Monday, June 24, 2013

Finding True Happiness

I just listened to today's Focus on the Family broadcast entitled Finding the Path to True Happiness. It's worth a listen. It's a testimony to how much I don't have that Dr. Henry Cloud says we need in order to be happy. I am aware that I fall into the category that much of this may not apply to in suffering from clinical depression. However, given that clinical depression can be assuaged somewhat by conditioning the amygdala (a la Pavlov's dogs) to respond in a healthy way in the production of neurotransmitters to social stimuli, a little help from my associates in the friend and value categories would be welcome.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Good Conversations

I wrote about how rare good conversations are. Well, I had a good conversation a couple of days ago. I ran sound for a wedding yesterday and was there for the rehearsal the night before. Although I’m uncomfortable at such events where I generally don’t know many people, I show up and try to socialize even though I’m not good at it.

The father of the bride goes to my church and he didn’t look like he was keen on being there either, so we started talking and spent the evening keeping each other company. He really seemed like he was grateful for the company.

So I’m grateful to God for the interaction of a brother in Christ. I know it may sound creepy to some people, but I get it rarely enough that I treasure such times. Some people are blessed with friendship with others such that they have no idea what it’s like to be without it.

The sad part is that although I had a good conversation with someone, two facts temper my excitement: First, it will likely not lead to a deep friendship since one like that hasn’t happened yet. Second, it will be a while before another good conversation comes along. So good conversations are certainly welcome, but ultimately depressing.

Perhaps the benefit is that they go a long way to helping me not become bitter or hardened. I know that I’m not the most comfortable person to hang around with because I’m awkward. I know that I hold little promise of someone being proud of knowing that they have anything to do with me. While that is not a good reason to deny Christian fellowship to someone, no one is perfect, including Christians. I can’t blame people for not wanting to hang out with me in their spare time, so I’ll take it when it happens unintentionally and be grateful for it although it’s still depressing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Individualitis; Stop Paying Attention to Yourself!

Mobilise 2013 - Main Meeting 5 - Andrew Wilson from Mobilise on Vimeo.

First, Andrew Wilson makes a great point about individualitis. The suffix, -itis, indicates the inflammation of something. Hence, tendinitis is an inflammation of a tendon or appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix. Individualitis is the figurative inflammation, or undue attention given to, the individual over and against a corporate body.

Andrew Wilson is right that we tend to focus too heavily on ourselves. Children are naturally like this. Maturity is the growth away from thinking the world revolves around us to understanding how we can be useful to a group of people. Our culture is filled with immature people. With that observation, I’m going to be perfectly immature and talk about his message as though it were all about me.

First, he lists a group of people and says that Nehemiah isn’t mentioned. Nehemiah isn’t any more important than anyone else in the list. The problem I see with this is that Nehemiah’s name is still the name of the book. It’s wonderful, on the other hand that people can be involved with each other to create something beyond any of them. Wilson mentions the builder of the Dung Gate as the least one of these. My issue with this is I wish I had something as significant as a Dung Gate to build. Some of us aren’t even as important as the guy that built the Dung Gate.

Second, when you live in a society filled with individualists and you are trying to be a corporatist – I say “corporatist” because there are so few of them that there really isn’t a word for it – you will be marginalized. Individualists compete against one another to achieve the places of great importance. If you don’t compete, but really try to work with other people, you will be used by them to advance their importance. So the only way to be useful to God is to compete for the position to be useful. Now some of you might balk at what I’m saying so far. If so, you are being idealistic rather than realistic.

I keep bringing up Desiring God because some of their recent articles fit with what I’m saying. I love Desiring God ministries and appreciate all they do. Nevertheless, here’s an article talking about Self-Preoccupation. The message fits with Andrew Wilson’s teaching above. This is often what I think people would accuse me of. Jon Bloom has three very practical things to do in the process of not being self-preoccupied.

1.  “Deny yourself by getting your eyes off yourself.”

This presupposes that I’m paying attention to my own eyes. There must be a point at which we remain self-aware. I understand the concept, but Paul also instructs Timothy to keep a watch on himself and promote himself 1 Tim 4:11-16. Where is the line to be drawn? If you are having trouble bringing Paul’s admonition to Timothy to bear because of undue competition in the world, then the admonition to follow Matthew 16:24-25 is inappropriate.

2.  “Look to Jesus and all that God promises to do for you through him.”
God is all in all. In a desire for God, we must desire to serve him in all things. While God gives us gifts by virtue of the Holy Spirit who is in all believers, he doesn’t promise to use every last one of us. Paul indicates that it is the general ideal in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 (most people miss the fact that 1 Corinthians 13 is in the middle of the larger discourse regarding using gifts in the Body of Christ, but that’s another issue altogether). So we can look at what Jesus has done for us, but we cannot expect that he will absolutely use every last one of us for his glory. How many people have been martyred for their faith without so much as a testimony? I assure you that they are out there and that most of us haven’t heard anything about them. How were they used? I know that’s an extreme example, but there is a difference between what is ideally prescribed and what is practically ordained.

Which leads to the last point:

3.  Serve others.

Except as I have already stated, there is no promise that we will be able to do this despite our desire to do it. I know of many ministers who are grateful for the ministries that they are able to do and all the people that they are able to minister to. But I know of many individuals who have no hope for ministry because of some physical or mental condition, for example. Speaking for myself, I know of no one who can say that I ministered to them. But if God doesn’t want me to minister, then I’ll just have to live with the frustration of having wanted to.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Friendlessness and Fellowshipping

Fellowship is a significant part of life in the Body of Christ. It’s the natural part of people who enjoy being with each other and the means by which we encourage and exhort each other outside of the sermon and hold each other accountable. It’s the primary method the Holy Spirit uses to work out our sanctification.

So when does a typical church enjoy this necessary fellowship? It doesn’t happen during a worship service. Unless your Sunday School or Bible Study class is merely social it doesn’t happen during that time. Unless there is a special time set aside, churches only fellowship before or after services or classes. People might develop deeper relationships and meet somewhere outside of church for that fellowship we all need. If you can’t develop those kinds of relationships, you never get the fellowship you need to grow effectively as a Christian.

So let’s take Sunday morning for example. Those short before and after times are filled with most people giving courtesy checks:

“How’s it going?”

“Fine. You?”


Most people don’t expect, or likely they don’t hope, others to actually have any problems. What would someone say if they asked someone how they were doing and they got this answer:

“Well, not too good. I don’t think I have any friends.”

I imagine they might respond, “Well, uh, sorry to hear that. Let me know if I can do anything.” All the while they are really thinking how they could get out of talking to this person any more. So let’s imagine a typical Sunday after church or even a special fellowship event…

I arrive and look around to see if anyone notices me. No one does. So I look for someone.
I see someone I know talking to someone else. Maybe I’ll try saying hello. So I walk up and neither notice me right away. So I stand there. Someone else comes by and says hello and immediately walks away after I return their hello. Realizing that no one is particularly interested in me, I go and hang out in a corner to see if anyone comes up. A few people pass by and say hello, but no one cares to stop.

Suddenly, someone comes up and says hello. I practice what I’ve read about in good conversationalism and ask him something about himself. So he launches into a lengthy monolog about something that interests him. I pay attention, but have no ability to interject other than a simple, “Uh-huh…sure…no kidding…that’s something else…”

Otherwise, I just hang out there alone. Someone sees me and tries to talk. They ask a question that I know they really don’t want me spending all day answering, but I start to talk anyway. Before a couple of sentences are finished someone else comes up and the person I’m with is obviously glad to have someone else to talk to for a while.

I've been advised by my counselor, who wouldn't give me the time of day were it not her job, to "just put yourself out there." The method for doing such a thing effectively eludes me.

A couple of times a year, perhaps, someone will engage me with a fruitful conversation or actually spend some time together at some event. It doesn't end up as a deeper long-lasting friendship however. So this is my depressing social life.

What shall I make of this in light of what we are supposed to be as the Body of Christ? Some may be tempted to shake their fist at God and lose faith. But if God wanted me to have a friend he would give me one. Since he hasn't, then I can only conclude that God doesn't want me to have a deep friendship with someone. That's his prerogative. My fate is to deal with the fallout of exacerbated depression in light of a few individuals who unwittingly patronize me with disingenuous concern. Now I could let my heart grow cold and hard against people, but I want to honestly love them with the love of Christ. So I bear their ignorance toward my condition.

If you suffer from depression and are similarly awkward socially and relatively unable to develop deep and lasting relationships, I urge you to strive diligently not to blame people for their ignorance and unconcern. Forgive them and accept God's lonely purpose in your life.

If you don't suffer from depression, but know someone who does and is socially awkward, then my advice is to not be disingenuous toward them. If you don't love them in Christ enough to try to care for them, then don't pretend that you do. Don't also pretend that it's okay not to love your brother or sister in need. Pray that God warms your heart because your heart is cold.

If, on the other hand, you do love your brother or sister who suffers from depression, then by all means, a) adopt them as your own friend and b) strive sacrificially to help them learn to behave less awkwardly. People like me need people like you because frankly most people really don't love us that much - and that's depressing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Need of a Christian Loner

I love John Piper's admonitions here. We need community. We need fellow Christians. I want to address one thing that he said toward the end of this Ask Pastor John podcast. He first addressed Christians who would rather just be loners. Then he spoke to Christians like me who have trouble developing those deeper relationships. He expressed sorrow over the difficulty that we have. Then he admonished us to trust God to guide us. Finally he said this:

"Be for others what you long for them to be for you."

In my previous post, I detailed some areas I typically have difficulty with in socializing with other people. First, John Piper said some great things and I encourage you to listen to what he said.

But secondly I have a little trouble with the advice I quoted here. You see, I don't know how to be for someone what I long for them to be for me. What I long for is the kind of rapport I see others have. I long for the kind of relationship that I see others have for each other where they go and visit each other. In other words, I see people who have the kind of friendship where they know where their friends keep the keys hidden to the back door and know that they are welcome to use them. I could invite someone to the house, but I wouldn't know what to do with them once they got here.

If someone out there knows how to teach me how to develop that kind of relationship, then I could perhaps follow what John Piper says here. Of course, even that requires being able to develop that kind of relationship it seems. So, if you know how to teach people like me how to develop relationships like this and you see people who could use your help, then I urge you to take the initiative because someone like me probably won't be able to effectively ask for it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Socially Awkward

I’m not saying I’m that type that’s shadowy creepy or the type that’s inappropriately gregarious. Think of the most annoying person you can. That’s not me.

However, I am socially awkward in a nice way. I’m polite almost to a fault and would rather say nothing than to say something wrong. I wouldn’t even be married unless God hooked me up with my wife. I married her precisely because she lets me finish a sentence.

As it goes, I have hundreds if not thousands of friendly associates. I have very few, if any, friends besides my wife.

My social awkwardness is rooted in a low level of ability to develop a rapport with people. I have studied verbal communication and have practiced it most intentionally. However, there are still many challenging conversational circumstances. I’ll detail a few key ones.

First is one-on-one conversation. There are people who talk on and on about what they are interested in. When I try to speak, often they don’t allow me to finish a sentence before they pick up and take the conversation. If they allow me to say something and I try to discuss something I am interested in, they show little interest and go away. There are a few people who will talk well for a short time, but largely because I try to talk about something they are interested in.

Second are interruptions in conversation. Usually if I am talking to someone one-on-one and another person comes up and interrupts, the person I’m talking with will drop my conversation in favor of the new person. If, on the other hand, I approach two people having a conversation, even if I have something important to say to one of them, they ignore me unless I stand there for a very long time. This is a very reliable pattern. So rarely am I the favored conversation partner that I’m usually shocked into silence when it happens.

This pattern leads into the third area: group conversations. These usually take place between other people with me watching. If the conversation progresses into an area that I desire to comment on, I will usually get antsy until someone recognizes that I have something to say. Most of the time, no one does. I’ve been told that I just need to interrupt. First of all, that’s rude. Second of all, when I’ve tried it, I’m typically ignored and whoever is talking just keeps on talking as though I wasn’t trying to say something.

I don’t know why people don’t want to talk to me. It’s pretty depressing. But it has an effect on how well I am able to minister to them, minister with them, or seek ministry from them. So it puts a damper on my ability to connect with my brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Failure in Ministry

I don’t mean to pick on Desiring God. There’s another article I’d like to respond to entitled Fighting the Tyranny of Ministry Success written by Ben Stuart.

I largely agree with what Ben wrote here. Read the article for the details. So Ben organizes a ministry event and only one guy shows up. He confesses that he resented that God didn’t bless his ministry and that he didn’t even love the one guy that showed up.

Largely, Ben has in mind the sinful effects of the celebrity church culture. However, the pattern of sin of self-glorification that he addresses is applicable to more than just celebrity envy. And I have to think that this is one thing that I would or have been thought to be guilty of. Indeed, I wonder if I really am guilty of such things.

But here I am presuming to do ministry by writing a blog anonymously. So how much do I really want to be glorified?

On the one hand you can say that ministry is held back by some unconfessed sin. There are biblical examples of this. Whether sin holds your ministry back or not, you need to repent of your sin. So on the other hand, there are plenty of examples of people who ministered most effectively while harboring great sin. Who of us is perfect? What minster out there is not yet still being sanctified? We all minister with some sin in our lives. We all minister with some sin that we don’t know about yet or haven’t been sanctified of. Paul seemed to indicate that even he struggled with sin. The big thing biblically is that we rely on God’s grace rather than our ability to keep from sinning. Also, God can use even the greatest sinners to minister in his name. Even king Saul prophesied.

So in Ben Stuart’s solution, his first suggestion is that we repent. We should indeed repent! However, our effectiveness may not necessarily be tied to our repentance for the reasons I just gave.

Ben’s second point is to love the sheep that you have been given. That’s good. But what if we haven’t been given sheep? What if we are a sheep? To what extent is Ben’s advice here applicable to the idea that in the Body of Christ we each should have a ministry toward one another? I can’t point to anyone who would say that I ministered to them. It’s not because I haven’t tried. I know a man from my church who is an itinerate evangelist. I subscribe to his tweets where he is grateful for the people who respond to the gospel when he preaches it and the churches and individuals who invite him to come and preach. He can be grateful for the people with whom he partners in ministry and the people to whom he ministers. I don’t have anyone I can thank for partnering with me. I don’t have anyone I can thank God for being able to minister to.

Maybe you think that’s a little extreme. Surly I have someone I minister to. However, I’m socially awkward. I’ll write a post on that later. Suffice it to say that people aren’t lining up to minister alongside me or to be ministered to by me.

Ben Stuart has organized an event where only one person showed up. I’ve organized events where no one showed up. I volunteered to take over running a recurring event that was doing well. We had sound teaching and music, focused prayer and fellowship. As soon as I took it over, people stopped coming altogether. Not only can I not love someone who isn’t there, but I can’t follow Ben’s final piece of advice.

Ben said finally to enjoy the peace that comes from knowing that we are doing work that pleases God. Gifts should be exercised according to how they build up the church (1 Cor 14:26). If what we do doesn’t build up the church, we shouldn’t do it (1 Cor 14:28). Try as we might, some of us simply can’t do anything to contribute to building up the church. Some people build up the church with everything they do. So how can we who can’t seem to do anything worthwhile enjoy the peace of knowing that we are doing work that pleases God? Doesn’t that contradict the premise of Ben’s article?

Now Ben Stuart is a godly man, I’m sure. He had a bad experience that taught him a lesson of sorts. Nevertheless, I’m sure he’s successful now. Here he is writing for Desiring God, a great ministry, and serving as the director of a Bible ministry on the campus of a major US university. I know this because the short list of credentials are posted with his article. He has the satisfaction of knowing that he is ministering to the glory of Christ although he once had a difficult moment.

There are plenty of people who don’t seem to have even had a difficult moment who issue similar messages to those of us who are failing in the proverbial pews to be effective ministers of Christ. It’s little comfort to be admonished by someone who has never been there or who has not experienced sustained failure. So I appreciate the moment of ministerial dryness that Ben Stuart has had, but I need to hear what I should think about a life of perpetual failure to accomplish much at all in ministry.

Saturday, June 08, 2013


1. The act of pretending; a false appearance or action intended to deceive.
2. A false or studied show; an affectation: a pretense of nonchalance.
3. A professed but feigned reason or excuse; a pretext: under false pretenses.
4. Something imagined or pretended.
5. Mere show without reality; outward appearance.
6. A right asserted with or without foundation; a claim. See Synonyms at claim.
7. The quality or state of being pretentious; ostentation.

[Middle English, from Old French pretensse, from Medieval Latin *praetnsa, from Late Latin, feminine ofpraetnsus, alteration of Latin praetentus, past participle of praetendere, to pretend, assert; seepretend.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

We all do it to some degree. For crying out loud, I'm blogging anonymously.

Incidentally, the reason I created this blog anonymously is to actually drop any pretense without adversely affecting my family, church, physician, counselor, etc. This gives you, the occasional reader, the opportunity to see what kinds of thoughts might be ailing that poor soul sitting a couple of pews over from you so that you might better minister to him or her.

But the most pretentious time of the week for most of us is Sunday morning (and Sunday evening and Wednesday evening for Baptists).

Now there actually is a good reason for this. We all sin. If we were to let everyone else in on all our little private sins, we wouldn't be able to trust each other. The problem is that we take it too far. We come to church and put on our best churchly face. Where is Galatians 6 in the way we conduct ourselves at church? Let's take a look at this:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5, ESV)

How do you catch someone and restore them in any transgression unless there is a lack of pretense? But there is a limit. That's why we must keep watch on ourselves so that we are not tempted. This is the way we bear one another's burdens and it links us to the work of Christ on the cross through sacrificial love.

The next sentence brings up another aspect of pretense: self-deceit. It was enough of a problem then for Paul to address it and it is certainly a problem for us today in the Western Church. Western culture, in particular, breeds an exceptional form of pretentiousness. We think we are better than everyone else and we think we deserve more of whatever we covet than everyone else. And this makes its way into our churches. We think our opinions are superior. We might not say it or always act on it, but it's in the back of our heads. We are willing to compete for our superiority.

The thing is that while the Bible tells us we are not to think to highly of ourselves, it never tells us not to think too little of ourselves. Nevertheless, I have heard people say that it is sinful to think too low of yourself. There is no scriptural basis for that. The reason they say it is in part because many people who put themselves down do it because they really think too much of themselves and are being passive-aggressive. Also, it's because the culture, rather than the Bible, tells us that thinking highly of ourselves is a good thing. It's called self-esteem.

But what do you do if you really think lowly of yourself? You might realize that you have spiritual gifts to offer people, but you also recognize that you lack some ability to use those gifts effectively. You realize that you can't use those gifts unless you compete against others who are exhibiting their gifts pretentiously. If you tell someone about your gifts, then you either must be pretentious in order to use your gifts by competing successfully against others or you must expect to lose against others who are exhibiting their gifts pretentiously. If you don't tell someone about your gifts, then you are being pretentious. So it's a catch-22.

What is honest in this situation is that you realize that you cannot minister effectively without being pretentious. So I say with Isaiah, "I am a man of unclean lips."

Friday, June 07, 2013


So I'm responding to a post on Desiring God entitled "Lay Aside the Weight of Sluggishness" by Jon Bloom.

I like Desiring God and support their message. This post was probably aimed at normal Christians, but I have to respond to some of what was written there.

The passage used as a basis is Hebrews 6:11-12:

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

The illustration given is a runner who is being sluggish:

Sluggishness in a runner signals danger to a coach. Something isn’t right. Something is causing ambivalence, draining confidence. The runner is losing heart. Half-hearted running is a forerunner to quitting.
That’s when a caring coach intervenes.
 That's assuming that a caring coach is present. One of my beefs is that I can't seem to get wise counsel from anyone. I don't have a coach. When I get sluggish, who is there to exhort me on? I've asked for help and some have tried, but they always stop short of giving me what I need.

So perhaps I need blog posts from Desiring God to serve as my life coach since no living person will do it.

When we feel like this we typically want an arm around the shoulder and a gentle word of understanding and commiseration. What we typically need are loving reproofs, like these:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12)
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (Hebrews 4:1)
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)
So perhaps I just need the Bible. I hold the authority of the Bible in high regard. As far as I'm concerned it is the source of information from God by which all other information should be judged. But do we not all need help applying it effectively?

So what does Jon Bloom give us as a list to go by?

  1. Identify the doubt. Sluggishness has a cause. What is sapping your faith?
  2. Repent. Unbelief is a sin. Seek to actively turn from it.
  3. Target that unbelief with biblical truth. Stop whatever else you may be doing for devotional reading and focus on and pray through texts that deal directly with this issue. Lay aside your other book reading and read things that address this doubt.
  4. Don’t go it alone. Humble yourself and share your struggle with trusted counselors God has given you. Our great Coach often speaks through assistant coaches (Hebrews 3:13).
So let's go through the list.

1. Identify the doubt.

What doubt this is Jon doesn't say. If I had a doubt, it's that God really wants to use me. I've tried to minister to people. In fact a couple of people have mentioned that I minister in ways that I don't know about. They have told me what those ways are and I suspect that they are just saying that hoping that it's true because they can't really think of anything specific to mention.

2. Repent.

I haven't been convinced that my particular doubt is a sin. God uses people. God uses some people more than others. Some people have the greater honor. Some people are so pitiful that they have to be hidden (1 Cor 12:23b). I often wonder at passages like this if Paul is giving us an ideal that is rarely followed by churches today or if we are to assume that this is the way churches really function. If this is an ideal only, then it must be true that many people simply aren't used the way that Paul indicates that they are to function within the Body of Christ.

So what am I to repent of? How am I supposed to change? Do I simply decide to believe that God will use me and he suddenly will? I used to believe this and he didn't. so I must conclude that not everyone is seen as worth using in the Body of Christ by those who determine such things. Show me a pastor, deacon, or elder who actually organizes the work of the church according to 1 Cor 12, and I will repent. Otherwise, there is nothing to repent of.

3. Target that unbelief with biblical truth.

I just tried that. I think my doubt is biblically and practically justified.

4. Don't go it alone.

Find me someone who will give me wise counsel and follow through with it and I won't go it alone. If you can't, do it yourself. I've tried and people back away. I really wish people wouldn't ask socially awkward people like myself to go find someone on our own. That's like asking a 2-year-old who got lost at Disneyland to go find his own parents. No. The parents go looking for the 2-year-old. I've asked people to help. I've even had some people offer. However, no one will stick with me.

I know. Depressing, isn't it?

What Do I Hope to Accomplish

Some Christians might say that some things shouldn't be discussed. Some Christians believe that depression is a sin. Some Christians think that someone with depression should just stop being depressed as though it were that simple.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, suffered from depression. He also had one of the most significant ministries in the past couple of centuries. People who aren't plagued with clinical depression have little idea what it's like. That's the purpose of this blog - to chronicle the issues and though patterns that someone with depression goes through, particularly from a Christian perspective.

As far as it goes, one of the symptoms of depression is a feeling of worthlessness. In that vein, I have to say that I don't really expect anyone to care. I don't expect a blog like this to take off. The future evidence of a lack of people reading this blog will serve to demonstrate that this feeling is not entirely unfounded. As I will likely discuss in future posts, one admonition to depressed people is that such feelings of worthlessness aren't true. When that happens, I will gladly point out what I have here predicted and be vindicated in proving that I really am worthless. Does anyone want to prove me wrong?