Category Archives: Leadership

From Leader to Leader – Ezra’s Healthy Dissatisfaction

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

Life dissatisfaction, especially when chronic, results in physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual maladies. Dysphoria, the more clinical term for life discontent, is a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction.  In a psychiatric context dysphoria may accompany depression, anxiety, or agitation. Common reactions to dysphoria include emotional distress and in some cases, even physical distress.

Long term life dissatisfaction is also strongly associated with various mental symptoms such as depression, hopelessness, psychosomatic symptoms, alexithymia, general psychopathology and low concurrent functional ability. Life dissatisfaction, among healthy general population subjects, has also been shown to predict several poor health outcomes such as psychiatric morbidity, depressive symptoms, total mortality, suicides, fatal unintentional injury deaths, and premature work disability due to somatic and psychiatric causes in follow-ups of over a decade.1

Additional symptoms of chronic dissatisfaction include restlessness, needing more of something indefinable and always shifting, feeling like you’re not there yet, but wondering where “there” even is; episodes of yearning for something you can’t quite name, or wondering if there’s more to life than you’re currently living.  However, chronic dissatisfaction (CD) can also be experienced as a healthy and adaptive state of being, that if embraced and used reflectively, can propel one to seek more, or reach further than one who may be experiencing life satisfaction.  In fact, dissatisfaction can be a great motivating force in life. 2

Recently, I was reading the book of Ezra; for a moment I paused and re-considered Ezra’s life and transformational ministry.  “. . .this Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given.  The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.” Ezra 7:6; NKJV

“Born of the sons of Aaron, Ezra had been given a priestly training; and in addition to this he had acquired a familiarity with the writings of the magicians, the astrologers, and the wise men of the Medo-Persian realm. But he was not satisfied with his spiritual condition. He longed to be in full harmony with God; he longed for wisdom to carry out the divine will. And so he ‘prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.’ Ezra 7:10. This led him to apply himself diligently to a study of the history of God’s people, as recorded in the writings of prophets and kings.  He searched the historical and poetical books of the Bible to learn why the Lord had permitted Jerusalem to be destroyed and His people carried captive into a heathen land.”(italics, underline & bold added).3

Ezra was a self-motivated, inspirational, teachable learner. It is notable that he was driven to discover knowledge above and beyond the minimal requirements of the existing priestly training. We are not told he was dissatisfied with his life, career, socio-economic status or with the degree of his influence and popularity.  Actually, instead of focusing his energy on appraising the spiritual condition of his peers, or seeking mind-numbing entertainment, he demonstrated a humility that led him to recognize that his own spiritual condition was not optimal. Ezra’s humility led him to make an accurate, spiritual self-evaluation which qualified him to become a pivotal human instrument to enforce God’s Agenda at that point in history.  “As he learned more and still more concerning God’s dealings with His children and comprehended the sacredness of the law given a Sinai, Ezra’s heart was stirred.  He experienced a new and thorough conversion and determined to master the records of sacred history, that he might use this knowledge to bring blessing and light to his people.” (italics and underline added).4

I was moved to rediscover the other-focused motivation for his dive into deeper learning.  Neither an additional degree of higher learning nor a professional promotion were his motivation. As a Spirit-led scholar, Ezra understood that all knowledge attained must be for the purpose of blessing the objects of God’s love. “God chose Ezra to be an instrument of good to Israel, educating those about him in the principles that govern heaven. . . his principle work was that of a teacher. As he communicated to others the truths he learned, his capacity for labor increasedHe became a man of piety and zeal.  He was the Lord’s witness to the world of the power of Bible truth to ennoble the daily life.” (bold and italics added).5

There is an undeniable mounting disinterest in the reading of God’s Word.  Just eight months ago, CBN News cited a Barna study which showed that most Millennials believe that Bible is ‘just a book’. In reality, today’s younger generation is more disengaged than ever from the Christian faith.  Another recent Barna Group study revealed that only 14 percent of Millennials believe the Bible is the literal Word of God. Additionally, researchers are reporting that both Millennials and Generation Z are more hostile to the holy book than previous generations.6  

What a challenge and opportunity this poses for pastors, teachers and Kingdom builders in varied posts. May we be inspired, like Ezra was, to lead our generation into a “Return to Bible Reading Revival.”    Let’s commit to praying that God will impress us individually with creative ideas to inspire, through word and deed, a reigniting of passionate commitment to reading and meditating on the Word. I don’t know what, how or when the Spirit will impress you; but let’s agree to be swift in following the personalized promptings of the Spirit. Some of us may be impressed to host a weekly, Millennial (or any age) Bible study & dessert night in our home this summer!  Others may have the platform to encourage parents with kids of any age to find creative ways to intentionally insert personal and family Bible reading into this summer’s activities.  Maybe others will host a Bible writing relay—an activity where participants write out sections of the Bible in a relay race fashion. Maybe some of us with children at home for the summer can implement creative family Bible reading activities, maybe even outdoors . . .the sky is the limit! 

During a season when our sons were young, my wife, Carolann had been homeschooling our sons and one of them was having a hard time mastering reading.  He was becoming frustrated with himself as he saw his brother easily reading far above his grade level. It was breaking my wife’s heart to see our son feel so frustrated with himself. We even had him professionally tested to see if there was a learning challenge, we needed to support him with; however, the final report revealed no learning disability that could explain his challenge. One day, after crying out to God for wisdom, my wife says that the Spirit reminded her of the following thought she had read years before: “If the mind is set to the task of studying the Bible for information, the reasoning faculties will be improved.  Under the study of the Scriptures the mind expands and becomes more evenly balanced than if occupied in obtaining general information from the books that are used which have no connection with the Bible.”(bold, underline & italics added)7  

The following day, she felt impressed that it would help our son with his reading block if he were to begin to write out some Bible verses for a few minutes every day—even while he was yet unable to read or comprehend the words he was copying. He was diligent in unhurriedly writing out his daily assigned verses. Lo and behold, one day, only a few weeks into this Bible copying experiment, our son experienced a miraculous, long-awaited, breakthrough in his reading skills.  Just copying the Word seemed to have been the direct response to my wife’s desperate prayer and the supernatural key that unlocked his deferred ability to read. “Why should not this book—this precious treasure—be exalted and esteemed as a valued friend?  This is our chart across the stormy sea of life.  It is our guidebook showing us the way to the eternal mansions and the character we must have to inhabit them.  There is NO BOOK the perusal of which will so elevate and strengthen the mind as the study of the Bible.  Here the intellect will find themes of the most elevated character to call out its powers.  There is nothing that will so endow with vigor all our faculties as bringing them in contact with the stupendous truths of revelation.  The effort to grasp and measure these great thoughts expands the mind.” (bold, italic and underline added).8   Again, EG White reiterates, “The minds of all who make the Word of God their study will enlarge.  Far more than any other study its influence is calculated to increase the powers of comprehension and endow every faculty with a new power.” (italics & underline added)9

I pray that you will catch Ezra’s healthy dissatisfaction, and that God will use you to arouse those in your circles of influence (family, neighbors, co-workers and church family) to recommit to the personal (and/or group/family) reading and meditation of the Living Word.  Consider reading the Word in several different versions. The Message version (MSG)— a compelling, reader friendly version written by a former Hebrew and Greek professor—can be enjoyed by all ages. For others, digging into original Greek and Hebrew may be particularly stimulating. 

You may even consider carving a space during your Sabbath worship for people to share their personal testimonies about how the Bible continues to be a relevant, inspired and transformational volume, inspired by God, that unlike any other book, continues to be a source of personal spiritual growth and development!  Colleagues, let’s re-commit to reading, meditating, preaching, teaching and living out the Word! 

 References:

  1. Rissanen et al: Long term life dissatisfaction and subsequent major depressive disorder and poor mental health. BMC Psychiatry 2011 11:140.
  2. https://www.drdebracampbell.com/chronic-dissatisfaction/
  3. White, Ellen G. Prophets and Kings. Nampa, Idaho, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1985.
  4. Et al, 608
  5. Et al, 609
  6. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/september/most-millennials-believe-the-bible-is-just-a-book-ndash-what-this-group-is-doing-about-it
  7. White Ellen G, Mind Character and Personality Vol. 1. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association: 1977.
  8. Et al, 97
  9. Et al, 98

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From Leader to Leader – Suicide Prevention: Because Every Life Matters to God

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It was responsible for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016, with approximately one death every 12 minutes,1 many more people think about or attempt suicide and survive.  In 2016, 9.8 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 2.8 million made a plan and 1.3 million attempted suicide.2 Suicide is a problem throughout the life span and is no respecter religious affiliation.  In 2016 study was done with a beginning hypothesis that results from an earlier study would likely be confirmed, however contrary to earlier findings, in this study involving 321 depressed and bipolar adults, past suicide attempts were more common among depressed patients with a religious affiliation. Additionally, suicide ideation was more severe among depressed patients who said religion is more important, and among those who attend services more frequently. 3 This study’s results make a strong case for encouraging spiritual communities to have open dialogues about depression, suicide and other mental health issues. Incorrectly assuming that church attending Christian youth or adults don’t struggle with suicidal thoughts is simply not true.  

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age, the fourth leading cause among people 35 to 54 years of age, and the eighth leading cause among people 55 to 64 years of age. Suicide rates vary by race/ethnicity, age, and other population characteristics, with the highest rates across the life span occurring among non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic White populations.Other Americans disproportionately impacted by suicide include Veterans and other military personnel and workers in certain occupational groups. Sexual minority youth bear a large burden as well, and experience increased suicidal ideation and behavior compared to their non-sexual minority peers. 4

If these statistics don’t make you shudder, then allow me to bring it closer to home. Though all states are reporting an increasing rate of suicide in all ages, the state of Oregon is reflecting one of the highest increments, with rates of 28.2% compared with 24% nationwide; 5 In Oregon a person commits suicide every twelve hours 6.   Several other states in the Pacific Northwest have the highest ratios of suicide in the country!  Did you know that the states of Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and New Mexico are known as the “Alley of Death”? CNN recently reported a study that first appeared in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) indicating that suicide has become the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-19. 7

A bird’s eye view on suicide could lead one to conclude that most people who attempt suicide, do so because they perceive that life is not going to change, that things are going to get worse and that their problems will only get more complicated. Suicide incidents such as Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade clearly indicate that fame and fortune are not antidotes against suicide and that people belonging to the elite subclass are not immune to the devastation that suicide leaves behind. Much of the country wondered how a world-renowned chef traveling to exotic parts of the world, eating the finest food on the planet and lounging in the most exclusive hotels could consider ending his life in the quaint, French village of Kaysersberg at the five-star, Le Chambard Hotel. Many also wondered how the acclaimed fashion designer, known for her chic personal and household accessories, who had built a global fashion empire worth $2.4 billion, could hang herself in her New York city apartment while her 13-year-old daughter was at school. 

Suicide is complicated, perplexing and deeply tragic.  As pastors, teachers, and lay Kingdom Builders, I am hoping we will become convicted as to the relevancy of this topic.  Like so many other uncomfortable subjects, this is one that must be addressed more openly and more frequently, from our classrooms and pulpits, if we are to make a dent in this alarming, growing epidemic. Sadly, even many good parents, don’t understand how depression and anxiety are manifested in the lives of their children and adolescents and how these can lead to suicidal ideation if they intensify.  A lack of clear and accurate information is often the reason many parents, teachers and even peers can very well miss the signs and symptoms of a suicidal person. Sadness, anger, irritability, change of demeanor, behavioral changes at home, at school and isolation; can all be red flags that should be identified and explored by not only parents, pastors or teachers, but also by well-informed peers.

Suicide not only impacts the surviving family members negatively, but it commonly leaves behind toxic shame that is frequently experienced by future generations.  Additionally, there is growing evidence that familial and genetic factors contribute to the risk for suicidal behavior. Major psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism and substance abuse, and certain personality disorders (particularly Borderline personality disorder), which run in families, increase the risk for suicidal behavior. 8 Thankfully, these factors are not a death sentence and this doesn’t mean that suicidal behavior is inevitable for individuals with this family history. What it does mean is that such persons may be more vulnerable and should take steps to reduce their risk, such as getting evaluation and treatment at the first sign of mental illness.

M.S. Kaplan, a specialist in the study of suicide has said: “Suicide is an effort to escape an intolerable opinion of one self.” 7 Perhaps this is one of the many complex reasons we are experiencing the alarming increased trend of suicide rates for youth in the United States, 12.7% for females and 7.1% for males.  This actually presents a change in patterns of suicide as the rates of male suicide have traditionally been higher than for females, since suicide data has been collected.  In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women and white males accounted for 69.67% of suicide death in the same year.9  

It is also believed that cyber-bullying may be another factor contributing to the spike in young girls’ suicide, since they tend to visit social media sites more often than their male counterparts, which may make them more susceptible to experiencing an increase in the amount of negative thinking, which can lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors.

Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, believes that “Kids are feeling more pressure to achieve, more pressure in school, and are more worried about making a living than in previous years.” 7  Dr. Beresin believes that these factors alone, may not be so dangerous however, when put together with other factors, can become very lethal.

Another nuance in the tragic reality of suicide among our youth is the fact that girls are consistently using more aggressive means to commit suicide, like hanging or suffocation.10,11   This is just one way young girls are alerting us to the degree of emotional pain and stress they are experiencing in our society. When suicidal ideation saturates their thoughts, they become so convicted that life is not worth living that if they decide to act on their suicidal ideation, their suicide plan has become more lethal than previous generations when girls were more apt to poison themselves or cut their veins as their primary method of choice.12,13

Following is a list of precipitating factors, suicide prevention strategies, how to minister to the suicide victim’s family and other recommendations and resources to help you be a compassionate and competent resource in your ministry circle of influence.

I. Suicide among the youth

A. PRECIPITATING FACTORS

  1. Internal factors:
    • High score on the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Test
      1. History of physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse
      2. History of physical, mental and emotional neglect or abandonment
      3. History of emotional trauma
      4. Adverse emotional consequences due to an early onset for use of drugs, alcohol, and/or pornography.  
    • Emotional chaos: Resentment, bitterness, betrayal, bullying, cyberbullying, toxic shame due to negative exposure in social media
    • Emotional disconnection: Few or no friends, a lack of emotional, spiritual or psychological resources
    • Constant battle with a poor self-image
      1. Lack of identity
      2. Lack of community: Few or no intimate, meaningful relationships.
      3. Lack of purpose: Few or no identified life goals or mission
    • Impairment in Mental Health:
      1. Depression
      2. Anxiety
      3. Bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder etc.
      4. Psychosis
      5. Psychological dissonance and ambivalence such as: Sexual orientation conflicts, sexual practices that are incongruent with personal or religious beliefs, discord between genetic biology and sexual orientation.
  2. External factors:
    • Emotionally traumatizing events
    • Rejection from: romantic partner, parental, family, friends, peers, social circle
    • Personal losses: romantic partner, friends, relocation, pets, jobs, community
    • Drug and/or alcohol dependence
    • Dependence on pharmaceutic substances, legal or illegal
    • Disloyalty or betrayal from romantic partners, family, friends or co-workers
    • Feelings of vengeance towards someone who has caused pain  
    • Negative impact of media, or social media
      1. Pop-culture models or heroes that commit suicide: Mac Miller, Robin Williams

B. WARNING SIGNS

  1. Change in demeanor: An always cheerful person suddenly becomes withdrawn
    • Deepening depression
    • Anxiety
  2. Self hatred
  3. Self-inflicting wounds: Cutting and other forms of self-harm
  4. Changes in behavioral patterns towards family, friends, & school peers
    • Favorite activities or hobbies no longer hold interest
      1. Listening or playing music, sports, friendships etc.
  5. Significant changes in school performance: grades drop
  6. Physical and emotional distancing from:  Family, friends, romantic partners
  7. Isolation  
  8. Suicidal ideation
  9. Fixation on death or death related issues
  10. Asymptomatic: No overt signs or symptoms

C. PASTOR/TEACHER/PARENT/PEER INTERVENTIONS:

  1. Suicide Prevention Strategies
    • Secure a working knowledge of the relationship dynamics in the home of origin.
    • Secure a working knowledge of the stressing factors in the life of the young person.
    • Seek to be a friend; gain their trust.
    • Evaluate the emotional/psychological condition by assessing for and asking about:  
      1. Suicidal ideation: “Have you been thinking about ending your life?”
      2. Suicide plan: “Do you have a plan in place as to how you will end your life?”
      3. Suicide method: “Exactly how are you planning to end your life?”
    • Be ready to refer the young person to professional counseling.
    • Be ready to call the police so they can “51/50” the person, if necessary.
      1. Encourage the person to voluntarily admit him/herself into a hospital for psychiatric observation and evaluation for 36 hours, but if refuses, call 911 and report you are with a person who is a danger to his/herself.
    • Five steps to help someone in crisis:
      1. Ask—demonstrate empathic curiosity
      2. Keep person safe (don’t leave them alone until they are under supervision)
      3. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give is the gift of your caring presence
      4. Help the person to connect with: You, God, a counselor/teacher/pastor, family, friends and/or any other source of emotional support
      5. Make sure to follow up to ensure they sought help or are receiving psychological help
  2. Ministering to the family of a suicide victim
    • Funeral arrangements
      1. Offer your assistance in funeral planning  
      2. Funeral service
        • Assist, if needed, in securing a funeral venue/church facility
        • Assist, if needed, with family member transportation
        • Assist, if needed, with lodging arrangements for traveling relatives
        • Assist with snacks or meals during wake and/or funeral gatherings
    • Personal Visits
      1. Come ready to listen actively
        • Avoid offering “advise”
        • Avoid “preaching” to the hurting family
        • Avoid judging or the use of condemnatory statements
        • Focus on providing the ministry of compassionate presence
      2. Be ready to facilitate an emotional catharsis by providing an escape valve for negative emotions, pain, desperation, bitterness, disillusionment etc.
      3. Primary challenge:  Facilitating a connection between the hurting family and God
        • Invite hurting members to come to God with their hurt, broken and disappointed hearts while being aware your presence and care are a tangible manifestation of God’s comforting presence
      4. Be ready to accompany the hurting family through the five stages of grief (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross): Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance
    • Offer emotional & spiritual support as needed
      1. Schedule frequent post-funeral visits and/or calls to the family during the next 3-6 months.
      2. Demonstrate empathy: “The ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of other individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex).
      3. Demonstrate compassion, kindness, and love to grieving family members and friends  
    • Offer spiritual care and support
      1. Make appointments to stop by and visit: Mostly listen  
      2. Use Scripture passages carefully and sensibly
        • Share Bible promises, thoughts, books, cards or articles that offer, healing, peace, comfort, encouragement and hope through prayer
      3. Involve the community of believers to pray for the family, to visit, call, share food etc.
      4. Keep in mind that grieving is a highly individual experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. How one grieves depends on many factors including one’s culture, personality, coping style, one’s life experience, one’s faith, and how significant the loss was. Professional counseling is often very helpful when death of loved one is a suicide.

II. Suicide among Adults

A. Precipitating factors

  1. Internal factors:
    • A high score in the ACE (Advance Childhood Experiences) Test
      1. Neglect and emotional and or physical abandonment
      2. Trauma
    • Emotional chaos
    • Emotional disconnection and lack of emotional, psychological & spiritual resources
    • A long battle against a poor self-image
      1. Lack of community
      2. Lack of meaning purpose and life mission
    • Impairment in mental health: depression, anxiety, bi-polar, borderline or other personality disorders, psychosis, etc.
  2. External Factors:
    • Loneliness: Recent loss of spouse, relative, close friend or pet
      1. A number of losses, usually in sequence: Personal losses + professional losses + financial losses
    • Divorce or separation
    • Drugs and alcohol abuse
    • Use of legal or illegal pharmaceutic substances
    • An inability to see a better future and a general feeling of hopelessness and helplessness
    • Failing health: chronic or terminal illness, loss or organ or body part
    • Social media Influence
      1. Pop culture role models or personal heroes who commit suicide i.e.: Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Robin Williams 

B. Warning signs

  1. Change in typical demeanor: increased depression or anxiety
  2. Hate for self
  3. Changes in behavioral patterns with spouse, relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors,
    • Loss of interest previously enjoyed activities: hobbies, music, sport, religious or social activities
  4. Physical and emotional distancing from: spouse, family, friends or neighbors 
  5. Social isolation
  6. Suicidal ideation
  7. Fixation on death and death related topics
  8. Asymptomatic: No identifiable symptoms

C. Pastoral Intervention

  1. See section I on suicide among youth

D. Ministering to families of suicide victims

  1. See section I on suicide among youth

III. Suicide Prevention Resources for pastors, teachers, parents & youth:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) OR Text “HOME” to 741741
  • National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices
  • Crisis Connections School Resources
  • Recklessly Alive (website and blog by a once suicidal Christian millennial; great short videos to show at schools & churches for suicide awareness & hope)
  • Cru (Christian website full of testimonies and suicide prevention resources)
  • Suicide Prevention Workshops: at Western Seminary, email kbruce@westernseminary.edu
  • Suicide Prevention Resource Center (another rich suicide prevention resource specifically for faith communities wanting to do something!)
  • Just Between Us
  • The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith, Hope, Life Campaign recognizes the broad range of faiths interested in praying for individuals who may be struggling with suicide or whose lives have been touched by suicide. Click here to download free resources to help your community participate in this event.
  • The National Benevolent Association organizes peer groups for leaders that provide an opportunity to cultivate support and encouragement, mutual dialogue, spiritual renewal, and peer-to-peer learning. The NBA also offers a “Mental Health Initiative and Affinity Group,” which supports the prioritization of mental health and wellness in the life of the church, establishing the necessary awareness and understanding required to counter stigma, and change the landscape of conversation regarding mental illness and disorders within the church.
  • The Center for Courage and Renewal provides programs that give those in ministry roles the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with their calling within an honest and non-judging community.
  • The Soul Care Institute facilitates a two-year journey of a group of peers. Over the course of two years, students will ‘come away from the front lines’ of their ministries, work, and family life in order to engage in retreats that are designed to re-fill their souls for ministry.
  • Gateway to Hope: A comprehensive, interactive training for empowering, educating and equipping clergy and peers with the tools to respond to those in distress and help build a community-based response to the mental health crisis our country faces.
  • Celebrate Recovery offers 12-step healing group programs specifically for members of the clergy

Recommended Reading:

  • “When the darkness will not lift” by John Piper
  • Link to a really insightful article
    “Who Pastors the Pastor? Even Ministers Suffer From Suicidal Thoughts.” by Kay Warren of Saddleback Church
  • Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It by Steve Bloem (Kregel Publications, 2005)  This book shares a family’s struggle with mental illness while trying to find their place in the body of Christ.  Mental illness can be more subtle and much more prevalent than many expect. Christians who are clinically depressed or have been diagnosed with a mental illness can feel the guilt from Christian leaders who claim their problems are spiritual instead of physical or emotional.  This informative book is both scripturally and clinically sound as it breaks down old perceptions of mental illness and depression and provides hope for healing.
  • Mind Character and Personality” Vol. I, II by E.G. White

                                                        Bibliography:

  1. CDC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting system (WISQARS). (2018) Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. https://cdc.gov/injury/wisquars/index.html
  2. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. (2017) Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use & Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 17-5044, NSDUH Series H-52). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4990512/#R33
  4. Stone DM, Holland KM, Bartholow B, Crosby AE, Davis S, Wilkins N. (2017) Preventing Suicide: A technical package of policies, programs, and practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. https://www.metropediatrics.com/oregons-rising-suicide-rate/
  6. https://lanecounty.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3585797/File/Budget/FY%2017-18%20Proposed/Oregon-Facts-2017.pdf
  7. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/17/health/suicide-rates-young-girls-study/index.html
  8. https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/can-the-risk-for-suicide-be-inherited/index.html
  9. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
  10. Kaplan, M.S., McFarland, B.H., & Huguet, N. (2009). Firearm suicide among veterans in the general population: Findings from the National Violent Death Reporting System. The Journal of Trauma, 67, 503-507.
  11. Curtin SC, Hedegaard H, Minino A, Warner M, Simon T.  QuickStats: suicide rates for teens aged 15-19 years, by sex—United States, 1975-2015.  MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(30):816. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6630a6PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
  12. Curtis SC, Warner M, Hedegaard  H. Increase in suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db241.htm. Published April 2016. Accessed November 17, 2018. 
  13. Karch DL, Logan J, McDaniel DD, Floyd CF, Vagi KJ.  Precipitating circumstances of suicide among youth aged 10-17 years by sex: data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 states, 2005-2008.  J Adolesc Health. 2013;53(1) (suppl):S51-S53. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.06.028PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

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Beyond the Pulpit – Is Suicide a Mortal Sin?

by Stan Hudson, who served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 38 years and is currently the Director of Creation Ministries at the North Pacific Union Conference

Given the requirement in Catholic theology for a priest to hear confessions of sinners for forgiveness to be received, it is logical that those who commit suicide would forever be lost.  With no opportunities for the dead to confess afterward, those left behind had the added pain of believing their troubled love one was now doomed to eternal burning in hell for that sin.  No doubt responding to questions on that position, Rome has issued a couple of statements softening somewhat that belief without lessening the importance of confession.  They admit that “mental health issues” contribute to such drastic decisions and that people should not “fear for their loved one’s salvation.”

Amazingly, Adventism is not immune to this mortal sin theology.  In one of my first churches I had an elder who was into this thinking.  I challenged him on it, asking, “So you are saying that if a Christian committed a sin, walked across the street and was killed by a truck driver, he would be lost?”  Without hesitation, he said, “Yup!”  So, for that elder, suicide was a mortal sin.

As you all know, THE most important facet of any doctrine is what it tells someone about God.  If this above theology is true, it looks like God is all about keeping track of people’s legal records.  That is, He cares less about the heart, and more about test scores.  A giant Pharisee perhaps?

And yet the Bible records the suicide of someone who was saved!  I speak of Samson, who despite his Judges 16 decision to “let me die with the Philistines” he is included in Hebrews 11’s “Hall of Fame of Faith.”  How did Samson miss out on eternal punishment?  What was his mental state at the time of death?  Was he depressed?  I would think so, given how he had disappointed God with his lifestyle.  Was he angry with himself?  Sure.  Did he think that by ending his life he would make his world a better place?  Of course! 

But over the course of those last months of his life, more than his hair was growing back.  He had reflected on his past and had made peace with God, despite his natural mood swings and the humiliation of having his mistake paraded before God’s mortal enemies.  His last prayer of wanting revenge upon his tormentors may not have been the purest motive, still God could read his heart…and liked what He saw.

Over against Samson is the sad story of Judas.  He had regrets, too, over his terrible decision.  But his heart wasn’t right with God.  His story ended on the surface as similar to Samson’s.  But his sorrow was with himself and not towards God.

Finally, what about Jesus’ death?  Wasn’t it suicide, in the sense that He had said, “I have power to lay down My life and power to take it up again?”  Where would we be without Christ’s death for us?  There a suicide ended with immortality for millions.  Praise the Lord!

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From Leader to Leader – Help, my church is dying!

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

When my younger son was about five years old, we bought him a beautiful, tiny, white Maltese puppy that we named Pearly. She was so tiny that when we traveled, we placed her in one of our backpacks and no one knew we had a dog with us. She was obedient, potty-trained and very well-behaved. Pearly became very attached to me.  At one point, when I was bed-ridden for several months, Pearly would lay next to me all day long and would only leave my side to go out for her biological needs, eat and then she would jump right back into my bed. Pearly was the perfect dog that brought so much joy to the whole family, except for one “mental health issue” . . . she had a self-perception problem.  In her deluded mindset, she was also a victim to self-deception. She truly believed she was infinitely bigger and stronger than her 4.5 pound, petite frame reflected. 

One day, one of my neighbors was walking by our house with his stately Doberman, who just happened to be going through end-stage colon cancer (the dog, not my neighbor). When Pearly saw the dog and his owner walking by her territory, she bolted after him, forgetting she was aggressively barking at a dog who was 20 x her size and weight.  The unthreatened but annoyed Doberman reacted impulsively and dug his teeth into Pearly’s back (as he routinely did with his favorite fluffy, white stuffed toy… her owner later told us) and shook her violently many times.  We all stood there aghast and thought this could be the end of Pearly.  After the owner had belted out, “Put her down, boy” several times, the Doberman finally let her go. Pearly scurried back to the house with her tail between her legs, possibly ashamed she’d been defeated despite her valiant fight, and yelping in distress. During next 24 hours, we noticed that besides the surface tooth bites that weren’t too deep, Pearly wasn’t feeling well. Later the next day she began to quiver and mostly stayed in her bed.  It was then than we realized that she must have sustained internal damage and might be going into shock.  We rushed her to the veterinarian just to have our worse fears confirmed.  She had sustained so much internal damage during that severe shaking episode that the most humane thing to do was to put her to sleep.

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From Leader to Leader: Out of the Darkness & INTO THE LIGHT: How PORN is stealing, killing & destroying the present and future relational & sexual health of our children & youth

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

Any war strategist will confirm that knowing one’s enemy is vital to victory. This month we have decided to stimulate what we hope will spur further curiosity and candid conversations about and intentional, strategic plans to boldly expose to our families (parents, children and teens) attending our churches and schools how our enemy’s masterfully designed porn epidemic is hijacking the gift of emotional and sexual connection that God wired humans to enjoy in the context of emotionally and sexually healthy marriages.

The insidious use of porn is, unbeknownst to it’s unsuspecting consumers, stealing the love, tenderness and affection that God intended men and women to share with each other, killing healthy gender and relationship perceptions and practices, and destroying the God-wired capacity to derive sexual arousal and pleasure with one, 3-D, human spouse for a lifetime.

While many other religious communities have become increasingly aggressive in their attack against this invisible enemy, I believe that it is time that we Adventist spiritual leaders assertively join the ranks of those who have determined that they can no longer remain silent regarding this growing epidemic that is imperceptibly destroying the healthy relationship dynamics our boys and girls, youth and adults are experiencing, as well as the degree of emotional and sexual satisfaction they will experience in their future (and current) marriage relationships.  Is it any wonder that so many Millennials and Gen Z’ers seem to be increasingly trigger shy when it comes to committing to a life-long marriage? Remaining sexually exclusive with one person for a whole lifetime seems to be getting more difficult for the current generations to imagine or desire.

Who Consumes Pornography

Over the past 10 years there has been a large increase in the pornographic material that is available to both adults and children.  Porn use has grown increasingly common because it is anonymous—no one need know, accessible—one click away, and affordable—much free porn lures users in. Continue reading

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From Beyond the Pulpit – The Power of Women

by Stan Hudson who served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 38 years and is currently the Director of Creation Ministries at the North Pacific Union Conference

Hollywood generally makes their movies using tried and true formulas, meant to draw the masses in for a look. One of the most popular formulas currently is to depict powerful women fighting against various evils, some sociological, some more menacing physically. Often having super powers, women are shown to be able to kick bad guys into next week. But an apparently necessary part of that super image is to be super gorgeous. Gal Gadot, for example.

It’s that kind of power I want to talk about. It’s something God designed. When Adam first saw Eve, according to Professor of Theology Dr. Jo Ann Davidson, his first word (lost in English translations) was “Wow!” He liked what he saw.

With a fairly normal curiosity, though in my fallen nature, I remember the first time I saw a picture of a naked woman. My recently-divorced dad was living with a couple of buddies in a bachelor apartment; as a nine year old I was exploring their digs when I saw a magazine called “Playboy.” I had a strong sense that I shouldn’t open the pages, but I did anyway…. Fast forward to my college freshman days and a hike with friends up a canyon near Palm Springs. There not far from Doug Batchelor’s famous cave were a pair of free-spirited hippies cavorting in a swimming hole. The couple sported their birthday suits.

Images. Images that are powerful, hard to erase. And there is someone who knows their power and wants desperately to use that power to hurt God’s precious things. Satan uses images to entrap people, especially men, to look at things that we shouldn’t.

When I was pastoring my first church we were in a major building project. One day about five of us men, including my head elder, were discussing things in the center of the unfinished sanctuary. In came the head elder’s daughter, maybe 20 years old, with a message for her dad. She was a beautiful young lady, tall, blond and…she had on cut-off shorts. Our group of men stopped talking and were clearly discomfited (look it up!). I had to stifle a laugh at this exhibition of a woman’s power.

There is something mysterious and sacred, something hard to quite grasp in all of this. Solomon said that a “man with a maiden” (Proverbs 30:19) was one of the things he couldn’t quite figure out. And this from a man who had literally hundreds of women!

We all know about David and Bathsheba. Good men can look where they shouldn’t look. David’s sin started with a look. It always does.

On today’s internet nothing is difficult to find. How easy it is to see an advertisement or some kind of story that features a beautiful woman that tempts us to click into more images that entangle us. I have wished that God would grant us a delete button in our brains, but He allows us to live with the consequences, with the hope that we will learn to direct our gaze elsewhere.

But since there IS power there, God has very specific instructions as to how this power can safely be enjoyed. And that you all know is in an active, monogamous and loving relationship, where both parties are united in a sacred commitment to each other. Any images that draws us away from that or builds false expectations about sex, for example, will lead us down unhealthy paths. And those paths can lead to destruction of so many beautiful things.

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What Works for Me…Pastoral Tip

by Pastor Aaron Payne, Chaplain at Columbia Adventist Academy

After sitting down and talking for a while about the youth’s problem I will bring our conversation around to overcoming the addiction. Usually if a young person has come to talk to me it is because they truly want to break free from this habit. I will ask them to do 4 things.

1. Recognize what times and situation they are tempted the most and avoid those times and places. Ex. Don’t stay up late on the internet.

2. When they are tempted have a Bible verse to quote and claim in the face of the temptation. A few verses I have suggested are Is.41:10,13, or Phil. 4:13. I teach them how to claim a promise since many are unfamiliar with doing this.

3. Find an accountability partner. Of course this person needs to be a person who has a strong walk with Jesus, is trustworthy, and does not share the same problem.

4. Ask them to commit to reading a book called “Every Young Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn, assuming I am dealing with a young man. There is also a book out there for young ladies, “Every Young Woman’s Battle“.

Only after they have taken these steps will I be willing to anoint them, asking for healing and victory. I find that if I anoint them first they may not follow through with the first four steps.

Finally I will communicate to the parents (with permission from the young person) and ask them to change their internet server to integrity online, which is a pre-filtered server. There should also be multiple planned follow ups.

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What Works for Me…Pastoral Tip

by Pastor Matthew Gamble who served for 18 years as an Adventist Pastor

Satan has a great way of sneaking this stuff into our lives at an early age to get us hooked in hopes to warp our sense of intimacy, love, and sex. For me pornography/lust came in at the age of 7. With the material now so easily accessible on the internet truly Satan is going to succeed in getting more people trapped in his world wide web. Or is he?

In helping people with this addiction, I have found several resources to be invaluable. I will list them below:

1. XXX Church is a Christian based ministry that is seeking to help people with addiction to pornography. They provide free software that can be downloaded onto your computer that will provide accountability for you while you surf the internet. If any questionable sights are viewed, the addresses will be sent to your accountability partners.

2. Prodigals International offers training and materials to help local churches establish effective ministries to sexual addicts and their spouses. The director is a good friend of mine and has recently linked up with researchers from Loma Linda University as well as the General Conference to see how these materials can be applied in Adventist churches nationwide.

3. Sexaholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover.

4. Read the books, “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and “Not Even a Hint” by Joshua Harris.

Above all else I encourage people to recognize that we are more than conquerors through Christ. As we accept His gift of victory on a daily basis and learn to trust Him over self, we WILL have the victory.

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From Leader to Leader – River or Desert? Your Choice!

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

When the sun set on the last day of 2018, I had already decided that 2019 could not simply be a repeat of the last. I had no special list in mind, as I knew better than to think I could even come up with worthy resolutions.

I did, however, think about what my personal and ministry life could become if I were to surrender ALL of my plans and agendas. . . ALL of myself to a Holy Spirit-directed revival? How would those yet unknown changes affect my life, my family, my ministry, my neighbors? I thought, if there is more that the Holy Spirit can infuse into my life to make it fuller, more meaningful and Kingdom-impacting, I wanted it! After all, when Jesus spoke concerning the effect the Holy Spirit would have on His followers, He said that out of their hearts would flow “rivers of living water” (John 7:38,39).

A few months ago, our NPUC President, John Freedman, was impressed to invite NPUC Executive Committee members, department heads and staff to 20 days of Call in Study and Prayer in 2019. We were all given Helmut Haubeil’s book, “Steps to Personal Revival” and were invited to read through this book “in community” through a call-in system, over 20 sessions of reading, meditation, discussion and prayer to consider how we might experience a personal revival that could become contagious in our circles of influence.

Jesus’ Return is eminent! I believe that in order to awaken from our Laodicean condition, we need to pray and fast for a Holy Spirit revival that will begin with me!

Haubeil proposes there are three types of people in respect to their personal relationships with God. “Within each of these groups there are many different shades depending on the parental training, character, training of oneself, age, culture, education, etc. But even with all the differences there are only three basic attitudes towards God:

1. No relationship—the Bible calls this the natural man.
2. Full, real relationship—the Bible call this person spiritual.
3. Divided or feigned relationship—the Bible describes this as a person of the flesh or carnal.

The author invites his readers to an authentic self-evaluation. After all, we can’t get too exited about a Spirit-driven revival unless we’ve identified our actual spiritual condition.

It has been an interesting journey for my wife and I so far. We are being deeply challenged to rethink the way we think about ourselves, others and Spirit-driven Kingdom-building. I am being challenged to surrender every corner of mind, heart and soul to the transforming influence of the Holy Spirit daily and to trust Him, ever deeper, with the steering wheel. The truth is, our spouses, children, neighbors and communities need to see and experience the lovely and loving character of Christ reflected in His followers, not just a beautiful set of fundamental beliefs presented by a charismatic preacher.

How might your personal life, family and ministry be affected by a Spirit-choreographed personal revival?

6 Then he said, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty—you will succeed because of my Spirit, though you are few and weak.’ Zechariah 4:6 (Living Bible TLB)

At 9:00 PM tonight, our cell phones will again ring to remind us to connect to this evening’s community study & prayer session.

I urge you to consider reading this small, relevant book and sharing it with your friends, family, church elders/leaders and members. You might even consider creating a reading & prayer community, as we have done. Can you begin to imagine the HOLY FIRE the Spirit can ignite???

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Resources – Who should be allowed to preach in Adventist pulpits?

It is a special responsibility and privilege to preach from an Adventist pulpit, even if it is in a newly planted church.

Here is wise counsel from the Church Manual “Under no circumstances should a minister, elder, or other church officer invite strangers or any unauthorized persons to conduct services in our churches. Individuals who have been removed from the ministry, or who have been dismissed from church fellowship in other places, or designing persons who have no authority from the church, should not be permitted with plausible words to gain admittance to our pulpits. Great care should be exercised to prevent this. Each one worthy of the confidence of our churches will be able to identify himself or herself by producing proper credentials. There may be times when it is proper for our congregations to be addressed by government officials or by civic leaders. All others should be excluded from the pulpit unless permission be granted from the conference/ mission/field office. It is the duty of every elder, minister, and conference/mission/field president to see that this rule is carried out. (See pp. 147, 150, 215-217.)” 2005 edition, pages 77-78.

Anyone who preaches from an Adventist pulpit, whether Sabbath morning speaker or guest evangelist, should qualify in one or more of these ways-

  1. He/she is a member of the local congregation, and is known by the church body.
  2. He/she is able to show a current credential from a Seventh-day Adventist Church organization.
  3. He/she has a recent (within the past year) letter of recommendation from his/her home church.

We see evidence of this kind of accountability in the early church (2 John, 3 John) and in the early credentialing process of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Following this counsel will save us from many problems in the future.

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