Blessings come from Brokenness

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Last Sunday I posed a question to our Sunday School class about the apostle Paul. If you remember from your Bible, Paul was a one-time persecutor of the church who was radically saved as he was on the road to Damascus to put more Christians in jail. He met Jesus that day and went from being one of the greatest persecutors of the church to being one of her greatest preachers.

Paul would write over 25% of the new testament, go into foreign lands to preach the gospel, start churches and reach countless souls for Jesus. He himself would end up being persecuted for Jesus and give his life for the gospel in the hands of a Roman executioner.

I wanted to lay out the groundwork so you could understand the question I asked and the response I received. Here was the question – what word or words would you use to describe the apostle Paul? Most of our class know the things I have just shared with you, so you can imagine what the answers were: brave, courageous, bold, faithful, strong and even powerful. I agree with all these answers. I believe the New Testament will certainly bare out that these words could easily describe Paul.

But then, I took a different approach and said, “when I read these words, tell me who said these things.” So, I read from 2 Corinthians:

Chapter 1:8 For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia:  we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength —so that we even despaired of life.

Chapter 4:8-9 We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.

Chapter 7:5 In fact, when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears inside

At first it was very quiet in our class but then someone spoke up and said, those words are the apostle Paul as well, and they were right.

The Bible is very clear, Paul as a child of God, was indeed a bold messenger of the Gospel of Christ and so loved our Lord that he was willing to lay down his life for Him.  Paul was saved, loved Jesus, but it did not change the fact that he was also human and as such, he faced discouragement, and some would even say displayed signs of depression.

The truth is all through history, there have been men and women who on one hand display the greatest picture of courage and strength but on the other hand, went through seasons of great despair and depression.

For instance, I am reading a book about some of our greatest presidents. Two of these men, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, also had seasons where they like Paul despaired their own life. Yet, they would go on to be used to lead this great nation during some of our greatest trials.

Not just Presidents, but other Christian leaders, Charles Spurgeon to give one example, were used mightily by God but also wrestled with depression.

As Christians we can turn to the Bible and within the pages of God’s word there are also examples of people used by God but alsot went through times of discouragement and depression.

In her article from Crosswalk.com about this very subject, Debbie Mc Daniel says, “Though the Bible doesn’t use the word “depression” except in a few translations and verses, it’s often referenced by other similar words, such as “downcast,” “brokenhearted,” “troubled,” “miserable,” “despairing,” and “mourning,” among others. Throughout the Word, there are a number of stories about godly, influential men and women of faith, who struggled and battled through dark times of hopelessness and depression.”

In other words, the Bible may not always use the word depression, but it never hides the fact that warriors for God sometimes faced dark days. For instance:

  • Elijah, Jonah, and Moses all at one point in their life asked God to take their lives, they could not go on.

 

  • Job, in all he faced, wondered out loud why he had even been born and why he didn’t die on the day he came out of the womb of his mother

 

  • Jerimiah was known as the weeping prophet and his book of Lamentations speak to the despair and depression he faced.

 

  • How about David? Yes, giant killer, warrior and great king, David. Read his Psalms. There are moments of great victory, but then the very next verse he talks of being forsaken by God and feeling empty and dry like a desert!

 

Which leads me back to Paul. When he says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that he was overwhelmed and despaired life, it carries the meaning of utter hopelessness and the inability to see a way out of the darkness. It is a strong word that speaks of the despair and dare I say depression that Paul was feeling at that moment. It was as real to him as it is to us.

But what was also real to Paul and can become real to us, is to know and realize that God is a great God of comfort and He can bring us not just through the valley but give us the power to climb to the top of the mountain.

Paul tells us it does not matter how weak we feel or how overwhelmed we might be, God can and will still use us in our weakness. We do not have to live the rest of our life in the moment of despair.

As a matter of fact, Paul expalins to us that it is not about us anyway. That it is Jesus in us and that with Him in us, we are just vessels and the power is not us, but Jesus in us.

He would use a great object lesson to bring this message home in chapter 4 of this letter when he wrote, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.” Paul says, that we are nothing more than clay pots that hold a great treasure, the message and ministry of Christ within us and because of that, the power is not us, but God!!

Please do not get the idea when Paul uses “clay pot” that he is describing a nice, decorative clay pot that you spend a lot of money on to display on your mantle. Sorry to burst your bubble but the clay pot Paul was thinking off would resemble an unattractive pot used for normal household chores.

The word itself not only speaks of clay, that which is made from the earth, but the word also suggests, frailty. The truth is, we are just fragile, weak, maybe even cracked clay pots.

I know right now you are thinking, man, what an encourager Michael is. But hold on, this truth of us being ordinary clay pots IS a tremendous encouragement. Why? God uses cracked pots!!

It does not matter if you are just having a down day, a discouraging moment or season or you battle depression on a regular basis; no matter where you are and what season you are in – in our weakness, God’s light shines brighter and brighter, all because of His power and not us.

That is why Paul could boldly proclaim, (I like how the New Century Version put this) “7 We have this treasure from God, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure. This shows that the great power is from God, not from us. 8 We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. 9 We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.”

I pray this speaks to someone today – we may face depression and despair, but it is not the end – We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.”

We can be used by God to do mighty things in His power. Please, I pray that God almighty would seal this truth to your heart. I pray we all can see the power of God that is in us because of Jesus and we can overcome being overwhelmed! I am serious when I say I am having a “spell” in my soul even as I write this!

If you are feeling weak, depressed, despairing even life and overwhelmed – Good News, you are the best candidate for our great God to use you in a mighty way!! It is not the people that have it all together that God uses – He uses cracked pots!

Just like Paul and all these others I have mentioned, your depression or discouragement does not get to have the last word in your story. God is writing a new chapter, one where He uses you, in your weakness to display His glory and power.

One where God takes your story and uses it to impact others for His great namesake. One where you make a difference in the power of Christ and you will stand victorious in His power. God is not done, as a matter of fact, He is just getting started!!

Paul ends this chapter with a great word we need to hear loud and clear today, “16 Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction d is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.”

I love how the Message paraphrase puts these verses. Read this and allow God the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage your heart, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times; the lavish celebration prepared for us.”

On the outside, it often looks like things are falling apart in my life and maybe in yours too. But, wait for it……., we cannot give up, because God is making new life on the inside and His “unfolding” grace comes every day!! God renews us – brings us fresh life, new strength, a holy strength that comes from His power.

It is my greatest desire that we can see that these truths are not just for an apostle or great missionary preacher like Paul, God moved Paul to put them down in His word for all of us. You and I, as fragile clay pots, have the greatest treasure in the world inside of us. His sweet name is Jesus. And by His power and His grace, we can have new life and face each day with unfolding grace!

 

Pastor Michael

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Depressed but Not Defeated

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I was blown away by the response to the post I wrote Friday about my personal journey with depression. It gave me the opportunity to have so many conversations and I am very grateful for the work of grace and healing God is doing in the lives of His children. Me sharing my story gave others the platform to share their stories as well. I heard not just about their depression but also the victory that God has brought and is bringing in their life over depression.

Victory. That is where I want to turn our attention to in this post: depression does not have to end with defeat. It does not have to take us down a path of darkness and doubt and lead us to do something that we would never do with our minds in the right place. I believe with all that is within me there is hope for us all. Not because I said it, but because God has said so in His word, time and time again. Yes, we face moments of despair, but our God is never content to live us in that place. The devil comes to kill, steal and destory, but Jesus has come that we might have life and have it abundantly.

We must not let depression get the last word. I read these very words from Juli Wilson that she posted on her Instagram page when she shared about her personal heartbreak of the loss of her husband, Jarrid. If you remember from my previous post, Juli’s husband Jarrid took his life after a long battle with depression. I want you to see in her own words the powerful statement about depression not getting the final word:

“I have to say that you being gone has completely ripped my heart out of my chest,” she wrote, “You loved me and our boys relentlessly and I am forever grateful that I had YOU as a husband and a father to our boys. You are my forever and I will continue to let other people know of the hope in Jesus you found and spoke so boldly about.”

But suicide, she wrote. “doesn’t get the last word.”

“I won’t let it,” she wrote. “You always said ‘Hope Gets the last word. Jesus gets the last word’. Your life’s work has led thousands to the feet of Jesus and your boldness to tell other[s] about your struggle with anxiety and depression has helped so many other people feel like they weren’t alone. YOU WERE an ANTHEM OF HOPE to everyone, baby, and I’ll do my best to continue your legacy of love until my last breath.”

Just think with me about that truth – no matter what, hope and Jesus get the last word. I believe this with all my heart. Jarrid beleived this as well, because if you read the post carefully, he was the one who had said this to her on many occasions. You might say, well that is not how it ended for him, death got the last word for him. No, again, Jesus has the last word. You see, Juli in her toughest day knew that even though Jarrid was no longer with her, he was at that very moment with Jesus and that gave her hope.  It gives us all hope to know that if are saved, when we are absent from this body, we will be present with the Lord.

Wait, some might say, he committed suicide, there is no hope in that. In the act itself, you are right. But I believe that Jarrid, by his own testimony was a child of God and as such when He died, no matter how he died, he was immediately with Jesus. This brings hope to Juli, their kids, their church family and all of us who have faced these moments in our own journey with those we love.

Some would teach otherwise, but let the Bible be our guide in this moment:

Romans 8

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Do you see it there, right from the pages of God’s word – NOTHING can separate us from God’s love, not even the powers of hell. I like what Jarrid’s pastor, Greg Laurie said about this as he addressed the church where Jarrid served as an associate pastor, “One dark moment in a Christian’s life cannot undo what Christ did for us on the cross,” he would go on to say, “When you stand before God, you won’t be judged by the last thing that you did before you died. You’ll be judged by the last thing Jesus did before he died. He died for your sin.”

He would go on to remind his church and I want to remind everyone that would read this, suicide is never the answer nor the cure. Yes, there is forgiveness and if we are saved, we are held in the hand of God and no man can pluck us from his hand. I am going to heaven because Jesus Christ is my personal savior, not because of what I have or have not done good or bad, it is only by the grace of almighty God.  But this does not mean that suicide is right, because it is not. It is not the easy way out for any of us not to mention the pain and scars for the loved ones and friends who are left behind.

Let me say again, I do believe Jarrid is in heaven today based on his testimony of placing his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. But, let me also say again, the choice he made does not have to have to be the final word for any of us. I do not say that to cast stones in any way, because I know full well how a man who loves Jesus can find himself in a place where he believes the lie that ending it all is the only escape. Jarrid knew that Jesus and hope had the last word no matter what and I believe at the core of his soul he knew this to be true. But, I also beleive that Jarrid or anyone who faces that dark moment is not in the right state of mind and do something they would never do otherwise.

That is why with all of my heart, I want to encourage anyone who might be at that place right now, do not let depression have the last word, let hope and Jesus have the final say. I can tell you as a personal testimony, there is hope and you can find victory, even in your depression. You might be depressed, but you do not have to be defeated.

Look again at the passage from Romans 8, verse 37: No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Paul says not only can these things not separate us from the love of Jesus, but in everything that is happening right now and even the things that may happen in the future, even in our battles of depression, we have overwhelming victory through Jesus who loves us. In the KJV is says we are more than conquerors. I like this word. It is the strongest word Paul could use for victory.

As a matter of fact, Paul desired to show that our victory was so overwhelming, that he combined two words to come up with a new word, super conquer. The word carries the idea of not just winning the battle and simple victory but to come off more than victorious, to gain a surpassing victory. F.B. Meyer says of this verse that is a victory that is more than a victory, it is what he called “A holy arrogance of victory in the might of Christ.”

This means in all things, even depression and despair we can overcome. Two things I take away from this passage:

1) That the very son of God Himself loves us and gave Himself for us on the cross and rose again the third day. If we trust Him as our Savior, we can also know that same power and victory. See that in bold – He Loves Us! Don’t believe the lie that nobody cares, many care. But most of all, Jesus cares and loves you!

2) Our victory comes from Him. In other words, those things, including depression, which seek to conquer us, He is able to make us more than a conquer over what ever we may battle, including depression. 

Depression and despair are real and for many of us, we have seen our share of defeats at their powerful hands. However, because Jesus and hope get the final word, we do not have to be defeated but in our crying out to Jesus, He will come to our rescue and fill our hearts with hope again.  I was so encouraged how Pastor Greg closed out his sermon with a clarion call to seek Jesus and His hope when these moments come, “When the Devil comes knocking, ask Jesus to answer the door.” And might I add, He will do just that!!

Pastor Michael

Depression, it’s Personal. Can we Talk?

 

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It happened again this week. Another pastor committed suicide. When I read the news Tuesday evening that Jarrid Wilson, a pastor out of Harvest Christian Fellowship had taken his own life, it really hit close to my heart. First, my heart went out to his wife Juli and their kids, I could only imagine what they were feeling. Then, I begin to think of him being a pastor and how hard it had to be for him to face his own personal struggles while still trying to speak hope and victory that is found in Jesus to others but unable at times to find that same victory for himself.

Jarrid was not just a pastor, he was a husband and a father, and he was open about his own struggles with depression. So much so, he and his wife had started a ministry aimed at helping people with depression, especially within the church called Anthem of Hope. If you are like me, you ask – how did this happen again and why did this happen to someone who loved Jesus, loved his family and had a heart for helping others.

My daughter Mikalyn came into the living room where I was sitting after she and I had gone to a softball game to watch some of our youth and one of our cousins play at White County. She sat down and said, “dad, did you read about the pastor that committed suicide?” This opened a door for us to talk about how this could have happened and the power of depression especially as it relates to pastors.

We all need to talk and we need to talk more about the reality of depression and how a person can be saved, love Jesus, believe the Bible, pray and seek the face of God and still battle with depression and also have thoughts of suicide. But that is just it, we don’t talk about it. I know, I don’t like talking about it openly either. Not even to those who are close to me. But that all changed Tuesday night. The more we talked; I just began to share with her my personal journey.

I got very honest and real with her about my own struggles and the journey God had taken me through over the last couple of years and what I had learned and what I was learning. It was good for us to talk. The more I have thought about what we talked about, I just begin to feel in my heart, God wanted me to do the same thing in the context of writing a post and share my journey in hopes of it helping someone else.

I have prayed about this all week and even spent some time talking with my family about what I wanted to share. I know we as God’s people need to talk about the issue of depression and even suicide and maybe by me sharing with you who might read this blog, it will help others have conversations that would lead to hope and healing for someone who desperately needs it.

So, depression, can we talk?

I thought I knew enough about depression as a pastor seeking to minister to those who had walked through it. I thought I understood their battle. But honestly, I did not have a clue, and to everyone who might read this – unless you have gone through the dark valley personally, you will never fully know what that person is feeling. It is not just something you can shake off, pray off or even just “think positive” faith filled thoughts and make yourself better. It is so much more than that. I have learned that personally. There is the feeling of hopelessness, weariness, isolation and it seems fear and worry become close companions.

For me, it was about two years ago I remember something inside of me shifted.  I had always battled with having some bad days mixed in with good days, but it seemed that my bad days started adding up more than my good days.  That is why I believe depression is not something that jumps on you like a mountain lion in the woods, it is more like an anaconda that slowly chokes the life out of you.

I can also tell you that yes, life was hectic at that moment and we had our plates full but so does everybody and we had faced seasons like this before. But something was different this time. I wasn’t bouncing back like I normally would. It was more than a Blue Monday, the doubts, fears and negativity lingered. It was during this season that I had my first full blown panic attack. That is harder to write than I thought it would be. Again, admitting this in a public way is not easy. It admits weakness on my part, but I am convinced, that is the path to strength is admitting weakness. More on that later.

I really thought I had all of this hid pretty good, even from my wife Courtney. I should have known better! She knew I had been struggling, even though I still didn’t want to admit that. Courtney knew really before I was willing to be honest about my battle. On one occasion she went with me to a doctor’s visit, it was just a regular checkup. He checked me out and believe it or not, I know I am a big guy, but for a big guy I am relative healthy for my size.

But that day, he asked a question about my mental health and the health of my inner heart. My doctor is a Christian and we talk about the Lord and he has been a great encourager. He also knows I am a pastor. So, he said, “Michael, how are you handling the pressure these days?” I was just about to say, just fine Doc, like I always did. Before I could, Courntey spoke up and said – He is Not, plain and simple. Thus, began the conversation with my doctor about the possibility of my depression and the need for some medicine to help me. I told him if he would like to give me the prescription fine, that would be good. Only thing was, I never filled it and never took them, and I never planned to if I am honest. I kept the prescription hidden on the side of the refrigerator, almost ashamed that it had even been talked about. To me it was a symbol of my failures to get victory over this battle.

After all, I was a child of God, I was a pastor. Ed Stetzer in his article about Jarrid this week put it best about pastors, “Pastors are supposed to provide help, not need help. Pastors are supposed to speak of life, not despair. But that’s not reality.” It was certainly not my reality. It was an inward struggle that I just thought I could handle between me and the Lord. I was a pastor. I was supposed to be the guy that others come to with their struggles and point them to Jesus. But even pastor’s struggle. Please hear my heart on this subject. Yes, being a pastor is a calling from God and a high calling at that. But God does not call perfect men to pastor becuase there are none.

As a matter of fact, Paul himself said in 2 Corinthians 4 that God says that we have this ministry from the Lord and that – “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power  may be from God and not from us.” In other words, we are just cracked pots! It is not us, but Christ in us. But somehow, we as pastors have begin to believe this is not true and others believe this too. As a matter of fact, the headlines for Jarrid Wilson, didn’t start off – Jarrid Wilson, father and husband of Juli commits suicide, it was “Jarrid Wilson, mega church pastor.” In other words, wow, he was a pastor. Yes, he was a pastor, but he was still human and as such, he still hurt just like any other human and any other Christian!And yes, even pastors can struggle with depression like anybody else and yes even have thoughts of ending it all.

For me, it was a day that I felt all of this come crashing in on me. I will forever remember that day and where I was and what went through my mind. Thoughts that I never dreamed I would have. Thoughts that scared me. Thinking – my family and church would be better off if I was not there to just take up space.  I would soon learn; this is just a lie from the devil himself. But I want you to know, for the first time I also learned how easy it is for someone who is battling depression to have a thought they never ever thought would enter their mind.

It was a turning point for me. I knew I needed help and I knew I needed to talk to someone. This is not easy to talk about, but I am not doing so to look for sympathy or to have you feel sorry for me but I feel like I am supposed to share about this time in my life in hopes that others will do what I did and that is talk to someone. So just a few nights after that day, I looked at Courtney one night and said, can we talk. I got very honest with her, shared about my panic attacks, shared about the thoughts that I was wrestling with. To my sweet wife’s credit, she showed grace beyond belief and has been there for me in this journey.

After that night, I begin a journey to finding healing and asked God to lead me as I walked. I started with getting my medicine filled. I can still remember how ashamed I felt the day I went to the pharmacy. I can remember thinking, they know I am a pastor and surely, they will look at me and think, wow, a pastor needs this, come on pastor, surely Jesus will give you victory. Yes, yes, He will but I begin to realize that He also works through Drs and medicine.

The truth is, the medicine did help. It is a low dose, but it helps. Man, that is not easy to write either, because some of the people close to me do not even know what I just shared. But I feel like it so important to get this message out, even for other pastors. You need to know that it is ok. Think with me. Why is there a stigma in our local churches if someone takes a medicine that helps with their depression and they also see a counselor or Dr, but we rejoice when someone sees a cardiologist and takes their BP medicine to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

We must see that God does bring healing and yes, He is the great physician, but He also works thru medicine and even doctors. Do I believe medicines can get abused and is not always the need for every person, yes? But let’s not throw out the baby with bath water. We must believe the Creator of the Universe gave Drs wisdom and knowledge and there are helps that we should not ignore. We must also see that mental health is just as important as physical health and healing. Why is it we fill our prayer requests and we all want people to share about all of the sickness out there, but there is a fear when someone might say, “pray for me, I am walking thru depression or pray for my family member they are walking through depression.”

When someone shares about getting healthy physically, we clap, congratulate them, encourage them and even rejoice. But if someone says they’re trying to get healthy in their soul and mind and need to see somebody or take medicine – we all look down and wonder in our minds – wow, can you believe they said that? This must change!

God help us to see this need. There are so many people who are hurting and so many who are hiding and even some, like Jarrid who are honest about his depression, but still struggle to get victory. By all accounts, no one would have known that he would take his own life on Monday night. He had done a funeral that day, he had posted things reminding others to seek hope and find hope in Jesus and had even gone to his son’s t-ball practice. Just like those who may be reading this, you may think there is no way out, but there is.

We must talk about it. That was one of the next things I begin to do. I shared with others as I could and as I was able. I talked to my chairman of deacons and let him know what I was walking through and had dear friends close to me that I could confide in. This is so vital. I believe having people in our life that we can share our struggles and our burdens with is one of the way God encourages us and gives us strength. Paul says so in 2 Corinthians 7, “For even when we arrived in Macedonia our bodies had no rest, but we were oppressed at every turn—conflicts and disputes without, fears and dread within. But God, who comforts and encourages the depressed and the disquieted, comforted us by the arrival of Titus. 

Did you catch that? First Paul gets honest and says we had conflicts without and fears and dreads within, that God comforted them and encouraged the depressed and the disquieted by the arrival of Titus. In other words, one of the ways God brings healing to the hurting is the encouragement of other brothers and sisters in Christ who refresh us. What a blessing God’s people are to the hurting. One of the great battles of depression is the feeling of being all alone and being isolated. But Paul reminds us, we are not alone, and we need each other!!

I have come to see my journey as a blessing. Over the last two years, I have had the opportunity to listen to others who are struggling and then be able to say to them – I know exactly what you are feeling, and here is why. They are blown away at first, but then God uses my story to let them know that they are not alone. God can bring healing; God can work in your life. You do not have to be afraid; you do not have to feel guilty, and you are not a failure as a Christian because you are battling depression. I thank God He has placed others in my life to encourage me and I pray I have been able to help others and encourage them that God can bring them healing and hope. That is my prayer in sharing this today.

Over the course of the two years, I have begun to find healing. The last year has been one of the toughest I have faced as a pastor and there were some struggles but by God’s grace none like the day two years ago. That was a turning point in my life.  It has been a journey and one that I still face everyday and seek to lean into Jesus and seek to learn more about what can trigger my bad days, what fills my tank and what drains me. Now, instead of seeking balance, I am seeking to find the rhythms that Jesus talked about. Days and seasons, I am all in and days and seasons when I need to pull back and rest and be renewed. And I have found, the weaker I become, the stronger Jesus becomes in my life!

Paul said it best when he had prayed three times for God to remove the thorn in the flesh: 2 Corinthians 12 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I hope to share more in another post of some lessons I learned, and I am learning, but I can say this – we need to talk. We need to talk to Jesus, get honest with how we are feeling. Yes, stay in our Bible and prayer, even when we feel empty. But, also, if you find that your Blue Mondays have turned into Blue weeks and months, don’t be afraid to talk to your medical doctor. Don’t be afraid to talk to your family and don’t be afraid to talk to other brothers and sisters in Christ who can pray for you and encourage you. What we bring out in the light, God can shine His Glory on. Don’t let Satan keep this in the dark where there is no healing and no hope. Let’s talk.

 

Pastor Michael

 

We Will Never Forget

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I would often hear my mama say that she would never forget where she was and what she was doing the day that JFK had been shot in Dallas. To her, even though she was a thousand miles away and did not know the president personally, it still hit her in a very emotional way because it was her president and he was a symbol of hope and vision for her generation. For me, it was just history. A moment that shaped our nation and tragedy that impacted his family, the people that knew him and truly our entire nation. But to me, I could never fully understand how she felt on that day and how she would remember that day for the rest of her life. That all changed on September 11, 2001.

I can tell you right where I was and exactly what I was doing when John Clark made his way to the back of the shop where I worked as a press operator for Matthews Printing  and he shared that he had just heard on the news a plane had hit one of the twin towers. He walked back to the other building and I paused long enough to think, that is awful, and I wonder what happened to the plane that caused it to crash. Then, I just kept running envelopes, like my normal day. But this was not going to be a normal day for anyone that was alive on September 11, 2001.

It was only about 15 minutes later; John came back into the shop and he informed us all that he had just heard on the news that another plane had crashed into the other tower. My immediate thought – America is under attack. I instantly wanted to make sure my wife and daughter were ok and that they were not out and about and were at home safe. I know that sounds crazy, but it was my first thought, make sure they are ok. I can only imagine what others felt that who had family they could not reach or could not make sure they were ok.

As the morning continued, we wheeled a TV into the shop, and we watched the news firsthand and saw the reports of another plane that crashed into the pentagon and then another plane crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. There was a lot we all still didn’t know for sure but for me and most Americans that day, we were sure of this, America is now at war. So then, I remember thinking, what do we do and how were we to respond? For our president, He was now a war time president and His was called on to lead us in this crisis. For the first responders, they were the ones fighting to save lives and run into the danger as everyone else was running out.

And for the average American, what were we to do? We all had fears, worries, and disbelief that this had even happened. How could we have been attacked, are we safe, can we stay safe and would we survive? I remember having all these thoughts. Like my mom, I was thousands of miles away from ground zero and at that point did not know anyone who worked in the towers or on the planes, but it was still personal to me. These were my brothers and sisters as Americans and this was my nation, the United States of America, under attack. It was personal to us all.

As I have reflected today over the events of those days, months and years that have followed, I have thought about what we did as Americans and what we learned. Then, I thought, 18 years later, are we still doing what we did then, and have we grown because of what we thought we learned then? For those of us alive on that day, we say often – We Will Never Forget. That is true. But for an entire generation, they are just like I was when my mama talked about JKF, they read about the attacks on September 11 but it is just history to them, they did not live through it. We have high school seniors that today were not even born when the attacks happened. They don’t know, just like I didn’t know, that the world they were born into was changed in an instant and they have been raised in a post 911 world that has been shaped by what happened on that day.

So, for us to not forget means that we not only remember the day and how we felt, but I believe it also means we must encourage the next generation to realize the impact of that day and we must go back to what we did and what we learned and make sure that we continue to respond this way and teach these things to the next generation.

Here are a few thoughts on what we did as Americans on that day and the days that followed:

We prayed

One of the first things I did after making sure my family was ok was to call some ladies from our church and have them call our church family and ask them to gather at the church so we could meet and pray. They did and we did. We had more people on a Tuesday night impromptu prayer meeting than we had ever had on a regular Wednesday night prayer meeting. We prayed for the nation, the families, the president. We prayed the Lord keep us safe and bring us together as a family. We sought the God of heaven in our hour of need. We were not alone as people met in churches, families gathered to pray and others just spent time in personal prayer for our nation and each other.

 

We came together as one nation

I still remember seeing on the news that night, our entire congress, people from both sides of the isles, standing arm and arm on the steps of the capitol singing God Bless America with one voice. On that day and days that followed, it was not republicans and democrats or blacks or whites or one group against another group – we saw ourselves as One Nation, One People, facing this war together in unity.

 

We sacrificed

One of the first acts of sacrifice happened on Flight 93 as a group of passengers voted to rush the cockpit and take over the plane. These heroes gave their lives to save countless thousands. They were the first of many who would do the very same thing. People gave of their time, their work, their money, their heart to help make a difference. Some fought, some cleaned, some recovered, and some gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.

 

We served

People found ways to serve victims, serve the first responders, serve one another and again, seek to help somebody else and not be focused just on them. Many signed up for the military on that very day and others followed. Folks felt the need to make a difference and be a part of helping others in need.

 

There are many other things we did, but these came to my mind. Then I thought, what lessons did we learn? Now, not from a president or military leader’s perspective, but for us who lived through that day and the days to come, what did we learn?

Here are just a few thoughts on the lessons we learned that day:

 

Evil is Real

What those hijackers did on that day was nothing but pure evil. One moment we are going about our daily lives, almost oblivious to the battle that is going on in this world. Then the enemy of us all, Satan himself, the true Evil One, invades the life of someone and they apart from Christ, commit such evil acts upon other human being. Sure, we all knew this, but on this day we were reminded again; Evil is Real.

 

Life is Precious

There is not a one of us that had kids then that did not hold them a little tighter that night. Not a one who didn’t make sure their family was ok and others they knew were ok. We were reminded in a real way, life is just like the Bible says, a vapor. We are here one moment and then gone the next. This became personal the very next day. On that Wednesday morning one our salesman, Justin came in, just like he did every Wednesday. Justin, loved to joke, cut up and have a great time, always smiling.

But that morning, like us all, he was more somber. Then, I asked how he was and what he thought about it all and he begin to cry. His daughter, unbeknownst to me, worked in New York City. She was scheduled to have a meeting at one of the twin towers the morning of the attack. But as she made her way to the train station, the meeting was postponed to later in the day and so she planned to take a later train and just went back to her apartment. If the meeting had not been changed, she would have been in the middle of the building at the exact time of the attack. Justin wept with me as he was reminded and so was I, life is precious. God called some home that day and for reasons known only to Him, allowed others to live.

 

Death is a reality

The people that went to work at the towers, at the pentagon and others who boarded planes that morning, had no idea that morning that this would be their last day on this earth. Truth in the matter is none of us know the day or the hour we will die and leave this world. September 11 taught us again, death can come at any hour or any day and that it is something that every person ever born must face, the reality of death. And that in death, there is life afterwards and what we do with Jesus here, makes a difference then. Which leads me to the most important lesson……

 

Jesus is our only Hope

On this day and for many days after, more people were in church, more people were praying, and more people were reading their bibles. Why? When the world is falling apart, which is how so many of us felt, we need someone greater than ourselves to give us hope, comfort and peace. Jesus was then and still is the only hope we have of escaping death and destruction and having a lasting peace in our hearts and in our lives. Jesus was there on that day and He remains with us every day. We must only look to Him for hope in this life and in the life to come by accepting Him as our Savior and then trusting Him with every day.

 

Again, these are just thoughts. But what troubles me this morning as I cipher on this day and all that we did and all we learned; I must ask the very hard question – have we forgotten?

 

Now, please do not misunderstand me, I know, just like me, none of us alive on that day will ever forget where we were and how we felt. It was a day forever etched in our memory banks. But have we forgotten what we did and what we learned? And the greater question now 18 years later, are we still doing what we were doing and are we still growing in what we learned on that day and are we teaching this to those coming along behind us?

Amid a divided, immoral, ungodly nation, are we better or bitter? It seems we are fighting about politics, race and care more about party lines than we do people? Have we forgotten how we came together as one people and one nation? How about the church? Do we live each day knowing how much we need to pray for our nation and its leaders, are we seeking Jesus as our only hope and fighting the good fight of faith knowing that life is precious and evil is real and only by the power of Christ can we defeat the enemy?

I know these are hard questions, but I think they are necessary. Because, if we still have a heartbeat and God has not called us home, I believe we can still go back and do what we were doing and can still grow in the lessons we learned and we can impact the generation that will follow us!

Today – we can pray, we can serve somebody else, we can look for ways to think of the other person over ourselves, we can seek ways to help each other instead of ways to harm each other. I am not saying you and I should compromise our believes, not at all, but we should see every person the way God does: a soul in need of salvation, a soul He died for and a soul that needs hope. No matter the party they are for, the color of their skin or where they are from, may God give us His heart and His hands!

We can talk to our children and grandchildren about the sacrifice that was given that day and the many days after to keep them safe. We can explain that this nation has problems and is not perfect, but it still a blessed nation and one that can be amazing if we all do our part. You can take them aside and pray with them. And guess what, it is Wednesday night, you can go to church and PRAY!!

On this day, I pray we do not forget. I pray we do not forget what this day means and how we felt and what all took place. But, most importantly, may God help us not to forget what we did, what others did and the lessons we all learned. And may we never forget above all, that Jesus Christ is our only hope and keep our eyes on Him. That while He has us here in this great nation, we will keep growing in the lessons learned and teach them to the next generation. May God bless America and my God bless each of you who read this today.

Pastor Michael

 

The Comeback

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It was January 3, 1993. It was the wild card playoff game against at that time the Houston Oilers vs the Buffalo Bills. In this wild card playoff matchup, the Oilers were led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, while the Bills were without their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly. Frank Reich, the back up quarterback, stepped in his place.

Moon guided the Oilers to a 28-3 halftime lead, which would increase to 35-3 on an interception return for a touchdown to open the second half. It would appear to many that the Bills were headed for defeat, after all, in this game, you are aiming for victory and that comes when you have more points than your opponent. And at this point, it would appear hope of victory would be near impossible.

But, things begin to shift and the “Back Up” quarterback, who had led one of the greatest college football game comebacks as the quarterback at Maryland, took the game over. The Bills, behind four touchdown passes by Reich and a rushing score by Kenneth Davis, went on a scoring tear and took a 38-35 lead. The Oilers did add a field goal to tie it up, but in seemingly fitting fashion, the Bills completed their comeback and won this game on a 32-yard field goal by Steve Christie in overtime. It is known as the “Comeback”. Facing defeat, no hope of a win, but in the end a victory, a comeback, some would say the greatest ever.

As I thought and ciphered on this comeback, I begin to wonder, is this the greatest comeback ever? When it came to football, yes, I would agree. But I am fully convinced it is not the greatest comeback of all time. There is another comeback, one that did not happen on a football field, a basketball court or even a baseball diamond. As a matter of fact, this comeback took place over a 3 day period over 2000 years ago that if it had not turned out the way it did, you and I would have no hope in this life or in the life to come. We have would no true victory.

The comeback I am talking about is none other than Jesus Christ Himself who died on a cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb and then three days later, arose from the grave!! Think with me for a moment. This truth, the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest comeback in all of history. Jesus, a man who died and had been dead for three days, “comes back” from the grave and in doing so, won the victory over death, hell and the grave!!

If you a Christian, you know this to be true and you believe it. You hear it every Easter, Jesus died on a cross, was buried and then arose from the grave. But I submit to you two things: 1) This is a truth not just for Easter Sunday in April, but it is a truth for a Monday afternoon in September. 2) We know this truth but is this truth bringing victory to us in our every day life?

Paul tells us in the great chapter about the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, that our hope  is not found just in the fact that Jesus lived, that Jesus died for our sins, but that He also rose again for our victory! He would tell us that if Jesus did not rise from the grave, we would have no hope, still be in our sins and our living and preaching would be in vain. Look at the promise of victory over death and the promise of life found in these verses

55 Death, where is your victory?

Death, where is your sting?  u

56 Now the sting of death is sin,

and the power of sin  is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory

through our Lord Jesus Christ!

The greatest enemy you and I will ever face is death. Because of sin, every person born will one day die and apart from Jesus, die with no hope and spend eterninty in hell sepreated from the God who created them! But Jesus, He took the sting of death for us on the cross and when He came back from the dead, He won the victory for us!!

Paul says – thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in Jesus!!! Jesus is our victory. Jesus overcame the power of death, hell and the grave. He won the battle and secured not only the greatest comeback of all time, but the greatest victory known to man! So how can we have this same victory and what does mean for us right here, today?

First, we must have a personal relationship with God through His son Jesus Christ. If we will trust Christ as our Savior and accept His free gift of salvation, we also are given by God, the victory over death, hell and the grave!! Yes, if the Lord does not take us by the rapture, we still die a physical death, but the sting of death, the penalty of death no longer has a hold on us, we are victorious!

Second, the fact that Jesus had the greatest comeback in history, means that you and I, by accepting Him as our Savior and Lord, can have our own personal comeback. No matter what we have done, where we have been, or no matter where we are – because of Jesus, our story does not have to end in defeat but in victory!! Then, daily, as we allow His power of the resurrection to give us victory in every area of our lives.

Remember the football game I mentioned at the beginning, well let me share with you the best part of the comeback. After the game was over, Frank Reich who had led the Bills to this amazing win shared at the press conference one of the motiaving factors for him, a song that he had been listening to all week and several times that day. It was Christ Alone by Michael English. Frank shared the words of this song with the reporters and I want to share these same words with you:

In Christ alone I place my trust

And find my glory in the power of the cross

In every victory let it be said of me

My source of strength, my source of hope

Is Christ alone I place my trust

And find my glory in the power of the cross

In every victory let it be said of me

My source of strength, my source of hope

Is Christ alone

Frank (today, the head coach for the Colts) pointed them to the true source of His victory, the one who had the greatest comeback of all time, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is for us as well today, He alone is our victory and He alone can give us the victory! In Christ alone, my source of strength, my source of hope!!

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ!

 

Pastor Michael

God Knows

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One morning this week I went by the local store to get my morning coffee before heading into the church and the manger was having a conversation with the gentlemen in front of me about the headlines in the national paper and how it just seems to be bad news. I begin to think, they are right, it seems like all bad news. With the news of shootings, killings, a divided nation on politics and then all the storm warnings this week, it can leave a person wondering what in the world is going on. We might even say, who knows!

When I have these thoughts, and all of us as Christians have our moments of questions, but it is in these times, we must take time to get good news from God’s word. I begin to reflect on a letter that the prophet Jeremiah wrote to a group that was asking the same type of questions. This letter is found in Jeremiah chapter 29 where he is writing to a group of Jewish exiles now living in Babylon. They had been taken there after God allowed the Babylonians to conquer the city of Jerusalem because the nation had rebelled against him.

Jeremiah was writing to them to help them see that God was still God and that He had not forsaken them and yes it looked like their world had been turned upside down and was in a mess, but God knew where they were, what was happening and what was going to happen. In other words, Jeremiah said to them, you may not know, but God knows. This is a word we need to hear today as well. As our world seems to be turned upside down and, in a mess, and we are wondering who knows what is going on here, we must rest assured, God knows! Otherwise we will end up like this group of exiles, without hope!

Are you without hope? Have you been listening to the wrong voices and found that what you had hope in has fallen away? Has your own personal world been turned upside down and all that seems to be coming your way is bad news? I pray no matter where you are, like the exiles he was writing too, you can be encouraged by God’s word and find hope in Him.

Here is a part of this letter, “For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.”

Notice the strong encouragement from the Lord – I know! He says to them and to us you may not know, but I know what is going on in your lives, in your world now and in the future and I have a plan. He says it is a plan for our welfare and to give us a hope. He will restore us, restore our land and renew our hope in Him. What a promise!! And God can and will always do what He says. No matter what, He has a plan for you!! Now, that is His part.

What is our part? We must pursue Him; we must go after Him with our whole heart. We must know Him as Savior and Lord and then daily trust Him and lean into Him. You see the key to having true hope in this life and in the life to come is simple – I do not have to know, I just must know the One who knows! I must not trust the plan, but place my trust in the planner, then I will find the hope that comes only from the Lord.

Pastor Michael

Rest for the Weary

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Battle Fatigue – it is a real thing for every soldier, and I believe it is a real thing for every Christian called by God to be a soldier. Again, I do not want to say the battles any of us as Christians face  is on the same level of a soldier in a war, nothing can compare to the battle fatigue in actual combat and have the trauma of losing their fellow soldiers.

Yet, at the same time, I do know that emotionally, there can be battle scars and trauma as we engage the battle as a soldier of Christ. This is where these truths came to help me and encourage me as I faced my own season of Battle Fatigue. God used 1 Samuel chapter 30 to speak to my soul as I saw David, the great warrior, be weary and tired. For him to face not only the kidnapping of his family and the revolt of his men but also the internal battle that nobody could see but God. It is just a few verses, but it speaks volumes of how David and His men felt on that day when it says they wept until they could not weep anymore, and that David was greatly distressed. He was weary and so were his men.

I saw myself in those verses for the first time. I saw other men and women of God, warriors for Jesus who had been wounded in the journey, things fallen apart around them, wondering what would come next. David, as a leader, facing the fact that his own men were ready to kill him. In the words of another preacher – that will bless you!

I have shared how God showed me how when David was weary and seemed ready to quit, he found strength in the Lord. He begin to seek God’s path, God’s power and God’s plan. But there is one more truth that is also very important and it is found in only 2 verses in this chapter and if you are not careful you might miss the message. It is simply this – there is rest for the weary.

In verse 9 and 10 it says “David and the 600 men with him went as far as the Wadi Besor, where 200 men who were to remain behind would stop. They stopped because they were too exhausted to cross the Wadi Besor. David and 400 of the men continued in pursuit.” In other words, these men had nothing left in the tank and they stayed and rested at the Brook Besor. God used these verses to help remind me that it is not only ok to rest but it needs to be part of the rhythm of our life!!

These men could not go another step. They were spent. It was to much for them, so they stayed with the supplies while the others went on to battle. The text says, “they were too exhausted”. Now later, some of the men would want to take away from what these 200 men had done, but David would have none of it. They needed rest and David knew that if they had continued, they would have not been able to fight to the fullest of their capacity, they needed rest.

Rest. Let that word just sit there for a moment. Rest. Say it out loud with me – rest. It is simple four-letter word, but one that most of us have a hard time understanding or even applying in our own life. Now, right off the bat, rest is not the same as being lazy or giving up. Rest is what we must do at times to allow our body, soul and spirit to, catch a breath.

Again, this is not about quitting or giving up, but it is allowing ourselves times in our days, weeks, months and years to pause and allow God to renew our strength for the battle. Why must we do this – because if we don’t, we will become weary in well doing!

So, what does it mean to be weary? The word itself means to lose one’s motivation to accomplish some valid goal—‘to become discouraged, to lose heart, to give up. Warren Wiersbe said, How easy it is for us to work for the Lord but permit the spiritual motivation to die. Like the priests of Israel that Malachi addressed, we serve the Lord but complain, “Behold, what a weariness is it” (Mal. 1:13)

The same thing happens to actual soldiers. Part of battle fatigue is being emotionally, physically and spiritually spent. Have nothing left in the tank. And just like David, the smart leaders would know when the men needed to pause and be renewed. What can we learn from David’s men about rest:

1) Be courageous enough to admit that you are exhausted.

* Wow the courage it took for these men. They started out with the others, but just could not make it across the water.

* It does not mean you are weak; it takes strength to admit when you are ready to quit but everything in you says no. Admit you are hurting and tired. It is only until you admit how weak you are that you can find Christ strength sufficient for our every need.     (2 Corinthians 12)

2) They took time to rest but not run away.

* They did stop and rest, but they were still enough a part that they were not fully away. They did what they could, they kept the supplies. They went as far as they could and did what they could.

* As Christians, when battle fatigue hits and we are weary, so many just “cut loose” to quit or give up. Cut ties, I am done. No more church, no more worship, no more serving. I am done!!

* These then become casualties. SO many just taking a break from church, break from God – dangerous ground.

* Yes, we need rest, we need recovery, but we must stay by the stuff just like these men. For these men, they could not go and fight, but they did what they could.

* Lessons learned in WWII

It was found, however, that the farther the soldier was removed from the combat area, the less likely he was able to return to battle. Removal to an interior zone seemed to encourage the maintenance of symptoms and a reluctance to return to his unit. During the first combat engagements of American forces in North Africa, combat exhaustion cases were transported to base hospitals hundreds of miles behind the battle lines;

Under these conditions less than 10 percent of the soldiers were able to return to duty. In contrast, approximately 60 percent of those treated immediately within fifteen to twenty miles of the front lines, allowed to sleep for 3 days, shower, given a good meal and find true rest, when they were sent back to combat duty, the majority readjusted successfully.

* In other words, when the army pulled them away so that they were getting what they needed but not completely away from the battle, they did not lose the connection of still being a part of their brothers at arms and still close enough to hear the sounds of the battle but still enough away to allow them to rest, it made a difference in them returning to battle ready to fight again!

* The longer a person stays away from church, the harder it is for him to return. Must stay engaged. May need to step away from a role, from a position, but not from church. Not from worship. Not from your bible. Still be involved.

* So, as Christians, we must take your vacations, take time away, use your time of rest wisely. Feed your soul. Rest your body, mind and soul – pray, read God’s word. Replenish. Take a day off, enjoy a hobby. What ever feeds your soul, do it!! God gave us the pattern of 6 days working and resting on the 7th day for a reason, we need it!!!

*There are some things you need to let go and quit, cut loose. So, let go and let Him. Let go of your unrealistic expectations that wear you down. Let go of your way of doing things. Let go of your timetable. Let go of the relationship that is wearing you out. Engage in activities and relationships that energize you. Yes, you need to be available, but rest in Him. Rest in Him and leave the rest to Him.

* And if need be, there may be times you have to step back from seasons of serving, but make sure you stay plugged into your relationship with God, make sure you stay plugged into your church, stay plugged in on Wednesday nights and Sunday School and do what you can as much as you can.

3) Not everybody is tired at the same time. Those who are stronger, encourage those who are weak. Fight for the ones who can’t right now. Then when we need a rest, they step up.

**and do not grow bitter but come alongside them and encourage and fight when they can’t.

** David – they stayed with the supplies. He shows grace and lets them know they are just as important. They just needed rest.

4) This is only a season. They did not stay weary, they did not stay tired, there was a season of rest and then right after this chapter, there will be a new season of renewed passion for making David king.

* Whatever season you are in, trust the Lord. If you are need of rest, find it, seek Him, let Him renew you then prepare for the fresh season He has for you!!

 

Let me leave you with two passages where Jesus teaches us about rest and what it means to rest in Him. Jesus understood there were times He was teaching all day, working miracles, worshiping, being among the people and then there were times when He would go off alone, be by Himself and allow God the Father to renew Him and prepare Him for the next season of ministry. May we follow the example of our General.

Take hope Christian Soldier, if you are experiencing Battle Fatigue, there is rest for the weary, right at the feet of Jesus!! If you are listed among them, here is what you need to know: it’s okay to rest. Jesus is your David. He fights when you cannot. He goes where you cannot. He’s not angry if you sit. Did he not invite, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest” (Mark 6:31 MSG)?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30

Pastor Michael