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?

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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

What I learned rock climbing

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This week I went rock climbing.

Here are a few of my observations:

  • Rock climbing is for the long and light … a.k.a not me (but it was a blast!).
  • Scaling a wall is essentially a perpetual pull-up.
  • You either feel like a ninja, spider monkey, or fish out of water. I relate to the latter.
  • It’s a bit like golf … apparently you’re not supposed to loudly cheer on your fellow climbers. Whoops.
  • It builds trust. This seems like a “duh” because you’re responsible for making sure someone doesn’t plummet to the ground. I’ve decided it’s a great relationship building experience because of the teamwork it fosters. So dudes, take your ladies rock climbing. You’re welcome for the date night idea. 🙂
  • If you’re not use to rock climbing, it’s a giant leap out of your comfort zone … and that’s a good thing.

I want to camp out a bit on that last bullet.

Let’s be honest, we stick to our comfort zones too often. We fear failure, so we shy away from trying new things … but there’s a world waiting to be explored and an incredibly good God who holds it together (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:17).

When we confine ourselves to a specific arena, we miss out on adventure and opportunities to experience God in new, exhilarating ways.

I think Peter gets this about our Maker. That’s why he was eager to walk on water.

“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.”Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” -Matthew 14:28-29

Getting out of the boat was a bold move on Peter’s end and Jesus honored his action by allowing him to walk across the waters … until Peter lost sight of his Savior.

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” -Matthew 14:30-31

Peter failed the trust test in this moment, but Jesus still reached out in His abundant grace to save him from stormy waters.

Meanwhile, where the heck are the other disciples?! In the boat … watching … and missing out on the epic-ness of walking on water … lame. (Shout out to B. Yobo for this amazing point.)

Yes, Peter failed, but give the boy credit for trying.

I don’t know about you, but I take a lot of comfort in this story. It teaches me that we’re not meant to stay in the boat. We need to try something new, often … and sometimes it’ll end in failure.

That’s okay, too.

I need to be reminded of this daily. I’m not a fan of failure. As much as I want to be good at everything, I won’t be. But there’s grace in the trying.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus and courageously set out to try new things for His glory, His Hand is willing, able, and ready to reach out and save us.

So what will you do today to get out of the boat?

This journey with Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. Get out there and do something that’ll grow your trust in the One who commands the wind and the waves (Luke 8).

A Visit to The Rock

Welcome to The Rock—Alcatraz.

Fortress. Military prison. Maximum-security U.S. penitentiary. Native American activist stronghold. Bird sanctuary. National Park … and as a dear friend would describe it, a place swarming with redemption.

On a day celebrating independence, our team decided to incarcerate ourselves, walking the very paths of high profile felons like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.

Located 1.5 miles from the shores of San Francisco, Alcatraz—named for its dense population of sea birds—is surrounded by the chilly Pacific waters and the Bay Area’s relentless winds.

The sights and sounds of the City taunted prisoners enslaved within the cold, concrete walls of the most infamous U.S. prison. The sheer proximity to freedom psychologically agonized inmates. It was seemingly at their fingertips, yet could not be grasped.

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Good behavior was rewarded with time out of the cages to enjoy America’s pastime.

Just beyond the chains dwell signs of redemption–gardens kept by inmates and new life on an island paradise for the birds.

This is where hope is felt. Hope that just one inmate found eternal forgiveness behind those steel bars. Hope that a stony place with a tainted past can spawn beauty from ashes.

And I’m confident it can.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” -Ezekiel 36:26

My (Re)birthday

Today I turn 24.

And as much fun as it is to celebrate birthdays with friends (I’m in San Fran!), I’ve concluded there’s a birthday more important than the one marking my first breath.

I like calling that day–May 3, 2015–my (re)birthday … the day I declared to the world that I am a follower of Jesus through baptism. Here’s the tale of that fateful day from the perspective of my sweet Momma Bard:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the

I’m incredibly humbled to share in this special day in my daughter’s life. Some may ask, “Wasn’t she already baptized?” Yes, Gary & I baptized her before God and our family in November 1991 when she was four months old. We vowed before God to raise her to know Jesus. Some may ask, “Wasn’t she confirmed?” Yes, in March 2005 I believed Meredith to be mature enough to understand the profession and commitment made in confirming her infant baptism and she was confirmed. But those decisions reflected my decisions.

On a glorious, sunny Sunday surrounded by friends and family who love and encourage her walk in faith, mentors and co-workers who teach her Biblical truth and stretch her God-given talents beyond the boundaries of her heart and mind, Meredith stepped into the baptismal waters and publicly professed her faith, giving her whole heart, her whole life, to God.

Our loving Father had set up residence in Meredith’s heart many years ago. Privately, she had given her heart to Him a number of years ago as she experienced the fullness of His grace, His loving mercies, the overwhelming depth of His love as a 6th grader attending her first FCA Camp. On this glorious Sabbath, as a mature young adult, fully capable and cognizant of her decision, she gave her heart to Him publicly.

As I stood in line waiting to enter those baptismal waters with her, I was honored to be a part of this day as I fully understood the supreme importance of this moment in Meredith’s life, her earnest commitment to live her life fully walking with God. When she arose from the waters, a smile erupted on her face radiating the deepest joy of her heart…she is a beloved, redeemed child of God. I was humbled, grateful, and thankful to witness and share this moment.  

Sometimes it’s a challenge to parent a child like Meredith (and I’ve regularly prayed for the strength to be the parent she needs!), so for a number of years now, I’ve often admitted I have no idea where God will lead Meredith, but I have the full assurance that He’s got His protective arms wrapped around her…

and I trust that.

Have you publicly identified with Jesus through baptism? I’d love to hear about your experience getting “dunked” in the comment section below!

3 Reasons Why I Love Leviticus

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetAlright … I love Leviticus.

Bet you weren’t expecting that first line in a blog post from this cup-is-always-half-full girl.

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, or maybe—more than ever before—God’s living and active word is making what used to be the most unappetizing pieces of Scripture vibrant and life giving. I’m going to camp out on the latter.

It’s true. I love Leviticus. And here are three reasons why.

It teaches me about God’s holiness

I have no idea how many times I underlined the words “holy,” “unblemished,” “fine,” and “pure” in the last few months … but I can guarantee you it was a ton (and I’m sure there’s some sweet seminary-savvy technology that can tell you just how many times you can find these words in the 27 chapters of this book).

The point is that God is perfectly holy, and nothing but holiness can be in His presence. Take it from Aaron’s sons who learned this the hard way.

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: “‘Among those who approach me, I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” –Leviticus 10:1-3

It teaches me about God’s right rule

Although I’m not smart enough to understand or remember the historical significance of the sacrifices and commands in Leviticus, these texts certainly tuned me to a greater understand of God’s right rule.

The things He asks of us are meant to give life, not burden.

When we follow God’s right rule, it goes well with us.

“For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” –Deuteronomy 30:16

And throughout Leviticus, God reminds the Israelites of His goodness when He gives them a command. We can trust Him because of His spotless resume.

“Do not make idols for yourselves, set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God. You must keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am Yahweh. If you follow My statutes and faithfully observe My commands […] I will turn to you, make you fruitful and multiply you, and confirm My covenant with you. You will eat the old grain of the previous year and will clear out the old to make room for the new. I will place My residence among you, and I will not reject you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, so that you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to live in freedom.” –Leviticus 26:1-3, 9-13

It teaches me about God’s mercy

I think this one is my favorite.

Right after God declares the incredible benefits of walking in His ways, He warns the Israelites of the outcome of disobedience. And y’all, it’s pretty gnarly.

Then God plants a great big but in the middle of the chapter.

But if they will confess their sin and the sin of their fathers—their unfaithfulness that they practiced against Me, and how they acted with hostility toward Me, and I acted with hostility toward them and brought them into the land of their enemies—and if their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled, and if they will pay the penalty for their sin, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob. I will also remember My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham […] I will not reject or abhor them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am Yahweh their God. For their sake I will remember the covenant with their fathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God; I am Yahweh.” –Leviticus 26:40-42, 44-46

Man, the Israelites certainly don’t deserve this measure of mercy. And neither do I … but God keeps His promises. In His goodness He grants each of us mercy despite our failures when we humbly confess our disobedience.

Here’s what Leviticus—and the entire Bible—is pointing to: Jesus.

The sacrifices and extreme demands of righteousness before the Father can only be fulfilled by One who remains untarnished by the world. And that’s Jesus.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

My little piece of Heaven

Sandies – my own little piece of Heaven on earth where I spent much of my childhood.

This is the place I learned it’s okay for girls to play in the mud, climb trees, and race four wheelers. But most of all it’s the place the leading men in my life taught me to respect and care for the great outdoors.

Six miles from electricity and cell phone service, Sandies has become a place of solitude … a retreat from the hustle and bustle of life in the Metroplex to be still and know.

Yes, places like this still exist. You just have to turn down a dead end road and hope your vehicle makes it through the ruts to get there.

Here the vastness of the sky reminds me of my insignificance. Here the infinite beauty of God’s masterpiece leaves me in wonder. Here I find rest.

My family spent Easter weekend here … where the lush greens of spring serve as reminders of the Hope that bloomed after a long, cold winter.

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. -Martin Luther