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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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A Tale of Trickery

It was a cruel trick – and one I should have seen coming.

The fateful trickery occurred back when I was a naïve middle schooler who thought the world was just as warm and wonderful as the summer sun I was standing underneath. But with one mean move by a so-called “friend” I learned that behind the widest of smiles can lie the most cunning of grins.

This truth became evident to me thanks to a young man I will call Charlie for anonymity’s sake. Charlie and I knew each other well and, although I never considered him a best friend, I certainly never considered him a foe. That is, until he set a trap to trip me.

The trap was laid at an outdoor summer gathering with a whole group of our friends. For a reason I couldn’t understand but didn’t question at the time, Charlie singled me out of the crowd and suggested that we race from one end of the grassy yard to the other. Despite being a poor runner, I readily agreed to the competition. A moment later I was braced in a runner’s position and Charlie was counting down from three to one.

And that’s when it happened. Right as I was propelling my body forward with fierce determination, Charlie put his foot out in front of my right ankle and, before I knew it, I was air born. In an instant, I was face down in the lawn with blood on my knees and grass stains on my shirt. As I lifted my head off the hard earth with stars darting in front of my eyes, I looked up and saw Charlie standing a few feet away. He was laughing so hard I’m surprised he hadn’t split a gut. And he wasn’t alone. When I turned my head a little further, I could see that all of his closest confidents were right there with him, laughing at my expense.

At the moment, it’s as if a lightbulb was turned on in the dark room of my mind, revealing that Charlie was not a friend who could be trusted. He was a frenemy who had set a trap to make me fall.

Now, you might be wondering why in the world I’m sharing this story with you. Naturally, you might think I am trying to highlight middle school bullying but, in fact, I want to highlight a form of bullying that goes far beyond the teenage years. I’m talking about government bullying.

At this very moment, Americans are being played by certain powerful individuals and institutions who have set a trap designed to make we the people fall into fear, bondage and captivity. That trap is known as COVID19.

We began hearing about this trap back in January 2020, although few of us had any clue what lie ahead. By March the headlines had shifted into fear mongering at its finest. Every news bulletin announced that millions would die nationally if we didn’t shut everything down for fifteen days to “slow the spread.” So, that’s what we did. We all stocked up on toilet paper and sheltered in place.

But, we all know how that trick played out.

Fifteen days soon turned into thirty and thirty turned into indefinitely. Meanwhile, the millions of cases we were told to fear never materialized, prompting the “professionals” to revise their models downward. But even that couldn’t deter the deceivers from carrying on this trick. They began reporting deaths as “with COVID” and, when that didn’t look serious enough, switched to reporting just cases, regardless of severity. All the while, the news continued to hammer home that the “pandemic” might never end and that we better get used to a new, masked, social distanced “normal.”

Do you see what I see?

Just like Charlie invited me to race, so the American people have been invited to believe the COVID19 hysteria. Just like Charlie stuck his foot out on the count of three, so the government has stuck its media propaganda out in front of the eyes and ears of the masses. And just like Charlie was setting me up to fall, so the deceivers who are pushing this trickery are setting America up to crash and burn. We the people have been played. We have been fooled.

I understand that some people will read this and find it hard to believe. If you read the headlines and watch the news, you’re likely to think I’m sharing conspiracy theories. But you must be on guard against these talking heads, for they are much like Charlie’s snickering friends. They have been in on the plan from the start. In fact, they’ve helped carry it out. And they are playing you, too.

For those of us who follow Christ, what is happening in America should not take us by complete surprise. Scripture is very clear about the reality of wicked people who seek to destroy all things good and godly – and America fits that description. America was founded on godly principles. We need look no further than the Declaration of Independence for proof. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Of course, we know that the enemy is always trying to destroy the way, truth and life of Jesus Christ, so we should expect that he wants to destroy America. And what better way to do it than with virus-born fear?

For decades, godless leaders have been attempting to undermine the Biblical principles upon which this nation was built. We’ve watched this occur in our schools with the removal of prayer in the 1960’s and with the legalizing of abortion in 1973. The enemy has been infiltrating our government bodies and corrupting our medical system with poisons and procedures that destroy rather than heal. It’s all been evil trickery designed to dismantle our land of free people who trust in the Almighty God.

This is why it is of critical importance that we be on guard against these deceivers who want to paralyze us with fear and turn us against one another.

We must turn off the news and tune into the Word of God so we can see clearly what trickery is being perpetrated upon us. Once we do this, we will see that we are being lied to by “those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). It is imperative that we look at the current state of our world through the lens of scripture so we can understand and know the truth. Then and only then will we realize that what we are watching is a campaign by the wicked to destroy and defeat the righteous.

Beloved, I wish I could leave you with a neat and tidy bow to end this post, but such an ending would be disingenuous. Although we know that God is victorious and His people will be preserved, we also know that each day this earth is drawing closer to its final end and, as it does, more calamity and trouble will befall us. But we are not alone during these trying times. The Spirit of the living God is with us and He will not leave or forsake us.

So, dear friend, I urge you to cling to Jesus and never let Him go. Let the trials of this age compel you to seek the face of your Savior more and more every day. And, in the words of Paul, “put on the whole 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.” (Ephesians 6:13)

 

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Remember This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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)

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The Sixth Stage of Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Sent Scattering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Missing Person

Nieko Lisi went missing on September 30, 2011.

He was eighteen years old when he told his parents that he and a friend were going to take a drive to nearby Buffalo, NY. But instead of going to Buffalo, Nieko drove his friend to Michigan and then went on alone to Tennessee where his truck was found stripped and abandoned five years later.

Although Nieko went missing almost a decade ago, his family has never stopped looking for him. To this day in April 2020, his mother continues to search for her son and for answers to his disappearance. She persistently presses police, urging them to keep his case open while doggedly keeping Nieko’s missing face on the minds of Tennessee residents by posting billboards near the location where his truck was found.

Yet, despite years of digging, excavating, scouring and investigating, no one knows where Nieko is. Not one tip has led to a single arrest. Not one piece of evidence has assisted the police in putting together the puzzle of his disappearance.

I’ve seen Nieko’s billboard dozens of times, studied his face and read those big red words “MISSING PERSON.” And every time I do I can’t help but think about the pain his mother must experience not knowing what happened to her child. The mental and emotional torment is more than I can begin to comprehend. How does she sleep at night? How does she smile during the day? How does she keep hope alive that her missing son will one day be found?

As I drove past Nieko’s billboard this afternoon, just like I have so many times before, the sight was transformed in my mind’s eye. Suddenly, instead of just one billboard, I saw hundreds of thousands of billboards, each one pleading for the safe return of a missing child of God.

It was a spiritual vision unlike any I’d ever witnessed. Across the landscape I saw the pictures of my wayward friends, relatives and acquaintances who are missing from God’s family fold. They wore smiles on their faces but, inside, my heart was breaking knowing that these lost souls are in grave danger and don’t even know it. They are in desperate need of being found yet so many of them don’t even realize they’ve gone missing.

On the billboards that God revealed to my heart, I saw the depths of our Heavenly Father’s all-pursuing love. Even when the child has been missing for decades without a trace, God never loses hope that one day His beloved son or daughter will hear His call, see His signs and come home. No matter how old His child is or how stubborn they are, God never stops searching for them. He refuses to give up on His kids. Whether the child is eighteen or eighty one, God relentlessly pursues the heart and soul of each and every one of His missing children.

Beloved, remember that God sees your wayward loved ones and knows them each by name. He has watched them take their every step and can pinpoint exactly where they are hiding at this very moment.

Although your missing person is spiritually lost right now, they are not a lost cause. God has not given up on them and so we must not give up on them either. Keep praying and keep believing that by the amazing grace and all-sufficient love of God your missing person will one day be found.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

Matthew 18:12-14