Why is Christmas so Depressing?

Many believers and unbelievers alike anticipate the ‘holiday season’ with heaviness and anxiety.  While personal reasons for depression vary greatly, the fleshly sensation of Christmas accentuates every grief in our heart.  However, rather than masking our heart with a pretense of joy, why not consider that the Lord Himself shares in that grief? 

Many believers stifle controversy in their heart over this holiday.  They know that Jesus was not born in December and find sentimental reenactments of His birth inaccurate,  often serving as spiritual entertainment.  For sure the Apostles never engaged in any such rehearsals of the Lord’s birth and the early Christians and Puritans rejected establishing this event.   None of the founding fathers would dream of shopping for gifts to each other – especially if they lacked nothing. 

The unmistakable spiritual truth of Christmas is this:  when believers and unbelievers alike can join together and celebrate a spiritual event, it is laden with worldliness and idolatry.  

Thankfully,  commercial ‘joy’ and ‘peace’ elude most folks – the only thing worse than a false joy is building a foundation upon it.  The world accepts and celebrates a god they deem benign and vulnerable but rejects a reigning King to Whom they must give account.

empty manger

He is no longer here!  Our hope lies in His power to deliver and redeem us.  

If we are outsiders to the flashing lights and tinsel that ‘deck the halls’ and the holiday cheer that reeks of cliché, we can certainly find consolation and hope in this – Jesus is on the outside as well.  He never engaged in falderal or worldliness – never lost His focus of the cross.  He never said to look backwards but forward, living each day in the reality of His promised return as Judge and King.

God’s burden for the lost was born into a manger but the proclamation to the world is this, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”.  That is the message rejected by man – without it, there can be no joy, no peace, no reconciliation with God at Christmas or any other time. 

Gathering with family and friends and enjoying traditions is a good thing but if we believe that worldly celebrations, gift giving or ‘the most wonderful time of year’ is ordained by our holy God we will be rightfully disappointed in Him.

Unlike the world, the Savior Jesus invites,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29)

“There will be terrible times in the last days”, warned the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 3.  The call for believers to separate from the world is not to prevent fun or celebration but serves as an intrinsic warning that this world is temporal and any hope rooted therein is a poor and foolhardy investment.   

Depression, sadness, and disappointment is not crazy during Christmas but often true reflection of this dark world….perhaps a true alignment with the heart of Christ.  I pray to seek the Lord in greater measure and hear from Him through His word.  But I also pray for those who ‘celebrate’ but refuse to repent, the many who celebrate Christ’s birth but reject His mandate to us, “You must be born again.”

He is not in that manger.  But He promises,

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”  (John 14:23)

This is the true celebration that the world cannot give and cannot take away. 

 

When God Lifts You Up

I wrote most, if not all, of the posts on this site from a season of intense trial and emotional pain.  The details of personal loss, deep betrayals, and painful unraveling remain vague as  my intent is never to expose people, especially those who are forgiven.  I hope, rather, to share this reality:  God allows, even orchestrates, painful crushing in our lives for the purpose of molding, maturing, and changing us for His service and glory, conforming us to the image of His Son.     The Lord may lead us into a confusing wilderness, strip away all personal foundations, and take away our health, ministry and possessions.  We may cry a million tears, be wrapped in anxiety and turmoil, and sojourn alone but our confidence must lie in the sovereignty of God and His utter control over every circumstance.  For quite sometime I gripped onto this truth:

“Grain for bread is crushed but no one threshes it forever.”

I did not die during those recent years although some emotional pain was so intense I feared brain damage or heart attack.  No counselor, friend or elder brought relief, only clinging to the Lord, shutting away with Him in prayer, searching and studying His word. 

Then, one day I took off my wig – (did I mention that my hair fell out?) and saw and felt…could it be…that, after two years of wearing wigs my hair was suddenly coming back?  With much trepidation, “Yes, I think so!”  While gradual inner healing and restoration came from the Lord, this was a personal touch from His hand – and the hair that grew back was better than what I lost!

But there was more.  This month, as a significant birthday approached, there was talk of a ‘party’.  I had not felt an inner place of ‘celebration’ for a long time and certainly did not care to celebrate just getting older.  Somehow, though, a ball started rolling and would not stop with my protests.  One night anxiety rebounded and woke me, and I cried to the Lord in prayer.  This scripture pressed upon my heart,

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.”  (I Peter 5:6)

Was this party from the Lord?  I believed and accepted it,  peace came over me and I sought to honor Him.  I did not know the details of this ‘party’ but prepared a handout for my guests, most if not all of whom do not know the Lord, many are seniors…”Over the Hill” like me!Scan0062No one except the Lord knows how the evening touched me – real joy took root in my heart.   I had the rare opportunity of addressing all my relatives in one place…

my party speaking

“There’s no need to celebrate me, all I did was get a bit older!  It’s the Lord who deserves all the praise and celebration….” 

 

With the Armenian band and joy in my heart I felt truly festive!

And a fabulous cake as well!

my party close to cake

What Isaiah spoke of Jesus, “…it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer” can also pertain to Christ’s followers who are called to pick up their cross and follow Him.  Trials and tribulations on this journey are purposeful,  with eternal value.  We are His own.  We have every supernatural promise to believe that He will protect us, sustain us, speak to our hearts –  heal and restore.  And what’s more, at the right time, He will lift us up!

 

Living Waters Flow From Afflicted Servants!

The final discouragement to pound the afflicted or fallen believer is the lie that they are inadequate to serve God.   “God is finished with me” is the echoing cry that reaches our ears from the pit of hell.  Believe with me, the opposite is true!  

Whether battling torrents of trials and heartache or clawing out of a miry pit of sin, the decisive heart toward God, willing to believe and obey, opens every opportunity for spiritual victory.  In our weakest, even defeated condition, Sovereign God confounds the powers of hell and prevails over them.

Walking in victory, forging ahead for the Kingdom of God, is not at all contingent upon our physical abilities, mental capacities, finances, or social status.  In fact, those personal ‘strengths’ often prove to be subtle snares, leading us to depend upon our resources.  In whatever the Lord brings upon us, whatever He takes away, whatever He allows inflicted upon us…we must hold on to the truth that He is in charge of this temporary suffering. 

If we continue in faith, no matter how weak it seems, the Lord will use our tears to mold the clay for divine purposes.  In His hands, our suffering has great value!

In his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Afflictions”, Pastor David Wilkerson preaches,

“We want quick-and-easy deliverance.  But our afflictions serve no purpose whatsoever if we do not understand why God permits them.  The truth is that every affliction, trial, trouble, difficulty and disappointment in our life is allowed by the Lord.  And He has a specific purpose behind all of them.  Why?  it is because He is taking u somewhere–trying to accomplish something in us and through us!”  (printed sermon available online)

Whether we are chastised from sin or amidst a storm or wandering in a spiritual wilderness the devil will harass with the same lies, “God has abandoned you”, “You’ve sinned once too many times”, “You are useless and weak, your best days are over and done!”  Not so with God.

The word of God demonstrates the victory of God through fallen and weakened man over and over, too many times to list in post here!  Many of the testimonies of suffering, struggling, defeat and affliction are well known.  But not only must we open the Bible and find these refreshing truths but we must believe that God is ready to intervene in our lives as well. 

When our lives are trampled upon and damaged, the greatest challenge in healing and recovery is finding security once again in God’s love.  All the human effort and intellect may be unable to configure our suffering with ‘love’.  It may seem impossible to believe but there are times when we need only be willing to believe.

The willingness to believe opens the window of heaven.  When our world is rocked, the willingness to believe positions us before the word of God and awaits living waters to pour out upon us and revive us, even if it seems drop by drop.  Our healing comes through our willingness to drink. 

We need not be healed, happy, healthy or prosperous to be victorious servants of God.  In fact, the Lord seems to excel through broken vessels. 

“Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up.”  Psalm 71:20

In these last days, we must decide to ‘face forward’.  Our Savior Jesus Christ won the victory over sin and we are forgiven all.  While in this world however, He does not promise to remove all suffering nor repair all damage.  Given to Him, He is uses all affliction with divine purpose for His Kingdom and glory.

 Let us not wait until we feel whole, totally healed, or even ‘happy’ to avail ourselves to God’s service.  Let us not ‘Waste Our Afflictions’ but present ourselves, in whatever state we’re in, as a living sacrifice unto God.  (Romans 12)  The ‘gifts’ He bestows upon us to serve and honor Him are not at all contingent on merit or ability!

I believe that our greatest healing and restoration comes when, even in our weak and broken conditions,  we position ourselves before God in prayer with a decided willingness to believe in His undying love.  The certainty of God’s love in our hearts opens our faith again, even stronger, and avails His living waters to flow into us and through us into the lives of others.  That is great and profound joy that overcomes the darkness.

 

The Timely Death of Believers

 

the Lord directs our steps

 

While writing A Ragamuffin In God’s Hall of Fame,  overviewing  the life of Rich Mullins, I  often came across “his untimely death”.  Yes, he died at the young age of 41.  Even younger at death was Keith Green, 28, whose godly music and message continue to glorify God.

Almost everyone in this fallen world can testify of an “untimely death”, as do I, recalling my brother’s death at age 38.  (Noted in this post) 

But ultimately for the believer, however, there is no “untimely death”, it is an “appointed death” (Hebrews 9:12).  The last steps of our life are, as all other steps,  are “ordered by God”.

Why is this so important?

  1.   As followers of the Lord, we must wrap ourselves with the truths of His word before the battle begins.  A perpetual focus of life in this world robs us of  the spiritual truths and fortitude we will need when death comes upon us or our loved ones. 
  2.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” and as such, we must have a living word in our hearts ready to shine into the grief and confusion of those who face death.

There is no hint whatsoever that God “allows” one of His followers to die, as though He were a mere witness to death;  “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”  God is sovereign, not a bystander in our lives.  One can meditate upon the lives of godly servants in Scripture and find that, in spite of very real and ongoing death threats and attempts, they ‘were immortal until God’s work through them was complete’.  King David, the Apostle Paul and our Savior Jesus Himself are striking examples of men whose lives were sought by powerful foes yet they remained alive and victorious under God’s protection.  

After coming to saving faith in Christ, God’s purposes that we increasingly “conform to the image of God’s Son”.

“The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless.  Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith.”

“You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes.  That’s the point of judgement.”    (Dr. Lovett)

Often the life of a fruitful and godly believer is so needed and cherished here and now that his death seems only senseless and tragic.  But the Alpha and Omega may see that believer at the pinnacle of his faith and walk with God.  The Lord alone can see the future backsliding, pitfalls and snares…His view of us is always eternal.

Only a Biblical view of death and heaven can prepare us for grief and heartbreak.   And only detaching ourselves from this world can release the truths of death and eternity into our hearts.  Can we affirm with Paul, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” ?  Can we trust God that His timing and view of our eternity is always accurate, even perfect?

In II Kings 20, God directed an ailing King Hezekiah, “Get your house in order, you’re going to die…”  Yet, while claiming great faithfulness and devotion, Hezekiah actually revealed his attachment to his kingdom here, pleading with God for more time.  The additional 15 years that God granted brought forth the fruits of a spiritual downfall.  His pride burst forth, he lost his discernment, and during this time sired the most wicked heir, King Manasseh.

“When God tells us that it’s time for us to die, we must be willing to leave the earth immediately.  For God alone knows what is best for us.  So, when God tells us it is time to go, we should not want to stay on in this rotten world any longer.”  Zac Poonen

And yet, what of the deaths of unsaved loved ones?  Contemplating their end must serve to embolden us to proclaim the Gospel as though they stand on the precipice of eternity because that is where they are.  Like the thief on the cross alongside Jesus,  their last steps may land upon that ‘narrow road’ of salvation.  But as representatives of God in heaven, we must pray for boldness to speak the truth.

Like water through a funnel, we are swirling faster into the end days.  Many believers however, are lulled into complacency and comfort, having sought and gained satisfaction in this world.  I pray that we, together, will seek the full counsel of God on matters of life and matters of death and eternity.  Whether our last steps are ordered days or years from now, let us fill ourselves with enough truth to pour out to those who are dying without it.

“At every turn in your life, keep the end in view”  Thomas À Kempis

Anchoring Up Against Anxiety

I am perhaps one of the few conservative believers that does not broad stroke anxiety as a “sin”.  Anxiety is not synonymous with unbelief.  I have actually begun a book on this subject (which may or may not get finished!).  The crux of the issue – is anxiety a ‘punishable’ offense such as adultery or stealing?  Would a parent ever punish or chastise a child for worrying or having an anxiety attack?

The truth is, God almighty urges us not to worry or be anxious because, all knowing and completely sovereign, He has everything under control.  He urges us for our good, our inner peace and well being, not because He will punish us.  

Anxiety and worry may cause us to miss out on God’s best but the journey to His perfect peace can open up His word and deliver healing and victory on the way.  While therapeutic interventions can bring relief and understanding, only God’s word as He reveals and unveils it to our hearts can bring deliverance and spiritual healing.

“Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors”   Psalm 119:24

Anxiety, often trauma based, can become an emotional default and grow into free-floating distress.  But, unlike sin, God can use this condition to reveal spiritual truths and step by step lead us to higher ground.  The Lord calls us to grasp a hold of Him, ‘partner up’, and let Him walk us through this miry clay.  No matter how far the distance, step by step He will lead us to that solid ground, to those ‘green pastures and still waters’.  

Unhurried prayer and meditation upon scripture leads us…

“Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.”  (Psalm 119:105)

For the believer, an ’emotional default to anxiety’ in our thinking can occur when trauma or a series of crisis wounds our mind and soul and damages our faith.  The frailties of  our heart and the wiles of the enemy can rout everything into a fearful framework of anticipated harm, failure, deception, and betrayal.

I pray that, day by day – even hour by hour – incrementally -we can begin a process of re-anchoring.  As one injured and disabled may rehab slowly to walk, let our hearts and minds rehab daily toward living hope, confidence and courage.  I would not discourage anyone from helpful medical or therapeutic interventions.  But through prayer and God’s revealed living word, I pray that our thinking increasingly climbs up the chain onto the sure anchor….

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.  (Hebrews 6:19)

and into the secure and glorious place of our Lord’s presence.

Only the Holy Spirit can dislodge our dark anxious thinking, anchored in the depths…and begin to ANCHOR UP our minds and hearts toward heaven where the Lord can heal us with His presence and truths.  There, “the truth will set us free”. 

Our Heavenly Father is not judging but inviting.  May the Lord speak to our hearts and uplift us closer to Him today.

 

In God’s Fiery Classroom

If God is going to use you, you will find yourself in the classroom of isolation, confusion, and despair – there’s no way to escape that place.  Pastor David Wilkerson

While those are the words of Pastor Dave, (1931-2011)  they could easily been said by any godly person, from Genesis to today.  When the Lord loosens the protective hedge about us and allows – perhaps even orchestrates – crushing circumstances He does so with great purpose and eternal value.

As with any classroom, two factors matter greatly:

How prepared are we for this class?  When times are calm, prosperous, healthy, and harmonious – are we pressing in, preparing for eventual storms and tests of faith?

Secondly, in which direction are we facing in this classroom – towards the Great Teacher, fixing our eyes upon Jesus – or are we gazing out the window towards the world and its remedies and ways?

Pastor Dave always said, “Don’t waste your afflictions!”

I cringe with amazement as I remember all the sorrows, trials, deep waters, flaming fires and powerful afflictions. And usually when afflictions came, they came not just one at a time, but in bundles. Many times I thought, “There’s no way I can make it through this.”

Even the memories of afflictions are painful — memories of slander, chastenings of the Lord, ministry trials, personal buffetings, family problems, bodily pains and aches. Yet, as I recall those years of suffering, I can say with assurance, “God’s word is true! He brought me out of every affliction that came upon me. I praise him!”  (devotional article found  here  )

While the devil and carnal religion would lull us with false securities, God’s word warns us of “terrible times” in these last days.  Those clinging to His word will endure fiery trials and even anguish, knowing that ‘nobody threshing the wheat forever’ (Isaiah 28:28)

DanielPrays-300x234

Even while separated from the world and “praying towards Jerusalem”, Daniel’s enemies lined up at the door….

 

jm_100_OT_-P18.tiff

but he was prepared for the fiery classrooms that followed.  (Daniel 6)

 

“Encourage us Father, as we study the profound examples of Your faithfulness through the lives ‘ordinary people’. Reveal more of Yourself and living truths in our classroom of affliction so that “when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold”.   And  Lord, if we falter or stumble  at times in this painful classroom, shield us against the devil’s snare of guilt and condemnation.  Amen.”  

 

Only God Can Stop the Bleeding

The testimony of the ‘woman with the issue of blood’ must be so significant to the Lord that it was included in three Gospels, Matthew 9:20, Mark 5:25, and Luke 8:43.  Familiar to most believers, the woman here suffered with bleeding for 12 years.  She had spent all she had on doctors to no avail and, understood within the Jewish Law, she also suffered isolation from the community, from family and/or spouse, and emotional trauma if not constant hopelessness.

In short, 12 years of bleeding no doubt sapped her strength, ruined her relationships, and depleted her resources.  For her, ‘joie de vivre’ was unreachable at any cost.

Perhaps God had His eye on her all along.  Perhaps twelve years would not seem long to her if she knew the wait would lead to a glorious personal encounter with God, an eternal place in His living word, and a source of encouragement for many generations to follow.

Are there women suffering like this today?  Are they isolated, depleted of resources and robbed of hope to live?   Yes, but more than women.  In these last days, there are deep afflictions in the souls of men, women and children that are surely bleeding the life from within.  The ‘terrible times of the last days’, liken to the ‘days of Noah’ and ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ are days where man revels in lawlessness and sin which results in deep affliction to himself and those nearest.  

Whether afflicted through physical debilitation or emotional trauma, torments of anxiety, depression, guilt, hopelessness, and despair can absolutely leave us deplete of resources, isolated from many, and weakened in every way.   Many are living with a bleeding soul, unable to find true healing and deliverance.

What happened to the ‘hem of His garment’?  Is it now unreachable?  Isn’t He “the same, yesterday, today and forever”?

God is in no way a formula God.   While He does not change, His ways and interventions are never the same.  We will not find another burning bush and the hem of His garment is gone.

God still heals, instantaneously and incrementally.  But we are not 1st century believers, walking with God incarnate as He manifests His glory with powerful words and miracles.  Preachers are still passionately crying out, “Reach out! Touch the hem of His garment! Have faith and you will be healed!”

What they are not preaching is I Peter 1:6,

“….for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even thought refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Our faith is not refined, nor does it foundationally grow, through instantaneous miracles.  Although we would much rather have miraculous healings and provisions, the Lord’s purpose for suffering in our lives in far greater.  Firstly, He is not preparing us to live well in this world but rather, to serve well in this world.  To truly serve our Master we must become more like Him; it is suffering that conforms us to His image.  But suffering does more than that.

Yes, our inner bleeding and brokenness may rob us of strength, our resources, and isolate us from those who cannot relate.  But in this state of depletion God moves in with more than the hem of His garment.  Waiting upon Him, shutting in with Him, and believing like the bleeding woman that we will receive, opens an awaited intimacy with our Lord.

The Bible never presents suffering as a surprise or dilemma to God.  For God’s people, trials and calamities are ‘appointed’.  No longer can we touch ‘the hem of His garment’ but He’s given us a greater gift, the Holy Spirit, our Counselor, Comforter, and Guide.

Why is this greater than touching His hem?  He is preparing us as His beloved Bride to dwell with Him forever.  It is pointedly said,

The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless.  Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith…”

When God allows all options, remedies, and hopes to fail believe that He is sharpening our focus on Him alone.  Whatever it takes, shut in with the Lord and hear from Him through prayer and His word.  When this temporal world begins to dim and the  Holy Spirit pours into our hearts,  we will hear God’s call to us.  He will walk us through to healing, revealing Himself at every juncture. 

But infinitely greater  – He is preparing us to be with Him forever.