Saturday, December 04, 2004

Dr. Bill teaching in Russia

Painful Christmases

I wrote an article for our local newspaper this week and with the Christmas season upon us, I thought it was a good opportunity to address a problem that is widespread, but one often unaddressed. That's why I also thought I'd share some thoughts here about people who experience emotional pain and sorrow during the very time of year that most of us are thinking about "joy to the world."

One of the great messages of Christmas is the announcement by an angel:
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Lk 2:10-11, NASB95)
That message is true, for Jesus came to do for us what we could never do. He came to be the sacrifice for sin, to become our claim to forgiveness and restoration to the Father. He eliminated the problem of sin wrapped up in the word "condemned." He gave us not only salvation, but all the blessings that come with it: fellowship with God, eternal life, a home in heaven and a joy that will last forever.

However, there are things in life that simply get in the way of all this joy. We need to realize that painful, emotional experiences in life short-circuit the celebration of joy and with the emotional pain, bring sadness, depression, and an inability to appreciate all that Jesus has done.

You can find a longer list of things that create this emotional pain, but a few important ones will make the point. Here is a list that I believe to be top contenders:
  • Death of a loved one
  • Coping with a terminal illness
  • Divorce or broken family
  • Physical separation from family or friends
  • Traumatic losses or setbacks
These are the kind of things that cause turmoil, suffering, heartache, and more. They can cripple a person's emotional state to the point that they dominate life. When that happens, the very times when we might expect people to find reason for joy are the very times that hurt the worst. Joy and celebration in others intensifies the pain and makes it even harder to experience the positive emotions enjoyed by others.

Some people may just need time to heal and cope with things happening in life. Others may benefit from treatment for depression. In all cases, I believe hurting people could benefit from a little understanding on the part of people don't have these problems.

There are no magic answers to these things, but I can make a few suggestions that might help reduce the pain, or refocus on other things so that the negative issues of life might loosen their hold. If you are suffering, please take these seriously. If you need more intense help, get it. It makes no sense to keep hurting when it's possible to find help. In the meantime, here is what I would suggest as a starting place.

  1. Admit your problem. Believe it or not, I have seen people who suffered intensely because they would not admit to their grief. You have to acknowledge the cause of your pain before you can ever deal with it positively. For many people, the admission is hard, but once made there is often a great release of the burden that accompanies it. Find someone you trust, someone who will keep confidential the things you need to say. Talk it out. Put into words exactly what is causing your pain. It's a starting place.
  2. Do not begrudge people who are celebrating the joy of the season. Acknowledge that while you might suffer, others might not. Permit others the expression of their joy without holding them hostage to any negative feelings on your part. Their joy is no attack on you, no denial of your experience of life, especially if they have no idea how you feel or what you are trying to overcome. If nothing else, find a way to be glad that others can be joyful.
  3. Change yourself by seeking a higher purpose for your life. In short, since you understand how hard the season can be on people, find a way to reach out and help others who are hurting. There are countless ways to do this. Get involved with a church group or civic group that is helping the poor, the homeless, the hungry. Jail ministries abound in needs for people willing to help prisoners. Hospitals and nursing homes are full of lonely people who would love a visit or some special care. Children need some substitute "Santas" to make sure they have some gifts like their friends. Soup kitchens, recycled clothing sources, and countless charity organizations abound giving ample opportunity to get involved in helping others. Just look around where you are. You might just be a friend to someone closeby.
  4. Rethink the whole message of Christmas. You may discover that the promise of joy is not empty, but very real. You may need to get a fresh insight into what Jesus came to do, how he does it and why. You may discover that any guilt you feel for the way life has turned bad for you can be relieved with the Lord's forgiveness. You may need to know that Jesus didn't come to help people who have no problems, but those whose lives were filled with pain and suffering.
I hope your holidays are truly filled with the joy of the season, but if not, I hope you won't settle for the pain and anguish you are experiencing. Following the suggestions above will not remove the cause of your pain, nor will they cause you to deny any truth or reality. They can help you refocus and find other reasons to live. They can help you rediscover your joy, or maybe find it for the first time. The joy of Christmas doesn't mean that life is without problems. It does mean that in spite of all our sorrows and failings, God can bring us a whole new experience of life.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Bad News – Good News

I was reading a book on evangelism the other day and came across a concept that sounded a lot like some things I have shared with people over the years. The writer was addressing the motive for becoming a Christian. In summary, he says that too often people become a Christian in order to experience a better life. While it is true that there are blessings in being a Christian, it's not the getting of blessings that is the correct reason to become a Christian.

Instead, his idea sounds much like what I've told people. Before the good news can really be good, the bad news must really be bad. Here's the point. The only truly legitimate reason anyone should want to become a Christian is because we are all guilty of sin, sin condemns, and unless we are saved, we will die in our sins and face eternal condemnation.

That may not be a popular message, but it's thoroughly biblical. It certainly is more biblical than the notion that a person should come to Christ so that he or she can receive great blessings, live a better life, get one's needs met, etc. Do those things happen? Yes! But, they are secondary benefits, if they come at all, for in truth, there is no guarantee that life will necessarily become any easier or better should a person become a Christian.

The truth? Thousands upon thousands of Christians have faced persecution, their families have been torn apart over the very faith they claimed for themselves, and life has been anything but a bucket of blessings. Many have experienced torture and death. Many have been forced to watch their spouses and children suffer and die. They have lost all their worldly possessions and found themselves dumped out as refuse. Where are all their blessings?

Surely, we can understand that for those people the getting of happiness, the meeting of personal needs, and the enjoying of material possessions has little, if anything to do with their faith in Jesus Christ.

The reality? The book of Hebrews says that it is appointed unto man that we die once and then face judgment. Why become a Christian? To deal with the problem and consequence of sin. To escape judgment and condemnation. In fact, whether we ever receive a single blessing, ever find our needs met, or have material things to treasure, if we find forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life, we have found the reason for becoming a Christian.

The world is increasingly filled with disappointed people who turned to Jesus only to find that Jesus didn't respond like some kind of cosmic candy machine. They found that there were no buttons to push to deliver the moment's desired blessing. Instead, they found that faith brings its own burden, known as a "cross" in scripture. They found that not only does Jesus not automatically deliver all the goodies they expected, but he asks – demands – something from them. That's not what they signed up for, so they quickly sign out and quit.

Perhaps it's time for us to return to the real reason to turn to Jesus and put our faith in him. We're all lost in sin. We're undone. We're without hope. We're condemned before God. There is only one thing that can turn the situation around. Jesus. In him, we can be saved. Anything and everything else God might choose to do for us or give us, is truly a blessing, but the real promises of God have to do with eternal things, not temporary ones.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Too Much Focus On "Me"

I read a quote the other day and used it in yesterday's sermons:

When Buddha was dying, his disciples asked how they could best remember him. He told them not to bother; it was his teaching, not his person, that counted. With Jesus it is altogether different. Everything centers around him, his person. Discipleship means knowing him, loving him, believing in him, being committed to him.
Watson, David,1982. Called and Committed:World-Changing Discipleship, Harold Shaw
Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, p9

When you put that quote together with the first couple of verses from Hebrews 12, it helps us understand one of the truly great problems of today's church. Too much emphasis on "me."

Hebrews 12:1-2
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. NASU

We live in an age in which people are looking for some personal benefit, some immediate positive result before they will get too involved. This is all too true of Christians, their faith, and involvement with "church." The problem? I can think of several, but here are a few.

1. When we make ourselves the standard for life, we turn faith upside down. Our focus is supposed to be on Christ, not ourselves. He is supposed to be our standard, not us. Our desires, thoughts, needs, wants, etc., are not a good basis upon which to build a life. The Lord's will, his teachings, his mission, etc., are much more important.

2. If all we do is seek to satisfy ourselves, we have settled for a very small thing. The Lord's will, his mission, his people, himself -- all these are much greater than ourselves. Why settle for a cause only as big as yourself, when you can live for a cause as big as God, as big as divine will, as big as things eternal?

3. Choosing those things in life that are only "best for me," limits us terribly. What happened to things like sacrifice, love, benevolence, and a host of other ideas that move us beyond "self?" We will never grow, enlarge our borders, become what we've never been unless we stretch beyond ourselves to something outside ourselves, something far greater and grander than ourselves.

4. One of the exciting things about following Jesus as his disciple is that God has always used people smaller than the job called for, to achieve things greater than the world has ever seen. Think Moses, David, Paul, etc. These were men who simply were not satisfied with only themselves.

This is why keeping Jesus as the focus of your life is so important. It's not just his teachings, it's the man, the person of Christ. When you know him as God's Son, as your Savior and your Lord, you realize that the potential, the possibilities, are far greater than anything that exists within just yourself. You are not as great as Jesus, but Jesus offers to live in you and through you and when you allow that to happen you realize you can be so much more.

Too many are trying to get Jesus to bend to their will. We need to stop that and learn to bend to his will. You must get your eyes off of self and onto the Christ. The difference in perspective is amazing as is the result in life.

God bless,

Friday, June 04, 2004


Welcome to Dr. Bill's Random Thoughts. I hope to share thoughts that are not only important to me, but that will help others gain deeper insight and understanding of holy scripture. Some of these thoughts will come from problems, issues, and questions I deal with in the course of my ministry. Others will come from my personal study and interests. I plan no particular schedule to post to this blog, but I will do my best to post at least weekly. Thanks to all who take the time to read these efforts. May you find something valuable, something helpful, something that will expand your mind, soften your heart, and give you courage to follow Jesus Christ.