I’ll never forget the night years ago when my younger brother, Andy, told me he was addicted to heroin. We sat in my parked car near the beach, the darkness shrouding his face as he told me the story.

“I need to tell you something, Kay. I know you’re going to take this hard. I started using heroin a few months ago and I can’t stop.” The world stood still for a few moments as I absorbed the news that my baby brother—the one whose arrival in our family eight years after I was born gave me the sibling I had longed for, the one I carried in my arms, the one I pretended was my personal walky-talky doll when he was 2, the one who used to snuggle in my arms and call me “Sissy”—was a heroin addict.

Through my tears I shouted questions at him: “Why did you start shooting up heroin? What’s the matter with you? Are you stupid? What did you think would happen? Did you think you could play with heroin and not become a drug addict?” I was shocked and angry and confused. Mostly I was frightened. Was I going to…

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By Nate Stewart, CR National Director – Mental Health

 But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV)

I find a great deal of comfort in these two verses of Scripture. I am reminded of times as a child when I would look across a crowded room and see my father. I knew that at any moment if I needed him, he would be there for me—he would protect me. I knew that my father loved me and was there for me because I was his.

God is illustrating through these verses that, in the same way, my father was there for me, God is there for us. When trouble comes—and it will most definitely come—God is there. And because I put my faith in Jesus,…

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Truth Over Lies

By Celebrate Recovery

By Michael

When I look at the face of this 52-year-old man in the mirror, I finally understand why my fears look the same as they did in 1973 when I was in first grade. I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ. I struggle with anxiety and its different manifestations. My name is Michael.

My early childhood was torn apart by alcohol, anger, and abuse. My father was a violent alcoholic. My mother was a nurturing codependent who loved him as long as she could. They divorced when I was 4. My world was already filled with fear. But it wasn’t from fear of physical threats or beatings. My fear began as soon as I felt I had something to hide. I had an older friend who was 7 or 8 at the time. He was teaching me things that were always our secrets. I was told not to tell anyone. He said people would be angry and punish me. Or even worse, they would be ashamed and send me away. From age 4 through 6 these days were common in my life. A child that age doesn’t see the lie or…

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4 Ways to Involve Your Small Groups in the Great Commission

If you want your church to balance God’s purposes and grow in a healthy way, your small groups must lead the way.

It’s like this: You’re only as healthy as the cells in your body. It’s a basic truth of human health. If your cells are sick, your body will be sick, too.

The same is true in churches. Your church will only be as healthy as the cells within it.

And your small groups are those cells. They help build God’s purposes into every heart, every group, and every ministry.

In Acts 2, we can read about the first small groups in the early church. The Bible says:

    • They grew spiritually (v. 42)
    • They ministered to one another (v. 45)
    • They fellowshipped (v. 46)
    • They worshiped (v. 47)
    • They evangelized the spiritually lost (v. 47)

Unfortunately, many small groups today just focus on one or two purposes. Often, it’s fellowship or discipleship (or both). Maybe they’ll add some worship songs at the beginning of the meeting time. They might even be involved in ministry as a group.

But evangelism and missions tend to…

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5 Truths for Ministering to Those with Mental Illness

I’ve always said our greatest ministry comes out of our greatest pain. That’s why Kay and I have focused the last few years on helping churches better engage people with mental illness.

Many of you know that our younger son, Matthew, battled mental illness almost his entire life. His profound suffering impacted everyone in our family. He experienced many, many moments of despair over his short 27 years of life. Then, in 2013, in one impulsive moment of despair, Matthew took his life.

In the months after Matthew’s death, Kay and I decided we wouldn’t waste our pain. We wanted God to use the pain to help local churches around the world faithfully serve the mentally ill.

As we prayed about what God wanted us to do to help Saddleback and other churches minister in this area, God gave us five biblical truths to establish the foundation of everything we do:

1.  Every person has dignity.

God made every single person in his image and for his purpose. Mental illness doesn’t change that truth one bit. If a person’s heart is beating right now, God has a…

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Building Your Ministry on the Promises of God

What makes Christian leaders distinctly Christian?

Some say it’s how they lead—by serving others rather than using forced authority.

Some say it’s the motivation—they lead for Jesus’ sake and to build up the body of Christ.

Those are both great answers, but I believe distinctly Christian leadership is based upon the promises of God.

By some estimates, there are somewhere around 5,000 promises of God in the Bible. Our God is a promise-making God. He is a covenant-keeping God. He made promises to every major leader in the Bible—such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, and Paul.

And God makes promises to you and me, too.

You can base your ministry on a variety of different factors, from your own cleverness to your own giftedness. I’ve chosen to base mine upon the promises of God. I have found, as Joshua did at the end of his life (read Joshua 21:45), that every one of God’s promises has been fulfilled.

I’ve built my ministry on these eight promises.

1. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”
(2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV).

God used…

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11 Simple Strategies for Helping Guests Feel Welcome

When I think back to some of the factors that have helped Saddleback grow through the years, one of the most important has also been one of the most overlooked.

If you want people to show up, you must be nice to people.

Sounds simple, right? It really shouldn’t surprise anyone. But even though most churches say they’re friendly, some of them really just mean their members are friendly to people they already know. They’re friendly to people who look like them and act like them.

And that doesn’t guarantee they’re friendly to guests.

You must be intentional in your friendliness. You don’t overcome unfriendliness by accident. You need to build friendliness into your worship service.

That’s why, early on at Saddleback, I instituted the three-minute rule. Guests are usually among the first to leave at the end of a worship service. Longtime members stay the longest. I’d tell my longtime members to find someone who looks like a guest (they are usually easy to spot) and talk with the person right after the service. I’d encourage them to spend some time getting to know these guests and making…

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Messy

By Celebrate Recovery

by Sabrena Stolze, SE Regional Director, Celebrate Recovery

I don’t like messy. I like neat, orderly, organized, and systematic.

No doubt the chaos and trauma that began in my childhood and continued into my teen and adult years, before recovery, greatly contributed to this part of my personality. But I also know this personality trait was woven into me by God for his purposes. The chaos and trauma created distortions of my God-given personality—distortions that cause me distress as I navigate a messy, unordered world. But God, through recovery, always gives me grace.

I continually struggle with the clash between grace and the distortions of my personality. I am thankful that grace showed up and that reminds me that God isn’t finished with me yet. Everything we do in Celebrate Recovery ® feels messy on some level. And I am grateful for that, because it presents opportunity after opportunity for God’s grace to shine even brighter!

I pray today that God’s grace shows itself mightily in you, and through you in spite of your distortions, whatever they are. Let’s continue to love, encourage, and build one another up through it all. Keep doing the good,…

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Just Enough Faith

By Celebrate Recovery

By Diane

My name is Diane, and I’m a grateful believer in Jesus who has victory over love and relationship addiction and codependency. I’m overcoming pride, judgmental thoughts, and grief.

I’m the oldest of four. My father was an alcoholic and my mom was a critical, judgmental codependent. Both parents brought their own baggage into the marriage, which flowed downhill to us kids. So, like many families, ours was dysfunctional.

As a result, I grew up believing love was conditional and I had to earn it and prove I was worthy of love. This led to feelings of unworthiness and insecurity, and to people-pleasing, perfectionism, codependency, and love and relationship addiction. I was not raised in church but accepted Christ as a teenager. I quickly turned back to the world. Soon after, I discovered I could get the attention, affirmation, and affection I needed from boys by using my body. I mistakenly equated sex with love.

I used sex, love, and relationships to feel valuable and loved. They were just a means to an end, a temporary fix to dull my emotional pain. These choices would initially produce good feelings of love, affection, and acceptance….

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How do you help people take their first steps into recovery?

Many people will fight it. They’ll put up a facade. They’ll pretend they have no problems.

But you and I know everyone needs recovery from something. All of us have been hurt. No one has it completely together.

In Luke 5, God gives us a great picture of what it looks like to help people get on a path to healing. (In fact, it’s such an important story that the writers of the Gospels include it in two other places, Matthew 9 and Mark 2.)

Jesus is inside a home teaching the Pharisees and religious leaders. Some men want to get a paralyzed friend to Jesus so he can heal the man. But thanks to the crowds surrounding the house, there is no way in. So these men climb onto the roof, open up a hole, and lower their friend through the roof to Jesus.

What Jesus does next is a great model of ministry for anyone involved in helping people recover from their hurts, habits, and hang-ups.

And you’ll see this pattern of ministry in all of Jesus’ interactions with people in the Gospels. They…

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10 Reasons Every Christian Should Share the Message of Jesus

Every person in your church has a message to share with the world. The middle-aged business owner has one. The single parent has one. The 10-year-old you just baptized has one. The 95-year-old in a senior citizen home has one, too.

As pastors, we understand that every member is a minister. And so telling others about who Jesus is and what he came to do isn’t a commission meant just for us.

The Bible makes it clear that God has called every believer to share the Good News.

I know it’s not easy to get everyone in our congregations to commit to evangelism. And it can be frustrating to hear people say they don’t know what to say, they don’t have time, or they are embarrassed to talk about spiritual matters.

At Saddleback, we’ve learned that explaining why evangelism is so important helps people understand the necessity and value of sharing their faith. Here are 10 reasons from the Bible why God wants us to share our faith.

1. God made us to know him.

Human beings are unique. God made us in his image. We have a…

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Breaking the Chains of Hopelessness

The first time Rick publicly prayed at a weekend church service for people living with a mental illness, his words were simple. He asked God to bring comfort and strength to anyone living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness. He asked God to reassure them that their pain and suffering mattered to God and to their brothers and sisters, and to remind them that as a church family, we would do all we could to offer support to them and their families.

The response from the congregation was astonishing. As he stood on the patio following the services, dozens of men and women who were living with a mental illness, or who loved someone living with a mental illness, lined up to give him a hug and to thank him for bringing their struggle into the light. Many spoke through their tears about the deep gratitude they felt to hear mental illness mentioned from the pulpit in such a loving and positive way. “I’ve kept my illness a secret at church,” several said. “I didn’t know it was okay to talk about it.”

That simple,…

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