God’s wonderful deeds

Stability in unstable times or God’s wonderful deeds. The past few months have been unstable times. An emotional roller coaster of both good and bad. And yet, God…

This Psalm is an appropriate reflection on this time for me.

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;

I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

(Psalm 9:1-2 ESV)

My brother-in-law had been away from the Lord for more than 40 years. Early this year, the Lord reached him and brought him back to faith in Christ and the Church. He confessed Christ, and the last few months of his life, he regularly received the Lord’s Supper. We saw him on our visit to Minnesota in June. What a delight to be able to read the Bible with him and pray with him each time we saw him. He died (June 21) eight days after we left Minnesota; he was 62. Through his faith in Christ he received the crown of life.crown-of-thorns

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

At the same visit, we were with my mother. She had been faithfully living in the Lord the past 24 years. We also knew that she was declining in health. We knew it would probably be one of the last times we would see her. She died August 23, after being in hospice less than 24 hours. Through her faith in Christ she received the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

As I have recounted on this blog, the past 37 years of our life with and without our older son have been challenging, defeating, discouraging. But in late July we received a letter from him. He is in prison, which we expected, even though we had not heard from him or heard anything about him in seven years (and 10 years before that). But the letter was life from death. He confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, and he has been reading the Bible, praying daily.

Then this last week we received another letter from him. He is still reading and praying, but he is admitting the spiritual struggles he has. In a way this is a huge step forward for him. His life in Christ, like for all Christians, is not an emotional high, but a “now and not yet” existence. The best part—he is finding stability in unstable times. Through faith in Christ, he, too, will receive the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

Prior to my breakdown in 1998, each of these events would have mounted into crisis for me. I would have stuffed the emotions, tried to care for others, and carry on is if I were okay. But not so, now. I am so thankful for what God has worked in me (and there is so much to work through!) the past 17 years.

Thus, this summer has been a time of lost, grief, loneliness, sadness. But the summer has allowed me to grieve in my own way (we didn’t go to either funeral this summer). And that was best for me and my wife. We each grieved, but not with a heavy weight upon us. This allowed me something I had never experienced. I had nothing to give to others in their time of need, and so I didn’t. Prior to 1998 I would have felt guilty, given into expectations.

But in my grief I needed to be comforted by God, not trying to give something I did not have, felt. And I was comforted by God’s promises. Thus, as I reflected on the deaths and what was lost, I was able to reflect on what God had worked, in rather unexpected ways—grace, as always, from God. And I am comforted. Through faith in Christ I, too, will receive the crown of life.

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.

So in this unstable time, God’s promises sustained me, us. And so another Psalm reflects my heart at this time:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my irock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

(Psalm 18:1-2 ESV)

This is one of God’s wonderful deeds.


*Note: The crown of life of Revelation 2:10 is στέφανος (stephanos), not diadem. So also the crown of righteousness used in 2 Timothy 4:8.  Hence the image I used is one of Christ’s victory, namely the crown of thorns.

Abortion, Life, and Care

With all the protests vs. Planned Parenthood, I wonder whether the President, Congress, and judges are paying attention. Thanks to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway for keeping us apprised of protests around the country.

Also, how many more babies have been killed since the protests began today? My heart aches for this national tragedy, and even more so for the women who have had abortions. Ministering to them takes love, compassion, patience, and time. Let’s be a part of that movement as well.

Yes, I have been ministering to women for 28 years. The key is not letting themselves or others define who they are by having had an abortion. They are sinners, just like me. They deal with grief, shame, guilt, etc. They are no different than many of us who sit silently and shake our heads about how bad it is, and then we go back to the latest Twitter or FB or Instagram attention-getting topic. Rather, God defines them by sins-forgiven, made-pure-in-Christ. Let that be our foremost message. guilt-and-shame-pic

Life is under attack at the other end of life, too. Euthanasia (“good death”?) is a convenience for someone else, but does not value the life of the person being put to death. We can cover it with all kinds of sentimental thoughts “She would have wanted this to end”; “Now he is no longer in pain.” Yes, there are times that happens. But realistically, look at what happens in the Netherlands, and it is far past assisted suicide. And notice how this creeps into mainstream US media to justify taking life: Dying Dutch: Euthanasia Spreads Across Europe.

But this isn’t about just pointing fingers at others. We confess our sins because we realize we have failed in so many ways: our thoughts, our words, our deeds, our silence…

Some thoughts from Scripture:

Psalm 139:13-16 (GW)

You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this. My bones were not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, when I was being skillfully woven in an underground workshop. Your eyes saw me when I was only a fetus. Every day ˻of my life˼ was recorded in your book before one of them had taken place.

Mark 2:17 (NAS)

And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

1 John 1:8-9 (NAS)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Romans 8:1 (NAS)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NAS)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

So, now what?

To those who are struggling with issues of life, death, value of a person’s life, give some time reflecting on something more than media headlines. Maybe even help another family who is living through this. Care for them, and realize that suffering is part of life and cannot be ignored or dispensed with a needle or ended with a putting someone to death.

This has been a heavy post to write about. It reflects some of my concerns expressed among family and friends for 40 years, many years of ministering to suffering people. The thoughts here are a little disjointed from the agony of my heart.

Even as my heart aches with all that is happening, I think God’s heart is breaking, too. He not only desires life for us now, but also life eternal. That is, life here is temporary, and filled with joy, sadness, hope, joy, and suffering and death. But it is not the final answer. We wait for life in its fullness.

Romans 8:23, 26-27 (GW)

However, not only creation groans. We, who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts, also groan inwardly. We groan as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the freeing of our bodies ˻from sin˼.

At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to.

And so we pray


Desperation of prayer
Desperation of prayer

Hope for all who call on the name of Jesus

Our hope is in the God who creates life, who sustains life, and who desires us to have life with him forever.


How long, O Lord?

The Psalmist wrote: “How long, O LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever?” (Psalm 89:46).

For many Christians that refrain becomes not just a lament of the moment, but a searing reminder, day after day, year after year. “How long, O LORD?” A sense of abandonment by God. Perhaps you are thinking such a thought is unacceptable for a Christian to utter. For one who has been through the agony, the thought is a frequent companion, and the words express the painful, long, unending wait.

The person calling out to God does so in a loud wail and in a soft whimper. The intensity is not shaped by the volume but by the breaking heart.

Sometimes the plea is met with a bargain, “God if You… then I…” Other times with a complaint, “What have I done to go through this?” And even with a condemnation, “Yes, Lord, I have sinned and this is my punishment.” But even that does not remove the plea.

It can be hard for others to minister to a person who has the ache of “How long, O LORD?” The drain can be overwhelming just listening to it, let alone living it. It is little wonder that many feel the loneliness even among Christians. I treasure each person who walked with us at various stages of our own 37 years of uttering the cry within our hearts.

Having lived that cry of “How long, O LORD?” for 37 years, I have a few observations to make about myself and others. See Too important and The ugliness of the missing. At times the intensity of my cry was such that a full day was too much to handle. If I could make it to mid morning… if I could make it to lunchtime… if I could make it to bed time… if I could only get to sleep, one night.

Tears, anger, frustration, pity, edginess, sadness, helplessness, yes, they were part of my diet for 37 years. Sometimes the periods of relief (no calls from the police, etc.) were so welcomed that I would feel guilty for the break.

Time was measured, waiting for an answer to “How long, O LORD?” For years it seemed as if time stood still. Looking at the clock seemed the obvious solution, as if the time would pass more quickly. But for what benefit? My own discomfort, angst, relief? Yet, measuring time only amplified the sense of “How long.” Yet 37 years gives me a perspective of Paul’s desire for the unbelieving Israelites in Romans 9:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:1-3)

That, too, was on my heart.

Not “How long?” But “How Amazing!”

A little over a week ago our son sent a letter to us, confessing his faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote about this being the first time he had peace in his heart. Bible reading has become a staple for his daily spiritual life. Not only has he received forgiveness from God, but he is learning to forgive himself—as Paul wrote: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). Knowing what he had been through physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, this is monumental!

In the letter he also thanked us for always loving him, even when he was the worst. He had often said over the years that he could not figure out how we could still love him after all he had done and said. I told each time that it was because of God’s love in Jesus that we could love him. (We love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19). Now he is believing and receiving it.

Paul also wrote,

for He says, “at the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.”
Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation” — (2 Cor. 6:2)

So what has changed? We obviously are rejoicing. But as I do so, I am quietly reflective on all this. Was the 37 years of pain, uncertainty, fear, heartache worth it? Absolutely! Was it a living hell? Many times it was, but I would not trade one minute of the 37 years for the joy now of our son confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. In other words, I no longer think in terms of “how long?” But rather, how each moment was part of God’s working in his heart, even unknown to us. Indeed, how amazing!

Our son is learning this truth every day:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

“How long, O LORD?” is now answered with: “Forever!” Because of our common confession in Jesus Christ, we have an eternity to share with our son. I won’t even have to count minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, or decades, as I had been. Now is the time, today is the day of salvation.

And we give thanks to God for His patience, love, mercy, and amazing grace—to all of us! The plea changes to praise in song!

Amazing Grace

Time of rest and change

Six weeks since my last post. In some ways it seems like I am starting over, and yet, not starting over. I didn’t realize how tired I had become, 4 years in the making. Not a tiredness that is solved by two good nights of sleep. A tiredness that needs more.

Vacation to Minnesota

In early June we made a 5200+ mile trip to visit families. And to say goodbye. My wife’s brother was succumbing to the cancer, with chemo no longer an option; we hoped to make it there before he died. We visited him for seven days: talking with him sharing Scripture readings and praying with him. He had not been part of a church for 40+ years. That’s how long we prayed for the Lord to draw him back. In the last few months of his life that drawing came to completion. He confessed Christ and began receiving communion regularly at the house, then hospice care. We rejoiced with him.

My wife also visited with her mother and sister during that week. Her mother is 88 and was the primary care giver for him until he eventually went into hospice care at assisted living about a month before he died. That’s a heavy burden at that age, but then to watch your own child deteriorate with the cancer.

While sad, it was good time and we are glad that we made the trip. Just eight days after leaving Minnesota we learned that he died early on Father’s day.

How important it was for us to go. We could have waited a few more weeks, which might have been more convenient. But we didn’t wait—lesson learned. If you have someone that you have not seen or who is struggling with serious conditions, don’t put off that visit or phone call.

My mother’s health has deteriorated over the past year. And she has fallen several times recently. She lives just 2 miles from my wife’s mother. So I got to spend some time with her as well. On her birthday, we went to visit the man who taught me to play guitar 54 years ago. His sons were there (they are in their 50’s). So we all played for about 1½ hours. What a great time! And perhaps the best gift I could have given my mother on her 88th birthday.

We may not see her again, either. So it was another chance to say goodbye in person.

Had the delight of visiting with my younger brother who lives in that same area. We have become very close over the past 25 years. And had a great visit with his wife, two daughters, and grandchildren. Family is special, even when we see each other only once a year.

We also did something unusual on the way home. We took an extra day of travel. The first day was 560 miles, the second 757 miles. Then 490 miles, 350, and finally 280. What a good idea. We drove along the Columbia River Gorge, ate lunch at a pub/bar/restaurant. And the last two nights were actually very nice because we didn’t chase the clock. Very unusual for us over the past 44 years.


As wonderful as the vacation was, it took its emotional and physical toll on both of us. There were times I needed to sleep for 2-3 hours in the afternoon, which has never been part of my life. I read books, but slowly, which I seldom do. I began walking regularly, reducing my three lap trip (in the neighborhood) from 36 minutes to this morning 32½ minutes.

And my blog. I couldn’t write during the last six weeks. Nothing to write? No, plenty, but I needed time away from that. I have played guitar a little more. So much so that even last Sunday I accompanied our lead singer on a song in worship. It’s been many years since I played for worship. Went well and I enjoyed it.

Much has happened in the past two weeks. Yes, the SCOTUS decisions occupying most of the attention. Sadly much that has been written on both sides of the decisions has been less than helpful from a Christian perspective.

But I returned to my old ways. Yep, Monday night I was going out to the garage (out our front porch, turn left and go into the garage). Easy, I do it every day. But Monday it was exceptionally dark, but I didn’t turn on the light. Smart. Anyway, I had bent down to get something, turned left, two feet too early, smacked my head against the wall. And broke my nose for the 7th time. No nosebleed, but my head has been hurting since then. (sorry no photos!)

So, almost back to normal.

Trinity Sunday— Athanasian Creed

Trinity Sunday and Athanasian Creed

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar. For most Christians who follow such a calendar, it means that we speak together the Athanasian Creed. For some that might conjure images of drudgery, reciting words, upon words, upon words. Some would like to sit down, and snooze while the rest drone on.

But it need not be that way. In our congregation, we use the responsive reading form that CPH put out a few years ago. It breaks the creed into sections that become antiphonal (you can look up that word), and the responsive sections break into male and female responses. Excellent resource, CPH Athanasian Creed

Not again!?!

Over the past six decades I have heard sermons preached on Trinity Sunday that try to “explain” the Trinity, without much success. The apple (core, meat, skin), the three-leaf clover, and especially H2O (water, steam, ice), and the list goes on. Long ago I gave up on this approach. Each one might offer a glimpse into one small aspect of the Trinity. But most people walk away with a modalist view of the Trinity (one God taking three forms) rather than the Biblical view of the Trinity.

So a sermon on the Trinity? Obviously any of the texts chosen for the day can be used. If we preach one of those texts, let’s be honest and preach the text, not trying to force it into a doctrinal presentation of the Trinity. Likewise if we preach on the Trinity, let’s be honest and do so as a doctrinal confessing point, rather than trying to maneuver a Biblical text to fit what we want to preach. I think as we keep these two approaches in mind, we can avoid the “not again” problems of Trinity Sunday. Rather we can faithfully peach the Trinity without trying to explain the unexplainable.

Breath of Fresh Air

Not an explanation but a symbol used of the Trinity

What makes the Athanasian Creed refreshing? It is not meant as a common sense explanation or science explanation of the Trinity. Rather the creed is conprehensive, but is confessed, not explained. Sometimes the speaking of the creed is far better than trying to explain something that is unexplainable. In the Church today I think we need more confessing of the faith in the creeds than explanations or dissections and arguing over the creeds. Note: there is a place to hold such doctrinal discussion. But worship is not the place for such discussions.

I think in the grander scheme of history of the Christian Church symbols of the Trinity have served the Church well rather than explanations. Thus, the designs used on the paraments, stoles, etc. function as visual reminders of the truth of the Trinity and what is confessed, not explanations.



Let’s believe, teach, and confess this wonderful creed, not only on Trinity Sunday but whenever necessary and helpful.

You can find the three ecumenical creeds here: Ecumenical Creeds

Book Review: On Edge

Kansiewicz, Kristen, On Edge: Mental Illness in the Christian Context. 2014

[Note: This is the longest book review I have written, but the topics are critical and the discussion is important for the church.]

If someone is looking for the definitive guide and be-all-end-all book on this important topic, this book is not it (I don’t think such a book exists). But if you are exploring this topic, then this book serves as an excellent starting point in the discussion.

I have a personal interest in the topic. I have battled depression for a long time, and I have an immediate family member who has been diagnosed bipolar since 1987; little to no help for us, on the spiritual side of things. When I experienced the worst years of depression, the church had really nothing to address it for pastors or congregations. In the past 15 years that situation is beginning to change for the better. And I have a professional interest as a pastor of a congregation and as seminary professor teaching future pastors. Thus, I am looking for ways to equip them to be aware of developments in mental health issues.

My approach is to go through the book, chapter-by-chapter, and offer thoughts.

Part 1: Foundational Concepts: Understanding Mental Illness in the Church

Chapter 1: The Church and the Mental Health Revolution

Having grown up in the 1950s through mid 1960s, “mental health” was never discussed. In our family, to admit a problem such as that was an admission of weakness and failure. I remember how some WWI and WWII veterans struggled because they suffered PTSD (before it was recognized as such). They were ostracized, told to “get over it,” etc. As for mental illness in the broadest terms, the colloquial phrase was “they are nuts” and they needed to be confined. Yeah, there wasn’t any recognition of the problems, and if they were recognized, it was to be swept under the carpet to avoid facing it (in someone else).

When I served in the Navy (intelligence office) I came under the influence of a chaplain who was wholeheartedly supportive of Jay Adams and his approach to such issues (p. 10 ff.), namely that anything that could not be detected by medical tests was only the result of sin. I went through Seminary 1982-86, and that seemed to be somewhat the accepted stance (I’m sure that I missed some nuances in seminary training on this). During that decade my battle with depression began to surface. But I had no framework to deal with it.

As I began to serve in a congregation, it became apparent that such a simplistic division of problems was not matching what I saw. I ministered to people whose loved ones had committed suicide. They were looking for answers, and while I ministered and cared for them, I also realized I was not prepared for the more complex reality.

Kansiewicz describes the history (and my own journey) when she writes:

Average church attendees, who are likely unaware of this historical debate with the church about how to respond to mental illness and emotional problems, may find themselves caught in the crosshairs. In his book Grace for the Afflicted, Matthew Stanford shares his surprise and dismay in encountering Christians who did not believe mental illness—in this case depression—could happen to “true” Christians… In the American church culture, many have been taught that emotional problems are only a spiritual issue. (pp. 11-12)

The typical pastor seems to have followed my own path, giving some help, but not really understanding some of the inter connectedness of mental health and Christian care.

Kansiewicz offers the Church Therapy model, “a professionally trained, licensed Christian counselor works on a church staff alongside and in conjunction with the pastors” (p. 13). While I see the advantages of such an approach, it is not realistic in most parts of the US (let alone other cultures). I serve a congregation in an area in which the nearest hospital is 50 miles away. We have one doctor at a clinic, so only basic medical care is available, let alone a Christian counselor. So while I agree with the concept, I think a broader approach needs to be taken if the majority of congregations and pastors can be helped.

Chapter 2: Is Mental Illness Real?

The author notes that great strides have been made in science, and it is beginning to influence how to treat some mental illness. A simple blood test or brain scan cannot be used to accurately deal with mental illness, leaving only observation as a starting point medically. “However, because we have not yet developed objective measures, doctors and counselors are currently forced to rely on their observations of mood and behavior.” (p. 18)

Kansiewicz offers an accurate assessment of where we are as Christians: “Because of that in-between place of embracing the kingdom of God while we wait for it to be fully realized with Christ’s return, we fall victim to disease like the rest of humanity.” (p. 18) Accordingly, she notes “The church must be a place where hope resides, where love endures, and where emotional safety flourishes, for it is Christ alone who offers a way out of our present suffering. Christ alone will walk alongside us as One who has also suffered.” (p. 19)

Although this chapter is short, it is perhaps the most important for the current state of Christians and mental illnesses.

Chapter 3: Should Christians Take Psychiatric Medicines?

This chapter hit close to home because the example offered deals with depression. When I hit bottom, a breakdown, medicine was really necessary for me. I would never have considered it, except I had no choice. My treatment also involved sessions with a psychologist (3x week for a while).

The encouragement Kansiewicz offers is that the integration of all: psychiatrist, psychologist, and medical doctor are critical. And of course, the church/pastor. “Medication is simply a tool. It is one piece of the treatment puzzle that actually works best when combined with counseling, as numerous studies have shown.” (p. 29) That balance is critical. It is good that the church is finally entering team approach to mental illness.

From now on each chapter includes a case study and then the Counselor’s Response. Very effective and helpful approach in presenting the concepts.

Chapter 4: Is Faith a Feeling?

This is an interesting chapter, examining Dave as a case study. Feelings/emotions are an important part of who we are as people. But “sometimes our feelings can not be trusted…We must cling to truth to provide stability through all of our emotional states.” (p. 37) Obviously mental illnesses can exaggerate the disparity between healthy feelings and those that do not respond to the reality of what is happening.

Perhaps the most powerful statements in the book:

Equally important to note si that feelings cannot define truth. God alone can define reality, and His word creates truth. All humans must humbly acknowledge their inability to feel and perceive truth accurately. (p. 38)

Emotions are a tool for us that can enable us to experience life and God. Beauty, interconnection, and a sense of need for a Savior are all understood through emotional senses. But this tool does not provide a definition of reality—God alone can set reality in motion. Feelings must always remain in proper alignment to the One who sets truth in order. When we find that any of our senses lead us astray, we must cling to the truth of the God who is greater than all things. (p. 39)

Part 2: Specific Mental Health Disorders

Chapter 5: The Bipolar Experience

Again, this chapter hits close to home because our son is Bipolar. Kansiewicz offers the insight that the highs and lows can be deluding, and so systems need to be in place to help with each.

The hardest part is forcing yourself to keep these systems in place at your highest high and or lowest low. When you are on a high, you will be convinced you do not need grounding. When you are in a low valley, you will wonder why you should even bother to try. (p. 47)

And that is exactly the problem our son faced, and still does 30 years later. The systems she offers are: feedback, focus on truth, and “routines of obedience to God.” In my experience with Christian members in the congregation, someone who is bipolar presents perhaps the most challenging aspect of ministry in the congregation. Certainly extra grace is needed in such ministry.

Chapter 6: Can Real Christians Be Depressed?

I have already mentioned much on this topic. One helpful observation from the author highlights this chapter:

When true clinical depression has taken over the brain, removal of one’s life stress does not remove the depression symptoms. Even those things that led to the onset of depression do not need to remain for the depression to continue. (p. 55)

For me, I discovered that there are triggers that instantly bring about memories (even unconscious) that feed depression. It took many years to recognize this problem. This chapter is well worth reading many times.

Chapter 7: How Can I Trust God When I Worry All the Time?

Until 15 years ago I had not really encountered anxiety as a problem (or at least was not aware of it). Anxiety was generally considered just another emotion, but nothing to do with mental illness. But I have ministered to people who deal with this daily.  GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) is defined as “when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least 6 months.” Reading through the case study was helpful for me.

Often the extreme form of fear and worry leads to avoidance of activities and encounters with others. Responding to GAD requires medicine as well as psychology, and spiritual care. As the author states: “Counseling, medication, books on anxiety, prayer, and mental repetition of important biblical truths all play important roles for those with anxiety each and every day.” (p. 67)

Chapter 8: Schizophrenia: Didn’t Jesus Just Call It Demon Possession?

I am thankful the author included this chapter. Especially helpful was the six guidelines to help distinguish between schizophrenia and demon possession by Steven Waterhouse. One quote from Waterhouse: “Authors who have clinical experience both with demon possession and mental illness believe those who claim to be possessed are very likely not possessed.” (p. 78)

In 1989 I had the privilege of interviewing a world recognized authority on demon possession. He advised taking a slow approach in consultation with medical specialists before claiming a person was demon possessed. In other words the tendency among some Christian movements is to automatically assumed demon possession. Unfortunately other Christian movements deny any possibility of demon possession of a Christian. This chapter provides the pastor and congregation a good starting point for assessing someone’s condition.

Chapters 9-10 ADD and Addiction

I only note that each chapter is important, and need attention. I think addictions within the Christian church are bigger problems than we want to admit. The key in addictions is that there is often a change in the brain that makes stopping the addiction more difficult. Note that such a statement is not an excuse for sin, but that sin combined with other changes complicate the interaction of physical and spiritual connections.

Kansiewicz offers wise words:

Addictive behaviors are sinful, but they can be different than other types of sin in that they require different and more complex steps to stop. (p. 96)

Most of the time, Christians struggling with addictions were at one point in their lives facing a lot of emotional pain that they did not know how to process. (p. 97)

Professional treatment is required through either medication or therapy. Understanding the root of the addiction is also critical to treatment and relapse prevention. A professional Christian counselor can help you explore the reasons that you became addicted in the first place, and can help you create strategies for quitting. (p.99)

It is in this area that I have appreciated a Christian counselor who can provide much more than I as pastor can provide. I have referred several people to Christian counselors for addictions. But I have also continued to meet with them for spiritual elements related to addiction. That combination is essential.

Kansiewicz makes a critical observation about addictions (but also true for other mental illnesses):

Some believe, “Once an addict, always an addict.” While it may be true that relapse prevention and recovery strategies need to be a permanent part of your life, it is important not to define yourself as something you once were. God certainly did not create you to be an addict, and your sense of identity should reflect what His designs are for your life. (p. 100)

Part 3: Other Challenges: When the Christian Life Isn’t Rosy

Chapter 11: Why Do I Still Hate Myself When God Loves Me So Much?

I can readily identify with this problem as well. Kansiewicz identifies causes, which can be verbal, physical, emotional abuse, as well as many other things. However, this is the one chapter in which I think the “Counselor’s Reponse” is wrong-headed. When someone says, “I hate myself,” she offers these words:

I have never heard someone who grew up in an emotionally stable, nurturing environment with a healthy family make that bold statement.(p. 106)

Now why is it that people in that happy circumstance does (sic) not come to the conclusion one day that they just aren’t worth it? My answer: they truly know themselves. They have been told about the beauty and wonder of just being themselves. (p. 107)

You entered this world with beauty. You entered this world with potential. …Maybe if you had been encouraged rather than told to conform you could have discovered that truly unique and beautiful self. (pp. 107-8)

If you were to ask the first century Pharisees they would have had a well adjusted view of themselves, but were sinners. So, what is wrong with this approach? I think it fails on two points: 1) It contradicts several Scripture passages that state that we were born as sinners, not neutral people with potential, and 2) it takes away from the true freedom, comfort, love, joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (NAS)

Psalm 51:5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. (HSCB)

There are many other passages that support this idea. I think part of the problem might be that in the book, sin is presented as only sinful actions and thoughts. But sin is deeper. Committing sinful actions does not make a person a sinner, rather sin causes the person to commit sinful acts and thoughts.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. (HCSB)

This is critical when considering how the New Testament presents the change that God works in the Gospel, namely through what Christ has done for us.

Romans 5:6-10 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be savedby His life. (NAS)

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (NAS)

Notice in that Romans passage, it is not the “truly well adjusted person who has a healthy esteem” that Christ died for, but for those who fall short of God’s demands, hence everyone. That is the good news, that no matter where anyone started as a sinner, Christ died for him or her, in other words, he only died for sinners, and that includes every person. And that is the worth and value of a person.

Chapter 12: How Does Christian Deal with Grief?

Chapter 14: Life or Death? When Mental Illness is Fatal

As a pastor I work with people in all stages of grief. I have found that everyone expects to recover quicker than they actually are. A doctor once told me that for every day you are down with sickness or surgery, it takes seven days to recover. So if someone is in the hospital for 7 days, it takes at least 49 days to recover. Many people laugh at that. But after surgery they discover how true that is.

So with grief, it takes time. No matter how many steps people identify, the time is non-negotiable. And here again triggers can present setback (each event in life after the loss: 1st birthday, 1st anniversary, 1st Christmas, etc.

I like how Kansiewicz adjusted the Kübler-Ross stages, especially the last one: “Acceptance with Prolonged Depression.” This is a very good chapter and offers help to the person, but also the church and pastor in continuing ministry to those who grieve.

Chapter 13: Submission or Abuse? Facing Domestic Violence

This is a topic very near to my heart. The abuse is bad enough, but the church’s often silent acceptance, or worse, indifference to those who are abused. I preached about this topic (The Silent Epidemic) about three years ago. You could hear a pin drop during the sermon.

Why do pastors and leaders as well as churches ignore this topic? Kansiewicz offered this assessment from John Shore,

Shore suggests that part of the problem may be that if you are not living in an abusive situation, it is hard to truly understand the systemic ways in which abuse festers. He also points out that abusers are very good at manipulating others, and may easily convince pastors to minimize the reality or severity of the wife’s report. (p. 129)

Do we need any more indictment of us as pastors or churches? Thankfully Kansiewicz offers several steps to move ahead in dealing with abuse. Here are a couple essential guidelines for pastors:

Pastors must also connect both abusers and victims with separate Christian counselors, and pastors should remain involved in this treatment by maintaining frequent contact with the counselors.…Pastors may be too personally involved to judge when it is or is not appropriate for a couple to reunite after an abusive situations. Christians counselors can offer a trained, objective insight into the appropriateness of reconciliation in a given situation. (p. 131)

I would modify that last sentence to “can offer a trained, more objective insight” since no one can be truly objective. But the advice? Every pastor ought to heed her words here.

Chapter 15: How Do I Talk to My Pastor About My Mental Health?

Another good chapter for advice on the one seeking help regarding mental illness. Also, a reminder for pastors to not avoid such conversations. If you don’t know the resources, then find out. Ask other pastors, visit Christian counselors to see what they recommend. Find out about psychiatrists who accept Christian pastor’s involvement.

The goal is not for the pastor to be all, serve all, but to work within a larger framework than just the local congregation. Some of these issues are far beyond out abilities, training. It is okay for us to seek out additional help and resources, for you as pastors and you as members of the congregation.


Excellent book that raises the right issues. I would add that Word and Sacraments as part of the liturgy become an essential environment for continued ministry to people, especially “on edge.” I found it challenging and had to read the book twice to make sure I was understanding it correctly. I recommend pastors especially, other leaders, and members in the congregation read this book. Even with my objections to the foundation of Chapter 11, this is a worthwhile resource.