Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Question to Ask Is...

I read a quote last night in the book I'm reading (The Hole in Our Gospel, p.199) that I cannot get out of my head. I'm sharing it with anyone and everyone I've talked with today, starting at my 6am run with my sweet friend who let me vent for our first two miles!

Here it is, then let's chat:

Our Christian habit is to bewail the world's deteriorating standards with an air of rather self-righteous dismay. We criticize its violence, dishonesty, immorality, disregard for human life, and materialistic greed. "The world is going down the drain," we say with a shrug. But whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Let me put it like this. If the house is dark when nightfall comes, there is no sense in blaming the house; that is what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is "Where is the light?" Similarly, if the meat goes bad and becomes inedible, there is no sense in blaming the meat; that is what happens when bacteria are left alone to bread. The question to ask is "Where is the salt?" Just so, if society deteriorates and its standards decline until it becomes like a dark night or a stinking fish, there is no sense in blaming society; that is what happens when fallen men and women are left to themselves, and human selfishness is unchecked. The question to ask is "Where is the Church? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing our society?" It is sheer hypocrisy on our part to raise our eyebrows, shrug our shoulders, or wring our hands. The Lord Jesus told us to be the world's salt and light. If therefore darkness and rottenness abound, it is largely our fault and we must accept the blame. -- John Stott (emphasis mine).

It reminds me of a question my non-Christian friend asked me a couple of years ago -- she asked "If the government isn't going to help the poor and the needy, who is?" I actually paused after she asked me that and thought about my answer. After too much time, I answered with hesitation, "The Church?" Can you believe it? I didn't even believe my own answer.

I wish she would ask me that question again. I would have way more conviction and understanding in my answer. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is the church's responsibility, calling, and may I say privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the poor, the widows, the orphans, and anyone and everyone who does not have a relationship with Jesus. To anyone that has never been told or shown the saving grace and power of forgiveness in our Savior. Simply put, to our neighbors.

Over the past few months God has been opening my eyes and convicting my heart of the issues of the world and our city. I can say with confidence that I am well aware of the problem. I got it! With each chapter that I read in The Hole in Our Gospel or outreach event I participate in, the problem is evident. People are in great need and WE are the ones the with answer. We ARE the solution. But HOW do we get involved and make a difference? How can we start to climb this endless mountain of perceived hopelessness? The problem is clear. The answer? Not so much.

Have you heard of Skye Jethani? He was on WMBI this morning and he had an answer that my hungry soul has been searching for. Or at least he articulated what I think I've been trying to say. His response to the Church's involvement in our society was something like this. If you want to listen to the interview in its entirety, click here.

The Church is responding in one of two ways: The Church has and is losing cultural power and prominence. One side of the Church is sort of responding by throwing a tantrum. It's demanding that the culture still respect what the Bible says, Christian theology, and morality, without question. And when the culture doesn't respect it, when they want the Ten Commandments posted in public, or they don't agree with our ideas about sexuality or marriage, it just becomes a culture war. The other side of the Church, as seen sometimes it the younger generation of Christians, recognize that we are not going to win these battles simply by out powering or out scaring people, or getting people to the polls. Instead we need to influence more persuasively from the bottom up. By engaging in the culture, by engaging in the arts, engaging in politics and business, and education. And allow the Spirit of Christ in us and the callings and vocations in the world to work from the bottom up. And recognize that we no longer have a privileged position. And that's OK because Christ is still building His church, the Gospel will still go forward, and we don't have to be afraid and posture in our culture from a position of fear and anger. -- Skye Jethani (emphasis mine).

The question that I heard Skye asking is "How is the Church involved with our culture starting at the bottom?" Are we getting involved with local efforts to make a positive impact for the Gospel? Are we going out into the community and inviting people to church? Are we offering our time and gifts to minister to the poor and helpless? Are we offering ideas to our churches on how they can better outreach to the community? 

I'm asking myself these same questions and trusting God to lead the way. I feel like I've been saying this for some time and it won't be much longer before I start to reveal what it is God has been showing me and what could be next for the women of TMC. I ask that you pray with me...allow our hearts and hands to be open to what it is God has in store for us. And let's be sure we are asking the right questions.

Taking a deep breath,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Love in Action

I had an incredible experience the other night. I've been getting to know some women from another church, New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park and they invited me to join them on their Friday night ministry called "Rose of Sharon." A group of women meet every Friday night and drive the streets to hand out roses to women they see out and about. They target different neighborhoods throughout Chicago, but they focus on the neighborhoods with a high volume of prostitutes. 

When they asked me to join them, I gladly accepted but acknowledged my reservations -- I wasn't sure what to expect nor was I sure I would be any help to this team. What would I say to a woman in prostitution? Would she and I be able to connect on any level? Would I have the boldness needed to strike up a conversation? I'll have to admit that at first I was thinking "Pretty Woman" but as we got closer to the date of our meeting, I started to sense it would be nothing like Pretty Woman. In fact, I was praying God would prepare me for the unthinkable so that I wouldn't be too shocked by what I saw.

I brought three TMC women with me on this adventure because I wanted to learn together and debrief afterward. We arrived at New Life around 9pm...Starbucks in hand because we were nearing my bedtime! After some prayer time, we prepared the roses. Each rose had its thorns removed and attached was a business card with information about New Life Covenant Church and the Chicago Dream Center. They gave us a quick demonstration of what happens when they approach a woman with a rose. It was something to this effect: 

 "Hi, how are you? Can I give you this rose? I want you to have it as an expression of God's love for you...He thinks the world of you. Attached is a card about the church we are with and information about our Chicago Dream Center. Maybe you know someone who needs help...a fresh start or a better life. If so, let them know that they can come to the Center anytime for anything." Then the volunteer would ask for the woman's name and if we could pray for her.

At first, I wondered how this would really go. Would women really accept a rose and prayer? And if she was "working" would we be a distraction? Is this at all dangerous?

Now that we had prayed for the night, prepared the roses, it was time to go. We piled all 15 of us into a van. I tried to take note of where we were going just to keep my bearings...and it wasn't far. Just a few blocks west and a few block south and we arrived in what seemed like another land. However, one of my TMC girlfriends commented that we just a few blocks from where she lives. AH-HA moment number one: a lot happens on the streets of Chicago, not far from where we live our lives, that I'm unaware of. 

We were divided up in to teams of 3 or 4 with a group captain. After 10 or 15 minutes of circling a few blocks, someone yelled out "Team One!! Go! There is a woman on that corner...go, go!" Thankfully I was not on team one so I stayed in my seat and watched with wide eyes. Three woman, including one of the TMC girls, jumped out of the van and sort of jogged over to the woman on the street corner. It was clear that she was a prostitute, and I had no idea how this was going to go down. But to my amazement, she accepted the rose. And as the conversation proceeded, I eventually saw all four women bow their heads in prayer. WOW! Right there in the middle of the night, on a very dark street corner, four woman were praying to God. AH-HA moment number two: when the Bible speaks of Light piercing the darkness, it is literal. Not only did I see God's Light penetrate this dark moment, it was almost as if I could see His Light touching the soul of this precious woman. I didn't see her as a prostitute, I saw her as a broken woman clinging to any beam of hope that was offered to her. After the prayed, she hugged each one of the volunteers, clutched her rose, and walked on. The entire ordeal was less then 10 minutes. 

The night carried on similar to that except not every women we encountered was "dressed" or "looked" like a prostitute. I realized that this ministry reaches out to women who are walking the streets late at night in an unsafe environment. Some of them could have been "working" or some not. We saw many disturbing things -- children that were clearly up past their bed time, pimps or AKA the boss, intoxication, liquor store activity that made me really nervous, and more. But one thing remained the same...just about each woman accepted our rose and offer of prayer. She would give her name, hold our hands, and even share a prayer request. 

AH-HA moment number three: we don't have to travel to foreign countries to bring the good news to the poor, offer hope to the oppressed, and help set the captives free. We can travel to Madison and Pulaski at 11pm at night.  As dark as some of these encounters felt, the Bright Light of the Gospel was able to make a difference. I'm not sure if any of the women we met will ever follow up and attend New Life or visit the Chicago Dream Center. But I witnessed seeds being planted. I was reminded of just how empowering the Gospel is and how hopeful prayer is. And I was especially struck by how quickly women can form a bond...I sensed these women believed us when we said we just wanted them to know how valuable they were and that we cared for them. 

This night was for me an example of love in action. As 1 John challenges us, "We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands" (2:3) The Greatest Commandment of God is to (1) Love Him and (2) Love others. Tim Keller defines love as the "Commitment, action, and self-sacrificing necessary to make people great, build them up into all God intends them to be..." Think of that definition toward the women who are out roaming the streets, some of the working, perhaps selling their bodies to make ends meet, and picture what WE are doing to make them are WE building them up to all God intends them to be? Our job, Christian women, is to put Love in Action.

We've been invited to go back and join this team as much as we'd like. I hope we can put another group together and do it again as well as find other ways we can reach out. Be in prayer with me and let's see what God has in store for us.

With love,

Friday, July 8, 2011

There is a Time for Everything, Even Detours.

People told me this would happen...I'd be on a blog role and then hit a wall. I guess you could say that happened. It's been almost one month since I last blogged. But hear me when I say it's not because I haven't had anything to write; I think you could say I hit a detour. The purpose of this blog is to talk about issues that the women of Moody Church would find interesting, inspiring, challenging, etc. All with the intention to bring God glory and deepen our walks with Jesus. Usually I share something from my personal life that ties in to the blog theme -- this post is no exception. It appears that God has wired me to be an open book and embrace vulnerability. Someone shared a phrase with me back in my college days that sums up what I'm getting at: honesty leads to intimacy; intimacy lead to power; power leads to victory.

So, in effort to remain true to myself, I feel led to share with you a little bit of what I've been through in the last month. It was exactly four weeks ago today that I began to miscarry at 7 1/2 weeks pregnant. If you have ever experienced a miscarriage of your own, my heart aches with you. It was the most unnatural, backward transition I had been through. Nothing about it seemed right and just when I thought I was "finished" miscarrying, it would just get worse. That was something I had never known about miscarriages -- they can last for days. Some women have to have a surgical procedure done and maybe that ends the miscarriage sooner, I'm not sure. But in my case, it lasted for 10 days. I won't share any more physical details then that because that's not my point...instead, I'd like to try to articulate what I learned from the most difficult trial I have been through to date.

When I started to realize what was happening, my instincts kicked in and told me that the only way I would make it through such an unfamiliar journey was to trust God. Immediately Anthony and I looked at one another square in the eye and said "God is in this." We reminded each other that we didn't have control but we knew that God did. If this was His plan for us, we accept it. This mind set surely didn't make things easier for us, but I believe it guarded our hearts from going down a road of doubt and believing lies Satan would want to throw at us.

As much as I didn't want to talk about it, I made myself. I knew that the people who loved me would be God's instruments in providing me comfort, support and encouragement. Two best friends from Texas jumped on a plane and flew to Chicago to be by side so that I could cry at the drop of a hat, if I chose to do so (and I did!) and not feel like I was crazy! Others sent cards and emails. I was overwhelmed -- God was near to me in a dark hour. He heightened my senses... I felt His presence is every song I sang, I heard His voice when praying and seeking answers, the words of Scripture seemed to flow like music off the page and into my heart. One particular passage that sang to me was Eccl. 3:1-8:

1 There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace. 

I think it is safe to say that we do have a peace from the Lord about this experience and we're praying about what the future looks like. I find myself feeling fearful about being pregnant again and I'm working on submitting that fear and doubt to God. I learned that many, many women have experienced a miscarriage and the feeling of loss never really goes away completely. One woman lost her baby around 7 weeks like me  30+ years ago, and as she was loving on me, I could see the pain was still very real in her own eyes.

I think I felt compelled to write about my own experience because I trust that God is using this difficult time in my life for His glory. And it is my passion that women understand that we are not alone in life. Whether your difficult journey is related to mine or completely different, it is God's plan that we are all here for one another. If we don't share our struggles and difficulties with one another, how can we be there for each other? If it weren't for my unbelievable precious friends and family, I'm not sure we would have had such a sweet residue stem from such a dark time. It's ironic, I feel so loved from others because I lost something that I loved so much. And as the song goes, you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

I pray that the lessons learned through this experience stick with me. I say it all the time, and now believe it more than ever: God has a purpose in everything. Though we felt like we were in a dark and lonely place at times, the blessings in our life served as our flashlight to find our way again. If difficult times are needed to know God in a more intimate way, I'll take the trials every time.

Filled with peace,