A Light in the Darkness

I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the difficulties and hardships of life as anyone.  I love Jesus with all my heart – but I struggle often with depression. It has been my constant companion since I was young. I see you nodding your head. You understand. Depression is a bully. One that is hard to escape. That’s why you and I need encouragement and hope. The truth is, I always write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  Someone reading this is in the dark place of depression. I don’t know your name, but I am writing to you today.

You are doing your best to be a good, faithful Christian.  But you’re questioning your faith because of the darkness.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.” You hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  But you’re not.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God loves you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed with you.  He has not written you off.  He has drawn near to you like a caring parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face. Let Him love you – it is His greatest delight.  Let Him minister grace to you.  

Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  God is too good to leave His dear child in pain. David said, “You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” 2 Samuel 22:29. And He will.  We have His Word on it.

Know Thine Enemy

Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher in the early 6th Century wrote the classic, “The Art of War,” From which we have taken the phrase “Know thine enemy.”  Paul cautioned believers with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

I thought of this yesterday as I was writing out a passage from Job. “God has found fault with me;” Job 33:10. This is one of Job’s detractors summarizing Job’s lament. Yet in the very beginning of his story, God said of him: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). The truth is, God didn’t find fault with Job. Satan did.

One of Satan’s favorite schemes goes like this: he presents a temptation, dangling the carrot of pleasure or power or wealth before us, enticing us until we bite. And as soon as we do he changes his tactic from temptation to condemnation. “Look at you! You call yourself a Christian? God is disgusted with you! He will never love you after what you’ve done!” Pretty soon we’re crying, “God has found fault with me.”  Sound familiar?

You and I need to know the difference between satan’s guilt trips and the Spirit’s conviction. When the Spirit speaks to us about our sin he does so with the goal of restoration. Conviction from the Holy Spirit brings “godly sorrow [which] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. But satan brings “worldly sorrow [that] brings death”  (2 Cor 7:9-10). Satan just wants to tear us down and bury us under a load of shame. Here’s how you can recognize one from the other. Satan’s attacks turn our attention to ourselves and what horrible creatures we are. The Spirit will always turn your attention to God and His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. And love.

In heaven, satan is called “the accuser of [God’s people], who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). But God’s not buying it. And neither should you Beloved. If you are in Christ, God sees His Son when He looks at you. Not your sin. And so should you.

You can be Free from Shame

If your life has always been sunshine and rainbows, you can skip it today. But if you have scars on your body or on your heart, if you carry a backpack of sorrow and shame, please stay. God has a word for you.

Isaiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Why was all this happening? Because they were a “sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They [had] forsaken the Lord; they [had] spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Is 1:4). They were steeped in sin and idolatry. Judgment was coming.

Can you relate? I sure can. I have a past filled with regret and shame. I have been places, done things, and been with people I should have given a wide berth. I have made some foolish, disastrous decisions. I hurt people. I hurt myself. You may be nodding your head right now. You understand. You’ve done the same. Maybe you’re still doing it.

But maybe your past wasn’t your foolish actions, but someone else’s. You were abused, misused, rejected, stepped on, then stepped over. I understand that too. Mixed in with my own sin is the stain of others’ sins. A counselor once told me that my actions were a reaction to others’ actions against me. If you hear, “You’re so stupid!” enough you start to act stupid. If you’re treated like you’re worthless you believe you’re worthless and you act like you’re worthless. This is my life story, but I bet I’m ringing some bells.

However you got your backpack of shame, I want you to listen to God’s words: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth” (Is 54:4). “How?” you ask, “it’s a huge, heavy burden”. Jesus. Jesus is how you can be free from shame. Because Jesus took it all to the cross. And to the grave. And when He rose to life three days later, He left it all in the ground. God declared, “The former things will not be remembered; nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17). In Jesus you are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s your story now, Beloved. Set your backpack down and go live like who you are. Forgiven and free.

Real-Life Wisdom

What do we do with the failures of our past? Now that we have survived some of the trials and struggles of life, now that we have lived through the results of our own mistakes, now that we have found that sowing wild oats doesn’t bring much of a harvest—what do we do with all that hard-earned wisdom?  Paul offers the best advice: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  We reach back and help someone else who is struggling in the same manner.  Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle.  It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free. The best counselors (either formal or informal) are the one who have “been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it.” 

I have a lifetime of experience with the consequences of my own foolishness. But I also have a lifetime of experience with God’s faithfulness and mercy. The Lord has rescued me many, many times and now I am able to offer a hand up and a bit of wisdom and encouragement to someone else in the same kind of pit.  When God rescues us and we in turn lead others to Him for freedom, we have turned the devil’s handiwork against him.  We can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). 

Dear friends, this is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will take you to the One who rescued me. I will walk the whole way with you until you are free.”  Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame.  Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

Put that Burden Down

Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a powerful and beautiful song called “He Touched Me” and the first lines go like this: “Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame.”

I can relate to that. I carried guilt and shame for most of my life. It weighed a ton. I know many of you are nodding – you have carried the same load.  We know what we’ve done and we’re mortified.   What misery is ours when we just stop there – shacked and bound, burdened and ashamed. But listen to the next lines:

“Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same!”

Oh, the blessed release when we allow the hand of Jesus to reach out and take away our burdens and shame and break the shackles from our feet.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free – as He read from Isaiah – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”( Luke 4:18-19). He told Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you with all your bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!” He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest from the weight. Rest from the shame. Rest from the guilt.

Maybe this morning you come to God, with your head and eyes downcast, ashamed and guilty, expecting chastisement and rejection. Beloved, Jesus is reaching out His nail-scarred hand to take your bags of misery and shame. There is love in His eyes, not condemnation. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in Him.

“He touched me, Oh He touched me,

and oh the joy that floods my soul!

Something happened and now I know,

He touched me and made me whole.”

Hebrews: Don’t Settle for Cookie Dough

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I love cookies. All kinds of cookies – peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal, sugar – I’ll take them all (except the ones with raisins). But here’s a confession – when I make cookies I like to sample the cookie dough. I can’t help myself. The dough gives me just a taste of the finished product. But what if I decided that the dough was good enough? I would surely miss out on the best part – dunking those baked discs of deliciousness into a glass of milk and taking a bite. (Can you tell I haven’t had breakfast yet?)

Likewise, the author of Hebrews is telling his readers that “the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming” (Heb 10:1a). The law that they knew and felt comfortable with was not the real thing – a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The law brought temporary atonement for their sins. It had to be repeated “endlessly year after year” but it could not “make [them] perfect” (v. 1b) and God only welcomed perfect worshippers, people who had been completed cleansed from their sins – inside and out. The law took away the penalty of their sins but it couldn’t take away the shame of their sin. They would always have a guilty conscience because “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (v. 4). Jesus is “the finished product.” To stay in the law meant missing out on the real thing.

That is what Jesus offers: complete and total freedom from the penalty and guilt of sin. So, you ask, why do I still have pangs of guilt when I think about my past? Because you have an enemy, “the accuser of the brothers,” (Rev. 12:10) who wants to keep you tied to your past and your sin. He doesn’t want you to take hold of your freedom in Christ because freed people are passionate about helping others be free. If he can mire you in the guilt of your past, you will not declare the soul-freeing power of the gospel.

Hear this loud and clear: If you are saved by the blood of Jesus you are free from the power of sin and the guilt of sin. Paul said, “you were dead in your sins . . . [but] God made you alive with Christ (Col 2:13). Now “live in Him, rooted and built up in Him . . .” (v. 6). You’re not who you were, Beloved. Live as the new person you are – free from sin and guilt.

Dance Anyway

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David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer. When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart. But sometimes life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us. We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.

Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring Him great glory, yet you also have a past that has weighed you down with shame and regret. You think, “I can’t dance (or sing or write, or whatever that desire is), people know my past and they will not approve.” My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers.

King David tried to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle. But his first attempt was a humiliating failure. At his second attempt David celebrated, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and his wife chastised him saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20). Sound like some voices you’ve heard lately? David replied: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21). He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes – that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life? Everyone out there has made mistakes. If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again. And that is all the more reason why we should– to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Celebrate before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

The Ministry of Experience

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Ever done anything foolish in your life? Yeah, me too. What do we do with the failures of our past? We put them in God’s hands so that others can benefit from our hard-earned wisdom. I believe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As survivors redeemed by Christ we reach back and help someone else who is fighting the same battle. Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle. It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free.

I can minister to a child who is bullied by her peers, to a teenager suffering sexual abuse, to a woman abandoned by her husband, to a person who struggles with depression, to someone battling anxiety and fear, to a mom with a wayward child, to a couple who has lost everything, but most of all, I can reach out to someone suffering the consequences of their own foolish actions because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. And because I have the grace of God to show how He ministered to me in the midst of it all.

It is the deepest belief of my heart that God will take what the enemy meant to harm me and turn it into a means of blessings for others. When I allow God to turn my misery into ministry, Satan loses.  Then I can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will walk with you until you are free in Christ.” Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame. Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

How Jesus Decluttered my Life

MY desk on a good day

The saying goes, “less is more,” meaning the less clutter you have in your home, life, etc. the more home, life, etc. you have.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn as I look around my study, cluttered with books, boxes, toys, sewing stuff, and tons of notebooks.  But, because of Jesus, there are some areas of my life where I am truly grateful that less really is more.

Because of Jesus, I am shameless – Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I did not always live for God, and my sin caused me tremendous shame.  Even after I became a Christian I still stumbled in many ways, and the enemy heaped shame on me.   But Jesus took all my shame to the cross and the grave.  When He rose to life again, my shame stayed buried forever. Whatever you may have done, no matter how shameful it may be, Jesus can set you free.

Because of Jesus, I am guiltless – Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  We’ve all had feelings of guilt—because we are all sinners.  Jesus’ blood falls on all who will come and kneel beneath the cross, washing away all our sin, and with it our guilt.  You can set down that heavy burden and run into your Father’s presence knowing that His arms are open wide to receive you.

Because of Jesus, I am fearless – 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”  God loves you and me perfectly with an everlasting love that will never fail, no matter what we may do.  Because of His perfect love, we no longer have to tip-toe into God’s presence, fearing His anger and wrath. 

Jesus took all our sin and with it all the consequences and the burdens that sin brings. Because of Him you and I can be shameless, guiltless, and fearless.  Beloved, don’t let your life get cluttered with all this stuff.  Grab hold of the “less is more” principle and walk in the freedom Christ won for you.

Jesus Loves Sinners

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In the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples wondered what they should do. Jesus had appeared to them and they recognized that He was the living Son of God. But what now? They had received no direction from the Lord at this point. Was their ministry season over? Peter, carrying the additional weight of his betrayal, decided to go back to doing what he knew best, fishing. I understand him. I’ve been in a season where my life was full of ministry, then a fall in my character took it all away and I wondered if God was done with me. Just like Peter, I discovered that the Lord doesn’t give up on His people.

After a night of futile fishing, Peter and the disciples who had joined him headed toward home. A man stood on the shore and called out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (21:5) “No.” they replied. He then directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, where they caught more fish than they could manage. That struck a memory in John. He knew that man on the shore! “The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).

Peter, the impetuous one, jumped out of the boat and into the water. The shame of his betrayal must have nearly drowned him. But to Peter’s credit, he didn’t try to dodge Jesus. He was oblivious to everything else but his Lord.

It is so easy to fall into sin; even the greatest saint is one temptation away from the pit. What do you do when the dust clears and you’re standing there in the aftermath of your failure? Judas refused to come to Jesus for forgiveness. But Peter splashed his way to Him. We don’t have a record of those few private moments before the rest joined them, but I have this picture of a repentant Peter standing on the shore, dripping with water and tears. Oh, the blessed, tender heart of Jesus. He forgave His rebellious disciple and restored him fully.

Beloved, have you fallen into sin? Have you stumbled in your walk? Do not sit in your guilt. Do not run away in your shame. Run to Jesus. He has promised, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). He stands on the shore waiting for you with forgiveness and restoration in His hands.