[re-truh greyd] (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)
[re-truh greyd] (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)
The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.
This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.
Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.
I remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.
Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.
For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.
Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.
There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.
My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.
I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.
“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”
Matthew 26:75, NLT
Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.
“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:
Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.
Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.
We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.
Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”
1 Peter 5:2, NIV
Matthew 7:15, NIV
I use my channel changer and I flip through the enormous darkness that exists in the world. Jesus clearly warns His flock of the cold, hard realities of deception and deceitfulness that we will be dealing with. Trickery abounds and things simply are not what they seem to be. Darkness has a brutal grasp on so many.
There should be an alertness for the inevitable. Sometimes, sheep will not really be sheep. This is astonishing. Our senses are not always adequate or capable to identify counterfeit Christians. We get confused by the outside (it looks like wool to me). But it is a lie. The wolf has deliberately taken on the dress of the believer. He has a real, definite sinister agenda. (Can you say, “lamp chops“?)
Jesus alerts us to what is really taking place. He wants us to discern. He wants us to become adroit observers. Every believer needs a holy skepticism of outward displays of faith. This is not cynicism or negativity. But it is a cautious faith– one in which we can discern the realities of a world that regularly deceives.
“The first step on the way to victory is to recognize the enemy.”
Corrie Ten Boom
“Ferocious” in verse 15 is a sobering word. When I read it, I think of Alaska, or maybe the grasslands of the ‘Serengiti.’ A dangerous carnivore that is hidden by an outward covering. It is a ‘predator’ word, a word that intensifies. It patiently stalks and then ambushes its victims. There is only one focus, a single purpose, and that is to destroy. It is Satan’s ‘calling card.’
For us who are accustomed to an ideal of love and peace in our walks, we are disturbed and perhaps almost pulled off balance by this disturbing revelation of evil in our midst. Jesus tells us that we must possess a reality of deception, for that is the real world. He gave us plenty of warning.
“Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.”
Luke 10:3, NLT
Do you know what wolves do to lambs? But yet He still sends them. That is interesting.
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.”
Matthew 7:15, NLT
The old King James Version says, “which come to you in sheep’s clothing.” There is something to be said about both translations.
Being aware. Jesus commands this awareness, this discernment that our world is a dangerous place and dark things come out of it. Deception is always working, the true believer must keep learning. We must identify sheep, who are not really sheep after all. They look like sheep, unless you get close. They smell like sheep. They appear gentle and kind.
But inside they are malignant and treacherous. Jesus chose the word, “dangerous.” We pretty much avoid anything dangerous. If there is a sign on the beach, and if it says “Dangerous Undertow,” most of us will comply and our time in the water is alert and quite aware.
There are people in the world who should have that sign, as they are treacherous and deceitful. They say many things, and there is enough there to seem authentic. As simple believers, we feel we should trust without questions. We avert our eyes to anything unseemly or aberrant. Isn’t this what a loving Christian is supposed to do?
Jesus never told us to be tolerant, at least not like this. He understands that wolves will tear apart sheep, ripping them into ribbons, if given half the chance. He commands us to exercise caution. But already there has been way too much “sheep dismemberment” in our generation. The flock has been chased and separated, many have already been devoured.
Jesus is encouraging us to become discerning and aware, and teach it to our children and friends. We shouldn’t be paranoid, or frightened by the world that swirls around us. And there will always be people with mixed motives and confusing thoughts. If we are honest, we ourselves have these same things, as we are His work in process.
Exteriors are always a big question mark. The main issue is the delicate art of observation. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we will identify what is a lie, a trick or a deception. The Secret Service of our country, in learning to understand counterfeiters will study at length the real currency. It’s interesting, they don’t study the false bills, but the real ones.
Be encouraged. He is standing right in front, making intercession for you before the Father. The Word is ours also, and there are pastors and teachers, who are shepherding the flock. You are targeted, but never forsaken. Our enemy is defeated. Do not fear, never ever fear. We have angels in high places who are our friends.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
John 10:27, NLT
Do you hear him? He is always speaking to his own; with many things, some pertaining to guidance, and other issues. He delights in teaching us– through words of wisdom that encourage us to follow, or how to really love your neighbor.
He desires to point out things as we encounter them; your curiosity in the natural is meant to be spiritual as well. His soul is that of a teaching shepherd, and he delights in his ministry to us. And we need his instruction.
Regular time with him can not be separated from our daily routine. I have learned that he accommodates himself to us, the ‘grist’ of life is his blackboard. The events that I encounter are his ‘lessons.’ As I move through my life I ‘hear’ his voice. I begin to sense the need of those who I encounter.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I have learned the joy of praying in the moment with 10 second prayers. Praying continually as I see the needs. I pray for the man who bags my groceries; and lift up the young mother pushing a stroller. I believe his voice prompts me to lift each need I encounter. When the Bible tells us to ‘pray continually’ this is what Paul has in mind.
He ‘tunes me’ to see people from his viewpoint. He shows me of their struggles, hopes, and aspirations. I try to never judge what I’m shown; actually the opposite is true– I’m learning to love like he loves. I’m seeing what he sees.
I’m a work in progress. Very often my cares, sins, and disobedience nullify the voice of Jesus, Sometimes my personal issues hijack me and I swirl down into depression or paranoia. I am intensely flawed, but the Holy Spirit is gracious. He always meets me where I am. Slowly, I’m learning to hear his voice.
The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the ‘lost son’ tell us that this is a time for recovery. This is a unique period for the Church. It is a season of special grace that allows us to seek and find things that are valuable to us. It is a time of finding out things about ourselves as well.
What is precious to you? With the woman, it was a lost coin (probably a part of her dowry) and she made a substantial effort to get it back. With the shepherd, what was valuable was a lost sheep, and he would take a calculated risk to find it, and rejoin the flock. And the father lost his son, and he had to wait for him to return to his senses.
These three parables were directed to the different issues that effected the “notorious sinners.” But they also spoke to the pharisees who were present. Both groups understood and there were plenty of implications for everyone.
It’s a funny thing, Jesus never minced words. No one could be neutral around him. That is still the case today. I think God is seeking His lost children. This is what He is up to, this is His passion. Understanding this salient fact should enlighten us,
As the Parable of the Prodigal Son develops, we see the pharisees equated to the ‘grouchy’ older brother. He begrudges his newly returned brother, and he really can’t see what is happening all around him. The idea of grace eludes him. Perhaps that is far more common than we think. Whenever ‘religion’ exerts control over a person or group, duty is almost always elevated over joy.
The Church is meant to extend to the lost ‘sons’ of Adam, and the ‘daughters’ of Eve. This is God’s passion, and we must find out what He wants us to do to share His heart. It’s almost as if He wants to give us a chance to taste His joy.