By / Jul 7

Many pastors are in the midst of an identity crisis. As the importance of religion in the American psyche wanes, along with the unique experience of a global pandemic, churches are experiencing a corresponding decrease in attendance, baptisms, and budgets. Too many pastors find themselves scrambling to apply the secrets of secular business to the local church. Christian publishers have responded by publishing innumerable books each promising a “silver bullet,” multipoint plan that will fix all the issues in the local church. While there is indeed value in strategic planning and discipleship models, many pastors, myself included, have bought the book and tried the plan only to learn that ministry is not reducible to a multistep process. In this setting, Herold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart is a breath of fresh air.

Developing a pastoral habitus

In The Care of Souls, Senkbeil (M.Div. and STM, Concordia Theological Seminary) combines lessons he learned watching his father work on the family farm with over three decades of pastoral experience to provide practical advice to pastors. Senkbeil argues that pastors need to develop a pastoral habitus. Senkbeil defines a habitus as “a pastoral temperament or character worked by the Holy Spirit through his means” (17). Seminaries cannot teach a habitus, nor can a pastor develop a habitus by reading the newest book on pastoral ministry. Pastors refine a pastoral habitus through years spent patiently walking with the church in faithful ministry. Through the failures and successes of his ministry, the pastor slowly develops his habitus.

Senkbeil’s concept of a pastoral habitus is promising. The rigidity of silver-bullet solutions to local church woes is why most multistep plans fall far short of their lofty goals. What works in my church in the Cajun country of Louisiana would almost certainly be an abject failure in a large urban church. Senkbeil’s habitus has much more flexibility. Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach, Senkbeil encourages pastors to be faithful to their calling while acknowledging that pastors fulfill their calling in countless ways. The ultimate goal is faithfulness; however, faithfulness can look different in different settings.

A pastoral habitus begins with understanding who a pastor is and what a pastor should be doing. The pastor is, first and foremost, a servant of Christ. As a servant, the pastor’s highest aspirations are faithfulness and obedience. Senkbeil uses the apt example of a sheepdog and shepherd to illustrate this point. Pastors are to God what sheepdogs are to shepherds. The sheepdog does not know everything that the shepherd is planning. The sheepdog merely does what the shepherd has taught it to do. Likewise, as pastors, we are not privy to all of God’s plans. Indeed, his ways are often inscrutable. He is truly a God of surprises. Our highest goal is to be faithful servants of God our King.

God’s command to pastors is simple and yet complex. God has called pastors to lead Christians closer to himself. On one hand, this charge simplifies ministry greatly. Pastors and congregations have seemingly illimitable ideas of what a pastor ought to be doing. At times, serving as a pastor can feel like being the CEO of a small corporation! In this setting, having the single goal of leading people to know and love Christ is refreshingly simple.

On the other hand, the call to lead people closer to God is incredibly complex. As Senkbeil recognizes, pastors lead people closer to God in many different ways. Pastors will find Senkbeil’s view of Scripture refreshing. Senkbeil argues that one of the ways pastors lead people closer to God is by rightly applying the Word of God to everyday experience. When sitting by a hospital bed, a pastor can lead a person closer to God by comforting them with Scripture. Likewise, pastors can lead people closer to God by helping people understand their identity in light of Christ. In Christ, they are a new creation and have been given victory over sin, and pastors can help people embrace this view of themselves. 

Senkbeil also stresses the importance of the pastor’s spiritual standing. Indeed, pastors ignore their spiritual standing at their own peril. Senkbeil argues that too often pastors focus on the external problems in their church without realizing that most external problems have an internal, spiritual root. As God’s missionaries, pastors and their families are the target of demonic attention and hatred. To lead people closer to God, pastors must have a healthy devotional life full of Scripture and prayer. Indeed, Senkbeil argues that all pastors need a pastor to hold them accountable. 

Leading people closer to God while remaining personally devoted to the faith is a multifaceted undertaking that cannot be succinctly described in a single book. The complexity of God’s simple call on the pastor’s life is why pastors need a pastoral habitus. Senkbeil’s book is refreshingly different from most books on pastoral ministry precisely because he never provides a blueprint for how to establish a pastoral habitus. Such blueprints are simply too rigid to withstand the demands of the pastorate. Instead, Senkbeil provides the basic building blocks. By being faithful to God and their church, any pastor can develop a pastoral habitus tailored to their specific context, and Senkbeil’s book is a welcome companion along the way.

By / Mar 30

COVID-19 has brought on an uncertain, unprecedented season that will likely spur a mental health crisis. Multiple factors are involved:

  • Anxiety from the 24-hour news cycle; 
  • The inability to meet with people for gatherings like church and events;
  • Stress from adapting to ever-changing working environments, suddenly homeschooling, learning new technology, and not being able to afford childcare or find toilet paper; 
  • Bank tellers, grocery store clerks, pharmacy workers, gas station attendants, truck drivers working to keep things rolling; 
  • Healthcare workers risking their health and the health of their families to help others;
  • People in authority having to make tough decisions; 
  • Relatives unable to visit sick family members or nursing home residents; 
  • People closing their businesses and losing their jobs, wondering when and if they will receive a paycheck again and if the job will be waiting for them when this passes. 

As someone who has dealt with clinical anxiety and depression for most of my life, I can offer a few tips to those who are discovering this feeling for the first time.

1. Talk to someone

We need community because we weren’t made to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Now that we are unable to gather together physically, we need to adapt and build virtual community. Thankfully, technology is advanced enough to keep everyone connected. Churches can stream services. Small groups can video chat. You can send messages across a multitude of apps. Regular phones still work, too.

If you are struggling, talk to someone with whom you feel comfortable. Don’t feel ashamed. You are not alone and don’t have to bear the burden by yourself. If you can’t think of anyone, reach out to a mental health professional. Many clinics are doing telehealth visits and can help you over the phone.

If you aren’t struggling at the moment, be intentional about checking in on those close to you. Make sure they are doing well and have what they need. Send them an encouraging word or Scripture. Try to help direct their attention away from a constant influx of COVID-19 information.

2. Cling to God’s promises

God’s people have always needed reminders of what God has done for them and what he has promised to do. The Jews in the wilderness were worried about food but needed to remember that they had witnessed God part the Red Sea in order to save them (Ex. 16). God’s people who cried out for judges to deliver them quickly forgot their desperation for him and reverted back to their sinful ways (Judges). And there are many other examples throughout the Bible. James reminded suffering Christians of this beautiful truth: 

“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).

If you are in a dark place mentally, I recommend grabbing a journal, notebook, or piece of paper and writing down the lies that you are believing, anxieties you are feeling, or negative thoughts that are on repeat in your mind. Then, write three biblical truths that combat what you wrote. Try to do this at every occurrence. Over time, this will come easier, and you won’t need to write it down. You’ll be conditioned to speak truth to yourself and will then be able to speak truth into others’ lives.

God keeps his Word. He will provide. It may not be what you want or are used to, but it will be what you need. God feeds and clothes the birds and the flowers; will he not do the same for his sons and daughters (Matt. 6:25-34)? If earthly parents give good gifts to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give his children who ask (Matt. 7:9-11)? The Old Testament prophets held fast to the promises of a Messiah even though they didn’t see them fulfilled in their lifetimes. But we have more—we have the Christ—the promise fulfilled—and live for his return, when all will be restored.

3. Keep (or develop) an eternal perspective

Suffering is part of the Christian life. It will purify our faith and will result in glory and honor (1 Pet. 1:3-9). But it won’t last. When my fleeting time on this earth comes to an end, I will be in a place with no pain or suffering or anxiety. I will be where I belong—a home that has been prepared for me (John 14:3). That’s why I’m not afraid of a novel, widespread virus. It may make me ill or take my life, but I will gain the end goal, and that can never be taken from me (John 6:37-40). My inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). Christian, this is the hope that we have. And hope does not put us to shame (Rom. 5:3-5).

I pray that this hope brings you peace (John 14:27) and shines brightly to the rest of the dark world. Our living hope is the greatest witness to others in these times. Remain steadfast. I can’t tell you how long this season will last, but I can tell you that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t guarantee tomorrow on earth, but he guarantees an eternity with him for those who believe that he sent his son to die for us (John 3:16). May peace be with you in these troubled times, and may these words from Peter be a balm to your soul: 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet.5:8-11).


By / Mar 24

Kay Warren shares encouragement she would give to the Christian struggling with mental illness.

By / Mar 5

Recently, we emailed with Scott James—a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Alabama—about coronavirus, increasing fear, and how Christians should respond. 

What is COVID-19?  

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an outbreak of respiratory disease due to a novel coronavirus. The virus itself has been named “SARS-CoV-2” while the term COVID-19 refers to the disease it causes. Initially detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019, cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed on every continent except Antarctica. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 vary, but fever, fatigue, runny nose, and cough are common. Asymptomatic or extremely mild cases are possible as well. At this point, it appears most people who become infected recover without any special treatment. Severe respiratory disease and even death are also possible, but exact rates are difficult to pin down because the denominator (total number of cases) is unknown due to the high likelihood of undiagnosed/unconfirmed cases within affected communities. 

As with any newly emerging infection, we still have much to learn about COVID-19. But healthcare workers are fortunate to be able to glean insights from previous coronavirus outbreaks, as well as a baseline understanding of the importance of public health preparedness. Coronaviruses—so named because of the surface proteins that spike from their surface in a crown-like fashion—are not a new entity. There are several well-established human coronavirus strains that cause self-limited upper respiratory infections (i.e., the common cold). More severe respiratory disease can occur, but is infrequent. 

What’s notable about COVID-19 is the emergence of a new human pathogen (SARS-CoV-2), which likely arose from animal hosts (though the specific animal reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been confirmed). Analogous coronavirus outbreaks have occurred, albeit on a smaller scale, twice in the past 20 years: SARS-CoV, the cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and MERS-CoV, the cause of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).    

Why do you think people seem to be so fearful about it? Are you, as an infectious disease specialist, concerned?

At this point, the fear of the unknown seems to be a common theme in the responses I’m seeing. Because we are early in the course of the epidemic, there’s still a lot we don’t know. It’s clear that COVID-19 has the potential to reach pandemic proportions, but even in saying that, there are many variables at play that will determine just how severe it gets (e.g., will transmission patterns change as the virus enters new geographic regions, will one of the treatments or vaccines currently under investigation prove effective, etc?). 

As an infectious diseases specialist, part of my role is to consider these forward-thinking questions while also doing everything I can to care for the sick and stop the spread of disease here and now. It’s a both/and proposition: do what I can to help the problem today while also thinking ahead about how to wisely handle what may be around the corner. One thing that does cause me some concern is the general tendency to focus on the unknowns in a way that stokes panic and fear. This is not helpful and can even lead to unreasonable and counterproductive responses. Instead of fretting over potential catastrophes, pay attention to the opportunities that are right in front of you: take care of yourself, take care of others, and do your part to limit the spread of disease.

How should we be thinking about the potential of a worldwide pandemic? 

I would encourage Christians to view potential pandemics through the lenses of preparedness and perspective. Preparedness simply means we will seek to inform ourselves of the situation and to make responsible choices for our own good and for the good of our communities. It means a willingness to listen, take good advice, and act in a way that demonstrates a desire to be a part of the solution. Preparedness happens at an individual or family level, but it also happens at community, state, national, and even global levels. In a way, our own individual preparedness determines how successful large-scale public health measures will be. 

Trusting in God equips us to take the threat seriously without giving into panic or despair. We can grasp the gravity of the situation while knowing that nothing is beyond his reach.

The other lens through which Christians can view potential pandemics is perspective. By that, I mean a biblical perspective based on the understanding that no matter what threat is on the horizon, God is still in control. Trusting in God equips us to take the threat seriously without giving into panic or despair. We can grasp the gravity of the situation while knowing that nothing is beyond his reach. When the world is struck by fear, Christians have a beautiful opportunity to show where true hope comes from. 

Where would you recommend we look for up-to-date information?

I recommend looking to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  They are not infallible, but both offer reliable information in a user-friendly format. Bear in mind that information evolves quickly in an ongoing outbreak investigation, so it’s important to stay up to date. 

What should we be doing currently to prepare our families and communities?

The everyday preventative measures that will help you avoid COVID-19 are the basically the same ones that healthcare providers advise every year during flu season:

  • Wash your hands frequently. Soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective at killing viruses.  
  • Observe good cough and sneeze etiquette. Cover your mouth and nose in the crook of your elbow or with a tissue that should be immediately thrown away. 
  • Avoid close contact (within about three feet) with people who are sick. 
  • Be aware of your risk of transmitting infection to others. Please stay home if you feel sick. Contact your medical provider to let them know you’re ill, and follow their advice. 
  • If you are not sick, facemasks are not helpful in preventing infection. If anything, masks cause people to touch their nose and mouth even more as they surreptitiously adjust them. On the other hand, if you are sick, a facemask can be useful in preventing the spread of the disease by containing secretions. 
  • Follow the advice of your local healthcare agencies. If they recommend temporarily avoiding public places or large gatherings, do your best to comply. 

Otherwise, the basic tenets of home preparedness involve having supplies on hand in case the situation warrants staying home for a period of time. Assess and ensure adequate stores of food, water, toiletries, and prescription medicines. It is best to do this ahead of time rather than at the last minute. 

At present, unless you have been to an affected area or been in direct contact with someone who has, the risk of infection is still low. As global travel and sustained transmission continue, this risk may increase in the coming weeks. In that event, it will still be important to remember the basic prevention techniques outlined above. Unregulated products promising to prevent and cure COVID-19 will inevitably follow wherever an outbreak occurs—beware of scams and hoaxes playing on people’s fears. 

How do you talk to your children about COVID-19? 

I keep it simple and straightforward. “An infection is making some people very sick and we’re waiting to see how far it will spread. In the meantime, there are a lot of very compassionate people who are working hard to take care of the sick and help stop the infection. We’re going to love our neighbors by doing our part to stay healthy and not spread the infection. Most importantly, when scary things like this happen, it’s a great time to talk with God and tell him how much we need his help.” 

And for my teenagers, I add, “Don’t get your information from memes.”

When you get anxious about something, what do you lean on in Scripture to help you keep your mind on things above?

When I am anxious, I think of the psalmist’s words in Psalm 71:12,14–15: “O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! . . . I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.”

When circumstances are beyond my control, I can unabashedly cry out to God for deliverance. But as I call on him, I want to remember and take comfort in his past faithfulness—his righteous acts and his deeds of salvation. God’s perfect track record gives me a rock-solid hope. And not just any hope, but a hope that leads to action and compels me to declare his glory to the nations. During uncertain times like these, that is exactly what the nations need to hear. 

By / Feb 18

What does the person with mental illness want the Church to know?

By / Feb 11

The world is once again gripped in apprehension and fear as a new and previously unknown virus has emerged from China. Much like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003, the coronavirus seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Unlike SARS, however, the coronavirus is spreading with greater speed and lethality. China was much criticized in 2003 for failing to react in time and failing to take SARS seriously; 17 years later, they appear determined not to repeat those same mistakes with the coronavirus. Few events trigger intense global scrutiny like disease pandemics; and if the crisis in Hong Kong has shown us anything, China doesn’t desire intense global scrutiny. This latest disaster has once again revealed aspects of Chinese governance and culture that the CCP, The Communist Party of China, would prefer lay hidden. 

Within 100 days of the initial outbreak, in a display of manufacturing prowess, China erected a makeshift hospital in Wuhan province with over 1,000 new beds to treat and contain the virus. Despite these efforts, the virus continues to spread, and the death toll continues to increase. The coronavirus outbreak is tragic, and the international response of heightened security measures and quarantine have been lamentable but appropriate. Lord willing, this pandemic will be contained, and the loss of life will be limited. Regardless, it is unlikely that this will be the last pandemic China will battle. Against the backdrop of these health events, what the world is witnessing is a Chinese government that is as sick as its citizens. 

The greatest sickness China battles is not the result of pathogens, but of politics; not of flu but of philosophy. It is hard to overstate the pervasive and omnipresent nature of the Chinese state, harder still to get Americans and westerners to understand the extreme imbalance of Chinese politics. The CCP maintains a level of control over its people and their lives that would make George Orwell blush. Much has been written, although hardly enough, about the forced internment of over 1 million Uighur Muslims in the province of Xinjiang. More still was written in 2019 about the CCP’s crackdown on protestors in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong. The Communist Party of China exists solely to perpetuate its own control over the people of China, and it will do whatever it can to maintain its hold and control. And what the CCP can not control, it will attempt to suppress; and what it can not suppress, it will deny; and what it can not deny, it will eliminate.

The sounds of silence

Soon after accounts of the coronavirus began to surface, so too did reports of China’s efforts to contain those accounts. The CCP arrested individuals who attempted to raise the alarm about the new virus, and suppressed stories of the virus spreading. It was only when the outbreak spread beyond the initial province of Wuhan that China was forced to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. China’s efforts to contain the virus has had less to do with public health and safety and more to do with global impact and economic viability. It is not an understatement to say that everything that the Chinese state does is done with an eye toward answering the question, “What is best for the party, and for the state?” 

News that is unfavorable or that reflects badly on the party is suppressed. This pattern of repression did not begin with SARS or the coronavirus. Few Americans and westerners know that the CCP has gone so far as to ban entire topics from conversation and publication within China. In 2013, a list of seven banned topics was released, enumerating the topics that schools were forbidden to teach and publishers were forbidden to address. These topics include universalism, press freedom, judicial independence, civil society, citizens rights, historic mistakes of the CCP, and cronyism in elite and financial circles. These topics joined the already banned books such as textbooks on Western culture and most notably the Bible.

This pattern of denial, suppression, and restriction of free expression in China is not just unfortunate, it is deadly. When the state is concerned with its appearance more than its people, it will often ignore the truth and warning signs necessary to save lives. Ironically, the greatest mark of political health in a state is the government’s ability to admit and address its own faults and failures. This type of oversight, which we frequently lament in the West, may be uncomfortable and often inefficient, but it inoculates the state against a host of ills. China’s inability to conscience this type of oversight poses a far greater threat to its supremacy than any virus. 

The deeper disease

Of all the geopolitical threats that the United States and the West face in this new century, China definitely reigns supreme. Its massive population provides an almost inexhaustible source of laborers, consumers, and soldiers. Its massive state apparatus provides a level of command and control over the economy and culture that is the envy of totalitarian regimes across the globe. China integrates these strengths and fuses them into a strategy of great network power, and their goal is to remake the world in their own image. This effort begins within their own borders through a process called Sinofication, where competing ideologies, philosophies, and religions are suppressed in favor of official Chinese culture; Hong Kong protests and the Xinjiang "Uighur reeducation” camps are prime example of this strategy. However, these strategic advantages come with flaws as great as their apparent strengths.  

China has one of the lowest fertility rates among developed nations. Decades of adherence to the controversial One Child Policy has created a demographic crisis and a generation of men who have little to no prospects for marriage and procreation. This same generation of single men are also now solely responsible for the maintenance of their aging parents, as they have no siblings to shoulder the economic and logistical load of this aging generation. Conversely, many aging parents that once prized their male children now fear for the fate of their sons, as any son killed in military action or by disease leaves the family devoid of any means to provide income and support. 

Generations of oppression and secrecy have bred an environment where creativity and innovation are discouraged and trust in the government is nonexistent. This mutual mistrust hampers the ability of the government and the populace to respond to national challenges, and historically we know that such environments are ultimately self-defeating and unstable. 

The people of China deserve our pity and our prayers, and the politicians crafting the response to the global coronavirus crisis need our support. But we will fall short and miss the mark if we focus our prayers solely on the diseases and daily news that plague the world’s largest nation. While the coronavirus will likely and hopefully be contained, the people of China will continue to be afflicted by the far more virulent plague of Communist authoritarian rule. And while it may seem hopeless that the Chinese people will ever be freed from this plague, we know that there is hope. For we know that there is a vaccine for this most human condition, one that begins not in the halls of power but in the hearts of men. This Balm from Gilead which makes the wounded whole, is undeniable, irrepressible, uncontrollable by any state, and it is on the move. 

By / Aug 26

Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not accomplished enough.

In a culture dominated by social media, these are the messages that we’re constantly being fed. This destructive comparison has especially affected the younger generation and young women, contributing to increasingly higher rates of depression and suicide. For victims of abuse and domestic violence, the shame and insecurity caused by others can be crippling.

Self-love fights back against shame and low self-esteem with the message that we need to start loving and accepting ourselves just the way that we are, flaws and all. We can’t love others if we don’t first love ourselves, proponents say. True confidence and security, then, comes from self-love.

But is this really the case?

What is self-love?

At its root, self-love is the pursuit of one’s own well-being and happiness and the avoidance of shame and insecurity. It rests on this idea described by the Buddha,

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserves your love and affection.”

According to this way of thinking, we are all inherently lovable and worthy of affection. Some liken it to being your own best friend or partner, your own personal cheerleader. It may take the form of self-care practices like relaxation or indulgence in your favorite foods, “being kind to yourself” by reciting positive affirmations and mantras, or meditating on your own strengths and accomplishments.

It’s important for Christians to note the difference between this way of thinking and where the Bible says our worth comes from. The idea that humans have inherent worth is one that is affirmed throughout Scripture. God bestowed dignity upon us when he created us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27). It is his image in us that gives us value—value that exists apart from our appearance, life experience, or contribution to society. This is why the Bible so clearly calls us to protect, defend, and care for all of life—because all people are made in the image of God.

What does the Bible say about self-love?

Many point to Jesus’ command in Mark 12:31 as evidence for the Bible’s support of self-love. We should love our neighbors as we love ourselves, so it must follow that we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves first. This reasoning, however, misinterprets the text, which rests on the assumption that all of us already love ourselves. We may still struggle with insecurity, but, as described in this context, we all still naturally pursue our own happiness and well-being.

2 Timothy 3:2-4 warns us of the last days, when people will be “lovers of self” rather than “lovers of God.” It reminds us of our tendency to love ourselves above God. Our love of self can become destructive. While the self-love movement suggests that we are all inherently good and loveable, the gospel reminds us that apart from Christ, “none is righteous” (Rom. 3:10) and “no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12). It is true and good that we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and that this reflection of his image gives us inherent worth, but it can become dangerous if we forget the reality of our sinful nature apart from Christ.

Where can we find true love, acceptance, and confidence?

The heart of the self-love movement—pursuit of happiness and well-being—is not unfamiliar to God’s design. But it does miss the target. Instead, the Bible teaches that “in [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy; at [his] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psa. 16:11).

The Bible does not diminish the struggle of insecurity or depression. Rather, it offers a greater hope and confidence, one that far surpasses the promises of the self-love movement. It tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Through Jesus, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17). This is our greatest confidence: that the King of kings has adopted us as his sons and daughters, not through any work of our own, but through his great mercy and grace in Christ. He has fulfilled the law so that we may be fully accepted. This truth should instill deep confidence and obliterate all pride.

The gospel not only frees us from our comparison culture and the pressure to meet the world’s standards, it allows and encourages us to look at ourselves for all that we are—broken sinners in need of a Savior—not with denial or a kind of shallow optimism, but with the power of him who has overcome sin and death. What’s more, the gospel empowers us not only to acknowledge our weakness, but also to boast in it, for God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In Christ, there is no place for self-glorification nor self-loathing, because our new identity as God’s children has been freely bestowed upon us.

The Christian’s call to die to self

For Christians, the Bible distinguishes between the old self and the new self (Eph. 4:22-24). In a culture that prioritizes the self at all costs, the Bible teaches us to die to our old selves and to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we are no longer bound to self-interest but can follow the call to “deny [ourselves] and take up [our crosses] daily and follow [Christ]” (Luke 9:23). As Jesus said, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

One danger of the self-love movement is that it may lead us to merely accept our old selves as they are, suppressing any desire for change. But God desires much more for us than this; he desires our sanctification, our conforming to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29). It is only when we have died to our old selves and put on our new self that we are truly freed to love others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), not because we love ourselves first.

Living with an outward focus

I’ve found that in my own struggles with body image, insecurity, and feelings of inadequacy, the key hasn’t been to think of myself higher or to love myself more. Instead, freedom has come as I’ve filled my mind with thoughts of God and his promises. It is only when we start to see God for who he really is that we will be able to see ourselves for who we actually are. We will delight in his creation, not because we are the ones worthy of our affection, but because we know that he is a good and perfect creator.

There’s nothing wrong with combating insecurity. We should fight it, however, with the truth of Scripture—truth like that from Psalm 139:14 that says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” If our sole aim in meditating on this verse is to increase our own self-esteem, though, we’ve missed the point. Our delight in his wondrous creation of our bodies should align our hearts with David’s, whose song was a prayer of praise to God (Psalm 139:14). Worship is the ultimate aim, not self-worth.

So I encourage you—when you experience the crippling effects of insecurity, don’t look inward, look outward. Remind yourself of your God-given identity and of his sacrifice to make the unworthy worthy. Fix your eyes on the cross, and let the weight of your sin and inadequacy turn your heart to worship of the only One truly worthy of all our love and affection.

By / Jul 5

Burnout has become an official clinical syndrome, according to the World Health Organization. Characterized by mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion, this condition of chronic stress threatens millions of Americans who face long work hours, difficult work and home situations, and little time for rest. In a society and culture where busyness is the norm, technology keeps us constantly connected and occupied, and leisure is viewed as laziness, we often end up feeling, well, tired.

Amidst this crisis has come calls for “self-care,” a movement focused on personal well-being and mental health. Advocates of self-care submit that the underlying cause of our stress and exhaustion comes from lack of self-focus and that we need to serve ourselves first in order to serve others better.

What is self-care?

Self-care can be described as being mindful of your own limits and needs so that you can ensure your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Its proponents emphasize developing personal habits and practices to manage stress and reduce anxiety.

Strategies may include:

  • Exercising daily
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Investing in a hobby
  • Reading a book
  • Prioritizing “me-time”

What does the Bible say about self-care?

While the Bible doesn’t directly address the idea of self-care, it does offer guidance for understanding the role of our physical and mental health.

Since the time of Moses in the Old Testament, God has provided instruction for the care of our bodies and minds. God values and commands rest (Ex. 34:21; Heb. 4:3-4) and care for our physical bodies (Ex. 22:26-27). Jesus himself prioritized rest. When faced with great crowds, Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He cared that his disciples “had no leisure even to eat” and instructed them to “rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

We can also learn from Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, recognizing that we cannot live self-sufficiently and must intentionally care for our physical and mental health.

How can Christians develop a biblical practice of care?

1. Recognize your limitations, and practice good stewardship of your body and mind.

When we recognize our physical limitations, we acknowledge the supremacy of God and our dependence on him. Caring for our bodies and minds should not come from a pursuit of our own comfort and pleasure, but from an act of worship and submission to God. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that our bodies are not our own; they were bought with a price to be temples of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that we “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).

When we exercise and eat healthily, we act as good stewards of the gifts God has given us—our bodies and minds, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works” (Eph. 2:10).

2. Go to the source.

The self-care movement is grounded in the assumption that the power for healing and rest lies within, that we have the power to care for ourselves. The gospel counters that true power can only come from Christ. It offers a profound and eternal care that addresses even our deepest needs.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

All of the problems that the self-care movement attempts to address—unfulfillment, exhaustion from caring for others, lack of connection and purpose—are ultimately answered in the gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection won the victory over sin and death, so that we can experience his eternal life and peace. If we want true rest and energy, we must turn to the source of all peace and joy: Jesus Christ.

3. Turn to the gospel as a better, more sustainable motivation for life and work. 

Part of the underlying cause of burnout is a misunderstanding of the purpose of work.

If our goal and hope is simply to acquire wealth or “make a difference,” we will be easily discouraged, unfulfilled, and exhausted.

The gospel frees us from the burden of living and working for our own wealth, accomplishment, and reputation by declaring that our life and favor with God comes not from our own work but from God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ. With this understanding, we can view life and work as a blessing instead of a curse (Eccl. 3:12-13, 5:19-20).

The Bible tells us that we were “created in Christ Jesus to good works” (Eph. 2:10). As the character and nature of God are revealed by his work (Psa. 8:3, 19:1-4), we reflect his character and nature by investing in our work. We live and work in response to God’s grace, calling, and design for our lives, for his glory and the good of those around us (Eph. 4:28, 1 Cor. 10:31).

With this understanding, we can live and work wholeheartedly but with hope and confidence, trusting that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13; Psa. 127:1-2).

Helpful habits

What about investing in hobbies? Spending time with friends and family? Meditation and relaxation techniques?

In light of the aforementioned principles, we can view these habits and practices as helpful but not ultimate. They can help us find joy and peace as long as they bring us to the source of all joy and peace, to God. We exercise, eat healthy food, and sleep well as an act of worship and stewardship of our God-given bodies and minds. We spend time with loved ones because God has called us to and blessed us with fellowship and community. We play music to turn our hearts toward the Creator of all things good and beautiful. And we meditate, not on ourselves and on our own ability to overcome our circumstances, but on God’s works and promises.

Sitting at his feet

Ultimately, the self-care movement makes helpful suggestions but empty promises. We may change our personal habits, but we cannot always change our circumstances. What’s more, the gospel submits that the biggest problem lies not even with our circumstances but within ourselves. What we need is a deeper and greater source of life, joy, and peace, one that exists outside of ourselves. We find this in Jesus Christ alone.

We often relate to Martha as described Luke 10: “distracted with much serving,” “anxious and troubled about many things,” and wondering why everyone else “has left [us] to serve alone” (Luke 10:40). Our culture might offer a myriad of suggestions for Martha’s self-care regimen, telling her to care for herself before caring for others. But Jesus’ response was different and surprising. Rather than telling Martha to take care of herself or even commanding Mary to help, he simply stated, “few things are needed – or indeed only one.” What was this one thing that was better, that would “not be taken away?” (Luke 10:42): To adopt the posture of Mary, who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39).

Perhaps before we turn to new diets, gym memberships, and spa days, we should remember the one thing that is needed above anything else—to simply sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy all that he is for us.

By / Nov 15

Since the garden, our world has been thoroughly and profoundly broken from the introduction of sin. This brokenness affects every part of our lives, from who we are, how we act, how we work, and how we relate to one another, to natural disasters and physical illness. As evangelicals, we are quick to see this universal bodily brokenness in cancer and heart disease, but when we approach mental illness, often our first response is to assume a lack of faith or inward transformation of the gospel. Why is this? 

My family is no stranger to mental illness. Genetics have certainly played a huge role as three generations of my family, including myself, have been affected by depression and anxiety. Out of all of us affected, my mom's depression and anxiety has certainly been the most severe, particularly in the past few years. What has made this particularly hard is that she is a pastor's wife.

More than 18 percent of Americans struggle with depression and anxiety, but the stigma and shame still holds strong in the church and even stronger for those who hold roles in ministry.[1] I recently sent her a few questions in hopes her story will encourage you or someone you know walking a similar journey.

Tiffany Marshall: When did you first start struggling with depression and anxiety?

Leigh Ann Marshall: I have struggled with diagnosed clinical depression for almost 30 years. The first time I sought professional help was in the early 1990s.

TM: What have been some of the factors that have amplified your depression and anxiety in different seasons of your life?

LAM: I was sexually abused by an older teenage boy when I was a child. I suppressed the abuse until I was a young adult. I believe this was the root of my anxiety and depression. My depression was managed for many years on low dose depression medications under the supervision of doctors. Over the past few years, there was an accumulation of factors that caused my anxiety and depression to resurface more severe than ever. We moved twice to two different states in a period of 13 months. My husband’s pastoral job changed twice in that period of time. In addition to that, I began to lose a large business that I had built from the ground up for over 19 years thinking it would be part of our retirement plan. I also went through a very severe physical illness during that 13-month period of time. 

TM: How was this most recent season of depression and anxiety unique? What brought it about?

LAM: In November 2014, I spent 19 days in an ICU for sepsis, a very severe illness that more times than not, causes one to lose their life. Almost every major system in my body was shutting down due to an infection from a minor surgery for kidney stones. I ended up being on a ventilator for eight of the 19 days. Rehabilitation, including learning to walk again, took several months.

Just as I was getting physically stronger, my husband was called to another church, and we moved once again. My business began to decline even more rapidly as I was not able to work to keep things moving in a positive direction. I started to feel like a failure and was not sure how to handle the rapid decline of something I had put blood, sweat, and tears into for 19 years. I also felt like a failure as a pastor’s wife. I have always known the importance of being a helpmate for my husband, but it was all I could do to get to church, and then once I was there, I found it very difficult to engage with people. 

Very soon, I began to slide into a deep depression that ultimately led to my decision in early 2017 that it would be better for everyone if I simply took my life. By God’s grace, I was in counseling and revealed this plan to my counselor. Thankfully my husband took this seriously and checked me into a facility for a week to get the help I needed. It was while I was in this facility that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The doctor informed me an illness as severe as my sepsis, coupled with a lengthy stay in ICU, could produce PTSD. I slowly began recovering as my doctor discovered my medications were out of balance and found the right medications for me.

TM: What has helped you out of this most recent bout of serious depression?

LAM: As someone who has battled anxiety and depression for almost all of my adult life, anxiety and depression are things I will most likely always battle with at some level. The factors that contribute to my illness are several. There are chemical imbalances (physical), as well as emotional and spiritual factors. I know, therefore, that I must battle the struggle on several fronts.

As I have mentioned, getting my medications balanced and accurate was a big step in the right direction. I am grateful God directed my steps to get me to the doctor who is right for me. He does an amazing job of listening to me and keeping my medications where they need to be.

I also continue to see a Christian counselor. I believe this is important because over a lifetime of handling stress in an unhealthy way, he has helped me see other ways of dealing with difficult situations in a healthy way.

My family (especially my husband) have been supportive of me as I have walked through this. It is important for those you love to see clinical anxiety and depression as an illness. If I had any other chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart disease, people would understand it has to be treated. In the same way, people must understand mental illness is a very real disease. My family has supported me in that way.

I would certainly not want to leave out the spiritual aspect of this battle. Satan wants to destroy us. He will use any and all tactics to see us taken down. This certainly includes the battle of the mind. It has been important for me to continue to press in to God and my walk with him. I have Scripture and words to some of my favorite worship songs around my home. I see them everywhere I go. They remind me of where my real strength lies. When I am weak, I know God is shown to be strong.

TM: How did your role as a pastor's wife make this recent season harder? Why do you think that is?

LAM: When you are a pastor’s wife, you want to be strong around others. Expectations on pastors can be unrealistic. I was afraid if people in our church found out what I was really going through, they might think I was not a strong Christian or my faith was weak. We had not been at our current church long before the severe season of anxiety and depression set in. “What would others think if they knew their pastor’s wife was contemplating suicide?” I felt trapped with no place to turn for help.

TM: What can the church do to help church members affected by mental illness? (Personally or a loved one)

LAM: We must get past the stigma that somehow mental illness is a taboo subject. There are people sitting in our pews every week that are hurting and afraid to admit it or seek help. If we can bring mental illness into the light in our congregations, this will go a long way toward helping those who think they are the only ones or that other Christians will not understand.

We must educate our people. Our church has a strong partnership with a counseling ministry in our area. We lean on the professionals in this ministry to help educate our people on the real causes of mental illness as well as giving them help.

My husband recently preached a series of messages on discouragement and depression. With God’s leading, I shared my story on a Sunday morning as he completed the series. As hard as this was, it has opened healthy dialogue among our people. Many have reached out to me for help. They now know if the pastor’s wife can publicly share about her struggle, this is a safe place to go with their struggles.

We encouraged people to not ignore symptoms in the lives of those they love. They may just need someone who cares to reach out to them and keep gently nudging them until they get the help they need.

Because of the overwhelming response to my story, we are looking at ways to further educate our people and keep this conversation alive in our church. We want to be seen as a safe place that offers the real hope only found in Jesus Christ.


This has been such a hard season for my family, but we have also seen God’s grace so clearly. The Lord has used this to bring our family closer together, and it has made each one of us more thankful for the time we have together. We have a common faith in Christ that has helped us through this season, recognizing the broken, giving grace to each other when needed, and ultimately trusting in his sovereign and good purposes on the hard days. I know there are many other families out there that are walking through similar seasons without the hope of the gospel, and I pray the church rises up to meet them with good news in their moments of need.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255.


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By / Jan 30

It doesn’t take much for me to worry. A news story. A sick child. An unexpected bill. A phone call late at night. Whatever the worry, I dwell and mull over it endlessly. I fret and think, “What if?” I search the internet for hidden solutions and anticipate all potential scenarios, sometimes to the point of losing sleep.  

The problem of anxiety

We all know what it’s like to worry about something; it’s a regular companion for many of us. As it turns out, so is its close cousin: anxiety. According to NAMI, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States. Approximately 18 percent of adults and eight percent of children and teenagers have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety, while related to worry, is different in that it’s persistent, ongoing and broader in scope. While we can usually work through our worries to find a solution—not so with anxiety. Anxiety is excessive worry about multiple things, even when there isn’t anything wrong. Such anxiety fills people with dread, fear and apprehension. They anticipate the worst and are always wary and watching. It also expresses itself physically. They feel tense and irritable. Their heart races. Their stomach feels sick, and they can’t sleep. Some who struggle with anxiety have panic attacks—which often feel like a heart attack—bringing on even more anxiety.

Anxiety can take on a variety of forms. A person can be anxious about life in general or about specific things, commonly called phobias. Some forms of anxiety bring on ritualistic behaviors, such as checking, cleaning, picking and counting. Whatever its shape, anxiety makes it difficult to function in relationships, work and the responsibilities of daily life.  

It can be a lonely condition, for the things that often make the hair on anxious people’s arms stand up, their stomachs tighten and their heads pound, don’t bother others at all. When they voice their anxieties with others, they are told to relax, trust God and let it go. As a result, they feel more anxious because no matter how hard they try to let go of anxiety, it simply won’t let go of them.

Hope for the anxious heart

Those who suffer from anxiety need help, heart and hope.

Help: The prophet Elijah was emotionally spent and filled with despair after his encounter with Jezebel. He feared and ran for his life. “He asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19:4). God didn’t tell him to pick himself back up, set aside his despair and get back to work. Rather, God met Elijah’s physical needs. He provided him a place to rest and food to eat. We are not just physical beings, nor are we only spiritual beings; we are both. Therefore, when people struggle with anxiety, they need to address their physical needs as well. Sometimes this will mean talking to a doctor or other medical professional about their anxiety and receiving medical treatment. There’s no shame in needing help. If anxiety keeps them from fulfilling normal daily tasks, they need to get that help.

Heart: Anxiety is isolating. It causes people to fold in on themselves. A person with anxiety needs kindness and compassion from those who are tender-hearted. They need friends and loved ones who won’t say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but who seek to understand and walk alongside their suffering friend, instead. To be diagnosed with anxiety, a person has to have symptoms for at least six months. To move through anxiety and come to a place of peace will take time as well.

Hope: The Bible has a lot to say about emotions, including worry, fear and anxiety. It doesn’t gloss over the harsh realities of life. The psalmist voiced fear when pursued by his enemies, “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also” (Psa. 31:9). Even our Savior felt such dread at the horror of the cross that he sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44).

Those who are anxious need gospel-centered hope. They need a godly counselor who can point them to truth. They need to be reminded that Jesus conquered their greatest fears at the cross—eternal separation from God—so he will also be with them in all their lesser fears. They need to be reminded that Jesus was the Man of Sorrows who knew sorrow, grief, fear and temptation. They have a Savior who gets it. While others may look at their anxiety and wonder why they don’t just let it go, Jesus understands.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4: 14-16).

There’s great hope in knowing that Jesus was fearless when no one else could be. And because he was, we have the freedom and confidence to cry out to God for help. Jesus came, not for those who have it all together, but for those who are hurting, including the anxious at heart. He calls us to come and find our rest and peace in him, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).