The War Outside Our Doors & Walking Through Conquered Halls…

I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning was all I did after my afternoon on an Elijah Rising van tour of Houston.  Where do I begin?Elijah Rising

In 2011, Elijah Rising (a ministry committed to ending human trafficking) began offering van tours throughout the city in order to promote awareness of the impact and prominence of sex trafficking in the city of Houston.

“Part of our mandate is to drive the reality of modern day slavery into the consciousness of our society. To do this we offer approximately 2 hour tours of high probability trafficking areas. These tours are essentially a rolling Human Trafficking 101 class with visuals.”

Human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar per year industry with over 27 million people currently living as slaves.*  Eighty-percent of human trafficking is commercial sex trade.  Out of the 27 million victims, eighty-percent are women and of these eighty, fifty-percent are minors.  Houston is at the top of the list of offenders.

I was aware of these statistics before I went on the van tour and I will admit that, at first, the numbers are just numbers; there are no faces, just statistics.  But within minutes of taking your seat in that van it all changes.

The van tour takes you through three areas around Houston that are heavily populated with brothels disguised as massage parlors, spas, adult studios, strip clubs, and cantinas.  The first real shock is the proximity of these places to other businesses, restaurants, and neighborhoods.  One of the highly populated areas of the cantina-style brothels was just across the freeway from where I once lived.  I couldn’t believe it.  You start the recognize the tell-tale signs of a brothel: dark or boarded windows; high walls and gated parking lots; a series of houses or buildings connected together; some really weird statues.

Once you see the buildings, you begin to hear the stories.  The stories help to put faces to the numbers and that’s when the sick and the dread and the anger and the sorrow start to set in.  This is a reality.  Right outside my door.

And you weep.

You weep because it all seems impossible.  You weep because you wonder “Why?” and “How?”  You weep because you wonder why you sat by idly for so long.photo-8

Elijah Rising is ending human trafficking in our city by equipping a generation of justic warriors for prayer, awareness and intervention in the spirit of Isaiah 1:17 which says ‘Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, plead the cause of the widow, defend the orphan.’

But there is hope.  I soon learned that Elijah rising has started leasing a building that was formerly a brothel.  We had a chance to walk through the building where they are currently remodeling; the building will serve as one of its offices.  This was by far the worst and best part of the tour.  Being inside that building and walking past shower after shower, room after room, made imagining the women and children trapped in this life of slavery far too easy.  There was a real sense of sadness and darkness that remained in those rooms.

But hope was breaking through.  With each pound of the sledgehammer you could feel the walls of injustice slowly crumbling down.  Many of us cried as we walked those halls.

The Elijah Rising team has been praying over those rooms, the evidence of their faith in a God who saves written on the walls in crayola markers.

This place is a victory.  God is pushing back the darkness.  Jesus’ kingdom is coming.  The Spirit is moving…

And you realize that there is a battle happening right outside your doors. 

If you live in Houston or will be visiting anytime in the future, I suggest you do three things:

  1. Go on an Elijah Rising van tour. It will change you.
  2. Pray. Pray for the end of human trafficking in our city, and across the globe.
  3. Attend the Justice Summit this September 19th-21st here in Houston.

 

*These are the statistics I was presented with during the van tour.

Faith and Hope…

“Faith is the settled, unwavering trust in the one true God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ. When we see him face to face we shall not abandon that trust, but deepen it. Hope is the settled, unwavering confidence that this God will not leave us or forsake us, but will always have more in store for us than we could ask or think.”
– N.T. Wright, After You Believe

(Re-posted from N.T. Wright Facebook Page)

The Abominable Pain of Becoming Like Christ…

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. – C.S. Lewis

Three Things About Grace…

© Amilevin | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Lk 15.20 (NIV)

There are at least three things we should catch on to in light of the father’s interaction with the younger son in The Parable of the Father and His Two Sons (Luke 15.11-32):

Grace takes the initiative.  The father takes the initiative running out to his son and embracing him.  Notice that the father doesn’t wait to hear whatever it is the son has to say, instead he rushes out because he has found his son who was lost.  This is radical!  What does our culture teach us about reconciliation?  Usually, we expect the offender to seek reconciliation and make amends.  Jesus turns our expectations on our head and shows us that God–the one who was offended–seeks reconciliation.  This is the heart of God–for “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners [while we were still a long way off], Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8).  God doesn’t require a transformation before we are reconciled to him, rather it is our reconciliation with God that starts the process of transformation.  It is reconciliation with God that brings us from death to life!

Grace is costly.  Forgiveness has its price–but it is the one who forgives, not the one being forgiven that must pay the price.  The father forgives the son at the cost of his honor and reputation so that they might be reconciled.  Likewise, God’s grace toward us is costly.  As Tim Keller says, “Salvation is absolutely free for us, but it’s unbelievably costly for him.”  At the cost of his honor, reputation, and even his life, God became a crucified-Christ “to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,” (1Cor. 1:22).  For again, “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8).

Grace is restorative.  The father goes beyond what is expected of him because he desires reconciliation over penance (that is, some hardship or penalty in order to compensate for wrongdoing).  The father restores the son to his proper place in the family; he does not accept anything less than right relationship with his son.  He is clothed, he is fed, and he is celebrated.  Likewise, God’s grace is restorative, moving beyond the forgiveness of sins towards reconciliation.  For we too “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 2:3-6).  The son who was lost was dead, but now that he is found the son is alive.  He has, in a sense, been resurrected from the dead!  We, too, are no longer dead but alive in Christ–through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we are restored to our place as daughters and sons of God.  And we look forward to our future bodily resurrection in which our restoration finds its ultimate fulfillment.

As we strive to be the hands and feet of Christ our Lord in this world, and to live as people who walk in the freedom and power of the Spirit, let us take the initiative that grace necessitates, let us bear the cost the grace requires, and let us seek the restoration that grace demands.

Graduation… Now What?

Hello blogosphere! It’s been almost four months since my last post. Geez, how did that happen?

Jimmy & Jessica at graduation.

Jimmy & Jessica at graduation.

The mood to blog has resurfaced so I will hopefully be posting more often now that summer has arrived.  In the meantime, I thought I’d give a little update on what has happened over the last four months and how I am doing on my 2013 goals.

Celebrating with family and professors (who are also family!).

The most exciting development is that I, along with my husband Jimmy, graduated on May 11 with our Masters of Arts in Biblical Languages!  It took me 3.5 years (while working full-time) but I made it through and finished well.  I am so thankful for the experience and the training I gained while in the MABL program.  I will especially cherish the relationships.  I was blessed with wonderful professors who invited both Jimmy and me into their lives and their homes (and their kitchens!), as well as wonderful sisters and brothers to work alongside in our academic journeys.  God was as he always is, faithful.

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Dr. Will Rutherford, Jimmy, Jessica, and Dr. Phillip Marshall.

TAK Induction Ceremony April 2013

We were also inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa, the National Honor Society for Theological Studies, in April.  Hurrah!

Now that we’ve graduated, a lot of things are up in the air and we will hopefully have some bearing on what direction we will be heading in the next couple of months.  Our long-term goal is PhD work, but we missed the application deadline for admittance this fall since we thought we would be going to South Africa.  Since our plans have changed, we have at least a year to continue studying on our own and get applications ready.

Tigers Game

Me and Dad.

As far as my 2013 goals, I am still working on most of them.  I did preach again back in March at my home church over Luke 15.  I find I really enjoy the process of writing sermons.  We also started a German group up at school and we made some progress until the end of the semester came around and everything got crazy with projects, papers, and (for us) graduation.  I am planning to keep working through April Wilson’s German Quickly over the summer.  Additionally, I am hoping to work through Randall Buth’s Living Biblical Hebrew and Living Koine Greek in the next couple of months.  Lots of language skills to build up!

I have yet to run a 5K… and it’s now almost June in Houston which means I won’t even attempt this until the fall.  In case you didn’t know, it’s pretty miserable outside in Houston from May to September.

My dad came down for graduation and we had a bit of mini-vacation which was much needed!  We saw the Tigers pummle the Astros (Go Tigers!) and spent some down time in Galveston.

It’s nice to have a bit of a breather after grad school, but I definitely already miss being in class with my professors and classmates.  Is it time to go back to school yet?

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Graduation 2013.

 

 

Goals For The New Year…

Each year seems to go by more quickly than the one before. I remember being a kid and certain seasons, like Christmas, seemed to last forever.  The countdown to Christmas would move so slowly it was agonizing! But now days like Christmas come and go in a flash and we are on to the next year. My job also makes the weeks seem to go by faster as my whole schedule is based around quarterly meetings with forty different families (sometimes I wonder if I’ve gotten off schedule because it seems like I see my clients a lot more than four times a year!).

I hope that I will learn to go at a slower pace. So often in a hurry to get to the next point in life — finish grad school, onto doctoral work, find a teaching position — but I don’t want to miss out on life because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to all that God is doing right here and now, even amidst the mundane.  That’s one of my goals for this next year as we enter in 2013: pay closer attention to each day and each moment God has given me.

I am also challenging myself to some other goals:

    • Run a 5k.  If you know me, or at least follow me on Twitter, you won’t be surprised to hear that I am not a runner. No way, no how! But for some reason I have always wanted to be a runner… jogger… speed-walker at least. My mom used to run when I was little. I remember her putting on her classic Reeboks and off she went. I played sports when I was younger, almost everything, but I was never good at running. This year I hope to change that. (And when I say “good at running” I mean I just want to be able to do a 5k and survive… here’s hoping.)
    • Learn German. This has been on my list for a while but this is the year I plan to actually accomplish this goal. The longer you are in school the more you realize that you are going to have to learn German if you want to keep reading books and articles. Even if you can avoid reading a book written in German, you cannot escape that quote that is sneaked in the footnotes of the book or article you are reading for a paper. Whether or not that little footnote is necessary to your studies does not matter, because if you are like me it will simply drive you batty to not be able to read what’s on the page! Oh yeah, and there’s French, too, which I took in high school (but don’t remember much). Still, let’s start with German.
    • Nail down a thesis and/or dissertation topic. This goal is a bit of a must if I want to continue on with school after graduation in May. We (Jimmy and I) are planning (hoping, praying, racking our brains to figure out how) to move to South Africa to study with Dr. Christo van der Merwe at Stellenbosch University.  We will both graduate in May from HBU with a Master of Arts in Biblical Languages but we will not have written a thesis as it is not part of the program. So the plan is to write a thesis and then move on to a dissertation and, Lord willing, get our PhD’s in Ancient Languages (Biblical Hebrew).  I have a general idea of what I’m interested in writing on but I’ve still got a lot of work to do to…

I am sure I have more goals… lose weight, re-learn how to knit, preach another sermon, start writing music again, etc… but these three I’m giving priority.

Good luck with your goals for 2013! I hope you will be encouraged to finally go out and do the things you’ve always wished you could. And most of all I hope that you will grow in double love – may you love God and love people more this new year!