Jul 30, 2020

Light Dawns in the Darkness…


It was a cool September morning this past Friday; the twenty ninth of the month, to be exact… and I was driving to work at 6:50 in the morning and I thought to myself; “When did it get to be so dark out? How did I not see the cloud of darkness coming?"

“Just last week at this exact time it was sunny!”; I reason with myself…pondering a bit more I asked; “Or was it just this past Monday?”

When did it get to be so dark at 6:50 in the morning? How had the summer skies given way to the impending darkness that would be my normality for the next five or six months? 

Gone were the morning drive times filled with sunshine and bright skies.

Gone were the sunny mornings that greeted me and made my drive from my home in St. Paul to my office in Minneapolis.

Really; “When did it get to be so dark out? When did this darkness creep up and slowly descend upon me? How had I not seen it coming?"

Recently, I realized that another cloud of darkness came upon me as well.  At first glance it seemed that it had come with the same sudden and unforeseen entrance as the shifting of the time for sunrise had been this past week.

It came up slowly, almost methodically and even when it was fully encapsulating me I didn’t see at; not at first anyway.

In fact, it wasn’t until my wife Cathy brought it to my attention that I, too, saw that a cloud of darkness had settled over my life and pondered; “When did it get to be so dark out?” When did this darkness creep up and slowly descend upon me? How had I not seen it coming?

But as I have looked back over the previous months I realized that the signs had been there all along; in fact, others also saw them and some had asked Cathy what was going on with me…

I had been persistently sad, anxious, and feeling "empty". I felt hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, worthless, helpless… and times I was irritable.

Some days I had difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions. I was restless and instead of working less, I pressed in and doubled up my efforts, and worked more! Even that I was blind to, as most workaholics are…

At a couple of times, I dodged thoughts of suicide; which were easily dismissed as I thought about my family and didn’t want to inflict pain upon them; so I pushed the thoughts away.

At times I had a loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including spending time with my wife. I had decreased energy, fatigue, felt slowed down. I struggled with both a low appetite and other times overeating and weight gain.

At times I had insomnia and frequently woke up early in the morning and then couldn’t get back to sleep.

The worst part for me is that nothing seemed to really satisfy my soul; I couldn’t “hear” God speaking to me. I am a follower of Jesus Christ; a Christian. And one of my daily rituals is spending time reading the Bible, and for two solid months the words were dead to me; no revelation or life.

During this time, attending church was merely a religious activity that I did each week as I desperately longed for a real encounter with the living God.

Worship was dry and even the distant memories of times of refreshing added to my sadness as I remembered them and compared them to my present “reality”.

Yes, I was grateful for times spent with my wife and family and friends; but deep in my soul my heart was dying for life!
When did it get to be so dark in my life? How had the “sunny days” given way to the impending darkness that would be my normality for the next few months? 

It wasn’t something I planned or wanted (or as I soon discovered) was able to talk myself out of. And because I don’t struggle with depression, I didn’t realize what was happening.

Yes, I have highs and lows, but not depression. In fact, this, to my knowledge, was only the second time in my life that I was in a cloud of darkness called “depression”.

It had enveloped me and became a “second skin” that I was aware of, but not cognitive to the point where I did anything more that try to shake it off. I thought that I was just having a “bad day” …

I was deep in a darkness that had so become my normality, that even the reality of all that was good in my life still didn’t shake my sadness.

Telling myself to work harder and longer didn’t help either because anxiety and depression is just plain rotten and its effects tore apart my very soul! 

As I looked back over several months, I concluded that I had some unresolved pain or trauma or issues that I had not dealt with and my body, soul, mind, and spirit were crying out for me to pay attention; something was wrong!

And I needed to be OK with not being able to pull it all together and charge ahead. I needed to be OK with letting others know that I wasn’t “fine” and that I needed their help.

I will admit that it can seem to be so embarrassing to say “HELP, I NEED CARE!”  But we all do, you know.  Burnout is serious. Depression is serious. Not being able to get free is serious. Being so deep in it that I was blind to the cloud is serious!

It’s hard for me to take off the mask and admit that I am hurting; especially when I wasn’t aware that I had been running on auto pilot and was very low on fuel.

I came to realize that it is God’s desire to point this out to me (and to others who love me and whom He will also use to revive my soul). Restoring me takes first place on His agenda; He really wants me to be whole.  

I needed to be OK with stepping out of the traffic and taking a long, loving look at God and to be still, knowing that He is God (see Psalm 46:10)

I needed God to remind me that I was a part of something bigger than me; I am a member of the Body of Christ. He had others who needed me to get healthy, but not me trying to figure out how to do it or putting on a mask of appearing to be healthy.

I needed to just be who I was at that movement; someone who was hurting and be OK with that. NO MASKS!  Most of all, forgive myself for mistakes of the past.  God has never cut me off from His love.  I needed to take it!  I AM LOVED!

I am happy to write that in time, worship and revelation in His Word returned to me. My heart knows God wants to fill the broken places with His Spirit! Bible reading and church are life giving once again! And songs of worship once again greeted me as I awakened each day new day.

I wish that I could write this today and share with you that everything is OK; but it is not…my metaphorical batteries still need recharging (or replacing) and my fuel tanks are still low.

I am realizing that I still can be set off and become discharged very easily…I still need rest and recuperation throughout my day, evening, and (especially) throughout the night.

But I am aware and I do feel and I am starting to see light breaking into my life replacing the cloud that has been my “reality.

And I need to still be OK with the process of God to bring complete healing to me. But that His job and I need to be good with letting Him do it as He sees fit; after all, it is not only His job; it is all about Him and His namesake.

Dear reader, I am not sure where you are at today or why you chose to read this longer than usual blog. I didn’t write it to draw attention to myself or to come across as one who had any real answers. I simply wrote to make some sense of my life as my distorted mind tries to play games with me.
But if you, too, are struggling with depression, I do feel great compassion and concern for you, because you too need rest and recuperation.

Is God’s voice pretty silent right now?  I imagine it is for you (and in some areas, it still is for me). In that place it’s hard to hear encouragement and I understand.

My exhortation is that you simply let God come and rescue you. Let Him take you to where you need to go.

Let God be the One who removes the darkness and brings light back to your shattered world.

Let God bring the healing and relief that you so desperately long for. Hope is not beyond your reach; but let Him do the work.

Your part is to simply cooperate with what He tells you to do; He is asking you to trust Him.

So, let go my soul and trust in Him; the wind and waves still know His Name

If you find yourself today in a similar state of mind and you are trying to push through in your own strength, my exhortation to you is to STOP…and REST!

Jesus longs for you to call out to Him today.

He is waiting for you to respond to His mercy and grace that has already been extended to you through Jesus Christ. And you can; today. And it can make all the difference in the world as you look for hope in your present world. Let Him bring you REST.

Need further help? Someone is waiting to talk with you. Call either: 1-888-NEED HIM or 1-877-2GRAHAM (1-877-247-2426).

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous." (Psalm 112:4 ESV)

      Pastor Tommy Oestreich 
© 2017 River of Hope Ministries. All Rights Reserved                                 

Jul 23, 2020

A Billion Dollar Headache

It was 1980 something and my paternal grandfather was in a hospital, fighting the terminal cancer that would eventually take his life.

Growing up I never knew or even met him because he had been estranged from my dad and our family and had only recently reconciled due to my mom’s intervention and pleas for reconciliation on the previous New Year’s Day.

In an attempt to work on the relationship, my mom went to visit him in the hospital and he (somewhat roughly) blurted out to her;
“Hey, what do you know about this faith healing stuff?”

Apparently, a nurse had been witnessing to him about how the Lord can heal and still does miracles today.

My mom, led by the Holy Spirit, responded to his sharp tone by saying;
“More important than your healing you need to know where you will spend eternity. Either way you will get a new body.”

My mom then shared with my grandfather God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. My grandfather, that day, chose to place his complete trust in the completed work of Jesus and received him as his Lord and Savior.

He died one week later.

I thought of him when I was recently reading Isaiah 53 verses 5 and 6 which says: 
V5 But He [Jesus] was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
V6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord [
has caused to land on Him] has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

So often we as Christians will quote that passage when someone needs a healing; especially the part that says; “by His stripes we are healed”

The focus being that if you are sick, you can claim this passage that because of what Jesus did, you can be healed.

And I would say that is true.

However, Isaiah isn’t telling us this just so that I can get my headache healed (or cancer, etc.…) No, it is much bigger than that.

What Jesus did through His death, burial, and resurrection was so much greater than just provide healing for my headache.

In other words, His provision is so much greater than just a physical healing. He provided the only way to fill the great gap between my sin and holiness. That is the main point of the passage.

I had a sin issue and Jesus died to pay for it with His life!

Isaiah is telling us that what we are healed of is our sin problem. After all, if I die from whatever is “killing” me, I will get a new body…

Isaiah is also telling us that what Jesus went through is so much greater than just death.

What was heaped upon this Jesus (who knew no sin) was ALL of the sin and accompanying punishment that was required to pay for the sin.

Look at verse 5 again.
V5 But He [Jesus] was wounded [pierced throughfor our transgressions
·        that’s means my rebellion, sin, transgression, trespasses

He was [crushed] bruised for our iniquities;
·        that means my perversity, fault, iniquity, mischief, my sin.

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes [
blows that cut in] we are healed.

Verse 6 says that the Lord [has caused to land on Him] has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

The depth on both sides is so much greater than we may ever fully grasp: My problem and His provision. My need and His grace. Eternity was hanging in the balance.

It is as though Jesus was willing to pay over a billion dollars to pay for my sins; which provided healing for my sin issue.

Paul wrote to the Galatian church;
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)  that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

Which can also be appropriated towards other healing that I need.

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jul 16, 2020

Fixing A Crooked Beam

I was up at our family cabin recently and as I looked up at the open beams on the ceiling, an old conversation from twenty years earlier came back to haunt me.

“You know, I don’t think that I ever forgave you for that crooked beam.”

The year was 2000 and I was up at the family cabin sitting at the dining room table eating lunch with my (now departed) father-in-law. We had gone to the cabin to install some trim on some doors and a stained-glass window that I had recently created and installed.

I looked up from my lunch that I had been enjoying to ask what he said to me.

And his statement seemed out of character for this man who was known for his kindness and the gracious way that he treated people. He certainly was not known for holding a grudge or holding back forgiveness.

“What did you say?”; I asked him now that he had my full attention.

 “I said I don’t think that I ever forgave you for that crooked beam.” He said as he pointed up to the open rafters on the North side of the ceiling.

He saw my puzzled look and continued with his razzing; “When you were installing that beam, I had commented that you were about to install the beam on the wrong side of the line. Now, as I look up, I see that the beam is installed crooked. And, I was making a comment that I don’t think that I ever forgave you for that crooked beam.”  

I struggled for words to correct him but I knew that he was right. He had said it but my youthful pride had prevented me from admitting that I was wrong or at least from stopping to look at what he was talking about prior to nailing the beam in place.

After all, I was working construction and helped him to build this cabin. I was the professional. I was doing this for a living five to six days a week.

He, on the other hand, had only learned what he knew about construction from his father who was a carpenter and had come from a long line of Norwegian wood workers, carpenters, and ship builders.

Oh, and anything else he learned as he studied structural engineering.

And all of the construction projects that he had done over the years; including a large two-story addition on their home long before I came into the picture.

My pride had prevented me from learning from someone, who didn’t work occupationally in construction, but who had noticed that I was about to do something wrong.

Now I sat, looking up at the ceiling as I pondered what it would take to correct the situation. I see it each and every time I go to the cabin.

First of all, I would need to take off the whole roof system; which included shingles, ice-and-water shield (which would be glued to the roof), plywood, polystyrene, and one-inch roof boards in order for me to remove and replace the beam in its proper place.

And that would be just to replace the beam.

In order to get my father-in-law’s forgiveness, I would need to exhume the coffin and then raise him from the dead, drive him to the cabin eighty miles away and then, after showing him the beam, ask for his forgiveness.

The truth is I was able to have a conversation with him to understand that he was simply razzing me for not listening to him. He let me know that he didn’t hold it against me. 

But what if I hadn’t been able to hear his “aught” against me and asked for his forgiveness? What if he had taken it to his grave when he died seven years later never sharing with me that he had something between us?

More than a crooked beam, unforgiveness will haunt both sides for the rest of your life. And that is no way to live.

Jesus said;
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jul 9, 2020

Swimsuit Ready RE-ISSUED


Swimsuit season is in full swing. It is the time when we brave the elements (and the stares) and go swimming. But something is wrong; simply put you are not ready to show yourself at the beach. What happened?

You spent all last winter putting on extra pounds (to keep warm during the cold winter). Not feeling confident enough to pull on a swimsuit; your plan was to get to the gym and work out so that when swimsuit season was here, you would be fit and ripped and toned; or at least fit into a swimsuit that didn’t look like it was formerly used as a circus tent!

You knew that a bit of exercise would help you tone and lose excess weight, and also feel better about yourself.  So you rose (with the best of intentions)and set your goal; “Gotta work off that holiday weight!!!!”

And suddenly, June was here and you knew that swimsuit season was very close; I guess that the “All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet” was much closer!

And now you find yourself facing the hot summer months of July and August wishing that you had heeded the warning last spring and that you had taken the time to prepare when you had the opportunity. Now you look for ways to keep yourself hidden simply because you are not “swimsuit ready”.

It may be a bad transition, but in a similar way in God’s Word (the Bible) we are exhorted to take time to get ourselves ready so that when we are needed we will be ready. Did you catch what I said? Let me put it another way (using the Apostle Paul’s word. He said; “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV)

He also challenged us to "Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth." (2 Timothy 2:15 Amplified Bible) 

The writer of Psalm 119 put it this way; “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11 NKJV)

Take time today to “exercise” your will by spending time reading the Bible to get yourself ready for where life will take you next. Don’t be caught off guard; the next season will soon be upon each of us. Will you be ready?

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11 NKJV)

Jul 2, 2020

Canoes, Kayaks, and Smelly Feet-REISSUED


Strange title, isn’t it? And yet, you are reading this; aren’t you…perhaps intrigued by the title…let me explain…

I grew up on the frozen pond across from my childhood home. And it set a course that would become a love and a passion for hockey that I enjoy no matter whether I am playing or watching; inside or out. I still get shivers as I walk into an indoor arena and catch a whiff of the ice, but there still is nothing like the feel of skating on a pond or outdoor rink.

In the summer months when the ice was melted (is your glass half empty or half full?) I would spend time on the pond in a canoe. My dad thought that it would be a good way for us children to learn to work together while learning water safety.

To further our skills, my brother Joe and I took a canoe safety class at the local YMCA in which we learned how to roll a canoe upright if we ever tipped it over and fell out.  We also learned how to sink a canoe to the bottom of the pool thus producing a frustrated instructor; but that story is for another time…

During all of these trips on the pond, my brother Joe and I learned how to paddle together. Whether the waters were rough or smooth, we knew how to navigate in almost perfect harmony and synchronization. Stroke for stroke we would have made the greatest Olympian rowing team look like mere amateurs.

Following our classes and multiple trips around the pond, several brothers and I my dad went to a trip to BWCA in Northern Minnesota where, together, Joe and faced the roughest waters on Burntside Lake with ease and great rapport. Together we could take on the best canoeists in the world. Or at least we thought we could.

My wife Cathy, on the other hand, had learned her canoeing experience while paddling with her father. They too had taking many trips together, including trip to the very same Burntside Lake on their way into the BWCA. They too had logged many miles together.

So when Cathy and I decided to take a canoe excursion together on the lake at the cabin, it only made sense that we too would be harmonious in our joint adventure. Instead, we were perplexed to discover that we really didn’t do well paddling together in the same canoe. 

We discovered that her idea of paddling was different than my definition of paddling. My definition meant that BOTH persons in the canoe paddled stroke for stroke. 

Her definition meant that when the waters got too rough or she was tired or simply wanted to look at the wildlife on the lake, she could STOP paddling and her dad would do ALL of the paddling; including the steering.

Needless to say, we really stunk at canoeing together and really didn’t enjoy canoeing together. Simply put; she was not my brother Joe and I wasn’t her dad.

In fact we had some trips when we weren’t sure that we should even stay together. 

OK, maybe that was a bit over dramatized. Or was it?

Eventually, harmony was restored when a family member purchased a couple of kayaks for the family cabin. From the first trip that we took around the lake (each in our own kayak), we experienced the joy that each of us had had while paddling with our old canoeing partners.

Together we had come to a solution, a compromise in which we both could go at our own pace and yet Cathy and I could still go around the lake at the same time; usually side by side. If one got ahead, it was no big deal to simply wait until the other caught up.

Together we have had many memories from trips around the lake, sometimes two times a day as we spent time at the cabin. Together we have had many trips that resulted in us becoming closer even though we were in different water vehicles. 

Ok, Tommy O, I get the “canoe” and the “kayak”, but what is the “smelly feet”? 

Well, as I thought of the obstacles that we faced while trying canoe together, I thought of how many times we let our differences keep us from going the same direction or left us feeling as though we weren’t a part of the same event. 

Even though we were husband and wife and friends who were joined together, we felt as though we weren’t connected. But we were in spite of what our emotions were telling us. And we had to find a way to get along and appreciate what each brought to the relationship; we were called to be together…“What God had joined together…

And the same applies to you the reader; I’m sure that you understand what I mean. Even though you and I don’t get along with every person we come across in our life, that doesn’t negate the fact that they have a place in our lives. 

No, I don’t believe that everyone is going to LIKE everyone else, but still we need to appreciate what the other brings to the table, or should I say body.  

This is true for our neighborhood, places of work, family, churches, and yes, even with our spouse. Each person has a unique place or role to play; kind of like the different parts of the human body.

Have you ever wondered why the nose is located so far away from the smelly feet (as well as the other parts of the body that smell)? Perhaps it is because even though we are a part of the same body, we don’t have to like every other part…nor are we always going to get along.

But, take away the feet or the nose (as well as part in between that smell) and you will discover that you have one messed up body; especially if you take away the orifices that are in between! As difficult as it was for Cathy and I to not paddle at stroke for stroke, to not have a nose, or yes, even the smelly feet, would be even more difficult.

My point? Just as Cathy and I had to learn how to walk in harmony, each of us must learn how to walk in harmony; especially with others who are different from us. In fact true unity takes places not just when we agree, but when we don’t; then what will we do…? 

In this day and age when there is so much hatred and killing I am imploring each of us to appreciate each other and to look for ways to walk (or paddle) together.

1 Corinthians 12:15-26 says: “If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.