Overcoming fear

We experience fear so often that many learn to live with it and tolerate it, as if fear is immovable.

 
Fear is no excuse for disobeying our Lord’s clear commission to make disciples. If we have faith in Jesus the size of a mustard seed, we can overcome the mountain of fear (Matthew 17:20). 


“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). Romans 14:23 explains, “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.” When we’re plagued by fear, we must confess our sin to the Lord Jesus and receive His unconditional love anew. His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). If we are willing to humbly ask, Jesus is willing to increase our faith and help our unbelief (Mark 9:24). 


All the power we need is available to us as we rely on the Holy Spirit and surrender to Him. He empowers us to be witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). We can remind ourselves of God’s promises to be with us, to empower us, and to draw near to us.
 
When we confess fear and surrender our feelings to the Lord Jesus, we can step out in faith and bold love to witness.
 

Is it really that simple?  What roadblocks have you experienced as you seek to step out of your comfort zone with faith and bold love?

Who are you?

There they sat at an Italian establishment, discussing what they would name their first child. The husband had been reading a book on the Roman Emperor Constantine. And the dad-to-be liked the name Flavius, a hero in the story. His wife knew she needed to think fast. There in that Pizza Hut, she had an epiphany.

On a napkin, she wrote a name, which formed an acronym of her and her husband’s full names. She wrote, “Marcus.” These two were my parents.

In biblical times, names entailed great meaning. They were given with purpose and often prayerfully. A man’s name represented who he was. People usually lived up to their names.

Jacob was a “deceiver.” He “wrestled with God” and was renamed Israel. Isaiah’s ministry prophesied, “Yahweh is salvation!” Joseph, called Barnabas, epitomized a “son of encouragement.” Phoebe was “bright” and “radiant” as she shared the Gospel alongside the Apostle Paul.

Marcus means “mighty warrior.” I have affinity for Ephesians 6, where Paul urges believers to be clothed in God’s armor, so we can engage in spiritual battle. Marcus has been the name of a Roman orator, a pope, a politician, a statesman, and now a news editor and open-air preacher.

My middle name, Arthur, comes from words meaning “bear” and “stone,” and it makes me a namesake of my dad and my Grandpa Pemberton. When Elizabeth in Scripture became pregnant in her old age, her husband was likewise expected to pass on a family name to their son. However, Zechariah obeyed the LORD’s prompting, naming him John, which means “God is gracious.” Constantine is Greek and means “constant” or steadfast.

I strive to live out my name, as a mighty warrior, bold as a bear, steadfast as a stone, constant in the faith, conducting myself in a manner worthy of Christ’s Gospel (Phil. 1:27). What do your names mean?

When seeking to properly place you, people may ask, “Who are you?” I’ve gotten in the practice of answering, “I’m a child of God and a follower of Jesus. My name’s Marcus.” Whether your name means “deceiver” or “Yahweh saves,” it does not determine who you may become.

When you know who you are, you can live confidently. No excuses are needed for a life of surrender to the Holy Spirit. It is for freedom that Christ sets us free (Gal. 5:1). We are not to submit to slavery again. Only Jesus frees us to fully live as He intends. What holds you back from becoming who you could be?

Are you known by extravagant love for Jesus? They will know by our love that we are His followers (Jn. 13:35). Why do some professing Christians talk about seemingly everything except Jesus? Treating Christ like a hobby breaks the heart of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). We are called to love Him and not this fallen world. When we live in His freedom, unbelievers may think our love is excessive. They should.

Remember, they hated Jesus first (Jn. 15:18). He loved perfectly, and they nailed Him to a cross. Out of our union with Jesus flows that sacrificial love, intimacy with the Father, and soft heartedness toward the Holy Spirit. He is our power source (Acts 1:8).

Christ followers have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). We have received new names (Rev. 2:17; 3:12). It’s against our new spiritual nature to act contrary to the LORD’s will. Live in light of who you truly are. When we know who we are in Jesus, we can live confidently in His love, faithfully in His power, and freely in His grace. Believers could spend an eternity pursuing the beauty that becomes ours when we join Christ’s Bride by faith. And we will.

Valentine’s life provides model of holy love

Saint Valentine upheld the sanctity of marriage and the holy beauty of Christ’s Gospel, even in the face of an emperor who made his work illegal.


According to Lutheran tradition, in around 270 A.D., Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage in Rome. The emperor needed soldiers to defend his empire. He believed the loyalties of married men rendered them less effective warriors. Claudius also outlawed Christianity, proclaiming himself the supreme god and Emperor of Rome. 
Valentine served as the bishop of Interamna. He secretly performed marriage ceremonies for couples in his area. According to Roman Catholic tradition, Valentine also partnered with Saint Marius and his family to assist persecuted believers. Some accounts of Valentine’s story include him helping condemned Christians elude imprisonment and execution.

Claudius captured Valentine and demanded he renounce his faith and serve the empire and Roman gods. Valentine refused to deny his Lord Jesus. Awaiting his martyrdom, he continued to preach the Gospel and win converts to Christ. Some accounts record that while in prison, Valentine healed the jailer’s daughter, Asterius, of blindness. Other legends record Valentine and Asterius falling in love. He wrote her a final letter, signed “From your Valentine.”

Though Valentine was imprisoned, he was well liked by Emperor Claudius. He was not condemned to death until he shared the Gospel with Claudius, attempting to convert the emperor. Claudius ordered him beaten with clubs and stoned to death. When he survived this torture, the emperor had him beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome around February 14th, 270 A.D.

The Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated book printed in 1493, includes a woodcut of Valentine with an inscription, calling him, Valentinus, a Roman priest and martyr, during the reign of Claudius the Goth also called Claudius II. The caption explains Valentine illegally married couples and aided persecuted followers of Jesus. 

Roman Catholic tradition records that Pope Julius I dedicated a church near Ponte Mole to Valentine’s memory. For many years a nearby gate, now called Porta del Popolo, also bore his name. It was formerly called Porta Valetini. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14th a commemoration of Valentine’s martyrdom. Valentine is recognized as the Patron Saint of engaged couples, beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, plague, travelers, and young people. He is often pictured with birds and roses.

In the years following Valentine’s martyrdom, zealous priests opposed heathen romantic practices. They used Valentine’s story specifically in decrying one such pagan tradition. On February 15th, girls would write and sign love notes, placing them into an urn. Boys would draw notes and pursue the girls whose names they believed their goddess, Februata Juno, had caused them to choose. 

Present-day Valentine customs more closely resemble this pagan practice than remembrances of a holy man’s ministry and sacrifice. Saint Valentine’s Day was instated for holy recollection and worship. Have our hearts and ears become so clogged with romantic notes and chocolate candies that we hear not the call of Saint Valentine echoing through the catacombs and into our day? “Come out! Be free. Live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Risk all. Defend the covenant of holy love. Uphold Christ’s Gospel at all costs!”

In honor of this saint, let’s proclaim with words and lifestyle the treasure of marriage and the unending worth of the Gospel, a message worthy of our complete surrender and even our very lives.

Five reasons we’re committed to purity

We wait for acceptance letters, job postings, and a baby’s first word. I’ve been waiting and trusting Jesus for a life partner. It was when I learned to rest that He brought me my Eve (Gn. 2:21-22). 


As we prepare for marriage, she and I have established physical boundaries for our purity. We want to share five reasons that we’re committed to upholding these. No matter where you find yourself in this journey of life and love, we pray these underpinning principles will help you.

First, the marriage covenant is the divinely designed context for sexual intimacy. The Lord Jesus created sex to deeply unite husband and wife and to produce children (Jn. 1:3). Children are a reward from the LORD (Ps. 127:3). The lifelong commitment of marriage liberates a couple to be utterly intimate and to make babies. Wedding vows promise future offspring the protection of a father and mother. Jesus commands we wait. His way is the best way.

Second, we are here on this earth to minister the Gospel to unbelievers. The Lord Jesus left His followers with a clear commission to make Him known. His pure Gospel flows most freely from a clean vessel. We preach in the open air that Jesus considers lust adultery in the heart (Mt. 5:28). We share in witnessing conversations that we must repent and trust Christ. Hence, we must also live unadulterated lives of repentance.

Third, our lifestyle sets an example for believers (1 Tim. 4:12). Over the course of our life together, we will influence multitudes. Some look up to us. I’m the oldest sibling of four. My sisters and brother expect me to model Biblical dating for them. Others just notice in passing. We want our example of pure love to point onlookers to Jesus.

Fourth, we refuse to show disdain for God’s grace and mercy. When we least expected it, Jesus graciously bound our hearts together. He’s mercifully protected us thus far. He has poured boundless favor on us through our relationship. He’s revealed to me afresh the passion He has for His Bride—His sacrificial love for the Church. Refusing to wait for intimacy would spit in the face of what He is doing.

Fifth, we honor one another’s convictions. We prayed and fasted together. We drafted physical boundaries separately. When we met to share, whoever had the higher standard set the bar. Guarding each other’s hearts and consciences is an utmost priority. We must be unhindered as we run this race (Heb. 12:1).

Before you enlist to hold us accountable, allow me to issue a challenge. As you wait upon the LORD, consider your personal standards. Have you defined what you will and won’t do? Do you know what foundation your convictions rest upon? Remember it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). If we’ve been freed from sin, we live in it no longer (Rom. 6). I pray our reasons will embolden you in your pursuit of purity. Holiness is His way. As we surrender to Jesus, His Spirit empowers us to walk as He did.

The art of asking questions

“If it weren’t for God, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she said. “Before you invited me to Truth Seekers, I was planning on killing myself.” It’s a story I share often because it exemplifies Jesus’ hand on our ministry in high school.


The Bible club started my freshman year and was called Truth Seekers for good reason. We met together weekly to seek the Truth (Jn. 14:6). At one of our meetings, a student shared the above testimony.

The story started when I asked her a simple question in the hall: “Will you join us at Truth Seekers?” She agreed. She heard the Gospel at our meeting. The Holy Spirit led her to Jesus, who did a saving work in her life. It started with one invitation, one question.

I’m grateful for questions. They enable me to engage in conversation and grow to better know those I love. Questions are an effective tool to use in witnessing (Acts 8). It’s through asking questions that we meet with answers. 

I asked many questions growing up. Momma was gracious: “Now, Marcus, you know the answer to that question. Think about it for a minute. It’ll come to you.” Dad, on the other hand: “Open your eyes and you shall see. If it was any more obvious, the answer’d bite you in the nose!”

Since then, I’ve grown immensely in decisiveness, but I will always ask questions. Questions are important for nearly everything I do as a follower of Jesus. When I share the gospel and preach in the open air, I often begin my message with questions to draw a crowd, seeking to engage those walking by. The Holy Spirit electrifies simple questions and uses them to capture attention and draw hearts unto Jesus with a seemingly magnetic pull.

I’ve been so thankful for the ministries of the Way of the Master and Mark Cahill and their emphases on using questions to engage people in witnessing conversations. Using questions, I bring people through the Ten Commandments to an understanding of their sin, preparing the soil of their hearts to hear the glorious message of the Savior. 

Let’s ask questions and listen intently to responses, because we love people deeply as Christ has first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). When you discover where someone is, you can meet her there and lead her to where Jesus is.

Another week at Truth Seekers, a friend submitted an “anonymous” suggestion card, which read, “Can we have more discussion?” In other words, “Will you ask more questions, so we have opportunity to speak out more?” That suggestion shaped the rest of my ministry. 

Ask questions. What a remarkable idea! Draw the truth out of your listeners. Always submit to the Bible as the absolute measuring rod to evaluate every truth claim. Help others exegete His truth by asking questions.

Ultimately, genuine questions can lead to an encounter with the Living Truth. It’s only the truth of Jesus that sets captives free. When we ask questions, seeking truth, we will find Him. For, He is the Truth, and He is not far from any one who will seek and ask Him (Acts 17:26-31).

Contentment slays the dragon

A wise friend told me of a time when he wrestled intensely with the leviathan of lust. He lived in beach country, where scantily clad people were in no short supply.

 
By God’s grace, he never acted upon his adulterous thoughts. But, as a married man, he marveled at how violently these “youthful lusts” churned in his mind (2 Tim. 2:22). He loved his faithful wife. She was his ministry partner and dearest friend. He was ashamed of the lustful thoughts stewing in his heart.
 
After a long period of confessing his sin to the LORD, he finally confessed to a close friend, who recommended they pray together for the Lord Jesus to reveal the root of his struggle. After prayer, searching Scripture, and intentional listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice, the root became clear.
 
He was discontent with the wife the LORD had given him. She experienced some health issues that made the sexual part of their relationship difficult. He confessed his discontentment as sin, agreed with Christ that his relationship with his wife was a wonderful gift, and repented. He experienced a renewal of contentment, and the serpent of his lust was slain.
 
For many, a root of lust may be discontentment with singleness. To follow Jesus as a single is to be single-heartedly devoted to Him. It is the opportunity to unreservedly pursue intimacy with Jesus. Christ-focused singleness enables a believer to mature into the man or woman the LORD desires and, in so doing, prepare for the possibility of marriage in the future.
 
The Bible calls believers the Bride of Christ (Rev. 19:6-9). His followers are not available to lust and adulterate ourselves to sin. We belong to Jesus. He is our First Love (Rev. 2:4-5).
 
Every sin can be traced back to roots that need to be weeded out—this tangled mess of weeds can include discontentment, pride, doubt, idolatry, and more.
My godfather, an Italian immigrant and master gardener, would say: “A weed is any plant you no longer want to grow.” As long as we nurture and feed poisonous plants, flourish they will…

Guard your contentment in Jesus by telling yourself the truth, praying the issue through, even declaring aloud: “I am content in Christ. I find my complete fulfillment and have my every need met in Him alone!” When we rest content in Jesus, we drive a cross-shaped stake through the heart of the dragon that is our doubt and discontent, spraying weedkiller all over our sin.

St._George_and_the_Dragon-Briton_Riviere

St. George and the Dragon, by Briton Riviere (public domain)