Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Do We Respond to Others in Depression?

Ø  The message to the depressed is, ‘You are not alone.’

Ø  Understand, accept, affirm and love... Romans 8:1

Ø  Help the person think and perceive accurately.

Ø  Be with, listen and empathize “Suffering is not a journey to be taken alone.”

Ø  Be a source of strength, faith, trust and hope to others when they are unable to be this for themselves.

Ø  Cushion the depressed person with ‘persevering love’ (Depression, A Stubborn Darkness, Edward T. Welsh), loving and caring even when someone is unable to love and care in return.  Plan to love regardless.

Ø  Partner with the person in their healing and to persevere in that partnership.

Ø  Affirm them in their identity as a beloved child of God.

Ø  Challenge self-defeating interpretations of reality about themselves, others and God.

Ø  Be an instrument for instilling structure and meaning in his or her life.

Ø  Affirm that they are valued and needed.  Affirm their gifts and competencies.

Ø  Foster thankfulness and joy.

Ø  Assure them that God’s grace has the last word in everything, including their struggle with depression.

 Good reads are Edward T. Welsh referenced above and Neil T. Anderson, Overcoming Depression

I invite your insights.  If you are willing, share your experience as a person struggling with depression or as one who has come alongside another who is dealing with depression.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is it important to take the Bible literally in its entirety to gain its message?

As a matter of faith to the Christian, we understand that it is God’s intention in Scripture to convey Truth to us about Himself.  It is also obvious to the Christian that God is revealing in Scripture His call on our lives and His plan to bring us back into an unencumbered, loving relationship with Him.  Since Scripture is inspired by God we can therefore conclude that it is truthful and trustworthy for these purposes for which it is given to us. 
But does this mean that we need to understand or interpret the Bible “literally” in order for God’s Truth to come to us, to permeate our souls and to transform our lives?  It may be helpful to consider what being literal means.  As an extreme example, consider Jesus saying “feed my sheep.”  Does this mean we all need a herd of sheep in our back yard to tend to?  Obviously that is not the message God intended to convey.  It is obviously meant metaphorically, not literally.  But when Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” is that not a literal reality spoken by God into the lives of His People that is true and trustworthy?  Yes it is. 
To properly interpret Scripture, we need to recognize the literary forms used by its various writers: sometimes metaphor, sometimes parable, sometimes historical narrative, and sometimes oral fireside story embodying profound divine truths.  The Bible is also a mix of prose, poetry, allegory and visionary utterances.  This diversity makes it one of the greatest works of literature ever known, and its divine origin makes it the most life-transforming book ever written.
The problem with a totally literal interpretation of Scripture is that its writers were subject to the limitations of the times in which they penned it.  We do not see God revealing any great knowledge of science or history to the writer, nor should we expect God to have done so.  The Lord who inspired Scripture or the saints who penned may not have been intending to teach science, history, or the like.
Finally, to ask if the Scriptures should be taken literally may simply be the wrong question.  The more appropriate question to be asked is, “How is God speaking to you thorough Scripture, and how authoritative are those words in your life?”

Loving Your Enemies Matthew 5:43-48

What?        Matthew 5:43-44       I say to you, love your enemies”      (Unconditional love) 
·         The Mosaic Law commanded that we love our neighbors (Leviticus 19:18).
·         But it raises the question… who is our neighbor?  
o   What does Jesus say?  Luke 10:25-42  The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
o   All people are our neighbors, even our enemies.
·         Does Jesus say we will not have enemies?
·         In the Kingdom of God, is our love conditional on others loving us in return?
·         Does Jesus expect our enemies will return love with love?
·         In telling us to love our enemy, is Jesus saying we should condone and not confront evil?

The Greek word that is used in v.43 is agapeo (noun- agape)… as opposed to other words translated out of Greek as “love,” such as: storge- family love; eros- sexual love:; or philia-love of a friend (brotherly love).  Agape is an unconditional, benevolent, selfless love. 
·         “No matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him to invade our hearts…” (Agape Love-William Barclay).

Why?                     Matthew 5:45             “…so that you may be children of your Father in heaven,”
·         In other words, this mirrors God’s love toward us.
o   Do you treat God appropriately?                              Does He not love you anyway?
o   Do you insult God through your behavior?                Does He not love you anyway?
o   Do you grieve God with your disobedience?             Does He not love you anyway?
o   Are you too often the enemy of God, rebelliously opposing his sovereignty in the world?
·         In loving unconditionally, we are imitating God, who loves unconditionally.
o   Who sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous alike.”
·         The ultimate mark of Kingdom Living…       The imitation Christ.
o   We know that we are People of the Kingdom when our words and actions reflect Christ…
§  In this case… Christ’s unconditional, benevolent, selfless love.

How?                        Matthew 5:48             Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,”
·         But how?  There is only one man who has lived perfectly: Jesus Christ.
o   What about the rest of us? Does this bar us from Kingdom Living?
·         These words from Jesus reveal God’s ultimate standard, and we must take them to heart, but they also make clear that we need a righteousness apart from the Law, a righteous imparted to us that we cannot reach on our own… (Romans 3:21-22).
·         We also need God working in our lives to set our feet on the path to perfection.
o   This is called Sanctification… the journey into holiness.
o   The perfecting presence of God among His people is the Holy Spirit.
·         The answer to how, therefore, is two fold:
o   Accept Jesus’ offer to cover us with grace through faith.                  Come, Lord Jesus, come!
o   Relinquish our lives to the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit.          Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Holy Trinity's First Friday Community Healing Service

I think this is a great new tradition we have begun at Holy Trinity and a wonderful offering to those in the community who want prayers for the healing of whatever afflicts them bodily, emotionally or spiritually.  Although Nancy and I missed this very first community healing service because of a death in the family, we understand that there were about 30 people present with a nice smattering of visitors.  Our thanks go to all who helped make it happen. 

I am interested in your reflections on this service, particularly from those who were in attendance.  I also invite your general thoughts on the topic of the healing ministry in the church today.  ... Rob Hartley

Some thoughts from Art Mathias’ Book, The Continuing Works of Christ:

We are eternally secure in Christ, but only if we have a vital relationship with him.  Nowhere does it teach that we are secure regardless of how unfaithful, unbelieving and disobedient we are.

There are two Gospels being preached today:
Ø  Salvation by Grace through Faith
o   Faith is manifest in obedience… belief=> obedience.
o   Gospel of self-sacrifice, self-denial, changed behavior and obedience.
o   Run the risk of being labeled a legalist.
Ø  Salvation through Grace alone
o   Gospel that ignores the need to be a New Creation and downplays the responsibility of humankind.
o   Bible always talking about people making choices

Friday, February 4, 2011

God Doesn't Make the Throwaway Kind

Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."  So he (Jesus) told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? [Luke 15:1-2]

I once met a man named Darrell who was unlike anyone I had ever met.  Darrell was frightening, intimidating, angry, aggressive and always seemingly on the edge of doing something violent.  It was in prison that I met Darrell. 

I was helping with a prison program known as Kairos.  Although Darrell was there voluntarily, he was either disruptive or would turn his chair facing away from the table, his way of telling us that he was not going to meet our expectations, whatever those might be.  It would have been easy to ask Darrell to leave so we could get on with what we were there to do with the several dozen inmates. 

I suspect Darrell had been culled out plenty of times before, but the decision was prayerfully made not to do that.  The program was important, the other attendees were important, but Darrell was important.  This unconditional love and acceptance turned out to be the chink in his seemingly impregnable armor.

There is a marvelous Bible story about Jesus passing through the city of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.  Great crowds are flocking around him, but Jesus peers beyond the sea of heads to a lone man in a sycamore tree peering back at him.  This man, Zacchaeus, was a cheat and a traitor and had therefore been rejected from the community.  To Jesus, it is not that the others are not important, but Zacchaeus is also important. 

Zacchaeus and Darrell remind me of a poem an inmate at the then Manning Correctional Institution in Columbia shared many years ago.  It was titled “The Throwaway Kind.”  Through bad choices and malignant environments, he had seemingly ended up on the trash heap of life.  His poem, however, was about discovering that God did not make anyone “the throwaway kind,” not even him.  As the reading above from Luke goes on to say, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Such is the Kingdom of God.

It is our job as Christians to peer beyond the 99 and seek out the one, for no one is the throwaway kind in  eyes of God.