Monday, November 19, 2012

Keep Calm and Suffer On

If there's anything we hate, it's suffering.  If there's anything I hate, it's suffering.  Our natural desire is to avoid pain.  Most of the pursuit of the modern world is comfort.  We would have a hard time identifying our actual needs, because they are regularly met and then forgotten in the unending sea of wants.

In late 1939, after the outbreak of war, the British government appointed the design of several morale-boosting posters.  Two of the three posters designed were published, the third was reserved in case Britain was invaded by Germany.  Under the image of the crown it read "Keep Calm and Carry On."  Presumably, the message being, Stay calm, the king remains...the kingdom brace yourself and keep on keepin' on.  Since there was no invasion, the poster was not widely seen by the public until an original copy was rediscovered in 2000.  Now there are "Keep Calm and Carry On" mugs, t-shirts, and phone covers, along with myriads of parodies on the phrase.  (Ironically, the message is printed on luxury items, the demand for which says something about our culture's idea of trials...but that's a discussion for another day.)

Even in the mad pursuit to free our lives of suffering, something about the message to "Keep Calm and Carry On" apparently resonates with us.  As Americans we aren't facing a military invasion but in the face of the day's trials we still like a reminder that life goes on, because we can't avoid it, suffering finds us.  The world seeks to manage the pain, minimize its impact and carry on with the pursuit of comfort.  The problem is that a pursuit of comfort leaves us walking out of step with our Savior, whose path led Him straight into suffering and death.

This year God has been teaching me a lot about suffering, some through personal experience, and a lot through the example of men and women of faith throughout history.  One day, while pondering suffering the "Keep Calm" slogan came to mind and I decided I'd add my adaptation of the phrase to the mix: "Keep Calm and Suffer On."  My interpretation being what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:12-14--
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of  Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Often, pain hits me and I first feel shock.  This can't be happening to me!  No one else is enduring such trials!   Yet, Peter tells me that the appropriate response is a calm knowledge that suffering is normal for followers of Christ!  It isn't strange and certainly shouldn't be unexpected.  Paraphrasing of course, he first says "Keep calm, this is normal."  Then he says something totally counter-intuitive, (again, paraphrasing), "Suffer on!  Embrace your suffering, knowing it brings you to experience the glory of God."  In other words, the King remains...the Kingdom remains...suffer with purpose, so that you may know Christ more fully.

If we're all being honest, this probably makes you as uncomfortable as it does me.  However, if Christ suffered, why should we think ourselves exempt?  Why should we want to be exempt?  The way of the cross is our calling.  It's what we signed up for.  Do not be shocked.  Do not get bitter.  Do not try to minimize the impact of suffering.  Embrace it, knowing that through perseverance your character and faith will grow. 

I'm currently reading a book called He Leadeth Me, written by a Jesuit priest who felt God call him to serve in Russia in the 1930s.  While pursuing this mission, in the midst of World War II, he was captured, held in solitary confinement and relentlessly interrogated for five years, then spent the next 18 years in a labor camp in Siberia.  Most of his experience was wrestling with the will of God and learning how to bring God glory and serve others in the face of suffering.  He writes, "Pain and suffering...become a means of...fostering peace and conformity to God's will, for they are seen as the continuation of Christ's purposeful, redemptive, healing acts by which the world is reconciled to the will of the Father." It is a challenging read.  But as I broaden my understanding of the world-wide Christian experience, I am realizing that the perceived safety and comfort of our American culture can, more often than not, distract us from our call to the cross. 

What are we willing to sacrifice for the pursuit of Christ?  Are we continuing Christ's passion to reconcile the world to our Father, no matter the cost?  There is no time to waste...lives are at stake.

Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, brace yourself, keep calm and suffer on.  It is for the glory of the One who paved the way for us and who shared in our suffering, even unto death.  The King remains and through Him we shall inherit the glories of heaven!  We were not made for this world, our comfort lies ahead of us.  May our suffering gain souls for eternity and press us to count "everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord. For his sake [we] have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that [we] may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Two Faithful Sams and a Bunch of Felons

It's easy to think the things we do every day make no difference. Rarely do we get to see more than the shallow footprints of where we have been.  It's other people, heroes of the faith, who see miraculous things, not normal folk like us.  But recently, I've been thinking a lot about how the "heroes of the faith" often didn't do one magnificent thing.  They walked faithfully and each day their footprints sunk deeper into the sand with the weight of their faith.  Each year, people followed their example and, pretty soon, the single set of footprints became the imprint of a movement...all because they were faithful and kept walking where God led.

Since we have started serving with TUMI this idea has been on my mind.  Much of what we do is missional in a theoretical sense.  We create resources and structures to facilitate the training of urban leaders for church planting movements, but this doesn't mean that we don't see first-hand God moving in amazing ways.  Recently, I was struck by the story of two men, who just by being faithful, have impacted the Kingdom in big ways...and TUMI has had the honor to participate.

Last week Warden Sam Cline came to visit TUMI and speak to World Impact staff about the prison in Hutchinson, Kansas.  It is truly amazing what God is doing there.  Through the simple, Christ-like belief that prisoners deserve dignity Warden Cline is changing prison culture.  The U.S. recidivism rate is over 60%, but because Warden Cline works to provide enrichment programs for his inmates, partners with godly business-owners to provide work for them, and takes every opportunity for Christ to be made known, the recidivism rate at Hutchinson is just over 30%.  Now, wardens all over the country are looking to Sam Cline, as a leader in prison reform.  All because he was faithful to the godly principle that every life is sacred to Christ...even the felon's.

Warden Cline is offering up an entire section of the prison to be used for the new TUMI satellite that will launch soon behind their bars.  Square footage is hard to come by in a prison, but Warden Cline believes strongly that God will change men's hearts and believes in TUMI's vision to train up indigenous leaders for Christ's church.

Warden Sam Cline believes in the vision of TUMI because another Sam was faithful even in less than ideal circumstances in his own life.  Due to a tragic, accidental event that led to the death of his wife, Sam found himself in Ellsworth prison (where Sam Cline was then warden).  Possessing a Master's degree from seminary and a Ph.D. in Agriculture, and a faithful Christian heart, Sam quickly began to use his academic skills and leadership to launch the first TUMI satellite in prison.  His leadership at The Advanced Studies Institute of the Inner Freedom Initiative of Prison Fellowship (in Ellsworth) served as the impetus for Prison Fellowship to begin their partnership with World Impact, through TUMI, and convinced Warden Cline of the importance of the training.

After his release Sam served as a mentor at our TUMI National Hope School of Ministry, and eventually took all his experience back to his home in Jos, Nigeria where he will partner with churches there to supply affordable Christian leadership education.  Sam's faithful footprints are sinking deep and drawing others to the pursuit of Christ, but it all started in prison.

Now, as a result of the partnership with Prison Fellowship, 423 prisoners are being trained to be pastors and Christian leaders, with an exponential growth poised on the horizon.  And, because of Warden Cline's faithfulness, other prisons are looking to walk in step with a man who follows Jesus.

The potential in the prisons leaves me in awe every time I think about it.  Wouldn't it be just like our God if He used a bunch of felons as the birth place of a revival in our country?  Isn't it just like our God to take leaders from gangs and the drug trade out of the temptations of the city, use the secular government to feed and house them, and use the Body of Christ to train them to one day be released back into the communities they had a hand in damaging and transform them for Christ?  Quite a seminary our God has set up for these men and women.

It is completely within the grace of our God to use felons, truly the "least of these" in societies eyes, and two ordinary but faithful Sams to bring spiritual revival to our land.  Let us pray for that, and let us pray that God make us faithful in our own lives as we lead others to walk in step with our Savior. one faithful step at a time.

In the words of Mother Teresa, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”  And that is all our Savior asks of us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm Thankful for: Adoption

It's National Adoption Month, and, obviously, our family has a vested interest in adoption.  It's also the month in which people spend a great deal of time making lists of the things they are thankful for.  I normally dislike anything "bandwagony" but seeing as how adoption is something for which I am truly grateful, and it being National Adoption Month and all, I thought it only appropriate to talk about it.

Being a family, you know, the ordinary things like laughing at strange inside jokes, eating dinner together, doing time-outs and bedtime routines, usually eclipses the fact that we are also an adoptive family.  But, that doesn't take away the significance adoption has for our family, or the beauty and challenge that comes with it.  Usually I spend my time laughing at my Little Man's crazy ways or trying not to go crazy from life with a strong-willed three-year-old, but sometimes moments overwhelm me with how grateful I am that God made a plan to bring our family together.  Here are some of the things I'm grateful for:
  1. I'm grateful to understand adoption from the perspective of an adoptive parent.  My son is as much my child as a birth child would be, and it helps me fathom how God feels about us and how important it is to have an identity in a heavenly family.
  2. I'm grateful that my son is no longer an orphan.  I don't think about this very often, because God has been so merciful to my son and placed him in situations where he was loved and cared for, even before God brought him to us, but he could have been like so many other orphans, who never find their forever-home.
  3. I'm grateful that adoption makes me see family in an entirely different way.  To me, family has broadened to include birth families, foster families, and those people who have committed their love to our family and my son in particular.  Sure there are headaches with more family (anyone with a big family can attest to that), but it is also wonderful to open your heart and expand your personal circle to include more lives!
  4. I'm grateful that transracial adoption makes me see the world differently.  It makes me experience, even if just a little bit, the prejudice that still exist in the world.  It forces me to think more compassionately, and contemplate what diversity really means and to understand that skin color really does make a difference to how you see the world.
  5. I'm grateful that God has given my son so many godly men as role models.  When you are raising a black son you realize, even more, how important this is.  God has placed strong godly men in his life, including men that share his skin color, and that blessing is not lost on me.
  6. Mostly, I'm grateful that God designs families...all kinds of families.  They are all beautiful and purposeful.  All families are meant to bear the glory and story of God, I'm just grateful that our family's uniqueness gives us an opportunity (and the responsibility) to more boldly declare it.
In this month, where we remember adoption, as well as what we are thankful for, take a moment and thank God that He doesn't need a nationally dedicated month to be reminded that we, His adopted children, are important.  And, pray for both spiritual and physical orphans to come to know the love of a forever family.