May 7, 2016

Coming Out of the Darkness

It is a good Saturday here in sunny and mild, Phoenix. Yes, the weather is lovely outside right now, and the rain, while spotty last night, did bring in some refreshing cooler air. I am thankful today for the rain, the sunshine, and the good, good way the Lord has covered my life. He is good to me, so very good to me!

As I consider this good day, I cannot help but think about my friends who are graduating from Regent University. Today is the big celebration, and it is exciting to think that in just one year from today (more than likely), I will be there as well. I will be walking in the graduation ceremony to celebrate the completion of a PhD in Communication. God has made this path possible, and I am in the process, the difficult and dark process, that leads up to the light of finishing a major academic program. He has done this, and He is doing this -- all through me -- and praise be to God, it is all for His honor and His name. I take no credit in what is to come, and I take no pride in what has come before me. I know that He has graciously allowed me to participate in the process, the joy-ride so to speak, of getting this advance degree. But, no matter how much I do -- as in "do the work" -- He is the One who is the instigator and instiller of all good things to create and manifest that good work. I am simply His agent. I am His vessel. I am the object of His choosing for this particular earthly assignment. Thank you, Lord, for giving me the blessing of being able to participate in this good work. Thank you for helping me to think clearly, to see things in a new way, and to perform at a level higher than any level I could naturally produce. You deserve this degree. You deserve this achievement. It is all for you, all for you, and I give you all the praise, the honor, and the glory this good, good day!


Piecing Together the Pieces

So let's just say that yesterday was a bust. Yes, it was one of those gray days that needed to never be uncovered. I was miserable the entire day, oppressed and feeling inadequate, insecure, and unable to imagine any possible outcome that would produce good results. I tried, mind you. I tried so very hard. All day long I was in prayer. I was praying to the Lord to help me, to release me, to protect me, to guide me. I was in constant prayer -- feeling so hard pressed, so bent down, and very debilitated -- all because of one error in my line of thinking. All because I gave my enemy the foothold he desired. Yes, my enemy routed me. He bested me. He took advantage of me when I was down, and he used that advantage to pound me even harder into the ground. I was struck blind for a time. I was unable to see. I was clearly being pressed and pained into thinking that I was over my limit, so far past what the Lord wanted for me, that there was no way back, no returning to His grace or glory. Of course that is a lie, a brutal lie, but so often when we are beaten down and hard pressed, we believe those awful lies. We accept them as truth, and in doing so, we languish in these very dark and awful places.

John 1:5 came to my mind this morning as I was preparing to blog. I started to think about how the darkness was overwhelming me, so much that I was feeling like I was lost in this blackness, this black hole. Then this verse came to mind, and I remembered that the light of Christ shines brightest when the darkness surrounds Him. His light cannot be overcome. I am reminded of the words of Isaiah when he said, "The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them" (Is. 9:2 NIV). Moreover, I recall Peter's words that say, "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9 NIV). These verses are touch-stones that help me to remember that while it may be very dark outside, the light that is within me, the light of my Savior and King, Jesus the Christ, is brighter and more illuminating than any light that shines in the nighttime sky. He is truly the Light and the Glory of God, and when I look to Him, and to Him alone (and not to my hand or my own sufficiency), then will I receive the strength and the power needed to stand against the powers of darkness, the evil one who seeks to devour and destroy me. Yes, my enemy desires one thing, and that is to see me fail, to see me give up and give in so that I do not achieve the will of God as it has been revealed in my life.

My enemy knows that I am weak. He knows my weaknesses well. But he also knows that what I cannot do in my own strength can be done in Christ's strength. He knows that the answer to victory lays in the hand of my Lord alone. I cannot fight this battle. I cannot win this war, but my Savior, my King, my Champion and my Victor, can and has done so. Ephesians 6:12 NIV reminds us that this battle is not of the flesh, but it is of the spirt, so the only way to win is to let the Spirit of Christ, abide and be victorious.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Pastor Chip Ingram (2011) says, "Our greatest foe, Satan, is on a mission to destroy God’s people and discredit the cause of Christ" (para. 2). Ingram says that for many Christians, they either underestimate or overestimate Satan's power in their lives. In doing so, they do not understand how they are to stand against the schemes and tactics of the enemy. He writes, "Satan’s plan is to deceive us, tempt us, cause hardened hearts, break marriages, split churches, and bring about depression" (para. 11). For me, this is a strong reminder that whenever I feel depressed, especially like I have been the past couple months, I need to remember who is the author of those feelings. Yes, I am the one who gives food to the feelings, I allow the depressive thoughts to sit with me, I don't confess and command them away. Yet, my God is not the One who authors these negative and hurtful thoughts. No, these are the ploys and the plays of my enemy. He is out to get me, to corner me, and to defeat me, and he knows a surefire what to do it.

Sometimes I wonder why I struggle so with depression. Often, I don't know how it begins or where it comes from (as in the trigger point). Depression, which is defined as ranging in seriousness from "mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression" (Mayo Clinic, 2016, para. 1) can be brought on by natural life occurrences (a death of a loved one, major illness, or tragic event) or it can be considered clinical (more serious and not related to a single event). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression "is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working" (2016, para. 1). Symptoms generally last more than two weeks, and can include:
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
These symptoms will vary by individual and can be mild, moderate or serious. In my case, I have many of these symptoms, and typically, when I begin to feel depressed (without a triggering event), my feelings of depression will last for several weeks or even months. I characterize my level of depression as mild to moderate. Some of my depression is the result of hormonal mood changes (menopause), but some are directly related to life circumstance (on-going struggles). I try very hard to be upbeat, positive, and optimistic, and for the most part, I am. However, sometimes when I feel depressed, and that depression doesn't go away with changes (diet, exercise, prayer or fasting), then I know that the depression is a symptom of the enemy's attack on my life. Ingram says that often when we are attacked, the enemy does so gradually so that we do not notice the foothold he has gained in our life. He says that Satan's attack plan is escalated when he triggers, "relational conflicts" that wear us down with anxiety and fear, and can lead us to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol (or even other types of addictive behaviors).

Many Christians are familiar with Paul's instructions to the Ephesians regarding preparing for spiritual battle. In Ephesians 6 we read about the full armor of God, and how we must daily put on the complete armor that God has provided to us so that we can stand against the enemy's attack. However, for many of us, myself included, often we fail to put on the armor or understand how to engage Satan and his demons in battle. Ingram, in his series on Spiritual Warfare titled, "The Invisible War," asserts, "We can and will resist the enemy’s attempts to 'deceive,' 'accuse,' and 'cast doubt' when we stand firm against him" (p. 1). But, to be effective, we must follow three important principles or rules. He states that principle 1 is, "Being honest with God, ourselves and others as a prerequisite to all spiritual battle" (p. 1). Principle 2 is, "Responding to the truth that God shows us about His will for our lives – righteous living," (p. 1). Last, principle 3 is, maintaining "a clear understanding of and readily sharing the “Gospel message” of grace" (p. 1).

When I take these words to heart, I realize that the only one who condemns me is my enemy. And, the only one who allows condemnation to take a foothold is me. If I allow the accusations of the devil to sit with me, I am giving him permission to tell me lies. If I do not refute the accusations, then these lies linger with me, and begin to sow seeds of doubt in my mind. I know what I must do, I know how to defend myself against my enemy, and I know how to overcome the tactics of the deceiver.


Standing in His Grace

As a blood-bought born-agin Christian, I stand victorious. I have overcome because He has already defeated the enemy at the cross. However, it is up to me to stand in His grace. I cannot fight this battle on my own, and I cannot be victorious unless I recognize where my power and my authority originate. I know He is my victor and my champion. He is my King, my Rock, my Redeemer and my Refuge. It is in His strength today that I stand and resist the temptation and taunts of the accuser, my enemy. May God be praised, may He receive all honor and glory this good, good day.

What must I do next?

Ingram (2011) writes that there are times when we must do more than stand up against the enemy. We must, instead, engage him. He lists out five times when we have to take up arms against the devil in order to win the battle being waged against us. These times include:
  • When we’re taking significant steps of faith for spiritual growth
  • When we’re invading enemy territory (i.e. evangelism)
  • When we’re exposing him for who he really is
  • When we repent and make a “clean break” with the world, a long-held sin pattern, or an unholy relationship
  • When God is preparing us (individually and/or corporately) for a “great work” for His glory
In considering this list, I can see two specific times that could be the "root" of this recent attack. First of all, I know that my life over the past ten years has been one of progressive steps of faith. I have been transformed, my life has been changed, and throughout all the various obstacles, challenges, and other experiences, my faith has been stretched, grown, and developed as a result. Furthermore, I know for certain that my PhD, my degree itself, is a critical component for the work that God is calling me to produce. I have known this truth since before I started my master's program, and I have been faithful to state (here and publicly) that my degrees (both of them) were not to be used for work or to get a better job, better position, etc., but rather that these degrees were for His work only. Furthermore, I have also stated that I believed, and I still do believe that there is no other work for me to do but the Lord's work. The job I do is inconsequential to the work the Lord has called me to do for His Name, His praise, and His glory. I, therefore, know for sure, for certain, and for positive, that God is preparing me for specialized ministry work, and as such, my degree, the completion of my degree, is a key ingredient to that work. Thus, I am being spiritually attacked in order to keep me from completing my degree, to keep me from victory, and from achieving the plans, the purposes, God has in mind for my life.

I am at this turning point in my life, whereby I must complete the work and tasks set before me. I must not quit. I must keep on going, and I must overcome my enemy by standing boldly in Grace, and by the following:
  • Trusting in God's character
  • Trusting in God's promises and His word
  • Trusting in God's program and His timing
Furthermore, I must fill my mind with the word. Scripture says we are to present our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) so that we can live holy lives. Moreover, by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2), we will change the way we think and act as a result.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In my heart and mind, I know the truth of God's word. I know the WORD of God, the living Christ, and the Spirit of the living Christ lives within me. I have the power, the authority, and the position necessary to live a victorious life. The truth of Scripture reminds me that I am right where I am to be, but in order to overcome the temptations of the devil, I must do my part. I must live, act, and believe that I have been set free. There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

The truth as set me free.

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