Christians are not exempt from depression, bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia
14 Apr 2013
- Michael Ireland | Assist News
With the news that the son of well-known Pastor and author Rick Warren has taken his life as the result of mental illness, the topic of psychological trauma has once more reared its ugly head in ther Christian community.
Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life," and senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, California, has announced that his 27-year-old son, Matthew, has taken his own life, according to ASSIST News Service #(http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2013/s13040029.htm)
In an anguished message sent to the church staff early on Saturday morning, Warren wrote, "Over the past 33 years we've been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I've been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.
"No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.
"You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.
"But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.
"Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life."
Pastor Warren went on to say, "Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?' but he kept going for another decade.
"Thank you for your love and prayers. We love you back. Pastor Rick."
ASSIST News Service extends its love, prayers and condolences to the Rick Warren family and Saddleback Church at this time.
In January 2005, ASSIST News reported that Johnnie Carl, Crystal Cathedral's 57-year-old musical director took his own life as the result of Bi-Polar Disorder. (http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2005/s05010127.htm)
Last year, this reporter had the opportunity to hear firsthand the story of broadcast journalist Jane Pauley and her struggle with Bi-Polar Disorder (http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2012/s12060086.htm).
A search of the ASSIST News Service archives for 'mental illness' reveals this news agency has over the years covered the topic of the famous, and not-so-well-known, who suffer from this affliction or another disabling psychological condition.
Unfortunately, there is still stigma – and much misunderstanding -- surrounding Christians and mental illness, which often deters or discourages Christians from seeking the professional help they need.
While great strides forward have been made in the religious world as far as personal and theological understanding of mental illness, many believers – those who suffer and those who don't – still walk around with faulty thinking on the 'causes' and 'cures' for this malady, which statistics say strikes one in five people. This means that Christians are not immune.
In January this year, ABC News reported that one in five Americans experienced some sort of mental illness in 2010, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. http://www.samhsa.gov . About 5 percent of Americans have suffered from such severe mental illness that it interfered with day-to-day school, work or family. (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/01/19/1-in-5-americans-suffer-from-mental-illness)
Women were more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than men, 23 percent of women versus 16.9 percent of men, and the rate of mental illness was more than twice as likely in young adults 18 to 25 than people older than 50.
About 11.4 million adult Americans suffered from severe mental illness in the past year and 8.7 million adults contemplated serious thoughts of suicide. Among them, more than 2 million made suicide plans and about 1 million attempted suicide.
Nearly 2 million teens, or 8 percent of the adolescent population, experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. The research defined a major episode as at least a two-week period when a person is depressed with a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, while also experiencing at least four of seven symptoms defined in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Only about 60 percent of people with mental illness get treatment each year, according to the report, and whites and Native Americans were more likely to seek help than African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.
Researchers drew the findings from nearly 70,000 surveys on mental health and addiction among children and adults.
On a personal note, this reporter has also been afflicted by this horrible disorder.
Over the years since I was diagnosed, I have sought the help of medical professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, including Christian pastors and ministers, as well as the understanding of family and friends.
This disorder can be described as a "living hell" because of the twists and turns during its course, and its dramatic effects on one's behavior and lifestyle, not to mention how it affects one's family, friends, and other loved ones.
I was first diagnosed with a mental disorder following a nervous breakdown in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. My diagnosis at that time was Schizophreniform, which is a term that covers a form of illness which displays itself as Schizophrenia, but which has not yet been determined to be full-blown Schizophrenia. Mental illness is often hereditary, and my mother suffered from Schizophrenia.
At the time of my first breakdown, there were not enough beds in the psychiatric ward of the local mental hospital, so I was treated at my parents' home, with weekly domiciliary visits from my local physician. It took me four weeks to recover with the help of rest, medication, and the love and care of my parents and friends. All I did was eat, sleep, and take medication.
I experienced a second nervous breakdown, in fact another psychotic episode – psychosis is a condition where the patient loses contact with reality – in the summer of 1982, after returning from a whirlwind visit to the United States.
On that occasion, I was hospitalized for four weeks and under the care of a psychiatrist. Once again the diagnosis was similar, this time identified as Schizo-affective Bi-polar Disorder. I was treated with rest and medication, and it was then I learned I would need to take anti-psychotic medicines for the rest of my life to prevent a relapse.
In talking about her bout with Bi-Polar Disorder at the 2012 annual dinner of People Incorporated in St. Paul, Minnesota, former NBC journalist Pauley explained that her sister in-law is a medical reporter and a good 'explainer.'
"She says the brain is made up of 'many working parts' as she describes it. One part of the brain she says is key in Bi-polar. A bundle of nerve cells called the singulate. The singulate is a kind of chemical electrical switch for people with Bi-polar -- it's overly sensitive. It has a hair-trigger."
Pauley continued: "My parents never had that thought that the brain is wired. My children wouldn't think any other way. I describe putting information on my hard drive; I have the memory of an Etch-A-Sketch. Never mind that I don't know what a hard drive is, or that I'm still pretty amazed by the Etch-A-Sketch!"
Pauley explained the technology we use every day has rewired our brains.
"We think differently about the brain today. Here's a useful analogy. In my 1950's childhood, 'Outer Space' was where Martians and invading 'Space Aliens' came from. But when I was a teen-ager in the sixties, the phrase 'Outer Space' was replaced by a new phrase – 'Space Program.' We were in a race to get there, to explore space."
Pauley said that 'messaging matters.'
"Now hope is far more potent to change minds than fear. When I think of hope, I think of Michael J. Fox," said Pauley, who has interviewed Fox on several occasions, including quite recently.
"Now Parkinson's will be conquered or cured by hope," said Pauley, "but it will never be defeated without it. Fox told me a story. He talks about waiting for an elevator in the mirrored vestibule of his apartment building just as his meds were starting to wear off and catching a glimpse of a bent and shaking old man, and realized he was looking at his own reflection. What did he do? He winked!
"He is such an inspiration because of his commitment to find a cure for Parkinson's, which by the way, is a neighbor to Bi-polar in the same deep region of the brain, but also for refusing to be defined by his limitations. Living his life as fully as it can be lived. Remember what he called his memoir? 'Lucky Man.'"
Pauley said Michael J. Fox is the first to point out that he doesn't happen to suffer from depression, which many people with Parkinson's do suffer from, and depression produces isolation, and isolation is the curse of mental illness.
Pauley concluded: "I'd like to close with a story that I heard told by a Nobel Laureate. The daughter of Sigmund Freud's best friend -- which is kind of a funny thought that Sigmund Freud would have a best friend. So this is a young woman, who is studying to be a psychoanalyst who was finally required to undergo psychoanalysis herself, and she wanted the great man Freud to do it. He was reluctant because of their personal relationship, but finally he relented. And later, when the analysis was completed he is said to have told her 'I always liked you, but now that I know you have problems, I like you more.'"
Once again on a personal note, I have found that without the presence of God, through faith and trust in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, together with the help of the Word of God and medications, the love, care and understading of friends and family,and the help and consel of a psychiatrist and psychologist, I would not be able to function and live a stable and productive life.
I would urge those who believe they or a loved one may have a mental or psychological illness not to be ashamed, but to seek out all the available help they can find to achieve a stable thought and mood condition, and to pursue a happy and productive life. Mental illness is treatable.
To find resources, search for "DEPRESSION," "BIPOLAR DISORDER" or "MENTAL ILLNESS" on the Internet at www.google.com or contact your local mental health provider listed in the telephone directory for your area. Your local hospital or medical clinic should also be able to provide you with information on getting the treament help you need.
If you or your loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 911 immediately. Most police departments have at least one or two officers who are trained to do a Social Welfare (Mental Health) Evaluation and can also put you or your loved one in touch with mental health professionals.
Why the Easter Christians won’t be back
07 Apr 2013
- Thom Schultz
It's the pinnacle of the church year. Crowds swell. Churches add chairs, and services, and parking lot attendants.
Church leaders and members look out over the brimming Easter pews and wish that all these pop-up worshippers would return in the weeks to come. But it's not likely.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that these holiday hordes, once they sample the finest a church has to offer, would return for more. And the additive effect of this special day would increase the year-round attendance, year after year.
But that's not happening for most churches.
Why? The Easter story is the most extraordinary story of all time. Churches, large and small, do an extraordinary job telling and celebrating the Easter story, providing special music, showing the pageantry, and welcoming the worshippers with care.
So, why don't the throngs come back? I suspect there's no simple answer. It's a variety of dynamics at work.
A SPECIAL EVENT. Many of the people who make one annual trip to church do so because it's a special event. They fully understand that the special music, the special pageantry, and the special sermon are one-time special efforts. They realize things will be downgraded next week. So they wait till next year's big event.
A HISTORY LESSON. Some people come, very simply, to be reminded of the Easter story. They find comfort in hearing the familiar story. It's like watching "It's a Wonderful Life" each year at Christmas. It's a reminder of a great historical event. Once a year is fine for that.
A PERENNIAL GUEST. It's wonderful to feel like the guest of honor. And many people know, on this special day, they won't be gawked at as strangers, but welcomed as honored guests. They're not interested in becoming a "regular." They assume that repeat visits or membership would create the expectation that they should be there every week. And since they know that's not possible in their busy schedules, they find it easier to be anonymous Easter Christians.
So, how might a church take these tendencies and turn them into something more magnetic?
It's fine to produce a special event each year. But understand that everybody knows that event is special. It's not the norm. It's designed for the once-a-year crowd. To get individuals in the crowd to return, don't treat them like a crowd. If it's worth throwing an Easter morning extravaganza, it's worth contacting each person who came. Write notes, or make calls, or send emails. Express your delight in seeing them at the special Easter service. Explain what happens every normal week and invite them to join in the regular rhythm.
It's crucial to tell the amazing story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. But if people go away remembering only a history lesson, they may assume God acted long ago and left the scene. So it's also crucial to showcase how God is alive and active today. For this, it's often best to make time for the extraordinary stories of the ordinary people in the pews. Hearing how God moved in a local person's life brings the power of the Resurrection into tangible reality. And it creates a curiosity and a hunger to hear more each week.
It's good to honor perennial guests. It's even better to develop lasting relationships. And it's important to remember that, for most people, a relationship with God develops as a process over time–not as a result of a one-time event or a sizzling sermon.
Through our work with the national network of Lifetree Cafes, we've learned to treat everyone as ongoing friends, rather than as "guests." One way we do this is by personally inviting every person to join us each week, every week. We send, automatically, a different email message to everyone each week that describes what we'll be talking about at the next Lifetree gathering. The consistent contact and conversation make the difference.
Easter Sunday can be much more than a once-a-year event for perennial guests. It can be one step in a long relationship with the One who said, "Now I call you friends."
Through writing, speaking and leading, Thom has served the faith community for 35 years. He's the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. He's the author of many books, including "Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church." He now devotes much of his time to innovating breakthrough ways to connect regular people to God. www.holysoup.com
God never called you to do it alone
01 Apr 2013
- Joe Buchanan
Yesterday, I posted an article entitled "Attention Pastors: Working Harder Isn't Always the Answer."
In that post I mentioned that there is a tendency among Pastors to think that if we just work a little harder or put in a little more time and effort into it we will get better results. But this strategy is like hitting the gas pedal when you are stuck in the mud. All you are going to end up doing is spinning your wheels.
So, we mentioned that the first step to take when you are beginning to experience ministry burnout or when things get plateaued is to take your foot off the gas. Today, I want to talk to you about a second reason in overcoming times of ministry fatigue — Remember that God never called you to do it alone.
Remember that God Never Called You to Do it On Your Own
As a Pastor I am good at being able to tell my church members that they need to "let God be in control" but not so good at living this out in my life. But one of the major causes of ministerial meltdown is the idea that we need to do it all on our own. A few years ago, I was preaching a revival for a friend of mine named Shawn. During the week that I spend with Shawn he literally did everything for that church— he cleaned the bathrooms, he made the hospital visits, he printed the bulletins, he picked out the songs, he organized church library, he ordered the Sunday school literature and the list could go on and on.
I would drive over from the hotel each morning at 8 am to meet Shawn at the church so that we could go eat breakfast together. Every morning Shawn had already been to the church and worked up a sweat. He told me later that he arrived at the church every morning at 6 am and often did not get home again until after 9 pm. When I asked Shawn why he was doing all of this he replied, "If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself."
The truth of the matter is that Shawn could easily have given most of these tasks to come else but he chose take on the entire ministry of the church by himself. I have met dozens of Pastors over the years who have fallen into this same trap. Their motivations may vary but the results are always the same. Some, like Shawn, are driven by ambition and want to succeed so that they can move on to a larger church. Others simply feel trapped and believe that if they don't do the work it will never get done. The truth, however, is that God never called you to do it on your own.
As Pastors we need to constantly be reminded that we are part of the body of Christ. God has called us to lead and equip the church but He never called us to "do" the work of the church. Sometimes we forget this important truth and fall into the trap of believing that we have to do it all. The work belongs to the church and every member is called to be an active part of the ministry of the church. You are just one part of the body of Christ. You are an important part, but nevertheless you can only do what one member of the body can do. If you try to do more, you are going to cause injury to yourself and others.
Let me give you a couple of steps that you can take to overcome this tendency in your ministry.
First, we need to learn to be dependent upon the indwelling presence of Jesus to empower us for ministry. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 15:5 where Jesus says, "I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." We need to pay special attention to the words "for apart from me you can do nothing." The minute I think that there is anything I can accomplish for God on my own, I am in trouble.
The Bible clearly teaches me that apart from Christ I can do nothing. That means that my primary goal in ministry must be to stay connected my only source of life, strength, and power. We will look at this in more depth in chapter 4 when we learn about ministering from the overflow of our lives. But for now we simply need to remember that it is God who called us to ministry and only God can empower us for ministry.
Second, we need to remember that God has called us to minister within the context of the body of Christ. The ministry of the gospel requires that every member be actively engaged in the work. As Ministers, we are not charged with accomplishing it all on our own. We have been made part of the body of Christ and given the task of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. We are not in this alone. God has given us His Spirit and made us part of His body.
Joe Buchanan is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Metropolis, IL.
How much is enough?
07 Apr 2013
- Albert Mohler
The New York Times reports that some millionaires in Silicon Valley just can't make ends meet, and are gripped by a sense of economic insecurity. Most Americans would surely find this perplexing, but a million dollars only goes so far.
As the paper explains:
By almost any definition — except his own and perhaps those of his neighbors here in Silicon Valley — Hal Steger has made it.
Mr. Steger, 51, a self-described geek, has banked more than $2 million. The $1.3 million house he and his wife own on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean is paid off. The couple's net worth of roughly $3.5 million places them in the top 2 percent of families in the United States.
Yet each day Mr. Steger continues to toil in what a colleague calls "the Silicon Valley salt mines," working as a marketing executive for a technology start-up company, still striving for his big strike. Most mornings, he can be found at his desk by 7. He typically works 12 hours a day and logs an extra 10 hours over the weekend.
"I know people looking in from the outside will ask why someone like me keeps working so hard," Mr. Steger says. "But a few million doesn't go as far as it used to. Maybe in the '70s, a few million bucks meant 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,' or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore."
Reporter Gary Rivlin described "working-class millionaires" who are members of the "digital elite." They do not think of themselves as wealthy, even as they are fully aware of their financial standing in comparison to most Americans. It's that other comparison that bothers them. As Rivlin explains, "But many such accomplished and ambitious members of the digital elite still do not think of themselves as particularly fortunate, in part because they are surrounded by people with more wealth — often a lot more."
There can be no doubt about that. There are now millionaires in almost every community, and the wealthiest now count their fortunes in the billions, not millions, of dollars.
Those given to comparisions of personal wealth can always find someone with a larger fortune. This is especially true where the wealthy congregate together in communities like those in Calfornia's Silicon Valley. When the comparison game starts, it never ends. Rivlin cited one man worth approximately $10 million who saw that sum as relatively paltry: "You're nobody here at $10 million."
The enticements and pressures of a consumer society also play a part. One man told Rivlin that "the pressures to spend more are everywhere." As Rivlin explained, "Children want the latest fashions their peers are wearing and the most popular high-ticket toys. Furniture does not seem up to snuff once you move into a multimillion-dollar home. Spouses talk, and now that resort in Mexico the family enjoyed so much last winter is not good enough when looking ahead to next year. Summer camp, a full-time housekeeper, vintage wines, country clubs: the cost of living bloats."
Another Silicon Valley millionaire admitted the reality: "Here, the top 1 percent chases the top one-tenth of 1 percent, and the top one-tenth of 1 percent chases the top one-one-hundredth of 1 percent . . . . You try not to get caught up in it, but it's hard not to."
That must be an honest admission, and one does not have to be a millionaire to get caught up in the comparison game. If honest, most of us would probably admit to the temptation to follow John D. Rockefeller's adage that all we need is "a little bit more."
This report certainly brings these words of Jesus to mind:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Matthew 6:19-21]
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world. www.albertmohler.com
When finances are tight, it’s time for a budget
01 Apr 2013
- Berni Dymet
Like it or not, money is a necessity when it comes to living on this earth. And for many people, money is incredibly tight.
So what does God have to say about managing our finances effectively?
Finances Are Tight All the Time
Have you ever noticed that there never seems to be quite enough money to go around? Doesn't matter how much you earn, money always seems tight. It's true on a personal level, in a business and in fact, across a whole nation.
Right now, the United States of America – the richest country in the world – has so much debt that it owes, wait for this, over $16 trillion. That's over $50,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. And it's a debt that's growing at almost $4 billion a day!! That's incomprehensible!
But what about at a personal level? What about you and me?
Easy Credit Equals Easy Debt
One of the things that happened when credit cards were invented and became prevalent, at least in the western world, is that people stopped budgeting their finances. In a cash based economy (I remember being paid in cash when I started working – that's just the way things were back then) the process of budgeting was somewhat easier.
You only had so much cash in hand each week. You'd put some of it aside to pay for the rent or the mortgage, electricity, gas – all those usual bills. A certain amount would go to the weekly grovery shopping and what was left is what you had either to spend or save. And when that was gone – well, it was gone.
There was pretty much no way of going into debt, other than taking out a loan with a bank and that wasn't, as I recall, such an easy thing to do.
These days, credit cards are a big thing and people find it very easy to run up very large debts very quickly. Debts they can't afford to pay off. And by spending tomorrow's income today, we discover that we can't afford to give to the poor, or to save any money, because we blew it all last week on an impulse buy on our credit cards, right?
It's that ready access to debt that's blowing out many a budget. It's why so many people are doing it tough financially.
It's Time for a Budget
Here's some biblical wisdom on budgeting:
By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3,4
How do you build a house? With wisdom. How do you fill it with good things? By knowledge. In other words it's not something you just slap up without thinking. You plan, you use your brain, you apply wisdom and understanding to making it happen. And that's exactly how it is (or should be!) with our finances.
We were always meant to be good stewards of what we have. And in fact, there's more wisdom a few chapters later that relates specifically to budgeting.
Yep – you wouldn't credit it would you?? God's Word, the Bible, has specific advice on budgeting. Here it is:
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds; for riches do not last forever, nor a crown for all generations. When the grass is gone, and new growth appears, and the herbage of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field; there will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and nourishment for your servant-girls. (Prov 27:23-27)
This is what the website faithandfinance.org has to say on this: "It's interesting to read this passage and see that the writer isn't saying "it might be good if you plan ahead" or "if you find it convenient, plan ahead with your resources." It's actually a pretty clear set of instructions to apply a budget to your income and watch your resources carefully. There are two basic principles that come from this passage:
1. If you budget you will have enough to cover your expenses.
2. If you don't budget, you'll struggle to meet your obligations and won't pass on an inheritance to your children, grandchildren, or anyone for that matter.
It's Not that Complicated
Is that pretty straightforward? Yes, it is. Absolutely it is!!
And so if your finances aren't quite in the state that they should be, if you're finding it a bit tough to make ends meet – here's the important, godly wisdom that I want to share with you: make a budget and stick to it.
It doesn't have to be complicated – but the end result will be that you'll know that all your important commitments are covered, and you'll also know exactly how much you have left over to save or spend or both.
Worth doing, you think?
Berni Dymet - adifferentperspective.org
Stephen Hawking video about creation of Earth matches Bible, author says
07 Apr 2013
- Mark Ellis | Godreports.com
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Genesis 1:1-2
For years, theologians, scientists, and students of the Bible have pondered the meaning of this extraordinary description of creation, written by Moses about 1,400 years before the birth of Christ.
In his documentary "The Story of Everything," Stephen Hawking reveals how the earth took shape from a formless cloud of dust and debris, in a manner that one observer believes is familiar.
"His video follows the same description that Moses wrote about 3,500 years ago," says Paul Hutchins, author of "Hubble Reveals Creation." "The Earth formed from leftover dust and debris from the sun," he says. "The Earth forms in darkness, in a cloud of dust."
Discoveries by Nasa's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as the ability to determine the rate of expansion of the universe. "The Hubble telescope has really been photographing creation," Hutchins maintains. "Nobody knew what 'formless and void' meant until the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes revealed the way planets form."
Out of this formless void, light from the sun emerged gradually, Hutchins believes, to create the conditions that would lead to intelligent human life.
"The statement at Genesis 1:3, "Let there be light," on day one, corresponds to when our sun came to life as it transitioned from a protostar to a main sequence star as demonstrated in Hawking's video," he notes. "Only in the later stages of planet formation when earth's atmosphere cleared would direct light from the already existing sun, moon, and stars be visible from the earth."
Hutchins believes these recent scientific discoveries will remove much confusion about the Genesis account of Earth's creation. "I believe the Bible will always prove to be accurate with science," he notes.
"It's mind-boggling how complex the universe is. It looks like it has its own DNA."
Without God, further crisis
24 Mar 2013
- Dick Slikker
As Christians, what should we be doing in the midst of the present economic crisis? In recent years, especially in the Western World, there has been an trend towards banishing God from our societies.
Yet contained in the Bible are examples, e.g. in Judges, of an important spiritual law: When a people repudiates God, there follow serious negative consequences. We must therefore wonder whether our present society's dismissive attitude towards God has any direct connection with the current economic crisis.
Where Do We Stand?
There are recorded in the book of Judges twelve separate cycles: disobedience to God's law; confrontation with a enemy; repentant beseeching of God for intervention; the rise of a liberator. His people were described as "every man doing what right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6, 21:25).
Our present time has been called the "Post-Modern Era." It is marked by a denial of the existence of any absolute truth, standards or values. Everyone is entitled to determine his or her own truth. This passage into the post-modern mindset can be compared to a transformation from a compass-culture (one fixed point of direction) into a radar-culture (one extracts only those items which suit one's own views, Rieman). In this the period of the Judges seems very much like our own present times: no absolute truth and the idol of greed. And when greed is reigning, we can expect economic downfall and crisis in accordance with the previously mentioned spiritual law.
The results of a recent statistical study of my own indicate that in countries in which the percentages of Christians increase, so do the associated national economic ratings. (See the inset frame) And conversely, when the percentages of Christians decrease, so do the ratings.
Where then does the solution to the crisis lie?
We look to our politicians and hope that they will find a solution for the economic woes. In reality, however, no one knows what to do. One newspaper declares "The crisis begins with a meeting of bankers who themselves don't know what more to do." Can we expect a solution from the same sources that have designed the problem?
Clearly, the solution to the economic crisis lies not only in the details of its technical aspects, but also in the very presence and blessing of God and in the growth of His Church. The solution to our crisis does not lie in correcting the system so much as it does in the renewing of the hearts of men.
What does the post-modern man desire?
Post-modern man demands unlimited freedom. But does such a thing really exist? Who among us will knowingly step into a car without brakes?
God desires that His people be happy, but this is never to become an end in itself. He teaches us constantly in His Word where the boundaries lie. David Pawson writes in Keys To the Bible "...in such an unlimited system (Babylon) shall you find materialism without morality, pleasure without purity, luxury and riches without wisdom, lust without love." Here then stand the boundaries.
I see an important paradox:
• People want freedom, preferably without boundaries.
• But simultaneously those same people realize that such freedom does not really exist without at least the threat partial self-destruction.
What roles have the Church and the individual Christian?
In recent times the Church has among other things made two great mistakes. Her first is that she has turned inward. Her second mistake is that she has to a great degree accommodated herself to the ways of the world and has ceased to proclaim her true message.
We see this second fault demonstrated in the Bible in the life of Lot. First he made the choice to live in the neighborhood of Sodom and Gomorrah even though he knew what went on there (Gen. 13:10-13). He pitched his tents near Sodom, but before long he actually went to live in that city (14:12). Eventually he even became a town official (19:1). But the sad outcome is recorded in 19:14 where it says that eventually his family paid any attention to his message of repentance to his fellow townsmen. Dr. Rietkerk of L'Abri has put it: Whoever marries himself to the spirit of the times soon finds himself a widower.
The former director of the IMF, Johannes Witteveen, a confirmed liberal and adherent of Sufism, has written "...society has become too egotistical and materialistic...there is little solidarity. The churches are largely sitting in the background and have lost their ability to inspire." The ability to inspire demands in the first place that we be something different.
Jesus preached, "Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). We must, for the sake of everyone's best interests, carry out the Church's commission, even if it appears that the world does not want to hear us. But in doing so, the Church must seek the proper tone in her message to encourage the lost to come to the realization that they cannot live without God.
Is the church ready to bring the core message of salvation and renewal to those who come to her for practical help? Can she deliver the required combination package of the Gospel of salvation and the gospel of social service simultaneously? Peter said in Act 3:6, when he was ask for money: "I have no money at all, but I give you what I have ...".
The Bible warns us strongly against greed, for example in Luke 12:15; and in 2 Pet. 2:3 we read "and in their greed they will exploit you with false words..." Translated to our own times we see how we fall prey to all sorts of get-rich-quick products which among other ills entrap the greedy in usurious debt and excessively large mortgages. But, just as in the times of the Judges, a true repentance, which includes a change of personal conduct, must take place.
As my technical investigation demonstrates (see inset frame), there is a positive correlation between the changes in the number of Christians in a society and the changes that occur in its corresponding national financial rating. The Church can therefore not legitimately stand back with the attitude that it is up to the world to solve its own problems.
What steps and actions should we expect from the Church?
• She must unmask post-modernism as not providing any fixed moral direction.
• She herself must unflinchingly regard God's Word as the absolute compass, not as a radar screen from which to pick and choose.
• She must diligently seek methods to enable an effective proclamation of the core message of salvation and renewal of the heart.
• She must unequivocally, yet in compassionate language, warn of the evils of a so-called freedom that recognizes no moral boundaries.
• She must learn to discern the times with wisdom. The Church did not see the present crisis coming.
• She must mobilize fervent prayer campaigns for God's intervention in bringing about the necessary changes in the hearts of men.
• She must engage in effective practical social ministry, offered explicitly in the loving name of Jesus Christ, wherever it is needed, but always in combination with her core-message proclamation.
• She must evangelize.
• She must educate and warn Christians against risky financial products and motivations in order that they live in conformance to God's principles.
What steps and actions should be expected from Christians?
• Fruitful (spiritual) lives that are lived in conformance to God's Biblical principles.
• Confession of the sins of greed and the desire for self-gratification.
• Demonstration in daily life that our faith is real and that it is at work in our life.
• Prayer for revival so that God's principles and standards become more widely followed.
Dick Slikker lives in The Netherlands and is a consultant for various mission projects. (See www.projectcaremc.org). He is also available for as a guest preacher.