Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brought Together to be Sent Out

This past weekend church planters from California, Colorado, Texas, and Kansas converged at our World Impact ministry hub in Wichita for our 2nd Annual Christ the Victor Conference. It was an honor to serve them through a weekend of training, encouragement, and vision-casting!

During the conference, I looked around the room at this relatively small gathering of diverse men and women drawn together by the Holy Spirit and a common goal, and I felt an overwhelming conviction that we haven't even begun to see what the Lord will do through this movement of churches.

They are a serious, fun-loving, brave, humble, competent, bold, and passionate group of men and women who are willing to pour themselves out as an offering in some of the most difficult communities around.

The most dangerous neighborhoods in their cities? They want them for Christ. 

Brothers and sisters in prison? They plan to shepherd them.

Individuals in bondage to addiction, brokenness, and poverty? They share their life and Christ's love with them.

During one of our sessions about the mission of the Christ the Victor Movement (CTV), a staff member shared about the grandness of God's vision for the world's redemption. He said, "He wants it all, so we want it all!" I can't think of a better summary of the heart of these leaders and the desire of our missionary staff as we work to equip and empower urban church planting!

This CTV family was brought together this weekend to be sent out again, renewed and empowered. Jesus Christ is the Victor. He is victorious over every form of darkness and bondage and barrier. Our cities need to hear this message of hope and this is precisely the message that these urban leaders speak to their churches and neighborhoods. May God's kingdom continue to advance in the city and to him be all the glory!

(World Impact staff and conference attendees)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lives Matter

Life has been at the epicenter of current events these days—who gets to live and what the state of their life should be is bantered around on social media like an abstract topic. I have struggled with how and when to weigh in, feeling the burden of silence and responsibility of speaking out. What do you say when all day it seems like people are saying everything and nothing?

Recently a friend and inner-city pastor said something that inspired and challenged me. He said that we must continue to fight evil and stand against the devil, but we must always position ourselves to be for people.

Those words have lodged in my heart and mind and I’ve been processing how it would change the world if we truly operated from a place that was for people—how it would change our conversations if we took a stand against evil, but were for people.

This is not an easy task. I hear the counter argument rising, “But, people….” I hear that. I struggle with that too. There certainly are people carrying out evil in the world. It’s hard not to watch the Planned Parenthood exposé videos and not feel disgust towards people. It’s hard not to read about a member of Isis murdering innocent lives and not feel hatred.  It’s hard to see another African-American life lost in a confrontation with the police and not want to wield blame like a sledgehammer. But the Bible makes it clear that our battle is not to be against people, our fight is against spiritual forces of evil.

In all of Jesus’ and the apostles’ ministry it is made clear that people matter to God. Lives matter to Christ and his followers. What would it look like if we, as Christians, decided to be for people? What if we acknowledged them all as important—not by lumping them all together and blithely saying “all lives matter,” but by looking each person in the eye, listening to them, caring about them, sharing their burden, and saying you matter. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He didn’t just say “Everyone is important to me,” he looked up in a tree and called Zacchaeus by name and went to his house. When you acknowledge the worth of a person it’s hard to just walk away. It’s hard to shush them, to judge them, to hate them.

It is challenging to be for people. It gets messy and complicated and it requires a lot from us, but it’s what Jesus modeled. It will require us to provide solutions for women seeking abortions, to listen to our African-American brothers and sisters as they express grief and anger and to work for justice where there is obvious inequality. It will require that we serve and love people who live lifestyles we don’t agree with.  It will require us to stand for truth in love. Being for people means we pray against spiritual forces and pray for those who are oppressed and those who are in bondage because each of their lives matters to God.

Black lives matter. Police lives matter. Baby lives matter. Pregnant women’s lives matter. LGBT lives matter. Impoverished lives matter. Orphan lives matter. Felons’ lives matter. Muslim lives matter…. Your life matters.

Being for people means we are willing to see people where they are, call them by name and declare their specific worth. We have to be willing to go to their house and listen to their stories and carry their burdens. 

After all, it’s what Jesus did. Why would we think we should do anything different?

When God Calls Our Sons and Daughters

     Most of us are willing to sacrifice for the Lord, but asking our children to sacrifice can be a different story. When my husband and I first answered God’s call to be urban missionaries we were not even married yet. Fresh out of college the difficulties and unknowns of living in the city seemed like a challenging adventure. I vividly remember seeing my first drive-by shooting. No one was hurt, which made the experience surreal and exciting in a macabre sort of way. After years in the city the frequent gunfire heard on the block was aimed at people we know and love, or fired by people we know and love, and the sobering reality set in. Still, when it is just you and your husband that have to drop to the floor as someone shoots a shotgun in front of your house it does not seem like God is asking too much of you.

     Then we adopted our oldest son. I remember the moment when I first really acknowledged what we were asking of him as a missionary kid in the inner city. We were sitting on our front porch when a man cut through our side yard from the alley. We noticed him carrying a large handgun, its metal darkly reflecting the sun Time seemed to slow down. Carefully, I pulled my son into my lap, not wanting to make any sudden moves, as the man’s gaze was lazered in on our neighbor sitting across the street. My husband stood up and calmly spoke to the man, his words echoing the deterring motions of his hands. Suddenly the man realized he was not alone in our yard, and the noise drew our neighbor’s attention. Things flooded back into real-time motion and I took the opportunity to hurry my son inside the house. It was a tense few moments as we all waited, in our own ways, to see what would happen next. Thankfully the man turned and jogged back the way he came but it did not change the fact that we had been a moment away from a very bad situation.

     No parent wants their children in harm’s way, just ask every mama and grandmamma on our block. While many people feel trapped into life in the city, we chose to move here. I chose to put my children in an environment that is fraught with challenges. That can weigh heavily on a parent’s heart. It is more than just physical danger. My son will have to make sacrifices living in the city and the mother in me battles guilt over this. His neighborhood friendships will look much different than other children his age. At six years old he has heard the full gamut of “naughty” words and already wrestles with the things he sees from day to day. My boys will be missionary kids in the city, moving around and not having access to the same kinds of opportunities and privileges as their suburban counterparts.

     My family has been incredibly blessed by our years in the city through deep friendships and warm community. It has been a privilege to be immersed in a culture not our own and to be welcomed and loved. My boys will be shaped by cross-cultural ministry and service to the poor and neglected, which I pray will give them eyes that see God’s freeing grace and unconditional love in ways they would not otherwise experience, but it does not come without sacrifice. Following the path of the cross is exactly where I want to be, but sometimes I struggle when it means bringing my kids along.

     The question becomes then, how much is too much to ask of our children in the name of Christ? I think the specific answer is different for every family, but as parents who follow Christ we should look to the examples of parents in the Bible like Abraham, Hannah, Mary and Joseph, and even God the Father. Each had children who were placed in situations that demanded sacrifice. Each had children they offered to God’s purposes without reservation and, even in the hardest and darkest sacrifices, their children, as well as the parents, were blessed for their faithfulness.

     We have made safety and comfort and access to all the best opportunities gods of our culture, particularly when it comes to raising our children. My husband and I have certainly been questioned for our decision to live and serve in the inner city. Even now, nine months after our second son was born, I too sometimes question the life we have asked our sons to live. Yet, even in the moments of doubt, one thing has not wavered—the calling Jesus has laid on our hearts to live out the love and victory of Jesus Christ in some of the most broken and hurting neighborhoods in America. And so, I have to let go of my need to control and acknowledge that my sons are part of God’s mission for our family. He is calling them, not me.

    In spite of what our culture tells us, Jesus has not asked our family to seek comfort and safety. There will be many challenges raising boys in the city, most of which we have yet to encounter. I know there will be days when I ask the Lord if he is really calling them, even as very young men, to stand in the gap for the lost. Regardless of where our family’s journey following Christ leads, I pray that I will be faithful to lead my children in a life that takes up the cross for Jesus’ name, because, with God, it was a boy who stood against Goliath and a young girl who gave birth to the Messiah. When we answer God’s call on our lives and bring our children with us, God can and will use our sons and daughters to advance his Kingdom.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

4th in the City

Since moving to the city almost 10 years ago (14 years for Andrew), the 4th of July has become one of our favorite holidays. It's not the fireworks or the barbeque or the patriotism that makes it special for our family, although, those are all nice things. Celebrating the 4th in the city, with all its excitement and community, has come to represent so much of what we love about our urban neighborhoods.

It is one of the best days of the year to get to know people because everyone's family and friends mingle with everyone else's family and friends as the excitement spills from the front yards to the streets. The smell of barbeque intertwines with the smoke from firecrackers, a tantalizing hint of things to come as a parade of bouncing red, white, and blue beads on the end of little girls' braids begin the percussion of the night.

Sharing sparklers and small talk with neighbors and exchanging names and barbeque makes the night fun as well as an important ministry experience. As night falls, the boom and crackle of fireworks fill the air and continue on until long after you want to be asleep.  However, as we try to drift off to sleep, well after midnight, we will embrace the pops and flashes through our bedroom window for the inroads to new relationships and Kingdom opportunities.

Sometimes difficult things also happen that remind us why the Lord is working to free and heal lives in the city. Excitement can turn volatile as parties go late into the night, but even in these moments there are opportunities to be part of our neighbors' lives in deeper ways.

It is these things that make the 4th of July one of our favorite holidays. And now, Andrew and I love that we can celebrate these things as a family as we introduce our sons to the experience. I don't think I've missed a 4th in the city since moving to North St. Louis so many years ago and I hope that never changes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Selma and Samwise: The Importance of Telling Each Other the Truth

Recently we were finally able to watch the movie Selma. We've been waiting and waiting for it to be available on Amazon (since we have a baby, which means, we are basically socially and culturally reclusive).

Although I might not place it in the "great" category, it was well worth the wait and as with most movies addressing deep and thought provoking topics, it put me in a contemplative mood. One thing I kept contemplating throughout the movie, oddly enough, was how much it reminded me of Frodo and Samwise from The Lord of the Rings.

This didn't happen to anyone else? No? OK, well, let me explain.

One of the beautiful things about the movie Selma was how it brought into focus the many strong and faithful people who stood with Dr. King. These men and women, his closest friends and co-laborers, walked with him in the face of impossible things and spoke truth to him in the darkest hours. Dr. King had incredible personal resolve and vision, but this movie peeled back the outer layer and showed him being lifted up by faithful brothers and sisters around him speaking the truth of Scripture and character when situations were most bleak, encouraging him to keep moving forward, even if only inch by inch. It was in this that I saw the characters of Frodo and Samwise on their impossible journey. Frodo was chosen as the ring bearer, but he never would have completed his mission if it had not been for the faithful, encouraging, and truth-speaking Samwise.

Selma made me remember all over again how important it is to tell each other the truth. The world can be dark and discouraging. The devil makes use of the seclusion of our thoughts to bring doubt and defeat to our hearts and minds, but the Lord has given us the Body of Christ to combat this. There is power when we speak truth to each other. Somehow the hope seems real when Samwise tells an exhausted and defeated Frodo that things aren't really so bad. Even when you're walking into an onslaught, when you are walking shoulder to shoulder with someone fear seems smaller and hope greater.

While watching Selma I was in awe of the strength of people, the nobility of enduring, and the courage of sacrifice made possible when people tell each other the truth and stand firm together. It made me think carefully about the voices I listen to when faced with challenges and forced me to contemplate the words that I speak to myself and to others.

Because, the journey is not over yet. There is so much to be done in the world. Be someone's Samwise. Listen to your own Samwise. It may just be the thing that God uses to beat back the darkness and reveal His victory in the world.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Medlen Family Update

God is on the move! The Lord is bringing opportunity after opportunity to our ministry team to partner with passionate urban leaders in the Midwest region. Through The Urban Ministry Institute, SIAFU, Christ the Victor Church planting and other initiatives we are expanding our reach into new cities.

Our family has recently been presented with the opportunity to work more intensively with our new World Impact location in Topeka, Kansas (Andrew's going back to his roots!). Over the next six to twelve months we are being deployed to Topeka, and several other cities with potential for ministry expansion.

Since this deployment will not be long-term and with Topeka only being two hours away, Wichita will remain our home base but we will be living in Topeka part time in the coming months. This is a new experience for us and even though trying to figure out all the details is a little overwhelming, we are very excited to set out on this adventure in expanding God's Kingdom.

Once we are able to secure temporary housing in Topeka we will be able to begin our deployment in earnest. Part of our assignment will be to assist our new World Impact location in setting up the administrative systems needed to be well supported and resourced. They already have an amazing network there and God is doing wonderful things through the leaders in their community. We will be assisting in strategic projects and events as well. 

This is going to be a great opportunity to learn from everything the Lord has been building through leaders in Topeka and lend a hand of assistance where it is needed. These lessons and strategies will be important for future deployments and work that we will also be doing in Kansas City in the coming months.

In addition to continuing SIAFU and prison work, we are excited to be partnering with two men in Topeka who want to plant CTV churches! We will be coming along side them and helping to equip them and support them as they begin their endeavors. 

We will also be continuing some of our roles here in Wichita, so the next few months will be an experiment in figuring out all the details of living and working in two places!!

We ask for your prayers for our family as we launch into this new assignment. There are still a lot of details to work out, particularly housing. Pray that the Lord would give us wisdom in ministry and with our family. Pray with us that our time in Topeka (and beyond) is fruitful and that God would use us to serve and bless these leaders. We pray that the Lord would continue to advance His kingdom in our region and we are humbled and blessed to be a small part of it.

Topeka, Kansas

Monday, May 4, 2015

Christ, The True Vine

This week's lectionary text is John 15:1-8

I Am the True Vine, Jesus says.

Vines are plants that have a growth habit of trailing or climbing stems. While remaining rooted in the ground by the vine, the stems/branches are able to grow and expand over large areas very quickly. The vine itself is anchored in the roots, these serve as the conduit for nutrients to flow through the plant. The vine is also a storage reserve of energy for the branches as it grows and spreads. 

Jesus is the vine, the life-giving center. We are the branches. Only the branches that are connected to the vine are healthy and growing and have the chance to bear fruit. 

Jesus also says that his father is the vinedresser. God the Father sees those who are not bearing fruit and takes them away. Have you ever tried to clean up vines on any of your property? The stems and branches grow intertwined and different vines grow together. If you try to tear them out you end up with what seems like a never-ending tangle. It gets worse if you're actually trying to save some of the vines and clear out the rest! Where does one end and the other begin? Sometimes a branch on a vine can even be severed from the vine but it is caught in the other branches and looks like it is still attached until time goes by and you notice that it isn't flowering like the other branches and it's dying.

Often times people's lives can be like this. They can intertwine their lives with things that look like Christ. From a cursory glance they look to be planted on the vine. But it becomes obvious when the rest of the vine is beginning to show fruit that these other ones aren't connected to the life-source. Jesus says that the Father sees this and he takes these branches away and they are destroyed. There will be a time when they cannot hide in the appearance of being a Christ-follower and they will be removed.

You'd think that's maybe the end of the work for the vinedresser. He's removed the dead branches, his work must be done! But it's not. The branches without fruit aren't the only ones that require attention. Jesus says that branches that bear fruit are pruned, so that they can bear even more fruit. In this way, pruning isn't an act of discipline (as sometimes we are tempted to see it), so much as an act of cultivation. 

Grapevines usually only produce fruit on shoots that came from buds that were developed during the previous growing season. So, one of the principles behind pruning the previous years growth includes shoots that have turned hard and woody during the winter. These branches will be pruned either into a cane which will support 8 to 15 buds or to a smaller spur which holds 2 to 3 buds.

Just like the grapevine, we can't rely on past growth. We may look like we're growing to an untrained passerby but the Father, just like a trained gardener with a vine, sees what areas are unable to keep producing fruit and prunes it off.  We all have things in our lives that hinder our growth, things that God wants to prune. Sometimes it's outright sin. Sometimes it's just circumstances that might be clouding our vision or weighing us down.

I think sometimes there are seasons where the Lord prunes us down to a smaller spur (holding 2-3 buds). Maybe there is a whole lot in our lives than needs to go. I've had these seasons. It can feel like your whole world is coming apart, that you are losing things you didn't know you could possibly live without. You might even be tempted to question what in the world God was thinking allowing so much pain and loss. But it makes you cling to the True Vine and with all of the life-giving nutrients flooding into the concentrated area, soon new buds are forming.

Or maybe you're in a season where smaller and more precise cuts are needed and you are pruned into a cane (supporting 8-15 buds). But, even in seasons where the pruning is more limited and precise, it can be painful. It is the act of putting things to death in our lives that don't bear Christ-like fruit, which often can be as fun as it sounds!

But we are reminded over and over in Scripture that death brings life for those abiding in Christ. The good news is that even though this is hard, we are assured that while death for the branches that aren't connected to the vine is final, death for the branches that are part of the vine is an opportunity to display our resurrected life. Death for the resurrected isn't really death! And something I find encouraging from this image of the vine and branches is that when pruning is done correctly (as we know God always does) it actually has the ability to multiply the growth of that branch. It’s not that we just lose something and gain something in its place. Anything God prunes from our life will allow opportunity for even more fruit to grow than we were capable of before.

Being pruned is a necessary part of growth, but if we aren't also receiving life from the vine at all times, the potential for growth is lost. And so Jesus reminds us to abide in him...the True Vine...the life source. In fact Jesus makes a point about abiding in him 5 times in this very short passage. Almost to the point where I'm like, OK already, quit repeating yourself! Anyone who knows me knows that one of my pet peeves is the inefficiency of repetition--having to say it or hear it! But, Jesus doesn't repeat himself because he is inefficient. I think he repeats himself because he knows this is a concept that we have a hard time holding on to.

Intellectually it's not difficult to understand but it's so easy for us to lose sight of the bigger picture when life happens. And all of a sudden we aren't abiding in Christ—the vine— we're abiding in our own little branch. In times of pruning our fleshly reaction is to focus on the loss. It's easy to think, but, God, I had great plans to grow over in that direction, or, just give me a little more time, I planned to take care of that later. We focus on ourselves, defining ourselves by what we have or don't have and finding our self-worth in the way our branch used to be or the way we think it should be. When we SHOULD be focusing our energy on the vine, the place where our health and purpose flows from. When we focus on receiving Christ's life and energy and renewal in the things he has placed before us, exponential growth can happen. But this is something that doesn't come naturally to us, so we need to remind ourselves, sometimes every minute, to abide in Christ.

I know this is true for me. This is something I struggle with, even in this season of motherhood, and all the wonderful things that it brings, I still find myself focusing on the things God has pruned instead of the things that remain. I get caught up in the direction I thought I should have been growing. You know, the things I want to do in ministry or the way I want to be seen. Instead of looking to Christ in these times, I’m so guilty of focusing on my own little limb and the pruning shears that just lopped off something that was a little too dear to me and wailing WHHHYYYYYY???? When I find myself in these moments I need to remind myself AGAIN--abide in Christ.

While we are so inconsistent in living this out, Jesus is consistent on his end. He reminds us that when we abide in him, he abides in us. There is no question. We never have to worry that he won't provide everything we need to live fruitful lives with what remains. We only need to concern ourselves with remembering our place in the whole picture.

Jesus said I Am the True Vine. He is the source and life and purpose. We are the branches. When we draw our being from the Vine, we produce fruit in kind with the Vine. In all of the difficulties, challenges and complexities of life—it really is that simple. He is the vine. We are the branches.

When we abide in Him He will abide in us. And Jesus says we can be assured of two things when this happens: We will be known as his disciples and the Father will receive all the glory. And that’s really all my life should be about, reflecting Christ and bringing Glory to God.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Did You Ever Imagine?

Navigating our way through a sea of strollers after a long two days at the homeschool convention I looked at Andrew and said, "Did you ever imagine that one day you would be at a homeschool convention?"

I laughed when he said, "No way," because I felt the same way. I always loved having been homeschooled, but never thought I would pursue it with my own family. In my opinion, it just didn't suit my personality (most days, I am still of that opinion!), but a little over a year ago God started putting quiet and very obnoxious thoughts in my head that we should consider homeschooling. NOOOOOOO!

After a lot of prayer and discussion we decided to jump in and I was glad that I was jumping into the shallow end of the pool with Kindergarten since we were about to be parenting a newborn! We almost have a year under our belt and there have been a lot of overwhelming days. I still haven't figured out how to take care of an infant, do school, keep up with the laundry, and still be part of ministry without nearly losing my mind, but I suppose that's just life and motherhood, no matter what circumstances there are.

Yet, even with the hard days, there have been a lot of great things about homeschooling, things I was reminded of at the convention this weekend. It isn't a path for everyone and sometimes it can get a little lonely when you aren't surrounded with other people walking the same journey. It was great to be reminded of the reasons we have chosen to homeschool and be encouraged that we aren't alone in it! Here are a few reasons I was reminded of this weekend:

Homeschooling is a great way to practice discipleship with your kids. It certainly isn't the only way to do this but it does make it a little bit easier to be present for all the teachable moments in a day (even if sometimes the rate at which teachable moments come can make you want to lose your mind). The speakers and workshop leaders reminded us of this a lot this weekend. I really do love that we have the freedom to incorporate spiritual training, life experiences and ministry into our school day in ways that we wouldn't otherwise be able to. It's easy to lose sight of this when school is stuffed between loads of laundry and infant feedings, but it's there.

And then there is the fact that the homeschool community is family oriented. It isn't just family-friendly, it is shaped by and around families! There were kids everywhere at the conference. Babies were strapped on, slung on, and stuffed in carriers everywhere you turned. As a mom of an infant, who often is excluded from things because I have a baby in tow, it felt so nice to be a full member of the community. I've always loved that homeschooling is a diverse age environment, socialization isn't limited to peers.

Because of this, I love that everyone is a full member of the community in homeschooling. Youth were given important and visible roles in running the convention. Judah participated in the kid's program during the two days of the convention and the program was run almost entirely by 13-18 year olds (with 11 and 12 year-old helpers)! Youth also helped with conference registration and logistics, and introduced each workshop. The convention reminded me that children are capable of so much when we empower them along the way and walk along side them.

At the end of the conference, the kid's program did a presentation for the parents of the things they had been learning and doing. I was amazed at the how many verses and songs they had learned. Of course, my child was only singing and signing when he wasn't being distracted by the waving arms of his neighbors or when his mouth didn't need to be a beat box or when he wasn't practicing his disdain for personal space with the other children's faces, so who knows what he learned, but still.

As I watched the presentation and all these things were running through my mind I was so grateful for the opportunity to do this. Who knows what the future will hold or where and how the Lord will lead our family, but I tried to let go of the feelings of being overwhelmed and embrace gratefulness. Because, even though my wiggly, beat-boxing, six year old makes me want to tear my hair out, and finding just the right curriculum and figuring out lessons plans makes me crazy, it really is a blessing to be able to do what we are doing.

For however long this season is for our family, I am grateful that life doesn't always (if ever) turn out like you expect it to. For example, you might find yourself exhaustedly wading through a sea of strollers, laden down with babies and books at a homeschool convention...crazier things have happened.

Judah was so excited to meet Mr. Demme, the creator and instructor of Math U See (Judah's math curriculum).

This kid was a champ for two days straight...he needed to join some of the other babies and stretch out from time in his carrier!

Terrible quality photo, but we actually caught him doing some of the hand motions to the songs!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What the City is Teaching Me about Lent

Lent gives us an opportunity to refocus our lives as followers of Christ. It beckons us to once again be intentional about walking with Christ and to continually sacrifice ourselves and our earthly belongings on the alter before Him so that we may know even greater victory through His life.

Traditionally, for many of us, this includes the discipline of being without. We give up something that takes up a lot of our time and our passion, or something that offers us particular comfort. We fast from meat, or chocolate, or Facebook, or television and pour the time and passion gained from going without these things more intentionally into Christ. These can be beneficial sacrifices, and the Spirit can work mightily through these disciplines, but, too often, in our lives of excess and plenty, we relegate these lessons of dependence on and lowliness before Christ to this one season.

Lent isn't just a season, it is an attitude of frailty before our all-powerful King. It is the anticipation of His love and mercy to bring victory to our brokenness. Believers in the city, who know what it means to be be without, understand this in a deep way.

In a Lenten devotional called Journey to the Cross it says that during Lent "We want to shake up our lives significantly enough that when we reach out for our usual comforts and grasp a fistful of air, we are forced to cling to Christ." This describes life in the city for believers. It isn't something they have to do intentionally in the forty days before Easter, it is lived every day.

Life is chaotic in the city. Lives are shaken and comforts stripped away. Yet, it is here that I have seen some of the bravest examples of hands, that would otherwise be "grasping a fistful of air," clinging to beloved Jesus.

Have you ever thanked God just for waking you up? Over and over I have heard believers in the city utter this prayer and it humbles me every time. It comes from a heart of gratitude, humility, and trust. I have watched men and women trust God to make up the difference in their bank account when bills are due and understand deeply that they will surely turn back to alcohol or drugs or broken relationships if not for the saving power of their Messiah.

A Lenten heart realizes it was not awoken by its own power or for its own purposes. It recognizes its own frailty and, yet, boldly and prophetically declares the victory of Christ in all seasons, especially in times of want and need and brokenness. My experiences and friendships in the city these nine years have taught me so much about what it means to have a Lenten heart.

I have seen these Lenten hearts at work in the city -- grandmas raising their precious grandbabies on little energy and less money, friends wrapping loving arms around the mother of a child lost to violence, neighbors sharing a sparse pantry with a person in need, brothers declaring victory over addiction to a new believer -- they are emptied of self and worldly comforts, but full of trust in and anticipation for our victorious King.

May all of our hearts this season be awakened to this truth.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reborn to Fight for Freedom

Today I am grateful for the unique way that the Body of Christ has fought, and continues to fight, for freedom. I am thankful for the men and women of God throughout the years who have stood on the knowledge that we are all imprisoned in our humanness until Jesus set us free, and let that knowledge embolden them to do courageous things for Christ.

Today I want to take a moment to be thankful for those who have fought against oppression and prejudice, and to be challenged by their bravery.

Because men and women stood with Christ in the gap of injustice, my family was made possible.

Because men and women spoke out against mockery. slurs, and character assassination because of the color of someone' skin, my sons can be assured of their worth to one another, to our family, and to Christ.

Because men and women climbed on buses and endured brutal beatings to stand for equality, my family can grow in the comfort of our love for one another.

Because men and women chose non-violence as a way to embody the sacrificial love of Christ for ALL people, my sons will walk through life, hand-in-hand, as brothers.

Because men and women, like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lived out the truth that "greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13)," my family lives securely.

Because of the imperfect but bold faith of men and women like Dr. King, my sons know that they don't have to be perfect in order for Jesus to use them mightily for His Kingdom.

I am grateful for the victories won over injustice, but the fight must continue. As the Body of Christ, we must continue to stand in the gap for those who still feel the sting of prejudice and the oppression of injustice and poverty. There is not a gender, race, or socio-economic class that is outside the loving reach of Christ's victory and freedom...this is why we preach the Gospel to all people (and most importantly to ourselves). This is what we must live out, even on the hard days, even when the fight asks everything of us.

As people of Christ we were reborn to fight for freedom, serving the One who has all the victory. Jesus laid down his life so that we may be reconciled to God and set free from the oppression of our sin.

Church, let us stand with Christ and the men and women who make up our rich heritage, and boldly declare through our words and actions that we are a people of liberty and of life. Run to those who are suffering and perishing with the open arms of Christ. Live as living sacrifices, as those who have sacrificed before us, so that all people can know the freedom and security that we know through our Savior.