Transition

navigate_crop380wFor those of you who follow me and/or my wife on social media, you know that we will soon be relocating from Mississippi to Kentucky. If you don’t follow us on social media, well, I guess you just found out.

I know that a lot of people have questions about why we’re doing this, will we come back and other things. Our friends can certainly continue to ask these questions but I would also like to answer some of those questions here. I suppose this is some what of a F.A.Q.

First off, the reason we are moving is because I have chosen to attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky where I plan to earn a Master of Divinity degree. This is necessary in order for me to pursue ordination in the United Methodist Church. Fulfilling ordination requirements is not my only motivation. I love learning more about God and His word so seminary will enable me to do that. I want to ensure that what I preach is truly correct. While the Holy Spirit certainly leads, seminary education can be used in leading as well.

Some have asked if we are moving because of Hannah’s death. Simply, the answer is no. We have been planning this move for almost two years so Hannah’s death had nothing to do with our decision. We would have moved regardless.

We are planning to come back to Mississippi after I finish school. If I finish in the Fall we will stay until the following June in order for Jessica to finish her teaching contract and for me to finish my church appointment. As for where we will be living when we return to Mississippi, that is really up in the air. That will be determined by where the cabinet and Bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference of the UMC see fit to appoint me; it could be anywhere in the state of Mississippi (as of this posting). We can state a preference but it will ultimately be up to how they are led by God as to where we will end up. With that in mind, we are selling our house in Stonewall.

As for how long we will be gone, it will be at least 3 years but possibly 4. It really depends on how long it takes me to finish my degree.

So those are the answers to many of the questions we have been asked about our move. One thing I ask is that you please keep us in your prayers as I make final preparations for the move. Jessica is at Mississippi State finishing her masters degree and I will possibly not see her again until she drives up to Kentucky next Friday (I will leave this coming Monday). Also pray that the sale of our house goes smoothly and that this is one less thing we have to worry about as we transition.

And please, keep in touch! We want to continue sharing our lives with our Mississippi friends and family as we make new memories and friends in Kentucky. We will also be in Mississippi at least twice a year (once during the Summer and once during the holidays) and we would love to see people if at all possible.

This will likely be my final post until we reach Kentucky. So, until then… Grace and peace to you!

Jonathan

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My Last Shift

Dansun_Paramedic
This sums up how I have felt after certain calls.

Yesterday I clocked in for my EMS shift. It started out and progressed just like any other shift that I’ve worked. I checked off my truck and drank my coffee as my partner and I caught up on events since he’s been back from his recent honeymoon. It didn’t take long for the calls to start coming in, a storm that all of us working yesterday expected but also dreaded. We were short staffed, which has been the norm lately. The saying in EMS that is most often used is “adapt and overcome.” And we did. The public who call 911 for their emergencies and the hospitals, clinics and nursing homes who contract for transport don’t care how many trucks are running. The calls came in, the doors went up and the trucks went out.

As far as shifts for me go, it was fairly average. In 24 hours I made seven runs, which is about my average. Three were 911 calls where the mantra was oxygen, Albuterol and saline locks for everyone. The rest of the day was filled with transfers, hospital discharges mostly. My last call was a transfer from one of our hospitals to a hospital in Jackson where the patient could receive a specialty that was not available here last night. As it turns out, this particular transfer would be my final call. We got back to the station at about 11:00 PM and, thankfully, slept the rest of the night. Well, “slept.” One does not actually get much rest when working a 24 hour shift. Instead, you just close your eyes and try to get some relaxation as you also stay alert enough to hear the truck number called out.

When the wake up call went out, I vacuumed the day room and helped empty the trash. After I cleaned my truck and replaced monitor batteries and an oxygen bottle, I cleaned out my locker. Thankfully I did not have much in there besides some miscellaneous things. I mostly used it to hold a 12 pack of sodas, my traffic vest, cap and stethoscope. I turned in my traffic vest, as it was issued equipment and had to be returned upon resigning. I put my scope in my backpack and at the stroke of 0700, I clocked out for the last time and carried my sleeping bag, backpack and laptop (which I did not even have time to use yesterday) to my truck.

And thus ended my career as a full time paramedic.

It feels strange to say that. I have been in EMS since 2009 when I first became an EMT and began working at a hospital based service. A year later, I began paramedic school and I fell in love. I loved learning about medicine, what the different drugs did and how to really help people who were experiencing all sorts of emergencies. Soon after I obtained my paramedic certification I began working at the service I left today, a county owned third service. The variety of any given day was a challenge but one that I enjoyed… Most of the time. But overall, working at Metro was a blessing. I was able to work a schedule that allowed me to answer the calling to pastoral ministry that I finally decided to stop fighting. My leaving today is a step in the plan to more fully answer that call by attending seminary in Kentucky and transitioning toward a higher emphasis on ministry.

Although I left the field today in order to pursue what God has called me to do, I began to realize that even if God had not called me to the pulpit that I soon would have had to figure out an exit strategy. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to confess that I have become what I hoped I never would: A burned out medic. Witnessing system abuse, messed up sleep patterns, the violence and the other things that one witnesses while working in EMS had begun to take its toll. One of my crew chiefs told me that I had not been doing it long enough to become burned out. I read a statistic recently that says that the average career expectancy of an EMT is five years. As I have been in the field for seven years, I am already above average.

Seven years. Other than my years in radio, this is the longest that I’ve been in one career field. During that seven years I have seen things that will haunt me forever, things that I will never talk about. There are things that I have seen that my wife does not even know about and never will. I have been in situations where I truly wondered if I was going to make it out alive. I have seen mothers and fathers lose their children. I have met some of the worst people imaginable. I have seen the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. I have seen the ravages of mental illness. I have seen how depraved some people can be, things that would make one lose all hope for humanity.

But it has not been all bad. There are many good things that have happened in seven years. I have made friendships that I hope to have for the rest of my life. I’ve met some truly wonderful people who have touched me in ways that they will never know about. I haven’t saved many lives but I have saved a few. I have been able to administer medication to reverse a drug overdose and keep a family from losing their mother/wife. I have reversed hypoglycemia when a patient’s blood sugar was so low that they were on the brink of death. I have been on the receiving end of a few people telling me “thank you” for helping their loved one in the worst moment of their life.

The best thing is that I discovered an extended family. We aren’t the most functional family but a family none the less. These are people that I have both worked with and who I’ve connected with via social media because of our common bond a EMS providers. These are people who have loved me through some of the worst moments of my life. These are people who have taught me how to be a better medic and a better person. I have grown to love them all and would do anything in my power for them. I will always be grateful for them and I hope they will always be part of my life.

Will I work in EMS again? It will only be on a very part time basis. I am licensed in Kentucky so I may work a shift here and there just to keep up my skills. I worked hard for my patch and I would hate to lose it. But, I know that there will come a day where I will have to let it go. I don’t look forward to that day. However, as I move forward with the call to ministry that God has guided me to, I intend to be available as a chaplain to EMS. Hopefully EMS will not completely leave my life.

May God keep all of my EMS brothers and sisters safe. Know that I am here for you anytime you need someone to talk with or to pray with. When you have that bad call, I will let you talk about it or we can sit in silence. Believe me, I will get that. Sometimes knowing that someone understands what you’re going through is enough.

Onward to seminary.

Jonathan Tullos, NRP

Random Thoughts and Ramblings on Graduation

1gradToday, after many years of putting it off for no good reason, I finally achieved something that has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager. Today, I became a college graduate.

Today was more than about the walk, the regalia and even about how I will soon begin studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Today was about achieving dreams, yes, but it was also about proving people – including myself – wrong. Today was about giving thanks to God for His sustaining and His leading. Today was about being thankful to the many family members, friends and even strangers who prayed for me as I conducted my undergraduate studies. Today was about being appreciative of an amazing wife who has endured my being in school every single year since we were married (except for the first year). Today was about so much more than a simple walk. Today was about many things.

I won’t sugar coat it: This was hard. Completing a degree online may sound like something simple but it was tough. Like classroom students, I had to read, take tests and write papers. I had to really think about what I was learning and discern whether what I was learning matched up with God’s Word (more often than not, the answer was “yes”). While in class discussions, I had acknowledge what I found issues with and discuss it in grace-filled ways when all I really wanted to do is ask the poster of the thread, “Are you crazy?!” But somehow I managed to do it. All of that while working what amounts to a full time job and a half, serving a church, being married and while enduring the loss of our Hannah. And I managed to graduate Cum Laude.

I find this very fitting that graduation happened on the weekend of Mother’s Day. Graduating from college was not only a dream of mine, it was also a dream of my mom’s. When I was younger, I was very sick. For the first several years of my life, I was in an out of hospitals, poked and prodded by specialists, was the subject of experimental drugs and other things that I don’t remember and probably don’t care to. In the midst of all of this, I wasn’t able to attend school like the rest of the kids. There were many in the local school’s administration who felt that I would be a burden, that I wasn’t capable of learning and that they shouldn’t waste their time on me because I was probably going to die anyway (at the time, there was doubt as to whether I would live). This was before we had many of the laws governing special educations that we have today. With little backing, Mom had to fight tooth and nail to get the school district to provide the services I needed in order to learn. Because of her work, I, alone with several kids since me, benefited by being able to be taught in homebound programs. Eventually I was able to begin attending school regularly and ultimately I graduated from high school with honors.

Not bad for a kid who was incapable of learning and on the brink of death.

Mom would have been very proud. I remember after my high school graduation I went up to her and she said to me, “you did it. You proved them wrong.” She was just as proud when I graduated with my two Associate of Arts degrees. I can only imagine how she would have acted today but I imagine she would have been pleased.

I don’t say anything of this to brag. I am proud of my accomplishments but this is about more than bragging. The moral of this story is this: Do not ever let someone tell you that you can’t achieve your goals. Be persistent. Don’t be afraid of hard work. Focus on God and what He wants to do through you. No matter what your calling is, God will equip you to fulfill it. The question is, will you see it through or will you give in to attacks from the enemy?

Next stop: Asbury Theological Seminary. And then: On to ordination. I’ve come this far; I will see this through.

Jonathan

Hello, Shiloh UMC!

Jonathan and Jessica Tullos
Jonathan and Jessica Tullos

If you are from Stanton, Kentucky and have found this site, there’s a good chance that you are part of Shiloh United Methodist Church. If that’s the case, there’s also a chance that you found my little corner of the Internet because you want to know more about your new pastor. So, I say to you: Hello!

My name is Jonathan Tullos and I have been appointed to Shiloh as your new pastor. My wife (Jessica) and I are excited to be joining you all in ministry. Our first Sunday will be June 28th and we plan to move into the parsonage on June 23rd.

Jessica and I are both native Mississippians. This weekend I am graduating with a Bachelor’s in religion from Liberty University and we are moving to Kentucky so that I can pursue studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore. Currently I serve Oak Grove United Methodist Church just outside of Meridian, Mississippi and I’m also a paramedic at the local ambulance service. Jessica is a high school science teacher and will soon be finishing her Master’s degree in biology at Mississippi State University.

Again, we are excited to be joining you all and I look forward to being your pastor. There will be opportunities for us to get to know one another once we get to Stanton and get settled. As we prepare to move, know that we are already praying for all of you as you enter this time of transition. We are also praying for a smooth transition for your current pastor, Derek, and his family as well.

We will see you soon! In the mean time, please feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. May God bless you and keep you all.

Jonathan

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.

Jonathan

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.

Jonathan

* 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.

Jonathan

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.

Jonathan

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.

Jonathan

My Social Media Fast and Other Random Thoughts and Ramblings

social-media-break
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.

Jonathan