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 email@example.com.
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.
- 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!
At the end of the year, many of us do various assessments on our life. Some of us look only at the last twelve months and some of us look at a longer context.
I do a lot of teaching for businesses on how to create a balance sheet. Balance sheets for businesses are very important as it shows a "cumulative" snapshot of the business over time. Assets must equal (balance) liabilities and owner's equity, and much of the assets should show up as owner's equity and not in loans. We do practice sessions where we look at a business' balance sheet to interpret what is going on with the business. It tells the story of the business - not the whole story of course - but important aspects.
One of our DML team members from Nigeria posted the following "Balance Sheet of Life" which I thought is an interesting way to look at ourselves. It too is not the whole picture of course but becoming more and more like Jesus means I need to be increasing assets (from His point of view - not the world's point of view), decreasing liabilities, and keeping my eye focused on the goal of the business of my life, which is to glorify God, point to the Creator, and help the world (creation and its people) flourish.
Balance Sheet of Life:Birth is your opening stock.
What comes to you is credit.
What goes from you is debit.
Your ideas are your assets.
Your bad habits are your liabilities.
Your character is your capital.
Your happiness is your profit.
Your sorrow is your loss.
Your knowledge is your investment.
Your age is your depreciation.
Death is your closing stock.And God is your auditor.Always endeavor to keep your balance sheet perfectly balanced because your Auditor will come back sooner than later. Keep your books in proper order!
We can't keep our books in perfect order, unfortunately. But thankfully, Jesus is the ultimate book-keeper who balances our books and keeps us in the Father's business!
I am thankful for this past year and all the good that God brought out of the significant challenges of this pandemic. Our DML family has grown closer and has increased its spheres of influence despite the lock-down and economic challenges.
I pray that you too may look back on this past year and see God's hand, despite the challenges. May God bless you in 2021!
At our DML Christmas gathering, my colleague, Dr. Phil Walker, shared an analogy of Jesus to the COVID-19 virus.
He shared that we all have the deadly virus of sin. There is not one person who has not been infected. As a result of this infection, we were not able to be in the presence of a Holy and uninfected God.
Prior to the vaccine, there were plenty of rules to follow in order to stay in fellowship with God the Father. The rules were not pleasant or easy, but they were necessary. Some followed with dedication, others did not.
But then Jesus came as a vaccine. The vaccine was released so that we no longer had to keep all of the rules from before, like wearing a mask, social distancing, and limiting gatherings. We still have the virus but because of the vaccine, we are set free to live a life of flourishing and of abundance.Not all of us will take the vaccine. Some will dispute whether it is effective or proven. Some will believe that the side-effects make it not worth taking. Some will continue to follow the rules and deny the existence of the vaccine.
And some will take the vaccine and then live life, forgetting to tell others about the vaccine. They will see people wearing masks, struggling with loneliness because of social distancing, but not bring up the opportunity and the freedom found in the vaccine.
For this Christmas, the analogy between COVID and sin speaks loudly to me. I am so thankful for the gift of Jesus and the ability to lead a life of abundant flourishing, despite problems around me. I am thankful for being set free from the tyranny of sin, and for the continued forgiveness, mercy, and grace that I receive on a daily basis as I strive to be more like Jesus. I pray for this freedom and joy for those around me and am committed to sharing this good news!
May God bless you during this Christmas season, as you celebrate your vaccine as well.
[Please note that this blog is not talking about COVID behaviors or the COVID vaccine. It is only talking about the virus of sin and the vaccine of Jesus. I strongly believe we need to love our neighbor by doing all we can to protect each other during this time of the COVID virus!]
Don't pray like a widow. Pray like a bride.
My Tante Janie's pastor said these words and I have to admit that they struck deep. I asked my mom (who has been a widow in many ways for ten years, even though my dad still lives) and my aunt (who lost her husband twenty years ago) what they thought, and their responses are integrated in this blog.
So all three of us can all personally relate to praying like a widow.
For us, it means praying from a position of deep sadness, of mourning, of loneliness, even despair. It comes from a position of weakness, not one of strength. In many societies, widows suffer greatly, feeling unloved and often forgotten by society. For many places, widowhood is closely associated with poverty, losing not only the husband but children, home, and community. The expectation for the future can seem dark, gloomy, and empty. A new search begins for trying to find where to fit, how to fit, and with whom to fit. Widows may live in a place of self-pity, especially in looking at other couples around them, and sometimes they are treated with pity as well.
These feelings can translate to all humanity as we go through periods of darkness, loneliness, emptiness, and it can feed into prayers. As a result, we often spend a lot of time praying in a position of lament and supplication.
But, of course, if we know what it means to pray like a widow, we also know how to pray like a bride!
A bride is full of expectation. A bride feels full of joy, happiness, and fully understands the feeling of being deeply loved. The expectation for the future is bright and sunny. A bride has found the one who brings joy and a bride isn't looking for anything or anyone else.
When we pray as a bride, we pray with delight and favor. We pray with joy, expecting the goodness of God to come down. We pray with confidence, with laughter and with dancing. We are eager for intimacy, we are eager for conversation, or eager to just spend time together.
As the church, the people of God, the body of Christ, we are called to be His Bride, and that means that we need to pray like a bride.
I know I don't always feel like a bride nor do I always pray like a bride. However, I do believe that actions can influence emotions. It would be akin to a front-wheel drive car: the front wheels are the actions and the back wheels are our emotions. When we begin to act a certain way, our emotions can follow. We don't have to wait until we feel like it, we can act like we feel like it!
Thankfully, we have a God who does not forsake His bride, even when she disappoints. We have a God who deserves every bit of our adoration, delight, joy, and praise.
- I am thankful to report that I made it safely into Canada. It was close - when the border agent realized I would be staying with people over the age of 65, there was much concern but they decided that if my mom approved of it, then they would be alleviated of any risk.
But they did inform me that I was not to leave the property of the house where I am staying for fourteen days, and that the fine for breaking the commitment had increased from $750,000 to $1,00,000. When I asked why the fine went up, the border guard said that it was "to put fear into people for compliance." I told her that I was afraid at $750,000!
The fellowship of family is a wonderful thing. I have had such a blessed week with my mom and my aunt. I haven't left the house but I haven't felt the need to either. I have an office to work in, coffee breaks with my mom and my aunt, and evenings full of rich conversation. [My aunt is very much like me - not very good at chit-chat, so we get to deep, deep topics almost immediately together!] I think that being in my 50s brings a different level of understanding of these important relationships that earlier decades see in a different light. So I am learning, listening, laughing, and loving!On Saturday, we spent a part of the day making a plaster cast of my mom's and my hand together. It was a lot of fun and we are left with a beautiful stone that captures the unique characteristics of each of our hands. It is something that we will both treasure together.
At the same time, the COVID numbers continue to go up for Faith Manor in Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, where my father is living. We had a Zoom call with him on Tuesday, which his nurse Marlene facilitated. He had no idea that we were there on the Zoom call but it was good to see him for a few minutes. We are thankful that he is not aware of the pandemic at all nor is he in any discomfort. The staff, however, are very aware and asked for prayer as many are afraid.
Here is a picture from that Zoom call. My sister Liz is on the top left, then my mom and I on the top right, and my dad is below. It looks like he is smiling (which would show recognition of us being there) but alas he is in fact grimacing as he itched his leg. But it looks like a smile!
And while I quarantine, I continue to be amazed at the doors that God is opening for DML. We had conversations last week with different groups that would allow for opportunities in Puerto Rico, Cuba, a new denomination in Liberia, and a new Bible Education organization in Cameroon. This week will also bring some new speaking opportunities, for which we praise God!
Thank you for all who prayed that I could get into Canada. I am most grateful!
Proverbs 17:6 says, "Children's children are a crown to the aged and parents are the pride of their children." Amen!
"I thank God for the ability to toilet," one of our leaders from Nigeria said on a recent prayer call. Immediately most of us smiled, but he was very serious as he went on to explain how he was with someone who took three hours to pass urine, and another who took two hours to pass the "other," as he delicately put it. Those in the medical profession would get it immediately. Those of us who "toilet" without thinking about it would not.
It made me think about how many things I take for granted that many, many other people do not. I'm thankful for the obvious things: peace and security, health in general, food on our table. But the things my partners are thankful for - the ability to travel from town to town without being kidnapped (Nigeria), the ability to find food in the stores to be able to put on the table (many places), the ability to open your business any day you want without fear of retribution (Cameroon), and so on - those elude me without being in community with brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa.
On Thursday, I had one of my best Thanksgivings ever when the DML team got on Zoom together and everyone was given a chance to give thanks. I wiped my eyes a number of times as I listened. This is a team that understands that following God does not make things easy, but that He promises to be with us and that promise is not broken.
For many, they started with, "I'm thankful for what God has done in and through this pandemic." And they proceeded to reflect on the many good things that have happened in this past year that would not have happened if we had continued on the planned course of action. The ability to pivot and switch came as a direct result of our prayer time, intentionally listening to the Holy Spirit together.
And so, even though I have not been on African soil in eight months (longest stretch in fifteen years), I continue to be so blessed and thankful for the DML team and the work that they are doing in places that we did not imagine would be the case prior to 2020.
I also received another gift on Thanksgiving Day. I received word from the Canadian government that I had been granted permission to enter Canada to be able to visit my mother and father. I have not seen them since January and while I have to quarantine for 14 days, my mother will be able to be with me in the place where I quarantine, as my aunt has opened up her home for us (there has to be enough space for us to have our own bedrooms and bathrooms). I am so thankful but covet your prayers that I may be allowed to cross the border - the border guards are still able to deny my entrance even with this permission. Since my work is mostly on my computer and Zoom, I can work from anywhere, so I'm very thankful for this opportunity and blessings!
One might say that we live in a time of fear: Fear of the pandemic and its health (physical and mental), social, or economic effects. Fear of civil war (depending on your country). Fear of Fascism/Marxism (depending on which political side you stand in the US). Fear for our children and their education, and for poor choices that they may make in light of some of the lock-downs (increased drug usage and teenage pregnancy).
[I recently learned that the Bible says "Fear not" about 365 times - one for every day of the year!]
As we hear these sobering and overwhelming prayer requests from our DML partners, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It is easy to even ask, "How do we pray in light of all of this?"
This past week, I felt like God was whispering to me to focus on the solution, and not on the problem. For example, this week we focused our prayer time on Ethiopia and the challenges that are currently there from being on the verge of civil war as well as the pandemic. I could spend all my time consumed with praying against civil war there OR I could continue to "build my wall" like Nehemiah.
After all, I'm not a firefighter. [To be explained shortly.]
In Nehemiah chapter 6, Nehemiah is undergoing some serious intimidation by a few bullies. Several times they called him to come for a "peace" meeting, but he refuses. He has a wall to build. Then they turn up the heat and make it seem like a fire is burning. "Come quick!" they call.
Nehemiah shows a hint of fear and prays for strength.
But then he proceeds to do what he has been called to do. He is not called to put out fires but is called to trust in the Lord and carry on with his calling of rebuilding the wall.
Sometimes I try to be a firefighter when that is not my calling. I get the whiff of smoke and I think I must respond. Someone calls for me to come, and I weigh the effect of not coming, versus the cost of responding.
But being a firefighter takes special skill and training. It is a unique gifting, not for the faint of heart.
I think the message for me this past week was to keep building the wall. Sort through the rubble. Find the usable stuff and put it in. Don't worry about the rumors of fire. Stay focused.
When I remind myself that I'm not a firefighter, it helps me remember my calling.
Then, I got a chance to spend some time with church leaders from Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, and Mexico talking about discipling "the other 95%" of the adult members of our church to be the church every day of the week. And as I get to spend time with them, and I hear their joyful and positive response to this forgotten truth of Genesis 1 and 2, I am reminded that this is my calling. And this work is part of the solution of positive change in the world, as God designed.
I'm not a fire fighter.
Keep your eye on being part of the solution, not stewing over the problems.
If you have a chance, read Nehemiah 6 and be encouraged.
Sometimes I run across things that are better written than what I can do and deserve some attention, so I beg your indulgence. Too often, I am like a toddler who drops a paper clip, and as embarrassing as that is, it bears mentioning.
This was written by Mary Katherine Backstrom:Hey, God.
Sorry, it’s been a minute. But something happened today, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I understood Your heart a little better. You probably already know why I’m talking, because well…You are God. But I guess the whole point of prayer is to talk, so I’m gonna tell You what happened.Today, I was at a traffic light staring at Hannah, who was screaming in her car seat because a friend gave her a paper clip during preschool and she snuck it home in her clothes, and then accidentally dropped it into the abyss that is my car’s floorboard. Then, despite her desperate pleas, I wouldn’t pull over so she could unbuckle and climb around the car looking for said paper clip. That made her BIG mad. We are talking wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth mad.*sigh*Moving on.Now, if she had known that I couldn’t pull over because I was hurrying to take her somewhere special before soccer practice, maybe she wouldn’t have minded.But she was screaming too loudly about her paper clip for me to explain. “You are an EVIL mommy! A wicked stepmother! I wish I had a better mommy!”Un-freaking-believable, right? I gave birth to that little turdlet and she had the audacity to disown me over a paper clip.So, I let her mourn and scream. There was no reasoning with her, anyways. She wanted what she wanted. To Hannah, that paper clip was the most valuable thing she’d ever owned. But I couldn’t stop thinking: If only she knew what was coming. If only she knew why I wouldn’t pull over. If only she knew that I wanted to take her out for ice cream—just the two of us—maybe she would have gotten excited.Maybe she would have forgotten about that stupid paper clip.I had something in store for her that was so much better than a milligram of bent wire. But that bent wire was her heart’s desire. She could see nothing else.I was contemplating this to myself and I realized, holy cow, God. I’m no better than my toddler.I am essentially riding around in life’s car seat, clutching tight to my precious paper clips, and raging at you when one falls out of my hands. My writing job changes, but I liked my job.A speaking gig falls between my fingers, but it’s the one I was most excited about.My husband changes as a human, but I was comfortable with who he was.“My paper clips, God! Pull over and let me collect them! PULL OVER GOD WAAAAAAAH!”All the while you are watching my tears from the front seat, waiting for the wailing to stop so you can tell me,"MY DAUGHTER. Let go of that trinket. Stop your crying. I have something better just up ahead."
So, God. I just want you to know that, in this one small way, my Mama heart understood a little more about your Daddy heart today.To be honest, I don’t want to lose any of the things I hold onto so tightly. My youth, my writing career, my children being little, my marriage being comfortable. But, if change must happen, I pray you comfort my heart and remind me that Your plans are for my good. And remind me that for goodness sake, if I can just stop wailing over lost paper clips for one stinking minute, You’ve been trying to take me out for ice cream.I think this was a prayer. Perhaps a revelation. Maybe more of a brain dump. Either way, I feel a little closer to you tonight, God.And I think that deserves an “amen”.