Vision Ripples

A few years ago, I moved to Saskatoon to jump into university life alongside an incredible childhood friend. One of our favorite adventures was attending wildly inspiring worship services at the Third Avenue United Church hosted by the Saskatoon Worship Community.

I remember seeing faces from university classes, sports teams and advocacy groups in the city! I couldn’t believe how many people from various groups and backgrounds had gathered around one power vision. I also couldn’t believe how many of them were interested in a night of worship. The numbers and passionate voices loving God motivated and inspired many to leave these gatherings believing they could take Christ empowered passion and change their worlds where they had been planted. People came from all church denominations, and many simply because they were hope hungry. The inspiration of the movement transformed and strengthened people and is still positively impacting the community of Saskatoon and beyond. People attending had different ideas, interests, viewpoints and strengths – but they rallied around a vision.

A powerful vision changes everything. Vision is an aspiration that gives clear direction, and direction takes us places.

The Vision of the Saskatoon Worship Community was this: To bring people together in unity, to foster healthy relationships and build each other up, and to share the love of God.

With this vision in focus – the worship services become a remarkable reality!

The diversity of people at the worship nights was vast but the harmony of voices and shared celebration of The Gospel was rich and ferocious! Many strengths, contexts, viewpoints, and contributions united people to make a difference in their world.

Clear vision brings change for individuals, churches, organizations, institutions and political parties – and aren’t these the very change agents of our world? So what are the visions you own, live and love? Everyone has vision whether scripted or not – we all have aspirations. Taking the time to jot and share it gives a vision life!

A study by Bain and Company indicated that organizations with clearly defined Vision and Mission statements always outperform those who do not. This is true for an individual’s life too.

Andy Stanley says in the most successful purpose-driven groups and organizations, every person knows WHAT the group exists to do and WHY they do it. They also have a power-one-liner that defines their individual contribution or responsibility within the purpose-driven-crew. Confidence, strength and passion build when you know what you are doing and why – and you know that your contribution makes a difference!

Last Saturday, I went to visit that same childhood friend who had experienced the Saskatoon Worship Community with me a few years ago. Now newly married and farm-settled, she is seeing new vision for her life and God’s Kingdom in the place she is planted. On Saturday, she was a part of a similar worship service called Tunes at Timber Ridge. Hope swelled on that beautiful Saskatchewan ski-hill as confidence filled people through song and one God-inspired vision.… And the ripples will echo into the future of every life present and the lives they touch.

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Celebration Never Stops

Last weekend the world slowed to acknowledge Easter celebrations. Homes filled with scents of slow roasted meat, chocolate abounded in workplaces, stores and tummies of all shapes and sizes. It’s Amazing! The Carpenter from Nazareth, the unrecognized Savior of the world, stops the world while holding the world together, still today. Some celebrations come and go, but the celebration of Easter will never stop.

John Ortberg writes, “True celebration is not pleasure for personal gratification … this always follows the law of diminishing returns, so that what produced joy in us yesterday no longer does today … Our capacity for joy diminishes. When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God … Our capacity for joy increases!”

When I jetted to Israel months ago, I couldn’t get enough of the empty tomb. I wanted to put up camp there and live in the comforting shadow of the massive rock stashed just near the gaping entrance. Even though I couldn’t build myself a shelter in the rock’s shadow, I have been reminded this week that we are completely powered to live in light of the tomb, and God’s stone-turning power everyday.

In Israel, as I gazed at the massive rock plopped beside the entrance of the Christ-tomb replica, I was astounded by it’s size. Sometimes in my own life, I can feel like barriers and challenges are tomb-rock sized and I forget the rocking power of God that flows through my veins. Jesus was all about turning things over and upside down – but he had to extend effort to allow God’s power to flow through him. At the temple, he upturned tables, in the synagogues he upset the Pharisees, on the Sabbath he healed, and he was brazen enough to eat with tax collectors and have Samaritan chums. Jesus was not afraid to upturn the stones between Him and God’s mission: To love God and love people. The tomb symbolizes death, decay and destruction and when that stone rolled, the pathway was paved for you to receive from God the very Spirit of Christ in all of His confidence and power. If there are stones that are preventing you from receiving and experiencing the love of God today – make it your mission to extend your effort to uproot those stones, hurts, or thoughts. As you turn every area of your life over to Christ, He will leave no barrier stones unturned that may lay in your path.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” – Matthew 19:26

 

Life is Like Easter Saturday

As we walked through the Tomb Garden in Israel, songs of worship were offered by people groups from around the world, focused on the wonder of Love Incarnate buried and resurrected. The songs spoke of restoration, hope and renewal. However, as we passed faces and people from around the globe – there were tears, struggle, sorrow and pain. The stark contrast of vibrant worship and uncomfortable pain reminded me of the three days the disciples spent asking questions and wondering. After spending time at the garden I hopped on the bus and sat beside the most delicate face with deep-rooted faith. She told of her husband’s eight-year battle with debilitating cancer. She told of quitting her job to care for him. She told of when He was too sick to go out of the house. She told of his death. As I listened, I thought of the disciples – for those three days before the bursting of the tomb rock, they must have been scared and confused. Jesus had already told them that He would rise again, but they did not understand. In many ways, we live in a similar waiting period as the disciples did on Easter Saturday. We have His Spirit, we know the end of the story – but we don’t yet live in the fullness of it. We see glimpses of his plan, but at times feel scattered and uncertain of His presence. One day, all will make sense. Until then – we can rest in the assurance that our Good Father knows what He is doing, there is a plan, and just like the disciples had a huge surprise coming Easter Sunday, we have incomprehensible glory ahead too. Sunday is coming!

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 NIV

Eye to Eye

“…It is finished…” – John 19:30

Golgotha means “Place of the skull” and it derives its name from the jagged natural carving of a skull found in the side of the hill at the place Christ was crucified. Bible historians widely believe this is where Jesus hung two centuries ago on a day like this – a ghastly Good Friday. Golgotha is located just outside of Jerusalem’s walls and in Jesus’ day it was preserved for outcasts and deemed for criminals. Today, there is a bustling bus station where Christ’s cross was. I stood at this site months ago, and as my tour guide spouted information, I pictured the Champion of Heaven gasping for breath in this place. Oh He suffered for us, for me. We must remember, the symbol of the cross was not yet glamorized and celebrated and there were no treasured hymns written about Calvary, Roman nails, flogging or thorns. No, these were all shameful execution icons – they would have been regarded as we think of an electric chair … there is nothing prestigious about it. In the depictions we often see of Good Friday today, the cross is on a hill and Jesus is centred and elevated above two criminals. However, Jesus was not crucified on the hill, but at the bottom of a skull-carved cliff along the side of a busy highway where many passers by would have trudged. He would have hung at eye level with the people. As I stood at the crucifixion site, I wondered how many people would have taken the time to look into the eyes of God that day to see His heart. I pictured broken-hearted teardrops clouding bloodied eyes of love and I felt the weight of it. The weight of God’s love received through trust in this dreadful moment of history. May you take time to meet him eye to eye today too, as he offers freely all you need to walk through each circumstance scattered ahead. Your greatest life will be lived with eyes fixed on His.

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The Unfinished Story

“He anointed us, placed His seal on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come.” – 2 Corinthians 1:22

As we sat in a small theater in the Old City near the Excavations of David’s Palace, a multi-media presentation blasted the history of the remarkable historical site. The short video was called, “Where it all Began” and it highlighted the history of Jewish occupation in the area dating back to the Prophets. In fact, they just found a Jewish seal with Hezekiah’s own personal seal on it, amazing! Today, since the coming of Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us and acts as a seal, “guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1:22 NIV). The short video outlined historical events leading up to the present day occupation of the famous landmark, and at the end, a caption flashed on the screen “To be continued.” I was reminded in that moment of the truth that we live in the middle of an unfinished story. This truth was reinforced as I stood up and began to walk out of the small theatre, my sweet new friend became dizzy and fell on the rock stairs, overcome by chest pains and the physical demands of the day’s adventures. This woman knows God, loves God, and possesses His Spirit in full – but struggles, as we all do, because the story is not over yet. Several days of rest restored my friend to health, and one day, we will all completely be restored – but we, like the landmark of David’s palace in Israel, live in the middle of the story – believing that a triumphant ending is coming soon.

Reflect to Reach

One year ago, on my 25th birthday I let my thoughts leak from my heart to a computer screen. I had read somewhere that when you own your story you gain power. I wanted my 25th year to be marked by genuine change and growth, so I started mad scrawling stories … desperate for raw gospel power to be at work in me – right in the ordinary of life. And it has. And it does. When I have taken time to reflect, right here – on these digital pages… This year I will keep reflecting and sharing the stories of empowered people I encounter so that I can keep the learning rolling…

The truth is: Travel doesn’t instantly mature. Adventure doesn’t directly make you interesting. Experience doesn’t equal seasoned. Character doesn’t automatically shine from a well-read person.

Character, growth and transformation don’t happen automatically because of what we experience. Instead, how we process experiences dictates how and if we grow through it… Writing out what I have been learning this year has helped me to change and grow through experiences. My brain does a particular kind of dance when I take time to process it all, and so does yours … we are wired for this. When we reflect, we internalize – we choose how experiences will shape us and if it will grow us.

This week Cheryl and Keith Kowalski were guest presenters in our English classroom (Scroll down to see some incredible photos and stories). This dynamic duo told about their 8-year mission stint living in Botswana and their upcoming plans to head to Uganda with their family. They oozed passion for the Nation of Botswana as they told stories of hopeless women and fatherless children … they also told about renewal and unfathomable restoration they witnessed In Botswana too, all in the same hour. The tales sent jolts of joy, sorrow and motivation through our tiny Saskatoon classroom. By the end of the hour – thick inspiration and life-giving love floated between us as we were challenged to live for something greater, to do something more…

Sometimes after a presentation like this – we feel inspired… but then let the bustle of life whisk our hearts and minds away, untouched and unaltered.

We can have heads full of knowledge and hearts waning and wanting – unless we take time to reflect. When we reflected as a class, we came up with several things we can do to make a difference. We also talked about the ways the presentation changed our thinking (which in turn hits our behaviour and our feelings too)Change. Growth. This is the life God intends for us.

This week I turned 26, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the adventures that have shaped this year. I have learned to trade bustle for breaks – to reflect, to doodle out stories, to practice being still – with God himself. This year I will keep reflecting and sharing stories of empowered people so that I can keep growing with them too. It’s important to take time to reflect back on God’s work (in your own life and in the lives of others) so you can reach forward in life with power.

For me, the highlight of year 25 was the Jesus-trodden trails of Israel. There, I experienced and I wrote and reflected … Although my heart-shaping scribbles are nothing more than sentences strung together … These sentences continue to fuel my spirit to reach into the future with might – you are welcome to journey along with me under the category, Living History.

Please check out Cheryl and Keith’s powerful photos and stories below! Be Empowered. (Check out http://www.mac/org/missionaries/kowalski if you’d like more information or to support this couple)

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The Holy Spirit gave me the directive to plant a church in our yard.  I didn’t know what that would look like but it started with a 5 day Bible Club.  Over 100 kids attended and from that point on about 40 children would come play almost daily in our yard after school.  We had a trampoline and slide and swing (the only ones in the neighbourhood) and the kids loved to come and worship and have a safe place to play.  We would pray for their needs and teach a Bible Story or scripture, and little by little the Lord was helping me to make little disciples who love Jesus! – Cheryl

 

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We were invited to pray for the sick at the government hospital after my neighbour from across the street was healed when I prayed for her.  She told everyone about the miracle and sent anyone who was sick to my gate to be prayed for.  I would tell people that their Father in Heaven cares deeply about them and that is why we were in Botswana. I also brought the teen girls from my Bible Study along and they prayed with incredible faith. Many people were healed and delivered.  We would bring in little care packages and Bibles too which were greatly appreciated. – Cheryl

The Holy Spirit gave me the directive to plant a church in our yard.  I didn’t know what that would look like but it started with a 5 day Bible Club.  Over 100 kids attended and from that point on about 40 children would come play almost daily in our yard after school.  We had a trampoline and slide and swing (the only ones in the neighbourhood) and the kids loved to come and worship and have a safe place to play.  We would pray for their needs and teach a Bible Story or scripture, and little by little the Lord was helping me to make little disciples who love Jesus! – Cheryl

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Winter months in Botswana could get very cold (down to 5 degrees Celcius at night)  We collected lots of sweaters one of our visits back to Canada and distributed them to the destitute kids we got to know from church. – Cheryl

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Right after Johnathan (Cheryl and Heath’s son) died, my mother in law came to visit and brought me beads and a few clasps and tools.  Around that time a met a group of 5 girls that wanted to learn about the Bible, so we started a Johnathan’s Seeds and Beads group.  We would have Bible studies once/week and beading lessons on another afternoon.  We would listen to worship music and talk about God and Life and what we were studying. Beading itself was so healing to me as I was grieving and I’m sure to them as well, and with that skill they could go on to make necklaces to sell to tourists. – Cheryl

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We were asked to help teach at Afterschool Bible Clubs at private schools around town.  As part of their homeschool, Jacob and Abigail learned to perform funny puppet skits that taught Bible Stories and Character truths to kids.  They would lead worship songs and prayer times as well. – Cheryl

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We ran several Bible Clubs and Camps.  In this one, God gave me the idea to do something fun and dress as Professer Praise.  Professer Praise appeared many times throughout our time in Botswana at Churches and Afterschool Bible Clubs.  Professer Praise would teach kids worship songs, scriptures, and how to PRAISE THE LORD!

Here Professor praise is running a PRAISE POWER LAB where the kids got to do science experiments that taught Biblical truths.  Professor Praise was cool because rich kids from the private school loved it just as much as the poorest village kids.  And when they figured out it was actually me dressed up, they felt so clever! – Cheryl

 

 

It Is Well

“I remember putting my head down on the table and thinking to myself, ‘I think I might die’ … the chemo treatments were making me so sick…”

My friend Anne spoke candidly to a small group of listening mamas about her journey with breast cancer. While she spoke, infant drool slipped from a beautiful tinny mouth onto my black leather pants. My polished-looking, teacher-ready outfit was now marked by the gaping giggles of a bouncy girl. Her unbounded laughter had spilled right onto me. It was messy and gorgeous – and later that day, my students would be sure to let me know.

Anne continued telling about her life as a mom saying, “We make mistakes …. I don’t lose my temper often, but when I have – it’s been with my kids.” Heads nodded, smiles cracked, and knowing laughter filled the room. There is something sublime about stark honesty … when you encounter it something ripples deep inside – Look at that person expressing their true life, thoughts and feelings – I can sit comfy in my own life too, even if it is untidy. As I sat with a dimpled delight looking up at me, I thanked God for the sincerity of the moment.

If you ever get the chance to hear Anne speak about her life and her Jesus, you would never think it difficult for her. I know it is, but it doesn’t stop her. Anne has been entrusted with a story and stamped with words designed to set freedom free – and she knows it. So, she shows up and opens up.

Two years earlier, Anne carried the same gutsy honesty onto a church choir stage and spoke with pails of conviction telling the congregation that her cancer fight was well with her soul. Her chemo hat moved with spirit that day as she shared about the struggle of an unfinished battle.

In the room full of moms, several of us recalled Anne’s song from two years prior – we agreed every time we hear it we think of her, and we gulp courage. For us, the song is forever linked to the real brave of a bold woman – the kind you can drink from … because it’s human. It’s fit for human consumption – it’s not fake-baked or preservative-packed – it’s real soul nourishing.

Two years ago, Anne showed up on that stage and she fought her heart out with her song and story. She sang It Is well and sick people felt well while thirsty wells were filled by sopping wet song tones.

Two days ago Anne showed up again to a toy-stranded room filled with hollers overflowing from the playroom. She didn’t mind any mess. Again, she opened her mouth and soul with story and song and sang fears and insecurities right out of hearts. It Is Well.

The more we can show up, the more we will live life full and leak out life. Whether we show up with slobber-colored pants, a cracked heart, battling bones, unsettled nerves or gentle rolls of laughter … to show up and be together is to fill up where the unwell get well and the well overflows.