Sonship vs. Servanthood

Posted on 17. Feb, 2014 by in Sonship

For the past few days the idea of sonship has been on my heart, as it is an issue that I think is poorly understood in the body.  Today I was reading Hebrews 3:5-6, as follows:

“Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” (Hebrews 3:5–6, NASB95)  (emphasis mine)

This verse differentiates between the service of Christ and the service of Moses.  Moses was commended for his faithfulness as a servant, but Christ for His service as a son.  As those that have been raised in Christ, we are also called to walk as sons and daughters.  The primary difference, in my opinion, between a servant and a son relates to the authority that each walks in.  A servant walks in very little authority.  He does what he is told.  A son walks under the authority of the father, tending to the affairs of the father, with the authority given to him by the father.  According to Matthew 28:18, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus.  As His body, as those that are raised up in Christ, we are to walk in that same authority, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Hebrews 2:6-8 discusses the authority that God has given to man, in Christ:

But one has testified somewhere, saying, “What is man, that You remember him?  Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?   “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And have appointed him over the works of Your hands; You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”  For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

I used to read that verse as referencing Christ, but both the original passages in Psalms 8 and the passage in Hebrews gives a lower case “m” in “man”.  Man is not referring to Jesus, it is referring to us!  When God created the earth and put Adam and Eve in the garden, He gave them authority over all creation.  They were commanded to rule and subdue it, and cultivate and keep it.  When man fell, that authority was abdicated.  When Christ came, died and was resurrected, the mantle of that authority was picked up again, but it is once again given to man to walk out this authority.

Hebrews 3:14 states “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”  If we partake of Christ, then surely we partake of His authority.  Indeed, the church is referred to as the body of Christ on multiple occasions.  What does that mean?  It means that we are His hands and feet!  If He is going to accomplish something in the earth, He will do it through a person, a man or a woman, through His body!

Read Romans 8:14-23.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

I want to make a few points regarding this passage.

  • First, verse 17 points out that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ”.  This furthers the idea from Hebrews 3:14 mentioned above.  We are partakers of Christ, and we are fellow heirs with Christ.
  • Verse 17 puts a qualifier on being fellow heirs, stating “if indeed we suffer with Him”.  The bible has a lot to say about suffering, and this passage is one that verifies the fact that following Christ will bring suffering.  This topic of suffering is a whole other post, which some day I will write on!
  • Verses 19 and 21 identify the importance of the “sons of God” and “children of God” in God’s planning.  In verse 19 we learn that creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  In verse 21 we read that creation will be set free into the “glory of the children of God”.  Notice that creation isn’t groaning for the revelation of Christ, but for the revealing of the “sons of God”! Of course, the revealing of the sons of God began with the revelation of Christ, as we only find our expression as sons through Christ. Nevertheless, by God’s design, creation groans for US to be revealed as sons and daughters in the earth, mature believers who walk in the fullness of Christ.

I want to hit on another important theme I have come across in studying sonship.  Galatians 4:4-7 makes it clear that those that are in Christ are sons of God.  However, Romans 8:19 mentions the revealing of the sons of God as an event that has yet to occur, and Romans 8:23 states “but also we ourselves…groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of the body”, implying that it is yet to come.  Here we find the dual reality of scripture, that, at the same time, something has been accomplished and is being accomplished.  This is similar to the concept in Philippians 2:12 and 3:20, which state that we should “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” and that we still “eagerly wait for a Savior”, even though Christ has already come!  So, at the same time we ARE sons (and daughters), and we are BECOMING sons (and daughters).  The answer to this riddle comes in 2  Corinthians 4:18:

while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Our salvation and sonship are complete in Christ, in “the unseen” or eternal realm (since God is not ruled by our sense of time).  In the temporal realm, our sonship and salvation are still a work in progress, thus the encouragement to “work out your salvation…”.  So, if we are walking towards sonship, how will we know when we have “arrived”, so to speak (in reality we will never fully arrive in this life, but we will continually work towards it).  Romans 8:14 gives the answer:  “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”.  Galatians 4:1-7 describes a transition, from being merely children (or slaves) to being adopted sons.  This transition, of course, occurs in Christ, but as we’ve asserted above that transition is actually a process of working out that eternal truth into a temporal reality.  So how does a “child” grow up to become a “son”?  By maturation, or in this case spiritual maturation.  And the more we mature in our pursuit of Christ the more we act as sons, and the more we are led by His Spirit, instead of by our own fleshly wants, desires and fears.  And the more we walk as sons (and daughters) the more we understand what it means to be a son of God.  We begin to grasp hold of the fact that we are heirs with Christ, and that we walk in His authority.  Consider Ephesians 1:22-23:

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

All things have been placed under subjection to Christ, and Christ is the head over the church, and the church is “the fullness of Him”.  If we are the fullness of Christ, then we must also have the ability to operate in His authority!

In researching for this article I came across a writing by Josh McDowell, entitled The Authority of the Believer.  This article references Ephesians 1:20, stating that the victory of Jesus over the enemy was accomplished when He was raised from the dead and seated “at His right hand”, or at the right hand of God the Father.  Likewise, according to Ephesians 2:5-6, WE were “made…alive together with Christ”, when he “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places”.  So, Jesus was raised and seated at the right hand of God, and likewise we have been raised and seated at the right hand of God.  Ephesians 2:21 goes on to describe how Jesus has been raised “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion”.  If Christ is at the right hand of God, and He is above all rule and authority, etc., then it follows that if we are in Christ at the right hand of God, that we also are above all rule and authority.    Josh McDowell defines our authority as “delegated power”.  This concept comes from Luke 10:19, where Jesus states “Behold, I have given you authority…over all the power of the enemy”.  This same power has been delegated to us, His body, as was discussed above.  I love Josh’s statement about how we walk out our authority in  Christ:

But this is only to the extent of our spiritual apprehension. Because, you see, authority is delegated power and until the believer comes to realize the power behind him, he will never exercise the authority of the believer.  The more you apprehend the power behind you, the more you will exercise the authority of the believer.

So, the point of this discussion is that, in our growth and maturation as believers, in our progress towards sonship, we see more and more of Christ, and come to realize more and more just how powerful He is.   Once we see that, and realize that we are His fullness, and His representative on the earth, we begin to understand what it means to be a son (or daughter) in the kingdom, and we begin to stand up and exercise the authority that we have been given.  We begin to stand up and take our place as sons and daughters!  You see, we have been placed in the greatest place imaginable:  in Christ!  But if we don’t realize what that means then we will continue to live our lives in defeat.  The Father wants to exercise the authority of Christ in the earth, but He has given it to us to be the conduit of that authority!  We don’t have to live in subjection to fear and doubt, to the storms and waves of this life.  We are called to walk out His victory.   This does not mean we will not suffer.  In fact, the bible makes it clear that we WILL suffer!  But, if we persist, we will find that our victory has already been won.

Expectations in Christ

Posted on 13. Jan, 2014 by in Faith

The topic of faith is something that the Lord has continually pushed me in for the last several years.  It is something that was so mis-taught in the churches I attended as a child, so I had to undo those mindsets, and then begin building from a fresh perspective.  Unfortunately I think this topic is widely ignored in the lives of most believers, to the detriment of the body.  I have recently had several conversations with believers I know about things they were praying for or hoping for.  In each conversation we discussed the things that we felt the Lord had intentioned, and in each conversation the following statement was made:  ”I hope so”.

In my previous thoughts on faith I always had an understanding that persistence in application of faith was important, but I could never really put what I felt into a nice package.  Last week, while reading in Philippians, I came across the following verse:

   “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:18–20, NASB95)  (emphasis mine)

The words “earnest expectation” embody what the Lord was trying  to make me understand about walking in faith.  We can’t pray for an item and then “hope” it comes to pass.  We first have to pray and speak according to the will of God, and then we have to expect it to take place!  If we pray and then say “I hope so”, our prayer will likely never come to fruition.  But if we pray for something, and even 5% of our being can earnestly expect that to come to pass, then we will see the answer to our prayer.  You see, God isn’t moved by our hopes and dreams.  God is moved by our faith.

   “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB95)

“And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:20, NASB95)

Faith to me is simply this:  a tenacious decision to accept the word of God (be it from the bible or otherwise) as being greater truth than what I perceive with my natural senses.  Paul says the following in 2 Corinthians:

   “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18, NASB95)

There is a duality of our walk in Christ, a constant tension between that which has already been accomplished in Christ and what we actually see lived out day by day.  In my next post I will address this further, but for now, suffice it to say, we have to get ahold of what we have been given through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We have been given a new mind, a clean heart and a whole host of things discussed in the bible.  Of course these things aren’t ours to use as we go through life willy nilly, these things are ours to possess as we pursue Christ!  But we can never possess them if we don’t know they are ours, and we can’t know they are ours if we don’t seek to know by reading His word, and trusting the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to us.  And we can never possess them if we don’t see them as being more real than our current, natural “reality”.  We can’t possess them if we don’t EXPECT to possess them!  So next time you hear the words “I hope so” coming out of your mouth, change your thought process and your speech to the definitive yes, and not the hopeful maybe.

Suffering for Christ

Posted on 07. Jan, 2014 by in Faith, Suffering

It’s been a long time since I posted, but I feel that it is time to get back on the  horse and begin sharing the things the Lord puts on my heart.  The easiest place to start is to post little snippets from my daily reading, so that is what I’ll do now!

I’ve been reading in Philippians the last few days, and today brought me to Philippians 1:29:

   “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (Philippians 1:29, NASB95)

Interesting what Paul states here.  He gives us two things that we have been granted.  The first one we would all agree is a good thing, to believe in Him.  The second thing, however, takes some consideration!  It has been GRANTED to us to suffer for His sake!  I have always said that “he never promised us a rose garden” (the title of a song by a group called Three-in-One from my home town of Leoti, KS), and I have always maintained the truth taught elsewhere in the New Testament that suffering produces growth in our walk with God (I’ll delve into this topic in more depth later).  This morning, however, I was a little bit surprised to read Paul’s verbiage, that the suffering is intentional!  Now, this does not mean that God causes tragedy in our lives.  Believe me, walking separate from the world, seeking after Christ, brings plenty of suffering and adversity without needing those kinds of things.  The point is that God intends us to walk through adversity, He intends us to suffer, because it is in our suffering that we are forged more and more into the image of Christ.  A couple of verses come to mind:

   “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2–3, NASB95)

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB95)

These are just two of the verses in the New Testament that speak to this issue, but there are others.  Again, the idea is that suffering is expected, and we should glory in our sufferings, as they produce Godly fruit in our lives.  Let’s not shrink back from adversity, but rather embrace it with confidence, knowing that we serve the God of creation, and He has already given us the victory.  We simply have to walk it out!

One last verse:

   “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:32–39, NASB95)  (Emphasis mine)

I will write more later on my experience of walking in faith, as it is much different than I was brought up to believe as a younger Christian.  Suffice it to say for now that it is our faith that ultimately moves God, and it is our faith that helps us through the difficult times (through the suffering), and it is our suffering that ultimately perfects our faith.  We need to see ourselves as victorious ones, as conquerors in Christ (read Joshua for a visual image of the people of God possessing the promised land.  That story has great pertinence to us as the body today).  We are to be those who don’t shrink back from adversity, but meet it head on in faith.

Hard to Live by Grace

Posted on 28. Mar, 2012 by in Grace

Why is it uncomfortable to walk fully in grace? Because we are accustomed to looking to outside standards and judging ourselves by those standards. If we meet the standard we are ok. If not, we are not ok. The Spirit of God calls us to live differently. We are to walk in utter freedom, with our lifestyle and actions ruled by the Holy Spirit, internally not externally. This manner of living tends to be uncomfortable at first, until we become accustomed to getting our bearings from the Spirit and not external things. Against this there is no law…

Aftermath

Posted on 01. Oct, 2011 by in Faith, Regarding Jesus

     

I have been struck lately by the reality of the gospel, specifically the birth, life and death of Jesus, and exactly what that all means.  I think it is easy, having grown up in a religious environment, to take these things for granted, and not grasp the depth of what those actions meant, and what they speak regarding the character of our Lord Jesus.  As I have read Hebrews lately the Holy Spirit has begun revealing these things to me on a more real level, and I felt the need to write about it.  I title this post “Aftermath” because a song by this same name, by Hillsong United, really says it all, and to me has been a powerful expression of these truths.  I will do my best in this article to convey the depth of what this has come to mean to me.

    “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1–4, NASB95)

“And, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.”” (Hebrews 1:10–12, NASB95)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:15–18, NASB95)

As these passages make obvious, Jesus is the central character in the history of mankind.  Obviously, He is God.  He is supreme.  He is almighty.  He is…..more than we can even describe using words!  He is awesome and awe-inspiring!

And yet there is another word that describes Him:  humble.  This seems like a simple concept.  After all, humility is a good thing, and therefore Jesus must be humble, right?  But when we really examine what the scriptures describe about Jesus it really hits home in a very powerful way.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5–7, NASB95)

The word “grasped” is key here.  The greek word is harpagmos1, and it indicates the holding on to of an object by force.  In this case, we can understand it two ways.  Before His incarnation, Jesus did not consider His equality with God as something to hold onto with force.  Therefore He was willing to lay it aside to accomplish the salvation of mankind.  After His incarnation, Jesus did not consider His equality with God something to be asserted, or forcibly grasped, although He could have easily called down all of heaven’s angels to save Himself.  Instead He lived out His humanity to its completion.

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10, NASB95)

“I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men,” (2 Samuel 7:14, NASB95)

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,” (Hebrews 5:8–9, NASB95)

The language used in the three verses above speaks of the utter extent to which Jesus became a man.  He was associated with iniquity, requiring correction from the “rod of men” in 2 Samuel, and in Hebrews 2 he needs perfecting through suffering.  Finally in Hebrews 5 He “learns” obedience.  Obviously Jesus never did commit iniquity, nor did he need perfecting in the way we generally think of it.  He lived a sinless life.  Nevertheless, He took on our sin and iniquity to such a degree that He BECAME sin.  See 2 Corinthians 5:21 below:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB95)

Jesus BECAME our sin, so that we might BECOME His righteousness.  What a trade, and what pure humility and love Jesus must have had in order to be willing to carry out that transaction.  It defies logic, it defies understanding, it just does not compute, unless we understand WHY He was willing to do it:  because He did not count equality with God something to be gasped, i.e. He had the most extreme humility creation has ever seen.  We would do well to walk after Him in this respect, considering others interests above our own, trusting in our Father to protect His interest in us.  This is how Jesus walked, and Hebrews 1:3-4 and 2:7-8 give brief descriptions of the end result for Jesus:

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:3–4, NASB95)

“You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And have appointed him over the works of Your hands; You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” (Hebrews 2:7–8, NASB95)

These are but two verses out of many that describe Jesus’ reward for sacrificing Himself for the good of mankind.  Even in this, however, Jesus maintained His humility, as seen in the next verse,

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”; just as He says also in another passage, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”” (Hebrews 5:5–6, NASB95)

We see that Jesus humbled Himself, and then was glorified by the Father.  When Jesus came to earth He understood the legal ramifications of His action.  He understood the old testament types and shadows, and knew that His actions would abolish the old priesthood, leaving Him in its place.  In spite of this, He still didn’t claim it as His own, but rather allowed the Father to give it to Him.  There are no presumptions, even when presumptions could’ve been easily taken.

Finally, having given His life for us, and taken His position as our faithful High Priest, He takes it to one greater level, counting us as His brethren.

For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.” And again, “I will put My trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.” Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:11–18, NASB95)(emphasis mine).

Jesus, this indescribable, timeless being, this King of Kings and Lord of Lords, this omniscient and omnipotent Savior, is not ashamed to call me His brother?  The one whose sins He carried as His own at Calvary He wants to call brother?  Wow!  Again, a thought that just blows my mind!  At every turn Jesus blows me away, and I know I’m just scratching the surface of who He really is.  It also speaks to the degree to which His sacrifice has affected me, the degree to which He has cleansed me (i.e., killed me, and raised me up in Him).  In reality, the person whose sins He died for no longer lives (Galatians 2:20), but instead He lives on in me, and the life that I now lead I lead in Him, by faith in Him.

So, what is my response to this self-sacrificing, humble, unassuming Savior?  The end of “Aftermath” says it best:

Now all I have I count it all as loss

But to know You, to carry the cross

Knowing I’m found 

In the light of the aftermath

(Follow these links for the song and the lyrics.)

These lines speak to Philippians 3:7-11

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7–11, NASB95)

All I can do in response to His love is continue to carry my cross, to die to myself, so that I can gain more and more of Him.  I want this person, this Jesus.  I want ALL of Him.  In me.  Father grant me the ability and grace to continue dying to self, so that I may attain to the resurrection of Jesus more and more each day.

Bibliography

1.  Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (V 1, p 583). New York: United Bible Societies.

What Should Our Standard Be?

Posted on 09. Apr, 2011 by in Community, The Body

Last night I had about a 2 hour conversation with a good friend of mine. We talked about a wide variety of things, but one thing in particular really stuck with me. I am curious what others think about this topic, however, so I want to ask a question, and then later I will give my own answer. So, the question is:

Should the New Testament church be our standard for how the Body of Christ or the Kingdom are supposed to function?

Conversations on Depression

Posted on 24. Mar, 2011 by in Depression and The Church, Faith, Strength in Weakness

Recently Dan over at Ekklesia in Southern Maine (SoMe Ekklesia) had a series of posts on depression: This Is Serious, Through: Not Out and Clarity. The series ended up sparking an in depth discussion of depression, especially as it pertains to Christians, that had commenters from many sides of the issue. I intended to write a comprehensive comment that communicated my thoughts after reading the posts and the comments, but I got so comprehensive that it took up 5 pages in my word processor! So, I decided to post an abbreviated version on his site, and the full version here, so as not to overwhelm his readers. I apologize in advance for the length of this posts, weighing in at over 3,000 words.

The topic of depression is very weighty, and very complicated. As has been stated commenters at SoMe Ekklesia, I think the topic of depression will never be fully understood by mankind. The interactions between body, soul and spirit are so complicated that I just don’t think one can make blanket, across-the-board generalizations that are 100% accurate. I do have opinions that, from my experience, seem generally correct based on the vast majority of patients I have seen, and also based on my own personal experience. However, this is based on MY experience personally and as a clinician, and therefore may not hold for each individual. Please read the entire article, as the end of the article explains further some things stated in brief earlier on, and the last thing I want is to bring hurt or offense, as can be easy to do with such a personal, charged subject.

Having said that, my experience has brought me to the opinion that much of mental illness that we see today is environmental in nature. By this I mean that a person’s past experiences determine a lot about their present condition, for good or bad. The resultant emotions, etc. invoked by these experiences can be complicated, conflicting and often times masked, so that even if one can identify an inciting event to a lot of the issues, bringing resolution to those issues isn’t automatic. It takes time, oftentimes a skilled counselor, and often a willingness to go through emotional pain to get to the issues at hand. Regarding the arguments for a physical cause of depression I will say the following: I believe that there may be a genetic predisposition to mental illness, including depression. If that is the case, one’s environment can either bring out that tendency, or prevent the expression of that tendency. I will not rule out, however, the possibility that one’s depression could possibly be purely genetic, and not environmental at all, but IMHO this would be the exception and not the rule. Regarding imaging tests that are different in those suffering from depression, etc., I think the question that needs asked is “which came first the chicken or the egg”. Is brain function or structure different and that caused the depression, or did the depression bring about chemical changes in the brain, which then caused the imaging differences? I lean towards the latter, personally.

Let me paint a picture for you. I like two things as analogies for depression. The first was offered by Bobby in a comment on Dan’s site, where he compared depression to a tube of toothpaste. I believe that the human psyche was only built to handle a certain amount of pressure, and each individual’s threshold is different. Once we get squeezed hard enough, the stuffing comes out, so to speak. This may manifest itself as depression, anxiety or even low back pain or other problems. Conversion disorder is a classic example of this. I saw a case of it in medical school, where a young lady presented to the ER with every sign and symptom of an acute stroke, only the MRI was negative and the neurologist couldn’t identify a physical cause. Turns out, when she slept she would move all extremities, but when awake she was unable to. It also turns out she was going through some marital or other difficulties, and this is how her mind “blew off steam” so to speak. Everybody has a pressure relief valve, but the manifestation of that is different from person to person. I have recognized a pattern in my own life that when I begin to feel anxious or depressed I have to look for the point of conflict. For me it usually comes down to an area where I am trying to be self-sufficient, or bucking against a circumstance I don’t like, instead of relying on His supply and understanding that His grace is sufficient for me (like Paul and his thorn). I have also realized that my “relief valve”, or physical manifestation of being overwhelmed, is fatigue, enough that at one point I was convinced I had sleep apnea (which I didn’t).

The second analogy I like is to a Rubik’s Cube. A life in perfect harmony is like a completed Rubik’s Cube. Add one twist, and it may be easy enough to get back into perfection. Add one twist on top of another, and it gets more complicated. Add a third on top of that and its worse. By the time you twist the cube 5-6 times or more it becomes more difficult to even see where things went wrong, and next thing you know you don’t know up from down, left from right, truth from lies. The result can be a life lived in total fear and confusion, because all orientation is lost. Of course a twist on the cube would be analogous to an insult to the psyche. It could be abuse as a child, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or even just normal life circumstances (having a baby, a new job, moving to a new location, etc.) Add multiple insults on top of each other and the end result can get scary. The more disorganized the Rubik’s cube, the more complicated the presentation of the mental illness, so that what was once just mild depression becomes severe depression, and then maybe a personality disorder, or bipolar disorder, or others. Now, I realize that this may be an over-simplification of this topic, and that it doesn’t fit every circumstance, but I think as a general rule, at least in my experience, it is a fairly accurate model.

In discussing physical versus environmental causes of depression, one might ask what it matters which one it is. I think the question is important. In a previous comment on Dan’s site Bobby made the observation that the enemy uses the idea of mental illness as a physical ailment to keep believers in bondage. I wholeheartedly agree, and have previously witnessed that exact thing. If I view my depression to be largely environmental I may have hope that those environmental issues can be addressed and my condition improved if not cured. If my depression is viewed as a medical illness, like diabetes, then I consign myself to living with it the rest of my life, thus removing a great deal of hope. Now certainly we can have hope of His provision in the midst of any physical ailment, and depression would be no different. However, I would rather trust in Him to see me out of the depression than to live the rest of my life with it, even if He does sustain me through it. In my opinion, much of the mental illness that I see is very treatable, with hope for full resolution in Christ. This is not to say that treatment is a simple process, as usually it is not. More about treatment in a bit.

There are varying degrees of depression, obviously. Although the DSM V gives strict criteria for the definition of different mood disorders, I see depression as more of a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe, but with no clear dividing line between a)depressive symptoms that aren’t true depression and b)true depression itself. In other words, depression is not as easy to quantify as a heart attack. Now, I am sure the DSM V has all of this mapped out and organized, but that is a topic for later. At the higher end of the severity scale, I personally think that another issue comes into play, and that is spiritual oppression. I strongly believe that the enemy uses our thoughts and emotions against us, and when these things get out of control that may be a sign that there is more at work than just plain depression, or more than just our own illogical emotions. I do believe there is a spiritual battle that goes on for our minds, as the enemy does not want us to reach our full potential in Christ. The closer he sees us getting to making a change the harder he fights us, which is why the battle is always fiercest before the victory (or the night is darkest before the dawn).

Depression among believers is really my pet topic. The sad truth is that many of us have grown up in a system where being depressed is not an option. Being depressed is a sign of spiritual weakness, or a lack of faith, etc., and therefore we strive to prove to others, and often ourselves, that we are fine. As has been mentioned previously, the typical Christian response is to point a finger, or give simple platitudes, that aren’t helpful at all, and in fact bring greater shame and depression to the individual already suffering. What the depressed person REALLY needs to hear is “I understand because I have been there as well.” Unfortunately, though, Christians are not very good at being real with God, with ourselves, or with our brothers and sisters around us. We tend to not be very transparent. As I look back on my journey out of depression, I see that my church upbringing (charismatic) directly worsened my already underlying depression, because I never could measure up to what I thought I needed to. Interestingly, the more my mind was cleansed from the stench of “church” the more my depression cleared. The more of the truth of Christ I saw, the more healthy I became. I can point to others that are close to me that were harmed by the system more than I was. As Christians we need to feel free to JUST BE!!! Its okay if I am depressed. It doesn’t devalue me. It doesn’t hamper the Lord’s ability to work in my life. It doesn’t make me a second rate kingdom citizen. It doesn’t make me weak (although if we take it as an opportunity to BE weak, we might actually find HIS strength in us). We must be able to LET God accept us where we are, be content to be there for the time being, while still looking forward to our deliverance (more on that in a bit). We must be able to find His help for us, in the midst of our depression (as Dan has stressed in his posts).

Finally I would like to talk about treatment of depression, just briefly. For many people that I see, medication would be harmful, analogous to putting a bandaid over a wound that will never heal, and not treating the wound. If we fully mask the symptoms it makes it harder to get at the root of the problem. For others, medication is a necessary modality, to lighten the severity of the depression sufficiently to allow the person to concentrate on the issues at hand and make progress. So, I do not see medication usage as a sign that a person lacks faith. I see it as a blessed help to those that would otherwise drown without it. Also, how I approach depression in a believer may be different than in a non-believer. Apart from Christ, deliverance or healing from depression is much less likely than being in Christ. So, I might be more likely to start medication in a non-believer, all things being otherwise equal, because their hope for symptomatic improvement without it is less than a believer who has hope in Christ.

In my opinion, some cases of depression may very well be amenable to treatment by an insightful, compassionate and skilled Christian counselor. Other, more severe cases may need to be in the hands of a trained counselor, be it a social worker, licensed therapist, etc. In my office, my wife works as a counselor. Her social work training, combined with her spiritual understanding, makes her a powerful tool in the life of a Christian suffering from these issues. Even she, however, has to refer on patients that may be dealing with, say, alcohol and drug abuse. I think that counseling on Christian ideas has merit, and traditional counseling has merit as well. Combined, the two are phenomenal in the life of a believer. To simply write depression off as failure to properly apply spiritual principles, or worse yet to sin, is to do injustice to the person suffering from depression. My wife has had a certain degree of success with non-believers, as much as might be expected, but truly exceptional results only occur when the Spirit of God brings enlightenment to the believer’s heart, accomplishing in seconds what might otherwise take years to accomplish with counseling alone. The key to this process is understanding that there is no cookie cutter. What “works” for one person may not “work” for the next. The counselor can not put unrealistic expectations on the counselee (although the counselor sometimes has to nudge the counselee along at times, gently, in love). Another key, as Dan has mentioned, is that the person with depression must have unwavering support and love from their family. Finally, the person with depression has to be willing to deal with painful issues, while at the same time not fixating on the same things, permanently. Sometimes, I know, those old record players are hard to turn off in our heads.

So, having discussed all this, the last question I will ask and answer is this: What part does faith play in dealing with depression? Is faith simply a tool to help us live with depression, or can it be a tool to help us out of depression? In my opinion, faith can be what leads us out of depression, but it must first lead us through our current circumstances. Let me explain better.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God”. This quote is so true. I believe that faith moves God. God wants us to learn to walk as mature sons and daughters, and mature sons and daughters walk in faith. Simply put, God just wants us to believe that what He said is true! Now, this is all very simple sounding in theory, but the practical application ends up being anything but that. If we had total faith, we would have no sickness, no depression, no financial lack, etc. But who among us has total faith? I sure don’t. So, where does that leave us? It leaves us seeking Him. It leaves us on the journey towards eternity, towards resurrection, the end of which we will likely never see in this life. There is no magic potion to get enough faith to be delivered from depression. We can’t muster it up by listening to Christian music, reading Christian books or even by just reading the bible. So, even though I believe that faith is the key to deliverance from depression, we must still walk it out. You see, where my charismatic roots steered me wrong (among other things) was in the failure to understand that it is OK to NOT HAVE ENOUGH FAITH FOR A GIVEN TASK!! It was also wrong in that, as a charismatic, I sought after the healing, instead of seeking the healer. Matthew 6, starting around vs. 26, makes it clear that we are to seek God first, and all these things (in that case food and clothing) will be added to us. I believe that this principle applies here as well, that if we seek Christ, the Spirit of God will transform us into His image, eventually bringing healing to the areas that need it. The beautiful part about this is that it obviates the necessity to live back through every painful circumstance we have ever lived through, as traditional counseling seems so prone to do. As stated previously, this process can accomplish in seconds what traditional treatment may never accomplish (analogous to pulling all the squares off the Rubik’s cube and fixing it that way). All this being said, there is still no cookie cutter. I can’t say “just seek God and He will heal you”. I think we have to avail ourselves to what modern medicine and counseling have to offer, as appropriate, take advantage of the support of our loved ones, and trust Him to sustain us in the hard times. I also think that we must not lose sight of our ultimate goal, to be delivered. We must realize, however, that just as Abraham waited 10 years (by my calculation) from the initial promise of a son to the birth of Isaac, the journey from here to recovery may take awhile, it will probably be hard and it will likely be painful. Along the way, however, we will find ourselves walking as Sons and Daughters in the Kingdom, learning more and more to walk in faith, growing ever and ever closer to our dear Savior and looking and acting more like Him (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). The end result of the pain is incredible beauty in the life of the believer.

After writing all of the above, can I offer an easy solution to someone in the throes of depression and angst? No. I can not. The things I have written are guidelines I believe are true, but there is no 12-step program to freedom. Sometimes, when I am fighting these issues, I have to continually speak the truth of the Word to myself, to combat the illogical thoughts that come against me. Some days I win, some days I lose. The overall theme, to me, is that we must endeavor to keep Him foremost in our thoughts, as much as possible. Again, some days we’ll succeed, and some days we’ll fail. In the end, if we persist, if we don’t lose heart, we will overcome, because He has already overcome for us!

Learning From Evan – My True Maturity

Posted on 15. Feb, 2011 by in Learning From Evan

As I’ve spent the last two months caring for my new baby boy I’ve had occasion to reflect on my relationship to him, and how that correlates to my relationship with my heavenly Father.  I’ve gleaned some interesting truths that I’d like to share.

Evan appears to deal with acid reflux, an issue that is not uncommon in newborn babies.  As such, when he is hungry, at times he will fight the bottle, because the act of eating or sucking can worsen his symptoms.  Even apart from any reflux symptoms, the fact that he is a baby means that he doesn’t really willfully control his hands, and sometimes in his impatience to eat will slap the bottle away, or move his head back and forth, making it hard to even give him what he so desperately wants!  In my flesh I tend to get frustrated, thinking, “Evan, I am trying to help you.  Quit fighting me!”.  On one occasion, that thought went through my head, and then the father reminded me of my own situation.

If you have read my recent posts on faith you know about my struggles to learn to trust Him that He is working on my behalf.  How often in the last few months have I shaken my head at him, or beat the air in my impatience to get what I wanted?  Am I really any more than a spiritual baby, or at most a toddler, especially when it comes to trusting my Father?  It certainly makes me wonder, and it certainly helps me see Him in a different light, as I see things more from His perspective, seeing how I feel about my son.

Biblical Examples of Faith – Volume 1

Posted on 03. Feb, 2011 by in Faith

I finally was able to get through the majority of my testimony on faith, and now want to turn to some things I have learned subsequent to these events, that still pertain to walking in faith.  I will try to these in shorter snippets, so here goes.

I recently read the book of Joshua, a book that really deals a lot in faith.  The first time that the children of Israel reached the promised land, their lack of faith sent them packing back to the desert for another 40 years.  Only Joshua and Caleb survived to see the final victory, because only they had faith and gave a good report.  Reading Joshua is very instructive to how we are to live our lives, as there was no doubt that the people of Israel had to  rely on God to bring them victory.  The first battle we read about after crossing Jordan is at Jericho.  I am sure you all know the story.  It is interesting that the Lord instructed them to do things that, in the natural, had nothing to do with the victory that they sought.  This is a good example of how we can not rely on our understanding of cause and effect to determine whether we follow the Lord’s instructions.  If He has said to move, and that move doesn’t make sense in the natural, we still must move.  1 Samuel 15:22 and Psalm 40:6-8 speak to the importance of being obedient to the call of the Lord.  The story of Jonah as well speaks to this.  In this case, the children of Israel obeyed, and the victory was astounding.

The next battle is against the town of Ai.  We read of how the people of Israel make plans for the battle, but this time it appears they make their own plans, and it appears that they quickly became over-confident.  The scouts recommend that only 3,000 go into battle, “for they are few”.  Unfortunately, the hand of the Lord has been removed from them, due to the sin of Achan, and this time an enemy they thought they could beat defeats them soundly.  Of course after this the Lord reveals the reason for the defeat, and makes it quite clear that Israel’s victory comes only by God’s might.  The sin of Achan is dealt with, and now God gives the instructions, for ALL the men of war to go forth,  and they follow God’s specific instructions to defeat this king.  Of course, overwhelming victory follows.

These two examples, as I read them, made it incredibly obvious to me the importance of putting our trust in Him.  At Jericho, Israel was victorious against overwhelming odds.  At Ai, Israel was defeated by an enemy they should’ve beaten easily (according to their own estimation).  This outlines a lesson I have learned in the past few years, that when we endeavor to serve God, but attempt to operate in our own ability, we may find ourselves defeated and frustrated by things that, from a natural perspective, shouldn’t have been a problem.  Likewise, when we trust Him, nothing is impossible to us.

The other thing I took from these passages, oddly enough, was a lesson in humility.  The more I read about the awesome intervention and power of God on behalf of the Israelites the more I became impressed that humility must come along with this.  If the Lord is going to operate in my life in an overwhelming manner, how can I live in pride?  How can I walk puffed up with my own importance?  Of course this got me thinking about some events in my own life in the last 3 years, and what I finally realized was that I had been trying to build the Kingdom of God, in a manner in which He had instructed me to build, but I was doing it in my own power, and much to my surprise at that time, was taking credit for it.  I really had a vigilante attitude about certain things, and this revelation from Joshua totally revealed my motives in this manner.  Now, reading through these verses I can not say “this verse made me think this”.  It was just a great example of how the Holy Spirit can use the written word to drop a revelatory word into our hearts, and suddenly bring light where once there was darkness.  Since that time I have gone to 3 specific individuals that I was previously at odds with and apologized, as my attitudes were totally unrighteous and inappropriate.  I am still learning to walk in that release, but it is good.

One last thing I want to share from the first part of Joshua comes from Joshua 3:3-4.  In this circumstance, God has instructed the people that the Ark should go across the Jordan first, and the people are to follow after, at a distance.  Verse 4 says “Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before”.  I can definitely say that I have not walked before in the manner in which I now walk, and must keep my focus on the embodiment of the presence of God on the earth, Christ.

More from Joshua later.  I really loved this book, and recommend anyone to read it.

On Faith – Volume 4 (My Recent Testimony)

Posted on 27. Jan, 2011 by in Faith

This is part 4 of an ongoing series on faith, and what has turned out to be much more a journey than a topic, per se.  In my last post I discussed the nature of faith, and how it must start with knowing the will of God, and then knowing how to pursue the will of God.  After that, we must step out and act on what He has shown us, and trust that He will do what He said He would.  In the last 2 months I have learned a lot of points on walking out my faith, and I wanted to share my testimony here in case it would be a help to someone else.  After that, in my next post, I want to touch on why it is so important that we walk in faith, and why this has become such a big topic for me.  First, though, for my testimony.

I moved to Larned, where I now live, about 5 1/2 years ago, and began working at a hospital-owned clinic.  I did that for about 2 1/2 years.  In that 2 1/2 years my wife and I stepped out in faith and opened a retail shop in town, a combination coffee shop/scrapbook store.  Of course, that endeavor took a lot of our time and money.  In November 2007 I started doing extra work in an Emergency Room an hour away, to help support our own debt load, and to help support the store.  By the following January circumstances had transpired such that I quit my job, and started my own clinic, which opened in February of 2008.  I continued working in the ER full-time, in addition to working my own clinic, for the next 2 years or more.  Fast forward to 2010, which found me working at an ER closer to home, and doing a 24 hour shift every Thursday, and 48 hours in a weekend, one weekend per month.  By August or September Tayleene and I independently began to feel that it was time to give up the weekends.  We both felt that that season was to be over, but that in the natural it would continue until we decided to put an end to it.  We also were planning for the birth of our second baby in December, and I didn’t want to be gone from home as much.  We finally decided, in October, that my last weekend would be November, and after that I would only work my Thursdays.

Bear in mind, I still was not (and still am not) drawing a salary from my clinic.  Neither was my wife drawing a salary from the shop.  In fact, we were still having to put money into that business to keep things afloat.  So, in the natural, we had no business cutting back on our hours, but both of us knew this was the direction we were to take.   So, I gave notice and we “braced for impact” so to speak.

Ironically, this was a very similar situation to the one we were in when I first began ER work initially.  At that time I knew that the Lord would provide our needs, and part of me wanted to step out of the boat and let the Lord supply, but at the end of the day we decided to work extra to meet our needs.  Looking back on that scenario I do not regret my decision, as my faith was very fledgling at that time, and I still had a lot of fear and anxiety pent up on the inside.  I have no doubt that the Lord would’ve taken care of us, but it would’ve been an extremely difficult test, much more difficult than the test that awaited me this time around, and I don’t think I had the understanding to walk it out the way I did this time around.  The cycles and seasons of the Lord continue to amaze me!

So, as I said, I gave notice to my employer, and waited for the change to take place.  Initially things were fine, but of course I was still getting paid for past work.  By the first part of December, however, everything hit, and it hit all at once, and it hit hard.  One second I was feeling confident in my faith, that He would care for my needs, next minute (almost literally, it was over the span of 10-15 minutes as I paid bills one Sunday afternoon) facing thousands of dollars in bills that I didn’t have the money for, and internally was beginning to “freak out”.  Now, this is where the Mark of 2010 differed from the Mark of 2007.  In 2007 I don’t think I would’ve had the understanding, faith or strength to continue to stand, in spite of what I saw, and I think I would’ve “freaked”.  This time, I was able to begin standing on the word, knowing that He would supply.  In my mind I feared.  In my mind I felt guilty and condemned, especially as overdrafts began piling in (another thing I learned quickly, or rather relearned, is the art of balancing a checkbook, something I had not been faithful at prior to that).  In my heart, however, I knew the promises.  ”My God will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory”.  ”He has given us all things that pertain to life and Godliness”.  ”It is He that gives seed to the sower and bread for food”.  And, of course, Matthew 6:26-34, the verse that made me realize that, in reality, these issues were small potatoes in the Lord’s eyes, and that my focus could not be continually on money, but must be directed to seeking Christ and His kingdom.  There was also the story of the fish with the coin in its mouth, further proof that this isn’t a big deal!  I would read the Old Testament with renewed eyes, seeing the miracles performed through much different eyes, realizing that, “my God is powerful, majestic, awe-inspiring and undeniable!”  How could such a God fail me?

In the initial two weeks or so of this process I kept looking for the quick fix.  I saw no hope for meeting the needs I had in my natural resources, so surely the Lord was going to have to use someone to dump a bunch of money in my lap, right?  The problem with that idea is that, then, my faith would’ve been in that gift, and not see that gift as the Lord’s provision.  Through the mentoring of a good friend, I realized that this issue is a process.  I realized that I didn’t have a money problem, I had a faith problem.  Could the Lord meet my need suddenly?  Absolutely.  Did I possess the faith to operate in that manner?  Absolutely not!  So, I had to have faith in the small things, and I had to become more efficient from a natural perspective.  Instead of burying my head in the sand at the stack of bills, a tendency of mine due to my own anxiety and fear, I had to face the issue head on.  I had to contact my creditors, and make arrangements for future repayment.  I had to cut back on spending, personally and in both businesses, that wasn’t vital.  Through it all, the Lord used the situation to address a lot of OTHER issues BESIDES faith.  I’ll hopefully post more on that  concept later.

It is now almost two months since I cut back my ER hours.  I still have some large bills.  I still am having to pinch a lot of pennies that I ultimately don’t want to pinch (buying new product for the store, etc.).  But, the Lord has given me favor with creditors.  A LOT of favor!  I am closer to being out of the hole now than I was.  I think the story that really explains it all to me is the 3 Hebrew children and the fiery furnace.  The three were faithful in their pursuit of their God, and it got them in trouble!  This is proof that life in Christ is not a bed of roses in the natural.  The king threatened them with the fiery furnace, and God didn’t keep them from that.  God did, however, protect them from the fire, and when they came out they didn’t even smell of smoke!  What a powerful testimony to the king.  This proves that, when we learn to walk in faith and trust in our God, times that are hard in the natural don’t need to be hard in Christ.  Although I am not at that point now, it gives me a reference point of what CAN and/or WILL be, as I continue to walk in Him.  The other thing my good friend pointed out is the correlation between the purity of our witness and the smoke from the fire.  If I continue to conduct my business as He is teaching me to, when I come through this fire my witness will be intact, and that is what I desire.  I don’t want my lack of faith or diligence to reflect poorly on Him.

Well, this pretty much gets us current, for the most part.  There maybe some ancillary lessons I have learned along the way, but I shared some of that here, and didn’t expect to.  I hope that this story is beneficial to somebody, and I’ll continue to post as new developments occur.