The Lord of My Darkest Fear

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“And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
you will look around and take your 
rest in security.”

 Job 11:18

“If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” 

Prov. 3:24

Bedding down in the ruins of an old adobe church gave me a great deal of apprehension.  I was anxious because at night all the scorpions, snakes and tarantulas do most of their exploring.  Now I have an uncommon fear of tarantulas, at night I have seen them come out and the ground was churning.  But as a missionary in rural Mexico and I guess I figured that I ought not shirk my expected routine.  But I was spooked. I am a true arachnophobiac.

Job and the Book of Proverbs combine to correctly identify the personal security issues for the believer.  We’re most vulnerable when we lie down to sleep.  When you think about it, that’s when we are most accessible and open to assault.

But there are promises that are given to believers that reassure us and secure us.  It is a remarkably basic promise, that we can lay down and God will stand watch over us as we rest.  But I contend that there other times, times when He watches us and guides us through a myriad of unseen difficult things.  He secures us, and then keeps us.

My time in the Mexican desert taught me some incredible lessons.  I must admit though, that sleeping on the ground was an ordeal.  I had to trust that the Lord would take special care over me as I lay defenseless.  I could not defend myself, so I trusted Him and slept. I ‘shut down’ my imagination and trusted Him who I could not see.  (I didn’t even bother to look for tarantula ‘tracks’ around my bedroll in the morning.)

We live in a time of complex danger.  Bad things have become increasingly routine and we have come to the point were we just can’t protect ourselves, or those we love.  Jesus warned us that this would happen.

Paul writes of this intensification of evil things.

We must trust Him who is unseen.  We are to be people that move toward ‘the wings’ to find shelter.  I believe this is a volitional decision.  We make a verbal commitment to our protecting One, that He will shield us from those who are evil and perhaps even deranged.

He loves us so much.  We can trust Him completely and fully. Even in the face of very big spiders.

“The only known antidote to fear is faith.”

Woodrow Kroll

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The Fellowship of the Saints

The fellowship of the saints

The following is Psalm 16:3 in several different versions.  They differ from each other but all express the same fundamental thought.  The variation is refreshing and allows for a stronger development of thought.

 3 As for the saints who are on the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” (NKJV)  

 

3As for the saints who are in the earth,
They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight. (NASB)

 

3 The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!  I take pleasure in them! (NLT)
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No matter how we look at it, the Psalmist knows the value of other believers.  He exults in their companionship and rejoices in their presence in his life.  He knows that they have an excellence in them and about them.  He savours all contact with them.

We could say the psalmist has struck gold.  Whenever he has contact with them, good things start to happen.  A joy is awakened in him and bubbles to the surface. ( This Psalm 16 should be read in its entirety, I am only pulling out a single verse because of the light within it.)

Friendship, or companionship is a critical necessity for us, especially when the momentum of our culture is towards isolation.  I’ve been told of a certain kind of rock will begin to resonate, becoming warm in the presence of a rock of the same type.  (IDK if this is true but it is a great story).

I need brothers and sisters to awaken me.  As a man who struggles with physical and mental illness that connection brings me healing and wholeness.  I in turn through this same connection transmit grace and wisdom to them (or whatever).

There is not a lot of things better, and more invigorating than coffee with a Christian friend.  In heaven, there will be a Starbucks on every other corner serving up Vanilla Lattes for disciples wanting to visit and share their hearts (that is my personal theory anyway.)

The Psalmist puts our relationships into the light and evaluates them by the encouragement they bring.  We need to have that awareness as we contact each other.  As a “closet-hermit” I need that extra push.  I would anticipate or even expect it. 

The Holy Spirit works in the specific area of relationships.  That is His strength and forte’.  I believe that the way the Kingdom of God works, flows and advances is in large part because of godly relationships.  The more we cultivate them, the more the Church grows.

How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

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This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press  —

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
 

A great book:

“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D

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For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001  Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632  American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600

 

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Understanding Your Pastor

PASTORING

I think that most of us in the Church fail to get a real grip on what pastoring is all about. And that is sad and bad. Not only do we stunt our pastors growth, but we cripple ourselves, and flunk some important spiritual lessons.

Three things (there are more, believe me)–

1) Our pastors are sinners. Surprise! They are just like you and me– definitely not superheroes and certainly not always saintly. They will have their moments, and struggles. We really need to understand this to fully receive from their giftings. Just knowing this about them, prepares us to receive deeply and sincerely from their ministries. It seems that their own battles work a brokenness and humility within.

2) Our pastors need to be prayed for. What they do is probably one of the hardest, most challenging work on planet Earth. The good pastors know this. But they still wade courageously into the thick of things. Our real prayers can buttress and stabilize their lives. They substantially encounter the darkness and do warfare for us. Most have a family to pray for, but they also have a Church they must cover too. A local pastor must have active intercessors, or they will certainly stumble and fall.

3) Our pastors must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s work must be done His way. And He repeatedly insists they be filled with the Spirit. They receive power right from the true source. Again, Jesus the True Shepherd gives power and wisdom and grace for each singular moment. A good pastor over time and much prayer– develops discernment and an awareness for his flock. He learns to love them as he watches over them.

Much, much more could be written. There are so many facets to ponder. I only want to encourage you to love and honor your pastor. When you do this, it will probably activate the gift, and fresh ministry will become available. A real work will be done, inside of you and inside your pastor.

“Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 23:4, NLT

&

ybic, Bryan

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Pastor Darren Williams Refuge Chapel, Homer AK

Pastor Darren Williams
Refuge Chapel, Homer Alaska

“Go and Learn” [Discipleship]

“Go and learn”

“When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13, NLT

These two verses are a challenge. They fit together like old watch mechanism, small gears and wheels in precise motion, keeping time in a treasured grace.  My father had an old one, used once by a train conductor.  It was made of gold, and had been used for almost 100 years.

The complexity of these verses were never meant to confuse the disciples.  But for them it is simple, to go and learn.”  Certainly, there are times we will be ‘schooled’ in what we learn.  And really the only way to approach this is in humility.  Trying to extract the truth will take patience and a broken heart.

Jesus states the truth of being a doctor, and there is a singular work that a doctor does.  It is serving all who come to him with sickness or injury.  Jesus clarifies a truth that has to be in place.

“Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, `Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” v.13, CEV

“Go and learn!” This implies that there are lessons for us, classes that we need to take in order to grow-up and touch sick and desperate people.  Funny, but it’s all about mercy, and nothing to do with “sacrifices.”  Mercy is what matters. I want you to be merciful to others.”

I admit that I’d rather be merciful, than to be right. (It’s good to be both.)  But mercy– and gentleness should be our driving impulse.  These attitudes assist us to move us forward. “Go and learn.”

The last verse reveals the thinking that Jesus has.  He has come to help those of us in trouble.  The good people don’t understand, after all, isn’t their ‘sparkly goodness’ enough?  As his disciples, we share our faith to all; but maybe we should consider the weak, poor and the sick already prepared for the words of Jesus? “Go and learn.”

“Discipleship is a lifelong process and journey rooted in a relationship with Jesus, whereby we become more like Christ.”

Greg Atkinson

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A Grace Suitable for Sinners Like Me

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“Who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

1 Peter 1:5, NASB

Certainty and confidence will never be permanent fixtures in our lives. Yes, I believe there are times of exceptional fortitude when everything just clicks, and we seem to be pretty victorious believers. But I assure you, this is only a temporary state. It isn’t the normal Christian life. And yet, right or wrong, we seem to strive to make this consistency our Christian life.

Gloomy thoughts may often prevail; our fears and doubts become complete seasons of time. There will be doubts and frustration.  I start to lose my passion for Christ, it just trickles away. And since nature abhors a vacuum, other desires and interests move in. I slide into something quite compromised, and often what I previously might’ve condemned.

It is not so much your hold on Christ that saves you, rather it is His hold on you that is truly matters.

It is at these times we must absorb the truth.  It is not your hold on Christ that saves you, rather it is His hold on you that is significant. It’s not how tight we hold on to our Father’s hand, but His grasp on yours. He has soaked up all our sin, and become guilty of it all. He has drawn it all away. He blots it all up with His white heart.

The mercy of God will insist on Him holding you close. Because of His profound love He seems to become overprotective of you.  Anyone who touches you, touches “the apple of His eye.” Let none question, you are His own. The blood of Jesus covers all sin.

“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”

J.I. Packer

Are you broken? Flawed, and stumbling? Do you think that you are a poor example of a believer? I tell you, His love is not contingent on your outward behavior. It is a Greek word, it is an “agape” love. Narrowly defined as a “unconditional love,” not related to what you deserve, earn, or warrant. It is a love given without an expectation of a corresponding love in return. This is love, and it travels with grace. And it will end with the same grace.

“The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them.”   

Charles Spurgeon

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Caregivers: Improving Your Serve

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One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless.  The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity.  You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems.  This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.

You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver.  This support is received in three different ways.

First, emotional support.  Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.

Second, I would suggest physical support.  You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met.  (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.

Third, spiritual support.  It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship.  These three have obvious effects on the caregiver.  Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself).  You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving.  I think this is critical to your relationship.  Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.

God gives special grace to the caretaker.  My advice is to take it, and then use it.  Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver.  Present your afflicted one to Him.  Be supernatural in the mundane.  The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me.  It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”

Luke 5:18, ESV

My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty.  Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one.  Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities.  Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver.  Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.

Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information.  If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me.  I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will.   May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.

 

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