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.

LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKERS

LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKERS

“Dad,” my daughter sounded worried over the phone, “I hate to tell you this because I know you just checked, but my brake pedal just went to the floor when I was on the expressway.”

This kind of thing did not use to be a problem. As a former ASE certified service technician, I had always been able to repair the family cars, usually cheaper and faster than a local shop. But now my girl’s life was in danger because I had missed a critical diagnosis on her last visit. Not only that, but she was five hours away in a big city. What would have been a $300 job at home became a $750 repair bill. It stung my ego because I had missed the warning signs, but I was happy to pay it to make sure she was safe.

That mistake reminded me of a spiritual lesson from King Solomon that might save us all a lot of heartaches if we can hear it.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23 NKJ).

For many years, General Motors products equipped with disc brakes had “squeakers.” Squeakers are small flat wear indicators made of flimsy spring steel attached to one end of each inner disc brake pad in a set. When the pad wears down to within a few hundredths of an inch of the backing plate, the squeaker contacts the rotating disc and emits a high pitched squeal. When you hear the squeak, you know it’s time to replace the brake pads. If you don’t, you’ll soon have the stopping power of a greased bowling ball, and a simple $150 repair can rapidly become a $750 repair or worse, a car wreck.

King Solomon’s admonition, along with many other verses in Scripture,[1] is a reminder to pay attention to the state of our hearts, to listen to our spiritual squeakers. They’re warning us of little problems that can become big ones in a hurry. But they aren’t quite as noticeable as the ones GM uses, so I’ve listed a few below.

You know your heart is squeaking:

  • When gossip is easy, and prayer is hard.
  • When you’re spouse is annoying, but your colleague is alluring.
  • When conflict makes more sense than reconciliation.
  • When vengeance seems more logical than forbearance.
  • When fear and foreboding replace faith and courage.
  • When lust looks lovely, and purity seems pathetic.
  • When devotions are dull, but distractions are dynamic.

We could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Listen to your spiritual squeakers. Put the brakes on runaway desires and ask God, “What’s missing? Where do I need a little soul maintenance? What has dulled my relationship with Jesus Christ and made me insensitive to his warnings?” He’ll help you replace the worn-out parts and keep your spirit healthy for the long haul.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:16a; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8;

IS GOD ALWAYS ANGRY?

IS GOD ALWAYS ANGRY?

Is God angry with us all the time, or is he something we never expected?

“When the person from whom I have the right to expect nothing gives me everything.” That’s Michael Card’s working definition of the Hebrew word no one knows how to translate: HesedAnd here’s the bottom line: If you don’t know hesed, you don’t know God.

Pronounced with a hard h, hesed is the missing link in most people’s understanding of the God revealed in the Old Testament. Every bit as powerful as “holy” or “righteous” or “just,” we often miss hesed because several English words are usually required to translate it. Thus, the title of Card’s book: INEXPRESSIBLE: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (IVP Books, 2018).

Lovingkindness, a word coined by Miles Coverdale in his 1535 translation of the scriptures and borrowed by the translators of the King James Version, comes close. But it also, as Card explains, reveals the “linguistic gravity” of hesed, its tendency to draw other words into its orbit and the necessity of using them to understand it.

Truth, mercy/compassion, covenant, justice, faithfulness, goodness, favor, righteousness are the eight words most commonly surrounding hesed and filling out its meaning. But perhaps most important is that hesed is how God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed:

Yahweh–Yahweh, is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in hesed (covenant-loving-kindness) and truth, maintaining hesed (covenant-loving-kindness) to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Exodus 34:6-7 HSCB.

Hesed became a refrain, a foundation for songs and prayers down the long centuries of the Old Testament; the reason that, despite their sin and disobedience, the Israelites could boldly ask for what they knew they did not deserve.

He revealed his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel. The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in (hesed) lovingkindness. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever.  He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Ps. 103:7-12.

What makes the God of the Old Testament unlike any other god, is that, despite Israel’s rebellion, God keeps covenant through sheer kindness. Card traces that kindness through the Old Testament with Moses, David, the Psalms, the prophets, and that ultimate expression of human hesed, Hosea. Then, though the actual Hebrew word does not appear in the New Testament, he anchors it in the life and teaching of Jesus who was full of grace–the New Testament’s closest parallel to hesed– and truth.

“It’s difficult for us to imagine how a being who is infinite in power submerses that power in kindness,” writes Card. “But a deep realization of this aspect of God’s hesed is as revolutionary for us today as it was for Israel … It dismantles that nagging imagery of the angry God of the Old Testament. That perception simply has no place in a biblical understanding of who God is.” God does get angry with us, but anger is not what defines him. It builds slowly and recedes rapidly because he is rich in hesed.

INEXPRESSIBLE is easy to read. The chapters are brief, the stories are captivating, and for those who want to go deep, the footnotes and resource material are easy to use. If you are hungry to know more of God’s love, you need to know hesed.

DON’T SCREW UP A Father’s Day Reflection

DON’T SCREW UP A Father’s Day Reflection

Back in the ’90s, when the Christian men’s movement was booming, and books on godly masculinity were flying off the shelves, I attended a men’s conference with several well-known speakers. Among them was Steve Farrar, author of the bestseller, Point Man: How a Man Can Lead His Family.

One of the small-group exercises popular in the break-out sessions of those conferences was to develop a personal mission statement and then share it with the group. The conference speakers did the same and shared theirs from the podium.

Several leaders gave thoughtful, spiritual-sounding personal mission statements. Then Farrar walked to the mic, complimented the other guys on their profound thinking, paused a moment, and said, “Mine goes like this: Don’t screw up.”

The room exploded in laughter. I forgot the other men’s statements before I got home, but I’ve never forgotten Farrar’s.

I have three grown daughters, and I made plenty of mistakes as their father, but by the grace of God, they still love me, still walk with Christ, and are doing quite well in the world. Sunday is Father’s Day, and in the spirit of Steve Farrar, I offer the following advice on how not to screw up.

Be their father, not their friend. Project calm, resolute authority. Authority is not the same as authoritarianism, and this blog is too short to go into all that implies. (See John Rosemond’s works for that). But remember, kids feel safer and grow up healthier when a strong and kind man sets the boundaries for their lives and enforces them. Now, we are friends.

Set the spiritual example. I’m a pastor, and my wife is an educator, but it may surprise you to learn that we never, except for Advent devotionals, had family Bible studies. I know that works for some families, but for many kids, it just feels forced. My daughters saw their dad, almost every day of their lives, sitting in his chair with his Bible or some other good Christian book open, communing with his heavenly Father, and their mom, on the floor in her room, her Bible and journal in her lap doing the same.

Speak calmly when correcting. I think this was what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote, “ Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”[1] Children are remarkably sensitive to the power in a man’s voice. I can’t count the number of times my daughters thought I was yelling at them when I felt I was calmly giving direction. A shouting father frightens young children and demeans older ones. Projecting authority is about the way you carry yourself, your integrity, and consistency in discipline, not about screaming at your kids.

Affirm them as often as you can and keep your criticism to a minimum. My daughters do not complain about this with me, but I cannot count the number of men who’ve told me over the years how hard it was to get their father’s approval. Constant criticism cripples’ children, even years into adulthood. It is OK to teach them to strive for excellence, but perfection belongs to God alone.

Release them to God. The hardest thing to know is when they are ready to take full responsibility for themselves. And the hardest thing to do is let them go to experience the full consequences of their choices. The trick is to start early, with little things, and work up to the big ones.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Farrar: “Satan’s strategy in the war on the family is to neutralize the man…You were appointed to be head of your family. Like it or not, you carry the responsibility. You are the point man.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 3:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

THIS IS OUR TIME

THIS IS OUR TIME

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, hobbit hero Frodo Baggins carries a ring of great power and evil, a ring that he and he alone can destroy in the fires of Mount Doom. Depressed by the burden he carries and the evil times, he confides to his wizard friend, Gandalf:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

Tolkien was a veteran of WWI that killed 20 million and wounded 21 million, as well as the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic that killed 50 million worldwide, as well as the Great Depression, and the polio epidemic that paralyzed tens of thousands. He knew a thing or two about bad times and wove what he knew about how to endure them into his stories.

The Lord of the Rings is full of perseverance and faith against all the odds.

In August of 1940, 25-30 divisions of crack Wehrmacht infantry (over 300,000 soldiers) stood poised along the coast of France. They were waiting for Reich Marshal Herman Goering’s vaunted Luftwaffe to wipe the Royal Air Force from the sky and open the English Channel for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Great Britain, to launch. The Germans had a three-to-one advantage in warplanes when the Battle of Britain began that July and had subdued all Western Europe in less than a year. Everyone expected them to win. Everyone that is, except Winston Churchill and the millions of British who believed him when he said, “We shall never surrender!” Londoner’s sheltered in basements, bunkers, and the subway, as the Blitz rained bombs on their city. Nazi planes indiscriminately wrecked churches, hospitals, and businesses destroyed 60% of London’s homes, wounded 87,000, and killed 32,000 people. Victims overwhelmed the hospitals, and no one knew who would “get it” next.

But by the end of October, Hitler was withdrawing his invasion force from the French coast, and canceling Operation Sea Lion.

The story of Great Britain’s ultimate victory overflows with perseverance and faith.

I take great courage from these stories of our collective past because the ultimate source of their strength was the same hope we share in a good God. He loves us no less than our ancestors and, if we ask him, will give us the strength and bravery to “keep calm and carry on,” as Londoners’ did during the Blitz, and as all God’s people are called to do in a crisis.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4.

Every generation faces tests. The Corona virus is our time to meet the fury of a fallen planet with faith and perseverance.

So, look out for your loved ones. Ignore the fear mongers. Follow the instructions of our healthcare professionals. Trust God. “Keep calm and carry on.”  And if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a great time to watch The Lord of the Rings

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, VA 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.

PREPARING TO LEAD

He was a man of great talent and vision who had served the Church well for many years. Then he became a best-selling author. Encouraged by his success, he decided that he knew how to solve the problems of Africa. He moved his entire family there with a grand vision. Three years later, he was back in the States, retired from active ministry, his dream dead in the African desert. He had failed to plan for the realities ahead, counting instead on his passion, vision, and skill for success.

I was an admirer. Having learned a great deal from his books and conferences, I was surprised he would make that kind of mistake. The reason I was surprised was Dr. John Harbaugh.

Dr. Harbaugh was one of the best professors at the Georgia State University College of Business Administration in the 1980’s. Every class he offered that fit my schedule, I took. He’d spent 30 years in executive management for Fortune 500 firms and knew his stuff. The greatest lesson I learned from him was: Leaders don’t presume they prepare.

About twenty-five years later, in a study through the Old Testament, I learned that Nehemiah knew this long before Dr. Harbaugh.[1] Nehemiah had one shot at his presentation to King Artaxerxes to authorize his mission to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem. He had to get he would need, convince Artaxerxes that this wasn’t some half-cocked idea, in one brief conversation.

The Small Business Administration states that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years and, 66% during the first 10. Most new businesses don’t make it. The reason? Incomplete preparation, unclear goals, unrealistic objectives.

Nehemiah had a clear goal, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He presented a complete plan, specific objectives to meet that goal. He gave the king the time frame, listed the authorizations he would need, and secured the logistical support all in one brief meeting.

In the late 1940s, Billy Graham saw a need for something that would unify, equip, and represent evangelicals in the intellectual arena. He began praying and listening to pastors, professors, business leaders, and mentors. Then one night, in 1953, he woke with an idea racing through his mind. “Trying not to disturb Ruth, I slipped out of bed and into my study to write. A couple of hours later, the concept of a new magazine was complete. I thought its name should be Christianity Today. I worked out descriptions of the various departments, editorial policies, even an estimated budget. I wrote everything I could think of, both about the magazine’s organization and about its purpose.”[2] Christianity Today is now the most widely read and respected religious magazine in the world. Billy reviewed the first copy in 1956. From dream to plan to reality took six years.

There is such a thing as planning too much and depending on plans rather than God. But for the most part, failing to plan is planning to fail. Leaders don’t presume they prepare. They do their homework, cover all the bases possible, then move out in faith.

[1] See Nehemiah 2:1-9

[2] Harold Myra and Bruce Shelley; The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham; pg. 209-210.