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A Message to Those with Chronic Pain and Those Who Know Someone with Chronic Pain

People, whether on the outside or inside, often see the chronically ill on their good days and ask,
“Can’t you *insert thing they can’t do*?” They don’t mean such things harshly: they know
that those of us that have had to, say, give up traditional jobs miss the identity and socialization
that came with working those jobs and that some of us even liked those positions!

But what they don’t see are the bad days, which generally outweigh the good. They don’t see the
weeks on the couch, the endless days of migraines, the turbulent bipolar mood swings and
debilitating anxiety. They don’t realize that, in truth, those of us that aren’t working due to a
chronic illness really cannot work.

People often think that because their friend or family member spent one day with them at the
beach or out shopping that all their days look like the fun one they shared. But the harsh reality is
that most of them do not.

And that’s where understanding tends to fail. Many struggle with understanding how
someone can appear happy and healthy every time they see that person, while claiming to feel ill
most, or all, of the time. And this lack of understanding sheds light on some things we in the
chronically ill community need to stop doing.

 

1.) STOP always putting on a brave face.

There are most certainly times that a brave face and smile are necessary, but those
of us with chronic illness have allowed “faking being well” to seize control of our lives.
Not only does that give others the impression that we really can handle more than we say
we can, but it also taxes us to the point that our alone time is spent feeling even more
miserable than we may have if we’d allowed ourselves to simply be in the presence of
others.

The lesson? Be vulnerable. Don’t feel that you must always fake it and smile for
people. It’s okay if someone realizes you don’t feel well. And if they take it badly? That’s
on them.

2.) STOP always saying that you’re “okay.”

I finally came to a point where I wouldn’t say I was “great!” when asked how I
was doing, but too often, I still say that “I’m okay.” Yet, that is often a lie.

The lesson? If you don’t feel well, say so! Not for sympathy, but if someone
asks, “How have you been?” you are well within your right to say, “Ya know, the last
couple days have been rough on my health. Thank you for asking.” And if the person to
whom you’re speaking prays, adding in a request for prayer is good!

 

3.) STOP always being ashamed.

It took a long time for me to be even somewhat tolerant of the idea that my doctor
deemed it best I be on disability, and the negativity I’ve met along the way hasn’t
helped things. But there should be no shame. God designed us all differently, all with
different skill sets, and all with different plans regarding how we are to use those skills.

The lesson? Be okay with not being able to work as much or at all as you once did
or once dreamed you could. God’s paths for our lives often look nothing like the courses
we had plotted.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
~ Isaiah 55:8-9 (KJV)

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Things That Bring Me Joy When I’m Upset or Anxious

Though I have battled depression and anxiety for much of my life, recently there have been more blessings God has put in my life that have brought me joy when I had been upset and anxious about a situation.  If anyone here struggles similarly with anxiety and stress, maybe you can relate with me on these things that bring joy after you experience something stressful or anxiety-provoking, or you may have other things that bring you joy. No matter what it is, I hope that God brings you things that will produce joy or will at least alleviate your stress or anxiety. Here are some things that bring me joy when I am upset or anxious:

  1. People who demonstrate they care—I am so blessed by the people who didn’t just stare at me or judge me for my anxiety-produced autistic meltdowns. Instead, they tried to help calm me down and find a solution to the stressful situation. They understand that I have been overloaded by stimulation from all sides (a common trait for those on the spectrum like me) and need compassion.  I hope to care for others similarly when I see someone that is visibly upset and/or stressed.
  2. God’s grace and mercy in the situation– When people yell at me, I sometimes fear that I’ll get in trouble, even if I didn’t do anything wrong. However, what often happens is that God brings situations and people into my life that demonstrate His mercy and grace. For instance, a couple days ago a customer yelled at me for something someone else did, and it caused me much anxiety and grief because the day was already stressful for various reasons. However, the next day, an associate told me that he or a manager would be there for me if a customer made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  His comment made me aware that God had a hand in this situation and He would always provide me the grace needed to deal with anything.
  3. People who motivate me to persevere— When I have gotten stressed at work or in other situations, my temptation (as I know some of you can relate) is to quit and give up. However, because of my dad, my mentor, and others who believe in me and motivate me to persevere, I have found great joy in finally being able to accomplish some of what I believe God has made me to do.
  4. Realizing what I have–As I said in an earlier post, gratitude can alleviate and even kill depression, bringing much joy. Reflecting with thanksgiving for all God has brought me through and blessed me with makes me so happy. After I was a little upset one day, I found an associate wanting to buy snacks for our entire department. Because of this associate’s thoughtfulness, my anger completely dissipated and I focused on the blessing of what God provided through this thoughtful associate.
  5. A resolution to the situation making me upset or anxious–About six or seven months ago, I was so upset at how I was being treated in comparison to another person that I almost got myself in trouble. However, a few weeks later, that person became kinder and much friendlier towards me. It was then that I realized that I should probably forgive this person and let go of my anger. That resolution brought me much peace–and joy, of course.
  6. Music that comforts my soul—No, I cannot listen to “happy” music when I am upset. It annoys and upsets me even more. However, music that speaks to my stress and assures me that God can use even that situation for good brings me joy.
  7. Hope that it’s not always going to be like this—Yesterday, I was tempted to call out from work because of how upset and stressed I was the day before. However, a.) I was already at work, so I didn’t feel like wasting time going back at home, and b.) I had hope that things would not be as stressful as they were before. That hope enabled me to complete my shift as scheduled and I even enjoyed being at work that day!
  8. People who make me laugh—I have had a couple coworkers who are master comedians. They make me laugh so easily that even when I’m upset, their jokes never fail to bring me joy.
  9. Seeing someone I have missed who I haven’t seen in a while—Sometimes, during the most stressful situations in my life, I see people that I haven’t seen in a while. The joy that person brought to me in the past and the joy of seeing them at that moment makes me forget about my stress.
  10. Taking a rest or nap, and feeling refreshed the next day or week—If all else fails, I take a nice, warm shower and go directly to bed. Sometimes, having adequate rest–not too little or too much—can clear my mind and enable me to look at things from a more positive perspective.

I have learned that there are many ways that God brings us joy again after we have “suffered a little while.” Life’s difficulties can sometimes be what truly produces joy in us. With God’s grace and mercy, we will find it. Don’t give up!

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The Case for Small Churches

This article was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-6-the-case-for-small-churches/

It is also the transcript for episode 6 of my podcast Churchthink.

 

Christian author, speaker, and podcast co-host Skye Jethani recently published an article entitled “The Case Against Sermon-centric Sundays.” Among other arguments he makes, he mentions that our current church model does little to foster community and alleviate loneliness in society, since services largely consist of hundreds of people sitting silently while listening to the sermon, singing a few songs, and then leaving (not to come back for a whole week).

In 12 years of being a Christian, I’ve never heard anyone question the traditional church model. While I don’t agree with everything in Skye’s article, it’s still been a game-changer for me. Do we need to rethink the way we do church? If we reshaped church, could we actually start helping people out of loneliness? Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?

His article led me to listen to Richard Jacobson’s The Unchurching Podcast, which advocates for house churches instead of institutional churches. Again, while I don’t agree with everything Jacobson says (especially his insistence that the pastor role should be done away with), I am intrigued by the house church model.

Now, I’m not throwing everything out and switching to house churches. It seems to me that there are pros and cons to house churches and institutional churches. But one thing I think we can take away from Skye Jethani’s article and the house church model is that, when it comes to church, small is better.

Large churches and mega-churches have some benefits (for instance, they can provide a large space for the surrounding community to use, or they might be able to work on large missions projects that small churches couldn’t), but I have to wonder if the pros of small churches outweigh the pros of large churches, especially if large churches are becoming the norm and the goal of pastors is to grow until they can afford a big building. Constructing a close-knit community should be a top priority for all pastors, because discipleship, mission, and relationships are most effective inside of this kind of community. Establishing this kind of community often becomes harder the larger a church grows.

I’ve basically attended four churches since becoming a Christian. Two have been large churches (over 1,000 people per weekend) and two have been small churches (under 250 people per weekend). In the case of the first big church, I tried various small groups, volunteer activities, and I even interned there. My feeling of connectedness went up at some points, but the vast majority of my time there (several years) I didn’t feel connected no matter what I tried. In the case of the second big church, it took two years of trying small groups and various activities before my wife and I found a group we really felt connected to. If we hadn’t found that group, we probably would’ve left the church. However, in the case of the two small churches, I found community immediately—and when I say “immediately” I mean within a month.

Churches should focus more on fostering community than on producing a show that will supposedly attract people. Community is personal; attractive shows are impersonal. Attractive shows focus on making the consumer happy; community focuses on personal relationships and gently encourages people to use their gifts and talents for others’ benefit. Shows tend to isolate and compound loneliness; community breaks the chains of isolation and loneliness.

Our focus is misguided. Pastors and church leaders shouldn’t be focused on growing until they bust out of their current building’s seams or on creating a great show. Instead, let’s focus on building community. Make close-knit community a bigger priority than growth. That way, when growth gets in the way of the community’s closeness, the church can go plant a new church (with whom they can maintain a close relationship and still do things together).

I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled with loneliness to one degree or another most of my life. The times I haven’t struggled with it are the times I’ve been closely involved with a small community of people who met together frequently. In those times, I’ve felt effective in the cause of the gospel because I frequently participated in outreach activities and discipleship activities with my community.

Some may be thinking, “That’s the reason for small groups in a big church.” Small groups can foster this kind of community, even in a big church, although it seems to me that extroverts have an easier time engaging in big church settings than introverts (no matter if it’s small groups or Sunday service). However, small churches, by nature, make finding close-knit community easier. In a small church, even on Sundays we walk into the community. There’s much more accountability for attendees to become a part of the community and contribute, since everyone sees our face and the relationships naturally built from talking to people in the small community suck us into community activities. And if we really don’t want to be a part, then we can leave (as opposed to just coming on Sundays and doing nothing else). Small churches are more likely to foster participation instead of isolated consumerism.

In big churches, we often (especially for introverts) have to go find the community. Many people in the Sunday service don’t know each other, so we’re not likely to find community just by talking to one or two people. We have to put in the effort to try a small group, and if that group doesn’t work out (which can take weeks or months to realize), we have to try another. And during all this time we feel disconnected and perhaps lonely. For people who are already struggling with loneliness, this can be an extremely discouraging process, prompting them, potentially, to give up. Furthermore, it’s much easier to simply be a casual, non-participating member in a big church. That’s more people not giving time for missions, discipleship, and other Kingdom activities.

Christianity is most effective in community. Community, by definition, becomes harder the larger it is. That’s why Jesus ran around with a small group of disciples. If our churches stay small and focus on community, they will be more effective churches, which will positively impact the surrounding culture. And one of the best results of this would be more and more close-knit communities, which would reduce the growing problem of loneliness.

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Express Yourself to God–Even If It’s Anger

The following is an excerpt from my new book 20 Encouragements for the Depressed Christian https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089KVKTCX/

 

I became a Christian when I first started dealing with depression. I didn’t know where else to turn with my pain, so I started crying out to God. And God took me in and began changing me.

Thus, my first few years trying to deal with depression were my first few years trying to understand God. Unfortunately, I had this notion that there are certain emotions you don’t express to God because, well, He’s God. That included anger, despondency, and anxiety. God is holy and anger is sin—right? So I can’t bring that to God. He’d be mad at me.

The result was I kept many emotions inside. I didn’t express them to God because that would be sin, and I didn’t express them to other people because that would be sin. But, of course, this only made everything worse.

There’s this notion within evangelicalism that we can only tell God certain things. We’re given blanket statements that anxiety, depression, and anger are sins. (Prominent theologian John Piper once said, “It is never, ever, ever, right to be angry with God.”[ii] Suffice to say, I disagree.) Thus, when we feel these emotions (and everybody does), we assume we can’t express them to God. He’d be mad if we did.

One of the first things my therapist had me do when I began depression/anxiety therapy was to read Psalms and to journal honest prayers to God. It was exactly what I needed. I began to see in the Psalms that expressing oneself openly to God is completely okay. Indeed, God seems to encourage it (Jesus quotes a Psalm on the cross). The psalmists do not expect harsh judgment for speaking honestly with God. On the contrary, they expect God to be closer to them when they talk openly.

I realized after a while that my journaling had brought me much closer to God, even though I expressed many negative emotions to Him. And through the years, over and over again I see that God is not displeased when His people express frustration or anger at Him. In Jeremiah 15:18, Jeremiah asks God, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” And God’s response, instead of anger, is reassurance: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman…I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you” (Jeremiah 15:19-20). Paul asks God to take away the thorn in his flesh (implying frustration, anxiety, and pain, at the least—feelings that could be construed as failing to trust God), and God responds again with reassurance, not anger. Most importantly, Jesus models for us how to interact with God: He doesn’t hold back negative emotions. He quotes Psalm 22 on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the night before His death, He prays in anguish for God to “take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).

I suspect other Christians with anxiety and depression have had this problem of expressing themselves to God. We’ve been exposed to bad teaching that treats sin as a list of “Thou shalt nots.” Thus, when we feel certain “unpermitted” emotions, we think we’re bad people. But that’s not true at all. In fact, this is exactly the kind of teaching that Jesus was so opposed to. Throughout the Gospels, He criticizes the Pharisees for treating the Law as a list of Do’s and Don’ts, when all along God meant for the Law to be wisdom that benefits His people and draws them closer to Him. That’s why it was okay when David ate the consecrated bread (1 Samuel 21). That’s why it was okay for Jesus’ disciples to pick and eat heads of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).

What John Piper and some other preachers seem to misunderstand is that sin is a heart issue—it’s not just doing or feeling something from the forbidden list. So yes, there is an anger at God that is sin—if it comes from a heart antagonistic to God. But if anger at God comes from a place of wanting to understand, of loving God but being confused and frustrated, then it seems to me that God is perfectly okay with it. And no matter what, God wants us to express ourselves to Him. That’s how we grow closer to Him.

 

Piper, John. “It Is Never Right to Be Angry with God.” DesiringGod, 13 Nov. 2000, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-never-right-to-be-angry-with-god. Accessed 18 April 2020.

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is the author of seven books. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

 

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How My Dad Helped Me Through My Depression

My Dad has helped me fight my depression in countless ways and he has always been there for me in some way when I needed him.  The one way that has helped most is by watching him persevere through many trials that he faced throughout his life.  Many people in his position would have probably quit when things got as tough as it did for him, but he never did.  Eventually, after many tries, my dad almost always got a blessing or something he long awaited. His mantra, “I am not a quitter,” has inspired me to likewise persevere through my own trials.

One recent example is in buying the house where my mom and I now live.  When my parents saw the house, they instantly fell in love with it and immediately put in an offer.  However, it took a while for the previous owners of the house to accept it. Because the process took longer than expected, my mom wanted my dad to give up on trying and look for another one, since we didn’t have long before we’d have to move out of our old house.  Thankfully, however, the owners got back to us just in time! There were other things going on afterwards that delayed the home-buying process further, but in all this, my dad never lost hope that the house we live in now would be ours! A couple months later, we finally closed on the house.  A few days after that, we packed our stuff and moved.  Had my dad given up on buying this house, we would not be living where we are today.

Another example of his perseverance is how he has pressed on at his jobs.  When other people quit due to many factors, including the environment and benefits, my dad remained loyal to his job.  As a result, he has gained the respect of his colleagues and superiors and continues to have income.

My dad’s perseverance in these and countless other situations has helped me fight my depression because his refusal to quit in life has inspired me not to quit on my own life, even when things got dark and I was tempted to give up.

There had been days at one of my previous jobs that I was so plagued by stress, depression, and anxiety that I seriously considered quitting right then and there. But, inspired by my dad’s perseverance, I went back to work the next day. I didn’t even have to take a leave of absence or call out!

I have been with my current company for over four years.  I have watched so many co-workers come and go in the two stores I have worked in.  I told a friend of mine that sometimes I still struggle with thoughts of ending my life (though I usually am not seriously planning anything, as I was in times past) when I am super stressed and depressed, and she said, “At least you have stuck to your job. I couldn’t handle staying around any longer.” And I told her that I get my tenacity from my dad.  This tenacity has not only helped me keep my job with the same company for over four years, but has also helped me persevere in practicing new skills and improving my existing skills.  About two years ago, I wanted to learn how to backup cashier. Although it took me many months to train and one of my so-called friends kept discouraging me from even training, my perseverance paid off.  About a month later, a customer complimented me on how fast I was.  The CSMs (customer service managers) now call me for backup cashier assistance often, as I am one of the few registered-trained associates that isn’t a regular cashier.

When I was in the dark pits of my depression, my dad not only supported and comforted me, he also encouraged me not to give up and to just try my best.  With God’s (and my earthly dad’s) help, I was stopped many times from carrying out plans to end my own life, and I am very thankful for that. Without their help, I would not have been able to enjoy any of God’s blessings that He had planned for me over the years!

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Do Better, Be Better

I came across a situation in which someone is having issues with somebody else, whom she termed “a bully.” An adult bully, to be more exact. She then discovered that, ironically, this bully runs his own group, in which he portrays himself as a “peace guru.”

Yes, strange situation, but what saddened me was a reply she got from another person: “Must be bipolar.” As if it is that simple. As if everyone who acts one way in front of one set of people but different to another must be bipolar. As if it is simply a descriptive term, one to be use flippantly, rather than an actual illness.

It is a known fact that mental illness in our world is still largely misunderstood. Part of that unfortunate situation is due to how much we have yet to discover about the brain itself. Another is how many communities, for their own various reasons, reject even the idea of mental illness. Sometimes people have a difficult time grasping the concept of mental illness and simply cannot comprehend it in its entirety. Still others are simply unwilling to learn. And then there are those who do know but don’t care.

Whichever of the above is true about the person that made such a careless comment, one thing is certain: a lack of education regarding illness, in general, but mental illness, specifically, is terribly apparent.

There are, also, the additional repercussions of being so careless about using an actual illness as simply another adjective. The consequences do not stop at the mentally ill community and their doctors’ being offended or upset. It further perpetuates the misunderstandings of mental illnesses of all kinds. It encourages people to remain ignorant of something quite real. It furthers the worlds’ idea that mentally ill people are all unstable or to be feared. And, yes, it harms the psyche of those who deal with these types of obstacles on a day-to-day basis.

We need more research, resources, and education when it comes to mental illnesses and coming alongside those who deal with them. Those struggling with mental illness, diagnosed or otherwise, do not need misunderstanding and judgment. We, as a community, need the exact opposite: we need people who will link arms with us and support us. To be better, we all need to do better.

 

Alyssa is an author trying to break into the field, but willing to go where God wants her to with her writing. She writes Young Adult Christian novels in an effort to bring the truth back into the lives of young people in which it is often so severely lacking.

She has overcome 13 brain surgeries, 4 spinal cord surgeries, and countless others since 2009 alone, and battles two organic brain issues, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Bipolar II, two different anxiety disorders, and more mental illnesses. Her goal is to reach others with the Gospel and what God’s taught her through her ailments.

Alyssa lives in Central Florida with her husband, part-time daughter (a blessing that came with marriage!), and three fur babies.

Check out Alyssa’s blog: http://teacupsandpaperroses.wordpress.com/

And check out her author Facebook page: http://facebook.com/teacupsandpaperroses

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Why Christians Should Take a Vested Interest in City Planning/Design

We are a product of our built environment. If you put me in a crappy house that doesn’t smell good and it’s got a bad bathroom and broken faucets, I’m going to be a crappy person. If you put me in a small cute house with good door handles and good faucets [and] a good shower, that I can walk to the park when I get mad, I can walk down the street and get a cup of coffee without having to have a car—I have more money in my pocket that way—I’m going to be a different person. I’m also going to have an interaction with different people who may be able to help me with my problem, whatever my problem is.[i]

 

These words from Monte Anderson on the Go Cultivate! podcast sum up why I’ve come to believe that city planning/design is an issue in which Christians should become more involved. I’ll be frank: I strongly believe America should re-evaluate the way we design cities and towns. I believe this primarily because it would make life better. It would alleviate many of our social, economic, and environmental woes.

I’ve made it no secret that I think loneliness is a massive problem in America. Much of the reason for our loneliness is the way our towns and consequently our lives are structured. Living in isolation—except for when we have to go to work or run errands—is our default. We are isolated units who meet together when necessary and then disperse back into isolated units. One of the main reasons for this lifestyle is how spread out our cities are. We have to drive (generally an isolated activity) to get anywhere.

It’s not impossible to be social. But neither is it easy. It takes considerable time to drive (if you even have a functioning car); it takes increased effort to create plans while accounting for drive time; it takes no small amount of money to buy a car, maintain it, pay for gas, and pay the taxes necessary for road upkeep (not to mention other infrastructure and police). I know for me (and I’m sure for other introverts), getting out of the house is hard enough, so putting these extra obstacles in the way just makes me want to stay inside more. And when you’re driving, there’s very little chance you’ll have the opportunity to socialize on the way to wherever you’re going. If you’re walking to your destination, you may run into neighbors and people walking their dogs. If there’s a small ice cream shop on the way, you could quickly pick up a cone or a milkshake. But when you’re driving, it’s just you and whoever is in the car with you. What do we expect when we make socializing harder? Of course it’ll result in loneliness.

There are many ways Christians address our country’s problems. Some of these problems can’t necessarily be solved or alleviated by redesigning cities, but many of them can. The flawed planning/design of our cities is a root cause of many social ills, yet I don’t hear Christians talking about it. Is it possible that we’re focusing on symptoms and not the cause? Here are a few examples.

I recently heard a pastor state in a sermon that all Christians should care about the environment. I agree. It was part of a passing statement he made while giving examples of how we pursue God’s kingdom in our professions. He didn’t get political and he didn’t elaborate much on practical steps for creation care. But he did say that we should, before driving somewhere, think about whether the trip is absolutely necessary. That way, we can drive less and release less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

I don’t disagree, but the statement feels to me like a half-hearted attempt at environmentalism, like slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound. Pastors encouraging their congregations to think twice before getting in the car will do essentially nothing for the environment. Perhaps a few people will drop a trip or two per week for maybe three weeks. But then they’ll revert back to normal. Why? Because you have to drive to do well-nigh anything in our country.

If we re-evaluated our city structures, though, we could drastically reduce automobile dependence. It would become manageable for people to walk or bike to where they need to go. It would also reduce the need for parking lots and streets, which would mean fewer trees cut down and less disturbance to the ecosystem. This would actually solve problems. But who knows a preacher who discusses this approach? I don’t.

Exercise is another example. We’re told to go to the gym, to jog when we have time, to fit it into our daily routines. Yet, as a certified fitness trainer, I hear from people all the time that they’ve tried, but they just don’t have the time to fit in exercise. So our health suffers. But what if exercise had to be a part of our daily routine? If we could walk or bike to work instead of drive, our daily exercise would be taken care of. But most people work way too far from home to bike, let alone walk. And what if we could walk or bike to most of our daily errands or friends’ houses? But most of us live so spread out that walking to even the grocery store isn’t feasible.

Pastors tell us if we’re lonely to get out and see friends. But they also tell us not to drive unless we have to. They encourage us to serve at the church food bank. But there’s little mention of how Christians can advocate for affordable housing. We’re slapping band-aids on problems and not thinking about root causes. Treating symptoms is helpful, but it doesn’t solve problems. And the church needs to solve problems.

I’m not suggesting that we completely get rid of cars. I think cars are a blessing. It’s amazing that we can travel long distances in a relatively short amount of time. I just think we should use cars a lot less. Also, reducing automobile dependence would drastically reduce the number of automobile-related deaths.

One of the main arguments conservatives make against climate action is that it would decimate the economy. But if people and cities decided to restructure on their own, top-down governmental climate mandates would be much less necessary. Plus, people and communities would be more self-reliant, so the economy would be more healthy and resilient. (The current Covid-19 crisis is revealing some the fragility of our system.)

Rethinking current norms on city planning and design would make life better. Americans love their space and privacy (and I’m not saying people can’t own their own homes), but if we consider the benefits of living in smaller communities closer together (and these can be pockets of big cities), I think we’ll realize how much happier we’d be. Americans vacation to Europe and gush about how walkable European cities are. There’s no reason that can’t be done here. Plus, we’ll give our cities an American flare—I’m not saying we have to become Europeans. Nor am I saying life will be perfect. Accidents will still happen and people will still get sick. I’m not advocating utopia; I’m advocating what I think is a better way of life.

Our mission as Christ followers is for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, if there’s a way to improve quality of life and alleviate multiple social ills, we should be involved. I know there are some Christians already working hard at this. But frankly, most American Christians don’t care about this subject. It’s time we start the conversation.

 

[i] Clark, Jordan, host. “Affordable housing & incremental development.” Go Cultivate!, Episode 48, Verdunity, 11 Dec. 2019, https://gocultivate.simplecast.com/episodes/affordable-housing-incremental-development-m5He7hvQ.

 

This post was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-10-why-christians-should-take-a-vested-interest-in-city-planning-design/

It’s also an episode on my podcast Churchthink.

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How We Can Become Stronger Through the Pandemic

There is a lot of fear, panic, anger, sadness, and depression in the world today due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand that. But what if God is using this pandemic in order to strengthen us and not just make us “suffer,” as some may think? What if, instead of fearing the worst that can happen to our families and friends, we could rely on God’s comfort, presence, and power to help us to get through each day without paralyzing fear? What if, instead of getting angry at the inconveniences that the pandemic has caused in our lives, we learn to live with it and make the best of it? And what if we could take the time to mourn those we have lost, without fear of ridicule or judgment? What if we could treat our fellow human beings with more love and compassion than ever before? I believe we can, if we trust God to help us.

I have been grieved by all the politicized vitriol surrounding the pandemic, especially here in the U.S., because it points to our society’s inability to come together in unity. One of the customers that I talked to recently told me, “We are all in this together.” That is certainly true, but some people act like only their view is right and that those who have differing views are somehow immoral and/or inferior to them. In order for us to become stronger through the pandemic, we need to be respectful of people’s beliefs surrounding it. For instance, if you believe that people should stay at home except to shop for essentials and that they should wear a face mask in public, you should not chastise the people who for some reason can’t wear a face mask or who must go out to shop for certain items. On the flip side, those who are not as concerned about the pandemic should not chastise the people who believe that staying at home and not going out too much is the best option. We must remember that each person is an image bearer of God, and that they have needs and dreams, just as we do. They are feeling the effects of the pandemic, just as we are. Be open to others’ views by treating those with whom you disagree with grace. 

Many people have legitimate fears about the pandemic. If you are one of the people working as an “essential worker,” as I am, you may worry that all the people you come in contact with at your job could cause you to unknowingly pass on the virus to your family or those with whom you live. You may worry about finances if you are unemployed right now and may worry about not being able to pay bills on time.  

In Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV), it says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Know that whatever is happening in your life right now, that God is using that for your good somehow (Romans 8:28).  What you are going through in your life right now may not seem “good” or “hopeful,” but know that God will use the icky parts of our lives to either teach us something we will use in our future or lead us to a better future. We can ease those fears, at least a little bit, by trusting that God will protect us and provide for us.  

Another way we can become stronger–emotionally and mentally–through this pandemic is not getting so upset at all the inconveniences caused by it. One of the things that really gets people upset is having to wear face masks in public. They say they can’t breathe in them (I understand their concern); it forfeits their “rights” (I am baffled by that one), and they are allergic to the kind of masks they are wearing (there are different kinds of masks you can wear). If you are one of the people who have significant trouble breathing through a mask, ask your doctor to recommend a face shield that can function as a mask or some other alternative so that breathing won’t be so difficult. For those that just don’t want to wear a mask, know that complaining about wearing one or refusing to wear one will not alleviate the inconvenience. For one thing, if wearing a mask is required where you live, you could be fined for refusing to wear one! 

Also, please be patient. I have noticed certain things take a little bit longer because of the backlog caused by the pandemic and certain businesses not being able to open. Do not yell at an essential worker if you have to wait longer for an item, or if the item is out of stock. This is not an issue with that worker, and may be an issue with the supplier/manufacturer of the item not being able to make the particular item at the rate of demand. If you have to wait longer for an item, it may be because of inadequate staffing to meet demand. Again, the worker is only one person. Unless you find a way to clone them, they cannot do five people’s jobs. 

When we unite as children of God and as a society to get through this pandemic together, we will grow stronger in faith and character. Then, we will realize that we are all in this world together, and we will all lead others to know the love and power of Christ by our care and compassion.

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The Problem with “That’s What the Bible Says”

If you’ve been around evangelicals for long, you’ve probably heard the phrase “That’s what the Bible says.” This is generally said to justify or defend an unpopular position the person holds when he or she is speaking during Bible study or debating a friend or preaching. It’s used as a trump card, a last resort, and as an implicit statement saying, “Don’t blame me, blame God.” In many cases, its use is motivated by intellectual laziness. In other cases, its use is based off of a genuine desire to adhere to God’s truth. In most cases, if not all, it’s a terrible thing to say.

One of the problems with the phrase is that it doesn’t take the relevant verses in context. By nature, the phrase simply plucks up a statement or a few words or a sentence and highlights that at the expense of everything else in the passage and perhaps even the rest of the Bible. This tactic doesn’t consider other passages to shed light on what that one verse means, nor does it take potentially contradictory passages into consideration. The phrase implies that this is what the text says and that there’s no other way to interpret it because this is literally what it says. In general, it shoots down any other attempt to understand the text because any other attempt would be failing to take the Bible seriously or to take God at His word. And if you’re not taking God at His word, you must be creating your own god and your own doctrines.

This is a non sequitur and a false dilemma. It’s a non sequitur because it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because one verse or passage of scripture says to do or don’t do something or to believe or don’t believe something means that should be the case at all times. It’s a false dilemma because there is another option besides believe what one verse literally says or reject the Bible.

For example, let’s look at anxiety. Some Christians say it’s a sin to be anxious because Jesus and Paul say not to be anxious (in Matthew 6 and in Philippians 4, respectively). In Matthew 6, Jesus is talking to a crowd that is probably filled with poor people who are obviously concerned about how they will provide for themselves (hence “do not worry about…what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear”). He wants them to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” and trust that “all these things will be given to you as well.” In Philippians 4, Paul gives exhortations to the Philippian church about how to live, knowing that they may face imminent persecution of some sort.

We can take away from both passages that God wants us to trust in Him through all life’s circumstances. He doesn’t want us choosing to sit around and fret instead of pursuing His kingdom. But we run into a problem when reading about Jesus the night before His crucifixion. Luke 22 says Jesus was “in anguish”; that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”; and that he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” Jesus never sinned, but He was clearly anxious the night before His death. What do we make of this?

There is obviously a kind of anxiety God doesn’t want us to have, and there is obviously a kind of anxiety that He is okay with. I think God doesn’t want us to willfully choose to worry about the future, our provisions, or our circumstances. But I think there is a natural, neuro-chemical type of anxiety that we don’t have much—or any—control over. We can choose to fight through it or succumb to it, but it’s there regardless. That kind of anxiety isn’t a sin. How could it be? We didn’t choose to have it.

Or take addiction. I once talked to a woman about joining my website as a writer. I had read an article on her website about addiction and I told her I disagreed with her position that addiction is entirely a spiritual issue. She pointed me to Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” She then told me that this verse shows that all sin begins in the heart, and so all other attempts to deal with addiction are vain.

I don’t disagree that there are spiritual elements to addiction. But research shows there are significant physical elements to it as well, and an effective approach to fighting addiction includes both. Nor do I think this verse implies that there is nothing else that affects behavior except the heart.

For one, this verse is a proverb. By definition, proverbs are instructive statements that are generally true. They aren’t meant to say that whatever the proverb states is literally always going to be true. For instance, is it always true that a “troublemaker and a villain…who plots evil with deceit in his heart” will have “disaster…overtake him in an instant”? Will every bad person “suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (Proverbs 6:12, 14, 15)? No. We all know that bad people sometimes get away with their actions, and if they don’t they still aren’t immediately blotted from the face of the earth. Some bad people repent and end up living holy lives, which is the opposite of being destroyed “without remedy.” If we take Proverbs literally, we will end up very confused—because we’re not reading it the way it was meant to be read.

So yes, in general everything you do flows from the heart. Our moral choices come from our heart, which is why Jesus says we know people by their fruit. But someone with brain damage can’t always control his or her actions. If we read this verse literally, then it means that person is choosing these actions and that he or she is completely responsible for them. This is the kind of interpretation that defies common sense and makes Christians look hopelessly ignorant. In regards to addiction, yes, we need to address the heart, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to address. There are external and biological factors that influence our behavior, and these factors may give us a propensity towards a certain sin, which is why they need to be addressed. Again, the woman I talked to about being a writer for my site committed a non sequitur (and a false dilemma and some sort of argument from exclusion): just because the text only says “heart” doesn’t mean there’s nothing else involved.

If the Bible was just a one-by-one list of rules, perhaps we wouldn’t have this problem, perhaps we could say, “That’s what the Bible says.” But that’s not what the Bible is. The Bible is made up of several different genres that all have different expectations about how they’re supposed to be read. The Bible was written 2000+ years ago, and if we don’t consider each book’s cultural and historical context then we run the risk of misunderstanding what the text is saying. We can’t simply read one verse or passage and say, “Look! That’s what it says!” We have to consider the rest of the Bible, especially the contradictory verses (like in my example with anxiety and Jesus the night before His death). We have to let scripture interpret scripture, and from there try to draw conclusions. The Bible is hard work. As C.S. Lewis said in his book Reflections on the Psalms: “No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish”[i].

I think we need to ditch “That’s the Bible says.” The phrase has done a lot of harm. It shuts people in cages and can discourage them from digging deeper to really understand the Bible. Even for those who genuinely want to uphold truth and don’t quite understand why the Bible says what it does, something gentler like, “I’m trying to uphold God’s truth and this is what I take it to mean” would be better.

I’m not saying the Bible never means what it says. I’m not saying we can make up our own version of truth. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take the Bible seriously (in fact, I’m saying we should take the Bible more seriously through deeper study). What I’m saying is we need to take the Bible on its own terms (for example, reading each book with its genre in mind) and sometimes do further study to truly understand its meaning. When we do that, the Bible will make a lot more sense—including some of its most baffling passages. I’m suggesting we think twice before uttering, “That’s what it says.”

 

References

[i] Lewis, C.S. Reflections on the Psalms. Inspirational Press, 1958, p. 192.

 

This post was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-3-the-problem-with-thats-what-the-bible-says/

It is also the transcript of an episode of my podcast Churchthink.