Monday, April 12, 2021

Hurting Spirits and Kindred Spirits

Hurting Spirits

In January, I wrote a blog on a story of two nurses and a pastor, describing potentially different responses by a church and pastor to two nurses.  One pastor presented the church as a place that one goes to for theological answers while the other pastor presented the church as a place where workers can carry their questions, praises, and pains to God in community.

Shortly after posting that blog, I received the following email from someone who had a strong reaction after reading it.  With this person's permission, (and with bolded areas added by me), I share it with you:
My heart unexpectedly crashed when I read your blog. My head later caught up with my emotional reaction as I quietly meditated over what was going on in me.

Not once in my 40-year career as a professional service provider and as an active member within three congregations over that period of time was my work ever acknowledged as a form of worship, let alone prayed over and sent out by the church. Rather the implicit message was, "That is great what you do out there. Now, can you lead a group or teach a class in the church where God's real work is done?" And I did that in each of the churches where I was a member. Over the years, church participation was something more for me to do, over and beyond the service I provided in the community, especially for families in the community who would otherwise not financially afford the professional help.

Sadly, my connection with other church members was often peppered with requests for free advice or expectations that my professional privilege should easily be brought into the church life to enhance God's Kingdom work inside the church walls. I often experienced both a deeply felt fatigue and isolation in my church participation. Church was another drain on my personal resources of time and energy. I never experienced church as a resource or support for the work I did outside the church walls.

 It is not that the theology of sacred work was not preached. But it was not put into practice because neither I nor the church leaders knew the practical implementation of supporting and commissioning professional knowledge-holder's work outside of the church walls.

July 31, 2020 was my last day as a professional service provider. I surrendered my state license. A part of me is sad; a part of me feels relief. However, my role in the church remains disconnected apart from participating in corporate worship.

I am resilient. I deeply love the Lord. I will be fine. But something was missing for decades. I am just beginning to understand the cost for the church and myself.
My heart was deeply saddened when I read this.  It haunted me for days.  The last sentence especially gripped me:  "I am just beginning to understand the cost for the church and myself."

There is cost on both sides.  

The Church scattered, meaning the people of God from Monday-Saturday, suffer significantly when they are not equipped, encouraged, discipled, and commissioned to do their work as an act of worship with specific teaching on what that practically looks like.   

But the Church gathered also suffers significant lose in this dichotomy between sacred and secular.  The loss is so great yet often missed.

Kindred Spirits

Shortly after receiving this response to the blog, I had an opportunity to meet with other Business as Mission practitioners who are also passionate about bringing this opportunity of discipleship into the church.  Sadly, this group is very, very small.  But I did find a kindred spirit.

Devin Dickle, from Open USA.  Their motto is to "integrate the power of God and business to transform lives among the least reached.  In further conversations, Devin informed me that he wrote a paper called, "Overcoming the Church and Business Divide."  I encourage you to read it.  You have heard this message from me as well as from Discipling Marketplace Leaders for some time, and it is good and refreshing to hear someone else deliver a very similar message.  Then, if you have time for more, please listen to Devin's talk below.  

I have been encouraged by this and I hope you are too.  In a couple of weeks, the Business as Mission (BAM) Global Congress is going to meet, and Discipling Marketplace Leaders is going to have an opportunity to share, as well as work with other leaders who have a passion for BAM and the Church to come together.  Please pray with us for this time, that it may be Spirit led and directed! We pray that we may find many more kindred spirits who have sensed a call to comprehensive discipleship of the nations!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Are you a Stone Catcher?

In John 8, the story is told of the Pharisees bringing a woman caught in adultery (not the man, just the woman) to Jesus to ask Him what to do with her, noting that in the time of Moses they were to stone her.  Of course, the Pharisees weren't actually looking for advice but were looking to trick Jesus.  Jesus bends down to write on the ground, then stands to say, "Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to throw a stone at her."  Then he bends down again to write on the ground.  When he looks up again, there is no one left.

While there are MANY remarkable things about this incident, what is most remarkable to me (in this day and age of "reality" being so subjective) is that they "went away one by one, beginning with the older ones."  Justification of our sins has served us well for centuries.  It's how we live with ourselves.  Our brain needs to make sense of our own violation of morals and ethics so it explains it in a way that allows us to sleep at night (even though some sleep loss might be warranted!).  But no-one threw a stone. 

This past week we had another book club meeting with the DML team to look at our last chapter of the book Honorable in Business where the author challenged us to be stone catchers.  In John 8, the Pharisees walked away and no-one threw a stone.  Maybe because they recognized Jesus in the form of God before them and they had to be honest?  But today, many people throw stones without thinking twice.  Those stones are being hurled in many different contexts, and part of our call, as Christians in the workplace, is to be stone catchers - protecting those who are being stoned.  The authors write:

At times, Christians in business will be stone catchers - acting with justice and mercy in a world where often the results of business activities are like stones being thrown at supervisors, colleagues, employees, customers, vendors, stockholders, the public, anyone in general, with or without naming specific individuals.  In these instances, the Christian who wishes to answer the question asked in heaven:  "Were you honorable in business?"  in the affirmative, must act a stone catcher.  

Since the Christian knows the end of the story, he or she will today "engage in business with a sense of hope and meaning."  They will look forward to whatever God has in mind for eternity for those who have spent their lives serving their fellow humans through "enabling the community to flourish and providing opportunities for employees to engage in meaningful and creative work. (Honorable in Business, Gibson and Augsburger)

We live in a world of stone throwers.  Sometimes these stones are obvious, but often they are not.  They can be physical, verbal, or even non-verbal.  They hurt, they damage, they destroy.

The marketplace is a difficult place to be.  We are surrounded by hurting people living in a world of judgment.  It is not enough that we consider our own sin before throwing a stone - sometimes we need to step in and be the stone-catcher.  

Catching stones that are thrown with force with the intent to injure or kill is putting yourself in danger's way.  That may hurt.

Catching stones that are not well-aimed, means you may be injured yourself.  You may not be able to catch it.  It may strike a blow.  That will hurt.

But as the people of God, who are to be the Church every day of the week, in every setting, we need to have eyes to see this pain and the courage to step in.

We teach that to love our neighbor requires four C's:  compassion, capacity, competence, and courage.  

May God help us to further develop these muscles to be stone catchers and share the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ.

PS - Friends, we just finished our Economics of Hope class this past week with our partners.  We discussed how the shame of poverty is a major partner in brokenness for how the materially poor see themselves.  Instead of seeing themselves as being created in the image of God, they often feel inferior to others.  At this time, we are seeking to raise funds to mitigate the huge numbers of people moving toward extreme poverty because of the pandemic.  We have a matching grant opportunity that needs to be met by the end of March.  For more information, and to participate, please click here.

Monday, March 22, 2021

100 million more people in extreme poverty and how you can help!

The world was on a significant trajectory to eradicating extreme poverty (those living on less than $2/day).  As you can see in the graph below, the world went from 1.9 billion people in extreme poverty in 1990 to 650 million people in extreme poverty in 2018.  That is huge and wonderful!  As you can see in the graph, most of the poverty reduction took place in South Asia and East Asia & Pacific, and most of that poverty reduction came as a result of business development.  Unfortunately, the number of people in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa actually slightly increased over the same period of time.

However, the pandemic significantly altered this trajectory and the progress in the global number of people in extreme poverty is expected to increase by 100 million.  That is heartbreaking.  The graph below shows what the line looked like for Pre-COVID predictions and then with the reality of COVID.

The graph below breaks out by region where the new poor are going to be.  Many will be in Africa.
Because of this, Discipling Marketplace Leaders launched a campaign last week to raise funds for business development for our partners, to augment what they started last year in the form of pig farms, goat farms, fish farms, mushroom farms, rice farms, and other business development.  Last year we gave more than $150,000 and for this campaign we are looking to raise $55,000 to promote business sustainability projects.

The important thing to remember is that the money that many of you gave last year is still working as our partners require that the first piglets or baby goats are passed on to another person so that they too can start farming!  We are so thankful for last year's gifts that keep giving today!

In this last week, we received a challenge grant in the amount of $10,000, for which we are so thankful!  Would you prayerfully consider contributing something toward this before the end of March?  To do so, please click here and select the "Continued Connections, Flourishing Partners" Campaign.

100% of your gift will go to these business development projects.

Please pray as well.  With the help of God and the body of Christ working together, we can mitigate some of this poverty.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Economics of Hope: Does the Bible support one type of economic system?

Last week, DML started teaching a newly developed class, called "Economics of Hope."  This is a take-off of a class that we had taught called "Development and Social Change" but we felt the need to tailor and focus it more on economics and the hope that we find regarding economics in the Bible.

A question that comes out in this class is this:  Does the Bible propose an economic system?  Does God favor one of the four choices that most of us face in our various countries (Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, or Fascism)?

We don't see those words in the Bible, of course, but what can we glean from scripture in this regard and what does this mean for us today?

What we find in Scripture over and over is the desire for shalom, which I like to define as "vigorous wellbeing and abundant flourishing."  That is God's will for His people.  That is God's desire for His creation and all its creatures.  That was how it was set up before the fall.  That system called for all people to work and care for creation in order to perpetuate its flourishing (Genesis 2:15).  

We serve a working God.  We are made in His image.  But we don't have a "Made in the image of God" stamp on us (like many products that say "made in China").  It's not just a stamp - it's a part of who we are.  We bear that imprint in body and soul.

God created a system in which all would work and all would flourish.  So far so good.

Next we look at how often the Bible talks about private property and not stealing (implying ownership).  There are many mentions of this throughout Scripture, indeed even the longing that everyone would have their own vineyard and orchard (Micah 4:4).  Private property and ownership is very important for thriving and flourishing.  Studies have been done on what happens when the poor are given their own property - education and income increases, as well as many other positive effects.  

What about business and trade?  There are MANY examples in the Bible of strong, successful men and women who kept God on the throne despite their success and wealth.  But trade must be honest.  God abhors dishonest scales.  Trade must be done in a way that causes the customer and the employee to flourish.  That is the goal.  Profit is a means to this end but should not be an end in and of itself.  But we are expected to be fruitful and multiply so that MORE may flourish (parable of talents and minas).  Maintenance is not good enough.  

What about consumption?  The Bible tells us many things about money and wealth.  But much of it can be boiled down to three main points:  The hoarding of wealth is condemned, the sharing of wealth is encouraged, and the creation of wealth is both a God-given ability and command.  The New Testament command to give generously and with a grateful heart means that we should not be asking "How much should I give" but rather "How much do I need to keep?"  The difference in that question is the taking away from the "limitation" of the idea of the tithe from the Old Testament.

These are just a few of the things we can look at to see what the economy of God looks like and how things should operate.

Of course, we don't see any perfect system anywhere, and in my opinion, capitalism comes closest of the four.  But it has many issues, including feeding the desire of unnecessary things and the neglect of certain groups.  While we can get angry at the level of consumption, the inequality in resources around the world, the lack of jobs, and the lack of flourishing, it's important that we turn to hope.  

Christians can live and work according to God's economy.  The Christian Church can teach and lead people in this way.  Within our spheres of influence we can have an impact and we must hold on to that hope. 

Romans 15:13 reminds of this - and that we, as believers, should overflow with hope through the Holy Spirit!

Pastor Stephen Atria from Uganda is one person that gives me hope.  He has started something called "Monday Church" encouraging his members to live out the economic system of God.  This has had a ripple effect through his church and community.  I happened to catch his testimony a couple of weeks ago during a Zoom training and I invite you to listen to hear it, to also catch the hope that we can have when we apply what we know and believe on a daily basis and in our spheres of influence:

Monday, March 8, 2021

So I guess I AM a Canadian...

When I teach at various universities and seminaries, I often introduce myself this way:   "I'm a Dutch, Canadian, American, Liberian, Ghanaian, Kenyan citizen.  So I'm mostly confused.  But I know that I am a child of God and a citizen of heaven, awaiting my time to go Home!"  People laugh and I expand a bit more on my background.  

My husband, Michael, is Canadian with a green card and he has no plans to change that any time soon.  He insists that I too am Canadian, but I remind him that when I became an American in 2009, I had to "forswear all other" nationalities and pledge my allegiance to the US.  This has been an ongoing (playful) argument as to whether I am a Canadian.  

But then this happened to me last week.

On Wednesday, I drove to Port Huron, MI in order to get into Canada to spend a little over two weeks at my aunt's house with my mom.  Fourteen days must be in quarantine, but my aunt's house offers me my own bedroom, bathroom, office (so I can keep working), and living space.  I did this in December and the approval that they gave me in November is for six months, so I thought I should make one more trip (especially as I hope to be going to Africa again soon!).

The border guard looked at my US passport, my paperwork and my recent COVID test results, and then said, "I need to refer you to the Port Health Authority to go over your quarantine expectations, but as a Canadian, you should have no problems getting in."  I nearly repeated, "As a Canadian?"  But having learned long ago to say no more than necessary, I thanked him and went to see the Port Health Authority.  I ran into trouble with them and they denied me entry because they said my mom couldn't be in the same house where I was quarantining because that is a mix of too many households.  Since that was my whole reason for going (to spend time with her), I knew I had to turn around and go back home.  While I was on the phone with her telling her the bad news, the official who met with me came over and said, "Since you are a Canadian, it doesn't sound like they are making the right call - let me check with them."  Again I'm a Canadian, I wondered?  Two minutes later, the Port Health Authority person called me back and said they changed their mind based on the size of the house.  I was cleared to go.  

Of course, I was greatly relieved but I thought it curious that after 11 years of being an American and entering Canada with an American passport, I've never been referred to as a Canadian.

Then on Saturday, I received an email from the Canadian government regarding my quarantine, and it started by saying, "You are receiving this email because you recently returned from traveling outside of Canada...", again implying that I am Canadian and have just been out traveling! I guess I've been traveling outside of Canada since I was 17 years old - for 35 years!

So I guess, from Canada's perspective, I am Canadian.

It's a little strange to be unsure of your identity.  When I say I'm American, there is always a twinge of not feeling fully American.  I certainly haven't felt like I'm Canadian.  I have tried to move away from being identified as Dutch, even though my parents are both from the Netherlands.  And I certainly can't claim I'm African, even though that's the continent I have grown to love and where I would love to continue living. 

I'm glad my citizenship is in heaven and all the rest really doesn't matter.  As long as I have travel papers that allow me to cross borders, I'm happy!

And, Lord willing, in May I will be traveling to Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia to meet with Assembly of God pastors and Harvest International Ministries.  It's been about a year since I've been in Africa and it is time!

Oh...and one more thing...I guess my husband was right about me being Canadian.  He says that I don't say that often enough...that he is let me say it publicly here!  

Monday, February 22, 2021

360°: Gathered, to Scattered, to Gathered

Over the last three weeks, we've seen the impact of a quadruple bottom line applied in the workplace through Brian, Patience, and Michael.  I've been so thankful for the feedback and encouragement from many of you in response.

But we are beginning to see (again, thanks to the work of Willson and Kaemingk's book, Work and Worship) that the "church gathered to church scattered" is only half of the challenge (or shall we say opportunity) before us.  What about the "church scattered to church gathered?"  We need to come full circle.  We need to integrate into our worship and "our church gathered liturgy" new and different practices as we return to the sanctuary.  This has been a recent and ongoing "aha" for me.

Psalm 73 helps us to see this clearly.  In verses 2-3, 12, and 16-17, it says, 
As for me, my foot had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked...This is what the wicked are like - always free of care, they go on amassing wealth...When I try to understand all this, it troubled me deeply until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

The perspective of this writer shifted as he entered the sanctuary.  The "church gathered" gives a chance to look at the cluttered economy of the world from a different perspective, allowing us to see into the true economy of God.  All workers need to regularly and physically withdraw from the economy of the world so that we can discover how our work can stand in alliance with the justice, rest, and generosity of God!

When we do not do this, we risk being part of what Ezekiel 28:18 says, "By your many sins and dishonest trade, you have desecrated your sanctuaries."

We need to examine ourselves before worship.  We need to be aware of our unclean hands when we enter the sanctuary.

If this does not happen, the integrity of our worship will be impacted.  And if we engage in unfaithful worship practices, the integrity of our work will also be impacted.  One leads to the other, either to both flourish or to both suffer.  The two are tied together and we must not forget that.

The authors of Work and Worship paint a picture that I have relished as I imagine it.  I long to see this take place in every church that is gathered.  They ask us to imagine a church gathered, that is about to have communion.  Each person brings up something of their work:  a hammer, a wrench, a tie, a muffler, a uniform, a day planner, a plate of muffins, a bottle of wine, a baby bottle, blueprints, a loaf of bread, keys, a laptop.  Children bring up crayons, soccer balls, textbooks.

These are all placed around the communion table and the pastor says, "Let's pray:

Lord of all creation, 
You have given us this work.
You have planted us in this city.
We serve in hospitals, businesses, homes, and schools,
Places to care and create, places to serve and to bless.
We come to you today grateful for all these vocations,
Grateful for the opportunity to join you and your work in this city.
And so today we present our humble and imperfect works to you.
We ask that, through the redeeming power of your Son,
You would take our fallen and finite tasks and turn them into worship,
Works of praise, pleasing to you.
In the power of your Spirit, take our meager and imperfect crafts,
Use them to feed, and serve, and bless this city.
Through the power of your Spirit, may these fruits produce an aroma,
An aroma that is sweet to you
And all who are blessed by them.
Lord, some of these callings frustrate us.
Many of these challenges cause us pain.
From injustice and discrimination at work, we pray for deliverance.
From pain, we pray for your healing.
For those straining to receive a new calling,
We pray that your voice would be heard strong and clear.
God, we confess that we do not always offer our best at your table
We confess that sometimes we do not offer our all.
We hold back.
We try to control these callings.
We think they belong to us.
We think they exist to bless us alone.
Forgive us, Lord.
These labors we offer today are imperfect,
Sometimes they are outright rebellious.
Forgive us for our unfaithfulness at work.
Clean our soiled hands and hearts.
Renew our minds.
By your grace and through the power of your Spirit,
Take these callings and make them yours.
Break these callings open and feed your people.
Pour these callings out and quench their thirst.

May the work of our hands,
The offerings of our whole lives
Give you pleasure and bring you praise.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Then the pastor takes the loaf of bread and the bottle of wine from the pile before them, and they have communion together.  

The people marvel at how the works of their hands (bread and wine) become the elements of a meal in which Christ says, "This is my body...this is my blood...for you."  

Our work transforms into His work.  

His work transforms us to do our work.

Full circle.