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.

Monday, March 22, 2021

100 million more people in extreme poverty and how you can help!

The world was on a significant trajectory to eradicating extreme poverty (those living on less than $2/day).  As you can see in the graph below, the world went from 1.9 billion people in extreme poverty in 1990 to 650 million people in extreme poverty in 2018.  That is huge and wonderful!  As you can see in the graph, most of the poverty reduction took place in South Asia and East Asia & Pacific, and most of that poverty reduction came as a result of business development.  Unfortunately, the number of people in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa actually slightly increased over the same period of time.


However, the pandemic significantly altered this trajectory and the progress in the global number of people in extreme poverty is expected to increase by 100 million.  That is heartbreaking.  The graph below shows what the line looked like for Pre-COVID predictions and then with the reality of COVID.


The graph below breaks out by region where the new poor are going to be.  Many will be in Africa.
Because of this, Discipling Marketplace Leaders launched a campaign last week to raise funds for business development for our partners, to augment what they started last year in the form of pig farms, goat farms, fish farms, mushroom farms, rice farms, and other business development.  Last year we gave more than $150,000 and for this campaign we are looking to raise $55,000 to promote business sustainability projects.

The important thing to remember is that the money that many of you gave last year is still working as our partners require that the first piglets or baby goats are passed on to another person so that they too can start farming!  We are so thankful for last year's gifts that keep giving today!

In this last week, we received a challenge grant in the amount of $10,000, for which we are so thankful!  Would you prayerfully consider contributing something toward this before the end of March?  To do so, please click here and select the "Continued Connections, Flourishing Partners" Campaign.

100% of your gift will go to these business development projects.

Please pray as well.  With the help of God and the body of Christ working together, we can mitigate some of this poverty.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Economics of Hope: Does the Bible support one type of economic system?

Last week, DML started teaching a newly developed class, called "Economics of Hope."  This is a take-off of a class that we had taught called "Development and Social Change" but we felt the need to tailor and focus it more on economics and the hope that we find regarding economics in the Bible.

A question that comes out in this class is this:  Does the Bible propose an economic system?  Does God favor one of the four choices that most of us face in our various countries (Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, or Fascism)?

We don't see those words in the Bible, of course, but what can we glean from scripture in this regard and what does this mean for us today?

What we find in Scripture over and over is the desire for shalom, which I like to define as "vigorous wellbeing and abundant flourishing."  That is God's will for His people.  That is God's desire for His creation and all its creatures.  That was how it was set up before the fall.  That system called for all people to work and care for creation in order to perpetuate its flourishing (Genesis 2:15).  

We serve a working God.  We are made in His image.  But we don't have a "Made in the image of God" stamp on us (like many products that say "made in China").  It's not just a stamp - it's a part of who we are.  We bear that imprint in body and soul.

God created a system in which all would work and all would flourish.  So far so good.

Next we look at how often the Bible talks about private property and not stealing (implying ownership).  There are many mentions of this throughout Scripture, indeed even the longing that everyone would have their own vineyard and orchard (Micah 4:4).  Private property and ownership is very important for thriving and flourishing.  Studies have been done on what happens when the poor are given their own property - education and income increases, as well as many other positive effects.  

What about business and trade?  There are MANY examples in the Bible of strong, successful men and women who kept God on the throne despite their success and wealth.  But trade must be honest.  God abhors dishonest scales.  Trade must be done in a way that causes the customer and the employee to flourish.  That is the goal.  Profit is a means to this end but should not be an end in and of itself.  But we are expected to be fruitful and multiply so that MORE may flourish (parable of talents and minas).  Maintenance is not good enough.  

What about consumption?  The Bible tells us many things about money and wealth.  But much of it can be boiled down to three main points:  The hoarding of wealth is condemned, the sharing of wealth is encouraged, and the creation of wealth is both a God-given ability and command.  The New Testament command to give generously and with a grateful heart means that we should not be asking "How much should I give" but rather "How much do I need to keep?"  The difference in that question is the taking away from the "limitation" of the idea of the tithe from the Old Testament.

These are just a few of the things we can look at to see what the economy of God looks like and how things should operate.

Of course, we don't see any perfect system anywhere, and in my opinion, capitalism comes closest of the four.  But it has many issues, including feeding the desire of unnecessary things and the neglect of certain groups.  While we can get angry at the level of consumption, the inequality in resources around the world, the lack of jobs, and the lack of flourishing, it's important that we turn to hope.  

Christians can live and work according to God's economy.  The Christian Church can teach and lead people in this way.  Within our spheres of influence we can have an impact and we must hold on to that hope. 

Romans 15:13 reminds of this - and that we, as believers, should overflow with hope through the Holy Spirit!

Pastor Stephen Atria from Uganda is one person that gives me hope.  He has started something called "Monday Church" encouraging his members to live out the economic system of God.  This has had a ripple effect through his church and community.  I happened to catch his testimony a couple of weeks ago during a Zoom training and I invite you to listen to hear it, to also catch the hope that we can have when we apply what we know and believe on a daily basis and in our spheres of influence:

Monday, March 8, 2021

So I guess I AM a Canadian...

When I teach at various universities and seminaries, I often introduce myself this way:   "I'm a Dutch, Canadian, American, Liberian, Ghanaian, Kenyan citizen.  So I'm mostly confused.  But I know that I am a child of God and a citizen of heaven, awaiting my time to go Home!"  People laugh and I expand a bit more on my background.  

My husband, Michael, is Canadian with a green card and he has no plans to change that any time soon.  He insists that I too am Canadian, but I remind him that when I became an American in 2009, I had to "forswear all other" nationalities and pledge my allegiance to the US.  This has been an ongoing (playful) argument as to whether I am a Canadian.  

But then this happened to me last week.

On Wednesday, I drove to Port Huron, MI in order to get into Canada to spend a little over two weeks at my aunt's house with my mom.  Fourteen days must be in quarantine, but my aunt's house offers me my own bedroom, bathroom, office (so I can keep working), and living space.  I did this in December and the approval that they gave me in November is for six months, so I thought I should make one more trip (especially as I hope to be going to Africa again soon!).

The border guard looked at my US passport, my paperwork and my recent COVID test results, and then said, "I need to refer you to the Port Health Authority to go over your quarantine expectations, but as a Canadian, you should have no problems getting in."  I nearly repeated, "As a Canadian?"  But having learned long ago to say no more than necessary, I thanked him and went to see the Port Health Authority.  I ran into trouble with them and they denied me entry because they said my mom couldn't be in the same house where I was quarantining because that is a mix of too many households.  Since that was my whole reason for going (to spend time with her), I knew I had to turn around and go back home.  While I was on the phone with her telling her the bad news, the official who met with me came over and said, "Since you are a Canadian, it doesn't sound like they are making the right call - let me check with them."  Again I'm a Canadian, I wondered?  Two minutes later, the Port Health Authority person called me back and said they changed their mind based on the size of the house.  I was cleared to go.  

Of course, I was greatly relieved but I thought it curious that after 11 years of being an American and entering Canada with an American passport, I've never been referred to as a Canadian.

Then on Saturday, I received an email from the Canadian government regarding my quarantine, and it started by saying, "You are receiving this email because you recently returned from traveling outside of Canada...", again implying that I am Canadian and have just been out traveling! I guess I've been traveling outside of Canada since I was 17 years old - for 35 years!

So I guess, from Canada's perspective, I am Canadian.

It's a little strange to be unsure of your identity.  When I say I'm American, there is always a twinge of not feeling fully American.  I certainly haven't felt like I'm Canadian.  I have tried to move away from being identified as Dutch, even though my parents are both from the Netherlands.  And I certainly can't claim I'm African, even though that's the continent I have grown to love and where I would love to continue living. 

I'm glad my citizenship is in heaven and all the rest really doesn't matter.  As long as I have travel papers that allow me to cross borders, I'm happy!

And, Lord willing, in May I will be traveling to Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia to meet with Assembly of God pastors and Harvest International Ministries.  It's been about a year since I've been in Africa and it is time!

Oh...and one more thing...I guess my husband was right about me being Canadian.  He says that I don't say that often enough...that he is right...so let me say it publicly here!  

Monday, February 22, 2021

360°: Gathered, to Scattered, to Gathered

Over the last three weeks, we've seen the impact of a quadruple bottom line applied in the workplace through Brian, Patience, and Michael.  I've been so thankful for the feedback and encouragement from many of you in response.

But we are beginning to see (again, thanks to the work of Willson and Kaemingk's book, Work and Worship) that the "church gathered to church scattered" is only half of the challenge (or shall we say opportunity) before us.  What about the "church scattered to church gathered?"  We need to come full circle.  We need to integrate into our worship and "our church gathered liturgy" new and different practices as we return to the sanctuary.  This has been a recent and ongoing "aha" for me.

Psalm 73 helps us to see this clearly.  In verses 2-3, 12, and 16-17, it says, 
As for me, my foot had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked...This is what the wicked are like - always free of care, they go on amassing wealth...When I try to understand all this, it troubled me deeply until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

The perspective of this writer shifted as he entered the sanctuary.  The "church gathered" gives a chance to look at the cluttered economy of the world from a different perspective, allowing us to see into the true economy of God.  All workers need to regularly and physically withdraw from the economy of the world so that we can discover how our work can stand in alliance with the justice, rest, and generosity of God!

When we do not do this, we risk being part of what Ezekiel 28:18 says, "By your many sins and dishonest trade, you have desecrated your sanctuaries."

We need to examine ourselves before worship.  We need to be aware of our unclean hands when we enter the sanctuary.

If this does not happen, the integrity of our worship will be impacted.  And if we engage in unfaithful worship practices, the integrity of our work will also be impacted.  One leads to the other, either to both flourish or to both suffer.  The two are tied together and we must not forget that.

The authors of Work and Worship paint a picture that I have relished as I imagine it.  I long to see this take place in every church that is gathered.  They ask us to imagine a church gathered, that is about to have communion.  Each person brings up something of their work:  a hammer, a wrench, a tie, a muffler, a uniform, a day planner, a plate of muffins, a bottle of wine, a baby bottle, blueprints, a loaf of bread, keys, a laptop.  Children bring up crayons, soccer balls, textbooks.

These are all placed around the communion table and the pastor says, "Let's pray:

Lord of all creation, 
You have given us this work.
You have planted us in this city.
We serve in hospitals, businesses, homes, and schools,
Places to care and create, places to serve and to bless.
We come to you today grateful for all these vocations,
Grateful for the opportunity to join you and your work in this city.
And so today we present our humble and imperfect works to you.
We ask that, through the redeeming power of your Son,
You would take our fallen and finite tasks and turn them into worship,
Works of praise, pleasing to you.
In the power of your Spirit, take our meager and imperfect crafts,
Use them to feed, and serve, and bless this city.
Through the power of your Spirit, may these fruits produce an aroma,
An aroma that is sweet to you
And all who are blessed by them.
Lord, some of these callings frustrate us.
Many of these challenges cause us pain.
From injustice and discrimination at work, we pray for deliverance.
From pain, we pray for your healing.
For those straining to receive a new calling,
We pray that your voice would be heard strong and clear.
God, we confess that we do not always offer our best at your table
We confess that sometimes we do not offer our all.
We hold back.
We try to control these callings.
We think they belong to us.
We think they exist to bless us alone.
Forgive us, Lord.
  
These labors we offer today are imperfect,
Sometimes they are outright rebellious.
Forgive us for our unfaithfulness at work.
Clean our soiled hands and hearts.
Renew our minds.
By your grace and through the power of your Spirit,
Take these callings and make them yours.
Break these callings open and feed your people.
Pour these callings out and quench their thirst.

May the work of our hands,
The offerings of our whole lives
Give you pleasure and bring you praise.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Then the pastor takes the loaf of bread and the bottle of wine from the pile before them, and they have communion together.  

The people marvel at how the works of their hands (bread and wine) become the elements of a meal in which Christ says, "This is my body...this is my blood...for you."  

Our work transforms into His work.  

His work transforms us to do our work.

Full circle.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Quadruple Bottom Line: Michael, a Mechanic

This is the last of three blogs that I wanted to put out, telling the story of several Christians who are living out a quadruple bottom line in their work.  I hope that it shows how every Christian, in every workplace, can have a quadruple bottom line to fulfill the Great Commitment of Genesis 1 and 2, the Great Commandment of Matthew 22, and the Great Commission of Matthew 28.  We believe the world would look and operate differently if every Christian was able to set goals for an economic, environmental, social and missional bottom line, which is reinforced and supported by the Church when gathered.

Michael, a Mechanic

Michael is a 46-year-old mechanic who has been working on vehicles since he was a boy.  His father was a mechanic, as was his uncle, and his older brother.  He likes to say that grease runs in his veins!  The business is a small family business, on a corner lot on the outskirts of town.  Michael grew up in the church, but he had not seen much overlap between his faith and his work until his church started a workplace ministry.  Since going through the DML class in his church, he has made and applied a quadruple bottom line to his work and his home.

  1. Economic – When I learned that the purpose for business is to help the customer and employees flourish, it really changed my thinking.  I prided myself on being a Christian mechanic because I didn’t switch out good parts for bad parts, like I know other mechanics sometimes do.  But there were times when I ignored parts that needed replacing because, by not informing the customer, they would come back again and pay for labor.  Sometimes I informed them about a part going bad and slightly exaggerated the urgency of replacing the part.  But when I started to look at my business from God’s perspective, to see people flourish, to see their cars as a means for them to fulfill their calling and help others flourish, it made things clearer in my mind.  I no longer looked at my economic bottom line as the only component of my business, but the desire to see my customers flourish.  So I made a commitment to be very honest, even if it cost me a sale.  And the amazing thing is that since I did that, my business has increased.  I have had to hire two more guys to help out!  Apparently people really appreciate a mechanic that they can trust and they have started referring friends to me.  I didn’t realize that would be the case – I had resigned myself to have less and God has blessed me with more.
  2. Environmental – Being a mechanic is messy business.  We deal with a lot of old used parts as well as a lot of used oil.  The temptation to dump oil is great and the temptation to just let old parts rust out in the back of our lot is also there.  But as I thought about being a steward of creation, I began to look into other options for what to do with our waste.  First, I found out that there is a synthetic oil which is better for the environment AND is better for the customer.  In fact, it will last eight times longer for customers.  That means less oil changes for them and better for the environment – win-win!  It is more expensive so not everyone takes that option, but the number is growing.  I also found a place that will actually buy scrap parts from us.  They come buy once a month and pick it up, break them down, and then recycle them for new parts.  It doesn’t pay much at all, but it is better than letting things rust and corrode into the soil.  Our lot is cleaner and that is a good thing!
  3. Social – As I considered what it means to love my neighbor at my work, I remembered what my pastor said about the three resources we have been given:  time, treasure, and talent.  I know I don’t have a lot of treasure, but I also realized that I have a special talent in fixing cars, and I could spare some time to teach others.  My church has been talking about the growing youth group and their need for work, so I contacted the leader and offered to do a training for them on routine maintenance for a car-owner (even if they don’t own a car now, they might in the future!).  To my surprise, they ended up wanting to open it up for anyone in the church who wanted to attend.  It ended up being a lot of fun as I taught them how to change a tire, change the oil, change a battery, as well as headlights and taillights.  Since then, they have asked me to take on a couple of youth for an apprenticeship at the shop, which I agreed to do.  We had apprentices in the past, but this felt different since they were members of our church and we kept ourselves in check to do our work as an act of worship!
  4. Missional – If you are a mechanic, or you know mechanics, you know that we tend to be a pretty close-knit group.  Usually, many of us are in the same part of town, and we get to know each other pretty well.  It’s true that there is competition, but there is also a healthy camaraderie.  When my pastor asked me who God might be calling me to disciple at work, I couldn’t answer.  But what I could do (and did do) was develop my prayer chart with many of the names of these friends.  I’m already in relationship with them, but I know that I hadn’t talked about my faith with them.  I asked God for an opportunity and began to pray regularly for each of them by name.  After a couple of weeks doing this, one of the men on my list began talking to me about some family issues while we were hanging out.  My heart began to race as I realized that this was likely the opportunity I had been praying about.  With a little bit of nervousness, I asked him if he would mind if I prayed for him.  He responded with a laugh, but when he saw that I was serious, he glanced around and then said yes.  I prayed for him right then and there, and we began to talk and share more.  Slowly more people began to listen in on our discussions and started to join.  Two months later we had started a prayer group, once a week, on Fridays at lunch.  About twelve guys came to the last one!  I’m amazed.  I’m not really sure where we will meet next but I’m guessing God will help me figure that out! 

We thank God for people like Michael in this world who do their work as an act of worship, with the goal of seeing those around them flourish!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Quadruple Bottom Line: Patience, a Hotel Housecleaner

Patience, a 33-year-old mother of three from Northern Ghana, has been working as a hotel housecleaner for the past four years.  “It’s hard work,” she says, “but I’m blessed to work for someone who is a Christian and who frequently reminds us that our goal is to be a blessing for the customer.”

When Patience’s church began a workplace ministry identifying the importance of recognizing the quadruple bottom line for every Christian, she began to reflect on how that would relate to her job.  This is what she came up with:

  • Economic – I have an opportunity to help my business economically in large part by how I treat customers.  If I am rough or unkind to customers, even in a slight way, they will not come back.  If I fall behind in my time schedule and their room is not prepared on time, they may go to another hotel.  If I am not thorough, the customer may complain.  My work is very important to the economic bottom line.  However, I also can have an impact economically by how liberally or frugally I use the cleaning materials, whether I let the water run while I clean, and so on.  And so, I have to remind myself that even if I’m not in marketing or management, I have to do my work to the glory of God, as if He is my customer.  I can help the business economically, which is a witness to God, and as the business grows, it provides an income for me and my family.
  • Environmental – Keeping the grounds of the hotel clean is one thing that I do to help the environment.  I have found that when people litter, it invites others to litter as well, so keeping everything tidy contributes to others doing the same.  I have talked to management about the chemicals that we use for cleaning.  We want things to be clean and sanitized but there are products that we can use that are less harmful and toxic than others.  We have talked to others who clean about using the right amount of cleaning agents.  At our hotel, we offer guests the option to not have their bedding and towels cleaned daily in an effort to not use too much water and soap.  We are also looking into alternatives for finding replacement for single use plastic, especially in water bottles. My manager has asked me to make a proposal for other options.  I’m excited about this!
  • Social – Loving customers is easy for me because I genuinely love people.  There are some who are difficult though, so I have to remind myself that I am there to help them flourish, even if they are unkind to me.  There are a couple of regular guests who are very nice to the manager and owner, but harsh and unkind to those of us who clean.  I have decided to pray for them by name and ask God to heal the part of them that causes that unkindness.  Praying for them in that way has made it easier for me to be kind to them.  There are also two young ladies who are cleaners with me and I am having a hard time with them.  They don’t like hard work and are on their phones every chance they get.  Sometimes I have to do more because they are off hiding and less visible.  I have been asking God to help me find things about them to love, so that I can concentrate on the good, and build a relationship that can help them see their work as an opportunity to help others flourish, not just a way to get money.  Praying for them has again helped to soften my heart toward them.

  • Missional – I have mentioned that I am praying for some customers and employees, but I believe the biggest missional bottom line for me is to pray over every room as I clean it.  I pray that the person sleeping in the bed will have good and peaceful sleep.  I pray that the person bathing in the bathroom will be healthy.  I pray that the peace of God may greet each person in the doorway and that He may whisper to them through His Holy Spirit as they wake and sleep.  I pray that each room is a holy sanctuary for each person.  I see this as an important calling!

We thank God for the people like Patience in this world who do their work as an act of worship, with the goal of seeing those around them flourish!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Quadruple Bottom Line for Brian, a Paramedic

At the beginning of January, I started writing one of five booklets that Discipling Marketplace Leaders is putting together for the ministry.  The booklet I'm working on is focused on the Quadruple Bottom Line.  In some intensive work that we did in 2020 to examine the outcomes and impacts of DML, we have realized that the real behavioral and belief changes that we want to see will be measured by the application and living out of a quadruple bottom line by each Christian in every job.  

The quadruple bottom line is tied to what we call the Three Great Directives from God:  

  1. The Great Commitment from Genesis 1 and 2 (God commits the earth to us and in turn we commit to be fruitful, multiply, fill, reign, subdue, work and care for it) gives us an economic and environmental bottom line.  Our goal here is to help customers and employees to flourish.
  2. The Great Commandment gives us a social bottom line as we seek to love people in our workplace.  
  3. The Great Commission gives us a missional bottom line as we seek to be a disciple as well as a disciple maker.  

For this booklet, I started to write out the stories of people I have talked to over the years who are living out a quadruple bottom line, some without even fully realizing for themselves that they are doing it.

I've decided, over the next few weeks, to share what I have heard and continue to hear.  I hope it as enjoyable for you to read as it is for me to write, because it is so often unique and creative for how these are being fulfilled by men and women in all sorts of different workplace situations.  

I hope that you are as encouraged as I have been.

I will start with Brian:

Brian is a 58-year-old paramedic, who has been working in this field for thirty-five years.  In that time, he has dealt with many medical emergencies and has seen significant changes in his community.  He is employed by the municipal government and because of that, sees his accountability toward the taxpayer, of which he is also one!  He shares here how the quadruple bottom line shows up in his work:

  • Economic – The biggest thing that our paramedic team does to help the economic bottom line is to work on keeping people from needing to go to the hospital.  To do this, we have a program that identifies high risk clients, those who go to emergency more than once.  We set up monitoring in their homes, working with doctors and nurses, to track them and to try to catch the medical issues before it is a bigger problem.  We have been doing this for about five years and it has worked so well that other health intervention programs are beginning to look at this as well.
  • Environmental – The building that we work out of is considered “green” – it was built that way.  We have solar panels, low water consumption, and it is a very ecofriendly space.  Additionally, the management has gardens all around the building and the paramedics can plant and keep those gardens for themselves.  That helps reduce stress and gives a positive result at the same time.  We live in a community that is very respectful of the outdoors – people are nature lovers and enjoy the creation.  The symbols on our ambulances is blue and green, representing land and water – that is unusual for typical ambulances but it shows our love of creation.
  • Social – There are two components to the social bottom line:  for patients and for employees. 
    • For patients:  The opportunity to love my patients is in front of me daily.  Sadly, in our city, there is a portion of the population that were traumatized for decades, and generations removed are still dealing with the fallout of those traumas, often manifesting in drug and alcohol abuse.  It’s not unusual to see the same clients over and over and begin to get to know them.  I kneel before my locker before every shift and pray that I will love each person as God loves them and treat them as He would. 
    • For employees:  This is a tough job on medics, and it is not unusual for someone to experience an injury on the job.  Instead of laying them off, our home monitoring program described earlier is a perfect way for them to continue to work, without the trauma of an emergency.  Our team has been much happier to heal on the job then wait at home.  So it is a win-win all the way around.  However, not only is this job difficult on the body, but it is also difficult emotionally.  You see many things that show the ugly side of humanity, especially as first responders to emergency situations.  I have lost three colleagues to suicide, and because of this, we have set up a peer support app.  All the medics have this on their phone, and all they have to do is touch the app and they will reach a colleague who has been well trained to listen, encourage, and reach out.
  • Missional – There are two components to my missional bottom line as well, one relating to me being a disciple, and one to me being a disciple maker:
    • Being a disciple:  My church has always prayed for me and my work, they are an unusual church in that regard.  In response, I have invited them to hold me accountable as a fellowship, especially relating to my mental health and the temptations I might face in wanting to escape the pressures of this stressful job.  When I leave my church building, there is a message on the wall above the doors which says, “Welcome to the mission field.”  That visual reminder reminds me on a weekly basis that you don’t leave the church building and go out to a secular world.  You leave the church building and continue to be the church in the mission field.  I have learned to embrace my work as an act of worship, every facet of it, even when it is not pretty.  I need to own my own brokenness and understand the absolutely amazing results of Christ’s redemption in my own life, so that I can bring it to others.
    • Making disciples:  I started a paramedic prayer time about three years ago which met on a monthly basis for us to pray and support each other.  I have the chance to live out my faith at work and have taken opportunities that presented themselves with colleagues and patients.  My regular riding partner is not a Christ follower, but she respects my faith and I pray for her regularly.  Work is definitely worship – I don’t think I knew that early enough in my career but I am certainly glad that I came to know it several years ago. 

Brian, on the left, gathering food for distribution to those in need.

Tune in next week for another person's story on how they are fulfilling the quadruple bottom line in their workplace.  If you would like to send me your story, please email me at renita@dmleaders.org.  Thank you!

[Disclosure:  Brian is my brother-in-law.  He is married my sister Yvonne, who is next to me in age (I am the youngest of five children).  He works in Thunder Bay, Ontario.]    

Monday, January 25, 2021

Jesus Needs Donkeys, Not Horses

Donkeys are ordinary, awkward creatures.  They are normally used in many parts of Africa as pack animals, for carrying or pulling things.  They are sometimes kept as calming companions for nervous horses.

While often perceived as stubborn, donkeys will freeze when they are scared.  They prefer to plant their feet to analyze a situation rather than run in a panic.  I can't tell you how many times I've been driving in Africa only to come across a donkey standing completely still in the middle of the road.  Instead of being this being stubbornness, donkeys show a limited reaction to fear, sickness, or pain.  

If I had to choose between being a donkey or a horse, after all I've seen on how donkeys are treated, I would want to be a horse.  Horses are considered to be "magnificent" and "stately" and "elegant."  Horses are admired, well-kept, and seem to be treated with great love.

But did you know that donkeys are very intelligent with a great memory for routes?  They are also described as "fiercely loyal" to those they trust.  They are described as "smart, personable, and affectionate."  

They are less flighty than horses and eat a lot less, so more economical as well!

Beyond which animal I would want to be, which would I choose to ride?  Probably the horse still.  It is taller, giving more of a view.

But Jesus selected to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey instead of a horse.  Why might this be?

Theologians say that this is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, but that doesn't tell us why. a donkey is selected.  

When we dig a bit deeper we realize that the donkey is an animal associated with peace, while horses are associated with war throughout Scripture.  Kings ride horses, the common person uses a donkey.  Jesus came for the common person and spent most of his life around common people.  

The donkey was also used in agriculture and trade, not the horse.  Jesus spent the majority of his adult life in business and trade.  He would have been much more familiar with donkeys than horses.

Too often I want to be a horse.  I care more about power in a battle than humility of service.

Too often, like a horse, I want to carry important people rather than carry stuff.

Too often I focus on the wrong things - the outward appearance rather than the inner attributes of loyalty and intelligence.  

Too often I look down on donkeys and interpret their quite stillness as stubbornness rather than recognizing the truth of fear and what is going on beneath the surface. 

Too often I am more concerned with how I am treated than with being sure that I am serving with humility.

Lord, I yield to your invitation to be one of your donkeys, to embrace being unimpressive.

1 Corinthians 12: 9-11:  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Monday, January 18, 2021

A Story of Two Nurses and Two Pastors

I've been thoroughly enjoying a book called Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and Liturgy by Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson. In fact, I like it so much that DML is going to use this book for our next book club book!

They tell a story of two nurses and two pastors.

One nurse goes to her pastor with laments over work and theological questions about illness and death.  Pastor tries to answer, faltering a bit as he’s never worked in the health field.  He gives her a book on faith and work, and looks up another on theology and health care.  Then he tells her about a faith and work Bible study that she can attend and bring fellow nurses to.

Second nurse goes to her pastor (a different one) who makes no attempt to teach about
faith, work, or health care.  This pastor listens and asks questions about the nurse’s work and workplace joys and heartbreaks.  Then asks if he can meet with her and five other nurses from congregation for lunch at the hospital, and asks even more questions about their work – victories, failures, challenges and frustrations, prayers for their colleagues, doctors, and patients.  The pastor takes notes, commends them, prayers for them, and then invites them to worship on Sunday morning rather than to a class.  That Sunday, the pastor asks the nurses to come forward.  Elders lay hands on them and the pastor prays a prayer that has been specifically composed for them.  Following the prayer the congregation stands and commissions the nurses.  The pastor sends out the nurses with a blessing and a charge for their ministry to their patients.

In the first scenario, the church is understood as a place you go for theological answers.  It is a place of theological training.  In the second interaction, the church is a place where workers can carry out their questions, pains, and praises to God in community.  It may not always have the answers, but it can provide a set of practices and fellow workers who can bear the weight of work together, week after week.

These authors talk about how the integration of faith and work is not an intellectual concept that one has to grasp - rather it is more like a craft or a skill that needs to be practiced and honed.  The integrated life of faith and work is not an intellectual achievement or a theological discovery.  It is a cloth that has been torn into pieces and needs to be intentionally woven back together.  It is a habit to be practiced.

These are the words to which my heart cries "Yes" and "Amen."  There are many books on the theology of work, which is good!  So much discussion about business as mission, which is also good!  But there is so little practical application for the nurse, or the factory worker, or the gas station attendant, or the receptionist for how to live this out on a daily basis.

Realizing that much of our formal worship when we are gathered - our preaching, our songs, our prayers - have very little to do with how we spend most of our week makes us long to find intentional ways to weave this together.  Because much of our worship when we are gathered is passive (consisting of reclining, listening, and absorbing) rather than active, our "liturgical muscles" are weak and can atrophy.  That makes it difficult to carry the worship forward to Monday, let alone know how to weave it into our daily challenges and opportunities.

Realizing how ill equipped our members are to know how to weave our work and worship together is still a challenge that we face as the global church.  

This past week, we hosted a meeting with some of the Business as Mission Global Congress folks on how to integrate the Church into the Business as Mission movement.  For the most part, this exciting movement has done great things with Christian business owners but has done the work outside the church.  I was disappointed with the turnout for this meeting as well as the lack of clarity on how to move this forward, but we are going to keep trying.  Please pray along with us for this!

And at the same time, DML is writing a series of five booklets moving from the theological to the practical.  This month, I am writing the booklet on Living out the Quadruple Bottom Line.  We are trying to weave together the practices of work and worship for every Christian in their workplace.  If you would continue to pray that these writings may be God-breathed, we would appreciate it!

As you go into your work this day and this week, may God give you eyes to see how your work is an act of worship!  And if you have stories to tell me of how you make this happen, I would love to hear from you!  Please email me at renita@dmleaders.org.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Stimulus Check in Your Account?

A couple of days ago, our stimulus check arrived in our account.

In the months leading up to this second round, I kept hoping they would only give stimulus checks to those who are actually negatively affected financially by COVID-19, by funneling the money into unemployment, struggling businesses, restaurants, etc.  Many of us who have received checks did not need them.

Let me clarify - when I teach budgeting, I ask people to differentiate between "needs, wants, and desires."  We always can use more money.  Even Rockefeller said, when asked how much is enough, "Just one more dollar."  There are always house projects, there are personal improvement goals, there are student debts for our children, there are many things that are good.

But need?  Not for a lot of us.  If we have not been negatively affected by COVID-19 financially, then there should not be a need.  Do we have wants?  Yes, many!  Do we have desires?  Yes!  

But needs?  Not if we have the basics food, shelter, transport, water, electricity, clothing, safety and so on.  

So what to do now?  We weren't asked if we wanted the money (how I wish they had!).

That is what I've been wondering.  Michael and I donated our stimulus checks in the spring to the COVID work of DML in Africa.  A number of you joined us!  Our teams have been doing amazing sustainability projects with them in terms of mushroom farming, pig farming, goat farming, "Joseph projects" for storing grain, and so on.  If you would like to give your stimulus check to that, please click here and know that it will be well used and be a blessing for years to come!

Or maybe you know of someone in the US who has been negatively affected and won't receive a check because they are a refugee or here on a visa.  Send it to them directly or give it to the Africa Resource Center of West Michigan.  The director, Dr. Bernard Ayoola, sits on the board of DML and does excellent work with African refugees.

Or maybe you know of a small business owner who has had to restrict hours.  Or maybe you have a favorite restaurant who has only been able to do delivery or curb-side service.  Give it to them.

Or maybe you know of someone who lost a loved one to COVID and could use a gift to encourage them or support them or comfort them.  Give it to them.

There is a great temptation when money is dumped in our account (without the option of saying yes or no) to just "use it up," to establish new "needs" in our lives.  But I believe that we are called to such a time as this to think of those who are hurting among us and love our neighbor (Matthew 22).  

Who is your neighbor at such a time as this?  

I encourage you to prayerfully consider who God might be nudging you to bless.  We are blessed to be a blessing, and we serve an equipping God.  Wealth is a renewable resource.  Let's give with joy.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Reed Family Updates 2021

He finally asked...and she said yes!

My son Noah has been dating Hannah Birmingham for five and a half years in what could be described as a sweet and loving courtship of two best friends.  On Saturday, January 2, Noah asked Hannah to marry him, and she said yes!

A little bit about Noah's Hannah:  Hannah Birmingham is the first born of four children to Barry and Bev Birmingham.  Her parents were  school teachers internationally and because of that, Hannah grew up in Turkey and South Korea.  Her parents have since returned to the US and have settled in Texas.  

Noah and Hannah met at Calvin University, as they were both majoring in International Relations.  Because of their international experience, their passion for social justice, and desire to make a difference in the world, they hit it off pretty quickly.  Hannah currently works at International Justice Ministry and Noah works as a background investigator in Washington DC.  We are really hoping that they will move back to Grand Rapids in the near future!

Below are a few more pictures of the happy couple.

On a more troubling note, my 91 year old father has contracted COVID, after avoiding it a number of times on his floor in Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, Ontario.  On his wing, there have been 10 COVID deaths, and thirty staff who have contracted COVID.  At one point, my dad was one of only four patients who had not contracted COVID.  The building he is in has been taken over by a nearby hospital.  No-one has been able to visit my dad since March.  He was put on oxygen yesterday but he continues to be physically very strong so we believe he will pull through this!  We do ask for prayer not only for him but for all the frontline workers who continue to contract COVID and continue to care for these elderly and sick patients.

2015 - Those youngsters!

2019 - In Arizona - still cool with the shades!

We have been able to have them hang out with us for the past three weeks, which we know is a gift because of COVID!

Making Christmas cookies with sister Hannah and her boyfriend, Matt (both appearing in masks).

Welcome, Hannah Birmingham, to the Reed-Thomson family!  We are happy to have you join us!