Anxiety & Depression (introduction to a research paper)

  
 
What is depression like? Well, it’s kind of like drowning. Except you can see everyone else around you breathing…

During my senior year of college I wrote a short summary paper over the topic of “Psychoanalytic Social Theory” and its failure to address our real, deepest need: Christ. I don’t know if you would consider the paper to actually be very short, but I tend to be a little long-winded in the written word; and I feel that this is brief for the immense issue that it attempts to summarize. For me, when I write, it is the greatest avenue of any outlet. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter, “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.”

That, of course, is a bit of an overstatement. However, writing really is a big help for a great many ailments, both in ourselves and in others. It is, perhaps, one of the quintessential ways of making sweet drinks from life’s sour fruit. Writing is readymade for those with some great angst. It’s appropriate for the anxious and the angry. Writing is for the lonely and the depressed and the misunderstood. For the frustrated and the fearful. For the poor in spirit and those who mourn. So, if or when I seem to come across as harsh or critical in my writing, please know that I am “preaching” to myself more than anyone, and these words are an overflow from my heart, from the grace that the Holy Spirit has overwhelmed me with.

This paper was one of the most therapeutic endeavors I have ever embarked upon; as I have suffered from bouts of depression most my life and have been diagnosed by different psychologists as bipolar, as having ADD, OCD, insomnia, and manic-depression… and with a family history of verbal abuse, physical violence, substance abuse, sexual sin, explosive anger, depression, anxiety, and many other dark things. I have had experience with multiple medications and seen numerous psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. for help with these issues during the course of my life. I’m pleading with God to end these things in me and not pass them on to my children.

I have not seen any doctors for depression related issues for quite some time now, but I’ve had some really, really dark days in my life. And still do. Never any days where I thought seriously about killing myself, but would have welcomed death as an old friend if it came for me. I’ll just be honest and direct here, depression freakin sucks, anxiety can be so debilitating, and it seems to be so unpredictable and uncontrollable in a lot of ways.

Depression is also normal, it can affect anyone, and is as common an illness as the flu. Flu season seems to take place every year, but it can happen all year around. It can affect anyone, at any time. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter what age you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.

The flu doesn’t discriminate. It’s universal. It can happen to anyone at anytime. Depression plagues us the same way. For me personally, there have been times when everything is seemingly going great, and then the smallest thing, the faintest thought, turns my entire world into a dark spiraling pit of despair.

When I’m really struggling, my mind can quickly turn anything into the worst thing ever. I will feel the unbearable weight crushing down upon me, and only seem to increase the weight of everything by thinking of more stuff to be depressed about. I will take a compliment and see it as a back-handed, sarcastic cut-down. I will begin to worry about things out of my control, past mistakes, “what ifs,” and things that haven’t even happened yet, but they might… I’ve even been “bipolarish” in my depression, by wanting to either be completely alone or surrounded by as many close friends as possible. I will quickly forget the innumerable blessings our Father has so gracious given me, and focus so intensely on every way I’ve ever been wronged that it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of “tunnel vision.”

I hate this about myself…

Can I talk to you for a moment, just as a (possible) fellow struggler with depression? God’s given each of us a certain amount of vitality and energy to walk in joy throughout life. The thing about depression is that it so often becomes selfish and prideful in the way that we focus so much on ourselves; and it takes up an unbelievable amount of energy to do it. So the energy given to you and me to do life well is used up on trying to find a release, to numb the overwhelming pain, or just take our minds off ourselves for a moment.

King Solomon touches on all this in the extremely wise and weighty book of Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (2:24-25 ESV). “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” (5:18 ESV). “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do… Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that He has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (9:7,9-10 ESV).

Here’s another thing. It is impossible to truly love or receive love if no one knows who you really are, and you don’t have good friends and family walking through this with you. Because if anyone tries to love you, it will be too easy to deflect them and say that they actually love the version of yourself that you are presenting, not you. It’s hard to accept love when you think that if anyone really knew who you were, if they found out all the dark secrets of your past, your current struggles, and what is hiding in your heart, they’d run away from you faster than Usain Bolt… on steroids.

Let me try to explain some of this a little better. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 51, Mary makes this statement during her song of praise, “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” What happens to the proud, to the depressed, to the neurotic, is we spend the bulk of our day and the bulk of our mental capacity on “what could be if we would have just…” or “what could be if this would just…” So we go, “Oh, if I would have just taken Greek more seriously, I’d be fluent right now… Oh, if I knew then what I know now, how much better of an athlete, student, employee/employer, parent, friend, etc. would I be… Oh, if I would have just chosen that instead of this… Oh, if that relationship had just made it through that rough patch… Oh, if I would have moved there instead of moving here… Oh, if that opportunity would have come instead of this… If I would have avoided this person and gone with that person… If I would have just been there and not here… If a certain person would just do this or that, or not do this or that…”

So when we operate this way, all our energy is spent on “What if… what if… what if…” to the detriment of our present and maybe even almost to the damnation of our future.

There is no future if you’re stuck in the imagination of your heart. There is no joy when we are focused too much on ourselves. There is no future if all your mental vitality is stuck in “what if” land. You’re perpetually never where you really are, always wishing you were more, always wishing you had more, always looking back to a past to fix your present rather than there being any real energy today to have God do something mighty so that tomorrow you’re all that you hoped He could be in you. We will count the days instead of making the days count. It’s an endless crazy cycle. It happens to many of us. It certainly happens to me. I’m not saying I never struggle with this anymore; in none of this am I saying there’s you and then there’s me… We’re perpetually stuck in this imaginary world of “Oh, if I just would have…”

While addressing this issue, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us in his letter to the churches at Philippi, “… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
So, how about we just do now. Well, today kind of stinks… It’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today is painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going stumble upon a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. However, Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is lurking back there! But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday.

So, please don’t sacrifice today and tomorrow because of fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through this. And continue to walk with them (Galatians 6:1-5). Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, and the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross. We are saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:1-10).

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Even if you love Jesus Christ though, it is very possible, even probable, that there will be days or seasons where you are like the Psalmist in Psalm 42. There will be dark nights of the soul where your tears and your snot are your only food, where you are in a ball on the floor, and can’t think weekly or monthly, or it would crush you. The thought of having to endure longer than today feels impossible. And I’m talking to those of you who know and love Jesus Christ. If you think that sounds crazy, just read about the lives of Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, Paul, even the life if Jesus Christ, and pretty much every other person mentioned in Scripture.

Are you not aware that we have an empathetic High Priest in the God-man, Jesus Christ? He experienced loss, hunger, temptation, pain, exhaustion, the death of a good friend (Lazarus), the deep betrayal of a close friend (Judas), rejection, being called a liar, His own family thinking that He was crazy and insane, He was spit upon, whipped, beat, taunted, slapped, mocked, stabbed, jeered, and crucified by the very hands of people He created. Jesus actually sustained their life and held their existence together all the while they nailed Him to a cross and cheerfully called out for His suffering.

Our God experienced deeper abandonment, rejection, pain, loss, and devastation than you could ever begin to even try to describe using every bit of existing vocabulary and every waking moment of the rest of your life. When we compare our pain to God on the cross, it is an embarrassment to us to try to belittle Him so. At the very same moment, it is a rich well of comfort to know our God is not immune to or ignorant of our pain and sorrow. He put on flesh and felt our deepest pains at such an astronomically deeper level so that when we approach our Father in our pain He can say to us, “I know… oh sweet child, I know… This world was never meant to be this way… My little child, I love you. Oh how I look forward to the day you will see Me crack open the skies and so fiercely reverse all this pain that your heart will be so on fire with joy it won’t even remember this present pain because gladness will have flooded your heart to such an extreme you will no longer be capable of feeling any sorrow. Until then, please, come to Me and rest. Rest in the work I have already accomplished for you.”

On the cross, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, He who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become His righteousness… The Son felt the cosmic weight of sin, rejection, abandonment, and loss of relationship from the Father, whom He had perfectly loved before time and throughout all time up until that point… and He isn’t looking down at you and thinking all the negative thoughts you might be putting in His mouth, rather God is lovingly looking down on your as a son, as a daughter, as a fellow heir who has suffered in pain… pain He came to eradicate someday… and our God is still working in your life to bring about His good work, His great pleasure, His predestined masterpiece.

Oh, that we would stop dwelling on what we do not have today, and think about how much our Father has already mercifully given us. The prophets only had the promise of a future Christ to come… we get to see the world through the lens that He has already come and defeated death for us! Now we await His return to announce the war has been over since before it ever began. Our God ransoms hearts with ferocious passion, zeal, and joy so that you may share in His inheritance… that we may taste that same joy. Don’t settle for less, you have no right to stay trapped in sorrow; for life, and life to the fullest, was purchased for you.

Peter could not be any more clear about all this than he is in his first epistle: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 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. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1st Peter 5:5-11 ESV)

The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not that in trusting Him everything goes just like you want it to go. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is we get God regardless of circumstance, and He’ll be enough. He will be enough. God is enough. Feelings and circumstances change, but our great God is faithful and He does not fail to keep His promises. When we doubt God and look to ourselves, this takes us back to enslavement.

Tim Keller expressed these truths well when he said, “Christianity does not provide the reason for each and every experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage, rather than bitterness and despair.”

Also, some of us are trying to use God to get something we want this very day. Well, again, that’s not the good news of the gospel, the good news is you get God. Now is God able to accomplish more than we could ever dream, or think, or imagine? Absolutely, He is! Can He restore and heal marriages? Historically, we’ve seen Him do it hundreds of times. Can He lead you out of financial ruin? Absolutely, He can. Can He heal diseases? Yes! But is that why we go to Him? If that’s why we go to Him, then what we want is not Him, but rather Him to do those things. We want the stuff God could potentially give us, but not Him… That’s idolatry, that’s not love. It’s like having a friend you only call when you need a favor, or having a spouse and not loving them at all or having much to do with them other than when they are able to provide some comfort or do something for you.

A.W. Tozer famously said that whatever comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Your real god and functional savior is what you most effortlessly think about. When you hear someone mention “God,” what do you think of? What image fills your heart and head when you think about who God is? As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” How can we possibly humbly serve the true God of this universe if we’re so busy with and captivated by thoughts about our own self or how “God” can serve us…

I’ve had to learn that truth hard way… that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” In the end, I’ve only ever found any lasting hope in one thing, well, a Person actually. You may know this Person too. Through everything I’ve gone through, even when I’ve been at what feels like the end of my rope, Jesus Christ has always been there through every dark day and circumstance, with grace that outshines the darkest depths of darkness this fallen world has ever known. His love will not be silent or overcome by anything.

Also, one more thing, as much as I’d like to think there’s a chance I’ll never have another day bogged down by any level of depression, deep spiritual depression is actually a part of the Christian life. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones began his book, Spiritual Depression, by putting it this way: You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind, and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of this in the Scriptures.

A particular sign of hope in knowing you’re not alone in feeling this way and having these struggles comes from the account of Christ’s temptation in Luke 4. Notice Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the desert.” He didn’t do anything to get Himself there. The Holy Spirit led the Lord Himself into the desert for a specific purpose. This should set us on a journey to find out more about how to understand and address our depression. Sometimes we will actually walk away from seasons of deep depression and anxiety with new understanding in life, and be a stronger person because of it.

Lloyd-Jones continues in saying that some of us by our nature, and by the very type of struggles to which we are bent, are more given to this spiritual disease referred to as “spiritual depression” than others. But take heart, we belong to the same company as Jeremiah, Isaiah, as John the Baptist and Paul, Luther and Lewis, and a great many others. That’s a pretty good group of believers to relate to. And while you cannot fully belong to it without being unusually subject to this particular type of trial, it ends well.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” – Proverbs 12:25

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She is Home

  
Over 4 years ago, just a couple weeks before I would propose to my wife, I lost one of the dearest people in my life. I had never known life without my Grammy, and for the first week or so after she passed away, it all just felt surreal, like it couldn’t actually be true. She is gone from my life now, but never forgotten. Recent events brought back some vivid memories of my time with her during her last few months with us. I dug out the copy of what I had written for her memorial service, and after re-reading it, I felt that it should be shared with others. I know I’m definitely not the only one who has experienced this feeling of loss and felt the conflict of pain and hope. Maybe these words can help be a reminder to others of what beauty awaits us in the sorrow of death.

Words from Grammy’s Memorial Service

Earlier this year Grammy and I discussed the very concept and message of what I’d like to share with you today and, given these present circumstances, I find it appropriate. I ask you all to think with me about a familiar story, found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. This parable’s plot and dramatic personae are very simple. There was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father. This reception alienated and angered the elder brother greatly. The story closes with the father appealing to his eldest son to join in the welcome and forgiveness of his younger brother.

I’m sure many of you have heard this story referred to as the Prodigal Son. However, even Jesus doesn’t call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but begins the story saying, “a man had two sons.” The narrative is as much about the elder brother as the younger, and as much about the father as the sons, if not more so. This parable might be better called the Two Lost Sons, or The Prodigal Father. The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term actually better describes the behavior of the father. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand repayment. In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well.

Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, His children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the framework for the metanarrative in which every Christian finds themselves.

It is important to read Jesus’ parable of the lost son in the context of the whole of Luke, chapter 15, but the story has an even larger context. If we read the narrative in light of the Bible’s sweeping theme of exile and homecoming we will understand that Jesus has given us more than a moving account of individual redemption. He has retold the story of the whole human race, and promised nothing less than hope for the world.

In Jesus’ parable the younger brother goes off into a distant country expecting a better life but is disappointed. He begins to long for home, remembering the food in his father’s house. So do we all. “Home” exercises a powerful influence over human life. Foreign-born Americans spend billions annually to visit the communities in which they were born. Children who never find a place where they feel they belong carry an incapacity for attachment into their adult lives. Many of us have fond memories of times, people, and places where we felt we were truly home. However, if we ever have the opportunity to get back to the places we remember so fondly, we are often times disappointed.

Home, then, is a powerful but elusive concept. The strong feelings that surround it reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves. Yet it seems that no real place, or actual friends and family ever truly satisfies these yearnings, though many situations arouse them. The memory of home seems to be powerfully evoked by certain sights, sounds, and even smells. But they can only arouse a desire they can’t fulfill. There is a German word that gets at this concept – the word Sehnsucht. Dictionaries will tell you that there is no simple English synonym. It denotes profound homesickness or longing, but with transcendent overtones. The writer who spoke most about this “spiritual homesickness” was C.S. Lewis. He described Sehnsucht as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.”

If you accept this, there seems to be a sense, then, in which we are all like the younger brother. We are all exiles, always longing for home. We are always traveling, never arriving. The houses and families we actually inhabit are only inns along the way, but they aren’t home. Home continues to evade us. Why would “home” be so powerful and yet so elusive for us? The answer can be found as we examine one of the most persistent themes of the Bible. The experience we have been describing is the trace in our souls of this larger story.

In the beginning of the book of Genesis we learn the reason why all people feel like exiles, like we aren’t really home. We are told there that we were created to live in the garden of God. That was the world we were built for, a place in which there was no parting from love, no decay, no disease, no death. It was all these things because it was life before the face of God, in His presence. There we were to adore and serve His infinite majesty, and to know, enjoy, and reflect His infinite beauty. That was our original home, the true country we were made for. However, Scripture teaches that, as in Jesus’ parable, God was the “father” of that home and we chafed under His authority. We wanted to live without God’s interference, and so we turned away, and became alienated from Him, and lost our home for the same reason the younger brother lost his. The result was exile.

The Bible says that we have been wandering as spiritual exiles ever since. That is, we have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings and desires. Though we long for bodies that run and do not grow weary, we have become subject to disease, aging, and death. Though we need love that lasts, all our relationships are subject to the inevitable entropy of time, and they crumble in our hands. Even people who stay true to us die and leave us, or we die and leave them. Though we long to make a difference in the world through our work, we experience endless frustration. We never fully realize our hopes and dreams. We may work hard to re-create the home that we have lost, but, says the Bible, it only exists in the presence of the Heavenly Father from which we have fled. This then is played out again and again in the Scriptures.

It is no coincidence that story after story we hear contains the pattern of exile. The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal sons is about every one of us. According to the Bible, we live in a natural world that is now fallen. We were not made for a world of disease and natural disaster, a world in which everything decays and dies, including ourselves. This world, as it now exists, is not the home we long for. A real, final homecoming would mean a radical change not only in human nature but the very fabric of the material world. We see this radical change ignite when Jesus appears in history and declares that He is bringing in “the kingdom of God.” Finally, at the end of His life, He was crucified outside the gate of the city, a powerful symbol of rejection by the community, of exile. And as He died he said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” a tremendous cry of spiritual abandonment and homelessness. But what exactly does this mean?

Jesus had not come to simply deliver one nation from political oppression, but to save all of us from sin, evil, and death itself. Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, He came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world completely clean of it. He came to bring the human race Home. He came and experienced the exile that we deserved. He was expelled from the presence of the Father, He was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation – in our place. He took upon Himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could be welcomed into our true home. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin with His death, He has achieved victory over the forces of disorder, decay, and death that keep this world from being our true home.

Jesus, unlike the founder of any other major faith, holds out hope for ordinary human life. Our future is not an ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. We will not float through the air playing harps, but rather we will eat, drink, embrace, sing, laugh, and dance in the kingdom of God, in degrees of power, glory, and joy that we can’t at present imagine. Jesus will make the world in which we reside our perfect home again. We will come, and the Father will meet us like the younger son and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast. Grammy is at our Father’s table now eating, drinking, laughing. She is sitting amongst brothers and sisters there, with her Savior, with her Lord. She is Home.

Friendship

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“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival… In friendship, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another… the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” – C.S. Lewis

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The Galloway Wedding

Recently I had the great privilege of serving as the “best man” in Greg (Aaron) & Autumn Galloway’s wedding. After receiving some requests for a copy of the speech I gave during their reception, I decided to share it publicly and make it available for anyone interested. What follows are the feeble words I offered to the newly wedded couple; they still drastically fall short of conveying my love for them, and infinitely more so the worth of our God.

The script:

Good afternoon, I’d like to thank all of you for being a part of this celebration with us. I have the great honor, the immense privilege of serving as Greg’s best man today. So at this time, I’d like to share some things with everyone. I’ve known Greg (not Aaron, it’ll never be Aaron) since middle school. He actually attempted to trick me into believing he was a set of twins, and since I met Greg first, he will forever be Greg to me. And this twinless guy is truly like a brother to me.

My wife Kat and I still remember the evening Greg first told us about Autumn… [ad lib.] And we’ve gotten to watch their relationship grow into something deep. I remember vividly some long conversations with Greg as he wondered if he would ever see this day, and now it is here. He has found what is good, he has found a wife.

And while this is a very beautiful day in the life of Greg and Autumn, there is a deeper grander to behold. We believe that this day, this ceremony and reception, is not ultimately about celebrating the marriage of Greg and Autumn, but rather us celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His bride. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes in chapter five about the truth that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment; rather marriage was created to be a human reflection of the ultimate love relationship with the Lord. It points to the true marriage that our souls need and the true family our hearts want. For me personally, I never even really caught a good glimpse of the fuller meaning of this truth (of what it means for us, the church, being referred to as the bride of Christ) before mine and Kat’s wedding day. When those doors opened, and she walked into the wedding chapel room, looking beyond incredibly amazing, yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit it… I teared up as it all began to hit me.

We, the church, are not called Christ’s wife, but His bride… Think about that for a moment… The groom does not look upon his bride on their wedding day and think about her imperfections, but is rather intensely focused on her precious qualities and beautiful attributes. On the wedding day, the groom is overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude, and devotion. Because this bride, standing adorned before her groom: she is his. He sees only her, and no one can deter his gaze. She alone catches his eye and she alone can hold his attention.

So, in this wedding, in this marriage between Greg and Autumn, we catch a beautiful reflective glimpse of Christ. When marriage seems unfair, we are to be reminded that Jesus never sought out equality, fairness, and happiness. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, and endured grossly unfair treatment for the joy set before Him, in redeeming the church as His bride. That is our model and our means for authentic marriage.

So Greg, don’t ever forget how beautiful Autumn looks today, and how she is completely dressed up in splendor, having been presented to you as a beautiful, radiant, spotless bride. That is how Christ sees us, His chosen loved ones whom He died for, and He calls us His bride. His pursuit of us is fierce and unwavering, His affection for us is strong and deep, His love for us is abiding and unending. Our hope is that this glorious Gospel is preached through Greg and Autumn’s marriage, as God has chosen the story of their lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

Because when we arrive at eternity’s shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Christ’s bride will come together and we’ll sing, You’re beautiful!!! Thank you all for being a part of this wedding, to celebrate not just Greg and Autumn’s marital union, but our great God and King: Jesus.

Authentic Community: Bearing Life With One Another

Audio Sermon Link

Everyone says they want community and friendship. But simply mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way. So, why should we honestly believe and strive to live like authentic Biblical community really is worth the mess and pain?

The Passage

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

Quote to Consider

“A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. . . . Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself.” – Thomas á Kempis

Acknowledging Sin & Seeking Reconciliation

When we become aware of someone else’s sin, conceited inferiority would cause us either to envy the life they are leading, however sinful; or to crave their approval so much that we won’t risk pointing out their failure to live in line with the gospel.

The ultimate goal is restoration. Why do we engage brothers and sisters who are drowning? Why do we engage those who are being overcome by sin? Why do we engage those who are hurting and losing their fight against iniquity? In order to restore; we work, not as detectives, but as friends and coheirs of Christ.

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

Further… We should strive to be considerate and empathetic when giving advice. Don’t belittle your friend’s challenges by comparing them to yours. Your race might be a full 26.2 mile marathon, and your friend’s may only be a 5k, but telling them that you’re running a marathon doesn’t exactly make their 5k any easier. The heart of the Christian faith isn’t someone telling others how to eat, it is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Authentic Community

We live in a strange time in which it seems the majority of people in our culture say they want community and they desire authentic community, but then they aren’t willing to kneel down and get their hands dirty in a sense. We all seem to understand that community and relationship are important and needed for a healthy life, but at the same time we aren’t quickly willing to make the sacrifices that enable community to happen.

Or on the other hand, we build a sense of community with only friends of roughly the same age, same interests, same ethnicity, same demographic as us so that we are more comfortable and less prone to experience any conflict.

We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay. Everyone wants judgment when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed; but praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.

“We are far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.”

Takeaway Questions

Is there a habitual sin you need to gently restore a brother or sister from? Are you willing to listen to others who seek to restore you?

What opportunities is God giving you to carry another’s burdens?

How are you sowing and reaping to please the Spirit in your specific set of God-given life circumstances?

Don’t be the fool, forgive.

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I was counseling someone recently about forgiveness and seeking reconciliation, and I couldn’t help but start thinking about some of the stupid things I have done in the past, all the horribly immature and petty things done out of pain, heartache, and bitterness. I began to think about how in some instances, I never really apologized to those I hurt or had an opportunity of reconciliation in some of my past relationships…

I have no excuse for any of my past hurtful actions. I am ashamed and embarrassed of the way I have treated some people; even people I loved, because none of how I treated them, was ever a display of that love. Any good memories there once were of some things, well, I tarnished those with spiteful and childish actions.

I’ve had to work through many of my own heart issues and come to the painful realization that in every bit of the bitterness and pain I felt towards some people, well, it was actually me who was the root-cause. The real issue and problem stemmed from my own selfish and prideful heart (Matthew 6:12-15, Luke 17:3-4). I could not continue to blame anyone else for my actions.

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Teddy Roosevelt

The line between all that I was and all that I hated has been thinner than I’ve ever wanted to believe or acknowledge. Eventually I realized that I could not stay angry, bitter, or resentful towards someone unless I felt superior to them (2nd Corinthians 2:5-11). Because there is no bitterness without pride. I lied to myself, believing I would never do anything like what others had done to hurt me. But if one struggles with anger and bitterness, it is because pride is at the root of it. My own pride made me the fool and robbed me of more joy than any wrong that had ever been done to me. I’m sorry for those I’ve hurt in the past that it took me treating some people so poorly, hurting them, upsetting friends and family, and causing so many problems as the consequences of my own foolishness. It can be quite embarrassing how long it has taken me sometimes to begin to really be convicted about my pride and figure some things out.

Rather than learning many of these lessons from watching others or reading a book, my stubborn self has had to learn by painful experience that false conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete (Philippians 1:6). True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior without a heart change.

“Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I show to others, that mercy show to me.” – Alexander Pope

When we begin to grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. God has modeled perfect forgiveness for us. Despite the magnitude of our offense against Him, God does not forget in order to forgive. He forgives in spite of our sin.

If we are ever to learn to truly forgive we must learn it from God. This means we must be forgiven first by accepting the forgiveness extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 1:7, 2:4-10, Colossians 1:14, 2:13, 3:13). As forgiven children, we are not required to forget the wrongs against us. Believers can forgive in the midst of pain because we have been forgiven much. We are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness and the slavery of bitterness in order to extend the life-giving freedom of compassion (Hebrews 10:18). We remember the grace shown to us and extend that same grace to others.

“Everyone wants judgement when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed. Praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.”

Practically, this may take time, and that is okay. We are often wronged in deeply painful ways. So be true and real. When you are hurting, hurt. But in the hurt and suffering, seek to understand that there is coming a day when all suffering will be removed, and you will be made whole. You have refuge in the only truly innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ, who is understanding and sympathetic to your pain. Because, when the Gospel and the cross are viewed correctly and understood, it will lead not to you standing next to the cross and telling others to get right, but we will instead find ourselves kneeling on the ground at the cross telling others there is room.

So forgive, not to the degree to which you forget, but to the degree to which you realize you have been forgiven much. As one made in the image of Christ, extend the same kind of forgiveness you have received. Because God’s grace came into your hands free of charge to you, we are to redistribute it the same way.

“Forgiveness isn’t an end in itself. The point of forgiveness is to remove the barrier that stands between us and God so that He can give us His Spirit and bring us into His everlasting family.” – Darrell Bock

As for any of you reading this that might be thinking, “Alright, I get it, I’ve been able to forgive others who have hurt me, but I’m still really struggling to forgive myself for some of the terrible things I’ve done. We need to realize that when we say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” what we really mean is that we have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to us than God’s. We should remember the words of the apostle John in the book 1st John 1:9, as well as the wise words of C.S. Lewis here, in that: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Blinded by Ourselves

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There are numerous catchy self-help phrases and popular inspirational quotes circulating in our American culture today that go something along these lines: “Listen to yourself, not the noise of the world. Only you know what is right for you… Listen to your heart, follow your feelings. Nobody else can tell you how to feel.”

The Scriptures (and history too for that matter) explicitly tell us how much we are to trust our gut and rely on our own feelings though. Just taking a glance through the Proverbs, we read in 3:5, “Do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 14:12 teaches us, “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” And then Proverbs 28:26 tells us, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 5:15 that Jesus came so that those who live would no longer “live for themselves.” Paul is arguing something significant here, something that every Christian should remember. He is arguing that the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin inserts me into the middle of my universe; the one place reserved for God and God alone. Sin reduces my field of concern down to my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin really does make it all about me.

Because the inertia of sin leads away from God’s purpose and glory toward my purpose and glory, as long as sin is inside me there will be temptation in life to exchange God’s glory for my own. In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, I begin to pursue the alternative of human glory. Things like appreciation, reputation, success, power, comfort, and control all become way too important. Because they are too important to me, they begin to shape the way I think about everything in life, the things I want out of my life, and all of the things I do in my life.

“The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of grace and salvation is God substituting Himself for us. We put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God puts Himself where we deserve to be.” – John Stott

We would do well to remember also, that no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one else talks to you more. The things you say to yourself about God, you, and others are profoundly important, shaping your participation in things and experiences in life. So many of us just sadly function in a regular state of gospel amnesia. We forget to preach privately to ourselves the gospel that we declare publicly to others.

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller

Some of us today seem to believe that what we feel has greater value or holds a greater element of truth than what we would reason through by thought and logic. Too many of us still operate as if we don’t have any major blind-spots in our life. C.S. Lewis addressed this very craziness years ago in his book The Abolition of Man, “No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

“Our feelings are an essential part of our right response to reality, but they should never in themselves be the determiner of reality.”

Even if we don’t acknowledge, believe in, or accept the reality of something, it does not change the reality itself. So we must consider that if sin blinds (and it does) then as long as sin remains in our heart, there will be pockets of spiritual blindness. And the really scary thing with spiritually blind people is that they’re blind to their blindness. This means that we all need “instruments of seeing” in our lives as much as any of the people around us (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Henry David Thoreau famously said, “It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.”

We need to understand and realize that our relationship with God, our spirituality, although immensely personal, was not designed to be exclusively private. The more you make your struggles and your victories private, the more you turn sanctification into a crawl and the less you’re able to know God relationally. Our faith has never been meant to be private. You weren’t created to hide or keep your feelings, your love, your mind, to yourself. We were designed to have spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers, spiritual brothers and spiritual sisters, spiritual sons and spiritual daughters. We were designed to live in community; to have men and women above us who speak life and encouragement into us and walk with us, and men and women underneath us whom we can serve, help to guide, and mentor.

“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden

And in regards to communal sanctification, C.S. Lewis eloquently put it this way, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” To live life well, it requires real relationships, and authentic community. In order for there to be genuine, real, deep relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you and then you have to submit to it. Like there are things that I do that my wife doesn’t like. I know… I can’t believe it either… Anyhow, there have been times where she’s engaged me on those things and she was like, “Look, this is not ok, I don’t like this.”

So what makes my relationship with my wife life-giving and intimate is that I can hear that and respond. I can humbly submit, apologize, and work to better love and serve her… or more realistically I will argue and be stubborn for a little bit first, before the Holy Spirit (often times through prayer, a friend, or a book) blows me up and opens my eyes to the unbelievable amount of selfishness that still resides in my heart. But in our relationship, my wife can contradict me and I can contradict her. And it’s a faulty illustration at some levels because you never really get to contradict God or motivate Him to change, but do you see what happens if you make God, or truth whatever you want it to be? You have no God or objective truth at all. You have a robot or something made by your own hands, imagination, something that our own ignorant minds created that has existed for a mere fraction of a fraction in the scope of history.

“A long life will eventually beat the pride out of you, and if it somehow doesn’t, death will provide more than enough proof of your weakness.”

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us. At the same time, the Gospel solution when a person is blind to some serious issues in their life (or even when they become aware and are paralyzed by a sense of guilt or unworthiness or uselessness) is not to increase self-esteem; the Biblical answer to a paralysis of low self-esteem is not cultivating a high self-esteem. It’s sovereign grace. (“Fear not you worm…” – Isaiah 41:14).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and those around us. We are to love God above all, and love our neighbors as ourselves. And that is the core of true salvation and freedom, that is the greatest reality.