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Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Depression

For most of us, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration, stretching from Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year.  But for some, it can be the most difficult time of year.  We may feel the keen absence of a loved-one, the anxiety of measuring up, the pressure of trying to please those we love with gifts we cannot afford. We are constantly bombarded with images of perfect families and happy faces exchanging perfect gifts. All of this can lead to “holiday depression.”

Depression is widespread. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion. It affects the rich and poor, the unknown and the famous.  Abraham Lincoln was well known for his bouts with depression. His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.

Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself:

Refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” In his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.”  Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play.  Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us.

Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner. When I was a teenager I read a little known book by a Christian psychiatrist named Henry C. Link entitled Return to Religion. Basically the book said that church is good for the human psyche.  Going to church is good for us. 

Do something good for someone else. Guilt and depression are common companions.  The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression.  Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light.  Accept God’s forgiveness for your sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others.

If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance.  We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods.  Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor, can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”

Trust in God who cares for you. Look beyond and beneath all the holiday hype to remember the basic message of Christmas.  God has loved you so much that He has given His only begotten Son, just for you.  God loves you just as you are.  He is reaching out His hand to lift you up and save you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Evil and Grace

We are witnessing an increase of evil in the world with senseless killings and brutal beheadings.  The persecution of Christians is at an all-time high.  But where evil increases, God’s grace increases all the more. In spite of the violence and persecution, more people are discovering faith in Christ from all over the world than ever before.

For the last two years we have hosted a Bible study in our home for international grad students at Baylor.  They have come from China, Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana Viet Nam and Poland.  Many of them have become like family to us.  We had a similar experience a few years ago when I served as pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany. Most of those attending the church were young adults from Germany, Ireland, England, Romania, Ukraine, China, Cameroon, India, Sweden, Austria, Japan and South Africa.

These young believers remind me that Jesus Christ was sent for all people of every nation in every age. When God called Abraham He promised to make him a blessing to all the nations. Isaiah said, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isa. 42:1) And again, “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 52:10) Those promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

The world is experiencing the greatest population migration in history.  The United Nations Refugee Service estimates more than 55 million people have been displaced.  Christian groups are responding to offer shelter, food and the good news of God’s grace. According to a recent study by Lousanne World Pulse, Christianity as a whole is growing faster than the global population with the fastest growth in Asia, Eastern Europe and the global south.

Wherever we are, every believer needs to reach out to internationals around them, to welcome them, to love them, and to share with them the life-changing difference found in Jesus Christ. God wants people from every nation to experience His salvation in Jesus Christ.

When John described his vision of Christ in Revelation, he declared, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9).

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Call for Renewal

For decades the horrors of the holocaust shocked us. We wondered how people could be so cruel to other humans. But today we witness genocide, murder and slaughter on an unprecedented global scale. The atrocities of ISIL threaten to spread like a cancer.  Over four million people have fled Syria, seeking safety in Turkey, Europe and the West.  Our hearts and our prayers go out to the people of France, the latest victims in what is becoming an increasingly violent century.

The violence is more widespread than ISIL.  In June a young white man gunned down the pastor and eight other members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC after being welcomed to their church for Bible study. In Oregon police called for as many ambulances as possible after a 26-year-old man opened fire at a community college killing nine.

In Houston a law officer was murdered in cold blood while filling his car with gas.  As of this writing, 109 law enforcement personnel have been killed in the line of duty in 2015. 

We are experiencing racial unrest in the U.S. not seen since the 1960s.  Charges of police brutality have resulted in race riots in Baltimore, MD and Ferguson, MO.  Protests broke out in Waller, TX following the jail-cell death of Sandra Bland.  University of Missouri students forced their President to resign charging him with racial insensitivity.

The Russian writer and Nobel prize winner, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote: "But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive.”

Twenty years ago David Aikman, former senior correspondent for Time magazine, said, “I don't think the country can be changed through politics ... it can be changed by the kind of awakening or revival that has such a dramatic effect that politics is merely an outflow, the kind of awakening spiritually that this country has seen on at least two previous occasions, and the place to start is among Christians. Their lives must reflect a serious cultural difference from the rest of a pagan society."  The spiritual awakening Aikman envisioned has not occurred.  Instead, our world seems to be sinking into the dark waters of fear, suspicion, prejudice, deceit, immorality and violence.

But the tide can be stemmed.  The world can be a place of goodness, grace, forgiveness, love and beauty.  We can refuse to give in to the cultural currents that seek to destroy us. We can rise above them.  The Bible promises, If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Biker Believers

This weekend almost half a million bikers will show up in Galveston for the Lone Star Rally. They come from all walks of life with a shared love for the road, the wind and the machine.  Many of them might be like the young man I met years ago in Kansas City, a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a biker. 

I have always liked bikes.  I got my first motor scooter when I was 13.  Two years later, my first motorcycle.  It wasn’t much.  I didn’t have much money, only a 175 cc engine.  It would only do 45 mph, that is until I took the engine apart and cleaned out the exhaust ports.  Then it would do 75.  Great fun! 

After I became a pastor, I found myself serving a church where many of the members had motorcycles.  I bought a Yamaha.  Again, not much of a bike because, again, I didn’t have much money.  But my wife rode with me and I was able to go on some bike rides with my deacons.  I took my son on a ride and toured the Pea Ridge Civil War battlefield in northwest Arkansas.

I never owned a Harley, but a few years ago I visited the Harley Davidson plant in Kansas City with a group of church leaders interested in Harley Davidson.  I listened as a young man introduced himself as a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson executive.

Later, I served as coach to a pastor who was starting Biker Church, a church for people who served their community and shared their faith as biker enthusiasts.  The church met on Thursday nights for worship and participated in biker rides and rallies on the weekend. They raised money for those in need and started a Bible-base ministry for substance abuse.

I bought a Kawasaki, again a used bike, but by far the best and fastest bike I ever owned.  I went down on it at 60 mph but my full-face helmet and the Lord saved my life.   I survived with only a couple of broken ribs and road rash.  I still love bikes.

If the Apostle Peter lived today, perhaps he would be a biker.  After all he was a rough fisherman when Jesus met him and he was prone to jump out of boats.  Jesus loved him and made him the leader of his followers.  When I think about Jesus, the places he went, the people he befriended, it makes sense that He would love bikers. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nearing Home

Next Saturday is Billy Graham’s 97th birthday.  No individual has had a greater impact in shaping our spiritual landscape in the last century. In 2014, he was named to the Gallup Poll’s list of men Americans most admire for the 58th time.

He first rose to prominence in 1949 when he preached an evangelistic crusade in Los Angeles, California that was extended for eight weeks. That event launched a career that spanned more than half a century with Crusades in more than 150 countries. More than three million professed faith in Christ in Graham Crusades, but they are only a fraction of the number impacted by his messages via radio, television, books and movies.

I first heard Billy Graham preach in 1971 at Texas Stadium in Irving, the Dallas Cowboys’ famous open roofed structure. Tom Landry, the legendary coach for the Cowboys, gave his testimony that night quoting Augustine, “Our hearts are restless indeed, O God, until they find their rest in thee.”

Billy Graham’s life has been more than remarkable. He served as a spiritual confidant for every president since Harry S. Truman. He took bold stands as a leader for integration during the civil rights movement and was close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Unlike many “televangelists,” he had himself placed on a salary early in his career to avoid any hint of scandal. He and his wife, Ruth, had an exemplary marriage for sixty-three years before her death in June, 2007.

In 2012 the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association met in Chicago and chose Billy Graham’s book Nearing Home as the “Best Christian Book of the Year.”  Dr. Graham’s book is filled with hope and inspiration while taking an honest look at the challenges of old age. He writes, “I can’t truthfully say that I have liked growing older. At times I wish I could still do everything I once did – but I can’t. I wish I didn’t have to face the infirmities and uncertainties that seem to be part of this stage of life – but I do.” He asks the important question, “Is old age only a cruel burden that grows heavier and heavier as the years go by, with nothing to look forward to but death? Or can it be something more?”

In his book, he says, “Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. … When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old in grace is a choice. Growing older with grace is possible to all who set their hearts and minds on the Giver of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Writing recently in Decision magazine, Dr. Graham said, “The only way that we can have our lives changed and find peace, joy and the fulfillment of life; the only way to have sin forgiven; the only way to know that you are going to Heaven, is to receive Christ as your Lord, Savior and Master. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).