Monday, October 11, 2021

Lessons From a Rental Car

Last week, while in Florida, we rented a car and were given a 2020 Toyota Corolla.  When I drive, I love to use cruise control as it helps me stay consistent with my speed.  When I don't use cruise control, and just go with the flow of traffic or am distracted by my surroundings, I can often find myself going much faster than the speed limit.  Cruise control helps me relax a bit - it's one less thing to watch on the road.

But the cruise control in this rental car seemed to have a mind of it's own.  It would slow down and speed up on it's own.  Frustrated, I would turn it off, then turn it back on again and reset it.  Before too long, it would do the same with thing.  What was going on with this car?

Then I decided to try to learn what it was doing.  I watched when and where it was slowing down, and when and why it would speed up.  I learned that the car had "dynamic radar cruise control" that wouldn't allow me to get any closer than three or four car lengths to the car in front of me before slowing down, especially if that car was going at a slower speed than me.  If I moved into the passing lane where there was no car, it would speed up to the set speed.  Amazing.  This smart car was helping to keep me safe.  

One time, a car was turning left in front of me, and I could see that it was safe to keep cruising at the same speed, but the car freaked out a bit and put the brakes on hard to avoid a crash.  It couldn't see the whole situation. There was no on-coming traffic, and the vehicle ahead of me was moving out of the way.

Lessons from a rental car.

I began thinking about this car in terms of my relationship with God.  He has put things in my life to help safeguard me, for my protection, like this dynamic cruise control operates in the car.  Because I'm not aware of what He is doing, I get frustrated, grumble, and try to do things my own way.  I turn away from Him and try to fix things myself.  I wonder why He isn't helping.  I miss the bigger picture.

On the other hand, just like the cruise control doesn't mean that I don't participate in the driving, He does expect me to keep alert and pay attention.  I am not in a driver-less car.  This is where I disagree with Carrie Underwood's song, "Jesus Take the Wheel...I'm letting go."  As a co-creator with God, He expects me to keep my hands on the wheel.  I don't get to simply sit back and enjoy the ride, but I participate with Him to achieve the purpose for which He has created me.  The cruise control is an aid, not a substitute.  God helps me in various ways, but I am not a passive observer.

It was a good reminder for me.  

I am thankful to be alive at a time like this and witness the amazing ingenuity that God's co-creators continue to develop through technology.  They may not give Him the credit for that ingenuity but you and I know that being made in the image of God, maker of Heaven and Earth, makes for pretty amazing people as well.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Out of the Salt Shaker

This past week, we were privileged to join the Global Alliance for Church Multiplication (GACX) Forum in Orlando, Florida; one hundred and ten organizations intent on fulfilling the Great Commission, planting churches all over the world participated.  These people are passionate about God and acting that all may come to know Him!  GACX reports that 150,000 people die every day without knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If you are from Grand Rapids, our very own Nate VanderStelt serves as the Executive Vice-President of this organization, which functions under CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ). Bekele Shanko is their President, an Ethiopian man who has been a trailblazer for Christ in many ways, particularly in church planting.  

GACX has been growing in it's appreciation of the intersection between the Church Gathered and the Church Scattered (in the Marketplace). DML was invited to hold a couple of workshops as well as lead the Marketplace Engagement Strategy Session.  Unfortunately, many church planters, including those attending this event, still believe that working at the intersection of church and marketplace merely amounts to helping church planters become bi-vocational and less dependent on fund-raising. This is very far from the incredible potential that equipping every member for the work of the ministry from Monday-Saturday holds in fulfilling the Great Commission. 

As most in the church planting networks of GACX don't yet grasp this, attendance at our sessions was not what it could have been.  We have our work cut out for us.  We need to keep preaching this message!

I was reminded this week of a book called Out of the Salt Shaker, written by Rebecca Pippert.  We use this illustration often in our workshops as seen in these pictures.  Most of us like salt in our food.  But we never put the food in the salt shaker.  Rather we need to shake the salt out of the shaker so that there is an even and broad distribution of salt throughout the food.  

Too many churches try to put the food in the salt shaker.  The church focuses all too often on getting people into the building, rather than equipping the saints to be the salt every day of the week, out of the saltshaker and into the world.  

I heard a business person once say this: "I only go to church because it's expected of me.  To be honest, I bring little to church and take away little.  I'd quit altogether if I could culturally acceptable."  If the church doesn't find a way to engage business people and employees in meaningful ministry in and outside the church, then business people, and others working in the marketplace will continue to exit the church.  We will lose them.  And where will they move to?  Some will leave the church permanently. Some have and will form parachurch organizations which will serve as their "church."  There are 1200 faith and work organizations in the US alone.  Business people are getting their needs met outside the place where discipleship is meant to take place.  Parachurch organizations are great but they are not the same as the church gathered, which is called to address all walks of life in holistic discipleship.  

Michael Baer writes in his recently released book, The Pastor and the Business Person, that he saw the following on a sign at the missionary training school he was attending:

No soul is so poor
As he for whom
Not a single person is praying. 

He goes on to say, "How tragic to think that there are many people in the world of work for whom this is true.  As a pastor, you can change that!"  Most people feel alone in their workplace, and don't have prayer support empowering them to be a change agent, fulfilling a quadruple bottom line in that place.  Workplace believers need specific prayers; prayers empowering them to be mature, passionate persons of integrity, prayers for them to keep a good work/family balance, and more are needed. The workplace is where 99% of church members spend the majority of their time each and every week.

But Michael Baer goes on to say this: "However great an opportunity BAM is to the 21st Century missions, both local and international, I also see it as a great threat to traditional church ministry:  If, on the one hand, pastors can get in front of it and engage its practitioners and help lead the movement, the blessing will be immeasurable; on the other hand, if pastors withdraw from it or withhold their endorsement, many practitioners will simply walk past them on their way to serve Jesus as they feel called" (page 57).

At Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we agree.  The faith and work movement, which is critically important, has operated outside the church in many ways and the church does not understood both the impact this has on marketplace believers and the missed opportunity this leads to in terms of the church's impact "out the saltshaker."  

It's not too late.  

Rebecca Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker, puts it this way:

To get the salt out of the saltshaker begins not with the people but with the pastor.  When you get out of your office and into the sales office, when you get out of the pulpit and into the plumbing supply shop, then your world will change, your members' worlds will change, and then the world at large will be changed.  Will you do it?

Jesus did it for eighteen years (from the age of 12 to 30), spending his time as a business man, a carpenter/stone mason, in sales, marketing, and also training his brothers as apprentices.  This impacted how he preached and taught, and how he related to people.  Let's continue to pray for opportunities for seminaries and Bible schools to teach church leaders about the importance of making a workplace ministry part of the DNA of every church.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Reed Family Update: Hannah's Engaged!

In January, I wrote with great joy that my son Noah proposed to Hannah Birmingham and she said yes!  They are looking forward to getting married in May of 2022. 

Adding to the joy, we now get to anticipate adding another member to our family!  Two weeks ago, Matt Koster proposed to my daughter, Hannah and she also said yes!  Matt and Hannah have friends who happen to be professional photographers, and so Matt planned to have a hike and a picnic with them, and they were able to capture the moments on camera.  They are planning to get married sometime in 2022 as well, likely in the fall.
I feel so blessed.  I started praying about Hannah Birmingham and Matt Koster when my children were very young.  Bob and I would pray regularly that IF our children decided to get married (we never wanted to presume anything or pressure them if God had other plans for them!), that God will give them good partners.  And while Bob has not had a chance to see that prayer come true, I am so thankful for the choices the my children have made.  

Matt Koster was born and raised in Michigan, graduated from Calvin University, and currently works in a consulting firm for software development.  Matt and Hannah met through a mutual friend group that grew out of Calvin connections and they started dating in December of 2019.  

Hannah is working as a clinician with young people with drug and alcohol abuse and recently started her own LLC where she is serving as a counselor for children and families, with a special focus on families impacted by autism.  She is also working toward her social work license, which requires 4000 hours of supervised clinical work, and will hopefully have completed that by next fall as well.  It's a busy time for her but she does love what she is doing.    

While the excitement and joy is fully present, I can't help but marvel on how much their dear Dad has missed in the last eleven years.  How he will be missed on these two wedding days!  The talks that Noah needs from his father; the delight that Hannah would see in her Dad's eyes; the walking down the aisle, and so much more.  Bob loved to do premarital counseling (as many of you have testified!) and how he would have loved to do that same counseling with his own children!  What would he have told them?  What might they have learned?  The permanence of death rears its ugly head often still and it will do so for our whole lives.  Yes, time does move on and the gap created through death never closes but rather remains a hole with scar tissue around.  Hannah asked if she could contribute to this blog - it continues to be a journal of our lives and I know many of you have appreciated her writing in the past - so here is what she has to say:

At a young age, my mother gave me the following direction: that I was not allowed to get married until I was 27 years old.  At the time, I was quite angry at what I perceived to be a grave injustice- she got married when she was 21 and I did not think it fair that I would have to wait until I was 27 (being young at the time and a very rule-oriented person, it took a while for me to realize that I could make my own decisions as an adult, even if my mom ordered otherwise).

I am now 28 and am engaged, hoping to be married in a year’s time. I have not been an obedient daughter by choice - I began planning my wedding when I was under the age of 10.  I’ve had a wedding planning Pinterest board since I was in college.  About 6 years ago, I decided my wedding day would be September 24th because it felt like the perfect day.  I began to wish myself privately a “happy future anniversary” every September 24th.  I was not dating anyone seriously and was content with my dreams of “someday” and “someone”. 

But now the day and the person are much more real.  Matt is a dream and a joy, an amazing friend and partner, supportive, loving, fun, and full of a deep love for God.  And as I anticipate marriage and all the changes that will bring to my life and Matt’s life, I have also been reflecting on singleness.

I was single for a long time - or, at least, it felt long to me, as I watched friends get married while I was not even dating someone seriously.  I was, at times, discontent with my singleness and longing for a partner.  More often, I was fiercely attached to the idea of being single and in some ways was quite proud of it.  I was a woman building a career, getting an advanced degree, making it on my own, learning about who I am and who I want to be in Christ.  I saw friend after friend, acquaintance after acquaintance, getting married, then having children, and that made me prouder of my singleness.  I was different.  I did not follow the path that had been laid out for me by much of West Michigan and the culture of Calvin University.  I did not get engaged before graduating.  I did not go to school to find a husband. I did not need someone else to be okay and was becoming more comfortable with who I was.

This pride in my singleness was also fueled by the response of my church community.  I have always been an active volunteer at church, sitting on the anti-racism team, volunteering in children’s ministry, being on the worship team, etc. And yet, there were many moments when I felt out of place at church as a young single adult. I clearly remember a day when a woman who I appreciate and love at church said off-hand that we “needed more young men” at our church so they could “marry our young women.”  I was hurt - did I need a husband?  Did I need a man to be whole or be better?  What was wrong with my singleness?  What was missing from my participation in church by not having a husband?  Being a stubborn woman, this sort of conversation both hurt as well as fueled my pride in being single.

So, renouncing the title of “single” and taking the title of “girlfriend” in December of 2019, when I started dating Matt, was an adjustment.  I fit into circles now where I hadn’t before - but fitting in to circles where before I had not felt welcome left a bad taste in my mouth.  I avoided talking about my new relationship, not out of shame for the relationship, but for two reasons: first, I did not want my new relationship to begin to define me within my church, where conversations could turn from discussing anti-racism work or my job working with children and youth to conversations about my dating life and asking if marriage was in the picture yet; and second, because I was resentful.  I did not want to share so personal a life event with people who make me feel as though they were just waiting for me to get married, as if I could not be happy or complete without that taking place. 

I adjusted to the change in title.  Eventually people found out I was dating someone.  The disruption of COVID and statewide shut downs slowed the news spreading and eased us into church spaces virtually.  And now, looking ahead to marriage and an even bigger step away from singleness, I am again finding myself defensive and anxious.  I do not, nor have I ever wanted to be, someone who conforms to this society - I spent enough of my life living outside of these norms and enough of my life trying to change them to not particularly enjoy them now.  I wrestle with the idea that I will be getting married, reinforcing the unfair expectations from others that this is what women will eventually do - settle down and get married.  I am already cringing away from the questions that will inevitably follow: “when are you going to have kids?”  

I need to not forget what it feels like to be single.  I need to work to ensure that as a currently engaged and eventually married woman, I always make room at my table and in my heart and home for people who are single, by choice or by chance.  I need to get better at being hospitable and welcoming to others, particularly to those who do not fit the mold of what society expects or wants.  Diversity in many different types is valuable, including relationship status.  

                                                                                                    ~Hannah Reed 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Be the Miracle You are Seeking

I'm not one to create memes.  I know people who love to create memes.  You can tell when they are trying out new memes in a conversation, seeing which are hits and which are misses.

But on our latest trip to East Africa, the title of this blog popped out of my mouth when I was teaching, and it has continued to pop into my head since then.  So I thought I'd write about it and try it out on you.  

"Be the miracle you are seeking."

It happened when I was in Burundi.  We had been listening to church leaders and business leaders lament about the prosperity gospel which causes people to go to church, pray for a miracle, and not work.  We hear so many Africans lament about "lazy" people in Africa who don't work but would rather spend hour after hour and day after day in prayer, seeking God's blessing.  I wince when I hear the word "lazy" yet I believe that there is a spiritual component in that reality, as God created all people with a desire to work.

The next day as I was speaking passionately about how we are to bring the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a little more each day through our work, those words popped out:  "Be the miracle you are seeking."

Sometimes we forget what a miracle it is to be made in the image of a creative, working God.  Often we forget that we, through our work, are fulfilling an aspect or characteristic of God.  God is just, compassionate, creative and providential, and many of our jobs relate to those characteristics of God.

And so sometimes we spend our time looking or waiting for a miracle.  We forget that WE are the miracle.  We are the answer to many of the world's problems, because of how our Creator made us.  How we live, think, eat, sleep, work, and interact can bring healing and flourishing to ourselves and others around us.

I remember a story told of a man having a conversation with God, complaining that despite years of prayers for miracles, the man had never actually seen a miracle.  God responds by saying, "You want to see a miracle?"  "Yes!" the man says.  "Very well," God says and points to a tree.  "There you go."  The man says indignantly, "That's not a miracle!  That's just a tree!"  To which God responds, "Let's see you make one."

If that is true for a tree, how much more for you and me?  We are miracles, each of us made uniquely, with unique combinations of talent, treasure and time. 

While many western Christians struggle with believing in extraordinary miracles (divine acts of God outside of the explanation of science), I do acknowledge and believe that miracles happen.  But I also believe that miracles are the exception, not the rule.  God is sovereign.  He is not compelled to answer any prayer for any miracle.  There is no formula for life or prayer that will guarantee a miracle from God.  On the other hand, although God must do nothing, in grace, He does all things!  No miracle given has ever been deserved but it is given through grace!  

But day to day, I need to remember that I am a miracle.  And each day is a gift to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth through my words and actions.  We have the capacity, as co-creators with God, to be the living miracle that God has created us to be, to help this world to flourish.  

My encouragement for you this day is to be the miracle you are seeking.  Embrace it.  Relish it.  Live it.  Love it.  And by so doing, you will be loving God and your neighbor as yourself.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Parable of the Soil (aka Parable of the Sower)

My father had a green thumb.  My grandfather on my mom's side also had a green thumb.  And me?  Not so much.  But it used to be "not at all" so there has been progress!  In the last few years, I have been successful at keeping plants alive in my house and am trying to develop some gardens around my house.  

But I have to admit that I prefer sowing to plowing.  I don't like to take the time to fully prepare the soil for the seed or for the plant.  I'm eager to see the fruit of the sowing but not so eager to do the work of soil preparation.  Consequently, when the plant withers or dies, I'm quick to blame the soil or the seed.  But over time, I'm looking more at myself as the sower.  

I read a book recently that talked about the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13, and described this parable with three main characters:  the sower, the soil, and the seed.  We are the sowers, as believers.  The seed is the Word of God.  The soil is those hearing the Word of God, non-Christians.  This parable is really about the soil, as it is described as hard, rocky, or thorny.  The soil is the main character.

But too often we focus our attention on the sower, and make the sower the main character.  We focus on the presentation of the message, how and when and where to do it.  We practice the four spiritual laws, the sinners prayer, and other tools for a quick save.

And just like me in my garden, we neglect the plowing.  

Plowing happens as we live our lives.  Plowing happens in the words we speak, the actions we take, the gospel that we live every day in our work and in our communities.  Our life is a gospel.  The plowing that we do by loving our neighbor creates trust and an opportunity to sow.  And sometimes the life we live on a daily basis does not line up with the words we say when sharing about our faith.  When our words and actions do not line up with our proclaimed values, we have a problem.

When we do evangelistic events or crusades, we are sowing seeds without plowing.  Statistics tell us that only 6% of those saved at a crusade will ever step into a church, and only 2% of those saved at a crusade remain committed to their faith for the long-term.  The seeds have been sown, but the soil has not been prepared to receive the seed.  So we blame Satan.  Or we blame the soil.  

But we teach in different churches and schools across Africa, we often ask people how they became a Christian.  The overwhelming answer we receive is that they heard about Jesus through relationships - family, friends, co-workers, and others.  That shows the effect of plowing.  A good sower, an experienced sower, would never waste seed on a rocky or hard ground.  A good sower would never intentionally sow on hard ground.

Maybe the Parable of the Sower would be better titled The Parable of the Soil.  That is where the focus needs to be.  

That is why we, at Discipling Marketplace Leaders, spend so much time seeking to equip Christians to be the Church every day of the week, in every sphere of influence.  We teach "life-on-life evangelism" and we are also starting to use the term "whole-life discipleship."  If every Christian is living the gospel in every workplace, and understands that the gathered Church is to prepare them to be the church in every sphere of influence, then the plowing will be done more thoroughly and seeds planted will have a better chance for growth.

St. Francis is credited as saying, "Preach constantly.  When necessary, use words."  Too often we focus on the words and neglect what we are preaching as a spouse, parent, family member, neighbor, co-worker, employee, and so on.

One of the lines we use when teaching (to create some cognitive dissonance) is that "the biggest barrier to evangelism is evangelism programs."  The reason for that we say this is because the brain wants to segment and organize and compartmentalize life.  So we do an evangelism event, and our brain then checks off evangelism and says that we are done until the next event.  Or we wait for the evangelism committee to come up with events and until then we are not engaged.  But life-on-life evangelism recognizes the opportunity to plow wherever we spend our time.  

Plowing is more difficult than harvesting and it takes more time.  We often work alongside people six hours a day or more, five days a week.  We have the time and the ability amongst our co-workers to plow, to fertilize, to water, to remove rocks, and to remove weeds. We also have the ability to do marketing of our faith, to use business terms.  It's not enough to tell customers how wonderful Jesus is, but we have to demonstrate for them how the product works, and how this product will make their lives better.  People need to see and experience a new product before they will buy it.  Our lives declare the worth of God.  Our work is a witness.  Good work is a good witness.  Bad work is a bad witness.  

Dr. Herbert Kane, a professor from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said this:

You are writing the Gospel, a chapter each day,
By the things that you do and the words that you say,
People read what you write, whether distorted or true,
What is the Gospel according to you?

May God help us to become better plowers! 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

From Household to Factory

Given how short our lives are, it's impossible to understand how quickly the world is changing around us.  

To give some context to this statement, the world population in 1900 was 2 billion, 2.5 billion in 1950, 7.7 billion today.  That's an amazing growth rate.

When the Greek Philosopher Plato lived in 400 BC, he said that the highest paid person in a business should not make more than four times the amount of the lowest paid person.  By 1950, that gap had widened to fifty times (the CEO made 50 times more than the lowest paid person).  And today the gap is 420 times.  That is a lamentable spread of income equality.

These are quickly changing times.

But recently I read a statistic of great change that made me stop and think for a while:

In 1885, 85% of all consumer goods in the United States were produced and consumed at home.  By 1915, that number had been reversed:  15% of goods were made in the home and 85% of goods were made in the factory (from Offer Yourselves to God, by Gordon Fee).  

That is a stunning reversal in just thirty years.  And it continues to define how we live and work today.  There are pros and cons to this that I had to think through. 

In Biblical times, and perhaps right up until 1885, the term "household" often included the business that was done from the home.  Abraham's "household" was his concern before he had children, and some speculate that his household could have upwards of 5000 people, especially considering that 318 men served him as security alone (Genesis 14:14).  These men, born in his house, lived there with their families as a community.

When the business was part of the household, the owner was concerned for the physical AND spiritual well-being of everyone in the household.  Not only did the people work for the household, they lived in the household as well.  It was not unusual for the owner to expect everyone in his/her household to serve his/her god(s).  It's hard for us to imagine how those households would work and function, as it is so foreign to us today.

There are a number of times when we read of a leader and their "whole household" being baptized.  Lydia is one specific example of this, with her likely very large business producing purple dye from crustaceans for wealthy customers.

When these businesses left the household and moved to factories and commercial settings, the relationship between employer and employee changed.  The physical distance translated into emotional and spiritual distance as well.

I'm not one to long for the "good ole days" as I'm sure that the arrangement of having your business in your home has many negative aspects.  But I do think it's important to look at the effects of this change on our relationships, care and love for our neighbor.  

The part that I think is a loss is our care and love for all aspects of employees, as "part of the family," as sons and daughters.  Too often we see employees as a "cost of labor" and we don't care for their flourishing in their work.  Not only do they often not flourish in terms of fulfilling their ability to be co-creators with God, we often do not even care adequately for their physical needs, paying them less than a living wage or even minimum wages in some places, while the owner's income continues to increase.  While I wouldn't want to be forced to worship the god(s) of my boss, it would be beautiful for the employer to care for the spiritual health of their employees.

Change is inevitable.  As Rick Warren says, "Methods are many, principles are few.  Methods change often, principles never do."  The methods of how we love our neighbor and seek the flourishing of this world change, but the principle of the Great Commandment does not change.

What are your thoughts on this?  What are the changes that we as Christians need to be mindful of as a result of this shift from "households" to factories?  I would love to hear your thoughts!  Email me at renita@dmleaders.org