Preaching at City Church, Klaipeda, Lithuania

DSCF7412For over a year Grace Community Church has partnered with City Church in Klaipeda, Lithuania.  This partnership has at this point consisted primarily of frequent Skype or Tokbox conversations between me and Pastor Saulius of City Church.  This trip was primarily a vision trip for our church, combined with a focus on building business relationships between our churches.  We learned a lot about the culture and how our churches can continue to learn from each other.

I love to invest in other pastors and churches and this provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other.  They currently are meeting in a T-shaped attic of an old hotel the church has purchased and is renovating, so the picture of me speaking here actually shows one smaller portion of the crowd.  They average about 150 people each week, which in relative terms makes the church a thriving Protestant church in a country fairly new to freedom of religion.

Last Sunday I was blessed to stand where Saulius stands each week before his people.  By the way, I love the cheer of applauds the speaker receives before he or she delivers the message in Lithuania.  (Their custom also has them applaud a safe landing of an airplane.  I thankfully got to experience that custom also.)

If you have never experienced a translated message before, here is an example of one.  Click HERE to hear last week’s message from City Church Lithuania.  This was a simple message of hope, something the Lithuanians (and all of us) need a lot more of, but God somehow used it last Sunday in some people’s lives, according to the feedback from Saulius.

I am praying for the years of partnership between our churches to strengthen each of us and help further the Kingdom of God.  This week I will continue to share highlights of our trip.

The Real Top 10 Reasons I Love America

american-flag-2aYesterday, as I was preparing to leave a foreign country to return home after almost two weeks away from the United States, I posted a quick entry called 10 Reasons I Love the USA.  A comment to my earlier post convicted me that I needed another post.  I often write tongue-in-cheek satire posts that are a reflection of some of the random thoughts that go through my mind at times.  This post was one such entry.

Yesterday’s post was not at all meant to capture my true heart of patriotism towards our great country.  Sometimes it is hard when someone only reads one post of a blog to understand the real person behind the blog.  I write frequently here about some of the things I love about this country, but I decided it was a good idea to share another post with my real top 10 reasons I love the United States of America.

I love the U.S.A. because:

  1. We still elect our leaders and have a stake in the direction of our nation.
  2. Our nation, in spite of our political differences, still rallies behind the idea of independence as a nation.
  3. The United States is still one nation that allows individuals who apply themselves and work hard to succeed.
  4. We have a rich history of patriotism and fighting for freedom here and around the world.
  5. We have so many dedicated men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect our freedom.
  6. Our military families suffer separation as a family and even loss in order to have a strong military presence around the world. You can read another post about my love for military HERE.
  7. We are a nation of many background, nationalities and ethnicities, but we have a common bond of freedom.
  8. Our nation still is a commanding leader in capitalistic thought and practice.
  9. I can complain about things I see wrong in this nation, without fear of retribution from government, and know in my heart that I am still very proud to be an American!
  10. Our freedom allows me to do what I do (preach the Gospel) without fear of government interruption.

God bless America, land that I love!

10 Reasons I Love the USA (Happy 4th of July)

1136185_92020858We love to travel.  Through personal travel and missionary trips I have seen many wonderful places in the world.  I love discovering new culture and I believe there is much to be learned from other countries.  After almost two weeks away, however, I am reminded how much I love my country.

We are traveling home on the United States’ birthday.  In honor of her special celebration, here are 10 current reasons I love America:

  1. I love the USA because we have air conditioning in hotel rooms.
  2. I love the USA because we have baseball.
  3. I love the USA because we call the right game football.
  4. I love the USA because we drive on the “right” side of the road.
  5. I love the USA because we smile when we meet people on the street.
  6. I love the USA because we us deodorant regularly.
  7. I love the USA because we value capitalism.
  8. I love the USA because we appreciate good customer service.
  9. I love the USA because we respect personal space.
  10. I love the USA because we actually trust our police officers.

We have our faults, but when it is all said and done, there is no place like home.

God Bless the United States of America…my home sweet home!  Happy Birthday!  May your best days be in the days to come.

Why do you love America?

You can also read “The Real Top 10 Reasons I Love the U.S.A.”

Sarah Palin Resigns as Governor

sarah-palinSarah Palin announced that she is resigning from her position as governor of Alaska while I was out of town.  Read a story HERE.

It appears she is laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential race.  It will be interesting to see if she moves closer to Washington, DC soon.  I suspect she has people coaching her right now and we will see a sharper talking, more informed speaker in months to come.

What are your initial thoughts of an Obama verses Palin presidential race?  No doubt, it would certainly be interesting.

Reflections on the KGB Museum in Lithuania

lithuania11dl9This past week I have been in Lithuania on a mission trip.  We are partnering with a church in Lithuania and this trip was to help us acclimate to the culture of this great country.

One of the first tourism visits we made in the country of Lithuania was to the KGB Museum.  Housed in a beautiful historic building, the three floors of facts and evidence of Soviet occupation are somewhat overwhelming.  As I walked through the museum this week here are the random thoughts I recorded:

  • One visit will change your life
  • More Lithuanians were deported from their homes than from any other nation.  (Over 60% of deportees were Lithuanians.)
  • Anyone who questioned the new government or was thought to be negative towards it was thrown into prison.
  • Prisoners were often subjected to cruel punishment, including standing for hours in ice-cold water.   We saw the specially designed rooms where this occurred.
  • Prisoners who caused any problems were put is a 3 x 3 cell and forced to live on very little food for days in only their underwear, with no heat in the frigid Lithuanian winters.
  • The main prison where detainees were kept was designed for 650 prisoners.  During the Soviet reign it held over 8,500.
  • The Soviets immediately got rid of intellectuals, educated, and professional men, sending them to places like Siberia.
  • Many times women went to work and led their homes with the forced absence of the father.
  • Deportees tried to make the best of their situations, organizing basketball tournaments and producing dramas.
  • The Communist Party believed they were right and justified in their actions.
  • Soviets put out atheist propaganda to combat the growing Christian presence among deportees.  Christians rose to the occasion and ministered to hurting people during Soviet occupation.
  • During Soviet occupation all Lithuanians had to learn Russian.  The language is still a large part of the country’s culture.
  • On March 11, 1990, the Lithuanians declared independence from the Soviet Union.
  • There were hardly any flowers during the reign of the Soviet government.  Flowers are now plentiful and inexpensive. They are everywhere.

Have you ever studied the Soviet occupation of former Soviet Union countries?

I will continue to share thoughts about my time in Lithuania in days to come.

7 Principles for Successfully Leading Change

Every organization needs change to occur to continue to grow and remain healthy.  Change is hard for some people and is often rejected or rebelled against.  Learning to lead change successfully is important for any leader.

Here are seven principles that can help you think through leading change in your organization:

  • Lead change from a pre-established trust in your leadership.  New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of change early in their leadership unless that change is vital to the organization.  Change will be easier if the leader is trusted.
  • Introduce change as early as possible.  People need time to warm up to the change that is coming.
  • Prepare people along the way by keeping them informed of progress during a change period. Include the good news and the bad news of change in these updates.
  • Get buy-in from as many people as possible.  Sometimes leaders have to lead alone (For those times read this post on the loneliness of leadership), but wherever possible include others in decisions concerning change.
  • Follow through on commitments made.  The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep.
  • Be consistent.  You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where leadership is at and what they will do next.
  • Do not make change a rare occurrence in the organization.  Build a culture of healthy change in the organization so that change will be more naturally accepted.

What advice do you have for leading change?  Have you ever been in an organization that lead change poorly?

Video Messaging (Using Technology to Stay Connected)

My 18 year old son Nate is serving as an intern this Summer for Michael Bayne our family minister working primarily with middle and high school students.  Recently he took it upon himself and made this video announcement to send to the students.  It reminds me that the methods of communicating with our people are changing every day.  Are you staying current?  Does your church use Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and video messaging to stay current?

Maybe you need to take a lesson from the next generation of leaders too of how best to contact your people.

The Strength of the Lithuanians

125px-Flag_of_Lithuania.svgOne thing that has kept us occupied the most in our culture training this week in Lithuania is the difference Soviet occupation has made on this country.  People talk constantly about “Soviet times” and “during occupation”.  We visited the KGB museum and saw the evidence of the stressed conditions of the people. Not one family here is unaffected by those days.

There are many visual evidences of those times, which ended about 20 years ago.  You can see it in the building disparity.  There will be a beautifully architecturally designed building Europe is famous for right next door to a very plain, no flash, almost ugly Soviet-built building.  It is obviously the major influencer of the economy here that has tried to learn to adjust to capitalism and the freedoms that come with it.  Sadly, you can see it in the fact that there are lots of older women walking the streets, but relatively few older men.

In spite of the hardship of this country, however, it has been amazing to see the tenacity of these people.  They are survivors.  They find a way to make something work.  They find a way to be happy, to provide for their family, and even to give to others.  I will be telling more stories later when I have more Internet time, including one man’s story that literally blew me away, but for now let me just say that I hope when times are tough for me I will have the courage and resolve of these people.

Are you having a hard time these days?  Perhaps you need to hang around my Lithuanian friends for a while.

The Loneliness of Leadership

I was talking with a friend the other day that is having to make some difficult decisions for his organization that he knows are right and necessary, but he also knows they will be very unpopular and he will most likely lose friendships over the decisions he has to make.  I was able to remind him of something all leaders need to know.

There is sometimes loneliness in leadership that cannot be avoided.  Don’t offer to lead if you are not willing to sometimes stand-alone.

Even in the best team environment there will be times when the direction the organization needs to go involves making decisions, which adversely affect the rest of the team. Consider, for example, some of the hard decisions the United States auto industry is being forced to make to remain viable.  The companies that survive that crisis may be the ones who are willing to make the hardest choices.

There have been times when I have to have hard conversations, correct people who are wrong, force my views on others or follow through on the plan I think is best for the organization, even though it is unpopular, all because I happen to wear the leader hat.  That responsibility should never be abused as an excuse for dictatorship or poor leadership, but loneliness sometimes comes with the territory of being a leader.

Michael Jackson Tweets

My blogger friend Scott Williams has a creatively done and entertaining post/tribute on Michael Jackson.  What would Michael Jackson Tweet if he Twittered?

Read the top 10 things Michael Jackson would have Tweeted

By the way, Scott has a great blog you may want to consider adding to your reader or bookmarking.