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Is singleness a good thing?

Alright. I’m just going to come right out and say it: there are some scriptures in the Bible that I’m not too fond of.

Case in point: 1 Corinthians 7:8

1 Corinthians 7:8 is the last a verse you’d find in a Christian wedding ceremony and not one we singles like to hear either. In this particular passage, God’s Word reads, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I [Paul} say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.”

I’ll be totally honest with you. As someone who has been single for ten years and prayed for a husband for just as long, this scripture is far from a balm to my soul. It is, rather, a knife through my heart. I don’t like the idea of God deeming lifelong singleness as a good thing because that means He might leave me in this status indefinitely. And that’s not my heart’s desire. The desire of my heart today is what it was ten and twenty years ago: get married, have a family and live at least somewhat happily ever after.

I’m not a Pollyana about marriage. I know it’s tough and rarely, if ever, lives up to the fairytale expectations of newlyweds. But that doesn’t change my desire to be married. Even though I know it would bring its own unique set of challenges, I want those challenges. After living for ten years with a chronic illness, I’m used to challenges. They are a part of life and I’ve accepted that. What I have a hard time accepting is that I might never get the opportunity to face the challenges of marriage because God has deemed it “good” for me to be unmarried.

At times, I have a hard time believing that singleness is in fact a good thing because it so often doesn’t feel like a good thing. When your social media is covered with friend’s wedding photos, it doesn’t feel good. When all of your church small groups are for “married couples,” it doesn’t feel good. When you’re setting the table for one (again), it doesn’t feel good.

In this wedded world, it doesn’t feel good to be on the single sidelines. It doesn’t feel good to be alone while everyone else in your world is finding their second half. In fact, it feels downright bad, lonesome and unfair to be a Miss when all your life you dreamed of being a Mrs.

And here in lies the danger of listening to and basing our contentment on our feelings.

You see, feelings are not rooted in truth. Feelings are rooted in circumstances, comparison and the flesh’s persistent desire for comfort. When we are listening to and trusting our feelings, we cannot listen to and trust God’s Word because our own emotional dialogue drowns out the flawless and timeless truths of God.

And this is precisely what the enemy wants, isn’t it? Satan wants us to be so fixated on our own feelings that we forsake the truths of God. The enemy wants us to be so consumed with what the rest of the world is up to that we fail to recognize what God is up to in our own hearts and lives. Ideally, satan would like those of us who are reluctant singles to read 1 Corinthians 7:8 and be so angry with God over the idea that this status is a good thing that we close up our Bibles and refuse to read another Word.

But that’s not what I’m going to do and, if you’re single, I hope that’s not what you’re going to do either. What I am going to do – and what I hope you do – is keep reading to understand why this status can indeed be a good thing and, perhaps, even the better thing in some cases.

Towards the end of 1 Corinthians 7, God’s Word sums up the advantage of singleness this way: “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.  I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (v. 34-35)

Notice those words “undivided devotion.” To my fellow singles, this is the benefit and blessing of our status. We have the opportunity to be undivided, unbroken and uninterrupted in our devotion to Jesus Christ because our attentions are not torn between the obligations and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. We are given this unique and special status so that we can use the time, whether it be a season or an entire lifetime, to seek Christ completely with our whole heart, mind and soul.

When I take a step back and read 1 Corinthians 7:8 in conjunction with verses 34-35, all my negative, poor me feelings fade away in the light and revelation of what singleness actually is: a gift; an invitation; a sacred status.

Yes, it’s true. Singleness is good. Singleness is a gift and a divine invitation to experience and enjoy a closer walk with Jesus. When surrendered before the throne of Almighty God, singleness is transformed into a sacred status where the solitary sojourner can live consumed by the goodness, love and presence of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, if you’re struggling to accept God’s will for Your life, whether it be singleness or some other set of circumstances, I urge you to keep seeking God in His Word. If a scripture stirs up feelings of frustration or discontent, don’t close up the whole good Book. Instead, press on and read more in pursuit of the character and truths of God. Regardless of marital status, pray for an open heart and ask for eyes to see and receive the Lord’s blessings. And come to Jesus – always come to Jesus-  and He will cover you with His love and saving grace.

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A Lesson on Perseverance

When I think about the word perseverance I picture the running man.

“The running man,” as I’ve come to call him, is an older gentleman in my local area who has been pounding the pavement for as long as I can remember. He is tall, lanky and, by now, quite old. Although I’m not sure how old he is precisely (it would be improper of me to roll down my car window and ask), my best guess is early to mid-seventies. Despite his age, the running man has never abandoned his exercise routine which just so happens to be a long distance run along some of the busiest roads not far from my house.

For decades, I’ve spotted this man out on his runs which he faithfully takes in every season and through all sorts of inclement weather. And, for decades, I’ve been wondering how much longer he can keep up this exercise. Even twenty years ago, when I first started noticing him, he ran at such a slow clip I feared he might keel over right then and there. From my perspective, the man’s labored stride looked unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst.

About ten years ago I noticed that the man’s running pace had declined into a forced prodding. As uncomfortable as it looked, I couldn’t help but admire his determination. Muscle degeneration, stiffness and aging couldn’t stop him from pressing upward and onward (both literally and figuratively since his running route covered quite a few hills). And, yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

I truly didn’t believe that the running man could get any slower or become any clearer a picture of perseverance – until yesterday.

To call what I saw the man doing a “run” would be an inaccurate description of his arduous effort. In the past year since I last saw him out for his exercise, the running man’s pace has progressed from slow to snail. His every step is painfully strained and strenuous. Even from afar I could see his heavy breathing as he jerked his arms back and forth while shuffling his legs ever so slightly. And yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

The running man simply will not give up and that’s what makes him such a striking picture of perseverance. Webster’s defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” In other words, the refusal to quit just because it’s hard. To persevere is to press on even when the road ahead is wrought with challenges; push through pain and overcome discouragement. When a person perseveres, they keep moving forward even when it isn’t easy, and the progress made doesn’t look promising.

Most importantly, those who persevere know that speed is not the ultimate measure of success. Faithfulness is. Dedication is. Resoluteness is. Those who practice perseverance know that the true prize is the character developed on the way to the finish line.

Obviously, these perseverance principles are important for physical training, exercise and running but where they truly shine is in spiritual training.

As God’s word says, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:8) And key to godliness is perseverance. In order for God to strengthen the spiritual muscles of His people He must test and try them, just like a runner tests and tries his physical muscles. But if we, the spiritual runners, simply give up we will never reap the reward God has in store for us. If we hang up our spiritual sneakers, so to speak, we will miss all the blessings God longs to bestow upon as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us. (Philippians 3:12)

But, you might be wondering, how is it possible to persevere? When the going gets extraordinary tough, how can weak and feeble people find it in themselves to keep going? Is it by our own effort? Are we supposed to soldier on in our own strength? I thought the Bible said we are supposed to be weak so God can be strong. How does that align with this perseverance talk?

The answer is found in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The key to spiritual perseverance is joy. When we respond to our challenges with a sincerely joyful heart it is as if we are inviting the Holy Spirit’s overcoming power to come and indwell us. When we choose to rejoice in the fullness of faith instead of complaining and finding every excuse to give up, the Spirit of the living God begins to produce within us the fruit of perseverance. He sows the seeds of resolve and determination that, in time, work in us a harvest of spiritual maturation and completeness.

Beloved, even if the road ahead looks daunting and your spiritual legs feel exhausted, consider it pure joy. Rejoice and refuse to be deterred or defeated. Even if you have to move slowly, keep pressing on and into the challenges ahead knowing that God will use every labored step, no matter how small, to cultivate the fruit of perseverance within you to the glory and honor of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

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The Slow Road to Healing

I remember the first (and only) time a church body laid hands on me and prayed for my healing.

People were speaking in tongues and some others were singing hallelujahs. I remember the pastor’s hand in particular. It was heavy and clammy and when he lifted it off my back I had a sweat spot on my shirt. I hoped that in all of that energy was the delivering of a mighty miracle but, to be honest, I was skeptical.

Not having grown up in a Pentecostal church where the laying on of hands is a common occurrence, I didn’t know what to expect following my first encounter of this kind. Part of me was anticipating a crack of thunder or at least a powerful sensation in my stomach – some sort of “message received” communication from God. But none of those things happened. I felt nothing but that preacher’s sweaty palm on my back.

Despite no shock and awe, stand up and walk variety miracle, I didn’t leave the church entirely disappointed. “I bet tomorrow I’ll wake up and feel different,” I thought to myself. In my mind, all of those prayers and hallelujahs were like an antibiotic. I took them, now they just needed 24 hours to take full effect.

But, after 24 hours, still nothing had happened. And the same was true 48 and 72 hours later.

Nothing changed and nothing did change for years. In fact, just the opposite happened. Over the next seven years, I became sicker, weaker and frailer. From the outside looking in, it certainly appeared that the passionate church and sweaty palmed pastor had failed to usher in my healing. Or perhaps it was me and my lack of faith keeping my body from receiving restoration and fullness of health?

Following that experience and the lack of visible results produced by it, I stopped praying that God would perform an instantaneous miracle in my body. It’s not that I stopped believing God could perform such a wonder. It’s just that I stopped believing He would do it for me. I stopped believing that it was His will for me to be made well in a single moment and, in time, began embracing the belief that there was a purpose for my pain and suffering.

And, praise God, I was right.

For reasons far greater than my own, it was not God’s will to heal me with the snap of a finger or single touch. That wasn’t His plan for my life, my body or my testimony. Since before I was born, God wrote my story with a plot that included years of mysterious symptoms, misdiagnosis and all-out war against an invisible disease. He prepared for me a slow road to healing which, as I came to discover, is no less miraculous than an instantaneous healing.

Don’t get me wrong, instantaneous healing is wonderful and certainly a beautiful testimony to the unrivaled power and majesty of God, but it isn’t the only way God glorifies Himself through sickness. Sometimes God allows people to endure through illness and fight through disease for the specific purpose of demonstrating His unwavering faithfulness and sustaining grace. Often times, God allows pain and suffering because, in and through it, we who experience it are refined and sanctified by it. If we will allow God to have His way in our broken bodies, He will use every ache and hurt like a winnowing fork, removing the wheat from the chaff of our hearts.

Looking back now, I can honestly say that I am thankful God didn’t answer the prayers of those passionate believers who laid hands on me in church.

I am thankful God didn’t give me what I thought I wanted, which was a “pick up your mat and walk” miracle because, had He answered that prayer, I would have missed out on the spiritual regeneration He had in store for me. Had God let me skip out on my extended healing journey, I wouldn’t have had my faith strengthened in the fire of trials and tests. Had I not traveled along the lengthy path of chronic illness, I wouldn’t have the honor of sharing a story that includes being sustained at 65 pounds, upheld with failing organs and carried on a skeletal frame.

I am who I am today because God took me down the slow road to healing. That was His will for me and I will boast in it because it is indeed a wonderful story that glorifies and honors the Almighty God.

If you’re sick, suffering or struggling because God hasn’t healed you yet, I pray this story encourages you. I also hope it reminds you that your story is no less miraculous than someone who experiences a shock and awe miracle moment. Your story, no matter how slowly it might be unfolding, was written specifically for you by God, for your good and His glory. Trust Him with every detail. Remain patient when the timing doesn’t go your way. And keep looking for the mini-miracles along the way, because I promise that if you look into your heart, you’ll see them unfolding all the time.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

~ Isaiah 41:10

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Divine Disruption

In my hometown, a local business posts silly quotes and jokes on their roadside letter board. Nine times out of ten, the joke is a dud, but every now and again they hit the funny bone, like they did with their current message that reads, “My most useless purchase of 2019: a 2020 calendar.”

It’s funny and true, isn’t it? For all the years to commit to a planner, this was not one of them. There was simply no way to imagine, let alone plan for, the events of 2020. What has happened in American and around the world has been, for lack of a better word, unprecedented. For the well-organized planners out there, this year must be driving them completely bonkers.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos and confusion of 2020, I believe God is up to something truly remarkable. I believe He is taking our unused planners and weaving them together into a tapestry that will bring honor and glory to Jesus. I believe He is apprehending disrupted plans and working them together for the good of those who love Him.

My confidence in this belief is not baseless. It’s Biblical.

Throughout scripture we are provided historical examples of God using disruptions to accomplish His purposes here on earth. One such example is found in Mark’s gospel with the account of Jesus calling His first disciples:

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.  Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20)

These verses in Mark demonstrate what I call “divine disruption.” A divine disruption is when God captures a person’s attention by interrupting their earthly plans and disturbing their routine life. You could call the year 2020 “The Great Disruption” because nearly everyone is in the same boat without a planner. We are all having our plans upended.

But the beauty of the divine disruption is just that. It’s divine.

You see, God doesn’t disrupt our plans or our lives simply for the fun of it. He has a purpose for the interruptions and that purpose is invitation. When He silences the noise and presses pause on the world’s regular programming, our Lord extends a “come and follow me” offer to all who are listening. He grabs the sleeper’s attention, stirs them out of their stupor and calls them to the way, truth and life of Jesus Christ.

This is precisely what is occurring right now in America and all around the world. Sleepers are being awoken. The lost are being found. Dry bones are coming back to life. Distracted men and women who previously claimed to have no time for God have suddenly found that their planners are empty and their ears are attune to the still small voice of their Father God.

Friends, in this divine disruption, God is extending to each one of us the blessed opportunity to see this life and the next through the lens of His perfect 20/20 vision. He is calling us to leave our old ways of living behind, surrender fully to His Son and follow Him faithfully.

The only question that remains is will you heed the call?  

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The Power of Suggestion

I had one mission on my excursion to Lowes: get moving boxes. Although that shopping list was short and should have been easy to remember, I nearly forgot it before I even made it through the automatic glass doors on account of the welders.

Okay, so they weren’t actually welders, but the two face-shield wearing women perusing the flowers outside the front door sure looked prepared to fuse together some metal. I first spotted the duo in question while approaching the main entrance to the store. One woman was inspecting a display of hanging begonias while the other stood a respectable six feet away commenting on the lushness of the flora. Their behavior was bizarrely natural, as if there was nothing odd about dawning full-faced head mounted shields while shopping in an open-air garden area. Meanwhile, I was so dumbstruck by the scene that I nearly forgot why I came to the store in the first place.

Once through the doors and into the home improvement warehouse, I was able to recall my singular sensation shopping list and did procure a plethora of variously sized boxes. But even after leaving the store, I still couldn’t shake the sight of the welding women. And even more than the sight of them, I couldn’t shake what they represented: how dramatically our country has changed in such a short period of time.

Think about it. Five months ago, entering any store wearing a head-mounted face shield would have been considered peculiar. Now it’s considered appropriate attire. Five months ago, these two women in Lowes would have been labeled “strange birds.” Now our society labels them as the “safe shoppers.”

Since the coronavirus craziness has taken over, have you had a moment like I had in Lowes? Have you paused and really considered how this drastic societal shift could have occurred and how it could be that so few are openly questioning it? Have you pondered how it could be that, in less than six months, our culture went from “you’re never fully dressed without a smile” to “you’re never fully dressed without a shield”?

For me, all of those questions (and more) came to a head at the entrance to Lowes. And so did the answer: we human beings are easily influenced by the power of suggestion.

To understand how humans can be so easily influenced we first have to understand that our minds were made to be pliable. God fashioned each one of us with the ability to adapt, learn and grow. This feature of our design is purposeful; not a mistake. It’s part of our free will and it enables us to be molded and shaped into the image of Christ. Our mind’s pliability is an asset and a gift, but, if entrusted into the wrong hands, it can become a liability and a danger.

Have you ever seen a cartoon with an angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other? Well, that’s not just a silly caricature. It’s actually quite a good portrayal of the battle for the mind. On one side we have God who influences our pliable minds with holiness, and, on the other side, we have Satan attempting to influence us with worldliness. With his slithering tongue he whispers slick sounding lies in an effort to drown out the truth. He is constantly bombarding our brains with every possible earthly distraction so that we’ll be deterred from listening to, focusing on and honoring the Lord our God.

When satan is in control of the narrative, his suggestions always produce fruit consistent with his agenda which is to kill, steal and destroy. Whether it’s undermining our peace, tempting us to go astray or crushing us with hopelessness, the result is always the same: Less of God’s goodness; more of the world’s brokenness.

The current state of our nation is a perfect reflection of this principle. For months we have been under the siege of fear-mongering and divisive propaganda which has successfully thrown our society into a state of acute confusion and anxiety. We’ve become a people driven by fear instead of a people guided by faith. There’s no denying that the overarching influencer speaking loudest into our culture is not God, but satan.

That’s the bad news. But there is good news. Great news, actually!

Through the redemptive power of Christ, the same minds that have been molded and shaped to live in a state of fear and division can be remolded and reshaped to live in a state of faith and unity. The very same pliable minds that are currently being held captive by the enemy’s destructive suggestions can be see free of his influence. And it all starts by actively silencing the lies and intentionally seeking the truth.

While speaking to His disciples, Jesus emphasized the unparalleled importance of seeking out, tuning into and being influenced by the truth. In fact, He said that by knowing the truth His followers would set them free from the bondage of sin and lies. (John 8:32) Later, He went on to reveal the source of truth by clearly stating that He, Jesus, is “the way, the truth and life.” (John 14:6)

When applied to our own minds and thought lives, these scriptural facts, although simple, become simply transformational. By actively saying “no” to satan’s suggestions, we disarm him of his destructive influence. Then, as we turn to God and intentionally say “yes” to His voice of Truth, His influence becomes the dominating force in our lives. Through the indwelling of Christ, our minds are renewed so we are able to discern what is the “good, acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Jesus’ Spirit enlightens our discernment with holy wisdom, making it possible for us to perceive what is true from what is false.

Friends, although the current scene in America is one of masked fear and shielded confusion, this need not be where our story ends. There is hope for our people and a future for our nation that is free of the enemy’s influence. There is a way back to peace, unity and joy. And that way is through the truth and life of Jesus Christ.

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Faith’s Fall

We were traveling down a two-lane road at a leisurely 23 MPH when the unthinkable happened: Faith fell out of the car’s window.

To say that Faith fell is a bit of an assumption since I didn’t actually see her exit the SUV via the fully opened window. What I did see when I glanced in the back seat was one dog where there had been two. This terrifying revelation might have gone unnoticed until we reached our final destination had it not been for Molly. Thankfully, her swift (borderline frantic) reaction to her sister’s sudden departure quickly caught my attention.

The moments immediately following the realization that Faith was MIA are an adrenaline-filled blur. Mom, who was behind the wheel, hurriedly pulled the car to the side of the road as I jumped out the passenger door and hit the ground running. My legs were moving at such a feverish pace I’m sure it must have looked as if I were fleeing from a bear. Meanwhile, my lungs went into overdrive, too, as I repeatedly shouted Faith’s name like a panic-stricken parent.

Thank God, it didn’t take but one block before I spotted my little bundle of gray fur standing stock-still in the grass next to the road’s shoulder. Faith looked completely stunned and a bit confused, which I would have been too had I just flown out of a car window. Once our eyes met, I knelt down on the sidewalk and opened my arms wide as she came running to meet me with a look of sweet relief.

As I scooped Faith up and carried her back to the car, three thoughts ran through my mind. The first was a vow to never leave the back windows all the way down ever again. The second was to thank God that she survived the fall completely unharmed. And the third was to marvel at the amazing picture I just received of Jesus’ rescue mission to save mankind.

You see, just like Faith, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve all exited the protective presence of God via a dangerous leap out a window into the world, so to speak. And yet, while we were still sinners – while we were still standing on the unforgiving ground outside the will of God – Jesus died for us. He left the perfection of Heaven and entered into the brokenness of this earth for the exclusive purpose of pursuing wayward sinners. He ran after us all the way to the cross where He sacrificed His life in order to scoop you and I up and out of our lostness. Then, after paying the ultimate price for our redemption, Jesus rose again and carried us to a reconciled and restored relationship with God.

And, yet, some people are still living in a fallen state which raises the question, why haven’t they been found?

Some believers wrestle with this question which I completely understand since I’ve wrestled with it, too. But Faith’s fall opened my eyes and gave me a greater understanding of our Savior who relentlessly pursues yet will never force anyone to receive His rescue.

You see, instead of hitting the ground and standing still, like Faith did after her abrupt exit out the car window, some people hit the ground running. They actively resist the love and gracious gift of salvation that Jesus is offering. Does this mean that Jesus simply gives up and no longer pursues them? Of course not! If Faith would have run from me, I still would have gone after her. And so it is with God’s children. No matter how fast or far they run, Jesus faithfully and relentlessly pursues lost people until their dying day.

But Jesus will never force anyone to accept Him. That’s where free will comes in. While Jesus runs after and seeks out, it is up to the individual to surrender to His love and fall into His arms of mercy. As scripture says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelations 3:20 – emphasis mine).

For those of us who have been found in Jesus Christ, we know that there is no greater joy than being united with our Savior and no sweeter relief than being reconciled to our Father God. And so, as ambassadors of Christ who have been saved by grace through faith, let us go forth and boldly tell the world our rescue stories. Let us share far and wide the glorious news that redemption and restoration is available to every sinner, no matter why, when or how they fell. Let us faithfully deliver the message to the broken and wayward that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have ever lasting life.” (John 3:16)

 

 

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Remember This

We humans live in a world that isn’t very conducive to living peacefully in the moment. Instead of helping us to be present in the present, the world is constantly tempting us to project into the future. Instead of making it easier for us to rest in today, the world works to keep us distracted by bombarding our brains with “what if” worst-case scenarios.

In the last four months, this reality has become more obvious than ever before (at least in my lifetime). For proof, just turn on the news and watch it for five minutes. Since March, nearly every story has been about “the virus” and the “experts” doom day predictions. Every headline plants a seed of fear that “things are going to get much, much worse” and “might never get better.” If you choose to believe these headlines, chances are you’re convinced that what lies ahead for America is nothing short of apocalyptic.

But these projections and predictions do us no good, especially since most of them never come true. What’s more, Jesus specifically told us that only God – not a human with a PhD or a news anchor – knows what the future holds. Yet these gloom and doom talking points have completely overtaken every airwave in America, from commercials to billboards to email inboxes. And, in the process, they’ve infected the human psyche with fear, worry, depression and hopelessness.

Friends, regardless of which news station you watch or political isle you stand on, you must understand that this future-centric fear mongering is straight from the enemy.

The enemy wants to keep us so obsessed with what might go wrong tomorrow that we miss the blessings of today. Behind every worldly mouthpiece, actively distracting and disquieting us with predictions and projections, is satan himself. He is purposefully feeding us this fear and doubt because it furthers his agenda to kill, steal and destroy the peace and rest that thrives when we humans embrace and live fully in the God-given moment.

The bad news is that satan and his doomsday minions aren’t going anywhere – at least, not until Jesus returns. But there is good news! Thankfully, God has not left us defenseless against these fear-filled attacks. In fact, God has implanted within each of us a precious tool to help defeat fear and restore peace. This tool is the human memory.

Our ability to remember is a priceless treasure – and a powerful one, too.

When we actively set our minds on remembering who God is and what He has done in the past, both in our own lives and in the lives of the saints who have gone before us, we disarm the enemy’s problematic projection tactics. As we recall how perfectly faithful God has been in the past, our present faith is strengthened and future hope restored.

Psalm 77 is a perfect example of how this works. As the Psalm opens, we find David crying out to God in his day of trouble. But he doesn’t linger long in tearful laments. Very quickly David switches his focus to the remedy for his heavy heart: remembering. “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” (Psalm 77:11)

As the Psalm progresses and David does more remembering, the mood of the chapter changes. As he recounts past events that demonstrate the wondrous and mighty power of God, David gains more confidence. From God’s authority over the sky and sea to His redemptive grace and perfect faithfulness dating back generations, David’s hope is revived by remembering the goodness of his Lord.

The restoration of peace that David experienced by using his memory is a lesson to us all.

Just like David, each one of us has been gifted a memory that can be used to recall the unmerited mercy, love and grace of God poured out upon our own lives and the lives of our fellow man. Like David, we can actively choose to remember God’s wonderful deeds and blessings He has bestowed upon our nation for generations.

And, most importantly, we can remember the promises and eternal truths found in scripture. We can open up the Bible, a great treasure trove of memories, and remind ourselves of the words spoken by our Lord and Savior, Jesus. We can feast on the Good News that the peace of Christ is with us in every season and all situations. We can read God’s love letter to us and receive the blessed reminders that our Heavenly Father, our refuge in every storm, will never leave or forsake us.

Beloved, when the world starts tempting you to look ahead and project fearfully into the future, pause and remember Psalm 77. Remember the Gospels and every account of the unfailing, unchanging, unshakable greatness of our God. Remember that God is good and perfectly faithful. And remember at He isn’t even close to finished yet.  

 

 

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These Ticks are Ticking Me Off

Hailing from Pennsylvania, AKA “tick country,” you can bet I did my do-diligence on the Tennessee tick situation before making a move to the Volunteer state.

“Come to TN,” the articles said. “We’re tick free!” they said.

But “they” were wrong.

In the past 36 hours I have extracted three ticks from two living beings (ie: myself and Faith)and we’re not even in the Smoky Mountains! The first tick was discovered on my leg, the second on Faith’s leg and the third on her belly. All were successfully removed – which gives me an idea. If my current line of work dries up maybe I could start a tick extraction business!? Heaven knows I’d have enough experience to enter the field. “Stephanie, the extraordinary tick extractor” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

But enough about my future in the tick business and back to my current tick troubles.

After pulling tick number three from Faith’s belly (he was already dead – thank God), I felt utterly defeated. In the past 36 hours I’ve upped my tick defense for both Faith and I, applying copious amounts of repellant spray and administering special supplements to Faith’s food. I even purchased one of those ghastly expensive tick and flea collars touted as “the gold standard” in preventative care. And yet, the ticks are still coming fast and furious. They are dog-on determined to latch onto my dog and me, sucking our blood while infecting us with God knows what.

I know that for the average dog owner this might just be a routine, day-in-the life occurrence. After all, ticks are a part of life. But for a long term chronic Lymie like myself, a tick is an anxiety inducing pest. When I see one of those detestable creatures I see the nemesis who hijacked my twenties and nearly killed me. To me, ticks are the bearer of debilitating disease and severe suffering. They are also the deliverer of death. Remember, my Pippy love died from an enlarged heart caused by Lyme disease that she contracted from a tick. Tiny as they are (some as small as a pin head), ticks have caused me ineliminable and unforgettable damage.

As I sat there on the floor with Faith, expertly holding tick number three between the arms of my trusty tweezers, I told my little pup how sorry I am that I can’t seem to protect her from these nasty bugs.

This would probably be a good time to admit that sometimes I talk to Faith like she’s a human. But, seriously, what dog owner doesn’t? As all my fellow dog owners well know, when we talk to our furry friends, we never actually get a worded reply. Our pups do us one better. They just look at us with these incredibly knowing expressions, conveying more in their smile than a thousand words ever could. And this is just the kind of look Faith gave me in response to my apology. It was sympathetic and yet encouraging; knowing and reassuring. With her signature ear to ear grin, it’s as if Faith was saying, “It’s okay. Just have faith.” 

We could all use that simple reminder at times, couldn’t we? Sometimes, when a worldly trouble ticks us off, we just need to be told to “have faith.” Not, “have a better preventive treatment” or “have a more effective repellant.” Not “have a chill pill” or “have a better attitude.” Simply “have faith.”

There is good reason why God tells us to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), for when we do, we are set free from the anxiety and worry that lurks in the shadows of life’s trials, troubles and tribulations. Faith releases us from the burden of the world’s brokenness so we no longer feel the need to fix everything ourselves or become discouraged when problems persist. The weights of defeat and hopelessness are lifted off our shoulders when we give our cares to Jesus and faithfully abide in Him.

Faith-filled followers beware: the enemy will try to use every challenge (and tick) you face to crush your hope and do damage to your faith. But never forget that what the enemy means for evil God means for good! When we let Him, God will employ every trouble to deepen trust in His sovereignty and cultivate confidence in His plans. He will transform every trial and tribulation into a golden opportunity to strengthen our faith in Christ and His foe-conquering power.

Dear friend, remember that there is no tick on earth God doesn’t see and no trouble He does not understand inside and out. Trust Him, for He is the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of all things. Have faith, for He is worthy of your unwavering confidence and belief.

 

 

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The Sixth Stage of Grief

May is Lyme awareness month and as has been my practice for the past two years, I feel it is only right for me to write about Lyme before the month is over.

I haven’t posted much about Lyme in recent months and I’m afraid my reason for the silence has been more emotional than physical. Although the disease is often on my mind (and in my body), I’ve struggled to actually write about it on account of weariness and, even more so, grief. And that’s what I’d like to write to you about today.

With a chronic illness like Lyme disease comes the temptation to chronically grieve. Missed milestones, dead dreams and lost opportunities are just a sampling of the causes of grief faced by someone in a chronically physically compromised body like mine. Every new pain, ailment and challenge threatens to drown the chronically ill in a violent sea of sorrow and sadness.

As a Lymie who has lived chronically ill for over ten years I have become very familiar with the burden of grief and its five stages as defined by Ross and Keller. Namely, anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Like a ping pong ball, I have bounced between these stages, sometimes experiencing every one of them in less a day or even less than an hour if the pain and suffering is acutely severe and debilitating.

The stages of grieving aren’t a pretty sight (especially those first four) which is why I’m not proud of how much time I’ve spent in them over the past ten years but I don’t consider it wasted time. In fact, I have come to believe that grieving is a necessary and vitally important process for the human spirit because of what I have come to find is a sixth stage of the process: growth.

You see, grief is not meant to capsize and sink us in a sea of sorrow. Grief is meant to sanctify and strengthen us. I didn’t always see grief this way. I used to think that sadness and loss was a reality you simply got used to. Acceptance, I believed, was the goal. But now I see that accepting the loss isn’t where the story ends. God has a greater purpose for our grief, using it is to break down our spiritual muscle fibers, causing them to grow big and strong.

Grief is one of the painful byproducts of living with chronic illness, but it isn’t reserved for those of us with broken bodies. As humans, grief is part of our earthly experience and there’s no escaping this world without feeling it. But I’m here to tell you that there is a silver lining to grief. You need not suffer through the first four stages only to settle for acceptance. God can do more with your grief than numb it. He can use it to mold and shape you into the image of His Son. If you ask and allow Him to use your grief, God will transform it into a tool employed to accelerate your growth.

The key to experiencing the growth of grief, I’ve learned, is turning to Jesus in the midst of it.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) The word mourn here actually means “to express grief or sorrow,” key word, “express.” When we express something, we are communicating what we’re thinking and feeling by conveying it through words. This is what God is asking us to do with Him  – communicate our emotions and tell Him about our grief. God does not want us to grieve alone. He longs for us to come to Jesus with our brokenness and baggage so that we can receive His Holy Spirit to comfort and console us.

Once we turn to Jesus and express our grief to Him, the blessed stage of growth can begin. He takes the pain of loss and heartbreak and uses it to purify our desires, renew our faith and restore our hope in God’s will and ways. In Jesus’ presence, we discover deep brokenness within ourselves, fractures so well hidden we didn’t know they even existed let alone needed mending. And what’s more, we see clearly that the only way to true healing and eternal strengthening is by way of uniting with Christ’s resurrection and resting in God’s supremacy.

Whether your grief is born out of a chronic illness like Lyme or a painful loss, rest assured that God has a purpose for your struggle and a redemptive plan for your hurt. He longs to turn your ashes into a beautiful garden of His grace and a testimony to His unfailing faithfulness and love.

And all He asks is that you call on the Almighty name of Jesus and let Him do the rest.  

 

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The Sent Scattering

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Scattered” addressing the issue of churches closing in response to COVID-19. In that piece I referenced Jesus’ pre-crucifixion words recorded in John 16:32, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home.”

While reflecting on this scripture, I saw the current circumstances facing our country and the modern-day church. Like Jesus’ disciples, we too, are in trying times and, we too, have been scattered. Christians have been cut off from their comfortable life groups, regular programming and familiar Sunday morning services to experience the unknown future in solitude and isolation. (Click here to read the full post.)

But, as I previously wrote, I believe that in this scattering there will be sanctifying. In fact, I believe the purification of the church is already underway. At this very moment, broken people are, for the very first time, entering into a personal and private relationship with the lover of their soul. There is a great awakening taking place behind closed doors and it isn’t over yet. In fact, based on what we find in the Bible, I believe it’s just beginning.

So, let’s return to the Bible and turn to the ministry of Jesus post-resurrection.

After rising from the dead, Jesus dazzled His followers with some seriously shocking entrances (such as coming into a room through the wall – no door required). In both word and deed, Jesus confirmed His holy identity while pulling back the curtain on the future, giving His followers a glimpse of what was to come, namely the Holy Spirit.

Immediately before ascending into Heaven, Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). The disciples were instructed to stay sheltered in place but not indefinitely. Once the Holy Spirit descended into their midst they were to then leave the protection of their homes so they could travel EVERYWHERE and tell EVERYONE about the way to truth and eternal life.

The disciples obeyed, heeding Jesus’ instructions to a T. They stayed hunkered down until they were met with “a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2) “Then what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:3-4)

What happened following Pentecost was a second scattering: the sent scattering.

Once the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they were transformed from fearful followers of Jesus into powerhouse proclaimers of the Gospel. Peter, the same disciple who had denied Jesus during the first scattering, became so bold and brave that he stood right up and addressed a crowd of skeptics who were convinced that the disciples were just plain old drunks. In response to that sermonette, three thousand doubters became believers.

In those early days of the post-Pentecostal church, followers of Jesus became united as brothers and sisters in Christ. They held everything in common, fellowshipped and broke bread together. They spent time in each other’s homes, praising, performing miracles and celebrating as more sinners got saved.

But it wasn’t all butterflies and roses. During that abundant harvest was an abundance of hardship. Standing up for Jesus put the disciples directly in the cross hairs of the enemy and his attacks were fierce.  Persecution reached a fever pitch when Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8) was stoned to death. Following his murder, Saul, the chief of persecutors, gathered up arrest warrants on a mission to invade the homes of believers and imprison them for their faith. During that time, “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1) and “preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4).

What’s interesting about this moment in the church’s history is what the persecuted Christians didn’t do and where they didn’t go. They didn’t hide from the unbelievers and persecutors who might hurt, imprison and possibly kill them. Nor did they deny the truth about Jesus or try to downplay their devotion to the Risen King. Instead they fearlessly proclaimed the truth of salvation. They boldly and bravely scattered the Gospel message throughout the land, distributing the Good News everywhere they went.

So, dear Christian, what does this mean for us? How should we heed the call in the midst of the COVID-19 hysteria? How are we to move from being sheltered to sent in the face of shutdowns, restrictions and government mandates? How should we as post-resurrection, post-Pentecostal Christians embrace Jesus’ command to go everywhere and tell everyone about the way to eternal life?

With each passing day, it is becoming more and more likely that our sent scattering won’t include a swift return to church as knew it and that’s okay. The believers in Acts weren’t living life as they knew it, either. Nor were they gathering in sanctuaries, meeting in connect groups or offering a stellar children’s programs. Yet none of those perceived limitations stopped the power of God from performing miracles and saving lives through the work of the earliest Christians. What the disciples lacked in organized religion they made up for in what I like to call the four F’s. Fearless. Faithful. Forward. And filled with the Holy Spirit.

  1. The earliest Christians were fearless. What’s so ironic about this particular characteristic is that, during the first scattering, Jesus’ followers embodied the precise opposite characteristic. During the sheltered scattering, the disciples were so afraid of what people would think of them and do to them for being a friend of Jesus that Peter denied knowing Christ not once, not twice but three times! Fast forward to the second scattering and Peter is standing in front of hostile crowds (including the authorities) preaching the Gospel! Retribution no longer scared him because He had encountered the resurrected Christ.
  2. The earliest Christians were faithful. Being a follower of Christ wasn’t a Sunday only event for them. Being a follower of Christ was everything to them! They were devoted to one another so wholeheartedly that they sold everything they had and held it in common. They were, as we would say today, all in. Becoming a Christian was the defining feature of their lives.
  3. The earliest Christians were forward. Shy is not a word found anywhere in the Acts account of Jesus’ followers. They were the very antithesis of shy. They were bold in any and all circumstances. It didn’t matter if the disciples were among friends or among enemies, they put forward the truth about Jesus Christ with conviction and confidence.
  4. And, last but certainly not least, the earliest Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit. It is this characteristic that empowered them to go from sheltered to sent. The impartation of the Holy Spirit was required for them to be forward, faithful and fearless. Without the spirit of the living God working in and through them, the disciples could do nothing. They needed to be unconditionally surrendered to Christ so that the Holy Spirit could be poured out and into their lives. Then and only then could they heed the call to go EVERYONE and to EVERYONE proclaiming the way, the truth and the life.

Friends, more than the reopening of a building or the relaunching of normal order, our lost world needs the simple Gospel. They need followers of Christ who have been scattered and sent to faithfully and fearlessly share with them the Good News about the blood of the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. They need Christians who will come forward, filled with the Holy Spirit and unashamedly declare that Jesus is the only truth, the only way and the only everlasting life.