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Friday, November 28, 2014

What Is God Doing In Ukraine?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you have certainly heard of the troubles Ukraine is having with its aggressive neighbor, the Great Bear. As I write this post, Ukrainian friends of mine are gathering wood for the winter, under the looming specter of Putin shutting off gas supplies that flow from Russia. Yet God is alive and well in that part of the world, and the Spirit is moving in ways I'd like you to know about. 

Last month I spoke at a conference in Kozin, just outside of Kiev, hosted for Christian educators and professionals. The compelling theme of the conference was: Connecting School, Society and the Professions in the Light of Christianity. 

While Ukraine is at war, Christian educators, mostly elementary and secondary teachers/administrators, along with leaders from higher education and working professionals, came together for three days to focus on ways to better prepare students to apply the biblical worldview to their future professional occupations throughout society, in such areas as business, law, and civil service.

Was I dreaming? Indeed I was not! Here are some of the titles of presentations given at this conference: 

A Biblical View of Work and its Significance for Education, The Role of the Professions in the Kingdom of God and their Relationship to the School, The School as a Moderator in the Formation of Future Professionals, The Influence of Christian Thinking on the Professions, A Christian’s View on the Profession of a Business Leader and its Significance for School Education, The Foundations of the Professions in the Elementary and Secondary School Curriculum, and, How to Help Schoolchildren Choose a Profession. 

I have not seen anything like this in my own country, the USA. Here was a Christian educators' conference devoted entirely to the matter of elementary and secondary schools, along with universities, preparing the next generation to fulfill the Cultural Mandate by
honoring God through professional vocations as followers of Christ in society.  I hope the Ukrainians will carry this idea further, and create a model for other countries--including Russia, whose language they share. Why let something like war hold them back?

What is God doing in Ukraine? Plenty! Most of which you'll not hear about on CNN. 

Below are some photos of the conference, courtesy of Ray Le Clair, the primary organizer: 

Standing is Viktor Kuzmenko, coordinator of Mission Eurasia, the organization partnering with the Association of Christian Schools International in hosting the conference, called CrossLinks. Ray Le Clair, Regional Director of ACSI for Ukraine and the Baltic Countries, is seated to his left. 

I introduced the group to my wife, Kathy, by showing them the photo on the screen taken at our wedding, 44 years ago. It is hard to see, but Kathy looks the same today as she did back then. Actually, better! 

Most of the participants were teachers and principals from elementary and secondary schools. Representatives from higher education also participated.

Why were we all wearing coats? Because it was cold, with no central heat! 

One of the most inspirational messages was by this Ukrainian business leader, Andriy Vasylenko, who runs a multi-million dollar company in a nation where many claim it is not possible to do business "by the rules," or to pay the required taxes. This highly successful Christian businessman boldly declared the opposite.  You may visit his company at www.zeelandia.ua

Was I dreaming? Indeed, I was!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Not Part Of The Muslim Mindset

This post first appeared on September 6, 2013, and has risen to the 4th most viewed post in the past 5 years. I'm repeating it here because it speaks to the need for eliminating the Sacred-Secular Divide:

[This map of Indonesia is public domain.]

Indonesia is a fascinating country. It has some 17,000 islands (I say "some" because a few disappear at high tidean Indonesian joke), with 250,000,000 inhabitants. It is the fourth most populous nation on the planet.

Many non-Indonesians are surprised to learn that 88% of the Indonesian population is Muslim. In fact, Indonesia has more self-proclaimed Muslims than any other nation on earth. The number of Muslims in Indonesia exceeds the number in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan combined! 

How did it happen that this part of the world, so far from the Middle East, came to have such a large body of Muslims? Michael Baer, in Business As Mission, writes: 

"I once asked an Indonesian Christian why the country had become so predominantly Muslim...She said that when the Western Christians came, primarily from Holland, they built missionary compounds and missionary churches and expected the Indonesian people to come to them. The Muslims, on the other hand, came as traders, farmers, merchants, and businesspeople and simply lived among the natives."

The significance of this answer cannot be overstated. 

Dr. Darrell Furgason, a friend of mine who holds a Ph. D. from the University of Sydney in Religious Studies, and is an expert on Islam, has this to say:  

"In places like Africa and Indonesia, the church has been intellectually crippled, with one hand tied behind its back. Western missionaries generally brought the Gospel in the way they learned it, as a purely soul-saving faith, with no real bearing on anything else--religion was a mostly personal matter, nothing to do with things like politics, science, law, economics...African people were given the Gospel, but not how to build a righteous nation, how to apply Christianity to everything...Muslims see their faith as all-encompassing..."

Many Christians use the word "Gospel" to mean the "Gospel of Personal Salvation." But the Gospel is much more. It is
the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is a much larger Gospel than our personal salvation, and bigger than the human soul. It is all-encompassing. That's good news!

The Sacred-Secular Divide is not part of the Muslim mindset. Yet, regrettably for all nations, it is the mindset of many Christians. Take a moment to hear what Dr. Aila Tasse told me about the problem of SSD in Africa, where his organization, Lifeway Mission, plants churches in Muslim communities: 

If this video does not play, click http://youtu.be/o5qHFe6O1uU

Here is the experience of my friend David Oliver, author of  Work: Prison of Place of Destiny: "I visited Kuala Lumpur capital of Malaysia and was doing some work for the Focus On The Family folks. On one day off I was doing the tourist thing walking round the 360 observation platform on the Menara Tower. There were 12 observation stations, each one with an audio sound track, and when I got to the final station (12) I pressed the number on the MP3 player. Whilst looking out over row after row of golden domed Muslim mosques, I heard the following narration which is etched into my memory as clearly as if it had been yesterday: ‘In the 18th century Indian traders came to our land, and showed us by their faith and lifestyle that we could be freed from the shackles of Buddhism. So we embraced their faith their language and their life style and have done till this day.'  [Jamek Mosque, in Kuala Lumpur, photo by Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams (Earth), reprinted with permission.]

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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Ultimate Policy Manual

In the past few weeks, we've touched on keys to bringing extraordinary meaning to"ordinary" work:

1. Understand that God had a special role in mind for humans before He created Adam and Eve: to govern over things on earth. This is God's First Commission, and our seminal job description. 

2. Recognize that the world and everything in it is God's stuff, broken due to sin, and in need of restoration. This includes office things, shop things and kitchen things. It's all His stuff, and we are here to engage with it "as unto the Lord," so His will may be done in the shop as in heaven.  

3. Reject the notion of a "secular realm." It's pure fantasy, and must be discarded. 

Here's another key, which may be first:

4. Read the Bible as the Word of God (which it is), applicable to the totality of worklife.

All Scripture is “God breathed.” Human writers put stylus to papyrus in such a manner that the words they wrote expressed thoughts God Himself would have written had He been holding the pen. This does not mean God necessarily dictated the words. Yet, He guided the human authors in expressing thoughts with particular meanings to Him. The authors may not have always understood what they were writing, but the Divine Author behind the human writers did.

Meanings of words can change over time. But the words put into print by the human writers of Scripture had particular meanings in the mind of God at the time they were "breathed."

Why is this so important? Because if we are going to make faithful and authentic connections between God's Word and our work, we must see Scripture as "divine breath," with meaning untainted by our own opinions.

Recognition of biblical Truth in our day is increasingly subjective, being individualized beyond recognition. Discovering Truth in postmodern times is seldom a matter of endeavoring to understand what the Ultimate Author meant by the words human writers used in the days they were written. Instead of discovering what the Bible means to the Divine Writer, it has devolved into, “What does this Scripture mean to me?” 

Asking “how does it apply to me?” is different than asking “what does it mean to me?” The latter approach wreaks havoc with our ability to work in accordance with The Ultimate Policy Manual. 

For tips on Bible study, click here.

Jeff Myers, President of Summit Ministries has noted: "The Bible is the best-selling book in the world. It is printed, in part or in whole, in 2,800 languages worldwide. On average, 85 percent of U.S. households own a Bible; the average number of Bibles per household is 4.3. Unfortunately, while the Bible is widely owned, it goes largely unstudied." 

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Friday, November 7, 2014

God's Work In God's World

It's one thing to say we must rid ourselves of the "Sacred-Secular Divide," but it's another thing to actually do it. For most of us, it requires a major shift in thinking. As mentioned before, seeing our daily work as God's work begins in the head.

In short, the Sacred-Secular Divide looks like this:

The "sacred” things include Sunday morning worship, Bible study, prayer, and going on mission trips. These activities are thought to have real significance, because they deal with matters of the soul, related to spiritual, eternal concerns.

"Secular” things, on the other hand, don’t have as much significance, being related to the physical, temporal realm. Things like mowing the lawn, managing a bank, or cucumber farming fall into this category. They simply are not as important to God. They are “things of earth” that should "grow strangely dim" as we "turn our eyes upon Jesus."

Here is what to do with that way of thinking:

The fact is, both things in heaven and things on earth are Jesus' things. And when we turn our eyes upon Him, it all grows remarkably clear. [Would someone please write a song to that effect?]

The problem is, things on earth are broken, due to sin, and in need of restoration. The answer, however, is not to divorce ourselves from the earth-things [they are still God's things], but to engage with them in a reconciling way, as the Spirit enables us.

Try this view on for size:

In this way of thinking, any sphere of human activity may be done in harmony with God or in conflict with Him; in alignment with Him, or in opposition to Him, to one degree or another. Christ died to reconcile people and things to Him, so that "in all things He may have the preeminence," both things in heaven and things on earth. See Colossians 1:15-20.

This includes business things, legal things, artistic things and civil things. No earthly "thing" lies outside the realm of Christ's authority and redemption. He is as relevant to what goes on in medicine as He is to what goes on in church. He is as relevant to things in the temporal world as to things in the eternal world. And when we engage with God's things in God's way, by God's grace, we are doing God's work in God's world.

Again, it starts in our head.

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