The Pen Silenced

“The beginning is the word and the end is silence. And in between are all the stories.”
Kate Atkinson

The start of something is beautiful. It is new, exciting, and an adventure awaits. The middle consists of dealing with the adventure. But, the end is different. The end is where the pen is set down, and no more is written. Yet, there is a promise in an ending.

We all have a beginning, middle, and end. We may those multiple times in our lives.

However, when an ending comes. It is time for the pen to be silenced until it is picked up again.

Setting My Pen Down

It is time the truth came out. Braced By Truth will be silent for awhile.

It is time I set down the pen. I have to, because I am a hypocrite.

The posts here are filled with beautiful truths found in Scripture. Yet, I struggle with them. I struggle so much it can come across as being bipolar. Why? It is because of my own untold story.

My Story Told

I struggle, because I need to heal. I am a hypocrite, because I haven’t healed.

I was abused – emotionally, sexually, physically, and spiritually. Yet, I grew up in a family where image is everything. My past and struggles had to stay buried and out of everyone’s sight. Gaslighting became the dirt over a bone yard of pain.

I was born with a disability, and that meant life would be hard. Yet, what made it more difficult was having those closest to you emotionally abuse you. A hand doesn’t have to strike to cause pain. Words can wound. Actions can scar.

Being told you are a freak hurts. Having your nose shoved into your own urine to make sure you learned a lesson brings shame. Having no one listen to you brings silence. Being bullied over my body and interests wasn’t something I only encountered at school. It came from church and home.

I began to realize I was an outcast, the villain, and the person who could never do anything right. I only saw myself as a burden. Most tension in my family was blamed on me. If I hadn’t said or done this or if I had done… then things would be different. If my family is seen as a mess, then it is my fault. Anything I endured was because I deserved it. Each instance, whether at home, school, or church, was based in something I had done. I brought this all on myself. The teachers to help me live better were the consequences.

Those wounds are deep. I hid them for years. If someone came close to them, then the beast inside would attack. Pushing people away became my strategy. When you’re wounded from all sides, then you don’t have acceptance or protection. Instead, you fend for yourself with your wit and sarcasm. Outside I could appear as one not to be messed with or as the trying Christian, but inside I was a scared Jr. High boy trying to find someone to love, accept, and protect me. I didn’t want money. I didn’t want stuff. I didn’t want another Bible verse. I wanted the pain to go away, and I wanted the pain to never happen again.

When I went to college, I thought I had found it. But instead, I encountered a new abuse – spiritual. I left college wanting to serve God, but fear and a low view of myself became my shadows. Unless I could prove myself worthy and a good Christian, then my future was shot. I had the gifts, but no one gave me a chance. I never knew God’s love. God’s love was based on how repentant and how much change was found in my heart.

God was someone who I had to earn love from. I couldn’t go to him and expect forgiveness. I had to prove myself over and over.

The seeds of these offenses became a root system of hurt and bitterness. My heart walled off so no one could see what was truly inside

Trauma’s Tragedy

It has been said, “Hurt people hurt people.” That phrase could be my epitaph. All my hurt did was hurt others. I would blow up over things, and those in the line of fire felt each bullet. Lashing out and being suspicious of everyone became a way of life, because I didn’t want the pain to happen again.

Protection only harms us when our protection fight off our allies. Words cannot be undone. Actions cannot be redone. Instead, a memory of a list hangs in my mind of those who reached out only to be bitten. When crisis arose, my suspicions stabbed and my worry over being hurt again warred against my allies.

Which is worse? The hurt I endured or the hurt I caused?

The Author Revealed

I have been hurt. I have been wounded. I have hurt. I have wounded.

When I look in the mirror, I see a monster in a cage. When I look in the mirror, I see someone who wants to be transformed from a beast to a man. Who could ever love a beast when I can’t even love myself?

I no longer recognize me. I want God. I want to love Jesus. But, I am hurt and I hurt. I keep hurting inside and I keep hurting those outside. I love reading the Bible and want to be ministry, but that dream could never be realized unless I put the pen down.

A madman’s words can sound sweet until you get to know the author.

Silent Ending and Promised Beginning

When an author puts the pen down, there is silence. The story is over. Yet, the pen can be picked up again. A new story can be written.

I am stepping away from Braced By Truth for a while. I need to be in silence. I need to heal. I need to journey into a new chapter of life. I need to ask for forgiveness not expecting anything in return. I need to set boundaries. I need to plug into my church and heal. I need to deal with myself with all my fears and doubt.

I need allies in my healing. But, at the moment I feel alone. To those who I’ve hurt, I am sorry. I understand why you left. To those who’ve read, thank you. But, please don’t give up because of me. This isn’t a crisis of faith. It is a journey of healing I know I must take.

Will I write again? Maybe.

But, I need to stop pretending I am this amazing author who has all this stuff figured out. It is only the handwriting of a hypocrite.

The promise of a new beginning is there…

But it starts with an ending in silence.

Rest At The Table

“You stand up and invite me to the table.”
– Henri J.M. Nouwen

The table

When was the last time you sat at a table? I am not asking when was the last time you ate. I am asking when was the last time you sat down at a table. What is it like?

Unfortunately, for many of us, the table is a place forgotten. It is pit stop throughout our busy days. It is a place to dump our bags, groceries, mail, and other items daily acquired. Instead of people, things crowd our table.

In many cultures, the table is a center piece of many homes. The table is a place hosting an event. Many cultures pause their day in order to sit around the table. A meal is taken. Relationships are built. Rest is breathed in like filling one’s lungs with fresh air.

Being invited to someone’s table is to be invited into their place, their lives, and their rest.

When we think of tables in Scripture, our minds paint a reproduction of The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. However, there are more tables in Scripture which invite us to rest and commune with the master of the table.

The Table for the Fearful

Fear. We all know what it is. We stand before a faceless phantom cloaked in fear. This phantom threatens to take away all peace. We know the promises of God. We know he is with us, but fear rattles our bones, fogs our thoughts, and blinds us.

Yet, God prepares a table for the fearful. Psalm 23:5 tells us God prepares a tables in the presence of our enemies. It is the table of a shepherd. We are his sheep. We are vulnerable to our enemies. Fear paralyzes our steps as we follow our shepherd.

The table of the shepherd is to calm our thoughts. Psalm 23 put the staff in the hands of Jesus. He leads us beside still waters. He is with us in the dark times and the deep, discouraging valleys. Each step of the way, he feeds us at the shepherd’s table. He unpacks the food we exactly need for the next part of the journey.

Our shepherd is leading us, and his table isn’t a one time feast. It is there to calm our fears. His table is to refocus us on him as we take the next steps on whatever path he has for us. Hebrews 13:10 promises us peace through our great shepherd, Jesus. At the shepherd’s table we find his voice filling us with peace (John 10:1-5).

The Table for the Rejected

Remember holding your school lunch and trying to find a table to sit at? How many of us at one time sat at a table alone, because no one wanted us? Was it because we did not fit into their group? We felt their rejection.

In our lives, we may feel rejected. This can even happen in our churches. We walk into the service, and we immediately feel either we belong or not. How does that strike yol? How many churches have we left because we felt unwanted?

In biblical times, those who were disabled were the unwanted of society. They did not have a place. Yet, we find a story in II Samuel 9 of a crippled man finding his place at King David’s table. His name was Mephibosheth. He was the son of Jonathan, and he was crippled. Not only was he displaced because of his feet, but he was displaced because his family’s throne was replaced by David. Mephibosheth was a reject for multiple reasons. Yet, because of a promise David made with Jonathan, Mephibosheth rested at David’s table. The rejected became accepted.

We are the rejected. We are like the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), the woman reaching for Christ’s hem (Mark 5:25-34), the man possessed by demons and exiled to live among the tombs (Mark 5:1-20), and many others mentioned in the Gospels. Jesus invited the rejected to eat with him. Sometimes, Jesus sat at their table (Luke 19:1-10).

Jesus invites us, the rejected, to his table. We feast with him. We talk with him. The rejected become accepted at his table. The rejected find his love and are changed. Instead of being displaced and wandering, we have a place. We have rest. We no longer have to view ourselves as that vile sinner covered in shame. Our shame is washed away as Jesus kneels to clean the dirt off our feet. We are brought into perfect union with Christ. He broke his body, so we can break bread with him. He drank the cup of damnation, so we could drink in fellowship with him.

The Table for the Discouraged

Many of us know what it is like to walk discouraged. We may hold our head high, but the burden we carry pulls our eyes to the ground. The light of hope extinguished from our eyes like candles blown out by the wind. We walk this lonely road.

Luke 24:13-35 gives this road a name – the Road to Emmaus. After the death of Jesus, two disciples walked this road. “Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to free us?” “He showed us all these wonderful things, and now his words are dead.” Disappointed, they walked until a stranger joined them. The stranger inquired at their discouragement. Revealing all, the stranger listened to their downed hearts. However, this stranger began to encourage them. In fact, he stayed with them, and he ate with them. Their dismal discouragement sparked into ignited encouragement. Light shone through the darkness, and they saw Jesus. Encouragement became a eucharist at this table.

Jesus invites the discouraged to his table. He knows we feel disappointed. He knows our fire has been doused by the storms of life. We love Jesus, but we wonder what is happening in our life. So, he invites us to the table to ignite us again. He calls us to rest, eat his food, commune with him, and leave finding that joy in our step.

The Table for the Rested Redeemed

There is one final table mentioned in Scripture – Revelation 19:1-10

It is the marriage feast for the lamb slain for us. With the redeemed multitudes from every corner of life, wearing the gracious robes of righteous, we are seated at the table. Each seat is for a person praising God for the testimony of grace in their life. It is not a feast where we toast ourselves. We toast the reckless love of Christ tearing down every stronghold, climbing every mountain to rescue us. We toast the end of evil and our conquering king.

At this table, there is no more sin to put a bad taste in our mouth. Christ has conquered it. It is the table of rested unity. So many churches are concerned with proving “those Christians over there” wrong over various issues. Yet, those Christians will be sitting at the table with us. In union, we raise our glasses to our savior; not for our church preferences, standards, not our systematic theology, or even to our Christian authors we debate over. Instead, it is all about Jesus.

Your Table is Ready

The most glorious words a waiting guest at a restaurant can hear is, “Your table is ready.”

Those words to the fearful, the rejected, the discouraged, and to all the redeemed have sounded as Christ proclaimed, “It is finished.” With boldness, we can approach the table as Jesus welcomes us. The menu handed to us is written with the promises of God paid with the blood of Christ. We do not need to fear being rejected because of our etiquette marred by fall. Instead, Jesus will transform us over this meal, and every time we come to the table.

Too often we come to Jesus trying to show him we are better than another for our correct labels, correct standards, correct preferences, and so on. We cannot bring our own menu to the table. We must accept his menu and learn to adjust our tastes to his food.

Too often we want the meal to end, so we can move on to the next thing. Jesus invites us to leave our burden and rest. He knows what we need. We do not need a quick bite to eat with him. We need an event centered around him. Do we take time at his table when we are at church, or when we read our Bible, or when we pray, or when we fellowship with other believers? Do we rest or do we just want the fast food? Jesus is there for perfect communion with you. He wants to sit across the table from you. He yearns to hear your heart. He knows your salty tears may fall on his food. But, he wants to give you peace, acceptance, and a fire to continue.

Your table is ready.

Please, take your seat next to Jesus and rest.

Celebrating Stirrings

I believe that in public worship we should do well to be bound by no human rules, and constrained by no stereotyped order.
– Charles Spurgeon

Church starts. A church leader prays. You secretly keep your eyes open to see who rushes to their seats trying to hush their late arrival. The “amen” said, and the song leader invites you to stand and sing a text either out of a songbook or on a screen. The lyrics are familiar to you, and so you sing. You hear some beautiful voices, and you hear some voices who are just making a joyful noise. But, something catches your eye. Someone, about five rows from the front and to the right side, is raising their hands. Not only that, they are moving to the music. It is like they are dancing.

You turn to your spouse and whisper, “I guess they’re looking for attention.”

Other thoughts may fill our mind, “He is just being emotional,” “He does not know how to respond properly to worship,” or “He is not spiritually mature, and he is only causing a distraction.” We may approach him about this issue or not, or we may just “shun” him until he does not feel welcome in our church. Either way, those actions are not appropriate in church, right?

It can be quite shocking to see something you are not used to. But, instead of reacting, we need to respond in a biblical manner.

What does the Bible say about our response to worship? Is there only one way we should respond to worship? Or should we celebrate how we see God working in our lives creating these stirrings to worship him?

Worship Rebuked and Rewarded

In the Old Testament, there is an interesting account of someone who is rebuked and reward while worshipping God in prayer.

I Samuel 1:9-20

Hannah desperately wants a child. Deep inside, she hurts. Her soul aches as she sees others with children. One day, Hannah is at the temple praying. The priest, Eli, observes her. She is acting strange. To him, Hannah appeared drunk. Eli rebukes her and calls out her drunkenness.

Hannah corrects Eli (yes, a woman correcting a male priest). Her prayers are not out of a drunken state. Instead, Hannah’s attitude arises out of her soul being poured out before God. At the end of this passage, God rewards Hannah with her son, Samuel.

The overflow of Hannah’s heart caused her response to God. Eli’s suspicion was not correct. Sometimes our suspicion of others’ response to God can be incorrect. Every individual’s response to worship is different. Our response comes out of our heart.

God loved hearing Hannah’s heart, and he loves to hear ours.

Jesus Stops A Worship Rebuke

Worship is our response to God. Since we are New Testament believers, our hearts worship out of a love for Jesus and what he has done for us.

Yet, how does the work of Jesus make you respond?

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus eats at the home of a Pharisee. In the midst of the meal, a woman approaches Jesus. She bows at his feet, breaks open a jar of costly perfume, and pours it on his feet. Her tears trickle onto his feet as she kisses Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.

The presumed scandal of this situation in biblical times would rival some of our political scandals today.

The Pharisee speaks up, “If only Jesus knew who this woman is, then he would never allow her near him!”

Jesus knew this woman. He knew her past. Yet, he wanted her to draw close. He wanted to see her heart motivate her to action. She was not there to impress Jesus. This woman wanted an encounter with the Messiah.

Because she knew the great burden she carried is forgiven, she responds in this manner. We don’t know why the Pharisee had such a revulsion to her. We don’t know what sin branded a scarlet letter on her. However, we do know she needed a messiah to forgive her. The act of worship rebuked by a Pharisee was rewarded by Jesus as he said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.”

How does our heart respond to what Jesus has forgiven in us? Sometimes, it feels like God owes us heaven. It feels like Jesus must forgive us because of a number of things we can list. Yet, he does not owe you anything. In fact, all we deserve is hell. Maybe it is a detriment to our church methodology when we try to get kids “saved” before they can really go off the deep end. Has this mentality taken away the glory of Christ’s forgiveness? Should we present the need of a savior before we present Sunday School shots of morality?

When we know the depths of our sin forgiven by an even deeper love, we cannot help but respond out of our heart’s stirrings.

A Flashbang of Strange Fire

“But what about the strange fire?” Let’s quickly look at this. Many churches will oppose differing practices of worship as playing with “strange fire.” This concept comes from Leviticus 10:1-3.

Aaron’s sons put fire and incense on their firepans and present it to God. God does not accept it; instead, he burns them up. Their actions put them in hot water. But, why did God not accept it? In the previous chapters, God laid out instructions for sacrifices and approaching God. Aaron’s sons did not follow God’s instructions. God’s law had to be taken seriously. Thus, God was swift in his response.

Are we to fear God burning us up if we worship him in the wrong way? No! Why? John 4:23-24 is Christ’s answer. In the new covenant, those who worship God will worship him in spirit and in truth. When that living water springs out of our souls, we can only respond to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our response is out of our spirit. This truth causes a stirring inspiring our actions for worship.

Stirrings Celebrated

Worship is our response to the heart of God. A pastor once said, “Worship is not our attempt to impress God, but to encounter God.” When God’s truth stirs our souls, we cannot help but express our love to God.

During a church service I attended, I saw a young man up front raising his hands, spinning around, and dancing as we sang praise songs. At first, my thoughts went to judge him. However, something stopped me. Another thought came into mind, “Ask him his story.” I did not approach him directly, but I asked a friend of mine who knew him. As he unfolded this young man’s story, I saw that since he was forgiven much he loved much. His worship was not to distract people or draw attention to himself. Instead, he was responding to the geyser of living water inside him.

Too often we see worship through a man-made tradition. We observe what songs are sung, how they are sung, what instruments are used, and the environment created. We then take our rubric and pass or fail that church. Are we determining what God finds acceptable and not acceptable in an individual’s response to worship by our own rubric based on our preferences? David danced before God, a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her hair, Isaiah confesses his sins when he saw God, the people danced with various instruments after crossing the red sea.

There are many expressions of worship to God in the Bible – building altars, setting up memorials, writing things down, dancing, singing, praying, living a life honoring to him, etc. What we have done is made our standards the “biblical way” of how things should be done. When we see something different, we judge instead of finding out the heart behind the individual. Didn’t Jesus say that if they are not against us, then they are for us (Luke 9:49-50)? Are we more concerned about a methodology of worship or the heart of worship? The song doesn’t say, “I’m coming back to the right methodology of worship. It says, “I am coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, Jesus.”

Our worship is to be motivated by who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our worship is not about trying to impress God. He isn’t impressed with us because of what songs we sing or the instruments we us. He loves us already because of his son and his death and resurrection. Our worship response will look different from culture to culture, language to language, church to church, and person to person. And God finds it beautiful (Revelation 7:9-10). Think about it. We are in heaven. We all begin to sing in our own languages and respond in our own ways as we sing Holy, Holy, Holy, then transition to This is Amazing Grace, and then we hear Mighty to Save or The Power of the Cross in French. Think how beautiful it will be. All our hearts expressing worship to God and to his son for what he has done.

We do not have to be suspicious of the motivations of someone’s stirrings in their soul. When we fully understand how much we have been forgiven, how much we are loved, and the new life Jesus gives us, then we will worship in spirit and in truth.

There is a lot more which could be said over this issue. We have only started the conversation. But, let’s keep this conversation going. Let’s be willing to hear the many stories of grace in our churches and in churches we do not attend. Let’s set aside judgement in order to see God’s work being done in a life.

So…

Let the sanctified stand still. Let the delighted dance. Let the saved shout. Let the redeemed raise their hands. Let the justified jump for joy. Let the cleansed clap. Let all those who are brought into a new life, because of Jesus, sing praises and worship him. It is beautiful to see a soul respond to the love of Jesus; even when that soul is covered in tattoos or wearing a suit and tie.

Treasuring Our Samwise

“You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam.” – Frodo

The Lord of the Rings

It has been said the true hero of the story is not Frodo, the ring bearer, but Samwise Gamgee, the friend and companion of Frodo. Each step of the way he is there. Sam is the embodiment of the best friend, the companion, the Faithful in our journey of life. He is an incredible character.

All of us have someone in our life who is our Sam. We love them, and we hurt them. There are somedays we feel close to them and safe. Then, there are darker days where we feel we have spat on them, pushed them away, and lost them. Yet, they remain.

Our Sam is a curiosity to us. Why would he stay? What makes him want to be with us? What drives him?

Romans 12:10 tells us to deeply love our brothers and sister. This love isn’t one which flees during the emotional storms which threaten to drown them. Instead, with scars and bruises, our Sam fights to stay by our sides… even if we are the ones creating the storm.

Our Sams would rather us beat him, step on him, yell at him, than to see our lives shattered by the storms of darkness. Our Sam is the embodiment of Christ’s words in John 15:13. He would rather lay down his life for us, than see our lives destroyed.

Why is our Samwise so unique? What makes him this way?

Don’t You Leave Him

What this scene

The path ahead of us and our burden are great. We look at the impossible journey of life and think, “I wish none of this happened to me, yet I must do this. I must do this alone.” We set off on our journey, and our ears hear someone calling our name.

It is our Samwise. He sees the burden we carry, he sees the pain it causes us, he sees the journey we must take, and he sees the loneliness we face. Yet, he pursues us to be our companion.

“Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.” Frodo, in tears, starts the journey to Mount Doom alone. His name catches his ear as Sam rushes through the water, despite not being able to swim, in order to be by his friend.

A true Sam and true friend doesn’t leave our side. We may push people away to do our journey alone, but we cannot shake that friend. Our Sam takes Ecclesiastes 4:9 seriously. He knows we cannot do our life alone, and our Sam calls to us, swims out to us, and takes our hand as we take each step.

Let Him Go, You Filth

Watch this scene

Frodo, believing the deceptive Gollum, forbids Sam to continue. With tears clearing the dirt from his face, Sam turns around and heads home. However, Gollum leads Frodo to Shelob’s lair. It is cave spun with webs and traps capturing victims to be feasted on. Frodo is caught by the spider, Shelob, and is wrapped in her web. The journey has ended. Frodo will now be digested in this devilish way, and Middle Earth will plunge into darkness.

Yet, all is not lost. Sam comes to rescue Frodo. Sam saw through Gollum’s lie, and he ran to rescue his friend. Sam knew he was rejected, yet he came for Frodo. Shelob fought Sam over Frodo. The battle did not end in her favor. Frodo is freed from her web, and, later on, is freed by Sam to continue to Mount Doom.

Many days come we cast out our Sam. We push them aside, lash out, and spit on his friendship. Deception escorts us into a web of our destruction. Yet, does our Sam give up? No. How many times has he fought off our personal enemies physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritual so we could be free? How has our Sams risked his lives in order to see us thrive? Many people would leave us to be feasted on, but not our Sam. Coming with light and a sword, our Sam fights for.

I Peter 4:8 describes our Sam’s love. He love us so much, and because of that love he fight to rescue us. We ask for forgiveness, yet in his eyes it has already been granted.

But, I Can Carry You

Watch this scene

On the slops of Mount Doom, Frodo’s burden crushes him to the ground. The smoke and ash darken is mind and eyes. All seems lost. All Frodo can see is darkness as the burden of the ring destroys him. But, a voice cuts through the fog like sun rays breaking up storm clouds. Sam is by his side reminding Frodo of good things. However, when that does not work Sam says one of the the most powerful lines in The Lord of the Rings, “Then let us be rid of it. Once and for all. Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”

How often has our burdens suffocated our soul to the point we thought death was inevitable? One more moment with this burden would cause so much pain we would rather die. Our “one ring” seeks to destroy us. Yet, our Sam comes close. He puts his arm around us, and he begins to carry us to see that burden destroyed. We are not alone in the smoke and ash, we have a light holding our hand and at points carrying us. Even if we try to get out of his grasp, our Sam holds us fast.

Our Sam is there when we fall. Ecclesiastes 4:10 and Galatians 6:2 strengthen his muscles as he carries us up the mountain. Only because of our Sam could we make the next step. Where would our hopeless body be lying if it wasn’t for our Sam?

Don’t You Let Go

Watch this scene

Letting go of our pain and burden is a treacherous and difficult journey. When we finally drop our “ring” into the fire, we just want to let go and be destroyed along with it. The wounds bleed, and the pain is too much to keep on living. So, we decide to let go, and we embrace death’s fiery sting.

A hand reaches down and calls to us, “Don’t you dare let go. Reach!” It is our Sam. He knows it is painful to reach and move out of the mouth of Mount Doom, yet he pulls us up and runs with us to safety.

This is what it means to love our brothers and sisters. When we want to fall into the fire, our Sam reaches through the pain, the grief, the wounds, and the blood to see us have a new life. He truly lives out Romans 12:10.

At The End Of All Things

Who is your Samwise? Who doesn’t let go? Who fights for you? Who carries you? Who reaches for you? It usually is the person you love and hate; the person you embrace and push away. What is his or her name?

I have a few names in mind. Those I have difficulty receiving love from. I know they love me deeply, but my soul screams “I Want To Know What Love Is.” – In my life, there’s been heartache and pain. I don’t know if I can face it again. Can’t stop now, I’ve travelled so far to change this lonely life. Yet, how many times have they shown love to me in ways which slice though the silencing and suicidal depression? And my response? Some days I embrace it, and some days I spit on it. Yet, they still remain. Why? They love me. When the love of Jesus penetrates a life, that life can only love on others. Christ did not let us go, and neither will the friends God gives us.

Our journey seems lonely if we never look to our side. We will continue to stumble and fall, but we need to look at the hand grasping ours. That hand is the hand of our Sam. It is the hand of Christ manifested in a person.

Slapping away the hand and spitting at him will not chase him away. He holds us until we realize how much we lash out and ask for forgiveness that has already been granted before a word departs our mouth.

Who is your Sam? To them we say, “Thank you.” We want to hang our head in shame over how we treat him, yet he lifts our head saying, “I won’t leave you. I will fight for you. I will carry you. I will reach for you.” Tears in our eyes ask why, and he responds, “Because Jesus loves me.”

Watch this scene

At the end of all things, it is our Sam who has been there each step of the way. He is a gift from God. Life was never meant to be done alone, and God gives the perfect gift – friends. It is those with cuts and scars from their journey with us who are the gift we must treasure. Our story would end short without them. Our journey would only end in the headline “(your name) lost his battle with depression,” without our Sam.

To our Sam, thank you. You are the gift treasured. You are the gift rejected. You are the gift loved. You are the gift spat on. You are the gift who never gives up. You are the gift That Tenderly Revives us Through the Rough till we reach an abundant and Liberating Life. You are the living letters sent by God torn, tear stained, and deeply cherished holding our hand each step of the way.

Without you…

where would we be?

The God Behind You

“It hurt because it mattered.” – John Green

We turn our back to it. We bury it. We walk away from it. We shut the closet, sweep it under the rug, and never reveal it. It is our past. Painful tears trickle down our face as we remember the past – the hurt, the trauma, the abuse, the betrayal, the_____ (you name it).

“God is making a bright future for you! God is before you. Look to him and move on from the past.” How many of us have heard that phrase or a variation of it?

We trod our path forward, but our head turns around to see our past. Whenever we do, all we see is our pain. It hurts deeply. We try our best to keep facing forward, but our mind is drawn back to the past.

St. Patrick said, “Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.”

Most of these phrases make sense; except one – Christ behind me. Why is God behind me? I thought he wanted me to move on from my past to my future.

What does it mean for God to be behind me?

A Deeper Look Behind You

When we hear the phrase, “God behind me,” what comes to mind?

The pillar of cloud which stood behind the people of Israel as they travelled out of Egypt (Exodus 14:19)?
The promise to Israel in Isaiah 52:12 of God going before the people and protecting them from behind?

We see God behind us as one who is protecting us. He is the one defending us from surprise attacks from the rear. He is encircling us with his divine protection.

While that is true, is there another reason why God is behind us?

Think about walking away from your past as you journey on a path to your future. When we turn around to remember our past, what do we see? The people, the places, the events, and the memories fill our view.

What if the reason God is behind you is so when you look to your past you see him?

Seeing the God of the Past

When we look at Exodus 14:19, the Israelites are chased down by the Egyptians. The Egyptians wanted them back. They were not going to let Israel escape slavery that easily.

You can see Israel walking out of Egypt. They are out of sight of Pharaoh. Until he realizes the mistake he made. So, the slave master hunts them down like a hunter tracking a deer. You can feel the ground begin shake and the noise of an army coming up behind Israel. Each face turns around. An enemy is close at hand. Their past has come to drag them back.

What does God do? He goes behind Israel and in front of the Egyptians. God wanted his people to focus on him. Seeing the cruelty of their slavery, the people were reminded God is the God of the past. He knew where they were. He heard their cries. Even though they could see their past, God stood their to remind them he is still there. He was in their past, he was in their midst, and he was in their future.

Many of the Psalms record the fact of remembering the past. Yet, as each event is brought back into memory, the reality of God being there is the center picture.

Despite the angry faces, the hurtful memories, and the things we wish to forget, God was there. He is the God of your past.

The Question We Never Verbalize

“Why? Why did God not stop it? Why did he plan for me to go through that?

Why?

It is the question all of us have asked. Yet, we do not ask out loud. We do not have the boldness of Gideon to say, “Where were you God (Judges 6:13)?”

I don’t have answer for why. I don’t have an answer for why I was mocked for my disability. I don’t have an answer for why someone close physically beat me up every time they found me an embarrassment. I don’t have an answer to the bullying, the abuse, the hurt, the backstabbing… the pain of the past.

Psalm 139:16 says God wrote all of our days in a book. He wrote our story before we knew we were in one. He wrote those dark chapters in our life. He chose dark words on our pages to be stained with our tears.

To say God did this because he is God is like being slapped in the face. Yet, we are only told that when advised to let go of the past and look forward. What if we held to the same answer, and used it every time we looked back? What if every time we remembered the past, we saw it as God being God?

In The Dark Of The Night

The house is still. The lights darkened. The room lies in shadows. As you lay in bed, the past haunts you; like hands coming up from under the bed or a dark figure standing over you. Many of us have those night terrors, but never admit it. We remember the past in our nightmares. Our nights are not peaceful. No, they are sleepless, PTSD nights.

In the dark of the night, our past haunts us. Why would God write this story when it isn’t a one and done, time to flip the page event? We feel like the mad man in Mark 5:1-5. Our past demons drive us insane. We lost our mind. Wandering through the dead visages of our history is our reality. Why would God want us to go through this?

Because of Mark 5:15 – The people found the man perfectly sane.

This man’s past was terrible. He lived a nightmare. Insanity controlled him. Why did God have him go through this? God is the God who heals; not just our soul, but our mind. He wants the same for us. God wants us sane.

Except we must do one thing – confront our demons

Jesus asked the man to confront the demons in him (Mark 5:9). The power of those night terrors only have power when we cannot name them. We become to0 afraid to call out what they are. Jesus has the man face his past. We need to turn around, because we will see the God of the past.

The dark of the night can only be scary when the light is not there. Because we know he is there, we can face our past and see why God wrote it.

The answer is in Mark 5:18-20. We become a light for others in the dark. We have a dazzling demeanor despite documented devastation.

The Joy of Looking Back

How many tears have we cried? How much pain have we endured?

So, why God? Why would you put me through this?

Love

It is not loving to take away the bad from our lives, because we will never see the good God blesses us with.

It was tried in the film The Giver. The Elders took away all memories of the bad in order to create the perfect society. The Giver confronts the head Elder and bestows a gift on the world – Please Watch This Scene

Deciding to remove the bad only took away the blessing of being human in a fallen world with a sovereign God – redemption. Love is what allows the bad in order to let the good shine. This may seem like an oversimplification of the hurts we endure. However, isn’t that what God always does? He heals people, and then he sends people. He does this to give the world a glimpse of the ending of the story – Revelation 21.

Our lives are glimpses of what is to come. We are pointing to the New Earth when all is restored and every tear wiped away.

The final scene in The Giver shines this truth in the most subtle and powerful way. The memories are set free. Where is the basis of human experience? Where does this all lead to? Watch this scene. Did you hear music playing? What song was sung at the end? The house is decorated for Christmas, who is at the heart of Christmas?

See the connection?

Our past can haunt us or it can remind us of Jesus, of his power to give us sanity and heal us, and then to send us. Our personal story is a story of redemption. It drives us home to Jesus.

Turn around. Look at your past. God is behind you midst the pain. He smiles at you. He says, “Look at your story. Look where you are now. I am behind you to remind you to see my fingerprints in your past.”

It hurts to look at our past. We are tempted to bury it. Yet, when we face it, Jesus brings sanity to our thoughts, and sends us.

Every time I look back to my past, I do see the pain. I do see the hurt. I do see the abuse. But, I see someone standing there. I see Jesus. I see the miracle he is making each day of my life.

I see the God behind me.

A Haunting in the Church

“Every house has a story. Ours is a ghost story. It’s also a lie. And now that yet another person has died within these walls, it’s finally time to tell the truth.” – Riley Sager (Home Before Dark)

Ghost stories…

What comes to mind? A haunted house? A vengeful spirit? Trapped victims racing against time to free the spirit before they die? Solving a mystery?

It is interesting to observe how fascinated our culture is with ghost stories. These tales of terror can be traced back to ancient times. In our modern century, a year does not go by without a film telling these haunting histories.

There is one haunting that is real. It is a true story. There is a ghost in our churches. It haunts us. When faced with it, our heart flutters and our instinct to run kicks in. Too many have died at the hands of this frightening phantom. It may not be a physical death (some have), but a spiritual death certainly comes.

All houses have stories. This includes the house of God – the church. There is a ghost story within the stone and brick walls sealing the fate of many in a cruel coffin. Except, when the light shines in the darkness, we find this ghostly tale is a lie we have been believing. A lie laying us down and burying us alive.

Is There A Spirit Among Us?

In many ghost stories, the character must find out if the strange happenings are because of a ghost or a hoax. Many pull out a Ouija Board to uncover the identity of the spirit. Once identified, the characters form a strategy.

How do we know if there is a ghost in the walls of our churches? Have there been ghostly happenings? Yes. How many people have had nervous breakdowns over sin and their Christian walk? How many people have left churches because they couldn’t measure up? How many coward in fear of a worship service until paralysis crept on them on Sunday mornings not being able to attend? How many have felt a strange presence in their soul leading them to harm themselves just to rid the pain?

You may or may not have experienced this. You may know or not know someone who has experienced this. It’s the shrewd deception of this ghost which haunts our churches. Its effects may not go seen at first, but once felt it is too late.

Who or what is this ghost? Scripture identifies it 365 times. The spirit haunting the halls and pews of our churches is Fear. It is cunning. It is deceptive. Fear betrays us. It is like a poison which slowly turn us mad. Then, in an abrupt action, we leave the church. Fear damages us. It swindles some into suicide. It collapses the confident faith to ruins.

Immediately, we think of fearing the future or fearing our enemy. Yet, the haunting of fear is neither. It is a fear of people and God. Both toxic. Both lethal. And both very real.

Fearing the Haunt of Man

When we hear the phrase, “the fear of man,” we immediately think it means we do not care what others say about us. Instead, we focus on what God says. We live our faith out loud without fear of man. We declare Proverbs 29:25. Yet, it is no match for the ghost of fear in our churches.

Ever invite someone from church over to your house and before they arrive think, “Oh no, I need to put that movie/book/picture/etc. away!” Or ever gone into a restaurant or a store feeling like someone from church might see you? Or you post something on social media and there is a second guessing of what the people your church would say?

We see this fear of man in John 9. A man born blind is healed by Jesus. He is brought before the religious leaders. In order to get to the truth of the matter, they bring in his parents. Verses 20-23 reveal this fear. His parents did not want to be kicked out of the synagogue by telling the truth of who healed their son. They feared shunning. They feared rejection. They feared man. They probably went next to sabbath singing psalms to God thinking they must remain quiet or else.

How many of us have a struggle we do not speak of lest we be shunned? How many of us want to declare the truths God is teaching us, but fear how our fellow believers will see us? How many of us make a decision that is before us and God, but then fearing what the people in the pew will ponder we scratch that decision? We dare not do this, say this, listen to that, read that, watch that, because what will they say?

This is the fear of man haunting our churches. It stalks us waiting to strangle our mind and faith. We keep silent. We do not do. What happens? Inside, like poison, our souls suffocate under the gaze of this ghost.

Fearing the Haunt of God

Wait, the fear of God? Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, there is a fear of God which produces an awe of our Creator, Savior, and Lord causing us to live for him. But, this is not the fear many see in the churches.

It is fear based in Romans 1:18-32. It is a ghost cloaked in I Corinthians 6:9-10. It whispers the three scariest words in Scripture (Matthew 25:41). This fear of God is the fear of his wrath. We claim to be under the blood of Jesus, but we live as prisoners to Romans 1:18-32. Anything can and will be used against us in the court of God. 

If a struggle, thought, or temptation arises in our minds, then we fear God’s swift divine damnation. We beat ourselves up. We repeat in our minds, “Only the penitent man will pass.” We look at the lists from the passages mentioned above, and we fear for our souls if we ever were to struggle with “those things.” Pity walks out our mouths in the phrase, “they’ve gone off the deep end,” when we hear someone who struggles with sin. Our hellish motivation becomes this fear of God. 

Where does it lead? Giving up because we will never be rid of our struggles. Feeling God does not love us. Feeling we need to earn his forgiveness if we just try harder. Following a list of chores so God does not cast us into the lake of fire. We drive ourselves insane, like those in a haunted house, as we appease the wrath of God. 

“I do not believe in appeasing God!” Then why do you view your Bible reading, church attendance, standards, and other things make you a good Christian rather than only Christ? We may not verbalize this fear, but we live in its stalking shadow.

Vanquishing the Ghost 

Do you see the haunting of fear in our churches? It stalks the hallways. It sits nexts to us in the pews. It on the tongue of our conversations.

One of my favorite ghost stories is The Haunting of Hill House. I have seen it on Netflix a handful of times. The ending lines are very powerful. Watch Here

“Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. But so, it seems, is love. Love is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway. Without it, we cannot continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.

As fear haunts us in our churches, we relinquish love and Scriptural patterns. We do things to make sure we are seen as “good Christians.” We live in ways to make sure God is appeased, and we do not go to Hell. We beat ourselves up emotionally, we go out of our way to be seen right, and the list goes on. Spiritual insanity takes control and poisons our souls. 

Yet, love. God’s love is the same. When we live in the love of God, we give up our old patterns of thinking and ways of living. We see the truth of God. He is not to be feared. He is the be worshipped, because he is love. The holy, transcendent God is love. He breaks our fallen logic (Isaiah 55:8-9). He redeems us, not out of pitying our pious deeds, but by his grace found in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). His love heals our souls, brings truth to the lie, and brings everlasting life welling up into a spring of water (John 4:13-14). We no longer have to live in Romans 1. Our God has moved us to Romans 8. Spiritual sanity says this chapter is our home; not the first chapter. 

How do you vanquish a ghost? The truth must come forth. Too many people have died in fear’s haunting. Too long have we have been digested in the stomach of fear as we live our lives. The only way to have spiritual sanity is to rest in the unfailing love of God. That is what David and the other psalmists did, and it is what we must do. Without living in God’s love, we will remain haunted by fear and become spiritual insane till we snap. 

The church building stands supported by its walls made of stone and brick. The wooden beams give the building its bones. The decor brings in color and beauty. Yet, it is the ghost of fear which shadows our churches. Fear has claimed so many lives within the walls. We have forgotten the church is actually us. When we live and and walk in love, fear has no choice but to leave. We cannot be loving half way. We cannot compromise that love. We need to be like the blind man in John 9 claiming Christ, because it was Christ’s love that healed him (John 9:24-38). We need to be like the woman reaching for Christ’s hem (Mark 5:25-34). Living halfway in God’s love means half our heart belongs to fear. 

Ghost stories… 

They always reveal something about humans. The haunting of the church reveals how much fear grips our soul. The story of the church no longer needs to be a story of fear. It is a lie claiming too many lives. The truth needs to come out. The true story of the church is a story of love. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18), and we are meant to live in this love each chapter by chapter.

Is There Hope?

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
– Edgar Allan Poe

Listen Before Reading

Silent tears trickle down as I listen to this song. I’ve been there. The hopeless state of the Beast has matched the loneliness and hopelessness of my soul. Stuck in a decaying and crumbling castle of my mind. Mirrors only reflect the darkness of my thoughts. I can only see each petal drop and no hope of freedom from my state.

In the hidden and stillness of night, the thoughts come. The shadows of suffocating struggles speak. I know my struggle. You know your struggle. It feels like we are singing the Beast’s song. No matter how hard we try, we only find more oppressing pain and hopeless tears.

How many times have I talked to counselors, prayed, memorized Scripture, read books, bought new Bibles… all in hopes to be free from the struggle inside. How many times have we desperately darted to any Do-It-Yourself plan to find freedom?

Have we come to this sad conclusion?

As My Dreams Die…

I remember, being in seminary, studying for what I hoped to be in a position in ministry. I remember one night reading about the characteristics of a pastor – Above Reproach (I Timothy 3:1-2). These words stabbed my soul. Surfacing was the remembrance of the cloaked figure stalking me in the shadows – my struggle. My knees buckled, and I crumpled on the floor. My fists pounded against the floor. I hated myself. I hated what was inside.

I went to counselors, friends, mentors, professors at the university I attended. I was given books, podcasts, verses, and advice. I studied the Bible as hard as I could. I prayed. Each time I was told of the skill and talent I possessed was another stab to remind me of my struggle. My dream of ever doing anything in ministry was dying… unless my struggle could be conquered.

My soul echoed with Psalm 42:3-4. My heart broke as I thought of what could be, and sighed, “God, why me?” All around me people stared thinking no life could be cheaper, no spirit could win him, he says he’s called, but not with that struggle. As my dreams died, I saw my will to live die. I began idealizing suicide. If I was only to live a life in misery chained to this struggle and leaving others hurting in its shadows, then free them by eliminating me.

Do you have a similar story? The public naming of the struggle does not matter. You deeply know its name and its suffocating strength. Are your dreams dying because of that thing in the shadows? Are there nights where you can only cry out, “Let the world be done with me!”

Is there hope?

The Lie in Hopelessness

You chose this
You need more faith
You need to kill sin or it will kill you
Are you sure God has not given you over?
We can’t be friends because of…

I have heard many of these and variations on them. You have heard them as well. You hear the whispers, the gossip, and the pious prayer requests regarding you and your… “well, you know.” Opening up in a place of healing has turned into a place of rejection, shunning, and acidic acting.

At the heart of what we experience is found in Psalm 42:3. Each statement echoes in the dark caverns of our mind, “Where is your God? How can you claim him and struggle with that?” The lie of hopeless is to deceive you, even amongst believers, to think your God is nowhere. Your only option is to give up.

However, who is your God? Your God is close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18). He knows ever sigh, tear, and each time you stand alone as others desert you for fear of catching your contagious corruption (Psalm 38:9-12). He is the God who hold all your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He is the God who purposed this struggle in order to show the world an amazing miracle of grace (Psalm 139:13-16; John 9:1-3; II Corinthians 12:7-10). He the God who looks you in the eye, and gently reminds you nothing could ever take away his love for you (Romans 8:31-39).

Hopelessness is questioning God. A simple match lit on the truths of God’s word can relight your soul’s candle.

Post Tenebras Lux

No matter how many Bible truths we memorize, the darkness remains. The struggle, at times, is going to drown us. “The verses aren’t working!” we shout as we hit our Bible on the table hoping its batteries will spark to life. I know the darkness is frightening. I know how it feels to only want to die rather than live one day more with it. I know you would never chose it. I know what it’s like to want to cut your flesh every time you fall. I know what it’s like to be lectured to the point of wanting to blow your brains out because you feel worthless in God’s family.

God sees each tear and collects them (Psalm 56:8). With your bottle of tears, God writes the most beautiful words in all of Scripture “I will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever (Revelation 21:4).”

Post Tenebras Lux translates to, “After Darkness Light.” It is like the scene in The Lord of the Rings when the ring is destroyed – Watch Here

Darkness will end. In the musical adaptation of Tolkien’s work, these words are sung as the ring is destroyed – (Listen to it here start at 1:55)

Out of death, life
Out of night, day
Glory from sorrow
Out of grief, joy
Out of storm, come

Strength for tomorrow…
Far beyond feeling
Destruction of pain
Come, breath of healing
A new life will reign

The One Ring is the heavy burden we carry. We can give into its power or we can carry it all the way to the end. Out of darkness come light. God promises. Where does he promise this? I Corinthians 15:54-57 boldly shouts our life comes out of Christ’s death. We have the resurrection power of Christ in us. This struggle, this burden will not overcome you. It does not separate you from God’s love. You may feel kicked down and only a broken Christian, but isn’t that the kind of vessel God wants (II Corinthians 4:7)?

Relighting Your Hope

What has blown out your candle? What has blown out that small spark of hope? Is it the people around you? Are you looking to them for approval as you struggle? It is no better than the robbed man reaching out to the Priest or the Levite (Luke 10:31-32).

I have been there. In fact, there are days where I still experience it. I don’t have a formula to follow. If you think I am perfect, then you would be far from the truth. I have wanted to take my life on more than one occasion. There are days my mind paints a dark picture of all the ways I could by using things in my own home. There are days I have to literally run out of the house to escape. I have cried over my struggle. I have left conversations about this struggle with dark thoughts penned by Edgar Allan Poe. I have sat in hearing of people saying, “No one with common sense would ever struggle with that.”

I do not have the answer for the pain.

It can be hopeless.

But, there is someone else who comes down the road – the good samaritan (Luke 10:33-35). The one despised, rejected by man, and grief close at hand (Isaiah 53:3). He is the one that picks us up each time we fall, cares for us till we can walk again, and heals us. He is the one who came for those like you and me who can only cry over our struggles (Mark 2:17; Luke 4:16-21). Out of his death comes your life (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Our hope to carry on is not from the people in the pews next to us. Our hope is a living hope – Jesus Christ.

There are days I feel all alone in this struggle. There are days I have friends leave and abandon me. There are days I cry as the thoughts of suicide try to seduce. Through tears I need to remember the ending of Beauty and the Beast. It does not end with the Beast in deep despair throwing himself off the castle’s high tower. Instead, he is transformed by love – Watch Scene Here

It is love that transformed the Beast. It is not the approval of others or our DIY sanctification plans transforming us. It is the unfailing love of God through his grace we are being transformed. Jesus loves you so much. Jesus loves me so much. I can only lean on that love as I take each crippled step. His grace teaches me moment by moment what to do with this struggle. It may be just crying on my couch or opening up or enjoying things God has given me to make me smile through the fog.

I don’t have the answers. I stumble and I fall. But, is there hope? Yes, a Living Hope! Through this hope God will finish your story (Philippians 1:6). He started your story. He knows every character and plot twist and burden you bear from page to page. At the end, he will wipe away every tear and will be with you forever (Revelation 21:1-7).

Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The king of kings calls me His own
Beautiful savior, I’m yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Hallelujah, praise the one who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope!

“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham

Yet, We Stand

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”
– William Barclay

Criticism
Shame

Those two words can go hand-in-hand, can’t they? We have all experienced the pounding rain of constant criticism and shame over one thing or another. It could be over a path God is leading you down, a transformation of a belief, or just a new chapter in your life. We see ourselves in the mirror happily following God and walking in the Spirit, but the voices come; like a heavy rain flooding out our feet and forcing our spirits to be washed away. We try to stand up against the voices of shame and criticism, and all we feel is deflated, depressed, and degraded.

Through the critical voices of shame, we feel our life is not good enough, our voice needs to be silent, we need to stay in our place, and caged. If we step out of their line, then we are poked and prodded back into place.

“You shouldn’t be struggling like this.”
“You know this might be the wrong road.”

“You know better.”
“Are you going off the deep end?”
“Are you still following God?”
“Wow, you certainly have changed.”
“Is this just to get a reaction?”
“Why do you always have to be different?”

Like the howling winds, these voices are louder than our own thoughts. We feel like we cannot even hear God. When we go to church, pray, or open our Bible we feel the shame of only being put down for everything. We feel like the villain. Is there any good in us? Shame silences our voice, smashes our hearts, and saps the energy out of our soul.

Why am I like this? Wouldn’t it be easier if I was like everyone else? If I didn’t exist, then I wouldn’t have caused the tension I feel. Ever been there? Ever been drenched by the rain of shame as you cried over being ashamed of yourself?

Will the rain ever stop? Will we ever be able to stand again?

All Around Me

Being shamed and feeling ashamed of yourself is one of the worst battles to endure. We would rather go through a physical war than face shame. We feel it is all around us. We cannot open up to anyone without that one look appearing or that comment resurfacing. Is there something wrong with us?

Psalm 42:3 shows a breaking heart. The psalmist laments as his enemies taunt him, “Where is this God of yours?” David, in Psalm 31:1, cries out to God, because the burden of being disgraced is heavy. In many psalms, there is an image of a person surrounded and pushed down by enemies. Their enemy taunts them about their trust in God or disgraces them over something. They feel like they must wander in grief. The taunts are like the pain of snapping bones (Psalm 42:9-10).

We identify with that deep grief and the sense of enemies all around us shaming us. They may not be literally enemies trying to kill us, but our enemies want to assassinate our character and expose our pasts as the main theme of our lives. We are seen as one who should be shut out and not given a chance. In times where we feel spiritually strong and growing, those voices return to put us back down.

It is very difficult to go through. It feels lonely, hopeless, and if God will ever use you. You feel taunted by God as he has given you gifts and talents, yet no one wants you, your past, your personality, etc. This is a reality for many of us in the church. One fall, one struggle, one opinion… and our lives feel shipwrecked.

How did David not end up running himself through with a sword? How did the psalmist not throw himself off of a cliff into the Dead Sea?

Remember

Watch This Scene

“Who are you?” Did Simba have a good answer? No. However, when faced with his father, Simba heard these words, “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me.”

This is the secret – remembrance. David had to remember who he was, and then was able to remember who God is. Shame can cause depression to choke us like a toxic fog, but remembrance can cause the light to dispel the darkness.

So the question is, who are you?

You are uniquely created with a purpose by the almighty God (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5). You are redeemed by God and no longer face condemnation (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 2:1-9). Your past is gone (II Corinthians 5:17). You now have a hope for a future, a new life, and a glorious life to come (II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; I Peter 1:3-5).

God lifts up your ashamed head, looks you in the eyes, and he gently says, “You are my son. I am pleased with you. I know every detail of your life, and I delight in you.” (Mark 1:11; Romans 8:15-17; Psalm 37:23)

What does that say about God?

Romans 8:31-39 – He is for you. He loves you. He makes you a conquerer. Nothing will ever be able to separate you from God’s love. Do you not think he is going to leave you in shame? If he did not leave his son in the shame of a sarcophagus, then do you not think he will take this burden and make it glorious?

Staying Shame’s Friend

Remembering who you are and who God is can be awesome. However, we have a problem.

We would like to say shame is our greatest enemy. But, think about this – do you treat shame as your greatest friend? Don’t we reach out for approval from those whom we’ve only gotten shame? Don’t we put ourselves in situations where we we have only experienced shame? Don’t we dwell on the shame others give us rather than who God is and who he made us to be?

It is like this scene from Indiana Jones and the Last CrusadeWatch Here

We are just like Elsa and Indiana Jones. “I can almost reach it.” We reach for the approval of those who shame us and guilt trip us. Do we ever get it? We don’t get either a life of our own or their approval. Instead, we fall.

Yet, as we are reaching claiming it is almost in our grasps, God softly says our name. Softly and tenderly calls us by name, and he says, “Let it go.”

Once we take his hand, God will drag us out of shame. Then with epic music playing, he says, “Follow me.” (Psalm 34:5)

Standing

We experience shame. It seems like from every side. We feel scrutinized for decisions we’ve made before God. We feel ashamed of who we are, because we do not reach someone else’s standard of what it means to be a “good Christian.” It is the rain only drowning our soul in depression and sorrow.

Once we remember who we are and who God is, then we can stand. Our stories are worth telling. Our mess is being transformed by the grace of God. As we are transformed, the old is being broken apart. This forces us into a new life and new thinking (Romans 12:1-2). The way God made us is unique, wonderful, and precious in his sight. The path he is guiding you down is specifically made for you. In him is no shame. He delights in you.

We forget that in the storms of life. Remembrance is the key. After crossing the Jordan, the people of Israel set up twelve stones as a memorial of God’s works and promises (Joshua 4:1-7). We need to the same. We need reminders of who God is and who we are. For me, I wear two rings on my right hand. On my index finger is the ring of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. To me, it symbolizes the wandering ranger turned king. Aragorn is the fulfillment of Tolkien’s quote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” My story may feel like wandering, but God is not done with me. There is a bright future. On my ring finger is a ring with elephants encircling it. To me, it symbolizes brotherhood. Elephants will surround the hurt or injured elephant until it can rejoin the pack. I am not alone in my struggles. God has given me brothers to lean on. Also, this ring reminds me I am uniquely created, and it is ok to be the “elephant in the room.” God has given me unique gifts, talent, personality, and views. He wants me to use all of them for him, and not let others shame me into being like them.

What are your reminders going to be? Make them personal to you.

It is only when we remember who God is and who we are we can stand against shame. We do not have to lose our voice. People can shame and guilt trip us, but we won’t go speechless. Why? Because we know who is our God and who he made us to be.

You matter, your story matters, your voice matters. Don’t let others tell you otherwise. God gave it to you. Use it.

The burden of shame is like a heavy rain trying to drown us out. God sees it. He sees the poisonous voices trying to cut you to pieces. Say goodbye to fear. Lift your eyes. Keep on climbing. The rain of shame can try to crush us…

Yet, We Stand

A Call From Gondor

“You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Be a man!”

How many of us have heard that phrase- Sharply spoken to the teen who cries at a movie scene, rebuking that team captain who isn’t leading his team to victory, shrewdly whispered to the young man who is being pressured to make his first sexual conquest?

Our hearts cringe at this scene from Law and Order: SVUWatch Before Continuing

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be masculine? Is it the passing on a list – men do these things and men do not do these things (we all know what that list is). If a young man is found in violation of this list, then he is labeled gay, feminine, unmanly, unwelcome, outcast. Fathers pay close attention. Brothers observe. Families watch for the signs. They will not be embarrassed or have their name and image or perception smeared by an unmanly man.

A Christian man adheres to these things (whether we admit it or not). Men’s church activities most often involve the “masculine list.” The typical “manly activities” separate the true men from those who aren’t strong enough to be a man.

Is that what God calls a man? In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien portrays Aragorn (the lost king of Gondor) as the manly man. He embodies what it means to be a true man as he will become the king over men. Aragorn is admired by many who travel the journey to save Middle Earth.

Yet, Aragorn is more than chopping the heads off of orcs, commanding an army, and becoming king. Tolkien’s portrayal of true masculinity adheres to many biblical principles forgotten by men.

“For Frodo”

Watch This Scene

Surrounded and outnumbered, Aragorn summons the courage to lead the armies of men against the army of Mordor. He knows the freedom of Middle Earth is in the hands of Frodo, a hobbit. Throughout the entire series, he is purpose driven – for Frodo.

Men must be purpose driven. It is not just a choice in a career. It is a cry in the depths of our souls sounding the trumpet of war to one cause. With everything (relationships, careers, life choices, etc), we pursue the purpose God planted in our souls from the beginning.

Since we are to be like Christ (the perfect man), we are to have a purpose driven life. Mark 2:17 states clearly Jesus purposed to call sinners to a new life. No matter who they were (outcasts, pharisees, tax collectors, children, women, the sick, etc.), Christ’s purpose was (and is) to see sinners experience the new life he gives. Even near the end, Jesus determined to finish his purpose (Luke 9:51). It was not for a final paycheck. It was to fulfill the will of his Father – his purpose.

What is God calling you to? What is that deep-seeded yearning he wrote in your book before you were born (Psalm 139:16)? A true man is determined to never give up on the purpose God bestowed on his soul. Aragorn kept focused, and he led the final battle in the name of his purpose – For Frodo.

Charging into the battle of the everyday, what do you say?
“For _________”

“There is Always Hope”

Watch This Scene

The army of Uruk-Hai, sent by Saruman, corner the people of Rohan at the fortress of Helm’s Deep. The king recruited any boy, teen, or man who could carry a sword. Aragorn, seeing a frightened young man, gives encouragement. The battle seems impossible to live through, yet Aragorn has hope and gives hope.

Men are to be hopeful. We do not give up hope. We have hope and we give hope. Gideon’s story overflows with this characteristic. Judges 7:1-23 shows the army of Israel severely outnumbered, yet Gideon goes forth. He sees God’s working and has hope. God is on his side, so who should he fear (Psalm 27:1)?

A hopeful man is a trusting man. When we put our hope in God, we will never be put to shame (Isaiah 50:7). No matter the circumstance, the struggle, or the people surrounding us, we can be assured God is working all things for his good (Romans 8:28). The hope inside us swells as we trust the God of creation.

Aragorn knew Gandalf would come to Helm’s Deep. As soon as the sunrise of the fifth day appeared, the tables turned (Watch Scene). The hope was not founded in the strength of men, but in a promise.

Men do not rest in the strength of men. We rest in hope, and we gift that hope to others. Politics, world events, and family strife happen, but we hope constantly in God.

“Not if we Hold True to Each Other”

Watch This Scene

Gimli’s comment sparks these words from Aragorn. The fellowship remains as long as they held true to each other. This means Aragorn is not individualistic. He is not a lone wolf anymore. He started as a wandering ranger, now he is loyal to the fellowship.

Men are to be loyal. We are not created to be lone wolves. We were never meant to do life alone. Look throughout Scripture. The majority of men have another man in his shadow. The church is made up of individual parts working together. True men of the faith see this, and they act on it (I Corinthians 12:12-27). This means men cry with each other. This means men strengthen each other. This means men show affection with each other, and do not let each other go.

Yes, this counter cultural in our churches. Romans 12:10 commands us to love each other deeply. Loving another person deeply goes beyond the phrase, “I am praying for you,” or “Trust God.” Deep love is close, affectionate, unselfish – Christ-like love. Jesus perfectly displays this. He cries multiple times (John 11:35; Luke 19:41). Jesus is affectionate. He portrays God, who he is, as the father in the Prodigal Son. The father, seeing his son, runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, and restores his son’s soul (Luke 15:20). This is a core characteristic of Christ. If we are to be like Jesus, then we need to follow his example. Stop expressing love for your fellow brothers with a hug only to qualify it with, “No homo,” or “Not in a gay way.” The world can think what they want. The early church in Rome was accused of incest for calling each other brothers and sisters and loving on each other as such. The world will not see our savior through the tracts we give and sermons we preach. The world will know we belong to Jesus by the ways we love each other (John 13:34-35).

Loyalty, love, and affection go hand in hand. Aragorn shows this in the death of Boromir – Watch this scene. He is not scared to show his love of Boromir through closeness and affection (even the shedding of tears). Even at the end of all things, Aragorn (as king) shows loyalty to the hobbits as he recognizes how he would not be where he is without them. In a simple act, Aragorn does this – Watch this scene.

Men are called to be loyal. In this loyalty, we are to show our love, compassion, and protection. Loving another person is not weakness. Loving another shows strength.

A Call from the King

Tolkien said that the consultation of fairy-tales dawns a sudden and miraculous grace. It is because in fairy-tales, we see good, evil, and a glimpse of how we should live in our world of reality. Why do you think the world of The Lord of the Rings is called “Middle Earth”? It lies between the natural world of Earth and the supernatural divine world of Heaven. In Middle Earth, we encounter the truths of Heaven in a story to give us feet to our lives on Earth.

Our world claims what a man should be. We poison our minds with a toxic masculinity. We fall to a false image of man. We forget that the actions of man occur because of the true heart and character of a man. Aragorn would not have killed orcs, treated women the way he did, rescued his friends, bowed the knee to the the small hobbits, or any of the things he did in the story without the characteristics mentioned above. There are many more to be covered, but it is a start.

We parade the idea that it is the actions of a man that makes him a man. No, it is the heart that makes him a man. Anyone can act, but a man called by God will act out of his heart.

When you look at your friends, your children, your brothers, what makes them men? Is it their actions or interests? Is it their heart? The heart of a king rests in all our chests. The question is are we willing to let our hearts be led by God in making us a man or will we let the world decide what makes a man?

Look at Aragorn – a lone, wandering ranger becomes king. It is true that not all who wander are lost. It is with his strength of heart and character he stands from the throne of Gondor giving the call – Be men of the heart!

The call of Gondor goes out.

How will you respond?

Rest in Struggling

“God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” – Augustine

You wake up Sunday morning. Your mind begins to race. All thoughts are not about what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, or how fast you need to shower. Instead, you have a deep, haunting thought. It’s a thought which silences your voice. Imagining the church service causes a panic attack. The shower waters mask the tears welling up from your soul. “I have sinned.” “I fell again.” “I already had those awful thoughts this morning.” “I can’t escape this. God, why am I still struggling?”

Can a church service cause that much anxiety? Yes. The burden of a struggle we can’t seem to conquer can cloak us in a shadow of shame. There are many of us who know what I am talking about. Even if you are not singing during worship, you feel like you want to run out of the room. “Can I fake a phone call?” “Would people judge me even more if they see me walk out? What if they think I’m rejecting God?”

Struggling causes so much anxiety towards our relationship with God. Is it possible for this anxiety to stop?

Who Are You Worshipping?

Entering any church service must cause us to answer a question (whether or not we realize it). Who am I worshipping during this service?

Think about that question. We all want to shout, “I am here to worship God!” Thank you, for the Sunday School answer. But, think about it. Why did you come to church? Why did you dress that way? Why are you having those interactions?

If it is anything other than to show your need of a savior and the greatness of the love of Christ, then you have saddened the heart of God. In cleansing the temple, Christ condemned the temple leaders for making his house a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13). If we come into a church wanting to show how good of a Christian we are, to get some sort of recognition from others or God for our attendance, or to feel better about ourselves by putting another down by our “godly gossip” and our “pious prayer prattle,” then we have committed the same atrocity.

Church was never meant for our erecting of edifices to ourselves. Instead, church is to be a place where we come needing Jesus. Our heads look up, and we can only sigh, “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Anxiety can make us want to run away from church. Yet, Jesus stands there. He looks you in the eye and says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” He is not a God of shame. He is a savior bringing us into rest (Matthew 11:28-29).

As we listen to the music, we do not need to fear our struggle. We need to embrace Jesus and his rest. This is who we worship. We are only there because of Jesus. No one came to see you. We came to lay our burdens down and follow Christ.

The Whale of Rest

God knows our struggles. He knows we run from him. He knows our instinct of fight or flight. When we answer the question of who we worship, then we can find the place of rest in struggling.

Jonah. A man after God’s own heart. Yes, I said that. We tend to make fun of Jonah. But, he is a man God did not give up on. He is a man who was a prophet who ran from God’s command. He disobeyed God’s word. Yes, a preacher! So, I guess he wasn’t above reproach just like us. Jonah’s struggle over God’s command almost cost the lives of everyone on that ship.

But, what happened? A big fish (or whale) gave him a place of rest. God knew he did not need more striving or punishment. He needed a place to get his mind back on God. The whale was not a place of punishment. It was a place of rest. It wasn’t a tropic resort (even though it had the smell of one past its prime), but it was a place to breathe. Jonah 2 records a beautiful prayer of a man seen as God’s runaway. Jonah couldn’t fight his struggle to reach the people of Nineveh until he rested in struggling. He looks towards God (v. 4), and finds rest.

Resolution came only through rest (v. 9).

Our struggles cause so many storms in our lives, yet we cannot brave the storm unless we have rested in God. It is only in the secret place, at the table with Jesus, we are able to return our gaze back to our savior.

Our Living Hope in the Struggle

Struggles and sins cause so much soul-searing pain. We are burdened by them. Anxiety becomes a way of living. We hear sermons giving us battle plans for victory over struggles. Yet, after another failed, we throw that plan away like instructions for a DIY project.

We do not need hope in the next plan, the next accountability partner, the next book, the next seminar, the next ________ (fill in the blank). Our strivings for perfection only stir up our flight from God. We come to church feeling like a failure trying to rewrite that “F” into an “A.”

Our mind must go back to the question, who are we worshipping? Are we worshipping our strivings and plans for conquering our struggles? That means we are putting our hope in a book, a Bible study, an accountability partner, an internet filter, or whatever we use to stop us. Ultimately, we are still making church into a den of thieves.

Jonah (even with his struggles) knew where his hope was. It was not in a ship bound for Tarshish. It was in the God of salvation. His rest came when his hope could no longer be in his strategies and schemes. It came when his hope was in the living God of salvation.

Our hearts will only be restless until we find our hope in the living Christ.

We come to church to be healed by God through his word. We come to lay our burdens down. Jesus is our living hope bringing us a restoring rest. Psalm 23:3 promises God will restore our soul. Our soul cannot be restored through our strivings after perfection. It can only be done through our good shepherd – Jesus Christ. Let him lead. He does not lead us like an accountability check sheet. Jesus leads us like a shepherd – down paths of life, with a staff of comfort and protection, with peace during our struggles, and with a destination where he is the only reason we arrived (Psalm 23). Jesus is our living shepherd giving us rest and hope for the journey.

Our struggles weigh us down, but our shepherd gives us hope for each step.

Rest.