Saturday, 16 May 2015

Can A Real Christian be Depressed?

Rethinking Faith and Church started a discussion on its Facebook page on Thursday May 7th, 2015 with the following:

"Is 'Blessed' the opposite of 'Depressed?' If so, and at the risk of over simplifying the problem, does that then imply that a potential biblical answer to depression may be found in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5? Why or why not? Thoughts?"

Thankfully, at least in Canada, the stigma attached to mental illness is gradually being removed, and for many people with chronic depression, it is becoming easier to get treatment. I don't feel that this discussion was intended to include those for whom depression is part of their over-all mental health. Neither I nor Rethinking Faith and Church, would ever want to make light of the living hell in which people with chronic depression must live.

However, many people do go through short periods of depression... sometimes lasting several months. And before you say “several months” doesn't sound short, consider that there are many people who enure depression for years. I myself, have endured depression for several months. My life wasn't going the way I thought it would be going, and in my mid to late forties, I slumped into a very dark time ... more than once.

Before going into the thoughts that this discussion stirred up in me, let's review the Beatitudes:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12; NIV)
As an initial observation, I don't see Blessed are the Depressed.

The responses to the Facebook post were swift. Mostly stating that the question of Blessed and Depressed being opposites was in fact over-simplifying it. And I tend to agree. I suspect that Rethinking Faith and Church was trying to stimulate conversation on a subject that many Christians try to avoid. Many Christians do feel that being depressed is an indication that one's faith is weak, and perhaps even non-existant. It's sad, but during my darkest days, meditating on how blessed I am, only made my depression worse. That meditation would introduce feelings of guilt for my depression in the midst of such blessings. I would often ask a brother if he wanted to join my “pity party”.

I added to the discussion the following. What was missing in our discussion were the preceding words to the two words that were being considered. Both of these words are typically preceded by one of two verbs: "to be" or "to feel."

As Christians we are (ie: "to be") always blessed. That blessing will (at least) be manifested when we leave this rock and avoid the eternal damnation that we all deserve. However, we don't always "feel" blessed. Feelings are temporary states of mind that come and go throughout our stay on this rock. Sometimes we feel depressed, sometimes we feel blessed, and (if we're honest) sometimes we even feel damned. So, yes ... one could make an argument for these two words being opposites, but only in combination with the verb "to feel." However, one must avoid using a reminder of our blessed future as a tool to "snap" someone out of depression. As I said earlier, in my experience that only exacerbates the depression.

If you are suffering with depression, I would like to encourage you with this:
1. Your feelings are not “bad” feelings. There is no such thing as bad feelings. Even Jesus asked why God had forsaken Him. (Matthew 27:46). 
2. Your depression is temporary. Yes, even chronic depression for the Christian is temporary, because there will be no depression when we go to be with our Lord. (Revelation 21:4).
3. There is help. Reach out to your family, friends, church, doctor, dentist... whomever. If you are seriously thinking about hurting yourself to make it stop (I understand), go to the emergency unit at your local hospital, or call 9-1-1. 
4. Know this: You are loved. Though right now, you may not “feel” loved, you are a child of the most high God, and He knows what you are going through. And, He will sustain you.
And though I may not know you, I love you.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
(2 Corinthians 13:14; NIV)

Photo Credit: Don Hankins, Flickr Creative Commons

Guest blogger Waldo Rochow is, of course correct, when he stated: “I suspect that Rethinking Faith and Church was trying to stimulate conversation on a subject that many Christians try to avoid.” We believe that any discussion, if done in the right spirit and with grace and love, can be a very healthy thing, and may even help to promote healing. This blog post was titled, “Can a Real Christian be Depressed?” Of course they can! But perhaps that’s where the Body of Christ comes in and truly shines; not with a bunch of accusations and finger pointing and “thou shall not’s” and the all too common practice of poor eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis), but with genuine and non-pretentious LOVE and CARING and COMPASSION for our brothers and sisters who often struggle just to make it through another day. Something to think about. Thanks for sharing, Bro. Peace and Blessings.

Friday, 1 May 2015

of Antique Bibles and Dust Collectors

Tonight as I took a break from my studies (yes, I'm back in school yet again), I glanced around my home office and noticed how many Bibles I had on my shelves. On top of that, I also have a few more favourite versions scattered around my favourite chair in the living room. Clearly, I am not a Scripture deprived person!

As I dwelt on that, I became almost ashamed, as I also pondered how many Christians around the world would absolutely love to have even one Bible to call their own, but who do not.

However, to be fair and before I beat myself up too much, we have also been directly involved in shipping New Testaments overseas. I remember acquiring a few cases of New Testaments some years ago, one case of which was in the French language. As we have friends who have served as missionaries to Haiti, and as they were returning for a visit, we tucked all the French New Testaments we could into their luggage. After all, most Haitians are Creole speaking, and many of them read Creole's cousin language, French. It only made sense to send these to Haiti. Others I continue to periodically give away here and there as the Spirit leads.

But back to my own collection. As I perused my plethora of books and Bibles, I saw one little old Bible that I forgot I had. Many years ago, in an institutional church in which I served as bi-vocational pastor, someone came to me one day and presented me with an old Bible he found in a garage sale. It was a clearly an antique.

As I carefully opened up the Bible, I saw a hand-written inscription inside that was barely legible, but the date was still very much discernible. It was dated 1896. As I reminded myself about this treasure, I thought about how someone, now some 119 years ago, was presented a gift of this Bible.

I wondered about who she or he was. I wondered if he or she actually read this Bible, or if it simply ended up on a shelf, collecting dust, as it has in my home. I wondered if the recipient of this gift came to know Jesus, of whom this book is all about. I wondered if one day I will meet its original owner when the Lord calls me home and I too cross from this life into the next. Will she or he be there? Let's take that one step further; will we know each other? Who knows?

In our day and age, many of us do have multiple Bibles in multiple translations in our collections. There is no question that some of these do sit on shelves collecting dust, whereas others become our favourites that we read regularly. The important thing is that we are in fact reading.

How about you? Do you have a favourite Bible that you read regularly? Or are all your Bibles simply aging on a shelf somewhere collecting dust? If so, maybe at the very least, you should at least write this year's date inside the front cover. At least then, after you're long dead and gone, someone from some future generation may come across your now ancient Bible and be in awe at just how old it is.

Now I'm not suggesting that the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that one reads a Bible whereas the other does not. Certainly not! But maybe in all fairness, the person who one day finds an old Bible of ours in a garage sale somewhere, may also ask a similar question, wondering if its original owner really knew the Lord, or was just a Bible collector.

Something to think about. Peace.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Agree to Disagree (but Live in Peace Anyways)

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” (1 Peter 2: 11-12; NIV)

Recently a friend posted a comment on Facebook that got me thinking and which, as often happens, raised several other questions for me. He said,

“I can’t expect the rest of the world to obey God
when Christians won’t.”

Now I’m not sure what you think about that statement, but I think I understand where he’s coming from, and to a point, I agree. Here are a few random thoughts and musings that went through my head after reading that.

I got to thinking about our Christian values, ethics and doctrines. Most of us hold dearly to them; they are pretty much “non-negotiable.” They define us and they define our faith and understanding of who God is and what He expects of us (or doesn’t expect of us). We’re good with them, and if we have a problem with them, it is only in that we cannot understand why there are other Christians who apparently cannot see these things the way we do.

The fact that on many issues even Christians are not united, such as the recent hoopla over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana and the alleged discrimination that it brings to the LGBT community, brings us back to my friend’s post. When it comes to a specific theological position or worldview, regardless which side of the fence we’re on, we’re quite possibly going to see our neighbors on the other side of the fence as not obeying God. After all, how can they be if God obviously sees the situation the way I do? ... I’m being facetious. (For more on the Religious Freedom Restoration Actsee my earlier blog post)

All this begged another couple random questions. How “Christian” are those values, ethics and doctrines that we’ve embraced anyways? Secondly, how do we reconcile the fact that some of our brothers and sisters clearly do not hold to them like we do? Let’s pause for a moment and think of the implications in those loaded questions.

Either they’re wrong or (heaven forbid) we’re wrong … or one of us isn’t actually a real Christian (a sort of wolf in sheep’s clothing) … or God was mistaken … or those “Christian” values, ethics and doctrines are actually “pseudo-Christian” … or God changed His mind. But which one is right? Which ones are wrong? Does one have to be right or wrong? In and of themselves, none of the options are particularly comfortable. Furthermore, the whole question hinges on a judgment call that leaves an equally bad taste in most of our mouths. Some will no doubt ask, shouldn’t I be more focused on the plank in my own eye rather than the speck in my neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3)? Maybe I should.

There is another equally disturbing question that I found myself musing upon. My friend’s allegation is that Christians do not obey God. Obviously that’s somewhat of an unfair generalization, and I’m sure he meant it somewhat “tongue ‘n cheek,” but let’s work with it for a second. If that were true, and building on everything we’ve already said thus far, could it be that some of us have developed a rather subjective view of what it means to be a Christian? I’ve often wondered about that. Though I really don’t want to go there, I think the question logically follows. If that were not true, then my friend is perhaps right, and some of us are deliberately being disobedient to God. Is the word of God … subjective?

One final question the comes out of my friend’s post, and one which I’ve stewed on a number of times before, is this: Do Christians really have the right to expect the secular world to live according to Christian values, ethics and doctrines? It seems to me that this question becomes even more profound when we recognize that even within the church we cannot see eye-to-eye on what is truly non-negotiable in the Christian faith. The famous “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind as a non-negotiable, but even there, many of us seem to have added a list of exceptions to the rule of “love one another.”

While I do not believe that we Christians should expect non-believers to embrace and live their lives according to our values, neither do I believe that the non-Christian world should expect me to embrace its worldview. We’ve all heard people say, “Don’t push your religion down my throat,” and yet the irony is that the world does that to the Christian too, expecting us to kneel down and “worship” its values, even though they often contradict ours. Obviously we all still have a lot to learn about how to treat one another on this rock called Earth.

I don’t want to be militant about these things. I do want to “make every effort to live in peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14), keeping in mind that Jesus said I “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19). Once I came to grips with that, I also began to understand a little better Peter’s admonition that, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17). As such, I have stopped concerning myself with how the other guy chooses to live his or her life, knowing that they too will one day have to give an account to God, regardless whether or not they believe in Him today.

But then again, I suppose that not everyone believes that either, and that’s okay. Maybe the old adage of "Agree to Disagree" is enough. Maybe we don't need to fully understand the mind of God on these things. Maybe the old children's hymn is enough,
"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Maybe if Christians spent a little more time focussing on that, it would be enough to live in peace with one another, despite our disagreements and misunderstandings. Maybe that's the one Christian value, ethic and doctrine that really matters. Maybe ...

Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Philip Bitnar, Flickr Creative Commons
Quoted Friend: Ransom Backus (Identified with his permission)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

of Religious Freedom, the LGBT, and A Better Way

"What shall we conclude then?
Are we any better?"
(Romans 3:9)

In the March 28, 2015 issue of The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent piece entitled, "A Little Respect for Dr. Foster." The article began with the claim that in a recent poll 53% of Americans approved of gays and lesbians versus the lessor 42% approval for evangelical Christians. He goes on to say,

"That's partly because some evangelical leaders were intolerant blowhards who give faith a bad name. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson famously blamed the 9/11 terror attacks in part on feminists, gays and lesbians, and doctors who perform abortions. After a public outcry, both men backed off."

Has there been a shift in public attitude and opinion?

As in most areas of life, there are always a few loose cannons that destroy the landscape for the rest of us; evangelical Christianity is no different. However despite the damage Falwell and Robertson created, they by no means represent the norm in evangelical Christianity; there are many silent and often missed voices in the evangelical camp that put their faith into action in practical ways. Enter Kristof's article on Dr. Stephen Foster, a 65-year old missionary surgeon who has lovingly served and lived with the people of Angola for 37 years, often despite terrible persecution. Read the full Dr. Foster story here.

Fast-forward +/- fourteen years.

As I write this, a new (and I would argue) foolish new law has just made its debut in the US state of Indiana. Essentially this unpopular new Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives businesses the right to refuse to serve potential customers based upon their religious convictions. It's not surprising that the gay and lesbian community was quick to jump all over this, and perhaps rightly so, claiming that it discriminates against them. The fact is, as much as I do believe in religious freedom, the new law does discriminate, not just against the gay and lesbian community, but indirectly against a plethora of others as well. By way of example, I cannot help but wonder how well our Muslim neighbours will fare under this law. Will they be refused service too? At the risk of digressing too far, the infamous late Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame must be smiling from his grave at this one (I'm being facetious).

Despite our (legal) religious freedoms in this land, sometimes I think we Christians are our own worst enemies. We often make a lot of noise about our opinions and views, you know, those "religious" ones that we like to say we don't have. This is especially true when it comes to our pet sins. As Phillip Yancey is quoted to have said, "Christians get very angry towards other Christians who sin differently than they do." Hmm, let's stop an chew on that one for a while.

Yes, we can build a biblically-based argument against homosexuality and call it "sin," but we can also build biblically-based arguments on a host of other "sins," such as divorce and remarriage. Ouch! I'm sorry if that struck a nerve with some of you, but it serves to illustrate my point. I wonder how many businesses in Indiana will now refuse to serve divorced and remarried "Christian" people and call it religious freedom? Or what about people who drink too much, or perhaps those who are obese; can they expect to be refused service too? Do we have religious freedom to discriminate against them as well? Biblical arguments can be made against all sorts of things if we were so inclined. Maybe Jesus himself would be refused service under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for after all, He was often known for dining with sleazy prostitutes and those evil tax collecting "sinners." Was He then guilty by association? Of course not! Yet sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten what Jesus said about first removing the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3; Luke 6:41) before concerning ourselves too much with the affairs of others. Hmm.

Maybe there's a better way.

Recently I read an article about a church group that effectively squashed a planned protest against them by the LGBT community simply because the church folks were "too nice." Let's stop and think about that for a moment. "Too nice?" What does that mean, "too nice?" Whatever it means, I suspect that it includes treating all people (regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation) with the same grace and love that God treated us with through Jesus Christ. What if ALL Christians suddenly became known for being "too nice" instead of this tendency to sometimes be religious intolerant noise-making blowhards?

Let's take this one step further and consider this discussion in light of the ultimate mandate of the church; the Great Commission's call to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). Now I may be wrong, but it seems to me that making disciples is a whole lot easier for a nice Christian than a cantankerous one.

This doesn't mean that we have to reduce our beliefs to the lowest common denominator. This doesn't mean that we have to water down our faith. This doesn't mean that the Christian has to embrace the LGBT's agenda or lifestyle any more than it means that the LGBT community suddenly needs to embrace evangelical Christianity. Quite frankly, there have been times when neither side has been "too nice" to the other. The point is, we do not have to agree with each other's lifestyles, but it seems to me that we would all do better if we learned to play a little nicer in the sandbox of life.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God."
(Matthew 5:9)

Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Craftivist Collective, Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Cleavage Theology?

“A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.” (Genesis 2:24; KJV)

I remember reading the story of an old preacher who was asked to speak at a men’s retreat. He used Genesis 2:24 as his text, and in the excitement of the message, he shouted from the pulpit, “My young brothers in Jesus Christ, I declare to you this day that what we need in our relationships, what we need in our marriages, what we need in our churches, and what we need in this world is simply this: MORE CLEAVAGE!”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard that text expounded quite that way before. While I’ve studied Systematic Theology in seminary, I’m reasonably sure that there wasn’t a chapter on “Cleavage Theology.” It’s certainly true that this text could be used to encourage men to remain more faithful to their wives; Lord knows that far too many still seem to need to be reminded of that. Still, while Genesis 2:24 may make a great premarital counseling text, and though some might disagree, I am also reasonably sure that it does not teach that what we need more of in our churches is cleavage.

Still, being somewhat of a confessed humorist myself, I appreciated the chuckles that the aforementioned misguided hermeneutics provided me. I don’t know if that was a true story or not, and ultimately that doesn’t even matter, but if so, I can only imagine the chuckles and snickering that most certainly would have ensued in that preacher’s audience too. Who knows, but I imagine that even God might have chuckled at that one, for amongst the rest of creation, He also created humor, as suggested by Ecclesiastes 3: 1,4 which says:

“There is a time for everything … [including] a time to laugh” 

Well there you have it. If you haven’t heard a sermon on this lately, why not ask your pastor when he next plans on preaching on the merits of “Cleavage Theology?” (Hopefully he too has a healthy sense of humor). If it’s actually on his preaching plan, let me know when it’s scheduled; I may even come for a visit that Sunday. Yuk, Yuk  J

(Don't you just love the English language? LOL)

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Making Oneself at Home with Distorted Images?

"so that Christ may dwell
in your hearts
Ephesians 3:17 (NIV)

I was thinking a little about that word “dwell.” How would you define that?

My dictionary suggests that it means to live in a particular place as a resident or to remain somewhere for a time. Likewise, a “dwelling” would be a place where one dwells; a shelter or a house where a person or persons live. That’s all simple enough, but I think there is still more to “dwell” when we dig a little deeper into the Greek as it’s used in Ephesians 3:17.

As I understand it, “dwell” comes from two Greek words. The first one means to “live in a home,” and fits well with our English understanding of the word. The deeper meaning, however, comes when we consider the second Greek word which literally means, “down.” This comes out more clearly in Kenneth Wuest’s translation of the New Testament: “that the Christ might finally settle down and feel completely at home in your hearts.”

Let’s think on that a little deeper. We’ve all been in one another’s homes from time to time, but we haven’t always been “at home” in them. Friends come over and we greet them at the door and tell them to “make yourself at home,” but it doesn’t always work out that way. I’ve been in some homes where I was clearly NOT completely “at home” in that I was uncomfortable and mindful of almost everything I said and did. There was a respectful courtesy and formality to the visit, but something kept me from being at complete peace and at home there.

I’ve also been in other homes where I could really “settle down and feel completely at home.” In homes like that I could really relax and put my feet up. In homes like that I’m at ease stretching out on the couch and even nodding off for a brief nap if the mood strikes me. I am so completely at home there that getting up and finding myself a cold drink or a snack in the kitchen is a non-issue. In homes like that the formality is gone and you really do “make yourself at home,” almost as if it were your own home. I’m sure we can all relate to that.

Bear with me as I now change gears.

A common evangelistic Christianese phrase we like to tell would-be converts is to “invite Jesus into your heart.” In and of itself, that’s fine, but I cannot help but thinking that such a mantra is still missing an important element. The Pharisees often invited Jesus into their homes too, and while Jesus did enter their homes and accept their dinner invitations, I doubt that He was able to “settle down and feel completely at home” there. As a matter of fact, time and again Jesus pointed out the shortcomings of his host, further suggesting that something was amiss and He was not yet able to “settle down and feel completely at home.” He was there in the home, but only in a cordial capacity as an invited guest; He didn’t really “dwell” there.

Sometimes I wonder if Christ is there in our hearts as simply a formal guest, or if He has been able to truly “settle down and feel completely at home.” Does Jesus really “dwell” in me in the truest sense of the word? Does Jesus really feel at home in me, or have I still shut Him out from one part or another of my life? Is He my constant companion, or are there parts of my life that make Him squirm and feel uncomfortable, as an outsider looking in to a place that, though invited, would just as soon not cross the road to go visit?

Let's take this a step further; would He chastise me as he did the Pharasees of old for bearing a distorted image of the Christian life? Yes, I invited Jesus into my heart many years ago, but has He really been able to "settle down and feel completely at home" ... in me? I wonder.

Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Patrick Subotkiewiez; Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Tale of Two Brains: The Marriage Seminar

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24)

As I write this, my wife and I have passed our thirty-third wedding anniversary, and our youngest and his fiancee are busy making their own wedding plans for this upcoming summer. Marriage is both an exciting and a scary time. Most of us do not go into a marriage thinking about it not lasting; deep down I'm sure we all think of it as "until death do us part," yet statistics tell us that some fifty percent of marriages will dissolve before the grave separates husband and wife. Despite the statistics, we still believe in marriage; we all still go into matrimony with our rose-coloured glasses planted firmly on our faces, believing and hoping that our marriage will beat the odds. The good news is, that's God's will for our relationships too. God believes in marriage.

What can we do to ensure that our marriages remain strong and don't just become another statistic of the divorce court? For many, marriage seminars are one way to rekindle that love that tied the knot in the first place. Recently someone shared a marriage seminar video with me by Mark Gungor called Two Brains. If you have not yet seen this, grab your spouse or fiancee, get comfortable and get get ready to laugh until it hurts; and just maybe you too will come away having, not just a better understanding of what makes your partner act the way he or she does, but perhaps also will find that old love spark rekindled.

One final caveat: While this video is about two hours long, it's really at par with most other movies that we may find ourselves curling up with on any given weekend. So if you're going to watch it, do yourselves a favour and do so when you both have the time to enjoy it; you'll be glad that you did.

Is your marriage worth saving? Is your marriage worth strengthening? Of course it is! Having said that, are you ready to embark on an interesting marriage seminar? If so, then here's Mark Gungor. Enjoy, and may God bless your marriage.

Photo Credit: Yannig Van de Wouwer, Flickr Creative Commons