Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical?

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I recently read two articles by a well known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.

The desire behind the article was good: the author was trying to demonstrate that Jesus is sufficient for every facet of life. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY REALLY MEANS TOTAL DEPRAVITY

The Bible teaches that every human being is totally depraved. This doesn’t mean that every person is as absolutely wicked and evil as they could possibly be. That would be utter depravity. Total depravity simply means that sin has affected every facet of my being, including both my soul and my body. Total depravity means that nothing works as God originally intended. My spiritual desires are affected and distorted by sin. My intellect is distorted by and affected by sin. And, most importantly (for this discussion), my body has been affected and distorted by sin.

Why do I get colds and headaches and backaches and indigestion and infections? Why do you have migraines and heart problems and kidney stones and glaucoma? We experience these things because we inhabit bodies which have been marked and marred by sin. Paul spoke directly to this when he said:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Our outer self is wasting away. Our bodies don’t work correctly. They fall apart and fail us at the worst times. While we live in this fallen world, we live in bodies that are wasting away.

In Romans 8:22-23, Paul wrote:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Along with the rest of creation, we eagerly await for the day when Christ will return and we will receive our new, redeemed, resurrection bodies.

Until the day Jesus returns, I will live in a body which does not function as God originally intended. My brain, which is a key, central, integral part of my body, will not function correctly. Chemicals will become imbalanced. Serotonin will not be properly absorbed. Norepinephrine will be unevenly distributed. Synapses won’t fire correctly. My brain, just like every other part of my body, is prone to illness.

I would argue that if we truly believe in total depravity, then we must accept mental illness as a biblical category. If I believe that sin has affected every part of my body, including my brain, then it shouldn’t surprise me when my brain doesn’t work correctly. I’m not surprised when I get a cold; why should I be surprised if I experience mental illness? To say that depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, and every other disorder, are purely spiritual disorders is to ignore the fact that we are both body and soul.

Mental illness is not something invented by secular psychiatrists. Rather, it is part and parcel with living in fallen, sinful world.

MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH

Treating mental illness as purely a spiritual disorder is very hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness because it points them to the wrong solution. Let me explain. For many years I’ve dealt with chronic physical anxiety. I regularly experience a clutching sensation in my chest, shortness of breath, adrenaline surges, and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. On rare occasions, the anxiety is tied to something I’m worried about, but 90% of the time the physical symptoms I experience aren’t at all connected to worry. I’ll be working away on my computer, not thinking about anything, when a feeling of anxiety suddenly descends upon me.

In those moments, I don’t need to be told not to worry. I don’t need to be told to exercise more faith in the promises of God. I don’t need to be told to snap out of it. What I need is encouragement to persevere. I need to be reminded that, even in the midst of suffering, Jesus is near. I need to be reminded that my light and momentary afflictions are producing an eternal weight of glory. I need to be encouraged to press into Jesus.

And…I need to be connected to someone who can help me deal with the physical aspects of anxiety.

Here’s the unfortunate reality: even if my thinking is biblical, faith-filled, and God-honoring, my physical symptoms of anxiety probably won’t go away. Why? Because most of the time the problem is primarily physical. Something isn’t working correctly in my brain, which in turn causes me to experience the physical symptoms of anxiety.

When interacting with Christians who experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other form of mental illness, we need to treat them as whole people. We need to treat people as both body and soul. Do they need to exercise faith in the wonderful promises of God? Sure. But they also need to deal with the physical aspects of mental illness as well. Doctors are a wonderful gift from God who can offer help to those who struggle with mental illness.

We need to place mental illness in the same category as every other form of illness. When a person experiences chronic migraines, they most certainly will be tempted to doubt the goodness of God. We can serve them by encouraging them that God is good, and that he cares for them. But we also can serve them by taking them to the best migraine specialists in the country.

If we’re going to effectively care for fellow Christians who struggle with mental illness, we need to recognize that mental illness is a real thing. We aren’t only souls. Rather, we are a complex composition of soul and body. Let’s make sure we address both the soul and the body.

By The Time You Read This I Will Have Changed My Mind Map 7 Times

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By the time you read this I will have changed. I’ll probably have decided to not organize my basement today after all. I may decide to jog instead. No it’s too cold. I think I’ll head to the donut shop. My To Do List says Call Accountant re: Taxes. Yeah, I need to do that. Oh, I can do it tomorrow.

We all change in so many ways. Our bodies change. Our desires change. The Plymouth Fury I drove when I was single was replaced by a minivan when I had kids. Tim Keller says that his wife has lived with 5 different men throughout their marriage, all of them him. We change from Atkins to South Beach to Paleo to McDonald’s. We change our minds, our opinions, our goals. Churches change. “I remember when I knew everyone here. Now I don’t know half the people. I used to just drop my kids off at Children’s Ministry; now I’ve got to get a number, show a photo ID and submit dental forms.” If there’s one thing that’s constant it’s that nothing stays the same.

Most things in life are uncertain. We have ideas and dreams of how things are going to go, but many times they don’t turn out like we imagined. We are fragile creatures with no control over our lives, no matter how much we think we have. That’s why James tells us not to boast about tomorrow but say “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).

A constantly changing, unpredictable universe is scary. That’s why I’m so glad God assures us he doesn’t change:

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)

The Lord doesn’t evolve. He doesn’t grow in knowledge or wisdom, but is eternally infinitely wise. It’s not like he knows how to run the universe better now than when he first created it. Nothing surprises him. He didn’t need to recalibrate when Adam sinned. He didn’t say, “Oh man, I didn’t see that coming. Let’s switch to plan B.” God doesn’t increase or decrease in power or in his infinite goodness.

He never alters his perfect plans and purposes. From all eternity he determined to send Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth, to redeem us. He won’t relent from his plan to make us like Christ, no matter how slow we are to change or how beset with weakness we are.

He won’t turn back from his plans to do us good.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (JE 29:11)

I often make plans, then forget to do them. I’ve made mind maps and lists of goals only to find them months later and realize I’d completely forgotten about them. I get distracted or decide to go after what seems to be a better plan. I know I decided to eat only healthy foods, but that sausage is screaming for me to eat it. I’ll make an exception just this once. God isn’t like us. He made the ultimate best plan from eternity and will bring it to pass. He won’t think of a better plan, get distracted or forget his plan.

This means he won’t forget to be faithful to you. He has a perfect timing for everything in your life. He’ll make sure you meet the people you need to meet. He’ll make sure you get where you need to be. The Faithful One will be faithful to you. Nothing can stop him from completing the good work he has begun in you. Hell itself can’t stop Jesus from fulfilling his good plans for your life.

Satan tries to make us doubt God’s faithfulness. He asks, “Did God really say….?” He tries to get our eyes off God and onto our circumstances. He’ll say, “Look at this chaos. Look at this tragedy. How can God be good? Look – God isn’t caring for you. How can God be loving when this happens?”

That’s why we need to constantly cling to God’s promises, to stand on the bedrock of his Word. God’s word is the one thing in this world we can count on. Even the most faithful of men change their minds. The most faithful of men make plans that go awry. We tell someone we’ll be there, but we get sick or forget. But when God makes a promise he keeps it:

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19

What security God gives us. What peace. What confidence. The whole universe may collapse beneath us, but God’s everlasting arms will hold us up. The economy may collapse or our health go down the tubes, but Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. And he will never forget his word or change his mind. If he said it, he’ll do it. If he spoke it, he will fulfill it. The timing’s up to him, but he will surely bring it to pass.

Cling to God’s promises today. Put your hope in the unchanging One and his Word. Don’t put your hope in the government, or your own strength or wisdom, or your church or your family and friends as wonderful as they may be. Churches, friends and families change. Jesus Christ remains the same forever.

Now where did I put that list of 50 goals to accomplish before lunchtime?  Oh well, maybe I’ll just watch a little TV.

Can You See Behind the Mask?

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If you’ve ever seen any of the Mission Impossible movies starring Tom Cruise, you’re familiar with the Mission Impossible mask scenes. At key points in the plots, a character you thought was one person turns out to be someone else, disguised underneath an incredibly life-like mask. Tom Cruise impersonates the villain. The villain impersonates Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise impersonates a Starbucks barista. (Yes, I made that one up.) After a while, a viewer familiar with the MI mask motif gets a bit cynical: that guy looks like Tom Cruise, but is he really?  Who’s the real Tom Cruise?

I doubt if perfectly life-like MI masks actually exist. But you do know what it’s like to wonder who’s masked and who’s real. This is the question you ask in marriage after that first explosive conflict: You’re not the person I married – who are you? It’s the thoughts you have in the friendship when suddenly you can no longer agree on even the simplest of things: I don’t think I even know you anymore. After all these years, I can’t believe you could do this to me. Are you really like that?

The problem is especially acute when the other person is a fellow believer. You’re supposed to be on the same team. You believe the same things, you go to the same church, you serve in the same ministry – and yet his behavior or her actions make you wonder if the person you thought you knew was just a mask.

And then it gets even worse when the situation endures over time. Gradually, with every interaction, your opinion is settled and confirmed. They really are like that: nitpicking, petty, deceitful, proud, defensive. It’s not just once – it’s over time, a pattern repeated and long ingrained. You no longer ask, Who are you? You know, and you intensely dislike, the answer.

How do you live in those kinds of relationships, when you don’t know what’s the mask and what’s the real person? Or, even worse, when you come to believe the person you fell in love with, or built a friendship with, was just a masked imposter?

The right question here will completely alter our perspective. The right question to ask is this: who does God see when he sees this person? When we observe a fellow believer and draw conclusions, we are defining that person, and the question we need to ask is whether our definition matches up with God’s.

In God’s sight, the truest identity of any believer is not who they are now, but who they will become. The defining reality of their life is the presence of the Holy Spirit, uniting them with Christ and filling them with the life of God. And because the God who began a good work in them will surely complete it, God alone has the right to define who someone is.

If this is true, then every temporal observation that we make of another believer – even if it’s backed up by years of evidence – is only a half-truth. And a half-truth expressed as a whole truth is an untruth. The full story must include the presence of the Holy Spirit, the outworking of the character of Christ in the believer’s heart, the resurrection power of God applied to making each believer a fit temple of the Holy Spirit (see, for instance, Ephesians 1:15-19 and 3:14-21). If you don’t take this into account, you’re not considering the true person. You’ve been fooled by a temporary – though real – mask.

That person you’re thinking of even now, if they’re a believer in Christ, is not who they will one day be. The weaknesses will be gone. The sins will disappear. He will be radiant with Christ’s glory. She will stand spotless in the presence of God. That future identity trumps all present realities. Those are masks, temporarily hiding what is true and what is real. And so we must learn to see behind the mask.

Wasting Away In OldManville

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What happened?

I feel like I’m about 23 years old mentally. Hopefully I have a little more wisdom than I did at age 23, but I don’t feel “old” in my mind. Then I look in the mirror in the morning. Who is that wrinkled guy gaping back at me? Yep, I’m old.  I used to sing “Old man, look at my life” by Neil Young.  Now I is one.  When I turned 64 this January I sang the Beatles song to my wife, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”  She said no.

I try not to act old though. I try not to say “Consarn it!” or “Dagnabit!” too often.  I try not to call teenagers “whippersnappers.”  I let people know how hip and cool I am by saying things like, “You like that new song by the Mumford Sons?”

God has been kind to me. Overall my health is pretty good. But I’ve got to face it – I’m wasting away. I’m not as strong as I used to be. I lifted some heavy bags a few weeks ago and my arm has been sore ever since. I got a stent two years ago and now take blood thinner and blood pressure meds. I’m not ready for my wife to put me into a home yet, though she threatens to do so every once in a while. But the truth is, I’m aging. I’m wasting away.

But it doesn’t depress me. Maybe if I was in constant pain or suffering a debilitating disease I’d be discouraged. And that would be understandable. But simply getting older and weaker doesn’t discourage me. My bald spot is getting bigger. My beard is getting grayer. My skin is getting looser. My muscles are sagging, despite attempting to do push-ups and crunches regularly. But I’m okay with it.

Not long ago someone said to me, “Getting old is hell.” It would be hellish if you thought this life was it. It would be depressing to waste away, lose your strength and abilities. To fear you might fall down and not be able to get up. To be confined to a wheelchair. But believers who suffer in these ways have Christ and hope in him. Those without Christ have no hope.  In that case, wasting away is hellish.

Truth is, sooner or later, all of us will waste away.  But though believers in Jesus decline physically just like everyone else, we have hope. Paul says in 2 CO 4:16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul doesn’t deny that we age, get sick and go downhill. But he says this doesn’t cause believers to lose heart. Why not? Because “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Every day God makes us more like Jesus. He transforms us from one degree of glory to another (2 CO 3:18). And our suffering in this life, even the suffering that comes with aging, is but momentary and light compared to the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison that our afflictions are preparing.

The secret to not losing heart is this – it’s what we look to. If we look to the things of this life – things that are seen – to make us happy or satisfy us – things like our health, our looks, our strength – we will lose heart. Because these things are transient. Passing. Fading. Destined to go away. We can’t keep them. We can’t keep our youth. We can’t keep our looks. So Paul says, “we look not to” these things.  Instead, we look to the things that are unseen – eternal things. We look Jesus and our heavenly Father. We meditate on God’s holiness, majesty, goodness, mercy, glory, power, love and faithfulness. We look forward to heaven. When we look to these things we don’t lose heart. We don’t deny that our outer self is wasting away. But we aren’t depressed when it happens either because we have hope.

Yes, I’m wasting away outwardly. But I see Jesus at work in me day by day. So I don’t lose heart. I may lose my hearing but I don’t lose heart. I lose my hair but I don’t lose hope.  Praise God for giving us an eternal weight of glory to look forward to.

Consarn it! What’s that sound? Oh, it’s my cell phone. Now where’d I put my trifocals? Oh here they are. Owwww!  Stabbed myself in the eye!  What happened? My phone quit ringing. Dagnabit!  Now I’ll never know who called.  Oh well.  Now what did I do with those dentures?

*photo by Tom Hussey

What Is This World Coming To? Exactly What Jesus Said It Would Come To.

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photo credit: Maxwell Hamilton via photopin cc

Every so often I hear someone say in despair, “What is this world coming to?” This kind of comment usually comes in response to a doomsday report of some kind. You know the kind I’m talking about…

  • Statistics show that kids are more sexualized now than ever, and that 70% of kids will have sex before graduating high school!
  • A new report says that 45% of Americans think that God wants them to be happy more than anything else!
  • A pew poll report shows that church attendance is at the lowest mark in twenty years!
  • Studies now indicate that the current presidential administration is the most anti-Christian administration of the modern era!

When we hear these kinds of reports and stats, our gut instinct can be to throw our hands up in despair, panic, or disgust. We are shocked at the behavior of young people these days. Shocked at the levels of immorality at universities. Shocked at the apathy of people toward spiritual things. Shocked at the spike in gay marriages. Shocked at the smut being produced by Hollywood. Shocked at the increase in sexual promiscuity in our culture. What is this world coming to?!?

Whatever happened to the good old days, when a fella could leave his car unlocked without fear of having his stereo stolen? Whatever happened to the days when kids would actually respect authority? Whatever happened to the good old days when young men and women actually treated each other with courtesy, instead of trying to sleep around with each other?

I would venture to say that many conservative television shows, and radio shows, and blogs, and podcasts, perpetuate the “what is this world coming to?” attitude. It’s not uncommon for talk radio hosts to spend three hours lamenting the decay of morals in the world.

But we shouldn’t be shocked or dismayed. The world is coming to exactly what Jesus said it would come to, and this actually gives us a lot of hope.

A GODLESS WORLD

The simple reality is, we live in a godless world. Of course, I don’t mean that there isn’t a God, or that the true and living God is not active in our world. I mean that the natural state of every person is wickedness, godlessness, and evil. It has always been this way, and it always will be this way.

In Genesis 6:5, God looked down on the earth and was grieved by what he saw:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

God brought the great flood upon the earth because the wickedness of man was great. Every intent, every desire, every thought, bent toward evil. Doesn’t sound that different from today, does it?

Acts 17:16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” As Paul walked through the city of Athens, he became acutely aware that the city was absoutely jam packed with false gods. Athens was not a moral, upright, virtuous city. It was a city full of idolatry.

When we see evil and wickedness in the world, we shouldn’t throw our hands up in despair. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised. Evil and wickedness is not an anomaly; it’s the norm. The evil we see in the world isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not like things have suddenly gotten out of control in the last fifty years. Wickedness has been standard practice since Cain killed Abel.

So why does this give us hope? Hold on, I’m getting there.

IT GET’S WORSE

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but things are going to get worse. Before Jesus returns, evil and wickedness is going to increase in the world. Speaking of the last days, Jesus said:

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)

Lawlessness and wickedness and godlessness isn’t going to decrease, it’s going to increase. In fact, it’s going to increase to such a degree that many Christians will find their love for Christ going cold. Dang, son. That’s some serious, intense, lawlessness. Contrary to what the Beatles proclaimed, it’s not getting better all the time. It’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, Paul spoke of the “man of lawlessness”:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

At some point, the “lawless one” will come, and he will come in power, with false signs and wonders. He will be so impressive, so powerful, that many unbelievers will be deceived by him. The wickedness promoted and perpetuated by the lawless one will be on a colossal, sickening scale.

It’s already bad, and it’s going to get worse. But don’t throw up your hands in despair. There’s good news.

DON’T DESPAIR

The good news is that, in spite of the wickedness which fills the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue saving sinners! Yes, evil is powerful, but Jesus is more powerful! Yes, Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, but Jesus is the great lion slayer. Jesus encouraged Peter that the church would not be overcome, and would even stand against hell itself:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Jesus isn’t particularly concerned with the most recent Barna report, or church growth study, or the state of Hollywood. He will build his church, and there is absolutely nothing that can stop him.

Even as Jesus talked about the spike in lawlessness, he also promised that the gospel would be proclaimed in ALL nations:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

And when the big, bad, man of lawlessness appears, Jesus will take care of him too:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)

When Jesus returns, he will utterly decimate the man of lawlessness. Farewell, lawless one! King Jesus has arrived!

DON’T LOSE HOPE

Should we be concerned about increasing immorality in the schools, and on television, and in politics? Sure. Where appropriate, we should stand for righteousness. And, of course, we should instruct our kids how to think biblically about the sin they will most certainly encounter.

But if we’re constantly outraged, disgusted, discouraged, or panicked, then we haven’t come to grips with the Bible’s grim description of the world, and we aren’t fully trusting in our coming, conquering, reigning king.

Yeah it’s bad. Yeah, it’s gonna get worse. But the gospel will continue to triumph, Jesus will remain on the throne, and Jesus will finally rid the world of wickedness.

God Prepares Our Works, Motivates Us, Then Rewards Us. What’s Up With That?

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Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Php 2:12-13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

God is the ultimate “worker,” the great worker of “good works.” He deals bountifully with us (PS 119.17), he is good and does good (68). In fact he rejoices to do good to his people (Je 32:41) and he purposes to bring good to his own (Zech 8:15).

God did the ultimate good work when he sent his son Jesus to redeem us. And Peter preached to Cornelius’ household that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” (Ac 10:38).

By contrast, we are not good in and of ourselves – “no one does good, not even one” (Ro 3:12). But when he saves us, God makes us new creations. The great worker of good makes us his workmanship, and creates us in Christ Jesus, the one who went about doing good. God creates us for good works.

Not only that, but he prepared our good works beforehand, in eternity past, long before he created the universe. All we need to do is walk in them.

God not only creates us in Christ for good works, prepares the very works we will walk in, but gives us the desire to do those works. He works in us both to will and work for his good pleasure. We who once lived only for ourselves, who worked only evil, and loathed the light, now long to please our heavenly Father, to act like him and his Son. God not only gives us the will but he supplies the strength and energy to do good.

But wait, there’s more. The great Giver gives us gifts to use in the service of others. Mercy, administration, helps, giving, faith, prophecy, teaching, sewing, cooking, artistic gifts and skills in every craft (see Exodus 35), musical and medical skills – every kind of gift. God not only gives us the works to walk in, but the talents to execute them.

But God doesn’t stop there. He rewards us for using the gifts and doing the works he gave us.

What kind of God is this? A wonderful God. A good God. A lavish, generous, amazing, creative, surprising, loving God. It would be enough if he only saved us. But he transforms us, then rewards us. Unbelievable.

And God won’t forget to reward us. He sees every work, no matter how “insignificant” in our eyes, and records it for the last day. Not a single cup of water given to a disciple will go unrewarded. Not a single visit to a sick person, a piece of bread given a hungry one; not a tiny act of kindness done to a child – none will be missed or forgotten.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do (Heb 6:10).

Last night I joined some members of our church who conduct a monthly service in a personal care facility. Patients were wheeled in and handed large print hymn books. The folks from our church went around cheerfully greeting the patients, shaking their hands, making small talk. Then they led the service, playing and singing some good old hymns, Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. Then one of my friends gave a short talk about the love of God from Romans 8. A couple more hymns, then our folks helped wheel patients back to their rooms. These members of our church have been serving the residents of the home every month for years. Last night I thought what a reward they are going to in heaven. Month after month, singing The Old Rugged Cross and What A Friend We Have In Jesus. Loving these people who can’t give much back. Year after year of doing good to the weak. I thought, I want to be there applauding them when Jesus says “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Let’s thank God for his incredible goodness in giving us works to walk in, the will, strength and gifts to do them, and then rewarding us. What an incredible God we serve!

Win A Copy of Sovereign Grace Music’s New Album “30: Three Decades of Songs For The Church”

For the last number of years, I’ve had the privilege of writing songs for Sovereign Grace Music. On April 8th, Sovereign Grace Music is releasing an labum entitled 30: Three Decades Of Songs For the Church, which includes many of the well known songs from Sovereign Grace Music. The cool thing about this record is that the songs were recorded and sung by well known Christian artists outside of Sovereign Grace churches. The list of songs and singers is as follows:

Let Your Kingdom Come (feat. Chris Jackson)
All I Have Is Christ (feat. Paul Baloche)
Jesus, Thank You (feat. Brook Hills Music)
Behold Our God (feat. The Village Church)
O Great God (feat. Matt Boswell)
The Glories of Calvary (feat. Norton Hall)
Oh the Deep, Deep Love (feat. Aaron Keyes)
Now Why This Fear (feat. Sojourn Music)
The Glory of the Cross (feat. Matt Papa)
I Will Glory in My Redeemer (feat. Austin Stone Worship)
Greater Than We Can Imagine (feat. Nathan and Lou Fellingham)
I Have a Shelter (feat. Enfield)
I Stand in Awe (feat. Glenn Packiam)
Before the Throne of God Above (feat. Kristyn Getty)

Today I’m giving away five digital copies of the album. To enter, simply put your name and address in the form below:

God Is “I Am.” You Are Not.

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In the movie Hitch there is a scene where Will Smith’s character is making suggestions to another character of how he should dress for a date. The other character says “I’m just not sure these shoes are me.” Smith looks at him and says “Right now, you is a very fluid concept.” It’s a trite moment in a light-hearted movie, but that phrase “you is a very fluid concept,” is actually profound and profoundly counter-cultural.

Too often we think of ourselves as “me”, a static person, unchanging and unpliable. This is to limit ourselves to our own detriment.

“That’s just who I am.” We’ve all heard people say it and very likely said it ourselves. It’s that ubiquitous explanation (read: excuse) for an action or attitude that strikes someone else oddly or even offends them. Sometimes it’s innocent, like when we’re explaining our accent, clothing choices, or cultural peculiarities (hugging, being loud, talking fast, hurrying, running late, etc.). More often, though, we say it to justify ourselves when we are offensive or hurtful. We brush away our missteps by blaming them on our own identity. “I can’t help it if you’re hurt by that; it’s just the way I am.”

“That’s just the way I am.” “That’s not me.” Well, that’s just arrogant.

Thinking this way smacks of faithless fatalism. It assumes a certain achievement and superiority in the status of “me” and “I am”. We are created from dust; we are clay. Only God can rightfully be described as “I AM”. The rest of us are becoming.

We ought never to be satisfied or limited with who we are. It should never remain the same for long. Yes, God did give us tendencies and personalities through our genetic code and our familial and cultural upbringing. But God also gives us grace to grow those in positive directions or overcome them. “Who I am” is much less relevant and meaningful than who I am becoming.

If you are a person who hides behind the mantle of “me” you are choosing conflict, disappointment, and frustration. You are risking alienation from those around you as you plant your flag in one place and they move on. You will be a stationary obstacle in their way as they travel on the path to who they are becoming.

Let “you” be a fluid concept in the hands of God. Have the humility to recognize needed changes and to appreciate outside input. Yes, God gave you tendencies and a personality. But God is I AM. You should become.

How To Beat The Big One

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A couple years ago I was having some slight burning in my chest when I’d jog.

So I went to my doctor, who scheduled a stress test which revealed I had a blockage in my heart. Went to Pittsburgh, got a stent, spent one night in the hospital, and was back home. A few weeks later, my doctor shook my hand. “We beat the big one,” he said, pumping my hand as if I’d just won a marathon. “It was so good that you came in as soon as you felt that burning. When that particular artery is blocked in most people and they have a heart attack, they die 90% of the time. It is so good that you came in quickly. We beat the big one!”

The secret to “beating the big one” was dealing with it while it was a “small one.” This applies to lots of problems in life. If we deal with them quickly, while they are small, we can often solve them quickly and easily. If we don’t, they can become bigger problems that cost us time and money. If we deal with that leak in the roof when it’s a few drips it will be better than letting it go until our ceiling caves in from water damage.

This principle applies to anger and conflicts as well.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Eph 4:26-27)

One of the best vows my wife and I made on our wedding day was that by God’s grace we would not let the sun go down on our anger.

As one person said to my wife and me early on, keep short accounts. And by God’s grace, that is what we have always tried to do. It wasn’t always easy to keep this vow, especially in the first couple years of our marriage. There were times we’d be up really late trying to resolve a conflict. I even remember a few times when I said, “Kristi, It’s really late and I have to go to work tomorrow. Maybe I’m wrong and just not seeing it, but I’m committed to you and committed to working this out. So we will definitely work on this tomorrow.” And by God’s grace we always did.

When we let the sun go down on our anger – when we don’t try to resolve conflicts quickly – our anger festers. It simmers. It grows. We give the devil an opportunity. He adds his lying thoughts and tempts us in other directions. Our offense turns to bitterness and resentment. The devil loves it when we give each other the cold shoulder for days at a time. He loves unresolved conflicts in marriages and families and churches. He loves to divide and conquer.

Over the years I’ve found it best to deal with conflicts as quickly as possible. To go to someone as soon as I become aware they are offended with me, or as soon as I am tempted to be angry with them. The same day if I can. Sometimes there’s simply been a misunderstanding that can be quickly resolved. Other times it’s been something that required multiple conversations. But tackling conflicts quickly has spared me lots of temptation and grief.

There’s a spectrum from “love covers a multitude of sins” to “if your brother sins against you go to him.” Some sins we can simply forgive and overlook – cover in love. But other sins need to be tackled together. But whether you can deal with it simply and quickly – “Father, I forgive them, they didn’t realize what they were doing” and forget it – or it’s a sin that needs discussion, don’t let it fester.

Is there someone you are offended at? Or someone you know is angry with you? Go to them. Or pick up the phone and give them a call. Maybe you need to ask their forgiveness. Maybe you’re the one with the log in his eye. Maybe you misunderstood them. Maybe they didn’t intend to hurt you. It might simply be a communication problem. Or maybe you need to get together for a more serious conversation. But keep short accounts.

Deal with your anger while it’s simply a burning in your chest. Don’t neglect it until it becomes a full blown heart attack.

That’s how you beat the big one.

I Want To Be The Biblical Version of Joel Osteen

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Joel Osteen has acquired a bad reputation in some circles. He is known for teaching a prosperity gospel, for avoiding the wrath of God, and for being squishy on key subjects, like homosexuality. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of Joel Osteen’s ministry that I want to emulate: his constant emphasis on encouragement.

Life is really, really hard. Parents grow old, kids get sick, friends get cancer, sons get addicted to drugs, and daughters get pregnant out of wedlock. Our bodies get older and weaker and fatter. We struggle to raise our kids in an increasingly post-modern world. We are constantly aware of our shortcomings as Christians. We need to pray more, read our Bibles more, and evangelize more. We need to do better, try harder, be more productive, get more done. Every day we are reminded that we fall short on pretty much every account.

Because life is so hard and exhausting, every day is a battle. Every day I must fight to believe in the goodness and kindess of God. Everyday I must fight to believe that God is working all things for my good and his glory. Every day I must fight to believe that I serve a God who turns mourning into dancing. What I, and everyone else, desperately need every day, is encouragement. I need fresh hope, fresh faith, fresh strength.

There are enough critics, watch bloggers, angry prophets, protesters, and trolls in the church and in the world. We need more encouragers. We need more people like Barnabas. Acts 4:36 gives us a description of Barnabas:

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)…

His real name was Joseph, but the apostles called him “Barnabas”. Why? Because he was a constant encourager! Encouragement was so woven into his DNA that the apostles gave him a nickname which meant encouragement. Barnabas was constantly encouraging and building up and strengthening those around him. Encouragement oozed out of his pores.

Encouragement is a wonderful, healthy, biblical thing. Romans 15:4  says:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The scriptures are written for our encouragement, that we might have hope for the daily grind of life. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, Paul told the Thessalonians to, “…encourage one another with these words.” The Thessalonians were to encourage one another with the truths about the second coming of Christ and the final resurrection of our bodies.

Paul concluded his first letter to the Thessalonians by saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

We need encouragement every day. There are so many times when life is hard and awful and depressing and sad. Every day I need to be reminded of the rock-solid, unshakable truths about God’s ways and works. And every day, I need to encourage others with the wonderful truths found in God’s word.

Let’s not let Joel Osteen hijack the biblical practice of encouragement. Let’s be biblical versions of Joel Osteen. Let’s be sons of encouragement, like Barnabas. Is there a place for criticism and correction? Sure. But there are enough critics out there.