Saturday, May 31, 2014

God of the low places

"In our relation to the immediate we touch upon the most distant." - Abraham Joshua Heschel 

Most "Christians" would agree that the blessings in their life are gifts from God that show his grace and love. These same people would also agree that the valleys in their life are the result of living in a sinful world, and that God will help us through so that we emerge on the other side as stronger versions of our former selves.

For years I agreed with this general philosophy of joy and pain, thanking God for his blessings and striving to endure through difficult times. After the 7th year of chronic illness and 3rd year of severe depression though, I began to question these assumptions about God. After all, I follow Him. I serve him, teach bible classes, invest in younger guys, strive to live a loving and blameless life. Despite all my striving though, I found myself more messed up and feeling further from God than I cared to be. 

Suddenly I questioned my salvation, my effectiveness in ministry, my worth, my purpose. Everything I had felt was so certain was now shattered. Depression ruined the mind that was once so outgoing, illness ruined the hands that were once so worshipful. 

Yet in this circumstance, I am able to see God most clearly. The pure forms and expressions of his character. His goodness and mercy, his companionship. 

And through this I am forced to worship God - yet not the image of God propagated by legalism and guilt. The one, true God. 
There is something about being helpless on your face before your Creator that makes you rethink your entire existence. Suddenly a new question emerges.

What if the valleys in our lives are grace gifts from God?

Yet oh so gracious.
How else can a man learn to depend completely on God, aside from control being completely wrenched from his hands? 

I would rather be stuck in a valley that God gave me, rather than stuck in a valley of my own circumstance. Even if painful, I would at least be in the epicenter of God's sovereignty. I think of the incredible faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated when they went through the flames of persecution in the book of Daniel. Rather than giving them strength or encouraging them, God chose to go through the fire with them himself. 

I wonder at times, as David did in the Psalms, where God is in the low places. Thank God though, that not only is He powerful over the valleys, but He walks through them with us. 

As we experience the valleys we grow, our faith grows, our mind grows, our dependence on God grows. We are forced to acknowledge that only God himself has power over our circumstances.

Our prayer is not for us to have the strength to endure, but for us to realize that we DON'T have the strength. I can do all things through CHRIST who strengthens me, not by my own ability.

This is the application of what it means to have faith like a child. We completely let go, and allow God to do what only He can do. So what if we end up with a few scars? Scars are reminders that there was a struggle, and that there was healing. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fearing Closeness, or the Barriers that Divide

Barriers are necessary in life.
It is crucial to create barriers between ourselves and the things that cause us to become distracted, the things that cause us to stumble, and the things that might hinder us from loving well.

Yet, barriers have become commonplace in our society. 
These walls protect us.
They keep our image intact.
They perpetuate the lie that we not only tell the world, but ourselves.
We hide behind them, unwilling to know and be known.

These barriers prevent us from having to be real, from having to be vulnerable. 
Vulnerability is crucial for bonding to occur. For us to be able to relate to other people, then it is necessary for us to be human as well, is it not?

Despite this, we still hide behind our iPhones and Facebook accounts, pretending that our worlds are intact. 
In the moment it may seem best. "Don't be known as a complainer!" people might say. 

This may seem logical, yet it alienates the people who struggle even further. Rather than extending arms to the other people around us who bear burdens, it forces us each into isolation with our own pains - essentially sentencing us into imprisonment with our own chains.

Do we not realize that part of the key to freedom lies in community?

We will never be able to be free if we are fed the lie that "I am the only one with this struggle." 
The amount of depression and self-defeat is staggering. You feel that you are an anomaly, that you are the most wicked of souls.

Why would we ever subject another person to such pain? The pride that maintains our own image and our own ego not only keeps us from being free ourselves, but it hurts those closest to us by lying to them about their own struggles.

Brothers and sisters! The ground is level at the foot of the cross!
Can we not be open with each other for once? Will it KILL you to admit that you have problems too? Let us be a BLESSING to one another! (see my post on this

Besides this, Christ within grants the strength and grace to be able to accomplish this. It is our privelege and PURPOSE as believers to comfort and bear burdens. Galatians says that we are to "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." 
But we are also told that Christ "comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:4) 

The whole PURPOSE to our pain is to minister to others! Yes, we will be refined as well, but since when is the Christian's life about himself? Just as Christ did not come to be served but to serve, our mission as well is each other.

Some of the deepest pain lies in isolation, yet some of the purest joy lies in freedom!
Why are we so afraid of ourselves? So afraid of what people think, what people will say, what they will do... Let us instead start a movement of grace and mercy. Show each other what true love in Christ looks like. 

1 John 4:18 is a sobering reminder of this:
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

What do we have to be afraid of? 
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

I am burdened and overwhelmed with passion on this issue. I want to see my brothers and sisters encouraged, to learn how to open up and be vulnerable.
I truly believe that when this happens, we will see a great spiritual awakening that has not been seen in decades. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Running Hard

I ran two miles last night during the rain and pushed my body to the breaking point. 
My legs haven't fully developed yet, so some days my body screams at me to stop - threatening to shut down and just not work. While the temptation is great, I would end up stuck alone, a mile from home. 
The only way I could enter into rest was to push through the pain and continue running until I made it home. Even if I was barely running, if I was limping, I had to continue in order to receive the reward of rest and healing. Rest only comes after exhaustion. Healing only comes after being broken.

Believe me, the spiritual correlation was not lost on me while I quickly hobbled along. 

My running partner was not there to push me on, but in spirit I could feel him pushing me along, remembering the encouragement I had gotten on previous runs and would receive again when we were back together. The point is that whether in person or not, we still run the race together. 

Whether Christian or non-Christian, young or old, we all run the race of life together with the same degree of difficulty and the same propensity for struggles. I would even argue that someone isn't actually living if they haven't experienced pain to some degree.
I am puzzled by those people that imply that my faith will make the race easy. Why, then am I experiencing the kind of intense life experiences I am? Is my faith weak? (Well, yeah, at times) Is the issue my background? My personal valleys and struggles? To a degree, yes, these influence my ability to run the race of life. 

Why is this such an issue, though? Is not the real importance the fact that I'm running and not the strength I have, or the health I have while running? I believe strongly that this is the lesson to be learned. What satisfaction is there to make it to the end without any sort of struggle along the way? You don't appreciate the pain. To quote the book The Fault in Our Stars, "pain demands to be felt." If it is not felt then I won't grow.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2 ESV)

Throwing aside weight and sin implies a focus issue. These sins and weights are directional distractions. Never though, does this verse say that the runner will be unscarred or uninjured. It says to RUN. WITH ENDURANCE. Why else would he charge us to have endurance except that it was going to be a major temptation to stop because we dont think we can make it? The key to running well is to keep running. 

Some days I don't think I can make it.
The shin splints in my soul scream at me to stop. My sides aching spiritually. The depression, the physical pain, the discouragement of the enemy crowd my mind and cripple me. But that does not mean I have to stop. If I make it all the way, even if I am in great pain, then I will receive the healing and rest I need.

The beautiful thing about running the race of life is that I know I will be one day made whole in Christ. No longer will I have to struggle with my problematic and flawed earthly body and mind. One day I will be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. This is the promise that  James referred to when he said that the testing of my faith produces steadfastness. "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

With this future hope, I can find the strength to run. I may never cease feeling pain until the day that I die, but if I don't stop running, I know that it will all be worth it. I run "holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain." (Philippians 2:16 ESV)

It will be worth it.
Pain is never fun.
But home is where the healing is.
So we must continue running on bruised and inflamed legs, going one step at a time until at last we arrive into the eternal rest of the Father.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:24, 25 ESV)

We do not run alone! We spur one another on, bearing one another along, encouraging each other every day. Through love and encouragement we run together, each bearing his own pain, but collectively bearing each other's. 
Running home. Where healing is. 
Healing only comes after being broken.

Where is home? 
It's in Christ.