Dark Days

August 27, 2018
Speaker: Darlene Sala | Series: Encouraging Words I’m always fascinated to listen to people tell how God met them at their point of desperation. Take the Elegados, for instance. In his work for the copper and gold mines during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Mr. Elegado had the only car allowed to go back and forth to the mines near Baguio.  In order to be permitted to pass check points he had to have a Japanese sticker on the car. Eventually, however, he was arrested by the Japanese and taken to Manila to prison. For months his wife left their three children every weekend to search for her husband.  Being a nurse, she knew that if she did not find him he would die, for he could not survive indefinitely on the daily ration of one bowl of rice and a lump of sugar or salt.  Her heart cried out, "If there is a God--if You are really alive--help me." At the end of eight months of searching, she found him and began to bring food to him.  God preserved his life through two more years of imprisonment in that dark place, and ever since that time she and her husband have been dedicated to doing all they can for the Lord, who literally gave them back their lives. There is a postscript to the story.  The Japanese imprisonment, horrible as it was, saved Mr. Elegado's life.  For immediately after he was arrested, the Filipino guerrillas came through the area to kill him. The sticker on his car to them meant cooperation with the enemy. But Mr. Elegado was safe in prison. When we are in a very dark place, perhaps the darkness is only the shadow of God's hand shielding us from greater danger. Psalm 91 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (vss. 1 and 4).

The Fall of Hope

August 16, 2018
Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:7, NKJV).   The Greek Philosopher, Thales, is credited with saying, "The most universal thing is hope, for hope stays with those who have nothing else."  The old philosopher made his point in that there are times when hope is the only thing that remains when everything else is gone.  But for vast segments of the world's population‑‑especially those who have nothing left but hope‑‑even hope seems to be dying. For thousands of people in Africa and Eastern Europe, political conditions seem to drain the very buoyancy of hope from their lives.  War, famine and disease leave in their wake suffering, despair and untold agony.  True, Communism collapsed but the poverty and corruption left behind in its wake are to many a fiercer enemy.  In the Middle East several million refugees ask themselves, "Will life ever return to normal?"  But then we have to ask ourselves, "Is there such a thing as normalcy in the world anymore?" Rudyard Kipling once asked the question, "When earth's last picture is painted, will it be a picture of despair?"  Whether it is the world's political situation, the economy, the environment, or the gloomy forecast for the future, there is a lot of despair on the landscape today; but in spite of it all, there is hope‑‑not necessarily coming from the council chambers of the United Nations or the diplomatic envoys that shuttle from world capital to world capital, or in the rosy‑eyed forecasts that come from a few politicians. The Bible says, "Anyone who is among the living has hope" (Ecclesiastes 9:4).  The writer of Scripture knew that the only real hope in a hopeless world is in the hope that comes from God Himself.  Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable..." (I Corinthians 15:19, KJV).  Paul saw the Christian hope reaching across the landscape of despair to the very presence of God Himself.  It gave him an assurance that there is more to life than the hopelessness of life today. How is it that a Christian has hope in a hopeless world?  Two reasons: First, he believes that there is hope for the present because of God's power to change the circumstances of despair.  That is why Charles Allen, a noted writer, said that the man who gives up hope slams the door in the face of God. Read the biographies of men and women such as Richard Wurmbrandt and Corrie ten Boom‑‑both of whom spent years in prisons‑‑and you will learn that hope is born of prayer.  Hope in God is not wishful thinking but is based on the sure and certain promises of God. Secondly, a Christian has hope in an otherwise hopeless world because he is sure that death is not the end of existence, and that confidence gives meaning to life‑‑no matter how difficult or desperate‑‑in the world of today.  The book of Hebrews in the New Testament talks of that hope, which is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19). Where is your hope today?  If your hope rests only in men, or governments, or programs‑‑no matter how worthy‑‑you really have not much hope to live for.  However, if your hope is in God, and you will trust Him, He will be a refuge from the stormy tempest and a hiding place from the storms of life.  Yes, Jeremiah, the prophet of old, was right when he wrote, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:7NKJV).

If Someone Would Only Listen

August 8, 2018
Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. Psalm 27:7   Richard Senac stumbled across the great need people have for someone to listen to them.  No, he isn’t a counselor.  He was a hospital nurse recruiter who found that getting people up in the morning was no small task, so he started a business called Roosters, named after the barnyard creature that crows about the time the sun rises.  Roosters was a telephone calling service that would awaken you in the morning with a variety of several hundred different sounds, from a 21‑gun salute to fingernails scratching on a blackboard if your starter takes something a little more bizarre to get you going in the mornings.  Roosters would also put you to sleep at night with a variety of sounds. Senac discovered the importance of having someone listen to you when one of his customers contacted him and said that he did not want to be awakened or put to sleep.  He simply wanted someone to listen to him and say, "Yes!" or something like that at appropriate intervals of 30 seconds.  If it were not so tragic, it would be humorous!  Think of it!  A recording that would respond with something like, "Yes,” “Is that right?”  “Please tell me more about this; I’m really interested.” Dr. Paul Tournier came from a different perspective.  He was an internationally recognized psychiatrist and author.  He believed that every person has a fundamental need:  the need for someone to listen to him, to validate what he or she is saying, who he or she is.  But he believed that for most of us this need is not met very well.  He said, "It is impossible to overemphasize the immense need humans have to be really listened to.  Listen to all the conversations of the world‑‑between nations as well as those between couples.  They are for the most part dialogues of the deaf."  What a charge. Interested in gaining some pointers on being a better listener?  Then try these on for size:  Guideline #1: Open your mind and close your mouth when you listen to another.  Usually we reverse it‑‑an open mouth and a closed mind.  God gave you two ears and one mouth, thereby indicating the ratio to each other by which both should be used.  Guideline #2:  Concentrate on what you are hearing, not what you intend to say.  This means that you wait to think about your response until the lips of the person to whom you are talking stop moving.  Then it is your turn to respond. Guideline #3:  Look the person in the eye with whom you are communicating.  That means you do not stare at your feet or let your eyes focus on infinity or something twenty feet beyond the other person. Guideline #4 Stop what you are doing, if possible, to concentrate fully on hearing what the other says.  There are some exceptions to this rule, especially for barbers, airplane pilots, and radio announcers, but generally it applies to you. Guideline #5: Get the facts before you respond.  Do not jump to conclusions.  Proverbs 18:13 came from the pen of a man who knew a lot about human nature when he wrote, "He who answers before listening—that is his folly and shame” (Living Bible).    Chances are, the conclusions you arrived at, a priori, before you heard the facts, were based on willful prejudice.  “It actually was not that way at all.”  Before your husband begins talking to the family dog, or he gets Richard Senac's recording of a voice which says, "Yes!" at appropriate intervals, better learn the importance of listening to each other.  By the way, are you listening?   Resource reading: Psalm 27:1-14

When Depression Knocks

December 9, 2015
Bible Text: Psalm 118:5 | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. Psalm 118:5 Mental health authorities say that at any given time 17% of the general populace is struggling with some kind of depression. If that’s true, and I have no reason to doubt it, one in five (more than two-thirds of them women) are struggling with the malady, this virus of your happiness and joy. If you are one of them, make a note of some simple guidelines which help you determine where you are and where you need to go for help. First, ask yourself, am I really there or only suffering from a momentary set-back of some kind. That means you need to recognize some of the symptoms of the malady. Early warning signs of depression are withdrawal, difficulty in facing situations and people, procrastination, disregarding your appearance, a change in appetite, and a search for an escape of some kind or other, including drugs, alcohol, or the inability to pry yourself away from the TV. Next, take inventory of how your habit patterns have changed. You used to take long walks and exercised regularly, but you find it more and more difficult to get out of bed, you avoid people, and you prefer to keep the blind pulled and watch TV. When that begins to be a pattern, you are yielding to depression. It’s hard to feel depressed when you see blue sky and green grass, when you walk on the beach, or on a trail, or rise early in the morning and walk briskly for a couple of miles. Then ask yourself, “Have I caused my problem and is there something that I know that I should do to eliminate the situation?” Some depression is the result of allowing ourselves to get cornered or trapped. We allow something we ought not to, or we’re doing something which we know is wrong. You are allowing something in your life which you constantly try to cover, and you’re afraid of the consequences. No wonder you want to withdraw and climb into a hole. “OK,” you say, “I have tried all of that, and it doesn’t work,” and you add a post script, and you say, “I’ve prayed for God’s help and, if I know my heart, I’m right with the Lord, but I’m still depressed.” You need to voice three very difficult words, ones that smack of failure to you because you’ve always been able to handle things on your own. They are, “I NEED HELP!” When you have a virus that won’t go away, isn’t that what you tell your doctor, “I need help!” When your eyesight blurs, isn’t that what you tell the optometrist? So whom do you tell? Start with your husband or wife, your pastor, or possibly your family physician. There are times when medication helps immensely; there are other times when it only covers the problem. But there is one thing that you can be sure of. God answers prayers for help in many different ways. Sometimes He gives us an immediate answer, lifting the cloud of depression. Sometimes He sends someone who listens, who serves as a sounding board who helps you see precisely what you need to do to work through the gloom; and sometimes He sends someone, a physician, who helps you in ways in which you can’t help yourself. A closing thought. God is not the author of depression, though some of our depression comes by ignoring the directives He gives, refusing to live as He intends us to live. He is the one who brings health, wholeness, and healing to our broken hearts and lives. He is still the healer of broken hearts and a refuge for the troubled and hurting. While depression is not a friend, it can prod us to Him who is a friend who stays closer than a brother and who will walk with us through the gloom, and that is nothing but good. Resource reading: Psalm 118

How to Deal with Depression

December 8, 2015
Bible Text: Psalm 43:5 | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, known for more than a century as the prince of preachers, began his remarkable ministry at the age of 18. Early in his ministry Spurgeon was speaking when a fire broke out in the tabernacle. Not hearing what the commotion was about, Spurgeon urged the people to remain seated, something that caused the deaths of several people. Spurgeon was devastated and the tragedy plunged this young man into deep depression. He overcame it, but for the rest of his life he battled depression, sometimes so severely that he couldn’t rise from his bed. Depression is something that almost everyone faces, to some degree, at some point in time, but in most cases the depression is temporary and in a few days or weeks those dark clouds seem to lift and the sunshine appears. For others, however, like a dark shadow, depression becomes a jailer that locks you within the bowels of darkness and seems to allow no light into the cell. There are many external factors which contribute to depression: unfulfilled expectations, personal failures of all kinds, circumstances from which there seems to be no escape, loneliness, let-downs, physical weariness, and the oppression which comes from Satan. Then there are internal or biological factors—chemical imbalances, temperaments which are dark and moody, and a host of other factors, far too elusive to document and often even to understand. Sometimes depression is spiritual. Look at Jonah, who ran from God, whose self-pity turned to depression. The individual who turns his back on God realizes there is no other hope or light, and that’s depressing. Sometimes trying to pinpoint the cause is futile. If it is there, it’s there no matter what has caused it. The objective is to escape its grasp. Spurgeon took heart that one of his favorite biblical characters, an individual who was known as “a man after God’s own heart,” King David, struggled with depression. In one of David’s prayers he cried out, “O Lord... your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me... there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear... I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart” (Psalm 38:3-8). But David threw himself on the mercy of God and his equilibrium was restored. Again he cried, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5). Some people work through their own depression. Others need help, and without strong individuals to lean on, they may be swallowed up by the darkness of the soul that vexes their lives. Knowing that it is OK to say, “I need help and need it now!” takes courage, but it’s the first step. If you see someone who withdraws, who isolates himself or herself, who neglects appearance, who sleeps or turns to drugs or alcohol, who despairs of getting better, you need to be the one who helps that person get help. God is not indifferent to the suffering of someone who needs to break the bondage of depression, and those who struggle with it need help emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Personally I have never struggled with depression, and having sat and listened to those who describe its darkness is like listening to sometime tell about a world that I’ve never entered; but helping them realize that life has not ended and as long as there is God there is hope, gradually lets them get their hand on the doorknob that leads down the hall to their families and their lives again. He is the God of the living, and as Jeremiah wrote, “his compassions fail not.” Resource reading: Psalm 43


December 7, 2015
Bible Text: Psalm 88:18 | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend. Psalm 88:18 The dark days of December can be a catalyst which brings to the surface all the negative thoughts that have brewed in the kettle of physical weariness and despondency. I couldn’t help thinking of that when I encountered three individuals who struggled with the demon of depression at the same time. One was a respected musician and Christian leader, the composer of many hymns and songs with a list of theatrical credits almost as long as he was old who barricaded himself in his church office during Christmas week and ended his life with a gunshot to the head. The same week a renowned pediatric heart surgeon, one of the finest in the world, unable to climb out of the pit of depression, took his life. This brilliantly gifted doctor performed 830 operations on children in 18 months with a 2% mortality rate. He had been featured on television documentaries and was worshipped by his patients. He was 45. The third in this dark trilogy is a friend of many years, also a doctor, a cardiologist who has spent her life helping people along with her husband, a surgeon. Both served as medical missionaries. The third is recovering, but depression for the first two was fatal. Whenever the world, to say nothing of our families and close friends, is deprived of the presence of so great an individual it is a massive collective loss. We pass laws to protect people. We monitor our water, our food, and our borders to insure safety, but laws or boundaries can’t protect us from the darkness demon of depression. Elderly people whose health has failed and who have little to look forward to are classic sufferers with depression, but today it is not only the elderly but those in the middle years with success and significance. Why does this happen? And what can be done to prevent it? No one could answer those questions in two minutes. Depression is complex. It is not a lack of spirituality, or a deficiency in comprehending God’s plan or purpose for our lives. Christians as well as non-believers suffer, though I am confident that there are resources which can help the believer survive whereas others give up entirely on life. Every person is a composite of the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual. There are times when depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain—something a person is no more responsible for than are those of us who wear glasses or have corrective surgery because a heart valve isn’t working properly. But depression affects your thinking as you begin to doubt what you know to be true, and see darkness rather than light, and live in a funk that seems to press upon you. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is as senseless as telling a drowning individual to swim. I’m thinking of the woman who poured out her heart, tears streaming down her face, as she said, “God knows I would snap out of it if I only knew how!” Surrounding an individual who is encountering depression with understanding, compassion, and strength is a beginning in helping build fences that save lives and help restore health and sanity. Ignoring those who hurt or trivializing the problem only makes it worse. God is not indifferent to those who suffer, whether it is a brilliant surgeon, a gifted teacher or intellectual, or a gray-haired grandfather who has worked a steady job over the years, whose health has failed and whose mental equilibrium has gone on strike. There is both help and hope for the one who is depressed. While the road back may be painful and long, there is a way out of the darkness. Resource reading: Job 17
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