Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ode to Michael Jackson



As I watched news footage of Michael Jackson's family arriving at the courthouse where Dr. Conrad Murray begins his trial for involuntary manslaughter of the late music icon, my heart nearly burst from my chest. I knew I had to write about this. So today I'm posting my second blog of the day, something I've never done before.

Let me begin, first of all, with saying what this post will not be. It will not be a theological discussion of where Michael Jackson went when he passed away. I choose not to do God's job of determining the condition of another person's spiritual state. I personally think God does a great job of that all by Himself. (Although, can you just imagine the beauty of Michael Jackson's music in heaven? And the moonwalk on those streets of gold? Amazing...)

I also have no intention of discussing the "reality television" buzz of who's who at the trial. I've heard huge names mentioned of people that will take the witness stand or attend the trial. Honestly, I'm much more concerned that a fair trial is held and that justice is served.

And lastly, I don't seek to demonize the physician for his actions. He has unfortunately already stood trial in the media and the culture. Many of us loved Michael Jackson, and we want to see someone pay for his death. Instead let's pray for a true balance of justice and mercy in this trial.

So... what I do want to do is highlight one of Michael Jackson's songs that speaks volumes to us even today. I've always said that "Man In The Mirror" could preach. To find the origins of this song we've got to look to the late Mahatma Gandhi, the advocate of nonviolent social protest, who led the struggle for India's independence from British colonial rule. Gandhi pioneered other nonviolent movements in history, such as the Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi's most memorable quote, which inspired "Man In The Mirror," is simply put:
Be the change you want to see in the world.
And that's the message I think we need to focus on as we remember Michael Jackson. We have to stop pointing our fingers at the government, at our neighbors, at our churches and point those fingers back at ourselves. What are you doing to make a positive difference in our world? What am I doing? Is it enough?
I leave you with some lyrics from the late Michael Jackson. I'll only highlight a few, pulling lines that I think speak loudest. I think you'll agree these words ring as true today as they did when they were written.

I'm gonna make a change
For once in my life
It's gonna feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

I see the kids in the street
With not enough to eat
Who am I, to be blind?
Pretending not to see their needs

I've been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It's time that I realize
There there are some with no home
Not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me
Pretending that they're not alone?

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change


I'm starting with the woman in the mirror. How about you?

Carla

Let's Step to the Plate!



Many months ago, in My Little Chocolate Russian, I blogged about my son Christian that my husband Anthony and I adopted from Russia in 2003. This coming December, the story of how we all became a family post-adoption will be published in a national publication. But you'll have to wait for more details on that!

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm passionate about caring for orphans. And I don't think I'm anything special for that. I've simply taken God at His Word.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
And I've also taken the other forty-some scriptures about believers caring for the fatherless literally too. I'm just taking God's Word at face value. When He says we must care for orphans, I believe He means that we must care for orphans. Pretty simple stuff to me.

You may be asking, what if I don't feel called to adopt a child? What if I don't feel called to do foster care? Trust me, those are fair questions. If you're a Christian, you must examine your heart and truly seek God about whether He's calling you to adopt or be a foster parent. You may be surprised at His answer.

However, I certainly don't believe that every single Christian should adopt or foster. Yet, we're all called to care for orphans. So how else can we care for orphans? I've got a few ideas. They're certainly not original, and my list is not exhaustive. But here goes:
  • Support couples that are adopting or fostering: pray for them, babysit so they can get out for dates and nurture their marriage, bless them financially (especially when they're raising their fees for adoption, which can be very high), speak encouraging words to them (they will have some difficult days ahead of them)
  • Sponsor a child through a reputable ministry like World Vision or Compassion International. They may not all be orphans, but they are all living in dismal circumstances (By the way, I've heard the founders of each of these ministries speak, and these men both have a true heart for the Lord and for children)
  • Support a local, national or international ministry specifically dedicated to caring for orphans, by volunteering and/or giving financially. (I recently joined the statewide board of The C.A.L.L., a ministry here in Arkansas with the vision to provide loving, Christian homes to every foster child in the state)
  • Begin an orphan ministry in your church (Hope For Orphans has resources to help you get started)
  • Plan an "Orphan Sunday" in your local church on November 6 (Click here for ideas and resources)
  • Pray often for orphans in your state, in the U.S. and around the world
  • Put at least as much energy into your fight for orphans as you do against abortion. As I heard Dennis Rainey of Family Life Ministries say, God is pro-life and pro-orphan. Amen to that!
Hopefully I've given you a little food for thought. Come on, God's people. The Church has been dormant too long over this pressing issue in our world. It's time for the Church to step up to the plate and knock this one out of the park.

After all, imagine if God, our Father had left us as orphans?

Walking In Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Platform or His?




Thursday morning God woke me up early. Now anyone who knows me well knows that I don't like to wake up early in the morning. No sir. I'm what they call a night person. If I had it my way, I'd stay up late every night reading, writing and brainstorming my latest grand idea (or not-so-grand idea). And in the morning I'd sleep as long as I wanted. That's my dream schedule.

And then there's reality... The reality of having four children, three of which go to school Monday through Friday. The reality of the school system being so rigid that they won't let me, one mother of thousands, choose what time school should start. So I'm up early in the morning, making sure everyone has their lunch, their homework and their underwear. (Fortunately, no one's forgotten the latter so far!)

Needless to say, I'm not the kind of person that wants to get up any earlier in the morning than I have to.

But Thursday morning God woke me up early -- or earlier, I should say. And even though I laid in my bed -- eyes shut tight, head sunken into my comfy pillow -- for a few minutes after He woke me up, I eventually hoisted myself out of bed.

Now you morning people are probably snickering right now. You probably set your alarm for one hour early every morning. Or better yet, you wake up bright and early automatically, without the help of an alarm clock. You rise from your bed, rested from your full eight hours of sleep and go to meet with God before anyone else in the house stirs.

I think that's awesome, but usually I meet with God when my husband and children leave out the door together. He may not be the first One I talk to every morning, but trust me, I'm not speaking much above a mumble with my family. And praying over my kiddos before they hit the door has gotta count for something, right?

So anyway, on Thursday I woke up early, and I'm so glad I did, because God had something to say. I've been studying the minor prophets in the Bible, and out of the book of Zechariah, the Lord spoke these words to me:
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord Almighty." Zechariah 4:6
Now let me give a bit of backstory to explain why I believe God needed to speak these words to me. Well, recently I've been tossing a few book ideas around in my head and my journal. The thought of writing these books doesn't overwhelm me. What overwhelms me, however, is this whole deal with "platform."

I'm not talking about the cute platform stilettos the ladies are wearing now. I'm talking about name recognition, popularity, "branding" if you will. The fact is, people buy books written by people they know. And this is especially true in the area of nonfiction.

Case in point -- one word: Snooki. Even though the "Jersey Shore" reality star's biography didn't sell as many copies as hoped, Snooki had no problem landing a book deal. Unfortunately, books are getting harder to sell by the year, and publishers are getting tougher and tougher about which authors they're willing to bank on. Needless to say, the forecast doesn't look good for virtually unknown first-time authors like me.

Yet today I'm feeling total peace over this whole platform thing. God has reminded me that my life is truly in His hands. If I ever publish a book -- or two or three -- it will not be by my might or by my own power. It will be by His spirit. He'll make it happen. All I have to do is walk in the steps He's ordained for me.

Earlier this week He gave me a sweet illustration of this in my life. In last Saturday's post, "Coffee with Dennis Rainey", I shared about hearing Dennis Rainey of Family Life Ministries speak about the Church's call to minister to orphans. Well through a series of events, and a little cyberspace research, I discovered that Dennis had read that blog post at a staff meeting at Family Life. I have no idea how he discovered my blog.

I was amazed and excited, but it was also a huge lesson for me. God is calling me to tell His stories. He's calling me to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. And He's calling me to trust Him to build my platform as He wills. Technically, it's His platform anyway. I don't have to make it happen. He's going to do it.

I encourage you to trust Him today with your life. Whether you're a musician or a graphic designer or a homeschooling mom, He's got you. Just walk in the steps He's prepared for you, and watch Him do amazing things in and through your life.

Oh, and when He wakes you up early in the morning, just get up. He's probably got something to say.

Walking in His Steps,

Carla

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If Not Us, then Who?



Yesterday, I took my husband's mother and grandmother to visit the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site. In my September 13th blog post, A Modern-Day Civil Rights Hero, I briefly discussed the legendary Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. This historic U.S. Supreme Court decision to segregate public schools was first put to the test on the morning of September 23, 1957, when nine brave African American students -- with heads held high and hearts pounding -- walked through an angry mob of protesters and entered the doors of Little Rock High School for the first time.

In the year I've lived in Arkansas, I've visited Central High School at least five times and the museum at least four. Each time I walk away with a different prevailing theme. Yesterday was no exception. This museum, free to visitors, boasts historical facts, live videos, photos and famous quotes from that era. As a writer, I love the quotes, and yesterday one in particular really stood out to me.
"If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"
Those words were attributed to John Lewis, a famous Civil Rights leader and former Freedom Rider. Those words resonated within my spirit. Those words motivated me to write this post.
John Lewis originally spoke these words about fifty years ago, in the heat of the Civil Rights era. And yet those words ring true for us today. A lot has changed since those days, but has enough changed? 

As an African American I am no longer forbidden to attend any school of my choice. And yet I sat in a school board meeting two weeks ago, listening to the angry cries of parents that didn't want their children rezoned to another school. One mother stated that she and her husband had built their home in their particular neighborhood, because they had chosen specific schools for their children. Several other parents chimed in, disgusted that their children would have to attend the supposed second-best middle school in the city.

Now, let me first say, my husband and I too chose a neighborhood largely for its premier schools. I could see where this concerned mother was coming from. However, we had just heard the superintendent of schools express the reasons behind the school rezoning. In addition to a growing population and the need to transfer children over to a brand new elementary school, the school board had decided to balance the schools economically. The goal: that no school would be labeled the "poor school" or the "rich school" of the city.

When I heard the motives behind the redistricting, my heart aligned with the hearts of our school board members. I thought of the many families unable to build a home in the neighborhood of their choice. I thought of how much benefit there is in people of different economic statuses, races and cultures attending the same school. The bottom line is, we all need one another.

On this past Sunday, the Conway campus of my church, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas celebrated our new church location. It was a joy to look out on the sea of people of different hues and cultures. We are different people from different economic and racial backgrounds worshiping and praising the one true and living God. 

It's always a blessing to me to live out "heaven on earth" every Sunday. After all, when we get a glimpse of heaven in the Word of God we see a beautiful picture of God's people from a kaleidoscope of colors:
"And they sang a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.'" Revelations 5:9
In 2011, my heart resonates with the heart of John Lewis, as I ask Christians all over our country and world -- If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If we, as God's precious sons and daughters, don't choose to walk, work and worship with people of different races and financial standing, then who will? If we don't start intentionally reaching out to people of different races and financial standing, then when will we? 

In the novel and film The Help we saw African American and Caucasian women connected by profession. These forced relationships were borne out of employment, between hired servants and their bosses. When will we break out of the mold of our country's history and move beyond connecting with one another only through the workplace. When will we invite one another into our homes, not as employer and employee, but as friends. When will we choose to do life together? 

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

I leave you with a video I saw this week that displays the Kingdom of God on earth. In this video, a homeless man joins in to sing with a man shooting a Christian music video. It's breathtaking. It displays the heart of God. (Click here to view)

Living for Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Coffee with Dennis Rainey



This past Wednesday I had coffee with Dennis Rainey, founder of Family Life Ministries, here in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Okay, there's one small caveat. I, along with about forty other area church leaders, had breakfast with Dennis Rainey yesterday. We were attending a Pastor's Summit hosted by The CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime), a foster care initiative with the vision of placing each and every foster child in Arkansas in a loving home. Having recently joined the statewide board of The CALL, I am thrilled to join this awesome mission.

If you've been following my blog, you know I've been seriously contemplating the mission of my life. Why am I here? What is my higher purpose on earth? When I leave this world to go spend eternity with God, what work do I want to have completed? As I've stated in previous posts, I keep coming back to social justice. I want to fight for the rights of the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, the forgotten.

But sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the needs in the world. I ponder all the world's problems -- poverty, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and many more -- and I wonder if I can really make a difference. Can I do anything to put even a small dent in the world's problems? It feels overwhelming -- impossible even.

And then I had coffee with Dennis Rainey.

Dennis shared about his love for orphans. He shared about his adopted child, and his love for her, even through a difficult period of rebellion. He has reminded his daughter time after time that if he had the chance, he'd adopt her all over again. As an adoptive mom, I totally get that.

He spoke of God's heart for the orphan, evident in His Word which includes forty-five scriptures exhorting God's people to care for the orphan. He reminded us church leaders that God is pro-life and pro-orphan. He exhorted us as believers to fight as hard for orphans as we fight against abortion, boldly asserting that perhaps God hasn't moved our elected officials to overturn Roe v. Wade because He knows we Christians aren't ready to open our homes to all the children that would be born and not aborted. Ouch.

Dennis stated that orphans are an antidote to the superficial, self-absorbed Christianity of our day. "I used to think that orphans needed me," he said. "My Christianity needs them."

He closed by giving examples of individual Christians and churches living out James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." There are churches that are attempting to place every single child in the foster care system in their counties and states in loving Christian homes. And there's Katie Davis of Franklin, Tennessee that I mentioned in my July 13th post "Passion-Filled People" who began her work as a foster mother to multiple children, and now adoptive mother, in Uganda, Africa while a mere teenager.

And while Dennis' testimony and the testimony of these people and churches ministered to me, nothing compares to the moment when I actually peered into the heart of God. The revelation came in the quoting of an alarming statistic.

And so I now ask you: Do you know what the greatest predictor of homelessness is? Is it drug use or alcoholism or mental illness?

No. It's none of those. It's foster care.

And get this: foster care sets children up for all kinds of social ills -- incarceration, sex trafficking, teen pregnancy. You name it -- the list goes on and on.

When Dennis quoted that statistic, it was as if God had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered into my ear. "Psst. Carla, if you pour your heart and your life and your resources into orphan care, you'll be pouring your heart into many of the world's problems and needs around you."

God didn't speak in an audible voice, but I heard Him loud and clear. So I'm moving forward, steadfast in the calling He's placed on my life. I'm here to serve the fatherless in my community and the world. And I pray that He'll use me to point the fatherless to the Father. It's the least I can do.

Will you join me in serving the orphans of the world? I hope you will.

Standing for Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Modern-Day Civil Rights Hero



In Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court declared separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. That was 1954. In 2011, one courageous lady has made Civil Rights history. Her cause would make the thirteen parents that filed the law suit against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas proud.

In a moment I'll provide the link to this wonderful story. But first I'll give a little backstory.

In May of this year, I was chatting with my mother by phone. She began telling me about a new friend of hers that had a trip scheduled to Arkansas that week. That friend, Treopia Green Washington, happens to be the sister of Ernest Green of the historical Little Rock Nine. She was returning to her home state of Arkansas to attend the commencement ceremony of the University of Arkansas, where her mother had received a master's degree in education.

Unfortunately, Treopia's mother wasn't allowed to attend her own commencement back in 1951, and Treopia never got over it. Her attendance at this year's University of Arkansas commencement represents a miracle of reconciliation -- exactly sixty years later.

Well, I won't give any more details. You just have to read the article that I wrote for AARP.org. And make sure you watch the video produced by AARP. It's a fabulous package.

Click here to read the story and watch the video. I hope this inspires you to fight whatever battles God personally calls you to fight. It truly has inspired me.

Walking in Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11: Lest We Forget



On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the massive terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, I thought I'd be remiss to not pay tribute to the thousands of men and women, boys and girls that lost their lives that day. On one hand I can hardly believe it has been ten years since that fateful day. On the other hand, it feels like a mere mist of a memory -- something that happened eons ago.

A decade later I can still vividly remember what I was doing on that day. Not yet born when President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, I don't have any memories of what my parents often discussed. I'd hear them say, "I'll never forget where I was when I heard President Kennedy was killed," and "I can distinctly remember what I was doing when Dr. King was murdered." Prior to 9/11, I didn't have any memories like these. I do now.

In January 2001, Anthony and I moved to Franklin, Tennessee for him to join the pastoral staff at Strong Tower Bible Church. That August, we were planning to send our firstborn Kalin to prekindergarten at New Hope Academy, a wonderful Christian private school in Franklin. New Hope had been building a new school building, and as building projects often go, the building wasn't completed by the start of school in August. So the start date of school had to be pushed forward to -- you guessed -- September 11.

Still in shock over the thought of my only baby (at the time) starting school, and probably fighting tears, I sang along with the praise songs during devotions that morning. I remember singing "Open The Eyes of My Heart Lord" with my friend Andrea, a New Hope teacher at the time, leading. I remember the beautiful faces of the children of different races and socio-economic backgrounds as they sang along, hopeful for a great school year. None of us had any idea what the day would hold.

At some point during devotions, the Headmaster marched to the front of the library and explained that there had been a horrible accident in New York City. One of the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane, he explained, while gasps filled the air around me. At that point we thought the airplane had somehow experienced some kind of malfunction, causing it to detour away from its course and into the tower. We formed a large circle and had prayer for those that had already lost their lives, and we prayed for the city of New York. We didn't know to pray for our whole country.

School administrators decided to continue on with the first day of school, and we parents filed out of the building one by one. I remember experiencing an eerie feeling of shock, confusion, fear and sadness. My brain tried to wrap around exactly what was going on.

That question was answered very soon after we returned back home. Every channel now had footage of the planes diving into both Twin Towers. And then we watched in horror as each Tower crumbled to the ground like giant ant hills. It didn't seem real.

At some point during the day, I thought back to the prior Sunday, when Anthony had preached at Strong Tower. His title was "Don't Ask Why, Ask What." He preached about our human nature that causes us to question God when we face hardships in life, inquiring, "God, why me?" He encouraged us to pull ourselves away from the painful questions of "Why," moving instead to the question of "What?" What does God want to do in me? What does He want to do through me? How will He use this trial to demonstrate His power in and through my life?

We had no idea how prophetic Anthony had been just two days before 9/11. In our pain over the country's huge loss, most of us were asking "Why, God?" Yet, the exhortation to ask "What" moved us into action: praying for comfort for those that had lost loved ones, praying for unbelievers around the U.S. to seek the True and Living God and seeking ways to minister to those directly affected by the attack.

Ten years later, it still hurts to think of that day and the thousands of lost lives. Ten years later, I still cringe when I watch a film from the nineties that pans the city of New York with those Twin Towers standing proud and tall. Ten years later, I feel a sense of foreboding over the possible terrorists threats on this Sunday that every news reporter's talking about.

And then I inhale. I exhale. And I hear my Savior say, "Be still, and know that I am God." He's got this. No matter what happens. No matter how dark a day we may face as a country. I'm reminded of the song I sang as a little girl, long before I knew Jesus as my savior -- "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands."

He really does.

Safe In His Hands,

Carla

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A New Purpose


I hope you have enjoyed my posts about that wonderful book and film The Help. I truly thank my three friends that strongly encouraged me to write those posts. It was a God-thing. The way I figure it -- when everyone's talking about the same thing, the Church should be too.

And that's where I'm taking this blog for the next few weeks or so. Honestly, I'm a little nervous. I'm treading out on some thin ice of the unknown, and it's a bit scary. I can vaguely see the green grass of the other side of the pond, but I don't know exactly what's going to happen between here and there. I hope you'll hang in there with me as I take a walk across. As a matter of fact, I hope you'll walk with me.

Before I begin my new series of world-changing people, I'd like to share what God's been doing in my life lately. A lot of life has happened since my 31 Days of Purpose series, and it feels like I wrote those posts a year ago. It's funny, I expected major spiritual warfare after writing those blogs, because I'd received so much feedback about how the blog had effected positive, godly change in the lives of my readers. Instead of warfare, at least beyond the normal amounts for a pastor's wife, I felt an immense amount of confusion.I felt like my life was supposed to take a turn somehow, but I couldn't discern the direction it was supposed to go.

I had a nagging feeling that there was "something more" God wanted me to do, but I couldn't figure out what. And to think I had just spent 31 days preaching to you about finding your God-given purpose. My life felt like one big paradox.

So what did I do? I got to praying. I got to seeking God's Word. My eyes and ears were keen to things being said and done around me. And, like He always has in my life, God spoke. I'd love to share what He said to me. So sit back and relax, while I tell you the story.

Well, I have been studying the minor prophets since the beginning of the summer. I have never thoroughly studied each minor prophet, and I honestly didn't have a clue that so many riches can be found in the pages of Amos, Joel and Obadiah. Well, just last week, I came across Micah 6:8, which reads:
He showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
I've always had a favorite Bible verse, but I've never had a theme verse. I've never adopted a scripture and determined that it embodied the essence of God's call on my life.

Micah 6:8 does just that. It speaks to the heart of me. It speaks to what God's calling me to do, every day of my life. It's the "something more" that God's wanting me to do. Yes, He's still calling me to write. But I'm writing with a higher purpose here. I'm writing for justice and mercy.

My blog will probably take on a different shape over the next few months. I'll still blog in a devotional manner from time to time. I'll still blog about books or films that are rocking the nation. But my blog posts will run through the grid of justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God.

So when I begin sharing the stories of people changing the world, they will be people who have broken through barriers of injustice. They will be people who, like me, love mercy. They will be people humbly walking with God. My posts on The Help were just the beginning. Who knows? Micah 6:8 might lead to a book one day.

I'll share one more thing God's doing in and through my life. I felt God impress upon me the need for a Facebook page for pastor's wives. I'm so exciting about this, I can hardly stand it. Let me share the backstory on this one:

My husband Anthony and I were recently watching a popular Christian broadcast together. The reporter was interviewing a former pastor and his wife, who had just recovered from a tumultuous season in their marriage, a season of deception and an emotional affair. Praise God, they were speaking victoriously, having done the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ.

The point that gave me most pause, however, was a comment the wife made. She mentioned a period of time when she had detected something amiss in her marriage. Her husband had been acting weird, speaking a little too favorably about the other woman, and there were many times she couldn't seem to reach him by cell phone. Yet she said she continued to carry on as usual in the church, acting as if everything was normal. After all, as a pastor's wife, who could she tell?

This comment made my stomach churn. And yet, I agree with her. Where does a pastor or pastor's wife go when he or she needs serious help? An average member having an affair can confess to the pastor or a church leader, then go back to work. Granted, there's a lot of reconciliation to be done between God and his or her spouse, but this person's livelihood isn't completely threatened. Not so with a pastor or pastor's wife.

I'm committed to providing a haven for pastor's wives to discuss their joys, their pains, their fears, their issues. The enemy's having a field day with our ministry marriages and families, and we're standing defenseless over it. Well, enough is enough. We pastor's wives should not be alone. We pastor's wives are not alone.

So if you're a pastor's wife, listen out for more information on this Facebook page. And tell every pastor's wife you know about it. We need one another!

And... don't forget to join me here at "Sojourner of Truth" every Tuesday and Saturday. I'll be sharing about my first "world-changer" this Saturday!

Loving Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Help III - The Church: Lord Help Us!



Okay, okay. I know I promised to turn a corner here on Sojourner of Truth, but I'm feeling like I've left a huge stone unturned. There's some unfinished business that I'm needing to tend to. So hang with me here, and I promise that soon and very soon I will begin my next series of blogs about people that have, and continue to, change the world.

On Thursday my husband Anthony and I had the privilege of participating in an online discussion of The Help with our directional pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, Mark DeYmaz. A leader in the multi-ethnic church movement, Mark discusses issues of race and the church every Thursday at noon CST through Mosaix, a network of church leaders in pursuit of a multi-ethnic church for the sake of the gospel. (Click here to listen to this program) It was fast-paced, exhilarating -- and a little unnerving in the beginning -- to be perfectly honest. But I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and our discussion brought up a lot of interesting points.

The issue that we continually revisited was: so what can -- and should -- the Church of Jesus Christ do about this issue of race?

I'm so glad you asked. In last Saturday's post, The Help: Let's Talk About It, I shared a few thoughts on the church and its response to the issues of race brought to the forefront in The Help. Well, I'd like to add to those thoughts.

I'll begin with the obvious point that members of my current church, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas and my former church Strong Tower Bible Church, would wholeheartedly agree with. First of all, we've got to address the issue of segregation in our Christian churches. Now, let me begin with saying that I applaud any church where Jesus is uplifted as Savior and Lord and where the Word of God is taught unashamedly. I hope to be the last person to bash any godly church body, or pastor, for that matter.

But who are we kidding, folks? Our churches are still largely the most segregated entities in our country. Our government is diverse. Our public schools are diverse. Our businesses are diverse. The entertainment world is incredibly diverse. And although there's lots more room for minority people in all these arenas -- especially in the back offices of owners and decision-makers -- they are still pretty diverse.

However, if you walk into the majority of churches today, you'll be hard-pressed to find a person that looks different from the majority of members. If you do, they are usually a very small minority. And that's true in African American churches, Caucasian churches, Hispanic churches and Asian churches.

Check out the point Ed Stetzer, Vice President of Research and Ministry Development for Lifeway Christian Resources, makes in his blog post entitled, "Race Relations, Affirmative Action, and the Church: More Reflections on the Help."
The church is trailing society in an area where we should be setting the pace. Followers of Jesus Christ, for whom there is "no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" should be leading the nation in racial reconciliation, not being dragged kicking and screaming by unbelievers into a life the Kingdom anticipates. Too often, the church trails the culture. For that matter, too many "Christians" were holding the hoses at Selma, not standing for equality. The church still trails.
So instead of leading the trend in diversity, the Church is sadly lagging behind. Stetzer reports (from statistics compiled by Dr. Michael Emerson, author of Divided By Faith) that over 92% of churches in the US are racially segregated, with 80% or more of the congregation comprised of a single race or ethnic group. I believe this grieves the heart of God.

So what am I proposing? Should all churches become heterogeneous? Is it sinful for a pastor to lead a church with 85% or more of its members belonging to the same race? Is it sinful for you to belong to this kind of church?

I don't believe so. Like I said when I began this discussion, I praise God for any church boldly teaching the Word of God and encouraging its leadership and members to live according to the Word. So no, my desire isn't to bash homogeneous churches.

But I do believe there are things every church should be doing in the area of racial reconciliation. I do believe that every believer must examine his or her heart, asking God to expose any residue of the racism prevalent in our country's history. I do believe there's room for repentance for most of us.

I do believe that every church can make major strides in the multi-ethnic movement through intentional actions, such as:
  • Have an open heart to people of different races, excited and welcoming when they visit and pursue membership.
  • Tailor the worship service in a way that people of different races may feel more welcomed there. And this especially includes the music. It's not impossible. I've seen it done in two churches now. People of different races sing on the worship team together, where the music selection includes various musical genres. Trust me. This can be done!
  • If there is at least a handful of people of different races, prayerfully seek out people of the minority race to serve in leadership positions, such as deacons, elders, worship leaders, etc. This kind of leadership search must be intentional. People identify with leaders that look like them.
  • Reach out to another church in the same town with a different racial mix. Host joint potluck meals -- held in both churches. Hold prayer meetings together. Share in a service project or missions trip. Nothing bonds people quite like the mission field, be it around the corner or on the other side of the world. Visit a Civil Rights historical site together and encourage open dialogue afterward.
  • Encourage your members often to be open and intentional about beginning relationships with people of a different race. In 2011, there are still people -- Christian people -- that have never had a close friend from a different race. They've had coworkers and neighbors of different races, but not friends. Encourage and model for the members genuine relationships with people from different cultures and backgrounds. And pray for authenticity, so there's a desire for this kind of relationship. Over time it should become a lifestyle, not a "church program."
I have been blessed to belong to churches where this kind of ministry isn't just preached, but practiced church-wide. I've been blessed to have a husband who preaches about this kind of ministry as often as he gets a chance. And I'm truly blessed to have friends of different races and cultures. For the first half of my life, I missed out on the joy of these kinds of relationships. I wouldn't go back for anything.

I believe if the Church is going to be effective in this 21st Century, we've got to display the diverse Kingdom of God more than MTV and Dancing with the Stars.

To bring it back home to The Help, we've got to break through prejudice, past offenses and our painful history to change our future. Like Skeeter, we've got reach out to those that just happen to be darker in skin color. Like Aibileen, we've got to grasp the hand of those that just happen to be lighter in skin color. It works both ways. No one's off the hook on this one.

So what's it going to be? Will you help me change the future?

Speaking The Truth In Love,

Carla