Monday, December 19, 2011

What if it's Not About Salvation?

Something has occurred to me recently. It has to do with the Christian church's obsession with salvation. It comes out in all sorts of ways like altar calls and church services. There are sermons on salvation and records of how many people were 'saved' this week, month, year. But I think we're missing the point.

I hope I can clearly communicate what I've been thinking.

Jesus' death on the cross achieved salvation for all of humanity. Right? So, if that's true then everyone is saved. Salvation of the human race is settled or, as Jesus famously said, it is finished. We didn't achieve our own salvation. It was done for us. All of us. Isn't that what the Christian Church believes and teaches. We cannot by our own power or understanding save ourselves hence the need for a Savior, Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our sin. All of sin for everyone.

So about now you may be thinking that I'm jumping on the 'everyone goes to heaven' bandwagon. I'm not. In fact I'm bold enough to say that salvation and who goes to heaven are two completely different issues. The former is settled and we can be confident of that because there is overwhelming evidence and writings announcing that. The latter, if scripture is accurate, isn't known to us. Frankly, there's scriptural evidence that it's none of our business who goes to heaven and who doesn't. That's totally and completely up to God. So, to sum up, everyone is saved and we have no idea who goes to heaven and who doesn't.

The work of the church then is twofold. First, tell everyone they are saved and not through any work of their own. Keep telling everyone who hasn't heard it that they are saved by the work of Jesus Christ. Some will believe that and some won't. Whether they do or not is none of our business either way. We're not in the convincing business we're in the telling business. The second job of the church is to equip those who believe Jesus saved them to go about serving everyone...e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

When speaking to believers there's no need to talk about salvation. They, by definition, believe that Jesus has saved them. It's done, settled. If we keep talking about it we risk communicating to believers that maybe it's not completely done. Maybe, just maybe, there's something more that needs to be done to seal the salvation deal. Maybe I need to attend more bible studies, or take communion, or pray harder, or... then my salvation will be really, really secure. So I'm saying we should stop talking about salvation with believers. Let's proceed as if it's a done deal...because it is. Jesus saved all of humanity from sin death and the power of the devil by his death on the cross. If you believe that I don't need to keep harping on it.

Now we can get busy equipping believers to be about those things we find throughout scripture that are God's expectations for those who believe. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, housing the homeless. We can spend our time making a difference in the lives of people in this world. We can witness the love of Jesus to people in need because we get it that all of us are lost and all of us are saved. So there are no classes. No one is greater and no one is lesser than anyone else. We can stop sitting around congratulating each other that we're saved because EVERYONE IS SAVED so none of us is special in that regard.

When we talk to those who don't believe we can talk about salvation. We can explain how it was accomplished. We can help them understand those feelings of loss, separation and hopelessness and point them to the fulfillment that comes from knowing that you're saved. Just like everyone else. And some will get it. Hooray! Some won't and we can be sad about that. But we can't tell them they're not going to heaven. Because we don't know that. And that's not our call. We don't get to say who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. We. just. simply. don't. God does.

Let's stop sitting around with other believers talking about how saved we are and start challenging each other to get busy responding to the call of the one who saved us...and everyone else.

Let's tell everyone they're saved and let God sort out who really believes that and who doesn't and what happens to everyone one way or the other. What might church look like if we did this? I wonder...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Live From Kenya - Another Great Adventure

Our mission team has finished it's first full work day in Kenya! What a day it was. We worked in the Jehovah Jireh orphanage doing medical check-ups and pouring a new concrete floor in the big boys dorm. Seventy-two orphans live at Jehovah Jireh ranging in age from 7 to 20 and cared for by five very dedicated people. We had a blast today interacting, talking about Jesus, sharing about America and listening to the stories of the children. They are so inquisitive and humbled the whole team with their joy in difficult circumstances. I wish everyone could come to Kenya and meet these kids. We have one more day with them before going on to Kitui where we'll work with blind children at St. Luke's.

The team is awesome, as well. Sixteen of us from six different states all with a love for the Lord and a heart for these children. Our youngest is just 13 years old and traveling with her grandmother. This is what living the Christian faith looks like in my book. Helping those in need as a community of believers in concert with our brothers and sisters who are different but the same!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

And Now the Very LAST Minute

Any adventurers out there willing to join a mission to Africa on two week's notice here's your chance! We've just had two cancellations for our trip to Kenya. That makes us a team of 16...still larger than any previous team I've led, but we have rooms set aside for 18. If you can join us and want to know more (including special last minute pricing) please contact me right away at 847-287-6678 or by email at The 14 day window for airfare is closing tomorrow.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Preparing for Kenya

Later this month I'll be leading another team to Nairobi, Kenya. There's nothing quite like taking Christians on an overseas mission trip. Any mission trip is a blast because you get to put your faith into action. Out of the seats and into the streets as they say. But when you leave this country the experience is exponentially more powerful. The culture shock, the sights, sounds and smells of another country along with the stark reality of how most the world really lives changes people forever.

There's only so much you can do to prepare for a foreign mission trip. Obvious things like vaccinations and visas but there are also not so obvious things like the mental preparation. Facing many hours of travel, being deprived of comforts you've come to expect, spending a lot of time with a relatively small group of people you can't really get away from and seeing some of the neediest people in the world face to face all combine to make this much more difficult than you might imagine.

There is nothing like this whether you do it once or many times. My prayer for all Christians is that they would get the chance, if even for a week, to experience another place, another people and another level of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Update from Joplin

Few things excite me more than connecting with church leaders who really get what ministry is all about. When God presents an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a community in need and the church responds enthusiastically and immediately it's a beautiful thing to watch. Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School in Joplin continue to amaze me. They are now asking how do we become partners in the rebuilding of Joplin for years to come. What ministry opportunities might grow out of our engagement with this community? Let's make sure we don't miss this chance to boldly proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ through acts of service, compassion and loving kindness.

It's a distinct privilege to sit in on meetings where big dreams grow bigger as the scope of God's providence becomes more and more evident. A relief center in the school gym becomes three semi-truck containers in the schoolyard, four semi-trailers on the front parking lot, a shower trailer right in front of the school. Now it's time to consider a more permanent location where relief, counseling, building development and full community engagement might be possible. And what about money...the perennial concern of some. One of the miracles that follows a horrendous disaster such as happened on May 22, 2011 is the outpouring of financial support to people in need. People may be reluctant to give so you can pay the church's electric bill but they are always generous when people are hurting and the need is painfully obvious.

So the church rises up. God's resources flow like a river swollen with the spring rains. Volunteers put in long, hard hours and God's glory shines in the darkness. This is the church. Gathered to be strengthened by God's Word and Sacraments then sent to be his presence among the people. We mustn't only gather and never go and we dare not only go and never gather. Tomorrow I leave Joplin but my heart remains with the people of this church and school who have found the full measure of God's grace in the wake of devastation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last Minute Openings for Kenya Trip

Good news for those wishing they'd signed-up for our medical/construction mission to Kenya. Two members of the team had to bow out this week so we have two openings available right now. Rooms are already reserved and the orphans and blind children are expecting us. If you are in a position to make a quick decision and can afford the cost ($2295 not including airfare), please consider joining our team. I can promise you won't regret taking this once in a lifetime trip to Africa! Call Lifetree Adventures at (800) 747-2157 and register today. If you'd like more information drop me an email at I hope to see you in Nairobi in August!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Church At It's Very Best

For the last two weeks I've had the privilege of being with some of the greatest people in the world. The staff at Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School in Joplin, Missouri are true heroes. Located within the tornado zone where over 150 lives were lost and thousands of homes and many churches were completely destroyed, Immanuel and Martin Luther stands as a testament to what the Church is meant to be. A beacon of hope in the midst of crushing darkness. Pastor Gregory Mech, DCE Jason Glaskey and his wife Lyla, Principal Jeremy Schamber and his wife Kelli and other staff have worked tirelessly since shortly after the storm subsided to rally the people of their congregation and assemble the most awesome relief center I've ever seen. They are providing hot meals, a medical clinic, water & Gatorade, clothing, bedding, diapers, food, cleaning supplies and more to anyone who comes by their door. They are dispensing gift cards and cash to those in need. They are not taking names or making people fill out paperwork. They are being blessed by churches and denominational agencies from all over the country and they're passing those blessings along to those in need. They realize that they are in the perfect location to be the hands, feet and mercy of Jesus for just such a time as this.

It was a humbling experience to be in their presence. To see the smiles on their faces and the determination in their hearts to see that no one was turned away. They've turned their entire facility into one huge center of help and hope. And people come...every day, they come. Some just for a hot lunch and conversation, others for a mattress or clothes or a tetanus shot. Many come to volunteer and the team at Immanuel and Martin Luther find work for them to do and keep spreading the word to the city that if you need help they will provide it. This is the Church at it's very best.

The Church has a choice with each new day. And I'm not just talking about Immanuel and Martin Luther. I'm talking about the Body of Christ. We can see the need (which is usually less obvious than one quarter of your city being blown away...literally) and strive with all our energy to meet it in the name of our loving Lord Jesus OR we can close our doors, tell people to look elsewhere and see that we simply take care of those who happened to be around when the doors were shut. That's a choice many churches make every day. They insulate, isolate and vegetate hoping that they can hold on to the few, stalwart, aging members they have until they can no longer continue to function. Serving those around is just too scary and unpredictable. Kind of like a tornado. But I wish every church in America would look at Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School to see what's possible when you ask this simple question, "How can we help?" and listen for God's answer. The resources come, the people come and His light shines in the darkness. I pray every church follows the example of Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School without waiting for an EF5 tornado to move you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An Amazing Day

It's taken me a couple of days to recover, but not in a bad way. Have you ever done something that required a ton of effort, involved lots of people and pushed you to your limits? Doesn't it feel great? As the inimitable George Peppard used to say on the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

And come together is exactly what happened last Saturday when the 1 By Youth day of service came to the Austin and West Garfield neighborhoods of Chicago. The efforts of dozens of people culminated in a day where over 600 volunteers worked on nearly 100 sites where they painted, landscaped, cleaned, repaired and built. Christian teens and their adult leaders made a remarkable difference in a single day and showed a distressed neighborhood what the love of Jesus looks like. Click here and see for yourself what it looks like when Jesus shows up.

It was a blessing beyond words to be a part of something so meaningful. This is what church is all about. Out of the seats and into the streets, as they say. And we went into the streets. Streets that just the day before...and I'm guessing the day after...were populated by drug dealers and gangstas. But on Saturday, May 7, 2011 it was the scene of harmony and unity. Youth groups of all types, black, white, Hispanic and Asian filled the streets with the love of Jesus and in that light darkness could not stand. There was even one man who had been cursing us from a distance earlier in the day then joined us for the block party and shared in our meal. The power of Christ's love is overwhelming that way!

There is power in the love of Jesus Christ. Power to change lives for eternity. We dare not lock that power in a building or limit it to the occasional service event. As I write this Christians are pouring into the Southern states to clean up after the tornadoes there. Christians are poised and waiting to help those affected by the Mississippi River flooding. Christians are joining me on a mission to Africa in August to help orphans and blind children. The Church is the Body of Christ and you are part of that body. Come join us and see amazing things for yourself. God never intended for his body to be a pew potato!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Day Coming

A little less than two years ago I was part of launching a dream. The dream was to see one million Christian teens involved in a single day of service in cities across the U.S. Eventually this dream came to be known as 1 By Youth. The very first event happened in Manassas, VA in April of 2010. Since then other cities have joined the movement of youth service. But one big part of the dream was to see 1 By Youth come to one of the largest cities in the country.

On Saturday, May 7 that dream will become a reality when 1 By Youth comes to the west side of Chicago. The inaugural Chicago event will bless the people of the Austin and West Garfield neighborhoods. I'm particularly excited about this because God's blessed me with a unique opportunity. In January I left Group Cares and the team that created 1 By Youth to join the team at Lutheran Church Charities. On the day of my departure pieces fell into place for me to take on the role of Community Director for Chicago 1 By Youth on behalf of Lutheran Church Charities. So now I've gotten to see this awesome event from both the national and local sides.

Here's what I can tell you...1 By Youth IS AWESOME! It's an awesome concept, an awesome mission and an awesome opportunity to change all sorts of lives with the love of Jesus. It's the simplest way to engage young people in service within the context of a big event with lots of Christian youth. It deserves to become the next big movement of youth service...and I'm not just saying that because I had a hand in creating it! This event is local, powerful, simple and effective.

I encourage you to become a fan of 1 By Youth and work to bring it to your town if it isn't there already. The goal of one million youth is very real but will take the energy and excitement of many to make it happen. Join us and change lives everywhere.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Never Too Late

The deadline for the early price for our mission trip to Kenya has passed. That doesn't mean you can't go with us. It just means that, in order to keep costs in line we need to charge $100 more per person for future registrations. I'm hoping this doesn't deter those of you who just needed a little more time to consider joining the team. There are still spaces available and there is still great need among the orphans and blind children of Kenya. If we reach 20 registered folks there could be a rebate available for those registering late. I can't promise that, but it's not my intention to take advantage of anyone. We just need to be able to cover our costs and have sufficient funds for the work we'll be doing in Kenya.

I hope you'll still consider joining this team. It's never too late...

Monday, April 11, 2011

What's It Worth to You

Let me start by saying, again, that I know $3500 is a lot of money. But only when you look at it separate from any frame of reference. For example, if I offered you a 2011 Mercedes Benz SL550 hard top convertible for $3500 you might just do anything possible to come up with that money. Or maybe I'm the only one who dreams of that car. How 'bout if I offered you a seaside vacation home in Costa Rica for $3500. Don't you think you could find the money somewhere to take that deal?

So, what if I told you that for $3500 you could forever change the course of a child's life? What sort of effort would you make to get that money if you knew it would provide an opportunity for you to change the lives of nearly 200 children? Would you ask friends and family to contribute? Would you invite your church to sponsor your efforts? We go to extraordinary lengths all the time to see that we can get the best possible bargain. Just think of all the times you found something you wanted and did whatever it took to acquire that thing.

I'm inviting you to be a part of something that you won't be able to drive or live in or put on a shelf or plug-in and watch. I'm asking you to consider joining me on a mission of mercy and compassion to children in Kenya who desperately need to be cared for. I'm asking you to sacrifice a little more than a week of your time and find about $3500. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I guess the only question left is...what's it worth to you?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

At Our Very Best

Spent a great day today amongst mission minded pastors and their spouses. Met and heard the President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Matthew Harrison, speak today. He stressed that mission is an expression of our faith. As one who spends much of his life planning, organizing and leading mission - whether a single day of service in the city of Chicago for 1000 or more volunteers or a medical mission trip to Kenya with a team of 20 - it's so refreshing to spend time with folks who get it. We are created by God to be relational, to care for others and to express the love of Christ in real, tangible and meaningful ways. Sitting in our churches waiting for people to come to us is unacceptable! Writing checks and expecting others to do the dirty work is not much better. We Christians are at our very best when we are serving people in need driven by the love of Christ. It's my dream that the day will come when the church is always...always at her very best.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deadline for Kenya Extended!!

I'm so excited to announce that our partners in Kenya have extended the first deposit deadline so we have a 10 DAY EXTENSION for you to register and join us in Kenya August 27 - September 5. You now have until April 10 to get your $200 deposit in and hold your place on the team.

Join us as we make a difference in the lives of orphaned and blind children in Kenya. We'll provide basic medical checks and do some simple construction projects. The trip concludes with an awesome two day fly-in safari to the stunning Masai Mara National Park. These dates coincide with the end of the Wildebeest run, one of the last great migratory events on the planet. Click here to get all the details on the trip. Invite friends and get a discount on your trip cost (see my most recent post for details).

I hope you'll join the team before April 10. After that date you're still welcome to join but the price will go up by $150 to $2445 (not including airfare). My co-leader Deb and I hope you'll be part of this life changing experience! If you've been feeling God tugging at your heart to go take this deadline extension as your sign that it's time to respond.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Go to Africa - Save Lives, Bring Friends - Save Money

The early price deadline to register for our trip to Kenya August 27 to September 5 is fast approaching. We want you to join us as we provide medical check-ups for orphans and blind children and take on some construction projects. We'd like you to invite friends and family. We're serious that if you bring friends we'll give you a break on your trip cost! Here's how it works:

You come with us: $2295 (not including airfare)
You bring 3 friends: $2095 (friends pay full price)
You bring 5 friends: $1795 (friends pay full price)

Add to our team and we'll make it worth your effort. For details on the trip check previous blog posts here or call Lifetree Adventures at 1 (800) 747-2157. That's the number to call to register, too. Secure your spot on the trip for a down payment of just $200. Register yourself and three other people at the same time and we'll waive your registration fee (fees for the other three are due when you register). Register yourself and five other friends and we'll waive your registration fee and give you an additional $300 off your remaining balance. If you've already registered and invite friends this offer applies to you, too. Just make sure your friends tell us "I'm going on the trip with..." and we'll give you credit.

That's how it works. We need 20 people registered by Friday, April 1 to hold the current trip price. Call your friends today and invite them to join you on the adventure of a lifetime! Change lives - maybe even yours.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Time to Consider and a Time to Act

Well, we're now less than a month away from the registration deadline for the medical/construction mission trip to Kenya from August 27 to September 5. Funny thing about deadlines is that if we meet our goal of 20 registered participants by April 1 we can continue to take registrations until we reach our limit of 30. However, if we miss the mark of 20...due to cost concerns...this trip opportunity may be lost altogether.

I hesitate to share that, because it might cause some to think, 'well they won't get enough people so I guess I won't register'. So sharing a deadline actually has the opposite effect from what I desire. On the other hand, some might think, 'Wow! I don't want to miss a life changing opportunity to make a difference for orphaned and blind children in Africa so I better register now!' So sharing the deadline is crucial to communicating the urgency of need and the hope we'll have a team.

I'm not naive enough to think that a trip to Kenya is something people undertake lightly. I know there is much to consider. From cost to personal safety to ability to make a contribution and more. I want you to consider...prayerfully consider...whether or not God is calling you to go to Africa. And if he is calling you, is this the trip that answers his call. Consider, pray, seek the counsel of others.

Then act.

There is a time for everything. There comes a time for action. Recently my wife and I made a life changing decision. A decision we deliberated over for eight weeks. We prayed, journaled, sought wise counsel separately and together. Finally we had to make a decision. Our decision came down to drawing one of two options out of a hat! You might call it a modern day version of casting lots. In part we did this because neither of us could come to a clear conviction that either choice was the one we should make...but we knew it was time to act. And we did.

If you've been wrestling with the decision to join this trip and you've worked it through prayer, conversation, and deliberation maybe it's time to put 'go' and 'don't go' into a hat and bring closure to the process. Of course I'm hoping you'll go. I'd love it if you would join me and my co-leader Deb on a mission of mercy and compassion that will change children's lives. Trip details can be found in other posts on this blog. So, take the time consider joining this mission team.

Then act.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Africa - You CAN Go There

I grew up mostly in rural Wisconsin with brief forays into Iowa and Indiana. When I went to college I selected a school in the Chicago area. It was quite an adjustment for a small town/country boy. Two things from my small town experience have stuck with me all these years. The first was meeting Cecil Buckby. Cecil was a neighbor whose farm was across the street from one of the homes where we lived outside Marion, WI. Cecil was about 80 years old when I met him in the mid-1970's and he had never traveled out of the county. That's not a typo. I didn't miss an 'r' in the word. Cecil had never been out of the county limits in his life. He lived in the farmhouse he'd been born in and was perfectly content to end his days right there.

The second experience happened a few years later after I'd moved to Chicago for school. I took a semester off and found a job at a factory in Richland Center, WI where my family had relocated. Every other weekend or so I would jump in the car and drive the three hours back to Chicago to hang out with friends and stay in touch with college life. One Friday after work a few of my factory buddies...all local boys...were kicking around what to do for the weekend. I suggested we all drive to Chicago. Right then. They were shocked at the suggestion. Why, Chicago was so far away, so foreign, how could anyone just jump in a car and drive to Chicago? Ultimately I convinced them that a three hour drive wasn't so daunting and three of them agreed. Thirty plus years later some of them may still be talking about 'that time we drove to Chicago!'

All these years later this small town country boy who went off to the big city for school has now visited 17 countries and nearly every state in the union. My son studied in Germany, my daughter in Austria and she now lives and works in Cairo, Egypt. Last fall when I stopped by Cairo on my way home from Kenya my daughter and I mused about how small the world really is and how our perspectives have changed as we've become international citizens.

Much like my shock at my Wisconsin friends who thought Chicago was an unthinkable trip and Cecil Buckby's 80 years inside a single county, I'm amazed at folks who consider a trip to another country an impossible dream. When I invite people to join me on a mission trip to Kenya in August some of them look at me like I've just grown a second head. Africa!! It's so very far away and such an effort to get there. Let me assure you, just as I did my friends all those years ago, that it's not as big a deal as you might think. Get a passport, come up with some money (your own or raise some support), get on a plane and in less than 24 hours you'll be in Kenya with me changing the lives of orphaned and blind children. Once you've done it you'll see it's not that daunting and certainly not impossible. A lady on our trip last year goes a couple times a year. You may not ever get to the point where you fly to Africa for a quick two day visit like I once did, but I guarantee that just one 10 day trip and you're perspective on the world and your place in it will be radically altered.

You CAN go to Africa. Go here and register today. The first step will only cost you $200. I'll see you in Nairobi on August 27th. Check my earlier blog posts for all the trip details and the scoop on where we'll be serving. Go ahead and commit today before you talk yourself out of it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Don't Live a Useless Life

Our people must learn to spend their lives doing good,in order to provide for real needs; they should not live useless lives. - Titus 3:14

As many times as I've read the Bible I never really caught this verse in Titus. Not sure why as it resonates with my core passion of doing good in order to provide for real needs. I find it interesting that St. Paul in this letter to Titus defines a useless life (in some translations an unfruitful life) as the result of not doing good. Doing good is defined as those things that provide for real needs. So, let's deconstruct this verse to discover one Biblical definition of what we, as Christians, are to be doing with our lives.

Paul urges us to do good. Good is done in order to provide for real needs. If we want to figure out what real needs are we need look no further than Matthew chapter 25:35-36...

'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

Continuing to unpack the Titus verse, then, providing for real needs means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting (caring for) the sick and imprisoned. We can safely assume that similar activities would fit here like bringing clean water to people who are dying from water borne disease, repairing the homes of elderly, needy and disadvantaged folks, going to poor neighborhoods and taking care of the people there. Is it too strong a statement to say that if you're not involved in doing these things your life is useless?

I'm going to say it's not a stretch to say that. Unfortunately we live in a culture that tells us your life is useful if you earn big money, drive a nice car, live in a fine home with a vacation home on the side, and collect savings, retirement accounts and investment portfolios. But look again at Paul's words to Titus...

"Our people must learn to spend their lives doing good..." (emphasis mine) Based on Paul's other writings and the placement of Titus in the canon of Scripture I can only assume that when he says 'our people' he's talking about those who follow Jesus Christ. Christians, according to Paul, must spend their lives doing good. If you're not engaged in providing for real needs in some way on a regular basis then your life is useless. I've never met anyone who consciously wants to live a useless life. So, how about you? Is your life useful? Would you like it to be? Go here to find all sorts of opportunities to live a useful life. There is something for everyone from one day simple service events to overseas mission. Some cost money and many do not. If you're looking to live a useful life it's not hard to do. There is need everywhere and God has ordained you to meet it in His name.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Consider This

It is my personal mission to get everyone in the United States out of the United States...even if for just one week. Now, I know that's a big, hairy, audacious goal that I may never accomplish. But that doesn't mean I'll stop trying.

I know there are good reasons folks can't leave the country...even for just one week. Perhaps you have a medical condition that prevents you from traveling. Maybe you're afraid of flying. It could be that you've reached an age where overseas travel just isn't an option for you (though I have dear friends in their late 70's who make a regular habit of going on overseas mission trips). One reason often cited for not being able to go on a mission trip is cost. This is the one that doesn't stand up. There are more than enough resources available to all of us in the U.S. that money is never a reason not to go on a mission trip.

Consider might be one of those people with a truly legitimate reason why you can't go overseas. Sitting right next you in church might be someone who would love to go overseas on a short term mission trip but they aren't financially able to afford it themselves. What if folks who weren't able to go on their own provided a little help for those able to go but financially strapped? I'm not suggesting one person pay the entire cost of another person (unless you're able to do that), no, I'm suggesting that if you have some bit of money to spare for missions that you consider inviting others to pool resources and send someone from your church on a mission trip.

I first heard about this while on a recent visit to New Orleans to prepare a trip for this summer. There was a missions team working in the Lower Ninth Ward and someone on the team told me that there are qualified trades people in their church who are out of work right now. Skilled individuals suffering during this recession. Their skills are greatly needed in New Orleans so members of the church paid the expense to send these skilled workers on a mission trip that changed their lives.

From August 27 to September 5 of this year I'm leading a trip to Kenya where we'll help orphaned and blind children. This is a medical/construction mission so we're looking for doctors, nurses and folks with construction skills. If you can join us, please do. You can register through this website. Take a look at some of my earlier posts here for more trip details. If you can't make the trip, consider someone you know who could and think about making a contribution for them to go and invite others to do the same. Together we can change the world whether you do it in person or give someone else the chance.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Joining Forces

Today I started my new job and a new adventure with Lutheran Church Charities. It was very difficult to leave my old job with Group Cares (formerly Group Workcamps Foundation) but it isn't so much a leaving as it is a joining together. Though I now work for LCC (we Lutherans must condense everything to an acronym) there are two exciting projects that we'll be doing together with Group Cares. One is a 1 By Youth single day of service in the Chicago area coming up May 7. I'm looking for folks to help me put this exciting day together as we anticipate over 1000 volunteers to flood a single neighborhood for a single day.

The other big joint venture is a medical/construction mission trip to Kenya with Lifetree Adventures set for August 27-September 5. In Kenya we'll be working with orphans and blind children as we improve their living conditions. In other blog posts there are details about the two agencies we'll work with along with other details. The trip costs $2295 not including airfare to Kenya. It does include a two day fly-in safari and the chance to change lives for the better. We need a team of at least 20 volunteers to commit to this trip by April 1. If you can't join us, consider sponsoring someone who can. Perhaps there's a doctor or nurse in your congregation who could help us if you'd invite them. The registration fee to secure your spot on the trip is only $200.

Kenya is a stable anchor in East Africa but there is tremendous poverty. The AIDS epidemic that continues to plague all of Africa has certainly left its mark on Kenya. Both Lutheran Church Charities and Group Cares are committed to bringing the love of Jesus to people in need through real, meaningful and relational service. I encourage you to put your faith into action and find out what a difference you can make.

Monday, January 24, 2011

St. Luke's Home for Blind Children

Everyone I know is invited to join me on a mission trip to Kenya from August 28 to September 5 of this year. We plan to provide medical clinics and construction work to improve the lives of orphaned and blind children. I've written previously about our work for Jehovah Jireh orphanage in Nairobi. Now here's a bit about the home for blind children.

St. Luke's is located in the small town of Kitui about a two hour drive outside Nairobi. There are currently more than 120 children living at St. Luke's, a residential facility that cares for blind and partially sighted children ranging in age from five to eighteen years old. More than 20 of the children are albinos as one of the symptoms of albinism is vision impairment. During our visit last year we discovered that, due to a lack of adequate funding, the children often do not receive sufficient medical attention. Many...if not all...currently suffer or have in the past suffered from malaria. Some have contracted cerebral malaria. All of them have worms. One little boy had suffered a severe burn on his leg that had been treated initially but had not been properly tended to. We were able to care for his wound and improve his condition.

Reliant on charitable dollars and fees from what few parents are able to pay, the home is terribly underfunded. The charitable dollars have been dwindling in the current global economic downturn. The manager of the home and his staff have gone as long as five months at a stretch without pay. They struggle to keep food in the pantry on a consistent basis.

The reason the school exists is to provide a place where blind children can stay as they're mainstreamed into the school system. Kitui has the only schools in the region with teachers equipped to work with children with disabilities. Without the opportunity for an education there is no hope for blind children in Kenya. More children arrive at St. Luke's all the time in order to seek a better life. The dedicated teaching staff there do all they can to prepare the younger ones to enter the regular school system. There are adults supervising dormitory buildings for girls and boys. They provide three meals a day...though often it's just a simple fare of beans and rice.

For the albino children St. Luke's also offers security. In the East African culture albinos are prized for their body parts. Those who practice native religions and mysticism believe the body parts of albinos have magic powers so they are routinely kidnapped, killed, dismembered and sold off in pieces. It's a horrible thing to share with you, but this is the reality of life for the children at St. Luke's in Kitui.

Join us in August and change the lives of these children. We need doctors and nurses who can provide basic medical checkups. We need donations of medicines that can be left with the local doctor who does his best to attend to at least the most urgent cases. We need workers to help set-up a sustainable, income producing business venture for the home so they don't need to rely solely on donor dollars. We need you. If you can't join the team yourself consider sponsoring someone from your church. Invite your doctor to join the team. Spread the word among medical professionals in your town. Please do what you can to see that we have a team of at least 20 people who can make a difference for the children of Kenya. Read my previous posts for all the trip details.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jehovah Jireh Orphanage

There's a great opportunity for twenty or more folks to join me on a mission trip to Kenya in August. One of our project sites is located in Nairobi. Jehovah Jireh orphanage is home to over 60 children, most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS and some of whom are HIV positive themselves. For two days we'll offer basic medical check-ups for these children while some on the team will work to improve their living conditions.

Jehovah Jireh started as a vision of the Anglican Archbishop of Nairobi. Unfortunately he died soon after taking the first steps to open the orphanage. Since that time a dedicated handful of people have struggled to keep Jehovah Jireh open. The orphanage was a personal project of the Archbishop and, as such, has never been supported as a ministry of the Anglican Church itself. Recently a nearby Anglican congregation, St. Catherine Tumiani, has agreed to support the orphanage but they have very limited resources, as well.

As of today Jehovah Jireh is managed by Florence as the only real full time staff person. That's right, an orphanage of over 60 children with only a single full time staff person. The facilities are actually an abandoned rock quarry headquarters and definitely not designed as living quarters. The children sleep in bunk rooms that are no more than brick and concrete storage rooms where bunk beds have been set up in rows. In an adjacent room each child has a small trunk to hold all their earthly possessions.

On my most recent trip to Kenya this past September the wonderful and generous people on the team offered financial aid for Jehovah Jireh. Some of this is providing a couple of tutors for the children (they attend the public school in the area) and money for food and mosquito nets. There is so much more need here and our trip in August will be another step in helping this orphanage become a better place for these children with nowhere else to go.

If you're a medical professional please consider taking a week of your time to change the lives of children in desperate need. If you're not a medical professional you can make a difference in other ways as we work to improve the bunk rooms this year.

I hope you'll join us on this mission trip from August 28 to September 5. A deposit of $200 by April 1 is required to secure your spot on the team with the remaining balance to be paid in two installments. Read my previous posts to see more details about costs and what's covered. I really hope you'll join us in Kenya this year.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kenya Trip Details

Okay, so here are some details on the Kenya Trip I'll be leading with my friend Deb Bornholdt this year.

Dates: August 27 - September 5 (over Labor Day weekend to save vacation days!)

Cost: $2295 double occupancy with fly-in safari included. $1695 without safari. This is when the wildebeest are running!

The Mission: Run medical clinics for orphans in Nairobi and blind children in Kitui. Also some construction projects for our non-medical participants. I'll post more detail on Jehovah Jireh orphanage and St. Luke's Home for Blind Children in future posts.

Includes: Lodging, ground transportation, certain meals, in-country airfare for safari, some tools and materials.

Doesn't Include: Airfare to Kenya, certain meals, drinks, tips, souvenirs.

We need at least 20 people registered by April 1 to hold this price. This is a mission trip so I would encourage you to consider soliciting donations from your church and others to support this effort. This is a life-changing opportunity.

Calling all Doctors and Nurses! The children we'll serve are all in desperate need. Your medical attention will make a world of difference in their lives. We're particularly interested in eye doctors as there are 125 blind children living at St. Luke's who get very minimal medical attention.

Lifetree Adventures is managing this trip. All payments will be made through them. Call 800-747-2157 today and register. All it takes is a $200 registration fee to join the team. Payments after that are in two installments. Join me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Go With Me to Kenya

Consider this your invitation to go with me on a mission trip to Africa. From August 28 to September 5 of this year I'll be leading a trip, along with my friend Deb Bornholdt, to Kenya. There we'll be serving orphans and blind children through medical clinics and construction projects. We're looking for doctors and nurses to join the team along with those with experience or interest in learning basic construction skills. I'll be sharing much more about the trip here soon. For now I can tell you that the price is very reasonable, the work is hard, the experience is life changing and the people of Kenya would love to meet you. We need commitments from at least 20 people by March 1 so start praying about it now. I really hope you'll join us.

Is This the Bride of Christ?

Last weekend I had the regularly scheduled pleasure of talking with my son and his family over Skype. Among other things we had the chance to talk about workplaces that take advantage of employees to such an extent that they exhibit the same symptoms as an abused spouse. The conversation got me reminiscing about my years in church work and how, in every case, my experience was consistent, in some ways, with abused spouse syndrome.

What does that mean. Well, it revolves mostly around the discrepancy between what church leaders say to their workers and what they do when it comes to compensation. A common behavior among abusive spouses is to profess great love for the one they're abusing while regularly destroying their spouse's self-confidence, individuality and humanity. It is widely known...and often joked about...that church work is a low paying profession. This is often justified because the 'reward' for a church worker is in heaven. No one seems to remember that the reward of heaven is for all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Accepting low wages on the supposition that your good work will be rewarded after you die isn't just insulting, it's incredibly bad theology. The fact is the Bible specifically instructs that workers in the church should be well compensated for their labor.

Okay, before you click away because you think this is a rant about paying church workers better, let me explain how the abused spouse syndrome plays into all this. From both personal experience and many conversations with professional church workers, I'm here to tell you that the issue is rarely only the level of compensation. Instead it's about the attitude and behavior of lay leaders in the church. It's the praise heaped on you when you're doing what they want and the attacks that happen when you're not. It's the promise that they will take care of you because you're highly valued then refusing to pay a living wage as they cite any one of a number of reasons...none of which have to do with your actual performance of your assigned duties. This behavior wears away at the humanity of people. Ultimately you begin to accept that you're not that valuable, that your skills aren't necessarily exceptional, that you're just lucky to have a job so why would you jeopardize that by expressing concern about working conditions, unrealistic expectations or compensation. The best is when people question your faithfulness and trust in God because you're not willing to be on call 24/7 for what often amounts to minimum wage.

A friend of mine once confronted this head-on at a church voter's meeting as they considered the need to hire a new janitor. My friend was a teacher in the church's school with several years experience and a masters degree. To his amazement the pay package they were considering for a janitor exceeded his own. When asked how they determined the salary package the response was that they couldn't get a good janitor for less than that amount. My friend promptly rose to offer to take the position as it would mean a salary increase for him. Of course the leadership laughed at his suggestion as they were certain, with his level of education, shoveling snow off school walks and unplugging toilets was beneath him. He then pointed out that, in the absence of a janitor, he was already doing those things in addition to his teaching duties. I think they still missed the point but he got a clear lesson on what the church considered his value to be.

Last week in New Orleans I met a man who began his career as a Christian school teacher working for a church. He told me that he quit and went to the public school system because he couldn't afford to live on the salary he was paid. One of the benefits of moving to the public schools was that he was free, as just a regular church member, to advocate for better teacher pay at the church school. He observed that when you're on staff and bring up fair compensation people think you're just trying to line your pockets. But when you're just a member of the church people will listen.

So how about you? Are you a member of a church? Does your church treat its staff well? Do you advocate for the staff to be fairly compensated, given ample time off, have their professionalism and passion for ministry honored? Do you genuinely respect the staff of your church and communicate it consistently with what you say and what you do? A dysfunctional church system strips the humanity from its workers. It wears them down and crushes their spirits. I encourage you to take a hard look at the systems in your church and how they impact those who serve you week in and week out. If you see evidence that your church is acting like an abusive spouse take a stand to change it. Do it now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Other End of the Spectrum

I just returned from a scouting trip to New Orleans. By scouting I mean looking at a site for future youth mission trips. That's what I've been doing for the last five years. Arranging trips and locations for home repair and community service mission trips for Christian teens. If you've been following my blog you know next month I'm transitioning to a new ministry but still involved in missions.

In New Orleans I crossed paths with a team of adults from Illinois and New York there to repair homes and convert a church into a community ministry center. I haven't done much with adult teams so it was fun to see the other end of the spectrum. Quite a few of these folks were retired. We met Walt who has dedicated his life full time to managing work projects for teams that come to New Orleans. He spent his career as a teacher then retired and started traveling the country with his wife to build churches. In '06 he suffered a massive heart attack that nearly killed him and left him unable to do the physical labor needed for construction. So he moved to New Orleans to teach others and set up work for teams coming to town. I can't tell what an inspiration Walt is.

Among the short term (one week) volunteers were several Lutheran pastors. Most of them are retired or semi-retired. Again, my heart was lifted seeing these men who have dedicated their lives to leading churches swinging hammers, building brick walls and reaching out to the community. The best part is that I only knew they were pastors because I happened to know several of them personally. Anyone from the community only saw men dedicated to restoring the Lower Ninth Ward and bringing them hope. That they were also pastors was coincidental.

Seeing people of any age serve is exciting for me. Seeing them serve regardless of vocation reminds me that regardless of calling there are wonderful, Christ filled servants willing to sacrifice for those in need. I need to remember these great experiences when I get exasperated with the knuckleheads out there that put on the collar...and there are quite a few. But today I'm encouraged by those who aren't.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Let's Read 'Radical' by David Platt Together

Just started reading "Radical:Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt. It came highly recommended from a friend of mine. It's starting off well. I'm sure there'll be posts here about this book. If it's as challenging as I expect, it could impact my ministry dramatically.

If you'd like to read this book with me, pick-up a copy at Amazon or your local bookstore. As I comment, I'd love to hear your comments. It's no Oprah's Book Club, but it'll be fun to read this together.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Back Into the Fire

This week I resigned my position at Group Publishing, home of Group Cares, the non-profit I've served for the last five years organizing mission trips in the U.S. and abroad. It is a bittersweet parting as I love Group and the work I've been doing there. However, the Lord has called me back into a ministry position in the Lutheran Church. Not at a church but with a missions agency that is a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Called Lutheran Church Charities, this mission of mercy and compassion is rapidly expanding its scope of ministry. Started in the 1940's as purely a fundraising organization, LCC has been transformed over the past 10 years into an incredible missions organization. Now nearly all funds raised go to help people in need. From disaster response teams to comfort dogs to clothing, furniture and car distribution, LCC is impacting lives in Northern Illinois and far beyond. Their international work includes building homes and delivering clean water in Haiti, drilling wells in Ghana and much more that I have yet to learn about.

What's most exciting for me is the opportunity to grow this mission in current and new directions. We are just now looking at ways to implement water filtration sources in developing countries. We hope to seed microbusiness/microfinance ventures that will lift whole villages out of poverty. There are opportunities to bring encouragement and support to Lutheran Pastors and congregations.

This is a move back into full time ministry for me. My work at Group has been ministry, but more often it was a step removed from day to day ministry. Group is a Christian business that supports ministry and does an excellent job of it. I always thought I'd retire from Group after waiting 13 years to join the staff here. God, as he often does, had other ideas. So it's time to leave the beautiful mountains of Northern Colorado and return to the flatlands of Northern Illinois. It's back into the fire of ministry within a denomination and all the joy and struggle that comes with it. It's good to be in the Lord's hands and each day I seek to be in the center of His will. With Him it's always an adventure.

And so it continues...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

What Recession?

It has always been my considered opinion that when a church has a compelling vision people will rally around it and make it happen. A compelling vision is one that is clear, bold, rooted in scripture and clearly communicated. Churches that have such a vision and the leadership to clearly communicate it are growing and, unfortunately, rare.

I have a friend in Illinois who pastors a church the midst of this recession...has launched a second site that includes an upscale coffee house, an awesome kids space, a cool worship space and came at a cost of over one million dollars. Opened just a couple of months ago this bold, visionary move has seen church attendance grow by more than 400 people a weekend. The energy and excitement at this church is palpable. The vision for ministry is compelling with plans to see five new sites like this one launched by 2020. Weekly attendance at this church is now in the 1600 range give or take. Large, but not a mega church.

At my own church here in Colorado the leadership has cast a compelling vision to help the orphaned, lost, exploited and hurting of the world. Both at home and abroad. Sound familiar? If you've read the book of James chapter 1 verse 27 it should. "True religion is this, that you care for widows and orphans." Our leadership is taking that seriously and challenging all of us to do so, as well.

In less than two months time, presented with a clear, compelling vision to provide housing for orphans in Ukraine and Colorado and to support members of the church struggling in this difficult season our church collected and distributed over $111,000. That's over and above regular giving to support the operations of the church...which also ticked up in the same time period, by the way. Let me say that less than two months time the members of our church contributed over $111,000 to provide housing for orphans, fix homes, replace cars, pay rent, and meet many other needs in addition to regular giving. If I had to guess, the total weekly worship attendance is about 1000 people give or take. It's not a 10,000 member mega church.

One church is located in suburban Chicago and the other in mostly rural/small town Colorado. Two distinctly different regions and two distinctly different types of churches. What they have in common is visionary leadership not afraid to challenge their people with bold, outrageous ideas. They are not intimidated by the current recession because they listen to the voice of Him who holds the universe in his hands and is the maker and owner of all the earth. There is never a recession in God's economy.

Is your church seized with a compelling vision? Are you leading a church that's lost its way, floundering, shrinking, and timid? Are you wallowing in a spiritual recession? Or are you seeking God's will for your ministry and boldly proclaiming it? Are you challenging your people with a scary, ridiculous image of a preferable future? Are you wholly dependent on God to supply everything you need to accomplish everything he's calling you to? Why not?