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A Lesson on Perseverance

When I think about the word perseverance I picture the running man.

“The running man,” as I’ve come to call him, is an older gentleman in my local area who has been pounding the pavement for as long as I can remember. He is tall, lanky and, by now, quite old. Although I’m not sure how old he is precisely (it would be improper of me to roll down my car window and ask), my best guess is early to mid-seventies. Despite his age, the running man has never abandoned his exercise routine which just so happens to be a long distance run along some of the busiest roads not far from my house.

For decades, I’ve spotted this man out on his runs which he faithfully takes in every season and through all sorts of inclement weather. And, for decades, I’ve been wondering how much longer he can keep up this exercise. Even twenty years ago, when I first started noticing him, he ran at such a slow clip I feared he might keel over right then and there. From my perspective, the man’s labored stride looked unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst.

About ten years ago I noticed that the man’s running pace had declined into a forced prodding. As uncomfortable as it looked, I couldn’t help but admire his determination. Muscle degeneration, stiffness and aging couldn’t stop him from pressing upward and onward (both literally and figuratively since his running route covered quite a few hills). And, yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

I truly didn’t believe that the running man could get any slower or become any clearer a picture of perseverance – until yesterday.

To call what I saw the man doing a “run” would be an inaccurate description of his arduous effort. In the past year since I last saw him out for his exercise, the running man’s pace has progressed from slow to snail. His every step is painfully strained and strenuous. Even from afar I could see his heavy breathing as he jerked his arms back and forth while shuffling his legs ever so slightly. And yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

The running man simply will not give up and that’s what makes him such a striking picture of perseverance. Webster’s defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” In other words, the refusal to quit just because it’s hard. To persevere is to press on even when the road ahead is wrought with challenges; push through pain and overcome discouragement. When a person perseveres, they keep moving forward even when it isn’t easy, and the progress made doesn’t look promising.

Most importantly, those who persevere know that speed is not the ultimate measure of success. Faithfulness is. Dedication is. Resoluteness is. Those who practice perseverance know that the true prize is the character developed on the way to the finish line.

Obviously, these perseverance principles are important for physical training, exercise and running but where they truly shine is in spiritual training.

As God’s word says, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:8) And key to godliness is perseverance. In order for God to strengthen the spiritual muscles of His people He must test and try them, just like a runner tests and tries his physical muscles. But if we, the spiritual runners, simply give up we will never reap the reward God has in store for us. If we hang up our spiritual sneakers, so to speak, we will miss all the blessings God longs to bestow upon as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us. (Philippians 3:12)

But, you might be wondering, how is it possible to persevere? When the going gets extraordinary tough, how can weak and feeble people find it in themselves to keep going? Is it by our own effort? Are we supposed to soldier on in our own strength? I thought the Bible said we are supposed to be weak so God can be strong. How does that align with this perseverance talk?

The answer is found in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The key to spiritual perseverance is joy. When we respond to our challenges with a sincerely joyful heart it is as if we are inviting the Holy Spirit’s overcoming power to come and indwell us. When we choose to rejoice in the fullness of faith instead of complaining and finding every excuse to give up, the Spirit of the living God begins to produce within us the fruit of perseverance. He sows the seeds of resolve and determination that, in time, work in us a harvest of spiritual maturation and completeness.

Beloved, even if the road ahead looks daunting and your spiritual legs feel exhausted, consider it pure joy. Rejoice and refuse to be deterred or defeated. Even if you have to move slowly, keep pressing on and into the challenges ahead knowing that God will use every labored step, no matter how small, to cultivate the fruit of perseverance within you to the glory and honor of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

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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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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]

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A Message From a Tree Stump

Freshly cut tree stumps abound across the northern post-winter landscape and they’re delivering an unexpected message of hope.

Every year there are trees that don’t survive the winter weather. Some come crashing down under the weight of snow and ice. Others succumb to the pressure of fierce winds. Then there are trees that, although still standing at the end of the winter season, are in such a bent or cracked condition that they’re a hazard. Since it is better to be safe rather than sorry, those trees must be leveled, too.

The result of all this tree damage and destruction is a very busy season for stump grinders.

In early spring, before the surviving trees have sprouted the buds of fresh foliage, the stump-filled landscape looks desolate and depressing. The gapping holes in the ground where tree trunks once stood stand out like sore thumbs. Without new leaves to cover the bare spots, the absence of the demolished trees is too obvious to be ignored.

But, every year, I am reminded that this barren early spring scene will not last forever. The landscape never stays bleak for long. Life always returns to the earth and, when it does, the stumps aren’t so glaring. In time, the demolished trees will become a distant memory.

In the freshly cut tree stumps there is a message of hope for the brokenhearted:

God is faithful and full of grace. He never has and never will abandon His own.

Even if the landscape of your life appears barren today, look to the Tree of Life that is standing eternally victorious. Fix your eyes on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and rejoice in God’s power to restore, redeem and renew even the most desolate of conditions.

Though stumps may abound for a season, God is always at work beneath the surface, cultivating fresh root systems and bringing forth new blessings upon the landscape. Remember that through the door of death, God ushers in new life. In the perfect timing of His providential seasons, God will transform the landscape of your life with the lush leaves of His goodness and a bounty of foliage that testifies to His redemptive power.

Trust Father God as He develops the buds of His Spirit upon the branches of your soul. Submit to His pruning. Wait on Him with hopeful anticipation and full assurance. Rest in the promise that God has wonderful plans for you and a future of abundance that will bring restoration to the landscape of your post-winter life.

 

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelations 21:5

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When Life Gives You Limes

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

This is fantastic advice.

Who doesn’t love lemonade? Even those of us who don’t consume sugar love the idea of lemonade because squeezed lemons create summer’s quintessential beverage. Lemonade is beloved by children and adults alike. Lemonade stands wouldn’t exist without lemons, nor would Arnold Palmer’s famous drink. No one would argue lemons have purpose and, if received in abundance, can be made it a widely appreciated, even profitable, beverage.

But what if life gives you limes?

Limes are the black sheep of the citrus beverage family. Simply Limeade simply isn’t a best seller. Simply Lemonade and Simply Orange get all of the glory.

And what about all of those “limeade” stands? I’ve never seen one. Have you? And lets not even bring Arnold Palmer into it. As far as I can tell he hasn’t welcomed limes into his beverage lineup.

So, if life gives you limes what do you do? Do you allow your limes to go waste, disappointed that you weren’t the receiver of lemons? Do you leave your limes on the dining room table and toss them when they’ve shriveled up and grown mold? Or do you squeeze a few slices into a cool glass of water and lament that the limes never accomplished more?

No. No. And no.

I am here to tell you that your limes do not need to go waste (nor do they require a vodka and tonic to be worth while.) Your limes are not without purpose. They are a citrus fruit with great potential because limes can be transformed into a delicious treat.

Pie.

When life gives you limes you should make Key Lime Pie.

With a jar of condensed milk, a few egg yolks and, you guessed it, limes, a delicious treat is born. It takes a bit of work (and refrigeration) to create Florida’s most famous dessert but, once set, it is beloved by all. Even those of us who don’t eat sugar can appreciate the beauty and enticing scent of a Key Lime Pie.

Once whipped, the key lime filling is poured into a golden crust and topped with meringue. In restaurants they plate the decadent dessert with a thin slice of lime as a nod to the citrus fruit’s integral role in the pie’s production.

 

It seems that everyone wants what they don’t have. Curly haired women want straight hair. Straight haired women want curly hair. It goes back to the grass always being greener on the other side. And the same is true of fruit.

Lime recipients want lemons and the people who got lemons want oranges. And, chances are, those who received the oranges are wishing they had a whole bunch of lemons.

It’s easy to see the potential in another variety of fruit and consider it be superior to your own. But when we start coveting the lemons we end up missing the blessing in the limes. When we covet someone else’s citrus we miss the potential pie that could be created with our own.

God doesn’t give everyone the same fruit. He doesn’t choose to fill everyone’s lives with lemons. Sometimes He blesses with an abundance of limes (or Lymes) instead. One variety of God’s fruit is not greater than another because He hasn’t created any pointless produce. Every fruit God creates has potential to be transformed into a tantalizing treat that will entice the thirsty and hungry to come and feast on His goodness and grace.

Whatever fruit God gives you take it and squeeze the life out of it for His glory!

Then watch as God uses that fruit to produce an abundance of sweet aid that will nourish others and bring eternal praise and glory to Jesus Christ, His Son.