Starstruck @ Expocentre

Last night, my boyfriend and I ventured to the Expocentre in Topeka, KS for Big Church Night Out. This concert included various artists from solo performers to top-notch Christian groups. The night’s line-up from the beginning: Adam Agee, Blanca, Derek Minor, 7eventh Time Down, Sidewalk Prophets, Brock Gill (magician), Jamison Strain, and Newsboys with fillers from Jeremy Willet, the MC. When we ordered our tickets online, we only had a say about section and row. When we arrived, we were surprised by the location of our seats – aisle seats with a perfect view of the stage and catwalk.

From the moment the concert began at 7 p.m., there was an undeniable sense of God in the arena. For one night, 2,000 people set aside their differences and joined together as one to praise the Lord. It’s an electrifying feeling being surrounded by so many people who share the same incredible faith as you. I was free to stand, sway, dance or raise my arms to connect to the faithful tunes that filled the building and vibrated through my heart and soul. As many performers said, if feelings of love and unity were spread throughout our country and world as a whole, there wouldn’t be as many divisions.

🎤”Oh, what are we waiting for. Let’s take it around the world. We’ll start a fight and join the fight in this love riot. Oh, ready, set, here we go. From London to Tokyo. You gotta unite and join the fight in this love riot.” – Love Riot, Newsboys ❤️

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When we decided to attend the concert, we both had different motives for going. I have always been obsessed with the Newsboys. I find their music invigorating and beautiful. On the other hand, John likes more hardcore Christian groups like Pillar and Decyfer Down, so he was more excited to witness 7eventh Time Down. However, we were both surprised and captivated by each performance and the concert’s diversity in entirety. We heard every genre of music from Blanca’s hip-hop to 7TD’s rock. To top it all off, the light show, especially for the Newsboys, was extraordinary and even blinding at times.

After the Newsboys closed out the night with “God’s Not Dead,” we thought the fun was over, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. As we entered the Expocentre lobby to pass by the bands’ merchandise tables, we stopped dead in our tracks. There standing next to their merch table was none other than two members of 7TD … my heart raced and I could barely breathe. Now I knew what it felt like to be starstruck. We engaged in small talk and then someone offered to take our photo – for FREE. As we left their table, a pattern emerged: other artists were posing with fans at their own tables. We snagged photos with Blanca, Sidewalk Prophets and Adam Agee.

We left the Expocentre feeling exhilarated. This night had transformed into so much more than a traditional Christian concert. I even shed a few tears because of how emotional and grateful I was for a night that was such a gift. It was the perfect depiction of unforgettable.

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Are you grateful or jealous?

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The gospel of Matthew has many insightful passages. In the gospel reading for the twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Matthew 20: 1-16, Jesus shares the parable of the landowner. This landowner, who owns a vineyard, visits the marketplace at dawn to hire laborers. He returns to the marketplace at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to send more idle laborers to his vineyard. At the end of the day, he instructs his foreman to distribute wages starting with individuals who started at 5 p.m. and ending with those who started at dawn.

The laborers who started at 5 p.m., and only worked for an hour, received the same day’s wage as the ones who worked all day. The dawn workers were angry that the landowner rewarded the 5 p.m. workers the same wage. They had done less work and still, they were being made equal to those who’d slaved in the heat. Despite nasty protest, the landowner calmly reiterated the agreement they made before they started working: they agreed to a daily wage.

“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20: 13-16

This parable is symbolic. God is the landowner, we are his laborers and daily wage is eternal salvation. The “work” we do in God’s vineyard comes in the form of following him, doing right by him and repenting for our sins. We don’t all start working in God’s vineyard at dawn, but he openly and continuously pursues us. He seeks us out just like the landowner sought out laborers at dawn, 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The landowner wanted to provide jobs to those in need, just like God wants to provide eternal salvation to ALL his children.

The other part of this parable focuses on the dawn workers who grumble about receiving the same wage as the ones who started working at 5 p.m. This symbolizes those of us who’ve followed God all our lives. We’ve resisted temptation, confessed the wrong we’ve done and kept him as a priority. Whereas others fell into a pattern of sinful living. So if these people do, at some point, accept God’s invitation to join him in his vineyard, we should be happy more of our brothers and sisters are joining us in Heaven.

Which begs the question: Why would their reward of a daily wage (eternal salvation) upset us in the first place?

It’s simple: we’re human. We get jealous over petty matters. We like being superior to others and recognized for our hard work. It seems unfair that someone who’s made all the wrong decisions can choose to repent, even on their deathbed, and still go to Heaven. But it’s their final act of repentance that makes the difference, no matter their past. To God, it’s one more child who will join him in Heaven.

Now, this doesn’t mean those who are faithful now can start living sinful lives and plan on repenting later to get to Heaven. All we can and should do is continue to work in the vineyard (live faithfully) and extend a loving invitation for others to join us. After all, we should all share the same goal: a daily wage (eternal salvation).

“The Shack” review

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All Christian films tug at my heartstrings. Even though most are on tight budgets, they still include phenomenal acting and in-depth screenwriting. Each displays a relatable message that leaves me with a new view on myself or the world. Movies like: The Blind Side, Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof and War Room, bring forth reflection and tears during the first and consecutive viewings. I saw previews for The Shack earlier this year, and within the first minute, I knew I wanted to see it. Added bonus: it featured one of my favorite actresses, Octavia Spencer.

A few weeks ago, there was a viewing of The Shack at my grandma’s assisted living center that my mom and I attended. The movie was emotional and thought-provoking. I cried multiple times, but also laughed. Like the rest of its genre, I left with a new view on myself and the world. It left a lasting impact. I couldn’t let go of the connection I made with the characters. So when my dad said I should listen to the audiobook, I immediately agreed. He renewed the library copy and it soon filled my car during commutes.

Movies based on books are always slightly different. It’s impossible to cram every detail from a 300-page book into a 120-minute movie. Plus, films spice up their adaptations to reach the Hollywood standard. The movie version of The Shack shows all the action sequences while the book expands on dialogues that occur between the protagonist and secondary characters. Speaking of, let’s dive into the plot.

Mackenzie Allen Phillips’ youngest daughter is kidnapped during a family camping trip and murdered in a shack in the woods. This loss propels Mack into deep sadness for the next few years, pushing him away from God. One day he receives a letter instructing him to return to the shack to catch up with Papa, his wife’s nickname for God. When he goes, he spends time with the Holy Trinity: God/Papa, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. His faith is restored when he forgives himself and the killer for his daughter’s murder. His resentment is washed away when he learns that God cannot stop the world’s evil, because doing so would eliminate the freewill that was given through Adam. All God can do is find the good in the evil that affects his children.

“Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibilities of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.” – Papa

The Shack reaffirmed my belief that God never resents us for turning away from him. We will always be welcomed back with open arms when we realize our mistakes and want forgiveness. He simply wants a relationship with us because that’s what he created us for: love. So when evil enters our lives and we focus on our suffering, we quickly lose sight of him. This is what evil wants: our focus and energy. Fortunately, if we invite God into our hearts, he can help us embrace our suffering. The Shack will give a new perspective to all who watch because we have all felt pain at some point.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Guardian angel protection

I find the idea of guardian angels comforting. Knowing someone is out there watching out for you increases feelings of protection and security. It’s like having an invisible friend by your side 24/7. They keep you out of harm’s way and provide consolation during tough times. I like imagining my Oma, who passed away on March 9, 2017, watching over me. She cared about me deeply when she was here, and that love didn’t just disappear now that she’s in Heaven.

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We all feel signs that let us know our guardian angel is with us. I had a scary experience yesterday on my commute to work. My commute is 10-15 minutes and doesn’t require highways, which is nice when the weather is bad. I was driving in the right lane when suddenly the car next to me started drifting into my lane. Our vehicles were a few inches apart before the driver quickly corrected and shifted back into his or her respective lane. My heart rate swelled during this less-than-thirty-second incident. I didn’t even think about honking or flipping off the other driver because I was too busy thanking my guardian angel for preventing an accident.

The other driver was most likely texting or doing something that diverted their eyes from the road for those few seconds. I’m sure their heart rate soared the moment they realized our cars were about to collide. The first words out of their mouth were probably, “OH S*%#!!!” I don’t harbor any blame because I can’t think of anyone who would willingly get in a car wreck. It was careless behavior that could’ve been caused by dozens of distractions: misbehaving kids in the backseat, eating/drinking, texting, talking on the phone, etc. I’m blessed I have rapid reflexes that classify me as a defensive driver, and thankful that both guardian angels were on red-alert Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m.

“A Monster Calls” review

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After a glowing recommendation from my Dad, I watched “A Monster Calls” last night with my mom and sister. This movie came out in 2016 starring Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Lewis MacDougall. My Dad, not wanting to give anything away, described the film as very intense and thought-provoking. As long as it wasn’t a member of the horror genre, I was down for watching it.

A basic synopsis: Conor, a young boy, has a terminally-ill mother. Her continuous treatments are not yielding desired results, so Conor goes to stay with his grandmother with whom he does not get along. His difficult life causes him great pain on a daily basis. Even when he sleeps he suffers from the same nightmare. Then one night a monster, transformed from a nearby yew tree, comes to visit him. The monster tells him three stories that guide him through a journey of healing, courage, and faith. So when his mother does pass away, he’s ready to let her go with the monster’s help.

The movie was stylistically beautiful because both Conor and his mother are artists. The beauty bridged the gap between fantasy and reality. It captured me from the moment the opening credits started rolling. The drama was gripping, but entirely relatable if you’ve ever suffered the loss of a loved one. I lost my Oma a few months ago. There was one scene in particular that aligned perfectly with my thoughts leading up to when my Oma died. This was the most dramatic scene. It’s when the monster forces Conor to live out his nightmare. In the nightmare, Conor is trying to save his mom from falling off a cliff. He eventually can’t hold on any longer and lets her fall.

“The answer is that it does not matter what you think because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.” – The Monster

During the nightmare, the monster screams at Conor to speak his truth. He finally admits that he wanted it to end. He wanted the suffering to be over. He couldn’t hold on any longer. He tells the monster that he should be punished for saying that about his mother, but the monster says, “You were merely wishing for the end of pain. Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all.” Watching my Oma slowly die was awful, and I wanted the end to come because I couldn’t watch her suffer anymore. I felt terrible for wanting that, but this movie taught me that it’s natural to want an end to the pain that’s happening to someone you love.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️