wise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ready

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Just when I think I am ready for something…I quickly discover I am not, which is why I choose to live with flexibility that helps me adapt surrounded by others that believe in me and what God is doing within me.

But what makes us ready for what this world throws at us?

Is it experience? Wisdom? Education? Money?

Or maybe it is faith, hope…love?

Perhaps the people that surround us make us ready for pain, hurt, challenges and disaster?

I think if we fool ourselves into thinking we are always ready for what comes, we do a huge disservice to those around us. Part of being within a community is trusting that they have your back. And when we get thrown a curve ball…we are not alone. Allow people to wrap their arms around you, support you and fight with you. Being vulnerable and honest is hard. Well, sucks really. But it is what bonds us together as God’s people.

Don’t discount the things God can do through and in you by believing that you can do it on your own. You cannot. Stop being the stubborn human that thinks they have the strength to stand alone. This is not a competition in strength, and if you live that way you are not embracing the grace of God.

God created you, filled you with the Holy Spirit and has given you opportunities to belong in community with others. You may have chosen to not take those opportunities, but they were there. He knows you, and is not surprised that you feel you need to stand alone with an ‘I got this!’ combined with a ‘Bring it on!’ mentality…but alone is not the point of being ready. It’s in the people God has placed around you that make you ready to withstand a torrent of awful…normally with a side of humility.

 

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.*

known

I value friendship. A lot. I value trust. A lot. I value being known. A lot. I value grace. A lot. And all of these things fold together for me when it comes to my best friends.

However…I am a complete asshole when it comes to maintaining long distance friendships. I hate talking on the phone. No, really…with a passion, I hate talking on the phone.

I don’t have a ton of extra rubles to spend on getting to the places they live. And it’s not that I don’t consider it a priority, it’s that time gets away from me. Completely dissipates.

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Before landing in Chicago on Wednesday, it had been two and a half years since I’d seen my college roommate in person. That’s just wrong. I am a complete asshole!

It’s horrible, because I value our friendship more than my actions show. But if the actions are lacking, and your voice isn’t communicating…how do they know we actually put value in their friendship?

We’ve come to a place in this world when Facebook trolling for information equals a ‘friendship.’ That’s not friendship! Friendship is messy. Friendship is knowing how I take my coffee…or other liquids of choice. Friendship is knowing what my response will most likely be about things I am passionate about. Friendship is conversation, actual dialogue about real life things. Its hard. It entails trust, and putting yourself out there. Sometimes it goes sideways and you have to work through crap together. But honestly the friendships that endure are the ones that last. And thankfully I have several!

But that’s also where the grace comes in…and no matter how much time has passed the jokes are still present. The ease of hanging out is still comfortable, and we are still known by someone who counts. Someone who can appreciate the path God has taken you on just as much as you can. Someone who knows the stupid shit you did, completely sober!

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The Bible talks about being known by God in Psalm 139…it’s a beautiful Psalm, and it came to my attention through one of my best friends in one of the biggest struggles my life. As intimately as God knows each one of us, its that bond that runs through the truest friendships we have. And once that bond is engaged…there’s not much you can do to cut it. Because through that bond runs God’s mercy…grace…love.. compassion and community.

Sometimes that bond has to help carry a friend when they feel beaten up by life. The don’t know what to believe. When faith has become exhausting. I’ve always loved the story when Jesus is teaching to a very crowded room, and a paralyzed man is lowered through a roof by his friends. In that moment, Jesus doesn’t say why are you breaking someone’s home. No, Jesus says HIS faith has saved him. The Bible says Jesus saw THEIR (his friends) faith…forgives the man. If you can’t lean on your friends, who can you lean on!?!?

I cherish being known, and my best friends are the ones that know my good, bad and ugly…and love me anyway! And I do my best for that to be a two-way road…but we all epically fail sometimes and grace jumps in to say, ‘It’s OK!’

Today I am so incredibly grateful for time spent with friends, long and short distances, this Spring. Go tell AND show a friend you care! And just to recap…Facebook does NOT count!

surrender

There is this word that has been drifting in one ear and out the other pretty consistently for a couple of months.

Surrender.

Ah…so much in a single word. I’m stubborn. Surprised, right? It goes against my very nature to actually surrender to something. I give it all the fight I have in me sometimes. I’m human. And definitely not perfect. But if I cannot trust God enough to surrender in my relationship with him, where does that put me?

Some of my married friends would have an interesting spin on this word, especially when you add in ‘submit.’ It can mean so many things…I was feeling out people on Facebook earlier today for what they thought it meant. I got a lot of references to music, and some great humor. And then I also got this from a young friend…

Losing control and allowing God to step in.

We all want control. But what if…what if in wanting control, we lose a large part of God moving in our lives? What if we lose our chance to participate in His Kingdom work around us?

We put into place parameters, strategies, structure, planning…all to maintain control over the situations around us. Are we limiting God’s movement in those areas we try to control? Not saying structure isn’t good sometimes, just asking the question.

Mission trips and investing somewhere locally are the epitomy of surrendering so that God can use you in incredible ways. Talk to anyone who finds words that come out of their mouth in just the right moment. Surrender is a willingness to allow God to use you where you are…it’s mission, right?

It’s also about trust and faith. Do you trust God enough with your hopes and dreams and timing? Do you trust that it will all be okay in the end? Are you willing to merge your will with His? It’s intimidating when it involves things that ‘society’ thinks is right and normal.

A true relationship does not shut out surrender. It’s in different contexts, but always has an element of surrender on both sides. Even more so in a relationship with Jesus…he surrendered his life…for YOU. No relationship exists without surrendering part of who you are and becoming part of something bigger. Christ serves as the perfect example.

Here’s the thing…surrendering to God is scary. It’s a willingness to lose a part of who you are. But truly, you are gaining who God has created you to be. It may mean giving up the American dream. It could mean giving up the dream you have for your kids, and letting them figure it out on their own.

It’s surrendering the part of you that needs to disappear so you are drawn closer to God.

Obviously, I am still wrestling with this. But the bottom line is you are not giving up or tossing in the towel…you are accepting that God has more in store for you than you have for yourself, because God’s love makes it worth it all.