Standing With Her in the Rain

standingaloneintherain1

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2, NLT

By Lisa Schubert, Guest Author

Samantha issued commands to the person on the other end of the line. When she hung up, the rant continued against our church, our staff, the weather, and this meal that would serve as her Thanksgiving dinner. I had to let her go mid-rant, but not before reminding her that I would keep her in my prayers.

Samantha approached me outside the church on Thanksgiving morning with her hair disheveled and her coat covered with dirt smudges and raindrops. She demanded to borrow my cell phone to find if the Thanksgiving dinner she had requested from a charitable organization would be ready for pick-up in an hour. I was in a hurry. I needed to be inside preparing to lead worship. I begrudgingly let her borrow my phone, but I insisted on dialing the number myself and standing with her in the gentle rain.

Cross-in-the-Rain-

My encounters with Samantha have continued over the past few months. She’s almost always confused, angry, and paranoid. She tells stories about growing up with another member of our staff, who never met her until recently. It’s hard to know how to respond to Samantha.

A friend called me recently to ask if our church had any resources for helping congregations to welcome those who struggle with mental illness. I pointed her in a few directions, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at www.nami.org. Even as I offered her the information, I felt uneasy. Connecting with those who have mental illnesses is a complex, difficult journey.

It was raining again on Monday when I saw Samantha. She was sitting in the front lobby of the church. She shouted at me as I walked out the door, “Be careful out there! Two guys tried to kidnap me, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.” Unwilling to believe her, I replied, “Samantha, I’m sorry you had a rough morning. I’ll be thinking of you. Hope your day gets better.” I continued out the church doors and opened my umbrella.

I later discovered that Samantha was mugged that morning. Thankfully, the police believed her while I had blown her off. They arrested the alleged perpetrators that afternoon.

I’m embarrassed by my lack of gentleness and compassion toward Samantha, and I know I’m not alone. I wonder what it means for the Church to embrace, accept and listen to those who have mental illnesses. I wonder how church leaders like myself can grow and help others to deepen their care for people like Samantha.

There are no simple answers, but I think the answer starts in a simple place:

We stand with them in the rain.

Lisa Schubert is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Formation of North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis.

Being Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” 

Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been really high on my list. Love, joy, kindness, and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But these matter little without intimacy with Jesus.

I certainly haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truckload of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Martin Luther

This is the first of his 95 Theses nailed to the door of Wittenburg. There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, beer drinking, fornication, or hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

“All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed, wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.


“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10:48

A Very Dark Room

“Must I then, indeed,  Pain, live with you

All through my life? –sharing my fire, my bed,

And, when I feed myself, feeding you, too?”

 Edna St. Vincent Millay

The critical issue many face is just trying to survive the next episode of depression or mania.  Somehow I think that cohabitating with something that is trying to kill you is especially disturbing.  Depression is my mortal enemy and here I am, giving in and actually allowing it to destroy me. How crazy is that?

In a way, it seems sinister, the hair-raising stuff of scary movies. It’s the parasite that makes its residence in the body of its host.  (It sounds like a storyline out of Star Trek.) Some of us get absorbed into a dark melancholy. We instinctively carry despair and despondency wherever we go. It’s hard, but I really believe it’s crucial for afflicted believers to begin to worship again (and again.)

I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit absorbs much of the venom Himself.

When my depression slumbers, life proceeds fairly well.  I can play with my kids, and be a good husband, friend, and neighbor.  Everything seems quiet and normal.  But when the dragon awakes, watch out, there’s going to be ‘hell to pay.’  There were many terrible, dark days that I simply couldn’t get out of bed. I was plagued with awful, dark thoughts. Meds didn’t seem to help me. I felt completely lost.

Depression might strike at any time, and exactly when, you can never be too sure. “How will I handle it next time? Will I be in shape for Christmas, or will I lose it again this year? I just don’t know.” That’s the depressive way. But you know, the Holy Spirit ministers yet, and He will touch my heart again. He gently cares for the depressed.

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,”

2 Corinthians 7:6

My wife and I were missionaries in Mexico for almost three years.  We lived in a “burnt out” and very small trailer, with very sporadic electricity, and no running water. We had a 55-gallon drum for our drinking water, and we tried our best to avoid the mosquito larvae. And part of that time we had to park on the slanted slopes of a volcano. I always wondered what we would do if it decided to erupt.

Sometimes it feels like that, I’m just waiting for the next flare-up of another bout of depression.

“You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!”

Psalm 139:5-6

I am glad that God decided to intervene in my life.  Without question, I need Him to watch over me. I have to believe that He will keep rescuing me over and over. As a believer in Jesus, I know he has put his hands on me.  He shields me from the dragon. 

I have to believe that he protects me from the worst of it.  The Holy Spirit absorbs much of the venom Himself.  I’m very glad that I belong to Him! My fear of a plummeting relapse is now His concern. I bear it no more. It is now His responsibility.

Your brother-in-arms,

Bryan 

 

You can check out my new website at alaskabibleteacher.com

 

Jesus is My Apple Tree

apple-tree

“Like the finest apple tree in the orchard
    is my lover among other young men.
I sit in his delightful shade
    and taste his delicious fruit.”

Song of Solomon 2:3, NLT

Jesus is my apple tree. He keeps my dying soul alive.

He is the subject of many different metaphors. We know him as a shepherd, a door, and bread. There are many other ‘pictures’ in Scripture, that speak of his ministry and life. There is one that strikes me today, that of Jesus Christ as a life-giving tree– an apple tree. Song of Solomon 2:3 and Revelation 22:1 are the ‘roots’ of this wondrous thought.

“On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

Rev. 22:2

To think of Jesus as ‘the tree of life’ or an apple tree is both an honor to Him and a strength for us. We can swirl metaphors around all day and never exhaust their truths. Jesus (a.k.a. “the apple tree”) is seen imparting life and healing through his fruit. He is the source of everything good and grand in our lives. Eating his fruit is not only significant but encouraged. (Like most things in God’s Kingdom.)

The young maiden in Song of Solomon has given us her take on Jesus— her shepherd, lover, and king. She sees him as the finest in the forest. He provides shade to her, as she eats the fruit of his branches.

Oh, what a worthy picture of Jesus our savior. We can look at this all day. As we come to him we can see the One who is gifting each of us his blessings. We do well to consider him this way.  The first few lines set the tone for us.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.”

The song, based on an anonymous poem, first appeared in a New England hymn collection by a New Hampshire preacher in 1784, so it has a history. Many people sing this as a Christmas carol, although there is nothing in the words that refer to Christmas. Go through each stanza. See if it fits you. Perhaps it will cause you to see Jesus in a new way. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

“Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of Person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Stand in awe of Him. Let Him overwhelm you with the way He is.”   

John Piper

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