It may be the end of summer, but already, ’tis the season for planning Christmas compassion projects. From filling shoeboxes to setting up angel trees, churches and organizations around the world are thinking about how to launch these elegantly simple ways of caring for others during the most wonderful time of the year.

There is so much that is right and beautiful about these annual giving traditions.

I love that they offer a way for whole families to practice generosity together. I love that they’re an invitation to think beyond our me-centered, consumeristic desires and recognize that there are significant material needs in the world. I love that they invite us to share some of what we’ve received. And most of all, I love how they provide a glimpse into sacrificial love and service, reminding us of the story of Jesus.

At the same time, there are shadow sides to many of these projects, particularly if they don’t extend beyond one-time charity distributions. 

For those of you who might be exploring what you should participate in this year, here are three questions to ask as your church and family seek to love and care for others well by getting involved this Christmas:

1. Is it a Band-Aid?

Charity-based giving typically addresses a perceived need of the moment—a can of cranberry sauce for a Thanksgiving meal, an action figure for a Christmas stocking, a check to cover the electric bill. But ultimately, these one-time handouts fail to address the underlying issues of poverty. Food gets eaten, toys break, and there’s always a new electric bill coming. The goods that we give over the holidays will be used without a way to replenish them. We should be concerned with immediate needs, but we should be even more concerned with what happens when the tinsel is taken down and the ornaments have been carefully stowed back in the attic. Are families and communities any better off after our projects?

For a one-time initiative to have a more substantial impact, it’s critical that it be coupled with long-term efforts. Is it truly supporting a local church or organization, which will do the harder and less glamorous work, of engaging in long-term relationships throughout the year?

2. Does it truly help?

Providing gifts for people in need is an important activity – and it feels good for those who are doing the giving. But on the ground, free milk donations can put the local dairy farmer out of work, undermine families by keeping parents from providing for their children, foster attitudes of entitlement, or deepen dependency on aid.

Further, if poverty, at its core, is rooted in broken relationships, then how can we ensure we’re also thinking about relational restoration, and deepening long-term relationships?

3. Does it perpetuate false perceptions of poverty?

It’s easy to picture poverty as being an utter and total lack—that, without us, “poor people” would have nothing or would be unable to fix their problems. While God does call His followers to minister to and bless others, God has already given everyone something to give. It’s through recognizing the gifts God has already put in our hands and in the hands of others that we begin to understand how to eliminate poverty.

As you seek out organizations to partner with this year, my hope is that you will explore ways to ensure that your short-term gift is matched with long-term relationships and that the ultimate outcome of your charity will be to empower a family to become independent of their need for it.

Once again this Christmas, let’s find ways of celebrating the hope of Christ by showing compassion in ways that will let His kingdom come.

Fighting Fear

July 6, 2016 — 2 Comments

A few months ago, I reconnected with a colleague from the Netherlands. We both worked in Rwanda but hadn’t seen each other in 15 years.

Over the course of our conversation, he looked at me soberly and stated, “Right now, the overarching narrative in our world, and especially in the USA, is one of fear.”

Fear

Is he right? Is the narrative informing our decision-making and understanding of our world truly driven by fear?

In some form, we are all intimately acquainted with fear. It starts small. When I was a kid, the sounds of our furnace made my young imagination run wild with images of what might be lurking in the dark corners of our basement.

As I got a little older, I valiantly conquered my furnace fears only to succumb to the terror of needles. To this day, I battle a dramatic needle phobia and have made an unfortunate habit of passing out at the sight of them. On not one, not two, but three flights (most recently this past week), simply viewing medical television shows prompted me to pass out right into my food, nearly causing an emergency landing in Germany.

As a young dad, I feared for my kids’ safety and worked to kidproof everything. As they grew, I did my best to ensure every bike ride was accompanied with helmet and kneepads before they ventured out into the dangerous world of concrete cul-de-sacs and slippery sand patches.

More than basements, needles, and bike crashes, this world gives of plenty of reasons to be afraid. We fear cancer. We fear senseless gun violence. We fear the next presidential election. We fear the unknown.

We all battle fear.

If we’re not vigilant, the siren song of fear causes us to orchestrate our lives to become as safe and comfortable as possible.  Fear causes us to protect ourselves more than we trust in God.  Fear tells us to avoid bold risks, give up when motivation wanes, love conveniently, and settle for quiet complacency.

Fear is an agent of paralysis. It’s a powerful tool the enemy employs to debilitate us and keep us from taking risks for what matters most. Fear causes us to:

  • Isolate ourselves. We slip into our numb cocoons, and allow Netflix and a half-gallon of Breyer’s ice cream to become our best friends.
  • Fear causes us to take refuge in ideas. We talk about theories of loving our neighbors instead of putting these ideas into practice. It’s easy to discuss the refugee crisis and use passionate hashtags on twitter, yet never even meet a refugee. It’s easy to quote verses on our Biblical mandate to care for those in poverty, and never to meet our impoverished neighbors minutes from our front doors. Fear allows us to show up at conferences without ever showing up in broken places.
  • Often, fear causes us to distract ourselves with our hobbies – because when we’re really busy training for our next marathon or burying our noses in the latest John Grisham novel, we don’t have time to take the risk of caring for others.

The good news is we can wage war on our fear. There is something that drives out fear – love. Bold, risky, and powerful, this love is not fluffy emotionalism, but gritty and true.

People who understand the power of Christ’s love refuse to give in to fear and drift into indifference. Rather, the love of Christ drives them into places of great risk and immense reliance on God. We step out believing that “God did not give you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-discipline” (1 Tim 1:7).

If we are to look anything like the God we claim to follow, giving in to fear is simply not an option. Loving others only when it’s convenient or comfortable isn’t an option. Jesus himself modeled this by entering into our pain. The power of Christ transforms our fearful hearts, and replaces them with His heart. May we refuse to be a people of fear as we love boldly and serve courageously.

Lemonade Stand (Antiquefarmhouse.com)Today marks the first day of summer, and that means lemonade stands are just around the corner, literally. This sticky childhood staple seems to have stood the test of time—save the mind-boggling summer day in Texas when public officials made headlines when they attempted to shut down a lemonade stand. Apparently, the 7- and 8-year-old sisters had neglected to obtain the appropriate $150 peddlers permit or a formal kitchen inspection. While I’m not prone to acts of civil disobedience, you will still see my kids selling lemonade this summer.

What short sighted public officials missed is the incredible benefit of kid-run lemonade stands or any host of other small enterprises. My children are currently involved in baking dog treats, and selling them to the many dog owners in our community. Watching them create, sell, and serve customers, it’s clear that this is about so much more than lemonade and dog treats. Starting a kid biz teaches lifelong valuable lessons about delayed gratification, patience, hard work, financial stewardship, generosity, and so much more.

This summer, consider investing in your children through your family’s own version of kidpreneurship. Here are three simple suggestions on how to help your children to begin thinking like an entrepreneur and learning lessons in the process:

1) Start with Stories

Stories of entrepreneurship are all around us. Have your son or daughter pick one of their favorite businesses (restaurant, toy store, ice cream truck) and plan a visit to hear the owners’ story. Just last week, our family heard the story of two moms who teamed up to open an ice cream truck. They regaled us with stories of the various ventures they attempted before getting into the ice cream business as well as their favorite parts of the ice cream truck: seeing kids’ excitement when they hear the tell-tale music of the truck rolling into their neighborhood. Do you have a family movie night on the calendar? Consider watching an episode of Shark Tank together, and leading your kids in a discussion about what it takes to start, grow, and sustain a small business!

 2) Earn, Give, Save

If you earn $1 and do not use it well when you’re a child, you are unlikely to use $1,000 well later in life. Kidpreneurship is a terrific way to begin teaching the basics of financial stewardship. The “jar system” creates a visible, tangible way to understand how we use money—and all you need is 3 jars. After decorating each jar, have your child designate one for giving, one for short-term savings, and one for long-term savings. Every time they earn money throughout the summer, discuss how much they should put in each jar based on their earnings.

3) Join the Community of Kidpreneurs

There is a growing movement of entrepreneurship fairs popping up across the country. Just like an arts fair, a group of entrepreneurs rent a booth, create their own marketing materials, and bring unique products and services to sell. Acton’s Children’s Business Fair has already done much of the hard work for you and provides additional resources and inspiration on their website.

My guess is that as you begin exploring and encouraging kidpreneurship, your children will knock your socks off by what they learn and create! Let’s raise our lemonade glasses and toast to a long summer full of creativity and entrepreneurship.

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To spur on your own journey of kidpreneurship, consider getting a copy of Watching Seeds Grow: a guide to entrepreneurship for parents and children.

A few years ago, I took my daughter to Disney’s Magic Kingdom for the very first time. We both were giddy with excitement — Lili to ride Space Mountain, and me to create a lifelong memory with my daughter in the happiest place on earth.

We began our day with a tour of a small museum filled with original artwork from the Disney archives. We saw the original bench from Griffith Park in Los Angeles, near the old merry-go-round, where the idea of Disneyland was born. I smiled as I read Walt’s account of the moment when the idea first entered his mind: “Saturday was always Daddy’s day… I’d take [my daughters] to the merry-go-round and as I’d sit there, sat on a bench, you know, eating peanuts, I felt that there should be some kind of an amusement enterprise built where the parents and the children could have fun together. So that’s how Disneyland started.” Walt’s dream was to create a world where princesses roam and where good always wins.

That’s a breathtaking vision, something almost akin to what I imagine heaven might be like. A carefree haven with no sadness, no pain. A place where dreams come true when you wish upon a star. A place to fulfill the universal longing for happiness housed deep within us all.

Today’s Disney experience is far more than a day at a theme park. It taps into our universal search for “happily ever after.” Young and old, we are all pilgrims in pursuit of a happiness that satisfies. So we make the pilgrimage. We create memories. We experience moments of pure joy and childlike giggles.

But this week, events in Orlando tragically remind that even in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom, there is no escaping pain and hurt. My heart aches for Orlando, a city who is undergoing deep sorrow upon deep sorrow.  As I write these words, I’m sitting at an airport watching CNN broadcast the details of this week’s horrors, with Orlando at the center of every story. My heart aches for the parents who just lost their two year old son in an alligator attack. My heart aches for the death of Christina Grimmie on Saturday. My heart aches for the 49 families whose sons and daughters were ripped away in a heinous act of violence targeting the LGBTQ community.

The expressions on the faces of travelers waiting with me at the gate tell me that I’m not alone in feeling the heavy weight of grief this week. There is something particularly jarring when the Magic Kingdom sets the stage for so much tragedy and loss. When tragedy strikes in and around “the happiest place on earth,” we are reminded that no one is safe.

Life, even in and around the Magic Kingdom, involves deep pain.

Turning away from CNN, I find myself longing for a different Kingdom. To a place that will actually deliver on the promises that the earthly Magic Kingdom can never fulfill. Surrounded by agony, I yearn for the Kingdom of God, the place which will supersede all the pretend kingdoms on earth.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5a)

The promise of this coming Kingdom of God emboldens us to run towards the pain we find in this broken world. Our Rescuer has come, and He is coming again one day to make “every sad thing come untrue,” as J. R. R. Tolkien once said. And so with great grief for what we see, and great hope for what is to come, we can run towards the hurting praying, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). I long for us to be people who run towards our grieving neighbors.

This week, we are again reminded how much we crave for the Kingdom of God to come. And we “weep with those who weep” knowing that one day, every sad thing will become untrue (Romans 12:15). Come, Lord Jesus.

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The opening of this blog was adapted from 40/40 Vision.