Life.  Some see it as a randomly assigned smattering of days with no purpose.  Others believe in divine appointments they rarely keep.  For most, ordinary.  But it doesn't have to be.   What if we dared to go the narrow way? Join me in taking THE FAITH DARE.

Caution: Participating in this challenge might force you to give up some of the things (people?) dearest to you. This challenge could change your life.  Join at your own risk.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

FAITHdare #9: Crying

Do you believe that salvation is dependent on faith in Jesus?

Up until a couple of months ago, had I been asked that question, I would have quickly responded with a resounding "Yes!" Then I was confronted with my reality: I was claiming a truth I did not profess with my life. If asked, I would have been quick to tell you that Jesus is the only way to God. But I wasn't living like I believed that. I was living out the "all faiths are created equal" mentality that has infected our society.

Are you living like a universalist?

Here's the reality: If we truly believed that salvation was dependent upon Jesus, that thousands of people will die today and go to an eternal hell because they did not give Jesus lordship over their lives, then our outlook on life would change. There are really only 2 options when you truly believe something like that. Either you keep living like you always have because you sincerely WANT those people to go to hell, or you shift the focus of your life intentions toward doing what it takes to reach those people with the love of Jesus.

I have to be honest. I have been living like a universalist. I have been living in intentional ignorance to the eternal condition of those around me. Recently, God has been breaking my heart and opening my eyes to this reality in my life.

Several years ago I heard a message that I will not soon forget. The speaker recalled the sinking of the Titanic, a tragedy marring history. Yet, he reminded us, the greatest tragedy that day was in the half-empty lifeboats floating away from the wreckage. Friend, you and I each have "lifeboats" in salvation through faith in Jesus. Are you choosing to ignore the screams of those dying in the wreckage of sin, or are you seeking to fill the empty seats in your lifeboat? If you or I had the cure for cancer, would we not be quick to reveal it? If we chose to keep it as a secret, would we not be selfishly choosing to allow thousands upon thousands of people to die from the disease each year? Yet this is exactly what we are doing, on a much larger scale and in a far more serious matter. Shouldn't we be screaming from mountaintops and emptying savings accounts for the purpose of buying plane tickets to the most remote corners of the earth? Shouldn't we be professing God's love to our neighbors, our coworkers, the homeless man on the street corner, our children's friends?

"Some wonder if it is unfair for God to allow so many to have no knowledge of the gospel. But there is no injustice in God. The injustice lies in Christians who possess the gospel and refuse to give their lives to making it known among those who haven't heard. That's unfair" (Platt).

As we spend the next month examining our attitude toward those outside of faith in Jesus, I want us to be intentional about seeking out the heart of God toward the lost.

"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me I will see that she gets justice so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'
And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?'" (Luke 18: 1-8)

We need to start crying out for justice. We need to start praying for the unreached around the world. As I was researching for FAITHdare this month, I was completely overwhelmed. I found an organization that offers prayer cards focusing on each of the unreached people groups around the world. I downloaded it. You know how many cards there are? Over 6500. More than 6500 prayer cards. These cards represent billions of people who are living outside of faith in Jesus, many who have never even heard His name! BILLIONS! And here I am, comfortable in my life of self-indulgence and ignorance, reflected in my prayer life. How about you? Are you persistent in praying for the lost? Are you praying for opportunities to share God's love with the lost? Are you praying desperately for the lost to meet Jesus?

FAITHdare #9:
Make a daily habit of praying for the lost.

There are many ways you can do this. You can choose to pray for specific people in your life who are without Jesus. You can download those 6500 prayer cards (HERE) and pray for the unreached around the world. You can use a world map and choose a specific area each week to focus on in your prayers. However you do it, ask God to give you His heart for the lost.

Maybe you already pray for the lost. Would you be willing to share with the rest of us how you do that?
Only when we have been given God's vision for reaching the lost can we truly start to live to reach the dying.

Take a minute to look at this video devotional:

"Let's show them the love that we've received!"

Friday, April 23, 2010

FAITHdare #8: Revisited

How has God challenged you this week as you examined the idol of possessions?

I'd like to share a way in which God has challenged me. So, I'm young. I don't have a mortgage; I don't have kids. But I still have stuff, and I still spend money. And God has been and is continually convicting me with how I use and spend the resources He has given me. I may not be rich according to America's standards, but I am incredibly blessed to have more than I need and am therefore rich in the world's eyes.

So...recently I opened my closet and felt sick to my stomach when I saw everything that was in there, much of which rarely sees the light of day. I decided it was time to dig through it all.

Yep, that's everything I got rid of. Maybe because of the bad quality of the pictures you can't grasp the gravity of this situation. Let me help you added up to almost 4 large trash bags full of clothes. I am scared to know how much money I spent on all of these clothes. Many people around the world don't even own a shirt.

My new mantra is, "Have what you wear and wear what you have." Sad thing is, most days I don't even feel a difference. I'm in scrubs half the week, for crying out loud! As someone reminded me recently, though, NOT SPENDING money on things you don't need is sometimes just as big as selling your stuff. So I'm not buying any new clothes for a long time. I don't need them! AND, although I don't have a job right now and am not particularly abounding in funds, I do want to be generous with what God has given me. So I'm working on that.

Here's my new closet...about 7 shirts and 7 pairs of pants. More than what I need!

The way I see it, the less I have, the harder it will be to get attached to "stuff." While my eyes are being opened to the needs of the impoverished around the world, getting rid of my clothes was less about serving the poor and more about me selfishly wanting to know Christ better (thus getting the obstacles out of the way). I pray that God continues to teach me about serving the poor and what that should look like in my life. I want to live my days pursuing ETERNAL treasure, not earthly possessions. I have to be honest though...I STILL waste money. I am in this with you! I am learning what it means to love God WHOLEHEARTEDLY in new ways every day. I hope you join's an exciting journey!

Will you share your experience this week with the rest of us?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

FAITHdare #8: I've Got Stuff, You've Got Stuff

FAITHdare #8:
Go, sell everything you own, and give it to the poor.

When you read those words, what went through your head? Were you shocked? Maybe somewhat appalled that I would have the audacity to tell you to do something so crazy? Did your mind immediately start to tally up the things you would be WILLING to give away?

Did you automatically assume it was a joke, or a test, or some ploy on my part?

What if it isn't a ploy? What if Jesus looked you in the eye and said those very words to you today? Would you walk away sad, knowing you could never do what He asked? Or would you leave everything in obedience to a God who demands your total allegiance in every area of life?

In a culture gorging on materialism, we, as followers of Christ, choose to believe that all of our stuff is one blessing upon another from God. Don't get me wrong..."all good things come from above" (James 1:17). But I can't help but wonder if all of our stuff is just another barrier, another block stacked on the wall that threatens to separate us from the God who longs to know us intimately. What would happen if all you or I had was the Word of God? Don't you think our need for Christ would be purified? Don't you think our hungry bellies and empty hands would be a constant reminder of our emptiness without Christ? Don't you think our need for Him would be clearer, and our dependence on Him would be greater?

I am the first to admit that I sometimes turn to stuff to satisfy deep longings and hurts that only Jesus can truly satisfy. What if that option was taken away? What if we abandoned the mindset of this culture in which heartache is reason enough to empty our pocketbooks?

Are we really living all that differently from the lost around us? We spend money and they spend money. We buy houses and they buy houses. We wear beautiful clothes and they wear beautiful clothes. We decorate and they decorate. We drive nice cars and they drive nice cars. We bury our sorrows in stuff and they bury their sorrows in stuff. Only difference is...we tack Jesus on the end. We SAY we need Him more than any possession. Do you think they really believe us? Do we really believe ourselves? Can we honestly say we are living for another world while we buy and hoard stuff here? Can we claim the name of Jesus and choose to remain ignorant to the desperate poverty of billions of people around the world?

The Word of God is STREWN with passages on the dangers of wealth. And none of us can really get out of this one (unless you live on less than $2/day), because we are all wealthy compared to the standards of the world. In my opinion, we all need to take a step back and SERIOUSLY examine where we have allowed material wealth and possessions to crowd our view of eternity, to crowd out our witness to others, to crowd out our deep need for relationship with Christ.

Is any of your STUFF an idol? Here's a good barometer to measure by: Do you have anything that you would be hesitant to give up?

As I have done the past three weeks, I am going to list a couple of scripture passages for you to consider this week as you seek the heart of God on this matter. However, there is NO WAY I can even begin to cover every place in God's Word where material possessions are discussed, so I would also like to suggest that you take it upon yourself to do some intentional study this week on your own in relation to this topic. And maybe you need to examine your budget, or your accumulation of stuff. Please heed the call of the Spirit on this one. Later on down the FAITHdare road, we will be looking at our possessions from many different angles, but I pray that the Spirit begins to stir in hearts right now, revealing ways in which we have allowed things to take precedent over obedience to Him.

FAITHdare #8:
Is your relationship to your stuff idolatrous in any way? Seek the heart of God, and heed the voice of the Spirit.

Suggested scripture passages (go beyond this list!)
Luke 18:18-30
Mark 10:17-31
Psalm 49
Luke 21:1-4
2 Cor. 8-9
Luke 12:13-21
Luke 16:19-31
1 Timothy 6:3-10
Matthew 25:14-46

Friday, April 16, 2010

FAITHdare #7: Revisited

"God is so immense! I think this characteristic of God is highlighted during the years following a person's conversion to Jesus. The changes that I needed in my character, the repairs in habits and attitudes were large, to say the least. But God won't settle for anything less than the best for each of His followers and is so relentless in completing the wonderful work He has begun in each of His people. Once again, He is able to simultaneously bring about the necessary changes in each Christian. How overwhelming this responsibility would be to the most capable human being, but not to our Savior. He does it all in stride and does it perfectly! Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

My dad, a man of incredible faith, wrote the above words about a year and a half ago. In the recent weeks, as I have been working through the FAITHdare challenges centering on idols, I have been so encouraged by his line, "But God won't settle for anything less than the best for each of His followers and is so relentless in completing the wonderful work He has begun in each of His people." The idea that God is working on ME even when I have given up on ME is so heartening. We serve a God who is RELENTLESSLY pursuing and changing the point where He will not let us get comfortable where we are! If you are being challenged in painful ways, I pray that this is an encouraging word to you, for "I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns" (Phil. 1:6, NLT).

I love the book of Hosea. It is the beautiful account of a jealous husband who relentlessly pursues his wife, loving her in spite of herself--A metaphor for the way God loves His people. The book also spends a lot of time talking about idols, and I learned something important from the first couple of chapters of Hosea this week. Part of letting go is finding complete satisfaction in relationship with Jesus. He longs to fulfill my deepest longings! Problem is, most of the time I don't let Him! I turn to other things or people for a "quick high" before even considering the very source of my desire. The adulterous wife described in Hosea is consumed by gifts, forgetting that the gifts do not love her like the Giver does! There is so much freedom in relinquishing idols for the one true God. He loves us so much more than the little gods ever could!

What have you been thinking about this week?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

FAITHdare #7: Walking Dead

A Roman emperor reigning not long after Jesus lived said, "A man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions." It seems this generation is not alone in its worship of success and security. Can you walk down the street without being plagued by the claws of ambition? The instruction starts early in life..."Be the best you can be. Work hard and you can have anything and everything you want!" Status and fame are revered and upheld, and they are hard to ignore in a world where everyone seems to be worshiping them. Even the church has been tainted by the idol of ambition. Who has the best attendance numbers? How many people are you bringing in on Sunday morning? Who has the most creative programs, the most attractive buildings? On and on the ambition train flies...

Then we come to the words of Jesus: "...Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Basically, if you follow, you can consider yourself dead. Dead to ambition. Dead to success. Dead to fame. Dead even to security. Can we read this passage and come away thinking we can follow Jesus without giving up anything?

I love reading about the calling of the disciples, and yet I am always baffled. Jesus issues the call: "Follow me!" and they go. That's it. No, "wait just one minute while I finish up" or "let me just tie things up here." They just go. It scares me to think of what I would have done in the same situation. Would I have held onto my fishing net and turned my back? What am I doing today, as He says, "Follow me"?

After reading the words of Jesus in Luke 14, we cannot say "yes" and then make excuses. He leaves no room for excuses. He demands undivided hearts, and total surrender. Surrender to new plans and dreams, a future that we do not get to decide.

I am a dreamer, so the whole ambition thing was never hard for me to jump into. I loved all the career advising sessions in high school. The idea that I could do anything I set my mind to was so thrilling to me. Even more thrilling was the idea that I could do anything I set my mind to AND be successful in the process. God has had to rip my dreams off of His throne more times than I can probably even count. I have made excuses; I have rationalized. The reality is, Jesus does not promise us worldly success and security.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt. 10:28). We cherish security in this country. We cling to it because, to be honest, we're afraid of death. That's really the worst we can dream up, isn't it? So why are WE, followers of Jesus, clinging to security? Jesus conquered death on the cross!

Friends, is Jesus Sovereign Lord over your life? If you have said "yes" to the call of Jesus, you have given up the right to determine what your life looks like. You have given up the right to success and fame and security. You are really a dead man walking. Are you still clinging to your old skin?

FAITHdare #7:
1) Spend disciplined time with God examining your heart. Are you clinging to your own ambition?
2) As God convicts you and calls you to action, respond with obedience!
3) Please share your journey with the rest of us.

Suggested scripture passages:
John 21:15-23
1 Cor. 6:19-20, 8:5-6
Phil. 2:1-18
Mt. 10:39, 13:44-46, 16:25
Romans 6:13, 8:35-39, 12:1-2
2 Cor. 4:8-11, 12:9-10

Saturday, April 10, 2010

FAITHdare #6: Revisited

This post has been several days in the making, brewing from my heart. The challenge is to find the right words. There are always words--cute words, smart words, wrong words, mean words...those kind of words are easy to find. RIGHT words take more time and effort. So I pray that "the words of my mouth [or keyboard in this case] and the meditations of my heart would be pleasing to Him..." (from Psalm 19).

I have to be honest. When God begins to convict me of wrong living, my mind begins racing. I start to make lists, on paper and in my head, of everything I need to do to straighten my path. Last week, the lists started building yet again after I watched the second Radical sermon (FAITHdare #5). My sister made a comment, though, that tripped me in the midst of my list forming: (paraphrased) "I think part of being 'radical' is learning daily faithfulness."

That comment has been the source of a constant conversation with Jesus this week. Because here's the deal...I WANT to change. I WANT to live in obedience to God. The danger is not in my desire to change, but in my weak ATTEMPTS to change. I start thinking drastic (doing something big on my own power) instead of radical (living in daily obedience to Christ)...because drastic is easier. And drastic draws attention. Want an example?

I could move to Africa {drastic}, but what's to say I won't live in laziness there, ignorant to the needs right outside my door? Drastic without radical faithfulness.
I could sell all I have {drastic}, but keep on spending frivolously. Drastic without radical faithfulness.
I could adopt a baby {drastic}, but fail to raise him or her with daily, selfless love. Drastic without radical faithfulness.

We know this principle already. A person can have gastric bypass surgery {drastic}, but what good is that operation going to do if all he or she does is continue to live in bad habits? In fact, in some ways we probably look down on people that live drastically without daily faithfulness. Like the drug addict who checks himself into a rehab facility{drastic}, but drops out a couple of weeks later. We despise those who can't follow through, looking down on their lack of willpower and desire to change. But I'M like that. I would much rather do something CRAZY than be FAITHFUL. I would rather move halfway around the world to serve the lost than walk next door to serve my neighbor. Not that there is anything wrong with moving halfway around the world to serve the fact, Jesus instructs us to take the Gospel to the lost. But how am I going to serve the lost there if I can't even serve the lost on my doorstep here?

Jesus teaches on this principle in Matthew 25, where the parable of the talents can be found. To the faithful servants, He says, "You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things." This is the heart of what God has been teaching me this week. How can I expect God to trust me with 10 talents, when I buried the one He's already given me? I can certainly take things into my own hands and skip the hard stuff, but the result will be a painful lesson on my inadequacy. I cannot change on my own, and yet God cannot use me if I refuse to be obedient in the small things.

I don't know if any of what I am saying makes sense, but I want to direct you to the words of Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador and martyr for Jesus: "Wherever you are, be all there." God has me where I am, at this point in my life, for a reason. I can choose to live each day for myself, to stumble from pleasurable activity to pleasurable activity, waiting for God to give me something "better" to do (you know, like caring for orphans or healing the sick), or I can be ALL seeking His voice everyday in disciplined prayer and meditation over His word, by spending the time looking for and loving the lost right next door, by being obedient in stewardship of His resources generously given to me, by finding new ways everyday to serve Him.

I guess the bottom line is this: We need to OBEY. If that means washing dishes and kissing the booboos of your kids, do those things with radical faithfulness in selfless love. If that means leaving everything and moving to a third world country to preach the Gospel to a people who has never heard about Jesus, go without looking back and serve in daily faithfulness to Him. It may not seem like it in comparison to drastic living, but daily faithfulness IS radical. Most people in our culture, and sadly most people in the Church, live for themselves. We like to THINK that we are living in daily faithfulness, but the amount of desperation and purposelessness plaguing our cities says otherwise. Truly radical living is not glamorous, and it does not really draw the kind of attention so many crave. But it's what Jesus calls us to.

Those we deem "heroes of the faith" knew daily faithfulness well. They did not get up one day and do something huge for God. They got up everyday and did something huge for God. You don't have to read many biographies to find their key to success...daily obedience in the grittiness of life. Lots of time in God's Word and in prayer. Lots of time doing unpleasant things to serve the needs of the lost. They weren't extraordinary people. They were EXTRA ordinary people.

Forgive me if I've thoroughly confused you = ] If you take nothing else from this post, watch the video below. It is about a family who allowed God to open their eyes to the lost right next door (9 miles away), a family that refused to bury the one talent God had given them. Daily faithfulness in the little things.

I love what she says: "One thing that we've that life can be very unpredictable. Being available, and being willing, can be enough. Let God do the rest...Let God bring the needs, and the opportunities, and even the ability to fulfill those needs...He can flow that through us." I really just want to be available and willing every day...LOOKING for God to fulfill needs through me. Obedience in daily faithfulness.

Thoughts? How do you live in daily faithfulness? What has God been teaching you?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

FAITHdare #6: Relationship Idols

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).

My prayer is that a stench will rise as we begin to identify and burn to ash the idols that line the halls of our hearts. Maybe it's just a personal thing, but I feel like relationships are one of the trickiest areas of idolatry to locate and dethrone. Because I am in the thick of the battle with you all and, just as with any other area we examine, have no authority to speak over you with this issue, I want to direct us to the words of scripture for conviction and instruction over the next three weeks.

During each of the next three weeks, I will provide some suggested Bible passages to read and meditate on. My hope is that the Spirit will move in your heart as you take the time and make the effort to come before Him with open hands. That's it! I can't offer you a 5-step program to get rid of your idols. But I can point you (and me) to the Word of God and pray that HE will begin to spotlight relationships in your life that have taken HIS throne. And I can pray that HE will direct you where you need to go next in the process of removing that idol from your life.

My hope is that we will be an encouragement to each other in this month, actively sharing what God is revealing to us and where He is directing us to go in the removal of our idols. Please don't be timid...God may use your words to encourage/challenge someone else!

FAITHdare #6:
1) Spend disciplined time with God this week, meditating on scripture and praying that He will reveal to you relationships in your life that have become a barrier to deeper relationship with Him. If you want, use the scripture passages listed below to guide your time.
2) As God convicts you, respond with obedience!
3) As God leads you, please share what He is doing in your life with the rest of us...your words might be just what God wants someone else to read!

Suggested scripture passages:
Luke 9:57-62
2 Samuel 11-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 3:31-34
1 Samuel 1
John 4:1-26
Luke 14:15-24

Friday, April 2, 2010

FAITHdare #5: Revisited

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ:
Who, being being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross" (from Phil. 2).

Jesus took MY place on MY cross, sacrificing EVERYTHING for me. And after all that...I struggle to sacrifice my comforts and my dreams to follow Him. The King of the universe gave up His throne so that He could climb up onto the cross of shame and judgment that was supposed to hold ME. And yet I live like I deserve His sacrifice.

I don't.
But in His grace and mercy, He did what I could not do for myself--He made a way for me to have relationship with a perfect God.

The past couple of months, as I have meditated on the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf, an image keeps coming to mind from the movie The Passion. You know the scene where the soldiers force Simon to carry the cross? Jesus comes alongside Simon to share a burden only one of them deserves. Together, they carry the cross that Simon should have been killed on but Jesus would be killed on. And Jesus comes alongside me, shouldering the load, even as He asks me to pick up my cross and FOLLOW. His tender mercies never cease to amaze me.

This month, as we confront and dethrone idols that have taken His place in our lives, I can't help but think the best place to start (and abide continually) is at the foot of the cross. Because HE is worth it...and in the end, our sacrifice is really no sacrifice at all.

"You are not your own...You were bought at a price" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).