Suicide, I’ve already died, it’s just the funeral I’ve been waiting for…

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dark tunnelI wish I could talk about my struggles with depression and suicide openly without fear of misunderstood alienation.

Okay, let me rephrase that to be a bit more on point: I wish I could talk about my struggles with depression and suicide with my fellow Christians without fear of misunderstood alienation.

To quote an Aerosmith song, it’s the same old story, same old song and dance: whenever the topic of suicide comes up, whenever doing that “fellowship” thing with the brethren and sisteren in whatever setting it is, it’s always accompanied by statements of not understanding what would make anyone think that taking their own life was the only option.

Which, really, is a good question. Especially when you factor in the list of recent celebrity suicides, people who would have been the last persons anyone would expect to take their own lives. Even on a more personal level, people that have been known personally, whether family members, friends, or work acquaintances. The question lingers, what would drive someone to take their own life?

Unfortunately, we evangelical Christians seem to have a very simple answer to a very, very complicated issue. It’s trotted out every time it’s brought up: “If they only knew God, if they only gave their lives to Jesus, they never would have had suicidal thoughts any longer.”

That phrase runs a very close second despised Christianese phrases I’ve come across in my years as a Christian. The first being telling someone “God has a plan,” to someone who just buried their loved one. But, I digress.

I have one very strong word to say about that: Bullshit. There’s no other way to say it. Do you know why? It’s simple.

I struggle with suicidal thoughts to this day.

Now, if you’ve made it this far without clicking away and blowing me off as some kind of fake Christian at this point, good. Because maybe you understand that, regardless of Jesus being our Lord and Saviour, the Holy Spirit indwelling us and sanctifying our minds and bodies, and Father God declaring us righteous due to the work that Jesus did on the cross for us, and even knowing the many promises in the Bible where God said He would never leave us or forsake us, that even the full brunt force of the gates of Hades couldn’t loose His grip on us, we still have that bone-deep weariness that makes us physically not want to engage, to not get out of bed; a weariness that no amount of sleep or good thoughts or even coffee can relieve us of.

You understand the intense, shameful sense of self-hatred that can come, believing yourself toxic and harmful to those closest to you, and you understand how easy it is to begin thinking that, maybe if you were no longer around, everyone will be better for it.

You also understand that depression is far more complex than just being sad. There’s emptiness, a kind of void that is tangible, and sometimes a strong numb feeling, a disconnect with life and those around you.

You also may understand that, if you talk about any of it, you may be perceived as not having enough faith in God to heal you. Or, they may think you have some kind of unconfessed sin that’s causing this. Or, my personal favorite statement of ignorance, you may have a DEMON! and all you need is more prayer and Bible study and faith in God. Maybe there’s an Essential Oil that cures depression?

Sorry, I tend to wax pretty sarcastic with this. Anyway.

Can God heal me of my depression instantly? Yes. There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever. Have I prayed for God to take away my depression? You have no idea the many times over the decades where I’ve begged God to take away this suffering of mine, to make the darkness just go away. To let me be carefree, bubbly and happy, like I see others in the Body of Christ. But, for some reason I really cannot fathom with my puny human brain, God has seen fit to let me continue with this proverbial thorn in my side. As He told the apostle Paul, His grace is sufficient.

Maybe you’re reading this, not because you struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, but because of a genuine desire to understand why, without resorting to pat answers. We are called to be a light to the world, to reach out and comfort the broken and weary of living. But, how can we if we don’t understand the darkness that we endure?


::END TRANSMISSION::

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Life Application Study: The MARKS of the TRUE GOSPEL and of FALSE GOSPELS

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The MARKS of the TRUE GOSPEL and of FALSE GOSPELS
The Book of Galatians

FALSE GOSPEL: Treats Christ’s death as meaningless
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! – Galatians 2:21

TRUE GOSPEL: Teaches that the source of the gospel is God
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12

FALSE GOSPEL: Says people must obey the law in order to be saved
The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” – Galatians 3:12

TRUE GOSPEL: Knows that life is obtained through death; we trust in the Son of God (Jesus) who loved us and died for us so that we might die to sin and live for Him
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

FALSE GOSPEL: Tries to find favor with God by observing certain rituals
You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! – Galatians 4:10

TRUE GOSPEL: Explains that all believers have the Holy Spirit through faith
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. – Galatians 3:14

FALSE GOSPEL: Counts on keeping laws to be right with God
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. – Galatians 5:4

TRUE GOSPEL: Declares that we cannot be saved by keeping laws; the only way of salvation is through faith in Christ, which is available to all
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. – Galatians 3:21-22

TRUE GOSPEL: Says that all believers are one in Christ, so there is no basis for discrimination of any kind
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28

TRUE GOSPEL: Proclaims that we are free from the grip of sin and that the Holy Spirit’s power fills and guides us
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:24-25

[from the Life Application Study Bible, NIV; Tyndale House/Zondervan]

Life Application Study: GOD’S ARMOR FOR US

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We are engaged in a spiritual battle — all believers find themselves subject to the devil’s attacks because they are no longer on the devil’s side. Thus, Paul tells us to use every piece of God’s armor to resist the devil’s attacks and to stand true to God in the midst of those attacks.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world against the spirutual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth bucked around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Sprit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-17

In the Christian life we battle against rulers and authorities (the powerful evil forces of fallen angels headed by the devil, who is a vicious fighter — see 1 Peter 5:8). To withstand their attacks, we must depend on God’s strength and use every piece of His armor. Paul is not only giving this counsel to the church, the body of Christ, but to all individuals within the church. The whole body needs to be armed. As you do battle against “the powers of this dark world”, fight in the strength of the church, whose power comes from the Holy Spirit.

  • The BELT OF TRUTH (vs. 14a)

Satan fights with lies, and sometimes his lies sound like truth; but only believers have God’s truth, which can defeat Satan’s lies.

  • The BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs.14b)

The devil often attacks our heart — the seat of our emotions, self-worth, and trust. God’s righteousness is the breastplate that protects our heart and ensures His approval. He approves of us because He loves us and sent His Son to die for us.

  • The SHOES OF THE GOSPEL (vs. 15)

Satan wants us to think that telling others the Good News (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) is a worthless and hopeless task — the size of the task is too big and the negative responses are too much to handle. But the footgear God gives us is the motivation to continue to proclaim the true peace that is available in God — news everyone needs to hear.

  • The SHIELD OF FAITH (vs. 16)

What we see are Satan’s attacks in the form of insults, setbacks, and temptations. But the shield of faith protects us from Satan’s flaming arrows. With God’s perspective, we can see beyond our circumstances and know that ultimate victory is ours.

  • The HELMET OF SALVATION (vs. 17a)

Satan wants to make us doubt God, Jesus and our salvation. The helmet protects our mind from doubting God’s saving work for us.

  • The SWORD OF THE SPIRIT (vs. 17b)

The sword is the only weapon of offense in this list of armor. There are times when we need to take the offensive against Satan. When we are tempted, we need to trust in the truth of God’s Word.

These who are not “flesh and blood” are demons over whom the devil has control. They are not mere fantasies–they are very real. We face a powerful army whose goal is to defeat Christ’s church. When we believe in Christ, these beings become our enemies, and they try every device to turn us away from Him and back to sin. Although we are assured of victory, we must engage in the struggle until Christ returns, because Satan is constantly battling against all who are on the Lord’s side. We need supernatural power to defeat Satan, and God has provided this by giving us His Holy Spirit within us and His armor surrounding us. If you feel discouraged, remember Jesus’ words to Peter: “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

::END TRANSMISSION::

My First Calvinist Encounter

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john calvinAs I have said before, I missed out on a lot of the alternative rock back in the 1990s, not because I was unwilling to branch out from my preference for metal, but because so many of the fans and adherents to the exploding alternative scene were obnoxious douchenozzels about it. The overall sense of elitist snobbery from the fans utterly turned me off from wanting to check out the music for myself.

It’s essentially the same experience I’ve had with Calvinism, while attempting to investigate and understand this particular theological branch of Christianity, instead of an enlightening discussion on the topic, I usually walk away with the feeling that my own salvation was questioned due to my lack of understanding the particular brand of theology, while a nagging feeling that they were merely parroting memorized talking points rather than engaging questions.

But, this really isn’t a post about my thoughts on Calvinism. Let me, instead, tell you about my first actual encounter with a Calvinist. This should amuse you.

There was a time, a decade ago, when I didn’t know what a Calvinist was, let alone Calvinism. As a matter of fact, most of my theological studies stemmed from my study of the scriptures themselves. I adhered to the Apostle Paul’s sentiment in 1 Corinthians 1:12-15, as I identified myself as a Christian in and of itself. I still do, it’s just now I’ve done much investigation and studying the various branches of Christian theology since then, in an effort to understand.

Anyhoo, all this to say that my first encounter with Calvinism was when I met my now-ex fiance back in 2007.

We initially met online, by way of one of those Christian alternatives to MySpace, named Shout Life. We were both hanging out in one of the chatroom boards on the sight; she was impressed with my ability to spell correctly and actually hold a somewhat intelligent dialogue. Also, I made her laugh. We both held interesting and in-depth conversations in the chatroom over the months, which led to chatting on IM late at night.

One evening, I fixed myself a bit of dinner, took it to the computer, and began chatting on IM with her. She started things off by asking, “Do you believe in the existence of free will?”

I was not expecting that question. Nor was I expecting her response when I answered to the affirmative:

“Oh, that’s okay. We can still be friends.” Then she put in one of those smiley-face emoticons at the end, there. How whimsical.

When I pressed her to explain in a bit more detail, she merely stated that free will is an illusion, that God has preordained everything and everything is out of our control. This statement completely blew my mind; not by the profundity of it, but from the completely half-baked nature of the statement. It was then that she identified herself as a “hyper-Calvinist”. To which I responded, “Cool. What’s a Calvinist?” To which she began explaining to me…completely omitting any mention of John Calvin or his writings. Just a lot of words including that of “predestination”, “limited atonement”, and something about the ESV translation. In other words, she wasn’t very good at explaining this thing she claimed to adhere to.

Since I have the terrible gift/curse of overthinking things when it comes to wrestling with my faith, I began talking of my own ponderings on the subject of free will and the sovereignty of God, and how the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive if we consider our own finite understanding of God…and after less than five minutes, I swear I could hear the audible *POP* of her brain ‘sploding all the way from Kansas. After that, when we were dating, the topic never came up again.

So, there we have the first, and sadly only time I’ve encountered a self-defined Calvinist in real life and in person. I’ve met several self-described Calvinists online over the years, through message boards and on social media and blogs, but never someone I could sit down with and have a civil exchange of questions and discussion, one-on-one, in a genuine effort to understand. Mostly I get pelted with a barrage of soundbites and memes from those online Calvinists who view John Calvin as having done no wrong and every word he spoke was gilded with shiny gold and delivered with a backing Wagnerian choir.

There are a few exceptions, mind you. For example, I find Dr. James White of Alpha Omega Ministries has a gift of explaining Calvinism (and teaching the Scriptures in general) to be both scholarly and edifying in a way that never sounds condescending.

So, to end all this prattling on, I would encourage you who are maybe consider yourself a Calvinist to go beyond your scope of understanding and have a discussion with someone who is a fellow brother or sister in Christ Jesus who doesn’t necessarily agree with everything about Calvinism. I understand the tendency to surround yourself with friends and associates that only believe the same thing you do about the faith, as I did the same thing once. But, trust me, as Proverbs 27:17 states about iron sharpening iron, there is so much benefit in doing so.

::END TRANSMISSION::

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Movie Review: AVENGERS Infinity War

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avengers infinity warMarvel / Disney
2018
PG-13

“I’m gonna ask you this one time. Where is Gamora?”
“Yeah, I’ll do you one better. Who is Gamora?”
“I’ll do you one better. Why is Gamora?”

So, then. The third Avengers movie, and the first part of a two-parter that is promising to shake everything up in the cinematic Marvel Universe. Well, now. That’s a big promise, there. While I loved the first Avengers movie, the second one was kind of lackluster, and really, neither did really set my fanboy world ablaze at the time. I do admit, though, that the Marvel movies leading up to Infinity War these past couple of years have been ramping up in the quality story-wise (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarök, Black freakin’ Panther…need I go on?), so there was actual hope that Infinity War will live up to all the hype and blow me away with sheer awesomeness.

Going into this, already the scope was BIG by sheer numbers: Avengers Infinity War features almost everybody in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, save for Ant Man. I mean, they could have started off the movie by a big rendition of the song “Hey A Movie!” from The Great Muppet Caper (“Starring everybody, and meeeee!”). As a matter of fact…why wasn’t that a thing? Disney owns the Muppets, right? That could have been shoehorned in there easily. Thor and Loki could have a choreographed dance number. But, I digress. Point is, the stakes for this movie were already pretty high by the amount of crossover team-ups going on. This had the potential of falling flatter than the Justice League movie.

Fortunately, my natural tendency to expect the worst was proven wrong.

I take a break in this rambling review to state that, although it’s been a few weeks since the opening of this movie, there will be SPOILERS ahead, so be ye warned if, for some reason, you haven’t seen this yet. Though, I can’t fathom why.

Starting off almost immediately after the post-credit scene from Thor: Ragnarök, Thanos has killed almost everyone on the ship carrying all the Asgardian refugees, save for Thor, Loki, Heimdall and the Hulk. After single-handedly giving the smackdown to the Hulk and shiving Loki for the Space Stone, the Hulk is transported back to Earth by Heimdall, and Thor is tossed into space. Hulk crashes into the New York Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange, and — after reverting back to Bruce Banner — warns Strange about Thanos’ mad plan to eradicate half of all life in the universe, and is on his way to get the Time Stone from Strange. Recruiting Iron Man, they all put of a valiant fight against the henchmen Thanos sent, but Strange gets captured and taken into space, but not before Iron Man and a newly suited Spider-Man hitch a ride on their ship. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Witch and Vision are attacked by two more henchmen, but are saved by the arrival of Captain America, Black Widow and the Falcon. Thor is rescued by the Guardians of the Galaxy, and after a hilarious interchange between Thor and Starlord, Thor goes off with Rocket and a teenage Groot to the place where his original hammer was forged to make a new weapon to fight Thanos, while Starlord, Gamora, Drax and Mantis head back to Knowhere to try and save the Reality Stone, only to find that Thanos beat them there and has it in his possession.

With us so far? Good. Proceeding…

Thanos kidnaps Gamora to get the location of the Soul Stone, then after traveling to the location, has to reluctantly kill Gamora in order to gain possession of the stone. Trust me, it’s a rather harrowing scene to get through. Iron Man, Spider-Man and Strange run into Starlord, Drax and Mantis on Thanos’ homeworld of Titan, hatching a plan to remove the gauntlet from him, as there seems to be only one outcome of several million that results in the mad Titan losing. They almost succeed, until Starlord loses his otherwise cherub-like demeanor after learning that Thanos killed Gamora. Finally gaining the Time Stone, Thanos heads back to Earth to get the Mind Stone from Vision, who is in Wakanda, where the entire Wakandian army is lead by Black Panther, along with Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Banner in the Hulk Buster suit (because Hulk hasn’t wanted to smash after the beatdown at the beginning of the movie), and the newly hammered Thor is taking down Thanos’ horde. Everything is looking good for our heroes…until Thanos shows up. Then everyone is screwed. Seriously. It ends with the bad guy winning. Enjoy the rest of your day, folks.

Once again, Disney has proven that they are now the overlords of the movie releases now. With Marvel, just in this year alone (and it’s not even halfway through the year yet), they’ve already made all the money and broke all the records with Black Panther. Just a couple of months later, and they manage to once again blow everything out of the water with Infinity War. I’m not exaggerating. I don’t think anyone was expecting what happened in this movie. Not only did Avengers Infinity War manage to handle three major plot threads and weave them together into an epic story, it did so without sacrificing character development and story quality. What was truly amazing was that the character of Thanos — who could have easily been a paint-by-numbers Big Evil (see: Steppenwolf from The Justice League movie) — was given depth and motivation beyond “I’m just evil, it’s what I do”. There’s a scene where you start feeling some compassion for him, and kind of see things his way…although, he’s still a despot that’s committing mass genocide on an intergalactic scale, so he’s still the bad guy, make no doubt.

The writing was great, managing to keep all the different characters’ individual qualities. I like that eye for character detail they adhere to, going so far as bringing in James Gunn to write the parts for the Guardians Of The Galaxy to keep the continuity going. The result is some fantastic — and not to mention hilarious — interactions between the heroes during the conflict. Pretty much everyone gets a chance to shine, here. And by the time it gets to the end, you’re left with a feeling of being punched in the stomach by the Hulk himself.

Yeah, Avengers Infinity War is a bleak and dark entry in the series. Some say this is the Empire Strikes Back of the Avengers movies; I say that Avengers Infinity War makes Empire Strikes Back look like minor inconvenience. Walking out of the theater after the post-credit scene that sets up the next couple of Marvel movies to come, there were several children — and a few adults as well — that were crying due to the final few moments of the movie. People die. Characters you didn’t see coming, that you thought were safe from destruction. So much so, that I began wondering if Joss Wheadon didn’t have a hand in writing the final part of the script.

Enough of me going on and on with the review. If you haven’t seen Avengers Infinity War yet at this point, what are you waiting for? Go see this. Now. Stop reading this and go.

Confessions of a Depressed Christian: Alone

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aloneMy soul has seemed distraught as of late. I am reminded that I am alone in this world, without a companion.

It used to be that Sundays were my favorite days of the week. I would look forward to the fellowship, the corporate worship, having someone I can open up to and vice versa. Now, all Sunday morning worship does is remind me of how disconnected I am with my fellow humans, and all I have to look forward to is going back to the domicile I dwell in, and try to fend off the downward spiral into oblivion that comes with the aftermath of the worship experience that drains me.

I want to say how unfair it is to be alone…followed immediately by repentance for my selfishness on the matter. Jesus doesn’t owe me a companion. But, this does not assuage the loneliness I am at times overwhelmed with.

To wit: I realize that a wife or even a girlfriend won’t make this go away. My identity and rest lies in Christ Jesus and Him alone, and He is what makes me complete. Not a companion. Not a wife.

Even so, this is how I feel. Alone. In the presence of my Lord, and yet still a strong sense of isolation from everyone.

It kills me sometimes.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Dream time again…

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spoonful of chunky peanut butterI was exploring the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple with the cast members of That 70s Show, when we come across a room filled with all the separate ingredients to make an infinite amount of tacos. We begin to excavate the room of the delicious taco ingredients, when we are beset upon by the room’s guardians — the NBA All-Star Team. They engage us with a game of keep away with a tablespoon filled with chunky peanut butter. The game was getting heated up, when I had to wake up and use the facilities.

Unfortunately, I didn’t rejoin the game afterwards.

::END TRANSMISSION::

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