Friday, July 31, 2009

When Profit Becomes Loss

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the Apostle Paul's teachings on profit and loss. As an accountant, Philippians 3 is written in terms I can easily understand, although this particular part of the Apostle's letter to the believers in Philippi had me a bit bewildered. He says, "Whatever was profit I now consider a loss ..." How does something that is a profit be considered a loss. I mean, if you made a $10,000 profit, isn't that a profit? How can it be considered a loss? The next word provides the clue and helped illuminate several of Jesus' teachings in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

To be continued . . .

[For further reading: Paul's letter to the Philippians, Chapter 3.]
[Learn more about Philippi here:]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Isaac, Social Entrepreneur

On Saturday, Johnna made a dozen homemade strawberry muffins. No sooner had they gone in the oven when Isaac asked if he could sell them. Johnna said he could sell eight since four would be eaten by our family. When Johnna asked WHY Isaac wanted to sell them, he said he wanted to make money ($12 to be precise) to buy a goat for a family in Africa (see previous post A Practical Response).

Isaac crafted a sign to advertise the muffins (see photo), then Johnna helped him with the presentation of the muffins on a plate in a basket while I helped him with his sales pitch. Then it was time to load up. Johnna, Isaac, and Anna all went to sell the muffins to unsuspecting neighbors. In all of five minutes, they were back with $17 in hand. Turns out that Isaac's sales pitch ("I'm selling homemade muffins to make money to buy a goat for a family in Africa.") was quite effective. Thanks to our generous and compassionate neighbors.

And thank you Isaac, social entrepreneur, for showing us how homemade muffins have the power to change the world, one family at a time. I'm very proud of you!

[Watch for a future book by Isaac: How I Sold My Mom's Homecooking and Changed the World]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good Decisions

Occasionally one arrives at end of the week with some measure of regret or some feeling of business left unfinished. This was not one of those weeks for me. No, as I reflect on the week just ended, I'm proud of two decisions that directly affect two of the most significant people in my life: my son Isaac and my daughter Anna.

First, Isaac. Tomorrow, April 20, is his birthday and he's turning seven. Although his birthday party was yesterday, the actual day of his birthday is still a cause for great celebration in our home, and Isaac loves to celebrate. We think it's probably one of his spiritual gifts! (I'm not really joking; just read Luke 15 for three stories that end in great parties.) Anyway, I was invited to participate in an important meeting three hours from home, and I would not have returned home until after 8pm. The meeting could possibly help shape the direction of our family's next several years. Nonetheless, I declined the invitation to the meeting in favor of ensuring that I would be home and present with Isaac on his one and only 7th birthday.

Second, Anna. On Friday, Johnna took Luke for his nine month checkup, so I offered to stay home with Anna so that Johnna could focus on Luke (he had to get shots). My first thought was that Anna could watch a video while I worked from home. Fortunately, the Spirit of God encouraged me in a different direction, so I decided that we needed to get out of the house and away from the computer. So, Anna and I had a date at Einstein Brothers. We shared a chocolate chip bagel, and Anna had a not-s0-hot chocolate while I had a coffee. Anna excitedly remarked, "This place is AWESOME!" We decided to go back for another date in the near future. After that, we went over to the new Target store and just walked around. I had fun seeing the things that caught Anna's eye. No surprise ... everything that she was drawn to was pink. (I thought that a market researcher would have loved a video of Anna's meandering through the store.) After Target, we made a brief stop in the AT&T store to take care of some business, and we had a good time just sitting on a cool bench in the store. Then it was back home. A great few hours together with my precious daughter.

One of my favorite songs is American Dream by Casting Crowns. The song chronicles the life of a man obsessed with work and acquiring the "finer things" for himself and his family. Even while everything is falling apart, he elects to miss the daily events that shape the life of each family member. In the end, he's lost all of them. The song ends with the words, "All they ever wanted was you ... All they ever wanted was you." A great reminder of what is really important. The what is actually a who.

Well, this week I can proudly say that my family is getting me. I'm thrilled with the decisions to be present and involved in the lives of my kids, whether a special event or a rather routine day. As I wrap up this entry, I'm just thinking that this shouldn't even necessitate a blog entry. After all, these types of decisions should be the default setting. Unfortunately, these decisions run counter-cultural and require intentional thought to become reality. Perhaps if I make more decisions like these on an increasing basis they will in fact become the default for me and my family. And I'm sure we'll be a happier family as a result.

One last thing: I have the great privilege of cooking Isaac's favorite breakfast tomorrow morning on his birthday - waffles and sausage. Isaac requested three pieces of sausage, and I'll be the one to serve them to him!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Like Water in the Hands of God

For the past two years, I've been part of a really cool endeavor in northwest China. We weave hand knotted Tibetan rugs and other handmade products and change lives as we do it. At our Yushu facility, we purchase recently-sheared sheep wool from nomadic herders and turn it into the yarn we need to make great rugs. With just 11 employees, we're the largest private employer in a city of close to 100,000 people. This part of the Tibetan Plateau is severely impoverished, so what we're doing is making a difference. Looking ahead, we hope to employ several hundred people in Yushu. I've been working to understand how we can help achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Yushu.

The global financial crisis has severely impacted the home furnishings industry, and, like many companies, we've been struggling. Recently, our Board of Managers opted to sell our primary manufacturing facility (not the Yushu facility) and return to an almost all volunteer model of staffing. So ... I won't be with the company after April 30. There's this concept of earning an income to provide for our family's needs that's rather important to me!

So I have some time to reflect on the past two years and the experiences I've had in working with great people and tackling ambitious projects. The people who are (or were) on our team in China are some of my greatest heroes. It's not the easiest or warmest place to live on Planet Earth, and the culture and languages are complex. Nonetheless, these people have excelled. I'm proud to have worked with them. I'm also proud of what we've accomplished in the past two years: moving to a new factory in Xining, purchasing and opening the Yushu facility, and greatly expanding our sales/distribution channels in the US. We even recently received a reference from the godmother of the hand knotted rug industry. We've come a long way in two years.

Lest I appear boastful, let me quickly confess that only by the grace of God and the guidance of His Spirit has any of this happened. I have no misconception that it was my wisdom or strength that produced this for our company. [Deuteronomy 8 is a regular must-read!]

Last week I was in Portland, having dinner with a good friend and discussing the deep things of life. I commented to him that, "We desire to be like water in the hands of the Living God, poured out freely as and where He desires." This isn't mere spiritual talk; this accurately reflects the passion of our family. We pray daily that God will use us to serve those who are poor, oppressed, orphaned, widowed, without ... anywhere in the world. So, stay tuned for the next chapter in The Adventure of Life!

[For further reading: The Bible, Deuteronomy 8 and Isaiah 58]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Practical Response

I realized that several of my posts are merely informative but don't necessarily reflect how the information changes how we live. So, here's one way in which our family responded to the video in the previous post (The Poor of This World).

On Sunday afternoon, Isaac and I collected all the change we could find from around the house, including a treasure box in the garage that had a bunch of change. Isaac counted all the change, and it turned out that we had just shy of $24. Then we raided Johnna's purse for the remaining change that got us to $24.

Why $24? Well, $12 buys a goat for a family in Zambia where Johnna's sister lives and works. So, we were able to buy two goats for families in Zambia, and these goats can have a great impact on the lives of these families. [Read Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier] Johnna's sister will buy and deliver the goats to the families. Here's a picture of Isaac and Anna with their plastic bags; each one has $12 and represents a goat.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Poor of This World

I created this video for a recent presentation.

Music: "Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath
Photos by: Me, Johnna Raymond, Ken Shackelford, Jamin York
Photos taken in: China (Tibetan Plateau), Rwanda, Uganda
Video creation: Bret Raymond

To learn how you can serve the poor of this world, visit

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Saw What I Saw

Perhaps you've seen this video already, but it's worth watching again. Sara Groves was inspired to write this song after visiting Rwanda. What has inspired you to action?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

UN Millennium Development Goals

This video has had a tremendous impact on me, especially the last line. I'm reminded of the Scripture that says, "To whom much has been entrusted, much is required."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How Tall is Tall?

I spent a few hours this morning with a couple of friends at a local coffee establishment. Okay, it's not really local since it's a worldwide chain that has created millions of loyal customers who believe, actually believe, that "good coffee" should be burnt to the point that the individual and often quite phenomenal characteristics of the various beans are imperceptible ... all flavors simple melding into a homogeneous sea of blackness so that a customer can get the same cup of coffee in Beijing, Bentonville, or Brussels. What a travesty! But I digress.

So, we were at the coffee shop, but one of my friends wanted tea. The conversation with the barista went like this:

Friend: "So I'd like some tea."
Barista: "What size would you like?"
Friend: "What size do you recommend?"
Barista: "Tall."
Friend: "How tall is tall?"
Barista: "Short." At this point she showed him the "tall" size coffee cup which, evidently, is short after all.

I thought this whole exchange was quite hilarious, reminiscent of Steve Martin's cafe exchange in LA Story:

Tom: I'll have a decaf coffee.
Trudi: I'll have a decaf espresso.
Morris Frost: I'll have a double decaf cappuccino.
Ted: Give me decaffeinated coffee ice cream.
Harris: I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.

Now, if you really want some great coffee that celebrates the specific nuances of each bean, go to

[For further hilarity: LA Story.]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Charging yaks

This video was created by my friend Jamie Nofsinger in July 2007. We were in an Amdo Tibetan village in northwest China, elevation 11,500 feet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Malnutrition and Plumpy'nut

Every year, malnutrition kills about five million children. That's the population of the state of Colorado. I don't know about you, but I've never considered that an option for my kids. Every day, they have plenty to eat. Consider this:

  • My son's school now offers four choices for the main course at lunch, not to mention choices for vegetables and fruits.
  • With refrigeration, we can store food for quite a while.
  • Every day we give our kids multi-vitamins to ensure they're getting the proper nutrients to help them be healthy and grow into healthy adults.
  • And then there's the fact that we have clean water at our fingertips ... but that's a subject for another blog entry.
Five million kids die from malnutrition every year. That's not the case where I live. The number one health issue for kids here isn't lack of food; no, it's too much food: childhood obesity.

Five million. Dead from malnutrition. The Nazi holocaust killed an estimated six million Jews. This decade alone, an estimated 45 million children have died from malnutrition. By the end of this year, add another five million.

In ten years, 50 million children will have died from malnutrition. That's more than the populations of New York and Texas - combined.

That can change. Recently, two of my good friends told me about a product called Plumpy'nut, "an unusual name for a food that may just be the most important advance ever to cure and prevent malnutrition." This story by Anderson Cooper is worth watching. Take a look. Then do something to join the fight against malnutrition.

What you can do next:
Join the World Hunger Campaign (CARE)
Join Bread for the World
Join World Vision

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Long-haired Mama

Tonight I was reading to my kids from The Child's Story Bible. Isaac, my oldest, picked the story of Jeroboam and Ahijah (pages 172-173). In the story, the wicked king Jeroboam has encouraged the Israelites to make and worship idols, something that is disgraceful in Israel and specifically prohibited by the 2nd commandment. Jeroboam's youngest son becomes quite ill, and Jeroboam sends his wife to the prophet Ahijah to inquire if the child will live. Informed by the Lord that she is coming, Ahijah tells the woman that when she goes back to her city, the child will die. He goes on to tell her that all of her other sons will die a violent death due to their father's wickedness. By the end of the story, Jeroboam has died, his son Nadab takes the throne, and Baasha later leads a coup by murdering Nadab and the rest of Jeroboam's family. So, the prophet's words come to pass.

When we finished reading the story, I recapped with Isaac and Anna and then asked Isaac, "What kind of daddy do you want me to be?"

He wisely replied, "One that loves God and doesn't worship idols."

I then asked him, "When you grow up, what kind of daddy do you want to be?"

He said, "A good one that worships God and not idols."

So I thought I would try the question on Anna. "Anna, when you grow up, what kind of mama do you want to be?"

Anna carefully chose her words, "When I grow up, I want to be a long-haired mama."

[Recommended reading: The Child's Story Bible]