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

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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Ben Watson’s Thoughts on the Ferguson Events

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At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

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Related articles:

Thoughts on Ferguson by Voddie Baucham

Good Grief: The gospel, race, and our experiences by Eric Mason

Blog Title Inspiration | Treading Paper

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I do not know if very many people have ever been curious as to what the inspiration was behind this blog site’s title… I’ve only had a few actually ask me. Anyways, this song by Thrice is where the name came from:

All my life, I’ve been treading paper in the space between the words.
And there implied is that I’m but another body for the birds,
carrion, absurd and accidental atoms – beating air,
carrying on; unwitting orphan of an unyielding despair.

But linger on, just for a moment, until we can ascertain,
if something’s wrong with me –
Or the assumptions of these self-indicted brains.
Because I contend that all of this is more than just a meaningless charade,
That each and every moment is a bottle with a message hid away.

If anything means anything,
There must be something meant for us to be,
a song that we were made to sing.
There must be so much more than we can see.

But all our lives, we’ve been treading paper in the space between the words.
And there implied’s the thought that we are barely more than bodies for the birds, carrion.
They say that we’re just accidental atoms beating air, carrying on and on,
Unwitting orphans of an unyielding despair.

But our hearts tell a different story;
our hands feel a different pulse.

If anything means anything,
There must be something meant for us to be,
If anything means anything,
There must be something meant for us to be,
a song that we were made to sing.
There must be so much more than we can see.

Something fathomless, deeper than our pride can dive;
Numinous, higher than – our hearts can rise;
Transcendent, further than our thoughts can reach;
Immanent, closer than the air we breathe.

Two Men Went to the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)

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I was recently given the privilege to preach at our home church, Vintage Church in Allen, TX.

Sermon audio link.

Sermon notes (rough draft of transcript):

Two Men Went to the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)

Opening Question:

What if our sin problem isn’t that we’re wicked? What if it’s that we’re good?

Scripture passage:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Opening quotes:

“The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism or materialism, but moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ.” – Paul David Tripp

“Satan’s masterpiece is the Pharisee, not the prostitute.” – Tullian Tchividjian

Characters:

1. The Pharisee (like the elder brother in Luke 15)

This guy was varsity. He followed the law in a way that would embarrass the rest of us. If morality was a sport (and to some people it is), this guy wouldn’t have enough fingers for his championship rings. [Go over his listed credentials.]

Kind if like when I’m building a résumé for applying for a job, or an application to get into a certain school, I have found myself at times building some kind of a spiritual résumé, almost like a checklist, or some list of qualifications that could somehow prove to myself cognitively that I’m worthy of God’s love and affection. Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who has ever sat there and compared myself to my neighbor, a co-worker, another person who performed worse than you in a similar situation? Have you ever had the thought, however fleeting, at least I’m not a hardened criminal, I’ve never stolen that much money, never killed a guy, it’s not like I’m Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Jeffry Dahmer, or Charles Manson… I’ve just made a few mistakes in life, but for the most part, I’m a pretty good guy. You will always be able to find someone worse than you; at least you should be able to do that. Anyone else feeling strangely able to relate to the Pharisee here?

[Our neighbors and their pet’s story… Costco customers and their shopping carts story…]

2. The Tax Collector (like the younger brother in Luke 15)

There is no cultural equivalent to a tax collector in first century Rome. A tax collector was a wicked, sinful, piece of trash who was more than deserving of being burned alive. They purchased the right from Rome to collect money (up to 90% of annual income) from their own people. It’s worse than them just taking an extra $20 from everyone. They purchased the right to collect taxes for Rome… for the empire that ruled and reigned over most of the known world at the time… how did they do that? With a standing army… they have jets, hummers, missiles, or satellites… So they needed a lot of tax money to afford that military. Tax collectors were the mediators helping to fund a massive army that was responsible for the rape, murder, torture, and crucifixion of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and even children; many of whom were the same race, ethnicity, and people group as the tax collector taking money… in this case, the Jews. To the Jews, tax collectors were men raising money to support the atrocities taking place against them and their family. Zacchaeus was not simply a cute wee little man, he had done disgustingly vile things. Would it not raise some eyebrows if our pastor went over to a guy’s house for dinner who was known for financially supporting sex-trafficking, drug cartels, and the brutal murder of innocent women and children?

Yet, Jesus tells us the tax collector went home justified… but not the Pharisee… this would have been very shocking to the original listeners.

What was the Pharisee not seeing?

The Pharisee (and a few verses later the rich young ruler, also) fails to understand what many of us fail to understand: that Christianity is not a religion. He thanks God for his exceptional morality and righteousness, but misses the fact that his “goodness” is still woefully short of the bar (Isaiah & Philippians: bloody rags and poop). The mantra of religion is, “I obey, therefore I am worthy and accepted.” The Scriptures, however, teach vehemently against this idea constantly.

The message we usually hear from the pulpit at church is “repent of your wickedness.” Stop sleeping around. Stop doing drugs. Stop getting drunk. Stop watching rated R movies that aren’t about the crucifixion of Christ. Stop partying. Stop cussing. Stop skipping church, because if the door is open, you should be there. I would agree that many of these things are sinful and need to be repented of, but that’s not the message of Luke 18. Instead of calling out the overtly wicked, Jesus says this: “You good husbands, you good fathers, good wives, good mothers, good students, you small-group-leading, church-going, tithing, morally righteous men and women… you need to repent.”

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 (the Pharisee thanked God he wasn’t like other men, like the tax collector). Trying to somehow earn your salvation through good works is just as God-belittling, Scripturally ignorant, cross-mocking wickedness as anything on the secular pagan, dark side of the fence. We tell ourselves, “I’m a better man than my father was… my neighbor George is a horrible dude, I’m not like him… I’m a good husband… I’m a good dad… I’m a good wife… I’m a good mother… I’m a good student… I’m a hard worker… I’m involved in the church.” Jesus says, “Repent! That does not save you. None of your works save you! That does not justify you.” When we understand this rightly, we don’t stand next to the cross and tell everyone else to repent, we lay down on our face and tell others there is room.

Looking at the passage in the context of the continuation of the text:

Luke 18:15-17… We must enter the Kingdom of God like a child.

“What did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.” – Tim Keller

Luke 18:18-30… The story of the Rich Young Ruler. One thing you still lack. PERIOD. PAUSE. He lacks something; he lacks Christ’s imparted righteousness. Jesus exposes his heart by asking him to give up his excessive wealth.* The young man is asking for insight on behavioral modification, not grace.

*Cross reference this story with Luke 12:32-34. Very important passage in understanding that Jesus wasn’t simply giving another rule to, but was exposing a heart issue in the rich young ruler. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Continuation Question(s):

So what does this old story from a couple thousand years ago about these two very different men have to do with us today?

Secularism and religion are both all about your personal performance. The Gospel is the performance of Another applied to you. I believe that the bulk of our weird American evangelicalism is built on this idea that “my behavior makes God owe me, and that what saves me is my good works.”

The basic premise of “religion,” that if you live a good life, things will go well for you – is wrong. Jesus was the most morally upright person who ever lived, yet He had a life filled with the experience of poverty, rejection, injustice, and even torture. Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done.

That whole illustration, those analogies with scales when it comes to being good or bad, they all need to be tossed out and forgotten. There are no scales!!! You’re either fully justified and redeemed by the blood of Christ on the Cross and His resurrection, or you’re not justified at all.

There are two ways of being lost, two ways of trying to save/justify yourself, two ways of trying to avoid God or somehow put Him in your debt. One is to keep all the rules, and the other is to break all the rules (like the two sons/brothers in the Luke 15 parable).

Before we continue, please nobody try to take this where it’s not going. Discipline is not legalism. I still love, pursue, and date my wife. I still work on loving her better and growing deeper in relationship with her, I’ll admit I fail at doing that as well as I should, but none of that is to get her to marry me… we’re already married.

Closing remarks:

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying the law is of no value. Any theology that denies God’s moral law, and then domesticates sin by its absence, does not have Christ’s atoning love, God’s justifying pardon, or the Holy Spirit’s kind company. But the law cannot save.

Do you possess a desire for, strong affection for, and an exaltation of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the cross and in His resurrection? Or do you hang all of your hope in your righteousness on managing your own morality and church participation?

If your hope, confidence, and satisfactions are in being a good husband, being a good wife, being a good father, being a good mother, being a good churchman, a good kid, a good student, a good worker, a good citizen, just a good person at all… you’ve severely misplaced your hope in something that cannot and will not save you. No matter how law abiding or well behaved you are, we all end up 6 feet deep in the ground (or cremated if that’s more your style).

Repentance means coming back to the cross and confessing your infinite short-comings. We repent that we’ve become satisfied with just trying to better serve God rather than actually knowing or enjoying Him. We need to ask God once again for mercy, for His grace.

So, do you need to repent of goodness? I know I do. Do you need to ask forgiveness for your illusion of righteousness? I know I do. Constantly, I find myself trying to justify myself. We must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Put our confidence in His cross, not in the fact that we’re “better” than our neighbor, or even that we’re better this year than we were last.

The Bible says it very clearly that if we could earn the favor of God with our behavioral modifications, then the cross of Christ was for nothing. In Galatians 2:21, Paul tells us: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

So is your confidence in your goodness? Repent. We have no confidence outside the goodness of Christ. Your goodness is a myth. Repent of worshiping your own righteousness and set your mind on the things of the Spirit – set your mind on Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Whatever you accomplish today and tomorrow, you are no more justified than you are right now in the already finished work of Jesus Christ. Work from your rest and rest in His already finished work.

7 Requirements to Being a Leader Today

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To be a leader requires more than just knowledge… especially these days. Knowledge alone is not enough to get desired results. You must also have the more elusive ability to teach and to motivate. A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering cold iron. This defines a leader; if you can’t teach and you can’t motivate, you can’t lead.

“Leadership is the ability to get individuals to work together for the common good and the best possible results while at the same time letting them know they did it themselves.” – John Wooden

Here are 7 requirements to being a great leader today:

1. You have to be adaptable.

Things change fast these days. Real fast. Just considering technology, it is advancing at compounding rates that leave even manufacturers struggling to keep up. You must lead a team that responds well to change.

“If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward… If I am through learning, I am through… Failure is not fatal, but failure to change can be.” – John Wooden

2. You have to be moldable.

You must personally grow and change fast too… or you might be left behind. (This of course doesn’t mean you have to completely change your values, beliefs, or convictions on a regular basis. In fact, that may work against you in some ways.) We’re all imperfect and we all have needs. The prideful weak usually do not ask for help, so they stay weak. If we humbly recognize that we are imperfect, we will ask for help and we will pray for the guidance necessary to bring positive results to whatever we are doing.

3. You have to embrace a team approach.

There are no single heroes today. Not a single individual wins the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the World Cup, etc… it is a team that earns such a prize. Even in individual sports competition there are coaches, trainers, and other players competing involved. No successful business is the result of only a single person… besides, consumers and customers are needed even if it is a “one man operation.”

To be honest, there never really was such a thing as an isolated hero. Consider the big super hero movies owning the Hollywood box office this past decade: Batman and Superman never truly work alone, and then there are of course the Avengers and the X-men that are literally teams of super heroes.

“We can become great in the eyes of others, but we’ll never become successful when we compromise our character and show disloyalty toward friends or teammates. The reverse is also true: No individual or team will become great without loyalty… Much more can be accomplished by teamwork when no one is concerned about who gets credit.” – John Wooden

4. You have to consider social responsibility.

People want their individual work to make a difference. They also want the place where they spend their time, whether paid or volunteer, to make a difference. Nobody in their right mind wants to sneak through life without making any impact at all.

5. You have to think bigger than today.

Tomorrow is coming quicker than ever before and people are looking for leaders who can provide competent direction and consistent encouragement. (Time really is constantly speeding up throughout your life. We experience and perceive time from the perspective in which we live… and when you are 50+ years old, a day appears as a much smaller fraction than it did when you were only 7 years old.)

6. You have to be willing to serve others.

People will no longer follow a simply autocratic leader. Much of our society today seems to be less loyal than in generations passed. If you want to remain a leader today, you must prove you care for people personally. Trust and authenticity is more important than appearing to have all the answers.

“A leader’s most powerful ally is his or her own example.” – John Wooden

7. You have to allow others to receive credit and assume authority.

It’s what attracts leaders to your team these days. They want to feel they are playing a part in the team’s success. I’ve never met or heard of a guy who honestly wanted to be a part of a championship caliber team, but then have zero contribution to that team.

“Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting.” – John Wooden

These are some of the key elements required in leadership today. I realize this brings some unique challenges for spiritual leaders. We have a message of good news and faith that is unwavering… and that needs to stay that way. I certainly don’t intend to continually “change my message” or attempt to alter the Gospel. As a Christian leader, though, we must understand the context of culture in which we find ourselves. The way we lead, motivate, and recruit people to join in stewarding God’s resources has changed (and will continue to change). If we don’t recognize that, we will be less successful in accomplishing our God-given assignments.

Thankfully, in the end, when and where we are weak… God is strong (Romans 5:6-11; 1st Corinthians 1:17-31, 4:10; 2nd Corinthians 11:30, 12:9-10, 13:4, 9).

Gospel-centered Basketball

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It has been a tremendous blessing to get to coach the 12U/14U boys for the Dallas Thunder basketball organization so far this season. I have the great privilege of serving as a basketball coach to implement my gifts in gospel-centered basketball training, player development, and workout efficiency. My job is to help the kids have fun, with hopes of leading by example and facilitating growth in student athletes, both in their faith and in their athletic abilities.

The Christian faith and the game of basketball aren’t exactly strangers to each other. Basketball’s originator, Dr. James Naismith, was a MD and a divinity doctorate who loved athletics. In his youth he excelled in boxing, gymnastics, soccer, and rugby. While working at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) training school in Springfield, Massachusetts, he invented the game “Basket Ball.” Dr. Naismith believed that clean, hard, and square athletic competition was a conduit to spiritual righteousness. He even referred to the union sometimes as “muscular Christianity,” and he believed his new game would help spread the message of the Gospel.

Both in the game of basketball and in the Christian walk throughout life, there are some things we want to strive to do:

• To go the distance.

Finishing what you have started is a trait that is admirable and biblical. There will be numerous obstacles and situations that will try to deter you from finishing strong. God never quit on anything or anyone. He encourages believers throughout Scripture to persevere (2nd Timothy 4:7-8).

• We will all experience disappointment.

Everyone faces disappointment in something at one time or another. All frustration and disappointment is birthed out of unmet expectations. It is our reaction to the disappointment and our understanding of who is really in charge of our life that makes the difference in the amount of time it takes us to move on. Because hope is birthed out of a knowledge of something greater than ourselves and greater than our present circumstances (Philippians 2:13-14).

• Change in life is inevitable.

In the Bible there was a guy named Saul that was doing some pretty mean things to Christians to say the least. Then he radically changed his direction and role after encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus. Changing our attitudes, directions, and roles gives us the ability to go the distance in life (Acts 9:21). Real change won’t happen through ‘trying harder,’ but only through encountering the radical grace of God. This change may come through many different experiences (Jesus won’t always show up on a road-trip, knock us out of our vehicle, and blind us with His glory…); but it always takes some experience of beauty to knock us out of our self-centeredness. Many people have to admit that most of what they really needed for success in life came to them through their most difficult and painful experiences. Some look back on an illness or great setback, and recognize that it was an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth for them (Ephesians 2; Colossians 1:11-23).

• There are differences in people.

Remember, this is a game. Respect your team and your opponent. Show humility about your role and talent level. True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us. Humility is so shy; if you begin talking about it, it leaves… as C.S. Lewis eloquently explained, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” (Proverbs 15:33, 18:12, 22:4, Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Luke 14:11; Romans 12:3; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 2:3-11; 1st Peter 5:5-7)

• We all have different roles in life and on a team.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(Romans 12:3-8; 1st Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:1-16)

• We will all face some giants.

We don’t have to be superstars or win championships… All we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it. – John Wooden

Give your best effort every time, whether it’s a game or practice. Discipline and self-control are much easier for us when our hearts and affections are stirred for something greater than ourselves (Philippians 3:12-16; 4:8-20).

• Making the move away or towards something.

Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece – by thought, choice, courage, and determination. – John Luther

Everyone is faced with major decisions in their life. In the game of basketball we are constantly making decisions during practice, training, and games that will affect the outcome of our basketball career. In life, we also have a decision to make when we encounter the Gospel of Christ; whether to accept or deny God and His plan for salvation. Those whom the Father is drawing to Him, cannot outrun Him. One of the most rewarding moments of human existence is taking part in the journey of someone making the decision to accept the free gift of salvation (Acts 4:12).

• Honor the Creator of our bodies by stewarding our health well.

We should aim to steer a middle course between idolizing our bodies and neglecting them. This includes giving our bodies enough attention (with sleep, balanced diet, exercise, and upkeep) to avoid being distractingly unattractive and maintaining poor health, and reining in our impulses to pursue a self-focused attractiveness that distracts and seeks our own glory over God.

Both the most sculpted and ripped male body, and the most curvy voluptuous female body you have ever seen in your life are going to be ashen faced in a coffin before we know it. When that day comes, where will be all the investments in that temporary, outward beauty? The sad truth: in the ground.

Your body is a precious gift from God. And the Bible is clear about its highest purpose: To make God look good (1st Corinthians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:20; 1st Peter 3:3-4).

• Doing our best to finish strong.

Finishing strong does not mean finishing unblemished. Finishing strong does not mean finishing perfect. Finishing the right way does not always mean you win the gold medal or receive the grand prize. Finishing the right way means you have done things to the best of your ability and in the fairest possible way. In life, we don’t finish strong by focusing on the finish line because we don’t know where the finish line is. We finish strong by fixing our eyes on Jesus. The Lord Jesus has given everyone gifts and skills and will help us finish the race in a way glorifying to God (Philippians 3:12-21).

It’s an honor to have the opportunity to help young student athletes to know more of Christ and live a more Christ-centered life at home, in the classroom, on the court, and everywhere in between. God’s Word is the authoritative structure of my life and my coaching career (Colossians 3:16-17).