Years ago, while fostering a particularly challenging teenager, a youth pastor made a statement I wish I’d paid more attention to. He said, in essence, “Never jeopardize the gospel.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand his meaning. Unfortunately, rather than pausing to prayerfully unpack his advice, I blindly, and forcefully pressed ahead, focusing on so many issues that felt super important in that season but that I’ve now come to realize hindered my access to the kid’s heart.

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If asked, I would’ve told you, emphatically, of how desperately I longed to help this youth heal. I might’ve even said that I was committed to doing whatever it took to make that happen. But that wasn’t entirely true. In reality, my pride, desire for personal comfort, and aversion to pain frequently tainted my actions and confused and distorted my perception.

As a result, I routinely pushed the teen away from myself, relationship, and true and lasting change. I fear I created barriers between Him and the God able to heal and transform as well. 

A while ago, God reminded me of that situation while I wrestled with Him, in anxiety and angst, over another individual I believed He was asking me to walk beside. I had said some things that felt so necessary in the moment. And if you had asked me then, as the words built within my mind, ready to spill from my mouth, I could’ve provided numerous reasons as to why. I probably could’ve offered Scripture to back up each one as well—fully convinced of my rational. 

And utterly blind to the state of my heart, which I can now see was filled with love, yes, compassion, for sure, but also fear, selfishness, and pride. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV).

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Who is it our heart deceives? You and I. We might, at times, mislead others, but we’re most skilled at fooling ourselves. As a result, we often remain oblivious to our true, and often mixed, motives and are unable to discern them on our own. With Christ, we fare better in that God has given us new life, increased spiritual understanding and insight, and a God-given desire to please Him. But that doesn’t mean our actions and perceptions, our view of ourselves and others, immediately become accurate and honorable. 

Prior to conversion, many of us spent a lifetime absorbing all the false ideas and perspectives of our culture. Negative behaviors and attitudes have in many ways become so ingrained within us, it will take our entire lives for God to replace those lies with truth. 

In 1 Timothy, while instructing his “true son in the faith,” the apostle Paul told Timothy to encourage those in the Ephesus not to get caught up in pointless disputes, adding, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (NIV). 

That’s God’s call for me and you as well, that we would display the type of love that flows from: 

A pure heart: one completely free of sin. I’m not sure if I’ve ever reached that place. But I believe, if I continue to seek God, to meditate on Scripture, and learn to more consistently yield to and rely on Him, His righteousness in me will increase, progressively overpowering the residual ugliness within me.

A good conscience. A deep and growing awareness of what does and doesn’t please God and a commitment to pursue His will and His heart.

A sincere faith. Annihilating every trace of hypocrisy within, asking God to reveal and destroy my hidden agendas while igniting a passion for the things of eternity that are truly worth living for. 

We know, based on who Paul was and what he wrote in various places throughout Scripture, he wasn’t telling Timothy to forsake or downplay truth. Rather, I believe he was saying, “Make sure when you choose to fight, you fight for those things that move you and others toward increased life in Christ.” 

While each component Paul mentioned is an important spiritual trait, it’s the condition of my heart that tends to trip me up most. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s ever truly pure, completely free from selfishness, pride, and all the other self-defeating, relationship-harming sins that so grieve my father and have a tendency to inflict such pain. The more I recognize this, however, the more I remain alert to just how mixed my motives truly are, the more I’m able to prepare, through prayer, Bible reading, meditating on truth, and yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The moment I forget this, or think I’ve arrived at a certain level of spiritual maturity and therefore can quickly rush ahead based on what I already know or have already read, I almost inevitably wound someone else. 

This irresponsible tendency grieves God, inevitably damages others, and deeply saddens me. And while I recognize I’ll probably never experience complete victory over my sin, this side of heaven, by God’s grace, I’m determined to improve.

I want to heed the advice provided by that youth pastor so long ago to prioritize the gospel, God’s free gift of life, above everything else. 

Therefore, I must: 

  1. Seek then following Christ’s wisdom regarding when to speak, what to say, and when to remain silent. 
  2. Learn to doubt my perspective so that I will more consistently seek Christ’s. 
  3. Slow down and recognize that most of what feel so urgent today truly isn’t. (God is rarely, if ever, in a hurry, perhaps because He knows the outcome of that “crisis” today is much less consequential than the state of the individual’s soul.
  4. Regularly invite God to search and then cleanse my heart, knowing He will find gunk there, guaranteed, and that gunk, if not purged, will cause harm. 

Because I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather live with effectiveness than regret.  

What are some ways you prioritize the gospel in your relationships and interactions? Share your thoughts and insights with us in the comments below. And if you haven’t done so, make sure to check out the latest Faith Over Fear episode.

When You Fear You've Blown Your Calling (Genesis 20) Faith Over Fear

Have your sins and failures ever seemed greater than God's grace? Have you ever feared that you've done something to forfeit your calling? In this episode, Carol shares a story about a Christ-follower who, in fear, killed someone. But God's grace reached deep into that prison and revealed a calling greater than a murder conviction.  (Scroll down for discussion/reflective questions.)  Find Carol McCracken: On her website  On Facebook On Instagram Find Jennifer Slattery: On her website Instagram Facebook Find Wholly Loved: On their website Join the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group  Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Facebook Group Discussion/Reflection Questions: What resonated with you most in this episode? Have you ever feared you did something to forfeit God's call on your life? If so, how?  What did Jason Kent's story reveal regarding God's heart? What did Jason's story reveal regarding God's power? What thoughts or emotions arose when Jennifer said that God uses us for His perfect purposes despite our imperfections? What did God's response to Abraham's sin reveal regarding His heart? What is the significance of God referring to Abraham as a prophet? Why might God have had Abraham pray for Abimelech?  What is one step God might be asking you to take after having listened to this episode? See for privacy information.
  1. When You Fear You've Blown Your Calling (Genesis 20)
  2. Faith and Fear (Genesis 18)
  3. Trusting God to be All-Sufficient (Genesis 17)
  4. Courage to Wait on God (Genesis 16)
  5. Trusting in Our Good God (Genesis 15:2-21)

This month has really flown by. I hope you’ve enjoyed each Reach Out to Live Out story shared here. Have they stirred your thinking? Encouraged you to look for ways to reach out with the love of Christ? I’d love to read about how each one impacted you.

I think my favorite was “Head Down” by Nichole Parks. I keep my head down way too often when God says, “Look up and around! Can’t you see my hurting child whom I’ve intentionally placed in your path?”

Here’s a snippet:

“Our community college will accept anybody. I’ve seen the druggies, heard the potty-mouths, and looked away from the risqué. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s keep your head down. Considering we’re approaching finals, I’d say the strategy has worked.” Read the rest here.

As a writer, I also enjoyed Margaret Daley’s story, Fiction That Reaches Into Prison Cells.

“When a woman who worked at a Florida female prison helping the inmates contacted me, I was surprised and excited about the prospects of the outreach for my book. She’d read my Love Inspired, Second Chance Family, and was interested in using that story with the women. Second Chance Family dealt with abuse and some of the women she worked with had gone through it.”

You can read the rest here.

Margaret’s story reminded me I never know how God will use my obedience. I’ve found, His ways truly are well beyond mine, and He’s able to multiply blessings, turning a novel into a conduit of healing, an email into a powerful touch of grace. Sometimes I see the results, other times I must proceed in faith, knowing He has a glorious reason for every command He gives.

Elaine Cooper’s story, Pushing Past Our Comfort Zones, reminded me not to get stuck in a “serving routine.” While it’s true, God wants us to serve in our areas of giftedness, He still expects us to serve “where needed,” maintaining a “get ‘er done” attitude.

Here’s a blip of Elaine’s story:

“Let me be honest— I am not the greatest cook in the world. Thoughts of potlucks at church and Bible study nearly send me into an anxiety attack. I always imagine kindly Christians munching into my culinary creation and assuring me how good it is…until they turn around and spit it into their napkin, hoping not to be noticed! Now, I have never seen that happen, but it is always my fear. Cooking has never been easy for me.”

Read the rest here.

What did you glean from this month’s stories? How did they impact your day? I’d love to read all about it.

I’d also love to know what you’re doing–at your job, in your neighborhood, your city, through texts or emails–to share Christ’s love with a hurting world.

Yesterday at church, the worship leader made an awesome statement. He reminded us it isn’t “Christian vs. the world” but instead, “Christians for the world.” Stop and think about this for a moment.  A long moment. 🙂 Then ask yourself: How can I tear down barriers and build bridges today?

Come back Wednesday to see who won our gift basket and book give-away! (Mary Preston, please email me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com. You won the April book give-away, and I need your address. 🙂 )

Many thanks to May’s generous donors!

On Monday, I talked about leaving a legacy of love and allowing Jesus to transform hearts, and thus communities, through us. I shared a very easy way to have a tremendous impact in the lives of hurting children and youth–look them in the eye and smile–demonstrate acceptance, not rejection; love, not contempt. Today I want to challenge you to take it a step further by building, then walking across, bridges, an action Jesus modeled daily while on earth.

When you look through Scripture, you’ll notice Jesus never stopped at a passing glance. When he encountered the hurting, rejected, or mistreated, He stopped what He was doing and carved out time in His busy day to connect. Because love is a verb, demonstrated by action. Each day, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ, to demonstrate that we truly belong to Him, by how we respond to others.

When our daughter was young, we lived in Southern California. My husband worked with a man who had a teenage stepdaughter. Looking to catch a few free moments to clean house, I asked the teen to come babysit our daughter while I focused on my to-do list. Before long I realized God brought this teenager into our lives for a purpose. Her step-father drank,  profusely, and often called people in the middle of the night (including his boss–not a wise idea) drunk. His marriage was a mess, their home was a mess, and Shaundra* was thrown smack dab in the middle of it.

Before long, Shaundra started hanging out at our house nearly every weekend. She’d nap on our couch, or join my daughter and I as we walked through the neighborhood. Often, she’d talk about how different our home was–no yelling, no fighting…relaxing. She felt welcomed, loved, accepted. 

This went on for about a year, then they moved. A few years later, her step-father died from alcohol-related issues, and I have no idea where Shaundra is today. But I do know while she was in our home, she experienced a bit of the love of Christ.  And each day we interacted, she caught a glimpse of effective parenting. Each evening she spent at our dinner table, she caught a glimpse of a Christ-centered marriage.

About three years later, we moved to a neighborhood with numerous latch-key children. Having spent most of their time raising themselves–or learning how to act by what they watched on television–these children behaved much differently than our daughter did and often I felt uncomfortable. They used language I prefered my daughter not to hear and spoke of things I’d rather my daughter not learn about. As time progressed, I grew increasingly uncomfortable and longed to shield our daughter from these neighborhood girls.

One day, while we were snuggled on the couch, a story book spread between us, our doorbell rang. I answered it to find Anna* standing on our front stoop.

“Can Ashley play?” A smile spread across her face.

Giving my “Mamma-Bear” full rein, I shook my head. “Not today.”

Her smile evaporated and pain registered in her childish eyes. A knife stabbed to my heart at the look of pure rejection on her face and as she turned to walk away I knew instantly–Jesus never would have done that!

Throwing the door open, I called out to her and she spun around, her vibrant smile returning. I invited her in to listen to stories with us, then invited her back for an afterschool Bible study which I launched the following Monday. By the month’s end, I had a kitchen full of girls each Monday evening. We read Scripture together and talked about how much God loved them. We played games and ate snacks.

Before long, this girl started spending nearly every evening at our house. She joined my daughter and I for our nightly story reading, and occasionally her mom stopped in for a chat. I taught the Bible study girls to cook and shortly before Christmas, they cooked a meal for their families, hosted at our house. And during the meal, these girls’ parents caught a glimpse of effective parenting as my husband and I interacted with our daughter. They caught a glimpse of biblical romance as they watched me and my husband respond to one another, and they experienced a taste of the initiating, accepting, all-encompassing love of Christ.

I often look back on that moment in time–the day God presented me with a choice to love or spurn, to build a bridge or a barrier–and I’m so grateful He called me to the table and stopped me from adding one more barb to this young girl’s heart.

What about you? How authentic is that welcome mat placed outside your door and how far will you allow God’s love to reach through you?

Do you have any bridge-building stories to share? Any attitude-changing moments like I had upon answering my door so many years ago? Or maybe you’ve stood in Anna’s place and know what it feels like to be turned away…or better yet, invited in.

As you begin your day today, remember we are Christ’s ambassadors. God expects us to be His image-bearers, to show others what He is like by how we live our lives. Jesus never turns anyone away. How can you demonstrate that truth today? 

1 John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV)

* Names have been changed for privacy purposes.

Love this song in the video below. Listen to the words and make this your heart’s cry today. “I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called me to do myself…I refuse to turn my back and try to act like all is well…I refuse to make one more excuse…” ~ Josh Wilson, “I refuse.”

A few weeks ago, a dear friend posted a heartwarming story on her facebook wall, so I shot her a quick fb message and asked if I could share it with you all. This week, I’ve been focusing on ways to reach out with the love of Christ, whether through prayer, a kind word, or even just taking the time to offer a smile. Last year I took an evangelism class and it really opened my eyes. I learned that the journey to faith is rarely a one time step. Often when people come to Christ, God has already been working in their lives for quite some time. Through a neighbor ten years back who baked pizzas when they returned from the hospital with a newborn. Through a mailman who offered to pray. Through a family member who consistently demonstrated patience, or even a passerby who offered a quick, “God bless you.” Often we’ll have no idea the impact our smiles, prayers, and words have…until we get to heaven.

There are three things I love about Melissa’s story:

1. God had been loving on her, drawing her closer to Himself, and preparing her heart to receive His love, for years.

2. Melissa caught a glimmer of God through the consistent witness of her cousin’s life.

3. Her teacher shared when God laid it on her heart to do so, and the timing was perfect.

One question: What if the teacher had been too busy to go to the coffee shop that day? Or too concerned about offending Melissa to hand her the gospel tract?

The next time you feel God calling you to reach out, stop and think, what if the person He’s calling you to reach out to is praying to Him right at that moment, asking Him if He’s really there, if He really cares, and if He can hear them. You might be their answer to prayer.

And my final thoughts are…when I first approached Melissa, I asked if she could share what God had been doing in her life. Her first reaction was, “Wow, I don’t know. Has He done something I’m not aware of?” But once she’d taken the time to look back, she realized God had been there all along.

Melissa’s story:

On first thought when reading this, I was thinking “Yikes, has He been moving in my life without me recognizing it?” Then I drove home for lunch in a quiet car and thought it over and it came to me clear as day. He has been moving, maybe taking small baby steps with this once skeptic, but nonetheless I am learning that none of us are on the same trek with Him now are we?

About a year ago, my relationship with my cousin Robin was rekindled. We hadn’t been in contact for nearly 30 years. My dear cousin is a true woman of God. Her spirit is always praising Him and in her faith I found something I knew was missing within myself. The more we talked, the more my path was being cleared. In May or June, I purchased my first Bible and began reading. Prayer came naturally although the prayers I send up may be a bit chaotic and jumbled, I am sure He understands and can sort it all out.

To backtrack my journey I should mention, that when I say I had been skeptical it was mostly based on what I now see as a misunderstanding in what it means to be Christian. Having never been surrounded by religion growing up, my vision was narrow, although I thought it wasn’t at the time. From my perspective, I saw “bad” things happening to “good” people. I had a person who I thought I would spend my life with taken away in death. The people I knew who were church go-ers, in my opinion were hypocrits and Sunday warriors who dropped their religion at the church door as they walked out after services. By saying these things, I don’t intend to offend anyone, but to understand my journey I must be honest.

It is with fresh eyes and an open heart that God is working through me the most right now. I am less quick to jump to judgement about another person, because I now understand more. Yes, we are all on different journeys to take us where we are meant to eventually be. I am learning that bad things will happen to good people, but it is part of a larger plan, one that I cannot see but must trust and have faith in. When you read the stories of the Bible, it is filled with those exact types of scenarios. Last year, those kind of thoughts would have never occurred to me and I would instead see only the despair and feel bitter about what I perceived as “bad”.

Once the walls that I had built which were keeping the religious at bay started crumbling, I began to notice more people being drawn to me (or perhaps me to them). In search of a church home, I began attending services at a few different churches trying to find one that fit me best. Now I am still on that search but it is one of the things I want to really focus on this year. Knowing that the more I submit myself to receiving, the more I will be able to give.

The day I bumped into my teacher, Miss Winter (Sue), felt like a culmination of God saying to me “See, I am here.” To have this woman, who was important to me so long ago, be the deliverer of a small Christmas tract about Jesus, and for me to be willing accept it – read it and for her name to be there was more than a coincidence. It felt like a true gift and I accept it.

*   *   *

Jesus offers that same gift to each of us, but for it to be of value, we must accept it. What about you? Has God been working in your life? He always is at work, loving us, drawing us, guiding us. Sometimes we just need to take a moment to step back, and look back, to see His hand. When you do, you’ll find He’s been there all along.