Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Last week, we were hit with a major snowstorm that closed all the schools and many businesses for two days. High winds and freezing temperatures made the roads hazardous, and the snow drifted over 4 feet in places. Since temperatures have been hanging out below 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, most of the snow remains.
I was washing dishes this morning and looking out our kitchen window at the snow that covered our yard and drifted up against our neighbors' fence. Then I spotted a commotion in our neighbors' yard—a huge flock of birds descending on the small bird feeder in their backyard. I'm not very good at identifying birds, especially at a distance, so I'm not sure what kind they were. Small and dark brown. The birds flitted en masse between the feeder and the fence, the feeder and the fence, as if they were moving on cue. Those that couldn't squeeze their way in at the feeder were pecking at the ground below for any morsels the sloppy birds above dropped. I noticed there was no snow below the feeder, and I'm not sure if it's because it drifted in such a way to leave a bare spot, or if our neighbors cleared the ground below for the birds. Either way, our neighbors are older and both disabled, and it probably was no easy task for them to trudge through the snow to fill the feeder.
Of course I immediately thought of the verse in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” And also Matthew 10:29-31: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
God was providing for these little birds through the thoughtfulness of our neighbors. My thoughts then drifted, as they often do when contemplating the goodness of God, to a quandary-- a seeming exception. What about starving children, Lord? How many in the world will go hungry today? I have given, Lord. Should I give more? What more can I do? You could fix it so easily. It's not as simple as setting up “bird feeders” of sorts. Handing out food is good, but it's not always enough. It's drought, it's floods, it's disease—things within the natural world which are within Your control to direct and change. It's also politics, war, and bloodthirsty demagogues—things that are a direct result of sin, and while You don't promise to remove the consequences of sin, could you not spare more of the innocent? (I obviously was ignoring the parts in the passages exhorting me not to worry.)
I have no answers on this cold, wintry day. My family and I have shelter from the cold and plenty of food to eat. We have coats against the cold and a furnace that runs. We live in peace in a wealthy, stable country. We have access to medical care. We have a church that is free to meet without fear of repression. Relatively speaking, we are living in the lap of luxury in many respects. And yet so many in the world don't even have enough food for today.
As we approach the celebration of Jesus' birth, I realize more and more that stuffing ourselves with everything we set our eyes on and filling our houses with gifts upon gifts not only misses the true reason for Christmas, but it may even be offensive to our Savior. And while we all pay lip service to this sentiment, we still go out and buy the gifts, we still make the mountains of food, and we still run ourselves ragged all in the name of the “Christmas spirit.” Yet I think of our neighbors, who despite the difficulties they face on a daily basis, wanted to show kindness and compassion to some of God's creatures and did it in one of the few ways available to them. How much more can I give, to fill the feeder, to scatter the seed, and to spread the blessing to others this Christmas?
We've made it a habit to give to a ministry in honor of our family members in lieu of Christmas gifts. If you are looking for an excellent ministry to donate to, consider the Zimbabwe Emergency Relief Fund through TEAM. (My mother is a missionary in Zimbabwe with TEAM, so I know the money goes to help the people they are working with). Of course there are many wonderful charities and ministries that would be worthwhile places for your gifts.
"He has filled the hungry with good thingsbut has sent the rich away empty. "
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Five loaves and two fish. With this meager offering, Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000. Slice it and dice it however you want, and you can get lots of sermon illustrations out of this. How God can take our meager offerings and do great things with them. How we tend to look at human circumstances from our finite perspective when we need to see the world from God's eyes. How with God, the impossible becomes possible, for nothing is impossible with God. With faith as small as a mustard seed, mountains can be moved.
What I find interesting is that I've never heard a sermon preached (that I can recall) on what immediately precedes this story in Matthew chapter 14; namely, the beheading of John the Baptist. Where was John's faith? Where was John's meager offering? And more importantly, where was God to make an impossible situation—namely, saving John's life—possible?
Granted, there's an underlying assumption that God's sovereignty is always at play in these circumstances. He will make the impossible possible if it is His pleasure and desire to do so. What we think is best is not always in line with what God has in mind, so when “sometimes [He] just don't come through” (to quote Tori Amos), it feels like either His hands are tied or His heart is unmoved.
When I find myself in a seemingly impossible situation, as I do in my life right now, the loaves and fish don't bring me much hope. I know God can do the miraculous, but I've rarely seen it, and never on such a grand scale. More often than not, my impossible situations seem to turn out more like John's, and rather than find joy and surprise in the moment like the 5,000-plus hungry people, I have to quietly rest on the hope that somehow in the grand scheme of things, it's going to work out for His glory and my good.
I wonder if I've been “having faith” in God much like a person engages in wishful thinking or rubs a good luck charm—holding out for the big, magical moment when God sweeps in a fixes everything. What if it doesn't come? What if the 5,000 go home hungry? What if the axe still falls? I know God is not any less powerful or less good. But am I trusting Him for what He can do, will do, or might do, or am I trusting Him for who He is? I know He is loving. I know Jesus loved his cousin John just as He loved the little boy with the loaves and fish and just as He loved every person He fed that day. Just as I know He loves me even when my impossible situation remains impossible.
Just because God can doesn't mean He will. Just because He is able doesn't mean He should. He gives, and He takes away, the sun rises and it sets: life marches on. Sometimes His intervening hand sets aside the laws of physics, of cause and effect, of natural consequences. But sometimes it doesn't. Praise Him anyway.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:1-2
If you ask me, I think King David struggled with depression. A lot of scholars have suggested that King Saul was bipolar. Jeremiah certainly hit the dumps when he wrote Lamentations. Even Jesus felt extreme sadness and pain in his heart. So where do we get this mindset that Christians are supposed to be happy-go-lucky all the time?
Perhaps it's all the verses on joy and rejoicing-- especially during times of trials. Somewhere along the way we equated joy with a state of emotional stability rather than a conscious decision of how we will think and act based on God's promises. Since Christians are supposed to be “joyful,” we started assuming they are in a state of disobedience and sin when they are not “happy.” The gospel became a vehicle of prosperity, not only in material things, but in emotional health. Thus, if you're depressed, surely you are screwing something up in the spiritual department. As Christians we have the Holy Spirit in us, and the fruit of the spirit includes joy and peace--so if those traits seem absent, perhaps one is not walking by the Spirit... or so the thinking goes.
Those, like me, who have suffered from bouts of serious depression don't even like to talk about the differentiation between happiness and joy. Both are elusive and impossible when you are at your worst. No Bible verse, no promise of God, no hope for healing can bolster your spirits. You find it difficult to pray, even if you want to pray. Other people seem supportive at first but then start to get irritated when the depression lingers.
How silly of us to think that the effects of sin could taint every part of our world and leave our brains and emotions unscathed. Only the health-and-wealth nuts think cancer or other life-threatening illnesses are a result of unconfessed sin. Granted, illnesses can result from our sin, such as the alcoholic who now suffers from liver failure. But a lot of Christians assume depression is not a legitimate physical illness. I think this disconnect comes from the current form of gnosticism that pervades the church-- the mentality that this world and everything in it is just going to be left behind when we fly away to glory. We elevate our spiritual nature and denigrate our physical bodies. We think of them as two separate entities rather than two parts of the same whole, interconnected and intertwined, one constantly affecting the other, and vice versa.
It should be said that depression CAN be caused by sin or outside circumstances. If I'm perpetually living in sin, then the Holy Spirit is going to make me feel conviction, which may make me depressed when I don't want to confess it. Sins like discontentment, unthankfulness, and impatience can cause me to be perpetually unhappy. Situations in my marriage or work may make me stressed and frustrated, which can make me depressed. But what's the explanation when everything in life is just peachy, and I still wake up with this unexplainable weight holding me down? When I can't think clearly? When all I can work myself up for is sleep?
I came up with my own little test years ago-- if I pray and ask God to show me what sin might be causing depression, and I've confessed all the sin I know of, and if I'm not in conflict with anyone or anything in life, and I still feel like crap, then I think it's okay to just say I'm sick and treat it with medication. And thank the good Lord for medication! My Mom always says that Satan never fights fair, so it's okay for us to use chemical warfare when appropriate. When medicine DOES help, I think that's a good indication the depression is rooted in physical causes-- medicine would not remove the guilt of sin nor the consequences of rebellious living. If taking medicine helps clear one's mind to pray and actually helps a person feel well enough to seek God, then I can't see how it is a bad thing. There may be a time when medication is no longer necessary, as I found in my own case. And later down the road, other physical causes may be to blame-- again in my own case, I found my thyroid was way out of whack, and when I got on thyroid meds, my depression went away almost immediately.
But what do we say when a Christian suffers from not only depression, but severe mental illness, to the point that they are suicidal? My husband (who gave me permission to blog about this) also suffers from severe depression and emotional irregularity. Counseling and anti-depressants just didn't seem to help. It all came to a head last week, when he had a gun and a plan. Thank the Lord he willingly checked himself into a psychiatric hospital and gave his shot gun to the police. Six days and several medications later, he's remarkably better. He feels clear headed and hopeful. He is on different medications than he had been on, and it's made a world of difference.
So how should he as a Christian respond to this? How should I as his wife respond? How should the church respond? I can tell you that if someone had said he was just living in sin and needed to repent, that wouldn't have done one iota of good and might have done a world of harm. Yes, his severe depression caused him to sin-- the conflict we have had in our marriage directly stems from sinful responses on both our parts to his obvious illness. But to say his own sin made him psychotic would not be true. To say the fallen state of our world made it inevitable that some people's brains wouldn't work right would be more accurate. Just as some people are born with visible disabilities, surely some people are born with impairments in the wiring and chemistry of their brain. Yes, the fine line between nature and nurture is constantly debated, and there's no way to know which source is the major contributer. They both play a part. The sin lies in how we choose to deal with our inborn weaknesses. If I'm prone to depression, will I acknowledge it? Will I seek help from health professionals and counselors who can not only prescribe the right medications but also help me learn to process my thoughts and identify warning signals? Will I be open and honest with my brother and sisters in Christ so they can uphold me and encourage me?
Since depression runs in my family, I've had ample opportunity to observe the church's reaction to depression. I've seen the church react in very negative ways. I've seen judgmental attitudes and heard very hurtful things said. But I've also seen the church step in to help when appropriate. The same has been true this past week. It's hard to be open and honest with fellow believers about the junk in one's life and in one's brain, but the body of Christ has been incredibly supportive and understanding to us. I'm sure it confuses some of them, but even the approach of “I don't quite understand your situation or know what to think of it, but I'm here to help and pray in any way I can” is a blessing.
It would be great if the church at large would be willing to address depression and mental illness out in the open. It is a fairly common problem. I used to joke that depression was a luxury only those in developed countries could afford to have, and it's true that as a whole, we probably over-medicate ourselves in this country. But that doesn't make the problem any less real. I also think it is best addressed by someone who has either experienced it or at least feels empathetic towards those experiencing it. It wouldn't do much good to have a person with no experience in this regard to get up and start telling people how they should act or what they should do. I find that people who understand depression through first-hand experience can recognize others who have been there through how they talk about it. And I tend to disregard those who speak about it when they obviously have no clue.
For those who are trying to support a person with severe depression, I'm finding that a good support system of friends and a counselor makes a world of difference. Asking for help is a very hard thing to do, but no one knows you need help unless you ask for it.
Finally, I never want to underestimate the power of prayer. The times when you can't seem to pray are the times when you need other people to intercede on your behalf. Those are the times when you'll just have to trust that a simple “God, help me” is heard and understood at the throne of the Father.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Homosexuality is a difficult issue for the Christian who wants to honor God's standard of righteousness and at the same time love people with Christ-like love. It is a balance none of us can master, let alone hope to get right the majority of the time. Every point I can think of on either side of this debate can immediately be countered with an equally valid concern. I can't make many statements in regard to how Christians should approach homosexuality without qualifying it with a, "Yes, but..." Needless to say, I don't have this figured out at all.
With that in mind, here's some thoughts.
The Bible calls homosexuality a sin-- and by homosexuality, I would consider it to mean homosexual acts, not just the temptation. We all are tempted by various sins, but it only becomes a sin when we give into it. Some Christians try to err on the side of love so much that they no longer call homosexuality a sin. I don't think that is the loving thing to do-- to ignore the Bible so as to not make someone feel bad. However, it is high time the evangelical church undergo a "plank/speck analysis" in regards to our condemnation of homosexuality versus our condemnation of other sins. 1 Corinthians 6:8-10 says homosexual offenders will not inherit the kingdom of God, but neither will thieves, the greedy, slanderers or swindlers-- in which case, we're all in trouble. Romans 1 speaks of God giving people over to their shameful lust, and we point to that as an example of how homosexuality is a more debauched, depraved sin. Yet we forget to go on to chapter 2, which says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"
We often think Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction was due to the homosexual acts that were rampant in the city. But Ezekiel 16:49-50 says, "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." If the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was included to be an example of the consequences of errant sexual behavior, then Lot--who offered up his virgin daughters to the mob-- should have been turned into a pillar of salt or burned up with the rest. But what does God say? Arrogant, overfed, unconcerned with the poor and needy. Yes, they did other "detestable things," but God's main indictment was against how they treated the poor while they stuffed themselves with excess. That could very easily be God's indictment against the church in America, yet we seem to lack the fire and drive to go after these sins like we do homosexuality. When have we circulated a petition to end our arrogance? When have we rallied our fellow Christians to support legislation in favor of the poor and needy? This is not to say that we have to ignore homosexuality, but we certainly need to put it in perspective.
Perhaps one of the reasons we argue so vehemently against homosexuality is because we perceive it to be a threat to the institution of marriage. Again, a little plank/speck analysis. Look at our abysmal divorce rates. Was that caused by homosexuality? No. That was caused by heterosexuals giving up on their commitments and taking the easy road out, aided in part by no-fault divorce laws that let people get divorced on a whim ("irreconcilable differences"). It is easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get out of a business contract. That is not the fault of homosexuals.
Perhaps it's because we as Christians know that God ordained marriage between one man and one woman, and we see anything outside of that as a threat to what God ordained. A husband and wife is a picture of Christ and His Church; a sacred union that is unlike any other human relationship. What makes this union sacred? Is it the state? Is it the church? Or is it God? Marriage in the eyes of the state, for all practical purposes, is a purely legal matter. It is official paperwork for the purposes of taxes, beneficiary designation, and other formalities. There is no spiritual or sacred dimension in the eyes of the state. God, through the avenue of his Church, is the one that makes the union sacred. We may wish the state to enforce the church's designation of marriage, but we cannot force the state to do so on Biblical grounds. In many (most?) European countries, couples that want to get married have a civil union at the court house where they are legally married in the eyes of the state, and those wanting to then have a separate ceremony at church to get married "for real" in the eyes of God. Those are two separate steps. People can be united in legal marriage without uniting before God. Those that believe marriage is a declaration made before God and His Church are free to undergo such a ceremony-- the state doesn't care either way.
Many Christians, recognizing that we can't get very far arguing our position from Biblical grounds in a secular society, try to argue that homosexual relationships will somehow erode our basic social structure. For centuries upon centuries, the basic social unit of Western society has been centered around the marriage relationship of one man and one woman. For us to change that now would to be launch out on some grand social experiment that could have disastrous consequences. I would argue that no-fault divorce was our first great social experiment, and we are still learning the effects of that as a generations of children grow up as children of divorce. This is not to say, "Well, we've already screwed up so badly, we might as well chuck it all and stop trying." But if we are truly concerned about the social structure of our society, should we focus on stopping homosexuals from getting married or focus on strengthening the bonds of heterosexual marriage? Here is where our prejudices and stereotypes come into play. We hear that studies show homosexuals tend to have many more sexual partners than heterosexuals. We hear they are less likely to stay in a committed relationship. "See?" we say, "they aren't capable of staying in a stable relationship, so we shouldn't let them get married." Our hypocrisy notwithstanding, does it make sense to say that two people of the same sex that are choosing to stay committed to each other for life undermines the stability of society?
The stickler of the argument for many Christians is children. Should we let homosexual couples adopt? Won't that harm children somehow? Again, we hear studies of how homosexuals are more likely to be abusive. (I haven't actually looked up any of these studies, but I've heard Christians quote them. I'm of the mind that you can find any study to support your point of view, regardless of what it is, so I don't put much stock in them.) Allowing homosexual couples to have children is like saying that a child doesn't need a father or mother. Again, what of the children of divorce? Or a spouse that is widowed? Single parents have been able to raise normal, well-adjusted children, while many married heterosexual couples have abused and thoroughly warped their children. No child gets to choose the family in which they are raised, but society does have a responsibility to try and protect vulnerable children. That goes for children in any family situation-- living with heterosexual parents, living with homosexual parents, living with grandparents or extended family, living with foster parents, etc. To say that homosexual people are incapable of loving and caring for a child and raising them to be a healthy, productive member of society is an allegation that has no proof or basis. Children are raised in homes where the sin of alcoholism runs rampant. Children are raised in homes where the sin of greed and pride runs rampant. Whose to say which child will turn out better? Is either one too far gone for the grace of God to reach?
Christian's well-meaning attempts to protect marriage as we understand it have resulted in us being labeled as hateful, narrow-minded bigots. We deserve much of the rebuke. We say that we love everyone, regardless of their sin, but when we speak out against homosexuality without acknowledging our own sin and complicity, our hypocrisy is so obvious that our secular culture has reason to ignore us. As homosexuals have gained more support and acceptance from the general population, they have gotten more vocal in their cause for rights. Often times, they are not asking for "special" rights-- they are asking for basic rights, such as the right to visit their loved one in the hospital even though they aren't immediate family, etc. As Christians, we should defend everyone's basic rights as human beings and protect them from abuse. Sadly, we have often been the ones heaping abuse rather than the ones protecting them from it. An example-- I remember the Christian outrage at a homosexual being allowed to play the leading role in the Christian movie "The End of the Spear." Did we make God happy by taking a "righteous stand" against homosexuality? Or, like Sodom and Gomorrah, did our haughty, arrogant spirit anger Him? We think we are being righteous and holy in this whole debate without realizing the kind of peril we are putting ourselves in.
So what is a Christian to do? First, on the personal level, the first step is obvious-- love, love, love. Treat homosexuals with love and respect. Don't see them as the enemy or some odd abnormality. Is there some link to genetics that causes some to be more predisposed to homosexuality? Perhaps; perhaps not. It doesn't change how we ought to treat them. We lovingly correct when necessary, but we let the Holy Spirit do the convicting. If we do address the issue, we do so with all humility, freely confessing our own sins and faults and recognizing we do not have the moral high ground.
On the legislative level, we have two options. We continue to "fight" for traditional marriage as we have been. Maybe we will ultimately be successful, but I doubt it. We have already moved too far in the direction of changing laws. So we continue to "fight" but lose this legal battle and be further stigmatized as bigots and haters. Or we could concede and let the state change the way it defines marriage-- any civil union between two consenting adults. Let civil marriage become a mere legal partnership in which two people decide to live their life together for purposes of housing, taxes, benefits, etc. We keep religious marriage a separate ceremony with a deeper meaning, and we focus on strengthening those bonds forged in the eyes of God. Of course, once homosexuality gains legal legitimacy, how will Christians be able to call it a sin? Will non-profit groups have to hire homosexuals even if it goes against their beliefs? Will churches have to let homosexuals get married in their sanctuaries? Will it lead to further errant arrangements, such as polygamy? And how do we teach our children homosexuality is a sin when at school they are learning that it is normal and natural? Therein lies the challenge of living Biblically in a secular society.
We seem surprised by this challenge, because we have always assumed the United States was a "Christian" nation. Now we are starting to see that the U.S.'s version of Christianity is just a folk religion of "In God We Trust" that doesn't really mean anything. Congress is not the Holy Spirit-- we can try and enact laws to get other people to live like us and look like us, but would that change their standing before God? We may not be comfortable living around certain kinds of sin, but we have become inoculated to so many other sins that we don't even recognize them. We want the state to legislate morality for us, thinking that makes our job as Christians easier. I think it is time we shift our energies and focus from preaching morality on the national stage to sharing Christ's love in our relationships and being the church to our communities. (And if we're so concerned about what the state will make us do, then give up our tax-exempt status. Problem solved.) Not to say that we shouldn't get involved in politics; just realize that politics will not save us, and no law of man makes a person right before God. We need to learn to speak the truth in love. And we need to remember that Jesus' harshest words were not toward homosexuals but toward religious leaders who enacted laws that demanded outward righteousness. They were the true stumbling blocks on the road to salvation.
Friday, June 19, 2009
"I believe that taking creation and new creation seriously is the way to understand and revitalize aesthetic awareness and perhaps even creativity among Christians today. Beauty matters, dare I say, almost as much as spirituality and justice" (Surprised by Hope, p. 222)."But we don't live in the Garden of Eden, and art that attempts to do so quickly becomes flaccid and trivial. (The church doesn't have a monopoly on kitsch or sentimentalism, but if you want to find it the church may well be the easiest place to start.)" (Surprised by Hope, p. 223)"When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission.... This will take serious imagination, imagination fueled by reflection and prayer at the foot of the cross and before the empty tomb, imagination that will discern the mysteries of God's judgment on evil and God's reaffirmation, through resurrection, of his beautiful creation" (Surprised by Hope, p. 224).
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
One of my favorite Bible school songs as a child was "I'm in the Lord's Army." The lyrics went like this:
I may never march in the infantry,
Ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery.
I may never fly o'er the enemy, but I'm in the Lord's army.
Now as an adult, I tend to cringe when I hear kids sing that song. I think it's because I now understand the unfortunate and often disastrous results that occur when Christians try to live militantly.