How to be a Good Friend

In Luke 5:17-26, Luke recounts the time Jesus miraculously heals a paralytic.

At the time Jesus’ popularity was swelling. All kinds of people wanted to be around him for many different reasons.

Some wanted Him to provide miracles in their lives. Some were intrigued by His mysterious teachings and healings. Some wanted to follow Him all the time because they knew He was God. Others were offended by Him but stuck close by looking for an opportunity to outwit Him and/or condemn Him as a blasphemer of Jewish law.

In Luke 5:17-19, Jesus is in a house teaching, and people of each group listed above literally pack out the house. It is crowded with people hanging on every word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth.

The second part of verse 17 reads, “And the power of the Lord was present for [Jesus] to heal the sick.”

How curious!

However, a quick perusal of commentaries told me I am the only one, in fact, who finds this statement curious.

It seems to me this verse implies Jesus “needs” the power of “the Lord” in order to heal the sick. Typically, the Greek word for Lord used here refers to Jesus. But that doesn’t make sense in the sentence as we English-speakers have constructed it.

Assuming we didn’t screw up the meaning of the verse by translating it oddly, “the Lord”, then, must be a reference to God in general.

We could chase a bunch of rabbit trails here (actually, I’m already doing that…), but I think this verse is interesting because it shows Jesus’ relationship with and interdependence on God the Father and/or God the Holy Spirit.

Just as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things at times (Acts 1:8, Galatians 5, Romans 8), so was Jesus, at least while He was here on earth. Another discussion for another time.

ANYWAY, the actual point of this post: while Jesus was teaching, some friends of a paralyzed man “tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus,” (Luke 5:18).

Why?

Because these friends believed Jesus could heal this man if they could just bring him to Jesus. (Oh, the symbolism practically writes itself, doesn’t it?)

Verse 19: “When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”

What great lengths these men went to in order to give their friend the opportunity to be healed!

They carried him up the stairs, illegally damaged a dude’s roof by using some sort of non-electric tool to bore through sturdy ceiling tiles, found some extra long rope, and rigged up a pulley system situation to lower their friend down into the home. (Any friend who is willing to employ physics to help you is a friend indeed.)

And then beautiful verse 20, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.'” (Spoiler alert: Jesus also physically heals the man a few minutes later. He just chooses to address the man’s greater need–spiritual healing–first.)

What gets me is how the friends’ faith played a crucial role in the paralyzed man’s healing. They persistently and creatively pursued Jesus on the man’s behalf. They believed Jesus could physically heal the man, and, as his BFFs, they were determined to give their buddy an opportunity for Jesus to do just that. They were not swayed by the obstacles they encountered along the way.

They were going to get their friend to Jesus no matter what it took.

And if that doesn’t smack you between the eyes, I don’t know what will. (I will, actually, if you want me to…)

As I read this story, I first thought about times in my life my friends did whatever they had to do to get me to Jesus. How I even became a Christian in the first place is a direct result of persistent, faithful friends.

But even after I became a Christian, there were hard times during which faithful friends kept pointing me to Jesus and petitioning Him on my behalf. They had faith that He could heal me emotionally and did whatever it took to give me the opportunity to be healed by Him.

And then I thought, “Am I that kind of friend to my friends who need healing? Do I do whatever it takes to keep pointing my friends to Jesus when they are going through major trials? Am I going to great lengths to lead my non-believing friends to Jesus for the opportunity for salvation? Am I going to great lengths to encourage my struggling believing friends to pursue Him for the healing emotional comfort only He can provide?”

In some cases I think I’m doing all right. But in others I could be doing a lot more.

And I bet you “score” about the same.

So today we should all spend a minute or two thinking about specific things we can do to be as good of friends to our friends as the paralyzed man’s friends were to him. (I know, that sentence is confusing. Allergy meds have taken over my brain.)

And then, after we do some good thinking, we need to actually do the things we thought of.

We can do it. He can help. (And, in some cases, so can Home Depot.)

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How God Heals

When my daughter was three years old, she fell down our stairs. Her ongoing tears told me she had broken her arm. A few hours later an x-ray confirmed my deduction; she had broken both bones in her left forearm. So, we were ushered into the casting room of the orthopedic office.

I watched the tech gently slide a breathable cloth sleeve onto my daughter’s arm. Then she carefully wrapped the arm with a long strip of cotton, overlapping layers as she went, and securing some padding between my daughter’s index finger and thumb. Lastly, strips of wet fiberglass (pink, of course) were wrapped around the arm and allowed to dry to form the hard outer shell of the cast.

Lexi Marie - No Longer ThreeThis memory came to mind this morning as I was reflecting on that worn out verse that says,”[God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,”(Psalm 147:3). Clearly, this verse is talking about God healing emotional hurts, but my thoughts took me elsewhere. I thought about the healing process of physically broken and wounded people.

The casting process is multifaceted. There are several steps that have to be done in a certain order for the cast to serve it’s function in healing a bone. Casting takes precision and patience. The broken bone will heal correctly if the cast is put on correctly and left on for the correct amount of time.

I’m not up on my wound care, but it’s probably safe to say that process of healing open wounds requires similar diligence – washing, applying ointments, bandaging, taping, etc. Repeating these steps in the correct order for the correct amount of time will most likely result in healing of the skin.

Both processes are slow.

Kind of like how God heals our broken hearts and emotional wounds. Slowly.

Sometimes days and weeks and months and years may pass without us sensing that we are being healed in any way. As with the casted broken bone, all we can do is wait. There is nothing for us to do to expedite the process. God will heal our broken hearts with the fiberglass of time.

Other times we cooperate with God in the healing of our emotional wounds, daily doing our part to change bandages and apply more antiseptic. We have a role to play in our emotional healing – cleaning out closets, tossing what we don’t need, and replacing those items with things we’ve been missing all our lives. And after awhile, God heals our once festering wounds with the ointments of time and our own hard work.

All of it hurts.

But we live in a fallen world – where bones and skin sometimes break but hearts break much more frequently.

The thing about that verse, though, is that it clearly establishes God as the author of our healing. He does it. HE does it. Which means healing doesn’t originate with us. WE don’t have to figure it all out. Yes, He may ask for our cooperation in the healing process, but the power and wisdom and prerogative are all His.

We can rest.

Which, ironically, is exactly what our bodies and souls need to do when they are broken.

How to Survive Depression as a Christian

I’ve probably read about 30 articles on depression and suicide since Monday night. From the well-known writers and publications to the amateur bloggers, it seems every writer has an opinion on the subject, and most are saying the same thing: depression and suicide are complicated, and those who aren’t familiar with them need to learn a thing or two… quick.

I’ve never cared to be a social commentator – at least not on the internet, because, let’s face it, a medium devoid of facial expressions and inflections can turn good intentions into culture wars (and do so, more often than not) at the speed of Wi-Fi. No, thank you.

No, my shtick is to speak from my personal experience in the hopes that you will see yourself somewhere in my story and be motivated to step a smidge closer to Jesus Christ as a result. So I’ll stick with that purpose.

Now that my preface is out of the way, on to the point of this article: how to survive depression as a Christian.

Hello. My name is Kelly, and since I was 12 years old (which was 19 years ago, if you must know), I’ve shared my head space with an unwanted “house” guest: depression (dysthymia and double depression, to be exact).

It took me 7 years and a few good friends to agree to talk to a counselor about it and to go see a doctor that could prescribe medication.

Since I was 19 years old, I’ve taken most of the antidepressants you’ve heard of as well as those you haven’t. I’ve seen a multitude of counselors and physicians and a psychiatrist. My house guest has come and gone with no rhyme or reason, but he never goes far… at most, he steps out on the porch of my mind for a cigarette break, and then he’s right back at it again, disheveling the rooms of my brain.

I became a Christian when I was 16, which may seem like a misplaced detail at this juncture of my story, but, I assure you, it’s not.

I was depressed before I became a Christian; I was depressed after I became a Christian. And no amount of spiritual maturing on my part changes the fact that I continue to wrestle depression for control of my “home”.

So what do I do about it?

As a Christian who has depression and is still alive, I suppose I’ve learned a few things about how to survive this illness. The things I’m going to suggest work for me, and by “work” I do NOT mean they pull me out of my depression. There are no silver bullets for chronic depression. I simply mean these tactics help me endure the dark hours and days and weeks until the light chooses to dawn again.

  • Go to a Christian psychologist or counselor. I know, going to a “shrink” makes you feel like you’re only validating that you are crazy. You aren’t crazy; you’re depressed. And talking to someone actually takes more strength and humility (both good Christian virtues) than staying home all day in your pajamas, sullenly wishing Taco Bell delivered. (Not that I’ve done that… today…) Not only will talking to someone with some training help you feel understood and less alone, working with a professional who understands the truth about our souls as well as our brains gives you an essential added dynamic to unraveling and surviving depression as a Christian. Non-Christians don’t correctly understand God, and we are made in God’s image, so it follows non-Christians cannot correctly (and/or fully) understand human nature. It’s true, Christian therapists are limited, too (they are finite and fallible, after all), but they are much more likely to understand more accurately a larger portion of the puzzle that is the human mind/spirit combination than non-Christian therapists, in my opinion.
  • If your type of depression warrants it, take medication. Hear me, Christian. You are not a second class person nor a second class believer if you happen to need an antidepressant to help your brain function correctly! I spent 7 years in misery because I was too embarrassed to admit I might need medication. A loving friend finally convinced me to see a medical doctor by explaining chemical depression is no different than diabetes – they both require synthetic medicine, and neither need is shameful. Your counselor can tell you if she thinks you may need medication. If there is any reason to believe you might benefit from an antidepressant, go see a psychiatrist. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I wasted too many years (10!) relying on my general practitioner and OBGYN for my meds. They know a lot about…other things…but brain chemistry is not their specialty. I know, the side effects are annoying. I know, you’ve tried a lot of medications, and none seem to work. I know, some can be expensive. Take them anyway. My counselor told me it can take 6 months to a year, on average, to find the best medication at the best dosage IF you’re willing to work faithfully with a psychiatrist. Invest that time and money. Honestly, life isn’t going to feel worth living if you don’t, but it might if you do.
  • Get a little help from your friends. I know, relationships are difficult and exhausting when you’re depressed. I know, you don’t feel like you have any friends. I know, you’re scared to show your frailty to anyone. But you must – not to everyone, just 2 or 3 folks that are safe to be transparent with. Surround yourself with a handful of people that are willing and able to remind you they love you just as much (if not more) when you are at your lowest as they do when you are at your best – people who will simply be with you physically and/or emotionally when you need to feel less alone. Pick people you know will pray for you, not just people who will say they will but don’t. Pick people who speak God’s grace to you when you speak self-condemning thoughts to them. Pick people who acknowledge you feel like there is no hope and there will be no end to the darkness while they simultaneously remind you, ever so gently, that light will come again. Pick people you know you can text or call any time and they will inevitably respond with a listening ear and an empathetic spirit. Pick people who don’t succumb to the societal pressure that makes them feel like they need to “fix” you but instead focus on the task of making you feel loved.
  • Keep communication open with God. I know, you don’t feel like He hears you. I know, you’re angry with Him at times. I know, the scriptures aren’t comforting when you read them. I know, the commands to “be joyful always” only serve as catalysts to heap condemnation on yourself. Tell Him all of this. Whatever you’re feeling about Him, about the words you’re reading from the Bible, be straight up with God. He is listening, even though we may not sense Him responding (Psalm 34:15). If you don’t know what to read, go to the Psalms. And not the happy Psalms, but the depressing Psalms (ex. 42, 43, 55). It’s yet another way to feel less alone when you read people in the Bible felt depressed, too, and most of the depressing Psalms end with the depressed person praising God, an example we could learn from. And don’t let Satan grow those feelings of condemnation in your mind! Jesus understands how depression limits our ability to be joyful always. Frankly, even optimists with perfect brain chemistry can’t uphold the commands to rejoice all the time. We’re all on an even playing field with this one: try, and let Jesus’ grace cover the shortfall.
  • Rest. Depression is tough. It sucks the energy right out of you. So say no to all the good church (and life) activities that others want you to do. I know, they need someone to work in the nursery. I know, they need someone to pass out the fliers. I know, they need someone to greet at the door. Save the limited energy you have for one or two church things that really contribute to your mental health instead of detract from it (might I suggest attending a Bible study?). Hear me, though. I am NOT saying retreat. If you drop out of everything at church and hole up in your house, you’re not “resting”, you’re “retreating”, and you’re going to sink deeper into depression than you ever have before because that’s what happens when you’re alone all the time. You don’t have to go be Mr. or Ms. Socialite, but force yourself to attend something once a week and to speak to at least one person beyond, “Good morning.” Then go home and take a nap. Even if it’s only 11 AM. You’ve done well.

And that’s about it. These are the things I do as a Christian both to keep depression at bay as well as to endure depression when it descends upon me. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. There are no silver bullets.

My psychiatrist would tell me I also need to add eating better and exercising 30 minutes 5 times per week to my list, both of which would be Christianly ways to survive depression on account of the whole we ought to take good care of our bodies thing (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But those are really hard things to do when you’re depressed. So I’m still eating Taco Bell on my couch on a regular basis.

My pastor suggested he anoint me with oil and pray for healing per the directive in James 5:14. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to, and I invite you to try it, too, even if you’re uncomfortable with it. He’s done this for me twice in the past in regards to different health issues, and both issues resolved, albeit several months after the fact. I don’t know that the anointing and prayer had anything to do with it, but I don’t know that they didn’t either. So it’s worth a shot, in my book.

If you’ve read this far, it’s likely you’re either a depressed Christian yourself or you are close to someone who is. Drop me a line in the contact box below, and I will pray for you. I will stop everything and pray for you. Also, if you’ve discovered anything else that helps you survive depression, share it in the comments section to help others.

 

Do You Want to Get Well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” – John 5:6

Jesus had said this to a man 2000 years ago, but He may as well have said it to me.

To you.

The man in the verse – he had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

3-8.

I shake my head as I read, thinking how sad a situation…

But then…

How long have you and I been disabled in our own ways? 

I’m pushing thirty-one. How about you?

I shake my head as I reflect, even if I had a couple good years on the front end of my life, I’ve been an invalid for far too long… saved by grace and Heaven-bound, but disabled nonetheless…

The man in the verse – he doesn’t answer Jesus’ question. Jesus is looking for yes or no – do you or don’t you want to get well? But the man says, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me,” (John 5:7).

I guess that’s as good as a yes to Jesus… the man had been trying to get well… he just couldn’t find the help he needed. His heart wanted healing; but the path to healing was so difficult, especially for an invalid. The way to the healing water was littered with people inadvertently blocking his way to full health.

They were probably his friends, those people going down ahead of him. They had spent many days (years?) together, forming relationships as they begged on the side of the road, waiting for the pool to stir… They had nothing but time to build friendships…

So when the waters stirred and all his friends rushed ahead of him, pursuing their own healing, not one stopping to help him down to the pool… I wonder if the invalid was angry… or if he had compassion on them, wanting healing for them, too, because he understood the emotional pain of being disabled…  or if, on account of his love for them, he let them go ahead of him?

If real love is laying down your life for another (1 John 3:16), looking to another’s best interest no matter the cost to you, how are you and I loving the broken around us by encouraging them to pursue healing?

Whatever his feelings about the others going down ahead of him, the man expressed the desire to get well. So Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” and the man was healed (John 5:8). Not by some magic waters, but by the very Word of God. 

I wonder if Jesus would’ve healed the man if he had responded differently to Jesus’ question… if the man had said, ‘No, Jesus, I don’t really want to get well… I’m pretty content to sit here and beg my way through the next 30, 40 years with my broken legs and empty heart.”

I can’t think of one example in the entire Bible of God forcing healing or blessing or favor or health on someone who didn’t want it. 

But the examples of the Lord healing those who want to get well? Those are numerous.

 I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. – 2 Kings 20:5

They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22

LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. – Psalm 30:2

How many years have you and I been sitting disabled by the pool?

Do we want to get well?

Or are we comfortable, albeit miserable, with our familiar disabilities?

Like the invalid by the pool, I think healing of any spiritual infirmity must start with our wills…

Lord, help us want to get well, and help us to trust that You will heal us if that is our desire.

How to Trust God

John tells a story about a royal official whose son is dying in Capernaum. The official hears Jesus is hanging out in another town and decides his son’s only chance at survival is a divine healing from Jesus (John 4:46-47). According to one source, this official had to walk 20-25 miles uphill to get to Jesus in Cana. Desperate times, desperate measures.

When he found Jesus, the official put aside all his stately dignity and begged Jesus, the blue-collar carpenter, to come heal his son (John 4:47).

No doubt this official had heard of Jesus’ uncanny ability to perform miracles. And he obviously had some measure of belief that Jesus could miraculously heal his son.

Yet, curiously, Jesus responds to the official’s plea to heal his son with, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (John 4:48).

The best I can make of this reproof is that Jesus wanted people to believe He was the Messiah, not just a miracle-worker. In other words, “Believe in Me, not just in what I can do.”

Nevertheless, Jesus performs a healing miracle right then and there… (John 4:50). It’s as if He doesn’t like that we are more impressed by his performances than His heart, but that’s not going to deter Him from doing what He came to do. In fact, even though He doesn’t like it, if we need miracles to help us believe in His diety, He’ll perform them… whatever it takes to get us to understand who He really is.

After Jesus says the words that indicate the son is healed, listen to what the official does, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed,” (John 4:50).

How completely ridiculous is this situation?

All Jesus did was say, “You may go. Your son will live,” (John 4:50). Remember, the official had begged Jesus to come heal his son – not give a word from 25 miles away that everything was going to be ok. Surely a healing would require some laying on of hands, some praying over, some anointing with oil – SOMETHING.

If I were this official, I’d be asking some questions. Like, “Are you sure, Jesus? Don’t you think you should come with me just in case the miracle didn’t take? Wouldn’t healing work a little better if you were in the SAME TOWN as my son?”

But the official didn’t say anything like this. He took Jesus at his word and left! To him, the healing was as good as done, no matter how nonsensical it seemed, and he was off to see his boy. There was no hanging around to chit chat with Jesus; there wasn’t even a thank you. His love and concern for his son were the primary things on his mind.

The story goes that the son was in fact healed at the very moment Jesus said he was (John 4:53).

When you and I read this story today, we have to ask ourselves how often do we take Jesus at His word?

How often do we doubt the promises He’s given us in His Word?

How often does He speak, and we question Him?

How often does He speak, and we ignore Him?

How often does He speak, and we dawdle?

These kind of responses all come down to a lack of trust in who He is and what He can do.  The good news is there are some things we can do to bolster our faith in Him. Like read the scripture accounts of His goodness. And recount the ways in our own lives He has proven Himself faithful. And read other people’s accounts of how God has been trustworthy. And flat out ask Him to help us take Him at His word, 100%, like the royal official in this story did.

And the more we step out in faith and trust Him, the more He will prove His trustworthiness to us. Which, in turn, will encourage us to trust Him even more. It’s a beautiful cycle to get caught up in.

Let’s give it a try?

 

 

What’s Oil Got to Do with It?

Truth be told, I’m not comfortable with the whole idea of anointing people with oil. It’s a mysterious, wacky religious right practice that I just don’t understand.

It’s not a practice I’m very familiar with, having grown up with no religious upbringing in suburban America. And, frankly, my intellectual pride screams at the top if its lungs how ridiculous the person is who believes a dab of household oil can bless or heal someone.

Still, I’ve had a handful of experiences with anointing in my short Christian life. My children were both dabbed as babies when we dedicated them to the Lord. But I’m not sure why. I think it is a symbol of bestowing blessing on the child, but I’m not certain.

I’ve been anointed myself by a pastor when asking for healing of stubborn headaches.

To be sure, this practice is odd in our culture. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be entirely comfortable with it. But those to whom the Bible was initially written were completely comfortable with the concept.

The first mention of anointing with oil was when Aaron and his sons were installed as the first priests of Israel. Exodus 28:41 says, “…anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.”

To consecrate was to make holy – to set apart for the Lord.

I suppose that’s what we were doing with our girls on their dedication days.

Throughout the Old Testament, priests, altars, the tabernacle, and leaders were anointed in this fashion, as a symbol of their desire to purely serve the Lord.

The New Testament seems to use anointing in a different manner.

In Mark 6, the twelve disciples are sent out to do the same kinds of things they’ve seen Jesus do. “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them,” (Mark 6:13).

James also uses this concept of anointing in relation to health. He says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well,” (James 5:14-15).

I don’t know why oil is a big deal to God. I don’t know why He tells us to use oil to show holy intent or to invite divine healing. But He does. There are a lot of things about God I don’t get.

But that doesn’t excuse me from obeying Him.

Awhile back I told you about my daughter, Allie, and her on-going mystery back pain. Since then, she has met with a pediatric orthopedist who was perplexed and ordered an MRI. I was told after the fact that all the doctors were really worried, suspecting the worst.

But, praise God, the MRI was negative. We examined more urine samples and tested her blood for at least 10 different things. All is normal. She was sent to a pediatric rheumatologist in September who diagnosed her with discitis – a super rare inflammation of a disc between her vertebrae. She prescribed anti-inflammatories to alleviate discomfort. It didn’t help, so she prescribed a different one. It didn’t help either.

The prognosis is Allie will just have to grow out of the condition, which could take weeks or months. She’s been in pain for 6+ months. As she sobbed in my arms for over an hour on Wednesday, James 5 came to mind. It was time to give this wacky religious right practice of anointing a shot.

I took Allie to my favorite pastor’s house, a house she has spent much time at playing with his grand children, and, unbeknownst to Allie, we prayed over her. The pastor snuck a dab of oil on her head, and she smiled ear to ear. Then four of us prayed for healing and wisdom while Allie meandered around the house, playing and swindling a friend out of her fruit snacks with her sweet smile.

Allie was ok the rest of the day. This morning she cried a few minutes in pain. It remains to be seen if/how/when healing will come.

But obedience to the scriptures happened yesterday. And I know that pleases God’s heart.