Anxiety is Sin? Tell That to My Brain

EDIT: Rev. Moore has reached out to me to apologize for her tweet and she has removed it. I have accepted her apology and held/hold no ill will toward her. To be clear: My problem was never with her but with what she tweeted. There is a major difference. – Jonathan

Yesterday a prominent evangelical pastor within the United Methodist Church made a tweet that I and several others took exception to.

Yes, she has said that chronic anxiety stifles the work of the Holy Spirit and is sin.

So I responded, pointing out that by her logic I am deep in sin and I encouraged her to rethink her position. This is her response:

Sigh…

This conversation points out a few vital points for us – both as Christians in general as well as clergy – to remember when dealing with matters of mental health.

First, scripture does not address matters of mental health. There was no understanding that mental disorders are medical conditions beyond one’s control when the scripture writers were putting pen to parchment. Let me be clear: This is not me doubting that the scriptures are divinely inspired but we also must acknowledge that the writers were human and wrote based on their context. Because there was no knowledge of the chemical imbalances that often occur in the brain, mental health problems were thought of as a spiritual condition as opposed to a chemical one. That was then, this is now. We have the medical knowledge to confirm that mental health issues are most often caused by conditions beyond one’s control. We need to get away from this notion that one displaying anxiety is in sin or that depression is a sign of being deep in sin. To employ such a notion means that I and lots of other pastors are not fit for ministry and that many in our congregations are not truly faithful just because they struggle.

Second, we as pastors need to remember that our words have power and carry a lot of weight. The people in our congregations see what we post, share, and like and they form their opinions of us based on those posts. Is that fair? Probably not. No tweet or post tells one’s whole story but does give a glimpse into our hearts and in what we value. If a parishioner whose faith is strong in spite of struggling with mental health issues for their entire lives follows their pastor on social media, how are they going to feel when their pastor puts up a tweet saying that anxiety is a sin and quenches the Holy Spirit? As I said above, scripture was never intended to address mental health conditions and we should not use scripture as a way to explain conditions like anxiety and depression.

People once believed that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of manic depression were possessed by demons. There was also a belief that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of anxiety disorders had weak faith.  People who we now realize were displaying symptoms of depression were said to be in sin. With the knowledge that we now have about mental health, can we please get away from having such toxic and damaging viewpoints about mental health?

I would like to think that Rev. Moore meant no harm in what she tweeted. But, this needs to be called out and rebuked because these are the notions that add to the stigma of mental health and why more people – especially Christians – don’t seek help or hide their conditions until they finally break. These statements are what cause people to harm themselves or even to commit suicide. These statements are why people are looking at Christians as cold-hearted and irrelevant.

We should do better. We must do better.

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Sermon: Stories of the Saints

slide-5-communion-of-saintsHere is today’s sermon from Shiloh United Methodist Church in Stanton, KY. We are doing a series based on material from the United Methodist Church Disciple Ministries regarding the saints. In the UMC, our understanding of saints is not the same as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. We believe that saints are all of those who lived for Christ and have gone on to their reward in glory.

This sermon is based on verses from Joshua 24 where the prophet tells the people that they can not serve two gods and to choose carefully who they will serve. He begins by relating the story of Abraham and how they, as a people, came to be through his lineage. The stories we weave as disciples are important and can also reflect on all believers. Thus, it’s important for us to make our story the best one it can possibly be.

I hope you find some hope and inspiration in these words. May God bless you and yours. – Jonathan

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 (NLT)
Then Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God.

2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River,* and they worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

16 The people replied, “We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. 17 For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. 18 It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”

19 Then Joshua warned the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”

21 But the people answered Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!”

22 “You are a witness to your own decision,” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes,” they replied, “we are witnesses to what we have said.”

23 “All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.”

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the Lord.

Last week we began a series on saints, but not the ones from New Orleans or ones who we might celebrate on certain holy days. We began to hear about the saints, ultimately all of those who are in Christ and have gone on to their reward and those who are currently in Christ and will go on to glory someday. We heard about the clothing that a saint might wear – how do we identify them? The white clothing placed on them by Christ certainly does much to show us who these people are – their everyday way of living. Today we hear their stories. What do we hear about from the saints? What ist their story?

There is a song that came out several years ago that contained these lines: “What’s your story about his glory? You gotta find your place in his amazing grace.” Recently I heard this song again for the first time in several years and I began to ponder these words. On first look, I have my faults. Every single day I do things that perhaps at the time I don’t realize are displeasing to God. This could take the form of anything from being rude to someone or not doing something that I know God would want me to do as a disciple. But I also know that I love Christ and I seek to grow in his grace every single day, to do better than the day before, to continue to be transformed into a completely new creation. I desire nothing but Christ and to walk in the Holy Spirit. My goal is perfection and I am, as John Wesley asked his pastors when they were being ordained, earnestly striving for and going on to perfection. But how I live my faith – the outward everyday testimony that I give – tells a story that will be my legacy. I hope to make it a good one.

Here’s a question that’s good to wrestle with from time to time: If I were to depart this world for glory right now, would my story as a disciple of Christ be one that’s worth being shared by others? Every single one of us will be remembered in some way by the people we leave behind. Another sure thing is, some will remember us differently. Some will remember us for the way we made sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving or for the way we told jokes around the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Some will remember that we did some heroic thing one year in a blizzard that kept everybody and everything frozen in place for a week. These, of course, are examples of the good things that someone might remember about us. Let’s hope there are many more of these sorts of stories than the other kind.

A saying that is popular among those in sales is that it can take a very long time to gain a customer but only a very short time to lose one. Likewise, it can take someone years to obtain a good reputation while it may only take a split second to have a bad one. The bad stories that may be recalled about someone after they have departed, unfortunately, can outweigh the good one. We have all seen it. Someone with a bad reputation can die and all some people will talk about is how much of a jerk they were, how badly they treated their spouse, beat their kids, did drugs, or any number of other things. Nevermind that that person could have once saved a building full of school children from a fire, it will be the vices and other bad things that will be remembered the most. Research has proven that negative events and traits can have a larger impact on our memories than positive ones. This may seem counterintuitive but the numbers do not lie. We tend to remember the bad stuff and forget the good stuff.

This is why it’s all the more important for every one of us who are in Christ to strive every single day to leave a positive legacy and to make sure that the story told about us is the best that we can possibly make it. Not only will this story reflect our life but can also reflect on all disciples of Jesus Christ.

Stories are exactly what we are reading about in this passage from the prophet Joshua. Of course, by the time Joshua is talking to the people about their stories as we pick up his story this morning, it has likely been well over three centuries since Abraham had lived and died. His name and some of his stories had been carried forward through the ages. But the first thing Joshua wants to tell the people about their ancestor as he is about to finish his work among them is that Abraham was not always connected to the God they knew as their God. He had served other gods, as his family before him had.

And the second thing he wanted them to know about Abraham’s story was that first our God made a choice, and then Abraham did. Our God chose to call this man who was not serving our God, and Abraham chose to pay attention and devote his life to following where our God led him. God acted first. God called. Then Abraham forsook all other allegiances and followed.

That’s our story, too, isn’t it? John and Charles Wesley would call this preventing, or prevenient grace. Before we were even trying to pay attention to what our God was calling us to do, even before we couldpay attention to such things, God called, and kept calling.

For many of you, you heard that call and you followed. You made a pledge at your baptism, if you were older, you would renounce all other allegiances, and serve Jesus as Lord, accepting the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. And over the years, you’ve learned what it means to rely on grace to keep you connected to God and to others in the body of Christ, the church, and to serve as Christ’s representatives in the world.

This is our story. We were serving other gods. We were following our own way. Even if we were “good Christian people” and “in the church,” and for some of us, even if we were confirmed and meant it at the time, we still hadn’t completely broken all those prior allegiances. Just being “in the church” may not really have been enough of an influence to do what the church promises to pray for us at every baptism– “that we may become true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”

Hear this good news. God keeps calling. The Spirit keeps striving. Prevenient grace is still very much a thing! Even when our story is that we’re ignoring God, God doesn’t ignore us. Indeed, God is calling us toward the fullness of life in Christ even then, even when we’re actively serving other gods or ends.

Hear this even better news. We don’t have to keep ignoring God’s call and God’s promise. We can “choose THIS day whom we will serve.” And in making that choice, our story can become more like that of those robed in white.

Joshua told the people an ancient ancestor story to speak of a God who made them a people –in effect–out of nothing, out of no prior allegiance.

They responded with their allegiance to their God who had done something even more remarkable than that. It would have been enough if God had simply called Abraham and given him descendants. But their story was their God did more. Their God delivered these descendants from slavery and cruel oppression at the hands of the Egyptian empire, brought them through a long journey, and enabled them to settle in a new land. Their God wasn’t just out to get them started, but to see them through whatever would come and work for their good. How could they not pledge sole allegiance to their God?

That’s the story of the saints, too. It’s our story. Some of us may have found ourselves caught in literal slavery and cruel oppression from others. Racism and white supremacy still exercise sway among us. Some of us may struggle with other forms of slavery and oppression such as addiction or other diseases beyond our apparent control. Probably all of us have struggled with patterns of selfishness or habits or actions or attitudes that destroy our relationships with God and neighbor and ourselves. And in our struggles, we may forget the best news of all. God really is out to save us.

God is out to save us.

And save us to the uttermost.

The story that we proclaim and that we weave for ourselves must be one worth telling and remembering. This is especially vital in the age in which we find ourselves. As I mentioned a few moments ago, we all have other gods whom we have been serving and at some point, those of us who have taken membership vows have professed before this or some other congregation that our allegiance is first and foremost with the risen savior Jesus Christ. What we see playing out in certain circles around us is nothing short of evil and idolatrous. We are more polarized than ever and we are also in a place in our nation’s history where we see many people throwing away what they know is morally correct and in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ for the sake of political gain. We are seeing people use scripture to justify everything from racism to pedophilia. We are seeing people equate allegiance with this or that politician or party with being a Christian. It makes my soul ache to know that such is the story that we are collective weaving about the witness of the church of Jesus Christ in the United States. Political gain and the setting aside of morals for the sake of political clout is not why Christ died on the cross. This is not why our veterans offered themselves up for us and why some gave literally everything they had. We can do better than this, we must do better.

As we write the story of our lives and our witness, we must make sure that if nothing else is said about us, it is proclaimed that we placed God above all other things in our lives, period, full stop. That means that we must do everything that we can to serve him and to take every single opportunity to show others the love of Jesus Christ as often as we can. In the sermon titled “The Use of Money” John Wesley said, “Employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree . . . to all mankind.” Do we do all the good that we can, in all the ways that we can, in as many places as we can, to as many people as we can, for as long as we ever can? And when we fail to do good and we cause some kind of harm, do we make amends by confessing, repentance, and amends to the person we have wronged? This is how we make our story as a saint one worth telling. Above all, we love God and then we love all people as Christ loves them. Leave a lasting legacy, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Amen.

Abuse is NOT a Christian Value

bible-wedding-ringsI have to make an acknowledgment: My home state of Mississippi does not have the best reputation in the world. We rank at or near the bottom in most of the good quality of life indicators and at or near the top in all of the bad ones. One of the negative areas where Mississippi frequently ranks highest is the rate of domestic violence.

When I was a paramedic in Mississippi, domestic assault calls were common and frequent. There was rarely a week that went by that I or another crew working on my shift would not be sent to a home because some dude decided to hit his wife (I acknowledge that men are victims of physical abuse as well, but I do not recall being called to any such situations). I simply could not fathom how such could be tolerated. I can not understand how a man could raise his hand to a woman after he vowed before God and a congregation to love her as Christ loves the church, which is what a reflection of marriage is intended to be.

And then I read this. Knowing that a pastor believes this helps me to clearly fathom how someone could think that abuse is OK and even biblical.

Andy Gipson is the chair of the Judiciary B committee in the Mississippi and has refused to allow the committee to take action on a bill which would have made domestic violence a grounds for divorce in Mississippi. Citing moral convictions, Gipson – who is also a Baptist pastor – refused to even allow the committee to take up the bill. When asked why this is what he had to say:

At a time I think we need to be adopting policies that promote marriage and people sticking together, I have some serious concerns about opening the floodgates any more than they already are. I think the floodgates are already open and this just tears the dam down.”

We need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart.

How dare he.

While there is certainly room to debate what grounds for divorce should be valid, domestic violence is not one of those issues to be debated. Domestic violence is never OK and should never be tolerated, especially by clergy.

Let me shout this from the mountaintops: DOMESTIC ABUSE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN VALUE!

No pastor should ever ask a spouse to remain with an abuser because divorce is a “sin” or because marriage is intended to be forever. As pastors, as Christians, we should do all we can to help that person get out of that situation (and pastors, in most states we are mandatory reporters and failure to do so can carry jail time).

Scripture makes clear what a marriage is supposed to look like:

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33 (NLT)

These words do not sound like a condoning of abuse to me. A man does not love his body with violence, therefore he should certainly not “love” his wife by raising his hand to her. For any pastor to suggest that allowing domestic violence to be used as a grounds for divorce will somehow “open the floodgates” for divorce is just plain ridiculous and inconsistent with biblical teaching.

I pray Rep. Gipson changes his views and realizes that Christ wants better for his children.

Prayerful Hope for President Trump

prayer-blocksI have to be very honest: I have had a lot of mixed feelings about the outcome of the last presidential election. Today I had many of those same mixed feelings as I witnessed the inauguration of (now) President Trump. While I did not vote for Mr. Trump (who I voted for is irrelevant and it’s likely not who you think), I do have to acknowledge that he is the President of the United States and should be given the opportunity to govern and to finish establishing his cabinet. As such, my hope is that his term in office is one of peace, grace, mercy, and that the hope that many Americans have of a better life will come to fruition. I hope you will join me in sincerely praying for President Trump as he seeks to lead this nation.

Today as I was pondering all of the events of the last few months, I thought of three passages of God’s Word that I would like for President Trump to keep in mind as he shapes his policies and chooses his advisers, department heads, secretaries, and others who will fill crucial positions within the government.

The first is Matthew 25:34-40 (NLT):

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

If the United States is to continue claiming to be a Christian nation, one of the things we must do is show mercy and generosity to those who are in need of it. I’ll give you a hint as to who that is: You and me. All of us. It matters not what we look like, where we come from, or even what deity we place our faith in (if any). Christians are called to show mercy and to provide for the needs of all people, all of our neighbors (that would be everyone), and people who are even from outside of our borders. God’s kingdom is much bigger than the United States. The reality is, we are not special in God’s eyes because all people are chosen by God and are worthy to be at His table.

All of this to say: We are called be generous in caring for the needs of all people, especially the poor. Let us not forget later on in Matthew 25 God judges the ones who fail to care for the “least of these.” My hope is that while Mr. Trump makes decisions that will especially impact the poor, he keep in mind that caring for them is part of the calling of all Christians.

Next is Micah 6:8 (NLT):

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

To really understand what the meaning of this verse is, we need to look at whats going on the larger context. Through the prophet Micah, God is chastising the people of Israel because they have forgotten who they are and whose they are. They have forgotten that God was the one who brought them through the wilderness and made a way to freedom for them. It was not a king or even Moses, it was all God. They have been deep in the mire of sin and what God is telling them is that trying to buy His forgiveness with offerings and then returning to their selfish ways is not going to cut it. Instead, God – more than anything else – simply wants them to live in a way that reflects the life of those who claim to love Him. Jesus summed this up when told us (more or less) to love God above all else and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

My hope for President Trump is that he remembers that we are called not only to be generous but to be just and to ensure that we truly have “liberty and justice for all.” That is not just the closing words of the Pledge of Allegiance but it’s a biblical mandate. All people for whom he now assumes care for are entitled to justice and he should do all within his power to ensure that justice is truly available to all people.

Finally, Proverbs 15:22 (NLT):

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
many advisers bring success.

This should go without saying, that failure to seek wise counsel and to heed their advice is a recipe for disaster. Mr. Trump has been very outspoken on his views about… everything. He has made promises and certainly seems to be set in his ways. My hope is that he surrounds himself with many who are wise and can offer to him the advice he needs to truly consider all angles of an issue, the people his decisions will impact, and how not only our citizens but how the world will react. While I do agree that nations should be free to place their interests first, we must also be mindful that our actions as a nation do make waves all over the world. Not to mention that any decision he makes on issues such as healthcare will certainly impact us all in positive and negative ways. May Mr. Trump have enough people wise enough to help him keep the pulse on what the American people need and how to best meet those needs.

Bonus: 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT):

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

I certainly hope that President Trump will pray for discernment, but this one is more for you and me. Regardless of how we feel about President Trump, Christians are called to pray for our leaders. Note that Paul did not differentiate between kings we agree with and kings with whom we do not. If we truly want to call ourselves a Christian nation, we must be people who pray for our leaders regardless of our political ideology. In keeping with what I said above about God choosing all people to come to His table, we must practice the same love no matter what. It is not only in our best interests to pray for our political leaders but it is also our duty. Let’s take it seriously.

On the Election

Lots of people want to know if the Bible has anything to say about an election. Some say that it does. I agree. So, here are some verses I would like you to keep in mind tomorrow as you go to the voting booth:

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

Jesus: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’[g] 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-30 NLT)

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT)

These are the most important things we need to remember as we prepare to vote. I don’t have to tell you that the rhetoric that has been spread throughout the campaign has been nothing short of toxic. The nation is polarized more so than it has been in my entire life. I don’t know about you but I’m tired and am looking forward to an end to all of this garbage (although I know that regardless of who wins there will continue to be toxic speech from the other side). Frankly, we have been anything but Christlike to one another. We have not been kind. We have failed to show grace to one another and we have been judgmental of our political stances.

No one is going to Hell for voting a certain way. One’s salvation is not demonstrated by which candidate they vote for or by which political party they align with. God is not a member of a political party. God is not on the side of one candidate over another. God is on everyone’s side. All people – be they Republican, Democrat, or whatever – are equally loved by God and are of sacred worth. No one is going to be condemned to a lake of fire because they vote for certain political parties or candidates. To suggest otherwise is not Christlike and unbiblical.

Above all, pray. Pray that God will guide you as you cast your vote. Ask God to give you grace for your part in the election fray. And show grace to everyone, especially those with whom you do not agree.

Sermon: Half Truths – “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”

mainslide-half-truthsThis is the fourth in a five week series based on Adam Hamilton’s book Half Truths. I particularly enjoyed researching this saying. I hope you will enjoy this sermon. As always, please feel free to share any feedback you may have! – Jonathan

Half Truths: God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
September 4, 2016

1 Peter 2:13-14 (NLT)

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

One of the greatest things I have experienced in my career as a paramedic has been that I have been able to have some great partners. I’ve had a few that I would rather forget and many who I am grateful for and will never forget. One of those great partners was Brother Mike. Brother Mike is an ordained Southern Baptist pastor who serves a small church near my hometown. At the time he was only drawing a part time salary so he worked at the ambulance service on my shift to pay his bills. As we were both pastors we were regularly put together. We always seemed to have unique opportunities to minister to many people we would come into contact with and we also got to have many great conversations about our faith, about God himself and about the Bible. As he is Baptist and I’m Methodist, you can imagine that while we did agree on many things we had some interesting conversations about the views we held differently.

One such conversation happened when we were on our way back to town from a transfer We were talking about scripture and how to best understand it. I had just taken a workshop on the various ways we can look at the bible and one of the things the presenter covered heavily was how John Wesley used scripture itself, tradition, reason, and experience to determine if what he was hearing, reading, or believing was true. Brother Mike listened to me and said, “Well, that sounds nice but I’ve always been of the opinion that we should just take the Bible as it is, unvarnished, and as God’s word. He said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This was not the first time I had heard this expression. Being in Mississippi and growing up around a lot of Baptists, one heard this saying quite a bit. In light of what I had been learning through my own study of how to understand scripture, this was the first occasion where I can remember truly pondering the meaning of this saying.

During this series on Half Truths, we have been looking at sayings that sound biblical but really aren’t, at least not in the way we say them. I acknowledge that with you knowing how I have treated the other sayings you may be growing a little uncomfortable right now, perhaps because you think that perhaps I’m going to make a case for why we can’t trust the Bible. I assure you, that’s not what I’m out to do. But what I do want to challenge you to do today is to think about how you have understood scripture and perhaps to consider a new way to think about what we read and hear about. The point that I want to make is this: We are not meant to check our brains at the church door and just take things at face value. It’s ok to question and to wrestle with things we read in scripture. God gave us brains and I believe we should use them to our fullest ability, including when we read the Bible. To simply take the Bible at face value and chalk it up to “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” shows a very simplistic view of the Bible. We don’t truly get the message, we simply get a few grapes off the vine and call it good.

Perhaps you were raised in a similar fashion as me: If something was in the Bible, you better not dare question it. I can remember when I was growing up that I would ask someone what something in the Bible meant or why it was there and more often than not I was simply told that it’s a sin to questions something we read in the Bible because it’s God’s word. I certainly believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word. But I don’t believe this means that things we see within the pages of these books are not above being questioned, pondered and wrestled with. Think of exercise: If you want bigger muscles, you have to exercise them. When you lift weights you are pushing against a force putting resistence against your body. By pushing against this resistance you’re growing stronger and can exercise with more and more weight. The next thing you know, you’re in a great shape and can even keep going.

The same is true when we flex our spiritual muscles and push against the resistance of questions and doubt. When we wrestle with the things in the Bible that we may not understand or perhaps even make us uncomfortable, we are opening ourselves to truly hearing God’s voice and the message he wants us to receive from his word. As we continue to wrestle, to pray, ponder, and study we grow stronger in our faith and in our knowledge of God’s will and nature. It’s ok to question and wrestle. Doing such exercise is how we get in better shape.

The short passage I read out of 1 Peter 2 is one of those passages that is often wrestled with. If we take literally and completely at face value what we read in Peter’s letter we may believe that God wants us to bow down and kowtow to all of our earthly leaders no matter what, period, full stop. We can think that it’s our God-decreed responsibility to, without question, follow the commands of any earthly leader no matter who this person is or what they ask us to do. But what if the leader is a dictator like Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who starves his people to death while getting rich off of their backs. His latest shenanigans involve his education minister who fell asleep during a meeting of the Communist leadership of North Korea. Kim Jong Un was so incensed by this transgression that he executed two high level North Korean officials… with a large caliber anti-aircraft gun. If we take 1 Peter 2 literally, are we to believe that this is someone worthy of giving our undying obedience to?

The simple answer is, of course not! No tyrant should ever be given this kind of affection and God certainly wouldn’t ordain such actions. Such is the danger of taking such passages literally at face value without regard to its true meaning. Taking 1 Peter 2 literally has several dangers, including that we could in theory use it to force someone to bow down to tyranny or, perhaps even worse, to express a notion that God condones such dictators and their actions. Yes, that people like Kim Jong Un, Hitler, and all of the worst dictators throughout history were put in their positions by God and that he orchestrated their actions. This is, of course, untrue and can cast God in a poor and false light. To be clear: God does not do these things. Such is not God’s nature!

We are not people called to check our brains at the church house door and leave them there. Christians are called to use our intellect to figure these things out and, yes, this even applies to when we come to worship and when we study the Bible. We have all sorts of tools for doing this, from commentaries to study Bibles and so much more. When I prepare for a sermon I not only study over the scripture itself extensively but I also take time to pray over it to ask God’s revelation for it. I also consult multiple commentaries, dictionaries, handbooks, and often look at Greek or Hebrew interlinear Bibles, which show the English and original languages in order to flesh it all out. My sermons may seem long but believe it or not they only average about 20 minutes or so. In order to prepare for that 20 minute sermon, I spend many hours per week in study.

If we were even intended to look at scripture through the lens of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” then me spending all that time in prayer, preparation and writing in order to be standing up here preaching about God’s word would be a waste of time for both me and you. All we would have to do is read our Bibles and just let that be that. It’s really wrestling with scripture and trying to figure out the true message that draws us closer to God. Grappling and meditating on God’s word is the stuff that helps us to grow in our faith and in our understanding about God. It’s also in the course of this exercise that we become better equipped as disciples who will go from this place to make other disciples.

If we want to believe in terms of scripture that God said it then we totally remove the human equation from scripture. In other words, we remove the humanity of the authors who wrote down these words under divine inspiration. We have to remember that these were human beings who were inspired by God to write and to tell of things they were feeling in their very souls. To believe that this is God always speaking through them is to believe that God was dictating a message to robotic secretaries in this world and I just do not see how that could be true. Scripture itself does not indicate that this is the case. There are certainly a lot of places where the writer indicates that the words are from God but the vast majority of the time the authors make it clear that they are writing their own thoughts and ideas about what God’s will is for mankind. Even Paul never claimed that he and God were of one mind, Paul in several places very plainly states that the words written are his and his alone. To state that “God said it” means we totally remove humanity from scripture.

Yes, God inspired scripture. God is sometimes quoted in scripture. But did God dictate every word of the Bible? Not very likely. To simply say that “God said it” when it comes to any given piece of scripture just is not usually true and oversimplifies the message that scripture contains.

A similar thing happens when we say “That settles it.” We oversimplify the work that it takes to really get at the heart of what scripture is saying to us. It takes away the important work which has been done in translating from the original languages and trying to figure out what the author intended for the reader to understand. Let’s take a look at John 3:16, which I’m sure every single one of us can at least paraphrase. In the verse where perish is rendered, the Greek word is apollumi and it can indeed mean perish. But it can also mean to die, to be destroyed, to be lost, killed, or ruined. Each one of those possibilities can make the message of the verse slightly different depending on which translation one decides is most appropriate given the context and other factors.

Even Jesus at times did not agree with the traditional rendering of texts in the ancient Jewish tradition. How often in the gospels is it recorded him saying something like, “You have heard it said… But I tell you…?” Jesus was doing a type of push back against traditional interpretation called midrash, where rabbis would attempt to explain what a text was talking about. As the apostles studied and debated about the meaning of scripture, they also realized that the authors of these writings were, at the end of the day, humans. Even under the inspiration of God they were not immune from bringing their own experiences and circumstances into their writings. If we were in the room with them and simply said, “Well God said it, I believe it, that settles it” they may well look at us as if we’re crazy. They simply did not subscribe to that notion. The same goes for the majority of the early church fathers.

We can all sit around all day and debate how to best determine what a passage of scripture is saying and how we should apply it to our lives. Even when we disagree about these methods, I believe we can all agree on one thing. Jesus gave us the best lens through which we can weigh out what scripture is saying when he gave us the greatest commandment, to love God with all our soul, mind, body, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Does the way we interpret a passage line up to that? Does the way in which we feel we are called to apply the scripture to our way of living line up with loving God and loving our neighbor? If the answers are no then we still have some work to do. We need to get some more exercise. Let’s make a new commitment to stretch and strengthen our spiritual muscles. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen.

Sermon: Half Truths – “Everything Happens for a Reason”

mainslide-half-truthsI have been intending to post this sermon for most of the week but life kept getting in the way. This is the first in a five week series of sermons inspired by Half Truths by Rev. Adam Hamilton. During this series at Shiloh, we are taking a look at a “Christian cliche” which sounds biblical but really is not. That is not to say that some of these don’t have at least some element of truth but sometimes these sayings are (1) not biblical and (2) can cause great harm. This one in particular hits home for me so I was glad to do it first. This coming Sunday we are looking at “God Helps Those who Help Themselves.” I will try to post it sooner! I hope you receive a blessing from this sermon. Please feel free to leave any feedback you would like to – Jonathan

Half Truths: Everything Happens for a Reason
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
August 14, 2016

GENESIS 50:20 (NLT) – You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

ROMANS 8:28 (NLT) – And we know that God causes everything to work together[m] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Most of you know about my daughter’s death soon after she was born. Among the many things I remember about that day was the outpouring of love and the many text messages and phone calls I got. Most I honestly don’t remember much about but I do remember a couple that stood out because of what they said. The gist of what these messages said was “so sorry to hear of what happened. It must have been God’s will. There must have been some reason why she died. It’s all part of God’s plan.

Let me stop right here for a moment and ask you to do me a favor: Please, never say anything like those statements to anyone who is in the midst of tragedy. Often these words are meant well and the person saying them is simply trying to provide some kind of reminder of God being present. But to me, these words provide no comfort and can do great harm to one’s soul. And not to mention, do we really want to paint God as a celestial bully who would willfully take someone’s child from them or give someone cancer? If we understand that God’s very nature and ways are only of love then we simply can not think that these things are true. Here’s the spoiler for today’s message: God is not in the business of willfully causing pain in order to prove a point or to make some kind of chain of events occur. Simply, bad things just happen. But this is not to say that God can’t or doesn’t redeem that bad thing for a good purpose.

When we use the logic that everything that happens is because God orchestrated it or that he has some purpose, we can then make an argument that everything is God’s will. If a marriage ends in divorce because one of the spouses committed adultery, did that happen because God intended for the marriage to end before it even began? When someone makes the decision to shoot elementary school students, does this mean those kids had to die by the actions of the shooter as part of a grant celestial plan that God came up with? We can even go down the line and say that God willed it for Mississippi State to lose to Ole Miss in football yet again and for UK to not make the Final Four last year.

When we say that everything happens for a reason or we make claims that something happening was simply God’s will, we are essentially passing the buck on any sort of personal responsibility that we have for our actions. Take the above events: If we simply chalk them up to just being God’s will or he having a divine purpose for making these things happen, that means we have no responsibility. That means that the spouse who cheated didn’t actually do anything wrong because they were just acting according to God’s will. This means that the shooter was merely an instrument of God used to continue his plan. This means that Mississippi State and UK have no responsibility for their not playing well enough to win the games I mentioned because God simply did not intend for them to win.

In our scriptures for today we have one from the old testament and one from the new testament which might seem like a night and day difference. These scriptures are sometimes used by people who defend that God has everything planned in advance and that we are all just players in his great drama. The reading out of Genesis 50 of toward the end of the story of Joseph. Perhaps you know the story. Joseph was beloved by his father. His brothers were jealous so they sold him into slavery to the Egyptians In spite of his being a slave he became a trusted advisor of the pharaoh and helped the Egyptians avoid the consequences of a famine which was revealed to Joseph in a dream. Joseph eventually ends up helping his brothers who sold him into slavery and they were reconciled. Hearing all of this, I can see where it would be easy to conclude that Joseph was trapped in a hole in the ground and sold to the Egyptians in order to prevent them and their neighbors from going hungry. There is a strong case to be made for this innocent man being sold into slavery being part of God’s plan. Which brings us to the new testament reading.

Paul wrote Romans when he was on his way to being put on trial in from of the emperor. Paul was no stranger to conflict, in fact his ministry is marked with it time and time again. So Paul is in the midst of one of these conflicts and pens this letter in which he states that God works all things out for the good of Himself and his people. This is another scripture in which people sometimes try to defend the notion that God has somehow planned everything. But note what Paul did not say: He did say that God has arranged everything according to his will. He did not say that God has caused him to be taken into chains and put on trial to face death. He did not say that God made him go to prison. Paul, instead, says that God works it all out in the end. This is an important difference to take note of because Paul is not placing the blame on God for his being under arrest, rather he is acknowledging that God will use it. To say it another way, God doesn’t cause innocent people to go to jail, he doesn’t cause people to die of cancer, and he does not cause people to be killed in senseless tragedies. But when these things do happen, he make the evil thing bring about good for the Kingdom of God.

Part of the reason so many of us have this notion of God is because of a theologian named John Calvin. Calvin was very much against the theology of the Catholic church and the argument could be made that almost everything they were for, he was against. His understanding of protestant theology was outlined in what is considered to be one of the classics of Christians theology called The Institutes of Christian Religion. Calvin was a proponent of a outlook called theological determinism. In a nutshell, Calvin believed that God is sovereign and has dominion over everything in the world, including everything that happens right down to the cells in our body replicating. Calvin’s argument was that if something occurred that was not God’s will then God could not be sovereign and have dominion. Calvin also believed in a principle called predestination, which meant that not only did God know everything that would happen in history but that he actually planned everything. Further, Calvin stated that this included God not knowing but actually choosing who would and would not be saved in in his presence forever. In other words, Calvin felt that God planned every single thing that would ever happen, including the fact that you’re here today at Shiloh and that God has even chosen who will and will not be forgiven of their sins. Calvin’s view is that God has picked and chosen who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had similar beliefs to Calvin in several areas. He even made a statement which said, in essence that Methodism was within a breath of Calvinism. However, Wesley disagreed with Calvin in one major area: Predestination. Wesley believed that from the very beginning humankind was given free will, or the ability to make our own choices. Wesley believed that God knows how we will decide but that he does not actually cause us to make certain decisions. While Calvin believed that a person could not choose to trust God – rather that God would in a sense force them to believe through what he called irresistible grace – Methodist belief is that we decide for ourselves to trust Christ. Instead of irresistible grace, Wesley believed that God gives us prevenient grace, or grace which comes before which God uses to reach out to us humans and enable us to say yes to his justifying and sanctifying grace. Wesley believed that we have free will instead of having our will dictated to us.

The Bible lends support to this notion from the very beginning. In Genesis we read that God made the universe, the world, and everything in it and when he had placed Adam and Eve in the garden he gave them dominion over it. This does not sound like a micromanaging, puppet string pulling God to me. Instead it sounds like that God’s intention was to be present but not to interfere in the day to day stuff. God certainly did not intend for Adam and Eve to disobey him. Why would God compel people to disobey him? The logic simply does not stand up to the test. Simply put, God is not in the business of micromanagement and he certainly is not a puppet master. God also does not cause bad things to happen.

We want to believe that everything happens for a reason, that especially when bad things happen it’s all for a greater purpose. This simply just is not true. Bad things happen for a variety of reasons but sometimes they just happen. But they do not happen because God willed it or because he wanted to prove a point. God does not give people cancer. God does not cause children to die. God does not cause any sort of tragedy. But when tragedy does strike, let us remember that God is in the midst of it and he is ready to take that evil, ugly thing and make something beautiful come out of it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt – amen.

Biblical Leadership

4070b18a4c0375f82ee73208f15b1874302d3a269de045e28994de1162799d1dAre you sick of the Presidential debates yet? Oh, just wait until we get closer to the general election!

As a pastor, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to tell you which candidate or which party to support. Non-Profit status concerns aside, I simply do not believe that’s what the sacred desk is for. I realize that not all of my brothers and sisters agree with this notion but I would much rather talk about what the Bible says makes a good leaders as opposed to whom I believe is God’s man/woman.

During the last Presidential election in 2012, I was made aware of a movement of clergy called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” where they would spend a Sunday sermon telling their flocks which candidates and parties they believe should be supported. Preachers are typically discouraged from making such statements from the pulpit because such would endanger the congregation’s non-profit status with the IRS. The rationale is that the IRS should not hamstring clergy from campaigning from the pulpit. Again, I do not agree with this because I simply do not believe a pastor should use the pulpit to stump for a particular candidate or party (that does not mean that I am opposed to talking about issues as they relate to scripture – quite the opposite). When I was asked to participate by a parishioner at the congregation I was appointed to at the time, I explained that I would much rather preach about what scripture says about leadership.

And that’s what I did.

Below is that sermon (more or less). Keep in mind that this is one of the first sermons I ever wrote so it’s not stellar (not that the ones I write now are great!). However, I feel that the overall message is very timely as we approach election time. How do the candidates stack up base do what God’s word says about what makes a good leader? I pray this helps you gain some insight as you decide which candidates to support.

Jonathan

As we approach this election season, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been bombarded with messages and some might even say propaganda from all sides of the political spectrum. Largely it seems like it’s all rhetoric, sound bytes and “vote for me because I’m not the other guy.” What we as Christians should take in to account more than what the media tells us is what the Bible says about leadership. What Biblical standards should we be looking for in a candidate for any kind of office or any kind of leader for that matter? Today I want to look at what the Bible says we should be looking for in our leaders and give some examples of Biblical leadership. Of course, this message is for all of us but I especially want the youth to pay attention as they are the future leaders of our church and our world. I’d like to ask them to come forward at this time so that we can say a blessing over them.

The Bible gives us several things we should look for in our leaders. In preparing for this week’s message, I took to Facebook to ask some of my friends what they look for in a leader. Some of the responses I got included:
• Humility
• Wisdom
• Seeks wise counsel
• Willing to serve
• Willing to listen, not just order

Indeed, the Bible shares these qualities in what we should look for in our leaders. Let’s look at the broad spectrum of all qualifications. In 1 Timothy, Paul lays out what should be sought after in looking for elders – or pastors – of the church. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:1-5: This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

Paul pretty plainly lays it out on the line: A leader must be honorable, have integrity, be hospitable, be able to control his/her temper, not be greedy.
• By the way, this applies equally to men and women. Women can certainly be leaders and they should be no less wise.
• Leadership involves being willing to pass along ones’ knowledge to the next generation in order to help raise up quality leaders for the future.
• Being humble – not boastful, not greedy, willing to help others – is one of the most important leadership qualities there is. What kind of leader is someone who isn’t humble and who demands respect instead of commanding respect by their actions?
• You can attract more flies with honey than you can vinegar – a good leader knows this.

Have you ever looked at the perks that online companies offer their employees? It’s not uncommon for websites such as Google and Amazon to offer their employees things such as free lunches in an on-campus cafeteria (not like our school cafeterias thankfully!), pool tables, free massages, unlimited vacation time, and even allowing employees to bring their pets with them to work. There was a CEO of one online retail website that started offering these things to his employees when it wasn’t common to do so. Traditional CEOs told him that it was a waste, productivity would suffer and he would end up losing his shirt if he offered his employees such cool things and gave them so much freedom. It was not uncommon for this CEO to even do things like grill hamburgers for all of his employees and he even took groups of employees to amusement parks – on the clock and all expenses paid too! Today his company is well known and is enjoying success beyond what he even imagined. Because he had the vision to be a servant to his employees and to treat them exceptionally well, his company has been successful, productivity has been great and many of those who said he would fail by doing these things have gone out of business themselves.

A leader has to be willing not only to lead and be the boss, he/she must also be willing to serve. In Mark 10, Jesus plainly tells us this when He says in verses 42-45: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus even exemplified this when in John 13 we read that Jesus – being the very reason we are here and as the leader of His disciples – committed an act that no leader of the day would dare to do and something I doubt very many would be willing to do today. In verses 4 and 5 we read that Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured some water and got down to wash the feet of His disciples. Imagine being there for a moment: The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – someone we very much should be the ones lowering ourselves down to – lowered Himself to be a servant to those who follow Him. In verses 14-16 He explains to them: “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.” This is probably the absolute best example of leading by being a servant that any of us could ever find.

There is a legend that is told of a French Monastery known throughout Europe for the exceptional leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks took a pilgrimage to visit this extraordinary leader to learn from him. Starting out on the pilgrimage they almost immediately begin to argue over who should do certain chores.

On the third day of their journey they met another monk also going to the monastery; he joined them. This monk never bickered about doing chores and did them dutifully. And when the others would fight about which chores to do, he would simply volunteer to do them himself. On the last day of their journey, others began to follow his example and the bickering stopped.

When the monks reached the monastery they asked to see Brother Leo. The man who greeted them laughed. “But our brother is among you!” And he pointed to the fellow that had joined them.

Many seek positions in leadership to serve their own interests and not that of others. There are many self serving reasons why a person may want to lead such as power, status, networking and money. But the best leaders lead because they care about people. And those are the types of leaders that lead like Brother Leo. They teach through their actions, not by words alone. They are servants, not commanders.

Is risk-taking something that’s wise? Some might say that taking risks as a leader means that you just go out on a limb no matter what anyone says, do what you want to do anyway and hope for the best. That’s certainly the way a lot of people look at risk taking but it’s not always so haphazard. Taking risks isn’t always wise as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you. However, sometimes risks – with lots of prayer, wise counsel and benefit and consequence analysis – that will have a huge impact on the church, the household or the whole world. If you want an example of that, look no further than the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley.
• John Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, England to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Samuel was a priest in the Church of England.
• John and his brother Charles were raised in the tradition of the Anglican faith and John and Charles both got the necessary education and experience to become ordained into the Anglican church themselves.
• John went to Savannah, Georgia as a missionary in 1735. During the sea voyage to America, a big storm arose. John found himself scared to death but noticed that some Moravians on board were not only calm but even singing hymns in the midst of this storm that threatened to sink the ship. He wanted to have the peace that they had – the peace and contentment that we can have through Jesus Christ.
• As Wesley learned about salvation through faith, he plugged away until the fateful day on May 24, 1738 when he had what he called his “Aldersgate Experience” where he heard someone reading Martin Luther’s preface to Romans. It was at that time when Wesley wrote that he “felt (his) heart strangely warmed.” The rest, as they say, is history.
• Wesley – in spite of protests from many within the Anglican church – started what would become known as the Methodist movement, which included doctrines such as prevenient grace, sanctification through faith, Christian perfection and the then-unheard of practice of using lay local preachers to spread the gospel.
• Of course, all was not always well with Wesley’s leadership. For example during his initial time in Georgia he denied communion to a former girlfriend and her new husband. Charges were brought against him and eventually Wesley returned to England a beaten, broken man.
• Eventually Wesley persevered and rose above all of the bitterness and shame he experienced. It’s in large part thanks to John Wesley that we’re here today. His vision, wisdom and faith carried him through the storm and he was able to lead a movement that is still ongoing today.

Biblical and Godly leadership qualities are things we should all strive to conduct and certainly something we should look for in our leaders no matter their office. As Christians it’s our duty to discern who these Godly leaders are. People who are first and foremost committed to Christ, people who are wise and seek wise counsel, people willing to not only lead but to serve, to lead by example and who aren’t afraid to make unpopular decisions are who should be our leaders. This certainly goes for our elected officials. As the Presidential debate is a hot topic issue, many in churches are asking their pastors to tell them who they should vote for. Well, I’m not going to do that. What I will tell you is this: Pray and ask God who He wants to be our next President. Consider all of the qualities that the Bible says make good leaders. And when you get into the voting booth, vote your conscience. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. He will never fail you in any situation, even in the voting booth.

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?

Jonathan