A New Year=Another Year Alive

What does it take to keep the human body alive? For one, you need just the right conditions. The air quality must be right, and the amount of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere must be right. The positioning of the Earth in our Solar System needs to be right where it is to sustain life, lest the Earth freeze over or burn up under the Sun’s intense heat. For those living by the ocean, the moon flying over our planet ensures that the Earth is not overcome by chaotic tides. The world cannot be a giant desert or a frozen tundra either, so we need specific weather conditions where the temperatures are right and that we get just enough sunlight and just enough rain. We need water, lots of it, either in the rain to nourish crops, or to wash in so we don’t reek, or, most importantly, enough to drink so our bodies do not die. We can live weeks without food. The body can only survive three, maybe four, days without water.

Another thing to consider is living with each other. For human flourishing, the least risk of death lies in peaceful, healthy societies. Perhaps you are blessed enough to sleep without fear of someone killing you in your sleep. You may not have to be so concerned about that in the United States, but it’s far different if you’re living in countries like Syria. Other nations may have a higher risk of spreading diseases, where clean water is scarce and medical intervention limited.

Then there’s the functions of the body. Even when you may be lying around, your body is still working and working hard. The brain needs to keep sending signals throughout the body to survive, as well as ensure that you can feel, smell, see, taste, and hear. The immune system is always on the watch to fight off viruses and germs. The digestive system is intaking and expelling food, water, and toxins so that the body is nourished. It goes without saying too that your heart needs to keep beating and beat consistently. If it doesn’t, you die.

And yet, even when all these things may be working, even with the sun shining and the body working and the nation peaceful and healthy, you still aren’t guaranteed another day here. I’m sure you have known people (as I have), healthy and full of life, whom in the prime of their lives are taken, either from a random disease, or an accident, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone was firing a gun, or from an act of nature no one had anticipated. There are some that have even died in their beds with no warning whatsoever. We are always at risk.

I hope you are not reading this thinking that this was written to scare you (well maybe a little), but rather to help us realize the fragility of life and how quickly it can so easily be snuffed. Many have lived their final day unaware that it was their final day. We make plans and arrangements on the assumption that we will be around to fulfill those obligations. There is no guarantee, however, that we will fulfill them. Man can only do so much. When we live, how we live, is not ultimately not up to us.

The only reason we do have our breath and being, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed, is because the Lord of the universe said so (Acts 17:27-28). The writer of Proverbs states also,

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

– Proverbs 16:9

It is He that created everything we see, and with wisdom that He established it (Gen 1, Job 38). It is He that has planned everything from the beginning to the end, even as man plots his own way (Psalm 2). Whatever He wishes He does (Psalm 135:6), and despite man meaning for evil, God means all for good (Gen 50:20). He declares everything from the beginning to the end, accomplishing everything He said he would do (Isa 46:10). This includes when we are born, where we live, what our jobs are, and when and how we will pass away. It is all in His hands and not ours.

What is ever more incredible to us is God’s permission to let man live even with our constant rebellion. The ages old question of why a good God would send people to hell is the wrong one to ask. It is rather: how does a good God allow a sinful man to live? If it is true that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), then none of us have any rightful claim to be here, let alone anything we have. Everything good in our lives is all out of God’s common love for man, including the placement of the planets for our thriving, as well as the gift to leave peaceably enough with each other and the biology of our bodies. That love is far more extraordinary for those whose faith is in the Lord, where through His Son the elect are spared from condemnation, not at all because He was obligated to, but because He wanted to. What love indeed!

I hope this humbles you, but I pray that this also gives you hope. If you are reading this now, this means that God has preserved you up to this point. You’re able to read and think about this, probably on a computer or smartphone powered with electricity, luxuries in our fallen world. He has kept your heart beating, has fed you, and preserved you. Despite your sin, you are still here! Despite any illnesses you are afflicted with or thoughts of depression or anxiety, you are still here! Even with everything going on in the world, all it’s wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters and human catastrophes, you are alive. That’s a tremendous blessing we take too much for granted today, especially in our modern culture of death.

Your life may not be easy, and as much as I wish I could promise you an easy existence, I cannot. But what I can assure you today is that if you live thanking God for His provision and rely on Him for the forgiveness of sins, He will help you persevere through this new year and beyond, and to do so with a song in your heart.

I hope you have a blessed and joyous New Year ahead!

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“God Loves You Just The Way You Are” Is Not Loving Enough

Users of social media are probably familiar with the generic phrases meant to encourage others out of their depression. “You are never alone.” “You’re future looks bright.” “You are amazing.” These snippets are small enough to not exceed Twitter character limits and yet positive enough to hopefully get the message across to another struggling person. Probably among the most common I’ve seen (and among the most telling) is something to the effect of “You are loved just the way you are.” Even more, not are you just loved the way you are by your peers, but God Himself lives you the way you are also.

There’s a lot to unpack in stating that God loves someone in their present condition. For one, it assumes a God of compassion and empathy. God is love after all (1 John 4:8), so it would follow that His love would be made manifest in the love for creatures. It also presumes that man can dwell in peace with God despite his state, whether be good or bad, just or unjust. God will accept someone as long as he/she gives the nod in His direction. In short, He is the great grandfather in the sky who is full of sympathy and little in wrath.

As pleasant as the human portrait of God sounds, it stands directly in contrast to the revealed God. It is true that God is love. Amen to that. But what love is to God is far different from what love is to us. There is a distinct difference between God’s grace for all man and God’s saving grace. We all get common graces (Matt 5:45). We get food, clothes, a bed and family/friends. We get talents and abilities, perhaps beauty and/or a strong intellect, all of which are blessings from a gracious hand. In that way, God does love everyone.

With that said, however, there are also people that are blessed with His divine favor and those who will not be spared from His wrath. There is a heaven as well as a hell, and there will be occupants of both. While everyone may receive common graces, not all will receive the divine grace of salvation. Only through Christ can a person have any hope of being blessed with everlasting life. In this manner, God shows greater love to some and lesser to others.

With regards to man’s estate before God, I should mention that it is misleading to tell others that God loves them for who they are apart from Christ. I would dare say that it is most untruthful to do so. Every man, woman, and child are by their nature sinful (Eccl 7:20, Romans 3:10). A sinful nature is one bred out of a rebellious and hateful stance toward God, which can only result in His wrath burning hot against them (Romans 1:18, John 3:36). Worst of all, it is one that man is enslaved to with no prospect of freedom, save the grace of God (John 8:34).

Is it all bad news? Not at all! In fact, I would argue that God not loving us the way we are is the best news we could ever receive. You see, Christ came into this world, suffered a shameful death, and rose from the dead because He didn’t want to leave us the way we are. If He loves us the way we were, there would be no purpose for a Christmas or an Easter. But in seeing that to leave us the way we are is to leave us in an awful position, God showed profound love by sacrificing His precious begotten Son, one He beloved more than anything else, so that we are forever and for all time changed. As the Apostle Paul writes,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

– Romans 5:6-11

God wasn’t at all forced to give up His own Son. If He were fully just to us, we would be left to suffer under the penalty of our own sin. But it was out of His mercy, compassion, and grace that He did so, and did so voluntarily. So when now we act like the way we are, we are given repentant hearts that allows us to come to Him for forgiveness. THAT is the God of love.

On a personal note, this news was the difference for me because it saved me from myself. When I would hear that God loves me as I was, I simply couldn’t accept it. I felt down in my soul that I was not lovely as I was, not at all. I needed a greater love. I needed a greater savior. I needed an intercessor. When I deserved the cross, I got Christ. In place of myself, I now receive a sanctifying spirit that grants the gifts of sanctification and joy in all circumstances.

To conclude, don’t turn to yourself to see God’s love. Keep your eyes above.

Suicide: A Consequence Of Modern Secularism

Within the last few days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released troubling numbers regarding life expectancy in the United States. In a time when medical technology has never been so advanced, the knowledge of disease so comprehensive, the life span of the average citizen is decreasing. While there are many causes to this decline such as diabetes and the flu, one major factor that the CDC cited was the increase in suicide. The rise has been so dramatic that the nation’s leading health authorities have shown great cause for concern. Said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC,

Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.

Sobering indeed.

But why in such an advanced age can suicides be increasing? If the scholars of the age are right, we are improving technologically, socially, physically, and morally. In many ways, we have. We can keep people alive far longer than we could have even a century ago. What would have taken weeks or months to communicate a message to another nation can be done instantaneously, and commercial airliners are able to span halfway across the world in less than a day. Food is mass produced, cheap, and easily available (at least in the US). Compared to other time periods of history, this one is relatively peaceful, with no large scale wars. Steven Pinker, writer of “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”, proclaimed in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, “Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.”

Despite all this teeming progress, people are dying of self-murder. And the numbers are growing. We are miserable, we are angry, we are sad, we are anxious, and we are societally depressed. Increasingly, more and more men and women are seeking the help of therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. A 2015 report from the Center of Collegiate Mental Health are showing record numbers of college students seeking mental health treatment. In the era of advancement, mental health has taken a step backward.

And it’s all due to the heart of man.

While suicide is increasing, there is also a growing trend of secularism in the West. On the rise in our times is the demographic of the “nones”, those with no religious affiliation whatsoever. This is not practical atheism, but rather a semi-deistic approach to religion. A vast majority of Americans believe in a god, but not any one in particular. It is mostly a god of our own images and likenesses, molded to fit or cultural perceptions and personal truths. And in our pluralistic society, it is best if we leave spiritual matters to the individual alone and not interfere. While most will call themselves spiritual, it is essentially functional atheism that reigns.

There is no doubt a connection between the two, and studies are now fleshing out that religious convictions are tied to suicide rates. Per a 2016 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, that on a global scale, those nations with deep religious heritages (ie Latin America) had lower suicide rates than those more secularized (ex Asia). The United States itself is a bit mixed, but that is understandable on the basis that it is still a mixed bag of increasing secularity and religious holdouts.

From a presuppositional perspective, the data is unsurprising. If all man is worth is at most an advanced animal and at worst cosmic stardust, wouldn’t it somehow result that people have in suicide a justification to end any trial or misery that comes into their lives? Why would someone continue to live in a world which, while seemingly peaceful and prosperous, will eventually burn up and reduce all of man’s accomplishments to nothing? Life’s suffering just doesn’t seem worth putting up with if all of existence will end and death a permanent condition from which no one will come back from. This is no straw-man. This is merely the ultimate end of the secular mindset, and it is literally deadly.

In short, I pray that you consider the following: who are you, who do you live for, and why are you here? You will find that with careful observation, the worldly and secular view just does not provide the deep answers and philosophical framework that is sustainable for healthy and joyful living. It is my hope that you will instead find a message and worldview that is not only reasonable, but also life-giving, life-preserving, and life-motivating.

And through that, make the world better than it is even now!

The Old Testament and Functional Marcionism in the Modern Church

marcionRecently, I wrote an article regarding Andy Stanley’s recent movement to “unhitch” Christianity from not only it’s Old Testament foundations, but it’s reliance on the Scriptures as the basis for our faith. This movement has many adherents. You could even argue that it is common ground for most liberals and many evangelicals. As written previously, if the church continues to move in this trajectory, it has devestating consequences for the faith. I would even go as far as to say that it steps right up to the line of heresy (if it hasn’t stepped over already).

Why do I say that? First, some context.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun”. Calls to neglect the Old Testament is far from a modern development. As a matter of fact, the movement to “unhitch” has ancient roots. After all, the basis for much of Andy Stanley’s theology is over the controversy in Acts as to the relationship of the Old Covenant with the New. The Apostles were Jewish believers who had to face the question of how Gentile converts were to be received into communion with the new church. Although kosher laws and circumcision were done away with, the writings of the Apostles clearly showed no intention to discard the Old Testament Scriptures, and instead incorporated them to validate the claims of Christ (i.e. Hebrews).

As the Apostles died off and the second century rolled around, a new movement arose that beyond them to demonize the Old Testament god. They were called the Gnostics, and they held a powerful influence in the first few centuries of Christianity. Gnosticism appears to have arisen contemporaneously with Christianity, although their exact origin is disputed. This is the sect Paul may have alluded to in his first letter to Timothy, written in the early 60s AD,

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge ” (γνώσεως, or gnosis).

– 1 Timothy 6:20

There were many Gnostic groups, but they each held a common core of beliefs:

  • The dualism between the inherent evil of the material world and the goodness of the spiritual world.
  • The god who created the universe was a lesser being (known as the Demiurge).
  • The spiritual god is the better, higher being (sometimes called the Monad) from which the lower god came from.
  • Human beings are created with emanations of the divine within them, yet are enslaved to their physical bodies.
  • The way to salvation comes from receiving the gnosis, or knowledge of the spiritual, by tapping into the divine element.

Gnostic followers soon adopted their teachings into Christian theology by identifying God in the Old Testament as the Demiurge, justifying their claims by pointing to his creation of the world and more so his “evil” actions committed against human beings. Conversely, Jesus was the higher god who through peace and grace taught His disciples the way to salvation through knowledge and rejection of the material world. Therefore, they taught that Jesus did not have a physical body but only appeared to have one, introducing the heresy of Docetism. It also goes without saying that a majority of the gospels rejected by the church (Thomas, Philip, etc.) are by and large gnostic in theme.

Early Christian figures of the second, third, and even fourth centuries spent a good deal of time writing against Gnostic groups such as the Valentinians and Manichaeism. Irenaeus, in his five volume set Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), condemned the Gnostics as “initiators and inventors of…perversity.” Eusebius of Caesarea writes in his Ecclesiastical History,

From them came false Christs, false prophets, and false apostles, who divided the unity of the Church by corrupt teachings uttered against God and against his Christ.

But among these sects, one arose to become among the most infamous heresies of the Christian Church. In the second century AD, Marcion of Sinope ran into trouble with the Roman Church where he was proselytizing. He had published a Bible that only contained the Gospel of Luke and 9 letters of Paul, omitting the Old Testament entirely. Why? According to the theologian Tertullian and others, Marcion was promulgating a quasi-Gnostic Gospel that proclaimed that Jesus of the New Testament and Yahweh of the Old Testament were incompatible and at odds against one another. Yahweh, in Marcionism, was relegated to the role of the cruel, tyrannical demiurge of the material world. On the other side of the chasm was Jesus, a higher being who was all forgiving and made the way of salvation available.

Marcion’s canon (often regarded as one of the first canonical lists of New Testament books) was rejected in Rome, Marcion himself excommunicated. Nonetheless, his teachings found a home in a world where Gnosticism flourished, and soon Marcionism became a rival of the orthodox Christian community. Origen, Tertullian, and Epiphanius were among the most prominent voices who wrote against Marcionism, but it took a few centuries before it eventually died off. It’s influence continued primarily in the East, with Marcionite communities still existing in Armenia in the fifth century, perhaps even later. Today, Marcion is often named with Arius and Pelagius as an arch-heretic.

Now, why did I bring all this up? Andy Stanley has never claimed to be a Marcionite, nor would I say anyone in his church nor those in agreement with him. I would certainly never say he was an actual Marcionite. With that said, there is reason to believe that he and many other Christians today are functional Marcionites.

I’ll flesh out a bit what I mean by fuctional Marcionism. By fuctional, I do not mean reverting to Gnosticism. Rather, I mean that a common belief in our churches today is that God in the Old Testament was harsh, perhaps evil, but Jesus came along in the New Testament and pacified God’s wrath with grace and mercy. We still, however, are stuck with what we got in our Bibles. Because of this, the Old Testament is reinterpreted from being the word of God to being the word of what Israelites thought about God. Ancient peoples could only think of their gods in this manner, so the writers of the Tanakh had no other choice but to portray Yahweh in this manner. Through this method, Christianity is more morally appealing, yet we still get to keep Jesus and the Old Testament together! You can have your cake and eat it too. Or so they think…

The problem is that this is far from the view taken by Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus proclaims that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46), carrying the connotation that Moses spoke concerning God Himself, since Jesus is a divine person. The Apostle Paul spoke of the Old Testament Scriptures as “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16), books that revealed the character of God Himself, not just what people thought God was. Church figures would also disagree with this sentiment. Augustine of Hippo is quoted as saying “The Old (Testament) is in the New (Testament) revealed, the New is in the Old concealed.” Martin Luther’s Preface to the Old Testament recommends that, “The Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised but diligently read.” The Old Testament cannot be discarded. It is too central to the faith to throw away.

Despite its holes, young people are eating it up, spurred on by popular teachers and liberal theologians taking advantage of their relative lack of knowledge and theological grounding. Even Christians who should know better find it tolerable. I would know. I went to a school where this belief was not uncommon and read many works that promoted it. The reason why I am strongly against this view is because I have seen the negative consequences of this belief and what happens when people take it to their ultimate conclusion: hatred for God Himself and rejection of the Gospel. And the people who promote this do hate God.

The issue I raise is not that they hate God (which they ultimately do) but it is that they put on the appearance of orthodoxy when they really are far away from it. Richard Dawkins has popularly called God in The God Delusion a “capricious malevolent bully” . While harsh, it is at least an honest critique of what he thinks about the Lord. Many people cannot even be truthful enough to come forward and say what’s in their hearts. Some may be confused, but I guarantee that the promoters know exactly what’s going on.

Bringing it back to Andy Stanley, it’s pretty apparent that the Old Testament offends him and does not want it to be part of the Christian message. The problem is made greater that he is not some academic at a university, but is the pastor of a church, carrying the last name of his famous pastor father, and is one of the largest influences in American evangelicalism. Podcasts and YouTube make his reach even farther. Because of this, he bears the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel to a large and expansive audience, and as a pastor one whom congregants look up to for guidance. Yet, he seems to have bought into a trendy and marketable false teaching, and is encouraging others to follow along.

I don’t take pleasure in calling out false teaching. I would be wholly content if I never had to do it. I wish to live in unity with all men and women, not separation. As Christians, we are to live at peace with one another as much as possible (Rom 12:18). Even more so, I do not take the term “heresy” lightly and I refrain to say it only when necessary. But when it comes to Christian truth, there are times when we must use the language that we do. Orthodox Christian doctrine is non-negotiable and should be defended at all costs.

And yes, the Old Testament is a non-negotiable.

Andy Stanley and the Problem of Pragmatism

Evangelicals seem to be eating up what Andy Stanley has been saying the last several months, haven’t they? Reactions have varied. Men like Albert Mohler and James White have been a considerable amount of time picking apart his “unhitching the Old Testament”. Others, like Jonathan Merritt and (surprisingly) Ed Stetzer, have been siding with Pastor Stanley on making the resurrection event, not the Scriptures, the center of the Christian faith.

Having watched and read his work carefully, I feel I can comment on what I believe to be the central issue of the problem regarding Andy Stanley’s message: his pragmatism, primarily its man-centeredness. There’s a reason why he longs to unhitch the Old Testament, even go as far as to say that he’s fine with only two Gospels and 1 Corinthians . If you haven’t noticed, the Old Testament isn’t very popular nowadays. It portrays a holy God who shows His wrath numerous times. It contains the Law of Moses that is often mocked as antiquated. A lot of people would have no issue getting rid of it entirely. After all, if Christianity isn’t about the Old Testament, we would be removing a big roadblock to faith would we not?

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s a lot more to the Old Testament than what is thought of as a violent and legalistic collection. To put it bluntly, without the OT, Christianity makes no damn sense. From the Tanakh, we get who God is, who man is, why there is sin in the world, and why man is in desperate need for God’s grace. And that’s in the first three chapters of Genesis! In Leviticus we have a foreshadowing of Christ’s atonement. We are shown again and again the Lord showing mercy when the people of Israel deserved none. Then there’s the prophecies, first in Genesis 3 and then throughout the Prophets, foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Did I forget to mention that Jesus doesn’t point to his resurrection event but to the Scriptures on the Enmaus road? Even Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 writes that Christ died and rose “in accordance with the Scriptures”, something Stanley ignores when he quotes it in one of his more recent sermons.

But clearly, Andy doesn’t believe that the Scriptures can speak for themselves. On the contrary, it is up to the almighty will of man. He often makes reference to having it be “up to us” to save Christianity for the next generation. Andy may not state upfront that he thinks the Spirit is inept to preserve the Gospel, but functionally he seems to. This is where pragmatism raises its head. In order to get more butts in seats, we got to make the Gospel as palatable as possible for the public. That means cutting out things we may not like or approve of. And Andy Stanley has clearly shown that he does not like a lot of the Bible at all.

Let me tell you why, Andy, Christendom is fading in the West. It’s not because of the Reformers or Sola Scriptura as you and a lot of other people like to claim. Quite the opposite. It’s the very pragmatism you preach from the pulpits that’s causing the problem. Evangelicalism is a joke. It has created generations and nations of minimal, non committed church goers who have been given little to believe and a weak foundation to believe in the first place. It should come as no surprise that any little wind of trial or challenge that comes their way destroys any small amount of belief they had, if they even really believed at all. I got to be honest, I watch that video of all the youth in his church and I see mobs of future atheists who are there for the just as big of a joke of youth entertainment. Sorry I mean youth “ministry”.

To tell you the truth, Christianity will survive with or without our help. God doesn’t need any assistance to keep the Gospel going. He has promised in his Word (yes, the Scriptures) that the Gospel will go out to all nations and that He will be with His saints until the end of the age. The way that it is preserved is the raising of Godly men and women who actually believe something, whose faith and convictions are anchored in the Old and New Testaments, all of whose books were canonical and inspired right after the pen was put down, not determined by a church council centuries after the fact. It is not an event that holds my faith together. It is the testimony that proclaimed that event, and without this testimony that is the Scriptures, Christianity’s dumb and Christians are dumb for following it.

And finally, the Gospel is not beautiful because Jesus makes me feel so darn good. If I wanted to feel good about myself, I wouldn’t be going to Christianity. No, what makes the Gospel beautiful in my eyes is that God sees me as beautiful despite my sin and the wretchedness of my heart, loving me through the painful and terrible death of His only Son and ensuring that I never face the just punishment of my wrongs but the eternal blessedness of His glory. That is the message I could never get from your “gospel”.

I write this as an appeal, not as an attack. I pray for Andy Stanley and his church. And I pray for all of us that the Lord sparks a Reformation in our world and a revival in the hearts and souls of us all.

A Christian’s Short Reflection On World Mental Health Day

October 10th was World Mental Health Day. Yeah I know I’m a day late (get over it), but at least it allowed a day to truly reflect on what everyone would say on it before I put in my two cents. As expected, a lot of people had something to say about it. Whether it was depression or anxiety or anything else, posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter contained testimonies of people’s own struggles with their mental health. I found very personal and heartbreaking stories in several of them and was truly encouraged by their words.

At the same time, however, I couldn’t help but feel that a majority of the stories I was reading didn’t really give that much encouragement. I would go further to say that it’s as if they copied and pasted what someone else said more than how they actually felt. Catchphrases like “you are worthy of love”, “it’s normal”, or “it’s okay to feel the way you do” seemed to be thrown around quite a bit. While these words aren’t meant to be malicious, they tended to carry with it a shallow and vapid meaning to them.

As someone who has struggled with these things myself, I can tell you from experience that these advice pieces did nothing to improve me. I know something is deeply and at times disturbingly wrong with me, despite others telling me that what I am feeling is somehow natural. Depression is not a natural inclination, anxiety is not a normative trait, and suicidal thoughts certainly go against any created purpose for what our thoughts should be. It’s not normal.

Even more so, I know deep down in my soul that I am not worthy of love based on my own self. Not at all. Yes, I may be in the image of God and therefore gives me a degree of worth above other creatures (Gen 1:26-28). But the Spirit also shows me that I am a sinner, rebel against the gracious, sovereign King of the universe, and that I am worthy of nothing but condemnation (Rom 6:23). To say otherwise shows a great deal of brazenness and arrogance on my part. I believe a major reason why people go through depression is because deep down, they don’t buy what the world says and know that they are not deserving either.

There’s a reason why we are allowed to fall into such despair. It’s not for God can highlight our faults and say “you’re hopelessly doomed”.  I would even argue that it is much better for us to come to the realization of our condition than continue to be blinded by our own pride. While despair may be a consequence of these feelings, they’re not meant to drive us off a cliff. Rather, they are to drive us to the One who can us. Realizing our inability and incapability to help ourselves is the first step toward resting on the graces of someone who is totally able and capable. The reason why we are loved is not conditional on our faithfulness or inherent “goodness”, but because Christ is faithful to us on our behalf (2 Tim 2:13).  His is a purposeful love that calls us out of the darkness in order that we may be called to our true purpose: to serve the God of glory (1 Peter 2:9). God’s love is a gift of His grace. That makes it much more beautiful than if it was owed to me.

To close, I would pray that if you are struggling, do talk to someone. That’s what others are made for. But also we must be prudent and careful as to whom we seek help from and what feedback we should heed. We need someone who gives Godly, wise advice for our problems (Prov 3:5-6, 19:20). There’s a lot of downright terrible advice from soothsayers and fatalists alike. People may be well meaning, but may say things that are detrimental. If you’re really in a rut, I suggest seeking help from a biblical counselor or a pastor.

I will continue to pray and encourage you and all those for need help in their times of trial and trouble. Run not to despair. Run into the arms of the Lord.

To God Be the Glory

Sola Feels

During my senior year of college, I found myself in the office of the university therapist quite a bit. I was depressed very often, and it got so bad that I eventually had to end my fall semester early. In the spring, I went back and continued my sessions, but the problems remained. My therapist had to put up with a lot from me, and to this day I am very grateful to her for her help.

During one of our sessions, she brought up a point I still have not forgotten, one that has tremendously changed how I viewed my condition: a primary catalyst as to why I would feel the way I did was because I was letting how I felt determine how I saw the facts. I may be viewing everything was bad, but it really wasn’t. I was on the verge of completing my bachelor’s degree, living comfortably, had close friends, was part of the ultimate frisbee club, was healthy and fit, and (although my parents are deceased) I still have family to rely upon. I ignored all those things in my depression, and instead chose to see my life in a constantly negative way. Four years later, I look back on those days with regret. My depressive state essentially ruin my senior year and scarred close relationships.

This dichotomy of feelings and reality isn’t relegated solely to the mental health field. Our postmodern culture has exemplified the divide. In an era of relative truth, reality now is possessed in the eye of the beholder. Sure, people may claim to cling to science and philosophical reason as their arbiters of truth, but without an objective standard, science and reason is instead interpreted to fit one’s needs and emotions. You are seeing this exemplified in the societal chaos being seen today, where “letting one’s heart decide” trumps objective concerns. Even in the sciences, dissenting opinions are being censored to preserve the new orthodoxy that pervades the culture. This is the era of “sola feels”, or “feelings alone”, in contrast to the five solas that blossomed from the truths of the Protestant Reformation.

This is not to dismiss emotion entirely. Indeed, we are creatures who emote happiness and joy, sadness and anger. It is necessary that we feel and it is appropriate to elicit empathy when bad things happen, or merriment over the good. We feel because God Himself feels (Gen 1:26-28). The Lord reveals His emotions throughout Scripture, such as being grieved (Gen 6:6), joyous (Zep 3:17), and even emoting hate (Psalm 11:5).

There is a distinction, however, that must be made. God is a god of truth (John 14:6). Therefore, His emotions will always be in accordance with the truth. He has perfect clarity as to how He should feel and why. When He feels hatred, that anger is always justified. When He loves, it is never tainted by sin. Our emotions, on the other hand, are often unjustified and tainted by our fallen nature. When we emote based on our own presuppositions, we will act accordingly to what our “truth” is. If our truth is not in God, it is in us. It becomes how we feel about things. Such a conclusion has disastrous consequences for our lives.

I want to circle this back to mental health because truth and emotion is most certainly a determining factor in one’s depression. Let us say for instance that I believe that I am useless. Why would I feel useless? Well, I see how I’ve messed up a lot of things and I am not a very popular person. Perhaps I have been called useless by others. If my framework starts with “I am useless”, then I can more easily verify my identity via confirmation bias and prove my starting point. The ultimate end of my findings would be depression, despair, maybe even suicide. It is not at all a stretch to assume this considering the current epidemic of suicide occurring.

Now I will contrast this with the Godly response. Instead of me, I look to God and His revealed Word as my basis for truth. Genesis 1 affirms that I am made in the Imago Dei, the Image of God. That by default gives every man and woman dignity and respect, worth that lifts human beings above every other creature under heaven. There’s more to this. A believer in the Lord also gains, among other things: redemption through the forgiveness of sins (Isa 1:18), the refuge of God (Psalm 46:1), and the right to call God “Abba, Father (Rom 8:15). Finally, Christ sets us free from our old life, as He said,

If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

– John 8:31-32

When you grab hold of the reality, you no longer are enslaved to your emotions and your feelings, nor to your depression. You are set free from those bonds! Confidence in the Gospel gives us ultimate victory over the old life we once lived (2 Cor 2:14). Your emotions will positively flow from the grounded truth, leading to a much more joyous life, even when trials face us. Even when you are down ,you will be given the strength to press on.

In short, do not buy into the culture of “sola feels”. Cling to “sola veritas”.

Truth alone!

If you are interested in helping a good cause, please view the link below and support my walk for a cause next Sunday, October 6th, 2018, in Philadelphia! Your prayers and support are appreciated. God bless!

Out of the Darkness Walk: Kevin Otterbine

 

 

A True and Living Hope for World Suicide Prevention Day

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

– Romans 5:1-5

Everyone lives for something. It is in the nature of man to pursue a purpose for life. This generation tells us to “follow our hearts”, that we can capture our meaning by creating one for ourselves. What is becoming apparent, however, is that such a pursuit is a fleeting vanity, and that this quest can lead one to their own self-destruction.

As you may know, September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and in lieu of that there was an observation or two that I feel should be made. Without question, suicide is a modern day epidemic. It is growing across every demographic, taking the lives of the young and old, male and female, white and black, in horrifying numbers. Now usually when there are epidemics, there is an emphasis to identify the root cause. For diseases like cholera or malaria, it’s generally a virus. But suicide is different in that it defies biological and physiological considerations. Sure there may be persons who are predisposed to depression, some to mental health disorders, but suicide is affecting those who have neither. So what’s happening?

As I have argued before, the key factor is the loss of hope. More specifically, a true hope that extends beyond ourselves, our loved ones, and our possessions. Due to the fallen condition of man, we find alternatives to our true purpose for life, exchanging what we are really supposed to live for, namely the glory of God, for lies (Rom 1:25). The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines the glorification and enjoyment of man as our chief end in life (WSC 1). When God gets cut out, a vacuum opens up which must be filled, lest we drift around in meaninglessness. So it gets filled with other stuff: money, sex, friends, family, sports, work, etc. These things, however, cannot bring lasting joy. They’re not supposed to. They’re nice things, but they’re not things made to have our lives revolve around them. When these things crumble, when our self-determined destiny falters, so does our purpose, our joy, and our hope. Is it any wonder, then, why we are seeing what we are seeing?

If you’ve read my previous articles on this, chances are that you may be getting tired of me saying the same thing over and over again. But the issue has come to a point where I cannot stress enough the importance of grounding our happiness in an external and eternal reality. Our youth are striving for something to live for and are suffering under the anguish of depression, but we have failed to give life to them. It is a life and death issue, both in this present life and in the life to come. What is our hope based on? Can it pass away? Will it collapse under pressure? Ask this of yourself before you consider how you approach others who are struggling with suicidal tendencies and thoughts.

If you are prone to depression or suicidal thoughts yourself, I prayerfully ask you to consider what I’ve briefly said here. Here’s both the good and the bad news: we cannot fix ourselves. As the Apostle Paul stated, we all fall short (Rom 3:23). But in the very next sentence, we receive the hope that God gives,

and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

– Romans 3:24-25

As someone who has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, I have been through many therapies, tried several medications, even been hospitalized. They helped in one way or another to make me feel better, but they didn’t save my soul. All they did was suppress my inner demons. Once I stopped the medication, or left a therapy session, the demons came right back. I needed something more, much more. I needed a savior. And through the grace of God, He is an able deliverer.

Do I still struggle? Sure. But grace has given me the power to overcome in the midst of my troubles and to persevere in trial. It is my prayer that grace saves you also. You can never be broken enough to disqualify you.

 

Love Grown Cold

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.

– Matthew 24:12

There seems to a lot of bitterness nowadays isn’t there? Civil discourse has degraded into childish mudslinging. Open shaming of individuals in restaurants and parks is not only becoming more common, but has even been encouraged by politicians. One cursory viewing of the nightly news and the conclusion can be driven up that there’s not a whole lot of love lost in the aisles of Congress, nor from the staples of social media.

Speaking of love lost, a cultural moment usually finds it’s precedent in the past. The idea that things are worse than they’ve ever been is very debatable (although they are certainly tense). One of these precedents was in the era of Roman occupation of Judea in the first century AD. Constant rebellions and uprisings by the local populace had everyone on edge, culminating in the raid of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. It was in this context that Jesus spoke of the coming tribulation that would change their livelihoods and their land forever*. Among the things that would take place at this time are conflict (Matt 24:6-7) and persecution (v. 9-11), culminating in Jesus’s ultimate statement: that the love of many will “grow cold” (v.12).

Now what does this have to do with us? Well, a bit more than you think. Although this passage has a particular context, the words of our Lord have modern, practical applications. The sense that Jesus is carrying here is one of righteous, Godly love, not the empty alternative of the world’s love. God’s lovingkindness is steadfast and slow to anger, the world’s is not (Exod 34:6). His love is not dependent on one’s works or deeds, wealth or social standing, but is a free choice of His grace, loving the world (John 3:16) and particularly the elect (Ephesians 1). Loving God and loving neighbor is not optional, it is a command, one that undergirds the entire moral and legal framework of not only the Scriptures, but can easily be extended to the entire created order (Matt 22:36-40).

When the love and mercies of God are withdrawn, it has a direct correlation with the love of the world. Because love in the truest sense can only come from the one who is love (1 John 4:8), what is left in its place is a mere counterfeit. One worldly movement may claim to proclaim justice for the people’s sake. But with only a few exceptions, most members are merely interested in preserving their own self-righteousness. Likewise, another chastises others for their lack of tolerance, hating and destroying their lives in the name of “love”. These modern cultural causes have a root origin: with the loss of the love of God is in its place the love for oneself and the self-gratification of man’s sinful desires. Is it any wonder, then, why the love of many has grown cold?

As Christians, we must be careful to fall into the pitfalls of having our own love grow cold. It’s very easy for our own hearts to be hardened, to hurl insults back as opposed to turning the other cheek. Christian love is not vengeful nor prideful. If our love is, it isn’t from God (1 John 4:20). Rather, it is, as the Apostle Paul wrote, patient and kind, rejoices in truth, bears, hopes, believes, and endured all things (1 Cor 13:4-7). If we are of God, we must love like it.

In short, let us remember that we can never compromise on the truth, but also that when we proclaim it to others, we must conduct ourselves in a manner is that gentle as well as respectful (1 Peter 3:15).

*This article assumes a preterist view of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In other words, the opinion of the article writer is that Jesus’s words were primarily fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD, as opposed to the futurist view that holds that the prophecies therein have yet to come to pass.

The Gospel Will March On, With or Without Republicans in Congress

Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

– Isaiah 46:10

If anything, President Trump knows how to rile up an audience. And one demographic that has been on edge in the United States recently has been the American Evangelical. On Tuesday, the President issued a warning to that group regarding the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. Per Trump,

This November 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. It’s a referendum on so much.

First, the political message. The statement would certainly indicate that a swing to a Democratic majority in Congress could spell negative consequences for the religious right, those who have taken strong conservative stances on abortion and the LGBT movement. According to Trump, the “progress” that has proceeded with a Republican in the Oval Office and a Republican majority would most certainly be swept away by the radicalism rising on the other side of the aisle.

But what is more striking to the reader (at least a Christian one) is the phrase “a referendum on your religion”. It’s clear that the message is directed at a particular audience. Trump is certainly not referring to Jews or Muslims, nor Hindus or Buddhists. The language of the President’s proclamation is most certainly utilized into coercing Christians to vote for the Republican party out of fear that the faithful will lose their rights, maybe even to open suppression, if the Democrats rise to power. Christianity, to Trump, will lose without Republican support.

The statement, of course, is very near-sighted. It is not up to the Republicans nor the Democrats to determine the future of Christianity. Christianity has existed for 2000 years without their support (and Judaism further back than that) and will continue whether the American populace finds it agreeable or not. Why? Well, because none of us are in control of the future. Only the Lord is. He raises kings and brings them down at His pleasure (Dan 2:21), determing which ways they should go (Prov 21:1). Not even the “small things” are left out of His reach (Luke 12:6-7). He needs no council to know what He should be doing. He has already laid the plan out long before any of us were here (Isa 40:13-14).

Not only does God control the future, but He finishes what he starts. Scripture contains promises that God will accomplish everything that He purposes, and no man or creature can ever hope to oppose His will. As Job prays,

I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

– Job 42:2

As a supplement to this assurance, Jesus states plainly to His disciples that the Gospel will go out to all the world, and then the end will arrive (Matt 24:14). The Spirit of God will go out and the message will continue. The steadfast promise of God is that no principalities nor powers can separate the love of God from the elect (Rom 8:38-39). Likewise, they also cannot stop God from moving the nations. History has confirmed this. Dictators have come and gone throughout the centuries who have done all in their power to wipe the faith off the map. And yet today, they are all dead while the Gospel still lives. One can look at China, where Mao Zedong and his successors have tried to remove Christianity, and see the Gospel growing and thriving in the face of such efforts.

For those of you who are worried about whether or not this is truly a “referendum” on Christianity, I will be direct with you: your view of God’s sovereignty is too low and your belief in God’s unfailing promises too weak. Hold steadfast to the rock of truth and take comfort in our Lord’s words to His anxious disciples,

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

– John 16:33