Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Combating depression

Q: I’ve learned to trust God and have seen Him answer some of my prayers, but one thing that prayer doesn’t seem to be able to do for me is help me overcome the bouts of depression that I go through from time to time. Why does God seem so distant when I need Him most?

A: Depression and anxiety are rampant in the world today—even chronic depression, overwhelming depression, to where people completely lose the desire to live.

When depression hits, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do or how to cope. But even if you find that you’ve “made your bed in the middle of Hell itself”—which the world today sometimes resembles—God will be right there with you.

Read it in Psalm 139: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into Heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7–10). “[Jesus] will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

What can help you more than anything else to stay upbeat and positive and free from the grip of depression, or help you pull out of it if you get sucked down, is keeping a connection with God through reading His Word and seeking Him in prayer. His love is always there for you. Even in the times when you’re down, very discouraged, or depressed, even when you feel He couldn’t possibly love you or care about you, He still does!

One fundamental point to remember is that it’s not God who sends discouragement and depression your way, but the Devil. The Devil’s ultimate goal is to separate you from God, and one of the main tactics he will try to use to that end is telling you that God doesn’t love you personally.

First he gets you depressed over something else—often some little thing that he blows up way out of proportion—and then he tries to get you to doubt or even blame God for not immediately coming to your rescue. He tempts you to doubt God’s love, to stop believing that He cares about you personally, or even to stop believing that He exists.

Whatever you do, don’t believe those lies! Hold on to your faith and trust in God, because when it gets down to the wire, He is your only hope and the only One who can help you make it through your present difficulty and the others that are sure to come your way.

Those who choose to hold on to their faith when difficulties come their way find that it is possible to keep their faith—and God does help them through their difficulties. It may not happen immediately or exactly the way they hoped and prayed for, but in the end God makes things go smoother and turn out better than if they had tried to go it alone by letting go of their faith. They’ve seen that their faith can get them through the rough times. They find that their “faith connection” is their greatest asset when depression strikes.

So when you find yourself besieged by feelings of depression, melancholy, or hopelessness, when you feel that God doesn’t love you, or whatever the source of your depression may be, don’t try to fight it out on your own. Recognize depression as the spiritual attack of the Enemy that it is, and take a stand against it in the spirit.

It often helps to get prayer and encouragement from people who know and love you and understand the spiritual warfare you’re fighting. But even if there is no one around who you can call on for backup, call out to God for His help, and He’ll be there.

You’re not stronger than the Devil, but God is. Ask Him to come to your defence, and He will. He loves you and He is ready and waiting to fight for you!

Putting Things In Perspective

A couple of good quotes to share with you all:

How brief is our span of life compared with the time since You created the universe.  How tiny we are compared with the enormity of Your universe.  How trivial are our concerns compared with the complexity of Your universe.  How stupid we are compared with the genius of Your creation.

Yet during every minute and every second of our lives You are present, within and around us.  You give Your attention to each and every one of us.  Our concerns are Your concerns.  And You are infinitely patient with our stupidity.  I thank You with all my heart, knowing that my thanks are as nothing compared to Your greatness.

—Saint Fulbert of Chartres (960–1028)

Faith in God can move a mighty mountain
Have you prayers that seem to be unanswered?
Anxious moments, trials hard to bear?
Have faith in His promise unfailing.
God will hear; He will answer your prayer.
Are there loved ones yet for whom you’re burdened?
Lonely nights spent bowed in fervent prayer?
God sees ev’ry tear and your heartache,
So just cast upon Him all your care.
Then keep faith, although the way be rugged.
Do not doubt His deep, unfailing love.
Sufficient each day for the trial
Is His promise of grace from above.
Faith in God can move a mighty mountain,
Faith can calm the troubled sea;
Faith can make a desert like a fountain,
Faith can bring the victory.

—John W. Peterson, Alfred E. Smith, and Grace Watkins-Bolton

Monday, January 28, 2008

The need for the MRA

It's funny how often words or concepts seem to jump out at you from unexpected and unrelated sources.  The idea of moral re-armament -- or, a return to a strengthening of morality in a society -- has been impressed on me just lately.

I was reading a little book from 1946 (now long out of print) called, The World That Works and it traced the rising of the Oxford Group movement (and the MRA) of the thirties and in particular as it pertained to India and Burma, which is where this author was at the time.

Moral re-armament seems to have been a real issue at that time that people were ready to stake their lives on.

We know so little of history, really.  The older we get, the more we find out what they didn't tell us.  Here in France, fifty-year-old school notebooks show that each school day started unfailingly with la morale.  But no more.

Elderly people's eyes glisten when they reminisce but it is them -- their generation -- that got rid of it for us.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I was wondering...

We listened to Disk 1 of David Bercot's new study on Francis of Assisi this morning. Later on in the day I saw this note in my casier, left there by Raph. I thought you might like to read it:

I Was Wondering...

...what would happen if the Lord sent a St Francis into our midst. I mean, if he was born into our family and we grew up with him. Would we be able to see what God was saying to us through him? Or would we have the same reactions as Francis' father?

Would we call him harsh or unloving when he disregarded the family's belongings, its well thought-out functioning, its hard-earned wealth? Call him irresponsible when he gave things to the poor that were still perfectly functional? What about if he didn't care for his appearance; didn't brush his hair, forgot to wash his clothes? Would we laugh and ridicule him? What if he said people had to forsake all and follow the Lord in order to be called his disciples? Call him simple-minded or naive? Would he have a place in our midst or would he bother us too much in our minds and in our habits? Would we kick him out in the end because he was harassing us with his consistency and unrelenting zeal? Would we call her disruptive and divisive? Because she didn't value all our neatly arranged lives, didn't see that we needed our comfort zone.

Not that she would be right about everything. But would that hinder us from accepting that she be right in anything? Would we allow Christ to speak to us through his little brothers and sisters, his poor ones, or would we need some famous and prestigious teacher? Jesus Christ said he would build his church. Is it not our lack of faith that refuses to believe he has chosen the right ones for the job?
— Raph
All I can say is Amen, Lord help us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Living in community (by Peter Hoover)

Pilgrim visitors to Jerusalem from all parts of the known world—came together and established the first Christian community. In a day. With three thousand members.

From this beginning in Jesus (an inner-city community), messengers took the good news far and wide. In Antioch, in the African cities of Alexandria and Carthage, in Philippi (starting with a few women), Thessalonika, Corinth, and Rome little households of faith took shape, grew, and multiplied. It worked. It was what Jesus had in mind.

Tiny communities, springing up like mushrooms -- in a day -- got swept by winds of persecution into the remotest hinterlands of Europe, up the great rivers of Russia, ever deeper into Africa. Anabaptists, fleeing for their lives, spread out a coat, threw their belongings onto it, starting their first community on the run. From there it went fast.

Everywhere believers found one another they set up households (Haushaben) on the back streets of towns that tolerated them. Rented buildings only. Rented shops or fields. Everyone working in trades here and there. Nicely set up today, fleeing, or up in flames tomorrow. Yet even in that precarious state, they accepted ten, twenty, thirty or perhaps as many as sixty thousand “seekers” in about 30 years time.

Community for the first Anabaptists (Hutterites) was a fluid, adaptable, always circumstantial arrangement, suited to whatever the time or setting brought. Community lay in the spirit of things. It lived in people’s hearts, not in their economic of physical establishment.

That is the kind of community we so desperately need today! The world is crying for it . No place needs it more than the United States of America and Europe -- where many old “cut and dried” communities survive, but no longer as the cities of refuge they were meant to be.

Dozens, hundreds, of people here and there, are waking up to the fact that our world stands in need of real live community again. Loving community (not godless communism) as only Jesus could bring it. But WHERE? Where oh where, is the family of Jesus that will receive these “seekers,” be a home to them, and let them grow?

The Hutterite movement (of which I am a part) indeed has many vestigial patterns and blessings to share with the world. But Hutterites have become firmly convinced the only way new communities can start is with years of planning, lots of experienced people, and a million (or several million) dollars.

That is a sad and dreadful mistake. It is also as far from the truth as the south pole is from the north. Had Jakob Hutter and Peter Riedemann entertained any such ideas in the 16th century, not one Hutterite community would ever have gotten established at all!

It is neither right, nor even sensible, for any church to limit its fellowship to people that are physically able to live on its property. All true seekers need to get accommodated or incorporated somehow, if that is their desire. Once our physical or economic system becomes exclusive or restrictive, it is no longer of Christ and needs to be recognized and dealt with as such.

Neither should we think that Hutterites alone have the gift or knowledge necessary to live in community. Falling into a communal mindset, like falling in love, is neither hard nor complicated. It is as EASY as falling off a log! And it is certainly no harder to start a new community than to start a new home. What does it take?

1. It takes two or three willing believers, born of the Spirit, willing to commit themselves to Jesus and one another, for life.

2. It takes a place. Any neighbourhood where work and housing is available can be a good place.

3. It takes stable, committed, leadership. If none is available, or if the leadership question is unclear, new communities do well to locate geographically close to older, established ones that can provide helpful oversight. (Along with a place to worship or school, if necessary.) That, under the blessing and direction of Jesus, is all it takes.

And what does it NOT take?

1. It does not take a lot of experienced people. Sure, it is nice where a believer or two from an established community can help get things set up and going. But deep-seated conviction is worth more than all the experience in the world.

2. It does not take lots of money. Community was designed to help believers get along on little, not with a great load of assets. In fact, the communal lifestyle, if handled correctly, can be the cheapest way of life on earth.

3. Unless you are thinking of beginning a community in some foreign country where legal and employment obligations make it necessary, you should not need a “jump-start” from an older community. Christian community was designed to work for believers anywhere, of all cultures, of all traditions. Leaning on someone else’s old forms and structures may well do you more harm than good.

Good community is never bound to one rigid “this-is-what-takes” mentality. It is always open to new people and ideas, always adjusting itself, always finding its way in the Spirit of Jesus through whatever crisis may come (and many do come!). Sure, it is imperative that we commit ourselves to the “three-legged principles” of a common work, a common purse, and a common table. But where all that is not possible at once, we make the best of what there is. Perhaps in new communities we may all need to work in trades here and there at the beginning. Perhaps we only get to eat one meal a day together. Perhaps our sharing needs to be an arranged sharing until debts get paid or until we have everything in place for that to happen.

There is no exact pattern. No recipe, other than the words of Jesus: “Whoever does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple,” and the instruction of Paul to “esteem others better than ourselves.”

To those of you in Europe and America that seek community but don’t have it, I am forced to say: Don’t wait on any Hutterites to come and help you! Don’t set your hopes on finding a place in a Hutterite colony! You could well find yourself waiting fifty years or forever.

But if you went and parked yourself on their doorstep, so to speak -- if you rented places and got little households going in Minneapolis, or Sioux Falls, or Winnipeg I dare say you would soon have lots of meaningful interaction (good for them, good for you).

And if you are able to do it without that kind of interaction, by all means do what Jesus asks of you in Paris, in Berlin, in Seoul, or Timbuktu! Remember it only takes ONE DAY to start a new community. That is the day two or three believers say, “Let us live together. Let us pool our resources. Let us do on earth what is done in heaven, with Jesus help—and stick with it no matter what comes.”

That is the birth and essence of “family” in Jesus. The body and the blood. The reason for what has come to us through more than two thousand years. All the rest is “nothing but the details.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thinking about death

I noticed that both my sisters posted something about this being "twenty-five years to the day" that my father died.   It makes one think, but maybe not in the same way as them.  There are two things I don't like about their posts:

1. I don't like the way they address him as if he is up there peering down at us to see if we all remember his death-day properly. "I love you, Dad" is a meaningless thing to say at this point in his life -- or ours.  I don't know but my theology just won't allow it.

2. Now you may think me very persnickety but I hear this kind of sentiment a lot: "I look forward to when we'll all be reunited."   Now, I have problems with that, too. But I know what she means of course.  And who wouldn't want that?   But the unexpressed idea is that the reason we are not united now is simply because some of us are dead.

But since we were not united in our ways or thoughts in life, what do we expect to have changed that will make us united in the afterlife?

Is God going to zap us into shape to make us get along with each other?  And, if not, then are we going to live this kind of a worldly existence all over again trying to get the victory over our passions and lusts and selfishness?

Or is that what we are supposed to be doing right now?

Friday, January 11, 2008

The start of a new year

Well, happy new year everyone!

You who know me know I'm not one who is going to go to any excesses in celebrations of passing from Monday to Tuesday -- it happens often enough -- and there is just a little too much heathenism in the whole thing to attract me.

Still, I'm not a poor sport either, and if people want to have a little fun (I said, a little) why, I won't stand in their way.

So however you saw in the new year, I hope it was in a sober and thoughtful spirit as mine was.  Since it's been almost a couple of weeks since I've last shared, here's our news and activities and a few thoughts, maybe, in whatever order they come to me.

Denise is still here and being a blessing helping with Grandma and in the office. She gets along very well with Nat and is keeping quite well.  It's been especially valuable right now with all the end of the year activities, filing, and inventories to be done.

I've been calling Aunty every evening for the past month or so and she has come to depend on it because if I ever miss a day she wants to know all the reasons why.

Her arm is still giving her pain and she's still got another few days to go on her current treatment of antibiotics which makes her feel rough.  I told her I'm planning a trip this coming weekend with the boys to help and a moving van.  I'll probably take my car as well so I can move easily and see Aunty while Raph or Michel can take the rental truck.

Just this morning Michel said he may be buying one that he saw is due to be sold at auction this Tuesday.  So I'll wait till then before seeing about making a reservation on a truck.

The windy weather, that we had a week or two ago, has subsided into short grey wintry days but for the most part they are staying dry.

Last week we did have a little rain but I reckon there was more upstream of us because we started to notice the tell-tale flooding in the fields between here and La Chartre.

I went down to the hotel just to check water levels and it was up to 9 bricks from the middle strut, or 11 bricks from the corner -- perhaps an easier way to measure it.  So I think that is the highest I've seen it so far this year.  But the water seemed to be still moving fairly nicely.  This news is from the 8th, by the way, at four thirty in the afternoon.

Yesterday the plumber came to replace the downstairs toilet.  We had finally all got completely tired of it and asked him to redo the whole thing.   Michel made a wooden mount to raise it up ten centimetres and now all we need to do is replace the wallpaper in there.

Reading: I've just finished G. K. Chesterton's All Things Considered which I've been reading on and off all last year; it's just not the kind of thing you want to read for long.  But taken in small chapters at a time it is very witty (of course) and very meditative.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Where's Christ in Christian Zionism?

This newsletter came to me today from Harmony Grant, a courageous girl whose position I whole-heartedly support. I'm passing this on to you because I thought it was so very well put.

Three in four adult Americans believes Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. Since so many Americans respect the Bible, I wonder why they aren't more jaws dropping over Christians United for Israel (CUFI) — a "Christian" Zionist group that totally lacks Christian priorities.

The following testimonial is from a Jewish student who attended a CUFI rally:
"The room essentially turned into a mega-Church, with thousands of Christians shouting and praising God, praying for the protection, safety and prosperity of Israel and the Jewish people, and for the destruction of the enemies of America and Israel, while waving American and Israeli flags and listening to the sound of shofars being blasted. And yet the name "Jesus" was not mentioned once the entire night (emphasis mine) "By the end of the night I had met so many people who just were hugging me because I was Jewish, giving me their names and asking me to pray for them (emphasis mine), telling me I was blessed by God."

Hagee's followers believe he preaches a Biblical message toward the Jews. They believe that by sending millions to Israel, they are obeying God's command to "bless" the Jews. It's likely that most of these churchmen and women sincerely believe they're doing the right thing. But they have been so blinded by the platitudes and false premises of Christian Zionism that they can't even recognize Hagee's grave apostasy.

This supposed "Christian leader" believes Jews can be saved without accepting Christ. "I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption".

In his recent book, In Defence of Israel, Hagee went even farther. In an ad for the book, he says shockingly, "Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah."

There was outcry over this heresy. Michael Brown, a Jewish Christian and theologian, says Hagee's book explicitly states the following heresies, "The Jewish people, as a whole, did not reject Jesus as Messiah. Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah. Jesus refused by word and deed to be the Messiah. The Jews cannot be blamed for not accepting what was never offered." Brown says "some believers — and even leaders! — are buying into this error hook, line, and sinker, and some have begun to teach and preach it as well."

The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations responded to Hagee's book with "serious concerns," saying his teachings contradict biblical doctrine, undermine the testimony of Jewish followers of Jesus, and weaken the cause of Christian supporters of the Jewish people.

There was enough controversy over the book that Hagee is releasing a revised edition. He wrote a letter to address the "confusion," saying that while Jesus is the true Messiah, Christians can accept Him as the "suffering Messiah" whereas Jews will not recognize Him until He comes as the "reigning Messiah." We shouldn't judge them for their mistake.

Hagee says he hopes "we can return our focus to what I had anticipated to highlight all along, the fact that we Christians must shift from condemning the Jews for what they missed to thanking them for what they gave."

This emphasis is shared by Hagee's many followers, who increasingly idolize and romanticize Jews and Judaism, exalting Jewish law and Jewish blood perhaps even more than Israeli settlers do!

>If Christians can recognize that Hagee is wrong to say Christ is not the Messiah and that Jews do not need His saving redemption, they should also be suspicious of Christian Zionism's other premises. They should take a closer look at the real situation in Israel.

In mid-December, the Red Cross broke its normally neutral silence to speak out on life in Gaza. The Red Cross said no amount of humanitarian aid can solve the crisis, and pled for political action. "In Gaza the whole Strip is being strangled, economically speaking, life there has become a nightmare," said the director of Mideast operations.

But the United States will do nothing to force Israel to dismantle settlements or stop oppressing Palestinians--not while the Israel lobby can exert so much political pressure on Capitol Hill.

The time is long past since Christians should have started analyzing their role in this lobby. American evangelicals should question their reading of the Bible, and their definition of how to "bless" Jews. Listening to John Hagee, you'd think there was just one easy interpretation of the Bible. That's hardly true.

In December, Christian Leaders from the National Council of Churches in Australia visited Israel. Their organization includes 17 diverse member churches. The leaders reported that they "were distressed to hear Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, relate the suffering and fear experienced daily by large numbers of their people." The church leaders "saw and heard evidence of systematic harassment, physical and psychological oppression, widespread unemployment, poverty, and economic deprivation, resulting directly or indirectly from Israeli military occupation of the West Bank."

Christians, more than any other people, are obligated to disregard power and convention and seek the truth. Without truth, there can be no justice or mercy. It's high time Christians return to the Biblical truth that no group can be called "God's chosen people" unless they practice the obedience of the father of faith, Abraham.

It is Zionist. There's nothing Christian about it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The D's

Sweden and Malta unite on a frosty new year's morning in central France. We live as one in our life for Christ in each other.