Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Lord's Prayer: Declaration or Call to Action?

I leave today for Nigeria.  It was three long months ago that I returned from Nigeria to begin a surprisingly long passage of health issues, and it now feels great to get back to what I love to do.  In Nigeria, we will have the West Africa Regional DML meeting, with teams from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, and Burkina Faso in attendance.  From Nigeria, we will go to Burkina Faso for workshops with the Assemblies of God Church.  Please pray with us for these meetings!

In the meantime, let me share some thoughts that I have had recently about the Lord's Prayer.  The Lord's Prayer, from Matthew 6, is a beloved prayer that many of us memorized at a young age if we grew up in the church. I have studied it, quoted it, and taught on it.

But it's only been in the last few years that I have come to see it with a different perspective.

I had always read this as a prayer where we are asking God to do a number of different things:  letting His Kingdom come, His will be done, giving us our daily bread, leading us not into temptation, and delivering us from evil.

There was one phrase where there seemed to be mutual activity:  Forgive us as we forgive our debtors.

In many ways, this prayer is read as a declaration: "May it be done!"  We speak or sing it with authority and passion.

But in more recent years, I have begun to see this prayer as a call to action.  I have begun to see it as a mirror.

As image-bearers, I am to reflect my Creator and through me, all should see the One in whose image I have been created.

That means that if His name is to be hallowed, I need to treat it with respect.

If His Kingdom is to come and His will is to be done, I need to know what that looks like and how to do it.

I need to figure out what His will in Heaven is so that I can replicate it on earth.  Isaiah 65:17-25 gives us some great clues.

If I want my daily bread, I need to use my time, talent, and treasure in order to be able to have that bread to eat.

We can't pray this prayer and then sit on our hands and wait for God to make it happen.  He created us on purpose (Psalm 139) and for a purpose (Ephesians 3:12), and He expects us to join Him in the work of reconciling this earth to Himself.

To be honest, I like this prayer better when I could pray it and then breathe a sigh of relief that He will take care of it...that He will get it done.  And of course, He can.  In the blink of an eye.  But He invites us to join Him.

He beckons us to watch what He is doing and join in the process.  He understands that joining Him in this process is not just for obedience.  He understands that it's not just so others will know of Him.  It is also because it brings us joy.  When we do something that is greater than ourselves, it brings true happiness.

This is the God we serve.  Multiple levels of fulfillment.  The opportunity to mirror to others the Most High God.  He shines through our weaknesses and failures and continues to engage us and use us.

Father, give us wisdom and strength to let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and courage to obey.  Then, may we be transformed to be more and more like you.

Monday, October 21, 2019

From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals

I had the privilege this past week to spend time in Kansas City with a number of like-minded people who are focused on building capacity with the Church through equipping and unleashing business people to be the Church every day of the week.  Not surprisingly, we were a small group of about 25.  Most people either take the church route or the business route and not very many people are committed to equipping workplace leaders through the church.

It was nice to be in the company of like-minded people for a few days.  Most of them are focused here in the US, and I heard a lot of stories that reminded me of my times with Restorers in Grand Rapids, and doing community development with a holistic view of working with the community.

Our purpose in being together was to record 15-minute talks, like Ted Talks but focused on Sustainable and Transformational Missions (SAT talks).  While there, I heard Larry Sharp of IBEC Ventures say, "We need to move from professional missionaries to missional professionals."  As a former missionary himself, I appreciated his words.

I often cringe a little when I hear people talk with a good amount of disdain towards missionaries and the costs that are spent on relocation for missionaries.  I remember my former pastor said to us before we moved to Liberia that we should rather invest in a national person rather than move ourselves.  I'd like to think that while that may have been a cheaper investment, there was a needed information/technology transfer that needed to happen through these ex-pats called the Reeds.

I have had a few choice words myself for missionaries over the years, as I have seen missionaries who live in very sheltered communities, living in houses that they likely couldn't afford in the US, with househelp doing a lot of the work at home.  They tend to mix only with other missionaries and often talk down about the people that they are there to love and serve.

But there are many, many missionaries who do not live and work that way.  Many sacrifice family, friends, comfort, safety, not to mention having to raise support, and have lost a lot, in the process.

I do agree that the model of missions is changing, however.  There is not as great a need as there was at one time for people to move permanently to a place.  There can be found great capacity in nationals, and it is important for our model of missions to change.

The SAT talks (www.sattalks.org) is a great resource for Church mission groups to learn about what others are doing in these changing times.  Significant Matters (the organization behind SAT talks) does workshops called Missions 3.0 to help people adjust their missions model to these changing times.  Take a look at this chart to see the changing population of Christians by continent from the 1900s and through a projection in 2050 (sorry about the poor quality photo).

But I do love the concept of Missional Professionals.  Every person on mission in their place of work, not just to make disciples (which is important!) but to love their neighbor/co-worker/customer, to do quality work that allows others to flourish, and to be stewards of this earth and its resources as managers, not owners.

I continue to dream about what that would look like if the 2.3 billion Christians did their work as an act of worship every day, and every church equipped the saints for the work of the ministry, not in the church building but in every corner of the marketplace.

The times, they are a'changin.  And we need to keep pace.

Update on travel:  I was supposed to leave this week for Cameroon, but after three weeks and three attempts at a visa, the Cameroon Embassy in Washington DC denied me for reasons that made no sense.  So we had to cancel the Cameroon portion of this next trip, and so next week we will leave for Nigeria for our West African Regional DML meeting, and then on to Burkina Faso after that.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"The US is not a Christian nation, and it never has been."

In recent weeks, I have been spending time with Christian organizations whose goal is church multiplication:  one church for every 1000 people.  This is a lofty goal and it sounds great.  But it
evoked a deeper question for me.

What kind of churches are being created?  We can have one church for every 1000 people, but what type of transformation will those churches bring to our communities, cities, and nations?  The authentic mark of the Global Church is transformation in people, who then have an effect on their environment.  However, churches do not necessarily bring transformation.

Kenya is an example of a people who claim to be 80% Christian, but according to the Transparency International survey of corruption, they are also "80% corrupt."  How can this happen in a country so full of Christians and of churches?  I would argue that more churches are NOT the answer, but the answer lies in churches who disciple and release their people to BE the church every day of the week.

If churches don't necessarily bring transformation, what does?  Recently in the US, there have been people speaking with longing of a time when we were more of a "Christian nation."

But can there actually be a Christian nation?

I believe that "Christian" is more of a noun than an adjective.  Can there actually be a Christian song?  A Christian radio station?  A Christian book? Being a Christian is being a Christ-follower.  An inanimate object cannot do that.  People make the decision to follow Christ.  A song can be sung by a Christian.  A book can be written by a Christian who desires to shed more light on Christ.  A radio station can be owned by Christians who have the heart to share the gospel.

Last week, our pastor, Joy Bonnema, preached a sermon about nationalism and patriotism.  She said, "The US is not a Christian nation and it never has been."  She stated that faith cannot be legislated by the government.  She cited cases where when religion has been legislated, and it has often been disastrous for "the foreigner," whom we are instructed to love (think crusades, slavery, etc).  We love to think that the US was founded as a Christian nation, but our own constitution at that time did not give rights to women, to Native Americans, and African-Americans were considered to be 3/5ths of a person.  These principles are not Christian.  The Founding Fathers of this country desired separation of church and state, as well as freedom from the religious wars.

But she said that the US is not a Christian nation NOT because of those things, as terrible as they are, but because no government can declare a nation to be Christian.  It doesn't work that way, because to be Christian means to be "in Christ."

And then Pastor Joy said words that rang deep in my soul, as it is our tagline for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  She said, "Jesus' vision was not to establish a Christian nation.  It was unleashing the Church, that is empowered and enlightened by the Spirit, to bear radical witness to the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, no earthly government can quash the Kingdom of God.  It doesn't matter who the administration or its leaders happen to be.  She said that the greatest threat to our faith and our witness isn't from any government but from our own sin and our failure to live out the witness of God in all areas of our lives.

The way God ushers in His Kingdom is not through legislation but through living it out our faith every day of the week, in every area of our lives.

Do I hear an amen?

A pastor in Kenya, after going through our training, said, "Church begins on Monday.  Sunday is maintenance/garage time."

If we are planting those kinds of churches, then let's get busy because the transformation of our communities won't be far behind.

This week I speak at a missions conference in Kansas City and am praying for good dialogue about this!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Wave of Death

A few weeks ago, my car was totaled by what my insurance agency called a "wave of death."  This is what they describe as the behavior of someone who wants to be polite, who happens to have the right of way, and who waves either a pedestrian or another vehicle into traffic.  This driver may believe they are performing a selfless act for a stranger, when in fact, they are putting that person or vehicle in potentially mortal danger.

This was the case with me.  I was in the righthand lane with no stop sign or stoplight in the vicinity.  A vehicle in the lefthand lane decided, for some unknown reason, to stop to give the wave of death to an oncoming pickup truck who wanted to turn left into a side street.  That driver did not see me coming and I had no idea that this truck was about to turn in front of me, and that was it.   My 18-year-old Subaru, which had 187,000 miles on it, and could have gone for another 100,000 miles, was finished.  His truck was barely damaged and he happened to have no insurance (but still stayed at the scene, which the police said was very unusual!).

Three weeks prior to this event, I had been released from the hospital after having a number of different infections, viruses, and parasites, and was then told by my doctor a few days later that they suspected that I had multiple myeloma (cancer of the blood). I was referred to a hematology oncologist.  There was a sense of a different kind of "wave of death" that rolled over our family as we weighed this news.  The following week, I ended up in the emergency room again as my heart began to act up, and I ended up with a heart monitor for the next two weeks, and a heart rate that continues to be erratic.

And then the accident.

What was going on?  Was it a series of unfortunate events?  Was it a spiritual attack?  Was it testing? All of the above?  None of the above?  There was a lot of speculation.

Regardless, this past week we met again with the hematology oncologist and he informed us that he does not believe I have cancer.  He believes that I was sick enough that my numbers have been thrown off and continue to be off from that series of illnesses.  There is speculation that my heart issues may also stem from issues surrounding the viruses and may eventually settle down, although this week I will have an echocardiogram yet to ensure that my heart is okay.

We are very thankful to God for healing and for the ability to continue with work and ministry.  While we experience a "wave of death" which brings potentially mortal danger into our path, it is truly a gift to know that God is close by and is in control, regardless of the outcome.

I heard a song recently that has been playing in my head over and over again.  It is called "Surrounded" by Michael W. Smith and is quite repetitive, but it needed to be that way for me to finally settle into my brain.  It says, "And I believe you've overcome and I will lift my song of praise for what you've done...so my weapons are praise and thanksgiving.  This is how I fight my battles."  It then goes on to say, "It may look like I'm surrounded, but I'm surrounded by You."

Whatever "wave of death" that you may sense around you, I pray that you remember who it is that surrounds you.  And continue to fight your battles with the weapons of praise and thanksgiving.

Oh, and if you drive, resist the urge to be a good samaritan on the road when you can't fully control traffic.  You may be saving a life by denying a goodwill gesture.