Tag Archives: outreach

Do: Shine!

“. . . in which you shine . . . like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:15).

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

star nightMy new Flourishing Faith Bible study Shine Your Light explores service, compassion, justice, action . . . the doing side of our faith. Take time to journey through this excerpt as we wrap up our discussion on doing.

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 “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18b). Faith—believing in the good news—is intricately interconnected with action. Just as faith demonstrates itself in works, works proclaim our faith to the world. Our actions, demeanor, words, character, and way of life declare a message!

. . .  One powerful theme interwoven throughout the book of James is that what we believe ought to show itself in what we do and how we act:

• We’re to truly listen to God’s Word and respond by doing what it says (1:22-25)

• As believers in our compassionate, just, and merciful God, we’re to live the good news by caring for the poor, vulnerable, and overlooked (1:27; 2:1-13).

• Living the gospel means loving our neighbors as ourselves—and that includes seemingly “unimportant” people (2:1-13).

• Belief in the gospel demonstrates itself in our actions (2:14-26).

• Our actions and demeanor reveal that we are aligned with a new way of thinking as we live by values “from above” (3:13, 17-18).

• When God leads us to do good, it’s imperative that we respond (4:17).

• Materialism and injustice toward the poor are absolutely contrary to the gospel (5:1-6).

• Intimacy with God through prayer empowers a gospel-transformed life (5:13-20).

. . . What can you do today to proclaim the gospel through action? Continue reading


Dig Deeper

chainsWant to explore justice further? Dig deeper by checking out these articles I wrote for Relevant magazine examining what biblical justice really is and what it can look like in our lives:

• What Does Justice Look Like?

• Kingdom Living From the Middle of Normal

• A Justice Manifesto

Also, my friend and justice scholar Chet Wood has a fantastic teaching series available on his web site In Paths of Righteousness. I highly recommend!


What does it mean to shine as a light of the world? How is justice part of that life proclamation? What does Jesus reveal about a light-shining life? Consider this excerpt from my new Flourishing Faith book Shine Your Light.

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chains“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus, here, identifies himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies and teachings about God’s justice, compassion, and welcome. Quoting from Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2, Jesus launches his ministry by proclaiming this as his mission. Following directly on the heels of his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus boldly declared that this is what he’s all about. According to Jesus, God’s concern for justice and his compassionate love for the vulnerable are essential to our understanding of the “good news.”

How often do you hear these kinds of ideas reflected in the way people normally talk about the gospel? Have we lost sight of a critical component of Jesus’ teaching and proclamation? Do we really understand how central these values of compassion and justice are to the good news? . . .  Continue reading

What is Justice?

Justice. When I was a little kid, my idea of justice was mostly characterized by superheroes. Superman and Wonder Woman who’d see the wrong in the world, fight it, and always catch the bad guys in the end. It was adventurous, exciting, and a bit dangerous . . . but it always turned out peachy. Justice is putting things right.justice league

When I was a bigger kid, my idea of justice was set to patriotic background music. Each day at school we proclaimed this land to be a place of “freedom and justice for all!” And I took it to be a given: Everybody here gets  justice. Woo-hoo! Yippee! Justice is freedom.

And then, as I grew older, I think a general idea of judicial justice crept in. Justice had to do with things being fair, things being right. It was pretty cut and dry. Pretty obvious. And, I assumed, for the most part pretty well-established. Justice is fairness.

But then in college, during an Intervarsity weekend conference, I got a shocking wake-up call. I didn’t realize at the time that it was going to be one of the most influential weekends in my life. But that weekend I learned that justice is biblical.

And it wasn’t a feel-good lesson. There weren’t patriotic songs bursting forth in my heart. My assumptions and pat-myself-on-the-back good intentions were all being torn up. Justice meant more, demanded more, than I’d ever realized. Continue reading


What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word discipline? As a mom of three, I think of child-tears, frustration, time-outs (or worse), and me feeling frazzled and worn out. Discipline, if we’re honest, is not fun. Rewarding in the long run? Sure. But not exactly a word with a positive connotation.

So when I talk about spiritual disciplines? Well, the danger for you and for me is that we can bring this somewhat negative connotation into the conversation. But Scripture uses several words that are translated at “discipline.” One means to chastise, correct, or instruct (see Hebrews 12:6-7). But here’s some good news: God’s Word uses entirely different words to talk about discipline in terms of our spiritual formation. Consider this excerpt from my book, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival:

trainersAs we look at the spiritual disciplines, we’re instead aiming for the concepts of gumnazo and askeo. Gumnazo—from which we derive the English word gymnasium—means discipline in the sense of athletic exercise and training. We’re talking about a spiritual sweat here: regular “workouts” that keep our faith in shape. This is the word Paul uses when he urges Timothy, “[T]rain yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, emphasis added). This is the same connotation the writer of Hebrews intends when he prods his readers by saying, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14, emphasis added).

Askeo means the discipline of a master craftsman who employs skill, persistent determination, and great effort to turn raw material into a piece of art. Continue reading

Meet My Friend Margot Starbuck

I’m excited to introduce you to Margot Starbuck, a writer whose most recent book Small Things with Great Love explores the exciting, adventurous, and surprising ways God can use us to share his love with others. She’s got some great ideas and inspiration to share. Keep on reading . . . 

Margot, can you tell my readers a bit about yourself? 

Hi friends!  I’m a communicator, living with my fam—husband and 3 kiddos—in Durham, North Carolina.  In my free time I do exactly what I do in my work time: write.  It really makes me that happy.  I also like to paint & walk in the sunshine.

This month we’re looking at how “surprise” factors into our faith. When is a time recently when you’ve been surprised or delighted by God? Can you describe your experience?

Well . . . on most days I do not receive personal messages from the Almighty.  (I’m Presbyterian.)  BUT, about 7 or 8 years ago I heard God speaking directly to my hurting heart, saying, “I am for you.” It really was quite a pivotal moment for me.  Since then, the message has grown to, “I am the One who is with you and for you.”  Honestly, the clarity took me by surprise.  They are the words I’m convinced that God is speaking not just to me, but to every heart.

I love your book Small Things with Great Love — and I especially appreciate the subtitle, Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor. Often — to be honest — serving others doesn’t seem like an “adventure” to me. I think it seems more like something important, something that is a bit of a duty (in a good way),  something a bit scary and intimidating, and something that can be difficult to work into my everyday life. But your book looks at service from an entirely different angle. Why do you describe it as an adventure? 

I guess I’m convinced that we have been invited to partner with Jesus in the building of the new kingdom. As we follow Jesus, I mean really follow him into the places he goes, we find ourselves in unlikely places among unlikely people. Just about every day I have the opportunity to either chill in my comfort zone or to embrace the adventure of trailing after that Jesus.  The latter is life that really is life.

When and how did you begin to see service as an adventure?

Hmmm . . . I guess that my first year at Westmont College I saw peers who were living differently because they knew Christ.  They were befriending homeless folks in Santa Barbara. They were serving alongside pastors and congregations in Mexico. They were fighting apartheid in South Africa. Young, energetic, I knew that following Jesus was meant to transform me and others.

This “adventure” mindset toward service suddenly opens up all sorts of surprising opportunities to serve and love others! Can you share some of the more “surprising” avenues of service you’ve come across? 

Some of my favorites . . . 

• my friend Hugh, who hangs out with homeless folks in Raleigh, NC

• a guy I met on an airplane who frequents thrift stores with his wife in order to meet, and bless, single mamas

• a beauty salon ministry in Thailand to prostitutes

• a local mom with a young baby who offers to take a recent Iraqi immigrant to the clinic

• my friends at Rutba House, in Durham, who open their dinner table to anyone who is hungry

No one can tell me that the Jesus-life is not an adventure!

How can we best see the surprising, adventurous opportunities to serve that God puts in our lives?

I’m convinced that when we ask God to open our eyes to a world in need, God DELIGHTS in doing it!

A few tips:

  1. Make it simple—loving your neighbor can be as easy as learning the name of the woman who rings up your groceries each week
  2. Be creative—if you spend all your time on the soccer field, or in a minivan, or at an office, ask God to show you new ways to bless folks there
  3. Be courageous—quite frankly, you can expect to be a little uncomfortable.  It’s a good sign.
  4. Minister in community—there’s no need to be a Lone Ranger.  Invite a new acquaintance to walk, or share coffee, with you and a friend.

Most important: God doesn’t ask you to do everything, just the next thing!  This week, take one step, with Jesus, into the world he loves.

Thank you so much, Margot! Friends, be sure to pop on by Margot’s web site to learn more about her books and her ministry.

Meet My Friend . . . Emily Cetola

To wrap up June’s focus on the discipline of evangelism (I realize June ended yesterday…sorry I’m late!), I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Emily Cetola. I knew she’d have good things to say, but to be honest, I must say that her answers to my questions have floored me. Wow! Wonderful insights — both inspiring and challenging to me personally. Keep reading if you, too, desire to grow in the area of sharing your faith . . . 

Emily, can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?

Iʼve been married for almost 12 years to a wonderful husband, who keeps life interesting with his storm chasing, study of world cultures, and reading passions. We have three kids, ages 6, 3, and 1. Right now I stay home with our kids, and much of my energy goes towards keeping our family rolling along, with all that entails. I love being creative and artistic, especially with music. Someday I would love to write worship songs in Italian. I dabble in all sorts of hobbies, such as reading, gardening, camping, water skiing, cooking, sewing, song writing — depending on the day!

You and your family are preparing to head to Italy as missionaries. That “title” comes with a lot of expectations. In what ways does this coming adventure excite you? challenge you?

This “calling” if you will has been brewing in me since I was a kid. As the time draws closer for our family to actually make the move overseas, Iʼm really excited to see it all come to fruition. Iʼm looking forward to introducing our kids to a new culture, pointing out each step of the way how God is the same no matter where we are in the world. Iʼve come to a point in this journey where I have realized that in many ways, God is leading me on this path to shape my own heart and character. Only in my personal transformation to be more like Jesus will I have any “usefulness” in the Great Commission. This is both exciting and challenging. There is a lot of self-examination that goes on in the process of saying goodbye to a life that is relatively comfortable and familiar. A lot of measuring priorities. Probably the hardest part is thinking through all these issues on behalf of our kids. There are a lot of fine lines between worry & responsibility, trust & wisdom. But thatʼs true of parenting whether it is here or there.

As you know, this month’s topic has been evangelism which is a tough one for me and for many others. What do you find personally challenging about evangelism?

To be totally honest, the hardest part of evangelism for me is having to address the questions in my own heart — do I really believe the gospel of Jesus is true? Have I really been personally transformed by it? What tangible, credible stories from my own life point to Jesus? Am I humble? If I am going to put it all out on the line, I want to be as authentic and vulnerable in evangelism as possible. Sliding into the “pat” answers is often easier and takes less emotional energy. But investing in the soul-searching is what makes evangelism authentic and much more natural.

On the flip side, which aspects of evangelism come naturally to you?

I think that compassion is a huge start to evangelism, and thatʼs something I feel strongly about. Every person on the planet has a sin problem, which means every person experiences pain to some extent. Whether itʼs our own sin, or the sin of another, or simply the fact that we live in a broken world, weʼve experienced the pain of sin. I canʼt think of a better place to start than coming alongside a person, learning his/her life story, and identifying with (not correcting!) whatever is “broken” in her life. While some people will open up at a deeper level than others, it rarely takes anyone very long to complain or grieve about something. The greater the trust youʼve cultivated in the relationship, the greater your opportunity to speak of the One who carried the pain of the world on His shoulders, and the healing He is longing to give to anyone who comes to Him.

I think perhaps one reason I feel reticent during some “evangelism” conversations is because I don’t want to come across as an “obnoxious Christian.” In other words, I want to overcome negative stereotypes others may have about Christians (as obnoxious, judgmental, egotistical, poor listeners, un-empathetic, etc.). What insights do you have about how we can share our faith with confidence while striving to overcome obstacles and stereotypes like these?

Hopefully Iʼve already started to answer this in the above questions. I can get pretty worked up when I think about examples of the negative stereotypes youʼve described, but then I have to check myself and determine if Iʼm letting pride eat up precious emotional energy that could otherwise be used on examining my own heart for authenticity. We live in a day and age when everyone is trying to market something. Itʼs an age of information overload. Itʼs a time when real, live face to face relationships are replaced by virtual social networks on our computers and phones. As Christians, we should embrace the opportunities these provide, but we should also take the time to get to know people, invite them into our homes, let them see how our lives are messy sometimes (or most of the time!) and give them the opportunity to see the difference that Jesus has made. And that because we love them, we long to introduce them to Jesus, too. A great place to start is simply offering to read the Bible with them (i.e. the book of John), and create a safe place to dialogue, ask questions, etc. without any fear of rejection.

How do evangelism & parenting intersect?

I love this question, because there are so many opportunities. Every time we discipline our kids (and be honest, some days it feels like thatʼs all we do), we have the chance to share the gospel. To show how it applies in every day life and pray with our kids. Even the youngest kids can begin to understand that they have a sin problem that deserves a punishment, but that they arenʼt left helpless in their problem. They can understand on simple terms that Jesus took the “biggest” punishment for them, so that they could have a right relationship with God and enter heaven. My kids love imagining about what heaven will be like — a great opportunity to encourage the hope and excitement they have about going there. We talk about the gospel a lot in our daily activities. We talk a lot about how God designed the world to work, and what happens when we make choices contrary to that plan. There are so many opportunities to get kids thinking about God and His salvation plan, and of course His love.

 As you continue to prepare to head overseas, how can we be praying for you?

Pray for our family, that we would have good time management, and extra load of patience and grace with each other during the stressful times, and that we would always keep sight of the reason for our obedience to this call. Pray for Godʼs provision from individuals and churches that will allow us to leave for Italy in the coming months. For our kids, that God would hold them close to His heart in the days of transition ahead. And for me personally, that I would have time to feed my own soul in the midst of caring for our family and ministry needs.

Thank you, Emily! Please join me in praying for the Cetolas as they continue raising support and get ready for their move. To learn more about their missions adventure, head to www.cetolafamily.com. To view the video on their site, enter “italy” as the password.

Of Photons, Saints, and Truth

Many Bible scholars name her as the first evangelist. The very first person, in all of Scripture’s record, who practiced this “discipline” that intimidates me so.

And yet she makes it look so simple, so natural, and very un-intimidating.

She had met Christ at a well. He easily demolished strict ethnic and gender barriers with words of kindness and truth, sending those walls of racism and sexism crashing down. He spoke convicting and perhaps painful truth to her about her life. He offered her living water — deep satisfaction for her soul. And he revealed to her that he was the promised Messiah.

What she did next was so, so simple. She went into town — the community that likely judged and shunned her — and “said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?'”

They listened. Something about her voice, her demeanor, her sincerity drew them. And they began to seek him out.

John tell us that “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:1-42).

Scripture does not record her name, but in Eastern Orthodox church history and tradition she is called “St. Photini.” It is a name that speaks of light.

A photon is the basic unit of light. Hard for me to imagine — but I picture it as a dust mote in a sunbeam. A tiny speck of powerful brilliance, containing the very essence of light itself. Tiny, but shining forth. So miniscule, yet with the power to illuminate the darkness.

This is the image of evangelism I’ve been ruminating on. This simple woman with a checkered past and a life probably full of emotional confusion, simply and vibrantly told the truth about her interaction with Christ. She was a small and “insignificant” person in her community, but she did what was only natural. She invited others, “Come and see!” She, like a photon, was a single unit of light. She shone with the brilliance of Christ and it illuminated others’ hearts.

Let us, too, be people who “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15)


Are we just a bunch of phonies? That’s what many people out there think. Christians are fakes and hypocrites, self-righteous phonies.

There are “Christians” who are phonies – and famous Christians who publicly fall don’t help this reputation.

And then of course, there’s the reality that we all mess up. We all sin. We all will let others down. But this isn’t hypocrisy – this is actually part of our message. We rely on Christ’s grace. This isn’t the kind of perceived phoniness I’m musing about this morning.

Twice in my Christian life I’ve been taught — and encouraged — to be a phony. Both times it was by ministry organizations that I, for the most part, highly respect.

Once was as a youth ministry intern when I took a bunch of high school students to an evangelism conference. Another was as a college student myself when I went to a weekend conference focused on outreach.

In both cases, we received powerful teaching about evangelism. We were challenged, convicted, and truly inspired to share our faith. To step out beyond our fears and be honest and bold. To speak the truth.

And then we were told to lie.

Well, not to “lie” exactly, but to be deceptive.

In both cases, we were given “surveys” to use as we approached people. These were surveys about religious belief. So in Chicago’s Grant park one day and on Ball State’s campus another, I went along with it. We used these “survey” questions to open up conversations. The goal was to lead into meaningful spiritual conversations. And, in some cases, this “worked” and led to great opportunities to talk about Jesus.

But I felt very, very uncomfortable. And it wasn’t because I was chicken when it came to sharing my faith. It just felt wrong. It seemed so different than the bold, truth-telling evangelism we see in the book of Acts.

See, these “surveys” were phony. They were never tallied. The data was never compiled. They were a front. They were a “strategy.” Ultimately, they were a lie.

I just can’t see Peter or Paul using deception to open doors.

In both cases when I participated in these phony-evangelism projects, I was not only uncomfortable, but also young and confused. I trusted these organizations, and much of their teaching inspired me. I wondered if my hesitation was purely a lack of boldness. But I also knew there was something deeper bothering me about the whole thing.

But now as an adult, I have a real problem with it. A real problem with it.

So I guess this posting is about what evangelism is not. It is not about strategizing or trickery or some polished presentation.

Ultimately it must be about something very different. Or it purely IS just phony.

What do you think? What isn’t evangelism? What is? Leave a comment to share your own thoughts and experiences.

(Ironically, as I sit here writing at Starbucks, two guys have just sat at the table next to me. One is obviously a Christian, the other is obviously not. And right now, right next to me, they’re just talking. They’re being real. They’re discussing questions, sharing experiences, listening to each other, truly caring and empathizing. Maybe right now God is sending me an answer to these questions!)

Who made your mouth?

(Friends, thank you for your patience — I’ve been a bit of a slacker on my blog the past month as I’ve been quite busy finishing up a very large editing project.)

June has now begun and this month we’ll be looking at the discipline of evangelism. Perhaps, more than any of the other disciplines, this is one that I feel ill-equipped to write about. Evangelism sometimes leaves me shaking in my boots. I want to start out this month quite candidly: I struggle in this area.

But I bet you do too.

And so I hope that as we journey together, we can be real and honest about the challenges of practicing evangelism — and the wonderful, amazing adventure of stepping out in faith and relying on God’s power to speak truth boldly in our words and our deeds.

So let’s begin with another person of faith who was also shaking in his boots when God called him to speak: Moses.

Moses was a chicken when God called him to go to Pharaoh. Truth be told, I’d have felt the same way.

Moses had all sorts of excuses about why he was inadequate for the task (me too) and fears he imagined barred his way (me too). He was certain he wouldn’t be listened to (I feel that way too).

But God had this to say to Moses: “Who has made man’s mouth? . . . Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).

It is the reminder I need to hear, especially when I feel afraid or intimidated or inadequate to accurately share my faith.

God made this mouth (and yours too).

God crafted this larynx and these lips and this diaphragm and this brain (your too). He gave the ability to speak.

He empowers and guides us to speak through his Spirit (Mark 13:11).

He goes before us, and he goes with us.

He says, as he did to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

And that should be enough.

Lord, grow us this month as we explore what it looks like to share your truth with others. And, we invite you, send opportunities our way that may scare us — opportunities to speak the Good News of your hope and life.