May is Mental Health Awareness Month

“I’m a pretty capable person,” the man said, as we sipped our coffee early one morning. “I have a master’s degree and work in a field that I love; I have a great family, healthy children, and an excellent marriage. I have tons of things to be grateful for. My spiritual disciplines are in place and I exercise regularly. Yet there are days, more of them than I would like to admit, when sadness, even hopelessness overwhelms me. I feel I’m walking on the edge of the looney bin, wondering when it’s going to crumble and take me down with it. I’ve read all the self-help books. I know the stuff about minding your mind and choosing joy and trusting God and all that. But I’m telling ya, sometimes whole weeks go by when it takes all the emotional energy I have just to do the basics of my life. I spend the days wanting nothing more than to go home, crawl in bed and cover my head with a sheet. Then there are other days, normal ones without crisis, when I’m so anxious I’m almost frantic. So, am I nuts, or what? And where does God come into this?”

If you can identify with that imaginary conversation then read on, I have good news for you.

The first thing to know is that if you struggle with depression and anxiety, you are not alone and you are not crazy. May is mental health awareness month (credit to President Obama for that designation). The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that at any given time there are roughly sixty million Americans, adults and teens, sharing your experience.

Second, God is not absent in your distress. He is an “ever present help in time of trouble,” Psalm 46:1. But we are complex beings made up of body, soul, and spirit which cannot be separated from one another. The Psalmist also said, “… you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” Palm 139:13. We are woven like fabric. Pulling on one thread affects all the others. Your spirit might be fine but if your body is malfunctioning your soul may experience distress.

This brings me to the good news. Researchers are discovering links between the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that live on and in our bodies, and disease, auto-immune disorders, and obesity. But the most fascinating finding may be the connection between our brains and bellies.

Researchers are finding that a significant link exists between the bacteria that live in our digestive system and our brains. We’ve known for centuries that the mind can affect the belly, but we’ve never considered that it could work in reverse. World Magazine reports that feeding mice a particular bacterium found in milk and yogurts produced a measurable increase in the receptors in lab mice’s brains for GABA, a chemical targeted by anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax. These in turn reduced behaviors associated with depression and anxiety in the mice. Severing the nerves that transmit information from the mice’s gut to the brain cut off the effects of the bacterium on behavior and brain chemicals.

The article continued:
In another study, researchers at UCLA found that women who regularly consumed beneficial bacteria through yogurt showed changes in their brains when they were imaged using a special MRI scanner. Commenting on the study published in Gastroenterology, lead author Dr. Kirsten Tillisch noted “our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment.

Interestingly, recent research has also shown that the majority of our serotonin, the critical neurotransmitter that is regulated by common anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications like Zoloft and Paxil, is produced in the gut. In other words, the antibiotics we have used and overused for decades may be contributing to our mental problems, as they destroy the healthy as well as the bad bacteria. Either way, it’s clear from the research, that we truly are what we eat.

So if you are experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety I urge you to do three things that honor the way God has woven you together. First, pay attention to your spiritual life, as there may be issues between you and God that need to be settled in order to find peace. Second, mind your mind. Read Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:4-9 and put it into practice and if you need it, go see a counselor. If you find that you are still struggling, then it may be time to check the connection between your belly and your brain.


“Have you ever counted how many times Jesus answered questions with questions?”
Gordon H. Clark

Two college girls asked my advice in the same week on the same topic. One asked how to respond to a blog that went viral, If I Have Gay Children: four promises from a Christian pastor. The girls in the dorm of the large Christian University that she supervised were showing a surprising level of agreement with the pastor’s unorthodox position. The other asked how to respond to a virulently anti-gay preacher on her secular college campus. Each was afraid that they would be put on the defensive, having to support the positions they have taken on homosexuality in a hostile environment.

They were wise to do so. Our opportunities to practice Jesus’ methods for responding to politically driven attacks are about to multiply exponentially. In light of this the founder of World Magazine, Joel Belz, has issued what he calls The Baker’s Challenge. Imagine a homosexual couple has entered your bakery and asked you to provide a cake for their wedding a month from now. Keeping in mind Jesus’ method of answering a question with a question, along with his teaching on giving someone your cloak when they’ve sued you for your tunic and going the second mile when forced to go the first, (See Matt. 5:38-42) how would you respond?

Here’s my best shot at part one, answering a question with a question.

“Thank you so much for bringing your business to our door. We really appreciate it. It tells us that you respect the values we’ve built into the business. Now, in order to best serve you, I need to ask a question: Do you believe marriage is something that came to us from God, or is it a man-made institution?”

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that our customer answers, “From God.” We might then respond with:

“If it’s from God, what is the pattern for marriage that Jesus taught?” (See Matthew 19:1-6).

These questions follow Jesus’ pattern when the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders challenged his authority in Mark 11:27-30. First, his response revealed their world view, “John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” If they answered, “from heaven” Jesus could rightly challenge: “then why didn’t you believe him?” If they answered, “from men,” then their public approval rating would plummet.

Our question re-frames the argument. It is not a matter of “will I bake a cake for you,” but “what is marriage, to whom does it belong?”
Jesus’ question to his opponents also revealed their hypocrisy. Just as the chief priests weren’t questioning Jesus in order to discover truth, but to find cause to arrest him, at this stage in the PR game same sex couples that enter Christian-owned bake-shops aren’t there to buy a cake but to provoke a legal battle that will stifle and oppress anyone who refuses to celebrate the LGBT agenda.

Assuming our customers still insist that we bake the cake, here’s part two, or how I would go the extra mile.

“There are three other cake shops in town. We often refer our friends to them when we are overbooked. I believe they can do a better job for you than I can. However, if that does not satisfy you, I will be happy to pay for all of the ingredients that go into the cake, and you can have anyone you want bake it.”

That’s as far as I would take Jesus’ teaching on going the extra mile. The reason is that our obligations as 21st century American Christians extend to a third command of Christ that applies to us differently than it applied to Jewish subjects of 1st century Rome.

“Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s,” applies differently in a representative democracy than it did in a dictatorship. In our context we the people are Caesar. We make the laws via our elected representatives. When we believe the laws and rulings coming from the legislatures, the judiciary, and or the executive are unjust and destructive to the body politic, contrary to what is best for our neighbors, and oppressive to our consciences it is our duty to oppose them, peaceably, within the democratic process, but resolutely.

By the way, it would behoove Christian bakers and everyone else who wants to apply this logic in their businesses to apply it just as rigorously to heterosexuals engaging in adulterous marriages. Then we would not be open to the charge of hypocrisy. If we’re going to insist on biblical ethics in one sphere of our businesses we better be prepared to insist on it everywhere.


Has it hit you how many transitions happen this time of year? Graduations happen in May. High school is over, time to go to work, or maybe prepare for the move to college. College is over, time to find that first career step. Many leases run out in May; time to buy that first house. More houses are sold in June and July than any other month. The marriage industrial complex really cranks up in June. Singleness is over; time to figure out how to be married people.

The beginning of summer is often the beginning of a new chapter, a new season in life.
Unless you’re lost in transition; stuck somewhere at the end of the season you just completed, but not very sure of what to do next.

I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but here are some thoughts, based on Solomon’s advice in Ecclesiastes chapter three, that might help.

First, make sure to fully enjoy the season you are in. Maybe you aren’t in transition. Maybe you’re right in the middle of high school, or college, or parenting. Embrace it! Be all the way there! “Life is an hourglass glued to the table,”*  is true. This moment will pass all too soon. Don’t miss it by looking over the horizon.

Second, celebrate the season you just completed, and say goodbye. Did you graduate? Land your first job? Get married? Have your first child? Celebrate the goodness of God in your life for all that has gone before and brought you to this point, put your pictures in a photo album, and let it go. Say goodbye to the past. You won’t be traveling that way again. Let the good memories warm you and the bad ones warn you, but don’t live there. You can’t navigate a successful future by looking over your shoulder.

Third, embrace the road before you with faith, hope, and love. New seasons mean new decisions, new ways of thinking about old problems, new challenges, and new rewards. You won’t always get it right. Make the decision anyway. You won’t always be able to predict the outcome, do your homework and take the next step anyway. You won’t always be immediately appreciated for what you do, keep looking out for the wellbeing of the others around you anyway.

Finally, in all that you do, remember this: the world is a big and beautiful place, “too big for us, yet its satisfactions are too small.”**    We were made for eternity, made for relationship with the infinite Creator. Seek him every step of the way, walk with him through every season, and you will not get lost in transition.

*Anna Nalick, Breathe.
**NIV Study Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:11 notes.

YOU ONLY SAW HER HANDS and not her face on TV

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Col 3:23-24 NIV)

“I’m a good ole boy and my Momma loves me, but she can’t understand why they keep showin’ my hands and not my face on TV.”

Waylon Jennings was so well known on the Country Music scene that by the time he played that song for the redneck sitcom The Dukes of Hazard in 1979 everyone who heard it knew who was singing it. Waylon’s face never appeared, only his jeans, cowboy shirt and leather vest framing his fingers picking his signature white and black electric guitar. It was an inside joke. But we understood. Waylon was already famous in the South as an “outlaw” country singer. We didn’t need to see his face. We could recognize that guitar and that coal mine deep baritone anywhere.

At about the same time that Waylon and the Duke Brothers were hitting their stride the hands of another musician of a totally different stripe began appearing regularly on television. In Touch, the ministry of televangelist Charles Stanley was airing nationwide in the early eighties. In those days part of the signature opening sequence for the program was a shot of a pair of skilled hands caressing the ivory keys of a black grand piano. The viewer never saw the musician’s face and very few people ever knew her name but those of us who were members of First Baptist Church of Atlanta back then didn’t need to. We recognized the hands and knew the signature sound of one of the most dedicated servants to ever play a hymn. We used to sing her that verse of Waylon’s song just to kid her. Her name is Alice Marie “Bee” Wolter. For twenty-two years she pounded the keys for countless rehearsals, worship services, weddings, funerals, church theatrical productions and traveling choirs as part of the ministry of First Baptist Church of Atlanta. But that doesn’t even make up half of her time in service to the King at the keyboard. Bee began playing for the church when she was ten years old. As of last Sunday, when she played for worship at First Baptist Church of Kennesaw, Georgia, she has been at her post in some church or ministry, almost every Sunday and many nights in between, for over seventy-five years. She has “worked at it with all her heart, as for the Lord, not for men…serving Christ” and the rest of us who love to sing his praises.

So if you ever get discouraged or tired in your service to the Kingdom, and wonder if anyone will ever appreciate it take a little lesson from my mother-in-law Bee. Very few people on earth will ever know her name. And no one is likely to see her face on TV. But her inheritance is waiting in the presence of the King.