The Costs of Fear

It seems that everyone is fearful these days. The Nairobi, Beirut, and Paris terrorist attacks have immobilized us. Reporters talk of “palpable fear” in European cities. Everyone has an opinion about how nations, ours included, should respond. The desperate plight of refugees streaming out of the Middle East exacerbates an already difficult situation. Facebook mirrors this awful tension. The media pumps it up with suffocating rhetoric.

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Of what are we afraid? In the 1950s we were terrified of atomic bombs and communists. America’s biggest fears in 2015 are, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears 2015, (1) corruption of government officials,(2) cyber-terrorism, (3) corporate tracking of personal information (4) terrorist attacks, (5) government tracking of personal information, (6) bio-warfare, (7) identity theft, (8) economic collapse, (9) running out of money, and (10) credit card fraud.[1] Today in late November, many Americans are afraid of Muslims, the takeover of our nation, and further erosion of our cherished ideals.

 

These huge global and national fears are shoveled on top of the things that regularly sprout anxiety and tension into our lives. Senseless, random crime unnerves us. Winter snow and ice may sabotage Thanksgiving and Christmas travel plans in clogged airports and on freeways. Family tensions twist the happiness and joy out of get-togethers. We all face different stressors such as insufficient income, high job stress, or family dysfunction. Deep inside are the unspoken fears we seldom voice: we are afraid of ending up with a stroke in the back room of a convalescent home reeking of urine. We are afraid of failing, afraid of embarrassing ourselves if somebody knows us as we really are, and afraid of not being good enough. No wonder many people are anxious and afraid.

 

Fear can be a good thing when it keeps us from stepping on a rattlesnake. If fear prompts you to lock your doors and to look before you leap, that’s a good thing. But long-lasting fear is not only unpleasant, it is dangerous. It raises blood pressure and fosters depression. When afraid, we make poor choices. We may react too quickly or so slowly that we put ourselves in harm’s way. When fear overtakes a city—or a nation—people get hurt or killed. Fear of others produces riots, looting, and mayhem. Fear starts wars.

 

Ultimately, fear destroys your hope for the future. This is perhaps its most costly outcome, because people with no hope and no reason to live will do just about anything—or nothing.

A Christian need not be fearful.

name tag 1 copyIt seems to me that Christians who live in fear misunderstand who God is. Perhaps they have not read the Scriptures that proclaim God’s sovereignty and power.[2] Maybe they have overlooked the fact that this is His world.[3] Could it be that they don’t know Jesus Christ, who left heaven to become a person like us, to provide salvation now and forever[4], as well as personal friendship and help? Maybe they’ve forgotten that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Possibly they never heard that Satan is a defeated foe[5] and those of us who trust Jesus not only have the power to always defeat him[6] but hold tickets to a front row seat for that Day when Jesus returns to set everything right and make all things new.[7]

 

If you are fearful, know that your feelings are normal. But faith must sit in the pilot’s chair of your life and heart. Christians need not fear anyone or anything.[8] I AM is our God. Do not live in fear. Do not allow the enemy to cloak your outlook with fear. Consider again the God you serve. No one can blemish or stain his name.[9] No one can change what Jesus Christ has done or will do when He comes again.[10] Distance yourself from all of the naysayers and fear mongers. Jesus said this:  “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you”.[11] Perfect love casts out fear.[12]

 

When you start to feel unsafe and wonder why God hasn’t swooped in to save you (physically), remember that Christians for generations have lived under oppression. Not only in the Roman Coliseum have Christians faced death; many today are being persecuted and killed just for professing faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word shows that God allows much of it for his own reasons but that He works ceaselessly in the midst of tyranny to bring people into His Kingdom. He promises victory of the spirit now to all believers.[13] Ultimately He will judge and bring to justice evil and those who work evil.[14] In the meantime, we are to proclaim His name and His Kingdom.[15]

 

Be reminded that these are the results of walking with Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [16]Fear and hatred are Satan’s plan for you, not God’s!

Walk in joy and peace

 

name tag 2 copyThe genius of the Christian life is Jesus Christ, himself. Not only has he saved us now and forever; not only has he promised us heaven so that we can be with him where he is[17]; not only has he promised us the twenty-four-hour-every-day friendship and help of his Holy Spirit;[18] but He faced every fear you and I will ever have and far worse. He walked through abandonment, loneliness, misunderstanding, betrayal, torture, and crucifixion, and conquered death. He’s the one who said, “Because I live, you, too, will live.”[19] “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” [20] “I will not leave you as orphans.”[21]

 

When fear shows up today and lays claim to you, say, “Excuse me! Not today! I am a child of God and Jesus tells me, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.’”[22]

[1] https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/

[2] Colossians 1:15-20

[3] Psalm 24:1-2

[4] John 1:12

[5] Revelation 20:10

[6] James 4:7

[7] Revelation 21:5

[8] John 14:27-29

[9] Philippians 2:6-11

[10] Revelation 1:17-18

[11] Matthew 5:43-48

[12] 1 John 4:18

[13] Ephesians 1:18-23

[14] Matthew 25:31and verses following

[15] Matthew 28:18-20

[16] Galatians 5:22-23

[17] John 14:1-3

[18] John 14:16

[19] John 14:19

[20] Matthew 28:20

[21] John 14:18

[22] John 14:1

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Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 2)

Magnifying glass title-part 2 copy

(See Mistakes Numbers 1-5 in earlier blog, “Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make—Part 1”)

Mistake Number 6: No Devotional Life

By “Devotional Life” I mean a daily time of prayer and Bible study. (Blurting a few “Help me’s” on the way to work really isn’t going to deepen your faith.) Because we lead such frantic lives and overschedule ourselves and our families relentlessly, we somehow feel justified that these things supersede a time of daily prayer. The intrusion of electronics into absolutely everything erodes this important discipline. If we never turn off our phone and would answer it even if we’re praying or reading Scripture, what does this say about who is important to us? For whom and what are you praying? Do you have a prayer list? Are you asking God to inform your day? Do you bring your To Do list to him each morning to see what He would prioritize as most important? Are you working to overcome your temptations? No prayer? It’s killing us.

Mistake Number 7: An Undisciplined Lifestyle

There’s a reason the early church practiced disciplines. Those who had been with Jesus knew the only way to live as He did was to practice what He did and taught. The only way to get good at it is to keep practicing. Besides reading Scripture and praying, here are some disciplines we must practice: purity, gentleness, perseverance, forgiveness, and frugality  (not an exhaustive list). A good place to start is by reading an old classic, Discipline and Discovery, by Albert E. Day,[1] or other devotional volumes that have stood the test of time.

“Undisciplined,” you say? “You should see my daily schedule. I get up before dawn to go to the gym. I commute long hours to work…” Let me interrupt this recitation to point out that many of us are disciplined about these things, but we are not disciplined in training ourselves to be like Jesus.

The cost of this enormous vacuum in our lives is staggering. One study shows that the lifestyles of evangelical Christians are hardly different than those of non Christians.[2] How can this be? Many have no governor on their entertainment and viewing habits. They live the same, act the same, and drink the same, watch the same movies, television programs and pornography, and divorce just as much. Perhaps this is so because we have adopted the culture’s values and abandoned those of Christ. And this happens because the culture has absorbed us to the point that our souls are withering and dying and we don’t even know it. We must be savvy about the lessons of R-rated films are teaching us. It broke my heart to read a recent post on Facebook from a missionary asking if the film “Fifty Shades of Gray” was as good as the book! I immediately thought of Samson from the book of Judges who wandered so far from God that God left him and he didn’t even know it.[3]

Mistake Number 8: Rely on ourselves rather than God.

Perhaps it’s to be expected that we Americans are self-reliant. We place huge importance on making your own way and sticking it out. Such independence helped settle the American West and win World War II. When it comes to faith, however, independence is deadly.

God-reliance is the central pillar that supports our faith. He is first, ever and always. Paul understood and practiced this. In Colossians he writes, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.[4]

We love and believe this Scripture, but do we fail to grasp how it should affect our lives? This means that the first order of business is prayer. Trouble? Pray. Sickness? Pray. Misunderstanding? Pray. National election? Pray. Work issues? Pray. I have at times felt guilty about praying too much!  Yep. “I shouldn’t bring this trivial little thing to God. He has more important things to do.” Have you ever thought that? Or how about this, “I have been a Christian so long I should know how to handle this by now.” This line of thinking may appear righteous but it is seriously misinformed about where our strength comes from.

You and I will never be wise enough, strong enough, or clever enough to make it on our own. NEVER!

Mistake Number 9: Defend sin rather than confess it.

Probably every Christian has at some time done this. I have. When we are convicted that something is wrong or displeasing to God, we quickly make excuses why in our case it isn’t so bad. We are masters of rationalization and artists at fooling ourselves into believing that our sin isn’t really a “sin.” “While for someone else gossiping is bad, I am really just sharing a prayer request.” “You know, no one should get hooked on pornography, but my sexual appetite is especially strong and has to have an outlet.” “I’m going to see this movie to understand the culture.” “I would help the homeless if I just weren’t so repulsed by their cardboard pleas for assistance. And who knows? They are probably making a lot of money standing there by the freeway exit.” “I know that the Bible teaches against living together unless you’re married, but it makes financial sense for us to do it.”

As a former pastor, I am sadly aware that many longtime Christians hide secret sins—as though God suspends judgment of our sins because we’re so special! Don’t fool yourself. All sin is abhorrent to God. It always will be. C. S. Lewis said it eloquently, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”[5]

God, help us rush to obedience rather than to sin. Help us readily and immediately repent of any sin the Holy Spirit brings to our attention. May we, unlike Esau,[6] not give away God’s priceless salvation as he gave away his birthright because of an appetite we refuse to control.

Mistake Number 10: Living a Life Devoid of God-Worship

America is becoming a nation of image-fixated narcissists living with an entitlement mentality who put themselves above everything else. It’s more than a trend. It’s a frame of mind that infects us from the time as one-year olds we starting putting selfies on our Facebook page (helped by a doting parent) to the time we become senior citizens complaining about the quality of a free meal delivered to our doorstep. Materialism has so mesmerized us that we think it’s just a personality quirk to have 150 pairs of shoes or normal to post hundreds of photos of oneself on line every week.

Someone without God on the throne will put something or someone else, usually himself or herself, on the throne. We have added God to our long list of other possessions and give him a share of our time and attention. Incredibly, we feel good about having God as part of our lives as we apportion him a pathetically miniscule amount of thought. How arrogant we are to think God can be possessed or that we do him an honor to make him a tiny part of our lives! Read Job 38 to be reminded of who God is. The Bible is exceptionally clear on the disastrous outcome of idolatry. “Everyone [who makes idols] is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish.”[7] Paul wrote, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry [italics mine] and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition [italics mine], dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.[8]

Every day we must remind ourselves that God is everything and we are nothing (but God elevates us to the position of his heirs alongside Jesus Christ because He loves us).We must consciously carve out time to worship, to meditate on God, to read His Word, and to pray. We must ask Him to reveal to us our selfishness, pride, egotism, and arrogance; then repent and humbly acknowledge and worship him.

We have lived in an age of ease in which Christian faith has been the norm. That time is over. A tiny faith built on little prayers that only seek personal benefit will not survive the times ahead. The Bible and history teach us that Christians will be persecuted and that our faith is made strong through suffering. Let’s stop whining about how the pagan world should faun over us (aka Starbucks red cup nonsense). Instead resolve today to love God wholeheartedly and abandon small dreams whose only focus is your happiness. Launch yourself into the bracing oceans of life where God’s wonders will be discovered[9] and stop paddling around in the stale tide pools of self-indulgence.

[1] Available for one cent on Amazon.com!

[2] http://www.christiantoday.com/article/american.study.reveals.indulgent.lifestyle.christians.no.different/9439.htm

[3] Judges 16:20

[4] Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)

[5] The Great Divorce, HarperOne; New edition (April 21, 2015).

[6] Genesis 25:29-34

[7] Jeremiah 10:14-15

[8] Galatians 5:19-21

[9] Psalm 107:23-24

Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 1)

Magnifying glass title copyToday is my seventy-first birthday. Funny, I never imagined myself as seventy-one. Old people are achy and wrinkled but I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me. Old people are forgetful and love thinking about the “good old days.” But me? Yep. The Dave Shultz of 1962, the year I graduated from high school, could not have imagined my life today. But here I am, and here you are, changed, different, learning to adjust. And don’t get too comfortable, because more changes are on the way. “Change is the only constant in life” was first penned by Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about 500 years before Christ was born. Apparently the ubiquity of change hasn’t changed!

In this everything-is-changing environment, many say that the church also needs to change, perhaps even that Christian beliefs should change. What, exactly, does that mean? What should change? And what should not?

Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. One of its fundamental characteristics is that it does not change. Imagine! In an environment of chaos, there is something eternal, everlasting, and altogether predictable. When we get up every morning we have no ideas what changes will come that day. The dog may throw up on the carpet. We may meet the person we’ll marry. You just never know. Wouldn’t it be good news to have something that is ageless and utterly dependable? We do: God’s Word.

Yet many question whether there is absolute truth anywhere. I choose to believe what God’s Word says about itself and what Jesus says about it. The Psalms declare, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”[1]  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the living Word of God[2] and Hebrews proclaims that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[3] If you choose to believe this, you are also choosing to believe that Christ and His Word are unchangeable and eternal.

I’m taking the time to lay this quick foundation because it is absolutely essential that we Christians comprehend and embrace it. If we don’t, we’re toast. Here are ten huge mistakes Christians are making.

Mistake Number 1: Ignore the Bible

Christians are in trouble if we don’t know what the Bible says. It is astonishing how few Christians have committed any verses to memory. Many could not tell you how many books are in the New Testament or what they are. We confuse the Bible with colloquial proverbs like, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Many would be hard put to turn to any verses that explain their own salvation. We know it’s in there, but we’re not sure where. Do you read the Bible regularly? Have you read through the Bible? What did Jesus teach about Himself? The Bible is eternal and provides the only sure hope for our future. We ignore it at our peril.

Mistake Number 2: Substitute Reason for Faith.

Repeatedly Scripture tells us that truth is not perceived by wisdom, but by faith.[4] Even so, the Christian belief system is staggering under the onslaught of our culture that demands that we accept its norms as our own. Shockingly, many Christians are buying into this mindset. We believe that the world’s brightest minds understand more than the Bible. If science says it’s true, then it must be so. If God cannot be proved, then maybe…and we wonder. If there are so many religions, then…and we wonder. If so many people say it…and we wonder.  Hear again Paul’s proclamation to a church that was infatuated with sin: “For the message of the cross is foolishness 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; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’”[5]

Mistake Number 3: Fail to form a personal relationship with God.

I could never begin to describe what my friendship with God means to me. We are in constant communication. I love him with every fiber of my being. He is my number one encourager and friend. For me Jesus is highly personal and the Holy Spirit is an ever-present helper. Because of this, I want to please him and show him that I love him. I know that He is taking care of me now and always. I can’t wait to meet Him in Heaven. My first priority in the morning is to be with him. It’s not something I have to do. It’s something I get to do! The apostle John writes about this intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about.”[6]

In every church I’ve pastored there were people who had no idea this was even possible. For them Christianity was keeping the rules and trying to be good. How tragic!

Mistake Number 4: Pick and choose what you like about Christianity.

Large congregations of Christians meet every Sunday firmly believing that if they serve God that he will bless them with money and cars. Or that every Christian will be healed. Or that Jesus loves people so much that He will abandon the whole redemption thing and just take us all to heaven.[7]

Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, believed that God had created the world but no longer intervened directly in daily life. “In fact, Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents. So Jefferson created his own gospel by taking a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy.”[8]  Sad that such a brilliant man thought he knew more about the Bible than those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Are we doing the same thing? Fornication is practiced by unbelievable numbers of Christians. And what is fornication? Sleeping with anyone to whom you are not married. The Bible says it is a sin, period. Society says it isn’t. So we cut out the part of Scripture that condemns our lifestyle.

Mistake Number 5: No Church Attendance

A few years ago we met a couple who, like us, were new in town and looking for a home congregation. They stayed a few months and left. We run into them now and then, but they have stopped looking. The husband who, according to his wife, “studies Greek and Hebrew,” can’t find a church worthy of them. Really?  One gets the idea that he would advise Jesus on his theology.

Finding a group of Bible-believers and meeting with them regularly is essential to your faith. We need the messages (even if they don’t meet our lofty standards), the singing, the scripture, and the fellowship. We need people to pray for us and we need to pray for them. Christians are the body of Christ. If my hand were chopped off it would die without the body to sustain it. We need the discipline of getting up and by so doing tell ourselves that our faith is as important as going to work or watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

(Look for Part II coming soon)

[1] Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)

[2] John 1:1-14

[3] Hebrews 13:8

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

[6] 1 John 1:1 J. B. Phillips New Testament

[7] See Luke 13:23-25

[8] Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/#usdk1IlI0PMkwTB6.99

That was then. This is now.

Why we must accept change in our lives.

Ray, Beulah, and Ree as a baby
My mother as a baby with her father and birth mother.

My mother was a remarkable woman. Her mother died of cancer when my mom was six and her only sister, Ruth, was three. She had three stepmothers, two of whom also died while she was still at home. No one spoke to her about her losses as was the pattern of that generation. My grandfather was a wonderful man, but times were different then and he was dealing with his own grief. My mother was launched into adulthood, a naïve young girl without even the slightest idea of what caused pregnancy. A gifted pianist and devout Christian, she went to Anderson College[1]) with a strong faith in God and hope for the future

CW & Ree separate college photos finished
Mom and Dad in college

There she met my father, Clair Shultz. He was the youngest of seven children in a family hit hard by the depression. Inventive and mischievous, he went to college because a Sunday school teacher saw his potential and talked him into it. Mom fell for his pranks, like putting firecrackers under her dorm room door, and they were married in 1935 on a Christmas Day when it was four below zero.

Their ministerial career began with the pastorate of a small church in Noblesville, Indiana. Two short-term Minnesota pastorates followed, after which they decided to apply for missionary service in Trinidad, British West Indies (where I was raised). Later assignments included some time in Jamaica and then in Kenya, East Africa. They learned Swahili in their 50s.

Change everywhere.

I never realized until just before my father’s death that Mom was the strong one in the family. She endured tropical storms, tarantulas on the front porch, rats the size of housecats in the kitchen, and the near-death of her infant son with whooping cough. She taught Sunday school with flannel graphs, did the mission bookkeeping, and helped start a Bible training school. She also managed the onslaught of change that characterized the rest of her life. One of her biggest challenges was when my sister and I, each at the age of thirteen, were sent back to the States to go to school.

In every place she lived, she had to change. She changed families (thinking of young missionaries as her kids), cultures, and devastating accidents. She traveled around the world more than once, documenting her travels in aerograms written in her delicate hand on airplanes and from distant hotels.

Mom Shultz for obituary
Mom five years before she died

Her biggest adjustments came after she and Dad retired. She was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis, a disease which gradually robbed her of mobility: first a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair for more than twenty years. We watched her and Dad downsize from a three-bedroom home (filled with shells from Barbados and zebra skin rugs from Africa) into a two bedroom condo (with spacious bedrooms), and then into an apartment in an assisted living facility. Always she went to something smaller, something less. She gave away her favorite Blue Danube dishes, her bronze flatware from Thailand, and her Chinese buffet. When Dad died at 93 (she was 92) she downsized into an efficiency and finally, no longer able to manage on her own, into skilled care; first a private room and then a double. She gave up e-mail—her lifeline to others—and her checkbook. We watched her gradual devolvement and sometimes joked about her unwillingness to relinquish a final bookshelf of Bibles and well-worn favorites. Pneumonia precipitated her move to skilled care. Now totally cared for by others, her life had shrunk from the entire world to a hospital bed. Gradually dementia shuttered even that world. She died in 2011 at the age of 97.

That was then. This is now

I first heard the phrase, “That was then. This is now,” when they started downsizing. More and more frequently she said the words as if to remind herself that change is inevitable and fighting it is pointless. One of her caregivers, who also was a close friend, marveled frequently that Mom never complained about her disease or her losses. When we asked her about missing Dad, she would say, “That was then. This is now.” To a woman who years before had sacrificed her children to serve the Lord, the scriptural pattern had become her bucket list. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21). I see these words as one of my mother’s greatest legacies to me.

We spend so much time resisting change and complaining about circumstances. We gripe about the neighbors who never mow their lawn and we worry about the solvency of Social Security. We desperately hope that cancer won’t knock on our door and that no one in our family will die too soon. We’re sad to think that the children will grow up, spread their wings and fly away, and then complain when they move back home. Living out my days in a nursing home with overworked nurses and hallways that smell like urine is one of my biggest fears is. I think many have that fear.

If truth be told, we cannot do much about most of these things. But a life lived in fear is no life worth living and I think we underestimate our resiliency and inner resources to adapt to change. The human race has endured the unspeakable in wars and concentration camps. Foreclosures have left us homeless, wars have left us childless, and disease and accidents have left us with lifelong pain. History teaches us, if we will pay attention, that even with such loss and pain people rise above and beyond to find meaning and make a difference. I want to be one of these people.

Things to Remember

  • Enjoy the life you have.

With all of the loss and pain you may have endured, there are good things to celebrate. Try to think about what you have instead of what you don’t have. Thank God for your body, even if it is disabled or ravaged by disease. It’s the only one you have and you need to make peace with it. I’m not saying that life is easy or that you can think positively and change circumstances. Life is hard. But you are a survivor. That was then. This is now.

  • Don’t play the “If only” game.

Many spend their lives wishing things were different. “If only I had married differently.” “If only my daughter had not been in the car with the drunken driver.” “If only…” we can do this for years and it changes nothing. We must grieve our pain—with help, if necessary—but we eventually can make peace with our past. That was then. This is now.

  • Find a creative outlet.

God made you to create. He is The Creator and has made you in His image. Creating things, whether writing a poem or rebuilding a car, is extremely healing. I have written about depression in another blog, and I will be writing about living with pain in another. What I know is that deciding to begin blogging has changed my perspective remarkably. It has given me a place to process my past and to gain perspective from all those gracious enough to respond. What creative things can you do?

  • Reestablish your faith.

Downsize your wants and stop accumulating. Beauty fades. Riches are fleeting. Anchor your life to what no one can take away. Reach out for God and you will find him. How wealthy is that person who invests in eternity!

C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Bingo. It is my contention that the Bible offers the best future for any of us. Those who cast their lot in with Jesus Christ are assured of life forever with him, above and beyond pain, sickness, and death. And it gives me great joy to think of Mom is heaven, lifting her coffee cup in a toast and saying, “That was then. This is now!”

[1] Now Anderson University http://www.anderson.edu/

Learning to Live without All the Answers

girl-backpack-thinking-sunset-field-fence-moment-field-reeds-hd-fullscreen 2Learning to Live without All the Answers

 I was a young pastor officiating at a funeral for an elderly man I didn’t know. I had met his wife of fifty-plus years once at the baptism of her granddaughter. Although a church member elsewhere, she asked me to do the service and her family pressed me to do so. I agreed.

I had performed maybe three funerals and was inexperienced with people, dying, and grief. At the viewing before the service the widow collapsed onto the open casket and began wailing. Her shrieking made everyone uncomfortable, especially me. I stood nearby without the least idea of who should do something and fearing I was the one. Family members hugged her and encouraged her to move on, but the ear-splitting howling continued unabated. Then I heard the dreaded words, “Where is the pastor?” as unfamiliar people looked around, no one imagining that the timid twenty-something in the corner was a clergyman.

You know, I don’t even remember what happened. Later the emotionally spent widow with streaking mascara reached for my hand and said, “Why, Pastor, why? He was a good man. How could God do this to me? I stammered something inane and looked for an exit. Somehow we got through the service and I went home, sobered and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I think what baffled me was being the answer man with no answer. Why did her husband die? He was suddenly gone leaving a gaping hole in her life. I hadn’t been to seminary yet, but even when I went I don’t remember any classes on dealing with hysterical people. Or any kind of people. Too bad.

Why do we use clichés?

It’s at times like these, when we don’t know what else to say, that Christians blurt out those clichés that help no one: “God has a reason,” for example. Or when a child has died, somebody says the inevitable and embarrassing “God needed another angel.” Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God kidnaps children to make angels. We are quick to quote this well-intentioned but inaccurate bomb: “The Lord never gives you more than you can handle.” We might even share this non-biblical quote by Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” with “When God closes a door, He opens a window.”

So why do we use clichés? Christian Piatt, a minister in Portland, Oregon, writes about this. “Christians hate loose ends. We want to end every conversation with everyone smiling and assured that everything will be just fine. But that’s not always reality, and sometimes, what people need is to grieve, wrestle or reflect rather than feel better and move on. Being a Christian is not about having all the answers at the ready.”[1]

Just like I felt I had to do something at the funeral with the distressed widow, we find ourselves ill equipped at times of grief or trouble. Yet we feel we have to provide answers. Not knowing what else to say, we share those time worn phrases that help no one and sometimes aren’t even biblical.

Another discerning writer says we feel obligated to have an answer, but, “Sometimes there simply are no appropriate words, and we just need to listen.”[2] Over the years I am learning that silence more often than not is golden. People in crisis usually are not asking for answers. What they need is from us is presence. It’s okay to be silent, cry with someone, or simply hug them.

Developing a Mature Faith

When we are insecure in what we believe we are easily challenged by crisis. Unsure of what the Bible says, we exist on maxims and a cursory understanding of God and our faith. Such childish faith collapses quickly when difficulties come: tragedies like incurable illness, family breakup, or mental illness. And they will come to everyone.

Does God allow suffering? Yes. Why? We cannot know his reasons. Does He love us? Without question! Then what do I do with this seeming ambiguity? I must learn to live with it. I must consider the life experiences of those who suffer. I must faithfully study the Bible and learn how God interacted with people throughout history and also study how He interacts with me. Faith is not easy. Faith is not a formula: so much prayer equals so many blessings. We all must grapple with tough times so that our faith will grow strong enough to sustain us and our families.

The Upside of Failed Faith

I have shared in an earlier blog about my depression and its drastic effect in my life and my family’s life. One monumental trigger more than any other pulled the rug out from under me: I lost confidence in my Christian experience. Life events swerved me off the road and I crashed. You could say it this way: the maxims and clichés that were part of my faith—not all of my faith, mind you—were revealed as stunningly inadequate

Now, years later, I say that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. My dark night of the soul has helped me come to a healthier and more balanced understanding of God and faith. I will not quote this to someone in crisis but I do believe in the truth of Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” God does work in mysterious ways. After all, He is God and light years beyond any capacity on our part to understand Him. Yet He daily reveals Himself to me and reminds me that I—and you—are precious to Him and worth far more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianpiatt/2012/07/ten-antidotes-to-christian-cliches

[2] Mary Fairchild @http://christianity.about.com/od/faithinaction/qt/Christian-Phrases.htm

The Devastation of Depression

depressed man  It was 2002 and the first Monday of our keenly anticipated summer vacation when I noticed sudden, severe back pain. In less than a week I was in the ER, near death, and diagnosed with sepsis, double pneumonia, kidney failure, and bacterial meningitis. Four days later I woke up in ICU, beginning a long recovery with months of intravenous antibiotics and physical therapy. Miraculously, I survived, thanks to excellent medical treatment and praying friends.
In much the same way twelve years earlier depression blindsided me in the middle of a wonderful career as the pastor of a growing, exciting congregation. But whereas the meningitis is long gone with no after effects, the depression lingers after more than fifteen years of antidepressants, psychotherapy, and a loyal, loving, and incredibly patient wife. After a hiatus from pastoral ministry, I returned, but never regained my enthusiasm, joy, or energy. My wife tells me I have difficulty relating to anyone on an emotional level. It seems depression has permanently blunted my emotions and crippled intimacy on many levels.

Already an introvert, I only wanted to be alone. I avoided conflict and was (am still) unable to watch any movie or play with stressful relationships. People exhaust me and many days I could be happy staring at the horizon with only the dog for company. I can no longer serve on committees or take leadership.

How do I, a Christian, handle depression when all my life I was taught that prayer works and God heals? What caused this catastrophic emotional typhoon, the devastation of which keeps on robbing me and my family from the joyful companionship we long enjoyed?

Causes of Depression

 (Disclaimer: I am neither a medical professional nor a psychologist and only share what I am learning from reading, counseling, and personal experience.)

Actually, depression is a normal part of the ups and downs of life. For example, after a stressful tennis match, business meeting, or extremely busy event, the body goes into mild depression to help you recover. Too much stimulation causes adrenaline flow which, if left unchecked, can physically and emotionally damage you. But after a day off, a nap, or a vacation, you are recharged and ready to go.

Harmful depression is triggered by certain experiences that make you feel trapped. Depression builds when these stressful situations, relationships, or events occur so often or rapidly that there is no recovery time, creating a downward spiral of worsening depression which can become impossible to overcome. This downward spiral often builds over many years in which a person feels trapped by abuse, work, a bully, bad health, or family stress until suddenly your coping ability implodes and you collapse emotionally.

One counselor explained it to me this way. Suppose you are in a swimming pool and someone throws you a beach ball (stressful event) that you must hide. You hold it under the water with no problem. Then another beach ball comes. You hold it down. Then another, and another, and another, until…..you can’t hold them down (cope) any more. They shoot to the surface (you can no longer function). Depression becomes chronic when the chemical imbalance in your system caused by stress or your emotional triggers becomes permanent.

My depression developed both from experiences as a child of missionary parents and an obsessive compulsive nature that wanted to keep everyone happy. Pastoring a church places you in a wonderful place of being able to help, encourage, and guide people to a fulfilling, life-changing relationship with God. I loved that. What I did not know how to handle was conflict, disagreements, the stress of building facilities we no longer had money for, displeasing people with different theologies, and managing staff and volunteers with emotional needs I could not fathom. Added to this was a growing discovery of longstanding anger at my parents for sending me and my sister away to school while we were only children, resentment against those with impossible demands, and the fatal misunderstanding that a good Christian (and pastor!) should never be angry. Up came the beach balls and I was totally incapacitated.

Surviving Depression

When my depression slammed me to the mat, my congregation responded with grace, support, and love. They granted me a three-month leave and recommended seeing a counselor. Soon after I moved to a different career and began taking antidepressants, all which have been part of the survival process. In that time—and the many years since–I have begun to recognize the triggering events. I have read widely, counseled with some wonderful counselors, and asked my family to forgive me—a continuous process.

  • I am blessed to have an extremely supportive and loving family. They have stuck with me through thick and thin. Thank you, family!
  • Feedback from those who know you well and a good counselor will help you understand and recognize the triggers that set you off. Understanding your past and the causes of repressed anger is vital to coping as life continues. There are many excellent resources available and I have read many. Particularly helpful was the book Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No to take control of your life[1]. Personality tests, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Personality Inventory[2], were a revelation to me.
  • Antidepressants are a lifesaver. Do not hesitate to talk with your doctor about these. The stigma surrounding these has largely disappeared, but some people still feel that you should get over your depression and get off the medicine. Not true. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will tell you the medicine is for life. It’s the same with antidepressants.
  • As a lifelong Christian, it has been crucial for me to understand God’s grace and to accept imperfection. Many Christians still play the tapes from their childhood or particular denomination that condemn failure of faith and shun those who don’t fit the mold.
  • It’s okay to be who I am, even if I’m depressed.
  • The world is still beautiful. God’s love and grace are sufficient. He loves me—and you—the way we are, not the way we’re “supposed to be.”
  • Life is still meaningful, even with depression, and I am learning to sing songs again. I call them Night Songs.

[1] Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Zondervan, © Henry Cloud and John Townsend. See www.zondervan.com.

[2] See www.myersbriggs.org