Conquering Minor Depression Like a Boss

Image from npr.org

Image from npr.org

Please note: I understand that severe forms of depression, such as clinical depression, often require significant treatment after diagnosis. I do not intend this post to make light of such very real psychological disorders, but to highlight that many of us deal with periodic bouts of minor depression which, if left unchecked, can easily spiral into something much more debilitating. If you are struggling with depression, and don’t see a way forward, please seek help from a qualified medical professional.

As I was reading through a few of the early Psalms this morning, I was struck by something that I hadn’t considered before (though I’m sure others have). It is entirely possible that David, to whom the Psalms are (largely) attributed, struggled with periodic depression.

The Psalms are full of both communal and individual laments in which the psalmist cries out to God in despair, asking when the Lord’s justice will come to earth, begging for God’s direction and presence, and weeping in misery at the feeling that God is distant. While we often read these Psalms (rightly) as an response of God’s people to injustice in the world, we would be missing something if we don’t also note that there is very personal distress inherent in many of these Psalms.

It is no wonder that we see such things from the pen of someone like David. After all, his road to the throne of Israel is a crazy one full of ups and downs. You can read the full story in 1 Samuel, and I recommend that you do. With all that he endured, I am not at all surprised to see him wrestling with being down in the dumps on occasion. If anything, it gives me hope.

My path has been nowhere as tough as David’s, but I sometimes find myself in the dumps as well. Life is  tough. Just because we are Christians, it doesn’t mean we won’t struggle in life. In fact, Jesus and Paul both sort of guarantee that we will. In my own experience, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the life of a PhD student is often a very lonely one, full of doubt and hidden dangers. Coupled with the daily struggle to take care of my family, give of our time and talents to the Church, and navigate this too busy life, the burden can sometimes be overwhelming. Tack on a predisposition to introspection and self-criticism, and BOOM! I find myself, on occasion, slipping into a minor depression, a funk where everything seems a bit dimmer than it should be, and where I struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in life’s treasures.

So when I read about David’s struggles in the Bible I am encouraged. You see, God once called David a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22). If David was ‘like God’ and yet still struggled with depression, then there is hope for someone like me as well. Maybe there is something we can learn from his example. Like David, we can follow three steps that have the power to draw us up out of the dumps, and give us encouragement and hope.

3 Steps to Dealing with Minor Depression Like a Boss

1. Admit there is a problem

Just like dealing with doubt, one can never make steps toward recovery until there is an admission of a problem. Too often, when I get down I try to pretend that everything is fine. My wife will ask me if something is wrong (it is obvious that there is), but I will respond that I am fine. If I was fine, it wouldn’t be written on my face.

When David starts to get down, his response is to immediately call on the Lord for help.

I call out to the  Lord ,  and he answers me from his holy mountain. (Psalm 3:4)

He doesn’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. He doesn’t attempt to overcome it on his own. He asks for help, and he seeks that help from the only one he knows can truly help him. We would do well to follow David’s example. I find that when I am starting to get down about something and turn to God, he is quick to respond.

2. Rest in God’s grace and mercy

After crying out for help from God, David then allows himself to rest in the Lord.

I lie down and sleep;  I wake again, because the  Lord  sustains me. (Psalm 3:5)

I don’t know about you, but I can only rest when I feel totally safe, at ease with my surroundings. I can only sleep in a car if I completely trust the driver. I can only sleep in my house when I know that it is secure and all of my loved ones are soundly asleep. Likewise, we can only truly rest in God when we trust him. The wise man/woman recognizes that we live and breathe only because of God’s grace and mercy. Like the child who trusts in the power of a parent to protect and nurture them, we do well when we trust in God’s demonstrated love for us, and allow him to protect and nurture us as well.

3. Give thanks to God for hearing your needs

David wraps up Psalm 3 with the following:

From the  Lord  comes deliverance.  May your blessing be on your people. (Psalm 3:8)

Though it doesn’t take the normal form of “Thank you” David is clearly giving thanks to God for hearing his cry for help. He does this with a declaration that God (the one to whom he took his burden) is the only one who can deliver him from his troubles. He follows this by declaring a blessing from God on his people, saying essentially “may it be so”. But why in the world was David giving thanks when nothing was going his way?

Thanksgiving in the midst of suffering is a sign of spiritual maturity and the quickest route from depression to joy. Thanksgiving doesn’t ignore the reality that there is trouble, it recognizes that there is a greater reality in which God is sovereign, that he loves us, and that our hope lies not in temporal comfort, but in the blood of Jesus Christ, by which the entire world is being reconciled to God.

Thanksgiving sees the big picture of things. It shows total abandon to self, and complete dependence on God for all good things. And thanksgiving demonstrates a “sure trust and confidence” in the promises of God, and in his ability to deliver on those promises.

In short, thanksgiving is a faithful response to God in times of plenty and in times of trial. It is the essence of faith. When we are thankful, even in the midst of suffering, we turn this fallen world on its head and allow the kingdom of God to take a firmer foothold through us.

So, the next time you feel yourself getting down in the dumps, the next time you begin to have trouble seeing light in the darkness, remember David’s example. Admit there is a problem for which you need help. Ask for help from the only one who can deliver you from it. And then trust him to do so, with thanksgiving in your heart and the knowledge that God is one who delivers on his promises, and as such, is worthy of our love, devotion, and praise.

Blessings to you on the journey.

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Where Hope Lives

crucifixion

My reading this morning included Matthew 12. This chapter covers ground quickly, and with passages covering the proper view of the Sabbath, accusations that Jesus performs miracles by the power of demons, and Jesus’ subsequent condemnation of the faithless generation to which he was speaking, it is easy to overlook the Christ hymn placed in the middle.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.
(http://bible.us/111/mat.12.18-21.niv)

This hymn quotes the first part of Isaiah 42, and fits perfectly in its surrounding context. In fact, it fits so snugly with the other content of the chapter, I find myself naturally reflecting on the declaration that Jesus is the Father’s servant living in the power of the Spirit (a trinitarian declaration), and is therefore Lord of the Sabbath.

I am easily drawn to considering that Jesus’s proclamation of justice to the nations doesn’t necessarily look like the sort of justice I expect (or even want, sometimes), because it means pardoning offenders, and condemning the (self)righteous religious elite.

I am struck by God’s goodness and mercy, when I read that “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” I have taken this to refer to sinners (including me), and am thankful that Jesus came to restore the lost, not beat them into submission. Though I also recognize that the time for sinners to turn to him is not infinite (“till he has brought justice through to victory”).

And I am still sometimes stunned that Jesus embodied all of these things in humility (“no one will hear his voice in the streets”), not considering any of this as something to be used for his own advantage (Philippians 2:6-11).

But with all of these wonderful things to ponder in this Christ hymn, the one that is most difficult to me is the last promise: In his name the nations will put their hope.

I mean, it is easy to get behind Jesus when he is pulling the God card. I even kind of like it when he doles out his brand of justice. Let’s face it, we all know some holier-than-thou self-righteous “Christians” that we would love to see put in their place, and if that means looking past some sinners and their dirty deeds, then so be it. I even get the humility thing. After all, aren’t we talking about gentle Jesus here? And I’m as humble as they come. (tip: read this whole paragraph as sarcasm)

But when I read the promise that nations will put their hope in Jesus’s name, and I am forced to consider that I am an individual included in that group, I am also forced to consider what a crappy job I do of living into this promise.

You see, I love Jesus. I have given my life over to him, repented of my sins, and proclaim him as Lord. I recognize my own inability to do anything that pleases God, and rely on his Spirit to transform me into the man he created me to be. I believe that God calls us to live lives of self-sacrifice and service to others. I believe that the greatest commandments of loving God and loving others places demands on me and the way that I live my life. I believe that no one will see the Father, except through his Son Jesus. And I believe that God has raised up his church as a light to the world. And I believe that all of this is God’s plan for reconciling a sinful world to himself, so that his name will be glorified, and so we might enjoy eternal life with him as he intended it when he created Adam and Eve.

You see, many of us (myself included) place our hope for eternity squarely in the hands of Jesus. But what about our present hope; what about our daily hope for joy, and peace, and prosperity, and security, and love?

It is easy, when the cares of daily life begin to weigh us down, to place our hope in some future promise. It is easy to look forward and proclaim with the Psalmist that “someday” justice will win out, and the faithful will receive their reward. It is easy to place our hope in a future life lived with the God of all creation. But we have been called to more than this.

We have been called to be a people of hope. Yes, that hope is a future hope of salvation and eternal life with God. This hope has been secured for us through the blood of Jesus Christ. But this is not the only purchase his blood has made for us. God’s kingdom has already begun breaking in to this broken world. Already we can see glimpses of God’s glory as his people follow him into places of darkness, chasing away the shadows with the light of Christ. And if the blood of Christ can chase away the shadows of the world, they can also chase our our most inner shadows, the ones we keep hidden in our hearts.

When we place our trust and hope in Jesus, he doesn’t stop with forgiveness. He is not content to merely overlook our sins. Sure, that provides us a hope for a future. But what about our present. If I am forgiven my sins, but have no hope for avoiding them, what hope do I have for the present? If I continue in sin, no amount of forgiveness will improve my current situation. I will continue to hurt those that I love, I will continue to be unable to choose what is right and good, I will be unable to do anything to please God, and I will be continue to walk a path that leads to destruction. At best, I will live my present life hoping for an escape, so that I might attain the promises of God before I have a chance to become unfaithful again.

I am so glad that God is in the business of saving lost people, because really saving someone isn’t just promising them that everything will be OK in the future. Really saving someone also means empowering them with hope for the present. 

God has promised us in his word that, when we place our full trust in Jesus Christ, we are saved, not just from the guilt of sin (though that itself is a miracle), but also from the power of sin. We are made new in him. The Bible says we are born again, and this does not just mean that we start from scratch, destined to make the same mistakes over again. It means that we are new creatures. New. As in different, remade. And by the power of God’s Spirit, we can choose to walk in the light and carry that light to others here and now. We don’t have to live in sin any longer, but are freed by God to live lives that reflect our new place as citizens of his kingdom, children of the Most High God.

So when I read in Matthew 12 that all nations will put their hope in the name of Jesus, I have to remember that my hope isn’t just in something that is yet to come, though it is that too. My hope is also in the power of God to change me, here and now, into the person he created me to be, holy and pleasing in his sight. When Christians live into this promise of God for the present, as well as his promises for the future, we have the opportunity to become a part of proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ to the nations, both now and forever.

Now that is something worth hoping for.

God’s Mighty Hand

I have always had a tendency to see the book of Exodus as both a beautiful story of hope and faithfulness and also one full of troubling scenes that I can’t readily, or easily, reconcile with the God of love and grace I know through Jesus. I suspect that, like many people, I have read past some of the more difficult passages and dismissed them with an understanding that God was steadily revealing himself to Israel and so somehow his mercy and love, while present, were not yet as manifest as his justice and holiness.

This has always bothered me, though, because God is both holy and loving, both judging and merciful. It is in this perfect tension that God’s majesty has been manifest in the person of Jesus Christ as our savior and judge.

But if this has always been true, and it must be given that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then how should we go about reading scenes from Exodus where God seems unmerciful? In particular I am referring to the early chapters of Exodus, where God calls Moses and Aaron to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Let’s take at Exodus 1 to get started.

At the beginning of the book we learn that Joseph’s family, which joined him in Egypt after he had become regent, multiplied and were prosperous. They grew into a numerous people. But for some reason God, who had acted mightily through Joseph and whom Pharaoh had come to fear, became an unknown in Egypt.

Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. (Exodus 1:8 NIV84)

The implication here is that, if Pharaoh did not know Joseph he did not know the Lord either and no longer feared him. Because the new Pharaoh did not fear The Lord he forced the Israelites into slavery. This went on for many years and Exodus recounts the story of Moses’ birth, exile, and calling in the midst of this slavery. Exodus 5 catches up with Moses and Aaron as they confront Pharaoh for the first time and seek to have him free Israel. This is the message God gave Moses and Pharaoh’s response.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ ”

Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1, 2 NIV84)

It is clear here that Pharaoh still does not know or fear God and is unwilling to waiver in his cruel enslavement of Israel. In fact, he takes this request as a personal affront and increases his harsh treatment of the Hebrew slaves.

It is at this point that God unveils his plan for what is to come next, and this is the part that has always troubled me a bit.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. (Exodus 7:1-4 NIV84)

At first glance this passage reads for me as a judgment on Egypt as a result of their enslaving Israel. But while they may have deserved this judgment, I have be left wondering where in all of this God’s mercy can be found. And then today I re-read verse 5 and God’s love and grace became so evident to me I’m not sure how I ever missed it before.

And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (Exodus 7:5 NIV84)

In the very act of judging Egypt for their transgressions against God and his people, God was also extending them mercy by revealing himself to the Egyptians as he is revealing himself to Israel. He was giving a people who once knew and feared him an opportunity to do so again.

God’s greatest acts of love and grace come to us when he reveals himself as he has done through Jesus Christ. While he is a holy God who seeks justice, he also loves mercy. And while his judgment comes swiftly to those who turn away from him, we know that this judgment is always just, because it is enacted in the midst of his grace.

Theodicy and the Death of Osama bin Laden

As everyone in the world with access to a television now knows, U.S. President Barack Obama announced last night that terrorist and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was shot and killed in a military operation conducted by U.S. special forces.

Nationally (for the U.S. and her allies), this event carries tremendous weight in the war on terror.  This will be considered a great victory by many, will strengthen the position of the U.S. in the region, and will cause turmoil in the Al Qaeda ranks.

Politically, this event is huge for President Obama, who was careful to note in his speech last night that all intelligence operations and military actions resulting in bin Laben’s death occurred by his order under his direct supervision.  The not-so-subtle suggestion will be that Obama has succeeded where predecessors have failed.

Internationally, the death of bin Laden will encourage allies to continue working with the U.S. military as they continue to operate in the middle-east.  Enemies of peace in the region will take note that even top leaders cannot hide forever.  But ultimately, things will likely remain much the same as they have been, especially in regions where the news will spread slowly and may be dismissed as psychological warfare.

How, then, has this news been received by Christians?  I can only speak of the response I see from American Christians, since this is my context, though I would venture to guess from past experience that the response is very similar around the world. While opinions are certainly varied, there does seem to be a front-runner when it comes to Christian responses to bin Laden’s demise.  More than anything else, Christians seem to be viewing this event in terms of Theodicy.

For those who don’t spend their time sifting through theological treatises, theodicy is most simply defined as:

The vindication of the goodness of God in the face of the existence of evil.

This term is also used for the branch of Christian theology concerned with defending the attributes of God from objections derived from the existence of moral and physical evil in the world.

Some Christians (and indeed many non-believers who might be called ‘theists’) seem to be viewing bin Laden’s death, in some sense, as a vindication of God’s justice.  According to this view, his death is an example of the cost or punishment for evil works.  It shows that ‘good’ ultimately wins out.  It engenders feelings of pride and excitement that ‘we’ are ‘winning’.

But is this response really a ‘Christian’ one?  Is this how we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, ought to view the death of an evil man?

My good friend Ben Howard posted a couple verses of scripture to Facebook this morning that speak to this discussion.

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from him. (Proverbs 24:17-18)

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45a)

Does that sound like the talk you have heard today regarding the death of bin Laden and the ‘war on terror’?

You see, as Christians, we are called to view the happenings of this world through a different lens; one of grace, mercy, and hope.  We are called to love the unlovable, to pray for our enemies.  But why?  Is this just some mushy dumbed down version of the social gospel we are talking about here?

Let’s view that second scripture passage from Matthew 5 in its context:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

God is holy; he is a righteous judge who abhors evil.  And at the end of all things, when Christ returns, he will judged the righteous and the wicked, and scripture tells us that the wicked will suffer eternal torment, separated from God for their sin and rebellion (sorry Rob Bell).  We also know from scripture that God does sometimes act to bring temporal judgment on the wicked.  We see this time and again in the Old Testament (Egypt, Sodom, the Canaanites, etc – even Israel, when she turns from Him).

But here is the thing.  These works of judgment and retribution, justice and punishment don’t belong to human beings.  They belong to God.  They belong to Jesus Christ.  They do not belong to people.

As Christians, we are called to live in the light of the abundant grace and mercy that God has offered us through the cross of Jesus.  We are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of man.  We are called to recognize that, while God is a just judge, he is also a loving Father.  We are called to recognize that it is God who will judge the wicked, not us.

We are called to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfectWe are called to be perfect in our love.

So, then, what should our response be to the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed?  If we live in the light of God’s mercy and grace, as those who live not for the present, but for the hope of future glory, then I think our response should be one of profound sadness.  I believe that it grieves the heart of God when even one person dies in sin.

While I do believe that God sometimes acts to remove the wicked from power (think Pharaoh), this should not be viewed as a cause for celebration, for God does not celebrate the loss of his creation.  Rather, we should pray for peace, we should pray for those who have had to take life and for those who have lost life, and though it goes against every fiber of our being at times, we should pray for our enemies, that they might come to know the loving grace and mercy of our heavenly Father, and so that we might not sin by rejoicing in death, even the death of a wicked man.

If you remain unconvinced, think on this:  what would have happened if Osama bin Laden had repented of his sins and become a disciple of Jesus Christ?  What if all it would take for this to occur is the prayer of the faithful on his behalf?

Peace in the Storm

Storms rip across South, killing at least 173

That’s the CNN headline this morning, following a night of devastating storms and tornadoes that decimated regions of Alabama and four other states in the South (Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia).  The official number of deaths has reached 194 as of the writing of this post, with more sure to come in the next few hours.

Now that the storms have passed and the light of day has revealed the destruction, the fear of last night’s events will slowly be replaced with feelings of dread, mourning, despair for those who have lost loved ones and possessions, feelings of gratitude and relief for those who escaped harm.  As news crews move in to capitalize on the crisis, articles covering the event begin with eye-witness accounts and declarations of awe at nature’s power, leading off their stories with quotes like, “I don’t know how anyone survived”.

This spring has already brought with it the worst storm systems that I can remember in the last 10 years.  As a resident of south-central Kentucky, I am accustomed to seasons filled with heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes that often seem to hit in the middle of the night when families are home in bed, unaware of the threat that looms large on the horizon.  I’ve even been through a disputed tornado that hit my childhood hometown of Morehead, KY in the 90’s.  Yet nothing I have witnessed compares to the devastation that we have seen this year across the globe, the result of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, and more.  These are just the natural phenomena.  We haven’t even mentioned the effects of war, genocide, the atrocities that humans have brought on ourselves this year.  And the year has only just begun.

What, then, is our response to such turmoil and the fear that it inspires?  How are Christians called to react in times of crisis? And perhaps more importantly, where is God in all of this?  Does he even care about what is happening, and if so, why hasn’t he done something to end the destruction, the loss of life, the despair?

The Bible tells us in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created all things and saw them as good.  All things worked together in harmony, and humans were created as stewards to govern and care for God’s creation.  God gave humanity freedom to enjoy all of the good things that he created, with one exception.  They were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The consequence for doing so was death, experience both as physical death of the body and spiritual death through separation from God.

In an act of rebellion, Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and sin entered the world.  Adam, Eve, and all of their descendants (us) were subjected to physical decay resulting in death and became separated from loving union with God.  As a consequence, the whole creation, which rested under the care of humanity, suffered a devastating blow.  The harmony of life was broken.

God, who is holy and righteous and just, required satisfaction for the disobedience of Adam in the form of a blood sacrifice. God, who is loving, full of mercy and grace, provided that satisfaction through the obedience of his Son.  The third person of the Trinity, God himself, became incarnate as a man, Jesus of Nazareth.  He lived in sinless obedience to the will of the Father and suffered death on a cross to reconcile the world to God, through his blood sacrifice.  Had this been the end of the story, death would still reign; but this is not the end of the story.  On the third day, Jesus rose bodily from the grave, resurrected by the power of God.  Death entered the world through Adam, but Jesus overcame death through the cross (Romans 5:12-21), reconciling lost humanity to God. The consequence of sin is death, but God’s gift through the sacrifice of Jesus is eternal life (Romans 6:23).

You see, God does care about the plight of the world.  He cares so much, in fact, that he sent his own Son as a sacrifice to bring redemption to a world of humans who have rejected him and turned away from him.  God may, and sometimes does, act supernaturally in the world for the sake of humanity.  But he has already acted through the cross in such a way that he has won a decisive victory over sin and death.  He was already at work before the first storm hit the earth, and his work is as efficacious (effective) today as it was then.  Where is God in all of this? He is acting, as he has from before the foundation of the world, reconciling all creation to himself (1 Peter 1:20).

So then, why is everything in the world still so messed up?

While the penalty for sin has been paid by the blood of Jesus, the effects of sin remain in the world until his return.  Creation still suffers for Adams sin and people still succumb to the temptations of sin, until they find freedom through belief in Jesus.   The apostle Paul tells us that the whole creation groans as though in the pains of childbirth as it waits for humans to take their place as adopted children of God (Romans 8:22).

We live in the land-between, the time of already and not-yet.  Jesus Christ has come and has reconciled humanity to God.  Through faith in his sacrifice (a faith given by God through his grace), we will share in his resurrection.  But that resurrection and the restoration of all creation is a future hope as we look forward, watching and waiting for Jesus’ return.

In the land-between there is temporal suffering.  War, famine, natural and man-made disasters still occur.  Fear is still present.  But none of these things reign.  Jesus Christ reigns!  And as we await the return of the Lord of Hosts, we have an obligation to remember our place as the adopted heirs of God.

In the midst of turmoil, destruction, fear, and physical death, Christians have a responsibility to spread the love of God liberally among the hurting, devastated citizens of our world until they respond to the love and blood of Jesus, becoming citizens of Heaven.

When storms break through the peace and serenity of our lives, Christians are called to live in the peace of Christ; the peace that can come only from the knowledge that we are adopted children of God, beloved of the Father.  This peace is not grounded in temporary things which are here one minute and gone the next.  This peace is grounded in the hope of the resurrection, when Jesus returns to make all things new.

Remember the words of Paul from Romans 8:18-24:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope

21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved.

It is only when we live in the light of the Resurrection that we can overcome fear and despair in times of trial and spread the love of God to the world.

Are you ready?  Do you have the hope and peace of Christ?  Have you experienced calm in the storm of life?

Let us live as Resurrection people, the people of promise, the people of hope.  Let us pray for those hurting after last night’s storms.  Let us pray for peace in the world.  Above all, let us pray for the peace of Christ as we act on his behalf in the midst of the storm.

Pax Christi

Lent: The Whole Earth Groans

The headline this morning on CNN reads: “Massive Quake Hits Japan” (http://bit.ly/iaDQD2).  A tsunami has already rolled onto shore.  People are dying, but we are not powerless.  Let us pray for the people of Japan . . .

Wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, genocide, civil unrest, global upheaval; these are the content of our news stories more often than not.  We are constantly bombarded with accounts of global catastrophe and war.  We are told in the Gospels (Matt 24; Mark 13;Luke 21) that these things must come before the end.  That these are signs of the beginning pains of childbirth . . .

Today, when I first heard about what is happening in Japan, I couldn’t shake one feeling.  This is all my fault! But before you go thinking that I have become some sort of megalomaniac, let me say this: it is all your fault too!

When God created all things that we now see, they were considered good in his eyes.  All creation was made in such a way that all life fit together in harmony, sustained by his grace and mercy.  And then Adam took a bite of forbidden fruit, and sin entered the world.  Were it just Adam’s sin that counts we would have trouble enough in the world and have need of redemption.  Yet scripture tells us that none are righteous, and all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (http://bible.us/Rom3.23.NIV84).  As a result of my sin all of creation suffers.  Do I mean by this that God is punishing Japan for sin? Absolutely not.  What I am saying is that the sin of all humanity from Adam to me has led to the groaning that we now see in all creation.

But there is hope.

Scripture goes on to say though we all fall short, God has made provision for us by sending his son, Jesus Christ, as an Atonement [at-one-ment] for sin (http://bible.us/Rom3.24.NIV84), reconciling us to God.  There is now no condemnation for those in Christ, and we look forward to his coming glory.

But what about the earthquakes, the floods, the devastation all around us?  What of those?

Scripture tells us how we should live in this present, fallen world in the light of Christ’s victory over sin:

15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co‑heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope

21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?

25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (http://bible.us/Rom8.15-25.NIV84)

We have not been given a spirit of fear but of sonship.  Do – Not – Be – Afraid! As all creation groans, we also groan inwardly in anticipation of Christ’s return.  This is only possible through the Spirit, who lives in us and gives us new life.

So what is our response to tragedies like the one unfolding in Japan?

  • First, we must not fear.
  • Second, we must repent of our sin and ask God for his mercy and grace, which he gives abundantly.
  • Third, we must pray for those who are suffering, not just physically but also spiritually.
  • Fourth, give thanks to God that through his son Jesus all has been reconciled to him, and through him we have hope.

Let us pray . . .

Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, during which Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and recall his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.  Ash Wednesday, in particular, is a time when the church is called to repentance and to acknowledge the fleeting nature of human life.  Common practices include the smearing of ashes on one’s forehead as a sign of penitence and mourning, and the initiation of 40 days of fasting (from meat, traditionally).

Lent is not intended as a time to remember sins of the past (unless they are unrepentant ones), or to dredge up things that have already been confessed to God.  However, it is a time to reflect on our still-marred state, repent of any ongoing sin that has not yet been purged from our lives, and give thanks for God’s mercy.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it very hard to repent; to say that I am sorry and to press on, through the help of the Spirit, toward new life.  To make a u-turn away from self toward God.

This morning, as Sarah and I were getting the kids dressed for school, our son (2) began to throw a full on tantrum, because he didn’t want to get dressed. After trying to calm him and give him some space, the tantrum continued, and I gave him a warning that discipline would follow if he didn’t change his actions.  As the tantrum escalated to all new levels, I followed through on my warning and disciplined him.  After allowing this all to sink in, I sat with him, told him that I love him, and explained why he was disciplined.  I then asked for him to tell me he was sorry.  He looked at me, and said “No!”.

I put him in time out and told him that I would return in a few minutes after he had a chance to reconsider.  He then launched into a tantrum even worse than the first.  I returned to him a second time, explained that I love him and why he was in time out, and then asked him to apologize.  Once again, he refused and I returned him to time out for a third round.

When I returned to him the next time, I again explained that I love him, why he was being disciplined, and asked him to apologize.  This time, he nodded his head and said “sorry”.  To my great relief, he then hugged me, and we resumed our morning.

Now, I tell you this story, not because I think I am like God and that my son needed to repent.  I tell you this to illustrate just how hard it can be to own up to our mistakes, even to a Father who loves us beyond measure.

I love my son and I want only what is best for him.  I don’t like to discipline him, but I do it for his own good, so that he learns what is right and good; to set him on a path for a successful life lived as a testimony to God’s goodness and grace.  Likewise, God disciplines his children and calls us to repentance when we have strayed.  He calls us to remember who we are, created in his image, and teaches us to live in the light of his righteousness and love.

When I put on ashes this morning, when I fast during Lent, when I carry on conversation with God in prayer, I expect there to be painful moments.  I expect to be corrected.  I expect to feel ashamed for the sinfulness that still shows in me on occasion.  But I also expect that my Father in Heaven will continue to remind me: “I love you.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

As we reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, may we find mercy and love at the foot of his cross.  My sin put him there . . . Forgive me Father . . . His blood covers me.

Thanks be to God!