Ministry & the Mentally Ill

“Turning Your Back,” Russian Folk Art

Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, the Condemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “

— Michael Yaconelli

Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches.  We are pushed into hiding our true identity;  we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules.  We are expected to censor ourselves, and say proper things at the right time.  Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.]

If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or desperate, I will upset the apple cart and muddle up everything.  “Truth?  You can’t handle the truth?”, [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.] 

But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority.

Christians with mental illnesses, have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church.  The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers.  He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.

We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re the audio/visual department of the church.

If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses, have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture.  If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere.  We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.

But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine!  Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness.  Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him.  Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?

I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open. 

That we become transparent before others.  As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love.  They look at me and they see Jesus.  And that is our ministry as mentally ill people to the Church.  Our weaknesses are really our strengths.

9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.”  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” 

10 “So because of Christ,  I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

                               2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

 

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[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within, and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]

 

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Bone Tired Weariness

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8 Then Jesus said, Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, New Living Translation

Weariness and burdens are our common plight. We all have them. They are shared as sort of common identity, like eye color or hair color. We all have them, and wish we didn’t. Sometimes we feel like shutting down.

Weariness, that bone-tiredness that sleep doesn’t seem to help. We seem to be chronically fatigued by life and what it brings us. We have heavy burdens, we carry a load that only gets heavier (and never lighter.)

Money problems, bills that are past due, marriages, straying children, cars that need fixing, family problems, job hassles, health problems… the list goes on ad nauseam. There are far too many issues, too many problems. I believe boredom and tedium are added to the list as they only intensify the hopelessness. (Its own special kind of suffering.)

Some will choose to ‘self medicate’ with alcohol or drugs. They want something more, and find they only create more burdens (not less.) Some will become hopelessly addicted, never finding relief from their burdens, but only increasing them. Suicide very often is seen as the only way out.

But Jesus will never condemn (leave that to the Pharisees) but instead offers a sort of amnesty to the burnt-out and the burdened. Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus did not say, “Get away from me, I am holy and you are not.” Rather, He makes himself to be the solution to all those who life has overwhelmed. He wants our burdens and takes on our weariness. He wants us. He wants to give us peace and rest.

He invites us to exchange whatever burdens us for the yoke of discipleship.

An easy trade, especially since we are so desperate. Some have evaluated Jesus’ offer and made the transaction–piling up our burdens at His feet. We might be a little hesitant about the “my yoke” part, but will quickly find that discipleship can’t be compared to the weight we once carried for so long.

The non-demands of biblical disciplehip are easyFor my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Following Jesus becomes the best way to live.

29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

 

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Scorched, But Deeply Loved

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Peter on the spot

“Then Jesus said to Peter, “Go away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the things of God, but only about the things people think are important.”

Matt. 16:23, NCV

Principles of the Kingdom will often will sound like a simple conversation to an outsider.  Things are often established or nullified with a ‘face-to-face.’  In this chapter of Matthew we hear Peter extolling the divinity of Jesus (vv. 15-17).  Peter exceeds the norm with his analysis of what is real. It is as perceptive as it is supernatural.  “You are the Christ,” Peter proclaims, “the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus responds to this and Jesus praises him for this insight.

One of my personal problems is that I am way too spontaneous.  It gets me in trouble. I have become a fool more times than I bother to count.  I will do something that is outrageously amazing– and in a short time I am flirting with apostasy.  Often this is indicative of bipolar disorder, a mental illness of some considerable significance.

I’m not sure why Peter does what he does.  But just a short time after he makes his astonishing pronouncement, he is taken apart by Jesus, being solidly rebuked ‘face-to-face.’  In one clear moment he expresses an awesome and wonderful faith, and suddenly his personal stock suddenly and precipitously crashes.  He is now a pariah that needs to be avoided. Every disciple will be scorched. But loved.

This is quite bitter. It seems that in the light from this chapter (actually seems like a bright glare,) Peter is astonishingly quite devastated.  In three years of discipleship it seems that all he merits is a brutal ‘dressing-down.’

The rebuke is bitter.  Peter is being compared to Satan!

In a blur of just a few minutes he moves from “hero-to-goat.”  I suspect that Peter was ashamed.  He most likely wished he had a “rewind button.”  His savior, Jesus– has given him a new label.  And it hurts.  Many times, we would become resentful, maybe a bit bitter.  It could cause some to walk away, developing an anger that solidifies into something very scary. Thank God, Peter doesn’t do anything stupid.

 The correction in the rebuke gives him life, and a hope.

But who’s to say we would be as correctable?  One thing to add, earlier we mentioned the ‘conversational approach’ of discipleship.  Peter was rebuked in the presence of the other disciples.  The publicity was embarrassing.  Too many people were watching and listening. Peter will survive this, but he has learned something valuable.

Our daily commitment to Jesus hinges on our willingness to be “undone.”  His heart and plan pretty much precludes any “secret or hidden” agenda.  Jesus pretty much rakes us over the coals.  He will insist on an uncompromising obedience to His faithfulness.  Every true disciple will be scorched— but loved.

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The Blue Letter Version

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The ‘red letter’ Bible emphasizes the words of Jesus by making them red. But sometimes we can learn just as much by which words he didn’t say.  I would like to submit to you the ‘Blue Letter Version’ of things Jesus never said.

He never said:

V. 1) You’re too far gone to be saved.

V. 2) I’m so disappointed in you.

V. 3) This wouldn’t be happening if you were a better Christian.

V. 4) It’s okay not to love certain people.

V. 5) Everyone should be just like you.

V. 6) Its all up to you.

V. 7) You don’t have to forgive someone who has hurt you.

V. 8) You missed my will for your life.

V. 9) I’ve given up on you.

V. 10) This is a cross you must bear alone. 

When we think through these we should realize that each ‘verse’ is wrong. Jesus never said any of these; I am certain he wouldn’t even think these things about us. We can only surmise that what he did declare is real, and that his love for us is boundless and limitless. People like you, and like me, are loved in spite of our sins. His love doesn’t fit the conventional wisdom.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

John 6:37

There are other verses to consider. These affirm his love to each of us.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

1 John 3:1

The Blue Letter Version exists only in my mind. Yet sometimes I catch myself thinking things from our list. But in a way, each of the above is logical. But each are also wrong.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.”

Isaiah 55:8

I encourage you to listen to the ‘drum roll’ of grace that is beating from the heart of Jesus. He loves you with a supernatural love that can not be silenced. Accept his love (or not) and he will love you the same. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Securely attach yourself to this love.

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I am Jonah, [Self Awareness]

1 “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

Jonah 4:1-4, NIV 

Jonah is the very essence of the modern Christian who prefers God to be just like them (only more so.)  Just like Jonah we can be:

  1. unbelieving,
  2. unaccepting and
  3. unforgiving.

When you mix the three, (in a kind of “Jonah smoothie”) you will have something quite religious– but very toxic.  A toxicity that normally should require protective clothing and a quarantine.

Jonah has a sense of who God really is.  But, he disagrees.  In his eyes, God is way too excessive, way too elaborate in His love.  He makes way too many possibilities for forgiveness.  It drives him nuts, to serve a God that is way too liberal with His love.  It seems to push Jonah to try to readjust the love of God on his own.

In the eyes of Mr. Jonah, he simply must modify the “way of salvation.”  In his way of thinking, he can’t let God, be wholly God.  Jonah simply must step in, and dial back the real tendency of God to venture into His excessive and foolish love.  He must be thinking that what God is doing is way too outrageous, and far too far for human reasoning.

Amazingly, Jonah knows God deeply.  He knows, and he is afflicted by the grace that God has for these Ninevites.  Jonah doesn’t get vague, rather he gets specific.  He becomes more aware.  Verse 2 states Jonah’s deep awareness that God is simply too good for people, He is far too rich and generous with the behavior of people who live way too loose.

Since God seems so excessive we feel we must adjust Him.

It seems we must work to make Him more acceptable, and to redefine Him into a more focused kind of religious faith.  Something that makes sense to us His followers.  Something in the way the World perceives Him.  It so seems that this is a job that almost every believer jumps at. (I vote to send God to “rehab.”) 🙂

But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”  The Lord speaks specifically to Jonah.  He asks a question, which is a very good idea, when confronting foolish thinking.  “Have you any right?”  This question reverberates and echos through the corridors inside our hearts.  It seems our right doesn’t extend that far.  Being “angry” with God (and the way He does things,) is never an acceptable way of thinking.

Simply put, you have no right.  You have nothing.  There isn’t any allowance or prerogative given, that allows you to alter and adjust the way God wants His reputation and character to be made public.  Sorry, you can’t “airbrush” Him to meet the perceived ideas of the mass population.  He will not allow you to “photoshop” His face or presence, to make His love more presentable.

Simply understood and easily stated, “We have no right.”

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Has God Given Up on You?

 

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13 “If we are unfaithful,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot deny who he is.” 

2 Timothy 2:13, NLT

There can be times of a great despair; when sin or sickness is definitely in the spotlight. Losing hope is an easy response for mere mortals like us. There can be a place where the darkness won’t lift; and it’s at that point you realize that you’re simply in over your head.

I know that feeling quite well. I have bipolar disorder and I tend to camp out at the margins where it seems like the grace of God evaporates in the heat of the moment. Whether it is my sin or circumstances, I occasionally feel pretty much abandoned, and it usually is something self-inflicted. We have this glaring tendency to put ourselves in where we should not have been. And condemnation means no comfort can get through to us.

We wonder if God has finally given up on us, throwing us on the trash heap of lost souls. We might feel that is what we deserve.

“Many are saying about me, “God won’t rescue him.” 

Psalm 3:2

In Psalm 3, David has come to the realization that his sins have “tainted” him. He talks of many enemies that have suddenly gathered, and they are claiming that David was now outside of God’s grace and favor. The theology of this seemed logical. David had sinned greatly. And just perhaps he had. David’s sin of adultery and murder was heinous and depraved. His enemies suggested that God would now abandon him.

Our own sin may be excessive, but God’s faithfulness is extreme.

”Lord, your love reaches to the heavens, your loyalty to the skies.’

Psalm 36:5

The grace of God is limitless. It is beyond human comprehension or reasoning. When he committed himself it was for forever. King David understood this, and would survive the devastating fall-out from his sins. Indeed he would reap all that he sowed (Gal. 6:7-8).

You see, Jesus has taken all your sin upon himself,  and that includes your faithlessness. He has done this astonishing thing out of the deep depths of His love and mercy. We don’t deserve it and we can’t pretend it is something else. A heart welded to His knows this. We are “saved by grace through faith.”

Do you still feel God has abandoned you forever? Dear one, there is an unholy war on the saints that Satan is waging. He hates your simple trust in God and will shake it anyway he can. He blisters believers hoping to discourage them. And he doesn’t fight fair.

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:“I have  loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3

Christ will always accept the faith that puts its trust in Him. You must only rest in His kindness and love.  He will not abandon anyone who puts even a feeble trust in Him. When we turn from our sin, God will always turn to us. Always believe it, for it is true.

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When I Condemn Myself, [Guilt]

Understanding how to forgive is one of the most essential truths we must learn. We learn that we must forgive others– if we want forgiveness for our own sins. But we jump right into it when we pass judgement on ourselves.  This self-condemnation is insidious and very dark.  And yet incredibly, it is also quite prevalent in the Church.

We determine that we are guilty.  It doesn’t take a lot of imagination, as the sin is everywhere, it overwhelms us.  It meshes into us, and weaves into our very being.  We soon come to the point where we can no longer tell the difference between  what is our sin, and our personality.

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

1 John 3:20, NIV

Examining our own hearts, we start by probing the depth of our own evil.  There is now little room for any kind of self-deception– for we understand our darkness in depth.  It is at this crucial point when God steps forward and exercises His authority.  His understanding is complete.  He knows us inside and out.  He sees everything. We can do nothing cosmetically to “improve the corpse.”  He sees us without any ‘make-up’.

When we commence judging ourselves, it may seem appropriate and timely. And certainly, we must respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction. But this is different!  This is unbelief of God’s Word, that rapidly becomes foul and fleshly, and opens the doors to despondency and despair.

But soon the ‘dark ones’ come, and the blackness becomes insurmountable.  We mournfully provide the chains, which they gleefully use on us.  Self-condemnation twists us and we become malformed and misshapen spiritually.

Guilt is a warning light that says something is wrong. Yet when it persists too long, it energizes Satan’s lies and strangulates spiritual growth. 

“For innumerable evils have compassed me about; my iniquities have taken such hold on me that I am not able to look up. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart has failed me and forsaken me.” 

Psalm 40:12, Amplified

When we look into the mirror, what do we see?  Are we besieged and battered by our sin?  I’m grieved for the many believers are walking as ‘zombie Christian lives’, more dead than alive, with little hope for any kind of escape. Jesus comes to bring us to life.

Brother, sister– Jesus has come to release you completely.  He completely understands your situation.  He is not surprised by your evil.  Your brazen, and dedicated love for your sin does not shock Him.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

1 John 1:9, NLT

A Thought For the Truly Desperate:

“Here’s how to beat condemnation.  Confess your sin to God.  Then believe in Him.  Exercise the gift of faith that God has given you to believe that Jesus died for the very sins you’re being condemned for.  The punishment He received was for you.  His resurrection is proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice.  The sins of your past and the sin you just committed were all atoned for; you need carry their weight no more.”

C.J. Mahaney

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