Leaving Our Mark On Eternity

I’ve got a new post up over at Provoketive Magazine entitled, “Leaving Our Mark On Eternity.” It’s about making sure we express our love for people in this life while we still have time.

Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most regrettable things we can do is let time pass without telling someone how we feel. One of the best things we can do is take a pen to paper (not email, not Facebook, but real ink) and write down our feelings for someone. 

Check it out if you get a moment.

The Kentucky Wildcats, Seminary, and Knowing Everything

I live in Kentucky, but I am not a native of this state. I am a born and bred Arkansan. I make it known to anyone who will listen. When I bring it up to Kentucky basketball fans, I am often mocked. For good reason. We won our championship back in 1994. Kentucky has won a billion.

I even got punked out by Cameron Mills one time in Rupp Arena about Arkansas’ lack of titles.

I’m just happy that we have a banner to hang. Things are looking up.

I say that to say this: There’ a huge game this weekend. University of Louisville vs. University of Kentucky. I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now. It’s the Final Four.

These teams have been battling the war of Armageddon since time began. They hate one another. Worse, the fans hate each other more. Rumor has it that the sports bars in downtown Louisville are only allowing either UK or UL fans in the door. They don’t want fights on game night. They know the score. Smart move.

Now, for my rant. I’ve lived in the blessed Bluegrass since 1995. I had no idea how much the people in Kentucky love their Wildcats. It took me a few years to understand it, but it goes beyond reason. Seriously.

Here’s a question I like to ask Kentucky fans while I’m watching a game with them. I’ll see a Kentucky player commit an awful foul. Or he’ll walk. Or he’ll lose his temper. Everyone in the country sees it. He’s guilty as sin. But the Kentucky fan says, “He’s getting ripped off by some biased officials!”

I’ll say, “Seriously? Did you see what happened? He was wrong?” Then my follow up question that I ask of every Kentucky fan. “Does living in Kentucky make you a basketball official? Does living in Kentucky make you smarter than every other basketball fan in the country?

I wish their answers were different every time I asked. It’s not. They answer the same way. They say, “Yes. It does.”

So, living in Kentucky makes them a better basketball fan, off court referee, game caller, recliner coach and observer of the game than any other human being on the face of the planet. Great.

For a while, this sentiment caused me some great distress. Then, I started thinking. UK fans aren’t alone in that type of thinking.

When I was in seminary, it was hard to find a church to attend in Louisville. Most churches had developed “seminary classes.” They didn’t like having seminary students in their “regular classes.” Know why? Because seminary students are know-it-alls. They tear down the teacher, tell him why he’s wrong, and challenge his every statement. It got pretty pitiful. It was hard to find a teacher for those classes.

When I was pastoring, I thought I was smarter than everyone in my congregation. I felt superior. Boy, was I wrong. I should have been submitting to them. Instead, I got proud, high and mighty. I should have been their servant, but instead I placed myself over them as their superior.

Kentucky fans think they know everything about basketball because they were born in the blessed Bluegrass. Not so. There’s not much humility in most Kentucky fans. Similarly, there’s not much humility in a man with a Master of Divinity. Or a pastor. Or a church member who relies on his education.

Christ calls us to be weak people. He wants us weak. He desires us to cast ourselves upon him while we are weak so that we might glorify His strength.

Wish I’d seen it coming years ago. Christ, our broken, bleeding Savior, is our role model. Let it always be.

The Long Climb Out

I alluded to the fact that I’ve been fighting depression in my last post. I probably wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been. Up until a week ago, I was probably fighting the worst bout of depression I’ve ever faced in my life.

I’m telling you this not for sympathy. I’m sharing this because so many people suffer from and fight with depression. I’ve been told that I’m transparent on this blog. I can be. So I might as well be forthcoming about this.

My mother struggled with depression worse than I ever will. I’ve battled it for a long time, but haven’t had a problem with it since my fall from ministry. I don’t know where this recent onset came from. It just happened. People who suffer from depression will understand what that means. People who don’t, won’t.

After it kicked it, it seemed like horrible thing after horrible thing started happening. I seemed to have the worst luck in the world. Depression makes everything seem worse, sure – but there were a lot/have been a lot of terrible events going on around here.

For a couple of weeks, I thought it was everyone else. But I knew there was a problem when I didn’t want to write. That’s when I know there’s a problem. Finally, when it got really bad, I reached out to a few people, including my doctor, and got help. People say, “You should have told me.” That’s just it. When you’re suffering from depression, you don’t ask for help. You think you deserve to suffer.

I laid in bed most days until it was time to go to work. I didn’t want to do anything. I just laid there. Waiting for it all to end. It wasn’t that I just didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t see the point. Thank God for Allison, who was extremely patient at some very crucial moments.

God spoke through many during that time. I got four emails from fallen pastors/fallen pastor’s wives. I thought, “Who am I to help right now? I’m a wreck?” God basically said, “It’s because you’re a wreck that I chose you in the first place.” He gently reminded me through others that He still had plans for me.

Last week, I finally felt the joy coming back slowly. I started back with one of my hobbies – geocaching. It’s like a world wide treasure hunt with a GPS. I haven’t done it in a while. The pictures on the blog are from a couple of caches I went and looked for today at the Trail of Tears park here in town. When I was at my worst, I wouldn’t have seen the beauty around me or appreciated it. Today, I got a chance to get where it was quiet, enjoy my hobby, and just enjoy God.

And today, I wrote. Not begrudgingly, but from my heart. Because I wanted to. It’s been a long climb out of the pit.

It makes me think of Psalm 40. A Psalm so good that U2 wrote a song to it:

  I waited patiently for the LORD;
        he inclined to me and heard my cry.
    He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
        out of the miry bog,
    and set my feet upon a rock,
        making my steps secure.
    He put a new song in my mouth,
        a song of praise to our God.
    Many will see and fear,
        and put their trust in the LORD.
(Psalm 40:1-3 ESV)

Our God is good, all the time. And even in the midst of our sorrow, depression and weakness, He teaches us, carries us and pulls us out.

Depression, I Don’t Like You

I knew something was wrong about a month ago. Those who suffer from depression know what it’s like. I got an email from a friend and I thought, “How nice, I should email him back.” But in the dark recesses of my mind, I knew I wouldn’t. And I knew it would be a long time before I did.

I’m a night owl. I like staying up until 11:00 or 1:00. And since my job is a second shift job, I like to sleep in until about 10:00 am. But then it started happening. I’d wake up at 1:00 pm. 2:00 pm.

Then the bad stuff. I had no sense of purpose. No sense of belonging. That feeling that if I didn’t exist, no one would notice.

Then the extracurriculars. Heart surgery. Two and a half weeks off without a break. Two separate illnesses. Conflict at work.Conflict with people. Conflict with people you really care about who don’t seem to understand your situation.

If you’ve suffered from anxiety and depression, you know what comes next. You don’t blame the cosmic forces, you blame yourself. It’s all your fault. “Ray, you are such a pathetic piece of garbage. Five years ago you could have kept up with this pace, but now you can’t. You’ve missed time with your family, time at work, and important time with other people because your body is weak. And all of a sudden, you’re slipping into a cycle of depression? Why would anyone want to have something to do with you?”

Depression is a crushing thing. I’ve read a lot about it. I don’t know if it’s chemical, emotional, spiritual, or something that requires a straight jacket. Bible scholars tell us that Elijah suffered from it. Even Saul. Maybe David. My mother suffered from it terribly at times. I watched her deal with it. She would weep for hours on end. She prayed to God over the things she needed to be doing and also the wretch she felt herself to be.

One of the worst things about depression is that you procrastinate. I find that a lot of people who deal with depression are people who are high achievers. Statistics tell us that 60% of pastors suffer from depression and are medicated. I’ve been on a lot of drugs. Zoloft, Paxil. Adivan, Lexapro, Prozac, Wellbutrin, and whatever. Some pastors will tell you that taking medication for depression is a lack of faith.

If that’s the case, I am in trouble.

I’ve been treated for a condition called “hypomania” for the past seven years. It dabbles in the realm of depression, stress and anxiety. Some theologians will tell you that all such nervous disorders are of the devil. They are to be fought against with prayer and vigilance. As a man of the medical field, I will tell you that the occasional pill helps.

For the past three weeks, my depression has hounded me. It has weighed upon me like a semi filled with over ripe oranges. It hurts. It has made we weep. It has made me question my place in the universe. It has made me wonder if anyone loves me. It has made me wonder if God loves me..

Tonight, I called my Aunt Cindy. Aunt Cindy is the voice of reason in this world. We all have one. She is the Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. She is the Obi Wan in Star Wars. She is Sam in Casablanca. She has this amazing ability to just, “listen.”

When I was done, I knew what I had to do to start restoring my soul. I had three emails from fallen pastors/wives that I had been ignoring for two weeks. I responded to them with grace and mercy. I wanted them to know that despite their sin, they were amazing people who Christ loved. Whether they were sinned against or were the sinner, we are all deserving of the love of Christ.

When I was done, my depression started to lift. Slightly. It had been an unwelcome friend, but a familiar one. Reaching out to others who had the same problems reminded me that I had nothing to complain about. My struggles were over. Theirs were just beginning.

I pray that my perspective on life will always be right. That I will value the view of others over mine. Many people suffer more than me. I have suffered, but the best thing I can do now is help those who are in the same position I once was.

List of Fallen Pastors

Man, I’ve been busy the past two weeks. I haven’t blogged at all.

I did find the time a while back to submit a very important article to Provoketive.com – “List of Fallen Pastors.” I’ve been wanting to write it for a long time. Here’s an excerpt:

On my blog at www.fallenpastor.com, WordPress keeps track of how people arrive to my site through search engines. the most searched for word combination is “list of fallen pastors.” It’s not rocket surgery that my site would come up since I wrote a book on the subject of fallen pastors and I am one.

I’ve thought about that for a long time. It has boiled in the back of my cerebral cortex for over a year. Why are people searching for a list of fallen pastors?

Please take a moment to read it and let me know what you think.

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