(A message being given this week at the OPEN Expo in Raleigh)

My assignment is to explain to you how the B&T of B4T (business for transformation) are to be integrated.  I wish could say every B4T business in the OPEN Network was working perfectly and there’s no better place to invest your money than our businesses and there’s no finer way to invest your life than to start a B4T or coach a B4T.  I wish…

But life is messy and B4T is life. Real life.  OPEN is a network not an organization, so we have no staff, no real structure, no bank account, and the number of rules we have you can count on one hand.

Generally, in business and in the church and missions, our metrics tend to focus on our heads, our education and experiences. We prepare the head and we train the body.  In B4T it’s not just the head that matters — it’s the heart.  Yet who is experienced at training the heart?

So in doing business and striving to reach the community, OPEN workers are trying to integrate their lives and their work. B4Ters are blending together something that’s messy — life, with something that’s even messier, B4T.  Starting with the heart and working out is contrary to most models. No one, no organization, has a model that comes even close to what we sense God is telling us to do. We are doing something that’s never been done before. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. May tells me OPEN is Webster’s definition of chaos.

We all believe that God is Love. Yet in missions, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to define that love; trying put that love in a box so that we can package to easily give to others.  Paul often refers to faith being a mystery.  A mystery.  Fundamentally Jesus gives us only 2 rules
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

All the law and the prophets hang on these 2 commands? Love God – love one another.

Note Love is integral to both.  So the first principle for integrating the B with the T is Love.

Understand, core to Love is connection – community.  Love cannot be done solo.  Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love. Love gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Love, spreading it, is what B4T is all about.  By God’s love OPEN has formed a fairly large community of men and women who are living in the midst of chaos. Many have spouses who are really struggling with life. Some have children who don’t know where home is – America or overseas. These OPEN workers are all in.  They have skin in the game, and some even have nails in that skin. Nearly all have a job or own a business for which they have prepared years and are in 5 or 6 figures of business debt.  And because of these love issues, most of those close to them are telling them to quit and go home.  Their churches, their mission agencies (if they belong to one), don’t understand them.  Yet every single one of them has a clear calling from the God of Love to share that love with people who have yet to have an understanding of that love.  And so they stay, they labor on.  This love, this calling to love, is what leads to the T to becoming a reality in the communities they love.

The second thing we need to understand is the B.  Many a local overseas has told me the value of having a job. Have you ever been unemployed?  What’s it feel like?  Nobody wants your skills or education.  Nobody finds value in you.  Some may argue that food or water, or health care is most important.  True it is more important to sustain life, but I am talking about living, not sustaining. In my life I cannot recall anyone committing suicide because they could not get clean water or have a school for their children. Yet there’s been many who have given their lives for freedom, for the loss of job, like the Tunisian Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, who when the police took away his cart that he used for selling goods, burned himself to death leading to the launch of the Arab Spring.

We all agree that God created every human being on the planet and that God loves every human being on the planet.  I have come to 2 conclusions in my 60 years of life that every human being needs 2 things to live; 1) true love which is God’s love & 2) dignity from which springs hope and trust.

This is what OPEN workers are doing.  They have the courage to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. When the B & the T come together correctly, there is a willingness to love sacrificially without any guarantees.

OPEN workers have discovered that to build relationships they need to be naturally engaged with the people.  And they’ve learned there’s no better way to be engaged and give dignity than to offer a job. What they are doing takes a tremendous effort.  Though few would call it a sacrifice, the amount of work involved is many times overwhelming.  It takes a tremendous vulnerability. This weekend we will talk a lot about our core values, relationships, accountability, transparency and excellence and how everything we do is to be done with these things in mind, but in praying about this message last week, God got me thinking about vulnerability.

We – you and me, tend to numb vulnerability – like when we have to ask someone for help because we’re sick, or being turned down for a job, or getting laid off — this is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world.  Yet B4Ters do all this in another language, another culture, often with the government and the local people on the one hand loving the jobs they provide and the quality of their work, but on the other hand hating the message of love that we cannot separate from the workplace and our lives.

Sometimes, one of the ways we deal with vulnerability is we numb ourselves to it.

We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated generation in U.S. history. The problem is that we cannot selectively numb emotion. We can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb those hard feelings, without numbing the other affects to our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those bad things, we also numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness, we numb Love.

One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. To keep from being surprised, to prevent having to be vulnerable, we try to make everything that’s uncertain certain. We have best practices, business plans, ministry plans.  We’ve gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up. That’s it. And I am as guilty of it as anyone.

Is that the way Jesus would live?  Do business? We keep on sacrificing. We make our strategic plans. But a Business plan is not the answer. Sacrificing is not the solution either. The Scriptures are clear that whatever we do is do be done for God’s glory and God is Love.  Love means – dignity – hope – faith – life.

Love cannot be manufactured. Love is a relationship.  It’s not neat, it’s not orderly.  There are 4 steps 10 building blocks in B4T, but it’s hard and it’s messy. Integrating the B with the T is 2x the work, 2x the time, 2x the money, but what is often untold is it’s 2x the heart ache.

I’ve learned this in working with scores of OPEN workers and now that I am spending more time in the States I am seeing the same phenomena.  The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, then the more afraid we are. There’s little discussion. There’s a lot of blame. You know how blame is described. Brene Brown researcher at the University of Houston and author of 2 New York Times #1 best sellers defines blame as A way to discharge pain and discomfort.

We all want to be perfect. If there’s anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me, but I’ve learned it doesn’t work. In striving for perfection, not wanting to be week, we drive around and around rather than asking for directions.

And in our fear of vulnerability we strive to make those around us perfect. Our children. The nationals we work with. And even missionaries and B4T workers. Yet our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and I’m imperfect, but you are worthy of love and dignity.” That’s our job. To bring Jesus, to bring love – hope – dignity – life, that points to Jesus.

It’s a common human condition, none of us likes to be vulnerable.

This is what we are striving to build into the DNA of OPEN and B4T.  To practice the one another’s in the Bible; to encourage, sharpen one another so that we allow ourselves to be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love our wives, our kids, our co-workers our neighbors and most of all our Lord, with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee – no guarantee of success, no guarantee of gratitude being returned.

Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Job, all learned that in following God there’s no guarantee of success either is there?  Talk to us. We are going to be real.

Listen to these guys this weekend. Hear their hearts.  Tune in to their love for God, and their love for the people He’s assigned them to love. Hear their commitment, a commitment to work 80 hours a week in a language they speak as well as a 4 year old to bring love, to bring dignity, to a people without either.  This is our objective, this is integrating the B with the T.

PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.

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