Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

"Died Not Of Failure, But Of Success"

Recently, I have posted about the work of 18th century Moravian missionaries who were characterized by an unusual approach to business and profit-making. Otto Uttendörfer described it as "the spirit of sacrifice and of being content with little for oneself while devoting much to the Lord's cause."

The Moravian goal of profit-making was not individualistic. Personal prosperity was not the aim. Their focus was on the Kingdom of God, and the common good. 

The well-being of communities as a whole, both spiritually and economically, was their aim. This meant not only preaching the Gospel and discipling believers, but creating honorable, meaningful, and profitable work for whole communities, whether believers or not.

But the Moravian's altruistic approach to profit-making could not be imposed by law. Nor could it be passed on to non-believers by fiat.  

As more Moravian communities experienced the blessings of profit, individuals came into those communities who did not share the Moravian spirit of profit-making. But they liked the profit. One example is the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

William Danker, in Profit For the Lord, says the town the Moravians built "died not of failure, but of success." He writes: "With rising prosperity, individual instincts to have, to hold, and to spend according to one's own desire reasserted themselves," and, Danker notes: "Religion became segregated from the realm of economics." 

Once Christ is segregated from any human endeavor in which He was once preeminent, that endeavor becomes utterly unrecognizable. Examples are legion. 

Read Deuteronomy 8:11-20 in light of the USA.

Danker quotes John Wesley with respect to the "curious inverse relation" between Christian faith and wealth: "For religion must of necessity produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches."

Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian missionary movement, was not out to establish "Zinzendorf-towns," or to build "The Kingdom of the Moravian Church." Zinzendorf desired Moravian missionaries to be absorbed by other churches, and cooperating with other Christian groups for common causes. This may account for the fact that the number of Moravian congregations today is relatively small. The largest concentration of congregations is in Tanzania, Africa.

The Moravians also labored among the Native Americans in the New World. But this came to an abrupt end for different reasons, which I will write about next week.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Let's Occupy

It has been my tradition to blog about Joy To The World on the Friday before Christmas. Today I carry on the tradition. Joyfully. 
Photo by Jeff Weese (Flickr: Nativity) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Joy To The World is based on Psalm 98: "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth, break forth in song...for He is coming to judge the earth, with righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity." 

Some say this song is not about Bethlehem, but about Christ's second coming, and the joy which will occur when He comes to set all things finally straight, in that full manifestation of His Kingship.

While I look forward to the second coming, Joy To The World makes as much sense to me as a celebration of Christ's first coming. While anticipating His Kingdom-yet-to-come, we can celebrate His Kingdom-already-here. 

Even prior to Bethlehem, I Chronicles 29:11 asserted: "...all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all," and 
Psalm 103:19 declared: "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all." 

Before His birth. 

And before His second coming, Acts 10:36 placed Jesus' universal authority in the present: "He is Lord of all." 

It's true Christ's Kingdom is not universally recognized on Planet Earth right now. There are weeds in His field, which He did not plant (see Matthew 13). They will be bundled and burned someday, but the domain over which Christ is King (that is, His "King-domain"), includes both heaven and earth, right now

The whole field is His. 
The fact that not every human heart has received Him as King doesn't alter the fact that He is.

This is the world's greatest Christmas gift: that Christ came in human form "to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." When will this start? At the second coming?

No. These blessings are intended to flow through His people today who are reconciled to God and reconciling all things to Him, including the things of earth, far as the curse is found.  

So by God's grace, let's occupy until He comes again, pulling up "bramble bushes" and planting "fruit trees" before the second coming arrives. It's our current calling and occupation.

Maybe Joy To The World is one of those "both-and" songs, celebrating His first and second comings.

Joy to the Earth! The Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy!

Far as the curse is found. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

John Wesley's "Glorious Day"

Are you headed for a storm in your life? Remember John Wesley's "glorious day" aboard a wooden ship in a fierce storm on the Atlantic.

In 1735, John Wesley spent eight weeks (yes, eight weeks) on board a wooden ship crossing the Atlantic with 80 English and 26 Moravian missionaries from Germany. They were sailing to the colony of Georgia. Wesley was on his way to convert Indians to Anglicanism. But God had a different conversion in mind.

In his journal, Wesley wrote of a fierce storm that arose just as the Moravians were starting to sing:  

"In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, 'Was [sic] you not afraid?' He answered, 'I thank God, no.' I asked, 'But were not your women and children afraid?' He replied, mildly, 'No; our women and children are not afraid to die.'”

A couple of sentences later, Wesley wrote: "This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen."

The personal, living faith demonstrated by the Moravians touched Wesley deeply. It was a kind of faith he himself had never known. At the time, Wesley was fearful of death. 

Upon his arrival in Georgia, Wesley got to know a Moravian Pastor by the name of Spankenberg. This man asked Wesley if he personally knew Jesus Christ. That question led to many more questions.

Through his continuing contact with the Moravians, observing their lives lived by simple faith in Christ, Wesley was drawn to the Scriptures. Eventually, after returning to England, Wesley experienced his "great change," to use the language William Wilberforce employed in describing his own personal encounter with Christ, via Wesley’s witness. 

You may have seen the classic film, It’s A Wonderful Life. I love the scene where Clarence Oddbody, the guardian angel of George Bailey, says: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”

We all know about John Wesley and the Methodist movement that touched England and so many other nations and families, including my own, as my great-grandfather was a Methodist minister. Yet few know of Pastor Spankenberg, and the small band of Moravians whose living faith prompted John Wesley's “glorious day,” and led to his conversion.   

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Missionaries Creating Businesses?

What is your image of a missionary?

The first major Protestant missionary movement took place in the 1700s. It was a surge of Moravians from Herrnut, Germany, under the leadership of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf.

One uniqueness of this movement was that these pioneer missionaries left home for far-off places with the understanding that they would not be receiving financial support after they settled in.  

The Moravians believed it was a missionary's duty and obligation not only to "preach the Lamb" that was slain for the salvation of souls, but to also build spiritually and economically integrated communities for the glory of God.

Not only did these missionaries create businesses to meet their personal financial needs, earning their living "as they went," but the businesses they created generated financial support for their missionary endeavors.  

But that wasn’t their entire motive for creating businesses. They did this in order to provide much-needed employment for the economically depressed people they came to evangelize and truly love.

Let me say it bluntly: The first wave of Protestant missionaries created profit-producing businesses. Lots of them. 

The Moravians went to neglected and marginalized folk. They intentionally went to the poor and exploited people of the world. They went to slaves in Surinam. To Eskimos. To Native Americans in the USA.  

Among the many kinds of businesses they established were: textile manufacturing, pottery-making, baking, canoe-crafting and watch-making. In Labrador, the missionaries owned trading posts and cargo ships.

Missionaries creating businesses?

Indeed. It was an integral part of their vision. The Moravian missionaries understood that Christianity brings meaning and purpose to work in ways not possible apart from Christ. They understood that faith is lived out through vocation, as well as through hymn-singing on Sunday morning. Without work, faith is dead.   

Besides saving souls, Count Zinzendorf wanted to teach the natives “the dignity of labor." In the process of creating businesses, the Moravians labored in the marketplace beside neighbors who knew not Christ. These neighbors found relief from the shackles of sin and the shackles of poverty at the same time.  

Zinzendorf disliked taking offerings, or appealing for aid. He rejected the collection-plate approach to missions in part because he did not think it was right to compete with other Christian causes. 

If you want to know more about the first Protestant missionary movement, and the Moravians who boldly and bravely participated in it, read William J. Danker's eye-opening book, Profit for the Lord.

In Profit for the Lord, William Danker writes: "...the most important contribution of the Moravians was their emphasis that every Christian is a missionary and should witness through his daily vocation. If the example of the Moravians had been studied more carefully by other Christians, it is possible that the businessman might have retained his honored place within the expanding Christian world mission beside the preacher, teacher, and physician."

Friday, November 30, 2018

What Will Make American Business Great Again?

Many people apparently think making money and Christianity run counter to one another. We have a problem putting the words “commerce” and “Christianity” into the same sentence. Sometimes we forget that the love of money is the root of all evil, not money per se. 

As mentioned last week, the Puritans turned the Massachusetts Bay Company into a thriving business by 1640, just 20 years after the first Pilgrims landed in 1620. By 1640, there were 20,000 Puritans in the New World building the Company enterprise.  

Not only did these commerce-minded Saints get great business practices going in New England, but the way they did business provided a pattern for American companies over the next 300 years. Until 1970.

That's when The Puritan Gift began to unravel. 

This is the contention of Kenneth Hopper, an expert in industrial affairs, and his brother William, a former investment banker. The Hopper brothers deftly laid out their case in The Puritan Gift.  

The Puritan Gift was hailed by the Financial Times as one of the Top Ten Business Books for 2007. The Hopper brothers demonstrated that the Puritans gave America a great gift in their approach to business. The authors maintain it's a business pattern we must restore.

What was The Gift? 

Mindy Belz, of WORLD Magazine, called it "faith-based entrepreneurship." Not just any faith, of course, but biblically-informed faith. The Puritan Gift was characterized by "careful planning, a disregard for social class in selecting management, an ethic of work combined with a habit of thrift, placing the good of the community above the individual, and a desire to create a kingdom of heaven on earth." That last point is huge.

The Hopper brothers warned that as America distances herself from The Puritan Gift, the foundation upon which American business rests is defective.

What will make American business great again? 

Kenneth and William Hopper gave a surprising answer to this question in 2007. To the degree that the Puritan way was biblical, I believe that apart from a return this way of doing business, we're only fooling ourselves with a false sense of security, low unemployment notwithstanding. 

It wasn’t just Puritans who provided a pattern for what it means to succeed in business. For the Moravian missionaries of the 1700s, commerce was an integral part of their worldwide missionary strategy.    

We'll re-visit the Moravian vision and mission next.

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Why Is "Christianized" Africa So Poor Today?

Photo by Dazzle Jam from Pexels.

David Livingstone, the famous missionary to Africa, in a speech at Cambridge in 1857, declared: “A prospect is now before us of opening Africa for commerce and the Gospel. Providence has been preparing the way…Those two pioneers of civilization—Christianity and commerce— should ever be inseparable; and Englishmen should be warned by the fruits of neglecting that principle…”

What does commerce have to do with the Gospel?

If we understand the Gospel to mean the “Gospel of Personal Salvation,” it has nothing to do with it. But if we see the Gospel as the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” the two are, as Livingstone said, "inseparable."

Pilgrims coming to the New World in the 1600s understood this. Under the leadership of John Winthrop, Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Company, which by 1640 became a thriving business. The Moravians, in the next century, also understood the integral relationship between Christianity and commerce.

For these Christ-followers, the “Good News” included personal salvation, but was not limited to it. As the Puritan Pastor George Swinnock declared, “The pious tradesman will know that his shop as well as his chapel is holy ground.” This means “full-time Christian service” includes plumbing, property management and computer programming.   

3 things have impressed me on my visits to Kenya: Christian music pumped over the public address system at the airport; church after church after church along the roadway from Nairobi to the Rift Valley; and ubiquitous poverty. And I mean ubiquitous.

Why is “Christianized” Africa so poor today, 150 years after Livingston? 

Apparently, other missionaries didn’t get the memo. And the Pilgrims (thankfully for me) sailed West, not South.  

Now Islam is encroaching southward dramatically from the northern Islamic nations of Africa. This is in part due to Muslims including commerce in their “Gospel,” as they did in Indonesia. I use the term "Gospel" loosely here, as Islam is anything but Good News. Meanwhile, all of Kenya but the northern part has probably been "saved" 10 times over. (I have no data to support this. Just a hunch.)

Nobody can understand this problem like an African. Particularly one whose mission is to establish churches in Muslim communities, as my friend Aila Tasse courageously does. Rather than write about what he has told me, I invite you to listen to a conversation I had with Aila about “the problem.” This video is under 3 minutes—yet speaks volumes:  

If this video does not play, click here.  When Aila Tasse was 14 years old, he attended a Muslim boarding school in northern Kenya, on his way to becoming an Imam. When stricken with cerebral malaria, a brave Christian lead him to Christ. Aila did not die. After his recovery, because of Aila's decision to become a Christian, he was pronounced dead by his father in front of his entire family and the community. Ostracized and alone at age 14, Aila left his home and his community. He did not return to northern Kenya until God called him back, many years later, to plant churches there. (Aila's parents came to Christ.) For more about the indigenous African work Aila is doing through Lifeway Mission International, click here. Consider making an on-line donation. It will be well-used. 

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Not Part Of The Muslim Mindset

Not long after this post first appeared on September 6, 2013, it became one of my most viewed posts.  I am repeating it below with some updates.

Indonesia has some 17,000 islands (I say "some" because a few disappear at high tide─an Indonesian joke), with 266,000,000 inhabitants. It is the fourth most populous country on the planet, and has the largest Muslim population of all nations.
[Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels.]

Many non-Indonesians are surprised to learn that 87% of the Indonesian population claims to be Muslim. In fact, Indonesia has more Muslims than any other nation on earth. The number exceeds the number of Muslims 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 number of Muslims? Michael Baer, in his book, Business As Mission, shared this: 

"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, an expert on Islam, has said:  

"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..."

Most Christians have reduced the "Gospel" to the "Gospel of personal salvation." Yes, it is that. But it's more than that. Let me repeat: the Gospel is more than personal salvation. 

The Bible speaks of the Gospel of the Kingdom. And guess what. The Kingdom is larger than human souls. It is all-encompassing, and that's Good News!

The Sacred-Secular Divide, SSD, is not part of the Muslim mindset. Yet, regrettably, it is a big part of the thinking of many Christians. 

Reducing the Gospel to a matter of personal salvation has been done to the detriment of many nations, not the least of which is the United States, where we are now experiencing the painful outcomes. 

We have brought it upon ourselves.

David Oliver, author of  Work: Prison of Place of Destiny relayed this to me: “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 so till this day.'”
[Photo of the Jamek Mosque, in Kuala Lumpur, by Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams (Earth), reprinted with permission.]