Are You Hopeful or Hopeless?

In a song from Les Miserables, Fantine mourns her shattered dream.  Weeping, she sings:
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame

And later:
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
Everyone reading this has lost a dream to the strangling grasp of life.  What dream did you bury?  What dream do you continue to exhume? 

On a now-famous day in August of 1963, a man well-familiar with personal pain and shattered dreams stood before a crowd of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared his dream.  Later he still held to that dream as he evidenced in the words from 1967 that we now hear: 

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.  And so today I still have a dream.

This week marks the beginning of the Advent season, a time of expectant waiting.  We imagine what it was like for the Hebrew people awaiting the Messiah’s arrival and we experience our own wait for the Lord’s return.  Today we focus on the Hope of Advent. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully stated, hope is indeed “that courage to be.” 

I want to point you in the right direction in which you can choose to travel and to the journey along which you will discover the sources of Hope from which come strength as you tap into them.

Like the Oz-bound brainless Scarecrow pointing in all directions, shared opinions, spoken philosophies, and a plethora of spiritual teachers will steer you toward a hope found in self-actualization and/or the true fulfillment of your inner being.  For the follower of Christ, however, the only true guidance comes from Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  This Christ spoke all things into being, including the Word of God as found in the New and Old Testaments.  Let us, then, turn to the Old Testament to find the map for our journey toward Hope.

1 Hear my prayer, LORD;
   let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
   when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
   when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
   my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
   I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
   and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
   like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
   like a bird alone on a roof.

Psalm 102:1-7
(1984 NIV)

Withered heart, vanishing days, no appetite for food – the situation appears hopeless.  Yet (oh yes, yet), the afflicted man dares raise his eyes to take in the wider view of life.  There his eyes or, perhaps more so, his spirit found a profoundly delightful focus.  God came near.

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
   and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
   they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
   and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
   and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
   their descendants will be established before you.”

Psalm 102:25-28
(1984 NIV)

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, wrote:
“Hope is hope for infinite Hope.”

Notice the capitalization of the last “H” in the sentence.

To push “shift” as one types that last word’s first letter, is to recognize that hope, in order to last, must claim God as its source, motivation and destination. 

In 1626, from the pulpit of the immense and magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the English poet and pastor John Donne proclaimed the following words about death on Christmas Day, of all times.  I am glad he did. 

Others die as martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.  He found Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem where he was born.  For to his tenderness then, even the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as his cross at last.  His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day.  (Hendrix 53)

While I am quite sure that Jesus the newborn child did not formulate thoughts of the cross while still in the manger, I do know that when the soldiers led Him up to Golgotha, it was no surprise to Him. 

Ultimately and immediately, you will discover Hope if you will look forward to the Lord’s return and will look backward to see His willingness to die. 

Works Cited
Hendrix, John. Celebrate Advent Worship and Learning Resources. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999.

At His Feet

While we should distribute the actions upon which we focus this Thanksgiving week throughout the year, we will benefit, if we so choose, from focused time in the next few days to declare our gratitude.  You may thank your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, and a great assortment of others.  Vance Havner said, “what we take for granted we never take seriously.”  (p. 231, The Vance Havner Quote Book compiled by Dennis J. Hester)

The remedy to taking for granted is the giving of thanks.

I believe the place where we often find Mary provides the evidence of the condition of her heart.  Let us first look to the Gospel of John. 

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  John 12:1-8 (NIV)

One might argue that Mary went to the extreme.  You notice that others prepared a meal in Jesus’ honor.  They provided a hospitable occasion.  We also know from the presence of Judas, that the other Eleven joined the feast.  And yet, even with a well-planned and well-attended feast, Mary felt the need to do more.

Do we understand her actions?  According to John, she took a whole pint of some of the best perfume and anointed Jesus.  As she did this, she anointed His feet.  I mentioned a location where we find Mary often; this is the place!

Do you recall Luke 10?  There we find Jesus visiting the home of sisters Martha and Mary and we see, as described by Luke, Mary sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said.”  Jesus told her sister that Mary chose wisely. 

There is another occasion where we see Mary (perhaps the same one) at the feet of Jesus.  Look to the chapter before our text.

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  John 11:28-33 (NIV)

In John 11, Mary fell at Jesus’ feet as a grieving sister. 
In Luke, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as an eager student. 
In John 12, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as a devoted worshipper.

Each time she sat at Jesus’ feet, she displayed her trust in and love for Him. 

The John 12 text shows Mary not only as a worshipper but also as one filled with gratitude.  Why was Mary so thankful!?
1.    Jesus raised her brother from the dead! 
2.    Jesus willingly embraced her as a student (disciple). 

These reasons for gratitude opened her to a receptivity not known by all.  While rebuking the greed-driven Judas, Jesus tells him that Mary poured out the perfume in knowledge of His burial.  Mary recognized, better than most, the path upon which Jesus walked.  I believe, by the gift of the Spirit, she knew she was anointing the Savior of the world.

Whatever the extent of her knowledge of things to come, we know she knew enough to turn a hospitable meal into a worship service; and she spared no expense! She also refused letting her pride hinder her praise.

I imagine that there were others in the room, besides Judas, who looked askance as Mary anointed Jesus’ feet. 

I met a man in Anchorage who told me that when he felt led and felt that he needed to offer great thanks and worship to God, he would go to Flat Top, one of the mountains overlooking our town, and he would sing and dance before the Lord.  I think of David dancing before the ark!

Are we that thankful?  

You and I cannot anoint the feet of Jesus and we may choose not to dance on a mountain, but we can pour out our praise to The Teacher and Savior and Lord.  Will you bring your best and come to the feet of Jesus?  Learn from Mary, the woman of faith.  She will show you where to reside . . . At His Feet!

Dealing with Depression

The first to the moon (Buzz Aldrin)
The fairytale Princess of Wales (Princess Diana)    
The symbol of beauty (Brooke Shields)
The master of comedy (Jim Carrey)
The leader of laughs (Drew Carey)
The voice of the Rockies (John Denver)
The literary giant (C.S. Lewis)
Nanny McPhee herself (Emma Thompson)
The Protestant Reformer (Martin Luther)
The master impressionist (Vincent Van Gogh)
The world leader (Winston Churchill)
The football champ (Terry Bradshaw)


How do we deal with what those twelve individuals dealt with and what, perhaps, you deal with, too?  Depression. 

Perhaps particularly so among those whose Lord invites them to cast all their cares on Him, a stigma attaches itself to the topic of depression. 

The man who held the Vince Lombardi trophy in his hands four times experienced this stigma as he dealt with depression.  In Terry Bradshaw’s own words:

“Stigma is incredibly powerful,” says the two-time Super Bowl MVP.  “We’ll talk about cancer and every other disease, including alcohol and drug abuse, but people do not want to talk about depression.  There’s something about depression that seems to say, ‘I’m a tremendous failure’ or ‘I’m the biggest wuss there is’.” (Morgan)
Perhaps you experienced some freedom last week as you read my blog in which I contended that you are not alone and not evil for wrestling with doubt.  My prayer is that those wrestling with depression will experience that freedom as well. 

People experience depression for various reasons.  To name a few:

Perceived failure:
The Academy Award winning actress Emma Thompson said that she blamed herself for her infertility.  She experienced multiple failed in vitro fertilization attempts.  While she did not fail, she did feel pain. 

Fading Success:
Forty-seven years ago, another great success came up short as he tried to cash in emotionally on his victory.  His name is Buzz – not Lightyear, the friend of Woody; but rather Aldrin, the giant of NASA discovery. 

“What now?” I said aloud to myself as I chewed on the tip of the pipe I rarely smoked—the same pipe I had taken with me on my Gemini 12 mission.  What’s next?  I sat on a chaise lounge out by our family swimming pool, supposedly relaxing on a waning Saturday afternoon in the hot Houston August sunshine of 1969, my eyes scanning the low horizon above the flat land around me, but mostly pondering the speeches I knew I would be making within a few days.  What’s left?  I wondered.  What’s a person do when his or her greatest dreams and challenges have been achieved?  I reached over to the small table next to the chaise and reached for my drink, Scotch poured generously over some ice cubes.  I sipped the whiskey and swished it around in my mouth, savoring the taste.  I let it slide slowly down my throat as I leaned my head back and looked up at the sky.  The sun was already beginning to decline on the horizon.  I felt much the same way. (Aldrin 59-60)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had started drinking more.  Life seemed to have lost its luster.  (Aldrin 80)

Truth be told, secret dethroned, the thrill of success – even if it lasts more than the famed 15 minutes – fades with time.

Disillusionment (particularly “religious” disillusionment):

1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”
1 Kings 19:1-5 (NIV)
Sleep – the oft-found companion of depression.  Elijah’s fear-based depression robbed him of energy and motivation.  If you read on, you would find that it literally took a shove of an angel to get Elijah out of bed.  The depression was a physical presence.

C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, experienced grief so deeply upon the death of his wife Joy that he grew so disillusioned (thankfully, not permanently) that he wrote in his grief-recording journey:

Don’t talk to me about the consolations of religion, or I shall suspect that you do not understand.  (xv)
Many more reasons for depression could be added.  Yet, no matter the origin of the depression, it can be overcome.

But, how?

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’."
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

All areas of our lives find their meaning and purpose in those words.  Depression is no exception.  Those same three directives help focus our approach to dealing with depression.

Deal with depression by . . .
(1)    Loving God

If you love God, you will be honest with Him.  Therefore, when you experience depression, talk to Him about it.  Converse with God.  Tell Him your joys, your hurts, your doubts – your all.

We call this prayer.  Deal with depression by praying.

Whether it is a “just because” card or note or a letter I receive sealed and stamped, if the handwriting belongs to my wife, I can’t wait to read her words.  I love her and I enjoy reading her words.  Likewise, I love God and I enjoy reading His words. 

Deal with depression by reading God’s words, the Bible.

(2)    Love Your Neighbor
Stated another way, love community.  Loneliness is depression’s friend.  Invite your friends to break up that dangerous friendship.

(3)    As You Love Yourself
As you deal with depression, you will need to trust God and welcome the help of others.  In addition, you must engage your will to live a life worth living and say good-bye to self-hatred.

(a)    Taking the outstretched hand
While some may turn their backs, there remain a number (whether many or few) who stand by ready to help.  Receive it, welcome it – a listening friend, a well-spoken word of encouragement, a promise of prayer.

(b)    Go to the “experts”
Depression is real.  Whether it is a passing phase or a full assault, depression hurts.  There are men and women who are ready to help by offering professional care when that is necessary.  God heals.  Sometimes He heals in ways we cannot understand.  The lame walk; the blind see.  God also heals through men and women trained to help through medical and other professional care.  Some people of faith who do not hesitate to drive to the local hospital so a physician can set their broken arm ridicule others who rely on humans rather than God to heal their depression.  That is inconsistent and unfair.  Too often depression is blamed on a lack of trust in God.  It is not that easy, especially for those who love Him and others, yet still struggle to love themselves.

In A Grief Observed, his memoir of his struggle with his wife’s death, C.S. Lewis records his terrible yet necessary journey through grief and sorrow.  Listen to some of his words:

In so far as this record was a defence [sic] against total collapse, a safety-valve, it has done some good.  The other end I had in view turns out to have been based on a misunderstanding.  I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.  Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.  It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop.  There is something new to be chronicled every day.  Grief is like a long valley . . .  (59-60)

Grief is a long valley.  Lewis wrote through his valley and on the other side came out with more strength.  He learned again how to love his God, his friends, and his life.

Works Cited
Aldrin, Buzz. Magnificent Desolation. New York: Random House, 2009.
Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York: HarperOne, 1961.
Morgan, John. “Terry Bradshaw’s Winning Drive Against Depression.” USA Today. (Jan. 30 2004.) 10 Nov. 2010 <>

Dealing With Doubts

The classic Westerns of earlier days portrayed conflict between Cowboys and Indians, not Cowboys and Native Americans.  Why?  Because, as former President of Harvard University A. Lawrence Lowell stated, “When Christopher Columbus started sailing west he did not know where he was going, when he arrived he did not know where he was, and when he returned he did not know where he had been” (qtd in Brister 50).

Perhaps in your life journey, you relate to the famed voyage of 1492 across the oceans blue.  Where am I going?  Where am I?  Where have I been?  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  Canadian musician Tom Cochrane declared, “Life is a highway.” 

Along your life highway, bi-way, or path, you experience doubt.  Jesus told us that we will (not might) experience grief.  Likewise, you will (not might) experience doubt.  Thankfully, He informed us in advance; therefore, we do well to heed His alert and prepare for dealing with doubt.  Once we prepare, we prove equipped, ready to: 

1) Voice doubt rather than hide it. 
My father, my sons, and I share the same middle name; it was also my grandfather’s first name, as it was his grandfather’s.  That name also belonged to one of the Twelve.  Thomas.  I love his honesty.  Right to the faces of those who saw Jesus – post-resurrection, in the flesh – Thomas declared, “I will not believe it.”  He felt no compulsion to fake faith, even among the faithful.  Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that when Jesus answered Thomas’ doubt, the disciple did not scramble for excuse-laden words but rather spoke a declaration of convinced faith, “My Lord and my God!”  Those were words of surrender and they were words of joy-filled thankfulness to Christ for answering his doubt.  One of the most harmful things you can do with doubt is hide it.

William Shakespeare spoke well on the topic of life, including the doubts in life.  He wrote, “Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise” (Hector, Act 2, Scene II, “Troilus and Cressida”).

2) Share doubt rather than cover it up.
A variety of difficult life experiences open the door to hopelessness.  When you face those experiences you can relate to the words of Morrie Schwartz as stated in the book and production, Tuesdays with Morrie. Mitch Albom questions Morrie, one struggling with ALS, about his view of the biblical account of Job and his immense struggles.  He responded, “I think God over did it!”

The great Baptist minister of last century, George W. Truett described the human condition as ones “bound together in the bundle of life” (qtd in Brister, 92). 

When we share our doubts with others in honest fashion, we gain two benefits.  First, we gain the “off my chest” release.  We relieve the pressure of hidden doubt.  Second, we gain community.  In a vulnerable expression of doubt, we show others that they, too, can experience the “off my chest” release.

How often have you been sidelined by the thought,
     “Am I the only one who struggled to believe that?”
     “Am I evil to question God on this?”
Love one another in such a way that those doubting will come to know the answer to both of those questions is, “No.”

Works Cited
     Brister, C.W. Dealing with Doubt. Nashville: Broadman, 1970.
     Shakespeare, William. “Troilus and Cressida.” The Literature Network. 3 Nov. 2010