Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

I am sitting in a cell phone lot at the Detroit airport waiting for my dad's flight from Charlotte to come in...I've actually flown in to this airport on this same night a few times myself...and it has given me a few minutes of reflection as we head toward the annual Detroit parade and a huge lions game's s few things I am do grateful for as this year winds down:

--a wife who never tires of taking care of our family and so many others as a nurse and all around compassionate problem solver...
--two kids who love to learn, love creating memories as a family, and care very much about what Jesus desires for them...
---parents and siblings we still love to go visit at all holidays and breaks...
--a soccer community that I love to be part of...
--people who believe in and are excited to read a book about Zambia and some students in this generation...
--the provision of God in a world where so, so many experience deep and profound suffering every single day...
--the joy of having a job where I daily see Jesus at work in the lives of those who long for his kingdom to explode all across our world...
--the love of my lord that sustains and keeps me going as it fills me with hope and anticipation for what is to come in the days and years to come...

My dad just called and he will soon be off the's time to reconnect and celebrate thanksgiving again...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Evangelicals and the Case for Foreign Aid by Richard Stearns

Here's a recent piece from the Wall Street Journal written by the president of World Vision...we just hosted Rich at an afternoon coffee event here on campus and I always walk away from time with him impressed with his personal passion to honestly and thoughtfully tackle some of the most compelling and complex issues in our world today...I know that many of my friends are not fans of government foreign aid programs...and I know there needs to be a greater response from the church and other NGOs who do remarkable transformative work...but I have also seen programs like PEPFAR save and change lives among communities I have grown to's worth thinking about as we walk thru our own economic crisis as we consider our commitment to the poor across our world...

Americans think 25% of federal dollars go to aid. It's really about 1%.

Washington is in an era of budget-cutting, so we frequently hear calls to shrink or eliminate U.S. foreign-assistance programs. In response, several religious groups (including my own) are highlighting how these programs reduce global poverty and hunger, saving millions of lives. But why are evangelical Christians largely absent from this religious coalition?

In a recent closed-door session on Capitol Hill, representatives from the National Council of Churches, Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World met with several senators about the Senate's proposed reduction of $3 billion from last year's foreign-affairs budget. (The House would eliminate $9 billion.) The director of Church World Service, John McCullough, told reporters afterward that "responding to hunger and poverty is not a partisan issue. . . . It is a moral issue that people of faith, across the political spectrum, agree upon."

This is largely true, but a Pew survey earlier this year found that 56% of evangelicals think "aid to the world's poor" should be the first thing cut from the federal budget. In September, a Baylor University survey found that Americans who strongly believe that "God has a plan" for their lives—as evangelicals do—are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.

There's much misinformation around about foreign aid. When a 2010 survey by World Public Opinion asked Americans how much of the federal budget they think goes to aid, the median estimate was 25%. In fact, poverty-focused aid makes up just 0.5% of the federal budget, while the entire foreign-affairs budget, including the operation of embassies and the salaries of diplomats, is less than 1.5%.

Many Americans also perceive our foreign-assistance programs to be ineffective and wasteful. I disagree. Before becoming president of World Vision in 1998, I was the CEO of Lenox, a manufacturer of fine tableware. While I knew plenty about selling china to newlyweds, I knew little to nothing about humanitarian aid. But when I flew to Uganda and met orphaned children who lived alone and without any adults—often depending on American generosity to survive—my heart was changed forever.

Coming back to the U.S., I set out to spread the truth about the plight of AIDS orphans to evangelicals who support World Vision. By 2005, thanks in part to the support of President George W. Bush, most evangelicals had become supporters of the U.S. government's AIDS relief program, known as Pepfar.

Americans should understand that foreign aid strengthens democracy. A 2006 report out of Vanderbilt University and the University of Pittsburgh found a direct connection between U.S. aid and increased democratization and good governance, as measured by the Freedom House index. Evangelicals generally support promoting democracy abroad not only because they support the values on which our country was founded, but also because they are strong advocates for the freedom of religion that accompanies democratic values.

Then there are the lives saved. Our aid programs don't have an unblemished record, and waste and corruption need to be rooted out. But Pepfar, for example, is now providing lifesaving drugs to three million people living with AIDS, mostly in Africa. It also provides care and support to another 2.5 million orphans and vulnerable children. If Congress cuts that program 10%, my organization estimates, 400,000 people will lose their medicine and potentially lose their lives.

The U.S. Malaria Initiative, meanwhile, has saved more than a million lives in Africa. And at a time when more than a billion people do not have enough food to eat, President Obama's Feed the Future initiative provides nutrition assistance and helps 21 South American, African and Asian countries feed themselves, without dependence on aid. Finally, American relief following natural disasters such as the Haitian earthquake or South Asian tsunami save lives and win America friends.

One objection that I often hear from evangelicals is that while aid is good, it is not the government's job. Yes, individuals and churches play a vital role in aid and development. But governments play a unique and vital role that private organizations cannot. The poverty-focused programs in the foreign-aid budget are facing cuts of between $1.2 billion and $3.2 billion from 2010 levels. In comparison, the largest American Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a budget of $308 million for its missionary and aid organization.

We cannot let others suffer simply because times are tough in the U.S. All Americans must understand the urgency of the human need and the effectiveness of our government's aid programs.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

A little article about a new book coming out from one of my favorite authors...reminded me of listening to my African friends pray for rain...I've got to remember the central place of prayer in my leadership life...

I attended the Easter Prayer Breakfast at the Whitehouse this past April and right before walking through the buffet line we paused to pray. I was expecting the typical pre-meal prayer, but it turned into a defining moment for me. A sixty-seven year-old African American pastor began to pray with such familiarity and authority that after he said "Amen," I turned to Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio, who happened to be standing next to me, and said, "I feel like I've never prayed before."

Have you ever felt that way? Someone prays with such familiarity with God that you feel like you hardly know Him? Or they pray with such authority that you feel like your prayers are impotent by comparison? I wonder if that's how the disciples felt when they heard Jesus pray. Maybe that's why they asked Him to teach them to pray in a new way.

I've never met anyone who felt like they prayed too much or prayed too effectively. All of us feel like we fall short when it comes to prayer. But that's exciting because it means there is potential for improvement. There are new dialects, new tactics, new dimensions to be discovered. And if you transform your prayer life you transform your life. Why? Because the transcript of your prayers ultimately become the script for your life. We write the future with our prayers. Or in the words of Walter Wink: "History belongs to the intercessors."

The Legend

A few years ago, I was reading through The Book of Legends, a collection of stories from the Jewish Talmud, when I discovered the true legend of Honi the Circle Maker. It forever changed the way I pray. I pray more. I pray with more faith. I've learned how to pray circles around my dreams, my problems, my family, and most importantly, the promises of God.

A devastating drought threatened to destroy a generation--the generation before Jesus. The last of the Jewish prophets had died off nearly four centuries before. Miracles were a distant memory. And God was nowhere to be heard. But there was one man, an old sage who lived outside the walls of Jerusalem, who dared to pray anyway. His name was Honi. And even if the people could no longer hear God, he believed that God could still hear them.

With a six-foot staff in his hand, Honi drew a circle in the sand. Then he dropped to his knees and raised his hands to heaven. With the authority of the prophet Elijah who called down fire from heaven, Honi called down rain.

Lord of the Universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children.

Then it happened.

As his prayer ascended to the heavens, raindrops descended to the earth. The people rejoiced over the rain, but Honi wasn't satisfied with a sprinkle. Still kneeling within the circle, Honi lifted his voice over the sounds of celebration.

Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits, and caverns.

The sprinkle turned into such a torrential downpour that the people fled to the Temple Mount to escape the flash floods. Honi stayed and prayed inside his protracted circle.

Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of benevolence, benediction, and grace.

Then, like a well-proportioned sun shower on a summer afternoon, it began to rain in perfect moderation. Some within the Sanhedrin threatened excommunication because his prayer was too bold for their taste, but the miracle couldn't be repudiated. Eventually, Honi the Circle Maker was honored for "the prayer that saved a generation." The circle he drew in the sand symbolizes the power of a single prayer to change the course of history. It's also a reminder of this timeless truth: God honors bold prayers because bold prayers honor God.

The Challenge

We have not because we ask not, or maybe I should say, we have not because we circle not. We give up too easily, too quickly. If God has given you a dream, you need to keep circling it in prayer. You can't just pray. You need to pray through. You need to work like it depends on us and pray like it depends on God.

Prayer is the difference between fighting for God and God fighting for you. Some of you have been fighting so hard. Maybe it's time to pray hard. Then God will fight your battles for you.

I'm convinced of this: your leadership potential is directly proportional to your prayer capacity. You can't do anything until you pray, but when you start drawing prayer circles around your dreams and God's miracles, all bets are off. With prayer, all things are possible.

You tell me: is there anything more important or more powerful than prayer?

If the answer is no then let's pray like it.

Start circling!