Is There Hope?

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

Listen Before Reading

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

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

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

Have we come to this sad conclusion?

As My Dreams Die…

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

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

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

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

Is there hope?

The Lie in Hopelessness

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

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

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

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

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

Post Tenebras Lux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relighting Your Hope

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

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

I do not have the answer for the pain.

It can be hopeless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham

Yet, We Stand

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

Criticism
Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Around Me

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

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

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

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

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

Remember

Watch This Scene

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

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

So the question is, who are you?

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

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

What does that say about God?

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

Staying Shame’s Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, We Stand

A Call From Gondor

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

“Be a man!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For Frodo”

Watch This Scene

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

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

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

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

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

“There is Always Hope”

Watch This Scene

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

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

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

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

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

“Not if we Hold True to Each Other”

Watch This Scene

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

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

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

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

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

A Call from the King

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

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

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

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

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

The call of Gondor goes out.

How will you respond?

Rest in Struggling

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

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

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

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

Who Are You Worshipping?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whale of Rest

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

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

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

Resolution came only through rest (v. 9).

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

Our Living Hope in the Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest.

Restoring Your Reflection

“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

Mirrors
Do you dread seeing yourself in them?
Do you see every clothing flaw, facial flaw, and body flaw?
Mirrors reflect what others see.

Have you ever stood in front of a mirror, staring at your reflection, thinking deeper thoughts? Thoughts of, once again, you must look how others want you to look? You put on the correct clothes, the correct facial expressions, the correct personality, the correct… everything.

At the end of the day, when we relook at ourselves in the mirror, we see someone we hardly recognize. It is as if someone shattered our mirror, and we only see bits and pieces of the original us. The image is distorted into an image we fake. Anything different and we are forced to change our look, our thoughts, our opinions, and our lives.

How many of us step into church feeling like we are going scream from behind a mask that isn’t us? We are silenced by the shattered mirror telling us who we should be, how we should act, and what we should believe. Inside, the tension grows tightening a noose of a facade around our neck.

Our reflection becomes the artwork of someone else. Their lines, their colors, and their way of sculpting. We want to break free of that. We want our reflection restored to who God made us to be. Yet, fear binds our hands and gags our mouths from yelling, “Stop!”No longer the wonderful piece of art God formed us to be, but we have become made into a reproduction to look like every other Christian around us.

Is it time we fix the mirror broken by men, and restore the reflection God made for you to see and take joy in?

The God of Harmonious Aesthetic

When we think of the word “harmonious,” we think of things of separate likeness working together to form a beautiful work. Think of the various voice parts in a choir. Separately, the voice parts seem to not work together. But when sung together, a composition lifting the soul to the heavens sings in our ears reverberating off the walls of our mind. What comes to mind when we think of harmony? A piece of art? An architecture project?

What about the life of a person?

God designed us each uniquely. Psalm 139:14-16 assures us we are each made uniquely by the God of creation. He formed each part of us – the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. He planned each step for us. Psalm 37:23 promises that God knows every detail of our life, and he delights in it. He delights over every detail like an artist smiling at a canvas as each paint stroke colors a new part of a masterpiece.

Each of us are uniquely made in order to be apart of God’s harmonious aesthetic – the Church.

I Corinthians 12:12-27 is God’s masterpiece. He takes people of all walks of life (I Corinthians 6:9-11). He takes every person who accepts him, and he places them in the Church. He does not compare the church to an assembly-line product. No, God compares it to a human body. Each human body is formed with different parts – eyes, nose, mouth, feet, toes, kneecaps, finger nails, ears, genitals, ankles, back, ribs, lungs, etc. These parts look different and act differently from each other. Yet when put together, they form a human being.

Not everyone will be an eye or an ear. But, every Christian is apart of the body of Christ using their uniqueness to bring harmony to God’s church.

The Clone War

However, has this harmony been sung in the church or are we all forced to sing a certain melody? A group singing a melody can be beautiful to hear, but there is depth to singers harmonizing with each other.

“Stay in your place. You are better seen and not heard.” “You need to fit in better. If you want to be taken serious, then you need to act like everyone else.” Have we heard some of these reproaches or things similar by people in hushed tones? Have we been shamed by our thoughts, the way God is leading us, the actions we take, the way we live for God, because they do not fit in with the Christians around us?

Essentially we have been saying, “You are not an ear like us. You do not belong unless you are like us.” Our hearts become discouraged, and the burden of shame forces us to wear a mask and play a role made in man’s image.

The clone war is not biblical! Throughout Scripture, God uses many people with different personalities, skills, gifts, thoughts, and roles in order to bring about his masterpiece of redemption – Esther, Daniel, David, Deborah, Tabitha, Paul, Peter, Moses, Miriam, Gideon, Samson, Mary, Sarah, Noah, Ruth, Rahab, Boaz, Samuel, Habbakuk, Stephen, Timothy, John, etc. The list is endless. Sure, each one had faults, and they were not perfect. Yet, look at their various personalities and roles they played. God uses a variety of people. They lived their true reflection of God’s person, place, and purpose – his gift to them.

God does not want a clone army of Christians. He wants a body.

Your True Reflection

Who are you? How do you define yourself? Do you define yourself by rules, standards, an image created by man? Does your worth as a Christian come from how well you conform to rules or follow an image? When we find our worth in those things, we are allowing man to smash the reflection God created us to have. We are then forced to look at ourselves in distorted shards.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 reveals the wondrous mind of God. He gives everyone a purpose. Yet, Jeremiah protests out of fear – Jeremiah 1:6-8. He did not want to be different. He was fearful of what others would say. Sound like another person? Moses? Exodus 4:10-12 tells how Moses did not want to go, because he was… and gave every excuse. God responds with, “It is ok to be fearful. I do not want you to stick out and be ridiculed and shunned by your people. I will find someone else.” No, God reminds Moses who the true Creator of man is. It is in this truth Moses is able to live the plan God wrote.

We are made in God’s image. A Christian is made in the likeness of Christ. The fear of man can only rule in our hearts when we forget our true image. God created you with the interests, thoughts, and opinions he designed you to have. You are not a freak among the normal. Trying to answer the question, “What is normal?” is like trying to answer, “Is water wet?” It will only lead to lightheaded dizziness.

Search God’s heart – his Word. Listen to the Spirit. It is more difficult to follow the Spirit’s leading than to conform to man’s image. You must ask yourself, “Who am I letting control my narrative? Man or God? Who is my true Creator?”

It is only then a courageous fire will burn in you to have the bravery of Esther, the spunk of Paul, the determination of Daniel, the persistence of Peter, and the creativity of David.

Your reflection is made whole when we go back to our Creator. Look at who he made you to be and the way you think. You can only fulfill the role he crafted for you. You have no fear to conceal or hide. The fear of man brings a snare, but those who trust in the Lord will be like a tree planted by the waters blossoming for all to see (Proverbs 29:25; Psalm 1:2-3).

Your reflection is not found in the image of man. Your true reflection is found in your Creator and Savior.

The Restoration

A historical home is a typical place we hear the term, “restoration.” It means someone is returning the building to its original look and feel. The restorer goes back to the original blueprints to craft the process.

We are the same. In order to restore our reflection, we must go back to God’s original blueprints – his Word. We no longer have to lament with Mulan, “Who is that girl I see staring straight back at me? When will my reflection show who I am inside?” Our reflection can show the world who God intended us to be – his redeemed masterpiece. All it takes is to reject the image of man and to cling to the image of Christ God is working in us.

Sure, you feel like the elephant in the room. But, do you know elephants symbolize strength, courage, and confidence. When an elephant is sick, the others will surround the one until fully healed and, once again, apart of the pack. We are all elephants in the room. We stick out. Yet, Scripture shows us time and time again strength, courage, and confidence in the lives of those who came before us. They are surrounding us, cheering us on, giving strength to our courage to be who God called us to be and to run the race God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

Think about this scene from Legally BlondeWatch Scene

You have your personality, your interest, your thoughts, and your life for a reason. God gave it to you. You were born and are living for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). You may feel like Elle Woods, but God isn’t done with your story. He is going to use you. Your “oddities” will be the pieces God uses to stun the world (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

So, don’t go speechless into that goodnight of who God made you to be. Look at the pieces of your story, your person, your place, and your purpose. Take them and build a mosaic living for Christ. You are apart of God’s harmonious aesthetic. He takes delight in every part of your life.

Look to him to restore your reflection. You are beautiful and loved in his sight. Live for him and love with with all your heart, mind, and soul – just like he created you to do.

Resting In Lothlórien

“Faith is to rest, not in the best of God’s servants, but in His unchanging Word.”
– Harry Ironside

Have you ever felt defeated? A loss left your soul sinking? A discouragement drained your energy? Your heart is heavy. Your mind is burdened. Images and thoughts paralyze you, and your whole body wants to crumble to the ground. The outside world may see us as happy and fine, but inside we break down in sorrow. Our hope burns out in the furnace of our soul like coals losing their fire.

Will we find rejuvenating rest for our restless worries? Will we find a place for healing for our hopeless hearts? Most of us are weary from hearing I Peter 5:7. Casting our cares on God and nailing our hurts to the cross has become more of a t-shirt slogan than truth for healing.

How can we actually rest and find healing before we continue in the journey God has for us?

Let’s look at a great example from The Lord of the Rings. The fellowship, on their way to Mordor to destroy the Ring, passed through the Mines of Moria. Here, Gandalf (the wizard) battles the Balrog (an evil creature from the depths). The battle is epic, but ends in tears – Watch the Scene Here

Our hearts groan with the characters as Gandalf perishes, and the only action the fellowship can do is lament and morn. They are out in the open, vulnerable, and defenseless. However, Aragorn and Legolas lead them to Lothlórien (a place of the elves) for rest and protection. Lothlórien is watched over by Galadriel.

But, what is Lothlórien? What is special about this place? It is described in the musical adaptation of The Lord of the RingsWatch Scene Here. How is Lothlórien described? What is promised by Galadriel?

We yearn for a place like that. Our soul thirsts for the promises of Lothlórien.

Yet, we already we have our Lothlórien.

Here You Will Ever Belong

Galadriel refers to weary travelers seeking rest as “Son of my yearning” and “Daughter of hope.” These two titles fills us with the same love we long for. We want to be yearned for and to be filled with hope.

God refers to us in similar terms. Romans 8:15-16 declares us as God’s sons and daughters, children, and heirs of Christ. He yearned for us to be his children enfolded in his arms even when we reject him (Matthew 23:37). In his love, he took our death to give us hope (Romans 5:1-8). We are his children of his yearning, and we are his children of hope.

Our earthly families may disown us, and we become displaced. However, with Jesus, we have a place we will ever belong. Psalm 27 promises, even if we feel like wanderers, a place of safety and love with God. We may wander, but, with being the children of God through Jesus, we are never lost.

You are God’s beautiful child of his song (Zephaniah 3:17).

Although Storms May Descend

Although we are claimed by Jesus, we are not promised a life of green meadows and peaceful streams. Snakes slither in the grass. Water turns tumultuous. The sun withers the soft, green grass into prickly, brown bramble. Jesus directly states we will suffer in this world (John 16:33). But, Jesus promises peace. It is not a peace of a lotus position. It is a peace which will go beyond our comprehension, and nestles deep in our souls (Philippians 4:7).

He knows the storms which descend on our fragility. It may be rejection. It may be an illness. It may be the fear of a new chapter of life. What storm rocks your mental and emotional stability? What anxiety causes your feet to grip for stability on the rocking ship deck tossed by the waves? We fear the storm, and we forget Jesus is in the boat and on the waves (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 14:22-23).

His presence invites us to go to him with our worry so he can calm the waves. His outreached hand steadies us as we step out of the boat onto the waves as he journeys with us through the storm.

Although storms may descend and mountains may quake, Jesus stands with us bestowing rest and peace as he promised (Matthew 11:28-29).

Before The Wind And Fire I Stand

We may have a name and peace, but we still struggle to stand in our battles. Our knees buckle under the weight we endure. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps does not work. The straps of our self-determination rip, and back in the dust we collapse. Frustrated tears dirty our cheeks.

Our tears are misplaced.

Frustration is anger at our lack of self-strength. We were never meant to walk the Christian life on our own. Rule following and image keeping will not be a buttress before windstorms and fire. Our efforts to calm storms in our own strength will only leave us with fearful and faithless frustration (Matthew 8:26).

Instead, God promises he will stand and walk with us through the fire and the wind (Isaiah 43:2). He stands before the wind and fire. He walks through the storm leading the way. He is the stability we need as we move forward.

The fire and wind may be a situation. It may be people. It may be misjudgments about you. It may be slander. Fire may seek to burn us alive as we walk through it, but Jesus walks with us. We may be singed, but we are not destroyed (II Corinthians 4:8-9).

Jesus stands before our fires and winds embracing us in his arms.

Resting In The Garden Of Wonder

Lothlórien is called the Garden Wonder. The fellowship is invited to rest here before the journey continues. Each promise of Lothlórien is found in Scripture. Yet, Lothlórien was not the final destination for the fellowship. It was not the end of their quest. It was a Place of Not Yet. Galadriel promises rest, safety, and revitalizing courage to press on to Mordor. Fear of orcs and enemies clouded the minds of the fellowship, yet they could only fully rest when they gave up control to the one who promised.

It is the same with us. We are in the Place of Not Yet. Discouragement, fear, and sorrow clouds our minds. Yet, God has given us our Lothlórien – our personal time with him. When we spend time in his words and in his presence, we boldly walk into the Lothlórien he created for us (Hebrews 4:15-16). It is not the will power of believing his promises which give us rest. It is only when we surrender our strivings we will receive the rest and peace promised.

Surrender is how we live in the promises of God. Memorizing the promises and quoting them in our heads will do no good until we surrender to them. We need to become Peter. We cannot just agree with God his promises are true. We must step out of the boat and experience their reality. Surrender brings about beauty. We no longer look at the shadows and storms. Instead, the world becomes the garden of wonder watercolored by the paintbrush of God (Romans 1:9-20). We are without excuse when we can’t see the wonder of life God has given us. He has plainly shown us his paint strokes in creation, his fingerprints in our lives, and his threads weaving a tapestry of beauty telling our story.

Give up the energy of forcing God’s promises to happen. They will happen whether you want or not. Following the Holy Spirt is more difficult than following a list of rules. Surrender, and you will rest in the Lothlórien God has given to us found in his presence through his Word, prayer, and following the Spirit. Wipe the frustrated tears from your eyes and behold the wondrous provision of God to move you where he wants you.

Lothlórien is our place to rest before we continue. It is a place to surrender to God’s promises. His promises provides the strength to spark our courage into a flame lighting the path he creates specifically for each person (Psalm 139:13-16).

Breathe. Wipe the tears from your eyes. Surrender your lists and self-determination to God. Then he will take your face in his hands and with a gentle authority in his voice will say, “For your days that remain, this is the promise I make enfolded in my arms.”

The Place of Not Yet

“Always we begin again.” – St. Benedict

Ever looked back on a year and only saw how you didn’t change?
Ever looked back and saw how your failings were much greater than your change?
Ever only see your struggle and never your progress?
Ever see your dream disappearing in the midst as the sunrise of failure rises?

We all live in the place of what happened. We see ourselves as citizens of the place of the past. Our present being is tattooed with the scars of that place. Everyday we scour our closets for anything to cover up the past and prove to the world we have changed – a smile, an action, a better habit, etc. Yet, the markings of the place of what happened remain. Our life’s passport seems to be stamped with the many visits to that place.

Aren’t we tired of being known by what happened and our failures? Our neck must be exhausted as we have bent it to the ground in order to avoid the condemning looks of others. Our mind has done more character acting than Carol Burnett in order to pretend we are “fine.”

What if we could move into a new place – the place of not yet.

This Strange New Land

If you have ever seen or read The Chronicles of Narnia, you will notice the first remarks of the children upon entering Narnia are of how strange the land looks and feels. How fitting are those comments as we look at our own lives. We also have entered a strange land, but we stand in the liminal space between our old world and the new – our old selves and the new creation we are in Christ. We comment and elaborate on the new creation before us, but hardly do we leave the space between the worlds.

Why? We fear others. Others know our struggles, our pasts, our scars. We feel those things draw the unwanted attention of others like The One Ring draws the Ringwraiths to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. We do not sing of the new creation as much as we sing of our past. Yet, Psalm 33:1-5 tells us to sing with joy (not in solemn, stoic scores). Why? It is because the word of God is true and shows us the unfailing love of God. His word shows us the joy of leaving the place of the old and stepping into the new creation, and living in the place of not yet.

II Corinthians 5:17 declares Christ, through himself, has made all things new. The old has passed away like the night retreating into the depths of the earth as the sun rises bringing warmth and light to a wakening world. He freely gives new life. As Jesus talked to the woman at the well, he promised living water springing up into life (John 4:13-14). How can Jesus promise a new life to us who have scars of the past and are haunted by the ghosts of guilt? It is found in Colossians 1:15-22. Our new life is sealed with the proof of promise, because Jesus is the first born from the dead. His resurrection floods the world with the new life he promises.

This new life is strange. Yet, as Jesus did with Peter inviting him onto the wild waves, Jesus is calling us to leave the liminal space and step into the new creation he has called us to be – to step into the place of not yet.

The Wide Invitation

Many of us have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but we still live in the place of what happened. We see the promise of a new life, a new beginning, a new way of seeing the world around us, and we secretly scoff at it. That place we have always dreamt of seems like a fairytale. Eventually it will end, and our happy endings will darken back into the grim existence we have known.

However, the invitation Jesus gives us into the place of not yet is wide. Matthew 22:1-10 illustrated the breadth of the recipients. The king, in the parable, tells his servants to invite everyone they come across – both the good and evil. Most of the time, we consider ourselves to be on the evil side. Yet, who calls us evil? Do we hold our goodness to the standards of men or God? God wants everyone to be invited to this new life no matter their background or past. All we need to do is RSVP and accept the new life Jesus freely gives us to wear.

God knows who we are. He looks down from heaven. He sees our hearts. He understands us deeply, because he was the one who made our hearts (Psalm 33:13-15). He understands me. He knows all the desires of my heart, because he made me with those desires. He knows sin has twisted those desires. But, his wide invitation to me is a call to see those desires as he had made them and to step into a life that runs in grace after the desires God has given me.

Being Still in the Place of Not Yet

What is the place of not yet? It is the place God is calling us to. It is the moment of the morning where we step into a new day with the past chasing us and the sea of the unknown before us. It is the place where we give ourselves grace as we look to the pillar of fire and be still as God leads us. It is the place we allow ourselves to see God work.

Moses experienced the place of not yet in Exodus 14. The Israelites came to the Red Sea. Their journey came to a halt. Their ears forced their eyes to look back as their past chased after them to claim lives. Moses did not know what to do. He looked to God, and God told him to be still and see the Lord work. Moses stepped into the place of not yet. He gave himself the grace to trust God. Waters split, and the people stepped into the place God called them to be – walking through the middle of the sea. Watch the scene from The Prince of Egypt

The place of not yet is not the destination. It is the place where we know God is moving and shaping us. It is the place where when people ask us, “So, is God done with you?” we respond, “Not yet.” Our story is still being written. The place of not yet is where we give ourselves the grace and space to let God work. We do not constrain ourselves to the opinions of others. Instead, we say, “Not yet,” as God works and our hearts fill with wonder as the next page opens into a new chapter.

Stepping and Resting into a New Place

The place of not yet is a place of beginning. It is a place which gives us the boldness to go before God’s throne to find grace and mercy to begin again (Hebrews 4:15-16). Because Jesus understands our lives, hearts, and struggles, he opens the door to the place of not yet so we may have the grace to always begin again. It is a place of grace to grow and to be shaped.

“Beginning again is permission to be unaccomplished, to be a beginner, to be brand new. More than permission too, a sense that we are right where we should be and that the beginning space is actually a holy space, not just a layover on our way to something better.” – Leeanna Tankersley

The place of not yet is where we can always begin again, because we know God isn’t done with us yet. We know the ending of the story, so we can step and rest in the place of not yet. It is right where God has us. It is a holy place we can thrive in, because it is surrounded by the unfailing love of God as his faithfulness brings the new dawn of a new beginning every day (Lamentations 3:22-24).

As we stand at the precipice of a new year, we think we have two choices – 1) to stay in our past or 2) to strive for that destination of wholeness. Yet, there is a third choice. Are we willing for it to be an option? It is a place where we will need to begin again and again, a place where apologies and forgiveness are asked for more times than we can count, a place where we know God is not done working with us and we can stand to begin again. A new year in that place is better than being haunted by the past or striving for something only God can bring.

It takes faith to step and rest here. Indiana Jones and the last Crusade perfectly illustrates it in this scene – watch here. He couldn’t go back, and he couldn’t leap to the other side. He had to take the path of not yet – the bridge. Each step was small, and he had to give himself grace to get across as he trusted the plan before him.

The place of not yet is one of openness and vulnerability. It will test our faith and expose our lack of faith. We can step into it and rest, because the grace of God is found there. Each day is not a day to beat ourselves up for not being better. Each day is a day to begin again. Each moment is a moment to begin again.

It is in the place of not yet we find the nailed-pierced hand of Christ reaching out to us as his reckless love gifts us the daily grace to always begin again.

Religious Chain-Breaking

“In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.” – A.W. Tozer

In the musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, there is a song of longing. It is a song pleading for freedom from the prison behind pillars to breathing in the air of an abundant life.

Watch Scene Here

Quasimodo sees the the streets bustling with people living their lives outside of his stone prison. He wishes for only one day to be among them.

We all have the same longing. We portray ourselves as free people to those we pass in the hallways of our church. That mask doesn’t portray who we truly are. Secretly and hushed, we are prisoners restrained to religion.

Our hearts scream for freedom as we observe other Christians joyfully living a life for Jesus. Their eyes stream tears at hearing of Christ’s love. They fall, but stand back up and keep going. They yearn for transformative and Spirit-guided prayer. Their time in the Word is marked by passion and love.

Yet, we remain imprisoned inside a “Notre Dame.” It may not be a physical building, but we have erected an enslaving edifice imprisoning what God, through Christ, has set free.

The Anxiety of the Imprisoned

We wake up Sunday morning preparing ourselves for church. We pick out our costume to wear, we shower off the sins of the week, we paint on a smiling face, and we brush away the stink of sin out of our mouth. Our mind maximizes the images of people we will come across – those who greet us, those in ministry, those who sit in the same row, those in our Bible study class, etc. Our goal is clear – be seen as the mature, good Christian who is not looked down on.

We may not say this out loud, but we secretly hoard these thoughts as we put together an image we want those in our church to see.

This pageantry isn’t only played before our peers, it is played before God. Our Bible study consists of finding those “lists.” You know which ones I’m talking about – the “to do” passages. Ephesians 4:17-5:33, Matthew 5-7, Psalm 15, Philippians 4:8, and the whole book of Proverbs have become mind-masters of our actions. We desperately want God to accept us. We crave for the blessings promised in Scripture. We, therefore, take verses like Matthew 5:48 and I Peter 1:14-17 to the extreme. If we want God to love us and bless us, then we must do a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t….

Our fight against sin becomes our fight for God’s acceptance. Our fight for sanctification becomes our fight for an image.

We read and devour theology books, carry the correct study Bible, listen to only specific music, eat at certain places, only watch certain things, associate with only certain people, take the opinions of certain people…. and on and on the list goes as it creates a mountainous migraine whipping us into submission.

The anxiety over our image and actions becomes like a monster who will not die. We are imprisoned by this anxiety, and in our prison our insanity sets in to strangle us.

The Prison Guards Condemned

Where does this mindset come from? It did not originate in our days. It was alive and enslaving people during the time of Jesus.

Mark 12:41-44 paints a scene where rich people came to put money in the offering, but a widow could only put two tiny coins in. We see an attitude in the temple. It is one of presenting a certain image – “Look how much we do for God and how good of a follower of the law we are.” But, this is apart of the spiritual culture during Jesus’ time. It was not the rich or the poor who started it. Then, where does it come from?

Matthew 23:1-32 pulls back the curtain for us. Jesus calls out the religious leaders for abusing God’s Word. They created rules and images for people to follow. But, it lead to only condemnation of the religious leaders from Jesus. Even in the parable told in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus rips off the mask. It is the religious leaders who used and abused God’s Word to put people in a hierarchy based on the following of laws, rules, and traditions.

And the saga continues in our lives. We submit to the prison guards of rule following, image keeping, and tradition upholding. We struggle to keep these things in order to be seen as good before men and God. It is never said from the pulpit or the classroom or the Bible study we believe this. But, we sure act like we believe it and treat other Christians like this is really what it means to be a Christian.

Jesus Fulfilled And You Live

“But, isn’t it right for us to pursue godliness and holiness in our lives?” Why, yes it is. But we have missed the true motive for living for God.

Matthew 5:17 states clearly Jesus came to fulfill the law. He didn’t do it to prove it could be done. He fulfilled the law for you, so you could stop striving to fulfill it yourself. It cannot be done. The law is to show how broken we are. Yet, Christ comes and fulfills it on your behalf. This is what it means to have the righteousness of Christ – we get his credit. We no longer have the duty to fulfill any law or rule. We no longer need to strive for perfection. We have Christ’s.

Ephesians 2:8-10 shows us we do not have an image or a work to be prideful over, because it all comes from Christ. He did this for you and me, because he loves us. It is because of Christ’s reckless love for us we live. We no longer are prisoners to religion, but free to be in a relationship with Jesus. When we live in his love, there is no fear of being rejected or not being accepted (1 John 4:18). We live for Jesus out of his love for us.

We have missed this in our churches. We follow rules and traditions hoping to be “more accepted by God” and be seen as that “good Christian” before others. We do not need more acceptance from God. We have it already because of Jesus. We do not need to parade ourselves like the pharisees as we mask ourselves as the good Christian. Jesus stops the performance. He doesn’t want actors. He wants testimonies of grace to stand up in a courtroom of condemnation.

Free From Religion; Free To Live

“Religion says, ‘I messed up. God is going to kill me. I need to clean up this mess.’ A relationship of freedom with Jesus says, ‘I’ve messed up. Jesus, I need you and that’s all.'”

Our chain, as Christians, isn’ the sin we must get rid of. Jesus already took care of that. It is, in reality, a chain to religion. It is a prison of perpetual rule and tradition keeping. Jesus broke that chain of a haughty holiness to give us a life of love – for him and others. If the greatest commandment is to love God and others, then why are we following rules and traditions? How are those things promoting love?

Recently, I have fully realized how my own life and beliefs were chained to a haughty holiness. I craved to be like others – perfect, no struggles, and always following God. I would read my Bible more, dig down into systematic theologies and other resources to help, I would pray, I attended church, I memorized Scripture. Yet, it imprisoned me more by each passing day. I was going insane with all I needed to do in order to be seen as good enough before people. I hid who I really was (even though it was who God made me to be), because I wanted to look good by someone else’s standard. Then, the light came on. My goodness is not based on a label, a rule I follow, or an image. Because Jesus loves me, he has become my image. He gladly gives me his righteousness out of love expecting nothing in return. I do not have to present myself to him in the right way. He will break down every wall and lie to be with me. That truth causes me to run to him. I love Jesus, because he first loves me. His burden is not a yolk of work, but it is a burden of rest.

What is keeping us in these chains of religion? Is it wanting to have the right theological label on every point? If so, burn your theology books. They have only become an idol. Is it wanting to be seen in a certain light? If so, open up about your struggles. Your self-protection has become your idol.

Religion chains us. There is no freedom in rules and standards. There is only freedom in Christ and experiencing his love.

Our hope is not in the perception we give, or having the correct theological beliefs, or in following standards and rules. Our hope is in Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved (John 3:16). That’s it. Nothing more we can do. When we live loved, our actions will be out of love for God and others. That is true freedom.

The Journey Uncontrolled

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
– John Steinbeck

How many of us have ever wanted to go to a different place than our friends? We wanted to do something else, but they wanted to go a different way.

There are moments in life where we think we want to go a certain direction, but we end up on a different path. It is a path we are scared to journey, but we feel the Holy Spirit guiding. We keep look over our shoulder in the direction we wanted to go, but we end up missing where God is leading us.

Each of us has been there. In fact, we are all on that journey. We want one way, but the compass points the other. We would have never chosen to go down that path. It becomes a journey uncontrolled.

The Unwished Journey

The journey God gives us is usually the one we are most afraid of. In fact, it usually involves something we never wanted or wished for. It might be a circumstance, a struggle, a career change; whatever it is, God placed it in our life. We see the compass arrow point to that one thing. Our heads scream, “God, please, not that!”

Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings, experiences the same thought. The ring is a heavy burden causing destruction physically and mentally. It is something Frodo never wanted to possess or deal with. He never thought he would be on a perilous journey into the heart of evil. Yet, Gandalf speaks a truth which rings in our ears and challenges this thought – Watch Here

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We agree with the sentiment, but our feet feel glued to the ground unready to act on it. We feel this is uncontrollable. So, we reject it.

However, God says something interesting in Psalm 139:1-16. No matter where we are or where we go, God’s path for our lives is already written. He knows we are afraid of this journey. He already ordained for that situation, that struggle, that experience, and whatever we dare not speak of out loud. We become like Jonah (Jonah 1-2). We run from God’s plan and purposes. We think we’ve escaped facing our fears, but God will redirect us. Our eyes may go to one path, but his compass points us in the direction he deems best.

What is it we fear on this God-given journey? Are we going to be like Jonah – rejecting and fleeing? Or are we going to be like Esther – embracing God’s path, facing our fears, and confidently step into the belief God has us on this path for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)?

The Different Journey

We may accept God’s journey for our life, but don’t we tend to feel ashamed of the secret parts of our story? We see how different our story is, how different our struggles are, and we fear the perceptions of others.

“What if…” pulls our eyes away from God’s path and we look at others. We then only shamefully speculate how different our is. God sees this fear. God chose this path specifically for you (Hebrews 12:1). He set the race before us. When we look at Hebrews 11, don’t we see a portrait gallery of weird perceptions. If we stopped romanticizing biblical stories, we will understand the gravity and absurdity of the journey God put Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and the rest to travel. I’m sure being asked to kill your only son is quite a normal thing for someone who follows God.

Yet, we don’t like being different. We want to be fearfully and wonderfully made as long as it means we fit in. We secretly despise Psalm 139:14 if it means not fitting in as we want. Image is everything. Our image, our path, our life needs to fit an image man has made. Aren’t we called to be made into the image of God? Doesn’t that mean following the path God has called us to? Doesn’t that journey lead to becoming more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29)?

Stop rejecting what we define as different. God does not see it like that. He smiles at the wonderful story he is weaving specially for you.

The Journey in Perspective

Have you ever looked at the biography section at Barnes and Noble? We fawn over the pictures of many people and the lives told with powerful potency. The story unfolds as a familiar fairytale – Cinderella. Our souls are entranced by stories of rags to riches.

“My story will never be like that,” whispers the shadow which follows us. That shadow is stitched together by our guilt. He shames us with painful memories our fallings. It is like crime scene photos graphically portraying the crimes against God and others we have committed in cold blood. We feel unworthy to be even called by God for this journey.

Is it because we need to change perspective? One of the scenes in The Prince of Egypt beautifully boasts the need to change perspective when we feel unworthy – Watch Here

Is the reason we don’t have God’s perspective on our life is because we are too busy comparing ourselves in the church? Do we hide parts of story in order to escape the penetrating perceptions like daggers digging a deep wound of fear? God is not ashamed of you. He is transforming you. You can’t change yourself.

People will call out your sins, your struggles, and your past. But, God calls out the righteousness you have because of Jesus. Being righteous is not about the good deeds we do. It is being right before God which will transform us to be like Christ.

God is not done with you, so you haven’t seen that last of yourself. Our hearts can passionately sing out the words to “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me.” From God’s perspective you will not fade out, and he does not count you out. Instead, he gives you a journey which we call uncontrolled in order to give each of us a story of grace forging us to stand tall in God’s hall of faith.

The Path Walked

We can agree God is actually in control of our lives. We truly believe God ordained the journey before us. We say, “Amen!” to Psalm 139 praising God for fearfully and wonderfully creating us. But, what about that one thing? Didn’t God put that in his story of you? We can amen and agree all we want with the truths of God’s Word, but where does agreement alone get you?

We must accept the journey we can’t control. We must pick up God’s compass, His Spirit through the Word, following the path wherever it goes.

Hebrews 12:1 was quoted earlier. The verse creates images of runners, races, and finish lines found on our journey. We also see the need to get rid of the sin that easily keeps weighed down. But, go back three words – the hinderances. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every hinderance and the sin” which keeps us from running. Hinderances are not necessarily sins. It can be mindsets, beliefs, people, influences, or anything which keeps us from fully walking our God-given journey

We find ourselves not following God’s path, because we will not give up our hinderances. We do not want to get rid of the values and beliefs we have been taught even when we discover Scripture doesn’t fully line up with them. We refuse to let go of people whose opinions we follow more religiously than the Bible. We reject the thought of doing anything which would give us a low perception in our churches. This is even more deadly than the sins which hold us back.

Like Moses, we say, “But, God!” Then God reminds us who he is. He is the Creator and tell us to go as he leads. The temptation is to replace his Word and his view of us with the views and words of man. Always go back to Scripture to check if you are following God’s compass.

The journey walked means letting go. It means we proudly Burn The Ships tempting us to turn around and reattach ourselves to those hinderances. God has given us each our own path. He ordained each of us to have certain struggles, be made in certain ways, to have different views and opinions. That is part our journey. We may not have wished for it, we may think it is different, and we may fear the perceptions of others. But, whose opinion really matters?

The journey uncontrolled is actually very much in control. It appears to be uncontrolled because we compare ourselves with others and focus on how others perceive us. When we focus our vision back to God’s compass, we will see how he is in control of the journey. He was in control in the past, he is taking the lead on your path now, and he will be there at the end. He does not change unlike the perceptions of people.

Each step we take on our journey can only be done by faith and not sight (II Corinthians 5:7). We step in faith as we trust the compass. We walk in confidence knowing Jesus gives us the courage and strength to continue when it seems only the darkness of shame trips us and ridicules us. We can sing with David Psalm 27 as we set aside our hinderances and move forward. We can take that first step onto a journey we at first fear (not because of the lack our own will power), because we believe the promise God gives us as eloquently articulated by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia:

“Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

I Wish

“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
– Alexander Graham Bell

Once upon a time…

These words excite us as we know what type of story we are about to hear. It is a story filled with heroes, villains, far off places filling us with wonder, and wishes.

We all have wishes. Birthday candles are blown out to thoughts of wishes. Christmas time comes with wishes. We lay in bed at night wishing for things to come or things to be changed.

A lot of our wishes feel like beating a locked door till it opens. Our fists pound and pound and pound until it seems like the door will splinter apart. Yet, nothing happens. The door remains closed.

There are things in our lives we see as a closed door to be pounded on until it opens. What are we to do when the door remains closed and our fist begins to bleed from our belligerent pounding?

Stuff I’m Going To Do

In Pixar’s Up, Ellie has a book titled “Our Adventure Book.” Inside are many picture of Ellie growing up, a picture of their house at paradise falls, and a page labeled “Stuff I’m Going To Do.”

Each of us has a desire for something. In our minds, we have a file marked “Stuff I’m Going To Do.” It could be a career, future plans, a relationship, or mending something from the past. God delights in our wishes and desires. He loves to give his children good things

Matthew 7:7-11 is a passage which fills us with awe. Jesus tells us to knock and ask, because it will be given to us. He tells us God is one to give good things. It fills us with joy to think about what God wants to give us.

It is not wrong to ask God for anything. We are told to freely ask. In fact, God wants us to ask our true heart’s desires. He takes pleasure seeing us reveal our hearts to him.

Into The Woods

However, how many of us do not like when a door to our desires is closed and locked? All of us do. We see a closed door, and we begin to knock, then pound, then scream. We want to do anything to get our wish.

We are like the characters in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. The opening scene reveals all the wishes the characters have. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and a baker and his wife have their own desires. Except their wish seems impossible to obtain. (Listen to Into The Woods Prologue here)

Each character realizes what they must do in order to get their wish – they must go into the woods. So, they venture deep into the wood. Each character does get their wish. Yet, they do not receive without consequences. People begin to die, a giant invades, and the path through the woods is lost. At the end of the musical, the witch sings, “Told a little lie/ Stole a little gold/ Broke a little vow/ Did you?/ Had to get your prince/ Had to get your cow/ Had to get your wish/ Doesn’t matter how” (The Last Midnight).

Do we pursue the closed doors like this? We do anything we can in order to open it? Even if it means axing it down?

Saul did the same in I Samuel 28:3-20. He desperately wished to win the war against the Philistines. He pleaded with God to intervene. He prayed, he sought out prophets, he pleaded for dreams; yet, none came. Instead, he took matters into his hands. The closed door will be brought down; even if it meant going against God’s will. He sought out a witch to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. The close door became Saul’s demise.

Similarly, we do the same. We desire something, and God closes the door. Yet, we do anything we can do unlock it, open it, or break it down. Where does that leave us? Sunken on the floor, thoughts in depression, head down, and we refuse to do one thing…

Turning The Page

Near the end of the film Up, Carl is upset their house isn’t where it should be. He is so close to Paradise Falls, but his house settles so close, yet so far. He feels like a failure. He feels he failed his wife. As he sits in his chair, he pulls out her Adventure Book. See what happens – watch the scene here before reading on.

As he flips through the book, disappointment fills Carl’s soul. His heart breaks when he sees the page “Stuff I’m Going To Do.” As he closes the book, the page falls revealing something life-changing. Ellie put in all the photos of them. She saw their life as an adventure (even without going to Paradise Falls). Then on the last page she writes, “Thanks for the adventure – now go have a new one.”

Her wish to go have an adventure at Paradise Falls was Ellie’s closed door. Yet, she realized the open door around her. Her adventure was with Carl.

Our wishes are just like Ellie’s and Carl’s. Most of the time our wishes are for connections with someone. We try to find it in people who don’t want to play those roles or are incapable to. However, we still bang on their doors pleading them to be a brother, father, mother, or friend to us. If we end up breaking down the door, the connection becomes forced. The “adventure” we were looking for turns sour.

We, then, cry out to God claiming he did not fulfill his promise in Psalm 37:4. But, if we step away from the closed door, then we will see he did. God will give us the desires of our hearts. However, it may be with those who are already given to us.

One of the wisest people I know is my wife. She has a saying that is repeated, and rings in my soul. She says, “How long are you going to keep looking to those who are incapable to fulfill the needs you have before you turn to those God has placed in your life who are capable of filling those needs?”

When we refuse to turn the page of our adventure book, we will miss those around us who are fulfilling our wishes and desires. Those who have stepped into roles we long to have. Those who fill that emotional need. Those who draw us closer to God. It is when we look to what God has given us that we can heal the hurts which our desires come from.

The Disappearing Photo

Our wishes do not have to feel like closed doors. God is fulfilling our desires as we follow him. It might not be where we want or with who we want, but look around. God is fulfilling those things. Look up from the closed door, and run into the embrace of those God has given in your life.

However, most of us want to stay at the closed door pounding away. What happens? It is like the scene from Back to the Future. Marty’s parents are at a dance. His dad is dancing with his mom (they don’t know it though). But, another guy tries to steal her away. This simple action causes people in a family photo to begin to disappear. It is not until George runs to Loraine that the picture begins to reappear. (Watch the scene here)

We are the same when it comes to our closed doors. When we continue to focus on the closed door, our fulfilled desires begin to disappear from our lives. It is only when we run to those who God has placed in our lives that our picture begins to be made whole.

All of us have experienced hurt, abuse, and pain which cries our dreams, wishes, and desires. Yet, if we run into the woods to fulfill those things we will only be living in the last midnight full of rejection and lost on our path. But, turn the page. If we look around, then we will see what God is doing. He does give us the desires of our hearts. He does give us good things. He wants our hurts to be healed and our hearts to be mended. He puts people in our lives who may seem like the opposite of you in order to hug you so tight the pieces are put back together. When we look into their eyes, we will see they are the ones God is using to heal us and give us the desires of our hearts.

The question then rests with us: “How long are you going to keep looking to those who are incapable to fulfill the needs you have before you turn to those God has placed in your life who are capable of filling those needs?”

Dedicated to a friend who calls me brother and is a living example of this to me as I heal from my past.