May is Mental Health Month. This is something near and dear to my heart, both as I have suffered from anxiety and depression, as well as countless people in my life that have dealt with similar mental health struggles. It’s important to shine a light on mental health, because for far too long people have been scared to open up and get the help that they need. I think as Christ followers, we need to realize that often mental health is tied into spiritual health. I’m not saying that if you struggle with mental health issues that your spiritual walk with Christ is lacking, I would be foolish to insinuate that. For the most part though, I do believe that mental health can be used against us as we try to grow closer in our walks with Christ. We often feel the most pressure and mental attack when we are on the path God has set out for us. As we walk in the giftedness that God has equipped us with and fight towards reaching the world, that same mad titan that we talked about last week (check it out here), begins to switch up his tactic. If he can’t bring us down by a storm, he’ll try his best with a whisper. “You’re not good enough.” “That test defines who you are.” “What they say about you is true.” The father of lies (John 8:44), these thoughts, they can so easily take root and begin to choke out all life, but they have no power over our great God. These thoughts that are whispered in our minds can disrupt our progress, and the truth is, we need to realize that it’s not about us.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
About a year ago I had this revelation. I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a t-shirt. It was the daughter of someone that I follow and her shirt said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” That stuck with me so much, because it means so much. The caption was something sweet about his daughter and helping her know she was made in the image of God. Cut to a few days later when I went to the Orange conference (a Next gen ministry conference), and they started talking about how vital the role of pastors and small group leaders play in the lives of the next generation. They said they do this by helping the next generation see that they are made in the image of God. Not a coincidence. Over and over since then God has been placing this on my heart, and if you’ve read my blog consistently, you know that I really like to push this fact. The reason I push it is because living into that title shifts your perspective. It allows you to move from thinking that you were some accident by science, but that you were created, fearfully and wonderfully, with a higher purpose for your life.
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.”
-1 Peter 2:21
A lot of crazy stuff happens in life. That should be its’ definition, a bunch of crazy stuff that comes up and you have to face. It can be difficult, like really difficult. We have heartache, pain, loss, and countless other factors that can change our lives. The first step in all of it is to trust God, but often we are left with one question. Now what? What happens when we make that choice to follow God, what am I supposed to do? This is a question that I think we all must come to terms with at some point in our walks. Whether you have just made a decision to follow God or have been following him for what seems like ages, we all must come face to face with this question. Because here’s the truth, when you make the decision to follow Christ, he wants all of you. He doesn’t just want you on Sunday mornings or in some Instagram post of your quiet time, he wants you. Last week I wrote a piece about the love note that God has written to each of us, and this week I want to share the guide map that he has laid out for us to follow.
This past week I had the opportunity to go on our church’s high school mission trip to Fuge Camps in Louisville, Kentucky. I always love being able to do this, it’s such a great time to build relationships with students and be intentional on showing them the power of community and serving others. It was incredible. I was able to serve children who come from low income housing and have families who are either split or having to work long hours. We were all put into different groupings to serve areas of the city, each student being placed exactly where God wanted them to be. That was a great little revelation about the week, just how God places us exactly where he wants us to learn and grow. The week was filled with service, community, and spiritual growth for both the students and leaders. To be completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much for myself other than building connections with students, silly me. God had something else in store for me. I was with children during the day that just need a chance and to know they are loved by God, something that I have a desire for every child to know. It was so powerful to see this day care center be intentional about preaching the gospel to the kids and letting them know that only God defines them. I went from this service time of fun and filled with bizarre experiences (like seeing a gross horse, but that story is for another time), and then went into a service time of the pastor speaking to the students and into me. Leading up to camp I had been reading through the parable of the prodigal son, and come to find out, the pastor would speak directly from that parable, not a coincidence. The parable from Jesus is of a young man who asks for his inheritance and goes off the deep end with partying, ending up losing it all and coming home. He is then received by his father and thrown a party. His story is not mine. My story is that of the second son.
Today is July 4th, it’s kind of a big deal here in America. For those of you readers who are not from the states, this is the time when we eat, eat, and do some more eating then shoot fire. Okay, it’s a tad more than that. It’s a time where we celebrate the conception of our country, a country that chose to be free rather than held back by another person. To this day we have soldiers that continue to fight for freedom, because we all want to be free. It’s hard wired into all people, we want to be free. Freedom is one of those tricky ideas, too much freedom can lead us into trouble, the first sin by Adam and Eve was caused by their desire to live independently from God. At the same time, God doesn’t want us to be mindless followers, so, what exactly should we do. The solution is that we live in freedom by dependent on Christ. That’s the beauty of our awesome creator, when we choose to follow him and his ways, he gives freedom unlike anything else. We have been called to live in freedom.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to chase after our dreams. The Disney method of believing seems to be impossible. We all have desires and callings for greater things, and God has designed us to have this passion burning within us. We start the race, but life hits us with everything its’ got. We face pain from broken relationships, heartache from the loss of people dear to us, and the sting from words spoken against us. For me, I’ve experienced a lot of it, just like you have. Many times I don’t want to keep running into the future. I’m afraid of the pain and the unknown that will come. Fear creeps in. Fear always creeps in. For me, I want to be a writer and empower leaders of the next generation, but that road is unclear. I serve any chance I can and intern with youth, but that fear likes to creep in and tell me my dreams are unattainable. The same is true for all of us, we have different dreams and different places we wish to end up, but we are held back from our pursuit of it. I’m a visual type person, so when I picture the idea of chasing after a dream, I think of people running in a race trying to attain the medal. I think God is a visual person too, because he inspired the unknown writer of Hebrews to think of the same metaphor in chapter 12. Verse 1-2 says, “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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” I love this verse because it revealed something to me that I want to share today. It caused me to think about three things that hold us back from moving forward. I’m going to call these the three viruses that hold you back, I like the word virus because it makes me think of some of the worst things in this world that keep us from living well, and these are nasty traits that will hold you back.
I know what you’re probably thinking, isn’t that Smokey the Bear’s slogan? Why yes, it is in fact! It’s a slogan that pretty much everyone in America has heard before, any National Park has a picture of Smokey somewhere warning campers and hikers alike to be cautious with fire. Commercials tell us that just one match can devastate a forest if we aren’t careful with it. I think the same could be said about our responsibility as a leader. Now before you start to question what I’m even saying, I’m not saying that as a leader you need to watch out for setting a fire. What I am talking about is your responsibility to not start a spiritual fire. We live in a world filled with choices and we see people all around us make compromises of what they believe. We often see leaders in high positions misuse the influence they have, treating others as lesser people or speaking painful words over them in order to grow in status. We try to push others down in order to gain a higher viewpoint, but this will only end in devastation. God has given you all a position to lead, he designed you with a purpose. Your purpose is to bring others into the kingdom. If this is our purpose, why do we misuse our power? Instead of becoming the hero who rescues and saves others from falling, we become a villain drunk with power.
Each day, we create a story. We take on new challenges, we meet new people, and we fight to make it through the hardship. You have a story. You have a past that has led you to this point, you have the ability to make choices now that will propel you into a future God has for you, and you have the power to leave a legacy that will last forever. Over the past three weeks I have written posts to help you understand that we have all been given a story. We all have a past where we can see that God has brought us from, good or bad. We all have the power to choose to live daily seeking Christ, not choosing to be of this world. All ending in our future, that once we trust God with it, we can leave a legacy that matters. These are all things that are vital to your story, but today there is a conclusion that may be the most important aspect of your story. Your story needs to be shared. Another word for your story that we see over and over in the bible is that of your testimony. A testimony is simply a declaration of what you have experienced. Your testimony is unique, because it is yours. Your testimony in Christ has power to it, it has the power to cast out darkness and push the enemy down. Revelation 12:11 says, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” We have been saved by grace and our testimony of that fact gives us the power over the darkness. We become the light, and when there is light, darkness flees.
We are all living a story. Our lives have characters, some major and some minor, we have triumphs and tragedies, all of it making up our story. This month I am going through the different aspects of our lives through the lens of a story. This was an idea that I first heard about in a book by Donald Miller, the author that I slightly fanboy out on sometimes. His book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, first talks about how we all have a story that we live. This is such a fantastic concept that I have really loved being able to look at the world by. Last week we looked at how our past is a picture of where God has brought us from and how he has used even the hardest aspects of life for our good, growing us and forming us into the people we are called to be. We all have a past, but what about the now? It’s easy to see God work by the way he has used our past experiences, but what about right now, how can we live a story that means something. This is one of the most vital parts to how we live a story. We don’t know the future (unless you have super powers), so we need to choose what will help us live our story. Paul in the bible writes numerous letters over and over to Timothy, creating much of the New Testament and outlining how we should live. In Titus, Paul writes to Timothy about how one should live and carry themselves daily. Titus 2:7-8 says, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”
Last week I talked about making a very important choice, a choice that will affect the rest of your life, but what happens afterwards? How do I go about living my life? So often we are able to make the choice, but we continue to live our lives as they were. This isn’t me saying we should all become hermit people only reading the bible every moment of the day, not a bad thing just basically impossible if you have to drive and interact with people, what I am saying is that we become changed people. A relationship with God isn’t some checklist to complete, that isn’t a relationship. We are in relationship with so many people, friends, family, co-workers; but the most important relationship we have is with our creator. When we spend time with these people in our life, we make an effort to connect with them, that’s what God wants for us. When we make the effort to connect with him, our outlook is altered.