Friday, January 30, 2009

A Little Snippet for Greek Conference

I've been working this week on writing up a summary of my ministry experiences in Tri Delta for my friend Goodie, who is the Greek IV staffworker at U of R, to use in her talk at Greek Conference next weekend. It was such a neat exercise in recalling God's faithfulness over a four-year period that I thought I'd share it here.

I first learned about Greek Conference when I was in high school. A college youth leader (who is now my boss), told me about his amazing weekend with hundreds of Greek Christians in Indianapolis. “We stayed up all night and played worship music and prayed for our brothers,” he said excitedly. I knew right then that Greek ministry was something I wanted to be a part of.

So a month or so before I pledged Tri Delta, I met with Will (Richmond’s Greek staff at the time) to find out more about Greek IV. His words of sage Greek ministry wisdom? “Just rage at the lodges with your sisters, and go to beach week and live it up with them.” That seemed like strange advice to this sheltered church girl—rage at the lodges?! I was talking about Greek ministry, as in leading Bible studies, sharing my testimony, and inviting sisters to Greek conference. But Will’s advice turned out to be far wiser than I knew then. In hindsight, I can see that God had a much bigger plan for my sorority experience than reading the Bible with a group of sisters one night a week. I had a lot to learn.

There were certainly times when Greek ministry looked as I had expected it would: Ten or twelve girls—most of whom I was pretty sure didn’t know the Lord—showing up for Bible study on a Tuesday night. Four other Tri Delts attending Greek conference. A random sister asking me questions about my faith. But more frequently, ministry in Tri Delta looked a little more like Will had described: having the confidence to go out with my sisters when I knew I’d be the only one not drinking. Serving my chapter in offices that demanded more of my time and heart than I sometimes felt I had to give. Sharing a house at beach week with 20 wild pledge sisters and putting a few of them to bed at the end of each night. Spending hard earned babysitting money to go on spring break with girls I barely knew. And all of that just in my sophomore year!!

Junior year came and I studied abroad in Italy, giving me the opportunity to travel with sisters who were also abroad. We bonded over shared adventures, excitement over going back to Richmond, and the growing poundage taking up residence around our waists from basically eating our way through Europe. During the spring semester, I threw myself back into chapter life, holding a demanding office and trying to start up Bible study once again. I felt closer to my sisters than ever, only no one came to Bible study.

Most of the girls who had come the year before had graduated. Gone were the days of sisters meeting to share struggles, questions, and prayer requests. No longer was I seeing real transformation take place before my very eyes. I had sensed God so at work through that group sophomore year, and had even—quite unexpectedly—made one of my best friends and spiritual confidants. Now it was hard to see whether God was working at felt pretty lonely at times. In the midst of that discouragement, I learned to seize opportunities to get to know my sisters and be a part of their lives: Showing up at intramurals. Volunteering to do not-so-glamorous jobs. Studying with sisters or grabbing a quick meal with them during the week. Making 45 grilled cheeses for late night snacks at beach week. Embracing and just really LOVING Tri Delta.

By senior year, Tri Delt was my home on campus and my pledge sisters were some of my very best friends. Instead of struggling to find ways to be involved and to serve my sisters, now I had to really push myself to be bold in my witness, to refrain from gossiping, to be set apart without being judgmental. It’s tricky business, this being in the world but not of it!

One of my favorite stories of a time when—by God’s grace—I did share boldly, goes like this: A pledge sister I often bond with over our mutual love of baking in the sun had called to see if I would lay out with her on the Westhampton lawn. We rallied a few other girls for a lazy Friday afternoon. Only for me, it wasn’t so lazy because I had to outline a youth Bible study on the book of Judges for my summer internship at a church. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to hang out with sisters, but up against a deadline on the study, I lugged my massive study Bible (actually, I think it was Goodie’s Bible that I had borrowed!) and an equally huge commentary out to the lawn. I guess I looked pretty conspicuous, because within minutes, an exchange student from the UK whom we didn’t know was quizzing me about my beliefs. As I shared with him my reasons for trusting in Christ, my pledge sister, a self-proclaimed atheist, piped up and said, “You should listen to this girl; God works in her life!” She then recalled for this random guy (and our other pledge sisters who were hanging out) numerous situations in which I had waited on the Lord, and He had worked mightily in my life. I was blown away!

This is what so thrills me about the Christian life—that God is so very kind to let us in on His working in the world. Jesus calls himself the light of the world in John 8:12, but in Matthew 5:14 he says that WE are the light of the world! Best of all, He lets us partner with Him in being light while we are still such a mess! I am humbled and amazed that even in the midst of my pride, my fear, my selfish ambition, and my indifference, God called me to a dark place and said, “Here. You be the light.” But I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase, The Message: “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our very ordinary lives” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

A few months removed from college life, I hope that my sisters notice the sweet Message contained in the clay pot of my very ordinary life. When we G-chat during the workday, meet up for homecoming (or the let’s-pretend-we’re-still-in-college spring break trip we’d like to take), send out e-mail chains about the latest Richmond Tri Delta news, visit each other in various cities, etc., I hope that Christ’s brightness is impossible to miss! I’m trusting that Greek ministry is STILL taking place, even though I’m far away from my sisters. Because you see, it’s really not just about a Bible study, but about raging on the dance floor with your sisters (or brothers), a way of life that blazes through the darkness.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Prodigal Father and His Less-than-loving Sons

I just love it when I learn of a great author or teacher, and then start hearing about him or her everywhere I turn. Tim Keller has been like that for me recently.

Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, made an appearance at a local church last night to talk about his new book, The Prodigal God. Listening to him speak from an overflow room (the church was literally packed out), I was easily persuaded that far more than promoting book sales, this man's heart was to see Christians live in such a way that their faith would be attractive to the world. I'm not talking about seeker-sensitive services or programs, but about real heart-change that is contagious. I was convicted and encouraged beyond belief.

Keller's new book is called The Prodigal God. I had heard before (in a sermon at my church in Richmond) that prodigal means "recklessly or wastefully extravagant; lavish." Of course the adjective could very well refer to the story's younger son, who indeed spent his father's wealth wastefully. But a second glance reveals that it is the father who is most reckless with his wealth and his love. Therefore, the parable would be better titled "The Prodigal Father." (Keep in mind, of course, that the headings in our Bibles were not part of the Divinely inspired writings, but rather an addition of editors who compiled the Canon centuries later.)

Explaining the application of the parable, Keller said that the rebellious Christian (the younger brother, who skipped town with his inheritance) and the legalist (the older brother who stuck around and did the right thing) sit in the same pew at church on Sundays...and unfortunately "both sons want the Father's things and not the Father." As Keller put it, one brother tries to be good and one is rebellious, but both are "outside of the feast." And at the end of the story, it's the bad boy who is saved while the good boy is so proud of his good works that he refuses to come into the feast. Keller pleaded with the audience to learn from the illustration of the older brother, who is too proud and too bitter to have compassion over his lost brother. To be a true older brother, he said, "you've got to be humbled to the dust but know that you're loved to the sky!"

This parable, meant to indict the Pharisees (and now us!) as "older brother" types isn't the only place in the New Testament where where we see the distinction between the rebellious son and the legalist. We see the Pharisee contrasted with the tax collector and the harlot again and again throughout Jesus' ministry. It seems God loves to ransom the most hopeless cases! The way He does this, according to Keller, is by sending a true older brother, His Son Jesus, with whom we are co-heirs of the Kingdom (Romans 8:17).

Keller told the story of a man whose younger brother was lost in Vietnam during the war. The older brother flew to Vietnam and went out into the jungle in search of his lost brother, and both the U.S. and the Communist troops so respected his commitment to his family that they allowed him to search unharmed. He explained that the true older brother goes after his younger brother, and at his own expense! And surely we need an "older brother" who flies not just from the States to Vietnam, but from Heaven to earth. The only way we can be brought back into the family, to join the feast, is at His expense.

At the end of the story, when the younger brother returns, the father puts a robe and a ring on him. The ring, Keller said, can only be a signet ring, the marking of association with a certain family in ancient culture. So, the father is adopting this lost son back into his family. Obviously it's a perfect picture of God's extravagant, reckless love toward those of us to belong to him because He has adopted us as sons (Romans 8:23).

Oh that we might hear the Father say to us "My son (or daughter), you are always with me and everything I have is yours" (Luke 5:31) so that we may rejoice when a younger brother returns home!

*Keller's podcasts can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store, and you can listen to his defense of faith in God (an Authors@Google talk) on I haven't been able to locate a talk on the Prodigal God anywhere online, so let me know if you come across something!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Urge President Obama to Help End Slavery

Please add your name to IJM's letter urging our new president to act on behalf of the oppressed around the world. You can read the letter and add your name, as well as find out other steps you can take to influence the global pursuit of justice and freedom, on the justice campaigns page of IJM's website.

Monday, January 19, 2009

An Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies

Oh, that I had written the brilliant title for this post! But those are the words of the 18th century puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards.

I was reading this morning out of John Piper's newest devotional-style book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, a Christmas present from my parents, via my dad. The third entry is titled "The Lion and the Lamb," and in it, Piper discusses Jesus' diversity first as the lamb-like Lion as incarnate Christ--the Lion of Judah playing the part of the sacrificial lamb in order to absolve us our sins--and then as the lion-like Lamb standing in authority at the throne of God for eternity (Revelation 5:5-6).

Piper further discusses the diverse excellencies of Christ:

"We admire Christ for his transcendence, but even more because the transcendence of his greatness is mixed with submission to God. We marvel at him because his uncompromising justice is tempered with mercy. His majesty is sweetened by meekness. In his equality with God he has a deep reverence for God. Though he is worthy of all good, he was patient to suffer evil. His sovereign dominion over the world was clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission. He baffled the proud scribes with his wisdom, but was simple enough to be loved by children. He could still the storm with a word, but would not strike the Samaritans with lightning or take himself down from the cross."

Piper goes on to write that we love the diverse manhood of Jesus because we ourselves are full of dichotomy. But I think we can take that thesis a step further to say that imitating Christ (Ephesians 5:1), we are called to embody dichotomy in our spiritual lives, to be "an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies" through the power of the Spirit that resides within us. We must live out of both grace and truth, both justice and mercy, in the world even as we are citizens of another world. We are called to live boldly as coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) and humbly as those desperately in need of grace (Romans 12:3).

May the power of the Lion and the love of the Lamb make our faith in Christ unshakable. So deliver us from small dreams and timid ventures and halting plans. Embolden us. Strengthen us. Make us love with fierce and humble love.
--John Piper

Thursday, January 15, 2009

IJM featured in January 19 issue of The New Yorker

I received an e-mail from the International Justice Mission plugging an article recently published in The New Yorker. In it, writer Samantha Powers brilliantly investigates the work of IJM and the life of Gary Haugen, the mission's founder. The IJM staff is praying that the article will be a catalyst for their fund raising efforts, as well as a bridge-builder with The New Yorker's many secular readers, so I thought I'd do my part to help circulate it (to all four of you who read my blog). You can read the fascinating article (my only complaint is that the end is negative), as well as view pictures and Q&A with Haugen, on IJM's website.

I especially loved what Haugen told Powers about his formative time in South Africa--where he was imprisoned briefly for attending a multicultural church--after graduating college:

"What struck me was that in a country just utterly caged by fear--where whites were terrified, blacks were terrified, where anybody who tried to do the right thing was going to get crushed--I got to be with these Christians who had the most surprising absence of fear. They just did the right thing...I came to believe that they lived that way because they actually believed that what Jesus said was true. And I found that, to the extent that I acted as if I believed what Jesus said was true, I lived without fear."

Haugen, a former InterVarsity student, is the author of two books published by IV Press: Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World and Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian. He is also the co-author of Terrify No More: Young Girls Held Captive and the Daring Undercover Operation to Win Their Freedom.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blessed Is The Match

I was thrilled to log on to my computer at work this morning and see a link to the new documentary Blessed is the Match on Apple's website. This was the first I had heard of Hannah Senesh, a Hungarian Jew who escaped to Palestine and then courageously joined a team of parachuters into Eastern Europe to rescue oppressed Jews. The twenty-two-year-old poet helped to facilitate the only known outside rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust before she was executed at the hand of Nazi soldiers.

The documentary hits theaters on January 28th. You can watch the trailer here.

Corrie ten Boom, a Christian who concealed Jews in her home in Holland and was later sent to a concentration camp, was one of my earliest heroines (thanks to my mom, who rented The Hiding Place for me about a million times while I was growing up). Since taking a film-based course on the Holocaust at Richmond, I am even more addicted to these stories of courage and rescue. Below are some suggestions for additional viewing:

The Hiding Place, 1975 feature film
Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who coordinated the underground network that protected Jews in Holland during the Holocaust, wrote that "faith is like radar which sees through the fog--the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see." Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their father hid many Jews within their Haarlam home, the Beje. Corrie and her sister suffered in prison and later at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp. Betsie and Mr. ten Boom perished during their internment, but Corrie lived to tell the story and share the gospel around the world. When I was a little girl, my mom would urge me not to complain, reminding me that Corrie and Betsie found reason to praise God even for the lice in their barracks!

Weapons of the Spirit, 1989 documentary
Producer and editor Pierre Sauvage has called what happened in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France--the rescue of five thousand Jews by five thousand Huguenot Christians--"a conspiracy of goodness." In the documentary, Sauvage, who is himself a child Holocaust survivor rescued by the people of Le Chambon, interviews both Jews and Christians who have lived to tell the story. Sauvage probes the motives behind the courageous actions of this protestant community to better understhand the sparing of his own life and the lives of five thousand others. he commends the community, saying it was a people "uniquely committed to Jewish survival."

Schindler's List, 1993 feature film
Steven Spielberg directed this widely acclaimed story of the historic Oskar Schindler. Czech-born Schindler is a businessman in occupied Germany looking to get rich quick by hiding Jews to labor in his factory during the war. Through an unlikely chain of events, he inadvertently rescues more than one thousand Jews, and at the end of the war has a change of heart about his greed. The film closes with the actual descendants of the Jews Schindler concealed placing stones on his grave (a Jewish tradition to comfort family members of the deceased).

Amen, 2002 feature film
Greek-French filmmaker, Costa-Gavaras tells the story of the historical Kurt Gerstein, a German chemist who created the infamous chemical Zyklon B to solve water purification and sanitation problems throughout Germany. Gerstein, a man of strong Christian faith, is shocked to discover that the chemical he developed is being used to systematically exterminate the Jews. The film follows Gerstein on his quest to disclose the Nazi "final solution" to the rest of the western world. Along the way, he forms a friendship with a Catholic priest named Riccardo Fontana, who tries to use his father's Vatican ties to convince the Pope to act.