Sunday, August 1, 2021

Work: A Means or an End?

In the last few weeks, I have participated in many discussions about wealth creation, and as a result, it seems to me that there needs to be a discussion about work, asking:  Is work a means to an end or an end in and of itself?

In my discussions, overall, there seems to be agreement that wealth creation is a means to an end - the flourishing of all.  We don't create wealth just to create wealth.  What we do with it matters and the Bible states pretty clearly that we are to be generous and not to hoard. 

Most also agree that that we are created to work.  We serve a working God, who continues to work to this day, and Genesis 1 and 2 (as well as many other passages) makes it clear that work is our part of being co-creators with God.  As Dorothy Solle says (in To Work and To Love), "First creation is unfinished.  Creation continues; it is an ongoing process...Human work is the act of working with God to fashion a more just world."

But in light of these two positions, do we view work as an end or a means to an end?  In a capitalist economy where efficiency and productivity are emphasized, are jobs created for the fulfillment of a person or the supplying of a need?  Do we prioritize work over the worker?  We often consider the impact that our work has on the world, but how often do we ask the question, "What does the work do to the worker?"  Another way to put it, do we value labor over capital or capital over labor? 
There has been and continues to be great conflict over this, which also enters into the way we view economics or wealth creation.

To that end, I have been reading a book called The Church and Work by Joshua R. Sweeden who shares a number of different opinions on this.  Let me share just a few with you:

Miroslav Volf, theologian and author, says, "If I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end in itself."

Schumacher writes that "a person's work is undoubtedly one of the most decisive formative influences on his character and personality."

Sayers, in Vocation in Work, states:  "The great primary contrast between the artist and the ordinary worker is this:  the worker works to make money, so that he may enjoy those things in life which are not his work and which his work can purchase for him; but the artist makes money by his work in order that he may go on working...For the artist, there is no distinction between working and living.  His work is his life, and the whole of his life - not merely the material world about him...his periods of leisure are the periods when his creative imagination may be most actively at work...he wants money not in order that he may stop working and go away and do something different, but in order that he may indulge in the luxury of doing some part of his work for nothing...When the artist rejoices because he has been relieved from the pressure of economic necessity, he means that he has been relieved - not from the work, but from the money."

Karl Marx and Adam Smith had differing views on work.  Both highly regarded work and placed significant value on it for the benefit of society, but Marx emphasized how work shapes humanity and Smith emphasized work as a source of economic wealth.

St. Benedict collapses the means and the end of work by saying that it is not only instrumental for life, but part of the purpose and intention of life. 

To be honest, I'm not trying to answer some of these questions as much as I am longing to hear the church address some of these questions.  The church needs to have a voice in this dialogue, impacting social, political, and economic realities.  Sweeden writes, 
"When the church remains ancillary in theological considerations of good work, the church's influence in shaping the way Christians understand and embody good work is diminished.  When good work is connected to abstract theological proposals rather than to a concrete community, there is little expectation for the church to reconstruct dominant notions or practices of work among its members or its context.  In other words, the church becomes just another place where theological principles can be propagated - with only slightly more impetus to provide just wages and working conditions - instead of the place where members are nurtured into practices and understandings of work corresponding to theological convictions.  The danger is that the church becomes inconsequential for the understanding and practice of good work...The question inevitably arises, if the church does not ground Christian understandings of good work, who or what does?"
I believe that the greatest commodity one can possess is not money, but the ability to share skills and material things. 

What are your thoughts on this?

PS - Tuesday, August 3 begins our "Tuesdays in August" with DML Marketplace Ignitor Campaign.  Watch your email for more details and we hope that you will join us as our partners share some exciting updates of the impact of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their churches and communities.  

Monday, July 26, 2021

Digging Deeper: The Difference Between Wealth Creation and Prosperity Gospel

Thank you so much for the great emails, comments, questions, challenges, discussions, and ideas from last week's blog on Wealth Creation.  It was really great to hear the thoughtful takes that many of you shared and it helped to shape my thinking as well as the group's thinking as we ponder this!

Some of the discussions that occurred in this last week made me want to dig a bit deeper into this subject in this blog as I think there may be some confusion about the difference between wealth creation and the prosperity gospel.  My husband recently gave me a book (to which you should now be saying in your head, "Of course he did!" as you have heard that phrase many times!) called The Prosperity Gospel in Africa, by Marius Nel who has done extensive research on the subject.  Some of my reflections will come from that book as well as some of the reflections that you have shared.

While there are different kinds of prosperity teaching strands, the most common is the miracle prosperity gospel which teaches that wealth is not achieved through hard work and a strict moral code, but "rather through God's desire to bless people with miraculous wealth, either through their own faith or by vanquishing the spiritual powers of evil that continually want to thwart God's miracles."  Wealth is not created through a theology of work and being co-laborers with Christ, but rather by miracles and faith.  This leaves out the purpose of our creation in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15.  

The centrality of tithing and giving generously is also taught in prosperity gospel teaching, to win God's favor and blessing.  We give in order to get.  There are usually no ministries at these churches to help people increase their capacity to earn but rather only prayer meetings to drive out the enemy.  The leaders of these teachings often consider themselves prophets, which makes them unchallengeable, and often leads members to attribute their blessings to the prophet rather than to the Lord.

Unfortunately, prosperity theology is very popular in Africa for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the immense poverty and unemployment.  Pew Research reports that when Pentecostal Christians were asked about this question, "Will God grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith?" 85% of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90% of South African Pentecostals, and 95% of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes (Nel, pg. 3).

Let me say clearly that the teachings of the prosperity gospel is in direct conflict with the Bible, and is in direct conflict with what BAM Global presents in it's Wealth Creation Manifesto, with their ten affirmations:

  1. Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity. 
  2. We are created in God’s image, to co-create with him and for him, to create products and services for the common good.
  3. Wealth creation is a holy calling, and a God-given gift, which is commended in the Bible. 
  4. Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations. 
  5. Wealth hoarding is wrong, and wealth sharing should be encouraged, but there is no wealth to be shared unless it has been created. 
  6. There is a universal call to generosity, and contentment is a virtue, but material simplicity is a personal choice, and involuntary poverty should be alleviated. 
  7. The purpose of wealth creation through business goes beyond giving generously, although that is to be commended; good business has intrinsic value as a means of material provision and can be an agent of positive transformation in society. 
  8. Business has a special capacity to create financial wealth, but also has the potential to create different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth. 
  9. Wealth creation through business has proven power to lift people and nations out of poverty.
  10. Wealth creation must always be pursued with justice and a concern for the poor, and should be sensitive to each unique cultural context
We often talk about poverty in many ways shapes and forms:  spiritual poverty, material poverty, relational poverty, intellectual poverty, and so on.  In the same way, we need to broaden our view of wealth to include spiritual wealth, relational wealth, material wealth, and intellectual wealth.  That is critical to keep in mind when thinking about wealth creation.  Additionally, we need to keep in mind that wealth is not the end goal - the flourishing of all humanity to the glory of God is the end goal.  

What struck me in my discussions is also the difference between "east and west" or "majority world versus minority world."  While the West or Minority World was protesting the term wealth creation out of reaction of seeing how wealth has caused much apathy, complacency, and self-reliance around them, the East or Majority World was saying how important it is in their context.  This warrants some consideration.  Those representing the Majority World said that too many Christians are looking only for a blessing from God, without work.  They said that too many Christians are looking only to the West to save them, rather than work.  So context is important, and of course, definitions are important.

In closing, let me share a chart that we use in our teaching to help people understand where Discipling Marketplace Leaders places emphasis.  I've used this for so long that I don't remember where I got it (but I think it was from Ann Sherman in Kingdom Calling).  It shows the difference between those who value poverty, those who value wealth, and those who value stewardship.  For example, if I value poverty, I view possessions as evil; if I value wealth, I view possessions as my right; but if I value stewardship, I view possessions as a responsibility.  And so on through the chart.

Of course, DML promotes stewardship.  Our faith in our loving, creative Father beckons us to be a steward of our time, treasure and talent while on earth to the glory of God.    

I hope this clarification is helpful and would love to continue to hear feedback from you on this!  

By the way, some of the proposals I heard last week as alternatives to "wealth creation" were "resource creation," "fruit creation," and "asset creation."  I love the body of Christ as we wrestle together to communicate and seek to emulate the goodness and creativity of God!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Wealth Creation - For or Against?

I have been privileged to be part of a global consultation group to bring the Business as Mission (BAM) movement into the gathered church.  It has been exciting to hear of pockets of this type of work growing and flourishing places other than where DML is working - in Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, Peru, and elsewhere!

But this week we ran into a challenge as we discussed the term "wealth creation," while looking at the BAM paper written on the Role of the Church in Wealth Creation.

I wasn't surprised.  For years, I've had to talk about "poverty alleviation" rather than "wealth creation."  I knew that "creating wealth" is an uncomfortable term for many Christians.

And it is understandable to a degree.  When we think of the term "wealth," there are negative images that come to mind: the growing gap between the rich and the poor, hyper-consumerism, wastefulness, uncaring attitude by the rich toward the poor, and so on.

But the creation of wealth is a gift from God to His people for the purpose of all people flourishing.  Deuteronomy 8:18 says, "But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to create wealth, and so confirms His covenant."  It's part of the covenant.  The desire from the Father in Genesis 1 and 2 (before the fall) is to give us the resources in creation for us to use for the flourishing of all people.  

The Bible talks a lot about wealth and the use of money, with three key themes:  

  1. Hoarding of wealth is condemned.
  2. Generous sharing of wealth is encouraged.
  3. Creation of wealth is a godly gift and a command.
The teaching in the church tends to focus on the first and second way, but often does not teach on the third one.  But what we often forget is that there can be no sharing of wealth unless it is first created.  And the only place wealth is created is in the business world.  Churches, governments, and educational institutions all receive their money from those who are doing business (taxes, tithes, fees - all come from wealth that has been created).  

From the Wealth Creation Manifesto of the Lausanne Movement (started in the 1970s by Billy Graham for the global church to address global issues), is this statement:
‘Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity. We are created in God’s image, to co-create with him and for him, to create products and services for the common good. Wealth creation is a holy calling, and a God-given gift, which is commended in the Bible.’

To this, I say "Amen!"

Unfortunately the term "wealth" is often defined only to money, but we need to remember that it is much broader than that.  The United Nations defines inclusive wealth as "the sum of natural, human, and physical assets."  Natural assets include land, forest, energy resources and minerals.  Human assets are the population's education and skills.  Physical assets are machinery buildings and infrastructure. This broader view of wealth makes the creation of it much more palatable for many, I believe.

I know that if we have the opportunity to explore this more full definition of wealth and the idea of wealth creation (building capacity for the purposes of flourishing and shalom), many Christians would agree.

The problem is that we don't have that opportunity to talk to all and if we use the term "wealth creation," it may become a barrier to the message of what we are doing.  

So what to do?  I would love to hear from you.  If you hear that a ministry is involved in "wealth creation" in the majority world, does that strike you as positive or negative?  If it is negative, what might be a better choice of words that would allow for this not to be a roadblock?

The Wealth Creation Manifesto goes on to say this:

‘Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations.’ 

I long to see this happen.  But as a Kenyan pastor and leader has said, "No pastor should ask for a tithe until we have taught about wealth creation from God's perspective and have taught financial management."  The Bible doesn't shy away from talking about money and economics, and neither should the church.  

There are some who fear that if we teach about wealth creation, we move closer to teaching about the prosperity gospel.  But when we are properly equipped in what the Bible teaches, we see the theology of work, the encouragement of generous giving, loving our neighbor, and the condemning of hoarding giving a proper balance to wealth creation.  They must go together.

If you have a minute to let me know your thoughts on the term "wealth creation," I would deeply appreciate it and would take your thoughts to the global consultation group.  Thank you!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Bits and Bridles of Mercy

This past week was a heavy week for the DML prayer team, as we continued to pray through Nehemiah, where threats from Sanballat and Tobiah turn from plots to action.  For the most part, the DML teams are joyful, content, and loving men and women who love serving the Lord.  But as we looked at this text, our own fears and anxieties came to mind as we prayed.  We were reminded that many members of our teams live in very difficult circumstances, amidst daily threats of kidnappings, pandemic waves with few vaccines available, sickness, poverty, and insecurity in many forms.

That same day, I received an invitation to listen to Kathy Keller, wife of Tim Keller, speaking on the evidence of a merciful God.  It felt like a good time to be reminded of God's mercy, and it brought to mind some thoughts which I share with you now.

When I was a young girl in our church's girls program (it was known as the Calvinettes), a running theme was from Hebrews 12:1-2, which reminds us to run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  I wrote a poem about this at that time and had to recite it at an annual event in front of hundreds of girls. As such groups did, they gave me a trophy for my poem to encourage me to keep running that race.  I was probably only about 8 or 9 years old.  These verses have deep roots in my soul because of the way my youth group discipled me with this wonderful passage. 

But occasionally I have to be reminded that I am running my own race.  I am not running someone else's race.  I must run the race set out for Renita Grace Kranenburg Reed Thomson.  My race looks different than every other person's race because I am uniquely made, with unique opportunities and challenges, relationships and characteristics.

I can't run the race for my brothers and sisters in Nigeria who pray daily for safety as they travel from place to place among many kidnappings.  I can't run the race for my brothers and sisters in Cameroon who continue to face the trauma and the threats from an on-going civil war.  I can't run the race for my friends in Uganda as they face another long COVID-related lock-down.  I can't run the race for my colleagues in Burundi, who continue to stare down great poverty every day.

I also have to remind myself that my race is not like a race in the Olympics.  The race that Hebrews calls us to is not run on a smooth, carefully maintained course.  There are not thousands gathered in the stands to cheer me on (the cloud of witnesses may testify but often not in a way I see or hear).  This race is much more a marathon.  A cross-country marathon with all sorts of challenges:  mosquitos, flies, rocks and puddles, to name a few.  There is an occasional view of a beautiful waterfall or lake, but for all of us, this race, this marathon, ends in the valley of the shadow of death.

I frequently think of the statement from Henry David Thoreau, which I learned as a teen:  "All men lead lives of quiet desperation."  I actually find that statement not only to be true, but oddly comforting.  It puts us all on a level playing field.  Despite creature comforts, privilege or even relative safety, at the end of the day, we "lead lives of quiet desperation."  We share the quiet desperation of our fallen state. Yet, we are made by a Creator who beckons us to His kingdom. 

Kathy Keller spoke of the significance of Romans 8:1 in light of life's challenges, which says that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  She reminded me that you can only be released from a threat when you know you were under a threat.  "Unless we are aware of the magnitude of the threat under which we live (fully sinful in front of a holy and perfect God), we focus on the small tragedies of life, like pancreatic cancer." She knows what she is saying as her husband and best-selling author Tim Keller has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is one of the more unforgiving cancers.

The "small tragedies of life like pancreatic cancer."  Personally, cancer, let alone pancreatic cancer, sounds like a pretty big thing to me.  When viewed with the right perspective, in light of God's salvation, even something as devastating as pancreatic cancer is a trial that believers can face with the confidence of the hope of our faith - that Jesus promises to be with us even in the valley of the shadow of death.  Whether it's civil war, Boko Haram, kidnapping bandits, floods, drought or pestilence, Jesus is there.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that we are far too easily pleased.  We are distracted by bright shiny objects.  We are often also distracted with our "glass half empty" way of looking at things.  How quickly we become distracted by the rocks in the road, or the sudden rain shower that soaks us on this marathon of our faith.

But thankfully, we aren't left completely to our own devices, nor are we abandoned to our lives of quiet desperation.  Psalm 32:9 warns us not to be like the horse or the mule which needs to be led by bit or bridle for course correction.  And Kathy Keller also reminded us that this is not a behavior modification threat - it is a text of comfort.  It's good if we can do it on our own, without God's bridle pulling us back to the path.  But when we veer off course, God will lead us back to the way that leads to life.

This way of life includes learning to praise God in spite of my roadblocks and detours on my marathon.  Hebrews 13:15 tells us that we are to continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.  When I read those words, that quiet desperation begins to creep up on me as I recognize how far I am from living that.  However, what does Hebrews really mean?  How is praise a sacrifice?  

I'm learning that continually being able to praise is indeed a sacrifice...at least for someone like me.  I'm not naturally attuned to be a praiseful person.  I'm not an "in the moment" person, which is what I think we need to be if living as a praiseful person.  I'm much more of a "what's next person" which means I'm often looking at what else needs to be done.  I've been told that I can be a person who looks at the glass as half empty rather than half full.

So for me, it is a sacrifice to give up trying to be on top of everything to become a person who is thankful and praiseful.  It's difficult to do!  It's part of learning to be a living sacrifice and nurture a heart of gratitude.  

It needs to be done daily.  Sometimes hourly.

But God is faithful and merciful, with bits and bridles when we go our own way.

And He is faithful and merciful to my brothers and sisters across Africa, who are also running the race that has been set before them.  

Monday, June 28, 2021

Connecting Our Tithe to Our Workship

Connecting our tithe to our work seems like a natural thing to do, right?  Most of us would shrug and agree that, of course, our tithe comes from our work.  But we often don't make that connection when the church is gathered.  

A few weeks ago, I was invited to preach in Liberia, West Africa.  The main offering was taken before the message and the process started by asking those who were going to give a tithe to come to the front of the church and lay their tithe directly on the podium.  Then the pastor prayed for these tithers.  He asked God to bless the seeds that were being sown, and to help those seeds produce great fruit for the Kingdom of God.

He then asked the tithers to sit down, and the offering was then collected from everyone else (those who were not giving a full tenth but an offering of sorts).

That didn't sit well with me.  Not because of the calling out of the tithers - I'm not a fan of that process but I am used to that.  That is a pretty regular occurrence in many churches in Africa.  But it didn't sit well with me because the tithe was not tied at all to the work that provided the money - the pastor did not look back at where and how the money came, he only looked forward to how it could be used.

As my message was focused on "Thy Kingdom Come," I decided (likely a Holy Spirit prompting) to address this missing link.  Part way through my message, in talking about how we are to be actively working to bring the kingdom of heaven on earth, I asked those who had given their tithe to rise.

I then went into the congregation and approached the man in the first row who was standing.  I asked him to tell the church how it was he got his tithe.  He said, "Well, I calculated ten percent of my earnings."  I smiled and rephrased the question.  "What work did you do to receive those earnings?"  He smiled and said that he was a carpenter and made furniture.  I put my hand on his shoulder and asked the church to pray with me.  We thanked God for this man's ability to work, to make things from the resources that God has given.  We  prayed that God's Kingdom would come more and more in and through this business, and that this man would be a testimony to God as His image-bearer.  We thanked God for his faithfulness and asked God to continue to bless the work of his hands.

Then I went to the next woman who owned a provision shop and prayed a similar prayer.

Then another man who worked in an office.

I wanted to speak to more people but time was moving on.  As I headed up to the podium, there was an elderly lady in the front row with a sweet smile and I couldn't pass her by.  

I asked her how she had received her tithe money.  She said in very broken English, "My children give me money and I give one tenth of it."  I asked her what her children do.  She said that one is a nurse and one drives a taxi.  We prayed for the work of her children.  The world and the work being done seemed very present in the service.

I then continued my message in which I was emphasizing that "Thy Kingdom come" is not a simple longing for Heaven.  It is a mandate for us to work at it while we are here on earth.  Every day a little more than the day before.

As I reflected on it later, I thought about the first man's response.  His mind had so disconnected his tithe from his work that he could only think of how he did the math.  Our brain compartmentalizes things.  We say, "this is sacred and that is secular."  We think that our tithe is about future fruits.  We don't talk about how it came to be.

It makes me sad and increasingly frustrated.  Our total disconnect of our work from our worship is reaping negative consequences.  But I think it's a frustration that is coming at a good time.  God is opening my eyes to this more and more, and at the same time, I'm in conversations with others around the world who also believe in the church AND believe that a change needs to happen.

The purpose of Sunday is Monday.  And if that is not coming out when the church gathers, we are missing massive opportunities when the church scatters.  Our work becomes an act of worship - or as some people have phrased it: workship.

I leave you with this quote from author and theologian Miroslav Volf, from The Church's Great Malfunctions:

We need to build and strengthen mature communities of vision and character who celebrate faith as a way of life as they gather before God for worship and who, sent by God, live it out as they scatter to pursue various tasks in the world.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Yes, No, Wait

DML is blessed with leaders who have many years of experience.  Through the years we have learned to check with God before jumping into new opportunities.  We are blessed with a board and team that highly values seeking the Lord.  The goal is to discern whether God is saying, yes, no, or wait. We love to hear the Lord say “yes” to opportunities.  Especially when we see the value in those opportunities to expand the Kingdom of God!

At our recent Board meeting, we discussed some of the parameters that might confirm the Lord’s "yes."  We also discussed some parameters where the Lord is saying “wait" or "no.”  DML is blessed by some amazing opportunities being presented to us.  Currently our budget is enough to help empower 12 partners working in 11 countries.  But not enough to take advantage of a growing number of opportunities. That means we need to use the word "wait." One of the opportunities comes from the team that invited us to Cote d'Ivoire, a French speaking country in West Africa.  French speaking countries in Africa often lag behind when it comes to resources and help.  We were fascinated by the early steps in DML being taken by business leaders and their Churches.  We believe God desires DML to expand into French speaking Africa.  But we need to see God confirm this with the resources needed.

God is opening many opportunities for DML.  This past week we had conversations with people, churches, denominations and ministries from many diverse places.  As DML becomes better known, we are entering into conversations from people around the world.  These leaders  have a passion for the blending of faith and work in and through the church.  We had requests for DML just this week from Chad, Zambia, Brazil, Honduras, and El Salvador.  

Some of these opportunities may be met through some strategic partnerships that DML has made with like-minded organizations who are taking DML and making it their own.  These partner ministries are able to bridge some of the resource gap to reach new countries with the DML message, but not all.

God is rallying His people around the oft-forgotten message of Genesis 1 and 2 .  I was reminded this week that DML is part of the vision of God to redeem and restore creation to His purpose.  This is not a short term process but a long term vision measured in time as only God can measure.

The Bible says that the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.  But what we are finding is that the harvest is plenty, the workers are showing up and available, but the resources to support these initiatives are not yet in place.

The answer for now seems to continue to be "wait."  

But there is also a sense that God is up to something here and I'm looking forward to seeing how we can continue to join Him in the work that He is already doing!

We just sent out the DML June letter and amazing newsletter from Tanzania, describing the work going on with the Masai.  If you have not received your copy in your mailbox, please click on the links to read it here!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Your Kingdom Come

How often have you prayed the words from the Lord's Prayer,  "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"?  I have prayed those words often but I have to admit that up until recently I saw those words more about God's work than my own.  After all, what do I know about heaven?  I haven't been there.  And do I really know God's will?

But, as is the case with much relating to prayer, God's answer comes most of the time through His people.  Miracles are the exception, not the rule.  God created humanity to be the answer - the fulfillment - of the capacity of the earth He created.  He created humanity to be co-creators in bringing about the ability for all to flourish:  all humanity, all creatures, all of creation.  So while I pray this prayer, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," I need to ask myself what I am doing each day to bring a piece of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth - at least a little bit more than there was yesterday.

Earth is not a waiting room for heaven.  John Ortberg said this, "Many people think our job is to get my afterlife destination taken care of, then tread water till we all get ejected and God comes back and torches this place.  But Jesus never told anybody - neither his disciples nor us - to pray, 'Get me out of here so I can go up there."  His prayer was, 'Make up there come down here.  Make things down here run the way they do up there.'"

We get a few hints of what "up there" looks like from Scripture.  Genesis 1 and 2 is an example of how it was before sin entered in.  Humanity was to work and care for the garden.  Revelation 22 tells us that while we started in a garden, we will end in a city.  Isaiah 65 describes the new heavens and new earth as a place where we will build and plant.  We will work, but it will be without the struggle of sin.  Our relationship with work and creation will be repaired.  So we can have a pretty good idea of what God's will is and what the Kingdom of Heaven could look like on earth.  We will all be serving the one and only Sovereign King.  And the new earth will include the making and managing of cities (the reward of the parable of talents and minas).  So it's not that foreign after all to us - it's within our imagination and experience.  

This is not a prayer to opt out of this earth.  It is a prayer to opt in to making it happen on earth.  

It is a macro prayer and a micro prayer.  We need to scale it up to the big picture of heaven on earth, and then scale it down to my specific part in fulfilling that.  Where am I to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth?  At my work?  At home?  In my community?  With my friends/family?

Wherever we are, as followers of Jesus, we seek to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  

Lord, help us to recognize that when we treasure your kingdom, we're one step closer to you, the King.

Lord, we seek your kingdom throughout every sphere.  We long for heaven's demonstration here - and we picture the different "heres" where we'll find ourselves this week.

Jesus, may your light shine bright for all to see.  Lord, transform, revive, and heal society.

We pray 'your kingdom come, Lord.' So that your sovereign rule will come now, more tomorrow than today, starting with me, increasing in number and quality and in the future in its fullness and permanence with Christ's return.  

Amen.

(Prayer taken from LICC.org.uk)

Monday, June 7, 2021

On the Frontline

We hear the term "on the frontline" a lot more these days.  In the past, it was often used only in reference to military positions.  Those on the frontline were those leading the charge, those facing actual conflict or struggle.
But today, we hear about frontline workers in the health sector, especially those working with COVID-19 patients.  We hear about frontline workers in the social work field, working with those struggling with the effects of racial tension, drug/alcohol abuse, and more.

But as ambassadors of the Most High God, all of us are on the frontline, especially in our places of work.  It is where we bring light into darkness.  It is where we work for the flourishing of individuals and communities. It is on the frontline that we are to bring the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

The frontline is a place that is the least protected from criticism or attack.  It is a place of vulnerability.

Therefore, it is a place where we need strategies and direction.  It is a place where we learn to worship God through our work so that He receives the glory and people flourish.  

It also needs to be a place of faithfulness.  

But what does this look like on the frontline?

At DML, we define faithfulness as following God's three great directives:  the Great Commitment (Gen. 1:28, 2:15), the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.  We spell that out by saying that no matter where we work, every Christian needs to have an economic, environmental, social, and missional bottom line.  These four goals will result in flourishing as well as glory to our God.

Most of the time we think about faithfulness in terms of explicit opportunities through witnessing or talking about God.  But faithfulness also needs to be present in how we do our work:

  • Do I do it with excellence?  To the best of my ability?
  • Do I strive to get better at whatever it is I have the opportunity to do?  Is there a goal of continuous improvement?
  • How do I use my time while at work?  With integrity?  
  • How do I preach the gospel through my actions (not my words)?  
  • Who is God calling me to love at my place of work?  That difficult colleague or customer?
  • Am I being a disciple at work?  Is there an area of my work where I am not representing God well?
  • Who might God be calling me to disciple?  How can I begin to pray for that person?
  • Am I working for the Lord and not for man?  Meaning, regardless of what I think of my boss, or the place where I work, I strive to do it with excellence because ultimately I am working for the Lord and the flourishing of His people?

For some people, the only gospel they will ever see is how we act when on the frontlines.   

Wherever your frontlines may be (and we have them at home, church, and in our communities in addition to our work), receive this blessing:

Now go, Church.
Leave here.
Go in the name and in the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Go and extend your worship into your work.
Go and extend Christ’s service into your service.
Take the grace that you've received at this table and extend it to all for whom you care.
Remember the hospitality you found here.
Offer it to others tomorrow.
Go and work.
Honor the one who is working on you.
Do so by making beautiful things, by serving in beautiful ways, by speaking up for the weak whose beauty is being maligned, by filling the city with the aroma of good and beautiful work.
Reflect the beautiful work of your Heavenly Father, nourished now by the grace and mercy of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God has already accomplished the great work.
God goes before you and behind you.
God works at your side.

(Taken from Work and Worship, Kaemingk and Willson, page 140)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

And now on to Liberia...

Last week was spent in Liberia, both in Monrovia and Kakata.  We are working with the Harvest Intercontinental Ministries, whose churches are spread throughout the country of Liberia, as well as six continents around the world.  They had their annual conference this past week and the presiding bishop from the US, along with a number of other bishops, gathered in Liberia for meetings.  

The presiding bishop, Dr. Darlingston G. Johnson, wrote a book in 2008 called Anointed for the Marketplace.  Reading that book was like reading our own writings for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  I continue to marvel at how God calls together His people who are like-minded and passionate in similar areas -  it has been this way since we started this ministry.  It shouldn't be a surprise to me, as it is how we were created to be.  It is a joy to meet like-minded Christian leaders.  In our meeting, the Bishop said that he has been passionate about this for years but has not had the tools to move it forward in the church.  It is a great joy to join them on this journey.

The person assigned to DML for the Harvest Intercontinental Ministries in Liberia is Dr. Jacob Meiporkoyah as well as Pastor Lisa Travis.  The two of them make a powerful team and we already have trained the regional leaders for the church.  We look forward to see what God is going to do in the next year!  I was privileged to preach in Dr. Jacob's church last week Sunday, and to do a radio interview with Pastor Lisa as well (see pictures below).  

I also had the joy to see "Baby Renita" again, who is no longer a baby by any means!  If you don't remember the story, her mom, Patience, was 16 when she had Renita and we had the privilege of taking care of Baby Renita for the first year of her life during our last year in Liberia.  Renita is now 12 years old and is a bright and beautiful young lady!  

I am thankful to God for what He is doing in and through His church in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia.  I'm also thankful for the safe travel from place to place, a safe return home, and thankful for the prayers that were lifted on behalf of this work.  Blessings!

Patience, her fiancĂ© Amos, their daughter Renita, and son Amos.  A lovely family and a wedding planned for this December!
Baby Renita and Renita in 2008


Renita and Renita in 2021

Dr. Jacob (right), the DML leader for HIM in Liberia, Pastor Moses (middle), who is also helping with DML, and myself.

Pastor Lisa Travis, interviewing me for their radio program, "Harvesting the Marketplace."

The first batch of DML trainers certificated in Liberia!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Crazy for Cassava, Manic for Manioc, and Yums for Yuca!

Cassava, manioc, and yuca are different names for the same starchy tuber that grows in different parts of the world.  The French call it "manioc" (in Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire) and the English call it "cassava" (Liberia).  

But no matter what it is called, I love the way it is prepared in a very special community called Ira, Cote d'Ivoire.  We had such a treat this past week, following our conference, to drive about three hours west of Abidjan to an area very rich in rubber trees, palm oil plantations, and cassava farms.  We drove deep into a community where hundreds of women work twelve hours a day, seven hours a week (that's right - you heard me...no day off...ever) to process cassava.


Most women spend their days doing what the woman in the video below is doing - peeling cassava.  I had to peel potatoes once a day growing up - for about fifteen minutes.  I can't imagine doing this twelve hours a day, every day.  From there, the cassava is soaked, washed, then ground up and dried.  Some of it goes into what is called "attieke" which is almost like couscous, and other is made into a flour for "gari" which is like a cream of wheat.  

The good news is that they have more demand than they can currently meet, both locally and for nearby countries.  The bad news is that they have only one machine that grinds up the cassava, and therefore that machine is being worked 24 hours, seven days a week.  We have been asked to help with a loan for some additional machines to provide for some more efficiency (and maybe a day off for the women!).

But it is fascinating to drive into this community, off the main road, where they have developed their own economy with churches, schools, shops, to support the work of processing cassava.  These women are super hard working and I admire them!

Thirty members of this community were sent to Abidjan to attend our workshop, including some of the owners of these businesses and three pastors of three local churches.  All of them are saying "Yes" and "Amen" to the message that work can be done as an act of worship, and that we are to be the church every day of the week in all that we do.  They said they will start teaching that this Sunday!  We are excited to partner with them, to take them through the business training, and then see how these businesses can increase their productivity to help even more people flourish!

Please enjoy the pictures and the very brief video of the women peeling cassava below, although this media can't capture the amazing work!


Pressing the moisture out of the cassava.

The tireless machine which grinds the cassava, and the women who wait for hours to use it.

For those who don't wait, the sifting is done by hand.

I am now in Liberia where we are working with the Harvest Intercontinental Ministries and will be leaving for home at the end of this week.  God has been good and we are thankful!

Monday, May 17, 2021

Burkina Faso, Business, and Church

Thursday, May 13, was the last day of Ramadan, Eid-el-Fitr, which means "the festival of breaking the fast."  This is the last day of a thirty day fast, and is a big holiday in the Muslim calendar. About 63% of the population of Burkina Faso is Muslim, 22% Christian, and so one would expect to see about 63% of the shops closed and 63% less traffic on the streets.

However, in driving through Ouagadougou (the capital of Burkina Faso) for our workshop, almost 100% of the businesses were closed.  

We had been told since we started working in Burkina Faso that Christians do not do business, but it became very obvious that day.  Christians view business as secular.  Business is worldly.  During our workshop, pastors told us that members are afraid of becoming rich because they believe they won't get into heaven.  They reminded us that Jesus whipped those selling in the temple, therefore business must be evil (this story is MUCH more complex than that!).  

While poverty has decreased in total percentages globally, mostly because of business development in China and India, it has actually increased in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The per capita income in Burkina Faso is $600 USD.  Believing that business is evil doesn't help move a country toward poverty alleviation.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders is working with the Assemblies of God in Burkina Faso.  They have 6000 churches and over a million members.  They are divided into 72 regions throughout the country, and each region sent three representatives to our training.  We had more than 300 pastors and church leaders present and they all said "yes" to this ministry by the end of our training.  

DML is also working with the Christian Missionary Alliance in Burkina Faso.  They have 1000 churches throughout the country, and they called together a workshop with several other denominational leaders present as well.  This is so important!  For a denomination to recognize that we need to work together to reclaim the redeemed marketplace for Christ is critical.  Workplace discipleship needs to be across many churches if we are going to see transformation!  As a result, the Apostolic Church with 250 churches and 100,000 members has said yes to the DML ministry and said they are going to get started this Sunday!  

We are so excited to have three denominations say yes to having workplace discipleship ministries in their churches in Burkina Faso!

But our teams here are not stopping within their borders!

The DML team in the Christian Missionary Alliance has also been teaching pastors in Gabon, and is training them to be trainers!

The DML team with the Assemblies of God in Burkina Faso has arranged for many denominational leaders to gather in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire and we are having a workshop with them on Monday and Tuesday.

So from the Ghana DML team came the link to Burkina Faso.  From Burkina Faso, to Cote d'Ivoire and Gabon.  And so it goes.  We thank God for open doors and for people recognizing that this is a forgotten Biblical truth!  

And we trust that He will continue to call and equip His people to have His will done on earth as it is in heaven! Thank you for your continued prayers!  (And yes, I did receive my bags so thank you for those prayers as well!)

One more thing - on of our DML team members in Burkina Faso, Ismael Illa, married his beautiful bride Tabitha on Saturday and we were privileged to attend!  It is so beautiful to see weddings in other cultures - there were many things that they did which I would love to see picked up in US weddings.  Enjoy a couple of pictures and a very brief video of the "joining of the families" dance, where both families join together to bless the couple and their future children.


Ismael putting the ring on Tabitha's finger, for all to see.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Back to Africa!

I am back in Africa!  I have not stepped foot on the continent for almost fourteen months, having made it back one day before things shut down, the longest stretch since I started going in 2004.  While the last fourteen months have brought some amazing, unexpected, and exciting growth for Discipling Marketplace Leaders, it did feel good to get the dust off the suitcases and head out again.

The trip is centered on West Africa, starting in Burkina Faso.  The leaders of the Assemblies of God Burkina Faso have been waiting since early last year for a training for all of their denominational leaders.  We postponed several times and are happy to be going to be with them now.  There are about 6000 AG churches in Burkina Faso and we will be speaking to the leadership.

We will then be meeting with the leadership of the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination, which started implementing DML about two years ago.  It will be good to spend time with them and help them go to a new level.

We will then be going to Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), courtesy of our partner in Burkina Faso who has organized several denominational leaders there to hear the message of DML.  

From there, we will go to Liberia to meet with the leaders of Harvest Intercontinental Ministries, formerly known as Bethel World Outreach.  They are implementing DML in all 80 of their churches in Liberia, with 55,000 members, but we have now learned that they are flying in their bishops from all around the world to attend the conference during the third week of May.  We are very excited about what this means for the continued call of the integration of faith and work taking place in and through our churches!

Please pray for us on this trip, especially with the COVID issues that will need to be negotiated from border to border.  But mostly pray that hearts and minds will be open, for all of us, for what God is doing in and through His church.

This past week I attended the BAM (Business as Mission) Global Congress (thanks to those of you who prayed for this event - more on that later!) and heard this lovely song which they are now calling the BAM Anthem, set to the tune of the old hymn, Abide with Me.  It is truly lovely.  Please enjoy!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Ardie Burger: An Usher for God (1932-2021)

Ardie, Did You Know?

A 17-year-old young woman
Away from family, friends, and country,
Walks into the sanctuary of a church.
The sanctuary is dark, somewhat dingy,
In an area that feels oppressed and depressed.
Not unlike her soul.
Also Dark. Dingy.  Depressed.
Ardie, did you know?
 
Ardie, an African American man,
The age of this young white woman’s father,
At a time when their relationship was broken.
Greets her with a genuine smile,
A hug, and with his deep voice,
“Hello, Sweetheart.”
Acceptance.  Affirmation.  A balm.
Ardie, did you know?
 
She comes back again,
Despite the worship feeling foreign,
The people foreign,
The community foreign,
Because there is one accepting, welcoming face.
And over time her faith is stoked.
Her life is changed.
She finds her place.
Truth.  Transformation.  Trust.
Ardie, did you know?
 
Ardie, did you know?
Another white, privileged, Calvin student,
Entering a community plagued by poverty and racism,
Yet seen by you as a broken person,
in need of the hug and love of a Father.
Did you know she was in pain?
What were your thoughts? 
You never let on.
“Welcome, sweetheart.”  “Welcome, Baby.”  “Welcome, Daughter.”
Ardie, did you know?
 
I hope you can see what your gift produced in this young woman over the next 35 years.
A love for Madison Square Church,
A love for the Madison Square community,
A love for mission,
A love for the Church,
A love for God.
Would it had been the same if she had attended another church?
Would life had been different if not for that hug? That welcome?
Ardie, did you know?
 
I think you knew.
And you did it for hundreds of people. Maybe thousands.
And you never stopped.
 
I hope that when I too leave this world,
And come to the gates of heaven,
That along with the welcome of Jesus,
That you will be there,
Saying, “Welcome, daughter.”
 
Rest in peace, dear Ardie.
Brother, Elder, Father, and Friend.
An Usher for God.

Monday, April 26, 2021

BAM and the Church

In this coming week, Discipling Marketplace Leaders will have the opportunity to speak during the BAM (Business as Mission) Global Congress on the role of the church in the Business as Mission movement.  The Business as Mission movement started in around 2001 and has grown significantly in influence around the world.  Yet while the original recommendations for this movement were to start with the church, to date it has mostly operated outside the church.  

The reasons BAM leaders have given for this are 1. that the church is too difficult to work with, 2. that church and business don't mix, and 3. that if the church is the people, then we should be able to work directly with people in the marketplace without going through the gathered church.  

Yet the belief of the Discipling Marketplace Leaders global team is that NOT working through the church is the main reason that faith and work integrations have come and gone over the centuries.  Because it has not been embraced and fully accepted as a core need for holistic discipleship in the church means that there has been no institutional grounding for this movement.  

So it remains a movement outside of the church, with a very real risk of dying out without the sustaining role that workplace discipleship can be given through the institutional church, pastors, and seminaries.  

But the greater loss of not doing this through the church is the loss of an exponential rippling impact when this discipleship is done through the church, rather than individual business by individual business.  The potential for the church to teach more Christians to do our work for the flourishing of our customers, the flourishing of our employees, with a missional, social, environmental, and economic bottom line has impacts that can ripple out even further into communities. 

When churches begin to teach life on life evangelism rather than evangelistic programs and events, the opportunity for the growth of the church is also exponential.  Our research shows that churches grow both numerically and financially when a workplace ministry becomes part of the fabric of the church.

We have great hope for what could happen if more churches and denominations begin to accept the need for discipleship in this important area.  Yesterday my pastor said that hope is profound certainty.  This is based on trust that God is continuing to work out His purpose for the Church and bringing His people together.  We have seen it, and we are seeing it, and we believe we will continue to see it going forward.  

So we ask for your prayers this week as we have these conversations.  Prayers for the right people to attend from around the world, for the internet to not be a barrier for those who need to be in these (and other) conversations.  We will be working with BAM Global to build a task force to study this opportunity globally, and we will be looking for those individuals who have a calling and heart for this opportunity at this time.

Darrow Miller from Discipling Nations Alliance says, “You cannot transform nations without saving souls, but you can save souls without transforming nations."  Releasing members to be the church every day of the week, in every workplace, can transform nations.

Please pray with us!

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 ...as 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.