joy

God’s glory saturated yesterday.

And it was spectacular.
  

Friends, it was lovely and packed with memories I will not soon forget. And in a time where memories are made every day the fact that my smile is still plastered across my face, and probably making everyone think I am making fun of them in the deep recesses of my mind, says a lot. I am still overflowing with joy from everywhere God’s glory exploded bright yesterday. I kind of feel like when Moses’ face kept reflecting the glory of God after being in his presence and no one could look at him when he carried the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai. They were afraid to approach him because his face shone from talking to God. But it isn’t creepy. It isn’t scary. It is holy.

Oh, friends, that this joy would continually be reflected out of Haitian lives.

Yesterday marked the first graduating class of the Pathways program through Global Orphan Project in Haiti. Two years of hard work for students who have not passed school grades anywhere from 4th to 10th grade in Haiti and had to leave a Pastor’s care at age 18. Two years of living as a community. Two years of budgeting, language and life learning. Two years of true friendship and maturing. Two years of discipleship and growth as local church leaders. Two years of learning trade skills to earn a job within a country that has an unemployment rate of 70%. Two well fought years to reach yesterday.

I’ve seen grief in these students. I’ve seen their confidence grow. I’ve seen passionate prayer and worship. I’ve seen struggles. I’ve seen them walk with kindness and respect for others as they learn to navigate life beyond a Pastor’s care. I’ve seen them empowered and proud of themselves as they gain job skills and feel they have something to impart on younger students. I’ve seen them investing in other young lives still living in a Pastor’s care.

And yesterday, I saw them exploding with joy in their accomplishment. They were so, so happy. I kept telling them, ‘I am so happy for you!’ And one by one their eyes would shine bright and smiles would sparkle as they replied with, ‘Me too!’

As I reflect on yesterday while I journey to Kansas City for my brother’s celebrations leading him into a new married life…I am breathing deep breathes of gratitude.

Today I am praising true life, because it is a gift to live and count so, so many people as dear friends across so many different cultures and languages.

Today I am grateful for patience in Haitian culture, because through the craziness of traffic and no disgust in long lines, Haiti has taught me to slow down and treasure what is in front of me…to take the moments we are given for what they are meant to be.

I am inspired while living within a culture that lives the example of respectfully greeting colleagues and friends when you first see them in the day with a hand shake and kiss to the cheek. It is intentional. It is meaningful. It shows they are present with you and we are known by one another.

Today I am thankful for the examples of overflowing love of Jesus in the Haitian lives surrounding me, because it has taught me to not be ashamed of who I follow and easily sigh with ‘Seigneur Jésus.’ It has taught me that worship is passionate, with your whole existence crying out for the Savior.

Today I smile with overflowing love for a culture of extremes and being chosen to grow within this place. It is not easy living within the extremes of Haiti. This place is no where near perfect, but there is loads of beauty…even in dirt and trash. There are many things that ignite my sense of justice and many things that force me to rely on faith when I do not understand. But they hone my vision to God’s Kingdom restored and renewed, and fuel my fight for that Kingdom to be known.

Today I am refreshed by young lives filled with pride and confidence through empowerment.

As I sit and soak in the last year and a half, and look forward to the next year in Haiti, I see it as the incredible gift it is in my life. I am grateful for my calling, and this time of being placed perfectly within who God created me to be for his Kingdom. God’s glory is evident and present everywhere, but somehow Haiti purifies it and allows us to look through a clear lens. I will forever crave the presence of the Holy Spirit in this place and Haiti will forever make my heart explode.
  

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.

 

 

 

go

It’s Easter.

Today I woke up, put on a dress (my least favorite thing to wear, ever, which is why Sunday afternoons are basketball shorts/sweatpants capri days to reward my morning sacrifice), and walked to church with Dexter (also known as Rogelin, who is a student living at the Pathways building). Who consequently got some friendly teasing from the guards on the way out the gate for walking with one of the white chicks to church. Amy would have been with us, but I have a group coming tomorrow that I am leading, so she had to take the one that came yesterday and they are out at Leogane.

It rained last night, thank the Lord for rain to knock down Port-au-Prince dust, so it was muddy on the way to church. The Chacos didn’t fail me as we navigated muddy rocks, large puddles, the part of the path we affectionately call ‘the bush’ because it really needs a good machete chopping, torched patches from neighbors burning their trash and gravel piles as our neighbors work to build up their homes. Really, this is how everyone should have to get to church, because riding in a car is so easy. There is something about the walk soaking in the morning sun and Haitian humidity that makes church a place you have to make an effort to be present.

Turning the corner on the home stretch, we came upon the woman who goes to the market for Jumecourt and a friendly ‘Bonjour!’ was tossed her way. She was in a beautiful coral colored dress and high heeled shoes with her hair resting in perfect ringlets around her face. My frizzy mop knotted on top of my head, long dress and sandals paled in comparison.

When we walked up to Ebenezer Church, a couple of the girls from Source de la Grace were making their way across the street and one grabbed my hand. We all got stopped by the ushers at the door, because they were praying inside. As I stood in the doorway, I couldn’t help but notice the man decked out in ALL white sitting at the front. White suit, white shirt, white vest, white tie, white socks and white shoes…Pastor Claude was in his Easter suit.

Dexter came to my side and said, “I’m going to sit with the kids.” I replied, “Great! Me, too.”

As the prayer finished they beckoned us inside, and started walking toward the kid side when the usher tried to redirect us. Telling her we wanted to sit with the kids got us the Haitian hand slap basically signifying ‘whatever.’

I slid into the row with some older girls and Dexter sat next behind me with his ‘village son’ who still lives at Source.

The singing began and I pulled out my Chants d’Esperance to sing along. I wasn’t listening well, so I missed the song number and the girls next to me were quick to help out. Several of the kids turned around and saw me there, sending big smiles and small waves. The fresh scent of soap drifted into my nostrils as I took in the kids in all of their Sunday morning finery. Girls with perfectly twisted hair, barrettes and bows. Boys in slacks and polos or buttoned down shirts. Haitian men in perfectly ironed suits, and women in beautiful dresses. Haitians dress for Sunday, Sunday doesn’t dress them!

As I started singing, some stared at the white chick singing in Creole. For whatever reason, it always mesmerizes them that I am really participating in the service and it makes me smile to myself every time.

Stand up. Sit down. Sing. Pray. Sing some more. Announcements…these can go on for well over 30 minutes. This is their community time to let everyone know what is going on in the life of the church, and they do not waste it. The choir sang, and then more prayer. Friends, talk about storming the gates of heaven, Haitians know how to pray. Complete lack of caring that anyone else can hear them. Their voices are released into the atmosphere as the most beautiful chorus reaching out to their Savior.

Merci Seigneur. Thank you, Lord.

Jesus vivant. Jesus lives.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Prayers for Pastor Claude’s message came next, and then we dug in.

Matthew 28

Isaiah 53

Matthew 18

The most poignant moment of the entire Easter service was Pastor Claude weeping while reading Isaiah 53. Weeping, friends, weeping…

“He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed…It was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs…” [Isaiah 53:1-5; 10]

I was so caught up in the text he had read thinking about being in Jesus’ lineage as an heir that I would have missed Matthew 18 if it hadn’t been for my friends looking out for me and pointing out we’d switched back to Matthew.

I am accustomed to Easter services in the States being all about joy and light and resurrection. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are for the somber services, right? Easter is reserved for joy and new life! It’s not that Haitians don’t have those services, we could hear them singing over the walls at Jumecourt the other night. And it’s not that they were not celebrating resurrection, because they definitely got their praise on with ‘Jesus vivant!’

It’s almost as if the bearing of their sin and the call to go is so intense in their lives that the hope in resurrection lives through each of those moments, instead of having its own separate time. Truly, new life and the new Kingdom is such a strong focus here that it does make sense. Though, remember, my Creole isn’t stellar and these are simply observations merged with what little I understand.

Pastor stopped in the middle of the sermon and had the congregation stand and sing this chorus:

A toi la gloire – O Ressuscité! A toi la victoire – Pour l’éternité!

To you the glory, O Risen! To you the victory – for eternity!

Death became life. Life defeated death. However you want to look at it, what happens after is the call to go. The call to be love. The call to move forward the message of the Gospel. The call to live out the resurrection. Without living out an answer to Jesus’ taking on the pain of the entire world’s sins, without accepting the reality and miracle that was his resurrection…who are we? Definitely not one of his heirs.

There is a reason Jesus didn’t appear to the disciples and say, “Fellas, I know it’s been hard, so hole up here in this room and they won’t kill you. This is the safest place to be and I want you to be safe.” That looks weird even to type it. Instead, Jesus sends them out with the exact radical message of love, grace and championing the least in their world that got him nailed to a cross.

The entire chapter of Matthew 28 was read during service this morning. This is what happens after resurrection:

“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this; I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Complete authority, not partial, complete.

Go and make disciples. Or the “Stephanie Interpreted Version,” go and love Jesus so much that others are drawn to do genuine Gospel life with you.

Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Teach to obey all commands.

I am with you always.

Read between the lines…the Trinity is real, God’s love justifies, Jesus fulfilled every single prophecy and that is a message people will be thirsty to hear and learn in doing life with you. You are a redeemed people. There is hope for this world to be restored. God has not forgotten his creation. The Kingdom is present now.

A large part of that Kingdom surrounded me after church was over…as Pastor Claude had read from Matthew 18:1-6. Kids shaking my hand and giving the customary benediction that for today changed from ‘Bondye beni ou!’ or ‘God bless you!’ to ‘Bon fet Pak!’

Happy Easter, friends!

Jesus is resurrected and says GO.

truth

Note: I’ve felt led to share an open letter to my community of Jesus’ loving, sarcastic speakin’, community driven and radically living ladies who laugh with me and love me despite my inherent ability to sometimes be an asshole. Friends, three years ago this month I followed a crazy whim that the Holy Spirit had put on my heart to experiment with a small group Bible Study using the Tangible Kingdom Primer. Since that moment, we have had so, so many crazy adventures together, intense prayer and read some books we know we don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole again, as well as some we keep recommending to others. But best of all we have waded through the muck and fell headlong into God’s heart for his Kingdom to be realized through loving others and genuinely caring about those around us every day. The unique thing about our DNA is that our focus has consistently been grounded on the perfect cornerstone of Jesus Christ. He is our launching pad into incarnational living that is creating each one of us into storytellers who perpetuate the stories of The Storyteller. We have seen friends sit among us and then move on by their own choice. We have seen family members pass away. We know each other, and not just know in the general sense, but known in the way God has created us to be open and honest with each other within community. We have countless crazy Kingdom stories. We have become excellent listeners. We have struggled through so many aspects of life together, responding each time by encircling our friend while carrying, motivating and loving them through the shit this world throws around. We have celebrated victories in life, jobs, friendship, marriages…because if a group who calls themselves Fondue Crew doesn’t know how to celebrate, who does? I know we all realize this…but I think it is important to remember where our roots are, and how we have been grown together with Jesus at the core in order to see where God is leading us. So many times as groups grow, they get to a point where they think they have learned all they will be able to learn from each other and feel they need to move on. Other times individuals believe that they don’t really belong any more. Sometimes the group gets too big and someone gets a brilliant *sarcasm* idea to multiply and grow new groups, only causing division because it was an idea of man not Spirit. Other times the ‘B’ word slides in and convinces us we are too busy for that weekly check-in and storytelling. When our group had just formed, I bought a book, ‘Community is Messy,’ but I never read it. Mostly, because I knew our foundation was built of the power of the one who reigns over the entire universe and if it got messy, we would draw on that power to figure it out. I’d never felt as intense discernment as when I felt the pull to start this group stubbornly centered on Kingdom life and living incarnational lives, telling Kingdom stories with a commitment to only do studies or activities pulling us deeper into that sent life. God was doing a lot in my life and redefining what I thought mission was into what God meant it to be, and he was calling me to share that ‘doing’ mission was not his heart and that Kingdom vision was right at the center. The one tie that truly binds us is our deep, passionate, loyal love for the One whose grace saves…the Master Storyteller. The stories we tell point to his Kingdom and without those stories to glorify God we are not living the lives God has called us to in this world. I am in a dual state of extreme gratitude for how we encourage each other, but also a feeling of disconnect, which goes against why God formed our community. We are strongest together when we are weaving our lives into His Story. What I do know is the world we fight for puts us in direct conflict with the forces that fight against that world being realized. It makes us susceptible to so many things. We cannot ever let ourselves believe the lie that we are separated from the community God has brought us into. We must believe the truth of God’s heart, the truth of his Holy Spirit leading and the truth that there is a purpose for our community. When we start listening to the lies that we don’t have time, it’s been too long and it will feel weird to be back or you feel uncomfortable with someone in the group…we allow ourselves to believe the lie that we are better on our own and we don’t belong in community.

“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.” [Ephesians 6:12, NIV]

For months I’ve been allowing myself to believe the lie that my voice doesn’t have the right to speak alongside your voices. Allowing myself to hear I’ve been gone for too long. Without time spent with you, without knowing what is happening in your daily lives…I’ve allowed myself to believe that I am too far away, I am not needed and I am separate. Within those thoughts, I’ve been holding on to some things I felt God wanted us to hear. But it is time to share God’s truth… Friends, we have failed to fortify ourselves against spiritual attack and we are getting picked apart. We are digressing into our own minds and not being honest about where we are at right now. Myself included. We are loved by the giver of life, so intimately, that we are chosen. We must embrace this truth as a community, but also individually. You are chosen.

“As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” [1 Peter 2:4-9]

We need to trust each other explicitly and know that while we first trust Jesus, we without a doubt we have each others’ back. That means honesty and not hiding away when things get tough. We need to actively communicate our struggles with each other and know we are supported. We need to hold each other accountable to telling Kingdom stories and living Kingdom lives through blessing others, listening well, being present, committing to prayer and seeking growth in God’s word. We need to realize how uniquely we each are made, embrace those differences and celebrate how specific our gifts are as we use them to fit together into God’s perfect puzzle. We need every single one of us.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” [Ephesians 4:11-16]

We are uniquely called to love deeply all those around us, yes, we will be assholes, but our intentions remain pure. It means conversations with people at work, school and on long drives that we wouldn’t normally jump into. It means spending money a different way. It means being outside our comfort zone. It also draws on a willingness to surrender ourselves to allow God to use us. It means transformation. It means we will sometimes get hurt, but it also allows us to love and encourage each other through that pain. We need to commit to reconciling our relationships with each other through love, and live gracefully. We need to shelf excuses that keep us secluded from community. We need to stop the busy, acknowledge boundaries and know that God seeks to use us everywhere we go…while discerning God doesn’t mean for this community to be sacrificed on the altar of busy. Everything we have been through, read and learned has led us to this specific time and place to be what God needs from us…BUT we are asked to listen and filter out the busy to hear. We have served side-by-side in various aspects: Harvesters, Russia, Haiti and Spofford. We keep seeking the voice of God on where that ‘one thing’ is in this world for us to dive in together, but we are truly a beautiful image of God because our eclecticness is unique. How many times have you looked around our group and thought, ‘How did we all end up here?’ What God has brought together has meaning, and it is special. We are all different and each called in a different way, and I am convinced God will make us strongest when we use our differences. I am convinced that it isn’t that we have one thing for us all to be about, but God has made each of us about different things within a common passion. We each have an innate passion to champion those in this world that are forgotten. It looks different with each of us, but each of us is doing this within our own calling. I could look at each of you right now and call out that area where you are living to champion those the world forgets. We are called to community, and that community is called out as individuals…to then come back to community to heal, share and love deeply in a safe place. This world is hard. God knows it is drowning in sin, but he also knows there is an end with his victory and he has given believers a place to retreat back to and feel safe until he has healed this world.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord and in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” [Ephesians 2:14-22]

The truth is, friends, I need you in my life. I need you to keep reminding me that God has built us together to be a dwelling for the Holy Spirit. I need you to point to the Kingdom when I miss it. I need your stories. I need our community, because I know I cannot do this life alone…and honestly, I really don’t want to, even if you are two plane rides away. Community is messy, but we are called to life lived together. I am beyond blessed to have you all in my life cheering me on and championing who God has called me to be.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same king of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Peter 5:6-11]

stop

Jesus rarely shows emotions beyond love and compassion in the stories we read. The images of grace for a sinner, children coming to him and deep love for his disciples come to mind.

But…isn’t there always a ‘but’? But, there is an instance where Jesus looses it like a redhead with a temper. *I can say these ridiculous things, I’m a redhead. But don’t YOU dare say it!*

Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” [John 2:15-17 MSG]

Righteous anger. Jesus had it. We have it, but our version sometimes comes through the judgmental filter lacking broad perspective. We like to see only our side and justify why it is righteous anger. We actually get really good at it.

Being passionate about justice involves a LOT of righteous anger, but being angry the wrong item got delivered from Amazon does not involve righteous anger.

Jesus’ anger was pure. He was royally pissed off at how they were using his Father’s house. It was sacred. It was holy. They were desecrating it. And they were using it for their own gain.

I love in The Message version when he yells…and I picture this with very red face, veins bulging out of his neck and a lot of crazy coming out of his eyes…”Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall.”

We get that, right? A shopping mall is the epitome of suburban life. A place to consume anything your heart desires from food to clothes to jewelry, name your price, but where else do we consume the things around us?

Frankly, coming from Haiti and landing in the states, it seems most everything is based on consumption. But if everything is based on consumption, are we still desecrating holy spaces?

Pause. Evaluate. What is a holy space anymore? What are the places set apart for us to encounter our Creator? It seems the term is looser now than every before. It could be on a walk. In a conversation. At a dinner table. What do you consider holy space?

Once you’ve figured that out, ask yourself a tough, honest question of how that time and space is desecrated by what is happening there. Would Jesus walk in with his face contorted into horrifying realization that unholy things are happening there?

Would he yell with righteous anger, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!”

wise

We’ve concocted a beautiful little children’s story out of Jesus’ birth.

You have a barn, a mom and dad, and then there are some sheep, donkey, probably some goats and in my mind there has to be a rooster there somewhere. Of course, don’t forget the angel, they are very beautiful in the Christmas pageant every year. There are some raggedy shepherds too, naturally they smell awful.

The fact that Jesus’ birth can be brought into the lives of children in a visual way that makes them excited every year is wonderful. But as we grow older, I think we have a tendency to get too comfortable with that version of Jesus’ birth.

Some of the events surrounding his appearance in our world were life and death. Herod killed every single boy that was two years and younger in all of Bethlehem and its vicinity. It was a massacre. How the parents must have felt as the soldier forced their way through the town, killing as they went house to house.

It’s intriguing how God chose shepherds for the angel to appear in front of on that hillside. They were the lowest of low, the dirtiest of the dirty. People avoided them because they smelled of sheep. And they were terrified when an angel appeared to them, who wouldn’t be, honestly? Yet, they have the highest honor of an angel appearing with news of the Messiah.

Finally, my favorite part of the nativity scene as an adult…the wise men.

Somehow over the last several years, God has morphed that imagine of kings on camels majestically coming into the presence of the baby Jesus into this beautiful image of men so full of hope for God to restore the world and so full of faith to travel thousands of miles to see the Messiah in person. Men who were most likely proclaimed as crazy by those who knew why they were following a star to an unknown destination. They chose extreme risks in their adventure over continued study of the scriptures. They chose to hope with reckless abandon.

If these wise men were high and mighty where they came from, at the feet of baby Jesus they find themselves in complete humility and in awe of the honor of physically being present with the Messiah.

I see them as dusty and road weary. Exhausted, but supernaturally energized at the prospect of seeing the Messiah they had only read about in the scrolls of the prophets. They had traveled a long way to reach that point in the journey. How many different animals had they ridden? How many miles had they walked? How many new experiences had they had? How many challenges did the face? Or attempted robberies on the road?

The wise men put a lot of faith in hope in following their maps and the stars for thousands of miles. I could never imagine every challenge they faced on this crazy adventure as they crossed in and out of new cultures.

The star the wise men followed was hope that they carried with them for a new world, and a hope that carried them through a long journey.

That hope is just as real today as it was thousands of years ago. The wise men must have had so many questions and a million reasons to turn back, but they put their trust in how God spoke through the prophets. They remained focused on the one God who would send a man to redeem creation, and bring all back to the heart and grace of the one who sent him.

May you embrace the supernatural hope, extreme adventure and tunnel vision to Jesus today as you embrace inspiration from three wise (albeit crazy) men.

beloved

‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.’ [Ephesians 5:1]

Beloved. Say it out loud…it even sounds intimate, right?

A few years after Jesus and I agreed he really did mean more to me than just a guy who people told stories about, I was at a youth event with several girls. It was Drake Relays week, and I was balancing college fun with wanting to be present with these ladies. We did the normal crazy stuff. My hair was put into thousands of mini-braids. We laughed, and we took time to meet with our Savior. One of the activities was to be still and present with God, and ask to hear what name God called us…a name that comes directly from him massive heart for us. Strangely enough, as a young, new believer and so incredibly thirsty for God’s unconditional love, I heard ‘Beloved.’

I honestly cannot believe I even just typed that in a blog post. It was so long ago, but when I saw the word of the day from Rethink Church, I couldn’t help but be right back in the skin of who I was then.

I was young and naïve that this life would be easy, but oh so in love with Jesus. All of the little pieces of me that I felt were empty, lost and depressed he covered and filled to overflowing with his love for me. No one else would ever be able to fill those pieces of me. No one.

God calls me Beloved, not just because of his heart for me, but more for who he has intimately created me to be. For my laughter. For the intricately weird set of gifts and experiences he has given me. For my indignation at how people treat the least of these. For my rebellious nature when people try to lead without Holy Spirit discernment. For my passion in seeing his kingdom being built. And yes, friends, even for my mouth and all the times it gets me in trouble, cussing and otherwise.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” [Colossians 3:12-17]

I am his beloved, and I love that intimacy with God, especially when intimacy means being loved, known and wanted through deep relationship.

And especially when it means being a part of something bigger than myself along with other weirdos who claim their inheritance of being chosen by God, digging deep into his word and seek God’s peace to soak their souls.

Maybe Lent for me this year is so much about the heart of Jesus and drawing closer to his heart for me that I cannot help but reflect back on who I was when I first fell in love with him. All so I can see clearer where his love will take me in the future.

As his chosen ones, holy AND beloved…friends, what name do you hear when God calls you?