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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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God is on the Move

“We live in uncertain times.”

If the year 2020 had a mantra, that line would be it. With this new decade has come a fresh awareness of the reality that, seemingly overnight, life as we know it can be turned into life as we never imagined it could be. In the blink of an eye, our world can turn upside down.

When we turn on the news, we’re confronted with gloom and doom. We’re told to practice “social distancing” and stay away from restaurants, gyms, and stores until further notice. At the grocery store, we’re told that no one knows when the toilet paper will be back in stock and meat is nowhere to be found, either. As for churches, they’ve closed their doors along with business that have been told to close up shop and go home. Indeed, these are very uncertain times. And no one knows how or when they will end.

Well, no one except God.

When we open our Bibles, we are comforted with the good news that God is in control. Our present circumstances are not taking Him by surprise. He’s known about the coronavirus since before time began. And, what’s more, He’s actually allowed it. In His perfect providence, God permitted this pandemic because it plays a role in His grand plan.

Make no mistake, God is getting our attention. He is allowing entertainment to be shut down to silence distractions. He is permitting this quarantine and using it to recalibrate heads and hearts. By way of coast to coast cancellations, He is purifying the church of its fascination with bright lights and coffee bars. Without a doubt, God is on the move but He’s not moving like any of us would expect. In fact, He’s moving in the exact opposite way we humans would expect. God is moving in the stillness.

As it so happens, today, March 17th, is St. Patrick’s Day – a day usually marked by boisterous crowds and rowdy behavior.

Interestingly, the St. Patrick himself wasn’t one for such beer-infused merriment. He was actually more interested in being still, as evidenced by one of his many writings in which he penned Psalm 46:10 this way:

“Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.”

Behind the scenes of the coronavirus pandemic, God is up to something truly extraordinary and it can be summed up in St. Patrick’s writing. Be still and know that He is God.

As entertainment is silenced and distractions are shut off, be still and know that He is God. As the go, go, go of daily life comes to a screeching halt, be still and know that He is God. As the consume, consume, consume of our world suddenly stops, be still and know that He is God. As the awareness of this earth’s uncertainty becomes acute, be still and know that He is God. As the news protects fear into an unknown future, be still and know that He is God. As the mystery of what tomorrow will bring hangs in the balance, be still and know that He is God.

God is on the move, awakening, reviving, and saving. God is on the move, purifying, cleansing and sanctifying. Make no mistake, God is most certainly on the move and I, for one, can’t wait to see what He’ll do next. Heaven knows, I don’t have a clue but I do know that He is God and that all I am asked to do is simply be still.

Be still and know that I am God. 

Psalm 46:10

 

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Confessions of an Overthinker

I’m an overthinker. It’s a trait I was born with; woven into my DNA. I’m a wonderful ruminator with a knack for pondering, contemplating, and considering. There must be an off switch to this brain of mine, but I haven’t discovered it yet.

Although being an overthinker doesn’t have to be a negative, overthinking certainly has the tendency to become unconstructive and downright damaging. The trouble is what overthinking naturally leads to. Namely worry which leads to unrest. 

Whenever I begin overthinking, my next natural step is to worry. Once this happens, I rarely come up with a fantastic idea, enlightening revelation or great breakthrough. Those miraculous moments almost always arrive in a flash, at the precise moment I thought I was “under” thinking. What I do come up with in these moments of worrisome thought is fear being projected into the future and an absence of peace to enjoy in the present.

When speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “do not worry.” Or, as the Message version puts it, “don’t get worked up.” Period. End of story. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it; no noted exception to this rule. Jesus made it clear that His followers must actively choose not to worry which, for some of us overthinkers, requires intentionally intervening in our very active – and at times destructive – minds.

But before we can get intentional about fixing our overthinking problem, we must first admit that we have one. We must get brutally honest with ourselves and these five self-diagnostic questions can help:

  1. Do I often find myself WONDERING what if?
  2. Do I have to stop myself from OBSESSING about what might be?
  3. R: Do I catch myself REHEARSING worst case scenarios?
  4. R: Do I find myself REACHING for ways to take control?
  5. Y: Do I secretly (or not so secretly) YEARN for a way out?

If you’re an overthinker with a worrying problem, you might get uncomfortable reading that list. I know I sure did. This list is revealing and, if we’re candid, downright convicting. We know that worrying does us no good (and that Jesus explicitly told us not to do it) but the unrest of worry is an easy, albeit upsetting, trap to fall into. But, praise God, it is NOT an impossible trap to get out of.

A fertile mind and the capacity to create thought is a gift from God but it comes with a responsibility. If we aren’t careful, our busy brains can and will be used against us by the enemy to steal our joy, rob our peace, and destroy our contentment in all circumstances. Thankfully, the enemy’s power to control our thoughts is limited and grossly inferior to the power of God to rule and reign in our minds. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave can and will free us from the trap of overthinking. And all we have to do is resolutely reposition ourselves before God and take every thought captive at the foot of Christ’s cross.

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry (pun intended). Scripture tells us exactly how to reclaim our mind in the name of Christ, inviting joy, peace, and contentment to rule and reign in our hearts again. It’s as simple as W-O-R-R-Y:

  1. WORSHIP God for who He is and His great mercy, faithfulness and love. Lord, you are my God;
    “I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.” (Isaiah 25:1)
  2. OBEY God by taking the next right step that is right in front of you.
    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
  3. REFOCUS your thoughts on today.
    “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:35)
  4. REJOICE in the blessings you’ve been given.
    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
  5. YEARN for more of Jesus with all of your heart, mind and soul.
    “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” (Matthew 22:37)

Friends, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” – go ahead and overthink about such things. (Philippians 4:8) You can simply never think too much about the goodness of our great and glorious God.

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Turbulence & Trust

As the plane taxied down the runway, the pilot’s voice echoed over the PA system, welcoming passengers on board flight 2071 with service to Charlotte. After a dutiful greeting, he went on to warn that turbulence awaited us in the skies above. I hoped he was wrong but, twenty minutes later, the airplane turned rollercoaster ride proved him right.

As the plane hit choppy air the whole cabin began to rock and sway. The flight attendants stopped beverage service on account of severely sloshing drinks and the captain turned on the fasten seat belt sign. Meanwhile, the stranger seated next to me gripped his armrest a little tighter and took an extra deep breath. That’s when I shut my book, closed my eyes and began praying the lyrics of a simple worship song: “Oh God, you are my God and I will every praise you…”

This wasn’t the first time I turned to the lyrics of “Step-By-Step” while on an unsettled airplane. It’s actually my go-to turbulence lullaby. The words of praise shift my focus away from fear and onto the foundational truth that God is in control. As I sing, I remember that the atmosphere is not more powerful than its Creator and aerodynamics are no match for the Maker of the skies. 

No matter what unrest lies ahead, God is in control.

But it’s not just while flying at a bumpy 35,000 feet that I need reminded of God’s almighty power and unwavering control. Down on earth, my spirit is just as desperate for the steadying truth that God is bigger than any force or foe I will ever face. No power of hell or scheme of man can thwart His flawless will. No trial or tribulation can alter His unfailing goodness. No unrest can disrupt His perfect providence.

Turbulence is no match for the Almighty God!

God holds the whole world in His hands – including yours and mine. He sees every sparrow in the sky and charts the path of every plane through the clouds. Nothing we encounter surprises Him or shakes His confidence. Just like the pilot knew that flight 2071 would hit rough air before the plane’s wheels ever left the ground, God has known, since before you and I were ever born, every detail of every trial we would ever counter.

Friend, whether you are traveling through rough air in a plane or a rocky road on the ground, remember the unshakable greatness of God. Instead of relying on an arm rest to calm your fears, lean on the presence of Christ. Let every bump along life’s way bring you closer to His perfect peace as you prayerful praise His holy name.
 

“I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.”

– Psalm 145:1-3

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By Faith

She did it! My little puppy, Faith, finally did it! After months of coaxing and coaching, at last, Faith conquered her fear of cement steps and ascended all three flights of apartment complex stairs!

As I watched Faith bound up those steps for the very first time my heart welled up with parental pride. I felt the joy of victory as my pup, who used to be petrified by the very sight of those steps, leapt up each one with ease. In the blink of an eye, Faith became a stair climbing pro. She even made it to the top before I did. Once safely on the third-floor landing, she turned around and smiled at me as if to say, “look what I did mom! I’m a big pup now!” 

I celebrated Faith’s milestone with many “good dog” affirmations, petting and, of course, a treat. But while I was praising her, my mind began to wander and wonder, “If watching your fur baby conquer steps is this exciting, how amazing must it be to watch your own flesh and blood baby take his or her first steps?” A second after that thought crossed my mind, grief slammed into me like a tsunami as I heard myself utter the words, “you might never get to find out.”

This month (January 2020) marks ten years since my menstrual cycle abruptly left my body, taking my ability to carry a child with it.

While working through the loss of my fertility I’ve experienced every stage of grief multiple times and cried a river’s worth of tears. After a decade of mourning and processing, I really thought I had come to a place of peace and acceptance. But, as I watched Faith conquer her fear of the stairs, my own old infertility fears and sadness came back with vengeance. 

Sadness came first.

I know that being a Mom isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and roses. Parenting (and pregnancy) has plenty of thrones. But with immense challenges come immense blessings, such as experiencing, firsthand, the miracle of new life. To give birth to a child is a wonderful gift and one that, growing up, I always assumed I would receive someday. Up until ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be unable to conceive and carry a child. I never imagined I wouldn’t give birth to a baby. To me, that was a given.

But I’ve had to learn the hard way that nothing in life is a guarantee. Not health. Not fertility. Not marriage. Not motherhood.

With the loss of my fertility I’ve had to grieve the fact that I might never hold my own baby in my arms. I might never see my own baby on a sonogram image or prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I might never get to capture a first smile, first word or first step. I might never get to rejoice in those little, monumental victorious and it’s the reality of all those nevers that has caused me incredible sadness.

But it’s not just sadness that plagues me. It’s fear, too.

As a single, infertile woman, my inability to carry a child has caused me to wonder (and worry) what man will ever want to marry me. It seems to me that most men (especially Christian men) want kids and a family. Given that I can’t provide in that way (barring a miracle of God), I fear that no man will ever want to make me his wife, making me not only indefinitely infertilite but indefinitely single, too.

In the days that have passed since Faith made her stair climbing conquest, I’ve done a lot of praying and asking God to help me overcome my infertility fears and sadness.

Ohm how I wish I could say that God answered my pleas with a clear word like He gave to Abraham and Sarah. My hope was to hear His booming voice from heaven say, “you will one day give birth to a child and call him John” – or some great prophesy along those lines.

But, the truth is, this story doesn’t go that way. Instead of a voice, I heard nothing. Absolute silence. God was as quiet as a church mouse. But, even in the silence, I still trusted that He had a word of comfort to share with me so I sought Him by opening, reading and soaking in His Word. Then I waited.

It took a few days of intentional stillness and silence but, finally, I heard the voice of God whispering two little words that changed everything: “By faith.”

Those two words led me back to Hebrews chapter eleven where Paul catalogues the “hall of faith.” The list includes Noah who, “by faith,” built an ark even though there hadn’t been a drop of rain in ages. Abraham who, “by faith,” left his homeland and journeyed into an unknown future. And, of course, Sarah, who, “by faith” believed in the faithfulness of God even when she was old and barren.

Although the details differ, two common themes run through every name Paul listed in Hebrews chapter eleven: extreme difficulty and incredible faith. The men and women who are commended by Paul are men and women who walked by faith and not by sight. They journeyed through this earthly life with their eyes fixed on heaven, knowing that, no matter what fate awaited them in this world, God was preparing a holy city for them in glory.

Because every person listed in Hebrews eleven was “confident in what they hoped for and assured about what they did not yet see,” God was supremely glorified in their life story. They relied on the Lord to be their strength and, in doing so, their lives testified to the resurrection power of Christ. By faithfully surrendering to God, their histories became a beautiful part of His grand story of salvation, redemption and restoration.

And the same is true for me.

As I walk “by faith” through infertility and singleness, God will use those struggles to magnify Jesus and tell His story. “By faith,” He will transform my life into a testimony of His great majesty and grace.

And the same is true for you.

Whatever fear or sadness you are facing today, God knows your deepest pain, understands your heart and wants to guide you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is not asking you to look at tomorrow or worry about what the future will or will not hold. All He asks is that you walk, live and trust Him “by faith,” not sight. His one and only request is that you surrender unconditionally at the foot of Christ’s cross and seek the Lord with your whole heart, mind and soul.

Dear friend, I pray that on this very night you will give God your sadness and release every fear into the hands of Jesus. He can and will heal your brokenness and fill you with the joy of new life as you walk with Him “by faith.” 

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Live for an Audience of One

As I stood at my favorite coffee shop’s cash register, ordering my regular small coffee (no room for cream), the barista looked up from the carafe and asked me a question that immediately made my heart stop and palms sweat. “So what is it that you do while your sitting there, typing on your computer?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked at least a hundred times and one I’m never quite sure how to answer. On one hand, I want to declare that I’m a self-proclaimed writer, but, on the other hand, I’m embarrassed to address the follow-up questions that so often come next, such as “are you published?”

When I am forced to acknowledge that I’m a writer without a single word in print, it makes me question the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart out and onto a page. I have spent nearly ten years posting, “doodling” (what I call journaling), and asking Jesus to take the pen and yet I have so little to show for it by earthly measures. To date, I have a measly fifty-nine IG followers, five email subscribers and seventy-six likes on FB. In society’s terms of success, that translates into “failure.”

In the split second that passed between receiving the barista’s question and responding, a battle royal between confidence and doubt waged within my mind. It was like having a little red-horned devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.

From the devil’s side came taunting, insults and heckling…. “You’re such a loser. Don’t you see that you’re wasting your time writing your little Jesus life lesson stories? No one even reads them because they’re not any good. You’re not any good!”

But, on the other shoulder, was the voice of a reassuring, uplifting angel… “Just one is enough. Just reaching one weary soul is enough. Just encouraging one heavy heart is enough. Just cheering one downcast friend is enough. Just brightening one stranger’s day is enough. Just writing for an audience of your One and only Savior is enough.”

The enemy tried hard to crush my spirit and rob me of the opportunity to tell the barista that I write for Jesus but, praise Jesus, he didn’t have the final say because, louder than his lies was God’s voice of truth. With a decisive, “not today satan”, I snubbed the devil on my shoulder, opened up my mouth and, with bold conviction, proclaimed to the barista, “I’m a writer!” Then, to my pleasure, she asked what I write about, to which I was able to respond, “devotionals for Jesus.”

As I sat down with my coffee and opened up my computer like I have nearly every day for the past decade, I said a silent, “thank you” to God for the opportunity to hear and respond to His voice.

I also thanked Him for reminding me of what Paul wrote to the Colossians. “Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.” (3:23) Although the Colossians weren’t faced with the challenges of social media, that doesn’t mean they were immune to the enemy’s taunting. Just like you and I experience today, the Colossians were tempted to measure success in worldly terms. In his letter, Paul reminded them, and us, that we are citizens of Heaven and, therefore, we are to live for the King of Heaven. Honoring God, not gaining worldly honor or likes, is what gives life real purpose, enduring meaning and eternal value. Faithfully obeying and following Jesus in any and all situations, whether big or small, is how we are to truly glorify God.

When the curtain falls on this earthly life, all social media accounts, book deals, and awards will mean nothing. They will not accompany us past this grave. But what we will take with us is the heart we surrendered to God and the life we dedicated to an audience of One.

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What are you collecting?

My coffee mug collection began innocently. A whimsical, ice-skating snowman inspired mug here. An Easter bunny and carrot themed mug there. “A mug for every season” – that was my motto.

Over the years, as my coffee cup collection has steadily grown, so has the chaos in my kitchen cabinet. There are now so many mugs crammed into that little space it’s a wonder the door even closes.

Recognizing the excessiveness of my drinkware situation, I have, for years, resolved to cut off all coffee cup purchasing and pare down my current collection. My intentions have been good but my follow through has been quite poor. I’ve tried picking just my favorites and donating the rest, but I find that they are all my favorites for one sentimental reason or another. I’ve even tried the Kon Mari technique, asking myself “does this bring you joy?” To which the answer is always, “Yes. This llama mug most certainly does bring me joy.”

But coffee mugs aren’t my only collection. I have a second, not so visible and far less joyous collection that I’ve had trouble parting ways with, too: a collection of fears.

Over the past decade I’ve collected more fears than coffee mugs. I have a fear that I’ll wind up being a lifelong single and a fear that I’ll never regain my full health. Then there’s that pesky fear that I’ll fail at every career I try. And who can forget the niggling fear that I’ll end up moving back into my parent’s basement (again). For every setback, failure or struggle, I’ve added another fear to my collection, creating an internal space that is so chock-full of anxiety, worries and concerns it makes my kitchen cabinet look sparse.

Like I do every January 1st, I made a resolution on this New Year’s Day. “This year,” I thought, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to cut ties with this excessive coffee mug collection and bring order back to this chaotic cabinet!” Nowhere in my mind was I thinking about my fear collection – that’s a collection I didn’t want to admit even existed. I wanted to keep that door securely shut. I wanted to keep my fears, anxieties and worries a secret.

But that wasn’t meant to be.

As soon as I opened the kitchen cabinet to attack the out of control coffee mug collection, a revelation dawned on me like a lightbulb illuminating above a cartoon character’s head: Why are you so fixated on this coffee mug conundrum? Don’t you see that you have a far more pressing situation to address – all those paralyzing fears you’ve let take up residence in your mind? Can’t you see that you’ve become like this cabinet – so crammed full of fear you have no room left for faith.

As I surveyed the plethora of coffee cups all stacked and squished behind the cabinet’s glass door, I realized that, just like that cabinet, my mind has limited space and I must be intentional about what – and Who – I let fill it. If I relinquish control to the enemy, he will cram me full of anxious thoughts and fearful emotions, destroying my joy and robbing me of peace in the process. But, if I allow God to fill my sacred internal space, He will strengthen my faith by enriching my mental collection with wisdom and truth. When I invite God into my mind and ask Him to control my collection of thoughts, He defeats the enemy’s lies, exposes every destructive fear, and fills me with His overcoming peace and abundant joy.

It was this new revelation that revived my resolve – but not my resolve to part ways with my llama mug, that mug is here to stay. This time, I determined to get rid of my collection of fears.

But how?

If I couldn’t part ways with a few coffee mugs, how could I part ways with an entire mind full of fears and dooms day thoughts? To successfully accomplish this resolution, I knew I needed help clearing away the anxious clutter I’d let accumulate inside. So, I did what anyone who wants to declutter their life should do. And, no, I didn’t turn to Kon Mari to refresh my memory on her Tidying Up technique. I turned to the only One who has the power to break every chain – including every chain of fear. I turned to Jesus, relinquished control of my collection and asked Him to take over cleaning my internal house.

In no time at all, a verse came to mind. “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) Or, in coffee mug speak, when the enemy is trying to sell you an earthly fear mug, leave the store, run to God and stock up on the eternal treasures revealed in His word.

You see, Jesus claimed victory over fear when He conquered the grave. When our Savior defeated death, He made it possible for you and I to enjoy freedom from all fear. But, in order to experience that freedom, we have to be choosy about what we allow into our mental, emotional and spiritual collection. We must stop buying the fear lies and quit even giving the enemy’s sales pitch the time of day! Instead, we must fix our eyes, ears and heart on Jesus and invest in a faith-filled collection packed with God’s promises and busting at the seams with His extravagant love.

And, if you must buy something, just go buy a whimsical coffee mug. I suggest shopping at Home Goods, TJ Maxx or Marshalls. They always have the very best selection. Tell them Stephanie sent you.

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Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

This was the question I typed into the Google search bar under the cover of night, yielding 10.4 million results in 3.4 seconds. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only one wondering whether or not God approves of Christians looking for love online. Given the millions of blog posts and articles written on the topic, I assume that thousands (if not millions) of other single Christians are wrestling with the same question.

As I scrolled through the first page of search results, I found a plethora of posts from well-respected leaders in the Christian ministry world. Desiring God, Focus on the Family, Crosswalk and The Gospel Coalition – just to name a few. I picked a sampling of articles that piqued my interest and gave them a read.

To my surprise, most authors supported online dating and some even went so far as to strongly encourage it.  Although there were a few authors that took a more cautious approach, they were in the minority. The majority came to the conclusion that taking the spouse search online is a fabulous tool for Christians who want to expand their pool of potential mates, be candid about their faith and, most importantly, get a date.

After reading through three articles in their entirety, I called off my Google search and darkened the screen on my phone. The counsel of the Christian community left me feeling more confused than I had been before I sought out their opinion. As I laid in bed pondering the posts I’d just read, I couldn’t help but get my own recent online dating experience out of my head.

You see, just a short twenty-four hours prior to my Google search, I had ventured into the world of online dating – Christian Café to be exact. I made a username, answered the “get to know you” questions and chose a recent picture to accompany my profile. But about sixty seconds after clicking “confirm subscription” I had a sinking feeling in my gut. “This is not where you’re supposed to be. You’re not supposed to be seeking a spouse online.”

For weeks my fleshly desires had been engaged in a tug-of-war with Christ’s spirit within me and this was the battle’s climatic moment.

I had been telling myself that it’s totally natural to want a husband and perfectly acceptable to seek one out online. As long as I did the seeking with godly principles clearly stated in my profile, there was nothing wrong with venturing into the worldwide match making web. At least, that’s what I thought until I confirmed my account and became a fish in the online dating pool. At that moment my flesh took the decisive upper hand in the tug-of-war and my soul lost all peace.

In a state of inner turmoil, I swiftly navigated to Christian Café’s settings page where I found a button to disable my account. “Do you want to temporarily remove your profile or delete it forever?” the site asked. That choice was easy. Without hesitating, I double clicked and said goodbye to Christian Café forever.

It was the next night that I decided to click around on Google to explore what other Christians had to say about online dating.

I fully expected to find similar stories to mine about being unable to online date in peace and anticipated advice that would warn readers about the battle royal between flesh and Christ. But what I discovered was just the opposite. I couldn’t find one word of warning to Christians about the how online dating can pose a very real danger to the spiritual life by causing the dater to take their focus off of seeking Christ and put it on seeking a spouse instead.

The more I pondered the posts I’d just read, the more conflicted I became. “Why is the Christian world’s take on online dating so dramatically different than my own?” I wondered. I had gone searching for clarity and truth but the internet wasn’t delivering. So, I decided to do what I should have done in the first place. I turned to God and asked Him my question. “Is it wrong for Christians to online date?”

Without missing a beat, God laid one particular verse on my heart. 1 Corinthians 10:23:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.

Although online dating isn’t in and of itself bad, it is not necessarily beneficial because of the inherent dangers that accompany it. And I’m not just referring to stranger danger. I’m talking about seeker danger.

What is seeker danger, you ask?

Seeker danger is the temptation to replace “seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) with “seek ye first a spouse of your own.” The risk of online dating is that the flesh will get the upper hand due to the simple fact that, as human beings, we’re prone to single mindedness. We can’t serve two masters – our flesh and God. We have to die to self and unconditionally surrender every earthly, fleshly desire at the foot of the cross so we can run our race singularly focused on Jesus Christ.

As single adults, we’d all like to think we can go seeking a spouse while remaining committed to seeking God. At least, I certainly thought I could. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I can’t seek out two men at once – my Lord and my husband – because God is a jealous God who wants the full attention of His beloved. He doesn’t want His children conflicted or distracted. He desires that in the hierarchy of needs, seeking Him always trumps seeking the desires of our heart.

Can God use online dating? Plenty of bloggers would say “absolutely yes.” But this online blogger is here to point out that, although online dating is permissible, it might not be beneficial to seeking God first.

My advice? Consult God about what He would have you do and who He would like you to spend your time and expend your energies seeking. If He answers you like He did me, He’ll simply say, “just seek me.”
 

 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:33

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Be Still And Know

Can you have short hair and still be feminine?

I’ve asked myself this question countless times over the past four years, beginning I was twenty-five years old and took a leap of faith with a short hair style. At the time, I was living under the shadow of a sickness and disease, trapped in a body that was under attack. My health was declining quickly, causing my once long locks to thin and frizzle off at the ends.

So, I had a choice to make. Cry about it or cut it off? After mulling it over, I decided to cry about it and then cut it off.

Enter: the pixie cut.

At first, I adored my short haircut because of what it meant spiritually. My pixie cut was a proclamation, declaring that chronic illness could not rob me of my joy and zest for life. With my new short haircut, I was telling the world, “I am resilient. I am an overcomer. I am mighty strong.”

It was a super short style that spoke volumes.

But, before long, a little voice started speaking back to me. “You don’t even look like a woman anymore…You look like a little boy…Good luck finding a man who will be attracted to you now.“

I immediately recognized that this voice was coming from the enemy. He saw my pixie-cut positivity and wanted to chop it off. But I told him to be quiet with a firm, “not today satan.” 

But then my short hair started to grow out, the ends started to fray and the style lost its shape. I looked in the mirror and wasn’t thrilled with what I saw. And that’s when the voice of the enemy returned, louder and more confident than before. “You’re single because of your short hair”he said. “You can’t be feminine with a cut like that.” This time around I didn’t even try to dispute his lies. I just believed them, hook, line and sinker.

And sink I did…and fast.

It didn’t take long for the enemy’s trickery to make inroads into my thought pattern and infiltrate my overcoming, resilient, mighty strong spirit with doubts, worries and hopelessness. My mental dialogue became so tainted that I even started taking over for the enemy and began feeding his lies to myself. “If only I had long locks, then someone would love me… You’re single because you’re a sick woman with short hair… You can’t be feminine with that haircut.

The more attention I paid to the lies, the more I began to buy into the belief that something as trivial as a haircut could be the determining factor in something as significant as a significant other. Not only was that a ridiculous idea, it was a destructive one, too. By believing the lies that the enemy was selling, I began to question God’s plans for my life. Not that I realized that at the time. In the heat of the moment, I felt too sorry for my sick self to recognize that my new thought pattern was undermining my hope in God’s perfect will and timing. While blinded by the enemy’s schemes, I couldn’t see that by falling for false logic, I was actively impairing my faith and trust in Jesus.

After spending far too many days beaten down by the enemy, I finally decided to ask God what He thought of my hair. So, I looked in the mirror and said, “Is this short haircut the reason I’m single?… Am I alone because my hair isn’t long enough to look like a lady?… Is it possible to have a pixie cut and still be feminine?”

When God responded, He didn’t simply say, “no, no, and yes.” Instead, He responded with one simple verse that completely changed my entire eternal dialogue. “Be still and know that I am God.”

When I became still before God, my short hair style ceased to matter. When I refocused on knowing who God is, what the future holds for my status stopped stressing me. Every lie lost its power and all distractions were destroyed the moment I got still and fixed my heart, mind and soul on the truth of who God is and who I am in and through Christ.

If you recognize yourself in this story, consumed with listening to the enemy’s lies that have you trapped in trivial pursuits, let this one verse be your guide back to the truth, joy and peace. Simply be still, right where you are, and know that He, the triumphant Christ, your Savior and Lord, is God.

 

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Psalm 46:10