Anam Cara

“God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ever felt invisible in a crowd?
Ever felt like you have learned to be lonely?
Ever felt a deep ache in your soul longing for a smile from a friend or an embrace?

Whether we admit it or not, we all have an ache for friendship. Despite trying not to look needy, we feel an ache when the stillness and silence of an empty room screams a created desire.

Each of us are created for connection. It is more than a cyber connection. It is a connection of soul to soul. It can only be compared to a connection of a family. It can be illustrated by how our various body parts are connected to each other. We desire the same connection to another human being.

Yet, we have lost this connection. We exchange a WIFI connection for a human connection. We trade the connection of souls for a connection of Facebook facades. We have churches filled with small groups and people, yet our smiles hide a disenchantment. We try to band-aid a God-given desire with religion. “I will never be alone if I have Jesus.” While that is true, it still does not satisfy what God has created.

We need our Anam Cara

The Lost Story of Friendship

Luke 5:17-26

Usually, we see the story of Jesus healing this paralyzed man as just a miracle. Yes, it shows Jesus in his glory as the Son of Man with the authority to heal and to forgive sins. Can I get an Amen? Yet, we miss something.

In days of Jesus, those who were disabled were considered an outcast. The disabled were a part of the “unclean.” Unable to go into the temple, unable to hold a job, the unclean really were disabled physically and socially. As a result, emotional disability infected their soul. Yet, this man had friends who never left him. Paralyzed and confined to a mat, this man could only beg and depend on others. I am guessing he thought himself a burden.

Did these friends view him as such? They removed a roof for their friend. They loved him so much. Their souls were connected. No one who isn’t connected at the soul would carry the weight of a human body, remove a tile roof, then lower a limp body down to the ground in the Israeli heat. But, this is exactly what happened.

What is surprising in this story is the idea to go to Jesus did not come from the paralyzed man. It came from his friends. “Seeing their faith (Luke 5:20),” Jesus forgives and heals the paralyzed man. Nothing was given to the others. This wasn’t The Wizard of Oz where everyone got something. These unknown friends knew their friend needed Jesus for his own good. That love and compassion sparked an action.

They were his Anam Cara.

Called To Connect

We all agree we feel that ache. Then, why do we say all we need is Jesus? Yes, it is true we need Jesus. But what was Jesus’ command to us? Jesus calls us to love one another. Throughout every New Testament book, the theme of loving each other pops out. It cannot be avoided. Have we avoided this theme because we would rather focus on the lists in Scripture so we can boast our spiritual image?

Being called to love is being called to connect. In order to show genuine love we have to connect with another soul. Kindness only goes so far. Love runs deeper. It covers a multitude of sins, it shows genuine affection, it never gives up, it is gracious, it bears burdens, and it is the heart beat of our Savior.

The friends of the paralyzed man were his soul friends. They loved him deeply. They bore his limp body to Jesus, and by their faith he was healed.

We are called to connect in the same way. We are to have soul friends. It is beyond a Facebook connection (even if it starts there). Soul friends bring each other to Jesus and love each other as Jesus did. They are not afraid of the difficult, the ugly, or the offensive in our lives. Instead, they sit at our table and allow us to lean against their chest. They share a meal with us as a public symbol of claiming association and friendship. They are not afraid to touch when we are untouchable. They are the living letters of Jesus.

Yet, why do we ignore this calling? Is it because we are scared of earthly labels and cutting critiques of our love for each other? Jesus received that. We are not greater than our master. So, we should continue to connect and love.

The Enchantment of Friends

I remember when I connected the first time with a guy who is now my older brother. We were at his place for Thanksgiving. He and I shared our stories as our wives went out Black Friday Shopping. The next day as we said our goodbyes, and he hugged me. Suddenly, tears streamed down my face. He and I connected and he loved me like Jesus. The side we mask was revealed and all I could do was cry. He saw me and brought me to Jesus for healing. I don’t see him as much as I would like, but that connection never fades even when doubts arise.

There is one friend I have who is a father to me. I still remember the first time he hugged me. It was in that moment I felt accepted, wanted, and loved. He knew all my faults, he has felt my verbal lashes, he has received many apologies, and yet he never kicks me to the curb. He always tells me he is proud of me. His love points me to Jesus even when my difficult and ugly comes out.

Two friends I may not see often, but they are my soul friends. Why are they my soul friends? They love me like Jesus. They bring me to Jesus. With their friendship comes an enchantment. I am not talking about a puppy love or anything like that. It is a magic that comes from outside of us that brings us to Jesus. And guess what? They allow me the space to love on them the same way.

In friendship comes a mystery of faith. We see the love of Jesus in each other. We begin to genuinely show affection for each other. The enchantment of friends brings love, not just kindness. When that enchantment is planted in our soul, we begin to see the mystery of the love of God in real life. If all we needed was Jesus, then why are there so many commands to love, to show affection, and longings to see each other throughout the New Testament? It is in the eyes, in the mouths, and in the souls of others we experience the enchantment of God’s love and the mystery of the Gospel of unconditional love.

Our Anam Cara

In the Celtic Christian tradition, we get this phrase: Anam Cara. It literally means, “soul friend.” They found the beauty and love of Jesus in others. It wasn’t some one-way relationship. Instead, it was a brotherhood. It was something we have lost.

In our days of Facebook facades and shallow snaps, we have made relationships one-way. We allow people to follow us and message us as long as they fulfill the image we want. If their ugly or difficulties come out, we block and no longer follow. Our friendships become how good will that person make me look on social media. What would Jesus say? The Savior labeled as the friend of sinners wasn’t concerned about image. His concern was showing God’s love to each other. He then command us to love each other. This means a two-way relationship. We love and allow others to love us.

When we have that love for one another, we connect at the soul level and become soul friends. We become Anam Cara with each other.

Richard Beck, in Hunting Magic Eels, writes about Saint Patrick (The greatest Celtic Christian) and soul friends in this manner – “When Patrick prays ‘Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ to the left of me,’ that presence comes mostly through our soul friends, the people blocking for us, watching our backs, and holding our hands. Enchantment comes to us through other human beings.”

Holding hands? Yes, why not? Jesus said to love each other. Jesus tells us to show genuine affection for each other. Stop letting the cutting critiques of others define and box in our Christ-like love for others.

Our “Christian culture” would prefer us to point people to Jesus by saying the worst Christian cliche ever: I’ll be praying for you. In saying those words, we fall into the description of James 2:15-16. Our faith has a lot of words, but no actions. The actions James describes are not standards and lists. Instead, they are acts of love toward each other. What if someone just needs you to hold their hand, hug them, or (heaven forbid) greet them with a holy kiss? Soul friends are willing to give up an image in order to love and see their friend healed by Jesus than worry about what the Pharisees say. Our connection and love goes further by even the terms we use: brother, father, child, son, daughter, etc. These are used throughout the New Testament to ascribe that soul friend love.

We are commanded to love each other in this way. The world will know we are Christ’s disciples by the way we love. It is not the love of a kind heart. It is the love of an Anam Cara.

Famous Name’s Study Bible: A Review of the “Grace and Truth Study Bible”

“This generation must get deadly serious about the problem of Biblical illiteracy.”
– R. Al Mohler, Jr.

I love when new study Bibles come into a bookstore. Whenever I am at Barnes and Noble, I peruse the Bible section looking for new ones to appear. If I heard there is one by a certain author, then my interested is captured. I want to know what they will say, how they will set up their study Bible, and how I can use it for my own growth.

The Grace and Truth Study Bible is no exception. With the name Al Mohler on it, I wanted to know more. I put it on my Amazon Wishlist. Then I received an email from BibleGateway to review this Bible. It was a no-brainer. I put my name in and counted the days till it arrived…

As The Binding Cracked Open

The box arrived. I immediately opened it. I heard that new study Bible crackle as I opened the long-awaited book.

At first glance, I saw lots of notes. The seminary graduate in me geeked-out. The academic in me enjoyed every moment. The pages of notes. The detail in the notes. All of it was mind boggling. I felt like I was back in seminary digging in.

Yet, something in me stopped my academic partying. A quiet thought entered my mind, “Stephen, what about your heart?” My mind was happy, but my heart was not interacting with this study Bible. Our mind and intellect can become so enwrapped in understanding the Bible, that we have forgotten to have a relationship with God’s Word which blossoms in our heart.

As I cracked opened this Bible, it cracked my heart open to reveal the ache of an interactive relationship with God’s Word to me. We as Christians have forgotten to interact with God’s Word in exchange for the “right” intellectual and theological relationship with God. What this does is take away that experience of God and replaces it with the study of God.

The Grace and Truth Study Bible Details

I loved the font. I liked the numerous notes. I liked the reference guide on every page. The notes bring great depth to Biblical study.

However, it felt like reading a textbook. There was nothing in this study Bible to make it more interactive. I expected more from a great name on a Bible. If someone it passionate about the Word getting into the hands and hearts of individuals, then we need to contextualize it.

The introductions to each book are long paragraphs. The notes can get quite lengthy at times. The content is great. It is the presentation I found to be more like a textbook than a great tool to use.

Would I Recommend?

This review may come across as harsh to some or even to Al Mohler himself. However, these are my thoughts. If you are planning to do deep Bible study, sermon or teaching, or anything along those lines, then this is a great study Bible to use. If you are looking for something to deepen your faith and encounter God, then you might get bogged down in the details of this particular Bible.

Would I put it on my shelf? If I was in seminary, yes. If I was a new believer, not yet.

A famous name producing a study Bible doesn’t automatically make it a great study Bible. As Christians, we need to keep that balance of an intellectual and emotional mindset towards are faith. Great for deep study of the Word. It is not the best for experiencing the Word on that emotional level.

So, I am torn with my recommendation.

Purchase Grace and Truth Study Bible Here

*I received a free copy of this study Bible from BibleGateway to review as I am a member of their Blogger Grid

I Didn’t Choose This…

“God will meet you where you are in order to take you where He wants you to go.”
– Tony Evans

“Stephen, I hate you. I hate your disability, and I hate you being same-sex attracted. You are just a burden. Everyone only sees your struggles. Sure, they say you have a big heart, but all you’re known for are your struggles.”

These words have haunted my mind late at night. These thoughts have forced tears out of my eyes.

“Was it not enough for God to make me disabled? He also had to give me the struggle of same-sex attraction?”

I see my reflection in the mirror – a freak. Bullied for walking with a limp. Mocked for having bathroom issues. Family and friends reject me for being same-sex attracted. Some days, I feel like an outcast avoiding to be seen, yet wanting a kind hand to reach out.

“I never chose these struggles. I never chose any of this.”

How many of us have that one thing in our life we despise at times, because we did not choose it. We constantly give it to God, make spiritual decisions regarding it, and yet, we can’t unchain ourselves from it.

These things cause deep depression and tumultuous thoughts. “God, forgive me again. God help me. Please!” Our prayers turn into drunken pleas.

Yet, lately a passage has given me an exit to this maze of mirrors.

Stop

Matthew 16:24

It is a passage I have read and memorized many times. I have heard countless sermons on turning from your sins, picking up the cross of the Christian life, and following Jesus.

However, I am wrong. This passage holds a treasure to relooking at those things I did not choose.

The first part of the verse Jesus says, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way…” Interestingly, there is no mention of sin. If we want to be his follower, then we must give up our own way. What is our own way? It is anything we want to spearhead. It is the path we decide to take, because we think it is the best.

How many books have I read on topics regarding my struggles? How much money have I spent? How much money have you spent figuring out answers to your questions? There are days I flee to Barnes and Noble’s Christian Living Section looking for answers. I peruse each title hoping the next one I purchase will have the answer tucked away like a hidden gem in a cave.

With Jesus, I need to give up my search for the answers. I must give up hunting the gem I think I need. This is what it means to give up my own way. Yes, I am disabled and same-sex attracted. Yes, I have spent hundreds of dollars trying to find the answers to stop hating myself over these things. All of it was my own way. Disappointed sighs breathe out frustration leading to another bout with depression. All because this is my own way of dealing with the issue.

Jesus calls me to stop pursuing my own way. He says, “Stephen, I know you’re hurting. I know you want answers. I know this is all confusing. But, stop. Stop following your own way. This is the only way to become my follower. Stop following the next book, the next author, the next speaker.”

Have we stopped our pursuit of our answers and paused?

Accept

In all the chaos of our struggles, Jesus calls us to stop. Then he says, “Take up your cross.”

Many Christians claim Jesus is calling us to take up the hardships of the Christian faith. What about the word, “Your”? It is an individual cross. – some thing in our life we find to be a symbol of death. Being disabled brings money issues. Every month it seems to be the death of our budget. Also, due to my disability my wife and I may never have children. One of the most difficult things a husband can go through is knowing you cannot give your wife the gift of motherhood. Being same-sex attracted makes you a freak or a pervert to others. My family rejected me over it. My own father told me he did not believe I was a Christian due to having this struggle. In March 2020, it almost became the literal death of me.

A cross is not something pretty. Especially the crosses in our life. Each of us know that symbol of death hanging over our head. We know the consequences it brings. Yet, Christ does not say to just identify your cross. He says to take it up. This is a term of acceptance. Accept this symbol of death is in your life. It may be the death of your physical body or social life or image. But, Jesus says take it up. Claim it as your own. He already knows it’s buried under the floor boards. So, pick it up and accept it.

The things we did not choose (which seem like a symbol of death) are the things Jesus tells us to accept.

Follow

The last part Jesus tells us to do is to follow him. No destination given, no road map. Just, “Follow me.”

Often, when it comes to my struggles, I want to know how people see me. I want to control the outcome and my image. My control is pursuing my own way.

Following Jesus is a mystery. It is a path with many unknowns and haunted with questions – What will people think if they find out? What will happen to me? What if I lose everything? On and on our brain tries to solve the mystery. All Jesus says is, “Stephen, put down the book trying to solve this on your own. Pick up what you are hiding. Accept it. Follow me.”

Being his follower means I must accept the mystery of his path. What does it look like to be a Christian with a disability? Honestly, I do not know. I just need to follow Jesus. What does it look like to be a Christian with same-sex attraction? I do not know. I just need to follow Jesus. It is in the mystery of his path I find the humility of surrender and the peace of his providence.

A Promise To Calm My Fears

I did not choose to be disabled. I did not choose to be same-sex attracted. If you said I did, I would respond with, “Yes, I chose these things, because they just always fill me with joy.” My eyes might even roll so hard it would count as a cardio workout.

Yet, the truth remains. I did not choose these things. There are days I hate myself. I would rather punch my reflection in a mirror than keep looking at it.

The cacophony of thoughts crowd out the truth. Jesus cuts through that noise. He calmly tells me to stop pursuing my own way. Accept my cross. Then, follow him as he leads me down a path. Even though I protest, debating him about why I need to continue to find the answers and fix my issues, he takes my face in his hands. He looks me in the eyes gently speaking these words:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

The result of stopping, accepting, and following is rest. No more striving. No more hiding. No more anxiety. It is in this promise we see the revelation of Jesus as our shepherd who restores our soul (Psalm 23).

These past two weeks, I have struggled with self-hatred. I looked on myself with disgust. Yet, each day is an invitation to stop pursuing my own solutions, accept my struggles, and follow Jesus into life’s greatest mystery.

When anxiety controls me over being disabled and being same-sex attracted, then depression down casts my soul. Yet, I must remember to stop, accept myself as God made me, and follow him.

It is when I follow Jesus I find the things I did not choose becoming the things most beautiful in my life.

Momento Amemini

“Someone said that God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.”
– J.M. Barrie

Depression sweeps in like a blizzard. The snow swirls, the chill freezes the mind, and the ice makes a heart, once on fire, grow cold till the body stiffens with hypothermia.

What brings on these battling blizzards? Changes in weather. Sometimes we see them coming, and other times they hit without warning. Whiteout conditions blind our eyes and sting our lungs. The path before us is covered in white; visibility nonexistent. We cry out for help, but the cold and ice burn our lungs and silence our cries. We shelter inside our car, attempting to create warmth, praying the storm will pass.

Each storm depression brings, we always hear advice: pray, it is all in your head, listen to Scripture, Christians do not struggle with depression – are you sure you’re saved? The advice doesn’t feel like deliverance, but instead like snow and ice flung at us. So we do anything to warm ourselves up hoping we do not freeze to death.

Yet, in all the ice and snow, God does provide something to warm us up in the blizzard of depression.

The Unseen Simple Command

Many times when the thoughts of depression become a battle, we first think of what we can do. We look through Scripture finding any task we may have missed or sin we have forgotten to confess. Yet, this only brings the chills straight to our bones.

240 times God tells us to remember – to call to complete memory. Psalm 42 paints a soul in desperate need of water and encouragement. Most people jump to “hope in God.” Yet, that is not how it works. We cannot just hope in something. He must first remember God in order to spark the fire of hope inside him (Psalm 42:6). The Psalms are lit up by the word “remember.” We see what happens when people do not remember God’s deeds and the hope and joy remembrance brings.

Remembrance is the flint on which hope is sparked.

Depression’s Deception

In the midst of depression, it can be almost impossible to remember. Our tumultuous thoughts whisper things we would rather keep unsaid – “You are only a burden.” “Where is everyone?” “No one is communicating back, what does that say about you?” “I bet everyone only tolerates you and not really loves you.” “Those memories are not what they seem.”

Depression’s degradations feel like whip lashes digging deeper and deeper into our flesh. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but… A cute phrase to say, yet we would gladly cut our own skin with sticks and stones than be pummeled by the words of depression.

The worst thing depression says to us, “You can’t even remember God. How pathetic is that?” The deepest attack goes against the simplest command.

God doesn’t shame us for our lack of remembrance. This is clear in Scripture. There is no shame for not remembering his work. Instead, he gives us another miracle, another experience, another memory to hold onto.

Look in Matthew 15:32-39. We read the story of the feeding of the 4,000. Curious there is the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000. Why? The stories appear to be identical. Switch your view and follow the disciples. Jesus requests of them the same thing in both stories (Matthew 14:16; Matthew 15:32) – feed the people. The disciples have the exact same response in both stories, “Where are we going to get enough food?!” I imagine Jesus just smirks and leads them through the same miracle. He doesn’t reprimand them or scolds them. Instead, he shows them the same miracle.

We have the same issue. We forget the work of God in our life. We give into depression’s deception. Depression wipes the memory clean or buries our memories deep in snow. Yet, God is patient with us. He knows how desperately we need to remember so he performs the miracle again. It may be seeing something to remind us of a friend, a sermon, a song, a piece of art, or anything that brings a memory, face, or truth back in mind.

Forgetting is God’s way of saying, “Want to see me do it again?” And he will.

Rose Seeds

However, roses cannot grow in our toughest seasons without being planted. God’s can’t remove the snow in order to show us what is underneath if there is nothing there. We must plant rose seeds in order to have roses in winter.

These seeds can be pictures, an item to remember an event or person, or whatever plants that seed in your mind to remember. This is the start of remembering.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were told to set up memorials. These memorials were to cause stories to be told of God’s workings in their lives. The most famous story of these memorials is the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promise Land (Joshua 4:6-7). The stones plucked from the river were to spark stories and recall memories. These became the roses during their winters.

We need to plant seeds. We need to enchant ourselves with the magic of remembrance. I wear a ring with elephants on it to remind me of a group of men who have never let go. During my toughest times, they have surrounded me until I was strengthened to stand again. A wall in our home features the pictures of individuals who mean a lot to us (even if we do not see them as much as we want). I have a tattoo which says, “Burn the Ships.” I got it on the one-year anniversary after my suicide attempt to remind me how far God has brought me. These are not to guilt trip me or cause shame. Instead, they gently whisper, “Remember, you are loved.”

We have forgotten the art of making memorials. The seeds need to be planted. It may be simple as a stuffed animal bearing the name of a close friend. Whatever it may be, the seeds must be planted in order to remember.

Seeds cause the roses to be planted. God uses those seeds to show us the roses during our winters.

Warmth During Depression

Depression may seem like an unending blizzard, but we do not have to freeze to death. We yearn for something to spark the fire of hope deep in our souls. Yet, we forget the rose seeds we have planted. Depression causes us to look at those seeds with sorrow wanting to turn back time. Yet, God shows us to bask in the memory. Bask in the warmth of the love he showed us through the individuals or in the events he brought us through.

Seasons of blizzards come and go. The length may seem to last more than we would like. No matter the length of the storm, we can feel warmth during depression. It comes from the sparks off the flint of remembrance. Keep these memories close. Continually create memories to plant. It is then in our winters God reveals the beautiful roses.

Depression chills us to the bone feeling that we will only die. It howls in the wind, “Remember, you will die.”

However, God shows us the roses and gently whispers…

Momento Amemini

Remember, you are loved

Disenchanted to Enchanted

“Life is a conundrum of esoterica.”
Lemony Snicket
(A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Bookstores are like a little oasis to me. There is always something to discover, always something to learn, and always something to plunge me into the depths of a topic. If you look at my library, you will see novels of various genres, books on historical events, secret societies, symbolism, religious art, film and narratives, zombies, vampires, art history and movements, conspiracy theories, Christian living, linguistics, theology, tattoos, and other various topics. When I was in grad school, a friend saw various book titles in my room and asked, “What exactly are you studying?”

Yet, there are some days I look at my shelves and shrug my shoulders. Who cares? I can even walk through a bookstore and nothing grabs my attention. Nothing enchants my soul.

Yet, this shows a deeper disenchantment. I have become disenchanted with God. Therefore, my soul is on life-support. It is supported with academics and books rather than the fire of spirit breathing life and causing bones to come to life.

I am not the only patient. Many of us have made our faith about morality and a political side. It is about right labels, right authors we follow, and we find ourselves on life support.

How did this happen? How do we get back that fire?

The Life Choked Out

“He had his life choked out of him.”

Choking. Not a pretty thing to think about. In fact, it is scary if you’ve ever choked. You can’t breathe. You slowly feel the disconnection from the world as the air is slowly depleted from your lungs.

The Bible talks about people being choked, and actually uses that word. Jesus tells a story in Matthew 13:3-9 – the parable of the sewer. One of the groups of seed find a home among thorns. As the plants grow, they are choked out by the thorns (Matthew 13:7). Jesus explains these seeds are crowded out with everything in life, and no fruit is produced or harvested (Matthew 13:22).

When someone’s airway becomes crowded or blocked, the life is choked out. This happens to many of us. Sure, we can talk about “the worries of the world” crowding out the Spirit. But, what if Jesus means more than that? He is talking to a Jewish audience. Their world is tied to the law, to the religious leaders, and to God.

What if religion can be a powerful weed which can choke us? In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus casts out a demon when the demon speaks out while Jesus is teaching. It wasn’t the building which caused the demon to reveal itself. It was the teaching of Jesus. Something about what Jesus was saying began to break the power of this demon. We can become so focused on fulfilling religious standards and images that we choke out the life Jesus has given us.

Think about it.

We are concerned how we are perceived by other Christians, concerned about our looks, making sure we act right, and vote right. Where is Jesus in that? Did he die on the cross for us only to live a moral life and vote “like he would”? No! He died to give a us a new life.

When we allow things to choke out the life Jesus has given us, we are disenchanted. And, we are dying.

Disenchanted Diagnosed

Choking can cause us to die. But, why disenchantment?

Disenchantment is being unimpressed by something or someone. No longer wowed. No longer awed in a way which changes our lives.

Most of us have become like the religious leaders of the New Testament. We study our theology books and box God with neat labels and the verses to match. We see people who are not like us, and we immediately either dismiss them or debate them.

What this attitude has done is caused us to see God only in the pages of a textbook in order to be dissected.

Can we be comfortable with the paradoxes of Scripture? Can we be ok with saying, “I do not know”?

When Moses saw the burning bush, his curiosity was peaked and he was enchanted. Abraham was enchanted by God many times. Joshua, Elijah, Daniel, and even the disciples were enchanted by God. They did not see something God did or said and immediately tried to dissect it. They wondered at it.

What is the first thing we do when we hear a testimony, listen to a sermon, see someone respond to God, or watch people worship? Do we immediately look for how it is “wrong”? Or do we look for the Spirit of God moving and wonder at his work?

Disenchantment dissects and wants a debate. Enchantment explores and enters into an encounter with God.

The Enchanted and Curious Christian

A close friend and spiritual father to me brought to my attention the idea of being curious. Being curious is not being skeptical.

In Romans 1:19-20, Paul (writing to Christians) states God’s power can be seen in our world. How many times have we dismissed this in order to not be “off the deep end” in our thinking? The whole creation praises God and shows us God. Each person is made in the image of God, yet how many times have we dismissed a person instead of seeing the masterpiece God has brought onto our path?

The enchanted and curious Christian yearns to see God in life. What happened to Moses at the burning bush? Watch Here

So often we get stuck in a textbook and caught up in labels that we miss God working in our lives and in the world around us.

Are we enchanted with God moving in the lives of others? Are we willing to encounter God in nature or the image of God found in another person? Can we encounter the heart of God in a piece of art, a piece of literature, or a meal?

My friend is right. Being curious breaks the spell of disenchantment, breathes life into us, and we become guided by the Spirit.

If Jesus came to give us a new life, why do we only find it in our theology books, Sunday school classes, and Christian labels? Have we become disenchanted so much with religion that we have forgotten that Jesus gave us a new life to live, to breathe, and to encounter him each moment?

Curiosity and enchantment become the fertilizer in which the Spirit can produce fruit in us and a bountiful harvest can be shared with others.

Out Of Legalism Into Life

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Today, I was baptized…

Some of you may ask, “Weren’t you baptized before? And at other times?”

There is always a story, and I would like to share my story leading to this momentous moment in my life.

Loyalty to Lists

Growing up, being a Christian meant to follow the rules and follow a certain image. Christians did certain things, didn’t do other things, and looked and were perceived in a certain way. In college, at Bob Jones University, this mentality was branded onto my soul. My life revolved around looking right, making sure I did not get into trouble, and keeping the correct list.

My loyalty was to a list. When I repented, I repented from bad behavior and turned to good Christian behavior. Sure, salvation was taught as from grace, but the Christian life was walking by a certain code of conduct drafted by people using verses to justify what things I should wear to church, what music I should listen to, what movies I consume, and how I should be perceived by the world around me.

My loyalty was doubted many times, because I did not prove how dedicated I was to the list. I was a slave to sin, but only traded that slavery for a slavery of self-sufficiency. God was not pleased unless I followed these rules. His blessings were held or given based on my loyalty. It was like living in a rewards program. I saw so many people rewarded, so I worked harder and harder to prove my loyalty.

Yet, how many counseling sessions and Bible classes at Bob Jones University, accountability partners, and church services could I make a spiritual decision and still fall short of the loyalty club? I could never measure up. How much did I spend on books to help me? Probably, hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars.

Jesus did not want me since I could not perfectly keep his rules. Looks right, talk correctly, be perceived in a good light became my overwhelming thoughts. The hammering headache became too much. March 2020, I decided to silence it for good.

I wasn’t living in loyalty to Christ. I was living in loyalty to a list. Which, in reality, I was living in legalism.

The Deceived Delivered

May 2020, I left Bob Jones University. I walked away. It was not healthy for my mental or spiritual health. In fact, it was like drinking poison hoping the next dose would cure me.

The months that followed I spent figuring myself out and figuring out God. It wasn’t until I met some unusual people (who are now the closest friends I’ve ever had) that something happened. Bible reading was far from my mind. I struggled with it since all I saw was rules, images, and a burden which almost killed me (literally).

May 2021 came, and I opened to Galatians. My heart started pounding. This book wasn’t about work-based salvation, but about work-based sanctification! Galatians 2:21 sucker-punched me: “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” I John smashed through walls revealing to me God’s true commands were only to believe on Jesus and to love one another (I John 3:23-24).

I couldn’t put the Bible down. I saw it everywhere: God loves me, he fulfilled the law, the new covenant is not about my perfection, but his! I had been beating myself up for decades over not being good enough. I said the “Sinner’s Prayer” so many times, but Christian living was a burden I wasn’t ready for. Why wasn’t I? Because I was deceived. Men taught me to follow rules. My savior was ultimately how closely I conformed to the fundamentalist, Bob Jones University image. Jesus was only there at salvation, and after I had to do the rest.

This was a burden never meant for me. Those men were just like the pharisees loading people down with burdens of man-made traditions (Luke 11:46). They removed the key to eternal life and joy (Jesus). Instead, I was forced to jump through hoops hoping to find a smiling God at the end of the obstacle course (Luke 11:52).

My eyes were opened. I was sitting at Barnes and Noble that day crying. In my journal, I wrote:

“Heavenly Father, I have been deceived about you, your gift of salvation, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and me. I believed I wasn’t good enough. I had to prove myself. All my years I tried to feel your love when it was already there. I believed you hated me and cursed me because I couldn’t reach the next spiritual level. I believed, but I believed a lie. I lived out this lie and it affected and infected everything. It became about me proving myself to you and others to hopefully be blessed. That is the lie I lived. I lived a false gospel. Jesus was just a means to an end; not a relationship of freedom to live. I repent of this lie in my heart and mind. I turn from it, and not to a way of rules and right living, but to Jesus. You love me and want me, so you sent Jesus to free me to be who you you created me to be – not a slave, but a son. A slave is only loved by his performance, but a son is loved unconditionally. So God, heal my mind from these lies. Forgive me for living contrary to your gospel and give me a heart to follow Jesus’ love and grace. I believe and confess this is what is true. No more proofs, rules, standards, and images – only Jesus. Thank you for revealing this blindness and opening my eyes to the truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” (May 25, 2021)

Separated to the Spirit

“Separation” was a buzzword in college. I was separated to living right, looking right, and being a good Christian example. But, what was never talked about was truly being separated to the Spirit. We talked about the holiness of Jesus, right doctrine, defending the faith, but loving others and the love of Jesus were not there. I cannot remember a lesson about love in my theology classes or seminary classes. The only thing I remember is how professors would mock Christians who focused too much on the love Christ “when, instead, we should be holy.”

It is the love of Christ which causes us to be holy (separated) unto the Spirit. Holiness without Christ’s love is only legalism.

As I stood in line waiting to be baptized, the worship team sang Living Hope. So many times I sang that at Bob Jones University. Today, those words brought tears to my eyes. My hope isn’t found in my loyalty to lists, but in a perfect savior.

In my past, so many people “bet” on the longevity of my spiritual decisions, and used them against me to get me back on the “right path.” Jesus does not do that. Baptism does not celebrate my perfection or my decision to live in loyalty to a list. It is a symbol picturing leaving my past behind and moving forward only towards Jesus by being separated to the Spirit.

As I was lifted out of the water, legalism lost its grip on me. Strivings cease, because perfection could never earn it. A slave is loved based on his performance, but a son is loved unconditionally. I was never created to perform. I was created to connect and to love, because I am loved.

I was baptized today. Why? Because I am turning away from a legalistic noose to the life given freely by Jesus.

August 8, 2021 – The day I publicly leave the fundamentalist and legalistic mindset, and turn to Jesus. He is my living hope.

Escaping This Lonely World

“Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship—but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.” – Sylvia Plath

I remember the night before it happened. I was sitting outside. The sky was clear. The stars shone, and I looked deeply into depth of night. Searching Scripture and journaling had come to an end. No answers came. No solution manifested. Dark silence felt like a noose around my neck. Then, a questioned sighed out of my depression, “Where are you?”

Tossing all night, my mind muddled in despair. I couldn’t go to anyone about my struggles, or I could lose my job. I couldn’t open up without rejection. No one was there. Christian clichés cluttered my thoughts. As dawn came, a decision was made: it is time for me to escape this lonely world.

Loneliness

How many of us have felt invisible, lost in a maddening crowd, and forgotten? How many of us have thrown out a prayer for someone, anyone to just be there? How many of us felt loneliness like a walk in a cemetery, talking to cold stones with silence meeting our tears?

How can we escape this lonely world?

The Liminal Space of Loneliness

Where does loneliness come from? Is it from God? Have we done something where God teases us with companionship like a cruel carrot cast in front of a donkey?

God said from the beginning, “It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).” We see throughout Scripture, man is not meant to be alone. Loneliness is not from God. It is a part of the fallen world putting us in a liminal space lost in the space between spaces.

Since God created man not to be alone, then Satan wants man to be alone. We see in many of the miracles of Jesus, he went to the liminal space. The lepers were outcast between villages (Luke 17:11-13). The demon-possessed man was chained among the tombs into a lost loneliness (Mark 5:1-5). A lonely woman wandered to a well in the heat of the day (John 4:6-7). All these individuals (and plenty more mentioned in the Gospels) found themselves in the lonely liminal space.

Loneliness is part of Satan’s scheme to separate others. If man was not meant to be alone, then the perfect way to destroy God’s beautiful creation is to separate them.

How many of us find ourselves lost in the lonely liminal traveling here and there without a place of belonging?

A Settled Savior

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us…” Jesus, the Son of God, made his place among us. He took on a human body and kept it.

Jesus is a settled savior. Sure, he did not have a place to rest his head (Luke 9:58), but he did have a place to belong. Being known as a friend of sinners shows us where Jesus settled. He settled and found his place among the sinners, the outcasts, and the rejected (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 7:36-50; Luke 19:1-10). His place was with those who had no place.

When he healed people, he not only cured their diseases and cast out demons, but he also gave each individual a place. They no longer were outcasts to somehow survive in the the lonely liminal. He brought them to a place of belonging and in fellowship with other humans just like he originally intended back in the garden.

The Called Community

The place Jesus gave people to belong to wasn’t a village, a building, or a commune. It is a called community known as the Church. As we look through the various epistles, the vast majority of them are written to a group of people or church(es) in various regions.

Paul, in I Corinthians 12:12-27, likens this community to a body. For a human body to work, everything must be working together. There isn’t any lonely body parts off doing their own thing, meditating on God’s Word, or contemplating in silence their identity. All parts have to rely on each other in order for the body to work. Even in Philippians 2:1-2, Paul tells us that to belong to Christ is to be in relationship with one another in humility. How many passages in the epistles mention unity or have the theme of unity?

In Romans 12:9-10, we read about how we are to love each other with genuine affection. You can’t show affection to yourself. Affection is shown to another. The church is to be a community collectively cherishing each other in genuine affection, called out by Christ for his purpose.

Lashing Out at the Lonely

Yet, why do we have an epidemic worse than Covid? Why does loneliness suck the life out of Christians? Why does the struggle of loneliness cause more loneliness?

When someone comes up to us who seems “needy for people,” isn’t the first thing said, “You need to work on finding your identity in Christ and not others”? So, we meet the struggle of loneliness with more loneliness? It is the same as saying to a fellow believer without food, “Be warmed and filled, and I will pray for you as you pray for God to provide.” Yet, we “comfort” with trite treatises of prayer and Christian clichés without helping (James 2:14-16).

Yes, our identity is hid with Christ. But, our place and belonging is with our called community together. What we forget is the Bible is originally written to a collectivistic society (no, not socialistic). Collectivism, in cultural studies, means to value the group or family identity over the individual identity. Americans are very good individualistics. We tend to prize our individual identity over a group or family identity. Yet, we see many places in Scripture that our identity is in Christ and is worked out together in the church.

When we push the lonely away to “focus on their relationship with Jesus,” we further Satan’s scheme of separation. Instead, wouldn’t it be better to come alongside each other to disciple? Discipling does not happen in the lonely liminal. It happens in a community.

The Invisible Made Visible

In all of our hearts, we know we are not meant to do life alone. Through the Covid Pandemic, mental health issues rose as isolation and loneliness crippled our souls. Yet, why are we so quick to say to the lonely, “Focus on God. I’ll be praying for you”?

One of my favorite lines in a Disney movie comes from The Princess Diaries. When Michael asks Mia, “Why me?” Her response is perfect, “Because you saw me when I was invisible.”

I have been lonely. I have felt the insane, pinball effects of loneliness. I have felt the deep ache seeing others together wishing I was there. It is like a snow-covered orphan looking in a window at a family enjoying a Christmas dinner. Yearning to belong.

Why do you think Paul uses terms like brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers in talking about the church? It is because the church is a family of belonging. The church makes the invisible visible. There is no more wandering in the church. We have a body to belong to. We get to be visible to others around us, because Jesus changed us from invisible to visible.

Let’s not let Satan separate us anymore. God created man not to be alone and to be a part of a called community. Sure, we can’t be friends with everyone. As a teacher, I know this very well. Yet, we can make friends in our local communities and develop friendships far away as God allows.

Loneliness does not have to be tool Satan uses to divide. Instead, the power of Christ brings us from the lonely liminal into a place of belonging – the Church.

Today, how can we help people escape the lonely liminal to find the called community we belong in together?

Ashamed to Shine

“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your path, and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest.” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

I lashed out again.
I hurt a friendship again.
I fell again.

It’s the word “again” which gives me the most anxiety. “Again, I did….” How many more times will this happen? How many times will I have to go to that person to ask for forgiveness? How many times will I have to go to God for forgiveness? How many times will I disappoint God and others?

How many more times will I fall? When will be the time I do not get back up again?

Ashamed of who I am, I would rather bury the light of Christ in me than anyone to ever think I am a Christian. Why? Because, it happened again. Why? Because, I’m not like that Christian over there.

How do I shine after the “again”?

The Command I Conceal

Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus calls me the light of the world. Not only is he the light of the world (John 8:12), but he calls me the the light of the world as well. Not only that, he says to let my light shine and be seen, so others can praise God.

What a heavy burden. I thought Christ’s burden was easy and his yoke was light (Matthew 11:30). When the “again” happens, I feel the weight of this command. I want to conceal it. I can’t put my light out there for all to see. Not only will it light up their darkness, but it will expose mine.

My life isn’t perfect. There are other Christians better suited at shining their light. Instead, I can be a cheerleader for them, right? Unfortunately, through the shame over my “agains,” Jesus still commands me to shine.

Jesus did not die for me and give me a new life in order for me to hide it away even when there is still darkness.

Transforming Thoughts on Darkness

My mind always wants to say, “But, look at all the darkness in my life.” I know it is there, there are plenty of others who know it is there, and God definitely knows it is there. Just look at the bridges I have burnt. There is more light on the flames of my burnt bridges than the light inside me.

Yet, I forget something. With Christ, even with each struggle, stumble, and fall, he is the light inside me. It’s not me.

In I Timothy 1:13-14, Paul reveals that he all the darkness in him. However, Paul did not see it as his effort to keep his light going, because his light did not come from him. Instead, it came from God filling him with faith and love. The light that I am ashamed to shine is from Christ. If he can work through Paul, can he not work through me? I get caught up in my “agains” so many times that I forget to see God’s “not yets.” God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on me each step of the way. Not only that, but he promised he will continue his work in me until it is finished (Philippians 1:6).

God knows I am imperfect, and I need a perfect savior. Good thing it is not me. So many times I get caught up, after salvation, trying to be the savior of my own thoughts and action. I never allow the Spirit to work. I may become an expert in killing sin, but in reality I end up killing grace. I need to learn to let the Spirit lead me. I need to submit to his leading each day and each moment. If all I do is worry about what sin isn’t conquered, or the next “again,” then I am still living a slave to sin and not as a son to the Spirit.

The Again’s Aftershock

Recently, I lashed out… again. I said a snarky comment… with many agains. The depression resulting from an “again” is a miserable place to be. All I could see in me is a monster which could not be stopped. Is this all I was? Am I predestined to be a monster? (Breathe Calvinists. Yes, I said your trigger word.)

With these thoughts, I can turn to beating myself up. I can focus on how many people are winning the “spiritual bet” on my life with how long it was in between each blow up or lash out. These thoughts can make me hate myself in ways I was never meant to.

In Psalm 37:23-24, I am told God delights in every detail of my life. When I see a fail, he sees a time to get back up. I want to say, “God, I failed again.” God holds my hand gently saying, “Stephen, it is time to get back up, again.” So often, I judge myself by how many times I lash out again or blow up again. Yet, I hardly look at how many times I get back up again. As long as I put my hope in the Lord, I will continue to travel steadily down his path; even if my feet stumble (Psalm 37:34).

Shining Again

I fell again. I remember the last time I lashed out. I shake my head in shame. I think about the next time I am in church. Should I even go? Can I even sing? Won’t most people see me as a hypocrite?

Interestingly, those questions focus on my works not on the forgiveness Christ has given me. Proverbs 17:9 gives me the key to move forward. Love prospers when Christ has forgiven me. If I keep dwelling on my “agains,” then I am only walking away from that relationship with Christ. It is when I bask in Christ’s love for me that I begin to prosper and shine again. (This verse can apply to all relationships)

If my focus is on my “agains,” then no one will see the work of Christ that the Holy Spirit is working on. If I focus on the love of Christ and his forgiveness, then I can sing in church, raise my hands, and shine. Even if my light exposes my darkness, I still have the light.

There are a few friends I have who I have lashed out and hurt multiple times. Yet, with a huge hug, they forgive me and say, “I love you. I am so proud of you.” They understand how the Holy Spirit works, and celebrate when those works are seen. When I, again, stumble, they are the quickest hands to help me up. Through their example, I have learned to keep going and to forgive myself. Without them, I would have quit a long time ago. The only writing anyone would have seen would’ve been on a gravestone.

There are days I feel too ashamed to shine and let my light shine. I look at how I failed and fell again, and the shame snuffs out my light. Thank God, it is not my light. It is the light of Christ. Each day is a reminder I can get up again and keep going again. People can judge me by my past (even recent past). But, if I use their shame to keep me from shining, then I live in the darkness of my “agains.”

If I allow Jesus’ “agains” to inspire the next steps, then I can shine without shame.

Blood Over the Closet Door

“His blood is shed in confirmation of the noblest claim – the claim to feed upon immortal truth, to walk with God, and be divinely free.” – William Cowper

Worse than the dreaded black spot…
Worse than any hex from the witches in Macbeth
Worse than being dead…

Being same-sex attracted

What if they found out? What would happen to my life? I’m already disabled, why did God have to give me this?

I felt cursed. I felt that I had to find a way to break the spell and to set myself free before the clock struck my fatal doom. The lonely quest to rid my mind and heart of this darkness was before me. Yet, quest after quest, I still couldn’t rid myself of this curse. I prayed it away. I literally cut my own flesh to bleed it out. Eventually, I found myself facing an ominous truth – it is better to be dead than being same-sex attracted. What else could I do? In death I could escape what cruel life had dealt in my losing hand.

40% of people, ages 13-24, who experience any sort of same-sex attraction consider suicide, reported NBC News on July 15, 2020.

Some would rather nail their own coffin shut than come out of the closet. March 2020, I found myself driving down that same road.

However, is this thing really a curse? Is it something I need to hide deep in a closet? Is it something I need to fear?

Loosening the Chains of Romans 1

For many years, I heard Romans 1:26-27. Sitting among my peers, I heard these verses echoing in my ears. Since I was attracted to men, did that mean God gave up on me? What did I do to deserve this? Hell scared me, and I tried everything to become “straight” and “a proper masculine man.” Each time I walked into a church service, all I could think was God giving me over because I experienced something I did not want. I could never get out of Romans 1.

Yet, just a few pages over we read Romans 5:1. I have peace with God, because of Jesus Christ. Peace doesn’t come from me or my doings. It came from Jesus. Then, keep turning the pages to Romans 8:1. Right now, there is no condemnation, because of Jesus. Romans 1 is my past. Romans 8 is my present.

I believed in my heart and called on the name of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, I am saved. That is it. Therefore, I’m free from Romans 1 to live in Romans 8.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that I am same-sex attracted. It doesn’t change my feelings of being cursed. Is there another way?

No Longer Fearing the Closet Door

Same-sex attraction, especially to Christians, can be a fear worst than a serial killer breaking into your home. We hide it away, close the closet door, nail it shut, and board it up with bricks. We pray and pray and pray it away.

But, what if it does not go away?

II Corinthians 12:8-10 provides hope.

Paul prayed three times for God to take away a thorn in the flesh. We do not know what it is. We could fill in the blank with same-sex attraction or a host of others things. Yet, how did Paul view this thorn? He viewed as something he can boast in, because God’s grace is all he needed to live with it (II Corinthians 12:9).

His thorn wasn’t a curse. He accepted it, because this “thorn” was a conduit to see the power of Christ actively working. Without it, would Paul or the rest of the world be able to see Christ work in such a powerful way? Paul never boasted in what he was strong in (Philippians 3:4-9). Instead, he decided to boast in what made him weak in order for others to see the power of Christ work in him (II Corinthians 11:30). When he did, look at what God did. Paul wasn’t powerful because of his credentials. Paul was powerful, because God used what others perceived as a weakness to show the mighty power of a passionate Savior.

Do I have the same view of being same-sex attracted?

Yes. It is not a curse. It is a gift. It is something God, not just can, but will use. I do not have to fear the closet door. The test of being a good Christian is not how good I follow rules and keep a “perfect Christian image.” The mark of a true Christian is knowing that Jesus Christ is working in you through his Spirit (II Corinthians 13:5).

Christ’s Blood Over My Closet Door

Fearing what other people think about our “weaknesses” is a scary place to be; when we focus on their opinion. It is a scary place to be when we keep hearing hellfire, brimstone, and every graphic imagery of Hell as we see signs saying, “God hates fags.”

The Israelites in Egypt faced a similar situation. Hated and enslaved by the Egyptians, they wanted to be free. In Exodus 12, God tells Moses to put the blood of a lamb over the people’s doorpost. Redemption was on its way, but it would bring a cost to those who did not have blood on their door. After this first Passover, the Israelites celebrate it every year.

Jesus is our sacrificed lamb. We are able to dip our lives in his blood, and to paint his blood over our closet door. Condemnation passes over us. We are free from the slavery of sin. A slave is loved by his performance. But, a son or daughter is loved unconditionally by their father. This is who our God is.

But, guess what? Jesus is not done. Because of Christ’s blood on our closet door, we can with confidence say with Paul, “I now boast of my weaknesses, so that I (and the world) can see Jesus work through me. Because, when I am weak, Jesus is even more powerful.”

Many times, we view same-sex attraction as a curse we must break. Is God surprised that this is in our life (Psalm 139:13-16)? Do we not think God has a plan for this, and he has us in this situation for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)?At least four times, in the Gospels, we are told nothing is impossible for God (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27). Immediately, some of us want to say, “Yes, God can take it away.” But, what if he does not? Can we still not say that it is impossible for God to use the same-sex attraction in my life?

Christ’s blood guarantees I am saved, and God is working in my life. His blood above my closet door frees me to be me. I do not have to fear the opinion of others, because it is God who my faith is to please. His love for me casts out fear.

Too many times I hated myself over being same-sex attracted. Eventually, that self-hatred led to a suicide attempt in March 2020. Does God want that for me? His desire is to give us life abundantly. Can that be for me ever tough I am same-sex attracted? A resounding, YES!

If I can’t trust God to work in my life with being same-sex attracted, then I truly do not trust the blood of Christ to fully forgive me. See, what other’s call weak, is kindling to see the phoenix-like power of Christ. He doesn’t see a “oops” in my story. He sees a new chapter to bring more glory to himself through something others reject. That is how powerful the blood of my savior is. Even though there are days I cannot see it, I know God is working. I believe he is, because I live by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).

We need to not fear the closet door. Christ’s blood is over it. We can open up, step out, and walk in the freedom Christ gives as his living water overflows out of the new life he has given.

How powerful is the blood of Jesus Christ to You?

Faith In The Fog

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” – Voltaire

Even when the sun shines and the sky is blue, we find ourselves lost in a fog. Our thoughts jumbled. The path lost. We hear voices come from who knows where. Visions jump out of the fog like images of horror. We wander in blindness fearing where are steps could lead – will they lead to light and clarity or will we fatally fall?

Depression is a hazy term for some. Others know it chokes the air right out of you. Moments in the fog can turn into days, and days turn into weeks, months, seasons, and years. Eventually, we find ourselves unable to put one foot in front of the other. We sink to the ground, wishing out head would shut up and quiet down so we could know where to go.

Yet, when the voices and visions overwhelm, and the ominous fatality looms over us like a dark-hooded creature, what do we do?

How can I not lose hope in the fog?

Voices in the Fog

The fog brings out many voices. They seem to come from every direction and sound like a cacophony of chaos. You hear negative, positive, and everything in between. You hear the voices coming from this direction and that direction telling you to walk, run, flee, or stop. There are some days you would rather yell at the voices to stop than deal with the menagerie migraine of loud murmurings.

Moments alone, I have yelled for the voices to shut up. I’ve had to run out of rooms in order to just get them to calm down. I’ve had to close my eyes in order to just calm my mind’s mutterings. But, which voices are negative and which ones are positive? Sometimes the voices make us question and reevaluate our reality. Is what we are going through because of a sin or is this something that will turn out beautiful?

I remember, recently, as I reached out for help through the fog, someone told me, “This is happening because you are off of God’s path. Once you are back on the path, then the depression will go away.” Anything like this is not from God, nor is it good. God does not shame us. He draws us with his love. I know he used this method through Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22:21-39), but those who say these things are an ass.

God does not work like this. When we feel abandoned, he promises to hold us close (Psalm 27:10). He is the source of all hope which leads to an overflow of confident hope (Romans 15:13). His voice is brings sanity, stability, healing, and calls us by the intimacy of belonging (Mark 5:1-34). True friends communicate the compassion of Christ by bringing us to him, rather than shunning us with shame (Luke 5:17-26).

Voices can confuse and wound or clear and heal. Listen to the voices of kindness, of healing, and of light and love. These are voices transformed by the heart of the compassionate Christ. The father of the prodigal son never shamed his son, and neither will Jesus shame you (Luke 15:11-24; Romans 10:11).

Listen for the voices of compassion, love, and healing. Light does not come through shame and shunning. It comes from the love of a savior who’s heart is gentle and lowly wanting to comfort us in the fog.

Visions in the Fog

However, what is worse than the voice in the fog are the visions which frighten us to our already chaotic core. These images seem to rival the imagery out of horror novels and movies. They scare us in the stillness of night, and to speak them out loud, we fear others will lock us up or label us as crazy.

The visions I have seen while in the fog have shaken me awake where I end up on the couch, with all the lights on, and I fall asleep to a noisy television. At time, I have felt a presence of a man in my home. One darkened by sinister shadows with a suicidal smirk. The vision of a social media post stating, “Stephen lost his battle with depression earlier today,” has swarmed my mind like a plague of locust. These visions are vicious as they jump out of the fog snarling at me.

Yet, how do we calm our fears of these visions? The classic passage to turn to is Philippians 4:8. I have groaned when people quote this to me. I want to say, “Can you think fast?” as I want to punch them in the face. Yet, breathing, there is truth in here. I always thought it was to think about God and Jesus, and everything will be happier than a Disney film. But, this verse uses the term “whatever.” This means anything that falls into these categories we can think of and use. Things that remind us of friends, good things, God’s faithfulness, beauty, artwork, anything which brings that glow to our soul qualify to be included in this verse. J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) said, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”

How do we find beauty in the fog? We put up reminders of memories. I have put up a picture wall of friends who have encouraged me, I put notes, cards, and messages in a place where I can read them to cheer my soul. I have books of artworks which causes my heart to wonder at such beauty. God didn’t mean for us to only think about him, or why would he give us beauty in the world, creativity in our mind, and comfort in our community?

Visions of horror in the fog scare us, shake us, and sever hope from our soul. Yet, when we can grasp a glimpse of beauty, the light can spark splendid healing from the inside out.

Falling in the Fog

But, these things do not always work. There are times the fog is so dense, the voices so loud, the visions so horrifying, we fall to the ground. We feel our screams for help are choked out by the fog. We see the “promises of God,” and we want to rip them out of the Bible to be kindling for our fiery anger. When people come at us with Christian clichés, we want to slap them across the face and say, “So, why didn’t you turn the other cheek?”

I have ripped out pages of Scripture, I have chucked Bibles across the room, and I have lashed out at people who even try to tell me to trust God. I have found myself, like Mary Magdalene in The Chosen, ripping up Scripture and tossing it away. Hope vanished as the fog choked out the last of the light.

When these things happen, I need to realize that there is still hope. I may not be where I want to be now, but I am becoming. Each time I fall in the fog is another opportunity to find every ounce of strength from Christ to see the beautiful again. He promises I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). This is especially true when we fall in the fog.

Even when we fall, the heart of Jesus reaches out to us. If we fight back, we will see that love never gives up, endures all things, and love never, ever, ever fails (I Corinthians 13:7). We will see this love come through others around us, visions from God like a dove leading us away from a cliff, through a soft spoken word, a reminder of his truth, or something simple to make us smile. That is his love helping us stand again.

Jesus in the Fog

Through all of the voices, visions, and fallings, there is one thing we can count on: Jesus. Without him, the fog will always be a place of fear. His heart cries when we find ourselves faithless in the fog. His tears are not of disappointment, but out of the ache of love. He doesn’t want us to stay there. Instead, he call us by name and he redeems us.

In the TV show The Chosen, we see this through the powerful transformation of Mary Magdalene. As she reaches for anything to numb her migraine of murmurings, Jesus stops her hand. Then, as she leaves the tavern he calls her by her name.

Watch Scene Here

The fog is an awful place to be. Ignorant people who dismiss us make it worse. We try to silence the voices, look away from the visions, and keeping our feet from fall is exhausting. Some days we can’t even get through the next minute. Living day to day becomes living moment by moment as we hear the metronome of the clock countdown each second of our day.

Yet, we need to realize Jesus is really with us. He isn’t this savior without understanding. He became man, took a body, and kept it. He understands what it’s like to have voices yelling at him (Luke 4:1-13). He’s had horrifying visions cloud his sight and shake him till his sweat became like blood (Luke 22:41-44). Therefore, his heart does not shame us or shun us, because we find ourselves lost in the fog. Instead, he draws us close. He holds us with intimacy in his heart.

When it seems like we cannot believe in anything, and reason tells us to rip up Scripture tossing it off the cliff, faith tells us to keep going. Faith tells us Jesus is in the fog with us, and he understands. Faith opens our eyes to see beautiful again. Faith causes us to stand in the fog singing “Your promise still stands/ Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness/ I’m still in Your hands/ This is my confidence/ You’ve never failed me yet.” Do It Again by Elevation Worship

The fog may last a long time. But, we know that we can have faith in the fog, because Jesus is with me each step of the way. His promise still stands. He will rescue me out of the fog like he has done time and time again.

He will do it again.