This is a précis excerpt from Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact

I felt called to Botswana. Actually I felt called to date this girl, and she was going to Botswana, so for me the call was just as clear. I was a freshman in college, a spiritual neophyte but this opportunity was for an all expenses paid trip—thanks to the widow’s mites and other donations. Ten days of roughing it in Africa, including four days of overland travel in 4×4 Land Rovers. It was a Camel adventure for non-smokers, a way to beef up my passport stamp collection, and a chance to serve God under the gaze of the girl I liked. I was sold. So, armed with four hours of training and the Roman’s Road freshly memorized, I over-packed my knapsack and joined the band of brothers and sisters who would take the gospel to the unreached masses in the Kalahari dessert. Whoever said being a Christian wasn’t fun?HTR

Kalahari Conundrums

The adventure was not exactly the way I had pictured it. Four dusty days in a Jeep seems a less glamorous journey now that I’ve experienced it. Since none of the vehicles had air conditioning, I selfishly opted for the convertible. I soon discovered that the most under-appreciated tool on my Swiss Army knife is the toothpick. I frequently employed it to exorcise from my teeth the legion of tiny bugs that lodged there as we zipped through the dunes like a brood of determined sidewinders being force fed with fauna all day long.

The six days that we were with the missionaries were even more challenging to my city-slicker constitution. Water took forty minutes to pump manually and transport back to the compound. We bathed in a steel drum, the entire grimy team reusing the same water. During the day under the blazing sun we dug and hoisted, mixed and measured, in order to erect a corrugated tin roof shelter that would function as a gathering place for the six or seven local believers who met weekly with the missionaries. In our prayer letters we labeled that project “building a church” but it was so shoddy that I suspect it cost the missionary some personal funds after we left to improve it.

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When the world’s attention shifted to Ukraine and Israel last week, the Islamic leaders in Iraq capitalized on the distraction. For weeks the functional government in central Iraq (ISIS) had told Christians they had to make one of four choices by this past Saturday: forfeit their property as a “Christian” tax, convert to Islam, leave, or die. But a week ago ISIS revised their list, and said paying the “tax” was no longer an option.

When Friday came around, residents awoke to an Arabic “N” spray-painted on the houses, property, and farms of all suspected Christians. The government had come during the night to demonstrate that they knew who the Christians were, and the spray-painted N’s were a not-so-subtle reminder that the deadline to convert, flee, or die was only 24 hours away.   Continue Reading…

July 23, 2014

Holding the Rope

by Jesse Johnson

A lifehack is a trick that makes common activities easier and more profitable. With many lifehacks, once you try them they seem common sense, and every other way of doing the same thing—even the way you used to do it until you learned that lifehack—seems so ignorant and strange.

Holding the Rope, by fellow Cripplegate blogger Clint Archer, is an attempt to show that most people do Short Term Missions (STM) wrong. Archer isn’t just content to show that they do it wrong, but he also then gives a better way. Reading this book felt like learning a new lifehack (a missionhack?). Once you understand his point, the other ways of doing STM just seem so outdated.

Here is how most churches do STM: they find a place they want to go, or perhaps a task they want to do. They then look for churches in that area and ask if they can host a STM team. Often the trip itself involves spending way more money on travel than it would have simply cost for the STM to get the job done by sending the cash. Generally there is no lasting relationship between the STM team members and those served—or more likely, those who serve the STM team! In best case scenarios, where a church might go to the same place year after year, even then the relationship looks like “Thanks for letting me crash on your floor…see you next year!”

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In today’s post, I would like to briefly consider one of the most well-known and often-quoted verses in the New Testament. In fact, it is one of the most popular verses in American evangelical culture today.

It has been printed on posters and inspirational wall art. A quick internet search reveals that you can buy key chains, rings, buttons, t-shirts, stickers, postcards, bracelets, handbags, and other Christianized trinkets with the words of this verse emblazoned, embroidered, or embossed upon them. This verse even gained some notoriety among college football fans a couple years ago when a championship quarterback sported the verse on the glare-reducing strips he wore under his eyes.all_things_football

But the irony is that, by taking this verse out of context, many people have actually turned it on its head—making it mean the opposite of what it actually means. They have turned it into a slogan of personal empowerment—a declaration of self-achievement, ambition, and accomplishment. For many, this verse has been trivialized into some sort of motivating motto for material prosperity, career advancement, or athletic success.

But in reality it is nothing of the sort.

By now, you may have guessed that the verse I am describing is Philippians 4:13. There, the Apostle Paul writes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Now, if we read Philippians 4:13 in isolation, apart from its context, it’s possible to see why so many take it as a declaration of personal empowerment.

Out of context, the “all things” seems like it could refer to whatever someone might want to accomplish—from winning a football game to losing weight to getting a new job to gaining material wealth. Out of context, it is often treated like a spiritual boost of self-confidence that can be applied to any ambition or aspiration in life.

But in context this verse has a very specific, defined meaning—one that most Americans don’t want to hear about, but one that is very important for us to remember as believers. Continue Reading…

In the shadow of the movie’s release, I thought it apropos to regurgitate this (one of my first) posts…

This annoying little book is not going away. Upon hearing his 4-year-old claim that he had visited heaven and met Samson and a blue-eyed Jesus, Pastor Todd Burpo encountered the same challenge all parents of toddlers frequently face. When my boy claims that he is actually Superman I wrestle with an identical dilemma: Do I just smile and play along til he grows out of it, or do I write a book sharing the claim with the world? What to do, what to do? 

Pastor Burpo didn’t chicken out and opt for the condescending smile-and-nod approach most of us lazy dads do. No, he employed a literary agent who successfully lured Thomas Nelson Publishers into eventually putting 1.5 million copies into print. (If anyone can get me that agent’s number, I’m very interested!) Dad exploited assisted his boy to polish his story, and Nelson presented their newest father-and-son trophy as the very yellow “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.” It shot to #1 Bestseller for non-fiction.

The NY Times ran an article facetiously titled “Celestial Sales for Boy’s Tale of Heaven.” In it there is a priceless explanation of why reputable literati types would stoop to promoting this project. Patricia Bostelman, the vice president for marketing at Barnes & Noble admitted: “When you buy the religion subject, you are presented with many stories about heaven, personal experiences about …the afterlife,… But what was unusual about this book was that it was the story of a little boy. It deactivated some of the cynicism that can go along with adults capitalizing on their experiences.” In other words, when you rub shoulders with the gullible folk who “buy the religion subject” you are bound to meet shameless kooks who try to profit from fanciful lies. But this one we could promote, because it will sell. And why will it sell? Because the picture of a little boy will “deactivate” some of the normal discernment that might hinder sales.

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JusticeLast Friday, I posted some selections of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” since last Tuesday was the 273rd anniversary of the greatest sermon preached on American soil. If you haven’t read that post, I would invite you to read America’s greatest sermon for America’s greatest need.

However, because I was on vacation last week, away from a computer, I wasn’t able to participate in the very disappointing comment thread that followed that post. The discussion was immediately derailed by objections to the doctrine of hell as the eternal conscious torment of the wicked who die outside of Christ. So because I wasn’t able to respond then, and because the objections presented are very common from our increasingly-secular, anti-biblical, and Christianity-intolerant culture (and so are objections you will need to respond to as you engage your “world” with the Gospel), I wanted to respond to those objections today.

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