Monday, July 31, 2006

Mixed Signals

We were standing at the airport awaiting the arrival of our bags when I nearly snapped. Not really -- I'm not sure I'm "snappable", but allow me the hyperbole anyway. For those non-Detroit people who read this, I need to explain Smith Terminal. The main terminal at Detroit is McNamara. It is new, modern, beautiful, very well designed, and about the nicest large airport anywhere (the nicest small one has to be in Fort Smith, Arkansas). The other terminal -- soon to be replaced -- is Smith Terminal. Think "Bosnia-Lite" with "eau de Kosovo" oozing up from the carpet competing with the aura of despair and meaninglessness coming from the baggage claim area and various TSA personnel.

A woman was beside me, turning around constantly and yelling at her kids. To be fair -- the kids needed yelling at. They were out of control and causing quite a scene. The woman would yell, threaten, plead and then start again, almost without taking a breath. Knowing that I might offend some, it must be said: this woman was demanding her children be disciplined when everything about her indicated she was not disciplined herself. Her clothes, hygiene, voice, language (and on and on) were all indicative of a person who had never made a hard choice, chosen a discipline and stuck to it, or lived a life of self control. The pile of duty free liquor boxes at her feet were just a plus, a metaphysical underlining of my initial take on the situation.

So... why didn't her kids listen? Because the signal was mixed. The kids were seeing one signal lived out in front of them and hearing another signal. That second signal had no chance of success for the kids had never seen an example of it lived out in front of them.

On the cruise ship some very young girls wore super tight T-shirts advertising their sexual availability with slogans or by their snugness. Others wore far too little cloth covering only the legal necessities as their "swim suit." We're talking 9-14 year olds, here. Moms and dads had to buy that clothing, had to pack it, and had to allow them to wear them in public. These would be the same moms and dads that sat in the restaurant and complained about how unruly and disrepectful their kids were. Hmmmmmm.....

Other parents embarassed themselves and their children by the heaping plates of food they hauled back to their table at every opportunity. When the chocolate buffet came out on Thursday it went from farce to tragedy. By that I mean that I used to think the most dangerous place on the planet was between a TV camera and Jesse Jackon or Harry Reid. Nope. The most dangerous place was between some of the parents and that chocolate. Walking through a little later you saw heaps of food left on plates, wasted, good only to be thrown away by the third world workers whose hearts had to ache with memories of poverty back home. Where were the parents? They were out by the pool yelling at their kids to behave. Their efforts failed. Wonder why?

Children have to SEE disciplined lives lived out in front of them. My kids helped us write the checks when we paid our bills. They saw how much we gave the church. I arranged my study time to take place while the kids were up so that they could see that daddy really did read and pray every day. I took them with me when we did good works, made visits, mowed the lawn of a neighbor who was in the hospital, etc. I need to stress this: this was not natural for me. It was hard to remember that my little ones needed to see Christianity lived out. I am as selfish and narrow minded as any of you... but I know that Jesus wants something better from me. He lived it out, too. There was no mixed signal from Jesus. He lived out the fruits of the Spirit every day, in good times and in bad, and stayed faithful to who He was even while on the cross; offering forgiveness, taking care of his mother, and talking to His Father.

The lady at the terminal doesn't have a pleasant life. In pursuit of her own joys, pleasures, and peace, she has ended up in a place that guarantees she won't get any of them. My heart breaks for her and for her children. She did me a favor, though. She reminded me how important it is that my life gives off the right signals. People notice. Twice on this cruise, couples came up to us and asked us about our faith. They had noticed something different. We are in contact with two of the couples and hope to help them find their way to Jesus. Kami and I don't always send the right signals, but we want to!

Lord, let our lives match what we say we believe.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Bible's PDR

[NOTE: I leave in just over an hour for a cruise with my wife and won't be back until the evening of July 29th. You may leave your comments, but they won't be posted until then. I had to take that action after some less savory types were leaving offensive comments -- blog bombs -- back a few months ago. Sorry for the inconvenience]

Doctors have a very large blue book in their office. It is the Physician's Desk Reference, commonly known as the PDR. It has a full description of every prescription medicine available in the United States along with indications, contraindications, side effects, chemical makeup, metabolism rate, etc. It has a central section with photographs of each pill so that stray medications can be identified. Reading the PDR can be unsettling as the side effects of medications can be frightening. For example, people take Valium for depression and anxiety and the side effects of Valium are... you guess it... depression and anxiety! Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

The Bible has a PDR. We call it the poetry section of the Old Testament: Job, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Proverbs. Let's look at Psalms this week while I am out of the country. If you are suffering with depression, anxiety, or stress; if you are working on getting through your days and want to arrive at tomorrow with a modicum of sanity, here are some ideas to get you started in your search of God's PDR.

1. Read through the Psalms, but only the first two or three verses of each psalm. Do it quickly and notice how the effect is somewhat like an amusement park ride. He's up, he's down, he's confident, he's angry, he's joyful, he's depressed.... keep reading. See that God is fully aware of how squirrelly we are and how we swing from one mood to another based on a wide variety of internals and externals. "He remembers that we are dust..."

2. Think of someone you know: a woman who is pregnant for the first time, someone experiencing the empty nest and not taking it well, a person who just got the job they wanted, or the man who just lost one... you get the idea. Happy or sad, new experiences or situations, think of that person. Now, go through the Psalms, turning pages, reading a line or two here and there. You will find that some passages leap out at you and speak directly to the emotions of the individual you were thinking about. It's uncanny. Give it an hour and see what happens.

3. Read the paper or watch the news and then go back through the Psalms. You will find that they speak directly to people who are suffering the events the news recounts. Think of a young girl in Haifa as the rockets fall around her. In the 60's (the Psalms in that section) you find prayers that speak of evil falling down around a terrified person, fires in the night, cries and chaos in the city. The Psalms work from that point to a place of faith and strength. Try it once a day and see what insights come to you.

4. Can't or won't read? Get the Psalms on CD or MP3. Use them instead of music or talk radio for two weeks and see what happens to you. You will be amazed.

5. When you find a Psalm that speaks of your heart and mind that particular day, use it in your prayers. Read it out loud to God, sing any songs that it brings to mind, and end your prayer with a time of quiet meditation -- just a few minutes.

Thank God for understanding us and giving us this rich source of emotions linked to words so that we could find a way to speak to Him -- and understand ourselves -- as we walk on this often perilous journey. Check out God's PDR and we'll see you at our next appointment -- in a week.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What About Those "Church People"?

[NOTE: after Friday morning, the 21st of July, I will not be able to moderate comments here until the 31st. I am going away with my wife and we will be away from phones, email, and news. ALSO -- we are doing another cruise for missions in 2007. Next February we will take an eight night cruise on a wonderful ship and make stops in Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize. Worship at sea, daily devos, etc. and part of the cost goes to help two great mission works. Contact your sister in Christ, Sue Yanaros, at for more information. We want to meet our blogging friends!]

A good question was raised by Tina -- why does it seem that the church can be the first to reject the depressed, the unlovely, the uncool, the square pegs? This is not a new problem. I get questions from businessmen asking me why they can do business with outsiders much easier than they can members of their own churches. Moms and dads will tell me their kid is dating a nonChristian because they were so badly treated by a couple of Christians in the past. What is going on here?

First things first: it isn't God's fault and it isn't even the fault of the church (in the worldwide sense). Many local churches are dysfunctional for a very easy to understand reason: they are full of dysfunctional people. Why does this or that church make it so hard for depressed or broken people to play a part in its ministry or family life? Because it, too, is full of depressed and broken people. Some of them know they're broken. Others don't. But the fact is that churches cannot be perfect because we let people like us in!!! The church isn't a group of holy, perfect, and wise people -- though I have found plenty of those people resident there. It is a group of people who need Jesus and that means it has more than its share of messed up, freaked out folks.

Another reason we often are disappointed in the church is that we think it has a job that, in fact, it does not. We have encouraged this error whenever we create special ministries for every little group. There is a ministry for the seniors, high schoolers, middle schoolers, single mothers, divorced men, bored housewives, timid husbands.... etc. ad nauseum. Soon, we think that the church is there to make us feel better, give us a group of like minded people to hang with, and take care of our needs.

Nope. Hey, it can happen... but when it does that's just gravy, folks. Jesus did not go to Calvary so I don't have to go to the movies by myself.

If your gifts work better outside, in the marketplace, the neighborhood, or academia then take your gifts and use them there! Jesus didn't stay in the temple precincts and, although he attended synagogue and participated there, he didn't spend his teaching and serving time there. His community traveled with him as he moved around and -- more often than enough --he left them behind and went off on his own. On his own he confronted demons, comforted women, stared down angry men, cured sick children... all of those he came to save and serve. And then he said... are you listening? Are you ready for this? ... "Follow me."

We do not need to turn churches into social clubs for the religiously inclined. We do not need to look at it as a hospital, either (Oooohhh.... listen to the knees jerk! They sound like crickets!). Hospitals exist to make us feel better, be healed, and ready to re-engage our previous lives. Emergency Room waiting areas don't look like heaven to me (more like... you know...).

Church is where we go to worship the God who didn't leave us in the ditch, who created us in His image, who gifted us and placed us as He desired, and who then gave us other people on the same road with whom to pray and whom we can serve. When no one serves us, we follow Jesus... and serve anyway, in and out of the body.

I love my brethren, even those who write me hate mail (Cut it out, Mom!). It's just another reminder that God has saved all kinds of sickos and freaks in the past and will continue to reach out to those who need Him most. And who needs Him more than us, the ones who bear the scars of our past and who reel in shame at our inabilities and paltry attempts at spiritual growth? And who are we to complain when we find ourselves in the middle of a lot of other people just like us who God, in His mercy, gave the same grace He offered us?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Unlovely, The Uncool

A wonderful question was left as a comment on my last blog entry here. In it I created a teaching scenario where people attend a party and contrasted the behavior of someone who is depressed vs. someone who is wallowing in self-pity. It wasn't intended to cover all possible situations and it didn't Someone wrote in asking what to do when people reject you or refuse to let you be a part of the party.

Ahhhh... why are some people easily accepted into groups and conversations and others, despite their most earnest attempts, find themselves, at best, tolerated or, at worst, rudely rejected? Now you're talking about my life! I find myself at a stage of life where I am well liked, in demand as a speaker, and considered a fun -- if eccentric -- guy to be around. It wasn't always that way.

I was one of the unlovely, the uncool. Some of that was due to my parents who wouldn't let me go to parties, have a girlfriend, or have any say about each day's schedule, what I would study, when I would study, or even if I would have a job. This was part of the reason I was terribly socially awkward -- I was never given any chance to make friends or conversation. I could go on and on but the point is: my social life was nil and the harder I tried to find a way to work my way into any circle the worse it got.

Add to that -- I was never (and will never be) tall, muscular, or handsome. I was born with a slightly crooked back, poor lungs, and I walk like a duck. When I try to run it reminds onlookers of the time the mule got in the fermented apples. I was never allowed to play sports since I was expected to be at the beck and call of my dad, but had I tried for sports it would have been a bad day in Black Rock. A bad day, indeed.

Hang on... I have a point coming....

So, from one of the unlovely and uncool, here are some observations and ideas.

1. Being uncool is probably temporary. Unfortunately, it might not be. I believe Psalm 139 tells us that God built us on purpose, forming us in His mind before He forms us with His hands. That means you are not a mistake. God needed you, built just as you are. Remember: nobody gets all the gifts, but everybody gets at least one. Remember this, too: You get the gift God needs you to have, not the one you might have chosen for yourself. Remember the parable of the talents? What matters is that you play the hand you're dealt as fairly and righteously as you can.

2. Most people grow out of being uncool. They find people who will accept them and, in that environment, they lose the traits that made them socially awkward. What traits? The lack of social eptitude, the inability to read people, the low level panic that others may realize you're not one of them... you get the idea. Problem is, when you are fourteen or twenty three you can think "this is it, this is the way it will be the rest of my life." Usually, it isn't going to be like that.

3. What if it IS permanent? Then it's not time to shut things down, but to reboot and reframe. I'm not talking about a makeover, but a decision to listen to the question God asked Moses when Moses was convinced he could never do what God wanted him to do: "What is that in your hand?" Make a list of the things you "have," your qualities, talents, interests, and abilities. Be honest and do it right. Now you have something to work with. There are groups, activities, and clubs that would interest you (and you, them). The list is the set of muscles you have to work with. Get better at those things. You will also get more interesting and more powerful as you do so. Think about Bill Gates. Look at him. You think recess wasn't hell on earth for him? You think he got out of high school without being dumped by every girl in the tri-county area? But who's laughing now? Take the highest paid basketball star or hip-hop recording artist today and they're paupers compared to Gates. Hmmmm....

4. If you ARE at that party, here are a few tips. First off, don't try to be interesting. Find other people interesting instead. Ask them a few questions about themselves and react carefully, kindly. Don't keep asking questions, though. Just create a place where they are free to talk about themselves or free to walk away. If they are free to go they often choose to stay. If they feel trapped they WILL find a way to get away from you. Keep your distance, physically and emotionally, unless and until you are invited to step closer. Be the kindest, gentlest person in the room. It will pay dividends. Eventually.

5. Yes, the prettiest girls often go with the worst guys, but most girls don't stay dumb forever. Create a reputation -- you are the person who is steady, kind, and reliable. Boring? Sure! But after a few disasters, boring begins to look pretty good. (you think I'm Mister Exciting? Bah! My spiritual gifts are (1) sitting still and (2) losing my train of thought... but I still got the prettiest girl ever!). And ladies, it is true that men are so full of hormones and so full of themselves that they overlook your inner beauty and charm. I'm sorry, but the fact is that men are idiots. We all know it. Most will get tired of cotton candy and marshmallows eventually. Those who don't tire of fluff aren't the ones you want to be around anyway.

6. Those who accept who they are and then accept others for who they are usually find friends. Proverbs is full of advice on how to chose friends, form community, and keep from being foolish. Read it -- a few verses at a time. When you find yourself in there, make the necessary corrections.

You know what? Even though I am a popular speaker with some bookings as far away as 2009 (but not many), I still don't go to parties. I found out something: I'm not that kind of person. It took a few decades but I found out that I was really pretty happy being who I am. I don't "do" buddies and pals. I like walking with my son, my wife, and Jesus. I like talking on the phone with my daughter and I like to read. I like blowing raspberries on the belly of my parrot and listening to her laugh herself silly each time. I like people as long as they stay back a little bit. Odd, isn't it? For years I was upset that people wouldn't let me into their groups. Now I don't want in. Maybe God was trying to tell me something all those years ago: I'm not a group person.
What is God trying to tell you? Start with the way He made you, with the gifts He gave you, and with whatever is in your hand. Go from there with gentleness, humility and grace.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Support for the Depressed

[NOTE: from time to time I issue this reminder: everything I write at this blog or over at my personal blog ( is free of copyright and can be copied, edited, used or reprinted free of charge, regardless of whether or not you choose to give me credit. Freely received, freely given. And worth every penny]

Churches can do a great deal for the depressed, but nothing at all for those who suffer/enjoy self-pity. Depression is a real and serious illness that requires treatment outlined in the last two editions of this blog. Self-pity is a power move by someone, often claiming depression or some mystery illness, but, in actuality, it is a "heart" disease that will lead to spiritual death.

Scene One: a party. Two or three dozen people of roughly the same age are talking, laughing, sharing some punch and snacks. A depressed woman (not to be sexist here, but depression strikes women more frequently than men) tries very hard to fit in; keeping up her bit of conversation, smiling or laughing at appropriate times. In the car on the way home, she feels small and alone. She cries herself to sleep. (alternatively, she is so depressed she doesn't come to the party at all)

Scene Two: a party. Two or three dozen people of roughly the same age are talking, laughing, sharing some punch and some snacks. Someone with self-pity notices that she isn't being noticed enough. She has no control over the crowd. Rather than trying to fit in, she finds a way to get noticed. She sits down on a couch in the center of the room and sighs heavily, looking mournful. She traps a couple of people in the kitchen and drops hints and rolls doleful eyes until they are forced to ask her if she is all right. She will say she is, but in a way that leaves no doubt that she is put-upon, burdened, a martyr in the making. On the way home, she will review her performance and critique how poor this or that person was in helping her. What terrible people! she'll think to herself.

If a church feeds a person's self-pity, they are helping her/him lose their soul. If a church FAILS to help and reach out to the depressed (when they know about the depression. Depressed people are often experts at hiding their illness) they are failing to be the community of Christ.

Depression is strange. It can be caused by the weather (Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, boys and girls. It isn't imaginary. Real chemical events are occurring in the brain and blood). It can be caused by situation, physical illness, or genetics. While churches are rarely equipped to directly treat depression, they can assign shepherds or members to watch and pray with the suffering individual. If possible, engage them in active ministry. It is amazing how often having a mission and sacrificing for others can bring a person into a happier place. Help them grow in ministry, prayer, and community and do not forget to encourage them to find professional treatment.

Those who use sinful coping mechanisms to deal with their depression, or those who use their self-pity as a club and lasso to keep others in line must be confronted -- in love -- by their community of faith. Every confrontation must be undertaken only after several people have agreed, after much prayer, that it is needed. Also -- and this is critical -- only confront someone if you are willing to stand beside them and help them make the painful, slow changes in their lives that are required to get them back on track. Confrontation shouldn't be fun. If it is fun, you are really just jumping on someone when they are down and -- just maybe -- you are a bullying jerk. So.... softly, softly. Reach out to each other in humility and tears with heartfelt and solemn promises of support and unconditional love.

For we are the community of faith, right? Be the church.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Depression, pt. 2

There is a simple formula for dealing with depression; simple, that is, to understand and remember. It can be anything BUT simple to actually work the formula.

1. Face it: One of the most important parts of the pathway to wholeness is to admit that you are depressed. Too many look at their depression as a personal failure or a spiritual weakness (or even a sin!). That makes most people reluctant to seek help for depression. Others aren't even aware they are depressed. They miss the warning signs or assume they are just tired or maybe they have some mysterious disease... and it results in the suffering individual not getting the help they need.

2. Trace it: Why are you depressed? Do a survey -- preferably with the help of a trusted professional -- of the chemical, structural, and emotional aspects of your life, present and past. While being depressed is not a sin, sin can play a part in becoming depressed. When we have done something terrible, our guilt is compounded by how disappointed we are in ourselves. We thought we were better than that! Or, that we should be better by now! In my experience, sin is a causative factor in only a minority of cases of depression. Most people are depressed because of life, their chemicals or, perhaps, their genes, but not because they are evil or have done evil. Whatever the causes are (there is almost always more than one cause) they need to be traced and revealed.

3. Erase it: This is the step everyone thinks is the hardest... and it can be, but it often is much easier than the first two. As they say, your mileage may vary. Here is where the medicine and talk therapy kicks in. Generally speaking, to achieve healing, a change of mind, a different viewpoint, a new way of understanding will have to be brought to light and then accepted, owned. Medication might be required to give the sufferer enough strength or peace to get this viewpoint-shifting work done.

So where do you find a good counselor? The best way is to go to the Yellow Pages... but not to the therapist or counselor section. Go to "Churches" and call every church (any tribal affiliation) within your personal driving distance. People in rural areas might need to look at a one hour driving radius or more. Ask the secretary or pastor who that church trusts. Ask both about counselors/therapists and psychiatrists. Write every name down and highlight those who are mentioned by more than one church. Alternatively, go to and get recommendations there by typing in your zipcode.

A note about medication: one of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with depression is the unlovable fact that finding the right dose of the right medication is mainly a crap shoot. Doctors generally go with the drug that has worked for their patients most often. They guess at a dose, usually going as low as they think they can go. Some people feel an immediate benefit from the medicine -- but they are the minority. Most people have to try three (on average) medications or dosages before the right combination is found for them. It can take a year to get it right. A medicine which worked wonders for 90% of those who took it might make the other 10% worse... and there is no way to know how it will work in your body ahead of time. Please, please, please be patient. Your doctor isn't failing on purpose. He/She wants to get this right as badly as you want them to get it right!

Other things you can do for yourself? That's for next time. Remember: depression is not sinful. God isn't disappointed in you. Your salvation is not in jeopardy. And if the devil tells you that you have failed or reminds you of your past, remind him of his future and walk on.