Saturday, September 22, 2012

Raising Horizons

Raising Horizons
(Thoughts' Captive, Conclusion*)

I've you've ever tried to comfort someone suffering from depression or anxiety, you have likely found that a few chipper words or fitting Bible verses will not be enough to snap them out of it.  Your best intentions might even have been rewarded with irritation or hostility. I know this because I've responded this way myself a time or two.  Assuming I am not unique in my experience, I will say that those who are suffering emotional distress, whether it be depression or anxiety or grief, are likely to be also suffering, even if only temporarily, from an extremely myopic worldview. Pain has a way of focusing our attention inward, onto ourselves, narrowing our field of vision until it seems that our pain is the only reality that matters. For as long as the black orb of suffering eclipses the light of hope, we must handle sufferers with grace and patience, gently meeting them where they are, guiding them by the hand if needed, until the pain abates and rays of clarity once again begin to peek through. I feel safe in saying this, because this is how God has dealt with me.  He has stooped to meet me in my place of need and tenderly guided me every step of the way.  

It has been months since my last entry in this series. Since then I have encountered some unexpected trials on top of the more ordinary ones. Through it all I've persevered in scripture, prayer, and fellowship, doing the very things I have been recommending here.  In the process, I've seen many, many prayers answered and experienced God's faithfulness firsthand.  I've sensed my roots growing steadily deeper and wider into the bedrock of Jesus Christ and the hope of his Gospel.  And as I've grown I've found myself being drawn up and out of myself.

With Christ as my horizon and hope, my perspective has changed. With my eyes fixed on Him I gain the perspective and hope I need to live a life marked by joy and purpose.  As I look to Him I began to see the big picture, to know where I am headed and to be drawn inexorably in that direction.  Each step toward that goal reinforces my hope and increases my joy.  As I've raised my horizons my day-to-day emotional life has stabilized.  My soul is quieted and peace now plays a dominant role in my heart and in my relationships. Nevertheless, all this hope and joy is not a guarantee against future emotional trauma.

The steps I've taken in this series have been the steps of toddlers just learning to walk.  They are groundbreaking and essential to further progress, but they are baby steps. Like the parent of a child who has just learned to walk, God is happy with this progress, but He is not pleased to see His children toddle forever. We must learn to walk, to run, and to plant our feet firmly enough to withstand violent attacks against our souls.
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Eph. 6:10-12
In my earlier years I traveled in circles which gave the devil too much credit, almost as if he were on the par with God - the dark side of "the Force".  In later years, perhaps in reaction to that, I found myself traveling in circles which closeted the devil behind the doors of God's providence and sovereignty and thus, in essence, disregarded him altogether.  This, too, is a mistake. It is with good reason that the apostle Peter warns us to:
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." 1 Peter 5:8-9
Since I've lifted up my eyes and begun following hard after Christ, I've found my faith tested and violently shaken in ways I could have never expected or predicted.  I've  learned the hard truth that when you look up and out, when you set your sights on the horizon of God's glorious kingdom, Satan looks up as well and takes notice.

Our soul has an adversary looking for any opportunity to destroy us. He will use any weapon at his disposal against us and will seek to exploit our every weakness.  He will use our thoughts to beat us down and make us useless in the battle, and he will use our actions so that we discredit ourselves in the eyes of others.  And so we cannot afford to forget, even for a moment, that we are not here on our own business. We must be vigilant and sober-minded, (this means exercising control over our minds, which are the battlefields of our souls) ambassadors for Christ, his emissaries carrying a message of peace in an enemy territory.
"Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..." Eph. 6:14-18
The bad news is, the battle for emotional stability, though it ebbs and flows, will never end in this life.  The good news is that God, by His grace, has given us all the equipment we need to persevere to the end.  It is, however, up to us to engage in the fight.

* This is a heavily re-written version of an entry I posted a few months ago. After a serious and unexpected spiritual battle (an episode of acute anxiety) I revisited it and did not care for it's tone. It seemed to imply that if you have your sights set on Christ your emotional battles are over, when the truth is we have only just begun to fight.     

On Samaritans and Scoffers

I know am about to run the risk of being labeled a stick-in-the-mud, but  it's a chance I'll have to take.  There are some things more important in life than humor, and the gospel is one of them.  If I didn't think this was a gospel matter I wouldn't be bothering about it at all.  So here goes.

There is a meme floating around on the internet.  It is being passed around and "liked" by Christian people which is, again, the only reason I'm bothering to address this at all.  We Christians are gospel people - or at least that is what we are called to be.  We are not our own. We represent Christ on this earth, so our behavior, even the the act of "liking" things on Facebook, reflects on the message we are here to present to the world.

The text of the meme, in case you can't read the fine print in the picture, runs like this:

Hi Friend,

I just wanted to let you know that some knucklehead vandalized your car by slapping an Obama sticker on it.  The last thing you want is to be driving around all day looking like an idiot.
Take Care,
A Good Samaritan
The import of this little note, though couched in indirect language, is obvious.  It is using friendly language to send a hostile message.  It is calling the supporters of this politician (who also happens to be the sitting President of this nation) idiots. The act of photographing it and putting it out on the internet signals another intent: to gather up laughter, and thus support, in calling Obama supporters idiots.  This person is scoffing at the President and his supporters.  Our laughter in response reveals that this scoffing resonates with us, and it makes us scoffers too.

"The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind."  Proverbs 24:9

I've noticed that some Christians these days seem quite fond of referring to certain sins as "abominations".  Though I think we are often less than prudent and far less than loving in our use of such language, the fact remains that our Bible does label some sins in this manner. But let me ask you this: when was the last time you heard a Christian decrying scoffing as an abomination?

Yet, the Bible has a surprising amount to say about scoffers, and none of it good.

The truth is, even though I don't have cable or satellite TV, don't listen to partisan talk-radio, and regulate my media intake via selective internet use, still I am exposed to scoffing every day.  I'm quite certain we all are.  We live in a culture of mockery and scoffing.  It is in the air we breathe. It is the stuff, the veritable backbone, of our media and entertainment, and most especially of our humor.  There are few forces more powerful than humor.  Its very nature is to surprise us, bypassing the guards of our hearts and throwing open the closets where we hide what we really think and how we really feel. When we laugh at a joke, it is because it is speaking our emotional language.  Therefore, the things we find amusing reveal a lot about our character.  Scoffing is the dark side of humor. When we scoff, or when we laugh with scoffers, we are taking pleasure in tearing others down.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."  Matthew 5:44
You cannot love people and tear them down at the same time.

"Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." 1 Peter 2:17

You cannot honor people and insult them at the same time.  

When we Christians engage in scoffing, we reveal our willingness to engage in ad hominem attacks, we insult those with whom we disagree, and we forfeit all hope of changing their minds or winning their hearts.  We undermine our trustworthiness in the eyes of those we offend, misrepresent the God we serve, and discredit our testimony as Christians in their eyes. 

 Without love we cannot lead anyone to Christ. 

“The one who showed him mercy.”

Finally, I found the greatest offense as a Christian was to see the signature "Good Samaritan" taken up by a person in the act of scoffing at a stranger.  The expression itself comes from a story told by Jesus Christ in response to a man who was hoping to get out of having to love people he doesn't want to love.  Jesus had just told him that in order to inherit eternal life he must love God with all his heart and love his neighbor as he loves himself. So the man asked, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus responded with the story of a Samaritan (a deeply despised kind of person regarded as immoral and traitorous by the Jews), a good Samaritan, who took care of a wounded man who had been ignored by all the respectable passersby.  The impact of the story on the young man would have been much like the impact on a Republican being told this compassionate stranger was Obama himself.  The writer of this note, wittingly or not, is making a mockery of what it means to be a Good Samaritan.

We are nearing the end of another heated election year and yet again I find myself distressed by the behavior of Christians on both sides of the political divide.  (Yes, there really are committed Christians in both parties, and thank God for it, since people on both sides need Jesus!)  And I am seeing Christians on both sides allow their political opinions to undermine the fruit of the Spirit and the work of the gospel in their lives and relationships. I ask and challenge you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what your political tendencies, to leave all un-Christlike behavior (all scoffing, mocking, insults, slander, malice, envy, etc.) out of your lives and any political discourse you may engage in.  It might help you to do this if you keep in mind that our kingdom is not of this world.  (If it were, Christ would have commanded us to fight.) The stakes of our temporal politics are only temporal, and salvation will never come through political conquest and domination, but through the proclamation of the gospel.  Indeed, Christ's power in us is manifested best when we are weak.

We cannot afford to be like those whose mind is set on earthly things. Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In His time He will subject all things to himself.