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Well-Watered

The parking lot was empty, but the lawn was well-watered, thanks to an expansive irrigation system. The perfectly scheduled midst was going off each day without a hitch, ensuring great looking grass even if there was not a soul in sight.

This was the scene I encountered just the other day while driving past one of the largest churches in my local area. This particular mega church building is so mammoth a person could easily get lost in its halls. First time visitors should be given a map or, better yet, a tour guide! On the outside, the maze continues with a gargantuan parking lot paved with thousands of parking spaces interspersed with lush green spaces.

But, for the past three months, the church’s parking lot has been completely empty – as have been the seats inside the stately sanctuary. Despite being legally permitted to open in the state of Tennessee, this particular church – and many others like it – willingly shut their doors in response to COVID19. And they’ve kept them shut week after week after week.

Like many of my fellow church goers, I was disappointed when pastors and church leaders made the decision to stop all in-person services back in March. And yet I continued to believe that God was working all things together for good. As I wrote in previous posts, March 2020 wasn’t the first time Christians were scattered out of their comfortable church buildings. God used previous shutdowns to sanctify and strengthen His people and I believed He was performing this purifying work again, in our day and age.

Even though I believed this and continue to believe it, I still became discouraged while driving past the shuttered church’s well-watered lawn. I shook my head in disgust at the failure of the church to nourish its people as well as it cares for its grass. “How does this further the gospel message?” I asked myself. “Why can’t the church see the duplicity of keeping their lawn well-watered while leaving their people parched?”

I wrestled with these questions for a few days until I finally brought my wrestling before the throne of God. And that’s when He impressed a verse upon my heart. “Feed my sheep…” (John 21:17) He said. And then He put it a new way. “Water my people…”

Hearing those words spoken to my heart was like having the lights turned on in a dark house. Suddenly I was reminded that I cannot control what other people (and churches) do or don’t do. But I can control what I do and how I live out my calling to serve God’s people. I can control my decision to put on the Holy Spirit, pick up my watering can, and take the message of Jesus Christ to the dry and weary bones around me. I can offer the water of God’s good news to the thirsty who are desperate for spiritual hydration.

Without a church building or an irrigation system, you and I, the church, can be ambassadors for Christ right where we are. In His Word and through His Spirit, God has given us everything we need to serve with a full watering can. So, dear friends, fill up on the fresh springs of Christ’s living water, then go out into all the world and point parched people to God’s well where they can freely drink and never thirst again.

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – Jesus {John 4:14}

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These Ticks are Ticking Me Off

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

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

But “they” were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Lessons from Lightening Bugs

Something magical happens almost every summer night right around 8 PM… lightning bugs appear.

As if on cue, the rear ends of these beloved flying creatures begin to illuminate the dimming sky at the precise moment that the sun starts saying good night. Even though they arrive without a sound, the lightening bug’s presence is undeniable. Like flickering lights, they dance across the grassy earth in a captivating display of nature’s unrivaled beauty.

Although lightening bugs are relatively simple creatures, they are simply wonderful creatures, too. They boast impeccable timing, showing up at precisely the same moment every night. And they are utterly dependable, returning every summer, without fail, to entertain children and adults alike. But, more than that, lightening bugs are a marvelous picture of who God is and how He reveals Himself to man’s eye.

You see, like lightening bugs, God is most visible in the dark. While the world’s lights are blazing with earthly ease and glittery pleasures, it is all too easy to miss the majestic light of Jesus moving before our very eyes. We become so distracted by entertainment, productivity and the everyday comings and goings of a comfortable life that we fail to see the very Light of Life. But when our lives go dim and the blinding glare of earth’s desires fade off into the distance, what remains is the captivating glow of Jesus’ light piercing through the darkness.

Perhaps this is why God allows His children to end up in the dark, permitting the extinguishing of earthly lights and stripping away of worldly securities. Because our God is a jealous God who wants our full attention. He does not want us distracted and preoccupied with temporary gratification. He wants us entirely fixated on and completely captivated by the brilliant and eternal light of His Son, Jesus Christ.

To see lightening bugs, we must go out at night and wait for dark but, beloved, that is not so with God’s light.

Unlike the lightening bug, God’s light is not seasonal nor is it only visible during a certain time of day. His glorious light can be seen anytime, anywhere and all year round. Although we might not always perceive Jesus’ brilliance shining into our lives, that doesn’t mean the sparkle of His Spirit is not there. Right before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus promised that He would be with us, “even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) But in order to find Him, we must intentionally and wholeheartedly seek His light, much like a child looks for a lightening bug on a warm summer night. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Beloved, God’s light is all around you. Do you see it? Day and night, the splendor of His presence is right before you. Does He have your attention? Oh, how I hope and pray you will turn your eyes upon Him tonight and let Him captivate you in body, mind and soul. I can assure you of this, when you enter into the presence of God and fix your eyes on Jesus’ Light of Life, you will never want to return to the dark.

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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.

It 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 seized 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)