Monday, October 11, 2021

Lessons From a Rental Car

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

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

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

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

Lessons from a rental car.

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

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

It was a good reminder for me.  

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

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Out of the Salt Shaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's not too late.  

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

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

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

Monday, September 27, 2021

Reed Family Update: Hannah's Engaged!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                    ~Hannah Reed 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Be the Miracle You are Seeking

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

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

"Be the miracle you are seeking."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God help us to become better plowers! 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

From Household to Factory

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

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

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

These are quickly changing times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 30, 2021

Be an Ignitor for Work as Worship - Opportunity on Tuesday!

We are back from our trip to Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya, and we thank God for safe travel and good meetings!  We had six COVID tests in three weeks, and all came back negative, so we are thankful for that as well!  We met with our DML teams, with many denominational leaders, ministry leaders, church leaders, and Marketplace ministers and are so encouraged by what God is doing in His Church.

On Tuesday, August 31 at 7 pm EDT, we will be giving a thirty minute update from our trip, as well as concluding our August "Tuesdays with DML", where we have been sharing country reports from Ethiopia, Ghana, and Burkina Faso.

We hope that you can join us for this brief Zoom call, and consider joining our Marketplace Ignitor Team of monthly givers who help us support the work in eleven countries with fourteen partners.  We have requests for Chad, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more.

That number continues to increase as demand continues to increase!  The church is thirsty for how to be relevant to people's daily lives, and the desire to have a positive impact on the marketplace is increasing!  Jesus is in the Marketplace, and He is beckoning us to come!

To join us, please use this Zoom link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/6861001769

Monday, August 23, 2021

Digging Deep in Tanzania

We have a saying in DML:  Dream big, start small, go deep.  Dreaming is easy and fun.  Starting is often difficult and overwhelming.  Going deep is challenging because it requires time and often intense relationships.

Pastor Anthony and his wife, Leticiah, have their shovels out and are digging deep.  Leticiah, a lawyer who has been working on women's rights cases for many years, said that the day that they heard the message from DML about the role of the church being one that equips people to go rather than bringing people into the church to "receive" was the "best day ever."  She had been working at the Women's Legal Aid Shelter and it was very discouraging work.  She just wanted to leave the work of being a lawyer and "work for God" (meaning work at a church).  But the message of DML changed her perspective on her work and she didn't sleep the night after she heard our talk.

Pastor Anthony leading Bible study
 in their church
Since then, she has poured herself into her work with new energy.  An opportunity came to her to work with 80 women in her community, which is made up of many poor, many Muslims, and many people with AIDS.  Many of these individuals have access to the antiretroviral medication, but they often don't have the money for the food that must be taken with the medicine for it to be effective.  Leticiah shared that many have told themselves that they are dying, so why do business?  Leticiah was asked to offer counsel to these individuals in different forms, including spiritual counseling and vocational counseling.  This was an excellent shift for her and the stories then began to pour out about how she is doing her work as an act of worship, as well as teaching others to do the same.  Leticiah and Pastor Anthony do this at their church, which has now doubled in number.  The stories they share are amazing as they have poured themselves into these individuals and have developed 25 different businesses that can be successful in their area.

Let me share just a couple of these stories:

  • Aleema is a Muslim woman with AIDS.  She became a Muslim when she married her husband.  He passed away from AIDS not too long ago.  Aleema has now become a Christian and has learned from Leticiah how to make liquid soap and doormats.  For the first time in her life, she now owns a phone and is able to pay her own health insurance.  Her children are amazed that they no longer need to send money to take care of Mom!
    Doormats made from recycled materials, saying "Welcome"

  • Danah was a Muslim and married to a Muslim man.  Both are HIV positive.  Her husband is a habitual offender and has served a total of 26 years in five different sentences for armed robbery.  Even while he was in prison, he continued to do illegal business.  In going through the counseling with Pastor Anthony and Leticiah, Ahmed first discovered with great surprise that Christians are loving.  Then he learned, with his wife, to do business.  They are now doing rabbits, ducks, chickens, and shoemaking.  He is also doing something with cockroaches - extracting the milk for something but I was shuddering too much to understand what!  He comes early to the church (this group meets at the church four times per week) and sweeps, mops, and cleans the place voluntarily.  He is successful and people are trusting him for the first time in his life.  His wife has given her life to Christ but Ahmed has not yet.  We can pray for him!

Pastor Anthony and Leticiah have also started three savings and loan groups in their community, where the people save, lend money to themselves as a group, and receive any interest paid as dividends.  They can't seem to open enough of these before they are full and needing to start another one.  One woman, doing business now because of this program, has saved $450 and has bought a plot of land.  She is amazed by this!

Pastor Anthony translating into Swahili for Dr. Walker 
Pastor Anthony and Leticiah continue to share the good news that work is a good thing - that we have been put on this earth for a short period of time to give of our time, talent, and treasure to bring the Kingdom of God on earth a little more each day.  They have been invited to speak on TV and radio and because of that we had a great gathering of leaders to share the message with while we were in Tanzania.  

God is moving among His people and we give thanks!

We are now in Kenya which is a little more shut down because of COVID, but we look forward to seeing what God is doing here!

The DML Tanzania Team

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Unexpected Progress: Burundi

To be honest, I wasn't sure about DML starting to work in Burundi.  Burundi is a small nation (smaller than Maryland), with about 12.5 million people and a per capita income of $254/person/year.  This nation, which is fourth in terms of having the highest amount of poverty and having recently been through an extensive civil war, is not a nation that I expected to have business thrive and I worried about it having the capacity to engage in business development.  

What I failed to consider was the potential of a population that is tired of poverty and war.  

What I failed to consider is the readiness of the church to engage a ministry which promotes that work is a good and godly thing, making room for a theology of work and doing work as worship.

What I failed to consider is how rapid a population that is tired of poverty can pivot.

Last year, just before COVID, we made our first visit to Burundi to begin the teaching of DML.  During the past year, we received many positive reports of how the work was going, but to honest, we were skeptical that the reports were reflections of what we consider "success stories" as we weren't sure that one visit was enough for the leaders to embrace AND be able to teach this message.

But our visit to Burundi this past week put those fears to rest.  This is a nation that is ready for change.  Our DML Burundi team kept us very busy meeting group after group of pastors and businesspeople, as well as a group of 1000 youth!

My colleague, Phil Walker, arrived the day before me and was able to attend a DML commissioning service for business people at a rural church in Gitega on Sunday.  There he had his perspective adjusted when he heard testimony after testimony of lives which had been changed as people began to see their place in God's economy.  Here is what he wrote about that service:

I was not very excited about getting up Sunday morning, the day after a long trip, and going to a rural church to preach and commission a group of businesspeople who had attended the DML training.  Like Renita, I was not sure how and if DML business training would work in a country known more for it mountains and internal fighting more than business development.  As we drove to the village church, I was thankful that it was the dry season, otherwise we would never have made it by car. 
Upon arrival, I was ushered into the church and seated at the front of the assembly. The church walls consisted of rough wood and banners all around and a dirt floor. There was excitement that someone from so far away came to their church to commission the first marketplace ministers.  The small church was full with about 200 people.  The windows in the back of the church were also filled with people who could not find a place to sit.  
What struck me was the zeal as they worshipped with song and dance.  Men, women, and children would take turns jumping up to sing and dance as they worshipped.  I soon found myself again enjoying the African beat and songs.  These men and women are mostly farmers, working on very small plots of land to grow enough food to feed their families. 
I preached a sermon on “commissioning” appropriate to the occasion.  Any time I mentioned that God loved the poor, there was a hardy amen!  After the preaching they called up those who had gone through the training.  Forty-five people came up to be commissioned as marketplace ministers.  I was surprised at the large number that had gone through the training.  After the commissioning, they invited members of the group to share why they thought the training was helpful.  Here is a sample of what I heard: 
“Before this training I went to my garden, weary before even starting. I would be working all day for barely enough to feed my family.  Work and more work.  After the training I realized that my work was something God desired of me.  I was not simply working to feed my family, I was working as a way of worshiping God!  My neighbors began to see a change in me.  They wanted to know what had happened.  Now I was not only working for God, but also evangelizing!” 
A pastor, who was trained said, “As a pastor, I had been taught that to serve God is to preach the gospel and get people saved.  I had a small plot of land, but did not have time to farm as that was not serving God.  This led to my children not having enough to eat and my wife being unhappy because I was away evangelizing.  At the training, I learned that God worked and created us to work.  I began to understand that the farmer also serves the purpose of God through their work.  I still do evangelism, but now I also farm.  My children have enough to eat and my wife is happy that I have made a commitment to being home more.” 
The senior pastor looked at me and said, “You cannot know what a change the training has made.  The whole church wants to be trained. After seeing the first group and the change in their lives, people are begging me to give another training so they can learn as the first group did.  Please come and teach us how to worship God through our work.  We are ready!” 
Can you do “business” training with a poor nation consisting mostly of small scale farming?  Absolutely.  To validate what they do as a call of God changes their perspective validating them and their work as being part of the mission of God.

On our last day in Burundi, we had a meeting in the capital of Bujumbura with about 15 Bishops of major denominations, as well as presidents of national church groups (Burundi reports to be 97% Christian).  After doing a short three hour presentation on a Saturday morning with these men, the overwhelming response at the end of our time together was a chorus of "we can't wait for this...we need this now."

Apparently there have been reports for some years that there will be a revival coming to the Church in Burundi and there have been arguments about which denomination will start it.  After our presentation, they said that they now see that it's not about denominations at all but about Christians in the Marketplace.

We are now in Tanzania where we will spend the week with more incredible leaders, including speaking to the Assemblies of God Tanzania.  

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Bricks from Plastic Bottles

I'm on the road again and am writing this from Burundi, which is a small country (a bit smaller than Maryland), just south of Rwanda.  It is one of the poorest countries in the world but a country of hard-working people with fruit and vegetables growing in almost every inch of space!  From Burundi, we will be going to Tanzania and then to Kenya.  It's great to be out again, despite the challenges of COVID!  Unfortunately I arrived without any luggage so please pray that it will make it here!

One of the things I love about how Discipling Marketplace Leaders has developed over the years is that it is centered on a vision rather than a blueprint.  Because we have partners rather than employees, they have the freedom and liberty to continue to explore what God is calling them to do as it relates to DML implementation, and it often ends up reflecting their individual/organizational passion and gifting.

For example, one of the four bottom lines that we encourage is an environmental bottom line (the other three are missional, social, and economic).  Our partners vary in terms of which one they tend to emphasize, but our partner in Cameroon, called HUTSEED, has a particular passion around the stewardship of creation.  We have watched this blossom and grow in many creative ways over the past few years.

This week, the leader, whose name is Joy (which is so fitting if you see her beautiful joyful face!), sent us pictures of the training they were doing on making ecobricks from plastic bottles. These bricks can be 5-7 times stronger than concrete and uses the plastic waste that we see all around us.  So very cool!  I love it!

Genesis 2:15 tells us to work and care for creation.  The Bible is full of the Father's love for this world He created - not just the people, but all of creation!  We get to be stewards of creation and it is a joy to see what we can do to have a positive impact for the glory of God!

When Joy posted these pictures on our Global WhatsApp group, the response from everyone was, "WOW!  I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO DO THIS TOO!"  

And that is the value of a global team who lives and learns and loves each other!  So excited to be part of these team and learning from dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

Enjoy more pictures below!

Pastor Nokoson getting busy with cutting plastic!

The finished product!
Here is Joy (second from the right) and her amazing team!

PS - I hope you've had a chance to see our invitation to "Tuesdays with DML" - just a few minutes each Tuesday in August to learn a bit more about how this ministry works.  Tomorrow, look for an email to hear from our partner in Ethiopia where we are hearing about interesting connections between taxes and missionaries!  Join us and prayerfully consider becoming a Marketplace Ignitor with DML!

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.