The Depressed Christian

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In February of this year, I had the joy and privilege of teaching at our annual women’s retreat. I spoke to the women of our church about God being our refuge, our strength, a subject I had been studying for months leading up to it. Imagine my surprise then when, 17 days later, I would find myself being led in a wheelchair into station 32 of the psychiatric wing of the hospital, where I would spend the next eight days clawing my way out of the literal depths of despair. Those eight days are their own story in and of themselves, of which I would happily spend an hour or two discussing over a cup of coffee, but the question I want to try and answer in a small way here is this: How does a Christian bear up under the burden of mental health illnesses, of any variety, while maintaining a “give it all to Jesus” mentality? Is it possible? Is there an imaginary line somewhere where medicine and self-compassion stop helping so Jesus steps in (or vice-versa)? Or should we not even have these mental health issues to begin with because we should just believe/pray/fast/love/etc more because the gospel of Jesus Christ is definitely “here’s your shovel, now dig your way out”? 

The answer, I feel, is two-fold, and I am going to steal our pastor’s terminology for this. This is a sun/moon issue, where we have a bigger issue, with a bigger answer, and a smaller issue, with a smaller answer, which really is just a reflection of the bigger answer. Clear as mud? Good, let’s move on.

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The bigger issue is this: our separation from God. The bigger issue is this chasm that is so deep and so wide that we would never be able to cross it on our own, even if our mental health was at its peak. We could never have a sad thought again for the rest of our lives, and still our happy little smile-factories would not even be able to put a dent in the wide gap that separates us from our holy and good God. And yet, this gap was bridged, by a love that was wider and deeper than the forces that kept us apart. And the Gap-Bridger, the Chasm-Leaper, his name is Jesus, and the work that he did on the cross was far more powerful than the dark that may have surrounded you in the past, or perhaps surrounds you now. And the beauty of it all? You don’t have to see it to believe it. You don’t have to feel it to be so incredibly assured of its truth that you can sense a piece of calm, even if it’s a tiny piece, in the chaos of the storm. Because God doesn’t wait for the horizon. God IS the horizon. God spoke, and Light broke into the world, first in creation, then in Jesus. The darkness didn’t stand a chance. 

The beauty of this, outside of the breathtaking beauty of the gritty and real and overwhelming love that God has for you, is that absolutely none of it depends on you, and especially on your mental health status. The bloody work that Jesus did on the cross happened outside of you, for you. You cannot make it better; you cannot mess it up. When you look to your heart and see its innate brokenness, which perhaps is even a bit easier to do when trapped in the dark, and you hand those broken pieces to Jesus, you leave yourself empty-handed… blessedly, comfortingly empty-handed. And when you are in the dark, that is a very good thing to be.

The smaller issue then is where do we go from that truth? Should that be enough? The answer is yes, it is enough, but also no, we don’t stop there. I told you, clear as mud. The truth is we are broken physical creatures, living in a broken physical world. There are things that, though they hold no bearing on our salvation and everlasting joy and peace with Jesus, can and should be attended to, and our mental health is most certainly one of those things. We have a God who has given us creative minds, minds that instinctually (for the most part) see a problem and want to fix it. And this is a good thing. This is a way that God has made us in His image. And we have minds among us that are passionate about learning about the brain, and learning how to help when things go awry. Use those minds. Seek help. It was not meant to be like this. Living in the dark is something that we can do if that is what the Lord has planned for us, but let it not be for setting aside the resources that He Himself has set before you. The weird, tricky call of Christianity is that we are to be prepared for suffering, expect it even. But the awesome, magnificent call of Christianity is also to cry out to the God who loves you in times of distress! And we can do that because of the gospel. We can do that because the gap is already closed. We can do that because having an illness does not mean that you are not redeemable, and we serve a God who delights to help His children.

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In a group therapy session recently, the subject of hope was brought up. We were asked to talk about if we had it, and what we could do to bring more of it into our lives. I thought about that for a long time, and came away with this answer. There are days when I have no hope, where I am convinced that this is what my life will be for the rest of my days, the dark pushing in with no rhyme or reason, and me just barely surviving it. Those days come and those days go. But every day, I have Hope. I have a Hope that, though this feels unbearable at times, it is just a blip in eternity, and that regardless of how this plays out or if I ever find freedom from depression, the last chapter reads the same. It is a Hope unaffected by the amount of tears I shed, or the amount of hours I sleep to dull the pain. It is a Hope that can never be scared off by the thoughts that play in my head, because it has seen worse and prevailed. It is a Hope that has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Him. 

One of the most debilitating things for my own personal depression was the isolation, so if you are reading this and are currently experiencing depression or have and never sought help, I encourage you to start here: Pray. Tell God of your suffering, and then tell a trusted friend or family member. We were promised suffering, yes, but we were never promised isolation. We were promised a body with which to mourn and to rejoice. Let those around you help you. And on the days when you can do no more than that, rest easy, for the biggest work has already been done. 


Summer in the City, Living on Mission Together


Summers in Minnesota are incredible and there is nothing like them. Between the weekends at the cabin, music festivals, late night patio seating at your favorite pub/restaurant, and exploring all our city has to offer, it is one of the best times of year that school kids and adults alike look forward to. 

And even though summers may look different (youth will soon be off of school, most of us will take vacations, we move to just one service on Sundays starting June 9th, Community Groups and HLI take a break, etc.), Hiawatha Church’s mission (and our mission as an extension) of making disciples continues. Pastor Chris reminded us this past Sunday of the importance of being on mission together and how that demonstrates the gospel and also the nature of our God (who himself is trinity, an eternal community).

Below are some ideas for us as individuals, community groups, families, or as a church to be strategic as we live on mission this summer. Minnesotans come out of hibernating, yards are full of neighbors, students aren’t in classes, and the lakes, parks, and streets are full of people. Think of what you’re already doing (gardening, concerts, kids’ sports, vacation, etc.) and intentionally look for ways to build relationships with those around you. “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” -Ephesians 5:15-16. 

Hiawatha Church, let’s be used by Jesus this summer!

  • First, join your church family in prayer. As we desire to see our city transformed with the gospel, we start with prayer. Pray for more conversions, for God to use us and bless our neighborhood and city, for current and future church plants, and for mission in general.

  • Host a neighborhood BBQ: invite those you know and use this as an easy excuse to show hospitality and meet neighbors you haven’t yet.

  • Get or make a fire pit: invite people over to make smores and have great conversations deep into the night.

  • Holidays/Celebrations: host a party or get together with a group of friends to attend one of our many summer festivities: 4th of July, National Night Out, Longfellow Corn Feed, State Fair, Open Streets, outdoor movies, and countless festivals, concerts, and activities across the city.

  • Sign your kid(s) up for a sport or activity at one of the local parks (or gymnastics that meets at our building). Then show up. Meet other parents. Connect with other families. Want more ideas about connecting youth sports in the park system with missional living? Contact one of our locally supported ministries: R.O.C.K.

  • What are you good at or excited about? Host it at your home or in your yard. Whether it is an acoustic concert on your deck or porch, a lawn game tournament, a stop on the Lola art crawl, or an outdoor movie, connect your passion and talents with opportunities to build relationships.

  • Enjoy our local green spaces (here's our local favorite). Meet new people or meet up with friends and neighbors.

  • Invite someone out for lunch after a Sunday service.

  • Visit your local Farmer’s Market: go often and to the same vendors, learning their names, and building a relationship with them as well as participate in the community that many Farmer’s Markets create.

  • Join a local garden (if you don’t already have one in your yard). There are a number of them in South Minneapolis. There will be lots of opportunities to meet people as you garden alongside others.

 "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people" -1 Timothy 2:1

Through the power of the Spirit, let’s be a church (individually and corporately) that intentionally moves into our city this summer to reach those who don’t yet know the saving power of Jesus!



Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

Welcome to Easter week! The season where we Americans buy and eat a ton of candy, decorate and find Easter eggs (isn't it weird that a bunny makes all kinds of eggs?!?), take pictures with a person in a often times creepy human sized Easter bunny costume, and where over a billion people celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. 


All of that seems kinda strange, right? And I'm not only talking about our American Easter traditions. It is strange that a man was dead for a few days and then became alive again. And by strange, I mean unusual. That is kind of an understatement. I've never heard of another person being killed by professional executioners and then put in a tomb for days and then coming back to life. Have you? I've never seen a resurrection. So when I hear people who're skeptical, I can be quite empathic. 

Pastor and author Tim Keller lives in New York City. Because he lives in one of the most skeptical cities in the U.S., he hears from a fair share of people who have a hard time with the claims of Jesus coming back to life. He writes in his book, The Reason for God:

"Sometimes people approach me and say, 'I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.' I usually respond: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” 

And it is not just Keller who argues the lynchpin of the Christian faith is the resurrection, even one of the main authors of the Bible says the same thing. 

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. - Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

Strong words from one of the authors of the Bible right?!? IF Jesus has not been raised, then it all falls apart and Christians should be pitied like no other. 

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So let's look at a few historical events that support and give evidence that Jesus actually DID rise from the grave. Despite how ridiculous it might seem, the empty tomb is the best explanation for 1) The disciples' changed lives and 2) The change in worship for thousands of first century Jews.

First, let's look at the disciples (the twelve, mostly blue-collar, normal Joe's who followed Jesus for three years during his ministry before he was crucified). Before Jesus' resurrection we see them act like this: 

“Then all the disciples left him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56). Peter denies Jesus three times, once even to a slave girl. “Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed.” (Matthew 26:74). After Jesus’ death, they were cowering in a locked room, terrified that the Jewish religious rulers would come after them next. 

But something happened that changed this bunch of terrified cowards who feared for their lives into nearly unrecognizable people. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders’ (the same people that they were hiding from)...Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” - Acts 4:8, 13. 


Tradition also teaches that all the disciples  were martyred, minus Judas the betrayer. (The authorities tried to kill the disciple John by boiling him alive but he survived and so instead they exiled him to an island for the rest of his life.) They were killed in horrific ways because they wouldn't stop telling the world that Jesus was alive! The resurrection had changed them from terrified cowards into fearless martyrs! People tend to not die for something they know is a lie, especially when they get nothing good out of it (only poverty, persecution, imprisonment, and death).

Not only were the disciples' lives changed but worship completely changed for thousands of first century Jews. Now this might not sound like a big deal. "Hey, I've switched churches throughout my life or changed my views on religion and doctrine," you might say. But let's look at what would have to happen for thousands and thousands of first century Jews to change how they worshiped the LORD. 

First, worship was no longer on the Sabbath. The first Christians didn't observe the Sabbath. This is a BIG deal. According to the law, if you desecrate the Sabbath, you get stoned (and I don't mean the Cheech and Chong kind of stoned). If you work on the Sabbath, you get cut off from the Jewish nation. Capital Punishment AND being excommunicated from your family and people is a BIG deal! Yet the early Christians intentionally chose to stop observing the Sabbath and to worship Jesus on a new day (Sunday). 

Second, there was no longer a physical temple, priest, or sacrifice needed to worship God. For over a thousand years the Jewish people worshiped God in a certain way. But after Jesus' death and resurrection, something big changed. Jesus himself was the fulfillment of the temple, the priesthood, and was the ultimate and final sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. 

The third way that worship changed was Gentiles (any ethnicity, race, or nationality that wasn't Jewish) were now fully included. Again, for over a thousand years Gentiles were not fully included. Even if a Gentile converted to Judaism, they were still an outsider (think things like having their own outer court in the temple and not being able to fully participate in worship as the ethnic Jews were). 

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Fourth, the church was founded around two sacraments (acts that were performed over and over again to demonstrate and remember something): baptism and the Lord's Supper/Communion. Both of these sacraments are symbolic of Jesus's death and resurrection. So the acts that the church gathered around on a consistent basis were based on their belief that Jesus DID rise from the grave. 

Fifth and finally, they worshiped a man. Almost no one argues that there wasn't a real human named Jesus who lived in the first century. Whether or not he was God is obviously debated but very few think that he wasn't a real man. Now whether or not you know much about Judaism, one main rule is you can only worship God. Not idols. Not statues. Not multiple gods. And especially NOT humans. But what happens just days after Jesus' death? Thousands of Jews start worshiping a MAN. Why would they risk their eternal punishment in Hell by breaking the number one rule in Judaism? Because they believed that Jesus wasn't just a man (although he was fully man) but that he was also fully God himself. They believed he was who he said he was, the Son of God who added humanity to his divinity so that he could die the death that we deserved and in our place. 

So the disciples risked execution, excommunication from their family, being traitors to their religion and nation, and eternity in hell. And like we said before, they all got nothing earthly out of it besides pain, suffering, and execution. Something must have happened. People don't just risk all of that and go through all of that unless something truly impossible happened. 

On Sunday morning, the Son of God rose from the grave. He defeated death, proving he was God incarnate, worthy of worship and allegiance. He changed the lives of a few thousand people in the Ancient Near East, who in turn literally changed the world. What can account for all of this? The answer is the resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. 

The original hearers knew that if the resurrection "was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.” -Tim Keller. 

Jesus invites us to believe this Easter: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?”  - John 11:25-26