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?


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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]

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.

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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.

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My Dark Night of the Soul: May 21, 2018

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insaneThis darkness that is with me nearly every time I wake up. I feel like the grime of the world is covering me. I feel like I’m trapped in a contaminated body that no amount of washing will clean.

I can still feel the fallen nature inside me. It’s an evil that wants to destroy. It nearly destroyed my loved ones, and it nearly destroyed me.

The Holy Spirit keeps this monster that is my old self at bay. But, even though it’s dying, it’s not going without a fight. Wanting to destroy me. Whispering mad ideas when I am at my lowest, urging me to kill myself, to harm my flesh, to suffocate in my despair.

I know I shall never be rid completely of this, until the day that I am resurrected with Christ and given a new body. I let the monster in myself; I shudder to think what kind of destruction I could have attained had I not submitted to the Reanimator.

Wrapped in chains, this Old Self of mine remains, with the chains only getting tighter the further I walk. His screams are maddening…

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THREE DISTORTIONS OF CHRISTIANITY

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Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the Gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of chilbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! – Galatians 4:8-20

Almost from the beginning there were forces at work within Christianity that would have destroyed or sidetracked the movement. Of these, three created many problems then and have continued to reappear in other forms even today. The three aberrations are contrasted to true Christianity.

  • JUDIAIZED CHRISTIANITY

Their Definition Of A Christian: Christians are Jews who have recognized Jesus as the promised Savior. Therefore, any Gentile desiring to become a Christian must first become a Jew.

Their Genuine Concern: Having a high regard for the Scriptures and God’s choice of Jews as his people, they did not want to see God’s commands overlooked or broken.

The Danger: Tends to add human traditions and standards to God’s law. Also subtracts from the Scriptures God’s clear concern for all nations.

Application Question: Do you appreciate God’s choice of a unique people through whom He offered forgiveness and eternal life to all peoples?

  • LEGALIZED CHRISTIANITY

Their Definition Of A Christian: Christians are those who live by a long list of “don’ts”. God’s favor is earned by good behavior.

Their Genuine Concern: Recognized that real change brought about by God should lead to changes in behavior.

The Danger: Tends to make God’s love something to earn rather than to accept freely. Would reduce Christianity to a set of impossible rules and transform the Good News into bad news.

Application Question: As important as change in action is, can you see that God may be desiring different changes in you than in others?

  • LAWLESS CHRISTIANITY

Their Definition Of A Christian: Christians live above the law. They need no guidelines. God’s Word is not as important as our personal sense of God’s guidance.

Their Genuine Concern: Recognized that forgiveness from god cannot be based on our ability to live up to his perfect standards. It must be received by faith as a gift made possible by Christ’s death on the cross.

The Danger: Forgets that Christians are still human and fail consistently when trying to live only by what they “feel” God wants.

Application Question: Do you recognize the ongoing need for God’s expressed commands as you live out your gratitude for his great salvation?

  • TRUE CHRISTIANITY

Their Definition Of A Christian: Christians are those who believe inwardly and outwardly that Jesus’ death has allowed God to offer them forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. They have accepted that gift through faith and are seeking to live a life of obedient gratitude for what God has done for them.

Their Genuine Concern:
Christianity is both private and public, with heart-belief and mouth-confession. Our relationship to God and the power he provides result in obedience. Having received forgiveness and eternal life, we are now daily challenged to live that life with his help.

The Danger: Avoids the above dangers.

Application Question: How would those closest to you describe your Christianity? Do they think you live so that God will accept you, or do they know that you live because God has accepted you in Christ?

[taken from the Life Application Study Bible]

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Like A Cat On A Leash…

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cat on a leashBetween the ages of four and five, my family was living in Iceland at the Keflavik Naval base. One afternoon, my dad came back home with a cat that he said was rescued from an abandoned car, and became our family pet. This cat didn’t like me too much, because–for reasons logical to my five-year-old mind at the time–I would always try to walk the cat like a dog. I would tie a belt around her neck and try to go for a walk with the poor thing. Of course, that cat wasn’t having any of it, and would do the passive-resistance thing by laying on her side and not moving while I tried dragging her along, urging to just walk instead of being dragged. It’s a miracle I didn’t inadvertently choke the poor thing to death.

Again, I was five. I didn’t know any better. My parents did punish me when they caught me doing it. Please keep the threats to my life to a minimum, they do get boorish after a while. Anyway…

I bring up this trip down amnesia lane for the purpose of illustrating another bit of truth about my daily wanderings in this post-Evangelical wilderness of mine: my flesh just doesn’t want to cooperate. Since endeavoring to become a disciple of Jesus Christ and not merely a follower (there is a difference; perhaps one day I will finally write about that as well…on the list it goes), and letting the Holy Spirit do His thing with the sanctification process that will be going on until the day I go Home, my flesh isn’t very happy about it.

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

The thing about crucifixion as a means of execution is, it’s not the most efficient or even humanitarian way of being put to death. It could take hours, days, even weeks for the condemned person to finally die. In the meantime, it’s a very painful, very horrendous and slowly antagonizing death. The metaphor is very apt, as my flesh is slowly dying, being put to death by the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification on me, and it knows it’s dying. It can feel the death processes very clearly. And it’s not going to go without a fight.

Basically, when my flesh can’t get what it wants, when it feels it’s being dragged along by the Holy Spirit upon the leash that ties it to me, it does what the cat in Iceland did: it tries to make the process as rough as possible by laying down and dragging along. I want to follow the Holy Spirit, but my progress is being hindered by this dead weight not wanting to comply.

But, I seem to be in good company with this struggle. As the same guy who wrote the words in Galatians, also wrote this in Romans:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!– Romans 7:21-25

So, here I am, wanting to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, but being bogged down by my flesh more often than not. I despair, but then I remember that the Apostle Paul himself struggled with the same thing. And if one of the greatest followers of Jesus Christ had trouble, what makes me think I’m going to get to the end of this path I follow unscathed?

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