Green Screen Living

Surviving Depression–Look Behind the Green Screen

Depression

Hope and Despair

Mental or emotional depression is compared to many things. Let me add another. Depression is for the mind and emotions like the physical experience of walking through a swamp. My upbringing was in central Louisiana. On occasion, I duck-hunted in a swamp. At times, I’d walk several hundred yards through water mid-thigh, with mud sucking at every step. Wading through a swamp is muddy, messy, slow and exhausting. Similarly, depression is also muddy, messy, a slow trudge. It is also similarly exhausting.

To make matters worse, the swamp of depression seems perpetual. When a hunter is trudging back to higher land, he can see and know that dry ground is just ahead. Such is not the case with the swamp of depression. In every direction, there is the swamp extending as far as the eye can see.

It is a mental and emotional trip through the thigh-deep water with muck sucking at your boots each step.

The swamp goes forever. It seems that life does not exist beyond depression. Every sun-rise will find you in the same swamp. Walking through a swamp of depression is hard. When the swamp is the only thing, you can see it generates unspeakable despair.

The swamp of depression is real. It is exhausting and debilitating. Let me offer expanded perception.

Depression surrounds you with a “green screen”

“Green screen” is the technique of photographing or filming a person or object against a green monochrome backdrop. With the use of technology, a different image then replaces the monochrome backdrop. The person in the photo may not have traveled to the desert or mountain. Photographic or cinematic sleight-of-hand created what you see.

Understand, I’m not suggesting depression is fake. The defining characteristics of:

  • Sadness without reason
  • Lack of motivation
  • A sense of helplessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of focus
  • Less energy than usual
  • No pleasure in things you have always enjoyed.
  • It being a struggle to maintain normal social activities
  • Breathing taking all of your energy

All of these, along with several other symptoms are as real as this morning’s sunrise.

Depression’s Green Screen

But there is a falsehood in depression. It prompts my “green screen” analogy. Our mind can create its version of a “green screen.” Remember, a “green screen” allows an unreal image to become part of the picture being seen.

In depression, when you look ahead – you see the swamp. It extends as far as your eye can see. Look behind you, and it seems you have been in the swamp forever. All past success has little value while in the swamp of depression. On every side is the same – more swamp. The dark, muddy, and forbidding surrounds you. Every single step is an effort. Beyond that, the “green screen” says your current struggle will be there for every tomorrow. The sense that the depression will be perpetual is debilitating.

Does this not describe depression?

Depression’s green screen lie tells you that you are surrounded by a perpetual swamp of despair. The fable is that you have been here forever and that your life has no value. That part of depression is a “green screen.

Look Past the Green Screen

Surviving depression may become a bit easier, if you can know the lie for what it is. Depression, regardless of its source seldom lasts forever. Mine never has. High ground awaits. But, the false “green screen” would have you think different. Know better!

Use your past survival as a source of present encouragement

Many readers will have already walked through this swamp. In your previous journey through depression, didn’t it also seem as though the marsh would never end? You felt hopeless back then. Remember! You felt then, just like you feel now. Most people eventually come out of the depression. Your earlier depression may have lasted six months, a year or five years. You survived. Remember that survival – it will help you make it now.

Really Think about Tomorrow

For a moment limit your feeling and elevate your thinking. By the way, what we “think” and what we “feel”  are not the same thing. Emotions can be illogical. Look at your calendar. Before you walked into the swamp of depression what coming event would have brought you joy? Is a grandchild about to be born? Maybe, college graduation is just ahead? Perhaps, a conference you have always enjoyed awaits. Possibly, some of your “laughing friends” are coming to town. “Laughing friends” is my term for the small group of people with whom we can laugh with abandon. For most of us, such friends are a rare treasure.

I know what you are thinking, “Pastor, the idea of spending time with anybody or going to any event makes me feel exhausted.” Remember, in this exercise you are not feeling. You are “thinking.” When you think about it, there is great value in the time with those “laughing friends.” Somewhere ahead there is the likelihood of better times. There is a reason to slog on. The surrounding green screen says it is not so. Remember, it is a green screen. The green screen lies!

Really Think about the Past

For a second moment, limit your feelings and elevate your thinking. Open the pictures and videos on your phone or get the box of photos from a closet. Look at the pictures. Think about what you are seeing.  Some examples from my world:

  • Pictures of Lane and Chris as boys,
  • The picture of our two grandsons (holy children to me) at three years old having a whispered conversation on the drive leading to our home.
  • The pictures of our wedding
  • A framed copy of my first published book, Daily Things of Christian Living.
  • The video clip of 18-month-old Elsie, for the first time, discovering her shadow and head-butting it.

These help me peek around the green screen of despair. My life has not been so bad. Pictures of experiences shared with “laughing friends” like Stan and Melba, Tim and Joan, Jerry and Phyllis, Perry and Loretta, or Roy and Debbie help remind me. I have not always been walking through this swamp. As you look at your pictures – remember.

God IS – There!

Job had a similar experience. Job was depressed with good cause. He looked for God in front of him and behind him and on each side. (Job 23:8-9) In spite of Job’s search, God was not to be found. Job was seeing “green screens.” What Job felt was Job’s emotional reality. But, what Job saw was not the conclusion of this. Job said, “He knoweth the way that I take . . ..” (Job 23:10). Job’s based this final conclusion on faith, not feelings. While in his dark place, Job did not know where God was. By faith, Job understood that God knew right where he was.

In conclusion, take heart – this describes your situation as well.

Depression is real.

Depression being permanent – unlikely.

Your past life having no value – nonsense.

All of that is a “green screen.” Know the green screen surrounding your depression for what it is.

Daily Things of Christian Living

 

Destroyers

Identify the Destroyers Without–The Science of Shepherding

Destroyers come from without. It is common. People backslide. Unfortunately, in some cases, they are no longer even present at churches. Others backslide into comfortable carnality. Sadly, precious people are devoured. Through history, some of the finest of God’s flock became prey. Especially noteworthy, destruction comes in different forms. Most of these destroyers, a pastor/shepherd will need to repeatedly address as a part of the “Science of Shepherding”. The primary tools to deal with “destroyers”:

  • Strong, consistent, relevant Bible-based teaching and preaching.
  • An environment where the Holy Ghost minister, convict, direct and re-direct.

Feed the Flock with Protective Intent

It takes intentional behavior from the pastor/shepherd for the tools to work. Intentionality, means you are not always providing an exciting “that will preach” type sermon. Sadly, my “that will preach” sermons tend to be dessert rather than main course. While feeding with intent, this includes quite a few meals of spiritual oatmeal. Similarly, the flock needs some “fiber.” Feed with intent!

Further, studying and preaching about enjoyable topics is easy. My list of “enjoyed topics” is a bit narrow. The needs of the flock are broader than my preferences. For this reason, I have a list of 20 topics to preach or teach about two times each year. As a result, my “list of twenty” keeps me ignoring important topics.

Fortunately, relevant teaching and preaching will address the “destroyers.” Defending the flock begins in the pulpit. Therefore, a pastor/shepherd must patiently and repeatedly identify the predators. The world, flesh and devil are out to destroy people of the flock. My last blog post addresses identifying and dealing with those destroyers in the science of Shepherding series: http://carltoncoonsr.com/know-your-wolf-pastor/

Loose the Spirit

Make room for the Holy Ghost to work. When people are being confronted by a predator the spirit can warn and direct. It is the Holy Ghost who becomes the “teacher” about life. Firstly, let the Holy Ghost have a free channel in which to work.

Such moments often come during a praise and worship service, corporate prayer, and at the altar. The Holy Spirit can do more in seconds than my effort can do in years. So let God have access to the flock.

First of all, let’s consider the destroyers that attack from without.

Destroyers Wolf Lurking

Destroyers from Without

Those destroyers “out there” are identifiable. Responding to the predators without is easier than responding to things within. The late Billy Cole said, “Dealing with a demonic spirit is much easier than dealing with a human spirit.” Wolves can be seen as they flit about. In time, a pastor/shepherd identifies the predator.

So in the natural world, no sheep challenges a wolf. Consequently, a sheep who plays game with a wolf won’t survive. Unfortunately, we humans tend to enter into dalliances with our destroyers. People you pastor who interact with the wolf, imagining they can prevail, don’t survive. Some are so foolish as to imagine their ability to overcome what no human before them has overcome. Most of all, know the destroyers from without.

Bad influences

“Evil communication corrupts good manners!” (1 Corinthians 15:33) The word communication here does not refer to language. It instead refers to interaction with others. Good people spending time with others who are a bad influence, generally has a bad outcome. “Bad” influences result in people misbehaving. As a result, people find themselves acting in ways  they would have earlier found unimaginable.

Because one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch, Paul warned the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5) of immoral behavior they were tolerating. And Paul’s concern with their tolerance was the fornication being like yeast in dough. Especially relevant, in the chapter, Paul spoke of the leaven of fornication, malice and wickedness. Do not be so deceived and misled! Evil companionships (communion, associations) corrupt and deprave good manners and morals and character (AMP 1 Corinthians 15:33)

Unfortunately, negative influence does not just come from individuals. A pervasive sense of unrighteousness surrounds your flock. It flows from academia, politics, sports, entertainment, media, etc. Christians are the frog in the kettle. And the heat is being turned up. Behavior held in disrepute a generation ago is now accepted. It is affecting those you lead. Consequently, you will find defending against individuals who are a bad influence is a challenge. Most often, it is less of a challenge than defending against the surrounding “evil communication.”

Protect the Flock from Bad Influences

  1. You cannot protect people who don’t want to be protected. It’s not in a pastor/shepherd’s job description to micromanage. Jesus respected people’s right to be wrong. Examples:  The rich young ruler and Judas Iscariot. As a pastor, you do the same. Respect people’s right to be wrong. When people make bad choices, they don’t become my enemy. This is important. If you keep on loving people, in time, some realize their error and return to the fold.
  2. Identify bad influences. Warn the people. Preach and teach about influences. Describe the sorts of people who are a bad influence. Prepare the flock to know predators. Idolatrous nations surrounded Israel. Unfortunately, God’s people often took on the identity of their neighbors. The Israelites made those choices. They didn’t make those decisions unwarned. You must sound a warning identifying bad influences.
  3. Emphasize spiritual disciplines. People don’t pray if the pastor/shepherd does not lead them to prayer. People do not pray effectively, if their pastor/shepherd does not equip them to pray. One of my earlier and most oft-read posts addressed, How to Establish a Prayer Program for a Church of any Size.
  4. When someone is under the sway of bad influences, express concern in a personal way. The Bible calls this “exhortation.” Keep it confidential. Don’t share your concern with ten other people, rather, talk to the person directly. You can express your concern, in moments of conversation. When the predator of bad influence is near don’t delay raising your concern. As part of the “exhortation”, always pray with them. Conversational prayer has been effective for me. The prayer should not be generic. Ask the Lord to open that person’s eyes and understanding and give them strength to rise above “evil communication.”
  5. Ask, a person coming under such attack, “How can I help you?”

False doctrine

First of all, false doctrine is a ravenous wolf. As a result of our “no doctrine” world people don’t “know doctrine.” In some churches, a person attending for decades will still not know what the church teaches. And this is particularly true of those who attend Sunday worship, because most evangelistic preaching gives little doctrinal depth.

Most noteworthy, over thirty times the New Testament references false teaching or doctrine. People whose parents/grandparents came in the church are susceptible to false doctrine. There is no such thing as “hand-me-down” knowledge. Knowledge has to be gained personally. This is true, whether we are speaking of the multiplication tables or the new birth.

The Remedy for False Doctrine

  1. Teach correct doctrine. A strong flock is built by teaching. Unfortunately, Bible-teaching has fallen from favor. The result:  Many get a steady diet of preaching. The sermon begins with a Bible text. After the text has been read, it is often never again referred to. Because we can do better, we must do better.
  2. To combat false doctrine, let the word of God be the authority. Topical teaching that uses verses within context helps. Expository teaching and preaching are also effective. In both instances, God’s word rules!
  3. Empower people to study for themselves. Each person you teach must assess what is being taught. It works well to encourage people to study for themselves. My approach is to say, “Don’t accept what I’ve taught without examination. Someone is a false prophet offering false teaching. Perhaps I am such a false prophet.”  Several times I’ve preached, “Am I a False Prophet?”  We do believe false prophets exist.  “What We Believe and Why”.

Hence, a caveat is needed. A pastor/shepherd can do everything possible to teach people. Unfortunately, those who need it the most may not be present to be taught. In such instances you cannot protect them from false doctrines. There are others who do not mentally apply themselves. Such people are like a child sleeping through the math class. Finally, they gain nothing.

Furthermore, is there a remedy for people who are unteachable? I’ve not come up with one. If you have please pass it on.

Worldliness

A final common devourer from without is worldliness. When people become worldly, they “love the world.” (1 John 2:15-17) The world referred to is not planet Earth. We see that the Greek word translated world is kosmos. The kosmos according to Kenneth Wuest is the “ordered system of things.” (Wuest Word Studies in the Greek New Testament are a great help to the majority of us who are not Greek scholars.) The world as Wuest describes it includes your career, financial transactions, education, entertainment, etc. In essence, the world is our society’s operating system. So we are all living in the world. The pastor/shepherd and his flock are part of the kosmos.

Consequently, worldliness comes when people love the kosmos. John described worldliness:

  • The lust (desire) of the flesh.
  • The lust (desire) of the eyes.
  • The pride of life.

These things that are not of the Father, become the things a person cares about. Unfortunately, the topic of worldliness is broad ranging and ever-growing.

  • Ambitions for success are good. Worldliness is when the ambition causes someone to regularly miss church for extra work.
  • Worldliness is a love for the NFL that keeps someone home from church to watch the Super Bowl.
  • Worldliness is the competition for possessions. Richard Foster called it, “the kingdom of thingdom.” We have to keeping pace with the Jones’ and Smiths.
  • Dressing in ways that while not immodest is extravagant and attention-getting is worldliness.
  • An enjoyment of video games to the point that the musician no longer practices to do their best – worldliness.
  • Loving fishing, golf or quilting can become worldliness. How great is the hold any of those thing have.

While worldliness came come in many guises, worldliness is often not a specific behavior, but rather it is the love of the behavior.

The Remedy for Worldliness

So you may have noticed that the remedies tend to be similar. Again, preach and teach about the world. You will have to define the “world” for your people. As a result, you will also have to give them examples of what “loving the world” looks like. If you don’t name the symptoms, people won’t know worldliness when they see it.

People who love the world do not do God’s will with their life. Similarly, the wolf of “worldliness” is always lurking. The world is the system that surrounds us. So everything people deal with is an opportunity to fall in love with the “ordered system of things.”

Pastor/shepherd, the predator of worldliness is one you won’t run off for long. Worldliness is always near. Finally, worldliness always returns with another effort to destroy the Lord’s lambs.

In conclusion, I’m interested to know the efforts that you have used to deal with the destroyers that have come against the flock. Perhaps the struggles you have been through are different from mine. Someone may well be dealing with a situation similar to something you have worked through in the past.

4 For the Minister Set

Practically Spiritual – The Science of Sheperding

Effective Pastor/shepherds aim for a spiritual outcome. This requires you to be practically spiritual. To do practical things that aim people toward the spiritual. God chooses His words well.

The Almighty did not accidentally use the word “shepherd” to describe pastoral care. The work of a shepherd, even as he helps people toward a positive spiritual life is above all practical. It is earthy.

Pastor/shepherding is part of the conversation regarding practical theology. This is a practical work. There is no “ivory tower” in pastoral ministry.

Pastor/Shepherding is a Different Sort of Work

It is not enough for a pastor to be someone’s “buddy.” The objectives of the work are life change, spiritual maturity, and eternal life. In heaven, the size of a pastor’s crowd at church won’t determine success. Hearing the master say, “well done,” to those the pastor led will be all that counts.

This need for a spiritual outcome challenges us. We tend to segregate the spiritual from the practical. It can’t be done. A person’s physical behavior affects their spiritual life. Daily decisions determine the spiritual outcome. (My first book Daily Things of Christian Living addresses 7 things the New Testament says to do “on a daily basis. A few copies of the first edition remain available.) A pastor/shepherd must lead people along a practical observable path. Consistency and sustainability are necessary parts of the process. If the path is followed, the spiritual growth will come. A good pastor/shepherd is not trying to “win friends.” He determines the practical steps that lead a person to a mature spiritual life.
 
One ineffective approach to pastor/shepherding was a preacher (I’d not call him a pastor. He exhibited no pastoral behavior.) who presented himself among his people as living on some “other-worldly” plain. The fellow would walk about muttering deep words. An occasional “Ooooo” expressed something no parishioner could understand. He had nothing pragmatic to offer. You could not be comfortable in his presence. It was a disaster. Of course, from that preacher’s perspective, the problem was the unspiritual flock. It wasn’t! The problem was a preacher who did not understand the practical realities of the work. A pastor/shepherd leads people to prayer, maturity in God’s word and good decisions.

 

Be practically spiritual

However, you go about it practical and spiritual will coexist in your ministry. The practical and spiritual are part of the same human existence. How does a pastor/shepherd bring people to spiritual development?

  1. Have a plan and a vision regarding what you want people to become. Examine the Bible on everything Jesus said about those who would be his disciples. There are three specific characteristics Jesus gave. These are all in Saint John.  I’ll let you find those. If those are known the pastor/shepherd then consistently teaches and trains people toward having the traits Jesus described.
  2. Validate the Bible as the “green pasture.” In normal times, sheep don’t come to a trough, they are led to a pasture. If all the people at SpringfieldCalvary.church gain from the Bible is what I teach or preach they are spiritually malnourished. It is my responsibility to lead them to “green pastures.” Encouraging Bible Reading Enriches Any Day is an option. A better approach is to ask people to read a complete paragraph of the Bible each day and examine that paragraph thoroughly.  My approach might be called Bible Research Enriches Any Decade. I’d prefer the flock, read a little and retain a lot than to read a lot and retain a little.
  3. Instill personal devotion and quiet time as an expected norm.  Personal devotion does not come naturally. At Calvary, we have worked a bit on a course of study for converts to train convert on personal devotion before addressing anything else. The working title for our project is “Good Ground.”
  4. A consistent sustainable corporate prayer program. The pastor/shepherd must establish a local church prayer program. A post from a time back offered some insight on “Establishing a Sustainable Prayer Program for a Church of any Size.”
  5. Lead people to practical service that uses their motivational gifts in a meaningful way. If the church is a body, then every member should be participating. No spectators! The goal sounds good.  Accomplishing the goal is not easy. It takes sustained repeated effort. I’ll write about having perpetual Fitly Framed classes, a church personnel director and volunteer banquets in the future.  Fitly Framed is my seven lesson series that helps find a person’s Romans 10 motivational gift. When things are going right, that gift is then put to work. It is available as an inexpensive ebook or on a CD. In either case, make as many copies as you want.

These are the sorts of practical things that work to develop people to mature spirituality.

Contrasting Bad Behavior

In most cases the contrast between the “grind it out” practical work mentioned above and ineffective pastor/shepherding is the result of one of two things:

  • An honest misunderstanding of what a pastor/shepherd does.
  • The self-interest of a pastor/shepherd.

Either is dangerous and unproductive. Either way a person tries to arrive at a hoped for outcome while following the wrong practical steps. In some cases, such decisions may make life easier for the pastor/shepherd, but such will not grow the Chief Shepherd’s flock. Some examples of “God work” done without a solid theological premise:

A desire to control.

John said, “Diotrophes loveth to have the pre-eminence . . ..” Diotrophes was likely fearful. Someone else’s anointing or calling might make his own seem less important. Diotrophes chose to close the door to the Apostle John’s influence. The word “preeminence” means “to be fond of being first.”  Diotrephes was not just concerned about worldly influence on those he led. Diotrophes wanted no Apostolic influence if he could not control it. “It was not smoke if it did not come from Diotrophes stack.” Sound familiar? Pastor/shepherds who take this fear-based approach, not only control they also limit. Your flock will become weak and inbred.

 

What’s good for me is good for God.

This is a modern mantra. Too many want an easy job. God hasn’t called pastor/shepherds to ease. He has called you to earthy labor among His sheep. “What’s good for me is what’s good for God,” results in all the tithe funds flowing into a church going to a pastor/shepherd’s personal coffers. This happens even as the church cannot afford a part-time secretary to answer the phone.

At first glance, “What’s good for me is good for good,” seems to be a “Win-win” concept. Actually, pastor/shepherding does not guarantee any earthly wins! God never promised that serving Him would result in success or a full-time pastorate. “What’s good for me is good for God,” is actually a prosperity doctrine. “What’s good for me is good for God,” does not survive a Bible smell test. Don’t believe me? Read the last portion of Hebrews 11. People of faith do not always experience a positive outcome on this earth. A better mindset for those who are pastor/shepherds is John the Baptist. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In ministry decisions what is best for Christ’s kingdom – even beyond our local church should be the guiding principle!  It also guides us to do the necessary practical work that grows the flock.

Where should we find our practical behavior regarding the sheep?

  • The behavior of the Lord Jesus Christ gives much to consider. He is the Great Shepherd. Ultimately, He will grade my effectiveness as a pastor/shepherd.
  • David’s comments about shepherds, shepherding and sheep. We will explore some of these as we look at “The Benefits Package for the Flock.”
  • Old Testament prophets often spoke to how a shepherd should act. Much of this is in indictments against Israel’s leadership. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah have much to say about the negative behavior of leaders. Each uses the word “shepherd” in their indictments. Unfortunately, the same behavior can exist today. I doubt the Lord is any more pleased with it now than He was then.

A pastor who fails in his developing people should recognize that the failure can be the result of an erroneous understanding of what a pastor is to do. The work is practical as we guide people into the spiritual. Where there is no practical roadmap spiritual maturity seldom happens.  If this is your situation set out to acquire the wisdom and skills needed to correctly pastor/shepherd.

Think About Your Why!

If we cannot find the basis for our pastor/shepherd behavior in “the Book” we should likely examine the book for some other approach. We can retrain ourselves to be more effective.

As I worked through this the “The Why Factor” was much on my mind. To a degree, it was on my mind because I’m doing an FB Live Webinar on “Why, What and How” on April 25. It is at 7 PM CST at Carlton Coon Sr. on Facebook.  It is also always with me, because as a person hoping to lead and develop people, “Why” is never far from my mind. “Why” is important. “Why” is the motive for behavior.

As a pastor, can you explain “why” you did or did not do a particular thing? Using the Bible, can your “why” be accurately validated? Can you answer “why” without there being a personal benefit to the decision made or action taken? Remember, in all things of Jesus’ work:  What’s good for me is not always what is good for God.