Saturday, May 30, 2015

Miracles in Prague

Europe is very different from the United States in so many ways, but one of the ways that has stood out to me on this trip is: street performers.

In Washington, D.C., I will definitely come across a pretty decent doo-wop ensemble in the metro, some drummers in Chinatown, or a keyboard playing singer-songwriter wannabe in one of the many parks. But never have I seen a human pyramid. Never have I seen a kid dancing with fire. And I've definitely never seen this:

Honestly...I walked right past it. But then in the distance I heard June say: " is this happening?" So I turned around and was wowed. Wow!! I walked around them from every angle, and determined that these guys were REALLY strong! Like, is this core strength? Is this arm strength? How long can they do this?!!

Then, June, in her infinite wisdom, started to say: "I think there's a metal plate or something." I couldn't fathom how a metal plate could make this easy. So I was like: "Noooooo."

There are many areas of life in which I am smart, but there are tons of areas in which I am easily duped. Perhaps you will recall my astonishment at the newspaper trick performed at a magic show a couple of years ago? I still don't know how that trick works.

So money went in the hat, because...respect. Their performance made us stop. And look. And wonder.

"How are they doing this?"

 ...And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him [Jesus] because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?”Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic,“I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.”And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
 - Mark 2:3-12

Fire dancer
Jesus was doing real "street miracles." These weren't Czech street performances. Jesus wasn't collecting money in a hat. But He was making people stop. And look. And wonder. And they wondered exactly the things Jesus wanted them to wonder:

"How is He doing this?"

You see, if they understood how He was healing the blind, cleansing lepers, and making disabled men walk...they would understand that He could do so much more than that. What's the hard thing in this story? One would think: it's making a paralyzed man walk. It sounds pretty hard to me...

In the previous blog, I mentioned the verse: "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." We ask God to forgive us for the debts we owe to Him. For someone to say: "You don't owe me anymore," they have to be the person who is owed!

Jesus telling the paralytic man his sins were forgiven, is like June telling me: "Kristen, I forgive your student loans."


It would be easy for her to say something so foolish. She can't back it up. Uncle Sam has not given her the power and the authority to release me from my debt. 

So, Jesus has made people stop. And look. And wonder, when he claims ownership of this man's debt to God! But Jesus and June aren't the same. Jesus can back up his claim, and so He does what we think is the hard thing: "Get up! Walk out of here!" and that guy got to moving. He did that as a demonstration of His power and authority. If He can do this...what else can He do?

human pyramid in Barcelona
And that's the way us modern-day Christians have to be. I'm not saying that we have to go out and proclaim forgiveness of sins and healing like Jesus did...but at the same time we have to go out and proclaim forgiveness of sins and healing like Jesus did!

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 5:14-16

When that paralyzed man ran through the town, just the act of him placing one foot in front of the other was a testimony to the power of God. What would have happened if he had just gone home and laid down? Would that have even made sense?! 

So, when old people are reborn as new creatures, walking in the newness of drastically changed lives (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:23). When people see what giving your life to Christ does to a human heart...

They can't help but stop. And look. And wonder.

**Secrets Revealed: This is how the levitation trick is performed:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Traveling Mercies - Barcelona

The End of Barcelona

Yesterday, we left Barcelona. Sadness. I definitely believe that is a place that I could spend more time in. Did we do everything there was to do? Not even close. Many things on our itinerary bit the dust, but we did do a tour of Montserrat. We visited the Basilica there and listened to a famous boys’ choir. But honestly, there were SO many people in there, and so many egregious smells, that I had to make a mad dash for the exit. Like “Lord, GET ME OUTTA HERE.” I barely made it. Breathing in that crisp mountain air after escaping that church was simply…divine.
I wanted to see the Black Madonna of Montserrat, but the line was prohibitive. So, I went to see a cross atop a hill. I assume it is famous.  

After leaving the “serrated mountain” we drove to a small cava winery in the countryside, and saw how cava was made. We went down into the caves!  We learned about how the wine bottle has to be rotated 1/8 to the right and tilted slowly up every day for 21 days, to make the yeast gather in the neck of the wine bottle. Then they freeze the neck. Shoot out the yeast, and voila! Clean cava.

Despite the above use of exclamation points, I cared very little  I cared about the cava tasting, which was quite generous. I bought the cheapest bottle of Cava available and we were on our way. 
about this.

After the tour, we had dinner at Hisop, a Michelin-starred restaurant that was mediocre at best. The best/worst thing that happened was me thinking I ordered a glass of cava when—in fact—I ordered a bottle. I did the best I could not to be wasteful. 

And then yesterday we hung out in a labyrinth. It was pretty gorgeous. 

Traveling Mercies

For those who may not know, traveling mercies are basically prayers for blessings on a trip; it’s a plea for everything to go well on one’s journey.  I read an article that said the phrase “traveling mercies” originated in the late 19th century and was used almost exclusively of missionary workers going on a long trip. So, you have this: 

  • Heavenly Father, bless us with traveling mercies as we act as Your hands and feet in the earth, spreading the gospel of peace. Bless us to speak only Your Word and do only Your Will. Protect us from danger and persecution, but we know that if we are persecuted, it is for the sake of Christ. Amen.

  • Lord, please don’t let this bag explode… Oh yeah, in Jesus name. Amen. 

It may be that we don’t deserve traveling mercies. This might be why June’s TUMI bag trolley handle broke the first day of this trip. And, it might be why I noticed my Samsonite bag was ripped yesterday morning before our trip to the airport. But we bought a cheap belt and made a make-shift handle for June’s bag, and I had that Samsonite-piece-of-trash bag shrink-wrapped in green plastic. Both should make it to our next destination: Prague. So, traveling mercies are still in  effect. 

I wonder if this trip gets the same mercy as a missionary journey? …It probably does, right? The idea of the “same mercy” is a great one. You may recall from my blog series on the Beatitudes, that the concept of mercy (either as the recipient or giver) is very complicated. 

Or at least it was…until Jesus made it easy. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
 – Hebrews 4:16

This scripture seems to me like a mercy guarantee. Go to the throne of grace. Automatic mercy and grace is there. It’s available to everyone who goes to the throne of grace. Everyone who approaches God, everyone who seeks Jesus…every single person can be confident of this: mercy. The same mercies are available to all.

But we, as individuals, don’t have the same mercy when it comes to:
  • Individual people 
  • Individual sins
Some people get a pass, or even numerous passes, because you love them, or because they finance your lifestyle, or because they introduce you to so many cool experiences that you’ll put up with their crazy. Some people get three chances. Three strikes and you’re out (I used to subscribe to that rule). If you do something sketch three times…bye Felicia!  Some people are one and done. Some people never got a chance at all. Different mercy. For different people. 

There are some sins that we just don’t have time for. Liars I can deal with, but I can't abide a thief...okay. If you say so.

But Jesus was offering mercy to all sorts of folks. And we hear it during sermons. We talk about it in small groups. We read it in our personal study time…but we often don’t get it. We get the warm and fuzzy feeling when the person in the story is us. I’m the thief on the cross. I’m the tax collector. I’m Paul on the road to Damascus. I'm the woman caught in adultery. And the Lord had mercy on me. Hallelujah! Is your hallelujah the same when rather than being those people, you’re their victim? When you've been robbed, unfairly treated, cheated you require something for your pain? Are you still praising God that the victim and the perpetrator are recipients of the same mercy? 

If no, you’re human. And it’s only natural. If yes, then you have manifested the fruit of the spirit, and that’s only supernatural. 

I’m currently doing a study of the Lord’s Prayer, and honestly, it’s never seemed all that deep. But I got a little cut thinking of this line: 

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12

To me this is just the extrapolation of the Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. To me, this is just: “treat people like you want to be treated.” And it is. It is ALL of that. But it is also something else. 

For me, it’s about the word “debts.” 

Debt’s are obligation that you owe. That have to be paid. Or else really bad things happen.  When I think of my sin debt, there is one thing I know: I couldn’t pay. I couldn’t make it right with God. And as such, Jesus went to the cross and paid my debt. 

Yet, we go around feeling owed. When we a slighted, and when we are wronged, we have this strong desire for people to make it right. But how?! How do you want them to do that? What do they have to pay? What do they have to do? To get the same mercy from you, that you get from God for free?


When I had this thought, it was super sad. Because I realized: nobody owes me anything! Have you ever felt entitled to your rage? Entitled to your anger? If you’ve accepted have to relinquish it. You’re not entitled anymore. You who have received grace are now only allowed to give it out. 

So, next time I’m mad. Next time I want someone to pay for what they’ve done. I’ll think about everything I’ve done. And I’ll think about the mercy Christ showed me. 

 And I’ll try to show the same mercy.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

La Sagrada Familia

Monarchy frontman
June and I have embarked on another BFF vacation, a tri-city excursion that kicked off yesterday with our arrival in Barcelona, Spain. Yesterday was full of jet lag, sleeping, eating, and then going to a late night concert to see the British band: Monarchy. Our tickets for the show were at 1am. And even though that's pretty late, we figured we could handle it. Around 11pm we walked past the venue and asked security what time we should come back to line up. This fellow said: "doors open at 1, show is at 2:30."

2:30 AM?! This was sad news indeed. Indeed. But we had already paid for tickets, and were already in that part of town, so we just waited it out. Concert was great. I was in the front row,dancing, screaming...the stuff I usually do at concerts. But it's better in Barcelona! We cabbed it home, went to sleep at 4:30, then woke up at 10:30 to rush to the International Church of Barcelona for noonday service. It was a great service; there was a guest speaker visiting from Florida, so we experienced a little taste of home.

After service,
we walked to Brunch and Cake for umm...brunch (but there was no cake, even though we looked), and were served two very delicious meals. I had eggs benedict with turkey over waffle. June had a pulled chicken "cronut" that came with a syringe. This syringe was used to inject her cronut with a life-giving liquid: hollandaise sauce.

After this we were on to our main event: La Sagrada Familia.

Let's face it--I go to a church that meets in the movie theater of a rundown mall in Arlington, VA (and I love it!), so I'm not used to a church of beauty. However, I've seen many churches: old ones, new ones, basilicas, cathedrals, etc, etc. And I think La Sagrada Familia is the most beautiful church I've ever seen! The main architect, Antoni Gaudi, had a real vision. He said it would be the church of "harmonious light." And it is. The church seems bathed in light (both natural and artificial). It seems bathed in colored light, as the light streams through all the intricate and detailed stained glass windows. It's amazing to think about how meticulously all of this was planned. It's amazing to think about man's ongoing desire to make a place that is befitting of the glory of God.

colored light
Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.”
- 2 Samuel 7:1-2

David looked around at all his wealth and luxury and thought: "but God lives in a tent." I think it says a lot about David that this thought distressed him. I wonder what Gaudi's motivation was? Maybe he thought God should be worshiped in a place of art and beauty? Maybe he thought he would venerate the work of Christ through the Nativity facade, the Passion facade, and any other beautifully constructed facades? He may have thought that, and believe me, I AM awed.


God wasn't pressed for a building back in David's day:

‘Thus says the Lord, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle. Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’”’ 
- 2 Samuel 7:5-7

And God isn't pressed for a building now:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 
- 1 Corinthians 3:16 also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
- 1 Peter 2:5

I found this incredibly humbling. No matter how  beautiful the architecture, no matter how magnificently the stones are cut, God has chosen living stones to build His house. And I am one of them. I look in the mirror, and I don't behold myself with the awe I deserve. This isn't vanity talking. I walked into La Sagrada Familia and I felt tingles. I was wowed. I had a good moment of prayer in the sanctuary, and I started thinking about myself as a house. I'm a house. June is a house. We are La Sagrada Familia. If anyone or anything is the church of "the Holy Family" it is those who are the adopted sons and daughters of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It's not dead stones brought to life by  harmonious light and amazing architecture. But it's living stones brought to life  by the Light of the World. 

And that's what that church is great for. It's a place of light to make you reflect on the Light that dwells within you. It's a place so beautiful that it makes you stand in awe of the fact that God dwells in us...when He could have been satisfied with the splendor of the church Solomon built (See 1 Kings 4). He dwells in crazy people when He could have been satisfied with the crazy genius architecture of Gaudi. 

I think that's amazing. You might not be able to go to Barcelona to see this amazing church, but knowing who you are, and knowing where you've been...

You only have to run into your bathroom and look in the mirror to see the most amazing church in the world.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sometimes it gets Worse...

I've heard the phrase: "It gets worse before it gets better" a few times. And it is a horrible concept, because at the point where you've sought help for something, you only want there to be upside potential.

But in some cases, it gets much worse. Downside potential.

It's like when doctors prescribe new acne medication. Sometimes it draws out every pimple you didn't know was lurking under the surface, at which point you look in the mirror and declare: worse. But with consistent use/application within 6 - 8 weeks you're much better.

I have a number of areas in my life that I have been praying for and waiting on to become better. And in some case, I've looked at my life and declared: this is decidedly...worse.

From a biblical standpoint, the king of "worse before better" is Brother Job. Brother Job has 42 chapters of "super rough," but he is not the hero of this particular blog.

Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.
 - Exodus 5:22-23

This is the prayer of someone who didn't expect things to get worse before they got better.


Moses has requested Pharaoh let the people go to the wilderness to "celebrate a feast to the Lord."

He's not requesting freedom. He's just asking for a religious holiday. But coming from a slave, it's a pretty lofty request. And Pharaoh responds in a rather logical manner: "umm, no."

But he didn't stop with "no." Pharaoh was insulted by this request:
So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, “You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it. Because they are lazy, therefore they cry out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’
 - Exodus 5:6-8
Basically, the people had to do just as much work, with less supplies. The labor was made heavier. And when they didn't make their quotas (which were impossible now), they were beaten. It was bad. Which brings us to Moses' prayer. The prayer has three elements that I want to break down: 
  1. Why have you brought harm?

    This is an incredible statement, because we don't expect harm from God, yet often attribute harm to God. It's like saying I trusted you. It's full of accusation, and really...shock. Moses is shocked.
  2. Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people
    He is now recounting the results of trusting in God. This is deep: I trusted You and only bad has come from it. He's blaming God. "YOU sent me. I speak, in YOUR name, and look!" Oh, I know this one well. When the results don't match your prayer. When the results don't match your expectation that God not only can but will do exceedingly and abundantly ABOVE all you could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). It's when you start to question that reality. You start to question God.
  3. And You have not delivered Your people at all.
    These are the prayers we don't pray. These are the thoughts you think about and you feel bad about. But you know when you're not delivered. Moses can't imagine the parting of the Red Sea. That moment is not in view. His present moment is all he can see, and in that moment he doesn't feel delivered. He feels played. 
Many commentators see this prayer as "spiritual immaturity." I see it as "worse before it gets better." The same way that my situation is worse before it gets better, I am worse before I get better. My faith is worse before it gets better. My prayer time is worse before it gets better.
This is Moses' first time before Pharaoh. But we know, according the story, that he goes back time and time again. Even though that first time was really bad. But after that last time...they saw a miracle so great that I don't even think we imagine it correctly. Painters have painted pictures, and movies have filmed its likeness numerous times. But we can't recreate the miracle of parting the Red Sea. And we can't recreate the emotion,the extreme feeling of deliverance in the hearts of the Israelites as they crossed over dry land. It's unimaginable for me. And it was unimaginable to them from the vantage point of their increasing bondage and misery.
So just like Moses kept approaching Pharaoh...even when it seemed useless, we have to be like that now. We have to keep hitting our knees. We have to keep opening our bibles, we have to keep making those almost laughable statements of faith...

Because sometimes it gets worse, before it gets better. 
And the better is unimaginably great.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Art of Forgetting Things

This past weekend I did what millions of other people did: saw Avengers: Age of Ultron. While it was not better than the first Avengers (in my opinion), I enjoyed myself. I saw it with friends, I had popcorn, but best of all: I had Sour Patch Kids.

I haven't had Sour Patch Kids in many moons, or if I have they have been in small quantities. This was a movie theater sized pack, and I devoured all of them (even the yellows)! I immediately began to feel a certain discomfort in my mouth. All those acidic and (dare I say?) sharp sugar crystals had burned my tongue. Chafed my tongue. Wounded my tongue. When I got home, I looked in the mirror and my tongue was bleeding! Even now, as I type these tongue is just a shadow of its former self. I am sad, and I have forgotten the recent joy of eating the sour patch kids. But perhaps that is because I forgot the childhood pain of eating sour patch kids in the first place.

Last year, I was following the Bible in a Year plan. When I was done, I was overcome with the feeling of " what?" Maybe I thought I would be "done," but there is no being done with the Bible. So a few weeks ago I started over at the beginning.

And today, I came upon these verses that made me think about the things we forget:

Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe.
- Genesis 41:25 - 31


Players: Joseph and Pharaoh
Situation: After being sold into Egypt by his brothers and falsely accused of rape, Joseph has spent some time behind bars. While being a prisoner, he had opportunity to interpret a dream for a member of Pharaoh's court. Two years after that interpretation, Pharaoh has a nightmare and needs interpretation. Joseph's name is mentioned.

Upon first read-through, this was slightly troubling. My initial takeaway was that all of the goodness you have experienced. All of your past joy, triumphs, and happiness can be swallowed up in despair. Looking at the scripture, the people of the land would have 7 whole years of just incredible economic growth and abundance. People will lack for nothing. But the 7 subsequent years of famine would be so bad, that those good years wouldn't even be a memory. All they would know or remember is pain and suffering.

What does this mean? That they literally could no longer remember the good times? No. They remembered. But it didn't matter to them anymore. What good was a memory if they were hungry now? Thirsty now? Crying now

I immediately identified with this. Sometimes your trial (your famine) can seem simply too long and too severe. So much so that prior blessings seem useless.

...and maybe they are.

As a result of interpreting Pharaoh's dream, Joseph is freed from prison and becomes the second ruler of all of Egypt. He literally goes from prison to the palace. In a moment. Pharaoh arranges a lucrative marriage for Joseph. So someone who yesterday was thought to be a sex offender, is today's most eligible bachelor. His whole life changed in a flash. And this is what scripture says about it:

Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
 - Genesis 41:50-52

Now, I don't know if there is something theological about the fact that Joseph's personal famine ended right when Egypt's famine was beginning. I don't know. But in both cases, the beginning of something made a person forget the former things. The Egyptians would forget their years of plenty, and Joseph would forget all his years of lack. 

So my revised takeaway was that your past is swallowed up in your present, which will soon be swallowed up by your future. Whatever it is. Good or bad. No matter who you are, or what you've experienced, God will not have you living in your past. You just won't. It's why we pray for our daily bread...because yesterday's bread is gone! 

The past is gone. And it is to be forgotten. Not  literally (of course), but the importance of today, always outweighs yesterday. In fact, yesterday has little to no value. If you're waiting for God to bless you, you're not waiting for it to happen yesterday. You're looking for it today. Always. 

And other scriptures back this up:

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 
 - Isaiah 43:18-19
I'm not saying we should be ungrateful regarding the past. I'm just saying God doesn't make you drive on fumes!  That would mean that every praise we ever sung was an "old song" when scripture says "sing unto the Lord a new song." Why new songs? Because His mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Then I thought, but Christ died once 2000 years ago, and I'm still grateful for that. OH! Possible breakdown in this theory? Nope. Because Christ's blood is still working. It's still cleansing people of sin, still reconciling sinners back to's NOT OVER.

That being said, it's okay to forget things. I think, sometimes, it might be okay to even forget the lessons learned...

Or you'd never enjoy the sour patch kids.