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Return to Christ

Breaking news: It’s February 1, 2021 and I’m sitting in a coffee shop!

Just one short year ago sitting in a coffee shop was my daily routine, not an occurrence that warranted a breaking news bulletin. But then the virus that shall not be named came on the scene and the whole world flipped upside down. Ever since, nothing has been normal, not even sitting in a coffee shop.

I never imagined such a thing as a shutdown world. It never occurred to me that an entire planet could lock down all at once. What’s more is I never would have believed that the masses would readily submit to the tyranny of it. But here we are. Eleven months into fourteen days to slow the spread and, still, the vast majority of people are willfully going along with it. In fact, many seem to have totally adapted to their new, masked, sanitized, socially distanced world.

And me?

Well, I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a hand sanitizer bottle on the table (placed there by the establishment, not myself), looking around at a few lonely, empty chairs, wondering if and when sanity will ever return to society? When will people miss the connection, community and compassion of our pre-COVID world enough to stand up and say “no more”? When will people stop buying the lie that we must separate from one another, lock ourselves away and become dehumanized in order to survive? When will my fellow man wake up to the truth that the deadliest, most destructive virus isn’t corona – it’s fear.

Employing the word “lie” when discussing COVID19 is controversial and certainly unpopular but it’s true. The COVID shutdown/lockdown was built on a lie. Actually, it was built on two fundamental lies. Lie one is that death is to be feared and lie two is that self-preservation is an admirable obsession.

Satan wants we the people to buy into these two fundamental lies because, if we do, then it makes every other lie an easier sell. Wear a mask? Sure, because I need to preserve my health. Shut down schools, small businesses and churches? Absolutely, because I’m afraid of the virus. You see how this works? The enemy always corrupts our foundation before he deceives us in the details.

To expose these lies for the destructive falsehoods they are isn’t very hard to do – no PhD or theological degree required. With our Bible opened to the life and legacy of Christ, we can plainly see that the fear of death and obsession with self-preservation are not admirable or virtuous qualities. Rather, they are sinful and faithless.

But don’t take my word for it – take Jesus’.

While speaking to His disciples, Jesus addressed the fear of death by warning them, “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) Jesus knew full well that the lives of His disciples would be threatened by both pestilence and persecution and, yet, He commanded them not to fear anything or anyone but God Himself. And the same is true for you and me today. The only healthy, virtuous fear is the reverent fear of God.

The second foundational lie, that the self must be preserved at all costs, was debunked by Jesus’ own selfless, sacrificial life. Instead of sparing Himself (which He could have done – after all, He is God!) or numbing Himself from the pain of crucifixion, Jesus bore every nail with full awareness and consciousness. He didn’t prioritize self-preservation. He prioritized obeying the will of God and fulfilling His Father’s redemptive plan for humanity that saved a wretch like me and like you.

Furthermore, after Jesus rose from the grave, He gave His disciples one last command: go and make more disciples. “Therefore,” He said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Notice that Jesus didn’t add a clause to this command stating that such commission is put on pause in the case of a worldwide pandemic. Nor did He note that the command is canceled in the case of physical threat to bodily health. No, Jesus gave no exceptions when He called the redeemed to live as broken bread and poured out wine for the glory and honor of the Lord Most High.

These directives given by Jesus Himself are as true today as they were the day He first spoke them. COVID19 has not changed them. No virus can ever void them. What has changed is society’s willful adherence to a lie. What has been voided by many in our nation and world is unwavering obedience to the word of God.

Which brings me back to the string of questions I posed at the beginning of this post and the one response that answers them all: return to Christ.

The empty chairs will be filled when society returns to Christ.

Connection, community and compassion will be restored when the world returns to Christ. 

Fellowship and relationship will thrive again when people return to Christ.

Fearless, God-honoring freedom will reign again when we return to Christ.

The only hope for this nation and world is for we the people to return to Jesus Christ, for He alone has the power to rescue, redeem and restore. Only His radiant light of Life and Truth can illuminate the darkness and expose every lie. Only His chain breaking power can set the the captives free to live in unbridled liberty.

And that is my prayer for this nation and the nations of the world: that they will throw off the chains that so entangle and stop buying the litany of lies that the enemy is selling. Then they will know the truth and the truth shall set them free.

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Broken made Beautiful

I’m damaged goods.

I hate to admit it but it’s true. After ten years of illness, three years of which were spent fighting for my life, my stomach lining is still touchy and my back is still less than perfect. My heart still tends to beat off rhythm and my eyes still go wonky.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface of my physical brokenness is a mountain of emotional baggage acquired while traversing this long and grueling path.

The emotional side of physical sickness is oftentimes shied away from.

For those of us with a physical malady the last thing we want is to be labeled as a “mental case” on top of it. But, at the very same time, there is no separating the physical from the mental/emotional. Each one of us is a complete and complex being that cannot be compartmentalized. What happens to the body affects the soul and what happens to the soul affects the body. That’s a rule and it doesn’t come with exceptions.

And yet I’ve tried to pretend that I am an exception. Without even realizing it, I’ve tried to downplay and even deny the depth and scope of the emotional toll ten years of chronic illness takes on a person. Subconsciously, I assumed that what happens in the body stays in the body. It has taken years for me to even tip toe near the first step of the emotional/mental healing process: admitting that I have a problem.

Any recovery program starts with this age-old wisdom, “The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting you have one.” This is not only true in terms of addiction recovery but with any and every kind of problem, emotional/mental damage included. No one seeks healing until they recognize their need for healing. No one undertakes to fix what they don’t know is broken.

Recognizing damage and brokenness is uncomfortable. No one wants to look at the ugly truth just like no one wants to stare at an open wound. Confronted with such a troubling reality, our natural response is to flinch, cringe, shut our eyes and avoid it entirely.

But avoidance is a dead-end road.

Refusing to acknowledge brokenness is like trying to avoid weakness. It doesn’t make us strong, it makes us stuck. Shutting our eyes to the truth about our soul’s condition doesn’t make us better, it binds us to our brokenness. Ultimately, it keeps us from having a unified relationship with Jesus in which He has full dominion and supremacy in our lives.

It took someone shining this light of truth on me to see that what I was doing was shutting my eyes to the glaring damage and brokenness still festering like an open would in my heart. Their brutal honesty about what they saw so clearly caused me to peak out from behind my blinders. And when I did, what I saw shocked me.

I saw great big gashes in the shape of rejection and hurts in the form of loneliness. It’s as if a file had been opened and inside was all the evidence of my heart’s trauma experienced over the past ten years of illness and isolation. I saw how I haven’t truly been connecting with anyone on a deep level out of fear that they’ll leave me, like so many have before. I saw the walls I’ve built to keep anyone from getting too close, lest they see all the ugliness of my brokenness and complexity of my past.

As I stood in my kitchen, staring off into the distance while contemplating this troubling revelation, my mind began to wander and wonder, “why?” Why was I still broken? Why weren’t these wounds healed yet? And then my mind shifted to, “how?” How will I ever get put back together again? How do I move past my past and embrace a future free of all these painful memories that are causing my present so much agony?

And that’s when God compelled me to pick up a pen and write these words:

“You must accept that your healing is a process. It won’t happen overnight. Timing isn’t what’s important, that it happens fast isn’t the point. What matters is that you begin.
Recognize your brokenness. Acknowledge the cracks in your foundation. Then ask me to come in and get to fixing it. Request my holy intervention. I’ll answer you. I will respond to your sincere and upright request.
But beware that I will not act in one fowl swoop. I will take my time so that you can be made right. I’ll show you what you need to see. I’ll reveal what you didn’t even know existed.
This will be a process – a discovery phase, if you will. Don’t get frustrated. Get curious! Don’t be angry. Be thankful! I’m making all things in you new. I’m making your broken beautiful.” – Father God (January 10, 2021)

By the time I put down my pen a new truth had dawned on me: healing is about searching out the hidden parts of us. Healing is a journey where we face that which we hope no one ever sees, the stains and blemishes we try so hard to keep a secret.

But, praise God, that’s not where our healing stories end.

After we see how terribly damaged we are then we are shown, and can fully appreciate, how perfect and spotless our Savior, Jesus, truly is. Face to face with our brokenness, we are humbled anew by the blood of the Lamb that covers our sin and washes every stain away. We are dazzled by God’s most brilliant and amazing grace that takes all of our shattered pieces and puts them back together again in a way that is indescribably beautiful, entirely unique and never to be duplicated.

This is God’s specialty – making broken people whole and better than before. But in order to receive the redemptive and restorative touch of God we must be willing to confront our brokenness and come to the foot of the cross with it. We must acknowledge the fact that we are damaged goods before we can sincerely lay them down before the throne of Almighty God.

Then we can ask our Heavenly Father to do what He does best – make us whole again. We can get on our knees, surrender fully before the cross of Christ and entrust our lives into the hands of the Potter who can turn a mess into a masterpiece and make the broken absolutely beautiful.

 

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147:3

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Is singleness a good thing?

Alright. I’m just going to come right out and say it: there are some scriptures in the Bible that I’m not too fond of.

Case in point: 1 Corinthians 7:8

1 Corinthians 7:8 is the last a verse you’d find in a Christian wedding ceremony and not one we singles like to hear either. In this particular passage, God’s Word reads, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I [Paul} say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.”

I’ll be totally honest with you. As someone who has been single for ten years and prayed for a husband for just as long, this scripture is far from a balm to my soul. It is, rather, a knife through my heart. I don’t like the idea of God deeming lifelong singleness as a good thing because that means He might leave me in this status indefinitely. And that’s not my heart’s desire. The desire of my heart today is what it was ten and twenty years ago: get married, have a family and live at least somewhat happily ever after.

I’m not a Pollyana about marriage. I know it’s tough and rarely, if ever, lives up to the fairytale expectations of newlyweds. But that doesn’t change my desire to be married. Even though I know it would bring its own unique set of challenges, I want those challenges. After living for ten years with a chronic illness, I’m used to challenges. They are a part of life and I’ve accepted that. What I have a hard time accepting is that I might never get the opportunity to face the challenges of marriage because God has deemed it “good” for me to be unmarried.

At times, I have a hard time believing that singleness is in fact a good thing because it so often doesn’t feel like a good thing. When your social media is covered with friend’s wedding photos, it doesn’t feel good. When all of your church small groups are for “married couples,” it doesn’t feel good. When you’re setting the table for one (again), it doesn’t feel good.

In this wedded world, it doesn’t feel good to be on the single sidelines. It doesn’t feel good to be alone while everyone else in your world is finding their second half. In fact, it feels downright bad, lonesome and unfair to be a Miss when all your life you dreamed of being a Mrs.

And here in lies the danger of listening to and basing our contentment on our feelings.

You see, feelings are not rooted in truth. Feelings are rooted in circumstances, comparison and the flesh’s persistent desire for comfort. When we are listening to and trusting our feelings, we cannot listen to and trust God’s Word because our own emotional dialogue drowns out the flawless and timeless truths of God.

And this is precisely what the enemy wants, isn’t it? Satan wants us to be so fixated on our own feelings that we forsake the truths of God. The enemy wants us to be so consumed with what the rest of the world is up to that we fail to recognize what God is up to in our own hearts and lives. Ideally, satan would like those of us who are reluctant singles to read 1 Corinthians 7:8 and be so angry with God over the idea that this status is a good thing that we close up our Bibles and refuse to read another Word.

But that’s not what I’m going to do and, if you’re single, I hope that’s not what you’re going to do either. What I am going to do – and what I hope you do – is keep reading to understand why this status can indeed be a good thing and, perhaps, even the better thing in some cases.

Towards the end of 1 Corinthians 7, God’s Word sums up the advantage of singleness this way: “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.  I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (v. 34-35)

Notice those words “undivided devotion.” To my fellow singles, this is the benefit and blessing of our status. We have the opportunity to be undivided, unbroken and uninterrupted in our devotion to Jesus Christ because our attentions are not torn between the obligations and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. We are given this unique and special status so that we can use the time, whether it be a season or an entire lifetime, to seek Christ completely with our whole heart, mind and soul.

When I take a step back and read 1 Corinthians 7:8 in conjunction with verses 34-35, all my negative, poor me feelings fade away in the light and revelation of what singleness actually is: a gift; an invitation; a sacred status.

Yes, it’s true. Singleness is good. Singleness is a gift and a divine invitation to experience and enjoy a closer walk with Jesus. When surrendered before the throne of Almighty God, singleness is transformed into a sacred status where the solitary sojourner can live consumed by the goodness, love and presence of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, if you’re struggling to accept God’s will for Your life, whether it be singleness or some other set of circumstances, I urge you to keep seeking God in His Word. If a scripture stirs up feelings of frustration or discontent, don’t close up the whole good Book. Instead, press on and read more in pursuit of the character and truths of God. Regardless of marital status, pray for an open heart and ask for eyes to see and receive the Lord’s blessings. And come to Jesus – always come to Jesus-  and He will cover you with His love and saving grace.

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The Slow Road to Healing

I remember the first (and only) time a church body laid hands on me and prayed for my healing.

People were speaking in tongues and some others were singing hallelujahs. I remember the pastor’s hand in particular. It was heavy and clammy and when he lifted it off my back I had a sweat spot on my shirt. I hoped that in all of that energy was the delivering of a mighty miracle but, to be honest, I was skeptical.

Not having grown up in a Pentecostal church where the laying on of hands is a common occurrence, I didn’t know what to expect following my first encounter of this kind. Part of me was anticipating a crack of thunder or at least a powerful sensation in my stomach – some sort of “message received” communication from God. But none of those things happened. I felt nothing but that preacher’s sweaty palm on my back.

Despite no shock and awe, stand up and walk variety miracle, I didn’t leave the church entirely disappointed. “I bet tomorrow I’ll wake up and feel different,” I thought to myself. In my mind, all of those prayers and hallelujahs were like an antibiotic. I took them, now they just needed 24 hours to take full effect.

But, after 24 hours, still nothing had happened. And the same was true 48 and 72 hours later.

Nothing changed and nothing did change for years. In fact, just the opposite happened. Over the next seven years, I became sicker, weaker and frailer. From the outside looking in, it certainly appeared that the passionate church and sweaty palmed pastor had failed to usher in my healing. Or perhaps it was me and my lack of faith keeping my body from receiving restoration and fullness of health?

Following that experience and the lack of visible results produced by it, I stopped praying that God would perform an instantaneous miracle in my body. It’s not that I stopped believing God could perform such a wonder. It’s just that I stopped believing He would do it for me. I stopped believing that it was His will for me to be made well in a single moment and, in time, began embracing the belief that there was a purpose for my pain and suffering.

And, praise God, I was right.

For reasons far greater than my own, it was not God’s will to heal me with the snap of a finger or single touch. That wasn’t His plan for my life, my body or my testimony. Since before I was born, God wrote my story with a plot that included years of mysterious symptoms, misdiagnosis and all-out war against an invisible disease. He prepared for me a slow road to healing which, as I came to discover, is no less miraculous than an instantaneous healing.

Don’t get me wrong, instantaneous healing is wonderful and certainly a beautiful testimony to the unrivaled power and majesty of God, but it isn’t the only way God glorifies Himself through sickness. Sometimes God allows people to endure through illness and fight through disease for the specific purpose of demonstrating His unwavering faithfulness and sustaining grace. Often times, God allows pain and suffering because, in and through it, we who experience it are refined and sanctified by it. If we will allow God to have His way in our broken bodies, He will use every ache and hurt like a winnowing fork, removing the wheat from the chaff of our hearts.

Looking back now, I can honestly say that I am thankful God didn’t answer the prayers of those passionate believers who laid hands on me in church.

I am thankful God didn’t give me what I thought I wanted, which was a “pick up your mat and walk” miracle because, had He answered that prayer, I would have missed out on the spiritual regeneration He had in store for me. Had God let me skip out on my extended healing journey, I wouldn’t have had my faith strengthened in the fire of trials and tests. Had I not traveled along the lengthy path of chronic illness, I wouldn’t have the honor of sharing a story that includes being sustained at 65 pounds, upheld with failing organs and carried on a skeletal frame.

I am who I am today because God took me down the slow road to healing. That was His will for me and I will boast in it because it is indeed a wonderful story that glorifies and honors the Almighty God.

If you’re sick, suffering or struggling because God hasn’t healed you yet, I pray this story encourages you. I also hope it reminds you that your story is no less miraculous than someone who experiences a shock and awe miracle moment. Your story, no matter how slowly it might be unfolding, was written specifically for you by God, for your good and His glory. Trust Him with every detail. Remain patient when the timing doesn’t go your way. And keep looking for the mini-miracles along the way, because I promise that if you look into your heart, you’ll see them unfolding all the time.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

~ Isaiah 41:10

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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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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

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A Word from the Lord

The following is a word from the Lord I received on April 9. Although spoken directly to me, I believe it is not for me alone. I believe I am meant to share it with others who are in a season of concern, anxiety and worry so that they can be comforted and encouraged by truth. If you are feeling burdened and weighed down, I pray that this word speaks to your heart and renews you with hope and peace. 

Dear child,

Long before you had this problem, I had your solution. You didn’t even know you were going to be in this dilemma. But I knew and that’s why I prepared for your deliverance. This situation is not catching me by surprise. I saw this coming from light years away.

I know this case looks hopeless to you now but, rest assured, no one’s is. Remember, I brought new life out of a sealed grave. Trust me, child, there is nothing I cannot do. There is no problem I cannot solve; no brokenness I cannot fix; no hurt I cannot heal; no soul I cannot resurrect.

I am not asking you to devise the right strategy or develop the perfect plan. That’s my job, not yours. I’m the only one who knew you were going to be in this mess and I’m the only one who can get you out. Which is why all I’m asking you to do is trust me. Lean not on your own understanding and trust me. Depend not on your own ideas and trust me. Look not to your own intelligence and trust me.

I will show you the right steps to take – and not a moment too late. I will make the directions clear – and all you have to do is pay attention. Keep your ears attune to my voice and your eyes fixed on my Son’s empty grave. As long as you’re focused on me, you can’t go wrong.

I promised you life and I am always true to my word. You can depend on me to make your path straight through this storm because that’s who I am and what I do. I am the way maker, the miracle worker and the promise keeper. I am the light that will never leave you in the dark.

Do you trust me? Will you bank entirely on me? Give me your word – you know you already have mine – and I promise you, child, I won’t let you down.

Love,

God

 

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.…”

Proverbs 3:5-6

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Scattered

Today, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday and not a single church in my area opened its doors to honor the Holy Day. They’ve all closed up their sanctuaries in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now all services and ministries are online, streaming from any and every device.

When the shuttering of churches first happened, I couldn’t understand why every body of believers rolled over so willingly to the government’s “strong suggestion.” As Christians in China risk their lives to smuggle Bibles into their country and hide in their basements to read them, Christians in American voluntarily capitulated. Only a few pastors put up a fight. Most barely even batted an eyelash.

What happened to heeding the words found in Hebrews 10:25-27: “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.”  Why didn’t anyone defend the sacred practice of meeting together? Didn’t they think about the message this sends to the enemy? Won’t shuddering the church shatter the mission of the church to minister to hurting, fearful, broken people? How can we be light in the darkness when we’ve turned out the church lights and locked the door behind us?

These questions and others were heavy on my heart when I opened the Bible and turned to my daily reading which just so happened to be in John chapter sixteen.

In this particular passage of scripture, just days before His crucifixion, Jesus gives His disciples a heads up, warning them about the trials and troubles that will soon come. After the men confirm that they believe what Jesus says is true, Christ tells them, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered…”

It was that last word that caught my attention. “Scattered.” Until this time, Jesus’ followers had been in their own little comfortable clique. They went out two by two to perform miracles. They traveled together by boat. But a time was coming when they would be “scattered.” Spread out. Strewn about. Separated. 

Isn’t this precisely what’s happening to the church?  Connect groups and life groups have been spread out into their apartment complexes. Greeting teams and worship teams have been strewn about in their neighborhoods. Pastors have been separated from their flocks. The whole church has been scattered.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He then went on to explain that this scattering would be each to his “own home.” Now if that doesn’t sound like what’s happened to the church then I don’t know what would!

Can you imagine it? The disciples were about to experience the horrific crucifixion of their Messiah. They were about to be questioned and possibly persecuted for being followers of Jesus. They were about to have their faith in God tested unlike ever before. And right before all these trials arrive, Jesus warns them that they will be sent into the solitary confinement of their own homes to endure them.

In isolation is where the followers of Jesus would be still and trust in who God is. In solitude is where their faith would be solidified. It wasn’t on the boat. It wasn’t on the hillside with the loaves and fishes. It wasn’t while waving palm branches and singing Hosanna. Christians became “the church” of the resurrected Jesus at home and all alone.

Looking through the lens of previous Biblical history has transformed my perspective on the modern-day church and what God is doing within its scattered walls. By dismantling the familiar rituals and routines of church, a deeper and richer faith is being discovered. In the resting of small groups, Christians are being given the opportunity to relish the quiet and be refreshed in the stillness.

The enemy might think he’s winning but we, God’s people, know the truth. We have not been defeated but deployed. We have not been shattered but scattered.

And in this scattering, there will be sanctifying. In this shuttering of doors there will be an awakening of souls.

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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.