Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Films of 2014

Once again, here are my top ten films of the year. Please note that not all of these are appropriate for viewers of all ages. I found these films to be exceptional examples of artistry, or films that impacted me deeply on some level. It was refreshing to see so many original ideas in cinemas in 2014, and the year yielded one of my all time favorite films, this list's number 1 movie!

Honorable Mention:
While they didn't make my top ten, these films were solid enough entries that they are worth mentioning! 
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
- Fury
- Begin Again
- Edge of Tomorrow

10. Gone Girl - directed by David Fincher
- Fincher's adaptation of the novel by Gillian Flynn is cold, calculated, and cerebral. With a chilling performance by Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in one of his most solid roles to date, Gone Girl gets under the skin and stays there, infecting your mind like a parasite. Tonally similar to Se7en as opposed to more comfortable fare such as The Social Network, Fincher stays surprisingly true to the source material, even to a shocking end. (This is also due to the fact that Flynn also wrote the screenplay). I would be surprised if this DIDN'T receive some Oscar nominations. 

9. The Lego Movie - directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
- The Lego Movie was a complete surprise this year. Both witty and charming, Lord and Miller were able to craft a film that appealed to young and old alike. The voice cast was impressive and worked perfectly with their characters. (Will Arnett's Batman - case and point). I was surprised at how self aware this movie was, and it embraced the building aspect of the Lego product creatively. Each time you view The Lego Movie you catch something else hidden in the script or background, so it easily supports the repeated viewings that most kids will require.

8. Snowpiercer - directed by Joon-ho Bong
- The first English-speaking film from Korean director Joon-ho Bong was a surprise masterpiece of the year. While technically made for 2013 release, Snowpiercer was delayed because of a constant tug of war between the director and the producers. This dystopian futuristic story plays out in segments aboard a single futuristic train, and would take up far too much time to summarize here. What you do need to know is that Snowpiercer is shocking at times, and delves into such topics as social justice, power, regret, love, and control. Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton are both spectacular.

7. Unbroken - directed by Angelina Jolie
- Angelina Jolie has been full of surprises this year, first starring in the global hit Maleficent and now delivering an incredibly moving and emotional biopic on famed Olympic athlete Louie Zamperini. Jack O'Connell anchors the film with a moving performance, depicting the early life and war years of the real Zamperini. While many people criticize the film for leaving too much out, it truly would be impossible to cover the post war story as well in one film. Jolie wisely chose the portion of Zamperini's story to tell, allowing silence and imagery to aid her story telling just as much as the script. The torture and hardship are never divorced from the spiritual war going on within, and Jolie bravely acknowledges the spiritual aspect of Zamperini's life in one of this year's finest films. 

6. Guardians of the Galaxy - directed by James Gunn
- James Gunn's first foray into the Marvel cinematic universe is undoubtedly the surprise hit of the year. While many sci-fi films take themselves way too seriously, Gunn handles his source material with tongue in cheek humor and pop culture references. Chris Pratt is phenomenal in his second hit of 2014, and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper steal the show as Groot and Rocket, possibly the most popular on-screen duo since R2-D2 and C-3PO. On top of the unique characters and story and the witty script, the soundtrack stands out due to the clever use of 70's and 80's pop hits. 

5. Nightcrawler - directed by Dan Gilroy
- Not since Norman Bates in Psycho has an on screen character appeared so believably insane. Jake Gyllenhaal carries Gilroy's somewhat old-fashioned thriller with a chilling performance. Rene Russo and Bill Paxton costar in this film on obsession and power, yet Gyllenhaal steals every scene as Louis Bloom, an eccentric entrepreneur who decides to enter the world of tv news. The plot slowly builds to an explosive finale, revealing  the drastic lengths a person will go to in order to achieve personal significance. Gyllenhaal is sure to receive a best actor nod for his acting. 

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel - directed by Wes Anderson
- Wes Anderson is one of my all time favorite directors, thanks to his quirky style and old world charm. One could swear that he was born in the wrong era, as his films evoke a 60's aesthetic in color, style, and setting. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a mystery, yet at times plays as a comedy, anchored by phenomenal performances from Ralph Fiennes, newcomer Tony Revolori, and the massive A-list cast that Anderson assembled. F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, and Jason Schwartzman round out the cast of this retro heist. Anderson's films are always beautiful, and The Grand Budapest Hotel resembles a fancy pop-up book, as he utilizes 3 different aspect ratios to tell the multi layered story.

3. Interstellar - directed by Christopher Nolan
- There are few films made these days that can be classified as "epics", yet Nolan's latest masterpiece could easily be grouped into this category. At one time, Hollywood produced films that were massive in scope, yet featured such strong leading characters that the viewer would be impacted on a personal level. (Think Lawrence of Arabia, Ben Hur, Star Wars). Matthew McConnaughey brings this personal grounding to the vast, mind-numbing scientific world of wormholes and time travel. Nolan went above and beyond with everything in Interstellar, bringing in physicist Kip Thorne to help develop the black holes, wormholes, and scientific theory of the film. Hans Zimmer delivered a beautiful and sacred score that combines his signature blasting score with icy piano quartets and a hair raising pipe organ. When combined with the deeply emotional performances and heavy stakes to the events within, Interstellar had me hooked for every minute of its twisting 2 hrs and 45 min.

2. Birdman - directed by Alejandro G. IƱarritu
- Birdman is a work of art. While abrasive and clashing at times, Inarritu's film is shot to in such a way that the entire film is basically one long camera shot. Michael Keaton plays a struggling actor trying to transition from film to stage in order to "find himself" while at the same time dealing with family drama, coworker drama, and his identity as "Birdman." Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galiafanakis all deliver stellar supporting roles to Keaton's sure-to-be-nominated turn as Riggan. Even though Keaton swears this role is the furthest from his actual character, Birdman seems to echo his own life to a degree. Examining the smoke and mirrors of real life vs. acting, finding significance in life, and the struggle every artist feels, Birdman is surprisingly moving. The script is smart, the cinematography is ground breaking, and the acting is some of the best I have ever seen.

1. Boyhood - directed by Richard Linklater
- Finally, my number one film of 2014! While all of the aforementioned films are excellent in their own right, few films have impacted me as personally as Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Shot over the course of 12 years using the same actors, Linklater has captured what it feels like to grow up, what it feels like to love, to hurt, to grow, to move, to change, to become someone else. Writer and Director of such masterpieces as the Before Sunrise trilogy and Dazed and Confused, Linklater is no stranger to making films that pierce your soul deeply. As an existential director, he is constantly aware of the little moments in life that impact us and the way in which our relationships alter us as people. Frequent Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette give stellar performances as the struggling, divorced parents of Mason, played by the incredible Ellar Coltrane. The film never alerts the viewer to the changing of years, and is at times almost unnoticeable. This sucks the viewer in, as you gradually grow and change with Mason. Linklater never covers cliche moments in a boy's life, choosing to focus on the smaller and more intimate moments that truly shape an individual. As Mason ages, we see the struggle for his own identity slowly grow and then mature, as he transitions from a boy into a young man. At times Boyhood is unpleasant and heartbreaking to watch, but Linklater constantly reminds us that this is necessary to growth, and to healing. 


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Incarnation - A Christmas Meditation

BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 
- Matthew 1:23

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
- John 1:14


Of all the sacred aspects of Christmas, the incarnation of Christ remains the most fascinating and vital to me. That God Himself became flesh is a concept so ridiculous, so inconceivable, so scandalous, that it sets Christianity apart from all other religions. Rather than being a wise sage or a model example of morality, Jesus claimed to be God Himself in the flesh. 

The word "incarnation" itself means "in the flesh." Rather than having a God who kept His creation at a distance, He entered into the mess of humanity in order to redeem it. Some say this says a lot about how much God was willing to spend to restore us to Himself, but in reality it says more about his character than anything.

When Christ became human, he gave up his throne, his privilege being God, he gave up his comfort. This incarnation is the crux of our faith. How could Jesus take the punishment of sin for a people he didn't relate to? To be able to be our substitute on the cross, God would have to be man. He would have to be WITH us, in our midst, a mighty one to save. By becoming man, God demonstrated His monstrous love. Not only would He save us, but he would become us, relate to us, experience what we do so that we might have a real relationship with God through the person of Jesus.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." 
- Hebrews 4:15

This is the significance of Christ's identity as "Immanuel." As Matthew explains Isaiah 7:14, this name means "God with us" and He will save His people from their sins. The entire purpose of Jesus's earthly life is contained in this name - His deity, his relationship to us, and his purpose. Never before had mankind experienced this kind of radical intervention, this kind of scandal. Why should God almighty give up so much for created beings? Through such an act of love, we might be reunited in relationship with God, and the character and glory of Christ would be put on full display for the World to see.

"although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
- Philippians 2:6-11

Charles Spurgeon, one of history's most acclaimed preachers, taught on the incarnation of Christ on Christmas Eve of 1854:

"Oh, wondrous stoop of condescension, that our blessed Jesus should be girded with humility and stoop so low! Ah, if He stooped, why should He bend to such a lowly birth? And if He bowed, why should He submit, not simply to become the Son of poor parents, but to be born in so miserable a place?
Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no!"

The incarnation of Immanuel- God With Us- offers us hope. By his humility in coming to earth, Christ showed us that he was here to save even the lowly and the weak. As Spurgeon noted, "why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him?" The beauty of God With Us is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He died for us even in his birth in Bethlehem. Christ was crucified even when the shepherds made their way to the stable. 
There was never any plan B. Jesus' purpose in being born was always to die for the sins of the world and pay our sin debt. 

While we open our presents and spend time with friends, family, and loved ones this holiday season, let us remember the significance of the incarnation. Jesus gave us his life, both living and dying, so that we could have a relationship with God again. The sweetness of relationships with those we love are just a tiny glimpse of the pure relationship we will have with Jesus when we are with Him in heaven. Likewise, the loneliness felt by many at this time of year is a  reminder that this world is not our home.

Thank God that he didn't condemn us to the loneliness of this world, but entered into it Himself so that we would have hope beyond it! This is the joy of Christmas, the significance of the incarnation.

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing, vs. 2

By Steven Bowman,
December 24, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Power of a WORD: ex nihilo

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are endless.”- Mother Theresa

"but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing." - James 3:8-10

I have come to realize the power of the spoken word. From both a spiritual and an experiential point of view, it is apparent to me that our lives our shaped more than we know by the truths and lies spoken into them.

In a single word a man can be given the confidence to build kingdoms, and in a single word can be brought to ashes.

Any time I open my mouth I am given a choice - do I speak blessing or curse? Do I create life by my words or bring to destruction? Do I empower and embolden or discourage and disgust?

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits." - Proverbs 18:21

Even though we don't want to admit it, our words last far longer than we would like. The impact of our words last as long as the lives of those they affected, and then indirectly go on to influence others beyond this. Based on this, I feel a need to exercise caution in my words - both spoken and written. A facebook post can come to haunt you, just as a spoken curse can. Proverbs 10:19 says that "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent."

Let us not forget that by the WORD the world and all that is in it was created. Is Genesis 1 not filled with the testimony that "and God said, Let there be..." By HIS own design, the Word has the power to create. It has the power to speak things into existence. It is the channel by which relationships are built.

Words are bridges to community. Words are beacons of light in the dark.

By God's very nature, the WORD reflects both the power to create and the essence of communion with another. Christ, the way to being united with God, is Himself called "The Word." John 1 bears witness that not only "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (vs. 1), but that "Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (vs. 14).

So, what is the implication here?

If the Word of God is true in Romans 8:29 when it states that we "were predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son", then part of our purpose is to reflect the creative power and community found in The Word himself! (At this point I know your mind is starting to strain at the implications, and for that I don't apologize. This is good for you.)

When I speak as a follower of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, I have the capability within me to speak hope into existence by The Word. I have the capability to be a bridge to communion with the Father. By my words, THE WORD Himself will be known - by the Word proclaimed. When I speak truth into someone's life, that spiritual seed has the capability to begin movements, to inspire leaders, to change lives, to reverse trajectories leading to death. The Word that I bear can CREATE LIFE in a dead heart. By my lips I bear the power of resurrection.

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." - Romans 10:17

Why would I not speak, then? What a wondrous thing indeed to be a part of the imparting of life, the creation of a new thing.

The tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov. 12:18), it is a tree of LIFE (Prov. 15:4).

"Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body." - Proverbs 16:24

Until next time, Bowman.

(Part 2 coming eventually)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Life: Deleted

Part of my life was accidentally deleted this past Monday evening.
(Please, don't worry. I am quite alright now. Memories have been restored and my confidence is no longer crushed.)

All at once my iPhone crashed and everything after September 4th was no more.

Nothing major had happened to me in between September 4th and 29th, yet I was bothered. I tried to tell myself that this was stupid, yet was somehow really irked by the fact that all of my photographs, text messages, notes, voice memos, song ideas, etc., were completely erased.

Am I so addicted to my phone that I can't handle a slight purge? I do not think that this is the case.

I believe the frustration lies in the fact that I value communication, that I value the small moments in life, I value the seemingly throwaway messages that people send me, the random yet endearing photographs that help me to capture a fleeting moment for eternity.

So, when my text history for over 3 weeks was erased, those small reminders that someone cares were erased.
When my photos with friends, family, and those I care about were deleted, I felt like I was losing the moments that mean so much to me.
All the song ideas. Gone. Where is my creativity now? It must have been deleted as well.

Why do I care about such trivial things?

My mind is in a cloud of late, so I struggle with memory, I have trouble seeing things clearly. But those encouragements, those birthday texts, those photos with my best friend at a concert - those were reminders of what was and what is, and how I am blessed.

I don't want to lose sight of this. I don't want to forget. These small ebenezers - stones of remembrance - in my life, they help me to see God working. These encourage me to be present in the lives of those around me. I am reminded of the relationships that I have, that they are bearing fruit of an eternal weight.

To forget is to lose sight of the things that truly matter.
Oh my heart, remember. Hold fast to what is true, to what IS.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On Depression, Part 2: An Effective Mess

"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."
- John 9:1-3
 "Why me?" 

This is the quintessential question for hardships. We associate this question with negativity and suffering, yet I believe that there may be a spiritual aspect to be considered in the midst of the hardship. 

"Why not me?"
"Why has God in his foreknowledge and power allowed this to happen to me?"
"How can I be strengthened, others encouraged, and God glorified through this difficulty?"

I have begun to ask myself these three questions regarding my struggle with depression. The temptation is to allow the depression to prevent us from living life, to allow it to weigh us down to a degree that we purposefully withdraw from society. This stems mainly from the poor response of the church to those who suffer from depression. Rather than being supported, they are seen as being unable to serve because of their condition. (More on this to come!) 

The lie of depression is that you can't be effective, that you can't make an impact because of what you are struggling with. This lie is fueled by the aforementioned attitude that many have, resulting in a spiral of hopelessness. We listen to the lie, and sadly mold our self-image to it. We live our lives in a way that announces defeat. We live our lives believing that our depression disqualifies us from having any value to serve or make a difference.

What if, on the other hand, the presence of depression makes us more qualified to serve?

"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
- 2 Cor. 12:9-10

It is a strange and beautiful truth that in the midst of depression or hardship of any kind, the presence of Jesus can be seen and his touch felt more keenly. Just as our cracks reveal the treasure within, our emotional hurts reveal HIS emotional strength.

Despite our depression, we have a promise from Jesus himself that His power will be made PERFECT in our weakness. Even though our lives may be in complete disarray, HE still stands and holds all things together. (Colossians 1:17)
When our lives are seen from the outside, suddenly the perspective shifts.
No longer is our life simply a sad, ineffective mess.
In light of the Gospel, our life is a huge magnifying glass of the beauty of Christ.

While the enemy would have us believe that the depression we feel is evident in our lives, when we have Christ I firmly believe that those around us will see more of HIM if we hold fast. This is what Jesus referred to in John 9 when he stated that the purpose of the blind man's suffering was that "the works of God might be displayed in him."

Be encouraged brothers and sisters! Although you may feel hopeless in your depression, God is still working. Let us not forget that "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it!" 
We are slowly and painfully being molded into the image of Jesus, so that the lives of those around us might be eternally impacted.

"For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer."
- 2 Corinthians 1:5-6

It is a difficult truth to wrap my mind around, but sometimes the reason that God allows me to experience such intense difficulty at times is not because I will grow, or that eventually I will be prepared for ministry, but simply because someone else needs to be encouraged. If I have experienced depression, yet have hope, then I may be able to impart that same hope to someone else with a similar struggle.
This is true of ANY difficulty. Our God can redeem anything. There is no sin to great, or weight to heavy, that He cannot use for His glory.
For this I am thankful.

The questions are not "Am I effective?" or "Can Jesus still use me?" or "How does this make me feel?"  but
"HOW is He using me?" 

"It takes a crucified man to preach a crucified savior." - Stephen Olford

Let us keep our eyes on Christ!
Steven Bowman (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Part 3 coming soon 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Depression, Part 1: The Eye of the Storm

This post is part 1 in a series on depression. 

Since last winter, I have debated whether or not to write a post this deeply personal. On one hand, I can offer insight and encouragement to the many many people who suffer from depression, yet on the other hand I am baring my soul for all to see.

In the end, transparency wins out.

Who am I to withhold encouragement and support from those around me? At the end of the day, we are all humans - fighting the same fight, living life, dealing with trouble, navigating relationships, discerning the many voices yelling at us from within and without.

I want for people to realize that depression is a very real concern that has a very tangible spiritual connection.

Depression is often misunderstood, commonly defined incorrectly, and certainly avoided at all costs. For a person suffering from depression logic and rationale are often separate from the situation. There doesn't have to be a "trigger" or "root cause." In both circumstantial and biological depression symptoms can suddenly appear without warning, and in great severity. The feeling is almost as if your soul is being suffocated, your emotions compromised, and truth hazy because of the oppression being felt.

Depression attacks the person, regardless of who they are. It is an insidious evil that is one of the sad byproducts of a fallen world.

For a Christian growing up in the Bible belt, the mentality behind depression has generally been one of black and white naivety.
"If you are depressed, you can overcome it."
"If you address sin in your life, you will be healed."
"If you seek Jesus more, the supernatural joy of the Lord will overtake the depression."
This general mindset of medicinal legalism seeks to provide answers, yet all it does is give birth to more frustration.

For years I have struggled with varying levels of depression. Some bouts were definitely linked to health problems such as lack of sleep and a high level of stress; yet more recently my life circumstances have taken a beating, and along with them, my spirit. Depression is a very present reality for me now, constantly a struggle as I deal with ailing health and the frustrations connected. I eat healthily now, exercise, try to maintain my personal spiritual life, and yet I find myself time and time again scraping the bottom... barely able to function. It's not anyone else's fault, nor is it my own. It is one of the many symptoms of living in a fallen world.

It is so easy to ask myself what I am doing wrong, as if my depression were a punishment from the gods. Yet, I have come to realize several truths about depression.

1. I am not alone in my struggle with depression. One of the core problems with depression is the deep sense of isolation and loneliness one gets. This leads to terrible bouts and overwhelming feelings of abandonment when left in isolation. The feeling at times can be that "I am the only one who is suffering from this", yet this is far from the truth. There are MANY people around us who are struggling too. We are NOT alone in our struggle, nor are we abandoned. I have been blessed by an amazing best friend who understands the pain of depression, and a church body that makes it a point to check up on me and keep me from having to be alone when the depression is intense. Friendship is one of the most effective things against depression, and I believe it functions as a physical manifestation of Galatians 6:2 - "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." Just having a brother or sister walk through the shadows with you can bring so much comfort.

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." - Helen Keller


2. My depression does not reflect on my identity as a person. While it is so easy to fall into the lie that I am a worthless scumbag, depression can afflict those whom God uses mightily. In fact, He uses those whom hurt the most to accomplish some of the most significant works... 1 Corinthians 1 tells us that "God chose the humble things to shame the wise." Just because I struggle does not mean that I am worthless, or incapable of making an impact. My worth is established by the fact that God gave his only Son for me... no matter what struggles or difficulties I may face. In fact, I have recently pondered the idea that perhaps I am able to make MORE of an impact because of my difficulty. The common struggles in life create bonds with those who encounter the same issues, and are often God-given opportunities so that He may pour His love and grace into someone else's life through me. This leads me to point three...

3. God can still use my depression to bring about good. This truth is perhaps one of the hardest to understand. Throughout my personal experience I have found most of my frustration to lie in the fact that I was being hindered from ministering to others. My goal was to simply push through the depression so that I could get to the other side and get back to work. God has impressed on my heart, however, the fact that by embracing the struggle in this particular season of life, He can work through it to reach others in similar valleys. Sure enough, in the past year people have come to me from different corners of my life, reaching out for support and understanding. There is something about the common bond of hardship that brings people together in a supernatural way. Sometimes we just need to see how God is working despite our circumstances - especially when the circumstances are trials.

Romans 8:28 says that "All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." 
Through a Tim Keller sermon I heard recently, I realized that when Romans says "all things", that this includes depression.

Depression can be used by God for my good? What kind of ridiculous news is this?

At the end of the day, God in all of his foreknowledge has allowed our difficulties because they mold us and shape us into the kind of person that can make an impact on our world.
By our difficulties, God is working in those around us.
By our trials, God is making us more like Jesus.
By my depression, I am growing closer to God.

This IS encouraging.
I hope that you can be encouraged by this truth too.

Part 2 coming soon.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

[now what]

(originally written as a journal entry 8/16/14)

I have spent a good amount of time thinking, writing, and meditating on the ideas of Christian community, bearing burdens, perseverance, and the constants in our lives. I have memorized James chapter 1 with my best friend and participated in numerous discussions about its implications in daily life.

I still come to the end of all this and ask myself "now what?"

To be honest, its a bit frustrating.

I spent a good amount of time last night dwelling on this, trying to figure out exactly what the point was. Why do I write? Why do I spend time with people? Why do I read the Bible? Why do I even meditate on these things?

After a good amount of 'fretting and stewing' I realized that the answer lied in one of the verses that I had memorized in James.... "If anyone is a hearer of the Word, but not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror. For once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does" (vs. 23-25).

This is perhaps the problem that plagues much of Christendom today. We place so much emphasis on the mindless action, and none on the heart of the matter. Scripture is memorized by rote, church attendance becomes mundane, Christian fellowship is reduced to trite phrases, burdens are shoved underneath facades of robust faith.
Yet we miss the heart of the issue....

What does it matter if I memorize James if I fail to let it take hold in my life and I actually seek to apply it? How can I be transformed by the renewing of my mind if I don't allow my mind to be renewed?

I feel that many Christians are good at looking intently at the perfect law, and even understanding the importance of it, yet they fail in the phrase "abiding by it."

Abiding by it.

We abide in an abode. We make our dwelling there. We live there.
The implication is that our lives return to this place by default. The perfect law of liberty - the Word - becomes living and active.

I find that this is more for the benefit of others than it is our own selves. While it certainly puffs ourselves up to memorize scripture and be "good Christians", when we apply the Word we hear then suddenly all of those around us are affected. The paradigm shifts and the Gospel is realized in our lives.

We glorify Jesus in this, we edify those around, we grow ourselves to be more like Jesus, and the Gospel is actually VISIBLE. This is what it truly means to be an "effectual doer."

Can you imagine what would happen if we started asking "now what?" once we read scripture? What then do we do? How do we apply?

Application is where faith becomes real.
Until we obey our faith is merely theory.

What does it look like to be an effectual doer - to abide by the Word?
What blessings are we missing out on because we fail to take God's Word as truth?

May we not forget that "this man will be blessed in what he does."

Now what?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Constant


While our town becomes a city 
We won't let it be erased.
Empires rise, empires fall
Will you be my constant through it all?
- Jason Mraz, Quiet


In a constantly shifting world we fear change.
It uproots us from what we know, forces us to face the future, and removes our sense of grounding.
In cases of life disasters many people are emotionally devastated simply because they have lost their footing in life, having nothing to grasp amidst the chaos.

As humans, we must have a constant, an unchanging element to which we can grab hold, else we will not be able to withstand the certain battering and loss of footing experienced throughout life.

What are these constants though? 

In a scientific sense the constant can simply be a symbol, yet in the shared experience of life surely there are defined constants....

Most of us grab onto "little c" constants such as family, friends, our church. I'm sure we have all sought the company of a close friend after a rough day, or have called a parent or family member to vent.... These people, these constants, offer us some sort of safety - we know that we can count on them even when life is giving us lemons. 

What do you do though when your constant leaves you? Few things are as jarring as being abandoned by a person you thought you could rely on, or being cut off from those you love. We were not meant to live life alone, so when we find ourselves on shaky ground, a companion offers a sense of stability... Even if only temporarily.

The show LOST captured the desperation and beauty in the concept of "the constant" through the character Desmond. For him, his very life depended on having contact with the woman he loved, Penny. I've always been struck by the divine nature of their relationship, the way that she literally saved his life. To a degree this is analogous to the depth and importance of the constants we experience in our own lives.

I could write for hours about the "little c" constants , yet I find myself more and more dwelling on the "big C" Constant in our lives. This Constant is the difference between life and death, between hope and despair, between relationship and isolation. While constants in our lives are great and truly important, they are finite - unable in themselves to be a solid grounding. The "little c" constants get their purpose and power from the "big C" Constant only. 

So what is this Constant?

I refer to the person of Jesus.
Jesus Himself.

Not a picture of him created by the American church for the sole purpose of perpetuating guilt... But the God-man Himself. 

I have been struck by the image of power ascribed to Christ as written in Colossians 1:15-17. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

In Him all things hold together.

This statement carries with it confidence and power. There is a certainty in the person of Jesus that guarantees us that no matter what kind of circumstance is encountered, Christ himself has absolute control over them. With variables shifting wildly, the Constant remains untouched, unchanged, unmoved.

These attributes of the God-man are what give us our assurance of salvation.
We are secure because of who Jesus is. We are secure because of the unchanging nature of His LOVE.

Love is the spiritual bond more powerful than anything else on earth. A God-originated love cannot be destroyed and provides us with a heavenly identity and purpose. Romans 8 ends with the reminder that "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vs. 38-39).

Christ is our Constant because He is LOVE.

As a natural response, our "little c" constants are such because there is a reflection of this divine love within them. These constants are built on relationships, and the strongest ones are those which are most selfless and most Christlike.

The more you are surrounded with Christ's love, and little images of that love through the constants in our lives, the more we are able to endure despite the tumult. Surprise, surprise! Of course this would tie back into the idea of bearing one another's burdens.

Let's face it, we all need constants in our lives - but not because they in themselves are powerful. Rather, these constants reflect the image of the Constant and unchanging One. These constants provide us with stability through their love, because it is of a divine origin. The love experienced through our constants is unbreakable, unshakable, if it from God. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hold Your Ground

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and scattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you STAND, Men of the West!”
- Aragorn, The Return of the King
                                              
“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” – Hebrews  10:39

There is something daunting about a fight. Something within us shudders when things go wrong in our lives. Our very souls testify to the fact that we were not created to be at war, yet fight a war we must. Ever since the fall in Eden, man has had to fight. We fight to survive. We fight to maintain honor. We fight to keep the enemy at bay.
We must “Hold our ground.”

Perhaps the most frustrating fights we will face though, is the war with our own selves. There is no enemy capable of breaking us down as quickly and powerfully as our own mind. Our minds are a battlefield, our thoughts the mines – ready to detonate at the slightest jostling. Perhaps this is why Paul refers to “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We can never trust our own thoughts blindly.

War is ugly.

I think that in the Christian life we often forget this. There is a battle going on WITHIN us as the enemy seeks to CONTROL us. Ephesians 6:12 points out that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Yes, there is evil in the world. Yes, we will have conflict with others. But the most dangerous enemy is the one that we allow into our homes.

I have come to the realization that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to fighting depression. Yet, at the same time, I have hope. I have the Holy Spirit. This is how I can have the confidence that 1 John 4:4 conveys –“Little children, you are from GOD and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

The truth is that while the enemy is close, our ally is a little bit closer! This is why Paul told the church at Ephesus to “Be STRONG in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”

There is an element of standing firm, of fighting, that we seldom address in modern Christianity’s search for unity and “love”. If we are to expect chains to be broken, strongholds to be purged from our lives, then there has to be a moment where we take hold of the truth of Scripture and fight back! Scripture is clear – if we resist the devil then he will flee! If we continue in our faith, God will be faithful! Whatever the fight, HE has overcome and gives us the ability to be victorious by the blood of Christ.

HOLD YOUR GROUND.

I want to be the kind of person that Hebrews 10:39 describes. “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” So often the temptation will be to shrink back when the going gets tough. I myself find that when the enemy brings up my insecurities, the initial response is to want to retreat into my shell. When conflict appears on the horizon, the core of my being that hates pain pushes me away.  Yet there has never been a battle won because someone decided to retreat. If anything, battles are lost this way. Hebrews confirms the spiritual parallel – those who shrink back will be destroyed.

God increase my faith! This is the only prayer I can think to pray. No I do not like conflict, no I do not like pain; yet if I rise up in the power of God, I will be victorious.

Mid 20th century Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel describes this as taking a leap of action rather than a leap of thought. “He is asked to surpass his needs, to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does.” Heschel believed that through the ecstasy of deeds (or holding our ground) we learn to be certain of what he called “the here-ness of God.” Simply put, our faith is only going to grow when we put weight on it.

At times there must be a fight before we can experience victory. At times there must be pain before we can experience love. 2 Peter 4:12 reminds us to “not be surprised at the fiery trial, when it comes upon you to test you.” It is to be EXPECTED in this life.

BUT, God in his foreknowledge and wisdom has allowed it – because He knows that it will work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Yes my mind is a battlefield, but thank God that He gives me the ability to overcome. Thank God that He fights my battles by the power of the Holy Spirit.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cracked Vessels

“but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” 
-1 Corinthians 1:27-29

“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own."
 - Madeline L’Engle

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

            I must be honest as I write this time. I do not think that I am effective as a Christian, as a friend, as a teacher, as a human. Bound by my own weakness, I find myself seduced by the lie that if I don’t have my own life together then I will be unable to make an impact on the lives of others. In this mindset the self is bearer of all power to change a life, and is not only responsible for himself, but for those around him. I can buy into this when I have my life in order, but what about when my life is in shambles?

It is an unfortunate message that so many people, including myself, are buying into – that you merely learn from your struggles, you grow from them, so that once you have passed through them you can be stronger.

If I am to believe what 1 Corinthians says though, the strength and power occurs during the struggle. In the very literal sense, “His power is made perfect in weakness.

My brokenness is a tool. I finally see it. I am not supposed to endure my struggle but embrace it! Sue Monk Kidd has ministered to me greatly through her book “When the Heart Waits.” Through her testimony of trials and periods of waiting, she learned that “God is found not in the erasing of an experience, but in the embracing of it.” Latching onto the metaphor of a butterfly going through metamorphoses, Kidd understands that the pain in life is how God shows himself in the most grandiose of ways.

“We seem to have focused so much on exuberant beginnings and victorious endings that we’ve forgotten about the slow, somewhat tortuous, unraveling of God’s grace that takes place in the “middle places.””

Indeed, I have forgotten about the unraveling of God’s grace. Yet it is everywhere around me. 
God’s grace is inside me, carrying me through the valleys.
God’s grace is around me, in His church, ministering to my needs.
God’s grace is beside me, in companionship of close friends.
God’s grace is in my mouth, encouraging fellow struggling Christians through my own supernatural endurance.
God’s grace is above me, anointing my life as worthy to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
(I believe that yes, suffering for the Gospel can also be in a local, personal suffering context)
God’s grace is beneath me. His promises and his Word sustain me.

Beautifully indeed, I find that I am MORE of an encouragement in my silent suffering than in my strength (and this is NOT by my own power).
In my silence, God is deafening. Perhaps my own voice was drowning him out. Who knows what all He intended to say through my life that I was too proud to allow him to say.

The question used to be "Why". Why does God allow me to go through such valleys?

The question now is "How". How does He do it? How does God manage to use such seemingly bleak situations to have such a far-reaching impact? Even though I find much difficulty in ministering, I find that it is genuine now.
I relate in a pure sense, I sympathize realistically, and I connect spiritually.
I read a Rumi quote that says “Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.”

I see Jesus in every situation now. I must rely on Him, else I would collapse.
Somehow or another I keep going.

I keep living.
I keep breathing.
I keep celebrating beauty.
I keep loving Jesus.
I see Him everywhere.
He is literally all around me.

Grace is like a lens by which we can see the image of our risen Lord.

I find myself broken frequently. Yet, if scripture is true, this brokenness allows Jesus to be seen more clearly. So perhaps what I though was weakness is actually a hidden strength?

My depression, my mental fatigue, my physical pain – what if they were all conduits for God to show his grace in an even more tangible way? Not to me but through me?

Maybe that’s why God allows such weakness to exist, so that he can love more perfectly. Love without sacrifice is merely lip-service. Love is only experience through a PERSON, and if I am going to be a person who claims Christ then doggone it, let me be a person who demonstrates LOVE.

I love the idea that people are not living life, but ARE life…. This is true if you stop and think about it. So in this mindset then I need to ask, as Abraham Heschel so brilliantly put it –
“How should I live the life that I am?”
Will I waste years of my life trying to merely endure pain? Yes, I will grow from it, but once I have reached the other side (or IF I have reached the other side) then I still have lost those years of endurance.

OR, will I embrace my cross, choosing to LIVE through and with pain. I may live through pain the way Christ was present mentally every second of his passion. I may live through pain knowing that it connects me on a deeper spiritual level to every other suffering person in existence. I may live through pain knowing that it enables my life to be a pure conduit by which God can work.

When I choose to LIVE through pain, then LOVE wins.

            

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The futility of trying hard

Exhaustion is wiping us out.
The combination of daily grind and spiritual pressure pushes down on us until the weight of our own actions ends up crushing our very being. 
In my battles against depression I have bought into the lie that the best way to combat it is to try harder to work for The Lord. Logically it made sense. After all, when I focus on making an impact and serving others my eyes are removed from myself, right?

Somewhere along the way I bought into the lie that God just wants my very best, and that for me to be a good Christian I needed to try harder to be better when I felt worse.
So naturally, for a person with nearly chronic depression and illness, this could only lead to implosion.

What was described as "my want-to being broke" had hit. Motivation to serve The Lord was waning, the drive to pursue Christ was slowing, and my level of frustration was mounting.

The go-to fixer for depression was trying to read more scripture, to get out and serve, and to spend more time journaling.
I've been told this by ministers that I respect, yet it all neglects one crucial element.

Christ Himself.

There is healing and peace found in being still in the presence of God. When I cease striving I am able to more clearly see God. Although my actions impact others, they do not draw me closer to God, and they sure as heck don't heal depression.

I wish that more people realized that it is ok to stop for a little while. To simply sit in the presence of God. It is not selfish to tend to our own souls. How can we share of a Jesus who promises rest when our own lives display a frantic and panicked lifestyle?

Jesus does not want us to live good lives. 
He wants to do that for us.
In fact He has already done that, and continues to do it through people.

These people are those who have surrendered though. For them, their Christian character is an afterthought. They don't have to try hard to do anything, as the love that is at the core of their being fuels everything.

Even churches teach this false gospel. 
If you are a good Christian, if you want victory over your struggles, if you want peace in depression, then go to church more, pray more, read the Bible more.
Instead, I believe that the key is not to be a "better Christian" or to kick our struggles, or to be rid of depression. I believe that that the whole point of everything is for Christ to be visible in it.

The bigger the cracks, the more visible the light within.
It takes a completely broken vessel for the light to shine unhindered.

Instead of battling depression with more scripture, I think I might just stop trying, and rest. Maybe there is truth in the scriptures that say to "Cease striving" and know that He is God.

Maybe there is real healing to be found by just falling as a prodigal son into the arms of the father rather than trying to explain ourselves.

Maybe we can learn from Jesus himself if we allow ourselves to be Mary - simply sitting at his feet, instead of a Martha who is so consumed with action that she misses the man Himself.

I certainly don't want to miss Jesus because I was is busy trying to please Him....

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fake god

It bothers me that so many Christians worship a fake God.

Rather than worshiping the God of the Bible as He has revealed himself, they have fashioned for themselves a God comprised of their own fears, their own insecurities, and their own ignorance.

Instead of a God of scandalous grace, we see a god of conditions. 
Yet conditional love is not biblical love.
Biblical love is a sacrificial love, a love that sees a perfect God redeeming horribly imperfect and undeserving people.

The scandalous God of the bible shocks; for He associates with the unclean, the impure, the broken, in order to bring beauty out of pain. 

The god of religion worshipped by so many requires action that measures up. Rather than relying on the Holy Spirit, this god of deeds only accepts worship when the worshiper manages to keep his own life in check. This god accepts nothing less than our perfection, yet somehow misses the fact that Jesus' perfection has been applied to us. 

What misery there is in a life that constantly seeks approval through actions. 

I feel that the god we think we know is a projection of the relationships we have with our own earthly fathers, mothers, and authority figures. 
Where a person has been abandoned by his father, he has issues trusting in Yahweh.
Where a person has been abused, he believes that suffering in life is punishment from a harsh god.
Where a person has been withheld grace, he desperately tries to serve God out of the fear of hell.

Following Christ out of fear of hell is not liberation. I can't even call it Christianity.
Because the Christian God does not scare his children into loving Him.
No.
He quietly embraces his children. 
There is no doubt because there is love.

This God does not need eloquent theology or complicated treatises to explain His love. He simply LOVES.

By action, by the cross, by grace, by mercy, by patience, by pursuing us.

Why would we want to follow any god other than this?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Returning, Wordless

"(Prayer) is not an escape but a return to one's origins." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

I will be the first to admit that prayer is difficult for me. As much as I long to talk to and have fellowship with Yahweh God, I find my words gloriously inadequate for communicating the deepest longings and desires of my heart.

Despite this, I try anyway. Perhaps I am reminded somewhere in my subconscious of Romans 8:26, in which we are told that the Holy Spirit "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" when we don't know how to pray.

And I must confess- more often than not these days, I don't know how to pray. 

I find prayer at times to be a reminder to my soul of who I am and who God is. Something about that contrast leaves me in awe and more comfortable with submitting my requests before God's throne. The more that I realize I truly am not in control, the less I actually attempt to take control. 

Prayer is not so much a plea for help as it is a return home. The prodigal running into the extended arms of the Father. Prayer truly is less about receiving what we ask for, and more about who we are asking. Prayer draws us closer to God as conversation draws a couple together. Prayer knits our hearts with God, surrounding us with his supernatural embrace when we can't speak. 

Prayer is how we experience God as Abba Father.
We, the wounded youth, run to him for safety, for comfort, for love. Does he heal our wounds? Sometimes yes, but more often he doesn't.

Yet this can be a blessing.
Is it not a good place, to be broken in the arms of God?

The absurdity is apparent even as I write. Yet what other conclusion is there?

Either God is loving and it is good for me that I was afflicted that I might draw closer to him, 
Or God is calloused and I truly am alone.
Yet his arms remain open.

I cannot see them physically, but I can see them spiritually through His promises, through fellowship and companions with other believers. 

Prayer acknowledges that I believe this to be true.
Prayer acknowledges the pain.
Prayer acknowledges the hope.
Prayer acknowledges the presence.

Prayer does not allow us an escape from our problems, it merely brings us back to our spiritual home and our heavenly Father.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

God of the low places

"In our relation to the immediate we touch upon the most distant." - Abraham Joshua Heschel 

Most "Christians" would agree that the blessings in their life are gifts from God that show his grace and love. These same people would also agree that the valleys in their life are the result of living in a sinful world, and that God will help us through so that we emerge on the other side as stronger versions of our former selves.

For years I agreed with this general philosophy of joy and pain, thanking God for his blessings and striving to endure through difficult times. After the 7th year of chronic illness and 3rd year of severe depression though, I began to question these assumptions about God. After all, I follow Him. I serve him, teach bible classes, invest in younger guys, strive to live a loving and blameless life. Despite all my striving though, I found myself more messed up and feeling further from God than I cared to be. 

Suddenly I questioned my salvation, my effectiveness in ministry, my worth, my purpose. Everything I had felt was so certain was now shattered. Depression ruined the mind that was once so outgoing, illness ruined the hands that were once so worshipful. 

Yet in this circumstance, I am able to see God most clearly. The pure forms and expressions of his character. His goodness and mercy, his companionship. 

And through this I am forced to worship God - yet not the image of God propagated by legalism and guilt. The one, true God. 
There is something about being helpless on your face before your Creator that makes you rethink your entire existence. Suddenly a new question emerges.

What if the valleys in our lives are grace gifts from God?

Preposterous.
Yet oh so gracious.
How else can a man learn to depend completely on God, aside from control being completely wrenched from his hands? 

I would rather be stuck in a valley that God gave me, rather than stuck in a valley of my own circumstance. Even if painful, I would at least be in the epicenter of God's sovereignty. I think of the incredible faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated when they went through the flames of persecution in the book of Daniel. Rather than giving them strength or encouraging them, God chose to go through the fire with them himself. 

I wonder at times, as David did in the Psalms, where God is in the low places. Thank God though, that not only is He powerful over the valleys, but He walks through them with us. 

As we experience the valleys we grow, our faith grows, our mind grows, our dependence on God grows. We are forced to acknowledge that only God himself has power over our circumstances.

Our prayer is not for us to have the strength to endure, but for us to realize that we DON'T have the strength. I can do all things through CHRIST who strengthens me, not by my own ability.

This is the application of what it means to have faith like a child. We completely let go, and allow God to do what only He can do. So what if we end up with a few scars? Scars are reminders that there was a struggle, and that there was healing. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fearing Closeness, or the Barriers that Divide

Barriers are necessary in life.
It is crucial to create barriers between ourselves and the things that cause us to become distracted, the things that cause us to stumble, and the things that might hinder us from loving well.

Yet, barriers have become commonplace in our society. 
These walls protect us.
They keep our image intact.
They perpetuate the lie that we not only tell the world, but ourselves.
We hide behind them, unwilling to know and be known.

These barriers prevent us from having to be real, from having to be vulnerable. 
Vulnerability is crucial for bonding to occur. For us to be able to relate to other people, then it is necessary for us to be human as well, is it not?

Despite this, we still hide behind our iPhones and Facebook accounts, pretending that our worlds are intact. 
In the moment it may seem best. "Don't be known as a complainer!" people might say. 

This may seem logical, yet it alienates the people who struggle even further. Rather than extending arms to the other people around us who bear burdens, it forces us each into isolation with our own pains - essentially sentencing us into imprisonment with our own chains.

Do we not realize that part of the key to freedom lies in community?

We will never be able to be free if we are fed the lie that "I am the only one with this struggle." 
The amount of depression and self-defeat is staggering. You feel that you are an anomaly, that you are the most wicked of souls.

Why would we ever subject another person to such pain? The pride that maintains our own image and our own ego not only keeps us from being free ourselves, but it hurts those closest to us by lying to them about their own struggles.

Brothers and sisters! The ground is level at the foot of the cross!
Can we not be open with each other for once? Will it KILL you to admit that you have problems too? Let us be a BLESSING to one another! (see my post on this

Besides this, Christ within grants the strength and grace to be able to accomplish this. It is our privelege and PURPOSE as believers to comfort and bear burdens. Galatians says that we are to "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." 
But we are also told that Christ "comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:4) 

The whole PURPOSE to our pain is to minister to others! Yes, we will be refined as well, but since when is the Christian's life about himself? Just as Christ did not come to be served but to serve, our mission as well is each other.

Some of the deepest pain lies in isolation, yet some of the purest joy lies in freedom!
Why are we so afraid of ourselves? So afraid of what people think, what people will say, what they will do... Let us instead start a movement of grace and mercy. Show each other what true love in Christ looks like. 

1 John 4:18 is a sobering reminder of this:
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

What do we have to be afraid of? 
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

I am burdened and overwhelmed with passion on this issue. I want to see my brothers and sisters encouraged, to learn how to open up and be vulnerable.
I truly believe that when this happens, we will see a great spiritual awakening that has not been seen in decades.