“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.”
1 Corinthians 12:4, NLT
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”
1 Peter 4:10
Several years ago, the Holy Spirit completely turned my understanding of the Church– upside down. It took some time. I found that over many years I had made the Body of Christ into a competitive sport. And although I wouldn’t of phrased it exactly that way, it was how I approached the Christian brothers/sisters in my life.
I guess a great deal of effort was generated to receive the proper recognition. I had completely misunderstood the very of nature of being a ‘gifted’ person. As I look back, I was very much like James and John, in Matt. 20:20. It wasn’t so much that I was exalting myself, as I only felt (?) that I needed to push for all that Jesus had for me.
(I could go much deeper, but I feel I should be brief.)
We must learn to respect the giftedness of others. Often, this is easy. When we encounter a special ability, it can be fairly easy to do. A teacher or preacher, a worship leader or an amazing writer who has a tremendous gift is a real blessing and are simple to recognize.
However, we are probably more inclined to operate out of our own bitterness or frustration. Rather than accepting others, we look for any reason at all to invalidate and disparage. We scour and search for anything to minimize or reject our “competitor.” To bolster our efforts, we label it as “discernment.” This justifies us, as we think that it is “protecting” the Church.
The Spirit, out of His infinite inventory, distributes the gifts to the Church. And we honor and respect Him when we acknowledge that. We don’t elevate the person, but we do accept them. We don’t ignore any sin, but we recognize the treasure that is hidden in a clay pot.
A necessary thought. What about when a gift is seen in someone 30 years younger than you? Paul wrote young Timothy precise instructions on his youth.
“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”
1 Timothy 4:12
We need to honor the Spirit. We should respect the giftedness that others have. Humility often varies with the person, the gift and the maturity. And it would be the nadir of foolishness for us to think we have settled this issue, once and for all. There are no cookie cutters. One last thought, which is a wise course I think–
“Be desirous, my son, to do the will of another rather than thine own.”
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”
—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.
In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, and ultimately meaningless.
For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.
In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.
I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.
All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.
During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.
How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?
I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.
Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.
And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”
And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.
But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.
The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).
This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.
Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”
Let me start by acknowledging what is well known: Manic Depression or Bipolar disorder can be a devastating illness. Affecting at least 1% of the population, it can, untreated, result in suicide, ruined careers and devastated families. Bipolar disorder is often accompanied by alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, criminal and even violent behavior. I acknowledge this, because I do not want to make light of the burden this illness places on people’s lives, their families and communities.
On the other hand, the history of the world has been influenced very significantly by people with manic depression (see website www.wholepsychiatry.com for details).They include:
“It seems clear that for at least some people with Bipolar disorder, there is an increased sense of spirituality, creativity, and accomplishment. It may be that having bipolar disorder holds great potential, if one is able to master or effectively channel the energies, which are periodically available, to some higher task. This would of course presume the ability to abstain from harmful drugs and alcohol, to have good character, and at least some supportive relationships and community networks.”
It might be helpful to consider a reconceptualization. Perhaps instead of it being a disorder, we can think of people with bipolarity as having access to unusual potency. This potency will find a way to be outstanding-either in a
destructive way, or in a constructive way. If such a choice is presented to the person, perhaps it can open some doors.
Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”
“David asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”‘
2 Samuel 9:3, NIV
This crippled man was named Mephibosheth. He acquired this injury by the actions of a nurse; she dropped him as she was trying to escape the palace (2 Sam. 4:4.) It was not of Mephibosheth’s doing, but someone else made a mistake and totally and irrevocably changed his life.
He would never ever be normal again. (It’s noteworthy that Mephibosheth’s name means “shame.” This would’ve been an integral part of how people treated him). But David was putting on a feast, and wants to include him.
Interesting. But there are a great many people like Mephibosheth. They’ve been injured by someone else’s stumbling. It seems we pass these things on to each other. And the lameness we inflict may not be physical. It may be spiritual or emotional. Sometimes we injure without knowing what we have done to someone else.
Some of the most vicious and evil wounding that are done are usually on a moral, or spiritual level. People can heal physically over time, but the wounds of the spirit are incredibly devastating. When someone harms us on this level it can completely undo us, for a lifetime. (And perhaps, maybe forever).
Jesus made some powerful statements about people who injure others. It is imperative that we evaluate ourselves; we may find that we are guilty of drastically hurting another’s faith or well-being, knowing that lasts for an eternity.
We are capable of much evil. We affect others in ways we don’t understand. We need to seek God’s grace right now; we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of diminishing or minimizing what we have done. A point to consider: We cannot go on crippling others without injuring ourselves.
Wounded people wound. But healed people can very often become healers themselves.
We can read of King David’s majestic treatment of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He actively blessed him, and perhaps that is the proactive action we ought to take. We must make an effort– to bless. As king, this was a very minor incident. Hardly worth recording in the lofty affairs of state. But as a man, it was perhaps one of his greatest decisions. Kindness should always be foremost to someone who is in authority.
In all of this however, there is something that is profoundly wise in the New Testament. It is found in Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. It is here, in this place, that God our Father acts like David, and receives Mephibosheth; just like God receives us to Himself. And that perhaps is the greatest lesson in this portion of scripture.
“5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”
The Lordis my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Psalm 23, KJV
The Lord wants to escort you to someplace wonderful, it’s where there is a rich rest and a sweet intimacy– in spite, of conflict. It is revealed in Psalm 23; it is more than poetry. It is a way of life.
There is a preciousness just beyond our ‘status quo.’ It is an abundant life for eternity. When you have apprehended it, you will understand what I am talking about, and wonder why you’ve missed it for so long. Eternal life has already begun even though many of us don’t walk as if it did. We have eternal life, here end now!
There is a place which we can enter into where Jesus is all there is. His dear presence pervades everything, and there is no doubt about His lordship. He rules completely, and He is “all-in-all.”
There is real evidence when you have appropriated this deeper life. There will be a surrender of all you have, and you will fully understand what it truly means to be His follower. There will be a complete renunciation of all rights to yourself. You will give it all up, with an insurmountable joy, just to walk with Him.
Live on earth as if you’ve already died, and are now living in heaven with Him.
There must be a definite place where you turn your rights over to Him. Perhaps His love has already pressed you into this. Often there will be a disillusionment and cynicism with this planet and its ugly ways. You want to escape all its dullness and jadedness. You will step into ‘life-effervescent.’ He intends to walk you through many issues, but if He is close I will suggest you trust Him fully.
If you struggle with a mental illness: clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety issues, or schizophrenia, I want to reassure you, you are not a “lesser” Christian. And my comments include you. You are not on the ‘scrap heap’ of the Spirit. In so many ways, you can enter in while normal people will struggle. And you do need to step into this, and discover a life worth living.
A “Psalm 23 life” is yours for the asking. Take it up, humbly and true. It’s your birthright to be with your Shepherd forever.
“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”
Romans 2:1, NLT
One of the spiritual diseases endemic to the Christian believer is “fault finding”. For some reason, (and I’m still trying to figure out why), is we have a strong inclination to pass a judgement on people (those whom Christ died for!) We don’t throw stones (far be it from me)– however, we certainly do and will point fingers. And perhaps we feel that its our religious duty, or maybe even our ministry (!).
Almost always, there a sense of certain and attainable righteousness. or our generated holiness involved. This should not be dismissed or overlooked. Because I believe I am right, and have religious grounds, I put all of the “evil sinners” on trial, and then I pronounce my verdict. (And they certainly deserve whatever I decide.)
Much of the same type of thinking was used in Romans 2. Paul castigates those who were judging others. He goes on a scathing and sizzling rebuke directly at those who were destroying others by their overly-righteous attitude.
” And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3 Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?.”
Without a doubt this whole subject is highly complex and nuanced. Hundreds of verses should be worked through. But this blog is not that place. However, I will advance this– I read this written by the Desert Fathers.
“Correct and judge justly those who are subject to you, but judge no one else. For truly it is written: ‘Is not those inside the church whom are you to judge? God judges those who are outside’.
Macarius of Alexandria, 296-393 AD
A Simple Poem of a Quiet Wisdom
Pray, don’t find fault with the man who limps Or stumbles along the road Unless you have worn the shoes that hurt Or struggled beneath his load There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, Though hidden away from view Or the burden he bears, placed on your back, Might cause you to stumble, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today Unless you have felt the blow That caused his fall, or felt the same That only the fallen know. You may be strong, but still the blows That were his, if dealt to you In the self same way at the self same time, Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins Or pelt him with words or stones, Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure, That you have no sins of your own. For you know perhaps, if the tempters voice Should whisper as soft to you As it did to him when he went astray, ‘Twould cause you to falter, too.
(I found this poem– it’s unattributed, but known to God)
This is redacted from an earlier post, but fresh, and thoroughly worked over.
“All of Jesus’ followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for the wonderful Life they had seen.”
I suppose that this is what broken believers do. There is an essential element of joining others in this verse. The faithful followers will inevitably flock together. There are very few solitary people following the Lord Jesus. We can’t do “Christianity” by ourselves.
They all gather to a one person.
Not a religion, creed, formula or pattern. Many will sort this out as time goes on. Jesus is our Lord and master and friend, not a “Powerpoint” presentation. It’s Jesus! We come together because we love Him, and we’ve been told that He loves us as well. That reciprocal love is why we were created.
Within this intimate assemblage we can hear spontaneous shouting. Some will sing. It will get raucous and loud. Their enthusiasm is focused on Him, “the wonderful Life.” Frankly, some who follow Jesus are not “quiet” people. I don’t know how you feel about this. (Maybe, you just need to adjust?)
Sometimes we may get moody and withdraw from others. Depression can thin out the ranks quicker than anything. It is like a communicable disease that spreads from person to person. I have become a victim, and a carrier myself. For me, as a broken believer I must seek out an inoculation for my brooding.
The verse talks about the walk. And yes, there is a definite walk! Within the rabbinical pattern of first century discipleship, the student would copy his teacher as closely as possible. If he limped so would they. He would dress like his teacher, talk like his teacher, and walk like his teacher. Imitation was the highest honor you could bestow.
The verse talks about “what they had seen.”They were observers. That means they had to get closer to the action. Seeing something, or someone up close makes you a witness, an “eye-witness.” You may need to get closer, and see for yourself this Jesus, who is the Lord and Savior of the whole world.