spirituality

M103: Virtue Signalling or the End of Freedom? (Carnivore Theology Ep. 89)

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M103

Historically, Christians have been rightly concerned about the protection of human beings. They also support religious liberty. So what is the problem ith Motion 103? Is it merely Orwellian inspired PC “newspeak”? What does this motion actually target? Should Christians be worried about it?

Podcast Audio:

Referenced Article: Actually, one needn’t be a hysterical bigot to have concerns with M-103

And don’t forget that it’s CONTEST TIME!

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Christians & Depression: A Few Things Your Pastor Wants You to Know

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depression

Sermon Audio:

Sermon Text:

Well, we took down the Christmas decorations at home this week. No more tree, lights, or socks on the wall (nothing says Christmas like decorating the wall with fancy socks you’ll never wear, right?). The socks have been replaced with our standard portrait, the tree has been boxed up and the furniture rearranged so that you’d never know it was there. Some of the stores are hanging in there though. I went out a few days ago and still saw some snowflakes and poinsettias around, but they’re likely to come down soon too. All the special holiday food has been eaten and we’re back on the normal meal plan – and maybe even less than that as we try to shed some of the celebratory pounds. I know a few of us had birthdays in the last few weeks – I had my 39th this week – so that means no more presents for almost a whole year.

Blue Monday

I think we had a really good Christmas season together this year, but sadly, as Chaucer said, “all good things must come to an end.” I’m not sure if you feel it, but January is actually a difficult month for a lot of people. In fact, the third Monday of January, this year the 16th, is sometimes called “Blue Monday” and is considered by some to be the most depressing day of the year. One newspaper I read this week called January “nothing but a 31-day chasm of despair.”[i]

I did some digging around for actual experts and statistics to support the idea of blue Monday and found it been largely debunked, but there are a few correlations that make January seem a little worse, making Blue Monday at least relatable.

The weather is often cold and dark, which contributes to some people’s Seasonal Affective Disorder[ii]. Family has all gone home and the Christmas buzz is over, so we start to feel lonely. And if there was unresolved drama during the visits, those thoughts come crashing back at us when they leave. The credit card bills come due. By the third week of January we’ve likely already given up our New Year’s Resolutions and feel like failures.

This can be an especially dangerous time for people who are already suffering with depression, anxiety, or other metal illnesses because it compounds their struggles. When Christians talk about this sort of thing, we try to see it from a biblical perspective, and part of that is to realize that as the world around us seems to turn against us, and the bad feelings start to rise, so do temptations.

A Caveat

Now, with that as the introduction, let me pause for a second: I was really torn about this message this morning. Part of me wanted to get back into 1st Corinthians, but I felt strongly that I needed to share this sermon as a warning and an encouragement about the present or coming season of depression that you may be facing. Times like this bring a lot of spiritual dangers.

Not everyone here will go through this, but everyone, because we are a family, will be affected. I’ll go even further to state that no everyone here will even understand what it’s like to go through a season of depression – even though they or someone they know has.

It’s not an easy thing to deal with, believe me I know. I’ve struggled with different forms of depression for a long time, and they are hard on everyone. While you may not fully understand it, and a few of you may be in denial about it, I think most people here know what I’m talking about.

What I want to do this morning is to help you understand depression from a biblical perspective, and hopefully give you a few tools to combat it, because these depressive episodes are going to bring about all manner of dangerous temptations that have the potential to lead you into spiritual dangers, and I don’t want that for you, your family, or the church.

Two qualifications before we start, though: First, books upon books have been written about this topic, so this is going to be exceptionally abbreviated. And second, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, so I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have studied and experienced some of this, so I do think I have a bit of a handle on it.

So, as your pastor, here are a few things I want you to know about depression and how you can face it as a Christian:

Two Kinds of Depression

The first thing I want you to know about depression is that it comes in a variety of forms, but you can lump their causes into two broad categories: things that happen inside you and things that happen to you.

On one hand you have the depression that happens because of things happening inside of you. Major, chronic, and persistent depression, bipolar, postpartum, premenstrual syndrome, hormonal changes in men, etc. are all examples of depressions that happen regardless of your circumstances. You could have the best week ever, with sunshine, a perfect diet, great exercise, get a million dollars, and a promotion at work, and still feel terrible. And it’s because the chemicals in your brain and body are working against you.

Regardless of how great everything is going, you feel like you’re looking at life through dark sunglasses, wearing your itchiest pants, with a 50 pound weight around your neck, and headphones on with a negative voice that is stuck on repeat that keeps telling you how bad things are. It’s a terrible feeling, and it’s horribly guilt producing, because you want to feel good, you kind of know things aren’t so bad, but you still feel horrible.

These types of depression are often life-long struggles which require not only spiritual and relational help, but also professional therapy and medical interventions.

The second type of depression comes from outside you. Examples of this are Seasonal Affective Disorder where the lack of sunlight causes you to feel miserable, or ‘Situational Depression’ where you face extra stresses or troubles in your life like stress, sickness, big transitions, failure, or death, and it taxes your system and puts you into a depression.

Sadness vs Depression

Now, just to clarify, I’m not talking about “sadness”. There’s a huge difference between sadness and depression, and unfortunately we’ve lost some of the nuance as we’ve used these words interchangeably. Some people who are sad think they are depressed, while others who are chronically, medically, depressed sometimes mistake it for sadness – and are sometimes treated by those around them as though their medical illness is a temporary sadness – and that’s not good. Everyone gets sad at times, but not everyone will face depression.

The easiest way to understand the difference between sadness and depression is that sadness is triggered by difficult event and you feel sad about it. Sadness requires something to have happened. You are sad about something – that you lost the game, failed the test, broke your arm, that your friend died, that you lost your job, or someone stole your favourite thing. Sadness gets easier over time as we go through grieving, when something changes for the better, the hurt fades and we feel better.[iii] Depression doesn’t require a “cause”. It can start from something bad happening, but then it doesn’t fade.

It’s a mental illness, and it’s easiest to understand as such. It’s like a broken bone, a virus, or crones, or an allergy. You can’t just make it go away. If someone broke their arm in an accident, you wouldn’t tell them to think positive and it’ll get better, right? Or, if someone had the flu, you wouldn’t counsel them to pretend that they didn’t have the flu, would you? Depression is an illness. Sometimes it just happens and then sticks around for a long, long time.  

Being Depressed Isn’t a Sin

Which leads me to my second point, which is that being depressed isn’t a sin. Regardless of which type you face, whether it comes from inside you or outside, it is not a sin to be depressed. It may feel like it sometimes, and may lead you to all sorts of sinful temptation, but depression in itself is not a sin.

David, the author of some of the most beautiful psalms of worship, also faced some times of deep despair where he spends whole seasons of his life crying out to God. In Psalm 6:6 he says, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye Wastes away because of grief.”. He terribly depressed, but his pain is never represented as a sin.

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in scripture, powerful in word and deed, a worker of miracles and a mighty man of God – and yet in the end we see him in a dark depression and totally afraid. He cries out that he feels totally alone, yet there were thousands of believers around him. He runs away terrified of a pagan queen, even though God has already protected him dozens of times. After seeing God come in power through one of the most amazing miracles in scripture, he takes off, falls to the ground, won’t get up, and wants to die. Yet, this wasn’t ever presented as sin. What we see is God lovingly taking care of him instead. (1 Kings 18-19)

ob is another example of a person who faced depression. Horrible things happened to him – his family died, his possessions were lost, his health destroyed – and he cries out for death, wishing he was never born, hating his life, bitter in soul, terrified of every moment that it’s never going to end and that it will only get worse (3:11, 3:26, 10:1, 30:15-17).

And, though I must tread carefully here, I believe that Jesus Himself faced not only sadness and grief, but true depression. It says in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus is able to understand our weaknesses because he was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. Isaiah 53:3 calls Jesus a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. I think there are a few places that show us times when Jesus faced deep sadness, and possible depressive episodes, but I believe that it is in the Garden of Gethsemane, moments before His arrest, trial and crucifixion, that we see true depression. He says to His friends, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…”. Jesus, who that He came as the only one who could save mankind from sin by dying on the cross, actually asks God to stop the mission saying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…”. It hurts too much. Everything inside of Him screams to just give up. He’s in such mental, spiritual, emotional agony, that His sweat comes as drops of blood.

Depression Effects Everyone

Which brings me to my third point, which is that depression is extremely common, that many people are facing it right now, and whether you have it or not, it’s probably affecting someone you know.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). That’s a two-fold promise. First, that we will have trouble, and one of those troubles is mental illness and circumstances that lead to deep sadness and depression.

In fact, these troubles, including depression, are often given by God. Job, in 16:12, says, “I was at ease, and he broke me apart; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces…”. Job’s trials were God’s idea.

When Jesus walked the earth He and the disciples came upon a man who was born blind. “And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”  (John 9:2-3)The man suffered through many trials, since birth – and this in a society that didn’t have much help for people with physical handicaps – because God decided to make him blind. Why? Not because of sin, but because God had a unique, special plan for his life that required him to have a certain kind of weakness.

A synagogue leader’s little girl, and Jesus’ good friend Lazarus needed to get sick and die so people could see that Jesus had the power to raise the dead.

The Apostle Paul was used by God to heal many people’s diseases so they would know he was a true messenger of God’s Word, but when he begged God to remove his own source of constant pain and frustration, God said no. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And Paul replied, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (1 Cor 12:9)

Sometimes our struggles are because of the effects of sin in the world, that we are surrounded by evil, under Satan’s dominion, in a world touched by the curse. Sometimes our pain is a result of people sinning against us, their own sin causing us permanent damage. But the Bible is also clear that sometimes God chooses to bless people by giving them or someone they love, or someone in their church, the gift of suffering – including what we’re talking about today, mental illness and depression.

I know that sounds strange, but it’s what scripture teaches. We wouldn’t have Psalm 23 if David hadn’t gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We wouldn’t know of the Passover if Israel hadn’t spent 400 years in captivity. Job wouldn’t have stood out as a man of God and example of faith if he hadn’t faced such deep trials. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, all faced deep hurts, trials and pain – but are also written down in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith. And there are many more in scripture.

Their faith in God, the faith of those around them, and those who would read their stories after, grew because of the trials they faced. They were deeper people because of their suffering. (Romans 5:3-5)

And it’s not just biblical figures either. CS Lewis, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, John Bunyan, and many, many faithful Christians through the ages have all suffered with depression. Not sadness, not melancholy, but deep, dark, often overwhelming depression. And yet, their faith, dependence and love for God grew. They were and are mightily used by God. Depression affects everyone, but it is not always a bad thing.

Conclusion

That’s where I want to leave it this week. Next week I want to look at some biblical ways that we can think about and face depression when it comes, but for now I want you to think and pray about what we’ve already learned today.

I want you to admit that depression is real and that you or someone you love may be facing it, and I want you to realize that you are not alone – but more than that, that God has a plan for it for your good and His glory.

I want you to pay attention over the next week when the blues creep in, and I want you to know that your sadness, depression, and desire for comfort isn’t a sin, but it can lead you to temptations – and to be on guard for those times.

And finally, I want you to pray for those who are facing depression. Pray they will find healing, hope and peace in Jesus – and that we as a church will show them love, patience, kindness, grace and understanding.

[i] http://metro.co.uk/2017/01/02/when-is-blue-monday-prepare-yourself-for-the-most-depressing-day-of-the-year-6356251/

[ii] https://www.cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/

[iii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201510/the-important-difference-between-sadness-and-depression

5 Reminders for Students (Carnivore Theology – Ep. 73)

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Whether you’re going into High School, College, University or Post-Grad, Pastor Al gives some important reminders to students returning to school this semester.

1. Guard your reputation.
2. Remember why you’re there.
3. Find a good church.
4. Keep your devos going.
5. Try to find balance.

Podcast Audio:

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Echo The Voice of God – A Mother’s Day Sermon

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[If you are part of my church — SPOILER ALERT — this is Sunday’s sermon! I’m sending this out into the world early to help folks who are looking for a little Mother’s Day inspiration. This isn’t just for mom’s though, it is a message for everyone with children in their lives — the Biological, Adopted, and Spiritual Mothers and Fathers throughout the Christian Church.]

Psalm 78 is a Historical Psalm. A Psalm that tells the story of the nation of Israel in song, and along the way draws out lessons from it. This is the longest of the Historical Psalms, but it only really has one lesson, and it hits it home over and over: Bad things happen when you forget who God is and what He has done. Today I want to read the first 8 verses where the writer of the psalm introduces the theme and gives the first challenge: Pass your faith along to your children so they won’t forget and fall away — then we’ll  key-in on verses 2-4.

“1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old— 3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”

The Decline of Mom’s and Dad’s

Moms and Dads, I want to give you a challenge today. I want to challenge you to pass along your faith to the future generations and be the second most dominant voice in their lives after the voice of the Holy Spirit. Some of you may not be biological mothers and fathers, but that doesn’t mean you are not spiritual parents, just as Paul was the spiritual father of Timothy. Just because you don’t have biological children does not mean you have not been given the responsibility and privilege to be the spiritual mothers and fathers to the next generation. This challenge is for you too.

We need men and women who pass along their faith without compromise, without error, and without fear. We need an older generation who will be a consistent voice in a child’s life, pointing them to Jesus, to Scripture, to God, to Prayer, and to Wisdom. We have a generation of kids who have a head full of voices which are causing them to fall away from God. The dominant voices in their lives are corporate advertisers, a corrupt educational system, intellectual garbage throughout the internet, their own foolish peers, and a host of pagans who are leading them away from faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dad’s have been absent since the industrial revolution which took them away from the farm or family business and stuck them in factories and buildings far from home for hours and hours per day. And since the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism we now also have a couple generations of children who have grown up without a consistent, faithful, positive, mother’s influence in their lives either. Instead they are raised by government institutions, television and their peers. Both Christian and secular studies are now showing how detrimental that has been to the children, and how messed up these kids now are.

I’m a Mama’s Boy

I’m the firstborn of two brothers and I’ll freely admit that I grew up a momma’s boy. I had a childhood that, I’ve learned, is exceptional these days. My dad was a shift-worker at the mill, my mom a stay-at-home mom. Both have been an active Christians for as long as I can remember. They are still married today and will celebrate their 37th anniversary this year.

When I think of my mother, one thing that comes to mind is her love of trying new things – something she’s passed on to me. She loves getting gizmos and do-dads from the shopping channel or other strange places and then seeing what they can do. She loves to experiment with food, decorating, crafts and lots of other things just to see what will happen – sometimes included me.

For example, I have very, very straight hair. One day, it crossed her mind that it might look nicer if it had a little wave in it, so she bought an at home perm kit. I wasn’t so sure about it, but she assured me that all she would do was me a little wave in my hair… what I ended up with was a very tight, very fuzzy perm that I had to explain to all of my friends for months to come.

My mom also made sure that I had some life-skills that most boys don’t have the luxury of knowing. She taught me things like etiquette and manners – like how to set a proper table with all the little forks and spoons (all of which I’ve almost completely forgotten). If a fancy dinner ever broke out in the cafeteria of my high school, I would have been prepared.

My Mother’s Voice

I didn’t get into all of the nonsense that many high school kids got into, and get into, these days, and I credit the grace of God and my mother’s persistence with that. At the time, it was very frustrating, and I argued with her about it, but she had a set of rules which she drilled into my head, and I lived by them. I give thanks to God for my mother’s voice, because I don’t have to deal with a lot of bad memories and regrets that others have to.

I had a secure home where I knew I was safe, accepted, loved and special. And in that home there was always my mother’s voice… and when I left that home, no matter where I was, she was in my ear, guiding me through life.

I remember, at times, wanting to do something bad… but not doing it… only because my mother wouldn’t approve. I had convinced myself, and my friends told me it was a good idea, and I wanted to, and it was right there in front of me… but there was always my mother’s voice… “Allan… that’s not a good idea. Allan… that’s trouble. Allan… that won’t end well. Allan… you’re not stupid, so don’t act stupid.” And so I’d walk away. My friends and peers, who didn’t have that voice in their head, got themselves in a lot more trouble than I did.

[It reminds of this song, which has the same message]

Moms, Dads and Spiritual Fathers and Mothers… my challenge to you is to be the voice in the head of the next generation. You may think that you’ve said it a 1000 times, and that you don’t need to say it again… but I tell you to say it 1000 times more. You may think that they are not listening, but I assure you, they are. You may think that it’s too late… but it’s never too late for a child feel love, comfort, forgiveness and wisdom from someone being guided by God.

One Generation

Turn for a moment to Judges Chapter 2 and listen to a scary passage. Judges 2:8-13,

“8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.”

There was the generation under Moses who followed God and came to the Promised Land. Then there was the generation of Joshua who had followed God and conquered the Promised Land. Now, read from verse 10,

“10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.”

One generation. All it took was one generation of parents not passing along the story, not teaching their kids, not being the voice in their children’s heads, for them to forget what God had done for them and turn to evil. How could a generation not tell the stories of Moses, the Red Sea parting, the plagues in Egypt, the pillars of fire and smoke, the walls of Jericho falling? How could they not pass along all that God had done? I don’t know, but it only took one generation.

And I believe it’s not different today. Surrounding us are a generation of children who were never told the stories of the faith – they are completely ignorant of Christianity. Their mothers and father’s didn’t pray with them, many because their grandparents didn’t pray either. We have a generation of parents who want to be friends with their kids… not their parent… they want to be cool, modern and culturally sensitive – instead of being loving, Godly and righteous.

We are surrounded by men and women who want to be politically correct instead of giving their child loving, godly guidance towards what is right, good and holy. A group of adults – parents and non-parents – who look at these children and say foolish things like “I just want to let them find their own way.” avoiding their responsibility to lead and guide them in the way they should go (Pro 22:6). We have a generation of adults who are not intentionally and proactively being the voice in the head of the child God has placed around you. Instead, they are allowing other voices to dominate. They are not the voice of reason, and truth, and godliness, teaching those children how to listen to God. And that’s all it takes to lose a generation.

Sharpen Your Children

I implore you not to give away this privilege and responsibility to others. Don’t let unbelievers and fools be the most prominent voice in the life of the young person (whether it be your own children, or the children God has placed around you). Mom’s especially — others do not love your child as much as you. Others do not know your child like you do. You need to be the dominant voice in your child’s life, the one they hear everywhere they go. Because if it is not your voice, it will be someone else’s. If you are not guiding them, teaching them, and helping them to see Jesus, then who is? Who are you allowing to be the foremost voice in your child’s life?

And if you do not have children, or you don’t have children at home, then you need to be all the more diligent and intentional about being inside the head of this generation. They are lost and they have no guidepost. They have no one pointing them to Jesus, to scripture and to wisdom – and the precious little time you have with them – whenever that is – is the time you must intentionally capture to give them a new voice in their heads. You can be the one voice in their lives that points them to Jesus when every other voice is seeking to corrupt them and turn them to an idol.

You may not think you’re cool enough, or have the right language, or understand technology, or the newest trends, but I promise you that none of that matters – the universal need of all people is for an authentic relationship with Jesus, and passing along that message has nothing to do with being culturally aware and everything to do with simply sharing your heart sharing with another person.

This is be heart of God for Christian mothers and fathers – and I would say by extension, spiritual mothers and fathers as well. Listen to what God said to the people of Israel when it came to passing along the stories. Listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-8,

“4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

DSC_0345The word “impress” there… is the word SHANAN and it means to be sharp, to sharpen or whet like a sword, or to prick or poke. Sharpen your children with these words. Poke your children with them. Drive these words into them. Let them be ever-present in their life, let them be everywhere they turn. Every day, all the time. When they wake up, they hear your voice, and your voice guides them to God. When they sit down at home, they hear your voice, and your voice guides them to Jesus. When they lie down to bed, the last thing they hear is your voice guiding them to know the Holy Spirit.

When they look at you and listen to you, they need to see and hear the heart of God. When they look around your home, on your doorframes, your walls, your gate, your fridge… they need to see the words of God, the stories of Jesus, the reminders of His Grace, provision, and protection. Parents, saturate your home and your children in the things of God – and remove the demonic, distracting, life-sucking, confusing and worldly garbage that has crept into your homes. You have been given the charge, the responsibility, and the privilege, and the gift of being the most consistent voice in this person’s life… will you guide them in the way they should go, or are you going to abdicate your responsibility and give that amazing gift to someone else? What voice will they hear for the most formative years of their life?

There are so many people that want to be the biggest voice in your child’s life. I pray that for your children, it is your voice. And that one day, as your child grows… that your voice will be mingled with, and then taken over by the voice of God, because you have taught the children God has given you to how to hear the voice of God.

Echo The Voice of God

And that’s the most important thing. That the words you repeat, that you embody, that you write on your homes, must be the words of God. Not your own personal opinion. Not your own worldly wisdom. Not your own hang-ups and fears. Not your own hopes and dreams for them, but God’s. God’s voice. God’s wisdom. God’s strength. God’s plans and hopes and dreams for that child, that boy or girl, that young woman or young man. What God wants may not be exactly what you want… let that be ok. I know that my mom never would have guessed in a million years that I would be a preacher one day… she still can’t! But she knows it’s the will of God. Point your children to the voice of God.

Let the words of Psalm 78 guide you. Commit to them. Let them be your commitment to your children. Commit to being different than the other voices out there.

A Pledge

I would like the mothers and fathers – those with biological children, adopted children, and the spiritual mothers and fathers who have spiritual children in their lives, just as Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy…  to stand repeat after me the commitment of the words of Psalm 78:2-4:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children;

we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

Growing at Church – Make Love Your Priority

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(Click here for the video)

I like learning and teaching theology. I have thoroughly enjoyed preaching this Foundations series because it has been full of deep, biblical, gospel truths – the very bedrock of what we should build our lives on. I love being able to help people know God better by answering questions about God through scripture. In my own personal studies there is no greater joy for me than discovering another piece of understanding about the nature of God.

But there is one thing about the nature of God that I continuously forget – God is love. Maybe you don’t have this problem, but I do. I think more about God’s other attributes like His unchanging immutability, His power, His omniscience, His graciousness, His wrath – more than I do His love. It is the difficulty I have always had with taking my faith and helping it make that 12 inch journey from my head to my heart.

I’m not sure why this is a problem for me, because the love of God is overwhelming in scripture (and in my life for that matter). Three times in one chapter (1 John 4) it says that “God is love”. I don’t want to get into a theological discussion about the love of God, but I do want to use this as a jumping off point to our topic today. The whole point of 1 John 4 is to remind us that God is love, and that His love empowers our love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:7-8)

Thanks to Joslynn for this great pic!

Our Highest Priority

This must be our first and most essential thought. I/We must remember that all of the characteristics of the Christian life – faith, hope, mission, purpose, joy, worship, forgiveness, peacemaking, communion, baptism, — none of them mean anything unless they are motivated by the love of God for me and are then lived out in loving actions towards those around me.

I can understand discipleship, walking behind and learning from my Master, but if I am not doing the things He is doing, my learning means nothing. I can recite the True Gospel word for word, share scriptures until the cows come home, but if those verses don’t take root in my heart and give me daily hope, a stronger connection to Jesus, and are shared with others in a way that shows the love of God, they are powerless. I can revel in the mastery and simplicity of the Five Solas: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone and the Glory of God Alone – and believe them with all my heart, but if those truths do not spill out of my heart and mouth to others, if I am not becoming more gracious to others, if I am not stirring up another’s faith, if I am not pointing others to Christ, if I’m not in a community of believers, worshipping God with others – all of that knowledge is pointless.

Doubtless, those of you who know scripture are hearing echoes of 1 Corinthians 13, which says:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (vs 1-3)

I’m reminded about the context of those verses. They are written by the Apostle Paul after he spends time teaching us about the power of the Holy Spirit lived out in our spiritual gifts and the importance of recognizing our need of others, and their need for us, in the body of Christ.

The verse right before “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…” says this:

“And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (12:31).

That is a very meaningful, challenging verse to me. The act of loving others is more excellent than desiring, having and using our spiritual gifts! Being loving is more excellent than speaking in tongues, prophesying, teaching the scriptures, administrating our resources, and even miraculous healing. Witnessing an act of love is more excellent than anything else we could see in our lives.

We all desire God’s blessing and when we ask “What can we do to become a church (or a family, a person, a workplace) that God blesses?” the answer isn’t all that complicated. It isn’t having better pews to sit in, more contemporary music, great preaching, changing our leadership style, getting into our community [whatever that means], doing more missions, engaging the youth, or anything else that we can do. It doesn’t mean traveling the world, buying cooler stuff, finding our perfect job, or worrying about every moment being perfect. The answer is simply that we must desire the “most excellent way” of living. The answer scripture gives to “what must I do to be blessed?” is to of love God and each other more, better, spontaneously, sacrificially, and consistently. When we do that, we will live a blessed life.

The Heart of the Kingdom

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 12:28-34)

This questioning scribe was closer than the others to understanding the Kingdom of God because he understood that God’s highest priority is love, not the actions of religion. He wasn’t quite there because he didn’t understand that Jesus was the beloved Son of God who had come to suffer for sins on his behalf, but he was a lot closer than the others because he understood something fundamental about God and about His Heart for the Kingdom – Love comes first.

Love is an Action

But what is Love? What I believe the thing that most people don’t understand about love is that it is not primarily an emotion – it is primarily a decision, and secondarily an action. It becomes an emotion only after a person has decided to love and then acted on that love.

Think of Romans 5:8, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He made the choice to love us, acted on that decision and made a way for us to be saved. He didn’t do this primarily out of an emotional connection to us, but because love requires action.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” Despite our condition of being dead in our sins, and as he just called us in verse 3, people who deserved His “wrath”, God chose to show us love.

That is the decision which we all need to make, and which I wish to compel you towards today. Decide today that you will be a loving person. Don’t wait until you feel like it, make the decision to do it. Commit in your heart to God, and ask for His help, to make the choices a loving person would make. God doesn’t leave wiggle room in scripture for anything else to be our highest priority.

Here’s an example of what I mean: In Matthew 5:44 Jesus says:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We can’t do that until we have made the decision to do so. Loving our enemies is not something we are going to do naturally, nor is it something that we are going to feel – it is a decision, a choice, that we have to make well before we are faced with an enemy to show love to.

If we are primarily living with the understanding that love is an emotion, then we will never be able to obey the scriptures and be people who are characterized by love. We will be far too easily swept around by things like how we feel, how the other person feels, whether we are sick or well, happy or sad, in plenty or in want… all of those things will factor into whether or not we will love someone at that time. But, if we have made the decision to love, and intend to live by the rule of love, then it will be far easier to be consistent in loving others.

The saddest example of this I can think of is the reason so many give for why they divorce – they fall out of love. If the marriage is built upon something as transient as emotion, then the marriage is doomed from the start. I’ve been to weddings where the vows are not vows at all, but flowery words about a love devoid of commitment. I read a great quote this week online which said,

“‘I do’ is becoming something more like ‘I might’, as one in three couples refuse to vow ‘til death do us part’ at the alter.”

I get this. If you’re going to be honest, it’s pretty hard to say that you are going to be in emotional love with someone for the next ten, twenty, fifty years. It would be exhausting to try to feel loving towards another person 24/7 until the day one of you died. All it takes is one good argument, or a passing thought about another person and boom! the feelings begin to falter. So  you have to leave some room just in case you or the other person doesn’t just feel it anymore.

My How They Love One Another

Here’s the part where I’m going to get preachy… this same principle applies to church as well. In John 13 Jesus famously said:

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)

There is a famous story by an ancient Christian writer named Tertullian who told of a time when the Roman government was worried about what was going on among this group of people who called themselves Christians. They were increasing in number, but they wouldn’t say that Caesar was Lord. All they had to do was put a pinch of incense before the alter of the emperor, but they wouldn’t do it. This worried the Romans who thought they might be disloyal. So they sent a spy to gather information about what the Christians did at their meetings and when the report came back it confused the pagan leaders even more.

It said something like: “These Christians are a very strange bunch of people. They meet together in an empty room to worship. They don’t have a statue or an image, but they speak of one whom they call Jesus, and whom is expected to come at any time. But there is one thing I can say for sure: My how they love Him, and my how they love one another!” (Adapted from a story told in J. Vernan McGee’s “Thru The Bible” Commentary)

That’s what’s supposed to happen when someone meets a group of Christians – or a Christian individual I might add. They might walk out confused about the songs we sing, the scripture we quote, the way we dress, the traditions we hold, or what was happening at our meetings…. They might walk away thinking you are weird, and use strange words, and do strange things… but if there are two thoughts they walk away with they must be: “Wow, do they ever love this Jesus person!” and “My goodness, do they ever love each other!”

A video I watched this week said it this way:

“If you’re a Christian, and I spend the whole day with you and can’t tell if you’re a Christian or not… you’re doing it wrong!”

I realize that I’m not saying anything earth-shattering here. I also realize that as simple as this is, it’s also the hardest thing in the world to do right. While processing this idea I went through my bookshelf looking for books that talked about the importance of loving one another… and that was every book I have.

I opened a theology book and discovered the central theme of God’s love throughout scripture and how important it is to study about God’s love. I looked at books about how to live wisely and it showed me how critical it is to live with love as a priority first, and all else will follow. I read a book about how to hear God’s voice and was told about how God speaks through serving others and listening to other believers, so if you want to hear God’s voice get close to them. I looked at the authors who teach about how to organize and grow a church and it was there too – don’t worry as much about methodology as you do about teaching, experiencing and sharing God’s love.

When we ask, “How can I become a more mature disciple of Jesus?” the answer is that we need to learn how to love God in their heart, and then act out that love towards others with our hands and words.

When we ask, “How can I get more out of worship?” the answer is that we need to focus on singing, sharing, and speaking about the love of God, and then allowing that love to effect us in such a way that we not only believe it, but feel it also.

When we ask, “How can I do outreach to my family, friends and community?” the answer is that we live out the love of God in a way that is obvious to everyone around us.

When we ask, “How can I have meaningful relationships with people?” the answer is that we need to make the choice, the decision, to step out of our routine, our comfort zone, and get ourselves into a place where we can be loved and show love.

Practical Love

          Ok, so it’s practical application time. Let’s close out by looking at a two ways that we can do this.

1. Make the Family of Believers a High Priority in Your Life.

I’m a big fan of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The second purpose he says we were created for is that “You Were Formed for God’s Family.” His points are simple but profound. Warren reminds us that all Christians, when we are saved, are brought into a new family. It was God’s desire to have us be His children, and when He speaks, He speaks in terms of relationship. He is our Father, we are His children.  Ephesians 1:5 says, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.”

He reminds us that scripture teaches that we are to prioritize the body of Christ, the Christians around us, in our life. 1 Peter 2:17 says “Love the brotherhood.” (Another translation says, “Show special love for God’s people.” CEV)  Galatians 6:10 says it this way, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Why? Because of what Jesus said about how people are to know that we are His disciples – because of our love for one another. We were saved through Jesus TO BE members of his family.  Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”

Certainly this is a command in scripture, to make time to be with and love other believers, but it is also a joy for us. We grow in community, we serve in community, we exist for community. And we primarily exist for the community of faith. Remember, the whole reason we have spiritual gifts is so we can do good for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

So, if you are given the choice between attending church and going somewhere else, prioritize attending church. If you are given the choice to bless a non-believer or a believer, bless the believer. If you have something and want to give it away, ask other Christians first. If you want to talk, or find a partner, or do something with another person, find another Christian.

The lower down your brothers and sisters get on your priority list, the further you will find yourself from God, the more easily you will fall into temptation, the greater the chance is you will adopt false teaching, and the less love you will experience in your life.

2. Go Be Where You Can Love and Be Loved.

The Message version of Romans 12:4-5 says this:

“Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we?”

A lot of Christians, in my experience, live like chopped-off fingers and toes. They desire to be useful, feel they are made with a purpose, know deep in their being that God is calling them towards something greater, but they aren’t able to pick up any traction when they try to figure out what that is. And I believe that’s because they are trying to do it on their own, outside of the church, away from other believers.

Perhaps you have been burned by people, let down by them, hurt by something people did to you. That pain has caused you to erect a wall around yourself which you use to protect yourself from greater hurts. You’ve worked hard to make that wall look good. You’ve painted it up, put a smile on it, and when you are around others, it’s like there’s not even a wall there at all. They see the façade, but they never get to see the real you.

Consequently you keep God at a distance, because you know that if there’s one thing that He want to do, it’s get into your business, know the real you, get emotional with you, and mess around with your innards. You also keep the church at a distance because you are afraid that if you let down your defences you’ll be let down or even hurt again.

And so you live a bi-polar life where part of you is committed to Jesus and He is calling to you a greater relationship with Him – but you are trying to do it away from the church. It won’t work.

How do you get over that? What you must do is to put yourself into a place where you can be loved. Your natural tendency will be to only go when you feel like it, but as I said before, love is a choice, so you must make the decision to go places where you can love and be loved. I’m not saying you have to go and pour out your guts to the first person you see, but you must begin by making the commitment to consistently be around believers, where they can love you and where you can love them back.

Satan wants you alone. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Satan wants you to himself, Jesus wants you with Him and around other believers. Just go. When the church is open, be there. Invite believers into your home and invite yourself over to other believer’s homes when you can. Join Christian book clubs. As a Christian leader to introduce you to someone. Join Christian chat groups online. Just be around other believers. This is one of the lessons Jesus has taught me over the years – the blessing that can come just by sucking it up and showing up even when you don’t want to.

Conclusion

(I’m going to borrow from Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” a bit more.)

It is in the church where you will be identified as a genuine believer and where you will be able to express your membership as one of the Body of Christ. It is your church family who will keep you from becoming self-centred and isolated. It is your church family who will help you develop spiritual muscle. It is in the church where you will find that you have purpose and meaning, and where you are needed. It is through the church that you will share in Christ’s mission in the world. And it is the church family that will keep you from back-sliding.

But it’s your choice. If you are a Christian you have been born-again, but it is your choice whether you will prioritize other Christians and put yourself in a place where you can love and be loved. “The Christian life is more than a commitment to Christ; it includes a commitment to other Christians.” (Pg 139 PDL Expanded Edition)

7 Things Your Pastor Wants You to Know but Probably Won’t Tell You

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I have a question for you. How well do you know your pastor – really? What comes to mind when you think of your pastor? Some people treat us like we are another species – rare and peculiar, unlike anything else in the world – and that creates some unique challenges. This article was first published in 2009 by Promise Keeper’s SEVEN Magazine, but I wanted to bring it out of retirement and share it again — not because of anything that’s happening in my church right now, but because someone found an old copy and said they enjoyed it.

I originally wrote this article based on some things that had been happening in my own life, observing some pastor friends of mine, and having conversations with ministers throughout the US and Canada. There is no bitterness or anger in this article, so don’t read it that way — just observations and insight into the inner life of some pastors. My hope is that this list will make you laugh, open your eyes, and help you love your pastor more and better.

7 Things Your Pastor Wants You to Know but Probably Won’t Tell You

1. “I’m a guy, treat me like a guy.”

Right off the bat I want you to know that I’m a dude, so stop treating me like a chick. I’m so sick of guys apologizing to me when they cuss, as though I might burst into tears or faint. Trust me, I’ve heard those words before…and yes, even used them. And you know what? I like guy stuff too! I don’t spend all my time sitting in my office, cross-legged, drinking tea with a Bible on my lap. I like cars, motorbikes, monster trucks, fishing, shooting, movies where things blow up and even the occasional malted beverage. Yes, I’ve worked hard to develop emotional sensitivity, but it has been just that – work. By the way, I struggle with the same guy-issues most men do. So, if half the reason you’re not talking to me is because you think we have nothing in common—you’re wrong.

2. “I often have no idea what I’m doing.”

Now, there’s something I’m not supposed to tell you!. A big part of me wants to keep up the image that I’ve got it all together, have a 10-year plan, and every step I make is guided by God – but that’s just not true. I say dumb things, do foolish things and sometimes I’m so confused by my job that I don’t want to do anything because I’m scared I’ll make everything worse. When I stood up and boldly proclaimed that new ministry idea, half of me thought it was a great, godly plan and the other half was certain it would blow up in my face. That’s why I need you and your family with me. I need courageous, godly men and women to stand with me – even if that means making me defend myself. I also need you to stand beside me when I inevitably throw the fertilizer into the ventilator and it all comes flying back at us.

3. “Sometimes I’m not very spiritual.”

It’s true. There are days when I just don’t want to read the Bible, pray, meditate or do anything spiritual at all. I’d rather play Angry Birds, read a book, watch TV, go for a walk, check my e-mail, get ready for a meeting, or have a nap. You’re not alone in your struggle to stay consistent in your daily Bible reading and prayer life. I’m right there with you. I just thought you should know that. Pray for me just as I’m praying for you.

4. “My job is not as cushy as it looks.”

I know some of you fantasize about being pastors because you think it’s such an easy job. Buddy, you have no idea. I may not have much heavy lifting to do, but things do get pretty heavy sometimes. I have a deep love and passion for this church and this city and spend more hours thinking, praying, serving and weeping over them than I can remember. I have a heart for seeing people come to Jesus, but it always feels like our ministries are going uphill with a headwind. There are so many things I want to see done, but I can’t seem to get people to come with me to do them. There are days I feel like Sisyphus, perpetually rolling his stone uphill only to watch it roll back down again.

And listen, You might be moved or convicted by one sermon every three months, but I am trying to let every one of them penetrate my heart, every week. On top of that, I have people call me out of the blue with every problem under the sun. They need money, a friend, a job, a place to live, protection from an abuser, freedom from an addiction or an answer from God (they think I can get it for them)— the chain of hurt never ends. And despite my efforts and prayers, I watch marriages and families break up right in front of me—and can’t do anything about it. There are days that I want to do something else—anything else—because being a pastor hurts so much. Some days the only thing that keeps me in this job is remembering that I didn’t choose it: I was chosen for it.

5. “I feel pretty insecure at times.”

I have the only job I know of where, even if you are doing your job right, if people don’t like you they can vote you out. Imagine walking around feeling that not only is everyone in the community and congregation watching you, but as James 3:1 says, God is going to judge you more strictly than most people. That’s a tough row to hoe. I’m not insecure about my salvation, or God’s love for me, but I get a lot of feedback and it gets to me sometimes.

I don’t know why, but people feel free to criticize everything from how I dress to how I parent my children, and everything in between. I once sent someone a birthday card and they called me to tell me that they didn’t like it (true story!)

Everyone seems to know how to do my job better, and they’re not afraid to tell me. “Pastor, what we need is more _______ (outreach, hymns, new songs, prayer, fasting, potlucks, dieting, events, announcements, recycling, small groups, Bible studies…).” “Pastor, we need to do less ________ (arguing, worrying, meetings, technology, eating, hymns, new songs, preaching, new stuff, old stuff…).”

You know when you sent me that email “just to point out a few things”? Well, I got 10 of those and four phone calls—on my day off.

6. “I don’t want to talk to you right before service.”

Listen, I love you. I really do! I want to talk to you, hear about your life, your worries, cares, concerns and what God is doing to and through you, your family, your friends and even your pet Chihuahua. I carry a cell phone and publish my home number and e-mail in the directory so you can get a hold of me anytime. I have office hours at church and make myself available for meetings in the evenings. I promise that I will be thrilled to chat about anything that is on your mind during any of the other 164 hours in the week. But PLEASE, for the love of Pete, let me have that little bit of time before service without hearing a bunch of problems, conflicts and issues that I can’t possibly fix before service starts.

What do I want? Pray for me. Give me a pat on the shoulder say, “Love you, Pastor!” or throw out a hearty “Go get-em!” Ask me if there is anything you can do to help (or better yet, find some way to help without asking), or just give me a smile. Like an athlete before a big game, I’m trying to get in the zone and there is a lot of spiritual opposition working against me, and I need your help.

7. “I’m lonely.”

Believe it or not, I don’t have a lot of friends. Sure, I talk to a lot of people, and care for them, and go to a lot of events and even have fun. But when it comes to having a real, tried-and-true, say-anything-to friend, I don’t have one. And if I’m like most pastors, then I probably don’t have any extended family around either because I moved away from them. Sure, I get along with people, but most folks don’t understand what I do or the struggles I’m going through. On top of that, if I get vulnerable with the wrong person, they could use it against me. Trust me, it’s happened before. So, I guard myself, my ministry, my family, and yes, even you, from the fallout that can happen if I get double-crossed by someone who I thought was my friend. And the cost is that sometimes I feel very lonely.

I hope this helps you love your pastor more and better. Your pastor is probably not the exception, even though he might hide it well. Pray for him. Take care of him. Cut him some slack and help him out. Being a pastor is a tough job and he needs your love, support, prayers, encouragement and willingness to stand up for him when the going gets tough. Thanks for listening.

Discipleship Fundamentals

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I’ve always loved watching and playing sports.  And anyone who does knows that there is one word phrase that pervades all sportsdom — “We’ve got to get back to the fundamentals.”

If our team is on a losing streak, the answer is always getting “back to the fundamentals.”  If you are practicing, you spend time “working on the fundamentals.”  If you go to training camp, or a draft, do you know what they look for?  “The fundamentals”.  They are where everyone starts, and what everyone must master.

That being the case, what are “the fundamentals” of discipleship?  Sometimes, just like when I was playing baseball, I start to get too fancy with my Christian walk.   Instead of simply trying to learn more about Him, and making space for God to speak, I try to get fancy by reading a lot of books, trying exotic prayer techniques, moving around different locations, or trying to multitask by doing devos while working out, driving, or doing the dishes.

Not that any of that is bad (in fact, my earlier article was all about meeting God in every part of our lives) — it’s just that fancy techniques can be distracting and sometimes cause me can drop the ball.

So my challenge over the next while is to “get back to the fundamentals”.   What does that mean?

  • To allow God to inhabit every part of my day.
  • To read less scripture, but meditate on it more.
  • To find a regular place and time to pray.
  • To come to church simply to meet God there.

What about you?  Do you struggle with the fundamentals?  Do you ever get too “fancy” with your spiritual life?  What ways can we “get back to the fundamentals”?