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Live for an Audience of One

As I stood at my favorite coffee shop’s cash register, ordering my regular small coffee (no room for cream), the barista looked up from the carafe and asked me a question that immediately made my heart stop and palms sweat. “So what is it that you do while your sitting there, typing on your computer?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked at least a hundred times and one I’m never quite sure how to answer. On one hand, I want to declare that I’m a self-proclaimed writer, but, on the other hand, I’m embarrassed to address the follow-up questions that so often come next, such as “are you published?”

When I am forced to acknowledge that I’m a writer without a single word in print, it makes me question the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart out and onto a page. I have spent nearly ten years posting, “doodling” (what I call journaling), and asking Jesus to take the pen and yet I have so little to show for it by earthly measures. To date, I have a measly fifty-nine IG followers, five email subscribers and seventy-six likes on FB. In society’s terms of success, that translates into “failure.”

In the split second that passed between receiving the barista’s question and responding, a battle royal between confidence and doubt waged within my mind. It was like having a little red-horned devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.

From the devil’s side came taunting, insults and heckling…. “You’re such a loser. Don’t you see that you’re wasting your time writing your little Jesus life lesson stories? No one even reads them because they’re not any good. You’re not any good!”

But, on the other shoulder, was the voice of a reassuring, uplifting angel… “Just one is enough. Just reaching one weary soul is enough. Just encouraging one heavy heart is enough. Just cheering one downcast friend is enough. Just brightening one stranger’s day is enough. Just writing for an audience of your One and only Savior is enough.”

The enemy tried hard to crush my spirit and rob me of the opportunity to tell the barista that I write for Jesus but, praise Jesus, he didn’t have the final say because, louder than his lies was God’s voice of truth. With a decisive, “not today satan”, I snubbed the devil on my shoulder, opened up my mouth and, with bold conviction, proclaimed to the barista, “I’m a writer!” Then, to my pleasure, she asked what I write about, to which I was able to respond, “devotionals for Jesus.”

As I sat down with my coffee and opened up my computer like I have nearly every day for the past decade, I said a silent, “thank you” to God for the opportunity to hear and respond to His voice.

I also thanked Him for reminding me of what Paul wrote to the Colossians. “Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.” (3:23) Although the Colossians weren’t faced with the challenges of social media, that doesn’t mean they were immune to the enemy’s taunting. Just like you and I experience today, the Colossians were tempted to measure success in worldly terms. In his letter, Paul reminded them, and us, that we are citizens of Heaven and, therefore, we are to live for the King of Heaven. Honoring God, not gaining worldly honor or likes, is what gives life real purpose, enduring meaning and eternal value. Faithfully obeying and following Jesus in any and all situations, whether big or small, is how we are to truly glorify God.

When the curtain falls on this earthly life, all social media accounts, book deals, and awards will mean nothing. They will not accompany us past this grave. But what we will take with us is the heart we surrendered to God and the life we dedicated to an audience of One.

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What are you collecting?

My coffee mug collection began innocently. A whimsical, ice-skating snowman inspired mug here. An Easter bunny and carrot themed mug there. “A mug for every season” – that was my motto.

Over the years, as my coffee cup collection has steadily grown, so has the chaos in my kitchen cabinet. There are now so many mugs crammed into that little space it’s a wonder the door even closes.

Recognizing the excessiveness of my drinkware situation, I have, for years, resolved to cut off all coffee cup purchasing and pare down my current collection. My intentions have been good but my follow through has been quite poor. I’ve tried picking just my favorites and donating the rest, but I find that they are all my favorites for one sentimental reason or another. I’ve even tried the Kon Mari technique, asking myself “does this bring you joy?” To which the answer is always, “Yes. This llama mug most certainly does bring me joy.”

But coffee mugs aren’t my only collection. I have a second, not so visible and far less joyous collection that I’ve had trouble parting ways with, too: a collection of fears.

Over the past decade I’ve collected more fears than coffee mugs. I have a fear that I’ll wind up being a lifelong single and a fear that I’ll never regain my full health. Then there’s that pesky fear that I’ll fail at every career I try. And who can forget the niggling fear that I’ll end up moving back into my parent’s basement (again). For every setback, failure or struggle, I’ve added another fear to my collection, creating an internal space that is so chock-full of anxiety, worries and concerns it makes my kitchen cabinet look sparse.

Like I do every January 1st, I made a resolution on this New Year’s Day. “This year,” I thought, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to cut ties with this excessive coffee mug collection and bring order back to this chaotic cabinet!” Nowhere in my mind was I thinking about my fear collection – that’s a collection I didn’t want to admit even existed. I wanted to keep that door securely shut. I wanted to keep my fears, anxieties and worries a secret.

But that wasn’t meant to be.

As soon as I opened the kitchen cabinet to attack the out of control coffee mug collection, a revelation dawned on me like a lightbulb illuminating above a cartoon character’s head: Why are you so fixated on this coffee mug conundrum? Don’t you see that you have a far more pressing situation to address – all those paralyzing fears you’ve let take up residence in your mind? Can’t you see that you’ve become like this cabinet – so crammed full of fear you have no room left for faith.

As I surveyed the plethora of coffee cups all stacked and squished behind the cabinet’s glass door, I realized that, just like that cabinet, my mind has limited space and I must be intentional about what – and Who – I let fill it. If I relinquish control to the enemy, he will cram me full of anxious thoughts and fearful emotions, destroying my joy and robbing me of peace in the process. But, if I allow God to fill my sacred internal space, He will strengthen my faith by enriching my mental collection with wisdom and truth. When I invite God into my mind and ask Him to control my collection of thoughts, He defeats the enemy’s lies, exposes every destructive fear, and fills me with His overcoming peace and abundant joy.

It was this new revelation that revived my resolve – but not my resolve to part ways with my llama mug, that mug is here to stay. This time, I determined to get rid of my collection of fears.

But how?

If I couldn’t part ways with a few coffee mugs, how could I part ways with an entire mind full of fears and dooms day thoughts? To successfully accomplish this resolution, I knew I needed help clearing away the anxious clutter I’d let accumulate inside. So, I did what anyone who wants to declutter their life should do. And, no, I didn’t turn to Kon Mari to refresh my memory on her Tidying Up technique. I turned to the only One who has the power to break every chain – including every chain of fear. I turned to Jesus, relinquished control of my collection and asked Him to take over cleaning my internal house.

In no time at all, a verse came to mind. “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) Or, in coffee mug speak, when the enemy is trying to sell you an earthly fear mug, leave the store, run to God and stock up on the eternal treasures revealed in His word.

You see, Jesus claimed victory over fear when He conquered the grave. When our Savior defeated death, He made it possible for you and I to enjoy freedom from all fear. But, in order to experience that freedom, we have to be choosy about what we allow into our mental, emotional and spiritual collection. We must stop buying the fear lies and quit even giving the enemy’s sales pitch the time of day! Instead, we must fix our eyes, ears and heart on Jesus and invest in a faith-filled collection packed with God’s promises and busting at the seams with His extravagant love.

And, if you must buy something, just go buy a whimsical coffee mug. I suggest shopping at Home Goods, TJ Maxx or Marshalls. They always have the very best selection. Tell them Stephanie sent you.

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A Stain is a Stain

The disposable paper cup was still quite full with steaming hot double-double when the coffee collision occurred. It was an innocent accident, the sort of mishap that can easily transpire while moving with haste in the presence of a hot beverage.

The spill happened so fast I had no time to react. One moment I was completely clean and coffeeless. The next I was covered in medium roast.

The moment the hot liquid hit I hopped up, hoping to minimize the damage but it was too late. The cup’s lid had popped off, releasing a flood of coffee rushing in my direction. By the time I stood up my lap was already thoroughly caffeinated along with my feet and brand new sneakers.

I quickly slipped off my shoes and ran them under cold water. Then, with the help of a damp paper towel, I went to work on cleaning my pants and was pleased when the coffee disappeared in a jiffy.

With my sneakers and pants cleaned and socks replaced I thought that all consequences of the coffee collision had been avoided until I caught a glimpse of my shirt. At the very top of my brand new blue t-shirt was one little round coffee stain. While I had been busy worrying about my shoes I had forgotten to look at my shirt. An hour post spill, when I finally thought to inspect it, the coffee spot on my new, once flawless shirt was completely dry and quite obvious.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s just a shirt….It’s just a little spot…It’s not a big deal.” And you’re right. Shirts are just material possessions. They have no lasting value. A little stain on a shirt is nothing to cry over.

But what if that shirt were my soul?

You see, the trouble is not how I treat shirt stains; it’s treat soul stains.

When I sin do I check my entire being as well as I check my entire attire after a coffee spill? Do I throw off my sinful ways as quickly as I threw off my stained sneakers? Do I rush to God for cleansing and renewal as hastily as I rushed to the sink to clean up my pants and change my socks? Do I check my whole heart, mind and soul for wrong thoughts, motives and feelings? Or do I neglect to search my whole being like I neglected to check my whole wardrobe?

The moral of the coffee spill story is that a stain is a stain no matter how small.

Whether the sin comes rushing in like a flood or simply splatters a few droplets, the result is a stain. Once sin enters in the whole heart, soul and mind get stained meaning that the whole heart, soul and mind need cleansed. I cannot allow sin to be spilled in my life and address only the obvious stains. I must look everywhere, surrender everything and take my whole being before the throne of grace to get clean.

The longer a stain sits on a shirt the harder it is to get out and the same is true in the human heart. The longer I let sin go without the treatment of God’s correction, forgiveness and renewal, the more difficult it will be for me to come and allow Him to perform His work of washing in my life. I become more stubborn and less remorseful the longer sin sits in my heart. I become more tolerant and less troubled by the sin the more time spent with it tainting my life.

Thankfully, no matter how dry and troubling the stain of sin, God can thoroughly and completely clean it up. With the washing of regeneration that comes by way of Christ’s cross, God can remove every blemish, spot and stain. Even if the spill occurred decades ago, God can eliminate all evidence of the sin. When we give Him our whole selves and let Him have His will and way, God can and will wash every part of us and make us brand new for the glory of Jesus’ name.

 

Although the coffee stain had already set and dried on my new shirt all hope was not lost. With a good, thorough spot cleaning, the coffee spot disappeared. Now I can look at the shirt from every angle and in every light and never see the slightest remnant of stain. If I never told anyone, no one would ever know my new shirt had ever encountered a hot coffee collision.

And so it with us.

Once God cleans us up it is as if the stain never happened. He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. He restores us with grace and gives us a fresh start. He gives us new life through the power of the risen Jesus Christ.

It’s true that a stain is a stain no matter how small but the good news is that God is the One who can remove them all.