His Increase, Our Decrease, and the Issue of Self Denial

Matt. 16:24   Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

I was very challenged by something I read this morning. I was challenged by how a very important Biblical truth is being ignored to the vast detriment of the health of the evangelical church and how this church has found itself so flat footed in the face of one of the greatest theological, ethical, social, and political challenges it is confronted with today.

The truth is found in the verses above. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross. He did not say,”Some of you may have something that you cannot bring with you as you follow me”, or “Deny things outside of you, which may be challenging or tempting.” No, he says to all of us “Deny yourself.” That means all of us must submit ourselves to the reality that we must do some denying and the thing we deny is resident in us. Then, we must take up our cross, shorthand for sacrificially laying down our lives, often everyday in little and big ways, to echo the Big C Cross to the world.

OK. Let’s get real. In the American evangelical church, how much self-denying-cross-bearing is actually going on? Not much, it seems. We are very good at self-embracing-cross-avoiding. Suffering and American Christianity have an awkward relationship, and that is not a good thing. That is why I think one of the most spiritually fruitful epochs for us is on the horizon as we are going to be further marginalized and even persecuted for being Biblical in our beliefs and practices. The American church has played with Caesars money and power for so long and we are so used to it, that as Caesar is now coming to collect on his loan, we are experiencing a rude awakening. But, it will cause wheat and chaff to part, and a spiritual awakening will come about, and for that I am thankful.

In the meantime, here is the issue this situation reveals. As we want to be Biblically faithful and loving in our pastoral approach to those who experience same sex attraction, by what moral authority do we call these people to deny themselves and take up their cross in living faithfully before God, which will mean for those who never experience freedom from their same sex desires the prospect of life long celibacy? Well, the moral authority is Scripture, but do you see what I am getting at? It is hard for these friends, many of them fellow believers, to see the beauty and blessing of self denial in the Scriptures if they do not see it all over the place in the lives of Christians in their churches! I bet my back teeth that if the Bible Church, and your church, was full of self-denying-cross-bearing Christians, when we ask people with same sex attraction to commit to celibacy, though hard [self denial and cross bearing are by nature hard - that is the point], they will clasp our hands, for our hands will be there to clasp, and we will journey together, following our Savior Jesus, who’s nail scarred hands and feet, glorious now, we will have our eyes upon. I am so glad our Savior is the ultimate and perfect self-denying-CROSS-bearer, but the church needs to grow in his image, and boy will it empower our ministry to those with same sex attraction.

So, friends, in our aim to have Christ increase in us, and for us to decrease, may we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and in doing so, have Jesus shine as we are able to love the sexually broken in fellowship, co-sinners who are hungry for holiness, as friends who love, embrace, and clasp hands. Yes, we want to be faithful to the Bible on this issue, absolutely! But, will we be faithful to all of it, including the part that calls all of us to deny ourselves and take up a cross?

By the way, the article that challenged me can be found at this website which is a UK-based site dedicated to teaching and edification around the issues of Biblical faithfulness, healthy church witness and ministry, godly love, and the issue of homosexuality. http://www.livingout.org

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How to Listen to a Sermon

Before you read on, please watch the video above, starting at minute 19 and go to about minute 23. This is from Howard Hendrick’s memorial service. Howard was a longtime professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, a pastor, and an author. This is his son, giving an important recollection of how his dad listened to sermons.

OK. Read on.

One of my commitments is that I share the pulpit. There are two reasons. One, I believe that a big part of  my role is to raise up pastors, so sharing the pulpit means enabling other pastors to develop as preachers. Two, I think it is a better thing for a church not to be built around one man, even if that means we don’t grow as fast or as big. In the longterm, I think it creates a healthier church with a more long term benefit to the kingdom. There are implications to this. One is that a congregation must learn to listen to men of varying degree of ability, style, and experience as preachers. There is a sacrifice, in other words. But, it is worthwhile, given my two guiding principles.

That is some context to what I am about to say. I hope this is a helpful reflection, and not a rant, but I admit it comes as a response. People have been giving me feedback. I guess I should take it as a compliment but it is also disturbing. Some folks, and it may just be a few overall, are struggling to engage some of the other preachers for one reason or another. Now, that is OK. Nothing wrong so far. Here is what discourages me. I have been told said people “check out”, on principle, once a certain preacher conveys a less than desirable signal, mostly by way of tone, body language, and/or simply their rhetorical style and ability level to date. I asked said people if there was anything wrong with content. Was anything unbiblical or heterodox? “No” was the response. In fact, usually said preachers were commended for being Biblically and theologically precise. So, here is what discouraged me. Good people, who love the Lord, and…who know better…decide to check out if the communication style is not amenable.

Now, let me say it again, there is nothing wrong with struggling with the communication style or ability of a preacher. Certain styles evoke certain emotions given the listener, the cultural orientation of the society, the relationship between speaker and audience, and a whole bunch of other factors. The question then becomes, should that ever be a reason for “checking out”? My emphatic answer, and I say this out of love, is NO! Let me put it another way: if a sermon is Biblically based, and therefore teaching God’s truth, one is accountable and responsible to listen, to submit, and to apply the teaching, as God’s word.

So, how does one get to that point as a sermon listener? Let me give you some suggestions:

1. Believe that the most important thing about a sermon is that it is Biblical.

Homiletics is important. Content is so much more important. Please come prepared to take in content first and foremost. Let strong communication be the icing on the cake, but not what you depend upon. The most important part of evaluation is “is this guy getting the text right?” If the preacher is doing something that can improve his ability to communicate, take note of it by all means, but don’t check out unless the sermon can rightly be called a sermon of man’s thoughts, not God’s.

2. Talk with the preacher in a loving way if there are things that can improve his preaching.

OK, so you are struggling with the dude’s style at the pulpit. But, you listened to his content and you grew by God’s grace because truth was spoken. Come and talk to him, and do it out of love because you want to see him grow. In other words, just as you don’t check out from a sermon, don’t write off a man. Love him. Desire for him to thrive. Talk with him. Be gentle, and desire to serve him as one of your pastors.

3. Know that the teaching team at the Bible church strives for excellence and growth.

Our staff is committed to excellence, and where we are not excellent we want to change and grow. From building appearance, to signage, to guest experience, to the heat of the building, to overall communication, to preaching, we want to grow. No one is being shoddy on purpose. Every Wednesday morning the teaching team gathers and reviews the previous sermon and helps the preacher who will preach the next Sunday prepare for that sermon. We are hard on each other. Probably harder than you will ever be. But, sometimes we are not as sensitive to certain things and that is why we need to hear from you. Just know we care about meeting you where you are at, short of compromising Biblical values. All we ask is that you commit yourself to being an excellent listener on your end.

4. Please gain perspective.

Sometimes when all you have driven recently is a BMW and most people around you drive BMWs, you forget that most of the world drives entry level compacts. In fact, you forget that a Honda Accord is a great car. Then, you feel entitled to the performance and door fit of a BMW and get peeved when you rent a cheap compact, and it’s an American car to boot. What am I getting at? Friend, the least developed preacher on our team is better than most regular Sunday preachers in this country. It’s just that you are used to “big church” world where we have really nice buildings, and big budgets, and cool media, and really gifted communicators. That’s all good. Hey, this is who we are but just don’t forget that this is not normal. As we allow other preachers to develop and as we commit to the Bible church not being the Jay Thomas show, please realize you are not really making a very big sacrifice. Really. Truth. Promise. Get perspective!

5. Be Thankful.

Finally, realize what you have. You have a group of godly pastors, who love Jesus, who love you, and who love the Word of God, and they are doing their best to bring God’s word to your life so you can see Jesus in all his glory and be transformed by his marvelous grace. Are we all there yet as communicators? No. But, we generally bring a Biblically faithful message to you every week. Please be thankful for that. Don’t focus on how one dude does this or that or the tone in his voice. Talk with him. Help him. But don’t check out. Let me be super blunt. I think the devil might be getting a foothold. If you read The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, by checking out in a sermon due to stylistic reasons, you are falling into a huge satanic trap. Be thankful. That is an impenetrable armor for satanic attack.

6. OK, one more: strive to have an intrinsically motivated love for God’s Word that needs little coddling.

One thing that struck me about Howard Hendrick’s sons testimony is that Howie, as he was called, loved God’s Word. Period. He believed it was a gift from God above. Yes, it is great to have an anointed preacher, but if you love God’s word, intrinsically, you will never hear a bad sermon if that sermon is a proclamation of the Bible. Seriously. You won’t. Try it!

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Seek Feedback: Reality is Your Best Friend

I am learning that there is something very few people have experienced in a formal and organized way, and also something very few people seek out, on purpose. That something is feedback. Let’s be honest, it is hard to hear what people think of us, especially when it is not positive. Part of the reason we hate feedback is that we do in fact receive it, all the time, but usually in reactionary, unplanned, emotionally heightened, and unhealthy ways. Therefore, while the content might be accurate, the social situation is not conducive to the feedback being received well. But, feedback is not only important, but absolutely essential to our personal maturity and growth as Christians.

I am learning this because my job as a pastor is one of being under constant scrutiny, especially at a church that is getting used to a Lead Pastor [read: me], who has a significant amount of influence delegated to me. Being a pastor is also inherently one of existing under the microscope. Most pastors get feedback, but unfortunately its in the unhealthy camp – jabs, criticisms that come at you between services, emails, second hand gossip, people who leave over one sentence you said in a sermon taken out of context, etc. But, my elders are doing something really wise. They have set me up to get regular, intentional, thoughtful, feedback. In fact, we are now having the entire staff do this at least once a year. We are building a culture among the staff where throughout the year we are affirming and coaching each other, and once a year, we evaluate. The idea is that we are helping each other know reality as outside, more objective, observers and friends. The key is that we are friends and loyal to each other. The feedback may be negative, but it is offered out of love, for the good of the other.

Here are some reasons we have made this change and are shaping a culture of feedback:

1. Reality is your best friend. Many people avoid knowing what other people think of them because they’d rather put their head in the sand like an ostrich than deal with reality. Put another way, the reality they want is what they want, rather than what actually is. When they do receive feedback, people like this write it off, get mad, wallow in self pity, and obsess over how the other person or people are wrong and misguided or even have it out for them. But friend, reality is your best friend. Feel what you feel. Think what you think. But reality is reality, and feedback helps you connect with it.

2. Perception is not equivalent to reality, but it is a part of reality. In other words, you don’t need to agree with all feedback (I will hopefully blog later about how to receive feedback), but you have to accept that certain people feel a certain way about you and you, like it or not, in some way played a part. You may not have sinned or made mistake, but for some reason, that you need to attend to, someone reacted negatively. Even if said party is reacting to you in total error, a conversation and a leadership move on your part is in order.

3. Feedback is a form of love. Feedback can be a dagger. Or, it can be the wound of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). As you seek out feedback, you are setting up a system of hearing what others think of you in controlled, intentional, thoughtful, and prepared situations. At the very least, you have prepared yourself. Again, you may encounter feedback that is not reflective of who you are and what you have done, but you may find out there is a relational rupture with a friend, colleague, or family member. Also, please don’t just focus this on work, but set up a culture of feedback with your family and friends, too.

Summary: reality is your best friend. Because we don’t believe that, we avoid life changing, even life saving, truth through feedback. The ostrich playbook is not helping anyone, not least you. So, cozy up to reality and start asking for feedback.

By the way, formal evaluations are pretty intense. Probably once a year is good for 360 evaluations. But, through thoughtful conversations, good questions, and a lifestyle of affirmation and coaching, feedback can be expressed throughout the year in healthy ways. And remember, part of feedback is also telling people where they are gifted, a blessing, and an instrument of grace in God’s hands. If you cozy up to reality and seek feedback, you are going to experience a lot more affirmation than criticism, by God’s grace.

 

 

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wrath AND mercy

In our both-and series, this will be the most challenging pair to reconcile and perhaps the most important to our practical spiritual lives in Christ. One of the most important both-ands of the Christian faith is the wrath AND mercy of God.

If there is a pairing that can cause confusion or provide stunning clarity regarding how to interpret certain Biblical ideas and themes, and also how to interpret God’s providence in our lives, it is this pairing. So friends, my big admonition here is this: please embrace a God that has both the characteristic of wrath and mercy in his divine attributes! If you do not, if you will not, you will not have a true picture of God. You will end up with a god of your making. If you have a god only of mercy (and love) and no wrath (and judgment), you will have a permissive, uncle of a god. He may be displeased at times but he will chuckle your sin and brokeness away and leave it for someone else to deal with, if at all. If you only have a god of wrath, you will serve a tyrant, a capricious Zues-like creation that will make you disdain authority and any concept of law.

Start with the Bible. All of it. Both OT and NT. First, note that both testaments are full of wrath and mercy. In fact, there is more intense language of judgment in the NT, and on the lips of Jesus, than the OT. Go ahead and check me on that. The NT is the testament that emphasizes wrath, for in it the temporal and geographically limited wrath spoken of the in the OT becomes eternal and universal, starting with Jesus’ proclamations (Matt 5:29; Luke 12:5). Jesus was far more intense than any OT prophet! Paul is quite gentle compared with Jesus. The end of the Bible, the part we really like, because it points us to heaven, is all about the culmination of God’s wrath up evil, sin, and sinners, and his mercy and redemption toward those he saved through Jesus. Rev 19 is a beautiful chapter, like a painting by Jackson Pollack, intense, brooding, full of fire, yet also light, beautiful light, with a celebration, yet a celebration premised on that burning lake of fire. The storyline of the Bible has the two chords of wrath and mercy, braided, and clear.

It is quite clear. But is it compelling? Yes. The wrath of God is always connected to his mercy. God hates sin, for he is holy and dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). We cower at this truth. But, we must realize it is this truth that assures us that evil will be dealt with, the evil that so burdens us on this earth – genocide, the human sex trade, the abuse of children, war crimes, and the like. We do not want a God who will not deal with these. No human definition of love is that big or rationale to justify that kind of god. So, we accept God judges evil, and he is good for it. The part we don’t like is that we fall under this condemnation, too, because, well, we like to see ourselves as so very different. We are first world, white collar sinners, so our sin is more a mistake or mild foolishness. And yet, God is infinitely holy and even the smallest stain of unholiness against that backdrop is an infinite stain. That is Biblical reality. We need a God who hates wrongdoing and sin, and we must embrace that we are part of a rebellion against him. We are sinners. We deserve his wrath.

And yet – and yet – God is infinitely merciful. That mercy always attend to the judgment. That mercy will get the last word. Did you know in the OT, the stipulations in the covenant of Sinai, while severe, were nothing compared to the covenants of the other nations during the time of Moses? And, the covenant of Sinai had one very big condition, that of repentance. If Israel repented, God would relent and he would forgive and he would bless again. No other foreign covenant treaty came close to that. In the intensity of God’s anger against sin, especially the sin of his own people, God’s love and faithfulness persisted and he knew that one day, for he had planned it from the beginning, he would send his Son to be the greatest and final expression of mercy. Only the God of the Bible was a God who offered to forgive, because he would himself absorb his own wrath. Something needed to pay. Jesus was that something, that someone. Think about it. Without wrath AND mercy the cross would be emptied of it’s glory and power. But, the cross is a both-and. The cross is where Jesus, our Lord, took the wrath we deserved in order to show the mercy of God to us! And how we love and worship him for it!

In our day, these two characteristics are assumed to be at odds. No friend, they are part of a beautiful whole, and they both kiss at the cross. If you do not have both, you have no place for the cross.

It may be a journey. It may take a lot of Biblical study and conversation with Biblically minded friends to come to grips with this, and we are all in the process of growing in our knowledge of these things, but please stop running from this both-and. Please accept that wrath AND mercy go together, and that the God who makes most sense, is most awesome, is most glorious, is most winsome, is the God of wrath AND mercy. It will make the Bible come to life and make sense in a new way! It will cause you to fall on your knees again at the wonder of the gospel – the good news that God saves sinners – and salvation and sin only make sense as categories if you have a God of wrath AND mercy.

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The Both-Ands of Discipleship Part 1: Word and Spirit

ampersandThere are a few really important ingredients to consistent perseverance and growth in our walks with Jesus. One, which I want to blog on for a while, is the ability to hold two seemingly dichotomous realities in tension and, not only that, to realize that those two things are essential and complementary to a holistic, growing, eternity long, walk with God. The believers I know that choose not to hold things in balance to a person have struggled in their faith, for they eventually end up having their faith hurt by a half-the-story Christianity. So, if you feel like wrath and mercy are incompatible, you will not know what to do with the wrath of God in the Bible or you’ll be confused about how there are still moral rules that govern us (especially ones you don’t like), OR you will be all about truth and judgment and have no room for compassion and grace. In fact, our summer series at the  Bible Church will be dedicated to this theme, and we will call it “Both And”. Today, we begin with the both-and of the Word and Spirit – living by the Bible AND living by the Spirit.

Too often many believers put themselves in an either or camp of: I am a Bible-driven Christian OR I am a Spirit led Christian. The Bible people believe God leads primarily through in-depth, nuanced, and systematic study of the Bible. All we need to know about God is through understanding his self revelation in Scripture. These people and churches have strong pulpits, are theologically deep, promote and protect good doctrine, and are great at producing high level training and teaching for their people. Most of the evangelical movement has historically comprised this group.

Then there are the Spirit led Christians. It’s not that the Bible is unimportant, but the driving force of the Christian life is the active and highly relational, quite emotional, experience of the Spirit. For them, the Spirit is always speaking and explicitly leading, often in very tangible ways. The Bible is normative and defines the boundaries, but the full Christian life is about the Spirit. These folks comprise the range of pentecostal, charismatic, contemplative, and, quite frankly, many every day believers who can’t quite figure out how the Bible is a living and active book.

Well, both are true and both must be part of the Christian life. The Spirit inspired the Bible to begin with. But too many Bible-alone Christians leave it there. The truth of the matter is the Spirit has attached himself to the Word today. The Spirit’s main role is, in fact, to illuminate our hearts and minds to understand, submit to, and obey the Word. The Spirit is working when the Word is preached, studied, read, understood, believed, and obeyed. So, the basis of all truth is revelation and the all that is revealed about God is revealed in the Bible. Even our specific knowledge of the Living Word, Jesus, is only found in the written Word.

Now, does the Spirit still speak? I like to say he works in us, illumines our hearts, he reminds us of Biblical promises, he sustains our faith, he empowers us constantly, he draws us to prayer, and yes, at times, he can give us clear, grammatically correct, word-like notions. Hey, if he wants to, he can speak audibly, and has.

Here is another important truth. The Spirit will never contradict his own inspired Word. Never. Also, the Spirit will never promise you anything that he has not promised in writing in the Bible. Please don’t get your hopes up on something your imagination hoped for and put the Spirit’s signature on it. That will lead to dashed expectations and depression. The Spirit might nudge you toward something but that is not a signed promise. But, he has promised you thousands of things…in the Bible. Also, when you get into the words, grammar, syntax, structure, history, literary context, and storyline of the Bible, you are actually hearing from the Spirit and getting into the mind of the Spirit! Isn’t that RAD!

The Spirit gives us experienced knowledge of God, yes! But, don’t forget that even in the mundane the Spirit is working and often does his best work in that season. Don’t assume that the big, hairy experiences that give you liver shivers are real or truly Spirit led moments. If you hunger to know God and to hear from him, ask for the Spirit AND go to where the Spirit promises to hang out, the Bible.

So believer, don’t fall off either side. Be a both-and Christian with the Spirit and the Word. The Bible is the final authority over belief and life. It is sufficient. It is inerrant, infallible, authoritative, potent, clear, AND is filled with the Spirit, both in its inspired writing and its power for today. Be open to how the Spirit will bring about what is in the Word, like your personal transformation into Christ-likeness, like converting the lost, like changing someone’s mind who believes falsehood, like urging you to an act of love, like giving you the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24), like guiding the events of history perfectly, like rooting out sin in us, like preventing us from saying something stupid, etc.

The Spirit of God is at work through the Word and also personally in our lives and in the world.

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A Video that Helps Me See the Glory of Christ

Here is a link to that video that I watch, and worship with, that helps me see the glory of Christ. I often watch this before or during a sermon prep. I highly recommend having worship music on during your day, even if just in the background. It is a means of getting in the way of Christ’s glory.

As a pastor, one of my biggest prayers is that my people will see the glory of Christ. That really is the goal of it all…the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ!

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A Biblical Understanding of Depression and Anxiety

What a bold title! Well, at least I got your attention. But really, I hope to briefly unpack what I think will be a helpful set of four things to consider if/when you are struggling with depression and anxiety and/or trying to help someone else who is in the midst of such a crisis.

The evangelical church has struggled to get on the same page and to hold a Biblically robust view of depression and anxiety (DA). Therefore, how to diagnose it, treat it, and persevere in it is a debate and often argument among different Christians, professional, pastoral, and laity. One of the reasons for this is that certain schools of thought or theological dispositions tend to focus on only a part of the issue. As I have thought about this, as a pastor that counsels many with DA, who has had my own bouts with DA, and who comes from a family that has a history of DA, I think it would do us well to have a multidimensional understanding and approach to diagnosis, treatment, and also the notion of what it means to suffer well in something that may never go away this side of heaven. What I want to propose is that there are four things to consider in the realm of DA. If we have a theology and psychological method that does not take these four into account, my sense is that the understanding, treatment, and pastoral approach will be less than helpful.  Not all four factors will be a part of every crisis or longterm situation, but all four must factor into our theology and practice in the big picture.

Circumstance/Victimization

Everyone will struggle with DA at some point. Everyone is going to feel the pangs of loss, disappointment, relational hurt, etc. Most DA is short term and a result of a painful experience. DA in such cases is a natural response to living in a fallen world with fallen circumstances. If losing a job, losing a loved one, losing a dream, losing financial stability, or losing reputation does not lead to some form of DA, you are probably not actually alive anymore. DA is natural in these situations and is not necessarily a sign of something deep in the soul or longterm. Most of the DA I experience is this kind. When something hard happens to me, extrinsically, and I react with DA – God’s psychological nerve ending of pain kicks in, if you will.

Victimization is like circumstance in that causality is outside of us, but what I have in mind here is affliction at the hands of a person, or group of people, or situation, that was long term, very powerful, and the affects are long lasting. An example is physical or sexual abuse. That kind of an experience can permanently scar someone with longterm DA. To some degree, all of us are victims in this way. It may have been a parent who was chronically distant, or we had a childhood within financial poverty, or we got picked on a lot as a kid. It may not have been fraught with deeply troubling sin or pathology, but it was scarring nonetheless. Many people carry around a residual DA because of that. In other cases, where the sin was horrendous and vicious, the scar is massive and the DA is debilitating.

Understanding and treatment in this area must factor in moving out of being defined by those experiences, finding healing in the Gospel, and often the work of grace to enable us to forgive our brutalizer. New thought patterns have to be formed. And, we must not try to relive our lives by our present efforts or through someone else in order to find healing. Healing is with Jesus, regardless of what specific method is used to help.

Bio-chemistry

This is the one area we conservative Christians have not paid enough attention to, or seen to be in accord with the Bible. This is a hard one because it may not have a circumstantial cause. Some people are chronically depressed and not because of their bad decisions or someone else’s, or a moment of affliction, but just because. What’s going on? Some people are born with a disability, and that disability is a bio-chemistry that causes them to experience DA, frequently. Now, life still happens, hard circumstance and victimization can still happen, but those tend to reinforce and worsen the affects of bio-chemistry, so there is a double whammy for many who experience bio-chemical depression. I have a history of this in my family. It is hard and scary. But, it must be accepted as a reality for some people.

In this case, medication may be a good idea. The decision to take meds is not a sign of punting, or slacking, or not living by faith. It can be a wise stewardship of technology to help you with a physical disability. My only caution is not to make it all about the meds. There is still a spiritual reality that your life is ultimately a part of, so Jesus is still the centerpiece of dealing with bio chemical DA.

Spiritual Warfare

Do not neglect that we are in a battle not of flesh and blood. Satan is assailing our hearts with lies. That can cause DA. Often after a sermon, one that seemed especially Spirit filled and effective, I feel afflicted. I can struggle the rest of Sunday with anxiety, self loathing, and questions as to my call and effectiveness as a preacher and pastor. Many, many pastors have experienced that in church history. Why? The servant of God is an afflicted creature. Satan is going to go after those who glorify the Son of God. You better believe that some forms of DA are a result of spiritual attacks. The key in treatment then is to do what the Bible says to do: put on the full armor of God, rest in the protection of Jesus, assail Satan back with the Word of God, and do not trust the feelings you have since they are lies from the pit of hell. You must at that point believe what the Gospel says about you: you are loved, accepted, and have an eternal hope and reward with God because of Jesus.

Personal Sin

There are Christian counseling camps that say DA is always a result of personal sin and that treatment then is about repenting of that sin and believing truth about God. We have to be more nuanced than that, because the Bible is. Sin is not necessarily the reason for DA. Often it is not. Sometimes it is. We have to study each situation.

But, we cannot overreact to the sin-only school and throw sin out as a part of every form of DA. It is a part of all DA. Am I contradicting myself? No. The issue is causality. The Bible does not require that DA is caused by sin. In many cases, personal sin is not the reason we are depressed. But, because of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3, because we live in a fallen world, and because our personal sin commingles with all our feelings, decisions, actions, and words, we have to factor in how sin can worsen all forms of DA and that our application of the Gospel to our hearts is the most foundational means of growth, healing, and perseverance. So, DA may be bio-chemically caused, but sin can reinforce it, strengthen it, and delay its resolution. And, fighting with faith in God’s promises by the power of the Spirit can lessen its impact, hasten resolution, and allow us to experience a vision of Jesus we could not otherwise have. In other words, while causes may vary, the core of treatment must always incorporate Biblical truth, Gospel belief, and walking in step with the Spirit. Psychology can help us in some methods of treatment, but not at the expense of a Biblical understanding of our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

 

In conclusion, each form and experience of DA is unique but all four of the above should be considered with the last one being the aspect that is the common thread in each. So, for me, when I struggle with DA, while I may be experiencing a short term sense of loss, or a longterm brain chemistry thing, or feel attacked by Satan, I must always seek Jesus in prayer and Word and have him meet me in my brokenness. He may not fully make it go away. He often does not. But, he can be present, and he often brings joy and purpose. In fact, I have grown more spiritually and in my vision of God during times that produced DA or were defined by DA than any other time. God hammers us into beautiful objects on the anvil of affliction. Remember that.

Whether you want to understand your own DA, or you want to help others, or you are a professional counselor, please think about these four parts of depression and anxiety.

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