Monday, November 23, 2015

Gifts That Really Do Make A Difference In The Lives Of Others

Looking for Christmas gifts that will make a difference in the lives of others?  

Here are some suggestions that go beyond the retail-fueled frenzy that tends to, unfortunately, drive this holiday season. More importantly, buying from any of these organizations can truly help others around the world.

1. "Piranda" is Romanian for "gypsy girl" and this was started by Robin Bruski to help change the lives of impoverished people in Romania. Above is a photo of one pair of their shoes. You can find more and learn more about this wonderful organization at:

2. Another is the jewelry made by women in Uganda that can be found at Amazima's website. Whenever you buy something from them, you are not only helping employ women, but also feed hungry children from the slums of Masese. Here is the link:

3. Noonday Collection works in fair trade with artisans from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. They help to not only provide jobs for people but also no-interest loans, scholarships, and more to impoverished people to help them earn dliving wages to get out of poverty. They are at:

4. Bridgewater Candles takes part of their proceeds to help feed orphans around the world through Rice Bowls. Already they have provided over 5 million meals. You can go to their site at: 

5. Got someone in your family that loves coffee? Buy from Gobena Coffee and 100% of the proceeds goes to orphan care. They also support Fair Trade and Direct Trade growers. They have roasts from Colombia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. Here's the link to their site:

When you purchase your Christmas gifts from any one of these organizations, you know that you are not only getting a unique present for a family member, but that you are also helping someone in this world improve their lives. 

If you know of any more that we can spotlight during the Christmas season, please feel free to comment or e-mail us. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

National Adoption Month: Jen Hatmaker On Adoption

Is adoption easy? No it is not. Is this simple? Nope. Complicated and long-term. Will bonding be immediate and seamless? Maybe, but probably not. Will you struggle with guilt and fear that first year? Yes, but you shouldn’t. You’ve agreed to partner with God in some difficult, heart-wrenching work, and it’s no kum-by-yah party. Give grace to yourself; God already has.

Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting through, and adoption is one of them. I can hardly think of something closer to God’s character, who is the “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy.” Certainly, we are his difficult children who spaz out and pull away and manipulate and struggle. We distrust His good love and sabotage our blessings, imagining our shame disqualifies us or that God couldn’t possibly be faithful to such orphans.

But He is. We are loved with an everlasting love, and it is enough to overwhelm our own fear and shame and humanity. In adoption, God is enough for us all. He can overcome our children’s grief. He can overshadow our own inadequacies. He can sweep up our families in a beautiful story of redemption and hope and healing. If you are afraid of adoption, trying to stiff-arm the call, God is the courage you don’t have. If you are waiting, suffering with longing for your child, God is the determination you need. If you are in the early days of chaos, God is the peace you and your child hunger for. If your family feels lost, He is the stability everyone is looking for. If you are working hard on healing, digging deep with your child, God is every ounce of the hope and restoration and safety and grace.

In Him, you can do this.

He is enough for us all.

(from "The Truth About Adoption: One Year Later" from her blog at:

To learn more about Jen Hatmaker, go to her website at:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

But If I Have Not Love . . .

Awhile back, I was reading the prophets and what struck me was how whacked-out a group they were. You have Isaiah preaching naked in the streets and Hosea marrying a prostitute. But what I learned most from them was that social justice wasn't a political principal, it's a biblical one. Now it's been hijaked by modern politics, but the basis is rooted in God's concern for the poor, the broken, the sojourner, the orphan, the widow, the refugee. Social justice in the Old Testament always started with the internal act of repentance before God and then a call for the nation to do likewise and to take care of the least of these. The Psalmist writes in the seventy-second one in which, more like a prayer than a song, for God to help the king "judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice." Later he adds, "defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and him who has no helper." Wow! Shouldn't we be praying that for our leaders today? (I can't help but wonder if we spend more time complaining about them than praying for them anyway).

After the prophets, you think, "It can't get any crazier than them?" when out pops John the Baptist followed by Jesus, who really stirs up the mix with his Sermon on the Mount. Reading that recently, after the prophets, made me realize how far I am from Christ's call for his followers. Certainly this shift has been happening with my blog and I know that it will probably mean I lose people who have been reading it for some time now. It's not easy for me because I like being liked. That said . . .

The Syrian Refugees are all over the media. I know I will fall into the minority on this, but, here goes.

Someone I know in passing, another Christian, started a discussion with me on the subject of the refugees. It got heated (on his part, not mine).  He did not like my I simply stating that, "I cannot follow a savior who identified himself so completely with the poor, the outcast, and the forgotten if I am not willing to do the same myself."

At one point, he angrily asked me, "But I'll be you wouldn't take some of them in your home now, would you?" Sadly, he referred to the refugees as "those people" quite a bit. My answer surprised him, "Yes, yes I would."

"Really? Then you're more naive than I thought."

Probably so.

He paused before asking me, "And what would happen if you did take some in to your home and they killed you and your family?"

My answer shocked him even more, "Well, at least we would have died showing them the love of Christ."

Apparently not what he wanted to hear and, by the end, he stormed off with, "Hope you enjoy living under Sharia law then!"

I did not intend to anger him. I don't want to anger anyone now. I will admit, I don't have all the answers. But what I do know is that I am called to love the refugees because Jesus told me to. Yes, love can hurt - just look at Christ or even Martin Luther King, Jr. They gave their lives for love. There are missionaries all over the world who do the same. How then can we send missionaries to countries like Syria, where they could die, and then claim to be Christians and say, "We don't want those refugees here?"

And don't think those who aren't Christians aren't watching. A British newspaper, The Guardian, even wrote a piece on how politicians who like to reference the Bible are now promoting ignoring the vulnerable. Yet Jesus said the world will know his followers by their love. Can they see it in us?

Right now I'm reading a parenting book by Dr.Laura Markham entitled Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids in which she wrote, "Every choice we make, at its core, is a move towards either love or fear."  From choices I've made in my own life over the years, I know all too well how correct she is in this assessment. And this issue is no different.

There are those who argue against the refugees because they say, "We should be taking care of our poor first." I agree, but are we? And I have to ask myself, "Am I?" If I'm being honest, I have to painfully acknowledge, "No, I haven't. Not really." Still, I think many who offer up this argument are using it as an excuse and Christ has not called us to excuses.

So what's the real reason?

Are we basing our decisions from fear and security rather than the Bible? We have to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of sound mind. We must walk in the beauty, strength, and courage of the love of Christ.

When I think about the refugees, I can't help but think of the verse in Leviticus, "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt" (19:33-34). Are we willing to do this? Are we striving to reach beyond race, culture, and religion to not only share the gospel but to be the gospel to these refugees in desperate need? Writing this, I am not judging others, but turning the microscope on my ownself and, through the lens of scripture, looking to see if I have properly aligned my life and my actions to the Bible and the savior I claim to follow.

The Bible demands that we not think only of ourselves, but to come to the end of ourselves for that is where we will come into communion with our Creator.  Afterall, when Jesus got up and read in the Synagogue, he read these words from Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives. . ." He comes to those "crushed in spirit" by the exile. He still wants to do this and do it through us. We are the whacked-out radicals he is calling now to step up. We are called to stand among the prophets, dreamers and visionaries of the Bible. The call to love is never and easy one, but it's an eternal one.

Am I up to this?


But God is.

So I will fumble and stumble my way into obedience. And I will try to be a light in the darkness of all this uncertainty.  Do I think this will be easy? Definitely not! This is not in my wheel-house - at all! But, if there's one thing the prophets and Christ have taught me is that it's never easy to love, but that, ultimately, suffering and all, love is always worth it.

Some really good articles on this subject at Christianity Today:

Love The Refugee With The Compassion Christ Has Shown You

A Church Welcome For The Tired, the Poor

(As a sidenote, for those who have been following my blog and don't like the shift in focus, it's been there since the beginning. From the start of this, I have always believed that orphan care is just one part of what it means to take care of the least of these).

"He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Craziness Of Christ

I am scared of the craziness of Christ that prefers the poor and outcast to the religious establishment. I am frightened by him saying that the first shall be last. I am uncomfortable with a savior who parties with sinners. I am really anxious around a Jesus who identifies himself with the poor and not the powerful.

I cannot read the Sermon on the Mount and not be shocked, confronted, frightened, and asking myself, "Does he really mean that? If he does, does he really expect me to follow him in that?"

Christ's kingdom is more topsy-turvy than Alice's Wonderland.

I do not understand a Messiah who comes not as a king but as a servant, a homeless man, and wanders about loving the outcast, the forgotten, the abandoned, the prostitute, the broken, the lonely, and those I would not invite to my home for a party.

No, no, I don't care for that Jesus. Like Will Ferrell in Taladega Nights, I prefer the baby Jesus. The sanitized one. The one who lets little kids sit in his lap. The one with sheep. Meek and mild. A Mister Rogers Jesus.

I don't want the one who starts off his most famous sermon with, "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . ."


Like the Jews at that time, that is not what I expect from a Messiah. Like them, too many of us are nationalistic and militaristic in our theology and political policy.

You are too dangerous in your teachings, Lord. It goes against conservative and liberal alike. It's like having surgery without being anesthetized. I feel the cut of those words of yours.

I don't want to be "poor in spirit" becasue that means I have to be reliant on him and I definitely don't want to be that if he is calling me to be a servant, to take up my cross, to do as he does and identify with the actual poor. I mean, they smell really bad, they are addicts, and will most likely rob me if I do. Is that really what you want Jesus?

Or to love refugees?

Who knows if they are really even refugees and not terrorists?

What instead of the parable of The Good Samaritan are you going to tell me about The Good Syrian Refugee? I don't want to identify with them.

Or that race of minorities that I'm not too fond of. I know all lives matter, but . . .

You can have them, Lord, I am much more comfortable in the company of the rich young ruler. I am far too satisfied with the money lenders in the temple.

Blessed are who?
Those who mourn? No thanks.
The meek? Really?
Those who seek righteousness? The merciful? The pure in heart? Pass.
The peacemakers? Too liberal for me.
The persecuted for righteousness' sake? Most definitely skipping that one.
And I am to believe that I am blessed when others revile, persecute, and falsely accuse me? Jesus, are you kidding me?  This is what you are calling me to do to follow you? I'm surprised you can keep even 12 disciples with that line of thinking. You'll never have a megachurch preaching that kind of stuff.

No thanks, I would rather sit in the pews, bored and complacent than in recklessly, risking and following you, the unsettler of all my pious virtues that I hold dearly and cling to over you. I don't want to sell all and give it to the poor. They'll just waste that money on alcohol or cigarettes or drugs anyway. Isn't it enough that I do that shoebox at Christmastime for the poor kids in other countries?

You want me to love and pray for my enemies?  Do not resist? Turn the other cheek? Wow. Not going to happen. Retaliate! Revenge!  Eye for an eye. Didn't you see what they did?

I'm sorry, Jesus, but your ways are just too hard to get sometimes.

Don't you know how the world really works? I mean, that stuff may be okay in heaven where everything is peace and love, but we are talking about reality here, the real world.

Why make the gate so narrow?

You're not going to get a lot of "likes" on Facebook with this or retweets on Twitter.

"Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me" is a lousy PR slogan. No one will want a bumpersticker or a t-shirt with that on it.

Don't challenge. Don't confront. Don't ask me to choose.

Couldn't you be more tolerant?

Couldn't you just help me be a better me? You know: healthy, wealthy, and secure.

I don't care for what you're saying. It doesn't make me feel good. It makes me question. I don't want to do that. I like the status quo. Isn't it enough to just be a good guy?

But if I say yes, if I follow you . . .

What about my comfortable world?

What about the American dream?

Why won't you allow me my illusions, my excuses?

This is costly. This is unsettling. This is uncomfortable. And this is your kingdom?

Don't you see what this would do to me?

People will think I'm crazy.

My world will be turned upside down.

Is that really what you want?

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."
- Eugene Peterson, The Message

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Meet The Grahams

Since it is National Adoption Month, I thought I would spotlight a family who was in the beginning of the adoption process: Phillip and Celeste Graham.

Too often, Christians who adopt children are met with indifference. Even among others in the church, they find deaf ears to their financial need and it is a big one when adopting internationally. Too many Christians think this is a personal decision that, if a family wants to adopt a child then they should have to pay for it by themselves. What they don't understand is that this is missional work and it's bringing the mission field into their homes. I have stated many times that we are not all called to adopt, but we are all called to take care of the orphans of the world. This is one way that people can step up and help a wonderful family adopt a special needs child from Eastern Europe.

The scriptures repeatedly reminds us that God is a Father to the fatherless and that His heart is with the orphan Phillip and Celeste Graham have had it placed on their hearts to adopt, their hearts are beating as God's does, and they are moving according to His call for their family.

While we can join with this family in prayer, we should also do so financially. As I said, international adoption is expensive and those expenses don't end once you bring the child home.  Certainly God wants His church to help meet the needs of others, as 1 John 3:17 tells us, "But is anyone has the world's goods and see his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" One can see this again in the book of Acts how believers "sold property and possessions to give to anyone in need." (2:45).

Please prayerfully consider helping this family as they live out the gospel, make one less orphan in the world, and show a child the love of not only a family, but also God's love.

To learn more about the Graham's story, they have a blog that can be followed at:

To help support them in their adoption go to:

Their adoption t-shirt can be purchased at:

They also found a local coffee company who is donating part of the proceeds of coffee purchased to their adoption fund:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Awakening Wonder In An Overwhelmed World

When Benjamin was younger, we went with some of our friends to South Mountain State Park. As we hiked the trail, the kids began to whine and complain about the ever-sloping trail. All of the parents kept encouraging them to keep going so that they could see the magnificent waterfalls. We promised them that it would be well worth the physical exertion, but they weren't buying it. Their whining and complaining began to effect our mood and we went from encouraging them to keep going to snapping for them to just be quiet and "suck it up." (Yeah, we are clearly not Caillou's parents). The joy of being together began to fade and we started to wonder why we even began this trek up the mountain. Then, as we came around a bend in the trail, we came upon hundreds of butterflies dancing about in beams of light around large flowering bushes next to a small stream. Instantly, all of us gasped in wonder. We just stood there in amazement at the beauty of this moment. 

How many of us get this way in our daily lives?

Where is our sense of wonder in this age of distraction?

Psalm 145:5 says, "Oh the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate." But do we meditate on the wonder?  

Do we do as Job 37:14 states, "Listen to this . . . stop and consider God's wonders?"

I know in my own life I get too caught up in other things and lose sight of the wonder. In scriptures, the word wonder translates from the word "mopheth," which means "a splendid or conspicious work, a miracle" or from "teras," which translates into "marvel." We tend to reserve these words for grander things.

Sure, it's easier to have that sense of wonder when we see hundreds of butterflies, or waterfalls, or mountains, or oceans, but what about when we are in dead-stop traffic during our morning commute? Or when we are having to clean the house and it seems like the laundry basket magically creates piles and piles of dirty clothes that need to be washed even though we are sure we had already done it this week?  It's easier to have that sense of wonder when a baby is born than when the baby is wailing in the middle of the night and we are losing sleep. Or when that child decides to throw a tantrum in Target. 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote that, "The perception of glory is a rare occurence in our lives. We fail to wonder, we fail to respond to the presence. Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder."

It is too easy to lose the wonder in the monotony of our daily life with all of its committments with work and children and responsibilities. We get so focused on our work that we lose site of the wonder. And wonder is the beginning of faith. Like a child reading a book, we should be excitedly asking, "What happens next?" 

God tells us in Isaiah 43:19, "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

That verse tells us that God is asking, "Don't you see it? Aren't you aware of what I am doing?" He asks so that we can, like children, delightedly ask Him if we can join in this "new thing" like children do when they see someone making bubbles or playing a game outside. I remember taking Benjamin, Cava, and a couple of their friends to a park. We started playing "Red Light, Green Light" and the kids were having a blast. This drew other kids to us and they asked if they could join in. We should, first, be like those kids and approach God with, "Can I play too?" and then we should be drawing others to him with the same desire to be a part of our play.

One of my favorite writers, G. K. Chesterton said in his book Tremendous Trifles, "The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder."

The world is so full of distractions meant to entertain us but they don't fill us with real wonder. As Chesterton so aptly says, we can get so caught up in those things which will never satisfy us, never meet our needs, that we end up starving from "want of wonder" that is in God.

The more we know of God, the more we trust in God, the more we say "Yes" to God, the deeper the sense of wonder fills us. God is so much bigger than we ever imagined or could imagine. When we said "Yes" to adoption, we never dreamed that one small act of obedience would open our hearts to the world and all of the opportunities to create in us a holy curiosity, an awakening to childlike wonder because such is the kingdom of God. When we let go of our dreams, God gave us new ones. Grander ones that were greater than any we had imagined on our own. It has awakened in us a new sense of appreciation and awakening to the things of God.

Jesus put a child among his followers and told them, "Truly, I tell you. Unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3).


Jesus is unquestioningly telling us to become like little children to even enter the kingdomm of heaven.


Because children don't come with their doubts but with their sense of wide-eyed wonder. Jesus wants us to have that child-like heart of acceptance and belief.  And to look at God as a Father who will take care of us and meet our daily needs as a loving parent will. Too many adults are so filled with doubts and concerns and worries. We are not children who are content, joyful, playful, and full of abandonment. That's why Jesus is telling us to become as a little child. It is the faith of a child that can move mountains. I like what Rich Mullins once said, "A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder."

That is why wonder is defined as "a feeling of surprise mingled by admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable."

How true that is. When we allow ourselves to be awakened to wonder, we allow ourselves in on something beautifully unexpected. God is inviting us into that.

I am learning that the more I say "Yes" to the things of God and abandon myself to them, the more I am filled with a sense of wonder at not only how God works in this world, but that He allows me to be a part of it. He doesn't need me to do what He wants accomplished, but He offers me the opportunity. I think we too often approach His will as if it were another chore or another thing to put on our to-do check-list than the gift it really is. It's not about achievement, it's about awakening.

Too often we are afraid to say "Yes" to the will of God because we are afraid of what He is going to ask us to do. What we don't realize is God is not always calling you to do something, He often is simply calling you to love someone. When we were called to adopt Cava, we did not realize the pure joy that would come from this act of love. And if we had not stepped out in faith, we would have never known it.

Eugene Peterson said, "Wonder can't be packaged, and it can't be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagment."

To be filled with wonder means we have to stop in the midst of our hectic, busy lives and just be present, to be engaged with the God of the universe by whom all were created. In Him came the wonder of creation and the wonder of resurrection. Both of those mighty acts are gifts of love to us. He wants us to join in them with Him.

God does not want us to be overwhelmed by our responsibilities but overwhelmed by Him. By His love, by His mercy, and by His grace. His burden is light. When we stop and say "Yes" to Him, we will wonder why it took us so long to do it.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ignoring Rahab

Not too long ago, my wife and I attended a conference in another city. One morning, as we were leaving our room to catch the elevator and go down to breakfast, we were met with a sight we did not expect to see - a young prostitute waiting for the elevator. She was in her early twenties and looked very tired. Her makeup was smudged and smeared. Her long brown hair was a bit dissheveled. It was clear that she was not given the time to fix herself up before she left. While we stood there, she did not look up from her cellphone. Perhaps she did not want to meet our gaze.

 I must admit, I stood there with my wife and felt very awkward and unsure. Something inside of me said to acknowledge this young woman with at least a "good morning" but I didn't. I remained painfully silent. The elevator doors opened and we all got on it. Nothing was said by anyone. When it reached the main floor, she got off and then so did we. She was gone. So too was my opportunity to just treat her like a human. To acknowledge her as a person.

Even now, over a week later, I still feel ashamed. Not for her and what she was, but for me and what I wasn't. I was not the least bit Christ-like. Jesus loved prostitutes. They were drawn to Him. Why? Because He offered them grace, mercy, and love not silent judgment. Where was my compassion? Scriptures tell us that the world will know His followers by their love, so where was mine that morning?

In Matthew 21:31 Jesus even states, "Truly I tell you, the the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." He loved the repentant over the religious. I wonder how many religious people will get their holiness in a bunch when they see prostitutes entereing the kingdom of heaven before them?

Jesus even has a prostitue in his genealogy. There in His family tree was Rahab, who was described in scripture as a "zônāh" or harlot. Yet she is worthy enough to not only be listed in the lineage of Christ but she's also mentioned three times in the New Testament. She is spoken of for her faith (Hebrews 11:31), her hospitality, and her mercy towards Joshua's spies. She even converted and her statement of belief was, "For the Lord your God is God in heaven and on the earth below."

While I know some of Rahab's story from the Old Testament, I knew nothing of the young prostitute on the elevator. I have no clue as to how she ended up where she did. I don't know of her childhood, though it probably involved some sexual abuse and shame. It could also stem from poverty. I don't know the details that made this young woman vulnerable to prostitution, but I do know that she is now caught in a cycle of sexual violence and assault. 40 million women worldwide are caught in some form of sexual trafficking including pornography and prostitution. The average age of a prostitute is 14. Orphans are also 50% more likely to get trapped in sexual trafficking than non-orphans. Pornography fuels this industry that now brings in billions of dollars and makes more in profit than those of Google, Nike, and Starbucks combined. (A side note, anyone who says that pornography does not hurt anyone is deceived. We can choose to be either a protector or a predator. Choosing to look at pornography makes one that latter).

I did not speak to the young woman and, for that, I am ashamed. But I do pray for her now. I pray mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. I pray that others will. I pray that loving, Christ-like people will be there to show her His tender mercy and grace. She will have to be seen as a child of God, made in the image of God, loved by a God who gave His only Son for her, and not just as something shameful and sinful. I pray that someone is the gospel for her in a way that I was not. I pray that, if there is a next time, and I encounter another young woman like this one that I see her as Christ sees her, love her as Christ loves her, and that I don't remain silent in my fear of reaching out to someone who is lost, broken, hurting, and desperately in need of Christ.

How much could one small act of grace make in another's life?

I truly believe that God had put her in my path for a reason. I didn't do what I was called as a follower of Jesus to do. I did not step outside my comfortable box. But I learned this lesson: I cannot be silent to those who need a Savior.

Ministries that work to end prostitution, sexual and human trafficking:

International Justice Missions (
Agape International Missions (
Compassion 2 One (
Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (
Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings (
Covenant House (