Good News in Bad Times

I pray for church pastors who are charged with leading their congregations during these difficult times. They know that the congregation, like the country, is divided politically and that many people are frustrated and angry.

A couple of weeks ago, my pastor encouraged the church to spend more time with Jesus than we spend with our sources of information, whether that be social media or a news/opinion network on TV. He made a really important point. How can a weekly sermon at church override the negative influence of everything we are exposed to outside the church on a daily basis?

I have to admit that I spend more time watching or listening to news/opinion shows every day and reading articles than I do reading my Bible and praying. I know that constant negative news and exposure to the toxins of social media aren’t good for me.

Too much exposure to bad news and negative people can take our eyes away from the hope we have in Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come near. Turn away from your sins and believe the good news!

Jesus, Mark 1:15

No matter what happens in this world, the good news of the gospel is still Good News!

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Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

Praying for My Future

I continue to reflect on Priscilla Shirer’s book, Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. While I don’t sense that I am personally being attacked by Satan, at one time or another, I have faced the spiritual struggles she listed in her book. In writing this prayer, I remember how horrible I felt when I was going through a difficult struggle with another person.

Strategy 5 – Against Your Past

If I were your enemy, I’d constantly remind you of your mistakes and poor choices. I’d want to keep you burdened by shame and guilt, in hopes that you’ll feel incapacitated by your many failings and see no point in even trying again. I’d work to convince you that you’ve had your chance and blown it – that your God may be able to forgive some people for some things, but not you…not for this.

PRISCILLA SHIRER

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Heavenly Father, my soul continually remembers my mistakes and poor choices. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. I am filled with regret for hurting another with words I cannot take back. I feel like such a horrible and wretched person. I have sinned against you and am filled with guilt and shame.

Lord, I am humbled by my many failings. I don’t know how You can love a wretch like me but You do. Your love for me never ceases. You are my hope.

Lord Jesus, I am so tired of carrying the weight of mistakes I cannot undo. Take away this heavy burden of guilt. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2). Lord, I want to learn from you. Teach me to be a better person.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Father, my soul praises you. Truly, Your love never fails even when I fail You. Thank you for forgiving me, for redeeming my life from the pit of despair. You have crowned me with your love and compassion. Great is your faithfulness!

Lord, Your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for giving me another chance to make the most of my life. When I stumble and fall, may I learn from my mistakes and remember that You are making me new! Yesterday is gone. Today, show me Your ways that I may walk with You. Help me to look forward with hope for my future and not back to the past I cannot change.

Amen

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Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

My refuge and strength

Last week, my pastor asked whether any of us had ever played the game jenga. He showed us photos of a couple of buildings that resemble a stack of jenga blocks; it is amazing that they haven’t toppled over. Like an unstable stack of blocks, sometimes it doesn’t take much to unbalance us. The stresses of life can wear you down and make you feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed. When life gets overwhelming, what do you do? Where do you go for help?

Pastor Brad said that faith and anxiety occupy the same space in our heads. He spoke about the coping mechanisms people use to deal with stress and anxiety. Many of us cope with stress in unhealthy ways – losing our temper, withdrawing from other people, or by eating or drinking or shopping to excess.

When you have faith, you can turn to God for help. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1

The scripture for the sermon was Psalm 46, one of the most familiar psalms. It begins, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When I get really stressed, I wake up in the night and worry about things. I call on God in the darkness. I call on God when I am afraid. I call on God when I am overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. I call on God when I need courage. He comforts me. He builds me up. He gives me hope. He gives me peace. God is my refuge and strength.

I especially like Psalm 46:10. When you start to feel anxious, be still. Stop trying so hard to solve your own problems. Know that God is God. He’s got this. Put your trust in Him.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

Pastor Brad ended the sermon with Psalm 131:2.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Psalm 131:2

Like a weaned child, David was content. He was able to calm and quiet himself because he put his hope in the Lord.

When the stresses of life are overwhelming, what should you do? Wean yourself from the coping mechanisms of the world. They don’t work. Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead, call out to God. Let Him be your refuge and your strength.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

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Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

A Mess of Contradictions

My small group finally watched lesson 10 of The Truth Project, The American Experiment: Stepping Stones. In this lesson, Del Tackett claimed that Christians used biblical principles as the foundation for America’s republic and that believers today must carry on that experiment if America is to survive and succeed. I knew before watching the video that I disagree with Del Tackett’s claim that God has a divine design for government. I believe that in trying to “take America back for God” through political means, Christians have done great harm to Christianity and evangelism. Nevertheless, watching the lesson motivated me to dig deeper into God’s truths.

Religion and Morality

The video for Lesson 10 began with Dr. Tackett speaking outside the normal classroom setting. He said there were going to be three ground rules for the lesson: he would not seek to deify America, he would not try to deify the Founding Fathers, and he would not cast blame on non-Christians.

Tackett began by discussing the role that religion once played in childhood education and in well-respected higher educational institutions like Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton. He quoted Gouverneur Morris, a contributing author of the Constitution, who said that “religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God.” He quoted Noah Webster: “In my view, the Christian Religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…no truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian Religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privilege of a free people.”

Before he spoke at length about the founding fathers, Tackett described how his own understanding of the nation’s religious and moral foundations evolved when he went to Washington, D.C. to work in the George H. W. Bush administration. He observed that there were many religious murals in the Capital rotunda. He found himself reflecting on Revelation 2:5. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

He said that he watched a reenactment of George Washington’s Farewell Address and it was then that he understood that as a child, he had been lied to about the nation’s religious history.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

George Washington

Tackett then presented quotes about religion and morality from several founding fathers or influential thinkers including John Adams, Benjamin Rush, Samuel Adams, Charles Carroll, and Patrick Henry. Several expressed the view that religion and morality are the foundation for an enduring republic and that liberty is not possible without morality.

the only foundation for…a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.

Benjamin Rush

In his blog about The American Experiment, Elliot Ritzema notes that “Christianity was not the only influence in the founding of the United States, but one of many…” While Tackett demonstrated that many of the founding fathers believed that religion and morality were important for preserving liberty, he did not prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical principles.

In an ideal world, government would be based on a sound moral principles and all government officials would be virtuous. In reality, even our greatest heroes had feet of clay. I admire John Adams, but he was proud, hot-tempered, and envious of his peers. I admire Thomas Jefferson’s views on liberty and equality and yet he owned slaves and was very self-indulgent.

If we are to learn anything from history, it is imperative that Christians be truthful about our messy and contradictory history.

Idolatry

Can patriotism become idolatry? Patriotism is not a bad thing. We should be grateful for the blessings of liberty. But when patriotism combines with political ideology, it often supplants the gospel.

When this happens, debates begin to rage about caring for the poor, the sick and the immigrant, debates which would be incomprehensible in any other era of the Church. When patriotism becomes an idol, the poor can become our enemies, the alien among us can become someone to be feared and the outcast can become someone we actively seek to marginalize. When patriotism becomes an idol, the “other” whom we despise is the least of these.

Zach Hunt, Relevant Magazine

Tackett pointedly said he would not deify America or the founding fathers. When he exalted America’s founding fathers for being religious and moral based on a few selected people and a few selective quotes, he engaged in the same sort of historical revisionism that he often complains about. He presented a glorified, false image.

Without providing any examples, Tackett said that there is a deep hatred of America in liberal educational institutions and that it is now in vogue to hate America. In his blog post, Elliot Ritzema quoted Tackett as he explained why he thinks there is a rise in hatred for America:

Darkness doesn’t overtake light; light overtakes darkness. Why this rise of hatred for America? Why is this historic revisionism going on? If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. If you do not have a heart for her, if you don’t have a passion for her, you can learn all you want about Christian worldview… but you won’t do diddly doo for her… If Jesus removes the lampstand, we will become a dark nation like many who have fallen before us.

Del Tackett

Think about these words. If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. I would argue that if Satan can deceive people, especially Christians, about the true purpose and meaning of Christianity, he has won a major battle for our souls. If he can convince Christians to use the power of the sword instead of the power of the cross, he has won a major battle for our souls. If he can take Christ out of Christianity, he has won a major battle for our souls.

In equating America to the Church in Revelations 2:5, Tackett idolizes America. While America has done many good things to help other nations, in comparing her to a light on the hill (Matthew 5:14-16), he exalts a nation that is far from righteous. Pew Research reports that only 39% of Americans are highly religious, and a small fraction of those attend church regularly or read the Bible.

Tackett also broke his own rule about casting blame on non-believers, blaming liberal educational institutions for somehow spreading hatred of America and blaming both Charles Darwin and Christopher Langdell, a Dean of Harvard Law School, for the evolution of law school teaching to a case study approach. In suggesting that anyone who criticizes America hates her, Tackett implied that America is above all criticism. This too is idolatrous.

Grief and Hope

According to Tackett, the founding fathers implemented an experimental form of government based on religion, specifically Christianity. Tackett grieves for America. “America has largely forgotten God and denied the validity of her biblically based Christian roots.” Tackett asked believers to consider how far we have fallen as a nation and to take deliberate steps to salvage it. Yes, do consider how far we have fallen. American Christians who believe that government’s role is to enforce morality overwhelmingly chose a godless, amoral man to lead this nation.

I also grieve for America but not in the same way as Tackett. I grieve not for the soul of the nation but for the souls of Americans and for Christians who have been led astray by false teachings. I grieve for those who come here thinking this country is a beacon of light only to have the door slammed shut in their faces. I grieve for Americans who will never hear the Good News because Christians have made Christianity so unappealing. I grieve because this nation is a mess of contradictions.

What did I get out of this lesson? The desire to seek a different kind of kingdom, where the King of kings and Lord of lords has the power to change people from the inside out. He will proclaim justice to the nations. In his name, the nations will put their hope. In his name, I put my hope.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
  In his name the nations will put their hope.

Matthew 12:18-21

Where is the hope?

The last time I went to my Bible study, a woman in my group handed me a book, With Her Last Breath, written by the Director of Caring Ministry at our church, Barbara M. Roberts. The book is about the suicide of Roberts’ niece Kathy and includes images of the 26-page journal that Kathy wrote in the last 36 hours or so of her life. Which each page of the journal, Roberts provides advice to those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and to those who walk beside them.

Another friend couldn’t bring herself to finish the book because it reminded her too much of a struggling family member. It is hard to read about people who are suicidal, but I wanted to learn how to recognize when someone needs help and how to uplift and support those who have lost all hope as Kathy did.

Hope and despair

Hope and despair are polar opposites so we may think they are mutually exclusive emotions. But as Roberts wrote, hope and despair are often intertwined. We can feel both at the same time. We all experience ups and downs in this life and it can be really hard to hold onto your hope.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40: 31-32

Kathy believed in God but her life on this earth had become so unbearable due to health issues and loneliness that she felt she had no hope – except in the promise of heaven. She believed that killing herself was against God’s will but suicide was the only way she knew to escape her pain and torment. She hoped that God would forgive her.

At the time of her death, Kathy was just a few months older than I am now. She had COPD and was living on disability benefits. She rarely left her apartment. She had lost the one person in her life who was her support system.

In leaving a journal behind, Kathy provided a glimpse into the mind of a suicidal person. She wrote that she couldn’t take it anymore. She was tired of everything being so hard. She felt like she was in a living hell. She had never felt so alone and in the dark. Each day was worse than the one before. It had become hard to just exist. She wished that she could find one good reason to live. She could hardly breathe. She wondered what God wanted of her. She wondered, if God wanted her to live, why her life had been reduced to misery and suffering.

Empathy and understanding

I have not experienced the physical suffering that made Kathy’s life intolerable. But I have been through trying situations that have nearly broken my spirit. I have experienced feelings of despair, anguish, and hopelessness. In my lowest moments, I cried out to God – I begged God – please help me! I can’t take this anymore. And in those dark moments, I even said words to my Maker that I didn’t really mean. I want to die. Thankfully, I knew that God was with me. He lifted my burdens. He pulled me through.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

In reading Kathy’s journal, I found myself wondering why she didn’t ask God to help her. I believe that if she had asked, God would have put the right people in her life to ease her loneliness and suffering. But as Roberts wrote, “Sometimes people do not use the way out that God provides but rather choose their own solution.” Kathy didn’t ask God for a way out. She chose her own way out of suffering and knew that she could not ask God to help her commit suicide. It is easy to judge Kathy for the decision she made. But I know from my own experience, when you are really depressed, your thoughts are not the most rational.

Kathy rightly noted that no one else was qualified to judge her. No one else knew what her life, the life she described as a living hell, was doing to her. I can only imagine how hopeless I would have felt in my own struggles if I had not had a social support system, if I had not had people who depended on me, if I had not had reasons to go on.

God redeems our own times of suffering by allowing us to come alongside others in their suffering. This, of course, is based upon the assumption that others are honest about their struggles.

Barbara M. Roberts, With Her Last Breath

Helping the hurting

I wrote a bit about my own struggles with despair. I have also struggled to be a good helper of the hurting. A few times in my 32-year marriage, my husband got very depressed and it was really, really hard for me to deal with. He isolated himself. He wouldn’t talk to me or anyone else. I felt ill equipped to help him through it. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I stayed with him and I prayed for him.

Roberts wrote that unlike other obvious injuries, the hurt of a broken heart is hidden. You don’t have to be a skilled healer or gifted counselor to help. Just being available to listen and to walk alongside the person helps the hurting.

It is an amazing gift of God’s grace that the kind of expertise needed for the broken heart comes from those God has placed in our lives whose skill set includes love, availability, listening and just simply being a fellow journeyer willing to travel with us.

Barbara M. Roberts, With Her Last Breath

How can you be a supportive fellow journeyer in this thing called life? How can you help others find hope?

  1. Be fully present and attentive.
  2. Listen without interrupting.
  3. Communicate your caring and support.
  4. Take the person’s concerns seriously.
  5. Don’t minimize their suffering.
  6. Don’t be pushy or judgmental.
  7. Keep the person’s confidence but get help, if you are really worried.

Dear Lord, please help those who are struggling right now with feelings of despair and hopelessness. Wrap your loving arms around them. Let them know that they are not alone. Help me to be a light in the darkness. Help me to be available where I am needed, help me to listen, help me to love.

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Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash