Don’t be afraid to share the real you

This is my last week at my job. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m not sure when it will. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m going to be a bawling mess on Friday, not necessarily because I’m sad to leave but because I’m going to miss the wonderful people who’ve played such a huge role in my professional life.

My cubicle was like Grand Central Station yesterday. So many people came by, just to chat, and it was great. I am usually tucked away in a corner somewhere quiet where I can compose articles and feature stories in relative quiet, so I don’t often see people. Everyone who came by wanted to know what was going on, where I was heading, why I was leaving, and I had decided that if people asked, I would tell them.

If somebody asks me why I’m leaving, I’m going to tell them it’s because I believe God is calling me to something bigger. That’s a great thing to tell someone of likeminded faith. Generally speaking, they’ll understand what you’re saying. They might even identify with it. But try telling that to someone who doesn’t necessarily believe the same way that you do. What do you think is going to happen?

Honestly–I didn’t know what would happen, because I’ve usually chickened out at the last moment and offered a more “rational” explanation for why I’m walking away from my job. Because I do have rational reasons. They just aren’t the reasons that drive me.

And I’ve been afraid to tell people the real reason why I’m leaving. Well, I decided yesterday to stop being afraid and just be real with people. And you know what happened?

People cried.

Has that ever happened to you? You tell someone your dream or what God is doing in your life, and they start crying because they’re so happy for you? Or they’re so touched? Or they’re so excited?

I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me. But it happened yesterday. A lot. And that stunned me.

I’m an introvert–a true ISFJ if you’re into Meyers-Briggs personalities. I don’t share my personal feelings or thoughts with many people, mostly because I don’t think anyone will value them enough to care. That’s not a judgment against other people. That’s just the way I see my own feelings. I don’t understand what difference my feelings or thoughts will make to anyone else. But I re-learned an important lesson yesterday: My story isn’t about me.

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 16:7.

AuthenticityHoax_AFBut the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

When you present yourself to people, what do you think they’re looking at? They’re looking at your hair and your clothes probably. They’re making judgment calls about how put together you are (or how not put together you are). Face it, in the corporate world, your presentation leaves an impression. Your handshake tells a lot about your personality. Your ability to maintain eye contact tells a lot about your communication skills.

Ultimately, none of that really tells who you are. You can be dressed in the shaggiest, dirtiest, worst clothes in the world and be a millionaire, but nobody would know because people are only capable of seeing what’s on the outside. How wonderful is it that God sees our hearts and knows who we are in private?

I say it’s wonderful. Maybe it’s not so wonderful for you. I think that’s what bothers people about God, because He knows all our secrets, all the things we do in the dark that we think nobody will ever find out about.

God knows.

And let me tell you something, friend. God made you who you are. With all your foibles and quirks and idiosyncrasies, God crafted you to be uniquely you. There’s nobody else on Earth like you, so you should never ever be ashamed of God’s handiwork. And what’s more, if you’re redeemed–if you’ve trusted Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for your sins–you have a relationship with God Himself. Maybe the world is broken, but if you follow Jesus, you aren’t.

So why are you hiding? Why are you afraid to tell your story? Why are you afraid to share with others about what God has done in your life?

I can tell you why I’m afraid. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like confrontation. I’ve been scared that people will get upset at me or get up in my face and tell me I’m stupid. But I really believe that’s a fear planted in my heart by our enemy. Maybe people are that way in bigger cities, but nobody in Wichita has ever raked me over the coals for my faith. The times that I’ve spoken about it, people have always been very respectful and interested. And maybe that’s because I’ve made an effort to be respectful and interested about them first.

God has given me my story to live, and part of living my story is sharing what God is doing in my life. It doesn’t matter if people listen or not. It’s my responsibility to tell the story. That doesn’t mean I get to go around shouting at the top of my lungs to make sure everybody knows, but that also doesn’t give me a free pass to stay silent because I’m feeling uncomfortable.

So no more hiding. God’s given me a story to tell. It’s the story about how He saved me and set me on the path to achieving my heart’s greatest desire, and I’ll tell anyone who wants to listen. Doesn’t matter if they hear it or not. I will have done my part.

And maybe–just maybe–God can take my little story and use it to help change someone’s heart. Maybe I could be the little weight that tips the scales in convincing someone else to take a leap of faith for God.

God sees my heart. He knows who I am. And it’s time I start sharing that person with the people around me.

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Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Share your source of hope and be specific about it

Everybody has bad days once in a while. But some people seem to have it worse than others. Have you ever met someone who just seems to encounter sorrow after sorrow with no break? I have. And most of the time, these folks who suffer so much are often dedicated Christ followers, and the fact that they should be falling apart doesn’t even occur to them. They’re so focused on following Christ that a few hiccups along the way, no matter how inconvenient, don’t bother them at all.

Those people are my heroes.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:12-14.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians is arguably my favorite book in the Bible. It’s right up there with Psalms. So encouraging, so uplifting, so practical and full of down-to-earth teaching, Philippians is one of my go-to books.

As I was reading, I stopped on these verses. Paul is addressing the Church at Philippi in this letter, and in a number of places Paul hints at the troubles he’s had along the way. But then you come to this set of verses where he reassures the Philippian believers that everything has happened for a reason and that God is already working out the details of his current imprisonment.

How many of us can say that?

And I’m not talking about being in prison. Not literally. Paul was literally in prison, but this was a different era. But he had definitely gone through some frustrating circumstances, and while I may not be in prison, I can identify with situations in my life going nuts. I can identify with struggling to get through a day. I can understand what it’s like to feel trapped by events in my life.

And because I believe in Christ, I usually don’t have a problem being cheerful about the struggles I’m facing. Actually, I’m known for my cheerfulness. Everyone at my office thinks I’m the most positive person they’ve ever met. And that great.

But what good is being cheerful or positive if no one knows it’s for Christ?

You can be cheerful and positive and encouraging all day long without once mentioning the reason you have hope. And more often than not, that’s where I am. I’m rarely specific, and I just let my coworkers come to their own conclusions. Granted, many times this has still led to deeper, more specific conversations because they all come to me and ask advice or opinion. But it’s rare for me to quote Scripture. It’s rare for me to state out loud why I can be cheerful when everything around me is falling apart.

And that’s wrong.

Paul could say that every person around him knew why he was suffering and why he had hope.

I don’t know if I can say the same. Yes, my believer friends know. Yes, people I’m very comfortable with know. But other people? The ones who I have more of a professional relationship with? They assume I’m “religious.” They know I go to church. They know I read the Bible. They know I live by it. But is that enough?

It’s good to say I believe and live the Bible. But what good does that do when the person I’m talking to has no idea what’s even in the Bible? That statement is just as confusing as any religious dogma.

So my intent is to start being less generic and more specific when it comes to addressing the reason for my hope. Because while cheerfulness alone in difficult circumstances may indicate that you have faith, it isn’t going to help anyone else until they understand the source of your hope.

Storm rolling in

God can still work things out even when we screw up

I don’t know how often you screw up, but I make a lot of mistakes. I’m not perfect, of course; nobody is. But in the instances when I know the right thing to do, sometimes I choose to do what I know I shouldn’t in spite of the fact. And I have spent a lot of time worrying over my past mistakes and how my actions have affected the people around me.

But I don’t think it’s healthy to live your life looking backward and second-guessing what you could have done differently. You can’t change it. Yes, you can change the way you live because of what you learned, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but after a day when I am less than perfect, I can sink into a deep pit of self-loathing because I didn’t live up to my potential. And I feel like a wretched person because if I had done right, maybe God would have used me to help others.

Storm rolling in

Storm rolling in - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Jonah 1:16.

 The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

I have always glossed over this verse before. It didn’t really matter to me. After all, the Book of Jonah is about Jonah, a godly man who God sent on a task and who promptly ran the opposite direction. Don’t be too hard on Jonah for trying to escape God; we’ve all tried it too and failed just as miserably.

So what’s important about the sailors?

Well, you really should read the whole first book of Jonah. Actually, you should read the whole book if you haven’t. It’s pretty phenomenal. But in any case, the sailors were the men on the boat to Tarshish, the boat Jonah got on when he was running away from God. And God sent a storm, and the sailors freaked out. Jonah convinced them to throw him in the ocean, and the storm stopped. That’s the story in a nutshell. But a couple of things stand out to me.

One, if you read the whole fist chapter, you’ll see that the sailors knew Jonah followed a different god than they did. Two, they knew Jonah was running away from God. Three, they already respected Jonah’s God enough to pray that He wouldn’t strike them down for throwing Jonah overboard.

And so they threw Jonah over the side, and the storm stopped. And that brings us to verse 16.

The sailors were changed by what they had experienced. And though Jonah played a small part, it was mainly God who did the work.

Do you realize that Jonah probably never saw those sailors again? I mean, it’s possible that he did. But if you know the story, as soon as he gets out of the fish that God sent to save him, he goes directly to Ninevah, where he should have gone to start with. And Ninevah is in the opposite direction of Tarshish. So it’s really unlikely that Jonah would have ever encountered those men again. Jonah would not have known how his circumstances affected them. He wouldn’t have known about their decision to serve God. All Jonah would know is that he screwed up.

Yes, he made the right call on the ship when he told them to cast him overboard. And God redeemed that one good decision to reach the men on the ship. But Jonah didn’t know that.

So how does that apply to us? Well, we’re going to screw up. We just do. You can try to be perfect, but it won’t work. Does that mean we shouldn’t even try? That’s not what I’m saying, so please don’t misunderstand me. We all should aim to be like Christ, to live the way God has directed us. But once you make the decision to do wrong, that decision is made. You will face the consequences, and hopefully you’ll learn the lesson and change the way you live afterward.

But after you ask forgiveness and after you change your thinking, don’t go back and regret what you did. Don’t live in the past. God has forgiven you, and — what’s more — He will use what you did to bring glory to Himself, even if it’s something you screwed up.

Qualified

My church gets to be part of an awesome ministry called Judgement House and if you’re ever in or around the Wichita area around the last two weeks of October, you have to come. It’s an amazing opportunity to present the Gospel to people in a totally non-threatening way. (It’s not about socio-political scare tactics either, so don’t get it confused with a Hell House. It’s completely different.)

In any case, a story came out of Judgement House this year that really touched me. There are stories every year. Some of them major stories that leave everyone bawling about how awesome God is. Some of them are quiet stories that are easy to let slip by if you don’t stop to think about them.

The story that caught my attention this year is about a woman who was an encourager for Judgement House. I mean, just because someone chooses to be an encourager isn’t necessarily a big deal but the thing that made this a great story is that last year, this woman wasn’t a believer. She got saved in Judgement House 2010 and decided to lead other people to Christ in Judgement House 2011.

This story really touched me, and then I started thinking about it again when I read today’s verse, 2 Corinthians 3:6.

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.

I am very guilty of leaving ministry up to ministers and pastors and “good Christians” because I don’t feel qualified to make a major difference for God. But that’s a lie. Anyone who has accepted Christ is qualified to lead anyone else to Christ. All salvation is really is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread. And what bigger difference can you make in the world than leading someone else to Christ?

The story of this woman reminded me that you don’t have to have degrees in Bible or theology or doctrine to be able to lead someone else to Christ. You just have to have Christ. By accepting Jesus into our lives, God enables us to share Jesus with other people.

Now . . . am I saying that degrees in Bible and theology and doctrine are bad? No. I actually have a very good friend who’s at seminary right now learning all that wonderful stuff (shout out to Ethan Brown!) but I still think that those of who choose not to pursue degrees in all that jazz get stuck thinking that our lack of education disqualifies us from doing awesome things for God. And that’s not true.

We are 100 percent qualified because God makes us that way.

Now am I saying that we don’t need to study? Am I saying that we just accept Christ and move on with life and don’t need to dig into the Word? That’s the farthest thing from what I’m saying. As a believer, we need to know what the Bible says. We need to know how Jesus lived (and how He lives), and one of the things Jesus did very frequently was to quote Scripture. So if Jesus quoted Scripture, we’d better be able to do the same.

But do we have to be able to parse Greek verbs to lead someone to Christ?

No.

You just have to know what Christ did for you and you have to be willing to share. And God will do the rest.

Best kept secret

Do you have secrets? I do. There are a lot of things that only I know. A few of them I’ve shared with others, but there are still some things that I haven’t told anyone. Some secrets are very deep and important. Others are less important, like the name of a character in a manuscript I haven’t written yet. In either case, no on else knows these secret things.

Whether it’s wise or not to keep something secret probably depends on the motivation for hiding the truth. I know as an author keeping a ending of a manuscript secret is a good idea; otherwise, no one will want to read your book. Conversely, keeping a secret about breaking the law or doing something that is morally wrong for fear of getting caught isn’t a good idea.

Although secrets are good and find in some cases, keeping secrets isn’t the best option, generally speaking. People aren’t meant to live secret lives. We’re always better off if we live in the open, being real, being genuine.

The verse this morning got me thinking about secrets but not in the context you might think.

Colossians 1:27-28

27For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.

These verses come right after a verse where Paul is explaining that for many generations past, the entire message of God, the whole story of God’s plan, was kept a secret from different people groups other than the Israelites. Now, I can think of a few examples in the Old Testament where the Israelites reached out to different cultures and one or two people would respond and become God Followers. But it was rare. The Old Testament is all about Israel, its history, its failures, God’s triumphs, its kings, its children, the mistakes they made.

All Israelites all the time.

Is that because of Abraham and God’s promise to him? Is it becuase God knew non-Israelites at the time wouldn’t be receptive as a whole to Him? I don’t know. All I know is that when the New Testament starts, the entire culture of Israel has changed. And when Christ arrives on the scene, He doesn’t just reach out to Jews, He reaches out to non-Jews. The Bible calls them Gentiles. And they follow Him.

And at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, after Christ has raised from the dead and is ascending into heaven, He gives what people call, the Great Commission, ordering His disciples into the world to preach the truth to people who don’t believe. Jesus sends them out into the world to all people.

This is what Paul is talking about in Colossians. The riches and glory of Christ are for the Gentiles too. It doesn’t matter if we’re not Jewish, Christ died for all people. And everyone can be saved.

Christianity isn’t a club where only the super important are allowed entrance. That’s the way a lot of churches treat it, but that was never how Jesus lived it. He loved everyone. He healed everyone. He accepted everyone . . . well, everyone except the arrogant religious elite. But even among the religious elite, a man named Nicodemus showed humility and came to Christ with questions, and Jesus never turned Him away.

There are more stories than I can count in the New Testament about Jesus interacting with Gentiles. Some of the Books of the New Testament were even written to Gentile churches.

The truth of God’s Word was once kept secret from anyone who wasn’t a Jew. But that was in the past. The message of Scripture and the truth of what God has done shouldn’t stay secret anymore. But we are always tempted to keep it that way, because we have bought into the lie that faith is better kept as a secret.

It’s hard, though, because you want to be treated normally by your coworkers and your friends, and I know I get scared because I don’t want people to think I’m a freak. So most times I back off and bite my tongue. But Christ isn’t supposed to be the best kept secret in the world; He’s supposed to be the Person everyone wants to know, the Friend everyone wants to talk about.

Christianity isn’t exclusive. Neither is God. And I’m glad for that, otherwise I wouldn’t know Him. The Jews are God’s chosen people, but right now we’re in the Age of the Church, focusing totally on Gentiles. But the Age of the Church won’t last forever. So we need to do what we can to reveal the secret of Christ to the rest of the world before we run out of time.

Live for Christ while you can because the day is coming soon when there won’t be anyone left to tell Christ about. If He’s a secret now, the day is coming where His secret will be out and you won’t be able to tell anyone about Him anymore.

Talking the talk is harder than it seems

Believing in Jesus is easy. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find it difficult to believe in Jesus. I don’t find it difficult to believe in the Bible. I’ve witnessed too many miracles, too many supernatural things not to believe in God. And I can sit and talk to other believers about God all day long. But what I find the most challenging is talking to people who don’t believe.

Most of it is fear, and it’s irrational.

I’m a shameless people pleaser, after all, though I’m certainly a lot better than I used to be. And it’s my first response to hold conversations with people that won’t upset them. That will maintain our friendship. That won’t make them angry with me. And I get so afraid that people will get angry with me that most of the time I neglect to bring up my faith, even when I have a good opportunity.

Is that the right thing to do?

The verse for today made me think of this.

Romans 10:9-10

9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.

I don’t know if churches still do this, but they used to have this time after a message called an altar call. Anyone who needed to pray could come to the front and pray at the altar at the front of the church. Anyone who needed to talk to the Pastor could come and talk to the Pastor. Anyone who had decided to accept Christ could walk forward and Pastor would have them pray with a deacon. Usually, everyone would sing all the verses to “Just As I Am” while they were waiting.

On Palm Sunday in 1990, I responded to the altar call at our church in Houston. I was 7 years old. And I might have been young, but I understood the concept that I was a sinner and that I needed someone to save me. But I’m here to tell you as a kid who sought to please everyone, stepping out in front of my parents and my friends and my teachers (they all went to the same church) and exclaiming to them that I wasn’t already saved was hard to do.

As an adult now, I understand how they felt. Happy. Joyful. Excited that I had made a decision. But at the time, I was afraid that letting everyone know that I wasn’t a Christian from an even younger age was really hard for me. It was silly, I know, an example of the unrealistic expectations I’ve always placed on myself.

Part of me misses the altar calls. I understand why we had to stop doing them, though, but I miss them. Because putting action behind what you believe is what Christianity is all about. Don’t misunderstand, of course. Christianity isn’t a works-based faith. It’s more like faith-based works. Because in James, the Bible tells us that faith without good works is dead. You can claim to be a Christian all day long, but if your life and your works don’t back it up, are you really? Becuase you’re not living like you believe.

Believing is easy. Making the decision to believe isn’t hard. It’s telling everyone that’s hard. It’s changing your life that’s hard. But if you decide to believe and you don’t tell anyone and your life doesn’t change, do you really believe?

I think that’s why I liked the altar calls, because they gave people the opportunity to act, to do something, to follow through with the internal decision they had made and tell the whole congregation that they had decided to believe in Jesus.

If someone comes out and asks me if I’m a Christian, I tell them yes. But that’s an easy answer to respond to because everyone calls themself a Christian anymore, and very few people know what it means. And refusing to explain what I believe because I’m afraid is wrong. Now, I do think there are times when we as believers need to back off and let God do the talking. Many times, God will speak through our silence more effectively than He will through our words.

But being afraid of people and what they think is foolish. And refusing to give an account of my faith just because I’m worried about how I will be perceived is damaging, not only to me but to the people around me. I’m still working on this. And I know the verse for today is generally used in leading people to faith in Christ, but I think it’s relevant for the rest of our lives too.

You can believe in Christ all day long, but until you start telling people what you believe, how else will anyone know?