dear one

oh dear one,

you there with the burden of memory and the longing to be soothed and safe and seen – come lay down that back-breaking load.

has no one held your face in their hands, eyes laid upon soul-bearing eyes, and told you that you are a walking miracle?

has no one taken your troubles into the chambers of their well-worn heart and watered the ground under your feet with an ocean of empathy?

has no one reminded you how brave and beautiful you are? or that the cracks running through you like seams – your fragile places – are where the light gets in?

has no one held your hand in theirs and kissed your scars and told you that you are beloved? that your life is a brilliant flame – an enchanting wonder all of its own – that is even more captivating in the darkness?

oh dear heart…take these words in like water for the barren desert that has surely become of your tender heart – seeking moment by moment for an oasis.

you are the treasure.
you are the brilliance.
you are the beauty of the earth.

and you are loved
loved, loved.

you are loved.
you are loved.
you are loved.

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a wretch like me: running into marvelous light

My face is wet with hot, salty tears. I have been sobbing for the past hour as I have listened to the wise words of my brother Erik and the compelling testimonies of two women who are dear to my heart.

Though I am 1200 miles away from my church family, the Spirit of God is certainly closing in the distance. Geographical distance has no bearing when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit. As I listened to Erik’s message, I felt like I was in the sanctuary with everyone else. Last week, my dear friend Lisa gave her testimony along with Erik’s phenomenal talk on homosexuality as a part of the Journey’s Counter Culture series. And yesterday, my amazing roomie Kelly and my good friend Mercedes both shared during Erik’s talk on abortion.

The conviction, humility, and passion of Erik’s message and the incredible boldness and courage of three women to share their stories has absolutely wrecked me. For I, too, am a sinner with a story that God has been speaking truth and light into over the past few years – out of darkness, out of shame. I, too, am a broken person who has fears, regret, guilt, and shame from struggles that have far too long been kept hidden away, for fear of man.

And I know that in this season, God is bringing more healing and life and light into the wounded and shameful areas of my heart and I look forward to the day when I can soon share details of my story that have not been shared before. I look forward to the day when the painful and shameful parts of my past will become part of my public testimony. Because I know that God is BIGGER than my fears and His light is more POWERFUL than any darkness and His truth is more PIERCING than any lies of the enemy. And I know that He will be glorified through my brokenness and weakness, because that is the kind of champion God that we serve. 

So I wept because I know that His grace is sufficient for me.

And I wept because I know that when men and women of God begin to bring their sin and struggles into the light, that sin and shame loses its power. And as men and women of God step through the fear and lies and speak openly and honestly about their shortcomings, fears, and failures, light overpowers the darkness.

And the captives are set free.

Something happens in the heavenly realms when we, as broken people, admit our sin and our need for a Savior. Truly – something breaks in the spiritual realm when we confess our sins and ask God for the grace and forgiveness and strength to carry us. When we admit that we cannot heal by concealing our sins or striving for perfection or trying to keep it all together, then God’s grace abounds and He is glorified and we are FREED.

And friends, as individuals like Lisa, Kelly, and Mercedes publicly declare what God has done in their lives, then other people are led into freedom.

In Revelation 12:11, it says, “And they have conquered him [the accuser, the enemy, the Father of lies] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

When we choose not to love our own lives or try to make much of ourselves or make our sin and struggles look good and when we choose to let Christ’s truth spill over us and break the chains of the enemy’s lies, then the enemy loses his power. 

We are encouraged and commanded in James 5:16 – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

This confession is not God’s ploy to get us to air all of our dirty laundry so we can feel horrible about ourselves. No – on the contrary – God knows that in speaking our sins to each other and confessing our sin and brokenness, coming before our Lord and Savior in prayer, we will be healed of all of the shame and guilt of our sins.

Because Jesus bore the punishment of our sins on the cross. And while we have already been freed and forgiven by Christ’s blood, unconfessed sin – both to God and to others – keeps us in a prison of bondage, and we remain slaves to the memory of our sins even if the sin itself is far behind us. 

We serve a God of love who is all about freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

-Galatians 5:1

Jesus wants us to live as FREE men and women! He delights when His children cast off their heavy weights and chains and take up his yoke, which is easy, and his burden, which is light (Matthew 11:29-30).

So friends, will you please take a moment to listen to the testimonies of these women? Will you take a moment to come to Jesus or to a friend regarding your own sin, which maybe you have tried to push down over the years?

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

This is true. We have an enemy, called the “father of lies,” who is constantly trying to destroy us from the inside out. But we also have a great hope – a great Advocate in Jesus, who is fighting for our freedom.

Did you know Jesus prays for you? He does. Check out John 17:20-23 if you want to see for yourself. And just as Jesus prays for us, we should pray for each other. And be willing to share and confess our sins and struggles to each other. Because freedom is found in confession and repentance and declaring the glory and grace of God in the midst of our deepest darkness and most futile efforts to fix our brokenness. 

I don’t know what you are struggling with. I don’t know what lies are battling for control of your mind and possession of your soul. But I do not that our God is bigger. And that He has called us into marvelous light – out of darkness and out of shame (1 Peter 2:9-10).

I urge you, brothers and sisters, pursue this great God who grants healing and hope to the hopeless and defeated places of our hearts. He is worthy and He is able to turn our stories of pain and shame into testimonies of redemption, grace, and victory. 

I love what Erik said about God’s grace – which is the crux of why we can live as free even though, at one point, we bore the stain of our sin. He said, “Grace does not force us to make much of ourselves. It forces us to make much of our great Savior.”

Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus.

This is my prayer and I invite you to pray this along with me today if you are feeling attacked by the enemy or torn down by the shame of a sin and a burden God is calling you to lay down:

Sweet Jesus, you know the depths of my heart. And you love me the same – which amazes me! Father, your grace ASTOUNDS me. Lord, that you know the weight of my sin and still forgive me and love me and want to journey with me towards complete healing and freedom amazes me. Flood the darkness with your light, precious Redeemer! In the name of Jesus, keep the enemy – the father of lies – far from me. See me and shower me with your Truth and light and love, most Holy God.

Please provide friends and mentors and lovers of God who will help point my eyes to You, precious Lord, and will walk with me in this journey towards hope and healing. Help me, Father, as I continue to step into the light. Give me the courage and boldness to step in obedience and walk the road you have laid before me. Jesus, please grant me the peace and hope that I need in this journey.

Thank you, Lord, thank you for your grace! Thank you for saving a wretch like me! Thank you for freedom and light and life! Grant us grace as the Body of Christ to walk with and love each other with the love of Christ as we walk with each other. Give us the courage to live honestly and to be transparent with each other. Father, we are broken. We have no goodness in and of ourselves. Please help us to see You and to look to you and to live in the light of your Truth. 

You are beautiful, Jesus, and your grace is truly amazing. Thank you, Father, for your love and care for me. Precious Lord, bring freedom into our hearts today. Right now, God, shine into our hearts and lead us out of shame and into healing and hope. For you are worthy of all glory and honor and power, and we believe You can be glorified through even the darkest parts of our stories. Thank you that you are a God who pursues us and desires freedom for us. We praise your name, most High God! Amen.

May we walk in the light as He is in the light. And may we encourage our brothers and sisters who are faithfully walking in boldness and truth and accepting the grace and mercy He so freely gives. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

the secret to staying where the light is: thoughts on shame, guilt, and grace

Today the gloom of the dust-colored sky is as palpable as the heat of my coffee mug, which brings warmth on such a dark, damp day. In contrast, the café at which I presently sit is luminous with its dangling lamps, bright signs, and colorful paintings. On a less cloudy day, the man-made light in this café would seem a cheap imitation of the sun’s rays on the outside of the glass. But on this day, being on the inside of the window means being where the light is. I am on the winning side today.

When I walk into my dark living room at night, the first thing I search for is a trace of light to guide my steps so I can turn on a lamp and shed more light in the room. If there is no light inside, I leave the door cracked so the exterior lights can help me find my way to another light source. When I am anticipating prolonged darkness, I generally carry a flashlight to guide me from one point of light to another.

Though it is a trivial observation, this idea of contrasting light has the gears of my mind turning. When presented with darkness, I always gravitate to the point with the most light. It is my nature to choose sight over blindness. I know that when I walk in the dark, it is easier to stumble over unseen objects. I know that when I venture out into the unknown without any light to guide me, my proclivity to clumsily trip over objects visible in daylight triples when I cannot see them under cover of night.

Yet when I find myself falling into spiritual darkness, rather than running towards the great Light of the world, I tend to shrink back in the shadows of shame, guilt, and regret. I prolong the darkness by my unwillingness to embrace the great Light set before me, choosing, instead, to cling to sin and shame, which not only keep me in bondage to their power, but also make everything else around me seem like a threat to my very existence.

This is contrary to my nature. I am designed to desire sight, life, light, and freedom from fear. But when I become entangled in sin and shame, my vision is warped to see darkness as my comfort rather than my captor.

Children ask for night lights because a hint of light in a dark room dispels the imagination’s notion that every shape is a monster, plotting a silent attack. We use flashlights so that we can see the path before us and avoid obstacles that could cause us to stumble and fall. So why is it that when we drift from God and begin to feel conviction, we often run deeper into the darkness rather than towards the hint of light inviting us to leave the darkness behind?

In Ephesians, we are instructed, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8) But what does it mean to be “light in the Lord?” How can I walk as a child of light when temptation threatens, sin strangles, and the world beckons me deeper into the depths of its depravity? Fortunately, Ephesians does not leave us without further instruction. The writer goes on to say:

“(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,  for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,     

and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

~Ephesians 5:9-14

Here, we are not only told to pursue light over darkness, but we are told that when we do, our lives will bear the fruit of this – “all that is good and right and true.” We are told to EXPOSE the works of darkness rather than engage in them. And guess what? When we expose that which is done in secret, those hidden dark pockets of our lives, that sin loses its power. We know this from Scripture, but I also know this from my own life. For a long time, I allowed myself to be deceived by the darkness and it imprisoned and shamed me and out of guilt and fear, I was driven deeper into the darkness rather than toward the life-given Light our Redeemer offers. When God prompted me to bring it into the light, the stronghold lost its power.

Ephesians 5:15-18 goes on to tell us to make the BEST use of time – cautioning us that we live in evil days. We are called not to be foolish, but to “understand what the will of the Lord is. We are called to “not get drunk with wine” but to be “filled with the Spirit” – choosing the lasting life of God over the empty promises and false fulfillment the world offers.

But it is the last part of this portion of Scripture that really grabbed my attention. We are told we should also be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-21)

So that is it?

To stay in the light means to breathe Scripture into one another’s lives? To sing songs of praise with one another? To lift up a sweet melody of praise not with our words or music, but in our hearts by continually giving thanks ALWAYS – in every circumstance – for EVERYTHING to our Heavenly Father? To submit to each other – perhaps by confessing our sins to one another and keeping each other accountable to revering and treasuring Christ?

Could it really be that simple? That by treasuring Christ, we might continually treasure Christ and therefore, continually stay in the light?

In my moments of retreating to the darkness rather than running into the marvelous light which Christ has set before me, I have elevated my selfish pleasure over the majestic person of Jesus Christ. When we neglect to treasure Christ, we choose instead to hoard the darkness. And we are left feeling empty, afraid, malnourished, and alone. It is only by running to Christ to free us from our prison of darkness that we can know the joy that has been set before us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So where are you these days? Do you find yourself retreating to the darkness of self-indulgence, self-pity, fear, and shame? Or do you desire to cast off the darkness and live as children of light?

I am drawn to these lyrics, by Tammy Trent, and pray that they would also speak to your heart:

Welcome Home My mercy’s waiting
Welcome Home to open arms
There’s no shame in your returning
Though you may have wandered far
Welcome Home.