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?

Divine appointments

Sitting aboard a 6:30 a.m. Megabus, I was overcome with the reality of the sovereign power of God. Lightning illuminated a dark sky. As we drove through a pouring rainstorm devoid of thunder, I recalled the morning’s events.

I’d planned to take a 5:30 a.m. Brown Line train to make my bus with wiggle room. The day before, I worked from morning till midnight, showered, and set out clothes with excitement to visit my sweetheart and family over New Year’s.

I slept through my alarm and sat up in bed at 6 a.m. in a daze. I dove from the top bunk and confirmed my bus would leave at 6:30. My thoughts raced as I hurried around my room: could I catch a later “L” train and still make it? The train schedule didn’t cooperate with mine. Of course, a taxi! I was struck at that moment with a bolt of truth. The LORD was answering my prayer offered up the day before: “Lord Jesus, as I go, set divine appointments for me to share the faith.”

I flew down the hall, onto the elevator, and out the front door. Abduhl, my Muslim cab driver, spotted me flailing my arms and splashing through puddles down Wells Street.

As he hit the gas toward Union Station, he asked if I was studying religion at Moody Bible. Our spiritual conversation accelerated.

He told me about his religion and warned me not to go as a missionary to his home, Somalia: “They won’t listen, and it’ll be a waste of money.” Abduhl asked me, “Who is Jesus to you?” I explained, Jesus is God in flesh, and He died to defeat death and conquer the devil (Jn. 8:58-59; 10:30-33; Col. 2:15). When it came time for payment, the fare was half what I’d expected, and I’d kept my first appointment. In the rush, I’d left a few items in my room, but I’d also left a Gospel tract and my email with Abduhl.

I boarded a crowded bus and filled one of the few remaining seats. The open spot beside me was soon taken by Josh, the tech guy for a creative nonviolence group in Chicago. He and his wife were also traveling for the holiday. He’d heard of Moody and was gracious during our few minutes of conversation. I asked if he planned to sleep on the bus. When he nodded yes, I noted his organization’s website and gave him a Gospel tract with my email. He thanked me and agreed to consider my message. Appointment number two kept.

My itinerary said I’d have only five minutes to make the transfer onto the bus that would carry me home to family. I’d heard these buses were often delayed. I sat in the dark, wondering if I’d make it. In that moment of anxiety, I surrendered to the LORD’s sovereignty. The Living God, who woke me up on time for my Gospel-sharing appointments, would lead and guide me safely to His intended destination with or without an alarm clock.

We rolled in about half an hour early, and I shared the Gospel with a few people at the bus station and a non-practicing Jew named Mike during the final leg of the journey. Each appointment had been purposefully set by my Heavenly Father. When I arrived, I learned some Jehovah’s Witness friends of the family wanted to talk about theology. “Can I set an appointment?” a beloved family member asked. I knew an appointment had already been set on the Lord’s calendar. On the return trip, I kept appointments with a confused college student named Andy, John from Mexico, and Samson from Japan.

Could it be that my temporary challenges were necessary in the glorious outworking of God’s plan to draw these people nearer to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Our present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). The King of the universe turns darkness into light and makes the rough places smooth (Isa. 42:16). He’s trustworthy and in control.

Lessons from Nonna Maria

Nonna Maria, my maternal grandmother, is 91 years old. She and her husband, Nonno Ignazio, were married 44 years and 4 months. They emigrated from Sicily to Rochester, NY in 1956, over 50 years ago. Nonno passed into eternity in 1994.

 
Nonna worked as a seamstress for 20 years. She gets an $82.42 monthly pension because of her efforts. Most of her coworkers were Italian and her boss spoke Spanish, so they got along communicating without English. After decades in America, Nonna still speaks broken English. We speak Italian with her in our home. She loves to tell stories of her life in Italy.
 
Nonna’s mother, Giuseppina, was a generous woman of faith. When she cooked for her family, before they ate, she and her daughters would bring bowls of pasta and bread to those living on the streets in their village. One day, Nonna Giuseppina arrived home with only her slip on. When questioned about her appearance, she explained she had met a homeless woman. She knew she could buy or make herself a new dress, but that poor woman could not.
 
Nonna told of her mother faithfully attending church every weekend. When the children were young, she and her husband would attend mass at different hours, so one parent was home with the babies. When her husband traveled for business, Great-grandmother brought all her children to church with her. Nonna had nine siblings. At that time, two were still babies.
 
When the children grew noisy and restless. A woman sitting in the pew behind leaned forward to complain. Nonna’s mother told her, “I wanted to come to church. My husband’s on a business trip. If you don’t like the noise, go home.”
 
Nonna tells another story of her mother walking along the cobblestone street in their Sicilian town, warmly greeting everyone she passed. As they walked on, my Nonna, then a young girl, finally asked, “Do you know all these people?” Nonna Giuseppina answered, “No. But, the LORD knows all about them, and He wants me to greet them and give them His blessing.” Everywhere we go, we should be about the Father’s business. Everyplace you go, endeavor to bless it for Jesus. Be His witness, His ambassador, His representative.
 
As a boy, I’d often spend weekends at Nonna’s house. One weekend, I brought an empty notebook and asked Nonna if we could cook. Together we made everything from pasta sauce and chicken cutlets to chocolate cookies. I recorded these treasured recipes as best I could, trying to discern how Nonna’s “pinch” or “dash”  translated into standard measurements.
 
Once after Nonna came to live with us, she and I were watching a TV special about the persecuted church. A young Chinese girl refused to spit and step on an image of Jesus. Following her example, the rest of the children at her school stood firm in their faith. All the children were martyred. As the show was in English, Nonna did not understand. But looking up from her chair at my tears, she began to weep with me for our fallen brothers and sisters who laid down their very lives for the Lord Jesus.
 
Nonna says we are to live “tutto nel Signore,” meaning, “all in the LORD.” Nonna keeps it simple. When I ask her what she believes happens after we die, she says, “If you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven; if not, you go to Hell.” She’s right.
 
I enjoy sharing these stories and lessons from Nonna. The Bible commands us to honor the aged. Proverbs teaches that gray hair is a crown of splendor for the old (16:31; 20:29). It’s good to be old. It means you’ve endured. If you’ve trusted your life to Christ, old age means you’re closer to Heaven.
 
While you’re alive, learn from those who have lived longer than you. Ask questions. Learn to be a wise listener. In those conversations, be bold in sharing the gospel of Jesus. It might be someone’s last day on earth. Redeem the time. The old have wisdom to share. Let’s listen.
 

Nonna has taught me to hold my life in an open hand and to seek the will of Jesus. She’s often said she would love to be at my wedding and to kiss my babies “se Dio vuole”—if God wills. Let’s flesh out our faith, seeking the will of Jesus that we might perform it and honor Him in all things until our last breath.

Nonna Maria, pictured at age 90
(photo by Joshua Harrison, Audio Scripture Ministries)

 

Bear much fruit

My Momma came bolting up the stairs nearly in tears. She was ecstatic. Something important had clearly transpired in her life. Why the excitement? Why the emotion? What was happening? She proceeded to explain in decibels that demonstrated the masterful design the LORD used in creating the human ear.


“It’s my fig tree!” she exclaimed. “It’s finally produced figs—three of them!”

How long and patiently she had waited for her fig tree to produce figs. My godfather Padrino Gino, a Sicilian immigrant, had given her this treasure two years before in the late summer. Growing figs is a time-honored, Italian tradition. Mamina planted it in an elephantine plastic pot and watered regularly. It displayed nothing but leaves for several years.

You started to wonder, “Is fig season ever coming?” She explained that she told the tree it would be cursed if it didn’t produce. A few short weeks later, her efforts paid off in the form of three plump, tasty figs.

In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus approaches a fig tree, looking for fruit. He is hungry but finds only leaves. He curses it, saying, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately it withers. Mark 11:13 adds the detail that it was not fig season.

According to Evangelist Ray Comfort, there are only two proper times to preach Word: in season and out of season. Many, who stall, delaying for the exact proper moment to share the Gospel, neglect the Scriptural command to witness and preach the Word in and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). There is no excuse for neglecting the ministry of the Gospel. We are called to be prepared. We must love, know, and study the Gospel so deeply that it flows from our lips with ease. Believers will continue to discover the glorious depths of the Gospel in Heaven as we pursue knowing Jesus for all eternity. On earth, we must rely on His Holy Spirit to be ever prepared to share His good news.

Jesus taught that true and false prophets are discerned by their fruit. Those without good fruit are cast into the fire of Hell. This fruit is more than good deeds. Jesus explained that unless our works flow from a genuine, personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus, they are worthless (Mt. 7:15-23; Lk. 6:43-45; 13:5-8). Not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” and does good in His Name will be in Heaven. The true believer has surrendered his life to Jesus, and his life, transformed by the Holy Spirit, evidences it.

Paul urges professing believers to examine themselves to ensure they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). John the Beloved’s first letter was written as a test we can use. He penned, “I write these things to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). James reminds us that a fig tree doesn’t produce olives, and a pure heart doesn’t praise and curse (3:9-13). The way we speak and live evidences our true heart condition.

Momma has placed her fig tree in the garage now to protect it from the coming frost. Last season, she covered it with a cardboard box in the garage away from the draft of the door. Once a month, she gives it a cup of water. This year, it’s blossomed so large that she may wrap it with a box and then cover it with a blanket. The leaves will all fall and only the stem will remain.

For those who live in falseness and pretending, the Bible gives a solemn warning. When their lives are called upon to produce figs seemingly out of season when they don’t expect it, their disobedience will be brought into the light, and they will be accountable for their neglect and ultimate fruitlessness. Be connected to the True Vine (Jn. 15:1-5). Bear much fruit.

Two of Momma’s first figs (7-12-10)

Awake, O sleeper!

It was Dec. 15th of last year. I was resting on my top bunk in our Chicago dorm during the earliest hours of the morning. It was cold out there. Suddenly, I was jolted awake by a loud pounding at our door.


An officer entered the room and shouted instructions: “Wake up! Out of bed!” We drifted sleepily out of bed. My exhausted roommate could only mutter, “I need pants. I need pants,” over and over again. The officer demanded we quickly evacuate our room.

I fumbled tiredly through my drawer. “What do I need to bring?” my numb mind wondered to no avail. Thankfully, I thought to put on my glasses. But that’s all I grabbed. I left behind my keys and ID. All the while, the soft reassuring music of my “Bedtime” iTunes playlist sang on the computer. My roommate and I had slept through the fire alarm. Most of the building had already evacuated.

The campus security officer wanted to know our names. He reported us into his walkie-talkie: “Marcus Constantine and Jordan Gilbert found asleep in their beds while the fire alarm rang.” I wondered if our sleepiness made us indirectly guilty of insubordination. Thankfully, there were no lasting repercussions for our slumber.

The officer again goaded us out of our warm room. We took off barreling at top speed down fourteen flights of stairs. Suddenly, the oddity of the situation hit me. There I was donning a pair of black dress shoes below my orange pajama pants and my heavy winter jacket. My roommate modeled a pair of old sweatpants and flip-flops. We were thoroughly unprepared.

Just when we reached the main lobby, security gave the okay to return to our rooms. We joined a crowd of chilled, groggy men, who had been evacuated from their comfy beds. My roommate and I hauled our confused bodies back up the fourteen flights. I used the railings to pull myself up, as my legs were thoroughly disoriented and went on strike for the night.

In the physical, I climbed back under my covers and drifted back to sleep. In the spiritual, I’d received a taste of what it’s like to be caught sleeping when an urgent call is made. Hear Ephesians 5:14, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” The chapter urges hearers to imitate God, live as children of light, expose darkness, make the most of every opportunity, and submit out of reverence for Christ.

We must wake up from slumber, for the end of all things is near (1 Pet. 4:7). Our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11-12). Jesus will return soon. Be ready, O unbeliever, and rise from the dead by surrendering your life to Jesus. Don’t be caught sleeping when the judgment bell tolls. Awaken, O believer!  The night is far spent; the day is at hand. 

Are you snoozing through life? Do you enjoy your pillow and your blankie too much to rise, shine and be a bold witness of the Gospel? Are you sluggish to open your mouth and share Jesus? Are you too sleepy to make Him known to a dying world? Are you so busy that you have no time for God’s Word? Are you too tired to awaken, to be watchful and vigilant for your Lord? Will you not wait one hour with the Lord Jesus in the garden as He prays? He’s interceding for you (Jn. 17; Heb. 7:25). How much in your life is truly for the cause of Christ? How much is for yourself? Are you coasting through this life? Are you asleep? Rise.

Laurie leads Chicago Harvest Crusade

Greg Laurie led the Chicago Harvest Crusade in Allstate Arena on Sept. 24-26. According to Harvest.org, 47, 600 attended the three days of free-admission meetings. 105, 773 participated via webcast, and 4,758 professed decisions to follow Christ. Among musical guests were the David Crowder Band, the Katinas, Kirk Franklin, and Skillet.


John Lee, sophomore pastoral ministries major, attended the Friday opening session. He said, “The event brought out a sense of unity in local church outreach.” Before the event, monthly prayer meetings were held at area churches, who partnered with Harvest Ministries.

Lee recalled, “Seeing old and young, ritzy and poor, and all ethnic groups coming publicly to take a first step of faith was breathtaking.” He added, “As churches put heart and effort into connecting disciple-makers with each one, the seed of life could still be cultivated and harvested. It’s never a waste to go all out for the sake of the Gospel!”

Michelle Gesualdo, junior evangelism and discipleship major, attended one of the volunteer training sessions in late August and served as a follow-up decision worker during the altar call at the Saturday session. Laurie shared his testimony, interweaving a retelling of the prodigal son parable. Gesualdo commented, “There were a lot of appeals to emotion. He did talk about God’s love for us and sin, that we have violated God’s Law.”

She expressed concerns about aspects omitted from Laurie’s message, saying, “I’m confident he acted out of love for people and passion to see them come to Christ. But, our desperate state before a holy God was not clearly illustrated.” Gesualdo questioned, “How can we say the Gospel is being communicated accurately if essential elements like the gravity of sin, Hell, condemnation, and repentance are omitted?”

Lee stated, “I was reminded that these events are not pep rallies for Christians but a way for lost people to see God worshiped and love extended. If that doesn’t happen, we might as well call it off.”

Gesualdo urged, “We must make sure we don’t just talk about the benefits of salvation. Jesus always talked about the cost of discipleship. May we seek to love this generation enough to communicate Scriptural truth in a way they comprehend, ensuring the truth is never compromised.”

She reported, “The place was packed with teenagers. When I surveyed the audience my heart was broken. It was when I was a teenager that people first talked with me about Jesus Christ.” She prayed with one teenage girl, who responded to the altar call.

Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel called the Sunday session, “the most full night yet” with “standing room only.” It was titled an “Evening of Hope,” during which Stephen Curtis Chapman and Jeremy Camp performed and together with Laurie spoke of experiencing death in their families.

The deaths of Chapman’s young daughter Maria, Camp’s first wife, and Laurie’s adult son were remembered. These men testified to the eternal hope they have in Jesus. Laurie explained everyone will either spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. He concluded, “Help has a Name, and it’s Jesus Christ.”

Hundreds flooded the floor in response to an altar call given by Greg Laurie during the Sunday session of the Chicago Harvest Crusade at Allstate Arena on Sept. 26 (photo by Marcus A. Constantine).


Did God really say…?

“Did God really say…?” hissed the slimy serpent with fork tongue tickling the ears of the unsuspecting beauty. Tantalized, Eve smiled and was deceived. Adam stood nearby, watching wide-eyed. Knowing the consequences, he willfully believed the lie and ate the forbidden fruit.


That snake is still whispering sugarcoated lies. Satan, the deceiver, loves to take a little bite of truth and coat it with venomous deception.

Eve should have responded, “No! I will not stand in judgment over God’s Word. You’re twisting and perverting what He said! His Word is my final authority.”

Instead Eve took the devil’s bait and deemed herself the authority to decide between God’s Word and the devil’s word. She was unconcerned with the specifics of God’s Word and their application to her practice. The serpent had gotten the general gist of what the LORD had spoken. Eve chose to believe an outside source above the direct revelation of God. She decided she knew better than the LORD.

Professing Christians fall into the same trap by claiming to love and honor the Bible and then disobeying it. When you allow the lens of your human experience to define your interpretation of His Word, you allow external sources to trump God’s utterances. 

This fleshes out all over Christian belief and practice. Concerning spiritual gifts, “normal” is what we experience in America and not what the Bible describes. Some explain away the Biblical doctrine of a literal, physical Hell, because it’s unpleasant to think and preach about. And the Biblical mandate to pursue holiness is forgotten by those, who claim, “Well, we’ll always fall into sin, right?” For the sake of the golden calf, pragmatism, many deny the authority of the Word. The question “Does it work?” is asked more often than “Does it please Jesus?”

I’ll zero in on a specific example. Learn the principle, and apply it to all areas of your life.

“Did God really say, ‘Share your faith with the woman sitting next to you’?” hissed the serpent to the Christian on the El train. After all, you haven’t established a relationship. She hasn’t observed your lifestyle. She might be offended.

True, the Bible urges believers to genuinely relate to others as human beings. People are treasures—created in the Image of God—not projects. In the context of a witnessing conversation, the Bible models asking questions and listening (Acts 8:30-35). Genuinely care. Don’t prepare your rebuttal while others speak. Listen.

Evangelism isn’t true to its definition unless it includes using words to directly share the good news of the Gospel. Evangel means, “good news.” Our excuse that we’re sharing through our lifestyle doesn’t hold a thimbleful of water. We’ve allowed a deception to climb into bed with us.

“You’ve got to wait at least two months before you share the Gospel,” hissed the serpent. That’s absurd! Christ is my life. I can’t go two minutes without mentioning the Name of Jesus!

Remember Paul? He became all things to all people that by all possible means he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22-23). It’s because of Paul’s active, verbal witness to the Gentiles that most of us non-Jews have access to the Gospel today. Paul preached in the open-air at the Areopagus meeting, he had Gospel conversations on public transport, he shared Jesus at family gatherings, he wrote and distributed Gospel literature.

Most people recognize genuine concern. Sometimes it’s surprising to receive it, but most often, people love to be loved. Showing concern for someone’s eternal salvation in a Gospel conversation is an expression of the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31; 13).

You’re not loving, if you let someone go to Hell unwarned. You don’t really have your eyes fixed on Jesus, if you don’t see people as valuable and in need of Christ. Charles Spurgeon said, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that.”

There’s a small nugget of truth in relational evangelism. But according to Mark Cahill, 88% of witnessing conversations in the New Testament were with strangers (www.markcahill.org). You may not know how to share your faith. If you’re a believer, the Holy Spirit in you will drive you to learn how. He’ll teach you about Jesus and guide you into all truth (Jn. 16:13-14).

Believe the truth of the Bible—God’s literal, inerrant, authoritative Word—above all methods, ideas, and doctrines of men or devils no matter how “pleasing to the eye and good for food” they may appear (Gen. 2:9).

(Visit www.WayoftheMaster.com — an evangelism ministry that the Lord Jesus has used to better equip me in Christ-like, Biblical witnessing.)

Receive God the Holy Spirit

“Oh, Marcus!” exclaimed my roommate, barreling into our dorm room. “My professor said something you would love. He started class by saying, ‘The Trinity is not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. We cannot neglect the Holy Spirit!’”


I smiled. My roommate was right. I do long for professing believers to stop grieving and neglecting the Holy Spirit. Too bad after that class, the professor never mentioned the Holy Spirit again. Must have slipped his mind.

Due to the excesses of some, many professing Christians fear the Holy Spirit and His manifestations. Sure, they might not admit it outright or use that exact wording, but they resist Him.

Reactionary living is deadly. We must always draw our theology from the Bible, not experience. We must embrace the Word and the Spirit.

It must be remembered that Holy Spirit is a co-equal member of the Trinity, the promise of the Father, the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 2:33; 16:7). The Holy Spirit is God (5:3-4). Forgetting Him is a form of blasphemy.

More than a century ago, A.J. Gordon of the Student Volunteer Movement questioned, “Have we forgotten that there is a Holy Ghost, that we must insist upon walking on crutches when we might fly?”

Many of the disorders plaguing believers today—fear, stagnancy, anemic faith—result from neglecting the integral role of Jesus’ Spirit. Christ said it would be better for us when He left, because He would send the Spirit (Jn. 16:7-15). By His Spirit, we will do greater works than Jesus did (Jn. 14:12). Without Him, we’re dead. Intimacy with the Holy Spirit yields His fruit, holiness, power, and passion for the lost (Gal. 5:22-26; 2 Thes. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:2; Acts 1:8).

It’s remarkable. When Jesus came in flesh, He was not recognized (Jn. 1:10-11). Now that He’s sent His Spirit, mankind has given Him the same cold-shoulder treatment.

Most great people of faith have a common element in their testimonies, a personal empowering encounter with the Holy Spirit. Think about Torrey, Tozer, Ravenhill, and Moody. Seeking to experience God is utterly Biblical. We should starve to hear His voice and pant for His nearness.

I issue a challenge: set aside some time in the coming days for a vital appointment. Put it on your calendar. “Meet with Holy Spirit.” Ask Jesus for His Holy Spirit and don’t stop asking until He comes. How will you know when He shows up? Oh, you’ll know. He will bring His gifts and His power for your witness. You’ll never be the same again.