Depression, Suicide, and Hope

With the recent death of Robin Williams, depression and suicide have come to the forefront of many peoples minds. According to the CDC there were 39,518 suicides in 2011. Put in another way there was a suicide every 13 minutes. When it comes to depression the NIH reports an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. This represents nearly 7 percent of all U.S. adults. 

The point of this post isn’t to give all the in’s and out’s of depression and suicide: causes, symptoms, and the like. It is not my purpose at this point to enter the debate on the brain chemistry of serotonin, hereditary issues, or environmental issues. The point of this post is multifold.

First, depression and suicide is real. To pretend it isn’t real and it doesn’t affect loved ones is foolish and dangerous. To stick our heads in the sand doesn’t make depression disappear. I want to encourage you to be able to identify it and understand it. Here is a link that you may find helpful.

Second, take a few moments an tell someone you care, especially someone you may know who is struggling. Maybe this touch of encouragement comes in the form of a phone call, a text message, an email, an old school note in the mail, or even better yet a pat on the back. Whatever form it may be tell them you care, be that smiling face, be that caring touch, and be that word of encouragement.

Third, overcoming depression takes more than just taking a “happy pill”. Overcoming depression can be helped through anti-depressive medications, yet depression must ultimately be overcome through talking and counseling. To try to overcome depressing simply with “happy pills” is like trying to bandage a gun shot. The bandage may help temporarily, but the bandage isn’t going to solve a gun shot. Someone must go in and remove the bullet particles and repair the damage.  Find someone that can help, like a competent pastor or a christian counselor.

Fourth, lean on Christ. He is the source of hope, He is the source of love, and He is the source of encouragement. Apart from Him there is no ultimate source of hope or love or encouragement. Psalms 31:24 states, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.”

Bountiful Blessing: Part 1

This past week I found myself feeling awful. I had no energy to do nothing but rest. The unfortunate thing about feeling bad this week is I didn’t want to give it to my wife or son and hence I had to keep my distance and they keep their distance from me. I started to get the feeling like I had cooties or the plague. Yet when I felt better and more like myself I was able to go back to normal activities and be around my family. What a blessing it was to be able to sleep in the bed with my wife instead of a couch. What a blessing it was to be able to eat dinner with my wife instead of not being able to eat at all. What a blessing it was to be able to pick up my son and play with him.

When I returned from being sick, I was able to return to the joys and blessings of life. The same it true with the Lord. We hear the statement that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, sadly when we get to the other side we find that we were sadly mistaken. There are times when we are living in and walking with the Lord when for one reason or another we become distracted and we begin to think that the grass is greener on the other side. So we wonder away from the Lord, chasing the greener grass. If we are fortunate we quickly find out that it really isn’t greener, yet oftentimes we keep chasing moving further and further away from the Lord.

Here is the promise I want to give to you this morning. When we return to the Lord we will enjoy His blessings. As you sit here this morning you may say, “Pastor Keith, I am walking with the Lord and I haven’t wondered away. How does this apply?”

The reality is there are people whose lives we intersect all the time who have wondered away from the Lord. It may be you spouse or a child. It may be a neighbor or a co-worker. Whoever it is I want to encourage you to share with them that there are blessing when we return to the Lord.

In Hosea 14 we see several blessings when we return to the Lord.

In verse 4 we see that you will receive healing.

The first part of verse 4 where it says, “I will heal their apostasy.”

What this means is that as we have wondered and strayed from the Lord, He will heal us of those wounds, He will heal us of that spiritual blindness.  Let’s talk about both of these for a moment.

Maybe in your life you fell in to some sort of habitual sin that you would do over and over and over. Maybe it was a propensity to tell lies. You found yourself telling a lie and then you had to tell another lie to cover that lie and another lie to cover that lie. Before you knew it, you were caught in web of lies. Maybe you found yourself abusing and overusing alcohol or other medicines or drugs. Maybe it started when something horribly wrong happened in your life and you were trying to find an escape. Now you find yourself living for that escape.  Maybe you found yourself in the trap of pornography. It started off with one picture, but now it is all consuming and you think about it all the time. With easy access of movies, magazines, and the internet this is an easy trap to fall into, and a trap that will easily bury you. Maybe you found yourself in an intimate relationship with someone other than your spouse. It started off with a harmless conversation, yet either quickly or slowly turned into something far different.

We are not told that the ramifications of habitual sins to our relationships and our physical life are erased, yet it is only through the Lord can you find healing, forgiveness, and ability to move on with life.

Also with the Lord’s healing, we have the healing of spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness happens when we wonder away from the Lord  and blinders are put on. We walk in darkness and die in darkness. We start rationalizing the things that we do and the things we say. We start putting ourselves in positions we otherwise know we shouldn’t be in. We start being influenced by people we know shouldn’t influence us. The truth is oftentimes we don’t even realize it, because we have become spiritually blinded. Yet it is the Lord as we return to Him, He removes these spiritual blinders, He heals you, and He helps you to see the light.

When we return to the Lord we receive the blessing of healing.

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 3

All day today I have been dragging, something has been off. I suspect it is all because of a ball game. You see I’m a big Duke fan and well the men’s basketball team just didn’t play up to Duke standards and to be frank just didn’t play like they really wanted the win last night for the UNC game. All day today I have been just off key. Yet, one thing I know with the UNC win over Duke last night, we live in a broken and fallen world (well maybe that is a stretch, but it makes me feel better about life). Either way all we have to do is watch the news or simply look around and know that we live in a fallen world that is far from the Lord.

A weeks ago we began the series on how we can respond to this fallen world. The first post we discussed the great need for us as believers to stay engaged with the world around us. It would be easy for us to look around and say we don’t want any part it, yet the Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20).

The second post we discussed that we as believers must live and stand by conviction. Our faith isn’t some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions?

In this third post we are going to discuss that as a believer you must know that when you live by conviction, you will feel increasingly less comfortable. What creates this discomfort?  I believe the key to this discomfort that we see the two world: the world we live in and the world of eternal life seeing the Lord face to face. If you have been in the church very long you have probably heard the slogan “In the world, but not of the world.” This is a true statement, with just one revision. The Bible puts it like this in John 17:14-18, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Clearly from this verse we as believers are not of the world, yet we are sent into the world. Therefore, we are sent into the world, but not of the world. It is this sense and with this growing awareness of the Kingdom that we will grow more and more uncomfortable.

This is especially true in certain circumstances we find ourselves. Maybe you are watching a TV show like this past Grammy Awards show or having a movie go in a direction you didn’t expect. Maybe you find yourself uncomfortable at the office around the water cooler as one co-worker is talking negatively about another, it may be that colorful and course joke, or it may be just the general topic of discussion. As we go through life and as we live more and more by conviction we will find ourselves in situations of discomfort.

What do we do with this discomfort? In many situations we as believers must continue to actively be salt and light. Several weeks ago I was sitting around a table when one person said something that completely went against my convictions. To this is was very quick speak and stand my ground, to be that salt and light.

Yet, there are some situations we must follow Joseph’s example and simply get out. You remember Joseph that young fellow with the special coat, some of us may have learned about him as the coat of many colors. You remember in Genesis 39, Joseph was serving in Potiphar’s house, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She (Potiphar’s wife) caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” During the Grammy’s Christian singer Natalie Grant, nominated twice, walked out of the show.  You ask what is the situation that you should simply get out? I think there is a few questions that will help us answer this question.

1) Are you in a position to influence the situation? If you are not in a position to influence then get out.

2) Where you at in your walk with Christ? Are you fairly young in the faith or strong and mature in the faith? The less mature you are in your walk the more likely you may find yourself in a situation that you simply need to get out.

3) What is the level of celebration of non-biblical viewpoints? To put this another way, there is no need to knowingly be in a lion’s den. If the celebration of a non-biblical viewpoint is high, then the ability to affectively influence is low.

The reality is that as we live more and more by our convictions the more and more we will be uncomfortable.

 

What is Love?

With today being February 14th and Valentines Day we see heart shaped everything all around us.  Heart shaped biscuits (thanks Bojangles), heart shaped Reeses Peanut Butter candies, and who can forget the heart shaped donuts (thanks for that sugary delight Krispy Kreme). With all that heart shaped goodness it is a wonder that we all don’t have heart problems. Yet, I digress. With today being Valentines day it is natural to think about love. The question is ‘What is Love’?

Is love about being shot with an arrow by some sort of fat winged baby? We say that we are love struck where we have an infatuation with another person. Maybe you find yourself thinking about them all the time or you find your heart races and your palms get sweaty when you get near that particular person. Is this love? This MAY be the infantile beginnings of ‘love’, but can not and must not be classified as love.

Is love about raging emotions and passions? This is the ‘love’ we see in movies and TV shows. This is the ‘love’ of soap operas. This is a ‘love’ that is primarily physical. Yet is this truly love? Is love truly as fleeting as emotions and passions of here one day and gone the next? Is this love? While a romantic love will and must include emotions and passions, emotions and passion in and of themselves is not love. It is not love because love is greater than something fleeting. True love has resiliency. I always makes me sad when I hear a marriage is broken because a member of the couple says, “I feel out of love with ______.” If love is more, if love is greater, and if love has resiliency then raging emotions and passions can not be love. Further, raging emotions and passions can not be love because these raging emotions and passions are self motivated. Yes these emotions and passions are directed at another individual, yet it starts and finishes with what “I want” and what “I need”. It is self-centered not other-centered. True love must be other-centered. In and of it’s self this ‘love’ in reality is simply lust.

What is love? True love grows with the couple. While there will be certain things in love that will remain, true love will grown and shift through the seasons of time. As a pastor who counsels with couples one of the things I run into from time to time is the false expectancy that the feeling of love will remain the same throughout the life of the relationship. Yet in reality that puppy love will shift to a young love, and that love will shift to another level of love. We all wish that we could have 50+ years of marriage where we remained in the honeymoon phase, yet this is simply not the case and to have this expectancy leads to frustration and ultimately failure.

Love focuses on giving not taking. When love becomes self-centered it ceases to be love. Therefore love must be other-centered. If I’m focused on loving my wife and wanting the best for my wife and she is focused on loving me and wanting the best for me, this results in a happy, successful and fulfilling marriage. When my wife is focused on me, while I am focused on my wants, this will lead to things going awry and unfulfilling. That is one of the funny things about love and marriage: when each is focused on giving more, then each will receive more than they otherwise would have.

Love is that couple who has been married for 50 years holding hands in the park. Love is that spouse pushing the other in a wheel chair as they stay true even in the face of age or illness. Love is holding your loved ones hand as they breath their last. Love is working together as a couple even in the face of adversity: loss of job, a move, a poor financial decision, or a poor personal decision. Love is seeing your bride for the first time as they open the doors for them to walk down the aisle. Love is turning off the TV, putting down the phone, and grabbing those few minutes after the kids are in bed to talk about the day.  Love is that engagement story, that you have told what seems to be a million times. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a NIV).”

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 2

This past week in Greenville, NC there were two very unusual and scary armed robberies. One on Monday at a Zaxby’s and the other on Tuesday at a Food Lion. An armed robbery is scary but what made this more scary and unusual was the time: late afternoon or early night. These weren’t robberies that took place late at night but an armed robbery right as patrons were enjoying their meal or as people were stoping by the grocery store after work to grab a few items for dinner. One only has to look around to know that we live in a fallen world, and a world I would say is moving further away from the Lord or to be more intellectual, moving further away from our Judeo-Christian roots.

While we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil, we must confront a question: How do we as Christians respond? How do we as Christians respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light in the world and culture in which live?

Last week we said that we must first respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to give up on the world and say the world is lost and without hope, yet we as believers must stay engaged. We must be salt and light!

The second way we are to respond is we must live and stand by conviction. Our faith some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions? When there is conflict between the Bible and the world will we become ‘undercover’ Christians, who are so ‘undercover’ that no one can tell the difference between how you live as a Christian and how a non-believer lives? As a side note and sadly, when one looks at recent studies that compare a Christians thoughts and lifestyle and a non-believers thoughts and lifestyle, there is little difference. Sadly, too many of us as believers have already decided to live as ‘undercover’ Christians.

1 Corintians 16:13 tells us, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (NASB)(emphasis mine).” In like manner Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (emphasis mine).” This standing firm is to be firmly rooted, to be firmly established, and to stand your ground no matter what.

So here are my questions for you:

1) What are your convictions? How do they line up with the Bible?

2) Are you living and standing by those convictions or do you easily compromise? If find that you easily compromise, why?

3) Do those around you see you as a person who stands and lives by your convictions?

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World

Just this past Sunday the Grammy Awards were on. It was a show shown on Prime Time on CBS that was appalling, shocking, irreverent, and flabbergasting. When you think that we have reached the bottom of how far our culture can go, it sinks even further. The show started with a couple singing a song that leaves little to the imagination of what goes on in their bedroom. Then the show turned to Katy Perry who’s performance has the secular media describing as a Satanic Ritual and witchcraft. After this the performance of a song entitled, “Up All Night to ‘Get Lucky’”. If this wasn’t enough, the church-like mockery that was overseen by Queen Latifah was a wedding of 34 same-sex and mixed-sex couples who tied the knot on what’s supposed to be a music awards show intermixed with the song “Same Love”. 34 same-sex and mixed-sex to show there is no difference between the two. 

We don’t have to look at the Grammy’s we can just look around us. Broken marriages, broken families, and broken lives. We watch the news or talk to friends and hear of shootings, robberies, drug and alcohol abuse, and the the list can go on and on.

There is no doubt that we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil. Yet the question is how do we as Christians respond. We are called to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14) so the option to stick our heads in the sand is not an option, nor is choosing to wag our finger an option. We as Christians must respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light.

First, we must respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to look at their life and lifestyle and say we don’t want any part of it. Yet we as believers must resist this notion. We must stay engaged with the world around us. The Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20). I am overjoyed that the Lord did not give up on you or me, therefore how much more should we be zealous to stay engaged in the world around us? How do we stay engaged?

1) We must keep praying for our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors that are not believers.

2) We must keep ministering to those who are not believers. By ministering I mean showing the love of Christ in real and tangible ways.

3) We must keep tell our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors who are not believers the boundless love and forgiveness of Christ.

4) We must stay in the public square. We may be ridiculed and there may be an attempt to keep us as believers out of the public square, yet even through this we must stay in the public square.

In the next few weeks we will be continuing this discussion. In the mean time what do you think? Should we as believers stay engaged in the world around us?

Community

 

I love to “People Watch”. It is an experiment of observation for me. A way to see people and watch their behaviors, their demeanors, and their reactions. I’ve noticed several things, one is people love relationships with other people or to put it another way people love to be in community. People love to talk and spend time with others. They love to meet and spend time around a lunch table or for a coffee. They love to spend time in community.

I catch people sitting alone at a table and their whole demeanor is unremarkable, if not a little downcast, yet when they see someone they recognize or their friend arrives for lunch their whole demeanor changes. You can see they lift their head higher, their shoulders become more open, their feet become more active, there appears a smile on their face, and their attitude become more bubbly.

Think about it this way with all the different social medias such as Facebook or how people are constantly checking, talking, and typing away at their iPhones. Relationships. Community.

I don’t think the need or the desire for these relationships/community with others can be over stated. We as human beings are relational. It doesn’t matter the time or the place or the circumstances, people are relational and love to be in relationship.

What about community in the church? We talk about community in the church often, we see articles and books written about community in the church, yet for some reason so often we miss the boat. Making this sad and shocking is that the church should be a natural place for community not Starbucks or the local diner. I’m not saying that community or those relationships have to always be in the church, but that the church should be the significant place where people connect. It is from these relationships or these connections that people encourage, challenge, and support one another. Where is the down fall for churches? Obviously, intentionality has to be mentioned. The church and church leaders must be intentional about setting up environments where people connect and those relationship are established. I believe also that the church has focused too much on perfection in programs or polish in the services or pious professionalism in it’s leaders. People are looking for the real. Real problems and real people. A place where leaders and the people are willing to admit they don’t have it all together. A place where people can be flawed.

People are looking for community and as the church we must position ourselves to be the place where community happens and where community starts.

Life is Good

I’ve been sitting here for a few hours working on a few things as my wife is still asleep and my newborn son lays just feet from me in his swing sleeping and all I can think of is…life is good. Correction: Life is Great!!! Even through the sleep deprivation, I know without a doubt that life is great. I sit here and realize that hopes and dreams are coming true and that life is truly filled with joy. The radical transitions that have and continue to occur in my youngfamily over the past couple of weeks is monumental and truly memorable. The thought of waking up to change a diaper or to prep a bottle multiple times at night will fade but these wonderful memories will live on in my mind forever.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there will be challenges and heart break in the days ahead. I know there will be frustrations with potty training and figuring out the work life and home life balance. I know all of these things and more, yet when the math is done the only conclusion is that life is truly great. As one of my old professor’s oftentimes stated, “I’m too blessed to be depressed.”

So that is where I am: truly blessed and realizing that life is great.

Why are you to love your enemies?

In the last blog post we began to speak of loving others. Jesus tells us as believers in Matthew 5:44 (NASB), “‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” My question is why? Why should we love those we term as enemies? Let’s be real this person who we consider an enemy is called an enemy for a reason. Why in the world would we love them?

Jesus in the the verses that follow, Matthew 5:45-47, states, “‘so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?’” It is from these verses that we get four reasons why we as believer are to love even those we consider enemies. For time sake we will consider one for this post.

You are love even those you consider enemies because as a believer you are a child of God. In fact as a child of God you are to emulate your heavenly Father and exemplify love for others, even those that are enemies. Jesus states in John 13:34-35, “‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Just as Jesus has loved you, you are also to love others. In fact people will know that you are a believer in Jesus because of your love for others. In another verse that emphasizes your need to emulate your heavenly Father is 1 John 4:7-11, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Just like the passage in John 13 you see in this passage that just as the Father has loved you, you are to love others. In fact, your heavenly father has loved you so much that He sent Jesus into this world to be the propitiation (atoning sacrifice). If your heavenly Father has love you so extravagantly, shouldn’t you also love others?

Loving other’s isn’t always easy. To be honest there are some people that intersect our lives that are hard to love.  Yet even through this difficulty we are still called to love others just as our heavenly Father has loved us.

Love and Like

I’ve been thinking about the command that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:44 when he states, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  What an unbelievable statement that Jesus says. Let’s be honest some people are hard to love. You know the people that simply rub you the wrong way. Those that you just want to avoid an when you see them coming you want to head the opposite direction. The people that seem to always be against you. Maybe they are unkind or cruel to you. In short they are people you would consider an enemy.

Through the unbelievability, Jesus commands for us as believers to love one another even those that we would consider an enemy.

What does this love look like? Love seeks and works toward another’s highest welfare. It is self giving and self-sacrificing for another’s good. While love oftentimes includes emotion, it always is characterized with action. Love is seen through our attitude and the outworking of that attitude in our actions. Love must be seen through actions before it can be considered love. It is this kind of love this desire to seek the best, even for those we may consider an enemy.

You ask, are we supposed to be my best friends with everyone? To answer this it is important to understand that love and like are not synonymous. In other words Jesus commands us to love one another, not necessarily to like one another or to be best friends with everyone. Is it possible to that we can love without liking a particular person? I would say yes. We can love without liking, yet we cannot like without loving. For instance, you invite someone over to your house only for them to steal something when you turn your back. Can you still want the best for this person? Yes. Will you invite this person back to your house and allow them to be alone? No. You can love without liking, but you cannot like without loving. Say for instance, a particular person is always out to shame you and bring you down. Can you still love and want the best for this person? Yes. Will you want to seek out this person and spend your free time with this person? No.

Now please hear me, this distinction comes with a thin line. We are called to love others and want the best for them, even those who wish to see us fall. The trick is that while we may not like everyone, we mustn’t allow this dislike to become a hatred or distain. It is this hatred and distain that would put us in contention with the command that Jesus gives to us, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Do you love others? What about those you consider an enemy? How does this love workout in your attitude and actions?