Yearning for a Happy Home at Christmas

homeDoesn’t everyone want a happy home at Christmas? As we rush to finish shopping and baking and wrapping, did you know you have the better home?

This better home is your life in Christ.

You can experience this life in Christ at Christmas and all through the year even if you had a hard home life growing up. It’s just a little bit of heaven, a foreshadow of the best.

Happy Home?

My counselee “Suzie” balks at the word home. Many many years ago, her Christmas at her house was not cookies and hot chocolate, evergreens and gifts–or Jesus. Rather, her parent’s friends came over to party hard, just as they did every day. She felt unsafe, forgotten, and unloved.

As a kid, Suzie tried the booze that littered her house. By middle school, she looked for a safe place in one guy’s arms then another’s. That didn’t satisfy either. To forget her lack of a happy home, she drank and smoked dope and discovered a counterfeit happiness in “not feeling a thing.” Did you experience a difficult upbringing too? Where did you look for happiness? For hope?

We all seek a place to belong, a place of safety.

Home Came to Us

In a dream, an angel told Joseph, who was pledged to wed Mary, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The day of his birth is the wonderful day we celebrate Christmas.

Jesus made his home among us with a purpose. Counselor Paul Tripp says,

The whole redemptive story marches toward Immanuel, the Redeemer who would destroy sin’s dominion in our hearts by making our hearts the place where he, in his power, wisdom, and glory, would dwell.

When you find your home in Jesus, you have rest. You rest from striving to earn salvation.  Sometimes it’s difficult to believe you don’t have to do more or be perfect to get on God’s good side, isn’t it?

Home = Jesus

In Jesus you find true belonging and safety. A warm place to be real and breathe deep.

1. Belonging
Home is the place where your belong and find your identity. In Christ, you are a new creation ( 2 Cor. 5:17) and a child of God (Rom. 8:15).

2. Safety
Your home protects your from the cold and keeps you safe. Jesus is your true place of safety. When Jesus conquered sin and death, nothing can separate us from him, not even death.

Romans 8:38-39 proclaims,

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As you yearn for a happy home this Christmas, remember you have your true home in Jesus. You belong to him, he is your safe place.

Suzie embraced this truth in an unlikely place: a 12-step group. She walked in addicted to booze, met a new friend there — a young Christian woman who had a spare room for her to live — and left with hope. The friend told her about Jesus’ love for her. Suzie said, “Yes, Lord.”

This is the true happy home she yearned for. What about you? Are you searching for your true home–a place of safety and belonging? Feel free to contact me and share your story.

Merry Christmas!

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Help! I’m So Lonely! 10 Practical Suggestions

lonelyAre you lonely? During the holidays, lonely folks–and Christians get lonely too!–are as numerous as snowflakes in a Minnesota blizzard. Still, knowing this fact doesn’t take away the emptiness, does it? So what helps? Pastor Paul Tautges shares part of the booklet “Help! I’m So Lonely” by biblical counselor Deborah Howard, RN, an article that appeared first on his website. He is the editor of the Help! series.

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Loneliness takes many forms and its causes are almost endless. There’s loneliness from. . .

  • Losing a spouse or other loved one.
  • Being alone in a new environment.
  • Being single in what seems like a world full of couples.
  • Being in a loveless or troubled marriage.
  • Being married to someone who, through debilitating illness, is a shadow of his/her former self.
  • Being elderly, often starved for companionship or a friendly touch.
  • Being exceptional—whether exceptionally beautiful or plain, exceptionally intelligent or cognitively challenged, exceptionally fat/skinny, exceptionally tall/short, exceptionally famous or seemingly invisible.
  • Anything that sets us apart from others can cause us to feel disconnected and isolated.

Not only are there different causes, but loneliness varies in other ways. Some loneliness is temporary; some is long-term. Some is deep and aching; some is merely unsettling. Some causes minor discomfort; some causes major dysfunction.

Deborah Howard, RN, penned the wonderful mini-book HELP! I’m So Lonely. In it she explains why loneliness is an age-old problem and how God ministers to us in our loneliness.

10 Practical Suggestions

But what practical suggestions could help us in our loneliness? And what help could we give to lonely people? Deborah gives the following bits of counsel in her final chapter. The following is a brief summary of her counsel.

1: Spend Time with People When You’re Lonely

Spend time with people. Whether you realize it or not, you need people. Loneliness and grief shouldn’t be kept to yourself. Perhaps you don’t want to be in big crowds. Fine. Then spend one-on-one time with someone you care about. Schedule lunch with a friend and notice the taste of the food, the décor, the waiter/waitress—try to live “in the moment.”

2: Listen Closely 

Listen closely to your lunch companion’s conversation. The first few times you do it may seem empty and unfulfilling. But keep doing it.

3: It’s OK to Cry When You’re Lonely

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to cry. Crying can be therapeutic. It may make other people uncomfortable, but that’s their issue, not yours. Tears are a healthy response to loss. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust the Lord or that your faith is weak. It simply means your heart is breaking and your body is responding appropriately for you!

4:  Spend Time Outside

Enjoy some peace and quiet in nature. If you prefer spending time alone, don’t do it locked up in your house. Get outside. Surround yourself with nature. It’s amazing how the Lord ministers to us through His creation. Even something as simple as sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine or a gentle breeze can be amazingly restorative and uplifting.

5: Take Care of Yourself When You’re Lonely

Take care of yourself. Basically, this means doing the things that ensure your overall physical well-being. Grieving people sometimes forget or skip the simplest tasks. Eat regular, healthy meals. True, cooking nutritious meals for one isn’t easy.

But don’t just eat “easy” stuff—take-out, fast food, or microwave meals—and miss out on important nutrition (in fact, watching a person’s weight is a good way to determine how well they are coping with loss). So try to eat regularly, even if food seems to have lost its taste and appeal. You need it to get better.

6: Try Something New!

Cultivate new interests. Get involved in meaningful activities. This may mean taking a cooking or art class. Helping others can be fulfilling, so you might consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, church, hospital or hospice. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn another language, or how to garden, play tennis or the violin. Do it now.

7: Journal When You’re Lonely

Keep a daily journal of your thoughts. Set daily goals and meet them. No one else has to ever see your work. But writing is a way to express the inner workings of your heart/mind. It can be therapeutic to put your thoughts on paper, to review them periodically and see the progression of the healing process.

lonely8: Hello, Fido! Hello, Fluffy!

Consider getting a pet. It’s amazing how much company a pet provides. Pet ownership provides unconditional love, a reason to get out of bed, something to be responsible for, and a continual source of amusement.

9: Hang with Your Church Family When You’re Lonely

Don’t abandon the people of God. The church can be of significant value to those who are hurting and lonely. In a way, the body of Christ (His church) is like arms that can embrace you, hands that can serve you, expressions of empathy that can comfort you. Don’t turn your back on that kind of support. Sometimes a person becomes angry at his circumstances and angry at God. As a result, he becomes lonelier.

10: Stay in the Word

I’ll end this list of suggestions with this one. Even if you know the Bible well, you’ll need to stay in the word. It reminds us of truths we need to meditate upon. The scriptures help us keep the big picture in perspective. We must constantly remember who we are and Who He is! We must constantly be reminded of His love, His justice, His sovereignty, His patience with us. By keeping our minds focused on His word, we can do this. Stay in the word. Devour it. Trust it. Lean upon it. It will provide all we need to live our lives responsibly, lovingly, and obediently.

Resources!

If you are struggling with loneliness (or are concerned about a friend), seek counsel in Deborah’s mini-book, HELP! I’m So Lonely.

You also may like to check out all of the books in the Help! series. Click here to see them.

Counseling Hearts to Hope (and healing!),

3 Myths About Depression (part 3)

depression

DEPRESSION: Many of us feel depressed around Christmas. Did you know scientists and biblical counselors recognize at least three myths about depression?

In part 3 of this three-part series, learn the truth about medication for depression. Part 1 looked at . . .  Part 2 covered diagnosis and the Bible. This post first appeared here on CareLeader.org, June 29, 2016, and is used with permisison.

Would you like caring biblical counseling for depression? I offer counseling by Skype and in person. Contact me. Let’s set up a short complimentary consultation. Don’t go it alone.

Myth #3: Medication Doesn’t Help Treat Depression

Some people are under the impression that depression is purely a spiritual issue and that medication isn’t effective or needed in treating depression. Some who cite the ineffectiveness of antidepressants claim that they are slightly more effective than a placebo.

A fact sheet produced by MIT explains the origin of that idea:

Clinicians began hearing this question from patients after news articles reported on a 2002 analysis of published and unpublished studies submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as part of the approval process for several new types of antidepressant medication. This analysis concluded that the newer types of antidepressants are only marginally more effective than placebo.

However, these analyses do not reflect how antidepressants are used in actual practice. Drug trials measure only how a person responds to a single medication taken at a specific dose for a limited time. In clinical practice, however, the patient and clinician work together to find the dose and the medication or combination of medications most effective for you. Most clinicians believe that this process results in much better results than these analyses imply.

Medication: A Wisdom Issue

Dr. Michael Emlet, in an interview for our DivorceCare and Single & Parenting projects, pointed out that the Bible doesn’t prohibit taking medications for psychiatric disorders. He said,

When Jesus came, He not only forgave sin but He also healed disease. He also relieved suffering. Medications may be one way that suffering is relieved…. I would say medication is a wisdom issue. It’s going to vary from individual to individual whether or not medications may be wise.

I think some people want to rush too quickly to medications. Other people refuse to even consider the possibility of medications. Both of those positions could be problematic because they reflect motives of the heart that may be off base.

Dr. Emlet reminds us of the importance of remembering the limitations of medicine:

Medication can help treat depression and shouldn’t be written off as one of the ways that God can bring healing and relief to a person’s life. For example, with stabilized emotions and higher energy, people can be enabled to make needed changes in their lives.

But people need more than drugs. Drugs, as helpful as they can be, do have limitations. They don’t treat any of the underlying spiritual or environmental issues that contribute to a depression.

Some people may not require medication to treat their depression at all. Less severe cases can be treated with nonmedicinal approaches and basic behavior changes. For example, one study reported by Reuters found that simply getting active three times a week reduces the risk of depression in adults by 16 percent, and additional exercise reduces the risk even more. You can also suggest that a person try a change in diet, since a lack of essential vitamins and minerals can result in depressive symptoms.

Conclusion

A strategy for effective care begins with an accurate understanding of the person’s problem. For more on how to understand depression from a biblical perspective, see Jeff Forrey’s article How pastors can help the depressed. It will help you understand the unique role pastors play in helping people deal with depression.

Also check out Kathy Leonard’s article 3 reasons depression is complicated, which features interviews with counselor Leslie Vernick and Dr. Robert Kellemen. It’s a great post to share with your church leaders to help them understand why we shouldn’t use simplistic reasons to explain depression.

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Struggling? Make an appointment (in person or by Skype). The Lord has effective and caring solutions to depression.–LAM

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Reclaiming the HOLY of Christmas

holy

A merry and holy Christmas to you, dear friends. This article by yours truly first appeared here at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website that reaches tens of thousands of Christians who love the hurting and the people who care for them. I encourage you to visit its website.

Who stole the HOLY of Christmas? How can we Christians reclaim it?

What changed in our hearts that many of us willingly trade the holy for the jostling in store lines and for the cyber-shopping?

Piercing questions. Yet. . .

Be encouraged that our Lord designed a peace-filled and HOLY day this holiday for you.

In this short article, let’s consider:

  1. Holy thievery
  2. Christmas restoration

Who Stole the Holy of Christmas?

The day after Thanksgiving before sunrise, the line snaked around an electonics store, with promises of deals on flat screen TVs, laptops, and smart phones. Shoppers waited, expectantly. Some cozied up in sleeping bags, others sipped overpriced coffee. Another hummed the haunting “So This Is Chrismas” by John Lennon.

Then doors flew open, people pushed, angry voices told line-jumpers to stand down. Or else.

Is this what Christmas has become?

So who stole the Christ of Christmas? One might blame stores, commercialism, atheists, or the ACLU. But it’s deeper and darker, really.

 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. John 10:10a, ESV

What happened to change our hearts from celebrating Christmas as a holy day into a commercialized experience?

Evil forces still want to swipe your Jesus joy.

Satan’s tactics today are subtle. Busyness and busyness and. . .frustration, dread, and wanting. Lots of wanting. Thankfully God empowers you to escape the temptation of replacing Christ with conterfeit desires (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Satan is a defeated foe. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us, the Bible trumpets.

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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. Romans 8:37-39, ESV

Reclaiming the Holy

To reclaim the holy of this holiday, why not find some quiet and focus on Christ? Isaiah prophesies about the birth of Jesus in this verse.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6, NIV

Doesn’t your heart warm to this real meaning of Christmas?

Christ will be called:

Wonderful
Mighty
Everlasting
Peace

What a stark contrast from today’s chaotic Christmas! Why not ponder each word and reclaim the holy over the hectic? In the pondering as God transforms your mind, expect heart change (Romans 12:2).

Wonderful

This term Wonderful Counselor suggests a presence of comfort. The babe in the manger is the wonderful promise of wisdom to we who follow him.

He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. Isaiah 28:29, ESV

Mighty 

The Jews in Jesus’ day looked for a mighty warrior to rescue them from Roman oppression. Rather, the King of Kings came as vulnerable baby born to poor parents. No fanfair. Just a smelly barn and hay for a bed.

And yet this Mighty God, he defeated death.

But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:10, NIV

Everlasting

Seated at the right hand of the Everlasting Father, Jesus offers the gift of eternal life (John 3:16) and the Father continuously and compassionately cares for his people.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13, ESV

Peace

Doesn’t your soul long for the Lord’s peace this Christmas? The Prince of Peace promises you peace as you focus your heart and mind on him, and not on the things of this world that money can buy. Consider this verse:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

And this:

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3, ESV

So when the lines at Best Buy or Walmart are long, when a family member shows his mad, when you’ve run out of energy, this this:

  • Remember who Jesus is: the Prince of Peace.
  • Pray for the difficult people in your life.
  • Say “Merry Christmas” often.
  • Give generously.
  • Sing.
  • Listen to Jesus.

And ponder the promises given by the Prince of Peace.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas,

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3 Myths About Depression (part 1)

depressionDEPRESSION: Many of us feel depressed around Christmas. Did you know scientists and biblical counselors recognize at least three myths about depression?

In part 1 of this three-part series, find out the truth about causes of depression. Part 2 covers the a depression diagnosis. Part 3 looks at medication–when it’s useful, when it’s not. This post first appeared here on CareLeader.org, June 29, 2016, and is used with permisison.

Would you or someone you love like caring biblical counseling for depression? I offer counseling by Skype and in person. Contact me. Let’s set up a short complimentary consultation. Don’t go it alone.

“Pastor, I’m depressed…doctor says it’s some sort of major depressive disorder.”

We don’t take for granted the amount of trust displayed when someone discloses the diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder. And that’s why we respond gently and compassionately. But we also need to respond accurately.

Here is the first of three common myths about depression to keep you from misleading those you care so deeply for.

Myth #1: Scientists Know Exactly What Causes Depression

Even though pharmaceutical ads say that major depression may be caused by chemical imbalances, many people assume that it is caused by chemical imbalances. But it’s not that simple. As Dr. Joseph Coyle of Harvard Medical School was quoted by National Public Radio,

Chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking. It’s much more complicated than that.

And Dr. Coyle isn’t alone in his sentiment. PLOS Medicine collected an eye-opening list of quotes from medical researchers who don’t share the confidence that the general public, some doctors, and even pharmaceutical companies have about the cause of depression.

To get a better idea of what causes depression, scientists are exploring whether the depression is due to problems with brain structure, diminished activity levels in certain parts of the brain, and psychosocial factors like stress. But to date, scientists have not been able to make a clear link between physiological factors and depression. A Scientific American article puts it this way:

    [N]o studies have established a cause-and-effect relation between any brain or psychosocial dysfunction and the disorder. In addition, depression almost certainly does not result from just one change in the brain or environmental factor. A focus on one piece of the depression puzzle—be it brain chemistry, neural networks or stress—is shortsighted.

The Brain Is Complicated

Even though we hear a lot of promising news about the latest in brain and genetic code research, it’s important to realize that scientists aren’t even close to being able to explain what causes depression or any other mental disorder. Dr. Allen Frances, former chair of the DSM-IV Task Force and of the department of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, writes:

Although we have learned a great deal about brain functioning, we have not yet figured out ways of translating basic science into clinical psychiatry. The powerful new tools of molecular biology, genetics, and imaging have not yet led to laboratory tests for dementia or depression or schizophrenia or bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorder or for any other mental disorders. The expectation that there would be a simple gene or neurotransmitter or circuitry explanation for any mental disorder has turned out to be naive and illusory.

Frances goes on to quote Roger Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine:

The more we learn, the more we recognize the unique complexity of any one individual intellect, the stronger the conclusion becomes that the individuality inherent in our brain networks makes that of fingerprints or facial features gross and simple by comparison.

Teasing out the heterogeneous underlying mechanisms of mental disorder will be the work of lifetimes.

Spritual Aspects of Depression Matter Too

Even if scientists are able to identify which parts of the body produce a state of depression, that would be incomplete as an explanation of the cause of depression. Why? It would not take into account man’s makeup as a spiritual and physical creature created in the image of God.

Dr. Sam Williams, a former psychologist who is now a counseling professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains:

That which makes us distinctively human, our spiritual and moral facets, is neglected by secular definitions of mental order, disorder, and reordering. Thus, the secular concept of mental disorder is not a thorough description of nor does it provide an explanation for people’s problems.

A more thorough biblical psychology must factor God (and subsequently the moral and spiritual valence of each symptom) back into the equation if we are interested in a diagnosis that is consistent with our worldview.

This is important for the people you care for to understand, because many of them become less receptive to nonmedicinal treatments when they accept a biomedical explanation for their depression. Dr. Todd B. Kashdan, psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University, explains in a post on myths about what causes depression:

They become pessimistic that recovery is possible. They become less confident that they can manage and regulate negative moods that arise (and they always do)…. Essentially, they become less flexible in their options for treating depression and less confident that they will escape its clutches.

Just because depression scientists don’t know exactly what causes it does not mean that biological factors don’t play a significant role in why people experience depression. But, again, as Dr. Williams observes,

Superficial, deterministic explanations dehumanize people, rendering them as automatons rather than persons with the dignity and honor ascribed to us in Psalm 8.

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Struggling? Make an appointment (in person or by Skype) with me. –LAM

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5 AMAZING NAMES GOD CALLS YOU!

Blessed, Daughter, Saint, and more!

In this delightful, four-color ebook, you’ll discover the precious names God calls you. Today so many Christian women don’t fully know their wonderful identity in Christ. Isn’t a time to know yours? Filled with scripture, photography, personal stories, and encouragement!

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