Depression, Suicide and Our Response

Are you living a life worth following? As a pastor in our community, I want to be known as someone who loves God with all of my heart, as someone who serves his family well and has never sacrificed them on the alter of ministry. And, I desire to be known – not for the things I am against, but rather for the things I am for: that all may come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord and be committed to a life of growing in Christ and in the knowledge of God’s Holy Word. 

However, I also know that there is a great problem amongst the believing world, and within the church. So then, in light of recent events (the suicide of a well known pastor this month), I want to share something with other Disciples of Christ: I am pastor who struggles with anxiety and anxiety based depression. I need to take medicine every day. Without it I struggle to process things correctly and this has an impact on many parts of my life.

As a pastor in my community, I deal with people that are battling addiction, in the midst of affairs, addressing anger, doubt, disbelief, and those who struggle with gossip, and grief – plus, many other things. The last thing that I would do is to tell them: “Just have more faith in God…” Yet, many call into question the faith of those pastors or believers who struggle with depression or anxiety. For some of us, we have chemical imbalances or we have deep life issues that, although we are committed to working on, require time and the right tools along the way to help us experience healing and to move forward, daily, by God’s grace.

I share this because there needs to be an awareness that this is a very real thing in ministry, in the church, and in our communities. This is something that a lot of us fight every day, and many ministry leaders battle each weekend when we step down from the pulpit and seek to live out Biblical truth.

So in light of recent events like that pastor’s struggle with depression and his suicide this month, and with October being called “Pastor Appreciation Month” – I ask you to be the people of God who make sure their pastor knows you are praying for them. And, be the people of God who will, with authenticity, help those struggling with issues of the heart and mental health issues as well. Don’t stay silent. Pray. Encourage. Invest in real relationships that speak louder than the gauntlet of depressing and doubt-filled thoughts. I spend a lot of time with other pastors in my community and I can say this of most of them: they are on their knees in prayer – praying for you and this community, daily investing in Kingdom minded work that often times takes years to bear fruit. At every turn along the way, there will still be elements of discouragement. There are constantly people walking away from the church, angry without cause, silently critical, yet your pastor still prays for these people with a heart that, often times, is broken and hurt and confused.

I say all of this from personal experience. Never think that a short but genuine word of encouragement, or a simple email or note is going to cause anyone to get a huge head. If anything, it might be exactly what we need at that moment, so let the Holy Spirit use you to encourage those who are broken and hurting, including your pastor. 

69743655_10157347863161698_3867204925733732352_oFor those struggling with anxiety, depression and other aspects of mental health – there is hope. His name is Jesus. Cling to Him. Run to His Holy Word and rest in His promises for your life, for all of our lives. Don’t give up. We are not weak. We are not weak in faith. We are like everyone else: sinners in need of grace, mercy and encouragement from God the Father and from God’s people. If you need help, reach out. Tell someone. As something Pastor Jarrid Wilson often said: “Hope Gets the Last Word!”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at tel:1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Here is some of the Scriptures I have used, and encourage you to use, to regain your focus on God, His TRUTH and the HOPE we have in knowing Him and His promises…

Zephaniah 3:17 – “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Psalm 107:14 – “He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains.”

Psalm 30:5 – “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

1 Peter 4:12-13 – Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.”

Psalm 37:23-24 –The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 – “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Psalm 42:5-6 – “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you…”

John 16:33 – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

(Adapted, originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” and their Faith & Insight Article, Sept. 21, 2019)

The Sadness of Silence

The third Monday in the month of January is considered by many as BLUE MONDAY: THE MOST DEPRESSING DAY OF THE YEAR. The good news is, if you are reading this, then you made it through this day. It hasn’t always been known as this, so perhaps it has come to be known as this because all the holiday festivities are over. Perhaps you started a new year with lots of goals and dreams and by now, reality has set in. Or, perhaps we are all ready for Spring and tired of the gloom and cold of winter at this point. Because depression is real and grips many, then noting a day like this is important, and addressing depression isn’t something to be silent about.  

Another significant day, or anniversary, worth noting happened this last week on January 22. Shawn Carney wrote: “46 years ago today, seven men who call themselves “supreme” silenced the voice of the American people, initiating the greatest human rights atrocity in U.S. history. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision dehumanized the unborn and led to 60 million children being killed by abortion since 1973. Despite 46 years of legalization, abortion is ending at the grassroots level. Not because of robed, ivory tower Supreme Court justices, but because families are living their pro-life convictions in communities across the country.”

This brings us to today. The issue of abortion can anger and shame and pain anyone bold enough to discuss this epidemic. I have been told, more than once, that because I am a man, that I have zero right to even talk about abortion – let alone encourage people to pursue God’s heart for the value of human life. However, that is exactly what feeds any sadness within my heart and mind this time of year: the sheer volume of silence from many regarding abortion.

Perhaps like me, they have been shamed about holding to Biblical truth regarding the sanctity of life. Perhaps for others, the issues of abortion is so raw and real in their lives personally that they look forward to a day when it is no longer present in their minds.

Despite the past silence of God’s Holy Bride and those who shepherd it, I am seeing a great change happening with the way others think about the value of human life. I see it regarding immigrants and refugees. I see it regarding racial oppression and the marginalized of society. And, I am seeing a change in many, as they seek to bring their lives under the authority of God’s Holy Word regarding abortion, too.

Yet, some still say that a little baby isn’t as valuable as an adult or someone who’s already born. The Bible says that each person has tremendous value. In fact, the Bible says that we are GOD’S MASTERPIECE. Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” A masterpiece is a prized possession, the best of the best, and the Bible says: YOU ARE GOD’S MASTERPIECE. So, although not everyone understands how valuable a life is, I believe that God is changing this among His church and I believe that as Disciples of Christ, we should be champions for His redemptive work within the pro abundant life movement as well. 

It can change when we find ourselves looking at all the differences in the world around us, and when we stop believing the lies of Satan and begin to embrace the truth that pre-born baby has value worth protecting – just like the value of the life of the immigrant and refugee, and to those experiencing racial inequality and injustice.

I urge you friends: investigate how science agrees with Scripture about the value of a pre-born baby.

The moment a baby is conceived, their features, their gender, and their hair and eye color are determined at the conception. Just three weeks after that – so just a little longer than the Christmas break you were on – in just three weeks, a baby in its mother’s tummy, their brain and spinal cord begin forming and their heart begins to beat in 22 days. Within 6-7 weeks, arms and legs and organs like the kidneys begin to form. By 7-1/2 weeks a baby in a mother’s tummy has distinct fingers and can even hiccup. By 8 weeks nearly all the organs in the body have formed, and just need to mature and fully grow. At this age, the baby is very active and can been seen during an ultrasound – one of the services we provide at Life Choices for free – they can be seen waving their arms and kicking. And just 10 weeks after a baby is conceived, the baby begins to form their fingerprints.

Take a moment and look at the palm of your hands. See those finger prints? Each one is different. Each one is special and the fingerprints you have right now started to form when you were a tiny baby in your mother’s belly. 

The Bible and science agree. You are a masterpiece. You are special and unique and you have great value. Embrace that truth. Also, embrace an attitude of love towards others and point to living alternatives. Many groups are standing for life and work hard every day to bring great grace and respect to those who are considering abortion or who have had an abortion. Connect those wresting with this choice to those type of living alternatives and support those places.  Stand for truth. Speak this truth in love. Depend on the Holy Spirit for conviction. Let your convictions be rooted in Scripture and live out this truth. Reflecting God’s heart and His truth is what we can do to bring change as we live out His message of life and redemption.

We cannot stay silent. We must, in great grace and truth, speak to the holiness and the sanctity of human life. Simply posting an image on social media is not enough. We must learn the Biblical foundation for the holiness of life and live by God’s truth. We must also understand how science teaches us, that from the moment of conception, we already have the very things that make us human and unique.

Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death.  Don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Look, we didn’t know.’ For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” Proverbs 24:11-12

(Adapted. Original article published in the Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – January 26, 2019)

Moved by Compassion – Moved to Action

As I write this article, many are focused on what is happening with our nation’s tallest dam in Oroville, CA. More than 100,000 people (some news agencies reporting even 200,000) were told to evacuate from areas near the Oroville Dam in Northern California. Officials feared that an emergency spillway could fail, sending huge amounts of water into the Feather River, and other waterways which would have a profound and devastating impact on multiple communities.

Compassion_FuneralCall

With the first evacuation ordered, people had to get out of town. The roadways were a mess. My heart was heavy thinking about many great friends who were in the throws of this impending danger. We were staying in communication with them, watching and praying.

And, then I noticed something. I noticed not once or twice but over and over again an outpouring of compassion from the greater surrounding areas as people opened their homes to those who had to flee theirs. I saw people begin to network with places housing people (like churches) to bring in additional items like blankets or clothes that those who left in such a hurry needed.

For a moment people were not fighting about politics and they weren’t debating about executive orders. They weren’t marching and protesting either. An entire region of people no longer focused on what divides them, but rather, focused on what they can do to love and serve one another. What one valued or believed to be “true” was not the focus – but rather, the person in need was the focus of their attention.

Have we lost sight of what Jesus said about loving our neighbors? Or even, loving our enemies? Do we hide behind the “submit” button of our social media outlets only to tell off those we disagree with? Have we lost how to fulfill the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment? Does it take tragedy to awaken the people of God to be the people of God who are on mission with Him in our every day lives?

I do not know what will continue to happen with this situation in Northern California but I do know that we, as Disciples of Christ today, need to focus on three things. First, repentance. Have you failed to genuinely love your ‘neighbor’ and be a true conduit of God’s grace and redemption just because they differ so much from you? If so, then seek forgiveness – both of God and of man. Second, restoration. For each of us this will look differently – and I believe that is on purpose – but whatever it is that moves you to respond with compassion, then use that as your fuel to restore the brokenness found in failure. Live a life that will connect others with God’s heart to redeem and restore all things unto Himself. And third, respond. Do something. Don’t just post something on social media. Don’t just call your neighbor to tell them what you think. Go and serve. As you go and meet the need, do so in the mighty name of Jesus. We do this, in love and in grace, so that God will be glorified and that those who see our actions and efforts, will praise our Heavenly Father.

With more weather expected in the Northern California region, the need for great compassion will continue. And yet regardless of what happens there, we need to respond to loving others and pointing them to Jesus in each opportunity that God has placed within our reach.

(Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” on Feb. 18, 2017 – Adapted)

Be Unashamed

What truly matters to you?

What are you passionate about?

As followers of Christ, as fully devoted and fully committed disciples of Christ we are called to boldly proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ.

3d3b44d7ab943d5f5e60bbacf4938c00Romans 1:16-17 says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

The Apostle Paul was proclaiming a message about a Messiah who had reconciled humanity with the Lord through the cross – and this message, His allegiance, it was a scandalous offense to those around him. And even though the Jewish people of the day longed for the Messiah to come – they took offense with what He was proclaiming. The Jews, the Greeks and even the Romans had these things that truly mattered to them, items and people that they placed their hope and allegiance in for this is what they were devoted to. And all of it, was never a bold confession and devotion to the Lord. If any of them were to do what Paul did here in this truth, declaring that Jesus is Lord, it would be at the risk of their very lives and they could not comprehend that.

But Paul did – do you? As a disciple of Christ in our community, do you get what you are called to do with your life? And, are you actually doing it? If you believe you have been doing this – then what does the fruit of that work look like in your life? Paul boldly proclaims that he was not ashamed to declare that Jesus is Lord. He had been a leader to the Jews, an influencer in the world he was surrounded by and he even held Roman citizenship – but His journey as a disciple of Christ dramatically changed all of that and he radically, boldly and powerfully declared: I am not ashamed…!

Does a statement like this reflect your heart?

Does saying, believing and acting this out matter to you?

What Paul declared, also matched with what he was doing for God. This is very important for us to grasp. We must be fully surrendered to the Lord and fully devoted to doing God’s work. Stop thinking your busyness is the Lord’s work. If we are truly living as disciples of Christ, making more disciples of Christ then this community of believers we live among, it would be seeing more and more people coming to salvation in the Lord. We are called to be His disciples and to make more disciples for Christ and we do this when we are unashamed in what we proclaim about God and when we live out our faith in such an authentic way that it faithfully declares to those around us that we belong to God and that we long to see Him redeem and transform their lives.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ can hold its own against any challengers. Do not live in fear of what your friends or family might say or do when you boldly and faithfully live a Christ like life in this present moment. Clarence Bence said: “Although there are strategies for countering the criticisms of the skeptics, or compensating for the failures of less-than-perfect believers, or coping with spiritual adversaries, faith is the key to experiencing the good news of salvation in one’s life.”

Does your faith in the Lord reflect your belief and action as His beloved, as a truly devoted disciple of Christ?

Paul was fully committed to making sure that with the rest of his life, with all that he had, that those he encountered would know the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Does proclaiming this message, that Jesus saves, does it truly matter to you?

Are passionate about sharing with others God’s plan for Salvation – how God has saved you and how He has transformed your life? 

What has the impact of being unashamed for Christ’s on your life – on your family – your marriage or other relationships – what has that impact been and how has it changed you?

May you cultivate in your discipleship journey an overwhelming confidence in God’s power to redeem a lost and hurting world. May this motivate you to use every aspect of your life to share with others the gospel message that Jesus saves. And, may you be unashamed to proclaim, in your words and actions, that Jesus is Lord of your life and that you want others to surrender to His lordship for their lives!

faith & easter

How would you define faith? Now, how would you define Easter?

For me, both words are connected to my relationship with the Lord. Yet I recognize that people can have faith in many things, even in people and still not define the word “faith” from a spiritual standpoint like I would. The same is true for Easter. Even though most churches see more people on Easter Sunday than any other time of year – there is large cluster of people who would define Easter in terms like: Easter Bunny, Easter Egg, Easter Egg Hunt, Easter Basket, Easter Dinner, etc. – things that don’t even imply the Christian celebration of Easter, the remembrance of Christ resurrection and victory over sin and death.

Now for some that may not seem like a big distinction. And perhaps for others their definition of Easter would contain elements for both. People may debate the correctness of that – I won’t, probably ever. My kids will probably know both perspectives of Easter – the Easter bunny and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet just like my definition of “faith” and “easter” tend to center on my relationship with Christ, so should the way I live out my faith and the hope I have because of that first Easter.

I have encounter many people who struggle with believing God, with having a saving faith in Him. They have their lists. And those list are long. And the validity of their lists are scary. And I have encountered people who struggle with Easter. They struggle with all the ways the Easter story of Jesus Christ blows holes in their common logic or personal experiences. Both the lists of “why I am not a Christian” and the statements regarding the resurrection of Jesus being illogical, etc. are for many, very valid.

Yet tolerance can be a scary thing, can’t it? Tolerance keeps us from action. And with issues regarding our faith in God and with the true meaning of Easter, tolerance, in my opinion, cannot be afforded. Yet we often allow tolerance to creep into our relationship with God. And tolerance begins to destroy our faith. Some of you reading right now, may be shaking your heads in disagreement with this idea. Yet if you’re pro-tolerance, then why can you shake your head at what I am saying now? Doesn’t that speak against the very spirit of tolerance?

Faith has to be defined in a very specific way, not just tolerated or even put into our schedule or calendar. We have come to tolerate too many definitions of a saving faith in God. We have allowed to many others things to define faith and use the word faith as their describer – and the same is very true with Easter.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. All of history pointed to a Messiah that would come and save us all from sin. And all of history has pointed back to that moment when Jesus conquered sin and death. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything for us as followers of the Lord. Every aspect of our lives, every day, should reflect the promise and power of the resurrection.

This Easter I have been reminded how to define faith and how to live in the promise and the power of the resurrection. We make believing in God and in the story of the resurrection so very complicated. Many have been hurt by the church or appalled by hypocritical Christians. And although I feel like I understand why this happens, but they let those things keep them living a life of faith, fueled by the promise of the resurrection.

Yet this Easter I was reminded of what simple, yet powerful faith is all about. I preached today about the promise we have from God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I wanted to give those in church who had never accepted Christ as their Savior, a chance to confess their faith in the Lord and in their desire to live out the power of the resurrection. Two of those who raised their hands were mentally handicapped adults. I don’t even normally ask people to raise their hands, but I did today. I told them I wanted to see their faces and to pray for them specifically.

A simple, yet powerful faith is one that is trusting. It looks past those who might be watching and goes straight to the core of the issue. Without hesitation, those adults raised their hands. Their hearts and minds, I am convinced, have the freedom of a child. Nothing holds them back. They want to claim a saving faith in God. They don’t question it. They don’t limit it because of the other things they’ve faced in life. The just do it. The raise their hands and they are all in. And they want others to know.

From the very start, they stop and proclaim what God has done for them. Perhaps that is what has happened to us as tolerance has crept into our lives? We stopped proclaiming the promises of Easter daily, and we settle for a once a year remembrance on Easter alone and regardless of how you define it, faith should change us.

The promise of the resurrection begs us to understand this and to live it out everyday. Throw that tolerance to the wind – let that go – and embrace this year as a chance to live each day in power of the resurrection. Let yourself redefine faith like a child would. Don’t hold back. If you belong to God, then display that to your world. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be fearful. Don’t let the value this world places on faith, be your guide for living a life of true faith in God.

Everyday is an opportunity to live out the promise of the resurrection. We just have to choose to live a life of faith like this. Allow the first Easter to define for you how to live a life of dynamic faith and true hope. We serve a living God who didn’t sacrifice His life for lie. Everyday we live should be a celebration of our faith in the Lord and in the promise of the resurrection of Jesus.

easterverse copy

demands of the faith

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)

Do your actions and the way you demonstrate your faith in the Lord, beg from others – demand from others,  an explanation from you to them about your faith?

Radicalism is all around us. Some would argue that it doesn’t work. That being too radical can take away from the truth that you are trying to represent. However, what about balanced radicalism for Christ and for the Good News that Jesus saves?

Luke 3:16 calls to attention our demonstration of our faith in the Lord and how in which we are proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves. So what in your life – whether it is what you say or from the things that you do – radically demonstrates and displays your love for God and for others need to repent and believe?

Now for John the Baptist, he had to make sure those listening to him and those watching his actions knew he wasn’t Jesus. His lifestyle and his teaching did bring conviction – yet He wanted people to know of the greatness of God.

Jesus came so that we might experience God’s glory and His passion – that we might be redeemed and set free. It went beyond theory or philosophy as well. Jesus came so that people could have a real relationship with God – one that kills our old desires and motivates us to live a holy life.

May you live a life then that helps others see God and His glorious power more clearly. May you live in such in a way that your actions demand an explanation that will lead you to a place to point others to the power and grace of our loving Savior.

Simpleton

“The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” (Proverbs 14:15)

In the New Living Translation, “simple believer” is changed to “only simpletons.” In the New American Standard Bible, “simple believer” changes to “naive believer.”

Simple. Simpleton. Naive. Probably not words one wants to describe themselves, right? Yet – do they describe you and your pursuit of the Lord? For when we start to believe anything and everything, then it shows us to be true simpletons, naive, without conviction about anything.

We live in a world of tolerance and more and more the church is being called to show its tolerance to many things that God’s standard, His conviction for Holy living opposes. Tolerance of such things is really only spiritual ignorance.

Having faith in God like a child does not mean we have to ignore or give up on living practical, holy lives. If we are consumed with a true faith in the Lord it will actually cause us to be more more careful as we seek out His will for each step we take in life.

Living a life of vibrant faith then is not an excuse to avoid planning, or preparing, etc. Rather, a life of vibrant faith should cause us to pray through things even more, with a clear focus on God and hearing from Him about His sovereign plan for your life.

We must guard our hearts from a lack of ability to distinguish between truth and error. We live in a world and at a time when each believer must live out a vibrant life of faith. And that my friends, is anything but simple or naive.

May you give much prayer and thought to each step, each conversation, each meeting you have this day.