announce

Starting off a new season of blog posts as a Lenten practice with friends is a big undertaking. One post a day. 47 days. Cue the proverbial gasp. We did it 2 years ago and we are all in for another round of community building, growth with Jesus and throwing it all out into the universe. To start…I’ve decided to let my missiology geek flag fly high and proud.

“The South African missiologist David Bosch wrote, ‘Mission is more and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ.’ In other words, mission derives from the reign of God. In that respect, the ideas of mission and Kingdom are irrevocably linked. Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ. Mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God. If the church grows as a result, so be it.” (Five Habits of Highly Missional People, Michael Frost)

This is one of my favorite quotes on the sovereignty of God, our role and what we are charged with to further God’s Kingdom on earth in the here and now, not the wait until later and heaven is just gonna come variety.

Announcements don’t discriminate on type or a timely arrival. They come before a big event or after the occasion. They are happy. They are sad. They are expectant. They are difficult. But they always are used to inform and guide.

The announcement we are held to proclaim is that God reigns over the entire universe. He sacrificed his son. Holy Spirit is alive and active. His power is not limited and his love is not earned. He is life in a desolate wasteland. He is light in suffocating darkness.

“Jesus refused. ‘First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!'” (MSG Luke 9:60)

As believers we get comfortable and content with where we are at and what we are doing. But realistically, as believers and followers of the God who reigns, we should never find ourselves in a cycle of contentedness or comfort. It’s a dangerous cycle, void of growth and transformation…ours and God’s Kingdom.

As believers we tell ourselves that actions speak louder than words, which I do agree with, however, trustful, honest words are not to be relegated to the massive shadow of action. Honest words come in the midst of a loyal relationship within a community. There we find where true announcement and proclamation of the reign of God fosters transformation.

Words fall on deaf ears if all we do is walk around shouting the truth of God and moving around without investment of self and time. It’s about accepting you are placed and then genuinely loving those around you. If we get stuck believing in only the numbers game of evangelism, we lose the opportunity for real discipleship and real relationships. We miss the real message of God’s reign through Christ. We ignore how Jesus did life with those around him. And quite honestly, you miss out on all the fun to be had while building towards God’s Kingdom on earth…together.

While I was in Russia last November, the relationships God has allowed me to pour into consistently have opened up a myriad of opportunities to announce God in the lives of those that I care deeply about. Abundant opportunities to point to the Storyteller and the Story. In that case, it was the demonstration that led to a deep relationship which in turn led to a honest announcing through the trust and openness that had been built.

“Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ,” explains Michael Frost.

Announcement cannot exist without demonstration. Demonstration cannot exist without announcement. They are forever entwined as portals to build God’s Kingdom.

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prayer

“Stephanie, where do I go to pray for you today? I’m sitting at my table, coffee in my right hand and my Bible in my left.”

It’s not every day that you get emails that start with those words…so many emotions in those simple words. The reality that someone cares enough to intentionally sit down and pray for me is one. But also someone who cares enough to put some spiritual muscle behind sending me a Bible verse, or three because it couldn’t be narrowed down, that is only for me.

It is all a part of being known. Isn’t that one of our basic human emotional needs? To pray for me is one thing, but to know them well enough to pray for me without a litany of prayer requests to read down requires us to know one another.

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And very clearly we are friends who know one another, because she knows that I would care that she was also drinkin’ her mornin’ cup, or five, of joe. Birds of a feather and all…I’m writing this while drinking a delicious cup myself.

My precious friend ended up sending me the best Bible verses, and she wasn’t the only one last week.

A group of us participated in an experiment last week. Pray for one person each day, and send them a Bible verse. Simple enough, right? It started with a spreadsheet, because they are cool. Then some of us forgot, which meant others got two verses in one day…but it wasn’t about our crazy lives and forgetting to email, mostly because we were intentionally praying for each other every day for seven days.

Which at this point, I should also mention, that NONE of us like to pray out loud. When we are together and it is ‘time’ to pray. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Prayer is a lot of things though…a thought, a whisper, a doodle, a word, a song, a painting. We limit our connection to God when we see prayer as something only done at meal time or ‘church’ events. We also limit that connection when we think only Pastors have the ‘right’ prayers. There is no ‘right’ prayer. There are no ‘right’ words. God takes all of them, and more so, knows your heart. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth.

Despite our aversion to praying out loud, this week we found a new way to connect through prayer and it was exhilarating. One day, I got scripture that I had significantly connected to while in China about loving people that are hard to love. For whatever reason, only God knows, it led me to spending a lot of time last week praying for China, the folks I knew and the Americans I traveled with for a summer.

It was also eye opening. Without knowing prayer requests we quickly realized we were left to how well we knew each other and what was happening in our lives, especially with the added piece of giving them a part of God’s word. Prayer is a connector to God first and foremost, but we also found that prayer is a connector to each other as well.

Without our connection to our God and Holy Spirit, and without strong relationships that we can depend on…we are left alone, hopeless and cut off. That, most assuredly, is not a strong community of believers, and definitely not one that the God of the universe will use to restore His Kingdom back to wholeness.

At the start of our week of intentional prayer, I was nervous that some would ‘forget’ or worse…not get into the whole prayer every day thing. For some it pushed on the boundaries of our comfort zones, because Bibles were being opened daily and prayer life was getting a jolt. However, our God is a God of grace, love and mercy – the relationship kind, and he SHOWED up. Big time.

We ended up going above and beyond simply prayer and scripture, and found ourselves encouraging each other. Even finding God encouraging us while spending more time in His word. Some found themselves lending an ear in situations, as well as all of us thinking about each other all week. We were connected, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

Don’t be the person this week that says, “I’m praying for you!” and then make it a side thought. Be intentional. Desire a community. Be connected to God through prayer for the sake of those around you. God will show up. God will work through junk. God will make the relationships around you stronger. God will enhance your discernment. It doesn’t even matter if you know what to pray for, because I guarantee you that God knows what that person needs more than a list of prayer requests would tell you.

God worked in us so much this week that we are going to be working to fill in the holes of relationships with each other that God shed light on last week. The good news is it will involve food, conversation, and of course, coffee.

justice

IMG_2445It is impossible to read the Bible and not see that justice is a theme from start to finish. It is even in the birth of Jesus. Was it fair his parents had to travel? Was it fair that he was born in a barn? Was it fair Herod wanted the baby dead, so he had all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem killed?

In Luke 1, we find an often unnoticed piece of scripture referred to as Mary’s song. Even in the midst of a sudden pregnancy, dealing with the real fear of being an outcast and knowing that Joseph would not reasonably be allowed to marry her now…Mary sings of God’s justice:

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. [Luke 1:50-53]

If we perceive ourselves as believers, we cannot ignore the things God and his people in the Bible cared about. God created an entire year to forgive debts of each other. God freed slaves. The prophets continually pointed God’s people down paths of fighting against injustice. And the ultimate action…sent his son in the form of a baby to grow up and die on a cross so that we could be freed from the bondage of sin. As believers we have the gift of grace, and as believers we have the opportunity to fight for the things that will work to set things right.

What would happen if we stopped adamantly arguing about whether it is Christian to cuss, and started fighting for the things that God wants us to actually fight for…would we discover we are stronger as a whole community? Would we be stronger as a body of believers? Would we be better at making God’s Kingdom look like something everyone wants to be a part of?

It turns my stomach the litany of things that believers choose to fight with each other about. I could take up paragraphs upon paragraphs of examples, and honestly, that makes me sick, too.

If we stopped fighting among believers, would we actually make those that have turned from God and embraced a world of atheism reconsider the truth and love of God?

If we stopped arguing about petty things, and focused on core salvation issues…would we be seen as a community that would be a reflection of God’s acceptance?

We can be strong together. But we have to choose it. We have to stop judging and tearing each other down as believers. This behavior isn’t new. It happened all of the time in the communities Paul was traveling to in the New Testament. He had to write whole letters to correct behavior, so that the community would be seen as an extension and good example of God’s love.

Who is writing us letters? Who is holding us accountable? Where are the prophets to call us out on the things we are doing to distract people from the goodness and truth of God? Where are the people with a message of reconciliation? Where are those that bring hope instead of destruction? Where are those that fight against injustice in our world?

We can be stronger together fighting for justice…for the things that break God’s heart, but will we claim the courage to choose it?

dream

Sometimes I feel like Christianity is taking a nap…a super long, hibernation-type nap. And those of us that are not involved in hibernation are misunderstood by all of the extreme views that make it in the media, while our good stuff of helping the down and out goes on without notice. Think about how excited you get when you see a news story on that is a ‘feel good’ story. You get excited because you don’t see it very often!

Mar 19 - dream

Wake up, wake up all you sleepers

Imagine if every believer ‘woke up’ to the mission Jesus began in our world. Imagine if every believer started following what the Jesus actually said in the Gospels. Imagine if we were all moving in the same direction instead of arguing. Imagine if every believers’ eyes opened to how God sees this world, and were ignited to being more for him.

Stand up, stand up all you dreamers

We have lost our imagination for the ways we can participate in God’s Kingdom. Folks have gotten themselves trapped into a corner of what ‘church’ is and how ‘service’ should look. The only picture God paints through scripture is that we are supposed to be pouring into the orphans and widows, the poor, the naked, the hungry…the list goes on. But the point is we need to dream again. I think some need to feel like they have permission to dream God’s dreams for this world. Then they would find that their eyes could burst with life and color and purpose again.

Hands up, hands up, all believers

Take up your cross and carry it on

When Jesus talked about taking up your cross and carrying it, do you think he was foreshadowing his own suffering and resurrection? Or was he literally telling us to pick up a cross and follow him? Does it even matter? We should be living each day as though Jesus was resurrected. When Jesus was prophesied, then fulfilled that prophecy…no one imagined he would actually come back to life. But he did. We follow a God that has woven so intricately his story into the story of the world. Our lives are still being woven into the story of the world, but will you be a believer that stands up? Or will you  be a believer that just thinks about it?

Here we stand, our hearts are yours

Not our will, but yours be done

My heart is firmly planted in the hands of God…my life…is his. Every day I need the reminder to rise up and act as though Jesus was really resurrected, because it is getting harder and harder for people in this world to actually believe it happened. Here’s to us living as followers of the resurrected Son, hands raised high, dreaming God-sized dreams to do Kingdom work and waking up all the sleepers we come across.

[Song lyrics from All Sons & Daughters’ ‘Wake Up’]