Last night President Trump gave his first State of the Union address. It was clear that one of his goals was to convince his audience that his administration has made our country safer and stronger. But in one of the high points of his address, it wasn’t the strength of his administration that he appealed to, but the strength of the American people: “The state of our union is strong because our people are strong.”
Strong, safe and healthy. It’s what we all want to be. While these things are fine for us to desire, what happens when we as a society become a little too obsessed with becoming strong and prosperous? Continue Reading
Below you will find audio, handouts and articles I used for three of the eight weeks in my class entitled “Fear, Anxiety and Depression.” I hope they will be useful for you.
1. Introduction and Personal Story
2. A Biblical View of the Person and How it Impacts our Depression-Anxiety Care
3. The Place of Psychiatry and Medicine in Depression-Anxiety Care
Jason Gray is a well-known Christian singer/songwriter. His songs are popular on Christian radio, and he has been widely recognized by websites and critics as a bestselling musician. Yet, what many people probably don’t know about Jason is something that you can’t necessarily pick up on by hearing his music; Jason has a speech handicap commonly known as “stuttering.” God’s grace to Jason is that his stuttering ceases whenever he sings. In his live album Acoustic Story Time, he tells the story of what it was like to feel compelled to become a musician who has such a handicap. By his estimation, there was no room for such a weakness in one of Christ’s disciples. Christ’s ideal disciple, Jason thought, was a person who carried him/her self like the Marlboro Man – someone who was cool, calm, collected, and competent.
What Jason realized over time, however, was that God does not call us to be his disciple in spite of our weaknesses but because of them. He has since observed in his time traveling the world that Christians tend to have such an emphasis on the virtues of strength and healing that they leave no room for the virtues of weakness and suffering. It is the latter, Jason observes, that are often the sweeter gift. For not only is God able to use the latter to increase his strength and glory in our lives, but he also uniquely equips us to become instruments of mercy to others who are suffering.
Dr. Richard Gaffin, professor of Biblical and Systematic theology at Westminster Seminary observes, “The Pentecostal Spirit is as well the Spirit of suffering, although this tends to be the spiritual gift that no one is talking about.” He is right. The church today struggles with properly understanding the role of suffering in the Christian life. Is there room for suffering and weakness, and if so, what should that look like?
The Apostle Paul gives us a very important key to answering this question. In Romans 8:12-17, Paul teaches us that if we have the Spirit of God’s salvation, then we have become children of God. The Holy Spirit himself testifies that we are children of God, and because we are children, we are also God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ. I think a lot of us would end our description of this important passage there, but we’d leave off the most important part of the passage – that all of the above is true only if we are joined in suffering with Christ (Romans 8:17).
One of the reasons why we Christians tend to handle suffering poorly is because we are not prepared adequately for it. The truth is, those whom God has adopted through Christ should prepare themselves for a life full of various trials, toils and difficulties. When these sufferings come our way, we can handle them with joy and praise because the more we endure misery and affliction, the more our union with Christ – our salvation – is confirmed.
There are those who would say that there is no place for suffering or weeping in the Christian life. Some would go so far as to say that depression or mourning is a conscious act of sin, and that unless the Christian is filled with joy at all times then they are rejecting God. Such a view of the Christian life is both cruel and unbiblical. John Calvin was accurate in his strong rebuke of such people:
Among Christians, too, there are those who hold similar views. They believe it is sinful not only to groan and weep, but even to be downcast and anxious. Such outlandish ideas are the work of lazy individuals, who spend their time in speculation rather than in honest work, and who produce nothing but empty fantasies.
This reality is probably the one thing that makes me saddest about health and wealth teachers. It is not the mere fact that they are theologically wrong (which is true), but that they are denying those who follow them the privilege of rejoicing in their suffering as an adopted child of God. For it is when we suffer that we are most able to relate to the ministry of Christ. Charles Spurgeon once said,
Personally, I also bear witness that it has been to me, in seasons of great pain, superlatively comfortable to know that in every pang which racks his people the Lord Jesus has a fellow-feeling. We are not alone, for one like unto the Son of Man walks the furnace with us.
Our strength to find solace, refuge, joy and strength in our sorrows and suffering does not come from ourselves, but in the reality that Christ went ahead of us in this way. He groaned and wept; he suffered physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is in this example that he teaches us to do the same: the world will rejoice while we weep and lament, yet our sorrows will be turned into joy (John 16:20). So Christian, be prepared for suffering; and when it comes, rejoice! This isn’t easy to do, it’s a daily fight for joy in our suffering. But we can take comfort in the fact that as we suffer, our Father is verifying our status as a son or daughter, and he does so in love for us as he uses this light and momentary affliction for our good and our joy.
Words have purpose. When words are used either frequently and/or in the wrong settings, they tend to lose that purpose and all meaning associated with them. An observable example of this is when we call customer service centers for support; they’ve told people to “Please hold, we will be right with you” so many times, that “be right with you” can mean anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. Or think about how often we use words like “literally,” “starving,” or “explode.” “I’m literally going to explode from starvation if…”
No, you’re not.
In a similar fashion, today’s evangelical ghetto has lost its understanding of the word “salvation.” We often speak of “salvation” as equatable to our justification, that is, being “saved” and now in a right standing before God because of the work and sacrifice of Christ. The problem is, these two words are not equatable. Salvation does not simply mean justification or “saved.” It means so much more. We will only truly understand salvation when we understand all of who Christ is and all that belongs to him.
Our justification is only one part of our salvation. Some have spoken of this as not only understanding what we are saved from but what we are saved to. When we are justified before God we become united to his Son by faith. When this happens, we become not only partakers in his righteousness and justification, but in his inheritance as a son, in his likeness as we become progressively more like Christ, and eventually in his resurrection body when we receive our own in glorification.
These aspects are often spoken of as the benefits of Christ. Counter-intuitively and counter-culturally one of these benefits is becoming a partaker and sharing in Christ’s sufferings. The Apostle Paul explains this well in his epistle to the Philippians:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law … and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Phil. 4:8-11
When we become united to Christ in faith, we become partakers in his sufferings. One aspect of this portion is gaining the above mentioned benefits which Christ earned as a result of his sufferings and death.
The other aspect is that we ourselves will suffer (Phil. 1:19), and it is an honor to do so.
In his time here on earth, Jesus himself promised that we will have trouble in this life (John 16:33). Because they first hated him, they will hate us also (John 15:18). One guaranteed sign that you are part of Christ’s elect is that you have or are suffering in this life. It is promised to us.
What this means is that just as our Savior and Lord was beaten and bruised to a bleeding pulp, so too can we expect this life to bruise us and beat us until we think we can take no more. And, when we feel like giving up, we remember that he has overcome the world and there is a prize far greater than we can imagine being kept for us in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). We may want to tap out, but we remember that when Christ suffered and died, death itself sucked in innocent blood. When it did so, it ingested poison; death died. So we run the race, we persevere until the very end, seeking after the one who has gifted us with sharing in his sufferings.
Then, on that day this bruised and beaten body will finally be taken home and we will see him face to face. We will see his scars and wounds (Rev 5:6) and we will say, out of supreme worship and adoration, “Your scars are beautiful.”
Then – and only then – will our sufferings finally and truly make sense.