Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What Makes Mary So Special?

"And Mary said: 'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is His name.'"
- Luke 1:46-49

For centuries Catholics and Protestants have debated about the role that Mary should play in the lives of Christians. There’s no doubt that Catholics place a greater emphasis on Mary than do Protestants. In most Protestant churches Mary is rarely mentioned other than at Christmas and on Good Friday. But Catholics and Protestants agree: Mary was a very special woman.

But what makes Mary so special? This question struck me earlier today, and Mary herself gives us the best answer in Luke 1. After receiving the message from the angel Gabriel that—though she was a virgin and probably just a teenager—she would give birth to the Son of God, the King of the Jews, Mary took a last-minute road trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth. While there, Mary created and jubilantly recited a poem of praise to the Lord. At times it’s called “Mary’s Song.”  Many others know it by its Latin name: “The Magnificat.” 

Early in the poem Mary acknowledges that “from now on all generations will call [her] blessed.”  Why? Why would Christians for centuries to come call her “blessed”? Mary herself tells us in verse 49. According to Mary, she would be called blessed for one reason: “for the Mighty One has done great things for me” (verse 49). In other words, the only reason that she is blessed is because God blessed her. Similarly, the only reason that Mary is so special is because God made her so special. So it’s clear that she didn’t make herself special. God made her special.

And as a result, in the remainder of the poem, Mary shines the spotlight—not on herself—but on God. She praises Him for His mercy in verses 50 and 54. She praises Him for His mighty deeds in verse 51. She praises God for His sovereign power in verse 52 and for His compassion in verse 53. There seems to be no doubt in Mary’s mind: She is special for one reason and one reason only: God made her special.

The reality is, had it not been for Jesus, none of us would have any idea who Mary of Nazareth was. At the mention of her name, we’d all be asking each other, “Mary who?” Without Jesus, Mary would have remained an obscure young woman hailing from a piddly little town in an unimpressive region of the tiny nation of Israel. Mary would have lived and died in absolute obscurity, and hardly anyone would have cared. Precious few would have noticed…were it not for Jesus.

You see, Jesus makes all the difference in the world. Jesus was the one whose incarnation put Mary in the history books as the only virgin to have ever given birth to a child. Jesus was the one whose birth put Mary on King Herod’s most wanted list. Jesus was the one whose birth brought wealthy astrologers from hundreds of miles away to entrust Mary and her husband with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. Jesus was the one who made Mary appear to be the best wedding host ever at the wedding in Cana. Jesus was the one whose ministry placed Mary at two of the most important events in history: his crucifixion and the sending of his Holy Spirit upon his followers in Acts 2.

Jesus made Mary…Mary. Mary is so special because Jesus made her special. And the same goes for you. Let’s face it: without Jesus Christ in our lives, we’re just as obscure as Mary was before the angel Gabriel paid her a visit. Think about it. Each of us lives in an obscure Southern California town, in a piddly little valley that most people only pay attention to when they get hunger pangs during their drives to and from Vegas. You and I aren’t famous. Few people know us, and precious few will remember us after we die.

But just as Jesus Christ made Mary so special, he can and will make you special. No, if you allow Jesus Christ to take the driver’s seat of your life, it doesn’t mean that a figurine of you will be added to everyone’s manger scene. People may still forget you when you die. But this world will have been greatly impacted by your life.

You see, Jesus Christ loved you enough to die for you. And he put you on this earth at this time and in this place for a reason. And that reason is very important. Just as he had a great purpose and plan for Mary, he has a great purpose and plan for you. So, trust him. Love him. And obediently carry out that plan.

And when someone asks you the question, “What makes you so special?” tell them the truth. “The answer isn’t a ‘what’ but a ‘who.’ Jesus Christ makes me so special, and don’t you forget it!” 
Dane Davis is the lead pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville and the author of Holy Huldah!: Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters
You've Never Heard Of.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why Do Christians Get Depressed?

Jesus said, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."  - John 15:10-11

Consider this: Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:3-12 that those who follow in his footsteps are blessed, which means—among other things—happy. And in John 15:10-12 Jesus tells us that obeying his commands and remaining in his love lead to complete joy. From what we read in the New Testament, it seems clear that Christians should be the “happiest” people on earth. So, if that’s the case, why are so many Christians depressed? 

Great question, but there’s not a simple answer. Depression is a complex disease. It doesn’t stem from a single cause and can’t be cured by a single pill. But understanding the physical, environmental and spiritual causes of depression can provide the first necessary step toward healing and recovery. God has created you to persevere and be an overcomer, and the following insights can help you or anyone else rise out of the depths of despair.

Much medical and psychological research has been done on the disease of depression. According to experts, some of the most common physical and environmental causes of depression are chronic diseases (especially diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, MS and other illnesses that cause chronic pain), prescription medications, negative life events (e.g., a divorce or loss of a job), financial strain, and an unhealthy diet or a lack of regular exercise. Experts have even discovered that a lack of daily laughter has adverse effects on our mood.

So, why do Christians get depressed? Well, to a large extent Christians get depressed for the same reasons that anyone else gets depressed. At times, Christians struggle with depression as the result of an illness, family tragedy, financial woes or the side effects of medications. Other Christians get depressed because of a lousy diet, lack of exercise or lack of laughter. All that to say: oftentimes the direct cause of depression isn’t spiritual but physical or environmental. So if you or a family member is dealing with prolonged periods of depression, explore some of these physical causes and schedule an appointment with your doctor.

But depression can also have spiritual causes that require spiritual remedies. In Psalm 42, the psalmist reveals four of the spiritual causes of depression along with four spiritual remedies. They are:

#1: An absence of worship and Christian fellowship (vs1-2). There is power and healing in prayer and Christian fellowship. The Church is empowered by God to lift up those who are down spiritually. But it is also equipped to encourage those who are down emotionally. So make sure that you find a good home church and attend consistently. It’s good for you in more ways than you may have realized.

#2: Forgetting the joy of the Lord (vs3-4). When we are drowning in depression, the psalmist urges us to remember yesterday’s joy in our walk with the Lord. This is so important. One of the best things to do when your thoughts are down in the dumps is to take your thoughts back to a better time and place when you could taste the goodness of the Lord.

#3: Forgetting that your pain is temporary. As Christians we realize that weeping remains for a night but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). We know that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). We understand that every bit of suffering we experience on earth for Christ will be richly rewarded in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12). So Christians, of all people, have the insight of the future necessary to persevere through the most difficult seasons of suffering in the present.

#4: Putting hope in things other than Christ. Eventually our cars will break down. Our homes will fall down. Our bodies will wear down. And our family and friends, being human, will let us down. So it is foolish to put our greatest hopes in people or things. We must put our hope in Christ and cling to Him through thick and thin, because he will never let us down. He will always see us through.

So, hang in there, Christian. An old Japanese proverb states, “Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.” And stand up you will, because you were created to be an overcomer (Revelation 12:11). And there is hope in Christ!
Dane Davis is the lead pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville and the author of Holy Huldah!: Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters
You've Never Heard Of.