Good News! Easter Is A Declaration of War!

photo credit: how will i ever via photopin cc

photo credit: how will i ever via photopin cc

Why is it that apocalyptic movies, books, and video games are so popular right now? Every other day, a new zombie apocalypse video game is being released. Piles and piles of end-of-the-world novels have been written in recent years. The National Geographic Channel airs a show called “Doomsday Preppers”, in which men and women build bunkers and teach their children to fire semi-automatic rifles. The Left Behind book series sold hundreds of millions of copies. Recently, Hollywood has released Contagion, World War Z, Battle: Los Angeles, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, and countless other apocalyptic movies.

I think one reason the apocalypse is such a popular theme is that it doesn’t require a big stretch of the imagination. Face it: life is really, really hard, people can be really, really bad, and it often looks like the world is falling apart. Russia is invading Ukraine. BP is pumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A young man walks into a school and kills twenty young children. A friend gets cancer. A child is diagnosed with autism. We are constantly teetering on the edge of the apocalypse as it is.

The utter pervasiveness of evil is why Easter is such a precious holiday. Easter isn’t about candy, Sunday dresses, ham dinners, or Easter egg hunts.

Easter is about the Son of God declaring a Holy War on Satan and evil. 

1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” When I read that verse, something surges within me. My heart says, “Yes! Finally! I cannot overcome the devil, but Jesus can, and has! Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He came to obliterate evil. He came to crush sadness. He came to restore all that was lost at Eden. Jesus is the Holy Warrior and the sinner’s friend.”

Hebrews 2:14-15 says:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Death has been dethroned! Jesus Christ took on flesh and blood, submitted himself to the curse of sin and death, and then destroyed death from the inside out! Death may touch us, but it cannot take us. The stranglehold of death and sin and sadness and sickness and suffering has been broken. It’s not always winter and never Christmas. Spring has come.

Revelation 21:3-4 says:

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

For those of who have trusted in Christ, this is what the end of the world looks like! Jesus Christ, risen from the grave, seated on the throne, will wipe away every tear, every sorrow, every pain. Satan will be vanquished. Death will be extinguished. All the sad, former things will pass away.

Now we are surrounded by death and sadness and pain and mourning. We get migraines and pinched nerves and breast cancer. We battle depression and schizophrenia and anxiety. Our bodies daily betray us. We lose friends and family and even children. We grieve and struggle and stumble our way through life.

But soon, mourning will be replaced by morning. The grave could not hold our Savior. He is risen. He is on the move. He is reigning. And soon he will be returning.

How To Grow Strong In Your Faith

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In Romans 4, Paul tells us Abraham “grew strong in his faith” and urges us to walk in Abraham’s footsteps. To believe like he believed. How do we do this?

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)

Look to God’s promise not your circumstances.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations (18)

Abraham’s situation looked bleak. God promised him multitudes of descendants, but the only problem was he was well past child producing. “He considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old).” He also considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. Not only was Abraham almost 100 years old, but Sarah his wife was very old and she had never been able to have children her whole life. How are they going to have children? If Abraham had based his hope on his circumstances he would have given up. But In hope he believed against hope – God’s promise gave him hope in his hopeless situation. He put his hope in God’s promise, not his circumstances.

We may feel hopelessly unrighteous. We may feel like God could never forgive us for the sins we have committed, that he would never accept us. But we must not look at ourselves, just like Abraham didn’t look at himself, but like Abraham, we must believe God’s promise of grace. He counts me righteous in Christ!

Our teenager may seem hopelessly lost. Our finances may be out of control. We may lack direction for our lives. Our marriage might be frustrating or our church might be a mess.  Look to Jesus Christ! Don’t look to yourself. Look to the promise of the gospel – everyone who believes in him shall be saved. Look to his promises to draw near to those who draw near to him. Promises to hear and answer our prayers.

Give glory to God

No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (20-21)

Abraham strengthened his faith.  Here’s how: “He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” Begin to give glory to God – start thanking and praising him for his every promise. Thank him for saving you and declaring you righteous in him.  He has promised to be with us when we pass through the waters and walk through fire. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised that nothing will be able to separate us from his love. He has promised to give us everything we truly need to glorify him. He has promised that we can do all things he requires through Christ who loves us.  Praise him for these things!

We can look to our circumstances – it may not LOOK like God is being faithful. It may not FEEL like God is with us in these waters. It may FEEL like he has abandoned or forsaken us. We may not SENSE his love. But WE MUST NOT WAVER CONCERNING THE PROMISE OF GOD! Rather, we grow strong in our faith as we GIVE GLORY TO GOD, as we are fully convinced that God is able to do what he had promised.

In Ps 43 the Psalmist says “Why are you cast down O my soul? Hope in God for I shall yet praise him.” Keep thanking God, keep praising him in faith in the midst of your hard times. Say, “Jesus thank you that you are with me. Thank you have promised that your steadfast love never ceases. Praise you that your mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”

Growing stronger in our faith is not complicated.  Look to God’s promise and glorify him.  So what are you going to believe today – God’s word or your circumstances? God’s promises or your feelings? God’s bedrock pledge of faithfulness or your wavering emotions? Walk in the footsteps of Abraham and strengthen your faith.

An Interview With Gloria Furman About Motherhood, Ninja Turtles, Burnout, and Crayons In the Microwave

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Gloria Furman is a mom, pastor’s wife, author, missionary, and ninth degree blackbelt (actually, not sure about the last one, but it wouldn’t surprise me). She recently wrote a book entitled Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are FullShe was kind enough to answer some questions about motherhood, ninja turtles, why she didn’t include 3-D pictures in her book, and why I should let my kids put Crayons in the microwave.

1) I haven’t read your book yet, mainly because I’m a guy, and it seems like it would be a little bit creepy if I was reading a book about motherhood. Or perhaps I’m just a terrible sexist. Either way, what is the main point of your book, and who is your intended audience?

The first intended audience is busy moms – and then anyone who wants some ideas on how to encourage the moms in their life. The main point of the book is how an eternal perspective changes the way we view motherhood.

2) Did you consider including any of those “Magic Eye” 3-D pictures in your book? If so, that might be a turn off to me, because I never could make the picture pop out, no matter how much I crossed my eyes.

I didn’t think about Magic Eye, but I did wonder if “Scratch N Sniff” pages would be helpful. I thought the sensory experience would really drive home my points about motherhood in the trenches. I had all kinds of scratch n’ sniff possibilities—juice box left in the car for a week, rotten strawberry in the couch cushions, all varieties of diapers, etc. But the publisher declined because this creative educational device isn’t cost effective for a trade book. Who knew?

3) To the best of my knowledge, you live in Dubai. To the best of my knowledge, Dubai is not in the United States (yet!). Based on your experience in multiple cultures, are there any challenges for Christian moms that are uniquely American, or Western? 

Answering this question succinctly is kinda tricky. When we moved to Dubai (which is in the United Arab Emirates next door to Iran and Saudi Arabia), our oldest child was a baby. Our three younger children were born here in the UAE. So, raising my children in a global city in the Middle East is certainly shaping my own perspective on motherhood challenges. Sometimes I don’t even know how my perspective has been shaped by this place until I am standing in an aisle at Target disoriented by culture shock.

There are lots of challenges I could pick from, but one issue that comes to mind is food and faith. So much could be said about it, but here’s a quick summary: I wonder if this is a relatively new challenge for Christian moms in the West. It used to be that I was only talking with my local friends about their religious diets. According to certain religious laws they can only eat particular foods prepared in a certain way. Their diet is one of the labels they wear. If the food laws aren’t followed then they feel embarrassed, guilty, and dirty. (For example, I had to reassure the guests at our daughter’s birthday party that the marshmallows were made of fish gelatin and not forbidden pig gelatin.) Of course, I am delighted to get to speak with women about faith and food from a Christian perspective (ie. Deut. 8:3, Matt. 6:25, Matt. 15:11, Acts 10:28, Rom. 14:23, 1 Tim. 4:8, etc). And in our church, when a woman is a new believer from one of those religious backgrounds then I expect that the topic of food laws will come up often. But nowadays it seems like I am having that conversation with more and more Christian women from the West who are having faith crises over their diet.

4) Do you often find yourself saying crazy things to your kids? It seems like at least once a day I find myself saying something like, “No you can’t stick Crayons in the microwave!”

You know, you could let your kids put crayons in the microwave if the crayons are grated on a cheese grater first. Your kids will think you’re crazy cool like their chemistry teacher. Just don’t put the cheese grater in there, too. I do say weird stuff to my kids. But I think what’s weirder is the stuff they say back. One of my kids told a visiting pastor who was our houseguest, “Be careful in this bathroom. Some people in this family don’t flush the toilet.” The other day I had to send one of my girls to the bedroom to “think about what she had done wrong” and she called out from inside, “Yeah, I’m alone! But I’m alone and free!” (Thanks, Frozen.)

5) What advice would you give to a mom who knows she wants to pursue Christ in devotional times, yet is also in complete and total burnout mode? And by burnout mode, I’m talking, her son has the stomach bug and is vomiting everywhere, her daughter just remembered that she needs an organic, gluten-free, vegan snack for school tomorrow, and her dog just destroyed her best piece of furniture.

This is more an encouragement than it is advice, I guess. And I know it sounds backwards to say this, but I think burnout mode is one of the tenderest times when a mom can have communion with Jesus. We only think we want to look back on long day and say, “Nailed it! High five, Jesus. You and me make a great team with you being such a good cheerleader and all.” No, what we really want is to humbly trust in our loving Father who ordains all things, consciously give our burdens to Jesus, and walk by the Spirit who empowers us to walk in the good works God has prepared for us. Fellowship with God in the midst of burnout mode is an opportunity to say and believe: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

6) When do you find time to write? Do you agree with Bill Cosby, that having kids causes brain cells to be destroyed? It seems like writing, taking care of kids, and being a pastors wife could be a bit tough.

What if instead of cells being destroyed, Mommy Brain is where your brain cells mutate into something more powerful and awesome? For example, turtles in a sewer are boring. But turtles who come into contact with radioactive goo and grow up to be teenagers… now that’s something special. Before I had children I didn’t have to use my brain for creative problem solving… like how to close a travel crib without using directions or dynamite. I also didn’t have to think about how I would talk to my children about how babies are made. And tell them about the persecuted church. Women have to flex their brains in different ways after they have children.

I find time to write because I find it be helpful and healthy for me. I guess I write all day long in some form or fashion. Before I had a smartphone with a notes app on it I would keep an index card and a golf pencil in my pocket. When the kids are in bed I have time to sit with my laptop and write full sentences.

7) Do you think that at times, Christian moms place unreasonable and unbiblical expectations on themselves? For example, feeling like all their kids need to be able to read Latin by age seven. Or something along those lines.

Even among moms who aren’t believers they can feel unreasonable pressure to have to be “the best mom you can be.” But it seems like the kind of pressure that a Christian mom places on herself has a spiritual spin: God is perfect so he demands motherhood perfection, therefore you have to be the best mom you can be. Also, the women in my faith community seem to be able to swing this particular expectation, so in order to keep up or fall in line with what is “biblical,” then I must, too.

One troubling thing that I’ve heard regarding unreasonable expectations is calling them “failures” that are accompanied by “guilt.” I’m not comfortable with putting things like human frailty and unreasonable expectations under the umbrella of things that require atonement. Do we really want to imply that things like failing to teach kids Latin have separated us from our Maker so that the sinless Son of God had to hang on the cross and suffer the wrath of God to atone for that sin and bear away that guilt? We need to be very thoughtful when we talk about expectations and striving for excellence in motherhood.

On a related note, I think as Christian moms we should spend more time wringing our hands about the things that separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, which are, precisely, nothing.

Shelve Your Shock

Rebecca Conry

You know what the hardest response to see and hear is when I tell someone something personal or sensitive is? It’s not anger. I can see that coming a mile away and change course. It’s not judgment; those people are easy to ignore. It’s not even apathy, though that can sting, because apathy leads to nothing.

The most painful response is shock.

I tell someone a story of some really bad decisions I made in the past and they gasp and say “are you serious?” I explain a sin I’m struggling with and they stare at me, mouth agape. I’m honest about how hard marriage is and the bumpy road my wife and I are going down and they lean back and blow hard through pursed lips in that overwhelmed way. These are the responses I fear most. They are the ones that make me feel like and idiot, a six-inch tall moron.

Shock feels like judgment even if it’s not intended to. It seems to express a lack of empathy; the listener simply can’t understand me otherwise he wouldn’t respond like I said I had a third arm under my shirt.

In church circles this is especially true. Many church people grew up sheltered from real ugliness. For many, the moralistic and legalistic upbringing made many sins seems both distant and unthinkable (not all bad). They are out of touch with the difficulties so many people face. Many Christians have the prevailing attitude toward a lengthy list of sins of “I could never do that.” Well, that attitude splatters all over someone who shares their story of sin, mistakes, pain, crime, sex, substance abuse, divorce, infidelity, or whatever. The Christian’s subtle surprise or overt shock speaks volumes of judgment.

The remedy to “I could never do that” is twofold. First, we need to remember that one sin is not more damning than another. The hierarchy of sins we have in our minds has more to do with perceived societal damage caused than anything else. Your self-righteousness needs a savior just as much as someone else’s fornication. Second, we need to be honest about our own propensity for sin. It’s not that we would never do certain sins; it’s often that we’ve never been given the chance. We use the phrase “but for the grace of God there go I”, and much of that grace is the circumstances God gave us as protected church folk.

I could have had that affair. I could have cheated or stolen my way out of a job. I could have become an alcoholic or drug abuser. I could have been such a rotten husband that I drove my wife to divorce me. I am more than capable. So is everyone. If you deny it you need to repent for lying to yourself and everyone else.

If we recognize our own sin and our potential for sin the playing field is leveled. More importantly, we stop being shocked when someone admits to something horrible. Of course they did it. They are human, in the line of Adam, the moron who ate the fruit and started this mess. And you and I would have or could have done the same in their place or his. So shelve your shock and realize you are just like the person sharing.

photo credit: Erik K Veland via photopin cc

Do You Have A Complaint Against Someone?

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The Bible primarily identifies Christians as saints. Paul never starts a letter with “Paul, to the sinners in Asia”.

We’re new creations in Christ. The old has gone, new has come. But though we are all saints we’re not yet perfected. Though no longer slaves of sin, we must still put it to death every day. And because we are building our lives together as believers, we often sin and sometimes sin horribly against each other.

Sin devastates. It causes anguish, sadness and misery. So I’m not advocating easy, flippant forgiveness. To forgive doesn’t mean we just brush it under the carpet and move on. It can take time to get to the place where you can forgive and restore the relationship. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences or that we must immediately trust someone. But forgiveness and reconciliation should be goals we work toward because God has forgiven us in Christ.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12-13

WE WILL ALL HAVE COMPLAINTS AGAINST OTHERS

“If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…” Do you have a complaint against someone? Against your spouse or a friend? Against your pastor or ministry team leader? Could God have any complaints against you? If anyone has a right to complain about being sinned against, it is God. If he kept a record of our sins against him, he could produce an encyclopedia. Yet he was willing to forgive our mountain of sins against him. Jesus was willing to personally pay our debt so God could forgive us. Why? Because God is compassionate toward us even when we sin.

WE SHOULD FORGIVE EACH OTHER AS THE LORD HAS FORGIVEN US

“forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” How did God forgive us? How does he continue to forgive us?

God forgave us freely

In The Prodigal God Tim Keller says, “Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” It cost God the price of his beloved Son to forgive us. And he gave him freely, not grudgingly. He didn’t wait till we deserved it. We will never get to the place where we can say, Ok I’ve lived a good life for 50 years now, I guess I deserve what Jesus did on the cross for me. No, we’ll never deserve it. For all eternity we’ll enjoy immeasurable blessings we can never deserve because God forgave us freely. So too we must freely forgive.

God forgave at great personal cost

Timothy Lane says forgiveness cancels a debt. It costs us. He says, “Suppose you borrow my wheelbarrow. When you return it, the wheel is flat. At this point, I have two options. Either I can make you pay for repairing the wheel, or I can pay for it myself. Either way, someone has to pay. We cannot pretend that the wheelbarrow is not broken. We can’t minimize it’s brokenness. Someone must absorb the cost for the repair. In a similar way, the very essence of forgiveness involves canceling a debt.” When we forgive others we say I’m willing to cancel this debt even though it will cost me. We can release others from having to make it up to us because we know Jesus will.

God doesn’t bring our sin up again to use against us.

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” HEB 8:12

Whe God remembers our sins no more, he doesn’t literally forget them. This means he doesn’t bring them up again to use against us. He might remind us of sins he’s forgave us for that we might forgive others, or that we might avoid temptation, but he doesn’t remind us to make us feel guilty or bad.

So when we forgive we should not bring up others sin to manipulate or put them down. We might talk about their sin to help them in some way or repair our relationship. But not to hurt or heap guilt on someone. And we won’t talk about their sin to others either.

When God forgives he doesn’t dwell on our sins. We too must guard against this. When bitter feelings arise turn to the Lord and say, “Jesus, help me. I have forgiven them, and want to forgive them. Help me with these feelings. Help me to love them and not be bitter. In your name, I affirm again, I forgive them.”

God forgives us repeatedly.

He doesn’t break off the relationship after our tenth or twentieth or hundredth sin. He doesn’t say ok that’s it, that’s too many times. He is patient and longsuffering. So we must be willing to forgive and forgive. Again, there may be consequences. It’s not. But we must never limit our forgiveness.

Oh how we need God’s grace. Obviously there is much more could be said on this topic. Whole books have been written about it. I’m sure I didn’t hit every angle. But let’s seek Jesus today for grace to be like him.

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.