Ice Buckets, and Giving, and What it Means to Really Make a Difference

If you’ve been on any type of social media in the last week, you are probably aware of the ice bucket challenge for ALS awareness.

I figured it was only a matter of time before it got around to us, and sure enough, on Tuesday, a couple of people in our church had challenged Jason and I to participate.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s, is a horrible, cruel, ugly, undiscriminating disease that preys on young and old alike. One of my favorite high school teachers lost her daughter, a sweet, vibrant girl I loved, and picked up from school a few times, to ALS. Watching her go from a strong, healthy, normal teenager to being wheelchair-bound is the definition of life not being fair.

I am glad that people are learning about, talking about, and spending money to fight ALS. And while there are some legitimate questions being raised about how much this challenge actually helps people with ALS, concerns over what kind of research the money actually funds, and objections from people who support other important causes, like clean water in third-world countries, it’s hard to argue with the numbers: as of yesterday, the ice bucket challenge had raised $31.5 million for ALS research, a 1600-percent increase over what was given during the same period last year.

So it’s good that people are giving to ALS. I’m not saying that those millions of dollars for ALS do not matter. It’s fun and easy to give in ways that seem tangible and concrete like this. In July, our church brought in one of our largest monthly Cause offerings to replace the small, falling-apart backpacks of our school district’s weekend feeding program. Your generosity was noticed by our community, and those who work closely with these hungry kids were moved by our gift.

But when I see pictures of the backpacks we bought, and watch videos of people participating in the ice bucket challenge–things that I think are noble and good and important–there’s this part of my brain that is still ringing with the words that Dick Brogden spoke at the AG Centennial simulcast:

“Dollars for one-time sexy projects can seduce us, that we slide from the greatest impact of missions giving: monthly support for boots-on-the-ground missionaries. And if your church is not regularly, sacrificially, giving to support missionaries around the world, you are not in spirit Assemblies of God. Call yourself whatever you want, but you cannot in truth be part of this fellowship if your budget does not prioritize the mission of God in the uttermost places of the earth.”

I think feeding kids in Ozark matters. I think raising money for ALS research matters. I would never argue otherwise.

Unfortunately, the sobering truth is that a lot of the projects we give to that make us feel that we are helping, and making a difference, do not really have the impact on the needy that we think they do. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity, offers this sobering indictment of our benevolence: “As compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served” (p. 5).

However, even supposing that all charitable projects and dollars were achieving everything we hoped they would, it’s hard for me to swallow just how difficult it is to inspire generosity for projects that don’t put something tangible in our hands but matter, perhaps, a great deal more. Because, after all, if we put food in the bellies of hungry kids or save the life of someone suffering with ALS, but never tell that person about the love of Jesus, have we really helped them? And what about the millions of people around the world who have yet to even hear the name of Jesus? Aren’t they worth our dollars, and Facebook activism, and even our lives?

My friends Sam and Lisa Paris think they are. Which is why they are taking their family to Tanna, Vanuatu to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are forsaking the familiar, losing physical comfort, and putting themselves on the line for the sake of the gospel. What they are getting ready to do as a family requires sacrifices that most of us cannot even fathom.

If I take a bucket of ice water and pour it over my head, afterwards, I can go inside and towel off, throw my wet clothes in an electric-powered washing machine, take a hot shower, and snuggle up in a blanket on the couch in my climate-controlled home.

The Parises won’t have easy access to those luxuries in Vanuatu. However, they consider these sacrifices worthwhile. And because I know them, I can say with confidence that they are even a little bit excited about the adventure they’re embarking upon as a family because they know that the things they are exchanging–those temporary, earthly comforts–are worth giving up when you compare them to the importance of adding just one more person to the kingdom of God.

They have taken Paul’s words to heart: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Our church has the awesome privilege of partnering with Sam and Lisa this month with our CAUSE monies. Not all of us are called to go to Vanuatu. Some of us are called to other places. And some of us are called to stay right where we are and be faithful with the influence God has given us here. But what is wonderful is that even though you and I will likely never see the tribesmen and women of Tanna, we can contribute to them hearing the name of Jesus for the first time by funding Sam and Lisa’s missionary budget.

The single most effective way to engineer lasting change in a community is not through drop-in aid, or one-time projects, but through the consistent, enduring efforts of people who make their homes and build their lives within that community. This is the work of a missionary. That is what Sam and Lisa and their kids are going to Vanuatu to do. Their vision is to establish a long-term ministry in Vanuatu that will continue beyond their lifetimes, providing education, healthcare, and most importantly, knowledge of Jesus Christ to the Ni-Vanuatu people.

Missions is important to the heart of God. It’s important to our church. And it’s important to me and Jason as a family. When we received the ice bucket challenge a couple of days ago, we made a donation to ALS, and we started talking about what it really means to make a difference. As we watched video after video of people publicly participating in this challenge, Jason said casually, “what if people did this for missions?”

His question kept me awake most of the night. What if people did this for missions? What if we did this for missions?

So, since people apparently want to see me and Jason freezing and soaking wet, we offer the following challenge to the people of our church: 

If you give $1200 to Sam and Lisa by the end of the month, we will do the ice bucket challenge, at our church building, in front of all of you. Twelve hundred dollars is the equivalent of supporting the Parises at $100 a month for a year, or $25 a month for an entire four-year term. Many of you have given to ALS in the last few weeks. We gave more than this as a church for backpacks last month. We can give this much to see people come to know Jesus. In fact, I cannot think of any more important way to spend our dollars.

Twelve hundred dollars, by August 31, and you’ll get to see your pastors drenched in ice water.

Are you up for the challenge?

Thinking Orange: Why parents MUST be a part of what our church does for kids

Baby dedicationJason wrote a couple of days ago about why if you ask us what our church has for your kids, the best response we can give is “We have you!” Let me explain a little bit about why we’re so passionate about seeing parents as the most important resource the church has to offer our kids:

One of the most memorable and profound books that Jason and I read as we were on our journey towards church planting was Think Orange. It talks about the importance of integrating the family and the church into ministry. That’s the whole reason behind the title – if you picture the church as light (yellow) and the home as a heart (red), when you mix them together you get orange. (I’ve been paying attention during Sesame Street’s lessons about colors.)

One of the most paradigm-shifting things that I read in that book was the vast difference between the amount of time a church gets with a kid versus the amount of time they spend under their parents’ influence:

Reggie Joiner says: “At best, with those who attended our church consistently, we would only have about forty hours in a given year to influence a child. When we calculated holidays, sick days, custody issues, sports, vacations, and other factors, we realized how limited our time with children really was. The same fourth-grader who would spend nearly four hundred hours playing video games and studying math would spend forty hours in our environments with our teachers and leaders. That same day we calculated another number that shocked us: the amount of time the average parent had to spend with their children. It was three thousand hours in a single year” (Think Orange, 85, emphasis added).

We had suspected the limits of our influence with the teenagers in our youth group before we read this book. The longer we were in ministry, the more we noticed that most kids, for better or for worse, became the type of Christians their parents were. We had a handful of kids who went through rebellious stages. But those that came from solid, godly homes seemed to find the right path again eventually. And we had some kids who came from non-Christian homes, or homes with marginal faith who were wildly passionate about the Lord throughout their time in our youth group. It was incredibly disheartening to see those same kids walk away from the church just a short time after graduating high school.

Of course, there were a few who broke this mold, but in most cases the influence of the parents prevailed.

If that alone doesn’t convince you of the enormous amount of responsibility that we as parents have to teach, disciple, and model Christ-like love to our kids, consider these words of Moses as he was giving the law to the Israelites:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

And so, as Jason and I sensed that God was leading us away from youth ministry (towards what, we didn’t know yet, exactly), we started asking each other – what if there was a way for us to reach the entire family? If we could see teenagers come to faith in the Lord and never walk away from it by reaching their parents?

Over the years, somehow the church (hopefully on accident) has communicated to parents that the spiritual education of their children is best left up to the “professionals,” that they didn’t go to Bible school and that some things are just beyond them. Best to let the pastor handle that. But not only will this mentality severely limit the amount of time that your kids have a chance to absorb Biblical knowledge and principles, it goes expressly against what the Bible teaches.

The responsibility to raise godly children rests squarely on the shoulders of the parents.

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I know this is intimidating. I get it. I’m a mom, and we’re even pastors, and sometimes, when we look at our two little boys, the thought of shepherding them into adults who love and follow Jesus seems like an overwhelming responsibility. We’re in the same boat as you, just trying our best as we go, trusting God’s grace to fill in the gaps, and praying for them as hard as we can.

And that’s where the church comes in. Not to raise your kids into godly adults for you, but to stand beside you and offer you tools to accomplish that. Our responsibility is to come alongside your family, to resource you, to show you what it means to really follow God, so that you can model that for your children.

That’s why we will always insist that godly parents are the very best way to reach kids for Jesus. In your homes, in your daily conversations, in your regular faithfulness to follow God in front of them. When it comes to kids ministry, the best thing we have is YOU.

My favorite summer salad

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Back in May, Jason and I did another Whole30. We did it quietly, without a lot of fuss, as a way of resetting some of the bad habits we’d slipped back into since January. I say it was a Whole30, but it was really more like a Whole14. The first two weeks we did really well, but towards the end of the month, as we were being bombarded with graduation parties, wedding showers, and holidays, it got a little more difficult to stick to the plan.

But the reset served its purpose. We remembered how good we feel when we aren’t consuming very much sugar, and which foods are more likely to make us feel kind of icky after we eat them.

While we were sticking to the plan, I ate this salad several times. Even when we aren’t doing the Whole30, it’s one of my favorite lunches, and I could eat it a few times a week (and I try to, when I can find good avocados.) It’s super simple, super tasty, and extremely good for you. It makes enough to share, but if you’re really hungry, as I frequently am when I get home from my job at the library, it’s not too much for one person.

Mix:
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
1 diced avocado
1 diced apple

Sprinkle that with a little squeeze of lemon, and a little pinch of salt (coarse sea salt is best, but whatever you’ve got is fine) Stir it all up, and enjoy!

To the new momma who is questioning every decision she is making this morning

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Mom-ing is hard.

It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.

Not only is the carrying, the feeding, the tucking back into bed several times, the answering endless “why?”s, and the stepping on legos in the middle of the night physically and mentally taxing, but the emotional merry-go-round of wondering “Am I doing this thing the right way?” is enough to make anyone crazy.

We wonder, us moms, should the apple have been organic? Should I have tried harder to breastfeed? If I buy plastic containers for my kid’s lunchbox will that give them cancer? Will it make them feel entitled if I spend $40.00 on the stainless steel bento box? Should my kids be watching less TV? Or more educational programming? Should I be working harder with them on learning their colors? Or should I let it go and encourage more free play while they are little? Should we just let them sleep in bed with us? If we send them back to bed, will that make them feel insecure about our love? Or if we let them sleep with us will they ever learn to sleep on their own? Will my kid ever like anything besides potato chips and hot dogs? Should I try harder to make them eat vegetables? Should we be giving our kids an allowance? If we make them earn money doing chores, will that give them a strong work ethic? Or will it make them think they don’t have to pitch in and do chores without being compensated?

And that’s just scratching the surface, isn’t it, mommas?

I think it’s hardest when we are brand-new to being a mom, and the barrage of choices that we have to make upfront or completely ruin our children forever is totally overwhelming. But I’ve been at this for four years (which is not forever, but a still a good little chunk of time) and I frequently struggle with self-doubt in a lot of the daily parenting decisions I have to make.

If you think a newborn baby’s cry is heart-wrenching, then you’ve never seen a two-and-half-year-old clap his hand over his mouth in despair and collapse into tears in the doorway because we asked him to go back to bed by himself, as Garret did a couple of nights ago. It broke my heart to watch him cry. Maybe he knows that, and that’s why he did it. And maybe he’s just still a sweet little baby who needs his mama. Maybe I should snuggle him every night before bed, and maybe I should toughen up and teach him to soothe himself a little better. I still don’t know the answer to that one.

But let me give you one simple tool to make some of the other (plentiful) decisions that come with parenting a little bit easier:

Whatever way you decide to parent your children, that will become the “right” way to them.

Think back to the first time you lived away from home with someone who was not a part of your immediate family. Chances are they did some things differently. Maybe they folded towels in thirds instead of halves, or cut sandwiches into triangles instead of squares. Maybe they had a different method of cleaning the sink or slicing an apple.

And if you ask them why they did it that way, I would bet you that their response was this simple phrase: “That’s how my mom always did it.”

Whenever you second-guess yourself today, picture your children twenty years from now, defending they way you did something simply because you are their mom. The way you wipe the counters or make oatmeal raisin cookies or teach them to tie their shoes will eventually be the default, or perhaps even the only way to do those things in your kids’ minds.

I’ll say it again: whatever way you decide to parent your children, that will become the “right” way to them.

So relax a little bit today, momma. You’re doing this right.

Freedom

God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above. 

I was at a church service on 4th of July weekend a number of years ago, where we sang this, along with a handful of other patriotic hymns, such as America the Beautiful and Battle Hymn of the Republic. About halfway through the set of songs, I looked around the room and was surprised to see a number of people with their hands in the air.

I’m from a charismatic background, so it’s not strange or surprising to me to see people lifting their hands as they sing a worship song. But we weren’t singing worship songs. At least not to Jesus.

Are these people even listening to what they’re singing? I wondered. Are we so accustomed to raising our hands simply because a song is slow and moving, that we’ll do it no matter what the song is about? Or are they intentionally raising their hands to this land, this nation, this government that was formed by human hands?

Neither answer makes me feel any better. In fact, both are terrifying. Whether we are worshiping America on accident or on purpose, it’s still idolatry.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love this county. I will help my kids play with sparklers in the driveway today, and then go see a fireworks display later tonight. I will have my hand right next to my beating heart if they pledge allegiance to our flag, or if they sing the national anthem. I will probably cry if they play “God Bless America.”

I count myself blessed to have been born under the stars and stripes, a nation affluent enough that we never went hungry, even when we were poor, and progressive enough that I received a free education even though I am woman. It’s not because of anything good that I did that I was born an American. I am so very, very blessed. And I love this nation that I call my “home” for now.

But I love my Jesus more. 

If America fall apart tomorrow, I won’t lose my identity, because I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

If God calls my family to leave America to proclaim the gospel in a foreign land, we’ll be okay, because we are already strangers and aliens in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

And if I begin losing the civil liberties that are currently afforded me as an American, it doesn’t matter, because I am free in a way that has nothing to do with the Bill of Rights (2 Corinthians 3:17).

If in the days to come, the government begins to take away from me my free speech, my right to peaceably assemble, my right to bear arms, my protection against unlawful search and seizure, even my right to vote, it’s not going to shake the core of who I am. Jesus promised us that in this world we would face trouble, and that if we choose to follow him, people will hate us in the same way that they hated him (John 15:18).

For today, my right to worship whatever God I choose is protected under our government. But if that went away tomorrow, if the government decided that my proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord was grounds for my detainment, torture, or even execution, I would be okay because I have already died with Christ (Colossians 3:3).

I will celebrate America today. I’ll read my kids the Declaration of Independence and teach them about the America our forefathers envisioned.

But freedom? I will celebrate that every day. Because my freedom doesn’t come from the White House. It comes from Calvary.

 

Broken

A quick word search through a concordance reveals that “broken” appears numerous times in the Bible.

Vows were broken. Commands were broken. People were broken under the burden of slavery, until God broke the yoke that hung heavy on their necks. The Sabbath was broken.  Vessels deemed unclean had to be broken to keep the Israelite people holy before their God. When people sinned, sometimes God’s wrath broke out upon them.  Altars to foreign gods were built and then broken down by the few righteous among Israel and Judah’s kings.

Brokenness is everywhere in this fallen world.

Brokenness found its way into our home at 5:30 on a Tuesday evening, when my four-year-old Caleb slipped on the railing of his bed and snapped his humerus clean in two.

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We both knew something was really wrong right away, and sobbing in the kitchen as I assessed his injury, he cried out, “Mommy, I’m breaking.”

I was too.

As much as we try to prepare for the hard moments, the moments where our faith proves itself, we are never quite ready to stand and face tragedy head-on when it strikes. We work hard to protect ourselves against it. When it comes, we resist it, we try to run from it.

I’m so thankful that’s not what Christ did.

“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

He broke the bread. And then he allowed his own body to be broken. Why?

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In my heart, I knew this, but my mind raced on ahead with concerns, both trivial and serious:  What if he needs surgery? How will we bear that? How will we afford it? Will his arm ever be the same? Will we be able to swim at all this summer?

As I drove home down the highway from the doctor, wildflowers in brilliant blue, purple, yellow, and white greeted me from the small strip of grass in the median. And the words of Jesus came to me unbidden: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:30-32).

And Bebo Norman was singing loud on my stereo: “If you offer up your broken cup, you will taste the meaning of this life.”

I wouldn’t choose this brokenness, but Christ did, so that I might be made whole.

I wouldn’t choose a flawed offering to the Lord, but God accepts it, and remakes me into something that displays his glory.

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It would be easier, safer from here on out, to bundle Caleb up, to cover him in pads head to toe, to prohibit activity that includes any kind of risk, to protect him from being broken again. He could exist safely in a cocoon of his momma’s making. But he wouldn’t really live. It’s riskier, of course, to keep offering yourself, brave and vulnerable in a world where bones, bodies, hearts can be broken. But it’s through the brokenness, the vulnerability, the fragility of life, that God reveals his power in us.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

I don’t really want to carry around death in my body. But if that is how the life of Jesus is revealed in me, so be it. And we can trust God as we journey through this broken world. I don’t know what kind of brokenness you’re facing this morning, but I know this: God never abandons us. I know he doesn’t leave us alone in our brokenness, but instead entered into it with us. And I know that God, who raised Christ from the dead, is able to bring his resurrection power to bear in your life today.

“Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” Hosea 6:1

 

Embrace beauty, plant churches

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Last week, I posted about a cool opportunity you have to buy something cute for yourself, or the women in your life, and support our church at the same time. Well, today I’m so excited to show you what you’ll get if you purchase something from Joy’s Etsy shop this month.

She was kind enough to send me a few samples to show to you guys, and they couldn’t be cuter. First of all, they came in this adorable packaging. You can’t see it really well in the picture above (I’m a terrible photographer, sorry!) but they come clipped to pretty paper, wrapped up in a little bag, and with a tag that says “Embrace beauty, plant churches.” What a lovely message for a lovely product!

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Of all the flowers Joy sent, I think this vintage-inspired rosette is probably my favorite. The flower is made of a burlap-type fabric and is a pin. This would be super-cute pinned to a blazer or bag.

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This one is the Brown Rolled Flower with Chevron Leaf. It’s also a pin, which means you can use it lots of different ways. I’m trying to think of something I can pin it to in my house, because the brown and chevron goes with a lot that I have.

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This Chevron flower is another one I was really excited to see in person. It has a hair-clip type fixture on the back, so this could be worn as a hair accessory, and the neutral colors would go with a lot. I actually saw someone on a TV show wearing a similar clip in her hair yesterday. It was super cute, and I think I might try to do that soon.

You’ve probably noticed that everything Joy sent me is in neutral colors, but that’s just because that’s what struck my fancy. If something a little more colorful is up your alley, she has a lot of things that you might love like this necklace or these little barrettes.

And don’t forget, a portion of the proceeds from every order this month will go to Life360 church’s Ozark Campus. Thanks for your support, and thanks again to Joy for her generous heart!