stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

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As it happens, today is National Suicide Prevention Day, being right in the middle of National Suicide Prevention Week.  To me, it is very sad that for many, it takes a national day or week to give awareness to what should be so obvious.  We shouldn’t want friends, family, strangers, enemies, or anyone killing themselves, so we should be vigilant in preventing it.  But we struggle to be vigilant, because effectively preventing suicide requires awkward conversations in advance.  But it’s only an awkward conversation, because we make it taboo through a lack of understanding and turning depression into something it is not.

Clinical depression is not a sin.  It is a serious illness.  It infuriates me to hear Christians talk about how having depression and taking doctor-prescribed depression medicine are sins, because they show a lack of contentment and faith with God respectively.  If, in fact, being treated for a chemical imbalance in one’s brain shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to heal you and lack of contentment with the hand God has dealt you, why isn’t it a sin to wear corrective lenses to adjust eyesight, take antibiotics when sick, take headache medicine, be treated for cancer, remove faulty gull bladders and ill-fitting wisdom teeth, and so on?  By this logic, shouldn’t you joyfully accept bad eyesight, vomiting, fevers, cancer, gull stones, and soreness of the mouth?  Oh, and how about wearing deodorant?  Would you rather we be content with the smell God dealt us?  I doubt it.  I doubt all of it.

Yet depression falls under a stigma, mostly because people do not and care not to understand.  Clinical depression isn’t tantamount to having the blues or being bummed out.  It can consume a person’s life despite circumstances.  Depression can involve dizzying and dark mood swings, feelings of mental paralysis, crippling levels of anxiety, and panic attacks.  Untreated, it can make a person feel sick every day without even knowing why.  It is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which is outside the control of those with depression.  It’s how they were made.  It’s the brain God gave them.   If having depression is a sin, then God is a liar, and since He is not a liar, depression cannot be sin.  God made brains – mine, yours, brains of the depressed – and God doesn’t cause anyone to sin.

The basis for Christian judgment on this issue is usually that it shows that a person isn’t content with where God has them, misusing Philippians 4:11.  So how do you explain when a person has depression in times when everything in their life is otherwise hunky and dory?  I’ll let you in on a non-secret: my wife Sarah has depression and is being treated for it.  I’ll let you in on another non-secret: her life has been going pretty amazingly.  Even if everything going well, a person with depression – like Sarah – cannot just be happy and enjoy it all the time.  Chemicals in her brain are maladjusted and need fixing.  She has suffered through every symptom listed above over the years, and they were especially bad when she wasn’t treating it.  She felt she couldn’t treat it, because she couldn’t admit she had it, because she had been programmed to believe it was a sin to be denied.  Sure, depression can lead to sinful behaviors, such as self-harm, suicide, self-hatred, being angry with God, etc.  But anger can lead to murder, fighting, gossip, etc, but anger is not a sin.  Just as someone can be angry and sin not, a person can have depression without sinning.

It’s time to do something.  If you are reading this, and you suffer from depression, it’s time to admit it to someone and get help.  It’s time to believe that you are valuable, that you are irreplaceable, that you are loved, and that this world would be an awful place were you to leave it prematurely.  As Christians, it’s time to talk about it.  It’s time to remove the stigma and stop mis-labeling things.  It’s time to love people where they are, to stand fast by their sides, to listen to their hurt, and to tirelessly encourage those we love seek help. Let’s say you disagree with everything I’ve said so far, though. Then it’s time to put the needs of others before your being right, because your being right will never save anyone’s life. You don’t have to believe that depression isn’t a sin to love people with depression, you just have to believe that a person’s sins don’t disqualify them from needing your love.

Maybe you found this, because you’re being crushed and thinking about ending it all.  Don’t.  Get help.  Emergency intervention does work.  You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or just click the link, go to their site, and chat online with someone.  You, my friend, were knit in your mother’s womb and were made just as fearfully and wonderfully as anyone you’ve met.  You are loved, worthy of love, and have a purpose no one else can fulfill.  No one else can play your part.

I’m grateful

It’s been a pretty big Summer for our family.  Big seasons can mean big stress, and this was no exception.  Granted, much of it was good stress, but even too much good stress can wear a guy out.  Summer started in a  big way with Jaxon’s being born just three days into it.  He’s wonderful, and we’re so grateful to have him.  I was sure we’d only have one kid, because Jakob’s pregnancy was very difficult on Sarah, and she was pretty sure she’d only ever have the one.  She decided it would be good to have a second, and as feared, it was a terrible pregnancy once again, but the ends justify the means in this case.

Two weeks after Jaxon’s birth, I got on a bus with 29 awesome students and leaders and headed to Louisville.  It was an amazing trip, even if my heart was half at home, and my mind was occupied with thinking about the next big thing.  We were supposed to close on our house on July 18, which was one week after I would return from this trip.  Of course, as many of you who own homes know, it never goes as planned.  Then we were supposed to close on July 25, but again, it didn’t happen.  Finally, we were to close on July 31, the last day on our lease, but again, it didn’t happen.  The builder/seller was gracious in allowing us to move in that day, anyway, a full week before closing.  We ended up closing on August 7 on a home that was built as though we had given the builder every detail of everything we needed and wanted in a home.  God worked in ways we didn’t expect, including ways that frustrated us greatly.  He worked through the government’s incompetence – apparently even that is redeemable – and a builder who doesn’t know us.  All along he spoke to us through our realtor, who is a good Christian of great faith, that we thought we just happen to get.  We look back now, just a few weeks later, and we see how God was orchestrating everything, and we are grateful for what He did.  We also feel a little sheepish about the times we got frustrated and began to doubt.

If you were in church at KCC on Sunday, then you know something big happened at work for me.  It was announced on Sunday that I am the new associate pastor here, which means additional responsibilities, work, and trust (much of which has been in place for months anyway).  Most of you found out Sunday.  I’ve known for a while and have been excited but haven’t been able to talk to many about it.  But for me it was also a frustrating process, even though it didn’t take too long overall.  I talked to Dave about my frustrations a month ago, and he explained that he sees that I’m a microwave guy.  I want things done in 30 seconds or less, and when they are not, I get frustrated, I begin to doubt and get scared.  I don’t sit quietly in waiting very well for very long.  He’s right.

Now it is the end of Summer as far kids in school and their parents go (that’s us now!).  As I look back over the Summer, I am grateful for Jaxon, our home, and my promotion.  That seems like it should be obvious.  But I’m also grateful for the hiccups, speed bumps, twists and turns.  With the house and the promotion, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn patience and faith at different levels.  I’m glad that the house buying process was so frustrating and strange, because it shows God’s hand clearly.  I’m glad for the testing of my faith there, because it gave me an opportunity to stand tall in my faith and not lose faith in exchange for worry, which I’m glad to say that I did.

You know what else I’m grateful for?  I’m not going anywhere for a long time.  In case you missed the subtle hints, I thought I’d tell you that.  I just bought a house.  I wouldn’t have done that without seeking God and being confident that we’d be here a long time.  My job is changing and expanding in ways that will allow me to grow, recognize that I have grown, and use the gifts I’m passionate about using.  I’m grateful I don’t have to leave a church that I love to experience this.  Most youth pastors have to leave a church to grow into a new position.  I’m grateful that the leaders at KCC see where I can grow, change, and be used here.  I am grateful that I’m not seen as just the goofy youth guy, at least by those leading the church.  Sure, I am the goofy youth guy whenever I can be, but to them I’m also a pastor capable of more than pranks, funny videos, and jokes. But don’t worry.  Just because I’m capable of more doesn’t mean I’ll forsake my roots.  I’ve got a funny video coming you won’t want to miss.

don’t long for Egypt

“4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Numbers 11 begins with the words, “And the people complained…”  About what were they complaining?  Well, they didn’t like how God was miraculously providing a food for them that no other person had tasted and none have tasted since.  They didn’t like it, because it was all they had to eat all of the time.  They wanted to eat meat, which I understand.  They wanted different fruits, vegetables, and spices, because they had had their fill of manna and coriander.  They longed for better days, like when they were in Egypt.  Food was free there, apparently, and there was great variety.  But in their ungratefulness, they forgot that nothing was free in Egypt, and nothing was better. They forgot about oppression, slavery, beatings, and even some being killed.  Because they missed something as insignificant as this food or that food, they forgot the hell in which they lived and from which had been supernaturally set free by a God that loved them.  It’s striking to read and consider, and it seems they were so dumb for missing God’s obvious goodness.

I’ve missed Egypt before, though.  I haven’t missed the country, because I’ve never been there, but I’ve missed times, places, and people from which God has delivered me.  I guess I forget exactly what I’m supposed to be grateful for sometimes, and I miss other times.  I see other speaking in the same way.  Maybe you miss having that boyfriend or girlfriend who was not good for you and overall made you miserable. God set you free, but you long to go back.  Maybe you miss a job that made better money, but you never saw your family or church.  God set you free, but you long to go back.  You miss your buddies, but with them you only ever acted foolishly and sinfully.  God set you free, but you long to go back.  Some just flat out miss their sins, which were destroying them and pulling them further and further from God.  God set you free, but you long to go back.  We’ve all been set free from something if we are in Christ, but some cannot be content with their freedom.

Do not long for Egypt.  We romanticize the good old days.  They’re probably not as good as you remembered.  What may seem free and pleasant now was torturous and terrible for you back then and would be again today.  Live in the freedom God has given. Live where you are now.  Stop looking backwards and plow forward for God, for you family, for your church, and for yourself.

you’re ready to start

I had a professor in seminary named Dr. Butler. On the first day of the first class I had with him, he made a statement that changed the way I looked at being ready to serve God. He said, “If God called you to preach two years ago, and you haven’t started, because you’re waiting till you finish school, you’re already two years late. He didn’t call you to be ready to preach. He called you to preach.” It was an interesting point. I had always thought that one should finish being trained before following God’s call on his life, whether it was vocational or in a volunteer role. But what Dr. Butler said made a lot of sense, especially when you read the Bible. I think God calls a lot of people to do a lot of great things for Him, but often times, we wait till we feel adequately ready. We go to school, conferences, seminars, small groups, etc, trying to prepare ourselves to do what He has called us to do. Sometimes we spend more time getting ready to be obedient than actually being obedient, which could be called delayed obedience.  My mom and dad always said that delayed obedience is disobedience, and now that I’m a parent, I completely agree.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue perfecting your calling, because I think you should. And I’m also not saying that you should start out at the same level you plan to be at when you’ve finished training. But if God calls you to do something, start doing it. I was reminded of this premise when reading Ezra 3. God’s plan was for the people to build a temple in Jerusalem where they could eventually perform sacrifices to Him, but He had already called them to observe the feasts and sacrifices. They started well before the temple was ready, because God expected obedience. They didn’t even start building the temple until the 2nd year of their inhabitation, but they observed God’s ordinances all along. They weren’t going to wait till they were ready to start obeying Him.  You’re ready to start, so start.

If God called you to do something, do it! God called you, He’s equipped you, and He’s waiting to use you.  If you haven’t started, you’re already behind.  Take it from my friend Tim.

 

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He sought me

Music is powerful.  It can stir up a number of emotions, whether we are just reacting to the words we’re hearing or remembering another time a particular song may bring us back to.  There are some songs that make most people happy that stir up frustration and anger in me, because they are tied to a bad time in my life.  When I hear the songs that were on Christian radio when Sarah was in the hospital after our accident, I begin to feel very sad without thinking about it.  Music can also bring us great joy, as it has for me lately.

We’ll be having our mission trip recap service on August 24, so you’ll probably hear more about this and other things, but the worship was so engaging again this year.  I felt like we were escorted into God’s presence, and we stayed there through the end of each service.  We learned a new song this year called “In Tenderness,” which is by the same people who wrote “Made Alive.”  This one is a little slower than “Made Alive,” but the words stirred up so much joy and humility.  I was so grateful for God choosing to seek me, but I was humbled when I considered how dirty I must have looked when He came for me.  God is our adoptive Father, as we read in Ephesians 1 and Galatians 4.  We aren’t born into His family.  We are born into sin, with the Devil sitting in the position of father (John 8:44).  But then God seeks us out, and if we will allow Him, adopts us into His family.  That’s a cool thing about adoption and something I have talked about with several adopted kids who feel weird about being adopted: your parents chose to seek you out and at great cost to themselves make you their children.  God has done the same, at great cost to Himself, making us His children.  He sought us, when – just as orphaned babies needing adoption- we were incapable of seeking Him.

Please check out this song.  Focus on the words.  Close your eyes if you need to in order to focus, because the words are so powerful and true.  You’ll be hearing it again on August 24, so this will help give you a jump start on learning the words, so you don’t feel awkward trying to learn a new song in church.

Pray for us next week

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We leave Monday for Louisville. Many of you have been so generous financially leading up to the trip, so first I want to say thank you. Thank you for caring about our teenagers. Not every church does, and I’m so proud and grateful to be a part of a church like ours that does care.

We will leave at 7:00 AM Monday morning, and we’ll return very late Friday, possibly into Saturday morning. Please be praying for us even now. Pray for safety, that we would positively impact the community we are serving, that we would boldly share the Gospel when given the opportunity, and that we would be moved and changed by God while we’re away. After the trip, please continue to pray for us, that we would be steadfast in the decisions we made for God while we were gone.

Thank you so much for your compassion, generosity, and your prayers. Feel free to send us a note of encouragement, whether to an individual or to the whole group to rebelyouth@mykcc.org.

keep on track

I am easily distracted.  The busier I am or the more pressing a task is becoming, the more likely I am to be distracted by something else.  I can find hundreds of things to do instead of writing this blog post when it comes down to needing to do it.  But if I had a paper or other homework due on Monday, and the blog post isn’t due to Joyce until Thursday, I’d be likely to work on the blog post.  It’s happened before several times.  My office is turned upside down right now, because I decided to spend time yesterday trying to figure out why one phone line doesn’t work in my office while the other one does.  Of course, I’m incredibly busy right now.  The mission trip is less than three weeks away, I won’t be in the office next week, because Sarah’s having a baby, and I’m trying to get stuff done in advance for children’s and youth as a result.  But I spent at least an hour trying to figure out something that really doesn’t matter.  Why?  Probably because it was less stressful and not as difficult as staying on track.

Distractions occur in all areas of life, including in our spiritual life.  Partially because it is easier to focus on things of little cost to us – the sins of other people, little projects we can do for God, good things we have done – than it is to focus on Jesus and what changes He wants us to make.  That’s a hard thing to do.  The Bible says it’s hard to do, because when we come close to and focus on Jesus, it’ll shine His light into our lives, and we’ll become aware of what needs to change.  But it’s still something we have to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about laying aside our weights and sins in an effort to run well.  The next verse (Hebrews 12:2) tells us how we do that: “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  We look at Him, see what He was able to give up in pursuing us, so that we are more able to give things up to pursue Him.  We have to keep on track with this.  When we look away and begin to focus on peripheral things, it’s easy to stumble and fall away from the task.  But if we keep on track, we will be able to stay on the path towards holy living and spare ourselves from falling away into sin and foolishness.

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