SSM – What will change? What does it mean? How do we respond?

Our God is the same he never changes. Our mission is the same it never changes. We are to make disciples of Jesus proclaiming the truth of the gospel, courageously yet with gentleness and respect.

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Last week, the Australian people’s vote on same-sex marriage was revealed. Of the 12.7 million Australians who took part in the government survey, 61.6% (just under 8 million) voted in in favour of SSM while 38.4% (just under 5 million) voted against. In short, the nation was given an opportunity to make its voice heard and it did so with a rallying cry. So what will change, what does it mean and how should we respond?

 

WHAT WILL CHANGE?

Legislation:

Section 51 of the Constitution stipulates the powers of the federal Parliament. One of those powers is the ability to legislate with respect to marriage:

            Section 51 Legislative Powers of the Parliament

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to: (xxi) marriage;

The Constitution was written in the 1890’s yet a definition of marriage was not included. It was universally assumed at the time that marriage was between one man and one woman. It wasn’t until 1961 in fact, that federal legislation was created. Before 1961 each state had their own regulating laws for marriage.

Now, this may just freak you out a little bit but in 1942 Tasmania raised the minimum age of marriage from 12 to16 for girls and 14 to 18 for boys. Yeah, that’s right under eighty years ago a 14-year-old boy could marry a 12-year-old girl. The differing State legislation led to complications, as recognised marriages from one state were not recognised in another. Therefore the federal Marriage Act of 1961 was instituted. However again at this time, a definition of marriage was not inserted into this act. It was still assumed that marriage was between one man and one woman. It wasn’t until 2004 that an amendment of the Marriage Amendment Act under the Howard government occurred defining marriage as seen below.

As it currently stands, marriage is defined within the constitution as:

1  Subsection 5(1)

Insert:

marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

The Federal Government promised it would introduce legislative changes to allow same-sex couples to marry if the nation voted for it. Therefore we can expect this in the very near future. A simple change will occur by removing “a man and a woman” and replacing them with “two people”.

 

Definitions:

This debate has been framed under the idioms of equality, freedom and love. Yet there is a gradual shift in the definition of these terms. For example, the left has promised that no one else’s freedom would be affected by the legislative changes. However, the current proposed bill put together by Senator Dean Smith (Smith Bill – https://goo.gl/f33foA) only provides religious protections in allowing members of the clergy to refuse to solemnize marriages that conflict with their beliefs. While this is a good start, Lyle Shelton, a Christian lobbyist, has strongly sought to highlight the inadequacy of the bill and his concerns regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Senator James Paterson has proposed an alternate bill that in his view would allow same-sex couples to marry while “preserving the freddoms of all Australians (Paterson Bill – https://goo.gl/9WT8yM).

It raises the question as to how freedom will be defined in our culture and more importantly whether it will be consistent? Will Christian and Muslim schools have the freedom to teach their view of marriage? Will parents have the freedom to remove their children from classes that conflict with their values? Will business owners, such as photographers, bakers and florists have the freedom to refuse service to same-sex couples, without facing legal action as has been seen in the United States?

Additionally, what is determined as discriminatory behaviour? Australia already has anti-discrimination legislation in place and these set out the definition of discriminatory behavior (see https://goo.gl/TCLv5M). Yet there remains a significant tension between protecting the rights of a person to freely practice their religion and have the freedom of speech and that of permitting a person to engage in discriminatory conduct. This is equally as important to protect, particularly for minorities that are far more vulnerable to such conduct.

So how will we define these human rights and protect the equal and inviolable rights of all members of the human family?

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

It means we’re not in Kansas anymore. Nor have we been for quite some time. As a nation, we do not have a grand narrative guiding and leading us to the same destination. This is just the reality. The age of consensus is dead and gone. The age of a moral majority for Christians and the church is over. Australia is a post-Christian nation, a secular nation, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. There is a myriad of worldviews within our culture, Christianity is but one, and it no longer has the monopoly. And biblically and historically this has been the norm. The naivety and ignorance of the Christian West are often astounding. Have we forgotten the history of God’s people in exile? Have we not learnt from Daniel, Acts and 1 Peter where God’s people did more than live in a hostile culture in exile, they shone brighter in it? Are we unaware of God’s people in places like China, Sudan and Syria? Most Christians do not exist in the comfortable west, they live in hostile environments under great persecution and yet God and the Gospel continue to advance. In fact, in my estimation, Christianity excels in the margins.

It means the divide is rapidly increasing. This referendum has demonstrated the deep rifts within our culture. The chasm between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives is growing. And what’s left in the middle is confusion and disorientation. As the divide increases love for the other decreases. Additionally, there is an increasing divide between professing Christians and practicing Christians. While 50% of Australians may have ticked, “Christian” on the latest census, the reality is many of these, if not most, are simply theists, or more accurately, agnostic. In fact, the media are quick to inform us that Christianity is dying a slow death in this country. They will point to this latest vote as evidence of that. But the reality is we are seeing a decline in “nominal Christianity”. More and more people raised Catholic or Anglican, are feeling the freedom to acknowledge that they don’t truly believe or practice. A deeper study of the analytics, with clear specifications with regard to genuine Christian practice, tells us that Christianity is not decreasing, rather nominal Christianity is. And this is a good thing. Not because we don’t want to be associated with non-believers, rather it is the opposite. The Roman world was not turned upside down in the first century by nominal Christians. It was turned upside down by genuine believers and followers of Jesus willing to risk it all for the sake of the gospel and to love their neighbour even at great personal cost.

 

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

With the world around us changing, nothing changes for the Christian. We remain called to love God and neighbour as a response to God’s grace, mercy and love towards us. We have an incredible opportunity to model Christian love to heterosexuals and homosexuals, liberals and conservatives and the like. Our God is the same he never changes. Our mission is the same it never changes. We are to make disciples of Jesus proclaiming the truth of the gospel, courageously yet with gentleness and respect.

We are to follow the words of Micah 6:8

“He had told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”

and Jeremiah 29:7

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

 

How do we respond? By continuing to love God and our neighbour.

Conference Highlights

“You cannot celebrate the Reformation nor call yourself a Protestant if you do not preach, teach, love and follow this Christ… and anyone that stands in the place of Christ is anti-Christ” Joe Thorn

So we’ve just finished up at the latest Acts29 New Zealand Conference in Wellington and man was it a great time. It’s always a great time hanging with what I like to call ‘my tribe’. Like-minded men and women that seek to deepen their understanding of the gospel and widen their hearts towards God and his mission in the world.

This year the conference threw something a little different in the mix. Not only was their keynote sessions by Dr Jim Renihan, Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler, there were also four live Doctrine and Devotion Podcasts with Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler that were super insightful. If you are interested in learning theology but in a very raw, real and conversational way, then I encourage you to head to their website, http://www.doctrineanddevotion.com and download their podcasts. They are super helpful.

The Doctrine and Devotion conference centred around the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. Here are a few take aways from this year’s conference.

Christ is Pre-eminant 

Joe Thorn kicked off the conference with a great session on the Pre-eminence of Christ. Teaching from Colossians 1:15-20 he reminded us that the entire point of the reformation and the church at Colossae was a reforming around Christ. Christ is the priority. He is the supreme one, he is the maker of all things and the holder of all things. 
The church is the church of Christ. It is his church, He is the ruler of the church, the builder of the church, the sustainer of the church. Therefore as his church, we must submit to him through his word and trust him and our worship and practice should be for him, because of him and simply all about him.

“You cannot celebrate the Reformation nor call yourself a Protestant if you do not preach, teach, love and follow this Christ… and anyone that stands in the place of Christ is anti-Christ” Joe Thorn

 

Faith as Knowledge, Assent and Trust 

In one of Jimmy Fowler’s session, he gave a really helpful analogy of understanding levels of faith. The analogy was that of a chair. First, we can see a chair and ‘know’ it’s a chair. We can see the legs and see what it is designed for.  Secondly, there is assent. We not only know it’s a chair based on its design, we actually believe it to be true. While these are both necessary elements of faith. True faith moves us towards trust. We not only know it’s a chair, believe it’s a chair we trust it is a chair knowing that if we sit in that chair it will hold us up.

So too with Christ and the gospel. Faith in the truest sense is resting in Christ knowing that he will hold us up in the palm of his hand and will never let us go. Man, this was such an encouraging reminder.


Katie Luther is a genuine hero and you need to learn about her

Dr Jim Renihan did a very different session on Martin Luther’s wife Katie. Rather than a typical teaching session, it was more of a biographical talk of her life. It was the only session I didn’t take any notes. Rather, I sat and listened to an incredible story about an incredible woman in history. Her amazing faith in a good and gracious God in spite of her continual grim circumstances throughout her life was an incredible encouragement to me. 
Martin Luther’s love and devotion to her was also beautiful to hear. The way he wrote about her and to her calling her the greatest joy treasure of his life was heartening and helped me to take stock of my own affections and affirmations of my wife. I hope they make a good movie about the Luthers as it will lead to tears of joy of what is possible in a godly marriage during harrowing times.


Theology Matters. It really matters

As a pastor of a local church, I genuinely love our people and I want our people to love God. The best way I can see both of these realities is through good theology. Our people need to know the truth of God found in scripture alone. Joe Thorn gave another great analogy of how to understand the importance of good theology. Often theology is spoken of as the foundation of a building or the church, Without a good foundation, there cannot be a good building. While this is true and somewhat helpful, Joe challenged us to think of theology more like the sail of a sailboat.
Our theology is the sail, high and lifted up to harness the wind. It has to catch the power of the wind, which comes from without itself, in order to move forward. It’s possible to have a boat (church) but without the sail, you’re just not going to go anywhere and in fact, you’ll end up dying out in the waters of nowhere.
My job as a pastor is to consider first and foremost my own life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16), then that of my family and then additionally that of our church in order that God may move us by the wind of his spirit towards himself through his word. 


Without good theology, experienced and expressed there will be no true safety, genuine salvation and progressive sanctification of God’s people.


Thank God for his word, his Spirit and his people, past and present, that remind us of the goodness and graciousness of our glorious God that loves us and has given himself for us in Christ.
Looking forward to flying home and loving my wife and kids after another great time with Gracenet Community Church and the team.

Now get on over and start listening to and learning from Doctrine and Devotion at http://www.doctrineanddevotion.com

SSM and The Christian Worldview.

Christians are typically asking the wrong question…there is a more fundamental question that we must ask and how one answers that question will determine their approach.

Recently the Australian Government called for a voluntary postal vote on whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry within Australia. We were given 14 days, and today Thursday August 24th 2017 is the day to register for ballots and to have our say. Some have condemned the government for this move viewing it as cowardice on their part, while others welcome the approach, as they believe it creates opportunity for their voice to be heard. Whichever way you view it, controversy describes the current political and cultural climate within our society. There are those that say ‘yay’ to same-sex marriage, those that say ‘nay’ and those who simply say ‘meh’. Here are some of my thoughts on how a Christian worldview can guide you.

Are We Asking The Right Question?

Over the past two weeks I have been inundated with Christians asking me for my opinion on how they should handle the plebiscite. What I have come to realise is that Christians are typically asking the wrong question. When I converse with people there is a genuine sense that they are seeking guidance in how to vote. They want my opinion on the issue and to know how I will vote. While it’s a legitimate question that must be asked I believe there is a more fundamental question that we must ask and how one answers that question will determine their approach.

So what is the right question?

In Matthew 22 a bunch of religious Pharisees, one being a lawyer, came to Jesus and essentially asked, ‘Hey Jesus what is the most important rule of all the rules. Like if there was only one rule that was to govern all we do and say what would it be?’ Regardless of the motivations behind the question, Jesus’ answer is very insightful. He answered in short by saying, ‘love God and love your neighbour’ (Matt 22:37).

If you are a Christian the question is not ‘should I vote?’ or ‘how should I vote?’ The question we must ask is ‘how do I love God and neighbour?’ This is the foundational question that is to shape how we think, how we act, how we speak, how we live and even how we vote. The response of Jesus is also really helpful.

Here are two ways this instruction is helpful.

 

1. It Makes It Personal.

I often like to say that the Bible is a mirror not a set of binoculars. What is the purpose of a mirror? A mirror is something that you look into to investigate your current state. When you wake up in the morning you at some point go to the mirror and see where you need to make adjustments in order to benefit the rest of the onlooking world. In this sense the mirror benefits you in helping you make the necessary adjustments but it also benefits your neighbour because they reap the benefits also of those adjustments. Well hypothetically anyway!

The purpose of binoculars is the very opposite. Binoculars help you to see everything other than yourself. Its focus is on others out there. The Bible is not meant to be used in this way and in fact when it is, it can be actually be destructive. The binocular approach leads us to moralism rather than the gospel.

Moralism is essentially looking at life through the lens of right and wrong. Do the right things and life is good, God is happy, but do the wrong thing and life goes bad and God is unhappy. This is simply not the gospel. In fact moralism is the greatest false gospel in our culture today. The gospel does not teach that if I behave a certain way that God will accept me. The gospel teaches that despite my behaviour God loves me and has chosen to accept me based on Christ and his finished work. The heart of the gospel is love, not conformity or morality. When I am aware of God’s love for me despite my brokenness and sin, it helps me to likewise love others as I have been loved.

Moralsim is destructive because it leads people to idolise one form of morality while demonising another. This can lead Christians and the church in general to look at culture through the lens of morality and to be the moral police. This is right, this is wrong. Do this, don’t do that. In a Christian worldview there is defintely objective right and wrong. Jesus’ response to ‘love God and neighbour’ is effective however because it helps me to ask the question of myself not others. ‘How am I’ loving God in word and action. ‘How am I’ loving my neighbour by what I say and what I do?

 

2. It Makes It Purposeful

It’s very easy in life to get distracted. There are so many things pulling for our time, our money and our energy. All of a sudden we look up and our life has drifted. We’re off topic. We’re off target. We’re just off. What I love about Jesus’ response is that it has less focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and more on the ‘why’. It drills down to why you do what you do. It gets to the purpose.

A common part of my role as a leader in a church is to meet with people that are seeking wisdom on important decisions in their life. People have options on the table and are genuinely seeking wisdom on which is the right option. I’m often surprised that people seek my wisdom but the title of Pastor must have some persuasiveness to it.

What I have found time and time again is that people often ask the wrong question at this juncture. They ask – what is the right decision to make? The better question to ask is – what is the wise decision to make? (Andy Stanley has some exceptional teaching on this. Go check it out). This is a far more helpful question because most of our decisions are essentially morally neutral. For example, it’s no more moral to choose one job over another. What determines the moral and ethical value of a decision has more to do with why you made the decision rather than what decision you make.

 

Let’s return to Jesus’ response to love God and neighbour. With regard to the same-sex marriage debate the question has less to do with whether you vote or how you vote and more to do with why you choose to do what you choose to do.

In this instance the Bible doesn’t tell you how to vote. Some people will try and tell you that it does, but it doesn’t. You have to think for yourself and consider how you love God and neighbour in and through this matter.

In terms of the voting there are only three real options. You vote ‘Yay’, you vote ‘Nay’ or you choose to not vote, so you vote ‘Meh’. If you are a Christian then consider these two questions as you approach a decision. If you’re not a Christian you may not answer the first question but you likewise can ask the second question.

 

Question – Is it possible to hold/vote ‘Yay/Meh/Nay’ in a way that loves God and my neighbour?

Question – How do I respond to someone that holds a differing view/vote in a way that loves God and them?

 

If you are a Christian please take the time to ask this question throughout your whole life. ‘Am I loving God and neighbour?’

 

Saint Vs Sinner #4 – Missing The Mark

The best way to develop a Biblical doctrine is to consider how a theme is introduced, how it is further developed throughout the biblical narrative and how it is eventually culminated. It is essential that you explore all that the Bible says and to consider how it all fits together.

The purpose of the previous post, ‘Understanding Sin’  (http://wp.me/p1gDan-10X) was not to heap shame upon an already guilty conscience but to call attention to how the Bible actually speaks of sin. While I appreciate the Saints by Nature movement’s focus on identity and holiness, it appears there is a genuine lack of systematic and biblical theology applied to much of their doctrine. Particular texts of scripture are often used as proof texts at the expense of numerous other clear passages; a practice that in my view leads to significant error in their theology that is debatable and at times dangerous.

This post and the few following will seek to explore where I believe the Saints by Nature theology misses the mark. If you are reading this and are a part of this movement, please know it is my desire to represent your view accurately and to speak the truth in love.

 

Let’s begin. 

What the ‘Saints By Nature’ Teach?

The Saints by Nature theology teaches that at conversion a Christian receives a new nature. This new nature is wholly righteous and without darkness or sin from within. The old sinful self has been put to death and Christ has once and for all perfected them in and with righteousness. Two common cited scriptures are…

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

‘14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.’ Hebrews 10:14

If a believer does sin, which they would affirm is possible but should not be the norm; it cannot be due to an inclination from within the person. Rather sin must come from without. It is often stated that sin is an entity outside a person tempting them to believe falsehoods which therefore lead a person to choose to sin.

The biblical illustration often referred to is of Adam and Eve in the garden. The argument made is that Adam and Eve had a perfect nature, unadulterated by sin and therefore their sin did not come from within them. Rather sin came from without through external temptation in the form of a lie from the serpent (Gen. 3). Accordingly at the point of conversion, a Christian receives a new nature, a righteous nature, unadulterated by sin like Adam and Eve. Thus in the same way our first parents sin came from without so too the Christian’s sin comes from without.

 

What the Bible Teaches?

The best way to develop a Biblical doctrine is to consider how a theme is introduced, how it is further developed throughout the biblical narrative and how it is eventually culminated. It is essential that you explore all that the Bible says and to consider how it all fits together. This will help reduce the margin for error. With this in mind let’s explore what the Bible says.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve were tempted to believe a lie. A seed of doubt was placed in their mind through the form of a question, ‘Did God actually say?’ (Gen. 3:1). Rather than combating that doubt with the truth of God’s word, they entertained the lie that God’s word is not true, his motives not trustworthy and his character not all together good. Thus they sin. They disobey God’s good instruction to not eat the fruit of the tree. Jesus on the other hand, modelled in His temptation in wilderness (Matt. 4; Lk. 4) how Adam and Eve should have responded, when unlike Adam and Eve, He resisted the lies and temptation of the devil holding firm to the truth of God’s word. Thus I affirm that a significant component of discipleship is to fight the enemy’s lies with God’s truth, particularly the truth of who He is and what He has done and the truth of who we are in Him.

This is not all that the Genesis narrative reveals however. For the story also connects eve’s sin to her desires. Before they eat of the fruit the text states that Eve,

‘…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’ (Gen.3:6).

What does this mean? Outside of Jesus, the key proof text used to demonstrate what a righteous nature looks like apart from sin, just doesn’t hold true upon further inspection. The story does not teach that Adam and Eve’s sin came from without; it in fact reveals that it absolutely came from within. Before Eve ever sinned with her hands by eating the fruit from the tree, she was deceived and believed a lie in her mind and coveted within her heart.

Additionally I do not believe that the bible makes such a distinction between the head and the heart as this movement appears to make. From the outset of the biblical narrative, sin is introduced as something relating to the head, the heart and the hands. Our whole being needs to be redeemed and renewed. Our human facets are intertwined, not separate entities that do not relate to the each other. Consequently, this movement appropriates the new nature to the heart only. They appear to believe that while the heart is made fully righteous and therefore unable to be corrupted, the mind can be corrupted with sinful thoughts. But if the new nature were fully realised in every way then why would our mind need renewing at all? Surely a new creation is one of heart and mind? If the new nature comes with a wholly righteous heart with no sin or darkness then so too the mind right? After all Jesus’ command to love God is to love him with, ‘all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt 22:37). Jesus was not trying to make a distinction between the mind and the heart. Rather he used a form of parallelism to make an overwhelming point as the psalmists often do (See Ps. 46:1 as an example). We are to love God at all times, in all ways and with all our being. To love God with your mind and not your heart is to fall short and not to love God.

The Bible just doesn’t make the separation rather it consistently speaks in a way that intrinsically links the human mind and heart, the spirit, soul and body etc

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts Mark 7:21

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matt. 12:34

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel… I will put my law into their minds and write them on their hearts.’ Heb. 8:10

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Matt. 9:4

“…and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ 1 Thess. 5:23

“… let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Cor. 7:1

Therefore I believe this to be an unbiblical and unnecessary distinction

 

Now lets return to the Genesis story.

In the very next chapter of Genesis (Gen. 4) Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Able, are introduced in the form of a family squabble. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother and God warned Cain about sin.

7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it…” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done?’ Genesis 4:7;10

Sin is described more or less as a beast, not outside of Cain but inside. There is a clear wrestle of desire within. And in verse 10 God does not hold some external entity named ‘IT’ responsible for deceiving Cain, rather it is Cain himself that is held responsible (what have you done?) Sin came from within Cain’s heart and mind and led him to sin with his hands in the form of murdering his own brother (Gen. 4:8).

Throughout scripture sin is described as an internal problem of the heart and mind and an external action of the hands and people are held responsible for both. The Bible repeatedly states that God knows the heart and mind and he judges both (1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 44:21; Lk. 16:15; Jn. 2:25; Acts 15:8). You most likely have heard how Jeremiah put it.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind…” Jeremiah 17:9-10

The Saints by Nature promoters will interject here and state that this is true of an unregenerate person. But the regenerate Christian with their new nature does not desire sin from within. Yet a quick sweep of New Testament scripture reveals that this view just does not stack up. Let us consider five texts all of which are directed at believing Christians that are new creations possessing a new nature.

 

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:17

Some of the passions and desires, ‘things…’ Christians ‘…want to do’ are of the flesh. Though Satan and the demonic are very real, sin itself is not an external disembodied entity ‘out there’ trying to trip you up (e.g: the devil made me do it). Passions & desires are internal constructs to humanity, not external.

 

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13

Again, Paul’s audience here is Christians (see Romans 8:1-3). We are no longer under condemnation (8:1) AND we who have received the Spirit are to put to death the deeds of the body. We are to put to death the deeds of the body not in order to get saved, but because we are already saved. The fruit of a genuinely regenerated heart and mind is new affections and new thoughts that overcome the old by the power of the Spirit.

 

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, & sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. James 1:14-16

Not only is sin seen as something flowing from the inside-out, so too temptation.

 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:12-13

The warning here is given to ‘brothers,’ so again the context is Christians. What is the source of sin’s deceitfulness? Verse 12 (3:12) shows us that it flows from the unbelieving heart. The deceitfulness of sin is not ‘out there’, but rather inside of us (see again James 1:14).

 

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:1, 5).

Notice that Christians, those ‘raised with Christ’ are to put to death that which is ‘earthly in’ them. How can this be possible if there is no darkness or sin at all within the believer? As you can see from just a few passages within the New Testament sin appears to remain some sort of problem that continues to exist inside of the believer, one that the New Testament also says is a ‘new creation…the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

 

In Conclusion, the notion that sin is an entity outside of a believing Christian, or that their is absolutely no sin or darkness within the heart and mind of a Christian possessing a new nature, is simply not consistent with the full sweep of scripture. In the next post we’ll explore why this is incredibly important to the Christian life and experience. 

 

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.

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.