Dark Night of the Soul

 It's been called many things: dark night of the soul, crisis of faith, time of doubt. If you've followed Jesus for any length of time, you will face it sooner or later.

Many who find themselves in such a crisis, panic. "This can't be right! Something's wrong with me! Surely a real Christian wouldn't feel this way."

If you've already faced yours or if it is still to come, let me give you some encouragement. You're in very good company.

Consider a guy named John, from a middle eastern country. Sold out for Jesus. Preaching, teaching, leading others to Christ. He shrugs off the insults, the loneliness, and the fact that few really understand his passion. He gets by on little, and is not afraid to take on the big shots when it is right to do so. He doesn't cower from confrontation because he knows his Lord is proud of him. He is living out his life's mission and he is fulfilled.

Then crisis hits. He is arrested, thrown into prison on trumped up charges, and denied due process. They are talking execution and he feels forgotten by everyone, including God. His entire life has been dedicated to the glory of God, but now, in his dark night of the soul, he begins to question.

Was it all worth it? Was Jesus really who he said he was? Had he been a fool?

Jesus had once said of John the Baptist that there was "no one greater." (Matt. 11:11) But there he sat in prison. Alone. Afraid. And the doubts crowded in. 

John sent messengers to Jesus just to check. "Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?" (Matt. 11:3) 

Where had such a question come from? John had baptized Jesus himself. He had seen the Spirit of God descend upon him like a dove. He had heard of the miracles and proclaimed from his own mouth that Jesus was "the lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world." (John 1:29)

Yet, when his own world caved in, the doubts came. They were as real to him as they are to us. When God doesn't seem to make sense, when life does not go as we were certain it would, when we cry out to God and all we hear is silence...the questions come.

Was it all worth it? Is this real or have I been a fool? 

Jesus' answer to John the Baptist is a model for us. He could have rushed to the prison, assured John he was really God, pumped him up. Or he could have blinded the guards and walked him out of there.

He did nothing like that. He simply sent a message that only a man like John would fully comprehend. It was a message that would warm him at night, would dispel any lingering doubts, and would stay with him long after the memory of any visit grew cold.

He said, "You tell John what you have seen and heard." Then he began to paraphrase a messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61. Every good Jew knew that this passage was the litmus test for anyone claiming to be the Messiah--and there had been many. Jesus was the only one who has ever fulfilled it.

When we cry out for hope in the middle of our dark night, we don't need quick answers. We don't need another book by Dr. Feel-Good about how God wants to prosper us. We don't need a sermon on faith or the well-intended urging of friends who don't understand. What we need is to take a step back and consider the whole picture. 

If I turn my back on God now, what will that mean for the rest of my life? Who else offers hope like he does? If I decide Jesus is not worth it, then who is? The facts won't just go away because they doesn't fit my current circumstances. Jesus is. He lived. He is real and I have to decide once and for all who he is to me. Is he my Lord, or am I going to wait for someone else?

When Jesus pointed out to John that he was fulfilling everything predicted about the Messiah, John's heart could rest. He knew now. Regardless of what was going on in his life, he knew. And that knowledge warmed him like nothing else could. He had been right. He was still right. And it would all be okay. Jesus was here.

When you enter your dark night of the soul, it can be hard to hang on to faith, to the goodness of God, to everything you thought you believed. Maybe what you believed needs to be altered to fit the reality of God. Those dark nights are not wasted. Dark nights deepen faith. They shred shallow belief-ism, carnal head knowledge, and fictional ideas of who God is. They create space for the Holy Spirit by ridding our hearts of all its other gods.

If you're going through your crisis of faith, listen to Jesus' answer to his cousin John. "...the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor."

When we cry out from our pit of pain, "Jesus, are you there? Are you real? Are you enough?"

His answer to John is his answer to us: "I AM."


You're Doubting Me?

Your new friend identifies herself as a vegan. She proudly displays her literature  and carries a membership card for the Vegan Society.

But every time you go out to dinner, she orders meat. Steak for dinner, a hamburger at lunch.

One day you ask her about it. "I thought you were vegan. Why do you eat meat?"

She stares at you in disbelief. "You are doubting my identity? Seriously? I told you, I'm proud to be vegan. I go to all the meetings, carry signs in protests. I've even spent a lot of money buying vegan products... I LOVE being vegan.It's who I am! I can't believe you would say that!"

You swallow hard, then glance at the steak, medium rare, half-eaten on her plate. "Well, yeah, but you still choose to eat meat. Doesn't that say more about who you are than anything you just mentioned?"
Another young woman sits across from me, the same look of incredulity on her face. "Of course I'm a Christian. I've been one since I was five years old! I read the Bible, I go to church, I even tithe when I can. I can't believe you would doubt my salvation!"

I swallow hard, then glance at my notes. "But you've just told me you're on your third live-in boyfriend and you have no intention of stopping this behavior. How can you claim to be a Christian and yet choose a lifestyle of immorality? Doesn't that say more about who you are than anything you just mentioned?"
Talk is cheap. A relationship with God is often presented as a bonus, an extra gift for you to enjoy while you live the way you want to. That is a lie.

If you claim to be vegan, then you are what you eat.

And if you claim to be Christian, you are what you live.

What are you?


There he was. Baby Jesus. The Savior of the world. Some had waited all their lives for this moment. Others were only concerned with how his birth would affect their selfish ambition. Still others couldn't care less. It's still like that. Where do you fit into that spectrum?

In the "fullness of time," God sent his Son into this dark world to complete his plan of salvation. For thousands of years, God had been setting the stage. Prophecies, patterns, laws, revelations of Who He was--all had been given to prepare the world for the climax of his plan: He was coming down here himself.

But there were varied responses to the birth of Jesus. The same news came to many, but each responded differently. 

The shepherds were thrilled. Nobody had to tell them twice. They left everything and raced toward their new life. And they didn't keep the news to themselves. After they had torn themselves away from the object of their worship, they told everybody in town. 

They had the hearts of true believers. That's probably why God chose to reveal the news to them first. He knew their hearts. A true believer discovers the amazing truth that God wants him, loves him, and has given everything for his salvation. He embraces that truth with everything he has and is changed from that moment on. They may have gone back to their sheep, but they never went back to being just shepherds.

Is that you? Have you come to that moment when you chose Jesus for yourself? Did your heart thrill to the news and not stop until you had made him your own? Did you allow God to change you from that moment on? Have you left everything to kneel at the manger?

Then there were those in town. They heard the same news, but not much is said about their responses. Most probably lifted a brow at the smelly shepherds and kept right on with what they were doing? "Sure, buddy. No thanks. My life is fine as it is. Don't need a savior."

Has that been your response? Disinterest. There's a church on every corner, a brand of Christianity on every TV station. You've tuned it all out. Maybe there's a God somewhere. Maybe he has a Son. But what's that to do with your life? At Christmastime, you get a little uncomfortable, but it's only one day a year. The rest of the time, you can go back to your regular life and shove what you've labeled "religion" to the back of your mind.

Herod. When he heard about it, his response was self-centered. How will this affect me? What about me? I need to manipulate this situation to my benefit. Nobody's gonna be king of my life! 

Is your interest in Jesus self-centered? What can he do for me? I like all that health-and-wealth stuff I'm hearing. Maybe I'll sign up for this deal, see how it goes.

You'll never find him that way. Herod searched and searched, but never found the Savior. God hides himself from those whose motivations aren't pure. He has no interest in being used by self-centered egotists who only want to manipulate him for their gain.

Has that been your experience? There was a time when you heard the good news and your heart quickened. You went through the motions, prayed the prayer, got baptized--whatever your church recommended. But something's wrong. You see REAL Christians and feel awkward. They seem to have something you don't.

What they have is Jesus. Just like Herod, you've never let him be King. You wanted what he could do for you but you're not interested in doing anything for him. He might want what you cherish. You're determined to remain king of your life and refuse to give it up. He can be born, but he won't rule YOU.

People still respond to Jesus in a variety of ways. And though thousands heard the news, it was only a handful of true believers who got to worship him. That is still true. Our church buildings are full of townspeople and Herods. But it is only the shepherds and the wise men who are really at the manger. 

Where are you?


God's Battle Plan

We beg and plead. We pray and fast.

We would rather die than admit it, but despite all our showy attempts to connect with God in the midst of a personal war, we're still as weak as newborn kittens.

What's wrong? Where is the power of God? Why are we still gripped with fear, faint with worry, and terrified of what's ahead?

We've done all we know to do and it seems that God has lost interest in our affairs.
That's when many lose interest in Him.

But there is a principle sprinkled liberally throughout scripture that is often greatly overlooked. We ignore it to our peril.

In these 3 illustrations, see if you can find the secret.

In 2 Kings 3:15, an evil king had come to the prophet Elisha to seek advice. This man was so repulsive to Elisha that he could hardly stand to be in his presence. He could not hear from God in his emotional distress, but he knew what to do.

But now bring me a minstrel,” he said. "And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him."

Did you see it? The secret is buried in there.

When King Saul had gotten too big for his britches, pride took over and the power of God left him. The Bible calls it "an evil spirit from the Lord." (I Sam. 16) The only thing that calmed him was when David played upon his harp. Verse 23 says that "Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him."

Okay, keep going...

When King Jehoshaphat was told that a great army was coming against the nation of Israel, he was rightly concerned. They were outnumbered, outfoxed, and under-equipped. But the Lord reminded him, "
The battle is not yours, it is the Lord's." (2 Chron. 20:15)

Rather than order bigger tanks, more grenades, and fancy soldiers, Jehoshaphat listened and believed the Lord. "
You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf." (v.17)

Now, notice his odd battle plan: "He appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, 'Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.'” (v.21)

Do you see the theme?

The key to spiritual power, the key to God's heart, is musical worship.

But don't we try everything else?

When we're down, locked in panic mode, engulfed in depression or fear, we want to do everything else but worship. We cry and pray, pound heaven's gates with closed fists, pay extra attention to our outwardly Christian duties and hope God is sufficiently impressed.

But worship? Really worship? Lay ourselves aside, our needs, our wants, our agenda and just worship God as He is right at that moment? Before he's indicated how this situation is going to resolve? It goes against everything inside us. It also goes against everything satanic inside us.

Satan cannot stand our worship and God cannot resist it.

When we worship God in spirit and in truth we shake a fist in Satan's face. Darlene Zscheche of Hillsong says, "Worship in the midst of a trial is a proclamation that what Satan intended to harm you will not plunder you."

Are you in the middle of a storm? Have you rattled heaven's gates in vain?

Try shoving all that aside and seek God's face. Worship him with music and singing, simply because He is worthy of worship at all times.

It's not a ploy, an attempt to flatter God and twist his arm. It's because there is power in praise. It pushes aside the darkness, opens prison doors, and sends the demons fleeing.

The battle is the Lord's. He fights the Enemy with your worship.

A Plea to Parents

After nearly 3 years of listening to stories from broken people whose pain began in childhood, I want to make a plea to anyone charged with the well-being of a child. 

So many dysfunctional lives began when a parent put his or her own interest/stupidity/addiction/laziness before the high calling of parenting. The following is an open letter to parents. If it offends you, good. Maybe it's not too late to change.
Dear Parent,

Your grown child sat before me today. Let me describe her. Does this sound like the child you thought you were raising?

A string of sexually dangerous relationships, broken marriages, children she cannot support who won't know their fathers, substance abuse, no self-respect, and no idea that moral boundaries exist for her protection. She may think money, sex, friendships, partying, another boyfriend, or a shopping spree will ease her pain. Or she may have so numbed her emotions she doesn't care anymore. She doesn't know where else to turn. You never taught her.
What you did teach her was that you wanted to be her friend. You wanted her to be poplar, sexy, sought-after, everything you were not. You didn't want her talking bad about you to her friends, so you said YES. 
Yes to skimpy clothes at 13. 
Yes to preteen dating. 
Yes to making idols out of immoral celebrities. 
Yes to experimental drinking at home.("At least she's not out with her friends doing it!"
Yes to staying out too late. 
Yes to failing school.  
Yes to strange men filing through your house. 
Yes to babysitters you did not know well enough. 
Yes to unsupervised play with relatives and friends. (Would you like me to tell you what they were really doing in the other room?
Yes to her boyfriend in her bedroom. ("They said they weren't doing anything.") 
Yes to disrespectful talk and behavior. 
Yes to whatever she wanted that left you alone.
But you said NO, too. Without realizing it, you said no to structure and healthy restraint. 
No to a spiritual foundation.("But I sent her to church most of the time.") 
No to self-control. 
No to morality. 
No to personal safety. 
No to wisdom. 
No to self-worth. 
No to age-appropriate responsibility. 
No to giving her a safe place to fall. 
No to guarding her heart like the treasure it is. 
No to healthy role models. 
No to allowing her the thrill of earning what she wanted. 
No to consequences that matched her behavior.
It took too much time away from your friends/the computer/work/ boyfriend/alcohol/TV to actually spend time teaching her anything about life. You assumed she would pick it up at school or church. As long as she wasn't causing you problems, she must be growing up fine. Fighting was easier than  enforcing boundaries. Giving in was easier than fighting. And refusing to set clear standards was easier than giving in. So she basically raised herself.
"No," you argue. "She had plenty of adults in her life helping me raise her right. We were at grandparents', aunts and uncles', best friends' houses every weekend."
And what did you do when she got up the courage to finally tell you what those trusted adults were doing to her? You didn't believe her. You scolded her, mocked her, or told her you'd take care of it. And nothing happened. Maybe you did get mad, report it, make a scene. But it got dropped. The molesters got a slap on the wrist; they came back home, and life moved on. You got over it. Surely she did. Or you never got over it and she always knew it was her fault. She spent the rest of her childhood parenting you.
What you did was write on her heart an indelible message: You do not matter. She had embarrassed you by telling. Caused trouble. Cut off your financial support. Deprived others of a valued relationship. No amount of "I love you's" could carve away the message engraved in stone. She may look successful on the outside, but that's because you never looked inside. Neither has she.

If you taught her anything at all about God, it was that he was either a distant angry hypocrite she could never please, or he was an impotent Santa Clause to whom she owed nothing but an occasional prayer and a guilty conscience. At best, He was a good-luck charm for when things got really bad. Her spiritual well-being wasn't high on your list of priorities. Too much trouble. Too many good excuses. Too many distractions that were far more fun.
So now she sits before me, blank eyes, deadened conscience, shattered heart, no good answers for the mountain of problems she brings with her. And they all began inside that bright-eyed 5-year-old who only wanted to play Barbies, go to birthday parties, and dream about Prince Charming. She's got to take responsibility for her choices now, but it would have been so much easier to make right ones if you'd done your job.

She was yours then; she's mine now.
You didn't want her talking about you to her friends, but we're talking about you now. Wouldn't it have been better to have been called The Meanest Mom in the World by a bunch of 14-year-olds than to have to read about yourself on some stranger's blog?
If you see yourself here, let this be a wake up call. Your sons and daughters are beautiful, wonderful, and full of potential. I'd love to meet them, but not in the counseling room. 
Please do us all a favor--Raise Your Children.


So You Think You Know Your Bible

The last quiz was to let you test your biblical knowledge. This one will test your spiritual knowledge. They are not the same thing. See if you can tell the difference.

1. What is Jesus called in John 1:1?
a) The Lamb of God
b) The Word
c) The Way, the Truth, and the Life
d) The Son of Man

2. In the Old Testament, Moses is a type of ________________?
a) leader
b) priest
c) Christ
d) hero

3. Jesus said that the only sin that will not be forgiven is blasphemy against whom? (Matt. 12:31)
a) Him
b) The Father
c) the Jews
d) the Holy Spirit

4. According to the Bible, the “sinners’ prayer” guarantees salvation to whoever prays it.

5. Jesus said, “Narrow is the road that leads to _________, and few are they who find it.” (Matt. 7:14)
a) Hell
b) Life
c) God
d) Sin

6. Jesus said that the Father desires us to worship him in __________ and in __________. (John 4:23)
a) spirit, truth
b) holiness, righteousness
c) church, the world
d) honesty, integrity

7. The Bible says that spiritual people can judge the behavior of others. (I Cor. 2:15; 6:2)

8. Jesus told his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to the Father for what reason?
a) So he could come again
b) So they could become witnesses
c) So the Holy Spirit could come
d) So he could begin to pray for them

9. How many apostles were martyred?
a) All of them
b) 9
c) 10
d) 11

10. Paul wrote that he longed to know Jesus in the “…fellowship of his ______________.” (Phil. 3:10)
a) glory
b) suffering
c) righteousness
d) power

11. According to I John 2, anyone who claims to know Christ but continues to choose sin is  _______.
a) a carnal Christian
b) doing his best
c) a liar
d) learning

12. Jesus made a clear distinction between being a Christian and being a disciple.

13. The New Testament makes it clear that our battles are against ___________ . (Eph. 6:12)
a) evil people
b) spiritual forces
c) foreign armies
d) anyone who does not agree with us

14. How many days did it take God to create the world? (Exodus 31:17)
a) 6
b) 7
c) 8
d) They were not real 24-hour days

15. According to Romans 1, homosexuality is _____________. (Romans 1:21-28)
a) an alternate lifestyle
b) a sign of changing cultural values
c) a sign of a reprobate mind
d) a sign the Bible is out of date

16. Since Christ has made us free, we should __________. (Gal. 5:13)
a) limit our freedom in order to serve others
b) do anything we like with a clear conscience
c) enjoy it and not worry about what anyone else is doing either
d) stick to the Old Testament law anyway

17. Jesus said if we don’t  ____ our families in comparison to him, we can’t be his disciples. (Luke 14:26)
a) love
b) live for
c) ignore
d) hate

18. If a person prays in tongues and no interpreter is present, he should _________. (I Cor. 14:28)
a) Stop praying in tongues
b) Pray to himself and to God
c) Find an interpreter
d) Understand that tongues are not of God

19. The Bible tells us that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that, __________. (Heb. 9:27)
a) purgatory
b) heaven
c) the judgment
d) another chance

20. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus said that he did not come to bring ________. (Matt. 10:34)
a) turmoil
b) judgment
c) life
d) peace
Answers: 1. b, 2. c, 3. d., 4. False, 5. b, 6. a, 7. True, 8. c, 9. d, 10. b, 11. c, 12. False, 13. b, 14. a, 15. c, 16. a, 17. d, 18. b, 19. c, 20. d
How’d you do that time?

I have included the scripture reference where each answer is found. Let the ones you missed motivate you to study for yourself. I hope that considering these questions has stirred your heart to know God better.


Are You Biblically Literate?

 Recent studies have shown that Americans who claim to be Christians know very little about the book that defines their beliefs.

Take this quiz to see whether you are Biblically literate.

1. Who wrote the first 5 books of the Bible?

2. What man is commonly known for his patience in extreme suffering?

3. Satan first appeared on earth in the form of a ____?

4. How many books make up the Old Testament?

5. Which Old Testament prophet wrote this: "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him..."

6. How many Old Testament prophecies did Jesus fulfill?
Over 300
Over 1000
Over 90

7. Jesus was born in ___________, but grew up in ____________________.
Jerusalem, Bethlehem
Bethlehem, Jerusalem
Nazareth, Egypt
Bethlehem, Nazareth

8. Jesus first miracle was _____________________.
Turning water into wine
Feeding 5000 people
Walking on water
Healing a blind man

9. Who said, "In him we live, and move, and have our being."

10. How many books of the New Testament are attributed to Paul?

11. Who was the disciple chosen to replace Judas?

12. Name the forth gospel: Mathew, Luke, John and ___________.

13. Jesus said that there are many roads to God?

14. How many books are in the New Testament?

15. Fill in the missing words: "For by ___________are you saved, through ____________, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God." Eph. 2:8-9
love, action
grace, faith
God, Jesus
hope, grace

16. Where is this verse found in the Bible: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son."
Mathew 20:21
John 3:16
I John 3:5
Luke 2:12

17. Name the 3 disciples that made up Jesus' "inner circle" of friends.
_____________________, _____________________, _______________________

18. Who asked for wisdom when God offered to grant him anything he wanted?

19. How many churches are addressed in the book of Revelation?

20. Who wrote the book of Revelation?
No one knows

Answers: 1. Moses, 2. Job, 3. Snake, 4. 39, 5. Isaiah, 6. Over 300, 7. Bethlehem, Nazareth, 8. Turning water into wine, 9. Paul, 10. 13, 11. Matthias, 12. Mark, 13. False, 14. 27, 15. grace, faith, 16.  John 3:16, 17. Peter, James, and John, 18. Solomon, 19. 7, 20. John

How did you do?

If the answer is "not too well," let this be a wake-up call. In this day of literacy, technology, and freedom, there is no excuse for being Biblically illiterate.

"Study to show yourselves approved unto God, a workman who needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

How Old Are You?

A couple Christmases ago, we got the kids a Wii.

The three-page letter of appeal from my 13-year-old son didn't hurt either. It was pretty funny, but showed promise. Takes a really cold heart to turn that down. Who taught that kid to write?

By the day after Christmas, I hurt in places I didn't know I had. Who would imagine that a silly living room toy could provoke such physical contortions? My muscles and I had to sit it out for a day or two.

Then I found the Wii fitness test. Through a series of sports tests, the stupid-toy-that-doesn't know-anything rates your physical fitness age. You can probably guess by the previous sentence that my "age" was not a flattering number. I won't go into it. I'm still bitter.

But that got me thinking--as everything does. My so-called fitness age was nowhere close to my actual birthday count. I should have scored much lower and now that I've seen it for myself, I have a goal. Sometimes it takes a little wake-up call for us to see ourselves in comparison to where we should be.

What about spiritually?

Does your spiritual and psychological maturity match the number of years you have supposedly been growing? Millions of people claim to have known and followed Christ for decades. Yet, their lives are virtually indistinguishable from the masses who never made such claims.

We've all heard them: "Oh, I got saved back in VBS when I was a kid."

"I walked the aisle at a Billy Graham crusade in '76."

"Oh yeah, I've gone to church my whole life."

America is teeming with people who've signed on the dotted line somewhere back there. Yet, if Wii had a test for spiritual fitness, where would they score?

What would your score be? Does your walk with God, your personal lifestyle, your daily choices match what you claim to be? You may have considered yourself a Christian for 30 years, but is your spiritual score still in elementary school?

Paul scolded the early Christians for this very thing, reminding them that they should move on, get past the "milk" of the Word, and become capable of counsel and wisdom themselves.
Where are you in your journey with God? Are you leading? Mentoring? Leading others to Christ? Setting a Godly example?
Or are you still on the receiving end? Requiring others to help you, teach you, be an example to you? Are you a spiritual giver or always the taker?

In a society where it is easy to call yourself a Christian, the word has lost its meaning. Like the proverbial frog who found himself in a pot slowly boiling, I fear we as a nation will wake up one day and find ourselves in hot water. It will no longer be easy to be a Christian. Where will you be then?
As we head toward a new year, I challenge you to make it your goal to mature. Ask yourself the hard questions--allowing no excuses: Does the number of years I've known Christ match the spiritual maturity level of my lifestyle choices? Should I be further ahead in my spiritual growth than I am?
Give yourself a Wii fitness test. It's never too late. God is as close as your bended knee. It's time to grow up. Adults have more fun!