Friday, May 29, 2009

Worth Saving

Can people change?

This is a hard question for me to answer. While I will say yes, it is possible, I will also say, no, it is unlikely. Not impossible, but improbable. As I grow older I find myself having less faith that people will indeed change, despite the lip service we give to making changes in our lives.

How about changing our beliefs? Beliefs about ourselves? Here's a question for you:

Which is harder for you to really believe: That Jesus rose from the dead, or, that Jesus really does love you?

Feeling like you are unloveable or are somehow a bad person is not an easy thing to change. You do bad things and those things just confirm to you that you are bad. Some bad things you do, you really want to stop doing. But you find yourself doing them again and again. You get discouraged. You feel like you can't change. You sigh in defeat, "This is just the way I am." And because that way is not good, you feel you are bad.

For many of us “bad” also means “unchangeable” or “unsavable.” Nothing good can be salvaged out of this wretched heart of ours. We suffer from depression, mostly, because we believe that we cannot change—that we will always be bad and do bad things and be unaccepted, unloved, unrespected and unappreciated by people in society.

One of the deepest questions people ask in their lives is, “Am I good?” And there are two main sources for a major answer of “No!” to that question.

One, you are not good because you do bad things—you sin. Sin has made you unclean. You have sinned in the past, you do sin and you will sin again.

Two, you are not good if you are unliked or unattractive to many people in society. You know this may not be how it really is, but it is how you sometimes feel. People don't pay you attention. People don't take you seriously. People judge you, ignore you and don't respect you all that much. People don't want to spend a lot of time just hanging out with you. At least, that is how you find yourself feeling sometimes.

There is something in you that tells you that if you were “good” people would treat you better, respect you more than they do and want to be your friend and spend time with you. Any negativity you get from other people—you turn it on yourself and feel that it is because you are not good. You don’t like the person you are because you wish you were someone other people liked more.

This is my message to you. Not only can you change, but you are worth changing. And, really, the latter is a more important issue. It is where it starts.

I remember when my Grandpa was living with us and was getting old. One time he became very sick and had to go to the hospital. He lost a lot of weight very fast. Relatives joined at our house to discuss what to do when he was in the hospital. One lady said that we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that he is dying. I was just a kid at the time—maybe just 10 years old, I don’t remember. And what she said, I now realize, was wise and good. But at the time it angered me. I felt like they were giving up on him. I felt like they were calling the game "over” when the fat lady had not yet sung. I remember thinking, “He’s not dead yet!”

About that time (I don’t remember clearly the chronology of events) I remember my dad taking me into see grandpa at the hospital. The doctor laid out the options before my grandpa and dad about what can be done, and that he needed some sort of surgery or procedure if he was going to live much longer. I think the cost of this procedure was expensive or not covered by insurance, or there was some sort of financial issue involved. (Again, I am not too clear.) But I remember my grandpa saying something to the effect that we might not choose to do the procedure—perhaps because it was too expensive and he was so old and not worth saving. But my dad didn’t waiver at all, and said that we would definitely do the procedure. To my dad, it wasn’t a question to consider—my grandpa was worth saving, at any cost.

Spiritually speaking, I have felt like my grandpa—too far gone to be worth saving. The issue isn’t just a question of possibility—it is a question of worth—of profitability. What would we really gain by saving this?

My grandpa got better, to everyone’s amazement. He put weight back on. He came back home with us and lived a life the same as before he went into the hospital. The night he died he had just finished helping me wash the dinner dishes and sang as he worked. I am so thankful that my dad saw him as worth saving.

My grandpa used to save everything. He had lived through the great depression and had lost his house during that time. Unlike people of my generation, he knew the pain of poverty, and how fleeting was worldly wealth. He did not take things for granted and therefore did not live wastefully. I remember that he saved his dinner napkins from almost every night of dinner when it didn’t get too dirty. He folded them up and kept them on top of his refrigerator in his room. They were still good. They could be used again. There was no need to throw them away so promptly.

My grandpa didn’t come from a disposable society. In our society, so many of the products we buy and use are disposable—we use them and then we throw them away. It is cheaper and easier to buy a new one than it is to re-use an old one. It has become our mentality. Once something is “old” or “used” then it cannot be made new again. So, we don’t get attached to it. We throw it away. Nothing has value to us for very long. And certainly nothing has redeemable valuable—something that we can save, or get value back out of. No, we just dispose and purchase new; dispose and purchase new.

Imagine a paper napkin that we have used to place a piece of barbecued chicken on. The sauce has dripped down and soaked the paper napkin. It is really impossible to re-use that napkin. The sauce has probably actually melted the paper of the napkin. There is no way we could, or would, take that napkin to the laundry room and wash it, dry it out, and then use it again. If we placed it in a washing machine or a dryer, it would disintegrate. But that is the point of a paper napkin—they are so cheap that they wouldn’t be worth spending the money on soap, water and electricity (much less our precious time) to re-use when we can just throw them away and grab another one out of the pack.

Now, if we had a fine cloth or silk napkin, we would probably think differently. If gravy gets on that napkin we certainly do not throw it away and buy another! We do all we can to get it clean, and restore it to its prior condition. Why? Because we have already spent a lot of money on it. It is worth more. A dirty paper napkin is not worth saving. A dirty silk napkin is worth saving because we have already invested a significant amount into it.

And that is my point about my dad and my grandpa. To my dad, my grandpa was not disposable. He was not something my dad could just so easily part with. Yes, he was sick. Yes, it was very serious. But he was worth saving. He was worth bringing back to his prior condition. My dad had no doubts about that. I am glad he didn’t.

So, I have to ask… Is your depressed and broken heart worth saving? Is it worth being changed? Is it worth being healed? Is it worth all the time and work it would require to restore it to a healthy condition?

Jesus died to say “Yes!” to this question. Romans 5:6-8 makes it clear that we were sick; we were sinners; our situation was very grave and serious. But Jesus didn’t even wait for us to ask. He didn’t wait for us “get well” on our own. No, he came with his purpose of “redeeming” us—of retaining the value that he had created us with. He came with the purpose of freeing our hearts from the prison of lies and sin, and to heal the broken hearted. Jesus wants our hearts free. Jesus wants our hearts healed.

So, yes, you are worth saving—your heart is worth saving. And if you are not dead yet, it is not too late. You are not “too far gone.” You can change, and you are worth changing.

Satan’s purpose is to get us to reject Jesus and to reject God’s grace. How do we usually reject God’s grace? By feeling that we are “not worth” saving. When we say, “I am not good,” we are not just saying that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory—no, we are actually saying that “we are not worth anything.” Yes, it is true that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But, no, it is not true that we are not worth saving. Satan’s most powerful deception is to get us to believe that we are “not worth” saving, so that we will thereby reject any grace, any possibility of change. (See Good and Good.)

So, in communicating the story of Jesus, we don’t just need to convince people that Jesus died save them, but that they are worth saving! This is good news!

To believe that you are worth being changed is simply to believe that God truly loves you.

“Okay, maybe I am worth being changed, but CAN I be changed?”

I think that if you can change your mind about your worth (that your heart is good, not bad), then you can change.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Being A Missionary Wherever You Are

I know you've heard this a thousand times, or variations of it:

"God has called me to be a missionary right here at home." Or, "All Christians are missionaries."

There is something about this statement that I totally agree with and something about it that bothers me, too.


I agree that all Christians are priests of God and are called to ministry--service to Jesus--wherever they are in this unreached world of ours. The Bible is very clear about that. Christians are called to ministry, and ministry is not just for those we "ordain." In fact, all of us have been ordained to ministry when we put our faith in Christ and committed our lives to him. So, wherever we are, we should be serving Christ, shining his light and extending his grace to those around us who do not yet know him. Amen.

I also agree that not everyone should leave their homes and go to a different country or culture to be a missionary. I used to think that most people should, but many refuse. But after serving in a cross-cultural context, I have seen the example of many people who have traveled over land and sea to serve cross-culturally, but they've done all they can to live the same kind of lifestyle in that place. This usually makes them pretty ineffective. Sometimes it gets ugly and it would be better if these people went back home and served Christ there.


Just yesterday I made a post about the politics of missions. One thing politicians do is to reaffirm the majority of people (potential voters) that they are exactly what they should be. They're doing exactly what they should be doing. Translation: No change is necessary. (That is, no change on the part of the masses of people. Politicians love to say they will change things for the people if they are elected.) And the line of "we're all missionaries" smacks of this same justification of the status quo.

I used to argue that the word "missionary" implied cross-cultural service. Most missiologists will make this distinction between a cross-cultural Christian worker and a Christian worker (evangelist/pastor) who serves in his own culture. The former is a missionary and the latter is not. The word "missionary" is basically the same word as "apostle." The former word comes from Latin and the latter from Greek. And in Ephesians it says that he gave some to be apostles....

But I'm done arguing about words. If you want to define one word one way, that is fine with me as long as you clarify your meaning.

What really bothers me is that we use our fancy and cute explanations to get around one thing that we just cannot imagine giving up: Our lifestyles.

Now, that is fine--you don't have to give up your lifestyle. Unless it is a sinful one or doesn't glorify Christ. But I'm not talking about lifestyle in the sense committing sins, not tithing your money, being involved in gambling, moonshining or drug-running. I'm talking about lifestyle in the sense of how your life is ordered according to your own culture. I'm talking about the kind of people you hang out with (not the kind of people you minister to). I'm talking about the kinds of places you go for fun. I'm talking about the kind of food you eat; the entertainment you watch; the clothes you wear; the language you operate in; the music you listen to; the places you shop; the kind of house you live in. This is the lifestyle I'm talking about.

Most people would rather give up their lives than give up their lifestyles.

And you know what... that's perfectly fine with me. I know how hard it is for people to really give up those things.

But some people do give them up. Some people go to another country, another culture. Some people do this for the very purpose of reaching people who have so very, very, very little opportunity to even hear the gospel compared to those in our homes who have an abundance of opportunity.

Is it wrong to share Christ with someone at home, then, who does not follow Christ? Absolutely not! Please do it. Do it right now!

But after you have done it, please think about a man named Khamman who lives on the other side of the world. Khamman has heard there is a religion out there called "Christianity" but he doesn't know anyone who is a Christian. He also doesn't know where there are any churches, because there are no churches in his village, district or province. He doesn't know there is a Bible, and even if he did, he couldn't read it because it hasn't been translated into his language. And even if it had been translated into his language, he still couldn't read it because he doesn't know how to read.

And he will die without Christ because so many people were content to be "missionaries wherever they are."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Selling an Experience

What is the purpose of short-term mission trips? I’m talking about those 10-20 days trips we take during our vacations or spring breaks.

To the short-termer who goes: The purpose is to be a witness of Christ; love those who are different from us; encourage cross-cultural believers; build a church building or other needed asset in the work of the kingdom there; make a difference!

To the long-termer who hosts the short-termers: Make them feel like they’ve made an incredible difference.

Yes, it’s all politics.

Have you ever noticed that a politician never criticizes the culture or the people at large? Never will you hear an American presidential candidate say, “Well, you know Larry, this is where a vast majority of the American people are dead wrong. They need to change their thinking. They need to change their behavior.” No, they don’t go there even if they think this way. Instead, they compliment Americans. They talk about the greatness of the American Spirit and how they identify with the masses of people who live on “Main Street.” If anyone needs to change, it is those few but loud “radicals” that belong to the other political party.

Politicians have everything to gain from telling people they are good just the way they are. If a candidate says everyday people need to change, it is political suicide. Instead, they need to make people feel as if everything about them is all right.

So it is with short-term missions. Few people are brave enough to criticize these trips. Why? Because so many people go on them and have loved them. Because so many supporting churches send groups to visit their missionaries. A long-term missionary would be in trouble of losing support if he criticized his supporting church’s short-term approach.

I, for one, am not against short-term trips. Not in the least. If done right, I think they are great. In fact, I went on exactly ten short-term trips before I became a long-term missionary. (Well, six were in the 10-20 day range; four were in the 2-3 month range.) I would not have become a long-term missionary if it weren’t for those trips. So, I am not against such trips. Neither am I against people from my supporting churches coming to visit or do a small project. I love it! I love getting to share with them the country and the people I have grown to love. I feel like I have learned an entire world of new information from living in The Location and am delighted to share these things with people who come.

But there is one aspect of these short-term trips I have come to realize. Most people come to achieve one thing: An experience or sense that they’ve done something incredibly good.

People want to go home with the feeling, “That was awesome!” And there is only one thing, for Christians, that makes them feel that way—that they made an eternal difference.

It is not impossible, but it is very difficult to make a long-term impact in the space of 10-20 days. Even in the life of one person. Chances are the people coming for a week will be much more affected by the trip than The Location is affected by the people coming. But this doesn’t help recruiting:

“Come to the Far East and learn that you have anger issues you need to resolve when you return home!”

“Go on an exotic trip to Africa and learn that there is another way to live besides your narcissistic, consumeristic, individualistic existence!”

“Visit the other side of the world and discover that God is not only interested in, or dependent upon, the American church!”

These lines do not get people signing up in droves to spend $3,000 and precious vacation time.

Instead, we like to advertise like this:

“Spend a week of your time and make an eternal impact.”

“Experience what God is doing on the front lines of the gospel.”

“Be like Jesus and make a difference among the most unreached and the poorest of the poor.”

And we tell stories of how somebody went somewhere, met a local, shared the gospel and how he became a believer. We show pictures of white people hugging dark-skinned natives with bright white smiles. And we know that going on a trip is the best thing a spiritual person could do. While people at home don’t even want to hear the gospel, it is so easy to make a difference overseas where people are begging to hear the gospel but no one will even tell it to them!

If there ever was a missions “urban legend” that last statement is one! While there have been some instances of this dynamic in the history of Christian missions, it certainly does not characterize the “mission field” in general.

So, as a long-term missionary who often hosts short-term groups, I often feel like I have to sell an experience. I have to make people feel that what they’re doing is incredibly critical to the advance of God’s kingdom around the world. I have even had churches tell me that they want their people to have that feeling when they return.

I have to laugh. It is clear such churches aren’t really interested in making a difference overseas. Instead, they want to make a difference in their own people—in their church dynamic and church “life” back home. They want to feel like they’ve made a difference. And I’m stuck with the role of politician trying to make sure they feel that way.

If churches were really interested in making a difference on “the mission field” they would learn to accept that differences aren’t made that easily. They wouldn’t be so concerned about their “feelings” upon return home as they would be about gaining a greater understanding of the task ahead of them. They wouldn’t be so concerned about what they “do” but about what they “learn.” And they would spend more collective resources on long-term efforts than they spend on short-term trips.

But that just isn’t as sexy as being able to boast about one’s short-term trips and the incredible difference these trips are making to listeners at home who have no way to evaluate the real impact.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dad's Day

Do you know how many dads there are in the world? I don’t.

Let’s see… Suppose the “average family” in the world consists of a mom, a dad and… say… five children. (Is this the world’s average? I have no idea.) If so, then dad’s make up one-seventh of the population. However, some dads have children that are dads, too. So, I’ll venture to make a scientific guess that dads make up as high as 15% of the world’s population. If so, then there are roughly, approximately, about 700 million dads in the world.

I don’t know most of them.

I know one of them really well… that’s my dad. The other dad I’m getting to know is myself. And sprinkled about my acquaintances are a number of dads I’ve gotten to know over the years. Still nowhere close to 700 million, though.

So, what do I really know about dads? What could I possibly say that would generalize “what dads are like”? I’ll give it another scientific try:

Dads think they’re not good. Or, not good enough.

Why would dads think like that? Two reasons, really.

One is that dads are always trying to be better dads. They never settle. They work very hard. They want to achieve for their family. They want to provide for their children. They don’t want to see their children suffer, go without or be hindered in any way because their dads were too lazy or incapable of providing what a child needs.

And how much is enough? How good is good enough? Well, do you mean, for my kid? My kid is much better than me. That means all I could provide is never good enough for my wonderful kid.

The other reason that dads think they’re not good is because that is what we tell our dads. Our dads are “Superman!” when we’re young. Then we grow up and learn they are not really Superman. They’re just dad. And if they do one thing to hurt us (which every dad does because no dad is Superman), boy does it hurt! It hurts so bad that we blame them. We tell them what a bad dad they are. We don’t care what they’ve done or sacrificed for us…. Why didn’t they do ______ instead?

And there is probably nothing that hurts a dad more than to hear their child tell them how bad they are. After they’ve worked so much… After they’ve tried so hard…

Our society also gangs up on dads. While moms are the gentle, pie-baking, tear-wiping, encouraging-words-speaking, servant-hearted kissers of all boo-boos; dads are absent, workaholic, angry, over-protective jerks. How many Mother’s Day sermons have you heard extolling the qualities of our wonderful mothers, and how many Father’s Day sermons have you heard telling dads that they better shape up and do better?

I remember my dad going to church with me for a Christmas Eve service. He hadn’t been in a long, long time. And he felt uncomfortable there. So do many people. As we mingled with some of the church’s greeters at the door and chit-chatted, one of the men said to my dad, “Good to see you here.” My dad replied, “Well, the walls just might crumble in.” Surely a holy place like a church would crumble upon the presence of such a bad man!

My dad has gotten the message: He’s bad. Perhaps it was me or my siblings telling him that somehow. Perhaps it was society that got the message through to him. Perhaps it was just him thinking so lowly of himself that he expected others to do so, too. Maybe a combination of all of the above. Dad even rhymes with bad. Bad dad.

Perhaps, instead of “Father’s Day” they should change the name to “Give Dad A Break For Once, Day.” Give him a break from all the negativity. Give him a break from all the high expectations. Give him a break from the bitterness borne from unhealed dad-pain. Give him a break from never getting a break. Forgive him for not being Superman. See in him the goodness there is. See his heart. See that, even though he never knew how to express it very well—he loved you.

Thank you for being my dad, Dad. I’m proud to be your son. I just have one thing to say to you:

You’re good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Managing People

If management is defined as the art of getting things done through other people, then I have one thing to say about it:

I suck at it.

Sorry for the language—I rarely speak like this, but there is no better word that can describe my abilities more precisely.

Whether trying to get things done through other people in business, or by directing them in ministry, I usually end up very disappointed, angry, disillusioned and hurt. The people who were under my management usually end up very disappointed, angry, disillusioned and hurt. In other words—my management style is hell on relationships.

Now, perhaps I’ve being a little hard on myself. I do have a few success stories over the years. But I think I have more disappointments. And one of my consistent feelings is, “Why don’t people do things better than they do? Why don’t they take more responsibility? Why don’t they see that this level of quality is still not enough?” I often am amazed that even though they agree to accomplish a certain goal, they don’t do what it takes to figure out how to accomplish that goal well. I become personally offended when they don’t do their job to the highest standard of excellence.

What do I do? Usually deride them. Yell at them a little. Question their character. Question their integrity and loyalty. Let them know that they’ve personally hurt me by doing a bad job.

I’m a jerk that way.

Well, I’m learning. I have been humbled. I have been completely broken by my own mistakes and my own treatment of other people. I have been personally grieved by the broken relationships I have caused. I know I expect way too much of people and have struggled to find out how to have the highest of standards in work/ministry and yet not expect too much from people. It almost seems contradictory.

I grew up in a family situation that discipled me to motivate others by making them feel bad. Seriously. That’s how my parents and older siblings motivated me. They would insult me for whatever I did that displeased them. I was hurt and was thus motivated to improve in order to protect myself from being hurt by them and to make them happy.

So when I became an adult this is how I attempted to motivate people, too. I would tell people to accomplish a particular goal and when they would go about it in ineffective ways I would question their judgment and intelligence. If they did it again, I would question their integrity. Great management skills, huh? Would love to work for a boss like me, right? Yeah, right.

I have completely started over now. I have read some books. I have listened to other people. I have tried to deal with my own issues and the relational “rut” I easily fall into by deriding those under me who displease me. I’m not perfect and not yet where I want to be. But I am learning. The transformation is underway; but it will take a while to complete.

One thing I’ve learned: Success is obtained not just by looking at the problems and obstacles and solving them. Success is obtained by looking at the goal, and continuing to look at it. The former is a focus on the negative. The latter is a focus on the positive. The former is a focus on a part of the present reality. The latter is a focus on a future reality.

I can do this. I know I can. I can do it right, too. I am filled with hope.

Village Health Care

In many so-called “third world” countries missionaries often get involved in providing health care. And it doesn’t take long after treating so many of the same diseases in many people that they realize “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Thousands of people die on a daily basis from diseases or conditions that are easily preventable. Bandaging the ailment doesn’t really solve the problem. People need education on how to keep themselves from falling into the problem.

These could be very simple things like: Wash your hands before eating. Boil water before drinking it. Wear shoes if you’re walking where animals defecate. Drink plenty of water. Sleep under a mosquito net. And so many more instructions that will improve the health of a village by the prevention of common problems that everyone face.

And so health workers schedule village-wide meetings to instruct everyone on these issues at one time. This saves the health workers from having to go around door to door and repeating the same things at each place. It prevents people from misunderstanding and claiming they were told differently than others. It also allows everyone to hear answers to questions that concern the people that perhaps the health worker wouldn’t have thought to tell everyone.

But the work of the doctor or health worker is still far from over after these mass health education seminars. Just because everyone faces certain common health threats, each person may still have their own health issues that are different from others. This means the health worker must still go around and give everyone a personal check-up.

I really think that the role of a “pastor” is that of a “spiritual health worker.” And here is my main point:

Preaching sermons to large groups of people is both good and needed. At the same time, so is one-on-one counseling, prayer and accountability with each of his people. The sermons cover things that are common to all people. The one-on-one times cover issues that each specific individual faces. And everyone, everyone, has issues—even if it isn’t a problem or a “sin-issue” it is still an issue of growth and service unto God’s likeness.

So, if you can, please tell me what the difference between pastoral care and discipleship is. In the original language, a “pastor” is a shepherd. A shepherd raises sheep. A shepherd wants his sheep to be all that a sheep can be. So, that includes both the prevention of attacks and proper growth.

While a doctor might be primarily concerned with preventing and curing problems, a good health worker wants to see each person grow strong and be capable of working and serving society. Similarly, a good pastor is not only worried about spiritual problems their people face (whether problems they already have or those they might have if they’re not careful), but he is worried about the spiritual growth and service his people are able to do.

This takes both mass-instruction time, and personal one-on-ones.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Doing Business Right

I have been thinking about business a lot ever since I started doing business in The Location. I have had my share of struggles in trying to make things run smoothly, work right and be profitable, too. I want things to be profitable for the sole purpose of it being sustainable. That is, I don’t want to have to keep dumping money into an enterprise that is just not working. I want it to make a profit so that it can continue to function on its own.

Perhaps that is part of my problem. Perhaps it isn’t. I don’t know, really. I do know that two out of three enterprises I’ve started have yet to make a profit. Perhaps if I were shooting for large profits rather than just a profit it would make becoming profitable a little easier. I mean, if we shoot for the stars and fall short, we’re still doing pretty good. But if we shoot for a cow pile…well, our chances of success are high but it’s not where we want to be.

One thing I do know: Business people with experience and success (and those who do not have a ministry objective) do not have the mere goal of profitability for sustainability. They want to make good profits. To do otherwise wouldn’t be considered “good business.” So, I wonder, should I be aiming for a higher margin of success even if being rich is not my goal? Would aiming for larger profits actually help me to achieve sustainability a lot better?

One other thing I know: In the business world, people who start businesses that end up being successful in the long run are people who have knowledge and experience in doing what they’re attempting to do. If they don’t, they get people who do to work with them. What that means is that if I am learning as I go (because of lack of knowledge and experience in both business administration and the production of products and services we offer) then I will make a lot more mistakes; it will take a lot longer time; and there is a higher percentage of potential failure.

A football team I follow has just hired a new general manager and a new coach. Both of these men have never held these positions before. They are both “new” to their jobs—doing it for the first time. But they aren’t really doing it for the first time. They do have experience. Even though they have never held the top jobs in coaching and general managing, they have been in the system for a long time. They have been the “second man” for quite a while. They come to their new jobs—not without any experience or idea of what to do—but with plenty of experience in seeing how a successful football club is run. You see, every head coach is a head coach for the first time, sometime. But rarely, if ever, does someone become a head coach without having been an assistant coach for a long time and without having most recently spent time as a defensive or offensive coordinator. No one hires a man off the street—or even a recently retired football player—to be the head coach. Even if that man could eventually figure it out, they don’t want to lose millions on his “learning curve” and the time it would take to learn as he goes. They need more confidence that he will start out with a winning plan.

So, as an entrepreneur who has never ran a successful business or even been the “second man” in a successful business, I have a pretty big learning curve ahead of me. That is okay. But what it means is that I would do well to learn about the right way to do my business. Knowing the product is not enough. Knowing how to produce what we’re selling is not enough. I need to know about all the administrative things I see big successful companies doing that might seem “unnecessary” for a small business like mine. I need to be prepared for growth and have the systems in place to handle it when it happens. Because if I don’t, the business will crash and burn when it can’t keep up.

I have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of study to do.

And I have accepted this. I think sometimes, as Christians, we don’t accept the business challenge ahead of us when we start to do BAM. We make some fatal business assumptions. One is that the business will kind of work itself out. Another is that we don’t really need an MBA or need to know about the things MBA graduates know. Another fatal assumption is: “If this is God’s business he will bless it and make it successful.” We use this kind of blind faith in God’s power to exempt ourselves from due diligence in the task he has given us to do.

One book about BAM that I read said that most BAM enterprises are usually good at business or good at ministry. Less often will they find one that is good at both.

I think this is a challenge to us to well in both business and ministry. If we cannot, perhaps the model isn’t as good as we thought.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Working on some stuff

I am working on organizing a few of our efforts here in The Location. Lots of work to do. But this will be very beneficial and help us to multiply. We are making a little progress, but things move very slowly. I have to type up large manuals and then translate them and then type them again in the language of The Location. Lots of work. Thank you for your prayers.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Into the mist...

Perhaps I should disappear into the mist.

Out of the rat race. Out of the sight of those who may or may not applaud. Out of the trap of prideful humility.

Into the lives of those I want to touch with God's healing love. Into the heart of those God has given me to love and pour myself into. Into that distant and dark place where no one desires to go where I can shine his light.

My friends are of a different race. My associates pursue different goals. My companions possess some wisdom from which I could learn... if I listen.

And at the end of the long journey... after we have long ago said goodbye... after we have been forgotten by those who saw us off... after the door back home has long been closed... we just might come to see that there are some things to discover, not only establish. The change we seek to instigate might first require a change in us. We will be used by God, and we will learn to know God in ways we never imagined.

He is bigger now. The world is smaller. His culture is not like what I had expected. My former way of life is a foreign culture... not just to Him... but to me, now, too.

Good bye.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rat Race

Sometimes I feel I'm in a rat race. The only thing is--I don't know when or how I joined. What is this rat race? It is this weird thing of trying to get the approval of others. And approval could be for anything:
  • Leading lots of people to Christ.
  • Being an amazing writer.
  • Speaking a strange language fluently.
  • Being a great Christian.
  • Planting a big and growing church.
  • Planting lots of churches.
  • Getting books published.
  • Reaching an unreached people group.
  • Doing big things with little or no money.
  • Being an impressive prayer warrior.
  • Being a sexy business leader.
  • Being "in touch" with technology.
  • Having thoughts no one else considered.
  • Being an incredible speaker/preacher.
  • Organizing successful events.
  • Knowing popular people.
  • Being a great parent.
  • Being artistic and creative.
I'm not talking about others who are trying to gain approval for these things. I'm talking about me. Me alone. For anything I try to do well I will find myself looking to see if someone is noticing. I will look to see if a crowd is gathering. I will look to see if they start applauding. I will get jealous when I see others are more successful... or more noticed. More applauded.

Lord, have mercy on me... I am a sinner!

Perhaps I should...

(to be continued)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blessing Trees

A story I shared after completing my first full year in The Location, many years ago...

It seems strange that I have already been in The Location for a year now. It was on November 6th last year when I waved goodbye to my father at the airport and boarded a plane headed for The Location. In many ways it seems like the year has gone by so quickly. In other ways it is hard to believe that I was able to cram everything I have done this past year into one year.

When I first visited The Location five years ago I remember walking down to a riverside with some missionaries who were hosting me. We passed a temple that had trees and bushes lining the entrance. At one point we all smelled a very fragrant scent and I wondered what produced it. The oldest missionary stopped and immediately pointed out the culprit--it was a flowering tree that emits an incredible fragrance in season. I thought it was very exotic and romantic.

Soon after I moved here permanently I bought a motorbike and would often drive it up and down a particular street in town, which is lined with trees. These trees are very big and extend well over the street. Every time I would drive by them I would feel a drop of water or two and I began to realize that it was dripping from the trees. I wondered if I was the only person who felt this, or if others did, too. On a scorching hot and sunny day a few drops of water was just enough to make me think of those trees as refreshing. It was kind of "romantically exotic" (like the fragrant tree), and I would look forward to driving under those trees each day. I thought of them as "blessing trees"—trees that were dripping with blessings for the weary traveler who takes refuge under their limbs. I imagined the water to be fragrant, like a natural perfume.

Many months later I was driving down that same road with a national friend of mine after playing basketball. He was sitting on the back of the motorbike while I was driving and as we drove under those trees I felt the water drip as before. I asked him, "Do you feel the drops of water when you drive under those trees?"

"Yes, I do," he answered.

"Do you know what it is?" I asked.

"Yes, I do. These trees have a certain kind of insect that lives in them. And the water drops that you feel are these insects urinating." Ha!

Well, that kind of took the whole "romantically exotic" feel out of it for me! I imagined natural perfume and in reality it was bug urine. Now I try to avoid that road. At least I didn't imagine it to be honey and drive under the trees with my mouth open! If nothing else, this makes for a great story when I tell it to The People. They think it is very funny, and I usually get some laughs out of it.

Some might compare this story to working on the field as a missionary. We are often exposed to the "romantically exotic" things about the field on our short trips and imagine some of the most wonderful things about what it would be like to live and work there. Then, when we move there and live there for a long time, we find out the truth of what it is like and we have a completely different feeling about living there. What we once thought of as "perfume" is now "urine," and we don't want any part of it.

Life "on the field" isn't as exciting and adventurous as one might assume from reading missionary books, or even my newsletters. Much of it is a lot of hard and "dull" work, and it can be easy to get the feeling of wanting to leave. That is culture shock. But if you stick it out, you begin to adjust, and you don't feel so uncomfortable as you did before when you were at your "low." That is when you decide, "You know, even bug urine is refreshing on a scorching hot sunny day!"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Prayer

"God, I know you can handle my accusations; but I cannot handle your response. You can handle me being like David; I cannot handle being like Job."

It Takes One To Know One

I heard this when I was a kid. When I called my sister a "pig" she would abruptly inform me: "It takes one to know one."

We all know and say that all sin is evil in God's eyes and no sin is better or worse than other sins. Still, some sins bother us more than others. A preacher can snap and in anger insult his ministry staff. Later he apologizes and is forgiven. But if that same preacher commits adultery with the deacon's college-aged daughter--he is fired. (We'll save this dicussion for another post, someday.)

Similar to pet-peeves regarding sin, there are certain kinds of character flaws I see in people that bother me more than others. When I see someone doing certain things or displaying a certain attitude it disturbs me more than other things that I might find more "forgiveable." Namely--arrogance and pride.

There is nothing I loathe more than arrogance. The problem is that I seem to run into it everywhere. Arrogance is the attitude of "I'm better than you." It is the opposite of what Paul commanded us to do in considering others better than ourselves. That would be humility. But humility seems hard to find.

I keep running into people who think they are better than me. No one considers me better than them. How arrogant of them! They should know I'm better than they are. They should treat me better! They should be praising me a lot more and seeing my value. They should ask me for my opinions instead of telling me theirs. How arrogant!

Oops. You see what I just did? I projected my own arrogance. Why do I think I recognize arrogance in other people so well? It takes one to know one. I recognize arrogance because I desire humility in others more than I desire it in myself.


If you work with small children you have undoubtedly had the experience where they do or show you something and you respond with, "Wow!"

Why do we do that? Is what the child did really that impressive? No, it is usually not. However, we want to show the child that we are impressed with them. Why? Because it makes them feel good--feel special--feel valuable.

Small children are too young to figure out that we are usually putting on a charade of being impressed. When we become adults we are offended by such pretense. However, that doesn't mean we don't still bask in the praise when we feel it is genuine.

Being "cool" is being impressive. A cool person is someone who impresses people in ways that people admire and aspire to be themselves. (I might impress you with my ability to juggle running chainsaws, but that still doesn't make me cool because chainsaw-juggling mastery is not a quality you would ever desire to attain.) In short, this is what a cool person is:

  1. A cool person is someone who is usually good-looking. If they are not naturally good-looking, then they usually do something "stylish" with their hair, clothes or appearance.
  2. A cool person is someone who knows what's up. While they might not be the smartest person around, they certainly know about pop culture or what's going on in respect to the community of people they're a part of.
  3. A cool person is someone who other people love and want to be around. They usually have a crowd of people around them at most times, usually praising them.
  4. A cool person is someone who is funny. They know how to make people laugh.
One more thing about cool people: They aren't impressed with much.

That's right--if you are going to be impressive, it means that you aren't all that impressed with many other people. Only a select few if any.

How "impressed" we are with another person usually indicates how we view them. They aren't the same thing, but they are related. If we have the ability to look at people who aren't impressive to anyone, and see something about which to be impressed, then we are far along the road to loving them.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If you have unconditional "agape" love then you don't need to be impressed by someone before you love them. True. But this can also become a dangerous road to arrogant pity, too, if we don't learn to see the intrinsic value in these "unimpressive people" by considering them better than ourselves. (Please read my post The Arrogance of Agape Love.)

What happens when we have a "cool" Christian preacher, church-planter, worship leader, author or missionary? It usually means that they aren't that impressed with other preachers, planters, leaders, writers or missionaries. It also usually means that they aren't very impressed with the people they're serving but are very interested in making people impressed with them. It usually means that while they would love to sign people up as their supporters or followers, they really don't think these people could do what they're doing half as well. And it shows.

I think it would do us well to take a look at the people around us. Are there people impressed with us? If so, is it because they are worshipping a talented-cool person? Or is it a reflection of the fact that we're impressed with them and they therefore feel valued by us and special in our eyes?

Which do you think is more transformational?