holy moments

Lord, who am I that you would honor me with your presence?

Who am I that you would call me chosen?

Who am I that you would call me into an intimate journey with you?

The inner ramblings of my soul were intensified after a holy encounter at Leogane last week.

It was an odd mix of ages and eclectic life experiences, paired with intense love for music and Jesus.

Our trio of Americans walked to the back of Leogane as our pint sized entourage floated around us to visit the grandparents. Arriving under the shade of the mango tree, we were quickly told to sit as grandparents left their own seats to offer us their ingrained hospitality. The young man with us adamantly tried to get the grandmas to sit back down, so he wouldn’t take precious seating. Then he succumbed to their extreme hospitality when one grandma brought over a tattered business chair missing the back rest and padding, as she quietly put a pillow down for him to sit on, then pushing him into it.

A weird mix of emotions collides in those moments.

Who are we to deserve a seat in their presence? Who are we to deserve that extreme hospitality in a place we only desire to serve and love? Yet, to deny the hospitality is to insult, where we only want to love.IMG_2686

The young man tuned his guitar, the song sheets were held under the teamwork of feet so the wind would not claim it and music was offered into the air.

But then God made himself known and his Holy Spirit presence became tangible. What was meant as a gift of music became a merging of worship by al l ages where language is only an afterthought while the only real language needed is communion with the One we serve. Time suspended. Prayers were offered. Sacred ground.

The gift of discernment in the moments of worship is unique to incredibly talented individuals and, the young man and woman sitting with me are incredibly talented. They will continue to grow and they will continue to carry experiences with them that defined their future, but I truly pray last week marked their lives in the way only the Holy Spirit can mark someone. It is cloudy to see at times and this world makes it distorted, but they honored the sacred ground God created through their talent by simply being present.

As they finished the last song, the notes drifted up and away, and the Creole prayers that had been murmured the last few minutes became audible. Beautifully crafted and time scarred hands covered faces as the women who sat with us prayed. Church should not be bound by building, language or culture, and worship cannot be contained to lyrics and notes. As I caught glimpses of these women I love and deeply respect, they were worshipping at church as tears glistened in their eyes. God used these two teens to bring a random time of church into the sacred space of the widows and orphans living together at Leogane due to some version of being discarded, abandoned and victims of poverty in Haiti. Young or old, it’s the same classification of orphan that God calls us to champion.

The women gradually, and almost reluctantly, opened their eyes and started repeating in Creole, “I am very happy. Thank you. I am very happy. Thank you.”

Mustering every ounce of Creole I could, I launched into broken Creole, “They are happy, too. They wanted to bless you with their music.”

Immediately, the grandma sitting closest to us thrust her hands over her eyes to hide her face, yet glanced back at us with questions in her eyes.

“Why would they want to bless me? I want to bless them,” she repeated over and over again as her humility at the thought of her guests, in her home, wanting to bless her overcame her.

I took a deep breath before I translated it to the teens around me, because in those simple words that moment of worship became one of the most Holy moments I’ve been a part of in Haiti. Images of women in the Bible who were marked and healed by Jesus flooded my mind along with what they might have humbly said in Jesus’ presence.

The Samaritan woman at the well…“Who am I that he knows what I did?”

The adulterous woman awaiting the rocks to be thrown…“Who am I that he would stand up for me? That he would not condemn me?”

Mary as she used an expensive bottle of perfume…“Who am I that he would accept this gift from me?” While Jesus defended her actions with, “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary as Jesus appeared to her after his resurrection…“Who am I that he would show himself to me?”

photoAs I translated to the teens, the startled look in their eyes was clear…what they had intended as a simple gift of music had turned into a moment in their young lives that they would have a difficult time putting into words or even pointing back to as holy. Each of their minds raced to think of what to say as the symbiotic blessing became inexpressible among us.

Who were we to be allowed to step into that Holy moment together?

Who were we to be honored with the presence of each other?

Haitians and Americans. Young and old. Sunk deep into, and marked by, a holy moment lead by the intense humility of one woman intensely loving and honoring her Savior.

 

 

 

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holy

Christmas confessions.

I really do not like Christmas hymns. Sharp pitched notes, different versions of the same thing…it’s not the cynical ‘I hate Christmas,’ because I love Christmas. I just do not like the music that is traditionally associated with it.

I do like Christmas music that is ‘not’ Christmas music to a lot of people. Brandon Heath has a beautiful song out right now called ‘Just a Girl.’ If you haven’t heard it, you must go track it down. I guarantee you will not regret it! I also love ‘Winter Snow’ by Chris Tomlin and Audrey Assad. I could listen to that song on repeat for hours!

There is one traditional song, well…two, really…that I do like. Every time I hear ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Silent Night’ I get chills. I think it is the lyrics and the dynamics of how it is sung when I hear the ‘Fall on your knees’…that leads into ‘O night divine.’

It is also because ever since I learned that the word ‘holy’ has roots to ‘set apart’ in the original Hebrew I have been fascinated by it. Let’s also clarify that set apart is also very different from being put up on a pedestal for no one to touch. Set apart to me means set apart for a purpose, set apart as one who claims the gift God offers in Jesus. It also means we choose to grab ahold of those holy moments and know that the tangible presence of God has touched us. That is holy for us…but in Revelation it says everyone was praising God all day and all night, and singing:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” [Revelation 4:8]

Does this mean our God is unreachable? Too holy for us?

No. Why? Because we are talking about the same God who sent his son to be born on earth, to live here with us…then die on a cross because we have too many wrongs to make right in ourselves.

We are called to be holy as God is holy…but just as he makes himself available to us, we are not called to be unreachable and act as though we are better than those that do not call themselves believers. When we set ourselves too far apart from those that do not believe what we believe, we do an injustice to God who sent his son to earth to be friends with prostitutes, tax collectors, beggars, outcasts and those with leprosy.

So I leave you with my favorite lyrics from ‘O Holy Night,’ and if you’ve been reading my blog long enough…you’ll easily see why these lyrics are my favorite, and more likely why I have such an attachment to ‘O Holy Night.’

Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

awake

I strongly dislike mornings. If I am awake early, it is purely strong black sludge in a mug that makes me appear human.

Which means I am a night owl. I love the quiet of night, and if you look at the time stamps of when I post you will notice a pattern of time of day when I get my inspiration to write.

There are times that I have the best intentions of going to bed early, then the next thing I know I am still awake past midnight.

I watch TV. I listen to music. I read. I pray. I write. I ponder…a lot.

My brain tries to process the day and who I was with, who did I not see that I need to check in with, what needs to be done tomorrow…the list goes on and on.

But one of the last things that play through my mind while I am still awake are the places that have made a mark on my soul, and changed me.

They take turns. China. Russia. Haiti. Liberia. College. Friendships. Arguments.

Tonight I find myself doing the math as to what time it is in Russia. Right now, the kids are probably studying and it’s almost lunch time. How was their morning? How much snow did they get last night? (This thought is normally followed by a quick check of the weather, which is a snowy 17 and feels like 7 during the day while it is 11 and feels like -3 in KC overnight.) Did they wear the hats and gloves they were so excited about last month? It’s banya (bath) day, who will try to skip and not get caught by caregivers? Sergei is the best bet or maybe Dima S. Is Valya still in the hospital with pneumonia? Has Danil decided to not be as psycho today? Did someone tease Lena and make her sad? Who made Gera smile today? What has Vika drawn? Was Larisa more of a kid or mama today? What new poem has Stas memorized and did the superhero cape get pulled out and worn? Have the boys seen the soccer world cup groupings that came out? Has Dima kept control of his anger issues? Which Americans wrote a letter that might get delivered today by Yulia, our discipler?

These are orphans I know by name. They struggle with most of the same things our kids struggle with, but with the added scars of not being accepted by their culture and living with abandonment issues.

I was being obedient in my calling to international mission when God woke up a huge part of my soul in a small village orphanage with 50 kids, and he’s kept my passion alive for justice ever since.

One of my favorite songs is ‘Wake Up’ by All Sons and Daughters, and it always reminds me of this verse in Ephesians:

‘Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”‘ [Ephesians 5:14]

The chorus of the song is ‘Wake up all you sleepers. Stand up all you dreamers. Hands up all believers. Take up your cross…’

When you lie awake at night, what are you thinking about? What has God made you awake for?

Or better yet…what is God trying to wake you up to…or have you been choosing to press snooze?

The truth is this world is waiting for a lot of believers to wake up. Whether you have believed in the truth of the universal reign of God for an hour, a day, a month or 50 years…too many believers are asleep to the mission impulse God put in each one of us.

It’s there. Dig deep. Maybe chisel down to lay some of your scars bare to find it.

Because this world desperately needs your compassion, discerned words, unconditional love and faith in the world beyond this one.

Choose to be awake.

This post is part of a blog series using the Rethink Church Advent photo-a-day word. If you use Instagram follow #rethinkchurch or #rethinkchristmas.

fire

Fire fall down
Fire fall down
On us we pray
As we seek
Fire fall down
Your fire fall down
On us we pray 

Show me your heart
Show me your way
Show me your glory 

Several months ago I was with some students on a mission retreat. Our students love mission trips. And they are greatly impacted by serving others so we had planned a low key service and worship retreat. What that meant was our worship was a djembe drum and one guitar. The students had learned a new song a few months before, and I hadn’t heard it yet.

I will never forget my reaction to their deafening praise on what we like to think of the ‘jam’ at the end.

As they worshipped all I could think was…they have no idea what they are asking in these words, because it they did, then they wouldn’t be worshipping like this to these lyrics. They can’t possible know what that means. They can’t possibly be ready for that. They don’t know what they will be igniting among themselves. They aren’t prepared for that…

That thought has stuck with me for months…through our mission trips with both age groups. Then through worship and though seeing their favorite worship verses posted on social media.

In the back of my mind, when we sing those words, the thought keeps nagging me that they have no idea what they are asking of God…but it keeps colliding with a second thought.

That they do know.

They know that God’s power is infinite. They know that the Spirit of God cannot be contained. They know how strong their community is, and that God is fiercely among them. They know that the Holy Spirit is empowering and flowing through people all around them. They know that they are being called to incredible purposes in the Kingdom of God. They know he is igniting them to be change. They know he has set his people apart to be his heart for the world in all contexts, not just checking off ‘doing good’ on a list each week. They know that through their praise to the God who reigns…the God over the universe…that his definition of who they are at the core of their soul is the only one that matters.

Fire fall down…on us we pray.

Last Sunday on my birthday, the Worship Center set list had ‘The Stand’ at the end. One of my greatest gifts on Sunday was waiting for the chorus to come, looking toward where the students sit…and seeing their hands fly up in the air as they sang:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

My prayer is that fire does fall down on them, and in ways they cannot even imagine, because they do know what they are asking.

They know because on Sunday nights the Holy Spirit is so thick it is actually tangible in the room. You can feel it when you walk in. It’s electric. It’s God present to those worshipping with their entire hearts. The whole reason they worship is their craving of connection to their Father, because they know they need that connection wherever they go. Especially when at the core of their worship is an undeniable thirst to be a force for good against injustice, and to live as God’s sent people.

Their service fuels their worship. Their worship fuels their service. It is a beautiful cycle with God’s word woven through both.

So God, bring that fire down, because I know this generation is capable of doing great things for the Kingdom. Honestly, it’s an honor to know them and pour what I’ve been taught into their hearts. But the injustice happening to the students right now is that there is a minority of people that are committed to pouring into them as disciples of Jesus. There is much to learn from our students, but there is also much that could be given in relationships from a community of believers. Holy Spirit, move in the hearts of your people and let your fire fall down on all of us.

*Fire Fall Down and The Stand, both by Hillsong United*

 

layers

Above me is a ceiling made out of a quilted patchwork of multi-colored tarps held together by a myriad of wires, ropes and thanks to some wacky Americans…zip ties.

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*This photo is for ‘sale’ on my photo blog at sojourner4jesusphotography.com. Selling photos is one of the avenues I use to raise money for mission trip travel.

It holds so much beauty in its own right, but then add to it a Holy purpose and all of a sudden it is transformed into one of the most amazing worship areas I’ve ever been honored to worship God under.

The electricity of the Holy Spirit was tangible, and needed no translation among a group of believers speaking multiple languages.

Layers of worship.

What does that mean to you? What do layers of worship look like? If you could peel back every layer it would have the same core of the God we serve, but each of those layers look different based on where you are worshipping.

I’ve worshipped in gilded Russian Orthodox churches to the makeshift sacred space of classrooms in China to mud floors and rusted tin walls in Guatemala.

But layers of worship gained immense meaning for me in Haiti in May.

Our teams’ task the first two days on site at Olivier Methodist Church in Haiti was to transfer the rocky rubble of the earthquake torn church building to the back of the compound where it became Holy ground for the church pews on Sunday morning.

Setting aside my general awe of the beautiful way most other countries use everything while we toss aside things that are perfectly good…God opened my eyes to the layers.

On Haitian ground covered with the earthquake rubble of the past building sat the pews in groupings and rows expectantly waiting for a community to come together under the shade provided by colorful tarps, woven together behind a church building slowly being put back together.

The community could have fallen apart. Haitian community is based around church gathering places. When the church buildings collapsed, the community had nowhere to gather that was protected from rain and sun. Our first night after working there was a major rainstorm…the next morning we found half of the tarps sagging under ponds of water from the rain.

The community could have relocated. Many had lost their homes and others their ability to earn money.

The community could have said ‘There is no God. If there was, why would this have happened?’ But the beauty of the Haitian people is their ability to turn their hope toward eternal life and life beyond this world.

The community could have said it’s not worth it. We have natural disasters all of the time why would be rebuild.

But the community is strong and stubborn in all the areas it should be.

Instead the community holds onto the ‘espwa’ of Jesus. (‘espwa’ is ‘hope’ in Creole.) They cling to the strength community brings as one whole instead of each alone. Their songs of worship are yelled to their Savior as their hands sway in the Holy Spirit saturated air. And they stand together as one community seeking the one true God in layers of worship.

sing

This week is literally kicking my ass. I feel like I should be walking around wearing a sign that says, ‘Pre-apology: If I snap at you…it has nothing to do with you.’ Then I apologize a LOT. For being late. Snapping at people. Messing stuff up. My ‘in the zone’ look makes people think I am angry…which results in more apologies.

It’s a vicious cycle that can only be fixed with one of two things: coffee or iced tea.

Completely kidding…kinda.

After a Mach 5 kinda week, how do I refocus and align back up with my Savior, who is constantly recreating my asshole-self into something better than sinful me.

Prayer. Study. Mission…worship.

Be forewarned if you ever travel long distances with me, or really any distance…the music will be LOUD. I’m known for it, just ask my friends. And some of the best worship I’ve had at times is singing at the top of my lungs in my car.

I grew up singing. I remember being about 6 years old, hiding out in our duplex basement singing Whitney Houston songs at the top of my very young lungs. Some of my best memories of high school are being in choir with my friends, quickly followed by a worst memory of the choir teacher telling me I wasn’t any good, and I was lucky he was letting me stay in choir.

Then with joining my first Christian community came this beautiful awareness that together we sing, and that is worship to our Lord.

image

We sing. Alone or together. And God moves among his people. His Spirit speaks. We are one with our Savior.

All because we lift our voices, our souls and sing.

Not sure where to start? I have this spectacular tab at the top bar for worship that God has been using to speak to me, and help me realign to his vision for me on the weeks that kick my ass.

I also leave you with lyrics from an amazing song by All Sons & Daughters called, ‘Called Me Higher.’ There is another one that is alternating with this one by Jordan Howerton Band called ‘Move Me.’ And yes, these songs I sing at the top of my lungs like God is deaf. Sing it like ya mean it, people!

I could just sit
I could just sit and wait for all your goodness
Hope to feel your presence
And I could just stay
I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel you
Hope to feel something again

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You change me from the inside
And I could be safe
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down

But you have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I will go where you will lead me Lord
You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I will go where you lead me Lord
Where you lead me
Where you lead me Lord

And I will be Yours
I will be Yours for all my life
So let Your mercy light the path before me

Now go sing, friends. Sing at the top of your lungs like God is deaf and worship your guts out! Because I guarantee that a few moments of worship will change the week from kicking your ass to you completely kicking its’ ass.

alone

Water swirls around me as I catch a breath then tuck my head back into the blissful quiet of the pool.

Stroke. Kick. Stroke. Kick. Breathe. Stroke. Kick. Stroke. Kick.

All alone.

When I am swimming it is one of the most peaceful times for me to decompress and clear my head. Second only to hanging out in God’s glorious nature. I may be outgoing, but God doesn’t speak through my outgoing moments. His presence is felt and he speaks through the times I am alone. Quiet. Dreams. Rest. I have to be disciplined to grab onto those moments, or suffer the separation from my Savior. Not good for me…ever.

This morning I woke up with a random song in my head, and while I was swimming the chorus was on a loop…breathing in and out of my soul as I was catching breathes between strokes.

Sometimes I need something to run like a mantra through my head for it to truly sink in.

I am set free. It is for freedom that I am set free.

I actually couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics. But this mantra of my freedom associated with ‘it is for freedom I am set free’ was continuous.

As I mulled it over, losing track of laps…freedom to bring others freedom or freedom for me to rest in after being set free.

When we got back from the pool (and after the Duke game…priorities…) I hit the iPod.

You mend my life with your holy fire. You cover me with grace.

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It takes time alone with God for me to feel that mending with his Holy fire. And oh how it can be a raging Holy fire at times…

What this freedom, and mending, means for me is to be free of the shackles of the expectations of others.

Freedom is not suffocating in the sin my Savior willingly takes from me.

Free of the chains holding me to a person I am not.

Freedom to proclaim what I am called to and what I am not called to, and being set free to be that person.

Freedom to bask in the Holy Spirit fire that guides me, restores me and draws me to the heart of God.

Freedom to grasp with my last dying grip to the peace that Jesus freely gave in John 14:27.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

It is being alone with God where I feel the most clarity in my spirit, his peace and where I see most clearly my past, future and the now. Free of distraction, and my mind empty for God to fill…a woman in process and mended by his Holy fire.

(Lyrics from ‘I am set free’ by All Sons and Daughters)