Sunday, October 29, 2017

1 Kings 19:1-8 - Depression

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying,

“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree.  And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”  And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.

And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”  And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.  And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  

And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

In 1835 a man visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from a lack of sleep. He couldn't eat… he avoided his friends… He feared he was on the verge of a mental breakdown.

The doctor examined him and found that he was in EXCELLENT physical condition. Concluding that his patient just needed to have “a change of scenery,” the physician told him about a circus in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in the aisles.

"You must go and see him," the doctor advised. "Grimaldi is the world's funniest clown. He'll make you laugh and CURE your sadness."

"No," replied the despairing man, "he can't help me. You see, I am Grimaldi!"

Do YOU suffer from depression?  If so, you are NOT alone.  In a recent survey, 60% of respondents anonymously admitted to struggling with bouts of depression.  And THAT’S what makes it such a difficult problem  so many feel they can only talk about it anonymously.  

One of the worst parts of struggling with depression is the inability to talk about it.  We are afraid of being judged if we share.  And with good reason – people don’t know what to DO with it.  

One survey asked if they or someone in their family battled depression, and those who responded ‘YES’ were asked to suggest a likely cause of the depression.  43% said it was LIKELY the result of mental or emotional WEAKNESS.  

Is that what YOU think this is???  As IF they can HELP IT??”  

If the very people who love us assume that we are partly to blame for our struggles – no wonder depressed people refuse to share.

Let me bring a little TRUTH to the discussion:

You are NOT somehow LESS THAN others.

Some of the most talented people in the world have been those who have struggled with depression.  And It isn’t necessarily a spiritual problem, either.  Great men of the Bible… like David, Job, Jonah, and HERE IN OUR TEXT – the extraordinary prophet Elijah, suffered debilitating depression.

STILL, the church, the supposed HAVEN for sufferers, is NOT a safe place for those who struggle with depression.  Throughout church history, people have felt the liberty to share about the “dark times” and how they trusted the Lord in the midst of a trial. But churches today often make people feel that talking about our problems is not healthy.  Like it makes the FAITH look bad.  So we continue putting up a front in order to keep our “perfect” image in tact - all the while, BEHIND that ‘perfect’ facade are broken people on the verge of giving up.

ONE of the things that makes helping depressed people so hard for the pastor, is the struggle of discerning whether this problem is physical, emotional, or spiritual? Can this person find relief through a deeper experience with Christ, OR will it only be impacted through medication and counseling?

“Did he just say - “MEDICINE???”  In church life – we FREAK OUT whenever we hear about treating depression with medication!  But - there are times when medication is necessary and the person taking those meds shouldn’t feel shame about it.

Think about it like THIS - if your doctor told you that you had cancer, that your body is broken and that some virus had attacked cells in your lungs and you were going to DIE without treatment… would you tell the Doc - “No thanks - I don't need medicine to fix this.”

Then WHY would you feel that way when it comes to chemical or hormonal problems causing clinical depression??

Depression is complicated.  There are MANY POSSIBLE triggers for it… some physical… some emotional… and some spiritual.  That’s what makes it SO difficult.  That’s why you or your loved one can’t just “get over it.”

When you don’t know the cause, and when you have very little energy to pursue an answer, it is easy to give up.  

It is my prayer that our text will offer a bit of hope.  I can’t prescribe medication - but our text deals with SOME common triggers.

Elijah is one of the most fascinating characters in all the Bible.  He was a man’s prophet.  
  • He wore goatskin,
  • ate bugs and wild honey,
  • lived in caves,
  • and preached like he wasn’t afraid of anybody.

  • He raised the dead,
  • called fire from heaven,
  • stopped the rain from falling for 3.5 years,
  • and rode to heaven on a chariot of fire.  

He was – NO - ordinary man.  

In boldness he exposed the sins of King Ahab and  Jezebel, who were not only corrupt, their worship was blasphemous - and they were leading all Israel astray with their idolatry.  

So, Elijah called all the false prophets together for a contest in chapter 18.  They would each build an altar… they would each flay their sacrifice…and they would each pray to their respective gods and whichever god answered by fire would be declared the TRUE and LIVING God of Israel.

The scene would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.  The false prophets prayed, shouted, danced and cut themselves, they made a huge spectacle, working themselves into a frenzy.  Like a lot of people today who know so little about the God of heaven - they thought their gods had to be conjured up.

When no fire fell, Elijah taunted, “Cry louder – maybe your god is taking a nap or has gone to the bathroom!?!”  

When sufficient time had passed, Elijah called for servants to drench HIS sacrifice with SEVERAL barrels of water… he prayed a brief prayer, and BOOM!  God sent a burst of fire that destroyed the sacrifice, the altar, and licked up all the water out of the trench around it.  

When the people saw that Elijah’s God was THE true God, he called for all 450 false prophets to be killed.  

A tremendous… victory.


when Jezebel heard what happened to her prophets, she put a bounty on Elijah’s head.  

That's when something strange happened to the man of God.  He fled into the desert in fear for his life, fell down under a broom tree, and prayed that God would kill him.  His confidence evaporated, Elijah didn’t want a vacation – he wanted to die.  

WHAT happened??  
How could such a bold and powerful man CAVE under the crushing weight of depression?  

The same way it can happen to you.

Some of you have been where Elijah was.  Depressed.  Ready to quit. Your JOY is gone.  Your dreams have died.  You, like Elijah, see LITTLE good on your horizon.

There are several contributing issues…

1.  First, Elijah was depressed because he was fatigued.  A person is prone to depression when he is exhausted.  Fatigue clouded his perspective.  On top of ALL the demands of that day - when he heard that Jezebel was going to kill him - he ran a hundred miles to get away from that evil woman.  And the exhausted prophet collapsed under a shade tree.

The Lord knew what he needed. More than rebuke, Elijah needed REST.  Rather than working harder… pulling himself UP by his own bootstraps and ‘shaking it off,’ he needed some sleep and some angel food cake… THEN he would be in the right frame of mind to receive direction from God.

At the fear of sounding overly-simplistic, when your tank is empty -  sometimes you just need to take some time off.  Sometimes you need rest.  In fact, God created the Sabbath day for us because He knew how fragile we ARE and how much we need a break in our routine.  

We are living in stressful times.  
  • Work demands,
  • all the activities of our families,
  • the projects that need attention
  • The stuff going on at the church.  
Sometimes it can all be just a bit too much.  We wake up just as exhausted as when we laid down.  
  • We don’t eat right
  • We walk around half-cocked…  the slightest thing sets us off.  
  • Fatigue makes us question things that we wouldn't normally question.

Are you there now??  

Learn a lesson from Elijah – take time for rest and nourishment… You NEED it.

2.  But not only was Elijah depressed because of fatigue, he was depressed because of unrealistic expectations.  After working so hard… after all the demonstrations of power and the convicting messages, Elijah was not prepared for such negative results.  HE expected revival to break out “with those prophets of Baal gone.”  He just knew that Israel would repent of their sin and follow this God Who answers prayer in such dramatic fashion.  

But when that revival DIDN’T come, he fell down and cried, “I’m no better than all those other preachers who came before me.”  

God had called him to
  • preach righteousness…
  • And to oppose wickedness
  • Which meant exposing sin in all its forms.  
And when God answered his prayer with fire, he just knew that he would see results.  

He got “results” alright – just not the kind he expected.  When Jezebel promised to kill him, and when the people didn’t depose their evil leaders who had corrupted Israel’s worship, discouragement seized his heart.

Unrealistic expectations - it’s a problem.  Some of YOU are there NOW.  You had such grand dreams.  You wanted to get married, have a couple of kids, buy a nice house, get a cushy job… THEN life would be “wonderful.”  

How long did it take before REALITY SMASHED those youthful dreams??  
  • Maybe your “dream marriage” ended in divorce?  OR you are still living together - but more as roommates who tolerate one another.
  • Maybe your career took a turn for the worse and your boss said “we don’t need you anymore.”  
  • Maybe that child you spent countless hours praying for, has become a prodigal.  
  • Or... calamity struck and someone died.

Unrealistic expectations.  When our dreams lay in ashes, we are prone to obsess, “Nothing in my life has turned out like I planned!”

That's sufficient to depress ANY of us.

3.  Third, not only had fatigue and unrealistic expectations flattened Elijah’s tires, being ALONE had gotten him too.  In vv. 9 and 13, God asks Elijah WHY he is here??  And in vv. 10 and 14, Elijah answers: because “I’m the only one left who cares.  I am ALL alone.

That’s what the devil DOES - he whispers in the shadows of our thoughts - telling us that no one understands or no one has ever suffered like this.  --  And WE -- BELIEVE IT.

The Lord reminded Elijah that this SIMPLY wasn't the case.  That there were some 7,000 people back in the city just as concerned as HE was.  He was FAR from alone.  

Not only that, but God THEN directed Elijah to find a young man named Elisha who would be PLOWING his father’s fields – someone he could mentor in ministry who would one day take his place.  THAT way, until he catches that fiery chariot to glory, he will at least have a friend to share life’s joys and sorrows with.

You need people in YOUR life too.  The tendency - when we are depressed - is to isolate ourselves from others.  It just takes too much energy to be around people sometimes… like, we have to make THEM feel better about US feeling bad.

But we need those people in our lives.  Friends who will lift us up in prayer… people who will hold us accountable… people we can serve with and share with.  Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”  

Satan wants us to believe no one cares - no one understands.  He wants us to withdraw and turn INWARD - to wallow in the pit rather than climb out of it.  He wants to isolate you.  

BUT - You are NOT alone.  There are others who know what it is to struggle, who pray, and have refused to yield ground to the enemy.  We need those people in our lives because life is HARD -- on the loner.

Dinah Craik wrote this poem:

Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words – but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, CERTAIN that a faithful hand will take them and sift them – keeping what is WORTH keeping and with the breath of kindness BLOW the rest away.

We need people we can be REAL with - who will accept us - challenge us - and pray for us.  

It’s sad how you can be SURROUNDED by people EVERYDAY, and yet FEEL so alone.   

Remember what God said of Adam in the very beginning?  “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  

4.  And finally, not only did Elijah need rest and nourishment, not only did he need to change his expectations and have friends around him who would encourage him, he also needed an encounter with God to get him back on track.  

Ministry is demanding.  Battling false prophets and calling down fire from heaven - can be pretty taxing.  😁  He needed to put back INTO his life all that he had been giving out in ministry.  So according to verse 8, God led him back to “Horeb, the mount of God.”

This is significant, btw.  THIS was the place God met with Moses years before.  
  • Remember when he saw the burning bush?  Yep…that was the place.  
  • Remember where the 10 commandments were given??  That’s it.  
God knew that this beaten-down and discouraged preacher needed to have an encounter with the Almighty to restore him and change his perspective.  More than anything else, he needed God.

Look at OTHER great people of the Bible who had similar turning points in THEIR lives.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, Paul and Mary 😊 and many others all found God in a moment of crisis.  

The best thing you can do for yourself when you are discouraged is to throw yourself into the arms of God.  As in the case of Elijah, your life will never the same.  

I’m glad that God didn’t JUST record the victories for us in His word… but even pulls back the curtain on life’s discouragements.  For - right now or someday soon - YOU will be in the valley.

That’s where Elijah was.  And...
  • once he got rest,
  • adjusted his expectations,
  • picked up a friend
  • and met with the Lord,
he got his life back on track.

Have YOU gotten off track?  Which of those things OR combination of things do you need to work on this morning?

Or maybe, you’ve eliminated those possibilities?  If those suggestions don't help you, it might be time to consider medication.  There might be something going on inside your body that can’t be helped by taking these simple steps.  You owe it to yourself AND to those who love you: SEEK HELP! There is NO SHAME in that.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Psalm 55 - Betrayed!

Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!   Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked.

For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.  My heart is in anguish within me;  the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

(skip to v. 12)

For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him.  

But it is YOU, a man my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.

We used to take sweet counsel together; within God's house we walked in the throng.   

Let death steal over them;  let them go down to Sheol alive;  for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

I can think of no greater pain – than that of betrayal.  It’s one thing to experience the deceit of an acquaintance or co-worker who is only using you as a stepping stone - we just chock it up to ambition… it isn't personal.  But it’s quite ANOTHER to be deceived by someone you trust: a close friend, a counselor, a spouse.  

Have YOU been … betrayed?

The details of our experiences may vary – but the emotions we feel are basically the same – sorrow anger ... bitterness.  This unwelcomed breach of trust scars the heart and sours the spirit.  

This psalm will take us on a tour of these emotions – and THEN will show us what to do with them.

There is little doubt among scholars that David is referring to the rebellion of his son, Absalom.  

You may recall how Absalom sparked a revolt against his father.  Angry that his dad hadn’t done something about his sister’s rape.  Bewildered that his father seemed so indifferent about the problems of his kingdom.  Absalom sought not only to unseat David – he wanted to humiliate him.

David, understandably shaken by the treachery of his son, was slow to react to Absalom’s rebellion.  Naturally blaming himself and his past sins for the whole mess – not knowing that behind the scenes ⇒ the strife was being manipulated by a man he THOUGHT of as one of his closest friends.  A member of David’s inner circle – his counselor – was pulling the strings that prompted Absalom to ruin his dad.

As if the rebellion of a child isn’t bad enough – add to it the treachery of your best friend and you can understand the PAIN David felt.

THIS PSALM is called “A Maschil,” meaning - it is a Psalm of Instruction – a psalm with a specific lesson.  

Not only will it show us the natural emotions we can expect when betrayed, it will teach us the proper way of PROCESSING those emotions.  It is one thing to feel the hurt, the embarrassment, the guilt and the anger, but it’s quite another to process those emotions in a way that pleases the Lord.

So, if you have wondered WHAT a Christian should DO when he is betrayed, David will show us three important things:

1.  Notice FIRST David’s Anguish in the opening of the Psalm.  His choice of words is not lost on us… words like mourn, hate, pain, terror, and overwhelmed…  these all reflect his Anguish.  As you wade through these powerful words, you understand:

FIRST how David Felt. To some degree, he felt LOST… abandoned by God and forsaken by man.  He had always known the grace and mercy of God – but as he goes through THIS he can’t understand why God IS ALLOWING so much suffering.  When he prayed, he couldn't understand why God seemed SO FAR away.

He didn’t just feel abandoned, he felt ABUSED.  He describes it as “the oppression of the wicked” in v. 3.  Cornered – like he had nowhere to turn… his physical resources spent… his allies goneno matter how FAST his mind worked, there was no possible way he could get ahead of this.  “If his BEST FRIEND had betrayed him - how could he trust ANYONE??” “His SON had turned the hearts of the entire nation against him.”  “The city of Jerusalem was in total chaos.”

Abused and abandoned – that’s how he felt.

THEN we see what he Feared in vv. 4 and 5.  He didn’t know if his health could take it.  The turmoil of his surroundings had made its way into his soul.  He was wrung out like a dish rag.  Still haunted by the ghost of Uriah, the man he murdered, and the heaviness of his sin with Bathsheba, he wondered “When will I ever stop paying for my mistakes?”

In truth – everything he is experiencing had been set into motion by his own hand some 30 years prior.  He KNEW that HE was responsible for this.  Sin is a terrible thing.  What began as an exciting “fling,” set into motion a whirlwind of trouble that caused his whole world to collapse around him.

But not only do we see what he felt and what he feared, vv. 6-8 show us what he fancied.  He wanted WINGS that would help him escape all this.  He was sick of everything
  • the gossip, the slander, the lies.  
  • He was sick of the controversy in his family.  
  • Sick of the thankless people he was called to lead.  
He wanted to do what Elijah and Peter had done when they were depressed: RUN AWAY.  He longed for the hills he roamed as a boy tending sheep.  He wanted to escape.

Some of YOU are there now.  Tired of the struggle.  Tired of the sacrifice.  Ready to run away – thinking a change of scenery will help you forget your problems.  

THAT’s how David felt.  

His Anguish.

2.  But after his anguish, we THEN see his Anger in vv. 9-15.  It grew white-hot.  His mood of defeat and despair gave way to hatred.  He was being hurried down the back-alleys of Jerusalem by his body-guard, Joab.  Forced to abandon the throne and the comfort of his palace… forced to flee the tabernacle of God.  All his work and labor of love in ruins.  The hymns he had written for THEM. His loves.  He lost it ALL!

As David fled the city he had helped build, he grew angry.  He was KING after all!  How DARE they forget all the good things he had done.  His blood boiled over two things in particular:

First, he was angry over the trouble in his Country.  He had left the city known for its peace NOW embroiled in lawlessness, looting, and violence.  And to think that his SON – his OWN flesh and blood - was responsible for this insurrection and riot ⇒  was more than he could bear.  

In vv. 10 and 11 he tells the Lord about all the evil he had witnessed… describing a city completely given over to chaos… more like Ferguson or Chicago than the ‘Holy City.’

But that was not ALL that grieved him.  The trouble in his country PALED in comparison to the Treachery of his Comrade in vv. 12-15.  The man responsible for all this??  The one manipulating Absalom?? – was a man named Ahithophel.

THIS is why David felt these wounds so keenly.  

Ahithophel was a member of David’s inner circle – a confidant… a friend.  

How his mind must have drifted back to the good ole days when the people loved him and his friends would do anything FOR him.  How HE and Ahithophel were like brothers – they thought alike – they shared the same concerns – they fought the same battles.

THIS was the man stabbing David in the back!!!

He could close his eyes and see how it all happened.  His anger growing at the thought of his friend, turned traitor, whispering in the ear of his son.  David’s spies confirm that Ahithophel is telling Absalom that the king MUST die.  So David’s anger splashes onto the page in verse 15 when he says, “Let death steal over them;  let them go down to Sheol (hell) alive!”  

That doesn’t sound very Christ-like, does it??  But when hurt grows into anger, REVENGE is the only thing on your mind.  

3.  But I’m glad the story doesn’t end there.  After David’s Anguish and Anger, we see David’s Answer in vv. 16-23. Let’s read them together:

But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.  Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.  He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.

God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, Selah because they do not change and do not fear God.  My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant.

His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

But YOU, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days.

But I - will trust - in you.

NOW we understand why David calls this psalm a “Maschil.”  It teaches us to trust the Lord.  

Suffering … pain … loss - will teach you so important things.

Through all this terrible STUFF… through all the hurt of betrayal - he had learned three specific things about the Lord:

First, he learned about the Responsiveness of the Lord.  He realized that the very MOMENT HE PRAYED, God had an answer in the works.  He was confident that God – who had never failed him the PAST – would deliver him from THIS situation too.  The Responsiveness of the Lord comforted him.

You need to remember that too.  In times of great distress, when we feel disappointed and lonely and forsaken – it is THEN that we need to cry out to the Lord.  As the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us therefore come BOLDLY unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  

In times like THESE we need to reflect on the writings of John, who said, “And THIS is the confidence that we have in Him – that, if we ask ANYTHING according to His will, He hears us.  AND if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we KNOW that we have the petitions that we desired of Him!”  

God is Responsive.

Not only did David remember the Responsiveness of the Lord, he remembered the Righteousness of the Lord in vv. 19-21.  

According to David’s way of thinking – God would have to give up HIS throne if He allowed David to be forced from his.  WHY??  Because God had PROMISED that throne to David.  And because God is a RIGHTEOUS God, He ALWAYS keeps His Word!

As David thinks of the people who had taken up arms against him, and recalls all their abominations and blasphemies, he KNEW that the Righteousness of God wouldn’t allow the Lord to remain neutral – that they hadn’t just offended David, they had offended the Lord.  He knew that while God IS merciful and gracious – he also knew that the Lord would not close His eyes to the evil of these two men.

In his most desperate hours – with his future still hanging in the balance, and with the decisive battles YET to be fought, David teaches us to FLING ourselves on God.  

The Righteousness of God will comfort you in your hour of hopelessness.  God WILL ACT – His righteousness demands it!

It is NOT your responsibility to GET EVEN – it is not yours to show the world who they are – God will handle that.  Don’t drag your friends into it.  Trust the Lord!!!  Don’t share your grievances with sympathetic ears that cannot vindicate you - share it with God!

But not only does David teach us of the Responsiveness of God and the Righteousness of God, He then shows us the Retribution of God in vv. 22 and 23.  “Cast your burden upon the Lord and HE shall sustain you:  He shall NEVER permit the righteous to be moved!”  

Sounds like ANOTHER of God’s servants – Peter – who wrote, “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, because HE cares for YOU.”

David’s hopes were confirmed.  God stepped into the situation so that David didn’t have to be the one to exact vengeance.  God did it FOR him.  God is a God of justice – and when He promises to take care of it – you can TRUST Him!

What can WE learn from all of this??  

  • Betrayal hurts… deeply.  
  • There are times when men fail us.  
  • And while some of the problems we face are of our own making, we should trust the Lord to work things out for our good… because He WILL!
  • When life comes crashing in on you and you don’t know what to do, trust the Lord – HE will vindicate you.  He is your defender and shield.  Remember what He told us in Zechariah 2:8?? “He that touches YOU, touches the apple of His eye.

While nothing hurts like betrayal – No one comforts like God.  

Do YOU need his comfort this morning?  Have you recently felt like running away from it all??  The only escape you need is Jesus.  Throw yourself into His arms – He loves you and is determined to meet your needs.

The temptation we face is to feel alone and helpless.  But you are NEITHER.  David even said in v. 18, “there were many WITH me.”  Not everyone had forsaken him.  There WERE those who cared and stood with him.  And YOU have a network that cares and stands with you too.  You are not alone.

If you need to throw yourself into the arms of the Lord, you are among friends who understand and care.  And we are going to give you that opportunity right now.