SOBE

I’ve just been through a 6-week business intensive that we call the SOBE, School of Business and Entrepreneurship.  Technically I was staffing the course, but the truth is that I was there to learn.  We had 13 students from around the world, who each gave a 10-minute presentation of their business plan to a “shark tank” as their final exam.

We had phenomenal speakers every week; a collection of local businessmen who are embracing missions alongside us, as well as speakers from around the world who are very connected to the missional aspect of their businesses.  They were all brilliant, and gave generously of their time and expertise.

I heard so many things I don’t ever want to forget.  Here are a few of them.

As Christians, we usually divide our work and activities into sacred or secular.  We think a missionary or a pastor does sacred work, while a lawyer or business owner does secular work.  What if we are all called, as believers, to full-time ministry in our field?  It might be farming land, trading stocks or representing clients in a courtroom.  When God made Adam in the Garden of Eden, He “took the man and put him into the garden to cultivate it and to keep it.”  Genesis 2:15  We were created to work; what if this is our daily worship?  It reminded me of a quote I read a long time ago, when I was first introduced to the idea that God did not set up a secular/sacred divide in our work.  If money and trade and business were His idea, why would He not be right in the middle of it?

Peeling potatoes was more essential for Brother Lawrence’s spiritual growth than attending the evening prayer service because Brother Lawrence recognized that God was there in the kitchen as much as he was in the chapel.  -Andrew Spencer

I was especially delighted with the thought that when God made mankind on earth and gave us the mandate to cultivate it, He had hidden in the earth all the raw materials we need to create boats and cars and computers and fidget spinners.  Not only that, He hid in humans the intelligence to figure out how to make this stuff, trade it, ship it, and then how to manage it.  The business of creating products and services was all God’s brilliant idea to help us thrive on the earth.

I learned about what BAM (Business as Mission) is, and what it is not.  It is not business for missions, nor is it business to cover up the mission, as in restricted-access countries.  BAM refers to for-profit, sustainable businesses reflecting the kingdom of God in their mission and values, including these four bottom lines:

  1. Economic Profitability
  2. Social Impact
  3. Environmental Impact
  4. Spiritual Transformation

I believe Jesus is the answer to our soul’s greatest needs, but suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?  James 2

Lots of kind-hearted people have been touched by the plight of the poor in developing countries, and were moved to give from their abundance.  When I lived abroad, I was on the receiving end of containers from the USA, filled with clothes, shoes, food, all manner of donated items to help the poor.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that this creates a cycle of dependency that hurts the local economy, besides the psychological and spiritual difficulties this dependence creates in a society.

I now see that BAM brings beautiful answers to the problems of the poverty cycle.  One of our teachers in the SOBE has started a business in a country where desperate poverty has caused many women and children to be sold into the sex industry.  His business supplies a living wage for men and women to provide for their families with dignity, in an environment that champions them as valuable children of God.

In the past, Hj and I worked with several ministries that were fighting sex trafficking and prostitution.  The biggest struggle these ministries faced was trying to find viable jobs for women who sincerely wanted to leave, but felt that prostitution was the only means by which they could afford a house and food for their families.  BAM addresses these needs, through spiritual discipleship as well as restoring hope and dignity through jobs.

This isn’t just for developing nations.  As a school, we took a field trip to Denver to visit several businesses practicing BAM.  We saw a coffee roasting company that employs homeless young people, as well as a connected coffee shop that does the same.  We visited a discount building supply store and cabinet shop that employs men and women transitioning out of homelessness or prison.  In traditional business, I’m sure these are the people you don’t employ, but that’s the beauty and irony of the upside-down kingdom Jesus taught.  I asked the owner how hard it is to employ people that the rest of the world tends to marginalize, and his answer really surprised me.  “It’s really not hard at all.  They’re motivated to work!”  We joined them in a lunchtime Bible study the day we were there. I found it so inspiring to see firsthand the way God is transforming individual lives and society through these businesses.

 

So, that’s [some of] what I learned in the SOBE.

“There is no understanding of any domain or dominion without understanding its design and purpose before sin and the fall. We were not made for sin. Sin happened, so God must and we must deal with it. But we do not have governance, science, education, family, business, beauty and the arts, communication because we are fallen from God’s ideal. We do not have nations and cultures because, after sin, there was no other way we could be ruled. We have all of these arenas of life because we are created in the image of God and they are all part of revealing Him. They are all ways in which we know, see and worship God. Our work, creating communities that reflect who God is, is our worship now and forever.”  Landa L. Cope

 

 

 

 

Honesty

Awhile back, I spent the weekend with a few other moms.  I was inspired, encouraged, and reminded that there is an army of amazing moms out there raising the next civilization.  These moms are intentional, thoughtful, gracious women who care about their families, who love God and are making a huge impact in our culture.  They want to raise healthy kids who are wise and kind, who will make good choices and lead fruitful lives.

Of course I’m aware that this is a big, eternal responsibility– raising children.  I want to do it well; I want to be intentional and I want our kids to thrive, to love Jesus, to make kingdom impacts wherever they go.  But sometimes I start worrying about doing it all correctly so that they’ll turn out right in the end, like a long division problem.  I soon start treating them like that– a problem to solve and fix.

My friend told me recently, “There are no secrets in families.”  I was telling her how I struggle to know how to introduce my children to Jesus, because I have an aversion to the Sunday school cartoon that’s been watered down to a kind historical figure.  My friend was reassuring me that even if I don’t say all the words right, what I truly believe is going to be revealed to my children, if you can call that reassuring.

To be honest, this realization made me lay down the parenting books and get counseling– for myself.  I want to know that what I believe is pure and true and righteous, because that’s what is going to be exposed to my children, if it hasn’t already.  I can say that I believe God is good, but if I complain about His gifts or His ways, do I actually believe He is good?  Opening my heart very, very honestly to a few friends has helped me discover the differences between what I say I believe and what I actually believe.

What if, instead of worrying about how to teach my children that God loves us, I live loved?  What if they believe it because my life has taught them that, on boring days and through dark valleys and on shining mountaintops?  At the end of the day, they will reject or embrace what they have been shown.  But at least I want to know that what they have been shown is pure and true and righteous.

I’m so grateful for encouragement from other moms, for parenting books and mommy blogs and inspiring examples.  I love teaching my children, a little every day.  However, my faith doesn’t hang on my ability to communicate everything perfectly, to set the best rules, to always make the wisest decisions, to follow new, wonderful ideas.  That would be a lot of pressure on me; pressure that would make me overwhelmed and frustrated.

Every day, I learn more about God as my Father and me, His daughter.  I’m in the middle of being a kid myself– I know how it feels to be corrected and forgiven and loved without limits.  I want my kids to go to sleep believing the same thing I believe when my head hits the pillow: I was loved and delighted in today, and I’m confident tomorrow will be the same.

Vulnerability

I don’t know why such uncomfortable things come into fashion, like high heels and skinny jeans– and vulnerability.  It seems vulnerability is all the rage right now and to be honest, I find it so uncomfortable.  Talking about it is easy enough.  It’s the part where you actually get vulnerable and bare your heart that can make me uncomfortable. Doesn’t the word itself sound a bit naked?

I’ve always tried to be a little bit real, but not too real.  I was told it’s dangerous to focus on being real because you end up excusing sin in the name of “just being real.”  You know what I mean?

Recently, Hj and I went with our dear friends to this marriage intensive in California.  We were assigned to a table with three other couples for the week.  At each meal, we took turns sharing our spiritual journey, according to how the Spirit led us.  Monday at dinnertime, it was our turn.

We sat around the table at a funky little Mexican restaurant with these three other couples and Hj started sharing as soon as the chips and salsa came.  He had prayed and heard from God what to share and what not to share.  There was nothing on the “not to share” list.  Hj went for it– he shared it all.

The food wasn’t good.  I cried and wept.  (But not so much about the food.)  And I was thinking, “God, is it really necessary to be so very, very open about everything?”  They listened, and asked questions, and told their own stories.  They heaped rich prayers and prophecies on us.

A few hours later, after I had snotted up a big mountain of tissues with my issues, I looked up into the kindest faces I had ever seen.  “I can’t believe I met you guys this morning,” I said.  They knew the worst of us and yet they saw the best in us.  They heard our struggle and they weren’t afraid.  They felt our shame and they didn’t run away.

 

Brené Brown says in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be really seen.  I wonder, why do I fight that?  Why do I cling to facades and “shoulds”?  What makes me fear letting go of expectations and just being truthful?  I’m talking about the little stuff too; the quirks and emotions that make me unique but I feel obligated to hide them because……?  Why?

We fear disconnection, Brené says, which is a simple definition of shame.  We’re ashamed of our true selves.  “If people knew certain things about me, would I still be worthy of connection?”  Hj and I plumbed the depths of that question that Monday night at dinner, and we came back with a resounding YES.  Those couples didn’t cut us off; they showed us that we would always be loved and belong, not because of the good things we have done, but because God the Father said we are worth it.  When He sent Jesus for us, He declared our worth.  If a painting sells for $2,000 it’s because someone saw that worth in it, not because the canvas and the paint actually cost that much.  When Father said He’ll pay for us with Jesus, He made it clear we were worth that much to Him, not because that is what a curator would actually have seen in us.  This is where our deep sense of belonging and worth are born, I believe.  We somehow know we matter, even though we technically don’t.

I like to think about where that resounding YES leads.  If I carry in my heart the truth that no matter what anyone knows or doesn’t know about me, I am still worthy of love and connection, where will that lead me?  I would love to find out.  I imagine it is a place of deep surrender, where there is only truth.  I imagine it leads to fearless connection in relationships, risks and agape love.  I know it leads to deep, deep, deep gratitude that the God of the universe took time to bend down, pick up a grain of sand, and say, “This one’s mine.”

This is where I am on my journey with God, as I am getting to know Him more deeply and He is getting to deeper parts of me.  I pray you are finding Him just as kind on your own journey.

He has risen!

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We have found our church, and Sunday we went.  We were dead tired from being up all night but we love this church so much that we rarely miss a chance to go.
When it was time for the sermon, our pastor declared it time to pray for those who need healing in their bodies, souls, or spirits.  I perked up, since I had just told Hj I would like to have someone pray for my arthritis in my knee.  I’ve had it for about 5 years, but recently it’s been getting worse fast and I wasn’t sure how to manage the pain anymore.
An usher delivered a little white paper to the front, and the pastor announced that someone received a word of knowledge from the Lord that this is the day to pray for knees, hips and legs.  I perked up a little more, and I squeezed Hj’s hand ‘real good,’ because they said “knees.”
I raised my hand when they said to raise your hand if you wanted prayer.  A little girl came over to pray for me, except that she is the associate pastor’s wife and she has three kids (she looks nice and young).  Jesus came to me too and He got right in my face, with a pretty strong message.  If you have ever had those blazing eyes of fire right in your face, you will know what I’m saying: never the same.  
I heard the pastor asking if anyone received immediate healing and I remembered my knee.  I grabbed it to check, and I was so stunned because the lumps were gone, the pain was gone, the loud popping and tearing noises were gone.  I had tangible evidence in my hands, but my brain kept saying: “probably a fluke,”  “I’m imagining,” “the pain will come back.”
I don’t know what God counts as faith, but I don’t have much.  I don’t naturally believe the best.  I don’t hope all things, endure all things or believe all things.  I’m struggling through the Bible this year, because I have such a hard time believing all those crazy tales.  My heart has been crying, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!  I want to believe You are good.  I want to see Your glory.”
This week we received gut-wrenching news.  Terrorists at the airports, again?  Please, no.  A young widow and baby girl trying to breathe through an unspeakable loss.  Jesus, where are You?  Babies murdered, slaves abused, believers tortured.  I am tempted to wonder why He wasted His power on my silly knee and failed to rescue those innocent lives.  I don’t understand.
I don’t have to understand.  All I know is that God is always, always good.  Like a cloud by day and fire by night, the covenant that He established with me is heavy on my heart.  No matter what is behind me or what is before me, my feet are on the rock that cannot be shaken: “God is unfailingly good.”

Happy Birthday

Dear Isaac,
I’ve been thinking so much about you, reaching deep down for all the memories I have of our friendship.  Sometimes thinking about you feels like trying to catch a shadow, because your absence seems more real than your presence.  Sometimes thinking about you is like a rainy day, because death can feel so gray and the clouds can hang so low and heavy on our hearts, and the rain, of course.  But today, thinking about you is like watching my favorite movie and I am cherishing every memory I have of you, the conversations I can replay in my mind; pause and rewind.
You were a good friend to lots of us, and we all knew a different angle of you.  I know you were funny and so adventurous, passionate and brave.  But I got a glimpse of your quieter, deeper side when we were wrestling doubts and crises of our faith.  We were both desperate for truth.  We ached for something real.  We had the freedom to argue about God.  We swapped books.  We even tried to run from Him, but we couldn’t get away from all those questions and nagging possibilities.  That’s the good thing about us skeptics: we want it so badly to be true, that we can’t just let it go.  We talked and wondered and dreamed about God; could He really be unfailingly good?

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There are all these little scenes tucked away in my memories.

I’m on the phone with you, reading to you from a book that’s just convinced me that Christianity is legitimate, and I’m driving in my green VW.  I’m excited, like “I really think this is it!  I’m pretty sure it’s what we’ve been searching for!”  You’re quiet and polite, always polite.
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It’s late at night, Kate and I are hanging out in the basement.  You burst in the door and your face is so bright.  Your heart is light and your joy is contagious.  “I did it.  I surrendered everything to God.”   I know how awkward those words can feel, stammering off a skeptic’s tongue.  You’re not just saying that.  You promise to give me the book that helped you admit your unbelief and embrace the cry, “Lord, I believe.”
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We’re having lunch at Outback, swapping good news, good stories, good faith.  You ask personal questions, the healthy kind that make me stop and think.  We talk a lot about the Bible, airing our mysteries and misgivings.  You apologize that it’s Valentine’s Day, you didn’t know.  We laugh; it’s all good.  You’re so excited to be an uncle.  You’re so excited to go to Honduras.  We say goodbye, flippant and naive.
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Everything goes black for awhile, deathly silent, as we say.
The next scenes are watery and blurred, I can’t see much.  There are snippets from my journal and letters, as I’m groping through the dark and fog.

These days…..they have been bloody with spiritual warfare.  I say, God!  How am I supposed to fight?  Doesn’t He see that I am wounded?    It’s not just that I’m not in the mood to fight.  I am not able.  I can’t.  I have said to Him, No wonder Isaac doubted you.  Somehow losing Isaac didn’t make me feel like snuggling up in Father’s arms.  His struggles with God seem quite justified. Sometimes I think it gets harder with time, as reality sinks in.  There are no new memories.  It feels like a long separation.  It is not easy to keep on living without him.  I want to stop life on earth now too, since he got to.  It feels like I need his perspective right now.  I need him to help me deal with this, and remind me that God is not at fault.

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My turning point in this grief came when I agreed with God’s perspective.  It was actually Micah who said it.  He said, death is actually just a big step of Life.  It’s the end of Isaac’s body as we knew it, and that in itself is quite a lot to grapple with.  But what is keeping us from Isaac right now?  Certainly not God.  Only our darned bodies.  That’s it.  His spirit is the same.  He is not some completely different person now.  He didn’t start over as some tame, boring person we do not know.  He is still the same spirit; that has not died.  I go as far as to say he is still with us, but his body is gone.  I’m sure he would show us his new body if only we could see him with these fallen eyes.  I’m sorry we can’t, not until we surrender our old bodies too.  I am quite ready to be rid of this body.  It suddenly feels much less like the center of my world and much more like an itchy skin that needs a molt.

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When God saved Isaac, He reached into Himself for the means, for the life that would not die.  He ripped off a part of Himself and put it into Isaac.  That’s a comfort.

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In a beautiful paradox that only God could fashion, your death pushed me over the brink into true Life.  The bitter sting of the grave gave way to tasting the goodness of the Lord, for real.  I don’t understand it at all but I don’t have to anymore.  Over and over I have cried, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”
Isaac, I would love to have you over to my house tonight for birthday cake and ice cream, to hear your stories, what’s on your mind and in your heart.  And I would do my best to pry the truth out of you: what is He really, really like now that you’ve seen Him face to face?  Is He as good as we hoped?
Until the glass shatters and we too, see clearly, we miss you!
Love,
Joy

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Testimony time

IMG_2916A long time ago, I did a questionnaire to find out my intelligence (there are seven, according to the guy who wrote the book).  I was so disappointed to come out with a high intrapersonal intelligence.  Not to be confused with interpersonal intelligence, which has to do with being kind to humans, intrapersonal is when you know yourself real good.  Wikipedia says it better:

This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. This refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what one’s strengths/ weaknesses are, what makes one unique, being able to predict one’s own reactions/emotions.

I remember sitting in my TESOL class, so embarrassed by this silly intelligence test.  Some people are good at math, some people are good at sports, and some of us are good at ourselves!?  It’s not such a bad thing to know yourself, but look at all those other intelligences I missed out on!  It was a little awkward; nobody knew how to respond to my results, which is why I remember this test so well.  I’m still waiting for the courage to retake the test but…. I know myself too well.

Then I read a quote on Dorcas’ blog— a quote that cut me to the quick.

To air one’s opinions freely is to imply that the demand for them is brisk.  -E.B.White

When you have that intrapersonal intelligence I was talking about, you get a generous heaping of opinions right along with it.  Unfortunately for us, they are nothing but fun to sort through and air freely.  I am always amazed how many of them I collect, like little burrs in the meadow, whether I want them or not.  So many opinions, so much (intelligent!) introspection, so much wisdom to be shared.  Ask my husband.

What I’m saying is, I could write about myself for days.  Hopefully that is not a sin; the Apostle Paul did a bit of it in the good old Epistles, in my humble… opinion.  So from him I take my cue, and I will write a series of stories of myself, but I will label them “testimonies” because that’s the truth; I was just a witness.

I was inspired by a book I’m reading called A Life of Miracles: What One Ordinary Family Gained When They Gave Up Everything to Follow God.  And I was also inspired awhile back by Mrs. Smucker, who writes books too, but with funnier titles.  What I gather is that it is very valuable to write down your family’s stories, especially if you are interested in sowing seeds into the next generations.

I want to record the goodness of the Lord in our lives, stories and lessons we have grown from.  I will do my best to not let this be a license to air my opinions freely, but to honor a very real God, who has always gone above and beyond in our lives.  We don’t want to forget!

Oh, and I was also very inspired by this maskil (teaching song) of Asaph.  Why don’t you write down your family stories, weave a little teaching in, and have your musical husband write the tune?  Don’t forget the motions, for the kids.

1 My people, listen to my teaching;
    listen to what I say.
I will speak using stories;
    I will tell secret things from long ago.
We have heard them and known them
    by what our ancestors have told us.
We will not keep them from our children;
    we will tell those who come later
    about the praises of the Lord.
We will tell about his power
    and the miracles he has done.

Psalm 78:1-4, NCV