2019…Blessed New Year?

person standing near lake

Greetings and salutations in this brand new calendar year!  I have not been actively blogging for some time now dear friends, as I have been on medical leave for pastoral burnout and depression.  Hell of a thing these two ugly monsters.  Not only does one suffer through trying to squeeze those last drops of fuel out of one’s tank, and those last dregs at the bottom of the cup to keep on giving to others (which I found out in therapy does more harm than good); and not only does one try to hide that they are depressed and show up to work, or ministry, (or family) trying to mask the pain that you are really feeling every day to make everything seem like it is nice and normal like ( we wouldn’t want anyone to suspect that we are hurting, exhausted, and depressed, would we?…as if they couldn’t tell anyway)  But there is also the problem of people all around you not understanding things like pastoral burnout and anxiety and depression.  

My point in writing about all this is not, boo hoo, poor me.  If that was the case, I would not have been working so hard to get well these past nearly 3 months now.  I am writing about this, because in my wellness program I have discovered many truths about just how BIG a problem these things are already among church workers, and that the church really doesn’t have much of a clue about how to deal with it.  I have also, in speaking to several certified therapists about the situation, have found that they suspect that the problem is going to get much worse in the future.  Having seen many of the holes in how the church deals with these issues, and experienced them firsthand, I have no doubts that this is going to be true.

It has been said by a colleague, “If you had cancer, the people would be doing everything they could to get you well.”  I would add to that from my own experience, “And not question you, your illness, or your treatment plan, or how long you might be out, or think that you are just faking all of this to get some extra time off, or whatever they are thinking.

But I am also not simply writing this to rant about the problems I have experienced during this medical leave.  I am writing because I am very thankful for all of the people, family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, and especially my doctor and therapist, who have been so wonderful and supportive to me.  

So many people have never experienced burnout, or anxiety, or depression in their lives and don’t really know what that is like.  And yet so many more are suffering from one or more of these things as I write this.  Perhaps they are scared.  Perhaps they are alone.  Perhaps they are thinking that if anyone finds out they have so much to lose.  

If anyone out there is experiencing any of these things right now and are scared and feel like you are alone in dealing with it.  I assure you that you are not.  There is plenty of help out there, and support for you.  But many around you may not know that you need the help, or may be unsure what to do to help you.

For those of you who want to help, you can start by simply being supportive.  LISTEN!  That goes a long way.  I was not listened to when I was crying out for help! Prayers definitely help.  A smile or word of encouragement helps lift a person and bring them some light in an otherwise often dark day.  Being angry and frustrated with them because you do not understand these things they are going through does NOT help them at all.

I would encourage you also, if you are suffering these things to seek guidance and counseling from professionals who are both certified and skilled at dealing with these things.  

If you are hurting even deeper, or considering suicide, please contact the

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255  Or text the Crisis Text Line at:

Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States.

A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and lets you know that they are here to listen.

Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, connecting people in crisis to trained Crisis Counselors.  Our first priority is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy. YOU = our priority.

 

Happy New Year!  Please be kind and compassionate to one another in 2019 and always!  God’s blessings and love to you all!  I will be writing more now that I am in a better place physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually!  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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Strong and Courageous

 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9

I have just started studying the book of Joshua, and something really struck me about those words, “STRONG AND COURAGEOUS“.  Of course, it kind of jumps off the page at you, when the Lord Himself uses that phrase 3x in just 9 verses trying to ready Joshua, son of Nun, for delivering the people of Israel the rest of the way to take their inheritance of the promised land.  It was to be no easy task, but God wanted Him, and all of them as well, to remember that He was always with them wherever they go.  And for Joshua, as a leader, to be “strong and courageous,” and to remember that God would not “leave or foresake” him.  He also commands Joshua not to “be frightened or dismayed.

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It got me to thinking about those times in my own life when I have lost confidence or been frightened or dismayed.  If I am being honest, it usually has been when I took my eyes off of the Savior, when I have forgotten His promise to always be with me, when I have tried to make it all about myself and what “I” have to do.  But it is not at all about me or what I have to do.  Rather it is about the Lord’s Word, and His promises, and what HE is doing in and through this life that He has given to me.

As His disciple, following Him means not taking my eyes off of Him, not turning away from Him or the path that He has given to me, and fearing the Lord above all things, including and especially the things (and people) of this world.  This doesn’t mean that I am “afraid” of the Lord, but have a healthy and faithful respect for who the Lord is and what He has done and continues to do in the lives of His people.

It was God’s delight to choose Joshua to lead Israel after Moses’ death.  And in doing so, He had certain things for Joshua to be aware of and to do in order to be a good and faithful leader for God’s people.  First of all to be strong and courageous.  But part of doing that was also doing what God had commanded, “not turning to the left, or to the right” of it.  And keeping these commands, God said would give Joshua success.

It is God’s Word that I am always drawn back to when I lack courage, or confidence to do the things that He has called me to do.  And His Word reminds me that He is always with me wherever I go and whatever I am doing in His kingdom, no matter how difficult or challenging, no matter how frightened or dismayed I may become.  It reminds me that I can be strong and courageous because of who I am in Christ Jesus, who was strong and courageous all the way to the cross for me, and for you.

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, we thank You for these words of encouragement that You gave to Your servant Joshua.  We thank You for Your promise to always be with us.  Give us strength and courage as we live and work each day in Your kingdom, and keep us grounded in Your Holy Word to do what You have commanded and not stray from it, or take our eyes off the Savior, so that we may bring glory to Your Holy Name.  AMEN.

Trusting in the Lord

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.                                                                                                                                          —Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s a funny thing that we who acknowledge and confess that the Lord is OUR Lord would have such great difficulty TRUSTING in the Lord above ALL things.  Yet we really seem to struggle with this.

In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that of the three aspects of the meaning of the first commandment, fear, love, and trust; we probably as Christians struggle with the TRUST one the most. (Though to be honest and fair, we struggle with all 3).

We are kind of like the youngest son in the original Parenthood movie (the one with Steve Martin).  The youngest son gets himself into all kinds of trouble, and the patriarch of the family keeps bailing him out.  Finally, the patriarch tells his son that enough is enough, and says, “This is the last time“, and proceeds to give him the plan this time around.  Only the stubborn, stiff-necked, prideful son isn’t having any of it.  He says, “That sounds like a good plan, but I was thinking we’d do it this way instead, and if that doesn’t work out, then we’ll put the dad plan into effect.

Now there are a few things wrong with my example of course, and keeping in mind that it does NOT represent our relationship with God; the attitude of our hearts when it comes to trusting in God and His Word is much the same.  We can be stubborn, and stiff-necked, and prideful.  And we quite often want to do things our own way, be in charge, have control.  And if that doesn’t work out, then we will turn to God.

When will we learn that God is in charge and He has a better plan for us than anything at all we can concoct for our lives?  And so we meander on the twisted roads we have made for ourselves straying further and further off the straight and narrow path.  We refuse to acknowledge God’s goodness and provision, His direction, His reproof, His instruction, and even His Son.

The Lord’s plans are better than yours!  His Word is good!  His understanding of all things is superior to yours in every way!  And He alone can straighten out your path for you again and again, so long as you stop getting in the way by trusting only in yourself.

PRAYER:  Holy Lord, we thank and praise You for your goodness in our lives.  We especially thank You for Your Son Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and The Life.  We ask Your forgiveness for the times we desire to go our own way and trust in ourselves, or in things of this world instead of You and Your Holy Word.  Straighten our paths as only You can do, by helping us to trust in and lean on You alone!  In Jesus’ Holy nameAMEN.

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According to the Word of God

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.–Psalm 119:9

There are times or seasons in our lives when we become a little bit “lost” in our way.  Whether it comes from bad habits, getting out of good habits, just plain laziness, or a series of unfortunate events that leave us confused, or perhaps tragedies that we have experienced have left us wondering Why?

I’m sure that most of us have experienced some if not all of these things in our lives.  But when we have, how do we respond to these times/seasons in our lives?  There are lots of ways that people tend to respond.  Some good, some not so good, and some are downright destructive.  The “bad” and “destructive” things we do, can often lead to having a void in our lives, or at least the feeling like “something is missing.

Often, people try to fill such a “void” with things that will never, ever fill it at all.  Some might spend all kinds of money on more things, but end up never being satisfied at all with what they have been blessed with.  As wise Solomon found out, that is all vanity.  It also breaks several commandments of God, including the 9th and 10th, which speak to us about contentment with what God has blessed us with already, instead of coveting what we do not have.  Others may start drinking to drown their sorrows, or doing drugs to “feel better”, or getting involved in sexually destructive behavior.  All of these can lead to addictions that destroy lives, our own and perhaps others.

People also seem to have much difficulty struggling to learn the difference between want and need.  In the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed we learn in the meaning of the First Article that our gracious and loving Heavenly Father provides “all that we NEED to support this body and life.”  Put that together with the explanation of the First Commandment, that we “should fear, love, and TRUST in God above ALL things,” and we may then be able to see where we often go wrong in our thinking, our lack of trust, and becoming those of “little faith“, as Jesus often said to His own disciples.

That’s why I like the verse above from Psalm 119.  Verse 9 is one I like to use each year when I am choosing Confirmation Verses, because it has often been a reminder to me of the importance of being in God’s Word, of studying that Word, of learning what His Word has to say to me about so many things, and of relying on that Word in good times as well as in our difficult seasons of life.

I am going through a difficult season of life right now, and I found myself returning to this wonderful verse today.  It spoke to me today, and reminded me just how important it is for me also to be in God’s Word daily.  To read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it.

So I encourage you to read  the passage that it  comes from.  It is the Psalm in this Lectionary week for the upcoming Sunday.  The full passage is Psalm 119:9-16.  ENJOY!

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And I also encourage you to be in God’s Word regularly.

 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we thank You for providing all things needed for our bodies and lives in this world.  Help us to never take for granted what You graciously supply us with, nor covet those things that we do not have out of greed or selfish desire.  Lead us ever into Your Holy Word, that it may be a lamp to our feet and a light for our path, always.  In Jesus name, who is the Word made flesh.  AMEN.

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“Deserved”

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We are about to come to a close in our study of the book of Jonah in our Thursday morning Bible Study at the church where I serve as pastor.  Tomorrow we will embark on chapter 4 of this short narrative that is choc full of both Law and Gospel, pointing out both our own sinfulness and God’s grace and mercy towards us.

To say the least, it has been an eye opener, both for the students of the Word in class, and for this teacher of the Word in leading them.  As their teacher, I always enjoy when we can dig deeper into the Word than they have ever been, and point out little aspects of God’s Word that they have not considered, or connections here and there that had been unrealized.  Better still is when I can see the light bulb go on as we are talking about something in class, as they make a connection on their own.

Jonah has been a challenge.  The “hero” and I use that term loosely for the namesake of this book in the canon of Scripture, is one who continually disappoints.  The one who we learned about in Sunday School, who got swallowed by a “whale” (big fish) as we were taught–and not much more than that usually–when you really look at the rest of the narrative, Jonah doesn’t come off the page looking very good at all, or “smelling” that good I’m sure either.  In fact, the pagan sailors on the ship Jonah takes to run from God’s directive to His prophet, come off looking better than Jonah.  So too do the Ninevites, the evil ones against whom God wants Jonah to prophesy.  Even the animals in Nineveh come out of this whole thing as better off than God’s prophet.

And why is this?  It all has to do with the word “deserve.”  We have what I would consider a sickness when it comes to this word.  Let’s call it “Deserve Disease”.  And it manifests itself in different ways.  In Jonah’s case, he did not think that the Ninevites deserved to hear God’s Word of judgment against their evil, lest they have an opportunity to repent and receive grace from God.  His judgmental attitude causes him to flee from God (as if that is possible), and from God’s command to Him to arise, and go, and speak the Word to Nineveh.

When we read this account, it is easy to fall into the trap of judging Jonah–pointing our own high and mighty digits of doom in his direction, until we think on it a bit more and realize that we are just like him.  Oh how we love to sit in judgment of others, or smear them on social media, or decide for God who deserves His grace and who does not.  Where Jonah comes off the pages of Scripture looking bad, and smelling bad and leaving a bad taste in our mouth, isn’t it because we can too easily see ourselves in him?

It sure is a good thing that we do not get what we deserve.  And aye, there’s the rub!  We say it all the time on Sunday mornings when we do corporate confession in worship.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  We are all in the same boat so to speak, in that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And so what we truly deserve, we also speak that– “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.”  But do we really believe that about ourselves?

Jonah is far from the shining star in this narrative.  In fact, Jonah’s sinfulness is what jumps off the page, as he is persistent in his judgment of others, stubborn in his disobedience to God and His will, selfish with God’s grace, mercy, and love, and in the end pouts as God’s will is accomplished and Jonah’s selfish and self-centered will is defeated.   And truthfully, we often don’t come off looking, sounding, or “smelling” much better than Jonah.

As always, the title of Almighty, and King of Creation belongs to God.  Throughout the book of Jonah, God’s grace prevails, for those who are repentant and willing to receive it from Him.  The sailors, the evil people of Nineveh, even the animals in that great city.  All of them are repentant, and all of them receive God’s grace.  Because God cares about, He loves, ALL of His creation.  And though all of His creation has been corrupted by sin, and though all human beings sin against Him, He has grace upon grace to give to us.  God also exercises great patience with us in our stubbornness and disobedience to Him.  This is another truth about God that is evident in the book of Jonah.  How patient and loving, and merciful God is toward His reluctant servant.  God shows the same love and mercy and patience towards us.

The truth is that God “desires for ALL to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”  We who have the gift of faith in Jesus Christ are tasked, (not unlike Jonah) of         GO-ing and TELL-ing those who do not know.  Are we going to judge, or decide for God, who we think doesn’t DESERVE to hear it?  Will we be reluctant disciples of Christ?

We have such a wonderful opportunity to share a wonderful message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus for all who want to hear and respond to that message, to reflect that light into the darkness that our sin brings into this world.  And while God is indeed very patient with us, there is an urgency for us to proclaim Christ, as we do not know when He will return.

I encourage you  (as I am encouraged to and in need of doing) to repent of your sinfulness, in particular–those of us who are Christians– our disease of deserve, and be thankful that instead of getting what we deserve (eternal damnation), that God gave us Jesus instead, who died for us on the cross.  That the One who did not sin, became sin for us and took all of our sin and guilt and shame to the cross; took the judgment that we deserve there on that Good, that very Good Friday.

And now, know that because of that obedience that Jesus showed to the Father, in suffering and dying in your place, that Jesus’ willingness to be obedient unto death, even death on a cross, in your place, means that you get what you do not deserve.  You freely receive God’s grace and mercy, and love….because of Jesus.  Praise be to the Creator of all things, the Redeemer of all lost and condemned creatures, and the Sanctifier of all who believe!

Waiting on the Lord

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Psalm 27:13-14

I believe that I shall look[f] upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the 
Lord!

 

The Autumnal Equinox was on Saturday, the 22nd of September.  This marks for us the official beginning of the season of Fall/Autumn for us who dwell in North America.  Depending on where you live, the weather may or may not have fit the season.  One thing is certain as I look around the Black Hills of SoDak…Fall is upon us.  Even as I write this there is a chill in the air (and a pot of chili bubbling in the crock pot!).  There have been little autumn rain showers, and the skies are gray and overcast.  The trees are beginning to turn with a smattering of wonderful yellows, reds, and orange fiery reminders that summer is over with, and winter is fast approaching. 

            This is a season I have a love/hate relationship with.  It has always been my favorite season, and yet there are aspects of it that I despise.  I love the colors.  Green is fine when spring is in full bloom, and I am always glad to see a bunch of green after many months of brown in the LONG winters we sometimes have here.  But I prefer the explosion of colors that Autumn brings.  I have also, for some nostalgic reason I guess, loved the smell of Autumn.  The smell of the decaying leaves that fall on the ground.

            There is a tension in this season.  A life and death tension.  A tension that reminds us that there is an end to all things.  It is not unlike the tension the Christian feels in our lives, in our very being…every day!  St Paul writes in Romans 7 of this tension within himself (and each of us who are believers in Christ).  Our sinfulness must be put to death, and through repentance we are able with the help of God to do just that, and turn back to Him, waiting for His salvation to be fully ours.

            We know that the Lord is doing something in our lives…HAS done something…WILL do something.  A change is coming, is already here, has already happened.  You see, just as we know that winter will soon come, and in a manner of speaking, death happens as the leaves die and fall and decay, we also know that in this season of waiting there is new life just around the corner.  In the springtime, there will be new life.

            So it is for believers in Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God, who fulfilled all things, died for you on the cross, and was resurrected, that we may all have life in His name.  Even now we can experience new life in Him, as we wait for the Lord, which I know is not so easy to do sometimes…and we are not always so patient.

            But no matter what tensions you might be experiencing in your lives, what “season” of life you might be experiencing right now, the Lord is always your Light and your Salvation…and the Stronghold of your life.  Wait on Him, and seek His grace and love and mercy where He has promised to be found…In His Holy Word!

            A blessed season of Autumn to you, as you wait on the Lord!

God of my salvation

Psalm 88

O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.

 If you are not aware, September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  As someone who has lost two family members and a close friend to suicide, and has had other friends and people in my life who have attempted or threatened suicide, this is an issue that is close to my heart. 

            As a pastor who has dealt with this issue way too often, both personally and professionally, I can tell you that I have witnessed the kind of darkness that is described in this psalm.  A colleague described this Psalm as the antithesis of Psalm 23, and gave a very vivid description of the difference between the two.  I would have to say that his is a very valid and tough look at what is going on with the psalmist in Psalm 88.

            If you have read the description of my blog site, you may be wondering why would I want to choose this particular Psalm to write a devotion about?  I can tell you that there are two reasons.

            The first is that because suicide prevention is an issue that is important to me, I wanted to raise more awareness of what it is like for someone who is in such utter darkness and despair, and probably in the deep throws of depression.  This psalm gives us a realistic look at someone who has gone down to the depths—“the pit”, as the psalmist puts it.  The “pit” is really describing what it is like for someone who doesn’t feel God’s presence in their life.  I can tell you that I have been to “the pit” before in my life, and it is not a place I ever want to be again.  But make no mistake, there are many people out there (and some much closer to you than you may think) that are in “the pit” right now.  It is important to talk to them.  It is even more important to listen to them.  They may think or even say something like “God is nowhere to be found.”  This is what they are feeling at the time.  This is how the Psalmist felt as well.  It is a terrible feeling to feel like God is not near anymore, or that He is not listening.  But it is also not true.  God is in the very midst of our sufferings.  And God knows all about suffering.  We serve a God who took on the ultimate suffering in our place.

            And that brings me to the second reason I chose this Psalm.  Even though the Psalmist is crying out in ultimate despair, did you notice how the Psalm prayer begins?  “O Lord, God of my salvation.”  You see, despite his suffering, and in spite of all the words of despair coming from him, the Psalmist is able to recognize that God is the source of saving grace. 

            In the midst of our own darkness, and there is plenty in this world to go around, we have the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.  Jesus was sent into the world to be light in the darkness, to bring peace and to bind up the brokenhearted.

            I want you to know that Light as I have come to know Him.  I pray that if you suffer from depression, anxiety, fear or despair, that you will come to know that Jesus, who suffered all for you, the One who is your Light and your life, and is truly present with you.  I hope that you understand that you are not alone, and that you will seek out help in time of need.  And I pray that if you do seek out help, that God would send you that person, that help, at just the right time.

            I encourage you to read Psalm 23 to know The Good Shepherd better!

The peace of God in Christ Jesus and His Light rule in your hearts and break through the darkness today, tomorrow, and always!IMG_1664 (2)