Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Lesson from the Dentist Chair

I always go to the dentist in the morning to try and avoid disrupting my work day. The staff at my particular dentist's office are wonderful. Too wonderful! They are always SO HAPPY to see me. I just play along (as difficult as it is for me pre-coffee). It's like we're old friends. Today, my hygienist was especially friendly. She was asking all about my wife, my parents, current events, etc. On multiple occasions I thought, "Did I miss something? Are we better friends than I thought?" But I just rolled with it - because I really appreciated her genuine care for more than just my teeth.

Even when I approach the receptionist's desk to schedule my next appointment and remind them to bill my insurance - not me - I hear stories about how much they loved seeing me as a child come into their family-owned restaurant. Oh, indeed, my sister used to go back in the kitchen and sample all the pies. Yep, I remember that! (Nope, I sure don't). Smile. Nod. Give an overly friendly goodbye! I mean, it's just so much fun going to the dentist! These people make you feel like a million bucks!!!

And yet, as I lay in the dentist chair this morning, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I HATE laying in that dentist chair. Besides the fact that it was built for someone who is NOT 6 foot 3, the fact that they always ask you questions while their tools and fingers are in your mouth, and that bright light is shining in your face, there's just a natural dislike for the experience. For me it's fear of being told "we need you to come back for another appointment to fix that little spot. It's no big deal - we won't have to numb you or anything - it's just precautionary to avoid any problems later"! YEAH RIGHT!!! Give me the Novocaine!

The fear of such consequence leads me to be more disciplined in my life. See, another thing I hate is flossing. And there are many nights I want to just go crash into bed...without brushing my teeth and without a thought of flossing. But my dread of the consequences inspires me to take care of my teeth appropriately!

As a matter of chat...

Do you take care of your teeth? Why? What's your motivation? Avoidance of consequences? What motivates your actions in general? Fear of consequences? Routines or habits? The expectations of others?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


There were two significant deaths in my life recently.

First, one of my former students was murdered a couple weeks ago. She was 21 years old, and inside of her, a child or 7 months. I have never known anyone who was murdered.

Then, last week, we received word that the African orphan boy who my parents had been financially and prayerfully supporting died after a 13 year battle with HIV AIDS. I had the opportunity to meet him in person twice over the past few years, so it was quite personal.  Here is a video about Fiacre.

In both cases, lives were cut significantly short by circumstances beyond their control. It’s impossible to experience such tragedies without the conjuring of overwhelming emotions and a wide range of thoughts.

Life is short. That’s what I keep coming back to. It’s easy for me to assume that my life will last 75.6 years, the current U.S. male life expectancy. But it’s also very possible that it could be cut short. We just don’t know. This fact should impact the way I live my life.

The other thing I keep coming back to, is that earth, and this slightly overweight body, are a temporary home. Each of these precious lives is now experiencing life fuller than I can even imagine in an eternal home. My eternal home.

"In Christ, there are no goodbyes". So I'll see these friends again...when I finally go home.

As a matter of chat…

Do you think you're invincible? That your life can't end tomorrow? Are you living like it? Or are you living each day with purpose? What's after this life for you? How sure are you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011


My dog and I headed out to the woods for a long walk on an old railway trail this afternoon. It was really muggy and hot, so on my way back to the car I switched up my music, hoping for some audio motivation. I must have made a good choice. (And no, it wasn't Celine Dion). I suddenly found myself walking taller, walking faster, and feeling motivated to keep going.

I started thinking about what motivates me in life, in my spiritual journey, in my work...when things seem difficult. There are several things that motivate me:

- Focusing on things of which I am sure: keeping a record of God's clear whispers in the past few weeks/months.
- Picturing a preferred future - thinking about what "could be" and imagining the process of getting there. (Visioneering)
- Relationships – those few close friends who get the phone calls when I'm down or need a little extra encouragement.

As a matter of chat...

What keeps you going when times get tough? Do you tend to turn to unhealthy habits or negative activities to make you "feel better"? Or do you have healthy outlets to refocus you and keep you heading in the right direction? Do the people that encourage you aware of how important they are to you?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Creator vs. Created

What do you worship? If someone were evaluating your life, what would they say is the object of your worship?

I'm afraid that people evaluating my life would say that I worship people. I love people. I prefer noise and company over quiet and alone-ness. I spend hours trying to "relate" to people, develop people, train people, disciple people. Sounds noble. But I need to be careful that these intentions have their proper place - that people, as important as they are, don't become the object of my worship.

I was reading in Romans the other day. Paul uses a phrase that caught my attention:

"They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator"(1:25).

I don't think Paul is saying that created things are insignificant. In fact, Scripture is pretty clear that mankind is a prized creation – but a creation, none-the-less. However, our affections and admiration for the creatED ought to pale in comparison to those for the CreatOR.

As a matter of chat...

How do you know when you are worshiping someone/something? What/who would people say you worship? Are your priorities in line? Where is the line of "loving and serving people" and "worshiping" people? How can you increase your worship of the Creator today?

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This week, a friend of mine brought me a Pilsner glass from the HardRock Café in Gatlinburg, TN…because I collect them. I don’t know how, when or why I started the collection, but I love it! (I just hope that one day I have a great place to display it - currently they are in boxes in my basement). And I love that friends of mine know about it too, because they’ve helped me build a great collection. Here are the ones I have (I *’ed the ones that I’ve actually been to)…feel free to help me collect more!

*Atlantic City
*Las Vegas
*Los Angeles
*New York City
*San Antonio
*San Diego
*Washington D.C.

*Amsterdam, Netherlands
Barcelona, Spain
*Cairo, Egypt
*Cancun, Mexico
*Cologne, Germany
*Dublin, Ireland
*London, England
Madrid, Spain
Munich, Germany
Nassau, Bahamas
*Niagra Falls, Canada
*Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Ottawa, Canada
*Rome, Italy
*Paris, France
*Stockholm, Sweden
Sydney, Australia
Toronto, Canada

I was also outside the Moscow, Russia HardRock about a month before it opened…so I’m still bitter that I don’t have that glass.

The Ocho Rios, Jamaica location is just a souvenir shop, not an actual café. The time I was there, they were sold out of the glasses. Thankfully, my sister and bro-law were there a few years later and picked it up for me!

My wife and I took a taxi to the Cairo location – again, a shop, not a restaurant – oddly, it’s right across the street from the Sphinx! It was one of the scariest experiences of my life as we were unable to communicate with our driver. We also had a little boy in another vehicle point a gun at us. We are pretty sure it was fake…but not 100%!

As a matter of chat…

Do you have any collections? What is the most unique collection you’ve ever heard of?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Processing

It's really important to process your thoughts before, during, and after a short-term missions experience. I find that it's often in these thoughts that God teaches us.

To help with this, we gave each of our team-members a journal several months before the trip and challenged them to record some thoughts. Many of them have come back again and again to say "thanks" for encouraging them to do so.

I have several "lists" in my journal from the trip:


"Goals" - this was a list that was created long before the trip, but also had things added along the way. Having these in front of me helped to keep me focused as a team leader and even helped in making decisions about our time while we were there.

"Prayer lists" - in the months before the trip, I made several different lists of things to be praying for. One list focused on team members. One list focused on our planned schedule. One list focused on all the people we'd have the opportunity to interact with while on our trip. And one list focused on different emotions and feelings we'd experience - praying that God would help us in each of those circumstances.


"God-things" - this is several pages where I recorded events and conversations that were totally orchestrated by God. When I remember this trip, I want to see the fingerprints of God all over it.

Bible study reflections - these focused on answering questions based on the Bible studies we had asked each team member to do.

General journaling - these were tidbits of things I simply wanted to write about. I try to focus less on "what we did" and focus more on "what God is doing" and the feelings and emotions that I'm experiencing, as well as the stories I don't ever want to forget.


"So What?" - whenever I teach, I end with this question - challenging people to consider how they might apply what they have learned or experienced to their daily living. Each team member was encouraged to begin a list of "So what's" for the trip in three categories: 1. Immediately applicable; 2. Applicable in the next 1-6 months; 3. Applicable for the long-term.

"How was your trip?" - another portion of our debriefing focused a lot on this question - because this question gets asked about a million times within the first week of returning home. I challenged students, again, to make bullet points for answering this question in 3 ways: 1. 30 second answer; 2. 10-minute answer; 3. Long answer. Sharing about the trip and how God worked is vital. Every time you remember the details and re-live them, God has another opportunity to remind you of the lessons he wants you to learn. It is also important that the "senders" see how their investments have returned.

As a matter of chat...

Do you journal? Do you think there is value to recording your thoughts? Are there certain seasons where journaling is more important or relevant? How do you process situations? How do you bridge knowledge, learning or experiences to everyday life application?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Flexibility

A key to survival on a missions trip is flexibility. We were blessed to learn this lesson in several ways.

As we pulled out of the church parking lot to head to the airport, we realized that one of our vans had a flat tire. That's right, before we even began driving to the airport, we had a situation. Plans were adjusted from the first moments of our trip...to the very last moments of our trip. You see, when we arrived back in the U.S., our connecting flight to our final destination was cancelled. Of course, that didn't happen until after we had waited in the airport for several hours.

It's humorous now (I think), but both were great reminders...that God is in control of the schedule. Planning is important, but leaving room for God to move as He pleases is also important! Sometimes, He has surprises for us - He wants to move in ways we're not aware of.

As a matter of chat...

Is there room for God to move in your life? Do you have margin? Are you looking for where/how God is leading you on a regular basis, or are you to "busy"?

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Teachability

I talk about this all the time…Leaders are learners! I think the greatest leaders are people who are constantly looking for ways to grow and improve. They find something to learn in any situation and are continuously stretching. PROACTIVE TEACHABILITY!

Teachability is especially important when going to do ministry in a foreign context. Those who are not planning to learn, grow or change can do a lot of damage. Things that are "normal" in your world may be offensive in another context. Assuming that everything about your worldview is "right" is a roadblock to effective ministry.

Cultural training, humility and acceptance of differences, and an open, teachable spirit are essentials to a great short-term missions trip. Paul talks about being "all things to all people". He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Practically speaking, we include plenty of time for "orientation" with our missionaries when we go on trips to make sure we are adapting to the new culture as best as possible.

As a matter of chat...

Are you teachable? Do you look for ways to learn and grow when you are in different cultures and surroundings? How might some of your "cultural norms" be offensive to others?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Spiritual Preparations

Do you think it’s crazy to make a list of every single outfit you plan to wear on a trip? My students seemed to think I was nuts, but it ensured that I had the exact number of outfits necessary. No more. No less. (It also prevented me from having any “repeats” in photos of the trip...because trust me, people notice)!

Preparations for traveling internationally are significant. Fund-raising, sending thank-you notes, getting a passport, planning, packing, purchasing needed supplies, figuring out what electrical fixtures you need and how you’re going to spend money…it’s a lot of details. But if you’re not careful, these preparations can quickly distract you from spiritual preparations.

The enemy would love you to have a great tour of a new place, discovering great new shops and souvenirs, but never doing a thing to benefit the Gospel! Spiritual preparations help you to create focus before you go, and to maintain your focus while you are there.

As I mentioned previously, we required the team members to go through a series of devotionals before, during and after the trip. These devotionals focused on the cost of ministry, cultural lessons from Scripture, and a range of other relevant topics. We also had a daily prayer focus that linked the Bible study with our trip.

Making the “spiritual journey” a priority allows hearts and minds to be open for what God wants to do in and through us. That’s one of the greatest adventures of a trip like this – you do a lot of planning and preparing, but ultimately, you have no idea what God is going to do!

As a matter of chat…

Have you ever been in a situation so “new” that you were forced to be more open to God’s leading? How did it feel? What did you learn? Do you typically get distracted by life’s planning and preparations? How much of a priority is the spiritual journey in your life?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of the team (the “sent”)

In my last post I talked about the larger “TEAM” (including the senders, the sent, and the receivers). I wanted to zoom in for a second on the “sent” – those who actually GO on the short-term missions trip. If you don’t get this part right, you can have a disaster on your hands. In fact, I can tell you after 9 or 10 short-term ministry experiences that team unity is one of the most difficult things to maintain.

Stress, fear, nerves, jet-lag, adrenaline, fatigue…all these things make humans think, say and do crazy things!

Selecting or creating a team, once again, comes down to the purpose of the trip. The team members must “fit” the purpose of the trip. (For example, I’m not the kind of guy who is going to get invited on a trip to fix cars or lay brick for a new building). In our case, the trip was only open to a small group of students who had been involved in a year-long leadership development program. The other aspect that is incredibly important in the entire process is prayer. God should make it clear to each team member and to the leader whether or not he/she is called to be a part of the trip.

There are some tools/activities we do to keep the team functioning well. One of those things is a team covenant (sample below). Every student and adult (including the leader) was required to sign this from the very start of the process. We reviewed it on several occasions and encouraged everyone to take it very seriously. It’s a good “foundational” piece for when conflicts arise – it gives you something to go back to.

We also met as a team several times before the trip to plan, explain expectations, and simply pray together and ask God to mold us together as a team.

Another significant team-builder is Bible studies. For a week before the trip until a few days after the trip (and during the entire trip) we required all team members to work through Bible studies that focused on issues related to cross-cultural ministry. The purpose of this was to align our thinking and to ask God to work in us through His Word and our interaction with Him. Each Bible study also gave us a daily prayer focus so that we were praying in similar ways.

Another important piece is to have “team-times” built into the ministry time. If you go through an entire trip without stopping along the way to breathe and debrief as a team, you will miss out on a lot. We would spend these times in worship, in prayer – reflecting and thanking God for His provisions thus far, to assess what we are learning so far, to process observations, to begin thinking about applications to our lives, etc. We also tried to make these times memorable and enjoyable by having them in a nice park in the city, or in a cozy coffee shop. Some days it might be most beneficial to require this time to be individual time alone with God. This often gets overlooked when we are busy “doing ministry”, yet it is so important that each individual serving out of the overflow of God’s work in his/her own heart. Ideally, these times happen daily (even if they’re not as long each day), but I would say it’s important to have a “significant” team time at least every-other day or every third day depending on the length of the trip.

As a matter of chat…

Do you work or serve as part of a “team”? Are you functioning well as a team? Do you think any of these suggested concepts are applicable to every-day life teams? How important is “unity” in the Church to God? (Read I Corinthians if you’re not sure). How is your church, group or team building and protecting unity?

Sample Team Covenant:
As a member of "X" team, I commit:
- To maintain a servant attitude
- To be respectful
- To be a teachable
- To not complain
- To resolve all team conflicts according to biblical principles
- To avoid exclusivity in relationships
- To prioritize personal quiet times with God
- To give our best in every situation
- To encourage each other
- To follow our leaders and hosts
I desire to be part of a team of people characterized by Christ-like behavior, exhibited through unconditional love, unselfish service and unified teamwork.

Signed/Dated: ____________-

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of the TEAM

Many people think of a “team” as those who are actually going on a trip. But the real “TEAM” includes so many others.

The Senders:

This may be the most overlooked part of the TEAM. I believe that having a large base of “senders” is critical to an effective ministry. These are the people who buy-in to the vision of the trip and offer financial and prayer support.

Some people have a hard time asking for money, but we need to remember that God has given some people a passion (and the ability) to give. I can’t speak for everyone, but investing financially in these types of experiences for others is an enormous blessing to the giver! I don’t want to rob anyone of that opportunity, so I’m not afraid to ask.

The enemy is on the attack when teams head to dark places for the purpose of furthering the Gospel. One way to prepare for battle is through a hefty covering of prayer. Again, there are people who prayer warriors – I want as many of those people in my corner as possible, so I garner their support in any way possible.

The Sent:

Selection of those who actually go on the trip is important. This ultimately revolves around the purposes of the trip. For example, work trips may require people with certain skill sets or evangelism trips may require certain language skills. No matter what, it is important that each individual feels called to participate. (I will elaborate more on this group in another post).

The Receivers:

It is rare that you would go on a trip without coordinating through a host missionary or “national” (someone who lives/works in the host country). It is important that you have a good relationship with them, that you have clear communication, and that you are clear on each other’s vision/purpose for the trip.

In our case, the receiving missionaries had ministry projects that they needed a team to help them pull off. Our goal was to engage our students in stretching ministry experiences in a different culture.

All of these people, together, make up the TEAM. Each has an important role to play for a trip to be successful.

As a matter of chat…

Have you ever been a sender? How did God bless you through being on the TEAM in that way? How can the “sent” effectively communicate and update the “senders” so that they are involved in the entire process?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Effective Cross-Cultural Experiences

I recently led a group of nine students and three other adults on a short-term missions trip. Over the next month or so I will be sharing several of the things that I believe are important to effective short-term cross-cultural experiences.

*Note: I will be intentionally vague about some of the details of the trip for privacy and protection purposes.

I believe that this particular trip was a very effective short-term, cross-cultural missions trip. Unfortunately, during my time in student ministry, I have heard of many trips that I would categorize as ineffective – or at least, not effective enough to be worth the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to pull it off.

The importance of VISION and PURPOSE

So what makes a trip effective? A clear vision and purpose! I believe you need to be able to clearly define a purpose (or multiple purposes) if a trip is going to be valuable. Often times we think of these purposes or goals being for the “receiving” side of the project OR for the “sent” side of the trip, but I believe the richest experiences have great benefit for both.

Here are a few examples of goals we had for this particular trip:

- To broaden our students’ Christian worldview (we want them to be “world Christians” not just “American Christians”).
- To push our students to consider the differences in service and leadership in cultures that are very different than theirs.
- To encourage missionaries who call our church “home”.
- To better connect our church with the missionaries they support.
- To encourage our students to consider whether God may be calling them into cross-cultural study, work or ministry in the future.

Different participants probably get more excited about different aspects of these goals. As the one responsible for the trip, I get jazzed about the big picture – that so much was accomplished in regards to the “senders”, the “sent”, and the “receivers”. I’m sure I’ll talk more about all of that in future posts!

As a matter of chat...

Have you ever taken a short-term missions trip? What was the purpose of the trip? Did it accomplish its purpose? How have you seen God change the lives of people who have gone on short-term

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Embarrassing Moment : Lesson Learned

So one Wednesday morning I was on my way to work. I was running a little late and was going to arrive just in time for a 9 a.m. meeting…under normal circumstances.

However, I came upon a slow moving vehicle on the straightaway where I typically make up for my lateness. I was stuck behind this snow-capped driver for a while as cars came the other way, but then I floored it, and flew past her!

There’s two ways to pass people – the nice gentle way that seems to say “hello, I simply prefer to drive a little faster than you”! And, the other way that seems to say “get off the road and get out of my way”! My pass was the latter. (I’m ashamed to admit).

Did I mention that I work at a church? So as I pulled in the parking lot and got ready to get out of my car, wasn’t I surprised to see the same lovely car pulling in the parking lot behind me. I WAS MORTIFIED! How could I be such a jerk?! Wait, it gets worse…you see, I recognized this lovely Senior Saint as someone who once taught me in Sunday School as a child! She was arriving for an event that began at the same time as the meeting I was late for.

I literally squatted as I got out of the car and ran around a back entrance of the offices because I was so embarrassed. I’m confident that she didn’t put all the pieces together, so I think I’m safe! (Unless she reads my blog)!

As a matter of chat…

Any embarrassing moments? Did you learn from them? Are you like me – always in a hurry? Do you need to just “slow down” and be late once in a while?!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Perfect Age

This past week, I turned "the age that everyone wants to be forever...29"! I always find it interesting that 29 is the choice. I'm really looking forward to whatever year 29 holds that makes everyone want to stay there forever! Or maybe it's just that 30 is so bad?! That doesn't seem to make sense to me either, but I'm not there yet.

I remember being so excited to be 10 - double digets.
I remember being so excited to be 13 - a TEENAGER!
I remember being so excited to be 16 - driving!
I remember being so excited to be 18 - no curfew and voting privileges!
I remember being so excited to be 23 - from the age of 10, when one of my cousins got married (at age 23), I always assumed I would get married at 23. It actually happened!

I'm generally an optimist - looking for the good in every situation. I think there are lots of cool things about every stage of life.

As a matter of chat:

What's the perfect age? Why? Any "year" you wish you could do over? Any year you'd like to keep re-living forever? What age are you now? What's great about that age?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can you say this? “I am wrong!” (Relational Awareness)

Life is all about relationships: a vertical relationship (or a choice to ignore it) between you and God – and horizontal relationships between people.

We are in a constant state of “relating”. So we need to be aware of “how” we are relating to people. Just like hitting a pothole with your finger up your nose (sorry, I’ll stop using that metaphor after today), we may not realize what we’re doing to others until we’ve done some serious damage.

It should be pretty simple to avoid these “potholes” in relationships. If you try to live according to God’s Word, the Bible, like I do, you know that loving God and loving people are priority one! So we should be really concerned about how we relate to others - rooted in love, compassion and empathy.

I find that most people who are burning bridges and doing relational damage have trouble saying one phrase: “I am wrong”!

As a matter of chat…

When is the last time you said to someone “I am wrong”? When was the last time you told God “I am wrong”? Do you have a good grasp on your relationships? Do you think people have the same perspective of your relationship with them as you do? If so, what makes you so sure? If not, what do you think you can do to improve your relational awareness?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yay for Grass (Self-Awareness)

I started the process of cleaning up the flower beds last night in preparation for the spring mulching season. Don’t be deceived, I do NOT have a green thumb. I got a blister on my finger from about 30 minutes of work. Go ahead, mock me!

I was frustrated by some grass that was growing in the middle of some of our shrubs – you know, the shrubs that have sharp thorns all over them? It got me thinking about “something good” in the wrong place.

Then I started to think about people. I think there are a lot of frustrated people in the world – people who are plenty lovely and really great at some things – but who are miserable because they are simply in the wrong place.

For example: I have a great appreciation for flowers, trees and plants. I love sunshine and rain. Aesthetics are important to me, and I am in awe of God’s creation. But I would be miserable if I worked in a greenhouse. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t mean I’m less valuable to God or my fellow man. I’m simply not created for that particular line of work.

Grass is good. But only when it grows where grass is supposed to grow. That little patch of grass got a painful dose of reality last night when it was ripped from its place. And the one who had to do the ripping didn’t enjoy it a whole lot either.

But that little patch of grass will thrive when it takes root in just the right place! Yay!

As a matter of chat…

If you’re grass, are you in the lawn? Or are you in the shrubs? How do you know?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nose Pickers

Have you ever noticed how many people pick their noses while driving? I’m constantly watching the people I pass. And a lot of them are picking their noses. Sometimes I get really tempted to honk at them and to mockingly stick my finger up my nose, but that wouldn’t be too nice. Instead I just blog about them!

I’ve noticed that a lot of kids pick their noses too. You could be staring right at them or having a conversation with them – they don’t care. It just feels right, I guess.

No one had to teach them to do it, they just do it.

I was a nose picker.

There’s this guy I know – a former student – who is constantly touching his hair. I tried smack therapy (smack him every time I catch him) for a while, but it didn’t seem to work. He’s gone to college now, so that therapy has ended…but I think he still has his issue.

Some habits are harmless (though I’m sure if you hit a pothole with your finger up your nose it could cause some damage). Others are detrimental to our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health. The sad thing is, we may have some of these habits and not even realize it until we get a bloody nose…or worse.

As a matter of chat…

Have you ever slowed down to consider what “bad habits” you might have? Are you self-aware? Have you gotten into routines or habits without even realizing it, that are destroying you in some way? Have you considered asking those close to you what they might see? Are you willing to listen?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do the Little Things

Renee and I just received a note from the church planting team in Virginia Beach where we have taken some high school students for a few years to expose them to church-planting and ministries to people who are different than us.

In March, 2010, Renee and I met a girl named Alisa while we were out advertising the church plant in surrounding neighborhoods. Turns out, it was way more than just a friendly conversation…

The next day, Alisa came to the new church’s service. We were able to connect her to the Pastor and others from the small church plant. We were also able to buy her lunch and chat for another hour or so after that morning’s services.

God began to do a work in her life, and since then she has been attending on a regular basis. A few weeks ago, she surrendered her life to Jesus! This past Sunday, on the church’s one-year anniversary, Alisa was baptized as a public expression of her new faith in Christ!

What a blessing to get to hear the next chapter of the story! We never know when God is going to use the slightest of touches to impact all of eternity. I’m imagining Alisa leading her husband to Christ, and her children, and her grandchildren, etc.

As a matter of chat...

What was the last “little thing” you did for or said to someone? Can you imagine it ending with some sort of eternal change/impact? Are you listening for the Holy Spirit’s whispers in your life? How do you know if it’s Him? Are you obeying immediately? Are you praying that you won’t be too busy and distracted to hear him?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why am I so rich? The Africa Series

Social justice is sort of a "buzz concept" in the Christian world these days. Actually, it's something being addressed all over our culture – maybe even more so outside the Church. I probably haven't spent as much time engaged in the conversation as I should. But some of the ideas that go along with it have been invading my mind as I process my recent trip to the Central African Republic.

Spending time as a "have" among the "have-nots" forces a new way of thinking. (I’m speaking purely from a material perspective).

First of all, what is a "have" versus a "have-not"? I mean the stark difference between us is clear, so I’m confident that I, as an American (no matter what my income level), am a “have”. But what is it that I have that makes me a "have"? Do my African brothers and sisters KNOW that they are "have-nots"? Because although they have very little, they seem way less stressed than all the "haves".

My next question is why was I born as a "have" while my African brothers and sisters were born as "have-nots"? I didn't do anything special to deserve special treatment. And they didn’t do anything do deserve less.

Finally, I've been thinking about what my life should look like in light of these differences. Should I feel guilty? Should I sell everything I have and give all my stuff away to become a “have not”? After all, the “have-nots” seem to be a lot more content in life. Would my relationship with God and my worldview be better if I was more like a "have-not"?

As a matter of chat…

Why do we work so hard to live a life so full of “haves”? When will we have “enough”? What do we gain from having so much? How much of our stuff is necessary, and how much of it is needless fluff that distracts us from the things that really matter? How does the story of the rich young ruler apply to OUR lives (Mark 10)? How can you “live simply” so others can “simply live”?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let's Spend MONEY: The Africa Series

I am just AMAZED at how stinking good of an investment we are invovled in, in Africa. For $4000 per year, we are providing education and a daily meal for 50 orphans. If you do the math, that's $80 A YEAR per student. That includes the teacher's salary and school supplies. And let me tell you, it's being done with EXCELLENCE!

Sheesh...talk about stretching a dollar! Let's spend some money (for God's glory)!

As a matter of chat...

Where did you spend your last $50? Was it worth it? If there are Kingdom investment opportunities like this in the world, why are we so hasty to spend money on silly comforts? Are you generous towards the Lord's work? Do you deserve the money you have more than a poor African? Is money a god in your life? Where can you give just a little bit more? Do you believe that God blesses faithful giving?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Serving the Servants: The Africa Series

One of the best parts of a short-term missions trip is the opportunity to work with missionaries. I’m always so excited to spend time with people who are giving their lives, completely, to something that matters – in another cultural context. I find that it’s rare to find people who are willing to give their entire lives to things that matter to God, let alone those who would do it in Africa.

Missionaries must get lonely. Relationships are important to everyone, and the foundations of relationships in another culture get pretty tricky – different cultural norms, different expectations, different ways of communicating, etc.

I’d also imagine that “church” is difficult for missionaries. The things that I love so much about my church require speaking the same native language, and sharing some of the same expectations, culturally. Not that those things are necessary to do church, but I’d imagine missing some of those things if I lived in another country.

As a matter of chat…

Do you know any missionaries? How are you supporting them? Do they know that you appreciate their sacrifices for the gospel? How are you making sure they are successful in the call that God has place on their lives?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In the Name of What?: The Africa Series

One thing I LOVE about the Central African culture is the importance of greetings. Arriving at a village where they know you are coming is the most fun. All the orphans, anticipating our arrival, swarm the vehicles, each one wanting to shake our hands and say “Bala-o”! It was a little difficult for me as I wanted to grab each child and give them a big hug…but a handshake has to suffice if you’re going to greet each person.

Whenever you are a guest, there is always an “official” greeting. For instances, whenever we (the American guests) entered a classroom, the orphans stood up, crossed their arms and recited an official greeting. In church, we were placed in the “special people section” and officially greeted from the pulpit. And whenever groups are exchanging greetings, thank-you’s, etc., or whenever a person is beginning a formal talk (like a sermon or presentation) it ALWAYS begins with a greeting that goes something like…”we greet you in the name of Jesus Christ”. Most goodbyes also include “please greet your family and church in the name of Jesus Christ.”

That seems significant to me. I greet a lot of people in a day, but I don’t ever greet them “in the name of Jesus Christ”. In fact, I have a LOT of conversations in a day that don’t include a word about Him, yet I would call Him my GOD. My Savior. My Lord.

As a matter of chat…

Do people matter to you? Enough that you would intentionally greet them? ALL of them? Does Jesus Christ matter to you? Enough that you talk about Him often in conversations? Do you identify with him regularly? Is He your Lord? Or just your Savior?

Thank God-ism: The Africa Series

I don't know much Sango - only a few phrases, really. But you begin to pick up on words and phrases when you hear them over and over again. One such phrase for me: "Merci Nzapa" or "Thank you God".

It seemed as if EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION included this phrase many times. Instead of responding to someone else's thought by saying "uh-huh" or "yeah" or "interesting", Central African's often replied with "Merci Nzapa". God gets credit for EVERY. GOOD. THING.

These people are among the poorest of the poor, yet have a perspective of gratitude towards God, in all things. Death, is a normal part of life for them. Suffering, hunger, tragedy - all every day occurences for many of them. Yet, they are constantly focused on HOW GOOD GOD is.

One man shared with us that he had just received word that a child living in his home (an orphan he had taken in) was hit by a motorcycle that day. She had injured her leg and was going to a "hospital" to be looked at. His first response after stating the facts: "Merci Nzapa..." because it could have been a lot worse.

It's easy for us to be pessimists at times. We think that life is pretty tough. Yet here in America, life ain't so bad. I like to encourage people to be optimists. Yet, I'm learning that maybe "just optimism" isn't enough. What if we were simply "Thank God-ists" - always grateful for who He is and what He's doing.

As a matter of chat...

What, in this very moment, are you grateful to God for? On your worst day in the past year, was there still things to be thankful for? How can you make sure you have an attitude of gratitude? What is distracting you or blinding you from being as grateful as you should be?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Cost of Learning: The Africa Series

Part of our trip to Africa included a two night camping trip to visit our schools in Bossangoa. We set up camp on the edge of this town at a Bible Institute. While there, we were able to meet the African director of the Institute as well as many of the future pastors who are studying there.

The Director was excited to tell us that they have the largest class ever lined up for this Fall - 21 students. The problem is that they don't have housing for that many students. So, several of the future students have already moved to Bossangoa in order to BUILD HOUSES so that they can study at the Bible Institute. If that isn't a passion for studying the Bible, I don't know what is. In addition, many men who become Pastors in the CAR never make a cent. Churches are so poor that they often can't afford to give their leaders a salary.

As a matter of chat...

Do you value learning? Are you willing to sacrifice in order to learn? How much? How much do you pursue learning God's Word? How much do you crave it? Would you build a house by hand to learn it? Is the study of The Bible reserved only for people who have a special calling, or for all followers of Christ?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Greatest Gifts: the Africa Series

So I have just returned from a trip to the Central African Republic visiting orphans who our church sponsors. I will try to explain some of the partnership through some other blogs, but am going to try to keep the blogs short and readable...bite-size pieces.

At each school we visited, we distributed a can of sardines to each orphan as a gift. Shoot, you would have thought we were super heroes. They. Love. Sardines. Each child holds out two hands and bows there head when receiving any gift. A picture of humility. But then they absolutely beam with delight. Most of them will take the can home and share It with their families, perhaps in a soup.

None of it seems too appetizing to me, but if thats what communicates love and concern to these precious children, at a cost of perhaps 50 cents, count me in.

As a matter of chat...

What kinds of gifts are the most meaningful to give? To receive? How do you attach value to a gift? Are you a good gift RECEIVER? What kinds of gifts has God given you? How grateful are you? Have you received them humbly? Will you share them? Do they bring you great joy? Or leave you wishing for more?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Africa...less than a week away!

I’m SO excited to be heading back to Africa in less than a week! This will be my third trip to the Central African Republic.

Your mind races all over the place as you prepare for a trip like this. I find myself thinking about different things this time around, than the last two times – probably because I know what to expect in some ways.

One thing that’s impossible to NOT think about is the stark contrast between the living conditions of the Central Africans and Americans. C.A.R. is literally one of the poorest countries in the world, yet I have never met such joyful people. Many days they lack even the simplest things – like clean water, or food.

As a matter of chat…

Are you trying to buy happiness? Where do you find your joy? Can you imagine living on $700/YEAR? What are you doing to “live simply, so that others can simply live”? Is there excess in your life that is stealing your joy?

By the way, check out www.ph-c.org and see how you can help!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Expectation Management

We had been warned (accurately, I might add) about the 5 inches of snow that would be greeting us as we opened our front doors this morning. We pay a monthly fee to our homeowner’s association for a contractor to do yard work in the summer and snow removal in the winter. So, I assumed that my driveway would be cleared for my wife and I to leave for work, since the snow stopped late last evening. I was wrong.

People who know me know that I’m not a huge fan of snow (understatement of the year), or mornings (second understatement of the year). You can only imagine my delight that I was waking up, early, to shovel snow because the people we pay, had not. It took me about an hour to get the cars cleaned off and the driveway cleared.

As I was chatting with my neighbor who was also out to clean off his cars, I concluded, sarcastically, “I guess my expectations are just too high – to think that the people I pay to clear my driveway would come and clear my driveway in a time that seems pretty reasonable to me!”

As a matter of chat…

Can we avoid or handle disappointment better in our lives if we manage our expectations differently? How do you set expectations? Are they typically reasonable? High? Low? How do you judge that? Are there times where it’s appropriate to adjust expectations? Who has expectations for you? Are they being met?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brand Snob

I am (sometimes) a brand snob. If the generic works, I’m cool with it in the name of saving money. But there are certain things that HAVE to be name brand. A cheaper substitute will not do.

Q-tips, for instance. Have you ever tried the generic “cotton swab”? Terrible.
Razors. One time I tried a generic razor to save some dough…and ended up with a terribly painful and bloody mess. Shaving cream – generic. Shaving tools – name brand.

A pastor friend recently challenged me to think about the difference between relationship and fellowship. Simple relationship is often the generic substitute for real, authentic, whole fellowship among Christians.

As a matter of chat…

When do you demand the real deal? When it comes to relationships, am I demanding the best? Or am I satisfied with a cheap substitute? What am I doing to encourage authenticity in my relationships?