Friday, July 31, 2015

To wholly follow the Lord

I have been studying Joshua this summer both devotionally and in preparation to teach the book this fall. Having taught a unit on Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, as well as an overview of the prophets, I love seeing the big story of the Bible play out in Joshua. As kings and lands are conquered, Abraham’s descendants are seeing the fulfillment of Genesis 12:7, the Lord’s promise of the land to his offspring.

Once the land is claimed, Joshua divides the inheritance among the twelve tribes. In Joshua 14, Caleb, one of the original spies sent to scout out the land some 45 years earlier, reminds Joshua of Moses’ promise to him and asks for a specific parcel:
You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. (Joshua 14:6-10)
And lest anyone think Caleb incapable or ignorant, he confidently asserts,
And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country…it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said. (Joshua 14:10-12)
Caleb wholly followed the Lord his God and he knew the Lord would be faithful.

It is easy for me to read about Caleb and be impressed, inspired, and even a little intimidated. So brave and so bold, and, good grief, so very brave and so very bold at eighty-five years old!

I want to wholly follow the Lord but most days I don’t feel so very brave or so very bold. I don’t have the confidence or the strength to conquer giants. My life feels less like claiming the Promised Land and more like struggling in the same battles day in and day out, the same sins, the same sink of dirty dishes, the same basket of dirty laundry, the same five empty stomachs wanting supper, every single night.

Monotonous. Boring. Every day the same. Zero conquering here! But before I begin to despise my days of small things, I read Caleb’s request more carefully and see just how long he had to wait to claim Moses’ promise to him. Did you see? Forty-five years! Forty-five years of wandering in the wilderness with no library, no smartphone, no Twitter, no encouraging blogs like this one to read--can you imagine? Talk about monotonous!

Yet Caleb wholly followed the Lord. He persevered. He believed. He waited. Day in and day out for forty-five years. Surely he rehearsed the Lord’s promises as well as the Lord’s past faithfulness. He knew the Lord would provide and he knew his only hope was the presence of God with him. So he followed, wholly and wholeheartedly, and the promised inheritance was his by the grace and provision of the Lord his God.

This past week I’ve talked to friends and loved ones who each in their own way are struggling to persevere. One grieves a terrible loss, one worries over her job, another waits for time to heal and restore the hurt. Another friend told me through tears that she is weary, so weary, of baby steps, yet in her weariness she believes, she waits, she perseveres.

All are wholly following the Lord even in--yes, especially in--their weakness. One day Caleb’s testimony will be theirs and they will each say with him: I am strong but only because the Lord is with me and He is sufficient. They too will claim the promised inheritance that is theirs by the grace and provision of the Lord their God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

May it be so in me, oh Lord.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Point of Hospitality

The women in my church have been getting together roughly once a month for Sunday night socials. Different ladies open up their homes for a meal followed by a time of fellowship. These have been fun times to be together and a great way to get to know one another outside of Sunday morning. My turn as hostess will be in October, and I'm already starting to formulate plans in my head. While I am a planner by nature, there is another reason for thinking ahead so early.

Hospitality intimidates me.

I have the usual reasons. I'm an introvert. My house is small. I don't have a dining room table. I'm too busy with work. I'm more of a throw stuff in a crock pot with a can of cream of mushroom soup than a gourmet chef. And so forth and so on. In addition to these lame excuses, there's also a lingering fear in the back of my mind of "not doing it right", whatever that nebulous standard may be. So it's no wonder that I can get caught up in the "how to" of hospitality and forget "who" it's for. Therefore, it's worth refocusing on the big picture and asking, "What is the point of hospitality for believers?"

When we are too functional, we forget the point of hospitality in the home: fellowship, not entertainment. Don't let pride stop you from opening your home. Ignore the cat hair on the couch (or in the mac and cheese). It likely won't kill anyone as decisively as loneliness will.1
Hospitality is not a house inspection, it’s friendship.2

As I was writing this post, this real life example of true hospitality came to mind:

One of the sad realities of being a single parent is you spend some of your holidays alone. I was fully prepared to be by myself that first Christmas several years ago. But as I was talking with the wife of a family who had just started attending the church, she asked what I was doing on Christmas Day. When she heard I was on my own, she insisted that I join them for dinner because "no one should be alone on Christmas." This family among others made sure I was never alone on subsequent holidays. Looking back, I was probably lonelier than I realized or would admit at the time. It wasn't about the food, although it was delicious, or how stylish the table was set. It was about opening their hearts and homes to a sister-in-Christ who needed friends that day. As the recipient, I was greatly blessed, but I think my hosts were equally blessed through this simple act of reaching out. And as the saying goes, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So this is what I need to remember whenever I feel intimidated by hospitality. It isn't about trying to impress but serving those who are gathered around the table no matter what's on the menu. It is extending friendship through an open heart and home no matter the venue. And through hospitality, community is strengthened, and God is glorified.


1. Openness Unhindered, Chapter 7 - Community, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, July 2015, pp. 160. (emphasis mine)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Singing in the Fire

“When the fire of affliction draws songs of praise from us, then indeed we are purified, and our God is glorified….Singing in the fire!  Yes!  God helping us, if that is the only way to get harmony out of these hard apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.”1 - Susannah Spurgeon'
  This blogpost was originally going to focus on physical affliction,  a subject I’m familiar with.   For almost thirty years I have been laid aside off and on with  ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)  and other health issues.    CFS is the illness that has caused Laura Hillenbrand, author of  Seabiscuit and Unbroken,  to be housebound for years and she tells her remarkable story to Elle Magazine.
 
A stubborn relapse this year has caused me to  spend most of my time in bed again so  I’ve been reading up on the assorted  maladies of  believers  throughout history;   Job,  John Calvin,  both Charles and Susannah Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael,  and others.
When I realized  how many of these sickly  saints  had also suffered with a variety of other  serious trials I was reminded  of Job’s words,  man is born for trouble,  as sparks fly upward.”  (Job 5:7)   

THE PURPOSE OF ADVERSITY
 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” James 1:2  
 Note that  James  does not describe any particular  kind of trouble.     Trials  come in all shapes and sizes:   Illness,  disability,  death of a loved one,  financial ruin,  divorce,  a prodigal child,  betrayal,  personal sin or failure,  persecution;  and the list goes on.     Nevertheless,  all adversity that befalls the Christian serves essentially  the  same purpose.    James goes on to say that we are tested through our trials for the purpose of producing an enduring faith.  

The moment we are saved God begins His sanctifying work in us.    All of our sins, past, present and future,  have been forgiven because of the blood sacrifice  of Jesus Christ,  and now the Lord begins to  “disciplines us for our good so that we may share His holiness.” (Heb.12:10).    This is  not the kind of discipline  that has to do with punishment  because Christ has already taken that for us.   Rather this is the kind of discipline that an athlete or soldier would undergo to train for a competition or battle.   

THE  PRUNING PROCESS
Because He loves us,  God  prunes us so that we will  bear fruit and it is the Word that acts as  His pruning shears.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”   Hebrews 4:12
But it is through the vehicle of affliction that we are driven to His Word.  
What, then, does affliction do?"  you ask.   Well, if I may say so, affliction is the handle of the knife—affliction is the grindstone that sharpens up the Word of God.  Affliction is the dresser which removes our soft garments and lays bare the diseased flesh so that the surgeon's lancet may get at it.   Affliction makes us ready to feel the Word, but the true pruner is the Word in the hand of the Great Husbandman.” 2 – Charles Spurgeon
  THE PEACEFUL FRUIT
The writer of Hebrews reveals the final product that adversity delivers.
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  Hebrews 12:10-11 
Did you catch  that the peaceful fruit of righteousness  comes  afterwards?  When James tells us to “count it all joy”,   he didn’t mean that we should be masochists who  enjoy suffering.    It is the end result of  our suffering that causes us to rejoice!   
Consider our greatest example,  Jesus.    No human suffering in the history of mankind  could even begin to compare with the agony that Christ was about to  suffer on the cross on our behalf.     And yet, He was able to endure it because  He knew of the joy that would lie beyond it. 
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2
The best thing we can do when we are faced with any kind of serious trial is to submit to the loving hand of  God under it and try to rest in the promise that it will ultimately yield many rewards.
  • We will be drawn closer to God:  Psalm 88:9
  • We will learn to depend upon Him:  2 Corinthians 1:9
  • We will be humbled:  2 Corinthians 12:7
  • We will learn obedience:  Psalm 119:67
  • We will share His holiness:  Hebrews 12: 10-11
  • We will  learn that God’s grace is sufficient: 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • We will  share in the fellowship of suffering with others: 2 Corinthians 1:4  
  • We will learn perseverance:  Romans 5:3
  • And in the end...
"This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  2 Corinthians 4:17
 
 

1. Singing in the Fire by Faith Cook:  Banner of Truth Trust; 1995; pg. 34
2. C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 774:  October 6, 1867,  delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Simple Being, Whom We Call God


We all believe in our hearts . . . that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God . . . .
(Belgic Confession, Article 1, The Only God)

A woman I know once told me God would never condemn anyone to eternal hell because God is love. If God had wrath, and she wasn’t sure he did, it was only temporary. God’s final attitude toward everyone would be love, because God is love. She kept repeating these three words, emphasizing the “is” each time as if it settled everything. If God is love, she thought, love must be his most important attribute—the one attribute to rule all the others.

Understanding God’s simplicity (or unity) should protect us from this error. When we say God is simple, we’re using the word simple in a technical way to say his being can’t be divided. He is not composed of parts—he is not complex—but exists forever as one unified being. God’s attributes, then, are not added to his being, but are what he is. They are a unified whole identical to his essence.

The woman who saw love as God’s overriding attribute was right about one thing: God is love (1 John 4:8). But she missed that the “is’s” of God’s being don’t stop there. God is also light (1 John 1:5) and spirit (John 4:24) and life (John 11:25) and truth (John 14:26). The biblical statements equating God with his various attributes imply the simplicity of God. God is each of his attributes.

That God is simple also follows from some of his other attributes. For instance, if he were composed of parts, God wouldn’t be independent. He would be dependent on his parts for his being, and on whatever it was that put those parts together. He wouldn’t be unchangeable, either, because what is made of parts can be taken apart. When theologians deny the simplicity of God, it often accompanies the denial of other attributes, like immutability (or unchangeability) and omniscience.

Because God is simple, no attribute is more important than the others. The “God is love” woman overemphasized God’s love, and couldn’t see past love to the reality of his justice, which requires that he condemn sin. Right now, love is probably the most frequently overemphasized attribute, but there are people who give false priority to his justice, too. When I was a child, my family knew an older woman whose childhood had been dominated by a father who spoke only of God’s justice, particularly his condemnation of sin. He imaged a justice-only God to his children, and as an adult, she was too terrified of committing sin to leave her own home. She couldn’t see past God’s judgment to the reality of his saving love.

But love and justice, like all of God’s attributes, belong together. Neither attribute can override the other. The death of Christ is the perfect example of this. The apostle Paul writes that in his love, God sent his Son to die so he could forgive sin without compromising his righteousness—which in this case refers to his justice, especially his just wrath against sin:

. . . God put [Christ Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood . . . to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26 ESV)
God’s saving love did not cancel out his justice, but rather, from his love, he designed a plan to save sinners in a just way. Christ’s death was a propitiation—a way for God to express the wrath against sin that his justice required. The sinner’s own sin was counted as Christ’s, and Christ bore God’s wrath in our place, so God could be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith.” This one act of God demonstrated both attributes—his love and his justice—and they worked in perfect harmony.

Divine simplicity has implications for our study of God. We’ve already mentioned one: Since God is simple, we can’t emphasize one attribute over others or consider one attribute more true to the nature of God than others. That God is simple also means he is the same being with the same attributes throughout history. Anyone who thinks of him as full of wrath during Old Testament times and full of love from New Testament times onward has misunderstood him1. In every time period, all of God’s actions are consistent with all of his attributes. Finally, if God is simple, he can’t limit or set aside any of his attributes, even temporarily. All of his attributes are identical with his being—they are what he is as God—and he can’t limit one without ceasing to be God. 2

1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 180.
2] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 230].

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Trust on the go

Recently, I picked up an excellent little book by Lydia Brownback. It's one of the books in her On-the-Go-Devotionals. The title caught my eye immediately: Trust: A Godly Woman's Adornment.

Through fifty short devotionals, Brownback opens up what it means to trust God. It's a crucial subject, because if we don't trust God, in whom do we trust? Sometimes, we may think we trust God, but when push comes to shove, we realize we are doing nothing of the sort. Closely associated with the topic of trust is worry and anxiety. If we have a lot of those things, it is pointing to the fact that we are not trusting God, and that's a point Brownback comes back to often.

Some of the many themes which Brownback discusses are:
  • God is in control
  • God's ways are better than our ways
  • Trust demands humility
  • Trust means letting go of our idols
  • Feelings are not an accurate barometer of God's love for us
  • Trust involves resisting the devil
  • Worry and anxiety always involve a lack of trust that God is good
  • A lack of trust can harden our hearts and make us blind to God's goodness
That last principle really hit home to me, and I liked what Brownback had to say. She opens by talking about how our hearts can be hardened to sin when we indulge in it. The same happens when we allow anxiety to control us:
The same callousness happens when we continue to indulge in anxiety, which always springs from the belief that God isn't able to care for us properly or that what he provides isn't enough for us. Such a belief is really unbelief, and the longer we live in it, the harder our hearts become to the truth of God's goodness, kindness, love, and desire to abundantly provide
What does it mean to indulge in anxiety? It means we roll over and over in our minds the burdens of our heart. It means letting them sit in the forefront of our thinking day in and day out, chewing over them. When we indulge in that, there is no room left for remembering God is good. I'm not saying I have that nasty habit all figured out, but hearing it presented in that way, that it may harden my heart, really got me thinking.

The series title, "On-the-Go-Devotionals" is very appropriate. These books are small enough to fit into a purse that isn't the size of a suitcase, and each entry is short enough to read while waiting in the carpool line, the doctor's office, or even in the check-out aisle. They are encouraging, thought-provoking, and challenging. Brownback has a lot of wisdom, and she speaks in a warm, encouraging tone, as a friend would. The truths are simple, but important.

There will always be something that challenges our trust in God. As long as we reside in bodies of flesh and blood, we are prone to trust in ourselves rather than God. This book is a challenge for anyone who really wants to get at the heart of whom they trust.

This book in the series has me hoping to pick up the other ones in the series. I'm sure they'll be just as encouraging.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Remembering the Truth in a Time of Cultural Crisis

After 9/11, I was a basket case. The unthinkable happened on American soil, and I was terrified of what would happen next. To keep the panic at bay, no news was good news, so I wouldn't watch TV or listen to the radio. I even averted my eyes when I happened upon a newspaper at the grocery store. Though I had been a Christian for many years, my knowledge of the Scriptures and specifically God's character was weak. Therefore, it was no wonder I had nothing to support me when the towers fell.

Fast forward 13 years.

Diane mentioned in her post yesterday that the moral landscape of our country has been altered beyond recognition since 1973, and it is still undergoing upheavals even within the last three weeks with no respite. Just in the last 24 hours, the news regarding Planned Parenthood reveals an attack on all that is righteous and good, and it is horrifying. Physical buildings may not be falling this time, but "if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps. 11:3)

Unlike my reaction 13 years ago, I know I can't hide from the world in a bunker in the hills. I can't put my hope in circumstances, even as I pray for God's mercy and intervention. There is only one refuge that is safe and sure in this time of cultural crisis. I must run to God's Word and gird my mind and heart with these truths:

God has not abdicated His throne of righteousness

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Ps. 45:2
"Wicked men question the very existence of God, who takes care of the world, who orders the affairs of it, and judges in it. And therefore they cast off the fear of God. Yet at the conclusion of the world He shall make His dominion visible to all, so that even those who have denied Him shall find, that God is their supreme Lord, and Lord of the whole world!"1

In the midst of tribulation, Jesus has overcome the world

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
"The unlimited dominion of King Jesus extends over . . . all things, all events, all circumstances, all people! All are subjected to the sovereign control of the King of kings and Lord of lords! Everywhere on this earthly globe--as far as waves roll, winds blow, sun shines, or stars hold on their nightly courses--does the scepter of Jesus sway the destinies, and control the designs and actions of men."2

The great commission still stands, and Jesus will be with us to the end

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:18-20
"Oh, for the heart, the spirit, and the soul to avail ourselves of the golden opportunity, and to preach Christ where He has never been preached before! All Power, then, we can clearly see, over everything in this world has been given to Christ, and has been used for the propagation of His Truth! But, Brethren, let us recollect that Power is given to Christ in Heaven as well as on earth. All angels bow before Him, and the cherubim and seraphim are ready to obey His high behests. Power is given to Him over the plenitude of the Holy Spirit; He can pour out the mysterious energy in such abundance that nations can be born in a day! He can clothe His ministers with Salvation, and make His priests shout aloud for joy; He has Power to intercede with God, and He shall presently send out men to preach, presently give the people the mind to hear, and give the hearers the will to obey! We have in the midst of us today our Leader. He is not gone from us. "3

1. The Sovereign Ruler of the World, Jonathan Edwards
2. Jesus the Enthroned King, J.C. Philpot
3. The Missionaries Charge and Charter, Sermon 383, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, April 21, 1861.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Gospel Centered Parenting in a Time of Cultural Crisis

“The generation now ruling seems bent on departing from the eternal truth of God; but we shall not despair if the Gospel be impressed upon the memory of the rising race.”1  - Charles Spurgeon
Yesterday Robert and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary.    We were married in 1973,   the year that Roe v. Wade's  decision  to legalize  abortion forever changed the  moral landscape of  our nation.    The Judeo-Christian  values that influenced  early American thinking  have  eroded  to the point that we're  facing a  cultural crisis. 
 
Christian parents  worldwide are having to  deal with challenges unlike anything we experienced when our kids were young.    In addition to raising  their children in the Lord,  parents must be fastidiously discerning when it comes to their children’s education,  social media activities, entertainment choices, and relationships with unbelieving friends and family members.   Who wouldn’t be worried about their children's spiritual well being,   and how will  Christian families cope living in such an ungodly world?
 
GOD WILL PRESERVE HIS CHURCH
First, we can take real comfort knowing that nothing falls outside the parameters of God’s eternal plan for  the world and for His  people.   We know from Genesis 19 and  Romans 1 that God delivers wicked cultures over for judgment,  but He will also provide a way for His people  to endure.
if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men... then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.”  2 Peter 2:7,9-10
God’s elect have survived the rise and fall of many civilizations and  Augustine acknowledged this following the sack of Rome in 410 AD in his City of God:
“So it falls out that in this world, in evil days like these, the Church walks onward like a wayfarer stricken by the world's hostility, but comforted by the mercy of God.   Nor does this state of affairs date only from the days of Christ's and His Apostles' presence on earth.   It was never any different from the days when the first just man, Abel, was slain by his ungodly brother.   So shall it be until this world is no more.”2 Augustine of Hippo  
THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL
Despite the world around us never underestimate the power of God’s  glorious Gospel when it comes  to awakening your  child's heart—especially  when  it is accompanied by fervent prayer (Romans 10:17; James 5:16).    It is our duty to faithfully teach the Scriptures to our children,  but it is also important to remember—“Salvation is from the LORD." Jonah 2:9
from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’  2 Timothy 3:15
THE NECESSITY OF  SEPARATION
COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord.”  2 Corinthians 6:17
Gospel centered parenting includes teaching  our children the necessity of  Biblical  separation  if  we want them  to understand what it means to be sincere followers of  Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:14-17).
The doctrine of separation from sin and the world has been nearly forgotten in the church today.   Ecumenism and pragmatism  have created  many theologically bankrupt churches that are  indistinguishable from the culture.   Preaching on doctrines such as  Hell,  sin, and self denial have been replaced with ear tickling messages designed to pamper the parishioner's felt needs.   And instead of separating from the culture, the church has radically embraced it.
Yet, throughout history  separation from personal sin,  the world, and religious apostasy  has been an integral aspect of genuine faith.    The major themes of the Old Testament  include  separation  from  the surrounding  idolatrous nations.    Jewish infants were circumcised on the 8th day  as a  symbol of  Israel’s  covenant relationship  with  God and of their separation  from sin and the ungodly world around them.     Corresponding to this is spiritual circumcision of the heart taught in the New Testament  (Romans 2:29).    
Friends, we cannot sugar coat the Gospel for our kids.   They need to understand  the cost of following   Christ will involve  some form of persecution  (2 Tim. 3:12)  but the cost of loving the world will be our soul.   “Do not love the world or the things in the world.   If anyone loves the world,  the love of the Father is not in him.”  1 John 2:15

SALT AND LIGHT
Nevertheless,  God did not intend New Testament believers to be cloistered away in monasteries because He calls us to be salt and light in this hopeless world.    Our children need to observe the joy and peace only  God can give in the midst of  trials  and adversity.    They need to understand  that we are citizens of the City of God and are commanded to love and pray for our enemies.   Imperfect parents as we are,  they need to see us fighting the good fight and  keeping the faith until we finish the race.  
“Cheer up, dear brothers and sisters.   Take comfort… Look at the bright side of your position.   Be encouraged to fight on.   The time is short.   The Lord is at hand. … Millions as weak as you, have fought the same fight.   Not one of all those millions has been finally led captive by Satan.    Mighty are your enemies — but the Captain of your salvation is mightier still.   His arm, His grace and His Spirit shall hold you up. …Come out boldly from the world — and the world shall be obliged to let you go.   You shall find yourselves in the end more than conquerors; you shall 'overcome'.” 3  J.C. Ryle

__________________________

  1. C.H. Spurgeon, “Come Ye Children”
  2. Augustine, The City of God;  Book XVIII; Ch. 51
  3. J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Ch.14; Visible Church Warned


Friday, July 3, 2015

Depression and Culture

In his book Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, Ed Welch offers a list of cultural elements that may contribute to the increases in depression in recent generations. While these features may not themselves be a direct cause of a specific depression diagnosis, they are certainly linked. As I read this particular chapter of Welch’s book, I grew convicted by how easily I am influenced by our culture that fuels self-pity and a sense of futility.

Please note that Welch clearly acknowledges throughout the book that depression is a complicated phenomenon, often without a clear cause and effect. He reiterates the fact that depression may be physical or spiritual or emotional or all three but regardless of its root cause it always has a spiritual element and it is that element that must be addressed by the hope of the gospel.

Here are some features of our culture that have links with depression:

1. A Culture of Decisions. With so many options and a wealth of information at our fingertips, the pressure in making decisions has become enormous, as has the sheer number of decisions we must make. What if we make the wrong decision? Sometimes it’s just easier to withdraw out of fear and paralysis, thus paving the way for depression.

2. A Culture of the Individual. Me, me, me, and what makes me happy, this is the mantra of our culture and it has reaped the consequences of isolation and loneliness leading to depression.

3. A Culture of Self-Indulgence. When we are consumed by the culture of the individual—me!—and our only concern is what makes me happy, then the culture of self-indulgence is born as we constantly crave more and more in our endless search for satisfaction, be it shoes or food or youth or beauty or affirmation or approval. These never satisfy and the endless search without satisfaction often leaves depression in its wake.

4. A Culture Where Happiness is the Greatest Good. We just want to be happy but the problem is that life is hard. If happiness is our greatest goal, what do we do when hardship comes, as it will? We get depressed.

5. A Culture of Entertainment and Boredom. We want to be entertained and amused. We want excitement and diversion. We do not know how to function without stimulation and our attention spans have grown short. When the excitement inevitably runs out, we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves and we become prone to depression.

Again while the depression itself will probably have causes well beyond these factors or may require professional help, the answer to each of these contributing factors is a broader view of God and the pursuit of joy in Him through His Son Jesus. Yes, we live in a culture of decisions and the weight of so many decisions may seem to paralyze us, yet we can trust the care and provision of a wise and sovereign God. In contrast to the culture of the self-indulgent individual, the Bible teaches us we are saved not merely for our own sake but for the church. Engaging in true community and in selfless service will combat the self-preoccupation of our individualistic culture. As believers we also know that happiness is not our greatest good but the Lord Jesus Himself and sometimes He is glorified not in our happiness but in our suffering and we can trust Him even then. And when we are tempted to boredom we can pursue joy, joy fixed on the eternal goodness of our great God.

Happiness, joy, cheerfulness, these are not my default emotions. I am more melancholy then merry and sometimes I have used my gloomy nature as an excuse to allow some of these cultural tendencies to give way in my life and heart. Maybe you are like me or maybe you struggle with a deeper, more pervasive depression and maybe any mention of joy serves as a discouragement. To us all I say: let us choose it whether we feel it or not. Joy is our inheritance, a fruit of the Spirit within us if we belong to Christ. Let us repent of the ways we have given in to the world and its cultural influence and let us humbly choose joy. In Jesus’ name. Yes and amen.