The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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By Dwight L. Carlson

From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998

The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.

I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.

Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.

THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL

Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:

Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.

The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.

According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”

The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.

Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.

This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.

The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.

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Don’t Shoot the Wounded

Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”

MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.

God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS

When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.

Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.

I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.

This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.

Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.

 

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Book Review: “When the Darkness Will Not Lift”

There are Christians for whom joy seems unattainable.

What will we tell them . . . “When the Darkness Will Not Lift?”

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“It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him.”

–John Piper

The title of this reviewed book is terribly unyielding, but with a quick glimpse into its contents, and you realize what you hold in your hands is worth its weight in gold.  When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God—And Joy,  John Piper gives guidance and hope to suffering believers and to those whom God has given to walk beside them.  The father of Christian hedonism reminds readers that joy is a duty even as he teaches them how to fight for it. At eighty pages, this slim volume commends itself to readers who, struggling under the weight of spiritual darkness, might be daunted by an exhaustive treatment of the subject.

Because the book starts from despair, it is a uniquely accessible tool for those who hurt. In the pastoral tone for which he is beloved, Piper shows that joy begins with despair in oneself. In “When the Darkness Will Not Lift”, Piper tackles difficult issues including:

• The physical nature of depression and the role of medication

• How to wait on the Lord through darkness

• The relationship between obedience and thanksgiving

• How unconfessed sin can clog our joy

Piper also provides insight for those who love depressed Christians—showing them how to exhort without crushing, and how they can help the struggling believer to distrust the “certainties of despair.”

PiperbookWhen the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God—And Joy Publisher Crossway Books, Author John Piper, ISBN 1581348762 Price $7.99, Released, January 2007

Available through your Bookstore, or just go to www.Amazon.com, like me.

John Piper’s website, http://www.desiringgod.org/

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Do You Love Me?

 

“When they finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

   Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 

   Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

   Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 

John 21:15-16

This is a favorite passage for believers throughout the whole world.  I think the reason is that it’s a transferable concept; it is something that communicates well to a heart and life that is struggling very hard.  If you think about it everything in the story is coming to us from two places.  Either Peter’s failure, or Jesus’ grace.

Failure is a brutal teacher; but man, do you learn! Much of the teaching had already been done in Peter’s life. His denial and cowardice had already been worked out, and Peter then had to live with himself.  He was defeated and very lost before this meeting on the beach.

Jesus’ heart is to reconcile his errant disciple with Him, and with Peter himself.  Peter is stuck; in his own failure and denial, and he needs Jesus to touch him in His own impenetrable darkness.  People who have failed God will understand this.  We have been in the darkness, and only Jesus can rescue us from its empty pain.

We see what amounts to a ‘good’ interrogation.  Peter, the failure, is asked over and over by Jesus the “Question”.  “Do you love me?  This is a simple and basic inquiry.  “Do you love me?”

Peter in his pathetic state, is forced to generate a response to Jesus that destroys his own confusion and apathy.  It’s neat to see Jesus pulverizing the foundations of darkness in Peter’s life.  He does it with a skill and deftness that leaves us in awe of Jesus’ love. Peter had denied knowing the Lord three times. It is fitting that Jesus would ask His question three times as well.

For us, the questions keep coming.  We are repeatedly asked, over and over, “do you love me?”  We must process the penetration of the question.  Do you really, really love Jesus?  Is it a show? Do we really love Him, or is it just words, a misbegotten display of cultural appropriateness?

Jesus moves Peter into the light.  Never again will he live in confusion and despair.  His interview with Jesus has placed him there, into the light.  Jesus’ incredibly wise questions led Peter to the place of authenticity.  Peter, from this new place of completeness and recovery, is finally restored and healed.

But do we love Him?  Do we turn the ministry we do, whatever that might be, does it come from a place of love and confidence.  Our love for Him is the essential basis, the root foundation of all Christian activity.  It’s all about the “love”.  “Do you love me?”

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For a Child Born Without Eyes

A Pastor’s Letter to the Parents of a Child Born Without Eyes

Dear John and Diane,

You are the child, and He is your father

You are the child, and He is your father

Last night, as I prayed with Noel, you were heavy on my mind. I said, “Lord, O Lord, please let me be a pastor who preaches and leads and loves in a way that makes the impossibilities of life possible for your people by a miracle of sustaining grace. Help me to know the weight and pain of this life and not to be breezy when the mountains have fallen into the sea. Help me to have the aroma of Christ’s sufferings about me. Prevent shallowness and callousness to pain. O Lord make me and my people a burden bearing  people.”

O John and Diane, I am so heavy with your child’s sightlessness!  God is visiting Bethlehem with such pain these days in the birth of broken children. Randy and Ann Erickson with their baby’s broken heart; Jan and Rob Barrett with their baby’s liver outside the body; and your precious little one! Is the Lord saying, “I have a gift for your community.” This is not one or two or three couples’ burden. This is a gift and call to the whole church. This word concerning the brokenness of this fallen age of futility. This is an invitation for you all to believe that here we have no lasting city (Hebrews 13:14).

This is an invitation for you to count every gain as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7). This is a shocking test to see if you will “lose heart” when in fact God’s purpose is to show that his grace is sufficient to renew our inner person every day to deal with the “slight momentary affliction which is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

O Lord, open our eyes to your love in this pain. Open our eyes. Then Elisha prayed, and said, ‘O Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). John and Diane, the mountains surrounding your lives are filled with the horses and chariots of God.

Only to the eyes of unbelief does the devil have the upper hand here. God is at work in ways and for years and generations and millions of people that we cannot now imagine.

 This is ours to believe and to bear, no matter the cost. This is ours for this short life. It seems to me that this life is a proving ground for the kingdom to come. Some are asked to devote forty or fifty years to caring for a handicapped child instead of breezing through life without pain. Others are asked to be blind all their lives… But only in this life – ONLY in this life some are . I want to be the kind person who makes that “ONLY” what it really is – very short. Prelude to the infinity of joy, joy, joy.

But not yet. Not entirely.

How will we ever cope with the burdens of this life if we believe this is all there is, or even the main act in this drama of reality? O Lord, give us your view of things. May God fill you with anticipated joy. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

I love you,

Pastor John Piper

 

The volunteer disability ministry blog for Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN.  This message can be found at:

Broken Believers Note:  Although this message has little to do with mental illness, I felt compelled to post it for the way it grips one’s normal way of thinking.  I felt as I read it that I saw a principle of living in a broken body, living in a broken world. If you didn’t benefit, my apologies.

ybic, Bryan

I’m a Steamroller! [the Tongue}

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“And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”

James 3:6, NLT

I have done many things in my 50+ years.  My resume is pretty broad and quite diverse.  I have been a corporate trainer, and I have been a commercial fisherman.  I have been an inner-city evangelist, and an Army medic.  I have been a senior pastor, and a missionary to Mexico.  But more than anything, I have been quite consistently, “a steamroller.”

Steamroller. I think I better explain myself.  I’m a man that has consistently used my words to crush other people, and this really disturbs me.  I have flattened people, smearing them on the pavement.  There was Vicky at the SOS- San Francisco Evangelism Ministry house.  She irritated me, so I went up and told her, the “Vicky, this is the Word of the Lord. Read Judges 16:16!”  And she melted before my words, torn and ripped apart by my twisting of scripture.  I steamrolled over her heart.  And I really don’t know why I did it. I wanted to be cute I guess.

As a pastor, I plowed over the hearts of “a children’s ministry.”  It was more subtle, but it had the same degree of a deep intensity.  (They would go on, but fizzle out in less than two weeks later.)  I was the steamroller that crushed their hearts and dreams.  Years before, at my Bible college, I stamped out and destroyed those who were not as precise as I was when it came to proper believing.  I steamrolled them as well.

Over the years I have become very grieved over my consistent crushing of those who were different, who saw ministry in a differing way.  When they would become “clear and obvious” to me, (their false doctrine and such) I considered it a scriptural necessity to “roll, baby roll” right over them.  But, I was oh, so foolish.  I harmed so many of His servants.  What I was doing was wicked.

My words–like weapons, were cutting and hacking and lacerating.  My words were crushing and stamping out the gentle hearts and their vision.  People, dear ones.  The things we say, go on to “burn and burn” and nullify the kind hearts of those who want to follow.  Often our “professionalism” as pastors and teachers very often cripple those who tenderly follow.  We go “nuclear” on them, scorching the earth, when all they needed really was a calm and directive word.

Brothers and sisters.  We have to stop this,  being right does not mean we are loving.  We divide the flock far too often.  We most likely will be right–but we don’t love.  We jump up in our steamroller in a split second.  We put it in gear, and we roll over those for whom Christ died–and we feel quite noble and holy, as we protect the Church from “bad thinking,” or bad examples.

Could it be, that what are you saying, wounds?

Be very careful.  You maybe right, and you just might be true, but if you are not loving, you will only hurt them, and undoubtedly you will regret what you have done.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14, ESV

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Making Pain Work for You, [Trials]

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“Then they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. 22They encouraged the followers and begged them to remain faithful. They told them, “We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom.”

Acts 14:21-22, CEV

Paul and Barnabas, together are perhaps the most gifted men ever to minister the Gospel.  They have an amazing love for the Church.  They operate out of great difficulty, but the deep work they do, proceeds out of encouragement.  I looked at a dozen or so translations of the Bible–all of them translate this, “encouraged.”  Every single one!

Earlier in chapter 14, we can read about the brutality and ugliness they had to walk through.  It was very bad, beyond belief.  But these two never ever lose their love for the Lord, and for His people.  Their ministry continued to be full of optimism and comfort.  They simply can’t be poisoned by the nastiness and bitterness just days before.

They understand something.  What they have to say (as they minister that comfort) kind of boggles everyone’s thinking.

They said, “We must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom.”

Comforting and strengthening, isn’t it?  Sometimes when I read this passage I can’t believe what they are saying!  It doesn’t make any sense at all.   I believe there are three things we must process to fully understand these verses.

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1)  What comforts us is not always comfortable.

 I’m slowly coming to the place of accepting pain and sickness as my personal doorway into the Lord’s kingdom.  I know my mental illness has opened an entrance into something wonderful.  My months of being institutionalized in different hospitals has seemed to have filled me with grace, gentleness and love–in other words, the kingdom. At least that is what I think.

2)  What we think is the best way often is not.

No one chooses one’s particular path.  If we could we would all be driving a BMW and our homes would be palaces, we would win the lottery on a regular basis.  Our children would be little angels.  We would never be sick, or have a chronic illness.  But–we can’t enter His kingdom, unless there are trials.  They have to be there, they must.  Somewhere it says,  if we suffer, we will reign.

3)  What we need from our elders and pastors is the truth.

 Often the leadership of the Church keeps this one in the closet.  They communicate very well other subjects that are enjoyable.  And we pressure them to do this, gently and subliminally of course.  And everyone wonders why we don’t mature in our faith.  Paul and Barnabas are tremendous leaders, but they don’t roll things in sugar, and their ministry carries on the sufferings of Jesus.

Often it seems, when God chooses to bless a man or a woman greatly, He will send a trial to prepare them deeply.

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Being Lured Back, [Apostasy]

Recently I read a news story about pastors who have been led into atheism.  These are all evangelical men, some with more than 20 years of experience in the pulpit.  They’ve turned to a belief that God does not exist.  It was a disturbing article, and I will not try to share much of it here on this page.

There is among us a prevalent manipulation that is relentlessly reaching out for us in order to destroy our faith.  This force has an ally; and this ally is resident in us.  My flesh becomes the connection that Satan needs to link with–  to make it work.  The Bible calls this residing connection, ‘the old man’.

Some of the ‘brothers’ who now walk in apostasy to the Faith still remain in ministry.  Even though they don’t believe anymore, they continue to preach and counsel their congregations.  Many will only speak out under the condition of anonymity.

One in particular said it was somewhat difficult to continue to work in the ministry. “But I just look at it as a job and do what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it for years.”

This pastor said, that when speaking to parishioners, he tried to stick to the sections of the Bible that he still believed in — the parts about being a good person. Many pastors say that they would like to leave their jobs but they can’t afford to.

Please someone, and correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Bible speak of shepherds and hired men?  Some who are called by God, and others who do it for money?  Does this disturb anyone but me? 

 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

John 1o:13

These ‘pastors’ and their issues of faith are all on the heart of God.  He loves these men.  His Son died for them.  They are precious.   But they make an effort to conceal themselves, in order that they will continue to receive the wages/benefits they’ve become accustomed to.

When I was ordained into the ministry, it came with the provision that if I could not remain faithful that I was obligated to ‘step down’.  It was as much a decision to be faithful as it was for empowerment from above.  If I should ever become conflicted, I would voluntarily stop and step down.  It was part of the ‘package’.  It came with that understanding.

So much confusion, but that is characteristic of the times in which we live.  Our shepherds are an increasingly an influential part of our lives in these last days.  They guide and preach the Word to us. 

Perhaps, we have not prayed for them like we should

As a result they’ve become casualties.

There is a desperate need for us to take the darkness seriously.  It has a pulling power to reach us and latch upon us.  It opens its mouth to swallow us into a perpetual night.  Everything that strays end up in its oversight.  The thing that saves us is the presence of Jesus.  His hand on our lives removes us out of Satan’s claim.

Darkness has an incredibly sweet allure.  It has a power that is beyond our comprehension.  It seems to want to enhance us. It causes us to think that we are immune or superior to the things God has commanded.  The sky is the limit, and we press into even more foolishness.  But truth does not come to those who trade salvation for more darkness.

 

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P.S. The story that ‘got me going’ is found here.

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/atheist-ministers-leading-faithful/story?id=12004359