Monthly Archives: November 2011

Sacred Vocation

While conducting research into the integration of Christian faith and economics, I have run across many professionals who have already “retired” from their secular job to go into full time ministry or missions work or are looking forward to doing so. In light of that separation between how they view their professional vs. ministry careers, I wanted to synopsize a devotional that I have been working on for a career transition group meeting.

Theologically we have had no problem with proscribing dignity to productive work since God worked in the six days of creation. And we see clearly in Genesis 2:15 – ” Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Part of being fully human, part of our created purpose and function in the universe, is to work. The first thing God gave Adam was a job.

I want to start from Genesis 2:15 and discuss briefly how the Bible frames our understanding of our material provision coming as a result of working, then look at the ultimate purpose of work. In the verse cited above, it is interesting to note that God never commanded Adam to “cultivate and keep” the Garden as He commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth. Seeing work as an integrated component in being human, one could argue easily that our work, in turn, works with creation to provide for our material needs to sustain us…and it does.

But there is another purpose in the relationship between our work and our provision. Two verses that echo each other will help illuminate my point. The first is Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” The Hebrew word for desires – mish`alah – means petitions or requests. In effect, this verse is telling us that God will answer our prayers. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10-13), Jesus taught us the kinds of things to request from God – that His kingdom and will would manifest on earth, that we would be fed, that our debts would be forgiven, and that we would be protected from temptation and evil. Nestled between God’s Kingdom manifestation and the protection from temptation and evil are two substantial economic concerns – food and debt. That these debts refer to forgiving personal sins is arguable in the immediate context.  But the forgiveness of material debt is part of God’s Law given to Israel in how to live together in community so I prefer to take this to mean both material and relational debt and forgiveness. But that topic is a bit of a diversion here.

Let’s move on. The second verse that echoes the sentiment I want to examine was in the midst of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” The “all these things” Jesus is talking about are material provision, specifically sustenance: what we eat, drink, and wear (6:31). Physical survival is very definitely an economic concern since the marketplace is where we create income and buy our provisions.

But I wanted to draw attention to the first clause in each of these verses: “Delight yourself in the Lord,” and “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” The emphasis is not on receiving our material provision but about being joyful about God and, by coming to know Him and His ways, bringing about His Kingdom and will on earth. It sets a priority of communion with and obedience to God that precedes our material well-being. Our provision is of secondary concern to being in right relationship with God.

These verses test our faith by challenging our focus. Will I seek to know and obey God and not so much worry about or take matters of vocation into my own hands? That is not to say we should not be diligent about working, or seeking work, but that all we do is subordinated to God and our faith that He will provide for our needs.

Finally I want to offer the ultimate purpose of our work. The church often speaks of witnessing to the world, that is, sharing our faith with unbelievers. But there are ways other than vocally, and often with greater impact, to share what our faith means to us and how it affects our lives. St. Francis is famously attributed with having said, “Witness always, if necessary use words.”

The last verse I wanted to draw into this is from Matthew 5:16 when Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The entire book of James is about the relationship between faith and works. We typically take that to mean charitable works but I think it is much broader than that. God gave Adam a job (really two jobs – to cultivate / labor and to keep/ management) in the Garden. It was productive, sustenance providing work. There was no need for charitable work in the abundance of the Garden.

All this leads to the following observations. Work is part of being human, in our DNA, so to speak. Our works, of all kinds, bear witness to what we believe and how we act in response to God. Our provision is a product of God’s design of creation which Scripture tells us repeatedly gives glory to the Creator (such as Romans 1:20 and Colossians 1:23). If we are willing to subordinate our vocation to obedience to God, bringing His ethic and the indwelling Holy Spirit with us into the workplace, we embrace our work as a sacred offering and God will be glorified, His ultimate purpose for His creation.

David Doty is the author of Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (publication pending under contract to Wipf & Stock Publishers), which articulates an unprecedented biblically-based theology of the marketplace.  Doty is currently writing Downside Up: The Kingdom of God and Economic Potential, re-considering economic system designs in light of sound biblical theology.

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Release Pending: Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission

Release Pending: Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (Wipf & Stock Publishers)

Expected availability: (around) January 1, 2012
It has been suggested that, given the importance of articulating a Biblically-sound theology of the marketplace, I host a series of informal round table discussions to review Eden’s Bridge. The book establishes a Biblical foundation for the marketplace as an institution of God and His intent for it in creation and His mission in the world. We live in very exciting times and I believe we are about to see God move even more mightily, even miraculously, in the marketplace.
I would like to determine the interest level in having six, two-hour meet ups in the North Atlanta (GA) area. Most likely we would meet at 9 a.m. on Saturdays at two week intervals, beginning around the first of February. This would allow time to think on, discuss, and revisit the book in its entirety in a thorough way. Pre-registered participants, or those interested in pre-ordering the book, would be able to purchase Eden’s Bridge directly from the author at a 20% discounted purchase price (to be determined).
The series would be as follows:
Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission
Session 1 – Introducing a Biblical Theology of the Marketplace (seven propositions)
Session 2 – An Economic Walk in the Garden (the marketplace in the creation narrative)
Session 3 – Key Economic Models in the Bible & Theological Concerns
Session 4 – Relevant Ancient (Biblical) and Modern Terminology
Session 5 – Issues of Redemption of the Marketplace
Session 6 – issues of the Integration of Market and Mission
Let me know if such a series would interest you or how I might consider structuring it differently than I have suggested to be most effective.
Thanks,
I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Dave Doty
Author, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission 
859-621-3636

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To Work (`abad): To Work, Serve, and Worship (Genesis 2:15)

There has been a great deal written about the dignity of work, and rightly so. The following is adapted from Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (©2011, David B. Doty – pending publication under contract to Wipf & Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon).

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate (`abad) it and keep it.” `Abad is an especially poignant word in Scripture. In this passage, it is translated into a variety of familiar terms: to dress (KJV), to cultivate (NAS), to work (NIV), and to till (RSV). According to Strong’s Concordance, `abad means to work but also, by implication, to serve, or to till.

But `abad also carries a sense of worship. In Exodus, `abad is used repeatedly in the dialogs between Moses and Pharoah about Israel going out to the desert to serve the Lord. In Numbers, the Levites served (`abad) in the Tabernacle of Moses.

It is easy to understand this multi-leveled term. Consider ownership retained by an investor who pays wages in return for the labor necessary to fulfill the purposes of the thing owned, whether a field or factory, a store or the whole world. Moving into the idea of worship is no more difficult to understand than embracing the idea of honoring one’s master and provider as a matter of respect, in humble and ardent gratitude for benefits bestowed.

The Bible exhorts that God-followers do all things as unto the Lord (Col 3:23). We honor God by how we serve His aims in following His commands. Just and righteous works are acts of worship. In undertaking our work as worship, the holiness of God will manifest in our daily lives, witnessing Christ’s glory in the marketplace and the home.

Interestingly, God did not command Adam to work and keep the Garden. To work and keep it was simply part of the DNA of being human, of our function and purpose in the universe. Our work is part of the design of creation and disseminates the redemptive grace of God in the marketplace. How we anticipate the marketplace as an ordained institution in God’s created moral order, and act accordingly in all we do, helps clarify the sacred nature of our commercial endeavors.

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A Brief Theology of Profit-Making

Adapted from Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (© 2011 by David B. Doty, publication pending with Wipf & Stock Publishers).

Some Christians wrestle with earning profit, questioning whether it should be pursued at all. Some consider profit “onerous,” meaning “troublesome or oppressive; burdensome.” Others take a more neutral stance citing numerous biblical passages and arguing along principled lines that profit is inert, being neither evil nor good. The bottom line: profit is good and an ordinary product of God’s creation.

If we ask “should Christians seek making profit?”, the discussion may be launching from the middle of the conversation. Better questions to ask are “what should Christians pursue?” and “what does the Bible teach on the origin and nature of profit?”

Eve was created as `ezer, a help to Adam, before she was called wife. The creation of human community established the division of labor. Workers can attest that most tasks can normally be done with greater efficiency with a helper than if working alone. The bigger the task, the more division of labor, the greater the efficiency.

The division of labor fosters collaboration, specialization, and innovation. The natural outcome of these is increased output, which we can label increase, gain, or profit. Corporations, for-profit and not-for-profit, are collective human efforts toward producing outcomes more efficiently (gainfully) and effectively.

The physical union of Adam and Eve and the multiplying effect of planted seeds demonstrate that God’s created ecosystem is productive in a positive trajectory. The procreation of the first couple has led to a global population nearing seven billion souls. Corn and wheat reproduce toward the multiplied blessing of the thirty, sixty, or hundredfold return.

Nature itself, which glorifies God, shows that gain is intentional in God’s plan for all creation, including humankind. Many Christians practice righteousness in business—paying good wages, paying their bills on time, offering quality products, etc. Their profitability and increasing wealth demonstrate that material gain is a natural outcome of righteous relationships and the just exchange of goods and services. Profit (increase) comes when creation, including us, acts in harmony with God and the created order (aka natural law).

In Kingdom economics profit is not to be the aim but will be a natural outcome of the pursuit of righteousness. Jesus taught, “Seek first [God’s] Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33).

As Christians we have but one priority: to worship God. Our worship is wrapped up succinctly in the single Hebrew word, `abad, which in various contexts means to work, to serve, and/or to worship. Our work, service, and worship are inextricably linked and together, in our pursuit of God, will draw us toward holiness.

Profit is a desirable outcome but it is not the primary pursuit for a Christian in business. Discipleship at the feet of Christ is our first aim. By obedience to God and trusting in His promises, we will profit. A growing knowledge of Christ and righteousness fostered in that relationship will guide us to worthwhile employment and grant us wisdom for the use of our gains.

God affirmed this when reminding Israel in Deuteronomy 8:18 that it was not by their efforts but His, acting on His covenant, that they would grow wealthy: “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

God gave us work, responsibility, relationships, and the call to holiness. But “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Christians are to pursue Christ in every aspect of life, including doing business. Profit will come as God sees fit. It is an intended function in a well ordered universe.

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Mustard Seed Economics

Mustard Seed Economics

Global economic turmoil has thrown millions of people and whole governments into confusion bordering on panic. And times such as this present an opportunity for powerful Christian witness. There are those in the church who will step up and lead us to dig more deeply than ever before to give and help those who are teetering on the brink of personal economic collapse. And they do so rightly. Christians have a powerful opportunity to demonstrate the generosity and genuine concern Christ has for every man, woman, and child living in dire straits.

But there is an even greater opportunity to change the world in a fundamental way. It requires faith that asks Christian, especially in the well-developed economies of the West, to reconsider how we invest our earthly treasures.

There are two basic problems with the way most currently invest. The first is that it tends to follow a fear-based investment strategy which flies in the face of the consistent “fear not” message of the Bible. Too often we put stock (pardon the pun) in what we can see. Investment strategies include diversifying to include holding blue chip stocks and precious metals as a hedge against the volatility of market fluctuations. These companies and commodities tend to hold their value and weather the storms of sudden and jerky market fluctuations.

On the other hand, the Gospel is a fearless strategy for living as it challenges us to trust in a God we cannot see: a God who challenges us to live a faith which “invests” in things unseen. This God warns us that we cannot know what tomorrow brings, that we are not to lay up treasures in the earth, that this life is very short, and fear-based living undermines our faith. We are called to a radical idea of hope and of the future that is bold. In that very boldness lies our strongest witness as it turns into real-world action.

Here is the crux of Mustard Seed Economics. The name is obviously borrowed from Jesus’ popular parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the smallest of seeds but one that will grow up into a substantial plant. Small beginnings…great potential. The potential of the mustard seed is inherent within the seed itself. It will draw moisture and nutrition from the surrounding soil when planted but the kernel of the seed will develop and grow using those outside resources to become something far greater than its original state. But its original state, as a very tiny seed, is all about potential.

The difference between the world’s view of the market and that of the Mustard Seed Economics view is faith. The world has faith only in what it can see, understand, and attempt to control. It relies almost entirely on the knowledge and cunning of the individual or group of investors. Praise God that He sends rain on the just and the unjust and, given creative human intelligence created in the image of God, by our wits the human race has achieved great things. But the state of the world’s economy demonstrates how very limited we really are.

The Mustard Seed Economist understands that our wisdom comes from outside of us, not even from the collaborative intelligence of the church itself, but from the inspiration and leading of the Holy Spirit working in and through God’s people.

The problem arises when we invest in the world’s system by the world’s standards and we reap the fear we have sown. We exercise only a small amount of faith and, if our portfolio is well balanced, we reap eight, ten, or perhaps even fifteen percent annual returns (yields). How does that compare to the thirty, sixty, and hundredfold return of which Jesus spoke? It is sad but we consider this investment strategy as safe…a fear-based approach.

Faith grows as faith is practiced. Any Olympian can attest to the diligence and tireless efforts required to reach the podium and receive the coveted medal. Just like their daily routines of exercise and the discipline of dietary restrictions, faith is a choice and an effort. Choosing to believe God and the promises of the Bible is demanding and challenging and often mind-numbingly operating in the dark before we see the light at the end of the tunnel. But that is the very nature of faith, hoping for the yet unrealized.

The challenge of Mustard Seed Economics is to view the world through different eyes, eyes that spell faith R-I-S-K. But is it risk to invest in a God we profess to trust and obey? The upside of faith is beyond our imagination.

Economic and governmental policies have led us to where we are today. Socialism and communism tried to control markets from a top-down perspective, attempting to predict production needs. The predictive mathematic models were the least of the problems of central planning. The greater problem was that people were disallowed the opportunity to strive to be more than they were, to achieve toward their own potential, as their work was confined to predetermined vocations that fit into the formula. Those controlling the model formed an elitist oligarchy that controlled production and squelched human creativity.

Today open markets have resulted in inequitable wealth distribution that the majority do not find palatable. While we consider political freedom a positive thing, high concentrations of wealth have resulted in an economic oligarchy with extremely wealthy investors now dictating, not unlike their central planning counterparts, where funds should be invested, what products should be created, and how best to manipulate labor to glean the most from the system. Unfortunately, their mathematic predictive modeling is often little better than that of the central planners.

Here is what I believe they are missing. Because they live in fear, separated from faith in God, or anything else outside themselves, they try to invest safely, not to grow toward the greatest potential but to protect what they already have. They operate on increasingly narrow margins as economies tighten. If you own a billion dollars in stock perhaps a two or three percent annual return is tolerable. But when economies grow very slowly and wealth is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, those in the middle classes are squeezed and those at the bottom are choked off from any real hope and potential.

The question remains: how is all this turned around? Good question and the answer is that it will be turned by faith. The problem with central planning and with the economic oligarchy under which we now live is they are both top down approaches trying to pull people up from the bottom into the middle class. A growing middle class will always increase the power and stability of an economy. The more middle class, the more wealth that is created and all boats rise. But, as mentioned, the collective intelligence of those at the top is miniscule by comparison to the collaborative and creative intelligence of the entire human race.

The faith factor comes in when Christians stop relying on the world’s systems, release their fears, and follow God into a new economic model. When Jesus stated that the poor would always be with us, it was not a statement on how things were meant to be. Rather it was an indictment of the worldly hoarding their wealth as if that wealth would afford them any kind of real security. His statement was in direct contrast to God’s revelation that there would be no poor in Israel…so long as the Israelites followed God’s prescribed economic model. Jesus’ statement illustrates that Israel had not followed that model but that the wealthy and powerful had chosen to follow their own wisdom for their personal security.

The Mustard Seed Economic model rests on one simple principle: potential. To use another agricultural analogy, one does not grow watermelons by planting watermelons. The harvest of watermelons is already present in the potential of a watermelon seed. Planted, the seed grows into a vine which can produce many watermelons and, within them, numerous more watermelon seeds. The design of creation has potential built in but the greatest potential exists in the smallest packages…the seeds.

The Mustard Seed Economic model then is based on investing at the bottom. Rather than trying to formulate economic growth from the top down, the Mustard Seed Economist understands that by empowering the collaborative and creative power of the broadest spectrum of people the greatest potential will be realized.

As a serial entrepreneur, I am well aware that many small start-up businesses will fail in the first five or ten years, usually to the tune of eighty percent or more. But those that make it tend to grow astronomically and yield returns to the tune of the thirty, sixty and hundredfold. It does not take but the two out of ten that succeed to more than offset the funds invested in those that fail. But even then, the monies invested in the failures inject capital into the lowest levels of the economy that human creativity will eventually find a way to put to work more effectively. The key is that those at the bottom, hungry to succeed, will find creative ways to claw their way up the economic ladder if they have a little capital springboard from which to launch.

There are a multitude of economically-empowering initiatives being put into place around the world to allow the poor the opportunity to grow their own futures. And their success will trickle up to increase the wealth of those already higher up the ladder….all boats rise. The challenge to the church is stark: can we overcome our fear, which is a form of unbelief, of distrusting God for our provision, and invest in the risky business ventures of the poor?

In a previous essay, “A Brief Theology of Profit-Making,” I argued that profit is not the aim of the marketplace Christian. Rather, our first priority is righteousness as we follow and cling to Christ for our security and hope. Joseph, Daniel, and David were not seeking to become wealthy but their righteousness led them to success in Egypt, Babylon, and Israel. Profit follows righteousness more than it follows fear.

The church is standing at the precipice of an opportunity to demonstrate the glory of God to the world in unprecedented ways. Given the current global economic turmoil, the wealthy of the church, those with invested retirement funds, those who own multiple homes, those purchasing new cars ever year or two, have an opportunity to drive an economic witness to the world that would have been all but impossible even one hundred years ago.

Globalization and electronic communications present opportunities to increasingly connect producers and markets, to shout from the house top of the glory of our God, to live in righteousness, investing in the least of these, to show the world that our God reigns. With or without our individual assent or participation, God is moving in the marketplace. He will glorify Himself and He is inviting us to take part. Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Love goes far beyond the utterance of “be warm and well fed” or prayers whispered in our closets. Love is active…just as active as Christ willingly sacrificing His own life on a Cross.

What are you investing in today? Worldly security or a challenging faith? Are you a Mustard Seed economist, willing to put faith to the test? Invest wisely, as one day all accounts will be reviewed.

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