Saint Vs Sinner #3 – Understanding Sin

It was the intention of the heart that led the hands to take the fruit and eat. Eve saw something she deemed good, even though God had said it was not good, she delighted, she desired and then she ate and Adam likewise. Their sin began in their head and their heart well before their hands.

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SIN. Sin is at the heart of this debate. Both sides seek holiness, both believe sin exists and is real, and both long to see a world completely free of sin. Yet it is here that there is much disagreement. While I left you hanging a little bit in the previous post I’m going to leave you there just a little while longer. I know I’m mean. In spite of my cruelty I believe it will serve us best to not make blank statements but rather flesh out a thoroughly considered worldview so that I don’t teach people what to think but how to think.

From the outset let me acknowledge that a blog is not a sufficient medium for such a topic. A treatise is required and yet I will attempt to move forward within this limited means. Secondly, if you are not a Christian, please understand God and therefore the Bible speak very candidly about sin not with the intention to humiliate or to shame rather to save. If what the Bible teaches about sin is true, then we all desperately need a saviour. Much like a doctor would inform a patient of a severe illness in his or her body with the intention to help them rather than hurt them. So too the Bible seeks to highlight the problem of sin in order to present the helpful solution of a saviour.

 

UNDERSTANDING SIN!!!

Sin is simple in one sense but complex in another. The Bible gives us different types or means of sin. I believe these can be seen in the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1-4. I’ll attempt to narrate the story and help us see how these play out.

 

1. SIN OF COMMISSION – We Do What We Should Not Do!

The drama is set in a Garden, called Eden, an oasis of beauty and grandeur with four rivers running throughout. God had previously created all that is of the world below and universe above, including the animals of the sky, earth and water and most notably the people, Adam and Eve. While in the garden, Creator God blessed our first parents revealing his goodness and gave instructions revealing their purpose to be, ‘fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it’ (Gen. 1:28-29). From the outset there is a distinction made between humanity and God. God is creator and therefore has authority over the created. Thus as created beings we are to be subservient to the good creator God. When we disobey we sin. In Genesis 2:16 God told Adam that they should not eat of a particular tree, and warned that if they ate of it they would die. Now I sympathise with Adam, as a naked wife can be tremendously persuasive. Nonetheless, when they ate of the fruit of the tree (Gen. 3:6) they committed a sin of Commission. They disobeyed God and did what they should not do.

Example: The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are another example of God giving instructions to his people of what they should not do. (Thou Shall Not…)

 

2. SIN OF OMISSION – We Do Not Do What We Should Do!

Additionally in the story there is another layer to the sin of Adam. Not only did Adam directly disobey God, he indirectly disobeyed God. Consider the scene further. God told them to subdue the earth and have dominion over “the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This therefore begs the question, ‘why does Adam allow the serpent, a living thing that moves, into the garden and to influence the agenda within the garden? The serpent questioned God’s word (“Did God actually say?” Gen. 3:1) and even further, directly refuted God’s word (“You will not surely die”). Thus from the outset the serpent takes the dominion and influence from the man and makes it his own. Thus the serpent sins against God by doing what it should not do and Adam sins by not doing what God has called him to do – have dominion.

Thus it has led many theologians to state that Adam’s first sin was not in eating the forbidden fruit but in allowing the serpent, a false witness of God and his word, to become a resident of the garden in the first place. Adam’s sin is one of omission. He didn’t do what he should have done, that is shut the serpent up, kick the serpent out or even better kill the serpent altogether.

Example: love your neighbour, give to the poor, care for the orphan and widow. When we don’t do these things we commit sins of omission – we don’t do what we should do.

 

3. SIN OF INTENTION – We Do What We Should Do, But We Do So With The Wrong Intention!

This gets to the heart of sin, which is SIN OF THE HEART. Sin, according to Jesus, goes beyond what we do or don’t do with our hands. It extends to the thoughts of our minds and the intentions of our heart (Matt. 5-7). It is here that we begin to see that the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden was not just related to what they did or did not do. It was deeper. In fact Genesis 3 unequivocally says as much,

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Gen. 3:6

It was the intention of the heart that led the hands to take the fruit and eat. Eve saw something she deemed good, even though God had said it was not good, she delighted, she desired and then she ate and Adam likewise. Their sin began in their head and their heart well before their hands.

What was in their heart and mind? Unbelief and idolatry! (Idolatry = false worship or worship of something or someone other than God). They did not trust God as the good God that created them. Before they ever ate the fruit of that tree their heart and mind were filled with unbelief. God had spoken yet they no longer believed God’s word to be trustworthy, because they no longer believed God to be good or trustworthy. Adam and Eve were given the dominion of the whole earth yet not only were they unable to maintain the dominion of a small portion of the earth in the Garden of Eden, they were unable to have dominion even over their own heart and mind.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his work ‘Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3’

“The decisive point, is that this question suggests to man that he should go behind the Word of God and establish what it is by himself, out of his understanding of the being of God.… Beyond this given Word of God the serpent pretends somehow to know something about the profundity of the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word.” (Pg. 66)

In other words the sin committed by Adam and Eve was to disbelieve God, to make up their own version of god, and to trust in themselves as gods. Their sin is unbelief and idolatry. It is no wonder that both unbelief and idolatry are so prevalently spoken of throughout all of scripture. Tim Keller in his book ‘The Prodigal God puts it this way.

“Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated nothing on the list of moral misbehaviours may be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Saviour, Lord and Judge….”

This begins in our hearts and minds and leads us to take actions with our hands.

Example: Matthew 22:37 Jesus commanded us to Love God with all our ‘heart, soul and mind’. All internal, motivational, intentions! Matthew 5-7 is known as Jesus’ ‘Sermon of the Mount’ through which he consistently goes beyond sins of commission or omission and calls attention to sins of intention. (Adultery Vs Lust; Murder Vs Anger; Prayer to be seen by people rather than to be heard by God)

 

4. SIN OF REFLECTION – We Do Not Reflect God’s Good Design!

Other than life itself there is no greater privilege given to humanity than to be made in the ‘image and likeness of God’ (Gen. 1:26-27). While there is much to be said as to what this means or does not mean, it cannot be understated that this distinction between humanity and rest of creation sets a compelling trajectory for the remaining narrative of scripture.

Michael Horton notes in ‘The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way’

“In his deceptive speech, Lucifer makes himself sound like he is more interested in their welfare than God, but his ultimate aim is to make them his image-bearers rather than God’s.” (Pg. 409)

It is not only that we sin by doing something we are instructed not to do, or that we don’t do something we are instructed to do, or even that we do something for the wrong reasons. It is also that by our doing or not doing we in actuality imitate someone or something other than God, the one we are designed to reflect. Adam and Eve are to be witnesses of God and like the serpent become false witnesses. Horton adds here,

“Evil is not a principle in creation itself, but the wilful distortion of good gifts into an arsenal deployed against God’s reign. This perversity corrupts that which is noble, suppresses that which is righteous, smears that which is beautiful, and smothers the light of truth…Every sign of human oppression, violence, idolatry, and immorality in the world can be seen as the perversion of an original good. The commission to be fruitful and to multiply, to work in, guard, protect, and subdue God’s garden so that its peace and righteousness extend to the ends of the earth is twisted into empires of oppression in order to secure a consummation without God.” (Pg. 411)

Instead of being God’s image-bearers, Adam and Eve represent something completely different altogether. Rather than representing the great interests of the good and perfect creator God throughout the entire world, they now represent another. Their sin is of reflection.

Example: Cain and Abel. The story immediately following Adam and Eve’s sin in chapter 3 tells the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is filled with jealousy and anger and unlike God who brought life into the world; Cain takes a life from the world. He reflects another. The remainder of the scripture is a story of humanity reflecting another.

 

UNDERSTANDING JESUS!!!

When we consider all that we have explored above about sin, it leads us to look upon Jesus’ incredible life, for he did not sin, in any way at any time. All Christ did in word and deed was in perfect obedience to the Father. (Jn. 12:49, 14:31, 15:10; Heb. 10:7). There was nothing that Jesus did that he should not have done; nor anything he should have done that he did not do. He never committed a sin of commission or omission. Likewise the intention and motivation of his heart was blameless. Everything he did, he did trusting and submitting to the Father (Jn. 4:34, 5:30, 6:38, 10:18, 12:49-50, 14:30-31, 15:10), with joy (Heb. 12:2), for our joy (Jn. 15:11, 16:24) and in humility and love towards us (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17-19, 5:1-2). Jesus never committed a sin of intention. Even further Christ was the perfect reflection of the Father. To see him was to see God (Jn. 14:9; Col. 1:15). He never committed a sin of reflection.

At LCC we often like to say that ‘the worse the bad news is, the greater the good news is’. When we consider sin in all its manifestations it is extremely confronting. We know we cannot escape it. However when we consider our saviour Jesus with all the implications, it is extremely liberating. We know we are saved from it. The awareness of our sin is not something we should seek to escape, rather we should embrace the reality of what scripture teaches, because by it we gain an even greater awareness of our saviour Jesus Christ.

This is really important because if we get the problem of sin wrong it may mean we get the solution of Christ wrong. Until next time…

Saint Vs Sinner #2 – 4 Categories of Theology

In the opening post of this series I made the statement that ‘theology matters’. Now I want to explore this in more detail by outlining four categories of theology. With each category I will explain what is meant by the term, the implications of believing such theology, our response to those believing or teaching it and some examples. I acknowledge that this is not a perfect framework and not every doctrine will fit simply into one of the four categories. In saying that I still believe it can be somewhat helpful and further highlight why theology matters.

 

4 CATEGORIES OF THEOLOGY

 

DEFINITE THEOLOGY

Meaning – By definite theology I simply mean clear and truthful theology. The bible speaks clearly to this particular topic or doctrine. For those that take the Bible seriously there is no debate. I have to preface ‘take the Bible seriously’ because there is always someone that will twist the clear teaching of scripture to put forward their unfortunate agenda. Definite theology implies that all Christian’s essentially agree with this particular doctrine.

Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology or doctrine it leads to life and godliness. Their faith is grounded in truth. Their Christian experience will be consistent and their eternity with Christ secure.

Response: Believe and Rejoice. Our response to truth is faith and joy. True theology is to celebrated; people coming to know and believe the truth is to be celebrated. We believe it ourselves and rejoice when others do likewise.

Examples: The basic core elements of the Christian faith. Jesus death, burial and resurrection for example are something we all agree on as clear biblical truth. As Christians we all believe it and rejoice in what is meant by it. When someone from a slightly different church camp from us comes to believe in this same truth, we likewise rejoice with them. Definite theology is what makes it Christian theology.

 

DEBATABLE THEOLOGY

Meaning: By debateable theology I mean that bible is less clear to this particular topic or doctrine and it would be regarded as more of a secondary issues within Christian belief. Those that hold a different view on these doctrines remain as part of the Christian community because they believe in the definite theology. Within ‘Debatable Theology’ there is a great sense of appreciation for someone else’s view while graciously and humbly disagreeing. This theology is held with more of an open hand than a closed hand.

Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine the implications are predominantly intellectual, though at times may alter ones Christian experience to some degree. Whichever side of the debate one lands their eternity with Christ remains secure. They are Christians with whom we disagree with their interpretation of scripture.

Response: Debate and Disagree. Our response to such theology is to disagree graciously. In love for each other and with a godly desire for truth we will debate but we do not arrogantly argue, fight, or slander. Rather we encourage each other to continue to seek truth and to submit to it as we see it. Good godly debate around these topics is helpful rather than hurtful.

Examples: Baptism. There has been much debate in the church over which mode of Baptism is right, Paedo (Latin for child) or Credo (Latin for believe) baptism. If it’s of interest to you check out R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s debate (youtu.be/2VzUOiNtgio). Two incredible minds and two great friends completely disagree with how they interpret scripture on this topic. Both seek to be obedient to their interpretation while extending grace to the other. Due to the nature of the doctrine of Baptism, neither side is placing anybody’s eternity at risk through their teaching.

Other examples could include the debate of cessationism Vs continuationism and whether the miraculous gifts of tongues, prophesy, miracles etc still exist in the church today. Or the debate around eschatology and the end times. These are secondary issues that do not affect one’s salvation only one’s intellect and Christian experience. Therefore we hold our interpretation of scripture but we do so with humility, grace and openness to learn from the other side.

 

DANGEROUS THEOLOGY

Meaning – By dangerous theology I mean that there will be elements of truth layered within significant error. Due to the mixture of truth and error a trajectory is set that can be harmful and even destructive if arrived at a particular destination. It’s dangerous not because it’s utterly false but because there is falsity within the key premises upon which the overall theology is derived.

Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine they may remain a Christian however it will affect their Christian experience greatly and has the potential to put their eternal security at risk. This theology leads down a dangerous path and therefore needs to be carefully considered.

Response: Reject and Warn. Our response to such theology is to reject it personally and to warn both teacher and learner of the potential danger in holding to such theology. Debate and discussion need to occur however due to the possible ramifications a step further must be taken to warn people in love. It is stronger than basic disagreement; there is genuine concern that this theology is able to lead someone down a very dangerous path.

Furthermore, let’s not throw out the Heretic label here too quick. I do believe scripture allows a distinction between a false teacher and someone that teaches falsely. Well meaning, passionate people can be ill informed, ignorant, naïve and lack adequate hermeneutical education. It’s possible for people to learn, grow and eventually correct previous errors. I sure know this has been true of me. So while it is plausible for someone teaching falsely to be a false teacher, it’s not necessarily always the case. Dangerous theology while false theology may not necessarily mean heretical.

Examples: Liberalism is often a good example because it always begins with slight theological nuances and sometimes ends it utter denial of definite truth. I say sometimes because it depends on how far one goes. But the trajectory is always set by that 1% adjustment in the theology. If followed through to it’s logical conclusion certain aspects of liberalism often lead to despair and complete loss of ‘definite theology’

A good biblical example of warning against dangerous theology is in Titus 3. Speaking of people that are teaching foolish controversies, genealogies and the like Paul tells Titus to warn them. If after a few warnings they don’t heed the warning then reject the person, ‘knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned’ (Tit. 3:10) Titus is to reject the theology and warn them first, before out rightly rejecting them.

 

DAMNING THEOLOGY

Meaning – By damning theology I mean heretical. It is false and will lead people away from Christ.

Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology they will not inherit God’s kingdom. They will not be saved. They will not live with Jesus in glory. Their experience will not be consistent and their eternity will not be secure.

Response: Reject and Rebuke. Our response to such theology is to call it out for what it is – false. While I do not believe we have to call out every individual teacher by name, we must identify the theology and when necessary call out the teacher. We cannot and should not tolerate any such theology because only truth leads to freedom.

Examples: Prosperity theology teaches that God wants everyone to be materially wealthy and if you have enough faith, give enough money God will give you material wealth. Prosperity gospel is a false gospel and needs to be called out for what it is. It is destructive. It misrepresents God and misleads people to worship a completely different god. The message is ‘come to God he’ll make you rich’. Through this false gospel, many people come to God as a means to an end. God in essence becomes their butler or better yet their genie that gives them what their hearts desire. Prosperity preachers have riches as their true god, and they ultimately use God and people to get the false god the truly want. Prosperity theology needs to be rejected and prosperity preachers need to be rebuked and called to repentance.

We are often told in the Christian community that we shouldn’t call out bad theology because it causes disunity. The bible teaches us that we must rebuke false teaching and false teachers where necessary because it would be unloving not to do so.

In fact Paul outlined in Titus 1:9 that a qualification of an Elder is one that must, hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit. 1:9)

A few verse later Paul states that those of the circumcision party ‘must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families’ (Tit. 1:11) by their false teaching and that Titus should, ‘rebuke them sharply’ (Tit. 1:13). Paul himself called certain false teachers ‘dogs’ in Philippians 3:2; he stated that those who distort the gospel should be ‘accursed’ or destroyed and damned to hell (Phil. 1:8).

In the same way that I as a father would not allow someone to come into my families life and speak destructive lies to my children about who they are, or where they came from, I am instructed by God to protect his spiritual family. There we rebuke false teaching and false teachers.

 

Q – So where would I place sinless-perfectionism and the saints by nature theological movement?

Well I guess you’re just going to have to wait to find out…

Saint Vs Sinner – #1 – What I Affirm!

Theology matters. Truth matters. Get truth wrong and you end up doing two egregious things – you misrepresent God and you mislead people…Therefore my aim with this series is to represent God well, both in what I say and how I say it. As well as to better equip people…

Let me begin by saying this will be a very in house blog series. By that I mean I’ll be focusing on a debate that is between people within the Christian community. So if you’re reading this and are not a Christian, there may be some big theological words, a fair bit of “Christianese” going on and maybe not a lot of interest from your end. For this I apologise. In saying that I’d still encourage you to consider reading this series as it may help you understand more of the Christian worldview. If you are a Christian I really encourage you to read the entire series, as I believe that whichever side of the debate you land there are significant implications.

In this first post I’d like to 1) give a quick summary of the debate, 2) establish my purpose in entering into the debate and 3) affirm what I appreciate about the ‘Saints by Nature’ movement. This will then be followed by a series of blog posts that will outline my theological, pastoral and practical concerns with the theology behind this movement and what I believe scripture actually teaches in regards to sin, righteousness, our nature as Christians, sanctification and so forth.

 

THE DEBATE

In short the debate can be summarised with a simple question, ‘Are we saved sinners or sinning saints?’. It has to do with whether a converted Christian continues to possess a sinful nature. The common held belief within Christianity is that before conversion all people possess a sinful nature. This is to say that sin is not just something we choose to do, although it’s definitely chosen but also something we are predisposed to do. It’s in our nature to sin and every human being will sin because ultimately our activity (what we do) is determined by our identity (who we are). However scripture also tells us that when we become a Christian we receive a new nature, a new identity in Christ. A nature that is righteous and not sinful.

Consequently, the debate has a number of nuisances to it and includes many different questions. What is sin? Where does it come from? Can a person simultaneously have two natures, both sinner and saint? Is there a difference between the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ? (Don’t worry I’ll explain these words in a future post) Are either immediate or progressive? What’s the difference between justification and sanctification? If sin came from within the sinner (person with sinful nature) where does sin come from for the saint (righteous nature)? Note that while some in this movement are close to claiming sinless perfection, it’s my understanding that most would admit they continue to sin. How they define sin and what they attribute it to, is what I’d like to discuss.

As you can tell this is significant discussion. Therefore it’s going to take a number of blogs to discuss it. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

 

THE PURPOSE

I’m a pastor not a theological scholar. My reason for entering this conversation is pastoral. I love discussing theology and truth, even a good debate is fun, but I don’t enjoy debate for debate’s sake. I genuinely care about God and about people’s lives, particularly those of whom God has placed under my care. Theology matters. Truth matters. Get truth wrong and you end up doing two egregious things – you misrepresent God and you mislead people. Theology has significant implications for people’s lives. Therefore my aim with this series is to represent God well, both in what I say and how I say it. As well as to better equip people directly under my care and to encourage those outside my direct care to thoroughly consider what they believe and the implications of their beliefs.

 

THE APPRECIATION

Often when camps disagree with each other, we lose sight of where we agree and what we affirm. As a Christian Pastor I do believe it’s important to draw lines of disagreement. We need to know who we are and what we believe. We also need to know who we’re not and what we don’t believe. However I also believe we should draw circles of agreement. With this in mind I’d like to affirm a number of things I see and hear regarding those that adhere to the ‘Saints by Nature’ theology.

 

  • Desire for Holiness – I see a great desire for holiness within this movement. Many of the discussions I’ve had with people adhering to this doctrine have included a real concern for sin, and do not wish to take it lightly. There is a desire to live a godly lifestyle because that is what God has called us to. They see people abusing God’s grace, exploiting it as a means to dismiss sin, and seek to counter this by putting sin to death and living in righteousness.

 

  • Love for People – Everyone I’ve spoken to directly, much of what I have read and teachings I’ve listened to online reveal a genuine love for people. Many who promote this theology have a heart to see people live a life free from sin. They seek to fight for God’s people and desire to see people live in genuine freedom.

 

  • Focus on Identity – A big reason I believe this theology has gained traction is the focus on living out of one’s new identity found in Christ. I really appreciate this movements determination to focus on our new identity in Christ and to call people to live out of that identity. Our new identity in Christ is fundamental to living out our faith and being a disciple.

 

  • Lifestyle of Mission – I love seeing Christians be bold in their faith. If we truly believe what we say we believe then it should be followed up with action. This movement could never be accused of lacking passion or being on mission. They truly believe what they say they believe and it’s evident in how they seek to live on mission.

 

I’m sure there are more elements that I affirm within the movement, for now these four are what comes to mind. I wish to encourage anyone that disagree with the theology of this group to take a step back and first consider what you can learn from them. It’s one thing to have theological disagreements with people, it’s another to dismiss everything altogether. While this series is my attempt to teach the truth, as I believe revealed in scripture, my desire is to also be gracious, humble and teachable towards those I disagree with. I pray that my aim to represent God well and lead people towards truth is achieved throughout this series.

I hope you stick with me for this important journey.

Our Story by Mr & Mrs Smith

The biggest strength being a married couple who both have mental health conditions is the empathy and understanding that we both have for what’s going on… I kind of picture it as us limping along together in a marathon. We hold each other up.

Mr & Mrs Smith have chosen to remain anonymous. After receently talking with them for a couple of hours over coffee, I was actually brought to tears. Not necessarily because of how much pain they have both experienced but rather because of how great their love and support for each other is. I was simply blown away by how perfect they are for each other. They are my friends and in my eyes they are superheroes. This is their story…

 

Tell us a little about your story?

Mrs:

I have been living with Depression for 8 years. I was diagnosed in 2010, though I had unrecognised bouts before then. In 2013 I developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder. There is no real reason for my conditions; I am genetically predisposed to having a mental health illness. The first signs I remember were losing interest in my hobbies. I grew very fatigued, sometimes sleeping an extra 4-5hrs in the middle of the day after 8hrs of sleep at night. I would wake up regularly at 2 or 3am in the morning for no reason, often with night sweats. I began crying at the smallest things, and having suicidal thoughts. I felt empty, and at the same time I felt I had this dead weight inside of me. I began self harming. It was a release of my pain, and also a way to feel pain, when I felt emotionally numb.

Mr:

I experienced a patch of depression and anxiety in 2014/2015 caused by burn-out. The first thing I noticed was that I could not get out of bed. When I finally got out of bed and got to work, getting out of the car would take immense effort and time. Sometimes a whole hour. Small tasks became ridiculously hard, and I became very apathetic. My self-confidence plummeted and my motivation and zest for life (something which had defined me) disappeared.

  

What has it looked like living with depression and anxiety?

Mrs:

When I am depressed or anxious, the smallest decisions are hard and become a lengthy process. My mind becomes foggy. My concentration wavers. I literally can’t think properly. I become paralysed and trapped within my own thoughts. I can become harsh, blunt, and have little empathy in my interactions with people. When I’m anxious I can also become hyper productive. Needing to control and keep on top of everything so I don’t feel out of control. I often feel agitated and easily irritated. Sometimes I just feel grumpy for no reason. My patience disappears, and I become cynical. When something is hard, my mind jumps straight to suicidal ideation. I don’t want the thoughts, and I don’t want to act on them, but they are there, tormenting me. Sometimes at the forefront of my mind, sometimes as white noise in the background. Most of my anxious thoughts feel like that; like a separate entity tormenting me, whilst a small other voice tries to fight them off. It is exhausting. I don’t feel all of these things all the time – there are periods of feeling fine for a while, and then periods of erratic mood changes. The swinging of emotions becomes exhausting. My brain is tired. And yet onward I go. Life doesn’t stop.

Mr:

Similar to the first answer. Life was much harder on the inside. I was still doing normal things but just with a hectic level of effort. It was like running on second gear when I used to have six.

 

What has marriage looked like with both of your struggling? 

Mr & Mrs:

I think the biggest strength being a married couple who both have mental health conditions is the empathy and understanding that we both have for what’s going on. We both have similar coping mechanisms and I think perhaps if we didn’t, it would be harder. I kind of picture it as us limping along together in a marathon. We hold each other up.

We have been married almost three years and so far we have found that if we are both struggling, we can quickly surmise who has the strength to help the other and act accordingly. Alternatively, we both just hide together in a cave and enjoy each others company. Eventually, one of us will pick the other up and we continue to do the things we need to do.

Recently an event in our lives caused both of us much hurt, and our ‘cycles of emotion’ did clash, making it hard for the other to cope with their own emotions. Advice given to us was to process separately with someone else, and then come back together and talk. We found this helpful. There were a few times the sharing of raw emotion would bring the other back down to the pits where we were, and it wasn’t helpful. So processing our feelings separately and coming back together with ’better-thought-out’ feelings was definitely helpful.

 

What has helped you through you struggle?

Mr & Mrs:

  • Medication (both of us)
  • Talking to Psychologists/Counsellors/Psychiatrists/Pastors
  • Finding understanding friends to talk to about it
  • Managing the lows, through healthy habits (food, exercise, sleep) and open conversations
  • Avoiding the spiral of dark thoughts, through some kind of distraction.
  • Avoiding isolating ourselves
  • Figuring out the root thought to an anxious thought – “Why am I really feeling anxious?”
  • Not playing the comparison game
  • Changing lifestyles to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Working less hours.
  • Regular exercise with friends
  • Keeping a mood journal and graph to rate moods, to notice patterns and various triggers
  • Remembering the moments ‘down in the dumps’ don’t last forever
  • Believing things can change
  • Working out what we enjoy and doing it
  • (In marriage) Knowing each others limits and acting accordingly
  • (In marriage) Empathy towards each other

 

Where are you now?

Mrs:

Eight years on and my depression is still here. It is still as hard as ever. Over the 8 years there have been seasons feeling good, but also seasons of not. Currently I’m in a time of struggle, and its a day-to-day battle. The length of my depression and anxiety battle is now a factor that contributes to my struggle.

Mr:

I am in a good place; the healthiest I have been in years, I still have a disposition towards depression and anxiety but I know the signs and I ensure I act accordingly. I still lack a little bit of purpose and am low on the passion levels towards life, but ultimately I am going pretty well.

 

What would you like to leave us with?

Mrs:

If you struggle with mental health, don’t play the comparison game. Nobody wins at the comparison game. Don’t focus on where you are, or where others are; focus on where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, try and work out where you want to go. Ignore anyone trying to play the comparison game with you. Ignore yourself when you slip up and play the comparison game. Try to enjoy yourself when you can, because there is no shortcut to defeating mental health. It’s a long journey.

Mr:

Don’t play the comparison game with your past-self either. Don’t dwell on who you think you ‘used to be’. I’m often saddened because I feel as though I’m not as energetic, outgoing or as excited as I was when I was younger. Mental health battles can change you forever, but know you are not worse or weaker version of you – just different version, and that’s ok. You develop new strengths through the struggle and a new way of seeing people and the world and this should be celebrated, not seen as a failure.

My Story by Bethany Bruce

Anxiety tells me that nothing is secure. Depression tells me that there is no hope. Jesus tells me that I am safe in Him.

From my first interaction with Beth I knew she was awesome. She is kind, she is brave, she is my friend and this is her story…

To avoid a very scripted introduction, I will stick with basics: My name is Bethany, I am 20 years old, and I have an experience that likely resonates with most. Whether it be your personal journey, or the life of someone close to you, I pray that what I am about to discuss is of some benefit, wherever you are at. Let’s have a conversation.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with severe depression and extremely severe anxiety. I had only just graduated high school and, after 12 years of routine, no longer had anywhere to be. I didn’t have to wake up at 6am, so I slept. I didn’t have to do assessments, so my brain was never engaged. My behaviour slowly dissipated and became unpredictable. I wouldn’t sleep at night because that was a waste of time, but sleeping throughout the day gave me an excuse to avoid interacting with the people around me. I lost 10kg over the space of one month, because the thought of getting out of bed and preparing a meal was overwhelming. My face and skin were pallor in appearance. My hair was thin and began falling out. My body was not healthy and longed for even the slightest touch of the sun; a healthy meal; an established diet. I began to question things that had been secure in my life for so long. Do my friends really like me? Am I a burden to my family? Will my boyfriend get sick of this? These thoughts continued on until I finally realised things weren’t normal. It was Christmas morning when I woke up absolutely deprived of energy or emotion. My mother asked me what was wrong, and all I could say was “I don’t know, but I feel nothing.” I imagine my parents could tell things weren’t right, but waited for me to come to this on my own terms. I am grateful for that and was supported from the onset.

I started therapy and was initially seeing a Christian psychologist. While this was not a positive experience for a number of reasons, I came to understand the severity of my condition. I taught myself how to cope. My safe place became my bedroom, and art became an outlet. Mind you, I wasn’t good at art — but art was good for me. It was a distraction and meant I didn’t have to deal with things right away. I started on anti-depressants, eventually went on a higher dose, and continued on medication for about 2 years. It cleared the fog and I found a therapist who really did help me, and continues to. My brain was balanced and I could think rationally and address the issues I had. I still can’t understand how some believe that antidepressants are incompatible with the Christian faith. The ability to see and feel God, even for the shortest time, was the most comforting thing throughout this time, and this was only possible with the corrections my medication had made. I treasured those moments — thanks to my newfound clear mind.

I started university at the start of 2015 and my structure was back. I had a place to be, I had a purpose, and my brain was being engaged. Things were better, but they still weren’t good. Why was my emotional stability placed in earthly routine? It was a false dawn, and I began to slip again. The biggest unfamiliarity was that I was no longer in control (not that I ever was). God liked to remind me of this, which was painful and confronting. I did all the things that people said had helped them. It was of no benefit as the issue was that I had tried to control the condition I was facing, rather than relying on God’s grace and trusting that He knew what would eventuate. The less I tried to control things, the better they became. It was okay to have a bad day. It was okay to spend some time on my own. I allowed myself time to heal and rest.

I went off medication at the end of 2016. I didn’t want to do this, and it was uncomfortable for me. What I had constructed as my safety net for the past 2 years was about to be taken away, yet I knew it was the right decision after much prayer. My fiancé (who has continued to love me and trust God throughout this season) and I are now apart of a church community who have accepted us as family. I have implemented healthy boundaries and routines. I still have depression and anxiety, but know how to manage these conditions. Therapy continues to be important. Trusting in God’s plan gives me peace.

My therapist has taught me one lesson that has never left me: if a tiger is not physically waiting to attack you at this very moment, then you are safe. Nothing or no one can ever take God away from you. People can say and do awful things. However, there is security in God. No one can make God love you less, or alter His plan for you, or love you better than He does. Regardless of what happens, so long as there are no tigers, you are safe in this very moment. You are held so tightly and safely within his righteous right hand. Anxiety tells me that nothing is secure. Depression tells me that there is no hope. Jesus tells me that I am safe in Him. God may choose to heal me completely, or He may not. His timing is always perfect and His ways are good. I am so thankful for suffering as it has shown me more of my Lord’s character, and I yearn for more knowledge of Him. His ways have been revealed to me through my pain and my hurt.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Depression and anxiety are both battles I come up against daily, allowing me to help others who struggle with similar issues. God has not caused me to suffer and then abandoned me, but rather He has allowed my suffering to glorify His name. Mental health is a very predominant struggle for so many Christians today — more common than most tend to think. It is not a measure of the quality of your faith. It is not an issue of salvation. It means you are a human, born into sin. Today, I thank Jesus for promising me eternal life with Him. Until then, my chemicals might be a little unbalanced, yet His word will continue, steady and unshaken.

Beauty and Being a Dad – Lessons From Beauty and The Beast

My daughter is longing for this world. Every time she gets a glimpse of it her heart springs forward as for a brief moment as she encounters God’s true kingdom… It’s there in the sunset. It’s there at the dinner table filled with friends and family. It’s there at the park as the breeze whistles through the trees. It’s there when she laughs, when she cries and when she lays down her head to rest at night. God’s kingdom is here and it’s all around her, everyday, in everything and it’s all pointing to her great God that loves her and promises that he’ll bring her into that kingdom with all the colour, with all the life, beauty and joy. On that day her heart will rejoice and behold like no other.

 

I am not a nursery rhyme, fairy tale kind of guy. Don’t ask me why but they just didn’t stick with me from my childhood. I know we grew up with them because my other siblings remember my mum reading us the stories. But for some reason I just don’t remember any of the stories or rhymes. This became apparent after I got married and began having children. My wife would sing the songs and tell the stories and it was like I was hearing them for the first time. She would always look at me with disbelief wondering how it was possible to be an adult with little to no recollection of the stories and characters in the most famous of fairy tales. Maybe I was more interested in other things. I don’t know.

Since having children however fairy tales are commonplace in our home. Children love stories. They never tire of them. There is something about a good story that captures their hearts attention. The more I learn about the power of a story, the more attentive I am to what stories I allow to shape my kids.

Now this is not an over-reactionary Christian blog post about the semi homosexual innuendos portrayed by Lefou. Sometimes my own team disappoint me with their unreasonable expectations of secular culture or their impetuous opinions voiced with a veneer of hypocrisy. While I can sympathise with parents concern over Hollywood’s willingness to continually push the boundaries, I cannot validate their grievance of a homosexual agenda in Hollywood when staring them in the face is an explicit story of a female falling for an animal. We call this bestiality. For me, if you are not offended by this component of the story, you shouldn’t be offended by anything else. Anyway, enough venting on my part.

This post is rather some lessons I learnt from watching this fairy tale for the first time. I took my oldest daughter and for the record I loved it. She gave me running commentary throughout, constantly nudging me, pointing out whom each character was before they had even been properly introduced. Watching her captivated by this story prompted me to consider what it may tell me. Here are 4 things I learnt about my daughter.

 

  1. My daughter is looking for more than just physical provision.

Gaston is attracted to Belle and wants to marry her. Unfortunately for him Belle is not interested in marrying him. Unfortunately for her, this is partly what makes her so attractive to Gaston. Belle knows what she wants and she is unwilling to settle. Gaston approached Belle again attempting to manipulate her into marrying him pointing out his ability to provide for her after her father passes in the future. Belle emphatically assures Gaston that she will never marry him and breaks out into song singing, ‘I want more than physical provision, I want adventure and I want love.’

Sure, Belle is singing about the man she wants to marry but it still applies to me as the first man in my daughter’s life. She wants more than just a roof over her head or food on the table. She wants adventure. She wants to be cherished. She wants to have a man in her life that is aspiring to provide emotionally, relationally and spiritually as well as physically. She wants a man that will pursue her heart and go beyond what Gaston is offering to provide Belle. While I want my daughters to find men like this, the reality is that I set the standard. If I become this type of man for them now, then they’ll have a higher chance to be as Belle was – unwilling to settle.

 

  1. My daughter needs the weapon of hope

At one point in the story, Belle is perplexed as to how the living household objects are able to maintain hope in spite of their dire circumstances. While not having a full comprehension of the situation, Belle empathised with them. In her mind there was no hope. Yet hope shone through. This is the nature of hope. Rick Warren often says, ‘you’ve got to have hope to cope.’ It’s so true. Hope is essential to perseverance.

As a dad this leads me to consider what my kids are putting their hope in. Can it deliver? Will it last? What part do I play in shaping this? I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions but I do know hope is one of the great weapons for overcoming adversity. In the Christian worldview hope is more than wishful thinking. It is a certainty that is secure in God’s nature. God can’t lie, therefore when God says something will be, it will be. It’s certain, it’s sure. This is the hope I want my daughters to have. A hope that is beyond an imperfect father or future husband and in a perfect unfailing God whose promise is sure and true.

 

  1. My daughter needs a soft heart not a hard heart.

The moral of Beauty and the Beast is that a soft-hearted girl named Belle is able to soften a hard-hearted angry beast. As a dad it’s important to remember that while discipline is necessary in developing my kids, nothing is more important than my heart towards them. If my heart is hard, my discipline will be hard and more likely to produce another hard heart. On the other hand if my heart is soft then the necessary discipline will be in love and able to produce the desired outcome.

Additionally I want my girls to have soft hearts. While I want them to have thick skin and to be secure women, there’s nothing more unattractive than a hard heart. This is where I’m really grateful I have a God that has a perfect heart towards us. God can change my hard heart. God can soften my daughter’s hard heart. This is really good news especially as my heart is often hard.

 

  1. My daughter loves extravagant beauty

There were three scenes in particular that made my daughter and I gape with wonder. The first was when the beast introduced Belle to the library. It was incredible. If you know me, it won’t surprise you that my I was filled with envy. Even my daughter turned to me and said, ‘Dad imagine if that was your library and it was just filled with Bibles.’ She knows me well. It was amazing. The second was the ballroom in which Belle and the Beast first danced. The room, adorned with polished marble floors, lavish crystal chandeliers hanging from the high domed ceiling was exquisite. The third was near the end of the movie after the curse had been removed and everything had been restored to its original beauty. The colour returned, life restored and joy filled the entire kingdom once again.

All three scenes reminded me that we have an innate proclivity towards extravagance. Leaving aside the actuality of the greed and financial disparity within the world we live, I believe our hearts are designed for wonder and beauty. It’s why we gaze; it’s why we esteem; it’s why we treasure; it’s why we behold. There is something within us that is drawn to extravagant beauty. The Bible would tell us that this is the deposit of the eternal placed within each human soul. We are longing for a kingdom not of this world but of another, where colour is returned, life is restored and joy is unending.

My daughter is longing for this world. Every time she gets a glimpse of it her heart springs forward as for a brief moment as she encounters God’s true kingdom. As a Dad I want to help her to see the beauty of God’s kingdom all around her every day. It’s there in the sunset. It’s there at the dinner table filled with friends and family. It’s there at the park as the breeze whistles through the trees. It’s there when she laughs, when she cries and when she lays down her head to rest at night. God’s kingdom is here and it’s all around her, everyday, in everything and it’s all pointing to her great God that loves her and promises that he’ll bring her into that kingdom with all the colour, with all the life, beauty and joy. On that day her heart will rejoice and behold like no other.

 

P.S. Keep an eye out for the upcoming posts from my friends on mental health conditions. I’ve read a few of them and they are going to be really helpful. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing.

Living With Mental Health Conditions

However you define it, mental health is paramount to one’s quality of life. When someone suffers with any type of condition and to any degree it has the ability to affect his or her whole life. According to Beyond Blue over 3 million Australians are currently suffering with some form of anxiety or depression. That’s a large number of our fellow countrymen and women struggling with their quality of life.

In the coming weeks a number of my friends have agreed to be guest bloggers and share their stories of dealing with mental health issues. This is something I am personally passionate about as in 2015 I was diagnosed with having post-traumatic anxiety. This has made life more difficult and complicated for me as well as my family. My goal through these series of posts is to help lift the lid of mental health and encourage those that may struggle or have a friend or family member that struggles. I’d love it if you would consider sharing these upcoming posts through your social media with the hope of encouraging as many people as possible through the stories of my brave friends.

In this post I’d like to start the conversation with a general overview of mental health and take a snapshot of different approaches people take in dealing with mental health conditions. In the coming weeks a few of my friends will share their stories and insights in the hope it encourages many.

 

MENTAL HEALTH DEFINED

Mental health is often defined as, ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.’ Additionally ‘Beyond Blue’ (a mental health support organization) points out on their website (https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/what-is-mental-health),

“According to the World Health Organization, however, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

So rather than being about ‘what’s the problem?’ it’s really about ‘what’s going well? So when speaking of conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and the like, Beyond Blue would categorize these as ‘mental health conditions’. However you define it, mental health is paramount to one’s quality of life. When someone suffers with any type of condition and to any degree it has the ability to affect his or her whole life. According to Beyond Blue over 3 million Australians are currently suffering with some form of anxiety or depression. That’s a large number of our fellow countrymen and women struggling with their quality of life.

 

APPROACHES TO MENTAL HEALTH

Weakness – People with this approach completely dismiss mental health conditions as genuine. Rather they consign them as weakness on the part of the person struggling.

Warrant – People with this approach view mental health conditions as an excuse used by many to avoid dealing with real issues of life or even to escape hard work. Anytime something of significant effort comes up the person claiming mental health conditions throw the, ‘anxiety or depression’ card down.

Whatever – People with this approach may not necessarily look down on someone claiming mental health issues rather they simply wipe their hands of acknowledging its legitimacy due to their lack of understanding. They may not rule out these conditions from the realm of possibility, but have not experienced themselves and therefore they ‘just don’t get it’.

Warmth – People with this approach sympathize while not experiencing mental health conditions first hand. They readily acknowledge the struggle is real and difficult and move towards those struggling with compassion. Often they are close to someone dealing with these conditions or have previously struggled themselves.

Wrestle – People with this approach have been or still are in the heat of the battle. They personally wrestle with these conditions on a day-to-day basis. The wrestle is real.

Regrettably I used to fall into the first approach. While not vocalizing my opinion publically, I definitely thought those that struggled just needed to toughen up mentally. They were just weak. Looking back I can see this came through in my approach when counseling others. My motivation was good, my overly simplistic approach was uninformed and naïve. I’ll leave my personal story for a later post but in short, one day in 2015 everything changed for me as I came crashing down. Hopefully I now sit in the ‘warmth’ approach as I continue to wrestle with my own struggle each and every day.

I guess we call this being humbled 🙂

Up next will be my friends and their stories. I hope this either helps move you towards warmth and compassion to those that struggle or helps you to continue your wrestle with hope.

The Shack Attack & What To Think

First of all let me just say from the outset that it’s neither my job nor my goal to tell you what to think. My goal is to help you to think. I’ll be making some points that I think are worth your consideration but at the end of the day you need to think for yourself. With that in mind let’s talk about The Shack Attack.

The Shack was a book written by Paul Young roughly a decade ago. Within a few years it had sold millions of copies and had likewise divided the Christian world down the middle. Some absolutely loved Young’s book saying it really helped them through their own wrestle of understanding God and particularly with relation to their own pain. Others called it outright heresy damning Paul Young for his use of graven images (Young paints God the Father as an African-American women named Papa, the Holy Spirit is an Asian women named Sarayu, and Jesus is a Middle Eastern carpenter – go figure) and some of the theological implications that are presented throughout the narrative. With the movie launching in Australia today the Christian world is once again divided with those who love it uses the movie to invite friends and family and those who hate it calling for Christians to boycott the movie and some even stating it would be sinful to go view such a movie.

If you don’t know the story it is of a man named Mack who experiences great tragedy. While on a camping trip Mack saved his son from drowning and in doing so looses track of his daughter as she is kidnapped and eventually murdered. Like I said, this book is based on great tragedy. After some years of deep struggle over his loss, Mack receives a letter from God asking Mack to meet Him at the very shack his daughter was murdered. After wrestling whether to go to the shack or not Mack ends up taking the risk and encounters “God” in a unexpected way as he is confronted with his own sadness and anger towards God. And the story unfolds.

If you choose to see this movie (or read the book) here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. It’s a movie (book)

The Shack is fiction and fallible. It’s not the Bible. It’s not authoritative. It’s a story. A human story written by a human, seeking to narrate how humans may understand God in light of the pain that we humans experience. (That sentence may not be grammatically correct). In light of this, be careful allowing it to shape your worldview of God, pain, suffering and redemption. That’s why God gave you the Bible. Yeah but isn’t the Bible just a story written by humans also? Well in short. No! The Christian worldview is that the Bible is a story written by human hands but authored and inspired by the supernatural God. This is why we understand the Bible to be authoritative. It’s ultimately God’s story. If you are a Christian keep this in mind no matter what you are reading or watching. The Shack is not the only narrative to ever shape a community. I remember vividly in the 90’s Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” series. Many Christian’s understanding of spiritual warfare was shaped by this fictional spiritual thriller. So whatever your flavour of entertainment, make sure the Bible is your source of truth. Filter everything through scripture.

 

  1. It has an agenda

With that in mind some have been prone to state that because The Shack is fiction is should not therefore be critiqued through a theological lens. In one sense I do believe some of those that are throwing the ‘heretic’ word around have not allowed for any room for the category of fiction. But to say it should not be critiqued with theology in mind is a little ignorant to the fact that every author has an agenda. Paul Young himself has admitted as much. So yes it’s a fictional movie, but it’s also a theological one. What is the theological point of the movie? I guess only Young can truly answer that question. Some have said his motivation was to try and explain the trinity in a way that is accessible and understandable. Others have stated that Young’s agenda was an ‘Arminian’ human free will expose. I’m not so sure. I get the sense that Young’s big drive is the wrestle of human suffering and how we understand God in the midst of it. I may be ignorant, and I’m not always the sharpest knife in the draw, but I understood this to be why the book was such a big hit. Like Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’, Paul Young was scratching where people were itching. In every age we ask the question, ‘why does a good God allow suffering?’ This is my reading of the author’s intent. I may be wrong. But if this is his agenda I think Young deserves some credit as a narrator. He hit the emotions exposing our struggle of pain.

 

  1. It has theological Implications

Because the author has an agenda and has chosen to use the genre of fiction to achieve that end it is important to consider the theological implications and our response. If Young’s agenda was to describe the trinity (that is the Christian view of one God, 3 persons – Father, Son, Spirit) in a way that was accessible to our human minds, I would suggest that a narrative is probably the most limited of methods. The Trinity cannot be explained by any one story. That’s why we have the Bible being 66 books. It’s stories over thousands of years, in all sorts of cultures and periods of time and people groups that give us insight into who God is and what He’s like. While I’m not convinced this was Young’s agenda, if it was he chose a poor medium and opened himself up to huge criticism. It’s one of the most complex theological categories that humans have been trying to explain for millenniums. A novel will always fall short. As for describing the Father and Spirit as women, there has been a plethora written as to the problems with this, but for me it was more the over emphasised nature of God being a sensitive friend. While it may be true that God is sensitive and gentle, and that he is our friend that is not all the Bible tells us about God. God is also sovereign ruler, righteous judge and holy king. Because He is such, the Bible treats sin differently than The Shack would indicate. Again it’s only a movie and therefore there’s limitations to how much of God’s nature can ever be fully fleshed out. But I would point people to read the Bible and filter The Shack through it. This way you are able to affirm things that are true about God in the story while maintaining it doesn’t describe all that is true about God.

I have two other additional questions for you to consider. 1) What does the Bible teach us about God and suffering? And 2) what does the Bible teach us about hearing from God. In my context, many Christians I meet believe that there is no category that includes Christian suffering. Suffering then points to our own sinful choices, and therefore we should repent and change leading to our suffering dissipating. Or we lack enough faith, and therefore if we can just muster up enough faith we’ll be free from experiencing suffering, pain, sickness or even failure. This worldview leaves God to be powerless and us to be our own saviours. The Bible however holds God’s sovereignty over all things and man’s responsibility in a unique tension that is not easily understood. But it absolutely does not in anyway teach that all suffering is out of God’s will and design nor is it absolutely a direct result of bad choices or lack of faith. Read the book of Job to see just one of many stories of the nuances involved in human suffering in the Bible.

Even more troubling in my context is the drift away from objective Bible to subjective mystical experiences. We are all tempted to create our own version of God and not allow him to reveal himself to us through scripture. This story, if allowed to influence your worldview, leans itself away from the Bible and to the subjective, internal, personal experience of God. Without a doubt all Christians have spiritual experiences that are subjective, internal and personal. But we are to interpret these in light of what scripture teaches not the other way around. We must remember that God has revealed himself to us through the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets. This testimony has been written down for us in scripture and it is in scriptures that we learn to understand God and ultimately hear from God. And here’s the best news. The Bible is so practical today. These ancient stories speak to us and help us to wrestle with the culture we currently live in. This for me is further evidence of God’s inspiration because it’s timeless.

So, if you want to read the book or watch the movie, go ahead. It’s just a movie after all. I don’t believe as some other respectable Christian pastors do, that to watch the movie would be sin. For me this would rule out practically every movie that misrepresents God. But if you do, do so with wisdom not ignorance, and do so allowing God’s word to be the filter through which you understand God, pain, suffering and redemption. I read the book and probably won’t see the movie more because it’s not my style than a boycott against bad theology. But that’s just me. You do you.

Why I Love Our Acts 29 Network

So our annual Acts 29 Australia & New Zealand Conference has finished and once again I have returned more encouraged by our network and that our church is a part of it. Below are a few reasons for my optimism.

1. Gospel Centrality – If you ever attend an Acts29 Conference I can guarantee you will hear about Jesus. Sure, you’ll most likely hear about Jesus at every Christian conference. The difference for me is the centrality of the gospel. The gospel is not an add on or a launching pad, the gospel is central to everything that is sung and taught.

2. Diversity – This year we had 5 speakers from 5 different contexts with very different churches and ministry approaches. This is a great strength to our network. It is really refreshing to see churches seeking God’s leading in where they plant their churches and how they approach gospel ministry in their context, rather than trying to copy and paste another churches approach. This fleshed itself out in the conference by the 5 different talks.

  • Mike Beck kicked off the conference. He and his GraceNet team are from Wellington NZ. They are a reformed baptist church which is clearly evident when Beck preaches. You’re never going to get a 5 point sermon from Beck, unless it’s 5 points of calvinism, even then he’d probably find away to deliver it with a solid Biblical Theology. This is what Mike delivered, taking us back to the first covenant community in Genesis and helping us see the mission of God through his people from Genesis to Revelation. “It’s to our shame that Pepsi and Coca Cola would be distributed more widely than the gospel. Let’s be a people who call upon the name, trust the name, preach the name, and by the Spirit’s power we will drill deeper and reach wider for the cause of Christ”
  • Adam Ramsey, Pastors Liberti Church on the Gold Coast. Liberti’s team hosted us again and did an incredible job. Thank you Liberti. Mr Ramsey is a good friend so I may be a little biased here but the boy has got some serious lungs and can preach. If backed into a corner, like me, Adam would most likely say he’s a reformed continuationist. He encouraged us that “The risk is costly, but the mission is worth it”. He reminded us that while we are called to the mission, it is God’s mission and he is the one who is sovereign. Therefore we rest.
  • Ryan Kwon flew in from the Bay Area of California with his wife Jenni and they blessed us immensely. 10 minutes with this couple and you know they are genuinely some of the most loving people you will ever meet. Love oozes from everything they do and speak. This is exactly what came through with Ryan’s session. He preached a clear gospel message encouraging us to not leave God’s love. It is easy to get busy doing ministry and over time forget about ministering to our own hearts and minds. What we need is to be reminded of God’s great love for us. “On the cross God treated Jesus as if He lived our lives, and now God treats us as if we have lived Jesus life.”
  • Sam Swadling leads Gospel Church in Newcastle. Sam is a big country guy and has no interest in trying to pretty it up. I love this about him. There’s no pretence. Ever. This is the first time I had ever heard my friend preach and man he didn’t pretty it up and pull no punches. His topic was about cultural engagement. Rather than give us a bunch of strategies on how to engage culture he got to the heart of the matter – love. His main point was that if we don’t get the love part, our strategies, plans and ideas are worthless – “It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of love”. 
  • Guy Mason leads City on a Hill Church in Melbourne. This was probably the best I’ve heard Guy speak. Vulnerable, motivating, funny and his usual clear and concise message. Guy challenged us about being dangerous leaders and reminding us of our need for God. “Leaders – Are you leading with your chest out or your knees bent” . It was a great way to round out the conference.

3. Joyfulness – The picture above illustrates one of my favourite things about our network. While we are very serious about doctrine and mission, we also don’t take ourselves too seriously. We enjoy each other and more “australianly” (that’s a word right?) we enjoy having a bit of banter with one another. There is so much to ministry, church and family that tends to steal our joy and make us take life a little too serious. But every time we come together as a network I find myself laughing and enjoying my time with great friends. Even Citizens and Saints, a band from Seattle that lead us in song throughout the conference, were constantly on stage smiling. Filled with joyfulness as they gathered with God’s saints from the other side of the world to sing about and to God. They represented our Network well.

Our Life Centre Team had an absolute blast and I’m so thankful to all who came and joined us as a church down at conference. I’m proud of being the Lead Pastor of such a great church. Every conference I receive incredible feedback from others about our team. I too think we reflect the network as we are gospel centred, diverse and man we love having a good time. Thanks team. I love and appreciate you all so much.

If you missed conference this year be sure to be on the look out for our Regional Gatherings throughout the year ahead. It’ll also be a good idea to book out the 30th Feb – 1st of March 2018. That’ll be our next Acts29 Australia New Zealand Conference and it’s going to be another cracker.

The 4 W’s of Decision Making

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. So many decisions. How do you know whether you’re making a good decision or a bad decision? According to Google (yeah that’s right I googled it) adults make 35,000 conscious decisions per day. A young child makes closer to 3000. This sounds a little excessive to me but I don’t really have the time to test Google’s estimation so I’m going to roll with it. No matter the number, we know we are making decisions all day long. Most of our decisions are inconsequential. From how much milk to pour into your cereal to whether you’ll stand on that crack on the footpath or step over it. However many choices we make have significant consequences and many of our choices compound. If you make that financial purchase it will lead to another financial decision later. It will affect you for either better or worse.

So how do you make decisions that set you up for a better future? Here’s a filter I call the 4W’s.

 

  1. WORSHIPFUL

If you’re a Christian then this should be absolutely critical to your decision making process. As a Christian our highest end is to glorify God. We seek to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Before making a significant decision consider how it reflects on God and his reputation. Does it please Him? How will others view God in light of your decision? It’s easy to forget that before anything else you are a child of God. Before you are husband or wife; spouse or sibling; employee or employer – you are a Christian! You not only consider the affects of your decision on your own future or others but on God.

If you’re not a Christian then maybe think of this as ‘Valuable’. How will your decision meet up with your highest values? As a Christian our highest value is God. We seek His pleasure and His purposes and believe that all things that lead to His glory also lead to our joy.

Before making that decision think – Is It Worshipful?

 

  1. WISE

I learnt this from Andy Stanley. He’s taught and written much on ‘Wise Decision Making’ and it’s super helpful. Andy encourages us to not think through the lens of right and wrong, but wise and foolish. Is it the wise thing to do? 1 Corinthians speaks of a similar distinction when Paul writes to the Church at Corinth.

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.’ 1 Cor. 6:12

Paul challenged his audience to not just think through the lens of right and wrong. There may be some things that God is ok with you choosing – it’s lawful – but is it helpful? Is it a wise decision? Yes alcohol is lawful, but is it helpful for you? Maybe it’s controlling your life? Yes having a better half is lawful, but is it helpful for you right now? Do you really need that distraction at this point in your life? Yes buying that home is lawful, but is it helpful to spend that amount of money based on what you currently earn? You get the point. Don’t just think right and wrong.

Before making that decision think – Is It Wise?

 

  1. WITNESS

Again you may not be a Christian and therefore might think to tune out on this one. But it applies to you also. The big idea here is to think how your decision affects others. In our narcissistic culture we are told time and again to not worry about what others think or say. As long as you’re happy and not hurting anyone. This isn’t the worst advice in the world but it is narrow, self-centred and undefined. What classifies as ‘hurting someone’? When we say ‘happy’ are we thinking short term or long term?

In a free society you will always live with the tension between individual responsibility and community responsibility. For an individual to flourish, the community must not supress or restrict the individual. For a community to flourish, individuals must consider what leads to the flourishing of the whole. If you’re a Christian I really want to encourage you to consider personal decisions in light of the community you find yourself a part of.

A good example of this was my Life Group from church. We meet together every fortnight to eat, hang out and encourage each other in life. Being on a Friday night most of our group would drink some form of alcohol (wine or beer). It was lawful and personally helpful. People enjoyed it. However we had a new member join our group who was attending AA. For her alcohol wasn’t helpful it was hurtful and she had made a ‘WISE’ decision to not drink. As a Life Group we decided to lay aside our freedom and make a decision to not drink alcohol to benefit her. This was a decision that was about our witness. We modelled to her what true love looks like. Love lays aside personal rights and preferences to benefit the other. This is how Jesus treated us. He laid aside his life to benefit our life (Phil. 2:1-11).

How will your decision affect others? How will it affect their view of God? What example does it set to others in following Jesus? How will it help and bless others?

Before making that decision think – Is It a Good Witness?

 

  1. WORKING

This may seem redundant but I have found it is really necessary to consider. In fact it is this question that really determines the outcome of most people’s new years resolutions. For example how many people at the beginning of the year decide they want to get healthy? They sign up for the yearly gym membership and start strong. Only for March to roll around and it’s been two weeks since they’ve seen a treadmill. Why? Because every time they ate that food or reset that alarm, they didn’t ask the question – will this decision work? Will it help you get where you want to be?

Think about marriage. How many marriages don’t get to where they could be because other decisions were made that undermine the ultimate goal? This is about priority. What is most important? Do those behaviours and decisions help or hinder where you ultimately want to get to? When you are clear on the end game it helps you to say yes or no, now or later.

I want to have a great marriage! Ok so will having coffee with that person of the opposite sex help or hinder? Will it work?

I want to finish Uni with honours! Great. Will hitting those parties regularly help or hinder? Will it work?

I really want a career in _______! Awesome. Will playing it safe in that job you don’t really like help or hinder? Will it work?

Before making that decision think – Is It Working?

 

This is a simple filter but I have found it effective in my decision making process. You already have a filter whether conscious or unconscious. The question is whether it’s a good one or not. These 4 questions help me. If a decision hits on all four I’m confident to go ahead. If it doesn’t it gives me pause to reconsider and go through the filter again. I hope this may help you or at least get you thinking about your own process for making decisions to set you up for a better future.