If you’re following my blog (or not), I told the first half of a story a few weeks ago entitled “Uncomfortable”. In it I observed how over the course of several months, I’d come to realize, or rather that God revealed to me, that I’ve been fairly unchallenged in my beliefs all my life. I’ve lived in a very “comfortable” conditions for twenty years. On the one hand, I believe it was a great mercy for my family as we faced several serious hardships. On the other hand I’d started feeling the Spirit starting to move and do something in me and I did’t exactly know what. I was being challenged, but in what area? And FOR what?
No sooner had God begun putting the wheels of some large, obscure machine into motion than did I hear about a missions trip that was being planned for the young adults group at my church. Applications were being accepted and the team would go in May 2013. In my whole life I’d never felt “called” (a feeling or knowledge of a spiritual pull to a particular person, place or thing) to go on an overseas missions trip. Now suddenly I did? But given what I had been realizing and this sudden pull, I applied. I also prayed for a clue as to what all these things meant. God was starting me down some kind of path, but what was it? Things were about to get uncomfortable, but in a really cool way.
In the following days, I would get more clues. But I’ll backtrack a bit first..
The week before I applied, a man named J. Warner Wallace spoke at my young adults group. Mr. Wallace is a cold case homicide detective from L.A. who was an atheist until he decided to apply his skills, experience and knowledge as a detective to analyze the claims of the gospel critically. As a result of his research, Jim became a christian at 35, and then he wrote a book on his findings called “Cold Case Christianity” (I highly recommend him as both a speaker and an author). There were two closely-related concepts he described that have made an impact on me, and were maybe the clues that I had prayed for just days before.
I was unable to go see him speak that night, but I listened to his presentation online afterwards. The first concept he spoke about is one I hadn’t thought of before. I’m actually still chewing on it, but the greater point of it I believe is true and it’s been significant to me. He had with him his bulletproof vest and he put it on. He described how at some point in his early police training, his class went to a firing range where the vest was put on a dummy and shot at. The point of this exercise was to demonstrate how much you can trust the vest. It helped to form a belief in these trainees that the vest would perform like it was designed to. In another story, Jim described how he got called out to an officer-involved shooting (where an officer shoots his/her weapon and wounds or kills someone). The officer had pulled someone over for a simple infraction, and as he stood right beside the driver’s side door, the driver shot at him. At that moment, Mr. Wallace describes, you go from belief THAT the vest will do its job to belief IN the vest. It’s just saved your life because you decided that you had faith it would stop a bullet based on what you witnessed back when you were in training. Now that you’ve actually taken a bullet, you believe IN it. When I heard this concept of belief that/belief in spoken in this way, I started to realize that I hadn’t really, not REALLY, put on my “vest” as a Christian and gone out. I’d never really prepared myself to take a “bullet” for the gospel. I’ve personally lived very comfortably in my mostly-Christian family and my Bible-belt town, and have only occasionally been engaged in conversations about my faith, or applied my Christian worldview to a conversation with participants hostile to that worldview. I’ve been on that firing range but mostly just watched the bullet fly and hit the vest. I haven’t really owned that vest once it’s been on me. I’ve put it on a bunch of times but never kept it on and worn it with pride and joy, or trusted IN it.
The other concept that Mr. Wallace spoke about was this (to paraphrase)- We all have two choices as far as Christianity goes: The first is to give our lives for God, the second is to be an active agent of spreading the gospel. In all my years of going to church I’m sure I heard this message hundreds of times, but for whatever reason, just the timing of the season, this clicked. I’d most certainly taken the first step- once as a child and then a few more as a teenager as I searched. I’d also taken the second step at times, but not really been armed with enough knowledge to know how do so. And, again, I hadn’t really had to explain what I believed or why to anyone, or defend my beliefs all that much. I simply hadn’t had practice. At the same time, I realized I was growing tired of living in the fear of what others would think of me if I became more passionate about my faith. This was possibly more of an issue for me than my lack of practice.
To add one more aspect into the mix, life has been calming a little after some personal losses and hardships that have been MAJOR refining tools to my faith and beliefs. They’ve forced me to decide what my reaction will be in the face of adversity- will I have the courage and strength to not only get angry at God but to listen Him? When I hear, will I submit? And finally, will I then live by the truths I claim to believe and actually apply them whether or not the going’s easy? Long story short, God spoke to me and met me repeatedly during my very darkest hours of those trying times. So when I heard Jim Wallace describe these two choices everyone must make, I started to reflect. I realized that if I never truly dug in on my own, if I was never challenged, either by myself or anyone else, and that if I always let the fear of what other people thought of me have control over what I said and did, that I ran a very real risk of becoming complacent (thank you Steve for that word) in my faith. Yes, life’s adversities might drive me back to God again in the future, but in the meantime I’d be in as comfortable a situation as I’d ever been. I’d be again only putting on that vest when I was challenged by someone else, which didn’t happen often, so when trials would come I wouldn’t be ready at all.
We’re called to always be ready. We’re called to spread the gospel! Complacency is what I was in danger of, and I believe that at least some of the key clues that I’d prayed for came from Jim Wallace’s lessons. This is the journey God has me on: I made the first decision to accept that Jesus saved me from what no one else could already. Through studying my Bible and apologetics, through prayer, and through worship, through community and through solitude, I’m making that second choice. I’m putting on that bulletproof vest in expectation of doing His work and being able to defend it at any turn, whatever my circumstances, whatever my fears, by the grace of God.
One last thing- I also found out just this morning that I was accepted as a member of the Thailand missions trip team. It’s time to get uncomfortable on purpose, both at home and abroad.
For information on J. Warner Wallace’s book and ministry…