Finding Light in the Darkness

We all go through dark times. Grief, sorrow, disappointment, and loss happen to all of us. Unfortunately, it is not hard to get stuck in that darkness and allow it to overwhelm us.  It is easy to get trapped in anger, fear, unbelief and bitterness. Going through the stages of grief is healthy and important. We must feel the pain of our loss; denying what happened only works for a very short time. It is important to move into anger, depression, bargaining and then acceptance. Why? Because those are all natural human responses to loss. The problem is when we get stuck in one of those emotions. Getting stuck in anger turns us bitter. Living in denial means we never allow ourselves to truly live and even love again. Being depressed for a period of time after a loss is normal. Being depressed for years and never accepting the loss incapacitates us and keeps us from once again feeling joy and happiness and ultimately living our lives to the full again.

I went through a season in my life where it seemed like everything around me was falling apart. It was a very long season, lasting almost 10 years. My church split and fell apart, my parents both died within a couple of years of each other, my marriage ended in divorce and many people who I had considered good friends deserted me. I could easily say that those years were the darkest years of my entire life. I wasn’t sure at times if I would ever come out of them, but I did. How did I come out of such a long and dark season? How did I find hope and joy once again? I chose to press into God and ask for His help.

During those difficult years I learned that often God’s light shines the brightest in the darkness. I learned that only He could help me to move through my pain and sorrow and come out the other end of the tunnel with hope and joy.  It often felt like He was hiding from me, but what I learned when I called out to Him and searched for Him, was that I could hear His voice very clearly in my darkness. I discovered that pressing into God when I saw nothing but darkness around me, caused Him to actually reveal Himself to me, often times in new and surprising ways. I learned that even in the darkness of my soul, in the darkest hours of my life, God reigns supreme. He is King, even in the darkness. I could in fact access Him in the midst of my darkness, if I persevered.

Scripture is filled with examples of God speaking in the darkness. As a matter of fact, it tells us that He is surrounded by clouds and darkness (Psalm 97:2).  Solomon tells us in 1 Kings 8:12 and 2 Chronicles 6:1 “The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud” (the Hebrew is thick darkness or gloom). In Deuteronomy 4:11-12 and 5:22 God speaks to the children of Israel with a loud voice “from the mountain that burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud and thick darkness“. My favorite is Psalm 18:9-11 where the psalmist tells us that “He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies“. God dwells in the midst of our darkness. He makes it His secret place.

Let’s look at that term “secret place”. In Psalm 91:1 David tells us “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty“. This really threw me for a loop because the implications here are enormous. So let me paraphrase   Psalm 18:11 and Psalm 91:1 into one sentence.  God makes darkness His secret place, and if I dwell in that secret place with Him, then I will abide in His shadow and He will protect me. I’m sure that I don’t even begin to comprehend what this really means, but as I follow this concept of the secret place in Scripture, I discover there is even more revelation. In Psalm 27:5 the psalmist tells us the following: “For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock“.

Psalm 32:7 says “You are my secret place (often translated as hiding place); You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Look at this one in Psalm 81:7 You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder. What does it mean? I’m sure that I can only begin to understand the depth of what it means,  but this much I do know. When I called to Him in that darkness, He heard me and He delivered me. He protected me from getting bitter and helped me to work through my anger and pain. He helped me to forgive those who deserted me when they should have been my friends. He helped me to move through the stages of grief and allow myself to be healed and love again.

If you’re still not sure that you believe that God is in the midst of your grief and pain, then let me share this story with you. In the gospel of John chapter 11 we are told the story of Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus gets sick and dies. Jesus is in a different place of the country when He gets the word about Lazarus being sick. Now I don’t know for sure why Jesus waited, knowing that Lazarus would die during his delay, other than that He tells His disciples it would bring glory to God. But what I really want to point out is the reaction that Jesus had to Mary’s grief, when she fell at His feet. It says, Jesus wept. (John 11:35) Why did He weep? He knew He was about to raise him from the dead. It would have been natural for Him to ignore her pain, knowing what He was about to do. But He didn’t ignore it. He wept because He felt the depth of her pain and loss. He cared about the way she felt, even while knowing that He was about to bring her tremendous joy, by raising her brother from the dead, which He did.

God cares about your pain as well. Your anger and your grief do not bother him or inconvenience Him. He’s big enough to handle the anger you feel at your loss. As a matter of fact, your pain makes Him weep because He loves you. Just as your children’s pain hurts you, our pain hurts Him.

If you feel enveloped by darkness and you cannot see Him in the midst of it, then let me encourage you that God is very near to you, not far away. The prophet Isaiah encourages us in Isaiah 50:10  with the following words: “Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God“.

I notice something important however, when I read this passage in Isaiah 50:10. Isaiah starts off by asking a question. “Who among you fears the Lord?” Do you fear the Lord Jesus Christ?

Do you feel surrounded by darkness, for whatever reason, and see no way out? Then call out to Jesus. Cry out to Him and believe that He is God Almighty. He is sovereign over everything, including your darkness.

Allow Him to comfort you, deliver you, protect you, heal you and maybe even raise your dead.

 

 

 

 

 

A Call for Unity in the Church

I watch a lot of YouTube videos. Perhaps you can relate. I really enjoy listening to different Bible teachings and sermons from various people and groups. YouTube is filled with some really good information and some really bad information. If you have spent any time at all on it you will know what I mean. Sometimes it is hard to discern if someone is speaking truth or lies. Sometimes it’s not so much that people are lying so much as they are deceived. Deceived people can sound really earnest and believable. It never ceases to amaze me how earnest people can sound, while speaking about things that are completely contrary to scripture. So why does it bother me so much, you might ask? Who cares what people are teaching or talking about? Does it really matter if what they speak is truth, lies or deception? Yes, I believe it does and here’s why.

When we call ourselves Christians and we go onto public forums such as YouTube for example, we have a lot of people who will listen to what we have to say. And our words will influence them. Those words will either lead them to the truth or away from the truth. James tell us in James 3:1 “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment“. He goes on to say in vs 8 “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison“. Our words can literally poison people’s minds and affect their hearts. If we are not careful, our words can lead people astray and cause them to walk away from the truth, and away from God or worse, never know Him in the first place.

The story that caused me to think about this issue is found in Matthew 11. John the Baptist has been thrown into prison by Herod and he is so depressed and offended with God over the way his life turned out, that he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the question: “Are you the coming One, or do we look for another?” Now I’ve always focused on the question that was asked by John whenever I have pondered this story. I mean didn’t John baptize Jesus? Didn’t he announce early on that Jesus was the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world? So why did he ask it in the first place? How could he not know the answer?

So today as I was reading this story again, I suddenly saw it from a different angle. I began to wonder why John the Baptist still had disciples, when Jesus was now on the scene? And worse, why could those disciples not answer this question themselves? Why did they have to go to Jesus and ask Him who He was?  Who were they really following, Jesus or John? I mean you would think that if John had done his job correctly, those men would have known Jesus as their Messiah and therefore could have spoken words of encouragement to him and helped him through this dark time in his life. They could have pointed him back to the truth, in the midst of his depression, despair and confusion. So I ask again, why did these men, these disciples of John, not know who Jesus was? Yeah, I never thought of that before either.

And that brings me to an even scarier question. How many leaders in the church have created disciples for themselves and not Jesus?

After the resurrection, In John 21 we read the story about Jesus talking to Peter and restoring him after he had denied Jesus three times during the crucifixion. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. As Peter responds each time with “yes”, Jesus tells him to “Feed my lambs“, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17) The words that Jesus uses in this conversation create the imagery of a shepherd taking care of, protecting and feeding the sheep. Notice that Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” Why does He ask this? Because the insinuation is that if Peter loves Jesus, He will take care of Jesus’ sheep. Not Peter’s sheep, Jesus’ sheep!

Now this leads me to two different issues. The first one is the responsibility of leaders in the church, whether they be the pastors of a church, or the speaker on a YouTube channel, to be very careful that they don’t create disciples for themselves instead of for Jesus. And the second issue is one of personal responsibility. We have to be careful that we do not allow ourselves to become deceived by someone in leadership who is creating disciples for themselves and not for Jesus.

Paul warns the Corinthian church about this issue in Co 3:4 when he tells them “where there is envy, strife, and division among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are you not carnal?” He is very clear when he points to Jesus as the foundation of their faith. He admonishes them with this: “For we are God’s fellow workers“. If this isn’t clear enough, Paul brings up the subject from a different angle further on in the book. He writes on the subject of spiritual gifts (Co 12:1-30), and then reminds them that not only do they each have different gifts but that those gifts are going to look different. Using the human body as an illustration, he points them to some pretty obvious facts. Reminding them that we are all one body and that that body has not one member, but many (vs. 14) he goes on to give some interesting visuals. “And the eye cannot say to the hand,  I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” I would like to suggest that the church is doing this exact thing.

Now you might ask me, how is this issue of gifts related to leaders making disciples for themselves? Actually it’s pretty simple and when you see it, it will make sense. All those denominations you see out there in the world, I would like to propose that they are actually different members of the same body. And not just members, but members with different gifts. And they are all looking at each other and saying, “I’m a foot or I’m a hand or an eye and you don’t look like me so you’re obviously not part of the body of Christ”! Their disciples are following the leader who originally had this gift and attracted others with the same gift. So now all the feet of the body go to First Church of Whatever and all the eyes go to Second Church of Whoever and on and on it goes. I’m obviously oversimplifying things here, but I think you get my drift. We are disjointed and flinging mud at each other because we don’t like hands or ears or noses because they don’t look or act like us.

Now with all that in mind, I would like to point you to a better way. Jesus tells us in John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Paul tells us in 1 Co 13 that the greatest thing of all is love. Without love, none of the gifts profit us anything. John tells us in 1 John 2:9-11 that he who loves his brother abides in the light and those who hate their brother, are in darkness.

I have seen too much hate disguised as teaching in the church. It must stop. We will never be the church of brotherly love or as Jesus called it, the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7, if we continue to be divided and hate each other’s gifts. We are called to unity not division. And it is not a suggestion. It is a command. Perhaps it is time for the leadership of the church to repent and begin to love each other and point to Jesus instead of to themselves and their own opinions.

Imagine what a united church of Jesus Christ could accomplish in this world? I bet we could turn the world upside down for Jesus!

 

 

 

The Hidden Benefits of Praying for your Enemies

The other day my husband and I were driving in the car together and I made this comment to him, that opened a pandoras box for me. I commented that I hoped that a certain evil person who had done much harm to the community, would die this year. I thought that this world would be better off without them. I won’t name the person I spoke this over because they are a well known public figure, but I felt very justified in pronouncing this curse.

A couple of days later I woke up to do my devotions and read my Bible in the morning, and having forgotten all about the curse I had pronounced on this public figure, I came across a passage in Psalm 106 that stopped me in my tracks.

Psalm 106 is a history of God’s goodness to Israel, a history of both their rebellions and provocations and yet also begins and ends with praising God. The verses that stopped me short are verses 29-31, where the psalmist, who many believe could have been David, says that Israel provoked God to anger with their deeds. Consequently, a plague broke out among them. What happened next is what struck me : “Then Phinehas stood up and intervened  (prayed) and the plague was stopped. And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore”. Phinehas interceded for the nation of Israel, in spite of their wickedness. He asked for mercy and God’s response was amazing. Not only did He listen to Phinehas, he actually counted the intercession as righteousness towards him. That is pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me.

So I decided to do a word search for the word intervene that is used in this passage. In most passages it is simply translated as pray but along with intervene it means to mediate, to judge, to intreat or make supplication. I came across two more stories very similar in nature. In each story, people had sinned and made God angry, and someone had interceded on their behalf, and God blessed the intercessor. In the book of Job, at the very end of the book, when Job is talking to God and things are making more sense to him, it says the following: “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before”. (Job 42:9) There it was again, Job got blessed because he prayed for his friends, who had been telling him things that were not true.

And to make matters even more interesting,  I came across this passage in 1 Samuel 12:23 that says that I actually might be sinning by not praying for people who are in rebellion. “Moreover, as for me (Samuel) far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I will teach you the good and the right way”. Wow!

So if I’m understanding this correctly, then I see three blessings that happen, when I pray for sinful rebellious people that God is angry at. First, it is accounted to me for righteousness, second it actually blesses me with restoration of whatever I might have lost, and third, it stops me from sinning against the Lord! That is quite a list.

But, I had to continue in my quest to see if I could find evidence of this in the New Testament. Immediately I remembered Jesus’ words about loving your enemies. So I looked it up and found this in Matthew 5: 43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

I  noticed two things that are associated with loving and praying for your enemies. Did you catch the word reward? It’s there. Although Jesus doesn’t say what the reward is, He very clearly says there is a reward. Mind you, it is subtle. It’s actually implied but it is there. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” The word  Jesus used is literally dues paid for work, wages, reward or pay for service. I have to wonder if some of those rewards are the ones mentioned in the Old Testament that I spoke of above?

But there’s more! Jesus goes on to suggest that if we pray for our enemies, we shall be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Now that’s a mouthful. I will be perfect like my Heavenly Father, if I pray for my enemies? That’s right. So what does perfect really mean here? The original Greek means complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character. It means to be of full age. In other passages it is actually translated as mature. In Hebrews 5:14, Paul says solid food belongs to those who are of full age, perfect, or mature. Same word. John tells us in 1 John 4:18 that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. Again, the same word is used. Mature love casts out fear.

Paul tells us in Colossians 1:24-29 that he wants to present every man perfect in Jesus Christ. There is therefore a call, a warning that we should be perfect like our Heavenly Father. Paul makes it plain, that this perfection, this maturity can only be achieved in Christ Jesus yet, “to this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”

Why would such a difficult task be given to us? Why would God want us to love and pray for people who hate us, people who hurt us, people who persecute us? Because it perfects His love in us. Because it makes us become like our Heavenly Father. Because it makes us become mature in nature. Because it makes us overcome the wicked one! John tells us in 1 John 2:14 “I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.”

And this brings us full circle. What was it that caused Christ to overcome the wicked one? His love! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) And this scripture in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Now if God loves the sinner, the evil man so much that He would not spare His only Son, but sent Him to the cross to die for his sin, how dare I curse someone because they are my enemy? How dare I not pray for mercy in their lives? How dare I not pray that God would soften their hearts, open their eyes, unplug their ears and allow them to hear the message of the Gospel? How dare I place myself as judge and jury and condemn someone that God loved enough to die for?

Needless to say, I repented for my words that I had spoken over this person that I mentioned at the beginning. And yes, I prayed for them.