faith

Word of the Year: Confidence

This week I posted that I was having trouble deciding on a word for 2017.  I made a cute, helpful worksheet for you and I to use in deciding on our word.  (Just subscribe, and I'll email it to you.)

Well, my worksheet worked.  I picked a word using my worksheet this morning, and I'm thrilled.

My word is confidence.

It's beautiful because it has two meanings that fit perfectly with the two big themes I see emerging for my life this year.  Let me explain.

First is this definition:

Confidence (n) 1. belief that one can rely on someone (GOD); firm trust

There are so many things that God is doing that I have no control over.  

We are in the process of raising $27,000 to proceed with an adoption of a little boy who is 8,000 miles away, who we've never met.  We have so little control over whether or not this adoption happens, but we are putting every bit of energy we can spare into making it happen.  We have 1/3 of the money we need so far, and we are filling out more paperwork and grants.  We are planning fundraisers and doing everything we can to adopt our little "A."  It is ultimately up to God.  He is going to have to provide financially, emotionally, and spiritually for this adoption to happen.  At any moment, the Ethiopian government or the regional government where he is from or the United States government could stop this adoption for whatever reason.  At any moment, our health or financial situation could change and put a halt to this adoption.  At any moment, a number of things that I can't even think of could stop this adoption.  I am going to have to trust and trust hard on the God who called us to adoption years ago.  We have been faithful to His call, and He is always faithful, more faithful than I could even imagine.  I will need to have confidence in Him or I might lose all my marbles this year.

I have other things in my life that are going to require trusting the Lord.  I've got a daughter graduating high school and going off to college this year.  No big deal.  I'm not freaking out about it at all.  Yeah right!

The second definition of confidence is this.

Confidence (n) 2. Feeling of self-assurance from one’s appreciation of one’s abilities or qualities.

There are a couple things I wrote down for things that make me come alive.  I wrote teaching about Jesus and writing.  These are things that God has gifted me to do, and if I don't have confidence in my ability to do them (because of His strength), then I won't be able to try all the things that I want to try this year.

I had a dream the other night that I was getting up to teach a room full of women.  I was so terrified and so moved to be authentic in my talk that I cried all my make up off, frantically searched for my Bible, and then got up to teach.  It was the most frightening and exhilarating dreams I've had in years.  When I finally began my talk, it all came together.  I could have woke up from that dream, got up to a podium, and gave that speech.  I know exactly what I would say because God has been building this message in my heart for years.

This dream may never come true, but I'm going to keep on writing and teaching just like it is going to happen tomorrow.

What about you?  Have you chosen your word for 2017?  Do you have dreams and struggles coming up this year and need some focus?  Comment below!  Sign up to receive my worksheet by email if you need a little help finding your word.

Some verses about confidence.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philipians 1:6 ESV
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
— 1 John 5:14 ESV
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
— Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

A song for you today.

Day 5: Pleasing vs. Impressing

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

I’ve been carefully trying to use the word “impress” and not “pleasing” as I am going through this subject.

When I started out thinking through writing about this subject, I found myself using the word “pleasing” a lot.

What is the difference between pleasing and impressing?  I think saying that we need to quit trying to impress God is right and true.  Is it just semantics?  Or would it be heresy to say we should quit trying to please God?

Impress is a verb meaning to make someone feel admiration or respect.

Please is a verb meaning to make someone feel happy or satisfied, or to give someone pleasure.

Are we called to please God?

God said this about His Son Jesus, as He was being baptized, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Of course Jesus would please His Father, but are we suppose to please Him?

We are.  I could list out dozens of scriptures that command us to please God.  You can find them by searching online or in your Bible app the word “please.”  I’ll just give you one from the New Testament.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
— Colossians 1:9-12 ESV

If we are able and expected to please God, then how do we accomplish this?

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who seek him.”

Since faith is a gift from the Lord, we cannot please Him on our own.  He gives us faith, we put it into action, believing in Him.  That pleases God.

As we obey God, we are showing that we actually believe in Him.  As we seek to be more like Christ, out of faith and obedience, we actually do please Him.

To take from the definition of pleasing, we make God feel happy or satisfied, or we give God pleasure.

How is this different from impressing God?  If we put God into the sentence definition of impress, we can see the difference.

We make God feel admiration or respect.

Um.  No.

God isn’t going to tip his hat at us like a cowboy lassoed into learning a lesson.  God doesn’t learn lessons.

God isn’t going to do a Wayne and Garth move, wave His arms up and down, and vibrato out a, “We’re not worthy” to us.

That is heresy.

The worship should only go one way, from us to Him.

We can see that there is a difference between pleasing God and impressing God.  How do we do one, and not strive to do the other?  The answer is in our motivation.  We will explore that topic tomorrow.  See you then.

 

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post, because it's my blog, and I can listen to music if I want to.  My husband has been listening to this album a bunch.  It came out 2 years ago, so we were late to the game.  I'm guessing you might not have heard it either.  I was trying to explain ambient music to my friend who only listens to country music.  I sounded like a crazy person.  The story behind this song is pretty interesting.  The "vocals" are re-mixed up vocals from a children's Christmas album.  I think it sounds so beautiful and relaxing.  I do my best writing listening to ambient music. 

Day 24: Childlike

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 24:  CHILDLIKE

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
— Matthew 18:2-4

Sometimes we think that Jesus meant for us to have a “kids say the darndest things” faith.  Like the clouds are cotton candy and peeing in the pool will turn it blue.

Ministering at Citychurch, we do not shy away from the most disadvantaged or dangerous areas of our city.  In fact we go there first, knowing there are children in those situations who are often out of reach from hearing the gospel.

In doing this, we’ve found children in some ugly situations.  Children living in hotels where the establishment boast “free adult programing” on their signs.  Children in homes with drug addicted parents.  Children who are taught to steal any chance they get.  Children with caregivers suffering with mental illness.  Children living with a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend in the home, who are often dysfunctional or destructive.  Children that are taught fighting is a correct response to every conflict.

These children did not choose these situations.  Often they don’t know that their situation isn’t normal yet.

Children who ask for prayer requests like, “Can you pray for my parents to quit fighting?”  And, “My dad is getting out of jail.  Can you pray for me because I’ve never met him before?”

Children don’t have a false illusion that they can fix any problem.  When their needs are not being met, like food or clothing, they don’t have the option of running to the store.

Childlike does not mean shallow.

A child can respond to the gospel.  I have seen it happen.  I’ve talked kids through salvation, and seen them clearly understand God’s gift of forgiveness.

How can we become more like a child?

We can humbly admit that we need God.  Anything we have to offer is temporary, selfish, and short-sighted compared to the solutions God offers.

God is eternal.

Why was God even using a child as an example?  Verse 1 of Matthew 18 tells us what was going on.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’
— Matthew 18:1 ESV

The disciples thought they had impressed Jesus.  They were asking who was the most impressive, spiritually, among them.

How many times have I thought that I could impress Jesus with a thought or an action?  If I am honest, it happens often.

Jesus let the disciples know that they were striving in the wrong direction.  They were trying to climb up a ladder that they instead should be climbing down.

There is another time when Jesus tells the disciples that entering the kingdom of God requires childlike faith.

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’
— Luke 18:15-17 ESV

Again the disciples were looking at the world from earthly perspective, bigger means more important.

I know that I have a tendency to forget that the kingdom of God doesn’t have rules like survival of the fittest or networking.  There is no cool lunch table or seniority in the kingdom.

This flip flop of how humans live life is both refreshing and convicting.

I don’t think childlike faith is possible without God completely changing the way we look at things.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
— 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ESV

 

 

Here's a song for you today.

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Day 18: Set The Table

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 18:  SET THE TABLE FOR LOVE

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
— Hebrews 11:1 ESV

This definition in Hebrews is the clearest definition of the idea of faith.

Being sure of things we have hoped for doesn’t come easily to everyone.  It came easy to a man named George Muller.  George Muller was a Christian evangelist who established the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England in the mid 1800s.  He cared for and educated over 10,000 orphans during his faith filled life.

Muller had a deep conviction that he would pray to God to meet every need of the orphanage, and then he had the faith that God would completely answer those prayers.

One morning in 1862, the matron of the orphanage came into George’s office and told him that the children were ready for breakfast, but there wasn’t a thing in the house to eat.  He went to the dining room to find 300 children standing at their chairs.  The tables were set with plates, mugs, knives, forks, and spoons.

“There’s not much time.  I don’t want any of you to be late for school, so let us pray,” Muller told them.  He prayed a simple prayer, saying, “Dear God, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat.  Amen.”

Without panic, fear, or worry, Muller told the children to be seated.

In the time it took for the 300 bottoms to find their seats, there was a knock at the door.  Muller opened the door to find the town baker standing with his hat in his hands.

The baker, with uncertainly in his voice, began to explain why he was at their door that morning, “I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking that somehow you would need bread this morning and that I was suppose to get up and bake it for you.  So I got up at two o’clock and made three batches for you.  I hope you can use it.”

Muller’s kind eyes shown as he assured the baker of his contribution, telling him, “God has blessed us through you this morning.”

Maybe because God has a sense of humor, and He told us many times that man cannot live on bread alone, God also sent a milk man with a broken wheel that morning to donate enough milk for all 300 mugs, plus a little for afternoon tea.

The kind of faith it takes to set a table, pray asking for food, and wait for God to supply is unique in this world.  That is why we are still telling this story 150 years later.

There are preachers that will paint God as a magic jeanie, who if we “sew our seeds of faith” in the correct way, will give us that new thing we desire.  This manipulation of the teachings of faith has no comparison to a genuine story like feeding 300 orphans breakfast one day in England 150 years ago.

I think our spirit feels the difference between artificial faith and genuine faith.

Muller’s faith was as genuine as it gets.

Honestly, I would like to think I have the kind of faith that sets the table, prays and waits, but deep down I know that I’m not there yet.  I know that questions of how, where, and when would bang so loudly between my temples, and my heart would begin to pound in those waiting moments.  What if God doesn’t show up?  How long do we let these children set at a table with only glass and metal set before them?

How do I get to that kind of faith that sets a table and waits for God to show up?  How can I have assurance of the things I hope for and a conviction of things that are not right in front of my eyes?  Because I want to be there.

The first chapter of second Peter reminds us that God has given us everything we need for life and Godliness, and that we have been given promises that allow us to become less like ourselves and more like God.  And how is this accomplished?

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
— 1 Peter 1: 5-9 ESV

Peter tells us that our starting building block is faith.  It’s the basic stuff of salvation, and we’ve been told that that beginning block is given by God.  On this block of faith we begin to build, adding virtue, then knowledge, then self-control, and then endurance, and then godliness.  I would think godliness would be the end goal, but it isn’t.  We then add brotherly affection.  Apparently the basic skill of getting along with people is harder than enduring or being godly.  And finally we see our goal, and it is love.

Then Peter shames us a little bit.  Verse nine is kind of a roast.  He says if we are lacking these qualities, that we are so nearsighted that we are blind and that we have forgot what Jesus did for us.

If I was at Citychurch where yo' mamma jokes rein, I might say, “Your mom is nearsighted.”  But that’s probably disrespectful.

But if my goal is to have hope and be convinced of things that are not right in front of my eyes, to set the table without seeing the bread or the milk, then Peter has just told me how to do that.  And it isn’t an answer that I would expect.

He says remember God’s promises, remember that being more like Jesus isn’t just a cute saying.  And to do that you are going to have to strive for virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness.  And don’t stop there.  Strive for brotherly affection and then love.

If you are reading this, you probably have a longing for more faith in your life, like I do in mine.  Let us remember that faith isn’t the end goal, it is the building block to something better.  Love.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
— 1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV

 

 

Worship with me.

Day 4: Seeds

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 4:  SEEDS - STORIES OF JESUS

It is Sunday morning.  Today I will get up, drive to downtown, climb the stairs of the old brick building on Polk street, go into the room who’s walls were put up to be a bedroom for my husband’s mom and dad, sit down with about 16 girls from our youth department, and tell them what the Bible says.

This time is something I look forward to every week.  Why?  Because I love Jesus, and I love talking about Him.

Today I want to tell you about Him.  God invented the idea of story.  He began the story that we are all apart of with these words, “In the beginning.”  Jesus loved teaching in stories, and on His time on Earth, He told a few stories about mustard seeds.

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’
— Luke 17:5-6 ESV

There is an orchid that grows in the tropical rain forest that has the smallest seed in the world.  One seed weighs about1/35 millionths of an ounce.

Why wouldn’t Jesus tell the disciples about that orchid seed?

Jesus used items familiar to his disciples and the crowds to teach.  He wanted to make big ideas, like faith and kingdom work, easier to understand.  The disciples were familiar with mustard trees, and it was the smallest seed that that would bring images to the imagination of the disciples in order to impart spiritual insight.

I imagine Jesus looking around and seeing the mulberry tree and knowing the last place it would grow is next to the overly salty Dead Sea.

The more popular mustard seed story involves a mountain.

He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’
— Matthew 17:20-21 ESV

A man had just brought his demon possessed son to Jesus, and the man was a tattle tale.  He told Jesus how the disciples could not heal his son.  Jesus healed the boy instantly, condemning the faith of the disciples.  The disciples came to Jesus privately, and asked why they could not heal the demon possessed boy.

In The Message version, Jesus answers them with this phase, “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously.”

I like that counter-example of faith.  Faith is not taking God seriously.

Jesus used seed illustration one more time in the parable of a mustard seed.  He told this story with two sentences, but these two sentences say so much.

He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
— Matthew 13:31-32 ESV

He was telling His disciples that Kingdom work cares for the vulnerable.  The disciples were constantly striving to be the most important among themselves.  Questions of rank and greatness continued to come up, even until the night of the Last Supper.

There were times when Jesus had to scold the disciples for overlooking the most exposed humans, children.

So Jesus told them this story.  A small seed is planted and grows into the largest tree of the garden.  That tree’s purpose is to allow the small birds to come and find provision and relief in it’s branches.

We are the bird, and He is the tree.

Whenever we grow in faith and human importance during our time in kingdom work, our job is to emulate Christ and to give shelter to the small and deficient among us: to teach, invest in, and provide for the defenseless, the weak, the littlest among us.

That is kingdom work.  And kingdom is impossible without faith.

 

 

Worship with me.

Cynicism is not a Spiritual Gift: How I shocked a 24 year old

Looking across the dinner table, 24 year old eyes the diameter of tea cups were staring back at me.  It was at that moment, I realized what I was saying was shocking.  I hadn’t thought it as unbelievable.

We were a table of five IF:Lead2015 women discussing life topics including everything from YouTube videos to politics, and we had even talked about having the sex conversation with your kids.  So how was I to know that books would be the topic that evoked that outlandish look of from someone 14 years my junior?

When I tell you what I said, considering a Christian book review was my last blog post and the fact that this actually is a Christian blog, you might be surprised too.

 

Almost all 26 years of my Christian life, I’ve been cynical about Christian produced writing.  I read almost no Christian books between high school and 2010.

I’m just getting home from a IF:Leadership Conference, and five years ago, I couldn’t have named one single Christian author I would have wanted to listen to, much less read a book by.

This is more shocking knowing that my husband and I have been in ministry for 19 years.  I helped start a church, taught countless Sunday school classes, brainstormed hundreds of crazy ministry ideas with my family, participated in lots of those crazy ideas, led lots of people to Jesus, had amazing church attendance, home schooled my kids, and lived a lifestyle LifeWay would have put a stamp of approval on.  God did all of this in my life.  Glory to God, not me!

You are probably asking, “You’re a Christian, and you’re definitely Beth Moore’s demographic.  Why wouldn’t you read Christian book?”

Well.  I didn’t think there was a Christian author that would “get me” or would be authentic enough to let me “get them.”

I valued action not words.  I wanted someone to put “the rubber to the road” for Christ, and couldn’t imagine someone actually being honest about the world we live in and living for Jesus beyond a “preaching/teaching people who are already Christians” sort of way.

I’d like to say I was one of those “all we need is the Bible” types.  Gosh.  That would actually make sense.

I was wrong.

When is cynicism ever right?

So what changed?

Two things.

One, I lost my little brother in 2010.  That probably made my heart a little softer.

Two, God shoved a book in my face.

Friends kept asking me if I had heard of Jen Hatmaker.  They said, “Her story in interrupted reminds me of the story of your church.”  I filed those references under “yeah, whatever.”

The “yeah, whatever file” also had the book name Radical filed in it.  (I know.  I know.  Forgive me.)  Let me just tell you.  When you are on a bicycle delivering lunches to inner-city children and telling them about Jesus, and some middle-aged white guy leans over and asks you if you’ve read Radical, thoughts go like this:  I helped think of this ministry.  I’m on my bike doing this.  This is my life.  It’s pretty radical.  I don’t need to read the book.  But to the man you just politely say, “No.  I haven’t” because that’s WJWD.

FullSizeRender.jpg

So back to the second thing that changed my reading habits.  My husband came home from a Christian conference with a free book for me.  I asked, “Is it Jen Hatmaker?”

Guess what?  It was.  What are the chances?

God obviously wanted me to read this book.  The book was Seven, and I read it.

Jen Hatmaker changed my mind about Christian authors.  Then she lead me to IF.

Because I’m radical, (Can I call myself that?  If I ever meet David Platt, I’ll ask him.) I hosted a IF:Local Gathering in my church in 2014 without knowing what it was or who anyone was.

There I was with my friends watching the IF live feed.  Everyone kept asking me, “Who is that?”  My answer, every time.  “I don’t know.”

I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Jen Hatmaker.

I didn’t know who Ann Voskamp was.  Let that sink in.

(Other than Jen’s book) I hadn’t read any of their books.

Was this good?

No.

Why?

Because the Bible says this:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 ESV

I was judging Christian community and quenching the Spirit.  I wasn’t testing anything.  How could I hold fast to what was good when I wasn’t letting anything in.

What about you?  Are you in the place I was, where I didn’t see a need for Christian input, cynical about what they could offer?  Are you at the opposite end of the spectrum, where you are reading every Christian book you can get your hands on, but you are not putting your faith into action. (James 2:17 says faith without works is dead.)

Let me encourage you to find your place in Christian community.  Allow input, test everything, and hold fast to what is good.  Allow those good things to give you strength as you venture out into the world and turn your strengthened faith into work.

I love music, and I like to share a song at the end of my blog posts.  This song was playing at the IF:Leadership Conference this week, so it has been stuck in my head.  Also, it starts out, "My cold hearted child."  I feel like that was what my heart was like when I wasn't open to what others had to share about Christ.

Bold or not

A few of weeks ago in Oregon, I was riding the public transportation to the airport with my friend Kaylie Hodges.  We had to get off downtown and switch trains.  That’s where we saw him coming, a homeless man asking for handouts.  

He told us his story, one I’ve heard from homeless men before.  My grandma has died; I’m out on the streets trying to travel to another state.

He had no way of knowing that I’m well versed in talking to homeless.  Citychurch is in the crosshairs of the three biggest homeless outreaches downtown.  They walk past our building on their path between those resources.

Standing there with my suitcase, I probably looked like a small town girl who’s never seen the big city.  The man started naming bad neighborhoods across America because he thought I would be intimidated by the names and stop asking questions.  “Harlem, Compton, Camden.”

He didn’t know I had already made up my mind when I saw him start walking my way.  I have a strategy.  I almost never give a monetary handout to homeless men, but if I feel like I need to, he’s going to hear about Jesus and get a prayer.

He could throw out any name, and I was going to keep talking.  His goal was to talk me out of a couple dollars.  My goal was to get our subject to switch to Jesus.

I finally wrangled our talking around with a couple questions, “I’m sorry about you losing your grandmother, did she know the Lord?”  And, “What about you?  Do you know the Lord?”

We continued talking until I saw our train approaching.  I took his hand, and I said a quick prayer for him.

I handed him a few dollars, and we got on our train.  Kaylie immediately complemented my boldness, which I wasn’t sure I agreed with.  

It’s easy to talk to homeless people about Jesus.  I don’t have anything invested in their response, only Jesus does.

It’s much harder to talk to my peers about Jesus, someone I respect.

I thought about my strategy for talking to this man.  I immediately knew where I had gotten this idea.  I had come up with this “Jesus talk” strategy to deal with people that you don’t mind scaring away in college.

My first semester of college, I attended Stephen F. Austin State University, and I shared a dorm room with my high school best friend Cheryl.  Cheryl and I had the best time that semester living together.  We ate a lot of greasy pizza, watched a lot of tv, and spent a lot of time acting silly.

Cheryl is still one of the best people I've ever known in my life.

Cheryl is still one of the best people I've ever known in my life.

My dorm room at SFA University.  I was deep into The Beatles, and the first movie James and I had seen together was The Lion King.  I have no defense for the George Clooney pictures.

My dorm room at SFA University.  I was deep into The Beatles, and the first movie James and I had seen together was The Lion King.  I have no defense for the George Clooney pictures.

It was the 90s, and our room had a landline.  I don’t know if dorms still have phones.  I would be surprised if they did.

Our first week of dorm life, we got a prank call.  It was a Saturday afternoon, and the prank caller kept calling back.  We discussed some strategies for dealing with this problem including unplugging the phone and telling the R.A., but we finally settled on my idea.  “Let’s tell them about Jesus.  If they call back, I’ll start witnessing to them.  They will either talk to be about God or never call back.  It’s win, win.”

Cheryl told me that if it was my idea, then I was going to have to do it.  We went on with our dorm room activities.  I can’t remember what that activity was, but I can only imagine it included rearranging school supplies in our backpacks and desks, light studying, or something equally as nerdy.  I do remember that feeling of butterflies as we waited to see if our phone would ring again.  It did.  I picked up.  I began one of many conversations I would have about God with a young man from, of all places, Oregon.

This prank caller became our friend.  We ended up spending a lot of time with him.  It turned out we didn’t scare him away.  We didn’t immediately convert him, but that call gave me some confidence, some boldness.

If I’m honest with myself, I know that I had nothing to lose in either of these “bold” scenarios.  I would not lose a bit of reputation or skin in talking to these strangers about Jesus.  I don’t feel proud of myself for proclaiming truth to someone I might never see again.

One of the things that is important to me as a Christian is how I have shared my faith with others because I don’t want to be the servant who buries the talents I’ve been given.  Honestly I don’t know how to rank these times of sharing.  Are they garbage evangelism?  What if I told you that that boy in college became a Christian?  Does that make it rank higher?  Is it even fair to rank them because aren’t all people important to our Lord?

Sharing your faith with someone you have a relationship with is definitely more difficult.  There could be real consequences.  Your conversation can shift or even end your relationship.  Does that danger impress the God who spoke our universe into existence and grants my every breath?

The truth is that I don’t know how important any conversation might be.  God can use any, all, or none of the times I share my faith to change someone’s faith in Him.  The important thing is to keep sharing out of a sincere heart.  I do care about that homeless man.  I looked him in the eye, asked his name, held his hand, and I talked to God with him.  I doubt that happens a lot in the the streets of the very secular city he is living in.  How many travelers from the Bible belt have done that for him?  And do we believe that God can answer prayers about a man addicted to drugs, living on the street?

Share your faith whenever you’re given the opportunity.  Bold or not, It is the sharing that is important.  It is showing love that is crucial.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
— Romans 12:9-16 ESV
I can't mention landlines and not play this song.

 

 

 

Faith is irrational

Most people like things well defined.  Workers want clear job descriptions and children want clear rules.

Loop holes are unfair, surprises are sometimes unwelcome, and limbo is an scary word.

The thing I've struggled my whole life with defining is faith.  It's like trying to hold onto jello.  Just when you think you've got a handful of the stuff, all you really have is the residue all over your sticky hands.

As a child, I boldly grabbed onto faith at every chance.  I went forward to pray at a half a dozen Vacation Bible Schools, one church camp, and I even remember praying with a little girl on the back row school bus in third grade.  We bowed our heads agains those brown, vinyl seats and I copied her prayer.

Faith was easy, free, and natural.

As a teenager, we finally became part of a church as a family.  I was able to learn more about God in Sunday school classes and listening to sermons.  Faith was a little less easy because of this knowledge.  The knowledge brought more questions, and those answers tricked my teenage brain into thinking I could understand faith.

The fact that a more developed brain and answers to questions would make faith less obtainable is completely irrational.

One night, I finally surrendered.  I gave up on trying to figure it out, and I put my trust, heart and soul, into loving and following Jesus.

I grew up in ministry.  I spent my most formative college years serving and helping establish Citychurch.

I've taught every age group of humans the Bible from nursery babies to adults.  I've sought out Bible knowledge and stuck close to Jesus my whole adult life.

I'm an adult closing in on the end of my 30's, and I still can't define faith.  I still feel that wrapping my adult brain around the concept is unattainable.

Part of me wants it clearly defined, because that seems clean and proper.  But there is this other part of me that loves the beauty of a concept that breaks all the rules while following the law, that swims through the waves of time and location to connect us to a Holy God.

A mountain can be moved by a mustard seed?  Men can walk on water?  A hand stretched out can split a sea?

Here's how the book of Hebrews defines faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
— Hebrews 11:1

It feels good to have words to put in the spot of the definition, but those words still leave me feeling jello residue on my hands.  That is because I'm still leaning on my human understanding.  The Bible actually gives me permission to let go of that striving to understand.

...so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
— 1 Corinthians 2:5

My wisdom is like a silly child's toy compared to the power of God.

That must by why irrational faith requires me to act irrationally.

Go on that trip on the other side of the globe.  Raise another child.  Give your money away, all the while asking for donations.  Teach children the irrational concept of faith.  Lay down your life and die to yourself.  Lose your life to find it.

What about you?  Do you struggle with the concept of faith?  Is God asking you to act irrationally?

I hope you have a yes to at least one of those questions.  Please share so we can be encouraged by one another.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again.  I love new music that sounds like an old music.  I am always nostalgic for decades that I didn't even live through.  Here's a song about faith being difficult to hold onto.