“That’s depressing.” Have you ever said those two words? I’ve watched U.S. politics lately and found myself frustrated, angry, and discouraged. I may have even said that certain events or reactions have been “depressing.” As we move toward what seems like an all-out war between presidential candidates, I find myself shaking my head and dreading the next year. While events may get me down, am I really depressed?
Over seven percent of American adults will experience depression this year and fifteen percent will struggle with depression at some point in their lives. Over three million young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen have experienced at least one depressive episode this year. Sadly, I think we’ll see these numbers growing in the years to come. Why? Why are we struggling with depression as a culture?
Depression can come from a variety of places in a person’s life. It may result from chemical imbalances, physical or emotional trauma, or cultural challenges. Regardless of its source, depression is both promoted by and fed from feelings of hopelessness. While counselors can offer several solutions, one key solution is hope. I’m so grateful for gifted therapists and counselors, and I am most grateful for the God of all hope.
The great news I have is that we find hope in Jesus Christ. God spoke words of encouragement to a troubled nation in Jeremiah 29:11. These words also have great application to us today: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Do you struggle with depression today? As you reach out for hope, I encourage you to reach out to God. He will walk with you through your darkness to help you find the brightness of His presence.
I’m about to begin a new teaching series at my church called Essentials. I’ve been thinking some about the title realizing that most of us struggle with REALLY being able to distinguish what is essential in life and what is optional. For example, most of us think that having a car for every driver is essential! Is it really? You could ask my friend Isaias in Pueblo Viejo, Mexico, and he’d tell you that a vehicle is not essential. I suppose if I didn’t have a vehicle, I wouldn’t live about eight or ten miles from town. I could walk 8.1 miles to work every day, but I’d rather not.
In a way, I’ve redefined the meaning of essential. While maybe I can justify owning a car, can I really justify owning a car for each driver in my family? Not really. Granted, none of us drive a new car, but they all work, at least at the moment. What does essential really mean? If you Google the word, you’ll see that it means, “Absolutely necessary.” My series is not focusing on things that are absolutely necessary for life like water, food, and deodorant (maybe deodorant isn’t essential, but it’s close). I’m focusing on the things in the Christian life that are essential. I’ll share some thoughts from the series as I go along. Have you ever thought about what’s essential for the Christian life? I wonder what would make your list. Will you share a few thoughts in the comments?
Why is it that when we see blatant honesty, we’re surprised? I passed this sign in front of a BBQ restaurant near Dahlonega, Georgia last week and was immediately a fan of the restaurant—even before I ate the food. After eating it, I’m really a fan. I love the fact that this restaurant owner expects an award but is free to let the world know that they haven’t received one yet.
What happened to honesty? Why are lies and deceit so commonplace in our society that we give awards to those who are able to pull off the biggest lies (the Pinocchio Awards)? God says, “The Lord detest lying lips, but He delights in those who tell the truth” (Proverbs 12:22). “Detest” is a strong word. In my book, Wisdom Speaks: Life Lessons from Proverbs, I wrote a section about this word as it relates to honesty:
To say that something is an abominationto the Lord is to say that an act is detestable to God. It is a strong statement pointing to something as disgusting or repugnant. We might say that something makes us sickto our stomachs. It is interesting to scan through the pages of Scripture to note what God says is an abomination. If we have never struggled with homosexuality, we may put that at the top of the list because it is mentioned several times. For starters, God doesn’t have a top-of-the-list category. Any sexual sin is an abomination to God.
Sexual sin is not the only disgusting act to our Creator. God gives us a list of other sins that He considers abominable:
There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him. Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. A heart that devises wicked plans feet that run rapidly to evil. A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.—Proverbs 6:16-19
Notice that a lying tongue made it to number two on the list of abominable deeds. Isn’t that interesting? Someone lies to us about a political matter, and we shake our heads and give him four Pinocchios. God, on the other hand, sees it as an abomination. We make light of something that God obviously deems as quite serious.
We’re smack in the middle of a political season, and we’re going to be inundated with false statements and people being accused of making false statements. It’s easy for us to be critical of those politicians. The fact is, however, that we can’t change politicians, but we can change ourselves. Regardless of how many Pinocchios someone might get from a speech next week or next month, we should opt for honesty.
Proverbs also tells us that righteous lips are a delight and the integrity of the upright will guide them. Proverbs 10:9 says, “He who walks in integrity walks securely.” As we anticipate hateful words and falsehoods that are sure to be a part of the next election cycle, let’s commit ourselves to walk securely and be a delight because we delight in telling the truth.
I’m reading a book by John Ortberg entitled All the Places to Go: How Will You Know. For starters, it’s an excellent book. Ortberg has challenged me with a lot of thoughts and phrases. One of them is when he said, “God wants us to be excellent choosers.” Have you ever considered God thinking of you in that light? I’m not sure that I have. It makes sense to me now as I think about it. I want my children to be excellent choosers. I don’t just have one path I want them to take, but I want them to make sure they’re following Jesus. I think God is the same way with us.
God’s greatest goal for you, once you become a Christian, is to be shaped into the image of His Son. He uses a variety of methods to mold our character to look more like Jesus’, but one way is through the journey of decision making. While He is interested in the particular direction we go, He’s more interested in the person we become through the process. I’m convinced that in my life there have been times God has intentionally made my future steps a little fuzzy so I would spend more time in prayer over my decision. I don’t think my prayer time was as much about finding God’s will about a direction as it was in seeing God’s character formed in my life. If I remember that God’s main desire is that I be like Jesus, it makes sense that He’ll use my crossroad experiences of decision making as a classroom of character formation.
Are you at a crossroad of decision? What are you doing to meet God in the moment so your life will be changed by the process?
I recently hiked about 230 miles on the Appalachian Trail through the state of Pennsylvania. It was awesome and got me much closer to completing the entire 2200-mile trail. On the morning of my fifth day, I got up early and started hiking by 6:45. My goal was Boiling Springs because the trail went through the edge of town. Once in town, I ate breakfast at a restaurant, visited an outfitters store ,and stopped at a few displays that were a part of the Founder’s Day event of the town that day. Little did I know, but this meandering that I thought of as wasting time was actually God setting me up for a divine appointment.
I hiked another eleven or twelve miles, including a section of about a mile where I practically ran through swarms of mosquitos, and ended up at a farm or storage place used by the Appalachian Trial conference. I read earlier that I could find a cooler of cold water at this location. I saw the water cooler on the end of the table and a hiker sitting at the table talking on her phone. When she got off the phone, I learned that she had started hiking south somewhere in New Hampshire while I was hiking north from the Maryland/Pennsylvania state line.
Machu Pichu (an amazing place in Peru) came up in our conversation. I mentioned that while my son and I were doing mission work to study unreached people groups in Peru, we had visited the ancient ruins. She replied by asking me if I was a minister and then asked if I wouldn’t mind answering a question. She told me that she was Buddhist, but she had been considering Christianity. She had some questions and didn’t have anyone she could ask. Her question related to the exclusivity of the Gospel. Why was Jesus the only way to salvation? I had a thirty-minute conversation with her about God’s plan of salvation. She thanked me and agreed to think about the things I had shared before we parted ways. She went south; I went north.
I’ve thought a lot about that encounter. I was first amazed that many things could have kept me from meeting this seeker, but I happened upon the picnic table at just the right time for an eternal conversation. That was not an accident. My first thought was that this encounter happened that morning when I decided to start hiking at 6:45, but then I realized that it actually started thirty-five years ago when I started hiking the trail in Georgia. It may seem far-fetched, but I’m confident God orchestrated this meeting when I first decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, or even before. He loves Venus (that’s her trail name) and sent me on a mission to tell her about Jesus. I thought I was just hiking the Appalachian Trail for fun and to accomplish a life-long goal, but I was actually on a mission to keep a divine appointment.
God has divine appointments for all of us. The key is that we need to be attentive and prepared. We should start each day by asking God to help us to be sensitive to those appointments and not miss the opportunity to be used by Him. I’m honored to have been used by God to tell Venus about Jesus. I hope to meet her again one day in Heaven. I’m sure that I have missed opportunities in the past, but this encounter has sharpened my resolve to never miss an appointment again.
I preached the sixth message today in a seven-sermon-series on the seven I Am statements of Jesus in John (You can hear them on our church website, though today’s probably won’t be up until maybe Wednesday: http://www.sonrisebaptist.org/sermon-archive/) . Today’s focal passage was John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
If you have studied the “I Am” passages of John, you know that the Greek text used for each statement is an emphatic, exclusive statement. To say otherwise is to ignore the Greek language and the construction of the text. You should translate any of these “I Am” passages as emphatic: “I myself am.” It’s as if Jesus was saying in John 6:35, for example, “I am and only I am the bread of life.” In John 14:6, Jesus underscored the exclusivity of the Gospel and the way to salvation with his follow-up statement as well: “No one comes to the Father but through me.” The two little Greek words translated as “but” are the two words “if not.” That part of the verse could be translated, “No one comes to the Father if not through me.”
I’ve had conversations with some people lately who struggle with an exclusive Gospel. In other words, they think Christians are narrow, bigoted, and arrogant for saying that salvation or eternal life is only possible through Jesus. Much of the world wants to embrace a universal message of salvation that says, “All roads lead to God. It doesn’t really matter which road you choose.” Do all roads really lead to God?
Christianity says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. Islam says that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but rather, someone died in his place. Both positions can’t be true. Either Christianity or Islam is right, not both. You see, truth by definition is exclusive.
Christians are criticized for being exclusive, but if you think about it, if someone says the Bible is false, he is making an exclusive statement. He is saying that he is right and everyone who believes the Bible is wrong. For example, Hindus teach we are reincarnated after we die. Therefore, anyone who believes in heaven or hell is wrong. That position makes Hinduism exclusive. Every time you open your mouth to say what you believe, you are being exclusive. Every time you say something is “true,” it means everything opposed to what you just said is false. You are being exclusive.
I came across an article written by Dr. Steve McSwain (I hesitate to offer the link because it’s pure heresy, but here it is: https://bit.ly/2SvOb5A). I don’t know who Steve McSwain is, and I have no clue what field of study gave him a doctorate, but it’s clear that his method of Bible study is flawed, and he approaches the truth of Scripture from an agenda-laden position. His byline says he’s a “counselor to congregations” and a “spiritual teacher.” I’m not sure what spirit motivates his teaching, but it’s not God’s Spirit.
Here’s part of his reflective comments on John 14:6 and the exclusivity of the Gospel:
Jesus said “I am the way…no one comes to God but through me” (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?…Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: “I am the way,” as in, “I know the way.” “I’ve discovered it” which, by implication means, “you can, too.” Elsewhere, he put it like this: “I and the Father are one” and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, “Follow me.” In other words, it’s as if Jesus was saying, “If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God.”
For starters, Mr. McSwain (as if he’s going to read this blog), Jesus did NOT say “I know the way.” You can’t change Scripture. You can’t make it say something you want it to say or prefer it to say or something that’s more politically correct in our culture. Jesus said, “I myself am the way. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” No matter how you analyze that passage, if you are honest with yourself and use proper biblical interpretation, Jesus said He is the ONLY way to salvation. It doesn’t really take too much analysis or interpretation to see the cold facts staring you in the face. You can call Jesus a liar if you want to, but you can’t say Jesus was really saying “I know the way.” He said, “I am THE way.”
If I made an exclusive statement, you could debate it and reject it. After all, who am I to make an exclusive statement about much of anything. I’m flawed and my perspective is limited. Jesus, however, claimed to be God. If Jesus is God, then He has every right to create a salvation plan that offers only one path: Himself.Mr. McSwain said, “My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal.” My first thought was that this statement is also totally flawed. It is flawed from the way he was trying to project it, but in the end, he’s actually right. Jesus’ way will lead to eternal life. The “many other ways” he’s writing about will also lead into the eternal, eternal damnation. I didn’t say that. Jesus did.
Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus. Who’s your somebody? If you are a Christian, have you ever considered the fact that God wants to use you to help somebody find their way to Jesus Christ? Being used in this way could be something as simple as inviting someone to join you at church this Easter Sunday. Do you know that most people will go to church if someone simply invites them? Your thoughtful invitation may affect someone’s eternity. Have you thought about inviting someone to church this Sunday? Go ahead. Who’s your somebody? Write down their name, pray for them, and give them a call.
Helping people find their way to Christ can involve more than inviting them to church, though that’s a great start. It can also include openly sharing your faith with them. You may be thinking that you could never witness to people about Jesus. You’re not alone with this thought. You may think that if you dared to share your faith, someone may ask you a question you couldn’t answer, or you may say the wrong thing. I’d like to address these two concerns.
No one knows all of the answers, so allow me to go ahead and prepare you with a dose of reality. When you start talking about Jesus or sharing scripture from the Bible, someone will probablyask you a question that you can’t answer. It happens to me. I’m sure it happened to Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and any other breathing believer on the planet who dares to open up with someone about Christianity. You know what I do when someone asks me a question I can’t answer? I say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out, but what I do know is…” and then I get back to presenting the Gospel. If anyone expects you to know everything about the Bible, then their expectations are unrealistic. Go ahead and prepare yourself for the inevitability. Don’t let someone’s unfair expectations cause you to keep from being obedient to Christ’s command to be a witness. Don’t let your fear be used by our spiritual enemy to impact someone’s eternal destiny.
As far as you saying the wrong thing, that’s also possible. Being a witness is essential, but being a prepared witness has an even greater impact. You can hopefully avoid saying the wrong thing if you’ll prepare yourself to be a witness. I suggest that you, first of all, write out your personal story. Be prepared to tell someone how you personally became a Christian. Then I suggest you memorize, or at least know where to find in the Bible, several key verses including John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, John 1:12, and Acts 16:31. While it’s impossible to be prepared for everything, you can be prepared for the mainthing.
Easter’s coming, and people are more open to spiritual things this time of year than any other time. Are you willing to at least invite someone to attend Easter service with you and your family? Are you ready to help somebody find his or her way to Jesus? Who’s your somebody?
I’ll never forget standing on the edge of the Niagara River watching unbelievable amounts of water flow over the edge of one of the most famous tourist spots in the world: Niagara Falls. It is hard to fathom the constant flow of water, 365 days a year, that pours over this landmark. In fact, more than six million cubic feet of water goes over the crest of this falls every minute. Unbelievable!
I’ve enjoyed many rivers throughout my life. I’ve kayaked down some and simply sat beside others enjoying the peaceful beauty of a quiet flowing stream. When I was a kid, I rafted down the Chattooga River. We got out of our rafts at one point, and our guide instructed us to get out in the middle of the river (we were wearing life jackets), lift up your feet, and enjoy the ride. It was a blast!
Jesus stood on the last day of the Feast of Booths and made this declaration: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus offered an amazing parallel to an ancient tradition of the Jewish priests on this important day in Jewish life. It was on this day that the High Priest scooped up a pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out at the temple as a reminder of God’s provision of water for the Children of Israel as they wondered through the wilderness. With this backdrop, Jesus said, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink and I’ll make sure you have a river of living water flowing from deep within you.” John’s commentary teaches us that this river to which Jesus referred was indeed His Holy Spirit. When thinking about the flow of the Holy Spirit from within our lives, I don’t think the Niagara River does God’s Spirit justice as a visual parallel. The flow of God’s Spirit from within us is a flow of power, of peace, and of refreshment. Do you need refreshment? Do you find your life right now to be a bit barren? Could you use the supernatural power of God’s Spirit in your life to deal with a particular challenge in your life? Jump in the flow, raise up your feet, and enjoy the ride.
I’m very disturbed. Last Thursday I watched part of the Judge Kavanaugh/Dr. Christine Ford hearing, and the more I watched, the angrier and more discouraged I became. Over the last few years, I’ve watched the soul of America unraveling, and I’m concerned that we’re getting close to the point of no return. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope that you share my concern. This concern is not as much about Kavanaugh, Ford, Trump, or Feinstein as it is about the not so slow deterioration of honesty, virtue, righteousness, and integrity. The fact that in order to confirm or not confirm a Supreme Court justice we have to stoop to such shameful measures and tactics is truly a disgrace to the nation and offers a peek into the rotting condition of our national soul. We have come to a place where ideology is more important than truth and the means seem totally justified regardless of the end, as long as the end supports one’s political or philosophical purposes.
Here’s an opinion statement: I don’t think the uproar over Kavanaugh is as much about the judge or even the position as it is about philosophy or even theology. Politicians on all sides have agendas, and it seems that people are willing to go to any extreme to accomplish those agendas. If there is something deeply wrong with Kavanaugh’s character, then he needs to be disqualified. If not, then he needs to be confirmed. I personally think the battle is mainly over issues like abortion and same-sex marriages. I do not believe that abortion or same-sex marriage are political issues. They are spiritual issues. I don’t know Kavanaugh and therefore I don’t know if he is a Christian. However, I feel as if a great spiritual battle between the heavenlies is being waged before our eyes. Over the years, we have passed some laws that blatantly contradict the teaching of Scripture. Whether Kavanaugh should be on the court or not is to be seen, but I think the real battle is for the soul of America.
I don’t see myself as a Democrat or Republican. I vote for the person who best represents the truth of God’s Word. I agree strongly with Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace for any people.” Because righteousness is defined by laws, and the Supreme Court is the final law of our land, we should not be surprised to see the intensity of the battle for who will control this court. Because unrighteousness destroys a nation, I believe the hosts of hell are lined up trying to figure out how to lead our country farther away from the truth upon which this country was built. If you believe the Word of God, then I encourage you to pray for our political leaders that they will pass laws and our judicial leaders that they will uphold laws and the Constitution in such a way that we as a people are walking in righteousness. This means we should pray for God’s intervention and leadership, and we should vote to put people in office who will help us to be a righteous people. We have a lot at stake. If we slide far enough down the slippery slope of unrighteousness and disobedience, it will be very difficult for us to come back.
“Did you enjoy your hike?” I bet I’ve been asked that at least 50 times since returning from my most recent backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. My first answer is “No!” I didn’t enjoy my trip because it was a really tough hike. The definition that comes to my mind with the word enjoy is “to take delight or pleasure in.” On this last hike, I covered a section called the Roller Coaster, and I don’t think the name does it justice – especially when the region was experiencing a heat wave that made five of the eight days feel like a hot summer day in July, and the last three days were cold and windy with driving rain.
I started some years ago trying to accomplish the goal of hiking the entire 2190 miles of the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. With this last hike of 100 miles, I have made it from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to the Pennsylvania state line. When I first started, I would hike only 3 or 4 days a year, but now I’ve started trying to hike at least a week or more at a time. Unfortunately, I get older every year, and I don’t want to have to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine with a walker.
I looked up enjoy in the dictionary and discovered that I did enjoy my hike after all. The second definition says that enjoy means “to possess and benefit from.” The fact is that hiking 100 miles on the A.T. brought me great benefit: I’m closer to accomplishing my goal, it was great exercise, I faced a tremendous challenge and won, I did a lot of praying, I met some great people, and I got to spend time with my father, who met me at the end.
I reminded myself numerous times through my hike that life is not just about having fun. It is about personal growth, victories, character, and facing challenges. It is about becoming the person God wants me to be. The fact is that we can’t become the person God wants us to be without struggle and pain. God wants to shape our character, and mountain climbing is part of the recipe for personal growth. Your mountain may come in the form of financial struggles, parenting challenges, or setbacks with your health. We’ve all got mountains to climb, and they’re all part of God’s divine plan to help us to become the person that not only He wants us to become but also the person we want to become.
Are you climbing a mountain right now? Is life kind of difficult in this current season? You’re probably in just the right place, so enjoy it.