How incredibly exciting! Do they get into some trouble? Of course they do. They get hurt. They get disappointed. They fail. And they fly. Julie and I worked so hard to find appropriate boundaries and provide appropriate consequences when they were younger. Today those agonizing years of setting limits are bearing good fruit, and we get to cheer for them from the sidelines instead of fighting to stay in control.

Fact is, we never had control. Most of the time we remembered that, but sometimes we gave into the temptation to manipulate, to manage, to stifle. Our illusion of control just bred rebellion. Appropriate limits created healthy independence and wisdom. Erica still doesn't like to wear matching socks, and Teya will still look long and hard at the potential consequences before she decides if she wants to obey the rules or not. What I think is the most beautiful thing about each of them is that they know, in their own way, how to put themselves on the line -- how to put themselves at risk -- in appropriate ways.

Now that you've read this far, remember something: Parenting was only an example. Fact is, you don't have control over yourself, either. Not in the important ways. (Think about your heartbeat, or your liver function.) So how do you live? Scrambling for control is about fear. Living with appropriate risk is about trust and wisdom. Are you willing to put yourself on the line? Or do you have to control the outcomes?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A new monasticism

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter written to his brother early in 1936:

"Perhaps I seem to you rather fanatical and mad about a number of things. I myself am sometimes afraid of that. But I know that the day I become more 'reasonable' to be honest, I should have to chuck my entire theology. When I first started in theology, my idea of it was quite different -- rather more academic, probably. Now it has turned into something else altogether. But I do believe that at last I am on the right track, for the first time in my life. I often feel quite happy about it. I only worry about being so afraid of what other people will think as to get bogged down instead of going forward. I think I am right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this idiocy sky-high -- like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind. The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this ...

"Things do exist that are worth standing up for without compromise. To me it seems that peace and social justice are such things, as is Christ himself.

"I recently came across the fairy tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' which really is relevant for our time. All we are lacking today is the child who speaks up at the end. We ought to put it on as a play."

From Eric Metaxas' book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, pp. 259-260.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hump day, revisited

I woke up in the wee hours this morning, remembering almost two weeks ago -- Wednesday, March 28th, the first day of our two-day seminar in Bacolod. Looking back at my blog, we never told the story of that day in much detail. It's worth remembering.

We got up before daylight. Monday and Tuesday had been the adrenaline rush of our first GAT seminar, in Iloilo. Tuesday evening we tried to get to bed early. Wednesday: Up before dawn, checked out of the hotel, and whisked away in two taxis to the Supercat ferry dock where we hauled lots of baggage on to the ferry for Bacolod. I had high hopes for a smooth, sunny crossing so the team would get to see sunrise over the amazing beauty of the Philippines. Mostly our views thus far had been concrete urban landscapes with an occasional coconut palm thrown into the mix. Instead of blue skies over emerald green forested mountains set in a turquoise sea, that morning low clouds covered the landscape and kept everything gray. The trade winds came from the northeast, the worst possible direction for our ferry crossing through the channel between Panay and Negros. The crossing was a rough hour plus, and Ronald, Vic, and Sharon were all feeling the effects by the time we reached the other side. To make matters worse, the movie shown in the main cabin was an oppressive vampire flick with lots of black leather and blood. Julie C. was only exaggerating slightly when she called it "violent porn." All of us, including Dr. Benie Sy and Ralph Lumo from the National Alpha Organization who were traveling with us, were glad to get off the boat.

We arrived in Bacolod, where Ronald's brother met us at the ferry with a small van. We piled luggage and people into every available space and drove off to the conference center where we'd present our seminar, and where we would sleep that night. We got checked in to our rooms and found them adequate, though the plumbing looked a little iffy. Water heaters in the Philippines, when you find them, are usually a metal electrical box on the wall of the bathroom, often inside the shower itself, that uses high voltage current to heat water. More often, the high voltage current is there to make tourists nervous, and it doesn't actually change the water temperature at all. The only times I was cold in the Philippines was in the shower.

Time for breakfast. We walked a quarter mile or so past a beautiful park, a couple fruit stands, and the ubiquitous tricycle drivers and taxis, to find breakfast at a restaurant called "Chow King." On the walk there, it started to rain. We ordered a variety of combinations of rice, a little meat, and maybe eggs -- standard Filipino breakfasts -- and of course coffee or iced tea. When we were ready to return after breakfast, it was pouring, and we had to flag down a taxi for the short trip back. He made two trips, taking half our group each time.

In the Conference Center, Peachy and Lyn (Ronald's daughter and wife) had been working tirelessly to prepare our seminar space. A local crew was preparing food in the back of the room for snacks and lunches. Lyn and Peachy had set up space for our team, space for the resource table, and many other details. Ronald worked with the Captel people to find us an LCD projector, which had been promised but not delivered to the conference room. I cannot overemphasize how much Ronald and his family did to make these seminars successful. Not only did they work so hard to take care of every detail and to make sure we were fed and cared for -- it was amazing, every time we turned around, how they were feeding, tending, and watching out for us -- but in addition, it struck me during the week just how much of his own reputation Ronald had put on the line for our sake. If our team turned out to be a disappointment, or if Alpha was not a useful tool, Ronald's reputation would suffer in serious fashion. Just one example: he had made, personally, six trips -- twelve times on that rough ferry crossing -- to Bacolod to promote this seminar, to encourage pastors to bring teams, to arrange details for food and facilities, to smooth over conflicts and disunity among the local evangelical churches. If people attended this seminar and it was a bust, Ronald's credibility would suffer more than anything else. He put a lot on the line for us.

Here are a couple photos -- first of our location before attendees arrive, and then the attendees at the beginning of the seminar. Both were taken by Peachy:

Again, we had an amazing worship team to kick us off. (The evangelical churches we worked with excel in worship. They are really, really good at dynamic contemporary worship. More than once we talked about bringing a worship team back with us, the music was that good.) Ronald introduced us, using some of his Bacolod connections (he grew up there) to build relationships with the crowd. The seminars went well. We had learned a lot from our first run-through in Iloilo, and the Bacolod seminar was relatively smooth. Our attendance was down a bit from what we'd expected -- we had about 180 registered and the first day we had about 120 attending. Part of this may have been due to some miscommunication; partly it's just the reality when you don't charge people to come to a seminar, they are free not to attend if something better comes along at the last minute. Those who came, however, were engaged and seemed eager to hear about Alpha and to consider how they might start running the course.

Each of our team nailed their presentations. It was exciting to listen to each one and notice how they were more comfortable, more effective, with better eye contact and a better sense of how to communicate with Filipinos, how to talk to people for whom English is a second language. In addition, it was amazing to watch relationships develop between the participants and various members of the team. Little conversations throughout the day grew and grew. At the end of the afternoon, participants started bringing up their Alpha books for us to sign. We quickly realized this was not so much like signing autographs as it was like signing someone's yearbook in high school. The Filipinos kept calling it "remembrances." They wanted a few words in the book, or a photo, or both, or maybe a bunch of photos, to remember this seminar. It was a little overwhelming.

By the end of Wednesday's seminar (about 4 pm) we were all tired. Between a rough ferry crossing and torrential rains throughout the day, plus the grind of packing up, checking out, checking in, setting up, dealing with some of the ongoing health issues from seasickness to intestinal uncertainties that plagued a few of us, it had been a long day. That's not even to mention the presentations, questions, and new relationships. When the participants left, we looked forward to a couple hours' down time.

At 4:30, just after we settled in for a short rest, our contact from HisLife Ministries in Bacolod, Pastor Armin, showed up downstairs. We had understood he was supposed to pick us up at 6 pm. After a little debate, we insisted that we needed some rest time and asked him to come back. A few minutes after 6, we were in another van en route to Hotel Planta, a gorgeous high-end hotel on the south side of Bacolod where HisLife was planning to start a new worshipping community on Easter weekend. We walked into a lobby with 30-foot ceilings, ornate chandeliers, and marble staircases. The Philippines are full of that kind of contrast; you go from barely adequate plumbing to five-star accommodations in a heartbeat. Poverty and wealth rub shoulders all the time there.

Our gig that evening was to connect with HisLife's leadership team. Pastor Joebert Ramos (JR) had asked me to come speak for roughly an hour about Martin Luther and the principle of "sola scriptura" from the Protestant Reformation. Knowing this was a group of church leaders who were serious about planting a healthy church, I'd prepared an in-depth talk focusing on how Luther leads us to a high view of scripture, and how important that is for the contemporary church. I had four or five pages of notes in my journal, concluding with a concise summary of four principles for those who want to build on the foundation of scripture in their ministry.

We walked into the room and my heart sank. Including our much more elderly team (average age for our team is over 40, let's just leave it at that), the average age in the room was maybe 26. These people were young. And I realized immediately that they weren't going to connect with an in-depth analysis of Luther's views on scripture. We were welcomed into the hubbub before the meeting, and we slowly made our way to the front of the small room. Chairs were set up in rows, three on each side, with a center aisle. Sharon, Julie C., and Vic sat on the right side of the front row (always the front row, it seems) and Julie K. and I sat on the left. The event was supposed to include supper, and we'd all avoided eating at the conference center in order to save our appetites. We were hungry. There was no food in sight.

My bigger concern, however, was my talk. I leaned over to Julie and said, "Nothing I've prepared for this group is going to work." I was near panic, thinking just how badly I was about to bomb. It wasn't going to be pretty. "What do you mean?" she asked. I explained about the talk I had prepared and how it wouldn't fit this crowd at all. "So I have to figure out something else," I lamely concluded. "But I don't have a clue what that would be." Mentally I was still alert, but I was fried enough after three solid days of presenting and travel that I couldn't change gears that fast and pull a brand new talk out of my hat.

Julie and the Holy Spirit saved me. She leaned over and said, "I don't know the answer, but if anybody can do this, you can." With that kind of encouragement, I started to focus. I prayed and thought. What connects for twenty-somethings? Julie continued. "Just pretend you're talking to Erica and her friends." Funny thing, that's about the age group we were dealing with. What connects? Stories connect. I'll tell stories. I love to tell stories.

So I got up and told stories for half an hour about Luther's upbringing, his discovery of the gospel as he was preparing lectures on the book of Romans, about how he grew into this solid foundation of scripture over the next several years until he finally stood before the Diet of Worms and uttered those immortal lines, "Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason, I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen." Thirty minutes screamed by, and then it was time for supper. We ate enormous hamburgers, laughed and talked with the crowd, and then it was time for the second half hour, which was dominated by question and answer time. I told the story of Luther's marriage to Katherine Von Bora, and some of his other adventures. I admonished this earnest group of church planters that the Roman Catholic Church is not their enemy, just as it had not been the real enemy for Martin Luther. (This animosity toward the Roman Catholic Church is all too common in the evangelical churches in the Philippines. In their defense, it's worth saying that the RCC in the Philippines is an authoritarian juggernaut of political power that dominates nearly every facet of life. Also, the everyday Catholicism of the Filipinos often gets mixed with all kinds of practices that are not officially sanctioned by Rome. The evangelicals are a tiny percentage -- maybe 5% -- of the population, and the Catholics look like Big Brother sometimes. It's easy to get resentful.)

JR thanked us profusely and joked that maybe they should call this church plant, "HisLife Lutheran Church." He took over and talked a bit about their plans for the church launch on Easter weekend. As the meeting broke up, Armin came and offered us anything we wanted for supper. What? We just had those enormous burgers. He said if we wanted anything, he could get it for us from the hotel -- steaks, anything. We asked for a few small things -- decaf coffee, a salad, maybe. (Salads are hard to come by in the Philippines, for some reason, and they're often suspect when you do find them because you never know what kind of water was used to wash the lettuce. Be careful.) We felt drained and just a bit pampered.

By the end of the evening, it was time to go back and sleep. We walked down the marble staircase and Armin drove us back to Captel and we settled in for the night. It had been a long day; tomorrow we'd present the second day of the seminar, wind things up before 4 pm, and catch the last ferry to Iloilo.

That was our "hump day," the longest and hardest day of our week of seminars. It's amazing looking back, all that went into that one day. It's also amazing to me to think how many different factors could have derailed our work that day -- seasickness, intestinal stuff, monsoon rains in the middle of the dry season (the Filipinos were absolutely amazed), unavailability of an LCD projector, attendance being lower than expected, exhaustion, miscommunication, or even just having prepared the wrong talk -- but none of those difficulties were able to inhibit the work of God's Spirit. He is faithful, even when things seem overwhelming. It's his work, you know. We just get to help along sometimes. What a privilege!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Home again

Julie and I made it back from the Philippines on Saturday. It's a stretch to leave Manila at 8 am and arrive in Minneapolis at 1 pm on the same day. April 7th lasted about 36 hours for us. We floundered around and enjoyed seeing our daughters -- one live and one via Skype, as she's still in Guatemala -- and collapsed into bed about 8 pm. Sunday was Easter, and for whatever reason I was wide awake all through the morning, enjoying five worship services at Central. Due to the back-to-back scheduling of my trip to teach at CLBI in Canada and our Philippines mission trip, I hadn't been at Central for a worship service since March 4th. It was such a joy to be back there again!

As far as our time in the Philippines goes, I have a lot of mental debriefing to do, as well as talking with the team to figure a few things out. We have already started the conversation about what should be done different and how to build on the foundation that has been laid for Alpha in the Philippines, but that conversation is by no means over. The biggest factor, of course, is that what we've done there now belongs to the Holy Spirit and to the Filipino churches. It doesn't belong to us any more. But there may be a role for us to play there.

One possibility that came up during our Iloilo seminar was a conversation with a couple leaders from the Foursquare churches who talked about other areas in the Philippines that struggle to train pastors. Particularly these men identified Antique, (pronounced an-TEEK-ay) a part of the island of Panay north and west of Iloilo, and Masbate (mos-BOT-ay), an island northeast of Panay, as two areas that could use both Alpha and some kind of leadership training for pastors and church leaders. So our team talked about the possibility of coming back in a couple years and dividing our group into a couple training teams -- one that might revisit Alpha churches in Bacolod and Iloilo and Guimaras, where we were this time, and one that might provide leadership training and Alpha training for churches in Antique and Masbate.

Lots of intriguing possibilities.

For the moment I need to wrap my head around getting ready for work at Central Lutheran Church in Elk River, MN. Hopefully in a day or two I won't need to keep reminding myself where (and when) I am.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


By the way, it's Maundy Thursday here. The day is named from the Latin word "maundatum" meaning "command" and refers to Jesus' command in John 13 to his disciples to "love one another."

It's worth noting that the Filipinos have done an amazing job of demonstrating this kind of love for us hapless Americans while we've been here. Two examples from the last few days -- when we arrived at the ferry for Boracay on Sunday, in our ignorance we didn't by the "pumpboat" tickets -- the ferries that crowd everyone and everything, including motorcycles, bundles of bananas, chickens, and children all together in the bottom of the small boat. Instead, we bought the slightly more expensive, luxurious, "fastcraft" tickets. So we waited while at least two dozen pumpboats loaded up, went to the Boracay side of the channel, and returned. Finally we were allowed to board the fastcraft and after a long wait, taken across the channel in our upholstered seats. Because we were so delayed, Marc, who was planning to meet us at the pier, ended up coming across on the pumpboat at his own expense (when we offered to repay him later he refused) to look for us and see if we needed some help. Just one tiny example.

Another is that today, my cell phone didn't work until we were almost back to Iloilo. So rather than wait for my call, Ronald just showed up at the earliest time he thought we might make it back and waited for us in the heat of the bus station. Tiny gestures of the great love (that is, hospitality) that these people have shown to us. I could go on and on about other examples, but you get the idea.

So the question is, how on this day can you show love to someone?

A little rested

Julie and I are back in Iloilo City again. We had a restful few days on Boracay, including lots of walking, time to just sit and enjoy beach culture, and one day of being totally indulgent tourists and participating in one of the endemic island-hopping and snorkeling boat rides around the island. Pretty fun. The coral and the fish are absolutely amazing. Last night we got to have dinner with Marc and Cathy, a young married couple, both pastors in a fair sized church on the north end of the island. Both of them were part of the graduating class at IFBC when I spoke here for graduation in 2005, so it was fun to catch up.

We also tried a few adventurous things. There are vendors walking all over Boracay carrying two buckets on a yoke, yelling, "Taho! Taho!" And we had no idea what was in the buckets. So we asked. It was tofu, believe it or not, in one bucket -- and in the other, plastic cups, syrup (similar to pancake syrup) and some kind of sweet tapioca jelly. For P30 (about seventy-five cents) you can have a sweet start to your day. So we tried it. I don't think my blood sugar would tolerate it very well, so I just tasted a little bit. It was okay. Lately I've noticed my homesickness coming out in my dietary preferences. We found a good breakfast coffee shop that serves a decent American breakfast, so the last three mornings I've had bacon and eggs and toast. Julie keeps on ordering Pork Tocino (sort of a sweet-and-sour pork) with an egg and garlic rice. I've had that a few times for breakfast, but when bacon is available I just have to go with that. I guess that means Julie is more culturally tolerant than I am or something.

Tonight we will go visit the Baynosa home, then out to supper with them at SM City, which is a larger version of the department store that became a staple for us here in Iloilo. Looking forward to some time with their family tonight.

Then tomorrow we start the long trek back. We'll head for Manila tomorrow, and stay in the Marriott courtesy of a ground crew member back at Central who provided for us and for the rest of the team when we found out we had to stay in Manila overnight. While there we'll hopefully connect again with John Borra, the head of the National Alpha Organization. Then Saturday morning it's the long flight -- first to Tokyo, then to Minneapolis.

Home for Easter. It sounds pretty good right now. One of the things I realize about myself on trips like this is that if I have a sense of purpose in what I'm doing, I can keep myself focused and not worry about my flagging energy levels, etc. So during our week of seminars I didn't get bogged down much. But give me a few days of rest and I start to get restless. Kind of weird. Today I'm starting to feel like I've had enough down time, and it's time to move on to the next thing. So I guess the timing of our trip back is about perfect.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Taking a breath

Today Julie and I are on Boracay (for the uninitiated, the middle syllable gets the accent, so it's pronounced Bo-ROCK-eye) enjoying the relaxed pace of the Pacific's premiere island paradise. We've been having a pretty laid back day, and realizing that it's been a LONG time since we had anything resembling a day of rest. For me, March 18th might be the last day I had that was remotely restful -- spent that one with my brother in Calgary, Alberta, touring a dinosaur museum. But really it probably goes back before March 11th and my trip to Canada to teach at CLBI.

I'm seriously hoping that the rest of our team (who are currently in the air headed back to the States) can have a day or two or three just to rest. Jet lag will be hard enough, but they've been working like crazy the last week and a half to prepare and present these Alpha seminars. We had a little down time at Villa Igang, but not nearly enough to begin recuperating. One of the biggest changes we'd make in this trip if we had it to do over again is that we'd include a day of rest in the middle of our seminar week. Two or three days on, one day off when you're traveling and presenting would be a good idea. That allows a little time for things like laundry, planning, and sleep, among other necessities. That would lengthen the overall trip, or demand that we not try to do as much -- but it would be totally worth it, I think. It's hard for those who have younger kids ... it gets very difficult to be gone more days.

It will be interesting to talk / think about what we might do differently on future GAT events. I have been thinking a lot about "Oh, I wish we could have ..." but there was only so much time. I don't think any of the group would wish to skip any of our three locations -- Iloilo, Bacolod, and Guimaras were each unique venues and unique experiences. But a day of rest and a little more time to experience the local culture would also be helpful.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

Just keeping people posted as much as we can -- this morning, early, the team split up. Julie K. and I went north by bus to Boracay, where we eventually arrived safe and sound to enjoy a few days' rest. The rest of the team (Julie C., Sharon, and Vic) were scheduled to speak at Grace Church this morning, then fly out for Manila and a meeting with some of the National Alpha Organization there tonight. Tomorrow they'll fly out for the states. Please keep them and their travels, and us and our rest, in your prayers.

We did a little debriefing yesterday during devotions and then later at Shakey's Pizza. (Yes, there's a Shakey's in Iloilo, and they received much of our loyalty. In between feasting on mangoes, batchoy, longsilog, bangus, and chicken adobo (among other things, and that's just the ones I remember names), we needed a taste of home once in a while and therefore went out for pizza a few times. It was SOOO good.) It was good both to talk about how we had grown & changed personally as well as evaluating the entire GAT from start to finish, and then to consider what we might do differently if we had it all to do over again. Each of us agreed that we can't really evaluate how we've changed at this point -- we can just begin to open the doors to understand at a beginning level how God has worked in us these last days.

I don't doubt that this team -- and many of our ground crew as well -- will become hooked on GAT-type mission trips. In some ways, this is an entirely new level of mission trip for Central. It is not only going to serve someone somewhere else (like many of our mission trips have been) but it is also providing spiritual leadership for churches that really want to grow. It was so exciting to see each member of the team step up and minister to pastors and church leaders that wanted specific tools to see their churches grow in evangelism and discipleship.

Can't WAIT to hear how this impacts us -- and what fruit it bears -- in the coming weeks and months at home.

By the way, note to the ground crew: Be prepared to hear lots of stories, and to get your heart hooked so that next time, you're determined to be on the flight crew. Now that you've given so much of yourself to pray for and support this GAT, God has an open door into your heart. It's going to be SO fun -- I can't wait!

The other thing I'm eager to see is how God uses this GAT to make changes in the churches in and around Iloilo, Bacolod, and Guimaras. Filipino brothers and sisters, you are in our prayers and our hearts!