Author: Jeremy A Walker

The Epidemic of Teen Depression

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that rates of teen depression in the U.S. continue to trend upward. Take a look at a teen’s social media accounts, and you will likely find expressions of disappointment and cynicism. Not in response to issues at hand, just a generally jaded outlook on life. Over the past few years I have mentored and counseled dozens of teens.  Each of their stories are unique, and each faced real issues in life. (and I always encourage people to respond to depression whenever you see it.) Yet, their general malaise only worked to confirm my theory that this next generation has accepted a narrative of life that starts with pessimism, and works downward. It’s a downward spiral of despair that will only lead to severe depression.

I have led some through the typical counseling techniques designed to combat acute depression without much success. Some of the therapeutic interventions worked, but their motivation inevitably waned. Therapeutic interventions never seem to produce the kind of health that they were hoping for, and certainly not in the timeframe they were willing to invest.

However, when I suggest that a person can only achieve balance and joy in life when they make these therapeutic activities parts of their everyday life, for the rest of their lives, I have been met with dejection and dread.

At first, like all “old people,” I attributed it to the millennial’s tendency to be shallow, selfish, and shortsighted.

But there’s a big problem with lumping every person in a group together without looking for the common problem.

Aimlessness

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – C.S. Lewis

Many have been quick to dismiss this next generation altogether.  Some have attributed their depression and anger to bad parenting, too much violence in the media, participation trophies, or vaccines; but I can’t believe that its that simple.

It seems to me that the biggest problem sighted by the individuals who I have counseled or mentored is that they don’t see a world around them that’s worth living for. They don’t see a prize worth working for.  So why work for it?

They don’t see a life ahead of them that’s worth fighting for.

When we get what we’ve worked for, we can enjoy it. But if we get something we never worked for, can we enjoy that? The again, maybe that’s just the low hanging fruit. Maybe it’s not that simple.

It may be that the next generation is just as determined and hard-working as any that have come before them. It’s just that the payoff for their work has become so trivial that they’ve lost the motivation to continue.

What about the kids who won trophies because they earned them? What about the ones who have great parents…with or without vaccinations? What about those who have no interest in violence and/or sensuality in the media?

Why do we see depression in these teens too?

The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it has just let you down. – Ravi Zacharias

Perhaps the issue is that we keep telling teens that they can have that “Ultimate” experience outside of an eternal God.

When Does Sin Look Like Freedom?

Confronting sin in your own life is difficult. It can be even more difficult if there are competing views about what is profitable for the faith. However, I’ve seen many Christians allow their determination of sin to be based on their perception of guilt resulting from that sin.

We sometimes try to justify behaviors that make us feel good.  A previous post about how Selfies might be a form of idolatry discussed how defensive we can get about some stuff.  For example, if you were to steal money from your employer and feel guilty about it, you might define that as sinful. On the other hand, if you felt underpaid by your employer, and took the money as compensation to support your family, you might feel less guilt about that. However, the definition of sin is far less subjective.

Additionally, your lack of guilt associated with a particular activity may be evidence of a far more problematic issue. It may be that you’ve become numb to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Just because you feel free to engage thoughts or activity that blatantly contradict Biblical standards set for followers of Jesus Christ, that does not indicate that you are the exception to that standard.

But could your freedom to sin indicate something far worse?

Sin sometimes looks like freedom because God has given us over to the unrighteous pursuit of pleasure. He (graciously) allows us to experience the fullness of sin in order to teach us of its complete emptiness, dissatisfaction, and exhaustibility. Only in that knowledge will we begin to know the fullness, satisfaction, and inexhaustible nature of a relationship with God.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:24-25

I’m really not trying to be ominous or heavy-handed, and I hate the idea of works-based justification. I am simply pointing out that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is something that we should cherish. The Lord’s conviction and correction is evidence of our transformation.

Looking forward to correction may seem silly, or even sadistic, but its not. Children do this all the time. They know a boundary, and test it anyway, just to make sure that their parents respond. The process reminds them that they are not alone, and they can trust what their parents say. Similarly we are looking for evidence of the Lord’s presence in our lives. We are looking for his guidance.

We must not test the Lord’s patience, grace, or mercy, by indulging in sin. Neither should we be offended when our behavior results in the Lord’s correction.

Our aim must be to please the Lord and advance the gospel. And in that pursuit, we will likely engage discipline, and correction from the Holy Spirit, but we must not be discouraged.

His correction is evidence of His closeness to us.

Double Minded

One of my favorite passages in scripture is the Doxology of the book of Jude.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

I really cant tell you how many times I’ve read this passage. In fact I have often quoted or used this passage in lessons or to encourage someone else. It has been a pillar in my spiritual growth, and I often read it and reminisce about some of the things that the Lord has done to show off; but today, as scripture often does, this passage shined a spotlight on an area of my life that needs correction.

I wrote this in my journal:
I have no intellectual problem submitting to the idea that Jesus Christ is Lord of all times past and future. Eternity seems like such a speck of existence when compared to the all-encompassing enormity of our God; yet in my personal blasphemy, my actions betray my commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in this clear and present darkness at work in my own heart.

The mind can imagine things to which the heart isn’t ready to surrender.  The body can do things that seem right, but are misunderstood. The spirit can long for things that the mind cannot understand, and the body cannot yet accomplish.

If you were to ask me about God’s sovereignty, I would have no problem discussing and illustrating how I believe him to be supremely sovereign, yet in my actions, I dispute those claims. You see, I continue to make decisions that contradict God’s prescribed order and will. I move contrary to His movements. I confess one thing, and do another. Then I get frustrated by the entire process, and either try to talk my way out of the responsibility of obedience, try to fix everything by ONLY changing my behavior, or I simply hide the issue altogether.

The problem is, when I do those things, NOTHING CHANGES!

My One Goal: Love the Lord, my God.

The issue isn’t my activity, my posture, or any other outward expression. My issue is that I continue to fight against the spiritual concept of submission. Sure, the body can help transform the mind, and surrender the heart, but it can also be a hypocritical performance. If I do the right things on the outside, but obsess about another thing, I’m like two people in one.

I must see these three areas as being the culmination of the whole self, and dedicated them to Christ’s service as inseparable expressions of myself.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 illustrates for me the prescribed unification of my heart, soul, and strength. To love God “with” these elements tells me that they are separate expressions of me, and that they represent all of my being.  If I hope to stop warring with myself, they will need to be unified in love for the Lord.

Heroic Journeys Begin with Bold Mentors

The hero’s story often begins in obscurity. For Luke Skywalker, it begins on the desert planet of Tatooine. For Frodo Baggins, it begins in the all-but-forgotten realm of the Shire, and for Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), it is the remote island of Themyscira.

And these heroes stay shrouded in obscurity if not for a Bold Mentor who possessed the two things that heroes need, experience and perspective. These mentors saw that there was evil in the world that could not be defeated without the hero, draws them out, trains them, and commissions them

According to the mythologist Joseph Campbel, the Hero’s Journey includes wide variety of components, but I wanted to focus on the relationship between the Hero and the Mentor, from the perspective of the Mentor. I wanted to see what kind of a relationship produces heroes.

Because it’s not just a story… It’s rooted into our being somehow. These legends resonate with us because, deep down, we hope they are true.

Influencers VS. Mentors

Influencer Mentor
 

·      Passive & Impersonal

·      Share general knowledge aimed at Anyone, Everyone, or Nobody at all.

·      Invests little

·      Risks little

·      Reaps Almost Nothing

 

·      Active & Personal

·      Shares specific information aimed at only one or two at a time.

·      Invests Much

·      Risks Much

·      Reaps Generously

 

When you decide to be a mentor, you probably wont have to look very long or hard to find potential candidates. Heroes, like we said before can be found in obscurity, but in all honesty, obscurity often looks like the street you live on, or a friend of a friend, or maybe just where you work.

It’s not about being significantly older than the hero, it’s about having experiences which form perspectives that could encourage them.

But if you look around, and you simply cannot find anyone to mentor, then consider joining forces with an organization that has already made inroads into populations rich with heroes. Organizations like:

Many of these organizations already have a program designed to train you, and pair you with a person who could use your experience and perspective to achieve new heights.

Be Honest and Authentic

When you are Honest about your faults and limitations you open the door for your hero to be just as honest and open about theirs.

  • Paint an Honest Self-Portrait
  • The real you they get to know over time should look strikingly similar to the first image you paint for them.
  • Share past success and failures in context because it displays your progress

Trust your hero with the truth!

Regardless of how bleak and distasteful it is, be the person who refuses to sugarcoat the conversation.

  • Young people have been fed a distorted Image of Reality through Social Media. their world has been Filtered, Cropped, and PhotoShopped to the point that it hardly resembles reality.
  • Some may even ask questions they already have the answer to, just to see if you can be trusted

When a subject comes up that you know nothing about, admit it.

  • It’s okay that you don’t know about the latest artist, song, game, app, or selfie filter.
  • It’s good for your Hero to be the expert at something.

Use Shared Experience to Inspire Them.

Your vulnerability here opens the door for them to get excited

  • Is it something they love or is it an injustice in the world?

Teach them invest in whatever inspires them.

  • Empower your hero to take bold risks.
  • Be there to help them process, and plan for another attempt.

Be ready to let go!

  • Either help them launch, or;
  • Connect them with a new mentor – one who can take them even further!

 

So why is it that we don’t see this happening more?

  • We’re so busy that we don’t have time for anyone else.
  • Socioeconomic, Racial, Ethnic, or Age Biases

I have seen far too many potential heroes dismissed because of a label. Because people have already determined that ‘this kid’ is a Self-Centered, Helpless, Takers who will never amount to anything.

And if left in isolation, regardless of the demographic, this could be true of anyone.

But its just like Alan Turing says in the movie The Imitation Game,

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine. – Alan Turing

 

The Devil is in the Details

Trust grows best when you are willing to be vulnerable.

Mentorship often includes a process of introspection on the part of both parties involved.  However, if this becomes more of a gripe session, or a time where either the mentor or the hero is overly criticized for past failures, or current struggles, then we must refocus ourselves on the primary theme of mentoring. It’s about progress, not perfection. When sharing past mistakes, the tendency of many people is to highlight their own depraved mind. Many times, this is a subconscious attempt to garner favor from one’s audience by exaggerating your vice to a ridiculous degree.  However, if we are honest, accurate, and precise with our recollection of past mistakes, we are far more likely to be able to illustrate our progress.  This helps your mentee/hero relate to your journey.

Growth is about progress, not perfection!

That’s a really easy thing to say, but it’s a hard theme to live out every day.  I once heard a pastor speak about the concept of our choices leading us to perfection, as if it was some kind of attainable goal, but that is a falsehood of epic proportions.  It’s not possible to become perfect if you aren’t already perfect. And it’s impossible to become perfect if you are already perfect.

The concept of perfection is our enemy because it supposes that there is something that I can do to achieve it.  There isn’t.  We’ve got to get that out of our heads!

Nowhere else is this more important than in the mentor relationship.  The person who is leading out in the relationship has to understand that it is often their failures that teach the best lessons, and the one learning has to grow from their own missteps.  So exposing our shortcomings is a critical part of the growth process for mentors and heroes.

However, we must caution ourselves against self-deprecation.

I try to help the young men I mentor learn from my mistakes. I try to provide them with enough context that they understand why I made the decisions I made without attempting to excuse the behavior altogether.  And I’ll be honest with you, this is a really hard thing to do.  Your stories have to make sense.  They have to have a relatable setting for your mentee.  Your motivation has to be understandable.  But most of all, your failure must have consequences.

You want to display exactly what your decisions cost, and to understand how difficult it was to walk through the mess you made.  You aren’t trying to convince them that you were the worst person on the planet, you want to show them that every decision we make in life has a real, and measurable cost.  Your goal is to help them recognize how broken you were, and how healed you are now.

May is National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month, a time designated to recognize foster families, volunteers, mentors, child care workers, and members of the local community who help foster children connect with area resources, and hopefully, adoptive homes! Throughout this month, you will likely see a variety of organizations making significant efforts to raise awareness about the foster communities in your area, and across the nation.  I know that there are a number of organizations in the Lubbock area that serve the foster community, and I have been impressed with the work that is being done by each agency I have encountered.  I think that an investment into any of our area organizations is worthwhile, and will directly benefit the foster children of our area.

#myredboxdonation
Click to find a Red Box near you.

As a Foster and Adoption Agency, Texas Boys Ranch consistently relies on our donors to support the ongoing ministry to our children in care.  As a result, we have a variety of systems set up to make donating easy:
1. You can bring new and gently used clothing to our campus to be sorted and distributed to our kids as they have needs.
2. You can donate more worn out clothing and shoes in the Red Recycling Boxes located across the South Plains.
3. You and your church/social group can organize a resource drive through our Advancement Department.
4. You can even donate online.

Our regular supporters make it possible for us to serve our children with more than the basics.  We are able to provide them with a variety of services that are not available without the help of a generous local community! We provide them with regular counseling, therapeutic indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, not to mention being able to keep the ratio of children to staff far below state regulations.  Each and every resource we are given are prayerfully funneled to the children we serve.  Nothing goes to waste!

But we need more than money.

Foster kids need the one thing that our society values most – time.

We have programs that only function through volunteers, and we almost never have enough volunteers to meet the needs of our students.  We need: Mentors, Tutors, Homework Helpers, and Advocates.  We need people who are skilled  in areas like: arts and crafts, sports and recreation, music, cooking, or party planning.  As a working ranch, we need people who can help out on the ranch by building fence, maintaining buildings, caring for horses and cows, mowing lawns, bailing hay, and any number of other things that have to get done so that our kids can receive the highest level of care possible.

Every time we have a volunteer provide a service, we are able to provide more for our children.  Because the fact of the matter is, our kids will benefit more from seeing how much you care for them, than they ever will from the act itself.

If we ever hope to help these kids break out of the generational cycles that led them here, we will need them to meet you!

More information about how you can get involved in the lives of our children can be found at www.texasboysranch.org

Mentors Keep Us Deeply Rooted

Mentors increase resiliency by keeping you rooted when hard times come.

Some of he most profound moments in my life have been times when I thought everything was going to crash down around me, but one of my parents, or one of my mentors helped me weather the storm. The honest truth is, storms are going to rage against us, and it may seem that we can’t keep going. If we believe that we cannot stand up to life’s challenges, we may be willing to throw in the towel, but that’s when we need to lean on the experiences of others.

More experienced people have something that younger people need. They have experience, and that gives them perspective. They have seen storms come and go. They have seen droughts come and go. They have seen presidents come and go. They have seen wars come and go. And if we will open our eyes long enough to see that they are unfazed by the current circumstances, we will be able to join hands with them and regain our footing.

Yeah, yeah…I know what you’re thinking.

You think this is all sappy nonsense that won’t matter when life gets hard, but its not. Leaning on the experience of others is one of the most valuable skills of successful people. I his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey dedicated almost half of his points to the concept of interdependence. He claims that by working for the good of others, building a network of like-minded teammates, and leaning on their strengths when we fall short, we can each be more effective in whatever work we do.

Learning from someone else’s mistakes or successes is a powerful tool, and that power is magnified if we get to hear their story firsthand.

We must learn that growing deep roots is the only way to grow stronger, and the best roots are intermingled with those of the men and women who have gone before us. Through their experiences we gain insight, and our experience becomes that much richer.

How Does a Loving/Good God Doom People to Hell?

Asking good questions is the foundation of the learning process.

The form in which a question comes is as important as the answer that is given, because the question can reveal some assumptions and expectations of the questioner. To simply answer a question without first recognizing the questioner as a real person with a real background including real joys and pains, is to ignore the eternal nature of that person, and the image of whom he/she is created.

One of the things that I love about what I do is the opportunity to engage in deep, meaningful conversations about the harder questions of life. Often these questions come from students, at other times they come from parents, or other church members. Nevertheless, the best questions are those that come from the hearts of people who are seeking the truth. The question about God’s goodness, and questions concerning eternity, are often at the forefront of faith because they beg the ultimate question, “Will I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

The question, “How can a loving/good God condemn people to hell?” can be broken down into at least four more basic questions.

Does God exist?

Is God good?

Does Hell exist?

Does God condemn anyone to Hell?

The answers to these questions have been hotly debated for millennia by individuals far smarter than myself, so I will try to make my answers concise. References to my position, or opposing positions will be made so that the reader can come to their own conclusion. So lets begin.

Does God exist?

Without plunging into the labyrinth of the existence of a deity, the more important question for our discussion today is, “Does the God of the Bible exist?” The answer to that question is almost as cumbersome as the general assertion in “Higher Powers,” but at least we have a starting point. The original question established a baseline assumption that God is good, and that hell exists, so the questioner is hoping the answer rests within the context of the Judeo-Christian God and Judeo-Christian sacred text. As a result, we will be deriving our answers from the Bible, which minces no words when it comes to the existence of God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1 [ESV]

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14 [ESV]

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 [ESV]

Again, being that the original question assumes the existence of a God, we won’t belabor this point, but will press on. ***Additional Reading regarding the existence of the God of the Bible can be found: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel; or Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharius

Is God good?

For the believer, the question usually conjures one of two different emotions. First is the assurance that our God is good as evidenced by Christ’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. The assertion that God is good is at the heart of our story because, how is it that we come to know God outside of his mercy and grace? Others among the faith feel that this question is an indictment against God, and respond to any question about God’s goodness with contempt and anger. However, responses like these simply should not be present among believers for two primary reasons.

First, the asker has every right to question our gospel, and without evidence of God’s goodness, they ask an important question that should lead us as believers to site evidence of God’s goodness.

Secondly, what kind of puny god can’t be questioned?

Questioning God’s existence or goodness doesn’t damage God in the least. Quite the contrary, when individuals ask for evidence, and such evidence is provided, the case for a good God becomes all the more believable.

Outside of scriptural references to the goodness of God, C.S. Lewis, in his introduction to The Problem of Pain, discusses the contradictory relationship between nature and the notion of a “good” God. When the frigid expanse of space is coupled with the profound isolation of Earth, how is it that our intellectual ancestors, failing to understand a mere fraction of how cold and isolated they really were, proposed the notion of a good God?

     But all civilizations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man. That our own civilization has done so, no one will dispute; that it will pass away like all its predecessors is surely probable. Even if it should not, what then? The race is doomed. Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at a low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter. If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit
There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists’ case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?

Lewis goes on to postulate that the very notion of a creator who is both all-powerful and completely good is the product of either an absurd fantasy, or divine revelation.

Some philosophers attempt to site perceived inconsistencies within the Bible itself as evidence contradicting the idea that the God of the Bible is good. However, within the text itself, references are made to the extraordinary patience God has for mankind. Nonetheless, references often include, the Great Flood (Genesis 5-10), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-19:38), the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6), and the relegation of all non-believers at the end times (Revelation 19:11-20:15).

However, in each of these cases, except for the destruction of Jericho, scripture references the wickedness of the people who were being destroyed. Each passage listed illustrates God’s repulsion toward wickedness; and his response to a culture overrun with wickedness is consistent; God will judge the wicked.

In the case of Jericho, it is important to understand that God did not act outside of his nature by unjustly destroying a city. Instead, we must look to other passages of scripture that illustrate the culture at work in the city of Jericho to ascertain some of the motivations1 of God (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:21-30; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:29-31; etc.). In spite of the lack of overt references to the level of wickedness at work in the rituals of the people of Jericho, along with the rest of Canaan at the time of the Hebrew conquest, the worship of Baal in the region of Canaan consisted of a variety of wicked practices including sodomy, bestiality, and child sacrifice.

***See Joshua’s Conquest: Was it Justified? and The Saga of Ancient Jericho for more information about the culture and specifics surrounding the fall of Jericho.

Some may read this and ask, “What gives God the authority to determine what is right and wrong?” These same people may attempt to maneuver the hurdles of human logic and moral economy to convince others that the God of the Bible has no right to condemn those who are simply, “acting in the nature of their own condition.” But that would be the same as my 3-year-old son judging my authority at bedtime. Bedtime is arbitrary in his eyes, and the line drawn seems harsh in relation to his desire to stay up longer, but the issue is one of obedience, not one of pragmatic intellectualism. My son cannot comprehend the rationale of bedtime, nor will he soon come to grasp that my response to his disobedience is an act of love, but at some point in his life I expect that he will agree with my decision, and be grateful for the loving boundaries I have set for him. However, in no way am I setting these boundaries in hopes that my son will some day love me for the decisions I have made. I act now in response to my overwhelming desire for his good, and for his flourishing. To act in another way would be wicked.

Infinitely more important, the existence of an omnipotent and omnipresent God draws forth the notion that the economy of said deity is all but incomprehensible to those of us bound to mortal bodies.

Does Hell exist?

Prior to a couple of years ago, I didn’t really think anybody questioned this point. However, there are several schools of thought that debate the existence, severity, or duration of hell. Being that the word hell does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek texts, some see the concept of hell as a simple metaphor. In the book of Matthew, Jesus references the actual place outside of Jerusalem called Gehenna, and somewhere along the line, Christians started translating Gehenna into the English word Hell. In their eyes, the idea of hell is more of an object lesson, rather than a spiritual destination.

Others see it as a compound reference to the metaphorical condition of man outside a relationship with God, a real warning to a particular group of people at a particular point in time, as well as an eternal place of judgment for those who do not know God at the end of time.

While speaking to a group of Pharisees, Jesus began a list of woes (final judgments) and concluded these statements with a final question:

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? – Matthew 23:33 [ESV]

However, being that the word “hell” does not appear in the original language, how should we interpret this passage?

A more literal translation would be, “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how escape you from the judgment of Gehenna?”2

The Greek word for judgment used in the text is Krisis, which is defined as: Judgment (human or divine), justice, the concept of determining the correctness of a matter; negatively, punishment, condemnation.3

On the surface, especially to the original audience of the day, Jesus is illustrating the impending doom of the lifestyle and philosophy of the Pharisee/Sadducee/Scribe in their practice of religiosity and the condemnation of everyone who could not live up to their particular brand of legal interpretation. Jesus is condemning them as refuse, or waste that should be cast into the valley and burned.

An additional layer of condemnation for that particular audience may be the prophetic nature of the statement. In the year 70AD, the city of Jerusalem was sacked by Rome, the temple destroyed, and many of the religious elite were taken to the valley of Gehenna, killed and burned. It is possible that some who heard these words from the mouth of Jesus were among those killed by Rome.

The final layer of interpretation for contemporary Christians is the context of eternal damnation for failure to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. In this layer of interpretation, one must reference the White Throne Judgment:

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 [ESV]

In this passage a phrase is used to describe the final destination of those not found in the Book of Life. The destination is not “Hell,” but instead the “Lake of Fire.” Literally translated: Lemne (Lake) of Pyr (Fire). 3

Exactly what, where, how, when, and for how long this “Lake of Fire” event will endure is uncertain. However, it is evident that there seems to be some kind of terminus for individuals who reject the Lordship of Christ Jesus.

***More about this complex idea: Love Wins by Robb Bell and Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

Does God condemn anyone to Hell?

Perspective, more than anything else, sets our ultimate trajectory in regards to philosophy. Cultural statements like: outside looking in, in-crowd, half empty vs. half full, top down, and bottoms up, are representative of perspective. Sometimes, questions are asked in an effort to determine the perspective of an individual. The thought is that the individual is likely to make future decision based on their overarching/general perspective in life.

For example, in the course of being interviewed by a church, I was asked to define my outlook on life. The questioner asked, “Do you consider yourself to be an Optimist or a Pessimist?”

My response was, “Neither. I am a Realist.”

Not satisfied with my answer, the interviewer tried to dig a little deeper with, “Is the glass half-empty, or half-full?”

“Neither. And Both. And None of the above.” I commented. “The glass can be neither half-full nor half-empty because the terms Empty and Full are absolutes. The glass is both half-empty and half-full if you are only interested in the relationship between the fluid level and the bottom or top of the glass. Or you could say that the answer depends on the state of the glass prior to its current situation. Was it being filled, and stopped midway through, or was it being consumed and that process halted? Moreover, the question of the height of the fluid must come subsequent to other questions like; What’s in the glass? Do I need that fluid or a different one? Why do I need the fluid? How much do I need?”

Somewhere along the way I realized that I had missed the point altogether. They wanted to know if I was going to be an encouragement to the overall mission of the church, or if I was going to constantly demoralize the congregation.

It’s easy to see how perspective can influence your view. I was so dead set on being argumentative, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees (another great analogy of perspective). Similarly, individuals who ask questions about Hell often phrase their question in a way that reveals their ultimate perspective. For example, if I ask whether or not God condemns people to hell, it may be assumed that I am placing the entire issue in the hands of God, as if people and their actions play no discernable roll in the process.

Without getting into the Calvin/Arminius argument, it is apparent to me that a choice is given to man. A choice is given in regards to the issue of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and the Lordship of the Risen Christ.

…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13

It appears to me that an individual who hears the story of Jesus Christ, and who understands the implication of that story, will be held accountable for the decision they make in regards to belief.

This issue is incredibly complex, and I am not trying to oversimplify the journey that some have endured. However, the truth of belief in Jesus Christ is a simple one – Not at all easy, but simple nonetheless.

Do you believe?

I believe that your response to that question is the defining perspective of your life.

It’s not a question of half-full or half-empty, or greener grass beyond fence. The question of how you will respond to the story of Jesus Christ will create the foundation of your worldview. How you see what you see is wrapped up in how you see Jesus.

So the question of God condemning nonbelievers to hell is not so much a question of God’s action in the end, as it is a question of our action here and now.

Also, be careful to focus on your own heart before running off to some distant hypothesis about what happens to those who have never heard the gospel. The fact of the matter is, you have heard. And you, and you alone will be held accountable for your response.

Simply put, a righteous judge will pass a righteous verdict of condemnation if sufficient evidence is presented, regardless of his or her own discomfort in the process.

So, how does a loving/good God condemn people to hell?

The way I see it, He doesn’t condemn anyone who has not first condemned him or herself. It is out of His goodness, love, and mercy that we are given an opportunity for redemption and restoration. Furthermore it is an act of righteousness and justice that those who fail to yield to God’s rule on earth are condemned to spend eternity in the unrestrained wrath of God. For God to react in any other way would be evidence of his failure to be righteous, just, or good.

As always, I eagerly await your comments, and discussion. May we all be ready to ask good questions, and may our ears be attentive to hear the truth.

1 God cannot be motivated because there is nothing in existence that can apply any kind of force upon the Creator. Additionally, being that God is fully content in himself, there is nothing that can lure or draw God to act in a way outside of his nature. The word motivation use is intended to illustrate the self-derived impetus of God’s activity.

2 Marshal, A. (1993). The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan

Strong, J., Kohlenberger, J. R., & Swanson, J. A. (2001) The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan

I Quit Going to Church and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Debates surrounding the validity of church membership/attendance have raged for as long as there has been a building designated for worship. However, the question about attendance/membership is a silly conversation until you correctly define the term, “Church.”

As a believer, and even as a minister, I had intellectually addressed the idea of church attendance, and had concluded that I must go for a number of reasons.

1. Scripture indicates that fellowship with other believers is important. (Hebrews 10:25)
2. It is the best place to be encouraged in my faith.
3. It is the best place for me to encourage others.
4. I get paid to be there.

But I still struggled to make myself go. I wanted to go, but only because I assumed it was my duty. So I drug myself to that pile of bricks almost every day. The more I drug myself to a place I didn’t want to be, the more I became a person I couldn’t stand to look at. Sometimes I could only be there for a few hours before I wanted to burn the place down; which seemed to be an odd reaction for a person in my position, so I’d just leave.

I never lost a passion for the work I was doing, I only struggled with the demand that I go…So I did the only thing I could think to do. I quit going.

Really! I quit going. I made the decision while driving to my parent’s house one day, and I never went back to a church again. Ever!

I know what you’re wondering, “How are you employed by a church if you never go?”

Great question. I’m glad you asked.

That trip to see my parents was a watershed moment for me because it began a process of healing in my heart and mind that I never saw coming. I was listening to a podcast when my eyes were finally opened to the truth. (It was either Matt Chandler, Ravi Zacharias, Eric Mason, or Charles Stanley. I can’t remember which one it was, but those are the podcasts I listen to so it had to be one of them. If I had to put money on it, I’d say it was Chandler, ‘cause it sounds like something he’s say, but I wont put any money on it because gambling is a sin…I think.)

There I was, driving east toward my childhood home, when my ears caught on to some of the most freeing words I’d ever heard. In a single moment, the Lord used one of his servants to free me from an obligation that had wrecked my happiness, and stripped my ministry of potential fruit. Honestly, I can’t even remember what the rest of the message was about, because I was so stunned by a single statement in it.

“It is theologically impossible to go to church.” – Unknown*

I almost had to pull off the road for a minute because of the overwhelming sense of relief I felt. I realized that I was pressuring myself to do something that was impossible.

I never went back to church after that. I realized that my membership in the body was, as it had always been, determined by my relationship with Jesus Christ, and rested solely in the fact that Jesus had made me a new creation. My born-again nature had grafted me into the church.

I couldn’t go to church, because church wasn’t a place.

For example, I can’t attend human, because it’s not a place; it’s a word that describes something that I already am.Church is the same way. It describes who I am, not where I go!

Oh, but it doesn’t end there…everything began to shift. I couldn’t go to church, nor could I leave church!

Being that I am a member of the church, regardless of where I am geographically, my ministry and calling are just as permanent. I can’t stop working for the church, because my calling as a minister is also an identifier, not an occupation.

Wow!!! I was free!

Free to pursue ministry in a way that wasn’t confined to a location. Free to minister as an agent of THE CHURCH instead of just ‘my church.’ Free to move in and out of my office as an ambassador of our local gathering.

I didn’t have to justify my attendance at a basketball game, One Act Play performance, or even taking stats for our high school football team. I didn’t have to try to convince people that I was really ministering when I met kids at the school while substitute teaching. I didn’t have to persuade my local body of believers to continue to allow me to do the things I felt called to do as a minister, simply in an effort to comply with a job description.

Now it was evident to me that to do anything other than what I felt called to do, in the way the Holy Spirit called me to do it would be a disservice to the dedicated attenders of my local congregation. They called me to lead them in student ministry, as well as worship ministry. They called me to lead them. And up until that point, I had been a reluctant follower. But now, I began to realize the freedom I had to lead. Lead in passionate ministry. Ministry that was more than hours at a desk, more than songs on a Sunday morning, and more than lessons on Wednesday night.

I was free to minister!

If you want to experience that same kind of freedom, then stop going to church.

Be the Church!

 

 

* Earliest reference I could find for this particular quote.

What To Do When Your Friend is Grieving

The loss of a loved one is an event for which we can never be prepared. Regardless of the timeline, or circumstances surrounding the passing of someone we care deeply for, the process of grief is both common and unique. In so many ways, our grief will walk us through a variety of stages that include; denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, the individual steps will be filled with experiences and longings that are unique to you as an individual, and related to the person who you lost.

Reminders are everywhere; from their favorite food, to their favorite song. Maybe it’s a shared activity, or even a whiff of a fragrance that catapults your conscious mind down an unrelenting cascade of memories and emotions. Regardless of the trigger, our emotions are set on edge and our thoughts are captured. Grief is an all-encompassing experience, and without help, can lead to a devastating end.

I’ve already written an article discussing some of the factors that prevent depressed people from getting the help they need, but the suddenness of the loss of a loved one can set us on a course destined for depression that we could never see coming. And just like the loss, our depression happens upon us without warning, and sometimes, without hope of climbing out.

One of the more important factors in a healthy grieving process is the presence of an individual or individuals who care for those who are grieving and act as advocates on their behalf. The impact that these friends can have on those who are suffering is substantial because they are able to offer glimpses into the world that are often veiled by sadness and eventual depression. These advocates offer encouragement, compassion, and empathy so that those who have suffered loss don’t have to walk this road alone.

If you find yourself supporting a grieving friend, here are some helpful guidelines for you to follow.

Be Practical
When we acknowledge the reality of the situation and pain that our friend is enduring, it helps them engage the grief process in a healthy way. Yes, the grieving process is healthy, and needs to be engaged in order for the sufferer to be able to emerge on the other side instead of getting stuck on one of the 5 stages.

Make sure that any assistance offered is something that can actually help the individual make time for their grief, instead of compounding their activities and schedule.

You can offer to: mow their lawn, take kids to school, volunteer at church/school/community in their place, bring food, or just talk. Make sure that you offer these services, instead of demanding that you be allowed to do them.

Be Present
Nothing is worse than the goofy philosopher that tries to undermine the grieving process by regurgitating some empty cliché instead of simply being present in the moment.

Romans 12:15 teaches us to Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. So be willing to sit there and weep with them. It’s fascinating to me that we don’t get this. The more I engage those who are hurting, the more I hear their friends and family say meaningless stuff to them. Don’t be that guy! Even Jesus, when confronted by the loss of his friend Lazarus, wept in his own sorrow (John 11), and nobody came up to him and tried to remind him, “Lazarus is in a better place.” Or “At least he’s not hurting anymore.”

Maybe just sit there and weep with them.

But don’t forget to be ready to rejoice with them too. When the time is right, and the bereaved begin to laugh again, don’t stifle that laughter by reminding them of their situation.

Being present means being tuned into their struggle, and putting aside your emotional comfort zone, to share in their journey.

Be Patient
This is a grieving process. It won’t happen in a day. If someone says it did, they lied. They are still in the denial phase. They will struggle through a variety of emotions and engage memories that force them to deal with things they never though to be relevant. They may even move back in the process a time or two…and that’s perfectly okay! You have to remember, you are not their savior.

Your job isn’t to, “Get them over the hump,” it’s to be with them as they walk.

It’s going to take some time.

The last thing I would encourage you to do is to make sure you don’t do this alone. When you take on the role of advocate for your friend, you may encounter some of the same processes that they are engaging. Such a phenomena is common, and should be acknowledged. Be open to conversations about how your interaction with your grieving friend is affecting you, and hear other people’s observations with some openness and grace. They are most likely not attacking you, they are probably trying to do for you exactly what you have done for someone else, even if they go about it the wrong way.

 

If you would like more detailed information about helping people through grief/loss process, you can find it here:
Breaking Through the Clouds (A novel about finding hope in the midst of profound loss)
How to Help Someone Who’s Grieving