Chris Hodges - Stepping into the Light
All right, who's ready to study God's Word today? Anybody, anybody? Yeah, me, too, and I think you're really gonna enjoy this message a lot. And this service is gonna be streamed by... there's several dozen churches that are gonna be joining us in this series. And so would you do me a favor, for all the churches that are joining us right now, come on, put your hands together and say a big hello. God bless you guys. Well, welcome today to week number two of a series that we've called, "Out of the Cave," based off of a book that we're releasing this month, and this month is Mental Health Awareness Month, and that's why the publisher actually wanted to release it in this month, and we think it's gonna help a lot of people.
And very, very excited about it. Before I kind of get in the topic of depression, before I brighten your day with the topic of depression today, everybody, I'd like to just remind you what God has to say about you and how he feels about you, that it's the thief that comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come that you might have life and have it to the full. Never mistake that. Understand that God is not a God who wants to help you to cope through things. He wants you to know God, find freedom, discover purpose, and make a difference. And if you believe that, and you think he's an awesome God, one more time put your hands together. Come on and give him some praise today, yeah.
All right. It's very important to remember, but it was about three years ago when there was what I would call a rash of pastoral suicides, three guys. I didn't know any of them, but it kind of made the news that these pastors had taken their lives. And when the last one did, it impacted me as if I knew the pastor. I remember that week just feeling grieved in my spirit, and I thought, "Wow, if this is what pastors are going through, it's certainly what everyone is going through". And I thought, you know, "Lord, help me. Help me understand this. And is there something I should say"?
We were actually in a series here at Church of the Highlands called, "Reply All," and it's where we answer some of your questions that we had gotten from Easter that year. And really, one of the most asked questions was around mental health, anxiety, stress, and depression. And so that very week, I studied all I could find to study in a week's worth, and brought a message, and it was, well, it wasn't even close to what people actually needed, but it was something, and that message became the most re-watched message times about 100. I was shocked at how popular this topic was.
And so about two weeks later, I was scheduled to speak at a pastors' conference in Dallas, several thousand pastors there, and then I just kind of changed the message and did it for pastors. Same response. It was just an overwhelming response, and it was coming out of that conference that I realized, "If this is what people are facing, and if it's something they're interested in, God, you're going to have to show me". And I went on a two-year journey of both secular research and also what does the Bible have to say about depression and anxiety? And, of course, I've turned it into a book, and I'm very excited about it, and it's based around the prophet Elijah, who arguably is the greatest prophet in the Bible. He's the only one, other than Moses, that was part of what's called the Transfiguration of Jesus.
You can read about it in the book of Matthew, where Jesus went to this hillside with a few of his disciples, and these glorified bodies of Moses and Elijah appeared and really, I would say, heaven validates who this man is. What's interesting is he was not only a mighty man of God and full of faith and power and saw great miracles, but right on the heels of two of the greatest spiritual victories, and you need to take note of that, and his highest of highs is when the enemy attacked him in his soul. If you read 1 Kings chapter 18, two of the greatest preaching texts in the Bible, where God defeats the prophets of Baal by... when the Baal prophets... gods never answered their sacrifice.
And then Elijah builds his sacrifice and has it doused in water, soaked in water. And God consumes this water-soaked sacrifice. And then just a few verses later, Elijah is praying for the drought, a three-year drought to end, and this big monsoon rain came, and literally just two or three verses later, this great prophet is ready to take his life. He's hiding, scared at the threat, it would be the modern-day equivalency of reading a comment on social media, and this great prophet now, by the threat of this one person, tells God, "I can't live. I want to die". I want to pick up the story right there.
Last week, I showed you the six things that Elijah did to get in the cave. And today, come on, everybody, we're gonna get out of that cave today. All right? So, in fact, I had a guy come up to me at the beginning of the service, he said, "Hey, Pastor, last week was really good". He said it real country. He said, "Pastor," he said, "last week you got us in the cave". He said, "I had to come back so I could find my way out of that cave". I got, all right, here we go, here we go. We're gonna get out of it today.
Last week, I gave you the six things that he did that'll get all of us in a cave, and those weren't just spiritual things. Those are confirmed by psychiatrists and psychologists. They're on the same list. And today we're gonna pick up the story in 1 Kings chapter 19, verse 5. And here's where it goes next. It says, "And then Elijah laid down under a bush, and he fell asleep. And all at once the angel of the Lord touched him and said..." Now notice what the angel says. If an angel visits you, a lot of you think he's gonna say, "Get saved, repent, you dirty dog, God will try to find you. What are you running for"? And he says, and as a Cajun I really love this line, everybody.
Come on, everybody. "Get up and eat". Can I get a better amen? I just love that. "And then he looked around," Elijah did, "and there by his head was some baked break over hot coals, and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and then he lay down again. And then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.' And so he got up and he ate the second time". And the Bible said, "Strengthened by that food, he was able to take the rest of the journey". "Strengthened by that food," and I would add strengthened by that sleep, "he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb".
Horeb is Mount Sinai. That's the place where God was dwelling, when he wasn't dwelling inside of humans. In the New Testament, God dwells inside of us; but in the Old Testament, he was an external God, and he dwelt at the top of this mountain, "until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God". What's interesting to me is that when the angel visited him, he didn't attend to his spiritual needs first. He attended to his physical needs first. And so I believe the first step, and this is the first chapter of the book on the solution to depression, and all of these are stepping, by the way. Matter of fact, the subtitle of the book is, "Stepping Into the Light When Depression Darkens What You See".
And I really believe that God will do a lot for you, and there's a lot that could happen; but everybody, you're gonna have to take a step. You're gonna have to decide, "I'm not staying here any longer". And I think the first step is what I call a needed recovery. And I'm talking about a physical recovery. I'll never forget, years ago, I had a friend of mine whose kidneys failed completely. He had total kidney failure, had to go on dialysis three times a week to get the toxins out of his body. And, of course, he got on a kidney transplant list, and it was several years, honestly, before the Mayo Clinic called and said, "We have a kidney for you".
Now, when that happens, I don't know if you know this or not, but you've gotta get on a plane. In fact, they sent a medical jet to come get him. You've gotta get on a plane and get there, because you have to have this kidney put inside of you while it's still alive and well, and you're, you know, able to receive it, as well. So, they rushed him up to Minneapolis to the Mayo Clinic. And when he got there, they did like, you know, if you've ever had any kind of medical procedure, they would start doing all these tests. You know, they just want to check everything, and they've gotta have blood type matches, and they've gotta check your lungs, and, of course, they're gonna ask your name about 20 times, and your date of birth.
And he's going through all these tests, when the doctor came in and said, "We can't do the procedure". And, of course, he said, "Why? I mean, what's going on"? And he says, "You're too sick to get well. You have too much in your body still. You actually need to go through a few more rounds of dialysis. In fact, your lungs don't sound right". He says, "Because we don't want to put this solution in your body, and the unhealthier body reject the solution". And I wonder how many times God wants to do something in us or maybe you've heard a sermon, one of the phenomenal, anointed, powerful sermons right here at Church of the Highlands, isn't that right, everybody? Or if you've been, somebody's given you a counseling session, or they've given you some type of solution, watch this, but you're too unhealthy to receive it.
Isn't it interesting that before the angel would take him on a journey of spiritual health, and you're gonna see the other four steps, but he said, "Hey, before we do anything else," I love this prescription, "go take a nap, get something to eat, take another nap, get something else to eat". Y'all ought to say amen right there. That just sounds awesome. And for a lot of us, honestly, there are solutions all around us, and many of you have tried them, and they haven't worked because you're not recovered. You haven't gotten yourself healthy enough to receive the solution. Say, "What do we do"? We've gotta get our lives back in order. We've gotta take control of that which we can control which, by the way, is your time, your time.
You know, there's a verse in Ecclesiastes that says, "Better one hand full, and have some tranquility, than to have two handfuls and have toil and a chasing after the wind". For a lot of us we live what I call two hand full living. We're living to our limits. We're tired. We're exhausted. And even those of you here in church, this is, you know, you've got stuff you're gonna do today. You're gonna mow the grass. You've got four places you've got to go. You've got to study for, and, honestly, we weren't designed for just non-stop activity. We've gotta take control of our lives and honestly slow it down a bit. The quote I love is, "If we don't prioritize our lives, somebody else will".
Have y'all noticed that? All the stores have an agenda for you. Commercials have an agenda for you. Your boss has an agenda for you. And man, we've gotta take control of our lives. Moses wrote a psalm in Psalm 90, and he said this. He said, "Teach us, Lord, to number our days, recognize how few they are. And Lord, help us to spend them as we should". So, I'm just gonna start right there. I talk about how you can get your life kind of back in order in that chapter of the book, but just listen to me. Maybe even today, as you're at church, don't let this be the only hour where you sabbath. Sabbath is not a service you attend. It's supposed to be the whole day.
I encourage all of you, come on, go home and take a nap. Wake up and get something to eat. Take another nap. Come on, get something else to eat. I am prescribing, in the name of Jesus, for every one of you, naps and Krispy Kreme. Can I get an amen everybody? Just, yeah, you can diet tomorrow, everybody. That's right. I'm serious. There's a needed recovery that we need to step into. Let's continue the story. "And there he went into the cave, and he spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him".
Now, I get asked this question all the time. "Hey, PC, how can the word of the Lord come to me? I'm trying to find God. How do I find it"? Now notice, you're gonna see it in the text here. So the angel says, "What are you doing here, Elijah"? The Lord said that, and he replied, "I have been very zealous". Like, I go to everything. I'm working hard. I'm really trying hard for the Lord Almighty. "The Israelites," it's their fault. "They rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, put your prophets to death with the sword. And I am the only one left, and now they're trying to kill me too". This is how he responds. "And the LORD said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD. You need to take a step toward the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by".
Now, in the book, what I try to do is to show people, how do you cultivate the presence of God in your life? 'Cause here's what I'm convinced, I truly believe this, that probably the greatest prescription in the whole wide world for anything you face, for that matter, is just the manifest presence of God, to know, "Wow, I think I just met with God". And then watch what this meeting with God looks like. "Then a great and powerful wind tore through the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And then after the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire".
By the way, that's Earth, Wind, and Fire. They thought they made it up. Nope, it's in the Bible right there. "But after the fire came a gentle whisper". See, what we don't realize is that the presence of God is something very sweet, very precious, and we need to learn how to step into what I call a God encounter. Now write an entire chapter on what we can do to cultivate the presence of God. But let me give you this little nugget, and that is we look for the dynamic, but God is in the intimate. He's in those moments where it's quiet. It's still. And honestly, it's not as hard as you think to settle your spirit.
The Bible says in Psalm 46, "Be still," comma, and that's where you'll know God. That's where you'll have this encounter with God. And, of course, what I'm talking about is the stillness, and the quietness, and the simplicity, and the intimacy of worship, worship. It was just yesterday, I woke up yesterday morning, I'm gonna be very, very honest with you. I was distressed. I wouldn't say depressed, but I was definitely distressed. There was something going on, and it had my spirit sick. I just felt horrible, and I was carrying this thing, and it was heavy, and it was bothering me really, really badly, and honestly, I woke up kind of living in a bad mood.
And I don't know if you've ever been there, in those moments where you're carrying something heavy, and you're distressed about something that felt so much out of my control to fix, and it just bothered me really bad. But in those moments, a lot of times, I don't even have the energy or the desire to even voice it to God. I get there, and it's like, "Lord, you know. I mean, just look down here at your boy. I'm just sitting here, just, just, I'm not happy. And you can do something about it". I mean, distressed in spirit. Anybody know what I'm talking about?
And don't feel like praying, don't feel like nothing like that. And I just, what I do have is the luxury of about 40-something years of knowing God, and 38 years of ministry to know that the secret is worship. So, I had my little playlist, I got my iPad out, and I have a couple of... I have like three different playlists. Some of them are very aggressive. They're just warfare type songs, and I use that when I pray. But I've got this real sweet, soft, I mean, can calm down a pit bull. You know what I'm talking about? Just, just calming music that worships God, and I didn't even sing to it. I just put it on.
Y'all, it wasn't two minutes into this song, I sensed the presence of God, sitting in my little chair there, just listening to it, had my hands up, and I was just worshiping. I'm telling you, yesterday, God met me there. And to this day, I don't know the solution he's going to bring to fix that particular situation, but I felt the peace of God. And I want to give you, this is, this is my go-to of what to do when. This is such a secret to cultivating God. You know, the Bible says that God, he's searching after worshipers, John chapter 4. He's looking for worshipers.
So, if you can't find God, worship him. He'll find you. Just go after him with all of your heart. And this is what Asaph... Asaph was basically the John Larson of King David's court. He was the chief music director, and he wrote Psalm 73. And for the first 15 verses, it's all complaining. "God, the wicked..." And, "Oh, the world..." And, "Oh, my problems..." And, "Oh, this is terrible. And when I try to understand it, I got more depressed until I entered the sanctuary". And I'm telling you that's the changing moment for all of us. We have to have a needed recovery, but we all, everybody, we also need a God encounter. Can I hear a good amen, everybody?
But it doesn't end there. Watch what happens next. "But when Elijah heard it..." So, he has the presence of God there. He pulls his cloak over his face. Now, your face, of course, represents your identity. We wouldn't even know who you were if you didn't have that one part of your body. That's the one part that identifies who you are. And he was ashamed of his identity, and "he pulled his cloak over his face, and he went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. And the voice came to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" Same question, and he gives the exact same answer. "I've been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, put your prophets to death with the sword, and I'm the only one left. And now they're trying to kill me too".
He just goes through the same, same answer. But what you're seeing here is a person who's lost their confidence. And remember, he lost his confidence in verse 1 of chapter 19, when he received the threat from Jezebel. Now, let me remind you today's version of that threat is a comment on Facebook or Instagram. 'Cause a lot of times, people will say things about you that pollutes your spirit. And guess what, everybody? It's not true. And we have bought into a narrative and to an identity that the world says about us, and you have forgotten what God has to say about you, and that's why step number three, you've gotta step into your true identity, what God has to say about you.
And that's, by the way, why I love you coming to church, 'cause while the rest of the world may tell you, "Uh-uh," and "No, you can't, and you're not going to". And people can make comments and say what they say on the toxic social media platforms that are out here. You come into this room every week, I'm gonna tell you, you are loved, you are forgiven, you are healed, you are redeemed, you have a purpose, you can make a difference. Come on, you're a child of God! Put your hands together, if you believe that. I mean, I went to churches that point their finger at you and tell you, "You're going to hell".
You know, and you... guess what? Everybody's already going to hell. That's not even new news. The good news is you don't have to, and Jesus paid a way, and you can come out of it. We're gonna have some good news around here. And I'm gonna tell you, I honestly don't struggle with identity. And I'm not trying to say that in any kind of prideful way. I grew up, I'm a very secure person because I was very, very well-fathered. My parents, my mom and dad, and I honor my mom and my dad. Every single day, they told me they loved me. Every day, they kissed me. Every day, they told me they believed in me. I never went a day without hearing it. And even when I got into the church world, at 15 years old, when I got saved, my youth pastors, pastors, every one of them are heroes to me.
Every day, they told me they believed in me. Every day, they told me there was a champion inside of me. My whole life, I'm very, very fortunate. I know this is not most people's story, but I've never heard anything but good about my life. People have believed in me my whole life. And I'm here today, not as a qualified, I'm not really qualified in my own abilities. I'm here because people just kept telling me, "You can do this. You've got this. I'm for you". Just this morning, I got a text from my pastor, "I'm praying for you today. You're gonna have a mighty day today. You're gonna have an amazing day today in church". It's just, I feel very, very affirmed. But this past summer, y'all, I won't go into the details. Most of you know the story.
Man, I had about two weeks, they were some of the darkest I've had in about 30 years, honestly. It was just like, "Oh, Lord". And there were things, you know, kind of floating around being said, and I don't know. It doesn't take very long of hearing all that, you kind of start to, "My Lord, is that, is that true"? And I kind of felt that, like Elijah. I mean, you know, you go from these great things that God's done through you, and to God be all the glory, but the next thing you know, you're just right, I'm the only one left, and they're trying to kill me. Like, I felt the same way. So, I decided to write that same verse that I read to you, that Elijah prayed. I decided to give it to you in a new translation. It's just come out. It's coming out today. It's called the PCT, it's the Pastor Chris Translation. All right?
So, I'm gonna give it to you, and here's how it goes. And that is, "I've been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. I've been preaching three services every weekend for twenty years. The government and Dr. Fauci won't let us fill up our auditoriums, culture is going to hell, and I'm the only one left, and Instagram is trying to kill me too". It's funny, but that's how I felt. I'm telling you, right? But guess what? No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And you've just gotta decide, "No! I'm gonna believe what God has to say about me, not what man has to say about me". This is good preaching. I'll amen myself, if you won't. That's right. "So the LORD said to him," all right, and this is very key. I'm bringing it, I'm landing the plane. Get ready.
So, you have to have a needed recovery. Sometimes you can have all the answers in the world; but if you're not sleeping, they won't work. You're not eating right, they're not gonna work. You're not slowing down, they're not gonna work. And then you need to learn the art of worship, and it's simpler than you think, but you do have to step into a God encounter. You've gotta believe the truth about who you are. You're a child of God. No weapon formed against you will prosper. That's the truth. That's heaven's declaration over your life. Get off of Facebook. Don't listen to their junk. Listen to what God has to say about you. And the Lord gave him what I consider, if I could only give you one of the five. So, you say, "I don't have time to do five, give me just one".
Okay, if you're making me pick one out of the five, they're all important. This one might be my favorite. 'Cause he said, the Lord, by the way, never answered all those complaints, not a one. He said, "Go back the way you came". Now, that doesn't say a lot to you on the surface, but let me explain it to you. This is why I do this work. And that is the way he came was through a town called Beersheba. Beersheba's name is called the place of the oath. It's the place where he would've stood there and said, "I'll give you my life, no matter what. I'm a servant of God. I don't even belong to me. I belong to you". He says, "What you've forgotten is your purpose. So, go back to the place where you made the oath and re-up. And go to the desert of Damascus and get back to work, and anoint this guy, and anoint that guy, and anoint that guy, and Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael".
I'm gonna do all this, great. "Work through you and actually you're not the only one. I've got a thousand more who have not bowed their knees to Baal and whose mouth have not kissed him". He said, "Listen to me. You're a man of God. Get back to work". And for a lot of us, if I could only give you one, you need to step into a new assignment. So, secular psychology will tell you this, that there's nothing more powerful than a project. And if you wake up every day just paying bills, you'll end up in a cave. But if you know what your life means, and you're doing something that makes a difference for eternity, that's a whole different thing. I got sick, you guys remember, my voice was real bad. I actually got really sick toward on Monday, I've never felt worse. So, Tuesday morning, I went actually to the Christ Health Center at the Birmingham Dream Center. They're my doctor, by the way.
So, I went there to Woodlawn, and when I was there, I just saw these people that were just, the parking lot was full of people going in to get treatment. And, of course, right next to it, we have this Christ Health Center clinic that does psychology, and then we have our pharmacy there. And there I was just sick as a dog, just feeling terrible. And I saw all these people just, the parking lot was completely full. It was raining. They were just walking in. And I thought, it kind of made me, all of a sudden, I felt strength in my body to see what you guys have invested in, that this year 30,000 patients will go through there. And so I got a shot, and checked on me, and they swabbed me and make sure what all I have. And then they grabbed my hand.
Now, these doctors, they're at our clinic. Here, I'm PC, you know what I'm saying? And they grab my hand. "PC, can we pray for you"? "Yeah, you could". They said, "We do this for every patient". And they prayed for me, and I walked out, and I left there thinking, "This is why we moved to Birmingham. This is why we have services. This is why we take offerings". And just seeing vision again, I'm gonna tell you, the shot didn't even have time to work. There was another shot put in my arm, and it's called purpose, like, we're doing something that matters with our lives! And it makes this verse make sense. You don't have any vision? You're gonna die. You'll die.
Viktor Frankl, I talked about him last week, how he kept all those Holocaust survivors from committing suicide, meaning of life. He said, "People have enough to live by. They need something to live for. They have the means, but they have no meaning". So, what do we do? We go back the way we came. It was Paul's secret, who had a horrible life, horrible. Five times got the 39 lashes that Jesus got once. He was shipwrecked, snake bitten, he was harassed, he spent a night and a day in the open sea, just bobbing around like a cork in the Mediterranean. Just can imagine the fear, the horror. He was stoned. I had one guy say, "Well, at least he got a little relief". Like, no! It's not this way. It was with rocks. He didn't get any relief.
That was another kind of stoned. He really said that. No. And how? He says, he says, "We don't lose heart". How, Paul? Tell us how. "Though outwardly..." Now my life's a mess. I'm wasting away. "I'm being renewed inwardly day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them". I have something in my life bigger than my problems. Do you have problems? Yes, you do. But the problem isn't your problem. Your problem is you don't have something in life bigger than your problem. When my kids got hurt, they fell down and... All they needed was a lollipop. And all of a sudden, "Knee? What knee? I didn't scrape my knee. I want that". Right?
You need something in your life bigger than, "So we fix our eyes not on the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen, since what is seen is temporary, anyway, and the unseen is eternal". Let's get healthy physically. Let's learn how to encounter God. You'd better believe what God has to say about you. You need a purpose, and you need to find your meaning. Like, go out and live your life on purpose. How? Find a need and fill it. It's not that hard. I'll close. "So Elijah went from there, and he found Elisha, son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair".
Watch this. Elijah went up to him and said, "I'll never do this alone again". And he threw his cloak on a group, a friend, and he stepped into what I call a relational strength. Look at me, 'cause you weren't designed to go through this by yourself. And that's why we're at church, groups. That's why we believe in relationships. And that's why I'm begging those of you who are contemplating things, and you've got secrets that nobody knows, you don't have to tell everybody, but you'd better tell somebody, that you weren't designed to walk through this alone. And if you happen to say what you're going through around here, let me tell you what you're not gonna get. You're not gonna get a, "Oh"! You're gonna get a, "What, you too? I thought I was the only one". You're gonna find a friend.
I'll close with this quote from Kevin Eikenberry, who said, "Look carefully at the closest associations in your life, for that is the direction you are headed". I'm praying for you, church, that we're all coming out of the cave together, everybody. We're gonna get strong and healthy. We're gonna take some naps and eat some good food, and rest a little bit. We're gonna meet with God, and we're gonna get a right identity. We're gonna live our lives on purpose and then do it with a group of friends, and I promise you, every single one of us gonna come out of that cave, in Jesus's name. Do you believe it? Come on, give God some praise if you really believe it. I believe it. I want you to bow your heads and close your eyes. Let me pray for you:
Father, I thank you for every person here. God, only you really know what's going on in the depths of their soul. Lord, if they don't get anything else today, I hope they got some hope, to know there is a way out. I know the cave is dark, but God there is a way out. I know it's disorienting, but there is a way out. And I thank you for that hope today. In Jesus's name.
With heads bowed and eyes closed, at every one of our locations today, if you're far from God, I want to just pray a simple prayer with you right there where you're seated. I'm very serious. If you're tired of being where you are spiritually, you're one heartfelt prayer away from that changing. "PC, what do I pray"? Exactly what the Bible says. Make Jesus Lord. Give him your life, give him your life. That's it, surrender your life to his control, and he'll forgive you, save you, make a home in heaven for you, and give you a purpose to live until you get there, here on this earth.
Heads bowed and eyes closed. If that's you, I'm going to invite all of our campus pastors to the stage. Pastor Blake, you can join me here. And I'll let them close the service in just a second, but if that's you, boldly, right there where you are, I want you to whisper these words straight toward heaven and say:
Jesus, I believe you are God, and today I put my faith in you. I'm asking you to save me, to forgive me, to come live inside of me and change me. I give you the control of my life, everything. Forgive me. Be my Lord. I believe you are the Son of God who rose from the dead, and today I put my faith in you. Thank you for setting me free. In your name I pray, amen and amen.