Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

You have to stop and read this! Cassidy is a young member of the Body of Christ, but her voice is already powerful and the Spirit of God is strong in her.  And she tells the truth.  She is special to us for many reasons, but let’s just all give thanks for her and for all the other teens who really love God with all their heart! Their devotion and commitment encourage our hope  for tomorrow.

20130621_171423Teenager. The word teenager makes some people nervous.  Loud, strange music. Weird clothes.  Completely different vocabulary.  Teenagers have the reputation of being concerned about clothes, popularity, dating, reputation and having fun. But if you’ve spent time with teenagers at The Hills lately, I think you’ll be surprised! And I mean surprised in a good way! Most of the students I know are concerned about the world—we want to make a difference. We care about friends, family, school, making the most of our lives and even missions. We want to stand out but not for our clothes or our music or even for what we say. We want to stand out because of what we do.  We want our lives to reflect Christ and we want to make Him look good. We aren’t afraid to do big things for God and we love being at a church that encourages us to dream big!

I was born into a family that loves the church and loves international mission work.  I’m 14 years old and I’ve been to 11 countries on 5 continents to share Jesus with people who don’t know Him. My parents and my 2 younger brothers and I went on a Let’s Start Talking project to Italy this past summer where we helped people practice English using the Bible—we went with 2 of our friends who also go to The Hills. Last summer I was on a team to Rwanda with several families from The Hills. God has definitely given me lots of adventurous ways to serve Him with our church family.  And each adventure has helped me grow closer to Him.

In July of 2011, I went on a 3 week LST project with my mom, my brothers and some family friends to Natal, Brazil.  Let me confess something…I was a brat.  I had just turned 12 years old and, honestly, I had not been very kind to my family for a while.  I don’t know why but I was just always frustrated with them and my brothers were really, really annoying to me all the time.  I left the USA dreading this non-stop time with my family. I don’t know exactly what happened to me on our mission trip but I came back changed.  I returned loving our time together and being grateful for my family. I had been baptized a couple of years earlier but the Holy Spirit was really working on my heart during those 3 weeks.

I had been on several mission trips before this one but this would be my very first time to read the Bible alone with people.  There I sat, 12 years old, across from 5 different non-Christians ranging in age from a 11-year-old Brazilian boy to a 52-year-old woman who was practicing Spiritism. I didn’t know it but my mom would sit across the room praying for me, reminding herself that the Spirit in me was stronger than anything in this woman.  Maybe that’s the beauty of being young and innocent—I wasn’t intimidated at all—only the usual nervousness of meeting someone new and sharing Jesus with them.  The Bible says that God can use the weak and overlooked of this world to show His wisdom and power (1 Corinthians 1).  Who would choose a 12-year-old bratty girl to share Jesus with a Spiritist over 4 times older? God, of course!

If you want to change your child or grandchild’s life, take them to do mission work.  You don’t even have to go to another country! There are people in this city who don’t know Jesus! There are people in your neighborhood who don’t have hope! And if you can take them to another country, go! There is something life-changing about spending every day for 3 weeks focused on the Good News of Jesus. It’s hard to be unkind to your family when you’ve read the story of Jesus with people all day.  It’s tough to be a brat after you’ve shared your faith with a stranger. And when you read about how great God’s love is, you want to love people even more.

Even little brothers.

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Birthday_candlesToday is my birthday. Not a big deal—I’ve had a lot of them—but still, a birthday is a good day for reflection.

As far as I know, there is only one reference to a birthday in Scripture and that is a mention of Pharaoh’s birthday in the story of Joseph found in Genesis 40:20. It must have been hard for people to even know the day of their birth before access to calendars was common.  Calendars have been around since the beginnings of history. God gave the Jews a calendar in order to celebrate feast days remembering their exodus from Egypt, but apparently the average person didn’t really know the exact day of their birth.

In medieval times, I’ve read that people celebrated the saint’s day for which they were named—which probably was the same as the day of their birth. So, for instance, St. Mark’s feast day is April 25, so that would be my day of celebration each year instead of October 23. If my parents had followed medieval traditions, I’d be named Hilarion after St. Hilarion (291-371), one of the earliest monastics. I think I like Mark better!

I was actually named after a very saintly man named Mark Armstrong, who was one of my dad’s best friends. I met him several times as a boy, but have always known that he was a good man and a devoted Christian.

One of the lists that people like to make on their birthdays is of all the things that have changed since they were born. The frequency of change in our times is almost more than we can keep up with, so one of my thoughts this morning has been to make a list of things that have not changed since I was born. Here are a few of my thoughts:

People are still frantically trying to find security. One of my earliest memories is of the people next door who had built a bomb shelter and stockpiled it with canned goods in case of atomic war. And, yes, I do remember the notorious school drills of hiding under our desks to protect us from bombs. I used to wonder if we had enough aluminum foil to cover all our windows. Today, we are more afraid of economic destruction, but I suspect our sheltering strategies are about as flimsy as those bomb shelters would have been.

People still need to be loved. Today the hot issue is same-sex marriage. As a child the big issue was divorce first, then the question of remarriage. Modern Family is quite different from The Partridge Family or Leave It To Beaver but then not so much in each family members need to belong to others and to love and be loved within that relationship.

Our lives are still framed by birth and death. I was the oldest of five children, so I remember the excitement of the day each of my siblings was born. I remember the birth of younger cousins, and, of course, you never forget the births of your own children—and then our nine grandchildren!!  As you get older, your calendar of special birthdays can really fill up!  But then, it starts to empty as well.

My first real experience with death was a boy in my class in elementary school named Guy who drowned in a municipal swimming pool.  Then my grandparents started dying while I was in high school and college. A very close college friend died in a light plane crash when I was in my twenties. Older aunts and uncles died during my 30’s. My dad died when I was 41. Sherrylee’s mother died eight years later. It was hard to lose them.

In just the last couple of years we have lost some close friends of our own age—that’s a real shock. Sherrylee’s sister Linda died of early-onset Altzeimer’s. I have watched my Mom who is now 90 lose almost all of her friends at church, so I start thinking, yes, that time of life has begun.  We may live a little longer now than centuries before—sometimes a blessings, sometimes I wonder—but our lives are still framed by birth and death.

God is still God. Jesus loves me, this I know! Security, love, and eternal life,  everything that we long for, that we work for, that we fight for—everything is found in Him.  I’m so thankful today for parents who taught me about God, for Sister Tew—the first Sunday school teacher I remember at the Riverside Church, for Beryl Hooten, who asked me one Sunday if I was ready to follow Jesus, for Alex Humphrey, my first Bible teacher at Fort Worth Christian,  for great teachers at Harding, for Owen Olbright who invited me to do mission work in the Northeast, for Joe Hacker who encouraged us to become missionaries, and for the many Christians who have continued to teach and encourage and walk with us right up to today.

And I’m unspeakably—deeply thankful for my wife Sherrylee, who has not only been my soulmate—the one I love more than my own life—but my teacher, my confessor, the one who has kept me honest before God. Her love is the most physical expression of God’s love in my life.

Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God My Father!


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baby with glassesWhich sites do you read regularly on the web?  I read the headlines from many sites, but I rarely slow down long enough to actually read a whole post or article unless there is something really special or interesting that turns me around!

I thought I would share with you today some of the sites that I often (not always) make it a point to read, ones that you may or may not already be reading as well.

Let’s start with the bigger, better known sites. I read Belief Blog on the CNN site quite often, especially for current issues, but also to read intelligent counterpoint to what I believe to be true.  Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi are co-editors of the sight. Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University and author of numerous books, is a frequent contributor.  Some recent titles are “Satanists Square Off on Abortion. (Yes, really!), “The Belief Blog guide to Ramadan,” and “Behold, the Six Types of Atheists.”  I do want to warn you that the comments to each post can be addictive, but they also are often egregiously sarcastic or cynical.

By the way, I did search Fox News for a religiously oriented blog and did not find anything. Just for those of you who think CNN is from the devil.

Staying in the commercial arena, I receive and read parts of Christianity Today Direct almost every day, Not only is one exposed to the best of the articles from the monthly magazine version, but since, it seems most denominations are moving toward the center, that is, neither extremely liberal theologically and certainly not extremely fundamental, Christianity Today and its writers find themselves writing to and for many readers other than their traditional evangelical audience. In these daily gleanings, one gets a little news, reviews of pop culture, as well as a daily article that addresses either a current event or a current religious issue.  You will not often be offended, though you will be challenged—not a bad combination.

Now to a couple of blogs from the private sphere which you probably are not reading, but that I find engaging, notwithstanding that the two are very different.

Accompanying the current trending toward The Book of Revelation, 7 Subversive Letters, a blog by Dr. Richard Oster, is scholarly, thoughtful, and insightful—and absolutely accessible. Dr. Oster is a New Testament professor at Harding School of Theology in Memphis. What I especially enjoy are the enlightening glimpses of historical artifacts that Dr. Oster uses to expand one’s understanding of the already challenging book.  He is also not afraid to challenge popularly held ideas. I suspect this particular blog grew out of his readings and writings for his latest book Seven Congregations In a Roman Crucible. (I like the title of the blog better!)  If you try this blog, try more than one before you decide to subscribe regularly.

And, finally, I want to risk all kinds of hoots and hollers by recommending to you New Vintage Leadership, an excellent blog by my son-in-law Dr. Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vintage Church in Escondido, California.  Of course I’m biased, but I’m not the only one because his blog on church leadership is very popular. As you could find out yourself with a little research, his early blogging was more personal. A couple of years ago, in conjunction with the launch of a new church planting in Escondido, he decided to focus his writing on church leadership.  Tim is especially good with practical advice in areas of administration and organization. Since such topics rarely surface in seminary courses, ministers find his writing especially helpful. As a ministry leader myself, I think the same would be true for anyone in a leadership position.

On Fridays, Tim treats his readers to “Friday Stream of Consciousness,” a panoply of thoughts that give you an insight into his person. These little snatches of thought I find a bit unique and quite beneficial to this kind of focused blog which otherwise could have been just as impersonal as many other blogs.

Well, try some of these—and if you like them, tell them that Mark sent you!

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SLet's Star13061709260_0001My dad died 24 years ago this month at the age of 69.  A couple of days ago, my sister gave me a photocopy of an outline of his life in his own handwriting—which was fascinating.

I don’t know if it was after he knew he was sick or whether it was something he was thinking about—as all of us do at this point in life—but he was obviously thinking about writing the story of his life, and these were the notes he was making to himself of what happened along the way.

Dad used the working title “Of Days That Used to Be”—a little dramatic for my tastes, but, then it was just a working title!

He started with “1918 – HSW & MWL married in Glasco, Kansas”. The initials, of course, identify his parents Hanson Sumner Woodward and Mary Wilhelmina Lampert. 

Dad was an only child, so he always had a very close relationship to his parents. My dad only got one week of vacation each year, but for most of my childhood, there was no question but that our annual family excursion was to drive through the night to Kansas to visit his parents. And when Granddad Woodward died in 1963, Grandma Woodward came to Texas to live with us for last eight years of her life.  Dad was a devoted son.

Dad duly notes his own birth on February 23, 1920, the death of his grandmother in 1922, and a family trip to Colorado in 1924, certainly important family events, but ones that he probably only remembered as heard from his parents.

Dad loved learning!  It must have started early because the next most important years for his memoirs are his years in elementary school. He listed all of his teachers by name—except his fourth grade teacher who must have been very unimpressive not to make the list:  Mrs. Capron and Miss Bruner (1st grade), Miss Pierce (2nd grade), Delma Nowella (3rd grade—and who remembers their third grade teachers first name???) Pauline Olmstead (5th grade), Edna Erickson (6th grade), and O.W. Cobb (7th grade).

Dad does drop a few subscripts into his notes about getting whooping cough and “Lindbergh” in 1927. I don’t know if we have American heroes like Charles Lindbergh anymore!

From 1932, when he was 12, to the end of high school, he tended to list activities that he loved doing. In his own shorthand, he writes: “ play – baseball —  reading” .  If I had to describe my years 12-15, I might have made the same list!! Pretty interesting.

He notes a few personalities “Joe L (Joe Louis), Babe R (no explanation needed!) Lindbergh kidnapping”  but those were all afterthoughts in his notes, after “play – baseball – reading”.

In 1933, he adds electricity and in 1934, he added radio to his lists of interests and activities.  Hold on to that—because he did for the rest of his life.

After graduating from high school, he lists the following for 1938:  Teaching (his first job), Dating (first outings, I’m sure), and ’29 Chevy (first car).  The relationship of those three items is pretty obvious, isn’t it!!

Most Americans would say that WWII broke out in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but the word War makes his list in 1939—the year Hitler actually began WWII with the invasion of Poland.

Dad left teaching at his one-room Kansas schoolhouse in 1941 to go to Radio School in Kansas City, which is where he roomed with J.P. Lyles from Justin, Texas, who had a picture of his little sister on his desk, a Texas girl named Daisy with beautiful red hair.  The single entry that recurs every year from 1941-1945 is Daisy, ending with “married Daisy” and “war ends” –kind of a humorous juxtaposition that Dad would have definitely inserted purposefully. He had a great, but subtle sense of humor.

1946 – Converted . He took his faith very seriously and while he had always been a believer, even a church goer as a boy and young man, his word converted probably describes his new lifelong commitment.SLet's Star13061709260_0002

From this point on in his outline, it is pretty sketchy. I don’t know where the detail went, but it is mostly the birth of children and family moves.  He does include, however, the planting of the Eastridge Church of Christ in 1953, of which we were part, and Fort Worth Christian’s (FWC) beginning in 1958.  I know that these two events were BIG events in our family, moments when Dad’s faith was stretched and he grew. I believe that’s why they are in this list.

Mom and Dad were pretty young in 1953, and Dad was pretty new at commitment, yet he took on teaching responsibilities at the new Eastridge church, teaching jr. high boys for years—which was no easy task.  He became an elder sometime in the late 50s or early 60’s, just before Eastridge merged with other congregations to become the Midtown Church of Christ, where he continued to serve through that transition.

His outline ends in 1961, something I would explain with the fact that in 1965, my dad’s life changed drastically. He lost his job, lost his health, and became severely depressed. No doctors, no treatments, nothing really fully restored Dad to the physical or mental health that he had earlier enjoyed.

When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer (mesothelioma) in 1989, it was another bitter disappointment—the last one—that he had to deal with. I know that he had had bigger ambitions, bigger expectations for himself, but starting with his polio in 1930, his life had not been that easy.  This last and final disappointment could have hardened his heart.

I’m so happy to write the momentary conclusion of his story though for him because I know that he was faithful to the end.  As death came closer and after he had no more voice for words, he wrote on his notepad. “My Jesus, as Thou Wilt”

A few years back I had one of those dreams that is so vivid that I sometimes call it my vision.  I die in that dream and as I approach heaven, I see my dad running to meet me. I never saw my dad run because of his polio-inflicted lameness, so I know that this image is of a new time—and that his story did not conclude at the Prairie Mound Cemetery.

I look forward to running to see him too!HEW 

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rocking chairIf your church is putting the Boomers out to pasture, you are making a big mistake!

Yes, I am one of the oldest Boomers, and I’d like at least to speak out for almost forty million Boomers born in the first half of the Boomer years (1946-1955), and what I say is probably true for the other 40 million born in the last half of the Boomer cycle (1956-1964).  Almost eighty million Boomers!

Here’s how you will know if your church is putting Boomers out to pasture:

  • You move your preaching minister out at age 59 for someone younger to attract a younger demographic.
  • You decide to disregard the preferred worship styles of everyone over 50.
  • No one over 50 teaches anyone younger than 50 in your educational program.
  • Your “senior” ministry is mostly eating and social activities, carrying for the sick and home-bound, and singing “foot-stomping” gospel songs.

 One out of every four persons in the United States is a Boomer!  And the percentage in your church is probably much higher because the Boomers, though some wandered off momentarily during the 60s,  returned to their churches shortly thereafter and have been faithful, though less traditional than their parents ever since.  Can you really afford to dismiss one out four people in the general population?

Another reason not to dismiss the Boomers is because they aren’t going to quit working! Sixty-seven percent say they are either delaying retirement or will never retire!  Every church longs for more involvement and investment of time by its members. Who has more time?  The younger dads and moms with three kids under 12, trying to grow their career and their family?  The parents of teenagers, trying to both work while running between school activities and ball games?  Or the empty-nester Boomers?

Here’s another reason not to ignore your Boomers:  “The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday” (Pew Research Center 2011).   Another source cited, “Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumer spending.”

So let’s talk about who gives!  And let’s talk about who will continue to give over the next 10-20 years!  According to the Convio study (2010), the average Boomer contributes $901 per year, whereas a Gen Xer gives $796, and a Gen Yer  $341 per year.  Even though the individual difference between the Boomer and GenXer is not amazingly large, when you multiply that difference by the difference in group numbers, it makes a big difference! The annual total for Boomers is 47.1 billion compared to $28.68 billion for GenXers.

What I’m saying is that if you are already dismissing the Boomers, putting them out to pasture, then you are ignoring or retiring the most numerous and the most charitable people in your church, and those who have the most disposable time!

These are likely people who invented the word anti-establishment but who are probably still loyal to their tribe!  Also, while being very sympathetic and eager to support the social justice causes about which their children care so deeply, the Boomers are still evangelistic and understand the need to carry the Gospel in word as well as deed.

Every generation has to pass the torch of leadership.  Boomers will continue to be available for service, for leadership, and for active, meaningful participation in their church for twenty more years—and that’s a good thing!

Younger church leaders would do well to capitalize on this demographic in their churches, not caricature it!   

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I love lucyIn May 1953, I was finishing first grade at Springdale Elementary School in Fort Worth.  Much is different today than it was then:

  • Our class memorized the 23rd Psalm to recite over the school’s intercom system during morning announcements.
  • We used big red No.1 pencils
  • We shared desks
  • We bought war stamps and put them in savings books. (The Korean War did not end until June 27, 1953)
  • We had bomb drills (in case of atom bombs) both marching outside of our building in nice, straight lines and getting under our desks (crowded with two people sharing a desk!)
  • We feared polio and ending up in an iron lung, which dictated much of what we were allowed to do in the summer months.

My dad worked with televisions, so we always had at least one.  We watched Dwight Eisenhower being sworn in as president in 1953, the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy (71% of all TV owners watched this episode), and we watched Hit Parade’s version of How Much Is That Doggie In the Window, sung by Patti Page, which was the Number 1 pop song in 1953.

And to think that we could see all of that on just three channels—channels that went off the air sometime around midnight.

The average annual wage in 1953 was $3750, which is probably about what my dad made to support our five-member family. Our house was a little smaller than average, so it cost only about $9,000..  The average new car cost $1800. I do remember “gas wars” and prices of 13-15 cents per gallon.

We always ate at home—no such thing really as fast food. McDonalds was just starting in Florida. Dairy Queens were around, but they were mostly just for ice cream and milk shakes. When the milk shakes went to 35 cents, we had to stop buying them because they were too expensive.

So. . . . , that’s nice! Eisenhower

Here’s where we are today

  • No prayer in schools
  • Ipads in schools instead of Big Red pencils
  • Hundreds of 24/7 hr. TV channels (some still showing I Love Lucy!)
  • Teens spend more time now on the Internet than watching TV.
  • Average house sells for $330,000
  • Average car sells for $30,700 with gas at $3.89/gallon.
  • Polio is virtually eradicated
  • Sex is risk free with contraception. Even AIDS seems to have lost its scariness!

Life has changed a lot!

Here’s my point:  Who in 1953 was thinking that in 2013 our world would be as different as it is today? 

Who was thinking that in just 60 years,

  • both parents would have to work,
  • that a fast-growing percentage of homes would have only one parent,
  •  that same-sex marriage would be the issue of the day,
  • that Christians would be marginalized culturally,
  • that a drug culture would undermine our sense of security more than the threat of nuclear war


So what will life in the USA be like in 2073?  There is a lot of talk about how we want to leave the world for our grandchildren, but I’m not so sure we can even imagine what the world might be like then.

History does not believe in straight lines, so I’m not terribly concerned that the trends of today inevitably lead to their logical end!

Christians have a real advantage in this kind of world:  we know where we came from, we know whose we are, and we know where we are going!  That’s not entirely a metaphysical statement.

Having a framework to live within is a real help for dealing with a runaway culture.  We don’t know what diseases will threaten us in the future, we don’t know what political threats are waiting to be born, we don’t know whether technology will embellish the future or darken it, and we don’t know if our environment will continue to serve us or will retaliate and threaten our existence.

We don’t know what the future will be, but we can live in the days that each of us has with confidence and certainty that our lives are part of God’s plan.

We are not deists. We believe God was active in the world on Day One, has been involved and in control every day since, and will continue His work until the day of Redemption, when all of Creation will be made True!

“In Him we live and move and have our very being!”

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pennybank_300Dan Palotta, delivered this Ted Talk in March 2013.  The video, already seen by over 1.7 million viewers, has stirred up a lot of passionate conversation.  Although he is talking from the perspective of humanitarian non-profit charities, I find that the environment he describes is also present for churches and religious non-profits as well. I wonder what you think?

I have taken the liberty to abridge and edit his talk to a blog-sized version, mostly by removing examples, but if you would like to hear the whole talk, go to www.Ted.com and search for “Dan Palotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong!”


. . . The real social innovation I want to talk about involves charity. I want to talk about how the things we’ve been taught to think about giving and about charity and about the nonprofit sector are actually undermining the causes we love and our profound yearning to change the world.

  . . . We have two rulebooks. We have one for the nonprofit sector and one for the rest of the economic world. It’s an apartheid, and it discriminates against the [nonprofit] sector in five different areas, the first being compensation.

So in the for-profit sector, the more value you produce, the more money you can make. But we don’t like nonprofits to use money to incentivize people to produce more in social service. We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people.(Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people.) You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.

And we think of this as our system of ethics, but what we don’t realize is that this system has a powerful side effect, which is, it gives a really stark, mutually exclusive choice between doing very well for yourself and your family or doing good for the world to the brightest minds coming out of our best universities, and sends tens of thousands of people who could make a huge difference in the nonprofit sector marching every year directly into the for-profit sector because they’re not willing to make that kind of lifelong economic sacrifice.

Businessweek did a survey, looked at the compensation packages for MBAs 10 years of business school, and the median compensation for a Stanford MBA, with bonus, at the age of 38, was 400,000 dollars. Meanwhile, for the same year, the average salary for the CEO of a $5 million-plus medical charity in the U.S. was 232,000 dollars, and for a hunger charity, 84,000 dollars. Now, there’s no way you’re going to get a lot of people with $400,000 talent to make a $316,000 sacrifice every year to become the CEO of a hunger charity.

Some people say, “Well, that’s just because those MBA types are greedy.” Not necessarily. They might be smart. It’s cheaper for that person to donate 100,000 dollars every year to the hunger charity, save 50,000 dollars on their taxes, so still be roughly 270,000 dollars a year ahead of the game, now be called a philanthropist because they donated 100,000 dollars to charity, probably sit on the board of the hunger charity, indeed, probably supervise the poor [person] who decided to become the CEO of the hunger charity, and have a lifetime of this kind of power and influence and popular praise still ahead of them.

The second area of discrimination is advertising and marketing. So we tell the for-profit sector, “Spend, spend, spend on advertising until the last dollar no longer produces a penny of value.” But we don’t like to see our donations spent on advertising in charity. Our attitude is, “Well, look, if you can get the advertising donated, you know, at four o’clock in the morning, I’m okay with that. But I don’t want my donations spent on advertising. I want it go to the needy.” As if the money invested in advertising could not bring in dramatically greater sums of money to serve the needy.

In the 1990s, my company created the long distance AIDSRide bicycle journeys and the 60-mile-long breast cancer three-day walks, and over the course of nine years, we had 182,000 ordinary heroes participate, and they raised a total of 581 million dollars. They raised more money more quickly for these causes than any events in history, all based on the idea that people are weary of being asked to do the least they can possibly do. People are yearning to measure the full distance of their potential on behalf of the causes that they care about deeply. But they have to be asked. We got that many people to participate by buying full-page ads in The New York Times, in The Boston Globe, in primetime radio and TV advertising. Do you know how many people we would have gotten if we put up flyers in the laundromat?

. . . The third area of discrimination is the taking of risk in pursuit of new ideas for generating revenue. So Disney can make a new $200 million movie that flops, and nobody calls the attorney general. But you do a little $1 million community fundraiser for the poor, and it doesn’t produce a 75 percent profit to the cause in the first 12 months, and your character is called into question. So nonprofits are really reluctant to attempt any brave, daring, giant-scale new fundraising endeavors for fear that if the thing fails, their reputations will be dragged through the mud. Well, you and I know when you prohibit failure, you kill innovation. If you kill innovation in fundraising, you can’t raise more revenue. If you can’t raise more revenue, you can’t grow. And if you can’t grow, you can’t possibly solve large social problems.

The fourth area is time. So Amazon went for six years without returning any profit to investors, and people had patience. They knew that there was a long-term objective down the line of building market dominance. But if a nonprofit organization ever had a dream of building magnificent scale that required that for six years, no money was going to go to the needy, it was all going to be invested in building this scale, we would expect a crucifixion.

And the last area is profit itself. So the for-profit sector can pay people profits in order to attract their capital for their new ideas, but you can’t pay profits in a nonprofit sector, so the for-profit sector has a lock on the multi-trillion-dollar capital markets, and the nonprofit sector is starved for growth and risk and idea capital.

Well, you put those five things together — you can’t use money to lure talent away from the for-profit sector, you can’t advertise on anywhere near the scale the for-profit sector does for new customers, you can’t take the kinds of risks in pursuit of those customers that the for-profit sector takes, you don’t have the same amount of time to find them as the for-profit sector, and you don’t have a stock market with which to fund any of this, even if you could do it in the first place, and you’ve just put the nonprofit sector at an extreme disadvantage to the for-profit sector on every level. If we have any doubts about the effects of this separate rule book, this statistic is sobering: From 1970 to 2009, the number of nonprofits that really grew, that crossed the $50 million annual revenue barrier, is 144. In the same time, the number of for-profits that crossed it is 46,136. So we’re dealing with social problems that are massive in scale, and our organizations can’t generate any scale. All of the scale goes to Coca-Cola and Burger King.

. . . Now this ideology gets policed by this one very dangerous question, which is, “What percentage of my donation goes to the cause versus overhead?” There are a lot of problems with this question. I’m going to just focus on two.

First, it makes us think that overhead is a negative, that it is somehow not part of the cause. But it absolutely is, especially if it’s being used for growth. Now, this idea that overhead is somehow an enemy of the cause creates this second, much larger problem, which is, it forces organizations to go without the overhead things they really need to grow in the interest of keeping overhead low.

So we’ve all been taught that charities should spend as little as possible on overhead things like fundraising under the theory that, well, the less money you spend on fundraising, the more money there is available for the cause. . . .  We should be investing more money, not less, in fundraising, because fundraising is the one thing that has the potential to multiply the amount of money available for the cause that we care about so deeply.

 . . . This is what happens when we confuse morality with frugality. We’ve all been taught that the bake sale with five percent overhead is morally superior to the professional fundraising enterprise with 40 percent overhead, but we’re missing the most important piece of information, which is, what is the actual size of these pies? Who cares if the bake sale only has five percent overhead if it’s tiny? What if the bake sale only netted 71 dollars for charity because it made no investment in its scale and the professional fundraising enterprise netted 71 million dollars because it did? Now which pie would we prefer, and which pie do we think people who are hungry would prefer?

Here’s how all of this impacts the big picture. I said that charitable giving is two percent of GDP in the United States. That’s about 300 billion dollars a year. . . .  But if we could move charitable giving from two percent of GDP up just one step to three percent of GDP, by investing in that growth, . . . . Now we’re talking scale. Now we’re talking the potential for real change. But it’s never going to happen by forcing these organizations to lower their horizons to the demoralizing objective of keeping their overhead low.

Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, “We kept charity overhead low.” We want it to read that we changed the world, and that part of the way we did that was by changing the way we think about these things. So the next time you’re looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead. Ask about the scale of their dreams, their Apple-, Google-, Amazon-scale dreams, how they measure their progress toward those dreams, and what resources they need to make them come true regardless of what the overhead is. Who cares what the overhead is if these problems are actually getting solved? If we can have that kind of generosity, a generosity of thought, then the non-profit sector can play a massive role in changing the world for all those citizens most desperately in need of it to change. . . .

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maggie-smith-downtown-abbey-tIf you are not a Downton Abbey viewer, then you have some explaining to do! Sherrylee and I just finished Season 3, but now, days later, I find myself still thinking about some of the drama—sure, some of the melodrama also—and I do miss the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet Crawley, played amazingly by the great Maggie Smith.

Downton Abbey has been broadcast in 200 countries worldwide and has had at least 120 million viewers!  I’ve been asking myself this morning what is it about this very British, very Edwardian period piece, that speaks to the whole world?

One of the ways to analyze narrative, whether TV, film, or literature, is to find the points of dramatic conflict or tension.  For instance, in Downton Abbey, the following points of tension are fairly obvious:

  • Tradition versus Change  –  The house and estate themselves represent ancient values and the fact that they are hardly financially viable—one of the main tensions running through the series—is because the world outside is changing in previously unimaginable ways.  WWI is (and was) the dramatic end of the old era—but not everyone at Downton knows that!
  • Upstairs versus Downstairs – The downstairs world of those in service, though intricately connected to the upstairs world of the lords and ladies, operates its own systems and personalities in both dramatic contrast but also a surprising degree of similarity to their superiors.
  • Dominance of men versus equality of women – The very first dramatic moment of the series occurs when the Crawley family with only daughters cannot continue at Downton because of a tragedy unless one of the daughters marries the heir-apparent, since only men can inherit titles.
  • Privileged social class versus democratic middle-class values – The new male heir-apparent to Downton is a distant relative who has grown up middle class. As another example in later episodes, the Crawley’s youngest daughter marries the chauffeur, creating still further class tensions in the family.
  • Inherited wealth versus mercantile values – The idea of the estate turning a profit is beneath the Earl of Grantham, but not the heir-apparent who later becomes co-owner of the estate.

I do not intend to allegorize Downton Abbey, but I can’t help but observe some obvious similarities to our yet-to-be serialized melodrama in churches today!

I wonder if a series called Old Campbell Street Church would go as viral as Downton Abbey?   Do you think we could develop the theme of Tradition vs. Change? What about the role of men and women?  And I have a pretty good idea we could do inherited values vs. current values!

The first episode might be something like this:  The Campbell family has been the wealthiest, most influential family in the Old Campbell Street Church for seven generations. The oldest male Campbell has always presided over the eldership, but the current Campbell family only has daughters, so the question of continuity of power is acute!

To make matters worse, the oldest and prettiest daughter has fallen in love with the youth minister, a talented but uncredentialed young man who did not even attend one of the big Christian universities!  The fear in the Campbell family is that if these two were to marry, the Campbell daughter would be doomed to a life of youth rallies and summer camps and that her husband, in an abuse of his family connection with them, might try to introduce new songs into the traditional worship.

The tensions increase further when the youngest Campbell daughter runs off with a Young Democrat!  Will she ever be allowed to return to the Old Campbell Street Church after having shamed the family?  And how will their children be raised?

Ridiculous, isn’t it!

Let’s just pray that God never has to watch this channel!


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God Speaks In a Whirlwind!

Paul writingThe last ten weeks have been a whirlwind. Having lived in Texas and Oklahoma for most of my life, I know that we are in tornado season, so perhaps acknowledging a whirlwind season is really a poor lead—but it is the truth.

I suspect even mentioning the whirlwind is more of an apology—at least a confession—to you for a lengthy season of spotty writing.  I actually love writing these posts and to have been as irregular as I have been during this season makes me feel rather undisciplined.

Two essentials—at least for me—have been scarce: reading and two hours.  Writing is an outpouring, but necessary to outpouring is inpouring. I often wonder as I write if the biblical writers knew they were writing Scripture–with a capital S?  Do you think the Apostle John thought: “Well, the Bible needs at least one really short, simple book to balance that theological tome that Paul wrote to the Romans, so I’ll just write a 3 John.”

Or did he really just sit down early one morning—like I’m doing right now—make himself a cup of coffee and think, “I better write to Gaius. I’ll be going there shortly and I need to begin setting the agenda of what I want to do during our visit”?

I’m pretty convinced John’s letter was a simple letter, perhaps only one of several that he wrote that day—his day of catching up on correspondence.  Was it inspired? Of course it was!  But wasn’t the promise that Jesus made to them that the Spirit would give them words of truth? Peter expressed it this way, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (2Peter 4:11). Doesn’t that expand inspiration beyond just the Twelve?

Do you really think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John suddenly had a tingly feeling or their quill started glowing when they were writing holy Words?  I don’t think so.  I think whenever they wrote—even their daily correspondence—they were writing as people who were always filled with the Spirit of God, who were always living their lives in His service, and who always found their words and chose to speak as those who speak the very words of God.

And shouldn’t we who are Christians do the same!  We have the same Spirit, we have the same commission, and we have the same task: “we believe, therefore, we speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13).

OK, so there went my first excuse!  I take it back. God has not been slack in pouring into any of us enough Spirit or words to share with others.

It takes me approximately two hours to write and publish each of these posts.  In a perfect world, these are two uninterrupted hours!  I often steal these hours early in the morning before I go to the LST office and start the day.  When we are traveling a lot, as we have been the last ten weeks, I will go to the hotel lobby to write while Sherrylee is getting dressed.

I don’t like to squeeze writing into too tight a confine, and I don’t like to write in bits and pieces. It’s hard to come back to some thought with the same passion or tone.

(I wonder if that explains why Romans is so easily divided into very different sections:  Paul had to take breaks and go visit some synagogue in Corinth or settle some dispute among the Christians, and when he came back, his mind had moved to a different place.)

Some dear friends collected the series of posts I wrote on “Raising Kids With A Heart For Missions” and published them in a little book.  I was very honored that they thought so highly, but I found myself in an awkward position of receiving a lot of credit that I didn’t deserve.

First and foremost, most of the ideas in the little book were first spoken or conceived by Sherrylee sometime early or during the child-rearing years of  our marriage.  Of course, we talked and shared them—and they were a gift to me and to our children—but she was my teacher!

Secondly, our marriage and our children—are all gifts of God, so whatever I have learned and all that I have experienced are not mine. I am not the originator, the creator, even the first recipient.

All of my insights, all of my experiences–all the words I have to say are His first: “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

. . . I feel better now. I’ve confessed my undisciplined negligence, I’ve admitted my plagiarism, and I’ve pointed any of you who are still reading back to God our Father, Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit, our Giver of Words.

That’s a good start for this day.


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20130202_130022My grandson and I had a little run in the other day on the basketball court and it reminded me of David and Goliath. Let me tell you my version of what happened.

He is 10 years old, about 4’8’ tall, loves basketball, plays on two above-average teams and has a very sweet shot, especially from a distance. I, on the other hand, am more than 6x his age, only used to be 6’ tall, played my last organized basketball game in 1969, and need I go on about the differences.

He and I decided to play a little one-on-one for fun, and I’m pretty sure he was thinking he would win handily.  What he did not allow for was the difference between 4’8” and 6’.

I scored the first two baskets because I could shoot and miss, but get my own rebound and have 3-4 more shots under the basket until I would finally make it. Because of my height, he had a hard time driving and he doesn’t have a jump shot yet, so he had a hard time scoring. He then tried to dribble all over the driveway to wear me out—which he was doing faster than he knew.

That’s the moment when the wheels started coming off our game—that moment when he realized no matter what he did, I was going to win—simply because I was taller.

First he changed the boundaries to create more court—for him to run around in, of course.  Then he started changing the rules of scoring, so that if he thought he was fouled, he would always get to shoot two shots that counted two points each.

I know you think I should have just backed down and been grandfatherly and let him win—and maybe you are right—but I really haven’t ever let anyone win. I was taught that to do so was the height of condescension. You don’t beat people badly, but you never just give away a game.

After some fourth-grade level trash talking from both of us, I did let him change rules to his advantage, but it did raise the tension in our game a bit.

That’s when I made a big mistake.  In the heat of battle as he was using his speed to zip around me, I grabbed his arm and held him—a very obvious and intentional foul—but without harm—or so I thought!

Never intentionally foul an already frustrated grandson in the moment when he is about to score!  Very bad idea!

Next thing I knew he was walking off mad. He had had enough with Grandad!

I did give him a few minutes, then followed him up to his room, but found the door locked. Of course, I’m not showing it, but I’m kinda sick inside that I had let the whole competition thing get out of hand.

About 15 minutes later, I’m sitting on the couch downstairs, when I get shot by a nerf gun from upstairs.  I was smart enough to know that what might seem like an angry act of revenge was really just a ten-year-old way of seeking rapprochement.

I worked my way upstairs and asked him if we could talk. He agreed, so we had a great five-minute conversation about what had happened. From his perspective, it was all about fairness.  Nothing about the game was fair to him—and, of course, he was right, so we agreed that next time we would play and not keep score OR we would play and he would get his brother and maybe another cousin to be on his side because 3 against Grandad might be fair!

I love that boy, and I’m thankful that we got that all worked out—but it did make me think about fairness.

Not every David and Goliath story ends with David slaying the giant!  The tall guys sometimes win.

Big countries have more influence than little countries; rich people control more of the world than poor people.  Strong people rule weak people.  Does any of this have to do with fairness?

Big states have more sway than little states Attractive kids make better grades in school than less attractive kids. Smart kids make better grades than average kids.

Not everyone gets a trophy. And if they did, then that would not be fair!

God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)! He chose Jacob over Esau (Romans 9). He chose Israel, not because they were the biggest or the best nation, but because he . . . chose them. (Deuteronomy 7:7).

If you are Ishmael, you cry out, “Unfair! Unfair!”  but here’s what Paul says about that in Romans 9:

20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?”

I think what this means is that if Goliath had won the battle, David could not have complained of unfairness. Nor could Goliath complain that David’s divine partner gave the little guy an unfair advantage.

As I write this, I’m hearing the cringes and frowns from most of us who want—demand—fairness. Immense trust is required of us to believe that God’s will is absolutely righteous and that He is sovereign over his creation—and that He loves us.

Life isn’t fair, but Christians believe an absolutely good and righteous God is!

But don’t ever intentionally foul your grandson!!

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