Monday, February 28, 2011

We're All Not OK

As a staff we are reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor or Yourself and for most of us it has been an eye-opening book.  The danger of being in ministry is that we get comfortable with the idea that we have the answers for serving the poor, but this book has a loving rebuke for everyone, whether you have been serving the poor for decades or if you have never done anything to help the poor in your life. 

I was struck by a quote from the book that emphasises our need to find humility before we can help others.  The authors write that we must approach serving the poor saying, "I'm not OK.  You're not OK.  But, Jesus can fix us both."   I was convicted by the premise that we, as mainstream American Christians, have a subconscious feeling that we have all the answers and that the poor need our great help.  The result is that we bring well-meaning but destructive condescension with our desires to serve the poor, which blinds us and degrades the poor. 

How many times have I looked at a homeless man, disheveled and without any teeth, and felt a pity that bordered on condescension?  I don't mean it to be so, but somewhere in the recesses of my heart I must believe that I have the answers to life that he does not for it happens more times than I would like to admit. 

The only way I can really serve the poor with a pure heart is to first acknowledge that I am an equally broken person, even if in different ways, and it is only the grace and mercy of Christ that has allowed any healing and blessing and prosperity in my life.

Pride that has weaseled and wiggled into the farthest recesses of our American Christian hearts can be difficult to eradicate.  We don't want it to be there, but the brokenness of our own culture has planted seeds of deception that took root even without our consent.  They must be sought and plucked out if we are to truly serve others as Christ asks of us.

I have to remember to preface every Christian act of service with "I'm not OK" before I ever point out that "You're not OK."  Which sounds bleak, until we add, "But Jesus can fix us both!"

Please check out When Helping Hurts.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Do You Value God or Safety?

You can not pursue God and pursue safety. 

If you studied cities in the Bible you would find that the first city was created in rebellion to God.  After killing Able, Cain was commanded to be a wanderer under the protection of the Lord.  But what did Cain do?  He built a city because he was afraid.  Babel was created because man believed in their own name and power.  God never intended for us to find our glory and our safety in something we could build.  Yet, the history of the world shows that we stubbornly pursue anything that allows us to feel secure apart from God. 

Personally I feel that this has been the greatest downfall of America.  What happens when you are lulled into feeling safe by your own design?  You lose your edge, you forget your passion, you become puffed up, ignorant consumers.  For all of our talk about education we are a shockingly ignorant nation who trusts in our perceived safety instead of God's. 

I've recently been thinking a lot about this because there are some individuals who refuse to come to our home or to World Impact because of their perceived lack of safety.  There are others who have opinions about the people in our community that may be well meaning but are completely ignorant of truth. 

I can't help but feel a little offended when people say things about my neighborhood and neighbors that are founded in ignorance and ungodly fear.  I do not judge the initial fear or ignorance, the feeling that this community may be very unfamiliar and therefore scary or wrong, but I do judge an unwillingness to understand or expose yourself to something outside the walls of your own "city of safety."

Each of us have our own "city of safety."  It might be education, or a house in the suburbs, or church, or a house in the country, or a job, or money.  None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but when we run to these for a feeling of security we have run from God. 

My challenge to myself and also to you, is to seek God to the point that it makes us uncomfortable.  Is there any area of your life that makes you feel like you must cling to God in order to manage or lean on Him to give you new eyes of understanding?  If not, you may need to evaluate what you are pursuing.

I am reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis' The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where when talking about Aslan the Beavers say to the children:
"Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good."
The plans God has for each of us are not safe by worldly standards.  We should not seek to avoid the things we fear, or teach our children ignorance and prejudice by example.  But, we can know that God, while asking us to go to places that test our faith, will always do so with love and goodness in mind not only for us, but also for the whole world.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More Wizardly Wisdom from Middle-earth

I both laughed and felt an empathetic connection to Frodo's situation when I read this passage of The Fellowship of the Ring.  Frodo is fearing what may be asked of him, still trying to figure out ways that he will not have to go on the full journey to destroy the Ring, and he complains to Gandalf:
'I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring!  Why did it come to me?  Why was I chosen?'
'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf.  'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate.  But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'
I can imagine Frodo thinking, thanks, Gandalf, for those rousing words of encouragement.  On the other hand, if Frodo is going to accomplish the things that lie ahead he will have to have an honest self-awareness and sheer determination.  He wasn't chosen because he was mighty and wise, but because he knew his limitations but had enough integrity to go ahead and do what must be done even when he knew it was a job well outside his credentials.

We live in a generation where everyone tells you, You're awesome!  You're amazing!  You're a Rock Star!  We have a lot of young people that believe there is something magically different and special about themselves and when that imagined magic does not translate into smooth success in world domination there is disillusionment and defeat.  And, in the mean time we have a lot of self-absorbed and ineffective people running around.

What if, instead, we told each other the truth?  God made you and loves you and has a purpose for you.  You have been chosen for a particular piece of Kingdom building, but not because you are more powerful and wise and amazing than anyone else, but because God has equipped you with just enough strength and heart and wits that if you rely on Him, and the people He puts around you, you can get the job done.

If we told each other that, if we told our children that, I think we'd have a different world.  I think we'd stop worrying about proving our Rock Star status and focus more on getting things done.  We'd have more humility and honesty and a willingness to dig in and do the hard work necessary to build God's Kingdom.

So, if you feel like you have an impossibly large task looming in front of you, let me be the first to give you some Gandalf wisdom:  Friend, there's no telling why God chose you for this task.  You don't have amazing powers and skills and you aren't a Rock Star.  But, you have a God who equipped you with just enough sense and strength and heart to cling for dear life to the only One who will carry you through to victory.  So, journey on because even though you yourself aren't awesome and amazing God is and He can use you to do some pretty amazing things for His glory.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wisdom from a Hobit and Wizard

I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Recently Andrew and I re watched the three movies and I was reminded of the power and depth of the story.  I decided to read the books, since, ashamedly, I never had. 

You know something is good literature when you can read about a hobit's conversation with a wizard in The Shire of Middle-earth, and feel that you completely identify.  Towards the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo is just getting a hint of what it will mean to be the bearer of the ring, Gandalf tells him about the dark and evil times that have come upon Middle-earth. 
'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.
'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.'
I felt for a moment that I was Frodo.  Life can be so hard sometimes.  Ministry in the inner city can be difficult and mind-numbingly overwhelming.  The world is full of distressing realities.  Sometimes I feel too small for the task and wish that these were not challenges for our time.  But, that's not a new feeling.  The world has been full of terrible realities since Adam and Eve succumbed to the lies of the Serpent.  And since then many overwhelmed and reluctant people have had to face each day with the resolve to do whatever it takes and risk it all to adequately meet the needs of their time.

I think if Frodo had really known what was to come he could never have found the courage to make the journey, but he mustered up just enough strength to do what he had to for that day.  I think God, in His mercy, only asks us to focus on meeting the challenges He sets before us each day.  And, little by little, if we are faithful, we will not be able to believe the things we have accomplished.

We can't choose the challenges presented to us, but we can choose to find just enough resolve to make a difference today and through God's grace we may be able to change the world.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February Update

Dear Family and Friends,
As an entire month of the new year has already surged past us we have begun to plan in earnest for the next year of ministry. With so few staff we are having to think strategically and creatively about what God would have us do. It can be uncomfortable to evaluate the status quo, but often God uses these challenges to shake things up, reprioritize our activities, and move us in new directions.

We have watched our High School and Adult Basketball outreaches flourish as nearly 400 youth and adults have attended this past year and had opportunities to hear the Gospel. We were thrilled to see several of the youth and adults attend a new Bible study we started on Thursday nights. Attendance has fluctuated some but we are beginning to identify young men who truly are hungry for the Word of God. We pray that God increases their numbers and brings these individuals to faith in Him.

As a national and local ministry we feel God calling us to an even more intensive focus on the discipleship of indigenous leaders. At the end of 2010 we identified specific people that we see as potential Christian leaders in our community and are committing to pray that God would begin to open their eyes to the Gospel and/or develop in them a passion to follow Christ in their families and community. We ask that you join us in prayer for these individuals. If you would like to pray specifically for them and for other needs as they come up please email us and we will email you updated prayer lists throughout the year.

We are also praying for the advancement of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) here in St. Louis. We will soon have a new site coordinator who will help expand our presence in the city and the number of classes we can offer. God is doing amazing things through TUMI internationally and we know that He will continue to use this incredible ministry tool to raise up Godly leaders here in North St. Louis.

Thank you for your continued prayers, faithful encouragement and support.

For His Kingdom,
Andrew and Adria Medlen

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Aspiring to Adequacy

I tend to think of "adequate" as the ring around the center of a target:  hitting it will get the job done but you're not going to WOW anyone doing it.  I think adequate is average and who really wants to be average?  Whether logical or not, I feel shame associated with this word, as if I would be a failure should something I do be deemed as "adequate."  It seems the enemy of great.

Yet, in a recent sermon, my view on "adequate" was completely destroyed and it has left me rethinking everything.  The pastor used the movie The King's Speech as an illustration.  This movie is about King George VI (Bertie, as his family and friends call him).  He is suddenly crowned king of England and must overcome a terrible speech impediment to bolster his country's confidence through an inspirational speech as they are on the brink of war.  He is more than reluctant to take the throne but we watch as he begins to find his voice, with the help of an eccentric speech therapist, and is ultimately able to deliver the speech his country needs. 

Bertie had no aspirations of greatness; in fact he never wanted to be king.  His abilities had been diminished in his own eyes as well as others because of his severe stutter and, in fact, his wildest hope would be that he could somehow merely be enough for his family and country.  But he faces the challenge and meets his country's need and becomes a better man for it. 

One of the pastor's points was that instead of shooting for being hip or relevant or the next best thing, we should focus on being adequate in a time of great need.  And I thought, isn't that the key to every great story of heroism?  The people who have achieved great things have done so reluctantly, aware of their shortcomings, but tenaciously sought to be adequate in a time of great need because, really, what else was there to do?  History was changed because people like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.and Frodo Baggins (Hey, mythical history matters too) just took whatever need was in front of them and gave everything they had to be part of the solution.

Working in the city can be overwhelming.  The needs are all around us.  In fact, more times than not I feel my own inadequacy like a weight around my neck.  If I'm honest, it would be exciting to think about writing a best-selling book about inner-city ministry.  It's not as exciting to wake up and go to a funeral for a young man who was killed, hug a girl who has been sexually assaulted, accept hospitality when it means sitting on a couch that smells like urine, work on homework with a child who has been a victim of a terrible education, plan a fundraiser for monumental theft damages....

I think we can all agree that we live in a time of great need:  families are broken and hurting; people are dying from hunger, malaria, and aids; children are orphaned; neighbors suffer loneliness.  In perspective it seems absurd that we would try to aim at anything above adequate, because to be adequate in these hard times means being more than we could ever be in and of ourselves.  Really, it would be a miracle of a merciful God to adequately meet all those needs.

In the last few weeks I'm finding myself aspiring to adequacy and realizing how often I fall short of it.  To be adequate in the face of tremendous need is a goal that has unlimited potential for growth.  It is not glorious or exciting, it can be grueling and demanding, but if more of us asked God to make us adequate for the challenges of each day we could change the world.  There truly is no shame in adequacy, only faithfulness and perseverance and an unabashed reliance on the strength of the only One who was and is and ever will be great.