The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Bipolar Faith

The word “bipolar” triggers thoughts of mental illness and stirs strong emotional responses for those who have been touched by it; either personally or in the circle of those they love. WebMD gives this basic definition, “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior. You can think of the highs and the lows as two “poles” of mood, which is why it’s called “bipolar” disorder.”
 
It is a puzzling and potentially destructive illness that, as of yet, has not been traced to any central cause. If your emotions and energy levels follow a stable and predictable pattern, you can humbly thank God. If you know someone touched by this disorder, extend large measures of love, compassion and prayer.
 
I would also caution against judging the faith of a person who struggles with Bipolar disorder or any other form of mental illness. Research the life of the famous hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800). His hymns are among some of my favorites for their beauty, theology and depth of insight. And yet … this man struggled his entire life with debilitating seasons of utter despair. He repeatedly tried to end his life, but by God’s hand was preserved. It is difficult to reconcile his hope in Christ and his despair in life, but perhaps that is the greatest legacy of his testimony. Once saved, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” … not even our own tendencies toward despair.
 
In moments of deep honesty, most of us would probably admit to some level of bipolarity in our faith. We have known times of great confidence in and closeness to Christ … and we have known times when we despaired of our salvation or doubted the basic truths of our faith. As we progress through our study of Hebrews 11, you should feel increasingly less isolated. The “great cloud of witnesses” as they’re called in Chapter 12, all experienced highs and lows, triumphs and failures in their faith. No mere human can be the ultimate model for our faith. That’s why the author of Hebrews instructs us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” See also Isaiah 26:3.
 
 


Faith Inaction:

In the hour I’ve been sitting at my CBC desk, I’ve heard several loud train-horn blasts. They obviously came from nearby … but I don’t remember seeing any tracks. Let the head scratching commence.
 
According to my research, the closest train track is 61.5 km or … a little over 38 miles away. The only other railways in Panama have been defunct for over 25 years. So, what am I hearing? You know … semi-trucks outfitted with train horns. Heaven forbid that one should slow down while passing the Coronado entrance. Why do that when you can use your air-horns to clear a path?
 
It reminds me of the first car Sue and I purchased together. It was a 1985 Honda Civic Station Wagon. If you know of one in good condition … I’ll buy it. It was a super little car, camper, pickup, mountain climbing, all-purpose, do-whatever-you-want vehicle. It was one of my favorite cars … except for the horn. The horn sounded like the Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner with a serious head cold. I got no respect. So, when the horn died, I replaced it with the loudest set of dual horns I could find. The first time I used the new horn, the person I honked at searched the intersection in vain for a 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood. I still got no respect. A train horn on a semi … doesn’t make it a train. Dual, 185 dB, matching “f” horns can’t turn a Civic into a Cadillac.
 
Hebrews 11 is a running list of people who were saved by and lived by their faith in God. Their actions did not save them, their faith saved them. Good works never lead to salvation, but true salvation cannot exist devoid of good works. James 2:20 puts it this way, “Faith without works is useless.” Some translations read “Faith without works is dead.” Hebrews says that faith is evidence of things unseen … and teaches that a life lived intentionally for God and His will is evidence of real faith. Faith is more than checking off a list that you believe the right things (read James 2:19). True faith will always be Faith-in-Action.
 
 


Foreigners

 

Why is there a giant blue E right next to my photo? It stands for the Spanish word “Extranerjo.” After thousands of Balboas (dollars … not beers), countless hours, calls to the lawyer, trips to the city …we are still “foreigners.” We have “Permanent Residency,” but I’m not entirely sure what that means since the card has an expiration date. We were not born here, we don’t speak the language and no one will ever mistake us for locals.
 
Sue and I promised each other that we would do our best to stay positive toward our host country and its people. But there are parts of this country’s pace and ethos that we just don’t get. When too many of those differences pile up, making us starkly aware of that we are outsiders, it’s easy to feel isolated.
 
I think living outside my birth-country is helping me get in touch with my spiritual “E.” I don’t fit in on planet earth either. Every believer in Jesus Christ is ultimately an extranerjo, a foreigner, an alien. That’s the testimony about all the people of faith cataloged in Hebrews Chapter Eleven,
 
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
 
If you feel out of place … at odds with the world’s values and morals, that’s good (1 Peter 1:17; 2 Peter 2:11). If you find yourself perfectly at home here and long for nothing better, purer or higher, look with concern to your soul (1 John 2:15). This world is not your home … Christian.
 
Here’s the great news about that. Being a foreigner here means that you are a citizen of heaven! However poorly your faith is received here, it will be warmly welcomed in your eternal country. Let these two beautiful statements from Hebrews revive your soul …
  • Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (2:11)
  • God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (11:16)
 
 


Perspective

58696a1e77c0a-image
The list is extensive: an astronaut, a first lady, a supreme court justice, a Nobel Laureate, a dictator. Add to those notables a long list of singers, actors, comedians, sports legends, coaches, politicians, authors and journalists. These are the well-known personages claimed by 2016. Each of them was loved by family and friends (people who actually knew them) and so each death is an occasion for genuine sympathy. That said, I have an issue with the public response.
 
News bytes decrying their loss seem beyond numbering. A few articles, went so far as to imply that 2016 was the worst year of loss the world has ever experienced. I was glad that most of the lists called the deceased what they were … stars, celebrities and entertainers. Some pieces grossly overstated their importance and contribution by lumping the entire list under descriptors like; “Greats” … “Luminaries” and “Legends.” What should it take to earn such verbal epaulets? Should a person be considered “great” for combining aptitude in gyration and extreme narcissism?  Apparently, some would say, “Yes.”
 
There was a notable silence in this media maelstrom. A group of men and women who this year earned the highest epitaph possible … “The world was not worthy of them.”That audacious word of praise follows a rambling list of unnamed believers in Hebrews Chapter Eleven, who were,
tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated…
 
Far from interviews, bright lights and red carpets, these people “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” I believe the author of Hebrews left this list anonymous and open-ended for a reason. The roll of those who lay down their life because of their faith in Christ has never been static. It will not be closed until Jesus returns. The new inductees into this Hall of Faith received exactly 24 seconds from Fox News when they reported on the estimated 90,000 Christians martyred in 2016. The world was not worthy of them.
 
http://insider.foxnews.com/2017/01/02/christians-most-persecuted-religious-group-2016-terrorism-isis
 
 


“That’s Ridiculous!”

2016-17-pic“That’s Ridiculous!” Those words are very close to my thoughts way back in 1975 when the teacher handed me a copy of Weekly Reader. Weekly Reader was an educational newspaper distributed to kids in the U.S. school system. What caused such incredulity my nine-year-old brain? A simple math problem: “Your Age + 25 = How old you will be in the year 2000.” I literally remember thinking, “That’s ridiculous! I’ll never be that old!” Even at nine, the forces of cynicism and faith were shaping my world view.
 
On the side of cynicism, was the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia. My nascent views on world affairs were being formed by nightly news reports that graphed the numbers of nuclear submarines, warheads and megatons of destructive force owned by the two superpowers. I remember tests of the Emergency Broadcasting System and videos of entire towns disintegrating in the aftermath of one nuclear detonation. All of this had produced a nine-year-old nihilist who could not imagine the world surviving long enough for me to reach the age of thirty-four.
 
Faith … or the religious leanings of my mother, had its own chilling effect on my thoughts of the future. I was living in the religious aftermath of Hal Lindsey’s 1970 End-times, best-seller, The Late, Great Planet Earth. In 1972, Russel Doughten had released “A Thief in the Night” depicting a modern and sensationalistic interpretation of the events of the book of Revelation. The movie seemed crafted to make a Christians doubt their salvation, and it worked on me. I was convinced that Christ would return before I reached adulthood and was pretty sure I wouldn’t make the cut.
 
So here we are in 2017! Is Christ going to return and bring human history to a close? Yes … I believe God’s Word teaches that. So … what happened? 2 Peter 3:9 explains, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
 
Welcome to 2017, another year of our Lord’s Grace. What will you do with it?