Monday, October 16, 2017

Random - Missions Pitch

I get a good amount of mission support letters, as you might imagine, and lots of times, there is a request to hear the 'pitch.' I actually like that - I think most people in these circumstances can use more practice for their pitch and I'm always willing to listen when I can. And there are almost always interesting and intriguing items of note in the orbit of the people and projects sending me these, here are some from the latest batch:

+ A church in a rural East Coast area has a vision to start both 10 campuses and 10 independent nonprofits serving specific areas in the community.
+ Distributed missions organization - treats all of their staff like everyone is an entrepreneur. Which I think is atypical.
+ One of the pitches was related to a community agriculture project. The candidate family is moving overseas and has secured an agreement with a local city government for land for a 9 year lease for $1.
+ Funding for one of these candidates is flowing through his own nonprofit, not through the sending agency. The perspective on this was that the agency wanted this person to own his financial network.
+ Most young people skip budgeting for retirement. At their age, time is their friend so skipping it is a big mistake. I know that can sound like a lack of faith. I would argue that it can sound like a lack of brains.
+ I received a very detailed project plan for one of these pitches, which included terms such as schedule performance index, variance at completion and annual yield. It was put together like a business, because, well, if your nonprofit doesn't make any money, it will cease to be a nonprofit.

As always, if you want to know more about these, ping me directly.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Mining Wifi Data on the London Tube

::: Science Says the Most Successful Kids Have Parents Who Do These 9 Things

::: Dad Suggests Arriving at Airport 14 Hours Early

::: 38 Startups Serving the Underserved

::: Bees create hives, ants create colonies, but humans create futures. - Erwin McManus

Photo: London, July 2015.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


We have started a new experiment this year as part of some Ember staff development: a monthly staff dinner with special guests. The goal of this is to gather our staff, and specifically, our ProtoGuide [who I will tell you more about soon] to hear from some of the most creative, missionally imaginative and innovative people we know.

Last week, our guests were B & S, who serve with The Samaritan Woman. TSW is a one of a kind organization dedicated to restorative work for victims of human trafficking. I've known B & S for a number of years and have always been impressed by their dedication, passion and ability to execute.

Some highlights from the dinner conversation:
TSW currently 3 residential recovery properties.
One mortgage paid off last week.
Another one paid off a few months ago by a very large, local church.

S listens to a podcast where there is a lady mentoring homeless women to make granola that breaks all sales records. She calls her and asks to be mentored.

TSW used train their clients in urban farming as a vocational skill - they have one of the only urban farms in Baltimore. But they pivoted, because most of their clients actually don't want to dig in the dirt.

Advice for a 17 year old interested in this kind of stuff:
Kingdom work isn't an exclusive marketplace either/or ministry anymore - it is more of a the ability to leverage your marketable skills.
Follow the Lord in obedience. You will reap joy in your life.

Thanks B and S and other guests for hanging with us.

Monday, October 09, 2017


Part of Ember got to join Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax for their annual missions conference this past weekend. Great time with their people. CBCF is church plant from Chinese Bible Church, College Park which was planted from Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, making CBCF a third generation church plant.

Always interesting questions about missions from things like this, including these from this weekend:
- Isn't short term missions a waste of time and energy when long term missions might actually make more of a difference?
- How do you figure out what your gifting and passions are and organize your life around that?
- What are some things that have changed in the field of missions since you started being involved compared to now?
- If I have some pre-teens at home, how could I start to prepare them for being involved in some of these things?

Thanks again CBCF for having The Ember Cast.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Friday Burn

::: Dangerous Shortcuts in Missions Mobilization

::: What is the Right Size for a Leadership Team?

::: 3 Hours of Productivity Every Day?

::: "If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine - it's lethal." - Paulo Coelho

Photo: Church in Sicily. July 2017.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

2017 CBCF Missions Conference,October 6-8

Would love to say hi if you are around...

Theme: Making Missions Matter

Oct 6, Friday at Rejoice Fellowship, McLean Bible Church 1A
Dinner starts at 6:30 pm, Program starts at 7:30 pm
(RSVP for dinner:
Speaker: Tony Sheng and the Missions Team
Message: “Vision and Skills for Missions Today (Ephesians 3:20 and John 20:21)
Missions sharing: The Ember Cast ministry

Oct 7, Saturday at CBCCP
Dinner starts 6:00 pm, Program starts 7:00 pm, Refreshment starts 9:10 pm
Short term missionary sharing: Crystal Mak (Go & Love)
Missionary sharing: K&M
Message by Dr. Brent Slater, Translation in Mandarin

Oct 8, Sunday at CBCF
Speaker: Tony Sheng and the Missions Team
10:00 am Message “Missions starting from us to next generation” (Daniel 1)
11:30 am Testimony: “Our Missions Journey”


(晚餐請至 報名)
信息:《宣教的異象與技巧》(弗三20, 約廿21),及火種傳遞宣教事工分享


十一時卅, 分見證分享:我們的宣教歷程

Monday, October 02, 2017

Think Deeply About Relief

Sandy. Maria. Harvey. Irma. Katrina. Matthew.

My advice to churches and nonprofits that want to send teams to assist with these kinds disasters? It isn't popular advice...
1. Send money. But not to the Red Cross. [Extra reading]
2. If you must send teams immediately, send highly trained professionals. Think medical, supply chain, construction, infrastructure. [Extra reading]
3. If you send teams later, ensure they are prepared to build capacity and not just do labor. [Extra reading: 1 2 ]

Most of us are surrounded by people that sacrifice incredibly because they have been blessed to bless others. Consider that resource carefully.

Photo: Coney Island, NYC. Post-Sandy. Jan 2013.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Burn

::: QR codes in China

::: Strategies from Writers on How to Stay Productive
Link via Justin Long

::: The Elevator that Zooms Horizontally and Vertically

::: Honor the past but be more loyal to the future - Brian Houston

Photo: Warsaw city wall. July 2017.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Chris C and I with Chris Guillebeau, last night in DC, who provided much of the inspiration and instruction for our Sheng travel hacking. His new book, Side Hustle, came out a few weeks ago and, although I haven't read it yet, it is I'm sure worth the read. If you ever wonder what other productive things you can do with your time outside of a day job, this book would be for you. Of course, that might include something like starting a nonprofit for emerging global student leaders, or hey maybe you've got another great idea.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hello SeptEmber

Well, I cannot say it's been a great sabbatical... but I have appreciated the time off. But we aren't quite done yet - there are at least a few leaders the Lord has entrusted to Ember for this upcoming season.

Here is a bit of what we are working on:
+ ProtoGuide 17-18
MB started with us a few weeks ago, excited to tell you more about her soon. She started with the StrengthsFinder [Empathy, Belief, Consistency, Adaptability, Connectedness] and has started digging into Movements that Change the World. For those of you not familiar, ProtoGuides work with me for a school year at a Staff level. The ProtoGuide experience is our best effort at resourcing and engaging the best, brightest and most passionate emerging global student leaders we can find.
+ Monthly Ember staff dinner
We are hosting a monthly Ember staff dinner which will feature special guests doing some of the most creative, innovative and interesting global missions, nonprofit, charitable projects around. Invite only - mostly so our staff can get to meet these amazing people.
+ Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax
I'm speaking at a missions conference hosted by Chinese Bible Church, Fairfax in early October. We'll have some of our teams there too - would love to say hi if you are around.
+ Perspectives
Teaching Lesson 12 at 2 classes near Lancaster in late November. There will also be three classes in the DMV in the Spring so if you are thinking about taking the class, it is highly recommended.
+ And more...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Grand Canyon - 2009

Saying goodbye to her body over the next few days but not her spirit. And that's the Gospel - death to life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Madre

I used to joke routinely with The Madre that Chinese people were taking over the world by marrying into one Caucasian family at a time. We are grieving losing her a few evenings ago and yet thrilled for her that she is now healed, reunited with her husband Rudy and promoted to Glory.

In many ways, she was more than a mother to me than even my own mom. And of course I'm part of a lot of people that benefited from her investment of raising three incredible kids. If you knew her, you knew she parented with compassion and character, grace and truth, perseverance and prayer, sarcasm and wit. Especially sarcasm and wit.

The Madre was also a huge patron of student missions, supporting Ember in many ways. She hosted numerous teams of high school kids at her house over the years, living out an ethos of hospitality. She traveled with us this past Spring - her first time traveling out of the USA was to the Middle East. You are never too old for an adventure.

Thanks to all of you for your messages, comments, texts and emails - we have read and cherished every one of them. We are looking forward to celebrating her life in a few weeks.

Photo: Sir Bani Yas Island, UAE. April 2017.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Book Notes - The Last Arrow

If you submit to the idea that you can be mentored by someone from a distance [which I do], I'll tell you that I've been mentored by a handful of people from a distance, including Erwin McManus. So of course, his latest book, The Last Arrow, is a must read for me. He packs lots of cool stuff in there, like adventure, risk, faith, relationships and leadership and will get you to think in new and different ways about those ideas. The Last Arrow will push you to consider what you are about, who you are devoted to and what your life will amount to. Highly recommended.

The Last Arrow is not a call to never settle in every arena in life; The Last Arrow is a call to never settle about what God intends to do with your life. You have to know what matters; you have to know who you are; you have to know what your life is to be given to. For in the end, the one thing where we must never settle for less in is the calling that God has on our life; the purpose for which he has created us, the impact he designed us to make in the world.
The great tragedy that I have witnessed over and over again is that we keep underestimating how much God wants to do in us and through us. Too many of have believed the lies we have been told, that we're not good enough, we're not smart enough, we're not talented enough, we're just not enough. One of the facets of God that makes him extraordinary is the ability to do the impossible through the ordinary, everyday, common people like you and me. This book has one intention, that whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, live a life of celebrity or anonymity, that when you take your last breath, you will know that without reservation that you have given everything you have, everything you are, to the life you have been entrusted with.

While my family has had the great privilege of traveling across the world, I am reminded that Jesus never walked far from the place of his birth. The great adventure that God calls us on does not require jet-setting across the planet. Sometimes our greatest quest is within walking distance of our front door. Sometimes the great challenge that God has placed in front of us comes in the most unexpected places - like being a good husband, a good wife, a good parent. Sometimes your geography doesn't change at all but the journey is still long and hard. Becoming the man that your family deserves is no small endeavor.

Sometimes God needs you to go somewhere so that you can take others there as well. When you choose to stay behind, the future moves on without you. When you refuse to stay behind, you become a conduit to the future.

Perhaps the reason so few of us have received a double portion of God's spirit is that the lives we have chosen require so little of God because they require so little of us. I do not want to watch God work from a distance. Neither do I want to hear the amazing stories of God's activity in the world as if they are fables made for other people in an ancient time. I want to live the kind of life that cannot be lived without the fullness of Christ in my life.

You need to act like your life depends on it because it's never just your life involved. You need to never settle for less because the world desperately needs everything you can bring to the table. There's a subtle spirituality that has a deep disdain for ambition and hides apathy behind a language of simplicity. If you want to life a simple life, that's a beautiful thing. If you want to use it as an excuse to live beneath your God-given capacity, that is negligence.

People like Shammah create a problem for the rest of us. One person who chooses to live a heroic life disrupts the narrative 'we are living a lesser life' as the acceptable option.

You can't fight the future, but you can create the future. To fight the future is to ensure that you will be lost and left behind to the past. For some, the idea of standing your ground is a desperate resolution to find some way to make sure that the past is the future and that the future never happens. Frankly, the apocalyptic tone of the Christian faith has postured the church as an enemy of the future. The faithful hold on to the past and fight for the future. If I have had one struggle in my faith journey, it has been that the church seems to march into the future walking backwards. For many, the only hope of faith is that one day we will leave this earth and be free from a future which filled as with fear. Often our best hope has been that Jesus would come back soon. Yet I am convinced this is exactly the wrong posture for any of us who live by faith. Faith is the fuel of the future, and if God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, then tomorrow should fill us with inexplicable hope. No matter how bleak the present may seem for those of us who believe, the future is always full of hope.

So who are we to believe - Solomon when he says there is nothing new under the sun, or God who says, "I am doing a new thing?" The same God who says, "I am making everything new," the same God who tells us that he gives us a new heart and makes us new creations, the same God who calls us to sing a new song and whose mercies are new every morning.
For me, the future is my field of lentils. I have found the church strangely walking backward into the future. The church has become an institution that preserves the past and fears the future. It is not an overstatement to say that the church has become more of a reflection of what we are running from than what we are running to. No wonder we have lost our power to change the world. No wonder the church has lost its magnetism to a world searching for hope. We are seen as the guardians of tradition. The church is known for fighting for the future rather than creating the future that humanity desperately needs.

I have a limited number of copies to give away - leave a comment and I'll ping you if you are a winner.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sabbatical Reading

1 The Last Arrow Erwin McManus *
2 5Q Alan Hirsch
3 What is the Bible Rob Bell
4 Only the Paranoid Survive Andrew Grove
5 Whisper Mark Batterson *
6 Alone Together Sherry Turkle
7 Jesus of Arabia Andrew Thompson

1 out Sept 5
5 out Oct 24