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To be a friend where there are few

To be a friend where there are few

 

On my very first day at the House of Prayer, a worker said, “Jesus has very few friends here, so we want to be His friends.” It was just passing phrase in an introductory conversation. One sentence out of a dialogue. But it marked me; pierced my heart. That one phrase set me on a deep and ongoing conversation with the Lord.

 

I walk the busy streets of this city, studying the faces of the many people passing by. I eat the food, and drink tea or coffee. I try to converse with locals and make new friends. As I go about my day, these words, “Jesus has very few friends here,” are constantly beating against my chest. Reverberating in the back of my mind. To be a friend where there are few, what does it mean?

 

I want to be Jesus’s friend here, in this nation, where there are few. To be His friend in the prayer room. Be His friend while walking those same streets day in and day out alongside the multitudes of people. I want to be His friend here, ass I learn the language and interact with locals. But what does it mean to be His friend where there are few?

 

More that just words and songs, which Jesus is infinitely worthy of, I seek intimate friendship with Him. To be like John the Baptist and rejoice when I hear His voice. To be like John the Beloved and be as close as I can to Him. And even like Peter, who despite all his weaknesses and immaturity, was still a whole hearted friend. I just want to be His friend.

 

Looking at the cityscape, I see buildings nestled together against sky and water. Peering out the windows I see people going about their day, oblivious to my watching. I ask again, “What does it mean to be Your friend?”

 

Then, Jesus came and sat down beside me, placing His hand on my back. He smiles across the city, the boats and people in a hurry. And He smiles at me.

 

“I have not brought you here to wear yourself out,” He says. “You are not just laboring for me, but you are laboring with me. Part of the labor is to just enjoy it with me. Delight with me. Have fun with me. Share about me. Toil with me. Drink tea with me. Talk to the people with me. Walk the city streets and pray with me. Hand in hand. I want you to laborer with me, as friends do.”

 

As I walk these streets to and fro, day after day, Jesus walks these streets too, going deep into the city to meet with His beloved. Interceding on their behalf, He sings loudly, rejoicing over them, and speaking words of life. He beckons them to come, come to the Father’s. All without them ever knowing. He carries their burdens, like the men who haul around the big garbage carts through the streets. And He’s there when the call to prayer goes out of the mosques. He’s so near to these ones.  It’s a tragedy that they don’t know Him as they should.

 

What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus where there are few? On my part, to be His friend, I’m still in the process of finding that out. It’s multifaceted. Because there’s a part of me that He wants just for Himself; for me to just be with Him, to hang out as friends do. Jesus desires that sweet fragrance to arise over this region when there are so few who desire His companionship. But there’s another whole side, where I get to tell everyone about my friend, because Jesus is also jealous for friendship here. There are so few friends and He is worthy of them all to know Him as a friend.

 

The men who carry baskets of bread on their head and sell them at all hours of the day, Jesus wants to be there friend too. The woman who stands at a particular cafe, everyday, showing people to their seats, Jesus wants to be her friend to. The men who sing out the call to prayer in the mosques. The refugee women who peddle knicknacks. The students. Jesus wants friends out of this city and nation.

 

This friendship with Jesus changes everything, and I want them all to know that too.

 

Indifference to compassion: Loving the Muslim World

“Much of our ministry is pervaded with judgments. Often quite unconsciously we classify our people as very good, good, neutral, bad, and very bad. These judgments influence deeply the thoughts, words, and actions of our ministry. Before we know it, we fall into the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Those whom we consider lazy, indifferent, hostile, or obnoxious we treat as such, forcing them in this way to live up to our own views. And so, much of our ministry is limited by the snares of our own judgments. These self-created limits prevent us from being available to people and shrivel up our compassion.” – Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

 

If you’d asked me a month ago if I had prejudice toward Muslims or Arabs in general I would’ve responded with an emphatic no. When I came across a covered woman or saw people walking into a mosque in America, I did not feel a whole lot of anything; which I considered to be a good thing. Now here I am not “belonging” to the culture and faith of this nation and seeing from a whole new perspective how my apathy was not beneficial in ministry. (Is it ever though?) Never had I recognized that my indifference toward the Muslim world was leaving me in lack of a real place within me that God would prefer to cultivate into a heart of compassion.

 

Upon our arrival into this nation we had a quick layover in a very busy airport. I rushed in to use the ladies room unassumingly preoccupied with my needs when I was taken off guard emotionally. I walked in to find a woman, who moments ago I’d walked past fully covered from the world, to her whole head, hair, and radiant face exposed as she adjusted herself in this space. All of the sudden a place of convenience for me became a place of encountering the face of a woman hidden away from my own heart connecting with moments before. There she’d been like a tree in a whole forest and now the only life standing before me. I felt deep conviction and honor that I was able to see her smiling eyes. This was the start of an invitation to let my heart expose itself for how it truly feels towards Arabs and mosques, and to replace these with a vibrant heart longing for connection to the people of this nation.

 

Since this encounter, I’ve had many conversations with both men and women who have continued to surprise me. (Side note: I could easily write an entire blog post on the positive ways that Arabs surprise me with their hospitality and generosity – definitely not a side of things we see portrayed when our news stations broadcast this side of the world). They surprise me by what we have in common; the emotions we share on a daily basis, the desire to see good in all things, the love for our families. I’ve also been surprised by what we do not have in common; a belief in a distant God that would never become a man to take away my sin, an oppression towards women with an overall acceptance of this norm, and a perpetual need to cleanse myself approved before the creator of all things. With all of these commonalities and differences, the prayer stirred up within me is, “O God, let my heart be moved by this – whether in mourning or rejoicing, let me be able to feel with these people. Let my judgments not prevent me from entering into a place of deep love and compassion as you had Jesus when you looked out into the crowds seeing them harassed and helpless. Give me a vibrant heart and let my heart speak to theirs that those around me would see the light of the face of Christ shining upon me. Draw them with the love of Your Son.”

 

May it always be the influence of our compassion and not our judgement that guides our hearts.

 

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Jesus said yes to ME

Jesus said yes to ME

Every morning, as my roommates and I close the heavy iron door to our apartment, we are greeted by the cool winter air and the silence of an empty street. The clear morning light sweeps over the tops of tightly clustered buildings, and the smell of freshly baked bread fills the air. It won’t be long before the streets are flooded with people and the sounds of the city come to life. As we continue to walk, motorcycles and mopeds buzz past us. Shopkeepers and vendors open their doors, and cafes start to overflow with hungry customers. The call to prayer sounds as we push past a mass of pedestrians and turn into the entrance of an unassuming building. Quickly and quietly, we make our way toward the back and up a dark stairwell. We’re headed to a little prayer room tucked away above the noise.

A year ago I was living under a strong performance mentality, and I was trapped in wrong mindsets that had been lying undercover for years. There was a ceiling, a box, that I couldn’t seem to break past. I wanted to go further, but I didn’t know how. At the same time, because of fear of failure and insecurities, pride was beginning to creep in, and I was beginning to form a way of relying on my own strength to compensate for the feelings of weakness. In the process of growing ever busier, new mindsets were beginning to take shape around already existing dysfunctional ones. I was stuck, and the problem was that I was unable to see that I had a problem. But Jesus saw, and he had every intention to help me.

When the opportunity came to go to the Middle East with MAPS Global, I was all in. I had had the Middle East in my heart for a number of years. I was excited, but little did I realize that the Lord was about to take me through a deconstruction process. Suddenly I was brought face to face with my own shortcomings. The zealous “yes” I thought that I carried, in reality, wasn’t even there. Just like Jesus’ disciple, Peter, who thought he could commit even unto death was challenged, so were the weaknesses in my own heart. It was in this place the Lord began to show me the power of love; the power of His love.

In the book of John and in the Song of Solomon, we see the examples of Peter and the Shulamite woman. Both had history with the Lord, and in both stories there came a point where they were challenged to say yes in a place of weakness and brokenness. Both were fervent lover’s, but both were unable to carry themselves in their own strength. The beauty in each of these stories is that Jesus came to them. After Peter’s denial, Jesus came to him and asked him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter answered Him, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” The truth was, Jesus did know. In Song of Solomon 5, the Shulamite lay in her bed. She had become complacent in her pursuit of her beloved, but the King knew

their history of love. He knew she loved him, and so he came and knocked on her door. Her response was to rise and open the door for him.

Jesus knows that even in weakness, when there is nothing to give, love is still willing to say yes. Already knowing our hearts, He comes to us and presents the challenge: “Do you love me?” He knows that we love Him when He asks this, but it’s easy for us to feel disqualified when our performance doesn’t match our expectation. However, we cannot forget Jesus’ reply to Peter’s response. “Feed my sheep.”

The Lord desires for us to partner with him in His kingdom work. He wants to send laborers into the harvest. What’s amazing about this is that He’s not looking for those who will say yes because they feel qualified or feel strong. Weakness does not disqualify you. He’s looking for those that will say yes because they love him. He says, “I’m the one who will finish the work that has been started in you. Do you love me? Because if you do, I’ll help you through your weakness.” We need to remember it’s His strength that is perfected in our weakness.

When I signed up to go to the Middle East, my heart felt dull and weak, but Jesus heard my yes, and He reached out. He qualified me. Now, every morning, as I make my way through the city to the prayer room, tucked away above the noise of the Middle East, I am reminded that I’m here because Jesus said yes to me. I am reminded that I’m here to continue to cultivate a life of intimacy with the One I love, and I am reminded as I look through the window of our little sanctuary over the city, that I’m here because Jesus is saying yes to the Middle East.

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God is a Father

Jesus is His Son and We Are His Children

     

Itʼs a typical Sunday morning; my alarm goes off around 9:30am and I have thirty minutes before church. However, this specific Sunday stands out among the rest as it is my last day in the US for the next three months.

     

Fast forward 13 hours and the adventure begins! Weʼre finally aboard our plane to venture on a 14+ hour flight to the Middle East. Heeding the advice given to me for my first ever transatlantic flight, I stay awake for 12 of the 14 hours in order to sleep upon our arrival Monday evening.

     

By the time weʼve arrived, gone through customs, gathered our luggage, met the local team, loaded up the vans, driven to our “home” for the next three months, ordered and eaten dinner together, and finally unpacked enough items to get through the night, my exhaustion has reached itʼs optimal peak. I strategically grab my ear plugs and eye mask and cozy up for my first night of sleep in the Middle East — that is, until something awakens me.

Through my ear plugs and over my roommateʼs sound machine I hear a muffled voice echoing from outside. I look at my phone, itʼs 5am. Suddenly, I realize what has woken me up. Echoing from the nearby Mosque an Imam projects the sound of the Muslim call to prayer right into our bedrooms.

     

Itʼs been one week since that night and the call to prayer rings five times a day. The Mosque right across the street from our home is, according to the locals, one of the loudest Mosqueʼs in town. However, it is not the abrupt loudness of the call that disturbs me but rather it is knowing what is being proclaimed over and over, day after day.

     

Five times a day, every day, throughout the city (and all of the Middle East) rings the Islamic declaration: “God is not a Father and He has no son.” It is this that disturbs and breaks my heart.

     

As followers of Jesus we know that this is the farthest thing from the truth.

     

Not only is God a Father, but He loved the world so much that He gave up His One and Only Son to die on the cross so that we might have eternal life. Now, we can receive the Spirit of adoption which enables us to cry out to Him “Daddy, Father!” as His sons and daughters and co heirs with Jesus Christ! (John 3:16, 1 John 3:1, Romans 8:15-17)

     

In a city and nation where the spirit of antichrist (according to 1 John 2:22) is so boldly and continually declared, I cannot help but carry a holy yet heavy burden.      

“For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12) We must pray and we must praise.

     

As a singer/songwriter and follower of Jesus Christ, I know that I am commissioned to wage war in the heavens; to write songs, to join and lead others in the House of Prayer and to go out and share the gospel with those who have not yet heard.

     

However, it is not enough to go alone. We must wage war together. Is it not worth it to fly 14 hours, endure jet lag, and be woken up at 5am, so that we may stand by our Arabic brothers and sisters in Christ and share the burden for their nations? Therefore, may we, the church, sing praises to Jesus and declare truth together over cities that have only known of a god who is not a father and a Jesus who did not die for them.

     

Paul said it best when he commissioned the church of Ephesus to “pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request” to “stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints”. Now I commission you. Would you pray for us here. Pray “that the message may be given to us when we open our mouths to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph. 6:18-19)

     

We pray, go, and send because Jesus is worthy. The Gospel is powerful. And the time is in fact urgent.