Several years ago, I had a bad car accident. After several hours in the Emergency Room, I was released. I had broken my right hand in three places and had torn the ligaments on the top of my right foot. This made walking without a crutch impossible and using a crutch almost impossible. When I finally go to my house, I tried to hop up the front steps. I fell and the pain brought me to tears.
“Are you going to let me help you now?” My pastor at that time asked. He was the person who brought me home from the hospital and I refused his help so far getting up to the door of my house. However, now I had to let him help me up and hobble on in.
It is hard to ask another person for help. I would much rather figure out a way to help myself. In American culture, we honor and support this idea. We even have a saying (as inaccurate as it is) that, “God helps those who help themselves.”
On Sunday, my pastor taught on the very end of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul says his good-byes. He pointed to Ephesians 6:23 where Paul concludes with three things: Peace, Love, and Faith. These are perhaps intended to be his final words to them and thus the legacy that he desires to leave.
Our pastor then challenged us with this question: Am I leaving the same kind of legacy? Am I blessing others with peace, love, and faith?
So today, I have been thinking about this notion of Peace. American Christianity is often associated more with bickering and political strategizing, so I find it hard to point to a good example of this peace. My own life (as any of my readers know) has the internal chaos of depression and anxiety. That’s the opposite of peace!
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines Peace as "Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence" A quick glance at most popular Christian television shows and books suggests that Christians today are pretty focused on well-being, prosperity, and security. But would we say that is Peace?
Did the Baker Encyclopedia get it wrong? After all, a major struggle for me as always been to find peace with myself, and one need not look far for examples of those whom enjoy the most prosperity having this same struggle.
There are two missing keys here. The first is right in front of me in the Baker definition: Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence. So often, we think of our faith as something we use to attain things like well-being, prosperity, and security, and we get frustrated when despite our best efforts at believing, these things are still lacking. That is because we are striving for a notion of peace that is found apart from God. Seeking God's usefulness is not the same thing as seeking God's presence. I would imagine the difference is something like the difference between sitting in a room, talking with a good friend, and sitting in a room, barking orders at my good friend so that he is reduced to being my butler.
This leads to the other missing key, that peace is something to be shared. For the Christian, the way to experience God's presence is found far more often in gathering with other believers than it is in being alone. This is the necessary value of the church. If our desire for our well-being, prosperity, and security leads to making God our butler, then it will also lead to the church becoming nothing more than a supply closet. It becomes a place we go when we feel we need something. However, if we are seeking God's presence then the church is no longer a place but those fellow believers where we experience that presence together. In the New Testament, the word for "Church," always refers to a group of people rather than place or building. It would be hundreds of years later, and sometime around when Governments started to see Christianity as a tool for political power, that the use of the word changed.
So my desire for peace, and thus, my desire for total-well being, prosperity, and security must be focused on the presence of God and sharing these things amongst one another.
That is the hard part. Something in our nature wants us to seek our own well-being over that of others, but in Christ, we are to seek our well being in that of others.
This is why it is not only helpful, but necessary to both rely on others and serve others. It is easy for a person like myself to try to isolate myself. I’d love it if I could just sit somewhere and write all the time. Of course, a story that is not read, like a song that is never heard, hardly exists. Likewise, for the Christian to exist in and experience peace, requires that our lives, messy as they are, be intertwined with others.
Peace to you!
I'll be speaking in Willow Springs on November 13. This will be the first time since I announced the Baggage Claim Project that I've been invited to speak. It will be a different sort of sermon for me.
Usually, as guest preacher (and especially in my experience as a church planter), I would try to emphasize the best things that are happening. This time, I will be talking about my hospital stay, my time in ministry with untreated Major Depressive Disorder, and the scripture that I have been clinging to lately.
If you are in the area, please come! I'll have copies of Street Preacher available for sale and for signing!
I'm speaking in the evening service, a joint service between First Baptist Church of Willow Springs and Trinity Baptist Church. The service is at 6:30pm at Trinity Baptist Church.
In my personal Bible Study, I am focusing on one particular passage this week:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)
There are three simple instructions here:
And there is one promise: He will make straight your paths, or as Eugene Peterson put it, “He will keep you on track”
One of the things I have been working hard to do since my hospital stay is reworking my negative thoughts. This is not easy work. It is scriptural, for sure (take every thought captive), but when you have enslaved yourself with your own negative self-talk for so long, getting all untwisted is exhausting at times.
As I reflected on this verse, it occurred to me that this provides an additional check against my thoughts. [My psychologist in the hospital suggested that I take ever negative thought and ask: Is it true? Does it make me feel how I want to feel? Does it help me reach my goals?].
Now here is a little peek into my therapy sessions. One of the overriding negative thoughts that I tie myself down with is:
I am a failure. I failed at church planting. I failed at insurance. I failed at time shares. I fail, I fail, I fail. I am a failure.
So I worked in my notebook at the hospital to take a serious look at this thought. After I answered the questions, I came up with this thought to rehearse instead of thinking “I am a failure.”
Hawaii did not work out the way I wanted it to, and I am not a salesman, but there are plenty of things that I can do that I have yet to try.
That’s not bad, and it is a lot more hopeful, but after spending some time in Proverbs 3:5-6, I decided to do some additional work on this thought:
I added the question: Am I leaning on my own understanding or am I trusting the Lord? The notion that I am a failure is based solely on my own understanding of things that have happened and the silly idea that I can predict the future. Next question? What would it mean to acknowledge Him in this situation?
For the answer there, my mind went to Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
So I edited my reworked thought at bit and now this is what I will tell myself whenever I start to think I’m a failure:
Hawaii did not end the way I wanted it to but good things happened there. I have learned that I am not a salesman but there is still plenty of things I have not tried, and as I seek the Lord, it will be His power and not my own on which I may rely!
I can hardly believe where I’m sitting. They told me to sit down at a table and they brought a plate of food. I’m hungry, but none of this is appetizing. I pick through my meal and then sit and survey the room.
There is a lot of commotion. Another patient, I’ll call him Jay, is yelling profanities at the nurses because the rooms are locked. They tell him that the rooms are open after 8pm, after everyone has had their meds. He calls them quacks and a few words that would make Donald Trump blush. Another patient tries to intervene. Jay yells at her too.
I ask the nurse if I have a room. I do, but it won’t be open until 8. And Jay is my roommate. I look at the clock. It is six. Am I supposed to sit in this chair for 2 hours?
This is by far the most surreal day I have ever had. I have spent most of my life trying to hide the fact that I have some serious struggles with depression. It comes at me in waves sometimes and lately, the waves are larger, and more common.
That’s what happened. The day started normal, but sometime in the afternoon a wave of despair hit me and left me in a fog. I couldn’t think straight. I wondered if there was any possible way to die that wouldn’t look like a suicide. I started an argument with my wife and then I started melting down.
As I lay on the bed sobbing that I needed help and that I didn’t trust myself to be left alone, my wife reached out to her sister, who happens to be a professional counselor. Her advice, “get him to the ER.”
We drive to the hospital. Part of me is hopeful that this is the path to help, part of me is embarrassed that I’m going to have to finally admit my struggles. Most of me is just in a foggy stupor.
My wife goes in first and finds out that the ER handles psychiatric cases, so she brings me in. Now I have to start telling strangers about my plans I made a month ago do drive my car into a ravine. My wife and I are placed in an room that is empty except for a small mat on the floor. I’m told to undress, put on a hospital gown, give my valuables to my wife and bag up my clothes. They take my clothes from me, there is no getting out of this. Tests are done. Blood is drawn, I pee in a cup. At least three people ask me the same questions, then one asks, “What do you want?”
“I need help,” I say. This may be the smartest thing I have ever said.
They explain that they are going to admit me. A few minutes later a nurse comes with a wheel chair and an armed guard. It’s time to go to the unit. They explain to my wife that she can call the unit for visitation rules. They explain that I might be able to take a phone call later. They tell her that this is where she has to say good-bye.
The nurse wheels me to the elevator and then through a set of locked doors. The armed guard goes with us. The nurse now calls in to a nursing station and the next set of locked doors opens. They have me sit in a room while a nurse begins getting all of my information. My blood pressure is dangerously high. They ask if I’m nervous. They ask if I have ever been in a locked down facility like this or jail. I haven’t. I have no idea what to expect.
Next, a male psych tech is brought in. He finds me some underwear, scrubs, and no-slip socks. Then I’m strip searched. By now the hospital knows that I have not tried to harm myself recently, I am carrying nothing, and I am not on any drugs. They escort me out to the “day room” where I sit for my tray of food.
As I sit an ponder the fact that I have two hours before I can go to my room or make a phone call I wonder what I’m allowed to do. Most of the patients are watching Lonesome Dove on the TV but they are arguing over how many parts in the series there are. I see a shelf of games and puzzles, but I’m not sure I can go look at them. I see a book shelf, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to handle myself in a room like this.
Eventually, I get up the courage to go to the bookshelf. There are some Grisham, ironically one that features a suicide in the first chapter. There are also a bunch of Gideon Bibles, and as a former pastor, I’m pleased to see that they are in my favorite translation. I try to read, but the words are literally a blur.
I return to my chair by the dinner table. I ask a nurse where I can use the restroom and she points me toward one just to the side of the dayroom. “Sorry,” she says, “the door has to stay open.”
What am I doing here? I’m in scrubs sitting along side people that are having heated arguments about a miniseries. One patient is having a heated argument with himself. I have no privacy. At 8pm, phones are brought out. I suddenly realize that I have never memorized my wife’s phone number. A nurse is kind enough to look it up and write it on a post it. That post it becomes the only thing I actually own throughout my stay.
My wife calls me, but I can’t speak. I am overwhelmed and I just cry. She assures me that things are going to get better. She’s crying too.
She is right. Over the next few days I learn from the nurses, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, and the general practitioner all sorts of ways that I can be healthy in all aspects of my life. When it is time for me to leave, I have a medication plan and a counseling plan and I cannot help but notice that the sun is shining brightly as I walk out of the hospital.
My experiences with depression are fueling "The Baggage Claim Project." Check it out and please consider supporting me on this journey!
Street Preacher Book Signing
November 19, 2016
1222 Missouri Ave, St 3
West Plains, MO
Every time a presidential election comes around, there is a lot to say from lots of groups of people. None are more vocal than religious conservatives, of which I am one. This year, presents a challenge for such voters. On the left is a career politician with a track record of corruption and who stands almost directly opposed to most values of the religious conservative. On the right is a proud serial adulterer who defies the core belief of Christianity that one must be forgiven by God.
There is a pragmatist argument that goes something like this: Trump will pick pro-life supreme court justices so therefore we must, like it or not, vote for Trump. This argument holds little water since Trump is hardly a pro-life candidate. He claims a change in his views regarding abortion but he claims that no laws should be changed and that planned parenthood should keep its government funding. It is clear that his picks for supreme court will have nothing whatsoever to do with being pro-life. Further, he espouses nothing of constitutional conservatism but seems to approach every problem from the view that the president must solve it. This pragmatic argument is grasping at straws at best.
However, there is more to note for the Christian. The entire notion of the pragmatic argument is wrong. Can God use an unbeliever? Yes. He has. But the Lord has never called his people to seek what seemed practical over what was holy.
When I make my choice at the ballot box, I consider the two things Jesus ever said about politics. 1) Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and 2) (to Pilate) You have no power unless I give it to you.
This means that Christians do have a duty to their country and that God and God alone is the maker of governments (to our blessing or to our judgment).
Understanding this, I go to the ballot box not as a part of a caucus or voting block, but as a believer in prayer. I will do my duty and will vote for whom I wish God would put in power.
I urge Christians not to run in fear to the pragmatic argument, but to stand in faith and vote for whomever may be most pleasing to God
And pray. Pray for our country and let your prayers be the fuel for your spreading of good news.
Street Preacher Book Signing
November 5, 2016
Sonrise Christian Bookstore
1801 W Kingshighway Suite 3
Paragould, AR 72450
Follow the event and invite your friends on Facebook!
At least one reader has pointed out some similarities between Street Preacher and the work of Flannery O’Connor. In particular, the similarities between my novel and O’Connor’s Wise Blood. I should state from the onset that I do not think my work reachers her level. She was one of America’s greatest authors. However, I will admit, my novel is somewhat of an homage.
I love the Hazel Motes character, and he was in the back of my mind when I created John, the homeless man who decides to preach for change. Hazel fought the idea of being a preacher. He randomly selected a hat to match his suit and then to his chagrin kept encountering people who believed it was a “preacher’s hat.” John finds a similar hat and immediately sees a profit to be had because it is a preacher’s hat. Nevertheless, I must admit that the hat is driving much of the story in a similar way.
That’s where the similarities diverge. I think O’Connor, being Catholic, would claim that any mention of faith in Street Preacher is nothing more than the Church of Christ without Christ and I long for the day in the hereafter where we two can discuss it.
Nevertheless, I love Flannery O’Connor and her work. She could see God’s mighty hand of grace in the ugliest of places. It fell heavy on her characters and the reader is always left with a bit of grace to consider lest it crush him or her as well. For this reason, I took my characters into the ugliness of homelessness. I found them in crawlspaces, and alleyways, and mission flop houses, all trying to survive and all bearing the weight of God’s grace.
Only my readers can tell me if I succeeded, but rest assure the work of O’Connor is not an imprint that can be removed easily from my soul.
When we signed up to be foster parents there were a lot of things we did not know. We did not who would be placed in our home. We did not know how long he or she might live with us. We did not know when. We only knew that one day a call may come.
So life went along with little thought to this call that may or may not come. In fact, on one June afternoon, it was the furthest things from our minds. What was on our minds was that the next day, eight people were coming from Missouri to help us with our work in Hawaii.
With a group on its way, we were busy making last minute preparations. I was finalizing where they would stay and Samantha and I were running errands buying food and supplies for the week of working with this group. We were in the parking lot of the Ewa Beach Safeway when the call came.
“Can you take a young boy?”
“Can you pick him up at 3pm today?” (it was already one o’clock)
We had very little information. There was confusion about his name and his age, but he was in a shelter that was unsuitable for a child his age and needed placement immediately. Of course we agreed.
We called the group and told them of the changes. We began searching for a bed and a carseat.
At 3pm we went to a local urgent care clinic. We were told that it was routine procedure for the child to undergo a physical when changing placements. There was no social worker. Kerry was brought by a courier who had him tucked under his arm like a package. Samantha immediately took him and hugged him. Kerry was understandably scared, so while Samantha argued with someone from child services on the telephone (they had none of the right paperwork for his physical), Caleb found a toy and began to play with him. Slowly, Kerry warmed up, but he clung to Samantha as much as he could.
I once heard a comedian say that having a two year old is like inviting a raccoon on speed into your home. We always said that Kerry came in to our family like the Tasmanian Devil. We had a lot we all had to learn about each other, but this is what we know of Kerry:
Eventually we received one of the greatest gifts anyone could bestow. His biological family asked if we would adopt him. That is a humbling honor, and one we cherish daily.
Social services drug their feet but on October 5, 2015, the day came. We swore in court to be his parents. The judge invited all of us for a picture behind the bench. One day Kerry saw the picture and exclaimed, “I know what that is!”
“What is it?” I asked.
“That’s when I turned Davis!”
Indeed it is. We love you, Kerry. Happy Gotcha Day!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower