Thinking Out Loud

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites —  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

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October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

No post here ever got me in so much trouble as this one, when it ran in 2009 and 2010 and I became the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox. I might just fill it differently. Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

Comments are again closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros. HOWEVER, this time around we’ve added some additional questions and concerns that came about when Sarah posted her comments. They begin with number 9 in the list below; items 14-16 are from an article she linked to in her comment.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I had not seen in print or online when I wrote the original post and thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)
  9. Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?
  10. Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?
  11. Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?
  12. Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all? Is our intent to evangelize or convert with our gifts?
  13. Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?
  14. When we include personal care products such as soap and toothpaste in our gifts, are we sending a message that we feel they are not able to maintain their personal hygiene?  Toothpaste may be perceived as candy. Should we be rethinking some of our efforts to help people?
  15. How do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?
  16. Imagine yourself as a child living in a family where all resources go to obtaining food and shelter and suddenly you receive a package with a doll or a toy car. What does it feel like to receive something from someone who has such excess income that they can buy something that is not needed?

The link Sarah provided contains many, many position papers on the Shoebox program, that are good reading for any thinking person. Click here to access the .pdf file which contains notes from people who were actively involved in the distribution. Sadly, that article is no longer online.

Okay, so maybe there is  good that outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case —  once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

January 30, 2011

God Meets Us in Our Greatest Burdens

Lets Have a Bible Study!
On Thursday, I posted the results of a U.S. pastor’s congregational survey of the “burdens” that members of his church identified as things they were dealing with.  Later that day, I considered the list in the light of a particular scripture verse in Isaiah, and posted my thoughts at Christianity 201. I’m reprinting it here not because it’s one of my best posts or an example of my finest writing, but because it basically shows my Bible study process taking place.  Some simple steps here — not in order — include (a) checking the context; (b) using multiple translations; (c) using study Bible notes; and (d) using Bible commentaries.  And of course, (e) asking blog readers for their suggestions!


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

October 29, 2010

Rethinking Rethinking Shoeboxes

Hey, give me a break.   I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox.   I might just fill it differently.   Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

This time around, comments are closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I haven’t seen heretofore in print or online. So I thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)

Okay, so maybe the good outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case — once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

May 24, 2010

Your Pastor’s Emotional Rollercoaster Ride

If you’re like most of us, you attended church somewhere yesterday, heard a good sermon, and probably picture your pastor today with his feet up, reading the paper while sipping fruit juice;  relaxing on Monday.   But a pastor’s life isn’t like that; not for a minute.  If physical stress doesn’t weigh heavy, often emotional stress does.

I was going to save this post by Pete Wilson of Nashville’s Crosspoint Church for Wednesday’s link list, but I really want to make sure y’all read it in full.   (Yes, I’m writing from Canada, and I just said “y’all.”  Go figure.)  Besides, it’s a holiday Monday nationally here, and my creative department is shut down for the day!   The picture — which he posted the next day — is Pete Wilson on the golf course with Max Lucado.   I had to retouch it a bit to make sure it wasn’t just a generic guy in a hat!


‘Whiplash’ is a word I’ve used more than once when describing the emotions I often go through as a pastor.

Yesterday was a difficult day.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I need to write this now more than you need to read it, so please bear with me. Let me give you a little back story to help you understand.

Over the course of the past two years Brandi and I have had two sets of friends who have experienced the loss of a baby. Todd and Angie Smith who lost their baby after two hours of life and Mike and Holly Phelps who lost their baby late in their first pregnancy.

I can’t even begin to imagine the heavy heartache and deep loss they went through. And while getting pregnant again doesn’t take a way that pain, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that both couples were once again pregnant.

While each couple faced their own unique challenges, they were both on track to have healthy babies. I couldn’t help but think of what a bitter sweet experience it would be for both of them. A glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkness they’ve been walking through.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, in hospitals just two blocks away from each other, both couples had an pre-term delivery.

Yesterday morning I walked into two different hospital rooms. Both scenes could not have been more similar and yet more different.

Both rooms had moms who were laying in hospital beds. Both rooms had dads who were right by the bed holding and rocking a tiny infant.

However, the similarities end there as one baby was breathing and the other was not.

Todd and Angie’s room was full of prayers, crying and pure joy.  There was life.

Mike and Holly’s room was full of prayers and crying, but no joy.  No life.

The whole way to the Phelp’s room I cried. I knew the situation I was walking into. I cried out to God…

How could this happen to them again?

Why God, would you allow this family to endure this pain yet again?

Haven’t they been through enough?

Why God?

I’ve been criticized in certain circles for writing a book called Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?, which is about God, crisis and pain.  A book that clearly states I don’t think there are answers to all of life’s questions and complexities.

I dare any one of those critics to stand in the room with this young couple and even try to answer all of the questions they had yesterday as they sit there holding their lifeless child.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this as a pastor, but I’m going to anyway… Isn’t it amazing how in a moment like that you so desperately want God near, but at the same time you also feel secretly mad at Him?

  • Reality for Christians often means we have more questions than we do answers.
  • Reality is sometimes lacking the faith that will give us a sustained hope.
  • Reality is even though we know God is with us sometimes we feel completely alone.
  • Reality is even though we believe, we also doubt.

There’s a big difference between trust and understanding. They say trust is what we need when we don’t have understanding. So today I’m praying for trust. A big, huge, helping of trust.

It’s funny but the final paragraph of Plan B says,

I’m asking you to trust that one day faith will win over doubt, that light will win over darkness, love will win over hate, and all things will one day be redeemed. I’m asking you, right in the middle of your Plan B pain, to trust this process that is going on in your life.

I never knew when I wrote those words how much I would need them on a day like today.

~Pete Wilson, pastor and blog-author of Without Wax.

May 3, 2010

Pete Wilson: An “A” Quality Examination of Life’s Plan B Experiences

I believe that with this single book, Pete Wilson moves outside the circle of American pastors and bloggers and into the arena of people we consider major Christian voices for this generation.

I had a bit of an advantage here.   After years of being aware of Nashville pastor Pete Wilson through his blog, and listening to several of his sermons and video posts, I was able to hear his voice in my head as I read each page.   I’ve been impressed over the years with Pete’s complete honesty and transparency as someone walking the journey of life as we all do, albeit in the set-apart position of vocational ministry.

So I really, really wanted to be included among the 500+ people who are posting reviews of this book today as part of a blitz by the publisher, Thomas Nelson.    The book is Plan B – What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? Knowing this was his first time in print having to compete for the attention of North American Christians in a crowded publishing market, I was a little unsure how Pete would fare.

Here’s my review:

This is a landmark book.

Using a large number of examples from the lives of people Pete has pastored in Kentucky and Tennessee; combining in the Biblical examples of David, Joseph, Job, Ruth, and even Jesus; and finally mixing in quotations from some of today’s most popular contemporary Christian authors; Pete delivers a treatment of his subject that would be thorough enough to meet the most rigid academic requirements, but is delivered in a totally grassroots, down-to-earth, unpretentious style.

However…

This is not an easy book to digest.   Life is hard.   This is not a feel-good book with rhyming couplet sayings.   There are chapters that seem to ask more questions than provide answers.   In the end — spoiler alert! — there is no pastoral closing scene with a golden sunset or a rainbow against a blue sky.

If anything, I got the impression that as someone who has been pastoring for just a little over a decade, Pete has had more than his share of being with people at the deepest moments of personal crisis and tragedy.

When I was pastoring in Kentucky, I would often ride with law-enforcement officials after someone had been murdered or killed in a car accident.  The officers liked having me along when they went to inform the next of kin.   I still remember the sick feeling I would get when we pulled into a driveway to do that sad job.  I would think, Inside that house is a family just living their lives, going through the normal routine.  They have no idea how my next few words are going to turn their very life upside down forever.

Not a book for people — including myself at times — who would like to bury their heads and deny that life often presents us with seemingly impossible challenges.  But a book that finds there is hope to be found at the foot of the cross.

I found the overall pacing and writing of the book very similar to another title (from the same publisher) Fearless by Max Luacdo.   I think that fans of Lucado’s writing would find this a very comfortable fit for their library, if they’re open to trying a new author.   I won’t labor the similarities, but they are many.

But I also think there’s another application here:  I think that pastors and counselors should buy this book, read it, and then have an extra copy handy to give to people who suddenly find themselves in the valley.    This is an author who understands, who gets it.

Finally, I think there’s yet another direction for Plan B, which is hinted at in an eleven-page set of study questions at the back:  This would be an excellent group study.   We all experience unique trials and we all process these difficulties differently.   What better healing process than to get people sharing some of the darkest times in their lives with others who have had, are having, or will have similar times where God seems conspicuously absent?   Combining the first two chapters also yields a viable 13-week adult study curriculum.

Those of us who’ve enjoyed Pete’s blog, Without Wax, or listened to sermons at Cross Point already knew what Pete Wilson was all about.   I believe with this single book, Pete steps into the circle of people we consider significant Christian voices in North America and beyond.

Plan B – What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? by Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson, 244 pages paperback, May, 2010)

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