Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: DEPRESSION: Looking up in the Stubborn Darkness (by Ed Welch)

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression you need to read this book!!!! Having experienced some depression myself I found the book to be very accurate, filled with great reminders and so much hope! Depression is always “profoundly spiritual”, but that doesn’t mean there’s a spiritual cause.  “Depression is a form of suffering that can’t be reduced to one universal cause. This means that family and friends can’t rush in armed with THE answer. Instead, they must be willing to postpone… and take time to know the depressed person and work together with him or her. What we do know is that depression is painful, and, if you have never experienced it, hard to understand.”1 If you have never really experienced depression, please be very careful how you respond to someone suffering with it; although you may have good intentions and give them truth you are likely to end up hurting them more. Be there for them, listen and love them. Regardless of the cause, depression “is a time to answer the deepest and most important questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?” God is at work in us to change us, but “deep change is rarely a matter of knowledge. It is a matter of repentance.” Depression doesn’t always mean that we have sinned, but we usually sin in the process by turning away from God. As we become aware of this He will not only change us through the depression, He will change us at the deepest level of our heart.

“God is over all things, and nothing happens apart from his knowledge and will. By the time suffering or depression comes to our doorstep, God did it. To believe anything else is to opt for a universe that is random and out of control, without a guiding hand bringing all things to a purposeful and awe-inspiring conclusion.” This of course may lead one to question God’s goodness, but God’s sovereignty and His goodness are not contradictory. The cross demonstrates this.  “The truth is that you belong to God and you have a God-given purpose. Furthermore, the cross of Christ reveals that God’s purposes for your life are good.” In Christ we are empowered to resist temptation and sin and turn to God, no matter what. So depression is something you must do battle with and fight – for it will seek to turn your heart away from God. Turning inward feels good and feels safe, but the truth is that it is oppressive – we were not meant to function that way and cannot for very long. We must be willing to look outside ourselves and to persevere even though it’s difficult. Paul writes that we can “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

“If you are willing to be trained by in, expect depression to be a good teacher. That doesn’t mean that you should seek it out… But most people who are willing to be taught by suffering look back and are grateful.” I have found this to be true to my own experience. As difficult as suffering is, I am richer for it. “There are ways that you will know Jesus in your suffering that are unique and profound.” Expect to learn, expect God to use you to minister to someone else who is suffering. But always remember that this affliction is “light and momentary” compared to the glories of Heaven that await us. There is hope, but not just for the future, for right now. God gives enough grace to endure what is before you. Your pain may not disappear, but it can be alleviated as you hold on to hope and believe that Jesus is greater than your experience. “On this side of heaven we walk by faith and don’t have all the answers we would like. But there is reason to believe that you will find certain hopes fulfilled even on this side of paradise.” The question is, where is your hope? Often depression is the result of our hopes having been somewhere else and being disappointed. As hard as it is, we must humble ourselves, turn to God and cry out to Him. We must read Scripture (force-feed if necessary) and seek fellowship. God has a story, and our goal should be to accept it. We tend to make our stories about our pain and suffering rather than about Jesus and His mission. The way out of depression is to look up to God, to look forward to eternity, and to trust that God is bigger than your suffering and has a good purpose for it. Talk to God, voice to Him your struggles and confess the sin that is there. Ask Him for help and for comfort. He will give it! He promises to heal the brokenhearted (Ps. 147:3) and to come through for us. I have two quotes on a bulletin board that I made, they are this: “Hope thou in God” (from Ps. 42) and “He is for me” (from Romans 8). Both of these are great reminders that all of us need at various times in our lives.

Depression makes us sad, makes us lose interest in life. But suffering, no matter how great, cannot rob us of joy. We lose joy when we turn our eyes from God to our suffering. What is joy? “Joy takes our attention off ourselves and places it on God.” Learning to choose gratitude and be thankful in times of sadness is challenging, but again, the way out of depression is looking outside yourself to God. “Thanksgiving is gratitude for a benefit we have received. Joy includes gratitude, but its true delight is in the beauty of God and the deep goodness in all the things that come from him.” Remember that “Joy is not the opposite of suffering” – but it can be present in the midst of it. Be willing to choose gratitude and look for joy.

This really was a valuable book – and greatly needed. Many people struggle with depression, and many others do not understand it and therefore cannot be much help. Ed ends the book with some practical things – things that have helped or have not helped those who were depressed and some specific strategies to try. I hope it will be helpful to someone here!

1 All quotations in this post are taken from this book, but from my kindle edition so I don't have page numbers.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Batman vs. Superman and the Problem of Evil

So I saw Batman vs. Superman last night.

This not a review of the movie (although if you can handle some violence, a lot of things blowing up and can keep your eyes away at a few spots than you’ll be set), but it is one that addressed some very important philosophical and spiritual questions involving the character of God. In the movie Lex Luther equates Superman to God and addresses the age-old question “Is God all-powerful or is He all good?” Lex’s conclusion is that He can’t be both and so he’s on a mission to kill him.

So is God all-powerful or good? The conclusion for many like Lex Luther is that He cannot be both, therefore if He is all-powerful and not good we should hate Him, but if He’s good and not all-powerful than we don’t have reason to worship Him, can’t trust Him to help us, and can kill Him. What is the answer to this? Is God one or the other? The answer is fairly simple, but yet complex at the same time.  

God is both

God is all-powerful – if He was not, He would not be God. God is also good – infinitely, perfectly good. Meaning, He is perfect. The problem is that we don’t really understand what this means. God’s goodness means that He hates the opposite of good, but if that’s true we wonder why He allows all the evil in the world. The problem we don’t see is that evil is not just outside of us, it’s inside of us. Paul Washer explains that God’s goodness is actually most terrifying thing you will ever encounter, because we are not good (see clip below).

In Romans 3 Paul asks if God is unjust for inflicting His wrath. The answer of is “certainly not”, for “there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God…” (Romans 3:10-11). If God in His perfect goodness were to wipe out evil He’d also have to wipe all us out too! Thankfully, God’s goodness also means that He is longsuffering AND that He has sought to rescue us from the evil within us – but He has to do this in a way that His perfection is not compromised. He did this by sending Jesus to die in our place, to conquer sin and death and defeat it in His resurrection. It has been said that at the cross love and justice kissed, that on Calvary God’s goodness (that is His holiness and mercy) was both demonstrated and satisfied. Thinking about this nearly makes me want to weep, because I have seen into my heart. I don’t know the depths of the evil that lingers there, but I know I don’t measure up to God’s perfect goodness and in His goodness He cannot have me in His presence. But having trusted in Christ and repented of sin I am placed into Christ, and now when God looks at me He sees Jesus in HIS perfect goodness.

God is all-powerful and we ought to worship Him, God is all-good and we ought to fear and tremble and cry out for mercy! In Christ we receive that mercy, but only if we are willing to humble ourselves and believe our need and His provision.

This is extremely important in counseling because often people are struggling with suffering of some kind and wonder why God isn’t doing anything. They need to see God as present in their suffering and that He has a purpose beyond what they can see. Even when bad things happen they have a God who laid down His life for them and who will redeem even the darkest moments. It’s interesting to note that even this movie has a redemptive theme. In a sense Superman (“God”) kills the monster (referred to at one point as the Devil) but in the process has to lay down his life for others. Also implied at the end of the movie is that Superman doesn’t stay dead – he’s going to come back! How interesting! A reminder for us that God will win even when it looks like all is lost! There is hope, sin and suffering will not have the last word.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Seminary Update: April 5, 2016

About 4 ½ more weeks of classes to go! This is quite bittersweet! Spring Break was a full week, but really good time spent with Mike, my family and his family. Below are pictures from our visit to Plymouth Rock, on a bridge over the Delaware River (near where his parents live in New Jersey) and from Easter Sunday.

Thanks for your prayers, please keep them coming! There’s lots of change coming and decisions to make. I have an interview with Harvest USA on Friday, April 16th where I will have to give a presentation (as if I’m teaching women about the area of sexuality). I’m excited but nervous, so prayers for me as I prepare and present would be amazing!!!!

And lookie here, I have a Reading List update for you!

Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture by Walt Mueller
This is a book I read for a class on counseling children and adolescents. Teens struggle to communicate, but often we don’t listen, and as a result they don’t feel understood or cared for. And when “young people realize they aren’t understood, church becomes a place where they don’t belong” (p. 25). Children and teens are listening, but who are they listening to? They are listening to their peers, to pop culture – because they listen, they understand, they’re communicating about the same struggles and feelings. The media and youth feed off each other in an unending loop. They’re looking for purpose, meaning; they’re dealing with facing “real” life with all its uncertainty and disappointment. The breakdown of the family in our day and age only adds more pain and confusion to the stress these young people are enduring. How do we regain our ears and give them back their mouths? Walt asks. Ministry to teens, he writes, is cross-cultural ministry. He gives three steps: First we need to know the Gospel, then we need to know the teens and the culture they are in, and finally take the message of the Gospel applicably into their rapidly changing culture. While we are commanded in Scripture not to imitate or be “of” the culture, we are nevertheless to be “in” it and shining our light in the darkness. We do not do this world a service by separating ourselves from culture and avoiding all things secular. Shining our light means that we are exposed (to a degree) to the darkness, but yet we are not influenced by it. Teens need to feel loved and understood before they’ll be willing to listen. Then the Gospel needs to be presented in a way that resonates with them. This doesn’t mean “watering down” the Gospel message, but how we present truth to others matters!

“The emerging generations need people of faith who are willing to bridge the chasm. They need to be in relationship with people struggling to relate God’s unchanging Word to today’s rapidly changing world.” (p. 78)
 “Today’s Christian culture so resembles the world, that standing contra mudum - against the world, in opposition to its culture – would amount to standing against itself.” (p. 139, emphasis his)

Depression: Looking up in the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch
This was a really excellent book that I could write a whole essay on! Actually, I think I will… so I guess you’ll just have to wait on this one. But I’ll give you a sneak peak:

Regardless of the cause, depression “is a time to answer the deepest and most important questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?” The truth is that God is at work, even in the darkness, and He’s at work in us to change us. Depression doesn’t always mean that we have sinned, but we can sin in the process by doubting or turning away from God. In this way God uses our suffering to change us at the deepest level of our heart.  You must believe that the fact that “you belong to God and have a God-given purpose. Furthermore, the cross of Christ reveals that God’s purposes for your life are good.” There is hope, but not just for the future, for right now. Your pain may not disappear, but it can be alleviated as you hold on to hope and believe that Jesus is greater than your experience.

Washed & Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
This book was written by a Christian who has long experienced and struggled with same-sex attraction. It is mainly written to those who have similar struggles or who are not sure what to think about it. In our culture today this is a “hot” topic and unfortunately many Christians either are going with the cultural flow or they judge and recoil. While homosexual behavior is sin, the attraction they experience, while twisted and tainted by sin, is not. Homosexual lust is really not any different from heterosexual lust. We cannot help thoughts and feelings that we experience, but we are responsible for how we respond to them. This book was written from a heart that has struggled and endured through confusion, loneliness and very real suffering, but it also gives so much hope! It was a reminder that God may not remove our struggles, but He does promise to walk with us through them and transform them into something that can be used for His kingdom. “The Christian’s struggle with homosexuality is unique in many ways, but not completely so. The dynamics of human sinfulness and divine mercy and grace are the same for all of us, regardless of the particular temptations or weakness we face.” (p. 19). We are all “washed and waiting” for the redemption of our bodies, for the final deliverance from sin and temptation, and for all things to be made new and whole. Come Lord Jesus!

For more on this topic, also check out this article: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/homophobia-has-no-place-in-the-church

Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend: This book could be very helpful to many people. It gives very good advice for what to look for (or watch out for) in a potential spouse, but also addresses areas that you need to grow and change to be the person you should be as well. It talks about what it means to be a safe person yourself (as in trustworthy) and the importance of dealing with past hurts ahead of time and that dating/marriage will not “cure” a lonely heart. The importance of honesty and openness were emphasized throughout as foundational to a healthy relationship – yes, very important! While there were some things I wouldn’t entirely agree with, it does give a lot of good advice for personal growth and as you seek to have healthy relationships.