Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fighting the Enemy of Unbelief...

Studying this morning, I read a passage by Charles Spurgeon on unbelief.  I meet so many people who struggle with unbelief...and not just teenagers and college students!  Usually, we seem to struggle with unbelief when we are faced with serious obstacles or trials in life.  This is where our faith is truly tested.  I think that most of us can totally identify with the father in this story:

'A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." 
"O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered.  "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"' -- Mark 9:17-24 (NIV)

I confess that I have prayed these very words many times in my life.  Too many times I have been faced with problems with finances, sickness, obstacles to doing ministry, or even the ongoing struggle I face in dealing with depression.  I tend to find myself relying on my own understanding in trying to figure a way out of these problems.  Never once have I been able to figure out any of these problems on my own.  When I have tried, I have failed miserably.  That is part of why I continue to talk publicly about dealing with depression.  I realized that I can not beat it on my own...and trust me, I've tried.  I must continue to move forward, trusting those that God has guided me to for help.  I have no doubt that the doctor and the counselor that I speak with were put there by the Lord to remind me that He is still leading me, even when my belief and strength are failing.  The war with unbelief is real, and one that I believe we all wage daily.

My prayer for you is that you realize that you are not ever alone as you move through tough days that come in life.  I have a trusted set of friends that God uses to remind me of His grace and love.  That group is not immune to this battle of unbelief, either.  I must do my part in encouraging and lifting others up in prayer, as well.  If you do not have people in your life like this, I encourage you to find a church home, and ask God to give you a friend like this.  God speaks to us through His Word (The Bible), prayer, and through His people.  We must fight the enemy of unbelief together.  If you are reading this and feel all alone, I pray that you sense the power and peace of Jesus right now.  He tells us in Hebrews 13 that He will not leave you, or forsake you.  I posted the passage from Charles Spurgeon below, in case you would like to read it. 

"STRIVE with all diligence to keep out that monster unbelief. It so dishonours Christ, that He will withdraw His visible presence if we insult Him by indulging it. It is true it is a weed, the seeds of which we can never entirely extract from the soil, but we must aim at its root with zeal and perseverance.

Among hateful things it is the most to be abhorred. Its injurious nature is so venomous that he that exerciseth it and he upon whom it is exercised are both hurt thereby. In thy case, O believer! it is most wicked, for the mercies of thy Lord in the past, increase thy guilt in doubting Him now. When thou dost distrust the Lord Jesus, He may well cry out, "Behold I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves." This is crowning His head with thorns of the sharpest kind. It is very cruel for a well-beloved wife to mistrust a kind and faithful husband. The sin is needless, foolish, and unwarranted. Jesus has never given the slightest ground for suspicion, and it is hard to be doubted by those to whom our conduct is uniformly affectionate and true.

Jesus is the Son of the Highest, and has unbounded wealth; it is shameful to doubt Omnipotence and distrust all-sufficiency. The cattle on a thousand hills will suffice for our most hungry feeding, and the granaries of heaven are not likely to be emptied by our eating. If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust His fulness, but who can drain a fountain? Myriads of spirits have drawn their supplies from Him, and not one of them has murmured at the scantiness of His resources. Away, then, with this lying traitor unbelief, for his only errand is to cut the bonds of communion and make us mourn an absent Saviour. Bunyan tells us that unbelief has "as many lives as a cat:" if so, let us kill one life now, and continue the work till the whole nine are gone. Down with thee, thou traitor, my heart abhors thee."

                                                                                   -- "Morning & Evening" by Charles Spurgeon

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Unique Ministry Opportunity For You...

Do you wish you could do more to help our missionaries overseas?  I want to share about a way that you can help equip them for ministry, from right here in Austin!

This summer, God opened the door for us to be able to help these families get what they need to communicate the Gospel, as well as keep in touch with their families here at home.  It is so simple, yet so important.  For lack of a better name, I will call it iMission.

The technology here in the US moves at an astounding pace.  Phones, tablets, and computers get replaced with newer models very quickly.  Many of us keep up with the new cycle of equipment, and upgrade frequently.  This is where iMission comes in.  While an iPhone 4, or an iPad 2 may not seem like “gems” to many people these days, they can be invaluable tools for someone overseas.  I met with a pastor in Hungary that could desperately use an iPad in the ministry he does at his church.  However, an iPad 2 costs about $600 there.

This is where you come in.  If you have (or will be soon) upgraded your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch (4th gen or newer), or even a Mac laptop, and are not sure what to do with the old ones… you can help!  We ask that you pray about donating those phones, iPads, and laptops to further the kingdom work in other nations.  These items will be refurbished, and either given to the missionaries in need, or in some cases, sold to provide money to get what they are requesting.  We ask that iPhones be a 4, or newer.  Any generation of the iPad would be fine, and mac computers that are not more than 3 years old.  Right now, we’re only asking for Apple branded items, due to their unique iMessage system.  If you have any questions, please let me know, and thank you for your help!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Running Off The Assassin...

Since posting about my struggle with depression, I have been astounded by the number of people who have contacted me.  I have listened to all kinds of stories, had many conversations, and added many to my prayer list.  I now see that depression is a large-scale problem within our society.  People of every walk of life, every socio-economic group, and age are affected by depression.  I have spoken with teenagers, college students, young professionals, young parents, older parents, even some that are much older who deal with this silent assassin.

I use the term assassin here, because an assassin's job is to destroy life, and is usually sent for a specific reason.  I firmly believe that depression is a tool that the devil uses in an attempt to draw our gaze away from Jesus, and focus our attention on an internal crisis.  If you have ever dealt with depression, or anxiety, then you understand what I mean by the term, "internal crisis."  When in the midst of this type of crisis, it is hard to know which end is up, and where to turn next.  Seemingly common tasks become massive hills to climb.  Going to work, the store, or even to church can be a battle.  In my own life, in the midst of these attacks, I find myself having to quote a lot of scripture.  Many times, I do not feel like I even have the strength to do that, and end up reading quotes from the Bible app on my smartphone.  There is such power in the words of God...that the enemy has to leave.  It is a relentless battle... the devil retreats, but often comes back quickly, and with more ferocity.  It really IS a battle... one that is waged on the grounds of your very heart.  Often, these attacks come without warning, and at inopportune times.  My attacks seem to come most often at night.  It may be something very emotional, or a thought that does not allow me to sleep.  Whatever the intensity, or the emotion... in the middle of the night, it is easy to feel very alone.

The stories of those I have talked to are all very similar to mine.  The devil wants us to feel alone, to feel unable to make a stand, to be unable to be used by God.  If he can convince us with this lie, he will keep pounding that message home, again... and again.  I spoke with one man, in particular, that shared his obviously deeply painful struggle with depression.  I hurt for him, as I could hear in his voice the longing to be free from this pain.  I pray for him every time I think about him.  I pray that he, and the others I have talked to, will be able to see through the lie of being "on our own" in this fight.  I fall for this lie, and I understand how convincing it is.  You know the saying, "If you hear a lie enough times, it starts to sound like the truth"?  This is exactly what is going on here.  On a side note, please do not take this paragraph to mean that I think that depression is only spiritual.  There are many components to depression, which is why it is such a difficult thing to deal with.  Medicine, counseling, prayer, all have their place in treating this.

Why am I writing this tonight?  I know how easy it is to simply write depression off as a "small" problem.  I have heard people say that we should be able to "just get over it," or "if you had more faith in God, you could whip this."  My reason for writing this blog tonight is to ask you to stop and pray for someone you know that fights depression each day.  I cannot tell you how amazing it is to know that someone is praying for you.  Send them a note, an email, or a text letting them know that you love them, and are praying for them today.  Everyone can use encouragement like that!  God often uses His people to be his hands and feet here on earth.  Please do not ever think that you are bothering someone by letting them know that you are thinking and praying for them.  Depressed or  not, everyone needs friends like that!  It is hard to feel alone when you are surrounded by friends that are lifting you up in prayer!

Thank you to all of you (many I know, and some that I do not know) that have sent me encouraging emails and texts.  Thank you to those of you who have come by and asked me to hang out.  It means so much!  I have decided to be open, and public in this struggle.  However, there are MANY out there that are trying to walk this road on their own.  Ask the Lord to show you which of your friends or acquaintances might need some encouragement and prayer.  What a way to show the love of God to those in your life!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How Do We Go Back to "Normal?"

I can't sleep...I can't think straight...and I'm having a hard time focusing on completing menial tasks around the house.  Lazy?  No...just a youth pastor during the last days of summer.  ...and what a summer it has been!

In 16 years of ministry, this was the busiest summer of all, by FAR.  We started off the summer with our children's VBS/Basketball Camp, and were blessed to see the Gospel shared with many young kids from our area of the city.  We then took our teenage leaders to Super Summer (a leadership camp designed to train young disciples of Jesus).  After that, Amy & I took a team to Hungary for two weeks of ministry alongside a ministry team of missionaries that live in-country.  Follow that up two days later with a final week of Youth Camp, and that made for a full calendar!

However, just being active is not what keeps me awake at night.  Something larger that I cannot seem to shake.  You see, I saw God move in some amazing ways this summer.  I saw Him move mightily in the lives of others...and I saw Him move my heart in some unforgettable ways.  I saw Jesus change lives this summer... I saw Him push people beyond their comfort zones...  I saw Him in the eyes of orphans in Hungary, and in the eyes of teenagers right here in Texas.  I saw Him move with an authority and power that I have not seen in a long time, and now I sit in wonder of how mighty God really is.  This was no regular summer... it has been a game-changer for me.

This summer, we also had an MK (that's Missionary Kid) college student stay with us, and intern in our youth ministry.  We were blessed to start this summer by getting to spend a few days with her wonderful family.  They serve full-time in Europe, and do ministry in some very interesting places.  Listening to their passion for the Lord, and observing their family was such a blessing!  We felt such a connection to them, and were so blessed by our involvement with the Pearce family this summer.  God impacted our family's life (including our daughters) in ways that we never saw coming.  God used this experience to stretch us spiritually, relationally, and our faith as we watched God continually provide for need after need.  Amazing...

If you have read my other blogs, you also know that this summer is coming to a close with a serious bout of depression for me.  Absolute phsyical, spiritual, and mental exhaustion forced me to finally deal with a problem that I thought I had "under control" for several years.  Like Joshua at Ai, or Elijah after fire falling from heaven, or Jonah after seeing Ninevah repent, I am coming off of an amazing experience with God... and have crashed hard.  The past 8 days have been incredibly difficult, but I'm slowly starting to see a new picture from God as we move forward.  It is not all in complete focus yet, but I stand in amazement at the God I love so dearly.  He has used the people of God, His Word, and His grace to prop us up, even when we did not feel like we could move forward.  Each new day, we still face massive spiritual attacks by our enemy, the devil.  Each day we have to rely on God's strength to press forward...even when defeat is the only thing filling our minds.  When these times come, I MUST go back to scripture...and God reminds me of what He told His servants long ago:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." -- Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Of course, God is speaking to the leader of Israel about conquering Jericho, but before Joshua was Moses, and this is what God told him...

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." -- Deut 31:6 (NIV)

Like these men, I believe God has a plan for me, too.  Moses and Joshua did not have the luxury of knowing the future, and neither do we.  However, I cannot ever go back to "normal"...  Once God moved me out of that spot... there's no going back.  Holding tightly to His hand as we move through what He has in store for us in the days ahead...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Cedars of Lebanon

I read this today, and just thought it was too good not to share.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.  It is from Spurgeon's "Morning & Evening"

August 13
Morning Verse
"The cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted." Psalm 104:16
Lebanon's cedars are emblematic of the Christian, in that they owe their planting entirely to the Lord. This is quite true of every child of God. He is not man-planted, nor self-planted, but God-planted. The mysterious hand of the divine Spirit dropped the living seed into a heart which He had Himself prepared for its reception. Every true heir of heaven owns the great Husbandman as his planter. Moreover, the cedars of Lebanon are not dependent upon man for their watering; they stand on the lofty rock, unmoistened by human irrigation; and yet our heavenly Father supplieth them. Thus it is with the Christian who has learned to live by faith. He is independent of man, even in temporal things; for his continued maintenance he looks to the Lord his God, and to Him alone. The dew of heaven is his portion, and the God of heaven is his fountain. Again, the cedars of Lebanon are not protected by any mortal power. They owe nothing to man for their preservation from stormy wind and tempest. They are God's trees, kept and preserved by Him, and by Him alone. It is precisely the same with the Christian. He is not a hot-house plant, sheltered from temptation; he stands in the most exposed position; he has no shelter, no protection, except this, that the broad wings of the eternal God always cover the cedars which He Himself has planted. Like cedars, believers are full of sap having vitality enough to be ever green, even amid winter's snows. Lastly, the flourishing and majestic condition of the cedar is to the praise of God only. The Lord, even the Lord alone hath been everything unto the cedars, and, therefore David very sweetly puts it in one of the psalms, "Praise ye the Lord, fruitful trees and all cedars." In the believer there is nothing that can magnify man; he is planted, nourished, and protected by the Lord's own hand, and to Him let all the glory be ascribed.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Slow Progress...

Well, after the initial "oddness" that I felt after confirming that I was dealing with depression, this week has been an interesting mix of emotions for me.  I started on some medication on Tuesday, and it is slowly invading my body.  There are times that I can tell that it seems to be helping, and other times that I'm not sure it's there at all.  My friends that have been through this tell me that this is normal.  I'm just ready to get back to some sense of normal.  Then again, since I've been dealing with this for a while, it may be that "normal" is not where I want to be, but a new normal that God will bring.  I'm ready for that.

I'm writing this on a particularly tough morning.  Satan has fed me a steady stream of nonsense all day. The sad thing is that I didn't feel like fighting it...just didn't have the strength.  I know what truth is...and I know what a lie is, and yet I still get caught off-guard by the enemy, which is Satan.  He tells me that I'm alone...that life will never be normal again...  Obvious lies...but why do I even entertain them in my mind?  Then I am reminded again...that I am mortal...that I don't have it all together, and need help.  I am so thankful for friends who will remind me of that, and point me towards Jesus.  One of those amazing friends sent me these scriptures this morning:

"Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see" (2 Kings 6:17) 

"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." (Psalm 43:5)

I thank you for letting me candid here...for being supportive.  For some reason, putting this into written form seems to be good therapy for me.  I thank you for so many of you who have shared your stories with me.  It has been amazing to see.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The "D" Word...(and not the one you're thinking of)

Let me first preface by saying, if you have noticed me acting differently in the recent past...there's a reason for it.

It is something that has haunted me since some dark days back in 2008.  I have tried to put it away, and act like it isn't there, but over the past weeks and months, I have been forced to realize that depression is a real part of my life.  That's hard for me to write, as my pride has never wanted to be labeled... knowing what people often think about labels like this.  Regardless of what I wanted people to know about me, in the midst exhaustion and stress, I now know that this is a problem I have to face head-on.

As a pastor, we feel that we must have it together 24/7.  People look to us for leadership, for stability, and direction.  While these things are true, I (and probably most pastors) believed the lie that I could be that person all of the time, and in all circumstances.  Masking weakness becomes a skill of the trade, as crazy as that sounds.  I want to say it out loud... "It's just NOT possible!"  I wish someone would have told me that when I began in the ministry...but they did not.

Why write these things in a public forum?  Not for sympathy...  Not for publicity...  I simply write this note for two reasons:  1)  I KNOW there are many of you out there that are silently struggling with this same battle.  I want you to know that you're not alone in the fight, even if it feels like it!  That's what our enemy, the devil, wants us to believe.  One of the most helpful things for me so far, has been to share what's going on with me.  Admitting that you don't have it all together is quite freeing.  2)  I NEED your prayer, and your support.  I am so thankful for my amazing wife and kids, and brothers/sisters in the ministry who understand this fight and have been with me every step of the way.  Obviously, the struggle goes on, but I know that one day, I will finally get on top of this.  I am confident in my Lord, who says:

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -- Isaiah 41:10