Monday, October 29, 2018

A Pittsburgh Story of Love vs. Hate

Hey Friend,

I grew up in Pittsburgh, not far from where the terrible shootings took place.  Though not in that neighborhood, I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood south of the city.  My best friends were of the Jewish faith.  I've been to worship in the synagogue, have attended Hebrew school, been the guest at many a Passover Seder, and have celebrated Bar and Bat Mitzfahs as well as weddings of Jewish friends.

As a follower of Jesus, knowing Jesus' faith draws me closer to Him.  He was a Rabbi after all.  Reading the Torah, or first five books of the Bible, gives me the history of my faith.  In order to know Jesus, you need to know HIS heritage.  The prophecy of the Old Testament prophets brings rich meaning to the New Testament fulfillment.  Israel, her people and descendants, are God's chosen people.  I, as a Gentile, am grafted in by faith.  

I am so tired of the heinous acts perpetrated on those of another faith.  After visiting what is left of Dachau concentration camp and seeing the appalling pictures and reading the horrible stories in the museum, I just can't believe man's inhumanity to man. Where and when will it stop? 

I believe that fear drives hatred.  Fear and ignorance.  If we took the time to get to know and appreciate each other, fear would dissipate and so would the hatred.  Unfortunately, my Jewish brothers and sisters are not the only victims of religious hate crimes.

I am the President of a non-profit ministry that runs a Christian school for orphans in a Middle Eastern country whose Christian population is about 1%.  This country is considered one, if not THE most notorious for persecuting Christians.  Christians who live there are called "the unclean ones".  They are considered to be on the lowest rung of society.

Most of the Christians there are illiterate and are forced to work for slave wages and they work the most menial and labor intensive jobs (like making mud bricks).  Their children are the first to be caught up in human trafficking, abducted and sold into child prostitution, made to work as slaves, caught up in begging rings, and if starving and disillusioned - recruited for extremist militia training.

Extremists have detonated themselves in their churches and at Easter gatherings in the park.  They throw acid on young Christian women while jeering, "Unclean ones."  One young man who confessed to being a Christ follower was doused with gasoline and set ablaze in broad daylight in the city streets.  The authorities did nothing. Other Christians have been executed in cold blood or burned alive in brick kilns. 

It is in their Constitution that if you say that Jesus is Lord you can be legally stoned to death.  Young Christian boys have been beaten to death by their schoolmates of another faith.  Christian men who have been overcome by fumes while cleaning city sewers are refused treatment at hospitals because they are Christians.  

There is much more religious hatred than I can write about here.  I just can't wrap my mind around a heart and mind so filled with hate that they could commit such atrocities to another human being??  9/11 was a religiously motivated act of terrorism and hate. 

If anyone says there is no such thing as spiritual warfare going on then they
are in denial. There is a full out battle being waged between good and evil.  There are forces of evil in this world that can only be defeated by love.  Fear fuels hatred, but perfect love casts out fear.  

I can't change the whole world, but I can pray, and I can be committed to showing ALL God's children love...even my enemies.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and will all your mind; love your neighbor as yourself.  (Luke 10:27)

THIS is the only answer.....

Be part of the answer....

Sunday, October 21, 2018

What is Your Super Power?

Hey Friend,

You know that Hollywood has gone through just about all the super heroes when they get down to "Antman and the Wasp".  I wasn't standing in line to buy a ticket for that one.  

Some people think the Bible is boring, but all you have to do is look in the book of Judges to find an amazing super hero named Samson.  God's calling upon Samson's life was that he was to be a judge (law enforcement) in those times.  His purpose in life was to deliver the Israelites from the persecution and oppression by the much stronger Philistines.

Man to man, the Israelites were no match for the aggressive Philistines, but God gave Samson to the nation of Israel.  Samson was endowed with super human strength so long as he let his hair grow and it was not cut.  Samson showed his awesome strength by killing a lion with his bare hands.  I think that would make a great action movie scene?!

Then, Samson goes up against 1000 Philistine soldiers and single handed, he takes them out.  Even when he is captured, he is able to break the ropes and constraints that bind him....that is until they learn the secret of his super human strength.  Like all heroes, Samson has his downfalls - one of them being women. Even Biblical heroes were human like us.   

I can't leap tall buildings with a single bound, nor swing from skyscraper to skyscraper to entangle the enemy in my web, but I DO have a super power.  Want to know what it is?

Resurrection Power!!

Here is what the Amplified version of Philippians 3:10 says about resurrection power:

And this, so that I may know Him [experientially, becoming more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that I may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did];

As I understand it, this verse says that we can not only know Christ, but we can experience the awesome power of His resurrection because it is active in believers. 


Think about it...the very same power that enabled Jesus not only to descend into hell, but to rise up and overcome hell and its power, enabled Christ to defeat death once and for all so that we could have everlasting life with Him in paradise...that power resides in us as believers...WOW!  Now THAT's a super power.

When I face extreme trials or am faced with hurdles that I think there is no way to possibly get over, I remember this verse.  In my humanness, apart from Christ, I can do nothing; but with His resurrection power residing in me, I have everything I need to defeat the enemy, take his lies captive, and defeat the power of evil in my life.  

Now THAT's something worth making a movie about!!

Furthermore, the Bible goes on to say that In Christ we are more than conquerors.

So what does it mean to be "more than a conqueror"? Throughout Biblical history and modern history there are stories of one nation conquering a nation and then another nation conquering it back. Using a modern example:  The Germans conquered all of eastern and western Europe.  The US and the Allied forces then came back and conquered the Germans and re-established the free world.  

When the Bible speaks about being more than conquerors, I believe it is saying that, through the resurrection power residing in us, we can conquer death.  Our salvation is secure and no power can come back and re-conquer us or defeat us.

We know how the story ends and we, along with Christ, are victorious.  We win a victory that cannot be reversed.  

So when you wonder, what is my super power?  Be reminded that through Christ living in you, you have the same power that was able to defeat death and allowed Jesus to rise from the grave.  You are not only a conqueror, but you are victorious in the battle for salvation.  The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in you and the defeated enemy cannot reverse the outcome.  

That, my friends, is beyond Super Power!!  Take Heart!!

Dear Heavenly Father, I know that in my humanness - apart from you - I can do nothing.  I am so grateful that, as a believer, you give me the same resurrection power that enabled Christ to rise and defeat the grave.  Give me courage knowing that your power dwells within me.  I praise you that, through Jesus, I am not only victorious, but I am MORE than a conqueror.  My victory in Christ cannot ever be overturned.  Let that give me hope and courage.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

What about you?  Have you experienced resurrection power at work in your life?  How might God be wanting to give you courage through these verses?  Do you believe that, in Christ's power, you can break the shackles of guilt, shame, fear, etc. on your life.  Do you need to claim, today, this power that is available to you?  Why not do that now?

Be blessed.....

Monday, October 8, 2018

Can Christians Truly Have Mental Illness? A Personal Profile

Hey Friend,

This is a rather lengthy and very personal post, but several things have happened this past week that have convinced me that I need to speak up on this subject.  Here is one thing that was posted on Facebook and Instagram:

It was followed by some joking remarks and quite a few laughing emojis.  Now if someone cracked jokes about cancer, or heart disease, or MS, etc., people would be disgusted, yet mental illness is fair game and the stigma is far from being erased.  After all, "It's all in your head," right?  Obviously they don't know that OCD is considered one of the most insidious of the anxiety disorders.  

A young man I know, has an agonizing obsession that loops around, and around, and around endlessly in his brain.  It says, "You're going to hell."  Compulsively, he is led to pray and read scripture continuously (for hours on end) as a way of warding this off from happening. The more he tries, the more anxious he becomes. Meanwhile, he knows somewhere, consciously, that this is irrational, but the obsessions present themselves as being VERY real and threatening, and he is helpless to make them stop.  That to me is hell....not a joke. 

I hope you'll read my personal story and perhaps glean some information that previously you were unaware of.....maybe even read up on mental illness.  Chances are someone you know has such an illness!

I can vividly remember my dad asking me, "Are you still dwelling on that?" and then saying, "For Pete's sake give it a rest already."

When I would start a new job, even a simple job like working in a fast food place, I would get so anxious that I would literally get sick.  I was sure I was going to screw up.  

I intrinsically knew I looked at the world differently.  I didn't have as carefree an attitude that others seemed to have.  I was plagued with self-doubt and was certain that anyone else, if placed in my shoes, would do a better job at managing life than I did.

Fast forward to my first child being born.  I couldn't wait for his/her arrival.  I loved this baby and was anticipating its coming...until she came, and a dark cloud blew in and settled over me.  Another friend, who gave birth around the same time I did, seemed to be enjoying motherhood.  I was a nervous wreck.  I had terrible thoughts like I wanted to give the baby back because I didn't like how I was feeling.  I wasn't the glowing happy mom that doted on this precious child the way others did.  Even writing this now, I feel horrid, ashamed, and embarrassed.  It's hard to think about, let alone write about it. 
I couldn't sleep even when my daughter slept.  I obsessively wrote down and tracked everything she did and when.  I couldn't go to bed at night without putting my hand on her chest and feeling her chest rise and fall.  I'd kiss her and exit the room, only to return seconds later to see if she was still breathing.  This process of checking her breathing, going back and forth, could last for hours. I feared she might die if I left her alone and didn't keep checking. 

I sank deeper into a sadness and despair at what my life had become and felt guilt and shame for not being more grateful for this gift that God had given me.  I would walk around the neighborhood in the wee hours when I couldn't sleep and one time I remember just running.  I was running and crying, and I didn't know where I was running to, but I just wanted to run away.  I remember driving by myself and thinking I just wanted to turn and head into oncoming traffic so that someone would hit me and put me out of my misery.  What on earth was wrong with me?

I finally confided in my family doctor who said I was experiencing post-partum depression and as long as I didn't feel like I'd hurt the baby (which I didn't) that I should just give it time and it would pass.  It was the "baby blues" and it was not unusual and given time I'd feel like myself again.

The trouble was that I didn't feel like myself again.  I felt somewhat better, but I knew that I just didn't feel like I should. I loved and adored my daughter, but something bigger, greater, was wrong.  

It wasn't until around my daughter's third birthday and potty training just about pushed me over the edge, that I was thankfully and mercifully diagnosed as having OCD (an anxiety disorder) and depression (a chemical imbalance in the brain).  

I started taking medicine (albeit with great hesitation) that worked on both the OCD anxiety and the depression.  It took a while, but I began to feel like I could cope.  I wasn't as anxious about things - especially taking care of my daughter.  I didn't have that feeling like if someone said to me, "Could you pour me a bowl of cereal?"  It sounded like they were saying "Go climb Mt. Everest.”  I began to feel joy return. 

I didn't like taking the medicine, however, because that meant I had to admit I had a mental illness.  Well-meaning people told me that if I just read more scripture, or prayed harder, or had more faith then I wouldn't feel this way, nor would I need to take medicine.  I was a Christian, after all, and medicine was a crutch.  

I felt flawed, less than, like my faith wasn't enough.  Surely, if I was just a better Christian I wouldn't be in this state.

These are the thoughts I wrestled with.  I remember going to a new dentist and having to check off medical history.  I would get to the part where it would list anxiety, depression, or mental illness and I’d have to check the little box.

Fast forward many years and I now realize that Mental Illness is, just that, an illness!  It can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or by extreme circumstances (like what many of our returning vets experience).  Sometimes it's a combination of chemistry and experience. It's also genetic.  Many people self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, etc. 

The truth is, it's not my fault.  It's not your fault.  You have an illness.

If someone had diabetes, you wouldn't tell them they didn't need insulin, but just needed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, think happy thoughts, mind over matter and they'd be fine.  Perhaps reading more scripture would alleviate the diabetic symptoms?  Sounds silly, right? But this is how we treat the mentally ill.

I am a cancer survivor.  Cancer, though terribly scary, was something I could wear like a badge of honor that I battled and survived.  No one talks about battling/surviving mental illness in these terms.  When I hear about someone committing suicide and others saying things like, "How could he or she be so selfish to do something like that?"  All I can say is that unless you've lived the pain and suffering of depression or anxiety or intense fear or all other symptoms of mental illness like mania, or rages wherein you feel like a monster, or multiple personalities, you have absolutely no idea the pain and suffering that a person endures.  It is so bad, and if left untreated, I can understand that a person could get to a point that they are in so much pain, that ending one's life is the only way to make this horrid, unbearable pain stop.

Mental illness is no respecter of persons.  

Most people would not peg me as the poster child for mental illness.  I was the captain of my cheerleading squad.  I graduated 8th in my class of nearly 800 students in high school.  I excelled in college.  I held leadership positions and have worked in Christian ministry most of my adult like.  I love to write and have been published. 

Mentally ill?  No, those are the homeless people begging for money on street corners, right?

I am the face of mental illness.  I know what it's like to wear the gray glasses and have the dark cloud come in and settle over you.  I know pulling the covers over my head and not being able to get out of bed for days at a time.  I know pain so intense that all I can do is let the Holy Spirit groan, "Jesus" on my behalf.

I needed and still need medicine and counseling - hand in hand - to get me to, and keep me in, a healthy place. It's still not a cure.  I have my episodes with OCD and depression, but I am able to function and cope in this world. I can experience joy and can find hope in scripture.

I've learned that stress, and lack of sleep and exercise, and poor diet can all contribute to a greater likelihood of returning symptoms.  I know coping techniques like distracting and holding the lies I hear in my head (from the enemy) up to scripture and if they don't match up with scripture, then I need to take those thoughts captive to Christ and let Him cast them far from me.  I can call on my faith now, because I was able, thanks to medicine and prayer, to get to the field.

Christians, Mental Illness, & Scripture - A Football Analogy: It’s like you are on a football team. God is the Coach and the Bible is His playbook. In order to benefit from the Coach you first need to be able to get to the field so that you can hear the Coach’s instructions from the playbook, practice on the field, and get the encouragement and discipline He offers. The only problem is... you can’t even get to the field. You are stuck miles away in a pit so large and so deep that you can’t possibly climb out of it by yourself. You need medicine or counseling or both to even be able to get out of the pit, to get to the field, to sit at the feet of the Coach so that He can coach you from His playbook. You, first, need to be able to get to the field.

Mental illness is the thorn in my side (like what Paul experienced).  The Lord has not removed it, but I have learned that in it - as in all trials - His grace is sufficient.  He has never left nor forsaken me and He has been faithful to walk with me THROUGH the valleys and has not left me stuck there indefinitely.  

I believe that I have a compassion for others that I would NEVER have had it not been for what I have dealt with and continue to deal with.  I would NEVER have the close relationship that I do with Jesus had I not had to call out to Him from the utter depths of despair and to know He was still holding onto me even when I couldn't hold on to Him.  

So why do I say all this?  Two reasons.  One is to let the world know that God is faithful.  He knows the pain of the mentally ill and is close to the brokenhearted that deal with this illness.

Second, I would like to erase the stigma of mental illness.  One day, perhaps NFL teams will wear bright lime green cleats, gloves, and mouth guards to bring awareness to the one in four people who suffer from mental illness…including Christians. 

One day we might talk with ease about bipolar, panic attacks, anorexia, OCD, depression, schizophrenia, etc.
I strongly encourage you that if you have felt or experienced any of the symptoms I've mentioned, that you PLEASE seek medical advice and counseling.  There IS help and there IS hope!!  We just need to talk more about it.  Take it from one who's been there.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. (Psalm 40:1-3) 
Thank you for reading.... maybe you know someone who needs to read blessed....