Sunday, October 1, 2017

Let's start at the very beginning...a very good place to start...

[A couple of updates: First, I'm currently in Uganda, about to start a two day training for pastors and church leaders in Kampala.  A number of you continue to ask about my health and I am thankful to say that I feel very healthy!  Secondly, we are so thankful to report that the match that was offered for the training of trainers was met and we are able to cover the costs of the fifteen trainers coming from five different countries to Kenya on Wednesday!  Thank you to all who gave financially and for those who pray diligently!  Oh...and if anyone was worried about me being bored, I wanted to let you know that I have started working on my Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Diplomacy. I am doing it primarily so that I will continue to have open doors to teach in seminaries and higher learning institutions, who require a Ph.D.  I burned out after my Masters, so please pray with me for wisdom and a healthy pace through this process!]

Growing up, I had very limited exposure to TV and movies (I saw my first movie in a theatre when I was fourteen - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).  Annually, however, we could expect to watch the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof at least once, usually around Christmas.  I know all the words of all the songs and they will occasionally pop into my head.

As I was heading out to the airport this past Friday, Michael put a book in my hands called The Economics of Neighborly Love by Tom Nelson.  I am so backed up in reading books right now (thanks to my loving husband's desire to bless me with many good books) but on my first flight I set aside my other books and started reading this one.  Very quickly, the song "Let's start at the very beginning..." from the Sound of Music began to go through my mind.

Tom Nelson was speaking my language...singing my tune...preaching to the choir...and when I read words that I am trying to teach, there is a sense of familiarity and home that warms the heart.

Starting at the very beginning, to me, means recognizing the incredible importance of our Great Commitment to God and this earth, found in Genesis 1 and 2.  You see, Michael gave me another book about a week ago and the author wrote that "Genesis 1-12 is all about the fall."  I stopped reading after that sentence.  That is NOT true and it completely undermines the purpose of man and of creation.  Too many people treat Genesis 1 and 2 as simply an introduction to the "real story" which, in their opinion, starts in Genesis 3; we forget that how God created man and creation was very good and that we were made to work.  Work became more complicated after the fall but work and creativity, like the image of our Creator, is what we were made to do.

Nelson spends time in Genesis 1 and 2, but I love what he did with the Good Samaritan, the parable that Jesus tells in response to the lawyer's question of "who is my neighbor" relating to the Great Commandment.  We often focus on the compassion that the good Samaritan showed but we neglect to speak of the necessity of economic capacity in the equation of being able to help a brother or sister who is hurting.  The truth in this story is that both were needed: compassion as well as economic capacity.  And where does all economic capacity come from?  From business.  The Good Samaritan was a business man.  But the hotel owner was also a business man.  Both had capacity and were willing to take risks in order to show compassion to the injured man.

Nelson says, "The Samaritan's economic capacity came from diligent labor and wise financial stewardship within an economic system where he added values to others.  If we are going to love our neighbor well, we must not only manage our financial resources well; we must also have ample financial resources to manage."

He then says this, "If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration.  If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation.  If we have capacity and compassion, we have human transformation.  We have neighborly love."

Dallas Willard says this, "The task of Christian spokespersons, leaders, and professionals is to exemplify and teach foundational traits of the good life Jesus manifests.  But this must also include the more specific traits required in the public domain - industriousness, self-control, moderation, and responsibility for oneself and others.  That is the responsibility and posture of love.  The human drive to be self-supporting can be tied to a determination to be productive in order to bless others."

And that is what is too often missing in our teachings about Jesus and in our teachings in the institutional church.  Too many times pastors have told me, often with an air of confession, that they have frequently told new Christians to leave their jobs and join church work, rather than affirming and understanding the inherent goodness of work and the opportunities for being involved in human flourishing by doing work to the glory of God.  And that takes us back to Genesis 1 and 2 and our great commitment.

Our calling is not only about the Great Commission.  That was an add-on to our calling, after the fall.  Our calling is also about the Great Commandment, but we can't do that without being fruitful and multiplying, which is what we call the Great Commitment.

And Nelson pointed out a verse that I hadn't yet discovered.  We struggle with helping pastors to understand that to be "fruitful and multiply" goes beyond procreation.  But he goes back to the Hebrew language which points to the word "fruitful" in other parts of the Bible that primarily refer to the products of human labor.  He refers to Deuteronomy 28:4-5 which says, "The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock - the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.  Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed."  Being fruitful is so much broader than simply having babies!  Fruitfulness involves procreation but also productivity.

Andy Crouch, Executive Editor of Christianity Today says, "God made wheat. We make bread!  God made grapes.  We made wine!  Wheat is good.  Bread is very good!  Grapes are good, but wine is very good."  We make computer chips from sand.  We make furniture from trees.  A wealthy God designed us with that in mind.

Nelson says that "far too little has been written or taught to the rising generation of leaders about how religion and economics seamlessly intersect."  [This will be the subject of my dissertation, by the way!]  He calls the pastoral work that he was doing as a young pastor "malpractice" as he was spending most of his time equipping his members for where they spend the minority of their time, and not equipping them for where they spend the majority of their time.  He describes this as "an inconvenient truth" and states that this same malpractice that he accused himself of as "tragically common" throughout the church.

As we seek to spread this message in many different countries, cities, denominations, local churches, languages, and people groups, will you continue to pray with us that this message will take hold?  Will you pray with us that the work that we do from Monday-Saturday can be good and holy, done to the glory of God, to enable human flourishing and the loving of our neighbor?

To do that may mean that we have to start at the very beginning and let the good news of Genesis 1 and 2 wash over us and sink in, without rushing too quickly to Genesis 3...but as both Julie Andrews sings, and as our Creator says, the beginning is a very good place to start!