Just go to sleep

I had the great pleasure of babysitting two of my grandaughters last night.  The youngest is three and recently had the earth shattering experience of losing her nuk AND her crib at the same time (she has very bad parents 🙂 ).  I had the challenge of getting her to sleep and for an hour while I laid on the floor beside her tiny little bed and she held my hand (finger).  Fortunately, the bed was the perfect height for me to rest my elbow on the floor and rest my arm against the bed without holding it up in the air.

It’s beautiful loving moments like these when the writing side of my brain takes over and I begin comparing this love to God.  Thoughts like – He is right beside us, there is nothing to fear; All God wants is for us to hold His hand and be loved; God’s love is so simple, we don’t need to do anything to win His approval; Don’t complicate God’s love, just reach out and take hold of Him; There is nothing we can do that will separate us from His love.

And then she sneezed all over my face!  You got it, those beautiful tender thoughts kind of vanished very fast and I had enough.  Those tender loving thoughts turned to “just go to sleep!”

Don’t get me wrong.  I was and I am still joyful about my grandkids (I’m babysitting again this weekend).  I do love those tender moments just like God loves tender moments with His children.  But there are times, I’m sure, when God is tired of hugging and rocking and just wants us to get on with what we are supposed to be doing.

“Just do what you are told to do”.  It might be getting some sleep.  It might be eating our food.  It might be cleaning our room.  Just do it.  Savor your love moments with God but when its time to get up and do something; get up and do it!  Don’t hang around and milk the love moments when it is clear that you have a job to do.

Exodus 14:15
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.
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Go Mennonite Cooks!

Chef Gordon Ramsay Has Absolutely No Criticism for Mennonite Girls

Chef Gordon Ramsay Has Absolutely No Criticism for Mennonite Girls

LONDON, UK

Surly British chef and television host Gordon Ramsay was briefly tongued-tied on Friday, after being stunned by the kitchen chops of Mennonite cookbook author Lovella Schellenberg and her team who appeared on Ramsay’s television show. The host of Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef usually rips chefs apart leaving them crying in their soup by the end of the episode, but Ramsay was so impressed with the Mennonite Girls that he offered no criticism for the first time in his career.

“What can I say?” said Ramsay. “The culinary ability of these Mennonite ladies is unparalleled in the history of network television cooking shows.”

The Mennonite Girls impressed the famed chef with Ellen’s hamburger soup recipe and Anneliese’s meatballs with mushroom sauce, before leaving him speechless with Charlotte’s Toberlone cheesecake.

“These ladies cook with soul,” said Ramsay. “There’s not a single thing I would change about any of these dishes.”

Ramsay says he plans to make the ‘Mennonite Girls Can Cook’ cookbook mandatory reading for chefs in all his restaurants, and is considering modifying the format of Hell’s Kitchen to allow for more Mennonite content.

“These ladies turned Hell’s kitchen into Heaven’s kitchen,” said Ramsay. “I guess it’s true. Mennonite girls really can cook!”

(Photo credit: by gordonramsaysubmissions )

Mennonites and Black Lives Matter

I have been processing the Mennonite support of BLM ever since I read an article by Ervin Stutzman and responded in a blog (https://mennonitemafia.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/judge-and-jury-folks/).

Today I learned that Mennonite Mission Network is giving money to Black Lives Matter.  To be fair, it is a ‘The Voices Project to offer nonviolent direct action training and organizing strategies to the movement.”  https://serve.mennonitemission.net/Stories/Pages/Mennonite-agency-agrees-BlackLivesMatter-too.aspx.

Let’s break this down and look at this issue from a “Mennonite” point of view:

Mennonites have historically rooted for the oppressed, downtrodden and poor.  It’s easy to see that the church would want to lift these folks up.  Mennonites also have strong connections cross culturally and have a large urban and non white membership.  It makes sense for the church to support a civil group that many white people don’t relate too.

The other side of this issue is where it can get messy.  Some will deny the anti-military and anti-police undertones in the Mennonite Church.  I don’t know anyone who claims this is preached from the pulpit, but most will say it is an unwritten sentiment in the faith.   I wasn’t “taught” by my Mennonite father (who was a pastor) that military and police professionals are evil but the fact that these professionals were not allowed to be Mennonites added up to the conclusion that they are not Christians or at least not Christians worthy of being Mennonites.   Professions that carry guns were not on my slate for employment – they weren’t jobs desirable by true Christians.  I didn’t know any military/police personally until I attended a Baptist Church with my wife.  That was the first time that I really gave thought that there could be God fearing people even if they were required to kill someone.  The thought of military/police service was so foreign that I wasn’t permitted to be a boy scout because the uniform and organization was too similar to the military.

So why would the Mennonite Church feel any need to support “Blue Lives Matter” when they are not given the same respect and support as the oppressed and downtrodden.  A poor black man is gunned down.  It can’t be his fault.  It has to be the non Christian policeman who is abusing his power.  When was the last time that you heard of a Mennonite Church supporting or ministering to police or military personnel?  Do we have any missionaries in that field?  Any chaplains in the military?  Why would we?  We don’t support them or agree with what they do.

Here is the danger.  We may admit that some good comes from the police and military but we keep our distance so our hands don’t get dirty.  We stress that our involvement in BLM is “nonviolent direct action training and organizing” but lets not forget that the reaction from protesters has also been very violent and causing social unrest.  How many innocent police officers have been gunned down and killed even though they had no involvement in shooting anyone?

The Mennonite Church is rushing into support one side while again judging police.  I would love to see MMN give $10,000 to an organization that is ministering to those called to serve while carrying a gun.  Or don’t they deserve that?

Exodus 2:14
The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”
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Satisfied

I was once again feeling sorry for myself and the position that I’m in financially.  I pulled out the change in my pocket and threw the coins into my coin jar.  I didn’t bother to count the coins – they were just coins and I threw them in a jar.  I don’t know how much money is in the jar – it’s just a bunch of coins.

At that moment, God hit me on the head and said, “Do you realize that you have more money in that jar than most people in the world have to their name?  You throw your coins in there like they mean nothing to you (because they don’t) and yet that is more savings than most people have.  There is probably $300 plus in there.  That is more than many families live on in a year”.

I looked down in disgrace.  He was right.  That is A LOT OF MONEY to some people.  To me it is almost a nuisance.  Coins are heavy.  Coins aren’t worth much.  No one wants pennies.

I am not poor.  I am blessed.  I have never gone hungry.  I have never had a leaky roof.  I have never been without heat (or air conditioning for that matter).  I have always had clean clothes and shoes.  I have a car and a truck.  I don’t need to walk to the store.  I have clean running water.  I have hot water.  I have electricity that is on almost 100% of the time.

The list goes on and on.  There are 40 verses on “being satisfied”.  Here is just one:

Deuteronomy 8:10  (NIV)

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

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Progress

We were recently looking through a box of old photographs.  We marveled at the quality of pictures that our parents have from the 50’s and 60’s and the poor pictures that we have from the 70’s.  The reason – in the 1970’s the camera/film companies advanced technology to “instamatic” cameras.  The cameras were small and the film came in cartridges that were easy to load and unload.  It was a great idea.  Very cheap cameras and easy film.  The problem was that the pictures were lousy and the negatives were so small that blowing anything up in size only made them worse.  The other great innovation was the Polaroid which gave instant developed pictures.  The downsize was that these pictures were worse, there was no negative and they were expensive.

By the 1980’s photography buffs switched back to modern 35 mil cameras and the quality of pictures greatly improved.  I became interested in developing and thought that a dark room would be cool.  I never made it to that but now I’m glad I didn’t invest the money in it.  Who would have guessed that we’d all be walking around with cell phones that take great pictures.  Kodak sure didn’t.

Sometimes “progress” isn’t so good.  Sometimes the new “technology” isn’t as good as the old.  On the other hand, we need to move on, experiment, explore and work towards better technology.  One hundred years ago, people riding in horse drawn wagons were laughing at people who spent a lot of money for a new car that sputtered, broke down and couldn’t go through muddy streets.  Just imagine if we had spurned this progress and stayed with the horse and buggy.

Don’t be afraid to go backwards to go forward.  Most of the people who experimented with the new cars kept their horse and buggies for back up.  We should have done the same with cameras.  Oh well.

Anyone want to buy some 8 track tapes?

1 Timothy 4:15 NIV

15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

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Are Missionaries Safe?

Take a mission trip to a foreign land – one of the first questions you will get is “Is it safe?”  Have a prayer for the missionaries and “Lord please keep them safe” will be said a number of times.   Take the grandchildren to a developing country…. well don’t tell grandma….she won’t be happy.

I’m not mocking these.  There are REAL dangers out there.  When we flew into Guatemala we were not aware that they were in the middle of a 30 year civil war until we saw soldiers everywhere with machine guns.  When a friend of mine flew into Kenya he saw tanks lining the runway.  A soldier came on the plane and said, “if you get off the plane you may not be able to leave.  You can stay on the plane and leave now or take your chances.”  hmmm  Airports are being blown up.  People are getting kidnapped and shot.  This doesn’t take into consideration food and water issues or other health concerns.

But let’s look at it from another view.  How do foreigners feel about coming to the “greatest country on earth” (I hate that saying)?  Danger of getting shot.  Be careful of road rage.  Buy travel insurance because we don’t have national health care.  Apparently the world believes that it is the wild west here and everyone is packing ready to shoot anyone.  We know that only happens in Chicago.

There are no guarantees on our safety – anywhere.  Most Americans die in America so it must be unsafe.  Our son joined the Marines which can be very scary for a parent.  Right after his graduation to boot camp several police officers were killed who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They made it through war only to be gunned down in America.  People die from running, skiing, playing baseball and driving and yet we don’t classify them as dangerous activities.

We need to take caution wherever we are and whatever we do.  Kids wear bike helmets now – that would have been a joke when I was a kid.  Be smart.  Be careful.  Be culturally intelligent.  But most of all trust God to lead you.  God didn’t instruct us to be safe.  He did call us to go share the gospel.  Is it safe?  Nope.  Go anyway.

Here are a few travel advisories to the USA: http://mentalfloss.com/article/68276/25-unusual-foreign-travel-warnings-visiting-us

A friend just sent this link to me.  Very very sad.  It is dangerous everywhere: http://www.omaha.com/news/nebraska/young-family-killed-in-i–crash-was-headed-to/article_1decf7ac-580c-11e6-8bb6-eb3c17ea9b44.html

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I’m tired of going to church

I am 56 years old which means that I have lived through approximately 2,912 Sundays.  I have been in church on at least 2,000 of those (I’m guessing).  I am tired of going to church.  I have no major complaints.  I’m just tired of going.  Over the years there have been pro-church times and anti-church times.

High school was a plus time because I wanted to see my friends in youth group.

College was a down time because youth group is over and not really feeling a part of anything.

Marriage was a good time – building new relationships and having children.  You get a lot of support for child rearing at church.  Babysitters, advice, clothes, etc.

Disasters and crushing times are a good time to be at church – when we lost our son, the church was at it’s best.  I can’t say enough for how they cared for us.  I can’t imagine going through a natural disaster or difficult time in life without having the support of a church.

Empty Nest – This is my period of life.  When I was a child, my parents made me go.  When I was a parent I made my kids go (which then included me!).  Now there is no one to make me go and sometimes I just don’t want to.   I don’t have any major complaints.  No church is perfect.  If it was perfect I would ruin it as soon as I stepped in.

I’ve listened to over 2000 sermons and sang enough hymns and worship songs to last awhile.  I went from a conservative church to a contemporary one.  I’ve gone from an old congregation to a young one.  An old stone structure to meeting in a gym.  From Mennonite to Baptist to a cell based charismatic.  Pews and folding chairs.  I’ve been in just about every denomination at one point or other.  I’ve seen scandals, blow ups, deceit, back stabbing, crying, yelling, grace, forgiveness and mercy.   I’ve seen a lot of love and a little bit of hate.  I’ve been in churches that spoke in tongues and churches that said they are of the devil.

The point is, I’ve seen almost all that can be seen in a church and heard almost anything you might want to hear (or not hear).  Unless something radical comes along, I’m just a little bored with the whole thing.  It’s not a matter of right or wrong, good or bad.  I’m just a little tired of it.  Sleeping in on Sundays at my age and going out for coffee with my wife is pretty nice and I may just do it again this Sunday!

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Barbie Savior

Short term missions have long been a topic of debate in the mission world.  Are they really “mission” trips or are they vacations in a developing nation?  Are they worth the money?  Do they do more harm than good?  Are they offensive to local populations?  The questions go on and on.  I have no aspiration to settle the argument here!  I’m just trying to catch you up on some of the recent rumblings in the internet “mission” world.

One of the latest popular trends is Barbie Savior on Instagram, @BarbieSavior on Twitter and the blog BarbieSavior.com/blog.

Here is a quote from their “about” page:

Barbie Savior began in 2016 by two friends who were simply tired of the acclaim of the White Savior on social media. It began as a joke – a place for us to express our frustrations. Our little Instagram account, however, caused quite the stir. It was clear we struck a nerve on the age old topic of the White Savior Complex.

Together we have over a decade of studying, traveling, and working abroad. While this left us cynical and jaded enough to create Barbie Savior, we know full well that this issue – and these conversations – are so much bigger than us.

One post comments on the problems with visiting orphanages:

So many of us start out by volunteering in orphanages. We believe in the biblical and humanitarian call to look after orphans. It starts with our innate desire to do good, so how did we get it so wrong? How did the first line of defense for orphan care become so harmful? When did we decide it was the healthy, proper thing to do to visit orphanages and “experience” the African orphan? This industry, “orphanage tourism”, is detrimental in countless ways.

To see more blog posts in this program, please search #stoporphantrips on social media.

Another hot topic related to this on the internet is #LintonLies.  I’m not going to go into details on this.  A quick summary is Aspiring actress Louise Linton recently released an extract from her memoir detailing her experiences in Zambia as a young  white saviour idealistic volunteer.

I think anyone who has worked in missions for any length of time and/or worked in orphanages has seen mission trips that just made them want to puke!  Or at least cry.  Teams of youth bouncing around acting stupid.  Older teams that really just wanted to shop for deals at markets.  Teams that wanted to hold babies and children and tell them that they were going to take them home.  Teams photographing in an insensitive way that embarrassed the locals.  Teams that spent horrendous amounts of money to build a wall that the locals could do for a fraction of a fraction of the cost.

But…..there is always a but….

For all the “damage” and “waste” that an American short term mission trip can cause there are some very valid huge benefits and facts:

1) Many if not most missionaries get their “heart call” for missions by the seed planted on a short term mission trip.

2) Americans are criticized for lack of knowledge of other cultures.  Developing culture is not really taught in our schools and most people do not have an inborn desire to start studying them.  Most who develop a passion for this get it from visiting another country.

3) Most people do not really have a passion to give to a ministry unless they embrace it personally.  Short term missions are a great way to build loyalty.

4) I look at missions in a similar way to professional sports.  Millions of children learn a sport and play on a “little league” team of some sort.  Hundreds of thousands of those children will play their sport at a high school level.  Thousands of them will play at a college level.  Hundreds will play at a professional level.  A few will become Rock Stars in their field and be forever remembered.  The same applies to missions.  Many will go on a week mission trip.  Only a few will make life long commitments.  Those life long people may be sickened watching the stupidity of a short term team but they need to realize that everyone starts somewhere.  I got weeded out of sports by the 6th grade.  I’m still battling through high school in the mission arena.

5) Orphan ministry – I don’t have room to go into that here (maybe later).  When we told a long termer on our first trip that we wanted to adopt he said “So you want the perfect child.  Girl, healthy, infant, light skinned”.  In other words – a trophy child that we could show off.  If you know our family or have read my blogs, you know that is NOT what we got.  I wish I could tell that long termer who we adopted and tell him that I am still offended by what he said – although at the time he said it, it was probably true.  You see, some of us learn from our short term trips.  Some of us don’t.

6) Missions as a whole is very messy.  Sometimes it is downright shitty (sorry but it fit).  Whether discussing long term, short term, misionation trips, styles of mission agencies, approach, orphanages – they are all messy and no one has all the answers.  We are a broken world but we have grace, mercy, love, hope and vision to try to learn a better way!

7) Go on a mission trip.  Don’t be a Barbie Savior.  Just go and serve.  Study another culture. Give to a missionary.  Cry for the lost. Adopt a needy child.  Just do something!

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What’s Happened to Church Volunteers?

As church leaders, we have all heard it many times:  “I’d love to help but I’m just too busy”.  I understand that.  We can’t do everything for everyone and sometimes the best thing to do is to say “no”.    But there seems to be a growing trend in the church that matches society – volunteering is a thing of the past.

Overall volunteering numbers are down and in a downward spiral – only 25% of Americans did any volunteering in 2013.  That’s down from 29% 10 years ago.  It’s easy to jump on the Millennials for this.  But is it all their fault?  One of the statistics states that people who are educated are the biggest decliners.  Maybe that’s because they need to work three jobs to pay for their student loans.

So what is affecting the church?  When my dad was a pastor, he was almost always a lone employee over the span of 30 years.  The churches he led all paid part time janitors.  He occasionally  had a part time secretary that was paid and sometimes he had a paid part time youth leader.  Looking at churches of a comparable size today you will find a paid pastor, paid children’s director, paid youth leader, paid associate pastor, paid administrator, paid secretary plus the trusty janitor and possibly more.  A church in my town is now paying someone to care for the baby nursery because no one would volunteer to do the job.

It is probably fair to say without doing a lot of research that a large part of our church budgets have now shifted to salaries which support the needs of the congregation rather than outreach and missions.  In a time when missionaries are facing higher costs to be on the field, they are competing with financial balancing at their home churches.

So what is causing us to pay nursery workers instead of finding volunteers?  Why are we needing to pay children’s workers, youth leaders, worship leaders, sound and tech people, and other care givers?  Are we really that busy that we can’t serve or is there a shift in our attitude towards giving our time?

One of the causes in the slide is the hiring of employees at all.  A church without a pastor will push everyone to chip in to cover the need.  As soon as a pastor is hired, everyone backs off and allows the “paid” professional to do the work.  This pattern continues down the line – if a youth leader is paid, volunteers who want to work with the youth will dwindle.  Is it wrong to hire staff?  No.  In many cases it is necessary and may be the best for the church.  But, leadership needs to be aware that the more positions are paid, the more members will be hesitant to volunteer because they are not getting paid.

A second cause is additional background checks, liability and cost to volunteering.  When I was a youth leader I often drove kids home from an event.  I would be very leery of doing that today with abuse allegations being common.  Even if I was totally innocent, my life would be ruined if one youth made a claim of inappropriate behavior.  That is a terrifying thought.  Some may be willing to teach Sunday School but don’t want the hassle of doing a background check.  It’s not that they are worried about the check – they just don’t want the added responsibility to teach a few Sundays a year.

A third possible reason is that many of us grew up in homes where our parents volunteered for everything and as a result were never home.  Being a preacher’s kid I felt the pain of my dad being away most nights at meetings and other ministry needs.  When I had my own children, I said that I wanted to be home with them so that they wouldn’t say that I cared for someone else more then them.

Whatever the reasons for the decline, the church today needs to be aware of the decline and confronting it.  Hiring every need is not the answer and will make our churches even more self centered than they are already.

1 Peter 5:2  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.

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Extremists

Here is a thought process/challenge for today:

Look at any belief, political view, religion or practice and take it out to the extreme and see where it goes.  You may not like the results.  The scripture that I am using below says to avoid extremes and I agree. But this is a challenge to see what the ultimate line of belief or practice is.

Here are a couple examples to start with:

Islam – I am certainly not an expert on Islam (and correct me if I’m wrong) but I believe the ultimate belief is Sharia Law.

Christianity – Give everything to the Lord and lay down your life.  Love your enemy.  Turn the other cheek.  Total forgiveness.

Love/Hate – Pretty obvious…

Some practical political issues:

Guns – Freedom to bear arms anytime, anywhere with no background checks or regulation.

Abortion – The right to have one up to the time of birth.  A fetus has no rights.

Alcohol/drugs – The ultimate extreme result I guess would be death.

Ok.  You get the idea.  Look at any issue and take it to the extreme.  We often look to the “seed” of thought – where did this begin.  I’m encouraging you to look to the “fruit” of the extreme.  Is it positive or negative.  Does it bear life or death?

Once you get to the extreme, is it something that you want to practice?  What steps need to be taken to bring it back to acceptable society levels?  Can we have restrictions without losing our freedom to choose this thought?

Guns – Do we really want to live in the wild west with everyone carrying guns?  Do we want to bring back holsters and walk around ready to shoot?  Do we want everyone to have a gun?  What regulations are acceptable to balance the issue?

Alcohol/drugs – We have tried numerous adjustments.  Some have worked and some have failed.  It has been a continuing process that gets tweaked often.  Age limits.  Prohibition.  Driving restrictions/penalties.  Legalization.  Why can’t we come to an understanding of this process with some of the other issues today?  Trial and error and adjusting laws instead of total freedom or shut down?

Religion – Where are your extreme beliefs leading you?  Are you going to kill non believers or love them?  Are you going to reach down and help the needy or kick them while they are down?

This is an interesting challenge for many issues.  I hope you take time to look at your own life.

Ecclesiastes 7:18   Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
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