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

Shout Your Abortion?

  
  

The mantras claiming “my body, my choice” and “my life is more valuable than potential life” are currently being shouted with vigor across social media, and it seems anyone who replies with any disagreement will be trolled, mocked, and shamed in response for their views. (Ironic, considering what the “movement” claims to be about.) In our prevailing American culture where individual freedoms are held sacred above all else, death has become celebrated.

While reading through social media posts and articles online trying to get a better understanding of what is being shouted, it is clear that there is a massive misunderstanding of the pro-life view for starters. The consistent misrepresentation and strawmanning of the “pro-life” view to absurd degrees as to imply the view is nothing more than a horrible war on women meant to oppress them by robbing them of all their freedom or that such proponents of any opposing views do not care about people once they’re born is ridiculous, distracting nonsense. By trying to rebrand anyone’s view that doesn’t celebrate the “choice” of abortion as hateful “anti-choice” is not adding anything helpful to the conversation. I also keep seeing people ask how it could possibly be better for the child to grow up in poverty than just killed in the womb… I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I haven’t come across very many people who would honestly rather have been killed before having a chance in life than to grow up poor.

Sadly, we all too often lose sight of the real issue at hand with the abortion issue though, and begin to view other people as enemies. The true adversary that needs to be addressed here is this prevailing idea of individualism that is rampant in our culture.

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. . . At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses.” — C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man

Before rolling your eyes and closing the browser, please let me try to explain. This society-eroding idea of individualism snuck its was into American thought early on and has only snowballed. It came to us via liberalism. Liberalism (think liberation, liberty, freedom) was born out of an 18th-century revolutionary movement in France and America that stressed individual liberty and rights. It brought together deist and utilitarian philosophies, and while ushering in great, countless positive advancements for civilization, it also led the way for a potentially monstrous society of individualism. If God simply set the world in motion (deism) and left sinful man to follow what gives him pleasure (utilitarianism), then society naturally gets built on individual rights… rights that are to be secured at all cost.

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious. Because of this inordinate amount of value our culture places on individual freedoms, we distort our lives, and in turn further warp our society.

“True freedom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die.”

In this broken arrangement, everyone inevitably becomes an intruder. When an individual’s “rights” are ultimate, injustices abound, and citizens make demands of the State. In the case of abortion, both sides claim an enormous injustice.

On one hand, a woman, aware that parenting is life altering, may fear that her ambitions will be aversely affected, that her ability to pursue life, liberty, and happiness might be severely hindered. To someone making the difficult choice of abortion, the innocent child is seen not just as an unwanted presence but as an intruder. The mother feels she has the right to defend her personal interests… after all, she’s an individual with rights first, a mother second.

The fetus, on the other hand, in no way responsible for his or her own “intrusion” and unable to defend against any attack, also claims injustice. The same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness belongs to the unborn, but they’re unable to speak up. Termination would thus be the ultimate intrusion.

Such a divisive conflict like this will always result in a frustrating stalemate as long as liberalism (from all sides) gives birth to individualism. Individualism is the real enemy.

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint. Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. . . . Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” – Edmund Burke, 1791 ‘A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly’

It’s been over 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, and we’re still talking about the sanctity of life because the mere mention of it generates a moral friction on our human souls – souls fashioned after the Creator God who makes human beings distinctive among His created order.

It is this imago Dei (image of God) imbued to human beings (Genesis 1:26-27) that makes us human in the first place. This is the genesis of the biblical worldview: that God created and imprinted His image upon each person, giving dignity and value to every single human life despite its stage of development.

James tells us we kill because we “desire and do not have” (James 4:1-4). These impulses are birthed and fueled by our Genesis 3 desire to put ourselves in the place of God where no such warrant exists. We do great evil when we use or destroy lives to suit our whims and warped worldviews. When our society values happiness and feelings over truth, nobody really wins.

“We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards

So when someone stands to pray, defend, and cry out for the unborn and oppressed in the face of this celebration of individual freedom, they are calling for us all to refuse the lie of individualism. Autonomy, being a law unto oneself, is no basis for life together. Community is the only way forward to better change. Society must protect both women and the unborn in a way that doesn’t pit them against each other. The debate cannot center only on individual rights but, instead, must address the duties and responsibilities of, not just the biological parents, but the families, friends, neighbors, churches, and social services that can nurture and support them. The burden of pregnancy, especially pregnancy out of wedlock or for women in crisis, should never disproportionally fall solely on the pregnant mother. She still has a claim on the community, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy. The community still has (in these cases, often extraordinary) obligations, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy.

A community that models mutuality and solidarity affirms life in a way that dispels notions of children being intruders to personal pursuits. Life together where families and marriages are valued and where freedom is about stewardship rather than unlimited potential turns fear of intrusion into hospitality. Rather than see a baby as a burden, we see it as a life to be welcomed into community, a responsibility to be shared, a joy to be experienced. Any agenda to end abortion must include a vision for mobilizing community to function as it should.

There’s an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” There is a lot of truth to that, and we should stop expecting women to go through it alone. Every abortion done under the banner of freedom and convenience is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero. Creating and protecting life is fundamental to human flourishing, but community is equally important. Both of these are indispensable, and individualism is an enemy to both.

How to Help Improve Your Marriage in Just a Few Minutes Each Day

  

As husbands and fathers living in 2015, our lives are busy and sometimes even downright hectic. We have careers, family commitments, community and church activities, and a host of other things pulling from our time every day. Finding time can be difficult, perhaps even feeling impossible far too often.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. If you you sleep 6-8 hours each day (I wish, right?), that means you are awake roughly 1,000 minutes each day. How many of those minutes are you spending with your wife? How many of those minutes spent are used purposefully to engage, pursue, and woo her? What if I told you that you can drastically improve your marriage in just 15 minutes each day. Yes, spending a mere 1.5% of your waking hours each day can help you have a better marriage. Here’s a few things to consider:

1. Make time for it.

As mentioned, we all have about 1,000 minutes per day while we are awake. The first thing you should do is put 15 minutes into your schedule as designated, purposeful time. Discuss this with your wife, pull out your calendars, and block some time off for the two of you.

2. Guard your time like your life depends on it.

We’ve all seen enough spy movies to know that nothing is safe. But there’s always somebody else trying to make something impenetrable. Treat this 15 minutes the same. Guard it from any and everything that can stop it or steal it. (But know that emergencies happen, and adjustments will need to be made at time… just strive to make this the exception, not the rule.)

3. Start talking.

Initially, don’t have a set agenda. Just talk and listen. Set the phones to silent and put them down. Be sure to give your wife as much, if not more, time to share and talk as she needs. Be attentive to everything she says. Ask more questions than making statements early on. Use this opportunity to truly learn more about your spouse.

4. Fight, if necessary.

It can be easy to avoid or cancel your 15 minutes if there is some conflict brewing. But if you have to fight (disagree), then disagree. Conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, it can be a healthy building block for your marriage. So use that 15 minutes to “fight” if needed.

5. Play and have fun.

Your 15+ minutes each day doesn’t have to just be talking or fighting. Play some games and enjoy one another. When is the last time you’ve played cards, a board game, or even video game with your wife? Use your allotted time to do that sometimes.

Simply pending at least 15 minutes per day focused on one another can change your marriage forever. Make the time, spend the time, enjoy the time, and watch your marriage get better. So when will your 15 minutes per day take place? Get to thinking about it and make it happen. Stop with the excuses, and just do it.*

*I’d also recommend going beyond this, and establishing a regular weekly/bi-weekly date night.

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.

Love… Without Approval

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It seems that as I attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of America’s cultural heartbeat in regards to the topic of same-sex marriage, most social media posts and the overwhelming majority of news publications seem to agree that if you don’t whole-heartedly embrace, support, approve of, and celebrate public homosexuality and gay marriage, you are nothing more than a closed-minded bigot who probably needs to do the world a favor and be euthanized. (That sound a little harsh? Just read the news and scroll through some social media, and you’ll see that was actually a pretty light rendering of some stuff being said.) Before I even begin writing about this topic again though, I realize that many people won’t understand how homosexuality is seen through the Christian worldview, or care to understand. We will be labeled as intolerant bigots by our current culture, but hopefully we continue to strive to live in such a way as to make those accusations false.

The media spotlight has transitioned from “leave us alone” to “bake us a cake.” The desire of “just get out of our way,” has (for some) become “take our picture.” The same-sex marriage issue has become a judicial juggernaut; currently seventeen states recognize same-sex unions, with citizens in Idaho, Kentucky, and other states strongly petitioning the courts to extend that number. This political climate has prompted legislatures in Kansas, Arizona, and other states to advance unwieldy bills that seek to balance a newly-acquired right to marriage against the rights of others to follow their religious or moral consciences. The big question is no longer whether same-sex couples may marry, but whether a baker may refuse to sell them a wedding cake on the strength of his religious or moral conscience, without risking a lawsuit.

It seemed common sense to many in the past that you wouldn’t seek out a Jewish butcher to provide bacon-wrapped shellfish for your big party, but today the insensitivity of that request appears to be attributed to the Jewish butcher. While everyone is arguing over cake, pictures, flowers, clothing, and buildings, the media distracts us from the core philosophical issue: if we lose the ability to respect that people can only go as far as their consciences will allow them, then we risk becoming caught up in an even worse illusion, imagining hate where none exists, equating compelled behavior with authentic love, and losing sight of the fact that sharing another’s burdens sometimes means that we walk the extra mile on one challenging road, and they walk it on the next. Everyone spares a bit of their time for the sake of another. This is how love travels.

Would we really try to make the claim that Jesus approved of sin, or simply accepted people as they were with no desire to see them grow more in faith? Can we find a single place in Scripture where Jesus says what the tax collectors do to support the Roman army is good and right, and a behavior to be respected and emulated? Did Jesus ever help Zacchaeus shake down a guy for the taxes he owed? (Hint: no, He did not.) In the Gospels, Jesus never tells sinners not to worry about any sin in their lives and just go on about their business as they please because He loves them.

We could jokingly ask ourselves WWJD? And maybe after some speculation we’d even come to the conclusion that while Jesus was a carpenter and might not have been the most affluent wedding decorator, He would have baked the cake, arranged the flowers, snapped the pictures, and then built some lovely cabinets for the newlyweds’ new home. I mean hey, He might have even provided some quality wine for a wedding, it wouldn’t be the first time after all. But could we honestly follow that all the way through to Jesus officiating the wedding? Every time Jesus ever mentioned marriage He talked about a man and a woman; He quoted from the Old Testament and observed it as law. (Quick sidebar: the argument from silence that Jesus never outright stated that homosexuality is wrong, so He wasn’t really against it is more than a bit far-fetched. A proper understanding of both the Son of God and of Scripture should lead us to conclude that it ultimately would not matter if Jesus ever explicitly taught on homosexuality for Him to disagree with it. Second, that though we have no record of Him using the specific words “homosexual” or “homosexuality,” it is dishonest at best to say that He did not teach on the subject itself.) Jesus said that He came to give life and give it to the full. Jesus told people their sins were forgiven, go and sin no more. It seems a lot more like Jesus would say, “It’s ok to not be okay, but it’s not ok to stay there.”

“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

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 5:43-48, 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37; Romans 13:8-14; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). I don’t find any commands in Scripture that support the idea of refusing to sell or provide goods and services to people who aren’t Christians. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples, “Listen guys, you all need to love your neighbor, but only if your neighbor believes the same things you believe, has the same color of skin as you, has the ability to repay you for any help you provide, and has a giant ichthus prominently displayed on his camel…”

The parable of the Good Samaritan would be a good place to being to read for some guidance (Luke 10:25-37). However, this particular issue becomes complicated in that the goods and services are so tied to the celebration of what God calls sin. There really isn’t a perfect definitive yes or no answer on this topic. Yet, when considering whether you should help contribute to a same-sex marriage ceremony, let alone attend one, you should probably ask yourself these questions: Have you earnestly spent time in prayer about it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit leading you in a certain direction? Do you believe you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth of the Gospel? Will attending the ceremony enable you to continue to be a Gospel presence in the life of your friend(s)/family? If so, then perhaps you should go. On the other hand… are you merely afraid of telling the truth about how you view same-sex marriage? Are you nervous about the consequences of certain people knowing what you believe? If so, then this might be a time to respectfully decline the invitation, and explain why out of genuine love.

“Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.” – Tim Keller

Jesus observed the law and fulfilled the law. He did not throw the law away, for the sake of love. For the sake of love, He threw Himself away. That’s another counter-intuitive lesson Christ gave to us, as we all proceed together, slouching toward “tolerance” and carrying our consciences along the way (Romans 13:8-14).

Again, when we try to explain how we view homosexuality, we should focus on the beauty of the gospel and love found in Christ; not stand there listing out rules and regulations in which to live by, while waving a Bible around in the air. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. We need to do our best to display authentic love to our neighbors; all of them. Because love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. The more we love any that are not as we are, the less we love as men and the more as God. Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor [are weary] and are heavy laden [burdened], and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus assumes that, left to ourselves, we are weighed down. Life out of sync with God does that to us. But as we come to Jesus we find rest. Not just rest in the sense of a lazy weekend afternoon or a long sleep-in on a day off work. Jesus means something far deeper: rest in a sense of things with God being the way they’re meant to be. Rest in the sense of living along the grain of who we really are and how God wants us to live. Rest in the sense of being able truly to flourish as the people God made us to be.

If we were to ask, well then, is God anti-gay? No, not exactly. But He is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from Him and for ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-10). He’s anti-that guy, whatever that guy looks like in each of our lives. But because He is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to Himself.

So, back to the issue of whether or not we should celebrate and champion legislation passed to more easily enable that which we believe to be wrong according to God’s Word. First, we should always remember that you can NEVER legislate morality. Yet, even with that being acknowledged, I’m fairly certain we should not applaud certain liberties, even when congruent with the ideals of our country and constitution. Christians should never celebrate or find pleasure in the destruction of someone’s flesh.

Our LBGTQ brothers and sisters are made in the image of God, and they are all entitled to all of the rights due every other human being. The Jim Crow laws comparison may be an effective talking point, but it has no basis in fact. Racism is obviously a sin. It denies the humanity of human beings; the Gospel elevates their worth. As servants of the Gospel we have no choice but to fight persistently for a culture that enables every human being to experience the abundant life God promises. Racism is a hindrance to that life, as is homosexuality. (Even if society disagrees with these beliefs, Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and His love is not silent.) The tragic irony is that proponents of no-holds-barred sexuality are condemning others to a life of bondage. Our conviction should be that we ought not to have any part in forging the slavers’ chains. We can appreciate the freedom’s our governments afford us, but when those freedom’s make it easier to openly mock God, I don’t believe they should be openly celebrated.

Saint Valentine’s Day

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Today is Valentine’s Day… and after taking a quick look through some social media, it appears that the majority of posts today which reference the holiday are actually negative. Maybe this is actually the most polarizing holiday of our year? For some it can be a very fun and exciting day of expressing your love, for skeptics it is just way too commercialized and insincere (darn you Hallmark, you and your $5+ pieces of folded paper with hearts and cheesy poems), and for some singles it is a lonely reminder of something they feel is missing in their lives…

As for my wife and me, we have chosen not to let the commercialization of this holiday affect our view on the day. (By the way, are there even any holidays left in America that haven’t been tainted to some degree by consumerism?) The viewpoint that it’s just some day where Hallmark, florists, and chocolate makers manipulate the masses to churn some revenue is pessimistic and ignorant at best. To make the case that displays of love, gifts, cards, flowers, affection, etc. should be spontaneous and truly heartfelt, not dictated to be shown on a specific day seems nice until you think about it more. Should we just embrace full spontaneity and toss out birthday celebrations, anniversaries, Christmas, etc?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still spontaneous in showing love to my wife, that should always play a part. And I have never been big on “celebrating” Valentine’s Day or seen it as a mandated holiday to be observed. However, I believe there are some beautiful redeeming qualities in this holiday, and most holidays for that matter. Instead of solely focusing or dwelling on the negative aspects that accompany certain days of the year, Kat and I like to reflect on what elements of the holiday point us to our truest, greatest love: Jesus Christ.

There is plenty to enjoy and savor on Valentine’s Day; and it is a great thing for husbands to bring out the bouquet of roses, the box of chocolates, make a home cooked feast, book a romantic dinner reservation, or whatever romantic gestures that remind your spouse you love them! But alas – maybe the skeptics (and Valentine’s Day haters) will appreciate this part – what about tomorrow?

Life is really lived out in the little moments. Day by day, all the little things are what makes up the overwhelming majority of your life. Today, if celebrated, should be an overflow of deep love present in your relationship and the big moments should be a compacted reflection of the little moments. We should remember why we love, and then love to our fullest. Any time we have an opportunity to go big and show it in a special way (even if it includes using a godforsaken Hallmark card), why not?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1st John 4:7-21 (ESV)

Some “Bible-thumping Bigot” Shared His Backwoods Opinion Again…

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By now most people have heard about the recent debacle with Phil Robertson, who was made famous as the patriarch on the A&E show Duck Dynasty. This kind of media attention is nothing new or earth-shattering, just earlier this year Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, came under a lot of scrutiny after some comments made during an interview in regards to gay marriage.

As legislature continues to be passed on the legalization of same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage “evolves/progresses” and all of that, if you’re listening to the rhetoric, here is the accusation against Christians in the broad-stroke: they are bigots. We are intolerant. We are the American Taliban. We are right up there with the KKK and the Civil Rights Movement trying to deprive people of rights that are God-given or self-evident. Those are the accusations against us.**

Please don’t close the browser and tune me out just yet. All those accusations leveled against Christians, they had better be false accusations. I don’t pretend that our view will ever be understood by those outside the kingdom of God, but we are a people commanded by God to be marked by love, compassion, patience, mercy, and… even hospitality. Please understand this: You don’t catch sin from sinners. Do you get that?

I know some of us, in the attempt to protect our family and to make sure we all stay purer than we actually are, build walls. You don’t want your kids around those kinds of kids. You don’t want to be around those kinds of people. But you are those kinds of people! It’s God’s grace that rescues from that (Ephesians 2:1-10). We’ve all got to stop that nonsense. We shouldn’t be consumed with building walls. We should open doors. Our home is open, and my neighbors and co-workers can make accusations against me, but they better be false. I want them just to be confused to some degree. I just want my neighbors and co-workers to be so ridiculously confused. “This guy is a bigot, but he keeps inviting me over for dinner. He’s so closed-minded, but he speaks respectfully and kind to me. That guy makes me sick, but he keeps bringing me presents on my birthday and Christmas. That dude is such a jerk, but man he tips really well. That guy is like the American Taliban, but he sure is friendly.” I just want that type of confusion. (I’ll admit I don’t always conduct myself in such a way that would reflect the love of Christ, but it is my hope to do so.)

There has to be wisdom. I’m not telling you to operate in a way that lacks wisdom, but brothers and sisters, God has put us here for the purpose of being the light of the world, and you don’t hide it under a bush. Oh no! You don’t do that… No, we engage. We are to encourage. We are called to open up our home. There is some risk involved in that. Yes, there is always risk. Be wise, but trust God in those things.

I have some friends who would fit the prototype of someone who would probably be infuriated with Christianity and Christians, and sure enough, as we have had conversations, story after story of being judged harshly, of being ostracized, of being made to feel worthless, feeling like their lifestyle or beliefs are belittled… there has been some unfortunate legitimacy to some of the negative experiences they’ve had with those proclaiming to be Christians, but some of the perceived harshness was on them. Sometimes people feel hypocritically condemned even when there is no actual condemnation present. It’s not always on God’s people, it’s not always 100%. Because sometimes unregenerate, unbelieving people don’t know what to do with conviction. They don’t feel it as sweet discipline from God; they see it as harsh judgment.

In fact, some of you reading this today feel judged, and no one has actually judged you. You may be judging yourself right now. We’re not judging you. We should be striving to live in glad submission to Jesus Christ where we laugh a lot, where we enjoy good music, appreciate good movies, where we enjoy good food, where we enjoy good wine, but don’t do it in a way that is outside of the bounds of the Word of God, and then let others see the life that is made available to those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ, and see our imperfections. Because tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.

God loves imperfect people. That’s why dressing up like you’re pretty when you’re not isn’t helpful. The bigot, closed-minded, and intolerant labels will inevitably be put on us at this point. It’s over. This is how we will be labeled. It will get worse. If you can’t handle this label and don’t want to be viewed like this, then you’re going to have to go underground with your faith, which means I don’t think you even have any. In the end though, let us hope that the accusations and the labels are false.

Because, as Christians we believe that God has reconciled us to Himself, not by demanding that we first and foremost adhere to a moral code, but rather by sending the Son of God, by sending Jesus Christ, unlike us, to live a completely perfect life. Jesus Christ was completely obedient to every command God gave Him. He was other than, although He was fully man. Jesus is fully man, but His obedience was perfect. His record was spotless. No accusation could rightly be made against Him.

So even when we are being criticized for quoting Scripture and stating our beliefs, the God of the Bible essentially says in Matthew 5, “Hey, they’re going to falsely label you. Cool, okay, stop worrying so much about that. They did that to Isaiah. You guys have something in common now. Oh, they’re going to falsely misrepresent you. Hey, you and Jeremiah would be good friends. You guys could sit around and talk about what it’s like to be ostracized and be pushed to the margins.” Jesus will also say, “Oh, I’m well acquainted with all that.” Was Jesus not repeatedly misrepresented, repeatedly accused of things that were absurd? There will be nothing you can do about the accusation. Just let it be false accusation, and strive to love your neighbor regardless of their actions or your own feelings.

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