Saturday, March 5, 2011


"The afflicted and troubled conscience has no cure for depression unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace." - Martin Luther

"When work is your identity, if you are successful it goes to your head, if you are a failure it goes to your heart." - Tim Keller

I've been wanting to write this for awhile now but other topics keep coming up that divert my focus. However, I think it is particularly timely and I want to get this down on "paper" so that if God takes my life tomorrow others may have the opportunity to benefit from my experience. As a disclaimer, I note that my fights with depression have never been diagnosed by a physician nor included medication. That is only because I have always believed that my depression has been a function of circumstances and not chemical imbalances. For many suffering with depression, there is no question that prescribed medication can be very helpful and I fully support using it responsibly in the right situations.

In 2003, I made the decision to try to make a living by trading stocks full-time at home on my own. I was coming off of three very successful years of trading that spanned very different market environments - good and bad. That gave me the confidence that I could generate income regardless of what the market did and had also provided me a level of capital that I thought would be sufficient. This was the culmination of several years of studying and reading everything on which I could lay my hands. I also felt God was giving me the go ahead after my salary had been cut to zero at my full-time office job. Additionally, I had spent ample time in prayer over this decision and really felt moved to try it after a particularly intimate talk I had with God at John Eldredge's spiritual retreat.

Needless to say, it couldn't have gone much worse. Yes, there were some up weeks but it was almost an uninterrupted decline. After years of reflection, there are many possible reasons why it went so poorly but none of those are important for the purposes of this blog. Depression started to set in after a few months and I began to experience all of the classic symptoms - insomnia, lack of energy, not wanting to be around other people, etc. I didn't fully recognize what was happening at the time. I wasn't diagnosed and this was my first experience with severe depression. I realize now that it was the result of having an idol in my life let me down. That idol was the belief that the combination of hard work and intelligence would bring me joy and fulfillment. The idol was ultimately myself.

This went on for many months and grew deeper and darker. I still belonged to a church at the time. I was even on the Board of Directors. But my relationship with God was only a shell as was my relationships with many other people in my life. It was probably the spring of 2004 that marked the bottom. I truly felt like there was no hope. Not only had I lost a good chunk of my original capital but I had taken on debt in the quickly dissipating hope that things could still turn around. It was another night of no sleep as my nights and days had effectively been turned around (which also wasn't good for someone working in the market). The movie "Cast Away" was on. I had seen it before but viewing options are limited at 3 AM so I watched again. There was nothing different about it from the times I had seen it before until it reached the part where Tom Hanks' character has returned from the island and he is sitting across from his best friend having a drink. He is talking about his experience. Suddenly, it had my attention like it never had before.

We both had done the math. Kelly (his girlfriend) added it all up and...knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had... lost her...cause I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So... I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I - I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass... And I've lost her all over again. I'm so sad that I don't have Kelly. But I'm so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

I muted the TV as this scene concluded and I had tears in my eyes. This was me. I was on this island, this self-imposed island and I had power over nothing. Nothing. All of my logic told me that things weren't going to get any better. I had no reason to hope. I was in a pit of darkness and there was no light. I was alone and my dream had been shattered. The words echoed in my head..."I gotta keep breathing." Breathing...OK...I can do that.

"Tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?" God used those words to begin lifting the veil of darkness that clung to my heart and mind. Remember Longfellow? The darkness is real but the light is greater. God reached down and wrapped His arms around me and told me that there was hope. Hope in Him.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." - Jeremiah 29:11-12

I realized that my logic ultimately didn't matter. God could bring me a sail tomorrow or the next day or the day after. My life wasn't over even though this dream of mine had died. None of us know what God has in store for us. But in that moment, He told me that I had reason to hope in something better then what I had been experiencing only moments ago. He has been faithful in that. It wasn't a false promise. While He has provided full-time employment, new joys with family and friends and other wonderful experiences, His greatest gift has been Himself. I am not immune from depression but it's power has been greatly minimized in my life as my hope and joy is now truly found in a God that does not disappoint as so many worldly things do time and time again.

If you are struggling with depression or know someone who is, I will offer a few final thoughts. When you feel depression closing in, look outside of yourself. Put your focus on God and put it on others. Your problems and your disappointments will seem smaller when you are giving yourself to a cause that is greater than you. Talk about what you are feeling. The darkest thoughts lose their power when brought into the light. You might not want anyone to know you have thoughts of suicide. Then talk to a counselor and let it out. Satan wants nothing more then for those thoughts to spiral downward to the point of no return. If you have a loved one struggling with depression, encourage them to talk about it even though it is probably the last thing they want to do. At the very least, let them know you stand ready to listen at anytime with no judgments, no condemnation.

Finally, don't be afraid to seek help. You are a broken human in a broken world just like the rest of us. Fortunately, the God of the Bible knows you are broken. It is why he sent Jesus Christ to bind up the broken-hearted and to restore us to our Creator and Heavenly Father. You can place your hope in a God who has given us the ultimate hope - an eternal home in heaven. There is no problem bigger than the love of God even though it may feel just the opposite. Take heart that God is on His throne and that He loves you. Tomorrow He will make the sun rise. Who knows what God may bring?

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland." - Isaiah 43:18-19


"It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to." - C.S. Lewis

Perfect summation of a conversation I had yesterday.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stop Playing "Christian"

How to know if a person is true: God-exaltation has replaced self-exaltation as the ruling life force. (John 7:18)

God has really placed this on my heart today. I had never heard of Rob Bell until 2 days ago and I still know little about him. Apparently, he is a liberal pastor who has a very large following, especially among young adults. He has a new book coming out. The trailer makes it sound like he has adopted the theology of universalism, i.e. everyone gets to heaven because a loving God would never send someone to hell. John Piper and a few others have already voiced their concern/dismay. The book isn't out yet so I think it's premature to make a judgment but supposedly his theology has always been a little loose on the topic of eternal destination so many feel like he has finally made the leap.\

However, my real frustration and sadness today comes from those who have very harsh words for Piper and others who hold to Biblical truth. Social media, such as Twitter, allows me to see more viewpoints from self-proclaimed "Christians" than I have ever before. Many are disheartening. Many decry Christian fundamentalism, a term that seems to be defined as taking the Bible literally. It is as though many feel like we should be evolving from the ideas of God's judgment and hell and (here it is again) absolute truth. However, the real truth is that God isn't the one that is changing. Many others are moving away from a fixed point. They are on the wide path of destruction (Matthew 7:13) and yet they call it "Christianity".

I am continuing Matt Chandler's sermon series on Habakkuk. Today the anchor verse was from 2:4:

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith."

Those who are puffed up are those that justify themselves. They are self-righteous. As an insightful Tweeterer(?) put it today...they create God in their own image. The righteous aren't people who do everything perfectly or are without sin. They are people who put God first. The righteous pursue, chase and seek after God. If you are not doing those things, you are a functional atheist. It's the equivalent of having food and not eating any of it. You will eventually starve to death.

Yes, there are plenty of moments during the day when I am not putting God first and my heart isn't desiring Him above all else. I am a sinner and I am fighting in the strength of the Holy Spirit to grow in spiritual maturity and holiness that my life might better reflect God's glory. The difference to me between someone who sins within the mindset of self-glorification and someone who sins in the pursuit of glorifying God, is the latter will be convicted and unsettled in their sin which leads to repentance and restoration. The former will actually enjoy licentious behavior and thought because the only god he/she is actually answering to is themselves.

Last night, as I was sitting in my car, I heard an interesting fact about the Bible. The Greek word "doulos" is used 140 (maybe 150) times in the New Testament. It is usually translated in English as "servant" (Mark 10:44, Matthew 20:27 would be exceptions). However, it's actual meaning is "slave" as the Greeks didn't have different words for servant and slave. Servant just sounds more palatable, doesn't it? I feel OK about being a servant of Jesus Christ but slave has a different feel. This could be due to the horrific practice of slavery in this nation's history and the scars that remain. But I think it's even more at the root of human nature. Being a servant makes it sound like it was my choice to serve. Being a slave makes it sound like I had no choice in the matter. That just doesn't sit well with Americans who believe we are endowed with certain inalienable rights.

"For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings." - 1 Corinthians 7:22-23

This passage means that as a Christian you were made to serve God and God alone. That doesn't mean to ignore your parents or your boss or the police. But it does mean that the highest and final authority in your life is God. It certainly isn't you. As a slave for Christ you are not your own. I read too many comments today from "Christians" who have no understanding of this concept. Honestly, I find it incredibly depressing and tiring to think of how diluted truth has become among those who claim to be of Christ. There are so many outside the church that need to hear and know the Gospel that the amount of repentance and change that needs to happen inside of the church seems almost insurmountable. I rest in the knowledge that all things are possible through Christ and I ache over the word "remnant".

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other." - Matthew 6:24a

"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” - Joshua 24:15

Choose who you will serve this day. Will you serve your version of God or will you serve the God who is revealed to us through the inerrant and divinely inspired Scriptures? Faith must be exercised and practiced by pursuing the God who our faith is in so that there is assurance of what we are hoping for and a conviction in what we can't see. (Hebrews 11:1)

If you claim to have faith in Christ that means you are His slave. You are the slave of the most wonderful and magnificent Master you could ever desire. To either set yourself up as God or to re-create God in your own image and idea of what God should be is to play the most dangerous game of all. It's a game that you cannot win and a game that you do not want to lose. At the end of the day, we all need to stop trying to change God and simply allow Him to change us.