I Need to Know the Cost

The cross shows us our value to God. It demonstrates God’s love for us and how precious we are to Him.

We despised him and rejected him;
he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
we ignored him as if he were nothing.
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
(Isaiah 53:3-5)

I do not consider myself a poet, that word belongs to those who dedicate themselves to that art. This past year, I have had some amazing times with God and have been  inspired to write some of my thoughts down. I am confounded by God’s love for me. It overwhelms me at times and leaves me drenched with love, understanding and awe. On one such occasion, I wrote the following poem:

I Need to Know the Cost.

I need to know the painful cost,
of the blood He shed upon His cross.

So gruesome a price Christ did pay, His life, our sins we did slay.
Unworthy of Him who bore my sin.
All for love my soul to win.
His body so broken, His flesh torn to shred.
My life to be saved, with his blood that was shed,
I need to know the epic cost, of the life Christ gave upon His cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

Oh Holy Communion remind me still,
of the precious blood that was spilled.

Repentance I need for my sorrowful sin.
His body so broken for my soul to win.

How precious is the life Christ gave, by grace and love, my life to save.
I need to know the painful cost, of the life we hung upon that cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious  is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

© 2018 Stephan Caraway. All Rights Reserved

Final Thoughts: Since we are approaching Palm Sunday, ask yourself the following: Is your love for Jesus real, is your praise genuine or are you just a fan?

A big Happy Birthday today to my hero, friend and the best sister in the world. You  inspire me with the way you live a conquering life for Jesus. Happy Birthday Rebecca!


Depression and the Christian Faith (Pt. 2)

Representing Jesus, in a worthy manner, while enduring painful trials; should be the goal of every Christian.

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart is appalled within me. (Psalm 143:4)

For the past few years I have been absent from writing, not because I wanted to but because I couldn’t. It has been difficult dealing with depression, I have felt so suffocated and at times very paralyzed. In order to deal with my depression, I had to prioritize what was important in my life and remove the things that interfered with surviving. This sounds brutal but it was necessary.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8)

The first priority was seeking God to bring me through this nightmare. I did not want to lose my ability to show kindness and love during my cycles of depression. I knew that maintaining my relationship with the “Great Physician” was key to battling the waves of anxiety and sadness. At time this was a chore; forcing myself to read the scripture and praying, when all I wanted to do was to vegetate in the corner of a dark closet. These quiet times were so valuable to me, the time spent with God gave me the strength to endure another day of pain and misery. God also gave me the ability to push through with a measure of love and kindness that was not my own. The Psalms were and still are a great comfort to me.

Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

The second priority was family. I did not want to let down my wife and children while under the crushing effects of depression. I look back and am amazed that I was diligent in going to work and providing for them. This was clearly God’s love for me. I know that if I had not been consistent with prayer and the scripture, things at home would have deteriorated quickly. I did not want my illness to be an excuse for sin. I still had to honor and love my wife and children. As I look back I can see how God just filled in when I thought I had no more strength to make it through a day. But by honoring my commitments, God honored me. I truly felt the shepherding hands of Jesus lifting me up and prodding me to get through each day.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits. (Psalm 103:1-2)

The third priority for my life became a commitment to health and mental health. Jesus made it clear that our bodies are a temple in which God wants to reside. We must take care of our temple. Diet was an integral part in fighting depression. I removed some of my favorite foods and saw a marked improvement. I also made a commitment, with the supervision of a doctor, to take medication. The key is to be honest with your doctor, it is not shameful to take medication. You may have to adjust what you take, but stay with the program. Family is a great motivator. My wife was amazing in her support of me. She really worked with me on meal plans and encouraged me in being consistent in taking my medication. The love I have received from my family has made this journey enjoyable. My kids have actually loved some of the changes. We have learned to love new health choices in our diet such as Yucca Root, Turmeric, and Arugula. Cooking with the kids has become a real joy and an adventure. It is quite encouraging to focus on the benefits of your new diet and celebrate the victories, rather than mourning the changes.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

It is important to prioritize the energy that gets you through each day. I could not endure this affliction without Jesus. My walk with him will always be a priority, because of His love for me. When you do struggle; ask God for strength and He will provide.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the Lord(Lamentations 3:24-26)

The proof of our faith is not the trial, but it is in the manner in which we deal with it, and in the way we represent Jesus to the world while enduring the trial. Love is always the proof of anyone’s Christian claim.

Depression and The Christian Faith

2016 was one of the most difficult years for me. It was a year in which I faced incredible stress and heartbreak. It was also the year that I faced my depression.

I have not been able to blog for quite a while. A few of you have contacted me to find out why. This last year I have had to deal with my depression. I ignored it to long, and I believe that God finally made me face it. I actually believed that my relationship with God was at its best point in my life. I was enjoying daily devotion time and really learning so much. But God wants us to face the truth about who we are. I wanted to deny my depression, after all how can a Christian be depressed? For me this is what I struggled with for the past few years. I wondered if I was failing God. I would agonize, “Where was the Joy that was supposed to come with being a follower of Jesus?” Instead of dealing with the depression, I would make excuses, blame others, or just live in denial. This year my depression took an ugly turn. It came in so hard and deep that I could hardly function. It suffocated me. All the things I enjoyed in life were gone, I could not see any optimism or hope. I would find my self weeping for no apparent reason. These struggles would often lead to emotional out burst of anger, fear, anxiety and deep sadness.

My wife finally had enough and let me know that she was no longer going to tolerate me if I was not going to get help. She began to detach herself from me and our marriage. Over the last few years I had failed to realize what a toll my depression had placed on my wife. I had ignored the pain she had to endure.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NLT)

Depression is not a sin

The first thing that I had to realize was that depression was not a sign that I was failing God or that God did not love me. There are many examples in the scripture of people who fervently loved God, but suffered from depression. Elijah and David as well as the Apostle Paul all endured periods of great depression. Philippians seems to be a letter written specifically for those enduring depression. The word Joy is one of the most underlining themes. It is full of encouragement and reminders of God’ faithfulness. One of the Psalm’s that has helped me the most is Psalm 143. This passage has become a rock for me durring the last year. I find myself praying this Psalm to God at least once a day.

Once I realized that my depression was not a sin, I did have to come to grips with the fact that the results of depression can lead one to sin, in the way they treat others. Some of the sins that I struggled the most with were fear, anger, selfishness, pride and intolerance. As I look at this list I am filled with great shame. I never realized the pain I was causing others. A person who is dealing with depression often fails to see the sins that are doing the most harm in their lives. This is why it is important to get help.

Stop blaming others and circumstances and just get help!

My life is extremely stressful, so it was alway easy to blame my behavior on stress, or on someone else. When I finally agreed to get help it opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had been ignoring. It also helped me to understand what was contributing to my depression. It turns out that my liver is a major contributor to my depression. So along with medication, I have had to change my diet. This is not easy for me because I love to cook. I have gone to a gluten free, dairy free and night shade free diet. In other words a twig and tree bark diet.(It is really not that bad; but there are so many foods that I had to give up.) I have had to give up tomatoes and potatoes and all peppers as well as bread and dairy. The diet has been brutally tough; the food I am willing to sacrifice, but my marriage and devotion to Christ, I am not. I have had to learn to cook in a whole new way. It has actually helped both with my depression and relationships with my family. My children have become quite excited about trying the different dishes that I prepare. My wife and I have become much closer and have really developed much better communication skills.

God wants us to grow in Him. My counselor reminds me every session of Psalm 139:23-24. It is a verse that every follower of Christ should pray and meditate on each day:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

You may not realize how your behavior is effecting others, so please seek help, repentance, forgiveness and  most of all, trust in God’s plan for your life.


Enduring and Persistent Communication…

“No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.”
― Martin Luther


Recently I wrote about what to do in the midst of The Crazy Chaos of a Busy Life… Prayer is the most important tool we have. Most people fail to use it effectively, if they use it at all. The following passage explains a few of the attributes effective prayer should have.The follower of Christ should not wait for difficult times to pray, We should pray in preparation for them.

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,  saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, Give me legal protection from my opponent.’  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.”And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said;  now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Prayer is effective communication with a responsive God who has the desire to have a relationship with you. E.M. Bounds once said, “The [prayer] closet…is the battlefield of the Church; its citadel; the scene of heroic and unearthly conflicts.” The fact is that many Christians take prayer for granted. Why are we failing to pray? A pastor once told me, that the most difficult event to get people to come out to was a prayer meeting. He mentioned that he would be lucky if 10 people showed up out of his thousand member church. We wonder why there is so much evil in the world, yet we fail to pray. In this technology era of texting and twittering there is very little deep emotional conversation that takes place. In the same way that it affects the natural world it is also affecting the spiritual world. Recently, articles ranging from CNN to The Huffington Post discuss the dangers of losing face-to-face communication. ( Too Much Texting Could be Harming Your Relationship ) This lack of communication is also affecting the way people are praying to God. Are your prayers becoming like a twitter post to God? Are your prayers enduring and full of conviction or are they soulless babble? 

Let see what Jesus wants us to learn about prayer.

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,(Romans 12:12)

God wants us to have enduring prayer times. Luke basically gives the parable away by telling us what it is about. We are to pray at all times and not to lose heart. Pretty simple idea, so why do we have such a hard time with it. Texting allows us to cut out the chit-chat, it keeps our interactions brief and to the point. We have even reduced whole sentences to a simple emoji. Because of the influence of social media and technology we are failing in our interpersonal communication. In this same way, we have reduced our prayers to simple sound bites. God wants enduring prayers. A person who is devoted to prayer, perseveres through difficult situations and rejoices in the hope that God provides.

We need to devote our selves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

He wants us to have deep conversations with him, prayers that take time. God wants to hear our problems, sorrows, our brokenness, our praise and gratitude. This takes time. God wants our time. The problem with society is that if we don’t have a result from our communication we move on. Our impatience and our need for results drives us away from God. God is not going to solve your problems with a Twitter response and an emoji. He wants to transform your life and behavior into something beautiful. What excuses do you use to not pray? Is your prayer effective? Are you enduring in your prayer time? God wants you to be persistent in prayer. Is your love for God evident by the way you pursue Him? A person with a committed prayer life has direction and purpose. That person is led by God to level ground.

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.(Psalm 18:6)

God wants heartfelt prayers. God wants us to pray from our heart. God wants us to reveal our deepest pain to Him. The widow was crying out for justice. She was praying with conviction. Do you pray this way? Abraham Lincoln said this,“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
Because God loves us, He wants to hear our concerns, our problems, our needs and our joys. God is love. He knows what is happening, but He is relational. It is when we communicate our thoughts to God that He reveals a better path for us. He opens our heart to his will. It is through this time of heartfelt prayer, that love grows inside of us. God is the source of this love, it is His perfect gift to you. Do your prayers flow with love?

By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

Enduring prayers of conviction breeds faithfulness to God. Jesus reveals the character of God in this parable. Persistent prayer reveals justice for the oppressed who follow Him. God is faithful to those who are faithful. The word Elect is used to describe those who follow after God.

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16b).

This is not our righteousness but the righteousness of Jesus Christ that abides in us. It is not a matter of just believing in God, but it is the constant state of mind to be chasing after God. I would often ask myself, “How can I expect to have an enduring and persistent prayer life if I fail to have an enduring and persistent relationship with Christ?” For most of my life my prayers were short and brief. I just wanted to get to the point. I always wondered why my relationship with God was so weak. I now realize that I had it backwards. My Prayer time was what grew my relationship with God. I needed to humble myself before God and confess my wrongs to Him. Prayer is communication. Can any relationship grow without enduring and persistent communication? Just ask any marriage counselor and they will tell you that without good communication your marriage will fail. The same is with your relationship with God. To have an effective relationship with God you need to pray and your prayers need to be persistent and enduring.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.(Psalm 145:18)

Does your prayer time carry your faith in difficult times?  Jesus ends the parable with a question. He is referring to His second coming. When He returns, Jesus asks, “Will he find faith on the Earth?” Is your faith evident by your prayer life? Do people refer to you as a prayer warrior? America needs revival. The Church needs revival. The only way for revival to come is through enduring and persistent, heartfelt communication with God. This is what prayer needs to be. It is time for the Church to pray. It is time for the followers of Jesus to be driven to their knees in prayer. We need to bring our brokenness, our tears, our confessions to the cross of Jesus with enduring prayers. Oh men and women of God I plead with you; pray, pray and pray some more.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7)

When God is your Rock

God will never, never, never let us down if we have faith and put our trust in Him. He will always look after us. So we must cleave to Jesus. Our whole life must simply be woven into Jesus.
–Mother Teresa

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

Is your soul weary? Are you facing troubles that you do not have the answers for? David had a clear grasp on what to do. He allowed his soul to rest in God. When the war clouds gather over your life and the storms you face seem overwhelming, stop and be still in the presence of God. Even Jesus took the time to rest in the presence of God. So what does this mean and how do we get this calm respite in our turbulent lives? In my own life I have been pushed to the edge of my trust in God’s righteous plan. In the darkest moments of loss and pain, God has overwhelmed me with His love, peace and hope. Here are some of the ways we can learn to rest in God. They will provide a foundation and prepare you for the attacks that will come. Remember, God loves you. He is our Rock!

 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16-17)

A restful soul knows where their help comes from. Self reliance and rugged individualism are idealistic themes running through our American society, but they should not be the ideals of a Christian. We need to realize that everything good comes from God. The Psalmist understood that all of his help comes from God. Many a person says they rely on God but few are willing to surrender all of their will to him. Sure, we believe in God’s salvation for our sin. Do we really trust God for everything else in our life? We need to keep our eyes on Jesus all the time. The moment we are distracted, that is when we become panicked and stressed. Is your prayer life filled with panic stricken prayers of desperation, or are your prayers in preparation for those difficult trials?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

A restful soul has a heart of thanksgiving towards God. Is it really possible to find joy in painful situations? The book of Philippians in the Bible, is often referred to as the book of joy. It has so many thoughts of peace and Joy and contentment. What most readers never realize is the circumstance in which the writer, Paul, found himself. Paul was in prison, not for some bad criminal behavior, but for following Jesus and for spreading the gospel. He was standing trial for his faith and knew that his death was imminent. It was in the midst of all of his difficulties that Paul wrote Philippians. Paul never complained or grumbled about his circumstances; in fact he writes this letter with such thanksgiving and rejoicing that it floods the reader with the incredible hope that we can have in Jesus. Reflect on these words from Paul. See how his soul rests in God.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:4-7)

A restful soul meditates on God’s Word. Everybody and their pastor tells you to “Read the Bible”.  I want to suggest something deeper than just reading your Bible. Let Scripture reveal Scripture. Do not try to manipulate the word of God. The Scripture will prove itself out. The Psalmist wrote, “I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways.” Throughout the Scriptures there is this theme to meditate on the Word of God. This is a prayerful reading of God’s word. As you read each passage, ask God to reveal His understanding to you. This leads to an interactive meditation between you and God. The Holy Spirit will guide you to a greater understanding of God’s plan for you. God will transform you, granting you a stable peace with the endurance to pass any trial.

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:2-3)

The Follower of Jesus has a relationship with God. He denies himself. It is in this selfless relationship that we allow Christ to reign at the center of everything we do. Our prayer time and Bible reading need to open us up to what God has planned for us. The Christian should be grateful for everything that God provides. When we live in the will of God, we will not be shaken by scary events. It is in these moments that we take up our cross and cry,”Here I am Lord, I am ready”! Paul was ready to face his death. His every thought was focused on the will of God. This is why he was so joyful and content.

Is God your Rock or are you looking at the storm? Keep your eyes on Jesus. Get rid of your distractions and be a tree planted in the living waters of God’s love for you. May God bless you as you devote yourself to Him. Live with thanksgiving in your heart and rejoice at the trials you may face. I leave you with these words of Paul to reflect upon.

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)