When I Realized I Was Lukewarm

In 2012, I was in a near-fatal car accident and suffered extensive brain injury as a result. Up till then, I had been working as a family doctor in northwest Indiana, USA, for six years.

From my earliest recollections following my accident, I remember hearing over and over again that people who suffer a brain injury have to find a “new normal.” They said my brain injury was so severe that there was no chance of me going back to who I was before my accident.

However, for the first several months, I shocked nearly everyone with my unexpected, unexplainable, and rather quick recovery. This led me to believe that my brain injury wasn’t nearly as bad as my doctors had suggested and that I’d be back to my old self—my old normal—in no time at all.

But it wouldn’t be long before my recovery slowed down to a crawl and it became clear that I simply wasn’t going to return to my old self again. The long-standing effects of my brain injury had become undeniable.

I no longer had the mental capacity and the ability to easily remember any and all sorts of information. No matter how much effort I put into it or how hard I tried, the focus and concentration I once had was no longer there. This, as well as many other signs, pointed me to the realization that my doctors had been right from the start. I now had a new and very different kind of normal.

This led to a season where I felt overwhelmed by my new reality and I started angrily asking God a lot of questions about what He was doing. I still consider the day of my accident “the day my life changed forever.”

However, a second life-changing day took place about the same time I was starting to question God’s plan for my life.

I was at a Christian media conference in Dallas, an event I had begrudgingly agreed to go to with my wife. Even though I went to the conference with low expectations, to my surprise, I heard a Bible verse while I was there that would change the trajectory of my life once again!

The verse was from Revelation 3:15-16:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Now, this wasn’t an unfamiliar verse to me. It was one I’d heard plenty of times before . . . but this time something was very different. It affected me in a way it never had previously. Every time I heard this verse in the past, I’d thought, “Man, I’d hate to be one of those lukewarm guys spit out by God!” But when I heard those words that day, I suddenly became aware and convicted of my lukewarmness, and thought to myself, “I think I’m actually one of them.”

You see, I had always tried my very best to make my faith an important part of who I was. I never strayed too far from the church or God, and most people thought of me as being a “good Christian.” But I had an awakening that day and realized how “lukewarm” I truly was.

Part of that awakening involved starting to understand that I’d been following an “inverted gospel.” I claimed to be following Jesus, but in reality, I’d just invited him to follow me. I had never fully given everything to God and was still trying to handle most things myself. I thought that Jesus was a way for me to get what I wanted and to help me stay comfortable, but never considered how much He deserved from me. I don’t think I ever fully trusted that God knew what was best for me so I made sure to always take the lead.

This realization lit a fire inside of me that I’d never experienced before. I wanted to learn more about who Jesus truly was and what a life completely surrendered to Him was supposed to look like. I felt like I’d been given a second chance to leave behind my lukewarm ways and to live a life completely for God, the only kind He deserves and the kind I should have been living all along.

My whole escape from “lukewarmness” was not a single, instantaneous event. It has been a journey—one where I am learning more and more every day about what it means to surrender my life to God. So far, I’ve discovered that surrender includes letting God lead me, and trusting His ways over my own. Unlike my approach to life in the past, I’m learning that I don’t need to know exactly how things are going to play out before taking the first step, before moving forward, or before making a decision—but can trust Him to lead me each step of the way.

One thing that stood out to me about my escape from lukewarmness is that I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t see it coming. But what I did have control over was how I was going to respond to what God was teaching me about being lukewarm. Was I going to fight with God on how He was trying to change me or was I going to accept it? I thank God that I had the courage to accept it.

I used to wish my brain injury had never happened, but over time, I have learned to focus on how God used it to bring about really positive things . . . like saving me from my lukewarmness. I wish there could have been another way, but I’m learning to not question God’s perfect plan, and instead thank Him for the good He brings out of negative situations (Romans 8:28).

I’m not sure where you are right now or if any of what I said about being “lukewarm” resonated with you. But if you were able to relate to my story, I hope you know that God loves you, and desires for you to live a life surrendered to Him too.

Can We Love Jesus Without Loving the Church?

I have always been a regular church attender, and am typically involved in one ministry or another. But there have been times when I wondered if being a part of a local church body is really all that important. I never actually stopped attending, but I have wondered at times, “What’s the point?”

However, I recently started reading and studying what the Bible has to say about the church, and am learning about Jesus’ immense and everlasting love for it (Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:29). As a result, I’m beginning to see things a lot differently.

Despite the deep love Jesus proclaimed and showed for His church in Scripture, Christians are leaving it today in record numbers. Many of these people wouldn’t say that they’ve stopped believing in God or that they’ve given up on Jesus. They would probably just say that they’ve become frustrated with the church.  

Maybe they’ve become saddened by the church’s perceived stagnation or it’s unwillingness to change old traditions. Maybe they feel like today’s church is no longer relevant and doesn’t try hard enough to engage with today’s culture. Or on the flip side, maybe they believe the church is trying too hard to fit in with today’s world. Maybe they are disappointed with the hypocrisy and hateful rhetoric spewed by some of its members.

Sadly, I can sympathize with many of these frustrations. The people in the church of Christ often don’t display the loving characteristics of the One they claim to be following. I am certain that Jesus is saddened by the behaviors and attitudes displayed in a lot of today’s churches. But I think Jesus might also be saddened when people give up on the church and abandon it altogether.

Often we hear, “I still love Jesus, but I just don’t want to deal with church anymore.” Perhaps it would be wise to remember that Jesus called the church His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Imagine for a moment that someone wanted to be your friend, but wanted nothing to do with your wife. How would you feel? I know I would have a hard time having a relationship with that person. When we say that we want Jesus, but want no part of His church and its people, we are basically doing the same thing to Him.

The church is not a perfect community. I know as well as you do how far from perfection we are. But really, shouldn’t this be expected? The church is made up of a whole bunch of imperfect and sinful people. I once heard someone say, “If you find a perfect church, don’t go there because you’ll ruin it!”

Despite all the imperfections in the church, God is still madly in love with it. So if we truly love God, then we should love His church and be willing to work on the issues it faces. If we see a need, then we should try to meet it. If we see a problem, then we should try to come up with a solution. Too often, church is like so many other things in today’s culture—a place where people are experts at pointing out the problems, but aren’t willing to do anything to help solve them. We expect someone else to fix the problems in church. But we all can, and must, do better!

The Christian church is a vital part of God’s great plan to find and save the lost and to restore this broken world. Yes, He could have done all this without our help. He has all power and authority to do it on His own. But for some reason, God chose to include us. He chose to allow His bride to be a part of His work. He chose to use His church.

God has equipped every member of His church for a specific purpose. Each of us is empowered by the same Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus and make His church loving, beautiful, captivating, intriguing, and inviting. Let’s try to find our place in it, and let’s all do our part!

As someone once said, it’s impossible to love Jesus but hate the church. When we give up on the church, we give up on that which Jesus died for.

Why Am I Depressed?

On May 3, 2012, I was in a near-fatal car accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as a result. God miraculously saved my life that day, and also went on to orchestrate a recovery only He is capable of.

My journey to recovery began at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, where I was discharged after a month and continued to have regular and frequent follow-up appointments with my doctors. One thing I remember about these appointments is being asked a number of times about having symptoms of depression or anxiety:

Was I feeling down?
Was I starting to isolate myself from others?
Was I feeling hopeless?

I now understand why they were so persistent in their questioning. Statistics show that one year after a brain injury, more than 50 percent of survivors are affected by these conditions. After seven years, that number jumps to more than 66 percent, compared to the general population where the rate is less than 10 percent.

But at the time, I was naive and believed these statistics wouldn’t apply to me. I had never dealt with any mental health issues. And why would I start now? I had so many things to be happy about and thankful for. I had just survived a near-fatal car accident and my recovery was going better than any of my doctors expected. I had great friends and a wonderful family. I was back to working as a family doctor, a job I knew and loved. And most importantly, I was a Christian, and Christians aren’t supposed to be depressed or anxious, right?

But none of these things seemed to matter. I had a hard time accepting my new life and the new me. I felt like I had become a completely different person. After the brain injury, some of my strengths became my weaknesses, and some of my weaknesses were now my strengths.

I had become very rigid in my daily routines and wanted to stick to the plans I had made for each day or week. I had an extremely hard time multitasking and tended to just focus on one thing at a time. My memory had suddenly become poor, and this was something I had once been proud of. It was something I had depended on to make it to my career as a doctor. Unlike anything remotely related to my “previous” life, I had somehow become a reader, a writer, and a deep thinker. I wasn’t sure how to act or how I was supposed to function as the person I had suddenly become. I wasn’t even sure I liked who I had turned into!

All of this confusion and questioning resulted in the arrival of a battle with depression and anxiety. I became more withdrawn. I felt down about all the new struggles I had developed from my brain injury. I was having a hard time finding joy in this “new” life. I finally admitted I was having these thoughts and knew I needed to seek help.

Now, I had been treating these conditions for years as a family doctor, but after experiencing them myself, I became shamefully aware of how poorly I understood them. I had always struggled with understanding and explaining to patients why they should use the medications I prescribed or the counseling I suggested. But now, even though no two persons’ experience with mental disease is the same, I was getting a glimpse of how some of my patients felt.

My treatment for the past four years has included both medication and psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT). The combination of the two has helped me accept the things I really had no control over and given me the motivation to work on the things I do. In addition to these, regular exercise, the proper amount of sleep, and a healthy diet have also been important in improving my mental health.

Following my brain injury, mental illness has become a part of my story. And it is something I have chosen to openly accept and courageously fight. Besides what I mentioned above, another vital part of my acceptance came from reading the Bible and understanding it in ways I never had before.

I have learned that the Bible is filled with people suffering from all sorts of issues. Though I grew up in church, I wasn’t aware of this. The churches I went to just didn’t talk about it much, or maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention. So, because of my ignorance, I was under the impression that the people who wrote or who were written about in the Bible didn’t deal with any of these kind of issues. And if I was living a proper life and the way God wanted, I shouldn’t either. I have learned this is simply not true.

For example, the authors of Psalms and Lamentations both write about the struggles they faced. These godly men openly confess their feelings of despair and anxious thoughts. David, for example, cries out to God, “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Psalm 31:10). This is an honest cry of someone suffering emotionally.

But after telling God about his despair and anxiety, David then makes the choice of the other writers of the Bible—to stop carrying the burdens himself, and chose to let God carry them through whatever he was struggling with. Just a few verses later, David says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands. . .”(Psalm 31:14) David realizes that he cannot carry his burden on his own, and chooses instead to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and leave his struggles at the foot of the cross. And that is what I am learning to do as well.

Illness of all kinds, both physical and mental, was not part of God’s original plan. But because of our sin, it came into our lives. Thankfully, we have a God who loves us so much He came to rescue us from this mess. God sent Jesus, who lived a spotless life and died for our sins so that one day we can live forever in a perfect world free of all disease. This is one of God’s promises, and it’s in this promise that I place my hope and my trust (Revelation 12:4).

But until that glorious day, there will be trials. There will be sickness. It is during these difficult times I find my hope, strength, and courage in another one of God’s promises. The promise that in my weakness, He will be the strength that carries me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When Pride Lingers After An Accident

There’s nothing innately wrong with being proud of something or someone. Pride can be a good thing. But we have to be careful with it because it can become very dangerous when it’s misplaced.

Well, I had been living dangerously and I didn’t even know it. I was placing pride in myself above anything else. On May 3, 2012, my self-pride took a big “hit,” and I mean that literally.

I was driving home after running a few errands in town when another driver ran a flashing red light, hitting my truck and pushing it into a concrete utility pole. My head then went through the driver’s side window and struck the pole, causing a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Though my life was spared, as a result of my TBI, I did “lose” much of what had made me me. So you would think my problem with self-pride would have been lost as well. It would be a thing of the past, taken care of once and for all. But it wasn’t. My self-pride may have been curbed somewhat but it never left completely. It would exit for awhile but never stay gone. It was always finding its way back. It wasn’t that long ago when my pride issue was starting to make one of its ugly returns. And the scary thing is I didn’t even know it was happening

During my most recent bout, I was focused on getting as many people as possible to hear the miraculous story God has written and is still writing for my life. I was spending a lot of my time and energy “promoting” myself on social media and other platforms. I was telling others about who I was, my story, my upcoming book, my speaking, and so on. I was becoming over-focused on myself.

As all of this self-absorption was taking place, I heard a very timely sermon where my pastor was teaching from the book of Ecclesiastes. That day, he focused on one particular verse: “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

I believe this warning also applies to self-pride and self-absorption, etc—the very attributes I was displaying.

I knew God was speaking directly to me. It wasn’t something I should take lightly, because it had the ability to destroy me. I was very grateful to be made aware of this, but now what? How was I supposed to combat overrighteousness and, thus, avoid being “destroyed”?

As I was sitting there pondering this question, our pastor led us to the New Testament and the book of Matthew. “But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

 Now that was a very familiar verse to me. I had heard it many times before. But, as our pastor pointed out to us that day, there is a word tucked away within it that we tend to gloss over and overlook. But that single word was the answer to the question I was just asking myself. This one word, when taken to heart, gives us the ability to avoid being destroyed by our overrighteousness. This very powerful word is: His.

You see, our righteousness isn’t ours. It’s His. It belongs to Jesus. Every little bit of it. We haven’t anything to do with it. The only reason we can be called righteous is because of what Jesus has done for us. So anytime I start thinking too highly of myself or believing that I am in any way responsible for my righteousness, I need to remember the One who truly is.

Moving forward from here, I know I will need to promote my story, my upcoming book, my speaking, etc. I understand this is necessary if I want to people to hear the story God has written and is still writing in my life.  But when doing so, I have to remember that none of what I am claiming ownership over is actually mine. Not one bit of it. Because just like my righteousness, it all belongs to Jesus.