Monday, August 27, 2007

Spiritual Garment

Here is a sample entry from the Turkey Prayer Guide:

Spiritual Garment

by Jenny Schulenburg

They come in satin, silk, and cotton. Some drape over the body; others cover only the face. Women express their personal style by choosing various colors and patterns. They are sold outside of mosques, and worn as an expression of honor and respect. They are veils.

It was not long before arriving in Istanbul that I noticed veiled women strolling down the streets. When our mission team hosted an American Folk Song Sing-Along in a park near our hotel, I had the opportunity to interact with two young, veiled Muslim women. At first, we all felt awkward. What could we possibly have in common to converse about? So we sang together, and I discovered that they had beautiful voices. I shared with them my involvement in music, and any awkward feelings between us quickly dissipated. Through our conversation, I discovered that one of my new friends was studying to be a teacher—my same profession. Both of them were within a few years of my age. Gradually, I no longer saw them first and foremost as “veiled Muslim women,” but image bearers of their Creator.

All of sudden, my new friends and I seemed a lot more similar than dissimilar. I, too, once walked this earth wearing a veil. My veil may not have been a fabric head covering, but it was woven together by own sinfulness and it covered the eyes of my soul from seeing the truth of God. Thankfully, God is omniscient, and He peered deep into my soul, seeing past the veil that I tried to hide under. He removed my shroud of darkness and clothed me with His garment of salvation. The prophet Isaiah writes, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”

After that evening, as I walked through the streets of Istanbul and encountered veiled women, I began praying that God would remove the veil behind which they hide themselves and cover them with His righteousness, just as He had covered me.


Pray for Muslim women to trade their man-made veils for “robes of righteousness.”

Pray that God will continue to build bridges between Muslim and Christian women so that spiritual conversations can take place.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the Midst of the Storm: Reflections on My Day

"A tornado touched down in Dekalb, and it's headed your way. Don't leave work." That was the advice of the person on the other end of the phone line. I hung up my cell phone and did what most sensible people do: write off the person's warning as an exaggeration, grab my keys, and hop in the car. A few minutes later, I realized I had made a mistake.

As I headed home from First Baptist and drove through Geneva and Saint Charles, I noticed clusters of people on the street pointing at the sky, staring up at the clouds in fearful amusement. Like a contagious yawn that is subconsciously mimicked, I too was compelled to peer at the storm clouds through my rear view window. They were dark and ominous, but aren't all thunderstorms?

Then they crept in closer, stealthily moving towards my car, silent, powerful, mysterious. All of a sudden, I grew a little concerned. I was stuck at a red light. The light turns green, I rush to the next block, and get stuck by another red light. This is not my day.

All of a sudden, the sky opens and rain pours down, bursting forth like Niagara Falls. I watch as the crossing guard, who had patiently been waiting for school children on the corner of the block, took off running. Leaves began swirling around me, and there was no rhyme or reason to the the pattern of the rainfall. It was circular, but straight-forward, pouring down yet blowing upwards. It was coming, and I couldn't make it home.
I was at the corner of Route 25 and Illinois Street, so I headed for the St. Charles Public Library--the closest shelter from the storm. The torrential rainfall continued, and as I threw open my car door, I fully expected my car to become instantly flooded. I ran inside, looking like I had just come out of the shower, fully clothed. I tried to apologize to one of the head librarians, but he cut me off, saying, "Get downstairs now! There is a tornado and we have a storm shelter."

The basement storm shelter, which was more often used as a general meeting room, was crowded with library patrons who had been browsing through books moments earlier, and they all looked at me--the dripping wet outsider--with shock and amusement, handing me towels to dry off. I stood in the corner, slightly embarrassed, and waited until they gave the clearance to leave.

After we were given permission to leave, I ran up the stairs to get back to my car, head home, and put on warm, dry clothes. But as we stood outside and surveyed the damage, we noticed that a tree had fallen on two cars of employees of the library, and lightening continued to strike down as the thunder boomed. Many patrons were frightened back indoors once more.

Looking up at the sky, I smiled, thinking about Jesus in the storm as recorded in the gospels. Jesus was asleep in a boat with His disciples when a storm rolled in. Water is pouring into the boat, but Jesus never stirs. The disciples frantically cry out to Jesus to wake up and save them, for surely they would drown! Jesus' rebukes the wind and the waves, and they quiet down. As I looked at the storm today, I thought about the God who created it and controlled it. God was displaying His power, and I worshipped Him as a result.

But the guy standing next to me had a different response. He swore at the storm, then struck up a conversation with me about "Mother Nature." He proceeded to tell me astounding stories about all of the tornadoes he had been in where he has nearly escaped with his life, and included in his stories some of his...well...vices. I stood there listening, in half disbelief that he could go through all of this and live!

In that moment, the Holy Spirit nudged me to tell this man about God, but all I wanted to do was run. I'm terrible at evangelism. Discipleship I love, but telling people about Christ, especially total strangers? That terrifies me! I silently prayed for strength, whining all the while that I really didn't want to do this. After the man finished all of his stories, I said to him, "God must have an amazing plan for your life to spare you all of those times! He's got YOUR attention!"

His tone changed, and he began recounting a different story. This time, he told me about a time when he was terrified in the midst of the storm, all alone, driving in utter and complete darkness, in the middle of nowhere. He had no other recourse other than to call out to God--a God he most definitely did not know personally--to open the sky, allowing light to pour forth to guide Him home. God answered his prayer. The heavens opened, but this time beams of light broke forth, not rain. God led him home. God calmed the storm.

What storm is in your life right now? Maybe it is a physical storm like the one many of us experienced today. Maybe it is a relational storm. It may be a spiritual storm. Perhaps someone you love is clinging on for life with little hope for survival. Or perhaps someone you love is clinging on to something that might take his or her life when survival is simply a matter of saying "no" to an idol or to a habitual sin. Whatever your storm, know that Jesus is in the boat with you. He is at perfect peace, and He offers perfect peace. Jesus is not oblivious to the storm. He knows it is there, but He also knows that He is there. And that is all you need. So cling to Jesus, look up at the sky, and praise Him for His sovereignty even in the midst of the storm.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Tonight I went to Willow Creek to hear Randy Frazee speak on the topic of being "single-minded." He spoke out of I Corinthians 7:1-24. In these verses, Paul exhorts his readers to "remain single as I (Paul) am." Paul continues, "But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (v. 7).

To get married, or not to get married? That is the question. I interact with so many young adults who grapple with this question, questioning whether it is God's will for them to marry a given individual or doubting whether God has marriage for them at all. There are a plethora of issues that young adults face, and finding one's life partner is one major "rite of passage" that is near the top of the list.

In this passage, Paul talks about the "gift of singleness." Did you know that singleness is a spiritual gift? But it's not one that often appears on spiritual gift tests next to the gifts of teaching or mercy or administration. Nevertheless, Paul clearly defines it as a gift--or perhaps special calling from God.

So how do you know if you have the gift of singleness or not? Here are two litmus tests that may be helpful for you.

1. Do you envision yourself doing great things for God as a single person that you feel would be stifled if you were married? Are you perfectly content in your life as a single person?

2. Are you able to live as a single person without being "aflame with passion," as Paul describes in verse 9? God's command is that we live sexually pure lives as single individuals. If we feel that we will be overtaken with our own lustful, sexual desires, Paul says it is better to marry than to sin in our singleness.

What was the result of your litmus tests? Regardless, there are a couple of principles to keep in mind.

First, the gift of singleness is not necessarily permanent. Come Thirsty, the fact that none of you are married means that our Sovereign God has given you this gift at least for this season in your life. That does not mean, however, that it is a permanent gift that you have been given.

Second, because you are called to singleness in this period of your life--whether it be for one more day or for the rest of your life--you are called to use your time to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Mt. 6:33). What an awesome privilege we have as single adults to be "anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit" (I Cor. 7:34b)!

So here are suggestions as you are in the waiting room, waiting on God's timing and on His will to be accomplished in your life.

1. Seek your highest joy in being used for the glory of God. Find your contentment here.

2. If you are battling relational loneliness, find a place to serve. There are many opportunities to serve at First Baptist (e-mail me for suggestions in multiple areas of service!!), or get involved in serving the community and shining the light of Christ to a lost and dying world!

3. Whenever you find yourself thinking about or longing for your future spouse, turn your heart's cry into a prayer. God knows your thoughts; why not voice them to the One who is sovereign and deeply loves you? Pray for your future spouse's moral integrity, sexual purity, spiritual character, etc. But begin and end your prayer by declaring your love for your Savior first and foremost and acknowledging the truth that He alone is sufficient. He is truly all you need. Do you believe that?

Might you find contentment of heart and unity in purpose as you are single-minded for the glory of God!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Welcome to the Adventure! Are you ready?

This is the report I gave at our Turkey Luncheon. It is only a tiny drop in the ocean of lessons I learned, but my desire is that you are encouraged by what God did in and through my life as I journey down this road we call faith.

Two days into our trip, I hesitantly walked into my mom’s room, and as I spoke to her, the words that cautiously poured off my lips were “I’m not even sure that I am a Christian.” I expected to feel something different on a mission trip, and as I looked at the people around me, the only feeling that I experienced was apathy. Here I am, the Short-Term Mission Coordinator at First Baptist Church of Geneva, questioning my passion to see the fame of Jesus Christ spread around the world, and doubting whether I was one of his followers because I couldn’t embrace the second greatest command: to love those around me as myself. I’ll return to this part of my story in a moment.

But let me rewind one week. Just prior to leaving for Turkey, I felt God telling me to re-listen to a CD called “Doing Missions When Dying is Gain” by John Piper. We were given this CD during our training, but by the time that we were ready to leave, a few months had passed since I had listened to it. There was a heavy burden on my heart to listen to it once more before I left for Turkey, but I was too busy and it sat unplayed in my CD player.

If I had played the CD, what I heard would have prepared my heart for the experience that I was about to have. John Piper says, “It seems to be woven into the very fabric of our consumer culture that we move toward comfort, toward security, toward ease, toward safety, away from stress, away from trouble, away from danger, and it ought to be exactly the opposite. ‘He who comes after Me must take up his cross and die.’ Whoever said we would be safe in the call of God?”

As I thought about that exhortation in light of feeling that I was not saved, I realized that the problem was not that I was not a Christian, but that I had fallen prey to a life of comfort and security and ease and safety. And while those things were allowing me to thrive physically and emotionally, they were killing me spiritually. I’m convinced that God does not call us to a life of safety and comfort, but a life of adventure in which we can engage His very heart.

Erwin McManus, author of The Barbarian Way, writes, “You are not intended to be a spiritual zoo where people can look at God in you from a safe distance. You are a jungle where the Spirit roams wild and free in your life! You are the recipient of the God who cannot be tamed and of a faith that must not be tamed. You are no longer a prisoner of time and space, but a citizen of the Kingdom of God—a resident of the barbarian tribe. God is not a sedative that keeps you calm and under control by dulling your senses. He does quite the opposite. He awakens your spirit to be truly alive…you are most fully alive when you’re on an adventure with God!.”

One week into our mission trip, God awakened my spirit in a rather odd way. This awakening did not come through ease and comfort, but through deep pain. One week into our trip, my dad and I stood over my mom in the emergency room of the hospital as she grew increasingly delirious until slipping into a coma, and we prepared ourselves for her death. God led me to the jungle where the Spirit can roam wild and free, because in a moment of deep pain and fear, God told me to stop praying for my mom and her safety and health—the creature comforts of a consumer culture that He was calling me loosen my tight grasp upon—and to start praising Him for His immense glory and goodness and grace. I had to declare with the Psalmist that, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life!”

As I sat in the hospital waiting room in Turkey for eight hours every day, I had nothing to turn to but God. God took away all distractions. There was no television to watch, no magazines to read, no music playing in the background, no gift shop to peruse. I couldn’t even build community with the other people in the waiting room since I don’t know Turkish. All I had was my Bible, and so I opened it and absorbed the words before me like a dry sponge. And God spoke to me through His Word like never before—simply because I had ears to hear it for the first time. No longer was I reading into the text, but my mouth was shut and God was speaking to me and comforting me and reminding me of who He is and the hope that I have in Him.

The greatest lesson that I took away from Turkey is that the only way I can live this Barbaric faith that is wild and untamed is if I sever all of the ties to the distractions that I have around me that are vying for my attention and fling them to the foot of the cross, trading them for the indescribable joy of being in the presence of God. When I felt that I was not near God at the beginning of our trip, it was not because God had removed His presence from me, but that I had filled my life with so many distractions that I drowned out His still small voice. God invites us to embark on the greatest adventure of all time. Ask yourself what is in your way and I’ll ask myself what is in my way that keeps us from accepting that invitation to journey with Him. What is it that keeps us from going to the ends of the earth and not resting until every tongue and nation and people and tribe have been introduced to the King of the Nations?

The difficult part to hear is that the only way that this can take place is through our suffering. In Colossians 1:24, Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body in filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” John Piper comments on this verse: “We proclaim Christ’s sufferings by our own suffering. Christ intends for the Great Commission to be a presentation to the nations of the sufferings of His cross in the sufferings of His people. That’s the way the commission will be finished. If you sign up for missions, that’s what you sign up for. That’s the way it will get done.”

For me, the most difficult and yet beautiful part of the trip was sitting by my mom’s bedside as she cried out in pain and agony day after day. Even as infection attacked the fluid around her brain, she scribbled the words on a piece of paper that “it was all worth it” to enter into the sufferings of Jesus Christ so that the world might know Him. We sang hymns in the ICU ward and our sacrifice of praise not only filled the room, but soared to heaven to land at the feet of Jesus. I have never felt closer to Christ then I did in the moments I spent in that hospital, where God spoke to me and held me and comforted me and reminded me that I am His child and that He loves me unconditionally—where He whispered in my ear the invitation once more to embark with Him on this adventure that we call faith without sight—and where He eagerly and patiently awaited for my reply.

John Piper said, “If our children are going to walk away from Christ, we need to raise them in such a way that they understand that to walk away from Jesus is to walk away from a life of faith, risk, and adventure, and to choose a life that is boring, mundane and ordinary.” I walk with Christ because my parents, and my Turkey team, and my church, have all proven that it is a life of faith and risk and adventure. I don’t want to live a boring, mundane, and ordinary life. And this is the heart of missions! Erwin McManus writes, “A world without God cannot wait for us to choose the safe path. If we wait for someone else to take the risk, we risk that no one will ever act and that nothing will ever be accomplished.” And in His holy Word, God tells us “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” If this is true, and I believe with all my heart that it is, then nothing ultimate can harm me.

So I end by reiterating the invitation that God has already extended to you to journey with Him down a path that is full or risk and adventure. It may take you to the least evangelized nation of the world, or it may give you the courage to have that conversation with the unbelieving neighbor next door. But wherever it takes you, let it usher you into the very presence of our glorious God. There is no more exciting or beautiful life to live.