Red Hat Anger And Red Heart Love

“Jesus can no more bring himself to stiff-arm you than the loving father of a crying newborn can bring himself to stiff-arm his dear child.”
– Dane C. Ortlund

Remember these hats?
What emotions come to mind when you see these?

Do you remember the news stories of people getting beat up, thrown out of restaurants, and being rejected for wearing this hat?

Do you remember if someone was wearing just a plain, red hat some people jumped all over them (even if the person did not support Trump)?

This hat or even something similar triggered people to actions – whether it was to beat up, reject, remove, or mock. Fearing other’s reactions, people began not wearing their red hat.

Fear of other’s reactions… This describes a “red hat” mindset happening in the church today. But, it does not end with just putting the hat away. No. Instead, it has ended with some leaving the faith, some staying silent till they implode on themselves, and some literally jumping off the deep end.

There is no red heart for seeing this “red hat” in the church.

Self-hatred self-destruction

“I am gay.”

Those words haunted my mind. I kept them quiet. I tortured myself to keep them silent. I was taught over and over to hate myself until it was gone. I was told God could not use me unless this thing was out of my life. Inferiority and self-hatred became my morning, afternoon, and evening thoughts. I already was seen as a freak with my disability. I didn’t need more added to that fire. Yet the more I buried that thought, the more it yelled, screamed, and scratched at the door of my mind.

The mental cacophony of chaos erupted March 2020. I had become a monster. Lashing out in ways that would rival a Disney villain became my default mode. I could not let anyone know of the beast in me. Self-hatred turned into self-destruction, and I drove down the wrong way on a road hoping I could kill the monster within.

A Red hat alert

Being gay (or even struggling with same-sex attraction) is seen as a death sentence in the church. Opening up can cost your position, job, family, friends, church membership, etc. Opening up about this issue in the church is worst than owing the IRS money.

You have to dress right, speak right, and your whole demeanor needs to look right. People in the church have noses sharper than a bloodhound to sniff out “the gay.”

I remember when I directed a Vacation Bible School skit at the church I grew up in. I was playing the villain’s sidekick. I was pulled aside by the pastor and rebuked for playing my character “too gay.” What did that even mean? All I knew is I couldn’t let others see the truth in me. So I “straightened up” the character.

When I finally opened up to people in a church, I remember the reactions. One guys asked me if I was checking him out. Annoyed, I responded, “Don’t flatter yourself.” At the college I attended, I was told to hate myself and do anything it took to get rid of that thought. I literally tried to cut it out of me. Stephen Field became a man of angry outbursts to keep people from getting too close.

Rejected, emotionally beaten up, spiritually abused… That becomes the world of those who wrestle in their minds with the thought of being gay and being in the church. We hide everything about us so to avoid the bloodhounds. Hand gestures, conversation topics, dress style, voice inflections, everything is changed in order to not be found out.

If it looks like a red hat, then it must be a red hat. Therefore, we must get rid of it or silence the person with the red hat. A red hat can be buried in a closet with ease. Burying “the gay secret”? Not as easy.

A rED HEART

Just as a red hat caused people to jump to action, there is a red heart that caused someone to jump to action.

In Luke 7:36-50, we see this beautiful, red heart.

While dining with a Pharisee named Simon, Jesus is approached by a sinful woman. Immediately, the Pharisee reacts to the spiritual stench exclaiming, “If this man was truly a man of God, then he would know not to allow a woman like that to touch him.” You can almost see him gag at the thought of her even in his home.

Sound familiar? How many people in the church gag at the thought of someone struggling with their sexuality hugging them? How many people in the church stiff-arm anyone with a rainbow symbol? “If only we knew that person was gay, we would have never allowed them into our church.” We may not say it out loud, but we say it with our looks and with our social media posts.

This woman mustered all the courage she had to come to Jesus. She didn’t come to see Simon the Pharisee. She came to see Jesus and to touch the savior. All she knew was she needed Jesus.

How did the red heart of Jesus respond? He allowed her to touch him, cry on him, and kiss his feet. His heart opened up for her to show this intimate act in public. Jesus rebukes the Pharisee, looks at the woman gently and lowly saying, “Daughter, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Did he give her a book to read? Did he schedule her for counseling? He claimed her as his own, forgave her, and sent her away in peace.

Luke 8:26-39 is another beautiful example of the red heart of Christ. A man rejected, chained in the cemeteries is found and healed by Jesus. The town people saw the man healed, clothed, and in his right mind. They were fearful of the man before his healing. Afterwards, a great fear swept through them. A life changed by the love of Jesus is more powerful than a life before. Yet, how many times do we look at someone’s struggle with their sexuality and chain them to the cemetery? How many times do families pull their children close in order for them “not to be infected”?

The church is to be pure in it’s doctrine and in its love. It should never worry about who is there. A true red heart does not care about red hats. Instead, a red heart bleeds love onto an icy heart.

Ending the debate to start loving

We can debate each other on interpretation of passages, the right or wrong of being gay, the agendas of Pride Month, and a whole list of other things regarding this issue. But, it will not change the fact there are people in our churches who are gay, who struggle with being gay, and who need love.

“They chose to be gay. It is their fault!” Of course, I chose (for my own happiness) to be one of the most ostracized persons in the church by being gay, married to a woman, and a Christian (does that make any sense?). Think about the phrases we use when someone comes out. What do those say to that person? Are we trying to dismiss them? Are we trying to shut them up? Does their red hat flare our red anger?

When I came out, I lost my family. My parents told me they did not have a relationship with me and I am no longer privy to family matters. I lost friends from college. I was lectured and treated as a pagan sinner. I had a friend tell me he no longer wanted to be my friend or hug me, because he didn’t want me developing romantic feelings for him. I had a close friend call me gross, disgusting and I belonged in Hell.

My wife? She supports me and walks each day with me. She knows it is difficult, but there she is by my side. She has proven her love for me over and over. Yes, we are staying together. We have to rely on God to guide us each step.

In John 16:5-15, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. He is the advocate who will bring sin to our attention and guide us in all truth. The Spirit does a lot better job than we can of bringing up sin and guiding in truth. Instead of us being the Spirit in other’s lives, we need to encourage each other in the faith to bring about the joy that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:12; Philippians 1:25-26). This is what true fellowship looks like. This is what the church is meant to be like. Pharisees are concerned with an image. Christ’s followers are concerned with following the Spirit and loving each other.

So many times we say, “I am loving someone by telling them off.” Jesus did not do that. So why should we? Jesus was harsh to religious leaders. Look through the Gospels to see that he did not stiff-arm people. It is not our image that makes us worthy to come to him. It is with our heavy burden he beckons us to experience his heart and to rest in him.

It is time we stopped looking for the red hat or things resembling the red hat, and look into each others’ eyes. There we will see a person made in the image of Christ, needing love, needing acceptance, needing someone to cry with them as they battle self-hatred, and needing someone to find shelter in.

I am beyond grateful for some people in my life who reached out, loved on me, and have been with me each step of this journey. Talking about them still brings me to tears. They showed me who Jesus really is, and they still do. Christ will not let go, and neither do they.

To those who are struggling to open up with this issue. You are loved by God. He knew you would be dealing with this. It does not take him by surprise. Jesus really loves you. You are not a monster. You are a beautiful, wonderfully made individual who can look to Jesus and run into his arms. Speak up with your story, slow down the voices of your fears, and honor God by following his Spirit (even if your path looks different). When we all get to Heaven, we will worship Jesus. As we look around, we will see the beauty God has made in his diversity (Revelation 7:9-10). How can we reject that from our churches today?

The heart of Jesus beats in our chests.

How can we stop looking for red hats and start loving with the red heart of Jesus?

The Christian Drinking Game

“Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth.” – Plato

Ever seen movies that depict a drinking game? Usually, a word or phrase or an event happens, and then everyone must take a drink. Many times participants get drunk, pass out, regret the game in the morning, but will be glad to rejoin. Drinking games turn into a cycle that ends with regret, a hangover, and maybe a bad tattoo.

Every day, Christians participate in their own drinking game. In fact, Jesus talks about this drinking game.

garments and wineskins

Luke 5:36-39

In this passage, Jesus introduces an illustration I have been confused over. He talks about old garments, new patches, new wine, old wineskins, the need for new wineskins, and the ruin that comes from attempting to mix the old and the new.

What is the old and what is the new? What is the point of this passage?

We must look at the whole context – Luke 5:33-39

The Pharisees question Jesus why his disciples are eating and drinking when their followers and the followers of John the Baptist fast regularly. Jesus then talks about when the groom is around people do not fast; instead, they celebrate. Then he goes into this illustration about old garments, new patches, new wine, and old wineskins.

This illustration deals with the question of the Pharisees. Jesus compares an old way of living and thinking to a new way of living he is introducing. The old garment and the old wineskin represent an old way of thinking and living. The new patch, new wine, and new wineskin represent a new way of thinking and living.

The old way is living by the laws and traditions based on the law. The new way is a celebratory way of living based on Christ. These two ways are in conflict with each other, and they cannot be apart of the same garment or work together like new wine in an old wineskin.

The Old wineskin drinking game

This old way of thinking and living is using laws, standards, and traditions to bring about approval, blessings, or any affirmation from God. The followers of the Pharisees meticulously followed lists of what to wear, what to do on certain days, what prayers to say, what foods to eat, and anything else told to them to do. Their obedience was the means to God’s blessing and approval.

Jesus condemns this and proclaims this old way of thinking is against Scripture (Matthew 15:2-3; 7-9). He says the holding up of traditions and laws to the point of ignoring God’s word is an old way of thinking, and it takes hearts away from the heart of God.

In Luke 5, Jesus said drinking from old wineskins could not allow a new way of living that was celebratory and free. The Pharisees and their followers played a drinking game with God. The must drink at the law, they must drink when standards are mentioned, they must drink and drink and drink in order to please God. They drank to the point, where in Luke 5:39, the old seemed even better than the new. They couldn’t stomach new wine.

Today, we still play this drinking game. We keep rules, traditions, standards, and end up behaving like the Galatians. We believe that our salvation is by grace. Yet, our Christian living says works make us perfect. Paul condemns this attitude throughout the book of Galatians (Galatians 3:3; 3:11). He even goes to point out Christ’s death is meaningless if we continue to keep laws and rules in order to be seen good in the sight of God (Galatians 2:21).

I have woken up in with a “hangover” playing this drinking game. My drinking list consisted of going to the right church, having all the “correct” theological labels, listening to the correct Christian music, associating myself with the right people, making sure unbelievers knew what I was against, daily completing the spiritual disciplines, managing my sin in order for God to use me and move me to a more mature Christian, etc. I woke up hating myself as I vomited this spiritual gunk out of my stomach. I couldn’t get anywhere playing this drinking game. It was a vicious cycle of gaining the approval of churches, institutions, and other Christians in order to gain approval from God. Participating in this cycle only leaves you nauseous, a splitting headache, and lost in the motions of religion. I only saw this way of living as good because it became a means to a good life. But, it never came.

How many times do we play the drinking game found in the old wineskins?

new wine changed to living water

Yet, we see another element in this illustration – new wine and new wineskins.

The new wine represents a new mindset and way of living Jesus brings. It is one of freedom. In the book of Galatians, the term “freedom” appears over and over. Paul says that since we have faith in Jesus, we are free (Galatians 4:5; 4:12). In order to drink of this new wine, we must be willing to adopt a new wineskin or mindset.

Yet, this new wine isn’t a drinking game cycle. Instead, drinking the new wine Jesus gives is actually to drink of the living water where we will never thirst again (John 4:13-14). No longer are we thirsty for which rule or standard we need to keep. Instead, we are satisfied, because our thirst is quenched in the love of Jesus and the freedom he gives. Our lives are no longer bound to endless commandments. Instead, we show the love of Jesus in our hearts by doing two things: believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another (1 John 3:23). This is not burdensome to do. When we believe and love, then everything else falls into place. This is because the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we do or not do, but it is about living in the Spirit (Romans 14:17).

To live in the Spirit is to give up the drinking game of works and drink from the living water and the new wine given to us by Jesus. He didn’t die so we could be slaves to a cycle of rules, rule breaking, and self-hatred. Instead, when we see the truth of the freedom of Christ apart from the law, works, rules, and standards, we will truly be free and satisfied with the new wine given to us by the one who gives living water (John 8:32).

Desiring new wine

It is so difficult to give up the Christian drinking game of laws, rules, and standards. I’ve been there, done that, and even have the t-shirt for participating. I only ended up with self-hatred and a pattern of walking up a descending escalator attempting to reach approval.

It wasn’t until I heard these lyrics from the song Champion by Bethel Worship I began to question the Christian drinking game-

I’ve tried so hard to see it
Took me so long to believe it
That You’d choose someone like me
To carry Your victory
Perfection could never earn it
You give what we don’t deserve and
You take the broken things
And raise them to glory

How many years did I live and breathe in this legalistic mindset? How many times did I focus on lists in Scripture; rather than the heart of Jesus? When I saw how I was deceived by today’s Pharisees in the church, I began seeing the truth. Jesus saved me by grace, he saved me to love like he has loved me, and that is it. That is what true freedom is.

We don’t have to be stuck in a vicious drinking game cycle anymore. We have been set free to live in the celebratory love of the groom: Jesus Christ.

So…

Which wine are we going to drink each day? The old wine leading to cycles of hangovers? or the new wine which is changed into living water quenching our thirst and freeing us to walk in the Spirit?

The choice is ours. But, we need to make sure we change our wineskin in order to fully live in Christ’s new wine and living water.

A slave is only loved according to his performance. But, a son is loved unconditionally.


Now I can finally see it
You’re teaching me how to receive it
So let all the striving cease, oh
This is my victory

After The Ruins

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Ruins

When traveling, I love to look at ruins – cathedrals, castles, homes, forts, etc. Each of these places tell a story. They are the forsaken, the bombed, the war-torn, the silent storytellers of our world. Not all ruins are dark, miserable stories. Some are stories of triumphs, some are of defeats, and some explain the origins of peoples and histories.

Our lives are dotted with our own ruins – past places we lived, pictures hanging on the wall of yesteryear’s memories, the lives we’ve touched either out of joy or out of pain.

Yet, we forget the stories these tell. Sometimes we would rather allow nature to overgrow and overtake our stories than for people to stumble upon them. We deflect pain, we bury, we “hyperspiritualize”rather than deal with our ruins.

removing the overgrowth

March 2020, I attempted suicide.

Everyone saw Stephen as the intelligent, gift teacher and writer. Yet, inside I was imploding. The foundations were cracking. The wood beams I buttressed my life with splintered. Fear ruled my life. What if I was found out? What if people knew the real me? I would lose everything. Looking right and being the right image of a Christian became as routinely as showering, brushing my teeth, and dressing myself. Not only did I have to put on clothes for work, but I had to put on the right clothes, the right face, the right labels and beliefs, and the right Christian.

No one could know about my depression. Struggles, where I was, silenced. For ten years, I learned from this place to hate myself until I removed everything unwanted. God became interested in me only when I was good enough. I only saw a a Jekyll and Hyde wanting the transformation to stop. It was like climbing up a descending escalator. I couldn’t go on. I had hurt many people. I had hurt myself. If I continued, I only saw hurt and darkness. I was a burden that needed to be lifted.

At 7:30am on a Saturday, when everyone was out stocking up for Covid, I took the keys to my car and drove down the wrong side of the road. The only thought was, “God, I guess I can only be used as a bad example.” I almost ran into one truck head on. Something in me jerked the steering wheel, and I pulled into a parking lot.

It was that day I realized I couldn’t stay where I was. I had to leave.

the ruins of an altar

The place I was at was Bob Jones University- undergrad, seminary student, and graduate assistant faculty teaching public speaking. Ten years of my life was spent there.

During my student years, I opened up about struggles. I was told to pray things away, I was told to read my Bible, I was told opportunities wouldn’t come my way until I proved myself. Each morning I read my Bible in the open desperately hoping someone would see how much I wanted to change. But, the change was not good enough. I lived in a “Christian version of 1984.” Image was everything. It did not matter how good you were with your classes. It was how good you were seen. My disability was doubted. Each semester I had to provide a doctor’s note proving I’m disabled. When I went forward about being molested in high school, I was told, since I was a theatre major at the time, stop being over dramatic in order to make people feel sorry for you. I was told God made me with a purpose being disabled, but how many students, with a pro-life attitude, mocked me. If only I trusted God better, was the solution given. I had to learn to trust God and lean on him only. The school began to bar me from having close friends and watched my interactions closely. Soon, the fire of my struggles spread and people knew me as the “weird guy on campus.”

When I graduated from seminary in 2016 I knew two things- 1) I had the skills to be in ministry, but 2) I had to prove myself to be seen as useful to God and others. God would never use me unless I was good enough, mature enough, or had all the right things lined up in my life.

When I began teaching there in 2018, my mind began seeing things that didn’t seem right. Things didn’t match up with the Bible. So I began challenging thinking on this blog. Then March 2020 came. The place and culture poisoned my thinking of God, myself, my life, and of others. Everywhere I walked on that campus I could only see an inferior person playing dress-up perfection.

When I left, I had sent a video to my students, after receiving emails about rumors of me leaving, explaining why I was not returning. Nothing was mentioned about my suicide attempt (very few even knew about it). Yet, I said I was disassociating myself from the university. I was called into a meeting with the president as he told me I was an emotionally immature person, needing to pull on my big boy pants, and because of my actions God would limit the opportunities he had for me.

I left the altar of fundamentalism

I left alone, shipwrecked, and on a path I did not know where it would lead.

Burying and exhuming

After the meeting, I continued to blog. I blogged to deflect the pain I was feeling. I blogged in order to change others. However, I did not blog in order to change me. I had a mindset filled with lies about God, myself, and Christian life. I wanted others to change in order to accept me, but I hadn’t accepted myself.

No one could know I was hurting. I “hyperspiritualized” everything by writing. I buried everything from the past. However, burying things with heartbeats tend to beat louder and louder until they rise.

July 2020 came. An archaeologist stumbled into my ruins. He didn’t have a map or a GPS. But, he had his story to tell. The only things in his hand were a shovel and water. He saw how thirsty I was, and yet he knew bodies needed to be exhumed. He began by saying I needed to be honest with the ruins and mass graves around me. Honesty is the shovel that exhumes life.

I opened up to my wife, to my parents, and to friends. I began to remove overgrowth from ruins I wanted to forget. The murals and mosaics mimicking mires of pain I put vines and flowers over so I didn’t have to see. I began to remove skeletons out of their graves. The data collected revealed what I buried. I was betrayed. The betrayal was through emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse.

Confronting this brought the skeletons to life. My honesty and truth was met with “since you have no evidence none of this can be corroborated.” Gaslighting had made its appearance. Discussions went round and rough with people from my past.

Exhuming always comes with a price when the truth is unburied. My cost was the loss of my family to no longer be privy to family matters and the loss of friends who turned away from me as I left the altar of fundamentalism.

the clean up of the ruins

February 2021, I put myself into a recovery program and shut down my blog. I had to deal with all the exhumed. My heart wanted to run from Jesus, but at the same time it didn’t. Instead, my heart wanted to run from religion and being deceived by religious people.

My wife and I joined a new church. Through this church, my walls began breaking down. A community began helping me clear the rubble and lay the bodies to rest.

One Sunday, our pastor said, “Your experience of God will be no greater than your revelation of God.”

He’s right. My revelation of God was filled with wrath, judgment, fear, right labels and positions, image, and militant warring against sin.

My revelation did not include the true heart of Christ – Gentle and Lowly

I read through Galatians and saw the truth for the first time.

In my journal I wrote this prayer:
“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.”

The Beauty of ruins

The beauty of ruins is the story they tell and the secrets they reveal. My ruins tell the story of leaving fundamentalism and beginning to live who God made me to be: Stephen Field. It has and still is difficult to wash this mindset away. Leaving fundamentalism can be compared to leaving a cult.

My wife and I cry over the past, are still working on getting our feet stable, but we see the beauty of the ruins. June 24, 2021 I will turn 30. It is a great age to begin seeing beauty again.

If you walk through my ruins you will see a broken 5 year old, an abused 12 year old, a very dark and angry 16 year old, a spiritually abused 20 year old. You will see a disability from birth, you will see the altar of fundamentalism cracked, and you will see a man stepping out of the dark into the light revealing he is same-sex attracted, married to a woman, and is a Christian. You will see a strong, beautiful woman take his hand, kiss him, and say, “One day at a time. I get to live the perfect rom-com with you; married to the love of my life and my gay best friend in one person.” You will see her calm his fears. You will see the two of them not give up on each other. You will see a group of men helping this man learn to live and walk with Jesus as he faces various mountains.

Yet, if you stand on top of the hill and watch the sunrise hit the ruins, you will the shadow of a cross enfolding this story in a gentle and lowly embrace.

It was discouraging even to think about taking up writing again. But, Jesus didn’t come for the perfect writers. He came for the imperfect ones. He came to show us, not how to write perfect characters, but how to allow him to write the perfect story.

I have the love of Jesus. That love brings beauty out of ruins. That love allows me to celebrate 90 days walking in victory over depression and suicidal thoughts. That love allows me to be real and follow Jesus. His love opens my eyes to see beauty again.

To quote my wife’s favorite classic author Lewis Carroll, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

As the sun begins to rise, I need to think of the most impossible thing…

There is beauty in ruins

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