Category Archives: Discipleship

Marketplace Redemption: Acknowledge, Connect, Glorify

The current global economic upheaval presents an opportunity unlike any before in history for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It is the time that marketplace Christians can witness in word and deed to demonstrate the goodness of God to the world. Given the proliferation of global electronic communications, it may well prove to be the most effective era of evangelism, spreading the Good News of Christ, the Church has ever seen.

There are two simple practices commanded by Christ. These, in part, fulfill the discipleship mandate of the Great Commission, to do all he commands (Matthew 28:19-20), and produce evidence of godly love, that we walk according to his commandments (2 John 1:6).

The first step is public confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. In many places, marketplace Christians may suffer restrictive policies but there are more opportunities than we likely realize to confess Christ. But Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32.

When my wife and I owned our bicycle shop, we adorned the front page of our web site with a simple cross right in the middle. If the reader passed their cursor over the cross, it became apparent that it was a link. That link took them to a simple faith statement, proclaiming the salvation of Christ. It was not offensive or in your face but it was effective as we had many people email us to comment on their appreciation that we openly confessed Christ. The ratio of favorable to unfavorable comments was about 200:1 over a five year period. Some might think that we likely lost business due to our testimony and we may well have. But that little business grew from $8,000 in annual revenues in the last year under the previous owner to $638,000 the last full year under our ownership in just nine years. While it may not have been the hand of God contributing to our success, our confession would have been worth it even if it cost us everything in this world.

Business owners have a much greater opportunity to be overt in their public confession but most companies do not have policies against simple, faith-oriented postings within employees’ own work spaces. Even wearing a simple cross on a necklace is making a statement, despite it being largely appropriated by secularists. We have many more opportunities to witness, proclaiming our faith by our actions, living out the character of Christ, than perhaps we do to share our testimony or faith in words. But our behavior should make us standout as the most dutiful, diligent, generous, helpful, and kind workers. Our work should always be identified with the excellence of Christ. Paul asks if we think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4. It is these same attitudes and behaviors on our part, especially at work, that will attract others to us into meaningful relationships and open the opportunities to share our faith.

For some reason, we have come to believe that making a statement openly about our Christian faith is a death knell professionally. So?  Jesus preaches, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 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” – Matthew 5:14-16. The question becomes, which is of greater importance – financial security or obedience to Christ? Following Christ involves more risk than even the edgiest entrepreneurs face in their endeavors but what reward is there in gaining the things of this world? We too easily allow our worldly pragmatism to overwhelm our heavenly faith.

Public proclamation is the first step out of denial: “Hi, my name is Dave and I am a Christian.”

So, step one is lose all shyness about who and what you are as a Christ-follower. Live without fear before the world. What can they really do to you in light of Jesus’ promise that if we will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness that at the very least our basic needs will be met (Matthew 6:33)? Maybe go so far as to include pertinent information about your faith in the activities and interests section of your resume’ and LinkedIn page!

I believe it is fair to say that without acknowledging God openly and fearlessly, we must question not only the substance of our faith but if we are truly willing to serve God’s Kingdom at all. That may seem harsh or legalistic but it is not. The choices we face are our own to decide upon, and to weigh as to whether we think those are even legitimate criteria for assessing our faith. At the very least, an unwillingness to openly share our faith, not in offensively running over people by preaching at them but in living godly and transparent lives, should at least give us pause to examine the depth and meaning of our Christian faith. If it turns out to not be real or of any other than our first priority before all other things, we are better off to abandon it as a charade than to misrepresent God (Revelation 3:16).

The second step is to put real meat on the bones of our faith. While our works do not in any way provide our salvation, James 2 is pretty clear that if good works are not a significant part of our normal behavior, our faith is dead. Lifeless faith is no faith at all. It has no power and no real impact inwardly or outwardly.

You see, love is not an emotion. It is an attitude that compels action. To love is a choice to serve others. Jesus addressed this frankly: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” – John 13:34. Our actions speak louder than our words and loving one another accomplishes two things. First, truly serving one another by good works glorifies God (Matthew 5:16). Second, and this pertains to loving the Church specifically, it demonstrates to the world that together, in community with one another, we are Christ followers (John 13:35). There is no Christian faith in isolation but only as it is lived out in relationships. An isolated entity cannot be holy. Holiness is a function of interaction, of character in action.

There are substantial results in loving one another within the Church. Israel was called to follow God’s commandments for the very same reason we are: to glorify God, to make him known before the world that all nations would be drawn to him. Why would they come? Deuteronomy 4:6 is telling: So keep and do [my commandments], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

While we are called to love and serve all people of the world, including our enemies, even the very enemies of God, our first allegiance in Christ is to show favor to the Church, God’s people. We can witness to the glory of God in many ways. We can be honest in all our dealings. We can be generous financially in tipping (the difference between a fifteen percent tip and a twenty five percent tip on a thirty dollar meal is just three dollars, three dollars that is unlikely to make any real difference in your own life but may make an enormous difference to a young server just starting out in life or a single mom feeding and clothing her children). We can be generous in wages. We can be generous in sincere praise, encouragement and appreciation of subordinates, co-workers, and even bosses. We can favor other Christian businesses even if our bottom line suffers a bit. Such favor will demonstrate that God takes care of his people by having his people take care of his people.

The marketplace has suffered enormously, just as has every other aspect of human society, due to sin. But the power of God to redeem the marketplace, especially as a powerful witness of his glory, is far greater than our sin. Our sin is finite because we are finite creatures. But the infinite love of God is the pure, victorious love of our infinite God.

The whole purpose of God’s creation is to glorify God. The three Persons of the Trinitarian God, motivated by their essential loving nature, wanted to bestow goodness outside themselves to share the benefits of goodness, as an act of love. The Westminster Short Catechism tells us that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We can begin anew glorifying God and enjoying him every day as we first extend ourselves in service to the Church, living sacrificially for the sake of others within, as wise and understanding people, then welcoming the world into the fold as the love of God, demonstrated by the shalom community of those in his Kingdom, draws them also to repentance.

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Holiness and Exchange

Most marketplace ministry and marketplace theology focuses on an incomplete picture by trying to read the creation narrative at face value. The key points are taken from Genesis 2:15: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” From this verse we delve into the theologies of work and stewardship, both of which are relevant to marketplace theology but do not complete the picture, so to speak.

The real keys are two-fold. The first is God’s pronouncement that it was not good for the man to be alone and that a suitable helper was necessary for “goodness” to be fulfilled (Genesis 2:18). After examining the various creatures that were already with Adam in the Garden, it was determined no such partner existed and God created the ezer neged, Eve. Ezer neged means, most literally, something like helper in sight, helper in front of, or helper opposite. There are three implications here. The first is the helper is present, visible to the one being helped. Adam is aware of Eve’s presence and her role as co-worker. The second is the helper is not in a position of prominence, not behind, not beside but in front of Adam, that is, the helper is in a position that Adam must deal with right up front. This hints at some degree of equality which is not at issue until after the Fall when he is placed over her in the fallen order. The role and relevance of the helper cannot be easily ignored, disregarded, or dismissed. Finally, the helper is in a complementary position, opposite. This is probably most apparent in the sexual differentiation between Adam and Eve. They are counterparts. The sense of opposite here does not mean contrary (though many couples may think it a more appropriate explanation of things) as we commonly think of opposition but rather serves functionally in a correspondent way (co-respondent, specifically, to God).

There are three ways in which it was not good that Adam was alone that only the presence of Eve could resolve. The first, which is also the one most apparent in the text, is in the role of wife for the sake of procreation. It was biologically impossible for Adam to produce progeny without Eve. The organism was not designed like an amoeba that would simply divide to reproduce. The second is in material prosperity. We have all likely experienced the difference of tackling large projects alone and of tackling them with a co-worker. Gained efficiency is typically apparent in that the division of labor and the sharing of overwhelming tasks (either mentally or physically) in the midst of the project. Camaraderie, which dispels the loneliness of being alone and offers encouragement at discouraging moments, adds a psychological boost to the physical work. In any case, as we recognize in the functioning of the marketplace, the division of labor requires ordered cooperation and leads to heightened specialization and collaboration, deepening the interdependency of workers and corporations, all to greater gains of efficiency, which is the crux of creating wealth through increased productivity.

The third component in the partnering of Adam and Eve is the most critical to God and man. As we have noted, Adam’s material prosperity was very limited without Eve, given the absent proliferation of the species and the inefficiencies naturally inherent in working alone. But more importantly, Adam could not prosper spiritually without Eve. That may, at first glance, seem preposterous since he was often (always?) in the presence of God in the Garden but there was no way for him to rightly relate to a veritable equal, someone like himself, that is, not God.

In Genesis 1:27, we are told that the image of God included both the male and female forms. That indicates that Adam was incomplete and can be most easily related to the [pro]creative aspect of God’s image. Adam could not “create” more generations without the female counterpart. But, the image of God also included the community of the Trinity in that three co-equal but distinct persons within the godhead were always in intimate relationship with one another. To fulfill the image of God, Adam needed a co-equal human. Herein lies the key to his spiritual reflection (image) of the holiness of God, in the relationship with Eve.

As I discuss in Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, there was no need of profit in the Garden of Eden. The abundance of the Garden might be said to have been, in business parlance, all low hanging fruit and easy pickings. Work in the Garden was neither tedious or demeaning. Basically, the production of the ground was so prolific that Adam did not even work up a sweat in getting the job done. There was more than ample supply for Adam, Eve, and the generations that would follow. But if there was no need of profit, what was the point, first, of creation and, second, of the relationship between Adam and Eve? If we continue in the line of considering the reflection of the image of God in Adam and Eve, we must consider how the holiness of God can be seen.

I posited in a recent online post that “holiness is practiced and perfected in our interpersonal exchanges, not the least of which, or perhaps more appropriately, among the most meaningful of which are our economic exchanges.” The central importance of economic relationships in the Bible is found throughout when the prophets rail against the injustice of neglecting and oppressing the poor, Jesus’ accusations of the social, political, and economic elitism of the Israeli leadership in his day, and the multitude of exhortations of Paul and, especially, James concerning how Christ-followers handle wealth and possessions.

The mishandling of economic relationships is far and away one of the greatest hindrances of the church in the West as we can attest to the disparity between the affluence of even our lower middle class by comparison to lifestyles of Christians across the world, and even across town. Sadly, this is not an issue spoken of with regularity in the churches of America that most need to hear it. It is enormously recognized by the poor and their cries are being heard by God. But for most of us, our possessions have come to possess us and our concerns of securing our households and retirement have taken precedence over acting compassionately toward the rest of the church, the world, and even our enemies, all of which, the New Testament is clear, are our responsibilities.

We have convinced ourselves that our prosperity is a clear sign of God’s blessing for being righteous by our hard work, diligence, and wise investment. This conflicts with the message of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, and the witness of Jesus Christ and the New Testament authors makes it clear that our prosperity is a poor means test of our holiness. Even in the Old Testament the wildly successful king of Tyre is exposed for the violence inherent in the acquisition and use of wealth accumulated through unjust trade (Ezekiel 28:16). If we believe that our prosperity somehow reflects righteousness then those who become rich by unethical, and even immoral or illegal, means can hold up their prosperity to demonstrate that apparently God does not condemn them for their practices. Obviously that makes for a ludicrous argument but it is one which we buy all to easily in justifying our own marginal business ethics (means) and the abundance of our prosperity (accumulation as ends). We all too easily deflect the accusation of unrighteousness by resorting to the worldly adage that “it’s is not personal, it’s business.” But business is always personal. No matter how remotely we may carry out our transactions, our marketplace decisions, whether in the practice of conducting a business or in our purchase decisions, always affect the lives of a multitude of others, moving outwardly from us like ripples on a still pond.

But, we have a multitude of opportunities every day to glorify the presence of God with us and within us in our economic transactions. The most immediate that come to mind might be paying our bills on time and with gratitude for the wonderful products and services we receive in return, tipping wait staff generously as a demonstration of how graciously God has poured out his kindness on us, or restricting our “wants” to practical limitations, welcoming the growth of personal discipline we gain by delayed gratification, awaiting the promises we will inherit in the life to come.

Less apparent is to be conscientious consumers, wary of corporations that stroke our egos by the cool factor of obtaining their products, and of our own desire for status and self-indulgence in the homes, luxury automobiles, sumptuous meals, and “deserved” vacations we buy. The globalized world, always at our fingertips through the magic of wireless modems, presents opportunities to pursue the selfless glory of God every day. Our commitment to shalom, far more than peace as the absence of conflict, but rather the well-being of every human being made in the image of God, is tenuous at best. Shalom is a communal word, not meant to be privatized for our own self-satisfaction and security. True shalom reflects the glory of the Trinitarian godhead, the perfect creative, life-giving community of love.

Money is not the root of all evil but, as the root of all kinds of evil, it whispers us away from godliness in the subtlest of ways, but most especially in its promise of security. The disciples left all to follow Christ, the one homeless with no place to lay his head. Yet the disciples gained family, households, and wealth through the fellowship of the church wherever they went, and it is unlikely that Jesus, during the years of his earthly ministry, spent many nights without a roof over his head. His provision, whether of bed or board, came from the hospitality and generosity of his followers, in holy exchanges, self-sacrificial acts for the sake of following a higher Way.

The creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 reveals the life God intended for his people. We now live in a fallen world in which we hope to witness to the glory of God that, in the Kingdom to be consummated at Christ’s return, we shall live in abundance without scarcity, that no child of God will be without place and provision. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom had come, in himself, into the world. Our best witness of the power of the Incarnation is to put our money where our mouths are, doers of the word and not just hearers, deceiving ourselves (James 2:2). If we claim to be that which our actions deny, we are no better than the hypocritical Pharisees, practicing a form of godliness but without the transforming power of God (2 Timothy 3:5), power that transforms both us and the world.

The New Testament gives four strong messages concerning wealth and possessions. These are discussed in detail in Sondra Ely Wheeler’s Wealth as Peril and Obligation (Eerdman’s, 1995). Wheeler’s chapters examining four key passages on wealth and possessions lead to deeper considerations of wealth, in Chapter 8, as a stumbling block, as the object of devotion (worship),  as evidence of economic injustice, and as a vital resource for meeting human needs. The first two chapters, explaining her methodology for the study, can be a bit heady for many readers but well worth the effort to understand how she reaches the conclusions she shares. I would recommend this book to any Christian who considers themselves serious disciples of Jesus Christ. Wealth as Peril and Obligation is deeply challenging. It does not prescribe specific courses of action (rules), simply because the myriad of life circumstances facing Christians crosses a broad spectrum of possible responses to the Bible. But the book ends by asking a long list of hard questions which need to be asked, especially in the modern age of explosive global capital growth and the disparity of wealth within the church itself between the developed world and the developing world, and between affluent neighborhoods in our urban centers and those neighborhoods and small towns struggling in poverty.

The Parable of the Talents, from which we famously derive the misty-eyed looking-forward-to-hear “Well done, good and faithful servant,” was a story of economic exchanges analogous to how we expend (invest) all our resources, whether monetary, our time, or the gifts and talents which God has bestowed upon us each. Every interaction with God or others is an exchange. Many are done casually without deep consideration of eternal ramifications. Each, including economic exchanges, is an opportunity to walk according to the Spirit, as light and salt to the world because a measure of holiness, inherent as we are relational, is inherent in every exchange.

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The Pursuit of Godly Knowledge

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction” – Proverbs 1:7.

I often hear reproach, as a biblical and theological researcher, denouncing theological education. These critics claim that the academic pursuit of knowing God is somehow detrimental to one’s faith, the church and world, and advancement of the cause of Christ. Frankly, such claims are utter nonsense. All of our doctrines have been derived from the study of the Bible by theologians, whether they call themselves that or not, throughout the history of the church.

The very definition of scholarship is learning or knowledge acquired by study. Anyone who studies the Bible, or reads the teachings of another Christian, or inquires into church history, is a scholar, even if what they read is written by the uneducated or the misinformed. The academic study of these things is simply scholarship conducted in a formal, institutional setting. Whether one grows in faith and obedience has little to do with the venue of study but has everything to do with the heart of the one pursuing godly knowledge. If the researcher is cynical about God going into their studies, they will find a way to justify their skepticism and unbelief. On the other hand, if they are truly seeking to know God and his ways, God will freely give of himself, revealing a growing knowledge of himself, his love, and his calling to us.

Psalm 37:4-6 is a good launch point: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.  5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:  6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” Too often we take verse four to mean that God will give us the perfect spouse or a fulfilling career or even a new car and a big house. But the verse actually sets up a circular process: as we delight ourselves in the Lord, he becomes the desire of our heart, and he gives himself to us. Verses five and six follow suit. As we commit ourselves to God and his ways, trusting in him by growing faith, he will increasingly lead us into righteousness which pulls us more deeply into committing our ways to him.

With that, then, I offer a brief survey of the statements on godly knowledge in Proverbs which are largely attributed to Solomon. Though the authorship of some of Proverbs’ content remains in dispute and may have come from several different collections of wisdom sayings, the whole book stands as an amalgamation of wisdom pivotal to the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, and Christian faith.

The purpose of the Proverbs as wisdom sayings is explained in the book’s opening chapter in Proverbs 1:2-4. The proverbial sayings are for the attainment of wisdom and discipline, to gain understanding and insight, to acquire a disciplined and prudent life (doing what is right, just, and fair), for giving prudence to the simple, and knowledge and discretion to the young. The first use of the term knowledge comes in verse four and is translated from the Hebrew da`at (Strong’s 1847), which is derived from yada’ (Strong’s 3045), which means to know by seeing. This is enormously important if we believe in the revelation of God, that God reveals his glory in creation and history. Nature and the events of God’s intervention for Israel, and the church and even all the world in the ministry of Christ, is to be remembered and shared as even the accusations against us before God, voiced by our enemy Satan, are overcome by the blood of Christ and the power of our testimony (Revelation 12:11), that is, our witness. It is the evidence of what has transpired in the past, reflected upon in the present, which gives us hope for the future. Without the knowledge of God’s benevolence in creation and history, especially delivered to us in the pages of the Bible, we have little hope for a victorious future.

I had a pastor several years ago who came to our church just a year before I started seminary. George had a way of being very succinct, capturing the core importance of issues in short sentences. I posed two questions to him in the months before I began my master’s education. The first was “what is your best advice for me before starting seminary?” He said, simply, “Be teachable.” The second question I posed knowing he would also give a straight answer that would be an encouragement to my studies. I asked, “Why should we study theology?” He answered, “Theology is the study of God. That is always a good thing.”

Next, we will simply survey what the Book of Proverbs says about knowledge. Remember the purpose of the Proverbs is for attaining wisdom and discipline, gaining understanding and insight, acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, giving prudence to the simple, and for the knowledge and discretion of the young (Proverbs 1:2-4). Also keep in mind that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1:7).

God asks, “How long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22). Near the end of the first chapter, God warns that the godless “will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 1:28-29).

The knowledge the theologian seeks (and we are all theologians on some level) is the knowledge of God, that is, about him and his ways.

Proverbs 2 starts by assuring us that if we will seek wisdom, listening intently and searching diligently, we will “discern the fear of the LORD, And discover the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5), for it is God who gives wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (v. 6), and wisdom will enter our hearts and be pleasant to our souls (v. 10). We find ourselves increasingly at peace and being joyful as we come to know him more deeply.

It is by God’s knowledge that the deeps were broken up, And the skies drip with dew” (Proverbs 3:20). This is the creator God who created by his knowledge. That one may be a bit too deep for this discussion here and now but it tells us something about him . . . his knowledge can make things happen our of nothing!

When we listen to wisdom and seek understanding, we will be prudent and speak true knowledge (Proverbs 5:1-2). Wisdom utters righteousness and no perversions and its sayings are clear and right to those who understand with knowledge of God. We should choose knowledge before wealth (Proverbs 8:8-10 and 20:15). Those wise and prudent will have knowledge and be discrete (v. 12).

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10), and wise men store up knowledge (Proverbs 10:14). Sadly, the godless man runs down his neighbor but the righteous are delivered through knowledge (Proverbs 11:9).

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1) and “A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly” (v. 23). “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, But a fool displays folly” (Proverbs 13:16). God not only calls us fools if we reject the opportunity to grow in our knowledge of him, he flats out calls us stupid! Our knowledge need not come by formal study and advanced degrees but he expects us to seek knowledge.

“A scoffer seeks wisdom, and finds none, But knowledge is easy to him who has understanding.

 Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge” (Proverbs 14:6-7).

“The naive [the ignorant!!!] inherit folly, But the prudent are crowned with knowledge (v. 18).

“The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly” (Proverbs 15:2). “The lips of the wise spread knowledge, But the hearts of fools are not so” (v. 7) and “The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly” (v. 14).

Those knowledgeable of God hold their tongue and levelheadedness demonstrates understanding (Proverbs 17:27). The prudent acquire knowledge and the wise seek it (Proverbs 18:15).

Without knowledge we are prone to error (Proverbs 19:2). Correction and discipline will keep us growing and abiding in godly knowledge (vv. 25 and 27, 21:11, and 23:12)

“The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, But He overthrows the words of the treacherous man” (Proverbs 22:12). “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, And apply your mind to my knowledge” (v. 17). Have I not written to you excellent things Of counsels and knowledge” (v. 20).

By attaining knowledge of God, we will be blessed and increase in wisdom and influence (Proverbs 24:4). Understanding (wisdom) and knowledge will even preserve our nation (Proverbs 28:2)

Much of godly knowledge is wrapped up in economic justice, protecting the rights of the poor, but the wicked do not understand (Proverbs 29:7). In fact, Jesus said that all of the wisdom and godly knowledge of the Law and the Prophets stood on the foundations of two commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).

While gaining godly knowledge is to be highly prized, it also comes with a heavy burden of responsibility. According to Luke 12:48, “from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” In the Epistle of James, assuming those with greater knowledge should be teaching those with less knowledge, the author warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). The Apostle Paul, that famous learned Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), wrote to the Romans to consider humility in relation to whatever knowledge they possessed: “Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Romans 12:16).

Perhaps Thomas à Kempis, a fifteenth century Augustinian monk, captured the sentiment of Paul’s directive best. Writing Of the Imitation of Christ in 1441, he advised, “Affect not to be overwise, but rather acknowledge thine own ignorance” (II.3). The idea of seeking knowledge and then acknowledging one’s own ignorance seems counterintuitive but it is not at all. Any honest scholar will tell you that the more they learn the more intensely they are aware of their own lack of knowledge. Any statement made in a scholarly article or book is based on a hierarchy of interconnected thought through eons of time and many hundreds or even thousands of previous scholars. To trace the history of complex theories, the resulting diagram would look something akin to an inverted genealogical chart. I am often impressed by the degree of scholastic interactions when some assemble their books and cite hundreds of other sources, often offering three or four to illuminate or expand on a single point. I have been reading one book that contains almost forty pages just in its bibliography!

Some who denounce theological education have encountered fools in their own studies who are arrogant about even the little knowledge they have accumulated. But they do not stop to think that no matter how deep, wide, or profound their knowledge may be, their knowledge in other disciplines very often rises no higher than what might be common among high school students and it will almost always fall far short of the expertise of the learned in other fields.

The central problem with knowledge is, because we worship an infinite God, it is infinite. We, on the other hand, are decidedly finite. Even all the collected knowledge of all the human race, living and dead throughout history, together still does not amount to even one percent of the knowledge of God. That’s the nature of infinity. It knows no bounds and cannot be measured. To think we have gained much knowledge is to become arrogant. That is why Paul must direct his readers to choose a humble way in light of any knowledge they have gained.

Andrew Murray was a writer, teacher, and pastor of Scottish, French, and German descent born in South Africa to missionary parents in the early 19th century. One of Murray’s most famous books, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, is short and an easy read, at least in length. Murray’s challenge that we embrace and practice humility is not, however, at all easy. Perhaps the most poignant sentiment in Humility is that we will recognize humility when we recognize God for all that he is and reflect on ourselves in light of that view of God.

The study of theology is essential for the advancement of the church and God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. One need not have a seminary education to become wise in the knowledge of God but we should take care if we feel we need to denigrate those who have responded to God’s calling to higher education. Our God is not some simpleton whom we can “figure out” with a shallow knowledge or follow according to pithy statements, platitudes, and random verses from the Bible. He reveals himself graciously to all according to their capacity but more importantly according to their desire to know him.

 

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On Calling and Works

(This essay is excerpted from my upcoming e-book, Christ in the Marketplace: A Business and Mission Primer.)

“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” – Proverbs 16:9.

There is confusion surrounding the notion of Christian calling. Many believe they are called to a particular vocation or action, some even that they cannot please God until they find that one thing to do or be in their career. The problem arises in mistaking calling with works. Calling and works do overlap but they are distinct as to how they are understood and performed.

There is but one calling for Christians and that is to obey Jesus’ command, “Follow me.”  Much of the confusion of calling arises out of the inappropriate privatization of the Christian faith, an effect of Western individualism. The mission of God is personal only on the point that the body of Christ is comprised of many individuals. But the Kingdom is more aptly understood in the communal sense.

As we are called to follow Christ, we are called into the community of the Church. Vital relationships are formed within the Church for the purposes of helping all on the path of spiritual growth amidst the normal activities of life, whether in worship, at work or leisure, in serving others, or in times of fellowship. The importance of relationships is likely no more apparent than it is to marketplace Christians who interact daily with customers, employees and co-workers, superiors, vendors, business partners and investors, and the surrounding community.  Partnerships are important within the business as mission movement as it brings together ministry leaders, investors, business leaderships, and the constituencies they serve.

Jeremiah 29:11—‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (NIV)— is often misappropriated to justifying calling as an individual issue. This highlights the bad practice of taking isolated verses or passages out of context, particularly as this instance reads the presuppositions of individualism (of privatized faith) into Scripture. Jeremiah’s statement was given to the elders of Israel in exile. It was spoken to the whole of Israel as a people, a community of faith, not to any one person.

The call to Christians, corporately and individually, is to becoming holy, taking on the character of God, to becoming “other” in the sense of being different from the world. Holiness cannot be exercised in isolation. It always functions within relationships. Sadly, privatized faith has been a powerful deterrent to the effectiveness of the Church in Western culture as many Christians have assumed a predominantly inward spiritual focus.

God is glorified not so much by the career choices we make but rather by the witness of His character manifest in us. Our “calling” is to be becoming different than we have been. It is a calling to make behavioral and systemic changes in every circumstance. We are “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). There is no indication that this pertains to certain occupations or is specific to charitable works. Rather, this is indicative of one living out transformed character.

Character is the issue, not any particular pursuit. Consider the “generic” sentiment of Psalm 37:3-5: Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

Paul exhorts the church in Thessalonica “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). He charges the Corinthians and Colossians that in whatever they do, they should do all “to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks,” (Colossians 3:17), and heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

There is nothing here about being “called” to particular vocations or even specific acts. Rather, as said, our calling is unto Christ. The “works” we perform within whatever circumstance we find ourselves will glorify God (Matthew 5:16). Simon Peter was still a fisherman after the first Easter (John 21).

The sentiment of Psalm 37:4-5—“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it” (emphases mine)—offers insight as to how God views our vocational choices. First, we can see that perhaps God has not chosen specific plans for our lives. There may be specific works that present themselves amidst our journeys with God, but God is able to align our paths, whatever they may be, with specific needs or events.

That alignment is commonly called convergence, which combines our calling to follow Christ, our discipleship (especially through the ministry of the Word and Church), our experience in whatever profession or other interests we pursue, and our passion. There are far more marketplace Christians than any other occupational category (i.e., paid clergy, healthcare and social workers, government or academic employees, and so on). They are called where they are.

Many marketplace Christians are very good at what they do and enjoy their occupations thoroughly. It is in whatever circumstance, professional or volunteer, that they can serve God with the gifts and talents given to us or that we have developed. The heart of Psalm 37:3–5 is “Delight yourself in the LORD.” Knowing and communing with God is our highest passion. But He also knows our temporal interests and a multitude of ministries are birthed out of the intersections of our faith, relationships, occupations, and passions.

For business people this may mean using high incomes to bless the poor, or to bring their gifts to bear in outreach ministries, such as a fishing outfitter or guide service spending quality time with disadvantaged youth. It may mean business leaders mentoring start-up businesses that lack their particular expertise, such as in the disciplines of management practices, leadership development, logistics, technology, or strategic planning. It could be a web designer helping a not-for-profit organization get up to speed on the web and active in social media. Or it could be just being a good employee, looking out for the welfare of their employing company and co-workers. In all cases, God will be glorified as we live into the nature and character of God in our spheres of influence in humility, grace, gentleness, generosity, compassion, diligence and integrity.

Convergence is where God meets us in the details of our own lives to manifest His love for the world. By our works, He makes Himself known. Ultimately, our following Christ, living in the grace and truth of Christ, is our most powerful witness.

As an example of convergence, i.e., the discernment of the works appropriate to my ministry, I share my own experience:

My parents were avid readers and I grew up reading. I enjoy the arts because human stories are studies in psychology, anthropology, culture, sociology, history, and philosophy. My parents loved to travel, so I grew up traveling. I love adventure for the sake of discovering the previously unknown. Their curiosity rubbed off. I want to learn everything about everything so I am an avid researcher. I am a learner and I like to discover the connections (synthesis) between otherwise seemingly disparate topics or arenas of life. I enjoy “exploring” the world of ideas as much as the physical world.

I love reading and studying the Bible and theology, especially about the mission of God and economic concerns. I enjoy writing as it forces me to clarify what I think I have learned. I had a lot of research and writing practice in my undergraduate (English literature) and graduate (world mission and evangelism) studies. One of my top spiritual gifts is teaching.

I enjoy business. It is like a game with lots of rules, decision-making, and strategizing. I have thirty years’ experience in business and administrative management, including fourteen years as a three-time small business founder and owner. I have been “online” for twenty years, communicating professionally via dial-up bulletin boards before the world wide web was invented. I am very project oriented, preferring to undertake work that has closure where accomplishments can be evaluated for future reference.

So, “by coincidence,” I have had a book published (Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, Wipf & Stock Publishers) on the theology of the marketplace; I have received requests to create e-books on business and mission and on the integration of Christian faith and economics; I have a blog (www.edensbridge.org) on the integration of Christian faith and economics, which also includes devotional and meditation materials; and, I have started writing daily devotionals for mobile device apps.

Many have spoken no truer words than to say that God comes to meet us where we are. That is never more true than in our vocation. God does not necessarily care what occupation we pursue (unless it is something immoral). He does care that we would be salt and light wherever we work.

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The Downfall of the Western Church

“Thus says the LORD, ‘For three transgressions of Tyre and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they delivered up an entire population to Edom And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.’” – Amos 1:9

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49

The relevance of the Christian faith in Western Europe is easily detected in socio-philosophical discussions when those societies are regularly posited as post-Christian. While the influence of the Judeo-Christian heritage remains in many public institutions, the further transformation of society has languished as it has succumbed to the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22). These influences are affecting the Church in the United States as well as our society pursues government intervention to resolve social ills or worships the golden calf (bull statue prominently displayed on Wall Street just north of Bowling Green Park in Manhattan) as our deliverance from evil.

I explore the indictment of Tyre (Ezekiel 28) at some length in my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission.

“By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence (chamas) – Ezekiel 28:16. Chamas (Strong’s 2555) is most often translated in the Old Testament as violence (as maltreatment) but also means malicious, cruel, and pertains to unjust gain, all implying to wrong someone else.

Much of the Christian faith in the United States has fallen victim to self-delusion and is practicing what Paul labels as holding to a form of godliness while denying its power. It is a false religion.

“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.” – 2 Timothy 3:2-5

If there is any question as to this truth, we have merely to look at our society and see the multitude of debilitating issues – crime rates, abortion, cohabitation and single parenthood, economic disarray, income and wealth inequity, government corruption, divorce, sports and media star worship, sex and human trafficking, and the list goes on and on. How is the presence of these things an indictment of the church? Hear the words of Jeremiah:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor,  if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known,  then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, “We are delivered!”– that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD.  “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the LORD, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.  And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.” – Jeremiah 7:3-18 (emphasis mine)

And then God says perhaps the scariest thing of all to Jeremiah:

“As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.” – Jeremiah 7:16

The social ills remain in our midst because the Church in the United States has bought into a false religion, one with no power. We cry out to God but our nation continues to slip into depravity.

“[If] my people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 (emphasis mine)

When God’s people pray, He hears and answers the humble and righteous but resists the proud:

“The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” – Proverbs 15:29

“The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” – James 5:16

So then, why is God not answering our prayers?

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” – James 4:3-6

I often hear zealous Christian rail against this thing or that proclaiming their right to be righteously angry, yet their lifestyles and choices simply reinforce the systemic evil that has cut off the poor and marginalized in our society. Gated-communities do not good neighbors make.

Are we, as the Church, even willing to hear the cry of the poor, the indicting cry of the Prophets and our Christ? Are we ready to take real action to demonstrate to the world that the way of the Cross and the love of God is real and better than the false security of the world and our transitory wealth.

Look around. We are living a false piety, a form of godliness with no power, based on bad theology. We must be willing to hear God’s voice and be willing to submit to His leading. WE must change to change the world.

 

 

 

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After Easter

I think my greatest delight yesterday, amidst all the Easter celebrations, was simply in re-reading in Luke 24. Specifically, I was enthralled by those three little words that are, literally, the crux of our Christian faith: “He is risen” (v. 6).

But now comes Monday. Reminiscent of the time after Christmas when the torn wrapping paper is cleared away, the new toys, clothing, books, and accessories stowed appropriately, the tree and other decorations taken down and stored for another year, and, after all the festivities, the return to school or the workaday world for another year.

What comes after Easter Resurrection? We all, as Christians, have been resurrected in Christ but resurrection is not the end of the story. There is still much to be done. In our resurrection, we receive new life, and that empowered by the Holy Spirit for our transformation from the old, worldly self into the new Kingdom self.

Somehow, in the privatizing of our religion in the last century or so, we have lost sight of what comes after Easter. The Bible’s story of God’s redeeming work, as it extends to all creation, has been muted. Our focus has drawn back and the story seems to end on Easter morn. In the infamous Words of the Apostle Paul, “Heaven forbid!”

God has promised a future and a hope, not just for God-followers but also for the redemption of the earth as God’s Kingdom is already coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” Are you living into that prophetic expectation uttered by none other than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

How do we live into the Kingdom now while waiting with expectant urgency for the culmination of the Kingdom as His return? The Church is culpable for where the world is headed. We have the power of heaven backing us to transform the meta-institutions of the world. There is coming a day when the theocracy of Jesus Christ will be fully established. Until that day, we are to be about changing the status quo.

“He is risen indeed.” What are we doing to explain and demonstrate His reign . . . here and now? There is a move of God taking place in the marketplace but thus far it is only a fledgling movement in most quarters. All of God’s people in the marketplace have the opportunity to reach their communities for the cause of Christ. But we have opportunities swelling to reach, and change, the world.

How does your faith translate into good news for the poor? As you read this, there are organizations and movements coalescing around the world, seeking to strategize how to be most effective in advancing God’s agenda in the world. Are you taking part?

As a researcher, I have the privilege of being perhaps more aware than most of some of what God is doing in and through the marketplace to alter the world’s political economy. I am pressing into more research and publishing that I hope will contribute to a growing awareness of that movement and how we each can take greater part. But know this, the Church, especially those Christians living in the luxury of developed economies, is being called out to engage beyond just doing good in their workplace or hometown. We are challenged to challenge our lifestyles, that we would find ways to invest in the poor, whether financially or by education or by prayer, such that the world will look on the Church as a “wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6). But our financial culpability is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of our walk with the Lord.

What questions arise for those who hear the cry of the poor and recognize that God is moving in the realms of politics and economics? What information is critical to move us from where we are to where we should be?

This post is an open invitation for engagement. I am planning to publish two or three e-books in the coming weeks. One is on the movement in business and mission, a primer of sorts. A second will consider what Kingdom economics look like. Please join the conversation.

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For the Love of Drill Bits, or Tool Box Economics

Imagine if you will, a society foreign to our own, where money has been banished from daily life. There is no medium of exchange and the populous is removed from working in a once thriving economy to one of simple barter. That is until someone discovers that, for whatever reason you can imagine, since from the inception of this story you have already been imagining things, that drill bits have been found to be of particular value in this now overly simplified economy.

But drill bits, though valued as highly as they are, are not necessary for daily use in whatever process it is that makes them of such sublime value. But necessary, more generally, they are. Some certain persons began to worry that, at some particular point in the future, they might be in need a of drill bits and find themselves without. They began to be more diligent in the pursuit of drill bits, even resorting to drill bit hoarding, and hence a new currency economy emerged, revolving around (and around and around…pun fully intended) around drill bits.

It absolutely must be shared also that in an adjoining province, the necessity of drill bits was all but nonexistent. Seeking after drill bits and especially hoarding them would have been utterly nonsensical. However, in that adjoining culture, hammers…yes, hammers…were the cat’s meow. If one were, over time, able to collect a multitudinous collection of hammers, that one was not only believed to be secure, in this second tool-based economy, for life, but was generally also widely considered wise and to be admired. Some even began to have their higher quality hammers plated in silver and gold (which were oddly overly abundant) and the handles bedecked with the emeralds, diamonds, and rubies that could be found lying about the fields.

Needless to say, the pursuit of drill bits and hammers took on a life of its own. Some even believed that somehow, mystically, drill bits and hammers, obviously in each respective province, bestowed favor on their possessors. Drill bits and hammers became objects of great desire,…pursuing them, owning them an obsession…to the degree that one might even call it worship, in that many individuals, and whole classes of citizens, committed themselves entirely to the pursuit and exchange of drill bits and hammers. Special storage facilities were created with heavy vaults to keep these precious tools secure and the practice instituted of lending drill bits and hammers to those who might find themselves in need of them but also finding themselves, in that particular moment, without any drill bits or hammers.

The obsession with drill bits and hammers grew enormously popular, to the point that some found themselves unable even to borrow drill bits or hammers because some few in society hoarded so many. For those without, life became a struggle again since drill bits and hammers had become the currency of choice, and the society began to be divided, between those with drill bits or hammers and those without drill bits or hammers, due to the obsession of the With’s. Bitterness ensued and society became less and less congenial and more and more disillusioned and all manner of accusation and divisiveness and muttering was heard daily at the too often barren hardware stores.

Ludicrous as this story may be, I hope it has become obvious that the love of drill bits or hammers supplanted not only a balanced, enjoyable society but unbalanced the minds of the With’s as their obsession overtook social sense.

We are wise to remember that money is just a tool that, like drill bits or hammers, can be used to good purpose for the interest of society or ill-abused to hedge against the fear of falling into poverty or to serve the self-aggrandizement and ego of its possessors. But how odd that we find it ludicrous, the idea of, in effect, serving, that is worshiping, the cause of drill bits or hammers, simple tools, while spending our lives, our relationships, and too often even our health, in the pursuit of money above living in righteous community the way God desires.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24

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