Monday, November 14, 2016

Two myths about Christians and depression

I'm wearing my Charlotte Strong shirt today to honor Ian Hartley, a young man who lost his battle with depression earlier this year. I presided at Ian's funeral surrounded by over 700 his family and friends. The reminders of Ian's fight - and the reason we need to continue his fight - are all around me. Every time I drive past Charlotte. Whenever I see a soccer ball. In the song of an Oriole.

It was Ian's death, partly, that motivated me to preach on mental illness this month at South Lansing Christian Church.

I began the series by debunking two myths about Christians and mental illness.

Myth #1: God’s followers don’t struggle with depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness.

I know that's just not the case for two reasons. First, the Bible addresses depression and anxiety.
Psalm 43:5 (HCSB)Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. 
1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The fact that God's word talks about depression and anxiety is powerful evidence that God's people can, and do, struggle with mental illness.

Not only that, but some of the heroes of the faith struggled with depression and anxiety. Who wrote the three verses I just mentioned? King David, and the Apostles Peter and Paul. And they're not alone. The Prophet Elijah was so depressed that he wanted to die. King Solomon had a seemingly perfect life, but he was trapped in a nihilistic spiral of meaninglessness. And Job, whom the scriptures describer as "upright and blameless," became so depressed that he despaired the day of his birth.

If you're a Christ follower who has struggled with depression, anxiety or another mental illness the simple fact is this: you're not alone. Other believers have struggled, too.

Myth #2: Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness are evidence of spiritual weakness.

Some of the great Christians of our more recent history struggled with depression and anxiety.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the greatest preacher in nineteenth century Europe. He preached to a congregation of 10,000 people every week in London. Yet there were times that he was so debilitated by depression that he could barely function.

Carlos Whittaker is a blogger, musician and worship leader who struggles with panic and anxiety and, what he calls, “it’s ugly cousin, depression.” There are times when he arrives at church to lead worship and he has to sit in his car and do breathing exercise before he can get out and walk into the church building. 

A recent study detailed that one in four pastors have struggled with mental illness.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are no more a sign of a weak spiritual life than kidney disease or nearsightedness. They are a reminder that we live in a fallen world that longs for God’s restoration and redemption.

Here's the fact about mental illness: it is no respecter of persons. All of us are susceptible and will, at one point or another, personally experience a mental illness or know someone who has.

If you're someone who struggles with depression, anxiety or some other form of mental illness know this: you're not alone. There are resources and people who are here for you. (You can find a list of mental health professionals that our church recommends here.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Four post-election survival strategies

It's going to be okay.

The votes are all counted; half of America is reeling, half of America is somewhere between feeling mildly validated and euphoric.

I’ve already heard from two different women with two very different perspectives on the election. The first, a Clinton voter, told me, “I feel like I'm going to cry and throw up at the same time. I need some help coping with this.”

A second, who voted for Trump told me,
We’re not bigots; we’re not racists. I don’t approve of the way Trump speaks about women or the way he reportedly treats them. What I am is tired. I am tired of being dismissed by people in government buildings on the east coast and people in studios on the west coast. I am tired of the code-speak, "white, uneducated, rural voters," when what the elites really mean is "stupid rednecks." We’re the salt of the earth, but the ruling elites of both parties have dismissed the ‘flyover states’ as people who have lost our saltiness and as good for nothing other than being trampled under foot.
Whether you’re ecstatic, terrified, or somewhere in between here are four strategies from which we can all benefit:

1. Reconnect with time-tested words.  Social media is emotional jet fuel. It promotes sharing before thinking and applies heat and friction to already frayed emotions. If you’ve never unplugged from social media, now would be a good time to do so and to reconnect with ancient words. I suggest the Bible. It has outlasted monarchies and political dynasties. The Psalms are older than popes or kings. People were being comforted by Jesus’ words fourteen centuries before there was a United States. Returning again to time-tested words like those might be what is needed for these states to once again be united. Let words like, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) wash over you and cleanse you of anxiety.

2. Embrace love. Are you fearful? You’re not alone. The Dow Jones futures dropped 750 points overnight. Silicon Valley investors are calling for California to secede from the union. The website for Canadian immigration was so flooded last night that it crashed. The only antidote for fear is love. One of Jesus followers, John, wrote, “perfect love expels all fear.” (1 John 4:18) If you’re feeling afraid, let God love you, and practice loving others. Christians ought to be the least fearful people on the planet because we are called to be the most loving people on the planet. Love your children; love your parents. Practice love in the workplace; model love in your home. “We love each other because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

3. Do good. Concern about our government’s pursuit (or lack of pursuit) of good ought to propel us to do good ourselves. Are you worried that there are difficult times ahead for immigrants? Volunteer with St. Vincent Catholic Charities Refugee Services program. Do you fear that corporate America now has a blank check to pursue greed and inequality? Be intentional about shopping local. Concerned about cuts in education? Volunteer at an under-resourced school. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) The only way evil – I am not speaking of people, but of ideology – has ever been defeated is by good people doing something.

4. Practice "microfocus." I can’t control what happens in the White House, but I can contribute to what happens in my house. My individual efforts will never have an effect on Wall Street, but I can have an impact on Main Street. Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree that we should all take personal responsibility for our choices. So I choose to change what I can and not sweat what I can’t. I choose to love my brother and not despise the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:34) I choose optimism and hope. I reject the catastrophic thinking to which I am so predisposed. I will not be overcome by the circumstances in which I find myself; rather, I choose to change the person over whom I have the most direct control: me.

It’s going to be okay.


The sun will come up tomorrow.

As I wrote yesterday, God is still on His throne.

We’re not as fragile as we think.

It’s going to be okay.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The day after the election

I voted this morning and, for the first time in my life, I went to the polls as an undecided voter. After I cast my ballot, the election official offered me an "I Voted" sticker. I refused. Frankly, I am not proud of the vote I cast. I am not pleased with either major candidate.

This election was the worst in my lifetime: a woman who is corrupt on a heretofore unforeseen scale; a man whose vulgarity eclipses any candidate in my memory and perhaps in American history; and a bruised and bloodied electorate that limped to the polls with this one thought in mind: is this over yet?

But what about tomorrow? What about November 9?

When Abraham Lincoln was elected America's sixteenth President, the Jackson Mississippian called he and the Vice-President elect, "... bigoted, unscrupulous and cold-blooded enemies of the peace and equality..." The New Orleans Courier decried Lincoln supporters as "hordes of fanatics and
negrophilists," and predicted,
The crisis now impending upon the whole country is a necessary consequence of the abnormal condition into which our dearest and most sacred institutions have been plunged by the success of our avowedly unrelenting enemies. . . .
The unmistakable fact stares us in the face that we are now in a state of danger unparalleled in the annals of our history …
Guess what? The day after the election, on November 7, 1860 God was still on His throne.

A hundred years later John F. Kennedy was narrowly elected the first Catholic President of the United
States. The next day the Chicago Tribune editorialized, “We are disappointed, of course, and so, too, are just short of half of the men and women who went to the polls on Tuesday. But they were outvoted and now they accept the verdict. So do we.”

On November 9, 1960 God was still on his throne.

On election day in 1988 many thought little of George H.W. Bush and his running mate, Dan Quayle. John Kerry, himself a future Presidential candidate actually said, "The Secret Service is under orders that if Bush is shot, to shoot Quayle."

On November 9, 1988 God was still on his throne.

A decade after George W. Bush emerged from his contested election with Al Gore, the Daily Beast wrote,
The obvious problem with making Bush president was the fact of the Bush presidency, a catastrophe in so many directions at once that presidential historians argue today about whether Bush was the worst president in American history or merely the worst since Grant, Buchanan, or Johnson (Andrew, not Lyndon).
God was on his throne the day after the nation's ballots were cast, and they day after the Florida's were certified. He remained on his throne ten years later for the Daily Beast's post-mortem.

Following President Obama's reelection in 2012, the histrionic Glenn Beck urged Americans to "buy guns, ammo, and stock up on farmland because this President will destroy America."

But on November 7, 2012, God was still on his throne.

And he will be tomorrow, too.

So tomorrow, the day after we hear either, "Madam President," or "President Trump," – words that half the country celebrates and half the country dreads – let's commit to these two honorable and immutable truths: We can trust God and we need to pray for the new President.
"Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!" (Psalm 43:5)
"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)