Saturday, October 20, 2012

God and Politics?

     Today I will write my one and only blog on "politics."
     I should tell you, however, that I care about such matters only because God's Word tells me to be a good citizen. Romans 13:1-7 means that as a citizen in the USA I must vote, and I should do so as an informed voter. I generally don't focus very much on what human systems are up to, and I certainly do whatever is necessary to stay focused on Papa, which eliminates paying much attention to what the adversary is doing (hence I check the news, via web, only rarely). But having said that, my desire to obey Jesus compels me to give some thought to "politics." And I have felt a nudge for quite some time to share the basic convictions that guide me as I make decisions about elected officials. You may or may not agree with them, but I think they are fairly sound and grounded in the heart of God as revealed in Scripture.
     First, I never vote or endorse anyone who is morally confused. Anyone who is so confused as to believe that an unborn child is a target for extinction based on a mother's "rights" has already demonstrated that s/he is unable to make clear moral judgments. If someone misses on something as basic as protecting the most helpless and innocent human beings, it's unlikely that their moral compass will work in other areas. Yes, I know there are other moral issues, and I often struggle with the fact that persons who are clear on the right to life are not so clear on social justice, but I just can't get past the fact that moral confusion at this most basic level disqualifies someone from leading anything.
     Second, I never vote for or endorse someone who sacrifices love for the sake of being nice. Our culture has confused "being nice" with being loving and kind. It is not loving or kind to suggest to our (covertly miserable) gender-confused friends that they are beyond the reach of God's healing and delivering power. It is not kind nor loving to leave such people enslaved to the enemy by suggesting that they are just "different" and not damaged and confused.
     Third, I try never to vote nor endorse people who focus more on emotion than on good thinking. History is littered with demagogues who stirred up emotion and raised a following because people made decisions based on feelings rather than good thinking. Given the sad state of and low value placed on thinking in our nation these days, I pray more than ever that a true awakening will break in upon the church.
     Fourth, I never trust a leader who "looks in the mirror when things go well and who looks out the window when things go poorly." In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins rightly states that truly great leaders give credit to others when things go well (look out the window) and roll up their sleeves and accept personal responsibility when things go poorly (look in the mirror). Leaders who resort to blame to explain failures cannot ever lead effectively, no matter what the context.
     Fifth, I am not confused as to what is the Kingdom of God and what is "the American dream." I am fairly sure that the latter often gets in the way of the Kingdom of God, and when I pray for our nation I pray not for a restoration of the American dream but for a genuine awakening of God's people that will transform culture. The same God who cares about unborn children also cares about the effects of American greed and materialism not only on us but on the poor in other nations. An awakened Church will not only address issues like abortion, abuse and family but also the worship of the many false gods of American culture (you can discern what some of these are, I think!).
     Finally, I am aware that it's impossible to find a "perfect" candidate, but in my opinion  it dishonors people to talk about "the lesser of two evils." When has that not been true in one sense, eh? Unless Jesus were one of the candidates, it's always a choice of the better of two "less-than-perfect" candidates! Perhaps it's best to think in terms of God's leading us to support someone in terms of her/his moral strength, clarity of purpose and proven leadership ability. Thinking again of Jim Collins Good to Great, I find myself asking which candidates get closest to the Level 5 leader Jim's research discovered: people who were humble, quietly determined to do what's best for those they lead, who think not of themselves but of coming generations and look out the window in success and in the mirror in failure. (See Good to Great, page 36, for a more complete list--it's very compelling even in a secular context.)
     So there you have it: my one and only "political" blog entry. And even at the heart of this entry I trust you will find that it's intimacy with God that informs, guides and empowers us during these critical times for our nation and world.

In the World but not of the World,

Tom, one of Heaven's citizens

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Few More Thoughts On The Slough of Despond

     My post last week must have struck at the heart of quite a few people. I received quite a few comments here and on FaceBook that said as much. Because of that and because I am writing from a perspective that is a little higher up than last week, I will add a few more thoughts about ascending from the pit of depression. Remember, I am no expert, except by experience, so please don't take my words as anything except "one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread"!
      First, a word again to those who want to help someone who is under the snake's belly. Please remember that it rarely (if ever) helps to "exhort" the depressed person. It helps to listen and hold his/her heart, of course, and sometimes careful coaching will help as well. But again, unless you have experienced moderate to severe depression, you have no idea what you are doing to someone who feels so helplessly captured when you exhort them! Trust me on this one. :-)
     Now for those who sometimes or often find themselves viewing life from the slough of despond, here's a few more things I have learned along the way to wholeness.
  • I cannot emphasize enough how healing the experience of intimacy with God can be in this! Obviously we cultivate intimacy with Papa because it's how He intends us to live, but intimacy with Him, being able to hear Him even in the dark, has been a lifesaver for me more times than I can tell. Early on in my journey, I memorized Psalm 94:17-19 (NIV), and these verses have proven true over and over for me. "Unless the LORD had  given me help, I would have soon dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, 'My foot is slipping!' Your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. " 
  • Resisting the natural tendency to be self-focused and isolated is helpful in climbing out of the pit. I have discovered in terms of depression that selfishness seems to increase it, whereas God-focused surrender helps to relieve it. 
  • There are often (always?) root causes that feed depression. Discovering these causes then allowing God to transform lies into truth, heal the trauma, bind up the broken heart, etc., are essential parts of long term healing from depression. Many of the people I have worked with who walked into freedom from the pit had undergone lots of trauma from truly horrible things! These horrible and tragic things left the person with gargantuan, unhealed wounds and with faulty paradigms about God and His love. But as Papa revealed and healed these things, depression began to lift until it was no more or at best only an occasional visitor. (Note that I also recognize that there are genetic factors and other factors involved in depression, so this is not intended to be the one answer to everything. I am only sharing things I have observed and/or experienced).
  • Holding on to a victim mentality seems to imprison the person in depression. I highly recommend Jason and Kris Valloton's comments on this in their remarkable book, The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness, chapter 4. (The whole book is worth the read!).
  • There may sometimes be a demonic component to depression, but it doesn't help to expel the intruder without also dealing with the underlying wounds and other factors. Expelling a dark spirit without dealing with underlying brokenness is like going to a doctor who treats only the symptom, not the disease itself. Demons are symptoms that also become causes because they feed on what they aggravate and magnify. Removing them and what they feed on is necessary for complete healing. On the other hand, dealing with things only on a psychological level when "critters" are present may also result in incomplete healing. 
  • Turning one's heart towards God, as I mentioned last week, cannot be understated in terms of how helpful it is. It is very counter-intuitive for a depressed person to do this at first, but it becomes second nature as intimacy with God is reinforced during the good times and Scripture is made a part of one's life. So I close with the following example of this turning to God from Dr. Brian Simmons' Passion Translation rendering of Psalm 143:3-9, an amazing prayer!
     "My enemies have chased me and caught me, And crushed my life into dust. Now I'm living in the darkness of death's shadow.
     "My inner being is in depression, And my heart is heave, dazed with despair!
     "I remember the glorious miracles of days gone by, And I often think of all the wonders of old.
     "Now I'm reaching out to You, thirsting for You like the dry, cracked ground thirsts for rain. 
     "Lord, come quickly and answer me, For my depression deepens and I'm about to give up. Don't leave me now or I'll die!
     "Let the dawning day bring the revelation of Your tender, unfailing love.
     "Give me light for my path and teach me, for I trust in You!
     "Save me from all my enemies, for I hide myself in You."

Hiding in Him,

Tom, one of Abba's "being healed" children

Friday, October 5, 2012

The View From Beneath The Snake's Belly

     Many of you have probably heard "lower than a snake's belly" used as a description for feeling down or depressed. As one who is personally and intimately acquainted with depression, I want to share very transparently today about the view from beneath the snake's belly. I write for three main reasons: First, I want to give hope to those who live from time to time under the snake's belly. Second, I want to help folks who rarely experience depression to understand how to help those who do, instead of making things worse! Third, I am, quite frankly, writing for therapeutic reasons as well, since I am as I write under the snake's belly myself! (I will explain this a little later).
     I write from the perspective of one who has considerable experience with depression. I struggled with bi-polar disease until I was miraculously healed of it in 2004. I remember tracking my "up" and "down" periods in my journal for years and years. The highs were great, but the lows were terrible, and I am thankful that my occasional really dark, death-considering thoughts were overcome by Father's love. Please note that I never had to resort to medication during these many years, but I did experience severe and cyclical depression, so I cannot even begin to describe to you what it was like to realize early in 2004 that the depression had simply disappeared (as had been prophesied to me by a pastor friend and my son, Josh!).
     Because of my long experience with depression, I recognized its occasional return during the painful battle for Jettie's life and especially during the season of mourning that has followed her death. No, I haven't returned to the previous emotional roller coaster ride, but I have been dragged unwillingly into the pit at certain times of the year. I am in one of those seasons right now because my inner clock remembers that two years ago I was staying almost 24/7 in the hospice center waiting for the unthinkable. So I am depressed! What a great time to write about it, eh?
     Now for a few pointers for those who haven't experienced depression. 
  • First, if you haven't experienced severe depression please don't give advice about being depressed to those who are depressed! Those who have never experienced real depression are often puzzled as to why the depressed person doesn't just "get over it." But depression isn't something you just "get over." Depression holds a person in its grip against their will and by its very nature drains away the desire to make the changes necessary to get free from it. It blinds its victim to anything except the darkness and deceives him/her into believing that "now is forever." It has many causes, yes, and can be addressed and healed, but quoting "upbeat Bible verses" or saying trite sayings or asking pointed questions only makes things worse. So what can you do? Read on...
  • Second, the greatest gift you can give a depressed person, in my opinion, is simply to listen while resisting the urge to fix them or the things they are depressed about. Just hold onto them, embracing their heart with yours while living in Father's love and peace as you do. Don't panic--your being afraid won't help! Just be the listening ear and heart and watch what God does. If He does indeed have something more than this for you to do, you can be sure He will make it clear to you. He loves and pursues all of His kids down into the very depths of the pit of despair (I speak from experience, as you might guess).
  • Third, if you see someone struggling a lot with depression, gently guide them to someone who really can help them. God's healing extends to depressed people too! I am not only personally aware of this, I have also watched Him heal many whom I love (although some are still in process). But severe depression is not to be taken lightly, so whether you are the helping friend or you are the one who needs help, please make choices towards healing.
     Now for those of us who are the "depressees," here are a few thoughts. 
  • You are not alone! Many biblical characters and many great Christian leaders struggled with depression at least part of the time in their lives. In the Bible, Elijah comes into view, along with David (read the psalms!) and even Paul (read between the lines of some of his letters!). And church history reveals that Martin Luther and Spurgeon and many others also wrestled with depression. (Randy Alcorn has written a great three part series on Spurgeon and depression which you can access here!)
  •  Don't assume that depression is always an entirely bad thing. It’s more likely that it’s a normal thing, more so for some than others, and at times it can even be a good thing. God often reveals Himself in remarkable ways when we are in the slough of despond. I know personally that He has revealed Himself to me in those times in ways I doubt I could see any other way. He also reveals a lot about us in those times (Elijah's encounter on Mount Sinai comes to mind--see 1 Kings 19). I have discovered that God always meets me there in the pit, and even pursues me to the very bottom if necessary. 
    In the midst of depression, one often loses the motivation to address anything. Nevertheless, here are a few strategies that have helped me when I have found myself in the shadows. Maybe one or more of them will help you.
  • Don’t get depressed about being depressed! It helps me, at least, to remember that it is not sinful or faithless or defective to be depressed. It also helps to remember that "this too shall pass," even though it certainly doesn't feel like it at the time!
  • If you are subject to cycles of depression then, until God fully heals you, consider preparing in advance for the down times. During my long battle with being bi-polar I would use my "high times" to prepare for the down times by memorizing helpful Scriptures, saving grunt work for the down times (it helps to feel like you are doing something useful!), deepening my intimacy with God, scheduling wisely so that I didn't face high stress things during the cycle, etc. I think you get the picture. I learned somewhere along the way that although I couldn't supply the motivation to do the right things during the depression, I could find motivation during the more normal times and prepare in advance, at least in some ways.
  • Resist the tendency to isolate. Give friends who love you and understand depression the opportunity to hold your heart and pray for you, to pursue you as you go sliding into the pit. Yes, it takes a huge act of the will to do this, but my experience is that once the decision to reach out is made, the rest of it is a little easier.
  • Find the things that lift you and have them in readiness (worship music, exercise and/or hard physical work, fishing, quoting Scripture all help me).
  • During the down times don't expose yourself to things that add to your depression. For example, I stay away from the news media as a general rule, but I especially avoid it when I am down (particularly right now!). Yes, sometimes becoming aware of some "depressing things" can't be avoided, but it helps to avoid the avoidable.
  • Let God hold onto you (notice how I phrased this). As He did with Elijah, God will pursue you down into the depths of your despair. Yes, as was also the case for Elijah, He may not show up or address things like you expect, but He will be there. I remember Papa telling me once to look for His table in the midst of my enemies (Psalm 23:5). When I asked Him how I would find it, He said, "Follow the fragrance of my Presence." I knew that what He meant was that I was familiar enough with His Presence to lean into Him at least in some small way. And as I did so, I found the table of His comfort and could linger there even if the depression also lingered. If I am going to be depressed (which is not as common these days as pre-2004), I will at least be depressed in God's presence!
     Wow. This is a long one, eh? I have been wanting to write about this for a long time, and I guess I saved up a wee bit too much! But perhaps there is a little something for someone here in this flood of words. I could write more, methinks, because of all that God has taught me, but that needs to be later!

Tom, one of Abba's deeply loved children