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The Room

Joshua Harris, pastor in New England, had this dream years ago as a teenager. It was originally published in New Attitude magazine in 1995. If you struggle with guilt over past, forgiven sins, this is a must read. If you think your sins are too much for God, read this.

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index-card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Girls I Have Liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match.

A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed.”

The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I Have Given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed At.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve Yelled at My Brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger,” “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my 20 years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To,” I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that they hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus.

I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me.

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card.

“No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.”

I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.

By Joshua Harris. Orginally published in New Attitude Magazine. Copyright New Attitude, 1995. You have permission to reprint this in any form. We only ask that you include the appropriate copyright byline and do not alter the content.

10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Graduated High School


  1. Your best days are ahead. High school is a warm-up for the rest of your life. The biggest things in your life have not yet happened: College. A career. Marriage. Children. Buying a house. That’s what life is made of.
  2. Who you’re with matters as much as what you do. Doing the right thing with the wrong people will ultimately land you in the wrong place. You can change what you do, but you can’t change who you’re with.
  3. Air is thin on the mountaintops…don’t rush through the valleys. Suffering is inevitable. It’s also when you grow. Don’t avoid it–embrace it.
  4. What you do when you’re single is what you’ll do when you’re married. You won’t suddenly change when you walk down the aisle. The habits you make now, you’ll practice then. Be careful who you become.
  5. If you write down your goals, you’ll be more likely to accomplish them. We are all prone to drift so focus is necessary. If you don’t aim for anything…well, you’ll hit your target every time.
  6. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. (Ok, so I didn’t come up with that. My distant cousin C.S. Lewis did.) I spent four years of college aiming at earth. Heaven came into clear focus in graduate school and I’ve never been the same since.
  7. Attitude trumps aptitude almost every time. How you handle knowledge is almost as important as knowledge itself. Pride goes before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
  8. You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose. (Lou Holtz) In other words, don’t believe your own press. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5)
  9. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. I have no idea who said this, but it’s true. Humility is not self-deprecation; it is selfless living. There is a big difference.
  10. Jesus is everything. I know it sounds cliche, even trite, because so many people say it. But it’s true. Name one other person who, before you ever did anything good for him, was brutally beaten, crowned with thorns, and hung on a tree so you could have the life you’ve always wanted. Jesus is everything.

Sinning Against Christ

earthIn 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addressed a very specific problem in the Corinthian church: eating meat offered to idols. Some possessed a special knowledge:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:4 ESV)

There was nothing wrong with this knowledge: as a matter of fact, there was everything right with it! Idols have no real existence. Their power is not inherent–it lies in the illusions of peoples’ minds who worship them. There is no God but one.  God, the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the universe stands alone as God. He is unequaled in power and position. In 1867, Walter Smith wrote these words:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might: thy justice, like mountains high soaring above, thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

Some, knowing how great God was and how foolish idols were, had no problem eating meat offered to idols. “There’s nothing wrong with that meat,” they thought! “God is greater than those idols.” What they didn’t realize was that, sitting in their midst, were weak-minded new Christians. Their faith wasn’t sure–their understanding shallow. They were spooked by the meat and for them to eat it meant they had returned to their old way of life. Paul made it clear: when you notice such a brother, put the meat aside. Don’t offend him. How far did he go in giving this instruction:

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:12 ESV)

From Paul’s statement we learn that Christ lives in his people–weak and strong. The strong are to bear the burdens of the weak. Rather than wounding their conscience, build their faith. This takes the focus off of meat and puts it on the Message.

Smith finishes his great hymn:

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree, then wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou dwellest in light, thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight; all praise we would render; O help us to see, ’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

Every Avery Needs an Eleck

In yesterday’s blog I shared about how to be sensitive toward new believers. One person who did that was Eleck Hensley. As we approach graduation our thoughts naturally go to him. Last October when Eleck went to be with the Lord, I wrote this blog. I thought it fitting to share it again:

In Matthew 25 Jesus gives a surprising view of the end of time.  He pictures himself seated on a throne judging people from all the nations.  The people are separated into two groups–just like a shepherd would separate sheep from goats.  Jesus, the King, looks at the ones on his right and says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  Jesus continues, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  The righteous people answer with surprise that they have ministered to the King like this.  “Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”  The King answers, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

When I read this, I was not surprised at the outcome:  God has always rewarded faithfulness and obedience.  I was surprised at the surprise of the righteous people:  they had no idea they had ministered to the King Himself!  I think Eleck, when welcomed into the presence of Jesus the King, was just as surprised.

This weekend, I received an email from Avery Poteat’s father.  You may recall that Avery is the young man with autism whom Eleck nominated as homecoming king, campaigned for and celebrated when he won–just two days before he went to see King Jesus.  Alan, Avery’s dad, wanted us to know the rest of the story:

Dear Hensley Family,
I have heard many wonderful things about Eleck and I just wanted to add what he means to my family.
I asked my son to recount the first time he met Eleck. He said it was in Mr. Jones’ class in the tenth grade. He sat down and Eleck asked him his name. I remember when I asked him how his day had been he said he had met a guy in his class and his name is Eleck. My son sometimes struggles with names and so I challenged his pronunciation of Eleck’s name to which he insisted, “No! His name is Eleck!” Throughout that year when I would inquire how his day had been he would often say, “I had lunch with Eleck and some of his friends,” or sometimes he might tell me something Eleck had said or done. When the yearbooks were delivered that year, my son made sure to show me Eleck’s name. He then proudly said, “I told you daddy; I know my friend’s name.” The thing that I admire about their friendship is that Eleck chose my son, not because of what he could gain in the eyes of the world, but he shows the love and compassion of Jesus.
Moving forward to a couple of weeks ago, my son came in and announced that he had been nominated to the homecoming court. This past Thursday night we were completely surprised by the outcome. As we talked to one of Avery’s teachers it was stated that he had voted for Eleck. The teacher said that she was almost positive that Eleck had voted for Avery. It was then that I had an idea Eleck was the one that had thought so much of someone else that he deferred the possibility of homecoming king. I confirmed this when Brother Jerry was interviewed on WLOS. I would later find out that he had not only campaigned for him, but also stood up to those that would say negative things about my son.  Oh, that we all could have the kind of integrity that God gives and Eleck possesses.
I have used the present tense on some statements because I believe that there are some things left to this story. I cannot fully back this up with the Bible, so as Paul said I speak as a man. It is my deep desire, when I get to heaven and I have worshiped around the throne of God, if it be God’s will to allow me to remember this time, I am going to find Eleck and thank him so much for the love of God that he bestowed to my son.
The other thing that I believe will happen is when my son gets to heaven, if there is a welcoming party that Eleck will be there and say, “Hey pal, we’ve been waiting for you. Come on. Let me take you to see Jesus.”
I close with the words of a song from Andre Crouch.
It Won’t Be Long
It won’t be long… till we’ll be leaving
It won’t be long… till we’ll be going home.
Count the years as months,
Count the months as weeks,
Counts the weeks as days…
Any day now…We’ll be going home.
You all are in my family’s prayers.
W. Alan Poteat
Every Avery needs an Eleck.  Who’s your Avery?

Please Don’t Trip Me Up

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:7-9 ESV)

oo_stumblesIf newborn Christians could articulate it, I think this is what they would say:

I’m a newbie, green behind the ears, just a few days old. I still have flashbacks from my old way of life. Sometimes I’m up–other times I’m down. When I come to a worship service, I feel so close to God. By Tuesday I feel vulnerable, even afraid.

Please don’t trip me up.

My old friends are gone. I can’t hang out with them anymore–and they think I’m weird anyway. They don’t understand why what I once did is so wrong to me, and what I want to do seems so weird to them. I use phrases like “brother” for someone not even related to me. And sometimes I talk about loving someone I’ve barely known.

Please don’t trip me up.

I have questions and I feel dumb asking them. When the preacher says to turn somewhere in the Bible, I’m thankful for my smart phone. I have no idea where a book is, let alone chapter and verse. Everybody around me seems so smart–I have so much to learn.

Please don’t trip me up.

I don’t understand the Trinity–and I actually think other people do! I thought it would be interesting to read the book of Revelation…and then someone told me that wasn’t the best idea. So I started in Genesis. I actually made it to Leviticus. What was I thinking?

Please don’t trip me up.

I have this nagging fear. What if I mess up? Blow it? Fall into the same sin that plagued me before I trusted Christ. What if I fail.

Please don’t trip me up.

God Knows Me!

But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:3 ESV)known

To know God is the privilege of a lifetime. To be known by God is the reward of eternity. J. I. Packer says it like this:

What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. (From Knowing God)

God All Sufficient

From The Valley of Vision (a book of Puritan prayers):godisable

O Lord of grace,

The world is before me this day, and I am weak and fearful, but I look to you for strength;

If I venture forth alone I stumble and fall, but on the Beloved’s arms I am firm as the eternal hills;

If left to the treachery of my heart I shall shame your name, but if enlightened, guided, upheld by your Spirit, I shall bring you glory.

Be thou my arm to support, my strength to stand, my light to see, my feet to run, my shield to protect, my sword to repel, my sun to warm.

To enrich me will not diminish your fullness; all your lovingkindness is in your Son. I bring him to you in the arms of faith. I urge his saving Name as the One who died for me. I plead his blood to pay my debts of wrong.

Accept his worthiness for my unworthiness, his sinlessness for my transgressions, his purity for my uncleanness, his sincerity for my guile, his truth for my deceits, his meekness for my pride, his constancy for my backslidings, his love for my enmity, his fullness for my emptiness, his faithfulness for my treachery, his obedience for my lawlessness, his glory for my shame, his devotedness for my waywardness, his holy life for my unchaste ways, his righteousness for my dead works, his death for my life.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

rainy_daysNo one in his right mind wants to suffer. Sometimes suffering comes quickly: the stroke that robs your mom of her dignity; the heart attack that takes your dad’s life. Other times suffering comes slowly: the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s; the slow, painful divorce.

Suffering is unavoidable. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it this way:

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Peter, writing to suffering saints in the first century, put it this way:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10 ESV)

Peter agreed with Longfellow: suffering is inevitable. Into each life some rain must fall. Suffering is the common plot of every human being. Life languishes. Problems persist. Grief grips. The difference between Peter’s words and Longfellow’s dirge is this: Longfellow depends on the sun shining behind the clouds. Peter points to the God who shines through the clouds. He is the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ.

Your suffering is not wasted. God himself shapes you through suffering. When suffering has reared its ugly head and left you mangled and marred by the pain of life, God himself shows up and restores, confirms, strengthens and establishes you. Take heart. God has not forgotten you. He sees you, not as you are, but as you will be.

How to Pray When You’ve Blown It

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24 ESV)

What happens when you stumble? How do you pray when you’ve blown it? This prayer from The Valley of Vision shows us how to approach a holy God when we’ve not been so holy:

O Eternal God,

Yours is surpassing greatness, unspeakable goodness, super-abundant grace; I can as soon count the sands of ocean’s ‘lip’ as number your favors towards me; I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.

I thank you for personal mercies, a measure of health, preservation of body, comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food and clothing, continuance of mental powers, my family, their mutual help and support, the delights of domestic harmony and peace, the seats now filled that might have been vacant, my country, church, Bible, faith.

But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness, the days that add to my guilt, the scenes that witness my offending tongue.

All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without, condemn me–the sun which sees my misdeeds, the darkness which is light to you, the cruel accuser who justly charges me, the good angels who have been provoked to leave me, your countenance which scans my secret sins, your righteous law, your holy Word, my sin-soiled conscience, my private and public life, my neighbors, myself–all write dark things against me.

I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess, ‘Father, I have sinned’; yet still I live, and fly repenting to your outstretched arms; you will not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near, you will not condemn me, for he died in my stead, you will not mark my mountains of sin, for he leveled all, and his beauty covers my deformities.

O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging to his cross, hiding in his wounds, and sheltering in his side.