Seasons Change

As I write this post I’m listening to ‘Seasons Change’ by United Pursuit. It’s nice, really. And fitting.

Lately I’ve had to make some very important decisions, and I can only hope they are good ones. I’ve decided to leave my day job and enter fully into missions and radio work.

Throughout this process I often prayed and cried about answers. I just wanted God to tell me what to do! I figured then I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not I chose correctly. But I realized not too long ago that God wants a relationship. If all I want from God is “tell me what to do!” then I don’t really have any agency and I miss out on incredible opportunities to grow and learn. I have to be able to make choices and accept the responsibility for those choices.

And so, here I am, a couple months out of embarking on an incredible new journey. I am hopeful that the Good Word Radio Show, my time at the Justice House of Prayer, and my work with European Faith Missions will only benefit from this transition. I’m excited to see where the journey takes me, and I’m glad to have you all on the road with me!

Beloved

Hey folks,
So this post will get a bit personal. Sometimes certain times of the year can be more trying than others. That used to be the case for me near Valentine’s Day, but not so much this time around. I feel light and free from past choices and ready for the best God has for me. If I have been forgiven of my past sins, then all guilt and condemnation need not be attached to me. To that end, I will share a poem that I hope inspires the reader to remember that Jesus is fully aware of your sins, and they don’t scare Him one bit. He still loves you, and He still invites you to be His bride, His beloved.

His Beloved 
In my heart I married you.
I readied myself before the altar,
Love awoken before its time.

You did not know me, but I allowed
you to know me because if you knew me,
you’d take more time to know me, right?

Love awoken before its time…

No daddy to walk me down the aisle but
you, you make me feel like it’s ok there is
no one to ask permission.

So in my flesh I married you,
but you couldn’t fill me.
Love was awoken before its time.

Do you not see me? Does not anyone see me?
Can you not feel the beating of my heart?!
I am good, and I deserve better than this.
I deserve better than you.

I see now the Lover of my soul pursuing me,
eyes burning with holy fire.
I am His and He is mine.

My garments are wedding white and I am beloved.
Oh yes. He sees me, He knows me,
and He calls me His own.

To this love, I gladly surrender.

Brokenness in our Borders

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Not too long ago I was with friends when conversation came up that made me uncomfortable. We were in a neighborhood that they did not often (ever) frequent, but that I had grown up in. It surprised them that the prosperous and well adjusted people we were visiting would live there voluntarily.  Then some other comment was made, and I felt my temperature rising. I chose to remain silent. I did not trust myself in that moment to speak up without offense coloring my tone and delivery. I think I’m ready to share now.

In this world we have a pretty clear idea of who is broken, messed up, really needs help or whatever you want to call it. Often times that image does not look like us. And if we are in such dire straights that we can acknowledge we need help, we can think of at least five others who really need help because they’re worse off than we are and really, you see, we’re not that bad off in the end.

If we are going to be effective carriers of the gospel, we have got to be able to recognize the brokenness in our borders. Jesus calls us to cover ourselves in the sweet smelling perfume of serving in humility and authenticity, but so often we Pharisaically parade around like white washed tombs, unaware of just how bad we actually smell. The unacknowledged gunk accumulated in us then never gets a washed out, and we keep skunking on.

I choose today to examine myself, and ask Holy Spirit to reveal to me that which needs to be taken care of. Then, I’ll let God lead me in taking care of it. I choose to recognize the brokenness in people who look like me and share a similar story, so that I can bring my story of victory in some of the same places they may still struggle, and vice versa.

I choose to recognize the brokenness in those who do not look like me or share a story similar to mine, so that we can build and encourage each other up in the same way as those who I more readily connect with. See, there is no ‘easy button’ with living out the Gospel. That call for loving on people is for everyone. Even the ones you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Spend some time this week with God and let Him show you how to love better. Let Him make you more like Him.

Do you really want to surrender?!?!?

The Old Ball and Chain!!!!

“The old ball and chain” is an idiom of many colors. Webster describes it as “something that severely restricts one’s activity usually oppressively (marriage, intended  to enslave a woman), and also the fleeting idiom replaces the word wife.  Steven D. Price describes it as prison.  In his writing “Endangered Phrases” he writes, “Marriage was prison (albeit with privileges), wives were wardens, and husbands wore a metaphorical ball and chain, the sort that prisoners wore to prevent escaping.

Now let me ask you this question. If you would or would be proposed to, would you say that your answer would be a choice or would it be forced? Typically the answer is hardly the latter. So why would we use this phrase? How has it lasted so long? Why add such a grim perception on something that is supposed to be beautiful, exciting, and certain?

I truly believe it goes with notion of surrenderance. Do I really want to surrender? Do I really know what that means?!?! Am I willing to understand? These are common questions that are often unnoticeably asked in many Christian communities.

Let me also ask this, what is the first step or process that is incurred when you are arrested?  It is typically when the suspect is asked to surrender before being apprehended!

So the crux of the situation would be why use such repugnant words regarding such an advantageous experience?  I believe it may be the imprisonment of fear. If we were “arrested” in marriage, we fear the loss of choice and freedom we believe we have in being single.

To be arrested, for most, represents the loss of liberty and even an audacity of freedom. It would be the ultimate horror for me, however I realize that being arrested is not only limited to what we perceive. When you are in this life you are arrested to so many things. Things that you can’t change. You are detained genetically by your parents, no matter who you call mom or dad. You are confined, while on earth, to your body, no matter what you do to it. You are even imprisoned by the perception of others, even if you could care less. All these restrictions, and limits. Yet I feel that even after this life, the same rules will apply.  The gift that God gives us is the gift of choice.

I’ve often been told that I’m so “black and white” in my perception of things. Well does the police say that an assailant is half way free to go? Does a doctor pronounce you half dead and allows you to leave the hospital? No. So with that being said, we should rid our hearts and minds of that idiom as it pertains to marriage.

In Christianity, one of the foundational analogies of our faith is that we are the bride of Christ and Jesus Christ is our groom.

What is exchanged in weddings? Vows! What is a vow? A solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment. An example of what those vows would sound like would be, “I, Bae, take you, Bae, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor (traditionally obey) you all the days of my life.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The obedience part does not allow your spouse to abuse, detain, and arrest you.  No, the honor/obedience is cultivated through pure love. Love that is warranted with truth. Because I love you, I will obey my vow to only share my existence to you. Because of my love for you, I will willingly sacrifice the things that I used to have as one and share it with the knowledge that I’m forever committed to the unity in our union. Because I love you, I will not intentionally hurt you or cause you shame by cheating on you with another. I promise not to share myself to anyone else but you. Because I love you, I make a vow to be with you, in love with you, forever.

Romans 6:16 (NLT) states, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can obey God, which leads to righteous living.”

So you see if we believe fully in the, “ball and chain” as believers then we are really faced with this reality. In both lives, we will be arrested. One arrest represents death & destruction, and yet the other represents freedom and life.

If we are to be married to Christ, let’s choose to bewed Him. To make a vow and honor Him. When our engagement (salvation) was made, He bought the ring (the cross) that has been placed for us to bear.  Exonerating us from the chains of slavery, fear, and failure. Seeing us for the true bride and beautiful one. Immersing us intensely with intimacy and adorning us with His love. Remember that there is always a choice. Surrender to Christ and be arrested by God’s love! ❤️

 

“Where is my Justice?”

Where is my justice?!

This is not simply a question I have asked for myself when encountering injustice (though trust me, I have asked). When I look at this question I see the faces of loved ones I’ve known, ones I have not known yet, and some I’ll never have the pleasure of meeting. Chained, overworked, forced into unthinkable acts using even more unthinkable methods, we are facing a slave epidemic of proportions far more epic than the trans-Atlantic slave trade ever imagined it could be. Human flesh is now worth its weight in gold, human souls deemed a fair loss considering the gain. When I think of these lost ones I imagine I hear them crying out.

Where is my justice?!

Can you hear them?

All too often we don’t. I don’t. But as we enter the new year, with this first month being Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I resolve not only to lose a few pounds and gain a few good habits; I resolve to be love, and embody freedom.

Where is my justice?

All too often the answer to this most poignant question goes unanswered because the answer is us, and we are not moved. I decide this year to be moved. I decide to allow the brokenness of this world to move me. I decide to let Holy Spirit speak to me, and lead me in an answer to this question. If justice is a Man (and He’s coming!), and I am His hands and feet until His return, why is He not being seen?

It’s time to make Jesus famous on stages with an audience of One.

 

New Year, New Mindset

As we transition again into a new year,  I’ve noticed that there is always that one person who adamantly proclaims boldly, “New Year, New Me!” The response I have always given has been, “Why?” What is so wrong about your self that somehow you need to not only change but be “new.” To be made new is the supreme desire for every Christian who have read and believed God’s Word, but I believe that there so much more to it. For it is our past that defines us. It’s our mistakes that are the emblems of the scars on our heart that mold us in our wisdom today.

For New Years, I decided to celebrate in the “city that never sleeps.” New York City, to me, has always been larger than life! The lights, the people, and Times Square!!! New York makes my heart smile! While I was there, throwing out the old and ringing in the new, I had the chance to visit a very well known church. As I walked into the sanctuary, scurrying to grab a seat, I silently whispered a prayer. I found a good spot that was not too close yet not so far away. I began to lift my hands and close my eyes. Expecting sincerely one of the best worship experiences of my life, I was sadly dissapointed.  I continued to sing but in my heart, I was like, “Come on Jesus!” As soon as I utter those three words from my heart, God began to speak!!! I listened. These are the words He said. “Don’t allow the atmosphere to stop your praise. Remember when Elijah used God’s fire to flame the fire that was abundantly drenched in water. Even when the elements that you have are drenched with sorrow, devastation, and dead things; know that it’s the fire that He gives you that will light the flame for your praise and worship. It will astound those who delighted in the sight of you and your dreams dying. It will surpass your situation and will excelerate and activate things in your life to come alive!!! You are a thermostat not a thermometer!!!! Set ablaze your praise!” After my heart became alive!

Soon after the Campus Pastor, who was filling in for the Head Pastor, began to speak. He mentioned how devastating 2015 was. Also with the loss of a child, he became broken. However overjoyed, He revealed to the church that He has a newborn baby girl. He then proceeded with His message about having a new mindset in the new year. He mentioned and spoke about past, present, and future.  With full authority, he immediately lifted our heart with hope and challenged our minds to change.  He emphasized having a renewed perspective. He also encouraged us not to pray to get out of the storm, but to pray to see God in it! While the word was going forth, I became reminiscent of the story of Peter walking on water. I began to visualize how frightening that storm would have been. Yet I realized and understood that Jesus was in the center of it all. He controlled the elements and the situation. Even in the midst of doubt from others, yet Jesus still called out for Peter.  As the imagery flowed through my mind, hope began to flood my heart.  Suddenly I realized that “new me” is not what I needed.  As a matter of fact, “new me” would quickly become “old me” but possibly more worse. I truly understood that day the totality of Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

It all became clear to me. Instead of throwing away all of who you are, it’s so much easy to examine who you are. Then and only then change will take place.  Thermometers are thrown away, but thermostats are essential part of a bigger system.  Sometimes it takes a choice to ignite the things that we feel we never had. Then and only then we will discover true strength! Instead of you making yourself “brand new,” Look for God in the midst of it all. Eventually you will be restored, renewed, and finally “brand new.”

Community and The Place of Pleasure

 

I’ve been wondering lately about community and joy.

More specifically, the communities in which I most find my joy. How appropriate, then, that I found this little excerpt of John Piper while doing a google search for sermons to listen to during some down time.

I have often been that Christian who, when looking at the Body around her, finds it…lacking. Lately, as I have talked about on the Good Word Radio Show, I have been burning for revival, burning to see the Body of Christ rise up to rightly value the relationship we have with Jesus, and the responsibility we have to keep our faith fires going.

When I don’t see that happening as quickly as I would like, or even in the ways that I would like, I get upset. I start complaining, I start saying things like the person depicted in the video above. “I don’t like the Christians I know.”

Already there should be a prick in the heart or the conscience of the Christian who reads such a line or thinks such a thought. Since when are we to entertain such thoughts?

I recognize fully that we are in a fallen world, and as we are not yet perfected in faith, we all make mistakes. However, I also recognize that Jesus modeled a life that calls us to look past mistakes. We are to forgive even 7 times 70 times (Matthew 18:22). We are to go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). We are to love our God above all, and our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).

So, when I find myself judging, I can first deal with the plank in my eye before going for the speck in someone else’s. I can answer the higher call to love and to pray for the people around me. Trust me, it is very hard to entertain negative feelings for someone you are genuinely and honestly praying for.

May we all be more prayerful and ultimately more loving in the times to come, and may our communities flourish because of it. After all, the world will know us by the love we have for one another.

 

Simple Gospel: Album Review

simplegospel

 

If you’re looking for an intimate worship experience, then this is the album for you.

Simple Gospel” represents the newest effort of the United Pursuit family, born out of a group of believers who gathered together in what they named The Banks House to worship God together. “Live at the Banks House” remains a stirring and memorable testimony of those humble beginnings.

With “Simple Gospel”, the United family seeks to share the testimony of the years between. The album also expresses a common desire to not over complicate relationship with God. You know, keep it simple.

The album builds with stirring crescendos, draws in with memorable melodies, touches the spirit with expressions of truth, and inspires the coordinated and uncoordinated alike to bop with the faster songs or sway to a slow tune. “Let it Happen” and “Never Going Back” among others are definitely being added to the JHOP set list!

I highly recommend setting  aside some time to soak in this album. Whether you’re painting, dancing, reading the Word, or just laying on the couch, this album is an excellent accompaniment to anyone’s quiet time, and music library.

 

Rome, Italy

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Rome is likely to be magical any time of the year, but I think I lucked out in particular by going during Christmas.  As is often the case with me, I stayed with a good friend, an Italian I had met senior year of college while representing the Italian department as its only major that year (You’re welcome, Bryn Mawr).

If you can find an Italian family for Christmas, especially one with mid-Italy/southern Italy roots, I highly recommend getting yourself a dinner invitation.

For my friend’s family, all mid-south Italians, Christmas is serious, regardless of the fact that they didn’t actually believe in Christ. Their manger scene alone was enough to make me rethink my paltry-by-comparison Christmas traditions. You know, like actually celebrating Jesus…

Anyway, we went through a litany of fish and seafood dishes, boiled hen, fried zucchini flowers, pasta dishes, a special ricotta cake from the Jewish quarter, breakfast pastries called maritozzi, various traditional fruit cakes, chocolate bars, marshmallow bars, and many, many, bottles of wine. The wine was imported from their favorite southern winemaker, of course.

My friend was so happy to get his mom’s cooking (he had just come back from his time abroad in Philadelphia) that he ate too much and got sick. Fortunately I had more self control.

Rome is gorgeous, and because it is further south, it can be quite warm even in December. During Christmas everything is lit up, there are Christmas trees set up by the Colosseum, and the city has an almost magical air. Transportation sucks, though. We ended up doing a fair bit of walking because it was easier than trying to do the trains, but it’s worth the view. Plus, while all the typical attractions are worth seeing, walking the city allows for a little spice and adventure that you might otherwise miss. My favorite was coming across a guy giving out free hugs. I had always wanted to meet one of those people! I was skeptical at first, but it turns out he was a good hugger and was quite the gentleman.

It’s also fun to see the various people in Roman soldier outfits ready to pose in pictures with you for your euros.

Rome in and of itself is a museum, so between the amazing sites just there as you walk down the street and the free concert the day after Christmas, I was quite fine not paying to go to museums.

Tips:

  • Be prepared to walk. That means proper footwear, protection, and hydration.
  • Again, Rome is further south. That means in the summer months you’ll be in the 90’s and 100 degree weather. Choose spring, early summer, fall or even winter travel times if this weather will prove difficult.
  • Have fun! Rome is an amazing city to just wander, eat well, and just get lost in the romance of it all.

Kruje, Albania

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If you’re like me and one of your best buddies is Albanian and has a car, getting around Albania will be pretty easy. If for some odd reason that isn’t the case, there are buses between most cities. I went by car from Tirana to get to lovely, historic Kruje.

The site of Albania’s battle for independence against the Ottoman invaders, Kruje is a place of national pride for Albania, despite them having lost the war. In Kruje you can find the museum honoring Skanderberg, the national hero who organized Albania’s flailing forces in this their most successful bid for freedom.

Though taken captive and raised among the Ottoman troops, Skanderberg never forgot his roots, instead taking what he learned and returning to Albania to better organize the fight for freedom. I’d make him a national hero too…

Entrance here is about 2 lek, and it affords some incredible views when you go outside at the upper levels.

Kruje is basically a mountain so you have to walk uphill to get to the museum. It’s worth it though, because you pass through a market of handmade items and trust me, it’s amazing. In one shop I met one of the last people who still make sheep’s wool items by hand. I played a traditional instrument I can’t remember the name of, and looked at countless hand embroidered, woven, and carved items.

If all this isn’t amazing enough, you can continue driving up the road past the part of town with the shops and museums, and get to the top of the mountain. Here there is a seating area for outdoor picnicking, shepherds grazing their flock (And apparently people making movies about it. Still don’t know what that was about…), plants you can pick fresh for the ever popular “mountain tea”, and an absolutely stunning view of lakes and rolling landscape while you’re at it.

Albania makes good on its reputation for a land flowing with water, because if you walk down the staircase next to the picnic area and turn into a creepy cavernous little place where you go down some more steps into utterly cold dankness (that’s totally a word…), you’ll find a pipe that lets out fresh spring water. It tastes amazing, and after romping around in the hot sun all day it feels amazing too. Bring a couple of empty water bottles!

Just be prepared to walk up all those steps on your way back.

Tips:

  • The walk up to the museum through the market is really smooth and uneven cobblestone, uphill. Make sure you have comfy shoes with good tread.
  • Because of the elevation, it’s a good idea to bring a sweater and be aware of any health issues this might cause.
  • The market is all cash, and all worth it. Prices are generally fair and not much bartering is needed.