Monday, September 30, 2013

Life Purpose

     Have you ever seen the movie “Facing the Giants”? Throughout this movie, numerous life obstacles are presented to Grant Taylor and his wife. He owns a car that constantly dies on him, they live in a house that has numerous problems to be fixed, and he does not make enough money on his job. As if that were not enough to overwhelm them, Grant and his wife have desired to have children. Their attempts for four years have been unproductive. Needless to say, life is not going well for them. Does this sound familiar? I know that a few of these situations have been the events within my life from time to time.  But in the mist of it all, God has a purpose and a plan. 
     Let me share a scene from this movie that had a major impact on me. Coach Grant Taylor has his football team on the field, practicing drills. His lead player, Brock, has a negative attitude that is affecting the whole team. The coach is addressing this issue and has just said, “Attitudes are the aroma of your life.” He calls out Brock, (who is displaying a bad attitude), to do the death crawl. With another player on his back, he is asked to crawl as far as he can.  Coach Taylor blindfolds Brock so that he does not give in at a point in which he feels that he has done well enough. He wants to have Brock give him his best. As Brock crawls the coach is encouraging him all the way. He directs him, and consistently tells him not to quit. When the weight is starting to cause Brock pain, the coach tells him to keep going. Brock yells, “it hurts, it’s too hard”, but the coach yells back, “keep on going, don’t quit, 10 more steps, you can do this. Give me your very best!”  Brock continues on and then collapses on the field. The coach takes off the blindfold and tells Brock to look up; he is in the end zone.
      Coach Taylor tells Brock that he is his most influential player on the team and if he walks around defeated, so will they. He points out the fact that he just crawled from one end zone to the other with a 140 pound man on his arms. Then he says “God has gifted you with the ability of leadership- don’t waste it.” 
      Maybe you are like Brock, with a bad attitude that is becoming a roadblock to your potential. Maybe those attitudes are affecting the power of your influence on everyone around you, your family, your co-workers, your friends. Maybe you are feeling like the weight of life is just like that player on Brock’s back, too much to bear.
      You see, I passionately believe that God has gifted every one of us with abilities, to lead, to comfort, to inspire, to create, and to share. How has He gifted you and are you like Brock, just wasting that ability?
       As a Christian Life Coach, I help clients to step into their destiny and discover all that God has created them to be.  I am here to cheer you on and speak into your life, “Don’t quit. Give your very best, keep going, you can do this.”   

Connie Hanten, BCMCLC

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Part 6: Growing in Jesus' Love Means Going Global

The love of God is universal!

God loves everything and everyone He has created.

What He does not love is the horrible distortions and destruction, brought to pass by selfishness on the part of both spiritual entities and His human children, since His perfect universe exploded forth, originally birthed by and in His limitless love!

Looking honestly at the full “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of God, we can easily see that, by our nature and through our experiences, we obviously fall far short of the kind and scope of His inimitable and humanly unattainable love.

In other words, in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we each and all fall far short of this universal love God has toward His entire creation.

Our learning curve must be fully lifelong, to move toward loving like Jesus. As we have already noted, this special agape love of God begins to grow in us, as we open up to receive it from Him. As we begin to be filled with Jesus’ light and love, we are also being transformed to share the love with other people in our lives.

Growing in love, we learn to include many different members among our local gatherings of believers, as fellow travelers through this life, creating true caring communities that share Jesus’ love with all those around us.

We also learn to love other like-minded believers who may be scattered abroad, even across the entire earth. These followers of Jesus are like us in both our doctrinal outlook and the practice of our faith, so that we have a similar church culture, background, and perspective on how to live out what Jesus and the Scriptures teach.

God has many higher levels of love for us to learn and grow in, as expressed in what has been called His “High Priestly Prayer” recorded for us as chapter 17 of the Gospel of John. This was the culmination of that portentous gathering of the apostles and disciples for the Last Supper with Jesus.

Although that evening is recorded in all 4 Gospels, John gives much greater detail concerning the teachings, revelations, prophetic insights, and commands of Jesus given at that time to His followers.

It is His High Priestly Prayer which focuses His heartfelt desires for the protection, proclamation, and propagation of His people, both at that time and into the distant future.

In this unique prayer to His heavenly Father, Jesus refers to the multi-generational transmission of His message and His will for His followers in all times and in all places, yet to be unfolded:

JOHN 17:20 For these alone I do not pray [it is not for their sake only that I make this request], but for all those who will ever come to believe in (trust in, cling to, rely on) Me through their word and teaching, 21That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me.

Each of us, and every believer who has existed since this prayer was spoken by Jesus, is included in the words He proclaimed that night!

Everyone who names the Name of Jesus as their Lord, does so based on the fact that they have heard of Him, through their words and teachings that are recorded in the Bible.

These are His dedicated followers of whom He speaks, by virtue of the fact that they trust in, cling to, and rely on Jesus. It is these disciples who Jesus desires to become one, united not only in purpose but in His love.

We know that the unity spoken of by Jesus in His prayer, must be completely enveloped in His divine love, not simply holding to certain doctrines and practices. As recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus had already shared in many ways that very evening, about receiving His love, flowing in His love, and living out His love for others in all that we do.

Paul underscores Jesus’ stated views that unity must be endued and imbued with the divine love of God, when he writes to the Galatians, in chapter 5:6, where we are told “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”

John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, also confirms that everything done by believers must be done in love, when he writes in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

If we are each growing in love, and if our local fellowships are growing in love toward greater unity with all other dedicated followers of Jesus, both within our localities, our areas, our regions, our nations, and with all the people of Jesus throughout the world, we are moving closer to what Jesus prayed for: true unity around Him in His love!

As we are drawn by the Spirit of God into this kind of loving unity, we somehow supernaturally become more completely connected to the union of our Father God, and His only begotten God the Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Our loving unity becomes a stronger and more visible reflection of the Oneness of the Persons of the Triune Godhead. This spiritually rooted and grounded unity makes the love of God in sending His Son, Jesus, into the earth increasingly able to be received and believed by many more people.

As the people of this world see God’s divine love shared among His children, overcoming all human divisiveness and selfishness, they will begin to be drawn to Him in powerful ways.

When many who trust Jesus for their salvation, somehow grow to the point, that they are able to place the Person of Jesus and His work of redemption above being right about lesser aspects of doctrine, they will see Jesus lifted up from the earth by this shared love, and will come to the greatest love of all.

This kind of love cannot stop there. We are called to rise up with Jesus, to love all people everywhere, whether His followers or not.

This does not mean that we must agree with them or step away at all from our faith and what Jesus and the Bible teach. It simply means that we love them no matter what they believe or who they are. Our love from Jesus, is never to be diminished by anything about the other person, or it is not God’s supernatural agape love.

Any limitations we place on love, based on any criteria, causes it to be less than the love of Jesus. We know that to go beyond our limitations is to walk by faith and to receive His love when we just don’t have or just can’t do it!

This also includes loving His created order, His whole world in which we live. If we come to realize that we are called to doing all that we do with love, we will treat everything: animal, vegetable, or mineral with thanksgiving to our God, and with care and concern.

This caring way with all things, is an extension of the love God has placed within us, to return His love for us back to Him, but also to encompass all that He has made and all that He does.

The ultimate reality of love, is that God is so good and so worthy of our love, that He also teaches us to love and gives us the enabling grace to begin to love all the people and all the things He has made and loves continually!

Neil Uniacke
Executive Director

Monday, September 16, 2013

Supporting Those With Mental Illness

Recently, I shared an address with a group of people dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of their faith communities. What follows is part of that address:

So, how may we support people who are experiencing mental illness? I want to use three words as a framework for our thinking about this question:

1) Compassion - defined as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." That word "together" is so important, for it speaks of the need to put action together with our sympathy.

I work with people all the time with various types of mental health issues and what I hear consistently from them is: "We just want to be treated like full people." Somehow, there is a tendency to marginalize people with mental illness, to treat them like they are less than we are, like they are second-class citizens, like maybe they don't have feelings like we do.

As I look at the example of Jesus in the gospels, I see someone who had compassion. "When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matt.9:36) Jesus' compassion moved him to touch people, even the lepers, to listen to them, to ask them questions, to take time with them, to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

It's important, if we're going to be compassionate people, to be there for people with mental illness in their time of grief. People who have mental illnesses experience loss in their lives: loss of significance, loss of relationships, maybe loss of job, loss of health and sense of wellbeing, perhaps loss of children (if they are unable to perform their duties as parents), loss of family (if they have to be hospitalized). Are we there for them in their grief? Or do we minimize their loss?

Another important side of compassion is to allow people to ask questions without thinking we must give answers. I recall as a pastor, journeying with people through their grief, sometimes the grieving person would ask questions like: "Where is God in all of this?" or, "Does God really care about me?" or, perhaps make a statement like: "I feel God is far away...I'm not sure he even knows what I'm going through." I learned that such questions are a part of the grief process...they are expressions of the person's pain. It is good to allow them to express their pain, suffering and loss, without feeling the need to answer those questions at the moment, or fill in some cliche or Scripture verse.

All one needs to say in such a time is perhaps: "I am so sorry for your loss...for what you're going through right now. I want you to know that I am here for you and your family. What could I do right now that would be helpful?"

Henri Nouwen wrote about the healing power of listening:

To enter into solidarity with a suffering person does not mean that we have to talk with that person about our own suffering. Speaking about our own pain is seldom helpful for someone who is in pain. A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience. Mostly it is better not to direct a suffering person's attention to ourselves. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing.

2) Education - another way to support persons with mental illness is to do what we can to educate ourselves on the particular condition the person is struggling with. Now even as I say this, I realize someone may take this to mean that I should educate myself so that I can tell the person what they should do, or what meds they should take, or some particular treatment option. No, that is not what I'm talking about!

I am talking about becoming informed about the illness, so that I don't have to ask the person a lot of questions, and so that I can avoid perhaps doing or saying things that will increase the person's burden rather than lighten it.

I discovered for myself, after my cousin's wife (and I might say, this cousin and his wife, and my wife and I, were very close, and had become dear friends over the last 10 years) took her life 2 years ago after descending into a profound depression, that I didn't understand depression as I thought I did. That's when I bought the book by William Styron, Darkness Visible (Styron’s memoir of his own journey through clinical depression) and re-read A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser, (an excellent book on grief) because I wanted to know more about what depression actually does to a person.

And once we have exercised compassion toward a person with mental illness, and journeyed with them for a time, then we can ask some questions; gently probing questions that will help the person share what they are feeling, so we can better understand their journey. Questions like:

ñ  Tell me how you are feeling today

ñ  What can I do that would be most helpful today?

ñ  What is your greatest struggle right now?

ñ  Do you mind me asking some questions?

ñ  Can you tell me your deepest fear right now?

Other ways we can educate ourselves might be to attend a seminar on a given mental health issue or condition. Reading is key. There are many good books which will inform us and give us helpful insights into what our family member, friend, etc. is experiencing.

3) Presence - this is a gift to people who are struggling with mental illness. The gift of physically being there, often in quietness, saying little. I think of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible, and all the suffering he experienced...we know about that. And then his 3 friends decided to go and comfort Job.

When Job's 3 friends...heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for 7 days and 7 nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

What a gift to Job! The gift of physical presence. No words! Just being there! Job felt so alone in his distress...but then his friends came. People who suffer from mental illness often feel so alone. Where is everyone? All my friends? Where are they? People often stay away because we don't know what to say. We don't have to say anything! Just being there is so people don't have to be alone.

You see, it was when Job's friends began to speak that their comfort of Job ended. They added more suffering and misery to their friend. "It's your fault, Job! You sinned. Confess your sins to God and you will be delivered." Wow! That only added more pain to Job's already pain-wracked body and mind.

Can we be comfortable with silence? For those of us who are used to talking a lot, silence can be uncomfortable. We think we must say something to fill up the space. But for the person with a clouded, troubled mind, being with someone who is just there, filling up the lonely space, silence can be healing.

We might say to our friend, spouse, or family member: "I'm here with you, for you. I'm comfortable with silence...if you want to speak, I'm here to listen. If you want me to speak, tell me what would be most helpful. This is about what is helpful for you. That's why I'm here."

If appropriate, touch is also helpful. Touch, without words, can be very healing. Holding the person's hand, giving a hug, a hand on the shoulder. Again, whatever is helpful to the person I am with. This is not about me doing what I think is helpful. What is helpful to my friend? My child? My spouse?

For my child, holding them close when they are suffering; for my husband, my wife, holding them when they feel broken and alone...these actions can be very healing and comforting. Let us not deny our loved one the gift of touch when they are feeling alone and vulnerable. Jesus reached out and touched the leper in Matthew 8. Touch communicates love and compassion. It communicates acceptance...that you are not untouchable...but a person.

Written by Tom Horst, MA
Marriage and Family Therapist

Monday, September 9, 2013

We Can Choose Our Attitudes

            As a result of talking to and listening to many clients and others as well as from own life experiences, I was thinking about how people respond to circumstances. Why is it that two people can be experiencing a similar situation yet the way that they respond is different? Of course, there could be many reasons for that. God, however, reminded me that our attitude is key. I remember reading a poem by Charles Swindoll that reminds us of this truth.


The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.
It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes,
than what others think or say or do.

It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.
It will make or break a company... a church... a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding
the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past... we cannot change the
fact that people will act in a certain way.
We cannot change the inevitable.

The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you...
we are in charge of our attitudes.

Charles Swindoll

As we can see, we are faced with a choice about our attitudes. A scripture verse in Philippians 4:8 further helps us to cultivate an attitude that reflects the love of Christ:

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things."

                                    Submitted by: Ann L. Gantt, Ph.D., LCSW, NEW HOPE counselor

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Labor of Love (Again)

We had our annual pizza party this past weekend. Family and friends that have been of major importance in our lives were a part of this event; of course, we can't invite everyone. This year's party was missing my dad, yet we held it anyway. Dad suffered a heart attack in June and has been in a hospital or hospital setting ever since. The road to his recovery has been a roller coaster of emotions for my four siblings and me.

Thank God for all of the people that He has surrounded my family with! They have been a blessing to my entire family. It is amazing how people who don't even know my dad have been praying for not only him but also for the rest of us! We are truly blessed by the out pouring of love and help from everyone!

As Christians we are called to be servants to others. In the book of John, chapter 13, Jesus washes the disciples' feet. John 13:15 says, "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you". For my family our "labor of love" is to be a servant to those who have been there for us when we have needed a helping hand or a prayer in a time of need.

When was the last time you were a servant for a friend in need?

Elaine Campbell, MA