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Guilty

User Submission: Forgiving the Guilty

The following is a submission from a user like you. Emily shared her incredible story so that it might touch the hearts and lives of our readers. If you would like to share your own story, you can do so here

For as long as I can remember I have always found healing in writing. It’s how I process emotions and a whirlwind of overwhelming situations – situations that seems to weigh so heavy on one’s heart that it shakes their faith to the core.

Because I had many stories with situations like that to share, I began writing my book last September. I had been brainstorming for three years before I actually sat down to write it. More than anything, I wanted to be as honest and as open as I possibly could. It truly was a healing process for me as I reached back into the recesses of my mind to share very personal stories about my life – stories that would glorify my King, Jesus, and point others straight to Him and the miraculous transforming power of salvation, healing, and deliverance.

Although I openly discuss many things that the Lord helped me overcome, mostly sexual sin and rebellion, there is a particular occurrence that strengthened my faith more than anything I could have ever imagined. I find myself needing to talk about it today, knowing deep down in my soul that no matter how dark, tragic, or extremely sad it may be, Jesus has turned beauty from these ashes and will receive glory from it because what the devil meant for evil, the Lord has and will continue to turn around for good!

Last week, I found out that the man who murdered my father five and a half years ago was given a guilty sentence. He will serve up to 45 years in prison as a punishment for his actions.  And while most people are shouting: “That man should burn in hell!” I am preaching, “You MUST forgive!”  because I know the severity of holding onto the wrongs that others have done to us. My friends, it is simply not worth it.

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

Although I made a CHOICE to forgive the man who took my dad’s life right after it happened, I wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts after reading the articles describing the horrendous acts of murder that turned my world upside down in November of 2008. Seeing the photo of this man, as he was escorted by two police officers out of the courtroom, his stone cold eyes looking straight back at me, made my stomach churn. My heart was pierced and so many different emotions rose up in me.

Avoiding traumatic thoughts and emotions was the main reason I chose not to follow the murder case as the years went on. Immediately, I chose to forgive and move on with both my life with Christ and my now husband. I did not want to live in the trauma. It wasn’t that I didn’t love or miss my dad terribly.  It was because dwelling on all of this wicked and demonically influenced tragedy would never bring my dad back.  I knew that justice belonged ONLY in the hands of the Lord.  Most of all, I longed for that man to repent of what he did and find a life-changing relationship with my Jesus like I had found. I still pray for that to this day.

I can’t say that I have found the strength to pray a prayer like this from soley within myself. My strength does come from within though, but it is the power and might of the Holy Spirit who has given it to me. My life verse from the Bible will forever hold true, and I will never stop standing upon the promise of Philippians 4:13: “I can do ALL THINGS through CHRIST who strengthens me.” I’m so thankful for that promise.

Jesus will never abandon me. Although, my earthly father is gone, I have a Heavenly Father who loves me more than anyone could. I cling to Him when the storms of life try to overtake me, for He is my anchor of hope. I cling to and stand upon His Word that is full of promises – promises of His love, mercy, and grace, for He is my Rock and firm foundation. I cling to my Jesus and the voice of His Holy Spirit, for He is the One who gives me strength and courage to endure every trial I could ever face. No matter how dark life may get, know that when you trust in Jesus, and you hide your life in Him, you have a Light within you that shines so brightly it will overtake all of the darkness.

Depression

Christianity and Depression – Part Two: God’s Design

Planning this series, one of the things I wanted to avoid was making depression alone the primary theme running constant throughout; that would be, well, depressing.  So each week these articles will circle around, not to the sad state of one battling depression (or any other pathology for that matter), but will concentrate rather on what can be learned about God and our relationship with Him in light of such things.  Could it be that the dark clouds of suffering are in fact lined with the glistening hope to be found in Jesus?

Could it be that God has a design for suffering?

I believe the answer is yes. Let me explain.

Most of us I’m sure are familiar with the movie Hitch (Sony Pictures, 2005) in which our protagonist (played by Kevin James) solicits help from a professional “date doctor” (played by Will Smith). Through a series of events orchestrated by Alex Hitchens (Smith’s character), Albert eventually is able to woo and win his love interest Allegra. Explaining his actions to Allegra, Hitch describes his process as creating a series of opportunities that make relationships possible.  Asking if she would have noticed Albert at all had he not made those opportunities possible, Alexa has no good answer and eventually concedes that she was grateful for having been led to a relationship in such ways.

Paul describes a similar understanding of the ways God works to lead people into a relationship with Himself through His Son Jesus.  In Acts 17:26-27, Paul preaches to a crowd gathered in the city of Athens:

“and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

In thinking about my life, I now realize that had I not struggled in certain ways, especially with depression, I might never have gone looking for God. Had my life been a bed of roses, with nothing to drive me to my knees seeking God’s mercy, guidance, forgiveness, healing, and joy, I don’t imagine I ever would have got there.  What Paul is telling his Athenian audience, and us, is that the very geographical location and moment in time of your birth, the composition of your physical features, your strengths, weaknesses, and yes, even your hardships, are all meant to be opportunities designed to lead you into an opportunity to form relationship with God. Jesus Himself says as much in John 9 when asked if a certain man was born blind as a punishment for his or his parents’ sins.  Jesus responds in verse 3,

“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Jesus then heals him of his blindness.

At this point you may protest, as Allegra did to Hitch, for being manipulated (especially in such painful ways). I myself certainly am no fan of having to battle clinical depression on my journey to a relationship to God, but I have learned to say with the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 that my,

“momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

In other words, I am willing to endure temporal hardship in this fleeting existence if it means living in eternal paradise with the God who loves me – the one who loves me enough to draw me to Himself by any means necessary. I would rather not forgo or bemoan hardship here and now if it means spending eternity separated from that love.

Think on your own life.  What are some of the ways God has drawn you to Himself that have at first seemed painful but eventually brought you nearer to Him?  Feel free to comment below.

 

Depression

Christianity and Depression – Part One: An Introduction

Through high school and college I experienced brief periods of time I could only describe as “lows.” Days, or even weeks, of despondency and inexplicable exhaustion would prevent me from studying, doing work well, or even leaving my room. I learned to cope pretty well and began to expect these lows about every month. This allowed me to go on functioning at some level – to keep me from completely shutting down. I figured that this was normal for everyone – we all have bad days, right?

As I continued on into adulthood, with all the responsibilities and big life-changes that go along with it, these lows got progressively worse. The stress of getting married, moving, starting jobs, buying houses, doing graduate school, and working in full-time Christian ministry all began to compound until these lows became more and more frequent, longer, and with less time in between. My marriage was in trouble as I communicated less with my wife about what was going on; my ministry was rocky, and my friendships were suffering. Even my physical health began to deteriorate, and I knew that something would have to change.

Fear set in, however, as I mulled over what “seeking help” would look like for someone like me. How could I serve as a full-time minister and church leader with something like this, whatever it was? Would I face judgment? Would I no longer be taken seriously in my ministry role? Would people no longer listen to my counsel if they knew how messed up I was on the inside? Would this mean a career change to a vocation less people-oriented so I wouldn’t have to face these questions, or potentially hurt others inadvertently?

There has long been a stigma in Christianity, and the church, over the topic of depression.

In my observation, I have found that mental health gets tied to our conception of soul-health; so if you feel depressed, there must be some moral or spiritual issue making you that way. It was only recently that psychological sciences even acknowledged a physiological relation between brain chemistry and one’s mental health. So, the church, which historically lags behind science in such ways, will have some catching up to do in this regard.

In spite of my reservations about how people would see me in this new light, I did seek help from professional therapy and medical advice. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and began therapeutic and medical treatment for this disorder about one year ago, and the amazing thing is that it has helped. The best I can describe, the feeling is like something of a fog being lifted from my mind so that I can work, write, minister, and especially relate and communicate to the ones I love. I go on praying and talking with God regularly about healing this supernaturally, but the treatments I am receiving, on a small level, make those prayers possible by giving me the mental acuity required to concentrate on prayer.

I could have chosen to hide this from the people I lead, preach to, and minister to. But, having prayed about it, I felt God telling me that more people might be dealing with the uncertainty of depression in a Christian context and that it would be to their benefit that I be honest about what I myself am going through. It turns out I was right. I have had conversation after conversation with people in my church about their own struggles and it has been a blessing for me to be able to talk with them about our journeys through depression.

Over the next several weeks I will write here about some of what I have discovered while being open and honest about depression as a Christian leader. I have the same hope that my story can be a help and be an encouragement to you whether you face depression or not. If you have any questions you would like addressed more specifically, or if you would like to share your own story, please feel free to comment below.

 

Building Faith Through Brokenness

Building Faith Through Brokenness

As I’ve spent time studying some of the great people in the Bible, I’ve noticed that there are some basic characteristics they all have in common. One of these inescapable traits that, time and time again, makes the “must have’ list is faith. I crave, like many of you, to strive towards greatness, pressing towards my spiritual goals. Therefore, like many, I have days where I feel closer to achieving the ‘mark’ than I do other days. Unfortunately, it is the days where I am least on my game when I come across a verse like this one:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

This small passage is found in Hebrews 11:6, but is sandwiched in with a whole passage that talks about the heroic greats who needed faith to do what God had called them to. People like Moses, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Enoch. While every Christian is likely aware that faith is required on some level to receive God, why then do we think that the practice and growth of faith stops after our spiritual awakening? Faith is a muscle and without a workout program, the muscle stays weak. Just like the physical muscles in our body, our faith wasn’t made to stay unused; it was meant to be pushed, flexed, and grown.

Here’s something fascinating that I learned while studying how people get ‘buff’ at the gym,

“The process of muscle growth is not known for sure, but most theories are based on the idea that lifting breaks down the muscle, and growth results from over-compensating to protect the body from future stress. The human body breaks down and rebuilds all of the muscles every 15 to 30 days. Lifting speeds up the process due to an increased need for fuel. Rebuilding peaks 24 to 36 hours after training and continues at increased rates for as much as 72 hours.”

Muscle growth cannot happen without first allowing the muscles to be broken. If this analogy was treated like a modern day parable, can you see the correlation between working out in the gym and what is needed to build our supernatural faith? Ironically, brokenness is the recipe for strength and when I look at Abraham & see the Father of Nations, I am reminded that he was once a common man just wanting a kid to call him dad. When I marvel at the faith it took Noah to build a massive ark in his backyard, I am prompted to think that there were probably days he wondered if it would ever rain. And when I appreciate Moses’ action of standing before Pharaoh, boldly delivering God’s people, I also have to recall a petrified teenage boy cowardly running away from a crime he committed forever labeling himself murderer, not life-saver. The reality is that all of these heroes were challenged by what God spoke over their lives and how they saw themselves in the natural. The ability to believe God’s voice over their own was what separated them from their past and brought them into the future God was bringing them towards. Brokenness was the component in which God allowed them to grow their spiritual muscles.

Faith is something we can always choose despite what we think or see. Brokenness often doesn’t work that same way. People choose to have faith, but people rarely choose to be broken. Frailty is something that we resist at all costs. However, the bulky man bench-pressing 350 pounds of steel has to have his muscles broken down in order to double in size, just like the average joe. So, what if we used the broken experiences in our lives to develop unthinkable spiritual strength? What if we weren’t afraid of exercising our faith, knowing that it would speed up the process to refuel us spiritually? What if we recognized that it will be impossible to please God without faith and so we actually start shunning our doubts? None of these things are easy, but faith is something that all need. We need it to find God initially and we need it to continue living the life He has set out for us.

 

Soul Anchor

An Anchor For Your Soul

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a week in Aruba for my honeymoon. I was able to enjoy one of the most breathtaking environments imaginable from a small boutique resort right on the Caribbean ocean, with perfect weather, warm water, and of course my beautiful wife. Life was good. In fact, it had never been better. But just a month later, the honeymoon was over, both literally and figuratively. In that short period of time, my life went from an incredible high to an unexpected low.

My wife and I, just weeks after getting married, were planning to move across the country – coast to coast – from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. For those of you not familiar with the Canadian landscape, that’s a trek of over 6,000 kilometres (or almost 4,000 miles, for you Americans still enslaved to the imperial system, haha). But my wife and I viewed it as our first great adventure as a married couple, so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Seven days and 2,500 miles later, we turned around and came back.

While I won’t go into the details, God brought an event into our lives that was personally heartbreaking, financially crippling, and spiritually challenging. The primary reason we were relocating to British Columbia was so I could attend Bible College, as I felt called by God into full-time ministry. So when I was faced with the reality that we would have to turn around and go home to Nova Scotia, I felt lost. I didn’t know what my next step would be. But I knew one thing was for certain: God isn’t just there in the good times, He’s there in the bad times as well.

I’m reminded of this story because this past Sunday I introduced a new song called “Anchor” by Ben Fielding to my church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I’m the Worship Pastor. The song is based on a passage in Hebrews 6 that states:

 “Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”

We’re all going to face challenging times in our lives, whether it’s struggling with the loss of a loved one, being hurt by something that someone has said or done to us, or by reaching a crossroads in our lives and wondering what our next step will be, as I was in my story. But through all of those circumstances, God has promised to be our refuge. He’s our anchor.

On the last day that my wife and I were in Aruba, we took a boat tour of the island. During that two hour or so cruise, I learned two things: 1) Aruba is a truly beautiful place where I’d love to retire someday, and 2) I get seasick. While I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the deck of the boat, taking in the coastal scenery, I was falling victim to the movement of the sea around me. I was never as thrilled as when that boat dropped anchor and I was back on solid ground again. Miraculously, my lunch made it back to shore with me as well.

The picture of a boat dropping anchor is how the author of Hebrews is describing God in our lives. When a boat drops its anchor, it secures itself to a place from which it will not move. Whether in the midst of a storm when a boat requires stabilizing from the elements of the sea, or in a calm harbor when it simply needs to remain secure so it won’t go adrift, the well-being of the boat – and its occupants – is entrusted to the anchor. The same is true of God in our lives. No matter what the circumstance, God will keep us secure in Him. Just as a boat that is not firmly anchored is at the mercy of the sea, if we are not firmly anchored in Christ then we will find ourselves adrift and at the mercy of the circumstances of life.

As Christians, it’s easy to rejoice in the greatness of God when things are going well in our lives. But it’s how we respond in the tough times that truly reflect our relationship with the Father. As John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him, in the midst of loss – not prosperity.” That kind of response is only possible if God is our anchor.

So no matter the circumstances you find yourself in, whether you’re going through the storms of life or you’re in a calm time, remember that in every circumstance you have an anchor for your soul.

 

Pompeii

Pompeii

One of the best parts about being a musician, and a coach of other musicians, is that I get to hear music all day long. Every song, genre, melody, and lyrical phrase rings out as I work through my day. If you find yourself in my office, singing a familiar tune that you heard on the radio, chances are you’ll hear me asking this one pressing question: “What does this song mean to you?” You see, I am a huge believer in the power of words because, without an understanding of what you are trying to communicate a true connection rarely takes place. This is exactly what happened as a young boy came to me with a rather unique anthem – a song called “Pompeii.” Here are some of the words:

And the walls kept tumbling down in the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills, bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

So, what is the meaning of this song? Perhaps, some of you are familiar with the story of Pompeii. If you haven’t heard it, let me give you a brief overview:

Pompeii was a beautiful Roman city. However, during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius the city was destroyed. Some historians estimate that around 20,000 people called this town their home. Can you imagine waking up one morning, going through your normal routine only to hear the earth beneath your feet violently shake until everything you know and love comes to an end? This is a story about loss. This is a story about tragedy. This is a story about the unexpected becoming reality.

If you are reading this today, you are assumedly on solid ground and so, the idea of Pompeii might seem fictional. It would feel very far removed from any personal reality to me as well, except I’ve actually been there. My husband Noah and I walked the streets of the lost city called Pompeii just a few years ago. In fact, it was rather surreal stepping foot in the forsaken ghost-town! No noises can be heard, no business is being conducted, no culture is being created because…. no one lives in this city anymore.

Now, for those of you wondering how the city of Pompeii ties into your spirituality…let me explain. Destruction is all around us. Even if you claim to live in a safe neighborhood with white-picket fences, evil can come at any point like a thief in the night. It is a terrible reality and the Bible clearly tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Yet, to anyone who has suffered loss, of any kind, you have probably learned that life is full of Pompeii moments – moments where life caves in on you and you are left sorting through the rubble of what used to be. In these fragile moments, God can become your dearest friend or your worst enemy. You can blame God for the heartache that occurred or cling to Him as the only remaining hope. In all honesty, I have done both. The reality is still the same regardless of what path you choose, but the long term effect of choosing faith, or bitterness, can be more damaging than the initial disaster. Perhaps you can relate to the story and song of Pompeii in a metaphorical sense – the thing you loved is gone (a person, a dream, a personal item, etc.) – the life you built is turning out to be full of unexpected twists and turns. Your optimism has been replaced with fear, depression, or unbearable pain. God sees where you are and He wants to meet you in the middle of the collision with His perfect grace. This doesn’t mean that your “Pompeii” is magically fixed overnight, but it does mean that you have the choice to rebuild.

The saddest part of the historical Pompeii story is the city was never given a new beginning. Hundreds of years later, you can walk the streets and feel the forsaken heartbreak of a once vibrant place. Our lives, sometimes, remain incomplete for years too just like Pompeii. Perhaps some Roman people set out to recapture the spirit of Pompeii, but seeing all that was lost in one single day was more than they were prepared to face. Maybe your life seems to be carrying that same fate – you have the best intentions but a poor outcome. God’s heart is breaking for you beyond what you can imagine because He has come to give you life, abundantly. It would be like hundreds of laborers ready to work and all the money, in cash, needed to rebuild Pompeii was just waiting to be claimed but no one ever came to collect.

Don’t allow your pain to define you. God wants you to come and collect on the ‘more’ that He has in store for you. Here is a great verse to commit to memory, “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43: 18-19) Whatever your “Pompeii” day was – God is bigger and you are not a lost city to Him. My prayer for you is that your “Pompeii” marks the start of something new, something beautiful, and something worth reconstructing.