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Praying the Lord’s Prayer with those who are homeless

IMG_0660We confess today our faith in you, and that we know your will and way for us—but don’t necessarily want to live it:

“If anyone among you becomes poor, and falls into poverty, then you shall help them, like a resident alien…Fear your God, that they may live with you (Leviticus 25:35-36).

When we ask you, “What shall we do?”—we are uncomfortable with your answer:

“He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise’ (Luke 3:10-11).

We know your description of who is blessed, but struggle to understand it:

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled (Luke 6:20-21).

We do not want to be counted among those who only love you with our words. We want to love you “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18),

Therefore, hear us as we pray with those who are homeless:

“Our Father”

Draw those who feel abandoned, orphaned, and alone into the embrace of your welcoming love.

Embolden us to live as brothers and sisters with all people, especially those among whom we may feel threatened and out of control.

“Give us this day, our daily bread.”

Provide through us the resources and new structures, so that no one seeks their daily bread in garbage bins, and no one goes to sleep hungry.

“Forgive us our trespasses.”

Liberate us from the paralysis of being overwhelmed by needs.

Pour your mercy into all hearts so that we may experience your healing and transforming love.

“Lead us not into temptation.”

May your love bar the way to indifference and self-preoccupation.

May your truth overcome prejudice and racism.

May your mercy bring order to emotional and mental confusion.

May your power bring deliverance from our addictions.

May your Spirit lead us into your light.

“Deliver us from evil.”

Protect us from walling ourselves off from others through fear and greed.

Protect those on the streets from being attacked tonight.

“For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.”

Bless this day all who struggle to survive.

We name before you those we know who struggle today:

Bless this day all who have dedicated their lives to bring hope to those who feel marginalized.

We name before you those people and organizations we know who are bearers of hope:

Bless this day all people, pouring into us your kindness and hope.

Give us the courage this day to live the truth we know.

Give us the commitment so to live that all people flourish in your great love.

Now and forever, Amen.


Yes, The Name of God is Mercy

This week I read Pope Francis’ new book The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016), in which he reminds us that God is 51zqYF24+iL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_“rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), for that’s God’s name. Aspects of our current national and even international mood (whether in the church, in society, or in political debates) seem anything but merciful—harsh, anxious, divisive, name-calling, fear-mongering—but not merciful. Thus, the Pope’s reminder is urgent.

We walk with the God who is “merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). This verse uses the two great Hebrew words for mercy. The first word, “merciful,” bears the same Hebrew root as the word “womb.” The relationship is striking. Like a womb, to be merciful is to create a safe place in which life can be nourished. As the Psalmist continually reminds us, God is our strong tower, our defense, the One who stoops down and rescues us from the pit. Also like a womb, mercy involves sacrifice, hospitality, discomfort, and even risk. Jesus stooped down and took the risk, so to speak, of bearing our wounded human flesh. He carried it into his own “womb of mercy” where it could be healed, redeemed, and recreated. His cries on the Cross were like labor pains, and in the resurrection, he gave birth to new humanity.

The second word in Exodus 34 is translated as “steadfast love and faithfulness.” This is the great Hebrew word, hesed, one of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible to describe God. God is steadfastly faithful to God’s commitment to love creation. Hesed is the word translated in Micah 6:8 as mercy or kindness. What does God require of us—“to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” God calls us to participate in God’s unconditional, relentless, unwavering, steadfast determination to heal the wounds of humanity in God’s love. When we walk the way of justice, mercy, and humility, we courageously participate in God’s work to create safe places in which people’s lives can be made right by mercy.

In this book, the Pope describes the basis of his call for A Year of Mercy and a A Revolution of Tenderness.

“God forgives not with a decree but with a caress” for “Jesus goes beyond the law and forgives by caressing the wounds of our sins.”

Only the person “who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord. For this reason I have often said that the place where my encounter with the mercy of Jesus takes place is my sin. When you feel his merciful embrace…that’s when life can change.”

 He laments for the person who doesn’t feel their own need for mercy. Francis calls this the fruit of a tragic form of corruption in which,

“We no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy…The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help…The corrupt man often doesn’t realize his own condition, much as a person with bad breath does not know they have it.”

He notes that it usually takes for such people a great fall to,

“crack open the shell that he has gradually built up, thus allowing the Grace of God to enter.”

“To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called on to pour its mercy over all those who recognize themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy. I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the church and its parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.”

In our Micah Groups, the Spirit is at work to deepen our transformation in the womb of God’s mercy so that we can lead the Church in this great “revolution of tenderness.” All around the world there are 1,000s of daily acts of kindness in this revolution of tenderness. Our world hungers to experience the caress of mercy and justice.

As we commemorate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, Bill Haley, one of our Micah Group facilitators in Washington, DC provides a wonderful example of just mercy. His ministry, Coracle, has been engaged in clearing an unmarked grave of former slaves in the Shenandoah Valley. They refer to their word at the Corhaven Slave Cemetery as a RepentL1050152M-copy2ance Project. Before beginning the work clearing the brush from hundreds of unmarked graves, they took off their shoes and joined hands in prayer. In the mud and brambles beneath them, they realized they were standing on holy ground. As a gentle rain began to fall on them, Bill’s 10-year-old daughter named what they were all feeling, “God’s crying.” Bill reminds us of the words of Dr. King, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

I needn’t end by asking, “May God have mercy on us,” for that’s God’s name. It would be like saying, “May God be God.” God can’t be other than that. Therefore I end, in the name of the God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.


Advent Declaration on Gun Violence

Advent Declaration on Gun Violence Advent 2015

Preamble. Pastors and leaders in the Church from throughout the US met on December 10, 2015 to express grief that we need to lead our congregations over and over in worship services of lament for senseless deaths from guns. We recognize that this is a particular cultural issue woven into our American society. A spirit of fear, enmity, racial prejudice, distrust, and violence is tragically normal in our way of life. We believe this is contrary to the gospel, and so we say, “Enough of this. No more.” There is something seriously wrong with our way of life if we tolerate violence in our society. We believe God is calling us to stop this accelerating, downward spiral of destruction. There is an urgent need for followers of the Prince of Peace to challenge the easy use of guns in our society.

Therefore, this Advent, we commit ourselves to the following implications of the call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as we understand it:

1. We advocate for greater restraint and stricter controls on the private use of guns. “O Lord, in you we take refuge” (Ps 7:1). “Alas for those who trust in chariots…but do not look to the Holy One of Israel” (Is 31:1). “All who take the sword will perish by the sword (Mt 26:52). Therefore,

We renounce the advocacy by Christians for civilians’ use of deadly force against people.

We confess, repent of, and work to surmount the tragedy of daily terrorism inflicted upon victims of discrimination, racism, and prejudice in our society.

We call for restraint by our police in their use of lethal weapons.

We call for gun practice ranges to end the use of human shaped targets.

We call on our governments to implement the comprehensive prohibition of civilian ownership of assault-type guns.

We commit to exercise pastoral care toward all who have been emotionally harmed by guns as victims, or by their own use of deadly force against others as civilians, police, or military.

2. We accept the way of the cross. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Mt 16:24-26). Therefore,

We renounce the use of guns for self-defense, not because to do so is practical or because God guarantees our safety, but because we believe it’s right and it’s the call of Jesus.

We accept that the way of non-violent resistance to evil involves danger and risk, but also accept that the way of the cross is the path to the joy and peace of the Kingdom.

We follow the way of the cross because all authority belongs to Jesus, God will never leave or forsake us, and God will reconcile all things in Christ.

3. We take up the armor of the Spirit. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech 4:6). “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:10). Therefore,

We trust in the truth of God’s faithfulness—and stand in prayer against the powers of darkness in our society, homes, and even places of worship that feed fear, hostility, and violence.

We clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ—and refuse to see ourselves as more virtuous or worthy than others who equally share in the image of God.

We put on the shoes of peace—and walk into places of conflict and fear as ambassadors of the gospel of peace.

We take up the shield of faith—and defend ourselves by the trustworthiness of God.

We wear the helmet of salvation—and refuse to entertain thoughts that distract us from Jesus’ life of unconditional love.

We bear the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God—and proclaim to all God’s steadfast love.

4. We seek the justice that makes for peace. “The fruit of justice will be peace; the result of justice will be quietness and trust forever” (Is 32:17). Therefore,

We repent of ways our ancestors and we have exploited, abused, or demeaned others—and commit ourselves to make life right as steps toward reparations.

We engage in actions of focused deterrence—and work with law enforcement and civic organizations to diminish gun violence.

We reject the notion that reconciling peace comes through violence—and work for all people to experience the relational, educational, and economic opportunities necessary to flourish.

5. We pursue love for our enemies. “I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27). Therefore,

We recognize the full weight of this command—Jesus spoke it to people whose nation was occupied by an oppressive, tyrannical foreign power who mocked their faith.

We refuse to demonize anyone—whether those who inflict violence, or those who, even in the name of Christian faith, advocate for it. We are all children in the image of God.

We obey Jesus’ simple strategies of love: refusing to hate in return, unilaterally forgiving those who harm us, doing good to people who oppose us, and continually praying for God to bless all people, even those who treat us as enemies.

6. We are confident that the goodness of God defeats evil and injustice. “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.’ So, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:18-21). Therefore,

We reject the personal use of deadly force.

Relying on God’s grace, we commit to lead our faith communities in acts that do good toward enemies, for they are the strongest witness to God’s love and defeat of evil, the most compelling contributor to the transformation of our enemies, the best way to de-escalate violence, and the path to build communities of peace where all can flourish as beloved children of God.

If you would like to add your name to this declaration, send your name and city to

To see the names of those who have signed the Declaration, go to:


An Advent Lament of Tears and Joy

An Advent Lament of Tears and Joy

O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Deliver us from captivity. Be born in us today.

We mourn the enmity, violence, and fear that flood our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you the victims of violence about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to strife.

You took upon yourself a life of enmity and danger.

You carried all conflict into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us courage to move toward conflict. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

We mourn the devastation of homes and families in our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you the homeless and refugees about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to homelessness.

You took upon yourself a life without a home, living as a refugee.

You carried all homelessness into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us compassion to welcome the homeless. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

We mourn the prejudice, racism, and hatred that fill our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you the victims of prejudice about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to prejudice.

You took upon yourself a life of rejection, living as an outcast, killed as a heretic.

You carried all prejudice into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us community with all who are despised. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

We mourn the greed and inequity that divide our world.

Have mercy Lord.

We name before you those trapped in poverty about whom we’ve heard today…

We remember this day that you are no stranger to being poor.

You took upon yourself a life of poverty, living in utter dependency.

You carried all inequity into the love of God.

May we live in you, with you, and for you.

Grant us overflowing generosity. Make us instruments of peace.

May the angels sing today, “Joy to the world.”

May your joy come to our world.

By how we live and love, may the world see that the Lord has indeed come.

May we live today in joyous confidence for nothing can separate us from your love.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, whose love never ends. Amen.


Advent in Wartime

Advent in Wartime—Angels Rejoice, Jesus Weeps

The angels announced at Christ’s birth good news of great joy. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14.17). Yet how do we rejoice as we prepare for Christmas amidst a season of rancor and war? Shrill political speeches fill the media. Pain laden protests over racism march on our streets. Fear of terrorism floods our homelands. Millions of homeless seek refuge, shunned as unwanted.

Actually, this sounds just like the first Christmas, doesn’t it? We preach about the Son of God being born into an outcaste community of Galileans, to a couple shrouded by suspicion as to the legitimacy of his birth. He was poor, homeless, and unwelcome, and shortly after his birth fled political tyranny as a refugee. He lived in a militarily occupied country, burdened by exploitation and war.

Christmas calls us to remember that the joy about which the angels sang and Paul proclaimed is not preserved by guarding ourselves against the harsh realities of our world. In fact, because of Christmas, the more we watch the news and grieve over global events, the more we work for racial justice, the more we welcome those whom others reject—the more we are drawn into the heart of God.

My wife Kerry and I returned again this September to the so-called “Holy Land.” It feels increasingly less holy, as enmity, fear, and injustice desecrate the land. One of my favorite places is a little church on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, Dominus Flevit. It’s built where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “As Jesus came nearDominus Flevit and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Lk 19:41-42). Today, the Holy Land has returned in too many ways to the divided, conflicted, oppressive state it was on that first Christmas. Amidst the tears, we were challenged and encouraged by the courage, faithfulness, and even laughter expressed by Palestinian Christians who are resolute in their determination to be bearers of God’s peace to the Holy Land.

 Pope Francis recently gave a challenging homily on this passage from Luke. “We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. What shall remain in the wake of this war…? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters:  either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him who would serve wealth: ‘Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests…When all the world, as it is today, is at war…there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps. It will do us well to ask the grace of tears for ourselves, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart…Let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”

So how do we prepare our congregations this Advent so our celebration of Christmas isn’t a charade? A charade is to pretend something is true when it isn’t. What’s at stake isn’t the truth of Christmas. That truth is secure in the faithful love of God. What’s at stake is the truth of our lives as followers of Christ.

The week before Thanksgiving, Kerry and I worshiped at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Sunday bulletin included the following ideas to guide our preparation for Advent. “Advent is a time for reflection on our lives and hopes, our actions during the current year and our commitments for the year to come. Most particularly, we have this opportunity to see what have we done to bring about justice for all people, both as individuals and as a church. What have we done in taking seriously the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, not just in arguing about should these youths be in the streets, but what have we done to support them and to encourage them?…What have we done to put pressure on [the government]…to expand Medicaid and get health care for all? It is a time for us to reflect on what have we done individually and collectively to address gun violence in our communities and to address overcrowding and defunding of our public schools. What have we done individually and collectively to decry the demonizing of our Muslim sisters and brothers and the craziness of…governors saying they didn’t want Syrian refugees in this state? What has all this to do with Christmas?…Our understanding of Jesus as a political revolutionary who was trying to free his people from Roman oppression, says that, as followers of Jesus, we also are committed to resisting oppression. As our fore-parents sang, ‘Glory, glory, to the newborn king!’ They understood that Jesus was political, and political language about him and his ministry should not be overshadowed by personal piety. So, as his followers, we are following Jesus in addressing the social problems of our day…” Rev. Dr. Randall Bailey. Retired Professor, ITC, Atlanta

To the cynics and skeptics, to the disheartened and despondent—we say again, “Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.” So I pray, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).



When Hurting Helps

I live much of my life either avoiding or being controlled by emotional pain. I’m an expert at fleeing, denying, or being overwhelmed by it.

I know in theory the truth of Romans 5:  suffering can produce endurance and endurance produces proven character, and proven character leads to hope.  I’ve had opportunities to learn this through physical experience, such as through a near fatal accident that left my body bearing  a 6 inch scar (the remnants of a splenectomy).  Yet more typically, when pain–especially emotional pain–assaults me, I either flee or drown. My amygdala trumps my prefrontal cortex. And when pain is only a distant memory, I all too quickly lapse back into my old ways of living. I may be able to write the truth about hurting sometimes helping, but living it is another deal.

“There comes a time in our following Christ where our own hurts may actually help us. Well I know how my own personal hurts have helped me—a near fatal accident, a near fatal illness, failures in ministry and in relationships, and confrontations with my own flawed ambitions, pride and sin—have been invitations to admit my weakness and poverty, to find my life literally in Christ, and to rely more fully on God’s powerful grace and steadfast love. The scalpels of surgeons hurt, but their wounds are for our healing not for our harm. Our hurts can be invitations to allow the Spirit to heal us of our imprisoning pride, our foolish dependency on our own abilities, and our vain efforts to prove our own significance and worth.”  (Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission. Dynamis Resources, 2013: 121)

Suffering and all other confrontations with our own weakness and inadequacy can be rivers we ride into the presence of God. There we encounter God’s healing and restoring embrace. Our we can let them be walls that cut us off both from God and others–and from admitting our own fundamental humility and humanity. Knowing hurting may help…helps, but that’s not necessarily enough for me to, as Paul says,  “boast in my suffering” (Romans 5:3). Flee or fight suffering yes, but boast…?

The turning point comes when I stop turning away from suffering, and instead slow down, even stop and stand. But stand where? We’re not called (nor wise) simply to stand in our suffering. Otherwise, it can overwhelm us. Rather, “We stand in the grace of God” (Romans 5:1-2). We stand in God’s goodness, presence, and love.

Suffering reveals our frailty, weakness, and vulnerability–and this can serve as a loud reminder not to trust in our selves, but to “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”.   When suffering strikes–rather than flee it, God’s invitation is for us to ride it into God’s gracious presence. Suffering can serve as a call to prayer–a tangible, undeniable, visceral invitation to draw close to God. Our fragility is surrounded by God’s solidity, our weakness by God’s strength, and our frailty by the beauty of God’s goodness.

When pain comes (and even when I cause pain to others), I am wise to stop rather than flee, pray rather than avoid, admit rather than deny, and ask for the Spirit to pour out God’s love into my shaky, quivering heart. After conversations with people about this for 30 years, a common theme is emerging. The most powerful vehicle to drive God’s grace from our heads (as a nice spiritual concept), into our hearts (as a life-shaping embrace)–is some form of suffering. Hurting can indeed help.

It shouldn’t be a difficult choice, should it?

The options are clear–proven character shaped by love–or a life of avoidance squandered in fleeing and fighting. Every morning in the shower I’m reminded of this by that 6 inch scar. All of us bear scars of some sort. The Spirit works to transform them into signs of God’s powerful, solid-making, glory-creating love.

Leading Courageous Conversations about tough issues in our Churches

How do we help our churches become safe and courageous places to engage harmoniously with tough issues about which we disagree? Neither of the two common options is working:

  1. Avoid tough issues entirely. This may make our churches “safe,” but they don’t help us reflect together on the tough issues of justice facing our society. As a result, our members get their convictions about these issues from their favorite media source, rather than from careful biblical and theological reflection; or
  2. Choose our churches by their positions on tough issues. Increasingly the church is adding on top of our divisions over ethnicity, socio-economics, worship style, and points of doctrine—divisions over positions on ethical and justice issues. Congregations are splintering, and people are changing churches over ethics, and not just ethnicity, economics, ethos, and theology.

We are experiencing through the Micah Groups Movement at the Ogilvie Institute of Fuller Theological Seminary a third way (see There are several keys to effective communication that are integral to this (and that require a bit of retraining for some of us):

  1. Keep asking the “who” questions before we get to questions of “what.” We’ll divide if we begin by discussing what we believe is the right position on a particular issue. First, we begin by asking “Who is God?” What is God’s nature and character? What is God doing in response to the pressing needs in society? Second, we ask the “who” questions pertaining to ourselves. “Who are we?” We recognize our frailty. We accept our essential humility. We discern ways in which our own life experience and social location shape our attitudes and even our ethics. We also receive the gift of our own belovedness in Christ. Third, we ask “Who are our neighbors? Who has God called us to love? Who are the people we exclude from that circle?” In asking who is our neighbor, we then include the same responses to others as we do in understanding ourselves.
  1. Guard our curiosity, rather than defend our convictions. When people voice perspectives that differ from our own, we cultivate the discipline of diving in, rather than either backing off or building defenses (responses 1 and 2 above). Rather than seeking to convince someone of the error of their point of view and the rightness of our own, our first response is to seek to understand. We ask questions such as: “Can you tell me more?” “What is about your life experience, and about your social location that have led you to this position?” “Describe how your reading of Scripture and understanding of God, God’s will, and God’s ways leads you to this point of view?” “What are the implications of your position for how you treat others who hold different values?”
  1. Ask the most important “what” questions first. Rather than focusing on what we believe, or what we are supposed to do—the most important “what” questions are: “What are you doing in this situation God?” “What are you saying to us?” and  “What is your will for our participation in your purposes?”
  1. Invite issues of justice naturally into our worship. Rather than only providing classes or forums to discuss sensitive and divisive issues, include them in our normal conversation with God in worship. In worship we have the opportunity to bring the needs of the world before the heart of God. When we pray personal prayers and petitions, it’s natural to include structural and systemic prayers. As we pray for someone’s health—pray for the health care system, someone’s job—pray for our economy and for the debates about wages and income inequality, someone’s housing—pray also for the homeless and the immigration debates, someone’s relational difficulties—pray for the church to embody God’s reconciliation of our lives in Christ.

This isn’t to politicize worship.

It’s to guide our congregations more fully into the heart of God who is at work to make life right.

Can Business be a Holy Calling?

One Sunday, our church was commissioning its youth group to go to Tijuana to build houses. Professional carpenters and an owner of a construction company were commissioned with them. It occurred to me, “Why were we commissioning them for this volunteer ministry, but we’ve never thought of commissioning members in the construction business for their work building and remodeling homes and offices in our own city?” Was the same work they did in their daily business now “mission” because it was an “official” church program?

As a pastor, I realized that I was more interested in people’s volunteer time and their charitable giving than in their professional lives. I focused on people’s personal lives, family life, and spirituality—and on recruiting them to volunteer in church sponsored ministries. When it came to serving Christ, I called people either to change what they were currently doing or to add more on top of their already full lives. Give more, do more, care more, serve more were my constant themes. The financial fruit of their work interested me more than how they made that fruit. Like many pastors (and Christian businesspersons), I could value business as a means to other ends: earning an income, expressing gifts and abilities, creating employment, building caring relationships, maybe doing a little Christian witness, and certainly contributing to charitable causes (like my church). But intrinsically, I wasn’t clear how business contributed to the purposes of God.

No wonder the vast majority of Christians in business feel unsupported and unvalued by their churches for their actual work in business. The tragedy of this intensifies when we realize that, according to recent surveys, most employed Americans indicate that they “hate” their work (“State of the American Workplace,” Gallup (June, 2013). Even many respected Christian leaders in business have fear, loneliness, and envy as their dominant work-life emotions. This certainly isn’t God’s will. In spite of all our good sermons, classes, and service projects, churches aren’t touching the driving professional realities of their members. For the past 30 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with businesspersons and students around the world to discover more fully God’s broad purposes of business. Often, business has a far deeper impact on human well being than churches or NGOs ever will.

I believe we are entering into a new reformation of the church’s vision for its ministry. Rather than being the center of ministry, the church is a resource for its members’ ministry in daily life. Rather than focusing primarily on people’s personal, family, and spiritual lives—and on recruiting people to serve in church programs—churches are focusing on supporting and encouraging people for their ministry in daily life. It’s easy to see how our work relates to God’s kingdom in education, health care, social and community service. Jesus did all those things. But business is more complicated. To participate in God’s kingdom purposes in business requires special support and skill.

Business isn’t “automatically” a “holy calling.” There is a “question mark” attached to the phrase. To assist in this, I’ve created a workbook to guide conversations between businesspersons and their pastors to explore God’s purposes for business. It is designed as a discussion starter for use by individuals and small groups, and includes personal reflection and group discussion questions.

It’s purpose is to contribute to a new reformation in our understanding of lay ministry—not lay persons volunteering in church work—but lay persons participating in the coming of God’s kingdom in every aspect of life. Through this, Christians in business can align their work with God’s purpose to make all aspects of life right in our world. And as a result, instead of facing work with fear, loneliness, and envy—they can approach their day with joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. This workbook is now in its third edition. More information can be found at Business as a Holy Calling?


Remembering a playground in Gaza: Creating a world where children play

Deaf children in Gaza Deaf children in Gaza

(I wrote this 8 years ago. It’s still painfully pertinent today.)

I’ve been to Gaza several times. Even before this current disastrous conflict, Gaza was regarded as the world’s largest open air prison. Even crossing into Gaza through the Israeli VIP Checkpoint was a long, intimidating process. There’s no VIP crossing for Gazans. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, there is no crossing at all.

On one visit, I was exploring with Abuna Manuel who was the Roman Catholic Priest of Gaza a strange request we’d received.  Amidst all the devastation of that place, with life-threatening shortages of food, medicine and clean water—let alone freedom and work—why was he asking for money to build playground equipment? That seemed so frivolous and secondary. His reply is unforgettable.

The children of Gaza have lost their capacity (and even places) to play. 

Play is the pathway to laughter.

Laughter leads to joy, and joy opens up the gateway to hope. 

Without hope, we have no life.

When we feel we have no life, people will do desperate things.

We need to help the children of Gaza to play again.

Needless to say, we made sure that the children of Gaza received the best playground equipment we could provide.

Thousands of children swung and slid, laughter resounded again, until during the last Israeli incursion into Gaza, even this playground was destroyed by Israeli shells.

It’s no wonder that the Prophet Zechariah reminded Israel that a sign of the Kingdom of heaven coming to earth is children playing freely on the streets of the city: “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets” (8:5). Play and laughter are the language of heaven. We have the privilege and power in the Holy Spirit to help one another learn and speak freely that language.

If the task of producing hope sits on our shoulders, we will feel the constricting band of our own inadequacy and finitude stifling us. But if we recognize that God is the producer of hope and we are but assistants in hope’s birth, we can breathe again. We are not paralyzed. We can become joyous participants in that hope being born into people lives. We can provide the world with great playground equipment, joyous songs of testimony to God’s love, winsome deeds of justice and mercy, courageous lives of compassion, and miraculous signs of supernatural power.

(Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, A Heart for Mission (2013: 45). Available on Amazon US, UK, India, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain.)


Drinking from the Wells of New Creation

Drinking from the Wells of New Creation.

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