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Let Freedom Ring

The coronavirus crisis has been eye-opening to many people in many different ways.

Some have become more aware of the dirt in their home and been compelled to do more deep cleaning. Still others have been awoken to their great dependence on household paper products and have decided to start keeping a secret stash of toilet paper in the basement – just in case.

For me, the coronavirus crisis has opened my eyes to freedoms that I took for granted.

While watching governors shutter businesses, I’ve thought long and hard about the fundamental principles of life and liberty that were won with blood, sweat and tears. As senators and representatives have argued over legislation, I’ve mourned the fact that the rights brave men and women died to protect could be so easily lost.

The events of the last two weeks have certainly been saddening. Within days, America has become a country I don’t even recognize. Instead of the home of the brave and the land of the free, we’ve become the land of “social distancing” that believes it is “safer at home.” Could this be the same America I grew up in and the country I call my own?

As much as I long for our nation, and all the world’s nations, to be free from tyranny and the stifling control of government, I have been reminded during these past few weeks that earthly citizenship is temporary. Whether or not we live as free people here is not the end all be all. Whether we live as free people in the life to come is what matters.

Earthly freedom in a nation is hard to gain and easy to loseBut eternal freedom in Christ is simple to gain and impossible to lose. This is why it is of critical importance that we do not place our hope in the liberties of this world for they are temporary and can be taken away in an instant. With one virus, our rights can be entirely dissolved.

But freedom in Christ cannot be taken away.

There is no virus or government that can ever undo God’s deliverance because Jesus ensured our liberation with His own blood, sweat and tears. What He accomplished on the cross cannot be dissolved by any power on earth. When Jesus rose victoriously from the grave, He broke our chains once and for all so that we need never again live enslaved to sin and death.

There is only one way to eternal freedom and it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the true Deliverer who gives true liberty. Through Christ, we have the right to live as children of God and citizens of Heaven. Jesus releases us from the worry and concerns of living for this world and sets us free to live at peace knowing that we are only visitors on this earth. We are just passing through, taking every opportunity to tell the world about Jesus while keeping our eyes on the everlasting Kingdom of God where true freedom rings.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:36

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Fear Not

“You should be afraid.”

My neighbor’s words took me aback and I didn’t know quite how to respond. I was just being lighthearted, trying to infuse the coronavirus pandemic with a little “social distancing” humor. Apparently, she didn’t find my joke comical. I would have tried to pick my jaw up off the sidewalk, but I was too stunned to think that clearly. Her violent reaction to my harmless banter left me completely speechless.

When I finally found words, they were lame. “Are you seriously telling me I should be afraid?” She confirmed that she was indeed dead serious and then expounded, making it very clear that I was not only a fool – I was offensive, too.

I walked away from that exchange feeling like both the victim and the perpetrator of the crime.

The mix of emotions was unsettling and, in the hours that followed, I struggled to shake them. While replaying the scene over and over again in my mind, I felt like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, as she lamented her inability to come up with zingers on the spot. But it wasn’t a “gottcha zinger” that I wished I would have produced in that moment. It was a “God’s got this witness” I kicked myself for missing. I wanted to rewind time and go back to the sidewalk so I could tell this neighbor that I’m not afraid because I trust God and His perfect providence. I joke, banter and laugh because I am at peace knowing that God is in total control. There is no need to fear the past, present or future because Jesus has already won the ultimate war – the war for the sinner’s soul.

Had my facial muscles and brain been firing on all cylinders, I would have gone on to tell this woman that I learned not to be afraid of death, sickness and uncertainty in the fires of disease. Then I would have undoubtedly expounded, explaining how, two years ago, I was sixty-eight pounds, living with a “comatose” blood pressure reading that caused many a nurse to go ghostly white. I would have told this woman that, against all human logic, God carried my body throughout that storm, making it possible for me to stand before here today as a living testimony to His sustaining and overcoming power. If only I had confidently and joyfully told her that I don’t need to be afraid of a virus because I know the Great Physician!

But, more than a physical story, I would have told her about Jesus’ story that makes it possible for anyone to live free of fear – regardless of what storms they’ve faced in the past.

When Jesus hanged on the cross of Calvary, He bore all of our sins, shame and burdens. He took eternal death to the grave and, when He rose again three days later, He left it there. When Jesus resurrected, He opened the door to Heaven so that every man, woman and child can join Him there forever. And all He asks is that we accept Him and turn our lives over to Him. Pretty good trade off, don’t you think? We surrender our earthly life – fears and all – and, in return, He gives us eternal, abundant, overcoming life. Jesus graciously takes our heavy load upon Himself and gives us abounding hope and unshakable assurance instead.

Followers of Jesus can endure every earthly problem and pandemic with peace and confidence, knowing that their Savior has already overcome this world. They can smile, laugh and experience joy in the midst of suffering and uncertainty because their greatest fear – the fear of eternal separation from God – has been put to rest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t speak any of those glorious truths to my angry neighbor and since I have a feeling she’ll be social distancing herself from me in the future, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to share what I so wish I would have said in the moment. Fortunately, God’s ability to save my neighbor (or any of our fearful neighbors) is not limited to my ability to recite a spellbinding testimony on the sidewalk. He does not need my words to do His work. And although I hope to witness to His majesty with more power, joy and love in the future, I know that He has already forgiven me for the past. The moment I sought His mercy, He extended it without delay, graciously assuring me that there is nothing added to my record of wrong that can’t be washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Nor is there anything I said or left unsaid that His Holy Spirit cannot overcome.

The more I’ve pondered the scene on my humor fail, the more I’ve been compelled to pray for my neighbor. I cannot undo what was or was not said but I can take the situation, my regret and my hopes for this woman to God. He knows my heart and He knows her. And, what’s more, He can restore, heal and deliver us both.

So, that’s my prayer for her. May God restore her soul, heal her heart and deliver her from all her fears.

 

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

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God is on the Move

“We live in uncertain times.”

If the year 2020 had a mantra, that line would be it. With this new decade has come a fresh awareness of the reality that, seemingly overnight, life as we know it can be turned into life as we never imagined it could be. In the blink of an eye, our world can turn upside down.

When we turn on the news, we’re confronted with gloom and doom. We’re told to practice “social distancing” and stay away from restaurants, gyms, and stores until further notice. At the grocery store, we’re told that no one knows when the toilet paper will be back in stock and meat is nowhere to be found, either. As for churches, they’ve closed their doors along with business that have been told to close up shop and go home. Indeed, these are very uncertain times. And no one knows how or when they will end.

Well, no one except God.

When we open our Bibles, we are comforted with the good news that God is in control. Our present circumstances are not taking Him by surprise. He’s known about the coronavirus since before time began. And, what’s more, He’s actually allowed it. In His perfect providence, God permitted this pandemic because it plays a role in His grand plan.

Make no mistake, God is getting our attention. He is allowing entertainment to be shut down to silence distractions. He is permitting this quarantine and using it to recalibrate heads and hearts. By way of coast to coast cancellations, He is purifying the church of its fascination with bright lights and coffee bars. Without a doubt, God is on the move but He’s not moving like any of us would expect. In fact, He’s moving in the exact opposite way we humans would expect. God is moving in the stillness.

As it so happens, today, March 17th, is St. Patrick’s Day – a day usually marked by boisterous crowds and rowdy behavior.

Interestingly, the St. Patrick himself wasn’t one for such beer-infused merriment. He was actually more interested in being still, as evidenced by one of his many writings in which he penned Psalm 46:10 this way:

“Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.”

Behind the scenes of the coronavirus pandemic, God is up to something truly extraordinary and it can be summed up in St. Patrick’s writing. Be still and know that He is God.

As entertainment is silenced and distractions are shut off, be still and know that He is God. As the go, go, go of daily life comes to a screeching halt, be still and know that He is God. As the consume, consume, consume of our world suddenly stops, be still and know that He is God. As the awareness of this earth’s uncertainty becomes acute, be still and know that He is God. As the news protects fear into an unknown future, be still and know that He is God. As the mystery of what tomorrow will bring hangs in the balance, be still and know that He is God.

God is on the move, awakening, reviving, and saving. God is on the move, purifying, cleansing and sanctifying. Make no mistake, God is most certainly on the move and I, for one, can’t wait to see what He’ll do next. Heaven knows, I don’t have a clue but I do know that He is God and that all I am asked to do is simply be still.

Be still and know that I am God. 

Psalm 46:10

 

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Wash Your Hands… And Your Heart

While the whole globe is in hysterics, I just keep wondering, do we really need this many reminders to wash our hands?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the coronavirus. If you didn’t find out about it on the news, then you might have discovered the pandemic while standing dumbfounded in the empty toilet paper isle of your local grocery store. Or perhaps you were notified when your email inbox was inundated with a flurry of messages about “coronavirus precautions.” Or your child is no longer allowed to attend school. That last one makes me question who’s behind this whole coronavirus hysteria. I have a feeling it’s middle schoolers who are secretly high fiving in collective victory.

But, more than any of those germy thoughts, my mind has been wondering a far more impactful question: what if people took Jesus as seriously as they are taking the coronavirus?

I’m convinced that if people were as consumed with Christ as they are COVID-19, we wouldn’t have a global fear pandemic. Instead, we would have an international faith explosion! There wouldn’t be a frantic run on toilet paper (sorry Charmin) but there would be great revival of praise. Schools wouldn’t be shutting down (sorry students) but more churches would surely be opening their doors. While out and about, you probably wouldn’t see many people dawning hospital masks. On the other hand, you would definitely see more people shaking hands and even exchanging hugs.

If we as a global community, took the eternal Jesus more seriously than we take an earthly virus, our entire world would be transformed. If we paid as much attention to safeguarding our spiritual well-being as we are paying to protecting our physical health, our communities would be turned upside down.

During His earthly ministry, when germs were running rampant and viruses were no joke, Jesus told his followers, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”(John 14:1)

Notice that Jesus did not say, believe in your toilet paper or your hand sanitizer or your face mask. He also did not say that we are to believe in man’s ability to come up with a vaccine or the government’s quarantine regulations. What we are told to do is actively guard our hearts from being troubled while believing in the unshakable foundation of the Almighty God.

If you bought a lot of toilet paper, I’m sure it will come in handy, but it won’t save your soul. If your kids are off of school, I do hope that measure is effective for keeping them healthy, but it won’t make their spirit well. Only Jesus can do that. Only the Son of God who died to cleanse our hearts and make us whole can protect us from the greatest virus of all: the sin that destroys our eternal lives.

So, don’t just wash your hands. Let Jesus wash your heart.

Bring your sin and stain to the foot of His cross and let Him purify you from the inside out.

Drop your fear and welcome in abundant faith.

Pick up praise and rejoice as all panic falls away.

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Nothing But the Truth

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a pen (or put my fingers on a computer’s keyboard) to write about life with a chronic illness. But my silence has not been on account of absence. My silence has been on account of fear.

Since moving to Nashville, I’ve shied away from typing about, talking about or testifying to the reality of my disease out of fear that it will define me and this new season of my life. The last thing I wanted when I made this move was to have sickness follow me. Illness had been my shadow for long enough and I wanted a fresh start with a new identity that didn’t include a devastating disease and debilitating ailments.

So, I tried to hide from the reality of my present suffering. I took the tree falling in a forest approach, reasoning that if I didn’t acknowledge my health struggles, maybe they would cease to exist. I did everything in my power to make myself and others believe that my sick days were dead and buried, going so far as to write my disease’s obituary and celebrated its defeat. In my desperation to turn the page and begin a new chapter, I disallowed myself from giving voice to persistent pain and lingering physical dysfunction that plague my daily life, arguing that no one needed to know about the storm brewing on the other side of my smile.

I thought that by rejecting my reality, I could reinvent my identity but, instead, I wound up removing myself from the peace and confidence of God. I began living in a state of denial which, as I came to learn, is like being buried alive. Denial is like trying to have a funeral for that which isn’t actually dead.

From inside my body’s lively grave, I’ve heard symptoms whispering in my ear with a troubling voice that can’t be ignored or outrun. “You’re living a lie,” the voice says, “you’re withholding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your life. You’re trying to write a new reality – one that God hasn’t given you yet.”  

By trying to keep my circumstances a secret, I slipped into the destructive territory known as “the double life.” Broken on the inside but “pretty much fixed” to the outside world; revealing my struggles only to those closest to me while telling the masses “I’m doing well.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in wearing a smile and having an upbeat attitude but those qualities aren’t meant to mask the truth under a cloak of denial. A smile and positive outlook can’t be the façade for trying circumstances. If that’s the foundation for a cheerful disposition, then it isn’t truly genuine. A sincerely joyful countenance isn’t just a face to hide hard circumstances; it is a spirit of faith in the midst of hard circumstances.  

But the negative implications of denial don’t end there. Living with denial is a double-sided coin with destructive ramifications on both heads and tails. If heads is the double-life disunity between the public and private persona, tails is the disconnection between God’s glory and our story.   

Throughout the many years when I wasn’t living in a state of denial, I watched God use painful ailments and disquieting symptoms to mend and shape my heart. Using disease as a sculpting tool, He carved out a purer, more complete faith in Jesus Christ. I wrote about that process regularly and rejoiced in it even when my body was falling apart.

But during the last year I decided that my time of being chiseled by disease was up. In my mind, I was past due for a new storyline and so I told God I wanted a new challenge. I no longer wanted to “bloom” in the garden of Lyme disease in which I was planted. I didn’t want to spend any more time on the potter’s wheel of pain and physical suffering. So, I determined to bury my old trials – even if it meant I was burying them alive. Little did I know I was burying the peace of Christ and joy of His Spirit along with it.

This decision, even if subconscious, was an act of rebellion. By refusing to live in my God-given reality, I cut myself off from letting God’s glory shine through my story. Pretending that my circumstance didn’t exist was essentially like telling my Maker and Savior that His way wasn’t right, good and perfect. While trying to bury that which God hadn’t put in the grave just yet, I became enslaved to my secret instead of empowered to honor Jesus with the truth.
 
The depression of living a double, disconnected life has taught me that it is simply impossible to deny my circumstances and, at the same time, give glory to the Author of them. I cannot bloom when I reject where I’m planted. I cannot live in a state of denial and expect to escape spiritual, emotional or physical defeat. In order for there to be harmony in my heart, fruit in my spirit and healing in my body, I must joyfully accept where God has me and embrace my weakness so that it can become a looking glass for others to see the overcoming strength of Jesus.

This is why I have decided to return to the grave of my disease and dig it back up again. I’m taking a shovel to the ground of my sickness and asking God to revive my spirit as I face the reality of where I am in His perfectly timed healing process. I’m uncovering my Lyme without fear of being defined by it, knowing that my identity is not determined by my physical condition. Because I am a daughter of the most-High King, who I am is rooted in the spirit of the Risen Christ who conquered the grave and defeated death so that I can victoriously rejoice in the midst of suffering, not just praise His holy name in the absence of it.

Even if I go to my grave with disease still coursing through my veins, I will praise God by rejoicing in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because this is God’s story and it is all for His glory.

But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

– Psalm 73:28 [The MSG]

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Confessions of an Overthinker

I’m an overthinker. It’s a trait I was born with; woven into my DNA. I’m a wonderful ruminator with a knack for pondering, contemplating, and considering. There must be an off switch to this brain of mine, but I haven’t discovered it yet.

Although being an overthinker doesn’t have to be a negative, overthinking certainly has the tendency to become unconstructive and downright damaging. The trouble is what overthinking naturally leads to. Namely worry which leads to unrest. 

Whenever I begin overthinking, my next natural step is to worry. Once this happens, I rarely come up with a fantastic idea, enlightening revelation or great breakthrough. Those miraculous moments almost always arrive in a flash, at the precise moment I thought I was “under” thinking. What I do come up with in these moments of worrisome thought is fear being projected into the future and an absence of peace to enjoy in the present.

When speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “do not worry.” Or, as the Message version puts it, “don’t get worked up.” Period. End of story. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it; no noted exception to this rule. Jesus made it clear that His followers must actively choose not to worry which, for some of us overthinkers, requires intentionally intervening in our very active – and at times destructive – minds.

But before we can get intentional about fixing our overthinking problem, we must first admit that we have one. We must get brutally honest with ourselves and these five self-diagnostic questions can help:

  1. Do I often find myself WONDERING what if?
  2. Do I have to stop myself from OBSESSING about what might be?
  3. R: Do I catch myself REHEARSING worst case scenarios?
  4. R: Do I find myself REACHING for ways to take control?
  5. Y: Do I secretly (or not so secretly) YEARN for a way out?

If you’re an overthinker with a worrying problem, you might get uncomfortable reading that list. I know I sure did. This list is revealing and, if we’re candid, downright convicting. We know that worrying does us no good (and that Jesus explicitly told us not to do it) but the unrest of worry is an easy, albeit upsetting, trap to fall into. But, praise God, it is NOT an impossible trap to get out of.

A fertile mind and the capacity to create thought is a gift from God but it comes with a responsibility. If we aren’t careful, our busy brains can and will be used against us by the enemy to steal our joy, rob our peace, and destroy our contentment in all circumstances. Thankfully, the enemy’s power to control our thoughts is limited and grossly inferior to the power of God to rule and reign in our minds. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave can and will free us from the trap of overthinking. And all we have to do is resolutely reposition ourselves before God and take every thought captive at the foot of Christ’s cross.

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry (pun intended). Scripture tells us exactly how to reclaim our mind in the name of Christ, inviting joy, peace, and contentment to rule and reign in our hearts again. It’s as simple as W-O-R-R-Y:

  1. WORSHIP God for who He is and His great mercy, faithfulness and love. Lord, you are my God;
    “I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.” (Isaiah 25:1)
  2. OBEY God by taking the next right step that is right in front of you.
    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
  3. REFOCUS your thoughts on today.
    “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:35)
  4. REJOICE in the blessings you’ve been given.
    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
  5. YEARN for more of Jesus with all of your heart, mind and soul.
    “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” (Matthew 22:37)

Friends, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” – go ahead and overthink about such things. (Philippians 4:8) You can simply never think too much about the goodness of our great and glorious God.