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The Color Red

Across my FaceBook feed black boxes are appearing.

Friends are posting them. Churches are posting them. Businesses are posting them. Ministries are posting them. The black boxes are in observance of #blackouttuesday, a day set aside by Black Lives Matter to recognize “violence and systemic racism against black people.” The details of the Black Lives Matter movement are not the main point of this post. To delve into that topic would take far more than one blog post. (An entire book could be written on the subject.) What I intend to to address tonight is the root of the division in our nation.

Movements like BLM tell us that our country is divided along the lines of color. It’s one race against the other, according to the media. But the Bible makes it clear that our battle is not against races, it’s against evil. The dividing line is not color. The dividing line is the cross.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote to his fellow believers about the topic of division. But before we get into what Paul actually wrote in that letter, it’s important to understand the audience and who received it.

First, the letter was written to an entire network of churches and not just one individual. Ephesus was a pagan worshipping culture that did not take kindly to Christianity so most believers gathered in home churches to avoid persecution. Second, the city was diverse. Because of its seaport location, Ephesus was a multi-ethnic hub of activity with a thriving trade industry. It was also a travel destination for those eager to lay eyes on Artemis, their Greek goddess of the moon.

Ut was to this community that Paul penned these famous words: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10) Here, Paul addressed the dividing line and made it clear to his readers that the root of their struggle was not a man’s skin color. Their war was not against a race. It was against the evil one.

If I were to pick up a pen and write America a letter I would begin with Ephesians 6:10. I would write that what divides us is not black and white but red. You see, Jesus did not see skin color. He did not shed His blood on the cross exclusively for one race nor did He die for only the members of a particular ethnic background. His sacrifice was truly equal opportunity. As scripture says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21).

Therefore, the struggle we face is not rooted in a racial divide but, instead, is rooted in the divide between those who have been covered by the blood of the Lamb and those who haven’t. It’s good against evil, light against darkness and life against death. Our nation, like Ephesus, is divided into two groups: those who have been reconciled to God and those are living as enemies of the cross.

And this is why I am not posting one of those black boxes on my FaceBook feed. Because race isn’t the root of our nation’s division.

Race is a diversion from the true battle being waged for the heart of our nation and its citizens. Skin color is nothing more than a weapon wielded by the enemy to distract us from his evil schemes. If he can keep us focused on the race war, he can keep us blind to the spiritual warfare. And if we’re blind, we won’t fight. And if we don’t fight, we won’t win.

To finish his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote:

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

(Ephesians 6:10-18)

If I were to write a letter to Christians in American, I would end it just as Paul did – by encouraging my fellow believers to keep their eyes on the spiritual battle being waged for souls and suit up in the full armor of God. As an added warning, I would caution my readers about one of the enemy’s favorite tactics that is currently being used in America: cooping “Bible” words.

You see, at times, the enemy pelts the believer with weapons called “love” and “justice.” Although these words sound well meaning, take a closer look and you will discover that they are not defined according to the Bible nor are they furthering the Gospel. In fact, the enemy is using these fundamentally scriptural words to destroy, not promote, the Gospel. He’s ceased and twisted these words for the sole purpose of confusing and manipulating God’s perfect love and perfect justice.

Due to this danger, it is critically important that we not only test every spirit but also investigate all movements. Who is behind the scenes of the movement and what do they stand for? How do they define love and justice – in scriptural or manmade terms? Is their mission Gospel centered or is it purely humanist?

Dear friends, we must stay laser focused on “the way, the truth and the life” and stay suited up in the armor of God.

As Paul urged the Ephesians, I urge you today: pray. Pray at all times and always with your eyes set on the Spirit of the living God. Pray for discernment and wisdom. Pray for peace and unity. Pray for awakening. Pray for revival and repentance. Pray for perfect love and perfect justice to reign in our nation and in nations across the world.

“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24)

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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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Recognizing Jesus

One of my favorite post-resurrection accounts of Jesus is found in John chapter 21. Let’s return to the scene.

It’s nighttime and five of Jesus’ disciples are itching for something to do. Simon Peter decides he’ll go fishing which sounds like a fantastic idea to his four friends. And, with that, the five gather their nets, jump in a boat and hit the salty seas.

But there’s a problem. The fish aren’t biting. The disciples wait all night and into the morning, but they still don’t have enough fish for breakfast. That’s when they see a man standing on the sandy shore of the beach. He’s far away – maybe a hundred feet or so – but he seems to understand their predicament and, what’s more, he has a solution. “Cast your net on the other side,”he says.

Since the disciples aren’t having any luck doing it their way, they figure why not take the advice of the stranger on the beach? So, they lift their nets and cast them off the opposite side of the boat. And that’s when the incredible happens. In no time at all, the net fills up with so many fish the men can’t even muscle it up out of the water and onto the boat!

It’s at this miraculous point in the story that John looks up and across the water. And that’s when it clicks. The man on the beach is Jesus. “It’s the Master!” John says. Without missing a beat, Simon Peter throws on his clothes (he had been stripped down for work but that wouldn’t be any way to greet his Lord and Savior) and flings himself into the ocean. His excitement is uncontainable! Meanwhile, the other men begin rowing their little boat hurriedly across the sea and back to shore to join in the post-resurrection reunion.

When the men make it back to the beach bearing 153 big fish, they might assume that Jesus will be using their bountiful catch for the meal but, to their surprise, a tantalizing feast has already been prepared. While they were waiting for the fish to bite, Jesus was at work by the fire, browning their protein and carbs for the brunch.

The disciples never actually confirm that the man on the beach is Jesus. No one asks, “Umm, hey, Jesus, I mean sir, uh, I just want to just double check something…. you’re really the Messiah who was just crucified and rose from the grave three days later, right?” They don’t make such inquiries because they don’t need to. The men were sure this was really Jesus because they recognized His face from a hundred yards away. They had no doubt it was their Messiah because, when they heard and heeded his instruction, they experienced another one of His indescribable miracles. Because of their great love for Jesus, their hearts were open to receiving and responding to His surprise visit.

I love this picture of Jesus with his disciples, don’t you? His gentle instruction. Simon Peter’s passionate devotion. The abundant catch. The breakfast spread. The whole scene is a glorious picture of Jesus’ pursuing love and faithful friendship that delights in making surprise visits.

Now, just because Jesus has ascended to Heaven and isn’t preparing your omelet on the seashore doesn’t mean that He isn’t showing up unannounced. Jesus, in the form of His Holy Spirit, still takes great pleasure in making surprise visits. The question is, do we recognize Him?

While studying John 21:1-15, I discovered that the disciples’ actions and attitudes reveal three key principles for recognizing, receiving and responding to Jesus. Let’s look at them:

First, we must look up and out. Until John looked across the water, he didn’t know that the man on the shore was Jesus. And the same is true with us. Jesus still shows Himself to His followers today. His Spirit is active and moving all around us but we must have our eyes open and gaze focused outward in order to perceive Him.

Second, we must keep our ears attune to His voice. While out on the water, the disciples weren’t listening to the news and they most certainly didn’t have ear buds in. If we want to hear Jesus, we could benefit by following their example and keep our ears and minds free from competing noise. Oftentimes, our own inner dialogue is the greatest distraction from hearing the voice of Jesus. Therefore, we must guard our minds from ourselves and from the outside world, intentionally filling our mental space with thoughts that are true, right, pure, lovely and admirable. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) Then, when the voice of Jesus comes (and it must assuredly will come), we will be prepared to receive it.

Last, but certainly not least, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. When you love someone, you can recognize them from afar. When you love someone, you can watch them walk from a hundred yards away and know that it is them just by the way they swing their arms. It is this love and devotion that positioned the disciples to be attune to their Saviors voice and familiar with the distant sight of His face. Love sent Peter jumping into the water. Love left the disciples in holy awe and wonder.

How are you doing when it comes to recognizing Jesus? Are you regularly receiving His surprise visits? Are you responding with sold out surrender and devotion?

Jesus is still appearing and if you look, listen and love, you won’t miss a single surprise visit.

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House Hunters & Spouse Hunters

Confession: I have a slight obsession with HGTV.

Of all the shows on HGTV, remodeling series are always my favorites, followed by House Hunters. If you haven’t seen one of the nearly two thousand episodes of House Hunters, congratulations. You have successfully avoided a major time suck. But, for the sake of this post, it would be helpful for you to know the basic gist of the show.

Every episode of House Hunters follows the same formula. First we meet the hunters who are embarking on their home search with a list of “must haves,” “can’t live withouts,” and of course, a very specific “location, location, location.” When visiting potential residential candidates, they tend to make snap judgements based on “curb appeal” and “love at first sight.” Before they even make it over the threshold, they are likely to be either over the moon or convinced the house is terrible.

Once inside, the house hunter’s priorities get all twisted and out of whack. Structural concerns are overlooked in lieu of stainless steal appliances and bathrooms with double sinks. A crack in the foundation?… Well, yes, there’s that. BUT did you see that jetted tub?

After visiting three contenders and deliberating over a cup of coffee or glass of wine (I’m convinced that step is written into the filming contract), the hunters excitedly pick a house and, thirty seconds later, are moved in and enjoying a new, picture perfect life.

I must admit, House Hunters drives me a little nutty.

While watching, I have to restrain myself from yelling at the TV. I’m like a Steelers fan watching Sunday night football, schooling the ref on how to “do his job.” But, instead of plays, I get worked up about ridiculous housing objections. If you watched the show with me, chances are you’d hear me say things like, “Just rip out the carpet!” And, “Double sinks aren’t the secret to a successful life!”

Given my angst with House Hunters, one might wonder why I persist in watching it. If it annoys me, why don’t I turn it off? That’s a good question and I have a good answer. I keep watching House Hunters because it raises my awareness of my own tendency to become a spouse hunter.  

There was a day not so long ago that I too had a “must have” list with the “can’t live withouts” underlined. There was also a day not so long ago that I had an online dating account with a search narrowed down by “location, location, location.”

Before even making it past the first “hello,” I know that I’m prone to make snap judgments based on “curb appeal” because, even after much rejection, a little part of me still believes in “love at first sight.” And if some person were to make it past the curb, I know that my flesh would be tempted to justify significant concerns on account of romance, attraction and chemistry.

For those of us who have stood on the single sidelines, watching many of our friends fall in love and get married, we feel the pressure to do the same – ASAP. We must search because, as society tells us, clocks are ticking and potential life partners are getting snatched up. We better act fast or someone might walk away with our husband or wife. We have to get out there, mix it up, find that special someone and get moved into our new, picture perfect, holy matrimony life.

But those of us who are unmarried need not become frantic, stressed out spouse hunters. There is a better way to “I do.”

The better way to matrimony begins with throwing out the “must have” list and creating a “must be” list instead. Before I can expect to meet a man of God, I need to be a woman of God. To do this, I must stop focusing on the characteristics I want my future husband to have and shift my focus onto cultivating Christlike characteristics in my own life. (Bonus tip: see Galatians 5:22-23 for “must be” list ideas).

The second step is to look beyond the curb and hone in on the foundation. Watching silly home seekers settle for a crumbling foundation while making much of superficial improvements has opened my eyes to the fact that my flesh is susceptible to compromising, settling and rushing into relationships for the wrong reasons. But the exterior is only temporary. What’s inside is forever. Just like judging a book by its cover could cause me to miss a really good read, judging a man by his appearance could cause me to miss a really great man after God’s own heart. (Bonus tip: look at a man’s (or woman’s) Bible for an indication of Who has their heart. And memorize 1 Samuel 16:7)

Lastly, but certainly not least in importance, is to let God take care of the hunting. The bottom line is I am not supposed to be my own spouse hunter. Before I was born, God hand picked my husband and He doesn’t need me to go on the hunt for him. All God asks is that I seek His Son, Jesus, with all heart, mind and soul while remaining hopeful, patient and content as I wait on His perfect timing.

Whether you are waiting on the perfect house to hit the market or waiting on the perfect spouse to walk into your life, continue to tarry in joy, thanksgiving and relentless hope as you wait for God to reveal “the one” for you.

“Though it tarry, wait for it.”

Habakkuk 2:3

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Can I carry that for you?

“May I assist you out to your car with your grocery bags?”

If you’ve ever grocery shopped at Publix, you’ve probably had a friendly store associate dawning a green apron ask you this question. Offering this no fee, no tip accepted grocery transportation service and complimentary cart return is part of Publix’s commitment to kindness and stellar customer service.

As a self-sufficient (read: stubborn) woman, I usually decline the service. It’s not that I’m adverse to kindness; it’s that I have developed a bad habit.

I don’t know when it started or why, but at some point in my grocery shopping life, I began carrying all of my loaded up plastic bags out to my car without the aid of a cart or carrying service. If you’ve ever seen an individual stumbling through the grocery store parking lot with five full plastic bags on each arm and a pack of soda on their shoulders, you might have been watching me walk to my car. While I admit that transporting groceries this way isn’t very wise (and is definitely painful for the arms), I’ve clung to my habit (and grocery bags) like a dog with a bone, repeatedly declining the associate’s offer of assistance.

The other day, while walking out of Publix with grocery bags in hand (and a few on my arms), I noticed a store employee pushing a customer’s cart to her car. The customer’s posture was relaxed as she strolled through the parking lot without a single bag in hand. While, next to her, a strong young gentleman maneuvered the cart with ease. The two were smiling and enjoying what appeared to be a pleasant conversation.

As I watched this ordinary scene unfold, Jesus’ voice transformed it into an extraordinary vision of truth and love as I heard Him say:

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Just like the employees at Publix who offer to carry bags for their customers, Jesus offers to carry burdens for His children. It’s part of His commitment to being not only our Savior but our Sustainer, too. Jesus is always at the ready, eager to take each and every bag that’s weighing us down. He longs to lift every ounce of regret, guilt, shame, fear, worry and anxiety from our weak and weary shoulders. It is our Lord’s pleasure to remove the heavy burdens we’ve been carrying and exchange them for His lighter load.

But wait, there’s more!

Because once we accept Jesus’ free burden carrying offer, He not only takes our cares and worries upon Himself, He actually walks right alongside us for life’s journey, just like the bagger in the grocery store parking lot. As we travel in the company of Jesus, He blesses us with compassionate companionship, unconditional love and amazing grace. Our friend Jesus stays with us every step of the way. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He never drops a bag or gets weary. He never gets frustrated or says, “Here, you take this over now. I’ve carried your bags for long enough.” Jesus is always patient, always merciful and always kind. His faithfulness is unending and so is His strength.

But, just like the bagger at the grocery store, Jesus won’t force His children to accept His gracious offer. We must do so willingly and release our burdens voluntarily. Only then will our hands be freed up and our heart open to receive the peace of His presence and the rest of His easy yoke.

Dear friend, if you’re still carrying your own burdens, why don’t you let Jesus take over? At this very moment, He is inviting you to drop your bags at the foot of His cross and let Him push the cart as you travel in His holy company. Release your burdens and let Jesus load you up with Heaven’s perfect joy, peace and rest.

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By Faith

She did it! My little puppy, Faith, finally did it! After months of coaxing and coaching, at last, Faith conquered her fear of cement steps and ascended all three flights of apartment complex stairs!

As I watched Faith bound up those steps for the very first time my heart welled up with parental pride. I felt the joy of victory as my pup, who used to be petrified by the very sight of those steps, leapt up each one with ease. In the blink of an eye, Faith became a stair climbing pro. She even made it to the top before I did. Once safely on the third-floor landing, she turned around and smiled at me as if to say, “look what I did mom! I’m a big pup now!” 

I celebrated Faith’s milestone with many “good dog” affirmations, petting and, of course, a treat. But while I was praising her, my mind began to wander and wonder, “If watching your fur baby conquer steps is this exciting, how amazing must it be to watch your own flesh and blood baby take his or her first steps?” A second after that thought crossed my mind, grief slammed into me like a tsunami as I heard myself utter the words, “you might never get to find out.”

This month (January 2020) marks ten years since my menstrual cycle abruptly left my body, taking my ability to carry a child with it.

While working through the loss of my fertility I’ve experienced every stage of grief multiple times and cried a river’s worth of tears. After a decade of mourning and processing, I really thought I had come to a place of peace and acceptance. But, as I watched Faith conquer her fear of the stairs, my own old infertility fears and sadness came back with vengeance. 

Sadness came first.

I know that being a Mom isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and roses. Parenting (and pregnancy) has plenty of thrones. But with immense challenges come immense blessings, such as experiencing, firsthand, the miracle of new life. To give birth to a child is a wonderful gift and one that, growing up, I always assumed I would receive someday. Up until ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be unable to conceive and carry a child. I never imagined I wouldn’t give birth to a baby. To me, that was a given.

But I’ve had to learn the hard way that nothing in life is a guarantee. Not health. Not fertility. Not marriage. Not motherhood.

With the loss of my fertility I’ve had to grieve the fact that I might never hold my own baby in my arms. I might never see my own baby on a sonogram image or prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I might never get to capture a first smile, first word or first step. I might never get to rejoice in those little, monumental victorious and it’s the reality of all those nevers that has caused me incredible sadness.

But it’s not just sadness that plagues me. It’s fear, too.

As a single, infertile woman, my inability to carry a child has caused me to wonder (and worry) what man will ever want to marry me. It seems to me that most men (especially Christian men) want kids and a family. Given that I can’t provide in that way (barring a miracle of God), I fear that no man will ever want to make me his wife, making me not only indefinitely infertilite but indefinitely single, too.

In the days that have passed since Faith made her stair climbing conquest, I’ve done a lot of praying and asking God to help me overcome my infertility fears and sadness.

Ohm how I wish I could say that God answered my pleas with a clear word like He gave to Abraham and Sarah. My hope was to hear His booming voice from heaven say, “you will one day give birth to a child and call him John” – or some great prophesy along those lines.

But, the truth is, this story doesn’t go that way. Instead of a voice, I heard nothing. Absolute silence. God was as quiet as a church mouse. But, even in the silence, I still trusted that He had a word of comfort to share with me so I sought Him by opening, reading and soaking in His Word. Then I waited.

It took a few days of intentional stillness and silence but, finally, I heard the voice of God whispering two little words that changed everything: “By faith.”

Those two words led me back to Hebrews chapter eleven where Paul catalogues the “hall of faith.” The list includes Noah who, “by faith,” built an ark even though there hadn’t been a drop of rain in ages. Abraham who, “by faith,” left his homeland and journeyed into an unknown future. And, of course, Sarah, who, “by faith” believed in the faithfulness of God even when she was old and barren.

Although the details differ, two common themes run through every name Paul listed in Hebrews chapter eleven: extreme difficulty and incredible faith. The men and women who are commended by Paul are men and women who walked by faith and not by sight. They journeyed through this earthly life with their eyes fixed on heaven, knowing that, no matter what fate awaited them in this world, God was preparing a holy city for them in glory.

Because every person listed in Hebrews eleven was “confident in what they hoped for and assured about what they did not yet see,” God was supremely glorified in their life story. They relied on the Lord to be their strength and, in doing so, their lives testified to the resurrection power of Christ. By faithfully surrendering to God, their histories became a beautiful part of His grand story of salvation, redemption and restoration.

And the same is true for me.

As I walk “by faith” through infertility and singleness, God will use those struggles to magnify Jesus and tell His story. “By faith,” He will transform my life into a testimony of His great majesty and grace.

And the same is true for you.

Whatever fear or sadness you are facing today, God knows your deepest pain, understands your heart and wants to guide you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is not asking you to look at tomorrow or worry about what the future will or will not hold. All He asks is that you walk, live and trust Him “by faith,” not sight. His one and only request is that you surrender unconditionally at the foot of Christ’s cross and seek the Lord with your whole heart, mind and soul.

Dear friend, I pray that on this very night you will give God your sadness and release every fear into the hands of Jesus. He can and will heal your brokenness and fill you with the joy of new life as you walk with Him “by faith.” 

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What do genealogies have to do with it?

This year I set out to read the entire Bible in a year. I must admit, this is not the first time I’ve undertaken this endeavor but, I’m sorry to say, I’ve never succeeded. I always get bogged down in the genealogies and lists of names I can’t pronounce. Usually sooner rather than later, I abandon the mission and return to my New Testament comfort zone.

But this year I determined to approach the Bible in a year endeavor differently. I’ve decided to embrace a “delay is not defeat” mantra. Even if I miss a day or two, I will keep coming back to my Bible reading plan and pick up wherever I left off.

Which brings me to January 10th.

According to my reading plan, I should have been reading Genesis chapter twenty-one on this particular day but I’m a bit behind. Or a lot a bit, depending on how you define behind. Thankfully, the truth found in God’s Word never expires or changes. And neither does His grace, which I reminded myself as I opened up Genesis chapter eleven five days behind schedule.

If you’re not familiar with Genesis eleven or have simply forgotten the specifics of this passage, allow me to break it down for you.

It starts with the Tower of Babel where sin gets out of control and God has to reign it in by breaking up unified language. Next is the Shem family genealogy. It’s riveting reading, as I’m sure you can imagine. Lastly, the chapter turns to Abram and tells the story of how his father took their family from the land of Ur to the land of Harran. Also riveting reading.

While trying to sound out names like Arphazad, Peleg and Serug, I started to wonder if the Shem family line is even important? “Do these verses have anything to do with me?” I asked myself.

No sooner did these thoughts cross my mind than God answered them with verse thirty one. “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram…” To some readers, this might seem like a throw away verse but, to me, it spoke volumes because of one word, one name: Sarai.

Being familiar with Sarai, I knew the two important details about her life that were revealed one verse earlier, in Genesis thirty. First is that Sarai is Abram’s wife and, second, is that she in infertile. Unlike her sister-in-law and other women in the family line, Sarai is unable to conceive and bear children for her husband.

In any era, but especially in Sarai’s era, infertility can cause shame for women due to the fact that the ability to carry a child and give birth plays a large role in making a woman feel feminine. Pregnancy is a beautiful gift imparted specifically to women and when that gift can’t be experienced and enjoyed a woman often feels worthless and less than. I should know since I, too, am infertile.

In the day and age that Sarai lived, being unable to have a child was a defining characteristic and that’s what makes this verse in Genesis so noteworthy. In this particular scripture, the author shares the name of every man on the voyage from Ur to Harrah but only shares the name of one woman – and it wasn’t the name of a woman who could conceive children. It was the name of the one woman known to be infertile.

As I closed my Bible and thought about Genesis eleven, I was overwhelmed by the perfection of God’s Word.

God’s Word is never outdated and doesn’t contain any irrelevant details. Every word has a purpose and Sarai’s name being listed in verse thirty one is no exception. Her name has significance and sends a message to men and women everywhere: The ability to have children is not what makes you valuable. You are valuable because you are a child of God.

Your name is worth listing and your life is worth loving because God created You in His image with purpose and on purpose. Whether you can have a child of your own or not does not define you or determine your value and worth. Your value is determined by the perfect Lamb of God who died to save you and secure you a place in heaven. According to Jesus, you are worth dying for. That truth, not your current or future fertility, is why you are a precious and priceless treasure.

In His amazing grace and unmerited goodness, God used one word to shower my belated Bible reading with blessings and remind me that He loves me for me, just like He loves you for you.

If you want proof of God’s love for you, just open up your Bible – and don’t be deterred by the genealogies. God’s Holy Word is His love letter to you and, I can assure you, He never disappoints.

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What are you collecting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that wasn’t meant to be.

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

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

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

But how?

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

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

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

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

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A Decade in Review

As this decade comes to a close, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and thinking about all that has transpired in my life over the past ten years. In doing so, three words have kept returning to my mind:

  1. Sickness

  2. Singleness

  3. Salvation

When I received salvation in November of 2009, just two months before a new decade began, I thought I was living the final chapter of my rescue story. Little did I know, my story was just getting started.

As the 2010’s kicked off, so did my sickness. By the summer of that first year, a mystery illness consumed me. In 2010 I encountered major health disruptions that completely derailed my twenty-year-old self’s plans. By 2011, those disruptions turned into the destruction of dreams, plans and even love. That year I watched my status go from engaged to single – and that’s where it’s been ever since.

Over the next four years, I traversed the trying trail of chronic, undiagnosed illness as a single woman. Thankfully, I never walked alone. I was blessed with the support of a loving family, amazing Mom and incredible dog – my Pippy love.

But what truly kept me going throughout those chronic, undiagnosed illness wilderness years was Jesus.

Whenever I wanted to give up, I’d remember November 2, 2009 and the moment when my life was forever changed by receiving salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Just knowing that Jesus rescued me, redeemed my past and reconciled me to God filled my spirit with the hope and strength needed to carry on. Whether in sickness or in health, I belonged to Christ. He bought my life at the highest price and I had to believe that He didn’t die in vain.

If I believed God’s Word, then I had to trust that my illness wasn’t a mistake and I wasn’t forgotten or forsaken. I had to trust that God had a purpose and plan for my life. So I grabbed hold of these three foundational truths:

  1. God is good.
  2. God is faithful.
  3. And He isn’t finished yet.

By standing on the rock of salvation, I was indwelled with the spiritual strength needed to keep fighting for my life even when sickness ravaged my body and caused me to physically waste away.

In 2015, I was 25 years old and 72 pounds when I was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Seeing lesions on my brain and hearing the letters “MS” was as reassuring as it was difficult. Reassuring because those scans confirmed that I wasn’t crazy – there truly was something wrong with my body. But difficult, too, because MS provided little hope, no cure and limited treatment options. The prognosis for MS is simply a steady, and possibly swift, decline.

My physical decline was swift. Thankfully, my hope didn’t follow such an ill-fated trajectory.

As the calendar turned to 2017, I watched the scale drop below 70 pounds. By that point my body was experiencing so many debilitating, life-altering symptoms it would take an entire notebook to catalogue them. My health was failing fast but, praise God, my faith was growing even faster.

As my body went plummeting towards death at a seemingly unstoppable clip, I was compelled to go on a hunt for further help. By the grace of God, I was led to a doctor who took a fresh look at my case and gave me life changing news. I wasn’t a multiple sclerosis case. I was a lymie and had been all along.

After receiving a Lyme diagnosis in 2017, I entered a disease killing battlefield prepared to endure an intense and lengthly fight for my life.

Defeating lyme proved to be much harder than five years of undiagnosed illness and two years of misdiagnosed illness – but much more rewarding, too. Organs that had been shut off for years were restored and turned back on. Chronic pains that had plagued me for almost an entire decade began reversed. It was like being reborn!

Although I had to fight hard for victory over my lyme foe, I’ve never fought alone. God, in His unfailing faithfulness, carried me and upheld me when I didn’t know if I could go one step further. The joy of Jesus renewed my strength when my faith was wearing thin. The hope of salvation restored my resolve when I felt like giving up.

Looking back on the past decade, I can hardly believe I survived it! There is no doubt in my mind that the overcoming strength, love and grace of God saved and sustained me so I could live to tell this rescue story. God charted this course specifically for me. He had a purpose for every pain and a plan for every setback. There wasn’t one single step wasted. God, in His unwavering goodness, produced fruit in every season and used every struggle to sanctify my faith, strengthen my hope and secure my footing on the rock of salvation.

As this decade comes to a close, I’m ready for whatever lies ahead in 2020 because I am still standing on these foundational truths:

God is good.

God is faithful.

And He isn’t finished yet.   

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Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

This was the question I typed into the Google search bar under the cover of night, yielding 10.4 million results in 3.4 seconds. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only one wondering whether or not God approves of Christians looking for love online. Given the millions of blog posts and articles written on the topic, I assume that thousands (if not millions) of other single Christians are wrestling with the same question.

As I scrolled through the first page of search results, I found a plethora of posts from well-respected leaders in the Christian ministry world. Desiring God, Focus on the Family, Crosswalk and The Gospel Coalition – just to name a few. I picked a sampling of articles that piqued my interest and gave them a read.

To my surprise, most authors supported online dating and some even went so far as to strongly encourage it.  Although there were a few authors that took a more cautious approach, they were in the minority. The majority came to the conclusion that taking the spouse search online is a fabulous tool for Christians who want to expand their pool of potential mates, be candid about their faith and, most importantly, get a date.

After reading through three articles in their entirety, I called off my Google search and darkened the screen on my phone. The counsel of the Christian community left me feeling more confused than I had been before I sought out their opinion. As I laid in bed pondering the posts I’d just read, I couldn’t help but get my own recent online dating experience out of my head.

You see, just a short twenty-four hours prior to my Google search, I had ventured into the world of online dating – Christian Café to be exact. I made a username, answered the “get to know you” questions and chose a recent picture to accompany my profile. But about sixty seconds after clicking “confirm subscription” I had a sinking feeling in my gut. “This is not where you’re supposed to be. You’re not supposed to be seeking a spouse online.”

For weeks my fleshly desires had been engaged in a tug-of-war with Christ’s spirit within me and this was the battle’s climatic moment.

I had been telling myself that it’s totally natural to want a husband and perfectly acceptable to seek one out online. As long as I did the seeking with godly principles clearly stated in my profile, there was nothing wrong with venturing into the worldwide match making web. At least, that’s what I thought until I confirmed my account and became a fish in the online dating pool. At that moment my flesh took the decisive upper hand in the tug-of-war and my soul lost all peace.

In a state of inner turmoil, I swiftly navigated to Christian Café’s settings page where I found a button to disable my account. “Do you want to temporarily remove your profile or delete it forever?” the site asked. That choice was easy. Without hesitating, I double clicked and said goodbye to Christian Café forever.

It was the next night that I decided to click around on Google to explore what other Christians had to say about online dating.

I fully expected to find similar stories to mine about being unable to online date in peace and anticipated advice that would warn readers about the battle royal between flesh and Christ. But what I discovered was just the opposite. I couldn’t find one word of warning to Christians about the how online dating can pose a very real danger to the spiritual life by causing the dater to take their focus off of seeking Christ and put it on seeking a spouse instead.

The more I pondered the posts I’d just read, the more conflicted I became. “Why is the Christian world’s take on online dating so dramatically different than my own?” I wondered. I had gone searching for clarity and truth but the internet wasn’t delivering. So, I decided to do what I should have done in the first place. I turned to God and asked Him my question. “Is it wrong for Christians to online date?”

Without missing a beat, God laid one particular verse on my heart. 1 Corinthians 10:23:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.

Although online dating isn’t in and of itself bad, it is not necessarily beneficial because of the inherent dangers that accompany it. And I’m not just referring to stranger danger. I’m talking about seeker danger.

What is seeker danger, you ask?

Seeker danger is the temptation to replace “seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) with “seek ye first a spouse of your own.” The risk of online dating is that the flesh will get the upper hand due to the simple fact that, as human beings, we’re prone to single mindedness. We can’t serve two masters – our flesh and God. We have to die to self and unconditionally surrender every earthly, fleshly desire at the foot of the cross so we can run our race singularly focused on Jesus Christ.

As single adults, we’d all like to think we can go seeking a spouse while remaining committed to seeking God. At least, I certainly thought I could. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I can’t seek out two men at once – my Lord and my husband – because God is a jealous God who wants the full attention of His beloved. He doesn’t want His children conflicted or distracted. He desires that in the hierarchy of needs, seeking Him always trumps seeking the desires of our heart.

Can God use online dating? Plenty of bloggers would say “absolutely yes.” But this online blogger is here to point out that, although online dating is permissible, it might not be beneficial to seeking God first.

My advice? Consult God about what He would have you do and who He would like you to spend your time and expend your energies seeking. If He answers you like He did me, He’ll simply say, “just seek me.”
 

 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:33