A Guide to Finding the Joy in Confronting Your Sin

Report card time was always an odd one for me.

I was neither the academic so wrapped up in grades that my happiness depended on making straight As, nor was I the slacker who didn’t care a sliver about my marks. I was right in the middle, caring enough that I wanted to know where I could improve but having a C wouldn’t crush me too hard. Of course, I wanted to get better, wanted to grow academically, but I wasn’t going to die if they didn’t come back exactly how I wanted to.

At times I wish I was a better student. My brother and my wife were wonderful students who made the President’s List at Elon University several times. I’m surrounded by people in my life who were great students because they worked hard and put their studies at a high priority in their lives. It’s something I didn’t do. And I was confronted with it every time that I got those grades back.

Confronting bad grades can be stressful for some people. Doing so can usually lead to one of two things: you work harder to get better grades, or you don’t change anything and the grades get worse or stay the same. They rarely lead you to rejoicing.

But I’ve learned in the last couple years that examining my sinful behavior actually leads me to rejoicing in the great God who loves me.

So go through this process with me as you read this.

First: Think about the most recent sin you committed. Maybe it was lusting after a co-worker, yelling at your spouse, envying the latest tech toy your classmate brought to school. Got it? OK, cool.

Now, and this is the painful part, think about how much it goes against God’s law, what God has laid out for you to do. Either you did something He told you not to do, or you didn’t do something He did tell you to do. You’ve disobeyed God.

This sucks. This feeling right here, when you actually confront your sin, it’s the worst. And it can discourage you from continuing forward in this process when you actually need to. But yes, you need to. Your despair and dismay leaves you needing something more.

Second: Look for the answer to your problem. How do you fix this situation? How do you find relief? How do you find peace? Well, you could try harder, but the truth is, you can always do better. You can always perform better. You can always fight sin better. You can always pursue God better.

Our sinful state limits us in our growth because we’ll never be perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you and to themselves. Yes, we can grow, we can become more obedient, but we will never be perfect. So we can’t find satisfaction and relief in our obedience efforts.

So where can we find peace? In Christ alone, in the Gospel alone, in the grace of God alone.

Third: Bask in the grace God has given you, leading you to rejoice. Trust me, it’s a joy that’s well-earned.

It’s a joy that’s come from seeing that God loves you in the depths, in the midst of your darkest time, in your deepest sin. It’s a joy that reads Romans 8:38-39 and shouts, “Yes! This love is God’s for me!” It’s a joy that reads James 1:2-4 and sees the grace and growth that comes from going through sin and temptation, even when you give in and disobey God.

It’s a joy that 1 Peter 1:3-7 explains and finds the joy discussed in v. 6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Because of the great inheritance and hope that God has given us, we can rejoice in all trials, including facing temptation over and over again, even giving into them, because what we know what we have, we know what’s there at the end. We have hope to rejoice and be happy in spite of the negative that has gone on.

This post is not meant to make light of sin. In fact, it’s to redeem sin, to make it something that we don’t always have to be so upset about. I write to encourage you to confront the darkest part of yourself.

Surprisingly, it just might be the tunnel where, at the end, you’ll see the brightest light.

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True Peace and Strength in a World with Little of Either

I need to get my fiancée to write a blog. Hers would be a million times better than mine.

I was talking to her last night and she was sharing something she had read in a devotional book of hers. It was revolving around the idea that God is our strength and our peace, based on Psalm 29:11 –

May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Pretty simply verse. But it brought to my attention something about my own life and something about this world.

I live in a constant state without peace. A life dealing with depression and anxiety will do that to you. Anyone else like me will echo that sentiment. I also often feel like I have little strength to handle all the things thrown my way.

This world is without peace. How many wars are ongoing right now? Well, according to this Wikipedia list (you can debate the legitimacy, of course), there’s over 50. And we in the United States think we’re pretty strong, but we, like every other country in the world, have many weaknesses and flaws.

The strength and peace Psalm 29:11 refers to, I think, a strength and peace that is not found within ourselves. That’s the key.

We are on a constant search for strength, whether it be physical or mental. I can’t tell you how many CrossFit gyms I’ve seen pop up over the last few years. And people are reading and writing books left and right about working out your mind, being in the right mental state. Both physical and mental strength is good, don’t get me wrong. But if our strength isn’t based in the person and character of God, it will fail us over and over and over again.

We are on a constant search for peace. People meditate, sleep, do crazy things just to find personal peace, a fleeting feeling that always seems to escape us just as we’re about to attain it. The world is searching for peace, but seems to use the least peaceful means to try to achieve it. Both personal and international peace is good, don’t get me wrong. But if our peace isn’t based in the person and character of God, it will fail us over and over and over again.

Yes, true and lasting peace and true and lasting strength are linked because they’re both found in knowing, believing and trusting God. The moment I seek to find those kinds of peace and strength in things outside of God, particularly in myself, is the moment I take a step in the wrong direction.

Now, all this is very abstract. True, but abstract. What does this look like practically?

It starts with a mindset. How do you think about achieving peace in your life? Peace is a state of rest and contentment with the circumstances around you. True peace comes from understanding, I think, God is in control. Isaiah 46:9b-10 says,

for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

Knowing that God is in control of all circumstances, and that He is working all things together for your good if you are His (Romans 8:28), is the key to finding mental and emotional peace in your life. This may not affect circumstantial peace, but it is the beginning to finding peace in your own mind.

What about strength? I think it also starts in understanding God is in control. Knowing that God is in control gives you proper perspective on how to handle situations. It gives you a strength you can’t build in the gym. It handles change with confidence, it approaches difficulties with peace.

One of the most important things to remember here is that we won’t always be truly strong and truly at peace. As weak and anxious human beings, we’ll never get this totally down. Never.

That’s where the peace that we achieve through Christ’s death and resurrection confirms our place as God’s child, our eternity with Him and our salvation from sin.

That, my friends, is true peace. And thankfully, my fiancée has a grasp on that.

‘I Will Return to My First Husband’ And He Will Take Her In: The Gospel Beauty of Hosea 2

I woke up this morning with the intent to start reading through the minor prophets in Scripture. Honestly, it’s not something I often wake up with the intent to do – read the Bible. Usually in the morning I’m dragging my feet trying to get ready for work.

That’s one of the beauties of Sundays. You just might have enough time that you don’t have to drag your feet.

Anyways, I read Hosea 1-3 and it was a fascinating picture of the Gospel.

The story of Hosea and his prostitute wife Gomer was most recently modernized in the popular novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. In summary: Hosea is a prophet of God and he is told to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (1:2). So he marries a prostitute in order to be a living example of the faithfulness of God to His faithless people. God then spells out His punishment on Israel and then His mercy. Then Hosea redeems Gomer, who had abandoned him, by buying her back and saying, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whole, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you” (3:3), echoing God’s love for His people.

I had read this before, but when I took the time to digest this, I got something beautiful out of it, mainly in Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 is entirely prophecy and God or Hosea speaking to the people of the nation of Israel. It roughly breaks down into two sections, and they are quite reflective of our everyday lives following Jesus.

Israel’s Unfaithfulness Punished/Our Unfaithfulness Explained (v. 1-13)

God opens by saying some pretty harsh things about Israel:

Plead with your mother, plead – for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband – that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. (v. 2-3)

The punishment is severe. But we get to learn why she did what she did in v. 5:

For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”

The “mother” here played the whore, she went after sources of life other than God. She did this because she thought that her “loves” would give her bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink. These are things that are necessary for life: bread, water and drink give physical sustenance, wool and flax are good for clothing, and oil lights the house and helps cook the food.

One reason we daily pursue after things other than God is that we feel they will give us life or help us meet our basic needs. And they will. They truly will. To sit here and say that sinful pleasures bring no satisfaction whatsoever would be to tell a straight-up lie.

We lie to others because we’ll avoid awkward or painful conversation. We pursue sexual intimacy outside of marriage because we want to experience the pleasure without the commitment. We boast in ourselves because we want to feel like we’re worth something. We work super hard super late because we want to have money for security or to buy things to feel good.

We do tons more crappy things in order to find that satisfaction. We’re pursuing things that are good. We’re just pursuing them in the wrong source, as the nation of Israel was here in Hosea.

But we see a change in the “mother” here. God hedges her way so she can’t find those “lovers.” “Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now,” v. 7 tells us. God is the “first husband” here because He is our original creator, the one who originally sustained us. “And she did not know,” v. 8 says, “that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Here we see that God is the ultimate source of the things we need, but our “lovers” misappropriate those needs.

Over the next few verses, God puts an end to the opportunities for the “mother” to find her satisfaction in following false gods, in playing the whore. There is punishment doled out.

But then we get to the best part.

The LORD’s Mercy on Israel/God’s Mercy on Us (v. 14-23)

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (v. 14-15)

Think of what Israel found when they were brought out of Egypt. They found freedom, hope, and (eventually) a new homeland in Canaan. God offers that to the wife of whoredom, His people, who abandoned Him. And there is a new establishment of relationship, spelled out in v. 19-20:

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

God doesn’t abandon His people forever. He wants them to learn where they’ve fallen short, He wants them to see how they’ve been missing His commands. But then He “allures” them back to Him.

I love that language of “alluring.” To allure is to be attractive. God makes Himself attractive to us, more attractive than the things we pursued before. This is how He shows us grace: He shows us that what we pursued before wasn’t truly satisfying and then shows us that He is truly satisfying. He gives us what we need – the bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink – just by being Himself.

The best part: we don’t have to do anything to earn this sustenance. It’s given freely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference between this story and our story is that we have available to us the gospel grace of Jesus Christ earned for us on the cross. The people of Israel had to do work to repent of their sins, and then God showed them mercy. All we have to do is repent and believe. We don’t have to do any certain amount of work to earn back God’s favor. We’ve been given the right to no longer be condemned if we are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

But the relationship is the same: we are betrothed to God forever. We enter a relationship with God that is like a marriage: it’s binding, it’s lasting. And while earthly marriages end on earth, a marriage with God in Christ is eternal. Despite our whoredom, despite our disobedience, despite how we constantly fall short of what His command spell out for us, He loves us and commits to us.

That’s a God I can get behind. I hope you can as well.

Three Keys to Talking About “Hard Stuff” in the Church Context

This is part five of five in my five-part series on talking about the hard stuff within the church context. Check out Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 by clicking on the links. 

I’ve been a lot more outspoken recently in groups of people about how I think the church is not willing to talk about certain things, and I’ve gotten an interesting reaction.

What I’ve found is this: those over 35 are quicker to say that that’s not true, that we can talk about things, even hard things, in church without a problem. It’s got to be in the “right” context, yes, but we can talk about. On the other hand, younger folk feel as if certain topics aren’t allowed to be talked about, aren’t allowed to be discussed, particularly the ones most pertinent to their lives. For instance, some of the things I’ve written about in the previous posts in this series.

Why is that, I wonder? There’s a few possible reasons.

  1. The older generation does talk about these things but the younger folk feel excluded from these conversations.
  2. The older generation thinks that these conversations happen but they actually don’t.
  3. The younger folk are not seeing/taking part in these conversations even though they’re happening right in front of them.

I don’t know why, but for some reason that’s what the perceived reality is in the current church context. And there’s only one way to fix it, in my mind. Have the conversations in a broader context. Just talk about it, for goodness’ sake. From my reading of the Bible, there are no restrictions on who you should talk about things with, when you should talk about them, how much you should share. In fact, Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16), “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). So whether it’s sins we’re talking about or difficult culturally relevant topics, the command in Scripture is to talk.

But how do we talk about it? What are the keys to having conversations about difficult issues and topics and growing the church to a place where we talk about these difficult things?


 

Remember the Gospel of grace is your foundational identity.

There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

If we have a full grasp of the Gospel, we will talk about our sin without worry of condemnation. The central point of the Gospel is that we have been given new life in Christ and our sin no longer has a grip on us and our eternity. The more that I’ve grasped this, the more I’ve felt comfortable talking about the things in my life I struggle with.

So often I think we hide things because we’re afraid of what people will think of us. I think that a lot for myself. I want to share current personal struggles, but I’m afraid of what people will think of me. I’m afraid people will trust me less, will think of me as less of a Christian, will not allow me to serve in ways I want to serve in the church. But if my identity is firmly set in Jesus and the cross and the forgiveness and grace the cross offers, the less I will worry about what people think of me. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with people’s views of me. It’s a process that takes time, but it’s one worth investing in.

Be intentional about including all ages in your conversations. And do it in love and understanding and patience.

If you’re going to start discussing things like racism, mental illness or profanity, it’s very likely that those under 18 are struggling with those things. If you’re going to talk about social media, technology use or modern dating/relationships, it’s likely that those over 35 aren’t as comfortable with those things. We as a church need each other. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul tells his young companion: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” There seems to be an emphasis on building relationships between age groups, not curtaining them off all the time. I think there’s good to limiting some groups to specific age groups for certain conversations, but there’s also a point to where we need each other.

One fear, especially from the younger crowd pertaining to including the older crowd, is that there won’t be a mutual respect of opinions. There are times I’ve definitely felt that older men don’t respect my opinion or even my feelings on a topic simply because I don’t have the same “life experience” as them. There is some truth to that opinion, but there is no quicker way to make a young person feel less valuable than to say (audibly or by your actions) what they think or feel doesn’t matter because they haven’t experienced enough. Some of us have experienced a lot. Eighteen years is a lot of life. Heck, fifteen years is a lot of life.

Please, be inclusionary. And don’t write us off just because we were born much later than you.

For the love of all things raven, don’t use “Christianese” all the time. Be specific.

One of the most obnoxious things I find about talking about hard stuff in the church today is that we throw out all the churchy phrases we can come up with to mask what’s really going on or what our real thoughts are. We bash politicians for being “politically correct” and then we get all “Christian-politically correct” in church. We end up sounding like these guys:

He’s really T’ing me off. I’m gonna kick his A.

Just talk about how you really feel and what you’re really dealing with. Not just what you dealt with many years ago, but what sins you dealt with earlier this morning. Just talking about things in a general way accomplishes nothing but glossing over the issue. If you’re a doctor, you don’t speak about cancer to your patient in general terms. You speak specifically about what kind of cancer it is, what the specific treatment is going to be. Let’s do the same. Let’s not gloss it over with phrases like, “I’m really struggling with sin” or “There’s a lot of gray area.” Just be specific!


 

This wraps up my series on talking about the “hard stuff” in church. Would love to dialogue with you about it if you want to discuss anything I’ve said. Just shoot me an e-mail at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.


 

On My Depression, My Anxiety and Following Jesus: It’s Not Really a Contradiction

One of the most devastating things that can happen to me is going to bed.

Don’t get me wrong: I love sleep. I love getting rested for the next day, whatever that day may bring. I love waking up refreshed. But if I go to my room, shut the door, turn off the lights and it get silent, I’m done for.

Why is that? Well, my mind starts to go nuts. I start calculating, thinking, analyzing whatever big thing it is that’s on my plate at the moment. It could be something to do with work, relationships, fighting sin, following Jesus. And this happens just about every night. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year at controlling it and handling it, but there are still some nights where it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with my own brain just to get to sleep.

I have anxiety, but more than the normal person. Or so I’m told. I look at other people and how they live their lives and how they seem to be so carefree and I’m thinking, “How the heck do you do that?” I’ve also dealt with bouts of severe depression, so much so that I’ve started taking anti-depressant medication.

But before I get any further, let me start at the beginning.

My Shy, Nervous Childhood

I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Just want to make sure that’s made clear.

Growing up, I was pretty shy. I’m not the kid who’s going to walk up to you in the park and say hello or tell you that your shoes are awesome. Now I think it’s adorable when kids do that, but I never thought that was a good idea when I was younger. I remember my parents taking me to events and introducing me to people, and I would shake hands as firm as I could, but I would mutter a “hello” or “nice to meet you” under my breath.

I think this is just a part of how I was made, part of my personality I can’t change. I still have moments like that today when I meet new people. Ask any of my friends who have introduced me to their friends; they’ll probably tell you that, except on the rarest of occasions, I don’t warm up to the idea of meeting or hanging out with new people.

O'Neal. And a dog.

O’Neal. And a dog.

When I was entering the fifth grade, I moved to a new school, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It’s a fantastic school where I basically prepared for college from the time I got there until the time I graduated. Nothing about college academically threw me off. But socially, O’Neal was a nightmare, particularly in middle school. My naturally shy personality led to me trying to do everything I possibly could to get people to think I was cool, girls to have a crush on me and not to get ignored. I got in two fights in fifth grade trying to “defend my honor.” I was really just being shy and insecure, trying to show off and get people thinking I was cool.

Case in point: I remember playing basketball at recess one day that year. A couple sixth graders were standing just off the court and were talking about me. “You see that kid?” one said, pointing at me. “He gets angry and wants to start fighting people.” (Side note: I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but something like those.) I heard him say that and started looking for an opportunity to get ticked at somebody. I found it, and shoved someone. Nothing really came of it, but it’s an exemplary story of where I was in fifth grade. I wanted people to know who I was, talk about me, etc.

As I progressed through middle school, my need to fight diminished but my need for attention and affirmation rose. I don’t think I was any different from any other sixth or seventh grader. I wanted girls (particularly the cute ones) to like me, guys to think I was cool and to get good grades. That last one is just one example of where my Christian upbringing had an interesting impact. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of being a “good guy.” I’ve written before about my goody-two-shoesedness. I had to be the “best kid” in the whole school.

When it came to girls, it was especially complicated. I wanted to look at girls the “right way,” not going around comparing which one was the “hottest.” I also didn’t want to scare them away, which happened in the eighth grade. Long story short, I freaked one girl out, in her words. Not exactly my brightest shining moment.

So I left middle school and transitioned to high school trying to get people to like me, all the while not trying to freak out girls and be a “good Christian kid.” As if algebra and chemistry didn’t give me enough to worry about already.

My Lonely, Depressed High School Years

I went to high school and found myself resorting to a lot of the same patterns. I had legitimately become a believer during the summer before my ninth grade year, but little seemed to change. I still wanted people to like me, particularly girls, and I wanted to do the right thing. Those things often collided.

There were a couple weeks during my freshman year of high school when I cussed about every chance I could. Never at home, and almost never at church (I did under my breath once), but at school, I let it fly. One time in particular, I got ticked at someone on the basketball court (I’m seeing a pattern here), and let loose a string of expletives so prolific that led someone to tell me that I cussed pretty good. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, that someone saw something I did and recognized it as good.

Let me go ahead and throw something else in here: my parents and my home life were great. I have nothing to complain about there. The issues all came at school. The thing about being at school when you’re that age is that’s where you spend the majority of your time. From 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, you’re surrounded by the same people, doing the same thing, in the same building(s), for four years. That’s at least 35 hours a week, minus the summers, for four whole years. Add in extra-curricular activities, and it’s more. You feel a need to prove yourself.

Things got a little better during my sophomore year. I got into filmmaking and made a short film that won me an award at my school’s small film festival (trailer here). There was some recognition from people and some friendships that were really blossoming. I had my first girlfriend the summer afterwards. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then: depression. For some reason, my junior year was the hardest year of my life up to that point. I had girlfriends during that time, things seemed to be, on the outside, going quite well. People liked me, I was getting along with girls. But something just turned in me. Looking back, I can’t seem to explain why. But at school, things were awful. I felt that no one at school liked me or cared about me. I didn’t think I had any friends. The people that I loved hanging out with the year before didn’t seem to be “caring enough” for me anymore. Again, I can’t explain it.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

I would spend all my free periods and sometimes lunch periods sitting away from everyone else. When I started driving to school in the November of that year, I would take those periods in my car, watching episodes of The Office and just generally trying to stay away from people. I didn’t think people liked me, so I figured it would just be easier for me and them for me to stay away.

Let me remind you: I had no real logical basis for this. I had no empirical evidence that people hated me or didn’t want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were people who wouldn’t choose to hang out with me, but you get that everywhere. Anyways, I imagined all or most of it. My anxious desire for people to like me led me to take the slightest probability that someone didn’t want to talk to me and run with it, believing that that person didn’t care if I was alive or not.

During this time, there were occasional moments when I wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I never got serious about it, planned anything. There were just brief moments when I would consider it, consider what it would be like, then shake myself and realize that was not a good idea.

Life continued like that throughout my junior year. As senior year rolled in, things continued. The relationship I was in was not healthy, and that just complicated matters as I spent hours a day trying to figure out what to do. Deciding to go to Elon University didn’t take a lot out of me as most students’ college decisions do; I applied early decision and found out October 31st I was in.

I ended the relationship I was in during the January of my senior year and things started to look up. My depression began to fade as I made new friends, enjoyed life, had some fun. I made a short film that’s probably one of the most depressing short films about high school relationships ever if you understand it properly. But I had fun doing it. I went to my senior prom with a girl I had a crush on, but I think she was just being nice. But I didn’t take it too seriously. It was great!

I went into college with a little bit of anticipation, but mainly just looking forward to what was ahead, learning how to be a filmmaker, learning how to make movies that glorified God.

College Years of Anxious Depression

I went into college and things started off with a bang. The first night on my hall, a group of about 10 of us worked on putting together one of our new friend’s set of drawers, just hanging out, getting to know each other, having a laugh. I was ready to deal with some of the awkwardness of being around non-Christians a lot – I was one of a few Christians in my entire high school, my brother being one of the other ones – but didn’t exactly handle it well, coming across as quite self-righteous.

Once again, though, I fell into the trap of wanting to impress people and make them like me. But it was a different kind of trap. My anxiety revolved around wanting Christians to like me. I had grown in my faith to the point where it was involved in just about everything I did, and I realized that worrying about how non-Christians perceived me because of it was not helpful. But Christians was another story.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

During my freshman year of college, the ministry I got involved with was super-loving, super-welcoming and I really enjoyed their company and their ministry. But the next year, I started hanging out with another ministry and, for whatever reason, all the old anxieties and depression came back up. I don’t blame the ministry for it. But being around new people and trying to make new friends brought up all the old feelings from fifth grade – the insecurity and the shyness I naturally carried just reared its ugly head again.

During my sophomore year, I was the RA on my hall, which started off wonderfully, but ended in a mess when a couple bad conversations and questionable decisions by me and others led to factions and divisions in a formerly tight-knit community. I felt solely responsible for the whole thing, and that took its toll.

Another thing I began to realize around this time is how sinful I was. And somehow I missed out on grace and the Gospel and how that applied to me every day. I knew the Gospel, believed the Gospel, but ignored the everyday affects of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. I struggled with sin daily and took it so hard. I became the opposite of the self-righteous person I was in middle and high school. I went from thinking “Oh look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian” to “Oh, don’t look at me, I’m the worst Christian in the world.” So now not only was I anxious about how people viewed me and grades in college, I also had to worry about my sin. “Had” is the operative word there; I didn’t absolutely “have” to worry about it, but it seemed like I did.

And, to be real with you all, I dealt with that until I graduated. Through overseas mission trips, multiple small groups, leading a weekly prayer meeting, living with other believers, I was anxious.

Really Examining the Depression

I haven’t really gotten much into the depression part of things, but it was mainly my anxiety that fed my depression. I would get anxious and overthink something, and then I would get sad about it.

Depression is awful. I can’t exactly put into words exactly what it is but here’s a shot: a condition where you fall very easily into a crippling sadness. The key word there is “crippling.” The Mayo Clinic staff define depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety or emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

I’d say that’s pretty accurate for me. Sometimes the littlest things could set me off into a stretch of depression. It could be a stray word in conversation or a certain look someone gave me, or a life-altering event that threw my previous plans in a tizzy or a serious losing bout with sin and temptation. And it’s not something you can simply “snap out of,” or just quit.

It’s so easy, when you see someone who is at that very moment depressed, to just say, “try smiling” or “just push forward” or “let go and let God.”But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. If it were that easy, almost no one would still be dealing with depression. Most people don’t want to feel sad. But for some, it just comes. And it’s not something we can control.

One of the things that made me feel even more depressed was the thought that Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. We’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time, right? Was I really that rebellious that I felt sad at random times for seemingly no reason? Was I that bad a Christian? This led me to doubt my faith, doubt that I was really saved, doubt that I actually had a relationship with Jesus. There were a few times I begged God to save me again if necessary.

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That boy Trip Lee.

And for the most part, I held it inside. There were a couple times I did say something about the anxiety and depression, but I felt, for the most part, people didn’t know how to handle it. Christians didn’t know how to handle it. I remember one time being super honest and transparent about all the things I was dealing with, but the person just told me to change myself, do something different. I wanted to yell “It’s not that simple!,” but I didn’t have the guts to.

As I left college and moved back in with my parents, I began to confront this anxiety and depression head-on. I was tired of it affecting my work, my relationships with others and my relationship with God. There’s been some growing and some maturity, but I still struggle with it from time-to-time. As I said before, I’m taking anti-depressant medication to help with it, but there have been two things I’ve realized that have greatly helped me.

Grace and Sovereignty

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my depression is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s grace.

One of the most common forms my depression has taken is condemnation for past and present sins, sometimes future sins. I’ll look at myself and realize how much I suck, and then I get down. Sometimes I’ll think about how my present sins are going to affect my future and get depressed. There is no remedy for that greater than grace. Romans 8:1, which I’ve quoted at least 15 times on this blog as a whole, says there’s absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loves me, not by how I love Him.

That was so freeing to me! By the time I walked across the stage at Elon to receive my diploma, the majority of my depression came from my lack of obedience. I would sin in some way, and then I’d feel like crap. When I finally realized the depth of this, the width of the love which God has for me, it began to free me up to actually love myself and allow God’s love to guide me and fill me. I began to hold my sin against myself less and less. I began to believe the good things people said about me and actually be encouraged by others.

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my anxiety is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s sovereignty.

The majority of my anxiety has come from my fear of the unknown: what do they think about me, what will I do next, how do I handle this situation. I’ll feel helpless and unable to do anything right. Couple that with my fear of making the “wrong decision,” and it’s a deadly cocktail. There’s no remedy for that greater than God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28, which I’ve quoted at least 7 times on this blog as a whole, says God works all things together for good those who love God and are called according to His purpose, so Christians.

This was so freeing to me! I can trust God with my unknowns and the decisions I make knowing that, whatever happens, EVERYTHING will work together for my good and God’s glory. And praise Him that it’s not my definition of my good, because that would turn out to be an absolutely dreadful definition. God’s timing is perfect, the cliché goes. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When I finally realized the meaning of this, it gave me so much more peace about decisions I’ll make, events happening around me. I began to be less and less anxious by default about things in my life, little decisions, big decisions, relationships, etc.

So the question is: am I healed from those things? No.

What? But you just said…

I know. I’m almost 100 percent convinced that these things will be things I carry to the grave with me. Thorns in the flesh, if you will. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t spend at least two or three minutes collectively over-worrying about something I don’t need to worry about at all. It’s almost a constant thing for me, a constant analysis. I’m like those guys who comment on the NFL Draft Combine, but there’s a combine in my head almost all the time. I’ve gotten better at turning the volume down at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off.

Why Do I Share This

As I’ve probably written before, “why” is my favorite question in all of language. You can learn so much about someone from getting them to answer the question why.

I share these things with you for a few reasons.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are Christians: You’re not alone. We’re out here. And don’t feel guilty for struggling with these things. If you look at Scripture, you’ll find people who had anxiety and depression. Read Jeremiah. Read Job. Charles Spurgeon struggled heavily with depression during seasons of his ministry. Dealing with these things does not disqualify you from being loved by God or being used by God. If you ever want to talk about it, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.

For those who don’t struggle: Please take the time to read articles like mine or this one or this one. Mental illness is often not handled well by the body of Christ, and most people who write about it come at it from a scientific or outsider’s point of view. The science part of it can be very helpful, true, but there’s nothing like getting down in the trenches. Speak with those who do struggle. Love them enough to let them share this struggle with you. This is a very personal issue that is hard for most people to share about. I don’t relish speaking about this for the most part. Please don’t judge. Be patient. Be understanding.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

For those who are in ministry: I beg of you, come alongside those who deal with this and don’t just rush to saying, “You have to think this way or have this attitude,” and expect it to be fixed. The conclusions I came to about grace and sovereignty weren’t fix-alls. When I’m reminded of them, there’s relief and peace, but it doesn’t stay. It’s a thing I have to be constantly reminded of, either by myself or others. We don’t need ministers who treat depression and anxiety with kid gloves or a casting-off glance. It’s a fearful thing for some of us to be honest about it.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are not Christians: I can’t tell you that following Jesus cures me. But I can tell you that following Jesus gives me reason to push forward and continue to live my life with a joy I can’t explain. Give Him a shot.

If anyone has questions or wants more thoughts from someone who’s been there, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.

I hope as you’ve read this that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (which there might just be 5 or 6 of you), you’re getting a better understanding of where I’m coming from in most of what I write.

Love you guys.

116 Dissected: What Does It Mean to Be Unashamed of the Gospel?

One of the more popular rallying cries in my generation is “116!” It’s based in the Christian hip-hop collective 116 Clique, based out of Reach Records. It comes from Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” There’s even a really popular song about it.

I was thinking about this verse yesterday. So often in Christianity, we rally around verses or statements – often in that ever-confusing language of Christianese – that we may not fully understand what they mean, but they sound really good, and people usually know the general idea of what we mean when we say them. Well, Christians do at least. I speak in a lot of Christianese around Christians.

But lately I’ve been asking myself this question a lot – “What do you/I mean by that?”

Applied here: When we say “116,” what are we really saying?

If we’re not ashamed of the gospel, I reasoned yesterday, it would make sense that we’re not ashamed of each and every part of the gospel. So what are the parts of the gospel? God is real. We’re sinful. God offers grace. We’re called to live for Him and make disciples. What does it mean to be unashamed of each of those things?

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Unashamed of God’s existence.

God is real. God exists. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me” (Psalm 116:5-6). And God has established the possibility for mankind, who He created, to have a relationship with Him. All we must do is be called righteous before Him. And because He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, what He says is true and right and must be obeyed.

To be unashamed of God’s existence means I acknowledge His existence before others. I do not deny there is a God. I rely on the fact that God is everywhere. And that can be really encouraging! Hebrews 13:5 tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. If I’m unashamed of God’s existence, I recall to mind that He is with His children, He is with me, and will never leave me. He does not abandon my soul to death. He stays. He loves.

Unashamed of your sinfulness.

I struggle at this thing called life. I fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) every single day. There’s jealousy, bitterness, doubt, lust, sin in my heart. I naturally rebel against God and His Word. I am not faithful to His commands for my life. And that’s from the beginning – “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

To be unashamed of my sinfulness means that I acknowledge my sinfulness before others. I don’t pretend that I have it all together. I don’t act like I don’t mess up. But I also do not get discouraged because of my sinfulness or beat myself up because of it. It’s a natural thing for me to sin. I should desire to not sin, but so often I find myself overly frustrated. It’s an important part of following Jesus that we are OK with the fact that we are imperfect, because that makes the next part 100 times better.

Unashamed of God’s grace.

God gives grace for our sinfulness. It’s the only way we can be restored to a right relationship with Him. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). We deserve death for our sins, but God offers, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, forgiveness of those sins and a right relationship with Him because He loves us. This is the most desperate need of mankind: to be forgiven out of love, not out of convenience or obligation.

To be unashamed of God’s grace means that I preach it, I teach it, I proclaim it! It’s the most important thing I could ever believe. If I don’t believe this, I am hopeless. To be unashamed of God’s grace also means that I don’t think I am beyond it, either pridefully or disparagingly. I must not think that I am too good for God’s grace, but I must also not think I am too bad for God’s grace. As Jerry Bridges writes in his excellent book The Discipline of Grace: “Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Unashamed of your calling.

The Christian is called to do a lot of things, but I think they’re all wrapped up in two statements, one by Jesus and the other by Paul. First, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Second, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That is the crux of our calling.

To be unashamed of my calling means that I seek ways to live this out. Am I serving in my local church? Am I growing in my faith by reading my Bible, praying or spending time in spiritual, intentional conversation with Christian community? Am I doing things to make God look better me? What is my attitude when I approach work/ministry/personal time? Am I embarrassed to live this way?

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I hope this has been encouraging to you as you seek to live the 116 way, completely unashamed of the whole gospel. Not just unashamed of who God is, or the fact you’ve been forgiven, but the whole gospel, each and every part of it. I know this has been challenging to me.

My generation (early high school to 20-somethings), let’s live unashamed! All believers, live unashamed. Of EVERY part of the gospel.

Our Weaknesses Are Beautiful Road Signs

Sometimes my weaknesses make me question the goodness of God.

“Why would God let me sin? Why can I sin? Why do I even have the ability to sin? Why can’t I just be perfect? Why do I struggle with x, y and z?”

These are questions that, honestly, run through my head sometimes and make me question the goodness of God. But there are answers running throughout the pages of Scripture, and by God’s grace He reminded me of them this morning.

interview-weaknessIn 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is writing about his struggle with conceit, with pride that he has received revelation from God. Verses 7-10 read thus:

“So to keep me from being conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul is “content with weaknesses.” I admit that I am far from content with my weaknesses, and I think sometimes in the church we look upon our weaknesses as a terrible, troubled thing that have no benefit and forget the great lesson Paul’s trying to teach here.

We don’t know for sure what his thorn was, what made Paul weak. There are many guesses that have been made, but it brought to me a point that I think he’s trying to make here: whatever weakness we possess, it’s to make God look more glorious. As God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Now, let me be clear here: I don’t want to say we should be content with our sinfulness. We should never be. But there are three ways that come to mind for me in which our weaknesses (sins, bad habits, flaws, etc.) make God look pretty awesome.

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1. God’s character is perfect, ours is not.

I’ve always wanted to be perfect. I’ve always wanted to not sin. I’ve always wanted to be without fault. I’ve always wanted to kill all the sin in my life. Maybe not for the right reasons all the time, but it’s what I’ve desired.

But I’ve had to learn to live with the truth that I am not and will never be perfect, but God is. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. Because of the sinful flesh that still is a part of me because of the fall, I will sin. I will sin the rest of my life. I hope and I should pray more that I sin less and less as I grow in faith and understanding of God’s Word. But I need to accept that I will never be perfect.

And in light of that, God looks all the more glorious and is worthy of more and more praise because He was, is and will always be the picture of perfection. He will never ever sin. The angels around the throne in heaven sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). It’s a song that caused Isaiah to confess his sinfulness and his imperfections.

When we see the perfection of God in light of our weaknesses, our pride should take a serious blow and we should turn to praise the glorious God in heaven who is perfect in every possible way.

2. God’s plan is perfect, ours is not.

If I had my way, I’d set up everything like this: get married pretty soon, start the job of my dreams in a couple years, have a couple kids, live in a nice house, the whole American dream thing. God doesn’t work that way all the time. Some of us experience everything the way we want to, some of us don’t.

I’d actually be willing to bet that all of us don’t experience every single thing the way we want. I can point to a couple places in my life where things didn’t go my way in a big way and it was frustrating and disappointing. I can also think of times where things went my way and they turned out terribly because I rejected the good purposes of God and the truths in Scripture that He graciously gives all of us.

But God has worked great things of beauty in my life out of those situations. It wasn’t easy to see at the time, but in that 20/20 hindsight, it’s truly beautiful.

It reminds me of the great promise of Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It’s for good. All of it, everything. Even our sins and our weaknesses and our imperfections. All of it works together for our good. And it’s not our plan, it’s God’s.

When we see the perfection of God’s plan in light of our idea of what’s “best for me,” our pride should take a serious blow and we should turn to praise the glorious God in heaven who has our true best in mind.

3. God’s love is perfect, ours is not.

We have a terrible time attempting to love others in their weakness. Usually, when we see a flaw in someone, we tend to love them less. I am among that group. I’ll notice something in someone I’m around that just frustrates me and I love that person less or not at all.

God doesn’t have to do that with me. He sees all the sin in my heart, in my mind and in my actions and He loves me anyway. He loves wholly, perfectly, unconditionally.

I’m reminded of the Sidewalk Prophets song “You Love Me Anyway.” At one part, the singer expresses this powerful truth:

“I am a thorn in Your crown, But You love me anyway/I am the sweat from Your brow, But You love me anyway/I am the nail in Your wrist, But You love me anyway/I am Judas’ kiss, But You love me anyway/See now, I am the man who yelled out from the crowd/For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground/Yes then I turned away with the smile on my face/With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace/And then alone in the night I still called out for You/So ashamed of my life, my life, my life.”

1 John 3:16 says that we know love by the fact that Christ “laid down his life for us.” That is the great example of love, and it’s the love that God shows to us even in the midst of our great weakness. Even in the midst of our great sin. Even in the midst of our failures and our rejection of God at times. If you’re truly in Christ, God loves you perfectly.

When we see the perfection of God’s love in light of our oftentimes pitiful love for Him and for others, our pride should take a serious blow and we should turn to praise the glorious God in heaven who loves us perfectly.

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There’s more than three ways, but this is just a brief look.

Don’t get discouraged in your weaknesses. Instead, use them as a reminder of how glorious God is in light of your imperfections. And then remind yourself of that third point.

It’s so easy for me sometimes to see my weaknesses and just get discouraged. That’s where God’s perfect love comes into play. If you’re a believer, God’s mercy to you is paramount. That’s where the Lord’s word to Paul is so crucial: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In our weakness, God’s grace is sufficient for everything, most importantly our salvation. Praise Him for it. But He also gives us grace so that we can grow and get better. If we were constantly trying to do the right thing, we would have no room to grow and get better, we’d be too busy trying to atone for doing the wrong thing in the first place. It’s grace that we see our weaknesses.

Our weaknesses are simply the signs on the highway showing us the way to go: towards a loving, merciful, just and gracious God who is perfect in every way, has our best in mind and loves us unconditionally.