Do I know you?

I’m seeing doppelgangers.  Every time I go out, at least the past few days, I’ve seen people I know.  Yesterday, I saw Danny DeVito. Today, I saw Robb, a guy who went with me on my first Italy mission trip (he was a clown, really, literally, a clown – but today, he was normal.)

My step-mother-in-law showed up a lot in the piazzas of Padova. But, then again, there are a lot of little old ladies (sorry, Eleanor) in Italy. They are outspoken. I had one get nose-to-chin with me for carrying shopping bags home one Sunday. She said her piece fast and with many gestures and grimaces. I think she told me it was a holy day and I couldn’t shop for more than one bag full (I had two.)

This doppelganger issue must mean something. I miss home. And people. Don’t get me wrong; I love my city and the people we get to meet with and share life with. The work with our new Fellowship is invigorating. But, I hit a spot in my year where I need my culture and my people.

It means something else, too. Cultures, languages, habits, gestures, colors and shades, all may be very different; still, we’re the same in far many ways than exterior admits. We all need respect, acceptance, love, forgiveness, kindness, and especially a person who will listen.

I’ve got to go – I think I just saw Abe Vigoda.

Still Listening,

Rick

Some people say I have a doppelganger (I’m not so sure):

           

Changing Lanes and Staying the Course

One of my favorite teachers is Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa Pastor Brian Brodersen. I respect how he and his church pour into missions as if the Great Commission was given directly to him and his team. And that they hold to the never-changing Truth of the Scripture while expecting God to do a new and fresh work today. He and his church are a good example of what it means to be missional.

In a recent message here in Europe, he noted that we each are to follow our calling with energy, wisely and with a clear direction –  he likened it to staying the course in the “lane God has chosen for us.” That lane gives us guidance and intentionality, and a respect for those in other lanes following hard after God, too. We work better together trusting God’s work in each others’ lives – no judgment and no disparaging, but prayerful honoring since, after all, it is God’s work.

But, we also should know that, at some point, we will sense it is time to “change lanes.” And we can have one of two responses.

At some point, we may feel the urge to change lanes because we find the going difficult. It could be pressure from others, conflict in relationships, lack of measurable progress (which can easily happen on the mission field), or outright failure or major setbacks. In this instance, it’s best to first take the faith lesson that difficulty teaches and stay the course. This is probably the hardest to do, and to urge others to do with authenticity. It’s painful. And it seems that light and hope for God’s voice are furthest away.

But in another point, God will nudge us to consider “changing lanes”: we sense it will please Him, we gather that it will point to and honor His wisdom, and perhaps the stepping out of one lane shows us how God has been nudging us into another lane. It could be that serving and ministry is going great, or we may be struggling. We still sense before us an obedient step toward something new or different. The calling hasn’t changed, the location or mode perhaps has.

It’s a good idea to listen and step toward the new lane, even if it means leaving another lane behind.

In Italy, we’ve chosen to not have a car. I blame it on the cost; the truth is, I scare my wife when I drive in Italy. So, no car for now.

But when we drive and need to change lanes, we make sure we do three things: 1) communicate, 2) keep the pace, and 3) clear the lane. Same with “changing lanes” in missions or ministry:

  • As much as it depends on me, I need to send clear signals. I seek to communicate, to meet, to call, to follow up in writing, and make sure my signal in changing lanes is understood.
  • As much as I can, I need to keep my speed for the new lane. Even though it may be tempting to slow down in the work, I need to keep the pace as I move into the new lane. Even if responsibilities change (which they likely will), keep reading, keep listening, keep connecting, keep meeting, keep praying – in truth, extra speed in some of these areas will help the lane change succeed.
  • As much as it depends on me, leave the lane clean and clear – hand off a clean slate for those who will pick up where you left off. The previous lane had ministry, roles, relationships, and expectations. Few of us are irreplaceable. Give room for closure to roles and expectations (even the best of ministry relationships has varied expectations.) Carefully handle relationships from the new lane that have been important (you can’t change another’s lane for them.)

Some may have guessed or already know. Susan and I have “changed lanes.” We closed out a 1 1/2 year of working alongside the Padova Calvary Chapel. We have good friends and frequent reminders to pray because of our journey with the pastor and his wife along with the people who have come in and out of our experience there. But, we sensed last year that we needed to “change lanes” and move out so we could move toward.

For those who wonder, we have begun worshiping in Italian on Sunday nights at a Baptist fellowship and investing in an International Fellowship at other times. We continue to meet with internationals and students, look for ways to reach out to our city, and above all, pray, study, listen, and knock on doors and build bridges so that the Gospel of truth, peace and compassion will connect others to the Kingdom of God who loves them.

From a “new lane” – Rick

 

The word for the year…anonymity

A friend of ours planned a tour of Italian museums and recalled afterward that, while there were some awe inspiring artists –Caravaggio, Giotto, Tintoretto – the favorite by far was an “unknown” whose art was everywhere, very diverse, and over the nameplate of Sconosciuto.

My wife and I just finished reading through the Bible in a Year (on the YouVersion app under As it Happened – we recommend it for its chronological order). Near the end of our journey through the Bible, we read Hebrews, a book written to next-gen Jewish followers of Jesus. In the famous “Hall of Faith” chapter, the writer recounts the faith (and fate) of well-known Hebrew heroes. He also cites the unwavering faith of a crowd of believers who stood firm, often to the death, in their belief that God is worth it all. They are anonymous, at least on this side of heaven.

I have discovered that the biggest fear I’ve faced for years is anonymity – call it a fear of obscurity or becoming unknown, unseen, or unheard – but, until recently, this fear has been an overlooked but active drive in my life.

I know I can acknowledge this, and choose to turn from this fear … and embrace the privilege of obscurity.

My word of guidance for 2019 is Anonymity.

A university library in England maintains a seven-section archive of journals, pictures, magazines, and records related to Chinese missions over the past 150 years. When the first (and current) Chinese president of China Inland Missions, long-since renamed Overseas Mission Fellowship, walked into one of the rooms housing these records, he was overcome by the magnitude of seemingly anonymous people who had given their lives for his country-people, many martyrs for the Gospel of Jesus.

Dr. Fung told this story to students attending the missional conference Urbana ’09 (you can hear his story in the interview online) that, as he scan through the extensive lists, journals and pictures, he was reminded that the work of evangelism is done by people willing to live without a desire for fame, glory, and recognition.

When John the Baptizer saw Jesus gaining attention, he was asked by a somewhat envious follower what he should do. His response is timely and timeless: “Jesus must increase; I must decrease.”

In my case, the fear of anonymity has been too frequently a companion. I want Jesus to be enthroned, but I want a chair close by near the right side.

It has guided decisions. I’ve chosen worry and delayed action and played it safe so I wouldn’t look bad. And usually looked bad anyway.

It has silenced conversations. I’ve talked myself out of conversations I should have had or introductions to Jesus I should have made so I could protect my insecure reputation. And stayed insecure.

It has hidden love. I’ve left too many relationships lingering on the surface because I either didn’t want to know or chose not to be known. And loved less by doing so.

Today, careers are made by being seen, heard, photographed, liked, shared, hearted, retweeted, and reposted. Fame is even possible by taking the stage “anonymously.”  Artists hide their identity behind walls, bags, masks, and pseudonyms and “stay famously in the dark” to become celebrità oscura – Sia, HER, Elena Ferrante, Daft Punk, Banksy.

The most visible evidence of following Jesus is that I love in greater and greater measure. And the greatest measurement of love is sacrifice, putting others above myself, pushing others up and staying below the stage lights, decreasing so Jesus will be famous. He says He sees what’s done secretly and perhaps that’s more than enough recognition.

Maybe this year will produce such a beautiful work of truth and healing and compassion that anyone who sees it will know it was the hand of the Master Artist Who crafted it. I will decide more selflessly. Speak more freely and compassionately. Love without fear or shame.  I expect to be tempted to pick up a brush every now and then and offer to script my name into the corner. But, it’s my desire that it remain His work under the name plate of Sconosciuto.

In my own words,

Rick

P.S. I know it ironic to blog about anonymity. I like to know my words matter. And I’ll keep working on my motivations.

P.P.S. Conosciuto means “known.” Scononsciuto means “unknown.”

Spiritual renewal in unlikely places

The tiled image was of a rooster and a turtle fighting it out, the rooster in frozen “near victory.” The entire basilica floor was tiled in mosaic – one inch pieces or less – that brought spiritual truths out of normal scenes of life. Baskets of bread and wine. Peacocks. A lamb with staff. Even a hippogriff (for you HP fans.)

Aquileia was one of the largest cities in Europe around 100 AD. Christianity had already begun to thrive in the international milieu of this port (it may have been Mark the Gospel-writer who first came to this city across the Adriatic from the Balkan peninsula.)

But it wasn’t until 313, and the Edict of Milan, that Christians could worship legally. Within five years, the first worship center and baptism room (yes, a full set of rooms for baptism) began. Along with what is now the largest modern example Christian mosaic art. It was art, but they mainly needed a floor that would stand up to the baptism waters (yes, they immersed), and the foot traffic of fishermen, Roman home owners, street peddlers, and senators.

My wife (Susan) and I visited Aquileia for an anniversary day trip. In this ancient church, we found beauty. I found renewal.

Christianity remained simple in this town – it was just a couple of centuries after the last Apostle died – and the truths of the Gospel found life in the symbols. God’s Kingdom is bounty – baskets of bread and wine. God is a lamb who cares for his children like little lambs.

Even the rooster (a metaphor for the dawn and light) gets the victory over the turtle (who always hid himself in darkness). In the Kingdom, light prevails but with the threat of darkness at the ready.

Near the altar, embedded in the floor are the Greek letters I-X-T-H-Y-S. The tiles declare Jesus-Christ-God’s-Son-Savior – and also introduce an extended theme of fishing, casting nets, enjoying the bounty of the sea (and a three-part scene of Jonah tossed to the sea monster, puked back onto the shore, and naked and unashamed in the care of his God).

It’s no wonder the largest scene is fishing – I’m certainly a fan – but, this city drew it’s physical existence from the gifts God gave them from the deep.

The symbolism is even more important for Christ-followers. There are fish needing to be caught. We are fishermen. And the Kingdom is the net. Simple. No grey areas here. It’s what Christians do because it’s what we are.

Within 100 years, the church was remodeled (though they kept the mosaics) and dedicated to the adoration of the Virgin Mary and the exultation of two saints (who gave their lives in for the Good News under Nero.) Those who would have chosen, if they could, to remain off-stage and point the praise the Jesus, became central. And it got complicated.

“God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things in the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thing – and things that are not – to nullify the things are are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

The less sophisticated, the better. And I found renewal and beauty when faith was simpler.

Some words are more important…

The polls are in and the top words banned in 2018 are fourteen overused words to avoid – included this year are “unpack”, “tons”, “drill-down”, and my favorite: “nothing-burger.” The number one vote-getter is “fake news.” Last year’s was “so” as in “I am so tired of lists.”

As we “off-board” last year and “on-board” 2018, it seems everyone is trying to put words to the year almost gone, maybe thinking what they might need to “walk back” or even “double down” on from the year –  and, or course, they “seeking traction” and are trying to “wrap their heads around” the coming months. I better stop now.

Some words are more important than others. Jesus came back to certain phrases to help us remember the important stuff. “Whoever has ears to hear, let him listen.” “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you” and it’s KJV companion, “Verily, verily, I say to unto you.” But, at the top of the list is ” The kingdom of heaven (or God) is like…”

Jesus would then attach to this phrase something totally, well, common. Relatable. A farmer, or a seed, or a net, or yeast, or a homeowner, or a wedding party.

My first thoughts about the “kingdom of heaven” is to look up, to the future, to eternity. And certainly eternity and heaven are within the stories Jesus told about the kingdom. But what we do here and now is kingdom stuff, too.

  • The kingdom of heaven is like the the woman who makes coffee for her friends so they can talk about Jesus around her table.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the builder who hires and treats his workers with honor so they will see Jesus in his life.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the the living room filled with people from different countries, languages, colors, and stories whose lives have been changed by the Savior.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like… (On 1/2/2018, let’s leave a blank and see how we can fill it in each day by inviting the common things in our life to connect and display the supernatural acts of God.)

Call it a “paradigm shift” or an “adjusted grid” – Perhaps 2018 is the year that I will ask how the common, the relatable things in my life, can show others what the kingdom of heaven is like.

For the King – Rick

P.S. My pastor and friend in Myrtle Beach, Tim Holt, has said more than once that the Kingdom is present when the King gets His way.

P.P.S. (List provided by Lake Superior State University – they’ve offered this list for decades! https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/12/31/2018-banned-words/993549001/)

All Mission Supporters are not created equal…

From someone on the field who has some wonderful missional people in my life, I have learned to live by grace when it comes to the weighing the excitement people share about missions. (Please read on and don’t judge me by the title.)

  • Some are genuinely passionate to see the church go to the nations – after all, in more nations than not, a McDonald’s full of people would not have one solitary evangelical Christ-follower (other than you) if you walked in.
  • Some are excited for us that we are going on the adventure. And doing so for God.
  • Some look incredulously at us and ask, “what’s that all about”. In the words of my late father-in-law, many think, “I ain’t left nothing over there.”
  • And some wish they could go, want to go, would try to go if they could find the door opening. I can see it in their eyes. They want to be a part of the adventure.

So, how does this translate into being a mission supporter? And are they created, or does missional passion emerge?

Perhaps, to move further down this path, a quick recap of the needs missionaries have might help with perspective:

Food, transportation, housing, clothing, ministry resources, medical and dental care, the occasional vacation or conference – and since I live in Italy, a regular measure of coffee. Add to this short-term teams to come and help, church rent, Bibles, project resources, and special ministry funds for reaching out to the different kinds of needs. (I don’t know a missionary yet who is asking for the moon.)

Mission supporters come in all shapes and sizes. And God, somehow, matches us mission supporters with these needs.

I know fixed income Christians who give regularly beyond their tithe. I’ve met reasonably educated and employed church-goers who give up things they’ve earned the right to spend their resources on so they can give to multiple missional causes. Some of my friends are highly educated, highly skilled, and/or blessed with great wealth, and they strategically look for and give to mission needs. I even have retired friends who could be on the back nine who have reinvented their skills in business so they can give all the profits to Kingdom causes.

Then, how can each of us nurture our lives so we can be more missional?

  1. Overestimate … each moment of prayer for missions. Most of us, honestly, low-ball our impact in the prayer closet. We just don’t “feel” we are making a difference. God says otherwise. When we pray, we change and we connect God’s purposes and resources to those for whom we pray.
  2. Reposition … the heart. We can get pretty wrapped up in what’s before us, and forget what is happening across the street or around the globe. Ask God for an upward love – on Him, and an outward love – for the world, and for specific cultures and people. Jesus said the heart resides with what we value.
  3. Lavishly spend … time with missional people. Find ways to get “in the way” – get into the lives of missionaries. Learn about their nations. Find ways to surprise them with your presence and word of encouragement.
  4. Turn up the heat … on giving and going. Your heart follows your bank account. My pastor from Crossroads Church in Newnan taught me this in relation to giving. If you don’t give at all, give some to someone. If you don’t give regularly, give monthly to someone. If you don’t give a percentage, begin to give a specific portion. Make your tithe count in your church and strategic giving count to missional causes.

It’s very true that “disciples are made, not born”* and the same is true of mission supporters. We are all (yes, this missionary is a missionary supporter, too) on the way to becoming better mission supporters. God, the God of The Mission** to save our world, is working it in us.

From the field – Rick

* Two disciple-makers, Howard Hendricks and Walt Henrichsen, wrote Disciples are Made not Born years ago. Still an awesome book to read. The premise: each of us as Christ-followers have the potential to change our world, but we need to make the choices to be a disciples and find others who can pour into our lives and into whom we can pour into theirs. (Another shout out to Ken Adams, pastor of Crossroads Church Newnan GA – we are called to “be and build disciples of Christ.)

** I hear at Christmas time how Jesus came into the world as an immigrant (the trek to Egypt is the nod this claim gives). In reality, He was missional in the Advent – He came to declare and be Good News: the Kingdom of God is at hand (Isaiah 61, Luke 4, John 3).

It helps to point…

My wife has, for years, accused me of running out of words before the day ends. I get 3000 words, no less, no more, and none bankable. According to her. If I use them up, she can’t pry more than a syllable from me in the evening. I wonder if I work this way.

The more important question is: do I get 3000 in English, and 3000 in Italian? And if I screw up the Italian words (it can happen), do I get a redo?

Someone gave me a bike a few days ago. The chain was off, no lights, and one side of the gears was wonky. A new bicycle mechanic hung out his shingle two blocks down just last week, so I rolled into his shop yesterday. Disclaimers here:

#1 – I had probably used up all my Italian words at Monday’s Italian class (and I needed to borrow from tomorrow for the Bible study I led that Tuesday night (it’s complicated.)

#2 – I don’t speak “bicycle.” These are words that haven’t come up between “Piacere. Mi chiamo Rick” and “Dov’e’ il bagno.

#3 – My trusty standby – “Parli Inglese?” didn’t work on this 70-year-old bike mechanic.

Il Maestro di Biciclette” wheeled it into his back room, hung it on the shop rack. He tugged me over to watch. He pointed. I only understood three words (out of at least 300) – “catena ha caduto” or “the chain has fallen.” He pointed.

Then he tinkered with the gears on the right. After another 300 words, I heard “buona.” He pointed. I smiled, “funziona?” Back at me, “Si.”

He wiggled the left gears. He pointed. Another torrent and I heard “rotto” (I remember, rotten, for “broke.”) I grimaced, “non funziona?” “Si.”

After he worked some magic with the chain, he pulled it down from the rack. I asked him if it was a good bike. He pointed. He said, okay, but it’s older than me. We laughed together. I asked, “how much?” (I’m in the “Italian zone” by now.) He ignored me and handed it off. And I pedaled away toward the next challenge.

I’m glad to learn “catena e’ caduto” – reminds me that, for the Christian, the chains have fallen, they are “rotto” (in a good way.)

Two “take-aways” – it helps to point, and Italian men are gracious – and they get more than 3000 words.

Alla prossima volta,

Rick

One of these things is not like the others…

Since moving to Italy, I have noticed how easily it is to take on the the mantle of fault-finder. Granted, it seems that sometimes our new culture collectively looks askance at anything or anyone that diverges from their own. And mostly in a negative light. So, this has got me thinking.

How can I guard my eyes from focusing on the “big negative” among all the positives around me? If I only find what’s wrong, talk about what ought to change, or get consumed by the one thing I don’t prefer – then, I’ll miss out on all that’s beautiful and good and astounding and rich.

Here’s an example: we have a lot of immigrants and refugees in Padua. A half-IMG_3830million live in our region (that’s the legal ones), and that’s a very visible part of the stuff that goes on in the city – buses, trams, clinics, parks and street corners.

I can choose to see them different negatively (how they act, talk, dress, interact, etc.) or I can see the beauty (in how they act, talk, dress, interact, etc.)

My wife is my tutor in this. We were standing at the train station bus stop surrounded by immigrants and refugees. And I got frustrated with one who was… well, just in my way. Susan says to her, “the color of your scarf is beautiful.” Simple. But the most beautiful conversation followed. I was dumbstruck.

We got on the bus and we were completely surrounded by Africans. It only took a few minutes to realize everyone on the bus was on the way home from a church meeting on prayer. It was an experience that shifted my grid, perhaps for good.

All the good, beautiful, gracious, astounding, and rich around me can shout down the one thing I might find negative. If I’ll take time to listen.

Listening in the city – Rick

Two-degrees and roundabouts

One of my favorite quirks about living in Italy was the roundabout (la rotonda). Just between my house and the nearest real city, there were seventeen. The reasoning of the Italiani, why use stop signs when you can create a circle everybody can use at once? I loved the dance that happened in urban roundabouts when there were four lanes circling a statue dedicated to The Fallen … and five entry points. Ahh, the adventure and the danger!

When we left northern Italy to return to America, we felt the weight of a complete life turn-around – it was like a roundabout we chose to enter and knew it would spill out back toward America and, specifically, my hometown of Myrtle Beach. And it did.

After a conversation with a good friend, I realized that, with the return, much of my library is still in Italy, in the hands of fellow missional’s. One of the books was a John Trent title – The Two-degree Difference. This was one of many “only read the first two chapters” books; the premise is simple. Make two-degree adjustments in your actions, posture, life direction, habits, etc., and before long, you’re heading the right way.

While I agree that we need to make right choices and move toward health – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and otherwise – it may take a greater act. Adjusting actions by small degrees is the way we are told to replace bad habits, but how boring is that!

I like what Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Not two-degrees. More like 180-degrees.

There is incredible power in the simple act of turning around. An about-face unleashes God’s power to change. The get the presence of God’s Kingdom face-to-face with the act of turning.

What about the two-degree principle? It may be that in our act of repenting God reveals the next thing to change, or it may be that we have gotten “out of habit” with the practices that make life richer, and by all means are worth restoring. But if it’s sin, it deserves more than 2-degrees. It deserves the full 180!

I like what Jesus said to Peter even though he knew there was a major fail in his future: “I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith will not fail, and when you have turned back (read: repent), strengthen your brothers.”

Turn from sin. Yearn for God. Return to the things that matter.

From the Rotonda,

Rick

Day One: Painter – Unlimited Beauty, Unlimited Palette

Piero lived in the 1400’s  and spent nearly every day at a desk writing contracts and signing off on legal documents in an obscure village outside of the city of Florence. He would not even have made the history books except that, instead of retiring to his home after work,  he spent his nights with a peasant girl named Catarina. She gave birth to a baby that she and Piero named Leonardo. The village was called Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci was given a general education in math and science in his early years. But, Piero came into a fortunate position with the di Medici family and connected his son with the best training possible through mentoring. He became the apprentice of a goldsmith of fame called Verrochio (meaning “true eye,” necessary for a master artist.) Leonardo was mentored in the arts and sciences, as well as the broad sweep of techniques in sculpting, casting, and painting. He soon surpassed his teachers, and began creating new ways to span rivers, irrigate fields, and do battle. But is passion was painting.

Mark 2:13-14 records that, “Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.”

A businessman with plenty of means like Levi (called Matthew in most places) would be content, satisfied with his good fortune. But, Levi was wondering, searching, and waiting for what would fill his inner emptiness. We know this by what he did soon after meeting Jesus.

Read Mark 2:15-18 Why did Levi think having a party with Jesus mattered to his friends? What did he hope to accomplish? How do  you think Jesus responded to this type of party?

We likely didn’t get a personal verbal invite from Jesus of Nazareth like Levi did. But, like his friends who got the party invite from their tax-collector friend, he uses those who know him to introduce others to Jesus. If you are his follower, someone introduced you to Jesus. He speaks to each of us through the compassionate invitation of others.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1. Consider your place at the party table. Who invited you? Send him/her a letter or email. Better yet, make a phone call. If that’s not possible, journal a letter you would want to write to him/her.

2. At church this Sunday, be intentional about bringing people to the party table. Look for a person, couple or family who needs a personal invite into your life in Christ. Ask them to lunch or schedule a time to meet, just for the benefit of “hang out time.”

3. Find a neighbor in your circle of people who needs a party. If it’s someone who needs your forgiveness, extend it. If it’s someone who is hurting or without something, provide it. Do something for someone that builds a bridge you can send a party invitation across.

« Older entries