sabbath

Sabbath. We don’t use that word very often, and more times than not we probably clump it in Christianese verbiage that most outside of the church don’t understand. We are bad about that verbiage. We desperately need to communicate the Gospel in a common vernacular.

Sabbath: divinely set apart for rest and worship.

Technically observed as Sundays for Christians and Saturdays for Jewish folks, but that’s assuming God really cares what day of the week you take actual time to just be.

When I was in church ministry, Sundays are never a day for Sabbath…only work, so typically ministry staff that work on Sundays take a different day off. My Sabbath day was Thursday, and I had my own version of rest and worship. Since it wasn’t a ‘normal’ day to gather as a group of believers, there wasn’t any corporate worship in my day. There was worship in community, which is just as sacred. I didn’t have meetings that day. I didn’t set an alarm to wake up. Sometimes I’d go for a swim, and those were incredible times of prayer…lap after lap of chatting with my Jesus. Sometimes I would find a quiet Panera corner and dig into the Bible. God would show up in those moments at Panera, and I would learn things that I wouldn’t normally learn if I hadn’t actually taken the time to grow and be present. Honestly, I had to work hard at keeping that day set apart. Life likes to creep in and take over. If I didn’t work hard at keeping it sacred, and if I didn’t actually block it off on my calendar and commit to keeping it unplanned…it would have been full and I would have been more likely to just go through the motions instead of simply resting in him, however it materialized, in those days.

For some, Sabbath can become going through the motions of what it should look like as a socially labeled Christian with all of the social assumptions: do a quiet time, disciplined prayer, go to church – don’t forget to dress nice and modest as well as act as you are supposed to in church, church council meeting, sing in the choir and volunteer somewhere.

“Quit your worship charades. I cannot stand your trivial religious games; monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings – meetings, meetings, meetings – I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evil doings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” [Isaiah 1:13-17, MSG]

Strong words…blatant words, I think it is why I like The Message Bible version sometimes. It cuts straight through the bullshit. When believers find themselves going to church because they are ‘supposed to go to church,’ they start walking a very grey line between going through the motions and honoring God through worship. God was pissed at the Israelites, because they were going through the motions of religion and didn’t want to connect with him. They didn’t need him. They were giving sacrifices for their sin as a show, and didn’t care about forgiveness. They were ignoring the things God cared about, and it angered him that they were not willing to ‘Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.’

If you are going to church on a Sunday morning only to be seen, and not seek to encounter the heart of God for you and this world…then what is the point? If you are taking communion because everyone else is going to the front and not coming clean with God…what is the point? If you are going to small group to check that off your Christian list for the week, not for community and make yourself Gospel literate…what is the point? If you are joining the mission trip simply because your friends are going and you want to take photos to show people on social media the good you do in the world, because you are a good Christian…what is the point? If you are going to the homeless shelter to serve food to appease your guilt of your abundance…what is the point?

It comes down to your motives. Who are you looking to please when you participate in the life of the church? Are your motives pure? Is it all in expectation? Or are you looking to impress someone with your holiness and righteousness, but spent an hour yelling at your family before you came to church or small group?

Sabbath is not a particular day. Sabbath is not for ‘religion.’

Sabbath is for your relationship with the one who reigns over the universe, and has love so intense for you he sent his son as the ultimate sacrifice. Sabbath is for you to take a breath. God commanded Sabbath because he didn’t create us to do EVERYTHING. He knows we need our connection to him. He knows we need rest.

God’s heart for you is to be whole in him, and that includes a day set apart to seek him and take a deep breath, because for the other days of the week God is very serious about, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” [Isaiah 1:17, NIV]

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

dream

Sometimes I feel like Christianity is taking a nap…a super long, hibernation-type nap. And those of us that are not involved in hibernation are misunderstood by all of the extreme views that make it in the media, while our good stuff of helping the down and out goes on without notice. Think about how excited you get when you see a news story on that is a ‘feel good’ story. You get excited because you don’t see it very often!

Mar 19 - dream

Wake up, wake up all you sleepers

Imagine if every believer ‘woke up’ to the mission Jesus began in our world. Imagine if every believer started following what the Jesus actually said in the Gospels. Imagine if we were all moving in the same direction instead of arguing. Imagine if every believers’ eyes opened to how God sees this world, and were ignited to being more for him.

Stand up, stand up all you dreamers

We have lost our imagination for the ways we can participate in God’s Kingdom. Folks have gotten themselves trapped into a corner of what ‘church’ is and how ‘service’ should look. The only picture God paints through scripture is that we are supposed to be pouring into the orphans and widows, the poor, the naked, the hungry…the list goes on. But the point is we need to dream again. I think some need to feel like they have permission to dream God’s dreams for this world. Then they would find that their eyes could burst with life and color and purpose again.

Hands up, hands up, all believers

Take up your cross and carry it on

When Jesus talked about taking up your cross and carrying it, do you think he was foreshadowing his own suffering and resurrection? Or was he literally telling us to pick up a cross and follow him? Does it even matter? We should be living each day as though Jesus was resurrected. When Jesus was prophesied, then fulfilled that prophecy…no one imagined he would actually come back to life. But he did. We follow a God that has woven so intricately his story into the story of the world. Our lives are still being woven into the story of the world, but will you be a believer that stands up? Or will you  be a believer that just thinks about it?

Here we stand, our hearts are yours

Not our will, but yours be done

My heart is firmly planted in the hands of God…my life…is his. Every day I need the reminder to rise up and act as though Jesus was really resurrected, because it is getting harder and harder for people in this world to actually believe it happened. Here’s to us living as followers of the resurrected Son, hands raised high, dreaming God-sized dreams to do Kingdom work and waking up all the sleepers we come across.

[Song lyrics from All Sons & Daughters’ ‘Wake Up’]

lift

Arguments, confrontation and walls so thick that a wrecking ball wouldn’t be able to break it down…it drives me crazy when believers fight.

I get that family members have fights, especially when we are passionate people. But what does that show non-believers if we can’t get along? Would you want to be a part of a movement that shows hate toward each other?

That does not draw people to the heart of God…that propels them away with lightening speed, never to look back again. And we wonder why so many Americans have an ugly view of the church.

My heart breaks the most when fights are over petty things. If it is not a salvation issue, let it go. Seriously….so many times faith gets turned into religion, the church looks ugly and the message we are supposed to be delivering is completely invalidated.

God meant it to be beautiful, and then we get in the way. Silly humans. So much for being in His image.

Many times we get caught up in ourselves, and struggle to identify what are really areas of selfishness that we refuse to deal with. Our refusal of honestly revealing those areas are causing God’s message to suffer.

IMG_3840We are meant to deliver the message of God. We are meant to be a physical extension of his truth, love and compassion…yet we verbally beat each other up just to be ‘right.’ It’s not about you. It’s always about Him. His mission. His Kingdom. His holiness.

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. [1 Timothy 2:8]

Yah…me, too, Paul…here’s to all believers lifting holy hands, and laying down the verbal machetes. Please, for the good of God’s mission…confront yourself, and lay down the machete.

evil

Evil.

Easy to despise. Easy to be put yourself on the opposing side. Easy to speak out against. Easy to hate the villain.

Also…easy to find yourself slipping into…

How many times have I said something hateful?

How many times have I done something mean?

So often I find myself amidst the struggle of more God verses more…not God.

It is easy to try and explain away…we are human and that struggle is real. It is sin, ask for forgiveness.

And the alternative gives credence to there being powers that work against us. That darkness exists in very real forms. And worse of all…that there is real evil in our world.

We want to believe everything is sunshine, rainbows and white puffy clouds.

And just to be clear, I’m not referring to the pessimists and optimists. I am talking about the guy who tempted Jesus in the desert. The one who possessed people and the disciples had to drive out. The one who convinced a disciple to betray Jesus. I hate even saying the name, but most have sensed the reality in some way.

Discernment…knowing the difference between good and evil. It is one of those gifts that is hard to explain, because if you have that gift it registers different for each person. But you sense there is something dark and ominous. Or maybe in your brightest most Holy Spirit moment…you know there is something that is working against you. To break you, and break your hold on God’s truth.

Because evil is not truth. Evil is lies.

Because evil is not good. Evil is bad.

Because evil does not want happiness for you.

It wants to destroy you simply because you love Jesus.

Paul even writes in several of his letters instructing and encouraging the believers to arm themselves. To be ready and not to give in to temptation that would tear them away from the light of God.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Ephesians 6:11-13]

TS2I have never felt so profoundly that I was walking with God, and there was an extreme power working against me than when I was in China for a summer. In a place than can have so much hospitality, beauty and beautiful people, we were most definitely making waves with good vs. evil. And when you think about it, God has been doing something incredible in China for many years. Missionaries have risked their lives to bring the message of truth to the Chinese who want to believe. When you look at it that way, of course the scale tips for good and evil wants to fight it.

So, how do you fight? How do you stand? Well, first you have to get seriously pissed off. Get mad that something is working so hard against the God we serve and loves us unconditionally, even when we slip and give evil a helping hand.

002_2

Then…get on your knees. I know for a fact that prayer warriors get the job done. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen change through prayer.

Then…get in God’s word. I know the power of God’s word when you are grounded in it. I just wish I was all-around good at staying in scripture without some pissed-off motivation to send me back to it.

Then…get accountability. I know for a fact that I am stronger with others fighting beside me, and holding me accountable to the Christian life I have chosen to live. God’s word says that the devil prowls around like a lion waiting to devour us. Jesus said he was sending them out like sheep amongst the wolves. When we are separated from each other, we are weak. It is a really bad choice to be alone.

Then…have faith and hope, because God wins in the end. We just have to help him fight along the way.

Here’s to you winning a battle today.

see

There are so many clichés about ‘seeing,’ but how often do we think about how we are reflected in the eyes of others? What do they see when they look at us?

How do our eyes reflect our love? Our friendship? Our compassion? Our purpose? Our passion? Our orneriness? Or even our hate?

There are many that know the ornery gleen my eyes can take on…can’t hide much there!

And not everyone is going to be honest with you about how they see you, and you cannot control that…what you can control is what reflection you hope they see.

Steph and EtaeMany times after a mission trip, I will get people pointing out a photo that gets put out, and they say, “That is the real Stephanie. You are in your ‘mission’ element where you are supposed to be.” Generally in those photos I have a relaxed look in the midst of chaos, because I know without a doubt that God’s got everything under control and I’m just being obedient by being present.

But I am guilty of be absorbed by so many other things at home. I get lost in the midst of the shiny objects surrounding me.

Haiti 2012Last year after coming back from Haiti, I was not lost. I was very much in tuned with God, who I am and where he was leading me. I love the photo of my sunglasses, because I am looking out over Port-au-Prince from the Baptist Mission on top of the mountain and Haiti is reflected in my sunglasses. I remember so many things running through my head in that moment. I keep going back to that first post after we got back because I need to remember exactly where God was working on me.

I know exactly what people saw in my eyes when I got back from Haiti. They saw fight. They saw compassion. They saw extreme love. They saw me ripped raw by the Holy Spirit, and built back together by the compassionate heart of Christ.

But recently, my eyes have lost their luster. My vision is short-sighted. I’ve lost will to fight. I want to throw in the towel.

But that is not what God wants people to see in my eyes. He wants me to reflect his love, his grace and his message. If people are not seeing God reflected my eyes…then they are not seeing the woman he created.

So here’s to Lent. A time to restore yourself to God. A time to fast. A time to prepare. A time to work for God’s justice. A time for others to see God reflected in your eyes.

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.