Evidence of Christ

“I know girls,” sighed the camp counselor, “you’ve probably done this every year.  Tonight is the first night of camp and we are all supposed to share our testimonies.  Who wants to go first?”

You could tell, by looking around the room at the faces of the young girls, none was too keen on the idea.  Finally, after a few too many moments of awkward silence, one of the girls spoke up.  Her story was heart-rending; that of a broken home, utter despair, a faithful friend, and discovery of salvation in Christ.

“Oh good,” you might think to yourself, “surely one tale of hope will lead to another right?”

But suddenly, the rest of the girls seem to have taken great interest in their toes or in the specs of dirt mashed into the carpet.  They are more reluctant than before to speak up.  Something is definitely not right.  Maybe none of the girls are saved; or maybe they just don’t know what a testimony is.

The counselor speaks up again.  This time, with an explanation, “girls a testimony is just the story of how you got saved, it doesn’t have to be long…”Still, nothing.  It’s getting late, so in an effort to stay positive, the counselor suggests the rest of the girls share on another night.

This account is all too familiar.  And, I have a feeling many can relate.  Year after year, I’ve watched this scene play out.  Quite honestly, I’ve often been the one (or one of the many) reluctant to speak up and it wasn’t because I wasn’t saved.

I didn’t have a radical conversion story to tell.  I hadn’t come from a broken home.  Fact is I could hardly remember a time without Christ in my life; a time before I was saved.  What was I supposed to say?  Would the others even think I was a Christian?  If I didn’t have a profound tale of conversion, if I couldn’t remember a time when sin reigned in my life, was I truly saved?

Recently, I have watched other young girls struggle with these very same doubts.  I’ve watched them try to pinpoint a moment when they knew they were saved; heard them ask the question “how do I know I am really saved?”  I’ve known these girls for years.  I’ve watched them grow and heard their questions.  I am convinced they are saved.  I see it, but they can’t.  I see the light and the difference in their life, but the change is so slight they can’t find it on their own.  Sadly, these girls doubt because they have always heard the radical conversion stories.   They have listened over and over to a pastor’s story of criminal to Christ follower.  Their own friends have come from broken homes and devastation to discovering hope in Christ.

Praise the Lord for the redemption in so many broken lives, but where are all the people who grew up in a Christian home and were saved before they started kindergarten?  I know I’m not the only one; these precious girls I know are proof of that.

Every Christian has a story about their salvation.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy.  The point is you realized you were a sinner, saw your need for a savior, and accepted God’s free gift of salvation.  A testimony is “evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.”  In other words, a testimony is proof or evidence of your salvation.

A testimony is not supposed to be a detailed dictation of your life before Christ.  Rather, a testimony is the evidence of Christ in your life.  In the Bible, the disciples didn’t spend their time deliberating over their life before Christ.  That wasn’t and still isn’t the point!  The purpose of a testimony is that Christ would be made known; that through a believer’s life, others might see the light of life.

After you are saved, your testimony grows.  As you grow in your walk with the Lord there is more evidence for Christ in your life.  Jesus commands “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).”  It doesn’t matter if our story is one of brokenness or one of finding Him as a little child.  What matters is we have salvation in Him and through us others can see Him.  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 3:14-15).”  We are to be His witnesses!  No matter where we are, no matter what our story, we represent Christ.  That means sharing our story without reserve; sharing with others the evidence of Christ in our lives.

Billboard for Jesus

When my brothers and I were little, Mom didn’t want us wearing clothes that had brand names on them.  She always said she didn’t want us to be walking billboards.  Of course, at 8 years old, all a shirt with words on it meant to me was…nothing.  How could a shirt with some word I couldn’t pronounce (like aeropostle) and didn’t even understand, make me into a billboard.  At the time, though, I didn’t really care.

Now, looking back, I can see the reason for not wearing those clothes.  By wearing shirts with a brand name on it, you are promoting an organization and therefore, its values.  Ultimately, whether you wear a shirt that has words on it or not, it doesn’t determine the fact that you are a billboard.

Everyone is, in fact, a billboard.  Every person has values.  Every person chooses to represent something.  Whether you represent something by the clothes you wear, the establishments you frequent, the way you talk, or the morals you live by, you are representing something.  Each person demonstrates some sort of standard or set of values to the world.  The world is watching you.  No matter who you are, you encounter numerous people every day.  All these people see the way you behave, talk, or dress.  When you interact with others and go about your daily life, you are representing your beliefs and values to others.  Whether you like it or not, people are developing ideas and impressions about you.  It may take a few times for people to get the message of a billboard as they drive by, just as it may take a few encounters with others to understand what they represent.  Nonetheless, each of us does represent someone or something.

The question is not whether you are a billboard or not.  Instead the question is, who/what are you representing to those around you?

Many choose to represent themselves.  They are the kind of people who are always talking about themselves, they are always looking out for themselves, and they want others to see them.  Others choose to represent a common cause; they talk about it, pay attention to it, and promote it so that others will see.

As a Christian, I know that I have been created and chosen by God for His glory.  “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)”  As Christians, what we proclaim should not be ourselves but Christ.  “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)”

So, whether I spend 5 minutes with someone or every day with them, I want them to see Christ in me.  I want them to see Christ’s light shining through me.  It doesn’t matter if people see me.  What matters is if people see Christ through me.  It matters most that they see Christ’s love and salvation and that they accept His gift for their own. I am okay with being a billboard, but I want to be a billboard for Jesus.

In preparing for my mission trip, I have had the opportunity to interact with many different people.  I have written letters, talked to people on the phone, and told people in person about the opportunity God has given me to serve Him.  As I share with people, I don’t want my words to be about me.  Yeah, it is really cool that I am going to India, but that’s not what it’s about.  When I tell people about going to India, I don’t want them to see me, I want them to see Christ, I want them to see His love, and I want them to see His hand in my life.  My hope is to reach people with the gospel of Christ.  I am learning that the mission is much more than my time in India.  My mission starts now.  I can share the gospel of Christ with everyone I tell about this opportunity in India.  As much as my ministry is to the people in India, my ministry is to the people here at home who will be following me on this journey.

Stick to the Trail

In Awana one of the first verses TnT girls learn is Psalm 25:4, which says “Show me your ways, O Lord, Teach me your paths.”  I have always liked this verse, but I never really paid a lot of attention to it.  It is one of the shorter verses the girls learn, and they usually memorize it pretty fast.  It’s also pretty easy to understand, so we don’t spend a great deal of time on it.  This year, as one of my girls was studying the verse and I was explaining it to her, I was struck by the Psalmist prayer for God to show Him the way to go.  In the last year, every time one of my girls has recited the verse I have been reminded to seek the Lord’s wisdom.  Every time I hear the verse, it becomes my prayer.

I want to know where God wants me and what He wants me to be doing.   I long to understand who He is and what path He has laid out for me.  As, I have prayed that verse, God has answered my prayer.   He promises in Isaiah “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”

Many times in the past year, I have been asked the question that most seniors in High School dread.  “So, what are you going to do now?  What do you have planned for the rest of your life?”  I have despised the question as much as the next student.  Everyone seems to apologize as soon as they ask the question, but they always ask it.  I have not always had a good answer for the question.  Yeah, I have a lot of dreams, a lot of hopes for the future, but ultimately I want to follow God’s plan and not my own.  God’s plan for my life is far better, and far different, than any plan I could come up with for myself.  It seems every time I try to plan my own course, God takes me somewhere else.

The best answer to the question “what are your plans for the future?”  would be that I want to follow God wherever He leads.  Honestly though, that hasn’t always been my first response.  It isn’t necessarily an easy response.  It takes a lot of faith to wait for God’s direction and to trust that He will lead you in the way He wants you to go.  It certainly isn’t the answer people are looking for.  People expect to hear your plans for a successful career.  They expect you to tell them what college you plan to attend, what degree you are going to get, and what kind of money you will make in the future.  Sadly, those things are considered success in our culture.  God’s idea of success is far different.  God isn’t stuck on the idea of a nine-to-five work day or a person’s dollar value.  He often calls His chosen ones to much greater things; greater in a biblical sense.  Success in God’s eyes is not measured by how much we made, but by how much we gave.

As I have prayed for God to show me His ways, He has been teaching me that the most important part is trusting in Him.  He knows the plans He has for me and while I cannot see the future, I can trust my future to Him.  He is showing me the way to go, but not revealing all the stops along the way.  I believe that God wants me to trust Him one step at a time rather than constantly trying to look ahead or find out what’s next.  Ultimately, God has called me to be a witness for Him.  He wants me to love others and to share the gospel.

I’ve learned that when I trust God, things turn out far different and far better than I could have imagined.  When I try to plan everything out myself, my plans fail and they usually aren’t great to begin with.  God’s has been showing me His ways and teaching me His paths.  Walking with God is a lot like setting out on a hiking adventure.  We know what’s at the end, because we have been told.  trailheadBut what’s in between the trail head and the end point we may not know.  We simply need to trust that if we keep moving down the path and stick to the trail we will get to the end.  We will probably see some of the most beautiful sights along the way, we may have to ford through turbulent waters, or climb steep and rocky grades.  We may get caught on switch backs and keep coming to the same areas again and again with hardly any elevation gain.  We might get caught in the mud or lose our sense of direction for a time.  No matter where we are on the trail we have the promise of what we will reach at the end.  All we need to do is stay focused and follow the path one step at a time.  The beauty and hardship we face on the way will all be worth it when we reach the goal at the end of the trail.

end of the trail.jpg

God’s Gift of Salvation for ALL PEOPLE

For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep desire to see people come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus.  When I learned about Jesus as a young child, I remember being very concerned for all the people who died before Jesus came to make a way.  I was distressed in my limited understanding, that all of the people in between Adam and Christ’s resurrection had died still enslaved by sin.  It was impossible for me to believe that a loving creator would allow people to die in sin without hope of salvation.  I knew there was nothing man could do to reach God and I understood, quite well, how overwhelmingly impossible it was to live a perfect life and reach God’s standard.

When I finally learned of God’s promise to the Israelites of a coming Messiah, I was slightly relieved.  If the Israelites believed God’s promise, they would be saved.  At that time, I was glad God had made a way for the Israelites, but I felt it a great injustice that the rest of the world did not have the promise of a savior.

My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the lost was/and is that they would be saved.  I was greatly burdened for the lost, who are alive today, but I couldn’t bear the thought that those who had lived before Christ had died hopelessly lost in their sins.  Over the years, I somehow reconciled the idea in my understanding of God, as something I would only understand once I got to heaven.  I had a foggy understanding that somehow God must have made a way for them.  I trusted that in His great love, God would not let people die without even a chance at salvation.  I was content to trust God, knowing some things were beyond my understanding.

Lately, as I have been studying Isaiah, it has been my prayer that God would give me a greater understanding of who He is.  He who has promised is faithful and He has been answering that prayer daily.  As I was reading Isaiah last night, God’s compassion for the whole world finally became clear to me.  In Isaiah 56:7, God promises, “the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  I discovered the promise I have always wondered about.

Even before Jesus walked on Earth, God had made a way for all people to be saved.  Before He sent the messiah, God had compassion on the world and provided a way for anyone to come to Him.  In Isaiah 55:1 God says “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”  Salvation has no price.  Jesus paid for our salvation when He died on the cross.  People who cannot afford their next meal can afford salvation.  God promises the bread of life and the living water to any who ask for it.  God calls everyone who will listen.  “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while He is near, let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)”

God reminded me last night that His thoughts are not my thoughts and neither are His ways my ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways and His thoughts higher than mine (see Isaiah 55:8-9).  All along, God has had a plan.  In His steadfast love he has offered salvation to all people.  As a child, I did not understand God’s plan of salvation for the whole world, but His thoughts were (and are) much higher than mine.

Bibles for the World

Time sure seems to fly when you are anticipating something.  While I am super excited about going to India, it seems the time is going by almost too fast.

A couple of weeks ago, my team and I were updated on where we will be in India and who we are going to be working with there.  Many of you have asked me what I’m going to be doing, so this should give you a better idea of exactly what is going to be happening.

ManipurMy team and I will be headed to Manipur India in June.  Bordered on one side by Myanmar, Manipur is a small state in far North East India.  In Manipur we will be serving with an established organization called “Bibles for the World”.

In 1971, Bibles for the World was started by India natives, Rochunga and Mawii Pudiate.  Initially, there goal was to provide their tribe, the Hmar people, with Bibles in their own language.  Once the translation was complete, they realized their work was not over.  Many of the Hmar people were uneducated and could not read the Bibles.  In order to solve this obstacle, the Pudiates started an elementary school as well as a high school, college and seminary.  The Pudiates also followed God’s direction to plant churches throughout North Eastern India.  Bibles for the World is based in North East India, but is focused on providing Bibles to all people.

Bibles for the World focuses on several goals. The most important goal is to reach people with the Gospel.  The organization has been putting free copies of God’s word in the hands of un-reached people for 35 years.  The Word of God is powerful; when people read the Bible lives are transformed, when they share the Bible communities are transformed, and when people teach the Bible they demonstrate God’s love and transform cultures.

BFW putting the Bible in people hands

In addition to giving people the Bible, Bibles for the World focuses on providing children with a Christian education from primary school to seminary.   Bibles for the World has established several schools throughout North East India as well as a seminary school in Delhi.  By providing children with an education, Bibles for the World is equipping them to continue the spread of the gospel in India and training them to be future leaders in their country.

BFW school children

Bibles for the world also works to provide medical care for the needy.  The organization has established a full-service hospital in North-East India to serve those who cannot afford medical care or would not normally have the opportunity to get it.  In providing impoverished communities with medical care, Bibles for the World works to demonstrate the love of Christ.

When my team and I are in India we will have the opportunity to serve alongside Bibles for the World.  Our team will be focused on reaching un-reached people groups in local villages.  We will likely be doing a lot of work with the children; whether it is through Vacation Bible Schools or after school programs or just getting down in the dirt to play with the little ones.  We may also have the opportunity to teach English, help out with medical camps, or plant churches.

 

When I am afraid…

In my life, the devil has often used fear to come between me and God’s purposes for my life.  In the past when adventure has faced me, fear has prevented me from exploring opportunities further.

In 3rd grade I had a bad experience at a church camp.  The problem arose because of my fear.  I did not want to be in a different cabin than my friend and refused to go unless I could be in her cabin.  The staff consented and put me in her cabin, but to our chagrin the situation was worse than if we had been separated.  The counselors in our cabin did not have their hearts in the right place.  They weren’t there because of the girls they would serve, but because of their friends who were also serving.  Both were self-focused and emotional all week.  By the end of the week, the emotional distress of our counselors had been transmitted to many of the girls in the cabin; we were miserable.  If I had simply been willing to do something out of my comfort zone, being in a different cabin than my best friend, I would have had a much better time.

After the bad experience at one church camp, I was afraid to go to Awana camp.  I was content to stay behind each summer in the safety of my home and family.  For three years, I refused to think about going.  Finally, when I was entering 7th grade, my parents and friends convinced me to go to camp.  The day Mom drove me to camp, my stomach churned.  At check in, I was still having doubts.  When we met my counselor, she seemed young and Mom and I both had our doubts.  But, three hours later I was already enjoying myself immensely.  The rest of the week was a blast.  My counselor was amazing!  I made many friends and made plans to come back every year.  My only regret was that I had allowed fear to prevent me from coming to Awana camp the first 2 years I was eligible.

More recently, I was nearly given the opportunity to visit family in another part of the U.S.  While I knew I would have a wonderful time once I got there, I honestly did not want to go because I was afraid to get on a plane.  I have always been terrified to fly in a plane.  Although I have never really struggled with nightmares, my worst dreams were always about flying.  Planes defy the laws of gravity and surely they can’t be safe, right?  Fear got in the way of the grand adventure I could have had.

Last year, I had the unique opportunity to participate in a medical study.  When I discovered I would have to get my blood drawn in order to participate, I nearly let fear get in my way again.  I was terrified of needles.  No way did I want someone sticking something sharp in my arm.  Shots were bad enough, but to watch someone suck the blood out of me with a syringe… was not my idea of cool.  This time though, I overcame my fears (I think the lucrative aspect of the study may have swayed my decision).  Getting your blood drawn isn’t that bad at all.  Actually, it’s better than getting a shot because you don’t feel the blood leaving your body like you feel the injection entering it.  After getting my blood drawn, I found myself enjoying the study.  Because I participated in the study, I discovered the cause of the eczema I had been struggling with and was able to eliminate the problem.

This spring as I felt God leading me towards missions, there were a few fears that could have gotten in the way; first of all, getting on a plane terrifies me.  I still don’t like the idea.  Of course the reasonable side of me would tell myself that flying is safer than riding in a car.  But riding in a car does not interfere with the laws of gravity, somehow it feels far safer.  The reality is beginning to set in and I have had a few sleepless nights worrying about what will happen if the plane crashes.  When looking at flight routes, Mom told me that the flights over the ocean were safer because crashing in the ocean is better than crashing on land.  Hold on…crashing?  While we may not go up in flames if we crash in the water, surely landing in the Arctic Ocean will wind up in us freezing to death or drowning.  Besides the issue of flying, I am supposed to get a regimen of vaccines before going anywhere overseas.  More needles…  But I have already overcome that fear on several occasions.  As long as I keep myself from passing out (that happened last time I got a shot), I know I will be fine.  Then there are the parasites…insert shuddering…but we will not speak of those.

I know that God does not want me to fear.  “For God has not given [me] a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)”.  Fear keeps me from God.  When God spoke to people in the Bible one of the first things He always said was “Fear not”.  Fear is not from God.  Thankfully, God understands that we are apt to fear.  He has provided verse-after-verse throughout the Bible telling us not to fear.  He calls us to trust Him.  Over and over again, He gently reminds us that He will be right by our side through all of it.

 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:4)

In God I trust (Part 1)

When we allow God to work in our lives and are receptive to His leading, the devil is not far away.  He is scrambling to get footholds; to worm his way into our lives.  The closer we get to God and the more that God gives us, the stronger the devil’s attacks on us.  When we aren’t close to God or following His direction, the devil leaves us alone; we are already exactly where he wants us.  It is when we are seeking the Lord’s will and walking in His ways that spiritual warfare begins.  This warfare is real.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12)”

Our enemy is the father of lies.  From the very beginning, he has used lies to tempt those chosen by God.  In order to defeat the lies of our adversary, we must “know the truth, and the truth will set [us] free.”  Jesus combated the lies of the devil with truth.  When the tempter came Jesus answered with “It is written…”  When the tempter comes to us, the only way we can combat his lies is by using the truth that we find in God’s word.   We must know the truth in order to recognize the lies.

The enemy often uses doubt and fear to come between us and God’s purposes for our lives. 

Doubt is not from God.  We have God’s promises and “He who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23)”.  Thus we should have no reason to doubt.  Has He not commanded us? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).”  God has promised that the plans he has for us are plans “of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).”  God’s plans do not leave room for doubt.  While God does not want us to doubt, he understand that we will face doubt.  That is why he addresses doubt in scripture and gives us truths that we can combat it with.  The enemy often twists the truth in order to make our doubts seem reasonable.  We need to recognize that doubts are not from God.  When we see doubts creeping into our lives, we must recognize them for what they are.  Doubts are lies from the enemy.

If doubt is not from God, neither is fear.  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)”.  Fear keeps us from God.  When God spoke to people in the Bible one of the first things He always said was “Fear not”.  Fear is not from God.  Instead, He has given us peace.  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  God does not want us to allow fear in our lives.  He has promised to be with us and we have no reason to fear.  God wants us, instead of being afraid, to put our trust in Him.

God is way bigger than each one of us and the plans he has for His chosen ones are far greater than anything we can imagine.  His plans can seem overwhelming at times, but He wants us to trust Him.  He has promised to be with us.  He is standing right by our side and even holding us up when we feel we cannot carry on any longer.  There is no where that we can go to escape God’s presence in our lives.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  (Psalm 139: 7-10).”

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?