- Last week I had the privilege to be in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), visiting several members of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in their workplace. Someone asked me during that week, "Where does your joy come from?" I had to enthusiastically reply that it comes from meeting with people at their workplace. I love learning what people do and how faith and work intersects for them. So my days in Hamilton were very enjoyable.
Let me give you an example of why I love this so much:
Bob and Lynn are a brother and sister who run a Hamilton-based residential appraisal business that was started by their father. Residential appraisals are unbiased professional opinions, done to determine the real value of a property, as each property is unique. These appraisals are often done for loan purposes.I asked Bob and Lynn to share what they love about their work and what is challenging in it. It was quickly apparent that there is a rich opportunity to fulfill an aspect of God's character in this work, and to be part of the flourishing of customers that they serve.
If you look at the purpose of appraisals described above, they are "unbiased professional opinions." There is a science to it, but it is ultimately an opinion based on experience and various criteria. Bob very quickly began to tell stories about the high need for integrity in this business - he is serving the home owner but also the mortgage company. The home owner would often like for the number to come in high, while the mortgage company wants it to be very realistic.
Before long, they began talking to me about their customers. This year, starting in January, they saw a surge in appraisals needed for divorces - people had hung in there through the holidays but in January started to call it quits in their marriage after the stress of 2020 covid pandemic. Customers were often crying, and pressuring for a low or high number, depending on their position. Other customers are engaged with needing an appraisal for the settlement of the estate of a parent or loved one. Again, customers who are in pain, often fighting with other family members, pressuring for a high or low number, depending on their position. Others are getting a second or a third mortgage, knee deep in debt and showing signs of drowning in it. Bob and Lynn have strongly recommended against homeowners having an appraisal done (even though they would make money from it) if it looks like the number will not come in at what the homeowner wants in order to refinance.These ministers in the Marketplace speak words of comfort and reality to people in pain on a daily basis. They are helping people to flourish by presenting the reality of a value of the property. They are able to pray for the customers who are struggling through divorce, death, and debt. God is a God of order, and they help to bring that order to the people they serve. They often walk away from a day of work feeling the weight from the result of sin in the lives of their customers.
I left that office amazed by the opportunities that are present in being the hands and feet of Jesus in fulfilling the work of residential appraisals.
And that is just one business I visited. I could tell you many more stories.
On Sunday, I was able to give a message about why Marketplace Ministers need the church on Sunday. While the church is scattered from Monday-Saturday, we need to carry in our joys and laments from those days when we gather again on Sunday. Bob and Lynn need to carry and share the weight of what they have seen in the Marketplace, in the safe company of fellow believers in Christ, and be fed and equipped again to go out of Monday. If you are so inclined, you can watch that service here:
Very thankful to Immanuel CRC in Hamilton for the opportunity to spend this time with them!
And in this week of Thanksgiving in the USA, we want to express our thankfulness to God who has allowed us to join Him in this work, and to each of you for your care, concern, prayer and support of this ministry! Happy Thanksgiving!
This past week we had our DML Global Team Retreat. We met daily through Zoom with about sixty of us from eleven countries and it was such a joy! We could hear so clearly that the message of our commitment to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is deepening and growing in the hearts and minds of our DML leaders.
Pastor Nokoson from Cameroon led us in devotions on Wednesday and he started by telling us that it is time for us to move from John 3:16 to 1 John 3:16. I don't remember hearing the tying of those passages together but it caught my ear.John 3:16 is probably one of the most famous verses in Scripture, especially in evangelism. It says:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The essence of the gospel in one verse!
But 1 John 3:16 takes us further, as we strive to become more like Him. Some say that this is the critical second half of the gospel:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid His life down for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.These two texts show a journey of awakening that is critical and essential to the whole story. We move from an adolescent faith to the maturity of love, which IS the fullness of Jesus Christ. This changes our calling while on earth from simply waiting for heaven, to being the hands and feet of Jesus in every place and every space.
Helping people requires us to show up and respond. Loving people goes so much deeper: being in relationship, listening, and building trust.
But laying down your life for others? A depth that is difficult to describe.
Yet that is what we are called to do. We can't rely evangelistic events to do this. We can't do it from the church building. We do it as we are "going" about our business. We do it as we meet people, listen to them, learn from them, and share with them. As we do our work with excellence, bringing about the flourishing of humanity, using the gifts and talents of a creative God, we help to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. We are the picture of God's love.In Genesis 3, three things were broken as a result of the fall: our relationship with God, our relationship with each other, and our relationship with work and creation. Many of the messages we hear from church are about our relationship with God and understanding Him better. But 1 John 3:16 makes it urgent that we also learn how to take that relationship, mature it, and apply it to our relationships with others, with work, and creation.
One would think that it would naturally flow, but the lack of transformation in nations and societies that are predominantly Christian tells us that it does not. We need teaching and preaching and practicing of how to live out this great gift on Monday, Tuesday, and so on. We need to develop the muscle that can answer the question, "What does it mean to love people where we work - the dishonest person, the unmotivated person, the negative person? And what does that look like?"
2 Corinthians 5:14 says that Christ's love compels us - because we have been loved much, we too need to love much, even to the point of laying down our lives. May God bless you this week as you live this out!
Last week, I was blessed to have a conversation with Tom Nelson, the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas, president of the organization Made to Flourish, and author of several books, including The Economics of Neighborly Love. The mission of Made to Flourish is to "empower pastors and their churches to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their communities." How this resonates with the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders!
In 2014, Christianity Today printed the following article from Tom Nelson, entitled "The Day I Confessed to Pastoral Malpractice." The article is well-written and tells the story of Pastor Tom's journey into discovering the need to equip Christians for what they are doing for the majority of the week.
This article tells his story, but maybe you just want the quick summary - if so, watch this three minute video. It will be worth your time!
Confession is good for the soul, but it’s hard for pastors. At least it was for me. Years ago, I stood before my congregation to make a heartfelt confession. It was indeed difficult to do, yet it would prove transformative for our entire faith community.
More than a decade has passed since that day, but I still remember it clearly. Against a backdrop of pindrop silence, I asked the congregation I served to forgive me. Not for sexual impropriety or financial misconduct, but for pastoral malpractice. I confessed I had spent the minority of my time equipping them for what they were called to do for the majority of their week.
I didn’t mean to engage in pastoral malpractice; my pastoral paradigm had been theologically deficient. As a result I had been perpetuating a Sunday-to-Monday gap in my preaching, discipleship, and pastoral care. I blurted out what my heart had been holding back for way too long.
With a lump in my throat, I feebly grasped for the right words. I wanted to confess that because of my stunted theology, individual parishioners in my congregation were hindered in their spiritual formation and ill-equipped in their God-given vocations. Our collective mission had suffered as well. I had failed to see, from Genesis to Revelation, the high importance of vocation and the vital connections between faith, work, and economics. Somehow I had missed how the gospel speaks into every nook and cranny of life, connecting Sunday worship with Monday work in a seamless fabric of Holy Spirit-empowered faithfulness.
Journey to Wholeness
What led to this realization? Let me share just a bit of my journey. I was privileged to grow up in a devoted Christian family and as a young boy experienced a transforming conversion to Christ. I was blessed to be part of an evangelical church that believed and taught the Bible and whose members wholeheartedly sought to love Christ with mind, heart, and hands. After graduating from college, I joined a campus ministry devoted to evangelism and discipleship.
In addition to a decade of parachurch ministry, I attended and graduated from a fine evangelical seminary. During seminary while studying Hebrew my mind and heart were drawn to a Hebrew word that frames God’s creation design for human flourishing. This Hebrew word is tome or tamim. We usually translate tome as “blameless.” The challenge with this English translation is we often associate blameless with an external ethical perfection. But the Hebrew word actually speaks of a broader concept of ontological wholeness.
From the early pages of the biblical story, we encounter the tome or integrated life as the life God designed for us, the life Jesus would come to a sin-ravaged planet in order to redeem. As a young church planting pastor, this theological framework from the biblical narrative still informed much of my thinking. Yet just a few years into ministry, I began to have a great deal of heart-level dissonance. My own spiritual formation anemic at best, and I was seeing little true transformation in my parish. What I saw behind the nice Sunday smiles was a troubling lack of spiritual maturity, a shallow sanctification shrouding a dangerous disconnect between Sunday belief and Monday behavior.
Something was awry—but what was it? If God had originally designed us to live lives characterized by tome, and if Jesus had gone to the cross to make this kind of life possible, why were so many in my congregation living such fragmented, disconnected lives? Why was our understanding of the gospel not speaking to every area of life? Why was our discipleship not transforming everything we were and did?
Faced with these uncomfortable truths, I began a quest to more fully grasp the kind of holistic faith taught from Genesis to Revelation. I also began to look more closely at Protestant Reformers like Luther and Calvin who not only recovered the authority of Scripture and the gospel of grace, but also connected Sunday to Monday with a rich theology of vocation. Reading the Reformers made me pay closer attention to the bookends of the biblical story—original creation and future consummation. I wrestled deeply with how the gospel tied the entire biblical narrative together. Through prayerful study of the Scriptures, I began to see human vocation as integral and not merely incidental to biblical revelation. I started to grasp that faith, work, and economics were woven together in the fabric of faithful gospel ministry.
As this realization dawned on me, I started to see the Scriptures afresh. Seeing Jesus as a carpenter brought a new fullness to the doctrine of the incarnation and reinforced the dignity of everyday work. Studying the book of Philemon, I began to see more clearly how the gospel transforms not only the worker, but the workplace and work itself.
Looking more carefully at Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan expanded my understanding of what neighborly love truly requires. The Good Samaritan exhibited more than compassion. His diligent labor, wealth creation, and wise financial management allowed him the economic capacity to generously meet some else’s critical need. Jesus’ teaching on neighborly love brought together the threads of faith, work, and economics in a seamless way.
Working for Change
On the day I stood before my congregation, I did more than ask for forgiveness; I promised that, by the grace of God, things were going to change. Our language was going to change. Any hint of language that connoted a sacred/secular dichotomy would disappear. Pastors would affirm everyone’s calling and not just their own. We would abandon the language of “full-time ministry” that had previously been reserved for pastoral or missionary work. We would change how we talked about work. In fact, our definition of work was going to change. It would be understood as being about contribution, not merely remuneration. Our discipleship curriculum was going to change. From cradle to grave, our commitment was to equip our parishioners with a robust theology of vocation and to help them see their vocational stewardship as a high priority of gospel faithfulness.
Our pastoral care was going to change, too. Pastors would not only make hospital visits, we would make workplace visits. We would learn about our members’ work worlds. We would encourage them in their work, we would pray for their work, and we would celebrate their work. We would see our congregants’ work as the primary work of the church. Everyone’s work would be regarded as mission.
How have things changed in our local church congregation? Over the years we have seen greater numerical growth and expansion to a multisite presence in our city. But more importantly, we have seen greater spiritual growth and more effective gospel mission. We now teach a robust theology that informs our congregants’ work, have a regular liturgy that affirms their work, and make relational investment that applauds their work. We are now deeply committed to equip our congregation for what they are called to do the majority of their lives. Our pastoral staff work hard not only to connect Sunday to Monday, but to bring Monday into Sunday. Our Sunday worship services reflect the reality that the gospel speaks to and transforms all of life including our work, and that the gospel speaks to wealth creation, wise financial management, and economic flourishing.
We are still learning and unlearning as we go, doing our best to navigate what it means to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap. But I’m encouraged when I receive an e-mail from a CEO or a stay-at-home mom or a student or a retiree in my congregation who now sees Monday lives through the transforming lens of a biblical theology of vocation. I find increasing joy in seeing congregants embrace their paid and non-paid work as an offering to God and a contribution to the common good. Many of my parishioners have a bounce in their step and a new excitement about all of life. For them, the gospel has become coherent and more compelling. They look forward to sharing it with others in various vocational settings and spheres of influence throughout the week.
With our kids heading off to college, my wife, Liz, wanted to do a major remodel of our kitchen. At first, I was reluctant. Our kitchen was just fine, it seemed. Sure, the green countertops were dated and the cupboards were aging, but I was used to it. It was the only kitchen I knew.
Yet Liz saw something I couldn’t see. Thankfully, I listened to her and we forged ahead with our remodel. I will never forget when I saw our remodeled kitchen for the first time. It was beautiful. Simply designed and wonderfully welcoming. As I stared at our remodeled kitchen, for the first time I realized how ugly and drab it was before. How had I not seen it? How had I been so content to live in this kitchen for so long?
The best way I know to describe the journey our congregation has experienced is to compare it to that remodeling project. Looking back I can’t imagine how I had served for so long with such an inadequate pastoral paradigm. The newly remodeled congregation I serve now is more beautiful in its expression and more effective in its mission. I have the joy of knowing I am being more faithful to my flock. Making the transition wasn’t easy, but looking back, we sure are grateful we did.
This week the DML Global Team is having it's retreat on Zoom. Please pray for us as we continue to seek how to refine and deliver this message!
- I was supposed to be in Canada last week but the required COVID test to cross the border came back as positive therefore I was not able to enter Canada. I ended up with mild COVID symptoms and after five days of feeling lousy, I began to feel better. Very thankful that I did not spread this to my mom and others by visiting Canada!
I was still able to record my message for Immanuel CRC on the Church Scattered (if you would like to listen to it, you can find it here: Wilderness Wanderings (libsyn.com). To watch it (video and ppt slides), please go here: Sunday Worship - October 17, 2021 - YouTube). Lord willing, I will be back in person in mid-November to do the follow-up message on the Church Gathered: Incorporating Work into Worship.In the meantime, God has been opening doors for Discipling Marketplace Leaders in a couple of different ways.
First, DML had its first foundational workshop in Chad! Chad is in North-Central Africa, with French as the official language. About 3/5ths of the population of Chad identifies as Sunni Muslim, about 1/5th are animist, and 1/5th are Christian (Chad - Religion | Britannica). Our own Pastor Theophile Pare from Burkina Faso went to N'Djamena last week to meet with pastors and church leaders. Below are some pictures from his time with them. We look forward to see how the work might grow through these 60+ pastors who met to hear and discuss this forgotten truth from Genesis 1 and 2.
Additionally, we have been partnering for close to two years now with an organization out of Texas called Global Advance, and over the past couple of weeks we have been conducting a training of trainers from their country leaders who are implementing the DML ministry. The leaders that we trained from Global Advance were from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Guatemala, Rwanda, and Uganda, and we had our own trainers as well from Nigeria, Uganda, and Ghana. We thank God for the opportunities to spread the message of Work as Worship, and to see the Global Church be empowered to equip the saints for the work of ministry from Monday-Saturday.
Please pray for these seeds that have been planted, and for shalom (vigorous well-being and abundant flourishing) may happen in these nations and churches!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.