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Are Short-Term Mission Trips Really Worth It?

Have no fear, the Americans are here. You’ve got problems, we’ve got solutions. And, conveniently enough, we also have some free time to fix your problems. Lucky you.

Not only that, but we get to visit some really cool parts of the world while we’re at it. Bonus.

Maybe I’m a bit jaded, but that’s what I always think when someone talks about short-term mission trips. I immediately wonder if the trip isn’t motivated more by ethnocentrism and tourism than altruism.

Yet I’m going on a short-term mission trip. My whole family is. We leave tomorrow.

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Hospitality at the Heart of the Gospel

People love barbecues, potlucks and meals together. There’s something spiritual, missional and even sacramental about biblical hospitality. It is a missional and sacramental practice because it is rooted in the very character and presence of God himself, in his love for sojourners, strangers and aliens. Hospitality lives at the heart of the gospel and missional life.”

Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson, Missional Spirituality: Embodying God’s Love from the Inside Out (IVP, 2011), 186.

Hospitality is critical to the gospel, indeed the whole story of redemption, because the gospel is about God reaching out beyond himself to include others in his joyous life. So a gospel-shaped people should exude hospitality. It should be one of our hallmark characteristics, that word that naturally jumps to mind when people think “Christian.”

Locked in my own plans, needs, and interests, I needed that reminder today.

America’s Unchanging Views On Creationism

Americans’ views on evolution and creationism have remained relatively unchanged over the last 30 years. That’s the conclusion of a recent Gallop study. Granted, the number of people who believe in some form of atheistic evolution have been steadily, though slowly, increasing. But the overall number is still rather low (15%), with the rest holding to theistic evolution (32%) or creationism (46%). And creationism has been pretty steady at between 43% and 46% through the whole study, with one apparently anomalous year (2011).

I linked to the in yesterday’s Flotsam and Jetsam, but the charts were interesting enough that I thought I would go ahead and pass those along as well.

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The One Minute Gospel: Helpful Tool or Tragic Mistake? (part 1)

My latest post on the Transformed blog looks at “The One Minute Gospel.” Should we try to summarize the gospel in one minute? Does that have any value, or does it simply distort the very message we’re trying to communicate? In this post, I offer a few thoughts on why I think this can still be a helpful thing to do. In the next part, I’ll unleash my more critical self.

Here’s how the post begins. If you’re interested, go check out the rest.

I’ve been sitting on a plane next to some guy for a couple of hours. And I’ve sent all my usual “Don’t talk to me” signals: book, headphones, minimal eye contact. The usual tools of the traveling introvert. But this time it hasn’t worked. This guy really likes to talk.

Just as the plane is about to land, the conversation turns toward spiritual things. Now I feel a bit guilty for having tried to duck the conversation the whole trip. But still, I recognize the opportunity. A gospel opportunity. I only have about one minute before the plane touches down and everyone starts pulling their stuff together. One minute.

Almost every evangelism training I’ve ever been through has emphasized the importance of being able to share the gospel in one minute or less. The assumption seems to be that this is something every mature Christian should be able to do. And, to be honest, I agree. But with some significant reservations. From the right perspective, the One Minute Gospel can be very helpful. But far too often the One Minute Gospel leads us into a number of critical errors.

Read the rest here.

The Neuroscience of “Spiritual” Disciplines

Fasting. Intentionally going without food for long periods of time. That’s always been a difficult concept for me. Lots of people in this world go without food because they don’t have any. Why would I do that to myself on purpose?

In a recent Christianity Today article, Rob Moll argues that neuroscience can help us understand why spiritual disciplines like fasting are so important. It’s not just about giving up food (or other things) for a time. It’s about engaging in practices that can help shape us into being who we are called to be.

He begins by pointing out that many Christians today struggle with the spiritual disciplines because we shy away from anything that looks like self-denial. We’ll fast for a cause–e.g., solidarity with the poor–but we avoid fasting for other reasons. “But as we relearn to fast, we should remember that these disciplines are very much about us and our own personal faith.”

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15 Reasons I Left/Stayed in the Church

Going to church can be painful. And I don’t just mean that you may have to get up early, surrender some “down time,” and possibly listen to a bad sermon. These are painful enough on their own. But for many, going to church is difficult for much more significant reasons. And, as a result, some choose not to go at all. Others stay, but only after extensive soul-searching.

Should you stay or should you go? That’s not an easy question for many people to answer. Especially when it’s not just a question of leaving one church for another. What if you’re beginning to suspect that all churches are broken? What if you’re not sure that any church will do? What if leaving means walking away from the church entirely?

Here two thoughtful, but very different, responses to those questions. On the one hand, Rachel Held Evans explains why she decided to leave. And, on the other, Hannah from Sometimes a Light tells us why she stayed.

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Ditch Your Safety Bucket and Speak for Yourself

Some kids have a favorite toy that they carry with them everywhere. Whether it’s a stuffed animal, a doll, or a spaceship, it offers a sense of security, a feeling that things are okay. Other kids have a special blanket. Wrapped in its gentle folds, they feel safe, at home.

My daughter had a bucket.

Seriously. A bucket. And it wasn’t even a nice one. It was a plain white, 5-gallon, plastic bucket, the kind you find at Home Depot, somewhat scraped and stained from years of hard use. And she took it everywhere.

It was her safety bucket.

She had a rough winter last year and was sick a lot. Several times she got caught unprepared, which can be rather messy. That’s particularly annoying when it happens at night. In your bed. On your favorite jammies. Her solution was to start carrying her special bucket everywhere. I’ll never forget the sight of my tiny daughter hauling this huge plastic bucket behind her as she climbed the ladder to her bunk bed. But I can understand. It made her feel safe. Prepared.

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How would you describe your church in 5 words or less?

“So, what do you think of your church?”

He had just moved here from out of town, so I probably should have been expecting the question. But I wasn’t. And it caught me off guard.

What do I think of my church? That’s not always an easy question to answer. I like my church. But I’m enough of a critical thinker to notice the many areas of weakness it has as well. (Or, at least, the areas that I think are weaknesses.) So my first instinct is to say something like “It has problems like any other church, but we like it.” Not a terribly rousing endorsement.

Why do I feel the need to qualify my answer like that? Surely everyone knows that churches aren’t perfect. Why lead with it? Why not just jump right in with what I love about my church?

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The Extrovert Ideal

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal–the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual–the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners, who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion–along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness–is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology….Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, 4.

7 Things the Church Expects from the Seminary

“Turn left!” I shouted. Such a simple command. You’d think it would be easy to follow. Yet I could only stare helplessly as we breezed through the intersection.

The problem: too many voices. I wasn’t the only passenger in the car. And the others also thought they knew where to go. Too many cooks in the kitchen ruins your dinner. Too many voices in the car gets you lost.

signs, confusion, directions, changing directions in seminary educationI think seminaries find themselves in a similar situation today. Everyone has an opinion about what seminaries should do: students, alumni, accreditation boards, government agencies, donors. So many voices. Each with its own idea about where to turn and what to do. Turn left. No, right. Stop! Go!

One of the tragedies of this situation is that the cacophony of voices has at times drowned out a key voice: the church. The seminary exists to serve the church. It’s that simple. We didn’t build seminaries simply to write books, teach classes, and host conferences. We built seminaries to train leaders for God’s people.

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