Broken Body

“You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the Earth by the Master Craftsman.”
– Max Lucado


What does it mean to be human? What is my purpose on earth? Why do I hit the alarm each morning, shower, and go about my day? What makes me a person?

These are big questions everyone asks themselves and inquire of others to answer. I know I certainly have.

We live our lives as living examples of the answers we come to believe. Is being a human about how we look? Is it about our minds? Are our bodies what makes us human?

Our culture has through many narratives tried to answer these questions: Sci-Fi films, Zombie films, classical literature, children’s books, etc. Our narratives have too many answers to sift through to come to a final answer.

Are we just to pick an answer or come up with our own?

What about me? A 29 year old disabled man who cannot run or walk without a limp, wears leg braces, cannot play sports, possibly cannot have biological children, and who cannot even do the simplest things a normal human should be able to do. What is the answer for me? What makes me human?

Looking Down from the Bell Tower

In the story The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo is hidden away from the world due to his deformity. His deformity became something to be feared, to be mocked, and to be crown at the Feast of Fools. His dream was to be out there, out from Notre Dame, and living among the people of Paris.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates a human made from the parts of corpses. Yet, when the Creature (yes, that is what he is called) is in the world, all he faces is torment, mocking, and displacement. When he confronts the doctor, not even his own creator wants him.

Those who have a broken body know that these stories (and many others) accurately paint reality. We look down from our bell towers wishing to be out there among the others. We feel like sometimes our own creator does not want us.

Why?

Our broken bodies. Our culture shows us that if you fit a certain standard of body image, then you are considered human. Where does a broken body fit its jigsawed shape into our culture’s mold?

Rejected by Our Primordial Slime

In the scientific teaching of Evolution, each human came from some sort of primordial slime, and over time evolved into the humans we see now. Evolution is supposed to be developing the best, and continuing to that advanced state. The survival of the fittest brings out the best.

So if I’m not the fittest, am I meant to die out? In order to make sure we continue the best of the human race, should we follow the ways Hitler? Should we kill off those who are weak and only contaminate our humanity? In the Holocaust, the Jews were not the first to be executed. The disabled laid the paving stones for the methodology of the worst crime against humanity in history.

Those with broken bodies have been rejected by Evolution. We are not the fittest or the strongest. Our culture’s narratives and stories give many answers that we may choose from to answer what it means to be human. But, is rejection from our own primordial slime the only option for being born with or by an accident having a broken body?

If Evolution is fact, then those with a broken body are those who should be cast aside without purpose, without place, and without being considered a true human.

The Forgotten Answer

Since our culture rejects those with a broken body, and pretty much our primordial slime does as well, then should not all those with a broken body end it? It is logical. But, that line of thinking is missing a piece. It has not considered a forgotten answer.

In the library of answers to the question of “what makes a human?” sits an old book hidden between the other volumes. If you aren’t looking carefully at each book, this one is easy to miss.

On the first page it says, “In the beginning God…”

It does not start with “You are special,” “You have been given a gift,” or even “Look at yourself in the mirror.” Instead this book starts with someone else. This person is credited with forming you (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13). He is known by his character: holy, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and compassionate (there are a lot more).

This forgotten answer begins with a forgotten person: God.

The Reason for Creation

We may be thinking, “So it is God’s fault for giving me or this person a broken body. No wonder people do not want to have anything to do with him.” I get it. It’s a logical conclusion. But, it is a logical conclusion from the wrong perspective.

When we see broken bodies from our perspective, we miss what God sees. In Genesis 1:26-28, God does not just create man, and “poof” man exists. Instead, God creates man with a place and a purpose in mind. He places man on earth for a purpose (Genesis 2:15). He writes out each day for each individual for a reason (Psalm 139:16). Yet, we are not pawns in a game of chess, or marionettes in a puppet show. We are like a character specifically drawn up by an author who weaves our stories together to reveal the ultimate story of redemption founded on Jesus Christ.

Brokenness Used

God, our Creator, makes each of our bodies for a purpose. He makes brokenness to be used.

Abraham considered his body (more specifically his sperm) dead, and thought he would never have a son (Hebrews 11:12). Yet, God used the many tears of brokenness when all around Abraham and Sarah people were having children. God brought about a child of promise. Their broken bodies paved the way for a miracle.

Hannah (I Samuel 1) could not bear children. She cried many tears that streamed down her broken body. Yet, even when called out as drunk by the priest, God used the brokenness of a womb to bring another miracle child. This child, Samuel, would be considered one of the greatest men in the Old Testament.

Mephibosheth (a man never healed by God) was crippled from an accident. He was an outcast on two accounts. First, he was crippled and would be displaced from society. Second, he was the grandson of King Saul. When David took over the throne, it was David’s right to kill anyone in the line of Saul. Yet again, God stepped in. David welcomed Mephibosheth into his palace and treated him as one of the family. God uses this man’s life as an example of God’s grace towards us (II Samuel 9; Romans 8:15-17).

In John 9, a man born blind is used to prove the divinity of Jesus. A woman, in Mark 5:25-34, could not stop the bleeding from her menstrual cycle. Her body was broken for 12 years. Yet, Jesus showed that God will use broken bodies to show people their need of Jesus.

A broken body is created to be used. God uses brokenness to points other to himself, and to the love and compassion of the Savior of the world.

Living from Heaven’s Eyes

It is easy to brush this off, and say God is sick for using brokenness for his own glory. But, what is the other choice? Does trying every day to come up with a purpose for your broken body seem like a cycle you want to continue in?

Yet, what about being a part of God’s story? What about not knowing how he is going to use your brokenness, but having the certain hope that he will?

If you notice, one verse has not been mentioned in this post. Other verses in that chapter have been, but not that specific verse. See, when I have struggled with what makes me human with having a broken body, most people quote it. Honestly, hearing that verse over and over as the answer feels like a cop out.

“Yeah, you can praise God for your body because of (fill in the blank). I doubt you would be praising God if you were in my situation.” My own thoughts betray my view of what it means to be human. We get so caught up in the snare of thinking that our humanness is found in our bodies and their physical abilities. If that is the case, then I am no better than a zombie. It clearly means that if I do not have a normal body, then I do not have a place or a purpose for my life. These thoughts put me at the center of my woes, and no more than the weakest of the species that should be wiped out.

Yet, the only way we can properly live out Psalm 139:14 is living from heaven’s eyes. We are not in a bell tower. We are not a creature displaced. We are created by God. We have been given a place. We have been given a purpose, and God has given some a broken body to fulfill that purpose in our place. It might mean we are never able to have children, or have bathroom needs, or walk with a limp, or be wheelchair bound, or suffer from chronic pain, or deal with things no one will understands. But, it is when we are certain of the hope of God using us in his story of redemption we can cry out Psalm 139:14. It is not a verse of grit your teeth and believe it. It is a verse in awe of the truth that God has formed us perfectly for the days he has planned for us written in his story (Psalm 139:13-16).

When we snicker, or laugh, or make fun of someone’s broken body, we are taking our culture’s narratives and forcing them to live as Quasimodo or Frankenstein’s Creature. We take away their God given story. We are telling them that because their body is broken, it is better to be used as a joke or even not exist at all. We have then traded the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creature.

What does it mean to be human?

It means to be one formed by God, placed for a purpose that is written out in God’s book that is to be lived out in the body given to us.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” This line starts the famous book series A Series of Unfortunate Events. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans from losing both parents in a mysterious house fire. The story follows their lives as they try to evade Count Olaf, an evil man who wants their fortune.

As the story progresses, we discover a secret organization with a schism. We discover, that in reality, we have come in the middle of the story and the Baudelaire orphans are caught in the middle of something bigger than just the death of their parents. They are caught in a story of revenge. A stolen sugar bowl, an argument leading to the use of a poisonous dart, and a death that ignited a fire of revenge.

In our own lives, there are unfortunate events. We experience pain, betrayal, and loss. We feel the stab of words, and the execution of actions leaves us hurt. In us a spark ignites, and we feel deep inside we must fight fire with fire.

But, what does the Bible say about revenge and forgiveness? How can we make sure our lives do not turn into a series of unfortunate events?

Give Me What You Owe

A man stood before the judge. He was on trial for evading the IRS, and the federal judge brought up the debt he owed. Since he was a young man, he never paid his debts to anyone. He would wriggle and manipulate his way out of things. But, not any more. When the total was given, and everyone in attendance was shocked. The amount was more than anyone could think of paying. “You are found guilty, and are sentenced to prison until all can be paid.”

The man turned around and saw his wife holding their first born. Tears began welling up in her eyes. She knew she would never see him again. Realizing the weight of his guilt, the man turned to the judge. “Your honor, I have a debt that I cannot pay. It is too big, and I deserve to be separated from this life and from my wife and child. I was wrong in breaking the law. If you could find it in your heart, would the courts please forgive me?”

The judge looked at the man, then to his wife and child. His heart filled with compassion. “Sir, I am a just judge, but I am also a compassionate judge. I forgive your debt and set you free.” The man was given some clothes to change out of his orange jumpsuit, and he walked out of the courts a free man.

The next day while the man was out for a run, he passed a neighbor. “That man owes me $50! He never paid me back.” So the man walked up to the neighbor and yelled, “Look man, I gave you $50 last month, and where is it? Did you think you could take advantage of my generosity? Go inside and get me my money.”

“I’m so sorry. We have been on hard times, and I am working on getting your money. I need more time.” Unwilling to listen, the man dragged his neighbor to the courts and sued his neighbor.

When the day of the lawsuit came, the man stood with his attorney waiting for the judge to come in. A familiar face sat down. It was the judge who pardoned him. “You sir,” said the Judge, “You look familiar. Didn’t I forgive your debt and pardon your sentence to prison?” “Yes, your honor,” the man replied. “Then why are you here suing your neighbor?”

You can probably guess the man was not well received in court.

This story may be familiar to you. It is found in Matthew 18:21-35. After being asked how often should we forgive, Jesus told the same story. It wasn’t about the amount of times to be kept in record, but about the attitude of forgiveness.

Remembering Our Debt

See, Jesus told this parable to remind us about our debt. All of us have a debt. So often we are quick to point out the “heinous sins” in others, but we are just like them. Romans 1:26-32 is frequently used to prove God does not approve of homosexuality. But if you read the entire passage, we will see God does not approve of any sin. There is an item or two on that list each of us can check off. That is why God’s wrath is revealed (Romans 1:18). It is not because of their sin. It is because of our sin. We all sin, and we all would rather turn a deaf ear to God than face our reality. Therefore, we are guilty (Romans 3:23). Our sentence is not a fine to pay, it is death and separation (Romans 6:23; Romans 5:12).

But, God the creator and just judge sees our state and our guilt. Even before anyone can ask for forgiveness (which no one did; not even in the garden), God sent Jesus to take on a human body, take our sin as his identity, and die in our place (Genesis 3:15; Romans 5:8-11). God forgives our debt because of Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

Yet, we are so quick to lose the memory of our debt before God. We forget Christ’s death and resurrection. We forget how we came before God and asked for our forgiveness before the Divine Court only trusting in the grace seen in our savior’s blood giving us his righteousness.

We forget this moment, because we remember something else…

Our Little Black Book

Have you ever looked at someone and remembered that last conversation and that comment that stung your soul? Our mind is like a little black book. We remember the hurt done to us, and we mentally write down his name in our black book. How many times have we unfriended someone from social media just because we remembered their actions? How many times did we change directions in a church hallway in order to avoid that person?

Being bitter is having a mental little black book. If we are not careful, our little black book could span the amount of books in a 13 book series. We see the face, and inside that spark of revenge ignites.

Now, we would quickly admit that we would not murder that person or harm their family. But, don’t we think of the best come-back? Don’t we think about how to put that person in their place? Don’t we plot words, rumors, or anything subtle? We may not want to start house fires, but we are excellent at passive aggressive revenge.

Hebrews 12:15 warns us to not let a root bitterness (or a little black book) become a weed in our minds and hearts. When that happens it will only cause trouble and hurt many.

No Happy Ending

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, many people die by the hand of Count Olaf. He is so set on destroying the Baudelaire orphans and getting their fortune that everyone suffers (even himself). Why? We read that the Baudelaire mother stole a sugar bowl and was part of an argument that ended in the accidental death of Count Olaf’s father; leaving him an orphan. Seeing her leave the opera, Count Olaf says (in the Netflix series), “She will burn.”

Two sides are drawn, and a whole 13 book series spends thousands of pages telling of a scheme of revenge that leaves no happy ending. Count Olaf thinks he will be happy having the Baudelaire fortune through his schemes, but he ends up dying with nothing. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are still left as orphans with no home, the secret organization has fallen apart, many families split apart, and many people dead. You would think it would have a happy ending, but that is not how this story goes. (A quick glimpse of this story)

When we scheme, plot, and think about how to get back and get revenge (however that may look), we only end up in a series of unfortunate events. We are alienated from people who were once close to us, we burn bridges, we become thin-iced so people have to be careful what they say or do around us. We fortify ourselves behind walls, and we lose the ability to truly love people. We hold people at arms length with suspicion. Our lives become a series of unfortunate events where we never get peace and justice. We don’t get a happy ending.

Breaking the Cycle

However, we can write another chapter that breaks this cycle. We can break our series of unfortunate events; even if we do not get justice now.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he forgave those who betrayed him, made false accusations, stripped him, whipped him, and nailed him to a cross (Luke 23:34). And while on that cross, Jesus paid your debt and offers you forgiveness. All we have to do is confess our sins, and he will totally forgive us (1 John 1:9). Everything can be forgiven. We are not the victim when it comes to our state before God, we all have sinned. Yet, we can all be forgiven.

But, God’s forgiveness becomes the basis for how we live (Ephesians 4:32). We are not to live like the man who choked his neighbor for what he owed. Instead, we are to be like Christ. This means we are to forgive. We are to not hold things over people. God does not hold our sin against us because of Christ; therefore, we need to be quick to forgive, let people go, and burn our mental black book.

How Will Your Story End?

“There is no happy endings here,” is one of the final lines of an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author states, “If everyone fought fire with fire, the whole world would go up in smoke.”

I had a mental black book, and it was full of names. It went back many, many years. Holding on to my black book caused me to distrust people, push people away, burn bridges, and hurt people who honestly wanted to love me. My thoughts of revenge were not succeeding in hurting those who hurt me, bullied me, sexually took advantage of me, mocked my disability, or tore me down with their words. My quick comebacks and sharp words, like daggers, were only hurting me, and I was living in a series of unfortunate events. I was fighting fire with fire. Until I gave it to God, and remembered what Christ did for me. It was hard forgiving them. Somedays Satan reminds me of my hurt, and I have to forgive and move on. Words hurt, actions scar, but I have a choice to have a happy ending because God through Jesus has forgiven me. Yes, I still see some faces of those who hurt me, but I will not allow their words or actions to control my story. I am not a victim when I am unwilling to forgive. Forgiving them takes boldness in my part, just as it did for Christ to die on the cross and forgive me.

Forgiveness breaks the series of unfortunate events. Forgiveness heals you and others. Forgiveness begins to build trust. Forgiveness is the only thing that gives life, peace, and rest. We live in a broken world, and Jesus felt the rusted nails of this broken world. But, this broken world is no excuse to not be like Jesus. Forgiveness brings light into this dark world, and gives a taste to others what God is really like.

So, who is in your little black book? What are your schemes against them? Are you tired of turning a page in your life, and it be only a series of unfortunate events you started because of holding on to hurt and not forgiving? How will your story end?

This attitude of forgiveness is not a once learned and kept mentality. It can be a daily struggle to forgive. But, we can turn our no happy ending into a new life, and a new chapter because we let revenge go and forgive. We forgive because we remember how God forgives us.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
– C.S. Lewis

But I Feel Like a Fraud

“If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.” – Amy Carmichael

You close your Bible and thank God for how He spoke through His Word. You open your social media account to share that verse. As you begin typing, a thought hits you, “How can you share this with that struggle?”

You’re preparing a sermon or lesson. However, the passage hits a chord with you. It speaks on the sin you have fallen into time and time again. You know there will be individuals in attendance who have kept you accountable, and have seen you fall, and seen the many times you repented. Then the thought hit you, “What are they going to think of me when I preach this passage?”

At church people are sharing testimonies. It is your turn at the mic. As you step up to share how God is working in your life a thought hits you, “They all know what I did last weekend, and now I’m sharing this? They all must think I’m a fraud.”

I feel like a fraud. It is a thought we all have faced at one time or another. We see our spiritual life, and we see the sin in our life. We can count how many times we have fallen, and how many times we have asked for forgiveness. And when it comes to speaking about Christ, we feel like a fraud. In fact, we may have had some people say to us, “And you call yourself a Christian?”

The Lie of an Image

At the root of feeling like a fraud is the idea that we have not attained a certain image for our Christian life. We see those around us who come across as perfect, as ones not falling into sin, and those who must be mature Christians. We look at passages like I Timothy 3:2, read the phrase “above reproach,” and think we could never attain that with our struggles. We have a desire to be in ministry, but know our image does not include “above reproach.”

However, this is a lie. We would agree that all Christians are not perfect. But, don’t we act and treat others like we believe we should put forth an image of being perfect? Even if we say “above reproach” does not mean being perfect, we qualify it with saying, “It means no one has something to grab onto or something to use against your character.” This is a subtle way of saying, “You need to be perfect.”

Everyone has something that can be thrown at them. I John 1:8 states that if we claim or even act as if we do not have sin in our lives, then the truth is not in us. The idea that unless we conform to an image in order to share Christ is a lie.

I would like to look at two people in the Gospels that show us that God does not want an image. He wants sinners bearing His image.

But Didn’t She Sleep With?

It was a hot day. Jesus sent the disciples into a town for food. As He sat in the blazing sun on the hot bricks of a well, a woman came to the well. Jesus could see her eyes focused on the ground; attempting to not make eye contact with anyone. Her whole body language showed the weight of shame she received from the people in her community.

“Would you please give me a drink?” After some conversation, Jesus revealed to the woman what she knew to be true. She had many men in her life, and was sleeping with a man who was not her husband. She was even probably called whore or slut by people in the town. They knew what she was like, she knew what she was like, and Jesus knew.

But John 4:1-32 does not end with this reveal. Instead, Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah offering living water that would gush into a geyser of living water inside of her. No longer did she have to find satisfaction in dipping into the various wells of sexual encounters. The Messiah gave her a new life.

What happened next? She went into her town telling people to come and see the man who told her all about herself (John 4:28-30). She didn’t care that the people knew her as the woman who passed herself around. She cared that they came to see the Messiah. And what happened because of her testimony? John 4:39-42 gives us the answer. The people believed her testimony, and because of her they were led to meet the savior of the world.

The woman at the well, with her past, became one of the first missionaries showing people the Messiah who would give them living water.

And He Calls Himself a Leader of the Church?

He traveled with Jesus. He sat under his teachings. He witnessed the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, and the dead raised. He even saw Jesus’ glory as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. Even at the last supper, he promised Jesus he would never abandon him.

Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Yes, he stuck his foot in his mouth a lot. But, was he above reproach? In Matthew 26:69-75 we see a dark side of Peter. As Jesus was being tried in order to execute him, Peter was in the courtyard wanting to hear what would happen. His promise of not abandoning his Lord and the one he called, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-16),” stood firm in his mind.

Yet, a servant girl change everything. “You were with Jesus, weren’t you?” Peter quickly looked around, maybe even tried to silence the girl, but couldn’t. People were already staring. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Peter denied his association with Jesus. Two more times, others claimed Peter was a follower of Jesus. Each time, Peter denied Jesus in order to prove he was not associated with the man accused. The rooster crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’ predication, and probably began eating his promise of not abandoning Jesus. Peter ran away weeping.

The story does end there. John 21:15-19 shows us the heart of Jesus. Jesus forgave Peter and restored him. In fact it wasn’t just a forgive and forget moment. Jesus called Peter to feed his sheep or feed the church. Peter, the one who publicly denied Jesus, was called to be a leader in the church. In fact, Peter goes on to write two books of the New Testament highlighting our hope in Christ. Yet, the church would have known about his denial. The book of Matthew was written in the late 50’s AD. The two books Peter wrote are dated to the early 60’s AD. Therefore, he could not hide from the people he ministered to his public denial of their savior.

Being Christ’s Image Bearer

Peter and the woman at the well were not perfect. In fact, the people who knew them could have easily said, “How can he be a pastor? He publicly denied Jesus,” or “How can she be talking about Jesus? Her bed had an open vacancy sign over it.”

How could they talk about Jesus? Because it was not about having their own image. It was about bearing or wearing Christ’s image. II Corinthians 5:21 states that Jesus took our image, our sin, our identity on himself in order that we could bear his righteous image. Ephesians 4:24 says we are to put on the likeness of God or the image of Christ. We are not to put on self-righteousness or an image of perfection. Instead, we are wear the identity of Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 demonstrates that it is not our image of perfection that does anything whether in salvation or progressive sanctification. Our righteousness is only from Jesus. Our image is the image of Jesus. He knows we struggle with sin. He knows we are not perfect. But in our imperfect words and actions, Jesus has freely given to us the ability to wear his image.

Even as I write this post, I can feel the thought, “My readers must think me a fraud. Those who know me know I’m not perfect. How can I be writing this when I know my own struggles?” It is a thought that can be turned into an opportunity. It is not an image I have to put on. Jesus is my perfection. Jesus is my image. Do I show Jesus like I should? No. But, I do not have to worry about what people think or what they say about me. I am just like the woman at the well and Peter. I have sinned, and people know how I’ve sinned. But I have a God who through the riches of his mercy and grace made me alive in Christ in order to do what he has called me to do (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The scars of the past and the scars of the present can be reminders of how much a fraud we can feel when we speak about Jesus. But, let the scars of the past and the present remind you of His scars that forgave you, cleansed you, freed you, justified you, and called you to a new purpose (I Corinthians 6:9-11; II Corinthians 5:17-21).

Others who call you a fraud have a low view of God. They do not see how God has forgiven you, loves you, and is using your story to show Jesus to the world. You do not have to worry about creating an image, because Jesus wants you to bear his image as he transforms your life, your mind, and your heart to be more like him each day, and step by step.

Waking up to a new sunrise
Looking back from the other side
I can see now with open eyes
Darkest water and deepest pain
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
‘Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll useSo I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars

– “Scars” by I am They
(Listen to the song here)

Thriving in Isolation

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” – Jim Elliot

There is no denying the news of the world. There is a virus that is spreading quickly, and our government is telling people to be in isolation so we can slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing can be one of the hardest things to experience since we are created to be social beings. God said it was not good for man to be alone, so he created Eve for Adam (Genesis 2:18-25). So “cabin fever” will eventually set in, and we may feel like that scene from Muppet Treasure Island (Watch Here).

However, how are we as Christians supposed to respond, not only to the onset of COVID-19, but also to the the fact that the majority of us will be isolated and stuck at home for the next few weeks? Churches are closed, and people are working at home. How can we look at this from a biblical perspective?

Breathe…

The first thing we need to do is breathe. When we log onto social media, we are are berated with many articles and posts about COVID-19 and a political agenda, the events of Revelation, or some other conspiracy theory. Instead of letting these thoughts over take our mind, we need to breathe. Inhale and exhale. Go ahead, actually inhale and exhale. Just that simple breath shows God is not done with your purpose on earth. He has a plan for each of our lives and has it written down in his book (Psalm 139:16).

But, let us deal with all the articles and headlines which buzz around our heads. We can breathe in the midst of these articles, because God promises he does not give us a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7). Instead, it is a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment. The first two items are easy to understand, but what about the last? To have sound judgment means we are able to work through a situation with God’s wisdom. We can look at all the headlines from any site about COVID-19 and ask God for wisdom. In II Timothy 2:15, we are commanded to diligently study the Word and be able to work our way through the Word. Studying the Word can help us breathe. We will see a plethora of promises from God, and we will see how to handle issues of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the End Times. (Hint: the answer is in Acts 1:4-8 – Where does Christ put our focus when it comes to the matters of the End Times?)

Capture…

The second thing we need to do in order to thrive in isolation is to capture. By this I mean we need to capture our thoughts. Paul commands us in II Corinthians 10:4-5 to capture all our thoughts in order to follow Christ. Believe me, this is hard to do. It is easy for me to stumble in my journey in following Christ. Isolation can bring up thoughts of the past, thoughts of worthlessness, thoughts of my struggle, and I can easily fall spiritually and fall into depression.

Remember, God has given us the victory over sin because of Jesus Christ (Romans 5). Therefore, I have the spirit of power in me because the Holy Spirit lives in me (II Timothy 1:7). I can capture these thoughts, bring them to Christ, and continue walking forward.

Our thoughts do not have to overwhelm us in isolation. We can journal them out, and then search the Scriptures so we know how to answer these thoughts. We can listen to good Christian music to help our minds stay focused. Some songs I listen to keep my mind focused are: This is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham; Found in You and Lamb of God by Vertical Church; Glorious Day by Passion; No One Like Our God and God of the Impossible by Lincoln Brewster. There are many more I could recommend. Yes these songs do have an upbeat, but it helps keep my mind focused on truth when my emotions and thoughts want to go against God’s truth.

It is easy in this time to let our thoughts run wild, but we have the power to capture them and bring them to Christ. We can conquer our thoughts in isolation only because of Jesus.

Connect…

It has been overly noted that churches are closing. It is advised that we do not physically meet in church in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This has many Christians concerned. Yet when God created us, he gave us creativity. We are created in his image, so we can be creative like he is (Genesis 1:26-27).

It is of vital importance to meet together as believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need to be encouraging each other in following Christ, in standing strong in the faith, in loving those around us, and in fulfilling God’s calling in our lives. Yet, we still need to be respectful of the governing authorities (Romans 13:1). They have only asked us not to meet in person as a large crowd.

This is where being created in the image of God comes in. We are creative beings, and in being creative we have created technology. We can livestream and record services. We can video chat with many believers around the world. We can text each other. Use the creative minds God has given us to stay connected to the community of believers. This is one thing I am grateful for. My band of brothers in my life want to stay connected, and so we make it a priority.

Since the church is the body of Christ as seen in I Corinthians 12:12-27 we cannot do life alone. Even though we are isolated from each other for face-to-face meetings, we can still connect and encourage each other.

Thrive…

Yes, the times are a bit scary and our anxiety can overtake our thoughts. Yet, we as Christians can to three things: Breathe, Capture, and Connect. God is in control of our lives and he knows all about COVID-19 and its effects. This is no surprise to him. God uses all things for our good and in order to make us like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

So as we start our period of social distancing, let’s not allow this time to be one where Satan can suffocate us in silence. Let’s thrive because God has given us a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment (II Timothy 1:7). We do not have to fall to the power of “cabin fever.” If we take it one day at a time, giving it over to God, and breathing, capturing, and connecting, we will see this time as a season of growth. People may be panicking. But, we can use this time to show the peace of God which surpassing any human reasoning in order to show that we have a powerful God who loves us, sustains us, and will fulfill his purposes for our lives (Philippians 4:7; Colossians 1:15-20).

Sound of Surviving

“Take your stand on the Rock of Ages. Let death, let the judgment come: the victory is Christ’s and yours through Him.
– D.L. Moody

Feeling broken and barely holding on…

Isn’t that how we feel inside when we think of that one struggle. The one most people would never think we deal with. Depression haunts us and clouds our day as we battle the thoughts as we wear the mask of “I’m fine.”

How in the world are we to make it when the pain is so great that we would rather end it, than take one more step? How can we get from saying, “it is over” to “it isn’t over yet”?

Think about that struggle you keep hidden in your pocket that if the world knew you would feel so humiliated. Think about the one you are keeping secret from your church, your spouse, the small group you lead. What are the chapters you rip out of your life so no one knows?

How are we to survive?

Too Many Bullet Holes

I didn’t ask to struggle with a disability. I didn’t ask to be bullied. I didn’t ask to be molested. I didn’t ask for the emotional abuse from friends and those who were supposed to be closer than friends. I didn’t ask to struggle with same-sex attraction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and the daily pain of my disability.

And you didn’t ask for your past and your struggle. We didn’t go to the “Life’s Supermarket” and pick out our struggles and life story like choosing cereal. Yet, isn’t that how many people treat us? We are told our messy story is not worth telling because too many bullet holes. We are told we aren’t “golden” enough to be an effective testimony. So, we walk away with shame that our stories do not matter, and our lives are too messed up to be be any good to the Church or to God.

Yet, that is man’s opinion. God knew what was going to happen. Psalm 139:16 states for a fact that God has written every one of our days in his books. Nothing slipped his writing of our lives.

He even planned to send His own people into exile. His story of them involved their painful extraction from their homes into the chaotic living of exile. Yet, he gave them a promise: Jeremiah 29:11. He promised them a future. And isn’t that what we want? We want a future. Jeremiah 29:11 is for us as well. He knows that we feel like an outsider in exile, but God promises a future. Our lives are not too full of bullet holes to be outside this promise.

Not Too Far

I thought for the longest time that because I struggle with same-sex attraction that I was too far gone. I felt like God saved me from all the other sins and struggles, but that one. Why? Because of Romans 1:26-27. I had never acted physically on these thoughts, but did these thoughts mean God gave me up?

No. No one is too far gone for God. Ephesians 2:1-5 describes our state of being lost in sin. It describes how we practiced sin in thought and action. Yet, there is no list of sins. However, the tone of the passage changes because the focus in not on us. It is on God.

“But God”

One of the most powerful interjections in all of Scripture. But God, because of his love for me (even though I struggle and fall and want to end it), and because of his great mercy he made me alive in Christ. I Corinthians 6:9-11 promises that all sins are washed and cleansed because of Jesus.

Our struggles and our sins do not make us too far from God. Jesus went to find people who needed His healing (Mark 5:1-20). He knows your pain and struggle. And so He took on your pain and struggle so you and I could be known as righteous before God (II Corinthians 5:21). Christ’s blood takes my thoughts and shameful struggles and covers them, cleanses them, and gives me a whole new life.

Others may say you are too far from the grace of God. Jesus condemns those words (Matthew 23:13). God sent his son because whoever believes may have eternal life. The ones who have been forgiven much will be the ones who love Christ the most. God says you are not too far from Him. He gave up His own life so you could be with Him. The people around you are not God. God says, “Come, be forgiven because of Jesus. You are not too far gone for my love.”

Not Done Fighting

There are good days and there are bad days. There are days where we just want to give up and give in. We feel like we cannot take another step. The pain stabs us. Our struggles suffocate us. Our pasts haunt us. I’ve been there. Days where I thought “If only I was not born.” “If only I could just get out of this life.” The dark thoughts fog our minds and we lose sight of the truth, and of our God. We can’t see, and therefore we fall to our knees and cry. We can’t go on fighting.

Yet, when sight is gone and we feel the clutches of hell dragging us to our hellish fate, there is one word of hope: Faith. II Corinthians 5:7 instructs us to walk by faith. It is when all hope is lost, and all we can do is say, “God, I am walking to you even though I cannot see.” We don’t just have these instructions, God gave us a whole chapter to show us how people without sight walked by faith: Hebrews 11. Pleasing God is not being perfect or having this “golden testimony.” Pleasing God is walking each step of each moment in total blindness by faith.

The world tells me to give in to my desires and thoughts. God’s Word tells me it is wrong. Yet, there are times where I just want to walk out of work, out of my marriage, and out of my life to just give in. But, Romans 5 promises me that I have victory. Christ gives me victory. The fight is not over. Each day we feel battered and bruised, yet we walk by faith. And from that faith grows a hope that is permanent (I Peter 1:3-9).

Don’t give up, because our God has never given up on you. The fight is not over. The fight is by faith, and not by sight.

You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me

Others can say I won’t make it. They can use their words to push me down and crush me because of my struggles. They can say I won’t stay around, and I will just leave the faith. They can say I don’t have the qualifications for ministry. They can say I have no future, because of my struggles.

However, they don’t know my God. My God is the one who gives a new life to those in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). My is God is the one who uses all things for my good (Romans 8:28). My God is the one who interrupted my sinful life to raise me to new life with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). My God is the one who can use my past, my imperfections, and my struggles to bring Him glory and to show off His love for a dark world (Esther 4:14; Exodus 4:11-12).

I am far from over. Why? Because it is not me that gives myself the approval. It is not others who give me the approval. It is God who works in me and will complete his work (Philippians 2:13). You haven’t seen the last of me, because of my God.

This is the sound of surviving: seeing our stories as God sees them, seeing how far his love reaches to us, and fighting each day without sight, but with faith.

You may feel like giving up today. You may feel like you cannot go one more step. You may feel like your struggle hurts too much and is going to crush you. But, it is not over yet. God is in charge, and not the people around you. This is far from over, and you haven’t seen the last of me, because my rock I stand on is Christ.

This is the sound of surviving, and this leads to thriving.

Band of Brothers

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”
– Samwise
(The Return of the King by Tolkien)

They stood at the foot of Mount Doom. Frodo and Sam, two small hobbits, had come to the last part of their journey. Frodo had to take the burden of the One Ring and cast it into the fires of the volcano. The burden was at its heaviest. Frodo could not even remember the past. He could only see darkness and fire. Yet, Sam, his best friend, could not let him fall into the darkness. “Then let’s be rid of it, once and for all… I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” Lifting Frodo to his shoulders, Sam carried his friend up the mountain.

This scene is very moving to read and watch. The friendship between the two is something we yearn for, and need in our lives. Yet, why do we scorn at the idea of a band of brothers carrying us up the mountain?

The Need for our Brothers

When we come to church, do we see a need for our brothers and sisters? Or, are they just our “Christian friends”? Why is there a body of Christ?

In I Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul gives a description of what the church is like: a human body. Each member of the body needs each other. One cannot say another is unnecessary. A human body cannot fully function without all the parts working together in a healthy manner. Without blood (from the heart) and oxygen (from the lungs), the brain will not function. Without processed nutrition digested through the entire digestive system, the heart cannot pump its blood or have the blood supply needed to send to the whole body. Without the diaphragm, the nose, and the mouth, oxygen cannot enter the lungs and be used to supply the body. Even though we may think one part is independent, the body needs many other parts to function.

It is the same for the Church. Paul did not describe us as a Starbucks. We are not here just for coffee, fellowship, and a relaxing atmosphere to come and go as we please. No! We are in desperate need of each other. Without each other, the body of Christ cannot function in a healthy manner. We will die. Our spiritual lives are not meant to be lived in isolation.

The Need for Battling Brothers

Once we realize that we cannot survive without our Christian brothers and sisters, we can move on to the next part: The Battle.

Each of us knows our individual battles. We struggle with depression, sinful thoughts, words we wish we could take back, burdensome pasts, and the ever present besetting sin digging pitfalls for us at every turn. I Peter 5:8 states that our enemy (the Devil) is as a roaring lion stalking its prey while drooling with hunger as he eyes his next meal. Lions are masters of hiding and springing an ambush. The best way to spot a lion is hearing a warning shouted from a friend. One person may not see the crouched lion, but the other person may.

Spiritual battles are no difference. We cannot face the schemes of Satan and our own sinful desires by ourselves (Ephesians 6:12). Our brothers and sisters are there to encourage us so we are not deceived and hardened (taken captive) by sin (Hebrews 3:13).

Why is this important? We were never meant to battle alone. Every time we hear Ephesians 6 and the whole armor of God, an image of the individual Christian putting on the armor and fighting against evil flashes in our minds. However, this is a false image! Ephesians 6:10-20 is not well translated in English. The words are correct, but the Greek reveals a lot more (another reason to learn New Testament Greek). The verbs used throughout this famous passage are all in the plural! Together and in unity, we take up as a band of brothers and sisters the armor of God and stand against evil.

I remember recently when battling through thoughts of the past and dealing with the pain, I was in a very dark place. The thoughts were dark and gloomy. My seminary training and Bible study were hard to grasp. All the verses I memorized could not cast their lights through the fog of depression. That day I had never felt so alone in my life. However, I texted one of my brothers. Immediately, my phone flooded with texts and calls. I sounded the horn for help, and aid came. My brothers in Christ had to remind me of the truth even though I could not see it. My battle was no longer by myself. The body acted. James 5:16 was in play.

We are each in need of our battling brothers. An army is harder to kill than a lone ranger

Why Do We Lack our Brothers?

But, why does this not happen? A lot of people will say we struggle with pride and wanting to do things our own ways. While that may be true, I want to offer a different (yet overlapping) reason.

We do not open ourselves up. We keep our sins and struggles to ourselves because we fear rejection. We fear what others will think (a sense of pride), and in so doing we suffocate in silence. Satan is able to keep us in the migraine madness of our isolation to run the cycle of sin. The snare is triggered, and we wear a mask as our fear of man drains the life out of us (Proverbs 29:25).

It is only when we follow James 5:16 that the light of Christ shines in and the healing can begin. Spiritual healing goes deeper than physical healing. When we open up our lives and expose it to the body, the body comes and helps us heal through the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.

When I began healing over my past, I kept everything inside. I thought all I needed was my Bible. While that may be true, it is only a partial truth. I was missing my brothers in Christ. I was miserable trying to fight the lies and thoughts on my own. Yet when I opened up and said, “Yes, I struggle with shame over my body. Yes, I struggle with same sex attraction due to the bullying and abuse I endured. Yes, I struggle with anger and pushing people away, because of how hurt I was” the healing began. They came around me, and in fact many said they knew my pain and had similar struggles, and together we battled. It was not easy at first. I wanted to push them all away and battle on my own. However, it was a lost cause without them. I had to reach out to the means of grace God had given me, and this meant recognizing the power of my band of brothers.

Are You Willing to be Carried?

Why is the spiritual gift of our brothers and sisters in Christ missing in so many churches? We would rather protect an image, our reputation, our movement’s “light,” or even be seen as “qualified” for ministry. We would rather get up the mountain ourselves rather than being carried.

The most freeing thing we can do is be open and see the grace of God being poured out as our brothers and sisters battle with us and carry us. However, we will have to swallow our pride and face reality. We will need to open up, say out loud our struggles, and ask for help. We need to admit that we forget what the body of Christ is all about: doing life and battling together.

I am no longer ashamed of my past and the struggles I have. I realize I cannot battle them alone. Satan will eat me whole if I do not rely on all the means of grace from God (the Word, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and my brothers in Christ). Yes, to some people my reputation is ruined. They may say I have said too much, and I can kiss a future goodbye. However, they are missing out on the far-reaching grace of God and the power of a band of brothers. The church was never meant to be a museum of saints, but a theatre telling the story of God’s grace in each redeemed sinner’s life.

The burdens are heavy. The thoughts do cloud our minds. There are days we cannot see the Truth. The “One Ring” we carry in our pockets weigh us down where we cannot move or even get up in the morning. Yet, let us remember the scene of Frodo and Sam at the base of Mount Doom. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” (Movie Clip)

We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to remind us of the Truth during the times we cannot see it. We need them to confess our sins to in order to receive healing. We need each other in order to truly be the body of Christ.

However…

Are you willing to be carried?

I’m Not Good Enough

“No child of God sins to that degree as to make himself incapable of forgiveness.”
– John Bunyan

There I sat. It was the first day of seminary. All around me students sat with readied pencils, pens, and laptops anxious for each note. However, I was anxious in another way. The bell rang, and class began. The professor opened class in prayer, and then asked the class, “What is your story of God bringing you here?”

The typical Christian clichés were given: saved at a young age, saved at the Wilds Christian Camp, or the typical saved and then rededicated.

“Stephen?” The echo of my name bounced off the walls of my ear canal. I swallowed hard, knowing the truth, I gave the simplistic answer, “I am saved, called into the ministry, and that is why I am here.” It was true, but not the truth.

The truth is my story is darker than I was able to come forward with. That day I realized I was not good enough. Well, I realized a lie that we all believe…

The Snare of Openness

From that moment on, I silenced my thoughts and let no one know my story. Why? Because of fear. Yet, fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25). I was stuck in a snare, and that snare was slowly killing me.

Have you felt like that?

God did not give us a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7). Yet, we fall into the clutches of a spirit of shame. We do not open up because we do not look right, have a clean story, or have conquered everything. Instead, we have a story that has not reached its happy ending, because we know God is working in us.

We look around us, and notice how everyone else looks and behaves. Deep inside it pains us because we know we will never reach their level. We have a story that involves a scarlet letter.

The fear of openness keeps us trapped.

What is the Truth about Us?

Why do we not open up? It is because we do not see the truth about us We live in Christian cultures that promote an image rather than hearing about God’s grace. Instead, they would rather hear the stories that make their church, institution, or movement look good.

But, is that how God works?

What is the truth about us?

Luke 7:36-50 is the truth. Christ is at the home of a Pharisee. A Pharisee was a religious leader in the Jewish community. Pharisees knew about image. They promoted image.

Yet while at dinner, someone comes to Jesus. A woman who is called out as a sinner comes to the home. She goes to the feet of Jesus, and begins to clean his feet with perfume. Tears fall from her face to his feet. She knows who she is. She has a reputation. Yet, the only person she knows who will forgive her and set her free is Jesus.

“If only Jesus knows what kind of woman she is. If he was a true prophet of God he would know what to do with a sinner like that.” The toxic words pour out the Pharisee’s mouth. However, after telling a story, Jesus looks at the woman, who could not even look at Jesus, and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”

The truth is we are that woman. We know our sins. We know who we are inside. We see the depths of our sin, our actions, our words, our thoughts and all we want is the forgiveness of Jesus.

The truth is we have Christ’s forgiveness. II Corinthians 5:17 promises that those who look to Christ for forgiveness have a new life. Our sins have been forgiven, and we can start a new life. We can go in peace, because the feet of the one we cry to has given us peace (Romans 5:1).

But, I am Still Not Good Enough

Yet, we can know the truth. But, that is not how we feel. We look at our story, and we know we “that kind of person.”

I know we do not feel good enough. Why? We have opened our hearts, tears, and wiped our tears at the feet of the wrong person. We have seen the power and status of the Pharisees. We see what they can do to us in our community, and we break open our bottles to them.

We have forgotten there is another man at the table. We have forgotten Jesus. Pharisees only give rules, and fear of consequences. Jesus gives peace, freedom, triumph, and restoration (Romans 5).

At Christ’s feet we find forgiveness and peace. At the feet of the Pharisees we only find comparison, and the measurement of righteousness is “being good enough” according their rules (II Corinthians 10:12).

A Pharisee will never come, and become your sin in order to save you. You have to become like them. But, Jesus does the opposite. He took on human body being full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus, then, became your sin for you. He became “that kind of person” so that you may be known as a person with “that Savior’s righteousness” (II Corinthians 5:21).

We do not see ourselves as good enough because we are washing our tears at the wrong feet.

I am Not Good Enough, but He Is

I did not tell the truth that day in class, because I felt like I would be labeled and fear of what would happen silenced me. Yet because of the promises of Scripture, I do not have a spirit of fear, because it is a spirit of power that transforms me (II Timothy 1:7; Romans 1:16). Also, in Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

The truth is hard to face and to speak when we are at the feet of the Pharisees, but it is freeing, and we leave in peace when it is told at the feet of Jesus.

My story begins being born with a disability. It was not until third grade where I truly experienced bullying over my body. I was mocked because I had bathroom needs. This continued through college. In high school, I was sexually taken advantage of because I was an easy target. In church, I would say I was interested in God. But, it was not true. Deep inside I struggled with depression over my body. I thought about suicide multiple times. I struggled inside over who I was, because how many times I was called “gay” by the ones who mocked, teased, and did other terrible things to me. I hated my life, hated people, and wanted to push people away. I built up walls, and found ways to love myself, because God’s love could not be felt. It was not until college where I got saved, and saw who God made me. Yet, healing from the past takes time. It was not until recently I saw that keeping silent, and skipping over the past chapters was only hurting me. Yes, I still fall into past ways of thinking. Yes, I am a seminary student. Yes, I understand that many people see a scarlet letter past as undesirable in ministry. But, this is my story. This is what God has brought me through. However, I am washed, justified, and sanctified because of Jesus and sealed with his Spirt (II Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 1:13-14).

I have cried too many times at the feet of the Pharisees. I need to go to the one who gives forgiveness and peace: Jesus.

Guess what? I am not good enough to be in ministry. I am not good enough to be pursuing ministry. Yet, my goodness only comes from Jesus. When I cry and wipe my tears at Jesus’ feet I join the ranks of this woman, the Madman of Gadara, Peter, Paul, and others who have a past.

“I am not good enough” is a lie. It is a lie of the Pharisees.

“You are my beloved Son or Daughter, in whom I am well pleased,” says the God of Truth. When I trust in his redemption and righteousness, then Jesus is the good enough in me.

Opening up is hard to do only because we have been opening up to the wrong person. Opening up to Jesus brings forgiveness and peace (Luke 7:50).

Aren’t you tired of trying to be good enough for the Pharisees around you? Aren’t you tired of opening up your heart to them only to be rejected?

I am not good enough, but He is. He called me, he chose me, and is equipping me. It is time I walk through the sorrow and the shame, because it is not the Pharisees at the end of life… It is Jesus. Pharisees trip you up. Jesus is our shepherd, and he helps us with every step (Psalm 23).