Mental Health, My Story

Internally, I live 2 lives. On the outside, in terms of productivity, ethics and my responsibilities, I always do what must be done. I am responsible. No matter what is going on inside, I look the same on the outside. But on the inside, for months at a time, I can be living one of these two lives.

Internal Life 1: I feel energetic, clear, motivated, centered and solid. Inside, everything makes sense. My inner life is defined by peace; I sleep well. I have long, wonderful times with the Lord. I love being with people and gain energy from relationships. I am filled with hope. I feel strong and on top of the world. I occasionally get upset or irritated but it’s situational and evaporates as soon as the challenge is over. Here, food is a source for energy not a crutch to navigate life. I exercise often and it’s fun. I feel in control. I love new things and when I find something interesting —a hobby or a topic—I study it with vigor. I am creative and am life-giving to others. I am carefree. Life is good. I enjoy living it.

Internal Life 2: This is what I call, ‘survival mode’. Life feels hard. I feel like I’m moving through molasses all day. It is harder to stick to a routine. Beyond what I must do, I just want to be alone. I begin to withdraw into myself. In my head, I feel safe. The outside world feels like hard, cold wind on exposed skin. If I can be alone, I can live in a cave of solitude. It feels comfortable but lonely. I am able to be present to others but it requires concerted effort that is exhausting. At times, I am irritable and my inner space shrinks. I feel overwhelmed. My thoughts are scattered and focus becomes a discipline of sheer will. Life loses its beauty and everything seems grey. Life feels like perpetual evening dragging into night. Sleep can either be non-existent or I can feel sleepy all the time. Exercise feels like torture. Here, food is ‘helpful’ in mood management, a crutch to manage sadness and anxiety.  But food used as pain management has its own negative effects—less confidence, health consequences, less energy and reinforces a joyless life. Internal life #2 feels hard.

These are the lives that make up my life. For all my life, at least as long as I can remember, I have dealt with depression, anxiety and ADHD. During my Christian life, I have bore these realities and pressed my way through them. I survive and most of the time I thrive. I have gone to therapy off and on since being a teenager. At times, medication has been a life saver. Through it all, my wife and my close, Christian friends have been beacons of hope. For the life of me, I cannot tell you what causes one life to thrive and the other to lay dormant. Or what causes the switch from one to the other. My external life can be tumultuous but the inside filled with peace. Then other times, all can be well outside and the inside feels like purgatory.  

Sometimes I thrive inside and out, one long summer day. Other times, I really struggle within. I feel like I am climbing Mount Everest and making no headway. Life can be good, challenging and filled with constant moments of joy. It can also be hard and filled with suffering. You never know what is happening on the inside of a person.

Since 1949, the month of May has been set aside to raise awareness for mental health. As I consider my own story, my role as a pastor, and being in the month of May, I would like to share the following truths I have learned.

  • The gospel is good news for those who suffer with mental health. This quote from Thomas Watson says it all:

What upheld Daniel in the lion’s den? Jonah in the whale’s belly? The three Hebrews in the furnace? Only the power of God. Is it not strange to see a bruised reed grow and flourish? How is a weak Christian able, not only to endure affliction, but to rejoice in it? He is upheld by the arms of the Almighty. “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. xii. 9).

If you are suffering with mental health, God is not overwhelmed or impotent to help. He can be trusted in and through it all. He is good news; I know from experience.

  • Christ desires that his church be a safe haven for those who suffer mentally. The roots of mental illness are complex—historical, spiritual, biological and personal choices—and is the result of a fallen world. The church doesn’t have all the answers, but we know the answer. His name is Jesus. It’s time to declare the good news to those who suffer on the insideIt’s time to provide safe places for people to share, to be journeyed with and to be loved. We all deserve these gifts of grace.
  • Licensed therapists and medical doctors are gifts from God. Everything good comes from Him. Psychiatrists and counselors go through extensive training and licensing to provide care to facilitate mental health. I thank God for them personally (I’m married to a counselor! Free therapy!). God has made provision for our mental health and we should use it. No one should ever feel shame or marginalized for getting professional help. 
  • Christian kindness and grace go a long way in the healing of a person. I am thankful for the church and it’s members who have almost always been good representatives of Christ. Let’s be gracious and kind to one another. This is what I know, mental illness is not because sufferers are lazy or lack discipline. Instead, mental illness is just another crack in our broken world. It is a crack that love can be a great help in its mending. Let’s be gentler with one another as we pursue hope and transformation together. 

Know if you struggle with your mental health you are not alone. Have hope. Never give up. Morning is coming. To those who are not struggling right now, be kind.  Make the gospel available to all. Make room at the table of fellowship. And to everyone remember, there is a million ways to be broken but Christ with all his gifts is the only way to be made whole.

Conquering Grace

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 1:3 ESV

This morning, I am so thankful for grace. It has become, the older I get, the air I breathe. In honor of his grace towards me, I want to encourage all those who are desperate for grace. The lonely, the broken, the rejected, the betrayed, the addicted, the lost the abused and even the abuser. Grace has room for us all.

Defining grace with one definition is a little like experiencing a diamond without light. Perhaps you will know what it is but you will not know it’s beauty. The full effect of grace can only be seen by the light of the Son and turning it, like you would a diamond, and seeing it from different angles and perspectives. When you do this, you begin to see grace in all its grandeur. 

Perfect grace first and foremost flows from Jesus—from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace is favor, power, love in action. Grace is God’s power at work. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 

John tells us that in Jesus we see God’s glory, his beauty. God’s beauty is manifest in truth and grace. Jesus is truth—the reality of what is really going on. And Jesus is God’s grace. Grace is not about transactions, debts and credits but about a person and the focus of his energies. Jesus is full of grace to you.

Perfect grace has you as its focus—Grace to you. 

Grace is relational, intimate, powerful and effective. Grace is welcoming a stranger into his home. Grace is taking on the burden of another. Grace is setting something right that he is not responsible for. Grace is the torrents of endless water that fuel a hydroelectric dam. Grace takes ugly, broken, shameful persons and situations, and is able, without effort, to restore all things. Grace is a person and he has you as the object of his grace.

Perfect grace is free

Grace makes no demands on the person receiving it. It has no requirements. It’s like winning the lottery, finding buried treasure or receiving a billion dollars from the death of an unknown relative. Grace is the love that propels a wife forgiving, forgetting and committing again to an adulterous husband. Grace is releasing the murderer of a loved one from your vengeance. Grace is paying the debt of a thief. Grace is adopting a parentless child and bringing her into your home as your child, your daughter. Grace is the sun rising every morning and doing it’s good without asking permission. Grace is taking a felon and giving him a home, a job and another chance after failing 15 times before. Grace is the riches of eternity given audaciously and with such liberality that the recipient knows that he did not pay for it. Grace is just given and the recipient receives all the benefits without cost or requirement. Grace is free.

Perfect grace is energy and authority for life

In Romans 5, Paul tells us we stand in grace. In Corinthians 15, Paul tells us he worked harder than anyone and it was grace that empowered him to do it. Grace is more like blood flowing in the body filling it with oxygen and nutrients than a mark in a ledger clearing your name. Grace is like sunlight to a flower. Grace is like a mother’s breast given to a hungry infant child. Grace makes life in Christ possible. Grace is for life.

Perfect grace forgives

We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8). This free eternal power of God is the means of setting us right. We mess up; we hurt people; we rebel; and we do what we shouldn’t do. In moments of clarity and horror, we realize that we have done things that we cannot fix and that we are guilty. Sin, mess, chaos, shadows, separation and death face us. We are powerless before them. Like a category 5 hurricane aimed at a small coastal house. There is no hope.But, He saves us. Sin becomes mercy. Mess becomes wholeness. Hurt becomes healing. Shadows become light. Separation becomes union. Death becomes life. He saves us. He gives grace and we become fully alive.

Grace is amazing. It is free. It is available-right-now for your life. Grace forgives and sets you right. And if you ever wonder what God is like, God is eternal, unchanging, unlimited, extravagant grace.

Intimacy with God, part 2


Recap: Did hyou practice silence and solitude? What did you learn and experience?

What are the challenges of doing nothing?

Introduction

Intimacy with God is a life. A life of intimacy with God is to be one of constant interaction, and communication rooted in agape love—His love towards us— that naturally produces Christlikeness. This is a life of joy unspeakable. Last week we learned that silence and solitude creates the space to get free of lesser stories and move into life-from-above, life with Him. It is the quiet heart that hears, “I am the beloved of God”. This is the foundational reality from which all else flows.

This foundation is what we build our life of intimacy upon. We must constantly remember and experience that he loves us, and nothing we do can change his heart towards his beloved. This is true, but our heart—the mind and will—is severely warped by sin even in our belovedness. We understand Paul’s words from Romans because we experience them all the time:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…Wretched man that I am.

Romans 7:15, 24 

We are beloved and wretched. We desire our Beloved but continually act in ways that harden our hearts and troubles our conscious. We know we are to be people of joy but hardly ever experience it except in fleeting moments. What a horrible place to be! What can be done? 

What we need to know is that intimacy, joy and freedom are inextricably linked together. It is in the mind that we deepen our grip on our belovedness, break free from the sin that troubles our intimacy and find unstoppable joy.

What fills your mind throughout the day? 

It all starts in our thoughts 

Dallas Willard describes thoughtthis way:

Thoughts bring objects or ideas before our mind in various ways and enable us to ponder them and trace out their interrelationships with one another. Thoughts are what empower our heart to range far beyond the immediate boundaries of our environment and the limited perceptions of our senses. Through them, our consciousness is able to reach into the depths of the universe-past, present, and future-by reasoning and scientific thinking, by imagination and art, and also by divine revelation, which comes to us mainly in the form of thought.

To be human is to be constantly thinking. There is simply no other way of perceiving a human person. We are more than our minds but we are no less. We dream. We worry. We fear. We love. We imagine. We dwell on the past and make plans for the future. These are all rooted in thoughts.

In our mind we encounter images, have thoughtsand both build ideas. As a group, define these three words.

Emotions 

Thoughts are always accompanied by emotions—either negative or positive. Every thought brought before the mind naturally stirs feelings—chocolate cake, starving child, a beautiful sunset. Except in cases of mental illness, the emotional state of a person reveals the thought life of that person[1].

This coupling of thought and emotion is a profound good that God has created. Jonathan Edwards in his book, Religious Affections, writes:

Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from some information of the understanding, or some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge

For Edwards, religious affections—joy, peace, adoration, etc..—are born out of knowledge. Of crucial importance here is that our emotional life is dependent upon what the mind dwells upon. This is for good and for ill. 

The broken mind

A broken mind, to whatever degree it is broken is a mind that has been decimated by the thoughts that inhabit it. Such brokenness  usually presents in one of three ways.

The first  is a mind that is characterized by runaway, uncontrolled thoughts—the rabbit-trail mind. Such a mind is, “tossed to and fro.” In a real sense, such a person is enslaved to random neurons firing that create images in the brain. From images come thoughts that build ideas[2]. Any thought can cause this person to spiral into thoughts that bring the dangerous feelings of anxiety, depression and hopelessness. 

The second break is the one where the mind is habitually, seemingly uncontrollably, focusing on those thoughts that cultivate temptation leading to sin. Sin, before it is sin, begins in the mind. Thoughts of sin happen (which is no sin). If left to grow, more sinful thoughts come and we feel desire towards that sin which the Bible calls temptation (but still not sin); the more we dwell on the thoughts and allow desire to grow, the more tantalizing the idea and we look for the opportunity to get away with it (lust). Here, we decide how it would be “good” for us to do such a thing. Finally, perhaps months or years after “thinking”, we act in the physical world and, “we are carried away” into sin. And we experience the hell that comes with it. 

The third break of the mind is one where our thoughts and are contrary to what God has said about us. Not loved, not forgiven, not protected and not cared for are examples of broken thoughts/ideas running and ruining the mind. The more powerful the hold, the more dangerous they are. It is a real hell when a follower of Jesus believes and lives from a lie of the enemy.

When we see the horror one can do or experience—from suicide, adultery,  abuse, murder and abandonment, to name a few—we need not wonder where such darkness comes from. It is not mysterious. It all started with a broken mind, marred in sin, living in the wrong story. It need not be this way.

Discuss: have you heard the saying, “the devil made me do it?” What does a person mean when he says it? Is there truth in this statement?

The mind, defeating sin and JOY!

We have a mind filled with a lifetime of thoughts.  These thoughts are where the enemy does his work and where God desires to win us to love.

Paul writes,

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” II Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV

Here, we learn the secret to defeating sin. To defeat sin, we must notfocus on behavior without first changing the ideas that make such action possible (Matthew 7:18). We must, by God’s help, transform our mind—the very thoughts we dwell upon.

We must first, hold thoughts not worthy of the beloved, “captive”. This means to hold it, stop its movement and keep it from initiating action. Simultaneously, we must replace these “captive thoughts” with the mind of Christ—his images, thoughts and ideas  

The scriptures can be used in a variety of ways. But for the transformation of the mind—thoughts, emotions and the decisions that flow from them—it is memorization of large portions of scripture that you can then meditate upon throughout the day that will bring you experimentally to the Land of Promise. 

Consider Jesus. Jesus quotes the Bible 180 times in the gospels from 24 books of the Old Testament. These quotations are from memory. We can say with authority that the mind of Christ was saturated with the scriptures. It formed his reality.

We must continually keep before us God’s goodness, love, power and availability 

Remember, you are the beloved of God, you have captured his attention. He is pursuing you. God is love! It is this foundational realitythat you need to steep your mind in. As you do, you will find God filling your actual life. The old adage is true: You see what you look for.

In such a thought life, the inside changes. Our very mind begins to hate what God hates and love what he loves. It takes on the aroma of Christ. Sin loses it grips. And we experience deep, unfailing, unquenchable joy:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8–9

What must we do for this to be possible?

Practice

Pick oneof these texts to memorize and set an alarm 4 or five times throughout the day to slowly work through the text. Use it to pray; use it when you have time to think. Don’t waste your life, dwell upon God!  As time goes, continue to memorize portions of scriptures until you have a reservoir to draw from. 

Live in the Word and you will find the Word alive in you.

Exodus 15:1-13

Psalm23

Colossians 3:1-17

Romans 12:9-21

Deut 6:4-6

Psalm 34

Matthew 6:25-34

Philippians 2:1-11

You can have a life of freedom and joy. From a place of silence and solitude, we fill our minds with the goodness of God found in the Bible. Anyone can memorize scripture. The very act of memorization, intentionally focusing on it, considering it and feeding from it throughout the day, will be the space that a life filled with the goodness of God rushes in like, “torrents of living water”.  It will not take very long, you will be changed forever.


[1]This is true in most cases except where there is mental illness such as clinical depression or diagnosed anxiety. Some mental disorders are caused by chemical imbalances. Though probably rooted in trauma and the thoughts that are involved, such disorders are chemical imbalances where medicine can be deeply helpful. 

[2]An image is a person, place, thing or moment brought before the mind. A thought is our determination on image(s). An idea is a collection of thoughts that build the framework of reality as we see it. For a fuller discussion on the mind read, Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard.