Where Faith & Mental Illness Connect

How Should Churches Respond to Mental Illness
Because of recent events in the news, discussions of mental illness (depression, in particular) are beginning to take place.  CNN ran an article by Ed Stetzer entitled “How Churches Can Respond to Mental Illness.”  It’s a great read and very important.  His advice in the article should be obvious, but I know that I’ve overlooked his counsel more often than I should.

Stetzer says churches need to:

  1. Stop hiding mental illnesses.
  2. Be a safe place for those who struggle.
  3. Don’t be afraid of medicine.
  4. End the shame.

Don’t Ignore Teen Depression
I wrote a post a few years ago about Teen Depression: how to spot it and how it’s different from depression in adults.  It’s a post I really think would be worth rereading, I know I’ve needed to refer back to it quite a number of times since writing it!

How Do Faith & Mental Illness Connect?
I don’t usually read comments on CNN’s Belief articles, it’s just too frustrating.  But I read some of the comments the other day and a few people seemed genuinely confused about how Christians understand mental illness (like depression and anxiety).  Here’s my short explanation:

Understanding mental illness comes back to understanding Creation and the Fall.  God made us, and He made us whole and perfect.  In God’s sovereignty, He allowed us to sin (this is often referred to as “the Fall“), and because sin has now entered God’s perfect Creation there is brokenness and corruption.  This is how Christian theology understands natural disasters, handicaps of all kinds, diseases, mental illness, and all other kinds of corruptions in our world and in human nature (this is also also where Christian theology could account for the “born this way” argument for homosexuality, but I’d rather not get into that today).

We still bear the Image of God, but it’s broken and corrupted.  Some people are born with a disposition to fits of anger and violence, some with a propensity to sexual sin, others are naturally proud and arrogant… others are born prone to depression and anxiety.  Because someone is “born this way” (in the broad sense, not in the way this phrase has been used as a justification for homosexuality), that doesn’t mean it’s right or good or whole.  We all want to be whole people… but we’re all broken in our own different ways.

Faith Doesn’t Remove All Struggle
God is faithful.  He is making us new.  That doesn’t mean if you pray enough you won’t struggle with depression anymore.  I hope that’s obvious.  It’s not always a matter of “having too little faith.”  Depression isn’t something I personally struggle with, so when I feel depressed it might be because I haven’t been seeking God enough.  But for someone who really struggles with depression or anxiety or any number of other mental illnesses, prayerfulness and spiritual discipline WILL help, but it will not remove the struggle completely.

Faith simply doesn’t remove all our struggles.  Through faith, God gives us strength in the midst of our struggles.  Battles are serious and dangerous, and it’s both unhelpful and unfaithful to simply say “Let go and let God.”  The effects of sin and the Fall are greater and more complicated than that.  God gives us strength, but that doesn’t mean

Helping Struggling Christians
There are no easy answers.  I hope I’ve made that clear by now.  Here are a few suggestions for Christians who struggle with mental illness (and for the people who care about them):

  1. God knows you completely, and He still chose the cross!  Your deepest and darkest secrets are not hidden from God.  He knows them completely… that is exactly why He sacrificed himself on the cross!  He gave himself to reverse the punishment, the brokenness, and the death that resulted from our sin.  He came to restore creation… and that includes you!  
  2. Because God knows you completely, you don’t need to hide in shame.  Don’t air your dirty laundry to everyone, that’s not going to be helpful.  Get connected in a local church and find a few Christian men or women (who are the same gender as you) who will pray for you and check in on you.
  3. Battle depression & anxiety by caring for others.  But don’t let your friendships be all about you, otherwise you’re still focusing on your issues in ways that only feed them.  I know that sounds easy for me to say, and these struggles you face seem completely overwhelming.  Again, I’m not saying you should hide your struggles.  But make sure you’re listening to your friends and caring for them in their struggles too.  Just because their struggles are different and maybe not as overwhelming as yours, that doesn’t mean their struggles don’t matter.  When you serve, God begins to make your heart more like his.  That’s always a good thing.
  4. Walk in hope, because you know God’s promise.  The journey will be long, and there will be dark days when you may consider ending it all.  Don’t.  Cling to God’s promise that He is with you and He hears you and He cares for you.  God does have a purpose for you, and He will work it out… even when you don’t see it at all.  Remember what faith is: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
  5. Joyfully receive professional help.  Find a good Christian counselor.  Take your medication.  Write in a journal.  If you wouldn’t reject a lifejacket when your drowning, why reject medicine when you’re battling significant and prolonged mental illness?   God has given us mental health professionals and medicine – you don’t need to be ashamed to joyfully receive their help.  Don’t run to medicine as your savior, that’s Christ’s role for you… but don’t reject what He has made available to help in your time of need.

Sermon Summary: From the Guardian to Adoption

“From the Guardian to Adoption”
Galatians 3:15-29

The big question of Galatians is this: Do Gentiles need to become Jewish before they can become Christians? In Gal. 3:13-14 Paul answers this with a resounding “NO WAY!” He explains that Christ bore our judgment for being Lawbreakers, and He did this in order that the blessing of Abraham could be given to the Gentiles. The main text for today (v.15-29) is an explanation of v.13-14.

The Example: Covenant Promises (v.15-18)
Paul gives the example of the covenant: If we keep our covenants, how much more will God keep his?! One thing that’s helpful for us today is to understand the difference between a covenant and a contract. Today, if we signed a contract and then wanted to change the terms of our contract, we could change those terms if we both agree to it and have a lawyer write up a new contract to replace the old one. You couldn’t do that with a covenant – the covenant was a permanent and unchangeable oath that was absolutely binding.

Since Paul hinges his argument on Abraham’s covenant, it’s important for us to understand why that particular covenant is so important. In a covenant, both parties make oaths to each other and seal those oaths by walking between a sacrifice (they would kill the animal and split it in two) in order to say, “If I break this covenant, may I be cut in pieces like this animal.” Now that’s a commitment! Abraham’s covenant was one-sided… only one party walked through the sacrifice: GOD!

Jesus Christ fulfilled this one-sided covenant by being split open for us on the cross; not because God didn’t keep his vows to Abraham, but because we became sinners and broke the Law, and the Law must be upheld. Because of Jesus the blessing of Abraham has been made available to all by faith.

The Law Was Never Life-Giving, (v.19-22)
Paul continues by asking two questions: “Why did God send the Law?” & “Are the Law and Promise are contrary to each other?” In order to answer these questions, we first need to make sure we’re using the same dictionary for “Law” and “Gospel/Promise.” When we’re talking about “Law” we’re not simply talking about the Ten Commandments, but we more broadly talking about the commands (think: Imperative verbs) in Scripture: Keep the Ten Commandments, Love your neighbor as yourself, etc. “Gospel/Promise” represents the promises of God towards his people (think: Indicative verbs): “I will be your God and you will be my people and I will dwell in your midst,” as Christians this especially points to the promised Holy Spirit, who lives within us and sanctifies us.

Paul answers these questions by pointing to the purpose of the Law. It was never meant to give life. It was meant to show us our sin and our need for the life-giver! As Tim Keller has written, “The purpose of the Law is not tell us about salvation, but to tell us about sin (v. 19). It’s main purpose is to show us our problem, that we are law-breakers; and to prove to us that we cannot be the solution, since we are unable to be perfect law-keepers. ” The Law is not contrary to the Gospel, because it always shows us our need for the Gospel. When the Law tells you to fly, the Gospel gives you wings.

In the midst of this, it’s important to remember that you cannot simply fill yourself up with sin and then try to claim God’s promise. One of the first signs of a child of God is a heart-felt desire to submit yourself to God and to His Law. If you’re trying to sin and sin and sin and then claim that Jesus will just forgive you anyway, then you’re deceiving yourself – you have not understood and received the Gospel. Repent of your sins, and prayerfully receive Christ as your greatest treasure.

From the Guardian to Adoption v.23-29
We used to be held captive under the law as a guardian. The Law restrained us from falling so deeply into sin that we would fully destroy ourselves, and now that the Promise has come, we have been adopted as children of Abraham and children of God. Now that we have been adopted, the Law can guard us from taking credit for receiving the adoption: It guards our hearts from taking credit for our salvation. I cannot think, “I’ve earned God’s promise. I’m better than others, I don’t sin as often or as seriously as others do. I mean, there’s no way that guy deserves God’s grace, but I do.”

The glorious promise of v.28-29 is that we are all equally adopted. This passage has often been misinterpreted as destroying any significance to gender and ethnicity – but if that was true then why would Paul have specific instructions for parents and children elsewhere and elsewhere throughout the New Testament ethnicity is continually affirmed. The wonderful truth here is that we are all adopted by faith, not by genetics! Your genes matter, they matter in a way that enriches the family of God… not in a way that keeps you out or gets you in!

Conclusion:

  1. Law never brings life.
  2. Promise comes from God, not from your effort.
  3. Don’t throw the Law away… you still have work to do!

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you explain the significance of Abraham’s promise coming before Moses gives the Law? Why is the timeline important?
  2. What role should the Law have in the Christian’s life? We agree that we shouldn’t look for life in it, but does that mean it’s not important?
  3. What are some of the implications of this passage on how you interact with your family, friends, classmates, or coworkers? Is anyone ever “too far gone” to be saved?
  4. How can this passage help you “preach the Gospel to yourself” when you fall into sin?

2013 Missions Trip Change: Spencer, NY

Spencer, NY

So… there’s been a change in plans!  I went to register our group for Burlington, NJ last week and discovered that project/location has been cancelled for this Summer!  The good news is Group WorkCamps has so many locations around the country there’s another option for us!

The project in Spencer, NY remains open with plenty of space for our group.  Spencer, NY is at the foot of the “Finger Lakes” in NY and we would be doing house projects for the Elderly in town (fixing/painting walls inside, building wheelchair ramps, and other projects that would be a great blessing to these seniors).

Since this is still a project from Group WorkCamps, the details/costs remain the same (see the link above for all those details).  Each team member will be paired with members of other teams and we’ll gather together as a group at the end of the day to share our stories about what we did and who we met and how we witnessed God at work.

Please let Pastor Mike know ASAP whether or not you are still IN for this summer’s trip or if you would like to withdraw from the team.  The team’s reservations will be made next Wed (4/10).