God In the Dark

We don’t expect to find God in our darkest places, and yet He is there.


Jess Lester, journalist writing for Christian Premiere Magazine out of the UK, told her story recently on the Unbelievable podcast in an interview with Justin Brierley. She is Jewish by descent and culture, but she attended a Christian school in her youth. Her parents are no-practicing Jews, but her grandparents were observant.

She grew up with exposure to the Judeo-Christian world, but God was more of an intellectual idea to her than a personal reality. As a teenager, however, she consciously turned her back on God when her very good friend suffered a brain hemorrhage that left her unable to speak. Jess spent several days a week in the hospital with her friend trying to help her speak again, only to experience her friend suffer another brain hemorrhage that left her brain dead.

After her friend’s parents took her off life support, Jess was devastated. She poured herself into her friend’s recovery and prayed along with the family for healing, and God didn’t deliver. God took her friend, she thought, and it angered her. Why would He do that to such a good person?! This experience led Jess to reject God openly and consciously. Following her friend’s death, Jess lived in open rebellion and defiance toward God.

Over the next few years, things went from bad to worse for Jess. She drank, did drugs and slept around in open hostility to the God she thought took her friend from her. She also fell into depression to the point where she had suicidal thoughts and even planned her own demise.  She got desperate, admitting to her mother that she needed help, but the turning point came in a very unlikely place.

Jess attended a concert where a favorite band of hers, the 1975s, were performing. They sang a song that that was defiant toward God. She had played it a dozen times a day and knew the lyrics well. It wasn’t a Christian song in any sense of the term, but she found herself crying out in the middle of the concert these lyrics: “Jesus, Jesus show yourself to me!”

While the lyrics are meant more as a taunt than a plea, she made it her plea from her heart. Looking back now, she says this is when God responded. Subtly at first, it became more apparent to her as time went on that God was with her in her dark times, and He was reaching out to her. I won’t recount the details, here, but they are well worth listening to, along with the other guests that were interviewed for the Christmas Special – Dean Mayes, Jess Lester and Rupert Shortt Share Their Stories.

This story reminds me that we do not always find God in the pious, religious places where we might expect Him. God is everywhere, and that means He is with us in our darkest times and in the darkest of places. While the song that prompted Jess Lester to cry out was actually anti-Christian in its intended meaning, God used that song that Jess knew well as the vehicle by which she connected with Him.

Jess makes the point in telling her story that things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good. That idea of God using bad things for good purposes comes from the Old Testament story of Joseph, who was left for dead in the bottom of a well by his own brothers and taken off into slavery.

Continue reading “God In the Dark”

God’s Work Within Us

CS Lewis wrote the following bit in a letter written approximately one year before the end of his life:

“The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ This you [may] have realised. But you [may be]  expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you should be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don’t see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way.
“Your question what to do is already answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed—your friends, your music, your books. Remember we are told to ‘rejoice’ [Philippians 4:4]. Sometimes when you are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give you something.
“As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’”[1]

I cite CS Lewis often in what I write. He seems to capture so much of what it means to be human in God’s world, illuminating God’s grace in us and in the world as God works out our salvation, the author and perfecter of our faith.

These words Lewis wrote are so much more poignant that they were written toward the end of his life. Gone is the impetuous, tottering confidence of youth in working salvation out, replaced by the steady, trusting confidence of old age that God is working within.

As I survey a thousand times I have failed God in working out my salvation, I find solace in the hope and faith that God is working within me. I don’t always see it. Sometimes my sin overshadows any light I see in me, but God’s gentle light always shines through that darkness… when I turn to Him.

Often my inclination is to turn away. I fear His wrath. I am disappointed in myself. I think I should be better than that. I don’t want to bow at His feet. Yet again. How many times? How many times!

And I recall that nothing is hidden from God. Nothing. We stand, sit, lie, walk at all times under the gaze of an infinite God. Nowhere I can go, even into the deep recesses of my own heart, away from God. Even if I block myself from the inner chambers of my own heart, yet God is there.

God, save me from myself! I can only hope and trust that You will, as You have said, because I am utterly unable.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] CS Lewis in a letter to Keith Manship from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III (September 13, 1962)

The Antidote to Human Pride

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.


I didn’t grow up in the Protestant tradition. I wouldn’t say that I had a high view of God. It was more like a distant view, and His grace was a foreign concept.

I experienced a leap in understanding of God’s grace way back when I became a believer, about 40 years ago. That leap was like going from zero mph to 60 mph in a matter of seconds.

I was selling books door-to-door over the summer between freshman and sophomore years in college for the Southwestern Book Company. After giving my spiel to an insurance salesman one day, he asked me if he could ask me a question. Not knowing what he was about to ask, or that it would change my life forever, but being curious, I said, Ok.”

So, he asked, “When you die, will you go to heaven?”

I had never thought about it before, but I lived with the guilt of all my failings, guilt mixed with a good measure of prideful disappointment in myself. I was raised Catholic, you see. Catholicism is good for keeping our failings front and center in our minds. Not only that, but knowing all the things I “needed” to do to make them right, and not doing them, only added to the load!

Not going to church anymore, not being appropriately devout, not saying all the “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” and all the things I didn’t pay particular attention to, or remember much about, while being told of their imminent importance, compounded the weight of the knowledge that my life wasn’t right.

But, I wouldn’t have associated what was “wrong” with me as anything having to do with God – if He really existed. I never really thought about whether God existed. I think I just accepted that He did, but I wasn’t much interested in Him at that point. The fact of my disinterest didn’t lighten my load in the moment when that pivotal question was proposed to me on that day in the insurance salesman’s home.

The question was followed by a brief, but uncomfortable moment of silence. I was taken aback. I wasn’t ready for that kind of a question. It summoned up the deepest angst that lurked in my being, and I didn’t know just how to respond, for surely there was a “right” response.

My friendly interrogator rephrased the question a moment later: “If you were standing before Jesus right now, what would you say to Him? Why should He let you in to His heaven?”

Of course, it is God’s heaven, isn’t it? The weight of the realization that heaven was God’s domain, and I was an outsider rested with full force upon me in the next moment. How would I convince Him to let me in? How could I convince Him?

Naturally, I let loose all the things I could think of that might matter to God. I recently begun a journey. I had been through years of reckless, angry and self-destructive living, hard drinking, indulgent drug taking, and I was angry at the world (for no good reason I can now admit) … I was going nowhere fast just a short while ago, but I had changed.

The truth is that I woke up, after a series of mishaps, to the fact that my life was likely to be very short if I didn’t change course.  I totaled two cars and had some other close calls. I was run over by a car in which I had been a passenger driven by a “friend” who wasn’t even old enough to drive, and we were doing something stupid and illegal. Something about all of this and having to attend school in a wheelchair gave me pause about where I was heading.

So, I changed. I made a conscious decision to go the other way. I realized at the same time that I was desperately empty inside, out of touch with real meaning in my life and determined to find it. I became a good student in my last year in high school and became a truth seeker. Genuinely.

I rapidly recalled these things to the quietly earnest man in front of me. He let me go on for a while, before he gently stepped in with the next question, the question that changed my life. He asked: “What would you say if heaven was a free gift, and you couldn’t earn it?”

…. That question lit up my mind and heart and shocked me into paradigm shifting silence.

I was speechless. I had no retort. I was stunned.

He continued, unhindered by me as I stood like a prisoner blinded by the sunlight pouring in from a door suddenly opened to the outside world. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.

Continue reading “The Antidote to Human Pride”

The Work of Godly Grief Within Us

How we measure up in relation to the barometer of Scripture and what we do with it.


“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)

When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.

I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)

I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.

Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”

As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.

Continue reading “The Work of Godly Grief Within Us”

When You Realize God Sees You, Exposed in Your sin

God sees it all. Every thought. Every urge in the heart. Every word. Every deed…. And still He calls us.


Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus. He was one the twelve who became known as “the apostles”, one of the closest followers of Jesus. But Peter wasn’t just a follower, and he wasn’t just one of the apostles. Andrew, Peter’s brother, is known as the first follower of Jesus, but Peter became closer to Jesus then Andrew. Peter was one of the inner circle of the closest confidants to Jesus.

There were only three people in that inner circle: James and John, the brothers from Zebedee, and Peter, and Peter was the main spokesman of the three. Only Peter, James and John went up to the mount to witness the Transfiguration, and only Peter spoke with Jesus about it. Peter wasn’t just a spokesman; he was a leader among the followers of Jesus.

Peter was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to the end. He argued, legitimately, about who was best of the followers of Jesus. He boldly declared his willingness to go to prison and to die for Jesus. Of all the disciples of Jesus, Peter stood out above the rest.

So when Jesus told Peter that the rooster would not crow that day before Peter would deny him three times, Peter must have thought, “How much more can I say or do to show you that I am committed?!”

And then, Peter’s world turned upside down. The apostles didn’t understand, really, what Jesus talking about until the drama Jesus tried to explain to them unfolded right in front of them. Without warning, a crowd came walking up to them lead by Judas. The disciples reacted, ready to fight for Jesus, but Jesus stopped them from resisting, Jesus was escorted away… without a fight,. Jesus let them take him like a lamb led to its slaughter.

Imagine Peter, following at a distance, his bold bravado swept away by pained confusion and fear. “This isn’t the way this is supposed to go”, he had to be thinking. “Is this the way it all ends?” In the cloud of his confusion, pain and disillusionment, as he was standing in a crowd around a fire, a servant girl identified Peter as one of the people with Jesus, and Peter denied it.

Two more times at different intervals, Peter denied being associated with Jesus. Immediately after the third time, the rooster crowed, “[a]nd the Lord turned and looked at Peter”. At that instance, the words Jesus spoke just a short while earlier played through Peter’s head, and he “wept bitterly”.[i]

Imagine Peter as the rooster crowed and the Lord’s eyes met his…. All of his words, three years of commitment to Jesus and all the boasting about who is the greatest unraveled completely in a moment in time. Peter was undone… exposed as a fraud.

Continue reading “When You Realize God Sees You, Exposed in Your sin”

The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality

The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.


This morning I have listened to a podcast and read an article on the same theme: Christians who desire not to be defined by the things they are against. I didn’t go searching for themed material today, these things came together organically as I went about my daily habits of listening to a podcast first thing in the morning and reading throughout the day.

Early this morning, I listened to Justin Brierley interview Christian evangelist, Kevin Palau, and Sam Adams, the gay mayor of Portland, OR, on their unlikely friendship.  Later in the morning, as I was waiting on hold on the phone (for along time I might add), I read an article in Relevant Magazine: Don’t Be Defined By What You’re Against. I will add that the verse of the day on the Bible app is Psalm 90:12 (“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

While these three sources of material may not seem like thematic material, I assure you they are. Beginning with the interview, the evangelist, Palau, explained the motivation for engaging with the City of Portland in civic service. Palau recognized that Christians were known in the community primarily as people who were opposed to certain things, and not anything positive – let alone as followers of Jesus.

Palau also recognized that Christians were distrusted by the community, and so he set out to regain the community trust. The first thing Palau and his church did was to respond to the needs of a local public school that was failing. Not only did they show up; the showed up in such force that people took notice. What was supposed to be a day of work turned into an ongoing labor of love.

Palau and his church were so successful in making a positive impact that they inspired churches around the community to adopt schools, and the schools, in turn, embraced the church involvement. The involvement caught the attention of the mayor of Portland and his chief assistant, Sam Adams, who would later become mayor himself.

Palau and Adams are an unlikely pair to become friends, but that is what they are today. Adams is the first openly gay mayor of Portland. Palau is an evangelical evangelist. Adams confirms Palau’s concerns by agreeing that he previously only knew evangelicals for what they stood against, but now, he says, there are more things they agree on than disagree on.

Adams recognizes that they have some fundamental disagreements on key issues for both of them, but those areas of disagreement are no longer the defining characteristic. They now join hands on addressing areas in which they agree and have formed a long-term friendship as a result.

Palau has built a bridge without compromising his faith. As a result, Adams and the community no longer view evangelicals only for what they stand against; they also see what evangelicals stand for.  The community now knows that the Gospel means more than calling out sin. It means meeting peoples’ needs, loving people and offering hope. The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.

Continue reading “The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality”

Giving Alms from Within

God knows the thoughts and intents of your heart already. Go ahead and give it to Him. You’ve got nothing to lose.


Jesus didn’t pull any punches, and the religious leaders were often the targets caught in his cross-hairs. One theme of his criticism was that they kept up righteous appearances while they were anything but righteous on the inside.  It’s a bit unnerving, is it not, that Jesus could see the thoughts and intents of the heart!

For those who might be tempted to say that the one person in history you would most like to meet is Jesus, maybe you should rethink that!

But then again, Jesus didn’t do anything more than God, the Father, already does. God “discerns our thoughts from afar”; He even knows every word “on my tongue” before I say them. (Psalm 139)

Think about that. Where can I go that God is not present? There is no use trying to hide from God. It’s futile to think that we can.

So, we might as well be honest. God already knows what’s going on in our heads and hearts!

Continue reading “Giving Alms from Within”