Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Sermon Never Preached

I emailed someone this week and was asking prayer for a few situations in my life - I will call them "Casey" - good unisex name. They replied with a promise to pray, and then something that really shocked me:

"I can sympathize with you because I have struggled with depression all of my life—feelings of worthlessness, etc. When I get like that, I have to pick myself up by my bootstraps and start quoting Scripture or singing hymns. I don’t think many people would guess I ever feel that way because I’m so upbeat in public, but I really do go through those times."

I have known "Casey" for about twenty years - man that makes me sound old! Casey is one of the friendliest people I know. Always smiling, always the same, will speak to you no matter where you run into them, or how busy they get. Depressed? Feelings of worthlessness? Surely not!

I was talking to my buddy Steven last night for close to two hours. We tried to solve the world's problems, but gave up. :-) At one point, we were discussing my issues I have of trusting God and struggling to believe He loves me, and how easily I stumble and fall because life gets so hard and it seems things should be better when you're serving God. Steven said something profound for once in his life - just kidding, he is intelligent....compared to a four-year-old...;-) - he said we knock the "health and wealth" churches - those churches who preach that if you serve Christ, you will be rich, healthy, and basically trouble-free. Yet, he said we may not blatantly preach that from our pulpits, but we do teach it in a subtle way. Too many of us think being a Christian will make everything better. Life will go the way we want it, and everything will be "hunky-dory." Yet the truth of the matter is, the more we try to serve God and be what He wants, the harder Satan will fight us.

The Booth Brothers sing a song that talks about that - "Standing Tall"

It’s hard to watch a good friend going through a time so tough

But I’ve seen the way you take the heat and never do give up
It seems unfair that most folks just aren’t trying to live by faith
But I think back to years ago when I heard my grandpa say

Thunder shakes the mountainside but it seems to me
When lightning strikes somehow it always finds the tallest tree
I look at what you’re facing and think maybe after all
The only thing that you’ve been guilty of
Is standing tall

Let the hurt keep you humble, let it make you look inside
Let it keep you on your knees searching for a reason why
I may not have the answers but I’ve seen this before
Sometimes the faithful ones are called to bear a little more

Do we give the wrong idea in our churches? Does the average Christian think/believe that if they are doing everything right, that all will go right in their lives?

I am afraid the average Christian is sitting in the church pew looking around at all the pious, happy Christians, and can't relate. How many sermons have we heard on how to deal with feelings of depression and worthlessness? Sure, often we need to see a doctor, yet how many Christians are dealing with these kind of issues? But we have set forth this mentality that if you are a Christian, you always have to have a bright and cheerful outlook. You should get up and give a radiant testimony about how God is working in your life, all of your prayers are getting answered, and life is just grand!

Then someone like me, or maybe even Casey - don't know if they fill this way - sit there and wonder what on earth am I doing wrong? Why do I even come to church? These people could never relate to me - I doubt any of them have a care or worry to deal with.

I do it. I admit it. In addition to my depression and feelings of worthlessness, I deal with other things that aren't "nice."

I do not believe in the "once-saved-always-saved" theology. I do not believe you have to sin daily in word, thought, and deed. Failures and shortcomings aren't necessarily sin. Yet, we who believe that, may have set too high of a standard. No, you don't have to sin every day. And if we love God, we won't want to sin every day, but have we set that standard so high that people who struggle with habitual sins, who struggle with worthlessness - feel that they can never measure up?

Don't get me wrong. God does set a high standard of holy living. But if you look in the Bible, people had shortcomings. Some of them messed up pretty badly. David committed adultery and murder. Peter denied Christ. Abraham lied, didn't trust God, and tried to do God's work by having a son by another woman. So why do we assume that once we become a Christian, all will go well, and we will never stumble or fall again. We don't assume that? As someone who grew up in the holiness church, I am afraid we have given that idea. And yes, I believe it is the best church for me go to - not perfect, but no church is perfect, for they are filled with imperfect people.

So should we lower the standard? No. Absolutely not. But I do think our preachers and Sunday School lessons should offer more hope for those who aren't the "perfect Christian" - said with tongue in cheek. People like me - and Casey - need some messages of hope. Messages on why we feel worthless, and how to combat that. Messages on feelings of depression, and how to handle those. Feelings on habitual sins - the ones that wrap around a person like a chain - and how to fight that, and not give up if you fall, but to get back up and keep going from where you stumbled or fell.

There are sinful habits people have gotten chained up in and can't easily quit. Smoking, drugs, , alcoholism, pornography, sex. When one becomes a Christian, those behaviors have to stop, but they aren't always easy. Some are delivered instantly. Many others have a life-long battle. A wise man I know had a suggestion - he could be right, and he could be wrong. He wondered if the ones who are delivered immediately are the ones who would be too weak to have a daily battle, and if the ones who have to fight the habit daily, are the ones who just might end up being the stronger Christian. Interesting thought.

And likewise, some of us may have a life-long struggle with feelings of worthlessness and depression. God may instantly deliver some from that, and others may have to deal with that for years, maybe always.

Regardless, I do believe the church in general needs to start addressing these issues. Admit serving God isn't going to assure happiness in this life. That just because you're a Christian doesn't mean the desire for that sinful habit is going to just walk off and leave you alone. The desire and temptation may increase when you become a Christian.

And admit that some sins/sinful habits may have such a grip that you may fall or stumble occasionally, but if you do, you are just part of a church full of imperfect people like you. People who may be dealing with issues and struggles that you know nothing of. Maybe its time we take off our spiritual masks and admit we hurt. We struggle. We doubt. I don't think we all need to get up in church and cry about how rough we have it - we do need encouraging testimonies - yet, I firmly believe if we were more open and honest about what we are dealing with - and testify how God is helping us deal with it - we might help and encourage a lot more people than we dreamed of.