Inspiration

Lost in Translation

BY: GREG SEBELL

I was pretty much the poster boy for the “good Christian kid”. You know, the one everyone made fun of because he was literally too good for his own good. Yep. That was me. No fun. Annoying, but well-meaning. To be fair, I came by it honestly…

I was basically born on the front bench of my family’s country church in Northern British Columbia. My Dad was the youth pastor / music team leader. My grandparents were on staff at the church; Grandma was the teacher at our church’s school. My family was involved in church activities twice, sometimes three times each week. We only listened to music labeled “Christian” in our home for years, so it should come as no surprise that I was 20 when I discovered who Stevie Wonder was. #FacePalm

I was homeschooled until 11th grade. High school was a great experience for me, but it was also a bit of a culture shock because I literally didn’t have any friends prior who didn’t share my world view, my faith, or speak the way I did. I was the boy trapped in the bubble of Christian culture.

Looking back I can see that it shaped everything for me - some of it good, some not so much. The language I used, the opinions I had, the way I interpreted art…the way I connected with others. I didn’t really know how to relate to someone with a different journey than me.

 Photo taken by  @technopaul

Photo taken by @technopaul

Thankfully, a lot has changed in my life. Life is hard. Sh*t hits the fan. Sometimes (most times) you don't have all the answers. As deep rooted as my faith might have appeared, I quickly learned that a lot of it was in my head - not in my heart. I also learned that life is messy. It isn’t so cut and dry. Everything isn’t always black and white and everyone’s journey is different. It’s a process. And I believe God loves that process. He welcomes the questions and doubts with a big smile, because the Truth can defend itself. He’s not afraid of the messy, cloudy parts. He just wants to dig in with us and help us sort through it.

My former self might say I’m going to hell in a race car. But he didn’t have a lot of grace for himself - or anyone for that matter. His faith was largely based on performance - on the things he did or didn’t do. My former self needed to take a chill pill. He also needed to break out of his bubble and learn to relate to others - to use the language most of the world uses. He needed to learn to be okay to be raw and honest - even if it didn’t feel perfect and “Christian”, because life isn’t perfect. And the definition of being a “Christian” is not to have it all together. Rather, it is recognizing our need for help and a Saviour because we are all broken and we can’t fix it on our own.

Words are an incredible tool. With them we can literally speak life or death.

Heal or tear down.

Build a bridge or build a wall.

Let’s use our words to build bridges. To include, not alienate others. Let’s put away church-y jargon and express ourselves and our faith journeys in ways that are approachable and inclusive to everyone. You don’t have to change the message. Just the method. All it takes is a little more effort, some creativity and a desire to be selfless. Putting others first is core to who Jesus was. Let’s use our words to meet everyone else where they are at in their journey. Better yet, let’s focus on living lives that do the speaking for us.

 Photo by  @philipleclerc

Blurred Lines: Calling, Vocation, and Purpose

BY: BRIT GILMORE

Brit Gilmore is the President of The Giving Keys. She is passionate about job creation for community transformation and using business to build self-esteem and break cycles of poverty.

A person living in their purpose is powerful, especially when their purpose is rooted in virtuous and compassionate ideas for the common good. I am so inspired today by all of the courageous innovators with bold and transformative ideas that exist and are succeeding at what they set out to do. I look at organizations and companies like International Justice MissionFEEDTOMSWarby ParkerKrochet Kids, etc and I get really excited for where the world is headed. Non-profits are becoming smarter at their work and social businesses that are using products to create revenue, raise awareness AND solve problems are showcasing that for-profit business can have a positive impact on people, communities and the world. 

Unfortunately, the early and medieval church promoted this idea that there is a divide between sacred and secular - that there were sacred jobs and ‘ordinary’ jobs.  In this spiritual dualism 'spiritual' callings were elevated over 'secular' callings. As the Puritan writer William Perkins put it in his Treatise on the Vocations or Callings of Men, “The main end of our lives . . . is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings.” Living in your purpose or vocation is “a certain kind of life, ordained…by God, for the common good.”

Our calling is sacred whether that’s as a pastor, writer, musician, photographer, entrepreneur, mom, athlete or actor. How do we find it? I would suggest it comes through intentional seeking, both internal and external – asking the question, ‘what needs are there in the world and how can I help?’ equally as much as we are asking ‘what am I created for?’  Calling is not only the utilization of your specific talents and gifts, but an awareness of the world around you, the needs of your community and the merging of the two. Living a life of service through your unique talents and gifts in whatever industry or sphere you are called. Be bold, be courageous, live out your values to better the world. 

How a Weirdo Changed the World

BY: CJ Casciotta

At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, “Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him.”
Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here.” He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well.
When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?”
“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”

Matthew 17: 14-20. The Message

 The Sea of Galilee, taken by  @cjcasciotta

The Sea of Galilee, taken by @cjcasciotta

It’s one of the oldest and most enduring movements of all time. It's democracy, the civil rights, the fight against the 1%, and the desire to make America great again. It’s the movement that started with one weirdo who attracted a small tribe of fellow misfits, and eventually transformed the world.

The magic in his movement is his restless, almost fanatical empowerment of others, those just “waiting” in crowds. These are the vehicles he fuels with a poppy seed. Like his father to Adam, these are the static combinations of matter and spirit he breathes life into and says, “move.”

Though utterly mysterious and at times completely paradoxical, the life of Jesus offers a sort-of playbook for movement making. Every movement follows a similar 4-step pattern in which 1) it finds what makes it weird and 2) it tells that weird message to people. After that, 3) it begins to gather fellow weirdos, those who resonate with its message and together they begin to 4) influence others (those who would not identify themselves as weird).

If you look at Jesus’ methods closely, he follows this process masterfully. Let’s explore each step.

Be Weird

This is an easy one for Jesus. He’s born among farm animals, claims he’s the son of God, thinks he can save Israel from being occupied without a weapon, turns water into wine, speaks in riddles, and says statements like “drink my blood and eat my flesh.” There’s a lot more but let’s start there. Jesus’ message was and continues to be completely oppositional to what the majority of culture is pushing.

Tell the Story

While Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Lewis, Twain, and Spielberg all deserve our credit, we need not look further than Jesus for lessons in masterful storytelling. I mean this guy coined the phrase, for those that have ears, let them hear.” That’s good stuff right there. Jesus spoke to crowds like he was speaking to his close friends, and spoke with his close friends like they had the power to speak to masses. He was incredibly articulate, bold, and confident in the types of stories he told, ones that left people asking more questions rather than stinging them along with trite answers, yet somehow making his point-of- view abundantly clear.

Gather Weirdos

One of Jesus’ first orders of business was to develop a crew, a posse, a gang. Instead of picking brilliant, capable, creative leaders of integrity, he went after working class drifters, test-flunkers, soon-to- be-traitors, and crooked auditors. Like any movement, it’s safe to propose he did this because he knew these were the types of people his weird message would resonate with the most, the ones looking to be identified, cared for, and empowered to lead the movement long after he left.

Influence The Others

At some point, every movement is left with the task of “hacking the normals,” or making their weird message applicable not just to early adopters, but everyone else. Every technology movement has had to do this (think about Apple or Twitter). The African American community is still fighting to make their message of equality one that everyone embraces. It’s the hardest challenge every movement must face. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “The Great Commission.” We see examples of Jesus doing this kind of “normal-hacking” peppered throughout the Gospels: the way he turns a wedding crisis into a party, his conversations with a curious religious leader named Nicodemus, up until his death sentence in front of Roman rulers who didn’t even believe in the Hebrew God. As much time as Jesus spends with those who “get” him, he seems to have a special intentional disposition towards “the other.”

The movement of Jesus is one of the most fascinating in history. It continues to buck whatever system seems to be winning with its weird message of ruthless love and self-abandonment for the sake of a world we all secretly long for, but can’t imagine actually existing. And because we can’t imagine that reality, he gives us a something we grasp more easily. He gives us a poppy seed.

  @cjcasciotta  on the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount, taken by @philipleclerc

@cjcasciotta on the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount, taken by @philipleclerc

Law & Grace: The Continual Act of Sacrificial Creativity

BY: PAUL BRANDT

I grew up in an ultra-conservative, legalistic church from the ages of 6 to 13. A common
occurrence on Sunday afternoons was to go downtown near skid row and preach hell-fire and
brimstone sermons to people drunk on Listerine and home-cleaning supplies. I often wondered
why we didn't just bring them coffee and sandwiches.

Among the list of made up laws we observed:

  1. We didn't listen to the radio.
  2. We didn't have a TV.
  3. Organized sport was sin.
  4. Tattoos and piercings were sin. Unless you were a woman, then ear piercings were ok, but frowned upon. But you can't wear jewelry (so don't get caught).
  5. Musical instruments were not allowed. Especially electric guitars. It seems they had a special place on the sin/rebelliousness scale.
  6. Recorded music was a "no-no" unless it was The Gaithers, or Sandi Patti. (I would sneak into my aunt's basement to listen to her Elvis vinyls).
  7. Jewelry was bragging, so no. Just no (I chuckle to myself at this one especially as I envision my grandmother, the ultimate model of this church's submissive requirements, secretly buying baubles and trinkets from the door-to-door Avon lady, stashing it away in her bedroom drawer so my grandfather wouldn't know, and then secretly stealing us away when we visited to show us her contraband treasures).
  8. The wearing of blue jeans was a sin for women which could only be overlooked if it didn't occur on Sunday, assuming of course the sister in Christ kept her head covered, kept quiet, reserved all questions about her faith for her husband at home, and of course, the jeans weren't too tight.

When I reflect on this upbringing, I'm not bitter. I see so many positives which came into my life
as a result. The lack of television forced me and my sisters outside to play, it pushed us toward
reading, and nurtured our imaginations. The exclusive use of the King James Bible, the
subsequent exegesis from Strong's Concordance, and the constant Hebrew/Latin/Greek word
translations sparked my mind, and started my drive for poetry and prose. If not for the law I grew
up under, I would not have been exposed to many of the influences that continue to fuel my
creativity.

  @amandaseeyoudarr  at the St. George's Monestary, photo taken by  @imalbertabound

@amandaseeyoudarr at the St. George's Monestary, photo taken by @imalbertabound

I also learned that the ramming of messages and ideologies down people's throats rarely has
the intended effect. Coffee and sandwiches work better. The end game as Christ followers is
always to share the hope we've found, but we should be spirit lead in doing this. In all human
relationships, one must build up relational currency and trust before being afforded the privilege
of being able to share their ideas in a gentle and respectful way.


I remember when I turned thirteen, there was an awakening of Grace in our home. Yes, we
started attending a new church, and love came to town. And I got a guitar. The passage where
Jesus, grace incarnate, reveals that he didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, came alive
to me at that time (Matthew 5:17).
Up until that point, I had been writing poetry. I was a word-nerd, reading the thesaurus and
"quotable quotes" books from the age of 6. I loved how words could say more than their sum
when you put them in the right order. Almost as soon as I started playing the guitar, I realized
what had been missing, and that the poems I had been writing were actually rudimentary songs.
Once the musical and instrumental outlet opened up, I felt God's calling on my life in a very
specific way. At 13, I prayed a prayer, and it went something like this:
"Lord, thank you for giving me the gift of music. If it's your will, please let me use it to point
people who don't know you to you. In Jesus name, amen. Oh, and p.s., please don't make me do music like Sandi Patti and The Gaithers..."

You can't blame me, I was 13, and I wanted to rock and roll...
In an ironic twist, about 16 years later I ended up doing a record produced by none other than
Gordon Mote, piano player for The Gaithers, but that is another story for another time. Suffice it
to say The Lord has an awesome sense of humour.

  @ryanhappygilmore  on the Sea of Galilee, photo taken by  @imalbertabound

@ryanhappygilmore on the Sea of Galilee, photo taken by @imalbertabound

Even before I understood the subtle difference between a "Christian Country Music Singer" and
a "Country Music Singer who is a Christian," God called me specifically to be "in the world but
not of it," and to minister to the lost, bringing them the always relevant message of The Gospel
in a culturally significant way. Few in scripture did this better than the Apostle Paul. Check out
the account of Paul on Mars Hill in Athens when you get a minute. It's one of the finest
examples in the Bible of how to be on point with the culture without compromising (Acts 17).

I signed my first record deal with Warner/Reprise Records Nashville at 23 years old, and began
a career which has lasted me 20+ years so far, and taken me to the top of the US and Canadian
Country Music charts. It's been an incredible journey of faith, failure, perseverance, pain, risk &
joy.

Over the years, God has reminded me of my childhood prayer time and time again, holding
me accountable to my calling, and proving to me that he is the God who "...calls things into
being that were not" (Romans 4:17).

He created creativity.
He doesn't use man's ways to make things happen.
He is trustworthy.

The Bible, and our Christ-Following walk is made up of seemingly opposite ideas which play, as
"The Message" author Eugene Peterson puts it, in "dynamic tension" with each other.

The last shall be first.
To be great, get small.
To lead, serve.
The law is made perfect by grace.

  @jessicabakken  on the streets of Jerusalem, taken by  @imalbertabound

@jessicabakken on the streets of Jerusalem, taken by @imalbertabound

Is my art too "Christian" for the lost to understand? Is it too "worldly"' to be of any heavenly
good? These are just a couple of the questions which plague Christian creatives.
The place where those opposing ideas meet, that tension point, is where we need to apply faith,
and to ask for discernment by the power of The Holy Spirit. Taking every thought captive, we
bring our thoughts, our emotions, our creations before The Creator, and lay them down like
perfume at his nail-scarred feet. In this moment of sacrifice we will be sure to see whether our
offering is acceptable to Him. And as workmen and work-women approved by God, I believe our
creations should be leading the way in the world, at the pinnacle of excellence and at the peak
of popular culture, compelling, prodding, resonating and pushing people towards a creative
force literally written on their hearts. When done right, art created by Christ followers should at
least have people asking what they believe, and hopefully have them falling to their knees
exclaiming "My Lord and my God." Interactions with God-inspired art always leaves the
audience with a choice; to respect and admit it as a reflection of Majesty and Glory, or to reject it
in preference for an imitation or aberration.


As creatives tasked to speak the language of the unchurched, ours is a sacred and sobering
calling. With each creation, photo, story, and song, we are held to the standard of Jesus, who
plied parables, engaged hearts, minds and audiences, and fished for men. The Creator of
creativity showed us how to do it perfectly. He was compelling in his delivery, uncompromising in
his message, and clear in his mission, and as Christ-following creatives, we should be too.

  @imalbertabound  at the Garden Tomb, taken by  @samciurdar

@imalbertabound at the Garden Tomb, taken by @samciurdar

Stories of Hope: Alana

by: Alana Yarbrough

@reachalana

Most people are not aware of the path I have walked, or crawled at times, the heart–wrenching mistakes or diseases, the murder of my best friend/husband years ago or my father figure 6 months before that. I never grew up with a father, went to over 16 schools, saw things most will never see in their lives, and quickly learned to embrace copious quantities and genres of books as my best friends when friendships were so often torn away.

At times my messy faith is a near silent whisper in the wind caressing my face, other times a heart-beating deafening roar in my ears. I have walked a path of mistakes, grievous pains, natural consequences, wild joys, intellectual accomplishments and worldwide adventures, yet the One thing that has kept me going is my ever-growing messy faith and intimate relationship with Jesus.

The Christmas story is a birth story. It's about waiting, heavy in anticipation, longing and aching in labor, yet also in HOPE. It's about understanding that when you hear there is 'no room' for your gifts, your talents, your skills or your heart, to know and believe that you will be able to birth your gifts at the appointed time and place that He has chosen.

This Christmas, do not be discouraged, when you are told there is 'no room' for you. When you are waiting - heavy in anticipation. Trust that your story, as it unfolds, will be just as He appointed. Know that your labor is not in vain, your outpouring of all that you have, every ounce of your strength is for a greater purpose.

This story is also one of forgiveness. The grace extended to us is one we need to extend to others. Not just those that we like, but those that we are called to love. This Christmas when you give presents, give your presence. As you wrap gifts, seek to wrap someone in a hug. And Instead of just going to see the Christmas light decorations, to be a true light in someone’s life.

And finally let's remember, His birth, life, death and resurrection were not to become simply religious songs, prayers, and incantations to recite, but a passionate way of life to practice. Through reverence, repentance and awe-filled admiration do we celebrate this gift of a new life in Him - to grow in minute-by-minute and ever changing our hearts and minds. For together, we celebrate on Christmas the birth of our hope. Jesus.