Book Review: SPURGEON’S SORROWS Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

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spurgeon's sorrows

Zack Eswine
Christian Focus Publications
2014

“There comes a time in most of our lives in which we no longer have the strength to lift ourselves out or to pretend ourselves strong. Sometimes our minds want to break because life stomped on us and God didn’t stop it.”

  • Christians should have the answers, shouldn’t they? Depression affects many people both personally and through the ones we love. Depression is not new though, indeed the “Prince of Preachers” C.H. Spurgeon struggled with depression and talked openly about it. Here Zack Eswine draws from Spurgeon’s experiences to encourage us. What Spurgeon found in his darkness can serve as a light in our own darkness. This is not a self-help guide, but rather “a handwritten note of one who wishes you well.”

When it comes to the subject of depression, it’s no secret that I’ve had a proverbial dog in this race for quite some time–I remember it first manifesting regularly when I was 9 years of age. After years of psychiatric therapy, it eventually turned out that the depression was a part of a bigger mental health condition, a chemical imbalance that I won’t go into detail here. This is just a book review, after all. I became a (for lack of a better term) born-again Christian when I was 15, and the long and short of it is that, at no point did I think that doing so would automatically negate the depression that came with my mental condition. Oh, there were plenty of other well-meaning Christians who were quick to tell me that this shouldn’t be, that I shouldn’t have this depression and have suicidal thoughts at times; that I obviously have some kind of secret sin that I need to confess and get right with God, or some kind of demon infesting my mind that needs to be cast out in faith, or the inevitable questioning the authenticity of my faith to begin with. Those are always amusing.

The point is, I’ve been a Christian for 30 years as of this writing, with depression and mental health issues being a part of my mortal life for over 35 of my 45 years of existence. During that time, I’ve come to three conclusions: 1) My depression is the medical result of the fallen nature of my physical body, and not a punishment for some secret sin or whatever, 2) my faith in the Lord has gotten stronger and deeper the more I confront my depression head-on, and 3) I really suck at trying to explain all this to my fellow Christians who don’t deal with clinical depression. Fortunately, there’s books like Spurgeon’s Sorrows to help put into words the very things that I can’t express goodly.

For the Obligatory History Lesson: Charles Spurgeon was an English Reformed Baptist preacher who lived in the 19th Century (between 1834 to 1892), and was nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers”, having influenced many Christians from many differing denominations throughout the years. The pastor at my church has been known to call me “Spurgeon” as a kind of term of endearment; I always thought it had to do with my beard and method of Bible study. Turns out, it had a lot to do with the fact that Spurgeon also struggled with depression as much as he upheld the faith.

In Spurgeon’s Sorrows, author Zack Eswine not only goes through the historical background and theological musings of Charles Spurgeon, but sheds the light and investigates his own struggle with depression and anxiety, and how the method of dealing with it ran contrary to the common response to depression and mental illness in Victorian times–namely, that Spurgeon saw it more as an opportunity to grow in his faith in Christ Jesus, rather than despair thinking that this somehow was a sign that God had rejected him. That, again, is an overly simplistic explanation for the purposes of the review; fortunately, Eswine does go a bit further here, presenting Spurgeon’s writings, Scripture references and, most of all, presenting hope that this goes deeper than the standard “maybe you have a secret sin that you’re not confessing”/”get right with God” type of answer that seems to be thrown around a lot without discernment.

Overall, for those Christians out there who are struggling with clinical depression, and are afraid to bring it up with others for fear of getting misunderstood and a pat “Just have faith and cheer up!” type answer, Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a must-read. It will help you to face depression for what it is, and do so in a way that will strengthen your faith rather than question it. Highly, highly recommended.

T’was the Day After Xmas…

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boxing day
Gift Return Day. Known in the UK as Boxing Day. Time to take the things that we got and exchange them for the things we wanted, regardless of the thought that counts.

What follows is a post that a friend on Facebook made this mourning, and I felt it was good enough to steal for the blog:

Christmas is over. What difference did it make? Were you happy with what you got? Were the recipients of your gifts pleased? What difference does it make?

Is your life full today, as it felt yesterday? If not…then it made no difference.

If you are suffering from Post-Christmas Depression, maybe you forgot, didn’t know, or don’t believe in the reason for much of how the American Christmas tradition looks and feels. It means you haven’t gotten the greatest Christmas gift of all. The gift of God’s presence in your inmost being.

Christmas can truly be every day of the year, if you understand and accept the Gospel of Jesus, that he is God in the flesh, come to earth, died on a cross as atonement for your sin (for my sin as well), thta you might be forgiven, and know God intimately. That you might become a son or daughter of the King of all eternity.

Without Jesus, Christmas is, was, and will be little more than self-gratifying emptiness that leaves you void the next day.
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Was the Virgin Mary a Virgin?

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virgin birth
Merry Xmas, everyone. I thought that, given what day it is (regardless of whether or not Jesus was actually born on December 25–let’s not be that person, shall we?), I would share something concerning the virgin birth itself.

This was cribbed from the Wartburg Watch blog that I read regularly, itself presenting a bit from the full article, “Was the Virgin Mary a Virgin? Does It Matter?” by New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof. Here, he interviews Philip Yancey, one of the handful of Christian writers that have had a tremendous impact on my own theological growth as a Christian:

Was the Virgin Mary a Virgin? Does It Matter? Philip Yancey, an evangelical Christian writer, responds to my questions, and my doubts, by Nicolas Kristof.

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series of conversations about Christianity. Here’s my interview, edited for space, with Philip Yancey, an evangelical Christian writer who has more than 15 million books in print in more than 50 languages.

KRISTOF Merry Christmas! And let me start by asking about that first Christmas. Do you believe in the Virgin Birth? Doesn’t that seem like one of those tall tales that people tell to exaggerate an event’s significance?

YANCEY I’m smiling at the question. A hundred years ago, the Virgin Birth was considered so important that it made the list of five “fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Nowadays, with in vitro fertilization, virgin births are old news. For me, the issue centers not on the mechanics of reproduction but rather the nature of Jesus. In the Incarnation, God’s own self came to earth as a human. I wouldn’t pretend to guess how divinity interacted with human DNA, but that’s the mystery the Virgin Birth hints at.

So it’s no longer such a big deal? I can say that I doubt the Virgin Birth without whispering?

It’s only a big deal if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, as most Christians do. Otherwise you have a different mystery: How did the child of two simple villagers end up changing history more than anyone before or since?

Kristof Isn’t it possible to admire Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount without buying into the miracles? Why can’t we subscribe to Jesus’ message of love while dropping the walking on water, the multiplying of loaves and fishes, the raising Lazarus from the dead?

Yancey Certainly you can admire the message alone, and many people do. I don’t know of anyone who tried more conscientiously to follow the Sermon on the Mount than Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu. But do we lose something by ignoring or rejecting the miracles? I think we do. John’s Gospel calls them “signs.” They signify something about a God who wants creation renewed so that the blind see, the lame walk, the hungry are fed and the dead resurrected.

Kristof But if we give credit to Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead, what about all the children who died whom he did not raise? And why allow them to die in the first place?

Yancey I have no solutions, merely a few observations. 1) You’re in good company. The Bible is full of honest lament about suffering, beginning with the Book of Job and including Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross. 2) God is on the side of the sufferer. Jesus demonstrated that by always responding with comfort and healing, and by refuting those who saw suffering as punishment. 3) As Dostoyevsky set forth so eloquently in “The Brothers Karamazov,” Jesus turned down shortcut solutions — “miracle, mystery and authority” — during his temptation in the desert. Somehow the ultimate healing required God’s own self-sacrifice on the cross.

Because of the books I’ve written on suffering, I’ve been invited to speak at Virginia Tech, Columbine and Newtown. Believe me, the hope of resurrection means something when you’ve just lost your child to a school shooter.

Read more here.

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Christmas Eve Liturgy

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xmas eve liturgy

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels: in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and with the Magi adore the Child lying in his Mother’s arms.

Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this chapel, dedicated to his pure and lowly Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But first let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build.

And let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all who know not the loving kindness of God.

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one.

These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us:

Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.

The Almighty God bless us with his grace: Christ give us the joys of everlasting life: and unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all.

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Another look at the Manger…

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manger
What is of importance is the description which follows: “She swaddled him in strips of cloth and laid him down in a manger, since there was no place for them in the lodgings.” Luke will keep coming back to this description, for the angels will tell the shepherds: “This will be your sign: You will find a baby swaddled in strips of cloth and lying in a manger” (2:12). The shepherds will know that they have come to their goal when they have found “Mary and Joseph, with the baby lying in the manger” (2:16). Speculations as to why there was no room in the lodgings erroneously distract from Luke’s purpose, as do homilies about the supposed heartlessness of the unmentioned innkeeper or the hardship for the impoverished parents—equally unmentioned. Luke is interested in the symbolism of the manger, and the lack of room in the lodgings may be no more than a vague surmise in order to explain the mention of a manger. This manger is not a sign of poverty but is probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” Luke is proclaiming that the Isaian dictum has been repealed. Now, when the good news of the birth of their Lord is proclaimed to the shepherds, they go to find the baby in the manger and begin to praise God. In other words, God’s people have begun to know the manger of their Lord.
– Raymond E. Brown, Christ in the Gospels of the Liturgical Year (pp. 116-117)

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Dave Ramsey’s Got A Gun…

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dave freakin' ramseyI’ve always kind of had a twinge of something being off about Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey, even when I was taking the course with Kim back in 2013 (they offered the normally $150 course free for couple that are engaged to get married, which we were at the time). It’s rare that anyone doesn’t have any kind of dark underside that doesn’t get shown to the general public, especially in show business and things like this. But, here we are, with an article on The Wartburg Watch blog: Dave Ramsey Hates Gossip. Is It Because He Does Strange Things Like Pull Out A Gun During A Staff Meeting?

Apparently, this has been happening within the Financial Peace University and the Lampo Group (Dave’s business) for a while; the Wartburg Watch article references a previous blog post about Ramsey back in May of 2014, when this started coming out.

This is my shocked and appalled face. In which I mean, I am neither shocked nor appalled at this revelation. Mayhaps my jaded cynicism with American Evangelical Christianity (TM) prevents me from really being knocked asunder. Or maybe it’s the fact that I never really idolized Dave Ramsey to begin with; certainly not as much as my ex does. More the reason to trust in the Lord rather than putting faith in any person, I would presume…

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Eastertide…

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NecRoSarX Chronicles Header
grave of the black sheep
So, here we are. Another Lent season, ending with Easter Sunday, has come and gone. For many, this was a holy time of reflection on their faith and what it means to them. For me…I have to be straightforward with everyone: I don’t really consider the holidays on the Christian calendar to be all that important.

Okay, okay, let me rephrase that: I don’t really consider the Big Two Christian holidays–those being Christmas and Easter–as special as any other day of the year.

Yeah, there’s just no way I can phrase this without sounding like some kind of curmudgeon. I assure you I’m not trying to rain on the celebrations of anyone observing the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Jesus’ victory over sin and death is at the very crux of my faith (pun very much intended).

As I approach my third decade as being a servant of Christ Jesus (as I told the youth group last week, I became a Christian at the age of 15, and it’ll be nearly 30 years in August; do the math), I find myself less and less enamored of any perceived “holy days” and holidays as I once was.

The reason for this, first off, has nothing to do with being sick and tired of having to put up with so many Actual Lee* types who want to nit-pick how un-Christian Easter really is and sucking the fun out of everything for everyone (although I’d be lying if I said they didn’t annoy me); nor does it have anything to do with slowly losing my faith over time.

The truth is, I find that the longer I walk down this path that Father God, Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit has me on, the less I feel the need to celebrate Easter**. At least, not as all-out as many of my fellow brethren and sisteren do.

Here’s how I see it: Remembering the sacrificial death and consequent resurrection of the Son of God is very important. But, I think, equally important is to remember that we’ve all been living in the Eastertide, the period after His resurrection and ascension. The work is finished. We should be celebrating this every day out of the year.

Shouts of “He is Risen!” Well, He’s always been risen. Do we need reminding? Probably. We are a people that easily forgets what God has done for us. We go about the rest of the year seemingly stuck in the Saturday before Easter, like He’s still dead and our hope means nothing. An empty passion play.

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[*= “Actual Lee”: a type of person who always wants to correct anyone about anything, interjecting their superior knowledge on any topic of discussion, often unsolicited, usually starting with the word “Actually” (“Actually, the Easter celebration has its roots in the pagan celebration of the spring equinox, and was absorbed by the Christian church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.”) SOURCE]

[**=yes, I understand that some prefer calling it “Resurrection Day” due to not wanting to associate with the pagan roots of Easter. That’s fine, I have no qualms with that. I call it “Easter” myself, and that’s why I use it in this post.]

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