A Holy Reminder

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Amid the craziness of last week’s SCOTUS decision and the heart break that accompanied it, conservative evangelicals reacted strongly. Dare I say, even panicked? This is not to say this panic is miss placed, but what ensued was a firestorm of righteous concern, and in some cases dogmatic judgment. As much as I love my country, there is no doubt I myself am greatly concerned with what this decision means for the future of conservatives like me.

After hearing the ruling on Friday the leadership of the church I have the honor of pastoring, jumped into high gear as we prepared for Sunday’s service. At one point over the weekend I received 34 emails in a 20 minute period!!! Then Sunday morning came around, all my study and prep was done, I had prayed God’s blessing over the service, and then I get word a critical part of the service was forgotten. We were supposed to partake of the Lord’s Supper Sunday, and somehow communication broke down. I realized this could easily be a distraction from what the Lord wanted to do so I gave it to the Lord, and continued getting ready for the service. As I walked into the foyer before service, I was greeted by one of my members weeping. Her 11 year old granddaughter had just been hit by a truck while leaving a swim meet. I hugged this sweet lady and prayed with her right there in the foyer. My Associate Pastor (who is a God send!) went with her to meet her family at the hospital.

At this point I am beginning to understand there is an attack under way. As a result of the SCOTUS decision, my leadership team (elders) agreed on an amendment to our by-laws. This was done to establish our beliefs in the Biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman, and will serve as notice that we will not waiver from this truth. It became clear to me, the enemy was going to try and do what he could to stop this, or distract us from our purpose. During our time of prayer I shared my warning to the church of the impending attack; then we prayed diligently for our country and our church. The service proceeded smoothly and the Gospel of Jesus was proclaimed unashamedly.

Monday rolls around, and I am looking at my weekly calendar. I was scheduled for a lunch with a good friend, and then was planning on heading down to the medical center in Houston to visit the young girl who had been hit the day before (her whole family are members of our church). My lunch served as a great encouragement as I listened to my dear friend talk about what the Lord was doing through him, and how he was being used to further the Gospel. We even had the chance to pray for our server, Tristan.

Leaving lunch I checked emails, and noticed an urgent message. A gentleman whom I have never met, and has never visited our church had called and left a message for the pastor to call him back. I returned the call while I was driving south on I-45 into the heart of Houston. I listened to this man sob as he told me he had betrayed the trust of his wife, and his life was in shambles. I asked him point blank, if he know where he would go today if he died. His response was, “I think Heaven.” I asked him if he wanted to make sure of it, and he responded yes. I asked him a few questions and explained the truths of the Gospel, then led him in a prayer where he professed Christ as Lord, and confessed his sins.

I set up a meeting with this man, whom I have yet to meet, for this week, and hung up the phone. As I did, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was reminded, what we see around us is par for the course. We know Jesus said the day will come… It has started. Who knows how long before Christ will return for His Bride, but what I do know is this; King Jesus is still reining on His heavenly throne, He still saves the lost, and He still wins in the end. This served as a great reminder on two fronts: He is sovereign and in control, none of this comes as a surprise to him, and my job is to lead others to him. I am saddened, heartbroken, and disgusted by my countries decision, but ultimately it is not my job to play judge and jury. Christ will do that perfectly! It is my job to be usable, and ensure as many people know about King Jesus as I can possibly tell. What a holy reminder. Father, use me!

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Jenner, the Rebel Flag, and the Church

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I understand this piece has the potential to upset some of my dear friends who may disagree with my convictions. My intent is not to be incendiary, rather it is to take a clear stand for what Scripture teaches:

For the last several weeks my heart has been heavy and burdened. I am greatly concerned with the current tone, temperament, and direction of America’s social trends. These social trends (if that can even be an accurate way of putting it) do not just stop with personal opinion, in fact in recent days these trends have found their way into government, and even the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). My concern revolves around one word; tolerance. As the Senior Pastor of a very conservative Southern Baptist Church, I have very conservative convictions that are supported scripturally. Myself, and the congregation I am privileged to lead do not merely have opinions, we have deeply rooted religious convictions that stem from our fundamental authority, the Bible. I want to be clear, I am not ringing the bell for raging fundamentalism, but I am taking a stand for Biblical principles and my right to voice them as I may.

Recently, the great Olympian Bruce Jenner made headlines by taking the cover of Vanity Fair posing as a woman. He has been praised for his courage to embrace his desire to be a woman. Undergoing surgery to physically alter his appearance so he will look feminine, as well as taking female hormones. This story has captured the media for a long time, and when the religious right makes a statement about this sin, we are chastised for being intolerant, and bigoted. Never mind we are coming from an authority that has been divinely inspired and lasted over 2000 years. Yet, we are told we must accept Bruce Jenner as he is (I refuse to refer to him as his new alias and desired gender), and to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Of course the irony is, being told conservative evangelicalism must be tolerant demonstrates intolerance at its finest!

More recently, the Confederate Flag has made headlines in the wake of the terrible tragedy in South Carolina. Race baiting and fear mongering are running amuck, and what is being endangered is the right of a free society to express individual thoughts, opinions, and convictions because it might offend someone. Now understand this, I believe the Confederate Flag when flown in certain contexts, can be highly offensive and disrespectful. Being associated with American slavery, which was an abomination if you ask me, I can certainly see how our black friends would be upset by the history of this flag. However, more than slavery, this flag represents liberty. In the face of Federal limits the south raised up not to protect slavery, but to protect their right to choose whether slavery should be allowed or not. Again, there seems to be an irony here; the Civil War was fought over states rights, and now this flag being removed is yet another example of states’ rights; to fly it or not! Because the flag represents a tarnished period in this great country’s history we are being told we must remove it altogether. We must be tolerant of others feelings. This has become so extreme that national brands, such as Wal-Mart, Ebay, Amazon, et al, are removing the Confederate Flag from production and sale.

Where does the church come in to this debate? The answer; around every turn. The LBGT community tells us we have to be tolerant of one’s sexual preference, and wishes. Yet, no one is tolerant of the Biblical convictions that call this kind of conduct sin, or even the God that says it is an abomination. As far as the Rebel Flag is concerned, it being flown is offensive to generations of blacks who have a lineage of slavery. I can certainly understand, sympathize, and even weep over this horrendous history. But removing the flag does not change history, and it opens the doors to other freedoms being removed. The flag is offensive, well so is the message of sin in the Bible. That’s right; the Bible is offensive; calling sin what it is offends the one who is committing that very action. It has already been removed from schools, but what’s next? Will stores remove the Bible from their shelves because it offends people? Will the cross be ordered off the top of steeples across the country? Will the church be forced to be silent? Everyone in the liberal media is calling for tolerance, but they do not actually want tolerance; they want totalitarianism. They want anyone who opposes their view to be silenced, and put away. So what is the church to do? Paul warns in 2 Timothy 4:3, For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (NASB). The church needs to take a hard stand and not be waivered in the tide of tolerance. Paul says in Ephesians to speak the truth in love, this means in the process of taking a stand for the truth of God’s Word we must do so with love. We will be called bigots, homophobes, racists, intolerant, and any other despicable thing. Yet, if we conduct ourselves as Christ would, we will see homosexuality healed, racism righted, and Biblical principles preserved. If we take our hard stand on these issues with force, anger, and aggression we will lose, and make a mockery of Jesus name.

Church, the time is now; boldly take your stand to protect truth of the Gospel. Do not kowtow to those who try to silence God’s Word. While we have a duty to be loving as we address sin, we cannot become tolerant of it. If a stand is not taken in this hour, the church will cease to be the church in America. The danger is real; while opponents are crying “Injustice” our liberties are at stake. Stand for the Gospel!

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Biblical Literacy and the Church

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I recently was listening to a radio talk show that I frequent. The host is brilliant, and has very strong opinions (like every talk show host I suppose). I generally agree with his political, moral, and religious stances; generally. On this particular occasion I found myself cringing at the Biblical illiteracy being spoken by both the host, and some of the callers. This caused me to think deeply about the state of Biblical literacy in the local church. For the purpose of this piece I want to share the statements made, provide the needed corrections, and then further address this growing epidemic.

To begin, the subject of the day was Texas legislatures deciding whether or not to legalize marijuana. Before I continue know this, I am not endorsing any such law that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The host of the show was in favor of such a law, and as you guessed it, a caller found to be in opposition soon called in. This particular caller coined himself as a ‘God-constitutionalist,’ a term I have never heard. He said America’s laws need to reflect the law of God (the irony is that the law of God was written to point out how no one can keep the law, that is why we need a savior, Christ Jesus, but I digress). At this point in the conversation the host made the correlation of marijuana to alcohol, and it took only a few short seconds to understand the caller to be a teetotaler, and one who (by his own admission) would not resist reinstatement of prohibition. The caller used his conviction on alcohol to argue his stance on marijuana, but it seems as if his argument on alcohol was flawed. He recognized Jesus turning the water into wine in John 2, and he even mentioned the Greek work for wine has multiple meanings, such as fermented drink and juice (see Eph 5:18, 1 Tim 3:3,8, Titus 1:7,2:3 for use in alcoholic context). Sadly, the caller made the cardinal sin in Bible interpretation; he took the passage out of context. Reading John 2:10 we see the custom of the time was to serve the good wine first until everyone has drunk freely. The word freely here is the Greek word methuo, and it means to be drunk WITH WINE. In John 2:10 we see the observation being made by the headwaiter (see v.9) who goes on to say, but you have saved the good wine until now. So, while the Greek word for wine (oinos) does have multiple meanings, contextually is does seem to indicate an alcoholic beverage. It would appear, the caller had only done his inductive work half-way.

Now, this does not mean in our Christian liberty we are to over indulge (see cited verses, we can also look to Paul’s writings on the weaker brother argument found in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.” One must ask themselves, is having the liberty to drink helpful? Again, I digress.

The next caller seemed to make it his mission to chastise the teetotalism of the previous caller. Now I must say, being a conservative libertarian in my own right, I can respect where this caller was coming from, but he was sorely mistaken when he was talking about the nature of Jesus. This caller went so far as to call Jesus a libertarian. This is simply not so. A libertarian is one, who is focused on his /her individual liberties protected by law, and ensuring nothing and no one infringe upon such liberties. As we look at Jesus, He is not concerned about his liberties; in fact Jesus sacrificed his liberties, even passing on the foundational liberty, LIFE. Jesus says his will is to do the will of his Father (John 4:34, 6:38, et al). Clearly, Jesus was not concerned about protecting his liberties, or ensuring yours; he was focused on bringing glory to his Father in heaven.

To the focus of this piece, has the church come so far to rely on proof texting, and faulty reasoning to prove its stances? How has this been allowed to happen by church leadership? Is there any way to stop the growing snowball of Biblical illiteracy? I believe this problem is the result of a culture that wants to have its cake and eat it too; coupled with a church that does not want to offend someone by letting them know they are wrong. Too often the church adapts the “sweet baby Jesus” idea, and never lets him grow into the man who flogged the money changers and flipped tables for the desecration of his Father’s house. Unfortunately, due to the low level of Biblical literacy in the Christian church I believe we are guilty of desecrating the House of God as well. Please hear the point, and not focus on the minutia; I am not saying the church does not read the Bible, I am saying the church does not do as good a job as they should at teaching the Bible. There is a difference between knowing and understanding, and some people devote their entire life to the study of God’s Word in an attempt to understand it enough to teach it effectively.

To the lay church member reading this, I applaud you for reading, memorizing, and knowing the Bible, but allow me to challenge you to a deeper level of understanding. Find some inductive study tools like a literal translation of the Bible (I use NASB for its accuracy), a good concordance (Strong’s is always a good choice), a thorough Bible Dictionary (Vines is great), but also find yourself a basic commentary (there are great men of God who can teach you how to study and interpret God’s Word), and a good Bible Atlas (an atlas can help you understand the historical, geographical, and cultural context of a setting). In short, do more than simply reading the Bible; dissect it, savor it, chew the meat of the Word!

To the church leaders reading this, thank you for your service to the Kingdom! Allow me to challenge you as you prepare lessons and sermons; spend enough time in study and prayer. Some of us have the natural ability to stand in front of a group and deliver a great message having only spent 30 minutes in preparation. But in light of 2 Timothy 2:15 do right by your people by thoroughly studying the material; even more do right by the Lord by handling His Word with accuracy and in depth study. Steward your time so you can be most effective in the role God has placed you in. Next, pray fervently for the material you will be teaching, and those who will be being taught. This is an aspect that I have been convicted of in my own study and prep time. I have found, the more time I spend in prayer over the material, and for my congregation, the richer my time of study has become. Be sure not to neglect this vital aspect of leadership.

If the laity of the church along with the leadership of the church buckle down and discipline themselves, I believe the rapidly growing snowball of Biblical illiteracy will begin to melt. When this happens we will see the Gospel of Jesus work in ways we cannot fathom. For HIS Kingdom!

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Reach Houston

My dad was police officer for the city of Houston in the 80’s and 90’s. During his time on the force he wore a number of hats, some more serious than others, but his most prominent area of patrol is known as Houston’s 4th Ward. 4th Ward is rich in history to both whites and blacks, but was an area of racial segregation within the city of Houston. Because blacks were not allowed in to reside within certain areas of the city, freed slaves purchased cheap land along Buffalo Bayou and established what came to be known as Freedman’s Town. During the years my dad patrolled the 4th Ward, drugs and gang violence ran rampant. Project row-housing, commonly called “Shotgun Houses,” were the typical dwelling place for the residence of the community. Many of these were dilapidated, burned out, and were havens for drug use and prostitution, among other crimes and distasteful activities.  According to my dad, 4th Ward was the most dangerous and violent area of Houston.

Today, 4th Ward has had a facelift. In some cases, the row-housing has been replaced with luxury condos. In others, the row-housing has been replaced with affordable housing (which as I understand it was orchestrated by the Houston Housing Authority). Sadly, there is still a problem with crime, drug use, and violence; albeit has been on the decline due the work of many area pastors. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending much of the day touring the 4th Ward with one of these pastors, Elmo Johnson. Rev. Johnson pastors Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church, and has been there for over 30 years!

During our time together we discussed a variety of issues going on today, including the issues in Ferguson and Baltimore. We even had the exciting privilege to share Jesus with a gentleman who had been eves-dropping on our conversation. After we ate lunch, at my request, Rev. Johnson drove me around his community. He showed me schools that had been converted into African-American museums, he drove me by some of the oldest churches in the city, and he walked me across the street from his church and showed me the graves of the Allen brothers, who founded the city of Houston in 1836.

At the end of our time together he asked if I would be interested in teaming with his church to do a VBS this summer. It was everything I could do to keep my heart in my chest as it beat with excitement. Jesus says in Matthew 8:11, “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” This means people from all corners of the world, with all colors of skin, will be present at the table. To be part of this kind of Kingdom work excites me, humbles me, and puts me in awe of the greatness of God.

This also comes as the SBTC (Southern Baptists of Texas) kick off a new initiative called “Reach Houston.” I believe effective evangelism in the city of Houston is crucial because of the impact Houston has on the nation. I believe, if the low income neighborhoods and ghettos in Houston can be reached for Jesus we will see the sex slaves freed, drug dealers put out of business, and gang members transformed. The power of the Gospel is real, and the clarion call for evangelism and missions cannot be ignored. I for one am excited to see what the Lord is going to do in my city, and how he will use me to reach my neighbors. I pray other pastors will become as zealous for the lost of Houston, and together we can “Reach Houston.”

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Standing where the pulpit would have been, in the remains of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church

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In Recent Months…

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My blog has been quiet ever since my last entry. There are several reasons for that, most of them revolve around the precious commodity of time. Joking aside, the last few months have been the busiest of my life, and I have two sons under the age of 3! I have wanted to spend as much time as I can understanding my new my role at my new church, in my new position. I have made a valiant effort to learn the names of as many of the people as I can, and I have done what I can to be available for them in all circumstances. I have been in and out of numerous medical centers around Houston, I have met with new and potential members, and I have tried to find my rhythm as I preach on a weekly basis; all this on top of finishing my last semester of my undergraduate Bible degree, and moving. During this time I have learned an incredible amount, and been encouraged beyond comprehension. Of the things I have learned, the most important is the reminder that His mercies are new every morning, staying humble, and learning from every experience I am thrust into.

As my previous post said, my first goal was to ensure my people know my love for them, and my desire to lead them. I can say, not only has this proven to be an exciting task, it has shown to be fruitful and well worth the investment. The result is that this last Saturday, sitting among my fellow graduates, my church choir sang at my graduation service. The amount of joy I experienced cannot be put into words, and I can honestly say that never has something that special been done for me. To say there has been a fire lit underneath me would be an understatement.

I believe the Lord has orchestrated the last few months perfectly (regardless of the background noise), from the handling of every detail with my departure from my previous church, to the beginning at my new church, to the selling of our old home, and the purchasing of our new home! God has had His hand on this move from the start. I am excited to see what the Lord will do in the days and weeks to come, and I am more energized than ever to make a big impact for the glory of the Kingdom. I think what makes this season so exciting, is knowing I have a church family who is hungry to see what the Lord has for us at North Oaks Baptist Church.

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Reflections From my First Week as Pastor

I have known for a while now that the Lord was calling me the senior pastorate. The problem, I just did not know when. I had been serving on staff as an Associate/Youth Pastor at a great church. We were growing, and doing some great things as far as community outreach. In reality, I could have stayed at this church for many years, perhaps until I retired. However, the Lord began pressing on me that something big was going to happen before I turned 30 years old. I spoke with my wife about this at length, many times, and we were in agreement; we just did not know what and when.
As time continued there arose a restlessness in my soul, one that my pastor rightly pointed out towards the end of my time at our church. I had a fire to preach, but as the third man, behind the senior pastor and the associate pastor, I was not called on very often to preach. In fact, I preached more out of my home church than in my home church, and I always thought it inappropriate to ask to preach. So I sat, and I yearned to preach with everything in me.
As 2014 entered into the last quarter some things had taken place that I was not confident was taken care of appropriately, and I began to pray the Lord would show me what to do. It was during this time my wife was approached by World Hope Ministries International (whmi.org); they were looking for a missions minded person who was capable of handling the finances of a non-profit organization. My wife’s formal training is in Biblical studies, emphasizing missions, but her practical experience is in non-profit finance. It was a perfect fit… 70 miles to the north. We prayed over this big move, and after nearly declining because of distance and other practical concerns the Lord impressed on me that this was a matter of obedience. So my wife began work for WHMI January 5, 2015.
Roughly five weeks after my wife taking the job, I was speaking with a professor whom I love dearly, asking him for wisdom and guidance. It was at this time he shared with me about a church without a pastor. I had known about this church for some time, and even discussed it with him in the past. At this point I was surprised to hear they were still without a pastor. He suggested I submit a resume. I told him I needed to spend some time praying about it, and I would let him know soon. By the end of the week I had a peace about submitting my resume to North Oaks Baptist Church. This was the middle of December.
To make a long story short, in February I received the call to serve as Senior Pastor of NOBC, but here is where I really begin to see the Lord fit these pieces together in a way only He can. What was going to a 140mi round trip commute has turned into a neighborhood drive. The church and my wife’s office are less than 4 miles apart! We are still looking for permanent housing, but for now we are taken care of. Also, as the parents of two little boys, child care was a concern; especially on a budget. My wife began the search process for child care and found FBC Tomball. When she toured the facility they were short a slot for our youngest (10 months), but shortly after leaving the director called and said she was able to move some kiddos around and there was now a slot for both boys. The cost comes out to only a dollar more a week than we were already spending!
This long story goes to show, when God opens a door, He will handle the details! As far as pastoring? This church has shown itself to be loving, receptive, and caring. My family has been received with open arms. One of the things I am looking forward to is showing the love a pastor should have for his people. Already my heart is overflowing with love for my church, and I am only in the start of my second week! Preaching has become the cherry on top of all of it. We are two weeks into Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, something I did very intentionally. In this letter we hear the loving pastoral side of Paul, as opposed to the firm tone he takes with the Galatians, and even the Corinthians. I want my people to here in my preaching my love for them. I want them to understand, when the Bible calls us all to being examples of this is not a suggestion. As we begin to reach out into the community, their testimony is essential to the success of the Gospel reaching outside the walls of the church. Just like Paul says in chapter one of 1 Thessalonians, “Your testimony spread to the whole region, so we do not need to say anything,” Paul was busting out of the seams for this young church because they were doing it right!
I know I have a lot to learn, but my prayer is the Lord will use me to illustrate His love for His people that He has entrusted to me. So, reflections from my first week as pastor, when God moves it is:
Scary
Humbling
A blessing
Going to be a wild ride
And I thank God for all of it!

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Salvation by Shrink

This week over at lovegodwithallyourmind.wordpress.com:
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Today, culture is overly focused on feeling and emotion; so much so that there are even doctors who specialize in telling you what your thoughts mean, and why your emotions are what they are. It might even be said like the Apple App Store, “There’s a pill for that.” Admittedly I approach this topic from a point of view that may be a bit jaded due to what I have experienced as both a Detention Officer and a Direct Care Professional at a secured psychiatric treatment facility. While working in environments that thrive on medication and therapy, I have also observed as my church went through a nasty split due to strict adherence to a Bible based counseling method called, Nouthetic Counseling.
For four and a half years I worked for a juvenile department as a detention officer, while working in this capacity I watched as juvenile offenders were court ordered to attend counseling. Often this counseling resulted in the administering of strong medications designed to alter the offender’s mental state for the better, or so it was told. These teens would often return from counseling in worse condition than when they went. The medication that was prescribed was never a consistent dose, and more times than not it was either refused when offered by medical staff, or cheeked and traded for another type of pill, or even cookies.
After my time as a Detention Officer, I spent about a year working for a secured psychiatric treatment facility. This experience really challenged my thinking on the effectiveness of counseling; I can recall specific incidents of patients telling me how they were going to act in order to get their councilor to react a specific way, and sure enough they got what they wanted. When sharing with the councilor, what I was told by the patient before the counseling session, I was informed of the fact that I was not the doctor and I could not possibly know how to treat the patient in question. Sadly this happened more than once, and every time the patient was successful in manipulating their feelings and emotions in front of the therapist, to achieve their end goal.
Both of these situations fail to address the problem of discipline. Certainly, you can understand the discipline aspect for the juvenile offenders. Instead of dealing with the crime as should be done, chance after chance is given to teens because they are “children” and their poor behavior is never their fault. These teen age criminals are opportunist, and must be admired for their ability to often times make the system eat out of their hand. Much is similar between the penal system and the treatment system; in the treatment system, patients are slapped with a diagnosis and treated according to case studies and theories. Yet in my case, the patients were just as savvy as the criminals, and were quite capable of manipulating the system with the use of specific words to convey feelings and emotions.
The opposite of the clinical side is the overtly Biblical side. As previously stated, I have observed a church that I loved very much, go through a season of pain and disunity because it was said that illnesses such as depression were caused by sin in one’s life. In this case repentance takes the place of medication, and a pastor replaces a licensed professional. This aspect fails to address legitimate illness that ought to be treated by a closely observed treatment plan, and the administering of precise medications.
So which one is it? It would seem, culture would like for feelings and emotions to continue to trump rational thought, while in hyper conservative (fundamental) circles it seems sin should still be blamed for illness. What should be proposed is a synthesizing of the two views. While feelings do have the ability to create chaos, they cannot be completely negated, and are certainly valid in many situations. Likewise, the strictly Biblical approach needs to understand God has given us the ability to treat illness with medication, and it is not a sin to do so. Certainly repentance of sin is always required in the life of the Christian, but failure to do so does not necessarily result in psychiatric illness. So, salvation is not achieved by the shrink, there is not always a “Pill for that,” and God has given us the ability to diagnose and treat illness; it would be a sin not to overlook these skills, and a sin to rely too heavily on one side or the other.

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