Anxiety & Depression (introduction to a research paper)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate this about myself…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

God is the Gospel

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Sometimes, I wonder whether some of us who claim to know about this guy named Jesus, really understand the message of His Gospel… Even people who don’t have backgrounds in church have usually heard the 23rd Psalm. In Psalm 23 David writes, “The Lord is my shepherd…” and ends it with, “He restores my soul and He leads me into paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.” And just from this passage (along with well an overwhelming number of other passages in Scripture that all clearly teach this) we read that God loves you, God is for you, and God will provide for you, but the motivation behind all that is not your awesomeness, but rather God. God is ultimately for God. God is about God. What God wants is the praise of His name in the universe. It’s the reason that everything exists. You, I, animals, plants, the nations, the planets, and the entire universe exist so that we might display that infinite perfections of God Almighty.

Now that rubs against the air we breathe, because the air we breathe is that we’re the point, we’re what it’s all about and everything should be about and revolve around us. We breathe that air. Every commercial is pointed in that direction. “You earned it. . . you deserve it. . . why wouldn’t you have this?” Almost all marketing schemes are built around how worthy you are of [insert product here]. So the Bible teaches that in reality you are not the center of God’s affections. You are most definitely not the center of the universe. Ultimately God is the center of the universe. But that rubs most of us so raw that in our pride we refuse to even question how and why this is good news. How can everything not being about me, be good news?! As big of a deal that I may think I am sometimes, God being about God is infinitely better than God being about me, you, or any of us.

Three reasons why it’s the best news in the universe that God is ultimately for God: If God is after the praise of His glorious grace, then He is not at odds with my desire to be filled with joy. If God is for God, He is not after my begrudging submission. He’s not after me just doing what He says so He won’t destroy me. If His goal is to be praised, to be worshiped, to be enjoyed and in that enjoyment to show Himself to be glorious to the world and to the universe itself, then He is for my joy. Which means all the commands of God in Scripture are not about taking anything from us, but rather leading us into deeper joy than we can imagine.

Now I know many people immediately upon reading this want to sit down and have a drink so they can tell me how that’s not true for them. “You don’t understand my situation. You don’t get my relationship. You don’t understand the part of life that I’m in right now or how I’m wired.” Many of us would love to sit down and explain why that’s not true for us and how the commands of God shouldn’t apply to us because, if we were to do what God commanded, that would easily lead to our misery all the days of our life until we died. However, the fact is, that is really an unbelievably arrogant and closed-minded position. No one has been a greater threat and caused greater violence to your joy than you have. Now have people jacked with you? Absolutely. Do we live in a broken world? Yes. But how you have handled that, how you have responded to that is completely on you, not them. You’re the greatest enemy of your joy, not God. God is beckoning towards life, and you’re pulling toward death.

C.S. Lewis describes the state of so many of our hearts well, in his book The Weight of Glory. “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” Now he’s talking about pleasure here. So Lewis is saying that he thinks God thinks that our desire for joy is not too strong, but it’s too weak. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I love this quote. Because it’s us! We don’t yearn for Him, long for Him. Why? Because Bravo and TLC have some cool shows about cakes and dresses. Because it’s March Madness time and teenage boys are trying to get an orange ball through a hoop. (Or insert the NBA Finals, Baseball in October, the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Cup, etc. etc.) Because if we can just meet this deadline at work then we’ll get to the next level and we’ll somehow obtain a greater identity. That’s why we don’t yearn more for God. Because after a long day’s work, there is nothing you would rather do except sit on your behind and watch television. Don’t fool and delude yourself with the worn out excuse “I don’t have time.” You have all the time there is. You have just as much time as the rest of us. We don’t because we don’t want to. There are not other issues. We sin because we want to sin, and we don’t pursue Jesus because we don’t want to pursue Jesus. There are other things to us that are more valuable than Him, and that is why we don’t pursue.

You may go on to say “Well, I don’t know how to read my Bible.” You read it. One word at a time. And there are an unbelievable amount of resources put out there for us. Everything from how you read it on a day-to-day basis to how you study it in depth is available for free on more than one website. But here’s the thing… Some of you didn’t know how to fly fish, garden, paint, sew, play an instrument, etc… but you do now, don’t you? Do you know how you did that? Well you bought some equipment, you got a book, and got all geeked up about it and spent time practicing. Why? Because we all love mud pies in the slums. You never see a grown man playing actively in the kiddie pool, do you? Not without his kids. Because if he’s without his kids, don’t we call the police? Why? Because grown men were meant for the deep end. They weren’t meant for the kiddie pool. So it’s a provoking thing to me that so many of us like to sit in that shallow warm water when the deep end is right over there.

So in Lewis’ great illustration, the prideful, closed-minded skeptical person hears that God is offering a holiday at the sea, but they want to stay in the slums playing with mud. They think that the invitation to the sea is robbing them of the joy they have making mud pies. In buying into the lies of this world, we miss out on the reality that God’s being about God is tied to our ever-expanding, ever-increasing joy. And that’s how God is praised and gloried in, in our ever-increasing joy in Him and in His perfections. What do I mean by His perfections? I’m talking about Him lining us up with how He designed life and the universe to work.

So, if you’re not the center of the universe, that frees you up in a thousand different ways. Because if I’m the point, then I have a whole list of things my spouse or significant other had better be doing. If I’m the point, I have a whole list of things that my kids had better do. They had better not represent me like I really am. And if I’m the point, then I view my money a certain way. If I’m the point, how dare you go 45 mph in the left lane. If I’m the point, if you cut me off, I’m going to have to follow you home and maybe punch you in the throat. If I’m the point, I’m easily offended. Because, “It’s my universe. How dare you intrude on my universe? I have a set plan for my day. How dare you get in the way of my day. Because I’m the point. My plans are flawless and anyone who would interfere with them is obviously of the devil. Because I’m the sun. This universe revolves around me. It’s all about me.” But if I’m not the point, I’m a free man. If I’m not the point, I’m hard to offend. If I’m not the point, I have been set free to love my spouse and not have a list of things they had better do. If I’m not the point, then I’m set free to love and shape my children with grace and not fear. If I’m not the point, then that frees up my finances and I’m not constantly worried about what I have and don’t have. If I’m not the point, then I don’t get as offended when life just happens.

You might be type-A and plan out your day to the millisecond, but it doesn’t always work that way, does it? And when things don’t go as planned we freak out and get angry, don’t we? All frustration is birthed out of unmet expectation. So if it’s not about us, that’s all a lot easier to handle. If it is about us, that stuff is very difficult.

But I believe, as the Bible teaches, God is ultimately for God and that’s good because, if God is infinite and He has always been and will always be, then that joy, regardless of time, is ever-increasing. There is a great book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes. Solomon, who was a king with more money, more power, more fame than we will all have even if we combine all our clout, writes a whole book on how everything in life is meaningless. It’s really quite a chipper little read. So he has all this money, and he says it’s vanity, it’s meaningless and it doesn’t matter. He literally says, “Even if you have money, you’re going to die. And your kid is probably an idiot because you’re rich and have spoiled him. It’s vanity. It doesn’t matter.” And then he builds. He plants forests and vineyards. That puts your little garden in your backyard with the Crepe Myrtles to shame. And he says, “It’s vanity. It’s meaningless.” He builds houses for his wives and concubines, he builds the temple of the Lord and says it’s meaningless. “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun.” And the reality of God being infinite and for our joy means that our experience of that joy is ever-increasing to the point where we don’t hit that ceiling or finally get to the bottom. It’s ever-growing and ever-expanding.

Keep this in mind though when contemplating the great truth of the gospel: only the Holy Spirit can open a person’s eyes to the beauty and splendor of Christ. We can and should do our best to try to provide all the answers we can, and pray constantly for others on their behalf, but only God can soften hearts and enlighten minds. 1st Corinthians 1:18-19, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (cf Ephesians 2:1-10)

Man’s limited potential.

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The Greeks were some of the best storytellers the world has ever known. Some of you may already be thinking, “Really? Why? What about our movies? I like a lot of the books and movies from today.” Many of our books and movies are based on stuff the Greeks pointed out a really long time ago. Anyways, the Greeks had this insightful story about the beginning of man. It was how they dealt with this idea of human limitations.

The Greeks said that the god Zeus created mankind, except he created man a certain way. Zeus originally created man to know the exact time of his death. So it wasn’t just some sort of ethereal, ambiguous, “I’m going to eventually die some day.” But it was an acute awareness that it was coming. It was more like, “I am going to die on this date, at this time, in this place, and that sucks…” and so they knew it. It was locked in and they could see it. And the weight of it crushed them so that they weren’t motivated to do anything. They knew they were going to die, they knew it wasn’t going to matter, and they knew that whatever they accomplished ultimately wasn’t going to change anything. So the Greeks thought that the gods who had foreknowledge and could do something about this were just cruel and would never do anything about it.

So in the beginning, man is completely aware of his limits, completely aware of his mortality and is crushed by that knowledge. He is helpless and hopeless, living in darkness and despair. But then enters Prometheus. (Get that silly alien movie out of your head, because that has absolutely nothing to do with this story.) For whatever reason, Prometheus, also a god, has compassion on mankind and takes issue with Zeus. So to get back at Zeus, he gives mankind three gifts. He takes away the knowledge of the day of death. He takes away man’s understanding of his own mortality; by this it means that he gave to man a blind, intrinsic desire to overcome and be more than he could ever possibly be. And then he gives the man fire. This is the Greek’s way of unpacking technology. Because with fire, man can make pottery. With fire, man can make weapons. With fire, man can more easily make food, grow, and become stronger. It’s this idea that with fire, man can overcome and correct the world around him.

So while Prometheus is doing all of this, Zeus is somehow busy and unaware, and he comes back up to Mount Olympus, looks down and goes, “Where did men get fire?!” So he brings in Prometheus and in a rage explains to him that mankind, because he lacks foreknowledge and because he can’t see all that is, he is going to create far more problems in this state for himself than he would if he would have stayed ignorant. So he binds Prometheus to a rock and causes buzzards to come everyday and eat out his liver. And then his liver will grow back, and the birds will come back the next day to eat it out again. This is the major problem with most Greek mythology… it’s really awesome at identifying and explaining the problem, but then it never really offers any solutions.

So the Greeks are trying to unpack this reality. Mankind as a whole is unaware of his mortality. Now we all know we’re going to die, right? That’s not news to you. Is it? Nobody just read that and went, “What?!” Everyone reading this knows they’re going to die. But nobody feels the weight of that, and nobody thinks that it is happening today. We don’t even think it’s happening this week. If we’re really honest, we don’t think it’s happening this month or this year. A few months ago both of my parents had their 56th birthdays. Nothing in me at that time was going, “This is the last one. I had better enjoy this one with them.”

So many of us walk in this arrogant position towards death. We are well aware that people get sick, we are well aware that people die, but we are convinced that it will not be us. At least not today. So it’s real, but it’s not real. And the human mind is brilliant at justification. Why isn’t it going to happen to you? Because you eat right. Because you manage your stress well. Because you’re a careful driver. You could go on and on with your reasons. You have enabled yourself to protect yourself from the fear of being an early departure, if there ever was such a thing.

The great Jewish king Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:12, “For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.”

Nobody feels death coming for them. Nobody really feels the weight of it. So we behave as though we’re gods. We behave as though we’re immortal. The other thing is few of us have any real ability to grasp and comprehend how our behavior today creates a mess of things tomorrow. Many of us don’t realize that there is a terrible double-edged sword to the human ingenuity of mankind.

How many of you have been on the Internet this week? All of us? I mean, you are probably on it now if you’re reading this… Has anything changed the world quite like the Internet? When is the last time you called a movie theater to see what time something was showing? Do you remember when we had to do that? You had to listen to all the showings, and your movie was always the last one listed. So you had to sit there for 20 minutes until it got there. And then a sibling or one of your friends would say something right when the showtimes were announced and you had to hang up, try all over, and listen to all the movies and times again. Oh, and if you were using a phone with the dial where you had to actually spin it around… that always took at least two tries just to dial out and not have it be busy. Then technology jumped and you could just press a button to hear your movie. You just clicked #3 and skip the rest. Nobody does that anymore though, now we can just check the website or one of the fifty movie theater apps on our phones; and for those of you who live in the Dallas area, there is a showing at five different theaters, within five miles, every hour on the hour anyway so you can pretty much just go whenever…

When is the last time you unfolded a map? We don’t do that anymore. (I don’t do that anymore, well, apart from a trip a few years back… Greg Galloway knows what I’m talking about. My phone stopped working, we didn’t have a GPS, so we got an atlas and still managed to drive from Texas to Utah with no problems.) I still have that atlas in my car, but I don’t use it, these days, you just tell your phone, “I need to get to Shaun’s place,” and then just set it on the dash and follow the arrow. It has completely changed how we operate in this world. And now things are just getting faster and there is just more and more data available.

Even now, as I’m studying, I can access online thousands and thousands of books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, peer-reviewed journal articles, blog posts, podcasts, and even pull that stuff up in multiple languages… and I can take a break, open a second tab, skim some recent news in sports, watch some crazy basketball highlights and funny clips on YouTube, read some stuff on politics, and check out the latest local, national, and global news. Heck, now we even have apps for all that and can access it from our cell phones. So all of that I used to do just from my computer, I can do it from my phone, or tablet, or laptop, any mobile device, just about anywhere in the world. All I need is Wi-Fi. The internet really is a glorious invention, it is an absolutely amazing and tremendous contribution of technology, but it also has a very dark side to it.

You can research it yourself if you don’t believe me, but if you will track the growth of pornography with the growth of sexual assault and abuse, you will see that they hang very closely together. We have now brought into our homes what was at one time extremely difficult to get our hands on, and we have even made it culturally okay, to the detriment of our women, the detriment of our children, and to the deterioration of healthy relationships with one another.

The Internet, for all its truly great accessibility and connectivity, has shallowed out relationships to the point where now we have “Facebook friends” and “Twitter followers.” Think about that though… The majority of them are probably not your friends. You live vicariously through what they did on Friday and feel bad because you weren’t invited or didn’t get to participate, or because what you did wasn’t as cool. The Internet has opened up doors for identity theft, computer hacking, online banking fraud, cyber-stalking, and malicious predators to more easily track people. And on and on we could go here. We have hollowed out relationships, and we have brought things into our home that you would have not been able to get into your home twenty years ago without having to be very, very shady.

There isn’t really anything we could mention or think of, from the car to e-mail, from our cell-phones to chemically altered and genetically modified food, that doesn’t help us while at the very same time create some problems for us. Let us consider just a few more things. Has anybody been on antibiotics in the past year? In case you haven’t already heard, here’s what they have been figuring out about antibiotics. Because of the rate at which we’re taking them, it is helping to create these strains of bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics. So here’s the solution – make stronger antibiotics. Just start producing “super drugs” or “wonder drugs” to fix the problem. Now we know how this eventually ends – we’re all zombies and we’re eating each other. Right? We’ve seen enough movies to know that’s how this ends. So watch what mankind does. “Here’s the problem. Let’s fix it.” And in fixing it, he made the problem worse, or just created different problems. And in fixing the worse problem, he’s going to just make it worse. And on and on we continue to go.

If we were to get into the splitting of the atom and nuclear reactions that could power cities without any tax on the world’s resources and then discuss the fact that instead we’ve weaponized it and don’t watch over it well, so we have accidents like Chernobyl, but I’m going to leave that one alone even though I kind of just didn’t….

Anyways, here is one of my favorite examples. We can make more food now at less expense than anytime in the history of humanity, and yet that food lacks the nutrients we need to live healthy. So for very cheap, you can fill a basket full of food, and yet it is a proven reality that that food is causing diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and is linked to increasing the risk of cancer. We needed a lot of food, and we needed it cheap. We needed to do something with this World War II machine that was built to fight the Axis of Evil. And then we ended up producing this terrible kind of food. Almost all of it is corn based, almost all of it is absent of any type of vitamins and minerals that we need to survive. So we are stuffing our faces with stuff that’s going to shorten the amount of time we’re alive and cause the amount of time we are here to be lessened in its vitality simply because we lack what we need to function properly. The Greeks were nailing this. We certainly fixed something, but we just create a bigger problem. This is the Greeks’ way of saying we are not the answer.

Here is the Bible’s way of saying the same thing:

• “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. . . . Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” – Job 7:7; 14:1-2

• “Behold, You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” – Psalm 39:5

• “Remember how short my time is! For what vanity You have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah.” – Psalm 89:47-48

• “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” – Psalm 103:15

• “A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.” – Proverbs 19:12

God says, “You’re like a flower that sprouts in the morning, the wind blows you away, and by the afternoon, the very ground you are on doesn’t remember you.” Even the place you were doesn’t remember you. Now we know this is true. Most people reading this blog could not give me the name of their great-great grandfather, and none of you thought about him today. We’d probably even be able to put a picture of him right in front of you and you’d be like, “I don’t know who that is. Some old dude?” But no, that’s family. That’s your bloodline. So just to make it sting a little bit… that’s you in the blink of an eye.

Any type of illusion of grandeur you have where 200 plus years from now people are going to be looking back at your life going, “That is where it all changed for the better,” is what the Greeks were pointing to. You’ve been deceived. It’s not reality. The Bible says, “You’re here for a second, for a blink of an eye. That’s it.” So if we take all of known history and compress it into an hour, your time here is really like half a millisecond, a fraction of a blink. So when we’ve got issues with the Almighty, we’re frustrated with God; when we’ve got issues with how things are playing out, we must know that our limited time here affects how we’re able to see.

Humans really do have a limited perspective of the world in this life, don’t we? If we’re only here for a very short amount of time in the grand scope of things? So, would it make sense for a Creator God, or any higher power to come ask us for advise on how to run the universe? I mean, you don’t seek out a three-year-old for retirement advice, do you? “Do you think we should do a Roth here? Or should we just go with the annuity? How much per paycheck should we contribute? What do you think we should do here?”

Now, as the kid grows older and learns a little more about life, they can tell others a little more about life. But I’m not seeking marriage advice from any four-year-olds right now. “What do you think I should do about a nice date for Kat?” The kid might answer, “Chuck-E-Cheese or Lego Land” And I know that’s not going to work. “What do you think I should do for our two-year anniversary, since that’s coming up soon?” “Chuck-E-Cheese, or Lego Land, or maybe the zoo, oh or a water park!” Okay, that would go really, really bad for me. So, I don’t do that. I don’t seek or take the advice of a toddler on how I should steward my marriage. Why? Because they haven’t lived long enough to know anything about it.

So if God is eternal and we’re here for a fraction of half a millisecond, we really can’t argue from any position of authority with God. Not only are we limited in time, we’re extremely limited in scope. Just turn over to the book of Job or Habakkuk in the Scriptures and watch how that turned out for them. Both Habakkuk and Job have some issues with how God is playing things out. For whatever reason, God is far more aggressive with Job. But with Habakkuk, He was a little more patient with him, He was a little more gracious and easy on him when explaining things. So with Job, God’s just like, “Okay, let’s do this, man up and answer these questions.” Look at Job 38, starting in verse 1.

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take
it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” – Job: 38:1-21

This goes on for the rest of the chapter, and then four more after that. In the middle of it, Job pretty much goes, “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I won’t open my mouth anymore.” But God continues, “No, dress for action like a man. You wanted to have this conversation. Let’s talk about it.” So God systematically breaks down Job’s limitations. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Surely you know how all this works.” If we were to keep reading, you’d see God ask, “Hey, how did I get Orion’s belt up there like that? What about Pleiades, how is that suspended like it is? How did that get strung along? Tell Me how I did that, Job, oh brilliant one, oh scholar of the great.”

And then God’s conversation shifts and He starts going, “Hey, are there any goats being born right now? Are any bears hunting anywhere? Are they eating? Right now, do you see them? What about the deepest parts of the sea? What are the monsters like that are down there? What about the tops of the mountains? What are the rams doing up there? Surely you must know. What about the birds flying in the air? What are they looking for? Who gave the hawk such sharp eyesight? Was that your idea? Was that your idea to make the hawk fly so high and so fast, and be able to see clearly down to the ground?” He literally just dresses Job down and reveals to him how little he really knows. He tells him to dress for action like a man and then strips him. And this is God’s way of communicating to Job and to us that we are limited in time and limited in scope. We simply can’t see all that is at play.

So right now, while you’re reading this, what exactly is going on in the room next to you? What about in the building next to you? You have no idea what’s going on in those other rooms or buildings right now. If you’re not at home, what’s going on at your house right now? You don’t know what’s going on at your house right now. What’s going on in San Antonio, Memphis, Indianapolis, and Miami? It’s the NBA Conference Finals right now. There’s a lot going on in those cities this week. But we don’t know. And even if we know some of what is going on, we don’t know what’s actually happening there at this very second. Even if you were actually there, what is everyone there talking about? What are they all thinking? Where did they all come from? Where are they all going? How are all their interactions connected?

We are limited in our scope of understanding. We don’t know how things fit together to actually move history along. And here’s the crazy part. Most of the time, we’re unaware of that reality. We’re unaware of those limitations. Because everything in our culture talks about our endless possibilities, our unlimited potential and how to grasp the power that’s within. Just drive on over to the nearest Barnes & Noble; the largest section of books in the bookstore is the “self-help,” fix yourself books.

I would contend that no one has lied to you more than you have. No one has betrayed you more than you have betrayed yourself. You can blame or point fingers at whoever you want to blame and point fingers at, but the biggest liar you know is you. And you are not going to be able to fix you. If you disagree with that, well, we just have all of human history to back it up. If God would be merciful enough to give you just a clear picture today, you’d feel the weight of it. Watch how people in the suburbs and people in our culture right now are trying to solve the issues of our culture. “Marriage is just not really working between us, so we’ll try watching something to help, we’ll introduce new partners into this mix, we’ll seek fulfillment elsewhere from another broken human being, we’ll be in an open relationship, we’ll swap around a little bit, and maybe some or all of that will fire up the spices in our relationship.” I’ll tell you how that ends – divorce and heartbreak. Every time. So many think, “Well not me.” Not you yet, but it all ends in the same place. We’re bored, and we’re lonely, so we’ll buy trinkets and toys that numb it for a second. Most of us are carrying a ridiculous amount of debt because we’re trying to solve a problem that we cannot solve by ourselves. But we can numb it for a second though, can’t we? New stuff really is cool. The next big part is gonna be a blast! The NBA draft is coming up, the Finals are right around the corner, and Baseball season is in full swing, baby showers, graduations, and weddings are taking place every weekend right now, and then of course there’s a bunch of big summer blockbusters coming out over the next few months (IronMan 3, Star Trek, Oblivion, After Earth, Man of Steel, etc.) to entertain us for at least a little while. There’s a sweet happy-hour somewhere to enjoy after we get off this brutal shift at work. It numbs it for a second, doesn’t it? And sometimes that’s all we’re wanting, just to numb it for a second so we can make it through the day, through the week, until the next payday, until next month, etc.

Now I would never want to minimize your pain or take away from your hurts, doubts, and fears. They are legitimate and real. Here’s the point though, and here’s what you have to understand. You cannot fix this. You cannot fix yourself. You cannot save yourself. You are not awesome. You are not God. And that is actually the foundation of your greatest joy. Because it will set you to seeking something outside of you to solve it. But that can be a trap too. So, we need to find something that is not limited like we are limited in regards to time and scope to solve this issue.

Romans 8 puts it this way. “The mind set on the flesh is death.” So when we proclaim, “Let me fix this, let me make this happen, let me correct this,” this is certain death. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. “I want to know God, I want to follow God, and I want to chase God.” Now can you see how screwy things have gotten in the church? What’s the church known for these days? The church is known for going, “Don’t do this. . . modify that. . . change this. . . don’t act like that. . . don’t watch this. . . don’t drink that. . . don’t listen to this. . . don’t go here. . . don’t hang out there.”

So church, for the majority of people, becomes some sort of moral grid of behaviors, but Romans 8 says that leads to death. What leads to life, joy, and peace is life in the Spirit. Christ’s life is the fulfillment of the law, not yours. Your life is not even close to the fulfillment of the law. Christ’s life, and His life alone, is the fulfillment of the law. His crucifixion is the wrath-absorbing act that pulls the wrath off of us. The resurrection and expiation is God washing us clean from our shame and guilt. So not only do we have imputed righteousness and not only do we have wrath removed, but we also have been washed clean before the Lord so that there’s this celebration in Christ over us for the purity of life we possess despite the fact that we don’t possess it. And that’s why we worship like we worship.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

So whatever is going on in your marriage, whatever is going on in your addictions, whatever is going on at your job, whatever is going on in your relationships, whatever is happening with your finances, however your grades are going at school, whatever is causing churning and longing deep in your soul, you are not the answer to that. You cannot fix that. You need something that transcends your weaknesses.

All the sin, weaknesses, and failures in the life of a believer have already been fully covered by the blood-soaked cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is exponentially and infinitely more powerful than any sin; past, present, or future. We must depend on the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s help. We must always run back to and rest in the Gospel.

A man who doesn’t understand the gospel lets his past destroy him. The man or woman who understands the gospel lives today in the grace and mercy of Christ that covers all of yesterday’s mistakes, today’s shortcomings, and tomorrow’s troubles. The gospel that defines our Christian worldview allows our minds to rest and our hearts to rejoice in the gracious rescue from just being accidental atoms beating air, carrying on and on, unwittingly as orphans of an unyielding despair.