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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Why Not Try This? – 10 Things Every Church Should Stop Doing to First-Time Guests

Many of us have visited a church where it is common place to point out the guests. “Please stand up and tell us who you are.” The well meaning church leader is trying to make the guests feel welcomed, but it usually has the opposite affect and they may not return. Read the tips on what-not-to-do in 10 Things Every Church Should Stop Doing to First-Time Guests.

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From Beyond the Pulpit – Amalgamation and Dinosaurs

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

Here’s a strictly Adventist topic!  No other denomination that I know of associates dinosaurs with the subject of amalgamation.  In fact, Adventists have been fairly confused about these potential “confused species.”  Let’s take a look at this.

The quote that leads us into this hazy place is this one from Spiritual Gifts, Volume III, page 75.  Speaking about the conditions that led to the Genesis flood: “But if there was one sin above another which called for the destruction of the race by the flood, it was the base crime of amalgamation of man and beast which defaced the image of God, and caused confusion everywhere.” (Emphasis added).

There are several things here to consider.  “Amalgamation” is an old 19th Century word that means “mixing.”  It was often used to describe the production of metallic alloys, which is the blending of two or more metals. And the context mentions the blending of man and the blending of beast.  Does that mean the blending of man with beast?  If so, that would explain to some the fossil evidence of creatures that look half-human and half-ape.  The larger problem with that is that those fossil evidences are almost certain post-Flood.  This would mean that the mixing of man and ape continued after the Flood.  Significantly, the Ellen White estate has consistently denied that EGW’s statement was talking about “man with beast.”

Clearly there is mixing that involves man and mixing that involves beasts with the results being a defacing of the image of God as well as some confusion.  We are helped with the latter category from another quote from the same page 75.  Here she talks about the animals going into the ark:  “Every species of animal which God had created were preserved in the ark.  The confused species which God did not create, which were the result of amalgamation, were destroyed by the flood.” (Emphasis added).  SG III p75.  Apparently, some animals were blended or bred, significantly changing them from God’s original design. 

But for what purpose?  This is my opinion now, but it’s based on several things.  We know that pre-Flood man was intellectually advanced, but with thoughts “only evil continually,” The world’s chief problem was violence.  If there was a line of animals (like dinosaurs) that could be bred into warrior animals (for entertainment? hunting? warfare?), why wouldn’t Satan use man to mess up another one of God’s most amazing creations?  An ankylosaur strikes me as something made more for a combat world than the Garden of Eden.

But some Adventists have believed that ALL dinosaurs were the result of amalgamation, essentially believing that God never made them at all.  And thus none got on the ark, since the confused species were “destroyed by the Flood.”  But please note this additional statement from Spiritual Gifts, Volume IVa, page 121:  “There were a class of very large animals which perished at the flood.  God knew that the strength of man would decrease, and these mammoth animals could not be controlled by feeble man.”  Since we have elephants today, the only larger class of animals would be the great sauropod dinosaurs.  And they were destroyed because of their size, not because of being amalgamated.  Dinosaurs smaller than elephants, which most were, must have gotten on the ark.  These creatures may have been the source of ancient dragon stories.    

But what was the mixing of man?  What could deface the image of God?  Remember, please, the seriousness of this crime; it was the one sin above all others that “called for the destruction of the race!”  To me, that would mean it must be in the Bible.  Look at Genesis 6:1,2:  “Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful, and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.”  “Sons of God” here refers to the godly race of men through Seth, whereas the “daughters of men” refers to the idolatrous descendants of Cain.  God’s people were marrying out of the church.  How serious did God take this?  The very next verse in Genesis 6:3 announces God’s patience was nearly done;  a 120 year probationary period started.  God’s image in man, His great purpose for mankind, was being defaced.

This all culminated into what I consider to be possibly the saddest verse in the Bible:  “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”  Genesis 6:6.  Be careful, friends, what you mix!

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Changed Lives – Modern Challenges

by Terrance Taylor, Pastor of the New Movement and Richland Seventh-day Adventist Churches

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ Romans 5:20-21

Modern evangelistic efforts come with a new set of opportunities, but also a new set of challenges. Today, people are not as familiar with Biblical themes and stories as they have in times past. Biblical illiteracy is on the rise, and regardless if people attend church or listen to sermons, the practice of studying Scripture is largely underdeveloped in most believers. The challenge is, presenting messages with heavy theological themes makes it difficult to creatively set the context for some topics that require a much more comprehensive understanding of the Bible.

However, this new reality is also creating new opportunities that are exciting. Little to no biblical knowledge gifts learners with the beauty of starting from scratch, often without many of the harmful preconceived interpretations that can create barriers to growing faith. The opportunity to approach Scripture from a “childlike” posture, leaves the reader more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in revealing what is necessary and every foundation to the Christian faith. We have found this year that we are attracting a growing demographic of new believers which are changing the way we reach our community. We are embracing what is new with hopeful anticipation of making new disciples in Christ.

Living Free was the title of the series we chose to offer, and it was all about finding freedom through God sent relationships. This topic proved to be a powerful evangelistic tool in that it was so practical, it was able to translate well in all major issues of life. In this series, we explored the idea of freedom of being what God wants for us and how he uses people to do it.
Instead of focusing on what tends to have us bound, we focused on seeing the help God has constantly offered us, even in our darkest moments.

This approach allowed us to connect the mission of Christ with the mission of the church in the incarnational method God uses to send salvation through people. Overall, we found these topics to hit home for many people, which raised awareness of people needing people to get through hard times, which voiced the need for having a family (church) to journey with.

One younger member of our church had been off and on with God for about two years before eventually he started attending more frequently, about three months before our series begun. He had just started a new relationship with someone who had no religious background, but he invited her to church. It was clear that she had no idea what was happening and, for the most part, was just there because she had been invited. But then, something amazing happened.

Our people embraced them, and loved them, and began to become friends. The real shocker was the first day they came to church by themselves. We were all amazed and grateful to God. After a few months, they began to help with the social media team, and I began to notice our posts getting better and receiving more traffic. One post I will never forget, was when I read the caption, “Saturdays are for second chances!” I was moved with joy and praise because I know who had created this post and I knew their faith was growing.

The only thing I didn’t know was how. No one was studying the Bible with them and they were only coming to church. I couldn’t figure it out. Finally, overwhelmed with curiosity, I had to ask, and their answer was shocking. In order to recap the message to create a social media post, they were listening to the message over and over again to find something to write. They were also paying close attention to the service and going back to read what Scripture was given. The day of their baptism, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Everyone knew that in some small way, they played a part in leading someone to Christ, and if we give God space, he can do amazing things.

We’ve decided as a leadership team to let grace be in charge, as referenced in the Scripture above. Christ needs to be the leader, both in our personal lives and in our church community. As we submit to his leading, we are praying that stories like this will become commonplace.

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NPUC Advent Movements – Currier

Allee Currier has accepted the invitation of the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) executive committee to become the organization’s next treasurer. Currier, who has served as North Pacific Union Conference Association treasurer since 2016, will fill the UCC position left vacant since the departure of David Freedman to the Southern Union in February. She hopes to make a full transition to the new role sometime this summer. Read more from Upper Columbia Conference online. Read More…

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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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Why Not Try This – Using Your Faith to Overcome Darkness: A Suicide Toolkit

by Jennifer Scott
Source: NAD Ministerial

Suicide is the leading cause of death for those dealing with serious mental illness such as depression or anxiety, with one in 10 committing suicide due to poor mental health. Many people think of religion and science as two wholly separate entities. However, studies have shown recently that prayer can actually have an effect on a person’s mental and physical health, altering moods and energy levels, as well as lowering stress levels. This toolkit can be placed in your arsenal to help you fight the battle against suicidal thoughts and actions, and get your mental health back to a healthy level through prayer.

Tips to Get Started

Whether you are currently having thoughts of suicide or have even recently made an attempt, it is important to have resources to turn to in case you need extra assistance. Consider storing these tips away for those days when you are feeling alone and need a way to cope:

How Prayer Impacts Mental Health

Whether you pray every day or are curious about the changes prayer can make in your life, here are a few of the ways prayer can improve your mental health and combat suicidal thoughts.

Stress

Stress affects most Continue Reading…

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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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Changed Lives – Nobody Noticed

by Vincent Dehm
Source: NAD Ministerial

Tread softly this could get dark.

For most of my life, there was an underlying darkness that seemed to accompany me. I grew up in an environment where it did not matter what you felt like on the inside, as long as the outside was put together. This way of handling “stuff” nearly cost me my life.

It was the beginning of October in 2001. I had entered my last year of college in Texas. Two and a half years earlier, I had gotten out of the Army to pursue a degree in Theology. I had a supportive loving wife of ten years, three school aged children, a house that had squirrels in the attic, a full course load, and a marriage that was falling to pieces right in front of my face.

This particular season had been really tough on our relationship because like most men, I have a propensity Continue Reading…

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Resources – Suicide Prevention

  1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) OR Text “HOME” to 741741
  2. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices
  3. Crisis Connections School Resources
  4. Recklessly Alive (website and blog by a once suicidal Christian millennial; great short videos to show at schools & churches for suicide awareness & hope)
  5. Cru (Christian website full of testimonies and suicide prevention resources)
  6. Suicide Prevention Workshops: at Western Seminary, email kbruce@westernseminary.edu
  7. Suicide Prevention Resource Center (another rich suicide prevention resource specifically for faith communities wanting to do something!)
  8. Just Between Us
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Celebrate Recovery offers 12-step healing group programs specifically for members of the clergy

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