Today, I want to tackle something that at times is a bit controversial…doubt.
Because, here is the truth – all Christians, at times, face doubt. Doubt is often the crucible through which faith grows. Doubt doesn’t mean you don’t have faith; doubt means you are working out your faith. But, we need to be honest with this so that when we are in those places, we can actually have honest conversations with one another; that we can actually support and love one another; that doubt doesn’t have to have the last word, rather doubt can be the catalyst for conversations that lead to deeper and truer trust.
C.S. Lewis is a name many of you might be familiar with. Someone you might not be as familiar with is George MacDonald whom Lewis said was a tremendous influence and the catalyst for some of his writings. MacDonald writes this,
“Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth.”
And I think that MacDonald is onto something – that when faith stops struggling, it often stops growing.
So, I write all this to remind us of one simple truth – it’s okay to have doubts and struggles; that’s part of the journey of faith. But, what isn’t really okay, healthy or helpful is to just try to deal with those doubts on your own. The Christian faith isn’t individual and isolated; it’s about community and journeying together. So today, if you have struggles, why not share them with a trusted friend? Why not have coffee and work through some of your doubts or difficulties? Because, when we bring them forward, sometimes that’s when we actually find the way forward.
We actually see this frequently in the Bible – people wrestling with their faith. We see this all the time in the Psalms as people cry out to God and wrestle with difficulty. We see this all the time in the lives of the saints who have gone before us.
So, don’t be surprised if you find it in your life too. Just don’t try to go it alone. Because others have been there along the way, others can help you find your way, and it’s in wrestling through things together that we all come to deeper faith, which is the point.
On Sunday we continued our series looking at the different gospels, why they were written and what are some of the “big themes” we can get from them. And on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Mark and the reality of darkness. Because in many ways if you read the book of Mark what you realize is this: it’s face, it’s punchy, and it’s actually pretty dark.
We normally think of the gospels as all light, and nice – but Mark has a dark undercurrent to it. And I think this is because Mark was writing to a very dark and difficult context.
Many scholars agree that Mark was most likely written to the church in Rome. A church that was going through deep persecution. A church that was suffering and having friends ripped from their arms, dragged into the coliseum to be ripped apart by wild dogs, or lit up as torches for garden parties for the Emperor Nero (Google Tactius to read his account of it). So it’s into this setting that Mark writes and seeks to bring hope.
What I think you’ll notice if you read is that Mark doesn’t shy away from the darkness that is a reality in the life of faith. We actually find Peter saying to Jesus in Mark 8, that since Jesus is the Messiah he will not struggle, experience death, or any seeming defeat. But Jesus turns around and tells Peter that – that view is satanic. Jesus is implicitly teaching that sometimes a necessary part of faith and following him will be to encounter and go through times of difficulty, darkness, and even death. The life of faith doesn’t preserve you from experiencing those things, the life of faith gets you through those things.
So on Sunday we looked at how Mark doesn’t deny the difficulty we face in life, but he also doesn’t ever say that difficulty, death, or darkness get the last word. Mark walks this fine line between accepting the reality of difficulty, but not the ultimacy of difficulty. And this is something that I believe is really helpful for any of us who grow through tough times. That yes we will face darkness, but we can get through it.
That was actually our main point on Sunday: that yes we will encounter darkness, difficulty, and death but we can get through it. That darkness and difficulty even when seemingly invincible and powerful, don’t get the last word. That’s the teaching of Mark. That we need not deny the reality we are facing, but also we don’t need to give into it as all-powerful either.
So on Sunday we moved to applying this to our lives in a few specific ways. If you are in a good place, then our calling is to remember the message of Mark because life has a habit of taking us into difficult places. And if we are in a tough place to follow the example of Jesus in Mark 8 where we name the darkness we are facing, we bring others into it (widen the circle) for support, and hold onto hope in the midst of it. That’s part of what I think the message of Mark is about – hope in the dark.
So we closed with this well known quote from Vaclav Havel that I appreciate and I think Mark would as well:
Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world. Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit. Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
Big Idea: We will encounter darkness, but we can get through it.
Mark has an urgent message.
There is darkness in the life of faith.
We will encounter darkness, but we can get through it.
Faith isn’t about preserving you from difficulty, darkness, or death; faith is what gets you through it.
In the end nothing you go through will be wasted.
Life has a habit of becoming difficult when we least expect it, and are least prepared for it.
Remember the message of Mark.
To name and accept the darkness you’re facing.
Jesus widens the circle.
Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world – Vaclav Havel
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Would you say you are more likely to deny difficulty, or obsess about it? How does knowing that a gospel really acknowledges the difficult parts of life encourage you? Are you in any difficulty right now? What do you need to name? Who can support you? How can you hold onto hope?
Challenge for the Week: Name the darkness, share your struggle with another person, hold onto hope in the midst of it.
My kids love the Lego movie so so much. Like too much, in that I have almost the entire thing memorized. And there is this part in it where Batman has this song where he sings, “Darkness, Continued Darkness, More Darkness, The opposite of light, Black Hole” And it just keeps going…it’s a pretty dark song obviously.
But a little while ago I read through the book of Mark straight, and I noticed that it too, like this Batman song, has a really dark undercurrent. That if you read the book of Mark at many points it just seems…” dark, continued darkness, more darkness”. You read of the crossing of the sea, the disciples fear, their confusion, and then this happening a second time. You read of fear of the demon possessed man. You read a really dark crucifixion scene, and the ending of Mark (the original one) ends with just fear and trembling. In many ways it’s a dark book.
On Sunday, what we are going to do is to open up why this is the case, and more importantly, where we can find hope in the midst of the dark. But right away there is one lesson from Mark that jumps out – there is not help or hope in denying the difficulty you are in. Mark is honest and then so should we be. So come Sunday we are looking at the book of Mark, darkness, and finding hope in the midst of difficulty.
On Sunday we opened up a really important topic: mental health. Mental health is someone that affects huge numbers of people (estimates are around ¼ of people), yet it is one health challenge that has tremendous stigma, exclusion, and a lack of understanding surrounding it. And that’s something we want to change.
So we began by exploring some of the realities of what mental health is. We shared some basic information about three major mental health illnesses. But then to move it away from theory, and “clinical” descriptions I read the following first hand accounts from people struggling with mental health challenges.
“Depression is a very emotive subject for me, especially among people who have never had to live with it. It is that hidden disability that no one really understands fully – least of all those who suffer with it. The symptoms include feeling overwhelmingly tired, angry, emotional and with a need to withdraw from the world around you. Seeking treatment can also make you feel even more depressed as you feel that you are even more of a failure at not being able to get through it on your own.”
William Styron writes in Darkness Visible:
“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.”
And Miriam writes:
“As someone with a mental health illness, you get the feeling that somehow you are more difficult to deal with within the institution of the “church”. In a naïve way I believed the church would be open to all. However, my experience makes me feel that I am on the outside of the institution and an embarrassment.”
The truth is that Jesus never turned away from someone in need, so neither can the church.
So to begin this conversation I unpacked 3 myths I see in the Christian world concerning mental health, and then next week we’ll look at how to help and support those with mental health.
The three myths we unpacked were: mental health is caused by sin, mental health can be cured by prayer alone, and mental illness isn’t welcome in the church.
The truth is that we love simple and easy explanations so when it comes to mental health we often reach for those easy solutions: you must have sinned. Yet this reduction of a complex issue that involves emotions, chemical imbalances, physical realties, and social environments to just personal sin that is “God is sending consequences” is directly against the Bible. I know that sounds harsh but in John 9 when the disciples try to reduce someone’s illness to personal sin – Jesus directly confronts them and contradicts their view. So we need to contradict this myth as well.
Secondly, we looked at how mental health is still believed to be cured by prayer alone by 35% of the church. This is also incredibly unhelpful and a myth. I’m not saying I don’t believe in prayer for healing, but that with any other physical illness we not only pray but also seek medical help. But when it comes to mental health there is the myth that prayer, reading your bible, and more self-discipline will be enough. This is simply not true, not helpful, not Biblical (see my sermon on James 5 for more), and needs to be stopped. I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
Thirdly, we looked at how mental illness isn’t welcome in the church. I say this is a myth not because I don’t believe it’s true, or that it doesn’t happen in churches; but that in the church as it’s meant to be this exclusion should never happen. Jesus would never exclude or isolate someone who is hurting. So if we want to follow Jesus, this idea that mental illness isn’t welcome in the church needs to go. Following Jesus requires that we welcome and include especially in this area.
So those are three myths we unpacked, along with the myth that “the church can’t make a difference” in this area, because I believe we can. I believe that if we get serious about journeying with people and supporting them. Yes professionals and health care experts are needed (see next week) but so too are caring communities of support. And that’s what the church can and should be.
Jean Vanier & John Swinton write this,
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health.
So on Sunday to wrap up I gave us one main point and one challenge. The main point was: Mental health is real and we need to address it. And then the challenge to do this was simple this week: to learn more about it. To fight against the stigma, lack of awareness, and exclusion by learning and growing. This is obviously just the first step but it’s a necessary one. And next week we’ll learn how to take another step as a community.
“Give to us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering or joy without eyes to see; give us understanding and sympathy; and guard us from selfishness that we may enter into the joys and sufferings of others; use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering; that by our lives we may help others who believe and serve you, and project your light which is the light of life.” H.R.L. Sheppard (1880-1937)
Big Idea: Mental health is real and we need to address it.
¼ people experience an episode of mental health challenges.
It is not okay to hold prejudice against those with mental health challenges.
Three major mental health illnesses: bipolar, major depression, dissociative identity disorder.
Myth #1: Mental Health Challenges are caused by personal sin and punishment from God.
We cannot reduce the cause of mental illness to sin.
Myth #2: Mental Health Challenges can be cured by prayer alone
I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
Myth #3: Mental Health is not welcome in the church.
We believe that people struggling with anything are welcome in this place
The church is one of, if not the most important thing in combating mental illness and changing it.
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. John Swinton and Jean Vanier
The greater our understanding the greater or depth of care
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What experiences have you had in relation to mental health? Did you realize that mental health was that prevalent? Why do you think it’s important to talk about? What myths have you believed about it, or are still working through? How can you learn more about it this week?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
Today learn more about mental health. Look up on the internet for some good discussion guides to talk to your kids, and use one!
A few Sundays ago we changed up our schedule. I strongly believe that God’s Holy Spirit can prepare and prompt you well ahead of time. By that I mean that planning and preparation are pretty important to me, and I believe God uses those.
But I also believe in listening to the Spirit in the moment as well.
So I have this little rule – plan for everything you can – and listen and change as you God’s Spirit leads in the moment.
So that’s what we ended up doing a few weeks ago. I had a great sermon planned, but in light of some significant health challenges our church was facing it didn’t feel it was the right one. Instead, the church leadership felt we should share on why difficulty happens and why it’s happening right now in our church.
So here is the audio of what I shared. I don’t have teaching notes like normal, or blog posts pre-prepped but I think that’s okay. Because when God’s spirit is moving, the only option you have is to follow it. Hope the audio is helpful.
On Sunday we looked at the story of Ruth, and the power of committing to someone’s journey. The book of Ruth begins with Naomi her mother-in-law in a deeply dark place. She moves to a foreign country, and her husband and her two sons die. This leaves her alone in a foreign land, without support, without care, and with two foreign daughters-in-law.
She is hurt, spiteful towards God, and bitterness oozes out from her. She decides to journey back home. She is so bitter that when she arrives home and people say, “Is that Naomi” (which means pleasant in Hebrew)? She responds with, “No, call me Mara now” (which means bitter). So she has gone from being pleasant to bitter. She now totally identifies with loss, bitterness, and hurt as her companions. She says God sent her away full and brought her back empty.
This is the hard place that she is in. Yet in the midst of this difficult, and this Plan B, things change for her. Things change for Naomi because of her daughter-in-law Ruth.
Ruth commits to being with Naomi no matter what. Naomi seeks to push Ruth away, to say she can’t be helped, to say there is nothing that can be done (Ruth 1:11-13). But Ruth refuses to give up on Naomi. She commits to her that she will be with her no matter what. She says “Where you go, I’ll go, where you live I’ll live, your God will be my God. We will be together”.
And it is this commitment to journeying together that begins to change not only Naomi but also Ruth. Through a series of amazing events, God begins to restore to Naomi some of what she has lost. God begins to heal her. And this only happens though because Ruth committed to journeying with Naomi for the long haul.
The story ends with Naomi being happy and full of joy as she cuddles with Ruth’s new baby, her grandson. Her life moves from Plan B back to God’s promises.
From this story we landed on the main idea that we need each other. Not in the clichéd, hallmark, or sentimental way. But in a real – deep life – can’t get through life without one another. I need you, you need me, we need each other.
So we ended with a challenge. That for some of us we need to go be a “Ruth” to someone else. We need to commit to journey with them, to care for them, and to love them like Ruth did. And while we can’t be a Ruth to everyone in need, that is not an excuse not to be there for someone in need. That was our challenge.
We also challenged those of us who are in Naomi’s place to reach out to a “Ruth”. To not refuse the help that a “Ruth” can bring. To not push away that relationship.
Because the truth is the only way we get through life is with one another. This is the beautiful thing about the church ~ Naomi’s and Ruth’s commit to journeying together and both find a new hope in the process.
Big Idea: We need each other; we need to journey together.
Here’s the truth and this one is thoroughly biblical: throughout life you will face one situation after another that will be completely beyond what you can handle. Pete Wilson
We need one another to get through Plan B times.
Naomi means “Pleasant” in Hebrew; Mara means “Bitter”.
No longer are these emotions that afflict us, they are emotions that define us.
Ruth commits to journeying with Naomi.
People who are in a deep place of hurt often push away the only people who can help
When you are in Plan B, you need community more than ever. Yet because of the pain that comes along with Plan B, it’s easy to miss the God-given gift of community. Pete Wilson
We need one another.
“I will go where you go. I will live where you live.” Ruth
Just because you can’t help everyone does not give you an excuse to not help someone
We can’t benefit from the power of community until we dare to face who we are. Pete Wilson
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?
Have you ever been like Naomi, so consumed by hurt, that it defines you? How did it happen? How did you move out of it? Have you ever had someone “be a Ruth to you”? What was that like? How did they commit to journeying with you? Why do you think it’s hard to be a “Ruth” to someone? Why do you think it’s hard to allow others to be a “Ruth” to us? Who is God calling you to jouney with? Is God asking you to allow someone to journey with you?
Discussion Question for Families:
Talk to your kids about the importance of caring for one another. Talk to them about how Ruth helped Naomi by being there for her. Ask your kids if there is anyone they know that needs someone to be there for them. Ask them about ideas for helping them, and then use their ideas.
Challenge for the Week: Be a Ruth to Someone; Invite a Ruth to Journey with You
Today is Good Friday. But that is a really bad name, for a very terrible day. “Good Friday” is only a day that is only good in hindsight, and even then it’s obscured through darkness, pain and difficulty.
Today is the day that Jesus entered fully into our darkness to provide a way out. Today is the day the light of the world was snuffed out. Today is the day that darkness seemed to win. Today is the day that the Messiah died.
It’s today that when we look upon Jesus and his sacrifice we realize how unable we are to make our lives work as we would want. We see our struggle for coherence, meaning, and power. We see in Jesus’ naked body nailed to the cross our own betrayals of friends and family. We see how our desire to create empires of meaning and worth are empty, and filled with dust and dirt. We ask ourselves “what have we become”?
Bruce Springsteen once sang,
Fear’s a powerful thing, baby It can turn your heart black you can trust It’ll take your God filled soul And fill it with devils and dust
And on this day so many years ago – the disciples hearts were filled with devils and dust. Their God-filled soul, seemed empty, as they watched the Son of God die on a piece of wood. The point is that today is not a “good” day.
For three days doubt, darkness and death reign.
So today is not an easy day. Today is not a good day. Today is though a necessary day.
Today, like on a day many years ago Jesus’ body was broken, like bread, so that we might be made whole. Jesus poured his life out, like wine, as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus gave up his life so that we might find it.
This is the message of today: life, breath, blood and brokenness all mix together so that in the end death might be beaten. But on this day we remember that before death was beaten, it seemed as if it had won. Before darkness lost its final battle, the light of the world was lost. So today we remember that before light and love burst forth…they went through death and darkness…
On Sunday we are going to be looking at something really important: the strategies of the enemy. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “Do not be unaware of the Devil’s schemes”. But I think if we are honest most of us are pretty unaware of the Devil’s schemes.
If we were asked to explain what Paul means; if we were asked to share what the schemes were; if we were asked to share how to stand strongly against them, I think many of us would struggle with some clear answers.
That’s what I hope to change on Sunday.
Regardless of your belief in supernatural evil or Satan, the truth is we have all experienced the reality of Satan. What I mean by that is that we each have at some point probably come under an attack of fear, temptation, accusation, depression, confusion, or worry. We each have probably experienced darkness in some shape or form in our lives. And on Sunday I want to reveal how those things happen, so that we might be recognize them, and most importantly overcome them.
So that’s where we are going on Sunday. Discovering the tactics and strategies of the enemy so that we might live freer, deeper, and wholer lives.
And to discover the answer to this question of what the schemes of the enemy are we are going to be exploring the first passage where he shows up visibly and prominently. We are going to explore Genesis 3. So this is the passage we will be reading on Sunday. Why not take a look at it and see if you can discern from it: what are the tactics of the enemy? Because the first step to overcoming them is learning to recognize them.
Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. “Really”, he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil. The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.”
On Sunday we started to open up a series taking a look at the topic of Spiritual Warfare. We began with a great quote by C.S. Lewis who writes this:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
And I think he’s right. There are two dangers; one of dismissing the reality of evil that is external to ourselves, and the other is to search for it and become totally fascinated with it.
We talked about how in the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation there is a clear picture of an opposing force to the will of God in the world. Sometimes this force or forces goes by many different names; evil, chaos, Leviathan, Satan, principalities and powers. The point is that the Bible seems to point to the reality of evil and powers of darkness that are outside of humanity and seeking to affect humanity. This viewpoint is especially seen in Jesus. Jesus did not just come to free us from personal sins, but to conquer evil, Satan, sin, and death. Jesus saw himself as combatting and challenging the forces of darkness that bring about death, destruction, and division. N.T. Wright, writes: “One of the key elements in Jesus’ perception of his task was his redefinition of who the real enemy was . . . The pagan hordes surrounding Israel [including Rome] were not the actual foe of the people of the YHWH. Standing behind the whole problem of Israel’s exile was the dark power known in some Old Testament traditions as the satan, the accuser. The struggle was coming to a head and was therefore cosmic.”
The point is that if Jesus believed in the powers of darkness around him, we should be open to believe it as well. Because once we recognize the reality, we can work towards their finality.
I ended with this quote on Sunday and I think it’s true, and deep. So I’ll end with it here as well.
Some think spiritual warfare is only deliverance. Others emphasize pulling down strongholds in the heavenlies. Still others say spiritual warfare is doing the works of Jesus – preaching, teaching and living the truth. Yet another group says all this is impractical. They claim we should focus on feeding the hungry, resisting racism, and speaking out against social injustice. I believe we have to do it all. Pulling down strongholds is only important if people are led to Christ as a result. However, some are deaf to the preaching of the gospel until we deal with hindering powers. And some can’t break through into victory until bondage is broken in their lives. We must do it all, as appropriate and as God leads. – Dean Sherman
Big Idea: Darkness is real and we need to change it
Spiritual Warfare: Is standing and fighting against the darkness and evil in this world
There are forces that stand opposed to the will of God
We need nuanced views, not bumper stickers.
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. C.S. Lewis
The Bible right off the bat recognizes a force opposed to the will of God.
The Bible unequivocally speaks of powers of darkness, Satan, demons, spirits, and other powers not only consistently but pervasively
Three approaches to interpreting passages with supernatural evil: dismiss them as figurative, ignore them as unnecessary, or engage them critically
Jesus believed in supernatural evil
Understnaidng Jesus means understanding what he came to change
Jesus did not just come to save us from our personal sins, but to overthrow all evil, hate, war, sin, and hurt.
The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8
The assumption that undergird Jesus’ entire ministry is the view that Satan has illegitimately seized the world and thus now exercises a controlling influence over it. Greg Boyd
If we don’t believe in the reality of evil and darkness around us we will not be effective in destroying it
There are two equal dangers to dismiss the reality of the devil, and to search for the devil in all sorts of ways
We need to use discernment to discover what is health and unhealthy
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was new, what was challenging? Did you have an areas of disagreement?
What are your thoughts about supernatural evil? What did you think of C.S. Lewis’ quote? What darkness do you see around you? How can you stand against it this week?
Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take sometime to talk to your kids about today’s topic. Remind them that whenever they face anything dark in their lives, or scary that Jesus is stronger and already defeated them. Give them a sense of security that Jesus is always with them.
Challenge for this Week: Stand against the darkness around you