Sunday, May 29, 2011

Where do we find joy?

I am so excited to think about what God may be doing in your lives.  I write this that you may understand my heart rightly, and that you would be encouraged.

Something I have heard over and over in the Christian church is the phrase, "you will find joy and satisfaction in God alone."  People say this often.   
I think the problem with saying this is that it can lead people to misunderstanding.  At least that has been my experience. When I, and many other people I have talked to, hear the phrase, "in God alone," the true understanding of how we find joy and satisfaction can be narrowed in a way that can be confusing.  If taken literally, we can come to believe that the phrase limits us from finding any satisfaction and joy in anything else at all.  Yet, we know this is not always true.  
We delight in all of God's creation.  We find a satisfaction in it.  We find joy in other people... just not apart from God.  

God alone is the source of all joy.  Source is the key word, and not one to be manipulated.  We can pervert such a phrase as well to make it seem like we aren't to enjoy God in and of Himself, as if we use God to enjoy others.  This is a very real temptation.  It pulls on the same strings of heart that would have us be so moral that we deceive ourselves into believing we don't need Christ.  May it never be!  We are to long for God himself above all else.  We are told to love God so strongly, that we are to hate everything else (parents, spouses, brothers, self, everything) in comparison, and we are told to love others as we love ourselves!  That is how much we are supposed to love Him.  Nothing else can compare.  Nothing.  Ultimately, it will be found nowhere in the universe.

So, we are able to find joy in the person of Christ through His creation.  Look at Adam.  Before the fall, before sin entered the world, God saw it fit to give Adam a mate, a helper, in Eve.  Think of the implications of that we now know that God created us to find joy in Him through others.  God ultimately is the reason I have food, yet he still has me eat it.  I can enjoy the bread itself.  God made us to need other humans.  On and on the examples go.
I don't want to miss out on all that God has for me, and I know He has created me to find satisfaction and joy in Him, in and of himself, and through others.  Either way, the joy is found in Him.

God has given me a love of trees, so let the splendor of the leaves rustling in the wind whisper God's gentleness.  Let roaring waves of the ocean shout of his mighty power.  Let the tenderness of human laughter warm.

So, when you see my joy, do not fear, join me, if you haven't already.  You may already know this.  It is God whom I am searching, and He is the one that has commanded me to love, but a breath after telling me to love Himself without reserve.  With Him as our ultimate love, I believe the satisfaction and joy found in His creation, especially in each other, is not only real but vast. That is surely my experience.  For many of you have already been God's instruments of peace, joy and satisfaction already, and it my hope that I have been so for others also.

May these words encourage you greatly, and excite your soul to love.  To God be all glory, for all satisfaction, joy, and peace will be found in Him, and no where else.  To Him be all glory.  Amen.

Genesis 2:18 ESV

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

Philemon 1:12 ESV

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.

Philemon 1:20 ESV

Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

Romans 1:11 ESV

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you-

Philippians 4:1 ESV

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Philippians 1:7 ESV

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Philippians 1:8 ESV

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

A Content Heart

I have been meditating on contentment for years.  I have long desired to really grasp the things that will bring me closer to God.  So often, we take words for granted, and we end up missing the boat.  Here is where God has brought me thus far.

Every definition of content that I have looked has this idea in it: “not wanting more.” 
Perhaps it is because of my years of depression, but I hate the idea of not wanting anything.  For years, whilst in my battle, I lived without a single genuine desire.  It was as if my heart had died, yet my body was left awake to suffer a loveless, desireless life.  I used to tell God that all I wanted, was to want something, for my heart to be stirred. 

So, this idea never left me, of asking about the definition of content, because I had lived a life with no wants, and it was an unimaginable hell.  I still react strongly when I hear people say things like, “I wish I just couldn’t feel anymore, then I wouldn’t hurt.”  I have experienced such a reality, and it is hell.  It is so much better to yearn and hurt from love than to hurt from simply being numb. 

I have begged God to show me what HE means by content.  What is His definition?  I have come to the conclusion that contentment has to do less with desiring, and more to do with thankfulness and complaining.  Also, our pastor has time and again mentioned the idea of Holy Discontment. 

We are to always long and yearn for God and all His attributes.  We know this to be true.  The entire Bible tells us to fight, struggle, yearn for, long for, ache for more of God, more of His glory, more of His love.  We are to yearn to be more like Him, discontent to simply be as we are, yet always looking to Jesus, and what He has done for us, and thus be transformed. The greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord your God with all your soul, strength, and might.  The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.

We also know that loving people is a part of this.  With God as the ultimate source of all goodness and love, we are then to pour ourselves into one another, risking our hearts in love for our brothers and sisters, hurting when they hurt, rejoicing when they rejoice.  Jesus longed to be with people.   So too did Paul.  Again and again, the examples given are ones of deep connection and love.  Do a Bible search on the word “Beloved.”  You will be blown away to see the strength of word Paul and Peter use when speaking about different people. 

Even in physical matters, I believe that contentment has less to do with desire than it does thankfulness and complaining.  I have days where I long to get to travel, or to be with a distant friend, or to in the course of a day, to eat a certain food.  Am I being discontent because I am desiring something I do not have?  No.  Though any of those things CAN cause discontentment.  The question is, am I thankful?  Where is my heart?  When I think of Ireland, I ache to return, yet such longing is not bad when it brings my heart to think of God, when my heart glows with affection for friends far away, when I recall the beauty of God’s creation there, and am excited to witness and share it again.  That is not discontentment. 

Yet, there are times when that same general thought has brought me to no longer be thankful.  It pulls me away from God.  That same desire, turned inward toward myself, brings me to complaint.  My heart hardens, not softens, and I begin to question God.  That same desire to return to Ireland has at other times also taken me to complain and grumble.  So, we can also know that it is not the object desired that is the issue either.  It is us, and our own hearts. 

Do we understand our place?  Do we know God?  Are we trusting Him with our hearts desires?  Are we thankful?  You can't be thankful and complaining in spirit at he same time.  You can speak thankful words while really having a complaining heart, making your words useless.

I think if you read through that and check it against your own experience, you will agree that there are times when such longing for people or place or job, through the grace of God, has pointed you toward Him.  That desire has driven you, strengthened your affection for Him.  Does God not tell us to ask for our desires?  He does.  He tells us to ask and keep asking. 

So, after all that rambling, I will try to sum it up.  Biblical contentment does not have to do with desire itself, it has to do with where that desire takes you.  It will either take you toward or away from Him.  Also, it is not the object that is desired.  The same desire for the same object, at different times, can be bring you to either end.

May we desire much, yet may it all be relegated to God’s timing and approval.  May we be ALWAYS be  thankful (not even, but especially) in times of trouble, always keeping in mind what we truly deserve, and what we as His children have been given freely, and not complain.  May we long for God with every fiber, trusting our hearts into His hand.  May we open our hearts to love other people.  May we no longer believe that the word of God gives us excuse to reserve our affections from His people in an attempt to not hurt, in an attempt to control our hearts.  To Him be all glory.  Amen.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Rough Day. Praise God.

Today has been a day of trial.  We have one car that worked, and now it too has failed.  This has deep implications for our future.  Will I have to get another job on top of the ones I already have?  How are we to get transportation?  In Dallas, Texas there is no way to walk around.  Everything is far apart. 

What are we going to do?  This weighed heavily upon my heart today.  Yet, God has been really faithful to bring me along side Him.  I am so very quick to complain, to turn on God in struggle, at least for a bit, then God brings me back.  Yet, I have strived for God to bring to a place where I don’t have to fall first, where His glory is shown from the off.  I have begged Him for that.  Today He was faithful in doing so.  My heart, while deeply troubled, was able to stop and look to God and just pray and be thankful for what I already have. 
The car died right before I was supposed to go put a check in the bank.  I pulled into our apartment complex, and looked at the clock.  I had thirty minutes to jog the two miles to the nearest bank.  I got Basil’s leash on him, and we made it with five minutes to spare, walking up to the drive through ATM.  Let’s just say he was one tired pup by the time we got back. 

On an encouraging note.  As God sanctifies me in dealing with my idleness, I wrote eight pages of my book today.  I have only to edit two more chapters before I am finished.  God is faithful!!  Oh, how I long to spread His name and glory.  Only, I don’t know how.  I just keep begging Him to use me.

Then at church tonight, my heart was heavy.  A deep and resounding sadness filled me.  All I could do was try to sing my heart out, and tell God how great He is.  As I sat there in the sermon, I was pummeled by the knowledge of just how hard my heart is, how I long to love, but often find myself cynical and cold.  Over and again I just begged God to give me my hearts deepest desires, the ones so deep I cannot express them.  That I would utterly amazed and surprised by His grace.  How excited I am to know that my heart is in the hands of the almighty God.  That He works for my good, and that He will soften it in His own time.  Until then, I can just cry out again and again, and again. 

So, I end the night with longing for God and His glory.  I sit here right now with a heart of deep and true sadness and loss, and see God’s grace and mercy and love in it.  Such a silent pain.  May my sorrow glorify Him, and in His time may I have the true desires of my heart.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Depression: Just Get Over It?

Looking back at my own battle and now listening with others battle depression, this has been a massively recurring story.  This may be the most common response to someone who is depressed sharing their struggle for the first time.  No.  Now that I think about it, acting as if nothing had been said is the most common response by far.  You tell someone you are struggling with this immense pain, and they say something like, "Ah," or "Bummer, well, let's go get some tacos."

Yet, after straight up ignoring what was said, the second most common I have encountered is simply, "Get over it."  It has amazed me at how many people respond to someone reaching out for help with anger.  I don't know if it is that they are scared?  Maybe they think depression isn't real, and that the struggler is simply "in a funk" and that they need to just move on.

At first, I used to think that maybe it made a difference if Depression is basically a spiritual problem with physical consequences or a physical problem with spiritual consequences.

If it is the latter, then we feel more gracious.  Example, when someone is sick, we give them not only physical grace, but spiritual as well, for we know that pain makes effects us spiritually.  We say and think things we usually wouldn't.  Yet, people understand this.

If it is the former, then we feel more power to simply say, "just stop it!  This moping thing is getting really annoying!"  (shockingly, this has happened)  It seems as if we think that if the root is spiritual, we should simply be able to alter it.  Yet, why would we think this?  It is far easier to change the physical.  We know, as believers in Christ Jesus, that apart from the grace of God, we would not seek God.  We are completely incapable of changing ourselves.  All change comes from grace!  Period.  It is plain as day.  God tells us our task is but to share the gospel.  We tell people that Jesus lived a perfect life in our stead, then died in our stead, and has risen from the grave, and that those follow Him will be saved.  After that, it is up to the Holy Spirit to move the heart.  I have seen amazing sermons fall flat against hard hearts, and bumbling, broken, fear filled talks change peoples lives forever.

Matthew 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Take the struggle of depression.  It is just like any other struggle.  Ask yourself, "What is my struggle?"  Is it lust, greed, idolatry of some sort, selfishness, anger?  Then ask yourself, "Can I just 'stop it'?"  You know the answer is no.  If you could, you would.  Our old nature will always battle with our new one, until we die.  Paul, toward the end of his life, called himself the "Chief of Sinners" and lamented about how he kept doing things he hated.  This is Paul speaking.  Are you better than Paul?

Depression is a small taste of hell on Earth, and it is very real.  Thirty million people in America alone aren't faking it.  I struggled for over a decade to be brought out of it.  Don't you think I would have stopped had I been able?  If you think I did it for attention or sympathy maybe, let me tell you how I was treated.  There was almost zero sympathy.  My own brother thought I was faking for the first year.  It took that long for him to be convinced.  I shared my pain rarely, and the few times I did, it was a nightmare.  There were very few people who actually had room in their hearts for my pain.  They have an eternal place of honor in my heart, though they might not even know it.

Just think, you could be that for somebody in your life. You could be the one person who has room for their pain, who doesn't ignore it, but you could live out  Romans 12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."  Love them by understanding that their pain is real.  You have no idea how much that would mean, just to have that!  How simply is that!?

So, let's not tell others to "Get over it," until we can get over our own sin (spoiler: you have die first).  Let us do as Peter commands us to do in 2 Peter "But Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  Also, if I come across as if I think myself better, or if I sound condemning, I apologize.  Let me tell you that before I suffered it first hand, I can clearly remember thinking to myself, "I don't buy it," when confronted with someone telling me they were depressed.  I rejected it.  So, I am not trying to condemn but encourage.  To arm not break down.  May my words be of some value to you.  As always, take them with a grain of salt, and seek God.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hill Country Blues

I have never been a bird person.  I prefer animals with antlers or horns, as is my genetic disposition.  Yet, I have really grown to appreciate birds more.  There dispositions are not usually pleasant, but they are aesthetically amazing.  
Besides, it was a bird filled weekend.  I had a grackle poop on my mac.  Chelsea almost almost got dropped on just before her graduation.  Tanner and I were talking about how grackles are country pigeons.  Daddy Jake used to have me go out back and shoot grackles with a pellet gun when I was little.  They are a menace, but their crackly call reminds me of home, so I am oddly fond of them.  The blueish sheen on their feathers is pretty amazing as well.

We fed the ducks and geese at Landa Park with Ryan.  It was hysterical.  She was so excited, yet afraid of the geese.  Can't blame her, as the geese do look rather mean.  Chelsea was a real champ with her, and helped her feed them.  We all remarked at a certain duck species.  Here it is:

I don't ever recall seeing these before.  As I said, we all remarked at just how odd they looked.  Somewhere between a duck and a goose.

Lastly, as we were driving out to Gruene on Sunday, I was so excited catch a glimpse of one of these, a Meadowlark.  Just like the title of my favorite song.   The Meadowlark was just a few feet away.  I couldn't believe how close I was, and the Meadowlark didn't even notice.  There for but a few seconds, then left.  The Meadowlark was beautiful.

It really was a great weekend.  Honestly, that is probably why I am struggling with depression a bit.  It's okay though.  I am learning that thankfulness is such an amazing thing for your heart.  All I can be is thankful.  Thankful that I got to go.  That I can call such a place Home.  That I ever knew such a Home.  With such a spirit, I can still miss Home and yet have my heart fixed on the goodness and graciousness of God, and not buy into lies that tell me I need to be hear or there, or need to have this or that.  With thankfulness in my heart, I can go anywhere, and never lose my way, sad though I may be, and heavy is my heart.  Praise God.  
It is often that I find myself beaten by the resurgent pains and frustrations of depression and anxiety.  Each battle easier than the last.  My arsenal of weapons to battle the lies is vast.  Yet, the pain is always so shockingly real.  With distance, it is easy to forget.  I look back and I think about what I have gone through, and with a hint of pretentiousness or melodrama I can say that I don't connect with it.  It doesn't seem real.  An entire decade of my life is stuck in limbo within my own mind.  Not gone, but surely not present.  Not accessible.  Thank God.  
I often wondered why no one had ever (as far as I have seen) written a book about surviving serious depression.  Now I know why.  Why would you ever want to even want to hint that you ever felt such death?  I spent over ten years of my life tortured by a pain I felt certain would never leave.  Now that it is gone, why would want to leave even a crack open for it to return?  The answer is to help others now struggling.  Such is the battle.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I am from the Hill Country.  Every time I drive down here I forget just how much it is a part of me.  It isn't like this massive swell of passion or anything like that.  It is just familiarity.  Like listening to the voice of your mother.  You have heard a ton of other voices, but you will find certain parts of yourself buried in such nuances, so gentle that they often surprise.  That is how I felt driving in today. The little things, like the dirt, or the lack thereof.  The way the grass and trees try to grow on such a thin layer atop massive slabs of limestone beneath us.  There is surely dirt in Dallas, but it is somehow different.  It is redder, and finer, kept damp by the surrounding marshland was built over.  There are no hills.  The only river is the Trinity, and all joy has been taken from it.    There are lots of lakes, but the people in Dallas don't seem intent on using them.  It is the little things.  It is good to be here, even for just a little while.  It is home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

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Is it a blessing? Is it?

What is a blessing?  Last night, Kathleen and I did something new.  We listened to one of Matt Chandler's old sermons while we lay there in bed before sleeping.  This ended up being a bigger time investment than we thought, as Matt Chandler is to preaching as Kevin Costner is to directing.  For those of you who don't know what I am saying, I am saying they are longwinded, in a good way.  Well, with Matt it's a good way.  With Mr. Costner it's about fifty fifty.  (Snaps fingers in front of face to regain focus)

The sermon covered a multitude of truths, but a two things stuck out to me.  One was how I define and use the "blessing".  The other is the idea of the passive wrath of God.

What is a blessing?  As God has been so very faithful in growing me and sanctifying me, things in my world change.  They change all the time.  I used to use God to get to the things I really wanted (relationships, money, sex, etc.), now God is what I want.  All those things I used to want, I still want them, but only in as much as they point me to God.  I used to think I had a right to be angry.  Now I see I don't.  I don't, because, unlike the commercials that tell us me I deserve the new car, or the spa getaway weekend, it has since been made clear to me what I REALLY deserve (hell), and but by the saving blood of Jesus Christ I am not getting it!  Oorah!

Yes.  Things are constantly being redefined as my affection for God grows.  In the sermon, Matt spoke about the false teachings of the prosperity "gospel" that treats God like a genie.  You do this and that, and God will give you what you want.  The problem with this gospel is that of course it runs counter to the actual gospel, where Jesus DIED for our salvation, then all of those who followed his footsteps were all eventually killed in horrendous ways.

The Bible doesn't promise us fiscal prosperity on Earth.  It promises us more of Him, if we are His.  Nothing can come between us and Him once we are His!  So, all that to set up my answer to the question, "What is a blessing?"  A blessing is something that brings you closer to Him.  That said, I have had to rethink my usage of the word.  I often assume that things that make my life easier are automatically blessings, and that things that make them difficult are not.  Yet, it is through trial that we are often brought to Christ, and it is through the seductive powers of prosperity that we lose our way.  In that light, pain CAN BE (not necessarily IS) a blessing!  So too CAN prosperity be a curse.  This isn't a strange concept.  We see it in secular entertainment all the time.  Someone gets all the riches and power they want only to find themselves empty inside.  Just saw this yesterday when I rented "Megamind".  The only difference is that secular media usually ends with human relationships as what will ultimately fulfill you instead of your relationship with God.

This ties in to the other new thing Matt mentioned, which is the idea of God having a passive wrath.  If God is the ultimate in fulfillment, then one of the scariest things God can do is give us those easy things that would keep us from Him, and vise versa, one of the most merciful things He can do is to bring about whatever pain or trial that is necessary to bring you to Him.

Think of a dad.  One of the most loving things a dad can do it discipline his children (sometimes using pain, either with spanking, or mostly through the pain and frustration of restricted freedom via grounding, etc.).  Is it loving for that father to let his children play in the street?  No.  God is our ultimate father, and one of the greatest ways he can love us it to simply be active in disciplining us, not letting us be!

Therefor, let us praise God when He doesn't let us go.  May we beg God that He would not do so.  That He won't let us run in the proverbial street.  That we would count His interference as a blessing, and see those things that would stand in our way as not. (btw, I am not saying pleasant things can't be blessings. They surely can be.  The point is simply that ultimately, something is a blessing if it brings us closer to Christ, easy or hard, pleasant or not.)

End note here:  I am just a guy trying to process my thoughts, and am sharing them.  I am no theologian.  You should probably just listen to the sermon I am getting my ideas from so I don't mess everything up and confuse you with my stupidity.  I write this blog not because I want to share my deep wisdom, but my journey as I pursue wisdom.  My thoughts are what they are.  Hopefully that journey will be meaningful in some way to you.  If not, cool.  But, once again, I don't write these things because I think I have it figured out.

Go to and click on the sermon titled:
4.04.10From Alienation to Reconciliation

Yeah, that's probably a good idea.  Brothers and sisters, I love you, in the name of Christ Jesus.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another great Sunday at church.  It really is a wonderful thing that every single Sunday, I feel ignited.  During each service I burn.  I burn with thanksgiving, and I burn with longing.  I long to just be used, not because I need to earn anything, but because nothing could make me happier.  The idea of pestering God in prayer was raised in the sermon today, and if I were diligent, I would look up the verses I am about to recall, but I am not.  It reminds me of the parable where God uses the metaphor of man who bangs on his neighbors door to ask for something.  The first few times the neighbor will be frustrated and say go away, but, if the man is diligent in banging on the door in the middle of the night, he neighbor will eventually give the man whatever he was asking for.  Then God tells us that is how he wants us to be with Him.  he wants us to ask and ask and ask, and you know it has nothing to do with earning anything.  It is simply a part of sanctification, of learning to yearn for and depend on God for our joy.  So, I want to pester God.  I beg Him that I would get to be a part of bringing Him glory, that He would use me despite me, not for any other reason than I want to love Him so.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Belief about Greatness...

Greatness is an idea that is changing more and more as I live on.  It used to mean having the most eyes on me, the most reverence from others.  Fame was equivalent to greatness.  It didn't take too long for that fade away.  I remember watching the biography channel years ago, and it hit me that I had not seen one biography of a famous person that I would trade my life with when all was said and done.  The lie proved thin.  

Then it moved to legacy.  Being famous for doing something wonderful, not just being famous.  This too proved thin.  During my depression I was stripped of any romantic notions of humanity.  What I was able to see as that a hero to one is a villain of another.  This could not be more apparent with the death of Osama Bin Laden.  On news of his death, many celebrated, or were at least relieved by the death of a monster.  Yet, many mourned and protested in anger at the loss of someone revered and loved.  

So, the love and reverence of humans is too subjective and narrow.  Then greatness must be defined by doing great things in the name of God.  It must.  God's glory never fades.  It never goes away.  He sets a standard that all are under.  Surely greatness must be measured this way.  This is the road to a great life.  

Yet, I have devoted myself to nothing more than the glory of God, and yet have lacked much.  This is what I now am seeing.  This is my theophany.  I Corinthians says it.  "...but have not love, I am nothing."  Matthew 22:32 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul and with all your might.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  It reminds me of a quote from "The Notebook".  

It goes like this,  "I am nothing special; just a common man with common thoughts, and I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who's ever lived: I've loved another with all my heart and soul; and to me, this has always been enough."  

That is a great life.  Just last week I would have told you that a great life meant to have sold a bunch of books that impacted people, or that I would have ministered in a way that brought about enormous change in peoples lives.  To God be all glory.  Now I will tell you that I will consider my life great if I have loved greatly.  That is what I want, to love God and to love others with as much ferocity as I can.  If I achieve none of those other things, but have loved God greatly, and love others greatly, my life will have been great.  

That is my prayer.  That my love and affection would be stirred for God like never before.  That my love and affection for others would grow in ways I can just barely see now.  That is my prayer for you too.  That you would love God truly and deeply.  That you would open your heart to Him and indeed others.  That you would be moved in your heart to know the depths it can go.  That nothing, not even ministry, would get in the way of such things.  Always.