Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tragedies and more tragedies ....

I can’t help but look to heaven and ask why? There seems to be so many tragedies recently from airplanes crashing, to ferry’s capsizing, bus crashes, and countless other stories around the world of dozens and even in some cases hundreds dying.  I realize that the news media (24 hour/7 day week) coverage plays a role in how we react to the news of death.

I have spent my entire adult life serving in the church, as a pastor, associate pastor, children’s pastor, men’s leaders, and college instructor. Helping people in crisis is difficult at any time, when a family member or friend dies after a long health related illness, we ask questions. When a young person commits suicide we look for answers.  When a plane crashes or ship sinks we demand answers.  Sadly, many times there is no good or acceptable answer. What there is; are frustrations, anger, resentment, denial, and multitude of others emotions that are so common of people in crisis and coping with a personal tragedy.

As pastors and ministers we are generally the first called when one of these tragedies strikes a family within our church or community. How we respond will determine much of how God will be viewed throughout the grief process and recovery process.  I have sat with many of family members, church members, and community members, watching other pastors with the bedside manors of a lion or bear (I have a few other words I thought of but, they are not really nice). My heart breaks for the family, as this pastor/minister opens his mouth and talks with no compassion or understanding of the human heart or need’s.  I often wonder what were they taught in Bible College or Seminary, or who showed them how to minister during these time.
If I could sit with pastors around the world today and share my heart, it would be these three simple things that I learned over the past 35 years of ministry, helping folks deal with a crisis from a sick child, loss of a parent, and destruction of property, to responding to a crisis at a school, or crash site.

1) Silence is a virtue, people want someone to listen to them cry and weep. Allowing them to vent and ask questions, process their emotions, and find answers in the compassion and love we share, as we simply sit with them.

2) Sharing should always be honest and positive. In the case of crisis hold out hope with them. I recently sat with a pastor that was ministering to a family of sick child, and he asked what are your plans for the funeral? Yes the patient was terminal, and there was little hope on the doctor’s part. However, as pastor we should help them focus on the positive of Christ love, and the possibility of Christ mercy, at the same time helping them prepare for God ending grace.

3) Serving Christ should be the most important task. I’m convinced that sharing Christ is my most important task, showing Christ mercy, love, and compassion is first and foremost in my focus throughout the time.

These three simple thoughts keep me focus, as I’m in the hospital, a family home, an emergency shelter, standing on the street corner, or at a crash site. I always have to remember “it is not about me, it is about them, finding peace in Christ love through a time that there is no answer that makes sense except Christ”.  However, in these times they need us to pray, encourage, have faith with them, that there is comfort in HIM (Christ),

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Is there a Balance between an Awesome God and Mental Health?

Is there a Balance between an Awesome God and Mental Health?

             I sit in my office and deal daily with patients that have dual-diagnosis; they suffer from addictions to alcohol, crack, pot, and any number of substance and life controlling problems.  However, that is not the worst of it, some also struggle daily with the problems of mental health issues.  Issues such as depression, anxiety, post trauma stress disorder, Bi-polar, and this list could go on.

            Each of these issues in there own right could cause serious life problems for the individual.   They cause arguments, miscommunication, frustration, anger, resentment, and who knows how long this list could be.  Family members want the individuals to just do what is right, get over it, pull themselves up and move on, don’t sit around an mope all day.  The individual has a sense of confusion, why am I this way?  But the despair and inability to kick these feeling just keeps looming overhead, and frustration and confusion are the norm of the day.

          I talk with family members that believe that I along with others in the health care community are the miracle worker of the century, that we can tell them it’s OK and it will change.  If a family member enters treatment for a few weeks, and goes to a few meetings they will all get better.  The sad part is that at one time I believed this too.  I have spent over 20 years in pastoral ministry serving from the children’s pastor, youth pastor, to the pastorate.  I visited church member at the psychiatric wards, and had no clue why they were there.  The doctor would describe symptoms and diagnosis such as Bi-Polar, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, even something called depression.  I remember visiting the psychiatric ward of Children’s hospital, and them describing Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, and separation anxiety disorder.

I would leave confused, because in my mind I serve an Awesome God, who could and would heal if these people would just pray and believe.   Twenty years ago I entered the Chemical Dependency field as a counselor.  I began to develop and understanding of addiction and the mental health of individuals.  As my counter parts within the faith-based community I continued to struggle with mental health issues.  Then one day I sat with a very special individual that taught me the power of God.  He shared the story of the Apostle Paul praying three times for God to remove the thorn from his life.  God’s reply was “My Grace is Sufficient for you.”   As he continued, he shared a very interesting point, Paul never states what the thorn is, therefore, we can place our thorns or burden there and remember “Gods Grace is Sufficient for me.”   He took me back many years ago at the age 19 when my personal family Doctor diagnosed me with arthritis, and I have been on medication for years, does that make my faith any less?  God grace continues to be sufficient for me to continue to walk and function in a normal manner even when it hurts.

That individual has been one of my dearest friend, and remains one my mentors for in the field of counseling.  I’m learning that “God Grace is sufficient” to help individuals that suffer from any mental health issue.  I now have the privilege to serve as Assistant Minister and as a Substance Abuse Counselor, working with a number of patients in my counseling position that bring this long list of dual-diagnosis with them to treatment.  The ironic thing is as pastor’s we work with individuals that may have mental health issues, without knowing it.  We sit sorting through the emotional baggage that has taken them on a ride of destruction.  Today, I still believe without reservation that “God is an Awesome God.   However, now I look at the mental health profession with the same respect and admiration as I do the medical professional.  I have seen first hand the effects of medication for treating anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 Research has shown that some mental health issues are a result of chemical imbalance within the brain.  Some within the faith-community would like to debate this issue, and place all issues of mental health within the spiritual realm.  If they would only pray and trust God.  However, we have seen from brain scans, and research done by both the medical community and mental health community that there are some biological causes that can contribute to mental health issues.

I have seen people sit and communicate with a therapist of their choice and begin the process of making sense of what is happening in their life.  I personally feel that most mental health issues a person address is the result of events that have happen in the past and the individuals current inability to sort thorough them without help.  The individual that struggles with depression and loneliness, as a result of a father leaving the home at young age.  They function normally most of the times, but events happen and they become depressed due to their concept of loss.  Or the individual that have what is called Anti-social personality and can’t get along with anyone because, as a child mom passed away, and everyone else helped dad raise the child, and boundaries are not a word he likes to hear. The feeling that society gave him a raw deal is now reason to make everyone else’s life miserable.

What do we do?  If I had that answer, I would write a book, do the talk show circuit, and become famous.  But honestly don’t see that all happening.  What I see is individuals within the professional community of mental health, and the faith-community coming together to help people to find solutions and skills to cope with these major issues in their life.  Mental health is not about individuals being crazy, it about individuals that need a loving and awesome touch from God, and a helping caring hand from family and friends.  With the additional help of whatever resource weather it is a medical doctor with medication, professional psychologist with years of training in mental health issues, or a pastor that just loves them where they are.  Together we can and will make the difference.




Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ethics is always easy!

Ethics is not always easy!

David Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church, was convicted recently for embezzling twelve million dollars. Evidence was presented, witnesses were heard, and disagreements were voiced about court room procedure. I am disheartened that I am subjected to only the opinions of the various news media and their biases.
Several well-known pastors have focused on just the greed aspect of this case in articles they’ve written or in their blogs. I believe that they have left out an important aspect of this case: ACCOUNTABILITY, as in the ethics of our actions and behaviors within the ministry and all the relationships within that ministry. The past is littered with these types of cases where a minister goes astray, becomes unaccountable to his ministry, and destroys many relationships. This is a very scary thought that is described in scripture.
Accountability is not only required of all ministers in the financial aspect of the church, but in what is viewed on the internet, the choices of where to eat dinner, and the company we keep.  Ethics is defined as: “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group or culture.  Many Christians would argue, and maybe rightfully so, that the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament make up the Ethics and moral fiber of how ministers should conduct themselves.  However, one thing that I have personally learned from over 30 years of ministry, and watching too many ministers fall in shame, is that IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT ETHICS AND ACCOUNTABILITY BECOME THE CENTRAL VIEW OF THE CHRISTIAN WALK.
Who does the scripture show that we are to be accountable to?  I believe there are four essential people that need to be accountable to in order to maintain an Ethical view in life.
1)      God is at the top of the list …
a.       To me, this is a no brainer. I have to maintain a clear understanding of His scripture, and spend daily time in prayer and Bible reading focusing on what is right and ethical in His view.
2)      To your family …
a.       I believe that the reason we see many ministers fall prey to the attacks of the enemy and fail ethically in their ministry is they forget they are account to their wife and children.  God has called us to not neglect our family.
3)      To your pastor …
a.       I have the privilege of severing the majority of my 30 years in ministry as an Associate Pastor, under some awesome men of God.  I have found both in my personal life and ministry that when I become accountable to their vision and ethically submit to help them accomplish it, God’s blessings are amazing.
4)      To your accountability partner …
a.       Every man and especially pastor should have an ACCOUNTIBILTY PARTNER.  Ethically this accountability partner should be a man or woman if you are a women.  They should be mature in their Christian walk, they should share your interest in being Ethical and accountable to each other and God. They should be open and honest with each other.  A friend of mine tells me this accountability partner (fellow pastor) has permission to tell him straight up “You’re really stuck on stupid with this one” … meaning his friend can be honest, no matter what.
 Friends, the question is really simple: who are you accountable to? Who do you explain your actions to and get valuable feedback? If you currently don’t have someone in your life that you’re accountable to (today) now is the time to find someone. 
Enough with pastors and minister going it alone, and failing ethically.  Ladies/Gentleman, Not only must you be ethical in your thing and behavior, you are accountable for your reputation, family, ministry, and relationship with God.  Are they not worth more than your ego?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reflection for the Holidays!

As I sit here this morning reflecting on the Holiday’s, I look around the house and see the tree all decorated, smell the sweet cookies baking, see my wife preparing all of our holiday favorites,  and see my children (even though they are older now) eyeing the treeing and wondering what is under there for them. As we prepare our hearts and minds for church tomorrow (December 21, 2013) I reflect on the message that our pastor will share at Whitewater Crossing Christian Church.  I’m blessed to remember the REAL REASON for the SEASON, The Birth of a MESSIAH that would and has changed the foundation of history and at the same time changed my life forever.

However, I also reflect on others that don’t smell the cookies baking, don’t see the tree all lit up, and don’t have family wishing them Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas. I’m thinking of the patients at the State Mental Health Hospital where I work, the prisons and jails, the emergency shelters, the hospitals across America and the world.  Many of them have been forgotten, left alone on the holidays simply with their memories, wishes, and prayers. I can’t answer to how many need to be where they are due to the crime they committed, or illness they need treatment for.  All I know is that Christ loves them, and ask us to do the same.

But I do know that they deserve our prayers and message of HOPE. Jesus came to a manger to be the lowly of lowly, that he may be King of Kings, and move to the Cross for our Sins.  They need someone to share Merry Christmas with them, and Happy New Year because despite how bad 2013 may have appeared or the struggles you faced, there is a New Year coming with new opportunities to live our life for Christ.  

With all that I challenge you to live for Christ, Show Christ’s love, Share Christ’s Message, and Be Christ’s example to a lost and hurting world. 

 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Men at the Manger!

This post was originally published on this blog in December of 2011, and I believe the message is still relevant today:
                It is always fascinating to me that when we talk about the manger we focus only on two groups of men that came through the little door on that special morning - the Shepard’s and the Wise Men.  Of course we know that Mary and the baby Jesus was there.  However,  I believe that we miss some sufficient men that would influence the course of history by their presents that night. Let’s think about a few men that were around that night, or very close there upon. 

The first guy present that night was a man that had already been in the presents of God (the angel of the Lord had visited him), and he has agreed to be the step-father to King of King, Lord of Lords, and the “Great I Am.”  Now,  I don’t know about you but the thought of raising the Son of God would scare me. What if I made a mistake!,  what if I taught him the wrong thing!,  what if he could read my mind (like God can)!, what if something happens to Jesus!, what will God do to me?  Yet, Joseph sat there that night beside Mary, holding her hand, encouraging her, and takes part in the greatest miracle in history up to that time. We don’t know anything about Joseph as a father, beyond Jesus being 12 years old. The scripture is silent about the influence he had. However, I’m sure that it was significant. He held Jesus hands as he learned to walk, encouraged him to say his first word, watched over him playing in the field, helped him learn a trade, and maybe even taught him to read the scripture.  I have to say what a man, having raised two (what I believe) great children, I can only say I hope that can I do a good job.

The Second guy present that night was the Inn Keeper.   Please understand I know that the scripture does not say it was a man but provided the costumes of that time, it is a great possibility that it was. He is often criticized for his actions of not opening a room for Mary, but we don’t know all the details that happened that busy week with the census. I want to believe in my mind that throughout the night he was in and out of the manger, bringing the blankets, water, and maybe even kindling the fire. I’m not sure if there is remorse for not providing more or contentment that he had done all he could. But one thing would be clear, despite the lack of scriptural reference, his life was forever touched that night.

The third (Guys) was a group men that I view as the common man- - a group of shepherds working hard, providing for their families, and taking care of the sheep. As they were working, it says the angel of the Lord appeared and told them about Jesus’ birth.  They came running, they came to see, they came to worship!  Then they went and told everybody they could what they saw and heard that night. Can you image a group of shepherds being invited to the hospital to witness the birth of the Prince Charles or one of the Saudi Royal families? Not only was they invited, they were allowed to see Jesus up close and personal!

The Fourth (Guys) was a group of men that I view as the elite, educated, and of wealth. They traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to see Christ; they came bearing gifts worthy of a king --gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  However, what is amazing to me is that God knew the need and provided the needed resources for a trip to Egypt (to escape the killing spree of Herod).  Think about these men’s arrival in Bethlehem; it would have to rival that of Kings, or even the president. Everybody was talking about these guys. Yet, the scripture says, they came and worshiped the King!

The Fifth guy never saw the baby Jesus.  However, he attempted to change the course of history.  He rejected the legitimacy of Jesus being King of Israel.  Even though, he himself sat on the throne of Israel by appointment of the Roman government, and not birth right.  He was the first person to outright reject the Messiah.  He set out on a mission to stop the Christ from fulfilling the mission that God had set in motion.  He died never seeing the Christ, but would earn a spot as one of the most treacherous men in history all because he missed understanding the significance of Christ Birth.

As I close, I have a question today especially to men, which man/group best represents you?  Is it Herod?, The Wise Men?, The Shepard’s?, The Inn Keeper, or maybe you feel like Joseph? Regardless, understanding that we may not have been at the manger the first Christmas morning, this Christmas morning with it falling on Sunday will we be worshipping him in church --reflecting on the alter (manger), or will we be at the toys’ alter worrying about the batteries or if the clothes we bought fit, or will we just claim he doesn’t exist?

Remember gentleman … Jesus is the only Reason for the Season!!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Fiftieth Anniversary of the passing of two great men:

On November 22, 1963 I was three years old, had no clue what a president was, or how important books would be come in my life.  That forever changed the world.  President John F. Kennedy, who was 46 years old, died a violent death at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald as the world watched.  On the same day, Clive Staples Lewis, aged 64, and commonly referred to as “C. S. Lewis” died at home of health complications.

Clearly history has been good to both of them; their influences have been felt throughout the past 50 years. For better or worse, Kennedy’s policies on the Viet man war, Cuba, Space, and domestic policies set the stage for where we are today as a nation. C. S. Lewis, who considered himself to be a simple lay theologian, influenced the nation in realms: education, writing, and Christian apology.

Today, we solemnly celebrate the deaths of those two great men who changed the world. I sometimes wonder what the world would be like today if both of these men had lived. Would the world be much different?  I believe that both would have made a significant impact.  JFK was on the verge of some great foreign policy breakthroughs around the world and had his domestic policy been implemented, the landscape of America would have changed in unimaginable but positive ways. Further writing by C. S. Lewis could have illuminated the greatness of Christ by following up on his work, Mere Christianity, or by creating another fictional world.

At the age of 53 I can only look back and wonder what if, but sadly, none of us will never know.
One last question to ponder … If you passed into Heaven today, what will they be saying about you on November 22, 2063?

Monday, November 11, 2013

A tribute to a veteran, father, and friend

As I sit at home this morning, I’m reflecting not only on the Men and Women that have given their lives for our freedom, but also on those that are currently sacrificing to serve in our military.  I’m also reflecting on those that gave and then step so quietly back into our society, to continue their lives as fathers/mothers, sons/daughters, and grandchildren.

As I sit to write this I have to remember that I’m at the place today in the ministry because of one of these wonderful and gracious veterans. In 1953, my father joined the United States Air Force, to serve as a civil engineer and heavy equipment operator.  He would go on to have many different challenges as he served over the next 20 years.  He would be involved in Search & Recuse, Air Force Police, closing bases, and things he just wouldn’t talk about.  I loved to sit for hours and listen to him tell stories about his experiences in countries like Spain, England, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, and even here in the states. 

I was born in 1960 and had the privilege (yes, I do look back at my childhood as a privilege) to travel out of the country twice with my father, once to England when I was 4 and 5 years old, and once to Taiwan when I was 10 and 11 years old. They are both experiences I will never forget. I even enjoyed living at two different Air Force Bases in Michigan, which is an experience that I wish every other young person could have.

Please do not misunderstand me, it was not all great growing up, especially when dad was overseas for 18 months to two years at a time.  As a child you’re not really sure how to process him being gone, you only hold on to the fact that dad loves you and will be home soon.

You’re asking yourself what does that all have to do with now. The places I lived, the people I met, the values I was taught, and the respect I share for others all have a major impact on the Message I share today. Through all this time traveling around the world, and living on bases here at home, one thing remained consistent, no matter where we were, we were attending the Base Chapel or a church in the community.

In 1973 my dad retired from the Air Force as a Technical Sergeant and he continued to teach me the values of life, to respect others, to work hard, to go after your dreams, and to serve God wherever he calls you.   Dad passed away in 2009 at the age of 77 just three days shy of his 78th birthday.  At the grave side the Honor Guard gave a 21 gun salute, they gave the family the folded flag, and they gave a United States Air Force Veteran the Honor he deserved.

In my heart and mind I know that my father sum’s up what a real veteran is:  A man or women that serves their country with honor and distinction for the time they are asked, then serves their family, community, church, and country where asked as life continues. 

With all that being said I can only say on this Veterans Day … Thanks Dad for being willing to serve your country, family, church, and community.

I love and miss you TSgt Donald E. (Gene) Allen, Sr.