Saturday, September 2, 2017

Be Transformed By The Renewing Of Your Minds

Pentecost 13A 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

I would like to focus on a portion of our Epistle Reading from Romans Chapter 12 authored by St. Paul.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect."
How do we live out this statement from St. Paul that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? How does this play out with problems that so many suffer from? I want to discuss two problems so common today suffered by so many including me. This is not feel-good therapeutic advice. This is for most of us just fighting the good fight with help from the Word of God.
The topics I want to talk about today are Depression and Anxiety, and both can occur together.
Depression has been called the common cold of mental health. It is true in the respect that it is common and can also be contagious. For example if your spouse, parent or child is unhappy, it is difficult to be happy yourself. Depression however, is much more severe than a common cold. It is an isolating, deep, seemingly hopeless hole of despair. It is a place where a broken shoelace in the morning can destroy an entire day. It is a place with no pleasure and no more tears to shed. It can appear normally as a part of grief. But what if you are depressed without a reason? Depression has been described as a behavior disorder, a cognitive disorder, a family systems disorder and a neurotransmitter imbalance. Depression is usually treated as if it were a chemical imbalance with antidepressant medication. Counseling also helps.   
I want to offer another way for folks to consider why depression is seemingly so difficult to deal with yet point to a hopeful understanding and treatment.  In some sense I see chronic (with acute episodes) depression as an identity disorder. It is as if people who suffer from chronic depression no longer can distinguish themselves from their disorder. It is as if depressed persons would have to give up who they know themselves to be if their depression was removed. They would not know who they were any longer. From a Christian perspective this means to go to the cross with Christ not to destroy oneself. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).  And we hear also from Paul in Romans “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (6:6). I think that is why a Christian approach could provide help. I mean by this, helping the individual to put on Christ as their new identity. Putting on Christ is something all Christians are asked to do. The life of a Christian is continually taking the old man to the cross or as Luther would say, celebrating our baptism daily by drowning the old man so that the new man might come forth. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4: 22-24). There is so much in Scripture that encourages us to put on the new person that is Christ. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2a) What kind of mind are we to have? Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:5). “… my friends keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8). Have you ever examined your daily thoughts? Are they focused on “…whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.
There is an additional side to addressing depression. Since depression can be isolating, Christians know that physically they reside in Christ’s body the church. Their brothers and sisters who may also have experienced depression are available to offer the comfort that they were comforted with. (2 Cor. 7:13). Spiritually they also reside in Christ. “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28a). Christ suffers with His church and us.  The topic of depression fills volumes and treatment options are multifaceted with varying degrees of effectiveness depending also on the individual. What I have attempted to say, that as Christians we all have an opportunity to seek and to find ourselves in Christ and He in us. For those with depression this is especially important. My comments are in addition to, not in lieu of other treatment options offered by your physician.
Christ is our true self and our only self. Listen to the life He offers us. It is a not a life without suffering but it can be a life of joy.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
Anxiety is defined differently than fear. Fear generally has an object, immediacy and a means of avoidance. Anxiety is more of a state of uneasiness, an apprehension about the future and a sense of the unavoidable. Anxiety is often associated with depression. While Depression is often the primary diagnosis, Anxiety may be the presenting problem. While depression gets “top billing” and treatment dollars, it is anxiety that takes the quality and the could-have-been out of far more lives than depression.  Anxiety extinguishes dreams and paralyzes plans. It is the primary ingredient in the opposite of the Peter Principle. Most people will not become who they could be.  
Anxiety rubs against our thoughts until it creates an open wound in the soul. To some extent we do it to ourselves. We fail in the basics of eating, exercising and resting. Some dither until they must rush. Some multitask, doing nothing well. Some become addicted to frenzied activity in an effort to fill a life devoid of meaning with substitutes. There is a normal pace to living and most are living too fast.
We also live in a virtual world that does not wait for us to catch up. We are simply inundated with information beyond our ability to process and absorb it. We are suffering from virtual Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How many times have we seen the jet airliners fly into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center? How many times will we see the rivers of water covering the streets of Houston? We no longer live in small isolated communities. We live on and experience a planet’s worth of trauma. We brace for hurricanes and blizzards days in advance with some never arriving. Scientists inform us that there could be an asteroid that would collide with our earth and we would all perish. Anxiety makes us cautious. Everything we buy including the morning coffee comes with a warning label. We seem to guide our lives by our fears. Our fears are so limiting. Let’s be honest here. Did you make up a false excuse for not doing something because you were afraid of doing it? Can’t we do all things through Christ who strengthens us? (Philippians 4:13). 
We have a world’s worth of trauma delivered to our home and portable viewing screens twenty-four seven with updates on the ten.
At its core, anxiety is an ego state. It is the ego awfulizing at the prospect that it may perish. It is an existential drama where the individual is continually in a state of “What if”? It is the ego trying to control what cannot be controlled. The worst part of anxiety is that we have no control yet we are responsible. We are like the mouse that is shocked no matter where he jumps to in the cage. We cannot avoid or escape the shock.
Anxiety is not an uppercut to the jaw. It is a series of body blows that wears us down. It masks the ego vulnerability and manifests itself as road rage, frigidity, autoimmune disorders, social isolation and self medicated fugue states. It is the primary disease of self and the prognosis is morbid. The prescription is divestment of self not destruction of self. As John the Baptist said, “He must become more, I must become less.” (John 3:30) We are simply preoccupied with ourselves. It is time to step off the throne of self and surrender to God. We must stop trying to be God. We are vulnerable because life is all about our wants, our needs and us. It is our ego that requires applause. It seems we can never get enough “upvotes” on social media and selfies.
Instead, Christ tells us to put ourselves in the least honored place, the place of the servant. It is not about getting more things. It is about pouring ourselves out on behalf of others. How much of our time, talent and treasure is wasted building an edifice of straw to ourselves. Our true legacy is determined by our good deeds, those we have helped not a curriculum vitae filled with self-promotion. The self we keep propping up and defending is a golden calf and a false god. We have fashioned ourselves into idols. We are not only idolaters; we are the worst kind of idolaters because we are the idols we worship.
As St. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit has told us, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). So what is the release from this prison of anxiety? It is the decision to die to self and live for Christ, for He is our authentic self. It is not our story. It is His story and He is the author. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ. St. Paul said, “In all things, I have learned to be content.” Being content is a process. Sometimes a “Dark Night of the Soul” like Cancer or the death of a child makes this process happen a little faster. It is something I struggle with too but less so as I age in Christ and the new man comes forth. Each time there is anxiety, we can ask ourselves, “Is it my ego that I am defending here”?  If it is then let go and let God as someone said. The language of Scripture is the balm of Gilead and the elixir of life. These two verses help me as God brings them to my remembrance.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:7)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6).

I would now like to conclude with a prayer for help.

Dear Lord, save me from the chaos of this world. Save me from the fears of distant wars and local crime. Save me from the fear of infirmity and bodily harm.  Save me from the fear and anxiety that continually cause me to withdraw, that limit my movements and involvement in good works. Save me from the prison of self. Save me from self-abuse, self-destruction and mistreatment of others. Save me from my own thoughts that are so critical and corrosive that my joints ache. Save me from self-indulgence and pleasure seeking. Save me from the root of bitterness continually filling me with its toxic anger, sarcasm, cynicism, mistrust and a heart unwilling to reconcile with others. Save me from self-righteousness, pride and condescension toward others. Save me from dismissing others from my mind. Save me from numbing my mind with drugs and distractions. Save me for Yourself Lord Jesus. Save me for Your name sake. Amen

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