Sunday, June 25, 2006


Depressed? That's not surprising. Depression is the common cold of mental illness. We call it that because everybody gets it from time to time and it is usually self-limiting; meaning, it goes away by itself with no treatment.

But if it doesn't? What if it lasts for two weeks, three weeks, or more? When is it time to get help? There are three areas of life that, if affected seriously, are your tripwires, your early warning signals, your wake-up calls.

1. Intimacy: if depression is affecting your closest relationships (spouse, children, parents, friends), if you are walling yourself off from them or driving them off, or if you have emotionally walled yourself from them.... get help.

2. Meaning: if you are questioning your value or standing as a human being; wondering if you are important or necessary, wondering if the world would even know you are gone.... get help.

3. Responsibility: if you are shirking your responsibilities around the house (parenting, upkeep, etc.) or at work... get help, especially if it continues for more than a couple weeks.

What kind of help should you get? Here is where it gets complicated. We are made up of three different components:

1. Structural: this is our DNA. This is our genetic inheritance, our bodies. Some forms of depression are genetic and can be passed onto our children (though not to all of them or even most of them). If your genetics are misfiring on you, you will need to get medical help. There is NO shame in that. Genetic faults are a reality we have to face in a world far removed from Eden.

2. Emotional: this includes our spiritual, metaphysical, and emotional makeup along with the complex matrix of our knowledge base and belief systems. This is the usual target of counseling. Everybody gets screwed up emotionally from time to time. Most of us make some adjustment to our knowledge base (learn something) or adjust our belief system and move along. Some pray or seek comfort in religious ritual until the crisis passes. If it doesn't pass, a professional can often help by supplying another viewpoint. To be fair, a community of trusted friends can often help just as well as a pro.

3. Chemical: this is not only the incredibly complex soup of chemicals in our system but also the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and what we drink. It is always a good idea to check your diet when you are depressed. Some depression (but not most, by far) can be linked to food allergies or a lack of B-complex vitamins or even to eating too much of the wrong food and too little of the right food. Usual things to jettison first are sugar, red wine, and white flour. To be fair, most people will need to add exercise and medication if their depression has a chemical cause.

Notice something? The chemicals can be bad because your genetics are making the wrong ones or not absorbing the right ones. So now your depression has two causes. But wait: "thinking" is accomplished by a myriad of chemicals and electrical impluses that can be caused by faulty belief systems, bad genetics, or lousy chemicals.


Here is the simple truth: when depression gets serious it is time to get help from someone who knows how it works. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in psychopharmacology. He is the only mental health expert who can prescribe medication. A Licensed Professional Counselor or psychotherapist (or Marriage and Family Counselor or a dozen other names) is the best choice for talk therapy. Talk therapy is effective when done right. Most psychiatrists don't have the time or talent for it, but counselors are experts at it.

There are others who counsel, too. Some of them are good and some are horrible. Some States allow anyone to call themselves a psychotherapist or healer or spiritual advisor, etc. Some States have no laws governing what a clergyman or clergywoman says or does. Buyer beware.

In every study done, those who got medical help AND talk therapy got better much, much faster than those who got just one of them. Second best? Talk therapy/counseling... but it was not a close second.

More on depression in further columns. Know this: depression is NOT a sin (though it can be caused by sin, guilt, or shame). Some of God's favorite people were depressed or suffered it many times in their lives including Job, David, Jeremiah, Elijah and Jesus. Yes, Jesus. Isaiah said he would be known as "a man of sorrows and well acquainted with our grief."

Sometimes being depressed is just proof that you are paying attention! When you STAY depressed after conditions change or time moves on, then get help. It isn't a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of wisdom.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Truth or Not Truth?

When someone starts a blog they have several decisions to make. They have to determine what level of honesty and exposure they will establish and maintain; what risks they will take with their life and reputation. When that blogger has a congregation of 1200+ and speaks all over the US and much of the world, that decision isn't an easy one to make -- or keep.

So what should this blog be? Should it be a series of platitudes issued by a spiritual leader, full of pat answers, simple solutions, and nonoffensive stories? Should I reveal any personal struggles, weaknesses, biases, foibles? Or should I pontificate from a distant place as if none of the earth's dirt gets on me?

When Rochester hired me five years ago I promised them (warned them?) that I would live my life out loud and out in front of them. I wouldn't hide behind our plexiglass pulpit. I would share the bits of my life that shame me as readily as I would those parts that give me joy. I grew up listening to preachers roundly condemn most of what I was doing (or wanted to do) but they never shared stories about themselves unless they put them in a good light. Even when they "confessed" or "fessed up" to making a mistake it was in a humorous context so that we could all laugh a little and shake our heads saying "Things like that can happen, can't they?"

I don't play that game. An example: Twelve years ago some people called me, asking me to meet them for lunch. I was supposed to hold them a meeting and they needed to go over some things with me. My spidey sense was tingling -- I've never had a good day start with hearing "we need to have lunch." When I arrived the two men said, "We've received a letter about you that makes some rather serious accusations." The letter was unsigned (figures!) but of sufficient weight to bring us to the meeting that day. As one man began to open the letter I placed my hand over his, stopping him. That, alone, shocked him for men don't touch that way outside of Brokeback Mountain unless they're checking for a pulse. I said this: "I don't know what is in that letter. I can't even guess at it. But what you need to know before you even open it is that it is nowhere near as bad as the truth."

They were stunned. I wasn't going to hide behind ecclesiastical robes or reputation. What was the letter going to say? (I never got to find out. They pitched it. We had a good lunch and, later, a good meeting where several came to Christ) Was it going to say I was lazy, greedy, lustful, tempermental, tactless, wishy-washy, or a spiritual cripple? If so -- it was right. I am the least of God's servants and I have never made a secret of that. I am proof of His grace and love -- for He should have left me in the ditch. He had every right to do so. I am also proof of His power for He has done many mighty things around me and through me and I know I don't have the spiritual/physical or moral power to light a light bulb... but He has taken my half a fish and a few crumbs of bread and done wonderful things with them.

Some were upset about me mentioning weight and size in the last column. Most of the emails I got were very charitable and kind. Some weren't. Some thought I shouldn't notice or mention such things. But why? You are hereby allowed to notice bad things about me (there are plenty to choose from, ladies and gents, step right up and take a handful, no pushing, please)! I am a short guy (5-8. I used to be taller but that $#%%$ gravity stole some) with round shoulders and a slight hunch (from birth, uncorrectable) and possessed of a voice that sounds like Mickey Mouse got in the helium again. Two major battles have consumed my life over the last twenty years -- my weight and my anger.

So... I went on a fast. And I am still on it. I gave up meat years ago. While I might eat fish once or twice a month, that's it. I LOVE meat, but I will not eat it again. I had to have something in my life to remind me --every day -- that I was no longer a predator and I would not attack my brethren or neighbors again. It also reminded me that not all food is good for me and I needed to make better choices about what to eat and how much of it I could eat. This is not a diet -- it is a spiritual commitment.

Am I allowed to notice or comment when someone is huge? I think so. I could lie and act like it never crosses my mind but is that the kind of minister-blog you want? Maybe you should go to the card store and read Helen Steiner Rice verses instead. My favorite comedian is John Pinette (his CD "Show Me The Buffet" is hilarious). His comedy centers around his considerable size. He joyfully admits it isn't a glandular thing; he just loves eating. For those who are overweight due to genetics (a very small percentage) I know what you are going through. See above: I'm not a handsome dude and I get teased a lot even now (and I take it because I know it isn't done maliciously. I'm glad my family and friends can be comfortable and secure enough to tease me). If your weight is caused by other conditions such as medication, the inability to be mobile because of an injury or disease, etc. then my heart goes out to you. When I lost the ability to walk for awhile (I'm okay now) my weight ballooned. But if your weight is due to overeating and lack of movement -- change your life. Make a vow. Keep it. I know it's not easy, but it CAN be done.

In the meantime, this blog will continue to be honest and open even at the risk of being unlovely. Because, really, would you want it any other way? Like me, hate me, love me, revile me... but at least you will know who I am before you decide!

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Executive Mailing Tube

I just flew in from Oklahoma City last night. On Sunday, I fly to Omaha, rent a car, and head to York to speak the next six days at Soulquest. When I get back, the next morning I drive down to Detroit for that is the Sunday Rochester switches pulpits with one of our larger black churches in the area. After that I have one Sunday here and then fly to New Jersey for a four day meeting.

Why am I this busy? It's not because I'm good. I think it's because I'm cheap.

Most of these trips require flying. I hate flying. I hate having to drag out my laptop, take off my shoes and belt, and balance my boarding pass and ID all at the same time while some angry, bored, and impatient TSA agent starts staring at me while slipping on the latex gloves. I hate the smell of airplanes -- a distillation of sweat, BO, perfume, dirt, fear and despair. I hate the fact that airline seats were designed for leprachauns with masochistic tendencies. I hate the fact that every other preacher (I'm going by their sermon illustrations) has deep spiritual conversations with their seatmates and all I want to do is survive mine. I hate the noise -- engines, a dozen conversations, kids who evidently hate the plane as much as I do -- and I hate the fact that it costs a bundle and you can't even get pretzels or peanuts on most flights any more.

And I hate getting butt-whacked. This last flight, for example. The plane pushed away from the gate and stopped (that way, they can log it as an on-time departure even though nothing went anywhere). After twenty minutes the pilot came on and asked us to move around. It seemed the weight and balance figures for our plane weren't good and we were nose heavy. They asked the people in the first two rows to relocate further back. They didn't move. They refused to move. I could see why. Three of them were women approximately the size of York, Nebraska. I don't say that to be unkind -- merely stating facts here. One carried a gallon Tupperware jug full of sweet tea (I know it was because someone had drawn those words on the side with a magic marker). In the two seat row on the left, she touched both external armrests. It reminded me of the time that I saw a 300 pound woman in the mall with a T-shirt saying "Guess." I went with "thyroid disorder."

Each of the heavy women and two heavy men had to use the facilities a few times during flight. Each time I, sitting on the aisle, couldn't lean away far enough and therefore got well and truly butt-whacked (or should I say derriere-drubbed, rear-rapped?). I'm used to the drink cart catching my knees and businessmen swinging their laptop case around like it was a bolo, decking everyone in a four foot circle and acting like they don't notice... but I draw the line at butt-whacking. It's not only painful and embarrassing -- it seems immodest and impure somehow.

The devil knows this. He likes airplanes. I think he is the CSO (Chief Sulphuric Officer) of Northwest at least. Maybe Delta, too, since they have their own little separate purgatory terminal in Cincinnati. He knows he can get me in a bad mood in zero point zero seconds in an airplane. Then -- I spew out of the plane with the rest of the rumpled and stinky herd and head to a religious gathering. It usually takes me a few songs before I can join in.

I wonder if Paul was a good traveler? I wonder if he got sick on the boat when he was in a storm. I wonder if the apostles ever got fed up with the snacks served on Oxcart West. I wonder if Jesus got migraines.

All I know is this: if God can use me after I've been on an airplane, then He is truly God of Gods and Lord of Lords. As long as He wants me to travel and speak, I will, because I love Him and want to share the good news.

Just don't expect me to be happy about the journey. And where are my $@#& pretzels!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Chairs of Hope

I am in Oklahoma doing a youth rally at Oklahoma Christian University. I left behind 70 degree weather with blue skies and low humidity and arrived to blast furnace-style heat complete with wet-rag/warm-towel humidity. Knowing it was only going to get hotter this week, I left my hotel early this morning and went downtown to spend a good amount of time around the Oklahoma City Memorial.

It was just over eleven years ago when the nutcase McVeigh (with help from others -- some caught, some not) blew the front off of the Murrah building killing 168 people and injuring 700 more. Where the building stood is now framed by two large, black memorial arches connected by a long eternity pool, a reflecting surface. Some of the walls of the Murrah building are as they were that day -- shattered, broken, rebar poking through ragged holes. A survivor tree is circled by a memorial to the responders -- professionals and average citizens -- who charged in again and again to find and save anyone caught inside.

A field of empty chairs is on the other side of the pool, 168 of them to represent those who died. It is an effective and moving monument. Frankly, I was unprepared to discover that people are still bringing flowers, leaving wreaths, notes, stuffed toys, and letters of love and loss at one end of the memorial. It was moving in a way that took me by surprise. I paid my $8 and went into the museum next door. It walks you through the opening hours of that day, shunts you into a room where you hear a recording of a water board meeting that was in session when the bomb went off. When the sound of the bomb comes over the tape, the lights dim and you hear the cries of people organizing each other in the midst of the unknown, looking for a way of escape.

As if the museum were not touching enough -- with its piles of keys, children's toys, shredded appointment books, shoes and briefcases -- there is also a traveling exhibit attached for a limited time. It is "Terror in America -- the enemy within." It would be easy to forget that we have always had terrorism in America. From anarchists (who killed two American presidents), German saboteurs, communist radicals, the Weather Underground, the Animal Liberation Front, and so on to the islamofascists and white power and black power advocates of today, this nation has always faced enemies from within and without.

And sometimes they leave 168 empty chairs.

Before I could descend into despair, though, I remembered last night. In the Judd theatre I spoke to an enthusiastic and tuned in crowd of teens. I can't remember the exact number I was told were in attendance but I believe it was.... 168. They sat there in chairs, singing praises to God, praying to Him, listening to my little set of stories about our reliance on Christ and salvation by grace. Afterwards, they came up and hugged me, smiling, full of life and hope and faith.

Empty chairs, made that way by a madman. Full chairs, made that way by faith.

He has not deserted us. He is not far from us. He walks with us, even in the shadow of grim arches and twisted rebar.... and faith rises up and fills the chairs again.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Readdressing the Concept

When I named this blog "tentpegs" I explained, in the first column, that the word refers to our tendency to put down roots, make ourselves comfortable, and not continue our journey from here to heaven. In my own life I can often hear the tentpegs give as one more part of who I am and what I do moves on; my tent folds up and the journey continues.

As our congregation moves from being a one-location-many-services church to being a multi-site, missional, many-services church I can hear a lot of tentpegs popping out of the ground. Such is as it should be. God never wanted us to be comfortable and "at home in the world." We settle for far too little. We settle down far too quickly.

Thanks for your kind words about Duncan. He took the ASVAB test (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) on Monday and scored 82. Average is less than 55 and it takes 74 to qualify for application to NROTC so he is a very happy man. He gets up at 6AM each day and goes running before coming home to take a quick shower and head for school. His work ethic and dedication humble me. [thanks to all who recommended Frank Shaeffer's books "Keeping Faith" and "Faith of Our Sons." We got them, read them, and are buying other copies to send to everyone who knows us and wonders what got into Duncan and how we are handling it]

We signed the papers on Monday. Kami and I sat at a small desk in a tiny room and signed the papers that allow Duncan to make his own contract with the Marines and enter whenever he wants to. He is 17. We heard the tentpegs pop out of the ground. Life is changing, never to be the same again.

I feel somewhat like I felt when I left Kara at Lipscomb six years ago. Her mother and I cried for the first hour on the drive home, unable to speak. We did the same thing when we put our son, then aged 9, on a flight to Guyana to help his grandfather in medical missons deep in the interior... and with Hurricane Mitch on its way. It was similar to the feeling I got when I walked over to my daughter -- who stood there nervously, radiant in her wedding gown -- offered her my arm and said, "It's time. We will do this well. Let's go," and nodded to the people ahead of us to open the door and let us march down the aisle.

Tentpegs popped out of the ground.

Tentpegs are our security blankets. They are our chains. They lock us into a place of comfort and security, allowing us to build palaces for ourselves while God lives in a tent, a shack, under a bridge.

What if the children of Israel thought about things for awhile and decided they didn't want to go to the Promised Land, but stayed around Mount Sinai instead? Forget about what God might have done to them: think about how tragic their loss would have been and how they would never have known it.

We were built to move. We weren't built to make our homes on this planet. As we move towards God He builds change into our lives: seasons change, jobs begin and end, and children grow up and put on a wedding dress or camoflauge.

And the tentpegs pop. Let each pop remind us that we are not at home yet. May the old songs remind us that we are pilgrims and strangers, just travelin' through this wearisome land. But we have a home in that yonder city that is not made with hands!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Concerning Daughters

I am proud of the fact that my daughter and I are still very close. She is beautiful, delightful, wise, and faithful. She is also incredibly interesting with many hidden depths, full of surprises. That is the way of women. Remember that Solomon, the wisest mere man that ever lived, said that he couldn't figure out women... and he, like a good scientist, had run nearly a thousand experiments in understanding women by the time he said that!

Women are more complicated than men, physically and mentally. Men's sexual anatomy is simplicity itself but women's is so intricate it's hard to know where it begins and ends. Their minds are built for multi-tasking. For you computer geeks out there, think of it this way: women are Windows, men are DOS. Men are designed to pursue one thing at a time, but women are experts at knowing what is going on in a wide variety of arenas all at the same time.

To raise these incredible gifts from God, moms and dads need to emphasize certain traits in the same way as we emphasized the three traits for our boys to become men. Here are our target traits:

WISDOM: our girls must be encouraged to use the wisdom God wired into them. It is not an accident that wisdom is personified as female in the book of Proverbs! Praise them when they think things out. Show them they have gifts in academia, yes, but also in common sense, in interpersonal relationships, etc. The world is attacking this aspect of women, trying to convince them that they are merely consumers or sexual objects and nothing more. Every measuring indicator the world offers them involves sex or possessions. A Christian response to this is to praise our daughters for their intelligence.

PURITY: We must also counter our world when it tries to make women like men sexually. Men have always been more than willing to have sex with anything or anyone who is available, but women understood the costs of sexual activity and so regulated it to ensure that someone would be there to help them, protect them, and provide for them and their children. The world is trying to strip this away from our girls and make them like the disposable women on MTV and BET, not to leave out prime time TV like Desperate Housewives, etc. When girls are taught to honor their bodies and their futures, to value purity and to offer that purity as a gift to the world -- wow! What does it mean "to offer that purity as a gift"? It means that women's far reaching wisdom and their innate understanding of the value of their sexual being can control others when they forget God's law and get out of control. It is women who can disapprove of something their child or husband plans to do and, so, change it. We want their approval. We need their reminders that some things are not pure, not safe, and not for us. They can remind us to be pure.

SHEPHERDING: Women are far more aware of the feelings of others than are men. Our daughters can be trained to regard their natural abilities in this regard to be a blessing to the planet. It is the women who know where the children are, who notice who was left out of an event, who see the person sitting alone, and who remember to send sympathy or thank you cards. My wife -- God bless her -- is a very busy woman with a successful interior design business. She often has to travel to Lansing to speak with legislators about new laws and protections... and yet she will turn to me and ask me what kind of dinners we would like to have this week. I never give it any thought, but she is already concerned about and in action concerning what we should eat this week, day by day, and who wants what. That is a gift that women can bring to the equation and most men can't. We need to encourage our daughters to use that gift of concern, love, and care for everyone around them. They are natural shepherds, leaders, and teachers.

JOY: Men can get silly far faster than most women, but girls have joy built into them, too. When our daughters are taught the love of playing for its own sake, for laughing and dancing, and for rejoicing in silliness, they can infect the whole room with joy. You've seen the T-shirts than say, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" The reason is, we all want the approval of women. We want to see their joy and smile. I am never happier than when I see my daughter -- 23 years old and married -- collapsing in a pile of giggles, pulling off a great one-liner, or dancing around her apartment in her pyjamas. Women are the bringers of light, the windows of heaven. Let them play. Let them wear silly sparkly things or play with their hair.

There is more, but this is the basic framework we used with our daughter and which we have taught at over 200 churches in the last twenty years. It is very, very cool to get letters and emails from people who took our advice and who thank God for the relationship they now have with their daughters. It is even more gratifying to see these young women grow up and take their place in the Kingdom, bringing their wisdom, purity, shepherding, and joy to the whole church. What wonderful beings are women! Thank God for His kindness and wisdom in providing them.