A Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Lord of all, lift our eyes off our selves, our circumstances, our worries and stressors today to see that your family goes beyond what we see. At this time, move us to weep and pray for believers who are being severely persecuted and tested with fire around the world. May we in the Church in the Western hemisphere no longer remain silent but give ourselves in prayer and appropriate action. Move in us and, by your wisdom, help us know what we can do despite feeling powerless to help. We rest in you the Powerful One.

I pray with tears for my beautiful brothers and sisters in:

Egypt. Where the Coptic church has recently endured the worst attacks on the Christian minority since the 14th century. And bad news keeps coming. Lord, pursue them with your unfailing love and mercy.

Peshawar, Pakistan. Where the All Saints Church community, a light in thick darkness since 1883, was recently rocked by Taliban suicide bombers, who managed to kill 85 of our beloved believing friends. Lord, pursue them with your unfailing love and mercy.

Nairobi, Kenya. Where our Christian brothers and sisters were the targets of Islamist fanatics, who managed to kill more than 70 people in a shopping mall. The Associated Press reported that the Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabab “confirmed witness accounts that gunmen separated Muslims from other people and let the Muslims go free.” The captives were asked questions about Islam. If they couldn’t answer, they were shot. Lord, pursue them with your unfailing love and mercy.

Syria. Where Christians fear going extinct under the fierce persecution of Islamist rebels should Assad al-Bashar fall. Towns like Maalula and Damascus, which are historically significant to Christianity, and where many inhabitants speak Aramaic like Jesus did, are being seized by rebels in their take-over strategy. Christ-followers are being told to convert to Islam at gunpoint. A woman was told her fiancé was given a chance to convert before he was literally cut down. There are many stories like this, as you know…O Father. Pursue them with your unfailing love and mercy.

 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

(Revelation 6:9-11 ESV)

 

“And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus…

…They will make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

(Revelation 17:5-6, 14 ESV)

We cry with the faithful, martyred saints in your presence, O King, to come quickly. How long, O Lord, how long? But as they rest with you, and while we suffer with you as one body, may we never fail to testify that you have conquered, O Lamb who was slain, that you are Lord of lords, King of kings, and, in your mighty mercy have called us, chosen us, and given us faith to be with you always, now and forever. Give Spirit-empowered strength to abide in you, especially to those giving their Christ-exalting lives even this hour.

In the name of THE KING JESUS. You reign. We trust. Amen.

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If You Prosper, Will Your City Rejoice?

I was privileged this past week to speak at a luncheon attended by my fellow CCO New Staff and some Pittsburgh CEO’s. I was asked to share who I am, what I will be doing as a CCO Campus Minister, and what motivates me to do this job. Some in the audience were Christians, and some were not. I was encouraged by how much positive feedback I received, and I hope that these words will encourage you in written form as much as we were encouraged to hear them spoken.

Introduction                                                                                                                            

Good afternoon. My name is Rick Whitlock, and I am a new staff member with the CCO. I attended the University of Delaware and received a degree in Biological Sciences. I then attended Covenant Theological Seminary and received a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Counseling. I was not in the CCO in college because my school did not have it. But college was nevertheless a transformational time for me.

Now, I am a Campus Minister at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN primarily serving graduate students. And I’d like to share an ancient Hebrew Proverb with you in order to explain why I’m so eager to lead and encourage graduate students in their faith.

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” —Proverbs 11:10

How many times have you seen a whole city rejoicing because some powerful people are prospering? It sounds too good to be true. What would it take for that to happen?

Purdue University Produces Leaders                                                                                

There are 9,109 graduate and professional students at Purdue, 3,588 of whom are international students. Purdue has the second highest international student enrollment of any campus in the US. The students who come to Purdue will be top notch thinkers, researchers, teachers, and practitioners in their field and they have global reach and global impact.

They are leaders. And they will lead our nation and many other nations because of their capacity to take on the challenges we face in engineering, business, technology, science, education, agriculture, and management.

How could graduate students at Purdue not only attain a prestigious degree, but also cause whole communities to rejoice because of their work?

Living a Story of Hope                                                                                                          

Napoleon once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

I think that we all have been invited by God to live a story of hope that goes beyond the self-fulfillment of personal dreams of success and wealth. I want to help students know that they can live for something more than their degree and their career. Because, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Donald Guthrie, a former CCO Campus Minister) said: “You are not the end of your education.”  

After all, people do not have parades to celebrate those who prosper only for their own benefit. Cities will rejoice when those who lead their communities and companies live beyond themselves – towards God and with the common good as their aim – with a joyful spirit of service.

As Max DePree, former CEO of the Fortune 500 Company Herman Miller, has said:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” 

With the CCO, I have the privilege to come alongside graduate students who have the skill and courage to take on the loneliness and difficulties of becoming leaders in this country and around the world.

Together with them, I hope to define reality by building a foundation of faith and hope in God that will last through the darkest leadership challenges. By knowing these students and caring for them, my prayer is we can together show glimpses [foretastes] of the good that God wants to give all people. The foundation we lay is about hope, telling the story of God’s desire to restore all things.

Living a story of hope is like being the pink spoons at Baskin Robbins (this illustration is from Dr. Amy Sherman): you ask the ice cream scooper for sample, and they give it to you on a little pink sample spoon. It is a foretaste of the bowl or cone of ice cream to come! And in the same way, living as a leader, as a dealer of hope, is being a foretaste of all the good God promises for us and will do through us. We are the pink spoons when we live a story of hope!

Leaders are never just figuring out solutions, managing structures, or networking with people. We are always telling stories of either hope or despair, and what we do with our education and prosperity demonstrates the story we follow. I want to build a foundation of hope with students who will become global leaders, and draw out what God has put inside of them that will benefit the whole world.

br-pink-spoon

A Father’s Letter to His Son

This is too glorious not to share. I have no words for the beauty of this Dad and his letter to his special son.

Serving: Because You Are A Created Being

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

~ Genesis 1:26 ~

You are creation. It’s hard to pause in the midst of daily life to marvel at that fact. God created you as his crowning achievement.

Does that seem unremarkable to you? Boring even? God created me. So what? But Genesis 1:26 points out the meaning of life. It’s something we don’t want to miss.

First, God gives us an identity. God says that both men and women together image him. We are all created to reflect God in the world. We were made to be like him, to be the image of the invisible God here on earth. We are created to be his representatives.

Second, God gives us our purpose – to have dominion “over all the earth.” Though God could speak everything into existence from nothing, he makes the radical choice of inviting you and I to participate with him in ruling creation.

But when was the last time you thought about this? It’s difficult to ponder our identity and purpose when we’ve got so much else to do. But what if you are an image-bearer of God? And what if he is daily inviting you to understand the world around you in such a way that you cause the people and other parts of creation around you to flourish?

The Good News of Jesus Christ does not start with your salvation. It starts with God’s creation. And though all of creation is groaning right now under the weight of the dysfunction caused by sin, we are called to put our faith in Christ who is the truest image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). In him, we can serve the world around us, cultivating it with an eye towards restoration and hope, because he rose again and calls us “new creations” when we follow him.

Service is never about earning salvation, obeying a command of the church, or even feeling good about ourselves. We serve because we have a God who actually invites us to be vital members of the community around us. He created us for this, so that we could represent him in the world as unique individuals united by a unique community that seeks the flourishing of all that are around them. In him, we serve to see beauty rise from decay.

God does this day by day. He has sought the restoration of his good creation from Genesis 3:15 onward. It’s what he’s about. Because he cares about this earth and loves all that he made. It’s not going away. It’s being renewed. Our service is a part of that. We serve because he served us, and he invites us to cultivate the creation as his image bearers in service to the flourishing of every person, animal, and aspect of creation.

So don’t serve God simply because you were saved and think you need to show it. That’s a good thing. But serve God all the more because he made you in his image and he wants you to be like him, a loving Servant-Savior who delights in restoring creation.

Another Sleepless Night

It’s another one of those nights. I want to go to sleep but I can’t. I’m too anxious, or stressed, or afraid. Because it’s been another one of those days.

Today we heard devastating news. That someone, or some group, set off explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Why must the violence continually escalate? I am trying to pray. I want to sleep. But I cannot. How can I sleep when others have suffered so needlessly?

Today someone I care about deeply has a secret they cannot share. And I so badly want to know. I am so worried for her. She says it could end up being bad news. Why am I so afraid? I am trying to pray. I want to sleep. But I cannot. How can I sleep when I fear a loved one might be in harm’s way?

Today I met my friends’ newborn baby. He’s three days old and was sleeping peacefully in my arms. But the new mother got a phone call explaining the baby needs to go to the doctor tomorrow. He has jaundice, isn’t eating enough, and there is something under his eye that could cause glaucoma. I am trying to pray. I want to sleep. But I cannot. How can I sleep when I worry for a newborn baby and his dear parents, that they’ll all be ok?

Today I saw a friend’s dream take several steps backwards. He thought the next phase of life was unfurling neatly, but learned that it wasn’t to be. Why do our pursuits sometimes end in frustration? I am trying to pray. I want to sleep. But I cannot. How can I sleep when I know a friend feels like he has to start over?

Today I responded defensively to advice that I asked for. My friend answered graciously and honestly, and everything she said was right. But I beat myself up again for not being good enough, and she felt bad like that was her fault. It wasn’t. Why do I so quickly turn on myself, and then on others who only want to help? I am trying to pray. I want to sleep. But I cannot. How can I sleep when I know I caused tension in an important relationship?

I am surprised to find that God actually has quite a bit to say about sleep. With the majesty of the oceans and skies, the splendor of the angels, the might to move mountains, and the holiness of his justice, it seems like slowing down our biorhythms each night for hours at a time wouldn’t be so important. And why would he grant sleep to people like us who mess up, and live in a messy world?

Yet he designed us to sleep a third of our life. And we suffer when we cannot sleep. When we stay up late with babies, or through tragedies, or in fights, or with depression, or typing on computers because our minds won’t be quieted.

But God cares about the smallest of things – many of which are quite big things to us.

Amazingly, God keeps watch when we cannot. He does not sleep, so that we can. When you are sleepless like me, maybe his words will help you, too, because most of these verses are in the context of evil, oppression, the wicked doing terrible harm, fear, sadness, relational discord, and anxiousness. Here is a God who provides rest for the restless:

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
— Psalm 4:8

Behold, he who keeps Israel, will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper…The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
— Psalm 121:4-5

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
— Psalm 127:1-2

If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
— Proverbs 3:24-26

The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside waters of rest.
He restores my soul.
— Psalm 23:1-3

 

Reflecting on Neglecting

Father, you have given.

It’s what good fathers do – they give.

As your child I take what you have given. All the time.

Your air, this male sexuality, these limbs, these friends, this community, these possessions.

And as so many of us children do – I take and then neglect.

You have given me an intelligent mind. It can do calculus problems, whole courses of study at the university, and grasp structural concepts, imagine artistic designs, and write complete sentences. But my mind also neglects giving you thanks for all these capabilities. My mind sees all this in terms of to do lists, accomplishments and performances, stressful interactions and exhausting endeavors. My mind produces anxiety that can consume me for days. My mind is broken. But you call me to use it nonetheless. And you grow it. Thank you!

You have given me wonderful opportunities. I recently received some job offers – good offers with awesome people and great opportunities to live for you in community. For so long it feels like I have waited for those words from an employer, “We want to offer you this job!” But when you offered me these opportunities, you offered me two in the same period of time. I neglected to see this as a wonderful opportunity, as my cup overflowing with your kindness. Rather, I saw it as a struggle to live out being a decision-maker. It stressed my mind and tormented my heart. To choose between two goods can be very hard. But you call me to choose nonetheless. And continue to grant me opportunities. Thank you!

You have given me these emotional responses. My heart, soul, mind, and body have the ability to feel very deeply. Throughout the day I respond with a smile to an encouraging comment from a friend. I can cry on the shoulder of a relative in sadness or grief. I can sing for joy, can languish in confusion, pace in tormented despair, receive kindness, and extend forgiveness. And you give all of these within the unique sphere of male or female sexuality. We are born with a sex. Our experience is mediated through this. But so often I neglect my feelings and my sexuality as a male and jump to doing things to fill the time, the silence, the space, the waiting, the anguish. Rather than seeing these feelings as a doorway into open conversation with you, I put my feelings on others and ask them to do more than they can. In my fear I make you small and people or circumstances big. Or I feel too deeply and neglect your promises that show me I am not stuck in one emotional reaction. Or I hate my male struggles rather than embracing that you delighted to make me this way. It is very hard to be real about our feelings. But you call me to feel nonetheless. And to continue to understand how what I feel drives what I think and do. Thank you!

Father, you have given.

You have made my cup overflow. Every day.

As your child, let me echo what a friend said to me, “God is taking care of you.” In all things. Let me trade in this fear for trust.

And as another friend has said, “Lord, help me to trust you even when it seems wild and outrageous for me to do so.”

Thank you for our minds, our opportunities, and our feelings.

As you weave yourself into these interconnected tapestries of human experience, let us be ever more aware of your presence in it all. The Faithful One, who is over all things.

To know you are a good Father is enough for any circumstance.

Let me not neglect you in my small life.

The Grateful Life

I was reading this concise passage by Henri Nouwen in his book Here and Now: Life in the Spirit. I think its an excellent picture of learning how to live in a spirit of gratitude, and I post it here in full, hoping it blesses you as it has me:

The Grateful Life

How can we live a truly grateful life? When we look back at all that has happened to us, we easily divide our lives into good things to be grateful for and bad things to forget. But with a past thus divided, we cannot move freely into the future. With many things to forget we can only limp towards the future.

True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments.  From the place where we stand, everything that took place brought us to this place, and we want to remember all of it as part of God’s guidance. That does not mean that all that happened in the past was good, but it does mean that even the bad didn’t happen outside the loving presence of God.

Jesus’ own suffering was brought upon him by the forces of darkness. Still he speaks about his suffering and death as his way to glory.

It is very hard to keep bringing all of our past under the light of gratitude. There are so many things we simply wish had never happened. But each time we have the courage to look at “the all of it” and to look at it as God looks at it, our guilt becomes a happy guilt and our shame a happy shame because they have brought us to a deeper recognition of God’s mercy, a stronger conviction of God’s guidance, and a more radical commitment to a life in God’s service.

Once all of our past is remembered in gratitude, we are free to be sent into the world to proclaim good news to others. Just as Peter’s denials didn’t paralyze him but, once forgiven, became a new source of his faithfulness, so can all our failures and betrayals be transformed into gratitude and enable us to become messengers of hope.