35 Years of Faith in Jesus: Why I’m Still A Christian

I have been a follower of Jesus longer than He actually lived on the earth.

That’s a humbling thought to me.

I was 16 when the journey began, birthed at the height of pimples, hormones and insecurity. A lot has happened since then, and if I could tally up my failures, mistakes, and sins—the things that would make you wonder if I really was a Christian—I could fill 10,000 ledger books.

And yet, here I am, 35 years later, still clinging to the hope of forgiveness and heaven and eternal life in Jesus Christ alone.

With all the discouragements and temptations I’ve experienced, and all the mistakes and sins I’ve committed, what made my faith stick? From a human perspective (setting God’s power and grace aside for the moment) how can I account for the fact that I am convinced more than ever that Jesus is who He said He was: the Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Savior? How can I account for the fact that I still believe in Jesus, and that my faith has deepened and grown?

In answer, I see five significant events and experiences—call call them milestones—that have led me to where I am after these 35 years. Five things have contributed, more than anything else, to who and what I am today: a middle-aged Christian who sees no reason to abandon faith in Jesus.

I’d like to tell you what they are, and recommend them to you.

✣ I SURRENDERED TO JESUS

Surrender, yes. Not a wish or whim. Not a vague belief that there is a God. I’m talking self-abandon. I admitted the bad news about myself, and put my all my hope in the good news about Jesus.

The bad news was that one day I would face God’s judgement, and the evidence to condemn me would be overwhelming. But, thank God for the good news—that Jesus, the mediator, would exchange His perfect record for mine (Read 2 Corinthians 5:21). I still sin a lot. But God forgives again and again because I have an advocate whose work on the cross paid for all my sins past, present, and future. And over the years, He makes me more and more willing and able to follow Him.

What difference does it make?

Jesus is my hope of eternal life, my hope of heaven. I hope for a coming kingdom in which Christ reigns, where sin is banished, and I am free from sin, death, and misery. He is my only hope. But, it is a certain hope, that gives meaning and purpose to the last 35 years.

I recommend you place your hope of heaven in Christ alone.

✣ I MARRIED DAWN

I married a Christian girl who was committed to following Jesus, even though it required her to forgive my sins against her, and repent of her sins against me.

What difference does it make?

Nothing is as comforting and encouraging as living with someone who will love you in spite of yourself—someone who, in mutual dependence, will pray with you, or for you anytime, anywhere, through everything.

I recommend you be such a Christian, like Dawn, always ready forgive and pray with the one you love.

✣ I STUDIED THEOLOGY

Another way to say this is, I studied the Bible with the help of great Christians who studied the Bible better than I ever could. And this helped me learn to think the Bible’s thoughts after it.

Studying theology and church history helped me learn how the Bible addresses the big questions of life. When your back is up against a wall, you want to know that the thing you’re staking your life on actually makes sense.

What difference does it make?

Studying theology and church history gives me a broader perspective on life and faith, beyond the current trends and fashions of the church. You might say, it shapes an eternal perspective. It helps me perceive errors in my faith and life, and in the world around me. Studying theology tills the soil of my heart and mind, which the Holy Spirit waters to raise a harvest.

I recommend you be such a lover of the Bible that you make a life-long study of it. Study it well with the help of the great Christian scholars and teachers throughout history so that your faith will not be too much a product of your own time.

✣ I EMBRACED CALVINISM

When I was 18, I was told not to believe it. And, in fact, I didn’t want to believe it. The theological system commonly known as Calvinism (the proper label is Reformed Theology) raises uncomfortable, inconvenient questions that I didn’t want to think about. But I did. I studied it out. And finally at age 25, I drove down the last nail in the coffin of my intellectual objections to Calvinism, and I took the Bible at its word.

What difference does it make?

Letting the Bible speak for itself, and not bow to what I wanted it to say, allows it to make sense of itself. More than that, it makes sense of me, indeed, it makes sense of the world.

If you want to make sense of life and death and suffering, if you hunger for the peace of a real assurance of salvation, if you want to experience the full freedom of belonging to Christ, then I recommend you study and embrace the theology of the Reformation, which I believe, most fully allows the Bible to speak for itself.

✣ I BECAME A “ONE ANOTHER”

So much of what we call the Christian life requires the language of one another. Love one another. Serve one another. Forgive one another. Comfort one another. Strengthen one another.

So, how can I truly live the Christian life if I isolate myself? If my highest values are my independence and privacy how can I participate in the life that comes from Christ? It can’t be done.

That’s why I attend church. It’s why I’m faithful and regular. It’s why I’m a member of a congregation. It’s also why I’m committed to meeting with a small group of men for mutual support, prayer, teaching, and accountability. I need them. And they need me.

What difference does it make?

Being a “one another” gives me the comfort of belonging. It provides a community of friends who care about me, and whom I can care for. It gives me a band of brothers to walk with, shoulder to shoulder, as we follow our Savior. He calls us by name, individually. But, He places us into one family that His love may multiply among us.

If you want to follow Christ, if you want the comfort of belonging to Him, I recommend you not try to follow Him alone. He won’t have it. He will make you a one another, and you will praise Him for it.

These are the five most important milestones in my spiritual journey. They have contributed the most, so they’re what I value most. I recommend them to you, and I hope you’ll recommend them to your friends by sharing this post. And please let us know about your significant milestones in the comments below.

God’s grace to you,

Lon

The Best Natural and Spiritual Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

The love of my life suffers with anxiety and depression.

If you have ever experienced them, you know suffer is the right word. And often, you don’t know why you’re suffering.

Dawn occasionally experiences physical pain or crawling skin. Sometimes she can’t focus. She cries a lot. Sometimes life overwhelms her. She may struggle to make decisions. Sometimes she can’t quiet the voices of guilt or irrational fears.

And yet, she’s the bravest person I know. She never quits. She always hopes, trusts, loves, perseveres, and serves. She is a joy to live with.

How does she do it? How does she manage her depression year after year, day-in and day-out, usually without medication?

The answer is that she’s developed her own “medicine cabinet” of natural and spiritual ways to manage her anxiety and depression.

If you’re beginning to sink into depression for the first time, whether situational or chemical, if you’re anxious and scared and can’t understand why you feel this way, if you just don’t know what to do and you want to avoid meds…

Here’s a glimpse inside the medicine cabinet of one who suffers like you. Dawn and I both hope you find light at the end of the tunnel, but until then, here’s twelve proven ways to help you survive the darkness.

[Please note that appropriate medication is sometimes the best and necessary strategy. Dawn was on medication from 2002-2003 and we often talk about the possibility of needing it again.]

1. Get Outside

Look around at all God has made, city, suburb or country. Open your senses to the physical world and let a bit of wonder flicker in your mind. Natural settings are most wonder-inspiring, so if you live in a city try to find a park.

2. Drink Water

You need it to survive in the best of times. How much more in the worst? Drink lots of water, and let it be the main thing you drink—much more than dairy, coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol. How much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is: you could probably use a glass of water right now. Your mind and heart will thank you.

3. Exercise Daily

Seriously. Exercise is your secret weapon for boosting your mood. Do light exercise like a brisk walk (not a mosey) for 20-30 minutes every day. Three days a week substitute a more challenging work out for at least 30 minutes.

4. Keep Routine

Use whatever tools you like to create a simple routine for your days and nights. This will give you a sense of control and predictability to combat the chaos in your head. Try calendar appointments, or a to-do list, or learn to say “no” graciously.

5. Eat Protein

Protein is a natural mood stabilizer and is available naturally in quinoa, beans, legumes, tofu, eggs, dairy, nuts, and meat. Protein is most effective for your mind and body when you eat a little at every meal. If you are fighting depression it’s extra important to get protein with breakfast.

6. Avoid Stimulants

Be careful about sugars and caffeine; they really mess with your brain chemistry. Pay attention to how they affect you, when, to what extent. You may need to find a substitute for that late night pan of brownies and morning cup o’ joe.

7. Sleep Enough

Not too much. Not too little. Either extreme can leave you foggy and affect your mood. Be as consistent as possible with bedtime and rising time (aka, create a routine).

8. Get Support

You need someone who “gets you.” You need someone you can trust with how you feel: a counselor; a spouse, a friend; a support group; anyone who will be supportive and non-judgmental. Don’t let embarrassment rob you of the wonderful help it can be just to tell someone how you feel.

9. Pursue a Hobby

Do stuff. Stay active. There is such satisfaction in performing simple tasks like knitting or gardening. What about playing an instrument? Getting involved in a sports league? Joining a book club? Any brain-engaging hobby will do, and group hobbies like joining a community band or a basketball league have the added benefit of combining #8 and #9.

10. Limit TV

You want your brain engaged. TV puts your brain in a passive mode and isolates you at the same time. This isn’t helpful for your depression, no matter how good the escape feels at the moment. It’s especially important to not let late-night TV disrupt your routine (#4) and sleep (#7). Here’s how we tame our TV viewing.

11. Meditate on Scripture

Christian meditation is simply focused thinking about what God has said to us in the Bible. If the Bible is unfamiliar to you, here’s tips on how to get started reading the Bible. Three specific kinds of promises God gives to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, can be very helpful when you are suffering with depression:

❯ Promises related to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of suffering. (for example: Isaiah 43:1-3)

❯ Promises related to finding meaning and purpose in the midst of suffering. (for example: Romans 8:26-30)

❯ Promises related to the hope of eternal deliverance from suffering. (for example: Romans 8:18)

12. Study Theology

Dawn says this has been huge for her, and I can say the same. Nothing anchors your mind like a deeper apprehension of the greatness of God. Even Bible authors meditated on the greatness of God during their difficult times (for example: Psalm 77:11-13).

Get good books on the nature and work of God and the person and work of Christ. Try studying the Westminster or Heidelberg confessions of faith and catechisms. For a modern and accessible resource, try the New City Catechism online or for iPad (Read my review). When you understand the chief end of man (Westminster Q1), or your only hope in life and in death (Heidelberg/New City Q1), you will see the reason for an everlasting hope.

That’s 12 of the best natural and spiritual ways we know to manage anxiety and depression. I know you want a cure, a fix. But, I’m afraid sometimes managing is the best that can be achieved in our average lives. (Dawn knows all about that.)

But remember, God is great! Oh, how that makes a difference if you belong to Him.

If you don’t yet see how that makes a difference, let me encourage you to think more about what it must mean to belong to a loving, sovereign, wise, completely involved and invested heavenly Father. It means you have a reason to live, because He has a reason for you to live, forever.

Other Resources

❯ Your Anxiety Is Not a Sin (on AnneMarieMiller.com)

Ten Natural Depression Treatments (on WebMD)

❯ Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression (on HelpGuide.org)

❯ Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (on Amazon.com)


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Surviving When Suicide Seems Like a Friend

A few months ago I posted 10 Useful Things You Can Do When Someone You Love Wants to Dig a Hole–And Die In It about Dawn’s struggle with depression.

In that post I shared the story of how Dawn came to the point in her life where she began to see suicide as a solution, not a problem. Here’s an excerpt describing how she felt about suicide at that difficult time in 2002:

“One day during all this, Dawn told me how she fantasized about digging a hole in the back yard, about how she would lie down in the hole. She told me how warm and welcome it would feel to lie down in that hole, and die.”

life preserver

Today, I want to tell a bit more about that story in order to share a few survival lessons that apply to all of us, whatever struggles we may face.

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