Blog

#faith

#despair

The big question of yesterday’s sermon at Heights Community was “have you allowed darkness to be greater than the Gospel?” I have written quite a bit about darkness here on Finley, I am. If you’ve looked darkness in the face, you know the feeling that goes to your core.

Grumbling

There is always something to complain about. You have to be intentional about the state and direction of your heart. Read your heart’s pulse. When you are asked how you are doing, do you respond positively more often than negatively? Averages, of course, matter. You are allowed to have a tough week. But tough year?

Let me be clear, while not grumbling: my last year had a lot of dark points. A lot. I can grumble about a lot of it. I know that I am in the valley of Psalm 23, so of course I also know where God is and how much I should want.

And the blessings have continued unabated. Yeah, I’ve been in a valley, but God’s been providing for us. Promotions, raises, the house, and a church that loves and supports us daily.

Welcome Back

One sermon point yesterday was that we need to tell more stories of thankfulness than stories of grumbling. And I felt that. Maybe I haven’t grumbled much here, but I have with my closest of friends. And I need to be more intentional about this. The blessings have by and large outweighed the curses in the last year. Outweighed being the key word there. Don’t count your curses, y’all. If I did, they may outnumber my blessings over the last 18 months. But the blessings outweigh them. Ooo. Yeah, I love that too.

Last year we left our church of 8 years. And when I say left, we were basically chased out. Long story, but the short of it was heresy was present and snakes had their way. A lying pastor said to my face, while lying, “if you don’t trust us, what are you doing here?” So we left. Now I can grumble about this, but we are four months into this move and the weight of the blessings that have come from it are enormous. The darkness would love to keep drawing my eyes back to the curses, lay them out and ask me to count them, but I should be focused on thanksgiving and there is so much to give thanks for. I needed to be somewhere else and God knows better than I do. My kids have grown so much spiritually in the last four months that I cannot help but stop, stunned.

God is good.

A note here is that we need to be drawing this out of our fellow Christians too. It is one of my notes I have taken since leaving our church of eight years. Grumbling, gossiping, and a lack of thankfulness were too common. People didn’t push you to the Cross. Sometimes you need to vent, to grumble. At least you feel like you do. But a good Christian friend pushes, massages that. If a brother or sister is entangled in the darkness, you should be shining hope and help them see the power of the Gospel in their situation: show them the way to the Cross. If someone comes to you to grumble about someone else— often gossip— drive them to resolve conflict, to confront the conflict, to put behind them the things that are unresolvable and to focus on the Cross. When we do this we train— disciple— not only others, but ourselves, to not grumble. Acknowledging the darkness is fine, but being obsessed with it requires you to be pulled out. There are right and wrong ways to do that, but we as Christians need to be helping our fellow Christians in this. I didn’t have this at our previous church and I somehow didn’t see it until we were in a church that actively practiced it. And I love it.

Despair

Stare into the darkness for even a few minutes and you’ll feel it staring back. You’ll feel the pull, the snaky appendages wrapping around you, constricting around you. That whisper, “there is no hope, you are alone, God isn’t coming to save you this time.” Despair loves to sit in the corner of your room and just watch you silently. A spook. An unnerving, unblinking gaze.

As I stated above, one of the ways they can get in is to get you grumbling. To take your eyes away from the Cross, to take your eyes off the end of the race, to get you to focus on your worries of today, your anxieties of tomorrow, your depressions of yesterday. To take your hope. The dwellers of the darknesses, they know they cannot take your salvation, but they can make you absolutely useless.

How many nights over the last year that I have hit the pillow and uttered a simple prayer: Lord, please take the watch. Sleeping with one hand on your sword, one eye open, ready for war is no way to rest. One must trust that God’s got you and when you wake, grab your lute and wake the morning (Psalm 57:8).

Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!

Psalm 57:8 ESV

Live in prayer, not despair.

Give me such fellowship with thee
    that I may defy Satan,
      unbelief, the flesh, the word,
  with delight that comes not from a creature,
  and which a creature cannot mar.
Give me a draught of the eternal fountain
  that lieth in thy immutable, everlasting love
    and decree.

The Servant in Battle, The Valley of Vision

Power of the Gospel

A lot of talk around Christian Nationalism is a misrepresentation of the entire conversation by those that would prefer to demonize and kill hope. I’m almost through Doug Wilson’s Mere Christendom right now and one thing he makes abundantly clear is this is not about converting by the sword or even electing the right, red-pilled conservative. This is about the hope in the Gospel’s power to transform and once it has transformed, leading Christianly and restoring Christendom. You see, the right elected official may be able to throw out abortion as a “right,” but he cannot change the hearts of wicked men and women that scream in wretched desire to murder babies.

One would be dumb to not acknowledge that making something illegal will force hearts to change over time— see slavery or the practice in India of burning widows alive with their dead husbands— but that has to come along with the sharing of the Gospel. Sure, end the murdering and sacrificing, but spread the hope of Jesus and people will start to slay their own dragons.

The Gospel has power. Lots of it. Much larger, much slimier darknesses than your present one have been defeated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Much larger threats than the ones you face have fallen before the Gospel’s power. We contend with a vanquished foe. Vanquished. Defeated thoroughly.

In the end, God wins. Calvary broke the dragon’s head. And if this is the case, we have hope the life-changing nature of the Gospel. The world-changing nature of the Gospel. The darkness doesn’t win. It ceases. (Revelation 22:5)

This is why the topic of Christian Nationalism has been infectious to many: it is hope-filled. Christ wins. Go and make disciples of all the nations. As we disciple nations, as we win cities and states to Christ, how do we lead, how do we establish Christendom? It is a hope-filled trust that God wins as a foundation. Not that if we can just get one president that hears us, we can make America great once more. No, that if we spread the Gospel we can see splendor returned to the world like God intended.

The Gospel itself is power. Don’t let the darkness shut you down and make you useless. Don’t despair, don’t grumble, don’t cry your way into heaven.

A Campfire in the Valley

Looking out into the darkness has an alternative. The light of Christ is radiant with beauty, hope, grace, mercy, and love. Even in the darkest valley, Death lying in bloodthirsty wait, the campfire of the Gospel shines brighter than the darkness’s power to engulf the light. Gaze into the fire, peace and hope are there. Let them soak into your soul, drown out the echoes of despair. Grab a lute— or guitar if you still don’t have a lute— and sing songs of thankfulness, of hope, of grace amazing. Write these songs in your heart so when you have to venture through the darkness you can raise your Ebenezer and not lose the hope you know holds more power than those that stare at you from beyond the veil.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

‭‭John‬ ‭16‬:‭33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Got this history that I cannot trust
Reminded me of who I thought I was
Praise the highs and curse the lows
Pray what I remember most
You were there to pick me up

When I’m in your arms, my heart is safe
Why can’t it always be this way?

Note: I wrote the following in December of last year in my journal. Many words were written in that journal that will not be published. Some were too personal, some too dark. But the following I believe should see the light of day. I published a post a week ago around this song and hinted at some of this writing, but rereading this told me I should publish this too.


It’s been a rough few years around my house. This year was one of the roughest. The tears cried, the sleepless nights, the anxiety, and the darkness snatching at our feet, screaming for despair. I’ve written more privately this year than I have in recent years. I want to share a few scribbles from those writings.

But my heart is broken, Lord. My nightmares keep me up at night. My daymares keep me from focusing all day.

Where seldom the darkness takes form while I walk, when I rest the lurking, oozing, despair drapes itself over my shoulders. The sleeping dragons awake and intrude on my personal space, their heavy breathing reminding me who is lord over this present age. Albeit temporary.

I do not camp in this valley alone. Even when the fire goes out and the shadows casted become all-encompassing, You are here and know what comes next.

And I lived in the Psalms. In David, our bard king, who had it very easy in life… I kid, his life was rougher than rough.

My soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire (Psalm 57:4, NASB)

Yet, this man after God’s heart sang.

“Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!” Psalm 57:8 ESV

And I wrote:

God has him. And he knows it. He feels it in his bones. So instead of whimpering cries to the rocks, he grabs his lyre and strikes a chord.

One day I will understand. Or take rest before the Throne.

I know in my bones who has me. I read earlier this year that the Irish phrase things as “sadness is upon me,” instead of saying “I am sad.” See, in the English, we identify the emotion with a state of being. The Irish, from what I understand, identify emotion as a fleeting thing that rests for a time and then leaves. It isn’t who you are, but what you feel. Above you’ll see that affect my words: “despair drapes itself over my shoulders”.

And that brings us to the song that has chased me through the years and where my Christmas playlist starts this year.

And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

It’s hard coming to Christmas, a season of joy and hope, when the shadows abound. When the lurking darkness breathes fire, when hate is strong and our songs are mocked.

For the wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.

Psalm 109:2-5

Despair is the complete loss of hope. We hear the songs, the words repeat— wild and sweet— but darkness… And that’s the thing about hope. Hope is not for the now but the later.

The bells ring out: God is not dead and He does not sleep.

This lyric, in other words, echoed in my darkest nights this year. I knew not what lay in shadow waiting— and sometimes I knew exactly what lay waiting— but I also knew that while the wily Dragon might currently reside over our world, over him is a mightier King that is in control of every step we take and that cunning Dragon is under His control.

Peace on Earth, good will to men. That is your hope, Christian. Rest in it here, before it is reality. Know that it is coming. Know that He has got you.

I have released a Christmas playlist every year since 2015. The last three years a version of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day has made it on the list and this year I centered my playlist around it.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The beauty of this song hit me years ago and as I have wrestled the dark I have fallen more and more in love with it. The poem was written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, two years after his wife was fatally burned in an accidental fire and his son joined the Union army without his blessing.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along, the unbroken song,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Til ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound, the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The Civil War was a dark time in American history. Around 620,000 Americans died, around 22% of Southern men aged 20-24. 2% of the American population at the time. More Americans died during the Civil War than WWII. Much could be written in many directions here, but much of it has been written by men greater and wiser than I.

This poem has been on my heart for many years because I hear the cannons firing, I hear the voices trying to out-volume God.

And in despair I bowed my head;
There is no peace on earth, I said;
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Hate is strong and mocks the song. This line weighs on me. These last few years has seen our family understand despair. It has licked at our feet.

Despair, the opposite of hope. This world doesn’t understand hope. And it revels in despair.

Somehow I Stand

My family has been mocked, jeered at, hated, threatened, slandered, despised. We have felt it from many directions. My kids have felt it too. Yet, our God has not failed us. Our family has been blessed abundantly. As the earthquaks have rent our hearth-stones, our house has become home to two more children. The amount of joy in our home overflows. To quote Rend Collective, “I’m not afraid of the dark, the darks afraid of me. I’m not afraid anymore, Your love glows in the dark.”

We’ve got songs, Psalms, hymns and verses galore. We have things we say when the darkness looks us in the face.

This period of our lives has made us more resilient, more resolute, more faithful.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

We trust our Lord. He conquered death. He is the light and we lightbearers. “[T]he pain of betrayal, of vitriol, of hatred doesn’t get better. What gets better is the strength of our faith and our training in lifting the shield.”

Raise [your children] strong in their faith, ready to provide reasonable argument for their faith, prepare them to cling to the Cross no matter the taunts, the jeers, or the songs the drunkards make about them. Teach them to respond to the hateful songs of drunkards with praise for the Lord and love for their enemies.

Lightbearer

God works all things for good. Like the residents of Whoville, let the Grinch try to ruin Christmas. Your enemy doesn’t understand your joy, doesn’t understand your peace, doesn’t understand the reason you sing praise. He will fail. But God will not. Let the drunkards sing, jeer, taunt, and fire their cannons. Do not despair, raise your voice loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.

I had never really liked this song before I heard them perform it in person.

By grace alone somehow I stand
where even angels fear to tread.

Boldly I Approach by Rend Collective

How can I, a sinner stand at the Throne of God?

When condemnation grips my heart
and Satan tempts me to despair,
I hear the voice that scatters fear;
the Great I Am, The Lord is here.
O praise the One who fights for me,
and shields my soul eternally!

Despair, the opposite of hope. This world doesn’t understand hope. And it revels in despair.

For the Christian, we have to understand that “[t]he threat of Hell is real. Wilson’s analogy of receiving a pardon but understanding that you were going to be executed is important. There is punishment for sin. A just God cannot allow there not to be.” (Good News and Hope for Detransitioners). Satan will use this against us, but we must understand that this even applied to us. Our sins are forgiven by the Grace of God, but the punishment we deserve is real. And Satan is all too willing to taunt us, “surely God wouldn’t forgive you, James. Surely you have wandered too far, pissed him off too much.”

But the voice of God scatters fear. He fights for me. In your salvation, Christian, you have nothing to despair. You have nothing to fear. “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” If you were responsible for attaining salvation, you might be right to fear your ability to lose it. But God chose you. Yeah, you hid that one sin from Him, but seriously stop assuming there is something about you that God can miss. Chin up, finish the race.

Christian,

How is your hope this week? How is your peace?

Satan is doing a great job trying to rip all hope from the world. Rip it out and replace it with despair and fear. Fear of our neighbor, fear of our fate, fear of our government, fear, fear, fear.

How is your hope this week?

Christian, we don’t find hope in this world. This world, apart from Christ, is hopelessly wretched. Men? Men fail. That is our defining trait. We cannot put hope in Man, in government, in scientists. Men fail.

No, we Christians find hope in Christ alone. When the world falls apart, Christ doesn’t. He still holds the whole world in His mighty hand. His voice spoke the world into creation! His voice calms the storms! He stood down Death and declared victory!

How is your hope this week?

If it is weak, you may be listening to the world too much. You may be spending too much time watching the news and not enough in the Word of God.

And I get it. I am struggling with this too. I’m now home 24/7. I’m not getting the human contact that my soul desires. My only view out into the world is online and it’s gotten so dark.

Here I type on a glowing screen that gives me access to so much despair. But right next to the app labeled Fear is the app labeled Bible. Go there, Christian. Bring a pillow and a blanket. A warm cup of coffee. Dive deep. Start a new reading plan. God speaks. He wrote this for you. You have no reason to despair. He is on the Throne.