Karma vs. Grace: A Psycho-Spiritual Analysis

Karma means action and action motivated by compassion is good. To complain that what happens to you is just the result of your karma is lazy. Instead, confidently recalling the advice that, "You are your own master," you can change what happens by taking action. ~ Dalai Lama.   If you want God's grace, all you need is need, all you need is nothing. But that kind of spiritual humility is hard to muster. We come to God saying, "Look at all I've done," or maybe "Look at all I've suffered." God, however, wants us to look to him... ~ Timothy Keller.   I have a good friend (I'll call her Trish) who practices Buddhism. Trish says she likes having a teacher tell her what to do to gain spiritual enlightenment. She claims this is just what Jesus did with his disciples. He showed them the right things to do, and [...]

Karma vs. Grace: A Psycho-Spiritual Analysis2019-04-17T23:04:09-04:00

A Faithful Response to Suicide

Prelude: Since I first wrote this, another friend has died. I wonder what I could have done to prevent it. I had not heard from him for several weeks. Should I have checked in? My heart burns in my chest and I feel like once again death has punched me in the gut. One thing I want to stress to the family members and friends of all whose life has ended in such a tragic way is that there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. Don't beat yourself up wondering what you could have done to prevent it. Instead, let their legacy live on in the life you live. Let your memory of them shape your walk of faith in making a difference for those God brings your way.   {this was originally published on June 11, 2018}   I am a man of faith who [...]

A Faithful Response to Suicide2019-04-14T19:58:54-04:00

Enemies Sprouting Like Mushrooms

In The Message, Eugene Peterson calls Psalm 3 – “A David Psalm, when he escaped for his life from Absalom, his Son.” The words that follow reveal a hunted poet king, surrounded and scared. God! Look! Enemies past counting! Enemies sprouting like mushrooms, Mobs of them all around me, roaring their mockery: “Hah! No help for him from God!” (vv. 1-2) David sees no escape from sure defeat, certain death. This does not keep him from crying out to God – in fact, it motivates him all the more to do so. He lifts up to God the torturing taunts of his enemies and then reminds himself just Who it is he’s talking to – But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high; With all my might I shout up to God; His answers thunder from the holy mountain. (vv. 3-4) [...]

Enemies Sprouting Like Mushrooms2019-04-12T21:29:31-04:00

When Good Things Happen to Grandiose People

...  in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(1 Corinthians 12. 7-9) I was on the fast track to spiritual success. My ministry was producing fruit. Lives were being changed. I was on a mission from God and I knew it. God told me. This came crashing down when I had a medication-induced manic episode. I spent the better part of a year in and out of the psych hospital and recuperating at home. My primary mission reverted from bringing salvation to others to staying awake long enough to eat and take my medication. With the help of God working through others, I returned to pastoral ministry and [...]

When Good Things Happen to Grandiose People2019-04-08T08:57:58-04:00

When All Else Fails, Hope Endures

There is nothing like a dream to create the future. ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables   In my teens, my life was full of hopes and dreams. Or so it seemed. On the outside, I was a star athlete, a stellar student, a charismatic leader, and a champion for the underdog. On the inside, I was battling with voices telling me I was a worthless impostor who would never amount to anything. In my twenties, I tried to abandon hope. When I envisioned living the American Dream, the eyes of my mind saw only a bleak, meaningless existence dark and dreary. I sabotaged my success by embracing thoughts and engaging in behaviors that kept my hope at bay. Yet hope is not easy to do away with. In spite of all my efforts to snuff it out, it was continually ignited in spite of myself. I read voraciously and wrote incessantly. I [...]

When All Else Fails, Hope Endures2019-03-27T22:27:29-04:00

Mixed States: Maniacal Despair

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?     Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;     if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,     if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me,     your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me     and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;     the night will shine like the day,     for darkness is as light to you.  (Psalm 139) Time will pass; these mood will pass; and I will, eventually, be myself again. But then, at some unknown time, the electrifying carnival will come back into my mind. ― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness For some months, I've enjoyed [...]

Mixed States: Maniacal Despair2019-03-20T19:27:26-04:00

Bleeding Prayers

You have taken from me friend and neighbor; darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88:18)   When I am in the grip of depression, a weighty spirit pins me down to the bed. Some wonder why those of us with mental illness don’t just get up and go about our days. While this would certainly help, sometimes doing this is like running a four-minute mile with a broken leg. So what can we do when we trapped in a cave of despair? Pray? Hardly! We can do next to nothing. Only moan, alone, in misery. Yet, by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit translates our feeble groans into effective prayers. More than anyone, Jesus gets this. On the dark night before he was killed, he sweat prayers of blood. (see Luke 22:44) Then, the Holy Spirit transforms his sweat into strength. He is given the spiritual strength to endure suffering -- [...]

Bleeding Prayers2019-03-17T21:02:18-04:00

Why I Go to Church

{originally published on April 30, 2018}   When I was a pastor I had to go to worship every week. Not only was it expected, I got paid for it. Now that my livelihood is no longer dependent on weekly worship, why do I go at all? Why invest my time and money on something many have come to see as irrelevant to modern living? First, some context. Last Sunday morning I went to worship for the first time in a long while. I did not want to. I did not enjoy it. I do not remember anything but that I left my tithe check at home. Again. But I was there. And being there made all the difference in the world. I praised God within the body of believers. The lungs gave me breath. The feet helped me move. The Head helped me think. That night I wrote a [...]

Why I Go to Church2019-02-27T20:10:21-04:00

Anxious Affliction

Some months ago, I've became rather obsessed about anxiety. In "Moving Anxiety to Motivation," I explored how God's words "Don't be anxious about anything..." (Philippians 4.6) indicate more God's loving reassurance than God's wrathful scolding. Certainly, God wants us to be anxiety-free, but He knows the best way to reach this goal is not to scare anxiety out of us, but instead to be Present with us, neither taking pity on our predicament nor trying to cheer us up with false platitudes. One month about a year ago, I only left my basement apartment four times. For worship, and to pray with a brother in Christ. My hermitage existence hit me as I was putting clean clothes away. PJs. Underwear. Socks. That's it. Friends asked me what I do as I lie in bed all day. Mostly, it's less about what I do than what I avoid. I sleep. [...]

Anxious Affliction2019-02-20T21:50:39-04:00

Feeling Burdened By or a Burden For?

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11.28-30)   I grew up in a country church where there was much talk of having burdens. Members, ministers, missionaries all spoke of having a burden for youth, drug addicts, Africa. Through their impassioned speech, the sweat on their brows, and the waving of their leather Bibles, they would stir up in us a burden to give — prayer, supplies, money. What I got from this early spiritual teaching is that a burden is something God gives a person who then transfers this burden to others. It didn’t occur to me at the time that it had [...]

Feeling Burdened By or a Burden For?2019-02-03T17:04:45-04:00