The Answer Man? – Not Me!

2021-06-12 Struck Down But Not Destroyed
Rick Warren once said, “When someone thinks he knows all the answers, one has to wonder if he knows all the questions.”

When one goes on a date, he or she showers, puts on nice clothes, preens in front of a mirror for a while, checks to make sure teeth don’t have spinach between them, and preps their brightest smiles and best chuckles.  The same goes for blogging.  When we get on our computers, we take time to evaluate our words; we check for grammatical errors, examine links and think seriously about the topic: i.e., we put our best foot forward in both cases (at least most of us do!😏).

We tend to be experts when we get online, because no one can see all the background work we do to make a nice blog.  We check our resources and polish the blog and show off how smart, informed, and perceptive we are.  Most of us try to avoid harsh words or crass language (at least the blogs I follow; too much cursing or four-letter words and I will not follow).

Well, I am not that smart or “together” all the time.  I sincerely try to be nice in my comments or just don’t comment (my mother’s words are still there in my head, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”)

But sometimes I do not “have it all together.”  Depression sometimes surprises me with lonesomeness that makes me feel even the sun is dark, as if I am under a rock wi2021-06-12 Pinnedth no light.  I make solitary time either after my bride leaves our bed, or in places where I can get away from everyone, and I cry. . . And I cry. . . And I cry some more.  So many folks in my family are wonderful and I know that I am loved, but loneliness still stands over me like an angry wrestler ready to push me down and hold me to the mat even after I say, “I give up.”  He won’t let me up anyway.

I am not suicidal (See  ).  As my brother is fond of saying, “That ship has sailed.”  But many times I feel like the days are just passing me by, and I am just waiting either for Jesus to return or for Father to call me Home from this world.  Depression makes you question whether anything you do matters; whether your life matters.

But the bottom line is it is not about me . . . or you.  Life is about Him!

Like the man in John 9 born blind, just as we are all born spiritually blind, “Once I was blind but now I see.”  As C.S.Lewis put it, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  The world, the universe, the animals, the oceans, the mountains, the people; it all makes sense when I begin with the Cross of Jesus and the Bible.  Rick Warren put it this way: “You were made by God and for God and until you understand that, life will never make sense.”

In no other system, no other world leader, no other religious figure claimed to BE GOD.  And if Jesus is not God, then nothing makes sense in the world, the universe or people.  But sinse He IS God, it all does make sense.  I was born spiritually blind and sinful.  Jesus came to bear the penalty for my sin.  He lived a sinless life and died an ignominious death on a mechanism for capital criminals at the hands of the Gentiles and Jews.  But He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb.  And now He lives to make intercession for any who will put their faith in Him.  It’s ALL about Him!

I do not intend this blog to be a ‘downer,’ but just to encourage you if you are feeling low, if you feel pressed into the ground by a boulder, or if you fight with the angry wrestler who tries to push you down; perhaps you wonder about your value, your worth, whether your life matters.  It DOES!  You matter so much to God that He sent Jesus to the Cross!  And I know that my Redeemer lives, and THAT is all that really matters.

“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last He will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold Him, and not another’s.”
  Job 19:25-27

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in YHWH.
  Habakkuk 3:17

In Wrath Remember Mercy

2020-06-27 In Wrath Remember Mercy
Sometimes I go through valleys that seem very deep.  Not philosophically, but deep with depression and wondering where is The God Who Is Here.  Is He here?  Does He notice what is going on in the world?  Does He realize my dear friend and neighbor has been getting more and more decrepit from his MS?  Does He see the pain of the protesters and the greed and hatred of others?  Does He understand the hardship of a world struggling with a pandemic while racial riots rock cities all around the globe?

Like Habakkuk I sit back and wonder as I noted in a : O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,and you will not hear?  Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Then I read Father’s answer that He gave the prophet, and like our Old Testament forebear I am somewhat perturbed by His reply.  He’s going to bring something terrible against the evil-doers . . . by way of others who are even worse!  My wisest friend once asked me shortly after the election of 2016, “Do you think Trump could be part of God’s judgment on America?”

And whether he or Obama was the first run of this performance, are the current health and racial trials the second part of Father’s response?  You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13)

So Habakkuk stands and waits for God to answer to this second question, which The God Who Is Here resoundingly answers in chapter 2:
“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own — for how long? . . .
“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the
reach of harm! . . .
“Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity! . . .
“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink . . .in order to gaze at their nakedness! . . .
“The violence . . . will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrifie
d them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

Such is His fury that the prophet, who at first was demanding God do something about the evil he could see, stands and prays, “In wrath remember mercy!” (Habakkuk 3:2), and finally admits his fear: I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.” (Habakkuk 3:16)

And so in the quiet time of my depression I ask the protesters, the anti-protesters, the mask-wearers, the mask-avoiders, on whatever side of the political, social or cultural aisles you may be: Please, in wrath, remember mercy.

And I pray with the prophet to the God Who Is Here, Father, please, in Your wrath, remember mercy.

Please, don’t ask me to pray . . . at least not for a while.

Please, don’t ask me to pray, at least not for a while.prayer3

After several blogs on prayer and knowing God (January 18, 2015, October 9, 2016, January 16, 2017), I am back at square one.  I have prayed for church leadership in America, and specifically for my fellowship, that they would show some concern for the well-being of their attendees, but churches continue to damage the hearing of people as though thumping base and pounding volumes will make people think the Holy Spirit is touching them.  Even non-believers are concerned about the volume of noise in our society, an ungodly culture which evangelicals are imitating.  (See How Sound Affects Our Health and Hear, Hear: The WHO Gives Lower Volumes a Ringing Endorsement.)

I have prayed for God to reveal Himself to family members who behave in ways that embarrass our Lord, but they seem oblivious to the commands and examples of the Bible.  I pray for my neighbor’s MS; I love him like a brother and cannot understand why God has not healed him.  I keep waiting to hear how he got up one morning and walked to the bathroom to shave before realizing that he should have needed his scooter to get there!  Imagine the amazement and celebration as he called to his wife and together they wondered at the fact that he was standing on his own.

I pray for others, family and friends, who do not even believe that Jesus arose from the dead.  I pray for relationships that seem already dead ended, stuck in place until we die.  I pray for those for whom no one else that I know of is praying and see no evidence that The God Who Is There cares about their plight.  I pray according to Scripture for our country that continues its slide into divisiveness, a trend more the result of social media than political parties; if we disagree, we just “defriend” and never hear other intelligent views different from our own.

So please, don’t ask me to pray, at least not for a while.

Do not misconstrue my consternation.  I know that God is there/here.  The historical evidence for the accuracy of the Biblical record is unchallengeable by any reasonable mind (May 17, 2015).  The truth of the resurrection is as certain as George Washington being our first president (August 16, 2015).

This confusion of mine over prayer is against a history of answered prayers.  I remember standing by a hospital bed in which Yolanda’s baby with meningitis lay wracked with fever; a group of us prayed and the next day one of the doctors was angry because he was convinced the labs and staff had messed up the tests; this perfectly healthy baby could not be the one he had examined the day before!  My own stroke recoveries are nothing short of miraculous; how many people do you know with six strokes who still appear to function normally every day?  Several times God seemed to speak to me or to people or situations around me, thoughts that seemed to come out of thin air, including “remembering” a verse of the Bible at a critical juncture in my life; one that I had never memorized.  And testimonies of hundreds of others recount supernatural interventions for which there are no other explanations.

Still, depressing discouragement sets in when the answers do not come.  Maybe He is simply saying, “No,” by not speaking.  Maybe my motives are mixed so that I can brag about my prayers getting answered (James 4:3).  Maybe there is unaccounted sin that makes the heavens like bronze (Psalm 89:30-32; Psalm 81:11-14).  Maybe He is just waiting for His time to be right (John 9:2-3).  Maybe there are simply things I do not understand.  Now there’s an original thought!  Imagine, I don’t understand!?

A couple weeks ago, speaking with a highly intelligent and expertly qualified therapist, we began discussing “blind spots.”  There was something in his description of deductive logic with which I disagreed, and I mused maybe it was simply a blind spot in my mind.  Trying as hard as I could, I could not see his reasoning.  A minor side point of our discussion, but a major point of understanding “blind spots.”

Blind Spots.jpgA blind spot is just that: you cannot see what is there!  I still cannot see his point, and he thinks he sees mine.  We simply disagree.  Maybe it is my blind spot, or maybe it is his, but one of us does not see something.  Imagine, maybe I don’t understand something about prayer.  Imagine, maybe I don’t understand much about The God Who Is There.  Imagine, I don’t even know how to pray. ☹

So please, don’t ask me to pray, at least not for a while.

But my heart aches for the relationships for which I pray, for my neighbors difficulties, for the family and friends who are missing God’s best for them, for the servants of our God who I present to Him, for church leaders’ deaf ears, for the attendees who are being damaged and misled about worship, for so many needs I cannot mention them all here.  And where else can I go but to The God Who Is There? (John 6:65-69)

So go ahead and ask me to pray, but don’t expect any miracle.  That’s for next Sunday’s blog.

To Be or Not To Be . . . That Is Not The Real Question

Suicide or notSome notes on suicide and an autobiographical narrative.  (First note: though strongly considered, and through no fault or credit of my own, I did not commit suicide.)

Hamlet’s most famous speech begins with these words: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  (See the entire speech at the end of this blog.)  But as he goes on in his soliloquy you can see this was not his question at all.  And it is not the question that haunts the suicidal.  It is clear to Hamlet’s mind that he exists and will continue to exist into eternity.  After all, “He [the Creator] has set eternity in the human heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Rather the real question comes in lines 64 and 65:
“To sleep, perchance to dream – aye, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”

And THAT is the question!

“The rub” was a sportsman’s name for an obstacle in a game similar to bowling, but played on a lawn.  The rub was anything that diverted the ball from the bowler’s intended course.  Lawn BowlingSo the “rub” for the person who is suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or for one considering taking up “arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them; to die,” is not whether or not he/she will continue existing.  What diverts many from committing suicide is a fear of what may be beyond.  What “dreams may come” when one leaves this world?  No matter how miserable life is, some people prefer it to death, because there is a chance that the life after death could be worse.

However, in spite of fear of Shakespeare’s “dread of something after death,” every year over 1,000,000 people choose his “undiscovered country, from whose [borders] no traveler returns.”
• The global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 population.
• On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.
• 1.8% of worldwide deaths are suicides.
• Global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.
And most of these are in developed nations, not third-world countries where one might expect poverty and hopelessness would prompt such drastic action.

So what would convince someone to take this leap into the unknown, and end his/her own life?  Have you ever been so sad that the sunlight shining in your bedroom window seemed like an intrusion?  Did you ever feel like you were completely alone, even in a crowd of friends and associates?  Were you ever pinned in by choices, and not one of them seemed acceptable?  Has your future ever appeared so unlike what you first imagined it to be that you wanted to change course in almost any way you could?  Where did all my hopes and dreams die?

We have all experienced moments of depression from the affirmative answers to these questions, but somehow, most of us find the strength to soldier on through the rough times and we experience the relief that eventually comes, like Billy Joel’s Second Wind.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhxjNYvJbgM)  If the depression continues for some time we may find help in a professional counselor, or through medication that brightens our outlook.

But there are those of us who through circumstances of our lives or our choices experience a hopelessness that dims any chance of ever brightening; a bleakness that blocks out any sunshine; a dryness that wilts even the root of anticipation that anything will ever get better.  And there I was.

Let me be clear that it is NOT self-hatred nor bravery that motivates the suicidal, though that is what popular psychology and psychiatry will tell us these days.  Either the psychologist is wrong or the Bible is wrong, and I would place the odds highly in favor of the Bible knowing more than the psychologist.  Ephesians 5:29 says “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”

Then how do we understand the guilty or impoverished who commit suicide?  Think about this compartmentalization of our personalities.  When I consider taking my own life, I am divided in my understanding of myself.  The view of the suicidal is that my circumstances, whether self-inflicted or exogenous, are more than I should have to bear!  There must be some relief to this misery, and death appears to be it!  Furthermore there is no consideration for anyone other than oneself; no thinking of how one’s death will affect others, only self-interest.  Thus suicide is an absolute and complete act of self-love, not self-hatred.

As for bravery, which is worse: slowly burning to death in a high-rise building or jumping to one’s death?  For the suicidal, remaining here on earth is a slow torturous death, and the suddenness of a gunshot, needle, pills, or bridge jump is a much easier way out.  Thus, it is not courage that makes it possible to commit suicide, but cowardice of the greater pain.  And there I was.

At 33 years old my life was in the toilet.  Thirty years of trying to be better, of attempting to trust God for something, of hoping that someday I would not be a hypocrite and stop living a double-life . . . it was all crashing in.

Train tracksThe specter of the damage I had left in others’ lives and the lack of any way to make anything right again was like a thumb stuck in front of my face that blocked out the entire sun.  I found myself walking along these train tracks in Iowa and wondering what I would do if a train came along.  The world would be a better place without me in it, would it not?  Would my death be enough vengeance for those I had injured, the lives that were tattered to shreds by my selfishness and disobedience to what I knew to be right?  Who would care, beyond a very few family members, if I was no longer around to be an embarrassment?  Why should I keep wasting oxygen by breathing?  Wasn’t it better to give something back to the world, even if it was only the chemicals of my body to feed the grass?

That is hopelessness.  That is suicidal.  That is selfish.  That is cowardly.

I was fortunate.  A police cruiser happened to drive by the railroad crossing where I was in sight.  Too depressed to even run, I thought maybe the officers would lock me up for trespassing and I could die in jail.  But the perceptive policemen took me instead to a clinic where a godly counselor began to work with me.  (Note, one has about a 50-50 chance of getting a good psychologist, as many go into this field to compensate for their own short-comings; i.e., they were helped so they want to help others, but may lack the intelligence or perspective to do so.  But many are wonderful guides to understanding life’s complexities and seeing past one’s blind spots so that one can grow in mind and spirit.)

Eventually, the thoughts of suicide began to fade over the next two years.  A dark fog still lingered around me for another year, and like a prisoner in a dungeon I marked the days passing; but not to count how many days since I was captured; only to mark one less day the world had to endure me being in it.

What saved me from the “final solution” after the police delivered me to a counselor’s office was less of the advice of the psychologist, good though it was, but a verse of the Bible that came out of my memory, even though I did not remember memorizing it: Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.(Proverbs 18:13)

So with a good counselor’s help, I began to find that God really is merciful, even to me, running a close second to Paul’s confession of being the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  At times the guilt and shame of my actions, attitudes and assumptions still overwhelm me, and the darkness begins to crowd into my mind again, and I wonder if the world will be better when I am gone.  But at those times, I return to my Lord, who took all my shame (YES! even mine!) and nailed it to His cross so that I could be forgiven.

So if you know someone who appears depressed, try a smile and kind word.  Be direct: ask, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”  You do not have to be a psychologist to care about someone, and most of all, that is what a suicide wannabe is hoping for.  If you are discouraged beyond hope, let me tell you from my narrative, the fires may be hot, but they will not destroy you.  There is mercy.  Get help.  (Next week, February 15, 2016, some last thoughts on the worldwide epidemic of suicide and preferred methods.)

“My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Hamlet Act 3, scene 1, 55–87
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—aye, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dis-prized love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.