Random Thoughts and Ramblings from a Living Room in Wilmore, Kentucky

"God hath no favourites but I do. Hail State." - A totally true saying by John Wesley. Totally. I read it.
“God hath no favourites but I do. Hail State.” – A totally true saying by John Wesley. Totally. I read it.

Currently, I am sitting on a couch at my sister-in-law’s house in Wilmore, Kentucky. Jessica and I are up here visiting her sister Sarah and Sarah’s husband Brandon as we make preparations to move to this area in the near future. Sarah and Brandon are currently enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary, which is the seminary where I plan to attend beginning this Fall. If you want to imagine what Wilmore may be like, the closest thing I can compare it to is Mayberry. Seriously, it’s the perfect vision of a small town. The school is great and I’m very much looking forward to being a student here.

It wasn’t that long ago, relatively speaking, that I would have told myself I was crazy for even thinking about seminary.

Answering a call to ministry was the furthest thing from my mind. I knew I was called but I had no interest in answering. And now, here I am a licensed pastor, who is about to finish an undergraduate degree and about to pursue a master’s degree. I wasn’t some specially trained guy or even the most intelligent person I know (my grades certainly reflect that). The biggest thing has been that I finally was willing to say “yes” to what God was asking me to do. I was not equipped when I was called but He has equipped me as I have answered the call. That’s really the biggest thing about any type of situation with God. He simply wants us to be willing to serve Him. I’m thankful that I finally said “yes.” The journey that this has taken me on has been amazing and I’m eager to see what else happens in the future.

In spite of the fact that Jessica and I are on a vacation – which is partly a working vacation – we can’t escape certain things. Yesterday was three months since Hannah’s birth and early departure from this world. We can’t go a day without thinking about her and missing her but it especially seems to be strong on the “anniversary” days. Every 8th day of the month will be such a day. As much as these days will remind us all the more of Hannah, it will also be a reminder of how blessed we have been by people who have loved us through this experience.

As I mentioned, we are on vacation. We will be in Kentucky until Wednesday and then headed to spend a few days in North Carolina with my sisters, aunt and uncle. After that we will be spending a couple of nights at Lake Junaluska and even touring the Biltmore Estate before returning home. Being away and not working on the ambulance has helped me to relax in ways that I had forgotten I was able to experience. I truly have been burned out on EMS and I desperately needed some time away. I had no idea to the degree which I needed that time away. Regardless of what field you might find yourself in, take your vacation time. You will return a much more relaxed and productive employee.

But I also have to admit that being away has made me look forward to hanging up my scope for good.

So those are the random thoughts going through my head right now. Hey, at least the title of the blog is true.


Code Green

tumblr_nhxj2efkod1suxghno1_1280In addition to being a United Methodist pastor, I am also a paramedic. I have been involved in emergency medical services (EMS) since 2009, starting as an EMT and becoming a paramedic in 2011. I am nearing the end of my paramedic career. When I leave for seminary I simply will not have time to attend school, (hopefully) serve a church and be a full time seminary student. In spite of that, I will remain a full supporter of my brothers and sisters who do everything from take elderly patients back to the nursing home from the hospital to perform procedures with standing orders that nurses can not even perform without a direct order from a doctor, all while alone in the back of a moving vehicle.

While I will be leaving the field as an active provider in a few months, I have long felt that advocating and providing chaplaincy for EMS is part of my call to ministry. We recently had an event that reinforced and confirmed this part of my call and has inspired me to make sure that I keep it as one of my ministry missions.

Andy has been described in many ways but one of the ways I will always think of him is as the fun guy. Anytime he worked, the mood around base seemed to be lighter. He was almost always smiling, laughing or making a joke. He pulled his share of pranks and seemed to be overall happy. He was also known for his cooking, especially barbecue. Andy was also a stellar medic who was very knowledgeable about patient care, diseases and how to treat people with respect and dignity. When an off-duty accident sidelined him he tried his hand at teaching and, from all accounts, was gifted there as well (although he enjoyed being on the truck much more). Andy was a prime example of what a paramedic should be.

Unbeknownst to us, Andy also had another battle going on. He was battling demons

The ambulance carrying paramedic Andy Sharp on his last ride as it passes under a United States flag held in place by ladder units from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) and Choctaw Fire Departments. Credit: Brandi Smith-Wyatt
The ambulance carrying paramedic Andy Sharp on his last ride as it passes under a United States flag held in place by ladder units from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) and Choctaw Fire Departments. Credit: Brandi Smith-Wyatt

that none of us had any idea about. While I do not know specifics, Andy was apparently having some mental health issues. Unfortunately, Andy lost this battle when be succumbed to suicide earlier this week. Yesterday, brother and sister EMTs, paramedics and firefighters converged on his (and my) hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi to celebrate his life and career and to take him on his last ride in a Metro Ambulance unit. The chapel was packed and the cemetery was as well. The helicopter EMS company Andy worked for, AirEvac Lifeteam of Demopolis, Alabama, did a flyover. In spite of the sadness, the celebration of Andy’s life was amazing and a very fitting send off for our fallen brother.

I don’t believe that God causes these things to happen. That, however, does not mean that God is not in the midst of people who mourn such losses. As we read in scripture, all things do work for God’s glory. While I will never believe that God caused Andy’s suicide, I do believe that He will use us to make something good happen as a result of this tragedy. This begins with me. This begins with us.

There is a stigma in society in general but especially in EMS about seeking help for mental health issues. One is often seen as weak or as a poor provider for feeling that they need to seek counseling to help process bad calls or other issues. We’re told to “forget about it and move on.” This leads to EMS providers becoming bitter people. This leads to PTSD. This leads to suicide.*

It’s time to end this stigma. It’s time to admit that many of us are walking around with memories of calls which do effect our lives and our careers. It’s time to admit that many of us do need help and it’s time for us to stop telling our brothers and sister that they are less for seeking help. It’s time for EMS agencies to take their employees’ mental health seriously and to help them find the services that can save their lives. It’s time for us to take care of one another and stop judging and criticizing.

We have to have each others’ backs.

I have become aware of an initiative to help EMS providers with their mental health battles. The Code Green Campaign takes their inspiration from the code alerts that we often call in the field for stroke or heart attack and calls one for ourselves. From their website:

The campaign has two main goals. Our primary goal is raising awareness of the high rates of mental health issues, substance abuse and suicide among first responders. Our secondary goal is providing education for responders on how to provide care for themselves and recognize issues in their peers.

The campaign raises awareness by giving first responders an outlet to tell the story of their mental health issues anonymously, and then republishing those stories so they can be viewed by everyone. This allows us to see what each other have really gone through, and allows those of us who are struggling to understand that we are not alone. It also allows those who do not have first hand experience with mental health issues to see that mental health issues can affect anyone, which will hopefully decrease the stigma.

I am now an advocate for Code Green. In addition, I want any of my EMS brothers and sisters to know that I am here for you if you ever need to talk, vent, cry or to just hang out and hash it out. If I can’t help, I will help you find someone who can. Above all, know that you have someone who has your back and is ready and willing to listen. If you don’t come to me, please go to someone. If you need help, get help. If anyone judges you for it, remember that they may be doing it out of their own frustration and fear of getting help themselves. If you know someone who needs help, help them find it. We have to take care of one another. No one else is going to.

For more about the Code Green Campaign, click here.

For Andy and all of our fallen brothers: Your work is done. Rest easy. We have the watch.


* I don’t know that this specific type of situation was why Andy killed himself but I have seen it in other people.

“Paid – No Charge”

Yesterday was a bad day. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t horrible but it started out badly… At least, not in the way I would have liked it to (it’s a long story that I honestly do not want to share the details publicly). I found myself very frustrated and overall very down.

Even pastors have bad days and question the good of humanity sometimes.

Today, however, was a much different story. I was humbled, blessed and reminded of how generous people have been and continue to be, especially in the wake of Hannah’s death. Allow me to recount some of the events.

Today started with the best part of any of my EMS shifts: Coming home. I relaxed this morning while Jessica spent part of the day at the school where she teaches (she is transitioning back to work slowly, with plans to fully return to work in a couple of weeks). I had lunch with my new ministry mentor, Wesley, and our conversation was great. Truthfully, I was looking forward to this event because Wesley and I have been friends for a few years and he was recently named as my mentor as I navigate through the ordination process in the UMC. So I thought, this was going to be the bright spot of my day. The rest of the day wasn’t looking so hot.

The reason for that is because this was the day that Jessica and I decided to go look for a headstone for Hannah’s grave. It was something that we were not looking forward to because we would have to think of her death in a very outward way with someone we had never met. Not to mention that no parent should ever have to choose such an adornment for their child… I digress… We had considered what company to use and I remembered J.H. O’Neal Marble Works in Meridian and decided that we should go and talk to them. When I was a radio personality I used to voice their commercials so I was at least somewhat familiar with them. I had also heard that they were nice people and did good work so we found ourselves headed in their direction.

As it turns out, this was a good thing.

We were greeted by a very nice older gentleman. I hate that I cannot remember his name but it does escape me at the moment. As we were discussing the different options for a headstone, the wording, design and such, he was very patient and put us at ease. When we had decided on a design and what all should go on it, we brought up the topic of payment and how much we should pay today. Let me just say that the price we were initially quoted was very reasonable so we were not worried about it. He wrote something on the invoice and handed it to us. I read it. And then I looked at Jessica and looked at the invoice again. On it, the man had written, “Paid – No Charge.”

I was floored. I was in disbelief. I felt such joy at this generous action that I just didn’t know what to say or do. Needless to say, he got several thank yous and hugs from Jessica and I. By the way, assuming all goes as it should, the stone should be in place in less than a month.

Jessica and I have been humbled and astonished at the amount of generosity that we have been shown since Hannah died. From the care we received at the hospital, the food that was provided, the funeral not costing us anything, the monetary gifts given to both us and Camp Wesley Pines in Hannah’s memory and prayers and visits from so many, the love we have been shown has been overwhelming and such a blessing. I feel that those words are not adequate but I just don’t know how to say it any other way. Simply, we have been blown away.

The generosity has reminded us that God has blessed us with many great people, even some people that we don’t even know directly (several donations to Wesley Pines were made by people we have not met).

In Scripture we are taught in numerous places to be generous with what we have been given. Jesus taught that when we serve others, we serve Him (I actually preached on that last Sunday). The generous acts that have been bestowed upon us have inspired Jessica and I to be more generous. If we can repay even 1/10 of the kindness that has been shown to us, we will have done something truly amazing.

Today has been one of those bittersweet days but with a much sweeter ending than we ever could have dreamt of. We simply continue to be awe struck at the generous acts that have been shown to us. If you have participated in any of these, know that are grateful. And if you need to know some good people to do business with should the need for a funeral or a grave marker arise, please feel free to contact us. We will be glad to send you their way.


Wakey, Wakey, Blog

wake-up-and-be-awesome-wooden-sign-closeupHas it really been almost two years since I posted here? Apparently it has. Wow.

Lots of things in my life have changed, I’m a little older, I’m a little wiser… Well, two out of three isn’t bad. For real, lots of things have changed. I’m going to try and write here a little more often because I have always found writing to be therapeutic.

I need lots of therapy.

I’m still a paramedic. Also, I’m still a United Methodist pastor, serving a congregation just outside of Meridian, Mississippi. I have entered my final semester as a student at Liberty University and I anticipate enrolling in seminary in the Fall Semester. If all goes as I hope and pray that it does, Jessica and I will be moving to Kentucky so I can attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore.

There is one other significant change that has taken place since I posted here. The change is both amazing and tragic, a truly bittersweet part of who I am now. On December 8, 2014, I became a father.

And the same day, about an hour later, I learned what it is like to lose a child.

The day that my daughter, Hannah, was born was supposed to be a joyous day. In part, it was. It was also one of the saddest days I have ever lived to tell about. I was at work just doing my typical paramedic things. Jessica had been put on bed rest and was seeing her doctor twice a week. On this day she was at her usual appointment and next thing we knew she was being sent to the hospital for some extra monitoring. We had noticed Hannah not moving as much as normal but didn’t think much about it at the time. Plus Jessica had been under observation before so, again, we just didn’t think much about it.

The next thing I know, Jessica calls me and tells me that nurses are running around and she is scared. I left work and went to the hospital. My EMS station was just up the road from the hospital so it was less than 15 minutes later that I was there. By the time I had arrived, Hannah had been born by emergency C-section. Soon after I found out that Hannah was not going to live. When all the pieces were put together, we found out that nothing we did or didn’t do caused any of this to occur. Hannah had somehow gotten sick and basically gone into heart failure, which caused her other organs to fail. It was a heart wrenching day. Probably the worst part of this whole thing is that we still don’t have all of the answers that we would like to have about Hannah’s death. Unfortunately, we may never know.

This is an ugly fraternity that Jessica and I have found ourselves in, the dismal one called “Angel Parents.” Jessica and I are mom and dad, yet our daughter isn’t here. It’s a strange feeling. Some wound argue that we truly are not parents but I say that is not true. I saw my baby. I held my baby. I rejoiced that, even if for a brief moment, I got to see a part of me alive. Even though Hannah is with God, I am still her daddy and I always will be. While we are sad, we also celebrate that Hannah didn’t have to linger long in a NICU. It doesn’t make it any easier, however.

Jessica and I have learned a lot through this experience and we are still learning. One thing that I think she and I can both agree on is that God will allow us to minister to others who are in this position. In that, I can take comfort. But right now, as we are still grieving, we are thankful for the many, many people who have ministered to us. There’s no way we can adequately express our gratitude.

I would like to go ahead and share some tips for dealing with people who have suffered this kind of loss. First, do not criticize. Do not criticize anything parents who lose their child do or don’t do as a result of their loss. People grieve in different ways. One’s grief is theirs, that grief does not belong to anyone else. No one has the right to tell someone how to grieve.

Also, the reaction of many people when they hear that a couple have lost their baby at birth is to ask, “what happened? What did they do wrong?” More often than not, the answer is “nothing.” This type of loss is tragic and the vast majority of the time is through no fault of either parent. Don’t do it.

This one grates on my nerves more than anything, especially since we’ve been on the receiving end of it now: Do not, and I mean do not, ever tell someone that it was “God’s will” that their baby died or say other pithy things like “God just needed another angel.” Now, I know people who say these things mean well. Sometimes these statements are born out of not knowing what to say (and if that is the case, to say nothing would be the better response). As a pastor, I can tell you that such theology is flat wrong. Not only is it not true but it’s damaging and anything but comforting. A God who takes children away from his or her parents is not a God that I could believe in, let alone proclaim.

So that’s all I have on my mind at the moment. I will write more on this, I’m sure. And I will also write of the other things that come about as we prepare for a big year of transition. Thanks for hanging with us on the long, bumpy ride.


The Heresy of the Prosperity Gospel

Credit: New York Times

A distressed parishioner arrives at the offices of the church where he is a member. Today he has an appointment with Pastor Jim to discuss some problems that he and his family have been having. “Pastor Jim, I just don’t know what to do. I have been praying hard for God to bless my family but we just can’t seem to keep our heads above water. We are living paycheck to paycheck and some months the ends don’t even touch.” Pastor Jim ponders Joe’s problem for a moment and says, “Well, have you been giving your tithe to the church?” “Well, to tell the truth, we haven’t been able to afford to do much. We normally at least put a twenty in the bucket…”

“But that’s not enough! You have to give to the Lord’s church! You have to bless Him in order for Him to bless you!” Joe looks startled at Pastor Jim’s response and, with tears in his eyes, makes a promise to be better at putting more money in the offering bucket. “We will give until it hurts! I may have to skip a meal in order to afford to give as we should but if that’s what I have to do in order for God to bless us with a lot of money I will do it.”

Pastor Jim smiles. “Good! There’s also a prayer you can pray and other words you can speak over yourself and your family that will cause God to open the flood gates of His blessings! They’re all in this book. Give the secretary a check for $29.99 as you leave.” Soon after Joe leaves, Pastor Joe leaves for the day and heads home in his Mercedes to his million dollar mansion, both bought and paid for by the church.

The above is a completely hypothetical situation but it is one which likely plays out in churches all across our country and, increasingly, the world. Well meaning people, mainly people who are below or near the poverty line, want God to bless them. However, their idea of a blessing from God is in the form of making them rich, giving them every little thing they ever wanted, big houses… all for the glory of Jesus. They feel that if they are good enough, give enough and speak certain prayers or “declarations” over their lives that God will be forced to grant them their every want. Unfortunately this is the heresy being taught in these churches by many self-appointed men and women “of God” who prey on these vulnerable people who are hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families by the power of Jesus’ name.

Some call this “name it, claim it” theology” Some call it “the prosperity gospel” or “word of faith.” No matter what name one gives it, I call it heresy. The purveyors of this false theology are nothing short of predators who take advantage of at-risk people and laugh all the way to the bank while the poor stay poor. The result of this is a rich “pastor” and parishioners of their churches who are becoming increasingly angry at God for not giving them what they feel is their blessing.

There is no doubt that you have seen books of people such as Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar (note: This is not an attack on these particular people, rather I take issue with what they teach) and many others who claim that one can become successful and blessed by praying certain prayers, “speaking” blessings on your life and by giving money to their ministries that God will bless you with riches beyond your wildest dreams. This is nothing new, of course, but in these days of “want and woe” there seems to be more of this heresy invading everyday life. I can’t go a day without logging on to social media and seeing people quoting these books in hopes of themselves receiving blessings in the form of an increased bank account or a new toy. My first experience with this crock was when I was in my first year or college. It was during this time that the Prayer of Jabez, found in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, became famous.

Jabez was more honored than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I bore him in pain.” Jabez called on Israel’s God: “If only you would greatly bless me and increase my territory. May your power go with me to keep me from trouble, so as not to cause me pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 CEB)

An author by the name of Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book based on this scripture. Wikipedia says:

In the book, Wilkinson encourages Christians to invoke this prayer for themselves on a daily basis:

I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.

The book became an international bestseller, topping the New York Times bestseller list[1] and selling nine million copies. It received the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Book of the Year award in 2001.

So let me get this straight: By praying this prayer, Wilkinson claims that one will never want for anything or have any bad experiences? I call shenanigans. Life experience tells me that this is not true. The only thing this did was make Wilkinson a rich man from selling books as well as items such as keychains, art prints and even mouse pads.

This teaching does nothing but relegate God to the role of a genie whose job is to grant our every wish. Scripture is twisted to make their context fit the agendas of those who preach it. And what do they do? Laugh all the way to the bank.

This false doctrine harms people and makes a mockery of God. God is not going to grant our every wish just because we want them. God does provide for our needs and wants to bless us but this does not mean He wants to make everyone rich. Material wealth is not an indication of one’s relationship with God. The fact that someone is poor does not mean that their faith is not strong enough, that they have not prayed the correct prayer or that they have not given enough money to their local megachurch. Adherents to this teaching are made to feel inadequate and unloved by God if their bank account is not big enough or their car not flashy enough.

I thank God that He is in the business of granting something much more important and more valuable than a large bank account or a new SUV. He grants us something we do not deserve and something that can not earn by giving money to a preacher or buying his book. He may not give us our ever whim but He does give us grace. Grace, grace, marvelous grace. I am more thankful for this than I ever could be for something I could ever hold in my hand or spend. I am happy that He loves me and you enough to make us into a new creation with His unlimited supply of grace.

Our worth in God’s eyes is not measured in dollars and we should not measure how blessed we are by the size of our bank account. Instead, we should take just a moment and simply say: “Thank You, Lord,  for Your grace.”

If you want to read the article that does a much better job at explaining why the prosperity gospel is heresy, check out this posting by Pastor Rick Henderson on The Huffington Post.


My Social Media Fast and Other Random Thoughts and Ramblings

Yes, it’s in another language (German?) but it’s appropriate.

Last week I took a break from my social media activity. The main reason I did this is because I felt called to fast from something that I spent a lot of time with in order to focus my time better on hearing God’s voice as the church to which I am appointment sought/is seeking God’s will for the future of the congregation. I love Facebook and Twitter. I love interacting with people and being able to share my thoughts on this and that. However, if I’m being honest with myself, I needed this break for several reasons. While some might say that I lost a week of communicating with friends and family, I feel that I gained a whole lot more than I lost. In short, I don’t feel that I lost much of anything at all.

It was very refreshing.

I did get to spend some extra time in prayer, meditation and reading scripture. I took advantage of that as much as I could during this fast. I also found myself more engaged with the physical world around me. I wasn’t checking my phone constantly or worrying about missing something. You may have heard of something called “FOMO” which means “Fear of Missing Out.” If I’m being honest with myself, I have had that and I would check my phone way too much. I was reminded that the world is not going to collapse because I miss out on something (did I really miss out on anything important in the first place? I doubt it). I was even more communicative with my wife. In short I was quicker to be more interactive with the world that is actually around me, the world in which I find myself. I firmly believe the timing of this fast was not an accident. I was even on a break from my school work (which is done online). I believe God used this fast to remind me that a world exists, a world that He created, outside of the Internet. Of course, I realize and always have realized that there is a physical world. Perhaps it would be better to say that the reminder was that life happens off of Facebook and Twitter and that not everything has to be documented through those mediums in order to be valid experiences.

I have to make a comment about one aspect of my fast that I found particularly refreshing. I did not miss endless political rants, rumors, unsubstantiated junk and other assorted nonsense. I have to be honest: I find myself getting very fatigued from all of the political pundits found on social media. I realize that I occasionally post political items but I also tend to post either my own opinion and links from reputable sources. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but I find the constant stream of outright false information incredible. I am not picking on one party or another; all sides are guilty of this. I pondered politics somewhat during my break but no great revelation came to me. I am still of the opinion that both of the major parties are equal in many ways and are pretty much useless. I remain an independent with left or right leanings depending on the issue. I will not toe a party line, nor will I engage in a misinformation war. I did not miss posts of a political nature at all.

In short, I gained much more than I lost form my break. I gained a reminder that I can live offline as well as on. I found rest for my mind (I believe I slept better last week than I have in a while). I had a little less compassion fatigue and I was granted a much needed break from social media’s political aficionados. This made me think about how much time I am spending with social media and I will be making a lot of adjustments. I mean no offense in saying this but I also plan to make adjustments to the types of things I see online, at least that which I can control. If being exposed to certain things increases my anxiety and fatigue then I need to do something about that. In addition to hearing God’s voice about the future of my church I believe be granted me rest that I have been needing for a long time. This fast has given me a lot to think about and a lot of realization about adjustments I need to make and have been needing to make for a long time. I am thankful for all of this. I may do it again in the near future. I was refreshed.

And now: Some thoughts on other things.

At the risk of sounding hypocritical given my comments about politics, I would like to comment on the government shutdown that ended last week. This shutdown that did nothing but give most government employees a two week paid vacation backfired in the worst possible ways on those who orchestrated it. Two weeks for the political powers that be to do exactly what they have been doing since 2009: Putting Band-Aids on an open wound. Instead of dealing with overspending by liberals and conservatives alike we have been borrowing more and more money instead of paying down our bill. This is the equivalent of asking for one’s credit card limit to be increased every time they approach the previous limit. Because of this we have run up a bill for trillions of dollars and have increased that debt every month instead of making tough decisions. Imagine if a business or a household had no budget for four years. The result would be chaos and the time that the creditors came to collect would not be pretty. This is what I fear will happen with the United States if something is not done. The Republicans say that the Democrats only want to tax and spend and the Democrats make the same charges against the Republicans.

They’re both correct.

If one pays attention they can see that both parties print money like it’s going out of style. Only the things they spend this money on are typically different (although a lot of it is also the same). This is our fault because we are the ones who keep electing these officials over and over again. We need to demand accountability from our Congressmen and Senators. Difficulty decisions will have to be made and money will have to be cut. Reforms for government assistance programs must happen. What I mean by reform is eliminating people who are receiving these services and don’t need to be. The only way to do this is to start at the top of the list and work your way down, reviewing each and every case to determine if the person really needs the assistance. Yes, this will mean making people mad. So be it. No one said being an elected official was easy, nor should it be expected to be. If our elected officials refuse to work for these cuts and reforms they we should show them the door. I plan to remember the shenanigans of the last few weeks (and at other times) next year. I hope you do as well.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I’m off to prepare for committee meetings tonight. May God bless you and keep you.


Mental Illness from a Christian Perspective

Mental-DisordersOver the weekend we got the news that Rev. Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide. Most of us know Warren as the author of The Purpose Driver Life and several other books as well as the pastor of Saddleback Church. I was not aware that Matthew had been fighting mental illness “since birth” as Warren states. Warren wrote that Matthew committed suicide in spite of receiving the best help available and that the decision to kill himself came in a “moment of deep despair.” My first reaction upon hearing this news was to relate all too well to what Matthew was going through and to pray for the Warren family. My request to you, dear reader, would be to pray for them as well. They are going through something that no parent should ever have to go through.

Unfortunately my reaction to offer condolences and prayer was not the first reaction of all Christians. It would seem that there are many in our dysfunctional family who feel the need to judge, to ridicule and shoot vitriol at the Warrens. Instead of offering comfort they are offering condemnation. Quite frankly it sickens me. I came across this post that talks of the Warren’s tragedy and some of the examples of the pure hate being spread to the Warrens the author included in his post made me want to throttle my laptop at a wall. Here are some of what Mr. Viola included (edit: I want to make clear that Mr. Viola did not make these comments, rather he shared them and did his best to rebutt the comments and admonish those who made them):

Train up your children in the way, live a godly example with right priorities, care enough to home-school despite the great sacrifice involved, don’t let them date unchaperoned, have daily family devotions, turn off the 1-eyed idiot, TRULY HAVE A PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, and your children WILL NOT COMMIT SUICIDE, nor will they be involved in homosexuality, nor fornication.

He killed himself, it’s much worse than fornication or homosexuality or Onanism or eating pork. He denied himself a chance to get better. If your kids need a chaperone to date, why do you let them date? They shouldn’t be dating if they are not mature enough to control themselves.

He could not save his own because Mr. Warren does not truly understand how his own heart works, how it is broken and the mechanism by which Jesus laid out the example of how to fix it. Matthew killed himself because he did not understand either. He was a victim of his own ignorance and the ignorance of his family, friends, society and Christians around him — presently!

Personally I am appalled ashamed that the Warrens are having to endure comments like this. As Christians we are called upon to love one another and this is what they get? We are told to not judge and often we Christians are the most judgmental and hateful people in the room. When did scripture change to state that it’s OK for us to spread hate and judgment so long as we claim that we’re doing it in “Chrsitian love?”

It didn’t and it is unacceptable. We need to stop. Now.

I take this issue personally. I get so angered at the Warrens having to endure this hate because I had a battle with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. That period of a little over a year (I thank God everyday that it wasn’t longer) was the darkest period of my life. I felt alone and abandoned by my Lord. I was literally scared of my own shadow. Fear gripped me at every turn. I constantly had panic attacks and the despair I felt was indescribable. The whole experience was my vision of Hell and it’s not something I would wish upon anyone. I have to admit that before this experience there was a part of me who felt those with mental illness had some kind of weakness but my mind was changed when I was the one on medication and receiving counseling.

You feel differently about something when the issue hits home.

My mental health battle was not the result of a lack of faith or because of a demon. My mental illness was a bump in my life’s road, the same bump that many other people find themselves experiencing through no fault of their own.

I am thankful that through the miracle of medication and a wonderful counselor who is a Christian – not to mention the grace of God – that I was able to come out of this experience a stronger person with a heart for those who are struggling with mental issues.

Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it is not a judgement for sin, it is not caused by a lack of faith and it is not caused by one being possessed by a demon (these are actual things I have heard for myself by professing Chrsitians!). Mental illness is just that: An illness. When one is fighting a mental disease they require love, support, the best help available and prayer. What they or their families do not need to hear is that their faith isn’t strong enough or that they have somehow sinned and are getting what they deserve.

Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NLT). Would you want someone telling you that your son’s or daughter’s depression was being caused by a sin they had committed or that their suicide was because you had not “trained them up” correctly? Would you want someone telling you that mental illness is a sign of weakness when you know yourself that it isn’t? So why would anyone do this to someone else?

It’s time for us to become educated about mental illness and it’s time for us to be loving and show grace to those who are experiencing this dreadful and hellish battle. We need to stop looking at depression and other mental illness as a pox or a sign that one is unclean and find out what we can do to help that person and their family. It’s time to truly be the salt and light, hands and feet of Jesus to those who need it the most.

Let this experience with the Warrens encourage us to reach out to those who are experiencing difficulty with mental health instead of condemning them. Jesus loves them just as much as he loves us. Why can’t we do the same?


Graduation Reflections (or: An Open Letter to Recent Graduates)

Tonight I attended graduation at the school where my wife teaches. I want to say congrats to everyone in the class of 2012, no matter where you are!

During the ceremony as I listened to the speeches by salutatorians and valedictorian, I reflected upon my own graduation. I graduated high school in 1999 so it’s been 12 years since I was in their place. When I had my cap and gown on, these kids were first graders. First, I felt old. Very old. But I also began to realize that I should have listened to those who went before me when they told me things to expect once I hit the real world. As I am now part of the generation that has gone before these guys and gals, I feel that it’s our responsibility to impart advice based on our experiences.

Geez, I sound old again.

So, if I could say anything to those who have graduated tonight or at any point recently, it would be the following:

First, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your lives. Take some time to enjoy this step and to relax a little. Key phrase: A little. You’re in the real world now. No longer will you have people telling you where to go and when to be there. That is now your responsibility.

If you thought high school was tough, it’s nothing compared to college. In high school you had teachers who would take extra time to help you and do whatever they had to do to get you to accept it. Your professors and instructors don’t care why you “had” to miss their class or that you “need” extra time to finish a project. You do the work on their terms or not at all. They don’t care. They also don’t care whether you pass or fail. And if your parents call your instructors to try and take up for you, they’ll probably not give them the time if day (and you’ll likely have hell to pay). You’re an adult now; it’s time for you to handle your business like an adult. And your instructors/professors? They’re there to teach, not to coddle you. Those days are over. Soon you’ll realize how good you had it in high school.

The same goes for your bosses. If you miss too much work, you’ll get fired. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there… but again, remember that this is now your responsibility.

The question is not “if you will fail,” it’s “when.” Regardless of what you may believe, you will experience failure. You will get fired eventually. You won’t do well on probably many tests and papers. There will be times when you won’t be able to pay your bills and you’ll wonder whether or not you’ll be able to afford gas to go to work. With all of this in mind, the real question is “how will you bounce back when you fail.” And don’t fear – you will bounce back.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing is going to come easily – that’s just the reality. Nothing is handed to you in the real world – you have to work hard and earn it. Hard work is what has made so many before you great. Mark Zuckerburg – one of the founders of Facebook – didn’t become the wealthy man he is by sitting on his duff. In fact, he dropped out of Harvard. However, he worked hard and now he’s reaping the rewards. Wealth may not come as easily to you and in fact it probably won’t come at all, especially to the level of Zuckerberg. However, if you work hard, you will have everything you need and probably a good many things that you want.

Boyfriends and girlfriends will come and go. Don’t worry about experiencing heartbreak because you’re going to. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, it’s going to happen. Don’t fret about a relationship not working out; there are plenty of people out there for you to date. Somewhere there is someone special whom you may marry. Regardless, enjoy the ride and make sure you not only learn about your significant other but also learn about yourself. I learned something about myself in every relationship I ever had. Even though many didn’t end well, I’m still glad to have gone through them because I was able to learn a lesson. Having the same attitude will be good for you too.

Floss. Yes, it’s a pain but do it. Your gums will thank you.

Get a hair cut. Don’t get 20 piercings and 30 tattoos. In the real world, dress codes exist and are enforced. Like it or not, most companies haven’t accepted what you consider fashion. They also don’t care about your need for “self expression.” Keep the “art” to a minimum.

Go easy on the beer and booze. As a paramedic, I could tell you many stories about the consequences of bad decisions made while someone is drunk. Be safe. If you’re going to drink, give up the keys. Don’t become a statistic.

Stay away from illegal drugs. Don’t become addicted to prescription drugs. I know that should go without saying but, again, I could tell you stories about the consequences of addiction. Don’t even toy with it. It’s much easier just to not do it than to overcome it. Again, don’t become a statistic.

Read “Oh, The Places you will Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

Most importantly, keep your faith in Jesus Christ as the number one thing in your life. Yes, more important than any boyfriend or girlfriend, school, a job, anything. Don’t be afraid to respond to His calling should He call you to be a minister, missionary or even to sing in the praise band or choir at church. Listen to the Holy Spirit – He will guide you and let you know if you’re on the right path. Find a translation of the Bible that you can understand and enjoy reading… then read it as much as possible.

There’s much more but you’ll will just learn it from experience. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow. The growing pains aren’t fun but once you experience growth, you’ll be glad you went through it. Also, never stop growing.

I hope I never do.


My Testimony

The following is a testimony that I’ve typed out. At the request of a couple of my Twitter followers (speaking of Twitter, you can find me here), here it is in blog form. God bless!

Many of my earliest memories involve church. From as early as they could, my parents had me in church as much as possible. However, this wasn’t always possible because I spent a large percentage of my childhood in a hospital bed. I can remember many instances where my pastor or the hospital chaplain would visit and pray, where other people would pray and of course my parents would pray. I was told about Jesus at an early age so I have a hard time finding a time where I never believed. Jesus was a part of my life from the beginning.

As I got older and learned more about the faith, I joined my church and became active in the youth group. There were many times where I questioned whether I was really saved or if I was playing church. One evening when I was about 16, my youth group went to a play at a Meridian church. The drama deeply affected me and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t spend an eternity in Hell. When the invitation was given, I responded.

Later on I graduated high school and went to college and I did the things that college kids do but I always knew that I was doing wrong and that Jesus expected more of me. However, much to my detriment, I continued down a bad road. Eventually I moved to Indiana and it became even worse, mainly because for the first time in my life I was truly on my own and thought I could do anything I wanted to without consequence. You name it, I did it.

One night when I was about 25 I was laying in bed, having problems sleeping because I kept thinking of all the junk in my life. The Holy Spirit had been working on me for quite some time and that night He made Himself known beyond a shadow of a doubt. I heard a voice say “you can’t keep doing this.” Right then I hit my knees, repented of my sin and rededicated myself and my soul to Jesus Christ. Soon after that I became active in a great church, surrounded myself with strong Christians and I was even re-baptized.

Now that I’m back in Mississippi, here I am: A man who’s still a sinner but who realized the way he was living was wrong, the things I had placed more emphasis on rather than Jesus were wrong and that I was trying to do it all myself. I can’t. No one can. Only Jesus can save us and I thank God that I came to realize that. I married a Godly woman, I am involved in an amazing church and am seeking out God’s will for my life. I’m proud to say that I love Jesus and I want to serve Him in all ways as possible. My road has been a bumpy one but I thank God that I went down it because it helped me learn to rely on Him and that without Him I am nothing.

A Pastor That Leads

Today I heard one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard in any church that I’ve ever had the privilege of worshiping in.

My church – Central United Methodist Church of Meridian, MS – has decided to undertake a very bold and brave experiment in order to find ways to help the church grow. Before I go any further with that, let me just say that my church is very healthy and is growing by leaps and bounds. However, in the years to come, this might not be the case. The reality of any church is that members have a finite lifespan either through things like moving, death, poor health or other factors. In order to ensure that the church continues to grow and is able to sustain a healthy membership in the decades to come, the sooner we begin finding the ways to make that happen the better. The experiment I speak of involves reversing the order of our worship services.

Central has two services on Sunday mornings: A contemporary worship service at 8:30 and a traditional service at 10:55. Each week attendance numbers are published in Central’s newsletter and the early service is a much larger draw (normally over 200 – sometimes close to 300) than the late service (normally less than 200). The Administrative Council voted to try an experiment in which the times for the services will be reversed. The purpose of this is to find out if more people are coming to the contemporary service because of the time and also to find out if having a contemporary service later in the morning may attract even more young people to church who currently are unchurched.

It’s bold and different. I also fully support it.

Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Bob Rambo, spoke today in length about the experiment and how he understood that some people don’t support it because it’s different. Let’s face it: A lot of people don’t like change. A lot of people don’t like the boat being rocked and thus they’re opposed to anything that will shake up their lives especially when it comes to church. However, Bro. Bob reminded us all that we have a mission: To offer Christ to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible and as many times as possible. He acknowledged that change is never easy (and also emphasized that this just a month long experiment, not a permanent change being made at this time) but that it’s necessary in order for the church to continue to grow and be sustained in the future.

A church that doesn’t experiment and try new things is a church that will die. It might not be tomorrow but it will happen eventually.

Bro. Bob related a similar situation that arose while he was serving a congregation in northeastern Mississippi. A large sum of money was left to the church but with the stipulation that the money had to be used to help people, not to be used for the church budget. A committee (we United Methodists love our committees!) determined that a big need in the community was for more daycare services and their recommendation was to use the money to start a daycare service. A faction within the church was opposed and did all it could to derail the decision – including physically threatening Bro. Bob and members of the committee who made the recommendation. By the time it was all said and done, the final decision was made to start the daycare. Many years later Bro. Bob returned to the church to preach at their homecoming and he found a congregation that was vibrant and growing. Many of the new families who came to the church did so because of the daycare. Some of the people who were opposed to the idea sought Bro. Bob out to apologize to him and to let him know that they were wrong.

The congregation that Bro. Bob served had an opportunity to do something bold and many people didn’t like it. However, the experiment worked and the church is still growing today because of the vision for the daycare.

I applaud Bro. Bob for having the forethought and vision to propose this idea. He knows that he won’t be at Central forever (UMC clergy are moved every so often) but he wants the church to survive and thrive long after he’s gone. I also applaud the Administrative Council for being willing to take a risk and try something bold that may very well help to sustain the church long after all of us are gone.

Today Bro. Bob spoke to the congregation about our mission and how sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable in order to further the gospel of Christ. While the growing pains may be difficult, it’s well worth it in order to serve Christ and help others see Him. Bro. Bob showed us all what a pastor should be and that’s a leader with vision and the boldness to want us to try new things.

He also showed that a pastor should not only serve the current congregation but also consider those who will come through the doors after his time at the church is done. Not only is he helping us now, he’s seeking to help future members of Central by laying a foundation now.

This, friends, is what a pastor should be doing.