STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

The first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

Depending on whom you ask, Christmas is either the best or worst time of the year. For some, “it’s those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call!” For others, it is time to sing the blues.  

True, the oft-quoted myth that suicides peak during Christmas is just that, a myth.[1] The rates go down.

On the other hand, WebMD reports that “Holiday blues are a pretty common problem despite the fact that as a society, we see the holidays as a joyous time,” says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.[2]

In other words, we’re less likely to do ourselves in but more likely to think about it. Especially at the end of 2020!

Those of us who have lost family members in the past few years, or been through the trauma of divorce, are most prone to the Christmas blues. Reminders of loved ones gone come in as many colors as gift wrap, and the complications of conflicts with step-families and feuding parents are well-documented sources of holiday unhappiness. Add to that this year’s pandemic pandemonium, the restrictions on travel, amplified expectations for joy, the stress of preparations, shopping, lack of exercise, and extra eating, and it’s no wonder some of us get grumpy and sad.

So if Blue Christmas is your holiday hymn, here are a few ideas to help you change your tune.

Usually, I would encourage you to change your environment. Humans are creatures of habit and highly sensitive to our environments. When we do the same things, the same ways, in the same places year after year, it can be challenging to associate Christmas with joy, especially if the people who were part of that joy are no longer present. We might not want to travel this year, but we can do different things to celebrate. I’m planning to build a fire-pit outside. We’re going to hang some outdoor lights and maybe drive through the South Boston Speedway light show one weekend. The point is, make some changes.

Change your traditions. Change the routine. Drop some old habits and build some new ones. Never baked Christmas cookies? Try it. Tired of baking? Stow your cookie sheets and try cakes or pies.

Change your attitude about grief. Grief is like the tide; it comes in and goes out on a schedule unpredictable for us. We don’t think it’s appropriate for the holidays, so we try to restrain it. But that’s the worst thing we can do. Like an ocean wave, grief has an energy, and that energy will find an outlet, even if we try to suppress it. Anger, bitterness, resentment, and depression can be the results. Better to adopt a new paradigm for dealing with grief, to ride the wave rather than stand against it. When we learn to do that, grief can help us heal and experience new kinds of joy. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they will be comforted.” We can’t be comforted if we refuse to mourn.

Finally, change your theology. Remember that the first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

And while you remember that, remember this: The food, the gifts, family, and friends are only the celebrants and elements of the celebration. The real joy is in the Christ child who came to “save his people from their sins,” and in the knowledge that God on high has declared “peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests.”    


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201212/is-suicide-more-common-christmas-time

[2] http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/emotional-survival-guide-for-holidays

HELPING LELAND’S GRANDMA

The house was small and dark inside, unkempt outside, slumped behind an overgrown hedge like a sleepy hitchhiker by a busy road. I delivered Christmas gifts to Leland (pseudonym), the 5th-grade boy I mentored, and his younger siblings. But his widowed grandma drew my attention. The elderly lady was cold, wrapped in a shawl, huddling near a little oil-fired heater, and wheezing badly.

I hate being cold. My heart went out to her.

It was an all too typical situation. The boy’s father was in prison, his sister and baby brother were children of two other men, his mother a classic example of chronic self-indulgence and irresponsibility. And everyone crowded into grandma’s little clapboard house, living off of food stamps and her meager social security.

The boy was my primary concern, my mentee from the Mentor Role Model program. We met consistently through about the first year of high school when he drifted away. I did everything I could to try and give him a leg up on a better kind of life. I guess the jury is still out on that. But his cold, sick grandma always comes to mind when I pass the now empty house. And the question always comes back: how could I have helped her without further enabling her debauched daughter?

The answer is, I could not.

You may have heard of toxic charity. Toxic charity does for others what they can and should do for themselves. It attempts to meet chronic needs with crisis-response methods and ends up incentivizing behaviors that created the condition in the first place. It also perpetuates the status quo between the rich and the resourceless. It makes the giver feel good while perpetuating dependency and fosters dishonesty to boot. It robs God’s image-bearers of the dignity that comes from the work God created us to do. That’s a bad situation. But recognizing it won’t keep grandma warm.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” I think what he meant was that, given our sin-nature, we will always have irresponsible people freeloading on their elderly parents. (I did confront the daughter, but that’s another story).

He also said, “You can do good to them anytime you want.” I think that means we cannot always solve the social pathologies that come from our systemic sin-nature, but we can, just for a little while, keep one or two widows warm and trust God to hold their sinning children to account.  

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

Note: I’m happy to welcome my daughter, Mikeala Skelton, as guest blogger today. Her thoughts on being single in the church give us food for thought as the holidays approach. D.S.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a rough Friday. I was worrying about my granny, who was experiencing health problems three hours away in my home state of Virginia. Earlier that morning, I had called my dad to see how things were going. He informed me that he was taking her up to a hospital in Lynchburg where they could run additional tests. They were checking for pulmonary embolisms.

The rest of the day was tense with the stress that I might be getting some bad news soon. The tests took all day and Dad had very little news to report. By the end of the workday, I realized that I was about to go home to an empty house. Suddenly, anxiety overwhelmed me, and I was sharply aware that, just like every other human being on this planet, I didn’t want to be alone.

This is the reality that many singles face. Some cope with it in healthy ways, some don’t, and many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We all need community, but sometimes, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. That afternoon, I employed a trick my oldest sister taught me: create a list, then reach out to every person from the top to the very bottom of that list until you get a response. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but it’s a start. 

That isn’t easy for me to do. It feels like a cry for help and I cannot bear for people to see me as helpless, but what I needed that day overpowered my pride, so I went to work sending texts. Not surprisingly, no one was available. It was a Friday, after all. My mentor and her family were busy packing for the weekend’s youth retreat, my good friend and her husband were about to enjoy their first dinner date together in weeks, and my other friend was already at the movies.

Many assume the answer to a single’s struggle with loneliness is easy: a relationship. Get yourself a boyfriend or a girlfriend and all your problems and feelings of loneliness will go away, but that’s not the answer. Even happily married people experience loneliness and if we keep placing romantic relationships on the pedestal of perfection, we will continue to be unfulfilled. The assumption that we must act on our sexuality to be happy is wrong, and the Church has joined the rest of the world in saying that our identity is in our relationship statuses. How? By its lack of intentionality and dismissal of singles as well-rounded individuals.

My goal as I reached out to friends that evening was not to wind up in a sexual relationship. It could have been. I could have just as easily hopped on Tinder than reached out to my married friends. I know how easy it is to replace loneliness with sex, but I also know that real relationships take time and I wanted something real- to be part of a family, to be safe, to be loved. Romantic relationships are great, but they’re not a requirement for any of these things.

As we approach the holiday season, I encourage families of the Church to do more for the singles in their lives. It might seem intimidating, but as theologian Phylicia Masonheimer said, “You don’t have to be in the same relationship stage in order to learn from each other and to unite around a table.” 

A few years ago, I stood alone in a pew listening to the organist play the recessional at the end of a beautiful Easter Sunday service. My family was five hours away and deep loneliness pierced my heart as I watched the other families around me leave for Easter Sunday brunch. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me stood an elderly gentleman and his wife. He was holding a folded twenty-dollar bill and had a shy smile on his face.

“You might not remember me,” he said, “but the Lord is telling me to treat you to lunch today.” 

I gratefully accepted with tears in my eyes. He had no idea what a blessing that twenty dollars was to me, but as I thanked him and tucked the gift in my pocket, I remember waiting for him to say that he and his wife would love for me to join them for brunch. That invitation never came. I don’t blame them for not offering, but I would have willingly paid well-over twenty dollars out of my own pocket just for them to invite me to a meal.

Couples and families of the Church must be willing to be intentional with singles. We’re not all the same. Some of us are divorced, some of us are widowed, and some of us choose singleness. We don’t need to be coddled. We don’t need special dinners or retreats. But think about this: we do everything ourselves. We take care of ourselves. Sometimes, it’s nice to be invited, to have someone be intentional with us, to be welcomed as part of a family. (And not just on Sundays.) The Church must begin intentionally welcoming singles as whole individuals, or we will go looking elsewhere for community. I will go looking elsewhere for community.

*Phylicia Masonheimer recently released an episode of her Verity podcast on singleness. If you’re looking to understand singleness and how the Church and Christians can help singles, I highly recommend it. It will help you better love the singles in your life.

Mikeala Skelton is the Digital Media Producer for Lenoir-Rhyne University.

CUP ‘A JOE WITH A HERO

CUP ‘A JOE WITH A HERO

I was a 25-year-old seminary student trying to sort through the meaning of ministry and leadership in a world without heroes. He was a 65-year-old retired U.S. Army Colonel and decorated combat veteran who had built harbors and airstrips from Normandy to Berlin in WWII. Roads and bridges across Korea, often under heavy fire, and twice wounded in the efforts. In retirement, he led an international security agency, served as a police chief in his hometown, and later became a roaming construction superintendent.

By the time I met Marc Walters on that job site in Memphis, multiple surgeries had weakened his once powerful body. He operated out of an old RV that doubled as his home on the hotel project we were building. I was looking for mentors, and he was John Wayne writ large, a tangible hero and nothing at all like the well-scrubbed theologians I was studying under at the time. Watching him handle the rough men on that job was an education no seminary could provide.

I was his gofer, aide de camp if you like. Every time we met, over every cup of joe, I asked questions and then just listened; questions about men, about values, about leadership under pressure. As winter gave way to spring, he shared his stories, and I worked hard to earn his respect. Their small-town church had scorned him and his wife because of her alcoholism. And though he was the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, he had not been to church in many years.

I knew that his health was failing, and one morning, as we finished our coffee, he got quiet, lit his pipe, and just looked at me for a moment. “I’ve told my family I may not make it through this next surgery,” he said. “And if I don’t, I’ve told them I want you to do my funeral. You’re an honorable young man, and I’m proud to know you.”

It was at once the greatest compliment I’d ever received, and the moment I had been praying about for months, providing the opportunity to talk about his spiritual life and his eternity. God gave us his grace that morning.

My friend survived. Because of our friendship, I think some reconciliation took place in his life and family, for which I was grateful. And I learned three valuable things. First, men who have seen combat, who have experienced life stripped to its essentials, know things most non-veterans cannot understand. Second, there is great value in listening to an older man tell his tale without hastening judgment on his life. Finally, the best ministry is not the kind that comes from pulpits, but life shared between friends over a cup ‘a joe in the quiet spaces.

Remember to thank a veteran today.

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

I woke this morning and found about what I expected, an undecided election fraught with the potential for significant conflict in our country. As one commentator said last week, “This is going to make Florida’s hanging chads in 2000 look like a cake-walk.” Thankfully, as a result of that debacle, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that all ballots must be counted and turned in by December 8, six days before the electoral college meets. So, we should have a decision, if no less conflict, by then.

I grieve for our country and pray for it daily, but my chief concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ. We are “the support and pillar of the truth”[1] and cannot stop speaking it even when the world would rather not hear it. But we are also required by our Lord to be peacemakers in this world.[2] We are also commanded to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” within the Church.[3]

With those three tasks in mind, I offer the following prayer, adapted from 1 Peter chapter 1, and I ask you to pray it with me for ourselves and for all who bow the knee to Jesus Christ over the next month.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Though we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him, and are filled with inexpressible joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

Therefore, Father, we ask that you help us prepare our minds for action, be self-controlled, and fully set our hope on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. Please help us, Father, as obedient children, not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance of you and your Son. Please help us, Father, to be holy because you are holy.

Since we call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, help us live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For, we were not redeemed with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Finally, because we have been purified by obeying the truth, help us to love one another deeply, from the heart, recognizing that we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

For, all men are like grass, and all their glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 3:15

[2] Matthew 5:9; James 3:18

[3] Ephesians 4:3

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON POLITICAL UPHEAVAL

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON POLITICAL UPHEAVAL

Just for fun, and to provide a little perspective on our present political perturbations, see if any of this sounds familiar. The answer or speaker in each paragraph corresponds to the same number at the bottom of the page.

1. “A burden of doubt had been cast over” the press. When the wrong man won, reporters and editors said they had been deluded, “not just by the polls, but by the politicians in both parties. Everybody should have known better.”

2. The FBI illegally assisted a presidential campaign. In the expectation that he would be named attorney general when his candidate won, the director of the FBI, who was friends with the candidate, put the Bureau’s resources at the candidate’s disposal months before the election.

3. The candidate believed campaign victory was destiny.

4. The two candidates have vastly different campaign strategies. The incumbent, whom many despise and most expect to lose, is on the road to large and small cities. Huge crowds stand in line for hours to hear him speak and shower love on him when he does. His opponent, happy to run on widespread hatred of his opponent and assured of victory by the polls and pundits, ventures out very little and makes few commitments about what he will do once elected.

5. “You can understand what the president has to stand. Every day in the week, he’s under a constant barrage from people who have no respect for the truth, and whose objective is to belittle and discredit him.”

6. On hatred and calls for the impeachment of the president over a controversial decision: “People signed petitions and fired off furious messages to Washington.” In Worchester, Massachusetts, and San Gabriel, California, the president was burned in effigy.  In Houston, a protestant minister became so angry while composing his message to the White House that he died of a heart attack.[1]

1. Henry Luce, the founding editor of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated magazines, referring to Harry Truman’s victory in 1948.

2. Assistant to J. Edgar Hoover, William Sullivan. “We tried to create the impression that the president was too ignorant to deal with the emerging communist threat. We even prepared studies for Dewey, which were released under his name, making it appear as if his staff had done the work. No one in the Bureau gave Truman any chance of winning.”[2]

3. “It was written in the stars,” said Thomas E. Dewey. He was the first Republican to use statistical polling in a national election. The polls showed him winning.

4. President Harry S. Truman, Democrat v. Thomas E. Dewey, Republican, in the 1948 election. Truman toured the country in his private rail car, The Ferdinand Magellan, speaking to hundreds of thousands along the way. Dewey stayed mostly in New York.

5. Harry Truman, in a letter to Owen Latimore’s sister. Latimore was a China scholar, accused by Joseph McCarthy of being  “the top Russian espionage agent in the United States.”[2]

6.  The reaction after President Truman sacked General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.  

Reading presidential biographies (Audible is great for this) provides an excellent perspective in times like these. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned from George Washington to George H.W. Bush with a little Churchill and Tony Blair on the side.

Trust God. It is God who judges:

He brings one down, he exalts another. [3]

Don’t panic. Our country has seen worse times and corrected greater wrongs. Does anyone remember 1861? Did you know that Franklin Roosevelt was the first to attempt to pack the Supreme Court? His Democrat majority stopped him.

Be sober about the biases in the media. They’ve been misrepresenting the facts and pushing an agenda for a long time. Develop discernment by reading good biographies and history, not the halo-biographies written by cheerleaders. Get your reporting from people committed to finding all the facts, not just the ones that support their side. That’s why I keep recommending World News Group’s podcast, The World and Everything In It. They are committed to reporting “sensational facts with understated prose” from a biblical worldview perspective. More importantly, they are transparent about their point of view.

Participate intelligently. Consider carefully the people advising a candidate. They have far more influence on a president Trump or Biden than most of us imagine.  

Hope in Christ alone. The Kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One.


[1] McCullough, ch. 16, Commander in Chief. Audible book.

[2] TRUMAN, David McCullough, ch. 14 Fighting Chance. Audible Books

[3] The New International Version. (2011). (Ps 75:7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

VELVET COVERED TYRANNY The Virginia Values Act

VELVET COVERED TYRANNY The Virginia Values Act

Stacy & Lynn (pseudonyms) visited our church for a few weeks in 2003. The two young women had hardened faces, ‘butch’ haircuts, and dressed like men. Lynn walked with a noticeable limp, like something congenital. It was evident to me (it’s a pastor thing, I can’t explain it) that both women were in deep emotional pain. They asked to meet with me. Sensing what this might be about, I asked two of our elders to join us.

Both women told incredibly sad stories of abuse, sexual and otherwise, from fathers, ex-husbands, and relatives. They asked me to officiate a wedding for them.

The elders and I carefully and gently explained the gospel. We explained God’s plan for marriage from the Gospels. We welcomed them to worship with us at any time. I explained that we often try to get our needs met and our injuries healed in sinful ways, that the path to healing begins with repentance and walking with Jesus.

When I finished, Lynn said, “So, will you perform a ceremony for us?”  

“No, I can’t, I’m sorry. It would be wrong.” I said.

“Ok. Well, we’ll be going now.”

I want to say that Lynn and Stacy gave their lives to Jesus that day. But they didn’t. They did have an encounter with gentle, respectful, loving men who were free to share the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus’ name with them. We planted the seed, and I believe it will yet bear fruit.

I told that story in June 2004, in a sermon based on Matthew 19:1-6 on the gospel and public policy. I concluded by saying, “If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, what we shared that day may well become illegal and punishable by law.”

In Virginia, that day has come. The Virginia Values Act became law on July 1. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the law “poses severe threats to churches, Christian schools, and other religious ministries that operate consistently with their beliefs on marriage and human sexuality. Under the law, they face a choice: abandon their biblical beliefs or face investigations, lawsuits, fines of up to $100,000 per violation, unlimited legal fees, and court orders forcing them to violate their convictions.” 

The law also “prevents religious schools from limiting admittance to those students and families who share their religious beliefs. And ministries that offer sex-specific accommodations—such as an overnight women’s shelter—must allow males who identify as women access to female-only areas.”

Further, the law makes it illegal for any pastor or church to explain our beliefs even on our website. For example, under current Virginia law, my essay, I’M NOT GAY AND YOU PROBABLY AREN’T EITHER, written to help young men with same-sex attraction sort through their confusion and find God’s best path, is now illegal.

LGBTQ and same-sex marriage advocates argue that we are just trying to force our religion on everyone else. So, as an evangelical pastor, I want to make something clear. Bad things have come from the malpractice of Biblical Christianity in this country. Christians mistreated some people with same-sex attraction. In large part due to the outcry of people in the LGBTQ community, many of us who consider ourselves to be Biblical Christians have become aware of this. We have had some “come to Jesus moments” about how we treat homosexual people. I am glad that they spoke out, and I apologize for the pain we have caused. Many Christians are now attempting to build bridges of understanding to the LGBTQ community. We will never fully agree on everything, but we agree that belittling and bullying one another isn’t helpful.

But none of that negates the fact that same-sex marriage is not only contrary to God’s design but also and unsurprisingly, bad for civilization. The landmark study on this topic by Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, Austin, titled, The New Family Structure Study (NFSS), was praised for its rigorous adherence to the scientific method and its sampling size.

A summary of its key findings:

Compared with offspring from married, intact mother/father homes, children raised in same-sex homes are markedly more likely to:

  • Experience poor educational attainment
  • Report overall lower levels of happiness, mental and physical health.
  • Have impulsive behavior
  • Be in counseling or mental health therapy (2xs)
  • Suffer from depression (by large margins)
  • Have recently thought of suicide (significantly)
  • Identify as bisexual, lesbian, or gay
  • Have male on male or female on female sex partners (dramatically higher)
  • Currently, be in a same-sex romantic relationship (2x to 3x more likely) 
  • Be asexual (females with lesbian parents)
  • As adults, be unmarried; much more likely to cohabit
  • As adults, more likely to be unfaithful in married or cohabiting relationships
  • Have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Be sexually molested (both inappropriate touching and forced sexual act)
  • Feel relationally isolated from bio-mother and -father (Although lesbian-parented children do feel close to their bio-mom – not surprisingly – they are not as close as children with a bio-mom married to father)
  • Be unemployed or part-time employed as young adults
  • As adults, currently, be on public assistance or sometime in their childhood
  • Live in homes with lower income levels
  • Drink to get drunk
  • To smoke tobacco and marijuana
  • Spend more time watching TV
  • Have frequency of arrests
  • Have pled guilty to minor legal offense

With this law, Governor Northam and his allies are usurping Virginians’ Constitutional rights with earnest talk of equal housing and anti-discrimination. But the governor and the LGBTQ lobby know that isn’t happening. They’ve already won the cultural battle. Now they are seeking to punish people—specifically religious people—who disagree with them. The Virginia Values Act is nothing less than velvet-covered tyranny.   

The good news is that the law is unconstitutional on several levels. ADF, on behalf of Calvary Road Baptist Church, Community Fellowship Church, Community Christian Academy, and Care Net filed a preemptive suit challenging the law. Hopefully, this will work out in the courts.

But that lawsuit would not be necessary if Virginia’s Christians had been paying attention and voting their values in the 2017 election. Our negligence gave us a one-party rule, and the Virginia Values Acts is one of many bad results. Our local delegate, James Edmunds, said, “They have undone in one session what took us twenty years to build.”  Too many stayed home. I hope that doesn’t happen this go around.  

THE PARABLE OF VANNA WHITE

THE PARABLE OF VANNA WHITE


Vanna White needed a new transmission. I guess I should explain that.

Tradesmen often name their trucks. The maintenance crew I worked with in the early nineties was no different. The ancient, white Ford Econoline 150 panel van that the carpenters used was so reliable, doing the same simple tasks day after day, well past her prime, that they called her Vanna White. Only now her transmission was slipping. It was time for a rebuild.

I put her on the lift, removed the big automatic tranny, dismantled it, cleaned it out, installed a rebuild kit in the case, and hoisted it back into place; a six or seven hour job. Then I filled it with transmission fluid and took it for a drive. It slipped, right between first and second gear.

So I did it again, looking carefully for mistakes, and it slipped again. So I did it again. And again. And again. And again. It kept slipping! I was ready to drive it off a cliff!

Now let’s pause this parable and ask a question: Is there some part of your spiritual life that isn’t working? Are you continually disabled by a slip into sin whose source is invisible to you? Have you gone over the details again and again, tried as hard as you can to solve your problem, and failed?

Good. Coming to the end of our resources is the best place we can be because only then are we ready to receive the power to overcome the “sins that so easily entangle us.” The Apostle Paul explained it as the difference between living in the “flesh,” translated “sinful nature” in the NIV, versus living in the “Spirit.” (See Galatians 5:16-25). Jesus spoke similarly in John 6:63 when he said, “The flesh counts for nothing. The Spirit gives life.”

Everything about us, our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and personalities were permanently weakened by the power of sin. We “slip between first and second.” Until the day we die that power will remain. In fact the only way to conquer the power of sin is through death. 

That is the beautiful thing about the gospel. In Christ we did die, not a physical death, but a spiritual one. We died with him to the power of sin. When the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ his death and his resurrection become ours in spiritual fact (See Romans 6). The trick is to learn how to live in the power of those things.

Remember Vanna White? The sixth time I pulled the transmission from the old van I remembered another Ford E 150 in our fleet. The engine had died and we junked it, but not before harvesting all other usable parts, one of which was the transmission. Automatic transmission casings are cast with hydraulic control circuits inside. If the case cracks in the right place, a place invisible to the naked eye, those circuits will leak under pressure and the transmission will slip. I pulled the new parts out of Vanna White’s original transmission case and installed them in the one from the van that had “died” and Viola! No more slipping between gears!

The problem most of us face in overcoming sin is that we try to stuff new parts into our old life. We need new parts in a new life. By the power of the Holy Spirit within us we can overcome by exchanging our life with Christ’s.  Only when we have given up on trying to improve ourselves by our own will power are we able to begin operating in the power of the Spirit. Only when we have exchanged Christ’s life for ours are we able to know his power to overcome. 

FOUR STEPS TO SPIRITUAL STRENGTH

Multiple months of isolation are not good for anyone’s spiritual life. Because of that, I spent the summer—and I’m not done—visiting one-on-one with the men in our church, asking several diagnostic questions. Among other things, I’ve been trying to measure the impact of the pandemic on our spiritual lives and figure out how to help. The first two questions are 1. How has the virus affected your spiritual life? 2. What do you do to keep yourself spiritually healthy?

The answers have sometimes been encouraging, occasionally concerning, and always informative. So, I’ll take a moment here to thank the men for sharing their valuable time as well as their transparency.

The stronger our spiritual life—defined as growing confidence in God and a willingness to follow his lead—the happier and healthier we and those around us will be. But the number one takeaway I’ve gathered from these interviews is how hard it is to maintain spiritual growth in isolation. With that in mind, I offer four practical steps to a healthy spiritual life.

Pray Every Day

Nothing is more important than the ongoing conversation you have with God about yourself, his world, and your place in it. Find a quiet place where you can maintain privacy and engage with God every day. It doesn’t take long. I seldom spend more than twenty minutes praying but rarely less than ten.

Three things are essential with this practice, consistency, reflection, and listening. Do not let feelings distract you. Emotional satisfaction comes and goes. Ignore it. Give God permission to shine his light into every corner of your life. Block out external distractions.

Consume Scripture Daily

Some folks do very well with the Bible In One Year app I recommended last year. I didn’t, and neither did some of the men. “I got lost in Leviticus,” said one. I can relate. If the One Year Bible is not your style, find a different path. For me, deep reflection in one chapter, or even one paragraph, of scripture is much more instructive. Caveat: If you’ve never read the whole Bible, you should. It will provide context for the deep dive. But if you don’t have time or find it challenging to absorb, there are several devotional aids available.

A list follows in the footnote. [1]


Absorb Practical Teaching

Helpful books, podcasts, and sermon series are out there on every conceivable topic. Some months I put the Bible aside and read a good book during my quiet time. Search the Books tab on Christianbook.com  or visit your church library. Aim for a chapter a day, and you’ll cover a lot of ground.

Listen for Specifics

God is speaking to us through his word, but what he says to you might differ from what I hear in the same verse. That’s because we are different people at different stages of life. Listen for things specific to your life. Write them in the margin of your Bible (I often date mine) or in your journal. Go back and review them from time to time.

Put it into Practice  

Take one thing you hear in your time alone with God and try to apply it that day. Take one thing you hear in the sermon that Sunday and practice it that week. Nothing pleases Him better or helps us more than when by faith, we follow his path.

One of the books I’m reading this year is Dr. Robert S. Miller’s Spiritual Survival Handbook For Cross-Cultural Workers. It is only one hundred pages and, as the title indicates, written for missionaries. But it’s lessons apply across the board. Here’s his take on personal spiritual growth.

“The Holy Spirit longs to establish a solid sense of self in every one of us. Talents, skills, charisma, and training are wonderful tools…but if we have not graduated from the identity school led by the Spirit of God, then all our…efforts are built on sinking sand. God’s identity classes are held every day. They are twenty-four hours long. All the classes are practicums. We learn by watching our Teacher and following His example.”


[1] Daily Devos Online – Our Daily Bread has an app! Read, listen, and join in the conversation online. Pastor Rick Warren, author of the bestseller, Purpose Driven Life, has an excellent daily devo at pastorrick.com. Pastor Greg Laurie is one of my favorite evangelists and teachers. J. D. Greear is the leader of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham and a great teacher.

PRACTICE THESE THINGS J. P. Moreland’s Story of Overcoming Anxiety

PRACTICE THESE THINGS      J. P. Moreland’s Story of Overcoming Anxiety

J. P. Moreland is one of the 50 most influential living philosophers in the world. He is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has degrees in philosophy, theology, and chemistry, has written numerous books, and taught all over the country.

He has also fought and won a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression.

Moreland’s new book, FINDING QUIET: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices That Brought Peace (Zondervan, 2019), is a treasure trove of practical wisdom for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. It is also another example of science “catching up” with scripture.

The Apostle Paul taught the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, stop indulging anxious thoughts, pray about everything, and, most importantly, practice thinking about excellent and noble things. Do that, he said, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[1] FINDING QUIET provides many biblically sound, practical steps for putting Paul’s instructions to work.

Some evangelicals will find Moreland’s recommendations on antidepressant medications and other therapies controversial and dismiss him out of hand. But they will be doing themselves and anxiety-suffering saints a great disservice. Moreland does not ignore the necessity of growing in grace, but as a committed, obedient believer and major anxiety sufferer, he recognizes the value of medication when necessary. As vitamin D supplements are to people who cannot get enough sunshine or insulin to diabetics, these medications are to people who suffer from anxiety and depression. They are a blessing from God, supplying what the body cannot or is not currently producing on its own.

Moreland offers a novel but biblically based and workable model of humanity that helps us see how body, soul, and spirit interrelate and influence each other. He explains the importance of the heart organ in the Bible and science. He records the latest findings from brain science, psychiatry, newer therapeutic approaches like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and HeartMath exercises, and shares their efficacy in his life.

But FINDING QUIET is not only about the latest science. Moreland reaches deep into the Church’s past to explain how the practice of contemplative prayer helped him learn to acknowledge God in every moment. Dallas Willard fans will find much to like. He concludes with a chapter you won’t find in many Christian books: how to deal with disappointment when God seems silent in your suffering.

At seven by five inches and 220 pages, the book will fit in a pocket as a ready resource for anxiety sufferers. It’s accompanying appendices, notes, and bibliography, also make it user friendly.

Moreland concludes, “The most important point I learned is this: anxiety and depression are significantly formed habits residing in the brain and body (especially the heart muscle and nervous system), and these habits can be largely replaced with peaceful and joyful habits by regularly engaging in the right repetitive habit-forming exercises.” Or, as the Apostle Paul taught us, “Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”[2]


[1] Philippians 4:4-9

[2] Philippians 4:9