GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

Fans of the first Star Trek movies remember that in The Wrath of Khan, the villain tried to destroy the Starship Enterprise by detonating an experimental terraforming device called Genesis. We learned in The Search for Spock, that the planet that emerged from that explosion was beautiful but unstable, doomed to devour itself in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. David Marcus, a key scientist on the project, revealed the reason. He had used a restricted substance, “proto-mater,” to speed up the process. What should have been a utopia was doomed from the start by the hubris of its creator.

By 1984 standards, the special effects were excellent. But that is not what made me think of Star Trek movies at one o’clock this morning.

2020 has been an epic disaster. People will make movies about it. Heroes and villains will emerge. Everyone hopes 2021 will be better than 2020. But the biblical worldview warns us that we dare not anchor our hopes here. It tells us that God made us good, but in our hubris, we inserted an element to make life better. We rebelled and corrupted all our capacities in the process. We took earth with us when we fell, and because of the fall, we can count on two things.

First, the earth itself, in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and yes, pandemics, will oppose us. “Cursed is the ground,” God said to our first parents and earth’s first stewards. “Thorns and thistles, it will produce for you till you return to the dust from which you were formed.”  

Second, our best Utopia-building efforts will be fatally flawed because we are fatally flawed. Like Dr. Marcus in Star Trek, we cannot resist the temptation to hurry-up success. In our hubris, we add ingredients to life guaranteed to produce catastrophic, if unintended, consequences.

We need a savior, someone who can break the curse and reverse the consequences of the fall; someone who can cancel our corruption and restore true goodness to men and women. And the good news is, we just celebrated his arrival at Christmas.

The babe of Bethlehem became the man on the mountain who began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” His recipe for success, called The Sermon on the Mount[1], has no shortcuts, no place for hubris, only humility, faith, and love. He ended that sermon with this practical application.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”[2]

The vaccines may work. Life might return to something like normal. But because of the fall, we can count on two things: something else will come along to destabilize the world, and in our hubris, it might be us!   Build your house on the rock. Put your hope in Christ in 2021. He is the only savior.


[1] See the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:24–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

God delivers hope in the strangest ways. When we want hope, we look for it in large promises made by powerful people. But when God provides hope, it looks like a tiny mustard seed covered in dirt. Like a pinch of leaven in a batch of dough, kneaded to a rubbery lump and left to rise in the dark, God’s hope comes to unlikely people in unknown places. And with it comes a crisis.

That’s the story of Jesus’ birth, well told in New Line Cinema’s 2006, The Nativity Story. The gritty reality of a family from impoverished Nazareth, staggering under cruel Roman oppression, comes through like no other movie on the birth of Christ in recent memory. Nothing is romanticized. Cecil B. DeMille would not recognize the sets or the clothing. The cast learned how to use the era’s tools, build houses, crush grapes and olives, milk goats, and make goat cheese.

Everything feels authentic, including Ciarán Hinds’ (Star Wars, Game of Thrones) menacing, paranoid, ruthless Herod. He reminds us that evil is everpresent when God is at work. Nazareth’s Jews’ stifling legalism is also palpable as Mary returns, obviously pregnant, from her visit with Elizabeth. The three wise men provide comic relief and a cosmic perspective on the birth of the King of Kings. But Oscar Isaac’s smitten, conflicted, and finally, courageous Joseph is the hero of the story. His portrayal of Jesus’ adopted father is a beautiful example of the positive power of a good man who puts others before himself.

Sadly, the weakest performance in the film is Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary. It may have been the script, but her portrayal, while authentic in biblical detail, seemed flat. Still, her and Joseph’s steadiness in the crisis of faith created by God’s entrance into their lives is worth the Amazon rental price. It reminds us that that is how God works hope into our lives. Not in big promises made by influential people but through small acts of faith by regular people facing the crises of obedience.

The smallest of seeds an inch deep in the dirt. A pinch of leaven in the dough in the dark. The greatest of kings born in the most humble of places. That is how God does hope. Watch The Nativity Story and find your hope this Christmas.  

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

The first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

Depending on whom you ask, Christmas is either the best or worst time of the year. For some, “it’s those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call!” For others, it is time to sing the blues.  

True, the oft-quoted myth that suicides peak during Christmas is just that, a myth.[1] The rates go down.

On the other hand, WebMD reports that “Holiday blues are a pretty common problem despite the fact that as a society, we see the holidays as a joyous time,” says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.[2]

In other words, we’re less likely to do ourselves in but more likely to think about it. Especially at the end of 2020!

Those of us who have lost family members in the past few years, or been through the trauma of divorce, are most prone to the Christmas blues. Reminders of loved ones gone come in as many colors as gift wrap, and the complications of conflicts with step-families and feuding parents are well-documented sources of holiday unhappiness. Add to that this year’s pandemic pandemonium, the restrictions on travel, amplified expectations for joy, the stress of preparations, shopping, lack of exercise, and extra eating, and it’s no wonder some of us get grumpy and sad.

So if Blue Christmas is your holiday hymn, here are a few ideas to help you change your tune.

Usually, I would encourage you to change your environment. Humans are creatures of habit and highly sensitive to our environments. When we do the same things, the same ways, in the same places year after year, it can be challenging to associate Christmas with joy, especially if the people who were part of that joy are no longer present. We might not want to travel this year, but we can do different things to celebrate. I’m planning to build a fire-pit outside. We’re going to hang some outdoor lights and maybe drive through the South Boston Speedway light show one weekend. The point is, make some changes.

Change your traditions. Change the routine. Drop some old habits and build some new ones. Never baked Christmas cookies? Try it. Tired of baking? Stow your cookie sheets and try cakes or pies.

Change your attitude about grief. Grief is like the tide; it comes in and goes out on a schedule unpredictable for us. We don’t think it’s appropriate for the holidays, so we try to restrain it. But that’s the worst thing we can do. Like an ocean wave, grief has an energy, and that energy will find an outlet, even if we try to suppress it. Anger, bitterness, resentment, and depression can be the results. Better to adopt a new paradigm for dealing with grief, to ride the wave rather than stand against it. When we learn to do that, grief can help us heal and experience new kinds of joy. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they will be comforted.” We can’t be comforted if we refuse to mourn.

Finally, change your theology. Remember that the first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

And while you remember that, remember this: The food, the gifts, family, and friends are only the celebrants and elements of the celebration. The real joy is in the Christ child who came to “save his people from their sins,” and in the knowledge that God on high has declared “peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests.”    


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201212/is-suicide-more-common-christmas-time

[2] http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/emotional-survival-guide-for-holidays

CUP ‘A JOE WITH A HERO

CUP ‘A JOE WITH A HERO

I was a 25-year-old seminary student trying to sort through the meaning of ministry and leadership in a world without heroes. He was a 65-year-old retired U.S. Army Colonel and decorated combat veteran who had built harbors and airstrips from Normandy to Berlin in WWII. Roads and bridges across Korea, often under heavy fire, and twice wounded in the efforts. In retirement, he led an international security agency, served as a police chief in his hometown, and later became a roaming construction superintendent.

By the time I met Marc Walters on that job site in Memphis, multiple surgeries had weakened his once powerful body. He operated out of an old RV that doubled as his home on the hotel project we were building. I was looking for mentors, and he was John Wayne writ large, a tangible hero and nothing at all like the well-scrubbed theologians I was studying under at the time. Watching him handle the rough men on that job was an education no seminary could provide.

I was his gofer, aide de camp if you like. Every time we met, over every cup of joe, I asked questions and then just listened; questions about men, about values, about leadership under pressure. As winter gave way to spring, he shared his stories, and I worked hard to earn his respect. Their small-town church had scorned him and his wife because of her alcoholism. And though he was the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, he had not been to church in many years.

I knew that his health was failing, and one morning, as we finished our coffee, he got quiet, lit his pipe, and just looked at me for a moment. “I’ve told my family I may not make it through this next surgery,” he said. “And if I don’t, I’ve told them I want you to do my funeral. You’re an honorable young man, and I’m proud to know you.”

It was at once the greatest compliment I’d ever received, and the moment I had been praying about for months, providing the opportunity to talk about his spiritual life and his eternity. God gave us his grace that morning.

My friend survived. Because of our friendship, I think some reconciliation took place in his life and family, for which I was grateful. And I learned three valuable things. First, men who have seen combat, who have experienced life stripped to its essentials, know things most non-veterans cannot understand. Second, there is great value in listening to an older man tell his tale without hastening judgment on his life. Finally, the best ministry is not the kind that comes from pulpits, but life shared between friends over a cup ‘a joe in the quiet spaces.

Remember to thank a veteran today.

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

A POST ELECTION PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS

I woke this morning and found about what I expected, an undecided election fraught with the potential for significant conflict in our country. As one commentator said last week, “This is going to make Florida’s hanging chads in 2000 look like a cake-walk.” Thankfully, as a result of that debacle, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that all ballots must be counted and turned in by December 8, six days before the electoral college meets. So, we should have a decision, if no less conflict, by then.

I grieve for our country and pray for it daily, but my chief concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ. We are “the support and pillar of the truth”[1] and cannot stop speaking it even when the world would rather not hear it. But we are also required by our Lord to be peacemakers in this world.[2] We are also commanded to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” within the Church.[3]

With those three tasks in mind, I offer the following prayer, adapted from 1 Peter chapter 1, and I ask you to pray it with me for ourselves and for all who bow the knee to Jesus Christ over the next month.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Though we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him, and are filled with inexpressible joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

Therefore, Father, we ask that you help us prepare our minds for action, be self-controlled, and fully set our hope on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. Please help us, Father, as obedient children, not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance of you and your Son. Please help us, Father, to be holy because you are holy.

Since we call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, help us live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For, we were not redeemed with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Finally, because we have been purified by obeying the truth, help us to love one another deeply, from the heart, recognizing that we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

For, all men are like grass, and all their glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 3:15

[2] Matthew 5:9; James 3:18

[3] Ephesians 4:3

FOUR STEPS TO SPIRITUAL STRENGTH

Multiple months of isolation are not good for anyone’s spiritual life. Because of that, I spent the summer—and I’m not done—visiting one-on-one with the men in our church, asking several diagnostic questions. Among other things, I’ve been trying to measure the impact of the pandemic on our spiritual lives and figure out how to help. The first two questions are 1. How has the virus affected your spiritual life? 2. What do you do to keep yourself spiritually healthy?

The answers have sometimes been encouraging, occasionally concerning, and always informative. So, I’ll take a moment here to thank the men for sharing their valuable time as well as their transparency.

The stronger our spiritual life—defined as growing confidence in God and a willingness to follow his lead—the happier and healthier we and those around us will be. But the number one takeaway I’ve gathered from these interviews is how hard it is to maintain spiritual growth in isolation. With that in mind, I offer four practical steps to a healthy spiritual life.

Pray Every Day

Nothing is more important than the ongoing conversation you have with God about yourself, his world, and your place in it. Find a quiet place where you can maintain privacy and engage with God every day. It doesn’t take long. I seldom spend more than twenty minutes praying but rarely less than ten.

Three things are essential with this practice, consistency, reflection, and listening. Do not let feelings distract you. Emotional satisfaction comes and goes. Ignore it. Give God permission to shine his light into every corner of your life. Block out external distractions.

Consume Scripture Daily

Some folks do very well with the Bible In One Year app I recommended last year. I didn’t, and neither did some of the men. “I got lost in Leviticus,” said one. I can relate. If the One Year Bible is not your style, find a different path. For me, deep reflection in one chapter, or even one paragraph, of scripture is much more instructive. Caveat: If you’ve never read the whole Bible, you should. It will provide context for the deep dive. But if you don’t have time or find it challenging to absorb, there are several devotional aids available.

A list follows in the footnote. [1]


Absorb Practical Teaching

Helpful books, podcasts, and sermon series are out there on every conceivable topic. Some months I put the Bible aside and read a good book during my quiet time. Search the Books tab on Christianbook.com  or visit your church library. Aim for a chapter a day, and you’ll cover a lot of ground.

Listen for Specifics

God is speaking to us through his word, but what he says to you might differ from what I hear in the same verse. That’s because we are different people at different stages of life. Listen for things specific to your life. Write them in the margin of your Bible (I often date mine) or in your journal. Go back and review them from time to time.

Put it into Practice  

Take one thing you hear in your time alone with God and try to apply it that day. Take one thing you hear in the sermon that Sunday and practice it that week. Nothing pleases Him better or helps us more than when by faith, we follow his path.

One of the books I’m reading this year is Dr. Robert S. Miller’s Spiritual Survival Handbook For Cross-Cultural Workers. It is only one hundred pages and, as the title indicates, written for missionaries. But it’s lessons apply across the board. Here’s his take on personal spiritual growth.

“The Holy Spirit longs to establish a solid sense of self in every one of us. Talents, skills, charisma, and training are wonderful tools…but if we have not graduated from the identity school led by the Spirit of God, then all our…efforts are built on sinking sand. God’s identity classes are held every day. They are twenty-four hours long. All the classes are practicums. We learn by watching our Teacher and following His example.”


[1] Daily Devos Online – Our Daily Bread has an app! Read, listen, and join in the conversation online. Pastor Rick Warren, author of the bestseller, Purpose Driven Life, has an excellent daily devo at pastorrick.com. Pastor Greg Laurie is one of my favorite evangelists and teachers. J. D. Greear is the leader of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham and a great teacher.

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

Imagine an alien from outer space landed in your driveway and asked, “What are all those buildings in your town with pointy spires and crosses on top? What is that about?” Could you answer accurately?

That’s the question C.S. Lewis—author of the Chronicles of Narnia—and Oxford College Chaplain, Walter Hooper, knocked around one day. “We wondered how many people, (who did not flee) apart from voicing their prejudices about the Church, could supply them with much in the way of accurate information. On the whole, we doubted whether the aliens would take back to their world much that is worth having.”

Hooper and Lewis were speculating because at that time, in the mid-twentieth century, several autobiographies of former bishops and preachers had flooded the market, explaining why they could no longer accept the faith. Lewis believed the ignorance of true Christianity was due to the flood of “liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.”

Not much has changed. Today, many people reject Christianity because of prejudice or personal failure that seemed to disqualify them from the faith. Others were injured by fraudulent Christians and left the faith out of anger. A spate of recent books by former evangelicals such as the late Rachel Held Evans, and ex-pastors Rob Bell and Joshua Harris contribute to the confusion. “If professionals can’t follow it, how can I?”

But as Hooper writes in his preface to God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C.S. Lewis, “…it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.” Spiritually hungry skeptics must ask themselves, “Am I rejecting something I fully understand? Or am I using negative examples as an excuse not to investigate it?”

That is why we offer the Alpha Course every fall. It’s a ten-week introduction to basic Christianity that’s designed to encourage questions and build friendships with others on the same journey. It covers the ten most common questions people have about Christianity, including Who is Jesus? Why Did He Die? Can I Trust the Bible? How Does God Guide Us? What Does the Holy Spirit Do? Why and How Do I Pray?

Our Church is hosting its ninth Alpha Course this year. If you’ve never attended one, I encourage you to find a course near you and go. Click here to find one in your area: https://alphausa.org/try.

HUNGRY FOR COMMUNITY?

HUNGRY FOR COMMUNITY?

I have a confession to make. I hunt for reasons to leave my office and run errands. I spend too much time on Facebook. I linger and chat with the grocery clerk and the guy at the gas station and just about anybody else I can find out in public. I like people. I don’t like being alone. AND I’M REALLY SICK OF SOCIAL DISTANCING! 

If you can identify, and I know most of you can, I want to encourage you to find a friend and bring them to our Alpha Course that begins September 15. Why? Alpha does four things that most of us need right now.

First, Alpha ignores politics. It seems that every four years, we find ourselves in “the most contentious political climate ever.” Politics is a necessary evil, but it need not consume all of our attention every day. Alpha is a beautiful break from the political storm.

Second, Alpha is not trying to sell you anything. Marketing expert Dr. Jeffery Lant developed something called The Rule of Seven. The Rule of Seven states that “to penetrate the buyer’s consciousness and make significant penetration in a given market, you have to contact the prospect a minimum of seven times within an 18-month period.”[1] My dad, who sold life insurance, among other things, summarized it thus: “It takes six NO’s to get a YES.”

Alpha is not a sales pitch of the gospel. It is a course, Christianity 101, if you will, founded instead on two fundamentals: Process and Community. Those two make up the third and fourth things Alpha does for us: create community and allow us to process some of life’s most profound questions.

Covid-19 is forcing many of us to sit still and ask serious questions, some for the first time in our lives. Questions like: Is this all there is? What is life about? Why do bad things like this happen? What’s my purpose? Where is it all headed? Am I ready to die? Alpha provides ancient wisdom on those topics as well as a safe space to process them.

And finally, friends! Alpha helps us meet that gnawing need for community. That is what makes Alpha so enjoyable and encouraging. No one will pressure you, and all questions are welcome in a fellowship of friends who’ve gotten to know one another through shared time and laughter.

Alpha is for everyone. If you’ve been a church member all your life, you will enjoy it. If you have never entered a church or considered Christianity, you will enjoy it and come away enriched with new understanding and new friends. Want to register yourself or a friend? Click here: FIND AN ALPHA.


[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-contacts-does-it-take-before-someone-buys-your-product-2011-7#ixzz3kaienRL6

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM A LIVING LEGEND

LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM A LIVING LEGEND

Sonlight, the college vocal group I traveled with from 1981-83, was lost in New York City after dark. The passenger van was vibrating so badly that it felt like it might come apart. We stopped, and I crawled underneath to check the driveshaft, but without a flashlight, I could not see anything. I got back in the van, and one of the other guys figured out we were in Harlem and needed to make a few more turns to reach the expressway and head north to our hotel. We rounded a corner and saw a man lying in the street, suffering from a gunshot. No police cars yet. “We gotta get out of here!” we said. One more turn and we were on the expressway. Less than a mile later, the driveshaft let go with a loud BANG, and we were stranded.

That event sticks in my mind not only because of the location and time but mostly for the way our leader, First Baptist Church of Atlanta Worship Ministry Director, John V. Glover, handled the situation. Without losing his cool, he loaded all 12 kids into the equipment van and gave directions to the hotel. Then he began whistling as he stuck out his thumb. He’s whistling! I thought. He is not shouting, or cussing, or blaming anyone. He’s whistling. The fact that he did not seem worried helped the rest of us not to. Then a big two-tone Cadillac coupe pulled over, and a huge guy with a gray beard offered him a ride. I thought, “That’s it. The Mafia’s got Johnny, and we are never going to get out of here.”

My friend, Johnny, produced and directed the Atlanta Passion Play that ran for 35 years and played to over one million patrons. He has led choral groups for 60 years, produced and conducted more musicals than I can count, and mentored hundreds of young men and women into life and ministry. Via Facebook, his family helped us celebrate his 80th birthday this week with memories and gratitude for all he meant to us. He did it with legendary energy and positivity, but the leadership principles he taught us will be most valuable to you. Former FBCA Orchestra Director John Gage summed them up.

– It is more important to develop your spiritual life than it is to build your vocational/ministry life.

– Excellence is always critical and worth the time and effort.

– Collaboration is better than trying to do it all yourself.

– Trust those you hire, but help them develop as well, and they will become a valuable asset to your ministry.

– Give guidance but get out of the way and let your employees take responsibility for their areas of expertise.

– Pray first.

– Be creative but not at the expense of comprehension.

– Love your staff and let them know you love them by investing time in them.

– Family is more important than work.

– Always allow your boss to make the final decision after stating your case.

Johnny’s impact on me is immeasurable. I learned to trust God in impossible situations when he showed up the next day after spending all night in a truck stop getting our van fixed.  I courted my wife of 36 years backstage in the Civic Center during the Passion Play, and three years later, he performed the ceremony. I received the confirmation of my call to ministry in response to a challenge he gave Sonlight on the way home from a Jamaica trip. I memorized Romans 6 on that same trip because he challenged us to do it, and I still teach young men facing temptation to do it today. I learned to speak to churches on those Sonlight trips and what to do when the accompaniment tape breaks. And I participated as he took a few professional musicians and hundreds of average singers and molded us into a powerful community of praise. The list could go on, but most of all, Johnny became one of three key men God put in my life as mentors in those days to replace the father I lost when I was fifteen. I will never stop being grateful for him. So, Happy Birthday, Johnny! And here’s to another 80!

LAST RIDE WITH BIG MIKE

LAST RIDE WITH BIG MIKE

Dealing with Covid-19 has been hard on all of us, but especially those with mental health issues. Since today is the tenth anniversary of his passing, I thought I would re-post this story about my brother, who fought a great battle for his mental health and won.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Heb 12:1 NIV)

Nitrogen fumes from the Shell premium gas Mike burned in his Honda CBR 1100 XX drifted back to us, threading their way into our helmets along with the mountain aromas of cool granite, green laurel, and fresh-cut grass. I kept pace with Mike and his passenger, my daughter Mikeala, on a borrowed BMW, railing the tight curves and slowing to a walk on the switchbacks of Georgia SR 180 as we wound our way up Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state.  It would be our last motorcycle ride together before he died on August 5th, 2010—and one of the best—climaxing as it did with a view of the world from 4,784 feet. He had already covered 200 of the 350 miles he would ride that day and wasn’t even tired.

My older brother Mike suffered from atypical bipolar disorder. This disease, or something like it, was not new to our family. Our aunt suffered for years before taking her own life. Our grandfather was also disabled by it. It hit Mike in his 39th year, brought on (we believe) by a reaction to a blood pressure medication that works fine for millions, but not for him.

Big Mike, his nickname in the neighborhood, was always bigger and stronger than most of my friends and me. He was also a rock when I needed him most. Watching him break into a thousand mental pieces was almost more than I could bear. But watching him climb up out of that psychological black hole, a place from which few men return, was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed. We talked about writing a book on it. I’m writing this today to encourage you and anyone else that you know who has a mental disorder.

Three things marked Mike’s journey from the pit of despair back to mental health.

Humility. Mike was a proud man, a strong man that submitted himself to hospitalization under the care of competent professionals who prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Once out of the hospital, Mike took responsibility for himself and worked the program. It took years. And like many bipolar patients, along the way, Mike decided he no longer needed the meds. Stopping the meds led to a relapse and another hospital stay. But the second time was the charm. He humbled himself by taking his medicine every day and visiting a counselor every week for years. Even when he no longer needed the counselor, he stayed on the medication and visited a therapist now and then to keep a check on himself. He knew the disease too well and as strong as he was, knew he couldn’t handle it alone.

The second thing was his faith. In all the years of his suffering, Mike never turned his back on Jesus Christ. I never heard him blame God or use his illness and disappointment as an excuse to quit worshiping or neglect his devotions or stop fellowshiping with other believers. He wanted to be well, and he knew that in the end, only walking with Jesus would give him the strength to get there.

Perseverance. Sadly, many suffering people give up and let their illness define them for the rest of their days, or take their life. Mike never gave up. Even after two years of unemployment due to his disease, he kept his courage up. He was as healthy on that day at the top of the world as I have ever known him, enjoying the good gifts God gave, enjoying the ride, and discussing plans for his new business. No one knew that even though his mind had healed, his heart was diseased. He was working on a motorcycle in his garage on the day his heart stopped.

So, if you know someone who is struggling with a mental disorder, tell them about my brother. Tell them they can recover. And tell them there’s a big guy in that great cloud of witnesses, cheering them on.