The Gift of Depression

Posted: May 23, 2015 in Depression

Christmas gift box on wooden table

Depression. You may know someone who suffers it, but you don’t know it till it has coiled it’s fingers around your neck and slowly squeezed as it held you down for weeks, months, years….

It is relentless. It is chaotic. It drives out every comfort from before your eyes and it rubs out every coherent thought from your mind. It follows you like a bored 5 year old down every hallway and into every corner and then it traps you there, rummaging through your pockets and stealing every illusion of control over your own life that you thought you had. It empties you of every ounce of pride and robs you of every trace of self esteem, and it strips you of any self reliance. It rips out your ability to feel emotion like an aborted child is ripped from the womb and tosses it unceremoniously in the trash.

Depression takes everything.

For some it happens quick, like a trigger on a gun, while standing in line to buy salmon or when taking a bath or driving to work. For others, like me, it develops over time.  We can feel it sneaking up on us…we try to build a defence with bricks made of jello. Your brain chases its tail like a crazed juvenile canine, running in circles, slobbering everywhere, digging up the yard looking for a bone of reasons, explanations, and answers. But eventually your faith falters, and face plants in the dirt. You can’t find that bone, it is just not there, and soon doubts crop up, they cloud your vision. You question, beg, and plead. You cling to your own strength. You scream out to God, “Help me!” And when he doesn’t answer us the way we want, doubt sets in.  We can hear it when Satan giggles but we don’t care. And when the depression has it’s fingers completely coiled around your neck, you no longer fight it, there are no more gasps, there is no more struggle…and you give in.  You collapse on your bed emotionless, lost, empty.  Clinging to your pillow for comfort, isolated, alone and empty. There is nothing left, but you, your misery, and God, if you can even feel him any more… The dark night of the soul has arrived.

Some make it out alive, some do not.

Everyone involved is hurt.

And I called this a gift.

I stand by it.

Recently I posted a link to an Adam Ford article on Depression and Anxiety on Facebook. Without even thinking about it, I led off with the sentence, “It is interesting to see who God has granted the gift of depression.”  I received a number of responses that depression is not a gift.  I understand why people would question my choice of words.  I mean depression really sucks, it is hell on earth – just read the opening paragraphs for a taste of what I went through! But,  I have come to view depression as a gift – even though I never want to go through it again!

The response to that one little word “gift” was striking to me. I did not expect it as the reformers and puritans clearly taught that suffering is  gift. One person said to me that, “God might use depression, but he does not design it, it is not a gift!”

My response is that it is not enough to simply say that God only uses depression and stop shy of saying that he designs it.

God permitted me to suffer with depression, and what he permits, he permits for a reason…that reason is his design. Think about it. If God is sovereign over everything, he would see the rewiring of neuro-pathways in our brains or the changing equilibrium and chemical imbalance and he would be able to stop it. If he does not stop it, if he permits the trigger to happen that leads to my severe depressive episodes, then he has a purpose in it. And if we confess that God is infinitely wise, which we do, then it is also correct to call His purpose in depression a design. And if he designed it specifically for one of his beloved children, would it not be correct to say that it is a gift?

Some may say, “But it is a result of the fall into sin!  It is caused by Satan!”

Yes, I agree with that. But even if Satan is the one to strike me with depression, it is not ultimately his choice to afflict me.  He must be permitted by God to afflict me, especially since I am one of His covenant children. For instance, when Satan causes Job to suffer with boils he attributes it ultimately to God:

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

At the end of the book of Job, we read that it was not Satan who caused the evil, but the Lord:

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

A hard word to be sure, but through out the Bible we are taught that we will suffer because God willed it.  In Phil. 1:29 Paul inspired the Spirit says,

“For it has been granted to you that for your sake, you should not only believe but suffer.”

John Piper elaborates on this verse by saying about suffering,

“It’s granted to you. It’s given to you. It’s a gift to you with a big bow that you will suffer.”

If my depression is caused by God permitting Satan to afflict me, and the outcome of that depression is that God is glorified, and I am, as Psalm 34 says, lacking in no good thing, that is, that I receive a greater measure of God himself, then I can only view it as a gift from Gods own hand…as much as it sucks and hurts at the time.

Now, just because I believe that the Bible teaches that my depression is a gift designed by God for me, that does not mean I should just grin and bear it. The reality of God’s design is that we also get to cry out in honest anguish to the Lord our redeemer when we suffer. Jesus wept for Lazarus, He weeps when we weep, and he tells us to cast our cares and anxieties upon him. Remember the honest weeping of King David in the Psalms of lament, of King Hezekiah  in Isaiah 38, and of many others through out scripture. These children of God are brutally honest in prayer to God because they know that God is infinitely wise, that he is sovereign over all, and that they have set their hope in him alone.

Yes, depression is a result of the curse. But the gift, the blessing of my depression comes in what God does in, with, and through my depression. He brings his great and merciful gospel of redemption to light right smack dab in the middle of it, onto the stage of the curse. He pulls back the curtains and shows that here on this cursed dark stage stands his Son, beaming in glorious radiance. My depression, in itself, is one of many different ‘shadows of death’ spoken of in the Shepherds Prayer in Psalm 23.  We all have our own shadows of death and valleys…addiction, loss of loved ones, sickness, cancer, and so on. But the beautiful thing in the midst of this ugly sin stained world, whether depression kills us, or cancer kills us, or a terrorist kills us, is that in his beloved covenant children, our gracious and kind Father works a glorious good through our most grievous loss and pain. Sometimes he heals us, always he sustains and preserves us, and he is continually teaching us through our suffering that we might know and love him more deeply and personally. It is here in the midst of our unique “shadows of death”, that the refiner is refining us. It is here that our faith becomes deep and real, and our love becomes purposeful and wise.  It is here in the midst our suffering, my depression, your valley – whatever that may be- that God grants us the greatest gift of all – Himself.

That is why I count my depression as a gift.

 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:2-5

 

SmaugDestroyingLakeTown

The Accuser.

Psst. Hey. Remember when you used to be addicted to pornography? Sure, you confessed it and it’s been a couple years since you looked at it, but you spent like most of your life using it. Every time your wife went out, after she went to bed, in the evenings, whenever you could. You still want to look don’t you? You are sick. Worthless. Adulterer. Sinner. How could God really love you? Would God really forgive you?

Psst. Hey. Remember when you used to drink 8 beers a night and gamble playing poker?  Sure you are sober now, but you gave up so much of your life to alcohol. Evenings drunk, mornings hungover, all day thinking about the next drink… And even though it’s been years, you still want to get drunk. Don’t you? Drunkard. Worthless. Useless. Sinner. How could God really love you? Would God really forgive you?

Psst. Hey. Remember when you cheated your clients out of money? Thief. Lover of money. Worthless.  Useless.  Sinner. How could God really love you? Would God really forgive you?

Psst. Hey. Remember when you…cheated, robbed, stole, gambled, wandered, slandered, lied…

Satan is the accuser. One of his tactics is to bring up your past sins and make you relive the guilt and shame.  He is the father of gossipers. He wants us to doubt our salvation. He hates us and wants to destroy the church.  He may speak through your own thoughts and memories of your past sin, bringing up feelings of guilt and doubt. Or he may focus on a period of stumbling right now, and cause you doubt if the Holy Spirit is working in you. Or he may even speak through the accusations of other people, “I can’t believe that HE has a blog about living a Christian life! Did you hear what he did…”

And the accusations are like the fiery breath flaring from a dragon’s nostrils intent on destroying us.

green-snake-on-treeThe Deceiver.

Not only does he breathe out fiery accusations, but he also hisses deceit as the serpent in the garden.  He is the father of lies. He is the father of slanderers and liars.  The really scary thing is that his deceit is often veiled in a twisted version of the truth.  He does not come to us like Smaug from the Hobbit, screaming, “I am fire, I am death!”  No he is much more subtle.Slithering amongst the goodness of the garden, he tricked Eve by telling her that she would become like God knowing good and evil if she ate the fruit.  It was a half truth aimed at destroying her…thank God for Genesis 3:15!

We also see that Satan knows the Bible very well, and he uses it against us in an effort to destroy our faith. We read that when he tempted the Lord Jesus, he actually argued from Scripture in an effort to destroy Jesus! He said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: He will give his angels charge of you.” That seems crazy, doesn’t it? That Satan would tempt the Son of God using the Word of God? But if history and scripture teach us anything about Satan, it is that rarely will he try to persuade us that the Bible is false; he is too cunning for that. Rather, he often tries to destroy our faith by using a biblical text and using it to lead us astray in some way.

Satan knows that as Christians we obtain life through the Word; so if he is not able to persuade us to stop eating, then he will do his best to poison our food. He knows that the Word of God is our sustenance. So he studies it, he memorizes it, and he uses it against us through slightly twisted misinterpretations that come across as believable truth. Think about it. He actually quoted Psalm 91:11 to Jesus in an effort to trick him!

Do we think we are above Jesus?

We are not (in case you didn’t know).

97025-smaug-daily-affirmation-meme-I-tT0aWhat makes Satan really happy is when he can get Christians to believe twisted half truths from scripture that will destroy our faith. For instance, and especially applicable today, Satan loves it when Christians believe that 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 and other passages teach the prosperity gospel or a health and wealth message.  He loves it when our focus is shifted off of the cross and Jesus to our wallets or ourselves.

OK.

I hope that you are not given to the falsehood of prosperity. Perhaps you are more sound in your doctrine…perhaps, like me, you are Reformed and have a very high view of scripture… perhaps Satan might tempt us to believe twisted things that are closer to actual biblical doctrines.  Maybe he is telling us that Romans 9:14-18 makes evangelism unnecessary because God is sovereign in all things. Have you ever thought that evangelism was unnecessary for this reason? Perhaps Satan twists Ephesians 5 and tempts us to believe that women are inferior to men, and that submission means that men have a God given right to abuse their wives with a crooked hyper-headship and that a wife is to serve her husband like a slave serves her master. Or perhaps Satan will tempt a Christian to continue in sin and not fight against it… because well God will forgive you anyway. Go on, give in to your favourite sin, look at that porn, it’s not really cheating, get drunk, God made the grapes, he will forgive you… John 10:28-30 says it’ll be ok!

So how do we fight against Satan’s accusations and deceit?

r.fireJuly21.two.sdn.7-21We fight fire with fire…or in this case, we fight twisted scripture with the true Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit as it says in Ephesians 6.  It is the weapon Jesus used when He responded to Satan, “Again it is written, you shall not test the Lord your God.” The Word of God is our Weapon of choice.  It is the sword of the Spirit.  It is the only weapon that we can wield against Satan, so we best learn how to handle it in battle.  And it is through our belief in the gospel and our firm confidence in Jesus Christ that we can stand secure in the face of Satan’s lies and accusations. And it is by the truth of the word of God that we can expose and destroy the deceptions of the Deceiver.

 

Satan is real, and he is intent on burning us alive with accusations and destroying us through deception.  Satan’s end game is the destruction of the Church. And even if Satan manages to cause strife and pain in our lives, even if we are martyred for our faith, the salvation and the power and the kingdom and the glory all belong to God and to Jesus our King.  In pain, in strife, even in death we shall overcome Satan, as it states in Revelation, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony…” In the end, Satan cannot have us if God is resolved to hold us. What a great comfort in the midst of this broken world.  Satan may be accusing us before the throne of God, but Jesus is there as well, mediating for us.  When Satan accuses us of sin, “He is an adulterer, a drunkard, a sinner…” Jesus responds, “I bore those sins in my body on the cross. I paid for his life, he belongs to me.”  

So don’t listen to that accusing liar.  Look to Jesus as he is revealed in the Word,  grab the sword of the Spirit, and pick it up!  Learn how to wield it as a warrior and strike the Deceiver with it.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” ~ Romans 8:37-39

 

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Recently, over at Yinkahdinay, Pastor Wes Bredenhof wrote a blog post about issues facing the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC.)  It was met with mixed reaction, as some people thought it was too negative. His first point was that nominalism and Christ-less Christianity are a challenge for us as a federation of churches.  As a former nominal Christian myself, I appreciated this article, and not unlike a recovered cigarette addict (which I also am), I would like to passionately address this point, possibly to your irritation.

I trust that is OK.

Pastor Bredenhof states,

“[For some in the CanRC]Jesus is more of a concept to think about and debate, than a person with whom you relate and to whom you may even speak.  To complicate matters, an emphasis on “covenant obligations” misunderstood only as strict moral imperatives has sometimes led to a twisted conception of Christianity as a system of law-keeping.  Law and gospel become hopelessly confused.  For these reasons, and others, the spirituality of some in the CanRC has far less vitality than one would hope for.”

While I do not think this issue is endemic to only the CanRC – a lot of churches struggle with nominalism among the ranks – it certainly exists within her. How many of us only go to church on Sunday because that is what we are supposed to do? My wife once said something like,

“For most of my life, being Canadian Reformed was only a part of who I was – it was a Sunday thing, going to church twice on Sunday was just what we did. But now being a child of God is who I am. It is everything.”

What she was saying was that she was raised to think a certain way and act a certain way, she professed her faith at the same age as all her friends did because it was expected of her. Jesus was just a nice idea, and the doctrine was in her head, but it was not in her heart.

Are we showing our children that Jesus is more than a mere doctrine and that He is a real person?  That He wants to have a relationship with us?  Are we discipling our children? Do we pray about specific sins we struggle with, about issues facing our kids, do we thank God for the real blessings in our lives? Or do we just say rote prayers at dinner time and sing the same cutesy lullaby prayer every evening at bedtime because that is just what we do? Do our lives reveal the truth of the doctrine of the antithesis? Do our lives show that we are different from the World? For how many of us has the Christian life become, as Pastor Bredenhof stated, just a “system of law keeping?” Do we, by our lives, show that Lord’s Day 1 actually means something to us? That in Jesus we truly do find our only comfort?

Baptismal Regeneration and Presumptive Regeneration

infant_baptism-600x398“Baptismal Regeneration” is the Roman Catholic teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. Specifically, that through baptism, a person is forgiven of original and actual sin, and is spiritually regenerated. Once baptized, a person is then able to receive the other sacraments and come to faith. In short, this is the belief that baptism saves.

The Kuyperian view of “Presumptive Regeneration” is that baptism takes place based on the presumption that the child being baptized already has the seed of regeneration.

The CanRC does not teach either of these views. It is doubtful that there are many, if any, among the CanRC who would say that baptism saves. Nor would we say that we baptize our children based on the belief that they are already regenerate. But if we are honest, it does seem to be an issue that some of us are functional Kuyperians when it comes to baptism.

Why would this be an issue?

Possibly because there is so much comfort to be found in the promises of the covenant. The covenant is a beautiful thing. I believe in the covenant and that this is God’s means of communicating with his people the truth of the gospel and engaging in relationship with them. I defend the covenant and its promises. It is true that by virtue of the Covenant that a baptized child belongs to God. But perhaps sometimes we, as Canadian Reformed parents, presume that our children are regenerate and will grow to be faithful believers, simply because of the covenant promises stated at baptism.

It would be easy to do!

And if we do, then we may see no need to actually disciple our children. We may see no need to tell our children that they must be born again and come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The promises of the covenant that are stated at baptism are true, but the obligation of the covenant is to take responsibility for your faith.

My pastor, Abel Pol, describes this as the difference between having a cheque written for you and cashing it in at the bank. With the covenant come the promises of God.  These promises are like a cheque written out with your name on it and given to you as a covenant child.  But if you keep that cheque in your wallet and only take it out and look at from time to time – it does you no good!  You can’t buy anything with. You have to take the cheque to the bank and cash it in.  Only then will it be of any value to you personally.

Hyper-Covenantism

William Young, a retired minister in the Free Church of Scotland, wrote an article entitled, Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinsim. This is a Scottish Presbyterian’s view of the Kuyperian line of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands with regard to “experimental religion.”

Wait.  What is “experimental religion?”

Good question!

bigstock_Test_tubes_closeup_on_blue_bac_16096115“Experimental” does not indicate experimenting with Christianity. Nor does it imply trying out other churches or denominations until we find one that suits our taste. Experimental is an old word, which essentially indicates that if we belong to Christ, we not only read and confess the truth of Scripture, but we are also enabled by the Holy Spirit to verify and enter into those truths in our own Christian experience. This experience is not a mere emotion or feeling, or sobbing of tears, or clapping of hands, but an experience of daily conversion, of heartfelt grief at offending a holy God, of seeking our covering in the blood of Jesus Christ, and of growing in sanctification by the Holy Spirit. It is engaging in a real and personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Word.

What I found interesting is that in a portion of his article, a charge of what Young calls “hyper-covenantism” is levied against those who are descendants of the liberation led by Klaas Schilder (which would also include the CanRC). This article is 40 years old, which is a generation and a half ago, so things may be different now, but I think it is still somewhat relevant. If you enjoy history and theology, this article is worth a read.

I digress.

“Hyper-covenantism” is described as the view that children are regenerate by virtue of being born and raised in the covenant community. Perhaps we are guiltier of this more so than any unspoken error in our view concerning baptism. Young writes that in a system of “hyper- covenantism,”

“Doctrinal knowledge and ethical conduct according to the Word of God are sufficient for the Christian life without any specific religious experience of conviction of sin and conversion, or any need for self-examination as to the possession of distinguishing marks of saving grace.”

As a result, for some in CanRC circles, experimental Christianity is often considered to be unimportant. In fact, we tend to accuse those ‘other’ Reformed churches around us of being wrong for being too experimental by demanding some form of “experience” or “proof of conversion” prior to profession of faith.  Now I certainly agree that experience is not necessary for profession of faith, but a living relationship with Jesus Christ certainly is. The question could be asked, “Is it possible to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ, and to have the Holy Spirit indwell a person, without having any experience whatsoever?”

I would say no.

The Bible clearly teaches that if the Holy Spirit indwells a believer, he will be changed and bear fruit. There will be evidence. As a result of the view that experience is not important, for some the Christian life has been boiled down to simply being a member of the church, engaging in church activities, and living a moral life, rather than in engaging in a personal, covenantal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Young goes on to say that,

“A sharp theoretical cleavage may be drawn between regeneration and conversion, but in practice the child will be regarded as already converted or as being gradually and imperceptibly converted. The practice of the Christian school and catechetical training will be determined by this view, and will terminate in the expectation that the young adult will automatically make confession of faith and go to the Lord’s table. A system for breeding Pharisees, whose cry is “We are Abraham’s children,” could hardly be better calculated.”

That is a sobering allegation to say the least.  I feel it is a harsh criticism as it is not true for all of us to be sure, but we do well to consider it and examine our hearts.  Satan is the deceiver after all, and this would be one slick tactic to use on his part. Are we raising our kids to be Pharisees? Are we raising our kids to be nominal Christians? Or are we raising them to love the Lord Jesus?

I must clarify, that there are certainly pitfalls to embracing experimental Christianity. For instance, those members who are weaker in the faith may not find comfort in the promises of God because, perhaps, they have not had an identifiable conversion experience. Or perhaps in order to fit in they make up a story about having an experience, or they feel that God does not love them. In this system a person may become too inward focused, looking for evidence of salvation within themselves, rather than looking to Christ as he is revealed in the Word.

I am not saying that we need to throw out the baby with the baptismal water. What I am saying is let’s ensure that the way we raise our children is in line with what we read in the Bible and that we point to Christ as we raise them. Our kids are not saved simply because we had them baptized, raised them in the covenant community, had them catechized, and they professed their faith once upon a time.  We are not saved simply because we keep the covenant obligations as a system of law keeping.We are saved because of Jesus. We are saved because we believe that Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself and died and rose again in order to restore us to life and relationship with him. We are saved because he wants to have a personal relationship with us.

So what is the solution to this issue of presumptive regeneration and the charge of hyper-covenantism?  To quote Pastor Wes Bredenhof again,

“It starts with each of us examining ourselves and our attitude towards the Word.  Do we really love the Word of God?  Is it delightful for us to read and study it personally?  Do we love to hear the voice of our Saviour speaking through the preaching?  Do we humbly submit to that Word as children respecting their exalted Father, as subjects respecting their majestic King, as creatures respecting their sovereign Creator?  Healthy, joyful, gospel-centered, outward-looking, God-honouring churches are produced by the Word of God and its impact on individual believers.  No good for ourselves or others will ever come from neglecting the Scriptures.”

Do we love the Word of God?

Do we delight in Jesus?

Do we pray in solitude?

Do we have healthy, joyful, gospel-centered, outward-looking, God-honouring homes?

If we do, let’s demonstrate this to our kids. Let’s make the Christian life real for them. Let’s live it. Let’s disciple them. Let’s encourage them as they grow to take responsibility for their faith and to cash in the cheque that the Lord has written them, and live out the covenant obligations out of thankfulness for what Jesus has wrought for them.

 

Grief For Glory

Posted: May 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Why does life sometimes hurt so much? Or maybe some might prefer to ask: why does life so often hurt so much?

Peter tells us that trials are God’s way of testing our faith. A precious metal can be heated so that it liquifies and impurities can be skimmed off. In much the same way God uses trials to purify our hearts and lives. Trials make us more dependent on God. They change us so that we are better equipped to praise and glorify and honour Christ, both now and forever.

Trials, therefore, are things we can rejoice in (James 1). A craftsman will not bother to purify worthless fools gold. If we are being tested by God, it means that He considers us as precious in His sight.

Don’t work against God by complaining and lashing out in your suffering. Work with Him by prayerfully seeking to understand how this particular trial is helping you to identify areas of your heart and life where you need to grow in sanctification. Ask Him and expect Him to use the trial to remove those impurities and make you grow in grace. Ask Him for grace to be able to praise Him in your suffering; to be able to praise Him *for* your suffering. He will give it, because that is His purpose for you: to lift you up to ever higher and more ineffably glorious heights of holy, pure, intensely focussed praise and worship. Yes, He purposes to prepare you for worshipping Him perfectly for ever and ever with the angels and all the saints.

“… you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

This meditation was written by Ken Wieske, missionary pastor of the Canadian Reformed Church at Aldergove to Recife, Brazil.

Blessed-are-those-that-mourn-by-StudioJRU

“Blessed are those who mourn. For they shall be comforted.” ~ Matthew 5:4

Do you mourn? Presently? Right now? I bet you do.

There are many griefs in this life. There are many things to mourn over.

Perhaps your husband was killed by a drunk a driver and there is a gaping hole in your life, not to mention financial distress. Perhaps your wife left you for another man, and your children have been poisoned against you. Your heart has been shattered. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe you are suffering some kind of social or racial injustice. Maybe you keep having miscarriages, or are unable to have children. Perhaps you have been raped or are daily suffering at the hands of an abuser. Maybe you are alone. Perhaps you have cancer, or a mental illness, disability, the weight of caring for a disabled child or spouse for years or a lifetime.

Regardless of what your pain is, the fact is we all mourn, believers and unbelievers alike.

So what is Jesus saying here?

How could he say that if we mourn we’ll be blessed? It has been 15 years since your wife left and you still have no comfort about that. Your children won’t speak to you, how can you find comfort in that? You suffer chronic pain and there is no easing it, sleep comes only with medication, where is the blessing and the comfort that Jesus speaks of?

sackcloth-and-ashesIn the Old Testament God often calls his people to repent in sackcloth and ashes. Sackcloth and ashes were symbols of grief and mourning. When someone lost a spouse or a child they would put on sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes. So what Jesus is saying is that when we weep within our heart of hearts over our sins, if we grieve like a mother who lost her child, we’ll be comforted. Do we mourn our personal sin? Or do we cover it up? Do we try to do a nice thing to make up for it, or do we grieve that we have sinned against a holy God? Do we mourn over our collective sin as a society? Do we mourn the unborn children being sacrificed on the alter of choice? Or do we look away? Do we grieve over sin as much as we do over its effects?

As Christians there is no time we are not mourning over sin and its effect.

But there’s good news in our mourning. Jesus promises that when we mourn, we will be comforted. What he is saying is that he will always be comforting us.

My Reformed friends will be familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism, which, summarizing the gospel, teaches us in the first question and answer:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

We find our comfort in Jesus.

imagesHe has purchased us with his blood, and what that means is that we are forgiven of all our sins and set free from its enslaving power! All this sin we mourn over, he tells us that we are forgiven. And that is a great comfort. Not only are we forgiven, but we know that God is sovereign in all things, so that when we mourn the effect of sin – sickness and death – we can find comfort knowing that there is nothing in all creation which Jesus is not in control of. Our Lord has also left us His Spirit. That life giving Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives within us, renewing us, sanctifying us, increasing our love, helping us to grow in image of Christ.

All of this to say, that while we groan under the effects of the fall, and we put on sackloth and ashes and mourn that we have grieved a holy God, the present reality of the blessing of the Kingdom of Christ is that there is no time when He is not near to us, embracing us, and comforting us as we mourn.  Jesus will put off our sackcloth, he will wipe our tears, he will wash the ashes away with his blood and clothe us with joy and gladness.

Jesus truly is our comfort in time of mourning.

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“Code Blue ER Trauma 1″
 
Came the announcement over the PA system. It was 7:15 am on Christmas eve day, and I had just started my shift at the hospital.  I was already assisting staff with an aggressive dementia patient in another unit.  “I have not even had my coffee yet,” I muttered as I ran through the quiet hospital corridors. When I arrived at the ER, I discovered that paramedics were bringing in young boy of 5, who was not breathing.  The parents were coming as well…and there was no social worker at the hospital.  Part of my job is to respond to all code blues, to clear the area for the medical team, and keep family and friends out of the way of the doctors and nurses, and to provide support until social work arrives.
 
I watched as the doctors and the clinical staff worked feverishly to revive the child.
 
download (1)After about 10 minutes, the lead doctor, looked up, shook his head. The mother collapsed in sobs of grief. Dad just stood there looking glassy eyed and stunned.  I don’ think there was a dry eye in the room.
 
Within minutes, the boy’s grandparents and siblings arrived.  Clinical staff cleaned up the boy and then the family was allowed time with the body.  Christmas will never be the same for this family.  I stayed until social workers arrived, then I went to my office, drank my coffee and caught up on paperwork. I just wanted to go home and hug my kids.
 
“Did you debrief with the social worker or the other staff?,” my counsellour asked.
 
No. I did not have that opportunity. While the clinical staff all went and debriefed,  I had to get my paperwork done, and it was a very busy day at the hospital for me. That day I was in the pit of my depression, and it was an experience I could have done with out. Death happens all the time in a hospital, almost everyday I see it, but it is usually the elderly…not a 5 year old. My counselor asked, “Did you debrief with your wife when you got home?” Well, no, I mentioned it to her, but I did not really want to bring her down with me since we were going to her parents for Christmas that evening…so I put on a strong face, I am supposed to be the strong one after all.
 
Seeing something, he asked how often my wife and I have a 20 minute debrief session.  “What is this, marriage counselling?,” I thought to myself.  “I don’t know,” I responded, “Usually we talk about the day, but it’s nothing formal.” I guess I looked kind of confused.  He responded that, “Debriefing sessions are good for your marriage,” and essentially he said that since I struggle with depression and work in a relatively high stress job, it is best to do this every day with my wife.
 
His advice was to take 20 minutes after the kids are in bed, where we each take 10 minutes and talk about the highs and lows of your day, do it before or after devotions.  But don’t offer advice, don’t try to fix things, just affirm and validate each other’s feelings and pray for strength and patience.
 
“Wait. This is supposed to be about my depression, not my marriage.”
 
He asked me, “What does the Bible say about the Church being the body of Christ?”  I kind of looked blankly at him, trying to figure out where he was going.
 
“When one part hurts…”
 
oh-yea-duh
 
Oh yea….duh!
 
Ding.  Lightbulb. Fireworks. Chorus of angels singing.
 
“You and your wife are one body, and when one part hurts…”
 
…the other one hurts…
 
It is so simple. Yet I missed it.  Trying to be the tough guy, the strong guy, I ended not only hurting myself, but my wife as well.
 
So, 20 minutes per day we spend talking about our days. 10 minutes each. I will tell her about my highs and lows, and she will do the same.  We validate and acknowledge the other’s feelings, without suggestions, recommendations, or questioning the other’s actions.  This is hard for me, first of all, because I want to appear emotionally tough. Like nothing bothers me. Guy’s are supposed to be the macho, non-feeling, tough ones in a relationship after all…I have learned (for the most part) to stop playing the tough guy! And second, it is hard because I like to fix things…but this is not the time for “you should” statements. Rather, this is a time to affirm and validate each others feelings, and pray for strength and peace together.  (Note: Try to not go longer than ten minutes or it can feel like you are dumping on each other, and can actually increase stress for your spouse.)
 
So my wife and I have been debriefing for about 4 months now.
 
I don’t think she even realizes it. :)
 
We started debriefing to help deal with stress and my depression, but it has in fact helped our marriage at a foundational level by helping to open the lines of communication between us.  I am not holding things in anymore.  Ultimately, we share these things with our spouses, then we give them to Christ.  We don’t have to be strong, because he is strong enough for all of us.
 
 
 

OnlyComfortBuildingviaCityChurchSF1

Today would have been my dad’s 70th birthday, if he had not been called out of this life at 59. Perhaps that is why I am feeling a little down today.  It could also be this head cold.  Anyway. When he was diagnosed with cancer, I wrote a poem for my dad, and my mom and for all who were grieving over this news.  It is based on Lord’s day 1 of The Heidelberg Catechism. I titled it “My Only Comfort.”

My Only Comfort

My only comfort in life and death,
Is that Jesus owns my every breath,
He owns me in both body and soul,
I am His, not in part, but in whole.

His blood that spilt upon the tree,
Has fully justified and pardoned me,
And from the Devil’s terrible power,
Christ my freedom won, in that glorious hour.

My Lord preserves me up to the end,
In His grace my faith will never bend,
No not even one hair, can be touched,
Unless He wills it, to be as such.

My Lord and Saviour has assured me,
That all things must work in unity,
For the Good of those who serve the Lord,
Yes He my salvation has assured.

By His Holy Spirit, whom he gave,
I know for certain that He did save,
All His elect from the sting of death,
When on the cross he drew his last breath.

Amazing love and mercies unknown,
Grace and pity, us he has shown.
That he would die, cursed upon a tree,
And give his life, for the likes of me.

To live for him is what I desire,
Us he has saved, from the muck and mire.
Now he commands that we live with grace,
As we shine with His light in our place.

My only comfort in life and death,
Is that Jesus owns my every breath,
He owns me in both body and soul,
I am His, not in part, but in whole.

rainstorm

I woke up feeling pretty crappy.  Can I say that?  Probably the lowest I have felt since being in the pit of depression.  The sky is grey. The rain is pouring.  I have a cold.  I did not want to get out of bed, let alone do my devotions this morning. My wife and I are working through 1 Peter 5 right now.  And in my un-firm, lack of resolve, I am glad that He tugged on my heart and got me to do it.

Normally I don’t share devotions on the blog, but today I will, because it is one of those days and it really helped me this morning. Hopefully, if you feel the way I felt this morning, this might bring some perspective. (Forgive the choppiness, This is devotions – not a typical blog post)

Verse 1 Peter 5:10-11

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Observations: Peter is speaking this prayer while he is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Just as all scripture is inspired, we know that this is not just a prayer but also a promise. I know that Jesus is before the throne praying this for me and all my brothers and sisters. And that is almost too much to bear. It overwhelms and consumes.

My sufferings are short, light, momentary, they last but a little while. The “little while” refers to our sufferings in this world – sickness, poverty, persecution, anxiety, depression, grief, loss etc. – and it is contrasted to the eternal glory which has been promised us in Christ.
God, who who is abundantly gracious, has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus. And since he started this work in us, He will also complete that which He has started in us.

He will restore us.

He will establish us.

He will strengthen us.

He will make us steadfast…

That is amazing. Because I am not steadfast. Steadfast implies being firm and resolute, unyeilding and unwavering, yet…I am not. I am prone to wander. But here, in this verse, God promises that he will make us steadfast. God, who called us in His grace, will not leave us to ourselves, but preserve us to the very end.

Application: Do I believe this promise? I woke up feeling pretty down today. It is probably the weather or this head cold I have… But I feel off. Down. dreary. And here The Lord is saying, believe my promise, I will accomplish this for you. I will strengthen and establish and preserve you in Christ Jesus until that glorious day when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven in power and glory.

And His reward is with Him. It is Him.

It is the God of grace, who in His mercy, called us into His glory. Not because of any merit in ourselves, not because we are so strong, but because of His love for us in Jesus. By His grace He will accomplish this promised salvation.

Therefore all the glory belongs to Him. Not to me. It is not my great faith,or  my firm resolve that will save me. No. It is about him. He will do it, according to His promise. Despite my mood. Despite my pitiful doubts. Despite my weakness. Despite my being prone to wander. It is all His work of grace for me and in me, for us and in us.

It is the glory of His grace. It is the glory of his mercy. It is the glory of Jesus Christ. It is the glory of God’s covenant faithfulness. Rejoice in the grace and the power of our almighty and faithful God. To you oh my God, be the power and the glory forever.

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Choose today to let the peace of Christ rule in your heart and have an attitude of gratitude toward the Lord. Even if you have things that are upsetting you, take a step of faith and begin to thank God for His goodness in your life.  ~ Quote from a famous person.

Do you know who said that?

Joel Osteen.

I just quoted Joel Osteen.

No,  I have not lost my mind. Pease allow me to ‘splain.

What was at the heart of the fall of man in the garden?

We could say pride.

We could say covetousness or discontent.

I believe the Bible teaches that ingratitude was at the heart of the fall.  Man was not grateful for the blessings he had been given, for the authority granted to him by the Lord, for the communion and love he experienced with God – he wanted more, he coveted more, and this reveals an attitude of ingratitude. I believe that ingratitude is also at the heart of our fallenness today. It is this ingratitude which is spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Romans, where he says,

“Although they knew God, they did not honour him as God, nor give thanks to him”.

Something that I noticed through my recent bout with depression is that even unbelievers say we should have an attitude of gratitude.  Which is strange, if you think about it.

Who do they give thanks to?

Themselves?

Fate?

It seems strange to simply be grateful for everything and have that gratitude be directed at nothing.

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Gratitude is taught in recovery groups, and it is in many of the new pop-psychology and self help books. Unbelieving counsellours teach their clients to have an attitude of gratitude. It seems to be all the rage in pop psychology right now. Google gratitude and you get all sorts of quotes. But this gratitude fad is not just some new age, postmodern, self help thing. Gratitude is fundamentally a Christian thing.  A Biblical thing. The Heidelberg Catechism, an old but invaluable  document from the time of the reformation, teaches the gospel and is divided into three parts. The first part speaks to our sinful condition.  The second part speaks about our redemption through Jesus.  And the third part is about our thankfulness, or our gratitude. In a tiny nutshell the gospel is about how bad we were, how much God loved us through Jesus, and how we get to be thankful for his love.

Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians,

“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

Today, in evangelical circles there are people, like Osteen, who are famous for their positive messages that are peppered with having an attitude of gratitude. As a Reformed believer, I tend to get my back up when these teachers come on. As I think most believers in the Reformed camp do. Because we zealously defend what is taught in the first part of the old catechism… the doctrine of the reality of our sin, and the doctrine of total depravity.  We’re living in a culture that denies the reality of sin and says that we are basically good, so we push back against it. And rightly so.  But I fear that sometimes we drive so close to the shoulder of the road for fear of being hit by the errors coming from the other direction, that we can, from time to time, drive off into the ditch. What I mean is, that we can lose sight of the blessings of God. We can forget that God actually does love us. We can forget that we get to be joyful people. We can forget that we are called to rejoice in all things and that we get to be thankful in all things.  We can forget that we are called to have an attitude of gratitude to the Lord.

At least I can.

But I am learning, thankfully.

The catechism teaches that prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness.  It also teaches that “God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask him for these gifts and thank him for them.” In 1 Thessalonians Paul tell us that God’s will for us is to be joyful, thankful, and to pray always. In Romans 12 Paul repeats himself when he says,

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

We can see that Bible constantly links prayer and gratitude. We do well to consider our prayer life.  Do we make time to pray?  Do we delight in prayer? As forgiven children of the most high God, we have an opportunity everyday to come before the Lord in humbleness, joyfulness, and gratitude. Are we making the most of this opportunity to meet with our Father?  Do our prayers reveal an attitude of joyful gratitude for his grace and blessing in our lives? Or are we stuck in the “I am a wretched sinner” part of the catechism, rarely casting our gaze upon the beauty of the atonement wrought for us in the cross and rejoicing in thankfulness?

To clarify about Osteen, I am not suggesting that we all start listening to him, far from it. That quote above? It is out of context. He goes on to talk about how this attitude will help you to be blessed with prosperity in this life, which is un-biblical. In stark contrast to Osteen’s theology, we desperately need to know that we are sinners. But we don’t stop there.  We don’t get hung up on our sin. We don’t wallow in it.  Once we realize our sinfulness, we stop looking at ourselves and we get to instead look to Christ. Once we have taken our gaze from ourselves and our sin and put it on Jesus Christ, we can take the opportunity to be grateful to the Lord for His goodness in our life. We can choose today to be grateful for these blessings.   Look at the cross.  Look at your salvation. You are blessed.

Let’s be grateful to the Lord.

God gave me an introverted daughter and an extroverted daughter.

Some may say, “Both your daughters are introverted…”

I understand why you say that, but that would not be correct. Both of them are shy.  Shyness has a bit to do with personality, but it has more to do with fear. Fear of being out of familiar surroundings, or fear of new people, etc.

My extroverted daughter is 5 and loves to go out and play with the neighbours, she loves visiting people, she is a social butterfly, gets bored easily, very easily, …she has difficulty playing alone, and will bound into any room at top speed and light it up with her infectious laugh and bright smile. She loves to be held, and has energy to burn. She is not fond of learning or sitting or reading. She doesn’t like school very much. She has a lot of friends, and who her friends are, is constantly changing everyday. She also loves the spotlight.  She is constantly wanting to have her picture taken, and is always asking me record videos of her up to her crazy antics.

My introverted daughter is 8. She is just like me. She likes playing with the neighbour kids, but prefers smaller groups, or one on one time. She likes visiting family, but will steal away with just one or two cousins to get away from the group.  She is not a social butterfly, and would rather sit in her bed and read a book or play a video game than go to a party. She is artistic, a thinker, and intelligent. She rarely bounds into rooms at top speed, although it has been known to happen. She also has an infectious smile and laugh, but it only comes out around those she trusts, or if she is completely comfortable…like at the father daughter evening at Gems…I had no idea who that awkwardly loud and outgoing child was! She loves learning, reading, and she just told me she does not understand why people don’t like school!

I see myself in her. While it is kinda cool to have a little clone of myself, it is painful to watch her go through the same challenges that I did as a child. We both are perfectionists.  We both have all or nothing attitudes.  We can both be self defeating.  As a parent, I can relate to the introvert more than the extrovert.

God knew what he was doing giving me the introvert first. I understand the introverted one.  I know how to deal with her, because we have similar personalities.  I know what makes her tick.  Discipline with her is easy. I thought I was figuring this whole parenting thing out…then God said, “Here is something different.” And He gave us the extroverted one.  I do not think like an extrovert. Disciplining her is difficult because I am still learning her.  I don’t always understand what makes her tick.  What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other.

Anyway, I love them both equally.  They are my little pink lights that brighten my day when I get home each evening.  I marvel at the way God works in giving us our personalities. If we were all the same, life would be pretty boring.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

The Introvert helped to edit this post.  The Extrovert was outside playing with her friends.

K & M