church

Where I live, wheelbarrows have many uses. As general transportation, gravel mover, nap location, boom box blast station and storefront…among other uses I am sure I am not aware of in Haiti. The point is that it is still the same object, a wheelbarrow. But the creativity, sometimes out of lack of anything else, of what it can be used for is insanely broad.

A wheelbarrow is so specific in the States and we have a very narrow view of a wheelbarrow’s function. There are so many ways that the wheelbarrow could be used, but we limit it to what it has always done instead of thinking outside the box and letting our God given creativity loose.

The American church has become just as limited, wasted in some aspects, and it is wearing people out on ‘doing’ church. Creativity is stifled. Holy Spirit inspired vision is suffocated. Passion is told to simmer down, it’s too much. Don’t even try using the ‘D’ word, discipleship…it takes too much time, but could be a great hobby for some people. Calling has become something you ‘should’ follow, but support of the church community in that calling is nowhere to be found. Well, that’s also assuming community is genuine and present among believers within a church. Come Sunday morning, worship isn’t what you really want, and whoever is preaching is not the person you hoped it would be. Trust me, I’m just as guilty here, too, all reasons I justify ‘righteously.’ For those with families it’s a struggle to get there, and then your kids don’t want to go to Sunday school. Everyone in the family was grumpy. Your kid wants to wear the superman socks where the cape floats off the back of their calf, and you would be mortified if anyone saw them. Or worse *gasp* the only thing your family wants to wear to church is jeans and a t-shirt.

People are burnt out on ‘doing’ church and the expectations it brings. It’s exhausting, and ultimately those distractions take away from the Church. Notice the caps. Not the building you show up at on Sundays and Wednesdays, or any other day of the week, but rather, the Church. I will confess to being jaded by local church. Working every Sunday, morning AND night, will do that to you eventually. Walking a thin line between it being a job and pouring into the church as a believer is hard, especially when you are passionate about discipling others into God’s calling on their life and being involved in student ministry, which both happen 24 hours a day. Politics within a church building will cut you, and damnit, it hurts. Not being wanted for who God has called and created you to be will also make you jaded. Desperate love for God’s Kingdom, Holy Spirit leading and living a sent life is ingrained in me in a very deep way, but local church can be very fickle when it comes to those three aspects of the Gospel.

However, within this confession has to be a joyful proclamation, full of God’s glory, that I am in love, absolutely infatuated and intensely in love with the global Church.

I see faith. I see hope. I see sacrifice. I see strength. I see loyalty. I see community. I see people fighting for justice. I see disciple makers. I see risk-takers. I see a deep reliance on the Holy Spirit. I see people sensitive to God’s heart. I see a reckless abandon in prayer as they connect with their Father. I see a thirst for God’s word to speak. I see a desperate desire to preach the Gospel. I see Pastors come alive as they lead their congregation into areas that are heavy in the chains of evil to drawn people into the freedom of Kingdom life. I see dependency on God in everything.

“Missio Dei, as I understand it, is that God is reaching out to the world, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Although God could have used other methods to proclaim the message of salvation to the world, He chose to use the church. God needs the church as instrument of mission, not because He is incapable of reaching the people in other ways, but because He chose to use the church. And for this reason, the church is not unnecessary in mission. The church is a vital part of God’s plan to reach the world. And where the church refuses to take up this task, God’s work is being hindered. And this is quite a frightening thought!” [Taken from ‘Missio Dei, the Role of the Church’ by Arnau van Wyngaard]

American church, it is time to take a real good look in the mirror, because even though it is not a competition, when it comes to reaching out to the world through investing in relationships and community, the global Church is kicking your ass. And at the moment I am really glad they are, because your version of church is diluted and fractured.

For those offended by that statement, I would encourage you to pray. I know many believers and leaders of churches that are not in the majority of the statements I am about to make, and I am encouraged and inspired by you, but there are many more that need some real self-examination through discernment and prayer.

It is time the local church stopped with the asinine arguments and pointing fingers because they feel blame needs to land on one person. Set differences aside and figure out a way to move forward as one church body. Ironically, in Chinese culture, blame is shared by the whole community. It never rests on one individual…just a random thought.

It is time the local church embraced God’s creativity in how the Gospel is put forward into the world. A million programs and running church like a corporation is killing you. Jesus met people on a personal level, why aren’t you? Jesus sent out the disciples, and never once did they have the same experience in a city, with a family or on the road. Led by the Spirit Jesus breathed on them, they took the stories they had witnessed out from their home base. And when they returned, their stories invigorated the other believers and continued to draw others to life with Jesus.

Your people are worn out from this world and its’ death, sadness, sickness and fighting. But, you see, it’s not this world they are fighting for…more for the one that is to come. Fully restored, renewed and reclaimed by God. That’s what the Truth draws us to in Jesus. It’s time to inspire them beyond this pathetic, sad world and motivate them to fight for the real Gospel, and point to the new Kingdom to come.

It is time the local church removed the glue from pews and started pushing people out of the building and into the life of the city and neighborhoods. Be radical. Cancel church on a Sunday morning to be OUT and WITH people, but disciple your people to be real, not fake. And while I’m on a roll, quit perpetuating the idea that people with kids are exempt from living out the Gospel simply because they are ‘busy’ with kids. That’s a bunch of bullshit. I know plenty of families that are teaching their kids to live a Gospel life by actually living for God’s Kingdom while they are raising them and bringing them along. Confront fears they have of being ‘outside’ the church walls and among people, and don’t make it a check list of things they need to do. Lead them to live their Gospel led lives everywhere God places them. There is zero reason to make believers feel guilty for missing youth group when they are at baseball practice to pull others into God’s Kingdom by being present in the relationships he places around them. Be a support system, but ax programs that teach them their place is only within the building. It’s not there. Jesus didn’t actually build church buildings, he preached on hillsides, in homes and in synagogues that were already built then toppled a few tables because of the disrespect he saw within the building. Hold believers accountable to acting in love, and not judgment, within their relationships. The world needs no more ‘righteous’ people, it needs confessed sinners who are transformed through Christ’s love and grace ready to tell their story to draw others to their own transformation with Jesus.

It’s time the local church stopped seeing boundaries between each other and embraced a Kingdom community of believers who are led to transform this world together, not individually. And I’m not talking about a once a year retreat ya’ll combine on to save money. I’m talking about every day. Take a big risk and choose to be Church as one community together under the peace and direction of Christ as the perfect Cornerstone. Our foundation as believers is so much deeper than we tend to grasp. There is a long lineage that has gone before us. When we are truly built with Christ as the starting point of the foundation, crazy Kingdom things happen that are absolutely unexplainable and 100% of God. Wouldn’t it completely fulfill Christ’s call to the Church if we all advanced his Gospel forward as one body, with all of our quirks and callings embraced? What if our community so radically loved each other that people were actually attracted to God’s love among us?

I know there are church leaders who would prefer to debate this point by dreary point, but the reality is I’m not an expert and I’m honestly exhausted by the debating. I’m just one believer trying to discern what God has for me, my community and words he wants shared. Has anyone ever considered that the endless arguing by believers is actually being used by the forces fighting against us to distract from the real mission we’ve been given? We need to find common ground, and that common ground is Jesus. I am inspired by the believers I meet in the majority world, and I am inspired by believers within the American church. But as a whole, we have a lot of praying to do for the American church and for me I generally start with get them off their asses and into their communities.

Clarity comes when you are removed from unhealthy environments, and thankfully for me, it enhances the flow of my creativity and I find myself more in tune with Kingdom perspective while I am side-by-side with the global Church. For instance, in a place with a plethora of uses for a wheelbarrow…I think I will get one to use as a shelf for books. It’s got so many uses, it’s just seeing through the right creative lens for how it will be used this time, but it has a use.

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go

Go. It is such a tiny little word. Only two letters…yet the use of it is far reaching.

Go get me something.

Go be something.

Go away.

Go…as in constant motion and never stopping. As are most of our American lives.

But what if we slowed down? What if we counted breaths? What if we stopped the go-go-go mentality that tears as the fabric of real community and solid relationships?

What if we slowed down enough during this advent season to not just exist during Christmas, but to live and be alive as God’s people during Christmas?

What if we were nice when we tend to be mean?

What if our words were kind and thoughtful instead of hurtful and insulting?

What if we ran our arguments through a clean filter…and stopped arguing?

What if we spend less and give more?

What if we stop to appreciate beautiful moments instead of glorifying and exalting the ugly ones?

What if we honored the birth of Jesus with our actions?

What if we reflected what the Kingdom of God should look like on earth instead of making it look unappealing?

What if in going…we lived sent?

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Big responsibility? It should be, because we’ve been given the gift of grace and unconditional love. We’ve been given the gift of Jesus.

We have been given the gift of being a sent people into a hurting world to work at correcting the wrongs we have the ability to fight against.

Go? Slow down. Appreciate. Love. Live sent. Let’s not over complicate things…just be who God created you to be.

This advent I am jumping back onto the Rethink Church train, and I will be blogging a word a day while also posting a photo to my Instagram. I hope you join me, because I have a feeling we could all use some Jesus this Christmas.

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

home

Home.

I struggle with this.

Home is technically just a place I sleep if you prefer the ‘normal’ definition of the place you live.

But home is also halfway across the world every time I step into an orphanage in Kirov region.

Home is at a friends house every Thursday night when my little buddy meets me at the door.

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Home is also in Park City this week while I hang out with college friends who share the same passion for March Madness, Jesus and being outside.

Most think about home in terms of where they always come back to and spend the most time…where they put down roots.

But my roots look different.

Home for me is mobile. I don’t have roots set down in one place…my roots are more spiritual and relational than stuff and place.

I keep parts of myself in so many places. I feel my heart is fractured and I’m indecisive at times as to where I want to be, but when it comes down to it…what I need most is the relationships around me more than the stuff.

Granted…I’ve got plenty of stuff that I need to go through. And I have a healthy addiction to art. My mom actually calls it my ‘dowry.’ But all the art is how I appreciate the beauty in the world around me, and I don’t ‘need’ any of the stuff. I do, however, need the relationships God has put around me.

My relationship with God has a huge impact on my views of where my true home is. I’ve told this story here before, but it always serves as a good reminder.

In Haiti last summer, I was very moved by our translator, Joseph, and his view of where Haitians find their real hope. They have no hope for a good future, no hope for their kids to rise above poverty or their country to become self-sustainable…he said. So Haitians have no choice but to put their hope in the life after this one…to put all their trust and faith in God making heaven come to earth. No poverty. No pain. No injustice. Just God restoring his creation and setting everything right.

Perhaps I struggle to put down roots because I came to a place where I know this world will not last. That there is something so much more beautiful and stunning than this one to come…

Or maybe it just doesn’t make sense for where I am at in my life.

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In other news…I’m moving to Park City, Utah. Its fun and beautiful, and one of my best friends is having her baby here.

Just kidding. Well, kinda kidding, lately I’m just waiting for God to help me know where he needs me next. And I know that I will be at home wherever that might be.

tables

I love Chinese food. There, I said it, the world knows! I have a bit of an obsession with it…in college one year for my birthday a friend brought me my favorite Chinese for lunch between classes, and then another for dinner took me to the same place to celebrate one more year of my life. I didn’t mind in the least. It was tasty and memorable!

I am constantly on the search for the best Chinese traditional dumplings. (Panda Café, PF Chang’s and Po’s Dumpling Bar are my current front runners.) After the summer I spent in China I came home and tried to convince my parents they needed a huge lazy Suzanne in the center of the table to more conveniently pass food. All meals in China were communal events. No one ordered their own…everyone shared. My times in Africa and Haiti were the same…meals were done together, and as a family around a table.

Life was shared around a table. Square. Rectangle. Circle. Oval. It doesn’t matter the shape, but what does matter are the lives and the stories they have to tell.

Thinking back, even in high school I remember my friends and I joking about the ‘Round Table’ effect. As soon as we’d sit down around a table the conversations were endless.

In college I had a friend who was a self-professed atheist. We had lunch together every week like clockwork. He heard about my life, I heard about his…it was life shared around a table. They were holy moments that God had set apart for us, even if my friend didn’t want to acknowledge it back then.

Last week, two of my worlds collided…around a table…with Chinese food. College friends met KC friends, and I just couldn’t get over how excited I was to share a meal with these friends as they met for the first time. Awkwardness is taken out of the equation when your hands are busy with chop sticks…or forks!

I have an eclectic group that went through the Tangible Kingdom Primer last spring. One of the community days says, ‘Have a fondue party!’ We made fun of the author, Hugh Halter, for weeks, tossing around comments, ‘Yeah, right!’

‘Who does fondue anymore?’

‘Is he really in touch with ‘cool’ things to do?!?!’

Until one week…a brave soul said, ‘I can get a fondue pot…’

That night ranks pretty high for nights of laughter, teasing and food for me! Barriers broke down as we all started dipping into the chocolate fondue…and jokes galore came out of our raucous evening…around a fondue pot.

We then had to begrudgingly acknowledge…Hugh knew what he was talking about. Now educated, we center our conversations around a meal together quite regularly. We throw out questions about spiritual issues, give advice freely and hold each other to ‘Where does God want you to be for him?’ And more often than not…we are talking about God’s love, His Kingdom being restored and our role in God’s mission. I recently got an email from a group member that said, ‘Let’s keep God’s plan first. We ask where He is working, then go, and ask what He wants us to do.’ How right she is.

Several months ago I heard someone say, ‘God created us to be in community with each other. He didn’t create us to be alone.’

Read that again…it is incredibly poignant to me, mostly because it’s true. I thrive in community. Among people to love and support me…challenge me, remind me who I am and why I do the things I do when the world tells me I’m crazy. Community makes me want to be better…to love God more, love others for God more…be more.

When I read Hebrews 10:24-25 the thought strikes me that this isn’t a new concept…

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

‘Good deeds’ can be translated as: good that motivates others to embrace what is beautiful and praiseworthy. We are a part of a global family that is called to inspire others to embrace the living God. And what better way to do that than to be apart of a community that is a visual example of God’s family. We laugh. We cry. We are silly. We are real people who make mistakes, but are loved unconditionally by Jesus and those around us.

When you consider the groups that you are a part of…are they encouragement for you to love others for God in all circumstances? Do they challenge you to live out your faith? Do they confirm for you that you are in this world to do God’s work?

At Velikoretskoye orphanage, where WCC travels to each year in November, we started a tradition in the very beginning on our last day with the kids. We don’t get to eat with them on normal days, because there isn’t space for us all to eat at the same time. Our tradition is to have cake and tea together in family groups. Those moments are precious, because even when there is a language barrier, super sweet hot tea and more kids that Americans…God is present and alive and bringing us closer together as a family.

Lives intersect and relationships are born and deepened. The beauty of it is mesmerizing when you think about it.

It’s just a table…and it’s just food.

But the two together create a setting that draw God’s people closer not to only each other, but ultimately closer to God’s heart. And that is something I love being a part of…

kryptonite

I have a problem. Actually it’s pretty big…seeing as how it includes 8 people…not just myself…

You know how Superman’s greatest weakness is kryptonite? Well…my kryptonite would be having the support, laughter and community of a team around me 24 hours a day…then losing it once we are home. What I still miss is the walks together…you never knew who you’d have a crazy, wonderful conversation with on the way. I miss talking while falling asleep through mosquito nets…quite the experience! I miss team meals…all around one table, talking, laughing, teasing and bestowing each other with nicknames! Which technically happened the entire time…but intensified around meals! Talking over shower stalls…borrowing Chap Stick, sunscreen, bug repellant…everyone had whatever you had forgotten.

Ironically, I also miss the view from the shower…crazy, I know. It was a small cinder block room with a stick over the top for a curtain that was at its’ best while fluttering in the wind. Not conducive for showering…my best MacGyver moment was on a particularly windy day the curtain wouldn’t stay tucked into the bucket of shower water. My shower buddy, who stayed on their side mind you, kept offering possibly solutions when I realized I could thread the Duke bag I’d brought my stuff in through the end. Talk about laughter…our shower times were humorous, how could they not be with a bucket of water and a bag of water hanging from a stick. But the view…lizards climbing on top of the wall…blue azure sky, white cottony clouds, bright green palm trees waving in the evening breeze. Let’s just say, that view is not in my bathroom…

I miss knowing someone will pick up where I left off if I accidentally drop the ball. Someone constantly has your back…where my weaknesses begin, another’s strengths continue. It is one of the best aspects of being a part of a team.

Truly, I thrive on being a part of a team. I don’t like being alone. I mean, I laugh at my own jokes, but it’s so much better when someone else does, right? Eventually, people look at me weird because I am laughing randomly in public places…all alone…

I thrive on the accountability that comes with being with the same people for 7-11 days on a mission trip. Praying before a meal was never ‘normal’ for me…and I am greatly blessed by our community praying together over our meals, at devotions, team meetings…wherever it may be. There is an intense bond that ties mission teams together, and a lot of things contribute to that, but one of those bonds are intensified by the intimate act of praying together as a community…even when not every one is comfortable praying out loud. And even better…we pray with humor, and wholly believe that God blessed us with a sense of humor because he has one! It’s not abnormal for me to laugh out loud while someone is praying…not because we don’t take it seriously…but more because we do take it so seriously that we leave nothing unsaid.

I also thrive on the energy of others, and when you are with a group of people in the international mission field…we are living off a lot of adrenaline, not to mention the undulated joy of serving as a whole team that gives an electric feel to a group. Ever wonder why those looking from the outside of a mission team wonder what sort of ‘stuff’ there are on? Well…the team is feelin’ the no-way-its-human, power of the Holy Spirit and that feeling is unlike any other in the world.

And this isn’t always relegated to international mission teams…it can be a community working for the Kingdom of God, too. The other night I was a part of a phenomenal conversation with some ladies that are walking a journey of mission. We talked about how you cannot truly be used by the Holy Spirit until you are ready to surrender the part of yourself that hinders it. Mission teams have no choice but to surrender that part of themselves…not only for God to use them the way he sent them, but in order to function fully as a community in mission…as does any community working in that fashion.

One of the other things I thrive on is the wisdom of those who have gone before me. And just in case you were curious…the Haiti team had it in spades. I am a believer in multi-generational teams that form a community based in mission. I know I don’t know everything, and I know not everyone would agree with my opinions on things…but I am a listener, and I crave the wisdom that God pours from the mouths of his people. There were moments that I would look at a teammate and thing to myself, ‘Whoa…that’s not them talkin’ anymore.’

It’s been almost a month since we left…so our team finds themselves in that time frame of will we let those moments of unbridled connection to God shape us or will we succumb to the American ‘normal’? Our team is trying to find a day to get together and see each other this week…and it’s difficult once we get back. I always tell teams…say what you need to say to each other before the last flight, because once we get to KC everyone is greeted by different people and heads out quickly. I miss this team…we conquered a lot together, created bonds that will last for years and did ministry in a community that had been ravaged by an earthquake through blood, sweat…I think the amount of sweat increases the bond…and tears.

As we’ve been sending emails back and forth, one of our teammates sent out at the end of a message, ‘One of the best groups I have been with.’ I’ve been a part of a lot of groups, but few have been so equal in all aspects of a mission team. People always ask me, what is your favorite trip? Who was on your favorite team? To make a choice would be wrong…but there are pieces of trips that make up my ‘perfect’ trip, and this team made some serious contributions!

God blesses his people who are forged in relationship and focused on working for his Kingdom…and our team was blessed beyond imagination and expectation. The glory all goes to our Father who not only took us to Haiti, but spoke and ignited a fire in each of us…in so many different ways.

So to my amazing Haiti team family…thanks for being my kryptonite! I love you all, dearly and challenge you to not lose sight of the clarity Haiti brought to God’s plan for us as individuals and as a team, as well as our hearts and souls. After all…if it weren’t for kryptonite how would Superman had known he was alive at all?