Off the Sidelines

It all started with a question. “What’s your burden?” and at first I didn’t have an answer and then it clicked. Men! If men could get it all together the world would change immediately. That’s what popped into my head then and what continues to sit in the corners of my mind now. After I was asked this question and gave my answer, I was invited to come to a men’s group that was going to start meeting on Tuesday mornings. The next Tuesday I woke up ready to attend this meeting, not knowing what it was really about or how it would go down. When I got there at 5 am I found out that we were going to be going through this six week series called 33 The Series.

This six week session became a game changer in my life. It was the first time that the Gospel was brought down to the ground level of my life, not as a Christian but as a man that was a Christian. It was like I was in the fight of my life and never knew it, until during these six weeks, the question was asked: “How many men in here either don’t have a father or your father was there but very ineffective?” That day there were about ten guys in the room and all ten raised their hand. At that very moment a bomb went off in my head. I finally realized that I wasn’t the only one and that this thing might be at epidemic proportions. It was totally mind-blowing to me that it was unanimous, ten out of ten guys had a bad outlook of the man who is supposed to mean the most to us, Daddy! Every boy longs for his daddy to be his superhero, but for every boy in the room, this superhero never showed up. Wow!

I really felt like I could no longer sit on the sidelines. The Gospel had been made real in my life and now I know my true burden. I must do something, but what? I felt like God wanted me to take some men through 33 The Series. Why not use that to help some other men? I was frozen with fear and the thought of “I’m not qualified.” Who was I to take some guys through this? I don’t know that Bible like that and I’m not a pastor. So for months, I did nothing.

I produce a comedy show called Hollalujah that we have been putting on for three years now. We draw a nice crowd of about 500 every third Friday of the month. I often invite people from Blueprint out to come and enjoy. This one particular time I gave out some free tickets and it was one of the largest groups from Blueprint we’d ever had (I don’t think it says anything about them being cheap, just that they like free stuff). It also just so happens that Muche Ukegbu also came to his first Hollalujah experience that day. At this point, Muche had become my mentor and sounding board about everything that I didn’t understand about this newfound walk with Jesus that had engulfed my life.

At some point during the night of the show, I found Muche and asked how he was enjoying it. He said, “Dude, this is crazy. Let’s connect this week... seriously.”

I didn’t know what he wanted but I felt the need to make sure we connected. When we did, I clearly remember him saying: “Do you recognize that the room changes when you go on stage? These are the people you are suppose to be pastoring.”

He went on to explain that pastoring doesn’t always look like the pastor in the traditional sense, but these were that people that God placed me over. As he talked I could hear God say, “33-- do it” and a few months later I introduced the first volume of 33 at Hollalujah. That night we had 11 guys sign up. For six weeks I took eleven guys ranging in age from 27 to 57 through this series. These guys all came from different walks of life. We had elders of a church, college grads, former drug dealers, and former addicts all in one room listening to me help them understand how the Gospel applies in their life, right now. I went from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” The thing that I began to realize is that it wasn’t me. This thing was way bigger than me and I couldn’t do it anyway. I had to rely on Him.

We just finished Volume 2 of 33 The Series with a total of sixteen guys. My wife Jessica and I are also closing out a nine week Bible study on Mondays with people who had often crossed our paths and wanted to know more about this God that has changed our lives. This too has been an amazing time with people who don’t go to Blueprint but want to know more about Jesus Christ.

The funny part is, three years ago I wouldn’t have been this dude. I would never have jumped in. Today, I am truly learning to trust God. I have come to realize that when God gives me something it’s always bigger than I can handle. What’s becoming clearer each day is that He is not asking me to do it, He is asking me to believe and follow Him. Even though we have denied Him like Peter, He comes back, affirms us, and tells us to go tend His sheep.

John 21:15-19:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time,“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

It’s not for us to know. It's all about being willing to trust Him and just GO.

The Challenge of Cultural Christianity

A couple of years ago, my family and I moved to the Westside of Atlanta. Like most people, who look at our neighborhood from the outside looking in, we understood it to be a low income, primarily African American community that was also culturally and religiously diverse. So, we thought we were coming to reach the socially and economically depressed, under-resourced, unchurched people of our city.  As we began to engage our neighbors, we quickly realized that we would also be faced with the unique challenge of sharing Christ’s love with what could be classified as “Cultural Christians."  Now before I get into some of the evangelistic challenges I've faced reaching this particular sub-group, let me first start by giving a definition of a “Cultural Christian”.  I would define a cultural Christian as an individual who is doctrinally and relationally disconnected from the Christ of the Christian faith, yet “still significantly identifies with Christian culture due to family background, personal experiences, or the social and cultural environment in which they grew up” (Wikipedia).

The Hidden Communication Gap

One of the first and most apparent challenges I’ve faced living in this environment has been the communication barrier even with those who consider themselves Christians. In the past, my spiritual conversations with others went fairly well, at least from the standpoint that the listener left with a clear understanding of what was being said even if they disagreed with the content. This isn’t always the case with those living in my neighborhood.

I remember the first time I walked through the Scriptures with a 20-year-old young man who ”grew up in the church” and lived down the street from us. As we read through Colossians he had a number of difficulties both articulating and understanding certain words any 10 year old should be able to comprehend. At first, it caught me off guard, provoking feelings of insecurity around my own level of education and questions like:

How do I share in such a way as not to come off arrogant by my terminology and questions?

Is this even the best version of the Bible to be using right now?

How do I improve my skills of sharing truth in a way that anyone can understand?

Then my heart was grieved by how much this education gap affected my ability to effectively present God and his gospel to this young man. I left that conversation with of course more questions and as well a new perspective on the value of education and how important it is to solve this epidemic in communities like mine.

How do you convince someone who holds contradictory beliefs, that they indeed hold contradictory beliefs?

Since I first began learning about the community and culture of the Historic West End I have consistently encountered those who claim Christianity, yet don’t claim Christian beliefs or claim many others beliefs as well. Helping people see the contradictions evident in some of their beliefs has been the problem.

As a friend and I worked in my garden one day with a couple of young guys from down the street, one of them asked us about what it meant to have faith in God. I had previously ran into these two fellas on a prayer walk so this question was more of a follow up to what we had previously spoken to them about.  To take full advantage of the opportunity, we expounded more on the Gospel and what true belief looked like. This time, however, was very enlightening as we learned more about their story as well as some of their beliefs.

While they affirmed several Christian truths they also explained how they believed in reincarnation. For them, death was merely a steppingstone into another life as something else, “probably as an animal or another person” they said. They also mentioned their uncertainty about whether this life was actually real or simply just a dream or figment of our own imaginations.

I could go on and on but soon I realized that over the span of the 19 years they had been alive, they had grown up with Christian principles but had been polluted by everything and anything else that sounded good. This amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought seems to be very rampant in our context. No matter how much money people may have or their ethnicity this train of thinking is what I have repeatedly run into time and time again.

Despite the many challenges, The Lord is gracious and faithful. In continuing to walk with folks, I’ve learned that a lot of my time is spent merely listening to them, asking questions and carefully trusting the Holy Spirit to speak to people's hearts not their intellects and to peel away layer after layer of deceptions and lies through his Word. My only hope is that the Lord would ultimately open their eyes to see him for who He really is (2 Cor. 4:4-6).

Not By Accident

As my wife and I made the decision to stay another two years and serve in Atlanta, we found ourselves in a sticky situation with the Decatur church plant happening. We live approximately .9 miles from downtown Decatur and approximately 4.3 miles from the Old Fourth Ward campus. The East Atlanta missional community that we were a part of was slowly shifting to Grant Park. People were buying homes in that area and moving out of the latter. We had been at our current home for 4 years. Although we were renting it, some of our fondest memories in Atlanta were there.  In a time of infertility the Lord had graciously granted us our wildest dreams; not one but two daughters. We saw small groups become missional communities, three months of sharing the gospel with the door-to-door Mormons, various conversations with neighbors, seeing a friend leave the faith [still praying], and watching friends grow in the faith, among other things.

It was a difficult decision but we knew that we wanted to be more intentional with our missional community and as close as we could be to the main campus. The only problem was that rent would double while our income wouldn’t. We began to pray that the Lord would provide after each promising Craig’s List ad resulted in a dead end. Four months later, one of those dead Craig’s List ads called us back and told us it was back on the market. Did I mention this place was perfect? Things moved quickly and before we knew it, we found out we were moving, packed, moved, rented our old house, found a roommate [thus reducing rent to a more manageable rate] within 6 days. Did I mention we didn’t rent a U-haul? 40 or so trips later, we regretted it.

As we moved into our new community, I became increasingly aware of all the garage doors and how difficult it would be to meet our neighbors. Three weeks later, we still hadn’t met anyone. Finally, one day our neighbor came out on his balcony and met my wife. They chatted, our girls said “hi” and we didn’t hear from him again. A few days later, he emerged and I was able to meet him. We small talked, his wife came out. They were smart; real smart. World travelers. She is an economist and he does something with corporations to help them work more effectively. I told him I was a pastor and we also were wedding photographers as well.

“We should have you over for dessert some time,” he quipped.

“We would love that,” I responded.

[Side note; worst place to leave a conversation. Nothing is set in stone, meaning it will never happen. Especially if garage doors are involved.]

“How does tomorrow night at 7:30 look for you?” I asked.

We came back inside and laughed. Ironic that I had been studying Acts 17 all week? Ironic that I had read sermons, articles, and commentary about sharing the gospel with intellectuals. No. We prayed for them and secured a babysitter for the following evening.

We prayed again the next day and then again before we went. We had a great time. We talked about everything: North Korea, religion, mysticism, the Czech Republic, communism, capitalism, consumer debt, community, and a lot of other things.

We weaved pieces of our faith throughout the conversation. I was surprised at how how easy it was  and how comfortable we were. We saw the Lord answer prayer and it was amazing. Where is the relationship going? I don't know. All I can do is keep praying for them. It was so incredible to see how the Lord had been preparing my heart all week for this one situation. It stirred our faith and confirmed just how much God had sovereignly set up the details.

Don't overlook the details and how our sovereign King will use them. Continue to pray to be a part of what he is doing around you and don't be too busy to make time for any adventures he may throw your way.

Before we went to our neighbors', our prayer sounded like this;

“God, you are sovereign. It’s not by accident that you have set this up. Give us grace and courage to be bold and consistent. Please empower us with your Holy Spirit. We rely solely on you. We are not looking for results. We pray that you would draw _____ & ______ to yourself and show them their need for you. We can’t do this and we need your help. Help us to be who ____ & _______ need us to be in order to see you.  We are honored that you would bring us along side your work and ask that we would be faithful. “

People Need to Eat

Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to conduct HIV/Aids research in Ethiopia. It was two months filled with tears of joy and pain, little sunshine and lots of rain. Seriously though, as I boarded the plane, I was saddened thinking about the host of hearts I left behind—most of which were longing for a better life. As I ascended, I prayed and asked how I could help, how I could best serve those I was leaving behind. The only thing that kept coming to mind was meeting their basic needs. As I have traveled across the United States and around the globe, I have found that there is one common factor amongst human kind: the need to eat. Regardless of one’s dietary denomination, be it pescatarian, vegetarian, carnivore, or omnivore, I guarantee one thing—hunger will happen. Fortunately, for many people, when hunger happens they are able to meet that need. Unfortunately, for many others, hunger and the challenges thereof are daily reminders of their sorrowful plight in life.

As with most of my American friends, I have never known hunger to the magnitude that many of my international friends have known and still know. Often times, I will look at my lunch and my heart will cry out, “NOT CHICKEN AGAIN!” This thought soon fades, and I am immediately prompted to remember the faces and bellies of those who I have lived life with that would give their all to have chicken for the first time, let alone three times in a week. Chicken...again. Oh what a first-world problem to have!

For the sake of brevity, let me get to my point. People need to eat. Long story short, I want to be a part of helping people eat. Traveling across the world helped me to realize how important it is to have one’s basic needs met. In order to begin the movement for meeting the basic needs of the people, I decided to start the momentum in my own front yard. My friends and I began a community garden in East Point.

Starting the community garden meant I had to rely on the resourcefulness of the community around me. Thus, I learned a lesson in humility in that no movement is started by the efforts of a solo entity: it takes a collective. Once all the necessary tools and resources were gathered, we built planters, filled them with soil and compost, and planted the seedlings.

In order for the plants to grow, it took water, sunlight, and delicate care. After weeks of water, sunlight, and delicate care those tiny seeds grew into larger plants and then finally produced fruit! With the literal fruit of our labor, we were able to share our crops and feed both the neighbors and ourselves. As a group, we were all encouraged to know that with initiative fueled by the love for God and our neighbors, we could be a part of meeting the basic needs of others.

This time spent with friends and neighbors proved to be priceless and the hard work that we put into it was more than rewarding. My personal goal is to replicate this in other neighborhoods and internationally. By meeting the needs of others, particularly by planting the community garden, I was able to see the bigger picture. I was able to see and understand how God cares for and loves me. The way the plants grew—through love, nurturing, sometimes pruning, and by the provision of nutrients—is the same way in which I grow. Through love, nurturing, pruning, and providing nutrients, God has and will continue to till my soil and cultivate my relationship with him. What a lesson. What a Father. Let’s eat! Amen.

Expansion & Excavation

My name is John, and I’m a pendulum swinger.  I don’t mean to be, it kind of just happens.  I live in a constant state of FOMO or fear of missing out. Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you are perfectly content doing something and then you see someone else talk about an activity (that couldn’t be more unlike what you’re currently doing) and you feel like you’re missing out on something.  So you, like me, drop everything that you’re doing because you don’t want to miss out.  There’s so many arenas that this takes place in life, from workout plans to diets to hobbies—you name it.  Somebody always has advice on what we “should” be doing that makes us feel like we’ve been wasting our time.  So, we scrap what we’re currently doing and start from scratch. Lately, as we’ve been going through the book of Acts as a church, uncovering the history of the church, I’ve felt this pressure in evangelism.

Lately, it feels like this term missionality has been exclusively defined as “meeting new people.”  Missionality, then, is really all about expansion.  I feel this internal pressure to spend all of my free time meeting strangers, or people who I don’t yet have a close relationship with. But I’ve seen a huge problem with this. As a pastor, I have a full-time job and other obligations when I get off work.  Simply put, I don’t have the relational bandwidth to make new friends every week.  More than that, even if I do make new friends every week, they won’t be my friends for long if they are constantly replaced with newer friends with whom I’m trying to be missional.

Even though I know this truth on the inside, I still feel “guilty” when I’m not meeting new people, because I feel like I’m not doing what I “should be doing.”  I feel like I’m missing out on something, and I hate that feeling.  You probably hate that feeling too.  So, you do what I do—you swing the pendulum and become fully immersed in building “new relationships”.  That is, until you realize that there comes a point where expansion by itself becomes counterproductive.   Sooner or later you’re going to realize that you’re missing out on helping these new friends grow deep in their faith.  When this time comes, my prayer is that you learn from your mistakes like I have.  Here’s the truth, when you always live in a state of fearing what you’re missing, you’re never able to be fully invested in what’s right in front of you.  If you spend all of your time feeling guilty about the stuff that you’re not doing that you “could” be doing, you’ll never fully give yourself to what you “should” be doing right now.

Pendulum swinging affects our perspectives as well as our practices

If missionality is only about meeting new people and expanding God’s kingdom numerically, then you’re perspective on the book of Acts is going to be extremely one-dimensional.  You’ll focus on the expansion of the message to the neglect of the excavation of the same message in the lives of the people that come on board.  In Acts, the church grows both deep and wide.  There’s both expansion and excavation (digging deep).  We usually leave off the larter part and disregard that aspect of God’s mission.  A quick survey of the book will show you that as often as God’s people meet new people, they remain with them for many days, weeks, even years to make sure that they’ve got it (Acts 9:43; 10:48; 14:3, 28; 15:35; 17:14; 18:3, 11, 18; 19:22; 20:6; 21:4; 25:6, 14).

What that means is that we’re constantly going to exist in a tension between the two.  A good friend always says, “This tension isn’t meant to be solved it’s meant to be managed.”  We don’t need to feel guilty because we’re giving more attention to one at a particular season of our lives.  If God has granted you favor and you have many significant relationships with people who are open to learning about who God is, it may be a good season for you to spend some time with them unpacking who God is.  You may have to “stay with them a great many days.”  Don’t be concerned with what you’re “missing out on”; rather be fully invested where you are. Take full advantage of the season that God has placed you in.  It’s impossible for you to do two things at once, so we’re always going to be “missing out” on something.

Corporate Mission – We can do two things at once

The great comfort that we have in remaining fully invested in the season that we’re in is the fact that this is a collective effort. The beautiful thing about really being “missional” (accomplishing God’s mission) is that God intends for his mission to be carried out by a collective group.  While individually we can’t expand and excavate at the same time, we can do it collectively.  In Acts 17:14, as Paul was getting ready to move on and meet new people, he urged Timothy to stay behind.  He understood that priority needed to be given to introducing people to Jesus and ensuring that people that met him have a right view of Him.  I doubt Paul or Timothy felt guilty about where they were investing their time because they were confident that the other side was being taken care of.

Hear me, this is not an attempt to absolve you of responsibility or justify the lazy.  This is not an attempt to pigeonhole anyone into a role.  We are commanded to do both—regardless of if you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  My hope is that as you find yourself moving in and out of the worlds of expansion or excavation that you would do it with all of your strength and unnecessary guilt wouldn’t make you ineffective.

Now, time to get to work.

Just Do it.

I once heard a quote from a pretty famous atheist that has forever changed the way that I viewed the idea of talking to other people about my experience with Jesus.  He writes:

...I've always said, you know, that I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward...HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY to not proselytize? HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn't believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that...

I’ve been a Christian for quite a while now and I can literally count on one hand the amount of time I’ve had a stranger try to capture my attention with the purpose of talking about Jesus.  If you’re a Christian, your experience has probably been the same.  Why is that?  It’s not rocket science.  You’ve probably never had that happen to you, because people actually doing that type of stuff (cold-call evangelism) is awkward.

Evangelism:Christian::Boogeyman:kids

To be honest, as we cast this vision as a church staff to spend a few hours each work day this week trying to create opportunities with strangers to talk about Jesus, I got nervous.  (If not for the peer pressure—or the people coming to the church expecting me to lead out because I’m a pastor—I probably would have come up with tons of excuses not to participate.) Tons of thoughts began running through my head.  The idea of actually talking to a stranger is something that is very unnatural.  People don’t want to be bothered.  They have more important things to do. And frankly, we don’t want to be seen as Jehovah’s Witnesses—they’re the only ones that talk to strangers about religion, we’re more savvy than that.  That’s a private matter that is better addressed when...

And that’s when I realized that I couldn’t complete that thought.  When is the right time to talk about Jesus?  How much relational capital needs to be built before we make a segue into what is the most important decision anyone will ever make?  That’s when it hit me: my fear of being awkward in striking up a conversation about Jesus with strangers occupied the same space in my heart where, years ago, I had a fear of monsters under my bed.  The thought of looking under my bed was terrifying; however, when I actually looked under my bed and saw there were no monsters, it was liberating and I saw just how unwarranted my fears were.  This past week, I had the same epiphany with the fear of striking up conversation and quickly shifting to Jesus.

Evangelism to strangers is only awkward….in theory

G.K. Chesterson says, “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found difficult, it has been found difficult and left untried.”  This week, I re-learned that evangelism to strangers is more awkward in theory than it actually is in practice.  I was amazed how easy and naturally conversation started when I just asked people to tell me their story and then camped out on a point where they highlighted something spiritual.

Here’s the truth: we live in a world where people look more busy than they actually are.  You’ve seen it in meetings (or you’ve been guilty of it in meetings).  Someone looking so intensely at their phone or their computer screens with beads of sweat dripping down their face.  As you navigate around them to see what they’re doing, you see that they’re not agonizing over spreadsheets or balance statements, they’re agonizing over where they are going to play their “V” in Words with Friends.  We live in a world where people are filling up their time with things to keep them distracted from the loneliness they’ll undoubtedbly feel if they don’t do anything else.  They are longing for meaningful interactions.  This past week, I had the opportunity to have conversations about people’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, hang-ups, backstories, frustrations, etc.  And every last one of the conversations was a welcomed breath of fresh air.

Clarity and comfort for the obedient

There are two types of people. Those who make excuses and those who actually have experiences.  What I’ve come to realize is that both of these groups become a self-fulfilling prophecy to themselves.  In evangelism, there are plenty of excuses that you can use to justify your disobedience to 2 Timothy 4:5 (…do the work of an evangelist).  Quite frankly, this past week, I heard just about all of them (many of them I said to myself and many of them I heard from other people). What’s funny is that people who make excuses and never get over their initial fear of awkwardness soon start to believe that their fears are realities.  Those that never look under their bed will forever be afraid of the boogey man.  Those that never proactively share their faith or direct conversations towards the hope of Jesus will forever be afraid of awkwardness.

Here’s the blessing though: those that actually have the experience of talking to someone else about Jesus finally understand that there was nothing to be afraid of.  The only way that you’ll ever really know if fear is warranted is to embrace that fear head on.  The only way to get over your fear of monsters under your bed is to look under your bed.  The only way to get over your fear of evangelism is to evangelize.  No sermon is going to do it for you.  Clarity and comfort to God’s will comes through obedience.  Nothing less than obedience will reaffirm the things God has called you to do.

The funny thing is, you can agree or disagree with my philosophy as you sit here and read this blog.  You may or may not be right.  However, there is one way to know for certain if I’m right or wrong, and that’s to actually have this experience for yourself.

So, go ahead.  Prove me wrong.

 

 

Why not?

The harvest is plentiful. I get it. But I got it last summer when I was a kounselor at KAA and encountered teenagers in need of the hope of the Gospel. (Yes, we spell kounselor with a 'k' there, among other things.) It gripped me. There's a world full of people who don't know Jesus. They do not have a relationship with the greatest love of all. They are existing, but they are far from living. I even came back home after that epiphany, which followed a trip to Guatemala where the global need for Christ and the vanities of my life in this country were realized, motivated to live an intentionally missional life. I wanted to share with everyone I could, because I'd realized how many people are in need of the Good News.

But then reality sunk in—the kamp experience is not the real world experience. Kids came to a Christian camp, so they knew what they were getting into. Whether they wanted it or not, they knew what we were going to be giving out. But outside those gates, being missional could and would likely mean sharing truth with people who didn't sign up to hear it. Uhh awkward. So, I decided that sharing with strangers was a kamp thing, not something to be emulated in real life. Right? I should just focus on the three or four people in my life who already have some desire for God but need help growing in their relationship with Him. And that may have been exactly where my focus should have been the past couple of months and exactly where yours should be now. I think too often we apply our personal convictions that the Spirit has placed within us onto others and end up creating a culture of performance where people either think they're doing well or performing poorly. (I know I do it to others, unfortunately, quite often.) I'm discipling people, so I'm representing team Jesus well, or I'm condemning myself for being a lazy Christian. Either way the focus is on us.

What if, instead, we looked at Jesus and those in the scripture who identified as His followers not prescribe what fulfilling the Great Commission should look like for every person, but to be challenged, encouraged and inspired by their lives? Sunday, Dhati revealed that for the next 90 days he was going to share his testimony and/or the Gospel at least once a day. That was an act of discipline he chose to enforce in response to going through Acts and seeing that time after time the apostles were out sharing their faith. But his commitment could have landed on your heart as though if you don't do that too, then you're not a devoted Christian. It could have elevated him to some level of piety in your mind that you don't have. But it shouldn't have done that. Man's endeavors are not what we should compare ourselves to in order to determine what Christ thinks of us. So, let's take that weight off and instead ask ourselves what I did when I decided to travel with others to Guatemala last year to build a well and share about the living water. Why not? That's why I went. Why not? Going or staying would not make me more or less righteous in the eyes of God. But if there is a need, why not volunteer to be a part of the crew going to meet that need? Often times if we hear a message repeatedly, it becomes fear mongering and our guilt for not responding to the message leads everywhere but into action.

But what if you didn't have to think you were not doing enough as a Christian in order to start doing something? (That is of course if you are dedicated to loving God and loving people, and love is already an action to you.) What if, instead, you read the words of Jesus and examined His life not to tell yourself to start doing more stuff to look like Him, but to see Him for being all that you never could be and worship Him for that? And as you look at how His life was and is the epitome of loving God and loving people, the Good News of the Gospel just might fill you up to go out and share that with others.  As a staff, we accepted the week-long challenge from Dhati of going out and sharing our faith. And yesterday, after having a three-hour long conversation with two universalists (one who identified as an angel) and an hour-long conversation with a Muslim Monday in Little 5, all I can think is why not?

If there are people right down the street from me who don't know my Lord and Savior or need hope or need prayer, why not take time to talk to some of them every day? What is more important? Maybe I can't do 1pm-4pm every day, but if I encounter at least one person, why not tell them about Jesus or ask them can I pray for them or tell them my testimony? Really, why not? The apostles had seen something they couldn't shut up about. Don't I have the Holy Spirit, a witness to all they saw and heard, living on the inside of me? Should I go out and share my faith every other day this week, the next week, the weeks after? Why not go out and share like the apostles did in Acts?

Well, I know why I changed my mind about doing that last August when I returned home. I lacked the solo initiative to talk to strangers. I was surrounded by kounselors and staff last summer who planned to share Jesus all day, every day and did right beside me. But that wasn't waiting for me when I returned. If my missional community would have said they wanted to go out regularly, I would have gladly joined in. It would have become my way of life. Am I blaming my MC? Absolutely not. While going out with someone else is wise, if I'm honest, I didn't press the issue enough to anyone. It all came down to fear and comfort. And those are two very real struggles, with the latter being something that I believe comes with being an American. (Regardless of how intense our struggles feel, they're still mainly first-world problems.) And fear, well, I couldn't imagine talking to the same people a group of us spoke to these last two days by myself. I just wouldn't have done it. I probably would not have even made it to those difficult conversations. After the first person rejected a request to pray for them (that happened a couple times), I probably would have talked myself out of the whole thing. But I was with two other people who experienced the same rejection on Monday. And yesterday, I wasn't the only one being told that I was not as enlightened as these universalists. I shared those experiences with my brothers and sister and knew that even in the face of opposing beliefs, we were unified in the truth. So, we persisted.

I'm not saying I don't need to pray for courage and boldness to act when it's just me (I do, and I will), but I am saying there is strength in numbers. Think about how many other people walked by us today as we were sharing with just two guys for three hours? If 10 of us were able to talk to a handful of people, imagine how many people could hear the Good News if 20 of us went out. Or 50. Or 100. If you've never shared your faith with anyone, yes, you should examine why you haven't. You might even need to feel convicted about that. But conviction should never lead to condemnation; it should always lead to the cross. And if you don't go out regularly and talk to strangers about Jesus, I'm not proposing the same conviction. I'm also not saying you are any less Christian. I'm just asking you to ask yourself the same question that I will continue asking myself—why not?

Forgive me for asking

For the past few weeks, hmm maybe months, I’ve been wrestling with something inside. My friends can attest to it, because just about once every week I’m venting to one of them about it. I even read some articles that communicated much of what I was dealing with (Anthony Bradley and Jasmine Baucham), but not exactly.  I do feel like an emphasis on discipleship and exposing our comfortable Christianity were necessary books and speeches written and given by David Platt and others, but I don't think we've heard enough of the perhaps less radical messages to give us a healthy tension. So, I feel trapped in the thinking that I have to share Jesus everywhere in everything. I wanted to come to some amazing, John Piper-inspired conclusion about it, but I can’t. I didn’t want to keep questioning God or other people, but I know that God (at least) can handle my questions—even if it means He’ll just respond with even better ones like he did to Job (was that not the finest sarcasm ever?). So, please God, forgive me for asking… But can I just live a normal life?

I love you, I do, but that’s not enough it seems.

Do I have to tell everyone I meet about You, otherwise I’m failing at the mission?

I used to share the truth of Your word freely, but now it feels like a responsibility.

I used to spend time with other believers regularly, because I wanted to and knew I experienced You more fully around them than by myself. But now I feel like I have to.

I can't even genuinely talk and listen to an unbeliever without thinking that I've got to share my faith with them. Soon and very soon. But I can't even remember where they said they were from. Is that okay? Is that loving them?

If I don’t knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them about Your love, do I not love them either?

If I don’t tell the girl I just met not too long ago that she’s not actually a Christian, am I avoiding conflict?

If I write a blog for a secular site and don’t find a way to mention You in it, am I selling out?

But then again, if nothing is more important than people having a relationship with You, should that be my focus all the time?

Or does that require a calling to ministry?

Is it possible that I could actually be doing what You want me to do despite hearing message after message and reading blog after blog about people not being missional enough?

Where is the encouragement?

But, hmm, is there a way to encourage the congregation and still prevent us from getting comfortable?

Can I read the book of Acts and applaud those brave men, but not think I have to go to Little Five Points and stage a Day of Pentecost?

Then again, why won’t I go? Why don’t we plan to do that one Sunday instead of gathering in a building? (Minus the flaming tongues part.)

Why don’t we just take a day to go evangelize?

Oh, yeah. That’s not discipleship. We have to build relationships first, right?

Have we dissected Your word too much?

What did the disciples daily lives, post-ascension, look like?

Were they always sharing with everybody?

Were you honored the same by the early Christians going to work and working hard?

They didn’t have tv, so did they have less distractions?

Do you give us grace for all the distractions around us?

Then again, where does eat, drink, and be merry fall into the call to make disciples?

Am I the only one that’s only been eating and drinking (peach tea), but not experiencing the merry in the mission?

Sometimes, I wish I could just do what I love and talk about who I love the most as I go and know that I’m on the right path without having to think about it so much. Is that possible?

I know that’s what some of my friends do, but why don’t I feel the freedom to do that?

Why do I even question whether they’re doing enough?

Am I trying to earn a few missionary patches on my heavenly robe that’s up there waiting on me?

Am I confusing Christianity with competition?

Do you actually want more from me, and I can't tell if it's conviction from the Spirit or from man?

Do I love you the way Scripture says I should?

Yes. Some days more than others.

Is Jesus my treasure?

Yes.

Do I love people?

Yes, but sometimes I do love myself more.

Does your Spirit live in me?

Yes. Sorry for acting like it didn’t last week. (And a billion other times.)

Am I surrounded by other people who love Jesus and are wiser than me and can challenge me?

Yes.

Do I talk about You and want to make disciples?

Yes.

Is the spreading of the Gospel solely dependent on me?

No.

Do You expect me to be Paul?

No. You expect me to be me and do what You want me to do. I think.

Does that mean that two believers’ missional lives can look different and one isn’t wrong or better?

Can I just rest in knowing that?

I think You’re screaming, “Yes!”

Will you finish the work you started in me regardless of my confusion?

Yep.

If I'm supposed to go to Nineveh, will you make sure I end up there?

Ha. I bet.

Have I been trying to be the perfect Christian and earn your grace?

Yes.

Does that sound noble but actually dumb since grace is something I don’t deserve?

I think you just laughed.

So, you’re telling me that I’ve been overthinking all of this?

Have I read too many books, articles, and sermon transcripts and not lived enough years to process them all?

Did you just smirk?

Ok, last question.

Did You see that Warriors’ game last night?

Woo! Wait- but you knew they would lose, so could you even enjoy it?

Oh snap! What’s it like to know…

Just kidding.

“Love God. Love people. And do whatever else you want.”- Dhati Lewis

I’m going to try that approach...again.

So, help me God.

Not Enough

I don’t talk about Jesus enough.  You probably don’t either.  Does that come off harsh?  Judgmental? Insensitive?  It probably does, and those things may be turn-offs to the gospel.  But the truth is that however it came off, it actually came off.  Do you know what perhaps is a bigger turn off to the gospel?  Silence.  And many of us are silent because we are scared of conflict.  We are scared of people thinking the wrong things about us (which is a valid concern).  What’s an even more valid concern is that although our slience ensures that people don’t think the wrong thing about us, it almost definitely ensures that people continue to think the wrong thing about Jesus.

DON'T LET HIM BE MISUNDERSTOOD

Jesus needs to be talked about, because Jesus is misunderstood.  Silence, especially when it comes to the most controversial of things, only ensures that Jesus is continually misunderstood.  And as long as He is misunderstood, people think they are doing the best thing for themselves by trying to stay away from him.

Acts 5 brings this point out the most clearly.  The leaders of the day are adamant about repeatedly telling the disciples to stop teaching people about Jesus.  What’s worse is the reason why they don’t want to hear about Jesus.  They completely misunderstood Him.  When talking to the disciples, they say, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28).  Did you see that?  They didn’t want to hear about Jesus, because when they thought about the intent of the disciples message, all they saw was guilt.  They basically said, "We don’t want to hear what you have to say, because you just want to make us feel guilty."  What better words could be used to describe (1) the worldview of people that aren’t Christians and (2) our biggest fear and reason why we don’t share?

Christianity and Jesus are very loaded terms. When we start to talk about them, or even make a reference to Jesus, people don’t hear what we say.  Often when we say Jesus, they hear their guilt.  And they conclude:

You just want to make me feel guilty about my homosexual lifestyle.

You just want to make me feel guilty about the fact I want to have an abortion.

You just want to make me feel guilty about the music I listen to, the way I spend my money, and the things that I consume on the weekends.

You just want to make me feel guilty about [insert your particular vice here].

We are scared of guilt.  For the most part, especially in the society that we live in, people aren’t concerned with being guilty. They just don’t want to feel guilty.  We are okay with being at fault, just as long as we get away with it.  What we hate the most is the nagging feeling of someone telling us that we didn’t get away with it.  Understand that just because you don’t feel guilty doesn’t mean you’re innocent.

It’s this reason in particular that people reject Jesus—He won’t turn a blind eye to anyone’s guilt.  When face to face with someone’s guilt, Jesus won’t act like it’s not a big deal—nodding his head and using verbal fillers like “yeah” or “I know what you mean” in hopes that the conversation will switch to another topic.  But that’s what people want.  We don’t want to linger on people’s guilt or their sin.  We don’t want to hear that our sins are actually worse than we ever thought. We believe that if our guilt is found and maximized, it would prevent us from receiving God’s grace. Yet, this is the reason why the gospel is such good news. Our guilt doesn't prevent us from receiving God’s grace; it prepares us to receive God’s grace with humility and gratitude.

Tell the whole truth

So, the reason we have to continually talk about Jesus is to remind people that Jesus is trying to ensure that guilt is not the end of the road.  Our guilt can be paralyzing, and it’s easy to think that denial is the best way to deal with it.  But guilt can’t just be denied; it has to be done away with.  Jesus came so that He could deal with guilt.  Here's what the disciples said about their guilt, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.”  Not only do they reassure the religious leaders they are guilty, but they let them know that their guilt is worse than they think.  It’s never our job to soften the blow of guilt.  IF we minimize guilt, we minimize the grace that’s needed to deal with that guilt.  If we maximize the guilt, however, we maximize the grace that’s needed to deal with that guilt. As sure as the disciples make mention of the guilt, they move to grace. Jesus didn’t die to hold your guilt against you.  Jesus died to “give repentance and forgiveness.”  This is why Christianity is such good news—my guilt makes me a prime candidate for God’s grace.  The bigger my guilt, the bigger His grace.  People see the holiness of Jesus; so, their guilt is apparent, but they don’t understand that His love is just as great.

In our silence, we take part in two great evils (1) minimizing the guilt of the individuals we have relationship with and (2) perpetuating the misconceptions of Jesus.  And we do all of this to make sure that we don’t seem awkward or hurt people’s feelings. Basically, we let people go to hell out of charity to them.  We would rather be in their good graces then hit a nerve that will potentially expose the hurt and pain they’ve been numb to and increase their need for and appreciation of a Savior.

Please, please, please talk about Jesus with someone today.  I’m begging you. Clear up the misconception that He just wants to make people feel guilty.  Help them understand that the only reason He even mentions our guilt is so that we can understand His grace.  Don’t let people go to hell because they misunderstand Jesus.

There may not be a cute or clever way to start this conversation, but don’t let that stand in your way.

 There’s too much at stake.

Clear the stage

As Pastor Muche confessed his own covetousness with us this past Sunday—how badly he desired to have a son—all I could think was, “I know what that feels like.” There was a time where I wanted to play D1 basketball so bad that my family drove 16 hours to drop me off at the University of Connecticut. And there was that time, maybe a time or ten, where I wanted some shoes so bad that I visited the same website every day just to see them—until I could convince myself I was suppose to have them regardless of the price and my uhh insufficient funds. Nothing else mattered as much. But what ran through my mind most vividly was the time all my years of idolatry reached a point that threatened to destroy my soul and kidnap my identity…

GRIPPED

All my life I’d felt different. Whether it was being the only girl playing outside with the boys in my neighborhood, being the black girl that “talked white” to my black friends, not wanting to party in high school, and not to mention becoming a believer at a liberal college. While people knew of me, I felt like no one understood me. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. And once I could no longer hide behind year-round basketball, I found myself desperate. I needed something to make me feel like I belonged. I needed approval. I needed love. I needed God. But I’d already boxed him in to only meeting my spiritual needs. Me not having a (female) best friend like all the “normal” girls did growing up couldn’t be assuaged by knowing God now. I needed what I’d never had. So, that’s what my heart set itself on. Meanwhile, I thought I was just sensitive, emotional, or maybe even clingy. But after years of emotional roller coasters that doubled as friendships, ridiculous expectations for people to make up for my years of loneliness, mediations, and more tears than smiles, someone dropped a harsh truth on me. I was codependent. My very existence had been inextricably bound to someone else’s. Alright, let me put that into perspective. Think about how much you need God. Ok. Got it? That’s how much I’d determined I needed this friend, and the next, and the next. Now, that should explain why my emotions were so unstable; unlike God, people change, they disappoint, and they (we) fall short time and time again.

Yet, I was stuck. I felt trapped and approaching Romans 1:21-25 with no way out. I found myself sitting on a couch telling a therapist, in between tears, that I was losing my mind. And then she said some things that gave me the edge in the spiritual battle I’d began fighting. She told me not to ignore those feelings of loneliness and desperation. They come from a real place. I was sad as a kid despite all the happiness that seemed to surround me, and I'd tried to go on like this for years. But I can’t just cover that up by saying Jesus loves me now, nor can I get those years back. But, what I can do (and should) is allow God to heal those wounds and be all I’m looking for now.

Whew.

Along the way to that end, I read books like When People Are Big and God is Small, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and Life Together. I found lasting encouragement as well in Psalm 139 and The Father’s Love Letter piece. But there was a defining moment along the path to allowing God to be my everything. I came face-to-face with this question: How do you really get God where He belongs in your heart, when something or someone is already positioned there? Yes, part of the solution is to stare at Him in scriptures, in prayer, in psalms, in hymns, and in spiritual songs—to be needy for Him. But there's more.  You also have to be willing to mimic Abraham and put your idol on the altar and let God decide its fate.

CLEARING THE STAGE

While it pulled against every fiber of my being, I had to walk away from what I always wanted and felt like I currently had. I’d finally grasped the reality that sin wants to kill us. For some, it literally puts our physical bodies in jeopardy, but for all of us, sin seeks to murder us spiritually. Our idols want to paint us so beautiful a picture of satisfaction that we are willing to ignore the voice of the one who’s loved us from the beginning. The one who didn’t withhold His son for us as proof that He loves us immeasurably and gives us His best. They want us to chase for what is freely given to us by God. And so often they win, because we forfeit in advance of the fight—giving in so easily—or we bow out too soon. Or, as I found myself doing, we downplay how entangled our hearts truly are. But we must resist denial before it becomes destruction. We have to fight for our lives.

This is something we must actively participate in daily, understanding we will have to (to some degree) for the rest of our lives. We have to fight to keep God on the throne of our hearts. And there are extreme times that will call for extreme measures. Walking away from my life-consuming hoop dreams in college meant walking towards Jesus to find my true purpose. And I had to set aside hours of time daily to pray, fast, read, meditate and the like to loosen my grip on self and my heart’s desires for friendship before I could truly hold tight to Christ. I had to get serious about my sin.

I had to let the truths of these words (by Jimmy Needham) sink in…

Anything I put before my God is an idol Anything I want with all my heart is an idol Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol Anything that I give all my love is an idol

In order for God to take His proper place on the platform of my heart, I had to clear the stage.

Primed for Mission

As a church, for the past couple of months, we have been going through the Tangible Kingdom Primer. This eight-week primer is a shorter and intentionally more practical version of a larger book that encourages “incarnational living,” “gospel intentionality,” and inviting “sojourners” into our lives. If you’re anything like me, the quoted terms I just used may sound familiar but moreso really strange. When I picked up this book for the first time, I had big expectations for something about my life to change drastically. Now, I was definitely not putting all my stock in any book, other than the Bible, transforming my life, but I did have big hopes that going through it would challenge me in some new ways. So, as I started going through it, I found I did enjoy it a lot. The weekly challenges through scriptures about living a life influenced by the gospel were heart-provoking, and I was able to see my own sin in how I wasn’t allowing the gospel to be preeminent in my own life. With that said, a couple weeks in, I was still waiting for that drastic, life-changing charge that the primer would give. But it didn’t come. All the primer seemed to talk about was ordinary life events like eating, cooking meals, hanging out, working, praying, etc. and how God could use them.

Then it hit me.

My Life and God’s Mission

After about three weeks, I realized that this book was changing my life, and I had barely noticed it! The primer gave action steps throughout the weeks for us to apply the principles that were taught throughout in order to practice “missional living,” but what I began to understand is that living this way wasn’t about the actions. It was more about my identity. This book wasn’t trying to provide an eight-step plan to being more like a missionary, but it was actually affirming that as believers we are missionaries. The things I was doing, such as buying random people lunch, or walking a friend home, and giving clothes away came naturally out of my normal day-by-day living, and I didn’t need the primer to tell me to do those things. My life has been changing going through the primer, because my heart has been changing. And my heart has been changing, because I’ve been able to see my life through the lens of God’s mission.  I’m a firm believer that only when we acknowledge God in all His glory and majesty can we have an accurate and humble view of how small we are. Yet, along with that, I can now say that only when we have acknowledge God’s mission in all its glory can we have an accurate view of our own lives and what they are really about.

EXTRA-Ordinary

It’s been an amazing experience to realize that God wasn’t calling me to move to Cambodia and live in a tree for the gospel in order to be on mission. This journey through the primer has shed light on the reality that God knows that I’m a regular college kid just trying to graduate. And in spite of me, He can and will do great things through me if I’m willing to submit to His ways right where I am.  All throughout scripture, God never needed a certain type of person with all the prerequisites in the right location to use them for His mission, but what we do see  is God calling individuals to be a part. So, in the ordinary seemingly mundane lives we all seem to live, God has called me and all believers to join Him in a supernatural task of reconciling this broken, fallen world to the Creator. And we all must feel the weight of how extraordinary a task this is. God is sovereign and His reign is over all of our lives— from the grocery store to our bedrooms—but for the Christian, we must recognize that this means that there is nothing in our lives off limits to the mission we have been given. It has been great to see myself and others in my community embrace this. Yet, I pray for the day when the eight weeks of the primer are far gone, and we still are compelled to see God’s kingdom tangibly manifested in our daily living as a local church.

Jesus at Work

Our culture usually assigns value to professions based on the status the job comes with, the average pay, or the amount of education that is needed to attain it. My belief is that many Christians assign a higher value to ministry or non-profit work by using a similar mindset.  The thinking is “my organization has a higher purpose and therefore my work has more meaning.”  But this is not God’s view of work. We see from the example of Adam in the Garden of Eden that his job description, given by God, included manual work (gardening) and creative mental work (naming the animals). We also see that in Jesus’ example. He worked as a carpenter (manual) and also as a teacher (mental).  You could say that Jesus had a secular job before he had an “official” ministry job, though in reality he had been ministering to people since his childhood. Work is a major part of God’s plan for man.  However, the dignity and value of the job is not determined by the type of work being done, but rather on the attitude and heart of the one doing the work. For Christians, our work is a calling—regardless of our profession. The calling is to “do all for the Glory of God.” Obviously, that can take many forms: sharing our faith, standing up for truth, fighting for justice for those who are being denied it, etc. The best way to sum it up is that we are to work for the common good. His plan is that we bring order, healing, and redemption in all realms of the working world, not just in places where churches and non-profits reach. How we can accomplish this is something I believe God wants us to fight to find out for ourselves in our particular context. One thing we do know is that we don’t necessarily need to leave the job we have when we become a Christian. The Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 7:17 that a man should “lead the life that the Lord has assigned him.” Obviously, this means many people will remain in secular work.

You might say, “Our economic system is corrupt, and I don’t want to work in a corrupt system.” To that I say, yes, the secular working world is often corrupt, but we shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking that greed and dishonesty are quarantined in the secular occupations. The problem with our economic system is not the system itself, but rather the sin in the hearts of the people who operate in that system. That sin is not confined to a particular type of work, but is a part of life in a fallen world. My question is how will secular workplaces be redeemed for God’s glory if Christian’s avoid working there?

Will it be difficult? Absolutely. There are days when I feel like I failed miserably. But how many of us shy away from marriage because everyone tells us it’s difficult? Judging by the number of weddings each year, I would say not as many of us do.  While it’s true that marriage can be a struggle, it is also true that it is one of God’s greatest tools for our sanctification. Work is much the same. The struggle is part of the plan. It’s not supposed to be easy. Our Lord knows what we need in order to be conformed to the image of His son. We don’t need a life free of struggle or risk, but rather a life that sharpens us and causes us to depend on God’s grace each day to live counter to our culture. My hope is that Christians of all ages would not shy away from any type of work that God calls them to, but rather be grateful for the ability to do that work well and allow the Lord to use it for their good and for His glory.

Surrender

Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit moving you to do something? Maybe it is a faint whisper or an audible voice. Maybe you hear it all the time or maybe you long for it and wonder why you can’t. Whatever experience is yours, we’ve all been there. I used to hear the voice a lot in college. I fought it a good bit. Well, most of the time. I tended to fight it when I had more at stake. If I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to buy a lottery ticket, you had better believe I’m going to! But the resistance came with the more difficult situations that involved risk and rejection.

One summer, I was in Mozambique on a mission trip, and I had this feeling that I should walk down the road late at night. I was petrified. We were in a rough part of town, and the roads were notorious for being extremely dangerous. I fought hard with rationalization.

“Is this really the Holy Spirit?”

“ I could die! What’s going to happen?”

“It’s hard to see at night, I’ll do it during the day and the Lord can use me more...”

I came to the realization that it was easy to obey the Holy Spirit when it was convenient. Yet, my experiences had shown me that the Holy Spirit often never moves when it actually is convenient. In the Tangible Kingdom Primer, it points out that the the majority of Jesus' ministry and miracles happened during the daily mundane. Think about it: miracle at a wedding, conversation with Nicodemus late at night, dialogue with a Samaritan outcast while getting water, raised a man from the dead at the gate of a village, and healing the lepers while walking to villages. Some extraordinary things happened by Jesus just going about his normal routine and being open to what might happen.

Think back about the times when you felt that still small voice. What were you doing? Was it convenient? What would it have cost you to be obedient? Time, a tank of gas, some leftover cash, an evening, missing a TV show, sleep, a meal? In order to see God move in our lives, we must first submit to the Holy Spirit. Then, we will begin to see interruptions and responsibilities as opportunities and blessings rather than inconveniences and stressors.

What was at stake for me to walk down the road in Africa? Safety, sleep, comfort. What would happen if I walked down the road? Who knows. And that is exciting! But not for many of us, because we have prescripted the power of God to a time and space. We can’t possibly understand the power of God if we do not see it in our everydaylives.

Did I ever walk down that road? No. Fear won out. Unfortunately, I felt like it was a little harder to hear his voice after that experience. Maybe it was months of hardening my heart. I believe many of us are at this very same point. We have resisted the Holy Spirit so often that we aren't able to operate in His power. We have clogged our heart with fear, comfort, and ultimately self to the point that we won’t know what to do with the power of the Holy Spirit or can't hear Him speaking.

How do we battle this unbelief? How do we surrender to the Holy Spirit and become a part of what He is actively doing all around us?

1. Meditate on God’s Word and believe it!

Is the word of God something we read for 10 minutes before work? Or is it what sustains us? Does it help us be a better person or does it allow us to know God more intimately? Ask God to help you believe his word and for it to be a part of your life. The word of God is active and alive! Let it penetrate your life and show you things about yourself and others that you never thought possible. Allow God to speak to you through it! This may sound a little far fetched, but John Piper gives a great scenario of this concept fleshing itself out:

In Galatians 3:5 Paul says, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" Answer: By the hearing with faith. Hearing what? The Word of God. The promises of God. The good guidance of God.

For example, you change your routine and set aside an hour to be with God in the Word before work. You get alone and immerse yourself in the book of Ephesians for an hour. The Lord impresses on your mind especially 1:12 that we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. And 3:20 that by the power at work in us he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.

Then, you head off to work. During the day, the natural occasion arises to speak a word of testimony to the praise of God's glory. But you feel weak. Two things can now happen:

One, the Word of God comes back to you—this is what you are alive for—the praise of his glory—and he is not weak; he can do far more than I can dream. It's his power at work in me.

The other thing that can happen is that in this critical moment you can believe the Word of God. Trust that God intends to do wonderful things for his glory through you. Be expectant that the Holy Spirit within you will give you power according to God's Word.

And when you believe, this belief becomes the channel of God's Spirit. God supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you by the hearing of faith . . . when you believe the Word of God with eager expectation.”

2. Pray and fast

Beg God to allow you to experience more of the Holy Spirit. Pray that you would recognize him more in your life. Prayer and fasting are ways to experience God more intimately. The more we identify with him, the more we will recognize him.

3. Obey

Even if you feel like you can’t. This is where we will see the Holy Spirit move. If we think we can do this on our own, there is very little room for the Holy Spirit to move. Don’t resist Him anymore. Allow him to use you! The more you obey, the more you will see His presence. God isn’t looking for capable men and women, He’s looking for willing men and women.

God turned the world upside down with 12 young men who didn’t have the greatest track record.

Imagine what he could do with you.

 

 

Ready.Set.Wait.

Go. We go to work. We go to class. We go to the movies (if we can still afford to). We’re always going somewhere it seems. If we’re not, then the assumption is that we’re lazy. Motion equals purpose in most of our minds. Or, in the Christian context, it means we’re on mission. Jesus told us to “go and make disciples” and Francis Chan warns us not to “make excuses.” Everything seems to fall on us going.

But what about waiting? When’s the last time you were encouraged or had that often prayed for, yet (just as often) rarely attainable peace in waiting? Most encouragement to wait usually surrounds talks about purity and singleness.  Beyond that, who really waits anymore? You have a dream; make it a reality! You want to try something new; do it today! Tomorrow isn’t promised; so, get going!

While waiting can be counterproductive, in Acts 1 we find that everything seemed to fall on the apostles not going (just yet), but instead waiting.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5 ESV)

They were eager. They’d witnessed the resurrection of the dead. They’d seen more than enough to keep sharing! Why wait?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Waiting meant not going and relying on their own abilities now that Christ was physically leaving, but gaining the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. They needed to wait on something better. But let the record show, their waiting was not to be a static, do nothing at all in the meantime kind of waiting.

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11 ESV)

Imagine watching someone disappear before your very eyes. Or maybe more realistic to us, consider when the unexpected happens in your life. The abruptness leaves you stagnant. For the apostles, while it wasn’t time to go anywhere physically, the time was ripe for them to do something:

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14 ESV)

While they waited, with undoubtedly tons of questions in their hearts, the apostles gathered with others to pray. And their waiting was not in vain. It turned out to be the difference between the 120 brothers in the faith at the opening of Acts 1 and the 3,000 at the close of Acts 2 only days later. Waiting, in this case, was the most productive thing they could have done.

God, grant us the wisdom to discern the best course of action in our own lives. May your Holy Spirit direct us when to go and when to actively wait.

 

New Year||New Desires

So, we’re one week into the new year.  If you do any type of writing, you’re kind of locked in to having to write something about the new year before you’re allowed to write about anything else.  Consider it an unwritten rule. It’s kind of like the whole concept of placing money under the free parking space in Monopoly. Somewhere along the line, someone came up with that rule, and it gained wide acceptance.  But look in the actual rule book—it’s nowhere to be found. Although I usually don’t abide by unwritten rules, I found a good reason to position my colorful dollars under the board in hopes of giving you a new perspective on resolutions.

Everyone (almost everyone anyway) has a new set of resolutions.  This newfound resolve stems from a desire for something different.  People, for these first few short weeks, are keenly aware of the destructive nature of their eating habits, relational tendencies, lack of discipline, etc. and they desperately want to change those things.  People just want to get rid of bad habits, and we believe the way to do that is to rid ourselves of bad desires.

Here’s the thing about desires though: desires are never discarded. Rather, they are always displaced. It’s impossible to empty out your heart of desire.  No one at any point in time is void of desire.  To do so would be impossible.  Our hearts were made for desire. They are always longing for something, always reaching, always wanting.  If we realize this truth, it completely changes the way that we deal with wrong desires.

If you’re anything like me, when you realize that you’ve been desiring something that you shouldn’t, the first response is to tell yourself, “I shouldn’t desire that.”  I don’t need that cake, I don’t need to look at that, I don’t need to be with this person, and the list goes on and on.  Identifying bad desires is the easy part; ridding ourselves of those bad desires is what’s hard.

For most of us, we think the the solution is just forcing ourselves to discard the desires. We believe that if we can just get rid of those feelings, those lusts, those inclinations, then all will be well.  Again, if you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced very little success in actually putting away (or discarding desires).  It’s because desires can never be discarded; they have to be displaced.  You can’t just get rid of desires; you have to replace them.

Our desires are never just thrown away; they are always traded for what we feel like is something better.  Our hearts are always full to the brim with a longing for something.  The only way to be successful in changing our desires is to exchange our desires.  The only way to really deal with lust is to be so desirous of something else that the previous desire is crowded out in favor of a newer, better desire.

Stop trying to deal with bad habits by trying to rid yourself of them.  Deal with bad habits by replacing the older desire with a new one.  This year, rather than spending your time trying to muster up the willpower to STOP, focus your energy on STARTING.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good."  Psalms 34:8

I’ve made one commitment this year and that is that I want to be so consumed with Jesus that he displaces my desire for evil.  This is what trying looks like.  Trying isn’t mustering up the correct amount of willpower at the moment that I’m tempted to want what’s bad for me.  I’ve tried that, and I’ve failed every time.  What trying looks like is waking up each morning with a renewed sense of desperation to be satisfied by what I find in Jesus.  The more that I read and meditate on what he says, the more I find myself in awe of how the things that once gripped my heart pale in comparison to what I now see.

Desires are meant to be displaced, not just discarded.

The Audacity of Halloween

Last night, all around the country, kids, teenagers and adults (not just parents) did something bold and courageous.  They went up to their neighbors and strangers alike asking for what they wanted: candy. In most cases (of course, there are those stubborn apple-givers) their requests were obliged.  But what if the lights were off at one house because no one was home? What if someone opened their door only to tell them they weren't giving out candy? What if they didn't get the candy they wanted at that old guy's house? Unshaken, they kept knocking. Door-to-door they went with hopeful hearts. What they hoped for was enough to keep them knocking.

Why Not?

Besides those newspaper salesmen, who else has the audacity to go door-to-door anymore? That's easy—Jehovah's witnesses and perhaps some other faiths. But, why not Christians? Perhaps people may think we belong to one of those faiths and pretend they're not home when they see us coming, like we do. Maybe we'd be intruding. It's quite possible that we'd get doors slammed in our faces. But what if, just maybe, one of the people on your block invited you inside to share what you seem compelled to share with them?

Have you ever even thought of knocking on your neighbor's door and asking if you could actually give them something that could change their life? I mean really, what's the worst that could happen? I can recall being on a plane and saying that I wanted to share the Gospel with whoever sat next to me that morning. So, as I looked over and saw her writing, I started up some small talk. Well, it ended up being crumb-size convo, because she was more focused on writing in her journal than engaging with me. It was then up to me to take a deep breath, say a quick prayer in my heart, and simply ask, "Can I talk to you about something?" She could have responded with a negative, which would have meant that we sat next to each other the rest of the flight like talking was forbidden (as we did even though I didn't have the gumption to ask her such an intruding question). Or maybe she would have said, "Sure, why not?" I'll never know. Fear paralyzed the possibilities.

Anxiety, however, wasn't the only thing that kept me from going a step further in the conversation. I stopped short that morning as I thought of her need to be discipled, if she wasn't a believer, and I wouldn't have been able to ensure that if we didn't live in the same state. I wouldn't be able to invite her into community, so why even ask? Is on-the-plane evangelism the best way to witness? Debates about the best methods and strategies clogged my mind. Funny enough, had she been reading a book by John Piper or listening to Young Oceans, I wouldn't have thought twice about mentioning my appreciation for both, and we could have talked the entire plane ride. Connecting with other members of the family is certainly beneficial, but for many of us, it's also very comfortable. And if our comfort is what keeps us from sharing, then it's also very selfish. I definitely believe in being led by the Spirit and using wisdom in sharing anything with others, but I'm starting to wonder if many of our reservations, theological or not, are just neatly wrapped excuses.

JUST DO IT

No, the Great Commission is not to share the Gospel with as many people as you can before you die. It's to make disciples. No, we don't need to stand on corners and yell at passersby that they are going to hell, yet offer them no hope.  But maybe, just maybe, we need to stop chanting 1-1-6 until we're actually unashamed enough to tell our neighbors or some stranger the Good News just because it's that good. And since we know it's not enough to just know the Gospel, afterwards, we should invite them into our lives and community for discipleship.  I once heard a professing atheist say that he didn't understand why Christians weren't relentlessly sharing the Gospel with those around them if they really thought that people who don't know Jesus would spend an eternity wishing they did. That stung. Some of us aren't great communicators, door-to-door witnessing might not be realistic in other cases, but praying for the courage to actually share with others is the least we can do. Many of us are praying for people to come to Jesus, but we haven't extended the invitation to them ourselves. This radical approach, however, finds root right in the scripture. Jesus himself sent out the disciples in Matthew 10 to go door-to door.  Paul said he would endure everything to share the Gospel. And Christ himself was willing to die for the salvation of those who crucified Him.

The reward of an eternal life for another human being is much greater than a bag full of candy and well worth the risk of a slammed door. So, I'd say it's about time we started knocking. In one way or another.

 

 

 

 

To share or not to share?

Be on mission. Make disciples. Do ministry where life exists. Sounds kinda vague, right? But if you've answered the call to live on mission right where you are, you've probably wrestled with sharing your faith or at least saying Jesus somewhere in the convo. Below are different accounts from different people who share the same faith and hope to spread it to others.

Up in the Air

On the plane ride home yesterday, I had an opportunity to be obedient to the Lord by stepping out in faith in sharing His love. Airports have been pretty interesting places  for conversations and spreading the Gospel in my experience. So, before I get on planes, I always get nervous for three reasons:

1) I have no control over the plane; so if it goes down, Jesus here I come!

2) Southwest only gives out pretzels and cheese nips now, which means my lovely gluten-intolerant stomach cannot have the delicious complimentary snack, which means constantly convincing myself I am not hungry and that my body will not die of starvation from two hours of no snack, which is what I tend to believe.

3) I know the Lord may put it on my heart to talk to someone, and I like to be by myself in my own world and not talk to or worry about the person next to me who usually doesn't initiate conversation with me anyways.

Well, yesterday was not the case for reasons 1 and 3; I did not die from an uncontrollabke situation like I am fearful of, and  I ended up praying before I got on the plane for the Lord give me boldness to love whoever is next to me and for the Holy Spirit to move. But I did have to constantly remind myself not to be angry at Southwest for not having any peanuts! I was super fortunate to sit next to a beautiful 16-year-old girl who was headed back to Texas from a funeral—funerals make great conversations to either look like a creepo for getting personal with a stranger or great opportunities for discussing beliefs about Jesus, in my opinion. So, I made conversation in and out of the ride and began to pray for her and pray for what to share, and I asked the Lord what his heart was for her. "Tell her I love her" kept burdening my heart. Of course, my mind often rationalizes His prodding and says I've heard it a thousand times; I know Bible stories and confirmations because of my Catholic background, it will be ineffective and have no meaning.

I moved past that and ended up getting to share how coming to college has really deepened my relationship with Jesus, how much it's changed me and restored my relationship with my mom, and a little bit of my testimony. And as we were about to go our separate ways, I got the chance to wish her the best with her drama and theater plans.  Then, I shared the burdening words, "I'm sure you may know, but Jesus really loves you girl!" I was hoping for something amazing to happen: like she'd fall out on her knees and begin to sing praises and make an offering to the Lord like I read once in the Bible somewhere. But she didn't. She just looked me in the eyes and smiled and said, "That's good to know!" But I must say I was super joyful! So joyful that Jesus loved her, and I got to be an example of Jesus chasing her heart. I know she listened intently when I shared my testimony, and I know when I see Jesus and He replays that scene of my life, He will be pleased. I am joyful, peaceful, and excited to be a part of this mission!

The Crying Girl

And then...then there was the crying girl. At least it looked like she was crying. She was parked on the curb at a house I knew to be owned by a single mom and her two wild-child teenage girls. Don’t ask me how I knew this. I’d never met any of them, but we had wild-child teenage boys at the time so I guess the neighbors felt I needed to be informed. As I passed the car and noticed her crying—I thought—I sensed the Lord speak very clearly. That doesn’t happen to me all that often, so when it does I pay attention. I don’t know of another word to use but “speak.” It was more than an impression, which brings to mind an indentation in a pillow or a tombstone rubbing. I make no apologies for the word while knowing it opens the door for a wide range of misunderstanding.  It was like, but stronger than, the warmth we feel toward someone who needs something from us, like prayer or a handwritten note or a hundred dollars, and we “just know” God wants us to give it to them. So inescapable that to forebear from doing it is, for us in that moment, disobedience.

I “just knew” the Lord wanted me to stop and talk to her. I told him I must have misunderstood him. The house was at the top of my last hill. I could barely breathe. I was hot and sweaty and, dear Lord, have you seen how purple my face gets when I run? I told him if I stopped I would embarrass her, maybe even frighten her. The truth was, in my current condition I was the one who would be embarrassed. Why would I purposely invite the ridicule of a teenage girl? I kept running. But I couldn’t shake what felt like a directive to stop. I didn’t get far before I turned around. The car was empty by then. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I kept going, backtracking down a hill I hated, knowing I’d have to climb it all over again. I ran and ran and then I turned around. The girl had just closed the front door of the house and was walking back to her car.

“Hey,” I huffed (remember, this was the second time up that dreaded hill), “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but are you okay? I just felt like . . . well, I felt like I should pray for you. And I wanted to make sure you’re okay.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if she said something like, “Oh yes, I was about to give up on life until you stopped! Will you tell me all about Jesus? Obviously you know him. Thank you for stopping and changing my life.” But it didn’t go down like that, not at all. She looked at me like I was the crazy woman I feared she would think I was. She said, “I’m fine,” and then her manners took over and she added, “Thanks, though.” (Maybe she wasn’t such a wild child after all.)

I picked up my pace and began the downward slope toward home. And then, more clearly than minutes before, I sensed God speak again. Twice in one day may be a record for me. “Child,” he said, in a voice not unlike my recently gone-from-this-world dad, a father whose gift was relishment, “You did it. I am so proud of you. Well done.” “But Lord, what is there to be proud of?” I protested, “I almost didn’t do it at all. I almost let my embarrassment keep me from listening to you. What good is obedience under duress anyway?” All I could hear then was the distant sound of a mower and the groan of school bus brakes a few blocks away. No answer, which I took to mean none of my objections mattered to him at all.

In their book Total Church, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester describe the church as a group of “ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.” Something about hearing God and doing what he says to do while running feels right. And if, either in stumbling or in sure steps, I embarrass myself from time to time, well, so be it. What was it I heard? “Well done.” I’ll take that over embarrassment any day.

[blockquote]“Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.” - Bill Bright[/blockquote]

 

Running on Mission

[blockquote]

“A man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked. "That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbour. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth - we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was. ”

-Anthony de Mello

[/blockquote]

Not long after the very day the Father invited me to sit at the table as a daughter in 2007, my desire (and heart) for the nations had begun and only continued to grow. Excitedly, each day I awoke I knew it was only one day closer to my serving Him in countries abroad, and that had always been a hope of mine. Five years later, now 2012, I am living and teaching in China and would have never imagined life to look the way it does now.

If I were able to paint a picture of my heart, it would be boldly stained with a map of the world—covering every inch.

Around the city and with my students, He is making much use of gifts and skillsets that I would have never deemed as “useful”. The simple things: my love for stick figures are being used to teach my students; my knack for speaking with my hands has been a great aid in describing to the Chinese what I am looking for and works great when I am modeling an activity for my classes; my love for starting conversations with strangers has created many opportunities to practice my newly-learned Chinese; the eagerness I have for learning about cultures, which was enhanced only this summer-past, has been a fun tool in my knowing how to study the city around me; but the best yet has been my love for jumping rope. As random as it sounds, I have even been placed at a middle school who is number one in their province for their jump rope team! I’ve joined alongside the squad and have even been asked to perform with them during the school’s upcoming Sports Demonstration. Though these are only a few hobbies and skills to name, I have been growing in my appreciation and understanding that these are only mine to steward as He uses me to reach parts of China in His name for the Kingdom.

While He is making use of what I love to do, though, my dependence on and trust in the Father is being deeply challenged…even as I write.

I have realized that, in the States, I took more action than I did pray for the Father’s provision. Standing confidently within the comforts of my community and amidst familiarity with city, state and country, I felt as though I’d had much of what I needed, so my plea for His providing was not a priority if my need was attainable on my own. Living in China now, this skewed perspective of pride in self is being broken. I am now void of familiarity by city, country, food and people, and it is explicitly uncovering and propelling my need for trusting and depending on the Father. I had not even an idea as to how much I doubted His desire and ability to be Father until He became all that I had.

And I find it funny that He has become so much more real to me since.

From the moment I stepped onto the plane, I began recognizing things that He’d taken care of that I would have not been able to think of with my own mind or accomplish with my own hands. There have been a few mornings already where I've awaken in total fear and anxiety for the hours in the day to come and my only sense of preparation for any action outside of my apartment, as menial as it'd felt initially, was in trusting that His promises are true. I held onto them much like a frightened child would grip their father's hand and a shield they become in (the) place of my fears.

My lack of knowledge of this country and city, its people, their food and their languages’ dialects has served as daily, and sometimes even hourly, reminders that this world is much bigger than I could ever understand on my own. My prayers began as requests that I may hunger for the Scripts where my desire was once depreciating; that I would be attentive to the subtlety of His movements around my city; and that I would grow to know Him both in and outside of a community of believers. Only three days after arriving in China, I started to bump into believers. My request was then that I would be welcomed into a Chinese family for personal, cultural and language learning; as I was invited to the home of a student for supper on the very first day of work at my new school, I started to realize that I was still keeping the Father in a box—He had been meeting and surpassing my menial requests.

On a continuum, I am venturing from the determination and action that was in the heart of Martha to the rest, intimacy and trust from the heart of Mary.

Though there is suffering in growth, I know that I am not yet who I will be.

Signed, Broken but Wonderfully Made