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.

Stuck in O'hare.

A few weeks ago, after participating in one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies I have ever seen (congratulations Paula and Declan!) I experienced something sobering. Traveling to Michigan is always an adventure. This time around was a little much, but did not disappoint by means of adventure.

The plan was for a quick weekend trip. Love the Cravens well, connect with family from the mitten, and get out before anything bad could happen. Alas, that is what went wrong. 5 p.m. Sunday evening, a mere 2 hours before I needed to be at the terminal for take-off, my flight was canceled. Over the years I have acquired a lot of grace for airlines and airline personelle. It is a really hard business to be apart of. Imagine for a second you have hundreds of people expecting to be at a destination when the weather, something outside of anyone’s control, forces a change in plans. Everyone in your near vicinity goes from mild-tempered to rampant beasts and your head is the one they want on a stake! I know that isn't how every situation goes, but let’s be real, it’s a hard position to be in. Pray for airline people!

Having an extra day to breathe is never a terrible thing. It allowed me to enjoy a viewing of The Revenant (which for the record was outstanding.) The flight was delayed the whole 24 hour stretch, so I got to the airport on Monday, at the same time I was supposed to the evening before. I enjoyed some banter with one of the security guards about how windy Oklahoma is, and ventured to the gate.

Once at the gate, I prepared for the seemingly quick wait for my flight. It was 10 minutes before the boarding process was scheduled to begin when the gate attendee came over the loud speaker with the news of weather delay of an hour. The fun thing about flying from Traverse City, Mi to Chicago, Ill is that you take off and arrive at the same time! The hour long flight puts you at your destination as if you have never left! So I did the math and noticed I still would have 30 minutes to make my next flight. Easy! No problem! The tiny airplane pulled into the gate. Tiny is actually giving the aircraft some credit. Legally, I don’t know if airlines should be allowed to not make a note of the size of the plane previous to take off. It would be nice if a gate attendant said “This plane is quite easily smaller than your bedroom closet!” Refreshing truth to my large frame. Especially while I hunchback my way to my seat. 

The flight itself had no problems. We actually arrived ahead of schedule! My immediate thought, Auntie Anne’s pretzels couldn't shout my name loud enough! But, our pilot had terrible news. No open gates, due to weather delays and challenges. This was when I recognized I would not be making it back to Oklahoma City that evening. 

I prepared for the conversation that would ensue. After an 1:30 runway tour, we gated. There was no doubt, my flight was gone. I went to the appropriate gate where the plane was, and sure enough, the okies were gone.

“I apologize, but you missed your flight due to weather, meaning there isn’t a whole lot we can do for you.” That sentence can turn some of the sweetest old ladies into witches real quick. “We are currently setting up cots for people if you would like to report to gate H1 and reserve a cot.” A less common sentence. An intriguing sentence. After trying to get ahold of a hotel, any hotel, all of the hotels in Illinois and Indiana, I hiked to H1. My trip was in vain. The cot selection was lacking. And by lacking I mean nonexistent. Time to get creative.

Backpack and duffle in hand, I found a heater. The duffle turned pillow simply with fluffing. I threw my earbuds in and became entranced by the shuffled melodies of iTunes. It was wishful thinking. My eyes closed at 12:08 a.m. and opened at 2:12 a.m. Solid nap. As I tried to fall asleep again, my surroundings took over. Chicago O’Hare, 2 in the morning, what is my life? I was wide awake with creative stimulus. I took out my camera and began to capture the evening. 2 became 3:30 after what only seemed like seconds. After a stop at McDonalds (praise the lamb for 24 hour services,) I found a new nest. This time 4 a.m. turned to 7:30 a.m. and I was wide awake. I began exploring the airport. Taking in the subtle notes:

 

-Shirts with the name of a random city; either destination or embarking city.

-Why dress up to fly?

-Guessing professions is hard, impossible in some cases. 

-Airports, where introverts and extroverts can both get recharged. 

-Ones desire to see people you know meets the pinnacle of least likeliness.

-People watching, people watchers. (It's like inception!)

-Overhearing portions of random phone conversations can totally throw you off! Are you talking to me? Or wait…what? You want chili? 

-If someone tries to talk to you the opening line is, without fail, ”where yah headed?"

-Seeing gate cities creates trip possibilities.

-Groups of friends are heightened to the outside perception. They look so much cooler! Truth is, you are just traveling alone.

-Remind your wife that it is hard to care for three kids, bags and sanity! Good luck super mom. 

-Honeymooners with inappropriate pda? How do you witness some of the things you see? The definition of “get a room” or a private flight.

-Rolling bags look stupid everywhere BUT airports.

-What are the airport attendants talking about? I want to laugh too.

-Airport workers are one of the strangest demographic of human. Similar to carney but not as creepy. 

-Most generic restaurants mixed with things no one has ever heard of!

-Genuinely nice people suck.

-That place doesn't exist! Passing gates where you read the names and you are sure that is not an actual city.

-Awkward eye lock. You meet eyes with a stranger and neither of you can look away, but you try to. You get stuck in this strange “I don’t want to look,” situation.

 

I walked to the end of each terminal, turned around, and walked every hallway. I was over it! 

As soon as the gate of my flight was announced, I made camp, 2 hours before my flight. There I sat, waiting. 

When I finally got on the plane it had been 40 hours since I was supposed to be home. It was a rough 40 hours, but I made the most of it! At the end of the day, it wasn’t the worst detour that I could imagine.

At the end of the day, all of life is an adventure! Either we can embrace it or fight it. We can pioneer forward or let life happen. There are twists and turns around every corner. Don't let the challenges get in the way of the opportunities because when the dust settles challenges ARE opportunities.

Shaping Creativity.

In the depths of man’s heart there is an urgency to express oneself, to be intimately and purely understood. Oftentimes, it feels unattainable. This is the birth place of creativity.

Before I go any further in exploring the true depths of one’s self (defined as soul, mind and body) there is a desperate need to define what creativity is. According to the traditional definition, creativity is “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas.” Although that is beautiful and captures the root of creation (create, rooted in “creat” which is latin for production, ultimately something put inside of us from our Creator God) there is something about this definition that cuts off how fundamental creativity truly is. Though creativity at its roots is a space for creation, it is also a space for collaboration, expansion, re-imagination and fresh understanding. I think it is a real shame that often tied to the creative stigmata, is the belief that it is a strictly artistic trait. Here is where I would like to expand on that definition and point out something utterly amazing. Creativity is the making of new things, but likewise it is also the birthplace of new ideas. This makes creativity an even playing field for all mankind. 

Let me point out a simple side note here. God deemed it entirely appropriate to reveal His truth through words, a commonly accepted creative outlet. The collection of letters, poetry, prophecy and biography that make up the canonized Holy Bible is a direct reflection of how much our Father loves us. So much so that He gave us a reference and a place to interact with Him in the form of a book.

That being said, scripture shows us in 2 Corinthians 5, that we are awaiting our “new body” or, how we will be in eternity. We live by faith, not by sight. We understand the craving of eternity. Later in the chapter, Paul writes this: 

    “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.           2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The staggering importance in this text is the declaration of new creation. If anyone is in Christ, they are a “new creation.” God, in essence, is the nature of creativity; making us AND making us new! Through the fullness of God, belief in Jesus Christ, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we become the outpouring of creativity. Our being, therefore, is made to create. 

The most upsetting thing I hear, as someone who empowers artists, is the phrase “I am not good enough.” 

There are a few schools of thought here: first, comparison leads to shame and determining your own self worth. By comparing yourself to another, you discredit your own gifting! If you are a creation of God, you are, in fact, good enough! You are better than good enough, because Jesus has created and reshaped you with the very gifting that you have. Some might argue that a “fresh revelation” is not new. However that is entirely contrary to you being created! The Maker of the heavens and the earth points out this truth throughout our collective narrative.

Secondly, It is a false sense of humility. A portrait of pride. By saying you are “not good enough” your perception becomes the standard. You are saying that God, in His eternal glory, goodness, power, love and everything else we don’t even have words to express, does not get to set the standard, instead you do. Evidently this one rubs people the wrong way, especially pastors or leaders of worshippers. The Lord has given you authority to develop what He has given you. Using the language, “You are not good enough for…” is setting a standard. Our language should not be that of speaking negatively about someone’s ability, but instead to encourage growth. 

On the contrary, there is always something to be said about ability. People that go to school, train, practice, work at and shape their gifts, playing a part in becoming excellent at what they do, have a different perception. These people, when they say “I am not good enough,” become determined to be better. Oftentimes this is a craving to chase after the heart of God through the potential that is revealed to them as they perfect their craft. To these people, through admiration and love, caution this: YOU ARE NOT YOUR ABILITY! Do not get lost thinking that you are strictly your craft. You are a child of God, adopted into His family. You are more than what you do!

Lastly, this is not a thought God has about you! Nowhere in scripture does Jesus say “You are not good enough,”  in reference to pursuing His heart. He challenges our ideals and shifts our paradigms, but doesn’t discourage us from partaking in acts of worship through creativity. If God doesn’t think this way about you, why do you allow yourself to believe fabrications and lies?

God knows us. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.” Psalm 91:14. We, as a people, all engage with God in radically different ways, so much so that the once connected Church has turned into many churches. We are one body many parts. We need to be expressive creatives, coming up with new ways of thinking and new expressions of the heart of God. These two areas of exploration cover all things made by hand and made in your mind! Every human has a creative outlet, whether it is widely accepted as “creative”, challenged as actually being “art”, or is as basic as creating entrepreneurial structures in business. Some people are able to take abstract thought beyond the depths of other’s comprehension. Others can bring clarity to the most challenging of concepts. Everyone created is creative. 

We will never see the full form of God. Even though that is true, imagine for a moment that everyone explored the full potential of their creativity! Because God is the essence of creativity, how many more will experience of beauty of God at the hand of expression and live without the identity crisis of “I am not good enough.” 

You - whoever you are - are amazing and hold the keys to creativity in the engine of your heart, mind and soul! Jesus is the driver. Will you go where He drives you?

No.

    “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” James 5:12

As I pray and thank Jesus for a great year in 2015, I think of the hardest lesson that has continued to rear its ugly head in my life: allowing my yes to be a yes, and my no to be a no. 

So often as believers we find ourselves overtaken by “stuff.” We are a people of program after program. As anyone who knows me can attest, I am constantly wrapped up in the flow of church life. 

Yes is and will always be easy to say.

For most of my life, I would aim to do whatever I could. There is a sense of adventure to having to rush from one event to the next. Not to mention, when you get to say yes to everything, you never miss out and you have the opportunity to make everyone happy. This thought process has been the fanfare of my life. But, I learned an empowering word this past year that completely changed the game: No.

Imagine for a moment if Eve would have recognized the power of no in the garden. I mean, I bet if she had a do-over she would have said no to the serpent. The power of that no has the potential to rewrite our history as a people.

For so much of my life, the word no felt so rejecting and uninviting. It felt like a word of exclusion. This past year however, I recognized what the word no really does. It makes your yes more important and encourages you to think about your limits and boundaries. Saying no has allowed me to gain a value for taking care of myself.

    “If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:17

The truth is, up until now, I had a poor understanding of how important it is to take care of myself. I figured that by serving others, all of my needs would be met. And then I recognized that without being cared for myself, I was constantly unprotected from the invasive nature of the enemy. And that is when self-doubt takes over. The enemy takes over our thought processes and destroys any good thing we have to say about ourselves. Time after time, instead of looking in, I went out and just wore myself out trying to be all things to all people. 

Don’t get me wrong, that is a beautiful place to be. Jesus calls us to be self-sacrificing and serving people. However, the only one who will successfully be all things to all people is the Lord himself. I am to support the kingdom of God. In order to do that, I have to look at the fact that this all comes fumbling down a long line of false humility. Taking on the burden of others without loving yourself and NOT allowing Jesus to care for you leads to burning out, cynicism, turning from the Church and ultimately death. We aren’t made to sustain a life apart from our Maker that is fruitful. 

Now that I am well into year 24, I am here to declare that I am worth my time. And because I am worth my time, I have an opportunity to say no to look out for myself. “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17. Without relationship with Jesus, a constant intimate connect with our Father and dependance on Holy Spirit, we become old wineskins. That is not what we were created to be. We are to be new wineskins, made to hold the new wine. 

It is challenging to say no to people that I love. I continue to find myself pausing to think over easy no’s and most times, still even apologizing for saying no. If there is an apology attached to a no, you can most likely trace that back to seeking an individual’s approval. We are not made to be unhealthly yoked to people. Jesus even goes as far as to tell us “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26. That hatred is contextually more about valuing the boundaries of the individual and recognizing the importance of turning from sin in all forms. That is healthy breaking off. In order to gain Jesus, we need a healthy no to separate us from our sin.

So, how long has it been since you said no? How long has it been since you have rejected a loved one something they desired? Can you say no to little things? Can you say no to big things? Please don’t hear me wrong and go maliciously throw out no’s at things you should have said yes to. Ask the Father. Discern through the truth of scripture. Seek out wise counsel on decisions. But, when the conviction to say no arrives, say it and mean it. Let your no be a no, so that your yes can be a powerful yes!

Commissioning Creativity.

Through the ages, the church has lost an important, once encouraging, value. Looking back through antiquity and reviewing architecture of old cathedrals, it is easy to support the claim that the church once held a high value for the arts. Now, before you jump ship and get frustrated claiming that the gaudy over-priced art of the church was and has been a waste of money that could have been invested otherwise, read some thoughts on the matter.

From early church music and art to today, a common thread can be recognized as important; there has always been a search for relevance and fresh expression. Reviewing the works of the world’s most prolific composers, and reading articles about their lives, it is evident that the church commissioned a lot of pieces. Through the mass proper and adaptations of the mass, composers of the baroque, classical, romantic and beyond, exposed a new layer to the music previously released. 

Looking at the church today, with pieces of “build your own bible experience” and “encountering God based on preference,” we have left art to decay and have neglected the beauty of Jesus, the laid-down lover. Beauty is more than a way to express feelings for your significant other. Beauty is creativity, and creativity is beauty.

    “In the beginning God created…” Genesis 1:1

Let there be light. Separate the seas. Made the earth. Made man. God made everything. The act of creating draws us back to the origins of all creation. When God said it is good, He wasn’t merely making a pass at the day. He was declaring that as He creates, good is produced. It is good because it was made. Without God’s “hand’s” creative outstretching, there is no divine inspiration to be creative. If we don’t believe that God played a part in creation, the value for beauty and creativity is lost. However, that isn’t the reality. God not only played a hand in creation in the garden, but continues to do so today. “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11. Beauty is restoration. Beauty is second chances. Beauty is grace. Beauty is mercy. Jesus is beautiful! Everything has been created by God and everything will be beautiful again. Beauty has been forced to become a standard of social equity. It was never intended to be made filthy by the hands of man. In the midst of beauty being devastated by the enemy, creativity is the main tool to combat beauty being twisted and forgotten about. Without creation, there is no tomorrow.

The Lord doesn’t waste breath. Your life is no accident. Everyone was created in the Image of God. There is a gift of creativity within you. The reality is that creation takes the giving of yourself to serve others. It takes bravery. It takes failure and being okay with failure. Failure is beautiful because it points us toward our need of something greater than ourselves. Failure leads us into the arms of Jesus. Creativity, in any expression, points back at a loving Father who first gave you the gift of life.

    “A man's gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.” Proverbs 18:16

God doesn’t see our failure the way we do. God doesn’t see us the way we see ourselves. We need to begin to press into a lifestyle devoted to creativity in every facet of life. Our gifts, handed to us from a loving Father, help us to express how radical our Creator truly is. They take us places we never thought possible. Being creative is practicing obedience, and in turn, lifts up the name of Christ by bringing glory to the King of all Kings!

A month ago, I set up a gofundme account to support my first album. The Lord told me to ask for $5,000, so I agreed to set my pride aside and ask for help. The money was raised in 48 hours. It didn’t take long to realize that having a kingdom value for creativity, and being obedient to His call leads to radical opportunities. This isn’t me saying “God is going to give you a bunch of money to create,” this is me saying “it takes a community with a value for creativity to make art for God!” The church once had such a high value for the arts that new pieces were unveiled every week. The David, the Sistine Chapel, stained glass, mosaics, masses, dances , etc., have all been commissioned to declare the beauty of God through creativity. 

I was reflecting on the“sacred vs. secular” mentality the other day. It isn’t something I subscribe to. My heart is to recognize all art as a form of expression, whether perverse or pure. God sometimes uses art to uncover the dark side of the gospel; our evident need for a Savior. I think that encountering art can help us recognize our need for God and our depravity without Him! The thing I was considering is that it is a shame to see exquisite bands that started off as Christians seemingly running away from the Church because of a lack of appreciation or understanding. Why is the Church so afraid to experience new art because of a lack of understanding or mystery? The Lord our God is the most mysterious thing ever, and we will never comprehend His ways. Each time we encounter God, it is a new experience. It is a shame that so many artists have been turned away by the Church because they aren’t understood. Our job isn’t to understand, our job is to love! To show the love of God. 

This is where I think we, as the body of Christ, need to regain a value for commissioning, or helping to fund art and creativity. The early church did a great job supporting artists to make art that still is regarded today as some of the most prolific and widely accepted pieces from artists like Michelangelo and Bach. I consider my album (which is coming along great!), a commissioned work for the Church. Commissioning is a creative act. The word itself encourages missional team work. In 2016, I challenge you to hire a creative or to claim your own creativity. Fund a piece of art. Reach out to someone who has creative ideas and invite them into brainstorming sessions. Make something new and give it away. Be the creative you were created to be!

Stop Porn. Start Creating.

When I was 11, my mind was first exposed to the toxicity of pornography. My young mind was easily impressionable and continues to fight off the challenges that began that year. Outside of the obvious perversion, there was something else that continued to lead me down the path of self-destruction. The reality of how the enemy has come to kill, steal and destroy has been most apparent in my life through the ever-changing waves of chaos connected to watching porn.

Reflecting back, my heart wasn’t ever prepared to see what I have seen. It wasn’t for another 3 years that I officially surrendered my heart to the Lord. Within those three years, I had already dismantled the original wiring of my mind. The twisting of my mind to recognize women as sexual exploits has really challenged the deepest parts of my soul. Evidently, the grips of death have awakened my whole being to needing Jesus.

I hate pornography.

Everything about it demoralizes both men and women, ruins intimacy, kills romance, murders relationships and most importantly defaces the value of the cross. Jesus died for so much more than allowing a selfish habit to take over every single part of our being. He isn’t in it for us to seek glory. He did not pull us out of the grave to watch us to dig another one. No, He came,“…that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

What then is fullest life? It is paradoxically simple and complex, this life with God. 

    Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

There is something to be said about desiring to be a man so caught up in Jesus that he chases nothing else. When I was in the 8th grade, I gave up my life to the Lord. It was a radical encounter that I will never forget! Following a week of service projects all throughout Cincinnati, Ohio, I found myself face down before the King of Glory. There were tears, there was prayer, there was repentance, there was confession, there was the voice of the Lord, there was change. Jesus grabbed a hold of my life in that moment and marked me as His own. God told me I was going to sing for Him, and that was that, no questions asked. Until I came face to face with the computer screen again. I was 3 years into a relationship with pornography that was helping me cope with my parents divorce, puberty, poverty, and understanding myself. The stimulation took me to a place where I could have control and forget about everything else for a while. Why would I want to give that up? Why would I want to stop doing something that feels so good?

It took me a handful of years to recognize it as a problem. My parents raised me in a household versed in recovery. Not so much heavily discussed, but heavily practiced. And yet, denial had me gripping false hope through plastered images, that 13 years later, still have mental residue. I don’t blame my parents. They raised my sisters and me to be who we are called to be. I couldn’t be more thankful for how I was raised. There was pain I constantly ignored, and never brought them into, and I thought only porn could fix.

After going through the cycles of trying to fight my way out to the point of insanity, reality set in. “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.” Romans 12:2. My mind was deceived. And it needed some fixing. And is it any wonder? “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12. For 13 years, my reality was that I couldn’t change my actions. I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried. Then I stopped. I saw that I was conforming to the pattern of this world. My mind was the problem. 

This is the part where actively living a life with God comes in. Our life is for Him, by Him, through Him and with Him. There is nothing we can do on our own. The revelation of my need to change was because He loves me. My heart to change is because He loves me. My ability to change is all Jesus. I am nothing without Christ the King. There is no excuse to just stand by and watch your life. Scripture says, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24. It's an active relationship with God that brings about full transformation through the process of sanctification.

There is an opportunity to turn from your selfish heart. Jesus will reveal the nature of that need to You. He is faithful and will help walk you through the process. But, it takes work. It is not an easy task. And it is not overnight. 13 years later, Jesus has helped me put an end to the cycles of pornography in my life. In the words of Brock Human of United Pursuit “I’ve made up my mind, I’m never going back, I’m never going back.” 

There was so much time I wasted investing in a hopeless perversion of my actual desire to be with God. Pornography is strictly a false idol that does nothing but steal breath and worship away from a loving Father. And so, I began to do art. I began actively participating in being a creative being as the Lord invites us to be in the garden of Eden. We are created to create because we were made in the image of the Creator. Creation is not a lesser task of the church. It acts as a bridge to connect your whole being to the God of the universe. It helps one’s heart, mind and soul understand each facet better. It helps us process what exactly is going on. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18. Use your body for what it was made for. Don’t sin against your Maker. Don’t sin against yourself. Stop porn and start creating.

    

Dear Church, Love One Another.

The other day my, girlfriend posted something on Facebook that hit me in a place I wasn’t expecting. Essentially, she was asking mainstream worship artists to stop covering lesser known worship groups’ songs because their versions of the song were not as musically interesting, or just frankly, were bad. While in a lot of ways I agree, I also see value for these cover songs. In the place of unity, the more well-known musicians bringing songs out of hiding allows for more of the Church to have access to them. There is something to be said about making a tool that fits more venues than just an individual’s preference. While I feel preference is recognized by the Lord, how important is it in the grand picture of the Kingdom of Heaven coming to Earth and our role as coheirs in being Kingdom bringers? If you don’t like a version of a song, isn’t it simple to just not listen to it? The reality is that we need both versions of the song. We need both expressions. We need each other.

Over the past year, the Lord has revealed to me His heart for seeing unity in His bride. He has brought it to the foreground of ministry in my life and has begun to unveil the mystery behind it. Peace stands as a building block for allowing unity to move from theory to practice. I have found that peace, patience, understanding, love, honor, hope, and joy are all applicable tools in the fight towards “together.” We as the Church have lost the importance of friendship, honoring differing expression, and what it means to love each other well. 

Paul wrote it this way, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14. God, who is by definition Love, desires to bind us together in perfect unity by making us a people dedicated to having a true knowledge of these aforementioned traits, and then participating in the practice of them all. 

This past week I celebrated the life of a brother that was taken much before his time was up (in my opinion). During the service which was held at a Lutheran church, we spoke the words of the Nicene Creed, affirming our faith for the truths promised us by the Lord Almighty. The ancient line that so often trips up so many hearts and minds is this “And I believe one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” That does not mean that only one church is valid. It does not mean that only your church is important. It does not mean that only one expression is valued. It DOES mean that we are in this thing together. 

    “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3 

That strong suggestion there of “make every effort” is one that echoes in my whole person. The calling to see many people come together and love one another well isn’t merely wishful thinking. There is something to be said about how iron sharpens iron as is stated in Proverbs. Iron does not sharpen iron by simply existing next to one another or by “coexisting.” Iron sharpens iron by striking each other. That means there needs to be some friction. There needs to be places where we overlap. There needs to be places where more than one church is invited to serve. Thinking that we need to stick only to our own congregation is missing the point of service. There is an opportunity to serve one another in the places where we lack or in the things that we may not understand.

At Crestwood Vineyard, we have lots of problems! It is beautiful. Our staff knows how much we need Jesus and how Holy Spirit is guiding this whole expression. We do not have the answers to every problem. We do not figure things out every time something goes wrong. In the midst of the hardship and strife, we submit to the One with the answers and proclaim “It is well!”

So, what does this have to do with Christmas? What does this have to do with the theology of Emmanuel, God with us? The last thing I want to do is add sentimentality to the season. As AT pointed out on Sunday, we really don’t need any more Precious Moments figurines. Through the Christmas season, we get to declare the story of the Prince of Peace. Many traditions, stories, services, times of worship, cantatas, plays, dances, and the like are being performed to shout the glory of Christ the King! Go experience something new. Go encounter God in a way you never have before. Go ask someone how you can love them well through this season. This isn’t a new message by any stretch of the imagination. This isn’t a new challenge. Unity is not false hope, it is a promise of what is to come. The pictures of heavenly worship in Revelation are what we are invited to participate in. Do church by loving THE Church, in all of its beautiful expressions.

I Do.

Jesus really loves weddings. Like a whole lot. Consider how often He uses the bridegroom picture in Scripture. In John 2 we see that a wedding is even where Jesus’ first miracle took place. Looking to the future, I know I am made to be a husband and to take a wife one day (prayerfully soon). As I have mentioned before, this picture is my favorite representation of how greatly Abba loves us. How deeply and passionately He pursues our brokenness until we are to be reunited once again. My best friend, Erik, took a bride, the love of his life, Ashley, on Sunday, October 25, 2015, and the time spent in preparation and execution of the day will go down as one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life.

The Tuesday previous to the big day, I took a flight from Oklahoma City to San Diego, landing some hours before the groom to be. Enter my other best friend, Alex, genuinely one of the most hardworking, honest, loving, and caring individuals you will ever meet. Jesus has tied his head on straight to be diligent in the work of His Kingdom! Over the years, I have learned so much from this man. Super thankful for him!

We hopped on a bus to the Enterprise center, where we walked to the Sheraton Hotel, to sit and talk. Most humans would probably sit and wait at baggage claim. Evidently, we are not most humans! We enjoyed some laughs and caught up. Then we made our way back to the terminal to meet up with Erik.

The three of us, for the past 3 or so years, have been unable to spend more than 20 or so hours straight together as a trio. This week marked a beautiful first time in a long time for us to not be rushed into anything, but allow for our time to be infiltrated by Jesus, and love each other genuinely well. It was beautiful! Our discussions edified and empowered one another, encouraging our brotherhood further. We were able to check in on one another in a way that actually mattered. And yet, now as I sit on this side of it, all I can think about is how we need another month’s worth of time before we could feel at all accomplished in our care for one another. The week will suffice for now.

The bride and her father picked us up from the airport and we traveled north to Temecula, the gorgeous suburbia complete with mountains, vineyards and a plethora of organic eateries. A sincerely lovely homestead! 

We found our accommodations across the street from the McGrew residency; a big room in a large house. I couldn’t have been more excited to be staying in such close quarters with my best friends. In the past, we have only needed a single mattress for us all to sleep on, but I guess growing up sometimes looks like having more than one bed! 

Wednesday, we went shooting. Handguns, shotguns, rifles-the works. Mr. McGrew has an arsenal of weaponry and is extremely passionate about owning firearms. It was great to become more educated from a man with such a heart to see guns used to serve a protective purpose. Then we got some Thai food, and returned back to the home for an evening of tasks and relaxation.

Thursday was a work day. Alex and I worked diligently on the seating arrangements for the reception while Erik prepared some gifts and such for his bride. We went over music for the ceremony. Then we took an adventure to retrieve some other items for the weekend’s festivities.

Friday was wild. We woke up. We drove to San Diego. There we proceeded to pick up nearly every one of the groomsmen. We rondevoued at the ocean. It was awesome. Surreal even! It was fun to have everyone together for the first time and to feel like everyone fit. Jesus does this from time to time. Takes a team and solidifies it spiritually. It's a cohesive bond that doesn't have a tangible explanation outside of the connected love of Jesus! It was the unification of the groomsmen. And it was supreme.

Saturday felt like one of the longest days of my existence, but not in a bad day. It was rehearsal day, suit fitting day, rehearsal dinner evening and the bachelor party (that didn’t actually happen). Ready, set, go! It felt like a really long sprint. All day there were different potions of hurry up and wait, until the rehearsal dinner, where Holy Spirit took over. We enjoyed a meal and community. Then we joined in worship. Jeremy broke out the cello, Erik and myself on guitar. Needless to say, it was special. The night before the wedding, all of us declaring what this whole thing is truly about. Erik and Ashley are super important because that is what brought this group of people together. But in the midst of everything, is the presence of God. There was a true hunger for the Lord around the fire. Family coming together to declare the goodness of Abba Father! We sat under the star filled sky and marveled at the power of a God that loves us more than we could ever imagine. And then something really cool happened. There was a ring around the moon, a nice reminder for the day to come!

On the Wedding Day, Jesus could not have been more central. Preparing for the ceremony, we prayed and asked God to come. We watched as Ashley and Erik shared vows. We watched as they tied a unity knot symbolizing their commitment. We worshipped. We had communion. This wedding was wonderfully spiritual. We danced at the reception to worshipful songs, all to the glory of God. The whole day was packed full of the love of the Father. And then, as the reception came to a close, the family all joined together. Under the moonlit sky, in the same place the two exchanged vows, under the mesmerizing sounds of the waterfall, we sent them off. There is nothing quite like family realizing how important their role is in the life of a married couple. We stood there, proclaiming the goodness of Jesus over them and prayed for peace and understanding. It was a blessing to be a part of this amazing week. To encounter God through the beauty of marriage. To watch these two kiss for the very first time. To be a witness to their matrimony. It was divine! And Jesus totally loved it.

My prayer looking forward is that my wedding hold the power of Jesus that their’s did. He is central in everything we do. Continue to be central in my heart and life!

Take To The Road: Day 8. The End.

My family takes sleep seriously. The whole trip, there was a level of respect for the sleeping. No one took to the day with such urgency that they needed to evacuate everyone from their sleeping bags or beds. Mornings are a sacred time. Sunshine, cricket whistles, bird songs, iPhone alarms. Both the natural and technological alarms were used scarcely used throughout the trip. Friday was no exception to that wonderful truth. 

As I sauntered down stairs, I was greeted by a cheerful Ariella and Ryan. I had no idea how long they had been up, but they were nearing the end of their M’n’M pancakes. If there is a way to make you feel like you are seven again, it’s pancakes filled with chocolatey greatness. I created a tower of the delectable morsels, as Ariella poured me a glass of orange juice. Then the secret was let loose there was in fact, an entire tray of bacon in the oven. It’s hard to keep bacon a secret, especially when you can smell it almost immediately. Pairing that with the sizzling sounds, I'm surprised it took me to long to wake up! 

Ezra joined us, and we planned out the day.

Emily was all I could think about. Breakfast could not break my concentration. Tonight, I would get to be with my girl. There was a longing just to sit with her a while. I would gladly listen to whatever she had to tell me, but I didn’t need that. I just needed time with her!

Ryan and Ariella spit out their glorious return plan to Oklahoma, and in doing so, making a pit stop in Tulsa. Primarily, there was an excitement in me just to get home. Tulsa was our last stop. And I was ready to get there!

It is important to note that throughout this entire trip, apart from the Higgins Lake incident, I was engaged in every moment to the best of my ability. Every goodbye, as attached or farfetched, brought me peace of mind about this new chapter opening up in my life. This trip marked the end and beginning of a season. The end of a long season, walking into September, which marks two years of ministry with Crestwood Vineyard, all while piecing together adulthood. The continual transition out of college into reality. The season I am now in, has no title, is unknown, has just begun, and yet feels huge. Being the pioneer of my life, following the will of a loving Father, is incredible.

We made beds, cleaned up and hit the road! Roughly six hours remained in our road hours. Tulsa became the next target, and Oklahoma City not far behind! As we pulled into Tulsa, at Fat Guy’s Burger Bar, closure began to come into play. There was a sense in which this trip is not only marking a new season for me, but for all of us. The new chapter of our friendship was starting! A new level of care and realization that we have chosen one another to be kin. With that, the radical grace Jesus has given us to offer one another. We are a forest of righteous oaks, planted by the streams of truth, fed by the light of Christ. Our only job now and forever is to grow. 

The burgers made way for an awesome game of kick the can. It lasted all the way from the restaurant to the center of the universe! It sounds like a daunting detour, but in all reality was about a half mile away. The echo spot was really cool! We all took some time to sing and hear the weird natural reverberation. And then we said goodbye to the last city of our stop.

Something came to my attention while we were in Tulsa. Should the Lord call us to tour the nation, sharing the songs of our hearts together, this is what it would feel like. There is a portion of prophetic preparation for our future time on the road together in this travel. Lord, if it is your will for us to do this, give us clear vision and set our sights on your will!

The 90 miles between Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the dumbest 90 miles I have experienced. The anticipation of being home, teamed with wanting to get out of the van, made for a quiet hour and a half from Tulsa to Crestwood. It ended differently than it began. At the beginning, we prayed for our adventure and pressed into what the Lord had for us. At the end, we were happy to part ways. The tones of see you later were seemingly thankful. Thankful for a great trip, thankful for deeper relationship and thankful for time to process. Of all of the road trips this summer: Colorado, Myrtle Beach, Ohio and now Michigan, this one held the most personal significance. I look forward to another adventure with my friends, after we recover from this one!

The End.

P.S. A Video of the Trip!

P.S.S. Support My FIRST Album!

P.S.S.S. New Music Video!

Take To The Road: Days 6 & 7.

Day 6.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” - Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. 

Jesus has given me the greatest human beings to surround myself with, be encouraged by, fight in my corner, call me out, and pick me up when I fall! There is nothing but thanks in my heart for the people that love me every day. More importantly thanksgiving to Jesus for knowing me so well and giving me people that hold such purpose in my walk. It blows my mind how intricately involved the Lord is in the details of our hearts and lives. 

I say all that to steer the joy of this post! As I woke up in Evanston, the realization that my brother Erik and my sister Ashley were on their way for a quick day trip to see me, lit up my heart. These are the moments that you don’t have words for, where love runs deeper than the separation between the natural togetherness. When reunions happen, there can sometimes be a pressure to make the outburst of excitement be more than it actual is! I am here to tell you that the deep sense of love that I have for seeing my brother cannot be faked. Every moment was cherished. Every word savored. Thanks Jesus!

We packed up our things and proceeded to the original Pancake House. Here, Ashley and Erik joined the party. Having grown up working in the breakfast industry, I wasn’t thrilled by my meal. It was delicious, but nothing overwhelming. After paying, we headed to Millennium Park to see the Bean, walked to H&M, where I realized for the umpteenth time in my life that nothing about me is “department store” size, and shortly thereafter, ventured north to enjoy the musical Million Dollar Quartet. For the record, wow! What a show! It is so enjoyable. Not to mention that seeing a matinee with the generation that claimed the songs of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash as their own, took us right into the origins of some of the best music America has ever produced. What a treat! 

Following the show, we parted ways with Erik and Ashley, which was an easier goodbye than normal, knowing that I would be in their wedding in just two months. It is a huge blessing to share them with the Oklahoma Crew. There is importance in meeting the people that shape you and sharing your life’s testimony. The people that shape you can do a great job helping to explain your battle scars and seasons. I love my friends.

After scarfing down some Chicago Dogs, we packed up and headed to St. Louis. The Illinois highway is one of the most frequently traveled routes for me, over the past five years, since moving to Oklahoma City. It was here that the revelation hit me-in the midst of nostalgia and departures, processing things in your mind isn’t the same as receiving the belief in your heart. It was something I was feeling, and then Ryan turned on a sermon by Matt Chandler that gave the language. My heart was finally believing that there are huge things coming to my home in Oklahoma City. I am invested there.

First thing we did in St. Louis? Got some Ted Drewes. Ice cream is so good. Food is so good. Thank the Lord for delicious food, the ease of receiving it, and the freedom to pick what we do in America. We are blessed! Then through a series of events, we found ourselves enjoying two hotel rooms at the Drury Inn. The Lord provides in wild ways! 

Day 7.

The hotel beds couldn’t have come in a more timely fashion. Much more rest than expected, and a great way to wake up in St. Louis for the first time! Better than that, we enjoyed breakfast at Cracker Barrel, which was delicious. The fuel needed for the adventure we were about to embark on next!

The City Museum. Imagine, you are living in a post apocalyptic society where one recycles everything, like in Mad Max, then combine it with the lost boys camp in the movie Hook, and the caves in which the Goonies ventured, and THAT is the City Museum. A living monument of St. Louis, that is continually being built. Multiple stories of jungle gyms, keepsakes from generations past, slides, and a huge ball pit! If I were president, I would run my campaign on the necessity of something similar to this amusement wonderland in every major city! It was cool to recognize that everything we were climbing on, into and around, was all imagined and designed to bring bewilderment and joy to people of all ages. My child’s heart was happy, but my adult body was not. Being 6’ 5” tall and 350 lbs of man doesn't translate well to tiny holes, but I did what I could. The only real battle wounds that accrued were from banging my knees on ten stories of slide. Growing older isn’t my favorite activity. 

We followed up our play time with more pizza time! Imo’s pizza. Delicious! And we headed out to Lebanon, Missouri, to say hello to Ryan’s mom! When we arrived in Lebanon, only a couple of hours from St. Louis and our lunch at Imo’s, mom already had dinner ready! Food, as one of my love languages, is never something to pass up. So I dove in, head first, into some homemade goodness.

The group scattered for a little while. We gave each other space to decompress from our day and to do nothing important. It was needed. There is no doubt in our love for one another, but hours of van time can test that! 

Coming back together, we decided to go rent a movie and enjoy it. The first and only movie time of the entire trip. Normally, our time together is going to enjoy movies! It was radical to see a shift of intentionality on this trip where we didn’t need to lean on movies to spend time together. We rented The Imitation Game. There was a deep stir in my heart while watching the film. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly suggest it. “Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” A portrayal of war torn England, overcoming adversity, and falling victim to a harsh earthly judgement. There are a lot of themes that stir compassionate hearts to prayer.

Following the film, we slept, knowing that the following day was the trip’s end.

Take To The Road: Day 5.

6 a.m. was an early start after a late night. It was like all the day’s rest was immediately erased as we loaded up the van to head towards Chicago. I reckon the Shedd Aquarium receives this much love every day it’s open. The day was dedicated to looking at fish from all over the world, andit started early!

Higgins Lake to Chicago, Illinois. 5 hour trek. Plus we gain an hour in the time change. The aquarium opens at 9 a.m. We got there shortly after 10 a.m. And shredded the Shedd! It was surreal to experience the Shedd as an adult. The last time I was there was when my grandparents lived in Chicago. That seems like a lifetime ago.

It’s kind of silly to think about this, but it felt like the Lord was washing us from the day before in the waters of the aquarium. Each exhibit brought a new level of excitement and intrigue. We did a good job spreading out the major attractions, in hopes of being entertained for as long as possible. The whole time, my mind couldn’t comprehend how huge the Lord is! I mean, in creation He made each of these species of fish. There are thousands of breeds all around the aquarium, each with its own distinct purpose within the ecosystems they inhabit. The authority that the Father has given us over these animals is unimaginable. From the playfulness of the otters to the mobility of the sharks to the transparency of the jellyfish, each animal is set apart and plays a role. It was a triumphant declaration of how much Abba cares for us. It brought me into a place of worship and contemplation about Imago Dei, being created in the image of God.

A mere five hours later, we exited the aquarium, both in awe of creation and exhausted by walking around the exhibits on only a couple hours of sleep. We walked over to the park connecting some of Chicago’s finest attractions and laid in the shadow of the Chicago Skyline. It brought everything into perspective. We are image bearers, made to create just like the Creator. And so as I gazed upon man’s creation, the hundreds of skyscrapers, there was no comparing which work was greater between the fish and the buildings, but the creativity written on the skyline point to a higher creator. 

The time had come for us to load back into the van to drive up to Evanston where we would meet the evening’s host, see the Baha’i Temple, eat Giordano’s Pizza and enjoy an evening of pub trivia; an eclectic mini-journey. The temple was absolutely beautiful. The religion is intriguing. A people group that believe all major world religions point back towards one god. A monotheistic declaration stating each world religion is the specific way that each world culture of origin needed to receive their origin story. Very universal! My only pushback is that the gospel draws people closer to a loving Father, a story of redemption and resurrection. It is unparalleled truth! Jesus is better!

Now let’s move on to a more important topic: pizza! There are millions of pizza establishments all over the world. Throughout the United States you have your New York Style, Chicago Style, California Style, St. Louis Style, Brick-ovens, microwaves and Lunchables. The versatility of the pizza makes it every kid’s favorite meal and eases feeding the masses. This might sound stupid, but I believe pizza is a food that could aid in world peace! Most people subscribe to having only one love amongst the hundreds of choices. I would like to use this space to laugh in the faces of people that say one style of pizza is best. You are limiting the brilliance. Don’t limit the brilliance. Instead adore the piece of pizza that you have in your hand and praise Jesus for how amazing it tastes. Then take a moment to use it as a grid for how amazing food is going to be in heaven! Giordano’s pizza is exquisite, go try some.

Following our meal, we enjoyed a trip on The L, and landed at Trivia Night in Friar Tuck’s Pub. For first timers we did halfway decently. We took 7th place out of 12 teams. My lack of a competitive nature allowed me to enjoy the game to the fullest. And good company. We jumped in an uber and made it back to our one-night residence to rest once again.

Take To The Road: Day 4.

Higgins Lake, the deep spring fed lake encapsulated by trees. Today’s alarm clock, the sunrise. Out the sliding glass door was the mirror image of orange and red as the sun rose over the lake. The night’s dew was illuminated. It was as if the entirety of the lake was yawning and wishing us a good morning. My only thought? “Wow, I love Jesus.”

This day became our only down day the entire trip. We did a whole lot within the confines of the home and in the water. Jesus brought us through a lot in just a mere 24 hours. The day began with worship! It was a really sweet time, that I feel we really needed. The Lord showed up in a calming way and brought peace to the day. In preparing for the day, we recognized our need to go to the store to buy supplies while indoors. Ariella was a hostess and lifesaver the whole day! She did nothing but serve all of us boys. She did laundry, made our beds, and prepared dinner. We were pampered. 

A little while after the trip to the store, the four of us waded out into the water. It was refreshingly cold. Ezra almost froze (not literally, but he did turn purple). Shortly thereafter, we made our way indoors, showered up, and laid low. 

This day was challenging. There was an undercurrent to the whole day that created tension following our spaghetti dinner. Ezra and Ariella, or Ezriella as we affectionately call them, have been dating for the entire summer. As a friend group, we would have it no other way. The way they honor each other and challenge each other is beautiful. The love language they share is physical touch, so they are very physically affectionate. It isn’t too much to handle, and they are very aware of their PDA, It is really honoring that they, as a couple, are so comfortable around the rest of us to love each other in the best way they can possibly receive love. However, there began to grow a desire for equal connection for Ryan and myself from our own significant others. This day became the realization of how badly I missed Emily. My heart longed to sit with her. To listen to everything she had to tell me or to just sit in silence and enjoy what Jesus has been doing in both of our hearts. Ryan, likewise, was missing his Emily as well. With friction comes fire!    

After dinner, we began a game of apples to apples, during which I became engulfed in my iPhone. I take complete ownership of my mistakes in becoming less present in the moment and desiring to be more present with Emily, virtually. This has been a conversation that our friend group has discussed times before; when together, the phones go away. My desire to talk to Emily took over everything else that was going on. My desire to be with Emily took over my desire to be present in the game. 

I was wrong in not explaining my need in the moment. I checked out. Later, I apologized and repented for not investing the time as wisely as I could, but that doesn’t help the hurt that was experienced. I wronged my closest friends to text my girlfriend. If I could have a do over, I would have explained myself much better than I did.

Apples to apples turned into BS and then Egyptian Rat Screw. The competitive nature of the table built, and the wronging mentioned in the previous paragraphs became apparent. The games took a turn towards disrespectful, and following a heated round of ERS, during which the drizzle finally stopped outside, we went outside to enjoy some fire one of my favorite activities ever.

Ryan took to the fire. Ezra brought out fireworks. We lit them off and sat in the heat. Having now realized the extent in which I had hurt feelings, I attempted to apologize and try to get some conversation going. It was rough. No one was really having it. We were all stuck around a campfire that seemingly no one wanted to be at. 

Jesus is a redeemer. He turned the silence into process. Allowed for reconciliation to take place. Allowed for grace to flow from all parties. And pieced together some fantastic conversations, that I don’t think we fully realized. We explained the depth of the trip up to that point. We expressed a desire to be together in what we do. We discussed victory over lust. We talked about new chapters in our lives, all the while processing the day. Fire, in retrospect, has done this to me without failure, through my entire life. There is a wisdom in the flames. A chaotic peace that stirs the soul. Jesus uses fire as imagery and Holy Spirit even comes as fire throughout scripture. There was no wonder to that truth, but bewilderment at what it truly meant. Praise Jesus for providing grace. We slept fast that night, because heading to Chicago started early in the morning.

Take To The Road: Day 3.

Sunday. Three nights down. The festival is over. And our duties begin. The bargain of the trip was that in return for our help, we would be allowed to enjoy the festival free of charge! Whenever I can trade for things that aren’t money, I do it happily. I would be worth a lot more in a barter economy.

We packed up camp, headed to McDonald’s for some breakfast sandwiches, and got down to the festival grounds for clean up. As I looked over the grounds, I thought, here we go! We geared up and marched into work. Tearing down fence lines, rolling up banners and pulling stakes. Mindless work in exchange for an awesome adventure? We got the deal of a lifetime in this time.

It was not in anyway easy. It was labor intensive. Each one of us were tired in our own right. And to add insult to the situation, the monsoon rains began to pour down on us! Jesus was definitely laughing at us. We worked. Hard. In the rain. For hours! It was “refreshing” to say the very least.

In the midst of the work, the word steadfast became my meditation; My yes is a yes! When we signed up for this, I had no idea that this is how the day was going to be. Even if I did know, I probably wouldn’t have turned back the deal. Dory’s words from Finding Nemo played over and over in my head “just keep swimming,” as I sloshed around in the rain puddles. Following lunch, the rain just got more sporadic and intense! Luckily for us, we were able to sneak out to shower up and go have dinner with my family. 

Arriving at my aunt’s house was surreal. So many memories with so many different people throughout the years. It was cool for my family to meet, my family. The depth of character of my Oklahoma family came out during this meal. They really chased after the heart of my cousin. And paused, met and greeted all the Cain’s. It was like watching two old friends, that I tell the other about, finally cross paths. Such a great experience emotionally charged. Such an honor to see the people that have known my heart the longest with the people that know the current depth of my heart best. The response was purely peaceful!

Following the feast, we headed south! We met up with Ariella’s aunt and uncle at their Higgins Lake homestead. The hospitality that we were shown was fantastic. The level of love we experienced was unmatched the rest of the trip. And having a bed for the first time in a couple of nights made for a great night’s rest.

Take To The Road: Day 2.

The wind in the tent shuttered the rainfly. One of my favorite alarm clocks. As the last asleep, there was no question that I was also the last to wake. Ariella, Ezra and Ryan sat outside the tent. They greeted me joyfully. This was the moment in which I was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to share this whole experience with some of my dearest friends! How the Lord has brought us together to invest in each other’s lives is exquisite. 

First order of business was getting food. We were already out near Empire, camping, so the obvious choice became heading to Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor. We loaded up the van and took off for the day’s adventures.

Just weeks previous to our trip, a pseudo-tornado storm devastated the woods off the shores of Lake Michigan near where we were staying. As we drove around, my heart hurt, because it wasn’t quite the level of beauty as normal. And yet, the greens of the tree lines and the crystal blues of the water were unparalleled in range of vibrancy. The rolling hillsides and giant oaks bowed over the road, as if protecting each vehicle from the direct sunshine. It was cool, but not cold. High 70’s to mid 80’s, with a clear blue sky. When we got to Art’s, the hour long wait meant no breakfast, but lunch? We walked around the streets, grabbed some coffee, and walked down to the water front. That clear blue sky set a horizon line to the water front. The green landlines jutted out and the Sleeping Bear Dunes made their first appearance from afar. We dipped our feet in the water. Ezra and Ariella skipped rocks. Ryan enjoyed his coffee that we bought at Leelanau Coffee Roasting. And something became very clear to me. Home is genuinely where the heart is. My friends is where my heart often lies, so just being with them made me at home.

We ate at Art’s. Took a pit stop at the bathrooms to change out of pjs and brush our teeth, and headed down the coast towards Empire to climb the Sleeping Bear Dunes, mountains of sand. Legend has it that a mother bear and her cubs were escaping a forest fire in Wisconsin, having to swim across Lake Michigan to find safety. The mother bear swam and reached the shore first, and turned to see her cubs were nowhere to be found. The cubs never reached the shoreline. The mother bear laid her head to rest, becoming the giant mountain of sand, Sleeping Bear. Her cubs became the Manitou Islands. We climbed the dunes and enjoyed the beautiful view from the top.

Next we headed to North Bar Lake for a swim! This is where a lot of nostalgia took place. There have been many tripsout to this spot over the years. The water was great for me, but cold for everyone else. As I swam out, I was revitalized. The Lord constantly encounters me through water, so as the water washed over me, it was just like sitting in the presence of the Father, and boy did I need it!

We walked back to the van and headed out to Moomer’s, recently voted the best scoop of ice cream in America by Good Morning America! There, we got a mess of goodness and ate it pretty darn quick. Then we headed downtown to Nolan’s to grab some tobacco for after our evening festivities.

Day two of Microbrew festival, The Avett Brothers! And yet, after everything that happened in the day, seeing them wasn’t even the best part of the day. Not to mention the fact that MY SISTER GOT ENGAGED shortly before the show. The soothing folk harmonies and stomping kick drum quickly became nothing more than the cherry on top of the Saturday Sundae! 

The Lord wanted me to experience this day. Everywhere we went, I saw Jesus. His beauty, unassuming and yet evident! That’s what I see in the swooping farm lands, forestry, watershed and earth of Northern Michigan. He created it all! From a blank canvas He said “this is where I will pour out a fragment of my beauty!” This brought me peace and rest as I laid my head down to sleep that night.

Take To The Road: Day 1.

I was born in Plainwell, Michigan. Raised between grandparents in Kalamazoo and metro Detroit. Then I moved to Traverse City. Northern Michigan has been home to me for a majority of my life. So much so that when I moved to Oklahoma City, I still proclaimed in every instance, that I was going “home to Michigan,” each time I flew out or drove to the mitten. For the first time in my adult life, I can say with certainty, that Traverse City is no longer home.

As Ariella, Ryan, Ezra and myself left Oklahoma City, there were a lot of questions yet to be answered. Ryan and Ezra had never had a good reason to go up to the beauty that is Northern Michigan. Ariella hadn’t been for years. All I could think about was, what exactly is going to happen on this trip? My heart, prepared to receive, alongside my mind, in deep contemplation, spent a majority of the window and windshield time figuring out where I stood on going north. What exactly is about to unfold? As we passed through every state, that would eventually become a stop on the way back to Oklahoma, the Lord initiated a new conversation.

When it came my time to drive, it was dark night. I drove the night watch. Everyone else? Sound asleep. Looks like Jesus and I would get some alone time. I turned on Mumford and Sons album “Babel” which shortly thereafter had me babbling. 

    Cause I know my weakness, know my voice and I'll believe in grace and choice. And I know perhaps my heart is fast, but I'll be born without a mask.

The dialogue with Jesus was prevalent. I do know my weakness, and I need grace. Acknowledging my fast heart, and my desire for vulnerability leaves my heart on my sleeve. Masking my true self is impossible. Thank you, Jesus. 

    And my heart, was colder when you've gone. And I lost my head, but found the one that I loved, Under the sun, Under the sun. 

When I walked away from you Lord, when I strayed so far away, desire was dead and my heart was cold. My mind had nothing to grasp onto. Luckily, You picked me up, dusted me off, and became the One that I LOVE! Thanks, Jesus.

    Now I'll be bold, as well as strong, and use my head alongside my heart. So take my flesh, and fix my eyes, a tethered mind free from the lies. And I'll kneel down, wait for now. I’ll kneel down, know my ground. Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold, and bow my head, keep my heart slow. ’Cause I will wait, I will wait for you. 

Jesus, I will wait. And I will worship You and You alone! In boldness. In strength. With both head and heart. Posturing my heart. Kneeling down. Hands raised high. Bowing my head. Stilling my heart. I am patient, and I wait on You! Come Holy Spirit!

    But I'll still believe though there's cracks you'll see when I'm on my knees I'll still believe. And when I've hit the ground, neither lost nor found, if you believe in me I'll still believe.

My heart is wounded, tenderly broken but wonderfully sown. In the now but not yet, I feel lost and found. Jesus, I know You believe in me. That’s the part of your gift I constantly misinterpret. Co-heir means together! I believe with faith in all You have for me! Thank you, Lord.

    So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light ‘cause oh they gave me such a fright. But I will hold on with all of my might just promise me we'll be all right. 

Jesus, You guide my every step! You are the light in the darkness. I hold on to You with everything I have. And Lord, you will never leave me nor forsake me. Revelation of Your beauty over my brokenness!

    So love the one you hold and I will be your gold. To have and to hold a lover of the light.

Marching orders. Jesus wants me to love Him! He will be my gold! Forever and ever, a lover of light! A beautiful celebration, and recognition that I am married to His goodness forever! He wants all of me, and he wants to purify me. More, Jesus!

    But do not ask the price I pay, I must live with my quiet rage. Tame the ghosts in my head that run wild and wish me dead. Should you shake my ash to the wind, Lord forget all of my sins. And let me die where I lie, beneath the curse of my lovers eyes. I walk slow, I walk slow, take my hand help me on my way. 

My life for Yours, Jesus! It is hardly a fair trade. But I die. I die to my past. Forget my sins, Father! You have already paid for them. I walk slow. With you. Steadfast. Guide me, Father!

    Oh my love, don’t fade away, Oh my love don't fade away. 

    So when your hope's on fire, but you know your desire. Don’t hold a glass over the flame, don’t let your heart grow cold. I will call you by name, I will share your road. But hold me fast, hold me fast, ’cause I'm a hopeless wanderer. And hold me fast, hold me fast, ’cause I'm a hopeless wanderer. I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I'm under. 

Set fire to my heart, Lord. Jesus, You are my desire! I will never cover it. Because You call me by name! And You hold me fast. Because apart from you I am a hopeless wanderer. You give me purpose. You give me revelation and love for my seasons on earth! 

    But oh, my heart was flawed I knew my weakness. So hold my hand, consign me not to darkness. 

Previous to You, Father, I was broken. Thank you for pulling me out of darkness, time and time again!

    Keep the earth below my feet, for all my sweat, my blood runs weak. Let me learn from where I have been. Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn, keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn. 

I live to serve You, Lord. Keep me humble. Keep me working for Your kingdom. Help me to learn from where You have brought me. Holy Spirit guide me! 

    We will run and scream.You will dance with me. Fulfill our dreams, and we'll be free, we will be who we are, and they'll heal our scars. Sadness will be far away. 

Eternity. A picture of forever! Dancing. Running. Screaming. Fulfilling dreams in freedom! Jesus, you will be the center of our healing. And sadness will be no more!

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The slobbering mess that was Liam, rocked in the captain’s chair, pressing through St. Louis, Chicago and into Michigan. It was a beautiful night. Each time the album began again, the Lord brought something new to my heart. Interceding for Crestwood, the Church, unity, Oklahoma City, the lost, the poor, the worship team, our pastoral staff, leadership, and the congregation. Calling up the young hearts, the old hearts, the nations, and everything in between. All the while, the rest of the troops slept.

Finally in Michigan, everyone woke up, and the desire to be in Traverse City was abundant. Ryan took over the last leg, and I fell asleep HARD!

Previous to this August, when I traveled to my mom’s house, I stayed at my mom’s house. This time, we camped. We rolled into T.C., stopped by the Microbrew Festival as everyone was setting up, visited mom at work, went to mom’s, cleaned up, got lunch, went to the camp site, set up our tents and returned to the first night of the festival. We enjoyed beer from microbreweries all over the U.S. and listened to a lively show by Robert Randolph and the Family Band. We returned to camp, and crashed!

Take To The Road.

Wanderlust, the strong desire to travel. Sometimes when I sit in my office working, my brain travels. Anywhere and everywhere! What if I was in Europe? What if I was in Oceania? What if I was in Chile? What if? Some days are better than others, but my heart has wanderlust. The Lord has instilled a serious desire for adventure in my heart; it is hard to always turn back to Him as my ultimate source for thrill. Looking at the journey into my heart, revealing the true calling of my life and desires of my heart is such adventure! But, sometimes you have to get away from your everyday norms to recognize fully how Jesus has been shaping your intentions and desires.

    The numbers:

    2278 Miles

    5 States

    6 Cities

    8 Days

    1 Van

    4 Friends

    9 Full Tanks of Gas

    3 Family Meals

    4 2-liters of Vernors

    2 Tickets

    1 Engagement (Congratulations Erin and Randall!)

    10 shows? (Its hard to tell at music festivals.)

    3 Bodies of Water

    2 Nights Camping

Each day filled with new for some, and old for others. It was a collaboration of experiences shared by everyone involved. Each place we stopped had a new guide. Needless to say, this trip was amazing. 

The challenge now is how to write this post? I can tell you everything we did, everything we saw, everywhere we stopped and that would make a great read. The trip didn't lack activity and had a place of interaction for everyone! But there was so much more to it than the travel, like the feelings and the chapters opening and closing. This trip marked a substantial difference in me. Processing it with the Lord has been exciting and exhausting, vulnerable and protective. 

So, here is the plan. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be breaking down each city experience coupled with the emotions and revelations learned at each place. This will be a vulnerable and honest portrayal of the thoughts and feels experienced (I say that as if I know how to be any other way). 

As Jeremiah profoundly explained, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.

Overwhelmed.

There is no better way to express the happenings of my life than with the word overwhelmed. My heart is overwhelmed with the love of Jesus. My mind is overwhelmed by the conscious choices Abba Father has made to put me where I am today. My body is overwhelmed by the affections and manifest response to the revelations God is giving to me (and the gallons of joyful tears I have poured out). Oftentimes I hear believers utter the statement,“Jesus will never give you more than you can handle.” I would like to use a few words to express how untrue that actually is.

    If we aren’t drowning, how can we ask for help? 

    If we don’t know how to ask for help, will we keep drowning?

    I think yes.

Abba Father works best through a broken heart. He knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and never hesitates to offer His fullest portion to us! If we can humble ourselves to recognize that He is a good Father, always giving good gifts, and then position ourselves to receive from Him directly, your heart will be broken. Psalm 34:18 says it like this,“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Our downtrodden spirits need to die to our own desires and be filled with the spirit of the living God, so that through restoration, we can be used as vessels to promote the kingdom of Jesus. As soon as God calls your name, your heart is no longer your own, your life is no longer your own, and your body is no longer your own.

Life with Jesus is a puzzle. There are moments when you have the end picture with a bunch of pieces that don’t make any sense. Sometimes it’s flipped and you have pieces coming together without a clear goal in sight. Jesus aligns our hearts to reveal the purpose of both the end picture and each individual piece along the way. He guides our hands to connect the edges and even randomly throws pieces together that don’t look like they are going to fit, but match up perfectly. The beauty of it all is that in order to reach a completed picture, there is a process to endure. No matter what, every puzzle starts off as a box of pieces and ends in a masterpiece.

Here’s what I know about my process. My heart is broken, and I recognize that I am drowning in the love of Abba Father. The only way to breathe is to continue to ask for help. Never ceasing to press into what He has for me, setting aside my desires, and watching as my desires shift to look more like His. That way, as transformation happens inside, reformation happens everywhere else and I am sanctified to look more and more like Papa God. The puzzle pieces are coming together faster than ever, and instead of taking a break from putting the pieces together, I have decided to be a full on participant in the process. Everything is on the table, and I’m all in!

With my role as worship pastor, something I have learned is that the place of worship is so intimate that it is hard for me to hide my brokenness away from leadership. In the same vein, I recognize the disfunction of leading from a place of brokenness. In the midst of this season of being overwhelmed, it has been easy for me to recognize the peace that comes from the proper adoration of Jesus. Not only that, but allowing Him to rule and reign over my heart has allowed me to look to Him to teach me how to be a lesser shepherd using both the rod and the staff, leading sheep to the still waters of Jesus, and leading out of a need to know Him, rather than a need to be glorified. 

At the end of the day, the journey is nowhere near over. I don’t have everything figured out. I don't have every answer to every question. I don't make the right choices all the time. I don't consider my success something to flaunt. I don't know what tomorrow holds. I don’t do a good job considering myself. But, I do know the writer of my journey, the One who has everything figured out, the Creator of question, answer, choice and success. He knows what tomorrow holds and He thought of me before I was conceived in my mother’s womb. And knowing Him will help me to love everyone better! 

Call on the Lord when you are drowning because,“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

I want to end with this text from The Valley of Vision, a collection of puritan prayers:

“GLORIOUS GOD,

It is the flame of my life to worship thee,

the crown and glory of my soul to adore thee,

    heavenly pleasure to approach thee.

Give me power by thy Spirit to help me worship now,

  that I may forget the world, be brought into fullness of life,

    be refreshed, comforted, blessed.

Give me knowledge of thy goodness

  that I might not be over-awed by thy greatness;

Give me Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God,

  that I might not be terrified,

    but be drawn near with filial love, with holy boldness;

He is my Mediator, Brother, Interpreter,

Branch, Daysman, Lamb;

    him I glorify, in him I am set on high.

Crowns to give I have none,

  but what thou hast given I return,

  content to feel that everything is mine

    when it is thine, and the more fully mine when I have yielded it to thee.

Let me live wholly to my Saviour,

  free from distractions, from carking care,

    from hindrances to the pursuit of the narrow way.

I am pardoned through the blood of Jesus —

  give me a new sense of it, continue to pardon me by it,

  may I come every day to the fountain,

  and every day be washed anew,

  that I may worship thee always in spirit and truth.”

A Global Family.

Something that stirs my heart more than most anything is reconciliation and acceptance within the Church. A few years ago, the Lord placed it on my heart that my job wouldn’t be done until the unification of the bride was complete. Funny thing about that is, well, the bride is supposed to come together when Jesus returns. Needless to say, I will be working hard to bring the Church together until the end of time.

That being said, Crestwood Vineyard is a part of the Vineyard Church Movement that started under the leadership of John Wimber in the 1970s. Today there are roughly 1,500 churches worldwide. Something the Vineyard chases after, in a beautifully challenging way, is the “Radical Middle.” The marriage of spirit and truth, or the evangelical church and the pentecostal. The challenge lies in valuing both sides of a spectrum people have died to protect. Being Vineyard is one beautiful mess.

When I was 14 years old, I was broken. Defeated. I had nothing, neither good nor bad to give. I was at the end of my rope, and honestly, there was no more me to be me. It was then that  the Lord set up some opportunities for my path to be set straighter. He began to reveal himself to me, in a way where I began to recognize what it meant to follow Jesus. And it all started with an encounter at the Cincinnati Vineyard, now ten years ago. God called me out of the brokenness, spoke identity into my heart, picked me up, wiped me off, told me it wasn’t going to be easy, and said “if you make life about Me, your life will be complete.” That is how radical faith was instilled in me and why I seek Jesus first in everything I do.

Now, I tell you all of that because July 6-9th, 2015 were historic days in the life of the Vineyard. In Columbus, Ohio, a couple of hours from where I was initially called to pick up my cross and follow after Jesus, 4,000 leaders from 60 countries gathered as a representation of the Vineyard Global Movement, to worship, be encouraged, connect, and love God! It was a picture of heaven and Abba let me be there. Each nation brought with it tradition, language and a story of the faithfulness of Jesus from their own turf. The worship covered the expanses of the tribes, tongues and nations involved, singing songs in German, Swahili, Spanish, English, Nepalese, Portuguese, Native Indian and beyond. 

Entering into worship the first day, my heart was overwhelmed and the tears poured down my face. Forming the words to worship was nearly impossible. It’s important to recognize how much I felt the Lord in that place. A paradigm was being restructured in my mind. 4,000 people of 60 tongues made me so undone in worship that all I could do was lift my heart to the Father and tell Him that I am is His. Imagine then how much more radical the choruses of heaven will be! How much more beautiful are the songs of a million tribes, tongues and nations. And that is just the sound radiating from the congregants, connecting to one of the mere senses we have in our finite body. Multiply it now by the radical being that stands before you. My heart comes to life picturing it in my own brokenness. That, my friends, will be every day, forever!Heaven is going to be awesome. Jesus knows what’s up!

Something the Vineyard does not lack is wonderful teachers. This conference helped solidify that. Rich Nathan taught on the traits of a leader, Dr. Derek Morphew, Costa Mitchell’s teaching on the Father’s heart and how to be a father, John and Eleanor Mumford, Martin Buehlmann, Phil and Janet Strout, and Dr. Charles Montgomery Jr. to name a few. It was a treat getting to hear such a wide perspective in such a respectful way. As one who doesn’t always desire to learn, there was a craving instilled by the teachings, an honest desire to love Jesus better and be more active in what He is doing in me.

On the last day of the conference, there was a worship lunch where worship leaders, directors, pastors and the like came together in the gym to fellowship. This is where the Lord impacted me the most. First let me set the scene. Circular tables sprawled out across the multi colored gym. The separating wall was half rolled up allowing for the whole basketball court to be utilized. Huddled around each table sat between 8 and 10 individuals, ranging in race, gender, age and nationality. Tales of successes, failures and intrigue bubbled out of their mouths and traced into the ears of whoever would listen. A small stack of speakers sat in front of the crowd, humming with anticipation, as a couple of individuals graced the microphone with a word or a joke. Laughter struck the room as David Ruis, one of the worship forefathers in the Vineyard movement, prepared to share a very impactful word. He shared a story about how John Wimber would never bless the ministries of individuals. “Jesus has a ministry, and you have a role in it! Would you like me to pray for that?” The reality of that statement hit me like a ton of bricks. In the grand scheme of things, I have nothing to offer outside of what Jesus has given me. The great commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” came to mind as my heart was refocused on the real reason for everything. 

Was it the most profound word shared? No. Was it the most put together at the conference? No. That is what attracted me to it even more. Our hearts can so often drift from the reality of what is truly important. The Triune God! Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are nothing without the community of the Godhead. If there is a hill I want to stand and die on, in terms of its importance and impact for eternity, I choose Calvary.

Independence Day.

There is a truly morbid game that I had to play on America’s birthday this year; Gun shot or firework? Equal in sound quality and proximity to my home, each boom brought a new level of intrigue. July 3rd is when the Fair Grounds in Oklahoma City does their show, right down the road from my house. Luckily for me, when I sat upon my porch to view the sky portraits, I wasn’t so much fearing for my life. Rather, I was reflecting back on it.

Independence Day back home was directly tied to the beginning of the National Cherry Festival. A place that caused some of the greatest and worst memories of my 24 years of life. This year marked another in which I did not get to attend this once imperative festival of social status.

And then it hit me, I am really different. Where I once was years ago doesn’t compare to where I am now. The Lord has been doing such a work in my heart that, who I once was is dead. In Romans 8:1-11, Paul writes it like this:

        “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on tthe things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 

           You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

Choosing Jesus has made me look more like Him. Now the asterisk that needs to be placed by this verse is that we live in the “now but not yet.” It is finished but there is still work to be done on this earth and in this heart of mine. I have not reached perfection, instead I am seeking perfection.

As I processed all of these thoughts of how I have changed, where I have come from, and where I am going, all while sitting under the color lit sky, overwhelmed by the transformational truth of the love of the Father, a couple rode up on their moped. Totally engulfed in one another, they paused in the parking lot of May Avenue Liquor to witness the joyful sparkles filling the sky. The sky was dark, yet alive with color, and ambient night lights from street signs and signals. I watched, with a new adoration doing my best to not be the creepy guy sitting on his porch watching the fireworks alone.

Through this transformation, I have come to terms with who I am. And I love myself! It’s an honest revelation that came out of the love of God and watching that couple drive up. Knowing myself better makes being alone much more manageable. I love that by getting to know Jesus, I get to know myself. It’s a totally new thing to be alright with being alone. Growing up, this was a very foreign concept. A family of 6 meant there was literally always something to do or someone to spend time with. Being alone wasn’t a reality. July 3rd, it was a reality that initially challenged my self worth. Jesus is however ethereally good at grabbing my attention. 

Shortly thereafter the couple on the moped sped off and I retreated inside to start “The Perks of being a Wallflower,” a new found favorite for its truthful portrayal of honesty and adolescence. Believe it or not, Jesus met me again during the movie because He really wanted to show me something. (Spoiler alert? I guess.) There is a scene where the main character is interacting with his English teacher, discussing why people pick to be in romantic relationships with the seemingly wrong people. The teachers response? “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Now I don’t want to be deserving of a sacrificial death on the cross, but that is the exact love that God deems we deserve. Accepting it or not is up to us!

It is funny how drastically different this 4th was. I think the Lord solidified the love I have for the friends I have chosen. It was basically a stamp of approval! We ate food. I got my hair cut. We encouraged one another to be better and spoke identity into one another. The contrast was seemingly worlds apart. And yet the relevance was impactful. It is days like these that impact the polarities of my heart that help me to recognize the fullness of God. We search His expanses hoping to know ourselves and He digs right in and shows us exactly what we need.