The Civil War, Messy People and Jesus: Why I Write

 

With my debut book release with Tyndale scheduled for summer of 2018, this week I’ve begun the daunting task of writing another story. It’s set in one of my favorite time periods…the Civil War.

This isn’t a new assignment for me. This will actually be the fourth Civil War story I’ve penned, uh, typed, but the research involved is always staggering. Always bloody and gruesome, yet filled with heroism, astounding tales of beauty and forgiveness…even humor.

lincoln beardPeople like 11 year-old Grace Bedell who wrote Abraham Lincoln a letter when he was running for President and convinced him the population would find him much more appealing if he grew a beard. (He listened.) Or fiery John Brown or the reckless zeal of Roger Pryor who, after firing the signal cannon that launched the attack on Fort Sumter, thought to celebrate by grabbing what he thought was liquor from the physician’s supply. Instead he swallowed iodide of potassium and almost poisoned himself to death. belle boydOr the eccentric Belle Boyd, who rode horses into parlors for attention and fancied herself the most beautiful, heroic feminine star the Confederacy could ever produce.

There are other stories of drunkards and misfits, spies and traitors, women and Zouaves, generals and cowards . All of them fascinating. I suppose what is most interesting to me in studying these odd assortment of lives is how often they acted, and reacted, and lived and died for a cause or an ideal. They all claimed to be ready to meet their fate with a hero’s fortitude, but peeling back the surface, most of these fascinating legends were terrified of one thing…the hole inside.

In reading their journals, the cry for significance screams from the pages of now still ink pens and dry blotters. They signed up to fight or spy or whatever their task was without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the Union or the Confederacy or the Underground Railroad or whatever ‘the Cause’ was. But for some of them, it was their chance to be seen. Heard. To matter.

They wallowed in insecurity. In fear. They were desperate for a father’s love. For a mother’s love. To catch the attention of a beau or a spurned lover. They were tired of being rejected, or had been pampered and spoiled to a sickening degree. Some were abused. Some were desperate. All were messy. All were broken. All were consumed with a need to “make their mark”. vinicius-amano-145607

Yet most refused to look deeply at the reason why. Scores of these legends would have rather thrown themselves in front of bullets or screamed through a hellish battlefield than look at the demons inside.

We’ve often heard it said “History repeats itself.” I don’t know that history repeats itself so much as human nature repeats itself. We’re all a jumbled mess of broken hearts desperately yearning for love, stumbling about in the shadows looking for that illusive something. No. Correction. Someone. Jesus.

Heart _But it’s easier to fight for a cause than look at our own pain. Easier to drown in noise than face the truth of silence. Easier to follow the crowd than stand the rejection of walking alone.

That’s just one more thing that makes Jesus so remarkable. As I sat watching the sun break through a cloudy sky during our church’s sunrise service, the pastor said someone I’d not considered. He spoke softly. “Upon having the nails driven through his hands and feet, and being lifted high, Jesus could have chosen at that moment to say ‘It is finished’ and breathed his last. He didn’t just die for us. Instead, He chose to suffer for hours and feel our pain as well.”

jesus painJesus chose to feel the pain. He leaned in to the crushing agony, the numbing screams of severed nerves, blood loss, asphyxiation, rejection, shame. He stared unflinchingly into the darkness. And because He smashed death and darkness to pieces when He arose, He offers freedom from the misery of it all.

This is why I love to write. Whether past or present, real or allegorical, all people are broken. Over and over, the human condition reminds us of our need for redemption. For Hope. For a Savior. As I write, I unearth more of my own brokenness as well. Writing is discovering the shadowed, scarred corners of my heart and understanding how God has redeemed them. How He has redeemed me…that discovery then bleeds over the pages of my story world and the struggling characters inside.

So I begin again. The names and characters will change. Plots and places will be altogether different. Their motivations and crises will alter but the Hope that will transform their lives will remain the same. Praise God, He is forever the same.

CHAPTER 1

Washington D.C., 1861

            Cadence Piper walked down the darkened street, clutching her reticule to her middle. Her booted footsteps clicked loudly against the gritty walk. She winced at the echo that drifted back from the inky alley to the right. A shiver crawled down her spine…

dark street

The Seeing Blind

In this present darkness, most of us feel oppressed at every turn. We sense spiritual forces battling it out. Good versus evil. Angels versus demons. Light against shadows. We’ve been taught to be good soldiers for Christ. Take up our cross and fight. Fight for truth. Fight for our children. Fight, well, for everything.

boxing ali

Speaking the truth is always the right thing to do. We must speak what God has declared to be true, omitting nothing. But one thing most of us forget is this: truth never needs a defender. It stands on its own. That’s what makes it truth.

And as far as the cosmic battle goes? The war has already been won. Yet some of us speak and argue and live our lives like the outcome of the spiritual war depends solely on our own effort.

fight from victory

In the past few years, I’ve traveled to many churches, speaking and singing, sharing the transformative power Jesus has displayed in my life. One thing I’ve noticed is that far too many churches are pounding the horribleness of sin, which is true, but no mention is made of forgiveness for the sinner. We talk of the heartbreaking slaughter of millions of innocent babies through abortion, shake our heads and take up arms, yet how many women sit in the congregation silently bowing their head in shame because they were one of the scared souls who made a choice that has now haunted and scarred them forever?

We talk about staying away from vices like pornography and the foul decay it brings to our minds, while a teenage boy on the back row struggles with the images his brain refuses to erase…images he was forced to see by an abusive father who thought showing such things to his young son would ‘make a man out of him’.

peter-sjo-190966

Alcoholics and adulterers, drug users and ex-cons, the hot-tempered and misfits. They are desperately trying to hide their past. To fit in. To pretend it never happened. That the scars they wear are not visible still.

And while we’re busy shaking our fists at sin, and the world’s system, boycotting and ranting on social media about the very things Jesus told us the world would never understand, the hurting Jesus entrusted to our care are bleeding at our feet. And we don’t even notice. We’re so consumed with our righteous indignation, we’re blinded to the broken.

My personal opinion is this: generally speaking, the world should know us by what we’re for…not by what we’re against.

Please don’t misunderstand. This is not a call to stop fighting the good fight. Far from it. But in our zeal, may we be careful to keep compassion before campaigns. Truth should never trample love.

The gospel was never meant to shame the sinner. The gospel of Jesus is Good News. The God of the universe not only sees you, but outrageously, desperately loves you so much He died to make you His. This is a scandalous love. This is what we should be shouting through the streets. This is what we should be flooding through social media. This is the One Who can transform your life from broken to beautiful. Jesus.

In our lists of all the things that God is and what God does and doesn’t do, what He embraces and what He cannot, let us never forget this most beautiful, fundamental, and scandalous truth…the truth that all else rests upon: God is love.

ephesians 3

“Buzz Lightyear Did It”, “I Can’t Help the Way I Am” and Other Ways We Stay Stuck

I stared at the Hot Wheels car submerged at the bottom of our toilet and frowned. I arched my brow and turned to spear my wide-eyed three-year old son with “the look”. He stood in his under-roos, clutching his Buzz Lightyear doll in his chubby arms, blinking those big brown eyes up at me with the innocent look of a deer.

“Nate, did you throw your Hot Wheel car in the potty?”

He swallowed, his eyes darting side to side. When his gaze landed on his Buzz Lightyear, he offered a hopeful, lopsided grin and pointed to the toy with his free hand.

“Buzz did it.”

 buzz-lightyear

Ah, the blame game. It’s nothing new. Adam and Eve tried the same thing in Genesis 3. As soon as they got busted for eating the forbidden fruit, Eve said, “The serpent tricked me.” Adam told God, “The woman you made for me offered me some.”

Welcome back to our blog series Liar, a look at the enemy’s most common lies and how to recognize them. We’re up to lie #6: “I can’t help the way I am”. 

How many of us are tired of messing up? How many of us find ourselves falling back into the same cycle of mistakes over and over again? We tell ourselves we should stop our bad behavior and it might even work for a while but then we find ourselves right back at square one. Sometimes in worse shape than how we began.

true-false

Let’s stop for a moment and ponder a vitally important truth here: Every sin in our life, especially when it comes to an habitual sin, comes about because somewhere along the way, we’ve fallen for a lie.

A lie is only harmful to us if we believe it.

If I had actually believed my son’s lie that his Hot Wheels ended up in our toilet because Buzz Lightyear did it, then I’d have a real problem. Paranoia would be an understatement. I didn’t believe his lie, so therefore, it didn’t bug me.

But for a lot of us, we have believed the lie that screams, “I can’t help the way I am”.

I’ve always been stubborn, even as a baby.

Everyone in my family is fat. Guess it’s just hereditary.

Look how I was raised.

My dad was an alcoholic. I never had a chance.

I come from a poor neighborhood.

This is just my personality. I can’t change it.

My family never supported me.

History repeats itself.

The problem with the whole “I can’t help the way I am” philosophy is that it’s rooted in a victim mentality, which leads us to think we are helpless, forever a part of the system. It’s a subtle form of keeping us locked in bondage.

Isn’t the enemy sneaky? prison

Think of it this way…if our circumstances, or how we are raised, or any other condition around us makes us who we are, then we are all victims. We have no choices, no input, and no reason to even want any.

But the truth is we do have choices. Sometimes, it’s just easier to play the victim.

“I can’t help the way I am” is another way of saying “It’s not my fault” or, to quote my mischievous son, “It’s Buzz’s fault that the car is in the toilet”.

If the enemy can make us feel trapped, if we never question the cage he’s put us in, then he wins. He has us right where he wants us…defeated.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of us were born and thrust into some tough stuff. The sin curse has permeated everything, rippling down through generations, pooling deeper in some families than others. But you are not doomed to flounder in its sticky mire forever. As Nancy Leigh DeMoss has wisely stated, “Circumstances don’t make us who we are. They only reveal who we are.”

Just like Adam and Eve, it’s easy…wonderfully easy to blame someone else, our family upbringing, our circumstances, our hormones, Mondays, the idiot driver who cut us off in traffic, or any other thing for our issues but ultimately, we are responsible for the decisions we make.

If  you’ve spent your life pointing a finger at the unjustice of your upbringing, the system, or any other blame shifter, then you’re stuck, forever chained to a life of a misery. But on the other hand, there is good news with sin. Yep. You read that correctly. If you sin, that means there is forgiveness. A way out. A way has been made to break free from those cycles that keep pulling you back down.

The lie: “I can’t help the way I am.”

The truth from God:

We know that our old self [our human nature without the Holy Spirit] was nailed to the cross with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. For the person who has died [with Christ] has been freed from [the power of] sin.” Romans 6:6,7

Jesus died to free you from your families’ bad decisions, from your chains, from your broken way of thinking, from yourself. We may not be able to control the circumstances around us, but Jesus died and rose again to guarantee that those circumstances no longer have to control us.

Replace that lie with God’s truth and then walk in it.

And make sure Buzz Lightyear isn’t hanging around. woody-and-buzz

The Redemption of Kip

“Runt.”

“He’ll never live.”

“He’s so scrawny.”

I don’t know what I did wrong. I was born, I guess. While all my brothers and sisters were cute, wriggly little pups, I was the outcast. Never expected to do much. To be much.

At the pet store, the chubby, groping fingers of girls and boys would rove over all of our heads, scratching our ears, picking us up and snuggling their cheeks next to ours. Such happy feelings filled me, I couldn’t help but lick their giggling faces with big swipes of my tongue. But eventually those happy feelings died as I was set back down in my kennel. And one by one, my siblings were slowly sold and taken away.

kip

All except me.

Day after lonely day passed inside the pet store. The rubber toys and squeaky play things lost their luster as I sat and looked out the window, waiting for…somebody. I didn’t even know who. But surely somebody out there wanted me. Surely someone would love me, if they could just meet me. I was getting bigger. Growing stronger, wasn’t I?

The bell overhead jangled and my ears perked up. The noisy parrot in the corner squawked as an old man entered. His pale blue eyes roved over the animals, his blue-veined, knobby hands grasping a cane as he shuffled from cage to cage. His gaze latched on to mine and I sat upright, wagging my tail and trying all the tricks that had worked so well for my brothers and sisters. Wag the tail, blink big, cock my head sideways. But the old man frowned as he turned to the pet shop owner.

“This pup here. What breed is he?”

The big man shrugged. “I don’t know. Mutt, best I can figure. Sold off his siblings already. Can’t seem to get rid of him though.”

The old man narrowed his eyes. “What’s his name?”

“Runt.”

Muttering under his breath, the old man turned and walked away.

Something cold and hard sank in my middle.

Days turned blurry and dull, until one afternoon my dreamless sleep was interrupted by rough hands shaking me, pulling me. I didn’t understand what was happening, what strange cruelty was being inflicted. The big man growled and pawed at me. His thick fingers hurt as I wriggled and thrashed. He cursed and clamped his hands around my legs.

“You little mongrel! I’m just trying to move you to a different crate!”

Something sharp knifed up my back and I did the only thing I knew to do. I clamped my teeth into his hand. He bellowed. The floor rushed up to meet me. Pain exploded through my body. Heart thumping, I eyed the front door, could smell the fresh air as the door swung wide to admit a family of shoppers.

Runt.

He’s so scrawny.

Can’t seem to get rid of him…

open door

With the sound of rushing water in my ears, I scrambled to run, my paws clicking against the linoleum as I sprinted through the door and into the crowded city street. Away from cages and cranky men. Away from mean words.

Freedom. Maybe my somebody would find me now.

I ran and ran. Maybe for days. Nights were the worst. So cold and dark. Hunger cramped my middle. I wandered in between buildings, nosing through trash for scraps of anything I could eat, stepping between waste and sleeping humans. I shivered, curling up in patches of light from back doorsteps, hoping the meager warmth would somehow seep deep inside my body.

alley

I grew bigger, no longer a runt, but still, no one wanted me. One day I found a group of children playing outside a park. I walked slowly towards them, my tail wagging. Was my somebody with them?

But when they turned and saw me, they chased me, throwing rocks and calling me names. Kicking and hitting.

I never approached a human again.

One cold afternoon, a man in a uniform sneaked up behind me and somehow managed to get me into a big moving box that carried me to a building. It was like the pet store but different. The crates were smaller and there were no windows. I could hear other animals barking and meowing. The man who’d caught me patted me on the head as he eased me into the crate.

“Poor fellow. We’ll find you a home. Somebody will want to adopt you.”

I put my head on my paws. He was wrong. I don’t have a somebody. No one has ever wanted me.

Each day passed, people came and went. Eyes peered in to see me but I barely noticed. I gave up the tricks to catch their attention. They didn’t work. Never had.

One day, the Nice Man who always stopped to pat my head strapped a red tag to my crate, his eyes sad. I knew what that meant. I had seen it happen enough. Red tags were attached to a crate. The next day the animal inside was taken away. They didn’t come back.

Bowing his head, the Nice Man murmured some soft words and scratched my ears with a sigh. Then he left.

I guess I fell asleep, for the sound of a slamming door jarred me awake. I didn’t sit up. In truth, I barely cracked open my eyes. What was the point? I would be taken away soon, never to come back.

Footsteps approached. The Nice Man was speaking softly, his voice echoing off the loud walls.

“This fellow is scheduled to be put down tomorrow. Shame too. He’s seems awfully sweet. Sad.”

Another man stooped down to peer inside. I sighed and looked away, not interested to be poked, prodded or ridiculed by another cruel human.

“Mm. What’s his name?”

“His tag was hard to read when he came in, all scratched and busted up. Looked like he’d been out on the streets for a while. We think it said Runt.”

The stranger with the deep voice stepped closer and squatted, resting his arms on his knees and watched me. This one wasn’t going away. With another sigh, I kept my head on my paws and turned to give him a disinterested stare. He met my look with a smile.

“No, Runt doesn’t suit this guy at all. He’s far too big. Aren’t you?”

His eyes looked into mine and something deep inside me flared to life. I lifted my head.

kip adult

The nice man motioned to the other crates. “If you’d rather see some of the pups…”

“No.” The stranger stopped him with a raised hand. “This fellow and I are talking.” He chuckled. “May I?” At the Nice Man’s nod, he unlatched the crate and reached in, rubbing his hands through my fur with a soft touch…caresses that both soothed and made me feel protected. Like how I used to feel nuzzled up next to Momma so long ago. Loved. I savored the sensation, needy for it as they talked.

“I’ve been away fighting.”

“Finally home?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve wanted a dog ever since I was a little boy.” He chuckled when I leaned into his hand. “This fellow and I, I think we belong together.”

This stranger wanted me? No, I must have heard wrong.

The Nice Man watched us. “Most folks come in here wanting a cute little puppy, some perfect looking puff of fur that will make their kids squeal.” He smiled. “Runt is older, bigger. He’s not cute and fluffy like the other breeds. You sure?”

The stranger cupped my face in his hands and leaned in so close, his eyes were almost touching mine. “Love doesn’t only rescue the pretty or the preferred. Love pursues the broken, the needy, the unwanted and the outcast.”

He leaned his head against mine and rubbed his hands through my fur. I shivered as my chest beat in loud thumps. This stranger was my Somebody. He wanted me.

My Somebody leaned back and smiled. “First things first. We must get rid of that name. You’re no Runt. Not in my eyes. Let me think.” His eyes lit up as he snapped his fingers. “How about Kip?”

I barked and leaped from my crate, wriggling and squirming around my Somebody with prancing steps. I have a new name! Kip!

My Somebody laughed. “Kip it is! And it means ‘one from the high hill’.” Leaning down he rubbed my head and winked. “Appropriate, since I live in a big house, high on a mountain.”

Lifting my front paws, I scooted and wiggled as long as I dared on my back legs, barking with happiness when my Somebody burst into laughter. The Nice Man watched us, his mouth open.

“Look at that. I’ve never seen Run—er, Kip so happy before.”

My Somebody scooped me up in his arms and I laid my head on his shoulder, my entire body quivering with joy. He placed his hand on my head, and for the first time I noticed the scars that marred his palms and wrists. somebody and kip

He turned to leave but stopped and smiled over his shoulder.

“Well, that’s the thing about love. Not only does it pursue the unwanted, love also transforms.”

A big thank you to Donnie Haynes for inspiring the story of Kip. A simple, yet profound thought in your sermon at Bogg Springs let my imagination take flight.

Books are Not My Babies…and Other “Idol” Chatter

Y’all, this writing gig is hard.

I recently saw a pic that summed up the process perfectly. “You read a scene and think, ‘That was nice.’ Time it took you to read the scene? Five minutes. Time it took the author to write the scene? Five bazillion hours.”

reading

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea. It’s hard work. More than I ever dreamed possible. And just when I think the sleepless nights, the outpouring of creativity, the frazzled nerves will pay off, I get word that more revisions are needed. So it’s back to work. Again.

Years ago, I sat in my first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, as a dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears writer listening to Tamera Alexander speak. Tamera said something I will never forget. “The stories you write, the books you sell, they are not your babies. They are products.” baby

Wise words. And, boy, was she correct. That single piece of advice has saved me much heartache. Why? What did she mean? I took her wisdom, at least in part, to mean this: don’t let your heart grow attached to something that will devastate you if it is taken away.

Creativity, imagination and the mysterious muse are beautiful gifts lavished on us by a loving Creator, but when we elevate those gifts into ‘baby’ status in our hearts, we have unwittingly set up an idol. So when our ‘babies’ are rejected, criticized, or anything in between, we grow defensive, we lash out, or live in the land of angry, miserable resentment. Are we consumed with our stories or consumed with our Savior? Worse yet, do we use creativity as a smoke screen? A way to be consumed with ourselves, our Amazon reviews, or our latest rankings as some sort of attempt to prove our own worth or to puff up our battered pride?

Heart _Idols are sneaky things. They come disguised as good things. Great things, and they are. The problem is not the idol. The issue is the shift of devotion that occurs in our own hearts. 

Take our children, for example. Are there more beautiful treasures? We sacrifice for them. We plan for them. We give and dream and hope and pray. We lose sleep and hair and sometimes our sanity, all because our love for them is so great, we can do nothing less than give them our all. I get it.

However, I cringe when I hear parents say they couldn’t live if something happened to their child. Our hope should never, ever be based on our children. No parent should outlive their child, but it happens all the time. I’ve outlived two of mine.

I grieve and cry but I have hope. In the words of King David when his own infant son died, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” Because of Jesus, I have a bright, secure future and a peace that remains steadfast, despite the chaos swirling around me. I am not defeated. I am not destroyed. corrie ten boom hold everything lightly

I like the way Corrie Ten Boom put it. “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Whether it’s career ambition, money, material possessions, relationships, awards, children, attention, approval, busyness, entertainment or even yourself, beware of idols. Keep your heart on the One who created it. Don’t give your devotion to something or someone that cannot save. The temporary satisfaction they provide will soon become a consuming pit that will only leave emptiness and regret behind.

Stories are not your babies. They are products.

And babies are cute, but remember, they are also exhausting. Choose wisely.

The Little White Pill

Some days I loathe it. Other days I nearly weep with gratitude for it. Strange dichotomy.

Every time I look at that little white pill in my palm, I am overcome with an odd mix of emotions. pillWhen I was diagnosed with depression in 2002, I was desperate for relief from the dark shroud that had blanketed my mind and heart. A shroud I had brought on myself as I lived year after year stuck in the vicious cycle of people-pleasing and perfectionism. I had exhausted every resource to try to keep others happy, to win their approval and what I hoped would be their love. I was wrong. (This is not to say all depression stems from these issues. Depression is multi-faceted and has a wide array of causes and triggers. Check out my book Hollow Victory for a more in-depth look at depression.) hollow victory

When my doctor suggested medication to ease my physical symptoms, I balked. I was a Christian. Wasn’t medication a sign of weakness for a girl who claims to trust God? Perhaps I was still in denial. Maybe taking a pill would make the diagnosis much more real than I cared to admit. Confusion battered my mind and heart. I had heard well-meaning believers condemning others who sought medical help for their depression, throwing out their careless barbs and accusations with frightening speed.

“You should just trust God more.”

“You shouldn’t get down.”

“If you’ll read this scripture, you should feel better.

All those ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ wreaked havoc with my peace of mind. That is, until God revealed this beautiful truth to my heart: grace is greater than all the times I fall short of the ‘shoulds’. I’m a mess but I don’t have to pretend to be something other than who I am. God knew I would fail in and of myself. That’s why He sent a Savior.

god's grace is bigger

Depression is just as physical as it is emotional and spiritual. Would we dare accuse a person with bad eyesight of “not trusting God” if he chose to wear glasses before slipping behind the driver’s wheel? Do we shun and disparage the diabetic for taking insulin? Or the heart patient for using beta blockers? Depression is no different. Serotonin and other chemicals are out of whack and need to be replaced.

Do I believe in gobbling down pills as the end all and be all? No, absolutely not. Taking medication allows me to deal with the physical symptoms as I lean on the Holy Spirit to reveal any emotional or spiritual issues that have become roots of trouble. And for some, there is no discernible cause for their depression. Bodies just don’t work like they are supposed to. We are living in a broken world with frail bodies. Eyesight fails. Thyroid levels fluctuate. Skin looses its elasticity. And yes, even Christians can get depressed. (Look at Elijah, David and Job if you don’t believe me.) depression not a terrible christian

Speaking for myself, I’m glad I listened and took the medication. My husband and children needed me at my best, not mere shadows of myself. It was a God-given tool to help ease physical symptoms and replenish my body of the chemicals it needed so I could focus on the work of discovering why I was depressed. Thanks to God’s gentle love, He tenderly revealed the wounds I carried inside and healed me in profound ways. He’s healing me still.

Fast forward to the present. I am in a much better place these days. My walk with God is vibrant. I know the warning signs of depression and have a proactive plan in place to combat the cycles that once pulled me down. So why can’t I function without that little white pill?

Last week, as I was bemoaning my dependency on it, I cried out to God in frustration. “Why? Why do I still need this? Why can’t I live and laugh without it? Must I forever carry the scars of 2002 with me?”

He spoke to me swiftly, His voice a gentle whisper as He impressed this thought into my heart. What if you no longer needed this medicine? Would you forget? Would you forget what I’ve brought you through? Would you forget what that black place feels like? Would you be able to help others struggling with the same issues if your heart grows numb to the pain you once suffered? Little One, this reminds you to be dependent on me. It keeps you from repeating the mistakes you once made, living to please people instead of seeking My heart. My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. weak and strong

I’m trying not to look at that little white pill as a chain any longer. It’s a tool, a reminder of the compassionate way He led me through the darkness to find hope and joy in Him again. Kind of like Jonah and his fish. Being swallowed by a fish wasn’t Jonah’s punishment for running away. No, that fish was grace. From the dark, sour confines of its belly, God captured Jonah’s attention and redirected his life into victory. Depression was my fish of grace.

Thank you, God, for Your mercy. For Your love. For being with me, even when I can’t feel You. I know You’re there—guiding, revealing and loving me, despite myself.

Sometimes, I still need reminding.

Have you battled a time of depression? What ‘shoulds’ have you heard about depressed Christians? How has God used something traumatic to catch your attention? What did you learn?

 

The BIG question

Today I’m going to ask the BIG question…the question that plagues every single human the world over. What do you think happens when you die? question-paper

Some confess they have no idea. Some might say, “Well, I’m basically a good person, so I guess I’ll go to heaven.”

Let’s look at that for a moment.

Let’s go through the Ten Commandments and see how good you are. (Exodus 20) Have you ever told a lie? If the answer is yes, that means you are a liar. I know, I know…putting it so bluntly hurts. But we are trying to be honest here. How many lies do you think you have told during your entire life?

Have you ever wanted something that wasn’t yours? That’s called coveting…and it’s a sin. Have you ever been disrespectful to your parents? Have you ever thought about being with someone who wasn’t your spouse? Have you ever cursed using God’s name?

See, the problem is that if you have done any of these things, that means you’re a sinner. (And I haven’t even gone through half of the commandments.) Sin means to ‘fall short of the mark’. To make a mistake. And guess what? We’ve all done it! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” ~Romans 3:23 

Compared to God’s holiness, His absolute perfection, we all have messed up. It’s easy to compare ourself to others and say “well, at least I’m not like so-and-so”. But comparing ourselves to another person really isn’t the best standard is it? 

I’ll put it this way. My little dog is adorable with big black eyes and fluffy white fur. Inside of our house, she looks pristinely white. Perfect. But the last time it snowed, she ran outside and I was startled to watch her playing in the snow because she looked dirty. Dingy and yellow.

white dog in snow

That’s how we are compared to God. Dirty, dingy…unclean.

Now, you may stop here and say, “Well, okay, I’m not perfect but I’ve done some good things in my life.” Consider what would happen if a murderer stood before a judge. He is waiting for sentencing after admitting that he has killed. Yet, he stands before the judge and says, ‘I admit I’ve murdered, but you’re not taking the balance into account. I’ve been nice to people in the past and I’ve given to charity.” What would the judge say?

A good judge would never let a criminal go just because he had done some good things in the past. He would judge according to the crime committed, because a good judge must uphold justice. And God is a good judge. “For the wages of sin is death…” ~Romans 6:23

So knowing that we all sin, where do we deserve to go? To heaven or hell?

There’s a big misconception out there about hell. People often wonder why God would have ever created such a dreadful place. But as my pastor often reminds us, why do we have garbage dumps? Filth has to go somewhere or it corrupts everything it touches.

I deserve to go there but God loved me so much…He loved YOU so much, that He provided a way to escape our punishment.

He sent His only Son Jesus to earth. Jesus compressed himself into the womb of a virgin, was born in Bethlehem and grew into a young man. He was God wrapped in human flesh. And being God, He showed His power by healing the sick, raising the dead and teaching us about God’s love.

Jesus never sinned. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” ~Hebrews 4:15 

scourging

Jesus loved us and cared so deeply for us that He refused to leave us in the dark. At the age of 33, He allowed an angry mob that feared losing their political power to beat him, spit on him, be whipped with a cat-of-nine-tails and be crucified to a Roman cross. At that moment, He took all of our sin, our mistakes on Him and nailed them to His cross. Simply put, He took the whipping for every bad thing you and I have ever done and ever will do.

Now, if Jesus is dead, what good does it do? But praise God, He’s not dead! Three days after dying, He was raised from the dead and appeared to hundreds of witnesses. (Study the book of John to learn more or check out “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.) When He rose from the dead, it means He conquered death and sin….forever.

Now, is it enough to believe that there is a God? No. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and tremble.” If you want to be clean, to stand before God the judge blameless and perfect, you need to ask Jesus to forgive you and to save you from an eternal hell. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

Since the moment that I asked God to forgive me and claimed Jesus as my King, my life has never been the same. He gives peace when everything is crashing around me. He loves me when I’m unlovable. And He is building a home for me in Heaven as we speak. He has transformed me from a person who was dead inside to a new creation in Him. I was blind, but now I see. I was dead but now I’m alive.

There is a 100% guarantee that you will die, just like every human before you. Your life is far too valuable to throw away. Don’t gamble it on what you think happens. You did not bring yourself into the world and you have no power or authority to make the rules fit your own wishes. Seek the One Who existed before the world began. Seek. Ask. Jesus is calling you to Him. His arms are open wide.cross

Do you have an answer for the BIG question?

Sippy Cups: When It Seems God Doesn’t Care

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Have you ever felt that God isn’t listening to you?

Perhaps He showed you something phenomenal He’s about do in and through your life. A child, a gift or talent maybe. Perhaps it was a vocational change or ministry calling of some sort. Perhaps it’s a long-held dream right on the cusp of fruition. God revealed that glimpse to you, confirmed it and reminded you again for good measure. Your excitement mounted and it seemed like a million dreams were about to be fulfilled. You lived each day in breathless anticipation. When would it happen? When would He move? You’re there. You’re ready, and then…

Nothing happens.

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. In the waiting, the rosy bloom of promise seems to fade. Excitement turns into confusion. Restlessness. Fear. Perhaps, even anger.

You begin to wonder if you heard Him correctly. Maybe He hadn’t revealed what you thought He had. Did you misunderstand? Did you do something wrong? Was He even listening to you anymore? He seems so silent. In your weakest moments, you might even wonder if He loves you at all.

hope deferred

Yes, God’s ways can sometimes feel confusing. Agonizingly slow. Even counter-productive or cruel.

Notice I said they sometimes feel that way. But they really aren’t. This concept never became more clear to me than during a recent incident with a sippy cup. sippy-cup

I was working to prepare dinner one evening, when my two-year old boy toddled into the kitchen, his lips puckered into a pout. Pointing his chubby finger at the refrigerator, his wish became clear.

“Juice.”

I smiled. “You want some juice?”

He grinned and reached up his dimpled arms for me. I scooped him up, knowing he was thinking our juice-fetching routine would remain the same as every other day. Normally, I pick him up, open the frig, we peruse the already juice-filled sippy cup selections together and he picks the one he’s craving. However, this day, things were not the norm.

I had already washed his sippy cups and placed them in the cupboard…the cupboard on the other side of the kitchen. Propping him on my hip, I moved away from the refrigerator to pull a sippy cup from the cabinet. Nate didn’t understand what I was doing. In his little mind, he wanted juice and I had just shut the refrigerator door in his face and pulled him away from his prize.

screaming baby

He screamed. He wailed. He wanted his juice and he wanted it now! All he knew was that I had walked completely in the opposite direction. He panicked and flailed in abject terror that he would surely die of dehydration. Poor guy. The strung-out little dude truly thought I was heartless, abandoning him in the middle of his need. Didn’t I understand that he was thirsty? Possibly on the verge of death?

What he failed to realize is that there could be no juice without the cup. Though it seemed like I was pulling him farther away from what he craved, I was actually positioning him to enjoy the gift. I was making him ready. I was giving him what he needed. Though I stepped away from the refrigerator, I was actually moving him closer to his cup and ultimately, his goal.

It’s the same with God. Though at times His ways seem confusing, even counter-productive, He is positioning you, preparing you and making you ready for the good work He’s had in mind all along. Thrashing, wailing and screaming only slows down the process…and makes it much more painful.

Isaiah 55_8-9 - Iceberg

Consider Joseph. (Genesis 37-45) Even from a young age, God gave this fellow an inkling what purpose his life would serve in God’s plans. When Joseph dreamed his brothers bowed down to him, it must have made him a tad excited. After all, what you’re passionate about is what you talk about and Joseph was blabbing that choice piece of news all over the place…so much so, that his brothers hated him for it.

Was Joseph eventually in a position of power and authority over his brothers? Yes, but it didn’t happen right away. Actually, the journey looked nothing like what Joseph could have ever imagined. Kidnapped, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. This wasn’t a couple of days in the slammer either. No. For two long years, Joseph sat in prison, no doubt wondering if God had abandoned him. Had he only imagined the crazy dreams of yester year? Why didn’t God free him? Fight for him? What purpose could he possibly serve sitting day after day inside a lonely, filthy cell?

Joseph’s story is filled with breathless twists and shocking turns but what God promised is exactly what came to pass. It always does. When God speaks, it’s as good as done.

Abraham and Sarah had their own sippy cup experience. God promised them a son and so they waited and waited and waited. Sarah feared God was moving her farther and farther away from her dream and thus decided to help the process come about in a speedier manner. The results were disastrous. (And still are.)

She had her own moment of confused-cup-meltdown but in her hurry, all she did was make the situation harder to bear. And, just like always, God delivered that much anticipated son twenty-five years later on His own time table, in His own manner, for His glory.

Why do we ever doubt Him?

Child of God, don’t fret if His promise seems to be taking longer than you imagined, or via a manner you never dreamed possible. He’s working all things together for your good and His glory. He’s positioning you, getting you ready for amazing things. Hold out your hands, praise His Name and wait.

When He places that long-awaited cup in your hands, it won’t just be full. It will be overflowing with good things.

overflowing cup

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” Jeremiah 31:25

Have you ever waited for something so long you feared God had left you? What have you learned during the process of waiting?