Category Archives: Spirituality/Religion

Turn the Other Cheek…For Real?

There’s been a firestorm of controversy over Andy Stanley’s sermon earlier this year in which he was clear in condemning adultery as a sin, but was silent over the issue of homosexuality. This is all we’ve heard concerning Andy in the news, and I can’t say I disagree at all with the criticism, but as I’m partially through this article on CNN detailing the tense history between Andy and his father, a story he shares  kind of smacked me in the face:

When he was in the eighth grade, his father waged a bruising battle to become senior pastor of First Baptist. The battle inflamed tensions so much that his family received nasty, anonymous letters and deacons warned his father that he would never pastor again.

One night, during a tense church meeting, a man cursed aloud and slugged Charles in the jaw. Andy says his father didn’t flinch, nor did he retaliate. He kept fighting and eventually became senior pastor of First Baptist.

“I saw my dad turn the other cheek,” Andy later wrote about that night, “but he never turned tail and ran.”

His dad was his first hero.

Imagine, especially if you’re a pastor or minister of any kind, being publicly cursed and punched…in the face…in front of everyone.

What would your natural, instinctive reaction be? Perhaps you would shriek, “OWWWWWW! What did you do that for?” Maybe you would curl into the fetal position on the floor and weep uncontrollably. Or would you call your troops into action against the dissenters and engage in a Medieval battlefield clash in the middle of the church, swinging wild fists as someone in the distance wails, “FOR NARNIA!”

The most common, instinctive reaction would be to simply duck and swing back. It’s human. And in America, particularly the South, it’s what you do if you’re “a man.” I’m not even the type of guy who wakes at 4 AM to freeze to death in a deer stand, but if someone decides to (and I use this phrase with all the humor that my friend Chris finds in it) punch me in the face, I’m not 100% sure that I would do exactly what Jesus asked of us, simply take it, and turn the other cheek.

What Charles Stanley showed wasn’t weakness. After all, the story says that he “didn’t flinch.” What he did show was incredible strength of character in NOT responding. While this is purely speculative, I would imagine that the restraint that Charles Stanley showed that day was probably a factor in his eventual pastorship of First Baptist Church Atlanta.

What about you? What would your reaction be? I understand isn’t a revelatory blog post — even non-Christians know the related scripture from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

It’s just a question.

Matthew 5:39 – But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

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“The Words” – Misunderstood Love

I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Jackson, Tennessee, and I’ve been reading a book that touched on some topics that have greatly pained me over the previous few months. For whatever reason, the most appropriate response seemed to be to hop onto my computer and write about it.

I think this will be fairly easy to understand, as my poetry always lacked subtlety, which is probably why I’ve mostly abandoned it.

Anyways, I hope this means something to someone else. I just felt strongly to write it.

Thanks,
Ryan

 

“The Words”

I’m sorry, I can’t apologize
As I stand before one billion eyes
The words aren’t mine to write
But they’re surely mine to keep

It’s not hate that brought me here
Nor misplaced anger, guilt, or fear
The words brings healing power
And their power must be shared

I cannot deny what you feel within
But if right exists, then so must sin
The words have never changed
But our watchmen fell fast asleep

So the hated turned to ones that hate
With no pretense that we’d negotiate
The words are said to expire
And the faithful pushed aside

I’m sorry, I shall not apologize
Because if truth exists, then so must lies
The words stand as our beacon home
And we’ve all been swept to sea

So find your way to loving arms
Not just His, but mine, and the rest of ours
The words we’ll share bring hope
To the broken and forgotten souls

I’ve never been one to doubt a heart
That breaks to find a brand new start
The words are not your chains
They’re the royal robes of perfect peace

So take my hand and follow me
Waking up to truth won’t end your dreams
The words have all the answers
To those questions of irresolution

I hope you see loved has paved the way
And in the end there’s too much to say
But the words will do the talking
Through the subtleties of grace

I’m sorry, I’ll never apologize
Please join us as we turn our eyes
The words must shift our focus
And our focus must be Him

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Church Media (Part 3) – For Media Operators

The final post in this three-part series will focus on the oft-overlooked member of your ministry team: the operator. This is the guy or gal scurrying awkwardly before service. He’s keying in and ordering songs, choosing backgrounds, getting scriptures from the pastor, and generally panicking five minutes before every service.

Let me say it one last time before continuing: unless you’ve sat in his seat, you don’t know just how nerve-wrecking this job can be.

That being said, media operators can take many steps to ensure they’re serving their church and pastor to the best of their ability.

1. PUT THE LYRICS ON SCREENS BEFORE THEY ARE SUNG

I’ve actually fought with fellow media operators about this, but I feel it’s important enough to place at the top of the list (this is particularly important in churches with a screen on the back wall for singers to reference during worship service).

Every church has a library of hundreds of songs. Each worship song consists of around 200 words (based on 20 of our church’s worship songs that I’ve selected at random and averaged out). Realistically, we have around 60 songs that are in our regular rotation. That means that if you make the argument, “Well, the singers should know the words,” then you expect them to memorize the arrangement of around 12,000 words.

That’s just crazy talk.

Worship teams consist almost exclusively of volunteers. They have lives — jobs, children, schoolwork, finances, and other sources of stress other than memorizing thousands of lyrics to dozens (or hundreds) of songs. They need help!

As the worship leader gives signs to the musicians and singers, prepare the next verse/chorus/bridge, and place it on the screen as the last two words of the current slide are sung. This will ensure an easy transition into the next slide, and there won’t be an awkward pause when half of the worship team neglects to come in at the right time because they forgot the words, or worse yet, sing the wrong words.

Additionally, placing the slides on the screens with time to spare will help the congregation join in when a new song is being played for the first or second time, assisting them in learning the song.

Finally, the most important reason for you placing the lyrics on the screen beforehand is that if you don’t, the awkward transition has the potential to snap someone out of worship. You actually have the potential to make or break the worship during a song. If they’re focusing on the mistake made by the singers, then they’re not focusing on worship, period.

2. PAY ATTENTION

At our church, the media operator is the floating head atop the media booth, perched high in our church’s risers. This is often the case — very few media computers are situated in open sight for the rest of the congregation to observe. The good thing about this: members of the congregation are less likely to bug your media operator with personal complaints (oftentimes unrelated to the media operator’s responsibilities) at inopportune moments because of close proximity and accessibility. The bad: media operators can be surrounded by distractions of their own.

Techies are chronic multi-taskers by nature. This benefits us in many situations, but it can also be a great hindrance when unobstructed focus is required. If you’re playing Angry Birds at the same time you’re supposed to be paying attention to the worship leader’s hand signals, you are about 5,000,000,000,000% more likely to miss the sign, make a mistake, and send the service into a realm of awkwardness.

Just in case you weren’t paying attention, that’s 5 trillion percent. I arrived at that figure by pure science.

It’s true.

3. ARRIVE EARLY

Running media requires time. If your pastor needs you to take a look at a video that he wants played before his message, and you’re not there at least 30 minutes early, then you’re not giving the job the respect it requires.

No, you won’t be needed early 90% of the time, but for that 10% you are, and you’re not there — that spells trouble.

4. DON’T REQUIRE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

As I’ve stated several times in this series of posts, your job as media operator is to never draw attention to yourself. The only times that people will acknowledge your presence is when you make a mistake.

If you throw Ezekiel 2:2 on the screens instead of Ecclesiastes 2:2, then people will look at you and scowl. If you start Verse 3 instead of the Bridge, singers will look at you in terror, then they will scowl.

But if you do your job properly, almost no one will be aware of your presence, and that’s okay! I’m sure your media team leader will thank you from time to time and your pastor might say, “Thank you, ______” when you look up a scripture quickly, but for the most part, media operations is a thankless job.

There is a certain nobility to doing a job faithfully and never requiring a pat on the back. It’s the heart of a servant, and God will certainly reward it.

IN CONCLUSION:

The demands of the modern church have changed over the years, and media has been an integral part of that change. Used properly, it is a fantastic tool that can aid in adding a level of accessibility and polish to your services.

Used improperly, media could be a constant distraction for your congregation. Whether your’e the pastor, worship pastor, media team leader, or media operator, be sure you’re doing what you can to help make your church’s media flow smoothly. It WILL make a difference.

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Church Media (Part 2) – For Worship Pastors

Image

I had a friend joke several years ago that it was “time to praise the screens.” I shot him a puzzled look, and he nodded towards everyone who was standing for worship service. As the music started, hands were lifted, eyes were turned upward, and lyrics were sung with passion — all towards the projector screens.

It’s humorous (and perhaps slightly sad), but considering that decades ago, our faces were turned downward to page 142 in a battered hymnal, it’s hard to be critical. Would you rather crane your neck slightly upward to read the lyrics from the screens, or emphasize your double chin by looking down at a weathered book? You get my point.

Regardless, it’s nice that even with our new songs, we can still sing alone fairly well because of the accessibility of the lyrics to the entire church. This is probably the greatest benefit to having projectors set up in your church, but for it to run optimally, we’ll need your help, worship pastors.

Note: if you read my last post, some of this will be slightly redundant.

1. SUBMIT YOUR LYRICS EARLIER

Our worship pastor, Brad Crow, Emails new lyrics to the entire media team, usually at least a day before we sing them for the very first time. I cannot emphasize how helpful this is to all of us who run the screens. He also gives us the worship sets for both AM and PM services the day before. I don’t have to ask him for a set list or bug him for lyrics — he’s already on top of it.

Keying in lyrics takes time. An average song at our church consists of at least two verses, a chorus, and a bridge. This might not seem like a lot, but when you also have to select backgrounds for each song, ensure formatting is correct, make sure all announcements are up to date, and other small items on the checklist, throwing a new song on a media operator ten minutes before service can cause a minor emotional breakdown.

Preparation is absolutely essential. Getting new songs to the media team at least 30 minutes before service is the minimum amount of time you should allow. It’s even better if you submit them a day before.

2. DON’T TELL THE MEDIA OPERATOR TO “GET THE LYRICS ONLINE”

Do you ever read Facebook and wonder if there’s anyone left in this world who remembers any of their second-grade spelling lessons? Have you noticed that no one understands when to use a comma, what to capitalize, or the difference between “they’re” and “their”?

These same people are often the ones responsible for entering lyrics on these “song lyrics” web-sites.

If you don’t care about your worship lyrics being correct on the screens, then by all means, send your media operator to that lyrics database web-site with inappropriate banner ads. However, if you want it done right, then type out the lyrics yourself, or at least check them for accuracy before printing them off and handing them to a media operator.

3. HAND SIGNALS: MAKE THEM EARLY, MAKE THEM VISIBLE

If you have a responsible media operator, they should be watching you like a hawk to see whether you’re going back into the second verse or the bridge. Don’t just assume they know the song as well as you or have some kind of telepathic superpower — give them hand signals that they can clearly see, and give them 2 or 3 seconds in advance. Obviously, you need to give the hand signals to your musicians first, but don’t forget the media operator!

DO NOT:

  • Point the hand signal at them like a gun. Your singers/musicians to your right and left can see it, but for your media operator, it looks like an indiscernable, mangled nub of human flesh.
  • Assume that a centimeter-wide separation between your index and middle fingers constitutes a clearly-visible distinction between “verse 2” and “unison.” You’d better make it look more like this.
  • Make your hand signals behind your back. This isn’t 1972, your torso isn’t transparent, and your media operators don’t have Superman’s x-ray vision.

4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ADDRESS WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED

If you see room for improvement, communicate it to the team. If the lyrics aren’t formatted correctly for a particular song, shoot the media team an Email and let them know that it’s confusing for the worship team.

If the media operators aren’t getting the lyrics onto the screens quickly enough (especially if you have a rear-wall screen set up for your singers), tell them to put them up in advance (much more on this on the next post).

Whatever issues you might have, talk them over with the media team with confidence and clarity. We’re all working for the same team, and the ultimate goal is that media provides a service that basically disappears into a person’s consciousness. The goal of media operators everywhere should be to run church media in such a way that is always a subtle help, but NEVER a distraction. Help them accomplish this goal by communicating often.

IN CONCLUSION:

I can honestly say that we have almost no problems with our entire worship team here at POBC. They all have a tremendous grasp on what they’re doing. Our pastoral staff and worship leaders are exceptional in the areas that I’ve addressed in the first two blog posts.

When a guest attends your worship service and a horribly misspelled word or grammatical error pops onto the screen, it’s not just embarrassing — it’s distracting. Being concerned with ensuring quality presentation of the worship lyrics on your church’s screens isn’t being overly-concerned with your image. On the contrary, it’s making sure that image is never a concern one way or the other.

I’ll say again: MEDIA SHOULD DISAPPEAR. All sloppy spelling and grammar does is draw attention to what should be ninja-like in its application. Make sure you’re doing what you can to help.

Next: Church Media (Part 3) – For Media Operators.

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Church Media (Part 1) – For Ministers

Over the last two decades, nearly every church has incorporated at least one media projector into their services. Instead of people burying their heads into a hymnal or mouthing nonsense words as they search for the correct lyrics, they now lift their heads, read along as they sing, and can understand even the most mumble-mouthed soloist.

We read scriptures from them, play announcement videos on them, and share videos from missionaries and religious organizations. Media projectors can be incredibly useful in every church service, but we need to be aware of how to use them, how to prepare for them, and how to interact with those who are performing the unenviable task of running them.

I am in a unique position of serving from both behind the pulpit and the iMac on a regular basis, thereby having an understanding of what is required from both sides. Unfortunately, many ministers have no idea what is going on in the media booth. From time to time, that creates massive problems.

Luckily, at The Pentecostals of Bossier City, we have Pastor Dean and Pastor Stanley, who fully understand that media operators need to be given as many tools as possible to help them prepare, and do everything within their power to make sure things will run smoothly, even when late inspiration strikes. This ensures fewer miscues during our services. Even for funerals, Pastor Dean often reminds the funeral home or family that any slideshows or media need to be handed in well in advance.

However, I have often seen ministers embarrass media operators during the middle of service, sometimes in front of large crowds, and the entire congregation laughs at the clueless media operator as the omniscient preacher continues to rush and chastise the hapless soul from the pulpit. In actuality, I would estimate that in 90% of these cases, the fault actually does not lie with the media operator, but with the minister who is publicly shaming him.

Fellow ministers, listen up.

1. MEDIA OPERATORS NEED YOU TO HELP THEM PREPARE

Media presentation software is not magic. If you fail to give your scripture references before service, you cannot scream, “2 Chronicles 2:14-20! Get it on the screen! Get it on the screen! What’s taking so long? Are you asleep up there? My God, we can’t get it together today…”

First of all, it’s not as simple as typing the scripture reference and hitting a magic button that sends it immediately to the screens. For a multi-verse reference in ProPresenter (my recommended church presentation software), it takes me an average of 8 seconds to have it on the screens, and I type over 90 words per minute.

If you decide to incorporate video into your service, it is even more important that you get the video or DVD in the hands of your media operators at least 30 minutes before service. There are a number of things that could go terribly wrong when dealing with video files, and they need plenty of time to prepare. Again: MEDIA SOFTWARE IS NOT MAGICAL. If you’ve ever had a problem setting up a Powerpoint, formatting a Word document, or paying a bill online, then you should know that things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to.

Hear me now: if you publicly ridicule your media operator for something that is actually your fault, then it shows one or a combination of these:

  • A lack of understanding.
  • A lack of compassion.
  • A lack of character.
There are obviously times when you might joke with a media operator when things go awry, but if it’s done with the right spirit, it goes a long way in not alienating one of your volunteers. It’s especially difficult for those who are more introverted, as most of your tech-minded volunteers tend to be.
Ministry is a stressful job with many demands pulling you in every direction, but we must remain aware that for media operators, what they’re doing is their ministry, and they should not be unnecessarily humiliated. Please help them by giving them your scriptures, videos, and graphics as soon as you have them yourself.
Email them. Dropbox them. Give them a USB thumb drive. Whatever you have to do, equip them.

2. MEDIA CANNOT BE RUN ON ANTIQUATED OR UNDERPOWERED HARDWARE

If you expect to run your church media off of a computer that is older than the double-breasted suit you haven’t taken out of the closet since the AOL days, then don’t be stunned and angered when that video of an Argentine missionary starts skipping uncontrollably, creating those horrible awkward pauses that leave the congregation cringing.

The most taxing things you can do with a computer are graphics-based. If you’re running media software, it’s already taxing your system. If you’re running video, especially HD video, it’s probably going to be pushing your church’s computer to its limits. If you underfund your media department, then don’t be surprised when it all grinds to a halt.

I understand that every church has to operate under a budget, and media often seems like an unnecessary expense (until you desperately need it). There are bargain deals to be found. Search Apple’s refurbished section on their store. Search NewEgg.com. Search for a slightly-used iMac. Just please don’t bust out the Packard Bell and hope that it plays that 720p video your youth department put together.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

Pastors are often required to juggle study, hospital visits, prayer meetings, outside jobs, counseling sessions, church finances, and family time in a way that would make most people’s heads spin. I know this, and I know that for most of you, it’s a daunting task to not only prepare a sermon, but also gather together media or create a Keynote or Powerpoint presentation to accompany your sermons.

Ask for help.

The person running your media for church can probably put together a serious presentation and gather supplementary images/video much faster than you can. Give your media operator 30-45 minutes of heads-up time before service, and they can likely put a level of polish on your sermon media that greatly enhances the vibe of your church.

Find a member of your church who is artistically and technically inclined, and put them to work. They want to help. They want the church to be represented well graphically. Throwing up a Powerpoint using the default styles will get the job done, but using an interesting graphic and unique text/formatting will go a long way in making your church’s media look more professional.

IN CONCLUSION:

Your church’s media solutions might not be the fanciest or the prettiest, but with some training, investment, and encouragement, you can have a staff put together that will do the best job possible for your church under whatever budget you can assign. Ministers are becoming more tech-savvy every day, and companies like Apple have changed the way we approach media and design, whether it be for our businesses or our churches.

Even while operating under a basic budget, our church media can look good enough represent us well. Just imagine where we will be twenty years from now.

Next: Church Media (Part 2) – For Worship Pastors

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The Half-Hearted Church

Psalm 22:3 (KJV)
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

Every preacher, worship leader, musician, and/or singer has felt it before: a church that has collectively checked out of a service. Those in platform ministry can exhaust themselves, raise their voices, sing until their vocal cords can’t take it anymore, and yet nothing works — every member of the congregation seems content to follows the pattern:

  1. Walks in 1-5 minutes before/after service starts.
  2. Claps their hands lethargically during worship.
  3. Refuses to alter their expression.
  4. Sits through the preaching with an invisible force field surrounding.
  5. Stands when the preacher says stand.
  6. Offers obligatory 3-minute prayer at altar call.
  7. Rushes to a local eatery.

The Word of God asks us to not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” but merely attending church is not the point. We are to worship together, to learn together, to pray together, and grow together. How can this be accomplished if, through their body language and actions, much of the membership shows itself to be bored with church itself?

As Pastor Dean has often stated: WE DO NOT TAKE CHURCH SERVICES OFF!

Attend service with this understanding: in all likelihood, someone is experiencing your church for the very first time. I know at POBC, we have first-time guests each Sunday morning. Are we letting them down? Do they walk in expecting an apostolic, power-packed environment, but leaving feeling underwhelmed?

If we believe God’s Word, and that He “inhabits the praises of His people,” then our WORSHIP and INVOLVEMENT during a church service is crucial to creating an atmosphere in which God’s presence can work at maximum effectiveness.

Is God dependent upon us to move? No.
Are the emotions and desires of man affected by his environment? Yes!

If it was your sibling, your parent, your friend, or your co-worker who was attending church as your guest for the first time, would you worship differently? Would you hope that everyone else worships, investing their whole heart into THAT particular service? Would you do everything within your power to create fertile ground for the seed of God’s Word and Spirit? Would you walk to the altar with purpose, or would you linger back, just hoping that the service comes to an end in time to beat the other churches to your favorite restaurant?

Each service is just that opportunity for someone. Each song is a chance for the church to lift up holy hands in adoration of God. Each sermon could be the Word that someone’s guest needs desperately to hear. And each altar call could be the defining moment where someone finds God and is filled with the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

I understand that worshipping God isn’t a scheme to trick anyone into following Him, and I know that even pop artists can send chills up your spine and bring tears to your eyes with a powerful song. But imagine we worship God with absolute sincerity, He inhabits our praises, His Spirit covers the room, and suddenly the atmosphere goes from “just another Sunday” to the Sunday that no one will ever forget. That’s what is at stake each and every week.

So my question is this:
DURING YOUR CHURCH’S LAST SERVICE, DID YOU WORSHIP LIKE SOMEONE’S SOUL DEPENDED ON IT?

Revelation 3:14-16 (ESV)
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

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Footballer Faith – A Brief Summary of Fabrice Muamba’s Story for an American Audience

Timmy-Tim-Tim Tebow isn’t the only “football” player whose faith has recently been stretched across headlines — that distinction is shared by Fabrice Muamba.

The Bolton midfielder faced an uphill battle getting onto the most prominent stage in professional football, emigrating with his family from his native Zaire at the age of 11. Muamba’s father, experiencing pressure due to his political beliefs, sought asylum in England and started a new life with his family. Young Fabrice was unable to speak a word of English, but that didn’t stop him from achieving 10 GCSEs and A-levels in English, French, and Mathematics (interpretation: Muamba is smart).

But Muamba was noticed as much for his athletic prowess as he was his academics — at 14-years-old, Muamba entered Arsenal F.C.’s youth academy, and signed his first professional contract a year later. After a spell with the North London club, Arsenal sent Muamba off on a year-long loan to Birmingham City, where he played until 2008, when he was transferred to Bolton Wanderers F.C. Finding consistent success on the pitch, Muamba became one of Bolton’s most important players.

Then, on March 17, 2012, Fabrice Muamba died.

During a quarter-final FA Cup match with Tottenham Hotspur, Muamba became dizzy and began seeing double before collapsing to the pitch. Football is sadly as known for its “dives” and feigned injuries as it is for its creativity and the unwavering support of its fans — but this was different. No one was near Muamba at the time of his fall, and the entire crowd knew something was different about it. Football crowds are known to be aggressive and creative with their taunts, but in this case, Tottenham’s 36,000 fans stood in near-silence for what seemed to be an eternity, occasionally chanting his name. Fans wearing Tottenham kits were shown on television crying or clasping their hands together in prayer. Muamba’s teammates and opponents were praying as well, particularly striking in modern Europe, which appears to be almost completely secularized.

Muamba’s heart did not beat for 78 minutes.

Many prominent footballers have died suddenly while on the pitch. In 2007, Antonio Puerta suffered a cardiac arrest and died at the age of 22-years-old. Just last week, 25-year-old Piermario Morosini collapsed and passed away. These situations usually result in tragedy — Muamba’s appeared just as dire.

Doctors would later confirm that Muamba received numerous defibrillator shocks both on the pitch and in the hospital, but they were unable to resuscitate him until 78 minutes after his collapse. Two days later, his heart was beating without the assistance of medication and he was able to move his limbs. Soon after, he responded verbally to family members. On April 16, nearly a full month later, Muamba was discharged from the hospital.

Today, Muamba speaks with reporters about the incident, and gives credit to someone else, besides doctors, the hospital medical staff, and the cardiologist Tottenham fan who rushed onto the pitch. Muamba credits God for his recovery:

In an interview with The Sun, Muamba revealed he asked God to protect him before the cup clash, which was abandoned after his collapse. “Some one up there was watching over me. What happened to me was really more than a miracle,” he said.

“On the morning of the game I prayed with my father and asked God to protect me – and he didn’t let me down.

“I am walking proof of the power of prayer. For 78 minutes I was dead and even if I lived was expected to have suffered brain damage. But I’m very much alive and sitting here talking now. Some one up there was watching over me.”

The aforementioned Cardiologist received additional praise from Muamba:

Muamba praised Andrew Deaner, the cardiologist who left his seat at the match to help medics treat the player.

“He is the reason I have been able to hold my baby son again and continue my life,” said Muamba, who is recovering at home with his 3-year-old son Joshua and fiancee after being discharged from the hospital Monday — just over a month after he suffered the cardiac arrest March 17.

“It would be great to play football again and I hope that will happen,” Muamba said. “But it’s even greater just to live life and love my family. I’m a lucky man.”

The football world was united in its support for Muamba. Bolton’s first game after Muamba’s life-altering incident:

Former teammate Gary Cahill (now of Chelsea F.C.), after scoring a goal:

The full video of the incident, along with the fans’ response, is difficult to track down in its entirety, but it was a moment when the curtain of sporting intensity was pulled back, revealing the humanity of even the most vicious fans. For a moment, everything was put back into perspective, and I for one am incredibly proud of the response from Tottenham’s supporters.

That said, I shall now resume despising them.

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Tebow

I’m not going to discuss Tim Tebow’s sports-related accomplishments or the controversy surrounding his current season. I’m just going to quote him from ESPN’s First Take, responding to former Broncos QB Jake Plummer’s insistence that he tone down his professions of love for Jesus:

“If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife ‘I love her’ the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity?

“And that’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I’m gonna take that opportunity. And so I look at it as a relationship that I have with him that I want to give him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory.

“And that’s how it works because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates. I respect Jake’s opinion, and I really appreciate his compliment of calling me a winner. But I feel like anytime I get the opportunity to give the Lord some praise, he is due for it.”

Common Sense Media

Today the Supreme Court ruled that California’s Assembly Bill 1179 was unconstitutional. You can read about the ruling here, but I’ll summarize by saying that the Supreme Court decided that the government heavily fining a store that sells “violent video games” to minors was a violation of the First Amendment rights granted to all forms of media in the United States.

How you feel about the ruling is inconsequential when you realize one fact: THE MONITORING OF YOUR CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINMENT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!

NOTE: before I go any further, I want to point out that if you get anything from this blog post, it should be this link: COMMON SENSE MEDIA, where you can find ratings, content guides, and more concerning video games, movies, television shows, and music. Just type the name of the title into the search bar, and then read all about it.

The lawmakers responsible for drafting Assembly Bill 1179 might have had honest intentions, namely that of protecting your children from exposure to overly violent video games (which may or may not have a psychological impact on their tolerance to violence, depending on which study you believe). However, it is far more likely that they are trying to buy parents’ votes by cheaply pandering to their base as moralists while they spend their free time sending naughty text messages to their mistresses. It’s not the government’s job to parent our children — it’s ours.

If your child is playing violent video games in your home, it’s your fault. If your child is watching sexually explicit films in your home, it’s your fault. If your child is learning language that they’ve never heard from the HBO comedy special on the television in their bedroom, it’s your fault. The government has nothing to do with it, nor does the video game store at the mall. Parents must monitor their children’s entertainment. Be nosey! You are not your child’s best friend — you are their moms and dads.

Almost all consoles and computers now come with parental controls. On XBox Live, you can enable parental controls which allow you to set time limits (including the ability to turn the console off automatically at a given hour) and restrict the ability to play games that are rated T or M (teenage/mature). Macs, iPhones, and iPods can have their Internet access restricted, and each offer a wide range of controls to customize your child’s experience based upon their age. Televisions have long had controls that restrict certain channels and programs which are rated for an adult audience.

The tools are there — but children are still playing, watching, and listening to things they shouldn’t, and it can be chalked up to one of three things:

1. Laziness
2. Ignorance
3. Ambivalence

If it’s laziness, then you need to research to find out what you can do. I’ve heard someone say, “Well, I don’t know kind of content is in the video games my kids want me to buy.” Okay, well then CLICK THIS LINK

If it’s ignorance, then it’s rectified by studying, asking questions, and simply reading the backs of the boxes of many games and movies. If your kid is watching a show on television, ask him/her what the title of the show is, and then Wikipedia it to find out what themes it addresses, what kind of characters are being presented, and whether or not it’s something you want them watching. When people say, “I don’t know where to start,” that usually means they didn’t even attempt to start.

If the matter is ambivalence, then I’d recommend that you pray God for a burden to protect your children. What they watch/hear/play DOES make a difference in their lives. No matter what psychological studies prove or don’t prove, there is no way to spiritually measure the affects their entertainment has upon their emotions and consciences.

BE ACTIVE!

Psalm 101:3a (KJV) – “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes…”

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Defeating Depression: My Story and Solutions

(Warning – I discuss some slightly harsh topics in this post. If you are the squirmy, uptight, or cynical type, you might not want to proceed. Also, this post is thoroughly introspective, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as self-aggrandizing. If it does, that certainly was not my intention. If you are here solely because you want to read my own tips for defeating depression, please skip to the numbered points in the second half of the post.)

This post is not a plea for pity — I neither want it, nor require it. Actually, if anyone offers it, I am usually quick to dismiss it and become greatly embarrassed, even ashamed, by it. I am quite content in who I am, but only when viewed through the perspective of God’s grace. I have struggled with depression for many years, and I thought it might be beneficial to share my perspective and solutions with someone who might be struggling through similar circumstances. I’ve thought about writing this post for several years, and am finally getting around to it.

I am a depressive.

I can’t remember the first instance that I felt genuinely depressed, but it was almost certainly between the ages of 8 and 10-years-old. Understand that when I refer to depression, I’m not speaking of sadness or fleeting moments of helplessness. I’m speaking of depression in the clinical sense, defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “depression of sufficient severity to be brought to the attention of a physician and to require treatment.”

Let me be clear: if you have never experienced depression, please do not dismiss the claims or the emotional distress of those who struggle with it — it is real. It can even be annoying to be around a depressive, especially since so many who claim to be “depressed” are attention-seekers searching for a quick hug and reassuring nod. In reality, those who are truly depressed often keep their feelings underneath the surface. They don’t want for you to know.

At a very young age, I developed a harshly self-critical perception, and began focusing almost exclusively on my inadequacies. When I underperformed, whether at school, in basketball, in church, or one of my own personal endeavors, I beat myself up until there was little left in regards to ego. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I didn’t meet a goal: I was already well aware of it. I was a classic INFP (which I was unaware of until I was 25), and had higher ideals than I could hope to achieve. To put it simply, I was a mess. I altered my appearance, my vernacular, my, goals, and even my beliefs.

I had suicidal thoughts first in junior high school, and began discreetly making small cuts on my arms and legs, not because I found the process cathartic, but because I wanted to be able to imagine how badly it would hurt if I actually cut my wrists. I planned my suicide out, from little details like the video I would record to what music I would play as I committed my final act. In all honesty, there were two reasons that I never followed through: one, that it would hurt my family too much, and two, I was genuinely terrified of spending eternity in Hell, despite my reluctance to admit there definitely was a God (I identified myself as agnostic during this time period). I was hopeless, but not heartless. I was godless, but not without a fear of God.

Throughout high school, I struggled with the notion that I would never become what I was “supposed to be,” whatever that meant. Suicide remained in my thoughts, even during the good times. My friends knew that I wasn’t happy, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t know how bad it had become. I wanted out, and I didn’t know how to work up the courage to make it happen.

One night at our church, I stood in the fourth row of pews (not going to church wasn’t an option as long as I lived with my parents) and listened to a missionary couple from Malaysia sing and speak. Bro. Marshall and Sis. Vani would continue to play a significant role in my family’s lives, but the first role they played was that of the catalyst that would draw me back to God. Near the end of the altar service, Sis. Vani crawled on top of the pew in front of me and began to pray, close enough that I was the only one to hear it. She spoke of things that I had never told another person, and she spoke as if God had filled her in on all the necessary details of my life which had me bound since before adolescence. I cried, I prayed, and I turned around. My life was God’s, and I haven’t wavered since.

But my depression did not end with my repentance. One night in Alexandria, Louisiana, I felt something come over me during prayer, and I felt the depression leave my life. I was convinced that I was healed of it, but it came once again around six months later. I was praying, studying, fasting, and loving God with my whole heart, but I could not shake the self doubt and despair that might have originated from my borderline unhealthy idealism. I no longer dealt with thoughts of suicide, but depression was still present — it was just taking a slightly different form.

My perception of depression has been continually re-shaped. I noticed that my best writing and prayer seemed to take place during the more severe bouts. Many of what I consider my best sermons were studied for, written, and preached during those same times. After reading John Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy,” which asserts that one better understands the joys and beauty of life only after experiencing the bitter lows and darkness of it, I started thinking that my depression might even be a vital and even valuable part of my personality. I can’t say that’s entirely healthy or even correct, but there was some logic behind it.

Over the years, I have successfully combatted depression with understanding, determination, and prayer. It is a daily battle, but if you want to end depression, you have to be willing to fight it on every front.

In between all the rationalizing and confusion, I’ve actually stumbled across, studied about, or instinctively arrived at certain solutions to overcoming depression. I am personally opposed to medicinal solutions (for myself, not for everyone), so I’ve made an effort to remember these and practice them as often as possible:

1. Prayer

This might seem like an obvious inclusion, especially when coming from a student pastor, but prayer and a relationship with God are the two most important steps in overcoming crippling depression. There are temporary solutions, but I can honestly say that my battle with depression has never reached the severity that it had during the darkest times when I had excluded God’s power and authority from my life. Prayer works!

I have not yet fully defeated depression, but I daily fight against it, and most days…I win. But I don’t do it alone, and it’s when I’m most aware of that fact that I feel most at peace. God does not forsake me during the dark times, and He has reminded me of that time and time again. Thank God for His presence!

Prayer can bring comfort, but Godly living also brings consistency and contentment. Every significant character in the Word of God was deeply flawed, but each of them who turned to God and turned themselves over to Him prevailed. God cares about the broken, the underachieving, the lonely, the fearful, and the neglected. The first step towards defeating depression should always be the same, and it should always be toward God.

2. Family/Friends

The natural inclination of introverted depressives to to exclude themselves from social activity. Depression feeds on loneliness.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that my mood shifted from sour to joyful as the result of those close to me. After some of the most gruesome days, an evening spent with my wife, Shari, has lifted me up when my original desire was to stay home and read in a chair, completely alone. Dinner with family on Sunday mornings after church has been a long-standing routine for the Deans and Stanleys, but they’re also therapeutic for me. I love my family, my family loves me, and whether they know it or not, their very presence soothes me.

I’ve been blessed with a number of friends, but particularly so with a smaller number of close confidantes. They know what makes me laugh, and they seem to know exactly what to say or do to put me in a better mood. The funny thing is that they likely don’t even realize that they’re doing it. They might not even know that I’m down (as I said, chronic depressives become good at hiding it).

No matter what your mood tells you, spend time with other people! They’re a blessing from God, and they can help you. Since we’re so often victims of our own minds, it’s good to make sure we’re not allowed the source of the problem to be the only brain the in the room.

3. Read and Study

I can’t recommend a particular book for everyone, but a number of them have helped me. Among them are Unmasking Male Depression and Boundaries, the latter not really being a book about depression, but is currently helping alleviate me of some sources of stress, which is definitely a factor in depression.

You need to understand your problems. You need to know what makes happy, angry, sad, content, and depressed. There is still a certain stigma attached to depression and other disorders — we don’t want to be considered a victim. Well, if you don’t want to be a victim, then find out how not to be! There is a wealth of reading material on the subject, and you would be foolish to ignore it. Speak to a counselor for recommendations.

4. Ask for Help

This, like many other personal battles, is not one that you can win alone. I unashamedly admit to having been assisted by counselors over the years, and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone who has faces depressive tendencies. This should not be a source of shame!

Half a century ago, the field of psychology was still derided as something that only the kooks required. Only the mentally disturbed were thought to require psychological attention. Times have certainly changed, and while there are some things that only God can fix, there are many others that I believe He uses godly counselors to help solve. For many of them, helping people defeat their problems is their ministry. They are gifted by God, just as a preacher is gifted to preach the Word, and a music leader is gifted to lead in worship.

Do not be too fearful, skeptical, or ashamed to ask for help!

5. Retrain Your Mind

Depressives often follow a pattern. There are certain triggers that can alter a person’s state of mind for days. You can retrain your mind to react to circumstances. It takes dedication to make it work, but it is possible!

This is where reading and studying about your particular issues come into play. Combine that knowledge with the insights provided with therapy and prayer, and you have yourself a game plan. If you simply try to pray yourself out of it without taking an actions for yourself, you’re likely asking God for help with something for which He’s already provided a solution. Cognitive therapy is almost always successful when properly applied, but it must be applied. Don’t think depression will go away by itself.

This post might have been too forthcoming, but I hope that someone who battles these same issues might find something of value in it. Since my turning point at almost 19-years-old, I’ve continually felt a burden for those who battle depression, particularly young people who little to no idea of how to handle it.

Pray. Share. Study. Ask. Retrain.

PSSAR: it’s not a good acronym, but it’s fun to try to say.

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