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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas, Day 2

'Turtle doves' photo (c) 2005, shankar s. - license: do you mean, "Christmas is over for the year"? Of COURSE Christmas isn't over. Yesterday was just the beginning! Don't you know there are twelve days of Christmas?

No, seriously. There are twelve days of Christmas. In Church tradition, December 25th is only the first day of Christmas, the celebration of the day when the child Jesus was born. In fact, the rest of December isn't "Christmas" at all; everything leading up to December 25 is called "Advent", which is where the idea for your chocolate "Advent Calendar" came from. So even if you're not a high-church kind of guy or girl, you can at least thank the Church for giving you an excuse to spend the entire month of December eating chocolate!

So today, December 26, is actually the second day of Christmas. But in lieu of giving and receiving gifts of turtledoves today, the Church calendar asks you to think about Christianity's first recorded martyr, St. Stephen. Today is St. Stephen's Day, and you can find a little information about it here at Wikipedia, if you are so inclined. Switch gears from the seasonal song you've had going on in your head the whole time you've been reading this post so far, and think about the first line of "Good King Wenceslas". Now you know what day the good king is supposed to have looked out on the deep, crisp, even snow and seen a poor man who needed his help.

In our family, we happen to have come up with our own little tradition for the day after all of the ruckus and presents and hubbub... many years we take December 26 as a day to bake a "Happy Birthday Jesus" cake and celebrate just a little bit longer. Not only is it a nice way to sort of ramp down from the adrenaline rush that is Christmas in the United States of America, but it's a small way to once again remind ourselves of what we as Christians are supposed to be celebrating. I'm sure there are lots of Christian families out there who have had the same idea and who have the same tradition.

It's not just December 26th that has a special meaning, though. Every day of the twelve actually has a significance in Church liturgy - I've never been part of a denomination that celebrated them, so I've only heard about and read about them. But one that has stuck for me occurs on the day after the twelfth day of Christmas. That holiday is called Epiphany, and it is the celebration of the day when the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem (I blogged about it previously here). Two years ago I started a tradition in my family (and sprung it on my wife as a surprise that first year!) that we would get a small gift for each family member and give it to them on Epiphany, the day the Magi gave gifts to Jesus. This gift is never a video game or toy, though... this gift has to be different. This gift is carefully selected as something that will give that family member a way to focus on Jesus for the entire coming year. In that way, it is an intensely personal gift. It can't be the same thing for each family member; it has to be something selected specifically for their age, gender, and level of understanding of the things of God.

The first year I did this I did not tell my wife what I was doing until I had already done it... it was quite a surprise for everyone, but I thought it was a pretty wonderful experience. The next year she knew about it ahead of time, but I still pretty much handled it myself rather than truly bringing her into the situation (although I've always intended to). This year we've already talked about it briefly; I've got some of the gifts already, but there's more to do. But she'll be selecting the remaining gifts with me this time.

For me, it has been worth the effort every year so far. I hope my gifts have had the intended effect on my family members, but even if they haven't, the act of working so hard to come up with something for each of them to direct them to Jesus has had a profound effect on me. I look forward to it every year. I would definitely encourage any of you to spring the same surprise on someone on January 6 - whether it be a family member, a brother or sister in Christ, or maybe even just someone you know who could use a little encouragement. Jesus said that something done for "the least of these" who need a helping hand is done to Him... let's be wise enough to follow the example of the Wise Men, who brought gifts to Jesus, and truly bring Him our gifts this Epiphany!

Music by David Crowder Band to celebrate these "Bonus Days" of Christmas we Christians get to:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's About Trust

This past Sunday, my pastor spoke about Jesus' temptation by Satan in the desert. Satan tempted Jesus three different ways, and Jesus had an answer from the Word for each temptation. But what all three boil down to, and what all of our temptations boil down to, is trust. Do you trust that God cares about you? Do you trust that He is concerned if you have financial trouble and don't have enough to eat or a place to live? Do you trust that He has your best interests at heart, and if you follow His lead, things will go well for you? Do you trust that God wants to see you in Heaven with Him one day? Pastor's point was that every sin we commit in some way comes back to a lack of trust that God loves us and cares about us. If we don't trust Him, we'll try to do it ourselves, and that's where sin comes in.

I think we can take that idea a bit further, though. I would submit for your consideration that there is nothing else we can trust in except God. We certainly can't trust in other people - people are very complex creatures, and every one of us lets someone down from time to time, despite our best efforts. We can't trust things that aren't alive, either, things like financial market forces or things that occur in nature like weather patterns or medical facts. There are certainly patterns at work in all of those things, but they are so complicated that they are beyond our comprehension, and they can be affected by things we can't foresee. Heck, I live in Oklahoma... I can tell you that you can't even trust it to be cold in the wintertime and hot in the summertime.

You may think that you have one thing you can trust: yourself. If you think that, you are wrong. You can't trust your own memories, for example... any psychologist can put you in a situation where you are absolutely positive you remember something that happened, and you are absolutely wrong. Witnesses to crimes get details wrong all the time, not because they are lying but because they don't remember just right. When a witness is being questioned, the interrogator has to be extremely careful not to provide information for the witness that he will later be sure he supplied himself. We can't even trust our own judgement, because sometimes we just don't have a complete enough understanding of a situation to choose wisely, and sometimes there are factors we weren't aware of.

To be completely honest, you can't even trust your own eyes. Have you ever had a fever and hallucinated something, and it seemed completely real? Have you ever been on medicine that gave you weird visions, or had a bit too much alcohol and saw something that wasn't there? If our bodies get the least bit out of whack, or have even a tiny bit of any of a huge variety of chemicals introduced into them, we get all messed up. It might not even take something that extreme to throw you off course... try not going to sleep for two or three nights in a row and see if you still have a clear picture of what's going on around you. Even eating the wrong kind of food, even legitimate food that is good for your body, can make weird things happen given the right allergy or in combination with something else. Your brain is a huge chemistry set, and if the wrong chemicals get in there, you definitely cannot trust your own five senses.

There is nothing in this world that you can trust 100%. The only thing in existence anywhere that is trustworthy is God. If you choose to put too much trust in anything but Him, you're setting yourself up for trouble, disappointment, and ultimately, utter failure. But if you do put your trust in Him, you are setting yourself up for a life where success is not only possible, it is probable. Or, dare I say it? If you put your trust in God, success in your life is guaranteed. It may not look like what a man on the street thinks means success, but you will obtain success that you know in your heart is the best kind of success there is.

Trust God today. All the way, without reservation. See where it gets you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

ESV Study Bible FREE on the Web!

In celebration of Bible publisher Crossway's 75th anniversary, through the month of November, you can get access to the ESV Study Bible online for free! All you have to do is visit and follow the instructions there. I've talked about the ESV Study Bible a number of times in the past (check them out here, or if you just want to view the start of my ESVSB journey, this is my first post about it)... it's an incredible resource. And you can have access at no charge! What's better than free? NOTHING!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Loving Blindly

During the day I often have an MP3 player running on random shuffle - it's fun (and sometimes jarring) to hear different songs from 30 years of accumulating CDs jumbled in together. A few days ago this song by 4 Him started playing, and one single line popped out at me every time they sang it:

The line that bothered me is the line that says that one of the basics of Christianity is "a love that is blind". The reference in the song is of course that God's love does not consider someone's looks, or social standing, or race, or anything else in order to determine whether to love them. But I think this is a dangerous phrase to use to describe that idea.

The phrase "love is blind" is generally used to describe the idea that someone who has fallen in love seems to think the one they love is perfect. "A person who is in love can see no faults or imperfections in the person who is loved" is how it is summarized on Wikitionary, and that seems to be an apt definition. But that's not actually "love," not in the way I believe the Bible describes it. That kind of blind love is only the first stage even of romantic love, and I would more accurately call it "infatuation." And that kind of love isn't for strangers, anyway.

I don't think real love, the deep kind that comes from God, the kind that loved each of us so much that it came to Earth and died to save us, is ever "blind". If it's real love, it is exactly the opposite of ignorant blindness to the faults of the one being loved. True love means that you can see the faults of the other, usually in perfectly clear high definition, and you choose to love that person anyway. Jesus wasn't ignorant to the faults of the people around Him. Very often He told them to "Go, and sin no more",,, I don't see Him saying "Go, and I'm so glad you're already perfect!" He had no problem bringing up the sins of individuals when they needed bringing up. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” He said once. He was even known to tell his disciples off in no uncertain terms if they weren't doing right. When Jesus was on the Cross, He both forgave someone who was being executed alongside Him (and who confessed his own guilt willingly) and forgave those who had just put Him there, even though He would have to have been massively blind to not notice the sins being committed in both cases.

God loves each of us, even though He knows about our faults better than we ourselves do. That's the kind of love that is a basic of Christianity. In fact, I think that if we are actively listening to the Holy Spirit, we will actually have a sharper view of the shortcomings of others, because He will tell us things we couldn't know otherwise. But if we are actively listening to the Holy Spirit, He will also be telling us how much God loves each person, and inspiring the same love for each of them in us.

Blind "love" is the kind of thing that ignores children's misconduct because it is uncomfortable to discipline them, ignores a friend's path of alcoholism or promiscuity or dishonesty or whatever because it seems like it's "not my place to say something to him", ignores signs that a friend's wife is being abused because "my buddy's just not like that." I once knew a lovely older Christian woman who always tried to look at the "good" side of everyone's conduct, even when that conduct was clearly wrong, and even malicious. That kind of "love" is at best ignorant and dangerous, and at worst, it is selfishness. This woman was often taken advantage of by people because she wouldn't let herself see that they were likely to do something bad to her; she even seemed to think that the bad things that happened to her were somehow her own fault. I guess, in a way, since she refused to see the proverbial freight train coming down the tracks and get out of the way, she was partially right.
God's love does not ignore sinfulness; God's love confronts it. It confronts it at the right time and in the right way, but God's love does not leave sin alone. Because if a sinner is left with his sin, that sin will ultimately destroy the sinner, and injure everyone around him.

I think the 4 Him lyric probably makes perfect sense to Christians in general. We aspire to love others despite how they look or act. I think the lazy adaptation of the cliche "love is blind" without maybe totally thinking it through was unfortunate, because I think it could be misunderstood, but the concept is true: God's love does not reject people. God's love is always ready to accept another person, no matter what they might look or sound or smell like. That's the takeaway from that one line in this one song. Don't be blind, though; be completely, 100% aware, but be completely, 100% accepting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Too Rational

Last week I posted two things I had previously shared on Facebook - here's the first, and here's the second. This is a third discussion I posted a day or two later.

Still thinking a little bit about the discussion several days ago about Christians, our actions and our motives...

The other day I heard a friend say that the way she deals with someone treating her badly is to tell herself "Maybe he's just having a bad day." (This is not someone I know on Facebook, BTW, so don't think I'm talking about you!) Apparently that works for her, and I think that's a strategy employed by a lot of Christians. But I DON'T think that's God's best way.

Here's why. When you rationalize someone's behavior that way, you may defuse the anger inside of you, but you're doing it under your own power. You're "white knuckling it," as I think I said the other day, tricking yourself into acting the right way. You're not acting in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what if you then discover that the person who is wronging you is having a GREAT day, and they just hate your guts? What if they make it perfectly clear that they wronged you from pure malice? What if they honest to goodness just WANTED to be mean to you? What if you assume they are a nice person having a bad day, and you find out they are actually a mean person who is perfectly willing to hurt you again, on purpose? How do you rationalize that into "they're a nice person and I'll be nice back?" I've seen people try to do this... it just winds up making you look gullible and act like a doormat.

I know in some comments yesterday I also cast an unfavorable light on the whole "WWJD" thing*, but in this case, what DID Jesus do? When He was on the cross, put there by people who had planned literally for years to get him killed (and even tried it unsuccessfully several times), Jesus did not rationalize. Jesus did not assign a positive motive to them. "Father, forgive them, because they're probably just having a bad day." No - Jesus saw the situation for what it was. He looked into their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw the sinfulness there, but he also saw the ignorance. He didn't invent a motive for them; he saw the reality. And THEN He forgave them.

I think as Christians, our forgiveness should never be based on rationalizations. I don't think we should assume that someone is nicer than they seem, or they didn't really mean to hurt us, or whatever. Because maybe they AREN'T nicer than they seem, and maybe they really DID mean to hurt us. As the children of God, we can trust the Holy Spirit to show us the reality of every situation, and how to react accordingly. Then we can react in love AND appropriately. We can forgive with God's forgiveness, not by ignoring the problem and hoping it will evaporate. "Turning the other cheek" is not the same thing as "turning a blind eye". God does not want us to make ourselves ignorant. God wants us to have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, see things for what they are, and react to them by His power, not under our own steam.

* Here's what I had said (in a comment) about WWJD:

The whole "WWJD" thing always made me feel a little uncomfortable, not because I disagree that we should act like Jesus, but for some other reason I couldn't define. But I've realized that the reason is that I don't think we should consciously be thinking about whether what we are doing is what Jesus would do. I think that we should allow Jesus to transform our lives until we *automatically* do what Jesus would have us do. It's not a matter of me acting like a good boy because it's what God wants; it's a matter of me *being* a good boy, because Jesus has made me one. The actions proceed from the sanctified person; the actions do not sanctify the person.

What do you think of "WWJD"? Ignoring people's actions and assuming there is a rational reason behind them? Turning the other cheek? Sound off by clicking the "Comments" link below this post!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Acting vs. Being

Tuesday I posted something I had written on Facebook about a situation I ran into recently in rush-hour traffic. Here's something I posted the next day referring to that earlier discussion

Thinking about my traffic "rant" from yesterday morning. I'm wondering if I might have come off as saying that you have to act right to be a Christian. That is absolutely NOT the case. Our actions are not what makes us Christians. Well, actually, there is ONE action that does make us a Christian: accepting/confessing Jesus as Lord. After that, other actions are irrelevant to our standing with God, although if we live a life of sin we may FEEL far from God. The blood of Jesus washes all of that clean, once and for all. Which, as the apostle Paul would (and did) say, is no license to sin, but our sin or lack of sin does not make or break our relationship as sons and daughters of God.

That said, our actions before others DO reflect on Christ. Our goal should be to let God transform us into something we can't make of ourselves. It's not a matter of white-knuckling it every time we want to sin and "being good" instead; it's a matter of letting go of our sin and letting our actions reflect what we already are. When I am tempted to sin, I have the option of either giving in and doing what I know I shouldn't do, or letting go of that worthless stuff and being the child of God that Jesus has transformed me into. I'm not sure those who have not accepted Jesus always have that option; the Bible seems to say that they are enslaved to sin and can't escape it. Followers of Jesus are free from sin; we can refuse to do it, or we can go ahead and make those mistakes. We have the choice; that's our freedom in Christ.

So, back to the highway thing. Let's say I'm the guy in the car who sees another driver do something that makes me upset. My first impulse might be to honk my horn, flip the middle finger, or even follow that person to wherever they're going and have angry words with them. But I have another option: I can put down that anger like putting down a rock I was going to use to stone someone. I can take off that "old man" reaction to the situation, and put on the "new man" reaction. I can look on that person with love and forgive them.

Don't try to "be good". You can't do it. It's not a matter of adding goodness to the situation; your goodness comes from God. God's reaction to the situation is already there. It's a matter of letting go of the bad to reveal the good that God has given you. The old hymns talk about being "stained with sin" which is "washed away" by the blood of Jesus; the stain has been removed, so it's only a matter of getting rid of the muck and stuff that might be clinging to you and revealing the cleansed person that was always there underneath. That's the example of Christ that others need to see. That's the person that reflects well on the church whose logo is in the back window of your car and the God whose Bible verse is on your T-shirt. Show others the person God has made you, not the shadow of the person you would be without Him.

Is it important to "act right" to be a Christian? Should we just plan on following Jesus and hope our actions will fall into line, or do we need to put some effort into it? Sound off by clicking the "Comments" link below this post!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Traffic Witness

Recently I posted this to Facebook... the resulting discussion was so interesting that I thought I would share it here as well.

Driving in rush-hour traffic this morning. Saw that a big tanker truck had pulled partially out into the road, blocking one lane on a 2-lane stretch with no shoulder. My instinct was to move over into the left lane to avoid the chance of getting into a mess, but I started to zig without looking first. I saw the white BMW before I pulled out in front of it and zagged back into my lane. I freely admit that this was my bad, starting to make a lane change without looking out for traffic first.

The person in the Beamer wanted to make sure I knew how bad I was. As he or she flew past (apparently without touching his or her brake pedal at all), he or she blew his or her horn at me. The incident was over; this was not to warn me that I was making a mistake. This was a punitive horn honk; censure, not alarm. I was being yelled at.

Turns out we were headed along the same route. We got off the highway at the same place, and I pulled up behind Beeping Beamer at the stop light. Guess what I saw in the back window of the car?

A church logo sticker.

If I had not been a Christian but knew what the sticker was, this would have reinforced several stereotypes for me, the most important being "Being a Christian doesn't make any change in a person." Another would be "Wealthy Christians are jerks, just like other wealthy people." There might even be an element of "that person isn't really a Christian, they just use the church to get more money" in there, which would be totally ungrounded in reality, but people think these kinds of things. If you have a sticker advertising your church, or your faith, or even a Christian radio station on your car, do you want to give out that kind of message? To broaden the question: if people know you are a Christian, whether you're wearing your WWJD t-shirt or not, what kind of message are you broadcasting with your actions?

I know tons of wonderful Christians who can testify that God HAS made a change in their hearts. Some of them are financially comfortable; some maybe not as much. Wealthy or not, having Jesus in your life DOES make a change, or at least He will if you let Him. But none of us are perfect. We do get cranky in rush-hour traffic. We do have the impulse to honk our horns in anger. But I think it's worth it to remember that people are watching. The things we do reflect on the Christ inside of us. Let's make our actions match up with the gift of life we've been given.

Have a thought about our actions reflecting our beliefs as Christians? Having stickers advertising your church on your car? Looking before you switch lanes? Sound off by clicking the "Comments" link below this post!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Imposter (movie review)

I just finished watching a movie called The Imposter which stars Kevin Max of DC Talk/Newsboys fame, Kerry Livgren of Kansas fame, and Jeff Deyo of Sonicflood fame. I actually liked it quite a bit more than I thought I would! I wrote a pretty detailed review of it for Flixster, and I thought I would reproduce it here. If you are interested in finding out more about the movie, you can visit the official Web site at, buy it on, or just watch it on Netflix like I did.

Here's my Flixster review:
For a movie that telegraphs its ending almost from the first lines, this movie is TOTALLY unexpected. A Christian rock star who takes the "rock star" much more seriously than the "Christian" winds up losing everything he has - and DOESN'T get it back at the end. It's not a candy-coated ending, but it smacks of reality. To live the oh-so-perfect Christian-movie ending would be unhealthy for all involved, so the characters choose a wiser route. It's a strategy that more Christians need to be aware of. As the character named "Prof" says in the movie, "You can pull out the nails, but you've still got to deal with the holes."

This is an indie movie, and it feels like an indie movie. Not like a BAD indie movie... just like a film shot on a small budget with a lot of imagination and love. That said, it does not look cheaply done; it's well-executed technically. The acting is surprisingly good, especially considering that the three male leads (Kevin Max, Kerry Livgren, and Jeff Deyo) are not professional actors but are actual Christian rock stars. Each of them is totally believable in his role. The music video segments look great, even though as a non-movie-musical-fan I do think they can tend to distract from the story a little bit. I wasn't that enthusiastic about them, but admittedly, they fit the story and they fit the movie genre, so I can't complain too much.

A great deal of thought was put into the story. I do think the first half (the rock star spirals down into a mess of his own making) feels a little bit trite, kind of "already seen this movie" -ish, but once Johnny (the rock star, played by Max) hits rock bottom (or at least he thinks he has), suddenly the whole film begins to feel more real. Or maybe it's just that Johnny is coming back to reality, so his whole world begins to come into focus. There are lots of twists and turns along the way; for example, there is a conversation between Johnny C. and a pastor, who turns out to be a more important person to Johnny than we think, and who reveals some secrets about himself that partially explain Johnny's behavior. The conversation starts out seeming like a counseling session, but winds up being something completely different. There is someone who starts out seeming like a weird background character, a hobo complete with stolen shopping cart and duct-taped bug zapper, who winds up being central to Johnny's realization that he needs to make a serious change.

So there are a lot of surprises, and the biggest surprise may be this: although there is a scene where the message of Christian salvation is discussed, there is no "Johnny at the altar" scene. In fact, we never specifically see Johnny have a traditional "salvation experience", even when the closing credits roll. It's left ambiguous, and maybe that's because we never actually do know the condition of someone's heart. Even someone who publicly proclaims the Faith, like a pastor or a Christian rock star. So how can we really know what's in Johnny C.'s heart? We can't! But we can see the fruit of it by watching his actions, and his actions at the end imply that he truly has experienced a real change.

Life is ambiguous sometimes, and so is this movie. If you like films that have satisfying endings but do not feel the need to wrap up all of the threads (Johnny actually mentions some of the dangling plot lines in his narration at the end), this one is for you. If you would be devastated to find out that Christian rock stars are sometimes a mess in their personal lives, maybe this movie isn't for you... or maybe it is. Because rock stars of any stripe are still human beings, and they can hurt others and they can make mistakes. That's what this movie is about: when you've hurt others and messed everything up, there's still Jesus. He might not make everything perfect in one fell swoop, but He will be there with you through the process of healing what you've hurt and fixing what you've broken.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Accepted, Part 2

To follow up this week's post about knowing that you are not only saved by God, but accepted by God... here's a great older song by legendary Christian rock band DeGarmo & Key. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I love this video. This is what every church youth group meeting should feel like:

The thing I really like about the video is that all of the "different" kids find a group where, even though they are still different, they are accepted and loved. Every kid who walks into a youth meeting at a church should feel this way. After all, we're all "different" kids, aren't we?

And in fact, that's the whole essence of the Gospel. When we were damaged goods, different and messed up, hopeless and friendless, God loved us. God loves us. But He doesn't just love us.

God accepts us.

Think about what it means that God looks at you, cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus, and says, "Hey there! You! Yeah, you! You know what? I like the looks of you! Why don't you come hang out with me and my gang for a while?" It's so important for people to understand that God doesn't just "put up with" us. God doesn't just "rescue" us, like someone might rescue a stranger who was drowning just because we value human life, not because we know and care about that individual. God knows us and loves us. He loves us, even though He knows us.

But He doesn't just "love" us. God likes us. He accepts us. He wants to have us around. He picked us for His dodgeball team. He invited us to His birthday party. In fact, he asked us to move into His house with Him!

Listen... people who don't know God yet often think that God doesn't like them. They think that God is looking for a reason to keep them out of Heaven. They think God wants to send them straight to Hell if He gets a chance. They think they are essentially worthless to God. What could He possibly see of value in me? I'm nothing. God wouldn't give me the time of day, except to knock me down and squish me with one thumb.

You know what? There is NOTHING further from the truth. When you realize that you are special, you are desired and treasured and accepted by God, then you are able to understand that you're not some annoying insect buzzing in the ear of the Almighty God. You're not junk that needs to be hauled out to the dump. You're not something that needs to be swept, scraped, scrubbed, or flushed away.

To God, you are Gold.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Know The Author

834244: Losing Big: The Incredible Untold Story of Danny and Darci Cahill
In my last post I mentioned a new book written by a couple named Danny & Darci Cahill. Danny is best known as the winner of Season 8 of the United States edition of TVs The Biggest Loser. But Danny's story doesn't end, or even start there... like everyone else, Danny has a back-story that begins in childhood; his explains why he wound up so obese he could barely walk. And there are of course others in his life whose stories intersect with his, one of the most important being his wife Darci. Their book Losing Big is a double autobiography, a kind of team effort where their childhood narratives are told up until the time that they meet, and then their two stories are weaved together from that point throughout their marriage to the present. It's a very interesting way to write a book, laying out the whole tale in the third person so you never know who actually wrote the specific part you are reading. It almost has a voyeuristic flavor to it, as though you are looking at them through a window instead of having their story told to you by them personally, but it retains the flavor of having been written by the couple themselves. It is at times exciting, at times heartbreaking, and at times joyful... just like real life.

But for me, the book is a little different than it might be for you, because I am actually acquainted with Danny and Darci. And not via emails, phone calls, or interviewing them for a Web site... my wife and I know them personally, and have for several years (even before Danny went on The Biggest Loser). We sang on a church worship team with Danny playing bass. My wife taught Vacation Bible School with their daughter; my son and their son are friends. We've had a chance to interact with them socially. We already have an idea of what they are like, so when we read the book, we see it a little differently. Because we know the authors.

As a Christian, I know a lot of people who read the Bible, or at least who are familiar with parts of it. I've discussed it with people, and I've read other books discussing parts of the Bible. I've blogged about it here, of course. But there is a problem with reading the Bible: you can't truly understand what it is trying to say unless you know the author. Okay, okay, I know that pen was put to paper by Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, various disciples, and maybe a couple dozen prophets and other people, but as a Christian, I believe that the whole of the Bible was inspired by one single author, God Himself. The Bible is one one level an anthology of writings by many writers, but the whole thing is a narrative about God's redemption of humankind. That bigger story cannot be fully appreciated, or maybe even comprehended, until you become acquainted with God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ.

I perceive Losing Big differently because I know Danny and Darci (by the way, Danny does speaking engagements quite frequently, so check his calendar and you may get a chance to meet him too!). I'd like to think that I understand their book a little better because I know them, and maybe I understand them a little better because I've read the book. The Bible is the same way, and this is why prayer and personal worship times are so critical: when you know Jesus, you can understand God's Word better, and when you know the Bible, you can understand God a little better. Either without the other gives you an incomplete picture. Experience without knowledge only goes so far, and scholarship without intimacy only goes so far. Both are critical to live a balanced and successful Christian life.

Have something to say about knowing "the author" of the Bible? Do you think personal communion with God is more important than Bible study, or vice versa? Have I been name-dropping Danny too much? (I probably should tell him I've been blogging about him!) Sound off by clicking the "Comments" link below this post!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Faithlife Study Bible FREE - and win even more!

There will be a new full-fledged post tomorrow morning, but I wanted to share something I just ran across in my emails. Logos is running a contest to give away a digital Bible study prize package containing almost 2,000 Bible study books! They say it's $100,000 worth - that's a LOT of materials! And just for entering, you get the chance to download the Faithlife Study Bible for free... it's a pretty cool concept in electronic Study Bibles which I mentioned in a previous blog post. To enter the contest and download the Faithlife Study Bible, visit I know I entered!

Actually, the Faithlife Study Bible is currently free anyway, at least on the Android platform... I haven't checked the others. I do understand they plan on charging for it eventually, and it's a pretty amazing resource, so get it while you can!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Trade Up

Last Friday I go where few grown-ups have gone before: I attended our church youth group's small group.

Well, now I've made it sound like it was intimidating! I have a son who just turned 13, and he's involved, so it was totally legit for me to come (in fact, he asked me if I would). However, I do think that we adults can have a tendency to shy away from groups containing more than one or two teenagers at a time. Maybe we think that, I don't know, acne is contagious, or that they will call us "old bald person" or something (although the Bible tells us that if they do, God will avenge us... just kidding!) Anyway, the kids in the youth group at our church are the greatest kids ever; I actually enjoyed the evening quite a bit!

'Just Another Manic Sundry' photo (c) 2009, David Goehring - license: of the things we did was a game where each team (we had three) was given a plain old can of soup, and we took it around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking to trade it for something. We could trade it for anything we were offered (well, anything except for a human or animal!) but the idea was to try to "trade up" - get something more valuable than what we were offering. The story is that in the past, teams who have played this game have traded up to quite valuable things, like cars. We didn't expect to get a car, but we did our best to get something cool!

My team actually had the most interesting story to tell when we got back. We traded our soup can for a real, whole pineapple. Then we traded the pineapple for a pretty cool CD carrying case; it was made of red plastic, and it could open on both ends and folded out like an accordion. We traded that for a ceramic statue of three ducks with an umbrella; the umbrella actually had a solar cell on top, and under the umbrella it was supposed to power a little light; we couldn't get the light to work. In our last trade, we got a racketball racket with good strings but a kind of sticky handgrip for the ducks. When we got back, the response from the other teams was, You had CERAMIC DUCKS, and you traded them for THAT??? Apparently, the other teams thought we had traded down on our last trade. The ducks were cool, and they might have won the game if another team hadn't traded up for a working Keurig coffee machine (!), but in my opinion, a racketball racket is actually useful. A broken duck lamp is not.

My wife likes to go to the grocery store on the weekends. I still don't really understand why she wants to do that and take up time we could be doing something as a family (or resting!) when she could go during the week while the kids are in school and I'm at work, but that's how she likes it so that's what we do. Usually she goes by herself, but sometimes for various reasons she asks me to go along. Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say that I'm happy to go or that I don't put up a fuss to get to stay home, but if she really wants me there, I go with her. I push the buggy sometimes, I load the stuff into the car, I take it up when I go home. She's my wife, and she needs me. I can afford an hour or two for that.

We have a friend named Danny Cahill. Now Danny is quite famous, but we did know him before he was in the public eye. In the autobiography he and his wife co-authored (it came out a few months ago), Danny talks about how as a young man he dreamed of being a professional musician, but because of some errant ideas he was taught growing up, he believed that when he got married and wanted to start a family, he needed to give up those dreams and (basically) "get a real job." When he gave up his dreams, he gave up on himself, and wound up weighing 460 pounds with a crushing gambling habit. (After years of struggling with his weight, he scored a spot on season eight of "The Biggest Loser", a "reality" game show in which very overweight people compete to lose the most weight in a certain number of weeks. Danny lost 239 pounds and won the show!)

The point of the game we played in the youth meeting was to think about making trades. The team who wound up with the coffee maker obviously traded up from a can of soup. We and the other team (who ended up with a case of bottled water) traded up too, but most of the teens thought we had gone backwards with the racketball racket. After everyone told the group about their adventures, we discussed the story about Esau trading his birthright (the right to become the head of his clan after the death of his father) to his younger father for nothing more valuable than a single meal at the end of a long day. It's pretty clear that Esau did NOT "trade up." We talked about making choices that we later discovered (or knew all along) amounted to trading something valuable for something less valuable - choosing to hang out with friends at the expense of studying for an important test in school, choosing an exciting-but-no-good boyfriend/girlfriend over a better-but-less-flashy one, and so on. Teenager-level stuff.

But later I got to thinking about things that happen to adults. Danny had traded the most valuable thing a person can have, a dream that gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning, for a lie. Later, he traded that lie, which had brought him to a point where he was so unhealthy that he was very likely to die young, for the truth that hard work can lead to extreme results; in the process he got his health back, and he even got to play a song he had written on national television. Now Danny is a recording artist and a motivational speaker; look him up on Facebook sometime!

I haven't done anything that extreme, but I have given up little things for what seems at first like a lesser reward. Giving up my Friday night, for example, for the opportunity to go tromping around a neighborhood trading soup cans for ducks. Trading part of my weekend afternoon to push a shopping cart around for my wife. Even giving up my chance to watch a TV show I like so my kids can play a video game, or not buying some electronic gadget I've got my eye on to pay for dance lessons for my daughter or a band trip for my son. As a married person and as a parent, there are so many things that you sacrifice, knowingly and without hesitation, and it doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all; it's just what a parent does. Danny does that too; I know his wife and his children, and he would do anything for those guys. But Danny went one step too far: he sacrificed a destiny God had given him for the sake of a picture of a family man that was not what God intended for him. If he were standing here right now, I know he would tell you that was the wrong choice. Some things, things from God, should not be sacrificed.

Don't get the wrong idea: I do not think that an adult should sacrifice his family on the altar of his career either. After your personal relationship with God, your career should take distant fourth place to your spouse and to your kids. But if God has put something in your heart, God knows how to make it happen without causing suffering for your family. In fact, if you are honestly chasing God's plan for you and for your family, they will flourish because of it.

Don't trade something precious for something hollow. Plan your course, but let the Lord order your steps. When you do, every trade will turn out in the end to have been a trade up!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stranger on the Shore

Cooking seasoned fish I've always been fascinated by the final chapter of the Gospel of John. John is the Gospel where Jesus is revealed as Deity, where His "God-ness" is most at the forefront. The final chapter has always struck me as mysterious, mystical, and full of questions. I think it's positively mesmerizing. What's so interesting about it? Let me fill you in on some of the things that came to mind last week as I was listening to an audio reading of it.

By this time, Jesus has been crucified and resurrected, and has revealed Himself to the Twelve Disciples personally at least twice. Chapter 20 ends with verses 30-31: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Sounds fairly final, doesn't it? It sounds like John is signing off. So the first big question about chapter 21 is: why is it even there at all?
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  (John 21:1-3 ESV)
When Jesus first called the Disciples, most of them were fishermen. He never told them to return to being fishermen, at least not fishers of fish. Don't they sound discouraged in these verses? They seem at a loss as to what to do with themselves, so they decide to go back to what they know. Why were they so discouraged? Jesus had risen from the dead! The text doesn't really say... all we can do is speculate.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21:4-6 ESV)
Why would the Disciples obey such stupid advice from a stranger? Granted, it had worked for them once, but in that case they had been listening to Jesus' teachings and may have had some idea that He was something special. This was just some stranger yelling at them from the shore... why would they even entertain the idea of doing what he was saying? They didn't even realize it was Jesus yet:
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. (John 21:7 ESV)
Why didn't anyone but John (he calls himself "That disciple whom Jesus loved" in his Gospel) figure out that it was Jesus? It was so like the other time that Jesus had given them a miraculous catch that it should have been unmistakable. I also wonder if Peter might have been thinking that maybe he would be able to walk on the water again, but then when he didn't got too embarrassed to just climb back into the stupid boat!
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” (John 21:9-10, ESV)
Where did Jesus get His charcoal? Did He buy some on the way? Did He materialize it out of thin air?

How did He start the fire? Matches? Lightning?

Where did Jesus get His fish? Did He go fishing and catch them? Did He call them out of the sea and they just jumped out? Did He materialize them out of nowhere when He materialized His charcoal?

Why didn't He bring enough fish? Why did He need to get some from the Disciples' catch?
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. (John 21:11 ESV)
The risen-from-the-dead Jesus Christ is sitting there with them cooking them breakfast. Who's the nut who's counting fish?
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 ESV)
"Do you love me more than these..." what? Other disciples? Tasty fish sandwiches? I wish I could see what Jesus was pointing at when He said that.

(I won't even TRY to sort out all of the interpretations of why Jesus used different words for "love" and "lambs/sheep" in the Greek version of this passage. That ground's been covered a zillion times already!)

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 ESV)
Isn't it weird that John recorded this? It seems like a rather personal moment to me. We have historical accounts of the fates of the Disciples (including Peter), but the Bible doesn't really record them. I wonder if the whole reason this chapter is even in the Bible at all is because people had heard that Jesus said John would not die until Jesus returned (see the next few verses) and John just wanted to set the record straight.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
Now, what's more mysterious than ending a book about Jesus that way? "There's a lot more to tell, but I'm going to quit right now. Good luck finding out the rest of it!" And maybe John is hyperbolizing a little bit, but I think back to my life (and I'm older than Jesus was when He died) and if someone managed to write down everything that I've ever done, the book would most definitely not fill up the entire world. So either this is a bit of an exaggeration, or Jesus was a much busier fellow than anyone has realized.

But you know, I think the mystery is perfect for the last chapter of the last of the Gospel accounts. It's a good reminder that although we can know lots of things about Jesus, we're never going to know everything. There's always going to be something we don't understand, because Jesus is God. And God is something more than we are. Even if someone did write that world-filling book, and even if we read it cover to cover there would still be more to know. Jesus Himself was a mystery which was revealed (see Ephesians 3:1-13) but I think the mystery that is Jesus probably always going to be a little bit bigger than our created human brains can handle.

That's OK with me. I love a good mystery!

(This post was named after a Michael Card song (Listen on Spotify or Rhapsody) which I think captures the mysterious flavor of the story quite well!)

Is this chapter mysterious to you? Do you have questions about it that I haven't answered, or answers to my questions? A personal theory about the sheep and the lambs, or Peter's prophecy, or Jesus' charcoal fire? Sound off below by clicking the "Comment" link!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Laughing in the Dark (repost)

Five years ago today, I recovered from what I believe to have been a case of clinical depression. This post was made right here a week or two afterward, when I finally realized what had happened and felt comfortable enough to describe it here. I had also started a private blog to record "good days" and "bad days" - this past week I've re-posted them here (here's the first one). It was my own case of "rising from the dead" - in the throes of clinical depression, you do not feel sad. You do not feel anything. Coming out of it is surely an emotional resurrection! Today as we are all celebrating the resurrection of our Savior from the dead, I am also celebrating the anniversary of the work He did in my life, bringing me back from the brink of disaster. Thank You so much for both resurrections, Jesus!

4/10/2008 12:11am

Not too long ago, after a series of financial challenges, I realized that I was suffering from a pretty severe depression. I looked up "clinical depression" on Wikipedia and a few other sites, and discovered that I was experiencing all of the classic signs of clinical depression with the exception that I was not gaining or losing weight, and I did not want to kill myself (I honestly wonder if the latter was the grace of God sparing me that turmoil). I immediately began to make plans to see my doctor, and then I promoted a book from my "read-it-someday" list to my "read it NOW" list: Laughing in the Dark: A Comedian's Journey through Depression by Chonda Pierce. I had watched one of Chonda's comedy DVDs a few months before, and I don't remember where I first heard that she had gone through a period of depression and written a book about it, but it may have been that DVD.

Anyway, my episode of serious depression ended abruptly one Sunday during worship time at my church. I consider it a miracle healing; I was seriously depressed in a way I have never been before. There is being depressed, and there is clinical depression, and they are similar in name only... clinical depression is far beyond just being unhappy. But even though I believed I had received healing from the Lord (and I still do believe that and I still feel OK!) I went ahead and read the book anyway, and I was not disappointed. Chonda is open and honest about her experience, which was much worse than mine (she had physical symptoms that resembled a heart attack, and was medicated for many months afterward), but in every chapter she is able to add just enough humor to keep things light without becoming flippant. Every chapter focuses on something that was a major stage in her recovery... getting the diagnosis right, getting the medication right, getting back to work (as a depressed comedienne!), getting off her meds too early, and on and on. Each chapter ends with an email sent to Chonda by a fan who heard her talk about her ordeal from the stage, and then a few pages of more detailed information related to the chapter from a psychotherapist. I enjoyed all of the book, but I have two favorite parts. One of my two favorite parts is a section where Chonda learns that just like a sunset is still beautiful whether it affects you emotionally or not, God is still there whether you feel His presence or not (it's the last 8 pages of chapter 4). My other favorite part is a quote from a master of dry humor. This is the quote, which is the lead-in to chapter 8:

I've had a wonderful time, but this wasn't it.
—Groucho Marx

I found the book enlightening, informative, encouraging, and enjoyable. (And every word in that list started with a vowel and the letter "n" woo-hoo!) I was able to identify with all but the worst of her symptoms, and I believe I have a much better understanding of serious depression than I ever had before, after experiencing my own short battle with it and reading about Chonda's longer battle.

I want to add a message to anyone reading this who has been in a depressed fog for more than a week or two. Don't wait to go see your doctor. If you have been depressed every day for all or most of the day for more than a couple of weeks, call right now and make an appointment. Don't be embarrassed, don't be nervous, and don't let yourself feel stigmatized. And don't put it off because you think you can handle it on your own. In recent years I have known two people who fell into the dark pit that had opened up inside of them and took their own lives, rocking the lives of their family and friends and, in one case, apparently inspiring the suicide of a loved one. Clinical depression is very treatable, either via counseling or medication or both, but if you don't see a professional you won't get the care you need. Don't play with your life; get help from someone. I know if I ever enter the fog again, I'll call my doctor right away. If you think you might be there but aren't sure, pick up a copy of Chonda's book. Her prologue description of the gray hotel with the "talking light" may help you get your mind around your own feelings and help you make the decision whether you need to seek treatment, or just a little bit of sunshine and your favorite song on the headphones.

A few final thoughts about my bout with depression. This was not something that attacked me on its own and that I was powerless to resist. I can't speak for everyone who has ever faced depression, but I know that in my case, it started because I was feeling sorry for myself and I chose to wallow in that self-pity. I chose it! I did not choose what came later, but like an addiction where you smoke the first joint or drink the first beer, at first I actually could have turned my back on it. But instead I went deeper in. My depression was self-inflicted, like someone who tries to cure an emotional hurt by physically injuring himself. Later on it was different; I couldn't get out of it without help. Then I was lost... never lost from Salvation in Christ, but emotionally lost. I couldn't find my way. I fully believe that coming out of it for me was a miraculous healing; outside of what God did for me that day, my solution would have required medical/psychological therapy. As I said in the above post: if this resonates with you, don't wait to get help. Pray for God's help, absolutely, but then find a doctor, or a psychologist, or at least an empathetic friend who will find you one or the other. Your miracle may require a little more human intervention than mine did. But however your recovery happens, God is with you in it. Here are a couple of Scriptures you might keep in your back pocket as you proceed with your healing:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.” - Isaiah 57:15, ESV

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18, ESV

If you've missed any of the posts this week, I invite you to start with the first post in this series here and experience the whole week's worth of entries.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy April Fool's Day

Five years ago this coming Easter Sunday, I recovered from what I believe to have been a case of clinical depression. This is the fifth post I wrote back then on a private blog about what was going on. For more details, see the first post in this series. And the rest: 2 - 3 - 4

4/1/2008 10:15am

Today I feel tired, but not depressed. No feeling that nothing matters at all; only a feeling that things matter but I would like to sleep through them! It points up for me the fact that last week I truly was in the grip of something really bad. I've heard and read people's accounts of depression (in fact, I'm about to get Chonda Pierce's book about her bout with depression from the library) but until I got a personal taste of depression I'm not sure I really took it 100% seriously. Not that I ever laughed it off... far from it... but the way people describe it sounds pretty melodramatic. My first post here and some of the other "bad day" posts probably sound that way. Trust me, they are NOT being melodramatic. It's really like that.

Start with the first post in this series here, or continue with the next post here. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Great weekend!

Five years ago this coming Easter Sunday, I recovered from what I believe to have been a case of clinical depression. This is the fourth post I wrote back then on a private blog about what was going on. For more details, see the first post in this series. And the rest: 2 - 3

3/31/2008 7:00am

This weekend was wonderful! Outside of the death of our refrigerator (which I mentioned in the post previous to this one) the blessing of being led to the brand-new refrigerator which we bought for a price that even WE could afford, and then an awesome Sunday morning pair of services and a great Sunday School and then a (mostly) relaxing Sunday afternoon (in which I almost finished defeating Paper Mario 2 (that darn Bowser!) have me feeling pretty good this Monday morning. I did not get up and go to the gym today... I got up at 3:30 to give the baby a bottle and turned on the weather, and it was one of those tornadoes-knocking-at-the-door mornings we get in the Oklahoma springtime. Turns out the twisters were in the neighborhood but not ringing the doorbell... I think the closest they came was at least 15-20 miles away. I'm not sure we even got very much rain, although we did get some lightning and thunder. Anyway, I was beat anyway from a kind of late night, so instead of trying to tough it out and passing out on a treadmill or something, I decided to get an hour and a half more sleep. And I'm glad I did.

That late night... I actually got in bed around 9pm or so, which is decidedly not a late night for me and my wife, but then she came in and we talked for a little while. During the day two things happened that she was upset about... the oven isn't working to her satisfaction and probably needs repair (the pilot light is on but it's not heating up like it's supposed to), and I discovered that someone has misplaced the hardware we need to put our crib back together. When my son was 5-6 years old and had clearly outgrown the crib, we actually gave it away to some friends who had a new baby but no baby bed. When we had our new baby girl they gifted it back to us, but it's been sitting up in her room not put together because she's been sleeping in a bassinet. Well, there have been a number of people over at our house messing around in the baby room... my wife is terminally impatient and so I put up with her calling her friends over to half-do stuff in my house sometimes. For example, they painted the walls pink... up to about 2 inches from the ceiling. Nobody has been back to finish whatever the heck they were trying to do. There is an ugly metal rack shelf hanging off the wall, half-attached. Then there's the crib, which was brought back but not put back together. It's been so long since I put it together... in fact, come to think of it, I don't think I was actually the person who put it together in the first place, but if I did it was eight years ago. They didn't bring back the instructions, and either my wife or someone else who was in the baby room apparently threw away the bolts and other hardware we need to set the thing up. Either that or our friends didn't bring the hardware back, but they promise that they did so likely the hardware is either thrown out (seems unlikely that someone would throw away was was probably a pretty heavy bag full of new-looking metal bolts and stuff) or lost.

Anyway, my wife took the opportunity to plunge into a depression. I don't think she's medically depressed, but she is hanging on to a very downbeat view of the world. She constantly says negative things about our neighborhood, our house, people we know, people we don't know, the neighbors we don't know, the few neighbors we do know, people of other races, and the world in general. She talks to people about our neighborhood, and when she recounts the conversations to me, she puts words in their mouth that are far more negative than what the people said (I caught her doing that one time this weekend and called her on it). Anyway, the oven and the crib were apparently enough to plunge her into the depths of despair, even though both problems can be easily remedied with just a few hundred dollars. We don't really have a spare few hundred dollars, but it's not the same as being out on the street. Replacement hardware can most likely be purchased (she actually knows who to call for that) and it's not unlikely that the oven just needs a new thermostat or something. But she was crying, so we talked in bed for a while until she felt a little better. In light of some of the reading I've done lately, I asked her if she had been feeling suicidal... that's the real red light that means you have a problem and need to see a doctor right away. She has not, so I think she's probably just down, not clinically depressed. Unless it gets a lot worse, I won't recommend a doctor.

As for me... I feel so much better today that I wonder if either I was just in a particularly ugly doldrum the other day, or maybe I received a healing from God this weekend. Either is possible. It is also possible that I'm just in a momentary peak that will go away. However, I do still intend to get out to the gym frequently while the membership is there, and I also intend to give myself some more regular diet of the Word of God. It is powerful and alive. It brings life. I think it can bring life to me. If I fall back into depression I will not hesitate to talk to my doctor, but I'm going to wait and see for a while. The last thing I want to do is give my wife ANOTHER thing to worry about.

Start with the first post in this series here, or continue with the next post here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Refrigerator Sunday

Five years ago this coming Easter Sunday, I recovered from what I believe to have been a case of clinical depression. This is the third post I wrote back then on a private blog about what was going on. For more details, see the first post in this series, and here's a link to the second post.

3/30/2008 5:38am

It's Sunday morning early, and I actually feel pretty good. I feel pretty normal, as a matter of fact. Maybe it has something to do with our refrigerator.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling NOT normal. I felt depressed. Then our fridge, the one that was in this house when we moved in, tanked on us. It's been having death rattles for a few days, but yesterday morning it defrosted our frozens and we knew it was time to get it replaced. Problem was, we have very little cash on hand... I have like $150 in the bank. Plus we've been having some serious struggles keeping bills paid lately because of some keeping-the-checkbook-current problems (this financial mess is a real contributor to my moods lately) so I figured we wouldn't be able to get credit to get one at a regular store like Sears or Lowe's or Home Depot or whatever. Cathy checked around by phone for some used fridge places, but came up dry, so after my son's soccer game we went to see what would happen if we looked at the stores. On the way to Home Depot we prayed... Cathy prayed. I told her either we were going to have to resolve to take what we could get, or we were going to have to pray for the Holy Spirit's help in finding what we want for a price we could afford.

So we went to two Lowe's and one Home Depot, then we went to a Maytag outlet store that we had passed on the way to Home Depot. We didn't really see anything we were particularly stunned with at the hardware stores, but at the Maytag store we found two identical beautiful blemished-in-some-way-we-couldn't-even-find fridges marked down from almost $900 before tax to just under $600 counting the tax! The signs said financing 90 days same as cash; we figured we could tighten our belts somehow and come up with the $200 each month. But when the salesman ran our credit, not only did they give us a credit line that would have bought any fridge in the store if we had wanted, they gave us twelve months same as cash! I'm pretty positive I can come up with fifty bucks a month (to avoid the 22% interest if we go over teh 12 months WHEW!). We would have had to wait several days for them to deliver it, so we borrowed my father-in-law's truck and brought it home ourselves. My dad helped me unload and get it into the house.

So maybe the reason I feel good this morning is the physical exertion yesterday, in which case I really need to start getting my butt back to the gym. I'm going to try doing cardio every day next week and see what happens (I'll go easy on myself to start... every day but a light workout). Maybe it's partly because God clearly answered our prayer with the fridge, which is even bigger and nicer than the old one. Maybe it's because it's Sunday and time for singing! Maybe I've blown a few days' bad moods out of proportion... I hope that's the case but I think maybe it's not. All I can do is wait and see!

Start with the first post in this series here, or continue with the next post here. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Five years ago this coming Easter Sunday, I recovered from what I believe to have been a case of clinical depression. This is the second post I wrote back then on a private blog about what was going on. For more details, see the first post in this series.

3/29/2008 2:25am

Tonight we were at a monthly meeting for songwriters that we have with some people in our church worship arts department. My wife and I are active members in our church choir, up in front of people every week, smiling and singing and weeping and whatever else happens in the worship service each week. You would think, considering the mood I've been in for some time, that the "weeping" part would come much more easily to me than the "rejoicing" part, but the fact is that I've had no trouble worshiping God joyfully in all this. In fact, worship times at church are almost the only thing I still have some enthusiasm for... most everything else I'm just like, meh.

Anyway, so here I am at home. My almost-eight-year-old son has been put to bed (he was grouchy because it's late), and my baby went to bed a few minutes ago with my wife. I'm all alone here in the living room, and the empty feeling has rushed back on me. Tonight as we were with friends, singing our songs (I sang two of mine which are both pretty ballads) and visiting and having a good time, I didn't notice it as much, although it was still there if I thought about it. But now alone, here it is again.

You might wonder how I could possibly write anything except melancholy stuff in the state I'm in. Well... keep in mind that I don't feel the weight of depression 100% of the time. There are times (especially during church services) when it lifts somewhat and I get a breath of fresh air. And things that are true are true always, whether I'm feeling numb about them or not. The only problem the moods are causing... okay, maybe this is two related problems... is that I've started second-guessing my own lyrics because I'm afraid I'm writing my depression into them, and I lose confidence in and enthusiasm for my own new songs within days of writing them. An example of the first: in one of the songs I wrote tonight there is a line, sung to God, that says "Only You can cure what I've got." The line is a pretty straightforward thought about salvation/redemption/spiritual healing, that sort of thing. But I keep wondering if I subconsciously wrote my own depression into the song. Seems like I'm taking my lyrics a little too personally, as if I'm reading my own mail to people. Personal lyrics are a good thing, but I almost feel like I'm invading my own privacy.

My recent lyrics, particularly the two songs I sang tonight, have frankly been some of my best-ever work. On one level, I guess an intellectual level, I'm very proud of them. On an emotional level, I'm so not-emoting that I don't really know how I feel about them. I can't tell if I feel happy with them or not. I don't really feel happy about much of anything.

I haven't really written a song that is specifically about being depressed. I did read a book by Michael Card about a year or so ago that had a section about songs of lament, noting how many of those are in the Bible and wondering if there isn't a real void in the art within the modern church that can be filled by them. So maybe I should write something about my depression. I probably will, although it probably won't be tonight. :) I did start a song a few weeks ago when Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman passed away, and if I had known then what I know now about clinical depression, reading my own lyrics then would have set off the alarms:
Another brother has taken flight
Present in a world of endless light
Absent from a world of creeping black
One-way ticket, no flight back

Standing against the evil tide
With all my loved ones by my side
I'm a fortunate man, a favored son
Still, I'll be glad when my time has come
That was intended as the first verse, with the chorus ending with the line "If I could be where he is." The idea was to write a song about the longing every Christian has to be with God. It came off sounding almost suicidal, now that I look back at it. I wrote that on February 25, which was almost five weeks ago. I didn't realize I had been that bad off for that long.

Start with the first post in this series here, or continue with the next post here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Welcome to the Wasteland

Five years ago this coming Sunday, I recovered from what I am positive was a diagnosable case of clinical depression. This is the kind of thing that people don't just pull out of like a airplane pulling out of a dive... this was clearly a miracle. When I realized that for some time I had been depressed in a way that was different from just having a bad day, or week, or month... that I was depressed in a way that I couldn't just "cheer up" from... I started a private blog about it, with the intention that if I ever became suicidal and succeeded in ending my own life, my family would know why. This week I've decided to finally make those private blog posts public; maybe they will give others hope that there can be light at the end of the tunnel.

Here's the first post on the blog which I had entitled "Up From The Wasteland".

3/28/2008 11:00am

Yesterday I realized that I most probably am suffering from clinical depression.

I knew I had been down for quite some time... a number of years, in fact, probably since sometime in 2002. I had been laid off in late 2001 in a round of massive layoffs as the company I worked for struggled to survive in the wake of a long series of poor choices by management. At first I was pretty upbeat, thinking I would be working again very soon, but by the middle of the year I was crying out to God that I didn't understand why I hadn't found a job yet and wouldn't He help me find one because my unemployment checks were running out? Anyway, that's a story for another post. This post is about the past three days.

Wednesday night as I was listening to my pastor's message I realized that I didn't care if I lived or died. Not that I wanted to die, because I absolutely do not. In the past few years I have seen the aftermath of several suicides, and I don't want to be the cause of that kind of suffering for my loved ones... again, that's for another blog post. But the idea of some horrible catastrophe happening and me being wiped off the face of the earth, or some illness doing me in... except for the pain that would likely accompany those things, the idea of dying didn't bother me any more. Now, as a Christian I know that death is a defeated enemy and not to be feared, but death is an enemy and is to be at least resisted. I think that's the problem... I don't know if I have the resistance in me. It was like I was ready to go, and I wasn't even sick.

Then yesterday I got to thinking... maybe I WAS sick. I hopped on the Wikipedia article about clinical depression... that van Gogh picture is positively creepy to me, which maybe is another sign that I need help... and made myself an informal checklist of the list of symptoms they have there. Of about 15 symptoms I found listed, I have all but three, one of which is the "converse" of one which I have so that one probably doesn't count, so I appear to have twelve out of the fourteen symptoms. From there I went to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Web site and read some of their material, then I went to my health insurance provider's Web site and read about what they have for depression (which may have been a poor move if they are monitoring what their customers do on their Web site, but oh well). They had a link to The Reawakening Center, which I followed and took their little self-assessment tool. I scored a 16; the results page says that if your score is higher than five you may have clinical depression. It's hard to ignore the signs: if I go to someone who is qualified to make a diagnosis, I almost certainly will be recommended for treatment. The only bright spot is that I honestly am not suicidal.

The key question here is: for how long am I not suicidal? I read yesterday that the reason drug treatments sometimes result in suicide is that the willingness to take action returns before the depression abates... so the person who has been sad but lethargic is suddenly sad and ready to do something about it. If I get on antidepressants, will that happen to me? I don't know, and nobody really does until you try. That's why you have to be closely monitored if you start taking that stuff.

And back to the how long aspect... as a child and teenager I did have thoughts about suicide from time to time. I never made an attempt; I don't know if that was because of good sense or because of lack of courage, but for whatever reason, I never actually tried anything. But like a recovered alcoholic, that aspect of my personality may still lurk somewhere, and if that beast still lives, I don't want to go into its cave and wake it up without backup.

This blog is, at this writing, private. Nobody but me can view it (well, me and probably the techs at Google, I suppose, if they wanted something to chuckle about). I hope that one day there will be a happy ending to the story and I am able to make it public. That's why I've called the blog "Up From The Wasteland" and why I've put the lyrics to the AD song by the same name in the sidebar. Call it a "faith statement" if you will. It's my way of reaching out for some hope. Also, if the worst should happen and I descend into a mental illness that drives me to something terrible, I will myself to remember to make a final post and make this blog public then, too. If I don't make it through this, I want the tale to be told. I'm being totally honest here, and this world needs all the total honesty it can get. Maybe, one way or another, my story will help someone deal with the spectres in his or her own mind.

Be sure to come back all this week to read the rest of this story. Fortunately for me, it has a happy ending! Continue with the next post here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Religion, Relationship, and Stolen Shows

'Notre-Dame de Reims' photo (c) 2010, troye owens - license: too long ago I read an article that says that according to a new Gallup poll, confidence in organized religion has hit an all-time low. My reaction to that was: "I blog about the Bible, and I don't care much for religion myself!" When I think of the word "religion" I think of a set of requirements I must meet. I must go to church, I must pray every day, I must read the Bible every day also, and so on and so on. Basically, that's what a dictionary will tell you "religion" is. There is certainly a place for that, and there is value to it; if there wasn't, you wouldn't find me spending several hours of my week every single week hanging around my church. But I don't think the answers to the major questions that we all face... Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with myself while I'm on this planet? What happens to me when I die? Does anyone love me, really love me? ...those questions are not answered by going through the motions of religion.

And maybe that's why people have lost interest. Maybe after 9/11/2001 they tried the whole showing-up-for-church-making-everything-better route, but then they figured out that if they show up for church on Sunday, on Monday they still have problems and they still have questions and they still have doubts. Maybe they discovered that closing their eyes reverently when someone else prays only lasts as long as the prayer lasts. Maybe they wondered why reading some verses from a Bible promise box doesn't always provide much reassurance, or prayers issued in panic mode often seem to bounce off the ceiling.

The reason is because the actions without a real personal connection are just actions.

How long does a marriage last when the husband and wife have all of the motions down pat, but there is no passion? No spark between them? It doesn't last long. We found out last week that God clearly sees His relationship with mankind as something very similar to a romantic relationship (actually, my theory is that God created romantic relationships to give us a model of the relationship He wants with us) - if a romance doesn't do well when the participants are just going through the motions, why would a relationship with God do any better?

Don't get me wrong - although a human relationship may end in divorce, God has said in His word that He will not "leave or forsake" us (see Hebrews 13:5-6), so once you and God have a relationship, I'm confident that even if you turn your back on God, you can't really "walk away" (how can you walk away from someone who is omnipresent? How can you turn your back on someone who is in front of you and behind you? But just as a marriage that lasts until the death of one partner is empty and joyless if there is no love, no heart behind the actions of birthdays and anniversaries and holidays and Valentine's Days, your relationship with God can seem empty if religious actions are the only thing that you put into them.

Being present in a specific place, church or not, is not the answer all of those big life questions. Opening a book every day and reading it is also not the answer to those questions, and neither is speaking into the air to someone you cannot see. According to the Christian faith, any of those three activities might lead to you finding some of those answers, but if "religion" is the actions itself, religion provides no answers.  Religious activities are, in themselves, empty.

So if people are becoming disenfranchised with religious actions, maybe that's a positive thing. Maybe people are figuring out that the "religion" part of Christianity isn't the real thing. The real thing is that God loves you; Jesus gave everything He had for you; God accepts you into His family. And not only accepts you, but welcomes you with open arms! You are the object of His affection! It's about love, not about actions.

Even more mind-boggling is the fact that once you have lost yourself in that loving relationship with the Father God, the actions come naturally. When you understand how much God loves you, you want His will to take control. Check out this video from Christian rap/pop star tobyMac explaining the meaning of his song "Steal My Show":

What's your take on the whole "religion vs. relationship" debate? How much religious activity is enough? How much is too much? What do you do when going through the motions just doesn't cut it? Sound off below by clicking the "comment" link and join the discussion!