Sunday, December 25, 2016

Depressed Christians?

Can a mature believer experience depression?

When you recognize that depression is basically due to self loathing and guilt over an  increasingly acute sense of extreme failure, yes depression can be and often is a part of the maturing Christians experience.

And that is because we are all extreme failures (Rom 3:23. For a fuller discussion click here and here). Not necessarily in the worldly sense but in the godly sense. When we recognize we were in fact created to know God, enjoy God and show forth (glorify) God, spreading his love and greatness to our fellow image bearers as well as all creation (i.e. stewarding the planet) and the scope and significance of this, yet none of us meet the mark, not even close, we only began to see the extent of our failure.

Without the love of God moving us to show forth his glory we are all about ourselves; about self promotion; being our own god. The very same disposition that Adam and Eve bought in to and adopted. In short we are totally incapable of fulfilling our design. Only by the life of God infused in us by the Spirit of God can we bring forth true, lasting life again.  

And what was God's warning? The day you do (seek to be your own god) you will die. Die? In what sense did we die? We rejected the source of life itself, God. We "unplugged" from the life source if you will. The life of God (some would argue the very Spirit of God) immediately left us, eventually resulting in our physical death as well. And from that day until now we have been desperately seeking to replace what we lost (God) by being our own god i.e. through self effort...using created things as a means. 

However as God is diffusive (overflowing and out flowing), we were designed to be diffusive, with one key difference. God is the source of life (Jn 17:3) , we are the conduits through which his life flows. First back to him and then out to others. If we cut ourselves off from the "life source" we can not and will not diffuse his love and glory as we were created to. It's simply no longer there to be diffused. We will be takers, not the givers we were originally designed to be.

So what than happens to us, as we become more and more *aware of our total bankruptcy? We feel guilt. And not just because it's some vague sense of self imposed punishment, but because we are in fact guilty. We do not do what we were designed to do i.e. love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.

*An increasing and deeper awareness of our rebellious independence from God is actually a sign of increasing maturity. 

So as maturing believers we now battle. We battle with an increasing awareness of the depth of our brokenness along with an increasing awareness of the love of God for us as his broken but redeemed, adopted and perfectly cherished children.  

The irony is our increasing awareness that we are perfectly loved because of Christ, allows us to be increasingly honest with how unlovely we truly are. We know God does not and will not reject us due to our brokenness because Christ took our deserved rejection/banishment and condemnation for us. And this work by him on our behalf  is infinitely greater in depth and width than our brokenness (Rom 5:20). 

So we struggle between a growing awareness of God's perfect and infinite love for us and our total and complete desire to operate outside of this love i.e. our rejection of it and our embracing self loving.

I propose that the awareness of our true guilt and it's subsequent depression is an opportunity and possibly even a call by God to look to Christ, forcing us to dig deeper into who Christ is, what he did and why he did it. It is an opportunity to look hard at the extent of his work on our behalf and come to rejoice in it more and more. Our depression forces is to go back time and again to drink from an infinite, never ending well of God's love and forgiveness. And thanks be to God, his is the final word and our brokenness is not.  

Who are some believers who have admitted to struggles with depression. King David, ("why are you cast down oh my soul..."),  Job, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Paul the apostle, Martin Luther. Charles Spurgeon, Henri Nouwen, John Piper to name some better known believers. 

"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again." 2Co 1:8-10

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh...

...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."  2Co 4:8-11, 16-18  

Friday, December 23, 2016

Competence – good or bad?

Is competence good or bad? It depends. If competence is the basis from which we derive our sense of value/importance/meaning it comes from a broken place. 

If it is the fruit of our knowing we are already valued/loved by God it comes from a place of wholeness i.e. it comes out of a love response to God's love for us. It's origin is God himself (he is the driving force, the "power supply" and impetus) and springs forth from his perfect love for us and is therefore good.

Most of what society considers good actually is the fruit of rebellious independence from God. It is an attempt at making life work without God; at being our own god; to generate meaning/purpose/significance by and through out independent efforts. It is operating in the flesh vs the Spirit.

Every action driven by the need to feel important/significant/valuable is an action of rebellious independence from God.

It may be valuable to society and culture but it does not bring honor to God and is therefore not of eternal/lasting value. 

Every action driven out of a sense of importance/significance/value derived from our relationship with God is an act of dependence on God. It is an act in response to God's love for us i.e. God is the source of our action. His love is what moves us to act. We are seeking and acquiring our significance from God, not apart from him. 

Acts of rebellious independence bring honor to ourselves. Therefore they only have temporary value.

Acts of dependence on God bring honor to him and are of eternal value for only he is eternal and that done for his honor.

For a discussion on the "flip side" of this click here

"For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire..." 
"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God." 1Co 3:11-15; 4:5

"...who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness..." i.e. hidden motives.

"...The purposes of the heart…"  i.e. motives are the key to valid actions versus actions that are invalid. Things produced from a wrong purpose/motive are invalid actions and therefore "burned up."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The fallacy of the "prosperity gospel"

What is the prosperity gospel? It is when God is not our ultimate pursuit but only a means to another goal of a healthy and wealthy life; a life where our greatest joy is in physical and material comfort/benefits, not in our relationship with him. 

Tim Keller touches on this in the following quote:

"We tend to see God as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us,  He has not become our happiness." - Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc):

This is only "seeking and praising God" for what he gives us, not for who he is, therefore it is not actually seeking God in the truest sense, but created things. God is important only because he is considered the best means by which to obtain something else, i.e. health and wealth. In essence the prosperity gospel does not truly seek God or to honor God but to use him.

For these reasons the "prosperity gospel" is ultimately destructive. It draws us away from God, not to him. It draws us to temporary life in created things. It is appealing because it caters to our fallen condition i.e. to our desire to be our own god (our bent towards independent self-trust) instead of dependence on the only true God. 

The problem however is not in the prosperity gospel in itself, it is in our hearts. Our hearts, in our present broken condition (even as his children), are naturally inclined to find life apart from God. 

If our hearts were truly and fully inclined to God and not to created things there would be no prosperity gospel. It would have no appeal.

Only when we find God to be the one and only true sustainer of life, might he grant us uncommon health and wealth if (and only if) it advances his good purposes in us and the world for his glory. 

This is contingent on two things. Our gifts/calling and our heart. Not all are gifted to do well in business and only he knows our hearts well enough to know when they are after him and not wealth. We only think we know.

But we must also keep in mind, we are in a broken world and in this world we will always have tribulation (John 16:33). We will all eventually die. Our joy does not come primarily from God granting us circumstantial bliss and success but that he redeems our brokenness and the brokenness of this world in bondage, for our ultimate good and his greatest glory i.e. he has overcome this broken world...he raised to life and so will we in him. 

Once we find God to be our life, health and wealth (i.e. used only for our personal/private gain) no longer matters, for we have true life in him now and will experience it fully (i.e. circumstantially) once we are in his unobscured, unfettered presence and totally restored (glorified) in eternity with him. 

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1Cor 13:12(ESV)

"People knew God, but they did not honor him as God, and they did not thank him. 
Their ideas were all useless. There was not one good thought left in their foolish minds. They said they were wise, but they became fools. 

Instead of honoring the divine greatness of God, who lives forever, they traded it for the worship of idols—things made to look like humans, who get sick and die, or like birds, animals, and snakes. 

People wanted only to do evil. So God left them and let them go their sinful way. And so they became completely immoral and used their bodies in shameful ways with each other. 

They traded the truth of God for a lie. They bowed down and worshiped the things God made instead of worshiping the God who made those things. He is the one who should be praised forever. Amen." - Rom 1:21-25

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The perfect law of liberty

Living out the truth is more instructive than studying the truth.

It is in living it out that we learn it best.

"But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." - Jas 1:25   

For a fuller discussion on the above click here

However to properly live out "the law of liberty" we must understand the gospel of grace.

Until we fully understand the grace of God, we assume obedience is performance. We approach Gods commandments as if they are hoops to jump through to earn his approval and gain his love, instead of loving directions for us to experience fullness of life in him.

True obedience however is not to get something from God but to give something to him; the rightful honor and glory due him. 

True obedience is the fruit of God's love not the cause.

He already fully poured out his love on us in and through the life and death of Christ. There is nothing we can do to cause God to love us. It was while we were still sinners he loved us. Once we are in Christ his infinite love is "locked in" and fixed upon us.

When you fully receive and abide in this love, then and only then will you bear much fruit.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing... As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:4-5;9  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Weakness OR power?

We must be careful not to have an "either or" mindset when is comes to weakness (humility) and power e.g. humility does not negate the importance of excellence of execution. It only addresses the disposition (motive) by which execution is carried out. Excellence in execution should always be the manner in which we seek to honor (bring glory to) God. In fact it is a significant part of how we do so.

Many Christians exercise a false humility as an excuse to not pursue excellence. As a result many things "Christian" are often of inferior quality. I know because I used to think this way. I took the attitude, "God loves me no matter what, so the quality of my work or the diligence of my effort doesn't matter." In one sense this is true. As far as God's love for us, it does not matter. His love is based on the work of Christ not on ours. But as far as our experiencing all that God has for us, all he designed us to be and bringing him the greatest glory possible, it matters completely. 

How can doing things with less than excellence honor God? 

How many times have we heard (or felt ourselves) regarding a "Christian" enterprise, such as a movie or song, that this is a "typical" production by Christians i.e. implying it's inferior (not in substance of message but in presentation or form) to what non believers produce.

This has not always been the case. Think of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach or Michelangelo or some of the earliest higher learning institutions such as Harvard and Yale. These were produced or founded by believers out of a desire to honor God through diligent use of the gifts of God to produce something excellent for his glory. 

Paul gives us an example of how we are to go about things. 

Col 1:29  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. 

We are also told that whether we eat, drink or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God 1Co 10:31I take that to mean do it not just with the intent to point others to him but with the effort necessary to produce the best possible result for his honor. This says efforts that are driven by a desire to honor God are superior to efforts seeking to exalt self i.e. God is superior to self.

If we have to choose between operating with humility and operating with excellence the former is always our choice. No amount of excellence in itself will bring honor to God (at least not deliberately by the producer). But if we can operate with both humility (1st) and excellence as a fruit of humility, that is the preferred option and should always be our ultimate desire and intent.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tension - a mark of maturity

Maturity is marked by a tension of an increasing awareness...

* Of the total extent of our brokenness i.e. our persistent tendency to try and be our own god; to make life work without God. 

* That we make very poor gods and can not make life work as it should without God. 

While at the same time becoming increasingly aware...

* That God's love for us has nothing to do with our brokenness (or "goodness") and has everything to do with Christ being broken for us, 

* Resulting in our increasing love for, trust in and pursuit of God.

Our awareness of this tension/contrast between our brokenness and God's complete remedy for it increases as we continue to mature. As this awareness grows so does our love for God and trust in him.