A Big Embrace

When you’re working for something as indefinable as unity in a city, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

There are over 600 churches in Metro Boston, and probably more than 2,000 in Greater Boston, each pastor and leader doing something unique and fabulous for the Kingdom. As I meet with these incredible individuals, I stand in awe and celebrate what God is doing.

But at the end of the day, I stand there with my hands up and the question remains: Jesus, how do you bring all these beautiful pieces together? Few argue that uniting together as the body of Christ isn’t important, but where do you begin?

In one sense, unity is imprecise, indefinable, and hazy.

But the thing about unity is, you know it when you see it. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen more instances of unity in the past ten days than in my lifetime.P1070182 2

Unity looks like every hand, Catholic and Evangelical, being raised to answer the question of “Who believes in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?”

Unity looks like twelve suburban pastors deciding that the suburbs should no longer be known for being closed-off and distant. Coming together for one united service, congregations were challenged in their understanding of the kingdom of God and our role as local churches.1174698_536811639707905_1243225982_n

Unity is Frank, a Ugandan man, proclaiming to the world that I’m his twin sister. Anyone with two eyes can see that isn’t true, yet when we pray together I could swear that we were made from the same fabric.

Unity is people setting aside their own schedules to come together in prayer – and discovering that when their eyes are on Jesus, the doctrinal issues seem quite trivial.P1070195 2Unity is a mother weeping in pain over her recently murdered son, then having five friends old and new coming around her to lift her up in prayer – knowing that only the Father can understand the heart-wrenching agony of losing a son and provide the comfort she aches for.

Unity is a worship service in Roxbury running two hours over time: whites, blacks, and every color in-between singing and dancing and hugging till 11pm at night; no one wanting to leave because God was in the house.

P1070202

Unity is intimate times of prayer where Jesus is as close as your heartbeat, but it is also deep conversations with friends in coffee shops, awkward worship times with pianos without pedals, and smiling over huge hunks of communion bread when you are fasting.

While I don’t believe that events in themselves are the basis of unity, every year I’m amazed at how the 10 Days of Prayer knits hearts together. Gregg Detweiler put it well when he said, “When two people embrace, even after you let go, there is a residue of you on the other person, and the other person on you.”

Not only does this exchange happen among individuals in the gatherings, but it begins to happen corporately, because each night is hosted not by one church, but a group of churches that are connected relationally, locationally, or ethnically. It is a beautiful thing to behold, because when two become one, even when you go your own separate ways, you are never the same.

Jesus defined unity as this: “I in you, and you in me.” (John 17:21)

Essentially, the 10 Days is a visit to the eye doctor that we might re-calibrate our spiritual vision for the Church individually and corporately. I must receive new sight, in order that I might see your Jesus, and that you might see the Jesus in me. After all, _N_TY doesn’t really work without you and I – You have something that I need, and I have something that you need, which is what it means to be part of a body.

Unity is not me but we. It is as much about respecting our differences as it is about recognizing our commonalities. In the Rally to Restore Unity, Rachel Evans said “Unity is about reconciliation, humility, patience, and laughter. It’s about sifting through all the “extras” to find what is essential. It’s about making enough room at the table for tax collectors and zealots, prostitutes and Pharisees, Arminians and Calvinists, Republicans and Democrats, barbecue chicken and mashed potatoes.”

So at the end of the day, when I look at what God is doing in this city, and wonder what I can do to connect the dots, I still feel overwhelmed. I kneel on my hardwood floor, raise my hands to the Father, and whisper, “Jesus, I need your help.”

P1000380

And He says, “Yes, you do. And don’t you ever forget it. But all I’ve ever asked you to do is love my people.”

No, I’m not here to unite a city. That is much to big a task for one young woman. I know that I myself am completely utterly incapable of removing age-old barriers and righting wrongs that have been done. That’s something only Jesus can do.

No, I can’t unite a city. But I can love the person in front of me. I will do what I can do, and trust that God will take care of the rest.

After all, unity is simply hearts bound together in love – a big embrace, the body of Christ joining hands together with Jesus at the center.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:12-14 MSG)

Devotion: Longing for the Return of Christ

This is a devotional I wrote for the 10 Days of Prayer. Today is Day 8; God is really moving in Boston! I’ll give a more detailed update later. Check out 10days.net to learn more about the ten days of prayer that are happening in twelve locations across the country. May God continue His great work in and through us…

————————————————————————————————-

Day 8 Devotional:

Longing for the Return of Christ

“You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:11-13).

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Growing up in America, I have lived a pretty good life. So I didn’t really “get” why we should long for the return of Christ…. that is, until I experienced first-hand the brokenness that exists in our world.

For me, this happened through a young woman named Niza whom I met in Mumbai, India. Niza had been trafficked to Mumbai from Nepal and was forced into prostitution. Over time, she had contracted tuberculosis and HIV, and was now very sick. Though she looked to be fifty or sixty years old, in actuality she was only a few years older than I was. Each day she placed her hand in mine and we walked to the clinic, stopping every few minutes to take a break, crouching in the red Indian dirt while the hot sun beat down on us. I learned how to say, “You’re strong” and “You’re going to make it” in Hindi, repeating it to her. Yet, everything I could do wasn’t enough. There was absolutely nothing I could do to get her out of this horrendous situation, except pray and long for Jesus to make it right.

There are many Nizas that exist in the world. Nizas of many names and situations that have happened as a result of the Curse. It’s easy for us to become overwhelmed by the trials and sufferings that we ourselves and loved ones are experiencing. But what we need most is for Christ to return, so that everything will be reconciled back to God and be restored to His perfect wholeness and completeness. It is this promise of a day with no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev 21:2-4) that brings us to our knees.

Jesus longs passionately to return and bring justice to the earth.  We also long for an end to the suffering, pain, and injustice of this age.  May it be that our desire for His return matches His desire to return to us. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come’ “ (Rev 22:17).

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Marathana….

The church that makes my heart sing

There are certain moments that have a profound effect on you, and last night was one of those moments.

We were at a beautiful large Catholic Church in Needham. Stained glass, incense, white robes, the works. As we prayed in the sanctuary earlier in the day, the light streamed through the colored windows like a giant kaleidoscope. There’s something about Catholic architecture that makes my heart sing.

P1070182

It was the first time that the Catholic Church had partnered with 10 Days Boston. We were excited about the opportunity, but weren’t really sure what to expect. Although I always enjoy going to mass, I tend to get really lost with all the standing up and sitting down, and I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I wasn’t prepared at all for the way God showed up in the service that night.

A small crowd of about forty gathered in the pews at the front of the sanctuary. A candle was lit, and the melodies of the organ filled the room. But something was different. What blew me away was the sense of the presence of God as we worshipped. I have never known hymns or choruses could be so alive – we were filled to overflowing with the intimate communion of the Holy Spirit. He was there.

Rev. Dr. Nicastro shared a beautiful homily on Christian unity, that unity is simply seeing Jesus in others. When we do this, we will start to understand that no parts of the body are dispensible.  Because Jesus is at the center, the closer we are to Him, the closer we are to one another.

Some intercessions were shared, and we responded in chorus together, “Look on us with favor Lord, and hear our prayer.” It is so true what Father David Michael said, that the way to Christian unity is not through theological discussions, but through prayer.

It’s easy to look around the church and doubt if Christian unity will ever actualize. In many ways we are so far from Jesus’ prayer that we would be one as He is one with the Father. But that night, as all of us said the Lord’s prayer together, forty voices in one, I had a revelation that yes, we are all in this together. God is doing a great work in our city, and age-old walls of hostility are demolishing because of our shared love in Jesus Christ. We really are united in His love for us and our love for one another.

May He continue to bind our hearts together so that the world will see Jesus…

Finding Your Calling (Sermon)

I preached a sermon the other week at Journey about finding your calling. I thought that others might be blessed by the revelation I received as I reflected on my own life and the life of Jonah, so I posted my sermon notes below. You can also download the mp3 on the Journey Church podcast here:

http://jcboston.org/heroes-jonah/

—————————-

At some point in your life, you probably ask questions such as:

  • What am I here for?
  • Why did God create me?
  • What is my calling?

In high school, I took pretty much every personality and career test out there to try to determine these things. Even when you look at the news today, you see promises of books and health programs to “Find your best self” or “Discover what you’re made for.”

Our hearts are searching to find the answers to these questions, but rarely do we turn to God who is the true source of this.

Personally, I didn’t ask God about the plans that He had for my life until I moved to Boston. I was a rower at the time, training competitively to try to make the national rowing team. But then one morning I woke up and everything had changed – I no longer had a passion or desire at all to continue rowing. I sensed that God had a different plan for my life. Instead of waking up in the wee morning hours to row, I started waking up to pray and seek Him about His plans for my life. God began to speak to me about the church, how divided it is, and how that’s not how we’re made to function. Over time I’ve come to believe that my calling is to help bring greater unity to the body of Christ in Greater Boston.  I’m still learning about calling, but I’m hoping to share a few nuggets of wisdom with you today.

So what is a calling? I want to define it as “A summons from God; a strong inner pull towards a particular course of action and/or place of service.” (1)

Your calling can play out many different ways on a day-to-day basis. For example, you might feel called to teach and raise up the next generation, so you work in an elementary or high school. Maybe you feel called to serve people, and you work in a grocery store, showing people Jesus by the way you serve. Maybe you feel called to bring justice, and you work in a courtroom or organization fighting for the rights of various peoples.

I don’t know what is for you, but today I want to encourage you seek God and hear from Him about your purpose. In fact, I believe the only reason why I’ve come to such clarity about my calling is that I really sought it out.

Note that a calling is different than your job. Jobs come and go but your calling will never change. In fact, a job is an instrument which helps you carry out your calling. It may be closely wrapped in your calling, or not. Sometimes all your job does is put food on the table, so can go about your calling in a different area.

I like the way that Pastor John Ortberg compares career and calling. He says “For many people, a career becomes the altar in which they sacrifice their lives. A calling, which is something I do for God, is replaced by a career, which threatens to become my god. A career is something I do for myself; a calling is something I do for God. A career promises status, money or power; a calling generally promises difficulty and even some suffering – and the opportunity to get used by God. A career is about upward mobility; a calling generally leads to downward mobility.” (2)

The big idea of my message today is this:

Walking into your calling is simply making a series of decisions that align with God’s will for your life.

We will all come to crossroads in life – How do you make decisions? Think about last big decision you made, and then remember how you made it. Maybe it was which college you went to, a job you accepted, or a city you moved to. The decisions you make today will affect you years down the road, so making decisions is something we should seriously study.

At the end of the message today, I hope that you better understand how to discern God’s will when you make decisions and how to walk into your unique calling.

Today’s scripture is from Jonah. Basically, God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and proclaim the message that they must get right with God. Jonah runs the opposite direction, gets in a huge storm and then eaten by a whale. In the whale’s stomach, Jonah admits his fault in turning from God, and then the whale spits him out. Jonah listens to God, goes to Ninevah, shares the message that God gave him, and sees the city turn back to God.

So in this story, we see that Jonah’s calling is a prophet, made to declare God’s message to people. The task that God has placed in front of Jonah is to tell the  people of Ninevah to turn from their ways back to God’s.

The cool thing about this is that God has a unique calling for you too! Every follower of Christ was made for a purpose, and I believe that one of our most important tasks is to discern what that purpose is. God envisioned your life at very beginning of time – He gave you a unique personality, with strengths and gifts, and He has brought people into your life and experiences which have shaped you.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Your calling is your chance to show the world a unique part of God’s heart that you are designed to demonstrate. In fact, if you don’t walk into your calling, the world won’t see that part of heart of God

So how do you find your calling?

First and foremost, you must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. A personal relationship with Jesus guarantees that the Holy Spirit lives in you, giving you power and direction. If you rely on your own wisdom, you’ll be wrong – there are many plans I had for my life, but God had different plans. If I had it my way, I’d probably be teaching in the mountains of Colorado – but God took me on a grand adventure around the world and to help the Church in the city of Boston. Which one sounds more fun? I’m glad that I’m not in charge.

The second thing you can do to find your calling is to take time to listen to God. Jonah heard his calling directly as a booming voice from heaven – sometimes I wish I heard God that way. But in fact, He still calls that way today – although most of the time not as an audible voice but in His word, in our hearts. You can hear from God many different ways – such as praying, reading the bible, meditating, or seeking council from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

A third thing you can do to find your calling is to pay attention to things that make you feel alive . Two of my favorite quotes relate to this:

  •  “The place where you’re called is where your great gladness and the world’s great hunger meet” – Frederick Buechner
  • “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

The important thing here is that if you choose a career or job because of money or notoriety, you will never be happy. Follow your passion. Follow what makes you come alive. Over time, you will begin to see how your gifts, circumstances, and God’s plan for your life come together.

So let’s go back to the big idea for today – “Walking into your calling is just making decisions that align with God’s will your life.” So when you’re making these decisions, as you’re praying and seeking God, there are two options – Either:

  1. You know which direction you are supposed to go OR
  2. You don’t have clarity at all

I’m going to talk about both of these two options.

First, if you have a distinct sense of the direction you should go, I’d encourage you to follow it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Now, when Jonah heard His call, he ran the opposite direction “to flee from the Lord.” He learned that you can run, but you can’t hide – and we all have to learn this at some point.

But the cool thing about God is that when you turn from Him, He doesn’t turn from you. A human father probably would have found someone much more willing to take his message to Ninevah, but not our heavenly Father. That’s because If God has a purpose for you, His gifts and calling are irrevocable, no matter what direction you run. And in this story we see that God chases Jonah down until he obeys. Because of God’s outrageous love & grace that He never turns from us even when we turn from Him. You can’t mess up God’s plan for your life.

So, however God speaks to you, listen to it – even if you don’t understand it at the moment. I think each of us have to have our stories of when we have tried to “flee” from the Lord in order to really learn this. When I was in Africa, we were all crammed in this van on our way to drive to a safari. We had just gotten in the vehicle and were getting comfortable so I took off my shoes. I was really tired, so I decided to sleep. I had this distinct prompting from the Holy Spirit to pick up my shoes. But I shrugged it off, multiple times. It turns out that when we stopped a few hours later, my shoe had slipped out the door of the car. And when you’re traveling around the world with a backpack with only two pairs of shoes, that’s a big deal! I was so mad – I had my “come to Jesus” moment, where I said, “God, I’m sorry! From now on, I’ll always listen to you!”

Sometimes we have to run from God to fall to our knees. Jonah had a similar moment in the stomach of the whale – in Chapter 3 verse 4 we see him pray “I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look again toward your holy temple.”

God knows where we’re going and what we need to learn, and He will put us in situations where we have those “come to Jesus moments.” Really, it’s these times that lead to humility and dependence, which are two of God’s favorite character attributes to instill in us.

If you’re reading this and you feel like you’ve run from God, I’d encourage you to return to Him. God is overwhelmingly patient and merciful to us – and I’m so thankful for that.

The second option is that you’re making a big decision – you’re praying and praying – but you don’t receive clarity. There are a couple things I want to encourage you in:

  1. Be ok with waiting. God will speak to you about His next steps when it’s time. God’s timing is perfect, and many times it’s the last minute.
  2. God doesn’t use misleading or ambiguous means to communicate his will. When He wants us to know something, He makes it so clear we never have an excuse for not getting it. So don’t stress, just trust and continue seeking Him.
  3. Follow where there’s peace – if you think about both options, which one sits in your spirit more still? I know that when I stopped rowing, it was one of those things that I just knew that I knew that I knew that was what I was supposed to do. In fact, if I though about not doing it – I felt like I was being disobedient – so that’s when you know it’s right
  4. At times, God may allow you to choose the path for your life. In the beginning as I was following Jesus, I would ask God for direction, and it was so clear for me what I was supposed to do. But later, I’d ask, “God, what do you want me to do?” And I’d here him say back to me, “Kelly, what do you want to do?” I think this happens because in our walk with Him, as we grow, we become more and more like Jesus to the point where His desires become our desires, and it’s no longer a conscious decision, but just instinct. We’re not just slaves, where God is a mean dictator directing us to go. Jesus calls us friends. He wants us to be happy and for us to have the desire of our hearts – so He empowers us to make decisions too.
  5. The last piece of advice I’d give on making those decisions where there’s no clarity is simply to choose one direction and trust that God will direct you if it’s not wrong. I’ve heard “You can’t steer a bicycle that’s not moving.” So whatever you do, don’t stay stuck in indecision.

The last thing I want to talk about today is how to walk into your calling. How do you know that you’re on the right path for your life? Is there any way to be sure you’re doing the task He has assigned to you?

  1. It challenges you. You can be sure you’re on the right path if it goes against the grain of what you yourself want to do. God called Jonah to the Ninevites, who were his enemies – he hated them with a passion. Why? The Ninevites had pretty much wiped out his people and were known for their disgusting war practices. Jonah wanted to see Ninevah destroyed, not saved and his greatest fear was that the Ninevites would heed his warning, repent and be saved.

But God didn’t call Jonah to the Ninevites because he knew it would make Jonah mad.  He did it because he cares more about Jonahs character than he does the task in front of him. He knew that Jonah needed to grow in his love for his enemies.

And God will do the same for you. He will ask you to lay down things in your life – really hard things – not just to make you mad or to show you who’s boss, but to grow your character. Many times these things are idols in our lives, the things that are competing with God for primacy, as rowing had become for me.

Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs”

The only real risk in life is clinging to these worthless idols; obeying God is the only safe thing. So if you hear God tell you to do something and you want to run the opposite direction, you can be pretty sure that it is God.

What things in your life have you said “I’ll do anything but that, Lord!” Might God be asking you to do that very thing today?

I have to confess – when I first heard God call me to the city long-term, I wanted to run the other direction – I’m a total nature girl and never thought I’d end up in a city. Yet, over time a love for this place has really grown in me – it’s a supernatural kind of love. That’s because as you step into your calling, God will take away your flesh and replace it with His spirit, where the hard things turn to joy. Everything we can sacrifice, He is worth it and more, much more.

  1. Another way that you can be sure that you’re stepping into your calling is that doors will start to open. Things will just happen and fall into place.

Jonah went to his enemies – and probably felt like he was on a mission to failure. Why would the Assyrians listen to a man of the people they had conquered? Jonah didn’t even have a strong message – he simply said, “Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence” (3:8). If someone were to say that today, you’d call them crazy. Yet they listened to Jonah– a complete enemy.  Why?

It’s not a work of us but of God – when God is behind it, failure isn’t an option. As you step into your calling, God will open crazy doors for you and you will be given divine favor.

For example, as I moved back to Boston after the World Race, things just fell into place – the timing, the cost of the apartment, and we even furnished our entire apartment, with desks, dressers, tables, chairs, everything for less than $300. Now that’s a miracle!

In addition to that, every day for nearly two weeks, I’d run into someone and they’d initiate a spiritual conversation with me. Random circumstances like a Greek lady at the pool, a guy on the phone with the utilities bill, even the busdriver told me that she called this street “God street” because of all the churches on it. And I just knew that in those moments God had placed me in that person’s life for a reason.

Another way that you’ll know you’re stepping into your calling is that you will feel energy; renewal. There will be a wind at your back, sort of a momentum pushing you along. You might even sense that “this is what you were made for.”

As I was teaching, I remember enjoying it, but thinking that it wasn’t quite right. But then when I started UniteBoston, there was an ease in my labors – I wrote emails all day and didn’t get tired. In fact, wanted to do all time. (Now  you know that’s supernatural!)

It won’t always be that way, but it could be a sign that you’re on track, and that God is behind you.

The last thing I want to close with today is to caution us against getting too focused on things like calling and destiny. While God has specific grace on our life do certain things, that’s not ultimately why we’re here.

Our ultimate calling is simply be Christ’s sons & daughters, become more like His son Jesus.

But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

Becoming more like Jesus involves no action on our part; but rather it’s about receiving everything He’s done for us. Don’t get mistaken as I have and wrapped up in the work you’re doing for God. Our mission is born out of God’s love for us and ours for Him. Love is a heart response, not a mindless action.

Throughout your life, God will put you in situations to challenge you and grow you to make you more like Him. At these decision points, He will reveal things in your life that are competing with God for primacy. Jesus, show us the things in our lives that we put ahead of you, and help us not to cling to them out of a desire for security, comfort, or happiness, because we know that you and not our circumstances are the source of these things.

This week, I want to encourage you to take time to hear from God about your calling and the mighty plans He has for your life. Even if you’ve stepped away from what you know He wants you to do, know that God is right there. Jesus, wake us up and help us to believe in your outrageous grace.