Passion for the Pain of Depression

Disclaimers

  1. I am not a counselor. I am a chemist. But I have also been to graduate school and lost a child, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a dear brother-in-law. So my perspective includes the hell of intense pressure and the pain of intense loss.
  2. A discussion on depression is best held in dialog, but this is a blog. Comment streams and late night blog binging is no substitute for face-to-face conversation, comfort, and warm hugs. Consider this blog post a remote hug, but find a real hug from a real person, soon and often.hug
  3. This is not a ToDo List. In my opinion, giving a ToDo List to a person suffering from depression is futile. I do offer some things to explore, though.
  4. Lastly, my views on this topic offer a Christian perspective. I know of no other perspective that gives the hope that the Christian perspective offers. Please don’t run off if you are skeptical of the Christian truth claims. See if you think there is any wisdom in my perspective. Eat the meat and spit out the bones.

My Observations

Depression is not just “feeling sad”.

I remember in 10th grade health class, the teacher was discussing barbiturates, alcohol, and other drugs classified as depressants. I thought depressed meant sad, so I couldn’t imagine why you would take a drug that makes you sad?!?!

Obviously, I was wrong. The depressant part meant specifically that it depressed the central nervous system. Some are general like alcohol, and others are quite specific like some anti-anxiety drugs.

This is as far as I can go as a physical chemist. Pharmacology simply has too many variables for me to conceive or to model.

I’m reluctant to list the symptoms of depression because you may be like me. Seeing the list causes me to feel many of the symptoms. But if you must, here they are.

Instead of a list, here is a humorous story that illustrates the point. One of my students, several years ago, came to my office hours after missing class.

He said, “Dr. Williams, I have a problem.”
What is it?”, I asked.
My givashit is broke.”, he said.
Oh my! You have to get that fixed, immediately!”, I said as we both laughed.

We laugh, but we know that a broken givashit is not a laughing matter. It is sometimes a sign of depression or a panic coping mechanism. You simply cannot make a decision. And sometimes you don’t even care. You know this is a path that leads to destruction but you don’t give a ___ because your givashit is broken.

My Theoretical Musings

(My counseling colleagues are invited to correct or add to my musings in the comments section. Please contribute for the good of all!)

I have noticed that mental looping or stuck thoughts can break your ability to make a decision or to care about anything else. When I get stuck in an obsessive mental loop, I need something or someone to interrupt.

As a bona fide computer geek, I see the analogy of the operating system using interrupts to pause or to stop processes that are requesting CPU time. My Christian world view does not reduce the human brain to a CPU, but these analogies are still useful in my opinion.
You can’t get “into the machine” to stop a mental loop if you don’t have a reliable interrupt.

(Spoiler Alert: Music is a reliable interrupt system giving access to the parts of the mind that are “below” the looping executive and anxiety functions. Hence, music therapy.  )

How Do I…

  • Fix a broken givashit?
  • Stop obsessing about my obsessing about what I am obsessing about?
  • Break out of my negative mental loops?
  • Find a path out of this dull darkness of my soul?

This is a call to explore, not a self-help ToDo List.

A Passive, Intrusive, and Spiritual Path

The trail I’m hoping you will explore is passive, intrusive, and spiritual. You are able to “let it run”, passively receiving rather than actively giving. My suggestion is intrusive to interrupt the mental looping. It is spiritual because this is not a mechanical problem.

My suggestion is based upon my personal experience.

Daily Liturgical Worship

Daily liturgical worship is passive, intrusive, and spiritual.

Daily liturgical worship can be passive as the example below will illustrate. It can move to become more active over time, which is an amazing transformation. But start passively, one step at a time.

Daily liturgical worship is filled with simple melodies and singable tunes that echo in the mind all day allowing beneficial mental loops to interrupt negative and unwanted mental loops.

Daily liturgical worship is spiritual providing spoken and sung scripture with spoken and sung prayers that eventually become a part of your mental furniture.

Modern Christian practice (not just modern worship, but modern unscripted prayer, and modern “what does it mean to me” Bible study) has left us with no structure or form. It feels like there are no comforting chairs to sit in, no desks to study in, and perhaps no boundaries or walls to our spiritual imaginations. This is not freedom. This is lostness. These structures and pieces of furniture take time to build, but WE don’t have to build them. Jesus is the carpenter, and He uses his Word to build these holy places in our soul.

What IS Daily Liturgical Worship?

The early Christians continued the Jewish practice of reciting prayers and Scripture during certain hours of the day, which means this practice goes back over 2000 years.

How can this be a passive practice? Well… with Amazon Prime, you can download the CPH Album Evening and Morning: The Music of Lutheran Daily Prayer.
CPH-daily-prayer

I have listened to Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline on my phone nearly every day since June 2018. I have interspersed Matins, Vespers, and the Litany on special occasions or when I felt like it.

Are you worried by the word Lutheran?  Don’t be. These readings, Scripture, and tunes go back to pre-Lutheran, pre-Eastern Orthodox, and even pre-Roman times. The Lutheran part of this is the compilation of these ancient services into the Lutheran Service Book published by CPH.

You can listen to these services passively when commuting, when anxiety strikes, when you want to pray but don’t know how or what to pray, when waking, when lying in bed before sleep, when you are praying for sleep to come, and when you are seeking the will to get out of bed.

Not now, but down the road as your motivation returns, this worship can transform over time from passive to active practice. Get a copy of the LSB from CPH and follow along when motivation strikes. But don’t force it at first. Just listen to the love and encouragement that Morning, Evening, and Compline Worship brings.

An unexpected benefit to your personal private consumption of this eternal beauty will be when you run across a congregation that is using elements of these worship services. Your soul will soar as you hear and participate with others in these ancient readings and songs. I’m sure you will be amazed when you find patches of this fabric of worship in Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and even Eastern Orthodox services. It always catches me by surprise when I visit a friend’s church and find some ancient tune, song, chant, prayer, or reading that is common among our different traditions.

The interrupts are effective. The simple melodies of these selections of daily liturgical worship are from a bygone era. Some are quite ancient. All of them are capable of comforting you throughout the busy day. I find my mind humming them often during mental downtimes at work. Their haunting tunes are comforting to me. Their ancient origin connects me to the past and the text gives me hope for the future.

This is most important:
Daily Liturgical Worship is Spiritual.

Jesus, the carpenter of our souls tells us,

“God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

And Jesus prays to the Father on our behalf, asking Him to

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

These rituals of daily worship are almost 100% Scripture – using truth to worship Truth. They contain the spirit-filled proclamations of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), and Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) and many ancient prayers of the church.

The Whole Point

The whole point of this blog post is captured at the end of the Song of Zechariah:

“In the tender compassion of our God,
The dawn from on high shall break upon us;
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Meditate on that. Are you in darkness? Are you in the shadow of death?
I know you are because we ALL are. We ALL need Jesus to guide our feet into the way of peace.

I pray that the daily practice of worship and prayer will help Jesus guide your feet as it helps Him guide my feet. These wonderful, beautiful, and healing words bathe my soul daily.

Closing Analogy

Does this get old? Does the novelty wear off? Of course it does. How could novelty not wear off? What did you expect?

This practice is more like bathing than swimming. Swimming is recreational and novel. Bathing is often mundane and necessary, but it is also refreshing and life-giving.

catbath

We (many of us) bathe daily. Why not worship daily?

Let us invite the passion of the living and active Word (Heb 4:12) to renew our minds, daily. Hear what Paul says:

“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” [Romans 12:2a CSB]

Hear what Jesus says:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30 ESV]

Hear what Paul says, again:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

We pray.

Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of life may find our rest in You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. [from Compline]

Love to you all!

Darren

 

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The Gosnell movie opens today in 750 theaters, and I’m going to see it!

I read the book. If you see this movie, please think about the criminal negligence of the pro-abortion officials who didn’t want to know what was happening in Gosnell’s clinic. The health department did not inpsect his clinic for 17 years (as per my memory of the book). THEY should be on trial too, but that would be called a witch hunt or a politically motivated prosecution. But it is not about politics. I hope those in Philly who turned a blind eye to Gosnell are confronted in their hearts by their sins of omission. And that they fall to their knees to ask God for forgiveness. His courtroom will not be avoided, by them or by us. Lord have mercy on us all.

WINTERY KNIGHT

These empty benches at the Gosnell trial were for the mainstream news media Empty benches at the Gosnell trial reserved for the mainstream news media

Since I’m going to see the Gosnell movie today, I thought I would read a few articles to remind me of the facts. The best article was by the film makers themselves, writing for the Daily Signal.

They say:

In progressive Pennsylvania, here was a doctor, Kermit Gosnell, an African-American, he’s in his early 70s now, who ran an abortion clinic for 30 years, where he routinely, and these are not my words, this is the grand jury’s words, where he routinely delivered babies alive and then cut their necks with scissors.

And he did this for 30 years. That’s why in the eyes of the grand jury and also ABC’s Terry Moran, he was described as America’s biggest serial killer, which is the phrase we use in the film.

There’s so many details that are worth…

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#WalkAway and Search for TRUTH

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Being a professor means I analyze the world around me, I find thoughts and theories that align with reality, and then I profess these ideas to others to pass on the torch of knowledge.

Chemistry has been the area of reality that I have studied the most. Therefore, chemistry is the topic about which I profess the most often and in the most detail.

Christianity’s description of reality is the second-most active area of my study. I emphasize the word STUDY. I thrive on QUESTIONS.

Why God? Who’s Jesus? Why would someone think the Bible is believable? And on and on.

Lately, as I work with a student group that makes the case for the truth of Christianity, I have been studying one of the most important topics we can study.

How does someone CHANGE their mind?

In my studies of this I have been fascinated by atheists who have converted to Christianity. And, I have also been fascinated by Christians who converted to atheism.

This is why I have been lit up by the #WalkAway video movement.

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It has only been 3 months, and there are over 100 personal videos posted on their official YouTube channel describing their #WalkAway moment where they decided to walk away from the Democrat Party or “The Left”.

I put the playlist on Play All and have been amazed at the moments when the mental switches flipped.

Here are some things I have noticed.

  1. Congratulations to anyone who has had a #WalkAway moment. You now have experienced what it is like to listen to a different channel than the default channel you grew up with.
  2. Noticing NEW FACTS is NOT voluntary. You can’t MAKE yourself believe something new or force yourself to believe something old once NEW FACTS have been truly noticed.
  3. Something about the new facts matched the world you ACTUALLY live in. You assented or ACCEPTED that these new facts are TRUE.
    1. This acceptance of new facts matching reality relieves a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort), and so an emotional rush comes from this assent. This is in nearly every #WalkAway video.
  4. Lastly, when you realize that you have accepted new facts that to the best of your understanding match REALITY, you are faced with “crossing the line” – taking action.
    1. This requires a ton of TRUST that the facts you have collected and accepted as matching reality are TRUE. Taking action on wrong facts will have negative consequences.

These three steps are present in every #WalkAway story that I have watched: 1) noticing new facts, 2) assent to their truthfulness, and 3) trusting in their truthfulness by taking ACTION.

I’ve also seen these same steps in every conversion and deconversion story.

Surprisingly, these same steps were identified 500 years ago (and probably originated earlier) using the latin words noticia, assensus, and fiducia. (Apology of the Augsberg Confession, Philip Melanchthon, 1530)

But NOW WHAT?

So you have now had a #WalkAway moment from the Left or Democrats or whoever. Great.

Here are my recommendations going forward.

  1. Noticia: Keep “noticing new facts”. Don’t let that nerve go dormant ever again.
    1. It is my view that this “waking up” to notice new facts is a soulish or spiritual activity.
    2. Noticing facts about your own failings and brokenness is actually the work of God. Jesus said this would happen in John 16 “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment [John 16:8 ESV]” YOU don’t wake yourself up to this fact, it is an act of God in your life. Jesus calls it “conviction”. Yes, it is uncomfortable.
  2. Assensus: When you see that these facts line up with reality, you have a choice – resistance or assent.
    1. Forcing yourself to ignore facts you believe to be true is a horrible way to live.
    2. Do your research. If you have political questions, read more about politics. (Don’t take an actor’s or newscaster’s word on politics. Duh!)
    3. If you have religious questions ASK an intellectual RELIGIOUS person. (Don’t take an actor’s or newscaster’s word on spiritual matters, especially if their only opinion is mockery. Duh!)
    4. THE BEST PLACE for you to explore the facts related to Christianity is at a Ratio Christi Chapter on a college campus near you, or at a Reasonable Faith chapter, or at a Reasons to Believe chapter, or their websites and the Stand to Reason website.
  3. Fiducia: You will know when it is time to take action. There’s always a line to cross.
    1. For #WalkAway, it was making a video.
    2. For Christianity, it is taking action by trusting that God is there through prayer, or going to a church, or being baptized as a Christian.
      These actions make no sense if noticia and assensus are absent. So don’t stress about it at this time.
      (A note about choosing a church, if the leaders of the church do not value apologetics then move on. Apologetics is ‘making a case’ for the truth of something. A church that doesn’t engage in ‘making a case’ for their view is full of synchophants who will be suspicious of anyone asking questions. Move on.)

My message to the #WalkAway movement

You are enthusiastic about searching for the TRUTH. I don’t want you to lose that spark!

Seek the truth! Always.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

IF he was right, then a search for truth will lead you to Him.

If he was not right, then it wont. You have nothing to lose by searching.

It’s great to #WalkAway, but where are you going to WalkTo?

I love you all. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have this page.

Darren

6 Straight A Christian Thinkers

I’m reblogging so that more people will find this post. AND reblogging so that I can find this post again in the future. It is a nice summary of our A-Team. -Darren

Reflections

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The Christian church has been graced with brilliant and influential thinkers since its inception. A list of “who’s who” in Christian scholarship would be long and diverse in terms of scholarly disciplines. To whet your appetite in the areas of theology and philosophy, here’s a snapshot of six “straight A” thinkers.

By “straight A,” I mean two things. First, I’m noting that these thinkers were all brilliant scholars (no doubt, they would’ve received straight A report cards in today’s grading system) and accomplished philosophers and theologians who advanced Western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular. Second, all of these distinguished Christian scholars’ names begin with the letter “A.” So they’re Christendom’s A-Team!

Christendom’s A-Team

Here’s a brief summary of the “straight A” Christian theologians and philosophers from ancient and medieval Christendom and what they are known for:

  1. Athanasius (ca. 296–373), Defender of Orthodoxy

Athanasius is one of the most honored theologians in…

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Amazon Prime and Liturgical Worship

You would be hard-pressed to estimate my excitement when I saw the following album in my Amazon Prime Music App.

CPH-daily-prayer

This is an excellent recording of the Daily Offices – prayer services that fill the day with worship and praise. First, let’s define some terms using the Liturgical Glossary of the LCMS…

Daily Office
Services of prayer offered at established times each day. Already at the time of Jesus, set times for prayer were customary (Acts 3:1). By the sixth century, eight services of prayer, which included psalms and readings from Scripture, were observed in the monasteries. Since the Reformation, this schedule has been simplified to three times of prayer: Morning (Matins), afternoon/evening (Vespers), and close of the day (Compline).

Liturgy
In the Lutheran Confessions, liturgy is defined as “public service” in the sense that the proclamation of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments is God’s service done on behalf of his people. Sometimes the word is used to denote an order of service, though the more specific terms “order of service” or “ordo” are preferred.

MatinsThe first of eight daily prayer services that developed during the Middle Ages for use in the monasteries. At the time of the Reformation, these services were reduced to two: Matins in the morning and Vespers in the evening. Matins is a Middle English word that comes from Latin for “of the morning.”

Vespers
A Latin word meaning “evening.” Originally one of eight daily offices prayed during the Middle Ages, Vespers was retained at the time of the Reformation as one of two daily services, the other being Matins. Sometimes also referred to as Evening Prayer.

Compline (KAHM-plin)
Similar in nature to bedtime prayers, Compline is the last of the daily prayer offices that came into use during the Middle Ages. Prayed in later evening, the service is simple in nature and includes this appropriate antiphon for use with the Nunc Dimittis: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.”

Litany
In general, a responsory prayer with repeated congregational responses. In the Divine Service, the Kyrie is sometimes cast in the form of a litany, with the congregation responding to each petition with the words, “Lord, have mercy.” An expanded form of this litany is found in Evening Prayer. The most comprehensive form of the litany is the medieval version that was revised by Luther and still appears in hymnals today.

Chanting
A method of singing liturgical texts that are not metered (as in a hymn). Most chant consists of short phrases that are sung responsively between pastor and people. Psalms may also be chanted as well as parts of the liturgy (e.g., the Gloria in excelsis, The Lutheran Hymnal, p. 17).

The Lutheran Service Book (and the CPH Album) also includes Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Both are presumably included as alternatives to Matins and Vespers, respectively.

Now, the question you are probably asking, “Why would DW be so excited about this?”

There are several contributing factors:

  1. I was raised in a church that utilized a fair amount of chanted liturgy, especially the Venite. I have experienced even more chanted liturgy since joining the Lutheran Church in 1992.
  2. The popularity of chanted liturgy is waning, and I miss it dearly.
  3. I read the Benedict Option by Rod Dreher this summer where a bold apologetic for the disciplines of worship was made.
  4. And finally, I experienced two breath-taking chanted worship services at the Texas District Convention of the LCMS last June. This is explains my excitement when I found the CPH Album shortly after that convention.
  5. I felt a great need for more structure for my devotional life.

Therefore, I began in late June to listen to Morning Prayer in the morning during breakfast, pausing to read the Bible on my BlueLetter Bible App (My #1 recommended Bible App).

In the summer, I often drive home for lunch to get some extra family time. So I would listen to Matins on the way home. I would listen to Vespers on the way back to work. I’d listen to Evening Prayer on the way home from work at the end of the day. And saving the best for last, I would listen to Compline with my head on the pillow at the very end of the day.

Did I do this EVERY day? No.

Did I get at least 2 in every day for two (going on three) months? Yes.

So what? Glad you asked…

Dispelling Myths

I am 100% Lutheran when it comes to the view of participation in works. Listening to these services, singing along with all my heart and with a full voice, and praying the prayers did nothing to aid my salvation. There is no works-based or participatory merit system in play.

So what do I “get” from it?

I experienced all the following thoughts and feelings at various times. I am sure these are common to many people when they encounter chanted liturgical worship. I’ll outline them very briefly.

Curiosity

I was curious about the various prayers and canticles. I was pleased to recognize many of them as hymns of praise directly from Scripture like the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, the Benedictus, and the Venite.

Magnificat (mahg-NIF-ih-kaht)
The opening word in the Latin text of the song of Mary from Luke 1:46—55, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” This New Testament canticle has been sung at the daily service of Vespers (Evening Prayer) for some 1,500 years.

Nunc Dimittis (noonk di-MIT-iss)
Latin for “now dismiss.” These are the words spoken by Simeon as he held the 40-day-old Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:25—35). One of the New Testament canticles, it was traditionally used in the daily service of Compline and as an alternate to the Magnificat in Vespers. In the Lutheran Church it is also appointed for use following the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.

Venite
Latin for “oh, come.” The title for the song of praise taken from Psalm 95 that is sung at the beginning of Matins/Morning Prayer. The first line reads, “Oh, come, let us sing to the Lord.”  (Above, from the Liturgical Glossary)

The Benedictus
(also Song of Zechariah or Canticle of Zachary), given in Gospel of Luke 1:68-79, is one of the three canticles in the opening chapters of this Gospel, the other two being the “Magnificat” and the “Nunc dimittis”.

Nostalgia

As mentioned my earliest childhood memories of church were of singing the Venite in particular. The tune in Matins is exactly the same as the one I sung as a small boy in the Episcopal Church in the early 70’s.

Connection to the Past

I feel a deep connection to the body of Christ – his church – singing words and tunes that predate all the schisms that have occurred throughout the centuries. Ancient vs Modern, East vs West, Protestant vs Catholic – we disagree on creeds, councils, and popes, but we still sing the Magnificat and other canticles to tunes that have been in use for well over 1000 years. Amazing.

Novelty

Some of the song tunes were familiar, but many were not. It was very enjoyable to learn them over time. If singing along, I would mess many of them up. But I knew that over time I would get better. Taking a long view helped. It is a new and interesting exercise – practicing the liturgy, daily. In fact, that is what a DISCIPLINE is. It is “an activity or experience that provides mental or physical training.”

[1Co 9:26-27 CSB] 26 So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Negative Emotions or Responses

It is important to point out the cons as well as the pros.

Pride

Pride is always a risk. It is also one of the most difficult emotions to guard against. Even the acknowledgement that it is a risk can lead to pride in one’s own self-awareness. This is a bottomless pit. Therefore, it is best not to “selfie” the Daily Offices. Focus on worshiping God, not on the act of worshiping God. And PRAY for mercy. The Holy Spirit can accurately diagnose and alert one’s heart to the rise of pride.

[Jhn 16:7-8 CSB] 7 “Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you. 8 “When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment:

Boredom

Do the same thing long enough and the mind, especially the smart-phone-induced-short-attention-span mind, becomes bored. I know the words and tunes by now.

The well-known risk of rote behavior is real. So what is the remedy? Here are a few that I have experienced this summer.

  1. Check my motives. Why am I singing these songs of praise? Am I doing them to merely learn them? If so, then job done. But, if I am actually praising God, then they are merely a vehicle for my praise. This adds weight back to the practice.
  2. Move beyond the self-satisfaction of knowing the words and tunes. Now that I know them, I can meditate on them as I sing them. They become a deeper part of my thinking. THIS has allowed the words of praise to become MY OWN.

Don’t miss this. It took time and practice for these hymns of praise and tunes to penetrate my mind to a level that they became a part of me and how I worship God.

This fact alone is what bothers my conscience with the cut-and-paste bulletin liturgies of the modern church. I cannot deeply mean a prayer to my God that I have just been handed in a church bulletin. I need to chew on these prayers for months, years, and maybe decades before they become an inseparable part of my soul and my soul’s song to God. My favorite prayer is in the service of Compline.

Abide with us Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, and the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. Amen.

It will take time for me to memorize this prayer, and I look forward to the task over time.

In fact, Luther in the preface to the Small Catechism entreats pastors and teachers to

…above all be careful to avoid many kinds of or various texts and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc., but choose one form to which he adheres, and which he inculcates all the time, year after year. …

Is boredom a risk? Always. Are there fertile valleys on the other side if we would check our motives and cultivate a meditative attitude on what we are saying and singing? Yes.

Ending on a Positive Note

Unexpected Blessings

As I approach the car to head home, I now face a temptation to “move on”. I’ve experimented with the Daily Offices. It was enriching, but I’d really like to listen to another Issues Etc podcast.

Is this boredom? A quest for novelty elsewhere? Both? Not sure. I have skipped a few times to keep from being legalistic about these things. (Nice self-justification, there.)

Other days, I stayed the course and listened/sang through the service.

I have noticed repeatedly, that these tunes stick in your head for several hours and often days. I have also noticed repeatedly, that having words of praise rattling around in your head all day is a GOOD thing. These unexpected blessings are magnificent.

One of the first Bible memory verses I ever learned as a child was Psalm 119:11 “Thy word I have hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” I have thought all my life that memorizing a Bible verse was the same as hiding it in my heart. And to an extent I still think that is true.

I have come to see that these songs of praise have gone deeper into my mind, soul, and heart than any short or long-term mnemonically-memorized verse can ever hope to go.

These songs of praise and prayer are singing through my mind as I go about my work, When temptations arise there is a major mental showdown. It is very difficult to block out the beauty of the chanted daily offices so I can indulge in a petty yet dangerous diversion. Thy Word has been planted deep in my heart.

Sometimes it is tempting in the evening to just crash without a bath, but it is always better in my opinion to wash the day away. So now, when I approach the car and think, “am I going to listen to Matins on the way home?” I see it as taking a mental bath, and it serves its intended purpose by renewing my mind.

[Rom 12:1-2 CSB] 1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

My participation in the Daily Offices has been a powerful experience in many ways. They are straight from the Scripture and appear to be renewing my mind. My hope is that they, with regular study of the Scripture, will fulfill Jesus prayer for me (and for you) in John 17.

[Jhn 17:17 CSB] 17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

In Closing, I’d like to point out that since I have downloaded this album to my phone I have played snippets of it to three other people. All three lit up and wanted more.

It has been like dropping a spark onto dry grass.

I didn’t expect that at all. I thought I was a little off in my love for the ancient tunes and songs of the Daily Offices. Maybe I’m not.

Love to all,

Darren

Letter to my Pastors

To my roughly fifteen Pastors in six congregations of four mainline denominations over my forty-nine years in the church.

Greetings in Christ from your brother in the pew.

For those outside the church, if they wander across this letter, let me unpack what is meant by the word Pastor.

Pastors fulfill their calling (vocation) in public ministry, shepherding their flock (John 21:15-19), and raising them up to be disciples (students and followers) of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). They preach the good news of God’s rescue of us from the fruits of our own rebellion (Romans 10:15, 1 Corinthians 9:14, 16, 2 Timothy 4:2, 17). And, they faithfully administer the sacraments (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Sounds great! So why am I writing?

The purpose of this letter is one of encouragement.

I have noticed that the job description above is what might be described as “the recruiting poster“. Sometimes recruiting posters fail to describe the activity in the trenches. Let me describe the trenches for the benefit of outsiders and for the encouragement of all Pastors.

I want pastors to know that someone out there “gets it” and that someone out there is praying for them.

Pressure

What pressures do Pastors face on a daily basis?

  1. Spiritual Pressure – To quote Paul in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God… Pray, stay alert, persevere, and intercede.”
  2. Public Pressure – Pastors work in PUBLIC. Their good days are public. Their bad days are also very public. The scrutiny is tremendous.
  3. Effectiveness Pressure – Pastors are expected to mentor babies in the faith AND to develop mature disciples (Hebrews 5:12-13, 1 Peter 2:2). This balance is almost impossible to achieve. Simple sermons bore those who crave “meat” and Greek and Hebrew exposition lose the “young” toddlers in the faith.
  4. Image Pressure – Pastors families are public. This one hurts the most in my view. The pressure of having a photogenic and behaviorally-perfect family is a source of many stressful days and tear-filled nights for Pastor, their wife, and children.
  5. Cultural Pressure – Pastors stand in the “no-man’s land” between the trenches of church culture combatants. There seems to be no safe place to stand when the old guard and the new guard are both taking well-placed shots to move you toward their entrenched positions, to join their side, and to drive the others back, out, or away. Some Pastors choose sides and wage war. Others try desperately to “blend the trenches” and are criticized by both armies without mercy it seems. No matter the approach the Pastor finds himself “without a country” emotionally, and often this is in the center of church life, namely worship.
  6. Administrative Pressure – The organizational and administrative pressures have increased to an all-consuming level in some congregations. Pastors often have academic abilities to study, write, and teach. Others have affective abilities to encourage, listen, and give wise counsel. Still others have a servant’s heart to know who needs what and when. But few can do all these things AND run a board, manage the office, untangle human resources regulations, understand health plans for employees, wisely choose retirement packages for employees, and make necessary hiring, firing, and promotion decisions.
  7. Health Pressure – Trying to do it all has led to many health problems in Pastors over the years. Or if they are in good health, now, there is no margin. If they have a health issue, there is very little play in the joints for backup and assistance. This takes a great toll on the mental health of a Pastor.
  8. Political Pressure – I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up with a rising pressure that many dislike the most. There are mounting political pressures on pastors. Pressures from within the congregation to take a stand and to speak out on behalf of the congregation. Pressures within to NEVER do that. Pressures from without to comply with secular culture’s demands and fads. Everything is politicized to tbe benefit of no one.

Pascal’s Law in fluid mechanics says that “pressure in a confined incompressible fluid is omnidirectional and omnipresent inside the container“.

From my perspective pastors live in an incompressible fluid.

Living, working, and loving under omnidirectional, omnipresent pressure with no near-term end in sight (because that is the nature of your calling) is impossible…without God.

“…what is impossible with man, is possible with God…” – Jesus describing the likelihood of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Luke 18:27

Impossible People

Pastors (and all other disciples) are called to be “impossible people” as Os Guinness wrote.

May God in His grace empower us to fulfill our impossible callings:

  • to respond with love when insulted
  • to seek wisdom in every decision
  • to gather advisers and to take their advice
  • to trust our brothers and sisters in Christ
  • to trust again after that trust has been violated
  • and to DAILY worship and pray to Him from whom all blessings flow

May God bless you and keep you, Pastor, (and your family also). May God lift up His countenance upon you. And most precious of all, may God grant you His peace in this IMPOSSIBLE life. -Amen

Your brother in Christ,

Darren

Living Life Looking at a Screen

Thanks Ken, for this thoughtful post. I’d like to set a goal for all of us to make it a point to have screen-free face-to-face conversations this week with members of our family AND colleagues at work.

Reflections

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How much of your day is spent looking at a screen? Remember that “screen” includes smartphones, computers, tablets, televisions, movies, jumbotrons, video games, digital billboards, and e-books. One online source estimated there may be a total of 8 billion screens in the world.1 Now let me ask you a more indelicate question: If you are a parent, how much of your child’s day is spent looking at a screen?

In a recent article entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge states that research indicates that young people who spend lots of time looking at screens tend to feel isolated and lonely, get less sleep, and lack ambition.2

This article was adapted from Dr. Twenge’s new book, which is provocatively entitled iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the…

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A Real Resurrection and Why It Matters

We should tell our kids the TRUTH.

Natasha Crain’s latest post at Christian Mom Thoughts is a good one. I’ll let her set up the issue:

We attended that church for three years before we realized something wasn’t quite right. It was Easter Sunday when the pastor informed us, “It doesn’t really matter if Jesus rose from the dead or not. What matters is that he lives on in our hearts and we can now make the world a better place.”

We didn’t know the term for it at the time, but we had been attending a “progressive” Christian church. I knew the pastor was preaching something unbiblical, but I couldn’t have begun to articulate why—even though I had grown up in a Christian home and had spent hundreds of hours in church.

It’s sad to me in retrospect that the question of why it mattered that Jesus was raised from the dead was not completely clear in my mind by that point. But I think it’s a good example of how explicitly we need to connect the dots for kids. We can’t assume they will automatically deduce why the resurrection matters just because they learn the resurrection happened.

So why does it matter?

Read the rest of her excellent post here.

There are several reasons a real, bodily resurrection matters.

1. All of Christianity rests on Jesus and his death as the sole atonement for our sin.

[1Co 15:17 CSB] 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

[emphasis mine]

2. The MAJORITY of kids walk away from the faith. Why?

In almost every case it was because they have never been given ANY factual basis for belief.

They’re being talked out of their faith. Why? Because they’ve never been talked INTO it. – Frank Turek

More from Frank on the Youth Exodus Problem

We can lay the blame for much of this on ourselves — that is, on the church. While there are notable exceptions, most American churches over-emphasize emotion and ignore the biblical commands to develop the mind (1 Pet 3:15, 2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, we’re doing a great job performing for our youth with skits, bands and videos, but a terrible job informing them with logic, truth, and a Christian worldview.

We’ve failed to recognize that what we win them with we win them to. If we win them with emotion, we win them to emotion.

3. There are two types of sharing what we would call good news.

One type of good news is SUBJECTIVE.

  • “Hey! This new workout plan works for me, and it might work for you.”
  • “Hey! I love this new restaurant, and I bet you would too.”
  • “Hey! I was hurting and this book really helped.”

This is sharing a SUBJECTIVE opinion about things we find helpful and important. It is based upon the opinion of the subject making the observation (YOU). You are assuming that others might receive the same benefit, so you share your opinion with them.

THIS was the type of evangelism training I received in multiple churches in multiple denominations. “Give your personal testimony”, they said. “No one can refute your personal story”, they said.

Looking back, I see that this was a deliberate effort to avoid having to know any disputable facts. It did not serve me well at all, and it wasn’t an effective evangelism strategy for people who had questions about the facts of the Christian truth claims.

The other type of good news is OBJECTIVE.

  • “Hey! Large doses of acetaminophen will damage the liver, so don’t give your infant an adult dose of Tylenol!”
  • “Hey! You have a broken leg, and you need a doctor. I’ll take you to mine.”
  • “Hey! Don’t step off the ledge because gravity at this height will KILL you.”

These three examples are warnings and OBJECTIVE observations. It is not my opinion that excessive doses of Tylenol will harm the liver. Anyone could repeat an assessment of the data to see what the FACT of the matter is.

How is it that I’m classifying warnings as good news? Well, if your leg is broken, it is good news for someone to point that out to you. It is even better news if they know of a doctor who can set it.

The quote from Paul captures the OBJECTIVE connection between the resurrection and “your sins”.

[1Co 15:17 CSB] 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

IF you ACTUALLY have a SIN problem, then being warned about it is an example of OBJECTIVE good news.

If Jesus ACTUALLY rose from the dead, then this has HUGE implications about who HE is and who YOU are. This has huge implications for the connection of YOU to HIM. It points out that this connection may well be the most important connection in YOUR life.

It’s worth exploring. So PLEASE explore. Start with these posts, and pull the thread for you AND for your precious kids.

Aside

Easter Fools Day

Many of my friends have remarked that Easter falls on April Fools day, this year. Although they don’t say much, it seems like they are bracing for a bunch of jokes and snide comments about the foolishness of Christianity in general and the foolishness of believing that Jesus rose from the dead in particular.

If it were just a bunch of Aesop’s fables, Kipling tales, and folk lore, then not only would I have left the fold long ago, but I would be excited to tease the non-thinking adherents this April Fool’s Day.

I hope that shocks you. Hopefully, you think that doesn’t sound like me. It does, however, sound like the “old me” before I took my behavior seriously. I began taking my behavior seriously because I began taking my faith seriously. I began taking my faith seriously because I began to see the Christian truth claims as TRUE, not just as cultural clothing.

What led to this? Well, I found a surprising amount of historical and archeological data supporting the central claim of Christianity – that a dead guy (Jesus) came back to life.

Really?

Really.

Read my friend Ken Samples post for this evidence.

via A Dozen Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus