What’s Your Cure for Fear? // Open Heart vs Open Road

 A girl stumbles into a room with a lot of broken, dilapidating walls. She looks around in confusion. She feels trapped. Her heart is breaking. Her tears hit the wood. With every passing breath, she feels a heaviness settle on her soul. She’s in the dark.

They told her: “Climb this mountain away from the world. Go to this door. You’ll be safe there. No one will be there to hurt you. Time away will heal your broken heart. No one will be there to let you down. Your fears won’t be an issue. Just stay away from the scary, the bad, and the hard- and you’ll be happy.”

But she finds no comfort in the creaks of the floors or the peeling of the wallpaper. The hollow silence is deafening. No one is there to heal her heart. These walls are no help. Time itself only makes it worse. It was then that she realized it: she had fallen prey to a lie that was meant to keep her SAFE from lies. And now she’s trapped. She spent so much time finding ways to build walls between herself and the pain of the world that she accidentally cut herself off entirely from freedom.

Don’t a lot of us do this though? Don’t we all gravitate towards places that require the least amount of risk to our happiness? We run from the uncomfortable in favor of what’s “safe”.

However, what if this pursuit of “safe” was costing us more than we realized?

 Society often tells us that the best cure for fear is simply running away from it. The idea of “safety” sounds so inviting. If you do this or buy that, you’ll be safe. However, I am learning these days that society’s version of “safety” is actually just letting fear control your life. Yes, it seems safe to stay in your house all day without the risk of getting hit by a car. It sounds safe to have TONS of money stored up with no intention of using the extra to help other people. Giving it away could possibly take away from the comfortable lifestyle you want to live.

When contemplating this topic, I think of the movie A Christmas Story. In the movie, one of the children is forced by his mother to wear an extremely large and constricting coat to be kept warm in the cold. The kid can’t even put his arms down, much less walk like a normal human being! It’s truly a hilarious scene. But needless to say, the poor guy isn’t likely to do anything productive in that coat. However, by the world’s standards- he is “safe” from getting frostbite or a nasty cold.

Now while I certainly condone wearing coats if it’s cold, I don’t believe that we should be coating our lives with ridiculous amounts of protective measures designed to keep us so safe that we completely lose our ability to do anything of real value. If we live our lives running from the hard, uncomfortable, and daunting- will we ever truly accomplish anything? Or will we live it driven by fear? And if we are driven by fear, will it lead to an open road or an open heart?

Open roads are lonely. Open hearts lead to life change.

The open road is running away. The open heart is dealing with what’s right in front of you- even when it’s hard.

Open roads sound like freedom, but only take you to dead ends. Open hearts to Jesus yield direction and purpose, not aimless running.

Because here’s a scary truth: you CAN’T run from YOURSELF.

No matter how many roads you take to get away from those frustrations….whether it be finding a safe place in the mountains or in the depths of your Netflix and social media accounts….you can’t help the fears that live inside you. You take them WHEREVER you go.

BUT WAIT- this is actually such a GOOD thing:

Why? Because the cure for fear is ALSO inside you.

The “you” that you can’t run away from was made to be a home to the ONLY true safe haven on this earth. And His Name is Jesus….and He wants to replace your fears with faith. He wants to make an unbreakable home in your ever-breaking heart.

We can find immense hope in this statement; especially when we take a minute and realize that NO place on this earth is actually safe. We are always in potential danger. Just take a look at the news headlines and that can be confirmed. This is just a reality of living in a world that’s broken. But if true safety from heartache and pain can be found within ourselves, there is nothing to fear. Hurricanes and disasters may come- but God gives us the strength to rely on Him, not material things. People may break our hearts by abandoning us in a time of need. But Jesus will NEVER leave us alone. He is literally listening to your thoughts right now. And mine. He knows you better than anyone, so He will LOVE you better than everyone.

So what’s the cure for fear? The cure for your loneliness? For anxiety? Not an OPEN road leading to more brokenness and confusion. But an OPEN heart running towards Jesus- where we are ever-accepted and ever-loved.

// PS:

{ Another broken human could never fix the broken in me. Only my Maker could do that. This is why marriage isn’t what heals broken hearts either. We were made to love God and THEN each other….to have a constant love supply with which to GIVE, not take from others. If God isn’t our FIRST love supply, a person will never be able to fill that void. When we use people to try and fill the space, it may just lead to unmet expectations, bitterness, or divorce. In the words of Andy Stanley, let’s stop living in “debtor relationships”. Love is not love if it is owed…only if it’s freely GIVEN. }

 

 

 

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The People Around You // The Person to Your Right May Not Actually Be “Alright”

If only you knew her story.

She sits with eyes glazed

And an expression seemingly un-phased

Fixed on the board

“She’s probably just bored.”

You have no idea what’s inside

Or that scar she’s trying to hide

Why say a word

It will probably go unheard

I don’t want to seem weird

I have a heart that’s always feared.

Being bold as a stranger

Seems like a social danger.

Let’s stay silent

And refuse to relent.

To speak up is hard.

It could result in letting down my guard.

The fear of rejection

Has become an infection.

Even a simple text can result in stress.

On our heartstrings we need to press.

If we were to take a risk

And eject the status quo’s disk

We may possibly find

That the humans beside us are actually kind.

Or see that the girl sitting over there

Is in need of a heart repair.

Her eyes may be blank

But her parents’ marriage may just have sank.

Her eyes may be fixed on the board

But what if you introduced her to life’s sword?

Jesus cares for you.

And He cares for her too.

To be like Him

Is to love on a whim.

To not be afraid

To join His parade.

He sets the captives free.

But with eyes on your phone how can you see?

How can we see people if all we see is a screen?

That’s the place where all looks serene.

But pictures can be the world’s greatest liars.

So grab the plyers.

Pry open the door.

Seek the lost and the poor.

Don’t turn away.

Just stop what you’re doing and have something to SAY.

You may think this is for someone else to do.

But what if God sent YOU?

What if you were His plan?

To turn her can’ts into CAN?

To bring her from strife

Into true LIFE?

From a life of moping

Into one of HOPING?

Our silence won’t accomplish anything.

But a simple hello could be the catalyst for redefining one person’s EVERYTHING.

Just some food for thought…

That could maybe change somebody’s future life plot.

Why spend a lifetime WAITING on world change…

When it could simply start with the person sitting in the closest range.

The person to your right,

May not be alright.

Find out,

& love without a doubt.


Sometimes we forget that the simplest way to “change the world” is just by being kind to strangers. Everyone has a story they are living- no one’s is more important than someone else’s. So why not add a bit of light to the story of someone else? Even if it’s just for a mere minute. You never know what a simple question or smile can do. Perhaps the happiness of their tomorrow could be sparked by your kindness of today.

 

The Desert //finding freedom from what drains you//

Imagine a desert. It’s so hot that it gives you difficulty to even walk. The hot sand whips against your sweat drenched forehead in the wind. Yet not even the breeze offers any respite from the heat. Your breath feels hot and heavy. Will you ever make it? How will you possibly cross this without being overtaken? What direction do you even go? You feel lost. Alone. But yet, your feet are moving. Your brain is functioning. You are most certainly alive.

Now compare this environment to the life you live daily. Have you ever felt like you were so bogged down by responsibilities that you feel completely DRAINED by life? We often associate the idea of deserts with inactivity and dormancy. However, what God has been pressing into my heart lately has been the idea that we create our own deserts that aren’t inactive at all. In fact, they are the complete opposite. So many of us, including myself, throw so much into what we are DOING with our lives that we feel like we are suffocating beneath the weight of our responsibilities and self-ascribed expectations.

We think we are building a “successful life”. But in reality, we are simply building a desert. And what’s worse is that we get well accustomed to it. The familiarity of chaos strangely becomes a comfort. We get in our heads that as long as we are doing this, a part of that, achieving x, y and z….we matter. However, this is just exactly what the world WANTS us to believe. See, the desert is where the devil does his best work. When we are drained, we are far more desperate to find meaning in our lives…so much so that we will DO whatever it takes to be what society says is “enough”. This works perfect with the enemy’s plans because he wants to keep us well inside these self-made deserts. Why? Because ultimately, they keep us from the TRUE source of life. “Deserts of activity” keep us from the Living Water. They keep us from Jesus.

Our generation isn’t the first to run into this issue though. The Israelites decided to try and build up their own lives apart from God too. They thought that gods and idols made of wood would suffice. This isn’t too different from our own pursuits. We tend to place a lot of value on the things we make and do with our hands as well. We look on our accomplishments and images with the wrong kind of pride. We see things not as blessings, but as results of our hard work alone. Yet we were made to take pride in God’s work, not our own.  

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” //Jeremiah 2:13//

See when we try to build up our own flimsy worlds based on pointless things, we miss something FAR greater that we never could have dreamed up.

But WHY? Why, if we know God’s plan is better in theory, do we STILL choose to chase lives spent in the desert of activity? I think it’s because we get all this desert stuff twisted. Too often we see God’s Will as the desert itself. We get in our heads that following Jesus keeps us from a life of fun, adventure, and success. It looks like a far worse desert than the one we’ve been living in.

We’ve also grown so accustomed to our broken lives in a drained desert that we don’t want to leave it. We don’t like change. We want familiarity. It’s why kids struggle with college at first. Even though it’s a far better and more lively environment full of incredible opportunities, it’s easy to let fear keep us from reaping all of its benefits. We know what we know, we like what we know, and would rather settle for mediocre lives than those that are FULL….simply due to the mental block of lies telling us that college…or God’s Will…asks too much of us.

But this is what the enemy wants. He will do anything to keep you from God’s promises. All he has to do is tell you a good lie. And the thing is, you’ll be tempted to believe it. Because somehow the devil can make a desert sound good…like it’s what’s RIGHT. He twists the truth until we can barely find it anymore. This is how culture works. The Israelites struggled with leaving the comfort of their deserts too. God looked in disappointment at how much they had strayed from Him in pursuit of empty lives:

“I had planted you like a choice vine
of sound and reliable stock.
How then did you turn against me
into a corrupt, wild vine?
22 Although you wash yourself with soap
and use an abundance of cleansing powder,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.
23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled;
I have not run after the Baals’?
See how you behaved in the valley;
consider what you have done.
You are a swift she-camel
running here and there,
24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert,
sniffing the wind in her craving—
in her heat who can restrain her?
Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves;
at mating time they will find her.
25 Do not run until your feet are bare
    and your throat is dry.
But you said, ‘It’s no use!
    I love foreign gods,
    and I must go after them.’ //Jeremiah 2:21-25//

But yet, we DO run until our feet are bare and our throats are dry. It’s called anxiety. And it runs us right into the ground. Like the Israelites, we too are “accustomed to our deserts” where we can be easily entranced by false offers of love and acceptance…just like the wild donkey in the passage. We become far too easy to please.

Somebody once told me that we are like children who prefer mud pies to cherry pies simply because we’d never tasted a cherry pie. Yet we settle on the mud pie because we made it ourselves and it seems fun. However, we have NO CLUE what goodness we are missing if we never let our mothers convince us to ditch the mud for the fruit.

For Christians who are struggling to put God first, we know the fruit is better. We know His Water is life. Yet we still run. We become so drained by our desert of to-do lists that we forget the taste of water altogether. We simply gravitate toward what our desert tells us will make us most successful.

But God planted us where we are for a reason. We were made for so much MORE than things the world tells us needs to be done. We were made for a true relationship with Jesus that doesn’t leave us grasping for breath. There are things to be done in His Name, yes. But our worth isn’t to be found in them. This just runs us dry. Life is found when we let go of what’s good and choose what’s best. And often that is simply rest. Rest at the feet of Jesus by surrendering your anxious thoughts and let Him take you in. Let Him revive your heart with the truth. The truth says “done”, not “do”.

You want to be a light of the world? Already DONE by Jesus. So go be a light, but not like it depends only on you.

You want to tear down the gap between people and God? Already DONE by Jesus. So go love people in His Name, but don’t put the whole world on your shoulders.

You want to change the world radically? Already DONE by Jesus. So go fight for change, but don’t act as if it’s only up to you.

If we ever want to actually “do” things for His Kingdom, we have to come at it with a peaceful reassurance of the “done”. We can’t try to save the world our own. It’s already DONE. The pressure is off! Breathe and be thankful for your life in Christ right NOW. Look around. Be grateful. For He is faithful. And in His eyes, you are ALWAYS enough. You are loved. You are cherished. For God loves you for WHO you are, not just what you do. Because glorifying God is more about being, not doing. Being kind, caring, loving, merciful, intentional, faithful, and compassionate speaks far more about God’s character to others than the works of your hands. You are loved as His humble child, not just as a worker. Believe that today. You will find a spring of true life unlike anything this world will ever offer you…because unlike how jobs and people can disappoint us, choosing Jesus over the world will NEVER fail you. All of this can be summed up by one simple story found in Luke:

 “Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” // Luke 10:38-42 //

When the Waters Call //inspired by Moana & visiting Hawaii//

According to native Hawaiian culture, it is believed that everything has “mana”, or a spirit- the wind, the sea, and all of its creatures. I used to think that this was a strange belief. But as I sat nestled under a tree overlooking calm waves gently riding towards the shore of a breathtaking Hawaiian bay, I finally understood.

Imagine yourself growing up on an island surrounded by absolute paradise without believing that there was some type of power within it. The stars alone are enough to mystify the wandering soul. But think about the ocean. Yes, the big blue expanse that seems endless. Imagine waking up every day to something so deep, wide and powerful…never knowing how far it goes. The movie Moana certainly exemplified this fascination.

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Honestly, I sat in a renewed awe of it myself as I breathed in its presence right at my fingertips. What a beautiful mystery the ocean is. I will admit, I did feel a bit called by it. However, with Moana jokes aside, the Spirit calling was not that of the ocean itself- but its Creator. See, this is the truth I believe about nature: The Spirit works through it to beckon us closer to The One who designed it. There is no greater relationship on this earth than that of a human and their Heavenly Father. Nature in its pure form simply facilitates that connection. So it only makes sense then that as the waves continued to gingerly lap against the rocks, I felt a deep peace set in. And then I suddenly felt The Spirit moving me to write. The words below are straight out of my journal. They aren’t my words though- I know it was The Spirit…the words came down quickly and with not enough thought for them to have possibly come from me. I hope God uses these words to speak to you somehow:

           //  Here in Hawaii, they say everything has a spirit- the ocean, fish, land, flowers, birds and the breeze. I think they’re right. Everything does have a spirit…that of the Holy Spirit. I think God uses nature to call us to Himself. He beckons us with the sun, and romances us with the moon. The greatest love story, as strange as it may seem to our culture, is that of God and His children. He takes us on adventures greater than we could imagine- ALL to draw us closer to Himself…so that we may see the world and ourselves more as He sees them. Perfectly His. Uniquely broken.

…Broken in a way that can ONLY be fixed in His special way. He knows how to call our hearts unlike any person ever could…because He knows what truly lives within them. The secrets we keep are no secret to Him- so He takes them and keeps them safe. He treasures them. He treasures YOU. The reason that there is no relationship stronger in this world than a human and their Heavenly Father is that He literally knows EVERYTHING about us…every thought or random musing and yet STILL chooses to love us. Unconditionally.

His call isn’t one of force. He is gentle and kind…like these waves in front of me. Yet also like these waves, His love for you is much stronger than it may appear in your mind. Looking at these waves, they look calm and serene…almost weak even. But try jumping in. You’ll not only see differently, you’ll feel it. In fact, the further out you swim, you’ll realize that there’s a whole ocean waiting- full of currents more powerful than you could ever dream of. On the shore, you thought God was only found in the shallows. He starts out where you’re comfortable. Just come as you are.

But as you begin to trust Him…or trust the waves more…you begin to wade further and further beyond the shoreline. Soon you’re neck deep. But you’re not afraid- only sometimes. But that’s when God may pull you back closer to the shore to try again. And that’s ok. No one goes into the ocean and stays in the same spot the whole time. You shift and MOVE WITH it. Waters that are stagnant aren’t going to lead you anywhere past your fear. With God, you’re always MOVING somewhere, namely Heaven. Even if you don’t see it.

Have you ever floated on a raft and didn’t see how far you had gotten till you stopped and looked back? Paddle boarding was like that a few days ago. I kept pushing and gliding, not thinking I was going that fast or truly going anywhere really. Boy was I wrong. I looked back at the shore in AWE at how far I’d come. I think our relationship with God works the same way. We paddle, see some sea turtles that surprise and distract us, then keep rowing in awe of what we just witnessed and keep going…and then look back very shocked  at how far we’d made it. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a watery journey that not only physically MOVES us to explore different places, but also spiritually MOVES our hearts to explore new depths of God’s character.  //

Ultimately, God truly is the Spirit within everything. Every aspect of nature points to the power and precision of our Heavenly Father. He’s as great and mighty as the raging seas of a hurricane. And yet, He also designs the tiniest and most delicate of details in the universe such as the lovely sweetness of a honeysuckle flower to the tongue on a hot summer day. His Word explains it best though:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

8 Things God Taught Me in Thailand

 

If you know me well, you’d know that it is quite rare for me to be up at 8:32am writing something. Yet, here I am. Thanks to jet lag, I have actually been wide awake since around 5am. I hear my brother now, who also went on the trip, waking up too.

Time is funny that way. Honestly, have you ever considered how crazy time is? We use it to structure all of our days, yet it is entirely made up. Hours pass regardless of our recognition of its number. I say this because I am fresh off about 30 hours of travelling in which the actual time was completely irrelevant.

We arrived at the Thailand airport around 11pm and left the ground at 2am, flew for 6 hours, and then magically arrived at Qatar’s definition of around 4am. After a 4-hour layover there, we flew for another 15 HOURS (please understand that this is like sitting down for a WHOLE DAY surrounded by crying children that you can’t escape). By the time we reached America, it was around 5pm here. But honestly at this point my internal clock was so messed up that recognizing the “official time” felt pointless.

I’ll never forget how God moved in me during that miserable 15 hour flight though. I wrote this in my notes:

In God’s presence, peace & joy can be found high up above the clouds….where the good & bad of daily life aren’t striking. You’re just sitting. Yet fullness of joy is accessible. It isn’t confined within the boundaries of human declared space and time zones. The hours pass & all I know is that that I am made ALIVE in Him.

I don’t need a clock or to know where I am in the world to know He is with me.

God operates outside of humanity’s “settings”. We like to set times. Set boundaries. Set outfits. Set divides. God conquers ALL divides. Here up above the clouds, all is CLEAR. We focus far too much on minuscule things & forget that God operates way BEYOND these self-prescribed restraints on ourselves….on humanity. This is why we stop praying for miracles- by believing they simply aren’t possible. But that’s what MAKES it a miracle. Don’t doubt God’s power. Don’t listen to the lies that like to question His validity. He is ABOVE it all. So stop focusing on things so small.

This idea of God being above and available at ALL times in ALL nations to ALL people was a common theme for me throughout my time in Thailand. I just realized it more prominently during the flights. So the first lesson I learned before and on the way home from Thailand was this:

  1. Sitting, resting, and reflecting is GOOD. Learn to take a break and realize that very few things matter on this earth. Focus on God. Taking a flight and being legitimately above every human stress and event made me see them for what they really were- tiny and irrelevant in comparison to a relationship of faith and love in The Lord.

But going back to the idea of God being in ALL nations, I have to explain what God told me about culture during the trip. Yet, I first must explain to you how AMAZING this country was to live in for two weeks. The people, the culture, the architecture, the diverse aromas that filled the streets…& the FOOD….it was all breathtaking.

Yes, it looked, felt, and smelt different than good ole Georgia. There was no Chick fila (but there was a KFC- except the menu was in Thai, so Alexis and I accidentally ordered too many of the WRONG meal…and we didn’t know how to ask for utensils or napkins in Thai so we ended up eating our chicken like animals- sorry America, we lived up to your stereotypes). There was usually no toilet paper in the bathrooms. I typically fought massive battles with mosquitos in our showers. I never once saw a Christian church- unlike here where there is one on every corner.

Now before you start judging Thailand as strange and weird- I need you to understand that where we lived, this was their normal. They would look at us as just as insane for our giant portion sizes, obsession with fried food, ridiculous amount of churches, and the necessity of having a McDonalds and a Starbucks nearly every 2 miles. I was also told Americans have a distinct odor that we REALLY should take more showers to fix. That was one of the main reasons I braved my mosquito infested shower more intentionally.

So what am I saying? Everyone has their normal. Everyone grows up a certain way and doesn’t typically question it. It’s not my job to judge it, but learn about and celebrate it. By the time we were finished with the first week, living in Thailand quickly became MY normal. It’s amazing how much humans are designed to adapt.

However, here’s something crucial to realize about the world that will become my second lesson:

  1. While cultures may LOOK different, they are all rooted in the SAME things.

Think about it. People are not so different after all. Places & things vary, but love for one another, a desire to connect, to change the world…to change one’s OWN world….it’s all the same. Everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to be valued, loved & treated as so. Everyone wants to find purpose- something greater to live for- even if it’s just something solely found in their personal world view. These are universal traits.

But these common traits that make up EVERY culture in the world are what PEOPLE are dependent on, not God. Just like how God operates outside of time and space, God is INDEPENDENT of culture. Yet culture is dependent on the traits of humans that display a need for God. It comes full circle doesn’t it?

People want purpose. People want love. People want acceptance. People want to be with other people.

These are the common threads of all of humanity. And I saw them in Thailand loud and clear:

-Family was an extremely important component of life there. Kids yearned for their parents, siblings, and friends just as much, if not more than in America. I saw this beautifully displayed in the English Center we worked in each day. It was there that we also got to share the Gospel. More will come about this later.

– The desire for a specific kind of beauty was evident, just as in the USA. However, in Thailand it was all about skin tone. A lot of money was clearly being spent on facial creams to appear whiter. Billboards were full of extremely white skinned Thais advertising the products. Their definition of beautiful was white skin…which was hard to swallow considering that most people in America desired to be tan. This a particularly clear example of 2 cultures expressing their exact same desires of acceptance in 2 different ways.

-Religion there was largely idolatry. Nearly every house or business had shrines and intricately decorated “spirit houses” that people woke up early to give offerings to. Massive temples dedicated to Buddha were widespread as well. Each was extremely ornate and stunning. I got to visit a few while I was there- it was truly an incredibly beautiful construction of humanity….which brings me to my next lesson God taught me:

  1. We view people bowing down and worshipping statues that they created as foreign and strange. The irony is that in America, we do the EXACT same thing without realizing it…which is even more disturbing.

I remember the moment. I was sitting bare-footed and on my knees in a strikingly grand temple. An enormous and elaborately decorated gold Buddha stared back at me. All was silent. I watched as people went before the statue and bowed reverently multiple times with their hands clasped above their heads to show the greatest amount of respect. I looked around and noticed how every inch of the temple seemed perfectly designed to appease the eye. That’s how it was in every temple I visited. Everything LOOKED beautiful by human standards…just like our perfectly designed Instagram accounts am I right? Its attractiveness was undeniable. It got me thinking how hard we work to perfect and worship our own images in the USA. We simply camouflage what we worship. For example, we may not be physically bowing down to our social media accounts, but how often do girls stop eating to appear perfect on them? And we may not be giving offerings to a shrine each morning, but how much do we offer up our precious time by mindlessly scrolling through those same social media accounts instead of spending that time in community with loved ones?

These are things to contemplate…but another is the power of God amidst these spiritually dark places in our lives. This leads me to lesson 4:

  1. God is with you. Always. Even in a temple devoted to an entirely different religion. God’s love, power, and presence is greater than a single piece of gold in that entire temple.

Going back to that silent moment, I remember saying one powerful thing in my head that changed the whole experience for me. It was simple. But it meant so much to me that I knew it was The Spirit reaffirming His presence:

“Father.”

I prayed in that moment to my Father. My FATHER. Not some statue that sat and stared at me blankly. Not an image created by broken human hands that leaves me empty. Not a set of Buddhist laws that are impossible to fully uphold. No. I was with my Father- who LOVES me. Who WANTS me. Who CARES about me…not just how pretty of a temple I build for Him. My body IS the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). What I DO with it is what matters, not whether or not it meets the acceptance of perfect human standards. Jesus is the ONLY way to true freedom and love.

See I was told that Buddhism, while typically thought of as a very peaceful religion, is actually a very difficult religion to fully follow. It is based around cycles of karma, strict lists of rules, curses, and ultimately good works as a result of fear. This taught me yet another lesson:

  1. Works for Jesus are done as a thankful RESPONSE to His love already freely given. Works for anything else are done out of fear as a REQUEST for a love that they desire.

And I am not just talking about religions that aren’t Christian. Even if you don’t believe in anything, the universal traits of humanity are still in you and desire to be met. As a result, we find ourselves doing anything to achieve the love of someone else in a way that fully fills us. When one person can’t fully fill you, you move onto the next. Without Christ’s unbroken love and acceptance of us, we often get lost in the cycles of trying to find a perfect love in a very imperfect world. This disappointing cycle can lead to a very depressing world view built on desperation and fear….fear that you’ll lose someone…that you’re never going to be enough for others. This is because you weren’t meant to be enough. Jesus is the only One who can be fully enough for anyone- because He is the only One who says you already ARE enough for Him. It’s amazing how that works isn’t it?! He made you just the way you are and LOVES that about you. Why is this so hard to grasp for us? Why do we run away and decide not to believe so easily???

  1. The world tells us we are simultaneously both enough and not enough all at the same time. Think about the competing messages: “You are beautiful just the way you are!! Be different!” and “If you want to look like ______, buy this!” 

Due to fear of not being accepted, it’s easier to listen to the conflicting messages of culture than it is to Jesus. It’s this fear factor that often drives our entire lives. The irony is that you’d think we’d be more fearful of a life apart from God. Yet we aren’t. And in Thailand I realized why:

  1. In America, we are pretty numb to the Gospel. When telling someone about it for possibly the first time, you realize the immense power in John 3:16.

I’ll never forget that first day of ministry at the English Center in Thailand that I wrote about in my notes. We were to do a Vacation Bible School style teaching of who God is. We didn’t realize that very few of the kids really had any real understanding of God or Jesus at all. A lot of them were there simply because it was a free hour and a half to possibly make crafts. Here’s what I wrote that day: 

Ian, my trip leader asked the class,”Who is God?” Crickets. Does anyone know who God is? Or Jesus?” More crickets…maybe a nod here or there slightly. It was then that I realized the difference between American children and those of other nations. A lot of us, especially those in the South, are socialized into knowing a lot about Jesus at a very young age. We can answer the questions perfectly. These kids have no clue. 

But then God hit me with a large glimmer of hope about the matter:

 What a grand opportunity to show them who God is without any preconceived notions of who He is?! There’s no “boring church” thoughts. Just Jesus & who He is. Christians in the USA struggle to convert because some people see LOTS of “Christians” who do a poor job of showing what Jesus is like. Here there are barely any. So the few that are here get to set the tone….it’s a beautiful thing- getting to teach the gospel to people who don’t just see it as common place- but drastically countering to the cultural norms. The few on fire can make a greater impact if they truly live like Jesus. That’s a different lifestyle foreign to here. However, just like the original 12 disciples, it doesn’t take much to start a fire if the first sparks are authentic. The USA has too many sparks that fizzle out but still identify themselves as a flame.

 Something I need to mention is that the two people in charge of the English Center we worked in were NOT American. They were a married Thai couple that had both found Jesus on their own. Both faced banishment from their families for choosing Christianity over Buddhism. Yes, they were cut off- that doesn’t really happen where we live. However, they explained that their separation actually made them stronger in Christ because it created a greater dependence on Him. So many miracles occurred as a result of their trust in God through all of the seemingly impossible scenarios. This reminds me of another lesson you may have heard before:

  1. When God is all you have, all you have is all you need. God truly does provide.

Every part of their story was covered in prayer. It was an extremely pivotal part of their story. And what better reminder is there to close with in this very long blog?? I know this was a lot, but God moved so much in our hearts during these past 2 weeks. Honestly, I am still trying to process everything. I hope it brings you some type of insight to the world and God’s unlimited heart for it.

PS:

I also hope you realize that God’s heart is not just for the nations, but for YOU. He goes to the ends of the earth to reach His people just as much as He goes to the ends of individual logic to reach your heart. Never doubt His work in the world through His work in you. I wrote this in my notes in Thailand and I hope it speaks to you somehow:

You are worth more than what pixels define you as. You are a human being. You are valuable. You have a purpose. You are loved. You matter. While The world will simultaneously tell you that you both do & don’t matter, look elsewhere for worth. A worth that isn’t dependent on an outfit, a photo, an aesthetic, or an outside perceived persona. It’s dependent on the Creator of worth. He is unsinkable. So therefore when you place your trust & faith in Him, you too become unsinkable. For humanity truly CAN be infallible…in Heaven: the place where we were MADE to thrive in. This broken place is but a temporary mirage in the journey to our true Home. So don’t get too caught up in the mirror…it will only fade with time. But the hearts of people, when truly invested in through the infallible power of Christ, can last forever. Let people be the mission of people.

Jamaica: Hope in a Hospice

It was a moment I knew I would never forget. I can still see it now:

Yvonne, a woman whose home had become this small hospice in the middle of a Jamaican town, shifts her gaze slowly around the rather tiny room…the same room that contained the  entirety of her current living space. We had been talking for a while.

But what she said next took me completely off guard: 

“God is good. I’ve lived a good life.” She takes a second to pause again as she formulates the words: “He has been good to me. I am happy with that.”

There was no window in the room. However, some natural light spilled onto her face from those of the adjoining rooms. A gentle breeze crept in as well. She sat in a chair as a hospice worker firmly braided her hair.

Originally, I came into the hospice with the mindset that it would be a really somber experience. I figured that the patients would be nearing death in a way that would be really difficult to face. However, that wasn’t what I found. What I found was hope: hope where the world says there shouldn’t be…where the world says you have hit the end….that the fight has been lost and you are no longer significant.

See, when given the choice of where to do outreach, I chose the hospice because I figured that if I were about to die, I wouldn’t want to be alone. I wanted to show these people that we loved them and that God hadn’t forgotten about them.

But here’s the thing I didn’t expect to see: they were NOT alone. And that was CLEAR. I had forgotten that with the reach of God’s fingers, there are NO “forgotten people”. In a city as large as New York or in one as small as Montego Bay…God knows them all. Not only that, but He CARES for them all.

But when we stray away from God, it’s common to think that He just forgets about us. Or even if we don’t stray, we assume that if we do, we will simply be left behind by our Lord…of no importance to Him. What is one life among so many others?

I think this is because we neglect to realize that Jesus that didn’t just die for ALL, but for YOU. Yes, you. We often forget that the macro-redemption of humanity is also a micro-redemption of our own individual selves. You aren’t excused from His grace.

In other words, if Christ were given the choice to die on that cross for no one else but YOU, He would STILL DO IT.

 He would die for Yvonne too.

That’s truly crazy to me- even as I sit here writing it. It sounds too good to be true. In a world full of people constantly letting us down, not sticking to their word, and straight up forgetting about our worth as human beings, dying for someone for the sake of real love sounds insane. If someone asked you to die for them..JUST for them…would you do it?

I’d like to say that I would. But I know the truth in my human heart that I would find any possible way out of it. I would make excuses. I would remove myself from the situation. I would let fear control me. I would run. 

That’s the difference between Jesus and us. While we run away FROM life or death situations, He runs TO them.

And redeems them.

So while some people see a hospice and shed a tear, Jesus sheds a tear and comes NEAR. But more than that, I knew as I looked intently into the eyes of Yvonne that He was HERE. He’s always HERE. In the moments you wish you could rewrite. In the days where you feel ashamed of yourself for straying away from God. In a small hospice tucked on a mountainside of Jamaica.

& Yvonne is proof of this:

See, Yvonne is no super human. She is dying…as we all are and someday will do. But she was happy. She had real joy. She looked at her circumstances and the brokenness that accompanied it…but still saw Jesus.

The world would look at her and say death is coming. However, after talking to her, I’m pretty sure she would look at you in the eye and say that no, instead: JESUS is coming.

 

 

Follow the Ivy

 

Something reaches for me.

It calls me close.

It beckons me to come near.

To just see.

To just wander…

To wander away from what I know

To wander away from comfort.

To wonder if there’s more

Than what I’ve been living for.

More than music

More than dance

More than people

More than my own treasured thoughts.

It is a VINE.

It grows closer and closer

Like it’s pursuing me.

It does not let obstacles in the undergrowth hinder its movement.

It comes ever closer

Even in the midst of darkness and impediments

It will not be overcome.

I reach out…

To just touch it.

I let the palm of my hand barely grace it.

It isn’t delicate.

It then wraps itself about my fingers.

I instinctively increase my grip in return.

I don’t ever want to let go.

It then starts to move again-

Taking me with it.

I follow the vine as it carries me.

Then the darkness suddenly closes in.

I feel suffocation.

I feel like I am falling.

I tighten my grip around the vine.

I shut my eyes.

I could always rip my hand out.

This is getting scary.

I don’t know if I want to follow anymore.

The vine is leading me

Into the unknown.

But I realize that without the vine,

I’d be lost.

The darkness would CONSUME me.

I don’t SEE a way out.

So I just keep holding on.

Hoping.

There is beauty in surrender.

So I surrendered to the vine.

Not the darkness.

I open my eyes again.

There is light.

There is peace.

The sky is an azure blue.

It is CONSUMED by light from the sun.

My grip to the vine doesn’t loosen though.

This is my life line now.

I survived.

And now I thrive.

Am I in Heaven?

No.

This is life.

This is life in Christ.

For He is the Vine and I am but a branch.

I rely on Him for strength.

On my own,

I am nothing.

He leads me through the dark and into the light.

But yet

In the dark,

There is still light.

HE is the light.

And He SHINES.

In the dark,

His presence is declared brighter

Than I ever even knew.

He does not just lead us through-

He USES our darkness

Our ashes

Our pain

And our uncertainty

For beauty.

For purpose.

For good.

{God is so beautiful. He intertwines our hearts with the ivy of His perfection. He allows us to grow from His strength. All we must do is hold onto the source and we gain life…life that grows and grows. It spreads intentionally to every crevice. It doesn’t stop. And it won’t until the whole earth is intimately intertwined with the knowledge of His promises…an arm extended in grace…like ivy reaching for the hearts of all of humankind.}

~|| Follow the ivy.||~

Y O U are the proof.

Lacking evidence that God exists? Struggling to believe The Bible? I have some news for you:

YOU are in fact that evidence.

Now you may be thinking:

“Whaaaat? How is this possible? That’s a really difficult concept that I don’t have time to think about right now…or ever.”

WELL THEN I HAVE GOOD NEWS FOR YOU: I did the thinking, wondering and questioning for you. As a result, I have decided to compile all of the evidence right here. I reduced it into a series of questions that double as answers (yes, that’s a weird paradox- but just think about the questions and you’ll see what I mean):

  1. What other creature on this earth creates NEW things?

A beaver builds dams and only dams. It does not innovate radically different designs. Each innately strives for the same simple goal without much variation. Since when did humans ever strive for ordinary? We are constantly finding ways to make things better and easier. We want NEW and extraordinary. If you think about it, animals like beavers really have not changed much in terms of their own creations. And while some things that animals create could be perceived as art to us (see http://www.care2.com/causes/5-animals-who-make-art.html for art created by animals as a result of mainly captivity), the idea that animals enjoy aesthetic art like humans do has little evidence to support it.  But we were CREATED TO CREATE…because we were created in His image.

//So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.// Genesis 1:27

  1. What other creature on this earth strives to cover itself up?

Have you even seen an animal get embarrassed by exposing something? If you have, please let me know because that would be rather shocking. My opinion on this is that humans have the shame of sin to cover and animals don’t…because God didn’t create them that way. He created them without free will. They exist, but no so much for a purpose other than a beautiful showing of God’s power through the beauty and complexity of nature. As a result of free will given to us by God, we have the gift of choice. We CHOSE to disobey God in order to know good and evil. Animals never had that kind of power. This is because only humans were created in God’s image to make such choices. We were also given dominion over other creatures by God to take care of His other creations:

//God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”// -Genesis 1:28

  1. What other creature desires a spiritual connection more than a physical connection?

Now I know that I can’t speak to animals. That isn’t my field of expertise. But I did do some research. Based on my findings, there is no evidence that animals are or have ever been religious. And if you think about it, when was the last time you heard of animals putting on ritualistic ceremonies to connect with something higher than themselves? Their communication, based on what we know about their interactions, is focused on the physical: survival of self or survival of the group. In contrast, humans all throughout history have shown a significant interest in establishing a connection with some type of higher power. Animals don’t seem to build temples. They build homes for themselves, not something unseen.

  1. What other creature adjusts itself to a new climate without the impact of an external force?

Animals don’t willingly leave their familiar climate simply to “see the world” or “push themselves out of their comfort zone”. We typically move as a result of internal motives, not external ones. For example, if we have a dream to drop everything and move to Hawaii, we could do that likely NOT because our survival was being threatened in Georgian suburbia (well this is debatable if we are talking survival of sanity on occasion lol), but because we simply WANT to for personal reasons. And despite animated movie portrayals, few animals decide to leave the pack out of “teenage rebellion.”

Looking at all of these answers, the biggest difference here seems that other creatures live to survive. Humans live to THRIVE. We look at our surroundings and see greater potential for it. Every human culture in history developed innovations based on the resources available to them. We don’t just want to “get by” in our environment. Throughout every generation, it is clear that humans wanted MORE than just existence.  While animals typically seek power and survival, humans want power and purpose.

All this goes to say that:

Y O U are different.

Y O U are special.

Y O U were created on purpose, FOR a purpose…because:

Y O U were created by THE Creator.

Y O U were also created in the IMAGE of The Creator…meaning that:

Y O U were created to create….beautiful things…beautiful stories….made to display His glories.

Y O U are no accident.

Y O U are important.

Y O U are His design….not the world’s to decide.

Y O U are the evidence of His fingerprints.

Y O U are the proof.

REAL LOVE REVOLUTION 2K17

 

Want to know a secret?

I am tired of love.

Ouch! That sounds like such a cold thing to say doesn’t it?

The truth is that I am not tired of love itself, but society’s diverse and puzzling interpretations of it. Think about this simple question and try to give me an answer:

WHAT IS LOVE?

No seriously- what is it? We say we “love” a lot of things: that guy, that girl, that slice of pizza, that TV show, that friend, that family member, that class, that picture, that dog…and the list goes on.

Whether it’s addressing a person or a pizza, we hear the term used almost incessantly every day. This blatant overuse of the word has ultimately muddled its true meaning in society. We have gotten to a point where the definition is just extremely ambiguous and unclear. More than anything else, it has really come to be defined as more of a generalized feeling. So to figure out the root of what love really is beyond this simple “feeling” idea, I asked God. Although I shouldn’t be, I was shocked that He answered so directly. Just a couple days later, I randomly flipped to these words spoken by Jesus in my Bible:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

-John 15:12-17 (emphasis added)

Jesus makes love’s definition super clear in this text. If reading it was too much, here’s an easy summary of what Jesus says about love:

HOW TO REMAIN IN GOD’S LOVE? Keep His commands.

(note: the word “remain” here does not mean that you must love others perfectly at all times in order for God to love you. It is referring to a life that is most saturated in God’s love when loving others like He does.)

HOW TO KEEP HIS COMMANDS? Love one another.

HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER? Lay down your life for your friends.

So this is love defined by God- whose definition is the ONLY one that matters. It isn’t just a feeling you have about someone. It is an ACTION. And if you really think about it, love without action is useless. If you say you “love” someone but are not willing to DO anything for them as a result of that love, what’s the point? When feelings just stay and float around in your head, your supposed “loved” is largely stagnant. This statement is an easy way to remember this:

Love isn’t love unless it MOVES…

{Moves The Holy Spirit. Moves PEOPLE. & Moves YOU….to real ACTION.}

You know that common phrase, “it’s the thought that counts”? I think it’s a lie we are all blindly living in. It’s NOT the thought that counts! It’s the ACTION as a result of the thought that truly MEANS anything to us.

It’s one thing to say over social media, a text, or even verbally that you love someone. However, showing up to an event to celebrate them when you really didn’t have to come is different. So is driving a long distance simply to hold them in your arms and tell them face to face: “everything is going to be okay.” So is buying them ice cream after a long day. So is laughing at their jokes till both of your stomachs hurt. So is setting aside whatever you had planned for yourself in order to put their needs first.

This is selfless action.

This is laying down one’s life for one’s friends.

This is what Jesus called us to do.

This is REAL LOVE.

& It’s beautiful….no greater life exists.

[to be clear: this is NOT a like on a picture, a retweet, a friend request, a snapchat, or a celebratory Instagram post]

P.S:

//So let’s change love’s definition in 2017. Make it a VERB, not a feeling. What would happen to marriages if love was seen as an action eliciting commitment again? “Love” based purely on physical attraction fades, but love through action does not. & to close, I’ll leave you with a quote from Bob Goff: “LOVE DOES.”//