Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I struggle with depression...

A New Yorker was down in Texas on business. He rented a car and was out in the country. There was a collision between a farmer in a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer. The trailer was overturned and the New Yorker was thrown out beside the road.

Several months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. And the lawyers from the insurance company protested and said, “But we have the police report and you said at the scene of the accident that you didn’t have any injuries.”

He said, “Let me explain. There was the collision. I’m laying there on the side of the road and shortly a Texas Ranger shows up. He walks over to the farmer who is kneeling by his wounded horse. The farmer says, ‘It’s hopeless. His leg is broke.’ The ranger pulls out his pistol and shoots the horse. Then he walks over to me and says, ‘Are you okay?’”

Well a lot of us feel like that guy. When it comes to talking about sickness and our injuries and our illnesses and healing, we don’t exactly know how to articulate what we believe.

Let me begin by saying this: I struggle with depression. That little sentence is hard for me to write. It’s hard for me to write and admit on many levels. I am a guy. I am supposed to have it all together. I’m supposed to not let things get to me. I’m a pastor. I am the answer guy. I am the guy that people come to when they are depressed and are asking for help.
I am not supposed to be dealing with this. But I am. I have been for many years. And only a couple years ago did I actually sit down with my doctor to talk about it. She ended up prescribing a low dose anti-depressant for me that I take every day.

It has certainly helped but it still hasn’t taken it all away. There are days (and sometimes weeks) that are very hard for me. Now listen, I have become a master at putting on a good face. I know how to do image management.
But when I am alone in my thoughts or in quietness for too long, I am all too aware of wanting to sink low. Why is that? Why have I battled this for so long?

Shouldn’t I be above such struggles? Is my faith not where it should be? Is there some secret sin in my life that is unconfessed? Am I a hypocrite?
I preached a sermon series on healing a couple years ago because of this struggle in my life. I believe that God always answers the request for healing, but sometimes the answer is no. I also believe that God uses the skilled knowledge of doctors and medicines to heal as well.

So a couple of thoughts on depression that I have come to terms with:
1.     Dealing with depression does not mean that you have a weak faith or hidden sin. Of course, those things may be true but you cannot make that conclusion based on the fact that someone has depression. Christians of all theological backgrounds and different faith levels still get sick or struggle with depression. And most Christians die of disease. Most Christians do not live to a ripe old age of 100 and die peacefully in their sleep. Most Christians I have known in my life died of disease. This was true in New Testament times. And the early church never rebuked the sick for their failure to name and claim their healing. There are sick saints all throughout the New Testament.
In Philippians 2, Paul mentions Epaphroditus. He was so sick Paul thought he was going to die. No doubt that Paul had prayed for him several times. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul writes that he had to leave Trophimus on the island of Miletus. That’s interesting because Paul is very lonely at the end of 2 Timothy 4 and he’s begging Timothy to come quickly. Paul wanted company but one of his dearest coworkers he had to leave on an island because he was too sick to travel. Timothy is told in 1 Timothy 5 to drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake and for your frequent illnesses.  

And even Paul said in Galatians 4:13, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.” (NIV) This is very interesting to me that so many of Paul’s coworkers dealt with sickness especially when you read Acts and you know that Paul had a healing gift. Just because someone has depression does not mean that they have a weak faith. 

2.     Don’t miss out on the lessons. There is much evil in this world. Often God blesses his children not with the absence of trials but with the presence of more grace. I am not prepared to say, like some, that God always wills or predetermines our sicknesses. I think most of our illnesses are just the fallout of a marred creation. But I am quite prepared to say that God can accomplish his will in spite of and even through the random evils we encounter. 

The way he does that is by granting us spiritual strength in the midst of temporal weakness. So for example, Paul says of his thorn in his side, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, NIV) 

I have learned to look for the lessons in this struggle with depression. God hasn’t taken it away from me (not for lack of prayer on my part) but I do want to be able to see what it is He still wants me to see. I know that in my struggle He is made strong in my weakness. So I trust. 

Let me ask you a question, is it possible sometimes that we want healing more than we want God? That’s something I really asked myself. Remember when Satan came to God regarding Job? Satan said that all Job cared about are the handouts. God said, “Not Job. Job will love me even if he is not healthy. Go ahead and touch his body because Job will still look to me.” God knew Job wanted the Lord more than he wanted healing. 

Deliverance is a wonderful and gracious gift of God but so is perseverance. The ability to persevere on a strength greater than you have yourself is a wonderful gift of God. So sometimes healing does not come so that you can get something better. That’s what I am trusting in. 

Sometimes it is our hope that most gathers the attention of the world. What did Peter say? He said we better be ready to give an answer for the hope that we hold dear. 

We have a God sovereign and gracious who will give us whatever we need in the moment to be able to keep holding on no matter what we are facing. I need to remember that. He’s already proved enough. So I will give Him glory in the light or in the dark! No matter what, He will be glorified!





Wednesday, April 8, 2015

So what exactly is the Pastor's job?

I passed by this church sign in Des Moines today. For some strange reason, I pay close attention to the messages I see on church signs. This one struck a nerve with me.

I understand the intent of the message of this sign, at least I think I do. But I think there is a problem. The problem is NOT pastors telling people WHO to vote for. The problem is pastors never speaking about voting in the first place.

Our beautiful America has been so richly and abundantly blessed by our great God. But the silence of our pulpits has led to the innocent being slaughtered in an almost 40 year holocaust that has seen nearly 55 million little boys and girls brutally done to death.

 The silence of our pulpits have led to families being fractured and marriages broken while self-obsessed people pursue the immediate gratification of their every desire. It has led to militant homosexuals pursuing absolute approval and the redefinition of marriage. It has led to the nation’s leaders wallowing in decadence and deceit while the people look on in apathetic indifference.  

We tell pastors to not talk about politics from the pulpit while the killing goes on and the nation is led down the path of destruction and the church and her leaders stand silent and afraid.
This country that we love, our America, is fighting for her life. Not against the military power of a foreign enemy but against the principalities and powers of this dark age. You and I as sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus Christ are being called upon to take a stand in this moment of crisis.
 And let there be no one among us who doubts the urgency of this hour. To compare what is happening in America today to Nazi Germany is no mere flight of rhetorical exaggeration. This nation is heedlessly stumbling toward third millennium darkness.
Look around you. Chaos, corruption and confusion reign throughout our culture. We live in a society where passions are riderless horses…uncontrolled and unbridled. There is a desolation of decency in which love has become a jungle emotion. Men and women in the modern age are no more enlightened in this sex saturated society than a fly feasting on canine feces in the sun.
And all the while, we want to make sure that the pastor dare not breach certain "political" topics for fear of offending some. Oh, where were these souls to give counsel to John the Baptist as he called out Herod for his sin? If only there had been some modern American wisdom to be bestowed upon the Apostle Paul before he spoke to the rulers of his day!
The problem is not the pastor telling his people WHO to vote for, friends. The problem is the pastor not preaching the whole counsel of God's Word on every living topic we face! We need to have America's pulpits thunder again with the TRUTH of God's Word. (That would make for an interesting sign message!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I've been Gronstalled...

Today, while I was at the Capitol, lobbying our State Senators and Representatives concerning important bills before them, I had an interesting interaction with a well-known Iowa Senator. One of the bills that has passed the House of Representatives and is now in committee in the Senate is HF573. It is a bill that would require a young woman who is seeking an abortion to have a sonogram prior to having the abortion.

The reason this bill is so important is because statistics have shown that a woman who sees the image of her baby on sonogram is significantly less likely to go through with an abortion than one who does not. Also, it gives the mother more information when making such a heavy decision. Who wouldn’t want all the facts when having a medical procedure?

This bill was sent to what has been dubbed a “graveyard committee.” So in essence it is sent there to die and never see the light of day again (a phrase that was used with me concerning this). So the two committee heads that are holding this bill hostage in committee until it dies (this Friday) are Bill Dotzler (D) from Iowa Senate District 31 and Joe Bolkcom (D) from Iowa Senate District 43.

I had sent slips for both men and was waiting for them at the door to the Senate Chamber when none other than Senator Mike Gronstal (D) from Iowa Senate District 8 walked right by me. I stuck out my hand and said very cordially, “Mr. Gronstal.”

He stopped and shook my hand. I told him that I appreciated his hard work and service to the state (merely out of respect). Then I said, “I would like to encourage you concerning HF573, the ultrasound bill, to allow that to come out of committee and to the floor for debate and a vote.”

Something in Mr. Gronstal’s demeanor changed. He instantly scowled at me and pointed his finger right at my chest and said, “Do you know what you want? You want to rape a woman twice! That’s what you want. That bill means that a woman who is raped would have to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound and be raped all over again. That’s what you want!”

I was taken about by his tone and his demeanor because I had only been respectful and cordial with him. I responded, “No. That is not what I want. I do not think that is a fair characterization of the bill, sir.” And he simply said, “That bill will never see the light of day!” To which he abruptly turned and marched up the steps into the Senate Chamber.

I have heard all these stories from individuals about Mike Gronstal and how horrible he is. Honestly, he is a very small man. Not only in stature but in effect as well. Gronstal runs his little empire at the Senate and makes sure that no bills, like the ultrasound bill will be allowed to survive for a vote. But one day, his reign will end.

Twenty years from now, Gronstal as a Senator will be the faintest of memories to many in Iowa. But if he does not change his course, I am afraid for this man’s soul. He does not know the Lord. He will be held accountable for all the spilled innocent blood that occurred at his leading. My prayer is that one day, before he breathes his last, that he will repent and come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because he will know Jesus as Lord. It is just important for him to make that discovery before he dies.

For clarification, Mike Gronstal is dead wrong on what he said. There is no language in the bill that says anything about a trans-vaginal ultrasound.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What does it take to grow a church?

The following account is purely fictional and is intended to be taken as satire with a point...

There once was a young Bible College graduate. He wanted to know how to grow a church and what was the best method to employ. So he sought out all the nation’s biggest churches and pastors to ask them this question: What should I do to grow my church?

Rick Warren said, “Start with the unbelieving people in your community and ask them what they would want to do at church if they were to come.”

Craig Groeschel said, “Make the trendiest, hippest videos you can that will reach the lost in the most relevant way.”

Perry Noble said, “Have your worship band play AC/DC’s Highway to Hell on Easter Sunday and you’re sure to draw a big crowd!”

Andy Stanley said, “Don’t get focused on teaching doctrine, just teach Jesus. And you will grow your church.”

Joe Osteen said, “If you think it can happen, it will happen. You can do this! You have the power within your own mind to accomplish it!”

Francis Chan said, “Forget about growing your church! Have some homeless people move in with you and love them!”

Bill Hybels said, “I am sorry about the way I used to grow my church. I want to really learn to do it differently now.”

Finally, after hearing so many different and conflicting views, he asked his home church pastor of a small congregation of under 200. Here is what his wise old pastor said, “Son, you grow in your own fear and wisdom in the Lord. Teach whoever will listen to you to love God and His Word and to look to His Word for all the questions in their life. You help them understand His Word. You do that, and after a lifetime, God will grow everything the way it needs to be grown.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why I no longer support the Pro Life movement...

Tomorrow, January 22, 2015 marks the 42nd anniversary of United States Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade. I was just a little over two years old when that decision came down so I am glad that I was born before this Herodian ruling came into being. After January 22, 1973 the lives of young children in the womb were very much in jeopardy.

For the past 42 years the Pro Life movement in America has championed the cause of the unborn. I was happy and proud to consider myself a part of that movement. I believed compromise and incremental approaches to winning at the Pro Life movement were the way to see ultimate victory in ending abortion in America.

That is, until I began to think through my position and seriously question the tactics of the Pro Life movement. You see, we have had 42 years of unfettered access to abortion on demand. 42 years of the Pro Life movement telling us that we have to be patient and take what we can when we can.

So, when we were able to see a partial-birth abortion ban passed in Congress in 2003 (only 30 years after abortion was made legal) this was hailed as a major victory for “the cause.” But I began to think about that. So, killing a child out of the womb is bad…but it isn’t as bad if it is still in the womb?

The Pro Life supporters would say, “Even if one life is saved, it is worth it.” That sounds so noble and altruistic. But the problem is how can we say ANY child should not be saved? I found myself beginning to reject the idea that incrementalism and compromise were the proper approach. Now that we’ve had 42 years of that approach and philosophy leading the charge, we can truly measure the results.

It has done nothing to stem the tide of the slaughter of innocents. It has merely equipped and empowered those who want abortion on demand to continue and it has gravely softened our position and resolve.

I now consider myself a supporter of the Personhood movement. What the Personhood movement is attempting to do is to frame the debate of life without compromising the life of any child. If a baby in the womb is indeed a person, then that person is afforded all the protection of the laws of our land.

Justice Potter Stewart
Justice Potter Stewart (one of the ruling Justices on Roe v Wade) said during arguments for Roe v Wade, “The basic constitutional question, initially is, whether or not the unborn fetus is a person, isn’t it? That’s critical to this case is it not?” He continued to say, “If it were established that an unborn fetus is a person within the protections of the 14th amendment, you would have almost an impossible case here, would you not?”

Since I have embraced the idea that an unborn child is indeed a person, what I have found is criticism and harsh treatment from the unlikeliest of sources…those in the Pro Life movement. Because they reject this uncompromising position, what usually results is ad hominem and invective being injected into any discussion on the topic.

I feel their arguments for compromise and incrementalism are no different than those who would argue against abstinence. The line of reasoning goes, “Teens are going to have sex anyway, so let’s make sure they are safe…and maybe we’ll cut down the numbers of teen pregnancies in the process.” But the fact is, abstinence, when practiced has been shown to be 100% effective in preventing pregnancy.

I can no longer stomach the incrementalist’s idea of compromising and saving “some” lives over others. For me, this is an all-out, no compromise issue. No child deserves death for any reason. And the moment we justify one child dying, we have lost a 42 year battle.

If you want to know more about Personhood in the state of Iowa, follow this LINK:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tough Questions

At our church’s most recent elders meeting we discussed vision and leadership. I had brought out some old material I had from a lecture from current President of Lincoln Christian University, Don Green. We had a brutally honest conversation about where we are as a church and where we need to be.
I believe those kinds of conversations are critical as you strive to honor God in your service to Him in a leadership position. According to a study a few years back 27% of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are growing while 73% are either static or declining. Declining churches tend to be more maintenance-minded while growing churches tend to be more mission-minded.
So we examined whether or not we are more mission or maintenance-minded by discussing these questions. I would encourage you to do the same with your leadership team.
·       Is your church maintaining a tradition or fulfilling a mission?
·       Is it more inward-focused (serving ourselves) or outward-focused (serving others)?
·       Are its paradigms (ways of viewing and doing things) oriented to the past or to the future?
·       Is it more concerned with being efficient (doing things right) or being effective (doing the right things)?
·       Is it preoccupied with programs or people?
·       Is it a Sunday church or a seven-days-a-week church?
·       Is it more concerned with making decisions or making disciples?
·       Is it more committed to satisfying the saved or to seeking the lost?
·       Is it becoming older and smaller or younger and larger?
As we assessed our situation we realized that we currently lean a little heavier on the maintenance side than we do the mission side. So we began discussing how to correct that. What steps do we need to take?
Let me first say this, our leadership must have absolute, unwavering integrity. We must be aligned in what we are and what we believe and what we do. We need to clearly understand our mission as a church. Our purpose is not merely to meet on Sundays. It is much more serious than that. We are tasked by God Himself to proclaim His truth in and out of season and to help rescue sinners from perishing.
An old adage comes to mind when I consider this: Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change but principles never do. Our message can never change but the way in which it is proclaimed can definitely have room for improvement. We want to reach young families with the Gospel. It is our heart and soul. Everything we do this new year will be directed toward meeting that end.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Meeting With Governor Jindahl

On Tuesday evening, January 6th I sat in a conference room with approximately 100 other faith leaders, mainly pastors, to listen to Governor Bobby Jindal speak. He came at the invitation of Brad Sherman, a pastor from Iowa City who coordinated this event with David Lane’s American Renewal Project. This was an invitation-only event and the press were definitely not on the invite list.

Governor Jindal shared about his upbringing and how he was led to faith in Christ through a friend that had given him a copy of the Bible. At first, the gift seemed odd to this young Hindu-raised man, but after the death of his grandfather, Jindal turned to that Bible in seeking out answers about what happens after we die.

The answers did not come quickly for Jindal. He started reading the Bible from Genesis and found many stories captivating and some of it difficult to understand. It wasn’t until he met a young woman he was interested in, that he started attending campus ministry meetings at LSU. That is where his faith in Christ and his understanding of God’s Word truly ignited.

Jindal shared that he believes that the greatest need in America currently is the need for spiritual revival. He is hosting an event called The Response on January 24, 2015 in Baton Rouge, LA. This event is a call to repentance, prayer and fasting. Governor Rick Perry of Texas did this same type of event in 2011.

David Lane, with the American Renewal Project, is hoping to replicate this prayer event in all of the key states in the political process. Governor Jindal quoted Winston Churchill when speaking about this event and said, “’You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they've exhausted every alternative,’ “That's where we are as a country," he continued, "We have tried everything and now it is time to turn back to God."

I found Governor Jindal to be a sincere breath of fresh air. With temps hitting negative zero outside, it truly warmed my heart to hear this Governor from Louisiana speaking about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He wasn’t pandering either.

I know this because I met him once before. Earlier in December I was part of a delegation that flew down to Baton Rouge to the Governor’s Mansion to meet and discuss the upcoming event The Response. Our goal was to also begin working to have the event in our home state of Iowa.

At this event, I heard Governor Jindal share his same story about coming to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. But what impressed me the most was not so much his story, but afterwards during a time of prayer. All the ministers gathered around him and prayed over him and for him. That was a powerful moment, honestly.

But then Governor Jindal prayed as well. His words were not the carefully scripted words of a political pundit. His words in his prayer were words that came from a long-standing intimacy with his Savior. Jindal doesn’t just say the right things in the right setting. He knows Jesus and it is obvious in his prayer language.

I don’t know what the future holds as all the candidates for 2016 begin to line up and whisper sweet nothings in our ears here in Iowa. But I do know that the Governor of Louisiana is a brother in Christ. He is a true Christian statesman.

There are others as well. And it may be a difficult task ahead for us. I think that Jindal and Huckabee and Cruz and Santorum are some of the strongest champions we have currently. It will be very interesting to see how it all unfolds. But to my brothers in ministry, I would challenge you to hold these candidates’ feet to the fire and vet them through and through. That is our responsibility as leaders in this state!