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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

The Christmas Pageant

Posted by MDViews on November 29, 2011

I don’t often re-cycle previous posts, but I was going through some “stuff” of mine and found this article I wrote last year after our Christmas program at my church. Just reading through it and re-living the moment brought tears…again. (Maybe I need my levels checked.) So here it is again, dear reader. I pray you experience an endearing  familiarity and heart-warming resonance with this piece, not to mention the reminder of God’s greatest gift to us, His only Son.

The Christmas Pageant

Everyone sits toward the front of the church, no one in the back, all ready for the intimate remembrance of the advent. Some bear the still fresh sorrow of those passed while others hold a fearful elation anticipating a son, daughter or grandchild taking the stage tonight. Recording devices at the ready dot the gathered crowd with the promise no moment will be lost.

The 5th and 6th graders, business-casual in dress, ascend the risers with most smiling and a few waving to their progenitors who smile and wave back. The largely home-schooled group lacks the jaundiced, sullen, defiant displays I’ve seen in public school “holiday” concerts, such comportment the likely benefit of adult influence and mature attitudes inherent in homeschooling. With solemn vitality and distracted attention they sing, even the boys, to open the service, then all but one girl exits. She steps to the microphone and fluently reads the beginning of the eternal advent story—the profound entrance of grace and sacrifice into our fallen world.

The congregation stands and sings a Christmas hymn. I notice the front. An immense wooden cross draped at the crossbeam with a white sheet dominates the scene. A banner hangs from the ceiling which depicts the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the Highest and On Earth, Peace, Goodwill Toward Men.” Poinsettias grace both sides of the stage and ribbons, thule and gifts populate the communion table.

An eleven year old boy reads more of the Christmas story as the congregation listens, only gently interrupted by the quiet sounds of a few restless babies.

Emmanuel! God with us! That baby, that Savior who was all God and all man, cried in his mother’s arms while holding the stars in their places! Oh God. I am humiliated by my sin, humbled by your grace and staggered by your love as my mind again tries to comprehend the dirty splendor and ignoble majesty of that royal night.

Now, a soft “Away in a Manger” wafts over us as the 4-6 year olds, four of them grandchildren, mount the risers guided by three adults who position them and step away. They are well-behaved to the joyful relief of their parents! The children’s inexpressible charm would soften the most hard-boiled heathen, I think. Cameras and recorders appear from nowhere as the group sings—some louder than others—and makes their exit leaving many visiting congregants without a reason to stay.

About thirty 8-11 year olds sing an unfamiliar Christmas composition with the unflappable piano accompaniment by a teenage girl, hers certainly not a casual achievement. More Christmas story is read and the young teens take center stage with many girls, now becoming young women, towering above most of the boys.

More instruments appear as the song, sung in parts by the teens, resplendently echoes through the sanctuary. The congregation stands and joins them in another carol after which a pastor starts a devotional. He describes the terrified shepherds, the angelic host, the words of the angel, “Fear not.” That angel has to be kidding. The sky is filled with eternal beings who dwell in the presence of the almighty God and the angel says to “Fear not?” Then he wonders what an angel chorus would sound like. Who can say? They announced “Glory to God in the Highest.” Think of it—glory to God—His purpose for salvation and our ultimate purpose for living—to bring glory to God, always, now and forever, to evermore worship our great Savior. The wonder fills my heart. I try and fail to imagine entering His presence. I look and see rivulets of tears flowing down the face of a woman near me. My eyes water.

The bright lights dim as a slow parade of six year olds circumspectly carry the advent candles down the isle. The singing ends with the song, “Here I Am to Worship.” Hands extend toward heaven. The service is complete.

In the ensuing swirls and eddies of people and groups, the story still vividly grips my heart. I soak quietly in the grieving beauty of the Christ’s birth and the savage violence of the cross. There in that manger lies my blessed hope, hope which is secure and inviolate in the palm of His hand. God, I pray, let me never lose the wonder.

Posted in Faith and the Glory of God, Holidays, Personal | 2 Comments »

Thoughts on Christmas Past

Posted by MDViews on February 25, 2011

Thoughts on Christmas Past – This is something I wrote after our Christmas Eve service 12-24-10, a service serving the wine of inspiration and wonder from which I drunk deeply. The complete experience evoked earnest worship of the miracle of the advent, this worship carried by warm enthusiasm and grave significance of songs and readings by children, teens, adults. Jesus shattered the clinging darkness of our vilely unclean world. He brought peace and rest. He is past, present and future–our passionate hope! I pray your heart catches the sweet glory of Christmas as you read.

Thoughts on Christmas Past

Everyone sits toward the front of the church, no one in the back, all ready for the intimate remembrance of the advent. Some bear the still fresh sorrow of those passed while others hold a fearful elation anticipating a son, daughter or grandchild taking the stage tonight. Recording devices at the ready dot the gathered crowd with the promise no moment will be lost.

The 5th and 6th graders, business-casual in dress, ascend the risers with most smiling and a few waving to their progenitors who smile and wave back. The largely home-schooled group lacks the jaundiced, sullen, defiant displays I’ve seen in public school “holiday” concerts, such comportment the likely benefit of adult influence and mature attitudes inherent in homeschooling. With solemn vitality and distracted attention they sing, even the boys, to open the service, then all but one girl exits. She steps to the microphone and fluently reads the beginning of the eternal advent story—the profound entrance of grace and sacrifice into our fallen world.

The congregation stands and sings a Christmas hymn. I notice the front. An immense wooden cross draped at the crossbeam with a white sheet dominates the scene. A banner hangs from the ceiling which depicts the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the Highest and On Earth, Peace, Goodwill Toward Men.” Poinsettias grace both sides of the stage and ribbons, thule and gifts populate the communion table.

An eleven year old boy reads more of the Christmas story as the congregation listens, only gently interrupted by the quiet sounds of a few restless babies.

Emmanuel! God with us! That baby, that Savior who was all God and all man, cried in his mother’s arms while holding the stars in their places! Oh God. I am humiliated by my sin, humbled by your grace and staggered by your love as my mind again tries to comprehend the dirty splendor and ignoble majesty of that royal night.

Now, a soft “Away in a Manger” wafts over us as the 4-6 year olds, four of them grandchildren, mount the risers guided by three adults who position them and step away. They are well-behaved to the joyful relief of their parents! The children’s inexpressible charm would soften the most hard-boiled heathen, I thought. Cameras and recorders appear from nowhere as the group sings—some louder than others—and makes their exit leaving many visiting congregants without a reason to stay.

About thirty 8-11 year olds sing an unfamiliar Christmas composition with the unflappable piano accompaniment by a teenage girl, hers certainly not a casual achievement. More Christmas story is read and the young teens take center stage with many girls, now becoming young women, towering above most of the boys.

More instruments appear as the song, sung in parts by the teens, resplendently echoes through the sanctuary. The congregation stands and joins them in another carol after which a pastor starts a devotional. He describes the terrified shepherds, the angelic host, the words of the angel, “Fear not.” That angel has to be kidding. The sky is filled with eternal beings who dwell in the presence of the almighty God and the angel says to “Fear not?” Then he wonders what an angel chorus would sound like. Who can say? They announced “Glory to God in the Highest.” Think of it—glory to God—His purpose for salvation and our ultimate purpose for living—to bring glory to God, always, now and forever, to evermore worship our great Savior. The wonder fills my heart. I try and fail to imagine entering His presence. I look and see rivulets of tears flowing down the face of a woman near me. My eyes water.

The bright lights dim as a slow parade of six year olds circumspectly carry the advent candles down the isle. The singing ends with the song, “Here I Am to Worship.” Hands extend toward heaven. The service is complete.

In the ensuing swirls and eddies of people and groups, the story still vividly grips my heart. I soak quietly in the grieving beauty of the Christ’s birth and the savage violence of the cross. There in that manger lies my blessed hope, hope which is secure and inviolate in the palm of His hand. God, I pray, let me never lose the wonder.

Posted in Faith and the Glory of God, Family, Holidays, Personal | Leave a Comment »

Depression and Christmas, OB/GYN Perspective

Posted by MDViews on December 1, 2010

Depression and Christians

 

The “Holiday Blues,” anxiety and even depression affect many people about this time of year.1 To some, remembrance of pleasant childhood memories now gone forever contrast with today’s unpleasant realities. Issues such as family strife, unemployment with financial constraints, loneliness from prior losses of loved ones, isolation, unrealized expectations and even family gatherings with tension from estranged relatives may contribute to sadness and despair. The time of joy, cheer, wonderful family reunions and the enjoyment of deep, meaningful relationships just doesn’t exist for many. Personal circumstances mock “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 

But unfortunately, feelings of hopelessness and despair occur at any time of year for others. Unrelenting depression haunts the souls of many Christians day after day after day with nothing to blame, no clear cause and no sudden discovery of the underlying problem.

 

As a Christian medial doctor, I care for many committed Christians and have heard what follows.

 

She described her symptoms to me. She felt down, had no joy in formerly joyful activities, wanted to hide in her bedroom and pull the covers over her head, cried at anything and nothing, constantly barked at her husband and children and had considered suicide. She found simple chores impossible. Fellowship became painful to endure. Prayer became a hollow exercise. She searched her life for unconfessed sin and confessed it all. Worship meant talking with congregants after the service which took all her effort. She cried as she spoke. She tried everything her friends recommended; get out more, pray more, study the Bible more, exercise, take the latest nutriceutical, eat organic and even, “snap out of it.” Nothing helped. I prescribed an anti-depressant for her.

 

Depression is the word in the church that must not be spoken. Those taking anti-depressants may find themselves stigmatized by pastors, elders or church members. I’ve had patients forbidden by husbands and elders from taking medicine for serious depression. I’ve had many Christian women take anti-depressants secretly, fearing the backlash waiting them should the church or their family find out.

 

I’ve heard some pastors rage from the pulpit, “We’ve given up God for a happy pill! Instead of depending on the power of God and the truth of his word, we’ve become the Prozac generation! Doctor’s pass out depression pills like candy!” Perhaps you’ve heard sermons like that as well. Few conditions generate more controversy in the evangelical church than depression.

 

The word “depression” does not appear in the ESV translation of the Bible, but the Bible certainly addresses sorrow and despair often with vivid descriptions.

 

Even in David, the man after God’s own heart, speaks of his despair. In Psalm 88:3-9, David writes,

 

For my soul is full of troubles,

and my life draws near to Sheol.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

I am a man who has no strength,

like one set loose among the dead,

like the slain that lie in the grave,

like those whom you remember no more,

for they are cut off from your hand.

You have put me in the depths of the pit,

in the regions dark and deep.(ESV)

 

David also wrote,

 

1Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. Psalms 69: 1,2. (ESV)

 

The Bible generally attributes sorrow and despair to enemies or unconfessed sin, both of which can decidedly cause depression. Secret sins hurt the most. Failure to repent, turn from the sin and receive forgiveness and failure to appreciate the glory of God, the magnitude of His sacrifice, the joy of His service and the wonder of His love and His holy word can cause the Christian enter the darkness of despair.

 

The seriousness of spiritual depression and the need of repentance, forgiveness, turning from sin, restoration of relationships, seeking the face of God and recognition of the sovereignty of God cannot be overemphasized. Spiritual depression robs us of the certainty of God’s care and providence. Pastor and elders must boldly proclaim the gospel seeking restoration of the straying or troubled saint. The family of God needs to be involved; encouraging, coming along side, supporting and helping the downcast. God can heal if He chooses—and He does.

 

The puritans recognized depression and called it melancholy of the soul. They admonished confession, repentance, forgiveness and pleading at the throne of God for mercy. But the Puritans also recognized an endogenous depression which happened to the spiritually upright, to those with no cause for the turmoil and despair within. Richard Baxter, a Puritan pastor wrote, “If other means will not do, neglect not medicine; and though they will be averse to it, as believing that the disease is only in the mind, they must be persuaded or forced to it.”

 

My story continues,

 

When she return four weeks later, she said, “Doctor Anderson, I feel normal for the first time in eight years. I can pray and worship and fellowship again. Christ has become more real than ever. My husband and family cannot believe the change.”

 

Pastors, elders and the church family need to acknowledge the medical side of depression and not just the spiritual side of depression. Medical depression exists and affects the saved and unsaved alike. The seriously depressed who find healing and relief in medical treatment benefit from the common grace of God which is showered on all humanity (it rains of the just and unjust alike). Those saints should not be castigated, belittled or shunned.

 

True medical depression is hard to understand for those who have never experienced it. But the depressed who find themselves in the pit with no way out, those who view suicide as a relief from this despair and those who wish for death every night as they crawl into bed understand. They need kindness, understanding, and help from the church without the side looks and whispers. They need the body of Christ to come along side, provide Christian love, care and help, just like one would with a grieving widow. The depressed need understanding and prayer, not a scold.

 

1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/MH00030

Posted in Depression, Doctoring, Holidays | 2 Comments »

Missing the Joy

Posted by MDViews on August 29, 2009

Following is a piece I wrote hoping to have it published. It doesn’t look like it will be, so I am posting it here. It regards family size. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Missing the Joy

 

Everyone knows we live on an over-populated planet. Too many people (carbon footprints) harm our environment causing global climate change, a threat to us all. In addition, increasing population means more poverty and starvation. Socially responsible adults must respond by limiting their family size.

 

What I just wrote is nonsense, of course, but is religion to environmentalists and accepted by many if not most Americans. In spite of such bleak pronouncements, abundant space remains in and on this world for more people. The sun controls our weather more than we thought. Carbon dioxide helps plants grow. Denmark and Japan, two densely populated countries, experience remarkable prosperity in spite of (because of?) their many citizens. Dishonesty, graft, greed and corruption seem to contribute more to poverty and starvation in third world countries than anything else. It’s hard to do business with a dishonest person or run a business in a country with a corrupt government.

 

But what does a socially responsible young adult do about family? Should a couple have children? If so, how many? Is a large family a curse on the planet or a blessing? As Psalm 127 says,

 

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them! (ESV)

                                                          

I deal with this issue everyday in my OB/GYN practice. It’s my job to inquire about childbearing desires, an inquiry which always leads to a discussion of family size. When I ask women if they will have children, or have more children, I usually get a ‘you-just-want-more-OB-business’ comment with a sly smile. But when I press, the comments I hear are almost always the same: We have the perfect family, a boy and a girl; my husband won’t let me; day care is too expensive; we just moved into a new house and can’t afford another child; one child is too much hassle, more would be worse; we want to travel and have fun; we should limit our family to not hurt the planet. Money. Time. Fun. Job. Daycare. Travel. Hassle. Husband. Environmental responsibility. Such are the reasons I hear for limiting family size.

 

I’ll ask to share my perspective on family size. If permitted, I do my best to counter such arguments and am occasionally persuasive.

 

For those with money trouble, I counter by saying there has never been a better time to afford children. Discount stores and thrift shops dot the cities and towns. Frugality is not poverty. The most important things a parent can give a child—time, support, love, care, discipline and training—cannot be bought with money. A strong social safety net protects in the event of hard times. No one starves.

 

To the hard-core environmentalists, if pressed, I mention Denmark and Japan as examples of countries maintaining a healthy environment with dense populations and present the view that people are the solution, not the problem.

 

It’s harder to counter the “perfect family” argument and the “we want to have fun” argument. To that I ask if her children bring her joy. And, of course, they do.

 

Then I ask if I can share my Thanksgiving story. I’ve never been turned down.

 

Thanksgiving—it’s a busy day at the Anderson house. Family and friends arrive from all over. People trickle in, some bringing food, some Thanksgiving cards, some half a gaggle of kids and everyone their appetites. Decorations of turkeys and pilgrims delight the little ones. The smell of food fills the house. In the kitchen, a passel of woman (and men) prepare food in abundance as talking fills the air. Discussions of kids, jobs, cars, church, joys and sorrows go on between where’s-this-bowl and what-shall-I-add-to-this. In the living room, three sit discussing politics. Four play a board game at the kitchen table. Toddlers run, scream, fall, laugh and cry. Babies are admired, diapers are changed, naps go on in the quiet rooms and comments are made about how every child is taller this year. Eventually, everyone gathers at the table where I read a thanksgiving Psalm and pray, thanking God for His providence, praying for those in need, remembering with sorrow the close family and friends who have passed on and blessing those who could not attend for one reason or another. Everyone eats as conversations continue. A few do the dishes, sometimes even joyfully, as most bundle up for the football game outside where someone is always learning the game and someone always gets hurt.

 

Then I tell them that when they get to my age, material things—cars, houses, bank accounts—dim in importance. But family, this gift of God, provides abundant, often indescribable, joy. Even with the sorrow of loss, family events like that are as close to heaven as I’ll ever get this side of glory. I tell her my desire for her to have children has nothing to do with my OB business, but everything to do with her joy. Don’t give up the joy! Don’t settle for “stuff”—money, cars, homes, travel, big retirement nest eggs—just stuff—when you can have family!

 

Of course, everyone knows families can be dysfunctional, traumatic, abusive and broken. Just read a newspaper. But the Psalmist had it right. Children are a reward and a joy, not a carbon footprint destroying the planet.

Posted in Faith and the Glory of God, Family, Holidays, Personal | 5 Comments »