UNRESTRICTED LOVE

My heart is tired, weary, and broken from the hate, prejudice, and misunderstanding that is happening in our world today. There is a lack of empathy and compassion, both of which are the pathways of peace. Instead, people are choosing to focus on our differences and the wrongdoings of others, both of which produce judgement and fear. 

As I wrote about previously, my 'passion project' this year is to share the stories of people I'm meeting around the world to dismantle some of the wrong ideas and perceptions we have about people who are different than us. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that we are all connected; we have each other and our shared humanity in this great big world.

We are humans first, nations second.

Each of us has been created in the image of God with inherent value and worth. Each culture is an expression of God's character and opportunities to learn new ways of doing life. Each country and continent teaches us about God's creativity and His idea of beauty. He called all of His creation good. He called the creation of man very good. We seem to have drifted far away from this truth in 2018 and into the territory of dehumanization. 

Our differences should enrich each other's lives, not be the ground we stand on to justify our division. 

It seems like too easy of an answer to all of this turmoil, but I truly believe that if we love our neighbor as we've been commanded, the world would be a more peaceful place. Understanding, reconciliation, and healing are possible, but it requires the hard work of showing up, being present, learning from others, leaning into their stories, and figuring out the best way to love them. It's not complicated, but it does take effort. 

This is not a solution intended for the government, it's intended for us as individuals. We are the solution. 

Sometimes there is also a great misunderstanding of the heart of God. People believe that others are unworthy to be loved, accepted, and respected because of the things they do, the places they're born, or the religion they subscribe to. Instead of reaching a place of gracious compassion, we allow our prejudice to prohibit our hearts from experiencing the Kingdom of God here on the earth. The Bible states over and over that we are to stand with the vulnerable because this is where we experience Him the most. This is His heart and the heart of true religion. It's uncomfortable and at times unsafe, but it's not about us - it's about His Glory. 

Love is an action; it takes sacrifice and selflessness. It's the antidote to fear, to hate, to prejudice, to misunderstanding, to differences, to every broken and sinful thing this world has to offer. May we be people who will once again believe and see the inherent value and worth of every person. May we seek to know, understand, and help others. May we love our neighbors - especially the hurting and vulnerable people in our midst - to the best of our ability. May we be people who practice what we like to call "unrestricted love." 

My prayer is that this will be the anthem we sing as we march forward into 2018 and fight against the things and ideas that threaten to tear us apart. Just as light overcomes darkness, our love will overcome the dehumanization of others. 

 

BEAUTY FROM ASHES

Today is Ash Wednesday and it has me reflecting on one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Isaiah 61. My heart is heavy because I miss "my people + my kids" more than I knew was ever humanly possible. The months that have passed between seeing them have been hard and as I try to brace myself for the couple of months left to go, I feel the weight, the pain, the longing, the ashes. 

But as I sit here, I also have to reorient my heart towards the good news that life doesn't stay dark and gloomy and full of ashes. Instead, we're given the promise that He will create beauty from our ashes every single time. I don't know what ashes you're sitting with today, but I hope you know the promise He has given. You don't have to sit in your ashes for the rest of your life - beauty will come. It always does. And Jesus will be the one to bring it.

In Lisa Bevere's book, Without Rival, she talks about how we serve a God that is without rival. The Gospel is the ultimate beauty from ashes moment. Amen. I love the way she phrases this because I feel that she captures that essence so well. It's been speaking to my heart all week.

Our God declares the end in the beginning. 
In Christ, God loved us before we loved him, 
caught us before we fell,
forgave us before we asked,
clothed us in righteousness before we realized we were naked,
and cleansed us before we were aware of our filth.
 

That is love, beauty, and faithfulness all wrapped up in one. He didn't leave us in despair; He had a plan to meet our needs before we ever knew those needs existed in us. With this in mind, we can know with certainty that He also has a plan to give us the beautiful headdress that He has promised in place of our ashes. 

One of my favorite characteristics of God is His faithfulness. You'll hear me say it all the time, but He is faithful; I believe that into the deep depths of my soul. As I reflect on who I once was, who I am now, and who He is calling me to be, I can't help but praise Him for His faithfulness towards me. 

He never fails, never disappoints, and is always on time. He's faithful to redeem, restore, heal, and liberate. He keeps His covenant promises to us and never forsakes or forgets. Because of this, we can look forward with hope and assurance. We can be sure that He will turn our ashes into beauty, our mourning into joy, and our faint spirits into praises. Because He is faithful, we can be faith-filled.

This is the God we believe in, the Jesus we surrender our lives to, and the Spirit we allow to lead us day after day. Hold fast to His promises and rejoice in His faithfulness. Remember this today and everyday that the ashes surround you, pain is part of your story, and hope seems lost. Beauty is coming, my friends! It always does without fail. 

IT'S THE JOURNEY THAT COUNTS

I know people say this kind of thing all the time, but if someone would have told me back in my college days the kind of life I would live in the future, I wouldn't have believed them. Something beautiful has been birthed from my many seasons of pain, and I stand here today thankful for everything I've experienced, good or bad. God makes no mistakes and He doesn't allow you to walk through things on accident. I mean.. who could have guessed that my diet and interest in the failing food system would lead me to my greatest and ever-deepening passion that I live for today? 

I have heard Christine Caine preach a message several times now about allowing God to develop you in the "dark room" of life. She goes on to explain that just like film has to be taken to a dark room for the development process - a process that takes time - we need to allow God to do the same in us. Due to the instant lifestyle we've become accustomed to, this can be really hard for us to do. She uses the example of Instagram vs Film and being a visual person, I love it. 

The truth is that it's hard to see the value in the process when you're in the midst of it. Life throws you curve balls or things don't go according to plan and we (myself included) start freaking out because we're not where we "should be" when we think we should be there. Over the last five years or so, God has really shown me that it is the journey that counts. 

I know how frustrating this life can be. As a visionary, I'm always 10 steps ahead of reality and get discouraged when things don't match up immediately. But God, in His grace, doesn't allow us to move from A to Z in an instant. Instead, He allows us to be put into uncomfortable places to refine us and extraordinary places to use us. One is not more important than the other; both are necessary ingredients for us to be molded and shaped into the image of Christ. 

I am convinced that our greatest calling in life is to become Christ-like. "To become" signifies a process and the process we're called to is to simply live life one day at a time, trusting Jesus with obedient hearts. It's in the everyday, mundane moments that our character is being refined and our lives start to mimic Christ. No matter where you find yourself, know that if you're trusting Jesus and growing in maturity in your faith, you're living out your greatest calling. It really is that simple. It's this pursuit of Jesus that sanctifies us and transforms us from the inside out. And it's this pursuit that allows us to love like Him, act like Him, and live in accordance to His will. 

Surrender to the process and enjoy the journey. Trust me, I've tried to take my own short cuts - they don't work. 

MAKE THE UGLY, BEAUTIFUL

“I'm on a mission to make ugly things beautiful.” I'm pretty sure Jesus would have said this. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was His anthem. 

Somehow, we can easily forget that our calling is to become beautiful. As Christians, we're called to imitate Christ, to be transformed into His likeness. We should leave this earth looking more like Him than we started. And in the process, we're supposed to make the things around us beautiful as well. 

The mission of our church here in NYC is “to join God in the renewal of all things.” I like this because I think it's a point a lot of Christians tend to miss. We make Jesus and the gospel all about eternal salvation and very little about the invitation to renew, revive, and restore what’s around us right now, in this moment. 

Making ugly things beautiful is hard. It's uncomfortable. It's dangerous. But it's also worth the blood, sweat, and tears. And more importantly, it's worth the risk. 

I don't know about you, but when Jesus entered my life, I was ugly. And to be honest, there are still stubborn, ugly places in my heart. Thankfully, He's in the process of making my beauty complete. I get to live with joyful hope everyday knowing that beauty will be perfected in me when I meet Him face to face. 

So what does this mean?

It means this beauty is not ours to keep. No. We are to give it away, even if it comes at a cost. Even if we have to risk it all to give beauty to someone else, we should because that's what He did. He tells us to be imitators of Him so I translate that to mean that we are to do what He does. He makes costly and controversial, yet confident decisions sometimes to extend beauty to those around Him.

Don’t be afraid to release beauty into the world around you. Beauty has already won.

People everywhere are aching for beauty. They're fed up with the ugly broken stuff. And yet, I see people being stingy with their gift of beauty, saying, “you don't deserve it.” Or, “I'm afraid to give it you.” But how can we ever make the ugly things beautiful if we keep the beauty to ourselves? How can we make the ugly things beautiful if we we’re not willing to allow the act of giving to undo the ugly in our own hearts? 

Because here’s a truth for you: Our giving will never return void.

When we give beauty, we receive it. When we face the ugly in our world, we're forced to face the ugly in our hearts. When others around us change, we change too.

Maybe, just maybe, you don't actually have a fear of the ugly world. Instead, you have a fear of facing the ugliness in your own heart. Is that what holds you back from making the ugly things beautiful?

It takes courage. 

Oh friend, take hold of the truth. You were made beautiful in Christ at the foundations of the world and you are beautiful in Him today, no matter what ugliness you have in or around you. Whatever you do, don’t selfishly hold onto the costly gift that’s been given to you. Throw beauty around like confetti on this ugly world because whatever it touches will be made beautiful in Jesus name. Once you experience the process that is ‘beauty from ashes,’ you’ll want to come back every day, again and again, for more. And trust me when I tell you, each day there will be more confetti for you to throw around than the day before. He not only gives beauty, He multiplies it.  

Let’s have courage. Let’s face our own ugliness. Let’s pursue beauty. Let’s make the ugly, beautiful – together.