March 2010

A team from my faith community Impact recently spent a week serving the thousands of people who live around the Guatemala City Garbage dump. The trip was part of our partnership with a Guatemalan ministry named Potter’s House.

Unlike our last 3 trips, this team was able to go inside the actual dump. They passed out water, vitamins, and medicine to hundreds of people who were scavenging through the dump that day.

My colleague Benj Petroelje shared his journal entry with me, and gave me permission to post it.

Guatemala City Garbage Dump – Journal – Day 5

Vultures.  They are what’s eating at me most about this trip and the Guatemala City dump.  Human Beings.  They are in competition with these vultures for the precious scraps of garbage.  Is there a more obvious picture of death anywhere in this world?  Vultures – a bird that represents death.  Human Beings – made in God’s image and meant for life … Standing/Flying side-by-side wading through garbage.


Jesus spoke about a place where two valleys met at the site of a garbage dump.  He spoke of a kind of unquenchable fire that existed there.  It was a literal place.  It was sub-human.  No one was meant to exist there.  Not even vultures.  He called it Gehenna.

We call it hell.

I rode into hell today in the back of a pickup truck.  Unlike Lazarus, I was able to bring water.  But what does water do for those working next to vultures?  What do vitamins do when your very existence is less than human?  What does medicine do when the worms living in your stomach are guaranteed to return?

I’m not sure what they do.

But I do know that hell exists.  And I do know that hell isn’t meant to exist in a world meant for heaven.

So we brought water.

We brought vitamins.

We brought medicine.

We brought ourselves.

Because hell exists (and it shouldn’t).

I know.  I went there today.

Explore how you can partner with Potter’s House on their site.


Years ago I served at a medium-sized church in a transitional urban neighborhood. There were a number of wonderful people in that congregation. Pat and Dick Franklin are one couple who impacted me. I have often thought that the church, and the world, would be in better shape if we had more people like the Franklins.

Here are some of their traits that I admire:

Thoughtfulness – The Franklins take the call to “love God with their mind” seriously. Dick was a professor at a local state university. Pat certainly had the intellectual capacity for such a role.  They are not into hopping on band wagons or joining witch hunts. Instead, they carefully considered things from a deeply biblical world-view, with confidence that all truth belongs to  God.

Passion – The Franklins prove that a thoughtful faith is not a dead faith. They have a faith that is full of passion. I will never forget seeing Dick with tears streaming down his cheeks listening to a teen talk about a week serving the urban poor.  I will never forget seeing the spark in Pat’s eyes as she guided the Christian Education Committee in discussions about holistic discipleship.

Commitment – Out of their thoughtful and passionate faith, the Franklins live lives of tremendous commitment to the Kingdom of God. They have both served as elders at the church, and on various committees, but their commitment goes even deeper. They do not shy away from being counter-cultural, popular culture or church culture, even when it cost them. For example, they could have a bigger house, fancier cars, or more exotic vacations, but they want to give as much money as possible to God’s work in the world.

I still want to be like Dick and Pat Franklin when I grow up. Please join me. They give the earth a lot more salt and light.

Here are some significant books I am reading. I recommend any of them!

The Divine Commodity -Skye Jethani

I have finished this book, but it was good enough to mention. Skye skillfully looks at various trends in our consumer-driven culture, and exposes their dangers. Then he explains how the modern American church has conformed to these cultural trends, and the disastrous consequences that followed. Finally Skye makes suggestions of how we can recover what have lost. Even if you do not agree with all of Skye’s critiques of the modern American Church, the stakes are high enough that you need to give this book serious consideration.

The Hole in Our Gospel – Richard Stearns

I finally opened this book today, and it is already good enough to put on the list. Stearns is the president of World Vision U.S.. In this book he weaves together scripture, stories of extreme poverty, theology, and his personal experience to call us to a more full picture of what it means to follow Jesus in the world today. He calls us out of a privatized other-worldly faith, and into a faith that is actually good news for the world. He gives a very clear call for us to return to the Gospel that Jesus Taught – the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Knowing Christ Today – Dallas Willard

Willard is one of my favorite authors. As a philosophy professor at USC, the brother flows deep. I limit myself to reading his books when I am caffeinated and able to fully engage. In this book Willard argues that Christianity is to be a religion rooted in the knowledge of reality. He calls us beyond mere belief, commitment, and profession – showing the dangers of limiting faith to those areas. He shows that living out of knowledge of what is real is the way to a life-giving faith. It is the way that God intends for us to live.

The Me I Want to Be – John Ortberg

I am not crazy about the name, but the book is quite good. It is like a refreshing glass of water. Ortberg has a unique ability to take deep concepts, things written by Willard, and communicate them to a broader audience. In this book he begins with the freeing idea that God wants us to redeem us not replace us. There is a true self that God wants to restore through the Holy Spirit. Ortberg explores what this flourishing of the true self looks like in four areas of life: Mind, Time, Relationships, and Experience.

Once I was in a prayer meeting with a leader I admire.

This person was the lead pastor of a large and influential church. He also chaired the board of a large and influential Christian organization. I admired this leader’s abilities, influence, and accomplishments.

My admiration of the leader grew during the meeting, but in a different way.

This leaders first prayer request was for a 16-year-old girl in his neighborhood.  He was visibly moved as he told how this teen had made some poor choices, and was facing the wrath of the adults, and many kids, in the community. His prayer request was that this young woman would know how important she was to God, and that the leader and his wife would know how to best come beside this girl and serve her.

I had gotten caught up in all the big things that this leader was doing. He showed me an even greater level of leadership. In the midst of remarkable roles and responsibilities, he was still able to notice and care for a hurting teen in his neighborhood. His greatest leadership asset was not his titles, it was his person.

After the meeting, I told him that he had just taught me an important leadership lesson with his prayer request.

He responded, “Jim, it is all about people. People are what matter. If you ever see me forget that, please shake me.”

Most of us will never have the influential roles and titles of this particular leader. However, we can all be great leaders if we are sensitive to the needs of others and attentive to how God would have us serve them.

Should you run away from a church that is involved in social justice?

A popular media figure recently pleaded with people to do just that.

But, what do the scriptures say?

Here are just a few of the many scriptures that speak to God’s thoughts on faith and justice:

Isaiah 58

6 “This is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke.

7 It is to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.

Micah 6

8 He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 25

40 “Jesus will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

45 “Jesus will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

James 1

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Should you run away from a church that is involved in social justice?


In fact, I believe that the scriptures call us to the opposite action.

You should run away from your church if it is NOT involved in social justice.

The God revealed in the bible is not interested in any faith that does not include justice and mercy for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

Heaven came to earth in Jesus.

Heaven comes to earth in the Spirit.

The Church should live out heaven on earth.

Take heart, one day God will fully bring heaven to earth.

The grace and peace of God has come upon us in King Jesus the Rescuer.

Live like that is true.

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