Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?
There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.
The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.
“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”
There are only four real options.
The first is seed that never arrives.
The second lands on hard stones.
The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
Only the fourth flourishes.
The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.
I have found that my own heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”
I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
Matthew 13:31-33, ESV
These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!
Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.
The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.
These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.
I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century. I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)
The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,
“His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
It’s strange to be in the position of being older. A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.
I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer. I’m not supposed to get stressed. However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)
Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.
On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe. I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk. “Learning to live with the regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.
A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her. But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction. I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours. Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again. You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.
“I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”
Isaiah 46:4, NLT
I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth. I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled! Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good, but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?
I also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment. When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged. I guess grace does that to a person.
Understanding the way our Father works is a personal passion for me. I did not ‘major’ in theology, and so many things have to be painstakingly explained to me, like I was a small child. It seems that I will occasionally find something that is insightful. A critical need we have is understanding the subtleties and significance of being made right with God (justification) and being made whole (sanctification). This verse really applies here,
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”
Furthermore it was the Bereans who were the only ones in Scripture to be called “noble minded” for their serious study and thought (Acts 17:11). Study should not make your spirit ‘rigid’, rather the opposite should occur. God wants us to be learning Him and His ways. Understanding is a good thing.
Justification & Sanctification– Gripping the Two
Justification is free (John 4:1)
Sanctification is costly (Lk. 14:25-33)
Justification is instantaneous (Jn. 3:8)
Sanctification is a life-long process (Jn. 8:31)
Justification is by faith (Eph. 2:8)
Sanctification is by faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2)
Justification is not of works (Eph. 2:9)
Sanctification is of works (Eph. 2:10)
Justification involves Christ’s love for me (Jn. 3:16)
Sanctification involves my love for Christ (1 Jn. 4:19)
Sanctification concerns my righteousness (Lk. 14:25-33)
Justification involves my position in Christ (Col. 2:11-14)
Sanctification involves my practice (Col. 3:1-11)
Justification considers what God has done (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
Sanctification considers what I am doing (Lk. 14:25-33)
Justification is God’s commitment to me (1 Jn. 5:9-13)
Sanctification is my commitment to God (Jn. 14:15)
Justification requires obedience to one command: to believe the Gospel (Ac. 6:7)
Sanctification requires obedience to all of Christ’s commands (Matt. 28:19-20)
Justification focuses on the cross which Jesus took up once and for all (1 Cor. 1:18)
Sanctification focuses on the cross which I am to take up daily (Lk. 9:53)
Justification is finished at the moment of faith (Jn. 5:24)
Sanctification is not finished until I go to be with the Lord (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Discerning the two should only be a blessing. This is no way puts God in a box, but it does have an ability to explain much. I might add, examining some of the key verses that develop this statements will also bless you.
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
Hebrews 2:10, ESV
“God is the One who made all things, and all things are for his glory. He wanted to have many children share his glory, so he made the One who leads people to salvation perfect through suffering.”
Hebrews 2:10, NCV
There is complexity embedded in this verse. But that shouldn’t stop us from understanding its scope and meaning, yet there is the compelling question.
How did Christ learn obedience through suffering when he was already perfect?
Christ was human and “tempted in all points as we are and yet perfect and without sin,” and thus Christ was sinless. The humanity of Jesus can be seen throughout the gospels. He hungered, and he got thirsty. We see him very tired, and sleeping in the back of a boat in a storm, which reveals his humanity. However, “He committed no sin, neither was their deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
Only humans need to learn obedience. And everyone of us have faltered. Yet he didn’t. He had to learn, but He didn’t fail. As a man, He met every issue and every obstacle with a solid and a profound obedience. He learned how to obey, but without any failure, or fault.
In every person’s life, we are challenged to obey. There are so many twists and turns, and each of us has stumbled. It can be quite painful. We are also learning “obedience through our suffering.” It seems our own trials and suffering are the tutors teaching us about our Father, and His kingdom.
This thought, “bringing many sons to glory” is of significant consideration. It reveals the intent and purpose of Jesus coming and doing all of this. He wanted to open the doors for all those who come to salvation. In a direct way, His intention was to become our escort, or safeguard to make a way for us into the Presence.
The words, “many sons,” shows the breadth and width of His work. It is considerable. The idea of “sons” is just as astonishing. We are not slaves, forced to labor in the quarries or mines. We are sons and daughters, His own children. Eternity is too short of time, I suppose, for us to hold and occupy this kind of glory.
“They strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”
“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”
1 Corinthians 15:25
In the spring of 1995, I was taking my family across the border into Mexico to live. All we owned was what we could pack in the trunk of my old Chevy. We were flat broke and unsure of where we would spend the night. But we heard from the Lord; we knew he was leading us into a situation where we must “walk by faith, and not by sight.”
We were caravaning with missionaries who were to be stationed about 40 miles south of our ultimate destination. But we had separated two days before in Arizona. We knew we would see them a bit later. The evening before our crossing, we managed to scrape enough money to spend one last night in San Diego.
I’m ashamed to say that I was not the man of faith and power that I should of been. I cried out a desperate and short prayer, “Help me God, show me that this is really you. I need to know that your hand is in this.” I was taking my wife, and two small children into Mexico, and we didn’t even know where we were going to spend the night.
I was pretty stressed the morning of our crossing, and hearing nothing from the Lord. We merged into the heavy traffic for our inspection when we heard a horn behind us. I just thought it was part of the process, and ignored it. But it kept honking. I looked in the mirror to see what the problem was.
Directly behind us was the couple we had been with in Arizona! Suddenly I knew this was God speaking directly to me. I was staggered as I extrapolated the odds of this happening, it was unbelievable. We had left them behind two days ago and now we meet up at the very precise time, in the same lane of traffic. The odds of us converging at the same time had to be astronomical!
The Lord spoke to me right then and there, “I am in control.” All my anxiety, all my fear just lifted– I knew deep down He was leading us. I could trust Him, even though life seemed so very precarious. We were in His hands! This would be a faith booster in some hard times to come.
You may have had an experience like mine. When God touches a heart and makes it peaceful– it is a beautiful thing. But it can be something different. The Apostle Paul on the Damascus Road was stunned when Jesus spoke to him. Paul’s companions heard a voice but saw nothing (Acts 9:7).
We must become people who insist that every believer have their own experiences with God.
It is the spiritual privilege of every child of God. When “it” happens, it will be something to be treasured. Looking back I see that moments like this enable one to go through a great deal. Someone once said, “Coincidence is when God wants to remain anonymous.”
When we hear his voice or see his handiwork, it is truly then we become his disciples.