Manic-Depressive Christianity

Over my years as a pastor I have worked with several people who were bi-polar. This is sometimes referred to as being Manic Depressive.

The Manic phase refers to ideas of superiority, taking over the world, on top of it all, and looking down on all the losers around you.

The Depressive state refers to, well, being depressed. The world has stomped me, there is no hope, no reason to continue, I will go enjoy my favorite reality drowning sin.

The Depressed state is replaced with the Manic state, the Manic replaced with the Depressed, and around and around it goes. Each stage is an over-reaction followed by another over-reaction in the opposite direction. It’s one thing to observe it from the outside, it’s another thing to be stuck in the cycle.

There’s another brand of Manic Depressive out there too, beyond human psychology: Manic Depressive Christianity.

When people are down, the Church shoves happy verses at them: all things work together for good, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, all things are possible with God.

The depressed person goes away chanting these out of context phrases, bucked up by the happy sentiments, they go out in the power of the Spirit to conquer the world. We are more than conquerors after all! Rah-Rah, go get em, boys!

After a couple weeks of exhausting one’s self in uber-happy Christian out of context mantra chanting that has not made any difference or taken over any world, depression sets in.

The Church hands the depressed girl the happy verses. The happy verses are repeated. The depressed girl is bucked up. Rah-rah! Go win one for the Gipper! Only to find out the Gipper died a long time ago and everything stinks.

It’s a discouraging to watch people stuck in this cycle. Facebook is the greatest venue for watching this cycle in action. People post way too much stuff, revealing way too many personal things.

If you have many Christians on your Facebook page, you probably have two or three of these people. One day everything is awesome, and them and God are doing it all! Next week everything is horrible, struggling, pain, failure. Nest week, posting pictures of sunsets with out of context biblical phrases. Next week, on top of the world with Jesus! Repeat.

I get depressed for what the Church does to people. Instead of chanting out of context phrases from verses, rest on the solid rock of God’s Word.

Teaching the Bible is not easy. The Bible is very long. There are many things “hard to be understood,” says the Apostle Peter.

Most churches skip the hard work and settle for self-improvement and bucking up people with happy thoughts torn out of context.

All things do work together for good–and the good, according to the context, includes suffering and being counted as sheep for the slaughter. The good is conformity to Christ; not worldly achievements.

We are more than conquerors, because one day we will be dead and we will have lost our lives, but we will have gained Christ.

All things are possible with God. And, based on the context of this verse, the impossible that will be made possible is rich people will give away their money to the poor, not you getting the girl, or the job, or the new car.

You can do all things through Christ, but the all things don’t mean overcoming obstacles to worldly pleasure and enjoyment. The all things, based on the context, means being content in whatever state you are in regardless of your present state of worldly pleasure and enjoyment.

But the Church doesn’t teach this any more. Too depressing. Not happy enough. Who would come and listen to that? Well, not too many people, but preaching a false message of hope to hopeless people only leads to hopelessness.

Many may not listen to the Bible’s message, but those who do will at least be helped. Changing the Bible’s message so more will hear you, only makes you accountable for destroying those souls by your false, incomplete message.

I pray for the Church. I pray for those stuck in the Manic-Depressive cycle and those stuck in the Christian version of it, too.

How Not to Talk to Kids About Sin

“And, if you play this record backwards, you can hear a voice saying ‘Satan has his own religion. Satan has his own religion.’”

“How awesome is that?” my friend whispered to me.

Our youth group was dragged to a series of lectures about the dangers of Rock Music. It was the late ‘80’s, when rock music was at its dangerestest.

We learned about subliminal messages heard while playing records backwards. I was never quite clear how backward messages were picked up by my subconscious. I don’t recall that ever being explained. However, the invention of the iPod seems to have put an end to this nefarious Satanic scheme.

We learned about album artwork and the dangerous occult symbols hidden in paintings of scantily clad women. I believe I saw more scantily clad women at this Christian conference than anywhere else at that point in my life.

We learned about highways to hell and all my friends being there to party. We learned about sex and drugs. It was quite the education.

It was firmly ground into our little heads that listening to rock music will make us a drugged up minion of Satan that impregnates scantily clad women.

Mostly what these lectures did was fill us with an intense desire to listen to rock music. My radio was soon moved next to my bed so I could quietly listen to AC/DC and Metallica without anyone knowing.

As I familiarized myself with rock music, I did no drugs, I worshipped no Satans, and much to my junior highish hormonal regret, impregnated no scantily clad women. Rock music was a giant letdown.

Kids don’t always know what they are doing or why. Adults appear to be authorities, people who have been around and know more. There is a responsibility inherent in adulthood: look out for those youngsters and help them out.

Unfortunately, adults lack sense ourselves. Although we know sin is dangerous, we can go overboard in explaining its danger. We revert to the worst case scenario. Tiny sins always lead to slippery slopes to doom, no exceptions, so BE AFRAID!

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, has been around the block a few times. In his treatise on the vanity of life, the Book of Ecclesiastes, he talks about sin and appears to be much less alarmed.

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

“It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.” Ecclesiastes 9:2

Here, perhaps, is the clincher of all clinchers, Ecclesiastes 11:9a, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.”

Did you catch that one?! Solomon tells young men to follow their heart and go after everything they see! Really? That’s what the God-inspired Scriptures say to young idiot men raging in hormonal lust? “Go for it?” That’s the message?

Wow, I‘m glad Solomon was only a king and not a youth pastor.

But hold up a second. Solomon has a lot of other things to say about sin, too.

“Let not your mouth lead you into sin” Ecclesiastes 5:6a

“But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” Ecclesiastes 8:13

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13,14

OK, now that’s better. Now we’re on safe ground with Brother Solomon.

But this is the same guy and the same book saying these things. How can Solomon, in the same breath, say that sin doesn’t seem to end up all that bad and yet also say we should pursue righteousness and avoid evil?

Solomon has two arenas in view. When it comes to temporal benefit, doing right and avoiding sin is mostly a waste. You will see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Avoiding sin and doing good doesn’t pay well on this earth.

But Solomon also speaks about sin in light of the eternal arena. When it comes to judgment day, your sin will cost you and your righteous deeds will win praise.

I quoted Ecclesiastes 11:9a earlier about letting young men sin. Look at the entire verse (include the “b” part) and see how it conveys this point:

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

Yeah, OK young men, go for it. Live it up. Go get what you see and follow your ridiculous heart. Live it up. But remember, you’ll stand before God with that someday.

When it comes to talking about sin with young people, I think we should follow Solomon’s lead. Solomon has no problem telling young men that sin is kind of fun and more than likely you’ll get away with it.

Now, wow. Even I can’t quite see myself saying that. But let’s be honest. I remember the scare tactics used to get kids in youth groups to take purity vows and to abstain from pre-marital sex. We were constantly told what evils would befall us if we got a girl pregnant. Well, wouldn’t you know it; two young people in that group went out and had a baby outside of marriage.

They didn’t die. They didn’t lose their baby. They didn’t become Satan worshippers. They aren’t on drugs. In fact, 30 years later, these young people turned out quite normal. They are married, attend church, and have a well-functioning family.

As we are told, many young people leave the church once they get the freedom to do so. One of the many reasons why is because they have discovered that awful things generally do not happen when you sin. Oh sure, we can share the story about what happened to that one kid who is now on drugs and life is totally destroyed. It happens, but for the large extent, sin is something that happens and then life goes on. All those dire youth group warnings didn’t come true. What other lies did youth group tell me?

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, knew sinners often get away with sin and do fine. “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.”

We must be careful to not overplay the dangers of sin. Stealing cookies from mom won’t necessarily lead to a life of robbing banks. I stole many cookies: I have yet to rob a bank.

Sin is bad. In no way is Solomon telling us to tell kids to go ahead and sin with impunity. What Solomon says is that sin is often overcome. Doing what is right doesn’t pay well on earth. But this earth isn’t all there is. Eternity is a long time and you will stand before God with all you’ve done. Sin and righteousness matter—this life may not prove it, but Judgment Day will. Layoff the heavy-handed “your life will be destroyed” doom about sin. Instead, point kids’ minds to eternity and their stand before God.

Arguing and The Cold War

The US at one time was the only nation on the earth that had an atomic bomb. But in 1949 Stalin and Russia got one.

President Truman had a decision to make. What should the US do now? Bomb Russia? Ban the bomb? Truman decided to call a bunch of scientists together to see if there was any possibility of building a larger bomb.

Their answer: Yeah, we could, but should we?

Truman’s doctrine here was called Escalation Dominance.

The concept holds that the United States can best contain conflicts and avoid escalation if it is dominant at each successive rung up the “ladder of escalation,” all the way to the top rung of nuclear weapons.

Whoever has the biggest weapon can use it as a threat to force other nations to back off. But to effectively use this threat, you have to keep going up the ladder to more powerful weapons.

This term, Escalation Dominance, reminds me of arguing theology, or anything else for that matter.

Both sides state their claims. Both disagree on the Bible passages. Both disagree on the proper interpretation or definitions. Stalemate.

“You need to talk to my pastor. He knows this subject better than I do.”

“Your pastor? What does he know? You need to read Doctor So-And-So, he has studied this for 20 years and has written four books on the subject.”

“Yeah, well, you need to read Doctor This-And-That, he has studied this subject for 34 years and has written seven books.”

“Pssh, you should listen to St. DeadGuy who wrote 1,650 years ago and shaped all theologians.”

“What? That’s nothing. Early Church Father WhatsHisName knew a guy who knew Paul and practically wrote the first ever commentary on Romans.”

“An English speaking ignoramus would trust him. If you knew Arabic and the writings of WeirdNamedGuy of WeirdNamedPlace, who used to change the Apostle Paul’s diapers, then you would truly understand.”

On and on it goes. It’s the argument from Authority. In essence, “My dad is bigger than your dad.”

This probably isn’t true all the time, but for the most part, if you begin quoting people in your arguments, you’ve probably entered Escalation Dominance territory.

Your desire is to bring out the Big Guns and silence the moron. It’s too bad people have more respect for degrees, prestige, and honors than they do simple humble dependence on the Spirit.

So, what happened with Truman’s Escalation Dominance theory? For many years both the US and Russia built bigger and more bombs than the other guy. I suppose it worked, since we’re all still here. At the same time, there is still tension between the US and Russia, and now also with a few other nations who escalated their weapons too.

Escalation Dominance doesn’t ever really solve a conflict. When it comes to the Bible, either you know what you’re talking about or you don’t. Resist the urge to one-up each others authorities into infinity. The argument is already over. You’ve reached stalemate.

Let it go.

Why Do Creatonists and Evolutionists Fear Each Other?

My daughter had a discussion in class yesterday about Creation and Evolution and whether both should be taught in school.

First off, Creationism means something different from Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is a non-religious, scientifically analyzed theory of how stuff got here, concluding that something Intelligent is behind it.

Creationism has more to do with Biblical Creationism. It is my opinion that schools should not teach religion of any sort. Thus, I don’t want the schools to teach Biblical Creationism. This makes me a horrible person among some Christians, but alas, schools will butcher the Bible, so I’d assume they stay away from it (not that the church does much better, but alas).

However, there is an increasing scientific rejection of Darwinian Evolution and an increasing scientific acceptance of Intelligent Design. I believe these facts should be presented in schools. Science is based on problem solving. Presenting problems with Evolution may actually inspire science to do better work. As soon as science rests on ideology, discovery stops, which is especially why Evolutionist’s antagonism toward questioning their theory is so odd to me.

Secondly, it is amusing how both sides are so terrified of each other. Evolutionists are afraid of Creationism or Intelligent Design, presumably because a Creator implies morality, judgment, accountability to something larger than self or society, or any number of other reasons.

They fear establishing religion. Their disdain for religion and religious people is so violently angry, it does make a guy wonder why so much anger. Me thinkest thou protesteth too loudly.

Before we get all rah-rah bashing Evolutionists, I’m also intrigued by the fear so many Creationists have about Evolution. If you believe God created the world because His infallible Word you supposedly believe says so, why are you afraid of some guy’s theory?

I imagine many an uptight Christian parent believes that exposing their kids to contrary opinions will possibly destroy their carefully crafted faith they laid out for them. If we keep little Johnny isolated, little Johnny will believe all we want him to believe.

I imagine there is some truth to that logic, but I doubt Johnny’s faith will ever become personal. Agreeing with the only option you know is not faith, however. Little Johnny might agree with mommy and daddy all the way to hell.

I believe God created the world, and I’m even one of those weirdos who thinks God created the world in six literal days. I believe that because that’s what the Bible says. Both Evolution and Creationism are based on faith. No Evolutionist was there at the beginning, nor was any Creationist.

As Hebrews 11 says, it is by “faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” It is also by faith the Evolutionist believes the world was framed by chance. The Evolutionist holds Science as his word of authority; the Creationist relies on the Bible. In both cases, you are taking another person’s word for it–both are based on faith.

I am not afraid of Evolution. I have quite a lot of confidence in the Bible. I believe that if a person truly analyzes Evolution they will find significant problems. I believe the Bible, although not answering all our questions, presents an outlook on life that makes way more sense in many ways. I understand why Evolutionists disagree with that, but I do not understand why they fear it.

Fear is a sign of insecurity. If you fear the other side, you are merely admitting your insecurity in defending your side or disproving the other side. Fear and ignorance go hand in hand.

Most who fear competing ideas (whether Evolutionists or Creationists), are admitting they don’t know what they are talking about. If you are one of these people, I suggest you learn a little more about your view and then learn more about the other side (by reading the other side, not reading what your side says about the other side). There is nothing to fear in being informed, other than hard work. But isolating, being afraid, demanding silence to the other side, will do very little and will keep you ignorant and terrified.

The Bible can take care of itself. God is a big boy, He can defend Himself just fine. We can Trust Him. Let your kids know that. Let them know we don’t have to fear alternative views of life. If we truly believe we have Truth on our side, what is there to fear?

A Few Thoughts on Recreation

I am currently on level 490 in Candy Crush. Candy Crush is an app where you match kinds of candy in challenging puzzles to achieve the goal. It’s fun. It is also a colossal waste of time.

However, every life has some time to waste. I enjoy playing Candy Crush while listening to podcasts. I enjoy playing a few games while waiting for my wife  who said she was leaving “in a minute.” It’s a nice diversion while in waiting rooms or sitting in the car waiting for kids.

It’s still a waste of time, but most of the time, it’s time I’d be wasting anyway. And, yes, I know, I could be reading my Bible or memorizing. I got that covered already.

I consider Candy Crush to be recreation. If you think about the word “recreation” you will notice it’s made up of two parts. Re and creation. It literally means “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.

You know you have successfully recreated when you feel more alive afterwards.

Sometimes we think recreation is a waste. That depends. Some things we consider recreation really aren’t.

There are times when I watch too much TV, or play too much Candy Crush, or watch too many videos on YouTube, where I certainly don’t feel more alive afterward. In fact, sometimes I feel awful and horrible about existence itself.

One man’s recreation is another man’s waste of time. I know people who judge my football watching even though they obsessively watch movies. People think running is stupid, because everyone should fish. Your recreation is not a standard others should be judged by.

One of the greatest things in life is finding something that gives you life that is also helpful to others. For me, preaching and writing, when it goes well, is recreation. It gives me a charge. I feel re-created after a good, rousing sermon.

One of the reasons I have maintained this blog for so long is that I simply enjoy writing. Whether anyone reads it, not really the main point! Even less of a point is whether anyone liked it! I just like writing.

We all have down-time in life, and those who don’t have down time have issues. We need down time. We need diversion and recreation. We need rest. We need to unplug the brain at times. This is not a bad thing.

Christians tend to get obsessed with “Redeem the time” guilt trips. “Every second must be spent for eternity. People go to hell because you are crushing candy.” Lighten up. God rested, I imagine we should too.

But all things can be abused. We should think carefully about our time choices, but we should also refrain from obsessing about being productive every second of existence. You’ll give yourself an ulcer. There is a time to chill.

Find that time and find something that recreates you.

Some Recent Thoughts About Prayer

Most Christians admit that they don’t pray enough. This is mostly because it seems weird, people don’t know how to do it, and there is a plethora of conflicting advice about it.

The Bible actually never details how much time a person should pray, other than “Pray without ceasing.” When we are told to do something without ceasing, this can’t help but make us feel like a failure when we inevitably cease.

The Church has not done much to help people feel more comfortable with prayer. In fact, the Church seems to only hurt.

I know one pastor who repeatedly brags about how much he prays and how great he is because one night his son came into the kitchen at 3 a.m. and found him praying. “Do your kids catch you praying?”

Unfortunately, this makes people feel like the only good prayer is a prayer at an inconvenient hour when someone is watching.

The Church has also taken up the tactic that prayer is a tool to manipulate God. You have to put the time in, the sincerity, the emotion, the energy and zeal to convince God enough to hear you.

Certainly there are instances in the Bible where people used emotion, zeal, and passion in prayer and were heard–Hannah’s prayer for a son at the temple, for instance. There were many times they were not heard despite emotion–David mourning to God when his son was going to die, for instance.

Every believer should have prayers of emotion from time to time. But to think you have to be worked up in order for God to hear you is not a biblical notion.

Yes, persistence is noted as a way to be heard–parable of the persistent widow. At the same time we are warned not to use vain repetition. Repetition is no guarantee of being heard.

You can repeat things in prayer if you mean it every time. But repeating words for the sake of repeating words is vain.

Many believe that if they don’t pray before an event, something horrible will happen in that event. If I don’t pray before leaving for work, something horrible will happen at work kind of thing.

As a pastor, I will confess to feeling I should pray more on Saturdays so my message on Sunday goes better. I don’t pray on Sundays for my Mondays as much as I pray for my Sundays on a Saturday.

This is not prayer to God as much as it is hoping I rub the bottle enough to get the genie to do my bidding. This turns prayer into a lucky rabbit’s foot.

I have also wondered, when the Bible says not to take any thought for tomorrow, if I should even pray for tomorrow! Lately I have just prayed for today. On Saturdays I pray that I use my Saturdays well enough to be ready for Sunday instead of worrying about Sunday.

I don’t know if this theory is correct, but I’ve been doing this for a while now and have found it to be a releasing relief! It’s been working for me.

In the end, pray. That’s it. Just pray. God wants to hear from you. Your Creator and Savior wants you to talk to Him. This is a mind-blowing concept. I suggest we find the coolness in this and enjoy it.

No guilt. No superstition. No manipulation. No testing. Just talk to God.

Can a Christian Work in Sales? Part 2

Yesterday I asked whether Christians could work in sales.

My point was not to get people to quit sales. You won’t get very far in life without buying stuff, which means someone has to sell it. As with many things you won’t get far in life not doing, often we never stop to think about what it is we’re doing.

The Bible repeatedly talks about the dangers of money and covetousness. This leads me to think we should be careful in getting people to spend money, especially since the Bible also warns about causing your brother to stumble.

Any profession can be abused. Sales certainly can be abused. I have seen it. I have talked to many believers in sales who shared their struggle with it, and I empathize with them. I also know others who did it their entire life and seemed to do it with integrity.

I’ve met and heard about plenty of scummy pastors. I could dare ask the question: Can a true Christian be pastor of a church belonging to (place denominational name here)? I’m not feeling jerkish enough to be any more specific with that question.

It must be admitted that in sales, there is personality involved. I have always been a person who does not want to talk to strangers. Being a cross-eyed, blind guy will do that to you.

My aversion to sales has more to do with shyness than anything spiritual. Others can sell their entire inventory merely by burping in public.

Mundane details of life, like work and buying groceries, can be a source of sin. The Bible warns more about coveting than it does homosexuality. This doesn’t mean homosexuality is no big deal; it means that covetousness is a really big deal, in that it effects more people more often.

Every trip to the store, every viewing of a commercial, every observation of what others have, are potential pitfalls. We do these things so often, we rarely consider their dangers.

I’m not Mr. Immune over here either.

Christians are supposed to be separate from the world. We’re supposed to have the mind of Christ, not being conformed to this world. This has to lead to different choices, and ultimately different lifestyles.

Can a Christian work in sales? Yes they can, even if I can’t, but they need to be aware of the dangers. The Bible says stuff about sales, which obviously implies sales is something a Bible-believer can do.

We’re told not to use unjust weights. Israel was commanded not to charge interest to fellow Jews. They had rules about not ripping people off due to the coming Sabbath year. They were told not to sell food at a profit to the poor.

For a Christian to be in sales, I believe they must have faith in their product, that it is good, worth the price, and something that is helpful. If they need to lie to make a sale, something is off.

Covetousness is a huge deal in God’s eyes; He equates it with idolatry. That being the case, any Christian salesman must avoid the coveting angle.

So, think it over. If you need more help thinking over the issue of money, I wrote a book on it! It’s for sale on Amazon for the price of printing, since I hate sales so much I couldn’t bring myself to charge any money for it.

So, there you go: can a Christian sell stuff? I just tried. Now I will go repent in dust and ashes.