Rhythm.

There is a fluidity to the rhythms in our lives. From the 9-5 grind, to dinner times, to television programs, our communities function on the clock. My wife can be incredibly particular in the mornings about her rhythms. It is a beautiful thing, until I get in the way. She has it down to a science. She requires a handful of snoozes to finally get out of bed, and then the woman is hyper-intentional about her time before she is out the door.

On the other hand, thanks to the flexibility and freedom of my employment, my mornings…happen. The lone staple to my mornings has been coffee, either at home or meeting someone somewhere at one of the incredible coffee shops across the OKC metro. 

In an attempt to bring “healthy rhythms” into my morning, I decided that I was going to begin going on a morning walk with the Lord. My heart could meditate on scripture thanks to the YouVersion app. I could pray for my neighborhood as I walked each block. The idea brought my heart to life! It became my morning ritual for nearly 3 months, until about the beginning of April. 

As I put my earbuds in and began listening to the Psalms, my heart spoke to me. This rhythm to help my inner life, to reflect on the things that I was enjoying about life as well as those things that were hurting me, had stopped being about Jesus and I. It has stopped being a place of intentional connection. It had started to be mindless. It has become like breath, a subconscious phenomena. And my heart was having none of it. 

The adventure was over.

Reflecting back on the short season, I began thinking about where I went wrong. I thought, this should be the greatest thing happening to me. This should bring me some incredible life with the Lord. This time is going to make me a great follower of Jesus.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

My heart needed to lean on Jesus, not primarily a morning walk with Jesus. This healthy rhythm did an incredible job of uncovering the true desire of my heart.

I don’t long to couple things with the presence of God, it is Christ and Christ alone that brings me strength. 

The longing for new rhythms was truly a desire to connect with the Creator in a new way. And it worked incredibly well for a season. However, the overall rhythm of my life requires genuine, changing rhythms.

I needed to walk for a season. I will likely return to the walk. But my desire to meet with the King of eternity needs to have some shake up to it. And instead of allowing myself to look at this as a place of defeat, I acknowledge how I am wired and move to a new adventure. 

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

Idolatry: dependence and deserving.

Humanity was created to love. We are pretty good at loving what we want to love. Our love is far from perfect. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. That is perfect love. Humanity does its best to love and longs for the type of love described in John 15. We love with everything inside of us, and yet we feel empty. Why doesn’t it work? Why can’t we love things enough to truly feel complete? Our love isn’t made complete until it is devoted to Jesus.

Misappropriated love comes up time and time again in our history. The Israelites were really good at loving things other than God. It took them mere moments to create a Golden Calf when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the law from God. Devoted love for anything other than the King of Glory is idolatry. We give undeserving things our time, talent and treasure in exchange for lesser love. If we know that adoring anything other than God will end in disappointment, why then do we do it? If it isn’t tied to our relationship with Jesus, what is it tied to?

Humanity is a needy bunch. There are things we long for that we can find in the form of fortune and fame. However, becoming dependent on something that doesn’t give back is a way to buy into lack. If we direct our need towards things that have an end, there is a point at which the need becomes greater than the object. For instance, consider you have all the money in the world. Then what? If you were the only one with currency, would currency matter? What does money do for you? Oftentimes, humanity becomes dependent on money and becomes enslaved to money. If money rules your life, there is no living. Money is supposed to serve us, not be served by us. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 5:10. 

Empowered dependence is a trait of a faithful believer. We need to be active in our spiritual lives, but fully dependent on the King of the universe.

Rationality can be our downfall. We deem things more deserving than they truly are.

If you spend enough time pondering something, you can give it worth beyond any intention you may have. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5. Our minds can lead us to places that shouldn’t be entertained. If we find ourselves placing rational thought above Jesus, we are deeming what our minds can accomplish as more deserving than our King. God is deserving of everything. This is not a mentality of works, rather a mentality of adoration and thanksgiving. The gifts of God outnumber anything we can deem deserving.

In order for us to know what we are dependent on or what we deem deserving, we should look to our actions. Do you reach for your phone before reaching to others? Do you walk in obedience? How are you spending you time, talent and treasure? I think John Wimber said it best “Show me where you spend your time, money and energy and I’ll tell you what you worship.” Simple, but honest. Where we spend ourselves is what we are dependent on and what we find deserving. Jesus alone is enough. Jesus is what I aim to be dependent upon. Jesus is the most deserving.

Everyone Gets To Play.

The Vineyard has a saying; “Everyone gets to play!”

As I grow in my understanding of the rich history of the Vineyard, this quote has shown itself true in a myriad of ways. From children to the elderly, everyone has a part to play in the grand scheme of the body of Christ. “I’m too young or too old” is not a thing. Likewise, too new to knowing Jesus is not a thing. This reality is incredibly empowering, not to mention it levels the playing field.

Lately, I have been challenged by people not wanting to play. What about those who are truly content? What about those who play by watching and listening? What does it mean to “get to play?”

This saying emerged in Vineyard culture as a way of expressing the value for family, and the understanding that adding an individual changes the game. Think about it this way: when moving from singleness to marriage, there is not only an addition that takes place, but a multiplication. Taking yourself and adding another makes a whole new creation, something that has never been seen before. For me, it meant gaining life skills and abilities from the most powerful woman I have ever met! Now take that understanding and apply it to the body of Christ. The whole Church gains from multiplication. The testimonies enrich experiences. The new thoughts challenge old thoughts. The Church is compared to a living body in scripture because in reality, it is a living, breathing entity. When everyone gets to play, the Church actively engages the challenges of humanity to provoke change.

Everyone getting to play enriches the experience of everyone in the body. We have an opportunity to do the stuff that Jesus did, and much, much more. 

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12. 

What becomes the priority? What are these greater things? The fact that we have an opportunity to engage in greater things than raising the dead and healing the blind should stir us to play.

In seasons of life where I have sat in being “content”, my heart and mind were seemingly settled. However, the reality was that things in me were turned off. I was functioning out of only a portion of who I was. In certain seasons, this still happens to me. Being content with the person of Jesus is all a part of the journey. Recognizing that parts of ourselves are turned off or tuned down, is a part of being healthy. Our goal in life isn’t to run so fast that we have nothing left. Our aim is a healthy pace. Our measure is obedience. 

Paul says it like this “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8. The crown comes from finishing the race. But our walk with Christ IS the race. These physical metaphors help us recognize that our lives should be progressive. We are called to forward motion toward the finish line.

Everyone gets to play! Where you are, how you are, with your skills, you are in the game. Sometimes it is a pickup game with friends. Sometimes it is a professional game. The invitation to play is an invitation to a lifelong walk with the King of glory. Playing together should bring us joy, not foster comparison. Our goal is to get better at the game, as it is shaping and forming us. So go play, because you get to! And know that you are the only one that can bring who you are to the game.

Franklin.

Dedicated. Expectant. Joyful. Hungry. These are some of the feelings we share in preparation for a corporate church experience. However, that was my reality a few weeks ago while waiting in line for Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. My wife and I accompanied a few of our friends (Hey Ryan and Emily!) to Austin for a quick weekend getaway following Easter. We enjoyed craft beers and great music. Two thumbs up for Austin.

What was most interesting to me hit me while waiting in line at the barbecue hot spot. We chose not to “go to church” that Sunday, but found ourselves glorifying God in this experience. We might not have been in the sanctuary, but Jesus was on our minds. It was easily one of the most spiritual experiences I have had in some time. But what was it about this morning and this line?

Franklin Barbecue does something that most churches only dream of doing. They set an atmosphere. For days afterward, I asked myself “was the food really that good or was the experience so great that the food was just greater?” The answer is both! Experiencing the atmosphere while waiting in line from 7:45 a.m. until noon for brisket and beans is utter madness to some. 4 hours of waiting, and every bite made up for the wait and then some. What is it about atmosphere and experience that draws us deeper in? Why is it so important for us to have encounters?

As believers, our history is shaped, not only by our actions, but the actions of another on our behalf. Our history isn’t primarily what we have done, but what was done for us. When Jesus resurrects, He lets us into the story by giving authority back to man and gives the presence of God to come dwell amongst the people in a new way. In scripture, the story is recorded like this:

  “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”” Acts 2:1-13.

I do not have any interest in a debate about what all of this means. What I am interested in is the encounter they experienced. They were together in one place and something powerful happened. What is recorded is an incredible experience where everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit. The breath of God takes fills the hearts of those gathered there - a holy encounter and supernatural experience.

Something else to note is what was going on around them. There was a sound like blowing wind from heaven that filled the space. The atmosphere was noticeably different from when they had first arrived. A new language was introduced.

Now, I am not suggesting that at Franklin Barbecue we experienced the return of Christ.

But what happened was special. The atmosphere was different. The space was wrapped in excitement and there was a language surrounding the entire experience, tied clearly to the space, expressing itself in quantities of meat and types of homemade pies. We had church that day. We broke brisket and partook of soda and sweet tea.

The important thing to note here is that Franklin Barbecue is a restaurant in Austin, Texas. It does not claim to be Pentecostal or Baptist. It is just Franklin. The church has something to learn from a place of excellence that sets a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. At Franklin, the meat runs out, but the presence of God never does. Ryan Schwartzman’s tears testify to that.

How Doing Nothing Can Love like Doing Something.

For the past month or so, my wife and I have had the privilege of taking a class with Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma entitled “Neighborhood Leaders For Today!” Before I dive into some conviction that has been uncovered because of this class, I just want to say, I fully endorse this class. It has been an incredible teaching tool for individuals seeking to serve their neighborhoods. It is kingdom practice in action outside the church. Incredible stuff!

Lately, my heart has been mulling over a fairly profound idea: Love looks like something. This has been a theme tied to many new practices in my life. With this new mindset seeking what love can look like, I have been confronted with how love sometimes looks like the choice to remain still.

The reflection of Deuteronomy 6:5 is found in the synoptic gospels (or a form of general summary; Matthew, Mark and Luke). In Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:30. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus then adds “and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is in reference to Jesus being asked what the most important commandments are. Now, Jesus groups these two together, implying that loving God requires that we love people. God, as perfect Love, has continued to love us out of an abundance of His love since the beginning of creation. This is a beautiful reality for all creation to enter into. Yet, there is something to be said about “loving your neighbor as yourself.” There is an invitation in this portion of the commandment to reflect on the self. Mind you, not all alone, but with the Creator of the universe. We have an opportunity and commandment to know ourselves so that we can love others. Consider for a moment that you do not allow yourself to receive love. Would this imply that we are supposed to treat our neighbors similarly? Evidently, the Lord wants us to tune in to what He is doing in us so that we have something to give to others. This then begs the question, what about when we are told to remain still? Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is receive love from the Lord. Does this give us both space and grace to, in seasons (not forever), do nothing as an act of love? This is by no means an endorsement for neglect for your neighbor or disobedience to the Lord. But, in those seasons of extended rest, where the only person we are to lean on is Jesus, do we trust that He will prompt us to be a loving member of society at the right time?

My wife doesn't do anything…I’m just kidding, I take that back. She does a whole lot of everything! When it comes to the church, she has been in a season of retreat. Watching her interact with others has taught me about healthy boundaries and how empowering saying no can be. There have been many Sundays where she has intentionally chosen rest over coming to service. What I can say about all of these things is that she is being obedient to her season and allowing her rest to bring new perspective and overflow into others’ lives by shifting the assumption of expectant busyness that comes with being a pastor’s wife into a model of seeking healthy rhythms. This class has been a place for us to begin to dream together and it not be about church. I love my wife and I can honestly say that I love how she is intentionally disengaging in some areas of her life.

Practically speaking, in this Neighborhood Alliance class, neighboring well looks like being active. I would agree that most of the time doing nothing is a terrible model. However, there needs to be space for the mysterious love of Jesus to radically transform someone’s heart with the only explanation being that Christ alone radically transformed that person’s heart.

 

Creative Authority.

Creativity, as a principle, is baffling. It is the manifestation of free will. A lot of people are challenged by being creative or not. I think I have beat this horse enough, but everyone is creative by design. The breath of God in your life, is Christ-likeness entering your body. As an image bearer, you carry creativity in the depths of your being.

Free will plus creativity is what introduces everything into existence. For example, when man chose to listen to evil in the garden, through man’s free will, death was introduced. In return, the Potter’s response was to repurpose death by rendering it powerless. Man chose separation while God’s response was to rework death and give life abundantly. Creativity is a dance. God, for days, created with His voice. It wasn’t until man that He put hands to dirt and put His life into man. We were made to dwell, creating forever alongside our heavenly partner.

Creativity then becomes one of the greatest tools against evil. Free will which brought with it a twisted reality, allows new creation to make crooked paths straight. Consider it this way, man was created to rule and reign with authority that is both spiritual and physical. Jesus returns the authority of earth to man after the masterpiece of the cross. Spiritual authority comes through communion with Holy Spirit who comes on the scene in Acts 2. We, though one, live in two realities. The only other being that has authority both physically and spiritually is none other than the Godhead. Three parts, One, God walked with us in the cool of the day and became flesh through Jesus. There is no other being with God given authority to create, physically and spiritually. The enemy cannot create. The enemy can pervert, deceive and bargain to overtake the authority of man, but evil does not have ultimate power. Therefore, creativity is the threshing floor for cultivating authority over darkness and a power tool for the expansion of the Kingdom!

When I was 7 years old, I chose to accompany one of my best friends at the time to see “The Bride of Chucky.” The movie was horrendous. I was struck with fear for years, thinking that this possessed doll was going to murder me in my sleep. Moving into my teens, I went with a group of my peers to see “The Grudge.” Again, my heart was devastated. For months I was unable to sleep in my own bed. I imagined the characters from the film appearing at the foot of my bed. These two movie encounters happened before my actual relationship with Jesus began. They became training ground for my imagination. When these images showed up, my heart had the opportunity to slay them. Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, and I was not doing well. My heart was being rewired and I was medicating in any way that I could. Self-confidence became the mask for what had become depression. I was beginning to question my worth. One of my friends invited me to go see a movie entitled “The Rite,” all about the rite to exorcism in the Catholic church. Looking at my track record with horror movies, the sane answer would have been “no”. An hour or so later I found myself engulfed in a new spiritual experience, this time identifying things inside of me accompanied by a soda and some popcorn. This film tore a hole in the lies I had been agreeing with. Fear once again attached itself to my life. I returned to my dorm room and confronted the opposition with scripture and a mind set on the truth that Christ had set me free. 

I share this story as an extreme example. It is personal, but still nuanced. There were pieces in these story that perverted my understanding of creativity. Saying yes out of naivety at age 7, saying yes out of a desire to be cool at 13, and saying yes at age 20 because I truly had nothing left made me susceptible to the dark side of creativity. And yet, the Lord redeemed these experiences by empowering me to use His weapons as tools to defeat fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18. The most loving thing for me in those seasons was to encounter the Lord, one on one and to allow him to creatively rework these pieces of art and redeem them for me. It was some of the most humbling training I had ever been through, because it was the Lord solely at work in my heart. He was reshaping my understanding for the reign and rule of creativity.

Am I endorsing using horror movies as a creative training model? Absolutely not. What I am endorsing is that everything that has been perverted can be reworked and redeemed. As creatives, we have the opportunity to bring the Spirit that was breathed into us and breathe it into our creative pursuits so that more people can experience the love of God.

Grey.

Grey. The space between black and white. Grey is the journey from one conclusion to another. Grey is honesty. Grey is truthful. Grey is beautiful. There are a lot of people wanting to fight for their conclusion. If you do this, you will be happier. If you do this, you will lose weight. If you do this, you will sleep better. Whatever the problem, there is a black or white solution. Why is choosing a side so important? In a culture of either black or white, I strive to be grey; to ride the fence in the best way.

Growing up, the function of the education system I was in was to fill us with knowledge.

Testing was the mechanism of figuring out if you were proficient in retaining and regurgitating information. Plenty of contradictory studies show test taking to be both the best method to gauge progress in individuals and also, the worst. Growing up, I wanted to be the one that challenged the system. I wanted to be the one that questioned the norms. I quickly learned that certain systems were put in place to facilitate structure. Now, as I reflect back on these test taking years, I see twofold, how important they were and how pointless they seem to be now. Sure, retaining information and writing about it on a test was important, but now I write because I want to. I don’t necessarily remember the exact information, but I have developed the skill. Many of the facts I learned in my youth have dissipated, but I am left with the skills the testing of the knowledge deposited in me. These skills are aiding me in fulfilling my calling, my vocational work, and my dreams. How is an educational system to know where I would end up? Test taking taught me effective time management, natural consequences and how to communicate effectively. Is test taking good or bad? We are asking the wrong question. There is gold found amongst the rubble.

Embrace ambiguity. The way of life is the journey. Living a life with Jesus means living a life filled with mystery. Jesus never tells us that we, as His followers, deserve knowledge. The Proverbs give us insight into wisdom and knowledge.

“Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.” Proverbs 20:15.

In the beginning of Proverbs, King Solomon writes “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7. 

To advise someone to live without knowledge or understanding is foolish, but to say one will know everything apart from communion with the Godhead is equally as foolish. Knowledge becomes wisdom in the grey areas of life. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5.

In Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10 there are references to unveiling the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Mystery plays a monumental role in existence. Accepting a myriad of thoughts without need of a definitive conclusion can spur growth that conclusions never garner.

My encouragement to you is: Pursue necessary chaos in your environment. Chaos furthers creativity. Chaos invites us into the grey spaces.

Choosing to read and meditate on something you don’t understand brings a deeper understanding of self. The deeper we move in to mystery; the more grace works itself out in us. Being able to disagree with others, but continuing to live civilly is one of the most practical forms of embracing grey. Living in tension allows us to seek understanding first and trust that the unity of the Spirit is possible in every place of mystery. 

Choosing grey allows us to recognize that we are part of a living, breathing faith.

Something that is still growing. Something that is rooted in the incarnate God talking about His Father’s Kingdom. This is revolution, in its purest and most practical form. This is what we live for. Grey pursues humility and honors the vast possibilities

     “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” Colossians 2:1-5.

love Love.

It is easy to feed people what they want to hear. Easy to sit in conversations and give the other person exactly what they are looking for. To some, this “feeding” has become an art form. However, when that person you are sitting across from is the God of the universe, your tone changes. Worship, in short is this; a lifelong conversation with the Godhead. Sometimes, we find ourselves feeding lines to our Lord and going through the motions. When this happens, we have lost the truth of our identity. By just being, we have fulfilled the purpose for which our Maker has brought us into being. If we allow our identity to be warped by lies, we are allowing ourselves to be molded by a false reality and not love. Perfect Love drives out fear. Perfect Love lays down His life for you, a friend. Perfect Love completes all of creation by reconciling us back to Love. God is perfect Love.

My heart is constantly awakened to new depths of God’s love for us; God as Love. There is reminder after reminder of how this love interacts with us in scripture and through encounter. Recently, a new approach has stirred my heart; the languages of love. Every being requires love to flourish, and receives that love in various ways. A prominent book that has stirred culture to recognize how we are affected by different approaches of love is “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. In order for us to love God and love our neighbors, we must know Love himself. We must know how we receive love and how we give with love. If you receive love through encouraging words, how much more powerful is a complement over a pat on the back? Knowing how we give and receive love is an easy start to knowing Love Himself, the Maker of the universe. 

You may be wondering, “What does love and worship have to do with the other?” Let me say this, worship is the love language of the Father. Time and time again Abba expresses His longing to be adored by mankind. Our choice to give all of our affection, adoration, love and praise to Him through worship in song is one of the foundational ways to deepen our relationship with the triune God. As we recognize worship as a lifestyle, every act of adoring Love is in essence its way of worship, all pointing at glorifying God.

Mankind was created to worship. It is hardwired into our being. Where we get off track is what we worship. The question isn’t if we worship, but what we worship. Worshipping God is the redemption of idolatry. When we set our hearts on the fullness of God, we have right worship! In turn, when we idolize, we are spending our love on lesser gods. As we evaluate the hours of our days, the thoughts in our minds and the resources we have, it should be easy to see where our love lies.

For some, this process can be disheartening. We evaluate how we are doing, and we devalue our identity. In reality, we were never made to bear the weight of our own failure. All along the plan was that mankind would be reconnected with the Father through the person of Jesus. We were made to wear the badge of honor that is the image of God. We were made to live in the garden, walking hand in hand with the Creator as our hearts are awakened to our reality. The only way for us to justly worship God is to have God help us in it. “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. The hope of redemption is the reality that God sent Himself to show us the way. Then God imparted himself again to dwell inside of us. Our lens has been changed. We are now in daily communion with Perfect Love, and He is transforming us from the inside out. That is the hope of glory. Our task has been revealed to us, Christ in us is the hope of glory. Simply by abiding, Christ in us is bringing redemption to mankind.

Through this mysterious act of worship we see mankind redeemed, God worshipped, our world purified, and everything called back into its original order. It is as if the Holy Spirit in us is so longing to glorify Jesus that He does it by stirring us to adore Him in all areas life. Next time you are aware of the communion table of God, how will you choose to love Him?

Support Local Art: Thoughts on why art, beauty and creativity.

When I was younger, I had the privilege of being surrounded by creativity. Both of my parents were formed by trades; my father a carpenter, and my mother an artist. My three sisters and I were constantly encouraged to make something. Similarly, my mom showed me one of the most mind blowing discoveries that saved me throughout my time as a student, the other side of the paper! Oftentimes in class, I would hastily finish assignments and move from being a collaborative part of the classroom environment to a menace. Until, my mother invited me to join the world of the other side of the page. If you flip over a one-sided copy assignment, you are greeted with a blank canvas. I was encouraged very early on in my singing, participated in all city choirs, and that led to over a decade of participating in choral singing. Even before that, the excessive banging on pots and pans in the kitchen was my percussive obsession. My parents even invited us to own our rooms by painting the walls however we would like. On the job site, Dad gave me a tool belt, scrap wood and nails and invited me to look cleverly at my surroundings and create accordingly. Needless to say, I was raised in an environment conducive to creativity, art and beauty.

As I moved on to high school, I recognized that this upbringing brought an entirely different perspective of life. I was encouraged to pursue singing, I was encouraged to make art, and so, it became my passion. It all culminated my sophomore year when I was asked to play Enjolras in Les Miserables for our school’s musical. From there, I was engulfed in a life of artistry, and was encouraged to bring beauty to the world.

Fast forward to today, as a Worship and Arts pastor, and I am realizing time and time again, that not everyone had the same upbringing I did. Not everyone was encouraged in their creativity. Being exposed to art is not everyone’s favorite activity. Where I long to discover new beauty, oftentimes others long to line their pockets. Creativity, artistry and beauty are what makes my heart see Jesus more clearly, and I would venture to guess that I am not alone. In an ever changing world, beauty is an eternal trait that continually leads us back to a loving Father. Beauty is something experienced time and time again, and its origin is in creation.

As a musician, I am inspired by the mastery and proficiency of others in their craft. People are amazingly skilled in a limitless array of talents. Mankind, by its very nature, is collaborative artistry. In creation, we see the collaborative mastery of God expressed in and through mankind. For instance, in the act of love making, two become one in a collaboration that can result in making a child. And then the mother acts as the majority life source, giving of its nutrients to grow a baby. The creating and raising of children is art. Civilization’s future is built on the shoulders of the artistic expression of reproduction.

If humanity can be viewed as an art form, than at the absolute core of our being is a desire to beautify and create. This desire stirs the self in a way unlike other longings. By engaging in what other individuals are investing in, we are collaborating. This exchange of appreciation is collaborative beauty.

In defining or gauging something’s influence on culture, we have pillars of society that become our measuring stick. From the United States Constitution we see life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as America’s major fight. Various religions have their own understanding. Beauty is an eternal expression that infiltrates all levels of society. In short, for us to engage in the heightening of the human experience, we must collaborate in the ways mankind has been designed to engage. Man must create.

Our cities deserve cultural investment. By engaging locally, we don’t strictly have a hipster’s approach to life, but humanity’s responsibility to collaborate at its simplest interaction. Artists are continually putting themselves on the chopping block, giving their expression of the human experience, both as a response and as a gift. If we neglect our entirely God-given trait to collaborate to further the reaches of beauty, than we have missed one of man’s greatest earthly responsibilities. 

Is shopping local enough? Sure, that is a beautiful collaboration. However, when was the last time you went out with the idea of engaging in culture? With the increase of technological ease, man’s understanding of creativity, beauty and art has shifted away from an open minded expression across all mediums to neglecting “primitive” technique to devour the endorphins and addiction to the fast paced digital world. Human interaction is the easiest way one can be an artist, by collaborating and creating thoughts, sentiments, humor or story telling. The elevation of art and beauty is mankind’s ultimate act of respect (and obedience) for our Master Creator.

So, I prescribe a genuine effort to further the reaches of art. Go buy a painting that inspires you! Go see a musician that allows the sciences of sound to bring value to every heart in the proximity! Go watch the human form in motion and dance. Whatever you do, don’t just settle for the incredible stuff shared on Facebook. Actually engage in culture. Support local art.

How Honor Will End Selfishness.

Recently, I have found myself responding to others with two specific sentiments when being asked to serve or accompany them in times of fellowship; “I would be honored,” and “I am humbled,” (and in some instances saying both together). These statements, being my actual emotional experiences have formed humility and honor in my heart. In responding and interacting with those around us, if we don’t value honor and humility, we can quickly shift from a collaborative relationship to a self-seeking one. If we neglect to genuinely take Romans 12 into account as out way of living, then we miss how Jesus wants to shape us into a community of both humility and honor. 

The urgency with which Paul writes is not to be taken lightly. As believers, we are invited into a way of living that goes far beyond the self. It places extreme importance on “the other”. It brings to mind the heart behind our first commandment: love God and love people. Through these expressions of the heart we are restored.

Romans 12:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 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. (1-2)

Paul starts off in verses 1-2 by drawing a distinction. Offering one’s body as an act of sacrifice covers a spectrum of ideologies. How literal is this? I think the point of taming the body is exclaimed through, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Every part of ourselves is to be set aside and tamed through self-control so we differ in heart and mind from the world. Paul is setting us up to recognize that our actions matter.

    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (3-8)

One way of renewing our minds looks like, “not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought…” In this way, we are able to recognize the differences with the “body of Christ”; a body within which we all look different and all have a role to play. How would we function without recognizing the functions of the other parts of the body? Imagine for a moment, we ignore the idea of offering our entire bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. Instead, we only offer portions. We don’t renew our minds, we don’t engage our hearts, we don’t practice self-control. More often than not, we would be led astray in bouts of turmoil. When we don’t have single-mindedness, (or single body-ness) there is a lack of direction. One foot would go one direction, and one foot another. It is no coincidence that Paul continues verses 3-8 with an expressive call to action! With the unity of the functioning body, recognized through a renewed mind that “each member belongs to all the others,” our interactions with one another become intentional and encouraging to each member to fill their function.

    Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (9-13)

Being devoted in love, is choosing to honor one another above honoring ourselves. This act of love will singlehandedly destroy selfishness. If we aim to honor one another above our own honor through sincere love, that choice attaches itself to goodness that serves the Lord. This ends our self-seeking bitterness. This ends our desire to be selfish. Our focus leaves ourselves, and delights in the other. This is not an invitation to stop being aware of one’s self, but rather an invitation to freedom: learning how to fully devote time to loving and honoring everyone around us. 

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (14-16)

Paul takes it a step further and invites every person to honor this experience. He says we are all worthy. There should be no distinction between those you like and those you don’t. There is no in or out! There is only in. Paul demystifies the idea that only individuals we like deserve honor, by reminding us that everyone has an invitation to the table. Living in harmony reassures us to not detest one another. We must live unified. We must live with fellow creation. Even if you think you are above someone, we are invited to set aside pride. Even if we don’t enjoy someone, we are asked to bless them.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (17-21)

As we disassociate ourselves with self-promotion, meeting our needs outside of Jesus, and a mindset that says we have earned or deserve something, every experience we have is a joyful gift from a loving Father. As we celebrate those around us, we realize how much is being won for the Kingdom of God. As we meet people where they are and share true love with them, everyone wins!

    “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:1-4.

Conforming to the likeness of Jesus is the only thing that will save you from yourself. The least selfish ambition one can bare is to lay down their life for their friend AND enemy. Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice is the only thing needed to free us from ourselves. Let us destroy selfishness through honor and humble, sacrificial love.

A Reflection on 2016.

2016.

This year has held many surprises. There has been adversity, heartbreak, challenges and fresh starts. We have seen the depth of darkness in our world. Racism, injustice, war, refugee crises, genocide, sexual exploitation and depravity litter our planet’s cityscapes. We have hoped in movements, institutions and man-made solutions of all shapes and sizes. Personally, I have found myself both on the mountain top and in the valley. However, through it all, our only hope comes back to the outrageous, scandalous, love of Jesus. As we plan for the future let us pause and consider if we are building on a firm foundation. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He is our everything! We cannot give up on the promises of our first love. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and we have even more reason now to display the Kingdom through radical love in the practical, the impossible, the mysterious and the risky. It is time for loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength to pour out into loving others as we want to be loved! There is no better time than now to listen and learn how the individuals around you experience love.

There are a lot of things being said about 2016. In an effort to inspire joy, love and smiles in my family, I plan on sharing how good 2016 was for me! I pray that it touches your soul and writes love on your heart for 2017.

Overview:

-Hosted worshippers from all over the U.S. including Sean Feucht, The Circuit Riders, Jeremy Vanderloop, 7Song and CBU’s Hope Ensemble.

-Had the opportunity to be a part of leading worship in partnership with at least 20 churches and ministries including CFAN, Burn 24/7 and EmberHQ, alongside the likes of Paul Cain, Carl Tuttle and Theresa Dedmon. 

-Nations visited: 4 (US, Mexico, Belize and Honduras)

-States visited: 6 (Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Michigan)

-Concert highlights: Norman Music Festival, Mumford and Sons, The Head and The Heart, Korn, Phil Keaggy and Judah and the Lion. 

-Concerts Hosted/Co-Hosted: 16.

-Weddings attended: 10 (including my own)!

Highlights.

    January. 

I helped facilitate the first of many art projects FROM the church TO the church. Our family of artists put their skills on display by painting a door for each of our community practices. Though the doors were completed before January, we unveiled them week by week in this first month of the year. We also hosted Sean Feucht and the Circuit Riders for a time of worship and testimonies about the nations. It was a great way to start the year!

    February. 

Worship nights, concerts, and my friend Declan got married. A beautifully tame month!

    March. 

A month spent entirely devoted to praying into the engagement. March was entirely about preparing for the future. The Lord was kind in love, and helped me to embrace everything he had for me!

    April. 

Two dreams took place amidst my quarter of a century birthday. I asked Emily to be my wife and two days later, on my birthday, she drove me to Dallas to enjoy the brilliance of Mumford and Sons in concert. It was an amazing concert. Also in April, I was honored to watch as my friend Joy launched the OKC House of Prayer, and I met my friend Ian Randall Thornton by chance starting a serious man-crush. Plus, the Norman Music Festival…April was a treat for sure.

    May. 

Summer began and Ezriella was officially established. The beauty of the Lord was all around. It was a recovery month from everything that happened in April…

    June-July. 

The Hillside Intensive put on by Burn 24/7 and hosted in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania enters my heart and memory as timely rejuvenation. It was one of the best experiences of my life thus far. I met many people that I will continue to be friends with for the rest of my life, (and some that I would consider family!) Thank you, Hillside.

    August. 

CFAN with Reinhard Bonkke and Daniel Kolenda graced our city. My brother Ryan married his Emily as well!

    September. 

We celebrated 3 years as a church body. 1,000 days of loving Jesus with my Crestwood Vineyard Family. And my friend and co-worker, Mark was married to Megan. 

    October. 

My oldest sister got married! It was such a unique celebration of her and Randall. I love them very much. Abby and Jesse were wed. This month, I also had an opportunity to do some ministry alongside Brian “Head” Welch of the band Korn, at a concerts in Arkansas and Tulsa. Brian Blount and I saw a handful of people receive Jesus, be healed and touched by the power of God. Lastly, my friends Chase and Kayla came together in marriage. What more can you ask for? 

    November. 

We did it. After 7 months of engagement, on November 19th, 2016, Emily became my wife. There are no words to describe it. We followed it with an incredible cruise. I was also invited by my brother David Kim of Oasis Church, to lead worship for a creativity conference featuring Theresa Dedmon of Bethel Church. She gave me a powerful prophetic word and I was touched by the love of the Father. Blair and Morgan were married. Also, Vineyard Worship living legend Carl Tuttle came to Crestwood and imparted some serious wisdom. 

    December. 

Paul Cain of the Kansas City Prophets came and released a handful of powerful prophetic words, followed closely by a visit from John and Eleanor Mumford, leaders of the Vineyard movement in the U.K. Needless to say, I was majorly impacted by the love of spiritual fathers and mothers. We also hosted the team filming “I Can Only Imagine,” to shoot a few scenes in our church. It goes to show how far “Crestwood the Beautiful!” truly goes.

2016 was a blast of a year. It was fast paced. It was joyful. It was good! Now I set my eyes on 2017…what will this year hold?

Together.

As I prepared for my wedding, I wrote this, reflecting on the heart of unity:

Lately my mind has been thinking about unity. As the countdown closes in on Emily and I’s wedding, (November 19th) I can’t help but evaluate what doing life together truly looks like. Now, before I begin using the buzzword of all buzzwords, let me remind you that both Paul and Jesus remind us that life together is sacrificial, sanctifying, joyful and woeful. Being in a family, or community, (there I said it) takes time, resources, relational reverence, and most importantly love. If we can’t receive love from God and in turn love ourselves well, there is no way we can begin to love others well.

This year I have had the privilege of attending or being a part of nearly a dozen weddings. My fiancé can attest to the fact that I love marriage and I love love. Seriously, enjoying a wedding will probably always be one of my favorite events. With each marriage comes a new spin on tradition, and each has its own personality. Yet, it always boils down to the people involved. Weddings are the beginning of new families, and a community’s opportunity to lavish love on the newlyweds. Jesus loves weddings so much that He performed His first miracle at one, (even though He didn’t feel like it was time yet).

Lately, my fiancé and I have been growing closer together. She is without a doubt the most amazing woman ever (she is a super babe as well, I am WAY out of my league). It seems like a majority of our time is spent together, (which I am not complaining about). What is happening in our relationship is forcing me to refocus my time and energy toward relationships that the Lord is leading me to either keep or let go.

Engagement is hard, and understanding friendships and family in the midst of engagement is intense. Honestly, I feel entirely inadequate when it comes to keeping up with friends at the moment. There is no doubt in my mind that I am letting people down. That truth hurts my heart, but it is a place I have to let Jesus take care of me. He is the one that brought Emily and I together and He will be the one to lead us in our future. With that, I would like to take a moment to apologize to every couple that I have ever questioned regarding friendship in the midst of the pre-marital into early marriage seasons. I would also like to ask for grace from those of you who don’t quite comprehend what it is I am talking about. In order for me to be a good husband, I have to leave my family to be one with Emily.

This is where relational reverence comes into play. If in our seasons of being challenged and experiencing change, we don’t allow the Lord to speak to us and create a “save” and a “set aside” pile, we will likely step into our next season overtaxed and unable to function. Mind you, no one wants to hurt people’s feelings, but our responsibility is to be true to the Lord first and faithful to the season He has us in. People are powerful beings, but as my brother AT always says, “if someone is pressing your buttons, that means you gave them the remote.” Be a powerful being with self-control.

The Lord is bringing to light the importance of past relationships and helping me to have reverence for them. Having deep-founded respect for your friendships, both past and present, will allow you to better recognize what it means to be sons and daughters of God. It is through love and by love we can give love. God is love. Understanding and respecting love will allow us to cover others in love. Love itself cast out fear. Fear is one of the major deterrents in relationships. Take a moment to reflect on past relationships that were challenging. Fear and brokenness, which are made whole by love, are oftentimes the things that keep us from going deeper and becoming more transparent with others. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25. The word “may” in this excerpt is an invitation into these suggested ideas of community.

    “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. Sacrifice. Jesus teaches us what it is to sacrifice, and reminds us that there is no greater love than sacrifice. Great love costs us! Are you willing to spend yourself in order to love others? 

All of these thoughts have been running around in my brain as I prepare to step into marriage, and figure out once again how to have friendships and in the light of marriage. Jesus, help me have reverence for every relationship that I have, help me to be sacrificial in love and help me to trust you above all, in the process of everything! Thank you friends, both past and present, for continuing to teach me about Jesus, and consequently, teaching me more and more about who I am in Christ.

October 2016.

Winds of Change.

Change is hard sometimes. 

Most people like to remain consistent. They like to know what is for breakfast before going to bed. They schedule meetings months in advance. They stick to a meticulous hour to hour, or even minute to minute daily schedule.

I am not one of these people.

I would say I pretty regularly fly by the seat of my pants. I am guided by what I feel is supposed to happen throughout the course of the day. Mind you, I am not entirely an aimless wanderer, I am a pioneer. I am passionate about advancing the Kingdom of God, and I take the word “advancing” seriously - as if the calling to go out and preach the gospel to all nations is a legitimate job title, not just a romanticized historic fiction novel. No, the word of God is living and breathing, and brings people to life.

That being said, when life hits us hard, oftentimes change becomes necessary for growth and health. And yet, as a culture of believers, we find ourselves holding onto normalcy with closed hands. There is a fine line between following Jesus and following religion. So how do we find the kingdom principle in change?

Before I go any further, I would like to point out something that continually challenges me. Oftentimes in charismatic circles, I hear the phrase “You are doing a new thing,” or “Do a new thing God.” This phrase is beautiful and flows perfectly with Isaiah 43:19, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” When we dig deeper, we recognize that the Lord is speaking of progression. In the verse directly before the one mentioned above, the Holy Spirit reminds us to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Isaiah 43:18. If we are not careful, instead of following the Lord in His progression, we hunger and strive for the new thing. Emotionalism puts more trust on the encounter than on the Maker of the universe. Through change we need to remember that God is simply just doing the next thing. He is, by His very nature, Creator God! He makes all things new. Be weary of putting too much emphasis on the new thing and not on Jesus, the Maker of ALL things.

Change comes in all different shapes and sizes. Immediate changes happen in the moment. They oftentimes feel much more impactful, but then the effect wears off. Gradual changes, on the contrary, take time and planning. They have a slower timeframe and are less immediate, but the effect lingers and grows. Pruning is a drastic change, whereas gardening, in its entirety, is gradual. 

Determining what type of change needs to happen is always in response to something that has happened or is going to happen. For instance, if X happens, then we have to do Y to make Z, the better X. Y, in this instance is the change. You will notice something about change in the equation above. The choice of how to change always has an effect on the original situation, person, place, or thing. That is the most important thing to take into consideration when making a change. Change impacts everyone differently, which is why when change becomes an option, the outcome needs to be considered in light of the change itself!

As an example, consider your life. According to scripture, your X starting point is death. We are all X in death. Christ is our Y. Christ Y’s everything! Because of the change, we now go from death to life, from X to Z. What is the most important part of the equation? Is it X, Y, or Z? Y! How change happens is the most important thing to consider in any situation.

As a leader, making changes makes or breaks how people trust you. If you make a change poorly, people may not trust you to change again. Or, they may consider that the next change you make will look exactly like the last one. Making changes oftentimes makes a much greater impact than originally anticipated. 

Change is hard sometimes.

That is why when we need to make a change, we must lean on Jesus and trust in Him. At the end of the day, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. That is not an excuse to do whatever we want or make haphazard changes whenever we want. It is the failsafe. It is the reminder that God has our best interest at heart. His very nature is to love because He is love! “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. Jesus is consistent to ease our changes. He is the place to lean to make the decision, and the place to lean when a decision is made! He continually reminds us that He will not leave us or forsake us. When we make good changes and bad changes, He stays the same. 

In order for the Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven,” things need to change! Scripture tells us that Christ stays the same. That means something has to change for the Kingdom of God to come! And if it isn’t Jesus, who is it going to be?

 

Hillside 2016.

Over the course of our lives, certain things hold more weight than others. We each live every day, 24 hours at a time. Beyond that we take each encounter and do our best to enjoy them. Every breath is sacred and is designed to bring glory to the Almighty Father. 

Reflecting back on my 25 plus years of life, there are brief moments within seasons that are etched in my memory. Like lasting pieces of art, they are imprinted in my mind and are oftentimes revisited to capture the depth of an experience’s impact on who I am now. 

The Hillside Intensive has already had a lasting impact on who I am. The times of worship, the conversations, discussions, seminars, Q&A’s, sharing of testimony, and overall experience was incredible. The group of individuals that gathered together could not have been a more God ordained community. Seriously, words cannot describe the teachers, staff, leaders and students. They are a burning inferno of God’s love! A fireball of delight direct from the Father’s hand. Each one was hand-delivered like a bouquet of delicate flowers meant to brighten my world!

Walking into the school, I was in need of a reboot and recharge. My heart had grown weary of the tasks at hand. My why and what were being overthrown by the how. My vision and life calling were being bogged down by the tasks. I needed Jesus to throw me a life-line, and He delivered!

The call of Burn 24/7 is to ignite fires of worship for Jesus. In Harrisburg, it was incredible to take in the rich heritage of the church body and the region itself. There was a lot of love to be poured out, and honestly I don’t have all of the words needed to best convey my experience. However, I am going to do my best to break down each of the fourteen days for you with encounter, testimony, feelings, thoughts and breakthroughs. Hopefully by sharing these stories, you will be able to understand the importance of the trip as a whole.

    Sunday, June 19th, 2016.

After a wild week in OKC, (including buying a house, the Prosperous Soul Conference and a Saturday evening wedding in Tulsa) I jumped on an early morning flight to PA by way of Chicago. I arrived around lunch, exhausted but excited. The first crew of people I had the privilege of meeting all jumped into a van from the airport and headed to Life Center, our soon to be home away from home. We encountered the presence of God, and His sweet lasting peace that increased our excitement. “Jesus loves this place and honors its people,” was the thought that kept coming up. We left the church and enjoyed a meal at Moe’s. I got a burrito. While we were there one of the gentleman, who I had just met and was already feeling kin with, led another gentleman through some inner healing. It was beautiful. The Lord began to highlight one of the ladies sweeping the floor. I kindly opened up dialogue with her, and saw that Jesus was doing some work in her soul. She began to share some hardship she was going through. We eventually had the opportunity to pray for spiritual, emotional and physical healing for her (led by the dude who received inner healing earlier). The journey was sparked! Jesus gave me some encouragement to speak over the young man who just saw healing, first hand, for the very first time. I let him know how these two weeks were going to be life changing for him! We journeyed to the mansion, our literal home for the next two weeks, placed in the hood of Harrisburg and began to meet the 70 people we would be doing life with for the next two weeks. We learned names, talked goals, and life and encouraged one another. Then we got to worship together for the first time!

    Monday, June 20th, 2016 

Intimacy. Worship. Small groups. How to lead worship. The pace for the next two weeks was being set. Everyone seemed to be ready, but none of us were entirely sure what each day was going to look like! The firehose was blasting! That evening, we had an incredible time of freeing worship and community encouragement led by Ian Randall Thornton. It was a beautiful picture of heaven touching earth! Not to mention, a gift that I wasn’t expecting from the Father. We stayed in a community much like the one I serve in Oklahoma City. A neighborhood seeing reformation! It was as if Jesus took me out of the place of plowing and showed me the fruit of labor. He showed me a picture of why we are doing what we are doing in and around the neighborhoods of Crestwood Vineyard. Needless to say, I cried in thanksgiving for such a beautifull picture of what we get to look forward to in the coming year in OKC!

    Tuesday, June 21st, 2016 

Identity. Prophetic worship. It was incredible to learn the strengths of our group and begin to enjoy one another’s songs and sounds. We got to experience singing together in groups. Later that evening, we ventured out to City Island to have a cook-out and play some volleyball. The whole time waswild amounts of fun! The competitive nature of certain individuals began to shine forth. The best part of the evening for me happened near the end of the night. This group of 6 kids, ranging in age from around 8-14, began to observe our game. On our court, we were in the last game of an intense three part series, but Jesus began to show me his heart for these kids. I began to yell at them and invite them down (potentially super scary, I am well aware). One by one they began to join us and started to play. They were quickly integrated into this new expression of family. I invited them to grab some snacks and a soda. Jesus made himself known. I had the opportunity to tell these kids all about what we were doing and why we were there. They began to ask questions about Jesus and church. At this point, I was able to share the gospel with them, and the kids accepted Jesus in that moment. I asked if they knew about Holy Spirit. The kids wanted to feel the presence of God. We prayed and they all encountered the love of God in that moment. When they went to leave, they were saying “Man, I think my mom has a bible! We have to go read it!” It was cool to be a mouthpiece for Jesus once again.

    Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 

Talk about wild worship! The fire of God threw off all of the morning’s plans. It was incredible. We went into a time of intercession for our nation and for the generations. When things finally settled down, we had a teaching on the Tabernacle of David, and David Fritch blew the roof off the place. We had a workshop that afternoon and learned more about leading worship as a team, and we had our first time playing together as a team. The whole intensive was broken into small groups and worship teams. We went into rehearsal and tried to figure things out. It was a rough practice. Our team wasn’t really on the same page. We decided to use our next allotment of time to debrief what was going on. We were able to be vulnerable and share our hearts about what we were feeling. It brought us closer together, more than any rehearsal could have. It is amazing how much better a group of people can be when they lead together with vulnerability, instead of separately relying on skill. That evening was topped off by a brilliant teacher, Jamie Dickson, who shared some of his history with God, and unpacked the importance of knowing who we are and how we are empowered by Jesus to be hope. It was incredible.

    Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 

We got more wisdom from Jamie Dickson, followed by Harp and Bowl Training led by Chris DuPre, the father of the method itself. Harp and Bowl is a method of worship and intercession created at IHOP, and is based on Revelation 5:8, where songs and intercession overlap with scripture. Needless to say, everyone was unleashed to carry a song, to sing directly from scripture, to sing scripture in their own words, to sing thematically from the text, and then to sing what we received from the Father to and over us! It was beautiful. It was awesome to have the wisdom of the man who incorporated this way of worship to speak of Harp and Bowl as one of many tools to lead people into the presence of God. That evening, back at the Mansion, Ian Thornton gave us a beautiful house show. It was fantastic! That man is incredible, and I love him a whole lot. It is an honor to call him my brother. After the concert, I had a unique touch from God. I began to have a conversation with a new friend of mine about the UK and how I have a heart for the nations. He, being from the UK, pressed into what Jesus was doing in me and the Lord dropped a big joy bomb on my heart. I began to laugh hysterically. It was a super refreshing encounter with the Lord.

    Friday, June 24th, 2016 

Sean Feucht. The dude came in like Oprah! He gave us a ton of gear and lit us up with the call to be musicianaries! Called to the nations! The dude is the energizer bunny of missionaries! Jesus has him rocking and rolling everywhere he goes. He just rigs and gears! After that, our team had a much better practice then the one earlier that week. Our vulnerability with each other allowed us to dig into our worship set and get more of what Jesus was doing through and in us all. Playing bass was radical fun for me! I loved it so much. It is my happy place for sure. 

    Saturday, June 25th, 2016 

A full, fun day! We had the opportunity to lead sets at a local burn which was commingled with people doing outreach all throughout the city. We were the second set! It was super fun to break in and sit in the presence of God for a little while. After that, we hit the streets. Honestly, it was rough! My heart beats for seeing people transformed, but when I hit the streets for outreach, performance mode sets in. I oftentimes feel like I have to come back with a story! I am quick to try to become a savior, even though I know that I am to be used by a loving Father, and what comes of it is up to Him! Anyway, we went to the neighborhood surrounding the mansion after enjoying a stop at Starbucks and prophesying over a team member’s mom in the car. We hit the streets running. I began to get sympathy pain all over my body as I walked by people, so I would ask if they had pain in their bodies. For sixteen people the answer was no! And for a couple of guys, they thought I was trying to sell them some drugs. Needless to say, I was failing huge! But then, everything shifted. As we walked back to the van to head back to the church, a lady in the area stopped us due to one of my friend’s dancing. She happened to be galavanting down the street. We crossed the road and met these two ladies, one of which had back pain. We prayed for them, played some songs, prophesied over them, and they both encountered the presence of God! A few moments later, we crossed the street back towards the van and a man with a cane was walking down the street. My immediate thought was “Well God, it will be hard to miss this one!” I approached him and told him my name. I explained to him that I love Jesus and asked if I could pray for any pain in his body. He said his whole body was covered in pain! Just like that, I went from striking out to having every word of knowledge correct for one person. God has a great sense of humor. 

    Sunday, June 26th, 2016 

Church. Free-time. After going a million miles an hour, the afternoon break was necessary. Not to mention what Jesus had planned for us that evening! Following our leisure time, we had “Holy Ghost Night.” Naturally, I thought it was hilarious to call an evening “Holy Ghost Night” following this week of radical encounters and watching Jesus do radical stuff. What Holy Spirit did through Jeff Struss added a whole new flavor to the Hillside Experience. Now, I understand why it was Holy Ghost Night. It was an encounter night for us. The presence of God came powerfully. People were received a radical new level of who God is and how Holy Spirit can shatter our boxes. I enjoyed some time face first before the throne of God above. Of all of the instances from the two weeks, this is one where all I can say isyou had to be there! I even had to carry one of my friends, out to the van. Girl was knocked out by Holy Spirit. She weighed about 200 lbs that night. She is not that big! She is a tiny little girl. The van took off back to the mansion and we stopped to get some snacks at the gas station, and Jesus broke out! A handful of people got healed. The squad started to prophesy over everyone they could get their hands on. It is a moment etched in my mind to remind me of how fun Jesus can be when we step into doing what He asks us to do.

    Monday, June 27th, 2016 

When I woke up on Monday my thought was “it is time to come down from this mountain.” It wasn’t from a place of doubt, but instead from a place of “how can this time set aside get better!” We stepped into the day of song writing, learning the Father’s heart for us in order to love others, and a time of worship with the Millers. Hillside was in no way over!

    Tuesday, June 28th, 2016 

This day was very special. The morning was filled with learning about identity and operating out of the anointing that Jesus has given to us. It was a life altering teaching by Aaron Miller. After, I had the opportunity to sit in on a Harp and Bowl training with Chris DuPre. Needless to say, it was a teaching that will forever be engraved in my heart. It was simple and beautiful (just the way I like it). Quick, clean and easy to catch onto. We watched a handful of our fellow students practice singing scripture, and then we went and did it in our small groups. It was such a fun time! That evening was the student showcase. MY GOODNESS! Our group of students is an incredible, multi-talented group of individuals. It was an honor to listen to everyone pour their hearts out in front of each other. Vulnerability creates space to understand individuals on a deeper level. It helped us to see each other more clearly. It was a blessing to my heart to see others open up at a level where I can see their hearts expressing what the Father has written on them. 

    Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

A wildfire day. It felt like the recovery day. Everything we wanted to give you but haven't had a chance to give you yet, we are going to give you today! We had a couple of teaching sessions that morning about community and the Church. What it means to be called forth. It was tied together with vision casting of what is next! Asking Jesus what was going on in our lives, and what we were supposed to do next. While we walked through those questions, we also got some feedback from the Hillside Intensive staff regarding musicality, and we all got prophesied over. It was tender. Looking forward while holding onto reality! A healthy balance of the present, and what is coming. After that, we enjoyed some worship with the Miller squad.

    Thursday, June 30th, 2016 

Hillside collides with Ascend. We talked legacy, longevity, character and integrity. Sean invited Steffany Gretzinger and her parents in to share testimonies and stories about growing up partnering with Jesus for your life. They were quick to point out that they weren't perfect, but they would do their best to turn to Jesus. It was an incredible example of how raising children can be Christ-like! It was a huge blessing to hear their first-hand accounts. Not to mention, Holy Spirit came powerfully and brought a lot of healing to the hearts of a lot of my fellow students. We went on a field trip to Nystrum Guitar Company to learn about building guitars, and enjoyed an evening of worship with Sean. We had a complete day for sure.

    Friday, July 1st, 2016

The Ascend Conference was in full flow. That morning we had our faces melted by the Hermans in worship and Dave Fritch challenged us to dream mighty dreams with Jesus! It was an incredible reminder of how big the God of the universe actually is! During the afternoon, my heart was ignited. We had the privilege of hearing from Jacob Cook and John Paul Gentile regarding creativity. It was incredible! From beginning to end, a superbly life-giving teaching about being a people unlimited by craft and creativity by tapping into an abundant, endless Father. Those dudes have fire to ignite people to step into being creative. After that finished, Sean invited me to start the next session by singing over everyone. He invited everyone in and handed me a microphone. It was a moment I will never forget. It reminded me of my calling, the faithfulness of Jesus, and everything He is inviting me into. It was a super special moment for me, and I didn’t know how much it would impact my heart, but it did. That evening Steffany and Amanda Cook led us in worship. During worship, everything set in. The two weeks set in. My reality set in. My love for Jesus set in, and I began to sob. While Amanda began to sing Closer, my heart was awakened to how close Jesus had been through this experience. How He called me to be a part of this school. How my life is dedicated to His glory! Jesus swept in and brought everything together. It was hard to breathe. The blanket of the Father’s love covered me and I sat with Him and wept. There were tears of joy, longing, thanksgiving and peace all in one moment. It felt like I was there for hours, weeping. And then the weeping was overcome by this fire of victory! The empowering love of Jesus that is the reality of “IT IS FINISHED!” I roared like a lion. I let out the only sound I could relate to victory. It was a sweet moment reclaiming who I am in Jesus. When worship was finished and ministry time dispersed, we invited Jacob Cook to ride with us back to his hotel. We took the long way back. We stopped to grab some snacks at a gas station and while there…sure enough, Jesus broke out! Once again, Jesus had a bunch of plans. A girl’s back got healed! And we got to share the heart of God with a group of kids hanging out enjoying some sodas. It was super radical having Jacob there. He added an element of “why not now?” I am very thankful that I got to spend that extra time with the dude, and more importantly, seeing Jesus break into people’s hearts!

    Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

The Aitkens led worship. Let me just say anyone who can lead from a drum pad is incredibly gifted! I witnessed that for the first time ever, and it was awesome. Chris DuPre lit our hearts on fire to love Jesus more clearly with open ears and to do what He is telling us to do. Workshops. Coffee. Random afternoon jam session. Chick-fil-a for dinner. Then came something I entirely wasn’t expecting to happen. At the beginning of the evening worship time, Sean called me onto stage. I planned on beginning my evening by taking some pictures and then stepping into worship! Sean told me to come get some shots on stage! It was a dream come true, that I didn’t know I had! It was ridiculously righteous! I got to take pictures of the squad in their element. I got to see them lead through the lens, taking in both pictures of moments and of the tools they lead with. A truly life giving experience. As worship began to draw to a close, the Hillside Staff began to go on stage. Sure enough, it was commissioning time! They commissioned us and sent us out to be musicianaries called out to the ends of the earth! To solidify it all, they had us stage dive into the crowd and crowd surf! What a great way to send students! Charles Stock, Life Center’s Papa, came and sent everyone out to love on people! Go forth in joy and love people! He, following his quick teaching, invited Jacob Cook to lead in a time of ministry. He shared about the adventures from the night before and invited all of the Hillside students to be the ministry team. Freely we received, and freely we gave away! Eventually the ministry time dwindled and we made our way back to the mansion. We finished the evening with communion and more ministry time for the radical leaders we had for the past two weeks. Then something truly sweet happened. Remember the kid from the first day? Who received inner healing and then saw a lady get healed when he prayed for her? This two weeks was lighting up his world. It was instance after instance of being equipped and “firsts.” First prophetic word. First time singing in front of people. First time truly hearing from Jesus. The time had come for some pre-bed worship. This young man was sleeping on the couch when I woke him up, put a guitar in his hands and gave him permission and space to lead us in a time of worship! He had never led worship before. This night changed everything! He led a song and was fully equipped to be the worship leader Jesus was calling him to be. It was a time stopping moment. Everything paused. And Jesus said “this is why I made you!” Discipleship is easy when we give Jesus all the permission and space to take over in any instance. I will be marked by that moment for the rest of my life as I encourage people of all ages to step into the fullness of their calling.

    Sunday, July 3rd, 2016 

We slept in. We went to church. We got to be a part of sending the Feuchts on to their next adventure to Bethel in Redding. And we feasted together for one last time.

To close this beautiful adventure, I would like to endorse Burn 24/7 and the Hillside Intensive. No matter your age, ability, denomination, role, race, ethnicity or background, there is something to be received from this school. If you come with an open heart and a desire to know Jesus more, you will be overwhelmed by everything that Jesus will do in your life. I am incredibly thankful for everyone who took this journey with me and look forward to watching them all grow with Jesus. I also look forward to spending time with them in the future, as we look back at Hillside 2016 and say “Yeah, those two weeks [fill in the blank)!” From igniting passions, to saving ministries and marriages, there is no telling the full depth of what Jesus planted in our hearts during the two weeks. However, I am sure I am changed because of it.

 

Worship: Draw Near.

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

    my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

    beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,

    my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

    in your name I will lift up my hands.

 

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,

    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

when I remember you upon my bed,

    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

for you have been my help,

    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;

    your right hand upholds me.

 

But those who seek to destroy my life

    shall go down into the depths of the earth;

they shall be given over to the power of the sword;

    they shall be a portion for jackals.

But the king shall rejoice in God;

    all who swear by him shall exult,

    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.” 

-Psalm 63

I think that there is a reason God calls David “a man after my own heart.” His worship was radical and full! HIs heart both uplifted by the gracious love of a awesome Father and undone by disbelief that he was chosen. The church has begun to lose this sense of bewilderment through the ages. Religion has taken over relationship. Stoic boredom has stolen the seat of active revolution. There is a beautiful place for reverence in the body, but I don’t think the Lord is calling us to be a church that is unattractive. Holy Spirit does shift and move the hearts of individuals in every moment, so shouldn’t we at least invite them into true family?

Here is what I think has happened. We have fallen away from a lifestyle of worship. We have refused to center our lives around strictly serving Jesus. More importantly, we have allowed our congregational relationship with Jesus to replace our personal relationship with Jesus. Just entering into worship on Sunday with community and family is not a lifestyle set apart and consecrated to the greater things of the Kingdom. If we look at the early church, these people learned together, lived together, ate together, oftentimes shared all resources and leaned on one another. If you are an individual who lives a lifestyle like that of the early church, then you are likely doing well in this department. 

But, we aren’t. 

Not in every moment at least! 

There is a missing part to our true relationship with Jesus.

    “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22

It is finished. Therefore, we have the opportunity to draw near to the throne of grace. We get to ask Jesus, Abba Father and Holy Spirit all to come close. Holy Spirit is so close that He dwells inside of us. The indwelling of a perfect being helping to shape us and mold us. He is the refining fire within our hearts.

Jesus wants us to call upon Him! He wants us to know Him better. And just like in any relationship, we need to spend time with those we want to know better. It isn’t rocket science. However, if we are going to be a people so set on seeing relationship with the God of the universe rise above our selfish worldly desires, then we need to practice worshipping as individuals. We need to become the worship leaders of our lives! We need to see that the most important place of reverence in our lives is when we set aside our busy schedule to do the most important thing that we can do, spend time with Jesus.

There isn’t a wrong or right way to do this. There isn’t a daily time limit. There isn’t a three step process to “how to spend more time with Jesus.” We need to recognize that the conviction of Holy Spirit within us is what guides us. We can tell when things are dry. We can tell when we haven’t been digging into scripture. We can tell when busyness has become an idol in our hearts and lives! The most important thing we can do is obediently listen to the guidance of Holy Spirit. 

John 10 reminds us, Jesus is our shepherd. He wants to guide us. He wants to point us in the right direction. So much so that HE wrote it out for us to refer to. And at the end of the day, if we can hear Him, shouldn’t we listen?

    “Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:25-30. 

The Good Shepherd is only doing what the Father is doing. That is what we want to be doing! 

So take a second and listen today. Stop and spend some time with Jesus. Press into taking the next step towards becoming the worship leader of your life! Pursue a genuine relationship with Jesus complete with quality time. Have you ever considered that God’s favorite “love language” might be quality time?

     “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

From this place our true identity pours forth. When we know the Father, we are known by the Father and we can become more and more like Him! Our heart’s desires begin to look like Jesus’ desires. We long for Kingdom change and not earthly desires. Sitting in the presence of the Almighty, shifts our very being to its core because we are once again returning to our original design, just like in the garden!

Feel Your Feelings.

There is a lot going on in my life. Currently I am a part of an extremely active church, and I love engaging in everything that is happening in and through our community. We have a film studio, an art studio, a recording studio, a gymnasium, a concert venue, an urban monastic expression called “The Belfry,” we house a school primarily for refugee students called “New Land Academy,” people teach and tutor in our rooms, and we have a beautiful sanctuary. Throughout the week, we have the Crestwood School of Kingdom Ministry, we have a 12 step expression called “Route 12,” we have a group of intercessors and worships that ask the Lord for continued vision known as “Prayer Culture,” we have neighborhood kids that knock on our doors at all hours of the day looking to play basketball, and they have just recently formed a basketball team. Thursdays hold our youth meetings where our young adults can come and be formed to do what Jesus did, and look more like Him. We have worship nights, conferences, meeting, meals, discussions and hangouts. Crestwood Vineyard is a place the Lord is using to help shape His kingdom and our neighborhood. I wouldn't have it any other way.

However, Crestwood Vineyard isn't the only thing happening. We aren't the only ones doing work. Oklahoma City is going through some radical stages of growth. It is a shifting time for a beautiful people. 

Recently, something has come to my attention. With all of the “stuff” that is happening, I have begun to stuff my feelings. The out come of internalizing my feelings is trying to work my way out of them. My processing has turned into “be busier.” There isn't a whole lot of scripture to support how the Lord wants us to be overwhelmed by how we are so busy that we don't have room to take a break. Psalm 23 even encourages our rest. Not to mention the many times the Lord invites us to rest in Him. I haven't given myself permission to feel.

    I encounter the Lord a lot through feeling.

    Not feeling means not interacting with the Lord.

    Being numb is a place to interact with Jesus!

    “To acquire wisdom is to love oneself; people who cherish understanding will prosper.” Proverbs 19:8

We are called to know ourselves. There are a lot of ideas about honoring others above yourself and loving those as you love yourself. If there is no respect or understanding for your own process or challenges, loving others becomes easy and you become completely worthless. Essentially, if we don’t know ourselves, our disfunction or our challenges, we can hinder our growth with Jesus. If you can’t see yourself the way Jesus sees you, then there is work to be done inside of you. We are called to put our flesh to death and to put our earthly desires away. Yes, that means dying to oneself. There is however a huge difference between dying to yourself and killing yourself.

Jesus has poured out grace on all flesh! We are called to receive this grace. By His work we are saved to have our hearts, minds and souls transformed to look more and more like our savior daily. Not knowing ourselves is essentially saying that you don't have anything to work on. Or, it's saying you don't want to work on yourself! “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:5. 

The road to sanctification is a life long journey. Jesus has a lot to offer us in every moment. Every day we wake up and have choices to make. Do we sit in our hardship, stuff it and go on like nothing is wrong? Or do we take our challenge to the Lord. Why am I sad, mad, glad or afraid? Why is my heart turned from that person? Digging into these questions is the exact thing that kills your flesh. 

    “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:12-17.

If this is our identity: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, then our Father has so much more to give us if we ask (Luke 11.) We, in order to love people better, need to love ourselves at a high caliber. If you don’t love yourself well, then loving others as you do yourself becomes obsolete. It becomes worthless! If you think you are worthless, then you love other people worthlessly. 

At the end of the day, we have permission to feel our feelings. We aren't to be overcome by them, but ignoring them leads to later, BIGGER challenges. If we address our thoughts and feelings with the understanding that the Lord wants us to meet Him there, then we can play a role in the strengthening of our souls. Loving ourselves means that we allow the love and gift of Jesus to actually reach our hearts. It is the gift of grace and mercy to receive the love of the Father. No one (outside of Jesus), deserves to be loved by such a good Father. And yet, we wake up each morning! We receive our marching orders and we get to do kingdom work. 

So for the sake of the world, treat yourself with respect! Love yourself. Love your body. Receive what the Father says about you so you can be a healthy vessel through which the Lord can encourage and empower others. We are called to be salt and light, let yourself be salt and light!

    “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9.

Strategy vs. Intentionality.

What happens when you lose vision? When you lose track of what is going on? When you take your eyes off of Jesus? What do you do? Where do you turn? How do we direct our seasons of sprints to link together to look like the marathon of life? There aren't many things more inspiring to me than church leaders who have been doing the stuff for long periods of time. The kind of leaders that have an impressive number in front of their marriage longevity only to counter it with a couple more years in ministry. I hope to be on the list of leaders that doesn't get jaded by the challenges of the everyday grind. Someone who doesn’t burn out, but instead presses into the heart of Jesus in every moment. I want to be someone who has steadfastness is so deeply rooted in me, that there is an energizer bunny-like persona in how I interact with the ups and downs of ministry.

That being said, I'm three years into this journey of “ministry,” where I am a leader in the local church. Each day, things shift. Being in the heart business is challenging because people change, theologies shift, today’s truth was yesterday’s torment. Sanctification, doubt, grief, hardship, joy, love are just a few of the conversations people in ministry run into minutes apart from one another. Loving people is hard, but it is worth it 

When walking through all of these wonderful gifts, there is one thing to turn to, and that is Jesus. However, there isn’t just one way to turn your heart back towards the one who gives reason for everything. Everything someone does comes drenched in strategy, intentionality or both.

Strategy: a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. God is a very strategic Father. When reflecting on Old Testament scripture, we can see His strategy in action. Looking at the whole gospel story through covenant theology can help us recognize how point to point Abba truly was. As we read through Paul’s writings in the New Testament, we see that the book of Acts unpacks specific, strategic ways to approach people groups. Paul sought out individuals, with the help of Holy Sprit, who would help create peace and relational equity in various nations. There is strategy in Kingdom work.

Intentionality: the fact of being deliberate or purposive. Likewise, we can see the details and intentionality with which the Father helps guide us. Looking at the intricacy with which He meets individuals and groups. Knowing when to come in power and when to come in the form of a baby. In Acts, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” Acts 4:32. God pointed to intentionality and togetherness. Community has been intentionally intertwined throughout all of time! Along with love and adoration.

Engaging with the Father means receiving His heart, where both intentionality and strategy are given in abundance. When our scales begin to tip to one side or the other we either lose vision (too much intentionality, not enough strategy) or purpose (to much strategy, not enough intentionality). There is a beautiful balance that happen between the two: Strategic Intentionality. This is how the Lord balances His reign and rule over us. He loves us relationally through strategic plans and intentional ways only we can receive. Strategy deals with the plan. Intentionality deals with making the plan work. It is important to cast the vision strategically and move towards it intentionally.

When we lose vision, we are strategy drained. We ask “What are we doing again?” often times feeling disconnected. We don’t know where our vision went, therefore strategy has stopped being implemented. Asking the Father to reinvigorate your strategy is not only something that He will do, but he does well. Look at Moses as an example. The Lord had to keep breathing vision into Moses. God had to keep reminding him of the goal, the promised land. Or consider the prophecy of Jesus. Throughout the course of His ministry, he would continually point at what was to happen. He would proclaim what is to come, casting a vision for tomorrow. Even though the disciples didn't catch the vision until they experienced it, Jesus never lost heart! He continued to press on strategically and shed light on His vision!

Purpose is something that is fed through intentionality. When we stop being intentional, we lose the why! Our hearts become disengaged because we lean so heavily on the what, that we neglect our purpose for our actions. Jesus is our purpose. He guides us, leads us, teaches us, shows us, and loves us into every second of the why. When we lose Jesus, we lose everything. Losing purpose, is taking the Jesus out of everything. Neglecting intentionality makes our actions robotic and exact. We miss out on the fact that we are human beings and not human doings. We aren’t saved by what we do. We are saved by being the Lord’s. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Purpose is a gift called grace. Intentionality gives grace a playground to transform people through love and encountering believers. 

Engaging this balance beam mean pressing into your relationship with Jesus. Don’t evaluate yourself, because your brokenness can often times beat you up. Instead, approach the throne of grace and ask all of the questions you learn in grade school: who, what, where, when, why, and how! Bring the questions alongside scripture. Bring them to your community. Process through these things. Walking with strategic intentionality means walking with a heart prepared to let Jesus set the pace. It allows you to be okay when the what is “rest” because we realize that we are being strategic by receiving what we need and intentional by loving ourselves. It allows us to put responsibility where it needs to be, on Jesus. It helps us to have a bigger picture of loving people well. 

If the Father would have neglected either of these attributes, we would miss out on the intricate beauty that marries itself to the huge overarching gospel. Our hearts would feel empty, and our futures would feel worthless. Check in with the Maker to walk through what you may be neglecting in your life.

 

Engaged.

April Fool's weekend was no joke this year…

But seriously, it was hectic. I took a major step in my life that is marked as the second biggest decision in my time on Earth. Right behind giving my life to Christ, is taking a bride. And on April 2, 2016, I asked Ms. Emily Laine Otness to be my bride, and sure enough, she said YES!

It was a Saturday. There was adventure. There was romance. There was joy. There was goodness. It was wonderful. 

Both of my best friends flew in to celebrate the occasion with us, which made it that much more special. The investment that both of them made, and the sacrifices to be by my side will never go unnoticed! There is no way to repay such selflessness and love. Words cannot express my gratitude. Erik got in on Thursday, and Alex on Saturday. My only complaint is that neither of them could stay around longer! 

Last fall was the first time that Emily expressed her heart’s desire to be proposed to at the lighthouse at Lake Hefner. If I remember correctly, it was within the first days of our relationship, definitely less than a month in. Really a hasty declaration on her part. We were driving by the lake one day, and she nonchalantly blurts out “Hey! That’s where I am getting engaged!”

Oh? Is it? At that point in time, I was still trying to figure out how to say words around her because I was so caught up in wanting to impress her! Needless to say, it was an intimidating statement so early on.

Just as she had said those months ago, I proposed at the lighthouse on Lake Hefner. It was simple. It was traditional. It was exactly what Emily wanted, which made it exactly what I wanted. The celebration at Mama Roja’s, though delayed, was equally as good.

Reflecting back on our 8 months of dating and the year of knowing Emily but not really knowing her, holds many adventures. And yet it still seems so juvenile in the grand scheme of things. We are aiming at a lifetime together. We are aiming to know each other better than we know ourselves. We are aiming to serve, love and champion one another in a way that no one else will. We are aiming to love Jesus and through knowing Him, humbly put each other before ourselves. We are aiming for sanctification, and it is as if we just got the weapon to begin fully taking aim.

When I think about dating Emily, there is really only one thing on my mind, and that is Jesus. She fights and desires to know the Lord with all of her being. She stands in His presence and weeps lowly at His feet. How she has decided to follow Jesus is inspiring, convicting, beautiful and encouraging. Through these past months, I have been given insight into the deepest parts of her heart. She has opened up to me and processed things with me that she would have normally taken to other outlets. She is all around incredible. I am obviously in love.

That being said, I am also in no way, shape or form mistaken when it comes to this woman I love. The foundation of our relationship is Jesus. He is the solid rock on which we stand. I do not stand on her ability, I do not stand on how incredible she is, and I do not stand on thinking she will save me. There has already been times in our relationship where our weaknesses take the driver’s seat and we hurt one another. Naivety says that marriage will not have those same challenges. Wisdom says, however, that we will hurt one another, and our brokenness will pierce each other. That is why we must lean on the perfection of a Savior, and not the brokenness of an idol in our hearts. 

Two weeks into a 7 month engagement, I am already seeing the need for repentance. My heart has been prideful and not as loving. The choices that I make now effect more than just my life. My words hold a new weight. These pressures are not things that I can bear alone. They are things that I need to transparently submit to my Savior. Two weeks in, and the beautiful ways in which Emily and I were made are being put to the test as we learn hot to serve and love each other in engagement. Sure, we know how we function by ourselves, but now we have to learn how the other functions in a new season, and how to honor that! Needless to say, it’s all a big beautiful mess.

My heart wants to need Emily. It would be really easy to place all of my eggs in her basket, and to give her the weight of everything in my life. But she is not going to save me. Sure, there will be times in our marriage where she will encourage me, love me, and be my biggest fan. However, these are things that the Father already does for me every day. I need Jesus. I need Abba Father. I need the Holy Spirit. I don’t need Emily. I want her. I chose her. She is worth it to me! In that, I will seek to know her, to love her, to challenge her, to take her on adventures, to cherish her, to encourage her, to tell her who she is, and to point her back to Jesus. Our love is rooted in the truth of the cross, and in that truth we are free to be one!

I look forward to the road ahead with Emily Laine.

    

Turn down the stereo...types.

I have a hard time shopping anywhere other than Target. I find myself exploring the aisles an average of two times a week. Now, that isn't a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, however, you have to factor in that on some occasions, there are events that require last minute help where Target is the answer. There is no saying why this happened, but I am in no way sorry about it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was leaving this familiar place when I saw something unfamiliar. While sitting in the turn lane, I experienced something that was new to me; a woman wearing what seemed to be a hijab, (a traditional muslim head covering), driving a lifted red Ram 1500. This truck was tough! And this woman wasn’t quite who I would peg for driving such a monster of a vehicle. As I chuckled to myself about not fully understanding the situation, my mind began to wonder. Maybe she was a construction worker? Or possibly her husband worked in some form of blue collar labor that required a truck? Either way, my mind was convinced that this was a first. 

But why was it such a deal? Why did my mind mark this moment as special or different? As I drove away from Target I began to interact with the Lord about this brief moment of life, and He brought up the commonly oppressive tool known as stereotypes. Would I have even noticed if a man was driving the truck? Or if the woman was white? Those are normal everyday occurrences. When you add something “out of place,” my brain is triggered to immediately start thinking aboutthe differences. 

Stereotypes exist because of the fear of vulnerability, our unwillingness to find a place of understanding, a fear of different or new things, or our own lack of confrontation. Oftentimes they are tied to deep-rooted racism, sometimes even against ourselves. It is easier to presuppose something about an individual then to actually engage with them as people. Technology has aided in the ease of escapism, from others and from ourselves. We need to take a long, hard look at stereotypes and racism for the betterment of mankind. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is their male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28. This is echoed in Colossians 3:11as well “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Judgement in the form of stereotypes and racism is the enemy’s playground, set up to deteriorate the importance of equality. Equality, to some, is an ignorant utopian ideal that has no space here on earth. Jesus, however, uses it as a by product of His love. Through love we are set free. If we truly understand how Jesus loves us, we are able to celebrate and champion the individual as a part of the whole. Equality through love then becomes a major contributing factor to the unification of the bride. This truth points us back to the fact that leaning on judgement through stereotypes and racism is leaning on brokenness and goes against the Kingdom principles of love, equality and unity.

There is a need for man to receive the gifts of other cultures. I am not arguing for universalism, but instead for recognizing diversity as a great vehicle of receiving God-love. Even though the world clings to false idols, and tries hard to covet individuality as the primary gain of life, there is beauty to behold. The Father’s lens through which He sees His creation is much more vast than we could ever imagine. There is grace poured out for those who chase the hearts of nations. We are called to be known by our love. First, by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and second by loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we zoom out, instead of selfishly staring at only our own nation, we would recognize that boundary lines blur in the truth of Jesus. Denominations come together on the foundational truths of God’s love. We are building a house without walls. 

The existence of stereotypes is a diversion meant to perpetually point us to blame others. So does racism, judgement and the other tools of the enemy. Man fears being vulnerable with things we don't understand. The gift of chasing vulnerability, or being open, honest and true, breaks down the barriers of hatred. If we actually opened up to ourselves and to others, we might begin to recognize our own brokenness as the leading problem in our lives, not other culture’s brokenness. Choosing not to experience something outside of yourself or your norm is pride. Saying you don’t know, or don’t understand is choosing ease and ignorance. I am not saying we all need to be knowledgeable about everything that is happening in the world, always. Some people are called to that life. What I am encouraging is that we allow our hearts to be open to tolerate indifference as we encounter the Father’s heart for people that are different from us!

At the end of the day, not all white people are white trash, not all black people are thugs, not all asian people are geniuses and not all hispanic people are illegal immigrants. There is more to an individual than what you can see. Next time you encounter someone different than you, stop and ask for the Father’s heart for them and encounter them as a creation not as an abomination. The truth is, we are all under the domain of one King. “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish, share your fish...or give a man your fish!

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” Proverbs 31:8-9

My heart breaks for individuals who are in need. I am not pointing this out to gain any popularity points or to put myself up above others, I just need to point out how my heart beats for people who are poverty-stricken, disenfranchised, downtrodden and unjustly abused. There is a need for service to these individuals all across the world, and change starts with you. It doesn’t matter what kind of background you have come from, there is an opportunity to serve those around you with love, being humane to those who have been dehumanized. As a believer in gospel principles and kingdom movement, there needs to be more investment in fighting injustice. It is a shame that poverty continues to be a problem. 

Now, the challenge sets in here. As we aim to build cultural bridges between social classes and racial divides, one man’s stepping stone can be seen as another man’s separation. When one group of individuals decides to focus energy on one challenge, their focus comes off as divisive to another group that recognizes a completely different challenge as the main focus. This can be seen all over our cultural expanse in businesses, political strategy, local government, religious movement, and activism to name a few. If you aren't doing something to fix this issue, you aren’t doing anything helpful!

There are obviously a lot of teams to join and ideals to follow, but might I interrupt and remind everyone of the heart of the Godhead and what Jesus reminds us throughout the gospels.

“Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:20-21. If we continue to approach individuals who are poverty-stricken, disenfranchised, downtrodden and unjustly abused as if they have nothing to teach us, as if they strictly have things to gain from us, we are forgetting the upside down nature of the kingdom. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16. We aren’t called to challenge the promises that were given to us and to strictly seek “equality” (much like the workers do in Matthew 20) we are called to the work!

Growing up, my family was never wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. There were weeks when we would be lucky to have food every day. I have no shame in how I was raised or where I have come from. However, it is clear to me that there were kids that had it worse than me. For some, the poverty mindset takes over and they accept poverty as their lot in life. But that is not kingdom theology. Jesus doesn’t come to keep the poor in poverty or to create social systems. Jesus came to give us life and life abundantly. Now, I am not saying we are all going to live luxurious lifestyles. Some people are called to overwhelming wealth. Jesus has plenty to warn us about wealth from the rich young ruler to the parable of the talents. What I am saying is that our worth is not in what we can do or our social status. Our worth is founded in the fact that we are sons and daughters of the most high God. Our worth is in belonging to the richest kingdom ever, the kingdom of God. This is important. And what we do with this truth is important. Based on this scriptural interpretation, we are then set as equals, meaning that these individuals who are societally challenged are not to be pitied, but to be cherished. We are equals in the eyes of the Father. 

What does that mean for us? What does this imply? Over the years, due to technological advancement and financial gains, people are turning away from people. My plea here is to serve those around you. Create lasting relationship with individuals. Look at people, all people, as humane. Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish, share your fish or give a man your fish! There are thousands of schools of thought on how to best serve. Sometimes, however, our hunger for understanding and education takes away from actively participating in change. Schools of thoughts are great. Having a deep theological connection to why you do what you do is important. However, if there is no practical engagement, the human body is nothing more than a vehicle for our mind. There is work to be done, we do have a part to play in societal transformation, and more than our minds need to be involved to see it done!

Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish, share your fish or give a man your fish! At the end of it all, this is a multi-level relational transformation. It takes time and engagement in things outside our norms. Somedays, it will be giving a man something practical to meet their need, whether food or a ride to a shelter to rest. Somedays, it will be teaching them how to properly engage in society. Somedays, you will sit down with individuals and hear their stories while sharing your own. And still, somedays you will just give everything you have to someone who needs it more. In order for us to be useful vessels, we need to be prepared at every level to serve those around us by whatever means possible. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” - James 2:15-16.