The Bravest Person in America

I called my family into the living room and told them we had to have a meeting, my voice pinched and shaky.

They looked nervous.

I took a deep breath, “We have family pictures this weekend and we have to talk about outfits and coordinating them,” I said as I pointed to the wild assortment of clothes spread out on the couch.

“I’m serious. We haven’t had them in two years and this is important and I need your help!” They looked at me like I was crazy. I half felt it.

I felt a meltdown coming for days. I had held it together with off-and-on company for months, my husband in Africa when school started along with three carlines, a car wreck, broken appliances, speaking engagements, the pressure of our Mercy House fundraising Gala, stress from turning in another book manuscript, and now, I was going to lose it over clothes.

As I stood in my living room trying to get a grip on reality, the words hanging in my entryway caught my attention. You make me brave. They made me think of the young mother who approached me at the ladies retreat where I spoke recently about Mercy House who waited to tell me, “how brave I was.”

I looked at the clothes and I could almost hear the words mocking me.

the bravest person in america

Little did I know, the next day the bravest person in America would remind me that life is about more than clothes and busyness and everyday stress. It’s about more than my momentary troubles and sometimes hectic life. It’s about more than me.

The headlines read “School Shooting-Again,” and we flinched at the senseless deaths. This time, the news hit closer to home as we learned those who admitted to being Christians were killed on the spot.

I don’t know about you, but I have to wonder just how brave I would be with a gun pointed at my head. I wonder if I would hesitate or declare my faith boldly-knowing it would mean death. I want to believe I would lay down my life to stand for Christ, but it scares me just to think about it.

I’ve imagined what it must have been like for the second and third and fourth person to answer that questions as their classmates died at their feet.

I go days and weeks without thinking of losing my life to find it or picking up my cross to follow Jesus. I’m a Christian. I choose to follow Christ but I don’t know where He will lead me.

And we don’t have to travel to an oppressed country or militant region to find out, we just have to send our kids to English class at the community college down the street.

It’s terrifying to think that by raising our kids to follow Jesus, we might also be putting their lives at risk.

I wonder about this country and where it’s going and I worry about my children’s future.

No, I’m not brave.

But I know I live for something worth dying for.

As we stood and posed for our family pictures, I didn’t think about our outfit choices or how we looked or the crazy month we had. I looked at my husband and kids and whispered a prayer of thanks for the fake smiles and awkward poses.

And I asked God to make me braver.

Love Your Neighbor As Your Selfie

Pauline is 18 years old and mother to almost 3 year old, Melvin.

She’s known more sorrow and difficulty in her short years than most know in a lifetime.



No one plans on being born into the world’s largest slum in Kenya or suffering at the hands of an abuser. No one asked her if she wanted to get an education or become a teen mom.

But impoverished and oppressed girls like Pauline don’t often have a choice.


She momentarily pondered these thoughts in her heart as she waited for her Fair Trade Friday group to arrive. It was finally her turn for the group to visit her home.

But this wasn’t just any social call, no, it was a day she looked forward to for many months.

She smiled as she thought about how far God had brought her after graduating from Mercy House (Rehema House in Swahili). Who would have thought she would be nearly done with her first year of vocational school and leading a Fair Trade Friday group of twenty mothers in the slum? She had taught the group how to make jewelry and turn their paper beads into bracelets and necklaces and hope. The money was changing their lives.

But it was something more that kept them going.


The group found comfort and friendship together and hope in Jesus. Suffering knows no boundaries and each had struggled for years to feed their children, provide school fees and pay rent for their one room homes.

But together, well, they were better together.

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If You Dislike Change and All It Brings

Guest post by my sweet friend, Kristen Strong

I have 3 precious children, and like all good mamas, I believe they are the most stunning works of art God ever created. Of course they have their faults too, and when it comes to not fulfilling certain responsibilities, each one is eager to use his or her differing limitations as excuses for a free pass.


For example, one of my sons is a chronic forget-er. From taking out the garbage to walking the dog, he has a difficult time remembering particular duties. Thankfully, his teen years have brought improvements to this department. But from time to time, he still pulls out this winner of an excuse when held accountable for repeatedly forgetting his responsibilities:

“Mama, I’m just a forgetful person. How can you scold me for something I honestly forgot? It’s not like I maliciously did it on purpose.”

Nice try, son. Nice try.


When it comes to accepting the change in our lives, I believe a lot of us view the challenge like my son views his forgetful nature. We see the change itself as a steely gray, concrete limitation to thriving, not something to work through or around. Not something to flip over and study as something God wants to use for us rather than against us

We see the change as the end of the story rather than a part of it.

Certainly, it’s easier to thrive through a limitation when it’s something on the small side like forgetting a household chore. But what if the limitation looks like a broken trust because of a change in relationship? What if the limitation looks like a downgrade in your living situation because of a change in employment? Or a disruption of your plans because of a change in your health or the health of a loved one? How do we keep these looming limitations from swallowing us and our ability to thrive?

How do we hang on to belief that God wants to use change for us rather than against us?

At times I have crossed my arms and allowed the limitations brought on by change to turn me bitter and disgruntled. I have complained till the cows came home and wished things were different. I have refused to believe God’s promises and character, instead believing I knew better. Too often I expect to have ultimate control in my life, and change with its limitations prove I do not.

In my own desire to make peace with change, this is what I’ve learned: Life’s limitations are God’s invitation to change my expectations.

In one form, limitations are boundaries. But in another limitations are wide-open fields where I acknowledge my own weakness and accept I need Jesus to go the distance where I cannot. They become a fruitful garden spot for me to reflect on God’s believability rather than on what I’ve lost because of my life change.

281612_Strong_Pins4Colossians 2:10 tells us, “In Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is head over every power and authority.” He gives us fullness of good things and rules over that which tries to interfere with those good things.

So if change brings a limitation in the form of rebellious kids, Christ is head over the authority that says you’ll never have a restored relationship.

If change brings a limitation in the form of a job loss, Christ is the head over the authority that says you won’t be able to find another position as good as your previous job.

If change brings a limitation in the form of a dangerous diagnosis, Christ is head over the authority that says worry and fear will do you in.

He is head over every authority that is a fear stalker and hope stealer. Christ is the bridge between your expected outcomes and God’s best outcomes for you.

Yes, while change may introduce new circumstances into your life, the same unchanging God is working abundant good for you and in you. Your life change—and its tag-a-long limitations—are not the end of your story.

God’s grace and goodness are.

May we expectantly gather hope as we hold onto His limitless love.
Strong_GirlMeetsChange_3DBio: As the wife of a career Air Force veteran, Kristen Strong speaks from the heart of a woman who has experienced change in many makes and models. Many of her life experiences, as well as stories of others and stories from Scripture, can be found in her just-released book Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions. In this hope-filled read, Kristen invites you to see all the ways you are loved and cared for in the midst of change. She walks alongside you as a friend, gently ushering you toward a new view of change, one that meets you at the crossroads of your own sense of anxiety and God’s sense of purpose. Read more about the book at and find out here how you can get the book’s small group study guide for FREE.


Kristen and her husband, David, have three delightful children and enjoy their home under the wide blue skies of Colorado.

Thanks to Revell Publishers for sponsoring this devotion today.

The Inconvenient and Uncomfortable Truth of the Gospel

You’ve seen the refugee crisis in the news.

The pictures, the video footage, the heartbreaking stories. You’ve read about the unthinkable choices, the danger, the suffering. And if you’re like me, you’ve found them hard to ignore.


It’s a helpless feeling–wanting to do something right here, right now, but not knowing how to help or even what to do. I get it because I feel it, too.

I feel the same urge to act when I read about what Planned Parenthood does with babies or when I hear about a teen girl who chooses survival prostitution because she really has no choice or mothers who offer their child dirt cookies to stop the hungry stomach pangs.

I don’t have a solution to solve all these issues; most are too complicated for me to understand. I’m not political and I don’t have the expertise or experience to offer sound answers on borders and boundaries or the persuasive ability to turn the pro abortion tide or enough money to give hopeless girls and mothers options.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. That’s not an option.

“Whatever you do will not be enough, but it matters enormously that you do it.”  Gandhi

No, I don’t know always know what to do, but I do know I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, pull my family close and say just because it’s not happening to us, means it’s not happening.

I don’t want to turn away from the cry of the hurting.

I don’t want fear to govern what I do or don’t do.

I don’t want to be like the Christians that decided to sing louder to drown out the cries of the Jews stuffed into a cargo train passing by the church on their way to a concentration camp.

I don’t want to only surround myself with people like me because it’s safe and comfortable.  I want to teach a hindu woman how to crochet, I want to meet a buddhist refugee at the airport. I want to be friends with people who don’t agree with me, who have a different color skin, serve different gods, who choose an abortion or a homosexual lifestyle.

The inconvenient and uncomfortable truth of the gospel

I want to fill my life with people who need Jesus. Because I have Him and I want to share Him.

I was surprised by the amount of people who are questioning helping refugees because they might be Muslim. There is a danger in only wanting to help people who are like us. Christians aren’t just called to help Christians, we are called to help those who have a need, and maybe when we lend a cup in Jesus’ name, their need might be met and they might meet Him, too.

I can’t help but think of how Jesus stepped into crowds of people who were nothing like him. He sought out those who were unloved, unworthy and unsafe.

And the crazy thing is people walked miles in the desert sun to hear the inconvenient truth of The Son. Everything about the Gospel is uncomfortable. It is unattractive. Unappealing. Jesus asks us to risk our lives for it.

Maureen and her husband Oliver, who run Rehema House (the Kenyan partner to Mercy House) are staying in our home this month. It is Oliver’s first time in America and it’s humbling to introduce our great comfortable country to someone who has never been here or is new to comfort. When he saw our kitchen faucet that also detaches as a sprayer, he said, “This place is like Heaven.” It’s a convenience I’ve never even stopped to consider.

And when we stopped into one of the largest church’s in our town, his eyes grew wide at the enormous buildings, coffee shop and restaurant, bookstore and the huge children’s indoor playground. He paused to read the bulletin boards offering yoga classes, soccer teams and half a dozen other fun activities. And his question pierced me deeply, “Does this church preach the same Jesus?”

Because we’re so comfortable it’s hard for this Kenyan man who lived in a slum less than two year ago, sometimes wondering where his next meal would come from, to recognize the One who said it’s better to lose your life than find it.

When we look closely at the hard sayings of Jesus, He doesn’t say protect yourself. He says deny yourself. He doesn’t say get comfortable because this road is easy; He asks us to give up what we have. He doesn’t say love those who are like us, He tells us to love our enemies.

He doesn’t tell us to build this great, comfortable life filled with ease because we deserve the American dream. He doesn’t tell us to do what is easy, He says take up your instrument of torture (cross) and follow me.

God’s goal isn’t our comfort or convenience. It’s His glory and He often has to get us uncomfortable and inconvenienced to reveal it.

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Dear Church: It’s Time To Wake Up and Live A Faith Worth Dying For

Labor Day Sunday is notorious for the most poorly attended church day of the year.

We had a busy weekend with a high school football game on Friday night and an Astros baseball game for some needed family time on Saturday and some house-cleaning and grocery shopping in-between. We might have even slept in this morning with much of America, too, but I happened to get up early and read this stunning article about Middle Eastern Christians who are defying ISIS and terrorists with their faith.

And I couldn’t go back to sleep.

While we sometimes have a hard time dragging ourselves to church, people who love the same Jesus are losing their homes, their children, their lives for the Church. While we wear crosses around our necks and hang them on our walls, there are people taking up their cross and dying because of it.


If we were to visit Iraqi and Syrian refugee camps today, do you know what we would see? The cross. Hundreds of them. This symbol of death that has nearly cost refugees their lives, is also the defiant banner they wave. It’s a battle cry to the enemy. I can almost hear their heartbeat: You can kill my family, rape my wife, abduct my daughter, kill my body, but you cannot have my soul.

“This is the Christianity of the first century. Jesus is not only worth living for, He’s worth dying for. And the strength of their faith and the strength of their love is in defiance of all that hate,” Johnnie Moore, author of Defying ISIS said after visiting refugee camps in the Middle East.

After I read these piercing words, I’ve never felt more wide awake.

Most of these refugees we see in the news trying to escape terror aren’t poor, forgotten people. They are middle-class families who own homes and cars and have college degrees. Most aren’t much different than us-they love their family and they want to take care of them. And we are fools to think just because it’s not happening here doesn’t mean it’s not happening somewhere. Or that it can’t happen here.

   (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

The article goes on to tell the story of an archbishop who had to leave in the middle of the night and leave everything behind. He left without a Bible. He left without any extra clothes. His church was spread all across various refugee camps. And he said, ‘I’m an archbishop and I have nothing. I have no church. I have no Bible. I have no future. All I have is Jesus.”

Nearly 6 years ago, I stood in a hellhole and met a boy who said almost the same words to me, “All I have is Jesus.” I remember thinking, I have Him, too, but in America, He’s not enough for me. I need comfort and ease. I need the American Dream. I need more. It was the day that I realized Jesus wasn’t enough for me and I’ve been trying ever since to shake myself awake. To live a faith worth dying for.

“ISIS has price lists for their slave markets that characterize the slaves by religion and by age. And so you can buy a Christian or Yazidi girl from one to 9 years old for $170. These are the worst crimes against women and children that we can ever remember seeing,” the article explains. “The world will have the opportunity to remember those who stared down the hell of ISIS with the love of Jesus.”

This is happening on our watch, in our world, to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It’s time to shake ourselves out of our comfortable slumber and live a faith worth dying for. Church, it’s time to wake up.

Living our faith out loud without regret will lead us to action. Here are some things we can do today to link arms with the world:

  1. Read this important post; join this new community : We Welcome Refugees and send much needed items to Greeks who are doing just that (courtesy of Ann Voskamp):11221571_1066683033343870_4951160334144202167_n
  2. Wear a love mercy prayer bracelet as a reminder to pray for the oppressed women and girls of the world. Every time you see this simple bracelet, it’s a reminder to pray and 100% of the money goes to Mercy House who is working with groups that are being directly impacted by the evil terror of ISIS. Or host a family service project with the bracelets.
  3. Get involved in Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Programs (look for the program in your state). Not only does this organization help settle refugees from the airports into their new lives in America, they also assist with fostering unaccompanied refugee minors.
  4. Support The Refugee Project. This is the ministry that our family has been a part of for the last 18 months. Houston is expecting a big influx of refugees from Syria in 2016.

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Seeing In The Dark

My life, the ministry we are giving our lives to, every good thing has come from a small, obscure, even unimportant place. It’s been one little yes in the dark after another… each one guiding me to where I am today. Maybe that’s why I identify with Nancy’s words today. I hope you will, too.

Guest Post by Nancy Ortberg, author of Seeing In the Dark

Have you ever done any kind of remodeling job? A car, a room, a house? To be sure, there are points of excitement in these projects. When you first get the idea, imagining what the improvement will be. Perhaps drawing out the plans or putting on the first coat of paint.

But the plumb line? Nope. No reason for excitement there. It is a small moment in the overall scheme of rebuilding. It’s important, of course. The plumb line does vertically what a level does horizontally. It makes sure things are straight. No question this is important. But it’s not worth throwing a party over.

But God told his people to rejoice at the sight of Zerubbabel when he showed up with a plumb line in his hand. The verse right before this one helps us understand: “Who despises the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10).

We want big things. God is a big God. But here, in the small and quiet of a plumb line, he is working again. At a point at which we might miss his presence, he reminds his people to rejoice. This small moment is a big sign that God is at work.

Do not scorn this moment as unimportant. Do not show contempt for it being “less than.” Do not disdain it or look down on it, for it is a sure sign that the work has started.

seeing in the dark

Small, God says, is not unimportant. It is the very building block of important. It’s how important is created. It’s when a man whose ex-wife poisons every conversation she can to anyone she can chooses a civil response to her. It’s small; it doesn’t win the battle against her. But it is moving his soul in the right direction. It’s when a student, anxious about a test, studies and prays, forgoing the unethical means others around him are using to prepare for the test. Making that small decision sets his choice-making on a course for integrity. It’s just a moment, but it’s a good one.

It’s the stuff a great life is made of. A woman on her way to work leaves just a few minutes early so as not to rush. This enables her, when she has to stop for an elderly pedestrian, to move not to exasperation, but to peace. That small moment ushers in the Kingdom of God as much as any sermon we will ever hear.

It is not negligible; it is hope. It is not worthless, meaningless, or unimportant. Rather, it is the starting gate going up. It is the celebration of the race begun, and we are a part of it. It is a small thing, in which all things are possible. The Kingdom of God leaking out into the world.

Thank you Tyndale Publishers for partnering with me to share this devotional today. 

Nancy Ortberg is the Director of Leadership Development at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, in Northern California, and the author of Seeing in the Dark: Finding God’s Light in the Most Unexpected Places and Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, Lessons in Non-Linear Leadership.  A highly sought-after speaker, Nancy has been a featured presenter at the Catalyst and Orange conferences, and has been a regular contributor to Rev! Magazine.  She and her husband, John, live in the Bay Area and have three grown children: Laura, Mallory, and Johnny. Connect with Nancy on Twitter and Facebook.


Seeing in the DarkIn her much anticipated follow-up to Looking for God, Nancy Ortberg takes readers on a journey that began thousands of years ago. From an ancient cave in Turkey to the California coast, Nancy highlights the often unexpected, sometimes imperceptible, yet always extraordinary means God uses to light our way through even the most painful and challenging moments in life.

4 Relationships Every Child Needs

He was about the size of my 7-month-old son, but my Food for the Hungry guide told me he was a 5-year-old. His engaging smile drew me in to his shy handshake. He curled into a laughing ball as the orphanage director tickled him. I thought his contagious giggle must have resembled the singing of God’s angels in heaven.

Then I learned he would soon die from an incurable lung infection. He had contracted the disease on a desperate trek across a Somali desert in search for food. His parents didn’t survive the trip.

That moment—my heart broken and my understanding of the world turned upside down—forever changed me. I wanted to fix my new friend. My guide told me to let go, return home and encourage Americans to help others like him by funding projects and sponsoring children.


Food for the Hungry empowers some of the world’s most vulnerable mothers to better care for their children’s physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional needs.

In that short encounter, God began using Food for the Hungry to teach me (and, ultimately, my son) that poverty—whether physical, spiritual, emotional or intellectual—is caused by broken relationships in four areas. No human is whole without these potent bonds, so it’s important that we parents help our children develop them. Here are some ideas about how you can nurture them in your children. [Tweet this]

1 – Model a healthy relationship with God.

People who are poor in spirit usually will be poor in other ways. God designed the relationship with Him to be our most important link.

Deuteronomy 6 and 11 tell us to love the Lord, obey his commands and teach our children about His teachings by: “Talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Tell your kids that God made all of creation. Talk about His beneficial instructions for staying healthy–and model that behavior in your own life. Help them notice and appreciate how God has blessed them. Let them see you studying the Bible, praying, journaling, appropriately confessing your sins.

2 – Show your children how to love and respect others.

Caring people often exude generosity and compassion.

Romans 12:10 says to: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

The American culture has moved away from this teaching, evidenced daily on television sitcoms and news stories. As a parent, you can counteract negative cultural teachings by insisting that your children follow your lead in your behavior toward others.

Don’t allow your children to insult others, teach them about the power of their words, recognize and praise the people around you for how God has made them without suggesting that one person is better than another. Teach your children to manage conflict and give kudos for positive conduct.

3 – Teach your children to care for God’s creation.

People exhibit biblical stewardship when they correctly care for wildlife and the environment.

The book of Genesis tells us that God put humans in charge of caring for creation. Yet, the soil in many areas of the world is so depleted that it no longer can produce nutritious crops. Water is so polluted that it makes children sick.

Teach your children that God created everything and manifests through all of creation. Get them used to being around and properly treating animals. Model biblical stewardship by picking up trash and conserving water. Take your children along when you recycle harmful chemicals—unused medications and used engine oil, for example—at appropriate facilities.

4 – Create an atmosphere where self-confidence can flourish.

A child with a healthy self-esteem is less likely to fall victim to cultural lies. Children gain self-esteem by knowing they are made in God’s image and individually loved and respected by Him and you.

In his book, Have a New Kid by Friday, noted psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman outlined the ABCs of cultivating a healthy self-esteem in children: Acceptance (listen and ask questions to show you care about their interests and concerns rather than criticizing), Belonging (allowing them to take part in decisions, supporting their involvement in activities such as sports and music) and Competence (resist the urge to be over protective or do things that children can do themselves).

foodforthe hungry2Food for the Hungry has seen the profound impact of people reconciling these four relationships. Whether you live in a Nairobi slum, a Beverly Hills mansion or a middle-class neighborhood anywhere, we want to help you bring these connections into harmony in your life, to equip you to better instruct and nurture your children. We’ve created a free Bible study to get you started. You can use it in a group or on your own. Download 4 Relationships That Will Make You Whole right now. [Tweet this]

Download the Bible Study Now!

Karen Randau works at Food for the Hungry is Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion is to help the world’s most vulnerable children to thrive and reach the potential that God designed for them. Her Africa encounter set her on a path to raising a generous and caring son, who is now a young father.

Thanks to Food for the Hungry for partnering to share this post with my community.

Why We Need Rest & Solitude {And What That Looks Like For Me}

“Solitude and stillness create space for the spirit of God to speak.”

As soon as my pastor said the words, I started squirming.

I’m terrible at resting, being still and seeking solitude. I like to go and do, rather than stay and be.

I’m an expert multi-tasker and I tend to overload my plate. Most days I rock my To Do List but it’s totally the boss of me. I tend to run on less than half a tank and I feel weary often.

Yeah, so resting makes me restless.


Yet something about his words made me long for quiet and solitude. And I kept feeling pulled toward the small inner voice saying, “Come to me, you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Because doers can only do so much.

He went on to talk about Jesus’ need for solitude, so much so that he separated himself and spent time alone with His Father. And if the Son of Man needed to create this space, how much more do we?

I took a good long look at my life and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d rested well, completely unplugged from the noise and got alone for hours–days–just me and Jesus. It’s time most of us can’t afford, but if I’m honest with myself, I know this is mostly an excuse. If I can squeeze in a girl’s weekend once a year, I can surely make time to be alone a couple of days with God.

By that point during the sermon, I was begging for a quiet corner to confess. Why is it that we think we can give to others without first receiving what is freely given to us?

se, I have to be still and quiet.

Before I made it to the car that Sunday afternoon, I answered that email and said, “Please, let me come and rest.” Honestly, three days alone on a solitude retreat intimidates me. But it also excites me. I can’t wait to create the space for God to renew and speak to my soul.

How are you resting? Do you carve out times of solitude to be alone with God?

Continue reading over at (in)courage. . .