look

Last Sunday after church, several boys guided us to the new deck area that is open at All In One Family, each grabbing a hand and pulling us along into this mostly unexplored space of new, vast views for these short fellas. They immediately ran to the railing, curious at what made them go there first out of all the spaces to consider, I followed them. Each looked back at me, enthusiastically pointing at something they wanted to show me. Chickens, motos, cars, people on bicycles, the roof across the street going on a new Sunday school space for the kids and the man high in a tree collecting mangos elicited several giggles. There were new views and new aspects of life. There were never before seen angles of the everyday life surrounding them.2.2015 All In One Family

Consider the perspective of the kids…theirs is mostly ground level and, until this new space, hardly ever over the compound wall. They peek out the gate, sometimes ride in a car or bus, but never this bird’s eye view of their world. They can see far and wide. Instead of just seeing the moto drive by the front gate, they see it until it disappears down the long road. They can see out over the valley where Port-au-Price sits and all the way to where Petionville and Delmas can be seen climbing up the mountain. They can see the mountain ranges on both sides of the valley. Their entire worldview expands with just a few more steps carefully taken up to the third floor above their school classrooms. Imaginations ignite. Dreams get busted wide open. Perspectives are changed.

All as we look out in the vast area surrounding our life.

We have all had tunnel vision to a particular goal at some point in our lives. In a lot of areas tunnel vision is not only a healthy way to see, but very beneficial to the cause. There are a lot of churches going from a wide vast view of how to help in the world to a laser, tunnel vision viewpoint in the world. Going all in at one location and honing in on ministry there. I’m not starting that debate, because honestly I fall on both sides depending on how the Holy Spirit is leading a particular community. Following the Holy Spirit has never steered anyone to invest in a life that wasn’t meant to be invested in.

But tunnel vision can be deceiving. Different perspectives can be ignored and missed by focusing so intently on the end goal. Tunnel vision can make us blind in so many different ways, especially when it is not a Holy Spirit led endeavor.

But what if we allowed ourselves the space to engage the pureness and enthusiasm of seeing the vast, wide Kingdom that God is building? God’s Kingdom only knows tunnel vision to one thing, and that is seeing this world restored to its original creation.

What if we allowed ourselves to look out at God’s Kingdom and see something new?

What if enthusiasm for what we see was contagious to those around us?

What if we asked God for the Spirit to lead our eyes to look at the world as he sees it?

What if we really let ourselves look from an upper level view of God’s world? Where would God lead our eyes?

What if we took a cue from the kids and experienced extreme excitement at taking it all in from the third story view?

What would happen if we willingly sought out different perspectives in our daily lives that guide us to observe closely, pray intensely and move as the Spirit leads?

What I do know is that enthusiasm is contagious, and contagious is what draws people deeper into God’s heart for this world. Deeper into God’s Kingdom.

I want the sparkle in my eyes as I look out at the world around me.

I want to point out things that I am excited to show others.

I want to draw people into God’s perspective.

I want to look at this world as the boys were looking at their world last Sunday.

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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.

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*

 

hate

Hate is such a strong word. I find myself correcting others when they use it by asking, ‘Do you hate it? Or do you just not like it?’

It really has to do with a lot of emotion and passion about whatever you are directing the hate towards.

I hate the sun when it burns my skin. Hazards of being a redhead, really.

But what do I gain by directing that hatred towards something I have no control over. I do have control over myself…and putting on sunscreen. (Note: I will be putting an emergency stash in my car for extreme situations that put me on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck now.)

As believers, are we supposed to hate anything?

Could we say Jesus hated anything?

Even when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert…did Jesus slug him? No. But he probably should have. Instead Jesus stays strong, quotes scripture, keeps the focus on his Father and remains calm.

My interactive imagination would like to see a rebellious Jesus punching the air with certain fingers extended to our common foe. But Jesus knew there would be a time for the ultimate win, and it wasn’t time yet.

We also have the point when our Gospel highlights Jesus flipping the tables in the temple in John 2:14-16.

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 

I have had conversations with people about righteous anger verse emotional anger in response to Jesus’ anger in John 2, all leading to where your anger and hate is directed. Would anyone argue with what we see from Jesus here? Of course not. He is overflowing with righteous anger…who in their right mind argues that?

Which leads me to my own righteous anger…I hate evil, with a passion. I hate what it does to the Kingdom. I hate what it does to all God’s people, believers and unbelievers. I hate the influence it has over us without us taking time to even realizing it. I hate how it rips communities apart.

But, oh, how I love that it loses in the end.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Ephesians 6:10-13]

I have seen a lot of places in this world. I’ve prayed a lot of prayers at many places in this world. I’ve felt the power of the Holy Spirit and the movement of God to make things right. I know where our struggle is and it ignites my righteous anger.

I was with a group [Fondue Crew shout-out!] this week that is reading ‘Serving with Eyes Wide Open’ by David Livermore. I read it about 6 years ago, and its second edition had caught the eye of a few in our group. Our discussion was phenomenal this week, but it was a question, off this excerpt, directed toward me that has me basking in the memories of those I have joined my prayers with to pray against the evil in this world.

Believing in a dynamic universe with supernatural powers all around compels majority world Christians to pray with a greater sense of urgency and dependency. A member in a majority world church is much more likely to expect immediate and direct provision from God that a ‘typical’ North American believer. You haven’t experienced prayer until you’ve prayed with a group of Christians in the majority world church whose very lives are dependent upon God. [p40]

I’ve prayed with a Chinese believer from a house church in China. I’ve prayed over a Guatemalan pastor who was ministering to families in a Guatemalan slum. I’ve experienced the intense prayer of Haitians who give thanks to God for safety. I’ve felt the elation of Liberians as they give all they have to the Lord.

The common denominator of all those places is that they all know intimately the fight against evil, and even more intimately know the power of the Holy Spirit joined with their belief in God conquering evil. And each one of them has changed my prayer life exponentially.

I may hate evil, but I also know what it means to fight on the winning side. What are you fighting for today? Are you aware of what is going on in your sphere of the world? What is really going on? How are you praying for those that have an everyday struggle against evil in our world? From civil wars to sex-trafficking to believers that are being martyred to children that are dying from preventable diseases to orphans that have no home…how does that stack up to our suburb mentalities? I say that not to make you feel guilty, but to make you feel like there is something real to fight for in our world.

Evil is not right. Hate is not right. And God will conquer both. Love wins.

*This post was written as a part of a blogging community among my friends using the Twitter hashtag #1word5voices inspired by RethinkChurch. It should have been posted in July…but I was a bit busy! Better late than never! Also, I normally put in photos…but it’s hard to settle on a photo for hate. So go meditate on some of the scripture instead.*

tears

Jesus wept.

Tears. Just to double check I looked it up in the Hebrew dictionary…yep, actual tears. *Geek alert – maybe I should have led with that.*

Also, shortest verse in the Bible. Mind blown? Good.

And ironically (or not) it is found in the Gospel of John, which is the Gospel that has the most sent language woven throughout.

Whoa, halt the presses. Sent language? Yes, folks…not only did God SEND Jesus to earth. Jesus SENT disciples. Jesus SENT his followers. Then to empower them all…Father SENT the Holy Spirit. Thus the beautiful sent language of the Bible that sheds light on our souls that we are ALL indeed missionaries. We are ALL sent.

TRAINSTATIONGIRLSAll found in that lovely Gospel of John, with some tears in the middle.

One of the most tearful times in my life was ripping myself away from the Chinese students we had spent 4 weeks loving and caring about…pouring every part of ourselves into. It is not physically, humanly possible to love someone that much in 4 weeks…that is something more than just who we are as sent people, it is something that comes alive with God moving through us in our relationships with those around us. For the first time, during that summer while leaving the students we’d grown to love, I understood why the Ephesians elders were so torn up about Paul leaving them. [Acts 20:36-38]

Jesus was about relationships. How could he not be? Then within those relationships people came to expect things from him. Why? Because he was the miracle man. The one with all the confusing answers…and the one who was healing people left and right.

If you are Jesus’ friend in those times, would you expect him to be there to make everything right when YOU needed it to be right?

I would. Not because it’s about me, but because of the faith I would have been growing while being around such miracles.

In John 11, Jesus gets word that Lazarus is sick, but instead of the normal human reaction of running to a bedside…Jesus uses this opportunity to show his power, yet again, to those around him.

By the time he gets there, Mary and Martha are…let’s just say more than your usual angry…Mary doesn’t even come out to meet him and Martha actually says to him, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

Do you blame them? They had watched Lazarus go through the pain of dying, then Lazarus had already been in the tomb for 4 days AND they’d been grieving that whole time.

So then, Jesus asks for Mary…stay with me…we are almost there.

Mary goes to him, and what does she lead with but, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ See a trend here?

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.” [John 11:33]

Then?

Jesus wept.

There are so many ways I’ve heard people take this, but honestly, I’ve always viewed this as Jesus, the human. Out of all the things John could have written…John chooses to reveal that Jesus wept. I’ve always wondered if John sat there with his scroll and ink, pondering – ‘Should I show this side of him? Will anyone think him weak?’ Normally in a Scottish accent, not sure why…just Scottish.

But there is beauty in the realness of that friendship and love. There is beauty that in the midst of a Gospel full of movement and people being sent…there is emotion and time for Jesus to pause in his own community while the Pharisees are literally breathing down his neck.

But there is more…because even in the story of Lazarus, even in the midst of this pause where we see Jesus with those he loved deeply we hear this:

‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you SENT me.’ [John 11:41]

Then Lazarus was raised from the dead and everyone moved on in their sentness.

Just kidding…then the Pharisees kicked it into gear and it all progressed to the cross where we should find ourselves falling and refueling for this crazy sent ride we are on with God.

Apologies, my brain is scattered because we leave on the Junior High mission trip tomorrow, but my point is this…even in the acknowledgment and acceptance of the simple reality that we truly are a sent people, emotions are a part of it. The anger, passion, kindness and compassion…the tears…when you live as an active participant in God’s Kingdom work, when you are actively loving and caring about the relationships around you…there is no way to avoid the emotion. Embrace it, because even though the last thing I ever want to do is admit anything ever leaks from my eyes…Jesus is the example we follow and even he wept for his friends.

This post is a part of a series that my blogging buds and I are doing as a part of extending our Lent experience. To read more about that go here. We blog the same word on the 15th of each month, though I am pretty sure I am the first to post this month and it is the 16th…so give ’em some grace, because this will be the first & last time I get one up before them. If you want to check out what they had to say about ‘tears’ go here:

Heather Kostelnick

Lindsay Evans

Shawn Franssens

Brian Swanson

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.

rejoice

image

Rejoice to me is not just about being happy. I think it has a very large element of expressing joy and the physicality of that joy.

I love getting excited about small things. It could be as simple as my coffee shop has my favorite seasonal flavor back, or a friend bringing me an iced tea when I didn’t know they were stopping at QT or Sonic. I apparently love drinks. It could also be a small word of encouragement…see? No liquid involved. Or when I see perfect snowflakes because I love snow so much!

But then it could be as big as a marriage or family expanding. Or a new life choice…or promotion at work.

Rejoicing has a physical element to it…joy being visual. You can see it. It is not something that stays hidden and no one knows.

My team is in the Sweet Sixteen…I guarantee you every one around me knows how much joy I have about the Duke boys advancing.

When I have a friend visiting or am going to see one…I can’t sit still. It is absolutely apparent in my outward expression how excited I am.

But that’s just the outward expression of things on earth I love to experience.

When spiritual stuff brings me joy everyone definitely knows. They see it in my actions, words and body language…or blog post. Holy Spirit giddiness cannot be contained!

When I get exited about something God reveals through scripture, I drive everyone nuts because I talk about it so much. The only reason they go crazy is because I am outwardly expressing my joy at the Holy Spirit moving around me.

I am rejoicing and inviting others into the joy of God moments.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. [1 Corinthians 12:26]

All rejoice together…what a beautiful way to draw others to the heart of God. Bringing them to his Kingdom by expressing joy together!

Don’t rejoice alone. Please. Let your community join in with you! Let us feel your joy! Let us see it! Maybe we are having a bad day and need a pick me up! Big or small. Incidental or life changing. Rejoice together!