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.

 

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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

reasons

IMG_4520It’s too expensive.

It takes too long to get there.

You have to use translators.

The money would be better spent on helping orphans than sending you to travel there for a week.

You name it, I’ve heard it regarding the reasons NOT to travel to Russia, and spend time with our kids over the last 10 years. And yes, it’s been that long, insane…I know.

But what happens when the discernment of calling, self-examination through prayer and the need of the kids to have a physical presence far outweigh the price tag?

You cannot put a price on relationship.

You cannot put a price on encouragement.

You cannot put a price on a hug.

You cannot put a price on giving a child hope because someone is supporting them and choosing to believe in their future.

You cannot put a price on family.

The orphans in Russia are put into a category that places a stigma on them as worthless and inferior to all other Russians. Simply because their parents either got in trouble with the law, abandoned them or died. They are told that they deserve to be in that orphanage by their culture…because no one wanted them.

They are considered broken.

It’s not fair, and it ignites God’s sense of justice in me.

It puts innocent kids in situations they are not equipped to navigate. It creates a mistrust of everything and everyone in each of those kids. It makes them feel alone, and unloved. How can anyone expect them to trust a loving God they cannot see when each person around them has broken their concept of love and trust?

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That it not God’s heart for them…and it is wrong, very wrong.

I have had the privilege of a front row seat for the change in the kids as they grow closer to their American friends. I’ve grown those relationships myself with two incredible gentlemen. I’ve experienced the change in them as they are poured into by someone who genuinely cares for them and wants nothing in return. I’ve seen students push themselves harder in school while encouraged by the love of another. I’ve seen them develop a sense of family with someone who is thousands of miles away.

I’ve seen God ignite a passion for his children in so many people that choose to make a difference in the lives of some phenomenal kids.

Mission is about God’s heart for the world. It is about righting the wrongs of this world, and believing that each of the wrongs that get righted moves us closer to God’s Kingdom.

I passionately believe God has called each one of us to a specific purpose, and within that purpose we find ourselves as the best we can humanly be in his image.

Some God has called to their neighbors. Some God is calling to the urban core. Others God calls to disaster areas. And yet others are called to the crazy world of global mission. We don’t choose our calling…but we get to choose to live it.

Many times over the last 10 years I have found myself examining my heart for the orphans of Russia. It is expensive. It is far away. The language is hard. It is a completely back-ass-ward country.

Yet every time I return to God and ask, ‘Still?’ the answer is consistently a resounding ‘Yes!’ with an aside of ‘Please stop asking!’

I’ve learned over time  it’s not worth it to argue with God…therefore I choose to live in my calling, and choose to love and support kids that are stronger because of God’s love  flowing through his people.

*If you feel pulled to help me live in my calling, consider checking out my photography at sojourner4jesusphotography.com. I am currently fundraising for the next opportunity to serve God in Russia this November.*

vision

Everyone has dreams. Even those that are told they are not allowed to dream…secretly, they have dreams for themselves.

What I love about a dream is the amount of passion that is behind it. Whether you are driven by love, soul or God…the passion that can ignite a dream to fulfillment is beautiful and sometimes intoxicating…even magnetic.

For most, that dream turns into a vision for the future…a preferred future. For others, it is a calling by God to be something or someone for Him.

In that vision, what is your heart most longing for?

If you hang around me long enough you’ll hear a couple different things…at least I hope you do, because it feels like I have myself on an auto loop repeating everything over and over. *Yes, I know I get annoying.*

Maybe there should be a test for my conversations. The first question will be ‘Please circle the words that you heard the most in our conversation: God’s Kingdom, mission, Kingdom work, iced tea, Isaiah 58, Acts 1:8, coffee, Duke basketball…’ The list could go on, but the point is what are you talking about and what do others hear? How is your vision for you or your surroundings being articulated to those around you?

My calling is to live sent. Be the church. Be a missionary in a lot of different contexts. For me specifically that means discerning God’s will, going where he leads and pulling others along for the ride. This also means…all of my vision folds into living sent and guiding others through those steps.

That creates problems when you run across people who don’t speak your same language or understand how a calling looks and feels. For them…that vision is ugly, uncomfortable, scary and confusing.

Whereas, what you see is beautiful…enticing…fulfilling…adventurous…

Once you capture vision, you get the opportunity to make choices based on that end game. At times those choices will be hard, but because it feeds the vision, you have reasoning to point to while deciding. Could make life decisions easier…

Because when your life falls under a vision everything points back to that one dream with crystal clarity. But if you lack vision…what direction are you really going in? What are you drawing others to? Where is your passion? How do others see your heart?

Frosty Vision

And it’s not always the vision for your life…sometimes it is a vision for those around you. I truly hope that the things I am a part of, the people I meet and those who actually listen to what comes out of my mouth, understand that I believe that all of us are called to live a life of sentness. That they will see mission isn’t a scary thing…or something else to add on to everything else. That mission is about community and being in relationships with others. That mission is a shift in the way you see the world…your family…your church. That they have a mission impulse that was embedded in them from creation.


This morning when I got in my car to come to church…there was frost on the window. Normally, an annoying thing, but this morning I found it as a thing of beauty. There were several ways to look at it…of course, annoying. But there were four different layers. The frost on the window, the dirty window, the tree behind the frosty window and the sun shining through it all.

Vision is a lot like that window. You can focus on what is right in front of you…or you can focus on the dirty aspects of your life. You can focus on what comes next. Or you can ultimately focus on what is shining through it all.

Here’s to being able to point back to radically living for God and finding vision, even when the frost is annoying.

pain

You would hope something as wondrous and miraculous as God’s mission wouldn’t bring hurt, pain or anger. But when you have people that are serving from a place of passion…our humanness enters in, and all hell breaks loose.

It’s ugly.

It’s painful.

It hurts.

But what can we really expect when we are dealing with sin? Because it we were all serving from the perspective of putting God and others before ourselves…there wouldn’t be pain in mission work. And at what point did we try to fool ourselves into thinking sin can bring about characteristics of God?

So how do we, as folks created by God, set ourselves aside and serve with love, compassion and kindness?

Seek God’s heart. There is a great quote from Bob Pierce that always gets thrown around, and has been a prayer of mine for well over 3 years. ‘Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.’ Imagine what the world would look like if this were truly the prayer of people who love Jesus, and choose to follow him. I know it has changed me.

Embrace your emotions. It is what makes you so passionate about those you are serving, and where you are serving. Those emotions are God-given to ignite you to action where God has called you. It is exactly what makes a person feel connected to you, because you are invested in who they are as people, not what they are as projects. It’s called relationship. And God has created us to be in those relationships with others. And the beautiful thing is when we get it right on our end, it reflects our relationship with God for others.

Risk. Did I lose you? Does risk intimidate you? Does it outright scare you? It should, because when you risk your heart to work towards God’s Kingdom restored…all bets are off. Period.

Be courageous in stillness.  Afraid of silence? Be ready to accept it in abundance, because the only true thing that can heal your pain is the loving, compassionate Father who sent his son to die on a cross to wipe away the bad you have done in our world. And that takes time…to not run away from the quiet in an effort to increase the work-a-holic in you…and to embrace the quiet stillness of God’s balm.

Grace. At times I hate forgiveness, but the only time I hate forgiveness is when I have to give it to others…not when I am accepting it from Christ. Horrible, right? But it’s 100% true. How can we truly accept what Christ gave up for us if we are unwilling to bestow that gift on others? It is as if we are saying, ‘You see, Jesus. I don’t really think what you did was all that great.’ We are completely negating His death on the cross if we hold grudges…seek retribution…deny others grace. I completely admit to being a failure in this area. But I also admit, God is not finished growing my spiritual heart. I just don’t really like it…perhaps God would make my memory shorter so this would be easier.

Pain is beautiful in the shadow of our God.

But unless we are prepared to see it that way, we keep holding onto it in all of its black, crusty glory. Nasty, at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Everyone who seeks to serve God struggles with pain in whatever way it manifests. The true test of a servant is what they are willing to do with that pain.

language

You know you are a mission geek when…

Yah, I’m not going to finish that sentence, mostly, because we all know it to be true already.

I had a mission geek moment last night, and was reminded by how God started adjusting my ‘mission’ definition to a ‘Kingdom’ mindset.

I picked up a book titled, “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright who is Bishop of Durham…yet another Brit teaching Americans theology. And I don’t mean that snarky…there are just so many foreigners that are speaking into a lot of different areas. Quite honestly, his books make my brain hurt, but in a good way. “Surprised by Hope” busted open my view of God’s Kingdom in a way that I’d never imagined.

It all fed into the reason I chose to break down my language about ‘missions’ last Lenten season, and go back to scripture to relearn God’s sending language.

Language is incredibly important. God has been shedding a lot of light lately on how often we are having a conversation with someone about something, yet the way we each define that something is completely different. My friends are noticing lately that I’ve started inserting, ‘Ok, I mean this when I say…’ or ‘What do you mean when you say…’

I think it is because I’ve begun to realize we very rarely speak the same language. And it is even truer when you start talking ‘mission’ language. How many people do you know who balk when they hear the word ‘calling’ or ‘missionary’? These words are not scary when you break them down to the simplest form of God has created you with the specific DNA to love others with compassion for him. It is a calling, and it makes you a missionary in whatever contect God already has you living.

More often than not fights, arguments and miscommunications come from not working from the same definitions of what we are talking about. If we would just be patient enough to stop, listen to how someone else sees something and clarify meaning…so many arguments would dissolved before relationships were lost.

Language is why I appreciate N.T. Wright so much. He speaks Bible, granted using big words, but he is consistently, continually and constantly pointing back to scripture, which is where we should all be getting our language from…when was the last time really you believed what Jesus said, to the point of actually living it? Because there is where the Biblical language comes alive…

community on mission

I saw a quote on Twitter, ‘Community is the byproduct of mission.’ I wonder how many would agree or disagree with that statement? Honestly…we’ve seen it both ways around Woods Chapel.

There are groups of friends, small groups or even large groups that choose to do mission together. They are all from different backgrounds…doing Bible studies together, Sunday school classes, neighbors or accountability groups. Groups go down to Westport, work in Joplin, help families that have lost jobs, bake delicious treats for neighbors or firemen, and serve at Harvesters are all examples of things our folks have done. Sometimes it’s not the whole group that is interested in serving, but as groups do everyone tags along. The part that I love, however, are those that have never served before. Never looked a homeless person in the eye, never looked for worth in one who finds pillows in dumpsters. Or didn’t realize there were thousands of people in the KC area that cannot regularly put food on their tables. And my personal favorite…those who suddenly realize that deeply caring for their neighbors is all a part of the mission God wants us to participate in while just living our ‘normal’ lives.

The groups that feel like there is something more for them to evolve toward typically find it when they serve together. The groups we’ve seen serve come away from that time with a stronger bond, more stories to laugh about and a greater understanding of what God meant when he said ‘Go!’ At the foundation of it is a group that has been the heart of God to others, and it ignites something in their souls.

‘Community is the byproduct of mission.’

Community is incredibly intensified by doing mission together. But what about those that are complete strangers who go out to serve together, and come back like family? Our Joplin teams are a fantastic example. Teams of 6-25 people were traveling to work for 1 to 3 days at a time. It became a normal thing to hear someone say, ‘I’ve been going to Woods Chapel for 10 years and I never met most of the people on my team!’ As over 200 folks traveled to Joplin…friendships were formed, relationships with ‘our Joplin families’ were nurtured and God’s presence was not only abundant, but tangible.

Woods Chapel has been serving meals down at Westport for many years. Folks go serve on a Saturday or Tuesday night, and a couple of months later go again. And soon enough there is a pattern. They learn names of those that come through the doors. They recognize faces. They acknowledge birthdays. And months later realize…this is not about serving meals. It is about connecting to others equally made in the image of God. Some of those that are investing each Saturday of the month at Westport are not only seeing homeless with a different set of eyes, but they are a part of a community that was born out of a desire to feed the hungry.

A couple of years ago, one of the Russia teams came back from a trip and wanted to figure out a way to involved everyone in the ministry at Woods Chapel instead of perpetuating the idea you had to travel to be part of the family. There are those that travel to the orphanage in Russia, families that sponsor each of the orphans, and pen pals that cannot make a monthly commitment, but want to speak hope & value into the lives of the kids. Soon Nadezhda Crew was created out of a random thought in Russia, and ever since anyone connected to the Russia ministry gathers on the first Sunday of the month to share a meal. They also do projects for the kids: cards, posters, and video messages. Without the Russia ministry…they would have never been a group. Their community was a byproduct…a beautiful, fantastic byproduct of the mission of God to serve orphans in Russia.

Each of us is born with a beautiful mission impulse. It is that part of ourselves that is hard to explain, because how do you form words around what it feels like to pour out God’s love on others? To have that gut feeling that there is more God has for you to participate in? It is the purest desire of our Father that we would fight for His kingdom on earth…and choosing to love others as a community on mission together is an amazing reflection of God’s presence in our lives.

What is your story? What has your group done? Shout it out! Hold it up! I would love to hear the story of how your group is participating in God’s mission!