Thursday, 16 April 2015

One job only Christians can do!

Please don't get me wrong, I do believe in social action. I believe that God, in his mercy, sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, and the Bible says we are to be good to all. I believe that social action is a form of holiness. So the question 'should we do social action or evangelism?' is not a legitimate question, for we would never ask 'should we be holy or evangelise?' We should be compelled to do both!

However, I have a concern! I don't think we put enough emphasis on evangelism. You see when we talk about mission these days we often think in terms of social action and not of evangelism. We will cut your grass and paint your walls but we may not speak to you about the gospel. Yes, our actions may speak loudly but we still need to speak verbally. We are a people who have a message, good news to share. We are commanded to teach and preach, to speak and tell. I would hate to think that we would show people our love in many ways but forget to tell them the message of love. I would hate to think that we would tidy people's villages but fail to tell the community about what they need to do to be saved.

In a conversation with Helen Roseveare, in the 1980's, Richard Halverson explained, 'When there is an international disaster, all the isms (not just Christianity, but also the communists and the atheists, the secularists and the philanthropists) rush to help. But there is one job that only Christians can do, and that is point people to the Saviour they need. That is our unique privilege, to show people the way to Calvary, to repentance and forgiveness of sin, and the deep inner joy and peace of knowing salvation from the hands of a crucified Saviour.'

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A friend in need

William Cowper was one of the greatest English poets of the eighteenth century.  He was also a man who faced a dreadful battle with depression.  But he received great help from the hymn-writer, John Newton.  When he met Newton, he had attempted suicide on a number of occasions and spent two years in an asylum.
People weren’t always helpful to Cowper—one bout of depression was triggered by the graceless speculations of gossips.  But Newton was a genuine friend.  Newton and Cowper’s back gardens were separated by an orchard, and they paid a guinea a year so that they could walk freely between the two houses.  They worked together on producing many hymns.
On New Year’s Day 1773, an hour after hearing Newton preach at the morning service, Cowper feared that the clouds of depression were returning.  He wrote the hymn ‘God moves in mysterious ways’, and then his fears were realised as depression descended on him.  His mind plunged into the abyss of madness.  That night he suffered from terrible hallucinations.  Newton was called for in the small hours of the morning.  In the coming days, Cowper suffered further hallucinations and panic attacks.  During the next three months, Newton spent several hours a day with his friend, and was frequently called to his bedside at inconvenient hours of the night.  Then Cowper came to live with him for thirteen months, until he was well enough to move back to his own home.   
I am not saying that we will all be able to give the same level of attention to our depressed friends, but I want us to be inspired by Newton’s kindness.  This morning we are thinking about what advice we can give those who are living with a depressed person and how to help those who are suffering with depression.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Why I pity those who have everything (1 John 1:1-4)

On a warm sunny day you walk up the driveway towards a beautiful house.  A friendly dog greets you.  Two luxury cars sit in front of a double garage.  The door is opened by an attractive woman, who is soon joined by her equally charming husband. The three of you talk over coffee, with ease—these people enjoy each other’s company.  They tell you of their rewarding careers, their happy family, their many interests and their great holidays.  It seems like they have it all!

But your heart should break for them.  For the one thing that they are missing means everything.  You see, they have no interest in Jesus.  It’s not like they are hostile to church—they support their local church whenever it holds its flower-festival.  They just aren’t convinced that Jesus is who the Bible says he is (not that they have ever read the Bible), and they don’t see why they would need to know him.
But the problem is, you don’t pity them.  It doesn’t seem, to you, that they’re missing out.  It doesn’t feel like your life is more blessed than theirs.  It doesn’t feel like your riches in Christ outweigh their riches in the world.  And the reason for this is that your faith isn’t giving us the joy that it promised.  Without joy, it seems that they, rather than you, are living life in all its fullness.  Joy is the key to realising how blessed the Christian is in this world.
Let me tell you what joy is!  Joy is more than happiness.  Joy is built on a deep confidence that all is well between ourselves and God.  Joy is rooted in an assurance of God’s love.  Christian joy is something that can be present in the midst of real sorrow, grief and depression. 
Have you ever lost your joy?  I have, at times.  Have you ever struggled with doubts or been haunted by past failures?  I have, at times.  Have you ever wondered if this Christian thing is real, or if you are really a Christian?  Then the first letter of John is for you!  This letter help restore our joy.  Then we will see that our riches in Christ outweigh anything else that we could want in the world.
  1. We can be certain that we know the historical Jesus (1)
‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.’

Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men to walk on the moon said, “That man should walk on the moon is interesting, but that God should walk upon the earth ... well that’s important!”  John begins this letter with the incarnation (the Son of God taking on flesh and becoming a man), because false-teachers had upset his readers by distorting this truth.

We can be certain because John writes as an eyewitness to this truth.  John knew what sort of man Jesus was.  John heard the things he said.  John even witnessed Jesus after he had risen from the dead.
I have an atheist friend who claims that faith is opposed to reason.  But when I started taking Christianity seriously, I was encouraged to examine the manuscript evidence for the New Testament.  These documents include, eye-witnesses like John, whose authenticity is revealed in the fact that that they deserted Jesus in his time of need, and yet were willing to give their lives telling people that he is now alive.
People might be able to find joy in believing a myth, but our joy is based on facts.
2.   We can be certain about the meaning of life (2)

Many people around us seem to get on just fine without Jesus.  They appear to live happy, contended and prosperous lives.  We may even envy some of them.  Yet the Bible says that they are actually out of touch with the meaning and purpose of life—that, despite appearances, they don’t know life in all its fullness!
‘The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.’
Living life without Jesus is like watching a movie without the main character in it—it just doesn’t make sense.  Yet, tragically, many people don’t want to become followers of Jesus because they think the cost of being a disciple is too high.  They don’t want to be considered a ‘Jesus-freak’, because the fear people rather than fearing God.  Some don’t want to really follow Jesus because they don’t want to let go of their bitterness—they know that the Bible teaches that we must forgive, if we are to be forgiven.  Or they hear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God, but they will not stop sleeping with someone they are not married to.
Look at what is on offer!  We can know that we are forgiven.  We can know this because, as Wynn posted on her Facebook page this week, ‘if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’
Apparently, the Greek word translated ‘Father’, in verse two of our reading, is one of the most intimate words in the Bible.  It captures the idea of being ‘face to face’ right up close with the Father.   So we can know that God watches over us with rejoicing and that nothing will remove us from his grip that God will keep us in the grip of his love, because gentle and strong fathers always seek to cherish and protect their children.

Christianity offers so much more than popularity or bitterness or sex or anything else in life.  C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’
3.  We can be certain that we were made for fellowship (3)

Commenting on verse 3 one study Bible says, ‘John is moved to proclaim what he has witnessed . . . The purpose of this proclamation is not just forgiveness of people’s sins (as a simplified view of evangelism would have it) but is far richer, for the gospel binds together those who receive it: so that you too may have fellowship with us.  Yet the purpose is still richer than mere human fellowship, for believer’s fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.  Such “fellowship” is personal communion with the Father made possible by the mediation of the Son’ (ESV Study Bible).
‘We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’
What do you think our primary purpose as a Christian is?   What is our main job as Christians? What you believe our central calling?  Our primary calling as Christians is to live face to face with God.  Everything we do is to flow out of our relationship with him.  Intimacy with God is to be top of our priorities.  I am talking about more than feelings here—some people are wired more emotionally than others.  I am talking about the sort of relationship that demonstrates itself in a changed life.
I don’t want to set out rules for prayer, because we are all prone to self-righteous legalism.  But prayer should primarily be about relationship.  Prayer isn’t simply a duty to get out of the way, so that we can get on with the rest of the day.  Don’t get all worried about what time of the day you should pray.  Don’t think that prayer depends on formulas of words or body postures.  You are approaching the most gracious and loving of fathers.  There will be times that prayer feels dry, for reasons that may be as innocent as the fact that you are weary and tired.  But, where possible, keep praying until you feel that you have encountered God.
4.  Certainty leads to joy (4)

We write this to make our [or ‘your’] joy complete.
It brings John joy to share these truths, and these truths are to bring joy to his readers.  I want to work through first John so that our joy may be restored—so that we may experience life in all its fullness.  ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13). 
So, as we begin this series, hold on to these certainties of this morning’s passage:  we can know the historical Jesus (we have here the reliable witness of someone who knew, heard, saw and touched him), we can know the meaning of life (for us the debate is over, Jesus has revealed life’s purpose), we can know that we were created for this relationship (a loving God commands us to delight in him) and we know that God wants us to have joy (joy can be ours as certainty replaces doubt and assurance dispels insecurity)!

Barry Cooper was a first year student in Oxford University who decided to attend an evangelical church for the simple reason that he fancied a girl that went there.  The student worker spotted him and asked him if he would meet up for Bible Study.  Barry didn’t want to insult him, but thought that it would be a waste of time.  As they meet week by week, Barry began to encounter the living word that grants eternal life.  Things work out with the girl, but he got something far better.  When he arrived home for a holiday, and walked through the front door, his mother said, ‘What has happened to you, you look different?’

He explains, ‘I did.  As I put God’s word into practice, I was being filled with an exhilarating sense of purpose and joy.  Damaged and damaging relationships were being healed.  And above all, rather than the begrudging, dutiful knowledge that a Christian ought to obey Christ, I now had an irrepressible longing to obey him—whatever it might cost me in worldly terms.  Because now I knew him, I knew I could trust him.’

Friday, 27 March 2015

Amazing story from Brother Andrew

My first stop was Zagreb. I had been given the name of a Christian leader there, whom I shall call Jamil. The name had come from the Dutch Bible Society, which listed him as a man who occasionally ordered Bibles in quantity. However, they had not heard from him since Tito had become premier in 1945. I hardly dared hope that he would still be living at the same address, but with no other choice, I had written a carefully worded letter stating that towards the end of March a Dutchman might visit his country. And now I was driving into Zagreb, looking for this address. 

To underline the wonders of that first Christian contact in Yugoslavia, I shall have to tell what happened to my letter, even though of course I did not know the whole story until later. It had been delivered to the address all right, but Jamil had long since moved. The new tenant did not know his whereabouts and returned the letter to the post office. There it was held up for two weeks while a search was made for Jamil's new address. On the very day I entered Yugoslavia it was finally delivered. Jamil read it, puzzled. Who was this mysterious Dutchman? Was it safe to try contacting him? 

With nothing better than a vague feeling that he should do something, Jamil boarded a tram and went to his old apartment house. But then what? Jamil stood on the sidewalk wondering how to proceed. Had the Dutchman already arrived, and gone about asking for a certain Jamil? Did he dare go to the new tenant with the suspicious story that some day an unknown Dutchman might call asking for him? What on earth should he do? 

And it was at that moment that I pulled up to the curb and stopped my car. I stepped out not more than two feet away from Jamil, who of course recognised me at once from my licence plates. He seized my hands, and we put our stories together.

Jamil was overjoyed at having a foreign Christian in his country. He repeated the theme I had heard first in Poland, that my 'being there' meant everything. They felt so isolated, so alone.

Of course he would help me set up contacts with believers in his country. He knew just the man to translate for me. So a few days later, with a young engineering student named Nikola as my guide and interpreter, I set off in my blue Volkswagen to bring 'greetings' to the Yugoslavian Christians. 

Copyright © 1967, 2002 by Brother Andrew and John and Elizabeth Sherrill

Sunday, 22 March 2015

O.C.D. and me

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I started struggling a little bit with anxiety.  That anxiety became especially severe one summer, and persisted to various degrees over the following years.  At times that anxiety turned into bouts of depression.

The nature of my anxieties changed slightly in my thirties, as I began to struggle to keep certain thoughts out of my mind.  When I found out that my grandmother had suffered severe mental health issues, I began to wonder if my anxiety had a medical root.
So, at a time when my thoughts seemed unmanageable, I went to the doctor.  In God’s kindness there happened to be both a couple of General Practitioners and a Psychiatrist in the church where I was working.  Rosie could see that I was struggling, gave me some tablets and arranged for Stephen, the psychiatrist, to visit me that night. 
Stephen heard what I was saying and immediately diagnosed the problem.  He described my thoughts as being ridiculous, resistant, repetitive and repulsive to me.  He said that I was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  He told me to take two months off work, prescribed some special tablets and recommended that I take a course in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is much better than it used to be.  The Cognitive Behaviour Therapy taught me how to understand my thoughts, and I still take tablets every day.
We are going to look at the issue and depression and anxiety, from a Christian viewpoint, by answering a number of questions.
1.  What causes depression?
Ed Welch writes, ‘Depression is a form of suffering that can’t be reduced to one universal cause.  Many factors may cause depression, and often more than one of these factors is at work in the depressed person.’

Depression can be the result of other people.  People hurt us in a variety of ways.  Many victims of abuse struggle with mental health issues in later life.  Many people carry the wounds caused by an unloving parent, a harsh teacher or a school bully.  
Depression is the result of living in a fallen world.  The book of Genesis teaches that, because of human rebellion, God has subject humankind to decay and death.  Our bodies ache and deteriorate, and we are prone to physical and mental illness.
Sometimes we are the cause of our depression.  For example, anger is a notorious cause of depression.  We can’t expect a joyous life if we are critical, bitter and unforgiving.
False beliefs can be a factor.  If you think you are of no value, you will be prone to feeling depressed.  If you believe that God does not love you, you will suffer from morbid fears.
Satan is a factor in depression.  Not in a wacky sense, but in the fact that he will remind you of past guilt, tempt you towards bitterness and seek to implant in you doubts about the goodness of God.
In Psalm 32, David links a time of depression to God’s discipline.  He refused to face up to his sin, after his adultery with Bathsheba.  So God’s hand was heavy upon him until he acknowledged his guilt.  Never assume that someone’s depression is God’s discipline, but always examine your heart to see if God might be drawing attention to issues he wants to deal with you.
Finally, there is a sense in which God stands behind all our depression.  After all God rules over all that takes place in the universe.  Enemies may wound us but God could shut their mouths.  Similarly, our brain chemistry is not beyond his control.  
2.  Is it unspiritual to be depressed?
Is it unspiritual to be depressed, after all the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes joy?
The first response to this question is to point out that there are many godly people who have passed through times of immense sorrow.  The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, struggled with depression throughout his life.  What seems to have ignited this was a specific tragedy. 
Spurgeon was preaching to a huge congregation—of over twelve thousand people, at the Exeter Hall in London—when someone yelled, “Fire!”  In the chaos that ensured seven people were killed, and Spurgeon was inconsolable.  Other factors contributed to his depressions, including his struggles with gout and his concern for those he pastored. 
He exclaimed that there are dungeons beneath the Castle of Despair, and that he had often been in them.  ‘I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for,’ he recounted on one occasion.
In the book of Psalms, we often hear the psalmists crying out to God in despair.  ‘All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.’   These laments are given to us by God, in part, to help us express our pain.
We must also remember that Jesus was a man of sorrows familiar with grief.  Spurgeon wrote, ‘No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of the heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”  There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in his depression.’
However, I must give you one warning: in your depression do not sin!  Depression does present us with particular temptations.  Most obviously, depression tempts us towards self-pity.  Indeed, some people try to find comfort in wrong ways like over-eating, overwork and alcohol abuse.
But, what about the fact that one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is joy?  Am I less spiritual when I am depressed?  I put this question to a friend of mine, who is a lecturer in a leading evangelical theological college.  He replied, ‘I guess joy is not simply an emotion.  And so someone with depression can still (though it would be harder) rejoice – have confidence in the Lord.’  He then says that Psalm 31:7-9 might be worth looking at:
‘I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul …  Be merciful to me Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow week with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.’  Here we seem to see an example of being sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).
Ed Welch writes, ‘Joy is not the opposite of depression.  It is deeper than depression.  Therefore, you can experience both.’
Joan Singleton lectures in pastoral care in the Irish Bible Institute.   At one stage, when she was depressed, she wondered if her depression inhibited her witness as a Christian.  Then she realised the powerful testimony in the fact that she was still hanging on to God and believing his truth, even though her life was filled with pain.
3.  What about anxiety, isn’t it wrong to worry?
I am not disputing that worry can be a real sin, but I think that anxiety can have many roots, some of which are not sinful.
I see a parallel between anxiety and doubt.  On certain occasions Jesus rebuked the disciples for their doubt, because it revealed a stubborn refusal to accept the truth.  Yet in the letter of Jude we read that we are to ‘be merciful to those who doubt.’  Those to whom Jude was referring doubted, not because they stubbornly refused to believe, but because false teachers had infiltrated the church and upset their faith.   There is doubt that deserves a rebuke and doubt that needs gentle pastoral support.  Similarly, there is anxiety that deserves a rebuke and anxiety that needs gentle pastoral support.
Sinful anxiety is rooted in a failure to trust God or in the fact that we have made peripheral things too important in our lives.  David Powlison observes that, ‘if what you most value can be taken away or destroyed, then you have set yourself up for anxiety.’  However, not all anxiety is condemned in Scripture.  For example, the apostle Paul experienced the anxiety related to caring for the health of Christian churches (2 Cor. 11:28).  In many of the psalms, God gives us words to express our anxiety. 
When our anxiety has roots in a distorted view of God, we need to be gently instructed in the truth of his gentleness and grace.  We are told to cast our anxieties on the Lord, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), but some people need help in coming to understand that he really does care for them.  The person with an anxiety disorder may not even by fully aware as to why they are so anxious.  Their worries may have more to do with do with imbalances in brain chemistry than the actual issues they are focusing on.  It would simply be too harsh to tell them just to stop worrying.
4.  Is it okay to take anti-depressants?
John Piper was asked the following question from a listener:  ‘What do you think of Christians taking anti-depressants—I have been on them, and have been accused on not relying on God?’
In his answer, Piper takes a drink from a bottle of water and then asks, ‘was that sip a failure to rely on God?’  After all, God could simply keep his throat miraculously moist!  Piper’s point is that God has given certain means to provide for our physical well-being, and these are to be taken with thanksgiving.
He then explains that he has reached the conclusion that there are profoundly physical dimensions to our mental conditions.  Since that is the case physical means can be us to help people out of their depression—just as medications are gratefully received in the treatment of many other illnesses.
5.  How can we deal with our depression?

a. Have faith in Christ
Do you remember the ad that the British Humanist Association placed on the side of buses in England—‘There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’?  Actually, people tend to enjoy life more with God rather than without him.
Professor Andrew Simms, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, comments that:  ‘The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally.
Compare the Christian gospel with society’s teaching on self-esteem and ask yourself, ‘which has more potential to help the depressed person?’
Society tells us to seek our value by searching for the hero inside ourselves.  The problem is, when I examine my life I see many things that could make me feel ashamed.  Self-esteem is a poor foundation to build our sense of worth upon.
The gospel tells me that I am a flawed and rebellious person who is loved by a kind and forgiving creator.  This creator has given each of us intrinsic worth, making us in his image.  This God cares for us so much that he sent his Son to die for our guilt.  This God treats me, not as I deserve, but according to his loving-kindness!  Now I can examine my life, see things I wish were not there and be secure in the fact that my relationship with him is not about earning his favour but living in the light of his undeserved, unmerited and unearned grace.  In fact, because of his grace in my life, I can delight in the fact that he is in the process of changing me and transforming into the likeness of Jesus.
b. Grow in your confidence in the character of God
One of the cruel things about depression is that when we are depressed we are vulnerable to believing lies.  We must combat these lies with the truth.  What many sensitive people need is to realise that God is a loving-father who always seeks the good of his children.  Ed Welch writes, ‘Just think what it would be like to be certain that the God of this universe loved you.  That alone would probably change the contours of depression.’
c.  Examine yourself
We mentioned the importance of seeking to deal with any known sin.  We need to ask the Lord honestly to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23-24).  But never forget that God is compassionate and gracious.  Even when he disciplines us, he does so as a loving Father who has our best interests at heart (Hebrews 12:6).
d.  Look after your body
The apostle Paul told his young disciple Timothy that bodily training is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8).  We must not ignore the connection between the body and the soul.  John Piper copes with his proneness towards a low mood through regular exercise.
e.  Pray the Psalms
A great source of comfort can come from the psalms.  In the psalms we see every sort of human emotion, including depression.  You may be only to identify with the sorrow in them at the beginning—but take comfort, for these are spiritual people whose sorrow matters enough to God that he records them in his word.  Hopefully, after time, as you cry out to God you will experience the progress towards confidence that occurs in many of the psalms.
f.  Put your faith into practice
It is always important for us to put our faith into practice.  You may need times of rest, but be careful that this does not slip into inertia.  Indeed, there is healing power in doing things for others for the glory of God.  Listen to the healing words of Isaiah (58:10):  ‘… and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.’
g.  Talk

When Doctor Elijah Chila was doing a question and answer session with us at CafĂ© Church he reminded us of the need to talk.  I always encourage depressed people to talk to a doctor.  We also need to be able to talk about our feelings to family and friends.  Find gracious and loving people that you can share your burdens with.       
6.  What about those living with someone who has depression?
The book, ‘Dealing with Depression’, by Sarah Collins and Jayne Haynes, includes the story of Andy, a pastor whose wife suffers from depression.  He says that the following things have been helpful for him.
Be real about what is happening.  There will be a sense of loss.  Your spouse may become withdrawn, and so you receive less warmth in your life.  They may have less energy and be less fun.  You may need to take on board extra responsibilities at home.  Andy says that it can be lonely living with a depressed person.  The relationship may feel emotionally one-sided.
But, he warns, resist the temptation of simply trying to fix your spouse’s problems.  It is more important to be genuine in your sympathy and listening.
Andy says that you have to ensure that you look after yourself and don’t get burned out.  Exercise, take breaks, do fun things (and don’t feel guilt about having some fun just because they can’t share your mood).
Find someone that you can share your feelings with, but be careful not to look for too much care from someone of the opposite sex (in case you develop an emotionally inappropriate relationship).
Above all, Andy says, seek God in your situation.  ‘A loss in any area of your life opens a door for more of him.  More direct reliance on him … It is hard to read this, I know, but it really is a chance to know Jesus better.’
7.  How can the church help those with depression?

a.. Be there
According to psychologist, Deborah Serani, “when I was struggling with my own depression, the most healing moments came when someone I loved simply sat with me while I cried, or wordlessly held my hand, or spoke warmly to me.’
b.  Remember that small gestures help
Maybe you uncomfortable about the fact that you don’t know what to say, you can support in other ways.  You can write a card, cook a meal, send a text or offer other forms of practical support.
c.  Don’t just fire verses at them
Many years ago a friend of mine suffered a breakdown.  One of the things that upset her, during this difficult time, was people who would fire Bible verses at her.  She knew that ‘God works all things for the good of those who love him.’  But it was unhelpful when people, who hadn’t the love to listen and engage with how she really felt, pawned her off with a verse.  Brian Borgman writes, ‘it is a dangerous physician who throws a few Bible verses at those who are depressed and tells them just to have faith.’
d.  Don’t say ‘I know how you feel'
Similarly, in the last church I worked in, a person came to me and shared how painful they found it when someone belittled their suffering with the words, ‘I know how you feel.’  She doubted that they did not know she felt.  Even if you have also suffered from depression, you cannot really know how their depression is affecting them, unless you take the time to listen and find out.  We actually banned our pastoral team from using the phrase ‘I know how you feel.’
e.  Don’t tell them to ‘snap out of it'
Someone with depression shared with me their frustration with people telling them to ‘snap out of it’.  If only they could, they would love to!
f.  Model the kindness of God
Depressed people need to know that God is good and kind.  People draw many conclusions about God’s nature from watching those who claim to know him.  Someone paid tribute to a man I used to know saying, ‘he influenced me in the beauty of godliness.’  People saw God in his life and what they saw showed that God was good, loving and kind.
g.  Create communities of grace
If churches are to be helpful towards those who are depressed then they need to be communities that are infused with grace.  It is a tragedy when people are fearful about being vulnerable because of what critics and gossips will say.  It is an outright denial of the gospel when you think that you always have to pretend you are strong.
h.  Be a genuine friend
The proverbs teach, ‘a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity’ (17:17).  That friendship is best shown in listening carefully and being there in bad times as well as good.  A good friend will challenge the depressed person about some of their false beliefs about God and self.
Conclusion: The fellowship of suffering
Before I finish, I want to remind you that depression has a variety of causes, often at work in any one person, and therefore needs a variety of cures.  I have been helped in my struggles with depression and anxiety by medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, time off work, Christians who reflected the grace of God and a supportive family.  I would have to say, that through all my anxieties God is at work humbling me, helping me to lean on him more, causing me to seek to understand him more and giving me a little bit more empathy for others.
I want to finish with some wise words from Bible commentator J. B. Phillips.  He wrote in a letter: ‘These periods of spiritual dryness which every saint has known are the very times when your need of God is greatest.  To worship him may or may not bring back the lost ‘feeling’, but your contact with God in prayer and praise will strengthen you spiritually whether you feel it or not … Times of spiritual apathy are the very times when we can do most to prove our love for God, and I have no doubt we bring most joy to his heart when we defy our feelings and act in spite of them.’

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Spurgeon on depression

One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself.
On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, “I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.”
By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay.
I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge. . . .
You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds. (An All Round Ministry, 221–222)

Monday, 16 March 2015

What does your anger say about you?

Our God is emotional, he has made us as emotional beings, sin has affected our emotions and being born again begins a process of changing our emotions.

Our God is emotional

The greatest of God’s emotions is love.  The apostle John simply says that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8).  He did not make us because he needed someone to love because for all eternity he has existed in the perfect love shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Yet, in wonderful grace, he chooses to love those he has created and invited people to experience his family love.

At weddings, I often quote Isaiah 62:5: ‘As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.’  I invite people to observe the groom, walking out of that building looking like the cat that got the cream, and see him as a faint picture of the glorious love that God invites us to experience in relationship with him.

Another wonder verse, that tells us of the magnificent love of God for his people, is found in the prophecy of Zephaniah.  ‘The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you, in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing’ (3:17).  Many of us look at our flawed lives and find this hard to believe.  But God looks at us as a treasured possession in Christ and takes pleasure in us.

Amazingly, God values us so much that our actions can cause him pleasure.  The apostle Paul tells the Christians at Philippi that their generosity was an acceptable sacrifice, ‘pleasing to God’ (Philippians 4:18).  He reminds the Christians at Thessalonica that he had told them how to live in a manner which pleases God (1 Thess.  4:1).

Of course, we can also displease the God who loves us so deeply.  In Ephesians we are warned not to grieve the person of the Holy Spirit, who is especially saddened when there is a lack of forgiveness, kindness and compassion amongst God’s people (Ephesians 4:29-31).

Because our anger is so self-centred, uncontrolled and mean we may find it hard to acknowledge that God is good and angry.  The Bible has a lot to say about the perfect anger of God. Brian Borgman writes, ‘Even as God loves justice, so he despises injustice, especially when the injustice is done to the helpless in society’ (see Exodus 22:22-24).  J. I. Packer explains, ‘God’s anger in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is.  It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.’

A final example of the emotions of God is his compassion.  ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him’ (Ps. 103:3).  ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will never forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …’ (Is. 49:15-16).  Apparently, the Hebrew word translated ‘compassion’ in both these verses implies intense feeling and deep tenderness.

We are to put sinful emotions to death

In this life we are involved in an emotional battle.  On one hand, we still battle against the desires of the flesh.  The works of the flesh include sensuality, envy and sinful anger (Galatians 5:19-21).  On the other hand, we now live under the influence of the indwelling person of the Holy Spirit.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes love, joy, peace and patience (Gal. 5:22).   We are called to walk by the Spirit, and then we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:16).

I want us to look at an example of how to put to death sinful emotions and cultivate godly emotions.  We are going to think about the emotion of anger.

Sinful anger – ‘You are not just the victim of your upbringing and temperament.’

There is such a thing as righteous anger.  When we see the news, with all the suffering that people inflict upon each other, we should feel angry.  Righteous anger is concerned with God’s glory and is aroused when things are not as he said they should be.  The problem is that most of my anger is concerned with my glory and is aroused when things are not as I want them to be.  The apostle Paul has to warn us, ‘in your anger do not sin’ (Eph. 4:26).  How do we put sinful anger to death?

We should begin by taking responsibility for our anger.  We are very quick to blame external factors.  ‘I am angry because no one is listening to me.’  ‘I am angry because the traffic is moving so slowly.’  ‘I blew my fuse because she pushed all the wrong buttons with me.’  But Jesus says that anger does not originate from something outside us, it is from within that evil thoughts flow (Matthew 7:21-23).  ‘External circumstances may give occasion for anger to surface, but what comes boiling over the top comes from inside us, not outside of us’ (Borgman).

Sinful anger can reveal how deep our pride is.  ‘Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice’ (Prov. 13:10).  The angry person has an exaggerated sense of their own importance, and therefore believes that they should always get their way.  The get frustrated, and exclaim, ‘why can’t she just do as I say?’

Sinful anger also reveals our greed.  James writes, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but you do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so your quarrel and fight.’ (James 4:1-2).  Anger is often rooted in our deep selfishness and our vain sense of entitlement.

Sinful anger reveals what our idols are.  An idol is something that means more to us than God or competes with God for our affections.  We know that our outbursts of anger hurt those around us and dishonour the God we say that we love.  Yet in our anger we do not care.  You may be angry because a sense of control is your idol—you must be in control and will shout at people to get your way.  You may be angry because self-importance is your idol—you get enraged when people don’t give you appropriate respect.

In order to overcome our anger we must give up making excuses.  The Proverbs tell us that, ‘whoever conceals their sin does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13).  Remember that Jesus gives us the power to change.  As we keep in step with the Spirit one of aspect of his fruit in our lives is self-control (Gal. 5:22).  The apostle Paul tells us to put off anger and put on compassion and kindness (Eph. 4:31-32).

Jesus, our pattern for godly emotions

‘In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Col. 2:9).  Jesus shows us what perfect emotions look like lived out in the most trying of circumstances.  Jesus sets the perfect pattern.  Christ is in us (Col. 1:27) and Christ is being formed in us (Gal. 4:19).

Jesus gives us a beautiful picture of compassion in action.  In the gospels we see Jesus filled with compassion when he saw people in physical distress (Mat. 20:34), who were hungry (Mk. 8:2) or grieving over the death of a loved one (Luke 7:13).  In fact, in the gospels there is a word translated ‘compassion’ that is only used of Jesus or people in his parables who reflect his heart, such as the Good Samaritan and the Father of the prodigal.

He also felt pity for those who had spiritual needs.  He sees a clueless crowd and has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36).  He looks over stubborn Jerusalem, who refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah, and laments, ‘How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing’ (Mt. 23:37).  ‘It hurt Jesus to hand over lost sinners to their doom’ (Warfield).

Jesus is un-paralleled in his love—both in love towards his Father and people.  I marvel at the fact that when he was being crucified he looked down and entrusted his mother to the apostle John—even in the time of his greatest need he was concerned about the needs of others.  The apostle Paul promises that God’s love is being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).  We get angry when people insult us but are apathetic when they dishonour God.  Jesus patiently absorbed insults but was angered by injustice and insult to his heavenly Father.  Borgman writes, ‘In order for Christlike love to be cultivated in our hearts, we must marinate in his love for us, especially his love demonstrated on the cross.’

Conclusion: ‘What does your anger say about you?’

So, what does your anger say about you?  We are quick to focus on the object of our anger, but we would much more progress if we examined ourselves.  What idols does our anger reveal?  Does it say that we feel we must be in control?  Does our anger reveal that we are not walking in the Spirit, and therefore being defeated by the desires of the flesh?  Does our anger reveal a heart that is harsh and spiteful?  Does our anger suggest that we have an exaggerated sense of our own importance?  Does it expose our pride?

Talk responsibility for your anger (stop blaming things outside of yourself), realise that Jesus gives us the power to change, and walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.