Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The dark clouds of depression

The choices this week of a dearly loved comedian, Robin Williams, bring to light a struggle many people live with and battle most of their lives. It's far too common.  Just last year my niece, Dez, committed suicide in a similar way to Robin.  It's sad, tragic, and shocking for many of us who know them and don't often see the dark clouds they live with, the depression they can't seem to escape.

Like many of you, I have struggled with depression most of my life.  It's a family burden and one my mother deals with as well so I'm not simply writing thoughts as a casual observer, but as an unwilling participant.  Over the years my own struggles have made me aware of how difficult depression is to battle.  There are days that begin with the dread of what's ahead.  It demands, for me, an ongoing battle against the darkness.


As my wife wrote recently, "depression brings a hopelessness that makes life feel like a dirty trick."  I get that and if you have battled depression you understand it as well.

Some would say that if you are a Christian you shouldn't have problems with depression. They would then try to help by giving you some bible verses and tell you to "just get over it!"  But it's really more insidious than that.  It weaves its dark shadows through a life and shows up at the most unexpected times.  For my sweet niece it was the middle of the night and she could no longer live with her dark moments.  She made a permanent choice for a temporary problem and we, her family, are left devastated.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, you need to know it's a common human malady we all battle at times. You are not alone even in the dark moments when you think no one cares. The morning sun will come and the dark clouds will lift.  

Some may struggle with depression on a regular basis and come to a point where they just don't think they can go on another day.  If that is you, don't give up.  Talk to someone. Get help. See a doctor. Call a friend. Talk to your pastor.  The dark clouds of the moment will pass. The sun will shine again.  There are people who love you, you are not alone.  

When you see someone going through a time of depression pray for them, listen to them and be there for them.  If they threaten suicide call for help immediately! Don't wait!!  Any threat of suicide should be taken seriously.

Years ago, in my first church, one of our dear members took his own life in the bedroom of his five year old daughter on her birthday.  It was a tragedy magnified by the situation and the day.  But once he made the choice the lives of everyone around him were changed forever!

For those of you living with depression get help, tell someone, ask God for his help.  He is there and he will come to your rescue in that dark place.  There is help!  Ann Voscamp wrote about depression in her recent blog.  Her words are helpful on this topic. I encourage you to read her August 12th post at http://www.aholyexperience.com/.

One of my favorite bible authors is David, a man who battled depression in his own life.  In one of his journals (Psalms 40) he talked about being in a miry pit of despair and unable to get out.  It was a dark place for him, a time of real depression.  What he describes in these words is what everyone battling depression needs- HOPE!  There is hope and it comes from God. These are encouraging words from someone who struggled with depression and found help in God, 

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord.”


Thursday, August 07, 2014

How do you know....?

Last night, as I wrote a few thoughts online, a young friend of mine who has become an atheist sent me a message with a question.  He's working through the issues of faith and his loss of it.  He is still talking to me so I'm encouraged, but his influence from the atheist crowds of our world and the Internet have obviously affected him and made him abandon his faith.

Last night he asked a simple question. He asked, "How do you know that God knows everything?"  This is an obvious point of theology for any pastor and something I have always believed, but he was more pointed in his question...he asked, "how do YOU know that?"  And with his question I had to admit....I've simply believed it because that is part of God's job description.  If he didn't know everything he wouldn't be God!

But I had to tell my young friend that I have never really searched out the knowing of this....I've simply believed it.  I asked him for time to work on it and I would get back to him.  But it's a perfect opportunity to discuss the question as a community.  How do YOU know that God knows everything?

Ready, discuss....

Flying!

(Click on photo to enlarge)

This is a photo I took yesterday while we are getting some time away in Galveston.  I love the feeling of the photo and the simple colors.  Just thought I would share it with you.  

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A new identity

1 Peter2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nationa people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

It seems to me, as I watch the Christian world around me, that we have little knowledge of our identity in Christ.  We live, act and talk just like the world around us. The reality of lives lived like everyone else tells me we simply don't know who we are!  Our identity is defined by television and pop culture.  Our opinions are formed by our favorite newscaster. Our fears are magnified by a media that creates fear for a living. 

Who are we really?  How is it that we look like, live like, think like most of those around us who don't know God?  How have we so easily fallen into the identity of the world instead of the identity of God?  Those are a few of the questions that come to my mind as I read these verses in 1 Peter.  "You are..."  and with those words Peter draws a picture of a man or woman completely different than the world around them. Different enough that it's seen without saying a word! 

a chosen race.  Chosen, what a great word.  Chosen by God.  Chosen to be his child, chosen to be forgiven, chosen to see his face, chosen to live for him, chosen to suffer, chosen has rich blessings with it.  Part of our identity is that we are chosen. 

a royal priesthood. A royal priesthood is a phrase that would sound odd to any Jew. There was the royal tribe of Judah and the priestly tribe of Levi, but never were they blended!  Now, in Christ, we are described as being part of a royal priesthood, a whole new class of people.  We are part of the royal family AND part of the priesthood of God.  There are pages to write about this blend of two rolls, but behind it all is a new category of people designed by God...you and me!  

a holy nation. A holy nation is something God made Israel to be, but they never fulfilled the promise.  Now, in Christ, our holy status isn't accomplished by us, but by God himself.  Now, we the gathered nation of God come as a holy people, different from the world around us because of what Christ has done.  A people forgiven!  Hebrews describes it this way, "He has made perfect forever those who are becoming holy." 10:14.  We have a status and a calling. Live as holy, forgiven people rejoicing in an already done work!  

a people for God’s own possession. Possessed by God, what a concept. It makes my mind spin that I'm one of God's chosen possessions.  Why would he want me? I'm honestly quite a mess and yet he has chosen me!  What an amazing thing.  How do I respond to that? How do I live because of just these few phrases that describe me?

If I really saw myself as God sees me and describes me I would live a completely different life.  It wouldn't be a "hollier than thou" life, it would be a joyous life of freedom in him! It would be a life relaxed in what he has done and a life of response to the amazing love of God.  I pray we see ourselves as God sees us...it would change everything!  We would begin to look like the People of God we really are!



Saturday, August 02, 2014

Love of God lived out

Sometimes you read something and say, "THAT'S IT!"  

This short statement of life hit that note with me.  Her it is-

"I want to live in, walk in, soak in the love of God to such an extent that others are drawn to God because of their encounter with me."

Saturday's cartoon


Friday, August 01, 2014

What do you want?

Life is short.  The bible says repeatedly that it's like a vapor, a mist that is quickly gone.  We are here for just a few years and then.....we are gone.

So,  what do you want?  What do you want to do? What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want to accomplish?  These are questions I'm visiting again as I near the last third.  What do I want?

It's a hard question!  We could easily respond, I want to be happy. I want to be remembered. I want to do something significant with my life, but honestly...maybe too honestly...none of those are in our control.  They are the things we hope happen, but we can't pursue them.  It just doesn't work that way.

My wonderful wife asked me this question earlier this week as we were talking about these things.  "What do you want?"  It has me spinning in my thoughts about what's possible.  I think, if we were honest, most of us would reply, "I DON'T KNOW!"

Our simple answers of wanting happiness, success, significance and other words freely spoken in our culture just don't get to the real heart of the question.  Many philosophers has asked this and tried to answer it from their perspective.  It begins with "Why am I here?", "What's my purpose?" and ends with ultimate destiny, but let's not go there today.  I would rather get to the heart of the question.

What do you want?  At the core we all want meaning. We all want to know our lives are not a waste. We want to matter.  Where does that come from?  If we are simply animals that would never be an issue.  My dog never thinks of these things.  She is happy with a back rub and a walk.  If I ask her, "what do you want" she would cock her head wondering what on earth I'm talking about.

But built into us as humans is a desire for something more than food and comfort.  We want to matter!  That's not an animal instinct.  That comes from our creator.  He made us to ask this question.  He made us to struggle with it and hopefully be discontent with the answers.  

He made us with a desire for more and it's not success, a title, a legacy, a name that's remembered, a lot of money, a nice house or car, it's none of these things....but it is something.

Have you worked through this in your life?  Do you know what you want?  What is it?



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kim's story

A dear lady in our church family wrote about her odyssey as a widow of four years.  It is wonderfully written and with her permission I want to share it with you as well.  Here are Kim's story,

"July 30th. A day like any other hot summer Texas day. But it was an extraordinary ordinary day. Up and showered and out for work for him. A shopping day for me. The sun was incredibly bright, the temperatures sickeningly hot. A phone call or two. Some texts back and forth. Shoes in the foyer, coffee mug in the sink, book and reading glasses on the nightstand, ball cap on the end table. 

Ordinary. Extraordinary. Life doesn't usually go just the way we plan it. God has other ideas. I always knew that, but never more than I have in the past four years. I always trusted God to guide my life but I never truly surrendered to Him until that July day when David died.

I was unable to go forward on my own. I was unable to go forward until God picked me up and carried me. And because He is loving and merciful He carried me for months and months on end. Life here changed forever. I had to accept that. I had to adjust to so many things. Some in the light of my every day. Some in the darkest hours of the night when it was just me and God, and breathing was praying and praying was surviving.

And I did survive. And I knew God in a way I had never known Him before. He became my partner. He became my lifeline. He was my Savior in every way. And I couldn't imagine how anyone managed to handle the terrible things this fallen world can throw at them without God in their life. And I am grateful. I grew stronger. I grew braver. I learned how to live again and laugh again and hope again.

Four years ago today I believed losing my husband of 30 years was not survivable but God proved me wrong. I am here. Bruised and battered, but I am here and life is good. I am a blessed child of a loving and compassionate God who is light amidst darkness, joy amidst sorrow, hope amidst despair.


Do you know the God I know? I hope so. If not, ask me about Him. And for those of you who have been on this journey with me, thru grieving David and then my mother: thank you. Thank you for your support, your friendship, your prayers and your love. Thank you for dinners and lunches and phone calls and hugs. Thank you for listening, talking, crying with me and laughing with me. Thank you for coming to my rescue if I called for help with everything from flat tires to lizards to plumbing to a snake in my living room. I am humbled by all of you. My cup runneth over. With love and complete gratitude from every corner of my heart.... Kim"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Prayer

It's 6am and I'm off!  I'm going to spend the morning in prayer.  A lot to talk to God about....a lot to work through.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Five most amazing words

What are the five most amazing words you can think of?  Think about it and give it a try.  Here's a few that may stimulate your thoughts....

You just won the lottery!

Your terminal cancer is gone!

Your newborn is perfectly healthy!

I'm sure your five words are brilliant. I just listed a few to get these thoughts started, but what if the most amazing five words of all time are simply an afterthought to the one who wrote them and did them?  What if you read five words that you know are profound and unbelievable, but the one who did it saw it as simply a small thing, an afterthought? 

What would you think of someone who sees amazing deeds as simply a small afterthought?  How awesome would that person be?  The five words phrases I've listed above all appeal to us because they speak to needs, hopes and dreams, but what five words could God say that would impress you?

In the bible God has written five words that should make you stop and say, "wait a minute...what was that?"  They astonished me the first time I saw them.  And with these five words God says something about himself, his power and his view of man.  

You're ready, aren't you?  What are they?  Here's the passage,


Gen. 1:6 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.

In this verse is the story of creation and specifically the creation of the sun and moon, but at the end of the verse are five words that should make you pause, "He made the stars also."  Just like that, five words, almost an afterthought.  How awesome is this God who says, "I made the sun and the moon to give you light....oh yeah, and I made the stars too."

We still can't measure the number of stars.  They are more than we can imagine.  Trillions of stars, suns, planets and solar systems are included in these five words.  Do you realize what that means?  God is big, powerful, awesome, amazing, omnipotent (ALL powerful), and could have made trillions more without a thought.  That is one powerful God!

Now, in my puny little life on this tiny little planet, if the God who loves me, tells me about himself and sent his son to give me life is so powerful that the stars are an afterthought how could I ever think he can't or won't take care of me?  How could I look at the stars at night and ever wonder if he's able to help me?

In five words God has said he's more powerful than you can ever imagine and he has promised to care for you and be with you if you will trust him.  I'm blown away by that reality...the God who made the stars wants to be in relationship with me!  That leaves me speechless....and he amazes us all each night when we look at the stars.




Friday, July 25, 2014

Wounded

I see wounded people everywhere and they don't even realize they are wounded. They are affected and changed by the events that caused their wounds.  We are all really good at adjusting, compensating, trying to look and be good even when we aren't. And, if we aren't careful, a bitterness begins to weave it's roots in our hearts from the undressed, unhealed wounds of the past.  (Heb. 12:15)
I am constantly dealing with this as a pastor, but so are you as you live life with wounded people all around you. Most of us we are unaware of the wounds others have suffered, but we do see the results as they wound us.  Some wounds go back to childhood and an abusive parent.  Some come from peers in school as we heard the words "fatty" or "stupid" and never forgot them. Some wounds come from others thoughtlessness. They haunt us even today.

Others think they have dealt well with the wounds of the past, but often all they have done is put a band aid on a bullet hole.  They haven't fixed the problem, they have just covered it up. The wounds of the past are lingering and even if we are able to heal we are all left with scars and memories.  Wounded pasts make us defensive and in subtle ways twist our personalities.

So, how do we deal with the wounds?  As I write this I'm thinking of a host of faces that are the walking wounded around me.  Often they will tell you they are fine and smile, but they aren't.  The wound has changed them and most don't know what to do to become normal again.  Most have no idea any longer of what normal even looks like.  We begin to resemble Gollum from Lord of the Rings.  Our wounds have made us into someone else.


So what do we do...the human race of wounded and hurting people?  How do we find healing, restoration and forgiveness?  

This, to be honest, is the issue we deal with the most in our lives...even if we don't realize it.  These wounds are the things that keep us from growing in our faith. They hinder our walk with God.  They hold us back, just as a wheel chair would in a marathon race. 

Ok, I've written a lot about the problem, now what do we do about it? How do we find healing, rest, restoration, forgiveness? How do we deal with the bitterness of the wounds that have been inflicted and never admitted to by the offender?  What do we do with OUR wounds?

The most wounded of us all, in the midst of his wounded-ness, prayed, "Father, forgiven them, they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)  As I thought about his prayer I realized the secret to healing our wounds is in that simple prayer.  

First, go to Father.  Like a child with a scratched knee, run to Father and tell him about it. Cry if you need to, but run to Father.

Second, leave the wound with him.  Did you notice Jesus didn't say, 'I forgiven them' (although he did).  He went to the one who is most offended by our sin and took the focus off of himself to ask God to deal with the wounds.  That open hand, that taking the wound to Father to deal with, takes the wound off of my heart , mind and life so God can heal me.
 -----
And, third, he told us something we need to know about those who wound us...they don't know what they are doing.  They are often acting out of their own unhealed wounds and we are the victims.  

Do you realize, when someone wounds you, they most often don't realize what they are doing?  

Can you open your hand, give it to Father and let it go?  

Can you trust him to resolve it?  

Honestly, he is the only one who can.  He's the only one who can dress and heal your wounds and the wounds of the one who hurt you.  

Ultimately, can you love the one who wounded you because you have run to Father to take care of your wounds, so  now you are able to help the one who hurt you with his wounded life and heart?  

We are all the walking wounded.  Is there healing for our wounds? Yes, and it's only in Christ, only in taking our wounded and broken lives to Father.  He knows exactly how to heal us.  And when we have gone to Father we can care for others who are wounded around us.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Satisfaction and contentment


This morning, as I'm listening to the radio, the talk show host began a monologue about satisfaction.  It was quite interesting to hear his views and as I thought about it I found myself not only agreeing with his views, but dwelling on the options as they connect with God and scripture.

His point was that satisfaction is never a destination.  We are never satisfied....we simply feed the desire in increasing doses, but satisfaction never comes, we never get there.  As I look at the culture around me I see how that has worked out.  We get the latest cell phone, but find we want the very next one that comes on the market.  We get the newest flat-screen TV, but then oooowww and aaaawww about the commercial showing us the flat-screen we didn't get.  We get a new car, but think....if only I had that one.

Satisfaction is unattainable. It's an eternal quest for something we will never get.  The frustrations drive us to get more, the newest, the next, and in this quest for satisfaction we are frustrated, always trying to fill a bottomless pit of hunger that can never be satisfied with things.

Solomon talked about this in Ecclesiastes when he wrote, 
"Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied."  In another passage he wrote, "the eye is never satisfied." No matter how much we have seen we want to see more.  I think that is why Internet porn has proliferated so quickly.  Although every human has the same  basic body parts our minds lust to see more...to see the girl I haven't seen yet.

In contrast to the endless circle of satisfaction fulfillment is the heart that has chosen contentment.  Contentment is not having all you want.  It's not even being happy with the full stomach after a nice dinner.  It's the decision to rest in and trust God with what you do have....even if it isn't enough...because God gives us what we need.

Paul described it this way in Philippians when he wrote, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

In contrast to the endless circle of pursuing satisfaction is the course correction we make when we trust God and rest in what he has provided.  It is enough because he said he will meet my needs.  When I find my satisfaction in Him instead of things the decision to be content is a peaceful rest from the furry of MORE.

Contentment is a rest in the one who provides all I need and more.  When I find satisfaction in God contentment is the great reward.  And then, whether I have a little or a lot I can enjoy it or lose it and never fret over any of it.  

Contentment or satisfaction?  Pretty easy choice really, isn't it?




Monday, July 21, 2014

"AUTHOR! AUTHOR!"

(photo by Steve Hixon)

If you've ever been to a play the finish is most exciting.  The cast and crew come on stage and take their bows and then the audience begins to chant, "Author! Author!"  It's a compliment to the author and the desire of the audience to applaud the author for his work.  As the bows are finished the author of the play is acknowledged and celebrated as the creator of the great work you have just witnessed.

This morning, as I read in the book of Acts, I came to this phrase spoken by Peter as he talked about Jesus, he called him the "author of life".  The phrase is one I have read many times, but this morning I stopped for a moment and rolled those words over in my mind.  The author of life.  It all came from him...he made it ALL!  Who made it?  Jesus did.  The very one we read about in the gospels walking about Israel is the one who made the dust he walked on.  Imagine that, the author of life entering his own creation to provide a new kind of life.  Who else could do that but the very one who made it all in the first place?

The author of life.....all that is or ever has been was made by him!  And now, in the gospels he comes to create once more, to provide eternal life to his creation.  When I look around at creation I see an amazing work of art.  Everything is so wonderfully made, so intricate, so detailed. And now, in the gospel story, the author himself comes to finish the work, to complete his masterpiece.  I can't wait for the day when we will all stand and cheer, applaud and celebrate the author of life.  Author! Author!