Not In Vain

Years ago as a pastor exhorted his audience to be more involved in the Church, he stated, "It's different for me because my job is ministry, but what ministry are you doing?"

 I quickly recoiled as I couldn't make what he was saying align with my experience. My job wasn't a "ministry job", but that didn't make my job not a ministry. My job put me into regular contact with non-believers who I strived to point to Christ. My job gave me the opportunity to represent Him through the work I did and the way I managed my team. While I wasn't paid to spend time in the Word or to tell others about Christ, it didn't mean that wasn't my responsibility. And it certainly didn't mean that I had to leave those things at the door when I walked into work. 

The truth of the matter is that I think more people need to consider their job a ministry, rather than less. This isn't to say that people shouldn't be involved in the Church, they should be; Scripture is explicit about that. But that's not the only place ministry occurs. And to think it is, gives us an excuse to shutter the eternal work that God may want to accomplish through our employment.  It reduces our usefulness, and makes how we spend a majority of our time, a vain and senseless exercise. God can use the plumber just as much as the preacher. What matters is not the title, but the offering. What matters is not the position, but Who the work is done for.

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Helping Hands

Earlier this year, Fast Company reported a surprising outcome of the economic downturn: more people were volunteering.  Perhaps this is understandable because as more people were out of work, they had greater opportunities to lend their now abundantly free time to causes that they deemed worthy. Interestingly, the category that had the highest percentage of volunteers was those who were engaged in some type of religious charitable work. More than any other option, when people chose to spend their time on helping, they choose to do so with an organization who's mission was not limited to this temporal life.

Perhaps the economic downturn was to blame for this as well. Perhaps, as times our tough, people want to invest their time in something that is of seemingly higher value. When I worked for a church curriculum publisher, we found that sales of Sunday School material went up when the economy went sour. Persummably the less people could count on money, the more willing they were to turn to God. 

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Give the People What They Want?

Recently, there was a mini firestorm online brought about by how a Christian conference was selecting its speakers. The conference organizers used a polling system in which respondents could vote "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" on any given nomination. Voters could also suggest their own speaker if they thought someone else would be better to listen to. (For more on the hoopla, visit here.

While the use of this new technology generated considerable interest for the conference organizers, what's really interesting is that we often face the less blatant version of this in every day Christian life. At least one other commentator has made the point that preachers, especially, are ranked and categorized and are given an often-hidden, thumbs up or thumbs down.  It's less blatant than an online polling system, but the gossip and evaluation are effective at the task nonetheless. Often this  has little to do with the substance and much to do with the individual's entertainment value.

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BAM!: Why Business Matters Again

Teaching at a Christian univeristy, it's not uncommon for someone to doubt the validity of a business school. I've written before about it here. People think business equals profit and greed, and for a Christian that must mean business is bad. However, suddenly business is hot again and that's because of this nifty little word called social entrepreneurship, which is also known as Business as Mission (BAM).

Social entrepreneurship is when a business uses for-profit means to accomplish a social good. This usually happens in one of two ways. A non-profit starts a for-profit enterprise and uses the proceeds to fund their philanthropic activities. Or a for-profit decides to put some of its business proceeds towards a good cause. An example of the first is the Salvation Army retail stores. An example of the second is Tom's Shoes, which donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every shoe that is sold. 

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Prolonged Silence

As some readers may know, I try to post a new column every Tuesday. Some of you, looking back on my blog roll, will realize that it's been quite a while since I've accomplished that task. The reason for this prolonged silence was the sudden and unexpected death of my father on April 8th. Words can't describe how life has changed since then, and quite obviously, my priorities have been someplace else. If you want to read about a bit about my journey, you can read about it here, here and here and my return to writing
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Stories vs. Statistics

It's just one life.

And yet as I look into the fact of a person that's dying, I realize the value of that one life.

As we both pray to your heavenly Father, speaking different languages, I recognize the beauty that He poured out in this life, even though her outside appearance has been destroyed by disease. 

As I look into the faces of her children, I know that her life mattered in a way that can never be calculated in the death rate statistics of Subsaharan Africa. 

I know the value of that life, because I know, at least in part, the story behind it.

It's a lesson I've never forgotten. First learned sitting on a stump in a village in Kenya, and carried with me back to America, as I think about the issues of the day - healthcare reform, immigration, international aid, I'm reminded of that lesson time and time again. So often we make our decisions in the aggregate. We compare statistics and chose the option that will cause the least damage or the most good. But in doing so, let us never forget that those decisions are impacting individuals lives. And when we stand before our Maker, it's the stories of the lives that we touched that we'll be called to give an account for, not the statistics. 

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When Outsourcing Changes Lives

Fast Company recently reported on the work of Samasource, a company that trains Sudanese and Somalian refugees that are currently residing in Kenya. The refugees are taught basic computer skills and are employed at a local computer center managed by CARE. Businesses from the US, then contract with the organization to complete computer tasks and in doing so pay them a wage ($2 a day) that is four times what they would be paid breaking rocks in a nearby quarry. $2 a day may not sound like much to us, but for these refugees it's changing their lives.

And this is an amazing thing. We've all read plenty about the damage that outsourcing can do, both to a domestic econcomy and when the outsourcing companies are unscrupulous with the way that they treat workers. In countries where worker protections are few, we can't overstate this concern. However, like with so many things, we have to be careful to not throw out the good with the bad. If we can better someone's life by training them with new skills, hiring them to perform productive work, and allow them to provide for themselves in ways that they previously thought were impossible, then shouldn't that be something that we celebrate? And shouldn't that be something that we actively seek to do?

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A Good Start

The January 2010 edition of Imprimis from Hillsdale college featured some surprising facts. In a speech given at the college, Adam Meyerson, president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, reported American gave over $300 billion to charity last year. Meyerson goes on to share the magnitude of this figure as it is twice what we spent on consumer electronics, three times the amount that's spent on gambling, and ten times the amount spent on professional sports. Truly what it comes to charity, Americans repeatedly and generously open their wallets.

And that's a good thing. It's significant to be a nation that can be counted of not only to give in times of despair but in "normal" times as well. In fact, it's good to be a nation that can be depended upon to open their wallets when disaster strikes.  However, while it's a good thing, it's not the only thing. Ask people what's harder - writing a check or investing in lives and most people will quickly agree it's the former. Sure, there are times when money is tight and giving up some of our hard-earned income seems monumental, but compare that with the cost of giving of ourselves and it's a no-brainer. Going the distance, literally or figuratively, and giving of our time, abilities, skills and experience is the true measure of our generosity. After all, our Savior's generosity is not only revealed in the gifts He gives, but also in the way He actively participates in our lives, and in the way He gave up His. 

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Christ & Culture

Recently, upon reading an article titled "International Development: Christian Reflections on Today's Competing Theory," I was struck by what perhaps thousands of people before me have come to learn; oftentimes in an attempt to intellectualize a subject, we forget the heart of it. Now, as a professor and a lifelong learner, I'm all about intellectual discussion, however, as Christians we can never be content to leave the discussion as mere theory when the lives of God's children are involved. What is the Christian response to competing international development theories? And more specifically, how does it impact that very practical business of helping those around the world? 

As with many questions of scholarly discussion, there are really two distinct camps.

Google & The Fight for Freedom

Several weeks ago, Google announced that because of a "highly sophisticated attack" on the e-mail accounts of Chinese dissidents, that the company would no longer filter Google search results in that country.  As search engines are required to agree to this stipulation in order to operate in China, many suspect that this will lead to Google's eventual withdrawal from the country. Because of the size of China's population (and what this means for Google's market share), Google's increasing entrance into other product markets (operating systems and cell phones), and the increasing importance of China as a world power, this announcement was almost entirely unexpected. And despite the view articulated in the Business Week article linked above, although there may be some business considerations for the decision, when Google announced the decision, the reasons articulated had nothing to do with profits, but were about people.

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Loving God's through loving His people across the globe. This blog will focus on issues of international development with a keen awareness that God says that we love Him providing food, shelter, and comfort to those who are in need.

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