mourn and weep, then laugh and dance

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    …a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

In this life there’s always plenty of good reason to mourn and weep. Plenty. Right at our doorstep. Not only around us, but over our own mistakes and failures. And there’s a time for that.

But saying there’s a time for that implies that it is meant to be only so long. There’s also a time to laugh and dance. Notice that these two opposites: grief and mirth are juxtaposed in the poetry of this passage so that one indeed can’t miss the contrast.

As humans we can’t carry the weight of our own burdens forever. We’re meant to cast them on God in prayer, and to carry each other’s burdens.

There is a time as well for us to carry our own burden. In taking seriously the harm we’ve done, or being weighed down by our concern for others.

And the time to relax, to let it go only in the sense of no longer stressing over it. Not that we let go of the actual concern. But even with that, through trust in God, we’re able to relax and enjoy God’s gifts, and especially God himself as we seek to contemplate on him.

In and through Jesus.

 

 

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the fake world of pop theology in denying the reality of mental illness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Another Christian, this time a pastor (we could say another pastor) has committed suicide. He was well aware of the danger, probably entered to a significant extent into the depths of others, and didn’t get out himself when he sank into his own depths of darkness. Once I led a team devotions at a Christian ministry where I work, going over this psalm. I asked if anyone there thought this psalm is meant for us today, and no one raised their hand. Based on what I gather, most would say “no,” though maybe it would be more like “I don’t know.” I think I remember at least one head shaking no.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that takes mental illness seriously. It’s not swept under the rug or attributed to the demonic or considered a sign that someone lacks faith. It is an honest illness which humans struggle with. Maybe the psalmist would have been diagnosed with mental illness such as a bipolar disorder. I think such a psalm and other Scripture similar to that can be helpful for such people to realize they’re not alone. That others struggle too with darkness.

I wonder if maybe I suffer with a mild case of something such. I don’t know. I have struggled not feeling good internally for years, decades, and that might be related to head trauma. So it’s easy for me to identify with Psalm 88.

There is within the Christian tradition, “the dark night of the soul,” hardly acknowledge in the evangelical Christian circles I’m a part of. I don’t at all for a moment think a person, yes a Christian has to be clinically depressed or mentally ill to experience such. There are all kinds of reasons in this world why we can get down. Of course there’s what’s considered normal depression, maybe over not meeting a goal, or losing a friend, even a marriage. Just maybe it would be helpful to consider mental health problems as also being like temporary sicknesses such as physically catching a cold or the flu, so that one might have a bout with melancholy over an extended period of time. Of course no one can possibly be the same after an unexpected death of a loved one.

The Bible reflects real life with all its complexities. For those who take Scripture at its word, spiritual warfare can be accompanied by a spiritual darkness. A time and space where God seems to be absent. And where hope seems all but gone, replaced by fear, or more like a gnawing shock in which little seems real.

At any rate, I take Scripture seriously in part because I find it takes life seriously. People of faith question God and struggle in their experience. The psalms are repeatedly helpful, this psalm a prime example.

Psalm 88 ends on a realistic note. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. We don’t always find the help we want. But we hold on in faith regardless, this psalm an expression of that. Something we should thank God for, helping us not only live through such times, but do so knowing that the Lord is somehow with us (Psalm 23:4).  The end of Psalm 88 is an end, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

theology for real life

The book of Job is a good case in point of how all of Scripture (the Bible) is meant for real life. No one is likely to be affected much by how many angels can dance on a pin, something allegedly, Christian theologians were contemplating in the past. It’s not like we have to look for only what seems relevant and ignore the rest. We need to prayerfully consider just what God might be saying to us through everything, especially through the words found in Scripture.

I like our church’s statement of faith, because it’s not simply about knowing or confessing something. It is about applying truth to life, or letting Scripture critique and change us.

The danger in all of this is that we want quick, pat answers. We think the Bible is written for us to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. Not. Scripture, God’s word is meant to shape us according to God’s will, which means conformity to Christ.

I am blessed too to work for a solid evangelical ministry which has the motto:

The mission of Our Daily Bread Ministries is to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.

We have to beware of piling in information which we’re not applying. According to James, that is a sure recipe for self-deception. We can think we’re doing well and in the clear just because of what we know. But what we’re given to know is meant to be applied, every single bit of it. We may not know how, but we should be in prayer over it. God’s word has some effect on us, whether we always get it or not. But our goal should be to listen and learn for faith and life. What we believe is meant to impact how we live. And how we live can either confirm or undermine what we believe. The two go together.

This isn’t easy. It’s not like, here it is, plain and simple, so do it. Yes and no. Because although that’s the clear path, it’s beset with challenges to our faith, so that either our roots will have to go deeper in search of God’s wisdom, or we’ll more or less give up, shrivel and die. To live in between is to remain unsettled and eventually sets us up for failure, because it won’t work (James 1:6-8).

So we have to set our sight on one thing: God and God’s will in Jesus in this life. Everything else is secondary and subsidiary to that. In and through Jesus.

living in the present

It’s so easy to slip into the habit of living for the weekend, or for the next holiday or vacation, and to hate living in the muddle of the present. But that’s where God meets us, in the present with all of its challenges, and even rough and tumble.

It’s not like there’s no special places where we get not only needed rest, but have times where we seek to draw near to God. Yes, we need such times, and indeed do look forward to them.

But we need to embrace the moment now, instead of wishing for something different, or waiting for the time to pass. This should become a habit of life, so that as has been said, we’re fully present, even when that involves waiting on God for God’s answer and working. We don’t exist in the past or future, but only the present, where we’re at now. And we do so looking to God and for God’s help. In and through Jesus.

continuing in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

It seems like what Paul is telling Timothy here is not to take his faith for granted, but to continue in it, and specifically in Scripture itself.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’m not sure what one has to go on, but there are a number of voices out there advocating something different, either a wholesale abandonment of the faith, or more likely, a modification of it, which can amount to the same thing in the end. Paul warns Timothy in both 1 and 2 Timothy of the same dangers during that time.

There’s nothing wrong with wide reading, and becoming acquainted with others’ thinking, in fact that’s good in its place. Paul himself was well acquainted with the various views of his time. But we need to remain well grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus, found in Scripture. And to do that, we can’t just pay lip service to it. We have to continue in it for ourselves.

Yes, Paul and Timothy were leaders in the church, but they weren’t doing what other Christians didn’t need to do themselves. They were to set the example in their faith and life for other Christians to follow, of course from their following of Christ tethered to Scripture and to life. They were gifted to do that, but that’s in large part what their ministry was about.

So these words by extension are for us, too. We’re to continue on in Scripture, in the gospel, in Christ. Grounded in that, so that we won’t be carried away by voices which sound compelling to others. In and through Jesus.

 

move forward where you are with what you’ve got (but remember, it’s all grace)

Whether you’re young or old, it’s important to make the most out of life, not for yourself, but for others. But as we bless others, we ourselves are blessed (Proverbs 11:25).

One of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard was Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s telling of Michael Faraday’s life. And how Faraday’s biggest breakthrough discovery was after sustaining a most significant head injury. We can think all or much is largely lost due to this or that ranging from lack of or actual lost opportunities. Even failure. But we need to grab what God gives us and remain and move forward in that.

And in Jesus we know it’s all grace. God gives us grace, all we need to carry on through thick and thin, come what may. In and through Jesus.

change is part of life

If you’re a human being, than you’re in for change. You might say it’s in our genes. Hopefully change for good as we grow into adulthood, although each stage of life is special in itself. And not for good in that we inevitably age and eventually will die.

Change in other ways is good or not so good. Probably something of a mixture of both in most of us. We might be gaining ground in something, possibly a breakthrough here and there, only to find ourselves not doing so well in something else. Sometimes real failure might be the back door to something good.

We often look at life in terms of success and failure. But God sees beyond our small sense and appreciation of things. God has made us hard wired for so much more beyond whatever actual failure and imagined or real success in our lives. We might and indeed will actually revert back into old ways now and then, hopefully nothing damaging to ourselves or others. But even in them God can and will teach us if only we have a heart to listen. Ears to hear along with the heart to change comes from God’s grace and working. God is out to change us into no less than the image and likeness of his Son. The good change which is happening, and is to come. In and through Jesus.