Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Books That Made a Difference To... Me

In every issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, the "Books That Made a Difference To..." column features a celebrity and the books that have impacted his or her life greatly. I love to read this column for several reasons. One, I love books myself. And since the day I learned to read, I now have a personal history of almost four decades of amazing books in my own repertoire. Two, you can tell so much about a person by the books he or she reads, and even more by the books a person loves. Third, I often run out and find books that those celebs have loved. I'm especially likely to read the ones that people I really admire have loved.


The first book I remember falling in love with was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. My second grade teacher, having discovered my ravenous appetite for literature, suggested I read the C.S. Lewis classic. I loved the intrigue, the mystery and the adventure of this novel, and I think my love for good books was ignited the moment I began that book.

Well, I've read a lot of classics and not-so-classics since then. For me to list every one that impacted me greatly, I wouldn't have enough space in my blog. I've forced myself to narrow my list down to books I've read in the last ten years. I didn't have enough space to list Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Richard Wright's Manchild In the Promised Land, Margaret Walker's Jubilee or Alice Walker's The Color Purple that I read at least two decades ago. And I haven't included the countless nonfiction books that have strengthened my walk with Christ over the years. I will restrain myself to a short list of works of fiction that have enchanted, inspired and challenged me.

In the near future, I will be starting a Facebook book club. Please join us if you feel moved. The more the merrier! We'll read fiction and nonfiction alike. Some books will be Christian, but many will be mainstream. All will be spiritually, mentally and emotionally stimulating. I promise you, this won't be your regular Harlequin romance kind of book club!

So on to the novels that have made a difference to me...

Cane River

This moving story traces four generations of women from U.S. slavery to early twentieth century. This work of historical fiction contains a treasure of true facts from the family tree of author Lalita Tademy. A former vice president of a Fortune 500 high-tech company in Silicon Valley, Tademy took a two-year sabbatical from her job to research her genealogy. Her research and this book inspired me to begin the journey into my own family's colorful (pun intended) and complex ancestry. I am still on that journey today and hope to create a work similar to Cane River some day.

The Poisonwood Bible 

This powerful story follows the missionary travels of a Georgia Baptist preacher, his wife and three young daughters to Belgium Congo in the 1960's. A fire-and-brimstone kind of preacher, he ministers from an egocentric North American perspective. Clueless to the real souls of the Congolese people, he views them as savage, primitive and spiritually devoid. Over time, his wife and daughters learn to accept and appreciate the native people and their culture. Through cultural and political unrest, the missionary family experiences immense hardship and heartache, largely caused by the stubbornness of their husband and father. The Poisonwood Bible, though not a Christian novel, taught me the importance of cultural sensitivity when ministering to people of different cultures. Everyone loses when the pastor/evangelist/missionary views people only as pitiful souls needing to be saved, rather than the creative, beautiful, precious beings that God created them to be.



Night


Night follows the real-life story of the author as an orthodox Jewish teenager during the Holocaust. His harrowing tale takes us from his home of Romania to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1944 to 1945. At a mere 16, he is forced to become his own father's caretaker, while daily fighting for his own life. Though quite saddening at times, this memoir opened my eyes to the Holocaust like no other book of its kind. I was furious at the cruelty of the Nazi soldiers employed by Hitler's regime while more compassionate than ever towards the Jewish people that suffered under this heinous world power. Night drove me to my knees, praying for "liberty and justice for all."

The Kite Runner

This riveting novel chronicles the life of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion of the 1980's. The story's protagonist struggles through fear and cowardice to stand up against forces of evil -- from evils perpetrated by other teenagers in the city streets to evils committed by corrupt Afghan political leaders. Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about Afghanistan or the Taliban. While our U.S. troops fought daily in this country, I was relatively ignorant to the culture and history of Afghanistan. The Kite Runner opened my eyes to the disparity of the Afghan people, and opened my heart to a people group desperately in need of God's love and grace.


Redeeming Love

Last, but certainly not least, Redeeming Love brings the biblical book of Hosea to life in author Francine Rivers' vivid style of storytelling. Set in California's gold country in mid-nineteenth century, the story follows a godly man bent on following God's plan for his life, no matter what. To his surprise, God's plan includes marrying a prostitute who resists his kindness and unconditional love at every turn. With a hardened heart and warped mind, she rejects her new husband time and time again, returning to the abusive and dehumanizing life of prostitution. Yet each time her husband seeks her, forgives her and brings her back into his home and his heart. A master storyteller, Rivers sets a high standard for Christian novelists. This is a story of forgiveness, redemption and grace that the Lord used to show me the real meaning of agape love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Year's Revelations: Part II

In my last post I shared the lessons God taught me in 2010. And I promised to share God's purposes for me in 2011 next time. Well, I may not know all that God has for me this year, but I promise you, God has definitely been speaking to me.

So here's what I believe He's purposed for me thus far...

I. Focus on the Family


When Anthony and I moved to Arkansas to join the ministry of Mosaic Church, the Lord impressed upon my heart the importance of placing our family before any other ministry we do. So many pastors, evangelists and bible teachers have given their entire lives for the sake of the gospel. They spend countless hours sharing Christ and God's Word with others, "making disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19, 20).

While applaudable, unfortunately many of us in ministry sacrifice our own families to reach the lost. I call my family our "First Church". My allegiance must be to them first and foremost. Supporting my husband as a man and as a pastor should take precedence over ministering to others. And training my "little disciples" -- Kalin, Christian, Joelle and Jada -- must take priority over teaching others.

For the Hendricks clan that means spending time throughout the week reading the bible together. We are currently reading through the book of John at least twice a week. I love these times with the children. I love how much they retain; and they ask the most profound questions. And just like any other discipleship relationship, I find that I grow spiritually alongside my children. Before I pursue any of God's purposes, I must pursue my family and their walks with God. After all, what good would it be for us to save the world, yet lose our own children?

II. Build Relationships
When you study the life of Jesus, you discover He did a lot of teaching in the synagogue, in various towns and even on the countryside. However, much of His time was spent simply building relationships with others. And much of those relationships were with people who lived, thought and believed differently than He did.

After Anthony had served on the staff of Strong Tower Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee for a few years, I realized I didn't have any relationships outside of our church. Of course much of our life was spent doing ministry, and it was difficult finding time to make friends outside of church. Quite honestly, at some point I stopped making the effort.

Well, thank God for new beginnings. We've lived in Conway, Arkansas for less than six months, and I've already made three friends outside of Mosaic. They are a wonderfully diverse group of ladies: one is likely Hindu, another is also new to the area and in need of a church home, and the other one is probably agnostic at best. And just today I received the phone number of a lady who, according to her mother-in-law, is not a christian. I am so excited to get to know these ladies who -- like many of Jesus' associates -- live, think and believe differently than I.

III. Defend the Fatherless and the Oppressed
This last purpose has yet to form completely in my head and heart. I honestly do not know exactly what God wants from me in this area. But I know He's calling me to something. A couple of weeks ago, I had a very vivid dream about doing orphan ministry at Mosaic. I was helping others in the area of adoption, foster care and orphan care, similar to my ministry at Strong Tower. When I awoke, I read the "Psalm of the Day", which was Psalm 10. The scripture nearly jumped off the page for me. Check this out:

Psalm 10: 17-18a "You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed..." (italics mine)

When I rose from my bed that morning, I knew in my heart that God was calling me to defend the fatherless and the oppressed in some way. So now I am constantly searching for ways to do so, the antenna of my heart keen towards the needs of those less fortunate than myself. And with this mindset, two opportunities have already arisen: mentoring a young girl with an incarcerated parent and donating clothing for a family devastated by a house fire.

As I close, I leave you with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose life we celebrate today.


"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Seek justice today. Seek to speak and fight for the fatherless and oppressed. Pray for opportunities to do so. And I'll be praying along with you.

Fighting for Justice with You,

Carla

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Year's Revelations




We're one week into the new year, and I still haven't made any resolutions. Instead, I've opted to: 1. revisit the lessons of 2010 and 2. discover God's purposes for me in this new year. Today I'll share lessons of 2010. Next week, join me again as I share God's purposes for me in 2011.

The Lessons of 2010
Before I can share last year's lessons, I have to share my personal journey over the last twelve months. I welcomed the year of 2010 as a resident of Northern Virginia. Having moved back to the East Coast from Franklin, Tennessee back in August of 2009, Anthony and I had just hosted my family for Christmas dinner. It had been a decade since we'd been able to host an extended family dinner, and it felt wonderful. 

Although we missed our old church (Strong Tower) and our friends back in Tennessee, we were excited to be closer to home. We were blessed to be starting a new church, One Community Bible Church. And I was elated to be near the nation's capital, with its cool vibe and profound political and cultural history. Not to mention I had attended college at Howard University in D.C. HU!!! (Couldn't resist a shout-out!)

We hadn't lived in NoVA long before the Lord began to reveal a different plan for us. After clearly hearing His voice, I felt strongly that instead of starting a new ministry, Ant was supposed to join the staff of an existing church. The small detail that God didn't clue me in on: the existing church he would join was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Who knew that exactly twelve months after moving to NoVA, we'd be relocating once again?

So for the lessons I've learned:
1. It's Not About Me
Rick Warren, pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, sold over 30 million copies. His first chapter begins with the words "It's not about you". And ain't that the truth? All other messages of our culture conflict with this theme. Commercials tell us to "Have it your way!" And the media cheers America on as we overindulge in food, sex and material things. Reality television reveals a culture that's pining for more and more pleasure, yet never fully satisfied.

As a lover of Christ, I know satisfaction only comes from Him. And the weirdest paradox has taken root in my soul: the more I give up my own rights and give them over to Him, the more joy I feel. During the months of uncertainty and instability in 2010, I was confronted with this reality. When I felt overwhelmed, confused, discouraged, and lonely -- it wasn't about me. When I pondered how difficult a life of obedience can be -- it wasn't about me. When I considered my other options, which were basically different roads to disobedience -- it wasn't about me. It was all about Him and His plans to use me.

Yesterday I heard a wise young woman share about servant leadership at our Mosaic Church leadership conference. In ten words Tyfnae Benz summarized the mindset of a true servant leader: "I am not the most important person in the room." So simple, yet so profound. And it is valid no matter what room I find myself in. God is always supreme in my life. Everyone else -- my family, friends, fellow church members, neighbors, and especially those not yet in relationship with Christ -- must be second. I am a far third. If I am to ever grow as a follower of Christ, this must be my mantra. It's not about me.

2. God Speaks To Me
Another confirmation over the last year was, if I'm listening for God's voice, I will hear it. God has never spoken to me through an audible voice, but through an inaudible voice in my spirit. When I began my relationship with Christ, I believed that He only spoke to His children through His Word. I was leery of people who gave testimonies of how He had spoken to them directly, especially if their bible was nowhere nearby! I used to label these people as overly-charismatic, and disregarded the validity of their testimonies.

Over the years, I have had several experiences of God "speaking a word" to me. Sometimes I've received these words while reading my Bible, like the time He told me I would give birth to another child. I was having my regular time in the Word and I read in Genesis that God had promised Joseph that he would have another child from his own body. While reading that scripture, the Lord strongly impressed in my spirit that although His words had primarily been for Joseph a very long time ago, they were also for me that day. I knew from that point on that I would have another biological child. Two years later I was pregnant with my baby girl Jada.

Other times, however, I've heard from the Lord when my bible was nowhere around. He has spoken to me during neighborhood walks. He has spoken to me while doing housework. He's even spoken His truths to me while watching secular movies and reading mainstream books. God's message of truth and love have reached out to me at some of the least conventional times. Now mind you, those messages never contradict His word, and they are always confirmed in time by His people and/or circumstances. But He will not be put in a box. So I'm learning to stop trying to put Him in one.

One of my favorite songs is "God Speaking" by Mandisa. Here are a few of her lyrics:
"Who knows how He'll get a hold of us?
Get our attention to prove He is enough.
He'll do and He'll use whatever He want to
To tell us, I love you.

His ways are higher
His ways are better
Though sometimes strange
What could be stranger than God in a manger?"

Last year God proved that if I'm willing to open my heart to hear, I will hear His voice of conviction, direction and, most importantly, love. No matter where you are in your spiritual story, I pray that He will speak to you too in 2011.

Listening to His Voice of Love,

Carla