The Christian Bachelor: Episode 1 – Meet the Cast

Note 1: This is the first episode of eight in a new series of blog posts outlining the details of the fictional television show The Christian Bachelor. Hope you enjoy!

Note 2: This is in no way meant to be entirely serious. None of the characters involved completely represent real-life people. Of course, I take bits and pieces from real-life people I know, because that’s all literature. But these stereotypes are in no way meant to be derisive of those people. This is entirely for humorous purposes. Also, the “bachelor” has characteristics very much like me, mainly because it’s easier for me to write from that perspective.

Welcome everybody to the first season of The Christian Bachelor! It’s the unique reality dating show where a God-fearing young man, Caleb Christian, will have 12 young Christian women vying for his affections.

Before we meet the women, let’s lay the scene. The women will be staying in a couple nice, two-story houses and share meals, worship services and conversations with Caleb Christian in the area surrounding Sanford, North Carolina. There will also be a trip to Israel later in the show.

So let’s meet the bachelorettes:

Hayley Home-schooled: Hayley has spent her whole life being taught by her mother. She’s wholesome, sweet and comfortable over any kind of art, craft, food, etc.

Savannah Single-Mom: Savannah has a kid from a previous relationship that pre-dated her following Christ. She’s a great mother who loves the role and is looking for someone to help raise her two-year-old daughter.

Monica Missionary: Monica desires to spend her whole life on the mission field preaching the Gospel to those who don’t know. She’s looking for someone to do that with her.

Rebecca Reformed-Theology: Rebecca is all about the John Pipers and the Jonathan Edwardses, and she knows the five points of Calvinism forward and backward.

Maggie Musician: Maggie has been a part of every praise team and worship band she could have. She’s got a great singing voice and can play guitar and piano.

Anna Academic: Anna has been an A-plus student for her entire life. She desires to be an academic who writes books for a living.

Betsy Belle: Betsy is a Southern girl who is proper, with great vocabulary and proper grammar. She dresses well and can cook quite wonderfully.

Hayden Hipster: Hayden is up on all the Christian music that you’ll be listening to in two years. She knew who All Sons & Daughters were before they did.

Carrie Children’s Ministry: Carrie loves kids. She wants three of her own. Or four. Or five. But she’s willing to talk about it.

Lilly Loose-Theology: Lilly isn’t necessarily the strongest on her theological understanding. But she’s really fun to hang out with and isn’t afraid to tell a dirty joke.

Sonya Sporty: Sonya was a three-sport athlete in high school and got a basketball scholarship to college. She’s a Crossfit junkie who drinks protein shakes and goes on runs daily.

Kimmy Kitchen-Dweller: Kimmy cooks and bakes all the time. She gives food away freely and loves to try new recipes all the time.

These 12 women – Hayley, Savannah, Monica, Rebecca, Maggie, Anna, Betsy, Hayden, Carrie, Lilly, Sonya and Kimmy – will be competing, er, being themselves for the affections of Caleb Christian.

Let’s go over the format. There are six dates planned over a period of five weeks, and Caleb will also spend time in the houses with the women as well as go to church every Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night during those three weeks to help determine who will be the blessed woman he will pursue.

Two women will be eliminated after dates 1-5, which leaves two women for the final date, a trip to Israel to walk around the Holy Land, walk where Jesus walked. All the dates will be in public. No bachelorette will be given alone time in a room with Caleb. Caleb must leave the Bachelorette residence by 10 p.m. during the week, 11 p.m. on the weekends.

Any more rules? Nope? Really? OK! It’s time to have the first set of dates.

NEXT EPISODE on THE CHRISTIAN BACHELOR: The girls don’t waste anytime getting serious with Caleb. Serious questions are asked. Serious answers are given. Tune in on Monday for the next episode of THE CHRISTIAN BACHELOR.

Who’s your favorite bachelorette? Who will win Caleb’s heart? Which bachelorette do you most want to slap? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts! 

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Why Am I A Ransomed Soul?

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”

The above verse is perhaps the foundational verse on my life. It took me a little bit to fully understand all the ramifications of this piece of God’s Word, but it describes me. It describes the God I worship. It describes our relationship.

Let me tell you the story.

The Background

I was born on November 9, 1992, at 8:37 a.m. in Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford, N.C., to two awesome parents. Of course at the time I had no way of knowing whether or not they were awesome parents, but over time, they grew to be.

As long as I can remember, I was in church on Sundays. I grew up going to Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church in Sanford, all the way up to sixth grade. I was very involved at church, participating in plays and kids groups and Bible drill and grand prix cars, all that fun stuff.

Over that time, I began to build my bank of biblical knowledge. Bible drill was huge for that. I would memorize verses and “titles” for chapters and bits of Scripture. For instance, Hebrews 11 was the “faith chapter.” John 19 was the crucifixion of Jesus. I can’t remember any of the verses I memorized.

But I was a good kid. As good as I could be, at least. That was my calling card. I was the one who wanted to follow all the rules, do all the right things. I prayed the prayer and got baptized when I was 7 years old. I was a Christian from the moment I was born, it felt like.

Around sixth grade, my family started attending Turner’s Chapel, also in Sanford. Again, I carried my “good kid” mentality around with me. I was the pure definition of a goody-two-shoes just walking around.

But I didn’t have a real relationship with Jesus. I wasn’t faking. I think I legitimately thought I was a Christian, but I don’t think I grasped the Gospel, the fact that Jesus lived a perfect life, died and rose again, all so that I could be forgiven of my sins and have a relationship with God.

The Climax (Which Wasn’t All That Climactic)

I don’t know for sure when Jesus became my personal Savior. I do know it’s one of two instances. I’ll write about both as if they were the real thing when, in reality, I have no idea. But both experiences were as real as Reese’s Cups are delicious.

First: July 2006. I was at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters, a youth camp in the mountains of North Carolina, with my church’s youth group for a week. Snowbird is an awesome place where the Bible is preached, the Gospel is emphasized, and staffers are goofy and funny and love their students.

That Wednesday night, I went to the prayer chapel, a building where different stations were set up to pray for different parts of the Christian experience – missions organizations, personal holiness, etc. There was a painting of Jesus with a glass pane on top of it. People were encouraged to write a sin they were struggling with on the glass with a whiteboard marker.

So I did it. I think I wrote pride or something like that. I then sat down to pray. All of a sudden, somehow, I realized that I hadn’t accepted Jesus. So I prayed and said, “God, if I’m not saved, please save me.”

Second: November (roughly) 2006. It was a late night and I was feeling the weight of conviction of sin (which makes me think that perhaps I got saved in July, but I’m not 100 percent sure). I was distraught and overwhelmed. I felt like I needed to read my Bible, which hadn’t been opened in a while.

So I pulled it out of my bedside table (still the same one I have today) and did the famous “Scripture roulette” method – open it randomly and see what happens. I landed on Psalm 49.

It’s kind of a depressing Psalm to start off. The psalmist writes about men who are stupid and pompous. For instance, verse 12 – “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” Pretty bad stuff. But then I stumbled across verse 15.

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.

In that moment, I knew God’s love for me. The simple fact that God will receive me was so encouraging in that moment. I had grasped, almost unknowingly, the meaning of the Gospel in that moment. And I believed it.

The Aftermath

Psalm 49:15 became my calling card. I named my movie production company “Act 49 Studios.” Ransom My Soul was the name, and the verse was the basis, of my longest short film. Even today, my church league softball number is 49, after Psalm 49.

But perhaps the way this verse stays most relevant in my life is through this blog. The summer of 2011, I started this blog and needed a name. I thought a fun gimmick would be to say all these posts were written “by a ransomed soul.”

And it’s stuck. Over 100 posts later, I’m still a ransomed soul. Jesus paid the penalty. He paid the ransom for my soul. And because He paid it, God receives me. Death and Sheol wants to bring me down and keep me from pursuing Jesus. They want to keep me from loving God. They want to keep me from obeying His Word. They want to keep me from accepting the grace and mercy of Jesus.

But I must remind myself that it’s God who has ransomed me! And there’s nothing that can cancel out that ransom. There’s nothing that can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). So why should I fear in times of trouble? It is all God. Through Christ.

And that’s the Gospel. And that’s why I’m a ransomed soul.

Let’s Ease Up on the Disciples, Huh? I Mean, You Are One Too.

Note: This is one of my pet peeves about Christianity. It might seem a little nit-picky. But I think it does reveal a lot about the human heart, especially my own, so I must write about it.

Some of the most disparaged characters in the New Testament are the disciples of Jesus. They are constantly mocked by pastors from the pulpit. They are seen as people who have everything they need right in front of them – Jesus – yet they miss the point! They don’t fully understand what they’re supposed to get.

So we say bad things about them that we would never say to their faces. We say we would do so much better. We say they should have known better.

But would we really?

Would we really stick with Jesus when He went to the cross? Would we really not slash a guard’s ear off? Would we really believe Jesus saying that He was going to die and then come back from the dead three days later? Would we really follow Him to the grave? Would we really? On what basis do we claim to have everything together and say the disciples don’t?

I think it’s evidence of our self-righteousness that we reprimand those in the past for not doing the things we would obviously have done in that situation. It’s perhaps the simplest and most obvious application of the adage “hindsight is 20/20.” Of course we would do the right thing.

I doubt it. I am a disciple of Jesus. I am just like them.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, question Jesus’ insistence on speaking with those with childlike faith and encouraging that kind of faith.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, flee when my Savior is questioned and doubted and harassed.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, deny that I know Jesus and that I have a relationship with Him.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, doubt the very words that Jesus speaks to me, that He loves me and that He died for me.

Sometimes I, like the disciples, say that I am the best Christian there is, the most faithful follower.

So let me make this plea: on behalf of the disciples, please cut them some slack and truly put yourself in their shoes. I must do the same.

Following Jesus For Other People to See vs. Having a Good Witness

As I’ve been reading through the Gospels, I’ve seen some pretty awesome things I never really spotted before. I’ve written about a few of these on this blog in the last couple weeks. There’s also been some things I’ve seen that have convicted me, that have shown me just how much I fall short of being obedient.

See, I’m a Pharisee at heart. I think it’s one of the possible curses you get from growing up in a church context your whole life. Most of the time you go one of two ways: you get super self-righteous or you ditch the whole thing.  I took that first path. My religion became man-centered. Not around me, but around others.

I’ve mentioned in blogs before how I’ve struggled with a Pharisaical attitude most of my life. I’ve even seen it in my heart in the last few days. I do my Christianity so other people can see. I say things that people want to hear. I do things that people want to see. There’s a fine line between “having a good witness” and “following Jesus for other people to see.”

“Having a good witness” is something my old youth pastor taught me and has been very influential in my life. Do you show yourself as a Christian when you’re around others? How do you speak/act around others? Is it honoring to Jesus? “Following Jesus for other people to see” is the same basic idea, but it’s not honoring to Jesus. That’s the key difference: for whom you’re doing it. “Having a good witness” is living a life that shows others that you value Jesus most. “Following Jesus for other people to see” is living a life that shows others that you value their opinion of them most.

Look at the Pharisees. Several times in the Gospels we see that they have desires to do something, but it would make the people mad if they did, so they withhold.

  • Mark 14:2 – Chief priests want to arrest and kill Jesus, but they avoid it during Passover “lest there be an uproar from the people.”
  • Mark 12:12 – They wanted to arrest Jesus “but feared the people.”
  • Matthew 21:26 – Jesus asked them a question about authority, and they didn’t answer a certain way because they were “afraid of the crowd.”

Fear of man drives a lot of our actions, whether it’s an active decision like the Pharisees or something subconscious we just go to. And there’s sometimes fear is justified. If someone comes at me with fists ready to fly, and I have no business fighting him and I’m freaked out, I’m running. No question there, I will submit to my fear of that man.

But if my Christianity is dictated by wanting to please other people, I am sorely misguided. I am often this way. I say things for the approval of others, or I don’t say certain things in fear of what Christians might think. Honesty here: there have been things I’ve wanted to write about on this blog that I have withheld from writing because I don’t know how certain people will respond. That spits right in the face of the transparency and vulnerability I preach.

Soon I will write about those things.

However, the Pharisees did get something right. They read Jesus like a book. Mark 12:14 – “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.”

May that be said of me!

It’s a common thing to worry about what people think of us, I’m finding. Particularly in the Christian culture. I, as a “religious person,” feel like I need to be constantly aware of everything I’m saying and doing. Not a terrible thing, necessarily, but if it becomes a fear of upsetting people, which I’m afraid it has, that doesn’t help anyone. All it does is lead me to living a life of fear and concern that is not healthy.

Then that Pharisee comes out. It’s a self-justified fear where I give myself license to not be myself for the sake of not rocking the Christian boat too much. It seems to me like we in the church fear any rocking of that boat, like just one little shake will sink the whole ship. Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 16:18 that the “gates of hell shall not prevail” against the church? The church isn’t that fragile. Man may be that fragile, but I don’t think the church is.

Sorry, I got a little side-tracked.

I must grow to obey Jesus for Jesus’ sake, not for others. In that, God gets glory. Plus, it’s more joyful that way.

P.S. I think “Pharisaical” is one of my favorite words in the English language.

Body Image and Being a Dude: A Personal Struggle

Lots and lots is discussed when it comes to helping females with their body image. We talk for hours on end about how women in today’s culture are objectified and how God loves them just as they are and the right man won’t look for the “perfect form” and so on and so forth.

All good things! All correct! I love being able to “amen” that because it’s such an important thing.

But what about men? On the same grocery store checkout aisles and magazine racks are men’s magazines with guys with ripped physiques. In the latest film is some guy taking off his shirt to reveal a six-pack. Women see it and ogle and “ooh” and “aah.” I remember seeing the second Twilight film in theaters (bad idea) and hearing the girls shriek when Jacob took off his shirt.

First thing: guys aren’t innocent either. We have the same reaction when we see a good-looking girl. I admit that I’m sinful when it comes to this area.

But here’s what I’m driving at right now: dudes like me see that and hear those reactions and we think, “I wish I looked like that.”

For a long time, I have struggled with my body image. This stems back to when I started middle school and spent time in locker rooms changing before and after PE. I would see the guys that the girls liked and saw one reason why they liked them and not me. They were good-looking dudes.

I’ve always been a little on the chubbier side, ever since I was born. When I entered this world, I weighed nine pounds and 12 ounces. According to Google, the average kid weighs 7.5 pounds. When I reached high school, I was definitely one of the bigger guys. I always chalked it up to my height – I’m one of the tallest people in most situations. But I wasn’t exactly the healthiest eater and didn’t do a lot of exercising. So I had a little belly going on. I also went through a nasty stage of acne in middle and high school.

For that reason, I’ve always been self-conscious about my appearance. I’d wear long pants on a warm day just to cover up my legs. I’d wear hats to cover up greasy hair. I’d get self-conscious when people would point out chest hair peaking through the collar of my shirt. I hated going swimming because I hated people seeing my body without a shirt on it.

I remember back in middle school, somebody made a comment about me being sweaty one time and how it was gross. I took that and now I hate being dirty or sweaty or not clean in front of other people. I sweat a little bit easier than most people. So whenever I get dirty, my first priority is to take a shower. I want to be clean around people. It’s gotten to the point to where I just like being clean. I chalk it up to, “Oh, that’s just my personality,” but it’s deeply rooted in the idea that I care too much about my appearance. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be clean – it’s socially acceptable, it’s polite to others, so on and so forth. But it’s become such an identity thing for me.

This is deep-rooted. It’s like a weed. You can mow over it and it disappears, but the root’s still in there, it will just grow back. That’s how my body image issue is.

For the last five months, I’ve generally been eating much better – cutting out gluten and sodas, trying to cut back on corn, rice, potatoes, etc., starches. I’ve lost 30-plus pounds since November of last year. And that’s with little exercise! So I wouldn’t say I’m “in shape,” but I definitely feel better about my body.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I’m still self-conscious about my body. I seriously take 2-3 showers a day because I want to be clean because I don’t want people to think I’m gross. I see friends of mine who are in shape and I’m jealous. I wonder if girls will not like me because I’m not the best-looking dude.

Oh, I know what the Bible says about how God loves me as I am and I don’t need to change to be accepted by Him. I believe it and I trust it, and it gives me great hope. This isn’t necessarily a spiritual issue for me as much as a self-esteem thing. There are some pictures of me where my weight is clearly obvious and I can’t stand to look at them because I feel so bad about it. And I’m growing in it. But I think this is just something I’ll deal with for the rest of my life, and I’m OK with that.

But perhaps there are guys out there who don’t feel loved because of their bodies, whether they’re super skinny or they’ve got major acne or they’re overweight or whatever it might be. Dude, I’m with you. I love you. I care for you. And Jesus does too, much more than I or some girl ever will.

Transparency here: the inspiration from this post came from a blog I stumbled upon called “The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred” by Paul Maxwell, which caught my eye. I want to close with what closed that blog post (emphasis mine):

Whatever healthy stewardship of the body looks like, it is most healthy when it occurs in the context of the safe and loving acceptance of God, who is the one who gives, has invented, and ordains romance, authority, and friendship. And God is no rewarder of the jacked, the cut, the swol, the sexy, the built. “It is in vain you rise early [in the gym, on the trail, on the mat] and stay up late [on bodybuilding forums, in GNC, in the gym again], toiling for food to eat [and pre-workouts, post-workouts, creatine cycles] — for God gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

You don’t have to stop lifting or dieting or supplementing. And maybe you should start dieting and exercising. This isn’t a rebuke in either direction. It’s an invitation to perspective and intimacy — with ourselves, the opposite sex, the same sex, authorities, and God. Love is better than protein (Proverbs 15:17). In his abundant love, God delights in everything about you, including your body. Let’s remember what we’re really trying to accomplish, and let’s pursue the love of God and neighbor in ways that can never be attained through worshiping or hating our bodies.

This isn’t a post where I’m telling you some insight into following Jesus or being part of the church or whatever. This is me saying, “Brother out there who deals with this, I’m with you. Let’s dwell in the love of Jesus together.”

And maybe drink less soda.

Finding a Different Way to Speak in a World Full of Hot Takes

As a journalism major, I find shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to be quite entertaining and fascinating. Stewart makes his living off of accurately mocking mainstream media (mainly the Christian news junkie’s best friend, Fox News), while Oliver’s in-depth reporting and willingness to tackle serious topics gives him an edge over many real reporters. In all, I find any type of journalism and writing to be interesting to study and analyze.

For instance, in the sports realm. If you’re a good friend of mine who has any interest in sports, it’s likely that I’ve complained to you about the poor quality of the majority of ESPN’s reporting these days. ESPN (which stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) has resorted in most channels (pun unintended) to shoddy reporting and terrible talking heads. Their 30 for 30 documentaries and in-depth reporting are usually stellar, but those are done away from the lens of the 24-hour sports news cycle. And Grantland, technically an ESPN imprint run by long-time ESPN employee Bill Simmons, is mostly independent and probably the best sports analysis website out there.

hottakes
This just might be one of my favorite things ever.

From my analysis, the majority of journalism is based around what is called the “hot take.” There’s no dictionary definition to this term, but a pretty concise one is this: “An opinion based on simplistic moralizing rather than actual thought” (kudos to Urban Dictionary for that).

A simple look at Twitter can give you a litany of hot takes from just this last day. An example: Skip Bayless, ESPN commentator, on the Oklahoma City Thunder missing the playoffs: “Good night, Russell Westbrook, Enjoy your scoring title. Your 43-shot loss at Indy, turning teammates into bystanders, did in your team.” Another example: Mike Huckabee, likely 2016 COP Presidential hopeful on our current president: “.@BarackObama acts with far more accommodation to the Iranians than he does the Israelis and that makes no sense to me.” The idea is you take something and immediately justify or condemn it without really giving a lot of good, solid evidence. Bayless is a pro at these and makes his money off of them. Politicians and political analysts are also pretty good at them.

Christians ain’t half bad at this either. Usually Chrisitan hot takes revolve around some event in popular culture or a political speech and finding some way to relate it back to the Gospel or some form of “our country is in shambles, we need a change.” Remember all the hoopla around 50 Shades of Gray a couple months ago and how many blog posts were around that?

Admittedly, I’ve written a few what could be considered “hot takes” myself. I counted four, and they’re all linked here:

So before I give a hot take on hot takes, I want you guys to be aware that I’ve done this too.

Something bothers me about hot takes. Especially when they come from Christians. It’s almost like we need to have some big event happen to actually talk about the things they bring up. We don’t normally talk as freely and as often about pornography as we did when 50 Shades of Gray was coming out. And often these hot takes come in a quick response, without really thinking through the issue, without really processing what the root problem is in each of these situations.

But that’s a problem in Christianity, isn’t it? We see a surface-level problem and we throw Scripture and grace and the Gospel at it and say, “Well, we’ve done our job.” Gay marriage, abortion, pornography, addiction relapse, misapplication of Bible verses. We give our thoughts on social media and blogs and at the Christian water cooler (the church lobby/vestibule/narthex/insert-your-church’s-word-here) and think we’ve done our Christian duty by “speaking truth into” a situation or event.

An example: one of the more popular guys who do this is Matt Walsh, and you can check out his writings here. I’ve read some of the things he’s written, and I tend to agree with most of the things he says. But like most Christians, he falls far short. As do I a lot of the time.

There’s good to this. We do need to be aware that porn is bad and that sin is sin, etc. But most of these “hot takes” are just scratches on the surface.

If you look at Jesus’ ministry, He never gave hot takes. Some examples:

  • On murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
  • On adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
  • On love: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47).
  • Also, just about every parable He told.

Jesus cared much more about the heart of a person, much more about the heart of the issue. Was He ultimately concerned that the chief priests were having their personal prayer time in front of other people? No. He was concerned that people weren’t being humble and honest in their prayer lives. Was He ultimately concerned that they showed that they were pretty obviously fasting by the disfiguration of their faces? No. He was concerned that people would fast for God’s glory alone, not for man’s. Jesus got down to the heart of the issue.

But wait. Isn’t that what hot takers are doing? Aren’t they getting to the root?

Yes and no. Most hot takes, Christian or otherwise, moralize something really quickly for the benefit of getting a quick post out while the topic is still relevant. There’s little to no time given to really consider the deeper implications of an issue. We point to the issues in America and with the secular people and with the Democrats instead of looking at ourselves and saying, “What’s wrong with us? What part of the Bible are we not believing in our own lives that relates to this topic?” I’m all for writing about current events and relating it to what it means to follow Christ. But what concerns me is that we’re just echoing the world by how we handle issues and not really looking at the real deep hurts and issues that are going on.

MV5BMjE1MTM4NDAzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMwNjI0MzE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Like the example of 50 Shades I gave earlier: we condemn pornography soundly, but do we take the time to lovingly and gracious way those in our midst who are struggling with it?

Take the Osteens example. Are we taking the time to genuinely pray out of love for those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (as I believe the Osteens are) and ask that they would grow in their understanding of God and realizing where they’re misstepping? Are we praying the same thing for ourselves?

The nine-day Duck Dynasty fiasco in 2013 when Phil Robertson got suspended temporarily for comments he made in GQ: Are we as obtuse and rude in dismissing people who make comments we disagree with as A&E were with Phil Robertson?

I don’t know for sure, but I feel like that’s how Jesus would have handled those things. He would have taken them as teaching moments, yes, but to tell us something about ourselves, not about the world. The world shouldn’t surprise us anymore with how they handle things. The question is: are we handling them the same way, and is that really helpful?

Jesus’ Purpose Wasn’t Himself. Too Bad I Fail at Imitating Him.

Reading through the gospels over the last couple weeks has been one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done when it comes to reading the Bible.

As a Christian in today’s society, it’s really easy to get a twisted, inaccurate view of who Jesus is and what He was about. And that’s not just from the secular world, but also from the Christian world. Different religions and different groups of people have different views of who Jesus is and what He was about. The answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” separates the world’s major religions, and even some minor ones, from Christianity. Judaism, Islam and Mormonism all differ from biblical Christianity on their interpretation of who Jesus is, and it makes all the difference.

The secular world looks at Jesus and generally has one of two reactions. One: they scoff and say He’s not worth their time, He was a bigot who had a bunch of rules. Two: they talk about His love and His goodness to people and say Christians should be better at following Him.

How often do Christians really line up with that first group? I think a little too much. Maybe they don’t say He’s not worth their time, but the way they act, the real Jesus clearly isn’t worth their time. And some Christians take what the second group says and goes way overboard.

I could use any number of examples of who Jesus really was to illustrate how we all miss the mark at following in His obedient, God-glorifying footsteps. Today, the one that sticks out to me is His humility.

In Mark 9, Jesus is transfigured on a mountain in a shocking display of God’s power, leaving Peter, James and John terrified. After the transfiguration, Jesus says, “And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (v. 9). There are several instances like this in the gospels where Jesus performs some miracle or something awesome happens and Jesus tells the person He healed or His disciples to not say anything.

As I read this, I wondered why He took that approach. There’s something really interesting in Jesus’ constant insistence on not telling what He’s done or not until a certain time. It’s a unique approach compared to other religions’ leaders, who are generally either super “look-at-me” or super-secretive or guarded about their actions. Jesus wasn’t guarded or super-secretive with what He did; most of His ministry was public for lots of people to see. He just displayed a heart of humility.

This is no surprise, really. I mean, a good chunk of Philippians 2 is all about Jesus’ humility and what it means for us:

[3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4] Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I don’t know exactly why Jesus told people to not talk about what He did for them. I can’t say for sure what it was. But my best guess is that He wasn’t doing what He did for Himself. He did it for two other entities.

First, He did what He did for God His Father. One instance where Jesus does permit someone He healed to speak was the demon-possessed man in the country of the Gerasenes in Mark 5. He tells the man, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19). Everything Jesus did was for the glory of God, it was FOR God. In John 5, Jesus says, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgement is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (v. 30). He spoke, healed, obeyed for God.

Second, He did what He did for us. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

And when I examine why I do things and match it up to Christ, I fall woefully short. Now there are some things I should do for myself. It is good for me to eat so I can be nourished. It is good for me to sleep so I can be refreshed. And, every once in a while, if the funds are available, it is good for me to buy a new soccer jersey so I can look fly.

OK, maybe that last one is a little iffy.

But here’s the point: Often I do so many non-life-preserving things for myself. Often I serve others for myself. Often I give money for myself. Often I lead prayers for others for myself. Often I follow Jesus for myself. My life can become very insular and encapsulated by one word: me. Oh how I wish this were different! I see the example of Jesus and I know that I fall short. Often I don’t do things for God or for others, but for myself.

Praise God for grace.

TABOO: Don’t Talk About It! At Least Not For Too Long

Unfortunately, Christianity is often known for the things we are against rather than the things we are for. Whether it be alcohol or gay marriage or profanity or secular music, we picket and protest and write Facebook statuses and start Twitter wars and YouTube comment battles over every little thing that just might offend us. If the topic comes up, we make our strong stance and then we drive it home.

It’s stupid. Let’s just be honest here. It’s stupid. We spend so much time emphasizing things that, in the long run, don’t really matter all that much to us while ignoring things with which our own community are struggling and need desperate help. I think Jefferson Bethke puts it well in his book Jesus > Religion:

The biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus-followers see sin as the enemy.

Last time I checked, I was my own worst enemy. No one has caused me more grief, pain or heartache than I have. The Bible rarely tells me to fight against someone who doesn’t believe what I believe, but it frequently tells me to fight against my sin and the disease in me that’s drawing me away from Jesus. (p. 63)

I love that statement because it accurately captures one of the biggest problems with Christianity today. We miss the big things because we’re so focused on the little things! It’s the very picture of Jesus’ perceptive words in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Today I want to bring up two things that we don’t talk about as much in church but should, or when we do talk about it we don’t talk about it the right way.

Sexual Addictions

When the topic of sexual sin comes up, we usually spend a lot of time condemning homosexuality. But I think the more prevalent topic here is sexual addictions.

Honestly, I don’t think homosexuality is as big a deal as the Christian culture makes it out to be. And why don’t we treat every sin like we treat homosexuality? We’d at least be consistent if we condemned malicious lying as much as we condemned homosexuals and homosexuality.

Sexual addiction is actually a bigger deal, much more than homosexuality, whether it’s same-sex or opposite-sex lust. It’s something that separates man from God and taints our view of sex in a nearly irreparable way most of the time.

The issue comes here: we take an “above-it-all” approach when it comes to handling these issues. We act like we’re better and we don’t deal with that, so we condemn freely and strongly. We throw Bible verses at them like arrows at a target, hoping and praying something hits the bullseye and changes everything.

Even worse, when it comes to homosexuality, we throw marches and go to meetings and write blog post upon blog post on why it’s harmful when there’s already been at least four million blog posts on the topic. We just won’t let it go!

However, when it comes to sexual addiction, particularly in the church, we butcher it by either not touching it at all or going about it all the wrong way. In his book Ashamed No More, pastor T.C. Ryan writes this:

A clergy friend shared with me an example of what not to do. His denominational office sent an official message to every ordained person regarding Internet pornography use by clergy members. The message reminded the pastors that any sexual deviance—including use of Internet porn—was a violation of their ordination vows. They were offered a short-term window of opportunity to come forward and admit their problem. The implication was that they wouldn’t be defrocked, but it was unclear if they’d be removed from their position. There was no mention of any help. Everyone using Internet porn and not coming forward during this opportunity was warned that they would eventually be found out and the discipline would be severe.

What a terrible abuse! How is this even helpful? No wonder people don’t want to talk about it. Instead of reaching out and helping the people who deal with these issues, we either get really harsh or really silent. And because of that, very few come forward willingly because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get.

Depression/Anxiety/Mental Illness

As readers of my blog will know, this topic is very personal to me because I deal with these things on a regular basis. I wrote a pretty long piece about it last week. By the way, I was blessed by the response I got from friends and family who shared messages of encouragement and love. Thank you all.

One thing I heard several times was that the post was refreshing because it seems like nobody talks about this. Well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the post. When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

I was talking with a friend recently who deals with similar things I shared in the post and they talked about how they shared it within a small group context. The people loved my friend through it and listened, but they didn’t really understand. They loved my friend in the group and shared words of encouragement with my friend, and sent e-mails later with Bible verses and more encouragement.

Hearing that, I loved the heart and the initiative of the people in my friend’s group. But they missed the point. And I don’t blame them for missing the point. The church’s normal tactic with mental issues is the “Bible verse bullseye” method I described earlier: throw Bible verses, hoping and praying that one will finally fix the issue. It’s often well-intentioned, but that’s not what those people need. Friends and family of those struggling with mental or emotional issues, please don’t use Bible verse bullseye!

So what do we do? How do we move forward?

I think the first thing we need to do is to be aware that we don’t handle these things well.

Then we need to talk about them. Honestly, openly, without judgement, without condemnation, without fear, without bias. As Jesus would.

Compassionate Authority: Jesus Turns ‘Big Brother’ on Its Head

One of the greatest fears of Americans today seems to be the increasing attention the government is supposedly paying to everything we’re doing on our computers, phones, etc., the increasing surveillance. It even got a lengthy treatment on HBO’s popular Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which included an interview with the exiled Edward Snowden, a whistleblower on the topic.

It’s reminiscent of the world set up in the book 1984 by George Orwell. The Wikipedia description:

The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes.”

The tyranny is epitomized by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality but who may not even exist. The Party “seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.” The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

Perhaps Orwell’s world is a big exaggerated, but a lot of people are afraid that this would actually happen (read this opinion column on CNN to see what some people think). The idea is a popular one in society. We enjoy reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor where we get to peek in on real people living out their lives. We fear the government having the same ability to look into our life. I could write about that contradiction, but I’ve got something more important.

Jesus has the same kind of “Big Brother” power in our lives, but unlike “Big Brother,” He exerts His authority with a grace and love unlike any other leader in history.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives what is known in Christian circles as the “Great Commission,” the mission for all believers to live out. It goes like this:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The first thing Jesus tells the disciples is that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Him. This is backed up by the idea presented by Paul in Philippians 2:8-11.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus has all power and all authority. I’m of the camp that believes that Jesus is God, therefore He is indwelled with all the power and authority that God has. He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. God the Father and God the Son serve different purposes and different roles, but have similar power and authority. So Jesus rules and reigns, right?

But this is where it gets awesome: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In 1984, Big Brother is this mysterious leader who comes up on screens and promises that he is taking care of and loving his people. But, as the Wikipedia description says, he may not even really exist. In the book, there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not he’s a real person. And there’s no questioning whether or not he’s real, or you get “re-educated.” He’s not “with” his people.

Jesus tells His disciples that He is with them always, to the end of time. He is with us. Emmanuel, another name for Jesus, means “God with us.” If you’re “with” someone, you’re on their side, you genuinely care for them, you genuinely love them, you’re genuinely interested in their best.

That’s the kind of authority we need in our lives, an authority that genuinely cares for us enough to be with us and to love us, to be on our side, to be for us. When Winston Smith rebelled against Big Brother in his thoughts, there was no forgiveness because there was no mercy. When we rebel against God in our thoughts and in our actions, He offers a forgiveness and a love that is greater than our sins and our shortcomings.

So when we sin, we don’t have to fear the authority Jesus has. He has the authority to forgive sins. So we should rejoice in His authority and the fact that He uses it to love us.

On My Depression, My Anxiety and Following Jesus: It’s Not Really a Contradiction

One of the most devastating things that can happen to me is going to bed.

Don’t get me wrong: I love sleep. I love getting rested for the next day, whatever that day may bring. I love waking up refreshed. But if I go to my room, shut the door, turn off the lights and it get silent, I’m done for.

Why is that? Well, my mind starts to go nuts. I start calculating, thinking, analyzing whatever big thing it is that’s on my plate at the moment. It could be something to do with work, relationships, fighting sin, following Jesus. And this happens just about every night. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year at controlling it and handling it, but there are still some nights where it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with my own brain just to get to sleep.

I have anxiety, but more than the normal person. Or so I’m told. I look at other people and how they live their lives and how they seem to be so carefree and I’m thinking, “How the heck do you do that?” I’ve also dealt with bouts of severe depression, so much so that I’ve started taking anti-depressant medication.

But before I get any further, let me start at the beginning.

My Shy, Nervous Childhood

I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Just want to make sure that’s made clear.

Growing up, I was pretty shy. I’m not the kid who’s going to walk up to you in the park and say hello or tell you that your shoes are awesome. Now I think it’s adorable when kids do that, but I never thought that was a good idea when I was younger. I remember my parents taking me to events and introducing me to people, and I would shake hands as firm as I could, but I would mutter a “hello” or “nice to meet you” under my breath.

I think this is just a part of how I was made, part of my personality I can’t change. I still have moments like that today when I meet new people. Ask any of my friends who have introduced me to their friends; they’ll probably tell you that, except on the rarest of occasions, I don’t warm up to the idea of meeting or hanging out with new people.

O'Neal. And a dog.
O’Neal. And a dog.

When I was entering the fifth grade, I moved to a new school, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It’s a fantastic school where I basically prepared for college from the time I got there until the time I graduated. Nothing about college academically threw me off. But socially, O’Neal was a nightmare, particularly in middle school. My naturally shy personality led to me trying to do everything I possibly could to get people to think I was cool, girls to have a crush on me and not to get ignored. I got in two fights in fifth grade trying to “defend my honor.” I was really just being shy and insecure, trying to show off and get people thinking I was cool.

Case in point: I remember playing basketball at recess one day that year. A couple sixth graders were standing just off the court and were talking about me. “You see that kid?” one said, pointing at me. “He gets angry and wants to start fighting people.” (Side note: I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but something like those.) I heard him say that and started looking for an opportunity to get ticked at somebody. I found it, and shoved someone. Nothing really came of it, but it’s an exemplary story of where I was in fifth grade. I wanted people to know who I was, talk about me, etc.

As I progressed through middle school, my need to fight diminished but my need for attention and affirmation rose. I don’t think I was any different from any other sixth or seventh grader. I wanted girls (particularly the cute ones) to like me, guys to think I was cool and to get good grades. That last one is just one example of where my Christian upbringing had an interesting impact. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of being a “good guy.” I’ve written before about my goody-two-shoesedness. I had to be the “best kid” in the whole school.

When it came to girls, it was especially complicated. I wanted to look at girls the “right way,” not going around comparing which one was the “hottest.” I also didn’t want to scare them away, which happened in the eighth grade. Long story short, I freaked one girl out, in her words. Not exactly my brightest shining moment.

So I left middle school and transitioned to high school trying to get people to like me, all the while not trying to freak out girls and be a “good Christian kid.” As if algebra and chemistry didn’t give me enough to worry about already.

My Lonely, Depressed High School Years

I went to high school and found myself resorting to a lot of the same patterns. I had legitimately become a believer during the summer before my ninth grade year, but little seemed to change. I still wanted people to like me, particularly girls, and I wanted to do the right thing. Those things often collided.

There were a couple weeks during my freshman year of high school when I cussed about every chance I could. Never at home, and almost never at church (I did under my breath once), but at school, I let it fly. One time in particular, I got ticked at someone on the basketball court (I’m seeing a pattern here), and let loose a string of expletives so prolific that led someone to tell me that I cussed pretty good. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, that someone saw something I did and recognized it as good.

Let me go ahead and throw something else in here: my parents and my home life were great. I have nothing to complain about there. The issues all came at school. The thing about being at school when you’re that age is that’s where you spend the majority of your time. From 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, you’re surrounded by the same people, doing the same thing, in the same building(s), for four years. That’s at least 35 hours a week, minus the summers, for four whole years. Add in extra-curricular activities, and it’s more. You feel a need to prove yourself.

Things got a little better during my sophomore year. I got into filmmaking and made a short film that won me an award at my school’s small film festival (trailer here). There was some recognition from people and some friendships that were really blossoming. I had my first girlfriend the summer afterwards. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then: depression. For some reason, my junior year was the hardest year of my life up to that point. I had girlfriends during that time, things seemed to be, on the outside, going quite well. People liked me, I was getting along with girls. But something just turned in me. Looking back, I can’t seem to explain why. But at school, things were awful. I felt that no one at school liked me or cared about me. I didn’t think I had any friends. The people that I loved hanging out with the year before didn’t seem to be “caring enough” for me anymore. Again, I can’t explain it.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.
Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

I would spend all my free periods and sometimes lunch periods sitting away from everyone else. When I started driving to school in the November of that year, I would take those periods in my car, watching episodes of The Office and just generally trying to stay away from people. I didn’t think people liked me, so I figured it would just be easier for me and them for me to stay away.

Let me remind you: I had no real logical basis for this. I had no empirical evidence that people hated me or didn’t want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were people who wouldn’t choose to hang out with me, but you get that everywhere. Anyways, I imagined all or most of it. My anxious desire for people to like me led me to take the slightest probability that someone didn’t want to talk to me and run with it, believing that that person didn’t care if I was alive or not.

During this time, there were occasional moments when I wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I never got serious about it, planned anything. There were just brief moments when I would consider it, consider what it would be like, then shake myself and realize that was not a good idea.

Life continued like that throughout my junior year. As senior year rolled in, things continued. The relationship I was in was not healthy, and that just complicated matters as I spent hours a day trying to figure out what to do. Deciding to go to Elon University didn’t take a lot out of me as most students’ college decisions do; I applied early decision and found out October 31st I was in.

I ended the relationship I was in during the January of my senior year and things started to look up. My depression began to fade as I made new friends, enjoyed life, had some fun. I made a short film that’s probably one of the most depressing short films about high school relationships ever if you understand it properly. But I had fun doing it. I went to my senior prom with a girl I had a crush on, but I think she was just being nice. But I didn’t take it too seriously. It was great!

I went into college with a little bit of anticipation, but mainly just looking forward to what was ahead, learning how to be a filmmaker, learning how to make movies that glorified God.

College Years of Anxious Depression

I went into college and things started off with a bang. The first night on my hall, a group of about 10 of us worked on putting together one of our new friend’s set of drawers, just hanging out, getting to know each other, having a laugh. I was ready to deal with some of the awkwardness of being around non-Christians a lot – I was one of a few Christians in my entire high school, my brother being one of the other ones – but didn’t exactly handle it well, coming across as quite self-righteous.

Once again, though, I fell into the trap of wanting to impress people and make them like me. But it was a different kind of trap. My anxiety revolved around wanting Christians to like me. I had grown in my faith to the point where it was involved in just about everything I did, and I realized that worrying about how non-Christians perceived me because of it was not helpful. But Christians was another story.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.
My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

During my freshman year of college, the ministry I got involved with was super-loving, super-welcoming and I really enjoyed their company and their ministry. But the next year, I started hanging out with another ministry and, for whatever reason, all the old anxieties and depression came back up. I don’t blame the ministry for it. But being around new people and trying to make new friends brought up all the old feelings from fifth grade – the insecurity and the shyness I naturally carried just reared its ugly head again.

During my sophomore year, I was the RA on my hall, which started off wonderfully, but ended in a mess when a couple bad conversations and questionable decisions by me and others led to factions and divisions in a formerly tight-knit community. I felt solely responsible for the whole thing, and that took its toll.

Another thing I began to realize around this time is how sinful I was. And somehow I missed out on grace and the Gospel and how that applied to me every day. I knew the Gospel, believed the Gospel, but ignored the everyday affects of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. I struggled with sin daily and took it so hard. I became the opposite of the self-righteous person I was in middle and high school. I went from thinking “Oh look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian” to “Oh, don’t look at me, I’m the worst Christian in the world.” So now not only was I anxious about how people viewed me and grades in college, I also had to worry about my sin. “Had” is the operative word there; I didn’t absolutely “have” to worry about it, but it seemed like I did.

And, to be real with you all, I dealt with that until I graduated. Through overseas mission trips, multiple small groups, leading a weekly prayer meeting, living with other believers, I was anxious.

Really Examining the Depression

I haven’t really gotten much into the depression part of things, but it was mainly my anxiety that fed my depression. I would get anxious and overthink something, and then I would get sad about it.

Depression is awful. I can’t exactly put into words exactly what it is but here’s a shot: a condition where you fall very easily into a crippling sadness. The key word there is “crippling.” The Mayo Clinic staff define depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety or emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

I’d say that’s pretty accurate for me. Sometimes the littlest things could set me off into a stretch of depression. It could be a stray word in conversation or a certain look someone gave me, or a life-altering event that threw my previous plans in a tizzy or a serious losing bout with sin and temptation. And it’s not something you can simply “snap out of,” or just quit.

It’s so easy, when you see someone who is at that very moment depressed, to just say, “try smiling” or “just push forward” or “let go and let God.”But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. If it were that easy, almost no one would still be dealing with depression. Most people don’t want to feel sad. But for some, it just comes. And it’s not something we can control.

One of the things that made me feel even more depressed was the thought that Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. We’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time, right? Was I really that rebellious that I felt sad at random times for seemingly no reason? Was I that bad a Christian? This led me to doubt my faith, doubt that I was really saved, doubt that I actually had a relationship with Jesus. There were a few times I begged God to save me again if necessary.

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That boy Trip Lee.

And for the most part, I held it inside. There were a couple times I did say something about the anxiety and depression, but I felt, for the most part, people didn’t know how to handle it. Christians didn’t know how to handle it. I remember one time being super honest and transparent about all the things I was dealing with, but the person just told me to change myself, do something different. I wanted to yell “It’s not that simple!,” but I didn’t have the guts to.

As I left college and moved back in with my parents, I began to confront this anxiety and depression head-on. I was tired of it affecting my work, my relationships with others and my relationship with God. There’s been some growing and some maturity, but I still struggle with it from time-to-time. As I said before, I’m taking anti-depressant medication to help with it, but there have been two things I’ve realized that have greatly helped me.

Grace and Sovereignty

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my depression is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s grace.

One of the most common forms my depression has taken is condemnation for past and present sins, sometimes future sins. I’ll look at myself and realize how much I suck, and then I get down. Sometimes I’ll think about how my present sins are going to affect my future and get depressed. There is no remedy for that greater than grace. Romans 8:1, which I’ve quoted at least 15 times on this blog as a whole, says there’s absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loves me, not by how I love Him.

That was so freeing to me! By the time I walked across the stage at Elon to receive my diploma, the majority of my depression came from my lack of obedience. I would sin in some way, and then I’d feel like crap. When I finally realized the depth of this, the width of the love which God has for me, it began to free me up to actually love myself and allow God’s love to guide me and fill me. I began to hold my sin against myself less and less. I began to believe the good things people said about me and actually be encouraged by others.

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my anxiety is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s sovereignty.

The majority of my anxiety has come from my fear of the unknown: what do they think about me, what will I do next, how do I handle this situation. I’ll feel helpless and unable to do anything right. Couple that with my fear of making the “wrong decision,” and it’s a deadly cocktail. There’s no remedy for that greater than God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28, which I’ve quoted at least 7 times on this blog as a whole, says God works all things together for good those who love God and are called according to His purpose, so Christians.

This was so freeing to me! I can trust God with my unknowns and the decisions I make knowing that, whatever happens, EVERYTHING will work together for my good and God’s glory. And praise Him that it’s not my definition of my good, because that would turn out to be an absolutely dreadful definition. God’s timing is perfect, the cliché goes. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When I finally realized the meaning of this, it gave me so much more peace about decisions I’ll make, events happening around me. I began to be less and less anxious by default about things in my life, little decisions, big decisions, relationships, etc.

So the question is: am I healed from those things? No.

What? But you just said…

I know. I’m almost 100 percent convinced that these things will be things I carry to the grave with me. Thorns in the flesh, if you will. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t spend at least two or three minutes collectively over-worrying about something I don’t need to worry about at all. It’s almost a constant thing for me, a constant analysis. I’m like those guys who comment on the NFL Draft Combine, but there’s a combine in my head almost all the time. I’ve gotten better at turning the volume down at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off.

Why Do I Share This

As I’ve probably written before, “why” is my favorite question in all of language. You can learn so much about someone from getting them to answer the question why.

I share these things with you for a few reasons.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are Christians: You’re not alone. We’re out here. And don’t feel guilty for struggling with these things. If you look at Scripture, you’ll find people who had anxiety and depression. Read Jeremiah. Read Job. Charles Spurgeon struggled heavily with depression during seasons of his ministry. Dealing with these things does not disqualify you from being loved by God or being used by God. If you ever want to talk about it, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.

For those who don’t struggle: Please take the time to read articles like mine or this one or this one. Mental illness is often not handled well by the body of Christ, and most people who write about it come at it from a scientific or outsider’s point of view. The science part of it can be very helpful, true, but there’s nothing like getting down in the trenches. Speak with those who do struggle. Love them enough to let them share this struggle with you. This is a very personal issue that is hard for most people to share about. I don’t relish speaking about this for the most part. Please don’t judge. Be patient. Be understanding.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.
Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

For those who are in ministry: I beg of you, come alongside those who deal with this and don’t just rush to saying, “You have to think this way or have this attitude,” and expect it to be fixed. The conclusions I came to about grace and sovereignty weren’t fix-alls. When I’m reminded of them, there’s relief and peace, but it doesn’t stay. It’s a thing I have to be constantly reminded of, either by myself or others. We don’t need ministers who treat depression and anxiety with kid gloves or a casting-off glance. It’s a fearful thing for some of us to be honest about it.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are not Christians: I can’t tell you that following Jesus cures me. But I can tell you that following Jesus gives me reason to push forward and continue to live my life with a joy I can’t explain. Give Him a shot.

If anyone has questions or wants more thoughts from someone who’s been there, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.

I hope as you’ve read this that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (which there might just be 5 or 6 of you), you’re getting a better understanding of where I’m coming from in most of what I write.

Love you guys.