The devil is a liar and manipulator, the king of fear who makes you question the most important things you hear from God. This is not a new trick of his, clearly, he has been up to these shenanigans since we roamed the Garden with God. And here on earth, this is never clearer to us as people than when we go through “The Dark Night of the Soul”. There is no greater joy for a Christian than to feel close to God. The peace His presence brings is like the warm embrace of a loving mom and dad who give you a group hug, sings to you that everything is good, and tells you “we’re going to have some fun today”. The dark night of the soul is the opposite of that. It is when you feel far off from God and you’re not sure where He went. You feel like you’re a kid lost in a crowded place and at the same time isolated and alone in a remote part of the world where no one ever goes because there is no food or water to survive.

It seems impossible or at the very least illogical to feel both at the same time but that’s what It is like for me. My experience going through the dark night of the soul has very much been like being surrounded by the enemy completely cut off from God, but the reality is that I am more like a kid at the grocery store who turned down an aisle when my parents kept going straight. God is still very near, but you don’t know how to get back to the place by His side. For me, the normal prayer, worship, and scripture reading has not been doing it anymore. It no longer brings me back into the arms of the Father and the embrace of the Holy Spirit. It got so bad and so lonely that I needed to seek the help of medical professionals because I started to want it all to just end. I needed it to stop to the point where it was all I could think about.

I feel blessed that these suicidal thoughts have not won the day. I believe that they easily could and I have to fight to survive. God gave me the strength and the resolve to hand my guns over to family members and admit to everyone that I wanted the pain of this life to end. Asking for help was the hardest part I had to deal with and then God surrounded me with grace. Going to therapy and getting on medications was the right move for me and while I am hopeful to not have to take pills the rest of my life, I am also not willing to risk going back to that place, that state of mind. I am not yet out of this spiritual battle but the pain and suffering has been quieted enough for me to realize that part of my problem has been living an unsustainable rhythm of life. Not so much that I have been overdoing it, but I have been tremendously off balance. I have been going up to the proverbial mountain to meet with God but I have been failing to be in true community with others and I have failed to reach out to those who are still struggling to hear and understand the gospel.

I believe I know why I have failed to do this and I don’t want to admit it but I am going to share my theory. I have been afraid of opening up to a group of people who might not be there for me next year. After being a part of a church where I was finally able to experience life sharing discipleship that had to close, I have been hurt and I am afraid of getting hurt again. It didn’t feel good to watch those relationship go away and I tried to hold on to them as tight as I could. But, for me, I think the reality is that I needed to let them go so I could go somewhere as well, and start over. Because that’s what making disciples is all about. We are supposed to be fishers of men but we should be fishing, catch and release style, when it comes to discipleship. I should not have mourned the loss of what I had without celebrating what these other churches were going to get when they received my people. Not my people in the sense that they belonged to me but that I belonged to them. This is of course just one theory and not that of someone who is impartial.

Today I am hopeful with a side of pessimism. I have many reasons to stay secluded and could easily let my fear of losing relationships and grieving that loss keep me from engaging but I know this is not the will of the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit. The path that should be taken in times like these is one of vulnerable transparency. It is only when my hurts are exposed that I can draw people out of their protective walls and be able to get close enough to people that we can both be healed. Feeling withdrawn from community hurts and it makes you think pulling farther away from community is the only way to make it stop, but that’s a lie (that the king of lies is whispering in your ear). That when it’s time to be intentional and press into the relationships around you.

The dark night of the soul is more than just depression. Depression is a mental and emotional state of sadness, feeling isolated, hopeless, and with a pain that has no way of being bandaged. The dark night of the soul is that but also with a deep spiritual component that makes you feel separated from God when you once had closeness. It makes you question your calling, your purpose, your worth to the kingdom, and even your standing as an adopted child of God. I don’t know why God will let you go through it, but I do know that God is faithful while you do and is waiting for us on the other side. There is no quick fix to this, it is something that must be worked through. You must claw your way out with purposeful, intentional, faithful, and focused effort. You cannot defeat the valley of the shadow of death but if you look for it you will find the light that will lead you out and back to life.

Curtis Perea~

A friend recently made a post on Facebook with an innocuous question. What do you want out of life? But then it hit me. I should be obsessing on life instead of death. I have been obsessed with death for almost my whole life. It started at the age of two when my younger brother died. My mother carried Matthew full term only to give birth to a baby who couldn’t survive in this world more than three days. This was a devastating experience for my parents as you can imagine. I do not remember much from this time. The memories I do have are feelings and thoughts I have attached to pictures that slightly move like the ‘live’ photos an iPhone captures. This is not surprising, after all he was born and died in 1981 and I was born in 1979. I have made great attempts at remembering everything I can from that far back but when I have mediated on deeply buried memories I get pieces of the puzzle. I am not even sure if these are actual memories or my own imagination at work. But this was a significant event for my mother and my mother was my world at the age of two and I am still a bit of a momma’s boy. Watching her grieve, though I do not remember details, had a real impact on my own emotional development.

Somewhere in this process is where I believe I broke. God has been slowly trying to put the pieces back together but that’s been like gluing a vase back together, a vase that has legs, likes to run away, and doesn’t know if it even wants to exist. It was during this time that I became obsessed with death. I did not understand death or what it even was. What I knew of death was simple and very confusing. My mother was pregnant with my baby brother, she went to the hospital, came home, and was very sad. She wasn’t pregnant anymore and my baby brother had died. Like I said, my mother was my world and seeing how much my brother’s death hurt her made me not ever want to die or else I might hurt her as well. Thus, I became obsessed with death, what it was, how to avoid it, what it meant, and what happens when it happens.

I don’t think I ever asked my parents a lot of questions about Matthew and if I did ask any the answers probably left me more confused. To this day thinking about death creates feelings of confusion and anxiety. I have spent so much of my life trying to avoid the inevitable. Here I am, almost forty, realizing that I have spent all this time answering the question, “what do you want out of life?” With my answer being, “to not die”. I have spent half my life with the ridiculous goal of not dying. In my brokenness I answered a question about life with a statement about death. What is wrong with me? It took me almost forty years, half my life, to figure out that I have obsessed about the end. I’m glad I am having this realization now. At forty a lot of people start to face their mortality but I feel like I’m finally ready and able to stop focusing on my eventual death and start to face life. I want to be obsessed with life and that is not just the medication talking.

Since becoming a Christian my views on death have changed, but I’ve still been obsessed with it. I’m always thinking about the end of my time here in this body and how freeing it will be, yet still scared that it will happen too soon and I’ll end up hurting my mom and dad like the death of Matthew did. And now that I am married with children I know that my death would have such an impact on the lives of my own family that I am in no rush to have this happen. In fact, I really, really, really, don’t want to die so I can be there for them. But my focus is still wrong. I am still obsessed with death and avoiding death when I should be focusing on what to do while I’m alive.

Now, when I look at the question, “what do you want out of life?” I wonder if that is even a question I should be asking at all. Is it about me? Should I be trying to get anything at all out of life? Is this not a self-centered question? Now, I am not trying to say we shouldn’t have fun. Enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be merry. Find what pleasures you can and enjoy them but, like death, they are not something to obsess over. Some might say we shouldn’t obsess on anything, but for me, that’s asking this fish not to swim. Obsessing on things is what I do so obsessing on the pleasures in life will inevitably become a life of self-obsession.

Besides, is our life our own or is it owed to the people around us? I honestly feel like I owe my life to God and I can best give my life to God by living for the people around me. I worship God by living for the only thing the Bible said are made in the image of God (humans) so if I live to only serve myself I am in essence worshiping an image of God. I do not want to worship the image of God (humanity) by serving myself. I want to worship God and I do this by serving the people made in God’s image, helping them and caring for their needs.

I do not have a bucket list. There are things I want to do in life but I do not really care if I ever experience them. Life is so much more than the sum of all our experiences that completing a list of things to do before I die seems meaningless. That is not to say other people should not have a bucket list. They are a great tool to help people begin to face their mortality. But, facing my mortality isn’t my problem, it is how do I best live life in spite of my mortality.

Curtis Perea-

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In this episode we sit down with Ann Lowry and discuss the highs and lows of her life in the Kingdom of God. 

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In this episode of our quadcast we introduce one of our hosts, Shawn Lowry, to the listening audience. Shawn gives us some of his back story and testimony.

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Being busy, staying busy, focusing on my kids’ needs, or all the things around me is how I often avoid dealing with whatever it is I don’t want to face or think about. When my son was diagnosed with autism, life was already busy, but it got even busier. Suddenly I was busy with evaluations, doctors’ appointments, speech therapy, OT therapy, ABA therapy, IEP’s … I often thought about how I was almost in survival mode, just keep moving. I almost felt like I had a free ticket to not think about anything else, went into tunnel vision with blinders up.

For me, part of this was avoiding talking to God. I didn’t want to talk to Him. I wasn’t sure what else He could want from me at that time in my life. It was a relationship I didn’t have time for. It is actually funny for me to say this because on the other hand, I was in constant prayer. Prayer for my son, prayer for my family, I was completely dependent on God because I was completely spent. But, I didn’t want to receive anything back from Him. I didn’t have the emotional energy to do it. I knew God was still standing there knocking at my door, standing by my side, or those foot prints in the sand… But, I didn’t want to look up and make eye contact. Head down, keep moving.

I realized and was aware of what I was doing. Along the way, over these last six to seven years, I’ve had periods and moments when I intentionally paused, I’ve looked up, and re-embraced the relationship. But, more often, I thought that it was easier for me to just stay busy, even with church activities, than to face God and let Him love me. I think part of it is also avoiding my pain. God wants to come in and heal us, to heal the pain. But, facing the pain can be painful. I know that if I pause and listen to God, He is going to stir my heart. He is going to break down that wall, but sometimes I feel like I’m not ready to give up that wall and my defenses. I just don’t even want to go there. I’m definitely avoiding it as much as possible, so I just keep moving.

I still struggle with this. And those who know me know that I’m really good and keeping busy. But, knowing your tendencies is the first step to not getting stuck in them. Also, God has been showing me, in a language that I can understand, how He wants to move with me. The thing about “just keep moving” is that sometimes we do have to. In the case of my son, sometimes I do need to focus on him and his needs. But, what if I let God move with me, or better yet, what if I let God guide me and clear a path forward? I often think of when Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:30). He isn’t trying to make things harder for us in this world. Jesus didn’t come to put rules and burdens upon us, but He actually took that burden with Him to the cross. So, why do we hold onto it like it is ours to overcome?

Another thing people may know about me is that I love to run. And, not just run, but race. There are lots of good life lessons and analogies that can come from racing. But one we often hear is to run your own race. Running your own race can be good, as to not compare to others, but sometimes I find that I also like the control I have in it. I run my race. I set the strategy, I set the pace. But, in this race of life, maybe that isn’t what God intends for us. I recently ran a marathon, and when running a marathon, the first half is all about just staying relaxed and getting the early miles in. So, I found myself in crowds of runners and I just fell in behind the largest man around me and tried to relax and just take advantage of him doing the work in front of me.

So, where am I going with this? About a month ago, I was standing in worship during church. I was actually present, I wasn’t keeping busy to avoid that conversation with God. As I stood there, He gave me an image of just falling in behind him. Let him lead, let Him set the pace, let Him do the work. I didn’t have to be out there just moving and clearing a path forward all on my own. I realized that when I fall in behind Him, He can take me down a course that I may not have seen, and is ultimately a much better route than the one I had planned. I just had to follow and trust his race plan. And, the other thing (side point, but very important too), I’m not the only person in this race. I’m on a team! The Church is a team, my Family is my team. How was I not seeing this? So funny what God shows us when we look up and have the courage to face Him. Yes, sometimes it stirs up stuff, and sometimes it is painful, and sometimes God will even ask us to do stuff we don’t want to do. But, this race is not mine alone, and I’m not leading it alone. Praise God for that!

Obviously this is something I’m still working through. I’m still figuring it out. But, I’m sure there are others out there, like me, who hide in their busy day to day. Others who don’t like to pause and listen, or let go of controlling the race. Sometimes life is hard, and we do press forward and just keep moving for survival. But, God is there to lighten our burden, to break the wind in front of us. Yes, I keep moving, keep running this race, but I can fall in behind my Savior and trust in His race plan.

Sally Perea ~

Sometimes it feels like life is all about control. How much control do you have? What do you control? What controls you? I become a Christian, and then it’s about surrender. Surrendering control of your life to God but then still having self-control. To someone like me, who tends to overthink these sorts of things it can feel like my brain is breaking when I really try to think this through. My mind starts going in circles of maintaining control vs. surrender to the point my thoughts become like a skipping record and this is my attempt to get through the song.

Before Christ, I looked at control like an accountant looks at someone’s finances. The control you had were your assets and the control people or things had over you were your liabilities. The more focused and disciplined you were (self-controlled) the more you could achieve and the more successful you would become. “Whatever you set your mind to you can achieve” sort of thing. Then there are the people in life who take control to a whole other level and want to control other people as well. Whether they do this because they feel out of control of their own life, in perfect control of everything around them, or are just self-centered narcissists the results are the same; they treat the people around them with no love and little to no respect.

Being under something or someone else’s control was a sign of weakness, and as a Christian in some ways it still is a negative type of weakness. Before I began living out a positive relationship with Christ, allowing anything or anyone to have control over me was like losing a part of myself. There were somethings that I was willing to allow to take pieces of me, cigarettes come to mind, but my pride was in the idea that it only had control over me because I allowed it. I still have some of this rebellious spirit in me and find that as long as I focus on the Gospel the rebelliousness within me does not win the day. Feeding my thoughts about others starves my selfishness.

Now, as a Christian, my views on control have shifted pretty drastically. I no longer see control over other people in a positive light and understand that true self control is achieved by surrender. Now I see that God is in control, but only if I allow Him to “take the wheel”. I have heard many people say they do not believe in God because if God was really in control He would never allow bad things like school shootings to happen. The truth is they are right. If God was in control of everything then those types of atrocities would not happen. The problem is mankind. If every adult and child in a school was living a selfless life and surrendered control of their life to God, lived out the gospel then that school would have no bullies, no sexual misconduct, and no shootings. The sad state of the world isn’t that we are not in the garden anymore it’s that we would now rather live outside of the garden, than take The Way back in.

Control should be in God’s hands but I am supposed to exercise self-control. Wait, what? The thing is that while we are creatures of free will, our scope of freedom is really pretty narrow. We can obey God, or obey self. That’s really it. We obey God by loving God and loving people who are the made image of God. Hear this: We are made in the image and we are the made image of God. The word used for “image” in the creation story is the same word used for idol. So, we can Obey, worship, and Love God, or we can obey, worship, and be self-focused. Love God, love people, or love self only, sometimes these two overlap but the motivation of your heart is always visible to God. That is where the scope of our free will ultimately ends. The struggle here is that to make your allegiance with God is to choose the gospel in every moment and every circumstance you face.

So now I live in the paradox of self-control being the by product (fruit) of the Holy Spirit living in me, working in me, and me surrendering control to God. Our life and relationship with God is like a dance. When we let God do the leading our movements become a thing of beauty. The problem is that we tend to tell God that we want to lead. God being the gentle spirit He is, allows it, and we go off. We wander, we stumble, we trip on our own well-intentioned feet and if not too hard headed we go back to God and ask Him to take the lead again. We all have done it. We will undoubtedly do it again; and if we realize it or not, when we do take the lead, we are literally living in sin. Someone once told me that spiritual maturity is not measured by sinning less and less. It is measured instead by how long it takes you to go from sin to repentance. As you become more mature in the Spirit, the time you spend between “taking the lead” and asking God to take back control will become shorter and shorter. Occasionally this process of growth will take one step forward and two steps back but don’t lose heart. God’s love is greater than any step our little feet can take.

I want to encourage you, brothers and sisters, to not be too concerned over control. The only real control and act of free will we have is to obey God or follow our own agenda. To give God control or to keep it for ourselves. What better gift could we give to the one who sacrificed Himself for us? Nothing but the one and only thing we can really try and hold on to, control of our lives. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and what others will see in your life will look like self-control but we now know it’s not self-control at all it is surrender to the Spirit of God.

Curits –

There is a lot of talk these days about political correctness. But what does it mean to be Kingdom Correct? It is disturbing to me how many Christian brothers and sisters seem bothered by the idea that they need to be politically correct and not say certain words anymore. When it comes right down to it, being politically correct doesn’t line up with the Kingdom of God. In fact, it falls way short. Political Correctness tells us we can’t say something that has been deemed hurtful or disrespectful. Kingdom Correctness only uses words that build people up and never tears them down. Kingdom Correctness has your heart far from even thinking of saying words that would hurt others.

Christians, we should not concern ourselves with what may or may not be politically correct. Instead, we should focus only on loving God and loving people which is the only way to live in line with the Gospel. It is the only way to be Kingdom Correct. It’s the only way to be sure our eyes are always looking at the Father, as to follow His lead. Our call is to the Gospel. This alone should be our main point of focus. Treat all people respectfully and with great dignity no matter their age, education, or financial status. This way, when you share the good news with them, they will be receptive to you and the message you bring. What good does it do to say the right words while your heart is grumbling that society is keeping you from using other, less uplifting, words?

It’s my opinion that political correctness could be broken down into a simple saying like, “hey, don’t be a jerk”. Political correctness is a secular way of trying to be like the Kingdom of God. It is the way mankind says, “Thanks anyway God. We don’t need you, your help, or your Kingship. We’ve got it from here.” I would suggest that the essence behind political correctness is in fact replacing God with the idol of self. When it comes to being “PC” there may be some genuine heart behind the idea but the human heart always falls short of the Spirit of God and of His Kingdom.

There are many ways in which humanity has tried to break away from the authority of God. Maybe it’s because authority is a bit of a dirty word. Most of us, to some degree, have problems with authority or authority figures. We don’t like to be told how to live, what to do, or how to act and God is often looked at as the upmost authority (which God is) except by people who do not believe God even exists (which He does). But what if God wasn’t looked at as an authority figure first? Instead, what if God was viewed as a parent who loves you unconditionally and would do anything for you? Now, what would it look like if we presented God as this unconditionally loving parent to the hurting people of this broken world? The impact the church could have for the Kingdom of God if we stopped worrying about political correctness and only concerned ourselves with Kingdom Correctness would be amazing. Truly amazing.

It is an uncomfortable experience to verbally hurt someone when there was no intent to offend. There is no doubt that I have done this and I will likely do it again. But my ignorance of why something is hurtful to another person is not an excuse to fail to learn and grow. It is an opportunity we should all be grateful for and one we should not allow to pass by because of our pride. Make no mistakes, it is pride that causes us to shift the blame of the hurt caused by our words onto the person who is wounded. I have heard people say that these other people are too easily offended. “They need to toughen up or the world is going to roll them.” But then the same people will agree that the world should be a kinder gentler place. The truth is, we can’t have it both ways.

Does the Kingdom of God demand people toughen up? Does the Kingdom of God tell people they are too sensitive? Love God. Love people. Now, you may say that love isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes love calls people out on there shortcomings. Yes, however, you do not train or domesticate a wounded animal you first must aid in its healing. You must tend to the wounds first. Doing so will build relationship and trust laying the foundation for friendship and eventual discipleship. The Kingdom of God wants people to grow and become all they were created to be. The Kingdom of God wants its people to treat others in a way that does not require thick skin to be around.

The Kingdom of God is too big for world politics and American politics cannot contain, nor can one party lay claim to the Kingdom of God. We then should not put our politics before the Kingdom of God or the Gospel message we have been sent to proclaim. How can we proclaim the Gospel while we get defensive after saying words that others find offensive? Now, if people are offended by the Gospel you are preaching then double check that your message is not sullied and in need of correction. If it is, humble yourself, allow growth to happen, and try again. But, if the Gospel message you preach is pure and people take offense at the notion of loving God and loving people then you can try a different approach of sharing life, time, and building more of a relationship before representing the Gospel, or let them go. There is no rule, or law, or exact way of knowing which way to proceed, but the Spirit will guide you on individual cases.

So, love God, and love people. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Make amends when you hurt people and forgive people when they hurt you. If you do this, then being politically correct will be a moot point because you will be right in the eyes of God and man.

Curtis Perea-