Finding What I’m Made For

For a few months while I was in college, my friends and I were engaged in a full scale (yet friendly) prank war.  It was guys versus girls in a game of who could out-do who, and it escalated to a point where, to preserve our friendships, we actually drafted and signed a “Prank War Manifesto” to make sure we didn’t go too far.

One of the girls had this 3 foot tall wooden fork and spoon set that hung on the wall in her kitchen, and the guys managed to smuggle them out of the house one night.  To get even, the girls rallied a few days later and went over to the guys’ house when we knew they would all be in class.  We shimmied in through the bathroom window and ransacked their kitchen, making out with all of their silverware—even grabbing the dirty ones from the sink and dishwasher—to hold as ransom until the other items were returned.  For a day or two the guys got by eating their cereal with large serving spoons before they finally agreed to make the trade.

These prank war episodes were punctuated by midterms, football games, camping trips, and coffee addictions.  But in the midst of all of the fun and frivolity of life at Oregon State, we also were trying to sort out what exactly it was we wanted our lives to be about.  We had made our Prank War Manifesto, but the guidelines of how we would live the rest of our life seemed a bit murky at times.

Even now as I launch into my thirties, I sometimes feel like I could use a clear manifesto on just what exactly I’m supposed to be pursuing with my life.

As I make decisions about how I use my time, what habits and patterns I establish, the people I surround myself with, and the education and careers I pursue, do I ever pause long enough to ask what it is I’m hoping to accomplish when all is said and done?

Life can be about a lot of things.  At the end of the day, when I look back, I want to know that my life, my days, and my decisions were being used for the right things.

One of the verses I keep coming back to is Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Act Justly.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly.

3 things.  I can try and do those three things.  I think the world would be a little bit better if all of us learned how to do these three things a little bit better together.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your life?  What do you need to say no to, in order to be able to say yes to the right things?

Micah 6 8

We > Me

I’ve found that when I ask “What can I possibly do?”, the answer is usually very small and discouraging. But when I start thinking about what WE can do, I can’t think of any problem that can’t be tackled.

The USA Women’s soccer team just won their 3rd World Cup ending a 16 year drought since their last time as World Cup champions in 1999, and becoming the first women’s team in history to win that many titles.

As I watched the trophy presentation, the commentators remarked on the amazing teamwork that led these women to victory.  When Abby Wambach came on as a sub late in the second half, Carli Lloyd handed off her captain’s armband to the former star and team captain in a show of respect to Wambach as she played her last match on the World Cup stage.  When it came time to accept the trophy, Wambach and Christine Rampone both accepted the trophy and then counted to three before hoisting it up together.  Rampone was the oldest member on the team at 40, and also came on as a late sub to play in her last match ever in the World Cup.  She was the only member of the 2015 team who had also played for the 1999 team, the last US women’s team to win the World Cup.

These small acts of deference were a small symbol of just how well these women worked together as a team, always looking out for the good of each other and eager to share the glory.  The victory accomplished was done as a team.

The first goal of the game came from Carli Lloyd—her first of 3 goals that would lead her team to victory—was off of a cornerkick from Megan Rapinoe.  That cornerkick was earned by Morgan Brian, the youngest member of the team.  Without Brian earning the corner, and Rapinoe setting it up perfectly, Lloyd doesn’t get her goal.  The point?  It was all about the team.


2 weeks ago, I was in the midst of my whirlwind tour through Thailand and Cambodia learning about the incredible work that Destiny Rescue is doing to rescue and restore children out of sex trafficking.  Confronted with an issue as big and evil as sex trafficking, I frequently feel overwhelmed and find myself asking, “What can I possibly do?”

What can I possibly do?

I’ve asked this question many times, and maybe you have too.  Maybe it’s about the same issue, or maybe there is another issue that you are passionate about.  You want to do something to help, but don’t know how you, one small tiny individual, could possibly make a difference.

But something shifted for me while I was on this trip.  I realized that maybe I was asking the wrong question.  When I ask “What can I do?”, I frequently feel small and overwhelmed.  But I started to change just one little word in that question, and I realized it made all the difference in the world.

What if, instead of asking “What can I do?”, we started asking “What can WE do?”

What can WE do?

I am only one person with limited time, ideas, and resources.  WE are a group with unlimited time, ideas, and resources.

I am only one small voice.  WE can raise a shout that will be heard around the world.

I am only one perspective and one piece of a puzzle.  WE are all perspectives and backgrounds and together can see the whole picture.

I am only two hands and two feet.  WE are a family with hands to reach out to all in need, and feet to go to every corner of our world.

I am only one part.  WE are a body with every part working together in harmony to accomplish great things.

I’ve found that when I ask “What can I possibly do?”, the answer is usually very small and discouraging.  But when I start thinking about what WE can do, I can’t think of any problem that can’t be tackled.

I have some good news to share with you, friends.

The needs in the world are great, but the power of God is greater (Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26).

Christ has built his church, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).

Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 2:23, 4:4).

Christ has already won the victory over sin and death (John 16:33; Romans 8:37; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

We are the body of Christ, HIS hands and HIS feet, empowered by HIS Spirit (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

We ALL have a role to play (Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 2:10, 4:7).

Sometimes I think we miss the point of verses like this, or we jump on the wrong bandwagon and then wonder why God isn’t doing anything.  Let me be clear:  I am convinced that there is no injustice in the world today that can stand against the power of the people of God who are being led by and dependent upon His Spirit.  I am convinced that if all the followers of Jesus decided to work together to end something like child sex trafficking, all of our resources and efforts combined could end this awful injustice within a few short years.  Or apply the same idea to orphan care, clean drinking water, or people dying of preventable diseases.  I’m not talking about political agendas and passing legislation; I’m talking about you and me being the hands and feet of Jesus to love people in practical and tangible ways.  No one is going to argue against us if we want to feed the poor, and we might even win some people over to seeing Jesus a little bit more clearly if we started doing things like this a little bit better.

So let’s learn how to play together as a team.

Let’s build one another up, and encourage one another.

Let’s learn each other’s strengths, and celebrate each other’s gifts.

Let’s get on our knees and pray together and seek how God is moving and how we can play a part.

It’s time to ask, “What can WE do together as the people of God?”.  And I think the answer is going to be pretty exciting.

It’s not just up to you.  So grab your closest friends, choose a cause you care about, and see how much greater of an impact you can have when you work together than you ever could on your own.

And leave a comment below with your thoughts, or your cause that you want to make a difference in!

WE > ME

Reflections from Thailand and Cambodia

It was probably a mistake to go to Costco the day after returning home from a third world country.

As I begin to unpack all that I saw over the last two weeks in our whirlwind tour of Thailand and Cambodia, so much of my own regular life feels foreign.  Grocery shopping and laundry are a comforting routine after 10 plane flights, 7 hotels, countless tuk-tuk rides, and 2 loooooong van rides along bumpy roads that felt like a real-life Indiana Jones ride.  But even as I begin the process of picking back up my life here in Orange County, I know there are some things I don’t necessarily want to pick back up.

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia

There’s something about travel, particularly if traveling with the purpose of learning more about the lives of children who were once trapped in sex trafficking, that can undo deeply held assumptions and expectations about life.

I keep re-playing one conversation from the trip over and over in my head.  While visiting one of the project homes, I found myself in a conversation with one of the young teenage girls who lived there.  She wanted to keep practicing her English rather than play the games that the rest of my team had planned for the afternoon, so we sat quietly off to the side — pausing our conversation occasionally to laugh as we watched the craziness going on around us.

The conversation stayed light as we covered everything from music to sports, and from boyfriends to learning how to ride a moped.  When I asked her what her favorite thing to do was, she quickly answered that she loved studying English.  This girl was incredibly bright, funny, kind, ambitious, friendly, and easy to connect with.  She had a smile that lit up her whole face, an infectious laugh, and an easy demeanor that made our 20-minute conversation one of the highlights of my trip.

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia

I don’t know her particular story–we weren’t allowed to ask questions about their past–but we did learn generally how most of these girls ended up trapped in sexual exploitation.

Every story is unique, and each girl has undergone her own journey of various hardships.  But the most common scenario that played out for many of these girls starts with them wanting to do something to help their family.  Daughters will leave their homes and families, and go to the city to look for work.  With limited educational and vocational training, many of these girls can only find a job serving as bar girls.  It starts simply enough, with helping carry drinks to customers.  Over time, customers will ask for these girls to sit with them and the customers will buy drinks for the girls.  From there, men will start putting their hands on the girls.  When these innocent girls ask the bar manager, called the mamasan, they will be told that it’s normal and that they needs to put up with it.

From there, it’s a slow assault on their self-worth and dignity.  Shame builds up as their bodies become more and more of a commodity to be used for the entertainment and pleasure of others.  They still need to be able to send money home to help their family, so financial and family obligation coupled with shame form strong bonds that  prohibit them from leaving.  While they’re not in physical chains, the manipulation, coercion and emotional bondage they suffer under is very real.  It’s only a matter of time before these girls are expected to do more than just sit with men and let them buy drinks for them at the bar; sooner or later someone will pay the mamasan to be able to take the girl away for the night.

In what must seem nothing short of a miracle, one day one of the men who shows up at the bar will ask for a girl to sit with him, but his intentions will be very different than the typical customer.  Rather than trying to take advantage, he will offer a way out and a new future.  This is the work of Destiny Rescue and other similar organizations, sending agents into the bars to find these underage girls and offering them a second chance at life.

Knowing the typical backstory, as I sat talking with this particular girl I could hardly believe that she came from such a background.  Where I expected to find despair and fragility, I saw hope and strength.  This girl dared to believe that her past would not define her as she looked ahead to a bright future filled with possibility.

Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat in Cambodia

There are some things you can’t “unknow.”

I hope I never forget those brief 20 minutes of sitting and laughing with this incredible girl.  Her strength and resilience left a lasting impression, and her ability to overcome adversity is something I can only hope to imitate in my own small way.

I don’t fully know just yet how much this trip has changed me.  I think only time will continue to tell how much the stories I heard and the things I saw have challenged deeply held assumptions and expectations of what life should look like.

I know I want to be different.  I know there is a lot in my life I take for granted.  I know there is a girl on the other side of the world who has given me a new perspective on life.

I wonder what a girl who has been rescued out of sex trafficking would think of something like walking around Costco.  It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with going to Costco, but it’s just that I can’t quite fit both of those realities together in my head quite yet.

I wonder what it looks like to make small decisions like how I spend my money and time with less entitlement and more gratitude.

I wonder what it looks like to realize that it’s something we have absolutely no control over, like what country we were born in, that can be the difference between two completely different stories.

And I wonder what it looks like to find more ways to be a voice for these girls, to find more ways to fight for justice, and to find more ways to bring hope and restoration to people who are still trapped in seemingly hopeless situations.

I’m so grateful for this trip, and for the work of Destiny Rescue.  I loved learning more about the work they are doing, and how it has challenged and unmade some of my assumptions about life.  And I’m eager to look for ways to make more of a difference with my life.

Bayon Temple in Cambodia
Bayon Temple in Cambodia

Thailand and Cambodia Adventures: Part 1

Chiang Rai, Thailand | Vision Trip with Destiny Rescue
Chiang Rai is in the far northern part of the country and close to several of the hill tribes of Thailand.
From elephant rides to playing soccer with kids in a prevention home, and from walking around the night bazaar to leading games and Bible study time at a project home, our team has really jumped into the deep end and found ourselves immersed in the work of the organization we’re here with, all while soaking up every possible opportunity to enjoy the beautiful country of Thailand.
Here’s a brief glimpse of what’s stood out to me on this trip so far…

DESTINY RESCUE

My respect for the work Destiny Rescue is doing only continues to grow as we meet more of their staff and see their centers first hand.
From prevention homes that provide a safe and loving place for at-risk kids to grow up, to recovery centers that provide aftercare for girls rescued out of sex trafficking, they are doing incredible work to bring so much hope into their little corner of the world.
Chiang Rai is where the international office is located, so we had the chance to have several of their staff join us for meals and talk to our team about their role. The spectrum of prevention and care they are working together to provide is thorough, thoughtful, and well executed. It’s a privilege to see firsthand what they are doing, and meet the incredible men and women who are making it happen!  

THE GIRLS

We’ve had a few opportunities to meet the kids that are having their lives changed through the work of Destiny Rescue.  
The first day our team of 12 rolled up to a prevention home and piled out. Our tour guide had stopped for supplies and was just a few minutes behind. With the language barrier we all just looked at each other and no one quite knew what to do. But if there’s one thing that works universally to bring people together, it’s soccer! They had goals set up on their field, we found a ball, and somehow I found myself running around in crazy hot and humid weather playing soccer with Thai kids and wondering when I would wake up from this dream!
The next day we visited their jewelry making facility and spent time with the girls making bracelets. I’m pretty sure it took us all the full hour to make one simple bracelet while they could make 3 or 4, but the time at the center provided great insight to better understand the vocational skills and training these girls receive through Destiny Rescue’s care.  
The last day in Chiang Rai, we led “len sanook” or active fun/play time for the girls, including a Zumba dance lesson. Next it was Christian studies time and we led a lesson about the importance of encouraging one another from 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Finally, for a life skills lesson, 3 of our team members who are dental hygienists led a lesson in oral hygiene and all the girls received a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.
What’s stood out to me the most is the hope I see in their faces. I expected to feel heartbroken and heavy from meeting these girls, but instead I saw so much joy that it was contagious! I can’t even imagine how much they have overcome, but rather than be defined by their past they are choosing to be defined by the bright new future ahead of them. They laughed and sang and danced and smiled, and I kept shaking my head in awe at how hard it was to believe the past these girls had come from.
I was humbled beyond anything I could have imagined to learn so much from these beautiful girls and how their lives just radiate joy. I expected to feel hopeless; but instead, I walked away with so much hope for the future. What an honor to witness the true power of transformation these girls experienced as they were rescued from the worst possible environment and brought into a loving environment run by people who just want to show them the love of Jesus!
THE TEAM

I’ll be honest: this is the part I was the most nervous about. I’d briefly met just a few other members of the team a few months ago, but basically was showing up at LAX to go on this trip with a bunch of strangers. There are 12 of us from the states: 9 from California, and one each from North Carolina, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. We range from 19 to 35, and all come from different denominations and church backgrounds.
And I’m SO happy to be able to share that I genuinely LOVE these people. It’s been so sweet to get to know each of their stories and how God is at work in their lives in such a way that they would want to go on a trip like this. I’m slowly seeing the different personalities and strengths shine through, and it’s so fun to get to share two weeks of life with this incredible group of people.
THE ADVENTURE

And then there’s the fun parts of the trip. Thailand has not disappointed!
It’s been an elephant riding, waterfall jumping, jungle hiking, street bazaar exploring, Thai iced coffee drinking, river boat exploring, crazy good Thai food eating adventure so far and we’ve barely gotten started!
I have a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity to be on this amazing adventure, and can’t wait to see what happens next and continue learning more about Thailand, Cambodia, human trafficking, and how ordinary people like you and I really CAN make a difference.
We’ll spend the next 5 days in Cambodia before heading back to Thailand for a few more days. Check back for more updates!
One last note: for safety purposes we can’t take or post pictures of the facilities or kids.  But check out some of these other photos from my time here so far!

   
                   

Good Things Come to Those Who Work

If I knew what I was supposed to do, then I would do it!  If someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll get started on it!

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve shouted those phrases in exasperation.

Where should I go to school?  What kind of job or career should I pursue?  How can I give back?  Who should I be investing in?  Where should I live?  What or who should I be focusing on?  How can I help others?  Who should I spend the rest of my life with?

Most recently for me, I’ve been asking questions as I’ve become increasingly aware of the inequalities and injustices plaguing our world.  It’s atrocious and overwhelming and paralyzing all at the same time.

I’m leaving on a trip in a few days to Thailand and Cambodia to learn more about the work that an organization is doing to fight back and help rescue and restore victims of child sex trafficking.  As I was talking about this trip, and the related issues of human trafficking, my friend made the following comment:

“It’s horrible, but I feel like I can’t do anything about it.  It’s so overwhelming.  What can I possibly do?”

As he said it, I saw the compassion in his eyes and heard the genuine care in his voice.  And I think that is probably how most of us feel.

My guess is that, to the degree of which you are aware of the atrocities and injustices in our world, you DO care!  You DO agree that they are evil, and your heart DOES break for the victims.  But like my friend, and like myself most of the time as well, we frequently feel completely helpless to do anything about it.

We’ll look for opportunities to give resources or funds to non-profits who are on the frontlines, sponsor a child, or find opportunities to volunteer in some way.  These are all great things, and things we should all continue doing!  I know people who are doing incredible things to live sacrificially and help those who can’t help themselves, and I admire those people incredibly.

Recently, I’ve found myself in a bit of a wrestling match with God.  As I’ve thought more about the problems of injustice in our world, and as I open my Bible and over and over again come across verses that point to God as a God of justice, and a God who cares for the poor, and a God who deeply loves and cares for the orphans and the least of these, I’ve found that God has been pushing me and challenging me to think about what more I can do to take up the fight.

It started about 6 months ago when I was reading Isaiah 58.  In this chapter, Isaiah is calling out the Israelites.  The people of Israel are complaining that God has not noticed their fasting or answered their prayers.  God responds with a harsh rebuttal that their fasting has been completely misguided: they are going through the motions and only pretending to care about the ways of God, all the while persisting in their wickedness, quarrelling, and exploiting their workers.  And then God tells the people of Israel that if they want a guarantee that he will hear and respond to their prayers, a different kind of sacrifice will get his attention:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say:  Here am I…
“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Isaiah 58:6-10

This passage in Isaiah, and so many more like it that I have come across in the last few months, keep tugging at my heart.  And while I still don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to do, I know that inaction is no longer an option for me.

For lack of knowing what to do, I started reading and searching Scripture and talking to people who are already working against injustice.  I watched talks from Christine Caine and Gary Haugen.  I read books and articles and started becoming more and more aware of the intricacies and complexities of some of the issues related to injustice.  I dipped my toe in a little bit by trying to do a few fundraisers and volunteering for a non-profit.  I moved forward with plans for this trip to Thailand and Cambodia.  I prayed and kept looking for action steps.

And as I took these steps, even though I didn’t feel like I was taking any real tangible action to make a difference, I still felt deep down like these tiny steps were hugely important.  Instead of running away from how hard it was, or returning to complacency, I did what I could.  I started educating myself and pressing into this topic.

Too often in my life I’ve been concerned about a topic, but let lack of a clear action step keep me from doing anything.  At all.  I want the opportunity to change the world handed to me on a silver platter.

I wonder if the world isn’t changed yet because instead of making our own opportunities or figuring it out ourselves, we’re waiting for someone to come along and hand it to us.

And I wonder how different the world might be if we picked a topic we cared about and didn’t wait for someone else to tell us what to do about it, but we decided to start figuring it out for ourselves.

I don’t want all of us to care about victims of human trafficking.  I want some of you to care about orphans and foster kids, about at-risk teens and single moms, about victims of abuse and domestic violence, about poverty and clean drinking water, about teenage pregnancies and drug and alcohol addiction, about unreached people groups and illiteracy, about people with disabilities and the homeless, about family and raising healthy kids, about healthy marriages and healthy bodies, about the elderly and the widows, about the persecution of believers and the crisis in the Middle East, about church plants and Bible translation, about discipleship and prayer, about racial tension and gender equality, about justice and truth.  I want you to care about your little corner of the world and how the values and ways and love of God can best be lived out in your sphere of influence.

If you believe God is tugging on your heart to care about an issue, but you don’t know where to start, can I suggest you start with Scripture?  Can I suggest you start by building your confidence that God is passionate about the very thing you are becoming passionate about?  Can I suggest that if you think you’re willing to do the work for a cause you care about, that work might start by educating yourself?

I got tired of not knowing what to do.  And so while I still don’t know the solution to problems as big as human trafficking, not knowing is no longer an excuse.  I’m going to learn.  I’m going to study.  I’m going to put in the work, and travel, and talk to people, and figure out what can be done.

“If I knew what I was supposed to do, then I would do it!”

“If someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll get started on it!”

I’ve said these phrases so many times, and I’m tired of using my lack of knowledge as an excuse.  In my life, this looks like reading books about justice, having intentional conversations, and leaving for a trip to Thailand and Cambodia to immerse myself in these issues for 2 weeks.  It’s not a solution to the problem.  But it does get the ball rolling.

And something tells me it will be easier to be ready for the right opportunity when it finally comes along if I’m already in motion.

So if you find yourself asking questions about what to do, or you’re wrestling with what steps you should take, or you feel stuck with where you’re at in life and wondering what exactly it is you’re supposed to be doing, first, let me tell you that I feel your pain.  But let me challenge you with this:

What if what you’re supposed to do is put in the work to figure out what you’re supposed to do?

What if what you’re supposed to do is just start working — even if it’s not the perfect solution or situation — because good things come to those who work?

For those of you who are past this stage of figuring out what to do, what advice would you give?  What helped you move forward with pursuing your purpose in life?

What are the causes you have found worth fighting for, and what are the tangible action steps you are taking in that direction?

By the way, here are a few book recommendations to get you started:

Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

good things come to those who work

What Love Looks Like: Reflections from the Garden of Gethsemane

Olive Tree

About a year ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel.  Walking the land where the history of the people of God played out provided unique insights and a new and deeper understanding of the Bible.

Instead of reading a story, I could picture it playing out in front of me.  Static interchanges became dynamic monologues with dramatic backdrops.  Brief geographic references became touch-points for visualizing a rich landscape and providing contextual clues to help better understand the story.

Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane, east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, was one such location.   My time spent wandering through the olive groves there forever changed how I will understand the events that took place the night Jesus was arrested.

Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem

What I never realized before was that the Garden of Gethsemane was one of the best locations from which you could look out over the city of Jerusalem.  Specifically, it overlooked the temple on the east side of the city.  This means that as Jesus is praying, agonizing over his imminent suffering, committing to the Father to carry through the plans to give his life in exchange for rebellious humanity, Jesus is looking out over the city that had rejected him.

How could someone look out over the city that had rejected him, and then still choose to walk back down that hill, through the gate, and willingly offer his life as a sacrifice?

This is a strange kind of love, a love that feels almost foreign in its fierceness.

To help you get the full picture, let me set the scene for you.  You might already be familiar with the story.  Each of the gospel writers describes it with slight variants, but together they clearly communicate that Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36)

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. (Luke 22:39)

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.  On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. (John 18:1)

What I never realized, until visiting there myself, was just how close Gethsemane is to the city of Jerusalem.  From the west slope of the Mount of Olives where the garden is located, to the east wall of the Old city of Jerusalem, it is less than a quarter of a mile.

If you’re a visual person, you’ll see the Mount of Olives on the far right side of this map, directly across from the east wall of the city where the temple was located.

From the Bibleworks Moody Bible Atlas
From the Bibleworks Moody Bible Atlas

And here’s the view from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem.  (You’ll see the modern day Dome of the Rock in the place where the temple would have been during Jesus’ day).

Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem

This is the view Jesus looked out upon as he prayed in the garden that night.  His vision was filled with the city that had rejected him; the city that would put him to death the next day.  With this picture in mind, read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ time in Gethsemane:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”  (Matthew 26:36-46 NIV)

In Luke’s account, we learn that Jesus prayed so earnestly and in such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 23:44).


When touring Israel, it’s best to hold expectations loosely.  Some sites will be completely different than what you had expected.  Others you’ll expect to have a certain emotional response, but due to a packed schedule, exhaustion, or a host of other factors that go with international travel, you won’t “feel” what you thought you would feel.

In our two week whirlwind trip that saw over 40 different biblical sites, our time in the Garden of Gethsemane came at the end of the trip.  In contrast to so many other locations that bear the trappings of being overrun by the tourism industry, the garden was simple.  An olive grove on the side of the hill, and no one but our group in sight.

I wandered through the olive grove, reflecting on Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion.  I had expected to be weepy, overcome with the feelings of sorrow and betrayal that transpired in this place. Instead, as I pondered what it must have been like for Jesus to prepare himself for the inevitable, I felt a sense of resolve.

Looking out over the city that had rejected Him, knowing fully that it would cost His very life, Jesus still chose to walk down that hill, across the valley, and re-enter Jerusalem.

I pictured Jesus standing in the garden.  Set jaw.  Lips pressed firmly together.  Eyes intently overlooking the city.  Hands clenched tightly.  Shoulders square.  Spine straight.  Feet firmly planted.  Determination furrowing his brow.

He had a mission to accomplish.  And nothing could stop him from seeing it through.

The soldiers came, one of his closest friends betrayed him with a kiss, and Jesus set his feet towards Jerusalem.  He would give his life even for his enemies, because that’s what love does.

Friends, Jesus chose you.  Jesus chose you even though it cost Him His life. 

Jesus’ love for you is not a fleeting feeling that changes based on circumstances.  Jesus’ love for you is a steady resolve, a determination that leads to self-sacrifices, a choice to love you and keep moving towards you even when you are pushing him away.

I doubt that in that moment in the garden, Jesus had a whole lot of warm fuzzy feelings about what he was about to do.  Rather, he knew what love required.  He chose making a way for relationship with you over personal comfort.  He chose death and suffering because it meant reconciliation.

This love that Jesus shows us in that moment is a strong, fierce love.  It is a love that makes me feel safe, and also scared at the same time.

I feel safe because I know nothing I do will ever change how much Jesus loves me.  If his love led him to walk back into Jerusalem and give his life for his enemies, then surely my moments of sin, selfishness, and stupidity won’t scare him away.  I feel safe because I feel secure in his love, and I trust that he won’t abandon me.

I feel scared because I think we’re called to love how Jesus loved, and that terrifies me.  If his love led him to endure such pain on behalf of the people he loves, what will be asked of me as I try to love people like Jesus loved people?  I feel scared, terrified even, because of what it might cost to love people this way.

I remember specifically at the time I was on this trip, I had one friend who was particularly hard for me to love.  I wanted to be done, and I was tired of being hurt.  The more I moved toward this person and tried to help, the more vehemently I was pushed away.

And yet as I sat in that garden, contemplating what Jesus had done, I realized that love doesn’t care about the cost.  Love is a choice to put someone else’s good before your own.  Love is a resolve to pursue what’s best for another person, even if it demands sacrifice.

Love is not a feeling; love is a choice.

There will always be people I don’t want to love.  There will always be things I don’t want to do.  There will always be pains I would rather avoid and sacrifices I would rather not make.

But this is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t die for me so that I could spend the rest of my life avoiding hard and painful things.  Jesus didn’t walk down that hill, back into Jerusalem, and hang on a cross so that I could hide in safety and waste my life.

We inhabit a very dark, very hurting world.  People are hurting.  Everywhere.  Not just in other countries, but in your family, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, and in your social circles.

Jesus gave his life so that humanity could once again find hope and healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation to God.

Jesus gave his life so that we could live for him.  So that we could take this new life we’ve found in him, and share it with others.  So that we could love the people around us that are hurting.  Even if it hurts, even if it takes a sacrifice, we’re called to love those around us.

Jesus died for you so that you could live for him.  

Who in your life is God asking you to love today?  

Who in your life have you avoided reaching out to because you know it might be hard?  

How can you take comfort from the example of Jesus and trust Him to provide what you need as you go out to love this world that Jesus died for?

Sitting in the grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, with a view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the background.
Sitting in the grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, with a view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the background.
The grove of Olive trees on the Mount of Olives.
The grove of Olive trees on the Mount of Olives.
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Jerusalem's East Gate
Jerusalem’s East Gate

Donkeys + Palm Branches: What’s the deal with Palm Sunday?

Birthdays and bridal showers.  Work schedule and working out.  Fundraisers and friends.  Trips and to-do lists.

I just turned 32, and when people ask me if I feel any different, I respond, “I feel tired.  I think feeling 32 feels like being tired.”

In the midst of this, because I work at a church and Easter is kind of a big deal for us, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about the significance of Easter and the events leading up to it.

In doing so, I realized I’ve never given much thought to Palm Sunday.  At best, it served as a week’s notice that Easter would be here soon, cueing a rush to get those Easter eggs dyed and stock up on my annual Cadbury fix, because the real show would be coming soon.  It was the advance warning:  If you are singing hosanna and there’s talk of palm branches, make sure you’ve got your Easter plans locked in because you’ve only got a week left.

Poor Palm Sunday.  You’re the opening act.  No one actually buys tickets to see you.

And yet this year, perhaps for the first time in my life, I’m excited to celebrate Palm Sunday.  Why?

Palm Sunday is one big party about how life is better when Jesus is in charge.

Here’s a  little more of what I’ve learned about Palm Sunday, and why you might want to be excited about what it points too as well!

PASSOVER

The original Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem the Sunday before his eventual crucifixion, was taking place at the end of Passover.  Passover week commemorated God’s deliverance of the Israelites out of the clutches of the Egyptians. It was a joyous celebration, a time when people from all over Israel would converge in Jerusalem to remember and celebrate what God had done.  Under the current Roman occupation, hopes for a future deliverance would be running high.

Psalm 118 was on the lips of everyone at the time.  It was a song that looked forward to the Messiah, the descendant of David who would reclaim the throne and restore Israel.  All week, people were shouting:

LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.

The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

(Psalm 118:25-27, NIV)

HOSANNA

One of the Hebrew words from Psalm 118:25 looks like this:

הוֹשִׁ֘יעָ֥ה

 If you squint just right, or if you know your Hebrew alphabet, this spells hosanna

It’s from the Hebrew verb, yasha, to save, deliver, give victory, or help.  In other words, “Lord, save us!”

Expectantly hoping for the Messiah, the one who would deliver them, the Israelites looked forward to the day when God’s rightful king would once more ascend the throne.  He would lead his people to victory, and he would also lead them back to true worship of Yahweh.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNT), on the origin of the word “hosanna,” elaborates on the significant role of Psalm 118:

“The Psalm is suited for a description of the Davidic king, in his role as the Melchizedek priest, leading his people in procession to Yahweh’s house.  In this context the cry, ‘O, Save’ would indicate an imploring cry to Yahweh to bring to reality that which the liturgy has depicted.  Judaism later followed out this thought by making the great cry focus on the expectation of the messianic king.”

DONKEYS AND PALM BRANCHES

Psalm 118:27 describes how the Messiah’s procession would be celebrated with boughs (palm branches) in hand.

In addition to the messianic hopes of Psalm 118, another key passage the Israelites would have fresh in their minds as they look for their deliverer is Zechariah 9:9 (NIV):

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The NIDNT continues to expound on the significance of “hosanna” as its use continued in 1st century Judaism:

“By NT times, Hosanna had become a full ‘cultic cry’…. The sight of Jesus fulfilling the kingly prophecy of Zech. 9:9, coupled with the strewing and waving of branches reminiscent of the ceremonial fronds which had come to characterize the Feast of Tabernacles, prompted the shout appropriate to that occasion and, all unwittingly, they greeted the true David with the Davidic welcome.”

Passover, hosanna, donkeys and palm branches

Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?  Now that you have some historical context, read the account from Matthew about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem:

Matthew 21:1-9 (NIV)

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 WHY PALM SUNDAY MATTERS TODAY

The people of Israel are beat up, broken, oppressed, marginalized, and longing for the days when God’s favor was with them.  They are holding out hope for this promised Messiah figure, the one who would once again establish God’s rule and reign.

 They know that life is always better when it is lived under the leadership and guidance of the rightful king.

 When God’s anointed is on the throne, all is as it should be.

That’s what people are hoping for that first Palm Sunday. And maybe that’s a little bit of what you and I need today.


Even at its best, this life on earth carries with it a level of brutality and brokenness.  I would say there are a lot of good things in my life right now.  But even with all those good things, I’m so aware of my own sin and brokenness, and the profound brutality and brokenness of the world around me.

Even at its best, this life is far from perfect.  And this world will never BE perfect until Jesus comes again and once more humanity is living fully under the rule and reign of the rightful King.

Palm Sunday is about the hope that God will make, and indeed is making, all things right.

Life is always better when it is lived under the leadership and guidance of the rightful king.

Humankind was made to live in a proper relationship with our Creator—a relationship where His divine design for life and human flourishing is realized.  Humanity is at its best when it is submitted to the way God designed life to be lived, reconciled to God as well as to each other.

The first Palm Sunday inaugurated a beautiful opening act, setting the stage for Jesus to conquer the power of sin and death through his death and resurrection.  The rightful king reclaimed his people, his territory.  Since that first triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the story of God taking back the hearts of his people from the clutches of the enemy continues to unfold.  The rule and reign of Christ was undeniably established that week, but it is not yet fully here.

This Jesus life is here, now, in glimpses.  Sin no longer has mastery over us.  Death no longer has the final say.  Hope, joy, love, and peace are abundantly available as we walk through life with God.

There are moments, glimpses, when we see just how breathtakingly beautiful life with God was meant to be.  But then we come crashing back to this earth, and the brutal reality of living in a broken world hits us anew.

Life is always better when it is lived under the leadership and guidance of the rightful king.  As we encounter the places in this world where the ways of God are not recognized or lived out, it serves as a brutal reminder of just how broken this world still is.

Can you imagine what it will be like when there’s no more glimpses, and we are blinded by the beauty that is fully revealed?

Can you imagine what it’s like when, for the first time since the garden, humanity is living fully under the rule and reign of God and sin and brokenness are nowhere to be found?

Palm Sunday is a foreshadowing of what the real triumphal entry will be like.  Jesus came once to Jerusalem and initiated a new way for God’s people to be reconciled, a new way to live, a new way for the kingdom of God to start pushing back the darkness in this world.

But another Palm Sunday is coming, and on that day all the wrongs of this world will finally be made right.

The rightful king will be on the throne, and all will be as it should be.

The King of Kings will be the ONLY King, and the ways of God will rule once more on earth.


For the first time in my life this week, I genuinely prayed for Jesus to come back.

I love my life, and yes, there are definitely still a lot of things I’m hoping to experience and see before my time here on earth is done.  But honestly, I’m also ready to be done with the brokenness.  I’m ready to be done with sin.  I’m ready to not have my heart broken as I hear about the brutal and harsh realities taking place around the world.

God, save us.

Hosanna, God save us!

This world will never fully be right until YOU are once again fully in charge. 


That, dear friends, is a little bit more of what I think Palm Sunday is supposed to be about.  I hope you’ll join with me in celebrating this Sunday.  Let’s celebrate that Jesus is the rightful king, and rejoice in the victory He has already accomplished over sin and death.  But let’s also look forward to the day when the final Palm Sunday arrives!