Sunday, March 25, 2018

Making Restitution

[Sitting in the Nairobi airport, on our way to Ethiopia where we will be for two weeks.  The internet is often not working in Ethiopia so I will send this blog a day early.  Ethiopia continues to be in a state of emergency and our workshop that was to take place outside of Ethiopia has been cancelled due to unrest.  Please pray for this country and their selection of a new prime minister.]

(Zacchaeus) "If I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much."  Luke 19:8

I have been teaching Integrity and Finance this past week at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya, and next week I will start teaching it at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  In the meantime, I'm receiving homework assignments daily from Nigeria where I taught the class.  I'm getting lots of exposure from multiple countries and denominations on this subject. 

I really hate to say how much I am seeing that this course is needed.  Pastors who are learning so much about theology, know very little about record-keeping, finances, budgets, and the like.  The finance part of this course is so important if pastors want to achieve the strategic plan of the church, which is often prayed over intensely, but then needs to be lined up in the budget and planned for in order for it to be successful.  But too many students tell me that budgets indicate a lack of faith.  That God will provide.  That budgets constrain the Holy Spirit.  And so we go to Luke 14 where Jesus is talking about the cost of being a disciple, but his example has to do with building a building without planning and when unable to finish it, the person is ridiculed.  Not to mention the hundreds of other texts throughout the Bible where we are advised on how to handle money.  There are more than 2300 verses on money, I'm told.  It was Jesus' most talked about topic in the parables.  It matters.

I teach personal budgeting as well as organizational budgeting, and some of my students have 75% of their income going toward debt.  That's right.  75%.  I was told that the only financial teaching that their parents gave them was this:  "Once you get a job, join a savings and loan group so that you can get loans."  A culture of loans.  Almost everyone is carrying multiple loans and they take loans to pay other loans.  Loans are taken for consumption (school fees, household furniture, etc) - things that don't bring back more profit.  It's much more insidious than I knew.  It breaks my heart because I know the burden and sense of bondage that these loans bring.

One of the pastors in my class this past week shared how convicted he was through this class - not only for himself and his personal finances, but also for the lack of teaching his members how to have financial integrity, yet the church continues to ask for tithes and offerings.  He is determined to change this, and will start by teaching the men's ministry in his church.

But beyond the need to teach finances, integrity is also an issue.  We look at how a conscience is developed, and the impact of culture, education, and society on our conscience.  We look at the definition of integrity, "the alignment of our inner character with our outer character regardless of consequences" and look at what God says about integrity.  There is often a culture of corruption in places where there is much poverty, with the idea that "I must do it to survive" at the root of it, but as we develop that practice, our conscience begins to change to believe that it is actually right.

But where-ever we are, there are temptations to take short-cuts, to skim off the top, to take something here or there that doesn't belong to us.  I love this story from Rick Warren as it relates to making restitution and I think it's something all of us can examine ourselves for so that we too can have a clear conscience before God.  2 Corinthians 8:21 encourages us to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.  Read Rick Warren's story:

A number of years ago, I decided that more than anything else in my life I wanted God's blessing. I wanted God to bless and use my life.  I sat down and said, "If I'm going to do this, I've got to clear up my past and make restitution with some people.  God, will you help me remember the people I need to make things right with?"  I started making a list and the list was about three pages.  It was amazing when I asked God to help me remember.  He did!  I remembered things that I had forgotten for years.  Things that went clear back to childhood.  Like the time I used to rip off my sister Shandell's piggy bank.  Every week she was putting the money in and every week I was taking the money out.  God said you need to get that right.  It's pretty embarrassing for a grown man to go to his sister and say, "I was ripping off your piggy bank." but I did it. 
And there were other things, like when I was a teenager with some other teenagers in a car and accidently backed into a car in a parking lot and smashed in their fender.  We didn't stay around.  We just split.  We were scared.  I said that I'm going to go back to the police station in that town and see if I can find that traffic report, find that person and repay them.  
Maybe you need to make a list.  Maybe you need to say, "God I want to have a clear conscience before you and before man."  Maybe you need to wrap up some stuff and mail it back, put it in UPS; maybe there are some items you need to return: office supplies, books, DVDs, CDs, your neighbor's ladder, motel towels, whatever.  Maybe you need to write a check -- or so it will be anonymous, a money order -to an employer and say, "I took some supplies".  I would suggest you use it as a witnessing opportunity, send a letter, a note, with it.  You don't have to sign it.  You can send a money order to your employer and say, "I am making restitution for ________________ because I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I want to do what's right."  Sign it underneath, "A cleared conscience."  You can't buy that kind of feeling.  The freedom and joy that comes from a clear conscience.  You can't buy it and I can't explain it to you - the joy of knowing that I can go into any city in America and say "I am Rick Warren and I have no skeletons in my closet.  I have nothing that I have not dealt with, nothing to hide."  That is confidence when you know that nobody is looking over your shoulder and you're wondering if it's going to hit the front pages tomorrow.  You know that everything in your life has been dealt with.  There is no greater feeling. To know that nobody can accuse you.  Make restitution.

May God grant all of us the courage to make restitution and have a clear conscience before God and man!
Graduation at Africa Theological Seminary yesterday, where I serve as an adjunct faculty.  Beautiful day!

Monday, March 19, 2018

From a Flood to an Ocean

I arrived at the guest lodge in Dar es Salaam at midnight on Sunday, March 11, with three suitcases
and two pieces of hand luggage in tow.  The trip had gone smoothly but, as always, was tiring as I rarely sleep on planes.  We arranged for an 8 am start for the day, just a short eight hours away, but our trip in Tanzania was only for three days so we had to make as much use of the time as we could.

A little bleary-eyed and brain-cloudy, we started off in meetings on Monday morning.  Partway into the meeting, we heard it start to rain.  James Kamau, the principal of African Theological Seminary Tanzania and our host, immediately stopped our conversation and said, "We need to pray that this rain will stop.  If it begins to rain hard, no-one will come to the workshop tomorrow.  The roads will be too bad."  So pray we did.  After about ten minutes, the rain stopped for the rest of the day.  We were thankful.  We were able to see the campus of the Africa Theological Seminary (ATS), which is only a couple years old on their new property (they outgrew their last facility).  It is beautiful.
James and Mary Kamau, and Dave Champness, in front of some of the new dorms at ATS Tanzania

Dave's muddy room
After a full day, we finished with a dinner outside at the guest lodge, where I was eaten up by mosquitos (and I had forgotten to start my anti-malarial medication), and then I was more than ready for bed.  At around 3 am, it started to pour.  And pour.  And pour.  By 4:30 am, I stopped praying for it to stop as the damage had been done.  My colleague, Rev. David Champness, the new president of ICM-USA, was in a lower part of the guest lodge, and he gave up trying to sleep at 4:45 am, as he heard some of the staff sweeping water.  He swung his legs out of bed and stepped into two inches of muddy water in his room.  His suitcases and some electronics were all on the floor, but thankfully nothing was permanently damaged (lesson:  keep your stuff off the ground if possible!).  Yikes.  The road in front of the guest lodge was a river.  Mud covered everything.  It was a mess.  But my room, thankfully, stayed dry.

We had expected about fifty people at our event but what could we now expect, given this situation?  We expected very few.  But we continued to say, "Whoever the Lord brings..."

It appears that the rain was worse on our part of Dar Es Salaam than other parts, however, and we are happy to say that we had 56 pastors and church leaders at the event.  Praise God!  We are thankful that even when people have to battle mud and huge pot holes and mosquitos and torrential rain, that they continue to attend to what God has for them to do.  We were blessed by this group and the dynamic conversations that came out of our time together.

At the end of the day, we were told by the ICM Tanzania country director that he was going to take us out to dinner.  We were tired (having not slept much the night before because of the rain) but again, as time was short, we had to make the most of it.  "As long as there are no mosquitos," I thought to myself.  We pulled up to a hotel on the beach...and well...I can let the pictures speak for themselves.

ICM Tanzania Director, Michael, ATS Principal James, ICM-USA President, Dave, and me.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. (Psalm 19: 1-2)

From a flood in the morning to this sunset at night over the ocean.  What a delight to serve such a creative God.

Of course, the beautiful setting didn't prevent us from still attending to business (as can be seen by the picture of me earnestly talking)...nor did the darkness...nor did the wind from the ocean prevent mosquitos from finding my legs and enjoying their own dinner on me.  We accomplished what we came to do in those three quick days and the next day (Wednesday) we went straight from the workshop venue to the airport, where we flew to Kenya.  The next morning (Thursday) I started teaching Integrity and Finance to the ATS in Kitale.

As we say here, "God is good, all the time...and all the time, God is good...and that is His nature."

Monday, March 12, 2018

Work as Worship Retreat update

I am sending this from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where tomorrow we will start a two day training for pastors and church leaders on Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  I am accompanied by Rev. David
Rev. James Kamau
Champness, the new President of ICM, who will co-present with me, as well as Rev. James Kamau, the former ICM Tanzania Director and now Principle of the Africa Theological Seminary, Tanzania.  For the past two weeks Rev. Kamau has been teaching the seminary students on Church-based Business as Mission, a topic that he seems to have fully embraced as crucial for the church.  He wrote us this in a recent email, "I am teaching the Church-based Business as Mission class and loving it.  The students are hearing truths that they have not heard before, and they are wondering how we can get this great truth to a maximum number of people in the shortest time possible.  They want to make me a TV preacher.  NO."

It is exciting when we see various teams in different countries find their own way of promoting this old truth that work can be an act of worship.  It is also exciting that as of March, this has been taught in seminaries in three different countries already in 2018, with the hopes of going further throughout the year.  God is good!

Following this training in Tanzania, we will be moving to Kenya and Uganda, where we will join Dr. Phil Walker and Rev. Steve Kennedy (from the UK), and then later in the month all of us will move to Ethiopia.  Please pray with me for safe travel, good health, and open hearts, minds, and ears to the message that God has given to us to share!

I wanted to update you on the Work as Worship retreat that we had a couple of weeks ago and share with you some of the key quotes that I captured if you weren't able to be there.

On Friday, February 23, about ten thousand people across North America gathered in churches to reflect on the meaning of "Work as Worship."

We heard inspirational speakers and testimonies from Pastors Matt Chandler and Chris Brooks.  Matt Chandler said, "The moment we think that work is work, and Christ is Christ, we lose power to focus." 

Chris Brooks said that the words 'poverty alleviation' just seeks to make poverty a bit more comfortable, and that Christians need to be involved in economic development.  He said that the church is the greatest agent for community transformation and needs to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of poverty, which is not permanent.

We heard a moving testimony of Anne Beiler, who owns Auntie Anne's Pretzels, and said that she is "not in the pretzel business, but the people business."  This is a key difference for those who do business as mission!

We heard from Joel Manby, former CEO of SeaWorld, who wrote a book called Love Works and how he worked diligently to incorporate love into the work environment.  He said for those who struggle to know how to start when needs are many, "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone", describing love as a verb.

In my opinion, the best speaker was Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, who shared his difficult testimony of challenge in running that business.  He said, "He who has something plus God has nothing more than He who has only God."  Powerful statement.

We also heard from one of my newly favorite authors, Tom Nelson, who has written a number of books including The Economics of Neighborly Love and Work Matters.  He shared from John 15 and reminded us that fruitfulness comes from abiding and for most of us, fruitfulness is vocational productivity.  He reminded us that God's words to Jesus "in whom I was well pleased" were spoken BEFORE he started his ministry, when he had been a carpenter for eighteen years.  He asked, "If Jesus were to give you your job review, what would he say?"

This is only a portion of what we heard in that day.  It was a powerful time with lots of information to process!

Recently I read this quote from C.S. Lewis, who became a Christian at the age of 32 which caused him to reimagine his work as a service to God and others.  He wrote, "The question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not.  We certainly should and must.  The question is whether we should simply (a.) Bring him in in the integrity, diligence, and humility with which we do it or also (b.) Make His professed and explicit service our job."  Lewis didn't change his work upon his conversion.  It changed his relation to his work.

Amen!  How the world would look different if all who claimed Christ as Lord and Savior had this changed understanding of work as worship!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Perspectives, Part 3 of 3: Sweet Trouble

1 Peter 4:12 - Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

Recently I heard an African pastor share that the question to be asked when facing trouble is "how can this trouble sweeten me?"

Sweet trouble.

How we avoid trouble.  How we dislike trouble.  How we grumble during trouble.  How anxious and nervous and sad and depressed and weary and even burned out we get during trouble.  (How well I know each of those categories!)

How surprised we are at trouble, despite the reminder of 1 Peter 4:12.  "How can this happen?"  "How can this happen to me?"  "How can God let this happen?"

When the person speaking of "sweet trouble" is a Nigerian pastor who has known trouble and has seen trouble, those words strike deep.  The person saying those words has not lived a cushie life of ease.  I remember being in Egypt and listening to them singing a hymn of faith while in trial in Arabic, and tears welling in my eyes as I felt the oppression for Christians in that country yet hearing them sing about the sweetness of trouble.

We don't usually think of trouble as sweet until it is long behind us and we can look back to see how it has shaped us, or how God brought good out of the trouble.

We don't often associate trouble with the participating in the sufferings of Christ.

As I look back over my life, I see so many episodes of sweet trouble.  Trouble that could have been designed to break me down, God was able to use to build me up.  I certainly didn't see it as sweet most of the time.  

Recently, I looked in the face of a dear friend, whose son is struggling with cancer, and heard her words "I am heartbroken for him and yet I hold on to joy."

The perspective of sweet trouble.

When trouble is viewed as sweet, the opportunity is there for it to evolve into something beautiful.  When trouble is not viewed in this way, the potential is there for people to become bitter, cynical, ugly.

A friend said to me last week, as we processed some sweet trouble, "God fixes a fix to fix you.  If you try to fix your fix before you're fixed, He'll fix another fix to really fix you."

Sweet trouble.  We don't pray for it.  But our perspective can certainly help us go through it.