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).

Loved and Accepted

A love that left people alone in their guilt would not have real people as its object. So, in vicarious responsibility for people, and in His love for real human beings, Jesus becomes the one burdened by guilt.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. The stores are decorated with hearts and other symbols of love. Hearts made out of cheap chocolate are being purchased right and left for a loved one. We show affection to those we love on this special day.

However, whether we like Valentine’s Day or we celebrate Singles Awareness Day, aren’t there times we feel alone in a crowded room? Deep inside and behind the mask of loving another and receiving love resides something in us that says, “In reality, I do not know if I am love and accepted.”

In my own life, I have friends, a beautiful and loving wife… yet, I can feel like I am not loved and accepted. I look at my body shame and the struggles that resulted from those scarring events and deep inside a thought reminds me, “If only others knew, then they would be gone.”

We all have those thoughts. We want to be truly loved and truly accepted. If only people could see…

Yet, we keep our lives tucked away and accept cheap chocolate as a cheap replacement for the Truth.

You Are Loved

The truth is if people did see your true heart, then you may not be loved. The thoughts you think, and the words you have said, and the actions you stuff in the closet of your past would turn many people away. And, we know it. It is the door we hope no one will ever open.

However, when we open that door we feel like the woman caught in adultery. John 8:2-11 recounts the events of the religious leaders throwing before Jesus a woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders forcing her to stand in the center of the crowd in shame. Jesus stops teaching to look at her. She was caught in the act of adultery, and she may not have been fully dressed. She was feeling the weight of her sin. Yet, what does Jesus do? He does not condemn her. He shows her compassion. He shows her love, and tells her “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus had forgiven her, and now she could leave in order to sin no more.

Secretly, we know we are this woman. If people found out about us, then they would force us to stand in shame to receive our punishment. But, that is not the heart of God. Yes, God is holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. God’s true heart is that he does not want one anyone to perish in sin. No. Read II Peter 3:9.

God loves you. He knows what is in your closet. He knows your thoughts. He sees what you want no one else to see and he acted on it (John 3:16). Why would Jesus take on a human body, die, and rise again keeping his body?

God did not show his love with cheap chocolate. He body was broken and blood spilt. It was not a caramel center with a rush of sugar. His blood was spilt for your forgiveness out his love.

You are Accepted

Yet, we may feel love, but have you ever just wanted to be hugged and accepted? You didn’t want to jump through one more hoop. When we have been rejected so many times, we take actions in order to feel accepted. We secretly exchange anything for acceptance. And, if anyone opened our lives they would see a heart where the teeth of false acceptance have feasted.

We may say we believe that God has accepted us, but why do we keep going to buy something, or eat, or go online to find that relationship, or binge watch when we feel alone? It is because we do not feel accepted.

“I am saved. Here is the date in my Bible.” Why do we rely on a date in hope of sensing some acceptance of God?

We need to go to God’s Word. God calls you his beloved. He calls you his child, and that makes you his son or daughter (Romans 8:15). The only other person in the Bible he calls beloved and his son is Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). To God you are accepted as his child and not a child seen in disappointment. You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased. You are accepted.

We do not have to work in order to be accepted by God. It has been done through Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The gifts of love and acceptance may change as each Valentine’s Day pass, but God’s acceptance is constant.

But, Why Do I Not Feel Like It?

And, now we come to the real question. The truth can be preached. Verses of God’s love can be tattooed on our bodies, but yet we struggle with it because we do not feel it.

Yes, God has shown his love to us in Christ, and we are accepted because of Christ. But, did you know God has provided a genuine way this love can be felt?
The Church.

The Church is Christ’s body, and according to I Corinthians 12:12-26 this is the place where Christ’s love is felt. In fact, Paul commands the believers in Rome and in Corinth to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20). A kiss is a physical touch of affection, love, and acceptance.

Now in our culture a kiss is reserved. Yet, what about a hug? Too often we dress up, shake hands with others in our churches, and it feels like the coldest action of love ever felt. We dare not show affection. Instead, we allow the pursuit of purity in the church, and having right biblical views over loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have lost the balance. We need both. Our churches are not cold buildings where we make sure people are believing the right things, and following the right rules. The church is to be a home where God’s adopted children gather to love each other and study the Scriptures. It is not an either/or. It is a necessity for it to be a both/and.

How many people in our churches have left because they did not feel loved? How many people in our churches say they are fine, but in reality they are dying inside? In the shadow of our own steeples, we have forgotten to see people, hear people, and love and accept people. It is through us that Christ’s love is felt.

So leave the candy aisle. Don’t get another person cheap chocolate or a card that will be thrown out. Are you willing to listen to a fellow brother’s pain? Are you willing to be called by a fellow sister late at night? Are you willing to hug your brother who just fell again? Are you willing to take a fellow sister to lunch and spend money in order to encourage her? Are you willing to be the person through whom the truth of God’s love and acceptance is felt?

We are loved and accepted by God. But, we are the way he has chosen to show it in the church. Right teaching will continue to feel cold unless we match it with our actions.

Burn It

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.” – Oswald Chambers

I grew up with dogs, and we enjoyed our times with our dogs. One thing I do remember is that sometimes we would put them on a line in the yard. It was a line staked into the ground, and had a length of about 20 feet. The dogs loved it.

However, one thing they did not love is when that 20 feet was felt. If we threw something, they would chase it. But, if it was beyond the line’s range, then our dogs would wine because they could not get to their toy. They could go a little ways, but their freedom was limited.

It is the same with us. When we start our new life with Christ, there are times where we know we are balancing between the old life and the new life. We feel the pull of our past, our struggles, and we give into the limits we have placed on ourselves.

Yet, that is not what Christ has called us to. He has called us to burn it.

Burn the Past

My past is filled with tear-stained stories. There are many things I look back at and feel sorrow. Somedays it is easier to wallow in the past, and respond from the past. It is comfortable, because it is how I used to live before the Spirit convicted me about living in my shame of the past. It is not what Jesus has called me to. My past is not apart of his future purpose. He will use it, but to live there is not living in the new life.

Philippians 3:13 can be considered one of Paul’s mottos in life. He knew his past. God knew his past. The people knew Paul’s past. Yet, Paul no longer was the same person, and neither are you. His goal was to leave behind the past, and walk in the calling of Christ.

We are a new person because of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). We are adopted, loved, and accepted by God as his beloved children (Romans 8:15). God calls us his beloved son or daughter. The only other time God said those words were to Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). You and I are loved and accepted by God, and he knows our pasts.

Therefore, my past of being bullied, and shamed is not me. That is my story to show God’s work. It is not who I am. My past is no longer my future destiny.

In order to do this, we need to burn the dog-lead of our past. Through the power and conviction of the Spirit, we no longer find comfort in our past (no matter how bad it may be for us).

Burn your past, and step into freedom with Christ. He already loves and accepts you. Isn’t it time we bring our pasts into the light and see God’s light burn it?

Burn Your Fears

Why did I wait for so long to reveal my story until I wrote it in my post Standing Against Shame? Fear. I was fearful of what people would think. I’m in seminary, and preparing for ministry. The pressure of coming across as the mature Christian and the “perfect Christian image” overtook me. However, I was suffocating in silence. Fear silenced me.

The fear of man, and what others will think of us keeps us from truly living with Christ (Proverbs 29:25). Our desire to keep up a “Christian image” becomes more important than truly living how God wants us to: with honesty and with openness. When we allow fear to control our Christian living, then we are only living for the approval of others. Trusting God with everything brings us into his safety.

Therefore, we need to burn our fears. We need to open up about our pasts. We need to be open about our struggles. We need to show the world who we are, and what miracle our lives are because of Jesus Christ.

However, we need to face our fears. We can no longer be tethered to fear like a dog. Our limited freedom will end up strangling us. I John 4:18 promises us that in God’s love there is no fear. In fact, when we really grasp and live in God’s love fear can not coexist. How can we do this? Not on our own. We can only do it because of what God has given us: a spirit of confidence and power (II Timothy 1:7).

Isn’t tiring allowing our fears to control us?

Light a Match, Burn the Ship

Last week I came across the song “Burn the Ships” by For King and Country. It beautiful paints the picture of our pasts like ships. We have left our old life for the new hope of our future with Christ, and yet we all have the tendency to go back to the ship for some comfort. We are fearful of falling again, not being good enough, or ashamed of our past. Yet, we need to light a match, burn the ship, and step into a new day.

Shame has been my ship. I struggle with shame over my body. Shame told me I was not a true man because I am disabled, and I was not loved by God, and I did not have a purpose. Yet, with my walking struggles and bathroom struggles, I am loved by God by being created as a disabled man for a specific purpose. Shame told me that having a past of being sexually taken advantage of was my fate of how I should be, and it led to other struggles. Yet, God says all things are made new for those who are in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17) and there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1), and I have a new identity because of Christ. Christ is my destiny; shame is not. 

How did I respond? I literally got a wooden ship and burned it (video link). I no longer want my past and fear to be what I look back at. It is only Jesus and his leading into a new day, and a new future where my focus should be.

So what is your ship? If we want to speak with conviction as Christians, then we must learn to speak with vulnerability. It is not common to open up about our struggles. Instead, we would rather protect our image. Yet, is our image worth being strangled in silence?

So I challenge you. Burn your past. Burn your fears. Make a memorial to God. No longer are we tethered to them. We have a bright future from a God of hope, and nothing will ever separate us from him (Romans 8:31-39).

“Light a match leave the past
burn the ships,don’t you look back…
Step into a new day.”

– “Burn the Ships” For King and Country

Standing Against Shame

“The Lord is very ready to forgive: it is the church that is unmerciful sometimes, but not the Master: he is ever willing to receive us when we come to him, and to blot out our transgression. . . Just so does your heavenly Father wait to catch you up, and to press you to his bosom and say, ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love.’” – Charles Spurgeon

Writing this post is different for me. Speaking of what I am about to share is not common. However, it is important…

I was in high school. I remember the night very well. That night left a knife wound in my soul. It was the night a group of high schoolers thought a disabled teen would make a good target for their prank. They took advantage of me. Shame washed over me, and I thought I was forever caged. Throughout that time I was shamed for being disabled. Mocked for walking with a limp. Jokes being made because my body did not work “normally.” I left high school battered, bruised, and cut deep. From those moments, I began to experience shame over my thoughts, and my body. I was the freak of the high school. “Freak” had been tattooed on my forehead.

Everyday I felt like I wasn’t walking with leg braces. No. Instead, I was walking with chains of shame. Shame drove me to distrust people, push people away, and wall up my soul.

In the silence, I was crying tears of shame.

We all experience shame for something or another…

And it is time to stand against shame.

Shame Over Our Bodies

In our culture today, we can be shamed for how our bodies are made. I have been there. Those who claim to be Christians make fun of how God created us. We feel our only purpose is to be the butt of a joke, and never fit in. And shame places its chain around our necks.

But, our eyes and minds deceive us. The sound of their laughter echoes in our ears, and the painful memories feel like ghosts on a stage. Yet, we need to remember our Creator.

Psalm 139:13-16 not only reveals a truth about us, but about our Creator. God took time putting our bodies together for a specific purpose that at times we cannot see. God knew I would limp. He knew I would not be able to have children. He knew my body would not function like a physiologically normal man. He made all those decisions for me. Yet, he has a purpose.

I remember not that long ago, I was walking to work and the pain in my back was so great that I began shedding tears. I could not make it up the stairs to my office. Yet, God saw my tears over the shame I felt with my physical body. Psalm 56:8 flashed through my mind. God records every tear we shed.

The only way to stand against the shame over our bodies is to remember the promises of God. Despite the pain, despite the jeering, and despite two-faced Christians… we stand on the promises of God. He never created us to be ashamed of what he created in our bodies. He loves us so much to give us a purpose of showing the love of Christ through our bodies. John 9 promises that it is not for evil we have been created with chronic pain, or the disability. Instead, Jesus comes to us and says, “I love you so much that I knew you would be weak so I could use your body for a special purpose.” Our bodies are never punishments. Our bodies are a promise of a Creator who has something planned. We may never see it, but we know God never lies and that promise will be fulfilled.

Shame Over Our Struggles

The incidents of high school changed me. It brought on many struggles I kept silent, because I was ashamed about my thoughts. I was ashamed that I thought I was just to be used by people. I was not loved. I would be the freak that could never belong. This shame brought the struggle that I would never be loved by a woman. I was the beast, and there was no hope of a beauty.

We all have those struggles. Those struggles we hide, yet they feel like a shadow of a serial killer following us. We suffocate in the silence. Our tears flow when we fall again, or we just can’t shake those thoughts. So eventually we becomes a walking mat for shame.

However, Romans 5 changes the game. Our salvation does not just get us a home in Heaven and eternal life. Don’t believe that is all faith in Jesus brings. Our Savior is greater. Our salvation brings us peace with God, it brings us confidence to face our struggles, because in Jesus there is triumph over sin. We no longer have to be stepped on by shame. We can stand against it through the power of Jesus. Psalm 56:8, again, promises God sees our tears. He knows what sin does. Even back in Genesis 3:15 our Creator promises a Savior. Jesus took our shameful struggles to the cross and bled to give us the triumph over them.

No longer do we have to be crying in silence. We can stand against shame. Our struggles do not define us. In fact, God sees us as his saints. Romans 3:26 shows that God makes us righteous before him. Satan is the accuser; not God. Because Romans 8:1 shouts loudly there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Jesus. We are set free and made into a new person (II Corinthians 5:17). No one can take away that love. Not a person, not a word of criticism, not a religious movement… Nothing. God loves us so much he took on a body, was crucified, resurrected, and kept that body because he did not want us separated from his love. Romans 8:31-39 is a seal for us. It is a promise that we can stand against the shame of our struggles because of Jesus our Incarnate Savior.

Jesus Standing Against Shame

There are so many days I feel so alone, and the tears of shame overwhelm. Yet, did you know Jesus faced shame and was alone?

Luke 22:39-46 shows Jesus going into the garden to pray. His heart is heavy with anguish over the shame he is about to face (Matthew 26:37-38). He knew what was coming, and the shame that would overwhelm him. And, Jesus was alone. The disciples were asleep. Yet though the tears dropped like blood to the ground, Jesus gave it to God, “Not my will, but your will be done.”

Jesus stood against the shame of the cross in order to give us victory over our shame (Hebrews 12:1-2). He paved the way as the author of our salvation. He gave us the legs to run against shame and run with endurance. He has been there. He has the scars of shame on his own body. Yet, he did it for you and me. No longer to be chained to shame, but to stand against it.

Step Into A New Day

When I think of my past, and the shame it brought I can feel those shadowy hands trying to take my breath. The tears come, and God knows them all. He sent Jesus to bring joy in our salvation.

Shame no longer has control over us. It is not because we have determined to do anything. Jesus Christ, our Savior, frees us from the bondage and we can stand against shame. We can step into a new day, because great is our God’s faithfulness; his mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24). We can breathe with new lungs as the new creation God makes us in salvation.

Yes, I struggle with shame. It is a battle of learning to stand against it. Yet, it is learning to step into a new day receiving the new mercies of our faithful God each day. We are saved by the blood of Christ to stand, not in shame, but in confidence that we are cleansed, justified, and sanctified in the name, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

We can stand against shame, because Jesus faced it already and broke the chains of shame.