Works Righteousness and Mental Health

This morning I came across this post, and it helps explain how I went crazy. I’m talking literally crazy–mental-health-facility crazy–and this helps explain how God got me out of that mindset.

But first, the music: Soul Sloshing by Venus Hum off the album Best Remodeled, just because it’s catchy and happy.

Here’s the quote–and I apologize for the length, but all of it is good:

Dualistic and/or binary thinking seeks to comprehend things in a linear, formulaic pattern. This mindset typically results in a ‘if/therefore’ or ‘either/or’ perspective that really doesn’t fit well or function properly when it comes to attempting to comprehend and understand grace.

For example, this mindset says, “If I repeat the formulaic incantation of the sinners prayer, I am therefore saved.”

We witness this time and time again in our churches. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “Now, with every head bowed and every eye closed, repeat this prayer after me.”

Followed by, “If you just said that prayer and meant it, we believe you’ve been saved.”

The biggest problem with all this is that this mindset doesn’t truly direct anyone towards Jesus; it directs us toward ourselves. Salvation then becomes a matter of what WE do; Jesus may be the means, but man is ultimately the end by which salvation is finally decided.

This is works-righteousness, a fools errand, and is essentially anti-Gospel. If salvation depends on me reciting some magic words that changes God’s mind about me, then I’m totally screwed, and the finished work of the cross is rendered useless.

The beauty of Grace; the real-deal Gospel undiluted, is that it shatters these modes of thinking and restores Union; Oneness, even in our thinking and perceptions.

We realize we were home right from the start. We realize that Jesus is God’s overwhelming, resounding ‘YES’ to mankind. We awaken to the fact that salvation is a finished work, achieved on our behalf by, in, and through Jesus, and that He was never depending on us to finish what He started (and completed). It is in these moments where we encounter grace that we are equipped to rest and trust in Jesus; not ourselves, not our works, not our words.

It is in these moments of encounter that we are gifted with faith, and we begin partaking, participating, and enjoying this divine Union; where all illusions of separation and division are shattered; where we begin to understand that it is HIS faithfulness that moves us and draws us and engages us with salvation, not our own. –Pete Nichols

From the time I prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ at 12 years old, up until around 2010, I was obsessed with righteousness-by-works and didn’t know it.

Works righteousness says, ‘I am OK with God based on what I do.’ The problem with that is, it’s impossible to be made right with God, for him to be happy with us, based on anything we do.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10, ESV)

Your salvation is not a reward for good behavior! It was a grace thing from start to finish; you had no hand in it. Even the gift to believe simply reflects his faith! If this could be accomplished through any action of yours then there would be ground for boasting. We are engineered by his design; he molded and manufactured us in Christ. We are his workmanship, his poetry. We are fully fit to do good, equipped to give attractive evidence of his likeness in us in everything we do.  (Eph. 2:8-10, The Mirror)

Works righteousness led me down so many wrong paths. I mentioned when I wanted to be Jewish? I wanted to be Jewish because I thought I had be, to be righteous and keep God happy. I had ministry prophesied over me as a teenager, so I tried so many times to start ministering and form a ministry, to make it happen, a goal which nearly tore my family apart. I wanted to go to Japan and was hell-bent on learning the language and trying to convince my wife that we needed to move there. Guess what? None of this worked. I’m not Jewish, there is no Stephen Shores Ministries, and I still haven’t gone to Japan.

It’s actually good that this stuff didn’t work out, because eventually it revealed that I had this secret, hidden idea: ‘I have to do all this stuff to keep God happy.’

Keeping God happy is not the primary goal of the Christian life. It is not a sign of maturity, it is a sign of immaturity.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17 ESV)

God is already happy with you.

If I don’t have to keep God happy any more, then what does God want?

Love.

The end goal of the Christian life–and every step of the journey–is love: pure love, for God, for self, and for everyone, everywhere.

I could predict the future in detail and have a word of knowledge for everyone. I could possess amazing faith, and prove it by moving mountains! It doesn’t make me any more important than anyone else. Love is who you are! You are not defined by your gift or deeds. (Love gives context to faith. Moving mountains is not the point, love is.)

Love is not about defending a point of view; even if I am prepared to give away everything I have and die a martyr’s death; love does not have to prove itself by acts of supreme devotion or self sacrifice!

Love is large in being passionate about life and relentlessly patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others with kindness. Love is completely content and strives for nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2-4b)

Love doesn’t strive. Love rests in what God did on the Cross. Love is at peace in the ‘righteousness that comes by faith’–simple trust that comes by believing God.

I wish I could tell you that this mentality goes away easily, but I spent a couple of decades under the thumb of works righteousness, thinking I had to do stuff to keep God happy. I did a lot of stuff!–but it accomplished next to nothing. When I learned to live life ‘by grace through faith’, my marriage became better, my relationship with my kids became better, and I became a better employee at work.

Note that this wasn’t the entire key–I still needed treatment for mental health issues (anxiety and depression), and you might need the same! But living by grace is the best place to start, something you can learn to live by right now. It will lead to inner peace, something that is sadly lacking in the modern world. That inner peace will manifest on the outside, and eventually you’ll have people asking you, ‘Why are you so peaceful? The world is falling apart!’ and you’ll be able to give a good answer.

I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. May you see as God sees: that pleasing Him is something that he does through you. Amen.

Depression and Cognitive Dissonance

(Note: I am not a doctor. I cannot cure depression. I can only tell you what has helped me. If this makes sense, good, but please, please get help if you are having thoughts of suicide.)

I’m coming off of a period of intense depression that lasted for a good two days, so severe I wanted to die. Later this week I got a bit of a revelation on it–something ‘clicked’, in other words, something that might help you or your loved ones in the fight against depression.

But first, the music: Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, the extended version off The SMiLE Sessions…because it makes me smile, and maybe it will do the same to you.

Cognitive dissonance is defined as:

the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. [1]

The human mind is not capable of believing two very different things at once. I cannot believe I am both good and bad, saint and sinner, at the same time (the teaching of most Christian churches). I cannot believe that I am sick and healed at the same time (Charismatic nonsense). And I cannot believe that God is supposed to have me somewhere else while God is making it impossible for me to be anywhere else but here.

In my life, my mind has ‘broken’ more times than I can count, based on life circumstances.

For instance, I believed I was called as a missionary to Japan. Yet my parents weren’t interested in sending their son to Japan. A crack appeared in my brain.

I later believed that if I studied Japanese, that God would send me to Japan. The money never came (in fact, things got worse). Family members were against the idea. Again and again I beat my head against the wall–I was learning Japanese, yet the doors remained shut. More cracks appeared in my psyche.

I went to Alabama for a conference featuring a very charismatic minister who introduced me to the grace message–how I am already sanctified, free from sin, and that I am already righteous and complete in Christ. I am a new creation. Between Matt Ford and the teachings of John Crowder and Benjamin Dunn, my mind began to renew. Things got better…and worse.

I believed that since Alabama was a wonderful place–at least Gadsden, Alabama, is–that we were supposed to move there. This fell apart. I wasn’t going anywhere. Larger cracks appeared in my psyche.

I went to Indiana, despite family objections, to a wonderful community of saints in Fort Wayne. I thought that this had to be the place where we had to live-the presence of God was so concentrated, so tangible there, and the genuine love everyone had for each other was something I hadn’t experienced in my life. I thought we were supposed to move there. I was wrong. The cracks widened.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was headed for a nervous breakdown. I was convinced by satan, or whatever lies were in my head, to run away, first to that community in Indiana (I didn’t make it–I developed symptoms of a heart attack and got held up in Indianapolis). My family graciously rescued me. Stress drove me to run away the next week, this time to a remote national park in God-knows-where, something-Carolina. I parked my car when I ran out of gas and went on a ‘faith walk’ where, influenced by demons or whatever crap was in my head, that I was going to leave and go off-grid. Hours went by in the freezing cold and I couldn’t stand it. My family once against rescued me, and put me in a mental hospital. While in that very prison-like facility, I first received treatment with mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medication.

Once I got out of the mental hospital, things did improve a little–the anti-anxiety drugs made life much easier at work, where anxiety had been a constant hindrance to my performance. Yet I still wanted to go back to Indiana. Some of the cracks remained, and no healing came. I had friends all over the United States and the world, via Facebook and social media, but it seemed like I would never see them face-to-face again.

I’m not 100% certain–and to be honest, I am still, off and on, angry at God about this–I’m not certain that I ever will meet those friends again. Finding real-life friends has been close to impossible. I have been stuck in Atlanta, Georgia, unable to go anywhere for years, and at times that pisses me off beyond belief.

Edit: I apologize to the people I unfriended on Facebook–at one point I unfriended everyone except family, because I thought I was being influenced badly. I needed that time to heal from my nervous breakdown. I’m sorry that I unfriended you, and I pray you’ll forgive me.

Back on topic: I began to recover from my broken mind. Yet depression would rear its ugly head, most often during bouts of intense cognitive dissonance. Japan got leveled by a tsunami, I thought it would be good to learn Japanese and go to help, but nothing happened with that and my mind broke again. I told my employer that I couldn’t stand life and more, and left work to go kill myself. I realized I couldn’t, so I called my pastor at the time and he talked me down.

This past few months my mind has broken over and over again, as I lost my job and had to take another with an extremely painful pay cut, leaving us unable to pay bills and do much more than survive. I don’t know, day-by-day, how we’re going to make it. Food is on the table, but credit card companies call every hour on the hour, debts mount, and we can’t pay. My mind has been breaking over and over again.

Paradox: I am a good person, this shouldn’t happen, but it is happening.

Paradox 2: My family needs provision and God is good, but he is doing a hella bad job of providing.

Paradox 3: I need a new job, I should have one, but I like my job, but I can’t afford to stay at my job, but God hasn’t opened any doors. You get the idea.

These paradoxes have been breaking my mind, forcing me to the point where, once again, I was at a place where I wanted to end it all. I couldn’t, though. The first day my prayer was, ‘Lord, I want to live.’

The second day was, ‘Lord, I don’t want to live, but I need to live, for the sake of my family.’

I made it through those two rough days and got this revelation: that the worst of my mental breaks, the worst of my bouts of depression, are caused by cognitive dissonance: believing things are supposed to be one way and comparing them with reality, which says the opposite. I can’t believe things are supposed to be good and bad at the same time, yet they are, so how do I deal with that? Something has to give, and I thank God I’m on medicine that helps take the edge off, and that I don’t own a gun.

There have been lies in my head, probably still are plenty of those–that God is not love, that this will not work out, that things will not get better. Part of this is cognitive dissonance, part of it is hopelessness–the two play a tag-team in your brain, and you’re always the loser.

How do you overcome cognitive dissonance? Hell if I know. What has helped is meditating on the word of God–just three concepts. One: my oneness with Him. Two: there is only one power, and that is God. All other names that can be named are under him. Three: divine provision. I need revelation in all of these.

Another thing that has helped is joining a community on Facebook where I can just be myself–where I can express the darkest problems of my soul without being judged and tossed away like yesterday’s garbage. That has been a tremendous help.

Family has been a help. My wife is a ‘prayer warrior’, and even though she may not understand how I feel, she knows when I am hurting, and is always faithful to pray for me.

Cognitive dissonance really sucks. The good thing is, that your brain can slowly become more flexible. You can learn to deal with life when God seemingly answers ‘no’–I need more money, it doesn’t come. I want more friends, I can’t make any. And so it goes.

Things do get better. Through God’s help, you can learn to put things on a mental shelf labeled, ‘things I do not understand’. You can learn that though situations don’t agree, God still loves you. And you can experience the manifest presence of God as a comfort, even when lies are beating in your brain like a sledgehammer and you just want to die.

It’s happened to me. And maybe it’s happening to you. But I promise you, God can get you through, and God will get you through. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” He’s not done with you yet, and he won’t give up on you. Ever.

Edit: Cognitive dissonance is not the only problem associated with depression. The other is hopelessness, which I will write on in the future as I get a little more revelation on it. 

I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May you see yourself as He sees. Amen.

 

Three Things That Got Me Through Hell

No matter what you believe about hell in the afterlife, if it’s literal or figurative, some of you, like me, have have been through hell on earth, and can testify that it’s no fun. Some of you have a loved one or friend who is hurting inside and you don’t know how to help. Hopefully this post will help you or them a little.

First, though, the music: This Feeling by Ryan Ellis, off the album Kingdom Glory–just because it’s catchy and fun. It helps to listen to good music when you’re talking about serious things.

Continue reading “Three Things That Got Me Through Hell”

Mental Health: Do The Basics First

If you’re drowning, please get help.

It is my hope that in communicating with you on this blog, that I’m not giving the impression that I’ve ‘arrived’ and I’m completely healthy now. I struggle every day, one way or another, and probably will for a while. It’s been years since my mental breakdown, but with God’s help, I am getting better every day.

But first, the music: You’re Still God by Godfrey Birtill, off the album Very God (Amazon, iTunes, artist store)–just a hopeful song I heard this morning that might help you out.

When it comes to mental health, here is what you need:

  1. Get a good doctor. Good doctors will listen to you and patiently help you through the medication and counseling process. If you don’t have a good psychiatrist and you live in the Atlanta area, email me (stephentshores at gmail dot com) and I can give you a referral.

  2. Take your medicine, and keep taking it. You’re probably going to go through a few different medications to stabilize your moods. During that time, it’s important to keep your doctor apprised of how you’re doing.

  3. Take your medicine, no matter what the ‘faith preacher’ says. God isn’t displeased with you because you’re having to rely on medication. You might have to be on some sort of medication the rest of your life. God is still happy with you and loves you no matter what. Faith is not going off your medication–that’s stupidity and lack of wisdom.

Sometimes faith is just simple trust in God, asking him to work through the doctors to get your medication right. And think positively–maybe you will be completely healed! I had severe, debilitating depression that went away after a revival at my church. It eventually came back, but it was much, much less and basically went away with a small adjustment in medication.

  1. Take care of your physical health. A good walk or run might be just what you need to help kick depression, or at least take the edge off. Take a look at Sad Runner for some good stories of how one man is kicking his depression through exercise.

Keep track of how you feel when you eat certain foods or drink certain drinks. If they make you feel depressed or anxious, stop eating/drinking them or moderate yourself. If I drink too much caffeine, I get anxious, too much chocolate and I get depressed. If I moderate those, I’m fine. Food that makes you sleepy should be avoided if you get depressed when you’re sleepy, as I sometimes do.

  1. Remember that you’re not alone. Ask around and you’ll find that probably dozens of people you know are on some sort of medication for anxiety or depression. These are difficult times, and there are many, many people who need help, but there is still a stigma associated with mental health that makes people hesitate to tell anyone that they need help, or are currently getting help.

  2. Take your medication. If it makes you feel bad, talk to your doctor until he or she gets it right. If your doctor won’t listen, find another doctor. But keep taking your medication.

I pray for you according to Paul in Ephesians 1, emphasis mine:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…

I pray that God renews your hope, and also that you’ll ask for and receive wisdom, according to James 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

(‘Without reproach’ means that God’s not going to make fun of you for asking for wisdom–that’s what the Holy Spirit is there for, to be your Counselor and Guide.)

Have hope, use wisdom, and be blessed, friends.

Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Last week I was feeling rather dry and depressed inside. I couldn’t find anything to listen to on my evening commute–none of the many audiobooks I have seemed to fit the bill, and none of the music I have on my phone seemed to satisfy.

(By the way, today’s song is Who is Jesus? by the BRILLIANCE, off their newest (and quite amazing) album All Is Not Lost.)

Then I remembered a friend of mine had a new podcast which I had loaded on my phone and forgotten about, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. It definitely didn’t hurt, and in fact, it helped quite a bit. Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’”

Praying For Your Enemies: Justice and Mercy

This morning I had a big bowl of lies and betrayal for breakfast, metaphorically speaking.

It didn’t go down well.

I won’t go into what happened, but suffice it to say, it hurt me and indirectly hurt my family, and I was angry–still am.

As a Christian, what am I supposed to do at this point? I feel like praying for them to take a long walk off a short pier. What I’m supposed to do is, of course, pray for my enemies.

The ESV has Matthew 3: 43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

How do we pray for our enemies? The Lord’s Prayer says:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

and

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

…but if I may add something that has been helpful to me, and perhaps may help you, I will.

Whenever I am lied to, betrayed, or hurt in some way, I pray for justice and mercy.

That’s it. Justice on the one hand, mercy on the other. Both, not just one or the other.

The Douay-Rheims has Psalm 85:10:

Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.

In Christ, justice and mercy meet. We deserved justice; we received mercy.

God’s Idea of Justice

I specifically pray for justice, because I have been wronged and I want to see it made right. I want revenge. I want something bad to happen to those who made something bad happen to me.

Justice: That Time When I Was Fired and the Company Failed

One time I was wrongly fired from a job. At the time I was much younger in Christ, and I wanted revenge, big time. My wife and I even consulted a lawyer, but there was nothing he could do. At the time, this scripture came to mind, James 5:1-6. Per the ESV:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

That was a satisfying scripture.

What happened? The company later folded in one of the most miserable ways: from the inside. A year later, the company was gone.

Did God destroy a company for my sake. Well, I think so, but I don’t know. There were a few non-wicked individuals in that company who didn’t deserve to lose their job. The rest, who knows? Did they later repent? Did they later get saved? Who knows? The fact is, it happened, and I was very glad at the time. It appeared to be God’s justice at work.

This isn’t a formula, and it doesn’t happen all the time. I was unfairly let go from another company several years later, and the company is still there and doing fine as far as I know. The people who wronged me this morning, things could be going swimmingly for them for years to come. But I trust God to make it right.

In the end, God makes everything right. Psalm 1, ESV, emphasis mine:

Blessed is the man [this is you]
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Mercy

The reason I pray for justice and mercy is that God is love. He, as exemplified in Christ, is the perfect embodiment of both justice and mercy. So while we pray for God to make it right in justice, we also pray for God to also make it right in his kindness. Jonah expected God to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth, despite their repentance, and God had to give him a remedial course in mercy. We don’t know if Jonah learned anything, but we can learn for ourselves.

Mercy is God’s decision. Romans 9, emphasis mine:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Since mercy is God’s decision, mercy needs to be my decision.

Mercy: The Ultimate Revenge

I pray for justice, but I also pray for mercy. The ultimate revenge, to my knowledge, is seeing my enemies meet Jesus and become saved. I’ve met people who were hellions in high school and treated me terribly back then, and many years later, met them again and they had gotten saved and were living righteous lives.

I won’t say that this is because of my prayers (I sowed plenty of my own wild oats myself in high school, so at the time I might not have thought to pray for them at all). But clearly someone prayed for them, and maybe even it was someone who they had wronged.

God has mercy on his enemies. He wants us to pray for our enemies, ‘so that we may be sons of our Father who is in heaven.’ So that we may look like he who granted mercy on us. Christ received death so that we would receive life. The NIV has Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Lord’s Prayer also addresses mercy:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

We are to forgive as he forgives.

What Next?

What do you do after a betrayal? After someone lies to you, steals from you, cheats you, or otherwise mistreats you?

You hurt. You rage. Maybe you cry. It hurts. You have to recognize that your emotions are all right, and it’s OK to express them. If you have friends or loved ones or a pastor you can express them to, all the better–they can help you cope.

Then, when things calm down, you pray. After the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps you do as I do.

“Lord, I pray for justice and mercy.”

Then you learn to let it go. You decide to forgive. Forgiveness is not automatic; you have to decide whether or not you will forgive them. Your emotions will not cooperate with you.

Ultimately, you let God be God. Let him do what He wills. You’ll see ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’. You’ll ultimately prosper, and God will handle them. Maybe you’ll hear about the person who hurt you being punished later on–maybe they’ll even see ‘instant karma’. Maybe they’ll repent and become saved, and you’ll be reconciled. Maybe they’ll go on their merry way, hurting other people, and you’ll have to let God handle it.

Doing your part, praying for your enemies, is what you can do. Then you let God handle all the rest.

 

 

I Wanted To Be Jewish (Overcoming Obsessions, Part 1)

This morning a couple of songs from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ were in my head. I reflected on Twitter that I hadn’t watched the movie since my ‘I wanted to be Jewish’ kick about a decade ago.

One of the worst flaws of my personality is the tendency towards obsession. Through the years I’ve been, by the grace of God, able to tame that tendency somewhat. I’ll walk you through some of the faulty logic here, and perhaps this will help you if you recognize this tendency in yourself. Or perhaps you’re a Christian who is obsessed with ‘Jewish roots’ and need a kick in the pants.

More after the break. Continue reading “I Wanted To Be Jewish (Overcoming Obsessions, Part 1)”