Obama’s Speech on Human Trafficking, IJM & Us

As mentioned in the previous  post, I was able to participate in a briefing by the Department of State with International Justice Mission staff earlier this year. (I know that sounds really cool – and honestly it was – grateful for the opportunities – thanks Q & Scott Calgaro)

One of the key things I heard was human trafficking is an issue that Democrats and Republicans support and therefore there is significant progress to be made on this issue.

They put together this huge book on the (we were all given one) where all the countries of the world are broken in three tiers and how they comply with Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The hours of presentation we received were very worthwhile and I left encouraged on a number of fronts. I was also very impressed with how close the IJM staff actually were with the DOS staff (I’m always suspicious of grandstanding but they actually did know each other very well on a professional and somewhat relational basis).

At the meeting they acknowledged that although the President has done some work on the issue, there would be making some major announcements on human trafficking in the fall. Initially, I was curious why it’s taking so long in his presidency to articulate something so obvious. After inquiring, I was told that the DOS is not only working on legislation but being that it’s such a global issue, it relies on a great deal of cooperation from other governments – one can see why progress in such matters take years to evolve.  That said, this announcement is years of incredible work being done by incredible people across the world.

You can read the entire speech in the links below but here are some of the highlights from this post on CNN’s Freedom Project:
“Last year we charged a record number of predators with human trafficking… We are going to do more to spot it and stop it.”

Obama said that would include working with train and bus employees and teachers to help identify potential trafficking victims.
He added: “Everyone has a responsibility. Every nation can take action.”

The Obama executive order says contractors and subcontractors working in the U.S. on federal projects cannot use misleading recruitment practices; charge employees recruitment fees; and destroy or confiscate an employee’s identity documents. All those techniques are often used by traffickers as a way of luring in victims vulnerable to trafficking.

Internationally, the order says contractors and subcontractors on jobs worth more than $500,000 must have a trafficking awareness program, and a safe way to report trafficking suspicions. The contractors must also guarantee both they and workers or companies they hire are not involved in trafficking-related activities.

President Obama also called out IJM an organization whose staff “like the great abolitionists before them, are truly doing the Lord’s work.” (All I know is that I have a few friends that work there and it was only after they were hired that the President acknowledges IJM in a speech – coincidence … doubtful ;)

In seriousness, I know we have to be careful with how throw around our terms but this would be another example of why I am ok with secularism. IJM is demonstrating that Christian non-profits can partner with government agencies to fight injustices around the world.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done like reducing the demand for prostitution, providing much-needed aftercare for victims, needed legislation, prosecuting violators, and protecting women, children and young boys just to identify some of the obvious ones.

When it comes to global issues, there’s a lot of discussion on how to get involved, what can actually be done, a lot of critique on what’s helpful, what’s not, etc. These problems exist in the long term because they are quite complicated but I do feel that it’s important to participate/contribute in some way. So here’s a bit of where I’ve landed.

Learn – Read up
Share – Create awareness
Give – organizations like IJM or find personal individuals who are serving already.
Connect – Build Relationships locally and globally
Be Faithful with the opportunities that come your way.

There is no easy prescription and no one can do it all, all the time but we can all do something so start with a little like learning a little more and perhaps a one-time donation that makes you think fi this is really worth it. Here are some links:
President Obama’s full speech from WhiteHouse.Gov.
The (Helpful but much Briefer) Fact Sheet from WhiteHouse.Gov and International Justice Mission’s post.

Found this interesting post from Harvard Students. You might find pages 236-237 (which is pg. 3-4 in the .pdf) helpful to understand more of the context of Obama’s inniatives.

Organizations like:
International Justice Mission
Polaris Project
All Girls Allowed
Invisible Children
Not For Sale

Have a though or an organization to recommend, feel free to share.

“You Are the Replacement Ref” – When Others Wrong You (& When We Get It Wrong)

If you watched the Monday Night Football’s Seahawks and Packers game this week, you still cannot believe the debaclewe witnessed. How in the world did these replacement refs miss this? How did the instant reply official uphold it and how does the NFL release a statement saying the ruling of simultaneous catch was correct? Aaron Rodgers is right, “That’s garbage, obviously…. They are still covering their butt there.” It feels like conspiracy – A conspiracy to ruin the game!

But it’s just a game. And there is no conspiracy. It’s a business and the refs, the players, the fans are all part of this game. Further, this game is played mostly by millionaires so billionaires can make more and on another level, so the rest of us can [Read more…]

Violence in the M.E. – Let’s Make a Movie Part 2 – Responding to the Polite Push-backs

In my previous post, I suggested that Christians make a documentary “Open-Letter” style movie to Muslims in the Middle East in an effort to seek forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking.

Like many blogs, there are a number of hits but only a few comments. The ones I receive are generally positive (which I am grateful for) and the push backs that I get are usually from my friends in the form of emails or conversations (which I am grateful for as well). But it does make it a bit more challenging to facilitate conversation here so I asked permission to share a few thoughts in response to the push backs. I hope I communicate them clearly and fairly.

The first is “Let the Arab world take care of itself …. In fact, whenever America (or the West) gets involved, we’ve added further hurt and done more damage.”

This is problematic for me on a number of levels.
[Read more…]

Responding to the Violence in the Middle East – Let’s Make a Movie

Between the busyness of the ministry fall launch, my thoughts have been pre-occupied by the violence in the Middle East in response to the offensive YouTube movie The Innocence of Muslims.

Today, I find myself reading news of the violence in Pakistan that is said to be in response to this film and now it’s almost two since weeks since the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in the American Consulate in Benghazi and I find myself wondering what should/could be down about this.

Every time I see an angry demonstration in the Middle East, I think the following things:
[Read more…]

Church Programs – “Is This Stuff Really Worth It?”

Intended Primary Audience – Church ministry types, vocational, non-, bi-, and all who labor for the Kingdom.

As church staffs, ministries and calendars are gearing up for the respective fall launches and kick-offs, just about every September I ask myself in exhaustion something similar to what so many other ministry-types ask, “Is this stuff really worth it?”

There’s the mad rush to find volunteers, the countless emails, the meetings, the copier that gets jammed, the complaints, the apathy, and the overly-excited folks which leaves you wondering if you can deliver up to their high expectations, therefore making them future complaints.  It’s ridiculous to say out loud, there’s the fear of punishment with shame (“This is not only your job, but your calling“), and so many do not vocalize this until they have their foot out the door.

You hear a lot of complaining about “programs.” That word has been the whipping “individual” (this blog is politically correct) for missionals, emergents, neo-reformed, youth ministry types, and anyone disenchanted or overworked in the Church.  We say things like we should be more about people than programs. And it’s easy to agree with a statement like that.  We talk about over-programming. We talk about Purpose Driven Church (Purpose not programs!). We talk about Simple Church (Simpler Programs!)  We say Jesus didn’t have any programs but we create dozens of them based on a pattern of ministry.  (Groups of 12, pairs, inner circles of 4 and then there’s Acts 2, Pauline models, etc).

If we look at most church websites, we see a variety of ministries, “programs” with descriptions that some times promise more than a presidential candidate. “Come to Thirst/Fountain/Oasis/The Well ;) and the Bible will finally make sense to you!” (For the record, I teach a ministry called Oasis so know I’m poking fun of myself too.)

Be fair though, if you click on a church website and don’t see any ministries, you might assume that they are not doing much outside of their Sunday morning worship service.  And frankly, for most, I’d say that’s a fair assumption.

Like it or not,
Small groups is a program.
Simple Church is a program.
Churches meeting in bars, living rooms, coffee shops, abandoned dealerships in the heart of the city offering presence-centered incarnational redemption to the community, is a program.

I like a lot of these things – One of my main responsibilities is supporting small groups, I liked the Simple Church concepts that Rainer and Geiger helped us work through, I like pub church gatherings and value incarnational ministry.

But we have to admit, some of this is quite semanticical (that’s a word right?).  And while we generally mean the same thing – all these things are programs because we are dealing with numbers of people.  And groups of people need organization.  They need a dedicated time and place needs to be organized. Volunteers need to be found (we do rightfully criticize if everything is professionally run), but that means these volunteers need to be vetted and if they work with children, they need background checks, and it there are not enough, there needs to be a rotation schedule, which requires a spreadsheet, database and an email chain. Curriculum, worship elements, service opportunities, refreshments, I could go on and on but in some form or another, this is a program. Especially if you do this with any type of regularity.

The problem with programs is that they tend to take a life of their own. They tend to become a ministry monster, gobbling up attenders, volunteers, the staff, resources, and time. It can be a very hungry and insatiable creature. When it becomes untamable, we fight back and look to pull the plug, resolving that programs are a terrible idea and we should avoid them.

Those who are faithful to their local church can feel overwhelmed and taken for granted by the needs of the program. Those who are new to a church or on the fringes can have an “impersonal” experience because of the program. Regardless of where one is coming from, often many will express, “This place is fake – it doesn’t care about people – only about _____ (the blank is filled with “numbers” or “money” or “being known as the cool church”, etc. ).

The one thing that every program has is people. If ministry is not centered on people than its doomed to be “successful” in any Kingdom sense – we all know this. But “programs” can be a beautiful experience of the Christian faith IF …

… they are truly Christ-centered. However the purpose is stated, if it’s more about following Jesus than “keeping the kids happy” or “giving adults a break from the stress of life”, it will have long term life-giving Christian potential.

… there is opportunity for authentic Christian community. Not just Christians socializing and mingling with other Christians, we’re talking sharing in the experience and mission of the gospel message together.

… there is commitment from all aspects. Anytime the commitment pendulum swings too much to one side for too long, resentment builds and the ministry lags.

It’s so important that we ask ourselves why are we doing what we are doing. Especially during the craziness of launching the fall “programs.” Lives have changed and more can. It’s good that we are seeing that we can do better. It’s good that we are critiquing (hopefully ourselves too). And in some ways, it’s good that we are hustling hard to get done what needs to be done.

One of the lessons that I am learning in the large church model is there are so many different types of people and we need many different types of churches of all sizes and methodologies. Regardless of what context we find ourselves in, what we do matters to each other.

It’s essential that we ask the questions regarding sustainability, mission effectiveness and make paradigm changing decisions but if we are waiting for the perfect ministry model, we’re going to not only find our that our ministries struggling but we will also squander our God-given callings and opportunities.

Are church programs worth it? Well, depending on how you unpack that – yes.

Wishing all those laboring a Christ-filled year.

On Being Out of Youth Ministry For a Year

If you have been around, you may have heard me say that I miss being in vocational youth ministry. This was the first year I haven’t been on a youth retreat or a student mission trip or planned a fundraiser or the ten thousand other things youth pastors do. Some of these things I’ve literally done regularly throughout the last 12 years of my life.

Of course, I miss the students but I promise not to get overly romantic about missing all the aspects of youth ministry. For instance, I don’t miss the fundraisers. Not because I’m embarrassed by raising money for important needs but because I refuse to believe that there are so many grandparents celebrating milestone birthdays on the mornings of our car washes.

If I’m being honest, I’m grateful for having this season off. With the arrival of our third and moving to a new community without our family and the supportive friends we had in NJ, it’s been a good thing to not have a mission trip, retreats and various weekend activities. It’s not just being away for those weekends but also the time in preparation, in meetings, in the gearing up – whoever thinks a mission trip consists of a that week has never led one.

Like everybody, I’m still busy – it’s a different type these days. But I do get to be home more at night and have more weekends free. Which has helped us connect with the relationships we were fortunate enough to have prior to moving here and the new ones we are creating.

It’s good for me to feel the honestly of missing so many things in youth ministry. It was a special and important time in my life. Also, it was very beneficial and here are some of the ways how:

Teaching. If you can teach high school and/or middle school students, you can teach just about anyone. I mean that. These kids are smart, they can be tough, they can be short on attention, respect, and can be apathetic to content that is not being graded and may not seem practical. Crafting messages that have been based on Scripture, that are relevant and beneficial to their lives, interesting enough to sustain attention, prophetic enough to challenge, and encouraging enough to proclaim that there is a God who exists and loves us has been the task I’ve been tackling for years. Every teacher knows there never really is a finished product but my current preparing/delivering has certainly been shaped by youth ministry. In teaching in different adult ministry contexts throughout this past year, one of the few things that I have knowingly changed has simply been asking myself, “Who is the audience?” Different starting point, very similar methodology.

So what’s the lesson here? If you suck at teaching students, there may be a place for you in adult ministry? Not really. However, it does seem that working with students really helps in all aspects of communication.

Relational Connection – Youth ministry taught me the difference between being a talking head and the indispensable qualities of being a pastor of young people. Most of us have heard the Howard Hendricks line, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I was never really impressed with the line, probably because I hadn’t met Hendricks (or that he didn’t know to care about me ;) but everyone who cares about the people they are leading discovers some form of this maxim eventually.  The other thing I learned was while you cannot be all things to all people (even if you consider yourself to be a “people person”)

You cannot relate to everyone, there is no such thing as a “universal personality.” It is impossible to learn every caveat of pop-culture and counter-culture. Part of the reason is due to the way counter-culture works – it’s intentionally exclusive.

So what’s the lesson here? If you can identify with a 14 year old girl obsessed with Twilight, you can connect with anyone? Not at all, simply celebrate all the people in your sphere of influence and build healthy Christian relationships.

Working With Dedicated Volunteers – These volunteers are the difference between the church as a serving body and a professionally pastorally run organization. They work together for sure but when volunteers are not supported by ministry staff and if ministry staff don’t have reliable volunteers, well, not only does the unity of the church suffer but very little execution of ministry and capacity for mission happens.

I’ve been preparing to do the training for our women’s Bible study tomorrow. A lot had gone into the vision of the year long before I was asked to help with the training. There’s a lot of depth to this ministry and there are a lot of people it utilizes. In fact, tomorrow there are separate training sessions for morning and evening respectively. Throughout the year they will be leading their women’s small groups through the book of Acts and I’ve been told that many of them have been leading for years and years and they do much, much more than teach.

There’s a lot of talk about “equipping and releasing” people for ministry and what qualifies as “discipleship” and what is dismissed as a Christian hobby. Dedication to the leading of the Holy Spirit from all is essential.

What’s the lesson here? Ministry involves people, time, training, and empowering others to serve. Regardless of the size of the church, there are a lot of moving parts, consider yourself blessed to play whatever role you are asked.

That last one comes natural for most youth pastors. Many don’t see the fruit of their labor for years.

I’m not going to suggest that everyone should go through youth ministry. For many reasons, I don’t think that’s true and among them is that it seems to limit how God uses people. But I do find myself extremely grateful for all the blessings of having served in youth ministry – the relationships, the memories, and how the experience continues to shape my heart and work today.

It will be interesting to reflect on how I continue to look back on this season. To the reader, feel free to share your insights on youth ministry or your respective past experiences – thanks for reading.

“Is Your Life Better Than It Was 4 Years Ago?” – Reflecting on Our Presidential Elections Post 2

It’s quite the question because it assumes so much context. As far as campaigns go, it seems to be powerful. As far as taking an honest look at it, it’s a bit audacious. They mean to ask it rhetorically as it obviously assumes that all of us ought to answer uniformly with a loud and emphatic “No!”

But what if after thinking about it, you find yourself having to answer “Yes” thereby negating the rhetorical nature of the question? Among the problems with the question is that it’s pre-loaded with arrogance and it assumes that the President has more [Read more…]

A Labor Day Reflection

Having just celebrated our daughter’s first birthday with family and dear friends on Saturday, we took it easy on Labor Day. We had a full house this weekend with my family and Susan’s parents in town but as we said our good byes, turned off the tv and put the kids down for bed, we all got a chance to catch our breath and reflect a little.

It was about a year ago that we moved to Massachusetts and I started serving at Grace Chapel. It’s been a great beginning for me and though I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the things that need to get done for the launch of the new ministry year, I am excited for [Read more…]

Reflecting on our Presidential Elections Post 1 – The Post-Conversation

Our Presidential election campaigns are the main subjects of conversations, both in person and in social media. The Republican National Convention just wrapped up and now the Democratic National Convention is about to begin. I’m going out on the limb here but I’m predicting that there’s going to be a lot of trash-talk and things are going to get even uglier on both sides (and all sides).

In past posts, I generally insist that as people who have passionate convictions, we still need to come together and dialogue. There is so much great potential in sitting down with another and discussing our differences and our similarities. It’s not just that we [Read more…]