Archive for the ‘depression’ Category

A wounded spirit

Have you ever experienced a wounded spirit?  By that I mean something that grieves the very Holy Spirit dwelling inside you, leaving you in despair and feeling hopeless. Personal, unconfessed sin can leave a Christian wounded, as can sins committed against a Christian by a fellow believer. I imagine that Peter felt wounded when Jesus turned and looked him in the face after Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times (Luke 22). This was the same Peter who, at least for a short time, had walked on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Imagine what Peter must have thought at that moment he denied Jesus the third time—he had followed the Lord through thick and thin, watching, listening, and learning from Him, only to seemingly throw it all away in a brief, fearful moment. How does one overcome having made such a grave error?

I imagine that King David felt the same way when he sinned with Bathsheba. Filled with lust for Bathsheba after spying her bathing on a rooftop, David arranged to have her husband killed on the battlefield so David could have Bathsheba for himself (2 Samuel 11). David and Bathsheba’s sinful union resulted in the birth of a child (2 Samuel 12). David eventually took Bathsheba for his own wife. Not long afterwards, God struck the child with a serious illness as punishment for David’s sin.  Despite his desperate pleas begging God to save the child, it eventually died. Psalm 51, which is attributed to David, clearly reveals his wounded spirit in verses 1-4, as he confessed that he had sinned against God and God alone:

1Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

    blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

    and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

    and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

    and justified when you judge.

Imagine how wounded Jesus’ disciples must have felt to see him hanging on a cross, naked, bleeding, and slowly dying.  They had thought He was the promised Messiah who would free the Jews from Roman oppression and restore the Kingdom of Israel. After Jesus died, they hid themselves out of fear for the Jewish authorities. Juxtapose this scene of death and despair with the joy and relief experienced when the risen Lord appeared to his disciples (John 20).  

No matter how wounded your spirit is, you are never too broken to be healed by Jesus Christ. This is clear in the story of Peter’s restoration before Jesus (John 21). After having denied Jesus three times, Peter showed true repentance while declaring his love for Jesus three times; and Jesus gave immediate forgiveness. Peter was fully restored to his ministry by Jesus and just a few weeks later preached an extraordinarily powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Jesus is the Great Physician who can heal any wound, whether it was caused by a personal sin committed by you or by someone committing a grievous sin against you.

Only One can heal the spiritual wounds of mankind, rebuild broken spirits, feed famished soulsChrist, our blessed Savior. He has been down the road we’re traveling; He has experienced what it means to be human. He has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”; “He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4a, 5b). Taken from “Christ Solves the Mystery of Our Sorrow,” a sermon by Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier, the first Speaker of The Lutheran Hour

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

Let Not Your Hearts be Troubled

ISIS

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  —John 14:1-3 (ESV)

The daily news is filled with hate and violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) is conducting a systematic genocide of Christians and other minority religious groups in Syria and Iraq. Iran routinely threatens to destroy the state of Israel. North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States for what its leader perceived as threats.

Here at home the anger in many Americans is palpable. Violence is increasingly occurring at political events as the presidential election approaches. Respect among diverse people and groups in our society is waning. Many American Christians feel persecuted. Sometimes it seems as if God is no longer welcome in our society.

With all of the bad news it’s easy to become disheartened if you lose sight of the big picture. However, Christians may take comfort in the assurance that GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE. He reigns supreme in this World. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19)

The world may turn its back on Christ today, but a time of reckoning will come.  Hebrews 12 reminds us that God is “slow to anger,” but his wrath is a “consuming fire.” God commands a kingdom that “cannot be shaken.” Neither should we be shaken when we hear of all the troublesome things happening in the world today.

God’s perfect plan is being played out in our lives, even though it might not be clear to us today. Speaking of the future, St. Paul reminds us, “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.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The heart trouble Jesus speaks of in John 14 is a spiritual problem for which He is the only cure. Let not your hearts be troubled!  When we take our eyes off of Christ, the heart troubles begin. Christians must stay focused and avoid getting caught up in the daily distractions. As St. Paul encourages us, fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith! (2 Timothy 4:7)  

Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end.  A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands.   –Oswald Chambers

 

Unemployed? Seek the Lord in Your Day of Trouble.

Prayer

In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord

Today millions of Americans are facing the challenges of unemployment or under employment. These can lead to fear, frustration, depression and even physical illness. However, they also present opportunities for growth.

When you’ve lost your job or find yourself in a job that is not self-sustaining, a whole-person approach is needed as you strive to improve your situation. I like to use the “Wheel of Life” to help illustrate this. The circles on the outside of the wheel represent six areas of one’s life that contribute to the whole we refer to as “self.” Neglecting any of these puts the entire wheel out of balance, leaving one struggling and feeling out of sorts.

Wheel of Life

 Wheel of Life

Family and Social Life.  A period of unemployment or underemployment opens the door to opportunities in each the six areas on the wheel of life. It is a good time to spend extra time with family, renew old connections with friends and build your social network (which will improve your chances of finding self-sustaining employment).  Don’t forget to have some fun!

Physical Conditioning. It also provides an opportunity to improve your physical condition through proper exercise, sleep and nutrition. It is a wonderful chance to shed a few pounds and look your best for your next interview..

Career and Financial.  Dedicate some of your extra time towards education. You don’t necessarily need to pick up another degree or certification. Focus on learning something that will help make you more employable. Perhaps you can focus on improving your Microsoft Office software skills. There are free training courses galore on the Internet. If you need to improve your speaking skills, you could join the local Toastmasters chapter. The possibilities are endless.

Finances.  Being unemployed or underemployed is also the perfect time to work on improving your finances. Perhaps you’ve been talking about downsizing your household.  Start by selling off things you don’t really need.  Put together a new budget, trying to reduce frivolous spending. Try keeping close track of where your money actually goes. You might be surprised at how most of it gets spent.

Mental.  Take time to relax and stretch your mind.  Put down your phone, turn off the computer and TV, and pick up a challenging book that you’ve always wanted to read.  Spend some time with people who challenge your way of thinking. Visit an art gallery or museum that would not normally be of interest to you.

(Read Psalm 77: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2077&version=ESV)

Spiritual.  Lastly, Psalm 77 provides a simple, yet perfect framework for approaching the spiritual realm when you’re unemployed or under employed. When things aren’t going your way, it’s comforting to be reminded God has not and will not abandon you. The Psalmist finds comfort in reflecting on how God helped his people in the past. We should follow his example.

Pray fervently—then pray again. The Psalmist prayed throughout the entire night. He felt abandoned by God. He spoke what was on his mind. We can be totally honest and open with God, telling him about our feelings, our fears, our doubts and our desires. We can ask him any question. Because Jesus suffered every temptation we have faced and felt every emotion that we have felt, we are free to discuss our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Through Jesus’ experiences, God the Father has firsthand experience with everything we might face in our lives (v.9-10)

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” ― Oswald Chambers                                              

Recall how God has blessed you in the past. The Psalmist did not simply spill his heart out to God. He thought about everything the scriptures say regarding what God has done for his people in the past. God blesses those who have faith in him (v. 11).  Too often we dwell on what God hasn’t done for us rather than being thankful for the multitude of blessings he has provided.

Focus on the future. Think positively about your situation, hopes and desires. What is God teaching you? What is His will for your life? Make a list of Biblical promises you can identify about your future? (v. 13)

Reconsider your present circumstances. Ask God to strengthen your faith as you strive to cope with unemployment. Remind yourself that you can always trust  His promises (v. 14). Share your experience with others.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,  that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   ―Hebrews 4:16

 

As you continue to search, remember to always follow the light!

The Risen Lord [by Arnold Friberg]

“The Risen Lord” by Arnold Friberg

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. –Psalm 61:1-2 (ESV)

Christmas day has passed, but many Christians around the world continue to celebrate the Christmas season through the day of Epiphany on January 6. The joy and hope of the Christ Child still shines brightly! Unfortunately, joy and hope will fade for many as the Christmas season passes and they return to their often mundane daily routines.

This can be a particularly difficult time for those who are already living with the fear, anxiety and depression that frequently accompany periods of unemployment. Fortunately, if we open our eyes and look we will see that God is present always in his Word, Holy Spirit and blessed sacraments.  

While you’re job hunting, networking, sending out resumes and filling out countless job applications, don’t forget to make some extra time to spend with God in prayer and studying the Word.

Spend time with other job seekers and pray with and for them. Take time to use your God given talents to help others in need. God knows your needs before you ask and He already has a plan for you. His plan will produce fruit in your life at the time He has appointed.

Meanwhile, don’t miss out on the joy today has to offer.  If you will only seek Him, God will give you joy with or without a job. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

It is impossible for one to know what God has in store for him or her, but rest assured that He only wants the best for us all. Christians may take comfort in the knowledge that God’s love does not depend upon our success in this world. He doesn’t look at our education, work history or awards. He loves us unconditionally. While we busy ourselves with the worries and toils of this life, He is preparing us for something bigger and more glorious than we can possibly imagine.

The Bible promises that those who make seeking the Kingdom of God their top priority in life will be blessed with everything they need in this world. While you struggle with the pain of unemployment and all of the other burdens you will bear during this life, remain close to Christ and let His light show you the pathway that He would have you follow.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 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. –2 Corinthians 4:6, 16-18 (ESV)

Prayer: The link below leads to a website not associated with this blog.

Prayer of the Unemployed

Easing the Pain of Unemployment

Jobless-not-hopelessYou take my life when you do take the means whereby I live. –William Shakespeare

In Romans chapter 12, St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (ESV) Many churches attempt to follow his advice by hosting various support groups. There are groups for addiction recovery, divorcees, singles and those grieving the death of a loved one to name a few.

Unfortunately, there is another group in great need of support, but often overlooked by church ministries—the unemployed. Most people who become unemployed go through a series of emotional stages resembling this.

Initially, there is the shock of losing a job. This might initially give way to denial or disbelief like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This sometimes gives way to feelings of anger or outrage towards those deemed responsible for the job loss. As the anger slowly subsides, sadness can follow. If the period of unemployment is prolonged, sadness can lead to the onset of depression. Isolation from others during this period worsens the situation.

To varying degrees, all of us derive some sense of worth from the jobs we do and the relationships we have. Losing a job can be every bit as devastating as a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

Those who have lost their jobs are in tremendous need of contact with and the support of others. This is where churches can weigh in for the unemployed. Options for helping are limited only by the imagination. The ShareFaith website published a very useful article in 2011 titled “Seven Ways to Help the Unemployed in Your Church.” You can find it at this link: http://www.sharefaith.com/blog/2011/12/ways-unemployed-church/.

I particularly like suggestion #4, “Provide free workshops.” Workshops are a fantastic way to help your church’s unemployed. But why stop there? Unemployment in your local area opens the door to a church ministry reaching beyond the pale of your own churchyard. Consider forming a job networking group reaching out to the entire community.

The north Pittsburgh area where I live has two fantastic, faith-centered job networking groups that have helped hundreds cope with unemployment over the years. Both began as ministries inside the church, but grew into nonprofit, community outreach ministries. Check them out and then start thinking about how your church can form its own job networking group. There can never be too many!

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

Out of Control

Out of Control

Read Psalm 42

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.   —John 14:27 (NIV)

Watching the evening news these days can be depressing.  In fact, it’s getting so bad that some people try to hide themselves from what is going on around them.  Recently I’ve heard several people say they no longer watch the news because they just can’t stand hearing about all of the problems in this world. Just look at what’s happening today!

  • NASA recently reported its scientists have determined that a massive solar storm in 2012, which narrowly missed making contact with Earth’s atmosphere, had the potential to radically alter life on our planet. A direct hit would have disabled nearly every satellite in orbit and crippled the global electric power grid.  According to NASA, we would still be “picking up the pieces” some two years later.  The National Academy of Sciences estimated, “the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina.”
  • Things are heating up in the Ring of Fire region around the Pacific Rim. New volcanic activity and earthquakes are making headlines weekly. With every undersea earthquake comes a tsunami panic.  Doomsday prophets warn of a gigantic volcanic eruption that could fill the planet’s entire atmosphere with ash and darken the skies, causing an ice age.  Others warn of global warming and climate change, while still others are raising an alarm about global cooling.  What is one to make of it all?
  • Ukraine and Russia are on the brink of an all out war that could threaten stability throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. A Malaysian airliner was recently shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, killing all onboard.  Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the mishap.  Meanwhile, there is talk of a second Cold War between Russia and NATO.
  • The so-called Arab Spring uprisings, which some dreamers believed would bring a new era of peace and freedom to the people of the Middle East and North Africa, has backfired. Egypt, Libya and Syria are on the verge of implosion and total chaos. Terrorist activity in Syria is spilling across the border with Turkey, a NATO member, threatening to drag all of NATO into the fray.
  • In Iraq, a hitherto little known group of Sunni Muslim militants called ISIS is conducting a rebellion that has captured large swaths of the country and threatens to collapse the government, reversing all of the gains paid for with American blood and treasure for over a decade. Christians there are increasingly being persecuted by ISIS.  The growing abuse of Christians is not unique to Iraq, however. Believers are under fire in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and China just to name a few places.  Some would even argue there is an anti-Christian movement afoot here in the United States, where it sometimes seems that Christians are the only unprotected group in our society.
  • The Israeli military has moved in force into its semi-autonomous Gaza Strip territory in response to months of rockets fired by Palestinians at Israeli cities. As always, security problems in Israel have the potential to rapidly blossom into larger problems extending beyond her borders.
  • China and Japan are rattling their sabers over a territorial dispute involving the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited chain in the East China Sea. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing waters and have significant natural gas deposits.  The current dispute reaches back to World War II.  China, Japan and the United States have all controlled the Senkaku Islands at various times in history.  The United States, which is heavily in debt to China and bound by treaty to assist in the defense of Japan, finds itself between a rock and a hard place in this argument.
  • Speaking of debt, the U.S. economy is in horrible condition as a result of decades of uncontrolled borrowing and spending by federal legislators. Jobless rates across the nation are staggering. People desperately seeking work find themselves frustrated and disillusioned.  With a rapidly shrinking middle class, America is quickly becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.  There is growing talk of a total economic collapse that could make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park.

News like this has the potential to make anyone depressed. It sometimes appears as if the world is increasingly growing out of control—but it isn’t.  It only seems out of control to those suffering from the delusion they can control it.  Many politicians and businessmen are constantly planning and scheming, trying to make things go their way. Sometimes it seems as if they’re succeeding, but their victories are only illusions.

In fact, God has been in control all along.  He is in control now and always will be. As Hebrews 13:8 reminds us, He is the same “yesterday, today and forever.”  The Bible is filled with examples where God snatches victory from what appears to be certain defeat.

  • Moses, the adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter, was chosen by God to lead the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt.
  • As a youth, David the shepherd boy overcame the fearsome Philistine giant Goliath in direct combat, thereby saving the children of Israel from certain defeat.
  • While captives in Babylon, the children of Israel were freed and allowed to return to their land by Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia, after his armies conquered Babylon.
  • Saul, the greatest persecutor of the Jews in Jesus’ time, was described to Ananias by Jesus as God’s “chosen vessel” (Acts 9). Saul the great persecutor of Christians became history’s greatest evangelist.
  • From the ashes of the Holocaust the modern Jewish nation of Israel arose.
  • And most significantly, Jesus overcame a brutal death on the cross to rise from the dead as the Savior of all mankind.

Christians needn’t worry when they hear bad news.  God has promised, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13).  When standing in the midst of chaos, remember that He is in control.

My assurance is to be built upon God’s assurance to me. God says, “I will never leave you,” so that then I may boldly say, ’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear’ ” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV). In other words, I will not be obsessed with apprehension. This does not mean that I will not be tempted to fear, but I will remember God’s words of assurance. I will be full of courage, like a child who strives to reach the standard his father has set for him.   The faith of many people begins to falter when apprehensions enter their thinking, and they forget the meaning of God’s assurance— they forget to take a deep spiritual breath. The only way to remove the fear from our lives is to listen to God’s assurance to us.  —Oswald Chambers

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  —2 Thessalonians 3:16-17 (NIV)

Twila Paris – God is in Control  (Click to listen)

In the Company of Others

Creation of Eve in Gen_02-22 by Michelangelo

  The Creation of  Eve by Michaelangelo

Several children’s lives remain in peril in the wake of a stabbing spree in a suburban Pittsburgh high school.  On April 9, a 16 year old male student, for reasons still unknown, randomly stabbed a school guard and 21 fellow students as he quickly moved through the school’s hallways wielding a steak knife in each hand. Miraculously, no one has died from his wounds.

The incident is yet another chapter in a string of senseless acts of  violence in American schools that includes mass killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Co.; Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. (2007); and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Ct. (2012).  Unfortunately, there are several others I have not listed here.  In almost every case there is a common thread—the perpetrator was a loner. Whether this was the case in the attacks in Pittsburgh has yet to be determined.

Medical studies abound indicating that loneliness and isolation are health risks.  Social interaction, on the other hand, can improve health.  It has been scientifically shown to decrease the likelihood of premature death, improve the immune system’s response to infection and decreases inflammation in the body.

Regardless of the task at hand, be it raking the lawn, preparing a meal, searching for a new job, or simply going to see a movie or museum, it is usually a better experience when done with another.

There is also plenty of Biblical evidence indicating isolation is not good.   In Genesis chapter 2, God declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  He then creates Eve to be Adam’s mate, companion and friend.

In Exodus chapter 18, Moses is extremely weary because he tries to govern the Jewish people by himself.  His father-in-law Jethro advises Moses to appoint judges to help him with his tasks.  Moses wisely takes the advice, relieving him of the heavy burden of trying to go it alone.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV), tells us, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  There truly is strength in numbers.

Isolation is particularly risky for Christians.  Pastor Paul David Tripp discusses the perils of isolation for the clergy in his book titled, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. According to Tripp’s research, many pastors feel lonely and isolated.  A study by the Schaffer Institute showed that over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Eighty percent of believe their pastoral work has negatively affected their families.  However, feelings of loneliness and isolation are not limited to members of the clergy.

Christians are all members of God’s church on Earth.  1 Corinthians:12 describes how individual Christians, each blessed with different gifts from God, are necessary for the proper functioning of the church. Each body part serves the others.  Christians were designed by God to function best when working with and in the presence of other Christians.

Acts 17:1-2 says it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  Luke 4:16 tells us it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.   When Paul won new converts to the faith, he gathered them into small churches, which usually met in private homes.

With so many examples before us, how can Christians do otherwise?  Yet many choose not to attend church, insisting they can worship God on their own. Many have turned sour towards the church because of some sort of hurt they experienced there.

On the night when he was betrayed by Judas, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-34, ESV)  Obeying this commandment requires reaching out to other people.  It cannot be done living in isolation.

Hebrews 10: 24-25 (ESV) tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

If you’re a Christian, attending church isn’t simply that you need the church; the church needs you as well!  Fellow believers can be blessed by your participation in ways you’ll never know. Likewise, you will be blessed by just “hanging out” with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  A church is not a building; it is a collection of people who gather together to seek God.  Don’t try to go it alone.  It will lead to loneliness and isolation.  Choose to participate!

“Despite the slowness, the infidelity, the errors and sins it committed and might still commit against its members, the Church, trust me, has no other meaning and goal but to live and witness Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                     —Pope Francis

Our Waning Confidence

Faith

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, and though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas;  Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof.    —Psalm 46: 1-3 (ASV)   

 In June of this year Gallup conducted a poll on the public’s confidence in several major institutions in American society.  The U.S. military topped the list with a 76 percent confidence rating.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. Congress ranked at the bottom with only 10 percent.

There were troubling results suggesting that less than half of Americans have confidence in many of the institutions that helped form the bedrock of our society.  Big business came in at 22 percent.  Newspapers and television tied at 23 percent.  The criminal justice system was rated 28 percent. Public schools were rated 32 percent.  The U.S. Supreme court was rated 34 percent. The presidency received a rating of 46 percent.  The public’s confidence in churches and organized religion was only 48 percent.

There are plenty of reasons to lack confidence in these institutions.  Violence and even homicides in our schools are now commonplace.  It seems like hardly a month can pass anymore before you hear about another beating or killing in a school.

The recent federal government shutdown left World War II veterans blocked from visiting their memorial in Washington D.C., national parks closed, most government employees furloughed and many federal contractors idled.

A failure of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (food stamp) computer system recently caused panic across multiple states.  The registration website for the new federal health care system is a train wreck.

On top of all this, the U.S. economy stinks.  The national debt is at 17 trillion dollars—that’s 12 zeros.  Congress narrowly averted a default on the debt earlier this month, but could not reach a definitive solution.  They merely postponed the debt argument for a few months.   Failed economic policies spanning multiple presidential administrations have left millions of Americans unemployed or underemployed.

The church has taken a lot of hits in recent times.  Just last week Pope Francis chastised a German Bishop for his lavish lifestyle. Embezzlement of  funds by church employees is becoming commonplace.   It is no longer unusual to hear about a church leader caught up in a sexual crime or other form of corruption.

When times are good it’s easy for you and me to simply drift through life without a care, but when things turn bad all kinds of troubles arise.  Just trying to comprehend all of the problems plaguing American society today can cause fear, anger, paranoia, despair and depression for some.

In Matthew chapter 17, Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop. His apostles Peter, James and John behold the full glory of God.  It’s no surprise that immediately afterwards they ask Jesus if they should pitch tents so they can remain on the mountain.  His apostles want to stay and continue to soak in the glorious experience.  Instead Jesus leads them back down the mountain to the valley and their regular lives.

Life’s greatest lessons are rarely learned on a mountaintop.  They’re learned in the daily drudgery and pain of life. Fortunately for Christians, regardless of how bad things might look today, we know how the story ultimately ends.  As Oswald Chambers described his life, “I am in the procession of a conqueror, and it doesn’t matter what the difficulties are, for I am always led in triumph.”

Saint Paul echoes the same message in Romans 8:38-39 (ASV), “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He goes on to challenge us in Philippians 4:6 (ASV), “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

When you’ve reached wit’s end, stop, take a deep breath, lift your eyes and look.   You’ll see God standing right there.  Regardless of your present circumstances, never forget that He is the author of the story in every Christian’s life.  God stands ready for us to lift the burdens from our backs and place them squarely on His.  Therefore, guided by the Holy Spirit, let your thoughts and deeds spring from faith, not fear.

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  —Matthew 11:28-30 (ASV)