The Importance of Nourishment

I think it is fair to say that most of us have an appetite throughout the day. Granted, some want to eat nearly every hour, whereas others might only be hungry a couple of times a day. The point is, a healthy body needs to be taking in nutrients. If a person has no desire for food and will not eat, then something is probably wrong.

Many of us have experienced being sick and having no appetite. How many of us have experienced similar discussions during such times?

“Do you want some soup? How about some juice?”

“No thank you. I’m not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten anything all day. How about a piece of toast and a cup of broth?”

“Okay.”

An hour later a piece of toast with a bite or two missing is sitting on a plate, and next to it is a cold cup of broth.

Something similar happens with the spiritual part of our beings. When our souls are healthy, we should maintain an appetite for God’s Word. Peter writes:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. ~ 1 Peter 2:2-3

Another writer notes that a healthy, mature believer should be eating “solid food” not mere milk of elementary teachings.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. ~ Hebrews 5:12-13

My wife could tell something was wrong with me when I was going deeper into depression. You see, I enjoyed reading and discussing God’s Word. I enjoyed, and excelled in, my studies in Bible college and Seminary. However, she noticed more and more I was disengaging in discussions of the Bible. Less and less I wanted to go to church or Bible studies. I did not want to pray. I did not want to do much of anything, really.

Whenever I did try to read, my mind seemed to go in multiple directions. I could not concentrate. What I did try to do each morning before leaving for work was still have my devotional times. However, I would simply read a verse or two, and the accompanying devotional. For me, this was sort of the equivalent of taking in some toast and juice. Ideally, it is preferable to be in a more healthy position to take in more spiritual nutrition, however.

Perhaps you are in a season where you are not “hungry” for the Word, as you had been. This does show something is wrong, spiritually: anxiety, depression, busyness, burnout, sin, or something else. I want to encourage you to remember the importance of nourishment. Certainly whole servings of fruit and vegetables is better for your body than mere sips of orange juice and broth. However, juice and broth are better than nothing at all. So too, digging into the Word is better than simply reading a verse and devotional. However, these are still better than no nourishment at all.

As you read, especially if your mind is going in different directions, do not try to know every part. Pay attention to key words, phrases, promises, or aspects of God’s character. Simply try to think about these periodically throughout the day. God will use these to nourish your soul back to better health.

You Are Not Alone

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Light in the Darkness for Weary Travelers

Depression is a strange terrain. Perhaps you are there now. For me, when I was in the depths of my depression, the feelings of loneliness bit like a frigid Minnesota winter night, although people could be all around me. Like the old Casper, the Friendly Ghost cartoons, I desired to connect with others but could not. At times, I felt as though I was literally invisible.

As such, crazy thoughts would begin to churn in my mind like clothes in a dryer, going round and round. “Why am I here? Does my life really matter? Would anyone really miss me if I was gone? Would anyone even notice?” Oh, believe me, there were plenty of seemingly legitimate reasons why my life did not matter, etc. I have known the sting of betrayal, and the wounds of being forsaken by some.

I felt like screaming when persons would say things like, “I know how you feel,” because they did not know. They had no idea what I was feeling. I knew some meant well, but their words were like salt in an opened wound. I felt as though I was existing in the realm of the dead—not dead, but not living either.

When I was in the depths of my depression, I felt as though I was in a deep pit, surrounded by darkness.  I could not climb out of it. I felt forsaken by people and by God. During this time I experienced a lot of confusion, fear, and anger. Honestly, I just wanted the Lord to kill me and take me home. “I came. I tried. I failed. Kill me now, Lord.”

How does a person get to such a place? There is no single reason for depression. Perhaps you can relate to the feelings of the prophet Elijah:

And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers …. I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ~ 1 Kings 19:4, 14 (ESV)

Perhaps you are experiencing depression right now. I am not going to criticize you or accuse you of lacking faith. I am not going to tell you I know how you feel, because I do not. I only know how I felt, and it was a hellish experience that I do not wish upon anyone. What I will say is this: I know the loneliness can  be crushing, like a ten ton boulder. Perhaps you are surrounded by a deep darkness. May the words from the prophet Micah be of hope for you:

I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light…. I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7-8 (CEV)

You might be sitting in a “dark night of the soul,” but the light of the Lord has not been extinguished. At a coming hour His radiance will be bursting at dawn. Perhaps God seems but a flickering star a billion miles away—even so, His presence surrounds you, whether you “feel” it or not. And know that you are loved and needed. By your parents, your spouse, your child(ren), your pet(s).

While you might feel alone in this experience, know that there are others experiencing something similar. Elijah felt as though he was alone, but God tells the prophet of seven thousand others, like himself, had not bowed their knees to Baal (see 1 Kings 19:18).

I know the feelings are horrible. You might feel embarrassed for feeling this way, but you are simply feeling your humanity in a fallen world. I know this blog is not a cure for depression; however, I hope you will know that you are not alone. I might not be by your side, but please know I am with you in spirit. Know that God is sending people to you, though even strangers they might be, to give a warm smile. This might seem insignificant, but many of these persons are struggling with similar feelings. Most importantly, God is with you. His presence is not dependent on your faith or feelings. Continue to talk to Him, regardless if He seems absent (He is not). Continue to pour your heart to Him. In due time, as He did with Micah, he will lead you to the light.

I hope God will use this blog to give you strength to fight through another day; and regardless of your feelings, you are not alone.

The Necessity of You

This blog is just as much for the pastor and missionary as it is for the layperson. I ask you honestly, was not the prophet Jeremiah an utter failure, a disgrace to the ministry? Is he not certainly one we can look down on, shaking our heads? Is he not one whom God clearly did not really use? After all, he did not have many, if any, converts. He did not spark any revivals or great awakenings. His message only upset people. Although two books in the Old Testament are written by him, are either of them anyone’s favorite? He certainly would not be “hired” by most churches today.

As a person, he does not seem to have the wisdom of Daniel, the strength of David, the zeal of Paul, or the leadership qualities of Moses or Nehemiah. Was Jeremiah not a sissy-boy, always crying? Would he not have been an embarrassment to the likes of Joshua?

Now, I hope you realize I am totally being facetious. What foolishness to think Jeremiah was not a man of God whom He used mightily. Although miracles and revivals did not accompany Jeremiah’s ministry, what made him great was his obedience to God. Yet, do we not play such non-sensical comparison games in churches? Admittedly, laypersons and pastors alike are guilty of this. This pastor has a big church, God must really be using him, while the preacher down the road ministers to a congregation of twenty-five persons. Obviously, God is not using him, right? Or that person has an M. Div. degree and is a great teacher, but this person is only a greeter. Honestly, is not the common (mis)perception that the latter person is not as used by God, and the former is more spiritual? The chances are great that you and I are quite guilty of such nonsense.

Many of us are also guilty of this at a personal level. “I am not a great speaker.” “I have never been on a mission trip.” “I do not have a formal theological education.” Or such comments can also come from a condescending standpoint. When I was enrolled at a certain Bible college, there was an underlying attitude of some that the less of a theological education one has, the less God can really use such a person. What hogwash!

Many of us would agree the church in Corinth was a messed up bunch. Yet, ironically, is this not the very church Paul rebuked for such stinking-thinking so common today?

“What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ~ 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, ESV

Later, Paul writes:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty…. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12, 21-23, 29-31

Would Paul not rebuke us today? Many of us have our favorite preachers (“I follow John Piper,” “I follow John MacArthur,” “I follow Charles Swindoll,” or “I follow Max Lucado”), as if they are some sort of rock stars. We go to conferences and we treat the preachers we have not heard of like unsigned opening acts (hey, Paul would rebuke me, too).

At a personal level, how often have many of us been guilty of comparing ourselves with others? If we are not careful, we might begin criticizing ourselves (or others) as though we (or they) have less significance or purpose. “I’m not an eye, I’m worthless!” “I’m just a foot, the body doesn’t need me.” Be honest, have not many of us questioned our worth and significance because we are not this or that, as compared to this or that person? Or else looked down on another because of something we do not like about them (as though we are somehow better)?

What does Paul tell us? He notes that God does not give everyone the same gifts; rather, He gives each a specific place and function. None is the better, none is the worse. Furthermore, each is necessary. While we have not yet discussed it, Paul writes that there is something even greater than our gifts and functions. In chapter 13 he explains that this something greater is love.

Permit me to shift gears for a moment. There are some preachers and authors who give us pep talks about being “earth shakers” and “world changers.” Although they mean well, these are not only unrealistic, but also misleading. Unrealistic, because most of us are simply “ordinary” individuals. This is not an insult, but only to say that we are not superheroes or greatly influential. Misleading, because Jesus has not called us to be “earth shakers” or “world changers.” (What?!?!?!) But what does He say?

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

What does Jesus tell us to do? He does not tell us to do anything but to abide in Him. Why? Because apart from Him we can do nothing. So notice, appearances can be deceiving. There are times when things appear a lot is happening, when nothing is truly happening for God’s kingdom. Strangely, there are times when it seems nothing is happening, when there is a lot going on. All is dependent on whether or not persons are abiding in Christ.

This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 13. We tend to put a lot of stock in the external—the glitter, noise, bustling, and excitement. We enjoy the extraordinary. But Paul says if he has the gift of tongues—to the point of speaking the language of angels—but has not love, he is just making noise. If he gives everything to the point of including his life but has not love, he has not really given anything at all.

So, what is my point? Do not let mere externals or spiritual gifts determine your sense of worth. Our worth is solely based and secured in Christ. Furthermore, do not be active for the sake of being active. Busy-ness does not equal being “spiritual.” Rather, abide in Christ and He will bring true life to you, and then you will bear fruit. Also, genuinely love God and others. Great speakers and entertainers abound, but how many people in our lives genuinely love without any expectations in return? Abide in Christ and genuinely love, and you can be certain your life is bearing real fruit—even when it might not seem like it. This is what made Jeremiah a great man of God. By and large, truly, he would be rejected by many churches and persons today. Yet, here was a man who remained obedient when the going got tough, and a man who poured his heart out for the sake of others. God, indeed, was with Jeremiah—and his legacy continues onward today. Gifts and activities do not create significance. The real issue is whether or not we are abiding in Christ, obeying God’s Word (which goes hand in hand with abiding), and truly loving others. These are what determine true success. If you are doing these, then you can be certain God is using you in mighty ways, regardless what your eyes—or other’s eyes—see (or do not see)!

The Accuser vs. Our Justifier

You hear the accusations, the criticisms, the condemnations that echo inside your head. Although the accusations are heavily laced with lies, it is the elements of truth and the diabolical logic that oppresses your thoughts, pierces your heart, and rips at the very fibers of your soul.

The accuser reminds you of sins and bondages of the past. He will try to rub your face in the struggles of the present. Here are the elements of truth, for you and I both have certain sins we are guilty of, as well as struggle with. The bits of truth are then laced with lies. “This is unforgivable!” “A real Christian would not do that!” “Grace covers most sins, but you need to try to earn back God’s love after this!” He thus tries to shatter hope for the future.

All of this is bad enough, but it is the diabolical, absolutely ruthless and relentless, apparent logic that would kill—were it not for God’s faithfulness! The accuser would have us believe that our sins, failures, and vileness is our very being and identity. That is, he would strip us of the image of God, albeit marred. He would not have us simply believe our sins are vile and profane, but that we are the very essence of vileness and profanity (i.e., we are not simply dirty, but we are in our very being dirt itself). To some, I suppose this all seems silly, but there are many who know exactly what I am talking about. The accuser can spin his lies in a way that can convince a person that not only are they sinful, but they are the very essence of the evil of sin.

If left to ourselves, we would be utterly helpless. In spite of the ruthless lies the accuser spins, our sins certainly would be cause to condemn us. However, we have One who has redeemed us, and who justifies us. It is vitally important to understand our justification is entirely His work—not ours!

In Zechariah, we read of the high priest, Joshua, who was accused mercilessly by Satan.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. ~ 3:1-5, (ESV)

Notice, the accusations were not entirely false. Joshua’s garments were, indeed, filthy. However, although Satan is the accuser, he is not the judge or jury—and he certainly does not have the last word! Joshua was incapable of cleansing himself, but it is Lord who stripped him of his filthy garments and replaced them with clean ones.

Similarly, when the prophet Isaiah witnessed the glory and holiness of the Lord, he became very aware of his sinfulness.

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” ~ Isaiah 6:5-7

In this passage, the very presence and holiness of God brought to Isaiah awareness of his sin. Notice again, however, it was the Lord’s doing (yes, by means of an angel and hot coal) that purged the prophet’s lips. Isaiah was helpless to do this himself—just as we all are!

All of this is crucial to understand, especially when the evil one is accusing us. Satan’s accusations are only to confuse, condemn, and destroy. The Holy Spirit brings conviction—not to condemn but to bring us to Christ who redeems is by His shed blood. This is a tremendous difference!

Romans chapter 7, as well as Galatians 5:16-26 deals honestly with the internal struggle of every Christian. While Satan, who tirelessly accuses us (see Revelation 12:10), we have a Redeemer who is our Justifier. Romans 8:1 tells us that for every person who is in Christ, there is NO CONDEMNATION. Why?

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. ~ (Romans 8:3-4)

Jesus took our sins upon Himself! While this does not give us license to sin, but it does give us hope when we do sin. Because of Jesus and His work on the cross, and His work in us, we can get back up. Ah, but what about our accuser? Oh, he is still going to accuse you and I. But we are also told:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. ~ Romans 8:29-34

Who shall bring a charge against us? Oh, our accuser will try, for sure, but it is God who justifies us! Who will condemn us? Again, Satan will try, but it is Christ who died—and was raised— and continues to intercede for us!

Those whom the Son sets free are free, indeed—even from all condemnation. Look to Christ, dear one. For all those who are in Christ, no one, or thing, or situation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:37-39).

Depression in the Faithful

There are natural laws that have nothing to do with being either “Christian” or “secular.” If a person goes beyond the edge of a roof, gravity pulls a person downward, regardless of beliefs or ideologies. Or consider a car collision, the law of “cause and effect” are the same for the religious person, as well as for the atheist.

There are laws connected to mental health, as well. So many things can affect one’s mental health: chemical imbalances, stress, grief, unresolved anger, guilt (real or false), lack of rest, hunger, loss, disappointment, etc. Christians are not immune to depression.

There are some Christians who speak condescendingly of believers who battle depression. After all, if those suffering depression had such great faith and spirituality as them, then they would not be depressed. James says Elijah was a man just as the rest of us (see James 5:17). There is no doubt Elijah was a man of incredibly great faith, who won a great spiritual victory on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 17-18). Nevertheless, afterward we read of him being exhausted, stressed, and hungry. This prophet of great faith fell into a deep depression. He felt like a total failure, and simply desired to die (see 1 Kings 19).

Was Elijah a failure? Does God criticize him for his depression or accuse him of lacking faith? No, but encourages the prophet to rest and to eat.

Are you feeling down today? Let me ask you, are you getting adequate rest? Are you eating a healthy diet? Perhaps you feel like a failure. I will venture to say that each of us have our share of both victories and failures; however, our redemption is solely based on Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. If we experience victory, it is because of His power. If we suffer failure, God does not withdraw His love. He gives us a wonderful promise of forgiveness in 1 John 1:9. Furthermore, because of what Christ has done, we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence (see Hebrews 4:16; 10:19).

Perhaps you are one to look down on those dealing with depression. Be grateful you have not been brought to the edge of despair. And know this, the Lord can easily strip you of such smugness and allow you to feel what others feel in order to teach you empathy. Each of us are dependent on His strength and grace.

Be encouraged. You are loved!

Light in the Darkness

This morning at church, during the worship, I felt the Lord wanting me to go in a different direction with this site. Initially, I wanted to touch on issues that are often neglected in churches, but I feel the need to use this site to encourage weary travelers.

See, we were singing the song, “Way Maker,” and a reoccurring line goes: “Way maker, Miracle worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the darkness, that is who You are.” For me, God being the Light in the darkness resonates with me for two reasons. First, when God saved my soul when I was a teenager, He rescued me from a deep darkness. Second, about a year and a half ago, I fell into a deep depression. This, after walking with the Lord for some thirty years, and being in ministry, etc. I was in deep darkness, and closer to the edge than I realized.

When I was was still in my darkness, I read a promise in Micah: “I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light” (7:8, CEV). I remember the Lord giving me an illustration: a person can be sitting in the dark at night, but this does not mean the sun has fizzled out. No, the sun is merely hidden. Mind you, this did not pull me out of my depression, God would do that later; however, I was reminded today that God, indeed, is our Light in the darkness.

Depression is not necessarily sinful. In fact, a number of godly persons in the Scriptures dealt with depression (e.g., Moses, Jeremiah, David, Hannah, Elijah, etc.). Christians—including pastors—can experience depression. Again, the reasons vary.

If you are struggling with depression, please know that Jesus is your light. Confide with some persons you can trust. And I hope you will continue to check in on this site. It had been my goal to try to post something at least once a week.

Although you might feel forsaken (this is a horrible feeling), but please know that God is faithful to His own—even when He seems to have withdrawn!

An Evil Under the Sun

Jesus is life, and the source and giver of life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. ~ John 1:1-4 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” ~ John 14:6

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. ~John 6:33

This God and Savior, who is life, also has a deep love for children. In fact, he is intimately involved in their development, and He cares deeply about what happens to them.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. ~ Psalm 139:15-16

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left. ~ Jonah 4:10-11

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. ~ Matthew 18:5-6

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 19:13-14

There is a great evil under the sun in these modern times. Men and women writing and passing laws permitting the destruction of the innocent and helpless babies in the womb—even out of the womb. Adding to this evil is that many even applaud laws that permit such brutality.

A greater evil still is so many who profess the name of Christ, who would say they share His heart, applaud these laws—or will make justifications for not crying out against these laws and declaring them as evil.

In Genesis God tells Cain that the blood of Abel was crying to Him from the ground (see 4:10). Does not the blood of millions of unborn babies not cry out to God? For all who profess the name of Christ, will not their blood be as much on our hands if we do not cry out against such evil?

Let us understand, we are well past the “what if” situations. We have entered an age of celebration of death of the helpless and innocent. This is not a political issue, but a moral one. For all who profess the name of Christ, consider His character, love, and involvement in the lives of these little ones very carefully before ignoring or justifying this terrible evil under the sun.