[Click HERE to read Deborah's post from a couple months back on her family's experience with serious mental illness.]
For over a decade our third son of four has battled against a serious mental illness. When my husband and I held him for the very first time and saw his gorgeous brown eyes with lashes that would make any girl envious, we could never have imagined the trials that were prepared by God ahead of us. We could never have imagined that our son would struggle with a debilitating brain disorder one day that causes him to fight for every thought in every moment of the day. Or an illness that is so perplexing and misunderstood, so difficult to treat and manage. We could never have imagined the nightmare of learning how to navigate the sparse and chaotic resources within our behavioral health system or meeting so many others in worse situations than we were experiencing. To say that I hate mental illness is an understatement. I loathe that my son must suffer so greatly. I despise the injustice we have and continue to witness within our nation’s treatment and housing systems. But it is out of these trials and the mercy we have received, that God birthed a desire in my husband and I to look for ways to ease the sufferings of so many, especially our own son.
One of our goals is to open a home for men who struggle with significant mental health challenges. We started a nonprofit organization in 2015 with this in view. There is no doubt that this is a lofty dream and the process to achieve it has been slower than I would have liked. I find myself wrestling with anxious thoughts, frustrated that so much suffering and injustice continues. I am tempted by doubts daily and yet so grateful for a husband who is patient with me and always points me to God. It was in one of these moments recently, after just one more encouragement from my husband, that I realized I might be forgetting something of vital importance through this delayed process. I wondered if in my zeal to ease the suffering of my son and others, I was becoming blind to the work that God was already doing amid our current trials.
This brought to mind the life of David Brainerd. He was a missionary to Native Americans and lived a short life from 1718 to 1747. He suffered greatly with tuberculosis and “melancholy.” Some have speculated that he struggled with what we now call Bipolar Disorder. Jonathan Edwards was a dear friend and often cared for him. Brainerd left us with a wonderful diary and I recalled this treasure that he wrote regarding his suffering --
“Such fatigues and hardships as these serve to wean me more from the earth; and, I trust, will make heaven the sweeter. Formerly, when I was thus exposed to cold, rain, etc., I was ready to please myself with the thoughts of enjoying a comfortable house, a warm fire, and other outward comforts; but now these have less place in my heart (through the grace of God) and my eye is more to God for comfort. In this world I expect tribulation; and it does not now, as formerly, appear strange to me; I don’t in such seasons of difficulty flatter myself that it will be better hereafter; but rather think how much worse it might be; how much greater trials others of God’s children have endured; and how much greater are yet perhaps reserved for me. Blessed be God that makes (is) the comfort for me, under my sharpest trials; and scarce ever lets these thoughts be attended with terror or melancholy, but they are attended frequently with great joy.” – David Brainerd
John Piper writes of Brainerd in his book The Hidden Smile of God, “So in spite of the terrible external hardships that Brainerd knew, he pressed on and even flourished under these tribulations that lead to the weight of glory in the kingdom of God.” In many ways I see glimpses of this flourishing in my own son because of Christ’s work in him. I am grateful for the example of people like David Brainerd, my son and others who are walking through significant difficulties with God honoring faith. May these precious teachers in my life exhort me to always have an eye to God for comfort, despite the slow progress of any efforts on mine or my husband’s part to open a home. May I have an eye to God for comfort first in the face of ongoing injustice and discrimination against people who cannot speak for themselves. We will continue to pursue Jesus in how to serve individuals and families with serious mental illness as best as we can. But I pray that we never lose sight of the many ways He is working even now in these deep trials. I pray that I will grow in thankfulness for how God is weaning me from the comforts of this world, only to give me something so much better and that is, Himself.
Deborah Geesling is a longtime member here at Center Church. She and her husband Matthew have 4 sons, 1 daughter-in-law, and 3 grandsons. Matthew & Deborah have created a nonprofit organization called P82 Project Restoration with a focus on aiding the Seriously Mentally Ill. They also lead a support group for caregivers of those with serious mental illness.
We're in the season of Advent. Advent means arrival. Jesus Christ arrived. He will arrive again. But why?
In my morning quiet time recently, I was working through I John. I've done so many times across the years but this time I noticed a series of five statements in chapters 3 and 4 that answer the question: Why Advent? Let me list them for you. (By the way, I'm using the English Standard Version.) They are as follows:
Why Advent? Why did Christ arrive?
He came to be our Savior, to destroy the worksof the devil, to take away sin, to be the propitiation for our sins and he came so we might live through Him. The devil's work is to promote sin and oppose the work of God in the world. Jesus Christ destroys the devil's work by bearing sin on the cross and dying for it, thereby taking it away. In doing so, the wrath of God, which is the response of his holiness to sin, is resolved. And so Christ is our Savior and through him we live now and forever. That is why Advent.
And one thing more. While Advent is about Christ and why he arrived, it is for us. As the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 9, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given ." You and I are included in that "us." Merry Christmas!
Godfrey Ebright is an active member of and Small Group leader here at Center Church. He brings over 35 years of experience as a former pastor to his leadership and writing. Godfrey and his wife Lorraine live in Gilbert.
I was somewhere around eleven years old when I first participated in communion. I’ll never forget the little cups and the perfect little holders in the pews where they went when emptied. The little cracker reminded me of the oyster crackers that diners would give out with clam chowder. What I remember most, though, is the pit in my stomach that seemed to linger up to the moment we took the elements. I was torn up by the thought of how much I needed Jesus. I would sit in the pew with the rest of my family and as I stared into the back of the pew in front of me, I would consider my need. Although I was not alone, I felt like I was the only person in the room. For years and years, communion was a reminder of my need. No matter how full the auditorium was, in my mind, I was the only one there - just God and I - sorting things out. Over time, this changed for me. Eventually, I realized how much it had nothing to do with me - that is, just me.
At some point, I realized while I was desperately praying for forgiveness, doing what I could to repent in my chair, I looked up and noticed all the other people in the room. They were all doing the same thing as me; sitting in their chairs, praying, repenting. The room was full of other believers who wanted to remember they were right with the Lord and that it was only by Jesus’ work that it was possible. What was happening in that place was more than my secluded event. It was a community crying out in unison.
I think it is easy to treat the frequently used “communion passage” (1 Cor 11.17-34) as Paul’s how-to guide for us rather than the correction of his audience. The Corinthian Church had some serious issues. One of these was related to communion. When we follow this passage in its context, I think we see that Paul is addressing what I learned when I noticed everyone around me. In Corinth, everyone was always thinking about themselves. This resulted in the meal not being shared, and some were overlooked and unconsidered. The Corinthians were laser-focused on themselves and failed to consider the entire body. Like me, they had missed something. The meal is not just for individuals, it’s for the body, the Church. The meal is not meant to be taken at a little table in the corner by ourselves. It is to be shared in a banquet hall full of people eating together.
The significance of a shared meal is that it supposes a community. It supposes union–togetherness. The Lord’s meal does this too. In one sense, we are proclaiming our personal union to Christ (1 Cor 11.26). In another, we are demonstrating our union as his body–the church. We see this in our proclamation of the death of Christ together. When we miss this, we fail to see the miraculous work of Christ in his purchase of a community (1 Cor 11.24,26–remember, the “you” is plural). When we limit the meal to “me, myself, and I”, it limits the significance of his work to ourselves. Instead, we need to remember that the table reminds us of our common ground. It forces us to admit our own needs, but also our brother’s and sister's. We cannot be proud of ourselves or consider ourselves more or less worthy than those who are at the table with us. We cannot reject a brother or sister because of our prejudice, pride, or expectations. We cannot overlook their needs for our own. No, at the table we receive the same bread, the same cup, and we proclaim the same Lord. When we hear Jesus in the passage say, “This is my body which is for you.” Do you think he is talking to you? He is, but remember that he is talking to the rest of the church as well. When we share the meal, let us reflect on how we truly share it. We are all different, kind of weird, and some of us are even hard to love. Yet we are loved. All of us. Together. By Him.
Jeff Palen is on staff at Center Church part time doing an internship with the Junior High Ministry. He is married to Barb and together they have 4 wonderful children and live in Queen Creek.
Picture via Unsplash.
If you're like many of us, Christmas as an adult isn't quite the "magical" time it was for you as a child. But as an adult, you desire to dig deeper into the TRUE meaning of Christmas, behold the wonder of the Incarnation, and encounter God in a new and richer way during the holiday season.
Advent devotionals can help! Here are a few we recommend:
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus edited by Nancy Guthrie
From the back cover: "This special volume draws from the works and sermons of classic theologians such as Whitefield, Luther, Spurgeon, and Augustine, and from leading contemporary communicators such as John Piper, J. Ligon Duncan, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, Skip Ryan, and Joni Eareckson Tada to beckon you and your family into the wonder of Jesus' incarnation and birth."
Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
From the back cover: "Advent is for adoring Jesus. It is a season of preparation for that special day when we mark Immanuel’s arrival — the coming of our eternal God in frail, human flesh. This is the greatest wonder of history’s many wonders, something too stupendous to celebrate just on one day. Advent is a way of lengthening the joy of Christmas. These 25 brief devotional readings from John Piper begin on December 1 and carry us to Christmas Day. Our prayer is that God would use these readings to deepen and sweeten your adoration of Jesus this December and keep him as the center and greatest treasure of your Christmas season. The candles and candies have their place, but we want to make sure that in all the Christmas rush and hubbub, we adore Jesus above all."
O Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp
From the Introduction: "Often when we are familiar with things, we tend to quit examining them. When we are familiar with things, we quit noticing them... Familiarity tends to rob us of wonder... So I wrote this devotional with the prayer that God would use it to recapture your attention... I hope that as you read, your heart will be surprised by the things in this story you've never seen before or maybe haven't seen in a very long time."
Love Came Down at Christmas by Sinclair Ferguson
From Amazon's description: "Everyone seems to say that Christmas is about love. It’s in the songs we hear as we shop for presents and in the adverts we see on TV. It’s in the cards we send and on the gift tags we write. And Christians can agree. Christmas really is about love, because love came down at Christmas in the person of Jesus Christ. This Advent devotional contains 24 daily readings from 1 Corinthians 13. Sinclair B Ferguson brings the rich theology of the incarnation to life with his trademark warmth and clarity. We’ll see what 'love' looked like in the life of Christ and be challenged to love like him. Each day’s reading finishes with a question for reflection and a prayer. However you’re feeling, your heart will be refreshed as you wonder again at the truth that love came down at Christmas."
The Jesus Storybook Bible is a beautifully-written children's Bible and now there is an advent version! You can buy the full kit from Amazon for $22.50 HERE and includes:
This picture book not only highlights the significance of the Nativity and reaffirms the spiritual meaning of God’s most precious gift, it does what few other Christmas or Advent books do. It shows that even the Old Testament stories pointed to a Rescuer, and it is a complete celebration of the holiday season, which doesn’t end on Christmas morning with Jesus’s birth.
OR you can do a simpler, FREE PDF printable that includes daily readings from The Jesus Storybook Bible and paper ornaments that your children can color each day.
I have the privilege of teaching preschoolers who have special needs. A few years ago, before I became the lead teacher, my boss assigned me to work with one of my favorite students. His name was Nate* and I loved being around him, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to work one on one with him while the rest of the kids were in circle time.
Nate is autistic and the lesson that I was assigned to work with him on was called “Look at me.” Like many others with autism, Nate did not naturally make eye contact. So I started working with him to simply look me in the eyes. I would say, “Nate, Look at me.” I was so excited if for the briefest moment he responded to my prompt and looked me directly in the eyes. When he did, I celebrated! I would praise him and blow bubbles as he smiled. These brief moments filled me with joy. I repeated this process for 10-15 min each day and my joy continued each time Nate responded correctly—no matter how briefly—and looked me in the eyes.
How similar I am with God. Though I love God, I have such a hard time looking at Him. Depression or life circumstance hit me, and sometimes it takes all my effort just to glance briefly at Christ.
One day, as depression’s crushing force took hold of me, and I lay writhing in emotional pain, I felt Jesus asking me to just look at Him. With tremendous effort I “looked at Jesus.” I recounted His love for me. I remembered His death on the cross and how with each painful breath He took He showed His deep love for me. What amazing love! He did all this while I was still a sinner—against
Him. His enemy. Yet Jesus loved me passionately enough to give His life for me and to rescue me. And as I looked to Jesus, He rescued me from that moment of depression.
I laid there in the aftermath of depression, and I remembered the joy I had when Nate looked at me and how I celebrated and rejoiced with the briefest of glances. Sometimes it feels like Christ is irritated with me as I struggle to look at Him. But how can that be? He loves me infinitely more than I love Nate. If I was filled with joy at a glance from Nate, how much more must God, who is love,
rejoice when His child looks at Him—even if it is only a glance?
God knows my very frame. He knows my trials. He knows my weaknesses. He knows everything about me. Yet in knowing this, He doesn’t cast me aside—He does quite the opposite. He sits with me in my pain. He came to save me. He loves me passionately, and so I imagine that when, through His power, I am able to look at Him in my despair, He rejoices even more than I rejoiced as Nate looked at me.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
Adela Stanton is a member here at Center Church. She has 3 adult children and lives and teaches in Mesa.
Photo via Unsplash