GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

One of the great questions of the skeptic, the greatest objection to Christianity as we know it is: How can a good God let bad things happen to good people? How does Christianity deal with that question?

The standard answers run something like this:
 He loves us but he isn’t powerful enough to do anything about it.
 He’s powerful enough to do something but he really doesn’t love us.
 He’s not there.

But when we look at Psalm 22 and see that David prophesied all of it 1000 years before Christ quoted it from the Cross, it opens up an answer that we hadn’t considered:

God is doing something to overcome evil that we never would have dreamed.
• He is wrestling evil to the death in the body of the king of goodness.
• He is swallowing all injustice in the suffering of the just one.
• He is putting out the fire of death in the unquenchable life of the Living One.
• He is breaking the power of sin and the curse by nailing it to the Cross of the sinless one.

What did God do with the problem of evil? He absorbed it all in the person of his son who sang the great question out of the depth of his soul while nailed to a cross.

CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME FROM COVID-19?

CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME FROM COVID-19?

A visionary leader gets betrayed and kicked out of his spiritual community. He is deeply hurt and confused. He cannot see a way forward. Can anything good come out of that?

A decorated war veteran gets court-martialed, ruined by the Army and the country he seeks to serve, simply for telling the truth. Can anything good come out of that?

The world succumbs to a global pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t happened in a hundred years. Can anything good come out of that?

Several conversations, books, and documentaries posed the same question: A disaster happens. Maybe it is personal. Perhaps it is public. It could be global, but it happens, and all that people in the middle of it can see is the downside.

I’m learning that if we watch and wait, if we trust God and keep a positive attitude, there can be an upside. I’m looking for that with Covid-19, and here’s what I’ve found.

Remarkable advances have happened in medical technology and vaccine development. Scientists and pharmaceutical companies produced vaccines in record time with new methodologies. Global trade almost guarantees that more viruses, perhaps much worse, are coming. We now have the medical science to combat them.

Many people heard the phrase “supply chain” for the first time in 2020. Everyone in the logistics business is figuring out how to do it better. We also have a deeper appreciation for truck drivers, grocery store clerks, and toilet paper!

Forced isolation created powerful opportunities for personal reflection on what matters. Too many of us go thoughtlessly through life. Covid-19 forced us to slow down and consider how we spend our time.

Fear of death caused all to pause momentarily to think about our eternity. That is never a bad thing.

We appreciate and support the performing arts. Great music performed by gifted artists is a uniquely uplifting human experience. I plan to attend more concerts.  

Public worship. Nothing can duplicate the experience of the gathered church in worship. I can’t wait till we can all be together again, singing our hearts out to God and experiencing his presence in our praises.

The visionary leader was Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery. God used him to save his family and Israel, from whom came the Savior of the world. Joseph is a model for several people I know today, whose stories are still being written.

The military leader was General William “Billy” Mitchel. He foresaw the role of airpower in the 1920s. He publicly accused the War and Navy departments of “incompetency, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable administration of the national defense” for refusing to recognize it. He predicted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and his followers successfully led the Army Air Force through WWII. In 1946 the U.S. Congress authorized a special medal in his honor; it was presented to his son in 1948 by one of his disciples, Gen. Carl Spaatz, chief of staff of the newly created U.S. Air Force.[1]

The greatest disaster happened to the man from Nazareth on what we now call Good Friday. Or was it a disaster after all?

What good can you find from Covid-19?


[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Mitchell

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: 3 Steps to Conflict Resolution

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: 3 Steps to Conflict Resolution

I am a pragmatic guy who likes internal combustion engines. My wife is an artist who wouldn’t know a piston from a wrist pin. But she is great with flowers and has an eye for color and style. We had a dogwood tree at our house in Georgia, a beautiful tree that had a branch growing right out into the driveway. It swiped the car every time I parked.

Someone gave me a used chain saw. I got it running and was cutting up some old trees in the backyard. Gas remained in the tank when I finished. You can guess what happened next.

My wife came running out of the house, “Why are you killing the dogwood tree!”

“I’m not killing it! I’m just taking off this branch!”

“But why?”

“There was still some gas in the chainsaw!”

You can imagine where the conversation went next. Krista and I were still learning conflict resolution skills back then. We’ve learned what works, not only in marriage but in all walks of life. Here are three steps everyone can use.

1st Slowdown

Fast is slow, and slow is fast. Misunderstanding creates most conflict, and speed aggravates it. I didn’t know how important that one branch with flowers on it was to Krista. She didn’t know how much it bothered me when it scratched the car. For all she knew, I was going to cut the whole tree down. So she was urgent to stop me. And I was impressed! It takes a brave woman to yell at a man with a chainsaw buzzing in his hands. But I was also insulted. Why is she yelling at me? Can’t she see that the branch is in the driveway?

Too many assumptions happen too fast when we rush into a conflict. Slow the communication process down; proceed with extra respect, especially if others are present. Bonus thought: never attempt conflict resolution via text or email. Assumptions multiply when we can’t hear the tone of voice or read body-language.

2nd Calm down

Get control of yourself before working through conflict. Keep your voice down. Be the NAP, the Non-Anxious Presence. When a crisis is looming, or you are already in a dispute, be the one who has self-control. If you can’t, don’t engage in discussion until you can figure out why. Take a break and, without blaming others for how you feel, take responsibility for your emotions.

For Christians, self-control is a gift of the Spirit. If you feel your temper rising, excuse yourself for a while, agree to take a breather, and tell the Spirit of God, “Lord, you say that in Christ I am not a slave. I feel enslaved to anger right now. I confess that as sin and ask you to be within me the peaceful presence that I do not have the power to be right now.” He will help.

3rd Reason instead of ranting

Ranting is popular entertainment in America, taking the place of serious discussion. But it is incredibly destructive and has no home in Christian life.

James, the brother of Jesus, said it this way.

         But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

         And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [1]

Reason is pure, peaceable, and gentle. Reason is full of mercy. You can go a long way toward achieving this by removing two phrases from your vocabulary: “You never …” and “You always …” When we say those things, we are saying that, even though we said we forgave some insult, we never really did; even though we promised we would agree to something, internally we never did.

Ranting raises walls. Reasonableness builds bridges.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us,” said Walt Kelly’s Pogo. We are our own worst adversaries in conflict resolution. We usually rush into it, raise our voices, and rant about the issue. Slow down, calm down, reason instead of ranting, and you will eat the fruit of peace in all your relationships.


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Jas 3:13–18). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

THE PLOW An Ash Wednesday Reflection

THE PLOW An Ash Wednesday Reflection

Every summer, we enjoy another of the benefits of living in a rural community: garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. I thought I knew what a fresh tomato was before I moved to the country. But then I ate an Abbott tomato. I thought I knew what sweet was, but then I tasted a Turbeville cantaloupe.

One such garden was across the street from our house. But none of its fruit would’ve been possible without Mr. Rice from down the street. He didn’t water the ground. He didn’t plant the seed. He didn’t even help in the harvest. He just appeared on his tractor every spring with the thing every garden needs: the plow. 

The plow is hard and sharp. It rips through weeds, punctures the hard surface, and breaks up the clotted dirt. The plow prepares the ground for the beginning of life-giving things.

The spiritual life has a parallel in the plow: repentance. Repentance penetrates hardened hearts, breaking up clods that clog our souls. Repentance opens the way for the word of God to work down into the soil of personality and bring forth the sweet fruit of a life empowered by the Spirit. Repentance is the first step in ‘putting off the old life’ and ‘putting on the new.’ Nothing happens without it.

Today is Ash Wednesday when some Christians mark their heads with an ashen cross to begin the season of Lent, a concentrated period of personal repentance before Easter. That’s good if it helps. Like an unused plow in an abandoned field, repentance has rusted away in our “self-esteem is everything” culture. But repentance is a spiritual discipline that requires regular practice if it’s to do us any good.

Nehemiah shows us how to do it.

Repentance Reviews the Offense

Repentance calls sin, sin. Nehemiah said, “I confess the sins…we have committed, including myself.” Neh.1: 6b-7.

There goes that plow blade, right into the toughest part of the ground, the hardened surface of self. We come before God and say, “Lord, I did it. It wasn’t my environment, it wasn’t my job, it wasn’t my family, I did something wrong, and I’m responsible for it.”

Repentance Is Specific 

Nehemiah confessed sins of commission, doing what we know is wrong. “We have acted very wickedly toward you,” he said. We might say it this way: “God, I have been corrupt in my dealings with you. I’ve played the religious pretend game. On the outside, I look fine. On the inside, my heart is far from you.”

Corruption is a heart hardening thing. It needs a sharp plow.

Nehemiah also confessed sins of omission, failing to do what we know is right. We have not obeyed the commands… you gave to Moses.”

Finally, Nehemiah confessed to group sins. He used the plural pronoun, “We.” We don’t imagine ourselves responsible for what our culture is doing. But when we fail to speak up for the defenseless unborn, are we not responsible? When we fail to care for the poor, are we not neglecting our responsibilities?

Repentance reviews the offense and takes responsibility, putting everything out on the table between God and us. That is essential if we want a response.

It has been a long time now since we ate the fruit of the garden across the street. The neighbors who tended it died or moved away, grass and trees now fill the lot. I chatted with Mr. Rice about that. He said, “I’ve been plowing gardens for folks in town here for decades. At one time, there were thirty-five that I plowed every spring. Now there are less than five.”

When I observe our culture and see the poison it produces, I wonder if the reason is that we have stopped tending the garden of the soul, we have stopped turning over the soil of the spirit with the plow of repentance. 

WHEN SCIENCE CATCHES UP WITH SCRIPTURE: Self-Help Books on Mental & Emotional Health

WHEN SCIENCE CATCHES UP WITH SCRIPTURE: Self-Help Books on Mental & Emotional Health

I love it when science “catches up” to scripture. I especially love it when scientists discover help me and my friends live better, happier, healthier lives consistent with the gospel. My winter reading list and the speaker from a conference I recently attended reminded me of those things and, instead of waiting to write full book reviews on each one, I thought it would help you more to hear a few of their insights and provide links to their resources.

One caveat: I don’t agree with everything in these resources, nor do I wish to debate psychology v. scripture. So, as with all such things, use discernment, eat the meat and throw away the bones.

The Bible on Mental Health

The Bible is full of references to mental health and relationships. Here are just a few.

A heart at peace gives life to the body. (Prov. 14:30).

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Prov 15:15).

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22).

And of course, Philippians 4:4-9 on joy, anxiety, reasonableness, and the peace of God comes to mind along with many others.

Key Insights

When themes are repeated across several platforms and by different authors, it increases confidence in their validity. Here are some key insights I’ve picked up over the last few weeks, none earth-shattering but all worth remembering.

1. The critical importance of relationships to our mental and physical health. We need each other. We need small groups.

“More and more recent research has shown that lack of bonding can affect one’s ability to recover from an entire range of physical illness, including cancer, heart attack, and stroke…the nature of a patient’s emotional ties drastically affects whether or not this patient will get heart disease.” Even our blood chemistry changes when we have bitter thoughts. “A person’s ability to love and connect with others lays the foundation for both psychological and physical health.”[1]   

2. The damage we can do to ourselves and others when we fail to manage our emotions well.

Ever wondered why the Apostle Paul warned us “not to let the sun go down on your anger?”[2] Paul Meier, MD, ThD, asserts that 95% of depression is anger turned inward. Emotional pain most likely to become a lingering physical ailment is suppressed emotional pain. When we need to take a time-out or make an appointment to discuss an inflammatory issue, temporary repression is ok. Permanent suppression is deadly.

“When we pretend that all is well when all is not well, when we tell ourselves and others that nothing bad has happened when something very bad has happened, when we act as if we have suffered no loss or pain when we have suffered great loss or pain, it is then that we are stuffing what we should express. When a person begins to pack powerful and devastating emotions into the closet of his soul, he is setting himself up for trouble.”[3]  

3. The importance of time, grace, and practice in the development of relational capacity.

In RARE Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead, Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder wrote: “The critical point between the brain functioning well or starting to fail is where it runs out of joy and begins to run on fear as its motivation.” When that happens, we become “reactive, rigid, with serious implications to living and leading effectively.”

We tell each other, “Choose Joy.” But that’s like saying to a newbie at the gym, “Lift this 300 pounds.” It doesn’t work, and it’s insulting. But we can say, “Let’s go to the gym together and start lifting weights.” In that way, we build physical capacity. We build joy capacity the same way, with practice, with friends, over time.

Recommended Resources

RARE Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead. Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder. Website: Deeper Walk International.

Changes That Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier, Healthier You. Dr. Henry Cloud. Website: Dr.Cloud.com.

DEADLY Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection That Can Heal or Destroy You. Don Colbert, M.D.

DON’T LET JERKS GET THE BEST OF YOU: Advice for Dealing With Difficult People. Paul Meier, M.D.Meier Clinics.


[1] Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes That Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier Healthier You. Pg 66. Zondervan, 2018.

[2] Ephesians 4:26.

[3] Don Colbert, MD, Deadly Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body Connection That Can Heal or Destroy You. Pg. 53. Thomas Nelson, 2003.

THE PARABLE OF VANNA WHITE

THE PARABLE OF VANNA WHITE


Vanna White needed a new transmission. I guess I should explain that.

Tradesmen often name their trucks. The maintenance crew I worked with in the early nineties was no different. The ancient, white Ford Econoline 150 panel van that the carpenters used was so reliable, doing the same simple tasks day after day, well past her prime, that they called her Vanna White. Only now her transmission was slipping. It was time for a rebuild.

I put her on the lift, removed the big automatic tranny, dismantled it, cleaned it out, installed a rebuild kit in the case, and hoisted it back into place; a six or seven hour job. Then I filled it with transmission fluid and took it for a drive. It slipped, right between first and second gear.

So I did it again, looking carefully for mistakes, and it slipped again. So I did it again. And again. And again. And again. It kept slipping! I was ready to drive it off a cliff!

Now let’s pause this parable and ask a question: Is there some part of your spiritual life that isn’t working? Are you continually disabled by a slip into sin whose source is invisible to you? Have you gone over the details again and again, tried as hard as you can to solve your problem, and failed?

Good. Coming to the end of our resources is the best place we can be because only then are we ready to receive the power to overcome the “sins that so easily entangle us.” The Apostle Paul explained it as the difference between living in the “flesh,” translated “sinful nature” in the NIV, versus living in the “Spirit.” (See Galatians 5:16-25). Jesus spoke similarly in John 6:63 when he said, “The flesh counts for nothing. The Spirit gives life.”

Everything about us, our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and personalities were permanently weakened by the power of sin. We “slip between first and second.” Until the day we die that power will remain. In fact the only way to conquer the power of sin is through death. 

That is the beautiful thing about the gospel. In Christ we did die, not a physical death, but a spiritual one. We died with him to the power of sin. When the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ his death and his resurrection become ours in spiritual fact (See Romans 6). The trick is to learn how to live in the power of those things.

Remember Vanna White? The sixth time I pulled the transmission from the old van I remembered another Ford E 150 in our fleet. The engine had died and we junked it, but not before harvesting all other usable parts, one of which was the transmission. Automatic transmission casings are cast with hydraulic control circuits inside. If the case cracks in the right place, a place invisible to the naked eye, those circuits will leak under pressure and the transmission will slip. I pulled the new parts out of Vanna White’s original transmission case and installed them in the one from the van that had “died” and Viola! No more slipping between gears!

The problem most of us face in overcoming sin is that we try to stuff new parts into our old life. We need new parts in a new life. By the power of the Holy Spirit within us we can overcome by exchanging our life with Christ’s.  Only when we have given up on trying to improve ourselves by our own will power are we able to begin operating in the power of the Spirit. Only when we have exchanged Christ’s life for ours are we able to know his power to overcome. 

PRACTICE THESE THINGS J. P. Moreland’s Story of Overcoming Anxiety

PRACTICE THESE THINGS      J. P. Moreland’s Story of Overcoming Anxiety

J. P. Moreland is one of the 50 most influential living philosophers in the world. He is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has degrees in philosophy, theology, and chemistry, has written numerous books, and taught all over the country.

He has also fought and won a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression.

Moreland’s new book, FINDING QUIET: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices That Brought Peace (Zondervan, 2019), is a treasure trove of practical wisdom for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. It is also another example of science “catching up” with scripture.

The Apostle Paul taught the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, stop indulging anxious thoughts, pray about everything, and, most importantly, practice thinking about excellent and noble things. Do that, he said, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[1] FINDING QUIET provides many biblically sound, practical steps for putting Paul’s instructions to work.

Some evangelicals will find Moreland’s recommendations on antidepressant medications and other therapies controversial and dismiss him out of hand. But they will be doing themselves and anxiety-suffering saints a great disservice. Moreland does not ignore the necessity of growing in grace, but as a committed, obedient believer and major anxiety sufferer, he recognizes the value of medication when necessary. As vitamin D supplements are to people who cannot get enough sunshine or insulin to diabetics, these medications are to people who suffer from anxiety and depression. They are a blessing from God, supplying what the body cannot or is not currently producing on its own.

Moreland offers a novel but biblically based and workable model of humanity that helps us see how body, soul, and spirit interrelate and influence each other. He explains the importance of the heart organ in the Bible and science. He records the latest findings from brain science, psychiatry, newer therapeutic approaches like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and HeartMath exercises, and shares their efficacy in his life.

But FINDING QUIET is not only about the latest science. Moreland reaches deep into the Church’s past to explain how the practice of contemplative prayer helped him learn to acknowledge God in every moment. Dallas Willard fans will find much to like. He concludes with a chapter you won’t find in many Christian books: how to deal with disappointment when God seems silent in your suffering.

At seven by five inches and 220 pages, the book will fit in a pocket as a ready resource for anxiety sufferers. It’s accompanying appendices, notes, and bibliography, also make it user friendly.

Moreland concludes, “The most important point I learned is this: anxiety and depression are significantly formed habits residing in the brain and body (especially the heart muscle and nervous system), and these habits can be largely replaced with peaceful and joyful habits by regularly engaging in the right repetitive habit-forming exercises.” Or, as the Apostle Paul taught us, “Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”[2]


[1] Philippians 4:4-9

[2] Philippians 4:9

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

TOP TEN MENTAL HEALTH TIPS

TOP TEN MENTAL HEALTH TIPS

In 2007-2009, my middle daughter, Emarie, passed through a time of deep testing. By God’s grace, she came through with her life and faith intact. She now works as an architect and Jiu Jitsu instructor in Billings, Montana. As I am at a conference this week, I thought you would appreciate her insights.

1) Find the balance between a healthy amount of time to reflect and too much introspection. Do you never slow down long enough to hear the silence? Or do you tie yourself in knots over-thinking? Develop habits that help you strike a middle-ground and pay attention to how you’re doing every now and then.

2) Journal often. It will help you do step one.

3) Take care of your body. Drink water, sleep, eat your veggies! Move yourself!  I know you know how, but are you DOING it? It might take discipline and accountability to develop healthy habits, but you’ll never get there if you don’t go for it. Your brain feels better when you feel better.

4) Talk to people you trust regularly. If you can’t come up with 1-3 people you’re close enough to do this regularly, consider a counselor. Professional talk therapists are better for preventative maintenance than crisis management; they’re objective, they don’t have to be your best friend, and they won’t be part of your life forever.

5) Do something productive. Change the oil. Clean the house. Mow the lawn. Savor the accomplishment of a small job well done.

6) Cry. Everybody does, and there are things in life that merit it. If you can’t grieve, you can’t heal. In retrospect, I find it interesting that my deep-dive into depression involved no tears. I wouldn’t let myself cry, and for a long time, I didn’t heal. The frequency of a need to cry varies from person to person and across the seasons of life, but it’s safe to say that you’re overdue if you can’t remember the last time. I keep a playlist of sad instrumental music, and when I’m feeling down, I turn it up and sit in the feeling until I figure out why. Usually, it merits a good cry.

7) Sing. I learned this from my younger sister, and it works! When her bedroom door slammed, and the soundtrack to Sweeney Todd started at full volume, there was no doubt she was upset. There’s music to suit most any feeling; head out in the car alone, turn it up, and sing along.

8) Get straight with your creator. If you feel like you’re bent double under the weight of something you can’t even see, go to the one who accepts burdens. Go screaming, go fighting, go doubting, but go.

9) Worship. Once you know who God is glory in it. Meditate on it. Sing about it. If you’ve never done #8, this may seem silly, but participating in worship has never failed to change my day regardless of my mental/emotional state, attitude, energy level, or even intention.

10) Put yourself on a brain diet. I’m not talking about food. Pay attention to the information, images, and implied messages you are consuming, especially through social media and entertainment. You KNOW the stuff that’s junk-brain-food. Junk-brain-food is just like junk food-food, it tastes good, at least for a moment. It strokes your ego, suits your fantasies, and captivates your attention. Stop taking it in. It may seem harmless, but it’s poison for your brain. Unplug entirely if you have to.

For example, I like country music (not all of it, but, you know, more than 50%); however, I won’t listen to some THEMES of country music. The feelings/attitudes those songs generate aren’t worth it. I also don’t watch horror movies. I know they’re dumb, I don’t believe any of it is real, and I know many of them are funny, silly, suspenseful, thrilling, or well-written. But I don’t watch any of them because I find them disturbing and unenjoyable. Further, I think that if I liked a horror movie, I would like it the same way I like the third piece of chocolate cake, more in the having than the actual eating and not at all once it’s finished. It’s junk-brain-food, and my mental health is better without it.

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.