Parenthood–the scariest “hood”

Me and my firstborn

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” – Psalm 127:3

Every Summer we try to offer a three or four week sermon series on a topic for the family. This year we’re looking at what the Bible has to say about parenting. We’ve titled the series, “Parenthood.” In our preparation for the series, we found this anonymous quote: “Parenthood. The scariest ‘hood’ you’ll ever go through.” Pretty hilarious huh? Yet, the truth is, parenting can be a very scary endeavor.

Let’s admit it. If being a parent doesn’t scare us a little, we’re probably not being truthful with ourselves. I still remember that panicky feeling when we left the hospital with our firstborn. My wife and I looked at each other with faces filled with love, joy and fear! We were entering the “hood” of parenthood for the first time. Then our little bundle of joy started crying…

“What’s wrong? Is it a dirty diaper? Is he hungry? Is he sick? Yikes! We checked all those three times each and he’s still crying! What do we do?”

We were so thankful that my mom spent the first week or so with us. Thank God for experienced grandmothers.

Many parents, have felt that scary “hood” of parenthood with even more intensity over the last year because of the pandemic. Some had to become homeschool teachers overnight as schools moved from in-person to online only. We probably spent more time with our kids last year than any time before. And that likely revealed both the joys and the pains of parenting. The fact is that parents not only feel afraid, but they feel overwhelmed and under-qualified.

I often hear parents say, “I wish my kid had come with an owner’s manual!” Well, actually they kinda do. For we have some great instructions on parenting in the Bible. God’s Word has a lot to say about children and parenting.

Perhaps the most important insight we can gain from the Bible concerning parenting is to understand our calling as parents. We’ve tried to summarize this calling with what we call the three “R”s of parenthood from God’s Word.

The first “R” is “Receive.” We are called to receive our children as a gift from God. As the psalmist wrote, they are to be received as a “heritage” and a “reward” from God. Children are to be highly valued. Parents have been given the gift of shepherding eternal beings with infinite value and potential.

The second “R” is “Raise-up.” We are called to raise-up our children for God. Parents have been called not to own their children, but to steward them as God’s children. They are on loan to us. And we are called to raise them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Yet, we don’t have to feel afraid or overwhelmed by this great task. For God has not only given us His Word to guide us, but He has given us His Spirit to empower us. We can call on the Lord to help us.

The third “R” is “Release.” We are called to release our children to God. There are many important needs that we are called to meet as parents on behalf of our children: food, shelter, clothing, education, etc. Yet, the most important of all is that we are to make sure that our children have been given the gospel, so that they may follow Jesus and know God as Father. Our children are “like arrows” (Psa. 127:4) that parents are to aim at knowing and following the Lord.

Parenting can be a humbling and scary thing. But we don’t have to attempt it alone. We have God’s Word and God’s Spirit available to help us. Join us for the next three Sundays as we discuss how to follow the three “R”s of parenthood.

THE SINCERE FAITH OF MY MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER

My grandmother, Ettie Dillon (seated), and my mother, Wilda Dillon Combs

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV).

The church of my youth had annual revival services. We would often have an evangelist come and share how God had miraculously saved him from a life of sin. He would preach with fiery enthusiasm and through tears about how God had taken a former drunkard, (or addict, thief, criminal, etc.) and saved him.

These “Damascus Road” testimonies were amazing to me. I was envious of their certainty and passion. As a boy, I often doubted my salvation because I hadn’t had such an awesome conversion. I had no flash of light, no voice of God. Finally at age eight, I decided to give my life to Jesus the way my mother and grandmother had taught me, with sincerity and trust.

As I grew in my faith, I no longer doubted my salvation, but I still sometimes wished that my testimony was more exciting. Why couldn’t I have a testimony more like the apostle Paul’s?

Maybe that’s what Timothy was feeling when Paul wrote him that second letter. Paul was so fearless and certain when he testified of his faith, but Timothy was a little timid. When he compared himself to his mentor he just didn’t feel like he measured up.

Paul would have none of that. He reminded Timothy of the spiritual legacy that his mother and grandmother had given him. Timothy had been spared the suffering and sorrow of Paul’s many mistakes before coming to Christ. Paul reminded Timothy that the “sincere faith” which had “lived” in his mother and grandmother, now “lived” in him.

As a grown man, I’m glad that I have a “Timothy testimony.” The two most influential people in my spiritual development were women. They were my grandmother Ettie and my mother Wilda. They didn’t have the same names as “Eunice and Lois”, but they did have the same “sincere faith” living in them.

Sincere faith. The kind that is more than religion, more than rules and ritual. These women loved and lived for their Lord in such a sincere way that what they passed on to me was more caught than taught.

My mother and her mother are with Jesus now, but their sincere faith still lives here in me.

Happy Mother’s Day.

DAILY DEVOTIONS FOR PASSION WEEK

Visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

“And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’” (Luke 22:15 ESV).

This coming Sunday begins what many Christians call Holy Week or Passion Week. It is called “Passion” week because of its connection to the Greek word πάσχω (pas’-kho), which means to feel heavy emotion or passion, especially due to suffering. This is the word that Jesus used to describe His coming crucifixion.

A wonderful way to remember Christ’s passion is to visit the Holy Land. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Israel several times. In the attached photo, I’m visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the traditional location of the empty tomb. Here, I’m touching the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone flanked by candlesticks and overhung by a row of eight lamps. It commemorates the place where the body of Jesus was laid, anointed, and prepared for burial.

But you don’t have to go to Israel to remember Christ’s suffering and resurrection. In fact, all the church buildings, slabs and memorials added through the ages by well-meaning church folk can be a distraction. I’ve found that reading the Scriptures that describe the Lord’s final week leading up to the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection to be just as moving and beneficial to my spiritual life. With this in mind, I offer this daily reading plan for Passion Week for your edification.

  • Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry. Read Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19.
  • Monday – Clearing the Temple. Read Matthew 21:10-19; Mark 11:12-18, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-22.
  • Tuesday – Teaching in the Temple. Read Matthew 21:23-24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37, and Luke 20:1-21:36.
  • Wednesday – Resting In Bethany. Read Matthew 26:1-16 and Mark 14:1-11.
  • Thursday – Last Supper & Gethsemane. Read Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23, and John 13:1-30.
  • Good Friday – Trial & Crucifixion. Matthew 27:1-56; Mark 15:1-41, Luke 22:66-23:50, and John 18:28-19:37.
  • Saturday – In the Tomb. Read Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42.
  • Easter Sunday – The Resurrection. Read Matthew 28:1-13; Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-31.

In addition to the daily Scripture readings, you might want to watch my daily video devotions from last year’s Passion Week. These were originally recorded as Facebook live events, so they’re pretty unprofessional. But the content is there and hopefully it’s beneficial and encouraging. You can follow this link to watch them:  Passion Week Devotions.

There are two weeks recorded in the Bible that the Lord inspired its writers to make daily diary entries. They are the seven days of creation and Passion Week. In the first week, He made the world, and in the second, He brought its redemption. God must have thought these two weeks important enough to keep a journal…

… And one worthy of our reading and meditation.

My mother’s gospel quartet named in the Library of Congress

Over the past year, I’ve been talking back and forth with a man named David Johnson, who has been doing research on the song “Rank Stranger” as performed by the Stanley Brothers. He was doing this research for an article he planned to submit to the Library of Congress. He was interested in understanding where the Stanley Brothers first heard the song and how they may have rearranged it to fit their own unique style. His research led him to me. Why? Because the Stanley brothers first heard the song performed on the radio in Bristol, Virginia by my mother, Wilda Dillon Combs and her gospel group, the Willow Branch Quartet.

As Ralph Stanley explained in his autobiography: “I remember back in the fifties, we heard a gospel group called the Willow Branch Quartet. They played around the Bristol area… We were driving to a show, listening to the radio, when we heard the Willow Branch Quartet doing a song called “Rank Stranger.” There was something there that grabbed Carter and me. We’d never heard that term “rank stranger” before. The song was all about feeling a stranger in this world, even with your own family and friends and neighbors, and how the next world would make all that right… I reckon it became the most popular song the Stanley Brothers ever sung” (Ralph Stanley, Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 384).

This photo of the sheet music above came out of the Willow Branch Quartet’s “song notebook.” My maternal grandmother, Ettie Dillon, who was the group’s alto singer, actually hole-punched their sheet music and put them in the group’s notebook. She even numbered them, so the songs were easily retrieved. She wrote the number “2” on the song “Rank Strangers to Me,” as writer, Albert Brumley, had originally titled the song.

Mr. Johnson has now completed his essay and it can be found on the Library of Congress website. The article says it was added in 2008, but that was when the Rank Stranger song was first added. Mr. Johnson actually added the article that mentions the Willow Branch Quartet in December 2020. He had never heard of the Willow Branch Quartet before, but after I sent him a CD that included their version of “Rank Strangers,” he has become an avid fan.

Here’s the link to his essay. You’ll notice how seriously he took the WBQ’s influence on the Stanley Brothers version: https://www.loc.gov/…/documents/Rank-Stranger_Johnson.pdf

If you’d like to read more about the Willow Branch Quartet and watch a video I’ve put together with the audio from their 78 recording of “Rank Strangers,” then follow this link to an earlier blog I wrote: https://www.garycombs.org/blog/2016/01/rank-strangers.html

Rising Up to Make More Disciples

We’re starting a 4-week series called, “Rising Up to Make More Disciples” on Sunday, November 1, 2020. This series is being offered to refresh our Rise Up commitment from January 2019.

What is “Rise Up?”

RISE UP is our 3-year generosity initiative to make room for more people to come as they are and be forever changed by the love of Jesus. We are at the midpoint of our initiative, so we want to strengthen our original commitment and challenge new attenders to join us on the journey! Through RISE UP, God is calling us to partner with Him by investing ourselves and our resources in greater levels of commitment that will impact Wilson and the surrounding area of Eastern North Carolina today, and for years to come.

Watch this video to learn more . . .

Praying dangerous prayers

Do you believe in the importance of prayer, yet you often feel that your prayer life is missing something? You’re not alone. Many believers today admit that they’re not satisfied with their prayer life. Why? Well, the reasons vary, but here are a few reasons that people offer:

  • I don’t know how to pray.
  • I’m more of a doer than a pray-er.
  • I get so busy, that I forget to pray.
  • I’ve lost my passion for prayer.
  • I don’t feel like God hears my prayers.
  • I hate to say it, but I get bored with prayer.

Do any of these reasons sound familiar? What about that last reason? Do you get bored with prayer? Maybe it’s because you’re praying “safe” prayers, rather than “dangerous prayers.” 

What are “safe” prayers? They’re the kind of prayers that sound like a laundry list of needs without any mention of what God is doing or wants to do in your life or in this world. They are prayers that sound rote and practiced, rather than fresh and passionate. They’re boring prayers, to us, and probably, to God too.

But what if we began to pray “dangerous prayers?” Prayers that cry out to God for an answer? Prayers that are God-sized and God-willed? Prayers that stretch us outside of our comfort zone? If we were to begin praying “dangerous prayers” together as a church, who knows what would happen! 

Over the next 4-weeks, let’s join together in praying dangerous prayers, asking God to move in our lives, our church and in our world!

THREE REASONS YOUR CHURCH ENGAGEMENT IS ALL THE MORE IMPORTANT NOW

Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV) 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For two thousand years, Christians have regularly gathered together as members of the body of Christ, which is the Church. Whether they gathered in secret, during times of persecution, or in public, in times of freedom, they gathered. Whether it was during a plague, or a time of prosperity, they gathered. Indeed, it was usually during times of persecution or plague that the church grew the most. 

Not today. Even before COVID-19, church attendance in America had been in decline. Since COVID, an even more precipitous plunge in church engagement has taken place. I’m emphasizing the word “engagement” here because this is not about whether one attends in-person or online. It’s about whether or not they are truly engaged with fellow believers in the church. For one can attend in-person and never fully engage with the worship, the fellowship, nor the ministry of serving others. Sure, actually attending in-person makes engagement easier, but not automatic. It takes more personal effort to engage online, but it is possible. 

However, by and large, online engagement isn’t really happening. Listen to these sobering results from The Barna Group’s latest survey of churches in the US (Barna’s survey refers to online attendance only):

“Amid the pandemic, churches were forced to shut their doors and begin streaming Sunday services online. The switchover was well-received by some, but unpopular with others. Research has revealed that one in three practicing Christians has stopped attending church services.

The poll conducted last week by the research firm found: 

    • 35 percent are still attending their pre-COVID church.
    • 32 percent are no longer attending church.
    • 14 percent have switched to a new church.
    • And 18 percent are watching worship services from different churches each month.

Barna’s research showed a pattern between the different generations of practicing Christians who attend church online.

    • 50 percent of Millennials have stopped attending church.
    • 17 percent of Generation X attend a new church.
    • 40 percent of Baby Boomers stayed at the same church.”

To many, online Church attendance has become like watching any other program. It’s a passive watching for the sake of personal preference and enjoyment. This approach is not engagement with other believers for mutual edification, but self-edification. Some choose their favorite worship music from one online site, then switch to a different site for their favorite preacher, and call it church. But it isn’t. Because while the church is not the steeple, it is the people. It doesn’t have to meet in a building, but it does have to meet together somewhere for the spiritual health and obedience of its members.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that church engagement has fallen severely post-COVID. Online engagement is harder. And as a result, church members are struggling not only spiritually, but emotionally and physically as well.

Active engagement means joining the online service while it is streaming live. It means actually singing the worship songs, taking sermon notes, completing an online Connection Card, making an online offering and engaging others on social media. It also means being part of a Community Group during the week where mutual edification can be practiced even more deeply. It means serving one another according to one’s gifting and the needs of others.

And the needs are great. In fact, they are growing because of the consequences of COVID stay-at-home orders, racial tensions, the caustic political climate, the economic downturn, etc. 

In a recent article by the Religion News Service, Jamie Aten, director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, is quoted saying that congregations must prepare to help people deal with a wide range of mental health challenges as never before. The article goes on to say:

“And the challenges that existed before the coronavirus haven’t just gone away, according to Aten. Those include depression, anxiety, grief and addictions, as well as child abuse and domestic violence. ‘The pandemic is compounding those mental health struggles and amplifying them, plus creating new mental health struggles that people may not have been experiencing prior to the pandemic,’ Aten said. 

The number of Americans reporting depression and anxiety symptoms has more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from an emergency weekly Census Bureau survey.

Research has shown that spiritual support can reduce stress, trauma and anxiety amid crises, according to Aten. But that often happens face to face, he said, which is problematic when people are asked to stay at least six feet apart.”

The troubling statistics of declining church engagement combined with the increasing mental health challenges among the individuals and families in our communities, leads to the reasons why church engagement is all the more important now. 

Three reasons church engagement is all the more important now:

1. Because drawing near to God in corporate worship encourages our hearts.

Notice the three “let us” commands in Hebrews 10:23-25 at the beginning of this article. The first is found in verse 22,  which says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Notice the plural invitation, “Let us.” You can’t do “let us” by yourself. Combine this plural imperative with the phrase “draw near” and you have an encouragement to worship the Lord together. It is an invitation to draw near to God and to one another in corporate worship. 

The increase of depression and anxiety among our flock is real. So is the spiritual malaise and lack of passion among even committed believers. Yet, drawing near together in worship encourages our hearts. It helps alleviate depression and anxiety. It fans into flame our passion.

2. Because holding fast to our confession of faith together encourages our minds.

Notice the second “let us” command in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” This is an invitation to hold on tight to our faith by holding on to one another, declaring the tenets of our faith through song and Scripture and mutual confession.

During this time, many are struggling with fear and doubt. Gathering together as the church helps overcome our fears and defeats our doubts. It encourages our minds.

3. Because stirring one another up to loving service encourages our hands.

Finally, notice the third “let us” in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

This is an invitation to “consider” ways to keep one another active in being the hands of Christ in this world. It is not an invitation to consider yourself, but others. It is a command to come together to “stir up one another,” to motivate one another, to get busy loving and serving others. Indeed, the best way to help yourself, is often to take your eyes off yourself and to help someone else.

The Scripture mentions the fact that many fall into a bad “habit” of “neglecting” the fellowship. So in response, a better habit is proposed, namely, to meet together “all the more” with even more intensity and regularity for mutual encouragement and sharpening, especially as we see the “Day” of Christ’s return approaching.

Psychologists suggest that it takes four to six weeks to make a new habit. A lot of believers have fallen into a new habit of isolation and doing life without the church during COVID. They have become inactive in attendance and in service. It will be challenging for them to break this habit of neglecting the fellowship and return to the flock. Their habit of neglect is affecting their minds and souls and especially their hands. For as the needs in our community grow, the number of available loving hands has greatly declined. Yet, thinking of ways to stir one another up, whether online or in-person, will increase the number of loving hands available for service.

How are you doing in this?

Your personal engagement with the church is needed now more than ever. Where is your heart, your mind, and your hands today? Are you out there isolated and alone? Struggling with fear and anxiety? Doubting your faith? Losing your passion? Declining to serve others? If you’re struggling as a believer, just imagine how others are doing. 

Will you let us know how you are doing and how we can help you stay engaged with the church? Will you join us in obeying the “Let Us” commands of Scripture?

Please follow this link to respond to our “How are you doing?” survey.

Our current plans for reopening . . .

“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” –– 1 Peter 2:13-14 (NKJV)

“You can make many plans,  but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” –– Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)

In our current plans for reopening, we are doing our best to interpret and follow the three phases for reopening given by our governor. These plans must be somewhat general and flexible as the details for each phase are revealed.

For instance, we posted in our last blog on reopening that there would be no change in our worship meetings during phase one. However, we had no sooner posted, when the governor’s office gave a clarification that outdoor gatherings of unlimited size would actually be allowed in phase one. Therefore, we began outdoor worship services in our parking lot at both campuses on May 10th. This is an example of how our plans may change at the last minute based on a more detailed understanding from the governor’s office. With this in mind, here are our current plans for reopening for the next few weeks…

Phase 1

This phase began on May 9th and will last a minimum of 14 days. During this phase our plans are as follows:

  1. Outdoor worship services will be offered weather-permitting at both locations at 9:15 AM on Sundays. Bring your own lawn chair and practice social distancing. All worship lyrics, sermon notes, and giving options will be offered via our Church Center app.
  2. Online streaming of the 11AM worship service will continue (We can’t stop now. It’s become too important to our ministry).
  3. Our Community Groups, men’s and women’s ministries, and youth ministries have the option of meeting at outdoor gatherings. Whether they meet online or outdoors will be up to the leaders of each CG and ministry. Again, CDC guidelines for social distancing and hand-washing remain in effect.

We hope to follow this plan through Sunday, May 28th, Memorial Day weekend.

Phase 2

According to the governor, the earliest this phase may begin is May 23rd.  The major feature of phase two that affects our church is this: “Gatherings at houses of worship and entertainment venues will be allowed at reduced capacities.” Assuming it does begin on May 23rd, and assuming that the governor will give us further clarification as to what these “reduced capacities” are, we plan to do as follows:

  1. On Tuesday, May 26th, we will reopen our church offices. Church staff will return to regular in-person office hours.
  2. On May 31st, we plan to begin “reduced capacity” indoor worship services at both campuses.
    • We may ask attenders to register for a particular service and time in order to manage capacities. This will be announced later.
    • The church building will be cleaned before services and doors will be propped open to avoid touching surfaces.
    • There will be no bulletins, no coffee service, and no Lord’s Supper during this phase to limit touching of surfaces.
    • Attenders will be encouraged to bring their own hand sanitizer as needed. Anyone choosing to wear masks or other personal protection equipment will be welcomed, but not required.
    • Active seating by ushers will be required of those attending. Attenders will be asked to sit where the ushers tell them to sit in order to manage social distancing (Please make this easy for our ushers).
    • Special preparations are being made by our children’s ministries for indoor gathering. These will be announced by our children’s leaders very soon.
  3. Our Community Groups, men’s and women’s ministries, and youth ministries will now have the option of meeting indoors. Again, this will be up to the leaders of each ministry and group.

Phase 3

The earliest possible date for Phase Three to begin is after June 20th. At this time, greater indoor meeting capacities will be allowed for churches. However again, the governor has not given a number for this capacity. Assuming this phase lasts as long as phase two, then the earliest that phase three will end will be after July 18th. We are not ready to offer any details at this time about how we will respond to this phase. But we will keep you informed as we are able.

We’ve been amazed at your faithfulness during this season. You’ve shown us over and over that what we’ve been saying for 28 years is true: “The church is not the steeple. It’s the people!”

We’re believing the best days are ahead for the Church!

How is our church preparing for reopening?

We want you to know that we are already preparing for reopening our church worship services according to the phases that our government leaders have announced. I still remember the last minute work we had to do on a Saturday evening in March after our governor announced his executive order that afternoon, limiting the size of mass gatherings. We had to contact our members, cancel our in-person services, and then stitch together a live streaming worship service the very next morning. This was something we had never done before. And we don’t want to do that kind of last minute scrambling again if we can help it. So as the phases for reopening are announced, we want to have already planned for our response.

With this in mind, a couple of weeks ago, we appointed a reopening team. Their job is to stay abreast of the governor’s reopening phases and to make appropriate plans for each phase. We have also asked this team to stay in touch with other local church leaders, so that we can learn from each other. On this reopening team we have representatives from our worship team, guest services team, children’s ministry team and housekeeping team. This reopening team will be looking at how each phase impacts each area of our in person worship services and our other gatherings.

We can’t give you a lot of detail today as to how we’re planning, but there is one area that we can be certain about. When we do reopen, our online live campus will remain. In the midst of this chaos caused by COVID 19, we have realized a great opportunity to reach more people with the gospel by offering a live worship feed. This will essentially be our third campus when we reopen. And it will need new ministry teams, like online shepherds and online tech, to support it.

As I said, we can’t give a lot of detail yet, but we can remind you of what the three phases to reopen are, and what the implications for each of these phases are for our church.

Phase One

Our governor has announced that the earliest that Phase One could begin is May 9th. This phase really doesn’t change anything about our church gatherings, as the limit of no more than 10 people remains. Each phase will last a minimum of 14 days.

Phase Two

The earliest that Phase Two can begin is after May 23rd. When this phase is announced, the stay-at-home order will be lifted and mass gatherings will be allowed at reduced capacity. The governor has not given a number for that capacity as of yet. Assuming the phases work in reverse of the former phases for closure, we are guessing that the capacity will be limited to 50. Again, this won’t change anything for our Sunday worship services. But our Community Groups, Men’s and Women’s ministries and Youth ministry may decide to begin meeting in person again. Of course, social distancing and hand-washing practices will remain in place, as will advising those over 60 years of age and those with health problems to continue staying at home.

Phase Three

The earliest possible date for Phase Three to begin is after June 20th. At this time, greater capacities will be allowed for public venues, restaurants and churches. However again, the governor has not given a number for this capacity. If he follows the former closing phases, then the capacity will be limited to 100 people in a gathering. Assuming this phase lasts as long as phase two, then the earliest that phase three will end will be after July 18th. We are not ready to offer any details at this time about how we will respond to this phase. But we will keep you informed as we are able.

I hope this information concerning our preparations is helpful to you. But please don’t hold us to details and dates. We are only able to prepare our response to what our government leaders order, and that can change at any time. So, please keep us, and all of our local, state, and national leaders, in your prayers during this very challenging time.

We love you and miss being with you in person. But as the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And our hearts are bursting with anticipation of worshiping together with all of you very soon!

Overwhelmed by Depression

“Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.” –– Psalm 143:6-8 (NLT)

This coming Sunday, we are continuing our sermon series entitled, “You Can’t Handle This.” Ironically, we planned this series at the end of 2019 when we were planning our sermon calendar for 2020. We didn’t know how timely it would be. But God surely did. 

The truth is that many of us are feeling that life has become nearly impossible to handle these days. We often feel that we can’t handle one more thing. But perhaps this feeling has brought us to the realization that we were never really in control anyway. We were actually under the illusion of being in control. We just thought we were handling life, when in fact, it was handling us. With our illusion of control stripped away, many of us are feeling completely overwhelmed. We are crying out just as the psalmist did in Psalm 55:2, “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.”

Last Sunday, we talked about how many of us are overwhelmed by fear and how the Lord can help us overcome our fear. This week, we want to talk about what psychiatrist and author, Dr. Frank Minirth, calls America’s number one health problem. Is it COVID 19? No. Dr. Minirth says that America’s number one health problem, affecting 15% of Americans every year, is depression. 

In his book, Happiness Is a Choice: New Ways to Enhance Joy and Meaning in Your Life, Dr. Minirth writes, “As psychiatrists we see more people suffering from depression than from all other emotional problems put together. A majority of Americans suffer from a serious, clinical depression at some time during their lives. At the present time, one American in twenty is medically diagnosed as suffering from severe clinical depression. Of course, many, many more are depressed but never receive help.”

Of course, I think most of us would say that COVID 19 is America’s number one health problem right now. Yet the anxiety and fear caused by this pandemic is increasing the symptoms of depression today. 

Depression is a vague term. Laymen use it to describe a wide spectrum of behavior—anything from a mild swing of sadness to a deep and disabling psychosis. Some use colors to describe it and its degree, like gray, blue or black. Some use directions, like up or down. Some compare it to drowning or even dying. 

Circumstances are often the cause. What I like to call “D-Day events” often lead to “D-Day emotions.” Events like death, divorce, delivery, displacement, and disease often lead to emotions like: despair, disillusionment, discouragement, disappointment, and ultimately any one of these events or emotions can lead to depression.

Some have called depression the common cold of emotions. And it may be like that for some of us. It starts with a few sniffles, but eventually goes away after 3-4 days. But for others, depression is more like arthritis, it hurts to move, meds may help a little, but the dull pain never really goes away. 

Depression causes symptoms that affect how we feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, and working. Signs and symptoms of depression include persistent sadness and anxiety; feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, and guilt. Those who are depressed may lose interest in everyday activities due to a decrease in energy or an increase in fatigue. Thoughts of death or suicide are often signs of depression. 

The Bible is filled with those who struggled at times with the symptoms of depression.  Job, Moses, Naomi, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter, Paul and many more showed signs of depression as they faced various trials. Even Jesus was often afflicted with sadness and grief. As the prophet Isaiah described Him, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

And may I confess, I have often struggled with depression.  I was born with a happy, optimistic, cup is half full, kind of personality. And at heart, that is still my general state. But when I was eight years old, a change in my family’s circumstances, changed me. My father died of cancer. He was only thirty-nine years old. All of a sudden, I became the oldest of four children with a widowed mother. From that day forward, my mother and siblings struggled off and on with various degrees of depression. 

Yet difficult circumstances aren’t depression’s only cause. Research suggests it’s caused by a “combination of genetic, biological, environmental, psychological, and spiritual factors” (Minirth, Happiness Is A Choice).

Yet, no matter its cause or its degree, those who suffer from depression, need mercy not judgment. And perhaps more than anything, they need hope!

How many of you are struggling with depression today? How many of you have had more trouble with depression because of the pandemic? Tell someone else about it. Even better, tell Jesus about it, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

You don’t have to try and handle depression alone. Admit that you can’t handle this and give it to the Lord Jesus.

 

If you’re not sure where you stand on this issue of depression, please join our worship service this coming Sunday, April 26th, when we will offer a link to a self-rating depression scale and when we will offer real hope to those who often struggle with depression.