24 September 2013

Depression hurts

She asked me what I wanted to do and, through tear filled eyes, I responded, "I don't know."  I finally realized something was amiss. 

This summer, Heather and I were discussing details about selling our house. She asked me a simple question, though I don't remember what it was. I only remember that I felt frozen. I felt sad, but for no specific reason that I could identify. I could not answer Heather because I could not think of an answer. I didn't want to have to respond. It took too much effort. And so I started to cry, not just a little bit, I wept.

Augustine discusses the concept of being "turned in on oneself." That phrase captures how I felt this summer. I could not fully attend to those around me--family, friends, those I work with. I could not get out of my own head. I was relationally disconnected, even from those I love dearly. My wife and my mom both knew something was wrong, though I was not in a place where I could see it.

My ability to concentrate was poor. I am passionate about reading, but even those books I managed to get through this summer did little to hold my attention or interest. I felt guilty about many things. Shame blanketed me. I felt pretty worthless. I am not even sure I felt very hopeful that things were going to get better. I kept asking myself is this all there is? I kept admonishing myself to get better, to think my way into a better mood. But nothing worked.
God's people don't get depressed right?  We are saved by God for life eternal. What could be better? Jesus saved me.  There is nothing in my life that brings me greater joy.  Jesus has been the constant truth to which, or to Whom, I cling. Even in my darkest moments, he has been my joy.

But I would be lying if I said I wasn't depressed this summer. It would also be disingenuous if we perpetuated the idea that God's people are always happy.  Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Job--enough said.

David was a man after God's heart. He was the king of Israel. And yet, he lived through dark seasons. This morning I was reading Psalm 6. David said that he was languishing. This term suggests prolonged suffering. In verse 2, David wrote that his bones were troubled.  He was not merely sad, his body also was affected. If you talk to people who are depressed, you will discover that they can have a host of physical symptoms--aches, pains, weakness and much more.

But his depression affected not just his body, it affected his emotions. It affected his soul.  He felt deeply troubled and longed for God's deliverance. He could not stop crying. He was wearied with fatigue.

And yet, and yet, he hoped in the Lord. In his darkness, he looked to the light.

Christians Get Depressed Too
David Murray, a pastor and professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, wrote a book entitled Christians Get Depressed Too.  Churches need to be educated about depression and other emotional issues so they know how to respond with the grace and compassion of Christ rather than adding to the shame and isolation that emotional issues often bring with them.

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
-Psalm Six

22 September 2013

Book Review: One Way Love

Last week, when I traveled to the world conference for the American Association of Christian Counselors, I was blessed to meet one of my favorite authors, Tullian Tchvidjian who was also a speaker there. Much to my delight, they had advanced copies of his latest book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (2013). I picked up two copies.

I have listened to many of the podcasted sermons by Tchvidjian and I have read all of his books and have deeply benefited from his ministry. I told him when I met him last week that he helped me to see grace in such a way that it has been changing my life.  He has a very high view of grace. Though his award winning book Jesus + Nothing = Everything is probably his best known book, to this point, I think that I have most deeply enjoyed Surprised by Grace, an extended meditation on the book of Jonah.  Having said that, I have a new favorite Tchvidjian book. 

One Way Love is, in my opinion, the clearest explanation of his view of grace. Tchvidjian notes that the role of the Law is to show us our inability and to break us, but that the law alone cannot do anything for us.  It is grace that empowers. It is grace that sanctifies. Tchvidjian revels in that grace.

I would highly recommend this book. It is an exceptional testimony to God's grace.

18 September 2013

Arm Wrestler vs Bodybuilder

A little bit of fun this morning.  Functional strength verses big muscles?

Prayer of Self-examination

Ken Boa has a pretty fantastic website when it comes to spiritual formation. One of the resources I have particularly benefited from has been his prayer sequence for self examination.  I have been trying to pray through this once a week.  I pray that it is also edifying to you.


Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

The Ten Commandments 

You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.

The Lord’s Prayer 

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

The Beatitudes 

Poverty of spirit (nothing apart from God’s grace)
Mourning (contrition)
Gentleness (meekness, humility)
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
Merciful to others
Purity of heart (desiring Christ above all else)
Bearing persecution for the sake of righteousness

The Seven Deadly Sins 


The Four Cardinal and Three Theological Virtues 

Prudence (wisdom, discernment, clear thinking, common sense)
Temperance (moderation, self-control)
Justice (fairness, honesty, truthfulness, integrity)
Fortitude (courage, conviction)
Faith (belief and trust in God’s character and work)
Hope (anticipating God’s promises)
Love (willing the highest good for others, compassion)

The Fruit of the Spirit 


17 September 2013

Book Review--Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

My admiration for Francis Schaeffer is certainly no secret.  In the last year and a half or so, I listened to a series of about 50 lectures about his life and read through his complete works.  Naturally, a biography of his life was a natural for me.

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (2008) by Colin Duriez was a nice overview of the life of Fran, his wife Edith and their ministry. Schaeffer was a unique fixture of American evangelicalism in the 20th century. Earlier in his career, he was fairly separatist, but there were clear transitions through his life. He eventually founded L'Abri, which means "The Shelter" in Switzerland. He and Edith opened their home for those who had questions about faith and life, ministering to them through evangelism and apologetics, though perhaps most importantly through loving hospitality.

If you are wanting an overview of the life of this remarkable man, this is certainly a good place to start. 

Book Review: The Attentive Life

Last week, at the AACC world conference, I picked up this book, The Attentive Life: Discerning God's Presence in All Things (2008) by Leighton Ford. This book is different than what I might normally read, though as I regularly perused the books at the IVP booth, this one continued to catch my attention. Eventually, I decided to pick it up. I began reading it on the way home.  As I began, I did not really think the book would be a good fit for me and I flatly disagreed with how he interpreted certain passages of scripture (e.g., at one point he writes something akin to "Psalm 51 says that I was conceived in sin, but what I know of my mother, I was conceived in love".) Although his point is taken, it seems as though he was diminishing what David was trying to say in his psalm. 

The longer I read though, the more deeply the book drew me in. Ford is capable of stirring prose and engaging narrative. He helps the reader to see the importance of paying attention in several seasons of life. He encourages the reader to see God in the beauty that surrounds us. He establishes this pattern by looking at a monastic approach to daily meditation and prayer and does so quite effectively.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is hoping to be more attentive to their spiritual development and who hopes to see God working in every circumstance. 

16 September 2013

Some Reflections on the AACC World Conference

Last week, I was blessed to travel to Nashville, Tennessee for the Bi-annual World Conference for the American Association of Christian Counselors. This conference is a very large gathering (7000+) of Christians dedicated to caring for hurting people. Attendees include not just counselors per se, but pastors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and the rare neuropsychologist like yours truly. The level of presentations and displays runs the gamut. I attend primarily because of my involvement with the Society for Christian Psychology, though I typically benefit a great deal from the overall program.

I arrived late Tuesday evening at the majestic Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  I have been there a few times before and have never failed to be awed by its size and grandeur. They upgraded me to a suite and offered a $150 credit if I was willing to take this room with only a pull out bed.  My cheapness took over and I stayed in the beautiful suite overlooking the Cascades area.

I spent most of Wednesday morning in a time of solitude before heading to an afternoon pre-conference workshop. The topic was shame and was led by my friends Eric Johnson, David Jenkins, and Richard Winter. They addressed the biblical concept of shame and how to address it in a therapeutic context. They did a very nice job providing a much needed topic. After, we had dinner at an Irish Pub. I was able to spend quite a bit of time visiting with Dr Winter about his time at L'Abri. To talk with someone who was mentored by Francis Schaeffer was a real treat. That night we had a board meeting for the Society for Christian Psychology. Though committed to the organization and appreciative of the time I was able to spend with my friends, I did miss Ravi Zacharias, which was the only real downer. (I also missed Eric Metaxas and George Barna because I left early, but that is life, I suppose). 

Thursday began the first truly busy day. I awoke to listen to John Ortberg. My appreciation for Ortberg has grown significantly over the last several years and especially this summer as I read his book The Life You've Always Wanted, which is essentially a practical understanding of spiritual disciplines. Ortberg refers to this book as Dallas [Willard] for Dummies.  Too right.  This was followed by another presentation by Dr Jenkins on shame, this time addressing shame and the image of God. I probably need to get a copy of this teaching because I fear that I could not digest all of the meat presented in one sitting.  It was very good. Later in the morning, I attended plenary sessions presented by Diane Langberg and David Jeremiah. Dr Langberg touched my heart with her discussion of human trafficking. Dr Jeremiah was a surprise. I have not listened to him much, but he presented a wise, informative talk.  His talk was largely centered around his newest book, What Are You Afraid Of?

In the afternoon, I was able to listen to my friend Curt Thompson talk about interpersonal neurobiology. Curt is the author of Anatomy of the Soul, one of my favorite books lately. Curt's presentation style is unique. He is not so much bookish or academic because, as he noted, he realizes that most people do not remember what they hear in a setting like this.  Rather, he knows that people remember how they felt. I think this is an important message in terms of connecting with others. 

I was very much excited about Thursday afternoon, which highlighted Tullian Tchividjian and John Eldridge. Pastor Tullian has been one of the most important writers with regard to my own spiritual development.  He has planted his flag by helping people to understand the radicality of grace and has certainly done so in my life. His talk at the conference was reminescent of his Liberate talk on God's Two Words.  I stayed for a few minutes to listen to Eldridge, but I did not find myself connecting with him, so I left. By God's grace, Tullian was standing in the lobby signing copies of his yet to be released book One Way Love. There were only 8 people in line so I grabbed a couple of copies of the book and waited my turn. I was able to meet him, have my picture taken with him, and perhaps most importantly express my thanksgiving for how his message has changed my life.  Although 40 years of age, I was like a giddy schoolboy.  Come on, there's no shame in that!

New Testament scholar Matthew Elliott grabbed me on the way out of the Eldridge session and asked if I wanted to join him for dinner. The two of us found a hole in the wall deli that served an amazing Reuben sandwich.  We visited about theology, emotion (his area of interest), and Oostburg, my home town. Interestingly, we discovered that Matthew and his family regularly vacation near Oostburg, which was a significant surprise. We got back in time that I was able to purchase a Tim Hawkins DVD even though I could not obtain tickets for his show.

Friday began with a morning meditation by Margaret Feinberg. Emotionally, this was by far the best talk. God has gifted this woman with an amazing capacity for telling stories. She paints pictures with her words. I think I felt particularly moved by her as she is in the midst of chemotherapy for breast cancer and identified many of the same struggles my wife did several years ago. For example, she encouraged us to be thankful for nose hair, because it helps us to be aware when our nose is running.  That morning, there was also beautiful singing by Little Feet, a choir made up of adopted and orphaned children from Haiti, Ethiopia, India, and the United States. It was beautiful.

As I left that meeting, I went to hear my friend Eric Johnson talk about suffering and the sovereignty of God. His talks are always theologically rich and anthropologically comforting. Though we only see each other once a year and communicate not much more often than that, he is definitely a mentor to me. Later in the morning Mark Driscoll and Max Lucado presented. Driscoll's talk was exceptional, addressing the difference between good news and good advice as grounds for Christian counseling. This was perhaps the most pastoral I have seen him in some time. His talk can be found here.  Max Lucado, of course, is a wordsmith. There is no doubt why he has been called America's pastor in the past.

That afternoon, I went to hear Matthew Elliott talk about what he sees as God's view of emotion. I have seen him give similar talks in the past and I always find it ironic how emotional people can get in disagreement over what he has to say. I think his message is an important one, looking at emotional control versus emotional maturity and that God created us as emotional beings.  Later I took in a few minutes of a talk on improving your memory by Frank Minirth, but it wasn't a good fit for me so I left.

Later that evening, there was a mixer for the Society for Christian Psychology. It was very well attended and included people from around the United States as well as South Africa and the Netherlands. After the meeting, a few of us went to dinner at the mall food court. One of the people who joined us for dinner was a professional exorcist. He and I visited briefly about his work and he fascinated with his stories, but also about how busy he is with this work.

Saturday morning was a particular blessing. Though I attended no sessions, I had the pleasure of attending a "reformational counseling" meeting. There were some top notch folks from around the United States and Canada at that meeting. I certainly felt out of my element, but was blessed by their wisdom.

I left the meeting and boarded a plane back to Eau Claire where I stood in the much needed rain and awaited my family. As always, it was really good to go and really good to come home.  See you in 2015.

08 September 2013

Joy in an Ordinary Day

Yesterday was a good day. One of the best I have had in a long time. It was an ordinary day filled with errands and such--house cleaning, oil changes, and grocery shopping. I was blessed to spend time with each of my kids individually and with them all together. We watched a movie together at night that was decent.  Our friend Brittany visited. These times are gifts.

Yesterday, I realized how much joy there can be in the ordinary. Not striving, just being. God is with us in the ordinary. The typical Christian life is not day after day of spiritual highs, but going with God in the every day. Hard work, restful naps, laughter filled play.

God's grace is for the ordinary. He most often speaks in whispers and not in the thunder.  May we always see him in the mundane.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.-1 Kings 19:11-12

03 September 2013

Being a wise consumer of technology

As a neuroscientist and a dad, I am interested in how technology affects us.  Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows, was eye opening about the degree to which screen time affects our brains and our social interactions. Unfortunately, most of us (my family included) are not being wise about our consumption of technology.  Bioethics professor Peter Lawler is exploring this topic in a course he is teaching this year and he relies, in part, upon Mark Bauerlein's book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. He shared some thoughts of his own mixed with Bauerlein's on his blog:

1. Virtually all of our students have hours--and often many, many hours--of daily exposure to screens.

 2. So they excel at multitasking and interactivity, and they have very strong spatial skills.

 3. They also have remarkable visual acuity; they’re ready for rushing images and updated information.

 4. BUT these skills don’t transfer well to--they don’t have much to do with--the non-screen portions of their lives.

 5. Their screen experiences, in fact, undermine their taste and capacity for building knowledge and developing their verbal skills.

6. They, for example, hate quiet and being alone. Because they rely so much on screens keeping them connected, they can’t rely on themselves. Because they’re constantly restless or stimulated, they don’t know what it is to enjoy civilized leisure. The best possible punishment for an adolescent today is to make him or her spend an evening alone in his or her room without any screens, devices, or gadgets to divert him or her. It’s amazing the extent to which screens have become multidimensional diversions from what we really know about ourselves.

 7. Young people today typically are too agitated and impatient to engage in concerted study. Their imaginations are impoverished when they’re visually unstimulated. So their eros is too. They can’t experience anxiety as a prelude to wonder, and they too rarely become seekers and searchers.

 8. They have trouble comprehending or being moved by the linear, sequential analysis of texts.

 9. So they find it virtually impossible to spend an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing more.

 10. That’s why they can be both so mentally agile and culturally ignorant. That’s even why they know little to nothing about how to live well with love and death, as well as why their relational lives are so impoverished.

 11. And that’s why higher education--or liberal education--has to be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen. That’s even why liberal education has to have as little as possible to do with screens.

 12. Everywhere and at all times, liberal education is countercultural. And so today it’s necessarily somewhat anti-technology, especially anti-screen.  That’s one reason among many I’m so hard on MOOCs, online courses, PowerPoint, and anyone who uses the word “disrupting” without subversive irony.

As parents, we need to be deeply aware of the role technology plays in the lives of our youngsters.  Unfortunately, as a father, it is often easier to just give the kids the iPad.  Further, we model poorly as parents when we sit with our cell phones, laptops, or iPads in our laps all day.  We must take hold of this drift and seek to push back against it, to use technology wisely rather than foolishly.