“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” 1 Peter 3:15-16
We all have people in our lives that we'd love to see experiencing the love of God in a dynamic, transforming way. It might be someone who has lost all hope, sees no way anything will ever change, and is stuck in the rut of destructive habits. Or maybe it's a friend who feels empty and lacks purpose. Perhaps your loved one doesn't see his or her need for God at all. Life seems good as it is. Yet you know that something critical is missing.
But most of us, if we're honest, hope that we don't have to be the one to bring up the sticky issue of religion. We'd rather do just about anything else. We don't want to offend by sharing faith with others. We don't know what to say. So we figure, “I'll just quietly live out my faith through my actions, and that should be enough.”
But then we're reminded of Jesus' words in the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).
These words weren't just meant for the early Church. They are directed at us today. In his first homily, Pope Francis I said, “We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong.”
In 1983, St. Pope John Paul II spoke of the pressing need for us to pass on the gift of faith in Christ. In speaking of the New Evangelization, he said, “Entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and His Gospel.”
What is the “new” evangelization? Sharing the Gospel with the people God places in our path. We can't assume that just because someone attends Mass, or is a baptized Catholic, she experiences the transforming love of Christ. How many of us grew up in the Church, yet never heard the Gospel explained in a way that really resonated and impacted our lives in practical, relevant ways?
Our churches have many, many people that are not experiencing all that God has for them. Will you reach out by sharing faith with others? Will you point them toward the resources that will help them to experience the life-changing power of a friendship with Christ?
It's easy to stay in the holy huddle-sharing faith with others who affirm our beliefs. It's hard to go out into the zone of the unknown and connect with people we don't know. Research shows that the longer a person attends church, the fewer interactions she has with people who believe differently than she does. The circle gets smaller. Our circle of friends tends to be just like us, and as a result, fewer people hear the Gospel.
The gospel is most effectively shared when we walk alongside someone who sees what a difference Christ makes in our life. Friends see that it's not all rosy, but that when the trials come, Christ gives a strength and peace that surpasses all expectations. Fewer people see this witness when our circles are small.
I'd like to offer you three suggestions for ways that you can try sharing faith with others.
1) Develop friendships
Purposefully expand your circle of friends to include people who don't believe what you believe. Reach out to your neighbors. See family functions as great opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ. Look at people the way that Jesus did; see their potential. What might this person be like in a transformed state? Look deeper-speaking to their need instead of to what appears on the surface.
2) Discover stories
Intentionally discover people's stories. Learn what life has been like for them. What do they dream about? What is going well in their estimation and what needs work? Learn to ask good questions. Be a safe place for a friend to share what's really going on. One day, the opportunity will come to share “the reason for your hope.”
3) Invite a friend to Walking with Purpose
We're coming to the point in the year when registrations are beginning for Walking with Purpose this fall. If Walking with Purpose has made a difference in your life, who could you invite to join you on this journey? Pray and ask God to reveal to you the women in your life who would benefit from WWP.
Grateful for the opportunity to walk with purpose by your side!
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in April 2013.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?
We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?
We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy.
I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”
I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.
Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.
I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel good-it's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic, and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.
I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weak-prone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters, and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest. (Exodus 20:8) He knows us completely-we are the apple of His eye. (Zechariah 2:8) He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.
There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them our to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list, and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.
May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.
It has come to this. My two-year-old, Charlotte, ate cookies for lunch. We have officially limped over the finish line of one of the longest summers in history, and that was the best I could do today. Summer break began on May 23rd, and the start of the new school year has been long in coming, as in post Labor Day. Please do the math with me and throw some compassion my way. Forts, crafts and popsicles are great, but we had definitely gotten to the point that we needed some structure and routine.
I had pictured myself getting my lovely children back to school, and diving into the new routine with vigor and focus. In my defense, I did manage to get to the grocery store today. But when you are feeding a small army (bless them all) sometimes gathering the week's provisions gets lengthy. And the bakeries in the grocery stores in Florida give cookies away to whiny children. Lord have mercy. It's the best thing ever. They even let you come back for seconds if you really need it. I don't know when I've last felt so cared for.
So after Charlotte had filled up on cookies, it's not very surprising that she wasn't interested in carrots or apples. Feeling very guilty, I laid her sugary self down for a nap. I looked at all the groceries in bags on the counter, and all I wanted to do was take a nap myself. After seriously considering it, I felt even more pathetic. “Get it together,” I said to myself. “Now is your chance to do something productive. Get moving!” Instead, I just sat down.
Opening up my Bible to the book of Hebrews (if you are thinking that I was procrastinating from my household duties by doing this instead of putting away the groceries, you are right, but Jesus always wins), I read the following:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
What sweet, sweet words. Sometimes we just desperately need someone who understands us when we are at our weakest-to be met with an I understand instead of a pull yourself together. This is what Jesus does. He sympathizes with us as we are overcoming weaknesses, because He knows what it feels like. He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” He recognizes our battles for what they are, because He has already tasted just how hard it can be to keep on, to stay faithful, to not give up.
He knew that there would come a point for all of us when the best that we had just wouldn't be enough. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to our eternal salvation. No amount of great effort or white knuckling makes us perfect enough to stand in God's presence. There will always be a gap between the best a person can offer and the perfection God requires to spend eternity with Him. “The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 3:23), and even a good deed done with selfish motive is enough to keep us separated from God.
Thankfully, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14). After His crucifixion and death, Jesus entered His Father's presence in heaven, offering His blood in place of ours. God the Father saw Jesus' sacrifice, and was satisfied with the price Jesus paid for our sin. Because of Jesus, we can draw near.
But when our weaknesses and failings are front and center in our minds, we can get tempted to run away from God instead of towards Him, allowing Him to help us in the process of overcoming weaknesses. It's at those times that we need to be reminded that we can approach the throne of God with confidence instead of fear. Why can we do this? It's because Jesus sits on a Throne of Grace, not a throne of condemnation. When something in our heads tells us that we have to get ourselves fixed up before we can come to God, we can be certain that it is not God's voice. He invites us to bring our questions, doubts, fears and failures and to come close.
Hebrews 4:14 encourages us to “hold firmly to the faith we profess.” We need to be reminded to hold firmly to these truths because it's so easy to trade them for a checklist of ways we need to perform in order to earn God's approval.
God doesn't ask you to perform for Him. He asks you to be in relationship with Him. He receives you as you are, and offers rest. This is the place you can come and just be yourself. Overcoming weaknesses is impossible on our own. You can drop the baggage, drop the burden of performance, and just let Him wrap His arms around you in unconditional love. He's waiting for you at the Throne of Grace.
When, when, when am I going to learn? I am certain that God is wondering just how many times it's going to take for me to get it through my head that there is a limit to what I can stick on my calendar and actually get done with a sweet spirit.
The school year finally ended, and next was Laeka's high school graduation. I wish that I had been fully appreciating the milestone, living in the moment, and deeply feeling the passage of time, but I was actually just trying to keep one-year-old Charlotte from choking on little things she'd try to put into her mouth.
Immediately after graduation, we hosted four different guests, and my house was full of kids who were constantly at home and instantly bored. Also on the calendar was a wedding and doctors' appointments.
Even though the parents of the senior class had already given a wonderfully fun group graduation party for the seniors, I really wanted to give Laeka his own party. (I had seen the cutest invitation on Pinterest!) This extra little fiesta was scheduled for the day before we were leaving at 6 a.m. for a family vacation.
Adding to the joy and general low-stress atmosphere in the house was the need to provide food for the guests and to clean up the house. My parents were spending the night and then leaving with us on our trip. Having anyone spend the night means that one of my boys has to move out of his bedroom, and the room has to be scrubbed down. In my defense, I had done this a full day ahead of schedule, and then reminded him to sleep on the blow-up mattress in his brother's room.
And this brought me to the crisis point. The morning of the blessed party dawned, and I walked into my son's bedroom only to find… my son… in his bed! Clothes were strewn everywhere, empty potato chip bags were on the floor, and a dog with muddy paws was curled up on the duvet. What's more, he had clearly been eating Cheetos in bed because there were orange powdered fingerprints all over the sheets. And I lost it. All the frustration of the too-busy week found an outlet in this one moment.
What did I want from my son? A simple apology. But the apology didn't come. Instead, he avoided eye contact with me throughout the morning, and tried to make up for his actions by doing all sorts of unpleasant tasks like changing Charlotte's diaper, cleaning out the refrigerator, and mowing the lawn. I appreciated his efforts, but what I really wanted was for him to simply say he was sorry.
When, when, when was he going to learn? Suddenly, that question sounded a little familiar. How often have I responded to God in my own failures in the same way that Jonathan had responded to me? I owe God an apology, but avoid Him instead. I try to make up for my sin by doing other good things, hoping that God will notice those things and ignore the fact we must confess our sin. How much better it would be if I would just own my mess from the get-go, and simply tell Him “I'm sorry.”
In the words of Frederick Buechner, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell [God] anything [God] doesn't already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.”
When we don't confess our sin, it saps our spiritual strength. As David said in Psalm 32, “Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat. Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, ‘I confess my transgression to the Lord,' and you took away the guilt of my sin.'” True refreshment comes from closeness to God.
When we confess our sin, He forgives. When He forgives, He wipes the slate clean. When our slate is clean, we have a spring in our step and a lightness in our spirit that feels as good as a breeze on a hot summer day.
Praying that your June is filled with days of refreshment and closeness to God!