Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Overcoming Depression through Hope in Christ

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But I think I can prescribe for you an antidote for depression. It’s not Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft or any other drug on the market. The cure for depression is a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’m not trying to minimize your struggle or oversimplify the solution, but I promise you that if you will put your unwavering trust in the Lord, follow wholeheartedly in His ways and keep His love always before you as you seek to love others as He has loved you, then you will experience the joy of the Lord unlike what any drug can give (and without all those nasty side effects).

Joy is a mark of the saving and transforming work of God within the hearts and lives of those who believe. It’s part of the package of “fruit” the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of believers (Galatians 5:22). Those who respond to the grace of God in truth have been rescued “from the domain of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son” (Colossians 1:13). They understand that Jesus is the “light of the world,” and that “whoever follows [Him] will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In John 10:10 Jesus says this: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” If you’re wracked with depression and misery and hopelessness, then the thief, the devil, has stolen what could be yours in Christ – an abundant, sweet and satisfying life!

Listen, I know many, many people deal daily or occasionally with depression. Let’s face it – life is hard. There are so many pressures from so many sources to simply fit in. We’re living in a culture that basically says that if you don’t look like you just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine, then you’re ugly. If you don’t make enough money to drive a nice car and own all the latest tech gadgets, if you don’t wear the right name brands and if you don’t conform to the right world philosophy and ideology, then our society implies that you are worthless. It’s easy to see how so many could succumb to feelings of despair and despondency.

But God does not want you to live like that. And He’s made it possible so that you don’t have to. Sure, there are times when situations are difficult to endure. God never promised an easy road for anyone. Even to His own disciples Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Christians are not immune to hardship or grief or any other kinds of trouble. But we do have this promise from our Lord in His next breath: “But take heart; I have overcome the world!”

If you’re struggling with depression, dear friend, take this prescription from Psalm 42-43. There the writer faced with his own sense of discouragement cried out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Then he answered with this declaration of confidence in the Lord: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

If you’ll put your hope in God, trusting in His Word, in His very great and precious promises, praising Him for His love, His mercy, His grace, His provision, His power, His protection, His presence, His faithfulness and all that’s He’s proven of His riches in Christ Jesus, then you can have victory over depression through Him!

Jesus has overcome the world and all its entrapments. The apostle Paul knew this as well as anyone. Though he faced greater hardships and sufferings and persecutions than most of us will ever know, Paul took heart and never lost hope in Christ. He had a vibrant relationship with Jesus, trusting and following His ways wholeheartedly, and never lost sight of His saving love and the mission God gave him.

Paul put it this way: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

That’s the kind of hope in Christ that can pull anyone out of the pit of depression and into the abundant life that Jesus alone can give.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kickball Kamikaze

I’m not as young as I used to be. I’m starting to feel more aches and pains than I used to. My body doesn’t heal quite as quickly as it used to. Been there, done that?

On the Sunday night before Labor Day our family got together to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. My sister and her husband in Robinson invited the siblings and our families over for dinner. Mom and Dad were there, too. For some unknown reason after dinner we decided to play a game of kickball. Kickball! I don’t think I’d played kickball since 5th grade.

I need to mention at this point that some people in my family are rather competitive when it comes to sports. Namely that would be my two brothers and my brother-in-law. And me. Being the oldest of the siblings I guess have this thing that I feel like I have to show somehow that I still have a little athletic ability left in me. As if it matters.

I should also mention that just about everyone played. That includes my two boys, ages 10 and 5, my niece who’s 8, my other niece who’s 2, my Dad and Mom who are old enough to have celebrated a 40th wedding anniversary, my youngest brother’s wife who recently had surgery on her toe, and, of course, my two competitive brothers and brother-in-law. And me.

My wife, who is not really into kickball, per se, sat out. So did my other sister-in-law, who’s not really into kickball, either. That’s okay; at least she made the cake. And so did my sister, who’s 8 months with child. Excuses, excuses. They sat under the shade tree and cheered.

So we picked teams just like we did in grade school. Popular kids were picked first. We set up bases in the back yard and rolled out the ball. I’ll save you the play-by-play, but I ought to mention that in about the third inning the sideline cheerleaders began to grumble that we weren’t letting the little kids get on base much. Hey, when you’re playing to win you take the easy outs.

Well, my 2-year-old niece, Mallory, was on my team, and our opponents decided mercifully to let her get on base next time. So she kicked it about four feet and ran to first safely. That seemed to please the peanut gallery.

Next batter up was Mom. She legged a drive out into right field played nicely by my Dad, as I recall, who threw to first for the out. Then with keen field awareness, the first baseman fired a perfect strike to second base, to which Mallory was in stride from first. The tag was applied and you had a 4-3-6 double play. Inning over. The crowd groaned.

Anyway, during the course of the game – I’m not bragging, just telling it like it happened – a ball was kicked high in the air down the third base line. I was playing somewhere behind second. I got a great jump on the ball and arrived in time to make a sensational diving catch. The crowd went wild. We watched ESPN later that evening to see if it made the “Plays of the Day.” My 10-year-old was impressed. Anytime you can impress your 10-year-old with your athletic ability, you go for it.

I wasn’t finished yet. An inning or two later another ball was kicked in the air which again I dove for and made another spectacular catch. This time, however, my right knee hit the ground hard. It left a divot larger than most of my fairway swings. I got up like a champion and finished the game. My teammates awarded me the “Defensive Player of the Game” award.

But my knee was sore. No, sore doesn’t really capture it. It hurt. And it still does. Don’t think I did any major damage, but my knee wasn’t the only thing bruised. My ego has taken a bit of a pounding, as well. I’m not as young as I used to be.

I remember my PE teacher from high school, Jack Reeder, telling us in his crusty PE voice then when we started taking things too seriously, “Hey! Nobody’s gonna put your name in the paper tomorrow if you win! Don’t try to be a hero out there!” I knew I should have listened.

Truly God designed our bodies to function here on earth, though it’s clear they’re not made to last forever. Especially when you play competitive kickball like a kamikaze. Makes me long all the more for the day when the Lord Jesus Christ, “who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tool or Fool?

Are you a tool or a fool?

The fool rejects God’s creative design. Despite His incredible handiwork on display day after day and night after night, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Even though God has made clear to everyone that His eternal power and divine nature are evident in creation, the fool suppresses the truth by his wickedness and refuses to glorify Him as God or give thanks to Him (see Romans 1:18ff.).

The fool rejects God’s saving desire. Despite God’s astonishing act of love – the fact that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind – the fool denies his need for a Savior. Despite God’s unending mercy and unimaginable grace, the fool fails to receive Christ and follows the cravings of his own stubborn heart.

The Bible tells us that God does not want anyone to perish, even though that’s what we all deserve because of our sin. But rather, God wants everyone to come to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:9). That’s why He’s so patient with us. That’s why He hasn’t already executed His righteous judgment against us even though we’ve all but abandoned Him in our pursuit of our own measly, little plans.

One day, however, the Day of the Lord will come and just wrath of God will be poured out in full upon the foolish, disbelieving world. Those who foolishly have rejected God’s amazing offer of abundant life and everlasting salvation through Jesus Christ will face a judgment of described as a “fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42, 50).

But those who have repented of their sin and turned in faith to follow after Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved from death and hell and “will receive an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

Those who follow Jesus are not fools, but tools in the hands of God. They are vessels of honor, instruments of righteousness, having been cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ, and are “set apart as holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). God uses them to accomplish His purposes and carry out His work in the world.

What about you, friend? Is your life a tool God is using to build His kingdom? Or are you a fool who lives as if there is no God?

I want to say a special word of thanks to the Ridgway Fire Dept. for allowing us to move our Gospel Night concert indoors last Thursday night. The rain kept us from using the Popcorn Day stage, but the firehouse became a platform for The Whisnants to share the gospel in song, and we’re very grateful. I appreciate everyone who braved the rain to come, and I hope you were encouraged in the Lord.

I’ll also add a public word of thanks to Jill Rhine and the crew who helped with our Popcorn Day float. Great job! Truly we need to remember that we are “one nation under God.”

Also, my wife Amy wants to let all the ladies in the community know that starting on Tuesday, September 21, our church will begin a Bible study for women at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. They will be working through a course called “Believing God” by Beth Moore. If you would like more information, feel free to call the church office at 272-5921. Any woman, any age is invited to participate.

Finally, children’s church is back at Ridgway First Baptist Church. Children ages 4 to Grade 4 are invited to come and be a part of it every Sunday at 10:40 a.m. Parents, grandparents, guardians – we’d love to see you in our worship services, too!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Testifying to the Gospel of God's Grace

The message I didn’t preach on Sunday would have been from Psalm 31. The Lord led me instead to Acts 20:22-24 where the apostle Paul basically says that his life means nothing to him, if only he may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him. That task is testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

 That’s the kind of single-minded focus every believer ought to have concerning the mission God has given to us. When it comes to proclaiming what God has done for us through Jesus, we should strive to say sincerely with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). When we truly yield our lives to Jesus as Lord, then the truth is that we will have denied ourselves, taken up our cross and follow Him wherever He leads.

I’m often convicted for my own lack of zeal. Maybe it’s a lack of completely dying to self and living fully in Christ. Perhaps I’m too concerned for my own life rather than offering it to God as a living sacrifice.

Yet in light of the gospel of God’s grace, what could I possibly withhold from Him? He is the One who poured out His mercy through Jesus on the cross. What I deserve because of my sin (and what everyone deserves because of their own sin) is death and hell. Yes, even one single act of rebellion toward God, even one failure to do the good I know I ought to do, is sin. And it’s enough to eternally separate me from His presence.

But, hallelujah, God doesn’t give us what we deserve! Instead, as we come humbly before Him in repentance and faith, acknowledging our absolute inability to save ourselves, receiving His forgiveness for our sins through Christ, then our God mercifully cleanses us from every stain of sin and washes us white as snow!

Friend, do you know how much God loves you? Even though you’ve messed up hundreds of times, even though you’ve said some awful things, even though you’ve done some hurtful things, and even though you’ve lived a self-pleasing, self-centered and self-sufficient life, God in His great love for you still sent His Son to take away your sins!

It’s like the judge before whom a young girl was brought having been fined for speeding. She was clearly guilty of breaking the law, and she had no means to pay the fine. The judge could have dismissed the case, but then he wouldn’t have been a just judge. He could have sentenced her to jail until the fine was paid, but that would have seemed unkind. Instead, he stood up out of his seat, removed his robe, walked away from the bench, took the money owed from his own pocket and paid the debt. You see, the girl was his daughter, and he loved her enough to cover the guilt and set her free.

That’s what our Lord did for us. It’s what He offers today to whosoever will believe in the name of Jesus. He came from heaven to earth, making Himself in human likeness, and paid the penalty we could not pay ourselves by pouring out His righteous wrath against His sinless Son when they crucified Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Because Jesus took our sins upon Himself, anyone who looks to Him for salvation will receive the mercy of God.

And not only will you not get what you do deserve, you will also get what you do not deserve – and that’s the unmerited favor of God, the gospel of His grace. When you turn away from sin and turn in faith to Jesus, you get abundant and everlasting life! You get the joy and the peace and the comfort and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in you day by day as you walk this earth. And you get the assurance that when your time on earth is through you’ll have an eternal home in heaven in the presence of the living God!

That’s the gospel of God’s grace, of which Paul said he lived to testify. Paul knew that he himself had been the “worst of sinners,” but through the mercy and grace of God he had been saved. And he could not help but testify to what the Lord had done, urging others to believe on Jesus and receive eternal life. One whose life has been saved from eternal death can hardly hold back anything from the One who held back nothing to save us.

Maybe we’ll get to Psalm 31 this Sunday. I want to invite you to come and find out! Feel free to wear your favorite church T-shirt, or Christian T-shirt, or come dressed however you choose. Our worship of our Savior hinges not on what we wear on the outside, but on what we give Him from the inside. Hope to see you then, or better yet, on Thursday night (Sept. 9) also at the Popcorn Stage downtown for a great concert with The Whisnants!