Bless the LORD oh my soul

MJ:

Needed to be reminded of this… as my family faces struggle and new experiences, both painful and birthing faith, I know this: God is worth my worship. He will get us through.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I cannot even begin to express how much this song has become my anthem. If you haven’t heard it take a moment and listen to the link I posted. Its a cover of my friend singing 10,000 Reasons…

I feel as though I am in a place where my faith is surely being stretched and, many times, my flesh wanting to quit. This has become an often reoccurring feeling. To just be done… with all of it. I know in the grand scheme of things looking at the problems other people have, I still have it pretty good- but that does not negate the difficulty I am facing. For the past two months specifically I cannot even begin to tell you how badly my finances have become because of mis-charges on my account, extra charging of my account, increase of ALL of my loan payments, etc. Yeah not huge…

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Where heroes lay…

MJ:

Thoughts after Memorial Day… this post from a few years ago says everything I need to say. Thank you to all who serve and have served.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery

I cannot help but be grateful. Grateful is not even a word that brings justice to how I feel. As I walked through Arlington National Cemetery, I had one of the most sobering experiences of my life. Grave after grave, tombstone after tombstone, I walked silently crying. These were not simple decorations or even just memorials. Memorials used to mean something- something significant happened or someone did something extraordinary. They are not landmarks. They are symbols, jewels of history. Walking the mile, so it seemed, to my friend’s gravesite, I had this sense of respect, honor, and legacy that I have never felt before. Those men and women buried there were not mere men or women. They were not ordinary. They lived and died in purpose, with a cause birthed in their hearts. America. Family. Friends. Brotherhood. Freedoom. Whatever their reason, it was enough for them to lay…

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Pastors…something to think about

Below is a quote from a webinar I listened to earlier in the week. This specific segment hit me hard. Pastors, we always have to remember the whole point of what we are doing. If we lose focus, maybe we should get out of ministry.

 

“You’re trying to be cool? Your’e trying to be a celebrity? Let me get this straight. The mind you have belongs to Jesus. The gospel you preach belongs to Jesus. The people you serve belogs to Jesus. And you have the audacity to use and pimp and prositute them for your successes and book advances? Anathema that is a spiritual crime. Are you kidding me? Jesus said the greatest among you is a servant. And he put a towel around his waist and he washed the feet of his disciples who would abandon him in just a few you hours. Are you kidding me? You don’t have time to interact with people? Being a shepherd and pastor means you smell like sheep . They actually know you and you know them. I do not understand it. It is an absolute joke. I think there are a lot of people who would be picked last on a sports team. And now they see they have a gift and its like ‘its my time to shine’….No its only one person’s time to shine and that’s Jesus.” – Derwin Gray

I’ve learned. Jesus loves _________.

Yet another weekend was spent at Exxxotica….an adult convention aka porn show. No I was not attending. No I was not there to meet my favorite porn star or get the latest pleasure items. I was there in the middle of all the adult materials and booths at a neon 20 ft. by 20 ft. booth. Branded with the name “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”, once more we made a statement loud and clear. People who have attended Exxxotica or any of the major adult conventions in the US have probably seen our booths before. We are not new to this. We are not amateurs.

xxxChurch has been doing this for a decade

…and we do it well.

Surrounded by sex toys, lingerie, nearly nude ladies and gents, stripper poles, cages, and many other things, we were at Exxxotica for one purpose: we firmly believe Jesus loves people. But I want to take it one step further. Jesus loves people- all of us- but he loves us way to much to want us to stay the same. We were made for more. We were made for better. We were made for far greater than the purpose we are living now. I couldn’t help but think of those attending the porn show as well as those working at Exxxotica. There were moms, dads, teachers, students, baristas [myself included], servers, designers, photographers, and tons of other types of people. There were single, married, engaged, straight, gay, swinger, and I’m sure the pedophile or molester [there were thousands of people].

We don’t go to these adult conventions or have our resources online for the sake of just telling people that Jesus loves them. YES that is a major part and core of what we believe. It is something we deeply believe. However, I think there is another facet to what we do under the surface. We are all made for more because God- our creator- has purposed us for greater… but we have to want it. We have to want him. I know people who were at Exxxotica enjoy their jobs. Maybe some don’t. I’m sure the attendees at it were mixed as well. But if I’ve learned anything, people are humans and we are fractured and broken without Jesus Christ. I don’t know how I could make it through life without my steadfast and firm belief in His love for me.

He offers redemption.
He offers restoration.
I don’t have to fix me. His love changes me.

And I am new.

No matter what anyone has done, his love is for them. Nothing we do or have ever done can prohibit his love from reaching us. I saw such an overwhelming image of that love while at Exxxotica. So many people there express how they don’t think God could love them. Others, shrugged and ignored it. Still others stood there for a moment pondering the statement “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”, all the while proceeding to insert their own name or profession into that statement.

Jesus loves accountants.
Jesus loves adulterers.
Jesus loves gossips.
Jesus loves murderers.
Jesus loves baristas.
Jesus loves football players.
Jesus loves gays.
Jesus loves politicians.
Jesus loves moms. 

Jesus loves _____________. Fill in anything there and Jesus loves. The point is that while, yes, we were in an adult convention surrounded by a hyper-sexualized and pornographic world, I saw God’s love- Jesus’ love- there in the midst. Why? Because he didn’t just die on the cross just for the religious. He didn’t die on the cross for the good. He didn’t die on the cross for those that were whole. He died for you and for me and for them. All of us have brokenness. All of us are not good enough and can’t be good enough to earn his love. He gives it freely. He died for all of us to have a chance a new life, new hope, restoration, forgiveness, and to live free! Only then, when we accept his love for us, do we change, do we become new, and do we begin to live lives that honor his sacrifice for us. But we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is recognizing our brokenness and need for Him. He loves you and so deeply wants you to understand that.

His brokenness brings our wholeness.

 

Jesus loves…the people at Exxxotica.

So I find myself here, the night before another outreach with xxxChurch at a porn convention. I’m not nervous like I was last year. I’m not worried. I’m at peace. This time last year I was preparing for Exxxotica in Atlantic City, with no idea what I was getting myself into, and yet here I am a year later, ready and so incredibly excited for this weekend. I’m not excited about porn or getting hit on by horny guys or being on my feet for hours on end [I do that already with working at Starbucks]. But what I am excited about is being able to, once again, go into this world of porn and show people love. The people that attend these adult conventions are normal, everyday people. They are teachers, mothers, fathers, college students, bankers, baristas, coaches, and of course, throw some creepers into that mix. The vast majority are simply normal people and Jesus loves them. Jesus loves the dancers and strippers. Jesus loves the producers and sex toy salesmen. Jesus loves every single person who will be in the Taj Mahal at Exxxotica this weekend.

He loves them tremendously, and I’ll bet money on it that most of them have never really been told of Jesus’ love for them. That is what breaks my heart. Jesus deeply loved people, but what we forget is he loved them where they were at…he didn’t judge them and picket and protest and hate and spit and cuss at them. In fact, he only ever responded violently toward the religious and abusers of his faith in the Temple. He only ever was critical to the ones that knew the love of God but refused to act on it. His heart was open and loving to the poor, the prostitute, the adulterer, the Gentile [those of other races], the dishonest, and so many more. The common factor was that he loved people and he wanted people to know it before he made mention of their sin or wrongdoing. He wanted people to have the choice to love him or not. He wanted people to choose him and accept his love.

That’s what I am going to with Exxxotica this weekend. Good Friday and Easter are right around the corner- the holiday taken over by bunnies, chicks, and candy and often abused by religious orthodoxy. We have missed something so much if we go into Easter without being vocal of Jesus’ love to all people, regardless of the backgrounds or whether we agree with them or their lifestyle. He loved people to the point of surrendering himself to death. He loved people so deeply that he broke his own body so we could have forgiveness and restoration. I want to be able to love people that weekend with the kind of love that is unconditional, accepting, and redeeming- the same way Jesus has chosen to love me despite my own flaws, sin, and wrongdoing. No matter who you are, Christian, church-goer, stripper, porn star, addict, or anything else… Jesus loves you.

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151896991742084&set=vb.8466317083&type=3&video_source=pages_video_set

JJ’s story. {Jesus Loves Porns Star, Pt. 2}

MJ:

A year ago I met JJ at the AC Exxxotica show with xxxChurch. He is one of the many stories that are full of reason as to why I do what I do.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I figure one blog post about this weekend was not going to be enough to explain what I experienced. So much happened in so little time that I have to decompress and really think about it all. I met so many people this weekend, probably most of which I will never see again. They will continue on with their lives and may even forget that they met me, the short, blonde, non-porn star at the Jesus booth at the eXXXotica porn convention. But there are a few… just a few that I pray to God I get to see again. I pray that I can encounter them somewhere, even at the next eXXXotica later this year. I have their names written down with descriptions in case I forget them, though I doubt I will. With all the people- the hundreds of people I personally met this weekend, there was only…

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Religion and what we’ve made It to be.

MJ:

In this Easter season…. remember this important thing: religion means nothing. Christ means everything.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I want to be honest. I feel like so much of my faith has been spoon fed to me where I have done nothing but eat. I have taken in what I have been told without truly figuring out all for myself. At church during fast songs you clap your hands and sometimes dance. During slower “worship” songs you raise your hands and close your eyes. A typical service consists of announcements, a 30-minute worship set and an hour sermon. Some time during that set tithes/offerings, special music, and communion are done.

Its a ritual.

It was when I got to college that I began to find God in new ways. It was when I arrived here in Israel that I no longer will view religion, regardless of denomination or name, the same. I can’t. I refuse. I have seen Orthodox Jews worship GOD with such reverence and honor. They…

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Darkness Meant For Me.

MJ:

A bit nostaglic today as I think back to five years ago being in the very place where Jesus Christ was held the hours before his death. Still gives me chills.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

Caiaphas’ House. Now resting on site is yet another church marking the site of that which was deemed holy. Until now, the churches built on these sites distract from the purpose of the visit. They decorate the site to ultimately bring attention to their purpose rather than the actual event that occurred. But this, this was different. This was a beautiful church, however in its simplicity. We entered in to what was a normal church with the remnants of a bedrock and caves in the main chapel. As we walked around the site, we went below…to the dungeon. I could not have imagined what I was about to see. To feel. To touch.

We made our way to the caves below. It was a place where prisoners of the Pharisees were held. The Pharisees [the religious leaders for the Jews that held a lot of power] would take their prisoners…

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Promise in the Sky

MJ:

Five years ago, today, I was in the middle of the Negev in Israel…a desert place seeking God, direction, and peace. I will never forget that night. I still dream of that starry night sky.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I had to write this separately. My mind cannot not cease to think about this. Last night we stayed at the Bedouin camp and was something I needed for some time. I loved everything, yes, but this one thing touched me greater than anything else on this trip thus far. The stars. Why would the stars matter so much when I can see the stars back at home?

I love the stars. I love to star gaze. It is quite simply my favorite thing to do. I think clearly. I pray. I sing songs to God- songs I just make up and sing from my heart. I have seen the night sky in the mountains, in Florida, at home in Jersey, in Colorado, Alaska, and honestly the list goes on. But this time was very different. I walked away, alone, from the Bedouin camp, leaving all behind- my friends, the…

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My last six months…Dangerous prayers.

Ever go driving down a country or wooded road late at night? You’re surrounded by darkness. You might see some houses, stores, and slight hints at civilization, but you are mostly surrounded by trees or fields with the only light coming from your headlights and the starry night sky. Those moments of driving like that are among my favorite moments to think. They are my favorite moments to just let what is going on in my life resonate within me. As of late, I feel that these very moments are metaphorically my life.

I feel like my life is surrounded by unknown. I’m traveling down a road with limited signage. Its dimly lit. But amidst the darkness and lack of direction, there is such beauty.

That is exactly my life in this moment.

Six months ago, I felt that not only did I need change, I desperately needed it. I was ending my third year as a youth pastor at church. I’m going to be honest. I liked the church, loved getting to invest in the students, but it was not for me. My parents were my senior pastors. There was a severe lack of young adult presence. Every one and quite literally their mother, including my own, made it their mission to tell me of every single male they knew of and how perfect we could be together. Granted the experience was one full of learning and gaining of understanding, and for that I am so completely grateful. I got to meet and work with some great people and awesome students. During my years there, I was faced with many challenges, moments that made me want to quit, days that made me want to leave ministry. And to be even more honest, that is ministry pretty much anywhere. Within those three years at the church, I felt as though I was made for something else. Something different. I always thought it was missions. I always assumed that was the direction God was taking me because it made sense. Working in a church did not make any sense to me. Living in the crazy madness of some foreign culture made sense.

God has a funny way of showing us different.

In August of last summer, I made the decision to officially resign. It was a decision I had been praying about for a while, but never felt peace about completely leaving yet. I was worried for my youth. I loved them and had invested so much into their lives. I did not want to walk away to quickly. But by August, I knew it was time. I actually put in my resignation believing completely that I would be hired at a job in Florida that was certain, only it turned out that was seemed like a sure thing, completely failed. By that point I was now with a job prospect and was fully in my resignation. I felt like I needed to move forward with my resignation and see what God wanted to do in my life. It was completely dangerous, risky faith…faith trusting God knowing full well my life was about to shaken. I was certain that this, this time, was God opening the opportunity for missions or non-profit work [hopefully] overseas. But job rejection after rejection proved otherwise. It proved that my plan was not working. It proved that my idea of what my life looked like did not match God’s desire for my life. I told God I did not want to work in a church again. I told God I wanted missions work or work with anti-trafficking efforts. I told God I wanted a job that paid “x” amount of dollars. I told God… and it did not happen that way.

In fact, I found myself in December, having moved back in with my parents- relinquishing my lovely apartment, without a career, working 40 hours a week at Starbucks, barely making ends meet to pay loans, and without a single bit of direction. Four months of this and I was done. I was sick and tired of job rejections of jobs that I should have gotten without a doubt. But then I remembered something I had prayed back in August…I basically had prayed “God, if this job or any other job are not what you want for me, make it very clear and make no sense as to why I do not get hired”. Talk about not making sense. I told God [yes, very firmly actually] in December that I was done looking for a job. I was done trying to make it happen. I was done trying to figure out. I told him that he needed to give me a job. Period.

Sometimes, us getting out of the way is exactly what needs to happen for God to actually move in our lives.

Within two weeks of my demanding a job and basically being in a place of broken desperation for God to “do something” [another dangerous and risky prayer], my friend- a youth pastor/interim senior pastor- called me with a job offer to temporarily help run the youth program at the church. Not what I expected. Not what I wanted…six months ago. But when we get out of the way, God really does something. Sometimes we block with our own best intentions God’s best intentions. Immediately I felt a peace about telling my friend yes. I couldn’t explain it; I just knew that it was right. I knew that it was God’s way of saying he had not forgotten me or my desires and needs.

I know, two months into this job at the church, still face much uncertainty. But this time, its different. This time its a faith that is new to me. This church is where I need to be because its where God wants me. I didn’t want to work in another church. God had a different plan. I’m glad I listened. I wanted a job in missions or non-profit. I’m glad God is directing me in that while leading me at this church. Honestly, even just one month from now, my may look different. I don’t have answers to my own questions. I don’t have direction. A new senior pastor could be voted in, and I then become with my job. They may want to hire someone else. They may want to reformat the structure of the staff. They may want to do a lot of things, all of which I cannot worry about right now.  Right here, right now, this is where I am because this is where I feel God has placed me. I don’t have the certainty of knowing what will happen with my job at the church. I don’t have the answer as to how long I’ll continue to be a barista.

I have a ton of questions. I have a ton of things that I would LOVE to know what is happening or knowing God’s plan. There are some things personally [non-ministry] that I would love to happen but I need to be patient and trust God even in these areas. I keep praying “God surprise me!” and he does. I have unknown before me- like the unknown, dimly lit country roads I drive on a lot. But there is still beauty in all of this. Just like the starry night sky, there is beauty in not seeing everything in God’s plan right now. There is beauty in letting the stars be exposed throughout the course of the night. There is beauty in seeing from a perspective of faith and trust. I have been praying some dangerous risky prayers…prayers that shake me, challenge me, and strengthen me. Prayers that say to God that he can do whatever he wants. I dare you to try it and see what he will do.