What if it all burns up?

I sit in a room full of like-minded people as a like-minded senior missionary gets up and says, “There is absolutely no way you can do this without God’s help.”

While heads nod around the room, my heart whispers, yes you can.

Explorers have done it without Him (or rather, without acknowledging Him) for hundreds of years. Ungodly anthropologists and vile linguistic experts have documented many unknown languages. While staying enemies of God, they’ve made friends with the remotest and most unloved people.

What scares me isn’t that I can’t, but that I can. We all can if we’re gritty and stubborn enough. We can endure the repulsive smells and the harsh people and the vomiting and retching and fevers. Millions of people do it every day!  Most of us, with proper training, can learn to document an unwritten language and teach reading and translate books of the Bible.  

If I don’t set my mind on Christ and handle each day with grace and dignity, if I choose anger instead of compassion, if my heart stops praising and seeking and thanking, if I grow old out there with my burdens instead of His yoke, I’ll do it without Him. And no one will know!

I’ll come back a “missionary hero,” but at Judgment Day, I’ll stand in front of my straw house, sobbing, while I watch it burn up in front of my face.

All those years I could have been adorning my house with gold and jewels, but because I let sin creep in and rule, I built it all with straw. And here I stand ashamed before the God who bought me.  

Whatever you’re doing, don’t be afraid of what you’re building, be afraid of what materials you’re building with.

1 Corinthians 3 – 

“Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”


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Build the Wall

Sometimes we envision faith and action as opposing weights on a scale.

The trick is to get them in the right balance with one another. We don’t want to work too much because that tips the scale and we’re admonished for relying on our own strength. But we also don’t want to work too little because then we’re told we’re lazy and foolish. Godliness, we think, is when faith and action reach equilibrium. When we’re putting in almost double full time hours on a project at work or studying for hours on end, we’re made to feel guilty about it. We’re told we’re “striving”; that we’re working too hard because we lack faith, and if we’d just let go and let God and rest in who he is, he’d provide in miraculous ways.

Worship is not praying and waiting on a miracle when the miracle is within your grasp. Worship is acknowledging that God made things a certain way and then following those ways in willing obedience. Worship is praying and working because we’re supposed to work and use common sense; they’re both part of intelligent design. We worship fully when we fully engage each aspect of our faculties.

What a great example we have in Nehemiah (ch. 4)  and his rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall:

“When Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves. From then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side. During this time, none of us – not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me – ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.”

If we read this story with our modern views of faith, we’d chide Nehemiah for his lack of faith. But modern philosophy doesn’t determine biblical truth. Biblical truth determines itself. And this is an example of faithful action.

Faith and action are frequent biblical complements, so let’s worship with all our created faculties. Let’s strive. Let’s work. Let’s fight – not at the exclusion of our faith but for the completion of it. 

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God.”  – 1 Timothy 4:8-10

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Have your cake and eat it too

I miss being skinny. Three, four years ago while I was teaching I was a size 2, and occasionally I could squeeze into size 0 pants. I killed backpacking trips because I didn’t have a lot of resistance on me. But I was also sick and unhappy. My panic disorder had bested me as an adult, and my nonstop 100+ heart rate and nausea just killed my appetite.

Kids pay attention to the weirdest things. We’d line up to go down to the cafeteria and they’d clamor to see what I was bringing for lunch. “That’s all you’re eating, Ms. Clonch?” “Yep. Ms. Clonch just doesn’t get that hungry at lunch.” I wish I would have told them why.

I wish when a couple kids would go down for their weekly visit with the school psychiatrist, I would have put my hand on their back and whispered, hey, I go to a psychiatrist too.

Ah. so many regrets.

When I miss being skinny, I remind myself I don’t miss the crying and the throwing up and the anxiety. I don’t miss not being able to eat out with friends because of the stress. I don’t miss passing up on fun things because I was afraid.

I’m not disciplined enough to lose the weight I’ve put on (let’s just be real). I still hang on to my skinny pants, and maybe one day I’ll get the motivation to fit back into them. But for right now, I’m happy. my mental health is clear thanks to one tiny capsule a day. My appetite is back to normal. I can say yes to a piece of cake without fear that I’ll have a panic attack and throw it up later. I’m not at risk of dying of a heart attack, and I’m not a glutton. Having thighs has no bearing on my spirituality. My body is God’s temple, and your body is God’s temple too, regardless of our weight. In our love of skinny, let’s not make it an idol.

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The Buddhists do it better

“‘Is he actually an expert in religion?’ the Japanese Buddhist asked.  

I tried to explain that in the West it is not always considered essential that missionaries be well trained in Christian theology.

He replied, ‘I can only say that if we Buddhists send someone to another country to train the people in Buddhism, it is first required that they be experts themselves.’

There is some validity to the expectation of respondent peoples. They believe the one who is sent halfway around the world to convert them from religious systems that have commanded their faith for many centuries should be able to communicate alternatives intelligently and clearly.”

(From David Hesselgrave’s Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally)


The Christian God is a God of great strength and power – a God that takes the lowly and uses them to make his name great, but God isn’t in the business of magic tricks and sleight of hand. He wants us to pray WHILE we’re diligent, not instead of it.

Think about the practical proof of this:

Do you lock your doors at night or do you pray instead?

O ye of little faith!

Dad, do you buckle your baby girl securely in her car seat or do you pray instead?

O ye of little faith!

Husband, when your wife is diagnosed with cancer, do you ask that a man of faith treat her and not a doctor?

O ye of little faith!

Pastor, do you study throughout the week for your sermon, or do you pray the moment after the last hymn ends that you’d just say the right things?

O ye of little faith!

What foolishness. Of course we don’t abandon all common sense in our everyday lives to pray instead.  So why don’t we extend this same thinking to our missionaries? Why can’t missionaries carry logic over to other countries too? Why are missionaries sent over to other countries just because they’re willing, even if they’ve had no preparation? Why are missionaries told in hard times: “Just pray about it. God will bless your work.” Why do missionaries have to stop using their brains in the name of “seeing God work”?

I’m glad that the banner over the gates of heaven doesn’t read “abandon all reason ye who enter here!”

It’s one of the biggest lies of our generation that hard work and faith are mutually exclusive. Where would we be without the combined MILLION hours of study from Zwingli and Calvin to Edwards and Spurgeon and Ravi Zacharias and everyone in between? Had they put down their notes and just prayed, would you have ever heard the messages or read the commentaries or even be half the Christian you’re striving to be today? Would you? Check your fear at the door. It’s okay to say no. It’s not that God’s not capable, it’s that he hasn’t chosen to work that way. Let’s honor him by working the way he’s laid out for us to. And that’s hard work and faith. Let’s be saints AND soldiers.

2 Timothy 2:16 – “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the Word of Truth.”

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Inadequacy and Honesty

It doesn’t matter who remembers your name a hundred years from now, because Christ will never forget it.

Your worth isn’t found in how many people clap for you as you walk across the stage to graduate.

Your worth isn’t found in how many guys like you.

Your worth isn’t found in how easily you get along with other people.

Your worth isn’t found in how many friends you have.

Your worth isn’t found in a number on the bathroom scale.

Your worth isn’t found in how much you can open up to people.

Your worth isn’t found in your ability to overcome shyness.

Your worth isn’t found in success.

Your worth isn’t found in the acne on your skin.

Your worth isn’t found inside or outside your comfort zone.

Your worth isn’t found in what your parents think of you.

Your worth isn’t found in how easily you make conversation.

Your worth isn’t found in how awkward you are.

Your worth isn’t found in your grades.

Your worth isn’t found in accolades.

Your worth isn’t found in how much of a leader you are.

Your worth isn’t found in how well you can sing, write, speak. run. work. exist.


It’s not just found in Christ; your worth IS Christ. My worth is Christ. God, I am yours. And since I am yours,

I am loved.
I am loved.

I am good enough, because Jesus is good enough – because his robes are mine. I wear white, not because I’m pure, but because He is; not because I have no sin, but because He washed it away, and because He chooses to hold my hand.

God. holds. my. hand.

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I’m so over being a Proverbs 31 woman

I wouldn’t say training with New Tribes is difficult per se, but I would say it’s heavy. Nate and I and our team will learn a language that no outsider in the history of ______ tribe has ever learned. We’ll use our training to match sounds with symbols, put down their language in written form, teach them how to read it and write it, teach them how to teach others. We’ll share the whole story of the Bible with them for the first time in the history of their heart language. They’ve heard bits and pieces of various religions in a common trade language, but never in their first language. We’ll translate the Bible for them. We’ll train pastors in the truth of the Word. We’ll teach them how to recognize and reject unsound doctrine that comes in the form of the Catholics and Charismatics and the Muslims who try to tickle their ears like Timothy talks about. And eventually, little by little, we’ll tip toe backwards until we’re gone and they’re self sufficient and they don’t need us. They’re developing and preaching sermons in Romans by themselves like total ballers. And they’re discipling others; they’re raising their children in the truth for every generation until Christ comes back!

*I’m saying “we” loosely. I don’t aspire to be a woman pastor over men.

But what if I teach them the wrong things? What if I was too interested in watching Netflix than in my preparation for this and so I’ve missed points in my theology or I’ve not given a sound defense against witchcraft and sorcery and the other things they’ve been involved in for so long? What if I don’t translate parts of Paul’s epistles accurately because I missed the nuances because I was lazy back in America? God will hold me accountable, not because I didn’t pick the best words for translating the crux of the passage and, dang it, Laura, you’re so dumb, but because way back when I consistently threw my time away. And at judgment day, we give account for our time.

There’s a misconception in Christianity that God just wants you to be willing, and that’s all he requires. Not hardly. If you’re going to go out there and represent Christ, you had better know what you’re talking about; otherwise you’ll make a mockery out of Christ because of your ignorance. And that’s happening all over the world right now. One of our teachers at school doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind us of this.

“How will you help them take every thought captive to obey Christ if you don’t truly understand and appreciate what is holding them captive in the first place?”  

“Your Sunday school answers won’t work out there. The fortresses Satan’s built around them over centuries aren’t made of sand. 

BUT the weapons of our warfare are divinely powerful for the destruction of forces.        2 Cor. 10:4

For some reason we love to sit around and ooh and aah at the Proverbs 31 woman, but what we need are more 2 Timothy 2:15 women – “Study to show yourself approved…rightly dividing the word of truth.”

So I guess it’s time to get started.


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God, make my feet beautiful

Before we came here, I thought the reason our training was two years was to teach us the ins and outs of phonetics, grammar and linguistics; how to learn an undocumented language from indigenous people; how to translate and all that jazz. One year in, and I’ve learned that’s the easy part, relatively speaking, and that’s not why we’re here for two years. We’re here for other things.

We’ve spent hours upon hours learning about the nature of animistic religion, and I’ve learned a million new things about the complexity of making disciples in other cultures.

We’ve read and talked about the intricacies of various religions, and practiced thinking through “how would you combat this minute detail to the people powerfully enough to defeat it?” As we hear about all these new gods during class I keep thinking, whoa. This is totally opposite of what God really is like!

If they only knew.

And it never once has been a thing of oh, yeah it’d be nice if God is who you think he is, but he’s actually like this. It has always, ALWAYS been, oh, if you only knew! he is so, SO much better than you believe him to be!

How much we take it for granted that the God who created this world is good. He could have been evil and unfair, and we wouldn’t have been able to do a thing about it.

The following examples are oversimplifications, but they’re common themes in many belief systems –

Tribal societies constantly try to commune with ancestors to help them during times of grief. The people find oneness with them because their ancestors were there once and can understand what the living are going through. Oh, but Jesus, that’s why you came to earth and clothed yourself in flesh! Because you know what it’s like; because when we pray to you, you know what we’re going through. You get it. You’ve been here. We have camaraderie with you.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies all have a creator God, but he is distant, uninvolved and uncaring. God, you wept for us; you sent your only Son to buy us back. You banished us in paradise, but you spent the entirety of Genesis – Revelation pursuing us. You love us incomprehensibly.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies believe that if you bother the creator god with anything that’s not dire or urgent, you’ll invoke his wrath and he’ll kill you. God, you want to know our smallest cares and our deepest desires; you never get tired of hearing our voices. You long for us to talk to you.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies teach that women or other marginalized groups are born with an evil spirit. But we are created in the image of God himself. We have honor and worth and dignity. We are beautiful and prized and worth more than our ability to bear children. We have inherent value.

But who will tell them?

How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

God, make my feet beautiful because right now they’re calloused and ugly.

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