near

I am a huge lover of movies. I will watch anything except horror flicks, and I definitely do not enjoy all chick flicks. Some are just ridiculous. My favorites are action and comedy genres. The more action the better and more laughs are the best.

Every now and then in the movies there is a ‘Hollywood typical homeless man’ on the street corner yelling out scripture with a doomsday megaphone and holding a sign that says, ‘The Kingdom of God is near.’ I think we all collectively roll our eyes when we see this, because we know there is a disconnect between the message and the way in which it is delivered. Also, not discrediting the prophets from history, but prophets need to have an awareness and place within the culture to be able to accurately deliver the message to the culture they are calling out. Unfortunately, a random dude on a street corner doesn’t exactly qualify. It’s not the first or last time the stories of Jesus will get muddled in Hollywood.

“After John was put into prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’” [Mark 1:14-15]

Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of God do get a bit intense, but we have to remember that those messages also coincide with GOOD NEWS: belief, transformation, love, grace, working towards that kingdom being restored and renewed.

We get so caught up in what is right and wrong, and how to obey socially unspoken rules in how to act as a believer within this culture that we forget what Jesus said.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” [Luke 18:16-17]

There is an innocence in little children, and there is a way that they accept truth when it comes from people they trust. And that doesn’t even take into account the easy faith they have when it comes to Jesus. Why is it so easy for children to believe? What happens as we get older to take that quality out of our lives?

What I do know is that proclaiming the message of good news is not something to be preached from a street corner and be taken seriously. Proclaiming that message is earned through genuine, honest relationships that are built over time and it brings in an element of the message coming from someone you trust. People ask questions when your life looks different, and that makes it the easiest proclamation you will ever make when someone asks why you do the things you do.

“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:20-21]

What does Holy Spirit transformation look like within you? Is it reflected in your actions? When people make observations about you, what do they say? Do they see God?

What I love about the kingdom of God is that it isn’t a physical place…yet, and we get to place our hope in the restoration of this world, as well as work toward it with how we live our lives. And that is a message that is easy to proclaim when we are faced with corruption in government, murders, racism, death, sickness, war and everything that breaks God’s heart in this world. Eventually, all of those things will be erased and God’s love wins. Maybe someone should yell that from a street corner…God’s love wins, friends!

witness

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]

Beyond the fact that this is one of my absolute favorite verses, and there are plenty of people that are tired of hearing about it, God tends to reveal different focuses through the words at different times. Being a witness and having a witness are two totally different things. One is what Jesus calls us to be. The other is how our actions are perceived by others.

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he hung out with prostitutes?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he went to dinner with a tax collector?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he touched lepers?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he told a murderer he would see him in Paradise?

This is why the Pharisees had such a problem with Jesus. His actions went against their ‘rules,’ but what they didn’t understand is that the rules were his to break since the Pharisees had morphed them into something that was never intended.

Christians get held to a higher standard, and that frustrates me, simply because we are the ones that know the cost of our sin and live as forgiven believers of the God who reigns over the universe. Just because I choose to be a believer, does not make me less human. It means I am acknowledging who I am as a human, and struggling through the sin that comes so naturally. I cannot stop sinning. That is unrealistic. It also does not make me a hypocrite. It makes me real, and not a believer who feels they have to hide what non-believers would term as questionable behavior for a righteous person. I am not righteous, unless you are saying I respond to injustice…then yes, yes I am. I answer to God alone, which means I rest in his mercy and grace.

Believers should be the most real people living in this world.

We should be the ones that are an outward example of real grace. In our own lives, as well as giving that grace to others in radical ways.

We should be what others look at and say, ‘Maybe there is something to the whole God thing. Maybe he is real. Maybe life could be freeing with God.’ So that God can have that conversation with them, because their salvation is not dependent on us. It is dependent on the truth of the Gospel. I pray you hear that, because we need to get out of the way of God doing what God does. Takes the pressure off, right? Credit for salvation never belongs in the hands of a human. God gets the glory…every time.

I was once heading out with a mission team that was a mix of people who find themselves in a pew on Sunday morning, people who would never set foot in church and others who used to but don’t anymore. I love it when God throws those mixes together, because you never know what God is going to do among those people and what transformation will happen while serving.

As we were preparing to leave, I was carrying a heavy box and dropped it on my toe and said, ‘Ah, shit!’

One of the other team members was right next to me, and looked over startled. I apologized, shrugged and said, ‘Sometimes things fly out of my mouth.’

The team member looked at me and replied, ‘I was nervous about hanging out with church people this weekend. We are going to get along just fine.’

It started a great friendship. It also started a new commitment to church in that team members’ life.

All because I am comfortable in the grace I received from a Savior that paid the ultimate price for me, and God breaks through walls that have been built for years in those moments. As well as using the realness we are comfortable with in our relationship with God.

I saw a physical wall fall down between that team member and the rest of the team that day. This example has come up a lot through story telling in my missional community. So much so that most of us like the idea of an ‘F-Bomb Ministry.’ I know. Scandalous. Take a breath for a second, and realize this is a solid idea to reach out to people who believe that ‘Christians’ are too good to associate with ‘sinners.’ We are ALL sinners, folks. When we all step back and realized this, God’s glory is going to burst through a redeemed people.

I have a filter, and sometimes it is looser than other times. But the reality is there are a plethora of people in this world that hold Christians to a higher standard, because Christians have chosen to fake righteousness. Their righteousness isn’t real. It’s just hiding what they think showing others will tarnish how Jesus is revealed. But consider how Jesus lived. His reputation was awful based on the people he hung out with…but while he was with them the Kingdom of God was evident and a Savior was revealed. The Holy Spirit flowed not only on them, but THROUGH them.

The Pharisees were righteous…and look what their beliefs did to not only the believers at the time in martyring them, but in hanging Jesus to a tree.

I’m not interested in being fake, and I’m certainly not interested in tarnishing Jesus. Some would argue my inability to filter all cuss words out of my vocabulary is an awful habit for a believer. Others would argue that since I have a penchant for vodka I cannot possibly be able to serve as a witness for Jesus.

To that I call bullshit.

I respect what God is saying in the lives of others, and I adapt my behavior to show respect to those believers. We are all on a journey with God, and for all I know what he is telling them is what God could be convicting me of tomorrow. However, my journey with God has led me to be comfortable with who he has created me to be and that comfort manifests in all areas of my life. What defines me is his love for me, my love for him and how he has called me to be a witness to what he has done in my life throughout the world.

I mess up. I make mistakes. I hurt people I don’t intend to hurt. But at the end of the day, I am embraced by the loving God who unconditionally covers me with love and grace. The God who loves my quirks. The God who, I imagine, laughs when I do stupid things. The God who smiles when I am holding a kid who needs to be held. The God who knows I will go where he sends me. The God who knows when my filter will be slammed in place…and when it won’t.

Don’t take this post as reinforcement to sin blatantly and outlandishly, I fully recognize there are boundaries. But do take this post as a reminder to talk with God about the parts of you that are hidden and the parts of you that are not. Jesus has put a calling on your life to be his witness, and he is revealed through all of you, because he has redeemed you wholly…not in pieces. And that is good news for a sinful world that needs a lot more witnesses to what Jesus has done in the lives of his people ‘in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’

resurrection

The entire life of Jesus present with God’s creation led up to his sacrifice for us, not ending there at death, but rising again in resurrection. God sent him, so that his life would redeem his creation.

I think of all the times in the Old Testament that God was angry with his creation, and that anger poured out in so many terrifying ways. I don’t think we like to ponder why God’s anger poured out, because we see too many similarities with how his creation exists today.

Disease. War. Hunger. Pain. Thirst. Sex trafficking. Drugs. Death.

It’s endless, right? This world sucks.

But God tried to help us see another way.

God sent Jesus.

The baby sent to redeem creation.

The man who started his ministry by telling people not to talk about him yet, and to stop praying for show.

The man who laid a foundation of belief, healing and community before giving himself to all.

The man whose stories led back to the Kingdom of God. Every. Time.

The man who was a true rebel preaching about helping prostitutes, murders, sick, hungry and poor.

The man who built community with 12 guys who didn’t have a clue.

The man who poured out his heart in prayer for ALL OF US before he was arrested.

The man who hung on a cross while freely giving salvation to a murderer.

The man.

That’s key.

He was born. He lived as one of us. He died.

And then…he rose.

Resurrection.

Life. Real life. Living in the Kingdom.

This world is not the end. This world isn’t even close to the Kingdom of God.

But it had been, until sin crept into that sacred space.

In my imagination, I see it as a big oil dump over creation. Slick, slimy, reaching into every crevice and so hard to get off. After working on getting oil off for a while, we want to give up…toss in the towel and head home where we can escape that hard, nasty, messy work.

But the oil covers our home…this world where we have the privilege to live out our earthly lives.

The oil needs to come off, and God guarantees he will restore it.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [Revelation 21:3-6]

Collective sigh of relief? All of this is meant to only be for a time, then God makes everything new again?

Yes. Undoubtedly, yes…but…

It dishonors the creator when creation sits and waits while parts of creation are in pain.

It dishonors the man who gave his entire life when we choose to not pay attention to his teachings.

It dishonors the world that has been made slick with oil of our sin when we want to throw in the towel on restoring God’s creation simply because it is too hard.

IMG_3533As we lean into the beauty of Easter, we also need to lean into the sin of the world we live in…it is where Jesus lived and died. Not to make us depressed and discouraged, but to inspire and invigorate the life we have living as people called by Jesus. Jesus didn’t die so we could play it safe and wait for God to come and restore it all. Nothing about Jesus’ life and the example he lived for his disciples shows us to play it safe and wait. It calls us to be daring in how we react to the world around us. It calls us to be restorers. If the Kingdom of God is coming, doesn’t it make sense to work toward the restoration that Kingdom will bring? To set right the wrongs around us? To confess sin and find redemption? To see God’s heart, and joy in the lives that the world says don’t matter? To live a live that is honoring to resurrection?

May you find the heart of God while you seek your answer, because each one of us has a different role in working toward restoring the Kingdom of God and any voice telling you different, is not the voice of the one who created you.

peace

I struggle with peace. I think it is because I crave it so much.

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A cross cut out of a bullet from the wars in Liberia, West Africa.

Everywhere I look and every situation that blocks my path is conflict, selfishness, gossiping, people hurting people, and then expanding into countries fighting countries and the injustices around the world. My heart breaks for those struggling with thoughts so plagued with being alone that their mind convinces them they should end their life in this world. There is so much pain in this world.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just what comes up every year at Christmas. This is not a guilt complex I get once a year. This is what I think about, and the things I have to yell at to be quiet so I can fall asleep at night. Things are happening to people I love that shreds the fabric of my soul.

I don’t just say I am passionate about orphan ministry in our world. I know the names of orphans in our world. They are real to me. They have personalities and characteristics…they like to make me laugh and trust me with their words. But it is not them I worry about, because I know they know we love them and they are not alone. My mind drifts to orphans in all countries who have no family to guide them, or worse…abandoned by family because they think that is the best way for them to survive. No child should ever face those issues. Where is their peace?

I have held children with discolored hair due to malnutrition. It is impossible to walk away from those moments unchanged…doing your best to not punch someone in the throat with the anger that bubbles up. There is plenty of food in our world to sustain our population, and we have children and whole families going hungry. Where is the peace in hunger?

I get nauseous when I think about the young girls that are sold into sex-trafficking. Doesn’t anyone realize that if the industry demanding those girls ended…they would no longer be sold? Is it really that hard to keep it in your pants, so these girls would never know that pain and could stay with their families? It seems so simple, yet in a world plagued and suffering under the temptations and realities of sin…this is our world and where is the peace?

Peace on earth is unrealistic until the day all evil is wiped out. Anyone else ready for that day?

Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ He knew that belief in him would cause division, and he knew it would come at a price. He was more aware than anyone at the evil in this world as he hung on a cross, put there by the religious people of that time.

But he also knew what belief in his father’s Kingdom meant…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [Revelation 21:3-5]

Jesus himself knew the struggle we would have, so he points us toward the coming Kingdom. He says a day will come that this will all be cleaned up, and while I am gone you can do something about it. Hear that, because we are not meant to sit on our asses and do nothing until that day comes.

I see peace in beautiful sunsets, mountains, oceans and lakes…because I see a reflection of the beauty of God. The same reflection we are supposed to be as believers.

I see peace in the laughter of orphans.

I see peace in the smile of a child holding a bottle of juice as though it is liquid gold.

I see peace in a community that is committed to fighting together for injustice…setting aside their differences and arguments to fight side-by-side for God’s Kingdom.

I see peace in messages from International Justice Mission when they have rescued more girls out of brothels.

I sense peace in the quiet moments God knows I need to rest…even when it is forced rest.

But I will never be at peace in this world. No one will. It’s impossible. There is too much war, suffering and indifference at both to bring peace. God is the only one who will bring real peace. But there are so few in the world who are willing to stand for change…real change. God-directed, Kingdom-focused change that will transform this world. I ache for the peace of that transformation. We all should, because too much is not right in this world…which is why each of us needs to figure out where God has called us individually and as a community to make things right where it has gone so very wrong. Let us be agents fighting for peace, so that we are seen as a reflection of the one we serve.

bound

Rock piled upon rock. Some smooth proving submission to a forming substance over a large amount of time. Others ragged and stubborn…all layered in a massive piled formation.

Varying colors of grey, dark grey, mottled brown and pieces of moss in places.

The shape takes form and it becomes alter-like.

On top lays a figure. Struggling, moving and desperate to be free.

IMG_0739A closer look finds wire…not just wire…barbed wire. Every movement pierces the skin. Tearing as each small point finds surface to impale. Over and over again.

Darkness closes in, so black that no light could ever pierce it. Screams flow out of the figure, yet bounce back as they hit the advancing wall of darkness. The pain and terror echoes as feelings of pain and the reality of being trapped start suffocating the figure.

Bound. Unable to move. No sight of freedom. Terrified of what happens next.

No…I am not sadistic. I am pondering a more spiritual image.

Of being bound by the things that are hurting our relationship with God and with others. At the core is usually sin and a refusal to acknowledge what is keeping us bound to it. But the layers…it is layer upon layer upon layer of the excuses we give to make something appear okay, while on the inside we are screaming.

How many times have you felt like something was holding on so tight to you that you would never be free of it?

How many times have you felt bound by something you have no control over?

How often have you felt shackled by the expectations of others that you have no hope of rising to succeed?

What has bound you up so tightly that you cannot possibly consider the possibility of being free?

Being bound is being so wrapped up in something that you cannot see beyond it. Life sucks? See no end in sight? No light at the end of the tunnel much less a tunnel to get through?

But there is…light busts in and Jesus’ love and resurrection become not only real but alive and active in this world. God does not desire his people to be bound to the sin in their lives. He does not desire that you would feel alone. He does not desire that you would feel there is no way out of a situation.

His desire for you is not of being bound so tightly that it will kill you to become loose, and feel as though you have no voice.

His desire is that you would be as delighted in his love for you, as he about his love for you since the beginning of time. That the freedom you feel from the ultimate sacrifice of his son would have you dancing, singing and praising all of the days of your life. Then in your freedom you would be his advocate, his witness…his ambassador to others. To be that reflection of his Kingdom that others need to see, because choosing to be bound takes away the reflection of God and the beauty of his love.

God’s love is not about being suffocated. God’s love does not revolve around what this world and its’ people put on you.

God’s love is sacrificial. God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is freedom in this life and the one beyond.

If you find yourself bound today by something in this world, shake the shackles off and embrace God’s truth…then keep repeating it to yourself, because this world will only try to convince you otherwise every single day.

warmth

They forgive you for just about anything.

They acknowledge you hate talking on the phone, so choose other ways to communicate.

They don’t judge or explode in anger when you…ok, me…when I am late.

They ask the questions that no one else would dare to ask me. Questions that challenge me. Questions that dig into my junk. Questions that make me take a hard look at myself, then discern and pray more faithfully.

They remember things about me that I sometimes wish they would forget.

They walk with me when the road is smooth, and stick with me as gargantuan boulders get tossed in my path.

They change their plans when they know they are needed.

They pass the tissues when my eyes start leaking…however rare that might be.

They see my dorky side and like me anyway.

They know I value time spent above any other way to grow relationships.

They tease me about my obsessions, and gracefully ignore my social media through Duke basketball season.

They remind me I am called, I am held accountable to God alone and the Holy Spirit is alive and active.

They see God alive in me, and hold me accountable to living a life that points back to him.

They don’t encourage me to fight on my own, they fight besides me and even in front of me…as God gives us strength, passion and purpose to fight injustice.

I will never be able to accurately and completely put into words how much warmth it puts into my soul for the community God has placed around me. From college friends to future friends…I am greatly blessed.

Community is life. Community is loyal. Community doesn’t disband when disinterest rears its’ ugly head, or the road gets rough. God did not intend for any of us to be alone. God gives you people that just ‘get’ you…truly see you for who God has created and grown you to be. And more often than not, God uses that community to speak into his Kingdom. To be a visual reminder of how the world is supposed to be…restored, healed and whole.

Community is a beautiful reflection of God’s heart for us.

But the reflection doesn’t count unless we commit to taking his message out into the world. It doesn’t count if we just hole up as a club of people who like to hang out. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to take his message to each other. That makes God’s reflection in us look awful.

When we humbly and honestly live sent for God, he ignites his mission in not only our lives but within our community. Our lives completely surrendered to him with everything else…family, work, recreation and all the communities we exist in…pointing back to Jesus.

So to my community here’s to the adventures we’ve had, for those we will ignite in others and the ones to come…your loyalty, love, encouragement, time and honesty puts an indescribable warmth in my soul and fuel my passion to reflect God’s heart in this world.

create

I love art. Lots and lots of art. I’ve grown up around it since I was three. Even through the moments I hated the fact my parents owned a retail art and framing store…being surrounded by art developed a very deep love for all photography, most modern art, screen printing by Warhol and old masters like my favorites Van Gogh, Kandinsky and Klimt. I will go to a museum simply because a Van Gogh is on exhibit.

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Over the last year I’ve been watching for the talent and artists we have among our students, because I love how art can point to God’s Kingdom. Photography, painting, sketching, words, music…we have so much talent within our student community. God’s heart is to meet people in all aspects of life, and art bridges so many of those gaps. A multitude of opportunities to love others in so many different ages, places and communities. One piece of art could say multiple things to a myriad of people.

I love the lyrics from ‘Desert Soul’ by Rend Collective, “I’m lost without your creative spark in me, recreate me.”

I don’t think we realize how much creativity we use throughout a day. I’m constantly guilty of doodling in meetings, but it truly allows me to focus on what’s being said. Loosen your definition of creativity and see what happens.

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The ladies at DIVAS retreat last weekend spent hours in what I like to call my makeshift art room. They were making t-shirts. They were writing scripture out on mat board with metallic markers. They were making beautiful canvases. They were finding joy in fingerprinting…all while being together in a beautiful image of community.

Some of their pieces are absolutely astounding. I marvel at what comes from their imagination and flows onto canvas. Blending of color and contrast of shapes, each pouring out of who God has created and inspired them to be in his world.Everyone has the ability to create, you were born with it, and don’t try to tell me you can’t draw or I will tell you that you are being ridiculous. That is just one small way to create art. Society likes to judge our creativity, but God sees beauty in all things.

He created us to create.

Whether that is the literal creation of life, creation of disciples and relationships, or a beautiful creation of art…it should all point back to our God who created us and our Jesus who saves us.