Things Will Never Be the Same Again

One week before my first son was born I can remember lying in bed crying.  My husband asked me what was wrong.

“Things are never going to be the same again,” I said.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because it’s just been you and me, and now we are going to have a baby.  Things are changing, and we’ll never be alone again,” I cried.

Things did change, and we have not been just the two of us.  We have become a wonderful family with two great sons.  God gifted us with children, and they are indeed a blessing!  We determine early on that we were going to raise them to know Christ.

I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiastes lately.  Repeatedly, Solomon says that power, riches, fame, the wisdom of man, and many other things are all done in vain.  They are a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14; 2:11).  All his human pursuits did not seem to bring Solomon happiness and contentment in his life.  I believe they also do not bring us true happiness or meaning.  I am convinced this is why so many people who have reached heights in terms of celebrity or power or wealth end up committing suicide.

Solomon does not just talk about how in vain the things of this world are.   He also talks about the importance of enjoying your lot in life.  As I understand it, we are to be content with what God has given us.  To that he adds that we should fear God and keep His commandments.  It’s our entire duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)!

So back to those two wonderful boys that I have been blessed with.  I’ve seen many parents who claim to be Christians pursuing fame and fortune without realizing the true riches that exist in their children.  When you have a child, God has entrusted you with something precious.  He has given you an opportunity not only to have something enjoyable in your life, but to also have the opportunity to pass on the knowledge of Him in a special way to another human being.

I wish more Christian parents realized the amazing blessing and responsibility they have been given.  If you have been blessed with children, take your role seriously.  Be purposeful and active in that child’s life.  Don’t pan your children off to others to raise them.  Be the biggest influence besides God in the lives of your children.  Do what God has given you to do: bring your children up in the fear and admonition of God (Ephesians 6:4)!

Having children does change you.  Things are never the same again, but in a wonderful way!  When God gives you a gift, you need to enjoy it.  When God makes you a parent, remember that this is a blessing.  Power, riches, worldly knowledge, and fame are vain pursuits.  It is only what is done for God that will bring true meaning in life.

The Imaginary Ladder

Whether most people realize it or not, they live on a ladder.  Where they stand on that ladder often determines what they believe about themselves.  How many people they perceive to be below them impacts how important they feel.  How many people they perceive to be above them also impacts how important they feel.  Most people want to be at the top of the ladder so that they feel the most important.

One of the goals of living on the ladder is to get as many people below you as possible.  You can do this in many different ways.  You can put people down, make derogatory comments about them behind their backs, and spread vicious rumors about them.  That shoves those people down the ladder quite easily.  You can pinpoint all the ways you think you are better than people to move them on down the ladder whether you do it to their face or not.  These types of actions sometimes propel you up the ladder, but only at another’s expense.  Your climb to the top of the ladder can leave you quite alone because you have to hurt people to move up the ladder.

There are also those people who climb the ladder in a different manner.  They admire those at the top of the ladder, aspiring to be like them.  Often, they even chum up to them, pretending to be their friend.  Yes, they work hard and make progress rung by rung.  However, the progress depends on how well they can get those they perceive to be above them to pull them up the ladder.

The problem with this ladder is that you are always climbing it going up and down, up and down.  Where you stand on the ladder is completely dependent on other people.  It is rather exhausting.  That ladder is social comparison.

When you base who you are and the decisions you make on what other people do or don’t do, you will always be on the ladder.  Get off the ladder and just be who God made you to be.  It’s a lot less tiring than climbing up and down an imaginary ladder over and over again!

Train Your Brain!

One of my favorite verses of Scripture is Romans 12:2 (ESV) which states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

As a psychologist and mental health professional, I find this passage quite compelling.  I look at this passage as the “train your brain” verse.  In other words, this passage emphasizes the important of renewing our mind.  There is no question as to what we are to be renewing our minds on:  God’s Word.  There is no other thing that has the power to transform a person like the Word of God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12).  As we renew our mind, we learn what God wants from us.  We learn what is good in His eyes, what is acceptable in His eyes, and what is perfect in His eyes.

The book of Psalms repeatedly discusses what the Word of God has the power to do in someone’s life.  God’s Word can help us to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11).  It is a light to our feet (Psalm 119:105).  It represents healing and deliverance (Psalm 107:20).  It revives our souls, makes us wise, brings joy to our hearts, and opens our eyes (Psalm 19:7-8).  What believer does not desire these things?

When you spend regular time renewing your mind with God’s Word, you cannot help but not conform to the world.  As your mind is filled with truth, the things of the world do not seem as important.  This is not to say that there won’t be times when you are tempted or intrigued or influenced by the world.  However, the more we trust in God’s ways and not our own, God does indeed direct our path (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6).  Sometimes His direction is to bring us back onto the right path.

Sometimes when things in life go bad, that is when we start searching the Scripture and praying for guidance.  I have told my clients on many occasions not to wait until you are going through a battle to begin renewing your mind.  If you renew your mind during those times when life is a bit calmer, it is amazing how God uses that to guide and direct you when things have gone really, really bad in your life.  Just think about it this way:  the military does not wait to train its personnel until they actually go into battle.  They spend a lot of time preparing before they ever step onto a battle field.  The same is true for the Christian life.  In fact, Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are engaged in a very real battle.  This battle is something we need to be prepared for which brings us right back to the renewing of the mind.

It is foolish for those who claim the name of Christ to not spend time in God’s Word.  I have been guilty of this myself and know the consequences of not spending time with God.  What God gives us in His word is good (cf. Proverbs 4:2), yet we often reject it either purposefully or just by letting the things of this world crowd it out.   Instead, we need to be proactive about renewing our minds.  As we do, God transforms us and gives us discernment to know the good, acceptable, and perfect things that He would have us do and become.

Do you want to know what God requires of you?  Train your brain!

What Does the Utter Sufficiency of Christ Mean?

Understanding the sufficiency of Christ requires two things:  to know who God is and to know who we are.

Scripture tells us were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21 ESV).  We were born with a sin nature that separates us from God (cf. Genesis 3; Psalms 51:5).  Our natural inclination is towards evil, not good, and given enough time, this inclination only gets worse as can be seen from the beginning of time (cf. Genesis 6) and throughout history.  We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (cf. Romans 3:23).  The picture is clear:  we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

That Savior is Jesus Christ.  Christ is “riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” (Colossians 2:2 ESV).  He is the Son of God (cf. Luke 1:35; Hebrews 1:1-4).  Christ is God who came to earth in human form (cf. John 1).  He is the sinless Lamb of God who died for the sins of the world (cf. 1 Peter 1:19).  He was the last great sacrifice for sin (cf. Hebrews 10).

Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV).  He is the Creator of all things, not only the heavens and the earth but also governments and authorities (v. 16).  When Paul said all things, he meant all things.  Christ holds together all things (v. 16-17).  Christ is the head of the church (v. 18).  He is the firstborn from the dead (v. 19).  Because Christ rose from the dead those who put their faith in Him will also rise and be reconciled to Christ (v. 20).  The fullness of God dwelt in Christ (v. 19).  In other words, Christ is God and was with God and was in the beginning (cf. John 1).  Christ is the source of all wisdom and treasure (cf. Colossians 2:3).  In Him is found everything one needs for life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

This is wonderful news for all who put their trust in Christ because faith in Christ means forgiveness of sins (cf. Ephesians 1:7; 2:8).  We are new creations (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). We are no longer separated from God but a part of His royal family (cf. Romans 9:8; 1 John 3:1-2).

When Paul was writing to the church at Colossia, false teachers had arisen among them suggesting that the people needed Jesus plus something else (e.g., human philosophy, religious legalism, mysticism, or asceticism).  While God gives us many great tools to help us along the way (e.g. modern medicine), true hope can only be found in Christ.  Many people try to put their hope in other things:  money, prestige, the government, entertainment, sports, education, medicine, human wisdom, fitness, alcohol, other people, and the list could go on.  Ultimately, these things will never satisfy.  It is only through the all-sufficient Christ that we find true hope and healing.  Through Christ we are “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11 ESV).  In fact, as indicated earlier, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV).  Don’t believe the lie that you need anything other than Christ to sustain you.  You do not need ceremonies, rituals, religious routines, spiritual experiences, self-denial, or human wisdom to have a right relationship with God.  All you need is Jesus.

Losing heart?  Feeling like you are wasting away?  Experiencing trials and tribulations?  It is easy to look at the tangible things we can touch and feel and do, hoping that these things will give us what we need to feel better.  That is not what Scripture tells us to do though.  We are instructed to look not to what is seen but to what is unseen because your “light and momentary troubles are producing an eternal weight of glory” that you cannot even begin to comprehend at the moment (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  True renewal comes from a saving relationship with the all-sufficient Jesus Christ.  If we could really grasp this truth, it would completely alter the way we think about the things that happen in this world and to us personally.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13 ESV).

Was Jesus Depressed or Anxious?

On Sunday, February 18, the youth pastor at the church I was attending engaged in false teaching as he discussed mental illness.  How do I know?  I have a high regard for Scripture, and I am a mental health therapist.

The youth pastor presented Christ Jesus in the youth pastor’s own image as one who was depressed and anxious.  The youth pastor cited Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as the instance of Christ evidencing depression and anxiety.  This is heresy and represents a grotesque misunderstanding of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

Titus 1:9 (NIV) states, that an elder of the church “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. “  Furthermore, Acts 20:28-30 (NIV) states, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”  When sound doctrine is not being taught in the church, it is the responsibility of those in charge to provide correction to and refute the false teacher.

When one has a low view of God and a high view of man, they will examine things from their own man-centered perspective.  This is what occurred in the sermon entitled “Mental Illness & Christianity” wherein the youth pastor claimed Christ had depression and anxiety “just like us.”  In essence, a man-centered psychology was presented as though it were the truth of Scripture.

First of all, Christ could not have been in a state of anxiety, or He would not have been God.  Philippians 4:6 (NIV) states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  In Matthew 6, Christ Himself warned His followers that anxiety was putting one’s self first and not God first.  Anxiety was not trusting God.  Christ also rebuked the disciples for their anxiety about a storm that had overtaken them in their boat (cf. Matthew 8:23-27).  If Christ were indeed anxious, He would be disobeying His own word as God thereby sinning against himself.  In other words, He would not be the perfect lamb of God taking on the sins of the world (cf. I Peter 1:19).

Secondly, the youth pastor was discussing “mental illness” as his topic, interchanging this concept with depression and anxiety disorders.  For that reason, it can only be assumed that he was referring to depression as an extended state of sadness and despondency which includes feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness as he did not make a distinction.  Some mental health professionals have called depression “anger turned inward” where a person has become so self-focused that that individual is basically taking life out on themselves.  Depression is a “woe is me” attitude that lasts for an extended period of time.  It is an ongoing state of “stinking thinking” (which is why it responds to well to cognitive therapies).   In essence, one has given up on God during times of extended despondence.  Anyone who has been truly depressed will attest to these feelings.  This was not Christ’s mental state when He was in Gethsemane.

Christ was evidencing grief and sorrow over the sins of the world and facing rejection by His Father.  Sorrow and anguish is not depression.  Sadness and grief are not depression.  These are temporary feelings not typically referred to as the mental illness or depressive disorder to which the youth pastor continually referred throughout his sermon.  Christ’s sorrow was a holy sorrow over our sinfulness and His sinlessness.    Christ was not feeling sorry for Himself.  He was not hopeless.  He knew what was going to happen.  He was about the face the full cup of God’s fury over sin (cf. Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15).   His perfect, sinless heart grieved for the sins of the world.  Yet, through all this, He trusted the Father.  He was not despondent about his plight in life.  In fact, just prior to going to the garden, Christ prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1 NIV), and He prayed for those who would believe in Him…He prayed for us!

Christ was God incarnate.  To say that Christ was depressed and anxious when preaching a sermon on mental illness goes against the nature of God.  To say that Christ was depressed and anxious recreates Christ in man’s own image.  It makes Christ fallible and sinful just like any other man which would make Him not God. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22-23 ESV).

To make matters worse, the youth pastor ridiculed those who would seek to bring comfort to those struggling with depression and anxiety by sharing with them the healing balm of Scripture.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  In addition, Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) states, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  In fact, we are told to renew our minds on Scripture so that we will not be conformed to this world (cf. Romans 12:1-2).  The pastor used Jeremiah as an example of one who was depressed in Scripture.  Jeremiah himself said, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name,  Lord God Almighty” (Jeremiah 15:16 NIV).  One could go on and on with Scriptures about the importance of God’s Word in the life of a believer:  Joshua 1:8 (we are to meditate on it); Psalm 1:2 (it is to be what we meditate on), 19:7-8 (revives the soul), 107:20 (it is our healing), 119:105 (it is a lamp and a light); Isaiah 55:11 (it will accomplish God’s will); and Matthew 4:4 (we are to live by it).  The list could go on.

To ridicule those who would seek to utilize Scripture to bring hope and healing to another is to deny the power of the Word of God working in those people’s lives (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).  In fact, Galatians 5:17 (NIV) states, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. “  In addition, I Corinthians 2:14 (NIV) states, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”  These passages again only emphasize the nature of the false teaching when one considers how ridiculous the things of God were stated by the youth pastor to be when helping someone who is depressed or anxious!  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18 NIV).  No wonder the use of God’s Word was made fun of by a false teacher!

The church exists in the world to be the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Exposing the church to error will have disastrous effects.    If the church abandons truth, then it is no longer the church of Jesus Christ.

 

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason…I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” Martin Luther

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