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Return to Christ

Breaking news: It’s February 1, 2021 and I’m sitting in a coffee shop!

Just one short year ago sitting in a coffee shop was my daily routine, not an occurrence that warranted a breaking news bulletin. But then the virus that shall not be named came on the scene and the whole world flipped upside down. Ever since, nothing has been normal, not even sitting in a coffee shop.

I never imagined such a thing as a shutdown world. It never occurred to me that an entire planet could lock down all at once. What’s more is I never would have believed that the masses would readily submit to the tyranny of it. But here we are. Eleven months into fourteen days to slow the spread and, still, the vast majority of people are willfully going along with it. In fact, many seem to have totally adapted to their new, masked, sanitized, socially distanced world.

And me?

Well, I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a hand sanitizer bottle on the table (placed there by the establishment, not myself), looking around at a few lonely, empty chairs, wondering if and when sanity will ever return to society? When will people miss the connection, community and compassion of our pre-COVID world enough to stand up and say “no more”? When will people stop buying the lie that we must separate from one another, lock ourselves away and become dehumanized in order to survive? When will my fellow man wake up to the truth that the deadliest, most destructive virus isn’t corona – it’s fear.

Employing the word “lie” when discussing COVID19 is controversial and certainly unpopular but it’s true. The COVID shutdown/lockdown was built on a lie. Actually, it was built on two fundamental lies. Lie one is that death is to be feared and lie two is that self-preservation is an admirable obsession.

Satan wants we the people to buy into these two fundamental lies because, if we do, then it makes every other lie an easier sell. Wear a mask? Sure, because I need to preserve my health. Shut down schools, small businesses and churches? Absolutely, because I’m afraid of the virus. You see how this works? The enemy always corrupts our foundation before he deceives us in the details.

To expose these lies for the destructive falsehoods they are isn’t very hard to do – no PhD or theological degree required. With our Bible opened to the life and legacy of Christ, we can plainly see that the fear of death and obsession with self-preservation are not admirable or virtuous qualities. Rather, they are sinful and faithless.

But don’t take my word for it – take Jesus’.

While speaking to His disciples, Jesus addressed the fear of death by warning them, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Jesus knew full well that the lives of His disciples would be threatened by both pestilence and persecution and, yet, He commanded them not to fear anything or anyone but God Himself. And the same is true for you and me today. The only healthy, virtuous fear is the reverent fear of God.

The second foundational lie, that the self must be preserved at all costs, was debunked by Jesus’ own selfless, sacrificial life. Instead of sparing Himself (which He could have done – after all, He is God!) or numbing Himself from the pain of crucifixion, Jesus bore every nail with full awareness and consciousness. He didn’t prioritize self-preservation. He prioritized obeying the will of God and fulfilling His Father’s redemptive plan for humanity that saved a wretch like me and like you.

Furthermore, after Jesus rose from the grave, He gave His disciples one last command: go and make more disciples. “Therefore,” He said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Notice that Jesus didn’t add a clause to this command stating that such commission is put on pause in the case of a worldwide pandemic. Nor did He note that the command is canceled in the case of physical threat to bodily health. No, Jesus gave no exceptions when He called the redeemed to live as broken bread and poured out wine for the glory and honor of the Lord Most High.

These directives given by Jesus Himself are as true today as they were the day He first spoke them. COVID19 has not changed them. No virus can ever void them. What has changed is society’s willful adherence to a lie. What has been voided by many in our nation and world is unwavering obedience to the word of God.

Which brings me back to the string of questions I posed at the beginning of this post and the one response that answers them all: return to Christ.

The empty chairs will be filled when society returns to Christ.

Connection, community and compassion will be restored when the world returns to Christ. 

Fellowship and relationship will thrive again when people return to Christ.

Fearless, God-honoring freedom will reign again when we return to Christ.

The only hope for this nation and world is for we the people to return to Jesus Christ, for He alone has the power to rescue, redeem and restore. Only His radiant light of Life and Truth can illuminate the darkness and expose every lie. Only His chain breaking power can set the the captives free to live in unbridled liberty.

And that is my prayer for this nation and the nations of the world: that they will throw off the chains that so entangle and stop buying the litany of lies that the enemy is selling. Then they will know the truth and the truth shall set them free.

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Broken made Beautiful

I’m damaged goods.

I hate to admit it but it’s true. After ten years of illness, three years of which were spent fighting for my life, my stomach lining is still touchy and my back is still less than perfect. My heart still tends to beat off rhythm and my eyes still go wonky.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface of my physical brokenness is a mountain of emotional baggage acquired while traversing this long and grueling path.

The emotional side of physical sickness is oftentimes shied away from.

For those of us with a physical malady the last thing we want is to be labeled as a “mental case” on top of it. But, at the very same time, there is no separating the physical from the mental/emotional. Each one of us is a complete and complex being that cannot be compartmentalized. What happens to the body affects the soul and what happens to the soul affects the body. That’s a rule and it doesn’t come with exceptions.

And yet I’ve tried to pretend that I am an exception. Without even realizing it, I’ve tried to downplay and even deny the depth and scope of the emotional toll ten years of chronic illness takes on a person. Subconsciously, I assumed that what happens in the body stays in the body. It has taken years for me to even tip toe near the first step of the emotional/mental healing process: admitting that I have a problem.

Any recovery program starts with this age-old wisdom, “The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting you have one.” This is not only true in terms of addiction recovery but with any and every kind of problem, emotional/mental damage included. No one seeks healing until they recognize their need for healing. No one undertakes to fix what they don’t know is broken.

Recognizing damage and brokenness is uncomfortable. No one wants to look at the ugly truth just like no one wants to stare at an open wound. Confronted with such a troubling reality, our natural response is to flinch, cringe, shut our eyes and avoid it entirely.

But avoidance is a dead-end road.

Refusing to acknowledge brokenness is like trying to avoid weakness. It doesn’t make us strong, it makes us stuck. Shutting our eyes to the truth about our soul’s condition doesn’t make us better, it binds us to our brokenness. Ultimately, it keeps us from having a unified relationship with Jesus in which He has full dominion and supremacy in our lives.

It took someone shining this light of truth on me to see that what I was doing was shutting my eyes to the glaring damage and brokenness still festering like an open would in my heart. Their brutal honesty about what they saw so clearly caused me to peak out from behind my blinders. And when I did, what I saw shocked me.

I saw great big gashes in the shape of rejection and hurts in the form of loneliness. It’s as if a file had been opened and inside was all the evidence of my heart’s trauma experienced over the past ten years of illness and isolation. I saw how I haven’t truly been connecting with anyone on a deep level out of fear that they’ll leave me, like so many have before. I saw the walls I’ve built to keep anyone from getting too close, lest they see all the ugliness of my brokenness and complexity of my past.

As I stood in my kitchen, staring off into the distance while contemplating this troubling revelation, my mind began to wander and wonder, “why?” Why was I still broken? Why weren’t these wounds healed yet? And then my mind shifted to, “how?” How will I ever get put back together again? How do I move past my past and embrace a future free of all these painful memories that are causing my present so much agony?

And that’s when God compelled me to pick up a pen and write these words:

“You must accept that your healing is a process. It won’t happen overnight. Timing isn’t what’s important, that it happens fast isn’t the point. What matters is that you begin.
Recognize your brokenness. Acknowledge the cracks in your foundation. Then ask me to come in and get to fixing it. Request my holy intervention. I’ll answer you. I will respond to your sincere and upright request.
But beware that I will not act in one fowl swoop. I will take my time so that you can be made right. I’ll show you what you need to see. I’ll reveal what you didn’t even know existed.
This will be a process – a discovery phase, if you will. Don’t get frustrated. Get curious! Don’t be angry. Be thankful! I’m making all things in you new. I’m making your broken beautiful.” – Father God (January 10, 2021)

By the time I put down my pen a new truth had dawned on me: healing is about searching out the hidden parts of us. Healing is a journey where we face that which we hope no one ever sees, the stains and blemishes we try so hard to keep a secret.

But, praise God, that’s not where our healing stories end.

After we see how terribly damaged we are then we are shown, and can fully appreciate, how perfect and spotless our Savior, Jesus, truly is. Face to face with our brokenness, we are humbled anew by the blood of the Lamb that covers our sin and washes every stain away. We are dazzled by God’s most brilliant and amazing grace that takes all of our shattered pieces and puts them back together again in a way that is indescribably beautiful, entirely unique and never to be duplicated.

This is God’s specialty – making broken people whole and better than before. But in order to receive the redemptive and restorative touch of God we must be willing to confront our brokenness and come to the foot of the cross with it. We must acknowledge the fact that we are damaged goods before we can sincerely lay them down before the throne of Almighty God.

Then we can ask our Heavenly Father to do what He does best – make us whole again. We can get on our knees, surrender fully before the cross of Christ and entrust our lives into the hands of the Potter who can turn a mess into a masterpiece and make the broken absolutely beautiful.

 

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147:3

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What’s your why?

Mark Twain once famously said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I’ve read this quote countless times thanks to my doctor who has it framed on his office wall. Every time I’m there for a visit, I take a moment to reflect on the words and meditate on this question: “What’s my why?”

The answer to this “what’s my why?” question came clearly to me over a decade ago – know Jesus and make Him known.The moment I became a born again believer I knew Jesus was my why and, ever since, I’ve accepted that fact without thinking about it excessively. That is, until I logged onto Match.com.

Yes, it’s true, I’ve ventured back into the online dating world, a place I vowed to never return again. And, yet, here I am, trying to craft the right 4,000 word or less autobiography that covers important facts without removing all the “mystery” (a balance I’m sure I haven’t struck yet.) While writing my “about me” section I’ve typed, deleted, retyped and redeleted at least three times and yet one line has survived every edit and redo: know Jesus and make Him known. I could delete every other line and just leave that one. It is that encapsulating of who I am, what my why is and, as Mark Twain would say, why I was born.

What has shocked me about the online dating world is how few men who claim to be in the “Christian” category seem to share this same Christ-centered why.

That’s not to say I expect every man of God to convey his faith with the precise words “know Jesus and make Him known.” There are other words and sentences that would relay the same message. But the vast majority of “Christian” men have little to say about Jesus and absolutely nothing to say about their why being directly connected to their relationship with Him.

More often than not, the message conveyed in these profiles has to do more with a passion for sports than personal salvation and sanctification. A common mission seems to be eating tacos and pizza till death does him part (which will be sooner rather than later if that’s his exclusive diet). Half of the men seem to include at least one picture with a beer can and another mirror shot taken while flexing at the gym. Their life goals include fishing, traveling the world (for what I assume is pleasure and not missions) and “seeing the northern lights” (a stock response to the beloved bucket list question).

It’s not that there is anything wrong with sports, tacos and pizza (in moderation), a beer every now and then, a regular gym routine or fishing, traveling and seeing the northern lights but when worldly pass times outshine eternal pursuits, that’s a spiritual red flag. When Christian hobbies and meal preferences are the focus while life’s big “why” remains nonexistent, I’d say that “Houston, we have a problem.”

And a problem is indeed what we have not only in the online dating world but in the American church world as a whole.

It has become apparent to me over the past week while scrolling through online dating profiles that American Christians have lost their way and, in turn, their why. We have, in large part, become deluded, watered down and, essentially, unrecognizable. As an overall body of believers, Christians have become a reflection of the culture with a little church mixed in instead of a repudiation of the culture with a lot of Christ poured in.

As God’s people, Christ’s ambassadors as I like to think of us, we were made for more than worldly pursuits and frivolous activities. We were saved in order that we would live a new life – not the old life with a new name tag. Our salvation came at the highest price, the life of God’s one and only Son, and demands our unconditional surrender. We are in the world, but we aren’t supposed to be of it. We were created to stand out. We were born with a why bigger than our personal likes and dislikes. We were born to know Jesus and make Him known with every fiber of our being and breath in our lungs.

The Bible says that the way is narrow and, as followers of the way, our why should be narrow, too. It should run counter to the world’s materialistic, pleasure seeking culture. Our lives should reflect He who purchased our freedom on the cross. This is why we were created. This is why we were saved. This is why we were born – to be beacons of Christ’s light in a dark world.

Although my latest foray into the online dating world hasn’t produced any dates and isn’t looking so hot in the message exchange department either, it has yielded this fruit: a refreshed “why” and reinvigorated committed to know Jesus and make Him known. And, for that, I would consider my online dating experience thus far a great success.

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Freakishly Clean

America has a new obsession: being freakishly clean.

This isn’t news to anyone who has watched TV or ventured outside in the past year. Every other TV commercial reminds us to wash our hands and wear a mask so we can outsmart our germ nemesis. At every grocery store, pharmacy and Walmart entrance there is a hand sanitizing station standing guard. In restaurants, diners are required to wear masks while entering and being seated, lest they breath unclean air on a nearby diner. At checkout lines there are plexiglass barriers and strategically placed dots on the floor to ensure that all humans remain a respectable and safe six feet apart – to manage rogue droplet transmission, of course.

But not until today, while standing outside at a gas station, did I come to fully comprehend the intensity of America’s cleanliness obsession.

As I waited by my car for the fuel tank to reach full capacity, the pump’s computer screen began to play a little jingle. “It’s freakishly clean… It’s freakishly clean… Can’t be truly clean if it’s not freakishly clean.” As I stood in a trance like state, starting at the screen, I watched as gas station employees danced around wearing gloved hands and masked faces while carrying disinfectant spray bottles. They wiped down door handles to the beat of the music and sanitized computer screens with thespian like enthusiasm. They twirled, spun and skipped all while making every last gas station surface freakishly clean.

And that’s when it hit me: America has become absolutely obsessed with keeping themselves freakishly clean. But the problem is that America isn’t focusing on the kind of clean that really matters.

Jesus put it this way: “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23:26) In other words, if you clean the outside of a dish but not the inside of the dish, it’s still a dirty dish. From a distance it might look alright but if you get up close to this internally grimy cup, plate or bowl, you will discover that it needs a good washing before it can be once again utilized for eating or drinking.

And so it goes with you and I. Even if we drown our hands in sanitizer, we’ll still be dirty if our hearts aren’t sanctified. We can disinfect every surface we ever touch, but if we’re disconnected from the one true Living God, we will still be terribly unclean. We can buy into the lie that a mask will protect us, but when the breath of the Holy Spirit isn’t filling our soul, we will still be internally contaminated by sin and death.

This obsession with external cleanliness was a trap set by satan back when Jesus walked the earth and it remains a trap set for you and I today. Like the men and women of Jesus’ day who were so fixated on cleaning up the outside that they neglected what was on the inside, we, too have lost sight of what truly matters most – the cleanliness of the heart

Today in America, not only is the world buying into this external cleanliness trap but the churches – God’s people – are, too. The church is standing idly by while sanitization stations are kept open and sanctification centers (ie: the churches) are being closed. Stores are welcoming customers but pastors, who God says should be spiritual shepherds, are keeping their flocks socially distanced and apart. The doors of God’s house are being shuttered in the name of “health and safety” but what could be more dangerous than disobeying God’s Word which clearly states that God’s people are to gather together (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

We’ve silenced worship with masks and rules that forbid God’s people from singing. We’ve replaced handshakes and hugs with elbow bumps and waves exchanged from six feet away. We’ve allowed our churches to become disconnected, detached and, ultimately, disengaged from the power of God all because we’ve followed the world instead of the way, truth and life of Jesus Christ.

We, God’s church, have become completely obsessed with that which our Lord strictly said we are not to become obsessed with. Namely, the outside of the dish. All the while, our freakishly clean world is perishing for a lack of knowledge, human connection and spiritual regeneration. And my question is, when is the church going to recognize what’s happening, repent and recalibrate to the will and Word of God? When is the American church going to break free from the devil’s deception and get back to cleaning the inside of the dish?

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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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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.