Monday, July 30, 2012

Work as Ministry - a broader perspective

Over the past 30 weeks or so, I've been writing to you once a week to encourage you to think about how you can be a minister in your world, wherever you may be on a regular basis.  We've talked a lot about how to pray for those around you, how to have natural conversations about faith, and how to share your story with your friends when the time is right.  We could probably throw most of these discussions in a category and call it personal evangelism.  If we were going to put it in the context of work, we might call it "ministry at work."

I spent last week hanging out with a bunch of evangelism leaders from North America, and my working group of 12 people explored how to use business as ministry or missions.  In my preparation and my discussions with them, I came upon 2 other categories of ministry at work that I want to share with you.  These really challenged me to expand the boundaries of my own thinking about how we can be doing ministry through our work each day.  Personal evangelism is important, but it's just one part of how our work can be used in God's great plan to reconcile and restore the world.

Another category might be called the "ministry of work."  This goes back to the idea that every thing we do can (and should) be done to the glory of God.  So whether I'm working on a factory line, working as a waitress, or working as a lawyer, what I'm doing when I'm working is helping to bring order, service, humanity, and God's presence through me to that space.  This is the idea that all work is God's work, and we can bring glory to the name of Jesus when we are doing it in his name. 

In my world, this is the perspective that legal work is a part of God's plan for reconciliation and restoration because I get to be a part of bringing justice to the oppressed and marginalized.  I get to be the human being on the front lines who treats the indigent criminal like a human being rather than a monster.  I get to show God's love in a million different ways to hundreds of people just by being someone who asks God to move through her on a daily basis through her work.

The third category might be called "ministry to work."  This is the idea that sometimes in our work we are called to bring a different attitude, atmosphere, and value system into our place of business.  If we have some sort of management authority, it might be to structure our management principles to value human beings and not just transactions.  If we are just a regular worker on the line, then it might be doing whatever it takes to stand up for justice and fairness and other godly values that are sometimes lacking where we are.

For me, this is probably the hardest and often most-discouraging category.  I see a lot of injustice caused by the system.  Our laws are written by the majority or by the powerful minority.  That means that entire cultures are devalued and their cultural values are often in conflict with our code of laws.  Many times they have to walk away from who they are in order to comply.  Even more often, I see people being put in a position where they have no good options and have to choose from 2 bad ones.  Many times they are unable to seek truth or justice in an effort to minimize potential consequences.  I have seen even innocent people plead guilty to things just to avoid the possibility of a horrible, undeserved punishment.  It is a constant struggle for me to figure out how to be a part of making the system better.

So my questions for this week are these:  Do you see your job as something you are doing to bring glory to God?  How would a change in your perspective change your approach to your work?  What are the structural and value issues that come up in the work you do?  Is there a way that you can seek justice and mercy within that framework?  Are there things that need to change to bring the structure of your work into line with Christ?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

BAM! Brief reflections on Business as Mission at Lausanne

At least 1/3 of Jesus's disciples were fisherman.  Not accountants (though there was at least one tax collector).  Not religious leaders.  Not the white-collar business leaders.  Maybe they were entrepreneurs, building their businesses by the sweat of the brow and calloused hands.  But they weren't really famous and they weren't really special.  They were just regular guys, hanging out on the water, trying to feed their families.  The kingdom is made of such as these.

I've spent the last 2 days with a group of young leaders in evangelism, talking about how business and mission interconnect.  And much of our discussion centered around connecting with leaders in the business world, ministering to the 1%, reaching out to those who are movers and shakers in their worlds, trying to build a bridge between the church and those in business.  These are important, essential things.

But this whole time I've had growing in my heart this sense of urgency about the regular people.  The people who are in the workplace because they have to put food on the table.  The people who may not have a ton of authority, but who have influence in their own place and in their own world.  I believe that these are people who are poised to make a great difference for the kingdom.  But they are largely ignored by the church, at least in reference to how faith is supposed to be affecting their life at work.  And the potential for their ministry to the world is almost completely untapped.

So this is my commitment:  The first thing I will do is listen--listen to the leadership at my church and listen to the people who are in the secular workplace who attend my church, and listen to the Spirit.  And then I will go wherever the Spirit leads me from there.

And I must admit that I'm thrilled to have met some super-awesome people who are just as committed to walking similar paths in their own worlds.

Monday, July 23, 2012

the armadillo evangelist

Have you ever seen an armadillo?  I don't think we have many of them in Michigan, but they're little mammals that have a hard, leathery exterior.  When attacked or in danger, they might roll up into a tiny ball, their hard exterior pointing outward for all the world to see.  You can't have any sort of relationship with an armadillo that's all rolled up.

I'm sorry to say that, when it comes to my recent relationships with my non-believing friends, I've been much more like an armadillo then, say, a furry little chinchilla.

I've been investing in some relationships for a long time now.  I've spent countless hours answering questions, challenging people, and just sharing life with them.  Recently, I've been noticing that for those relationships where I'm really emotionally invested, I'm taking there statements about faith or Christians personally and feeling like I have to explain or defend.  Instead of listening or asking them questions, I've been trying to share my side of the story.  It's important for me to be heard and understood.  It's important for me to share my point of view, especially when the other party is misinterpreting me or criticizing my beliefs.  It's even worse when I feel like they're criticizing my character.

But in this type of situation, I think that defensiveness is always a mistake.  I think that I need to be quick to apologize and quick to hear what the other person is saying.  I need to ask more questions and invite more information, not prove why the other person is wrong about me or about my faith.

Over the years that I've been sharing, I've never seen that my defensiveness (of myself or of God's character) lead to someone's salvation.  Not once.  What I have seen work is engaging others relationally and introducing them to Jesus over a long period of time.  I've seen my vulnerability and apologies invite further vulnerability and honest questions from others.  I've seen God use my brokenness to show his own power and grace and mercy to invite other people in.

What about you?  Are you an armadillo evangelist?  Do you spend more time defending yourself, your beliefs, and God than listening to others?  How might the dynamics of your relationships change if you open yourself up to hear the hearts of the people around you?  How might you better be able to pray for and care for them as people?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Book Review - Church Outside the Walls

Church Outside the Walls by Raj Samuel

So this was an interesting (and quick!) read for me.  Partly it was interesting to me because Mr. Samuel is from Asia originally, but has also lived in the West, so his writing sort of feels like home to me.  Many of the things he analyzed and considered were things that would naturally arise from moving cross-culturally between Asia and the West.  So I identified with the things that he noticed and responded to, though my conclusions weren't always the same.

Given that context, one particularly interesting thing for me was Mr. Samuel's focus on the believer as an individual rather than part of a collective group.  I wonder if this is a response to his home culture in a similar way to how I began to question the West's individualism when confronted with the collectivist cultures of Asia.  Like any part of culture, I think that individualism vs. collectivism is a question where there's no real winner or loser.  All culture needs to be redeemed by God, and there are some ways that collectivist cultures reflect God's character better than our individualistic one.

Along that vein, I think I was most intrigued with Mr. Samuel's exploration of the meaning of the "body of Christ."  He emphasized that the church is primarily the corporeal expression of Jesus in the world rather than a collection of individuals.  In other words, from Mr. Samuel's perspective, each follower of Christ is the body of Christ in the world.  When we gather together, we are expressing the unity of the body of Christ, but we don't become the body of Christ any more than what we are individually.  He based this claim on the Hebraic understanding of the "body," and he highlighted that in Hebrew culture, the word for any part of the body could be used to represent the whole body.  That is very different from what I have been taught from Paul's exhortation about the body of Christ, and I think I'm going to have to sit with that for a while to process just how a shift in my thinking on this topic might necessitate a change in my behavior.  He seemed to make this line of thinking one of his foundations for arguing that each body of Christ (Christian) is called to the world to be the body through which Christ ministers here on earth.  That calling is certainly something I believe in strongly, though I didn't need to have his interpretation of "body" to get there.

Overall, the book focused primarily on correcting what Mr. Samuel believes are improper doctrines or beliefs based on how the church has expressed itself in the last few thousand years.  He strongly argues that the church is not an institution or an organization, and he calls each of us to follow Christ into the world.  He says some incredibly true things about how most of the members of our so-called-churches have become merely passive receivers of information than never transforms lives, and he points out how harmful this has been to the witness of Christ.  I appreciate his call to the church to equip and send out our people into the world to truly be ministers.  He also makes the point that every Christian is called to ministry full-time--wherever they are.  This really resonates with what I have believed since God clearly called me to ministry when I was a teenager.

In all, I suspect that many Western believers will not appreciate the author's direct style or the fact that Mr. Samuel lays a lot of groundwork in theology and in criticizing the church as it is now before giving any information about where to go from here.  Actually, I would have liked to see more of that--more information about how to accomplish the changes that Mr. Samuel would like to see within the Church.  For me, the abstract, philosophical, or even theological points can't truly be evaluated without a grounding in practical expression.  I don't think there was enough discussion of the practical expression here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR 255.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jesus at Work

In preparation for the Lausanne meeting next week, I've been doing some extra reading and research on ministry in the marketplace--just trying to get a feel for the conversation and learn where what I've been thinking and talking about fits into the mix.  Anyway, I stumbled upon this fantastic article from Biola University's magazine, called Jesus at Work.

I particularly appreciated that the author pointed us to Ken Eldred's framework for understanding three ways that work is ministry - ministry at work, ministry of work, and ministry to work.  He defines ministry at work as pointing those around us to God; ministry of work as doing an excellent job at the work we're doing; and ministry to work as being a part of changing practices, policies, and systems within the workplace to reflect the fruits of the spirit and the character of God.  I'm sure you'll be seeing that framework again as I process just what opportunities for ministry exist in each of those realms in my own life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Does God ever give up on anybody?

I went to listen to a well-respected Christian leader a couple of years ago.  He talked about "fools" who have basically rejected God's authority in their lives.  And he used that term on purpose, because, after all, Psalm 14:1 says that "a fool says in his heart there is no God."  As he discussed this category of people, he basically said that it wasn't worth his time to pursue them and try to bridge to them for the purpose of being light in their lives.  He reasoned that God sometimes gives people over to their desires and allows them to live without his presence because they've chosen to reject him. 

I hear other speakers on this topic encourage people to share their faith in whatever way they can, and then give them permission to “shake the dust off their feet” and walk away.  Maybe they’re not one of “the elect.”  And haven’t we done our part once we say the words?

And I see still others, lay people, struggling with this concept too.  I see them building a relationship which then culminates in just inviting someone to a church service or an outreach event.  And if the person invited says no, often they walk away from that relationship.  It’s too awkward to continue pursuit.  Or really, there’s nothing that can be done.

Like Abraham in the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, a part of my heart wants to cry out against giving up.  I want to appeal to God’s mercy and cry out to God to save them, even though they say in their hearts that there is no God, or they reject his authority in their lives.  Because I believe that there’s a part of conversion that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit.  And because we were all dead in our trespasses and sins until God saved us.  If he hadn’t reached out and pursued me when I was rejecting him and rebelling against him, I would be in the same boat.

At the end of the day, I think I generally go forward believing that God is a God of mercy and grace.  It is within his character to rescue and restore and redeem all people—even those who most stubbornly oppose him.  And I know that, if they really have chosen to reject God consciously, the only time they may sense his presence in the world is when they sense the Holy Spirit in me.  I’ve been commanded and invited to pursue others with love and grace and mercy in the name of Christ.  Who am I to decide that it’s time to give up on them?

And so I pray and I struggle and I cry tears of compassion and of heartbreak for the abundant life with the Eternal One that they are missing out on right now.  I invite Jesus to touch their lives through me and apart from me.  And I never stop hoping for the day when they will see the face of Jesus and surrender their hearts to him.

Are you being Jesus to anyone who has intentionally rejected him?  What are your struggles with this?  What are you praying that God will do?  How can the church help and support you in this endeavor?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

business as ministry?

I'm super excited that next week is the Lausanne Consultation for Younger North American Leaders.  120 of us are getting together to discuss the Lausanne Covenant and the Cape Town Commitment.  We'll be splitting up into smaller working groups and discussing some of the major ideas in the Commitment.  The working group I'm assigned to is all about ministry in the marketplace.

I'm pretty passionate about this idea as I have seen over the course of the last few years that people aren't falling all over themselves to enter the church doors.  And there seems to be a huge disconnect between the church and the rest of the world.  At the same time, there are tons of people who go to church and who love Jesus who are also planted in the rest of the world doing the regular work thing that most people do.  The percentage of pastors and "ministers" is small compared to the number of people out there.  And although pastors can have a really important place in society, there is nothing that compares to the potential that exists for lay ministers make the gospel accessible and relateable to the rest of the world.

So my primary thoughts these last years as I've accepted my own calling to be in the world as a criminal defense attorney has been how to take what I'm learning about approach and strategy and struggle to other lay people who have a heart to minister to their co-workers and friends.  I'd love to see so much more dialogue about what struggles we have and how we're seeing God work.  I've found a dearth of community out there to discuss my own experiences with, and I've been kind of blindly feeling my way along.  One of my visions for this blog has been to allow this to be a place where at least some of those questions can be asked about and discussed.

So as I was reading the Cape Town Commitment, I was drawn to the part where they talk about marketplace ministry.  I also read one of papers that was written in preparation for that meeting that was all about marketplace ministry.  And it challenged me to begin to think about marketplace ministry in a different way.  It challenged me to think about creating a business environment that reflects the values of the gospel so as to invite people--workers, clients, etc--into that environment to experience the fruit of the Spirit before ever inviting them to meet Jesus.

I've really been thinking about this and have begun to ask God if that's something that he wants of me.  Am I uniquely and strategically placed to create a law firm that would be a different kind of law firm?  Could I or should I start to plan on inviting other people in to join me in this strangely-valued practice that is bringing me such joy and fulfillment?  Is that a way that God could use me to bring blessing to the world?

I don't know.  But I'm looking forward to speaking with others next week about what they've experienced and how they've seen the power of the Gospel and the Spirit penetrating their work environment, and I'm excited to ask God to show me whether he's longing to use me in that way.

So my question for you today is, have you ever been a part of a business or work environment that, although not employing all Christ-followers still brings the Shalom and Spirit of Christ to the world?  What was that like?  What were some of the challenges?  I'd love to hear...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Alone, we cannot...

So I have the privilege of being a part of this awesome thing called the Lausanne Movement.  It started a long, long time ago when a bunch of world Christians got together and put together a commitment to world missions and evangelization.  Then, in 1989, another generation met together in Manila to build on that commitment for that generation.  In 2010, our generation of missions leaders from all over the world met together in South Africa to recommit to those principles and evaluate where the global church is at in fulfilling the mission and to put that mission in the language of today.

This summer, I get to join a group of 120 leaders from North American in Madison, Wisconsin to discuss just what that looks like in our lives.  So I spent this weekend reading over the Cape Town Commitment.  It is comprehensive in fleshing out just what the call to follow Christ and to share him with the world looks like.  And I could hear the voices from hundreds of cultures as they confessed the parts of the commitment that the global church has neglected and gave us vision on where to go from here.

But I was also overwhelmed.  The world is huge.  Its problems are huge.  It is almost impossible to even imagine being a part of transforming and reconciling the world to Christ.  At the same time, I was encouraged.  Because I saw how big the church is that we are a part of... it's truly a global church on this global mission, and we are not doing it in our own power.  We are doing it in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It brings me back to something that God's been teaching me this year.  I started attending Berkly just over a year ago, after several years with a rather tenuous connection to church bodies.  I would attend off and on, I actually was part of a church planting team for a while, but mostly I've been following the call of Jesus on my life into the world, and I haven't always had a church community that values those things.  So I've spent a lot of time the last couple of years laboring alone.

What's been so beautiful about Berkley is that I've seen in my own life the power of the body.  It's a weekly encouragement to me to enter worship on a Sunday morning and remember that I'm not the only person who loves and follows Jesus (or even just believes that he exists).  I've seen how my experiences and my passions are contributing to the body something that no one else is.  At the same time, I get the benefit of all of the other people in the body who are bringing their gifts to share with the rest of us.  They are providing things in my life that I cannot provide or find for myself.

I felt a little bit like that when reading the Cape Town Commitment this weekend.  As I read the overwhelming call to action for the church, I also remembered that each church body and each individual in the body is gifted and called to be a part of it--to bring their personalities and resources and energy and weaknesses into that global mission--and that somehow Jesus can take each of our contributions and make it so much more than it is.  Truly, it's impossible for me as an individual to hope to live out all of those principles.  But I am a part of something bigger.  And my job is to bring what I have to offer, turn it over to Jesus, and listen humbly to the passions and callings of those around me.  I need to help them and support them and encourage them and pray for them.  And I need to receive help and prayer and support and encouragement from them.

So as we consider the way that our gospel has not truly reflected the whole gospel of Jesus--the spiritual, physical, and social aspects--I hope that you will remember this.  You are gifted and called to reach people and to do things that no one else can do.  Find those things.  Do those things.  And do everything you can to encourage the others in your church body around you to find those things and do those things in their lives to.

Together, with our hands and hearts joined together, we can absolutely fulfill the mission that God has given his church.   Alone, we cannot.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

yep... still on vacation

Here's an interesting post from Jennifer Fulwiler, a woman who's a relatively recent convert to Catholicism.  Though she doesn't use the same language I do to describe and identify barriers to faith, she's definitely recognized that there's more to it than rational questions.  For her, indeed, there were major emotional barriers that made the process of choosing to follow Jesus harder.

But what I find so encouraging is that the emotional barriers didn't hold her back forever, any more than whatever intellectual questions she had.  She doesn't describe how she worked through them in this post, but she clearly came to the point where she was able to trust Jesus even if it would mess up the way she'd organized and understood her whole life up to that point.

I also have to say that I agree with her number 4 on her list of finding God in 5 steps... She calls this step "Do the Experiment," and she encourages you to live for a time as though you believed that God exists.  There's only so much a person can know about God intellectually.  As with any relationship, you can't really know someone until you start relating to God.  You can know about him based on things you've heard and read, but that's just like learning about the person across the room from the person standing by you.  There are so many limits to what you can know about him... and you can't really know him until you meet him.  So this is something I occasionally suggest to a friend who is seeking to discern if God is real and who he is.

Friday, July 6, 2012

What do you think of the "Sinner's prayer?"

Wow!  2 days in a row... I must be on vacation! :)  Actually, my "vacation" was cut short about 9:00 a.m. today when I had to make a run to court and then spent the rest of the day on a last-minute case.   But what can I say... I love my job...

So anyway, here's an interesting post by Scot McKnight about what to invite people to instead of the sinner's prayer.  Although he says and I agree that the good old sinner's prayer is effective and the right thing sometimes, I do remember so often when I was working at summer camp so long ago thinking that it felt just a bit empty when separated from all that is the Gospel.  I mean, Jesus invites us to relationship, to a long journey of walking with him and living in step with the Spirit.  He invites us to be a part of his desire and plan to transform the world through the power of Jesus Christ.  Confessing sins and "accepting Christ" is a step, but it's just one.  There is so much more to living life with the Eternal One.   

How do you describe the process of faith when you're talking about it with your friends?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Taste and See

"But this is my belief: that at the heart of Christianity is a power that continues to speak and transform us.  As I found to my surprise and alarm, it could speak even to me: not in the sappy, Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity, or the blustering, blaming hellfire of the religious right.  What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty.  It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new.  It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same.  It doesn't promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life.  . . . . Faith, for me, isn't an argument, a catechism, a philosophical "proof."  It is instead a lens, a way of experiencing life, and a willingness to act. . . . As the Bible says: Taste and see."

Sara Miles, Take this Bread: A radical conversion, pp xvii-xviii.

I started reading this book this week, and I'm looking forward to finishing the story of this woman who encountered God in a way that transformed her life.  Apparently (I haven't gotten to this part yet), she's been working hard on building food pantries for the poor in her world.  But this paragraph really resonated with me because it articulates some things for me about the way of faith, how complicated and unexpected it is sometimes.

What do you think?  Food for thought?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Questions of the Heart

I taught a workshop last weekend about how to talk about faith in everyday life.  During the workshop, we were talking about different barriers to faith, and I was encouraging people to think about sharing stories from their own lives and from the Bible rather than giving "answers" to peoples' questions.  This post explains a little about why I think that's such an important idea within today's culture.

As an example, we were talking about a person whose barrier to faith is whether God is good.  So I gave a little hypothetical about a person who attended some kind of church event with the nicest person in the whole wide world who was also an agnostic or atheist.  At this event, the person and her friend were told that they were going to hell if they didn't believe in Jesus.  And the person, for years, looked back with incredulity at that situation.  How could her friend, (and her mom too) who were nicer and better than any other people in the whole world, including lots of "Christians," be going to hell?

How would you respond if this story came out in a conversation with one of your friends?  Would you quote from Scripture that Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by me"?  Or how about the verses that say "there is none righteous, no not one" and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"?

Those were the types of answers that I was getting from the participants at the workshop.  And while those "answers" are not "wrong," I'm not sure they actually reach the heart of the person who is struggling with this issue.  There may be an intellectual question about whether those verses are actually true, but even if the person believed Jesus's statement and Paul's explanation about salvation, there's still an emotional barrier to faith there.  There's still the haunting question about how a good God could send good people to hell.  So does believing that the good friend and the good mother are in hell mean that God is not good?  How could a person serve a God like that?  What is this God really like?  Angry, capricious, judgmental, egomaniac?  If so, no thanks...

So how does one go about answering a question of the heart?

In my experience, the best way to do that is to tell stories from your own life and from Scripture that might begin to challenge the way someone looks at that question, or one that show how you worked through that question in your own faith journey, or that invite the person to meet and experience Jesus.

So what stories from your own life might be relevant to this question?  What stories from Scripture?  How might you go about inviting this person with this question to meet Jesus?

Here's one way I might respond to the question.