Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A Resource

What makes life worth living?

It’s a question that seems easy to answer when life is going well. But it becomes painful when life seems to be a never ending string of pain, sickness, or sorrow. It becomes tragic when it’s a question tinged with despair.

Sadly, suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause of death for those aged 15-34. These are our friends and neighbors, family members and coworkers. We should not cease to see this as a tragedy.

But this is not a tragedy we must merely accept. Death by suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented.

This is why I want to share with you today the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can call the Lifeline for free, confidential support for yourself or to learn how to help a loved one in crisis.

I would encourage each of you to save the number in your phone (seriously - do it now). You never know when it may be a help to someone or help you receive support in a crisis situation. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also chat with a trained crisis team member online at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

During this National Suicide Prevention Week, I would also encourage you to take a few minutes to read the great resources on the Lifeline website to learn more about the warning signs of suicide and what you can do to help.

I deeply believe that life is worth living. I believe your life, my friend, is precious, valuable, and worthwhile. You are a gift to the world.

Let’s keep reminding each other of this truth.

Work and Worship: Porter's Gate Project

The purpose of my Everyday Disciple series is to draw our attention to opportunities for discipleship and mission in everyday life. My heart's desire is to see the Church living into a lively vision of our call as disciples of Christ, to see how each part of life is under His Hand, His Lordship, His sanctifying Power. The whole of our lives is touched by His call to "come follow Me."

When I see others engaging this same vision, I get excited. That is why, this week, I've decided to take a break from our Everyday Disciple stories in order to share a related project.  

Last June, a diverse group of worship leaders gathered for the first collaboration of the Porter's Gate Worship Project. They discussed ways worship can engage culture, particularly how worship relates to work - and work to worship. 

The fruit of this gathering is the Porter's Gate Worship Project: Work Songs. It's a beautiful collection of new worship songs written to speak to the reality of the work and vocations in which we find ourselves outside of a designated Sunday "worship time." It's a powerful project. And it's a delight to listen to and worship with. 

There are several gems on this album, but my favorite thus far is "Your Labor Is Not In Vain":  

Your labor is not unknown
Though the rocks they cry out and the sea it may groan
The place of your toil may not seem like a home
But Your labor is not unknown

The houses you labored to build
Will finally with laughter and joy be filled
The serpent that hurts and destroys will be killed
And all that is broken be healed

I am with you, I am with you
I am with you, I am with you
For I have called you, called you by name
Your labor is not in vain

There's such hope here in the promise that the seeds we plant are not in vain, that our toil is not without fruit.

How would our lives, our worship, our work, and our churches be affected if we sang songs like this regularly?

I'd encourage you to take a look at Porter's Gate. You can find out more on their website and in the video below. You can find the album through their website and on iTunes

Literary Genres in the Bible and Why They Matter for Bible Study

This post is part of an ongoing series on reading, interpreting, and studying the Bible. Click here for all the posts in this series.


When you read a story to a child, do you read it the same way as you would an encyclopedia article? Do you read the newspaper the same way you read a poem? 

We instinctively know that we can’t read everything the same way. The style and form—or genre—of what we’re reading shapes our expectations and interpretation. The genre gives us reading "rules."

If we look for metaphors and deeper layers of meaning in an instructional manual, we’d be missing the point. Likewise, if we expect a children’s storybook to give us nuanced answers for our self-help predicament. We pay attention to genre to read well.

Genre and How We Study the Bible

Do you know the Bible contains several different literary genres? As we read and interpret Scripture, we must pay attention to it to read well and read the passage as it was intended to be read. 

When you read a passage of Scripture, ask, “What is the genre of this book/passage? How does that genre inform the way I should read, interpret, and apply this?”

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One of the best single resources I know for this endeavor is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart. This book is well worth having on your shelf.

For each of the genres in Scripture, the authors explain the main features of the genre, the Biblical books it applies to, and the basic principles for reading and interpreting the genre. They keep everything practical and accessible, focus on broadly applicable principles that can guide our reading, and pepper these principles with examples. 

For our purposes here, I’ll give a brief overview of the biblical genres—but I’d encourage you to get a copy of How to Read to learn more.  

Biblical Genres At A Glance

Narrative 

The narratives in the Bible tell us about God’s work in history. These stories from the past are intended to shape us in the present, but they are not intended to be moralized. They may illustrate implicitly a principle or standard of morality (positively or negatively) that is explicitly taught somewhere else in Scripture, but they do not always give us a clear judgment of people’s behavior.  

Law

The Law was a binding covenant, or legal agreement, between Israel and God, and explains how the nation of Israel was to behave and worship, individually and as a society. It included specific blessings and curses that would come as a result of their faithfulness or unfaithfulness (see Deut. 28). These blessings and curses are important to understand the rest of Israel’s history, particularly the prophets and the exile. 

Poetry

Poetry uses evocative and imagery-laden language and is peppered with metaphors and similes. The Psalms (the largest collection of poetry in the Bible) are songs and poems to and about God, intended to give voice to the praise and prayer of God’s people. They are music, not in-depth or extensive explanations of doctrine. They are properly interpreted as a whole, with each line understood in light of the ones around it. 

One feature to keep an eye out for: parallelism. The writer puts two lines of poetry in parallel with each other, to add a depth of meaning—and beauty—by the way they compare to each other or build on each other. Once you start looking for it, you’ll see how frequent it is. For example, Psalm 19:1:

"The heavens declare the glory of God, 
And the sky above proclaims his handiwork."

Wisdom

Wisdom literature in the Bible uses poetry to give practical, pithy statements about how to make godly choices and think and act based on God’s truth. By nature it is inexact and not exhaustive. It gives us a memorable snippet of truth but doesn’t tell us all about it. This is why all wisdom literature must be read and interpreted based on the entirety of Scripture.  

Prophecy

The prophets spoke for God to specific people in a specific situation. They announce God’s enforcement of the covenant, as given in the Law, and declare both judgment and hope. They must be read in light of the historic setting and background of the audience and in light of the blessings and curses of the Law. The prophets often convey their message using poetry, so we should remember to pay attention to the imagery, metaphors, and parallelism in their message, just as we do in the Psalms. 

Gospels

The Gospels are selective presentations of the life, work, and teaching of Christ, for a specific audience. The differences in the Gospels are intentional, and paying attention to these differences will help us understand what is being emphasized and communicated by each Gospel writer. Just as we pay attention to the intended audience of the Gospel writer, we pay attention to the audience of Jesus’ teaching. His parables and stories expect a response, and they are properly understood when we remember who he is calling to respond in that moment (disciples, crowds, Pharisees, etc.).

Epistles

The Epistles were letters written by apostles to a specific group of Christians for a specific purpose and to a specific situation. Since we’re only given one "side" of the conversation, we need to pay attention to the historical context and to the clues we’re given about the “other side” of the conversation. It’s crucial to read these books with an eye for the entire argument and flow of logic. We must constantly be asking what the author’s words would have meant to his original audience, and then (and only then) we can consider what a comparable situation and application it has for today.

Apocalyptic

The word apocalypse means “revelation, disclosure, unveiling” and refers to an unveiling of unseen or future spiritual or earthly events and realities. It heavily uses symbolism and visions, and it is concerned about future judgment, justice, and salvation. It is important to remember that apocalypse (which appears in Revelation, Daniel, and prophets like Ezekiel) is a form of literature, and one that is heavily stylized and artistic in its imagery, use of numbers, structure, etc. 
 

Reading the Bible in Context: Part 2, The Big Picture

This post is part of an ongoing series on reading, interpreting, and studying the Bible. Click here for all the posts in this series.


I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love a good story. We love being caught up in them, swept up in our imaginations, transported to another time. They make us laugh and cry. They inspire us and challenge us to live differently. Stories shape who we are. 

I hope you’ve encountered some good storytellers in your time—the sort that captivate you as they slowly pull you into their tales. 

We cannot forget that the Bible tells us a story. It is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It tells the grand story Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. We are a people of this story. We are marked by it. And we have been called to live in it.

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To understand the Bible properly, we need to understand its Story. We need to see how the parts of that story fit together. When we’re reading the Bible, we should ask, How does this passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?

CASKET EMPTY is the best tool I know to explain the biblical story and keep each part of the Bible in its larger framework. CASKET EMPTY was developed by two Gordon-Conwell professors for the purpose of helping people understand the story of the Bible. They’ve used CASKET EMPTY as an acronym to describe the major highlights of the biblical story. This acronym structures the beautiful illustrated timelines for the Old and New Testaments as well as the companion study guides. If you’re looking for a thorough yet accessible overview of the Bible, you really must take a look at these

I’ve given broad brush strokes of the Story below, using the CASKET EMPTY framework. Remember that this is a sweeping abbreviation, so you’ll want to read more on your own to fill in the gaps and details.


Old Testament

Creation

Genesis 1-11

God creates the world and everything in it, and it is good. Adam and Eve, the first humans, are deceived in the garden of Eden, and sin enters the world. This “Fall” brings the results of sin and death, including the effects of sin on our relationship with God, with each other, and the with created order.

Abraham

Genesis 12-50, possibly Job

God makes promises to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3, 17:1-8) and makes a covenant with him. This covenant continues to his descendants, starting with his miraculous son Isaac and moving to the entire nation of Israel.

Sinai

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth

God delivers the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt, with Moses as their leader. He makes a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai and gives them the Law. They enter into the Promised Land, with God promising to dwell with them in the tabernacle.

Kings

1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah

God grants Israel a king—first King Saul (which ended badly), then King David. God makes a covenant with David, and his is the true royal line. After David’s son Solomon dies, the Kingdom is divided into Israel in the North and Judah in the south (which follows the rightful line of David). Both Kingdoms stray from God’s Law, though the Kingdom of Judah does have some godly kings, who call the nation back to worship of God alone. Because Israel and Judah have broken the Law, God promises judgment. The prophets write during this time, calling the nations to repentance, announcing judgment, and promising God’s faithfulness. The Kingdoms continue to rebel, however, and God brings judgment through the means of other nations. Israel is conquered by Assyria, and Judah is conquered by Babylon.

Exile

Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Psalms

After the Kingdom of Judah is conquered, the people are taken to exile in Babylon. The prophets say that after a time of exile, God will restore His people and bring them back to their land. They also promise the coming of a Righteous King, and a new covenant in which God’s people will be freed from sin and given hearts that are soft to obey Him. 

Temple

Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Psalms

As God promised, the people of Judah are allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem. They rebuild the city, the walls, and the temple. 

New Testament

Expectations

Between the end of OT and beginning of NT, no Biblical books

The Israelite people continue to wait for the promised Messiah the prophets spoke of, as they continue to face oppression by world powers. 

Messiah

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Jesus comes as the Messiah and in his life, death, and resurrection fulfills the promises made to God’s people. He announces the arrival of the Kingdom of God and proves its presence with signs and miracles. He calls people to repentance and a response to the Gospel. Jesus lived a sinless life but died a criminal's death on a Cross. His death paid humanity’s penalty for the effects of sin and death brought on by the Fall and began a restoration of all of Creation. His life, death, and resurrection are the climax and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament, and the basis for the Christian church’s teaching in the rest of the New Testament. This is the highlight and center of the Story.

Pentecost

Acts

After Jesus returns to Heaven, his disciples receive the Holy Spirit. They begin to spread throughout the known world, obeying Jesus’ command to baptize and teach disciples in His Name. God makes clear Gentiles (people not of ethnic Israel) and people of all nations are equally welcomed into faith. Fledgling churches spring up and expand, even in the face of persecution. Paul, once a persecutor of the church, emerges as a key leader.

Teachings

Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude

Leaders of the church write letters to teach early Christians about the effects and implications of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They talk about how new life in Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit change the Christian’s thinking and behavior. They also deal with issues related to organizing the early church and wrestle with early wrong interpretations of Jesus’ teaching. 

Yet-to-come

Revelation

Evil is finally and fully judged, and God is shown to be the Victor and King. The Redemptive story comes to its full conclusion as Creation is fully restored. God’s people are brought together and live in God’s Kingdom in a New Heavens and New Earth.


Whenever you’re reading a passage of Scripture, locate it within this big overarching Story. Then consider how it relates to the Story, how it moves the Story along, etc. Also consider how its position in the Story affects the way you interpret it. This is all a part of reading the Bible in context—grounding each passage of Scripture within the whole Story of how God has and is working in our world. 

Friend, we are a part of this story. As you sit and read your Bible and ask these questions, you sit in between the “teachings” and the “yet-to-come.” We haven’t seen the full arrival of God’s Kingdom or His full Restoration. As a part of the Church, as a believer in Jesus, you are a part of His Story and a part of His work in the world. I stand in awe of this!

More Than An Aspirin: A Review

This post is part of an ongoing series on ministering to people in pain. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

“In a practical sense, this is a book of good news about bad news. The bad news is no surprise: We know that life inevitably brings times of loss and pain, often unfairly, often without warning. We know, at least in part, the good news as well. We understand that it is possible to live through these times of pain and disorientation in ways that result in wisdom, maturity, and prosperity for our souls. What we are less clear about, however, is how to make this happen…” 

Thus begins Gay Hubbard in her book More Than an Aspirin. In the book, Hubbard takes on the task of answering this quandary and explores thought patterns and practical actions that enable us to manage pain well. It’s the best book I know of on the subject of pain management and suffering from a Christian perspective. 

Hubbard calls us to see effective pain management as a part of good stewardship and discipleship. This note is part of what makes it unique - and gives it a pervading undercurrent of hope. We can’t eliminate pain in most cases, but we can choose to live through it in a way that helps us to choose life, hold ourselves open to joy, and nurture strength. 

It is this form of pain management Hubbard lays out in her book. I have found she gracefully walks the line between being a comforter and a challenger, the line between a hug and a good kick-in-the-pants. She will not offer platitudes or empty promises, and she acknowledges walking through pain in this way is challenging. But she holds to the bed-rock surety that God can bring good from our pain. So she encourages us to “commit to managing our pain in ways that helps to bring this about.”

I will exercise great self-restraint and outline only one helpful snippet of Hubbard’s wisdom for you today. I encourage you to get a copy of the book because there’s a lot more where this came from.

MEDDSS Model for Self-Care

Hubbard uses the acronym MEDDSS for her model for self-care. This model, she says, allows us  “to choose life one step at a time as an act of discipleship.” Self-care in this sense is essential to redemptively managing our pain in the way Hubbard describes. 

M: Mastery
Take the next right step and do what you can, no matter how small

Mastery is refusing to surrender to our painful circumstances by accepting the role of victim. It says we always have the power to act and choose, even if it’s something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning. But mastery also remembers the true source of our strength to act: God’s enabling power. Mastery asks, “What can I do?” and then does it, even if it’s in the smallest of things.

E: Exercise
Allow your body to strengthen your soul

Exercise doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as a 10 minute walk. Studies have found exercise to be as effective as medication for some forms of depression. Exercise values our bodies as God’s creation. And it acknowledges the complex connection between our bodies and souls. 

D: Diet
Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of healthful foods

The Diet/Food part of MEDDSS encourages good nutrition. It also frees us to choose food as a part of our pain management (like traditional comfort food or a good cup of tea). The key is for the food to be a thoughtful choice, not an unconscious, uncontrolled means to handle our pain. The Goldilocks principle is key here: not too much, not too little, but just the right amount.

D: Drugs
Take the drugs prescribed to me in a way that enables me to function more effectively

Medication (or things like vitamins) can be a tool that enables us to function more effectively and strengthens our discipleship. But we must pay attention not just to what we take, but why and how we take it. We must not misplace our hope and expect a pill alone to solve our problems, but rather see it as a part of the whole.

S: Sleep
Not too much, not too little, but the right amount for effective functioning

Sleep is a practice of restraining ourselves to rest. Most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep is often linked to our emotional stability, and the choice to sleep may enable us to better receive God’s grace: “behaviors demonstrating love, kindness, patience, and self-control are not the fruit of sleep deprivation.” We must make sleep a priority, not something that’s optional. We may have to implement behaviors, routines, and practices to encourage good sleep habits.

S: Spirituality
Invest time and energy in your spiritual growth

We acknowledge that all of our life—including struggles and failures—plays a significant role in our relationship with God, and we look for how the choices we make in each area of life can deepen that relationship. We embrace forms of worship, communities, books, music, and other materials that feed and challenge our spiritual growth in this particular place and time in our journey. 

What Do I Do With This?

  1. Get a copy of More Than an Aspirin on your shelf. It’s an excellent resource both for your own reference and to be able to lend to others when they might be struggling.
     
  2. Encourage others to take their MEDDSS as you're supporting them through a season of pain. Begin with Mastery, emphasizing their ability to choose and act. Encourage them in healthy self-care using this model. Remember it’s based on small steps in the right direction and small choices made each day.
     
  3. Model healthy discipleship-oriented self-care in your own life. The model for self-care as described here isn’t about self-indulgence—it’s about putting yourself in a place to live as a more effective disciple of Jesus, and it will position you to minister more effectively to others.