Finding home … again

With the flick of a switch, headlights illuminate the dark county road. 

A minute later gravel crunches under the tires where the pavement ends. After a long left curve, the lit sidewalk is in sight.

Everything else is a familiar, beautiful black.

The car’s now in park. Needing nothing more than a crack, the hot, humid air greets its visitors. 

Bags are grabbed, doors are shut and then there’s a long pause to look up.

They say Texas stars are bright at night but most of the time city lights steal their show.

But not here.

There they are … shining bright in all their glory. A borrowed glory fashioned on purpose to point even higher.

In the looking up, home is found … again.

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore…” -Genesis 22:17

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”‭‭ -Psalm‬ ‭8:3-4‬

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.‭‭” -Romans‬ ‭1:20‬

This is Our God

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Behold, this is our God…

He covers blood red sin and makes it white like snow and wool (Isaiah 1:18).

He doesn’t smite the sinner, He lets them collapse in awe at His presence (Isaiah 6).

He illuminates the dark with a great light (Isaiah 9:2).

He is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

He prepares a feast of fine foods for people from all places who have pledged their devotion to Him (Isaiah 25:6).

He gives peace to those who trust Him (Isaiah 26:30).

He cradles close those He cares for like a shepherd tending his flock (Isaiah 40:11).

He strengthens and helps (Isaiah 41:10).

He doesn’t break bruised reeds or blow out smoldering wicks (Isaiah 42:3).

He walks near and casts out fear (Isaiah 43:1-2).

He provides water in the wilderness and the wasteland (Isaiah 43:20).

He stretches his light and salvation far to reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

He loves without fail and cannot be shaken (Isaiah 54:10).

He says “come” to all who are thirsty (Isaiah 55:1).

He sends his people out with joy and peace (Isaiah 55:12).

He proclaims good news to the poor, binds up the brokenhearted, frees captives and releases prisoners from darkness (Isaiah 61:1).

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:9

 

What I Love About Mountains

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If you’re anything like me, you like mountaintop experiences … but maybe not so much what it takes to get there.

To reach the summit, you work your way up from the valley. And before you even get to the base, you endure months of training to get your body ready for an ascent that’s furthest from easy.

Your alarm goes off early and you want to snooze. A friend reaches out with a more social option than an evening spent with your pack on the gym’s stair stepper. You want to throw in the towel, but you know you won’t reach the top unless you put in the time and effort to train.

Then the time finally comes to climb.

You drive to the base, strap on your pack and start to trek. The higher you get, the thinner the air and heavier the pack on your fatigued legs. It’s only views of the summit that pull you forward when you consider turning back.

Looking up keeps you going. Looking up keeps you going. Looking up keeps you going.

A few hours spent going straight up and you’ve made it. Your eyes fill with wonder at the clouds and peaks that remind you that though you’re small and insignificant, Someone deems you as more valuable than the finest wines and metals and jewels.

He’s even sacrificed His most precious Gift to prove it.

Then you look down. You see the valley and the walking in between from a fresh perspective. Suddenly it hits you … the sights and sounds and smells from the top aren’t what makes the experience, it’s the sweaty, exhausting, heart-pounding journey that brought you there.

It’s hard and beautiful and treacherous and rewarding and unpredictable and consistent and a lot like life.

This. This is what I love about the mountains.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” –Psalm 121:1-2

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation … For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.” –Psalm 95:1, 3-4

A Foe Turned Friend

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Rain, you’re a familiar foe.

You’ve ruined a lot of things for me … like my play and my plans.

I’ve never liked you much. Okay, maybe that’s not fully true. I’ve like you a little, especially on those lazy Sunday afternoons when golf is on the sports channel and I’m convinced God’s wired me for the couch.

Rain, I’ve got to let you know you’re growing on me a little.

You force me to hit pause when life is busy and I want to prioritize physical over spiritual training.

You are an instrument adding new sounds to creation’s song.

You refresh and revive weary and dry soil to bear life.

You relieve us Texans from the summer heat (can I get an “amen”).

You wash away earth’s dirt and grime, and you point me to the One who’s done the same for my soul.

Rain, you’re a foe turned friend.

“You heavens above, rain down my righteousness;
    let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
    let salvation spring up,
let righteousness flourish with it;
    I, the Lord, have created it.” -Isaiah 45:8

To the people I’ve looked through

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I promise I’ve seen you and even thought about how you’re created in God’s image. I’ve even wondered if you know that … if you know Him.

In the moments we’ve shared—in the car, plane, coffee shop or café—I’ve tried to muster the courage to tell you all about Him. But instead I’ve looked through you, caring more about my comfort than where your life will end.

You may think I’m kind or friendly. But truth be told, I’m the furthest from those things. Instead I’ve been the selfish keeper of life’s greatest secret and supreme treasure—Jesus.

And for those of you thinking, “Saving is up to God,” I know that. But I also know He’s invited me into the work.

Somehow I am His vessel … His Ambassador in a dark world in need of His light.

I can’t seem to reconcile how these two things work together, but I do know I’ve been given a divine duty from my Maker—and yours—and too often I watch opportunities pass.

My quest for comfort denies you of the greatest news I’ve ever come to know.

To the people I’ve looked through, please forgive me. I hope to see you on the other side, and, if I do, I can’t wait to hear your story and praise God for the person who chose to truly see you. His messenger of grace that gave you a second chance and gave me one too.

Redefining “missionary”

10947264_10152997108205049_9165043593889483864_o (1)We deployed a missionary last week. But we didn’t send her far … 20 miles further south at most.

And, no, we aren’t in a third world country sending her across the border or to a new people group. We’re in the Bible Belt. Churches are on every corner, and yet those numbered with Christ are declining.

She’s going to change that in Corporate America, and her first day is today.

Based on that description, do you still think she’s a missionary?

My guess is that the more I defined where she’s deployed, the less “missionary” she became. The roads she walks are paved, showers and toilets are easily accessible, water is clean for the drinking, and the people speak her language.

But—biblically speaking—she’s a missionary. And so are you.

Missionary isn’t a career reserved for the super spiritual with a call to travel far distances to live among people that greatly contrast from their own upbringing.

And it’s not a side-gig when you have extra time on a Saturday morning.

It’s for people that know Jesus and live to make Him known. That includes you and me. The Great Commission isn’t just a call just for Christ’s first twelve disciples … it is a command for every person that has known, knows, and will know Him.

By the end of Acts, we’re introduced to a lot of believers. Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Stephen, Philip, and Lydia are the names of just a few. Some of them were blatantly sent to new places to sow gospel seeds, others stayed where they were planted to do the same.

But regardless of their formal career title or source of income, they lived as missionaries—sent ones proclaiming Christ crucified and raised to life for the forgiveness of sins and salvation of all who believed in Him.

Believer, do you define yourself as a missionary?

Because you are, and I want to encourage you to boldly own that title for the glory of God wherever He’s placed you.

“Every Christian is a sent one, there is no such thing as an unsent Christian.” –Alan Hirsch

The Problem with Fear

IMG_4232 - Version 2What’s the problem with fear? It paralyzes us from action.

Last week, I shared about the decline in evangelism within the American Church. And I think fear fuels this.

We fear being awkward. We fear being called a bigot or Bible thumper. We fear breaking relationships. We fear being left out because we are vocal about Who we follow and what we believe.

In the grand scheme of things, these things really aren’t that scary, and when we allow them to silence us, Satan wins.

Now don’t get my words twisted here. I know and fully believe Christians fight from victory (1 Corinthians 15:57). Jesus said, “it is finished” (John 19:30). The grave is conquered and one day people from every nation will worship the Lord (Revelation 7:9).

But right now we are waging war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is on the prowl to steal, kill, and destroy, and he does so by keeping people in the dark when it comes to the gospel message (John 10:10).

When we are silent with our message, we fuel Satan’s agenda instead of God’s.

In his book, The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken states…

Satan’s greatest desire is for the people of this planet to leave Jesus alone. Satan desires that we turn away from Jesus—or that we never find Him in the first place. If Satan cannot be successful at that, he desires to keep believers quiet, to diminish or silence our witness, and to stop us from bringing others to Christ […] Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus—but don’t witness for Him—are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the Somalilands and Saudi Arabias of the world. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices.

Today, whose side are you aiding?

I am a missionary

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I am a missionary.

I’ve denied that title for years, but that’s what I am … and if you are a follower of Jesus, so are you.

We are the sent ones in a world hurting and in need of hope.

That title is engrained in our new identity in Christ as deep as our status as God’s children, but for some reason we’re less likely to own it.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with my church’s elders. God is clearly as work in our members, but they shared that less than 7-percent of us are sharing our faith often. That’s above the national average, yet it starkly contrasts with the 97-percent of our body that say we’re comfortable sharing our faith and testimony.

How can that be so?

I’m going to speculate it’s because we—the American Church—have mistaken God’s command to remain unstained by the world to mean remain unengaged with the world (James 1:27).

Instead of dining with sinners and calling them to repent and believe in Christ Jesus, we spend our evenings in Bible studies, community groups, and church services with people who are already brought into the fold.

Meanwhile billions outside of our Christian culture are destined for hell.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but that is the spiritual reality we profess to believe as disciples of Jesus. He says He is only way to an eternity with God, and over three billion people in our world haven’t gotten an opportunity to know Him (John 14:6).

That stat alone should spur us to action. But does is it?

Have we become so content and comfortable in our churches that we’re willing to forsake Christ’s final command to make disciples of all nations, including the lost people who live across the street?

The Acts of the Apostles documents thousands coming to faith in Christ within minutes. Do we even share our faith often enough to see our churches grow by a few hundred new believers–not church hoppers–each year?

I know I am not near as faithful as I want to be in sharing the gospel, but, wow, I am convicted. Eighty-three people groups remain unreached by the gospel in the United States alone, meaning they have limited to no access to the gospel. In a predominately Christian nation with unlimited resources, this should not be the case.

I feel a God-given responsibility to play a role in changing that. Do you? If yes, spend a few minutes reflecting on these questions … and then act.

  • How much time do you spend at your church each week?
  • How much time do you spend intentionally among non-Christians each week?
  • Do you know how to share your faith?
  • Who in your direct sphere of influence needs to know there’s a God who loves them so much that He sent His only Son to die so they could know Him?
  • What are you going to change to live a more missional lifestyle?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” –Romans 10:17

 

He Keeps and Cares

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I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore. -Psalm 121

Before leaving for South Asia, I knew my trust in God would be put to the test. Our travel schedule alone took us through the Middle East, across country on a small domestic flight, and along winding mountain passes before the real part of the trip ever started.

Weeks out a team member shared Psalm 121:3 as a prayer request. Looking more into the Psalm, I decided it would benefit me to memorize it before leaving.

If I hadn’t, my experience in the foothills of the Himalayas would have been anxiety-ridden. Most of the time I had no clue what was happening or where we were headed. But the first half of the trip passed with my steps firmly trusting God.

And then my foot slipped … and I ate it.

Thanks to the turtleshell of a pack on my back and a borrowed trekking pole, I escaped injury. But I tend to take things a little too literal and threw an inner hissy fit … clearly God didn’t care about me if He let me slip and fall (see Psalm 121:3).

I stewed for an hour until I met my tent-mate on the trail. She listened to my frustrations and asked if I was hurt.

“No,” I said. “See, God does care,” she said.

Oh, how she was right about that.

You see, this was the longest day of our hike and my team happened to be the best at taking the long route to camp.

Roughly seven miles in we started descending into a valley–home to one of the only pastors in this remote region of the world. We stopped at his house for water and rest before the final push to camp.

As we left, Ezekiel 37 ran through my head, like it had just days before.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of theLord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” -Ezekiel 37:1-5

There are a lot of valleys in South Asia … most of which are spiritually dead. They don’t know Jesus and haven’t heard His message. But that wasn’t the case here.

Here God breathed life into dry bones … and He cared enough to show me.

He cares about me. He cares about my teammates. He cares about those we carried the gospel to. And, friend, He deeply cares for you. Do you believe it?

Divine Layup

It was just me and her and an empty nail salon.

I knew it was God orchestrating a divine layup to share the gospel, but it was up to me to obediently seize the opportunity … and the enemy was attacking.

The internal battle raged. Within milliseconds my mind argued back and forth with God. One moment I was bold and on the brink of sharing. The next, I shrank back in fear.

Flag_of_Vietnam.svgAnd finally, I asked her what she believed—she was a Buddhist from Vietnam.

God showed up, filling my mind with compassion and questions for a woman whose view of Christianity was informed by Hollywood. She knew Christians ask their God for forgiveness, but she didn’t know the true story of how we’re eternally forgiven—through the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In fact, she didn’t even know His Name.

“In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” –Ephesians 1:7-8

Last night that changed. She didn’t accept the gospel, but she engaged with it. And I’m learning that’s a victory.

For those who may read this and presume I’m a natural evangelist—I’m not. I’m awkward, get tongue-tied, and allow my fears and insecurities to reign often. But I want to be obedient to share the story that’s eternally altered my life.

In doing so, I’m experiencing the joy of knowing God in a whole new way and am growing in my confidence in the gospel. Will you join me?

“I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” –Philemon 1:7