Monday, December 24, 2007

Casey Christmas Plans

Hey all, hope your Christmas season has been joyful! Ours certainly has. Of course we've had to juggle extra activities like school performances and shopping. There has been extra traffic and longer lines. We continue wrestling with keeping the right balance between generosity and stinginess. We keep checking our motives - are we giving because we want to keep things even? Are we buying this present because we feel we have to? It's really easy to get sucked into the Christmas-shopping vortex and lose sight of the 'why'. This year our church has been doing a series of lessons on the Advent, the first for me, at least in a long time. It has been a really good reminder, not in some cheesy 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season'-way, but in a thoroughly deep way. We can argue about why we put up a tree, and whether putting up a nativity scene is a form of idolatry. We can study the history of why December 25th was chosen and argue about how much Christmas is appropriate to celebrate. What's important though, is to see the connection between the manger and the cross and how they both must be seen in light of the empty tomb and the purpose for which the Father send his Son.
In the past, I've gauged my success in this in terms of simply remembering the nativity, of Jesus' birth and life. But this year it really served as a reminder to be grateful for the 'why' - for God's grace and forgiveness and to let that gratefulness then turn into letting that forgiveness flow unto those around me.

OK - so plans.

December 24th - Our American friend Emily is spending the night with us and just being a member of our family. Our church is hosting a Midnight gathering where we will read the Nativity story, sing together and light the fifth advent candle.
December 25th - Open presents and lunch at the Rotert home. Final packing and preparing for trip to Germany.
December 26th - Leave at 7:00 am for Munich, and the next day on to Colditz. Check out for a peek at what we will be doing there.

From our family, have a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Somewhere in Here Lies the Key

"Jesus gives us the classic picture of the failure of both religion and irreligion in his parable of the two sons in Luke 15. The elder brother represents the religious leaders; he never disobeys any of the father's laws. As a result, he tries to control his father and exclude his brother. In the end, he is the one who misses the feast of salvation rather than his profligate brother. There could not be a more powerful warning: The elder brother is not lost despite his obedience to the father but because of his dependence upon it."*

Go ahead. Let it sink in. Whew. Good stuff. Free-ing stuff, if we let it be.

*From the article, "Religion-less Spirituality" by Timothy Keller.

Thanks to Josh for sending it my way.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Let it snow...

Our annual Christmas-themed Coffee House is Monday night so we got together with the Roterts at La Via to set up the gi-normous fake tree, to listen to Christmas music and drink hot cocoa. As we were getting ready to head down, Heather noticed and then yelled at all of us that it was snowing! Those of you reading this from the snow & ice-pounded Midwest and Eastern U.S. probably think we're crazy, but in this mild Mediterranean port city, seeing snow is special. While we set up, the kids watched out the window as the flakes grew bigger and bigger. By the time we were done, it had stopped and nothing was left but wet pavement and a cold wind. It was fun while it lasted - hoping we run into more of the white stuff after Christmas when we head up to Germany...we'll see.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Innocent Until

Nervous chatter filled the room;

The big room where the great court met

To dispense justice and to free the oppressed.

And the one with the gavel,

Adjusting the skin that covered his face,

Motioned for silence, silence!

A man entered, cold and hard,

His was a crimson path to walk,

Padded, with trim.

His seat wide, soft, ornate.

Those with ballot in hand looked on with compassion,

Knowing the charges against him were impossible, ludicrous.

Their eyes were diverted when the doors again swung open,

When entered the flower.

A daisy.

Bright yellow was her face,

Her petals pearly white,

All but one,

Stained and wilted.

Boos and hisses echoed in the room,

Who was this flower anyway?

How dare she make such a fuss?

So she was stepped on?

She was in the man’s way!

No permanent harm was done,

Her golden middle was still gold.

Who cares if one of her petals

Is stained and torn?

Murmurs of assent circle the room.

A smirk crossed the face of the man,

As if to say, yes, who does care?

“I DO!”, came a thundering voice from above.

It silenced the crowd,

The man’s face was frozen ash.

“Justice is mine, and…it…will…roll!

The day will come when this flower

Again will be whole.

I care that her petal is not the white I made it!

I care that she has been stepped on!

I care that what was meant for my glory and my delight,

Was instead taken and thrown away, misused and disrespected!

I care that innocence has been stolen!

I care for this flower and my decision will be known!

Play your part, take your stand.

Bang your gavel and read your verdict.

Play at justice, with your man-made laws."

But I am the Judge and from me there is no escape.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Article on the 24/7 Prayer Site

Be sure and visit! They just put up our story which you have probably already read here - but you can check out all of their resources and encouraging stories of how prayer is changing lives and communities.

Ancona Prayer Room Video

Check out our first prayer room video created by our teammate Brian Rotert. You can also go to our church's site, and click on 'Notizie' to get there.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ancona 24/7 Prayer Room

Well, we’ve had three days or more now to debrief and reflect on the prayer room experience. Thanks to everyone who wrote to ask for more details. I wanted to wait until now to spend some time processing, to see how people would respond, to see how God continued to work, to hear testimonies from those who participated, to speak to our Life Group and to get the pictures that were taken. I’m glad I waited.

For those of you just catching up, we just hosted our first 24/7 prayer room. We are joining along with dozens of churches around the world involved with the 24/7 Prayer movement to host these times set apart for prayer. The general idea is to set aside a place (in a church, office, pub, van, tent, etc.) for a specified period of time to be dedicated to prayer. The location is set up creatively to encourage prayer in lots of different forms (painting, drawing, writing, meditating, kneeling, standing, sitting, pacing, dancing, singing, playing instruments, etc.). Heather took our team’s ideas and combined them with ideas we gathered at the Seville conference and mixed them with her own, God-given creative talents to create a beautiful prayer refuge. We took our little office space (about 15’x15’) and emptied it, storing everything in the backroom. Heidi helped her shop for supplies. She painted it a cream color. Brian and I mounted a large frame on the wall and Heather lined it with paper, creating a large, blank canvas. I built a rugged cross to place in one corner. Two maps were mounted in another. Heather created a veil of lights to hang over a couch. There was a small refreshment section as well as a musical station. On a large wooden plank, she took Brian’s idea and placed the words, ‘Dio è…’ which means ‘God is…’. We divided up the 48 hours and recruited 26 of those slots to be filled assigning people to be on-call. In the end, a few people didn’t show up and several of us spent a few 2 and 3 hour turns in the prayer room.

I counted 29 individuals who each spent at least an hour in the prayer room. Some of these were alone, others were in the room in pairs or small groups. There were 15 from our church, 5 from the Apostolic church, 5 Catholics and 4 who really don’t fit any of these categories. All of this to promote, foster and host 48 hours of continuous prayer in at least four different languages with people represented from the U.S., Italy, Romania, Holland, and Argentina. What was once a grey, dingy office space was transformed into a beautiful haven of prayer. Blank paper and canvas and walls were turned into praises, poems, drawings, paintings, songs, cries for mercy, thanksgiving and forgiveness. Our little community of believers rallied around the simple vision of spending time with Jesus. And that’s just what we did – we spent time with Jesus.

What were the results? Almost without exception, people came out of the prayer room with two comments:

1. Time flies in there!

2. When is the next one?

Lukewarm faith was inspired. Traditional religion was reawakened. Children were encouraged to use their talents to praise God. Trust was established and grown. One young mom came out and wrote us this note:

the prayer room was an extremely touching experience for me. Entering the prayer room was like entering in a separate world. My hour went by very fast and some time with myself and with God was very meaningful…sat down on the sofa and kept weeping. I felt I wasn't worthy enough to be in there where everybody had humbled and open their heart to God, put their pain and worries in the hands of God, sticking their prayer on the wall...”

Someone wrote a note and stuck it to the cross saying, “Lord Jesus…thanks to them (our team) it has been possible for me to be here today to spend time with you in this way…”

It was exciting, emotional, tiring, frustrating, refreshing and just, plain crazy. No one was healed, God didn’t speak audibly. There were no miracles except the miracle of prayer itself.

Here are my 5 favorite aspects:

-ownership: by our team and now, after, by our church, and all those who participated

-100% participation: this doesn’t happen often here – but everyone on our team and in our church participated

-promoted unity: not only between ourselves and the Apostolic church, but also between the leaders of the ecumenical group and several key priests of the region

-focus wasn’t ‘us and them’ but just ‘us’: so often I believe we err in sharing the Good News by assuming that we have it all figured out – it was really refreshing to not focus on ‘winning’ anyone to Christ but to merely invite them to spend time in communion with God – what the lawyer lay-leader wrote on the wall was equally valued and honored as what the six-year old drew.

-mission was granted: this one I didn’t really expect – you see, I’m already a missionary…but as I prayed in the early morning hours, somewhere between the loud, bass beats of the club downstairs I believe I detected the call of Christ to get to know the club-goers better

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. It has been so uplifting to partner with you in prayer. We are already beginning to talk about when we will host our next 24/7 prayer room. Maybe the Lord is laying it on your heart to get involved where you are?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Prayer Room is Open

It is a strange and wonderful and, maybe most importantly, new thing I’m experiencing with the opening today of our first prayer room: spending consecutive hours focused on Jesus. Yes, that means that a couple of people didn’t show up. Yes, I wish more had signed up today, but I’m finding myself drawn to this warm, cozy room; eager to see what new request or poem or picture hangs on the wall. We’re learning how this works. We’re learning the importance of communicating details, of reminding people, of being prepared beforehand, of being prepared for spiritual attack before, of keeping the focus on spending time with Jesus. I had hoped to have more manpower to be able to gather prayer requests from the city – all in time. I like that we are doing it anyway, flawed, imperfect, errors – it is OK, because we’re spending lots more time with Jesus than we normally would.

I spent an hour in the room this afternoon with Jacob after Heather did so with Haven. (Haven gasped when she first saw the room and upon exiting said, ‘Daddy, it was amazing. I loved it.’) It was neat for me to watch Jacob go around the room. On the wall that says, ‘Dio è…’ (God is…) he wrote a couple of notes. He drew a chalk picture of Jesus healing the blind man and scribbled in Italian ‘Now I see’ above it. He played with the guitar, read the story of Jericho from his Bible. We looked at the big cross in the corner of the room and talked about what it meant. He stuck a note to it that says, “Thank you for saving me.”

A Catholic lady named Raimonda came today for an hour and as she came out she marveled at how quickly the time passed. As Anna arrived and went in to replace her I prayed with them. Sandro showed up and joined his wife in the room – and they, too, were encouraged and said the time flew by. I find myself fumbling over how to talk about this with people here, how to explain it, promote it, invite people to it. To a traditionally Catholic mindset, the idea of walking into a church to pray is not foreign – I would venture to say that they make more of a habit of this than most non-Catholics I know. But the idea of a ‘place set apart’ and of signing up for hours and the creative expression all seem to be uncharted waters for most everyone here. I argued with our friend Emanuele this morning (he came to photograph the room before it opened) about how to translate the phrase ‘write down a confession.’ “You don’t do that,” he told me. “Only criminals write down confessions.” I smiled – he’s an aspiring lawyer.

So now, I sit here in the assembly room of our rented location at 1:20 Saturday morning. In the entry room, Massimiliano, who is on-call tonight, is trying to get an hour of sleep on an inflatable mattress and blanket that smells like mothballs. Brian is praying in the prayer room. I occasionally hear him strumming something on the guitar. And through the windows to my left, I hear the laughing, the clinking of beer bottles, the thumping of disco beats from the club below us. Father, do something crazy…starting in me.