I Opened My Mouth Too Big About God’s Love

“Do you guys know how much God loves you?” asked my fellow youth leader, whose red-on-black vest that day, I might add, happened to make him an unavoidably spitting image of a younger Jean-Luc Picard.

Our teens bounced some answers back and forth, solid as ever. They’ve got great understanding.

I ventured my own. And I should have known God would call me on it.

I said, “I believe it in my head, but not in my heart.”

I went on to describe how we often have another set of beliefs, this one existing subconsciously as something closer to instincts than to something you say out loud. We can believe God’s love consciously, as in process it as intellectual fact, without actually living like it. If we did, we’d take risks when God leads us. We’d avoid traps when God labels them such. We’d turn from sin. Nothing else would be important.

“My life would look a lot different if my heart believed God loves me,” I said. “By his grace, I’d like to think it’s getting there.”

I should have known God would call me on it.

Not an hour later, another youth leader was sidling up to me and enthusiastically volunteering me to lead a sprawling, daunting, risky ministry project on a scale I’ve never tried before. One which would require – well, believing in God’s love. On a heart level.

It’s like he heard me teaching those youth and went, Great words. Pop quiz?

Ay-yay-yay.

I don’t know if it’ll even happen. It just got proposed today. A few stepping stones do appear to have been laid already.

But it forced me to confront ever more starkly the reality of my own words: if we lived as if we believe God loves us, our lives would be extraordinary. We would be living fireworks, as daring as the battered Hollywood stunt double or the suicidal YouTube extreme sportsman, as confident as any politician, and as steel-eyed and determined as the most grizzled solider. More so. And all, perhaps, without ever being seen by the masses.

That’s what happens when we’ve been with Jesus.

When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they marveled and took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

“They” is the Sanhedrin, the religious enforcers of Jesus’ day, far beneath the kingdom of God and not above blows from the fist. Months before, while Jesus stood at his show trial toying with these power players, Peter had been lying about knowing him to mere streetfolk. Now he faced these power players himself – and they could see Jesus’ boldness in him. Jesus’ love transformed him. He didn’t care what the world thought anymore, because he’d found meaning in Someone else.

Maybe you’ve never felt bold. Maybe you’ve trotted out the whole “I can witness to people here in America” line a little too often, knowing you’re not actually doing it that much, while unreached people groups across the globe lack access to a Bible. God has grace for you. He also has boldness.

Go be with Jesus. It makes a difference.

 

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You Shall Be My Witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea and…What, There?

browningThere’s a saying you often hear in my part of the world: “Don’t stop in Browning.”

Browning is the county seat of the closest Indian reservation, on which I taught for three years. There’s always the stories circulating around, stories of bad things that happen to white people when they stay too long. Thus the old canard, “don’t stop in Browning”.

It’s also a saying that my pastor likes to repudiate fiercely whenever the chance arises.

I love it. Thump that pulpit.

It’s a crap catchphrase, for two reasons. One, because it isn’t true. I’d know. I frequented that town for three years, stepped inside its gas stations, supermarkets, fast-food places. Nothing happened. Didn’t get ripped off, didn’t get pushed around. It’s just normal folk looking to live a normal life (without a lot of success). Maybe more people would know that if they stopped.

The second reason is, it’s not a very Great Commission saying.

Jesus didn’t place limits on our destinations for that “ends of the earth” thing. He told us to make disciples of all nations, which usually involves making friends first. And if there were safety concerns…

…well, you weren’t likely to argue with a guy who’d just had his hands and feet pierced bringing light to places that didn’t want it. Especially once he’d risen from the dead.

I’d run into my share of panhandlers and homeless in a town like that (even on the forty-second parallel). If you offered to buy them food, there was about a fifty-fifty chance. Some would accept, grinning happily through a sub sandwich and telling you their life story. The other half would quickly decline and shuffle off. They were obviously after something else.

The point is, by offering, you helped half. All it took was a little resourcefulness, a little brain-pushing, which we often don’t even do. We complain about systems and institutions and government. Is it just a cover for not wanting to lose five bucks? Who knows what eternal doors could be opened through those five bucks?

We’ve got so many poisonous attitudes clouding our evangelistic vision. The only way to vent them is often simply by walking right into them, and doing what we’re supposed to do.

How can you do so today?

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

 

What If Jesus Announced That He Would Return On…

The following scenario will not happen. “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

I don’t anticipate the Lord going back on such long-laid plans. After all, the prior verse says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (v. 35).

But humor me for a moment, and consider this hypothetical exchange:

Church: “Lord, we faint. We long for your presence. Please, please tell us when you’re coming back.”

Jesus: “Oh, very well. The Father has relented and authorized me to tell you. I will be returning on…”

Global bated breath. People in every village, city, region, and nation await the next words. One of the most significant, weighty questions ever pondered on earth is about to be answered.

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No More Apologizing for the Faith

miracleSomething stunning has happened at our church.

The story has been rising towards climax for months as our congregation wearied itself in prayer. This month, it was finally confirmed.

Until I’m given blessing to share more, I’ll limit the facts to two: it is unquestionably miraculous, and many have come to a powerful, swiftly mature faith in Jesus Christ through it – such that our firmly grounded Baptist pastor has compared it to “something out of the book of Acts”.

Sorry to be a tease.

But one thing on which I can confidently speak is what this miracle has done in my life: thrown into a sharp relief a wall in my heart. One built of a composite of materials, one that I let block me every time I consider sharing my faith in Christ. A wall of apologizing.

Apologizing for bad churches.

Apologizing for cosmically tough questions.

Apologizing for the idea of sin.

Apologizing for the ugliness of certain corners of my political party.

Apologizing for the cliches we throw around.

Apologizing for difficult doctrines that require great objectivity and surrender to consider.

Apologizing for others’ suffering and unanswered prayer.

Apologizing for the way God hasn’t made himself as evident as he could.

Apologizing for my flaws, which I fear disqualify me.

Apologizing, apologizing.

And so rarely sharing.

I do believe God is patient and has answers for these things – or comfort when answers cannot come.

But if I allow these considerations to suppress my witness of the very Jesus who claims victory over these things, to leave me walking on others’ eggshells, then something is off.

I’m afraid of what others will think.

It’s no more complicated than that. I fear reprisal. The loss of friends. The assault of a world that won’t abide the Gospel’s aroma. That unspoken instinct is really what’s at the bottom.

So I tiptoe. I trade in a mincing, eggshell-treading testimony that’s trying to placate rather than confidently proclaim.

There’s nothing like a miracle to jolt your faith. Jesus has taken a running start, lowered his head, and smashed through my hesitation like the Hulk through a twenty-foot clay bulkhead. Where is your boldness? he’s asking. In light of this incredible happening, why do you hesitate?

To those who do not yet know Jesus, bring your doubts and questions and worst mistakes if you must, but Jesus is real. He moves. He delivers. There is no difficulty to which he cannot respond with power, wisdom, and comfort. There is no sin you can mention that he is not willing to forgive.

So…you will be hearing from me. I’m now further than ever in my life from being able to keep silent. Even if I never get to share more about this particular miracle, I have others to tell of. He is real.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Don’t Lose Your Expectation

fieldA young man I admire was expressing, shall we say, a little bit of an evangelistic comedown recently.

He’s been sharing his faith with a number of people at work and school, including some longer-term contacts whom he’s met frequently with. An enthusiastic person by nature (he approaches little in life without his signature fervency), he loved telling us about how God was moving.

Lately, those contacts seem to have run into dead ends. Though seemingly open at first, they have clammed up, stopped meeting, stopped returning calls. And it left him wondering whether he’d gotten a little…too excited?

I thought about it for a while.

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“Jesus, Give Me Your Heart For People”

pexels-photo-207896I’m not exactly a people person by default. I’m one of those souls who wants friendship and likes some humanity close by, but prefers “his people”. Small inner circle, then acquaintances and colleagues, then everyone else (allowing for some shades of gray). Strangers? Yikes.

BUT…I’ve also asked myself more than once, “How is a personality like this supposed to spread the Gospel with any serious effectiveness?”

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Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.

So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?

That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.

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