Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This Thanksgiving, Re-think Your Blessings!

Have you noticed that a common reaction to a short-term mission trip is for the participants to express something like, “I now have more of an appreciation for what God has given me.” This is expressed in many different ways, but the essence is the same. We come away being especially aware, appreciative, and thankful for all the “blessings” that God has given us. Normally we are referring to things like cars, washing machines, dryers, easy access to water and electricity, a nice home, bountiful food, and so on. As time goes on and I consider the depths of God, His activity in our lives, and the condition of the world—I find myself questioning this sentiment more and more. Are what we consider blessings in America actually from God or the wolf dressed in sheep's clothing?
The other day I saw a post on Facebook from someone currently on a short-term mission trip. He was relating a sad story about some boys he encountered and posed this question to those following him back home: “the question is not why God allows suffering but rather the question is why God has blessed Americans with all we have and we spend it on candy corn and ignore those who suffer?” Now that is a good question, but I wonder if the presupposition is all wrong. What if all of us have a faulty presupposition? What if all of our “blessings” aren’t really from God? If you have traveled internationally and spent significant time with followers of Jesus from impoverished countries, think back on your experiences with them. Now who seems like the blessed one? That is always a dilemma that comes up for short-term missionaries. We recognize impoverished believers have a joy and contentment beyond our own, we see a commitment to serving Jesus that we wish we had, and we recognize it is because they don’t have the “stuff” that gets in the way of following Jesus. Yet we go home and try to figure out how to get all of our “stuff” over to them!
So how do we view the world? How do we view our abundance in relation to the poverty-stricken world around us? What are our responsibilities? These are hard questions! I once heard someone say, “taking a vow of poverty is easy…you just say ‘no’. But stewardship is hard.” What do we do with this life God has given us?

Recently I was in Haiti, and I saw a girl who was probably eight or ten years old pumping water out of a community well. She had probably five or six buckets she was filling and she was working hard! She was pumping that handle with everything she had. And it took her quite a long time to fill up all those containers. I thought about how easily I turn on my faucet and have an endless supply of good, clean, safe, healthy water—even here in the Tucson desert!

As I watched her while we were sitting in terrible traffic, I realized this was really hard work. But, you know, there’s nothing wrong with hard work! In fact, we would probably be better off as a society if we had to work a little harder! Yet, there is nothing wrong with having to walk out and pump water and bring it back to the house. Most of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did the same thing. But what does this girl in Haiti lose by having to work so hard to survive? The answer is availability. What could we gain by all of our technology and “blessings?” The answer is availability! Our standard of living and ease of survival should make us more available to God and give us more time to spend loving God and serving others. But that isn’t what has happened for most of us is it? We have filled our “extra” time with things with no eternal consequence such as TV and internet addictions, self-absorbed hobbies, and even substituted carting our children around to activities for actually loving and teaching our own children! 

Are what we call “blessings” really blessings from God? For the first time in my life I really don’t know. But whether they are or they aren’t a question still remains about our “blessings.” To borrow the words of the famous Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” The question restated is this, “are all the things you consider blessings helping you follow Jesus or are they obstacles? If your answer is obstacles, then make a change! Start changing the way you view the world! Start changing the way you view your purpose. Start changing the way you view your “blessings.” Instead of being something that blesses you, turn them into something that blesses others!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Are your short-term mission trips surviving or thriving?

Let's face it, keeping a missions program going is hard. Continuing to send short-term mission (STM) teams is getting even harder. I don't mean to be a pessimist and I'm not a quitter, but we have to admit there are fewer dollars to go around and more
skepticism about how money is being used.

Many ministries are being forced to do more with less--which may not be an all bad thing. Hopefully it is pressing all of us to do what we do with excellence!

If you are involved with short-term missions you are probably sitting where the rubber meets the road. Hopefully you haven't gotten run over! The truth is you have to be more intentional, communicate more, and be more creative if you are going to continue your STM sending program. But what does that look like? Here are a few ideas to get
your brain working:

  1. Do it well--Make sure your short-term mission teams are done well. This means qualified leadership, good preparation, and thorough follow-through. Check out The Next Mile curriculum for all-in-one mission team curriculum. There is a leader guide with resource CD, goer guides, and returning home devotional.
  2. Report impact--You need to have your team present to your church as soon after they return as possible. This will help your congregation realize the impact that STMs have.
  3. Write an article--Have someone who went on a short-term mission one year ago or more write an article about how they have experienced sustained change. This could be distributed on your website, put as a bulletin insert, etc.
  4. Focused clarity--Make sure your church has a clear, compelling reason for being involved with your STM trip. This could be a partnership with a foreign missionary, a national ministry, a cause such as clean water, or a people group that has become a focus of the church. Your STM trips should feel like one aspect of what the church does and not a random activity.
  5. Wet their appetite--Schedule periodic service days near by, maybe even in your own city. Make them cross-cultural if possible.
  6. Get creative--You can still do Spaghetti dinners and car washes for fundraisers, but try something new and creative. One church I work with recently did a dinner theatre at the church for $25 per ticket, and it went really well. Maybe organize your own benefit walk, or have your worship band hold a benefit concert.
  7. Recruit strategically--Many churches tell me the same people go on mission trips every year. Make a real effort to make half of each team first-timers.

Each church and every situation is different. Hopefully these ideas will help you mobilize people from your church for Kingdom impact. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about keeping your missions program fresh and thriving or post a comment to share what has worked for your church. You can reach me at (520) 404-0841 or

Contact Information: 1400 NE 136th Ave Suite 201, Vancouver, WA 98684 |800.533.5822

Friday, November 4, 2011

Holiday excess in a starving world

How, as missional Christians, should we handle the extravagance of American holidays?

There was a time when Thanksgiving and Christmas made me sick. How could I stuff myself with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie when others are starving around the world? How can I justify the ridiculous amount of spending on stuff that doesn’t matter by people in our churches who should know better? Who should want to do better things with their money? Having seen what we have seen, how can we enjoy the holidays? How can we keep from being a scrooge yet still honor Jesus’ calling on our life and stuff?

The first step to handling the holidays is to recognize and accept that there will be dissonance. Your life should be disrupted by your experience. If you come back and are immediately okay with the world as it is, especially your life, then you are probably blocking out what God is trying to tell you! We spend a lot of our existence finding ways to keep ourselves busy enough that we don’t have to realize the way we feel. Think about it…when was the last time you felt something and just accepted it. Somehow accepting that there is tension frees us up to deal with it.

As you know, admitting there is a problem is simply the first step to solving a problem, not a solution itself. There are many ways to deal with the excess of holiday times, but let me give you a few ideas of what we do at our house:

  1. Emphasize the true meaning of the holiday. On Thanksgiving, take some time to reflect and talk about what you are thankful for. On Christmas, make a birthday cake for Jesus and blow out the candles with your kids. If you’re kids are older, considering doing a “Jesse Tree” with them. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are emphasizing the true reason for the holiday each day.
  2. Find a way to serve. Whether it is volunteering at a soup kitchen or being a part of a program like Operation Christmas Child, find a way to make the holidays “others-centered” instead of self-centered.
  3. Change the way you give. Check out the website for Advent Conspiracy. The basic idea is to change the way we give, so that we can love others the way that Jesus loved.
  4. Be intentional. Don’t just complain about American excess, lovingly do something about it. If your family always throws away a ridiculous amount of food on Thanksgiving, then talk ahead of time about how and why you can reduce the amount made. You don’t have to skip anything, maybe just scale back how much is made. The key is to talk ahead of time, affirm the joy of the holiday, propose solutions, and talk about why.
  5. Be passionate about the holidays. Don’t lose a passion for the holidays, just make sure you are passionate about the right things. Make sure the holidays are a time of joy. Encourage more family time. Talk about how great it is to have a time of year that encourages us to remember Jesus, to love each other in special ways, and to spend some special time together.

Our life-change can and should include how we treat the holidays. I love the holiday season even more now than before I started getting involved in short-term missions because I have a healthier view of them! There is no doubt our world is a broken place and it has even corrupted Thanksgiving and Christmas. My prayer is that we can actually use the holiday season as one more way to proclaim Jesus and focus on Him as the one who brings healing, hope, and salvation to the world. If you would like to discuss this issue further, feel free to call me at 520-404-0841 or email me at