Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lessons From a Flood

Nearly a week ago a torrential rainstorm hit a large part of Illinois including the Chicago area. In less than twenty-four hours the western suburbs of Chicago were hit with about seven inches of rainfall. That much rain in that short period of time has to go somewhere. Some of it went into my house for the day.

Having spent some portion of my career over the past seven years involved in disaster recovery, I'm not unfamiliar with the damage flood waters can do. In 2005 I spent time in New Orleans with teams of folks clearing out houses that had been filled to the roof with water. It makes six inches seem like a picnic. But when the six inches of water is in your home it's no picnic. It is an interesting experience, however, to sit on the side of the 'victim' of a disaster instead of the disaster responder.

As we begin the process of cleaning up, filing insurance claims, replacing ruined stuff and putting things back in order, I'm struck with how similar this process is to restoring charity. I've written many posts (though few recently) about how our charitable efforts have devastated communities around the world. It's way past time to fix that. Here are a few lessons I've learned from the flood.

  • Water is a good thing in proper proportion and when delivered in a controlled fashion.
  • Uncontrolled water can't be stopped and makes a mess of everything because it goes everywhere.
  • Water doesn't go away until the source is cut off and recedes.
  • Once water does go away it leaves a mess behind that must be dealt with or worse problems develop (rot, mold, mildew, disease, etc.).
  • Some things can be salvaged but some things are forever ruined and must be thrown away.
  • Clean-up can be done by an individual but bringing in a team makes the work much more bearable.
  • Fixing some of the damage requires experts with training and experience.
  • Closing off the damaged space and letting it dry out on its own is never an acceptable strategy.
Now go back to the list above replacing the word 'water' with the word 'money'. We have created an incredible mess with the flood of money and stuff we've poured into developing countries. We have a mess to clean-up and, just like flood recovery, we can't wait around to get started!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

From Rejection to Renewal

I don't know why this particular topic caught me today. Perhaps it was the YouVersion verse of the day, John 3:16-17 that triggered it. John 3:16 is the most quoted and familiar Bible passage ever. That's my opinion since I didn't look up any statistics to back it up. It is also incredibly inclusive. So why is it that the church that has promoted this verse is so often exclusive?

I'm not the only one asking that question. Years ago a friend of mine who had been through a traumatic marriage relationship with an abusive man finally broke free by divorcing him. The next time she went back to her hometown to visit family an usher at the church where she grew up deftly cut her out of the line for Holy Communion and escorted her back to her seat. The reason given by the pastor was that her divorce had disqualified her from receiving the sacrament.

I heard that story over twenty years ago but it still sticks with me. Stories like that haunt me because there are far too many of them being told by far too many people. Somehow the church that represents God who loved the world so much that he gave the life of his only son to restore relationship with all of us is better known for rejecting people than accepting them. Perhaps this is an insidious Satanic subterfuge rendering the church irrelevant in our culture. But that doesn't mean we have to stand for it.

If we who are passionate followers of Jesus Christ have any hope of impacting the world for His sake then we must find a new way to express ourselves. Traditional church isn't cutting it...and hasn't been for a very long time. Our churches are aging, shrinking and dieing. Yet interest in all things spiritual is exploding. The younger generations start from an assumption that the Christian church is irrelevant and work from there.

Those who are successfully escaping this perception are the ones who have left the church building and begun engaging the world live and in person. Faith in action is winsome. Putting no limits on who you will serve or how you will serve is compelling. Living out Christ's call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, house the homeless and care for widows and orphans is unassailable. When we leave our churches and start worshiping God with our whole bodies, resources and energies a new day dawns for the Body of Christ. That is the Church. And that Church is being renewed yet again as God raises us from death to life.

Monday, April 01, 2013


I've been away from the blogosphere for a few days. Some might think it was because of Holy Week and Easter but that wasn't the case. I actually had several projects that kept me away from the computer. One of those was a road trip to visit the folks at Destiny Rescue in Northern Indiana. I love meeting people who are passionate about putting the Gospel to work. Peter and Barbie Everett are just such people. Peter, a native of Australia, and Barbie, who grew up in Indiana, left Australia after living there together nineteen years to come here and open the U.S. office of Destiny Rescue.

Destiny Rescue is an international mission dedicated to rescuing people from slavery. In particular they are doing great work in Thailand and Cambodia rescuing young girls from the sex slave trade. My partners and I are planning to partner with Destiny Rescue in a project that will provide more work for the girls who are rescued so that they can continue to produce an income for their families. You can learn more about this awesome ministry by clicking on Destiny Rescue anywhere in this post.

Peter and Barbie uprooted teenage children from their home in Australia, lived with relatives for a time and have done the very hard work of launching a non-profit here. They inspire me with their passion to see people rescued from slavery at a time when there are more people in slavery than at any other time in human history. By God's grace I hope that we can advance their cause and increase the support for their work. It's good to get out of the office and spend time with others who are dedicated to seeing the love of Jesus change the world.

To make change happen, though, we must be willing to take risks, uproot our families, move half way around the world, be open to new relationships and work really hard. Or we can sit in our churches at Christmas and Easter celebrating a baby and a risen Lord without letting that really have much impact on our day-to-day lives...while complaining about what a mess the world is in and wondering why nobody's doing anything about it. Those are our choices. Personally, I'm inspired by the choice Peter and Barbie made four years ago and it was a privilege to spend time with them last week.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Not Much to Say

They say when it comes to blogging that content is king. By that 'they' mean it's important to keep creating new content if you want people to continue to follow your blog and pay attention to what you have to say. But what if you have a few days where you don't have much to say?

I'm in that period right now. I've said much of what I wanted to say about undoing the devastating effects of our charity on the rest of the world. I haven't been tracking the latest foolishness in denominational churches so there's no rant forthcoming. Instead I've been focused on doing some things. I'll spend most of today with consultants analyzing the feasibility of starting a new business. This business will support ministry and be part of the model of combining for profit and non-profit ventures.

I'm still in the process of launching The Shepherd Fund . That's going along smoothly but it takes time to properly begin a non-profit. As I've said in previous posts, there is a time to talk (blog) because those who have a vision of a better future won't get anywhere without sharing that vision. But there is also a time to act or the vision is worthless. In the words of Thomas Edison, "Vision without execution is hallucination!"

Rather than hallucinate, I'm acting to execute my vision for a different way to do charity. And I'm looking for others who are doing the same. If that means some days there's not a new post here then, so be it!

Go here and make a donation to help launch The Shepherd Fund.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No Lone Rangers

Have you ever considered it ironic that comic superhero the Lone Ranger had a faithful sidekick? The genesis of the Lone Ranger was an attack on a group of Texas Rangers. All but one were killed and the remaining ranger never rejoined a team but chose to seek justice on his own. Unfortunately this is a model that has been adopted by far too many people in ministry.

One of the most dangerous things that any of us can do is isolate ourselves. When we do that it's easy to believe that we are solely responsible for the success of our ministries, the care of people in need, and all sorts of things. Not only that, but when we live a life of isolation we don't benefit from the experience of those who have gone before us and we offer nothing to those who follow us. God himself proclaimed in Genesis, "It is not good that man should be alone."

On a monthly basis I lead a meeting of ministry professionals for the express purpose of keeping us connected. This monthly meeting gives me a chance to learn from fellow professionals. It gives me a chance to share what I've learned with others. It provides a safe place where we can work through our challenges as professionals in ministry. Today is one of the more special meetings as we welcome college students who are preparing for ministry to our meeting. This is a great chance to meet the next generation of leaders. We'll visit, network, get to know each other and answer their questions about what it's like in the real world of ministry.

If you don't have regular opportunities to connect with others in your field you're at risk of becoming a lone ranger. While that might make you feel like a superhero, it's not safe or wise. Alone we are an easy target for the enemy. Together we can encourage, support and defend one another. Don't be fooled into thinking you have to do it all by yourself. Even the Lone Ranger never worked alone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is He Serious?

Pope Francis was installed today. I'm not Catholic but the installation of a Pope goes beyond the Catholic faith and qualifies as an international event. The list of world leaders who showed up for the installation is impressive. What's more impressive to me are the stories being told about the new Pope. Apparently he stated that he wants the church to be poor. I wonder if he's serious. Because that would take a lot of work. Liquidating the assets of the Catholic Church in order to address poverty and make a difference in the world would take decades. But I'm fully supportive of Pope Francis and encourage him to make the effort.

It's hard to put a number on the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. Someone tried in response to a question on Yahoo Answers and this is what was listed as the best answer to the question:
"The Vatican's treasure of solid gold has been estimated by the United Nations World Magazine to amount to several billion dollars. A large bulk of this is stored in gold ingots with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, while banks in England and Switzerland hold the rest. But this is just a small portion of the wealth of the Vatican, which in the U.S. alone, is greater than that of the five wealthiest giant corporations of the country. When to that is added all the real estate, property, stocks and shares abroad, then the staggering accumulation of the wealth of the Catholic church becomes so formidable as to defy any rational assessment.

"The Catholic church is the biggest financial power, wealth accumulator and property owner in existence. She is a greater possessor of material riches than any other single institution, corporation, bank, giant trust, government or state of the whole globe. The pope, as the visible ruler of this immense amassment of wealth, is consequently the richest individual of the twentieth century. No one can realistically assess how much he is worth in terms of billions of dollars."
Wow! If this answer is close to true then Pope Francis controls billions of dollars and claims he wants the church to be poor. Not that I think there will be any significant change in the church's financial position under the new Pope. But it's fun to think about what could happen. You can access the annual financial statement of the Holy See if you're interested in just the Vatican's annual finances (about $355 million in 2007).

Lest you think this is me bashing the Catholic Church for hoarding so much wealth, let me say that any Christian organization that's been accumulating wealth for any amount of time has resources it could be using better. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church has been accumulating for nearly 2000 years just means they have a head start on the rest of organized religion.

The bigger question must be..."Are we who call ourselves Christians leveraging our ability to accumulate wealth for the glory of God or the glory of ourselves?" Who is glorified by staggering bank accounts, stunning buildings and impressive weekly stage productions?

I'm not pointing fingers, just asking questions. Questions I hope Pope Francis will continue to ask from his place of influence in the world.

Monday, March 18, 2013

More Highly

This topic has come up on this blog before but it bears repeating. One of the greatest dangers in all areas of human experience is those who think too highly of themselves. In Romans 12 Paul cautions with these words...

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Certainly churches and charities are at risk when those running them think they're more important than they are, but it's also true for governments, businesses and any situation where people assemble and assign leadership responsibilities. If you're blessed with responsibilities of any sort it is crucial that you think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to you.

When you think of yourself more highly than you ought things fall out of balance. You begin trying to take control of things over which you have no control. You decide things you have no right to decide. In the extreme we can look to Adolf Hitler whose high opinion of himself led the entire world into war and cost millions of lives. For less extreme examples we can look at pastors who think so highly of themselves they try to dictate how others do ministry or relentlessly attack the methods of others as illegitimate or worthless.

This topic strikes close to home for me because I recognize in myself the capacity to take myself more seriously than is healthy for me or anyone around me. Daily I must submit to God and work to properly assess whether or not I'm taking myself too seriously. As we pursue ministry, charity and all work to which God has called us, we must understand there is an adversary working to derail that work. He takes no prisoners and has no compassion. He will convince you that you're indispensable and the eternal salvation of others rests on your shoulders. Look closely at the collapse of any great ministry, business or government and I guarantee you will find at least one person at the top who thought more highly of themselves than was appropriate.

If God has blessed you with a vision for ministry or a successful business or civic leadership know that you will be tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought. Succumbing to that temptation is the first step toward destruction. Don't take that step.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Permission Gambit

Neither my son nor my daughter ever ask me for permission to do anything anymore. That might seem shocking unless you know that my son is twenty-nine and my daughter is twenty-five. He's a successful leader in an entrepreneurial start-up and she's an accomplished international educator currently living in Egypt. So it's not odd at all that neither of them look to me for permission to do what they do. They're adults. There was a time when they needed my permission but not anymore.

It seems to me that too many Christians who happen to also be adults, are waiting around for someone to give them permission. Permission to do what, you might ask. Permission to do what God is calling them to do. When the overwhelming urge to do something meets abject fear at the challenge of doing that thing one of the plays we make to get out of it is the permission gambit. It comes in certain forms, like declaring the lack of proper credentials, not being ordained, not having completed schooling, not being certified, etc. All of these are a form of saying, 'I don't have permission to do that.'

I know of a church that wanted to place a missionary to another country. The denominational headquarters told them they didn't have permission to do that. So they didn't. One could argue that the church was submitting to the authority of the denomination, but I would ask...'If God has called you to act and the denomination has denied permission, to whose authority do you submit?' Likewise, if you have a clear call from God to act but your church refuses to give you permission are you using the permission gambit as a convenient excuse to avoid the challenge of God's call? Or are you rightly submitting to the authority God has placed over you? That's a tricky question.

God uses earthly authorities is a variety of ways. Sometimes they do restrain us as an agent of God. Sometimes they restrain us in opposition to God. My personal bias is that in most cases it is the latter not the former at work. If we have attained maturity in the faith then it may be time to stop asking permission to do what God has called us to do. Perhaps it's time to shake off the shackles of bureaucratic organization and seize the challenges God is laying before us. But be prepared. You will be confronted, sometimes violently, by those who believe they must first give you permission.

Remember Saint Paul was beaten nearly to death by people who thought he needed their permission and had ordered him not to speak of Jesus.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Easy Street

One of the cultural hurdles we must overcome is the ease of access we enjoy in the United States. By any standard in the developing world everything is easy for us. I'll never forget a conversation I had with some of the kitchen staff at Carlile College on my first visit to Kenya in 1999. We were standing next to the simple garden at the back of the property as they harvested some vegetables for that evening's meal. At the time some of the food was cooked in a big pot over an open wood fire in and outdoor courtyard. Imagine any college in the U.S. where daily meals are prepared over a camp fire in the yard! The staff asked me if what they provided was comparable to what we enjoyed in the U.S. I didn't know how to answer their question. I couldn't remember the last time I met anyone in my home country that literally had to harvest food from their garden daily in order to feed their family, much less a school full of students.

Fast forward to my most recent visit to Kenya when I delivered a used laptop to my friend Daniel for him and his family. We connected to wireless internet service and I showed him Google Earth. He was speechless as we found his home village in the hills of Kenya and his home in Nairobi. I then showed him the satellite view of my home and other areas in America. He noticed something right away that would have never occurred to me. He asked, 'Are all your roads paved?' I had to think a moment, but the answer was that except for a few rural areas of the country I couldn't remember ever driving on a road that wasn't paved. Daniel was awestruck by that simple fact alone.

When Ricardo from Pucallpa, Peru visited our home in Colorado he was fascinated by our manicured lawn and sprinkler system. More amazing to him was the fact that every home in the neighborhood had the same. Later when I led a team to Pucallpa, Ricardo's sister commented on how he was working to develop a lawn at his home like ours in Colorado because he was so impressed by it. Trust me when I say that my lawn was extremely average.

The challenges of doing ministry can sometimes escape those of us who have grown up here. The hard work it takes can be overwhelming for people who have enjoyed the luxuries we enjoy. The philosopher Juvenal is quoted saying, 'Comfort is more ruthless than war.' How very true that is. Comfort takes away our perspective. It softens our resolve and it saps our energy. To do what we are called to do by God takes perseverance, discipline and hard work. Where we are called to go not every road is paved...and in some cases there are no roads at all!

God has a sense of humor, however. As I launch The Shepherd Fund a friend of mine is providing a little office space so I can get out of the house and have some dedicated space to work. It is located at 190 Easy Street! How's that for irony? What we do in ministry and in charity isn't easy. But it is eternally worth it.

Please consider making a gift to the Shepherd Fund launch campaign. This week we filed our incorporation papers and next we file for tax exempt status with the IRS. Any size gift will help us along the way. Click here to make a gift (donations to the launch fund are not tax deductible).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do You Believe It

“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” - Matthew 17:20

If you're a regular reader of this blog you know that God has set me on a path to create a non-profit ministry here in the U.S. to support the work of Carlile College in Nairobi, Kenya and other projects beyond that. I believe God has shaped my life for what is happening right now and continues to shape me each day for the work that will come tomorrow. There are times in my life where I've been accused of being grandiose. The plans I've talked about have been criticized for being too bold, too broad or too scary. God has blessed me with visions of things that are overwhelming even to me.

But I've never yet had the nerve to say to a mountain, 'Move from here to there.'

If Jesus was truthful when he spoke, if he meant what he said, if Scripture is the inerrant Word of God then...'Nothing will be impossible for you.' 

Do you believe this?

Do you? Really?

Our belief drives our actions. If I believe that nothing is impossible for me then is there any reason not to do what God clearly calls me to do? Nothing is a very inclusive word. Jesus uses the word nothing. No Thing will be impossible for you. What would you do if you struck the word impossible from your vocabulary? What would you pursue if nothing was impossible? If you were the child of the One who owns all the earth and everything in it, who has power over death itself, and has given you access to all of it for His sake what excuse would you make for not doing what He calls you to do?

If you believe this...if you believe Jesus...if God has called you to something scary and seemingly impossible...get over yourself and start moving mountains.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Defining Risk

One of the most influential books I've ever read is 'Your God is Too Safe' by Mark Buchanan. If you're not familiar with it I highly recommend picking it up today. In the book Buchanan redefines risk. He challenges us to think about how we perceive God. We serve a God who cannot be contained and will not be defined by us. Our God is an awesome God, to coin a phrase. He is without limits.

Yet we choose to limit God. We choose to limit Him by what we can see or calculate. We limit Him with our budgeting and our small plans and our timid goals. We look at almighty God, the glory of His creation, the story of His miraculous interactions with us, and the wonder of His love demonstrated by the sacrifice of His son on the cross and fear we won't be able to pay the electric bill. We don't risk starting something new even when we're sure God has called us to it because we can't figure out how we can afford it. We don't risk going where God has called us to go because we can't determine for certain that it's safe enough. We don't risk praying with all boldness and confidence because we might be embarrassed if God doesn't come through and answer our prayers.

Maybe I'm projecting here a bit so I'll change 'we' to 'I' in all those sentences above. You can determine if it also defines you. All I can say is that in over 30 years of ministry experience I've sat in far too many meetings where small plans and timid goals were made because those assembled around the table couldn't see how a big plan could be accomplished.

God is not safe. He is wild, untamed and ready to take you places that will terrify you. If you want to be in a relationship with a God who comforts you, gives you peace, keeps you safe and never pushes you out of your comfort zone then you're not looking for a relationship with the God of the Bible. When it comes to defining risk we need look no further than all the dying churches striving to live on shrinking budgets with small plans, timid goals and no vision hoping to pay next month's electric bill to know that serving a safe god is the only real risk. Stop taking that risk and start seeking God's plans that will terrify you because you have no idea how they will be accomplished...but you'll pursue them anyway.

Friday, March 08, 2013


Awhile back a friend and I were having a conversation about short term mission trips. My friend is a pastor at a large church and he expressed his doubts about the benefits of such trips. He'd been told through the years that people who go on mission trips come home and engage more fully in the overall mission of the church. In his experience that just wasn't true. And he's right.

Many people who go on short term mission trips don't get more deeply involved in the work of their church at home. It's a lot like your kids going to a friends house to help clean out the garage when they won't pick up their own clothes off the bedroom floor. But the reason for going on a mission trip isn't to stimulate more involvement at least that shouldn't be the reason.

I think the biggest reason is we're called to go. And while there's been plenty said on this blog about doing short term missions properly and cautions about how we've done them poorly, they are still key to connecting the larger Church for the sake of the Gospel. While not everyone who goes on a short term mission trip has a life altering experience, there are many who do. In earlier post I wrote about missions that were started by individuals touched by the needs of others. In every case they met those in need in person while on a mission trip.

A friend of mine was so affected by his first mission trip that he came home, sold the family business and went into full time mission work. I've worked with college students who, after a summer of mission work, have changed their college major and the entire course of their lives. There is something about experiencing another culture and partnering with others to bring hope and help that touches us like nothing else. There is no television documentary, sermon, film, radio broadcast or missionary presentation that is as compelling as personal experience.

My first visit to Kenya changed my life and compelled me to return again and again. The Shepherd Fund is borne out of that experience. My prayer is that God will bless this effort and that many will support the good work we have set out to accomplish. Learn more and consider making a donation to help launch this ministry by clicking here.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

An Aversion to Profit

There's an interesting dynamic that has developed over the past few years in the United States. It's been most vividly demonstrated by the Occupy Movement as certain groups of people have come to despise those who make a profit from their business pursuits. How making a profit has been vilified is a topic for another post. Though it's a new trend culturally, it's an idea that seems to have been embraced by the church for a very long time.

While it's certainly true that the church appreciates those who make money, especially if those people are inclined to be generous with that money, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to the church engaging in profit making enterprise. This is one of the hurdles we need to get over if we're to do charity differently. It seems to me that the model of strictly separating for profit and not for profit entities is more a government construct than a Biblical one. In fact the Bible celebrates industrious labor and there were times when Paul would work his trade to supply for his needs. Some believe that while Peter left his fishing business, his family maintained that business and it was a source of support for his ministry work.

There is nothing inherently wrong with providing a service for which you are paid. There's nothing wrong with generating a profit that can then be used to advance ministry. There is so much to be learned from the for profit world about accountability, intelligent planning, goal setting and evaluation. Even better than learning these skills is putting them into practice through a for profit enterprise that can fund your ministry work. This model opens doors for you to engage business leaders for the sake of ministry.

In a future post I'll discuss how the church chases off highly competent business leaders and rewards unqualified people with key leadership roles in the church. It's a practice that happens far too often and it's playing a role in the decline of the my opinion.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Good News From Kenya

Yesterday I received word that the elections in Kenya have gone peacefully thus far. Dr. Peter Nyende, Principal of Carlile College in Nairobi reports:

The elections were largely peaceful and we now pray the the post-election period will also be peaceful particularly when the results of the elections are announced by the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission of Kenya sometime tomorrow or Thursday.
 Thanks to all for your prayers and please continue to pray for Kenya. This good result means that we can move ahead with creating The Shepherd Fund as a U.S. based partner for Carlile College. The opportunities to affect Kenya and much of East Africa through this partnership are many. We are still seeking donations to help with start-up costs for The Shepherd Fund. Please consider a gift of any size as we work toward our goal of becoming a recognized tax exempt charity in the U.S. so we can begin raising funds in support of Carlile College and the great work they are doing.

Click here and donate to help launch The Shepherd Fund.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

If Something's Not Working...

What I'm about to share might infuriate some people. It makes certain pastors and church leaders really angry when you equate the church to a business. It makes them even angrier when you suggest that the church might benefit from adopting a few business 'best practices'. In my experience, however, business succeeds when they have three things:

  • Something people need (or want) that can't be found elsewhere
  • An engaging story to tell about what they offer
  • An effective way to deliver their product to the largest number of people
This is rather simplistic, but this post is not about the complexities of accomplishing those three things. It's actually about challenging the church to get serious about point number three. We have an engaging story to tell about something the whole world is desperately searching for. Spiritual searching has only intensified around the world over the years. People are on a quest for meaning, purpose and being connected to something larger than themselves. With such a hungry audience searching diligently and the incredible message of Jesus Christ that can satisfy that hunger it might be baffling as to why the church is in decline.

That is unless you're willing to look at point number three. Some deep statistical research will tell you that on any given Sunday less than 18% of the U.S. population is in church. And while church attendance as a raw number has remained fairly steady the general population grows year to year at a pace the church is not keeping up with resulting in a declining percentage of the population going to church. Simply put, our delivery system is failing to reach an audience. If this were a business the delivery system would've changed long ago. Instead, even new churches that experience initial growth offer only slight variations of the same delivery system and attract a fair number of Christians who are prone to moving from church to church, but aren't attracting truly new 'customers'.

With our churches, our charities and all our ministries we who follow Christ must begin taking an objective, searching and fearless look at how we share Jesus with our communities and the world. It's time to admit to ourselves that we have made our delivery systems as sacred, if not more so, than God Himself. Until we can get to a point of acknowledging that only God is sacred and every aspect of our delivery system is subject to change we should prepare ourselves for the continuing decline of the church as we know it.

Monday, March 04, 2013


There's nothing that refreshes my soul quite like hanging out with people who have dedicated their lives to serving our youth. Today I'm wrapping up four days at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana with nearly 3000 youth workers. There are so many great things going on. There are great missions, great ministries and great young, excited youth workers. And lots of seasoned veterans.

When you spend time with people who are pouring their lives into others for the sake of Jesus you can't help but be encouraged for the future of the church. Sadly, there is no shortage of conversation at an event like this about the older members of the church or the leadership of the church not allowing the young people to lead. The truth is that revival is led by youth. Young people take God seriously and really believe that the power of Jesus can change the world. And they're willing to do something about it.

We older folks need to encourage, lift up, advise, resource and empower the energy of our young people. We must get out of the way if we're in the way. We must admit where we have fallen short and pray they learn from our mistakes and do better than we did. After this conference I believe that is happening. The Holy Spirit is at work in this generation as He has been in every previous generation. There's no stopping it and there's no sense being upset about it. God is AMAZING and He gives us the power to far more than we could ever think or imagine. Let us never hinder the work He is doing for any reason.

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Trenches

This weekend I'm spending time with the people who make ministry happen. There are nearly 3000 youth leaders gathered in Indianapolis for the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. I'm here as a volunteer to help make this the best possible experience for those who are in the trenches of ministry. The day to day work that takes place in thousands of churches across the country is what keeps the Body of Christ vital and alive. Yes, there are plenty of examples of struggle, mismanagement, dysfunction and disease in the Body. But that's the nature of a living organism in this sinful world

This weekend those who have been wounded in their work will have a chance to refresh and renew. They will be encouraged. There will be tears and counsel and healing. Some will decide this weekend that God has a different path for their lives. Some will recommit to the hard work they must do. All will celebrate in the certain knowledge that their work glorifies God and has immense value.

Our mission is not easy. We must gather to encourage one another. There must be space in our lives where we can cry, laugh, process and renew our passion for our calling. It's always a joy to be part of a gathering like this in any season of ministry. If you are not finding space to gather at something like SYMC or its equivalent for your area of ministry you should. God provides for and calls us to times of renewal and celebration. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously and taking God not seriously enough.

Reminder Note: Please consider a gift to The Shepherd Fund as we launch this new ministry partnering with Carlile College in Nairobi, Kenya for the sake of equipping missionary evangelists for the Continent of Africa. Click here to donate.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

God At Work

Every once in a while it's good for me to reflect on where I am and what's going on around me. In the Old Testament there were regular occasions when the people of Israel would rehearse all that God had done for them. This would sometimes happen when they were going through a rough patch and needed to be reminded that God was still at work in their lives just and had been all along.

It's actually very awe inspiring when you stop long enough to see what's happening around you and realize that there is no way you or any human being could've orchestrated what is going on. There are certainly times in my life when this is less obvious, but right now I'm going through a season where it's blatantly obvious that God is at work. Without going into any specific detail suffice it to say that there are things happening in the lives of people and within businesses and organizations on two continents right now that seem to be spontaneous and unplanned. But these events are working in perfect harmony to accomplish a whole new level of ministry that has the potential to affect millions of people.

When it becomes so very clear that God is at work now, has been long before I came along and will be long after I'm gone, I can relax and enjoy playing whatever small part in the plan He has in mind. Open your eyes and see how God has brought you to where you are right now. Who has He gathered around you? What 'coincidences' have happened to put you on the path you're on? Take time to rehearse all that God has done in your life and before your life that is impacting you right now. Then relax and enjoy the part He's given you to play.

Note: I am still working on the launch of The Shepherd Fund and some exciting things are happening. We still need funding to cover the costs of start-up and I hope you'll consider making a gift of any size to help move this ministry forward. You can find our campaign here and making a donation is simple. Donations to this campaign are not tax deductible.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pray for Kenya

On Monday, March 4, 2013 the country of Kenya faces an historic election. This is the first election since the formation of their new constitution and it will radically change the style of government. There is a lot of hope and a lot of concern riding on this election. This could have impact on all the missions and ministries operating in Kenya.

This election is one more example of the challenges we all face as nonprofit ministries hoping to effect positive change in developing nations. Forms of government change, leaders change, rules change and along the way we must learn to navigate in ways that allow ministry to move forward.

As I go forward with the launch of The Shepherd Fund which will partner with Carlile College in Kenya, it comes with awareness that there will be new rules after March 4. For those interested in the radical changes coming to Kenya Dr. Peter Nyende, Principal of Carlile, put together a very concise explanation of the new government along with the promises and pitfalls. Please keep Kenya in your prayers and spread the word to other prayer partners between now and Monday.

Click here to see the full report on the Kenya election from Dr. Nyende

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Play With Your Toes

Nothing surprises God. As a child I had the misbegotten notion that when I confessed my sin it was the first time God was hearing of it! It took some time for me to internalize the fact that I was the one who was uninformed and my confession was actually an acknowledgement that I was now in agreement with something God already knew. In some ways it seems people have a similar opinion of God when it comes to our modern technology. You hear people talk about how God and religion is such an antiquated notion. So it might come as a shock to some that God knew about computers, cell phones, nanotechnology...all the things we marvel at and things we haven't yet the creation of the world.

In fact I am fully confident in saying He wanted us to discover these things and delights in it when we do. Much like parents are overjoyed when their child first discovers his toes or pees in the toilet for the first time. And if God had all this laid out ahead of time then He must also have a plan and a purpose that goes beyond streaming the latest video of a laughing baby. My son told me about a remark he heard recently from someone who said, 'I have more computing power in my pocket than they had to get men to the moon and I use it to look at cute pictures of cats!'

I believe God has greater things in mind for the wonders we have finally discovered. He's waited a long time for us to figure this stuff out. It's time we thought long and hard about the best ways to use the resources at our disposal to connect with partners around the world. Many are doing wonderful things already, but there is so much more we can do. I believe it's important to stay up to date on the latest tech developments and ask, "How will this improve our ability to do ministry?" What's most amazing to me is how much of this is free or nearly free.

We are living in a time of signs and wonders. We can connect to nearly anywhere in the world anytime we want. Every week we see our daughter in Egypt face to face by Skype. I regularly touch base with friends in Kenya by text and Facebook messaging. Nearly every day I share my thoughts, encouragement, challenges and devotions on blog posts and websites. Within easy reach of where I'm sitting right now are a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet, a cell phone and a VOiP phone.

Have you ever taken the time to catalog all the resources at your fingertips? If you're in your twenties none of this might seem all that remarkable to you...which is even more remarkable to me! Take some time today and list all that's available to you at your desk, on the web, in the cloud, wherever it might be found. Then note next to each thing how you're using it for ministry. Consider making a plan for those things you're not currently using or are underusing. Here's a list to get you started...

  • Computing (desk top, laptop, tablet, netbook)
  • Cell phone
  • Website
  • Blogs
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube
  • Linked In
  • Google+
  • Skype
  • VOiP
  • Transportation (car, bus, train, airplane, boat, bike)
  • Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo)
Your list will be longer but this gets you started. Keep discovering and remember that just like any good parent God delights when we play with our toes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Plays Well With Others

We all learn at an early age what evaluation looks like. At first there are behavioral observations in preschool and kindergarten like, knows how to tie his shoes or plays well with others.  As we get older our efforts, academically anyway, are assigned a letter designation. This has inadvertently caused a generations old aversion to the letter 'F' in our culture. We've tried through the years to come up with other measures to communicate our evaluations but, inevitably, someone asks, 'Is that like a 'B' or a 'C'?'

When we get to adulthood and no one is making us evaluate our work our natural inclination is to shy away from it. That's why there are so many businesses, nonprofits, and ministries that struggle to operate day to day. In my experience those that fail to evaluate the work they are doing as measured against best practices in their industry, their own stated goals, Biblical principles and measurable outcomes usually end up just treading water, being marginally effective or failing all together.

And evaluation isn't just about looking at the work you're doing to see if it's effective, it's about looking at what others are doing to determine if what you're doing is even necessary. Within the Christian world the duplication of effort is staggering. Far too often one group of Christians will see what another group of Christians is doing and instead of joining them in the effort will start the exact same thing on their own. Then they make it worse by refusing to learn from those who've done it before and recreate everything from scratch! I can't even begin to fathom the amount of resources wasted in this process.

Sometimes there is good reason for more than one group, business or ministry to be involved in doing the exact same thing. There is also good reason to cooperate together whenever possible. Knowing when to do which of these is a challenge that can only be sorted out through intensive evaluation. In every case it's crucial that all of us in ministry be asking a few simple questions.
  • Should we do this?
  • Why should we do this?
  • Is there someone already doing this?
  • Should we join them in doing this?
  • If not, what should we learn from them as we do this?
If we ever hope to undo any of the damage done by our benevolent oppression and misbegotten charity; if we hope to marshal the precious resources God has given us and deploy them for the greatest possible good, then there is one evaluation from childhood we must all strive to achieve...plays well with others.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How It All Starts

Have you ever wondered how all this charity we're involved in starts? It's not hard to find out and when you go looking you find the stories are all very, very similar. It starts when God connects one person to another person.

In the year before her accidental death my mother had the chance to travel to Thailand. Mom had never had any overseas international travel experience so this trip was a big deal to her. But something happened on that trip I didn't hear about until her funeral when her husband shared this story...

Mom and her husband, Johnny, were shopping in the streets of Bangkok where street children pursue tourists relentlessly asking for money. At some point my Mom stopped, knelt down and connected with one of the children. As she took time with him Johnny said, 'Judy, you can't help all these children.' She turned to him and said, 'No, but I can help this one.'

Dig far enough back into the history of any charity and you will find someone like my Mom kneeling down on the street of some far away place looking into the eyes of a child and saying, 'I can help this one.'

Compassion International, now a global ministry with donations in excess of half a billion dollars started when Rev. Everett Swanson felt compelled to help 35 children orphaned by the Korean conflict.

World Vision, which sees donations in excess of a billion dollars a year and works in nearly 100 countries started when Dr. Bob Pierce, who was an American evangelist and war correspondent traveled to China with Youth for Christ in 1947. On that trip, Bob’s heart was broken when he was confronted with the need of one little girl. 

Kids Alive International cares for orphans in a dozen countries and began in 1916 in Shantung Province, China, when missionaries Leslie and Ava Anglin began taking in homeless Chinese children.

ABAN started in 2008 when Callie Brauel and Becca Brandt took a college trip to Ghana and saw the plight of street children there first hand.

FIKISHA started in 2009 when Sam Bretzmann took a trip to Kenya to climb Kilimanjaro and instead ended up meeting young Isaac on the streets of Nairobi. 

It starts when one person's heart is touched by the need of another person. Often the person in need is a child. Where God takes it once that connection is made is totally up to Him. We simply put ourselves in places where the connections can be made.

God touched my heart when I first visited Kenya in 1999 and saw the needs of so many people. Now I am moved to do more than take the occasional team there to work with the orphans of Jehovah Jireh and the blind children at St. Luke's in Kitui. I am launching The Shepherd Fund to change lives for the better and I have no idea what God will do with it. But that's how it all starts.

Click here and donate to help launch The Shepherd Fund.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What if...

Recently I've been blessed with getting to know some cool folks who are doing amazing things in missions and charity. I've mentioned some of them here. It's incredibly encouraging to see the tide turning in the way charity is getting done. There are many who are waking up to the need to bring entrepreneurship and sustainable development into our ministries. This theme is all over the latest issue of Fast Company, a magazine I highly recommend, by the way.

I was reading this article in the magazine and was struck by a question. What if all these new innovative, creative, young, entrepreneurial mission start-ups were intentionally talking with each other? Better yet, what if there was a way to follow the model in the article and set up co-working spaces for charities? These charities wouldn't even have to be working on the same kinds of projects or even focused in the same countries. I think there could be some fabulous and unexpected interactions if charities were sharing the same space.

If companies as diverse as AT&T and Zappos are comfortable intermingling their employees with other companies and see a value in the exchange, couldn't there be even greater value if all of us who are trying to more effectively impact the world with the Gospel shared some space...and ideas? I think it would help develop a greater awareness of best practices, exponentially multiply good ideas, accelerate the pace of change and more that we can't even imagine. The inspiration that struck me as I read the article was so strong I literally jumped up out of my chair.

My friend Trent Davis sort of stumbled into this concept a year ago as Immanuel Lutheran Church in Joplin was forming Transform Joplin, the nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding that city after the May 22, 2011 tornado. The warehouse space acquired for Transform Joplin was more space than they needed so Trent and his team recruited other ministries and invited them to share the space. I think he would tell you it has led to some interesting partnerships and connections that might not have happened if they each had their own buildings. And Joplin is better off for it.

I encourage you to read the article and consider the possibilities. I'd love to hear comments and stories of others who might already be doing this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

For the past few weeks I have been waxing eloquent here on this blog about the need to reverse benevolent oppression. I have been very harsh about how we in the West have done charity for many decades. Over the course of the past month the Lord has convicted me that if I am going to level these charges then I must also be willing to do something about it...and more than just talk!

Years ago I felt God's call to start a ministry to Africa...Kenya, in particular. I got out of the gate by quitting my job but I never made it much further than that. Then five years ago I incorporated a non-profit in Colorado to begin making a difference in developing countries but didn't move it beyond that. Each step along the way I've learned much and doors have been opened for me to meet many people. At some point the classroom learning ends and the real life learning happens. Having been set free from my day job over a month ago I am in the enviable position of having the freedom to put my money where my mouth is.

Starting today I have launched a campaign to raise the money that will fund the start-up of that non-profit specifically targeted to partner with Carlile College in Nairobi, Kenya. It is called The Shepherd Fund and you can go here to donate to the start-up fund. It's being hosted by the crowdfunding website Go Fund Me. I'm asking all my loyal blog readers to spread the word about this fund and encourage your churches to also consider a gift. There is much work to be done and God has prepared me for just such a time as this.

Watch here as I plan to update you on the progress, the learning, the challenges and the triumphs as The Shepherd Fund takes wing. Thank you in advance for your prayers and support.

Again click here to read more and donate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Now the Complexities

No one has said that charitable work is easy. In fact, my blog posts here over the past few weeks have argued just the opposite. Taking the easy (or easier) path is what gets us into trouble. Giving away money is easy. Building relationships is hard. Partnering with people who are culturally different is challenging. Learning to listen and being willing to lay aside any notion that we're in charge is daunting. But there is another elephant in the room that hasn't yet been discussed.

Developing nations are often difficult places to work because they are unstable. I have argued here that some of that instability has been fostered by our charity which has created an unhealthy dependency and destroyed any internal motivation on the part of those being helped. But that's only part of the story. In most cases there are other factors that contribute to the instability. In my humble opinion the biggest culprit is usually the government...or lack thereof. Every country is different so I want to be careful not to paint with too broad a brush, but in most cases the lack of stable, coherent, and fair governance creates an environment of insecurity and fear. In many developing nations rulers take power, some with seemingly good intentions, only to end up lining their own pockets and using their people, or worse, ignoring the needs of the people. In these setting corruption is rife throughout all levels of government from police to courts to elected officials. Even those who have the support of a ministry or charitable partner in the U.S. can lose it all on the whim of a government agent.

Coming from a 'melting pot' like the United States it can be hard for us to imagine how neighbors could kill neighbors in Rwanda as Hutu's turned on Tutsi's and for 100 days in 1994 slaughtered nearly 20% of that country's population. Along the way all the charitable work that was going on there came to a halt. Jacqueline Novogratz, who founded the Acumen Fund, tells of the devastating loss to women she worked with in Rwanda and the project she helped them start in her book 'The Blue Sweater'.

I wept when in early 2008 the slums of Nairobi and rural communities alike in my beloved Kenya exploded in violence after the hotly contested December presidential election leaving hundreds dead. I can still recall emails and texts with my friends in Kenya as they, too, mourned what was happening in their country. Though brief, this violence also interrupted or derailed good work that was being done there for those in need.

When we commit to help lift people out of poverty, partner with others for the sake of the Gospel and give our lives to building relationships with people of other cultures there are risks we take; emotional, spiritual, relational and, yes, physical risks. Unstable governments and the leaders that run them stop aid from getting to those in need, demand bribes from those who would be charitable, oppress their people and take advantage for personal gain. If you can't deal with this reality, don't get involved in doing charitable work in the developing world.

In situations like the ones I described and countless others like them, our role as partners is to come alongside our hurting brothers and sisters, mourn with them, pick up the pieces and start all over again. We must be willing to start and re-start and know that everything we are building today could be swept away tomorrow for reasons we may never, ever understand. What we must understand is that the work we do is for a season but the relationships we build are for a lifetime. If we get that we can do this.