For Rascals, Failures, Clumsy Disciples, the Addicted, and the Physically and Mentally Ill Believer
Author: Pastor Bryan Lowe
A repentant rascal with definite issues, but who is seeking to be authentic in his faith to Jesus Christ.
An avid reader and a hopeful writer. Husband and father. A pastor and Bible teacher. A brain tumor survivor. Diagnosed with clinical depression, epilepsy, and now disabled.
Enjoys life, such as it is, in Alaska.
#3 The Devil will try very hard to condemn you for your past.
There are some days that are harder then others. You see, I have lived profligately, harmed many, and influenced others to do evil. I have wounded and hurt people very deeply. There are days when I have this mental image of myself– I’m a ‘Fountain of Feces’ spewing and polluting my filth to anyone passing by.
But I am also the Prodigal. I’ve squandered everything. It’s gone. I’ve been to the pig pen. Filthy and starving. Coming to my senses, I decide to return home, and sell myself to the employ of Him I once called “Father.”
But the most outrageous thing has happened. It is so wildly fantastic that it defies any reason. (I hardly dare to think it real). The man who I once called “Father” refuses to listen to my list of sins. He has embraced me, dressed me, established me as a son. I have new shoes, and a signet ring.
I am a wonder to behold. A feast of unparalleled joy is waiting. I pinch myself– is this really happening to me? Those days in the pig pen, what a stupid waste. I want to weep and shout for joy– all at the same time! It doesn’t seem real.
The subject of my grossness and sin has been forgotten. I have not been interrogated or punished. (Since then, I’ve learned that Someone else took this on.) But my perversity and my iniquity has never, ever been discussed. Their is no list of my sin, no cataloging has taken place. The promises tell me that my past sin has been put on a big barge, and shipped to the deepest part of the ocean– and dumped!
“You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
As critical-thinking believers, with just a modicum of divine truth, what we do with our personal sin is huge. It determines much about our walk. We function out of our past. The plant is rooted in something. But our Father has turned our prodigal past into our personal future of total redemption.
Look at your greatest pain. The Holy Spirit will very likely take that deep, deep bruise and turn it into your greatest ministry. And He does it without resorting to a list of your ugly, ugly sin. You see, He has already forgotten it.
“The question is who are we going to side with? God says our sins are past, cleansed, and gone. You cannot go on with God until you stand on His Word as cleansed with the heart made pure.”
I am very clumsy. I have no claims on gracefulness to speak of. I seem to bungle and bump my way through life (to the amazed hilarity of my guardian angel), I walk into walls and stub my toes regularly.
Things others do elegantly I do bumbling. I have no rhythm and no grace, bumping into things and lurching myself through life’s obstacle course.
A lazy fly just flew by. He’s headed for the window for the hundredth time. His unskilled attempts to fly through it are thwarted by the screen. I finally have pity, and open it up. He earned it.
Christians are probably the clumsiest people on the planet. It seems we’ve one foot in the kingdom of God, and the other in this world. This isn’t an easy place to be. We don’t do either very well. We stub our toes a lot.
Even in the Church grace can be a foreign concept to many of us. God’s grace especially. I sometimes wonder, do we really grasp the wonder of this we so blithely profess to know?
Like that fly we try so hard and see no real results. Grace seems to elude us as we make another stab at being obedient. Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t I make it work?
I’m so awkward. I barely understand the kingdom of God. And I still can’t fly through “screens.”
And still God’s grace meets us.
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
Matthew 13:31-33, ESV
These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!
Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.
The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.
These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.
I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century. I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)
The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,
“His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
“Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them.”
This whole idea of celebrating is often at odds with religious sensibilities. “Too much liberty and too much freedom, and not enough control. People won’t know how to behave, and it’ll ruin everything.” This argument has been used for generations, and will continue to perpetuate itself.
People just don’t know what to do when the presence of Jesus becomes activated in their midst.
There is a wedding! Like all weddings this alters the present status-quo. “We interrupt life for this special announcement– JESUS is getting married!” He has attached Himself to a bride, she is simple, and yet beautiful. Room is made for the outcasts and mentally ill. For she is the Church, made up of rascals and ragamuffins who have had their many sins forgiven! All are invited.
We are limited our religious duty of fasting. It is definitely not appropriate in the light of this good news. Simply put, we cannot advance our religious reputation in this new environment. It’s not about us at all! Joy has taken over, and we can do nothing but stand in wonder. Jesus Christ has become “all, and in all”.
To follow Jesus must mean we are people of joy and celebration! The old concepts of religious effort are nullified, plain and simple. It really isn’t required, but it is understood that we will rejoice. We will begin to party!
Joy is to infuse our understanding, and it will lift us to the place where life becomes infected with the contagion of heaven. It is an epidemic spreading to every believer. The Universe has become the stage when worship is the only solution to the history of man.
His Presence has tipped the scales, and He has formulated Himself as the center of the whole ‘kit and caboodle.’ A joyful romance is at the very essence of everything. C.S. Lewis once said that “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”
When it all comes down, we are transferred into the status of the amazed. What has happened has caused us to take a breath, and step back in wonderment. Jesus is the Revolution! We are brought to the place where we belong, we are nothing more than witnesses and participants in His exaltation. We must rejoice in the joy of the Bridegroom!
“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.”10Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”
11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.”
Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV
At the very last, there was just one remaining. A single man, Ebedmelech. He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king. The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult. In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah. They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern. They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.
The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city. Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah. He just lets it happen without a good reason. The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern. Without food, he will soon starve. In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’
But there is one, he is a wild card. And no man would have guessed it. Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history. Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues. This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene. He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, a nobody.
But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession. He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth. He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.
Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet. Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags. They shout down to Jeremiah. The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.
It’s interesting, but the rags are the most interesting.
They are really an extra touch, not a necessity. The rags become essentially, a form of grace. They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud. Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did. There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable. In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.
Our illnesses– physical or mental, have moved us to a lonely place on the edge.
We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace. Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes. It would’ve been more difficult, granted. But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness. And I am certain it did not pass by without notice. Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.
We can gather up much from what has been written. We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations. But our kindness and concern can make the difference. Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.
So be an Ebedmelech,— an outcast perhaps– but in a position of kindness.
“Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
There is a hidden mechanism lying in wait for us in this verse. The fact that it is there at all borders on our sense of reason and the fantastic. To be a brother, or a sister to Jesus is almost absurd. (And to be a mother is really pushing the envelope.) This verse is a true wonder! Too good to be true for a rascal like me.
But it’s not how we see ourselves, it is how Jesus Christ sees us. He sees us promoted and “and raised us up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6). Ideally, family– as it’s designed to be– is in a level of intimacy exceeding all others. I have two younger brothers and in spite of not communicating for months we just ‘tune-in” to each other. When we do meet, it is on the same wavelength.
I’m going to shift gears on you now. I devoutly believe that the Kingdom of God, which includes the Church, “flows” through relationships between people. Some believe it flows through a denomination, or other structure. But it doesn’t.
The Kingdom connects and grows when believers have personal contact with each other. The Church is not chiefly an organization– but it is an “organism.” I value my relationships, because they have life in them! Are you trying hard to do God’s will in an area? Try moving towards personal contact with another. (I find that is often the way God leads me.)
Back to Mark 3:35. “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” This verse is not for everyone. One doesn’t relate to Jesus on this illustrious level automatically. The promise can only be triggered through obedience. What we do is the evidence of what we believe. (I told you it was too good to be true! 🙂 ) We ascend into family when we do God’s will. There are no short-cuts to intimacy like this.
But there is no other way to a closer and intimate relation to Him. And He has no favorites among His children, only intimates.
NAMI’s Interviews With Danielle Steel & Kay Jamison
Last year, Steel published His Bright Light, a memoir of her son, Nick Traina, who committed suicide at age 19 after a life-long battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). More recently, Jamison has published Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, combining research, clinical expertise and personal experience to explore one of the world’s leading causes of death.On February 8, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Resources, Education & Related Agencies will hold a hearing on suicide prevention that will include testimony from best-selling author Danielle Steel and Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, author of several academic and popular books on mental illness.
Interviews with Steel and Jamison have appeared in “Spotlight,” a special supplement to The Advocate, the quarterly publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Conducted by NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn, they offer a possible preview of Steel and Jamison’s testimony on Tuesday. Excerpts follow below.
NAMI’s Interview with Kay Jamison
Spotlight (Winter 1999/2000)
NAMI: What do we know about the linkage between suicide and mental illness?
Jamison: The most important thing to know is that 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with one of several major psychiatric illnesses: depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorders. These are obviously treatable illnesses. Another thing people don’t think about enough or emphasize enough is that because cancer and heart disease hit older people, they are seen as lethal illnesses. Because the age of onset for mental illnesses is very, very young, people don’t tend to think of mental illnesses as the potentially lethal illnesses they are. It’s important for people to understand that they have an illness to begin with and then that they get good treatment for it.
NAMI: You have spoken specifically of suicide and college students.
Jamison: Yes. Suicide is the second major killer of college aged kids. It’s the second leading killer of young people generally.
NAMI: You also have pointed out that, worldwide, suicide is the second leading killer of women between ages 15 and 45. These statistics are staggering, yet most people don’t seem to be aware of it.
Jamison: Absolutely. Across the world. There are almost two million suicides a year worldwide. I think people just don’t have any sense of the enormity of it. Suicide unfortunately has been so individualized and, because of the early suicide movement in this country, so separated from mental illness. People working in the field of suicide concentrated on existential factors and vague sorts of things, when in fact the underlying science is very clear that they’re associated with a few mental illnesses.
NAMI: Knowing what we do about illness and its treatability allows us to be able to discuss preventing suicide.
Jamison: Right. [U.S. Surgeon General] Dr. David Satcher’s emphasis has been very strong on three fronts. One is public awareness. Secondly, intervention and all that’s involved in making doctors and others more able to ask the kinds of questions needed to uncover mental illness. And then, thirdly, to support the science that’s necessary to study suicide.
NAMI: What else can policy makers and public officials do?
Jamison: I think we have to have public officials talking about it. When you have someone like Jesse Ventura out there saying these outrageous things-I think it’s really beyond the pale-we’ve got to have the president of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment-or from having three days in the hospital, and then going out and dying.
NAMI’s Interview with Danielle Steel
Spotlight (Winter 1999)
NAMI: “His Bright Light” is a very personal story about a very painful subject, the mental illness and death of a child. What did you hope people would learn by sharing your story?
Steel: I hoped first of all that people would come to know my son, and learn what an extraordinary person he was. I wrote the book to honor him, and to share with people what a remarkable person he was, in spite of his illness. I also wrote it to share with people the challenges we faced, so that they feel less alone and less isolated with their pain, in similar situations. I wrote it to give people hope and strength as they follow a similar path to ours.
NAMI: What did you learn from this painful tragedy?
Steel: I’m not sure yet what I learned from the tragedy, except that one can and must survive. But from his life, I learned a great deal about courage and perseverance, and love.
NAMI: Lots of people in America might be facing signs of a mental illness in one of their children. What about Nick’s behavior made you realize that it was more severe than just the normal growing pains of a child?
Steel: Nick was different. Always. His moods were more extreme. I sensed from early on, that despite his many wonderful qualities, there was something very wrong. I knew it in my gut, as I think many parents do.
NAMI: How long did it take for Nick to be diagnosed as manic-depressive and receive treatment for that condition?
Steel: Nick was not clearly diagnosed as manic depressive until he was 16, a good 12 years after we began the pursuit of the causes for his ‘differences’. He received no medication until he was 15, and did not receive the most effective medications until he was 16. A long and very painful wait for all concerned!
NAMI: Prior to knowing of Nick’s manic depression, what did mental illness mean to you? Did you associate stigma with mental illness?
Steel: I don’t think I realized, before Nick, that one could still be functional, or seemingly functional, if mentally ill. I thought of it as something totally incapacitating, and of people who were shut away. I don’t think I realized how intelligent and capable mentally ill people can still be. I’m not sure I did associate a stigma with mental illness. It just seemed like a sickness, and not necessarily a shameful one. I just thought of Nick as sick, whatever it was called, and wanted him to be cured.
NAMI: How did Nick deal with the knowledge that he had a mental illness?
Steel: For a long time, Nick himself was in denial about his illness. And eventually, he accepted it. In the last year, he told people he was manic-depressive. Before that, when he felt ‘normal’ on medications, he believed he was cured. He had a hard time accepting at first that he would be manic-depressive all his life.
NAMI: Are schools able to cope with the mental illness of a child?
Steel: In most cases, I don’t believe they are. It is a huge challenge for all to meet, and certainly hard on the other kids to have one child acting out. We were very lucky, in Nick’s high school years we finally found a wonderful school that understood the problem, accepted him as he was, and was willing to work with him in a framework he could cope with. They were remarkably flexible and creative. But for most schools, it’s asking a lot to expect them to adapt to a mentally ill child.
NAMI: If you could tell a family member who is caring for someone who is mentally ill one thing, what would that be?
Steel: Never give up. Get the best help you can. Keep trying, keep loving, keep giving, keep looking for the right answers, and love, love, love, love. Don’t listen to the words, just listen to your heart.
NAMI: What do you think support groups like NAMI can do for families coping with the mental illness of a loved one?
Steel: I think groups like NAMI can provide support, both emotional and practical—the knowledge that you are not alone. And resources, where to go, who to talk to, what works. You need all the information you can get, and it is just about impossible to do it alone.
NAMI: Stereotyping the mentally ill as violent and dangerous is pervasive in America. How do we change this perception?
Danielle: Information. Obviously there must be some mentally ill people who are violent and/or dangerous. But I suspect that most are not. Nick certainly wasn’t either of those, he was gentle, loving, smart, funny, compassionate, extremely perceptive about people, and very wise. I cannot conceive of Nick as ‘dangerous,’ although ultimately he was a danger to himself. But for the most part, I think the turmoils of the mentally ill are directed within and not without.
NAMI: What do you think the average American should know about mental illness?
Steel: I think most people should know how common it is…I also think people should know how serious it is when it goes untreated. And how potentially lethal it can be. It is vitally important to get good treatment, the right medication, and good support. If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you.
NAMI: We know that having “hope” is important to battling any disease. What hope do you see for people with mental illness?
Steel: I see a huge amount of hope. The medications today can give people whole, happy, productive lives. There are lots and lots of people with mental illness holding down good jobs, even with important careers, happy family lives, and doing great things. It is possible to lead a good and happy life if you are mentally ill. If those who are doing just that would speak up, it would give great hope to all those who are still groping their way along in the dark.
NAMI: What is Nick’s legacy?
Steel: Nick’s legacy is the love we had and have for him, the word we have spread of what a terrific person he was. In his lifetime, he touched countless lives, with his warmth, with his mind, with his music, with his words. Through his experiences, others have and will learn. Through the Nick Traina Foundation, hopefully we can bring help to others, in his name.