The Cave of Depression

Text: Psalm 142:1-7, 1 John 5:1-5

“When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” —Psalm 142:3

At 15-years old, I found myself in a cave of utter depression. The feelings of helplessness and purposelessness caused me to lose all hope, as I inevitably became a prisoner of impulse. I came to a place where I didn’t want to live any longer. A desperate suicide attempt left me in a Baltimore intensive care unit for many days. I survived, undoubtedly, only by the mercy of God—and even though I found a new hope in Christ a year later while locked up in a juvenile center, the depression didn’t go away over night. I battled with it for many years.

Many who wrestle with depression often feel alone in their struggle. I certainly did. More than three decades later, I’ve often thought of what I would say if I were to write a letter to that suicidal 15-year old self. What might I say? Would it be received? Could I convince that hurting and despairing kid that there truly is a “living hope” and that overcoming stories are REAL? (1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 5:4-5)

I can’t say for sure, but one thing I do know: if it were not for the grace of God, I would’ve never lived to see so many redemption stories in my life—including marrying an amazing woman and fathering three children who flood my heart with pride and joy every day. We have heard countless testimonies of readers who have found healing and renewed hope from my book, 13 Foot Coffins, as well as stories of young people who have overcome unimaginable despair through the ministry of Breakaway Outreach.

One of the aspects of the Bible that has always comforted me is the fact that it is filled not only with the overcoming narrative, but also with the transparency of the struggle.

Joseph was unjustly imprisoned before becoming second in command over Egypt. He appeared to be forgotten for a season. Moses was in an obscure desert place for forty years before leading Israel out of slavery. Rahab was stuck in a dignity-robbing prostitution ring before finding her redemptive place in Christ’s genealogy. Jeremiah had a lonely pit. Daniel was surrounded by flesh-eating lions. Esther dealt with the trauma of being orphaned before she became a saving queen. Even Jesus had his wilderness to overcome.

In Psalm 142, David is in a cave. A narcissistic madman is hunting his life. Like the spiritual enemy of every child of God, this dignity-thief has come to steal, kill, and destroy. David is lonely—“there is none who takes notice of me… no one cares for my soul” (v.4). He feels cornered and powerless. His spirit faints. He is separated from every form of dependence, until all that is left is God himself. He is broken down in order to be built up. The cave is not the end for David, it’s just part of the process—a few years later he will be dancing immodestly and unembarrassingly in the streets of Jerusalem, celebrating all that God has done to redeem this story and establish his kingdom. (2 Samuel 6:12-15)

David’s vulnerability in the cave reminds us that the struggle is real, but that’s what makes his dancing so special. He doesn’t dance that way if you take the cave out of the story. God must’ve seemed idle to David while he was in the cave. The silence alone was vexing. But the story didn’t end there. Neither does yours!

A celebration is coming, my friend. A victory is looming. It is inevitable! The struggle is real, but so is the overcoming life. Through Christ’s redemption, we will all one day be able to sing, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11)

PRAYER

God, help us to be reminded that you have never—ever—left any of your children in the cave. You’ve never abandoned your own. Remind us that our dance is surely coming—and it will be glorious and shameless in your presence. For you will deal bountifully with your children. This I believe, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How would you describe some of the cave experiences in your life?
  2. What would you say is the main theme of David’s prayer? (Psalm 142)
  3. How did David feel about his own ability to save himself? (v.6)
  4. How did David promise to respond to God’s deliverance? (v.7)
  5. In what specific areas of your life could you depend on the Lord more?

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Help My Unbelief!

Text: Mark 9:14-29 

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” —Mark 9:24

Every year, Breakaway Outreach facilitates a summer camp for under-served children and youth facing adversity in East Tennessee. This year’s Bible theme centers on the book of Exodus and the leadership of Moses. In one of our small group discussions, a leader used a soft sponge and a hard rock to contrast the difference between hearts that are sensitive to God and those that are calloused, stimulating an interesting response from one of our campers.

“S” is a camper whose mother is in prison. She’s been dealt a pretty difficult hand early in life—a hand I believe she is going to play with great resilience, to overcome the odds stacked against her. She took the sponge from the object lesson, wrapped it around the rock and told the group leader:

“Sometimes God wraps His love around our hard hearts.”

In Mark 9, a troubled father appears to be dealing with a heart crisis. His son had been seized by an unclean spirit, which left him mute. He asked the disciples of Jesus to cast it out though they were unsuccessful. Then Jesus came down from the mountain and the man pleads with him, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and uttered one of the most authentic prayers of the Bible: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The man seemed unsure if this miracle worker could do anything to help his son, but according to Jesus’ response, the “if” wasn’t contingent to what Jesus could do, the “if” was conditional to the man’s faith. The distressed father was challenged by Jesus’ appeal for faith. He had his beliefs and doubts, and what made his prayer so authentic is that he acknowledged them both. Thus he ruefully pleads with Jesus: I believe; help my unbelief! Jesus answered and the boy was healed.

A prayer of faith isn’t necessarily one void of fear or unbelief, but one that knows what to do with these crippling feelings. Sometimes the most powerful prayers of faith are those that, despite being mixed with feelings of trepidation, express trust in a God Who isn’t intimidated by our weaknesses—a God Who is fully capable of helping our unbelief.

“Help my unbelief” is something a person can only say by faith. As Charles Spurgeon said:

“While men have no faith, they are unconscious of their unbelief; but, as soon as they get a little faith, then they begin to be conscious of the greatness of their unbelief.”

It’s comforting to know that we don’t have to cloak our weaknesses when we are with God in prayer. It’s when we are transparent about those weaknesses that God wraps Himself around those places in our hearts that are getting jaded by our doubts and unbelief. Help my unbelief is a prayer we can all pray when it feels like our hearts are getting a little stony.

Think about that as you abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, help us to remember that the most powerful prayers are free of masquerades. We don’t have to pretend that our weaknesses, doubts, or fears don’t exist. We can boldly bring them to you and cry out in our time of need: Lord, help my unbelief! Teach us how to pray authentically like the man in this story prayed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When was the last time you were overcome by feelings of inadequacy?
  2. Why were the disciples unable to cast the demon out of the boy? (Mark 9:18-19, 28-29)
  3. How should we pray when we feel inadequate?
  4. In what ways has God helped you to overcome unbelief in the past?
  5. Why do you think it is important to God that we pray authentically, and not with masquerading or long and pretentious words? (Matthew 6:5-8)

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Are You Stuck in a “Shame” Narrative?

Text: John 8:1-11, Mark 7:1-9

“Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” —Isaiah 2:22

After the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, analysts have been in constant debate about LeBron James’ legacy. The sports gurus love to argue over who is the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Former NBA player Kobe Bryant had some advice for LeBron, whose team lost in the Finals for the third time in four years:

“You got to figure out a way to win. It’s not about narrative. You want to win championships, you just gotta figure it out.”

While winning championships assuredly includes a lot more factors than just figuring out a way to win, Kobe is on to something about the subject of narrative. Though the narrative is what analysts, commentators, and sports fans thrive on from the television studio to the water cooler, it will always be subjective. It’s never the final word.

In the realm of politics, pundits try to control the narrative to advance their own agenda. This was no different with the party of the Pharisees back in the first century. In their self-righteous sanctity, they brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. The narrative is about shame and condemnation. But Jesus silences the morality analysts by saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After they all walk away and the woman is left alone, Jesus tells her to leave the shame narrative behind, saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:1-11).

In another chance encounter with those pesky scribes and finger-pointing Pharisees, Jesus’ disciples are scathed for eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-9). The tradition analysts go crazy. These legalists shape the narrative to smear and degrade the disciples. But Jesus rebukes them, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The disciples learn a valuable lesson—it’s not about the outward “appearances” narrative so often propagated by the religious elite; it’s about the inward condition of the heart.

It’s not about narrative. The narrative might be the stuff people love to talk about, but it’s typically biased and superficial. It fuels preconceived notions, the misreading of others, false judgments, and gossip; it leads to divisiveness, strife, and contentions. It also leads to the fear of man, especially when we long for the narrative about our personhood to be esteemed, or liked.

Whether it’s been one of defeat, disappointment, failure, embarrassment, shame, or smear, Isaiah has a firm admonishment for those stuck in the narrative: “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22)

Jesus doesn’t want us worrying about the human narrative. He doesn’t want us consumed with what others are saying or thinking about us. He wants the unfettered devotion of our heart focused on Him. Craving human praise is a cistern that can never hold water. So we don’t play to the applause or chagrin of others. We don’t play to be liked, celebrated, or applauded at the human level. We play for the pleasure of One—the glory of our coming King. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him,” says Paul (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, your word tells us that the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Teach us to focus less on the narrative of man, and more on the glory of our Creator. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Help us to live and serve for Your pleasure above all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Why do we like to debate who is the greatest this or that?
  2. What kind of narratives have you found yourself stuck in at times?
  3. Why do you think Jesus freely associated with so many people of scandalous reputations, knowing it didn’t fit the Pharisees’ narrative?
  4. In what ways does the fear of man lay a snare? (Proverbs 29:25)
  5. What can you do this week to help someone else break free from a “shame” narrative in his or her life?

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God’s Enduring Word, Unfailing Love

Text: Isaiah 40:1-8

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” —Isaiah 40:8

They referred to it as “miraculous,” and “divine intervention”—after a driver and his Bible survived a fiery car crash on State Route 385 in Memphis, Tennessee. A Jeep Laredo veered off the road after being swiped by another vehicle, then crashed into a metal post and burst into flames. Several good Samaritans came to the rescue, pulling the trapped driver from the vehicle just before it exploded. Later, a Bible was recovered from the car, unscathed by the fire and ashes, though the car ended up a total loss.

Anita Irby, witness to the crash, wrote “I just saw GOD on 385… I’m always in (awe) of his wonders but today just blew my mind.”

Isaiah 40 offers great comfort for God’s people. We are assured, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (v.5), and though the natural elements may wither and fade, “the word of our God will stand forever” (v.8). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

God’s Word can be trusted because God’s Word has been tested—over and over again throughout the annals of history. Bernard Ramm noted:

“A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, and committal read. But somehow the corpse never stays put.”

In contrast to the frailty and fleeting glory of man, the word of our God stands forever—His glory untouchable. His enduring Word assures us of His unfailing love. No man can thwart God’s imperishable Word just as no sinner can extinguish His unrelenting love—it’s what theologians refer to as God’s immutability.

As we face fiery trials, we can lean into the unchanging nature of God. We can trust Him in times of distress. God will never abandon us to our circumstances; therefore our heart song can rise to the tune of hope—one of endless praise to His glory, because “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). His DNA is in you!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your Word. Thank You for its truth, its timelessness, and the guidance You give us by that Word. Help us believe and trust everything You speak into our circumstances. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Have you ever witnessed a miracle? Explain.
  2. When have you ever endured a situation you didn’t think you would? What did that produce in you?
  3. In what ways do you think people are weak, weary, or fatigued today?
  4. How can meditating on the immutable nature of God be comforting and sustaining?
  5. Which of Isaiah’s portrayals of God’s power over nature speaks most clearly to you?

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Remembering Your Position

Text: Ephesians 1:1-14

“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” —Ephesians 1:4

We live in a world where it is all too easy to lose sight of our target. The whirlwind can be disorienting—the mad rush, the unexpected trials, the political upheaval, the moral decay, the culture wars. It’s overwhelming and fatiguing at times. Consequently, spiritual disorientation is something that affects many a Christian in this hour. Sometimes we just have to stop and remind ourselves who we are, even when where we are spells chaos.

A Navy instructor taught his soldiers,

“If you ever lose sight of the target, just remember your position.”

I like that and it reminds me of Paul’s encouragement to believers in Ephesus. In a day when many were staggering back and forth at the subtlety of false doctrines and worldly pressure, the apostle urged Christ followers to mature in their understanding of who God declared them to be.

His words remind us that we have been chosen before the foundation of the world, to live holy and blameless lives before God (Ephesians 1:4). There is nothing random or capricious about your existence—you were predestined to be “adopted” into God’s family (v.5). In Christ you have “redemption through his blood,” the forgiveness of trespasses. Oh and by the way, your future looks pretty bright—obtaining an eternal “inheritance” (v.11) with a retirement plan that is out of this world!

This all because of redemption, which always implies a price being paid for the freedom that is purchased. The passage uses the ancient Greek word lootruo, which means, “to liberate on the receipt of a ransom.” The ransom price is His blood. God chose you for a purpose, and then He did all that was required for your justification, to position you to accomplish that purpose. We aren’t adopted because we’re good enough, we’re adopted because Jesus’ blood was enough! It is Jesus’ blood and God’s grace alone that makes us acceptable to God.

So that we don’t lose our way in this present chaos, He has “sealed” us with the promised Holy Spirit (v.13). The term used here means “to mark” with a seal or a stamp. When we surrender our lives to Christ, God stamps us with the Holy Spirit, who is our “guarantee,” or down payment, for what is to come. God branded us as His own, and that seal, or mark, is the promise (down payment) of our inheritance that is to come when He finally completes His redemption of the purchased possession that is in us.

God has already positioned us in Christ, and the Holy Spirit inside of us is not just a perpetual reminder that there is more to this life than what is temporal, it’s the very presence of God Himself, granting us the power to overcome the madness of this age. That power is the same measure used to raise Jesus from the dead.

Disorientation doesn’t have to paralyze me. I don’t need to understand everything that I am presently going through as much as I need to be reminded who I am in Christ. When I lose sight of the target, I can remember my position.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for thinking about me before the foundations of this world ever existed. Your plan for redemption is both humbling and marvelous. Holy Spirit, help me to live in the reality of your presence this week, ever conscious of my adoption in Christ and my glorious inheritance in the kingdom of God—to the praise of His glory! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How would you describe the target of your life? When have you felt like you were hitting the mark? Missing the mark?
  2. Why do you think so many people are confused about their identity today? What cultural undercurrents can keep us from finding our true identity in God’s family?
  3. What is the purpose of God’s spiritual adoption in your life? (Ephesians 1:4) What is the goal of that adoption? (v.6)
  4. What is God’s plan for “the fullness of time”? (v.10) How should that affect how we live today?
  5. In what ways can being reminded of your position (adoption and inheritance) sustain you when trials have disoriented you?

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Jesus Doesn’t Negotiate With Spiritual Terrorists

Text: Mark 1:21-28

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” —Colossians 1:13

Some time ago, I was on an airplane when two children were getting quite rowdy. Their mother spoke in French as she tried to get them to settle down, to no avail. Then the mother finally snapped. She said one word in her native tongue and all of a sudden those kids dropped everything, sat up straight, and acted civil for the rest of the flight. That mom’s authority was not to be trifled with! “I’ve got to learn more French,” I thought to myself. To this day I have no idea what that French word was, but as an envious parent, I long to know this mystery. I’d love to have that tool in my parenting toolbox!

People were often “astonished” with Jesus because “he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:21-28).

Early on in His ministry, Jesus visited a synagogue and was teaching, when a man with an evil spirit began crying out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The demon itself testified of Christ’s deity, perhaps wishing to garner a continued audience with Jesus in an effort to further oppress the man and delay any exorcism. Let’s not understate the response. Jesus immediately rebuked the unclean spirit, “Checking his insolence, despising his flattery, and refusing to receive a testimony from him; and which he wanted not, lest it should be thought he had a familiarity and confederacy with him,” noted John Gills. In other words, Jesus doesn’t negotiate with spiritual terrorists.

“Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus swiftly commands.

Convulsing and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of the man. The people were all amazed, questioning among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” The fame of Jesus then spread throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Jesus taught with authority because, as the Son of the living God, He had been sent to Earth with authority from the Father (Matthew 11:27, John 3:31-35). He demonstrated this authority in the miracles He performed and the demons He cast out. This authority was illustrated in how the angels served Him (Matthew 4:11). This authority was on display when He announced the presence of the kingdom of God and commanded men to repent and believe (Matthew 4:17). It was highlighted when Jesus commissioned His followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). The name of Jesus has such authority that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10). This same Jesus is for you and not against you.

Jesus has no confederacy with that which seeks our demise. He doesn’t even entertain a conversation where the dialogue is intent on disgracing us. He doesn’t negotiate with spiritual terrorists! And there is nothing in our past, present, or future that is left untouched by His authority. When unclean spirits try to condemn us, the cross speaks a different language. When shame tries to hijack the narrative of our lives, the authority of His blood tells a different story. When feelings of doubt, despair, anxiety, or uncertainty press us to shrink back in fear, the indwelling Holy Spirit reminds us that we are not left to ourselves in this world of struggle (John 14:16-18).

Oh, Your love bled for me
Oh, Your blood in crimson streams
Oh, Your death is hell’s defeat
A cross meant to kill is my victory
—Crowder

We have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His authority. Jesus will never, ever entertain a conversation involving your condemnation with those unclean spirits from the other side.

Take comfort in His authority as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the victory you have given your children over the influences of darkness. Thank you that Jesus makes no confederacy with those unclean spirits that would seek my demise, but rather rebukes them. May the authority of Jesus Christ and His redemption song resound over everything in my life this week. In His name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you had the authority to rid the world of one evil, what would it be?
  2. Why were the people in the synagogue amazed at Jesus’ teaching?
  3. What do the unclean spirit’s words reveal about Jesus? (Mark 1:24)
  4. What area of your life do you need to surrender to the authority of Jesus?
  5. What is one way you can show submission to Christ’s authority in your life this week?

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Zacchaeus: Only a Momma’s Love

Text: Luke 19:1-10

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” —Matthew 9:12

One day, a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes when she noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast to her brunette head. She inquisitively asked, “Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?” Her mother replied, “Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white.” The little girl thought about this revelation for a while and then asked, “Momma, how come all of Grandma’s hairs are white?”

Oh the bliss of parenting! Perhaps nothing teaches us more about unconditional love than caring for the ones we were responsible for bringing into this world.

Kate Samperi said,

“Before becoming a mother I had a hundred theories on how to bring up children. Now I have seven children and only one theory: Love them, especially when they least deserve to be loved.”

You’ve heard the expression “a face only a mother could love.” Well, Zacchaeus was the kind of person that only a mother could love (Luke 19:1-10). He was a corrupt, much hated tax collector. People in his profession were despised not only by the Romans, but also their countrymen. Their own people hated Jewish tax collectors like Zacchaeus because they were known for cheating the taxpayers, plus they worked for Rome—traitors to their own people. They were esteemed as collaborators with the enemy.

When Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, it changed everything. As Jesus dined with the tax collector, the crowds grumbled. They were disgusted that Jesus would associate himself with such a man—a despicable “sinner.” But this story shows how God loves those unpleasant, unlovable people whom we tend to write off as hopeless. Zacchaeus is blown away by this expression of unconditional love by the Savior. The transformation of his heart is visible in the way he shows repentance, paying back restitution fourfold to all those he had cheated.

Jesus cheerfully proclaimed that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house. In response to those who murmured from a distance, He says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Elsewhere Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12).

Jesus told His followers to love others “as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Not always an easy thing to do. Yet this is what our hope lies on—that God loves the sinner, of which I am. Aren’t you glad that God loved you when you were unlovable? Aren’t you glad that God looked beyond your faults and saw your need? None of us are worthy of salvation when Jesus meets us on life’s jarring road. Yet, His love breaks through all those voices that scream, “ugly, unloved, and unwanted”—and He dines with us at the table of acceptance.

If you’ve experienced unconditional love, where will you share it with the world? Think about it as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for breaking through all those voices of condemnation. Your love broke through even when I didn’t deserve it. You brought me to your table of forgiveness and acceptance. I pray You teach me how to love others with the same measure of love that I have received. Help me to be merciful, as I have received mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Who are the most despised people in our society today?
  2. What does the story of Zacchaeus teach us about how we view unpleasant people?
  3. What do the actions of Zacchaeus reveal about the power of God to change hearts?
  4. How can we guard our hearts from becoming judgmental of others?
  5. Where can you demonstrate unconditional love this week?

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Knowing How to Fall

Text: Genesis 3:1-20

“If they fall, they will not stay down, because the LORD will help them up.” —Psalm 37:24 (GTS)

Having a daughter who did competitive gymnastics for eight years and another daughter who is riding horses, we are familiar with the concept of knowing how to fall. How to fall safely is one of the first things they teach you in gymnastics, horseback riding, and other activities involving the propensity for high impact injuries. Learning how to fall the right way can be the difference between resilience and prolonged injury.

We all experience falls and failures. Life has a way of throwing us off the horse at times. The question is: Do we know how to fall?

Falling is no strange concept to the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, we see two patterns being repeated over and over again in the unfolding drama of creation and redemption. Though the human characters may change, the cultural contexts may shift, and the scenes may vary, these two consistencies are always part of the narrative: (1) people fall, (2) God rescues.

Scripture reminds us: “The Lord upholds all who are falling” and “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Psalm 145:14, Proverbs 24:16). After the prophet Micah saw the Assyrians destroy the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, he boldly states: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me.”

God wants us to know how to handle a fall.

Genesis 3 describes “The Fall” in which Adam and Eve were enticed into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden. They didn’t know how to fall. That is, they didn’t understand how to own their sin and deal with their failure. Instead, the shame from falling caused them to run and hide from their Creator. Pride kept them from owning any personal wrongdoing as they sought to shift blame on each other (or the devil). Their guilt led them to sew fig leaves together in an attempt to deal with the problem on their own terms rather than God’s terms. But eventually they had to come to God on His terms to get back up again. And God re-clothed them in His righteousness (Genesis 3:20) as opposed to their humanistic fig leaves.

Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and “fall” short of the glory of God. We are all in this category. God doesn’t want us to pretend we haven’t sinned. He wants us to own it, confess it, and deal with it on His terms. Jesus took the fall for us when he hung on Calvary’s cross. He shed His blood in our place. He took the punishment for every sin we’ve ever committed. He buried it in the grave and rose again so that we don’t have to carry the guilt and shame of our fall. Now, we can be clothed in His righteousness through godly repentance.

Learning how to fall into the arms of grace is essential to our spiritual victory. When the enemy points to your failure, point him to an empty tomb. It’s the scariest picture for the enemy of your soul because it reminds him that just like Jesus, you will indeed rise again—in His clothing, with not a hint of condemnation (Romans 8:1).

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, you love me no less when I fall. You love me so much that you sent Jesus to take my fall, and all the shame and guilt that came with it. I confess my sin to you, acknowledging there is nothing in me righteous enough to merit your favor. In Christ’s righteousness alone am I clothed. In His blood alone am I forgiven. In Him alone do I rise. Thank you for loving me despite my fall. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What is the hardest fall you’ve ever experienced, literally or spiritually?
  2. In what ways can shame and guilt skew our understanding of God?
  3. What does Satan hope to achieve by tempting us? (1 Peter 5:8, John 10:10)
  4. What should we do if we fall when tempted? (1 John 2:1, Hebrews 4:15-16)
  5. What would it look like for you to be “clothed” in the righteousness of Christ this week?

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Peace in Crisis (Hero Southwest Airlines Pilot)

Text: Mark 4:35-41

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way.” —2 Thessalonians 3:16

Many are saying she had “nerves of steel,” marveling at her composure during a midair crisis. Tammie Jo Shults, a follower of Christ, is the Southwest Airlines pilot who managed to safely land a torn up commercial airplane when one of the engines blew shortly after take off. The explosion blew out a window, killing a passenger. Then Shults, one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy for F-18 fighter jets, was able to land the damaged aircraft 30 minutes later. She is being hailed a hero after saving the lives of the other 143 passengers onboard. “God sent his angels to watch over us,” said one thankful passenger.

Shults, a graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University, once said that sitting in the captain’s chair gives her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.” MNU Director of Alumni Kevin Garber chimed, “Her strong faith combined with her tenacity and persistence kept her calm in the face of a terrifying situation.”

It’s not always easy to stay calm under pressure. There’s a familiar line in Rudyard Kipling’s poem that reads, “If you can keep your head when all about you men are losing theirs…then you will be a man my son.”

In Mark 4, we see the disciples in the midst of a vicious windstorm. The furious squall is threatening their very lives. As waves break over the bow of the boat, where do we find Jesus? Asleep on a cushion in the stern! The disciples are unnerved. Perhaps you can identify with them here. Maybe there’s been a time in your life when you felt Jesus was sleeping through your peril. Why is Jesus doing nothing when I am in so much duress? Shouldn’t He be as frantic about this situation as I am? Doesn’t God care? Is He insensitive to my plight?

The frenetic disciples awakened him, crying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased. There was a great calm, when Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

I believe that one of the greatest witnesses to our faith is seen in how we handle pressure situations. How we manage a crisis will reveal a whole lot more about what we truly believe than the anecdotes on our social media profiles.

Jesus wants us to have courage and calm in the storm. In John 16:33, he says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” If we truly believe that Jesus has already overcome anything we face, His words will affect the way we navigate through the stress.

James, the Lord’s brother, offers some great advice for those trying to navigate through perilous times. He reminds us that God has a bigger-than-life purpose for allowing trials and troubles. They make us “mature and complete” (James 1:4). The Greek word James uses in this text for “perseverance” (James 1:3) is hupomeno, derived from two Greek words: hupo (under) and meno (remain). For us to experience God’s refining purposes in our lives, we need to remain steadfast while under pressure.

Those disciples must’ve learned something from Jesus in the boat that night, because we see them later looking more like Jesus when faced with a crisis. In Acts 12, Herod laid violent hands on some of the early church leaders. He killed James, the brother of John, and had Peter arrested and thrown into prison. With his life in jeopardy and future uncertain, what do we find Peter doing?

He is sleeping.

Yep, Acts 12:6 tells us the night before Peter was to face trial, “he was asleep,” fastened with chains between two soldiers. He doesn’t know what comes next. He doesn’t have any control over this situation. And here we see Peter looking just like Jesus did during that dangerous storm back in Mark 4. The disciple has matured. He is facing life with that kind of peace that Jesus promised—real peace!

That peace is always afforded to you, Beloved. Whatever you may be facing today, face it by leaning into the promises of God. Your past is redeemed. Your present is in His grip. Your future is secure. You might as well look more like Jesus going through the storm.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the peace that surpasses understanding. We can’t explain it, but we can surely attain it. It’s the peace you offer every one of your children. Help us to know that peace in whatever life may bring. Give us that DNA of Jesus to face the crisis with composure. For your glory, and in your grace, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How do you tend to handle stress? Do you thrive, panic, numb it with something, hide, etc.?
  2. What complaint did the disciples have about Jesus (Mark 4:38)? Have you ever felt this way?
  3. How had God helped you handle your fears and frustrations during difficult times?
  4. In what area of your life is faith lacking?
  5. In what ways can you lean more into the power and authority of Jesus this week?

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The Illusion of Control

Text: Joshua 5:13-15

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” —Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

My first child was born two weeks before 9/11. As we watched those fateful events unfold in our nation that day, I remember feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety about this new venture called parenthood. I looked down at that little tiny life in my arms and fretted over the kind of world that she would grow up in. I became overwhelmed at the thought of ensuring that nothing bad would ever happen to her. I needed to protect her. I needed to be in control of circumstances and be able to manage the future, so that every outcome would be entirely—safe.

I learned quickly that parenthood brings with it an enormous weight of responsibility to protect, provide for, and nurture. What I didn’t learn so quickly was that my quest to be in control of the future was nothing more than an illusion. Sure, there would be many sensible things that I could control in setting my kids up for success, but so much of life’s unfolding drama would be beyond the grip of my control.

It can be a haunting feeling for many of us to not be in control—especially those of us who feel the incessant pressure to fix everything for those we love. Truth is, sometimes we just can’t fix the brokenness of life, or the madness of this world. As much as we’d love to be in control, it’s a mere fallacy.

That reality doesn’t have to be haunting for us. In many ways, it can be very liberating to let go of the illusion of control. Such was the case for Joshua when faced with a challenge greater than his ability to overcome. Joshua became the leader of the Israelite tribes after the death of Moses, and was responsible for leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Standing in his way is the mighty city of Jericho, with seemingly impenetrable walls. This general finds himself under-resourced and ill equipped to take such a fortress by human accounts. Victory won’t come from mustering up enough will power or digging down for more grit—it comes from a place called surrender.

The passage says that when Joshua was by Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15), he lifted up his eyes and saw a man standing before him “with a drawn sword in hand”—clearly a militant posture of readiness. A man with a sword in his hand is usually prepared to use it. He’s ready for a fight! Joshua went to him and said, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” And he said, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” This is an “aha!” moment for the general. It’s a theophany—a visible manifestation of none other than God himself, and the drawn sword is not just the sign of impending victory, it’s the demonstration that God alone is in control of the affairs. It’s an expression of His sovereignty.

Joshua’s response is the only kind appropriate for such a revelation: “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped,” conceding himself in a posture of—surrender (Joshua 5:14). Then Joshua gets some very unorthodox instructions from God about how to approach the problem—things like marching around walls for seven days, blowing loud trumpets, shouting, and watching walls inexplicably fall down!

Right now, you might be in a place like that Old Testament general at Jericho, where God has brought you face-to-face with something bigger than you are so that you could come face-to-face with Him. Maybe it’s time to relinquish that illusion of control, that fallacy of being the general in your own universe, and give it all up to God. Maybe it’s time to surrender. Maybe it’s time to get out of the way and let God take charge. Maybe it’s time for real worship—that which yields ourselves in utter reliance and absolute dependence upon Him for everything concerning our past, present, and future.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that I am not giving you control. I can’t give you something I never had to begin with. I surrender my illusions of control—the fallacy of thinking that I ever was in control. Forgive me for trying to be the general in my own universe. I give back to you what is rightfully yours—Lordship over everything in my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Do you enjoy thrill rides in which you have no control? Why or why not?
  2. When has something in life scared you because it was beyond your control?
  3. When have you experienced a peace that comes with giving up the illusion of control?
  4. In the context of Joshua’s encounter, how would you define the word worship?
  5. Is there an area of your life that God has revealed that you need to surrender?

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