Jesus was faithful again in a small/large thing

My wife called me and said she had lost a roll of 100 stamps.  To us, $56.00 is a lot of money.  We prayed over the phone, dear Jesus, please find the stamps.  It was 5:00pm and my wife had bought the stamps at the Post Office around 9:30am.  She had searched everywhere and so decided to go back to the Post Office where she bought them.  As she approached the Post Office’s parking lot she prayed, dear Jesus, I know you care about postage stamps.  When she got to the parking lot she saw the top of the tiny, flattened, cellophane covered roll of stamps.  She called me and said excitedly, “Did you  know God cares about our finances?”

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

God cares about the smallest details of our lives.  That is the character of Jesus.  He cares so much about you that He decided He would rather die than spend eternity without you.  And now it’s your turn to decide if you want to spend eternity with Him.  He will not force you, He’s a gentleman, and only goes where He’s invited.  He offers eternal life, right now, not just after you die.  And you don’t have to be perfect, that’s His work, to make you like Himself.  You do have to choose, as He makes you able, to not sin anymore.  But if you do sin again, He is faithful and forgives you and helps you through the consequences of sin.  He will also challenge you to discover that His way is better than any sin.  When you choose to obey Him, He will give you real life, real joy, real meaning, real satisfaction.  You will discover that satan’s way has never ultimately satisfied you like Jesus’ way.

Jesus is with you right now.  He can give you the power to change.  All you have to do is ask Him, and let Him give you the power to obey Him.

Jesus and Psych Medication

Some television pastors that I highly respect believe that mental illness, including depression, can be best treated without medication.  While some depression can be treated by developing a better relationship with Jesus, and some can be treated by learning better thinking patterns, and still others can be treated by having a healthier body and lifestyle; I believe some mental illness requires medication, as well as these other treatments.

At the early onset of depression, medication (SSRIs) can arrest a downward spiral. This can give the person an opportunity to develop a better relationship with Jesus, to learn and apply more effective thinking patterns, and to gain the benefits of a healthier body and lifestyle.  By acquiring new skills a person may be able to manage their situation better, and may be able to get off the meds relatively soon.

By waiting to take meds, or not take them at all, as some pastors suggest, permanent damage to the brain can occur and the person can then need the medication for life.  (Not to mention that the person could become so ill without medication they could even take their own life).

The brain is a physical organ of the body.  It is the interface between our mind and the physical world.  As an organ of the body it is subject to disease just as the other organs of the body are subject to disease.  Just as bone marrow produces blood and the pancreas produces bile, the brain produces, among other things, thoughts.  Disease interferes with the correct production of these thoughts.  That is, many times these diseases interfere with the electro-chemical interactions of the brain that produce correct thinking.  These electro-chemical interactions can sometimes be corrected by medication.

Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that helps us to naturally “feel good”.  If the serotonin the brain is producing is insufficient, depression can result.  SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) are used to cause the brain to recycle its own limited supply of serotonin.  It is still your own serotonin; it is just reused over and over instead of being used up the first time.

Some may say, “God can heal depression.”  And to that I say, “Absolutely!”  God has the power to miraculously heal depression, all mental illness, and all illnesses – without the use of doctors or medicine.  But why does the Bible not condemn Luke for being a doctor?  And why did the Apostle Paul say to Timothy, “Have a little wine for your stomach’s sake?”  Is intervention – by people and medicine – to heal the body (and the brain is part of the body) universally condemned by all of Scripture?  As Jesus said, “Let’s judge by true standards!”  Do you use glasses to correct your vision?  Would you say, “My lack of vision is caused by a lack of faith in Jesus to heal me, I am going to have faith and drive without glasses now.”  Would you say to a person dealing with diabetes, “Your poor diet and lack of exercise has caused this, repent, stop taking your medication, and trust Jesus to heal you?”  Would you have surgery without anesthesia because anesthesia affects the brain?  Have you ever taken an aspirin?  Have you ever had a cup of coffee?

Mental illness is unimaginable suffering (as I know from experience).  When the religious people of Jesus’ day held that God did not want the man with the withered hand and the woman bent over in pain to be healed on the Sabbath; but rather to continue in their pain one more day; because they interpreted Scripture to forbid all work on the Sabbath; Jesus was indignant and angry at their lack of compassion.  I can see Jesus saying to them then: Which one of you would not pull your animal out of a pit if it had fallen into it on the Sabbath… (breaking your own man-made rule).  And I can see Jesus saying to them and us: …Yet you don’t care about a fellow person’s intense pain and suffering, (because of your man-made rule that “God doesn’t use medicine for the brain”?)  As Jesus said, “Use true standards!”

Jesus felt healing people’s suffering was more important than rules.  Jesus gave the example of David, on the run and hungry, asking the priests for the show bread; which only the priests could legally eat according to God’s Law.  The priests gave it to him and he and his men ate it, in direct violation of Scripture.  Jesus said that all “rules” must be derived from “Love God, love people.”  I believe God allows the use of meds to help the brain and so help people not to suffer, to reclaim their thinking, and to recover.

The real issue here, I believe, may not be medical intervention of brain disease.  The real issues may be fear; and perceived failure and its consequences.  Fear, in that the people who say not to use meds for brain disease may feel that if someone else’s brain can inexplicably not work correctly, then maybe the same thing could happen to them.  And they may be scared to death that they could “lose their mind” too.  They may not understand or trust medication and so be afraid of it.  They may be more comfortable “trusting God” and doing nothing, than trusting God and using the tools He has provided (developing a relationship with Jesus, developing thinking skills, developing a healthy body and lifestyle, and medication).

Perceived failure and its consequences may also be the real issue.  The person who does not believe God uses meds for the brain may feel that the person who is depressed has “failed” to have “faith”, or has “sinned” and so must not be “drugged” to insulate them from the pain they need to feel in order to be motivated to “get right with God.”  Job’s experience with his “friends” teaches us that our response to suffering needs to be compassion, and sharing the burden; not judgment based on our wrong assumptions of “God’s ways”.

If you know someone who is struggling, you can be a light in a very dark world.  You can offer compassion and hope to them by affirming to them that God is for them and so are you.  You can encourage them that one in five people will deal with a mental illness in their lifetime and that recovery is now the expectation instead of the exception.  And, if they are prescribed medication, (and that medication may have to be changed before the right one is found), you can assure them that Jesus uses medication to help the brain function just as he uses medication to help other parts of the body to function.

What is Jesus like?

What is Jesus like?  The Bible says: 

He is the [exact visible] image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15a, KJV, brackets mine)

What is God like?  The Bible says

…God is Love. (1 John 4:8b, KJV)

What is Love like?

1If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
4Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
5Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
6Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
7Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. 9We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. 10But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.  And the best of the three is love.  (1 Corinthians chapter 13, The Message)

This is what Love is like.  This is what God is like.  And this is what Jesus is like.  He never gives up on us, He’s always looking for the best in us, He doesn’t keep a sin scorecard (our sins are wiped away when we trust Him that He paid the penalty for them), He doesn’t think He’s better than us, He’s not stuck up, He doesn’t force Himself on us,  He doesn’t have to be first, He cares more about us than His own life.

This is one amazing Love…

This is one amazing God…
This is one amazing Jesus.

He’s not what you may think

There are many definitions of the “Glory of God”.  To me the greatest attribute of God’s glory is his humility. God chose to humble Himself and love me when I was arrogant, boastful, insulting and rude; to others and especially to Him.  If God had not endured my disrespect, I would probably be in hell by now.  And rightfully so.  

My greatest weakness may be “Pride.”  I wrote evangelistic advertisements for a newspaper.  The ads ran every Saturday.  I did this for two years until my pride was such that I couldn’t hear from God any more.  I didn’t write again for 8 years.  I knew I was getting proud.  I didn’t want to get proud.  I thought I confessed my pride to God.  But I was proud.

Pride is the opposite of love.  Love gets its joy from helping others.  Pride thinks only about itself.  I still need to die to myself.  Every day.

On the other hand, God’s humility is amazing.  His depths of self-denial are so great that if I loved like He does I would feel embarrassed.  Like the father of the prodigal son, God undignifies Himself and runs after us to love us.  Where I would feel humiliated to love someone who treated me like I treated God, His strength-of-self knows no such weakness.  He voluntarily throws aside the respect due Him, in order to meet my need.  And He has.  And He truly has my Respect.

How about you?  Did you think God was stuffy, formal and pretentious?  Did you think you were too low for Him to come down to meet you where you are?  He’s already there.  And He is waiting for you to ask Him into your life.  And He wants to give you His love.

New Motivation

Think of a good day you have had.  Your work was challenging but through hard work you gained success.  You imagined another successful step down the path of your career and you made it happen.  You felt accomplishment and relaxed at the end of the day with friends and/or loved ones.  Imagine this day being visually represented as a white card.

Now think about the time when you REALLY didn’t feel like doing something.  Something very difficult, that you weren’t good at, had little chance of success, but were forced to do anyway.  And you felt doing it would not ultimately benefit you.  Now imagine you feel real mental pain as you do this.  And once you are done putting in the intense, exhausting effort to complete this task, you feel no sense of reward, no good feelings, no sense of accomplishment.  And, you feel no sense of completion of the day’s work.  Now imagine that this once-in-a-while-really-bad-day of yours is visually represented by a light gray card.

To some with mental illness it is much worse… every day is a black card day.

Before I had mental illness I had a normal suburban middle class life.  If you asked me if I ever had a really bad day I would be able to tell you with conviction that I had suffered bad days, days I didn’t want to do anything, days as bad as anyone’s.  But these bad days were qualitatively different from, and quantitatively of less intensity than, my average day of depression.

When someone has a broken leg you can see it, you hold the door for them, you are sympathetic.  But mental illness is invisible.  The person who struggles looks the same as a healthy person.  An analogy that comes to mind is someone who is swimming in a pool and someone who is swimming in transparent wet concrete.  The problem is not only the difficulty of swimming in concrete, but the invisible injustice that others are seeing you, and judging you, as if you were swimming in the same water they were.

What are some of the ways “we” experience transparent wet concrete while “you” experience water?  There is so much that a healthy functioning brain does that I was not aware of until I didn’t have it.  When I was depressed my emotions shut down but I didn’t know it.  When I drove my car and the light turned red, my foot did not automatically come off the gas and on to the brake.  I thought: “The light is red.  I have to stop.  Why isn’t my foot coming off the gas?”  I had to consciously force my foot to come up and then consciously force my foot to go down on the brake to stop.  Everything that used to be automatic was now consciously forced “drudgery”.  This is just one of many changes depression made in me; none of them for the better.

Another example of “us” swimming in transparent wet concrete while “you” are swimming in water – is income.  Mental illness (many times) lowers income.  There is a big difference in how hard it is, how long it takes, how much of the elements you have to face, and how much you can get done in a day when you can only afford public transportation as compared to having your own car.  When I am asking someone to pick up their meds, I am thinking of the half hour round trip it takes me to drive-thru my neighborhood pharmacy.  Someone else using public transportation may have to wait half an hour in sub-zero wind chill, or rain, or blistering heat, just to catch the first leg of their bus journey to get to the pharmacy.  And they may do all of this without the benefit of a healthy brain.

I just do not know the difficulties faced by others, and I do not want to deceive myself into thinking I do.  In another analogy, until they experience sight, blind people have no ability to imagine light or color.  And, similarly, deaf people don’t know what is really meant by someone referring to sound until they have experienced it.  Like them, I have no idea what it is like to experience another’s mental illness.  For example, I don’t know what it is like to hear audible voices (that no one else hears).  I myself deal with malicious emotions that tell me I am worthless, to give up, it’s no use to try to do this job, etc.  But they are feelings not audible voices.  And though I might think I know a little of what they are going through, I really need to talk to them and not assume their experience is similar to mine.  I suggest to you that until you experience severe depression you have no idea how deep that pit is, how black it is, and how steep the walls are.  And you may have no idea how hard it is to survive it, much less get out of it.

Yet even though you haven’t experienced it, you care.  And I wildly applaud you for spending your one and only precious life on this earth investing in our good.  You could be making more money, with better hours, and less unpaid overtime, doing much more pleasant activities.  But you choose to use your strength to lift us up.  I know from experience how hard it is to be mentally ill, and yet some of you have more compassion and give more effort than I do to help heal those whose wounds you can’t even see.  Much of the time you work without the world’s applause, (which it reserves for those who have truly noteworthy contributions to make – like highly paid professionals who put a bouncy ball through a metal ring; aka basketball ;>).  For those who cannot or will not, let me sincerely say thank you for caring about us and for putting that caring into action.  You will never know this side of heaven what you have meant to those of us who desperately needed your help.

You care and you act on that caring so I am not asking you to cry boo hoo for those of us who have dealt with, or are dealing with, mental illness.  What I am asking though, is that you consider the possibility that others experience life intrinsically different than you.  An experience of life that makes some of the easiest tasks that others do each day – and take for granted – very, very difficult for us.  And if you feel this difficult life is possible, grant us patience in proportion to the difficulty you believe we face.

________________________________________________________________________

The preceding was written originally for mental health clinicians to both provide a glimpse of what some of us mentally ill experience every day and to thank them for caring enough about us to do a difficult and sometimes thankless job.

 

Obeying God and Putting His Promises to the Test

Sometimes, after you have been a Christian for a while, you have so much of your life, relationships and self invested in “God” that the thought of Him not coming through for you and therefore having proof He is not real is terrifying.  To find out that what you have based your life on is a lie is too embarrassing a thought to deal with.  So, we hedge our bets.  We pray, “God, you said that if I put you first, as Lord and Savior, you would provide for me and my family.  But if you don’t, I will still love you and trust you and feel the same way about you”.  This may sound good, but I suggest that this kind of faith is not honored in the Bible.  What is most important to God is our intimacy with Him, our trust in Him, our faith in Him.  And God says in the Bible that this faith is more precious than gold.  It is so important to God that He will rock our world until we come to the point of saying, “God, I have put You first.  You said that if I did, you would supply food, clothing and shelter for me and my family.  You have to come through for me.  I have no plan “B”.  You promised you would and I am holding You to it.  If you don’t, then I have no reason to trust You anymore.”

God doesn’t say not to put Him to the test.  God says not to put Him to a foolish test.  Satan suggested to Jesus that He jump off the top of the temple because God promised to send His angels to hold Him up.  Jesus answered that it is written, do not put God to a foolish test.  If God says He will do something for you when you obey Him, He wants you to test that.  Obey Him and then hold Him accountable for what He promised.  That’s not a foolish test.  That’s faith.

And here’s my disclaimer:  Though I have had success in trusting God, I have also experienced complete hypocritical failure at trusting God.  I am not an expert.  For every time I have trusted God and seen Him keep His promises, I have not trusted Him multiple times (with disastrous results).  A turning point in my life came when I trusted God and obeyed His teaching by refusing to participant in the production of certain advertising promoting what I felt was pornography, abortion, or the occult.  I risked my family’s main means of support because of this apparent insubordination.  Many true friends prayed for us.  God gave me the chance to talk about His heart of love and concern for people to top levels of management.  God softened the heart of the main decision maker who eventually said I could go back to work without having to touch these ads. (True to God’s style, five years later He had this same company ask me to write large religion section advertising telling people about the love and acceptance of Jesus.  This series of ads ran for fourteen years).

You’d think I would have “lived happily ever after”.  However, less than two weeks after being cleared to not do these ads, I caved in to the gripping fear of losing my livelihood. I moved an objectionable ad from its wrong position on the page to the right position, an ad I previously said I would not touch even to the point of losing my job.  I did it because I was afraid people would think of me as a self-righteous hypocritical trouble maker and reject me if I caused them problems (this was satan lying to me, because I worked with some great people).  There after whenever I was presented with an objectionable ad I always struggled with whether Jesus would protect my job or not if I refused to do the ad.  It was never told to anyone I worked with that I didn’t have to do these ads and I feared others’ resentment for having to do them for me.  There are too many other examples of my failure in trusting God and too embarrassing as well.

It can be hard, very hard, to decide to obey God.  But when I obey Him, He always makes it worth it.  And when I don’t, I always eventually regret it, wishing I had obeyed Him.

A sign from Heaven

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day demanded He give them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove He was the Messiah:

Matthew 12 NKJV
38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
39But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

The spectacle of miracles was not as important to Jesus as changed lives through the demonstration of God’s loving character.  Soul healing through the loving sign of physical healing was the goal of Jesus’ miracles for those who believed in God’s love.  Irrefutable proof of His divinity thrilled those who loved God and confounded those who did not.  His works of love proclaimed Him Messiah, Christ, the Son of God, God in the flesh.  Jesus said that those confounded would not be guilty if He had not come and done what no one else has ever done.

John 15 NKJV
22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’

Jesus told His followers that the works that He did they would do, and even greater:

John 14 NKJV
12“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 

John 15 NKJV
26“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

 Control the wind and the waves?  Change water into wine?  Multiply bread and fish and feed thousands from one person’s small lunch?  Grow back missing limbs?  Heal the sick?  Raise the dead?  Greater than these?  I might think that impressing the masses with these spectacular miracles is Jesus goal. But Jesus’ ultimate purpose for doing miracles was to give Life to the spiritually dead and introduce them to a relationship with His Father who loved them.  This He could greater accomplish by loving multitudes of people through multitudes of His followers who love by the power of His Spirit living within them.  That is greater than any spectacle.

So what is the final proof that Jesus is God?  Ask one of His followers what He has done for them personally.