Wednesday, January 1, 2025

Welcome, Purpose, and Links

Hello,

My name is Mike Sechler. I am currently the pastor at Oakland Evangelical Free Church, and this blog is a place for me to set down some of my thoughts about life, scripture, church life, discipleship and whatever else comes into my mind at the moment. A number of my posts are articles that I have written in the past or that I have just written for the local paper or for my church.

I hope you find them enjoyable and edifying.

Along with this blog, I also have a blog where I review and recommend various resources including books, movies, websites, podcasts, and all sorts of other media.

I am also keeping a record of all the sermon recordings, so if you are interested in listening to them here are the links.

2017

Friday, October 26, 2018

What can you give a Pastor's Kid?

Here is a quote from Barnabas Piper's book "The Pastor's Kid" (he is John Piper's son) about being a pastor's kid. I put this out there for my kids, but also because I was a PK as well so I experienced some of these same things. "Very few people in the church would vocalize their assumptions about the PK or even cognitively recognize that they hold them, but they are present. For example, some people assume all is well, that the PK has it all together. They’re usually wrong; remember, PKs are as human as everyone else. Others are intimidated by the PK: he must know more Bible verses, be wiser, and have a secure line to God’s office in heaven. Nope, not usually. And then there’s the family assumption: the PK has a pastor for a dad, and his mom leads the women’s, children’s, hospitality, shut-in, quilt-making, and baking ministries, so what could a normal old congregant offer him? False assumption. The normal congregant can offer something powerful to a PK, usually many things.

PKs want to be known, not just known of. We want to be in relationships that cut through the facades and fronts and unearth the insecurities and needs. We long for those friends and mentors who will willfully set aside all they think they know of us as PKs and get to know us as people. These friends will engage our passions, our interests, our fears, our confusions. Throughout my life since high school, I have had these friends. They are the ones who will call me out on a lie or grapple with sins alongside me or forgive when I sin against them. They pay no mind whatsoever to who my father is and instead look straight into my life and see me. They are the ones who have been there for my worst days and helped me come through them. They know me. PKs struggle, and if all we have are people around us who know of us, we bottle those struggles inside and the pressure builds. Being known is a release, a way to pour out our problems and be helped, supported, corrected, taught, and simply known."

Thursday, October 18, 2018

My Privilege

Here is a post that I wrote on Micah's CaringBridge page on this day 6 years ago.

My privilege

I count it the greatest privilege to have been blessed by the Lord to be Micah's Dad on this earth for the last 12 years. It was also my great privilege to walk with him through all of the illnesses through the years, especially the last 6 months. Finally, it was a tremendous privilege to be by his side when he went to be with Jesus.

I love my boy, and I love Jesus.

Here is what I wrote early this morning in my personal journal:

"Sitting at the bedside of my dying son at 3:48 in the morning. Weeping like crazy. Bertrand Russell once said that “no one can sit at the bedside of dying child and believe in God.” Well, I beg to differ. My faith is the thing that strengthens me. How else can I make it through? We cannot do anything else. This fire drains away everything else. Nothing else satisfies my soul. I would love to save my son. I would easily give my life for his, but God has not chosen that path for us. He has chosen a vale of tears, but He will walk through it with me."

Jesus walks with us, and now Micah is walking with Jesus.

Micah is now with Jesus. Here is one of my favorite memories of him.


Piano Playing

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Are you loved?

The last in my series of article on depression and suicide written for the Oakland Independent in July 2018.

In an article earlier this month, I told the story of my depression and near suicide in my young adult life. I stood at the top of a cliff in the Black Hills and nearly jumped, and I believe if not for one factor, I would have jumped. That one factor was that I knew my parents loved me and that it would hurt greatly if I jumped. Later in the year, as I was still very depressed and suicidal, my dad called me and said, "Mike if you need to, you can just drop everything and come home." In that moment, I realized that my Dad loved me not because of what I did or did not do, but simply because I was his son. I did not have to earn his love!


That fact that I knew someone loved me unconditionally was a huge factor in helping me decide not to commit suicide and in gave me a safe place to go to work through my depression. The feeling of being alone and unloved is one of the primary causes of depression. I frequently meet people who are almost completely alone in the world. They have lost connection with family, they have no friends, and often their primary or only contact with the outside world is an electronic screen. The breakdown of family and social structures along with the isolating influence of electronics has created a situation for many people where they feel no love from anyone. Perhaps you have felt this way. Maybe you have been in a situation where you think that if you left town or died, no one would care.

God wants you to know that is not true! Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Jesus came to save you and me not just other people. He came because He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever! Maybe you think you are not good enough for God to love, but it does not matter how good or bad you are, because He loves unconditionally. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). God does not love you after you do something for Him or after you start to love Him. Rather He declares His love for you right now, wherever you are. He took the action necessary to show His love. The creator of the universe, who is always everywhere, all the time, loves you. You do not need to feel alone and unloved if you really believe that Jesus died to bring you back into relationship with your maker. If you believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again because of His love for you and surrender your life to Him, then you can know that He is with you and that you are not alone. 

For those of us that have already experienced God's love and know that He has provided us with a family and friends who really care about us, then we have love to give away. He pours His love into us (Romans 5:5), and then we should pour His love on to others. All around us there are hurting, lonely, depressed people that need to know that they are loved. I encourage you to take the time to walk across the street to that elderly neighbor's house who you have not seen out much. Pay attention to the people in rental properties who often move so much that they do not form lasting friendships. Help them move in, invite them over for dinner, or plan fun events with other Christians and then invite the new neighbors too. Go visit the sick in the hospital and care centers. Showing Christ's love is simply a matter of helpful hands and listening ears. If we show His love in these practical ways, then it reveals that we truly know Jesus and His love (Matthew 25:31-40). 

I can tell you from real life experience on both sides of this coin that being shown love and giving love is the best thing in this life and the next (1 Corinthians 13:13). Know that God loves you and then show others that God loves them.

Do you have hope?

This is the third article in my series on depression and suicide written for the Oakland Independent newspaper in July 2018

If you grew up going to a church that sang hymns, you probably know that many of the hymns end with a picture of heaven. "Amazing Grace" says, "When we've been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun." "How Great Thou Art" ends with "When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart." When I minister at Oakland Heights, I always make sure to sing these last verses, because for most of the people in the service, heaven is becoming more and more real as their earthly life winds down, and those visions of heaven can bring hope and joy even when struggling with pain, grief, and loss of purpose on this earth.

Many people in the modern world do not have this hope. If you do not believe in God or are not sure if there is a God you cannot have this hope. If you think that maybe there is heaven after death, but that your place in heaven depends upon how good you are, then you can never be sure that you are good enough, so it is hard to have a sure hope.

Now when you are young, active, attractive, healthy, wealthy, in a great relationship, and things are going well, you probably are not worried about hope for the future because your present is fulfilling. But this present moment will not last. Trouble comes to us all. We get old and slow. Markets crash and people leave us or die. Pain, grief, loneliness or guilt sets in and can lead to full depression, and often when we are in the depths of despair there does not seem to be any hope for a better future. When things seem to have gone bad, we can begin to believe that it will never get better and give up on life.

Now the truth is that for most people in most circumstances, they can find help and still experience good things in this life. We can change our perspective, get some counseling, find good friends in church or other social organizations, ask forgiveness and restore relationships, start exercising, and do any number of things that bring us happiness again. On the other hand, if we have been hurt enough, even taking positive steps toward re-engaging the world may seem scary because what if we just lose everything again.

Here is where the Christian gospel helps me to have a new perspective that no circumstance can take away. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, "He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." I have a living hope for a good eternal future, not because of my own works, but because of what Jesus did for me. By receiving the gift of salvation from Jesus, my sins are forgiven and His resurrection proves that I will be raised to be with Him in heaven.

This hope does not just help me when thinking about eternal life, but even in the middle of the day to day struggles, I can know that no matter what, I still have a good future, so I can endure hardships for this short life. The Apostle Paul when talking about enduring, declared that "he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him" (Philippians 4:13). This was possible because he believed that "to live is Christ, but to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

God gave him a hope that pulled him through incredible persecution, and He will give you hope too if you will come to Him and put your trust in Jesus. So if you are feeling hopeless today, I encourage to read about Jesus in the gospels and read the books of 1 Peter and Philippians. There you will learn about a hope that no circumstances on this earth can take away.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why?

This is the second article in a series on suicide and depression that I wrote for the Oakland Independent in July 2018.

In last week's article, I described how a belief in God and His truths might help when we are depressed and even suicidal. This week I want to show you that God can provide a purpose for living that goes beyond yourself and your circumstances, so that no matter what is happening you can know that your life is meaningful.

So do you know why are you here and why are you living? Does it make a difference to you if your life has meaning? Many of the messages in our modern world proclaim that you should simply follow your heart and do what you want, and thus create your own meaning. Nike declares "Just Do It!" But what is it we should just do, and why? If we just do it, will that satisfy us? The problem with any meaning that we create for ourselves is that it does not last and does not satisfy. Jobs go away, sports careers end, all of our stuff breaks, people will fail us, and we all will die.

We need more than just a self-created meaning. Pastor Tim Keller in his book, Making Sense of God, says, "To have meaning in life is to have both an overall purpose for living and the assurance that you are making a difference by serving some good beyond yourself."

Pastor Rick Warren in his book, Purpose Driven Life, points us towards God's purpose for our lives, saying, "It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose."

Here are some of the Biblical passages that talk about God's purpose for our lives.
  • In Genesis 1, God tells Adam and Eve to fill to take care of the earth.
  • Many of the Psalms make it clear that our lives should be lived to give glory to God. Psalm 84:10 says that a day praising God is better than 1000 elsewhere.
  • In Ecclesiastes 12, the wise teacher, after trying all the pleasures of the earth, says, "that the end of the matter is to fear God and keep His commandments."
  • The Apostle Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ," and that he wanted nothing more than to "know Christ" (Philippians 1:21, 3:9-10)
  • Jesus invited people to follow him (Matthew 4:19), and then commands his disciples to invite others to become his followers (Matthew 28:19-20). He also states that the two greatest commandments from the Old Testament are to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Finally, we come to know God through Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then our lives will continue into a perfect life with God throughout eternity (Rev. 21:1-4)
So if we believe the Bible we will find a purpose outside of ourselves that makes an eternal difference. We will live to glorify and love God, and learn to love others too. Even when painful circumstances come, we have the hope of heaven, so we can continue to love God and others in and through the hard times knowing that they will not last. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Light in the Darkness

This is the first in a series of articles that I wrote about the issue of suicide and depression for our local paper, The Oakland Independent, in July 2018.

When I was in my early 20's, my life was falling apart. I was having a spiritual/emotional crisis of guilt and failure and I was in an unhealthy relationship with a young woman.  I felt like I was worthless or even harmful to God, to my family, to my girlfriend, and to everyone else, and that it would be better for everyone if I just took my life. I was depressed enough that one day I stood at the top of 100 ft cliff in the Black Hills and nearly jumped off, head first. Now just because I have had times of depression and a desire to commit suicide does not mean I can understand everyone's else motivations as they contemplate or try to commit suicide, but it does mean that I take someone seriously when I hear about their desire to stop living.

In our local community and around the nation, we have an epidemic of suicide, depression and various other mental illnesses that come along with and contribute to depression. Furthermore, opioid and other drug addictions are other signs that many people in our communities are struggling with many mental issues. In the next few articles, I want to address what, if anything, God says to us that might help us address our own personal demons or point some loved one in a healthier direction.

Now I will not be suggesting though, an easy solution or one size fits all for most people. For most people, it is not simply a "pray the sad away" or just "have more faith" solution. Often, there are multiple causes of long-term depression, so I recommend a multifaceted approach in dealing with their problems. In most cases, finding a good counselor, who helps you examine unhealthy thoughts and actions along with unresolved past issues, will be necessary. Also, for some people medication can be helpful to address chemical imbalances that impact their moods and energy levels.

What I am suggesting though is that often spiritual beliefs about meaning and our place in the world are part of the problem and should be addressed as part of the plan leading to a better life. Bad ideas lead to bad thoughts which have consequences both personally and socially. God has us told us about Himself, our world, and even ourselves, and when we begin to know and believe His perspective on reality, we can face the practical problems of day to day life with a new and better perspective.

In my life, I have gone through depression, great personal loss, and tough financial and relational circumstances, and the more I have learned and trusted what God says, the better I am able to walk through the dark valleys of life.  I have learned that no matter what, my life has a purpose, the circumstances cannot make me hopeless, and I am loved. In the next three articles, I will show you what God says about these topics. In the meantime, I encourage you to start reading the Bible on your own to get God's perspective on life.

Psalm 18:28 "For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness."
Psalm 119:105 "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."