Anxious Much?

Brian Johnson remembers when the panic attack hit. On the outside, the Bethel Music and WorshipU cofounder, author of the book When God Becomes Real, husband and father seemed to have it all together. But two years ago, something happened inside of him. Suddenly, in a rush of anxiety and panic, he lost control.

“Can’t breathe. Can’t think straight. That’s a scary one when your mind is not working. That’s pretty paralyzing,” he remembers. “The sense of hopelessness was so strong that you just can’t reason it away. It’s all consuming, overtaking, and I’ll tell you the word hell becomes very real.”

After a few days in the hospital, Johnson went home, but not long later it happened again. But this time, it was in the form of a nervous breakdown that took a toll on him for months.

Johnson, like his wife, Jenn Johnson and father Bill Johnson—the founder of the influential Bethel Church—believes deeply in the power of the supernatural, healing and God. In fact, the church regularly conducts “healing services” where congregants pray that God will cure people’s diseases. He believes that “spiritual attacks” are real. He believes supernatural healing is possible.

But, his experiences with panic led him to a path to healing and recovery that more and more churches are beginning to embrace. Mental health, anxiety and depression aren’t spiritual afflictions. They’re also physiological. And “healing” can involve a lot more than prayer.

During the season of extreme anxiety when Johnson was having a prolonged nervous breakdown, he did what he’d always had done. He turned to God for help.

“When I was a kid, worship is what got me through panic attacks and those different things,” he says. “But in the nervous breakdown and that whole season, reading the Bible, getting up and reading the word over and over is what helped my mind heal.”

He also wants people to be clear on something else: something that more and more churches are now beginning to realize. Part of God’s ability to heal mental health issues looks different than spiritual exercises.

“I want to make sure to highlight, I did take medication,” he says.

Jenn and Brian Johnson
He emphasizes that “removing the shame and giving grace for periods of time for people to see a doctor” is important — especially in churches that simply try to “pray away” mental and emotional health issues like anxiety.

“It’s the same thing in my mind if you had a broken arm and didn’t fix it. It’d be cruel,” he says. “And I think for me, it was physical for a time, and I needed that medicine for a season. The doctor even told me that.”

Johnson isn’t alone. A study from the Centers for Disease and Control found that 31 percent of Americans were suffering from new bouts of anxiety and depression brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is hitting young people particularly hard, with a full quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 saying they’d contemplated suicide because of the pandemic.

Rhett Smith, author of The Anxious Christian and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, says that many Christians have some major misconceptions when it comes to anxiety and mental health.

“Paul says in Philippians 4:6 ‘don’t be anxious,’ and they take that at face value,” he explains. “I think a huge misconception for Christians is they feel like something is wrong with them or something is wrong with their faith or they must be a bad christian if they’re experiencing anxiety.”

When that happens, for many people, the most obvious thing to do is to turn to a faith leader for help. The problem is, many simply aren’t qualified to treat actual, clinical issues.

“I have lots of people in my therapy practice who come in and say, ‘I’m anxious, and I tried to go talk to my pastor or my friend or someone in my community, and they just said I should just pray more and not be anxious,’” he explains. Not only is that simply not good advice, it stems from a misreading of what Paul was actually saying. Smith says: “That type of anxiety is used to express care or concern for people.”

And, treating actual anxiety with one-size-fits-all solutions ignores what we now understand through science and medicine to be the causes of anxiety and different mental health conditions.

“One of the dangers is that we forget the idea that God has put us in human bodies and we’re all wired differently, and we all have different brain circuitry, and we all had different experiences growing up, and some of us have faced a lot of trauma that has wired us,” he says. “I think we just forget that we are not simply spiritual beings, we’re human beings with flesh and blood, and because of that, anxiety is not simply a spiritual issue.”

When well-meaning pastors or church leaders meet with people suffering from anxiety, but aren’t qualified or trained in actual treatment, it can make the problem worse. Pushing for strictly spiritual solutions to extremely complex problems can lead to people not getting the answers or the help they need.

“We know so much more about the brain than even we did five years ago,” Smith explains. “We know we can scan a brain with an F-MRI scan and look at the neural networks and look at the chemicals going through the brain, and we can realize that there was so much more happening that is beyond us and beyond our beliefs of what we think about spiritually.”

He also says that this approach is clearly scriptural: “God gives us discernment as Christians about decisions we make, and part of the discernment we have as believers is to look around and take the advice and the wisdom of people who’ve done a lot of research on the body and studied the body.”

Rebekah Lyons
Rebekah Lyons remembers what it feels like when “anxiety comes knocking all the time.” Happily married with three kids, she’s a successful writer (her latest is called Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose). Her and her husband Gabe also founded the successful Q Ideas conference. Outwardly, her personal and professional lives were going terrific. On the inside, she was consumed with stress and anxiety.

One day, in a moment of more intense anxiety, she realized that she needed to make serious changes in her day-to-day life.

“The American Institute for Stress says that 77 percent of our society right now feels the physical symptoms of stress on a daily basis,” she explains.

Though her emotional health journey looks different from Johnson’s, she too took a strategy that was more than just “pray it away,” though she does pray daily. So, she came up with a plan.

“I was like, ‘I need to make this practical, actionable, approachable, where we can somehow with God take charge of our emotional health and inspire some of our loved ones to do the same.’”

Today, she builds in practices—like times of rest, removing certain social media from her phone, being intentional about family time and recreation—that helps on a daily basis.

“Just being open about this tends to take away some of its power,” Smith says. “Just the ability to acknowledge it I think diminishes some of the power that it has.”

She, like Johnson — and what Smith hopes are many other church leaders — is learning that though God can “heal” anxiety and emotional issues, He often does it in ways that might not seem as “spiritual” as many Christians were taught.

Most importantly, more Christians are finally opening up about mental and emotional health. There is no shame in seeking the lives God intends for us, through all the resources He’s made available.

Jesse Carey

Why Did God Heal Me?

January 12, 2019, was just another day in pain. For nearly four years, my body had betrayed me. Unexplained headaches. Numbness. A broken metabolism. The need for a two-hour nap every afternoon. And worst of all, significant digestive problems that made it impossible for me to stand up for longer than twenty minutes. I was forced to alter local travel plans, stop preaching, stop coaching youth sports, and a whole lot more.

Resist the urge to play armchair doctor. I went to doctors and chiropractors and nutritionists. I tried a lot of different approaches. People who knew me best wouldn’t ask if I felt well but how much pain I was in.

I had preached once in the previous twelve months and almost collapsed. Yet here I was, in Texas on a Saturday evening, visiting a small group at the church where I was going to preach the next day. During dinner, I shared how I had been in bed all day and was not feeling well. I had cut a meeting short that morning because I just couldn’t take the pain. They decided to pray. Nothing fancy. No formula.

I preached the next day and went home. But a week later, I noticed something. I had no pain. I had not missed a meeting. I had not pulled the car over suddenly to try to gather myself. I had not taken a nap. Had I changed my diet, my workout routine, my supplements? Was I experiencing less stress? No.

God had healed me with almost no fanfare. Unlike so many Jesus healed who could not keep the news to themselves, I have been reluctant to share because I just haven’t been sure. But it’s been over a year and a half now, and I continue to feel healthy.

Unwelcome Thorn
Suffering causes pain, both physically and socially. Here I was, the strong and proud leader of a growing missions organization, and I couldn’t lead a meeting or speak in public. I had to stop traveling. And when I came home to my wife and five children — exhaustion and pain. Two-hour naps. I felt useless.

“Poor in spirit” doesn’t mean defeated or resigned; it means dependent (Matthew 5:3). I knew I had nothing a good resurrection couldn’t fix (to paraphrase D.A. Carson). I knew that no purpose of God could be thwarted (Job 42:2). I knew Jesus had all authority (Matthew 28:18) and that he understood my pain (Hebrews 4:14–16). Physical pain could lead in only two directions: to bitterness or to humility. We have all seen this both in ourselves and in others. I could complain and compare, like Peter asking Jesus about John (John 21:21). “What about that guy?” is a question that comes without effort. The pain made it impossible to boast about the future when I had a difficult time mapping out the day (James 4:13–17).

I wish I could say I had perfect obedience and faith through it all, but I fell quite short. My pain often led me to focus simply on the pain and annoyance. I complained. I couldn’t mask my frustration. Patience was out. Prayers beyond my own predicament were hard to come by. Suffering can give us tunnel vision, causing us to miss the ten thousand ways God is at work. Even after the fact, I do not always feel gratitude for being humbled through physical pain. I could agree with Paul that this thorn in my flesh was keeping me from being conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7), but it was not a welcome gift.

Cautious Celebration
Craig Keener, in his defense of miracles, spends a considerable amount of time reporting on healings from blindness, the lame walking, and people being raised from the dead. I have seen many such miracles in the context of my missions work. None of them has come from healing ministries, but from church communities and gospel-advancing work where God displays his power over idols. Miracles have become so regular for some of my friends that they hardly mention them in conversation.

So, why the hesitation to talk about my own healing? A few reasons come to mind. Many Christians probably pray for healing more than for the salvation of loved ones who do not know Christ. Charlatans also steal money from God’s people, claiming the ability to heal. In addition, while we certainly pray for healing, we are hesitant to acknowledge it when it happens, fearful of being like the false teachers we all know. But there are also two other, more complicated reasons that warrant at least some caution as I celebrate this work of God.

The healing was not from everything.
Lazarus was raised, but he died again later (John 11:43–44). Same with Eutychus (Acts 20:9–12). Healings in Scripture are often limited in focus. For example, Jesus healed a fever (Matthew 8:14–15), leprosy (Matthew 8:1–4), blindness (Matthew 9:27–31), and a withered hand (Matthew 12:9–13). Sometimes the afflictions were demonic, sometimes not. But there is no indication that the healings were total; they were just a taste of things to come.

My body has been restored, and I have been able to work without interruption. But in the past year, I’ve had the flu, been tired, and had a bad reaction to food. In this life, all physical healing is temporary. We all will be buried and raised. I will get sick again, maybe even with the same illness that plagued me for years. Future glory is coming. It is better that my sins are forgiven than that my body is working.

Faithful friends have been sick in the meantime.
Another reason I have felt so cautious is because some of my friends have suffered and even died over the past few years. Some struggle with constant pain, and I don’t know how to tell them I am well and no longer share ongoing pain with them. Jesus has the authority to heal them, and he has not done it. Many of them possess faith much stronger than mine. They had more people praying for them. And yet, sickness and pain persist. Why? I don’t know.

The mysteries behind suffering are often a stumbling block for those who refuse to believe. I understand the pull of the prosperity gospel. I understand the hope that is created when you believe escape can come by the strength of your own belief. But that is a shallow understanding of the complex and multifaceted ways in which God works.

The good news of the birth of the Messiah led to the slaughter of children. Lazarus was raised, but surely Jesus passed by other funerals and kept walking. There were certainly more blind and lame in Israel than those who came to Jesus. Stephen was stoned and not brought back.

Precious, Temporary Healing
The Christian answer to the problem of suffering does not answer every question people have, but it is still a better answer than anything else. Jesus Christ experienced suffering in the flesh, is able to relate to us, and took the burden of the wrath of God on himself (Hebrews 4:14–16). Because of his sacrifice, we have an inheritance laid up for us that is imperishable (1 Peter 1:3–4).

These truths enable us to rejoice in temporary healing and be certain of a complete and total healing in store for those of us who are known by the Son of God.

Darren Carlson

A Christian Scientist Adds His Two Cents

Christian scientist and this year’s Templeton Prize winner, Dr Francis Collins has lamented sharp divisions in society over some of the measures to fight coronavirus.

In his acceptance speech for the prize, which he received at an online ceremony on Thursday night, the Human Genome Project leader called for “harmony” as he said that “conflict seems to be the order of the day” not only in the context of Covid-19 but other areas like race relations, climate change and even interpretations of the Bible.

Dr Collins, who is one of the many physicians worldwide working on a Covid-19 vaccine, said: “When this serious threat to our world emerged at the beginning of the year, I had hopes that it would draw us together, as has happened before in this country when facing a dangerous enemy.

“And for a while that seemed to be happening, but look at us now. The simple act of putting on a cloth mask is sufficient to inspire harsh disagreements among Americans, even though the public health value of that action to slow the spread of the disease is unquestionable.”

Another example of this, he said, could be seen in the debate around vaccines. Dr Collins said he was spending “almost every waking hour” working on Covid-19 tests, treatment and vaccines, and promised that the latter would be subject to “rigorous” testing.

“But we are now seeing deep divisions in this country, with as much as half the public saying they wouldn’t take such a vaccine,” he said.

“What should have been harmony in the name of saving lives has also become a conflict.”

Dr Collins suggested that the answer to the divisions lies in a “renewed commitment to truth and reason”, and the biblical principle of loving one another instead of tribalism and hate.

He said that out of all the developments in society troubling him, “none is greater than the growing disregard of maintaining a high standard of objective truth.”

“We have no future as a society if we abandon that framework, yet somehow with a lot of assistance from social media, the adherence to fact over fiction, to accurate narrative over conspiracy theory has taken a major hit,” he said.

“All thinking persons should raise the alarm about this.”

In his wide-ranging speech, Dr Francis said there was no conflict between faith and science, despite “voices at the extremes” still getting “a lot of attention”.

“At one end, you read pronouncements from new atheists like Richard Dawkins who use evolution as a club over the head of anyone stupid enough to accept the possibility of belief in God,” he said.

“At the other end, fundamentalist perspectives from groups like Answers in Genesis argue that any scientific conclusions that disagree with their interpretation of the Bible must be considered at least wrong and probably evil.”

He suggested there should be room for differing interpretations of Genesis.

“It was one of the great tragedies of the last 150 years in the United States that an ultra literal reading of the first chapters of the book of Genesis have been taken as a litmus test for serious Christian faith. Augustine warned 1,600 years ago about such a literal interpretation,” he said.

“Those powerful and mystical Genesis words about creation tell us about who we are and who God is but were never intended to be a scientific textbook.”

Jennifer Lee

Help Us Say Goodbye

No one likes to talk about death, especially during a pandemic that’s impacting everyone on the planet. And yet for some people, death is their life’s work. It’s their vocation.

In fact, helping bereaved families and friends say a personal goodbye to their loved ones is what motivates them, day after day.

They are the funeral directors and the staff of our local crematoria and cemeteries. Often forgotten or out of mind, the men and women who arrange and service funerals perform a vital role.

Vicars and other ministers of religion work closely with these key workers. We see the care they take to help families arrange the funerals they want for their loved ones. We see the strict health regulations they have had to follow during this pandemic and the increased pressures on them. We see the long hours and dedication.

Yet, after one funeral, an undertaker confided to me how useless he felt while NHS staff were at the frontline of fighting coronavirus. I replied that what he did was essential too, and massively important during these difficult days.

Another undertaker told me how he helped families cope with the restrictions on the numbers of mourners at funerals, currently set at 30. He had slowly driven his hearse past golf clubs, pubs and old people’s homes from where friends – unable to attend the services – were able to say their goodbyes.

The ‘first wave’ of the pandemic in the UK brought a much-increased workload for undertakers. The Co-op funeral service reported a 22 per cent rise in the numbers of funerals conducted in the first six months of this year. Figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that April 2020 saw the highest level of monthly deaths on record in England and Wales, from any cause. Any ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 will bring renewed pressures for undertakers.

In the funerals I have taken during the pandemic, I have been much impressed by the care and sensitivity shown by funeral directors and crematorium staff, often while they have been under much stress themselves.

I applaud the way that crematoria have made it easier for mourners who cannot attend funerals to view the services via the internet. This seems to have become common practice across the country. During the pandemic, this ‘optional extra’ has become a key part of the service.

The feedback I have had from mourners watching from just outside the chapel, or across the world, has been very positive.

Christian ministers work closely with the bereaved family and undertaker to ensure each funeral is very personal to the deceased, and an occasion they will remember long after the day has passed.

We want to bring a message of hope at funerals. I like to say that love never dies, and that the love we have for someone goes on beyond the grave.

As the funeral section on the Church of England website states: “When someone dies, although we can’t see the person we love anymore, Christians believe that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will see that person again. It might be in a very different form, in a very different way, but that is the Christian hope, and that is the message everyone will hear when they come to a Church of England funeral.”

Meanwhile, it’s the care of undertakers and all those who arrange and conduct funerals that help us say our goodbyes.

Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts

Are You Still in Chains?

The misfortunes of the past and present can be undone by the powerful effect of God’s ever-present word.

It’s fashionable in our time to attribute behavior to genes and family vices, temperament and educational opportunities, domineering parents and sibling rivalry. Certainly these all can leave their mark on our personality, but we must never lose sight of this fact: Our backgrounds do not determine what we can become in Christ.

We aren’t left to muddle through life on our own. The potential for comfort, for change, and for growth lies in daily applying God’s word to our past and present circumstances.

By the time I went to college I could match inferiority for inferiority with almost any twenty-one-year-old and come out more inferior. My mother died when I, the youngest of seven children, was a year old. I grew up on a farm during the Depression. We were very poor, and I felt the absence of a mother’s love keenly.

When I arrived at Wheaton College as a young Christian I was self-conscious and painfully aware that I wasn’t pretty, that I had no boyfriend, that I had no natural gifts or talents, and that my speech was stuttered and thickened with a Swedish accent. When I met other students on the sidewalk I knew they didn’t want to talk with me, so I quickly glanced down into my purse until they passed, and then kept walking.

It was at this time that I memorized Galatians 2:20-“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” As this verse gripped my heart, I grew more and more fascinated with the knowledge that Christ was living in me, and less and less consumed by my own inferiorities. Christ was the one I wanted others to see in me.

Getting hold of this truth, I would grit my teeth as I passed someone on the sidewalk, and say “Hi!” As I applied the principle of focusing on Christ living in me rather than on my own inadequacies, my personality gradually was freed in even greater ways.

I’ve been amazed throughout my life at the opportunities Satan snatches to wage his devious attacks on our minds. The night before John and I were married should have been one of the happiest nights of my life. God had worked so wonderfully in bringing us together, and the preparations for the following day were perfect.

But as I prepared to retire for the night I was overwhelmed with a thought that hadn’t disturbed my mind for years-I didn’t have a mother. I began to cry uncontrollably. The verse I hung on to at that moment was one written on a card that came with a wedding gift-“It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it” (Proverbs 10:22). As I repeatedly reviewed and claimed that promise, I was able to relax and drift off to sleep, and to awaken the next morning free to bask in the beauty and glory of our wedding day.

Later, my background began to resurface again in our communication in marriage. I had never heard words of endearment exchanged or seen affection displayed in my home as a child. But John is a southerner for whom warm words and affection come naturally. In my daily reading God impressed me with this verse: “In everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” (1 Corinthians 1:5). As I claimed that verse for my own situation, God began to give me words to express the feelings buried so deeply within me.

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to bring God’s word to our recall after we faithfully tuck it away in our minds. While John and I were expecting our first child, I memorized Job 12:9-10-“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?”

I went into labor with no intuition about any complications in the child’s birth. But as I came to consciousness after the delivery, I remember saying, “Dr. Reese, I didn’t hear the baby cry.” The doctor, a kindly old gentleman, put his arms around me and replied, “Helen, your baby was born dead.”

At that instant the verse from Job came to my mind and ministered to my spirit. For hours thereafter, as I faded in and out of consciousness, God faithfully comforted me with his word and began to heal the wound of losing our first child.

John encouraged me to invest spiritually in the lives of young women the time that I otherwise would have invested in our son that year. As I look back, God exchanged physical death for spiritual life in those women in a miraculous way. Over the years each of them has significantly ministered to the body of Christ around the world.

God’s word is sufficient for the commonplace as well as the dramatic. Every day we encounter problems or potential problems in our relationships with people around us. Perhaps we feel that others have failed us, or ridiculed our abilities, or even rejected us. In each situation, we’re faced with a choice of either dwelling on the negative response of others or recalling to our mind God’s true opinion of us.

Our mind is not a vacuum. Rather than trying to repress negative thoughts, we must substitute others, even as Jeremiah did-“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). As we steep our minds in God’s response to us, we find our inferiorities, our inadequacies, and the pain of rejection dissipating in the warmth of his total acceptance.

In 1970 our family packed our belongings and flew to New Zealand to live. After boarding the plane I was weary to the bone from the effort of the move, and when the children were occupied I retired to a seat in the back to continue reading in Genesis. God used Genesis 45:8-“Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God”-to stir me afresh with the thought that it wasn’t The Navigators who were sending us to New Zealand, or our home church which had commissioned us, but God himself. The truth in this verse became an anchor for me over the next eight years as I adjusted to a new country and culture.

Perhaps it is in raising our children that I have relied most on the sufficiency of God’s word to pull us through each diverse situation. I remember one particular crisis for Jay, our oldest child. Although he is not a naturally gifted swimmer, he had trained mercilessly in two-a-day workouts for four years to earn a place on a regional swimming team in New Zealand. But when the time came to announce the team, Jay wasn’t chosen.

As he and I cried together, God brought to mind the encouragement of this verse: “But I said, ‘I have toiled in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely the justice due me is with the Lord, and my reward with my God'” (Isaiah 49:4). That verse began Jay’s road to recovery from one of the most crushing disappointments of his teenage years. What a blessing to be able to comfort and encourage him with something more than “Better luck next time.”

Over the years I’ve been challenged by the example of Mary, who-when she was pregnant with Jesus-spoke a stream of praise for God’s plan for the ages (Luke 1:46-55). There are approximately twenty references and allusions to the Old Testament in this short passage. Mary was obviously a woman who filled her mind with God’s word, and I believe this allowed her to praise God for his redemptive plan in history and for the events of her life. This has become one of my life goals-that praise for God might spring readily from my mouth.

The older I get, the more Scripture memory becomes a matter of spiritual survival. Knowing that our names are written in God’s book is no insurance policy against the trials and testing of life. “Her lamp of faith and dependence upon God does not go out; but full of His Spirit, it burns on continuously through the night of trouble, privation, or sorrow, warning away such robbers as fear, doubt, and distrust” (Proverbs 31:18, Amplified Bible).

Because of what I’ve seen God do in my life-the opportunities and privileges he’s given me, and the depths from which he brought me-I can assure anyone that if we trust God and step out believing his word, God will accomplish for us far more than anything we could imagine. God’s word gives us the peaceful assurance of salvation as we embark on the Christian life, and it is also sufficient to undo the misfortunes of our past and our present, reconstructing our personality for his future service.

God’s word is truly adequate for a lifetime.
Discipleship Journal – Discipleship Journal.

Overseas Pastors to Be Banned from Ministry in Russia

Russia’s new draft law on freedom of conscience and religious association will make it impossible for pastors trained outside of the Russian Federation to preach in a church or even conduct home Bible study groups, warn Barnabas Fund contacts.

The bill amending Federal Law, which is being recommended for approval by the State Duma today (22 September), calls for the compulsory recertification in Russian educational institutions of pastors and “personnel of religious organisations” who have received religious education abroad, otherwise they will not be able to engage in teaching and religious activities.

Its main goal is to “prevent the participation of clergymen who have received religious education abroad and spread religious extremist ideology in the activities of religious organizations”.

The new law is also intended to prevent “the involvement of members of a religious group in extremist activities and activities aimed at financing terrorism”.

Sergei Ryakhovsky, pictured above and head bishop of the Russian United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith – Pentecostals (ROSHVE), said in an interview with an international news agency on 21 September that the bill will deal a “powerful blow” to religious organisations.

Authorities waging “insistent campaign” against Christian colleges

It “directly impedes the spread of the Gospel” and does not meet its stated goals of combating extremism, he said.

Ryakhovsky said the bill was developed without taking in to account the opinion of religious organization.

A Barnabas Fund contact said the new bill is being introduced at a time when the government is making it increasingly difficult for Christian theological educational institutions to operate.

“Over the past two years there has been an insistent campaign to revoke licences from Christian educational institutions,” our contact said. “I don’t know of a single university or seminary where there were no inspections and various judicial instances. They needed to prove that the government was illegally trying to revoke the licences.

“Moscow Biblical Seminary was unable to prove this, was left without a licence and was forced to close.”

The State Duma Committee on the Development of Civil Society, Public and Religious Associations last week recommended the bill for adoption in the first reading, scheduled for (today) 22 September.

This Day and That Day

Let’s talk about your calendar. How is it looking these days? If yours looks like mine, then you see color-coded calendars within calendars. Light blue for personal events, dark blue for exercise, yellow for administrative responsibilities, orange for work activities, purple for birthdays, and green for today’s events. One glance at my calendar app will treat your eyes to a multicolored time-management piece of art.

Whether you keep a rigid calendar or not, we live in busy times. This makes the calendar of the German Reformer Martin Luther so well-timed for us in our cultural moment. He wrote simply, “I have two days on my calendar: this day and that Day.”

This Day

One reason we might endeavor to keep a well-organized calendar is that we intuitively feel the significance of today. A wasted life consists of wasted days, so we desire not to let unproductive days pile up. And what can add to the pressure is the reality that today is the only day we ever occupy. Yesterday is gone. The future, to us, is unknown and unlivable. This day is all we have at our disposal.

Uncle Screwtape, a fictional demon from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, concurs with “the Enemy’s” (God’s) priority of the present. He writes to his nephew Wormwood,

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. (75)

Knowing this, the senior demon advises his young nephew to tempt humans with the past and the future as a way to keep them from the present — this day.

Two Threats to the Present

The struggle with attending to the present is often that the past and the unknown future dull the importance of today.

It is easier to live in the past. We often get caught up in the riptide of past regrets, missed opportunities, could haves, would haves, and should haves that pull us deeper into the ocean of the past. The nostalgic good ol’ days mentally box out the mundane, same-old present moment — dishes again, cutting the grass again, making the bed again. Likewise, the future calls us, as if commissioned on the Starship Enterprise, to explore strange new worlds of possibilities, dreams, and aspirations. This does not mean we shouldn’t reflect on the past and plan for the future. Living in the past and yearning for the future, however, challenges the importance of being fully present this day.

While tempting someone to live in the past has some benefits, Screwtape explains, the goal is to keep human eyes locked on the future. Screwtape elaborates,

Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it, we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. (76)

Scripture Addresses Us Today

We ought to accept Luther’s calendar invite and be mindful that “this day,” the important present, is the only day of activity that we have. The present — and there alone — Screwtape says, “all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell” (78–79). The Scriptures call us to many things we can do only today:

  • “Look carefully then how you walk [today], not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15–16).
  • “Walk [today] in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5).
  • “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
  • “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear [today], slow to speak [today], slow to anger [today]” (James 1:19).

We pray this day for today’s bread (Matthew 6:11) and keep tomorrow’s anxiousness at bay (Matthew 6:34). This day is when we obey the many one-another commandments. The commandment to love God and love neighbor can happen this day. Likewise, we may dream of doing great gospel exploits in the future, and yet the present moment is when all gospel exploits happen. The race, looking to Jesus, is run this day.

We may grieve that we have not obeyed these commands well in the past. We may hope to do it better in the future. This present moment though, this day, we have marvelous opportunities to practice. Eugene Peterson captures this well: “The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment” (Run with the Horses, 148).

That Day

Yet this day was not the only day on Luther’s calendar.

Celebratory days, such as holidays or our own birthdays, occupy many places on the calendar. In reality, however, only one person has a day that is specifically called his own. “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (Luke 17:24).

Scripture describes this return in various ways: his coming (1 Thessalonians 2:19), his revealing (1 Corinthians 1:7), his appearance (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Luther’s quote points us to an additional description of the promised return of our Lord Jesus: “that day” (2 Timothy 1:12, 18).

That day will be a day of judgment and salvation (Revelation 6:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7), retribution and reward (2 Thessalonians 1:5–9; 2 Timothy 4:8), calamity and blessing (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 5:3). Wrath for the enemies of Christ; salvation and endless blessing for his people.

History is marching toward the day of the Lord — not as an “if,” but a “when.” More is certain than death and taxes. The two men in white robes ensure us, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). While the future is unknown and tomorrow is not guaranteed, “that Day” is engraved upon every calendar. The resurrection of Christ guaranteed its coming arrival (Acts 17:30–31). Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).

Lewis Guest

Mental Illness and the Medical Trap

Five years ago I received a telephone call from a friend. She told me that one of our mutual friends had taken his own life. No one knew why.

Brian was a successful health-care professional, with a wife, a family, and an apparently very bright future. Many of us had not seen any indications that something was wrong, although those in close contact with him knew there were problems. He just got up one morning and was never seen alive again. Everyone was devastated.

What do you do with such news? One of the most painful human experiences must be to say goodbye to a loved one in the morning and then never see that person alive again. I was asked to do the sermon at the celebration of Brian’s life. I preached on the psalms of lament and the unending, unfailing love of God. I tried to help people see that the joy that God promises includes suffering and that the psalms of lament offer faithful language to express our hurt, brokenness, anger, and disappointment at what my friend had done and what God had seemingly not done: save him.

Two Affirmations
Brian was a Christian; he was a lover of Jesus, as were his family and many of his friends. And yet, despite the profound consolation of the gospel, for some, the first response to his death by suicide was not comfort but fear. In spite of the apostle Paul’s firm assurance that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39), they were afraid for Brian’s eternal future. I guess that is the problem with hypercognitive theologies that assume that our eternal futures lie in our own hands rather than in the loving hands of God. If it is the case that neither death nor life can separate us from God’s love, then we need not fear death, even death by suicide. We simply need to trust in God’s grace.

There is a difficult tension between recognizing that God does not abandon those who end their own lives and the imperative that such actions are not God’s desire for human beings. As Duke Divinity School theologian Warren Kinghorn once reminded me, two affirmations are indispensable for a Christian approach to suicide:

Suicide is a tragedy and a loss, and never to be encouraged or seen by Christians as a positive good.
Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we Christians say either of these things without the other, we fall into error. My sermon at Brian’s funeral tried to capture the complex dynamics of these two statements. The lament psalms articulate the reality of tragedy and loss alongside the reality of God’s unending love. Such an approach does not take away our pain, but it does provide us with a certain kind of consoling hope. I think people were helped by that sermon.

But then something changed.

The autopsy results came back, and it turned out that Brian had had a problem with his pituitary gland that may have contributed to his depression and ultimate demise. Some people seemed strangely relieved when they heard this. “Ah! It wasn’t really his mind. It was his body that had gone wrong.”

Now, that may have been the case, but there are two things to consider as we reflect on this reaction. First, the spiritual dualism is quite startling. If his death has something to do with Brian’s mind, then it is a spiritual problem, but if it has to do with his body, it is a medical issue. Second, and connected to the first point, it is interesting how medicine became, for some, a therapeutic theodicy, a way of explaining the presence of perceived evil and suffering. If the problem lies within the human psyche, and if the human psyche is the place where we determine our salvation, then Brian has a real problem. But if the issue is biological, then medicine can explain it without the need for awkward questions around the nature of God and the meaning of human suffering.

One of the problems for modern Western people is the tendency to equate the soul with the mind. Culturally we place inordinate social value on intellect, reason, quickness of thought, and academic ability. Certain strands of theological thinking can be sucked into this hypercognitive trap when defining emphasis is placed on intellect and verbal ability, with the verbal proclamation of the name of Jesus assumed as a central and vital aspect of our salvation. When we think like this, any damage to the mind implicitly or explicitly morphs into damage to the soul.

This can make it particularly difficult for Christians to live well with mental health challenges, brain damage, or something like dementia. The implication that the real problem is soul damage prowls around like a roaring lion. The palpable sense of relief that some of my well-meaning Christian friends expressed as they encountered a medical theodicy is but one instance of a cultural phenomenon that is, to say the least, troublesome.

A Liberating Language
Fast-forward five years to a few months ago. I had just flown from Aberdeen to London and was walking toward the airport exit when a man I had never met before stopped me. “You’re John Swinton?” he said. Now, I can never be certain whether to own up to a question like that! But on this occasion I did. He said, “You spoke at Brian’s funeral five years ago. I just want to thank you. I had never thought of suffering and joy in that way, and I had certainly never thought that it was OK to be angry with God and to speak out that anger and frustration through the psalms. I just wanted to say thank you.” With that he walked on.

I left the airport and got on a train to central London. As I thought about that brief encounter, I began to realize that the problem that many people encountered when Brian took his life was that they were speechless. His friends had no effective language to articulate the pain, lostness, and indeed anger that they felt toward the situation and in many ways toward God. They had become monolingual in their faith lives, sure and confident in the language of happiness and hope, but completely lost when it came to the language of suffering, brokenness, disappointment, and in particular, a biblical understanding of joy.

They had heard Jesus say: “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20), but they had not experienced the illumination of his words. This lack of language led them to turn to medicine and biology for intellectual and spiritual relief. They turned to them as theodicies not just because they alleviated fears about Brian’s eternal destiny but because they spoke in a language with which they were familiar. Medicine and biology represented a safe place. Within their theological tradition, they couldn’t find the right kind of language to articulate their feelings and fears. The language of medicine and biology filled the gap.

What the stranger in the airport taught me was that the words of my sermon had given him a language to express his sadness, his pain, and his anger, and that this language came from within his faith tradition in a way that he had not noticed previously. My articulation of the power of the psalms had moved him from silence into speech. I had helped him to reframe both lament and joy.

By understanding the nature and purpose of joy, we can understand depression in a different way, and that will give us a way to talk about depression (and to remain silent) that is both liberating and, I hope, healing. Understanding depression through the lens of Christian joy can help us understand depression more thickly and respond more faithfully.

John Swinton

I Didn’t Want to Go There

It was Tuesday, May 12—one week after the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death was released. I joined a WebEx meeting with a group of pastors and church planters pulled together by pastor David Gentino so that we could process everything that had happened. During the meeting, our emotions ranged from anger, to frustration, to bitterness, to despair.

A couple of brothers led us in prayer, and I figured the call would probably be over shortly. After all, that is the cycle, right? You see the story in the news. You feel the multitude of emotions. Then things return to “normal” in a week or two.

Instead, David began asking questions about what our churches’ next move should be. We brainstormed for a few moments. Eventually, David presented us with an idea. “Let’s go to Brunswick,” he said.

The Decision

The proposal to go to Brunswick—the town where Ahmaud was killed––caught me by surprise. Honestly, I did not like the idea. First, I had no idea what we would do there. Prayer vigil at a courthouse? A peaceful protest? Would it be safe? There were so many things I envisioned going wrong.

What if the Lord used this moment to shed gospel light on a dark world?

Second, I did not yet know the composition of the group who would be going. If there were a range of perspectives represented, certain conversations could become awkward and unhelpful in such a heated time.

But most of all, I hesitated to go to Brunswick because I didn’t want to get too close to the issue. I wanted to spare myself the potential emotional trauma. The trip, then, was an invitation to empathize in a way I’d never done before.

Yet while this reason led to my initial hesitation, it is precisely what led me to accept the invitation. I remembered the words of the apostle Paul to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I remembered the life of our Savior and the way he identified with us, and I began to ponder the potential witness of Christian empathy. What if the Lord used this moment to shed gospel light on a dark world?

It is so easy for us to merely argue during these moments; I figured this would be a nice change of pace for the church. Sure, it would be uncomfortable. Sure, it would be inconvenient. Yet it was an opportunity for us to show that the church truly cares about Ahmaud and his family. It was an opportunity to go and show the love of Christ to a family who’d lost a son.

The Trip

After planning for several weeks, we finally boarded the bus to Brunswick. The itinerary included a meeting with the community leaders to share our concern for justice and host a time for prayer. When we realized that Ahmaud’s dad and other family members would be there, our plans shifted slightly. Something like a worship service took place. We shared the gospel, sang songs, and fellowshiped with Ahmaud’s family, many of whom professed to be believers. Christ was exalted in the midst of tragedy.

For me, looking at Ahmaud’s father’s face, and standing on the street where his son was killed, added gravity to the moment. This wasn’t just a distant news story; ordinary people were affected and their lives changed forever.

The Takeaways

I’m glad I decided to board that bus to Brunswick, and I believe other churches would benefit from something similar if it’s possible. Obviously, there are practical matters to consider. The leadership of your church needs to be on board. It’s wise to contact the leadership of the community you’re visiting. You need to be much in prayer. It needs to be done with a mindset to glorify Christ, not ourselves or our own agendas.

We care about Ahmaud and his family in a way that goes beyond party politics. We care because Christ cares. And so we go to them in the midst of the mess, because our Savior came to us in the midst of our mess.

Spending extended time with brothers and sisters who open up about these issues, though, can be eye-opening. Visiting the affected community reminds you that these are real people experiencing a real loss—you can lose that awareness on social media. Overall, I think the experience is something God can use to further unify, in an experiential sense, the church he’s already unified in Christ (Eph. 2:11–22). In that way, such a trip is something God can use to bring glory to his name.

Actions like this provide an opportunity for the church to have a unique voice in the midst of the noise. We care about Ahmaud and his family in a way that goes beyond party politics. We care because Christ cares. And so we go to them in the midst of the mess, because our Savior came to us in the midst of our mess.

Devin Coleman

You Don’t Have to Do It All

I’m a 38-year pastoral veteran, now serving in a semi-urban, multi-ethnic congregation. I’ve never felt more overwhelmed.

Though I’m not necessarily clocking in more pastoral hours, I am investing more grief and empathy—not to mention all the hours mulling over the threat to (and opportunity for) love, justice, unity, and mission that today’s issues present. I’m not busier, but I do feel more burdened. For many reasons—including pastoral-care situations, racism, injustice, riots, COVID, political factionalism, unbiblical cultural ideologies, and a lack of in-person congregational worship—I sometimes get in bed feeling weighed down, only to awaken in the same condition.

Some days I feel paralyzed, and I’m uncertain what to do about it. Some will judge this as a lack of faith. It may be. Still, there’s no point in denying it, and I’m sure I’m not alone. 

What Did Jesus Do?

God has helped me push through this paralysis by reminding me of Jesus’s comment that the poor will always be with us (John 12:7). Jesus is teaching that disadvantage—and all that goes with it—will be an ever-present and unrelenting reality. Scripture is clear that human woes—like oppression, prejudice, partiality, classism, racial tensions, injustice, disease, loneliness, imprisonment, hunger, and unequal opportunity—will always be with us. My best efforts will never finally eradicate these woes. 

So we need divine wisdom to guide us. And to that end, we do well to look at how Jesus—God’s Wisdom incarnate—handled life’s ever-present and intransigent needs.

Jesus’s to-do list seemed never-ending. There was always another needy crowd the next morning. And he left a lot of “unfinished business” behind when he returned to heaven. 

Jesus didn’t get it all done—on any given day, or in his lifetime—even though as God, he could have. Instead, he devoted his earthly life to people-oriented and compassion-driven works of gospel-preaching, healing, justice, mercy, caring for the poor and outcast, delivering the demonized, and much more. He did all of this knowing that not everyone’s needs around him would be met. He didn’t fix every injustice in his time on earth. From this, I draw this conclusion: Jesus didn’t do these things to end their existence. He did them because he was a just and good person, and these are the things just and good people do. 

This perspective releases us from the paralysis induced by need and ministry overload. The goal of life is not for us to “get it all done.” The goal is to be faithful.

The goal of life is not for us to ‘get it all done.’ The goal is to be faithful.

Life’s aim isn’t to bring everyone in the world to faith, but to share the gospel with those around us. It’s not to eradicate poverty, but to help the poor. It’s not to fix the world so there will be no more refugees, but to be a person who welcomes and serves the foreigner. It’s not to end all injustice, but to do justice. It’s not to alleviate all misery, but to comfort the miserable and lessen their grief. We aren’t called to create a racist-free world, but to have racism-free hearts and institutions that respect, serve, and uplift those of all colors.

We aren’t called to create a utopia. That’s God’s job. 

Here is hope for those of us who sometimes stare glassy-eyed and mind-numbed at a world full of hurt. You and I will never get everything done. But we can do the next thing in front of us. There is something we can put our hands to and someone we can give our hearts to. And that is what the Lord asks of us. 

Our purpose is not to change the world in our lifetime, but to choose a few good works in the next 24 hours. 

In the Scheme of Things

You and I may not—indeed we almost certainly will not—make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. In fact, that’s the reason why Jesus will have to return to make all things new. Cosmic change is his business, not ours. Still, not long before he returned to heaven to prepare a place for us, he left this charge: “Engage in business until I come” (Luke 19:13). Be about the Father’s business. Be doing what you can. He doesn’t tell us to fix or finish everything. We are to simply steward what he’s given us to some worthy and holy end. 

Our purpose is not to change the world in our lifetime, but to choose a few good works in the next 24 hours.

So what might that look like when it seems that there is too much to do? How can we do something today without being overwhelmed by everything? Here are some suggestions: 

If you’re married, be a faithful husband or wife.

If you’re single, be devoted to Jesus.

If you’re a parent, cherish and disciple your child today.

If you’re entrusted with leadership responsibilities, serve humbly and well.

If a person comes suddenly to mind, pray for him or her.

Ask someone how they’re doing, and linger long enough to get an answer.

Speak the gospel to someone.

Respond gently, but courageously and correctively, when you hear a racially offensive comment.

Ask an unbeliever how you can pray for him or her.

Connect to someone who’s culturally different from you, and start listening.

Provide a meal for a single parent.

If you’re in the ethnic majority, ask an African American brother or sister how you can pray in light of current events. 

Be Christ and grace-centered in your social-media activity.

Choose not to believe every bad report—even when about your opponents or enemies.

Notice the poor and oppressed nearby and see of there is one thing you can do for (or with) them today.

Notice the loner along the way and draw him or her in.

If we try to do everything, we will soon quit doing anything. It’s wiser to learn from Jesus who wasn’t in a frenzied rush to “get it all done” while on earth. Forsaking the illusion of becoming world-changing crusaders, ambitious to multiply our accomplishments, let’s aim simply to do a few good things in our time, knowing that he will get everything done in his.

Tim Shorey

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