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The Power of Suggestion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faith’s Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Remember This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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These Ticks are Ticking Me Off

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

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

But “they” were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The 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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God Wins

In our culture of ever-changing buzz words, “new normal” has become the latest to take center stage. It comes on the heels of “social distance,” “flatten the curve” and “stay safe.” I’ll admit, I wasn’t particularly fond of any of these phrases but the “new normal” tops my list of worst word offenders and I’d like to tell you why.

Let’s start by talking about “new”. When something new comes along there is a change from the old and change isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, change can be good. When there is a change from a wrong way of living to a right way of living, change is indeed very good. When we read in the Bible that God is doing a “new thing” and that Jesus gives us “new life” we can see that the change being made is going to introduce something altogether glorious.

But the “new” we hear discussed on the news and by politicians is cut from a different cloth. While our nation’s leaders are discussing a “new normal,” they are releasing hardened criminals from jail while, at the very same time, jailing peaceful prayer warriors. As a “new normal” is being bandied about, churches are forced to shut down while the government protects abortion facilities so they can remain open for business. Further down the line, we are being told that the changes to our way of life will include injecting humans with man-made chemicals and even branding them for a future that includes “cryptocurrency.” This sounds like a Matrix movie but, tragically, this is real life.

You don’t need a PhD to realize that this “new normal” has nothing to do with God’s hope and a future. It has nothing to do with revival, restoration and rebirth. Clearly, this “new normal” that our worldly leaders are attempting to implement is not on God’s terms. It’s on the enemy’s terms.

In opposition to God’s glorious “new normal” is an enemy named satan who wants to destroy it. Satan has His own evil definition of “new” and there is nothing life-giving about it. Let’s take a look at a few of the characteristics of this hell-bound “new normal”:

  • Normalizing sin.
  • Replacing government with God.
  • Living in Fear.
  • Living in isolation.
  • Living enslaved to corrupt earthly leaders.
  • Being restricted from fellowship, public worship and congregational meeting in churches.
  • Empowering death and trampling life.

We know what satan’s mission is: kill, steal and destroy. He salivates at the thought of crushing the church. A “new” landscape without a steeple or a cross is his dream. He loves the thought of silencing God’s people and, in our free nation, implementing a “new” normal that includes the persecution of Christians. For ages, he has been working behind the scenes to end public prayer and ramp up the promotion of murder, crime and violent chaos.

Does this sound like a the “new normal” you want for your future?  

Although the enemy has captured control of the airwaves and certainly has some very influential worldly leaders in his grips, we know how this story ends. The enemy’s “new normal” will not win. Even now, he is acting on borrowed time. Even though he appears to be advancing, his evil plot is doomed to fail because Jesus has already staked claim to the victory.  

Now, I know you might be wondering why, if God has already won, we are seeing such a proliferation of evil and strong advance of the enemy? I asked this same question and took it to before God in hopes of an answer. To my great delight, He replied with these words: “Because dawn is coming – and it is always darkest right before dawn.”

What we are watching unfold before our very eyes is a spiritual war for the very heart of our nation and world. There is a great awakening under way and the enemy has employed every demonic force and weapon of evil in his arsenal to fight back because that’s how threatened he is. The evil actors are getting louder and more hostile in response to the seeds of redemption that are being harvested all around the world. But, try as they might, satan and his evil one’s can’t stop the new life revival God has started.

While speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Those words are as true and applicable to you and I today as they were the day Jesus first spoke them. It’s true that the enemy is a fierce and persistent fighter but, rest assured, he will not have the final say. Because Jesus live, we know God wins. 

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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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Fear Not

“You should be afraid.”

My neighbor’s words took me aback and I didn’t know quite how to respond. I was just being lighthearted, trying to infuse the coronavirus pandemic with a little “social distancing” humor. Apparently, she didn’t find my joke comical. I would have tried to pick my jaw up off the sidewalk, but I was too stunned to think that clearly. Her violent reaction to my harmless banter left me completely speechless.

When I finally found words, they were lame. “Are you seriously telling me I should be afraid?” She confirmed that she was indeed dead serious and then expounded, making it very clear that I was not only a fool – I was offensive, too.

I walked away from that exchange feeling like both the victim and the perpetrator of the crime.

The mix of emotions was unsettling and, in the hours that followed, I struggled to shake them. While replaying the scene over and over again in my mind, I felt like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, as she lamented her inability to come up with zingers on the spot. But it wasn’t a “gottcha zinger” that I wished I would have produced in that moment. It was a “God’s got this witness” I kicked myself for missing. I wanted to rewind time and go back to the sidewalk so I could tell this neighbor that I’m not afraid because I trust God and His perfect providence. I joke, banter and laugh because I am at peace knowing that God is in total control. There is no need to fear the past, present or future because Jesus has already won the ultimate war – the war for the sinner’s soul.

Had my facial muscles and brain been firing on all cylinders, I would have gone on to tell this woman that I learned not to be afraid of death, sickness and uncertainty in the fires of disease. Then I would have undoubtedly expounded, explaining how, two years ago, I was sixty-eight pounds, living with a “comatose” blood pressure reading that caused many a nurse to go ghostly white. I would have told this woman that, against all human logic, God carried my body throughout that storm, making it possible for me to stand before here today as a living testimony to His sustaining and overcoming power. If only I had confidently and joyfully told her that I don’t need to be afraid of a virus because I know the Great Physician!

But, more than a physical story, I would have told her about Jesus’ story that makes it possible for anyone to live free of fear – regardless of what storms they’ve faced in the past.

When Jesus hanged on the cross of Calvary, He bore all of our sins, shame and burdens. He took eternal death to the grave and, when He rose again three days later, He left it there. When Jesus resurrected, He opened the door to Heaven so that every man, woman and child can join Him there forever. And all He asks is that we accept Him and turn our lives over to Him. Pretty good trade off, don’t you think? We surrender our earthly life – fears and all – and, in return, He gives us eternal, abundant, overcoming life. Jesus graciously takes our heavy load upon Himself and gives us abounding hope and unshakable assurance instead.

Followers of Jesus can endure every earthly problem and pandemic with peace and confidence, knowing that their Savior has already overcome this world. They can smile, laugh and experience joy in the midst of suffering and uncertainty because their greatest fear – the fear of eternal separation from God – has been put to rest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t speak any of those glorious truths to my angry neighbor and since I have a feeling she’ll be social distancing herself from me in the future, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to share what I so wish I would have said in the moment. Fortunately, God’s ability to save my neighbor (or any of our fearful neighbors) is not limited to my ability to recite a spellbinding testimony on the sidewalk. He does not need my words to do His work. And although I hope to witness to His majesty with more power, joy and love in the future, I know that He has already forgiven me for the past. The moment I sought His mercy, He extended it without delay, graciously assuring me that there is nothing added to my record of wrong that can’t be washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Nor is there anything I said or left unsaid that His Holy Spirit cannot overcome.

The more I’ve pondered the scene on my humor fail, the more I’ve been compelled to pray for my neighbor. I cannot undo what was or was not said but I can take the situation, my regret and my hopes for this woman to God. He knows my heart and He knows her. And, what’s more, He can restore, heal and deliver us both.

So, that’s my prayer for her. May God restore her soul, heal her heart and deliver her from all her fears.

 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

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Wash Your Hands… And Your Heart

While the whole globe is in hysterics, I just keep wondering, do we really need this many reminders to wash our hands?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the coronavirus. If you didn’t find out about it on the news, then you might have discovered the pandemic while standing dumbfounded in the empty toilet paper isle of your local grocery store. Or perhaps you were notified when your email inbox was inundated with a flurry of messages about “coronavirus precautions.” Or your child is no longer allowed to attend school. That last one makes me question who’s behind this whole coronavirus hysteria. I have a feeling it’s middle schoolers who are secretly high fiving in collective victory.

But, more than any of those germy thoughts, my mind has been wondering a far more impactful question: what if people took Jesus as seriously as they are taking the coronavirus?

I’m convinced that if people were as consumed with Christ as they are COVID-19, we wouldn’t have a global fear pandemic. Instead, we would have an international faith explosion! There wouldn’t be a frantic run on toilet paper (sorry Charmin) but there would be great revival of praise. Schools wouldn’t be shutting down (sorry students) but more churches would surely be opening their doors. While out and about, you probably wouldn’t see many people dawning hospital masks. On the other hand, you would definitely see more people shaking hands and even exchanging hugs.

If we as a global community, took the eternal Jesus more seriously than we take an earthly virus, our entire world would be transformed. If we paid as much attention to safeguarding our spiritual well-being as we are paying to protecting our physical health, our communities would be turned upside down.

During His earthly ministry, when germs were running rampant and viruses were no joke, Jesus told his followers, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”(John 14:1)

Notice that Jesus did not say, believe in your toilet paper or your hand sanitizer or your face mask. He also did not say that we are to believe in man’s ability to come up with a vaccine or the government’s quarantine regulations. What we are told to do is actively guard our hearts from being troubled while believing in the unshakable foundation of the Almighty God.

If you bought a lot of toilet paper, I’m sure it will come in handy, but it won’t save your soul. If your kids are off of school, I do hope that measure is effective for keeping them healthy, but it won’t make their spirit well. Only Jesus can do that. Only the Son of God who died to cleanse our hearts and make us whole can protect us from the greatest virus of all: the sin that destroys our eternal lives.

So, don’t just wash your hands. Let Jesus wash your heart.

Bring your sin and stain to the foot of His cross and let Him purify you from the inside out.

Drop your fear and welcome in abundant faith.

Pick up praise and rejoice as all panic falls away.

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Nothing But the Truth

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a pen (or put my fingers on a computer’s keyboard) to write about life with a chronic illness. But my silence has not been on account of absence. My silence has been on account of fear.

Since moving to Nashville, I’ve shied away from typing about, talking about or testifying to the reality of my disease out of fear that it will define me and this new season of my life. The last thing I wanted when I made this move was to have sickness follow me. Illness had been my shadow for long enough and I wanted a fresh start with a new identity that didn’t include a devastating disease and debilitating ailments.

So, I tried to hide from the reality of my present suffering. I took the tree falling in a forest approach, reasoning that if I didn’t acknowledge my health struggles, maybe they would cease to exist. I did everything in my power to make myself and others believe that my sick days were dead and buried, going so far as to write my disease’s obituary and celebrated its defeat. In my desperation to turn the page and begin a new chapter, I disallowed myself from giving voice to persistent pain and lingering physical dysfunction that plague my daily life, arguing that no one needed to know about the storm brewing on the other side of my smile.

I thought that by rejecting my reality, I could reinvent my identity but, instead, I wound up removing myself from the peace and confidence of God. I began living in a state of denial which, as I came to learn, is like being buried alive. Denial is like trying to have a funeral for that which isn’t actually dead.

From inside my body’s lively grave, I’ve heard symptoms whispering in my ear with a troubling voice that can’t be ignored or outrun. “You’re living a lie,” the voice says, “you’re withholding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your life. You’re trying to write a new reality – one that God hasn’t given you yet.”  

By trying to keep my circumstances a secret, I slipped into the destructive territory known as “the double life.” Broken on the inside but “pretty much fixed” to the outside world; revealing my struggles only to those closest to me while telling the masses “I’m doing well.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in wearing a smile and having an upbeat attitude but those qualities aren’t meant to mask the truth under a cloak of denial. A smile and positive outlook can’t be the façade for trying circumstances. If that’s the foundation for a cheerful disposition, then it isn’t truly genuine. A sincerely joyful countenance isn’t just a face to hide hard circumstances; it is a spirit of faith in the midst of hard circumstances.  

But the negative implications of denial don’t end there. Living with denial is a double-sided coin with destructive ramifications on both heads and tails. If heads is the double-life disunity between the public and private persona, tails is the disconnection between God’s glory and our story.   

Throughout the many years when I wasn’t living in a state of denial, I watched God use painful ailments and disquieting symptoms to mend and shape my heart. Using disease as a sculpting tool, He carved out a purer, more complete faith in Jesus Christ. I wrote about that process regularly and rejoiced in it even when my body was falling apart.

But during the last year I decided that my time of being chiseled by disease was up. In my mind, I was past due for a new storyline and so I told God I wanted a new challenge. I no longer wanted to “bloom” in the garden of Lyme disease in which I was planted. I didn’t want to spend any more time on the potter’s wheel of pain and physical suffering. So, I determined to bury my old trials – even if it meant I was burying them alive. Little did I know I was burying the peace of Christ and joy of His Spirit along with it.

This decision, even if subconscious, was an act of rebellion. By refusing to live in my God-given reality, I cut myself off from letting God’s glory shine through my story. Pretending that my circumstance didn’t exist was essentially like telling my Maker and Savior that His way wasn’t right, good and perfect. While trying to bury that which God hadn’t put in the grave just yet, I became enslaved to my secret instead of empowered to honor Jesus with the truth.
 
The depression of living a double, disconnected life has taught me that it is simply impossible to deny my circumstances and, at the same time, give glory to the Author of them. I cannot bloom when I reject where I’m planted. I cannot live in a state of denial and expect to escape spiritual, emotional or physical defeat. In order for there to be harmony in my heart, fruit in my spirit and healing in my body, I must joyfully accept where God has me and embrace my weakness so that it can become a looking glass for others to see the overcoming strength of Jesus.

This is why I have decided to return to the grave of my disease and dig it back up again. I’m taking a shovel to the ground of my sickness and asking God to revive my spirit as I face the reality of where I am in His perfectly timed healing process. I’m uncovering my Lyme without fear of being defined by it, knowing that my identity is not determined by my physical condition. Because I am a daughter of the most-High King, who I am is rooted in the spirit of the Risen Christ who conquered the grave and defeated death so that I can victoriously rejoice in the midst of suffering, not just praise His holy name in the absence of it.

Even if I go to my grave with disease still coursing through my veins, I will praise God by rejoicing in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because this is God’s story and it is all for His glory.

But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

– Psalm 73:28 [The MSG]