Here is my challenge as a pastor: I am called, in many ways, to create spaces in which people might feel unsettled.
And, this is a weird calling.
Because, truthfully, I don’t like being unsettled. I don’t like being provoked. I don’t like be convicted or confronted. But, what I also know is that this is what the Gospel does: It unsettles and convicts us.
And, nobody enjoys this.
Now, there are always those people who want the “harsh truth” and more “conviction.” But, they want that for other people, not for themselves. Because, truthfully, being unsettled, challenged, and convicted – if it’s actually happening –is not an easy or welcomed thing.
But, it is a needed thing.
Because, the work of the Gospel and the Spirit is one of conviction. It’s one of challenge. It’s one that unsettles us, so that we will embrace a different way of living – one that looks and loves more like Jesus.
Jesus says, “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will come and convict us.” (John 16:8). Not to make us feel dirty, worthless, or bad. But, to confront us with the ways in which we have unthinkingly adopted the ways of the world around us.
Paul says, “Do not let the world mold you into its own image.” (Romans 12:2) And, Paul says this because we get shaped, molded, and formed by the world – which is why we need to become unsettled at some points. Because, we need to be formed differently.
All of this brings me back to what I started with – that my calling is, in some ways, a weird one. Because, while maintaining the gentleness, humility, and grace of Jesus, I’m also called to create spaces in which the Holy Spirit can unsettle us, speak to us, challenge us, and even re-direct us.
Archbishop Oscar Romero writes, “A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed – what gospel is that?”
And, he is right.
So, here is my challenge today: Pay attention to what unsettles you.
Let’s not seek to unsettle and convict others, but to pay attention to the activity of the Spirit in our own lives. To lean into that unsettling and uncertainty. To pay attention to where conviction, and even self-righteousness, rise up. Because, as I have been paying attention to my own life, that’s often where the Spirit is actually working.
And, if the Spirit is working there, that’s where we need to be working too.
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 were very blessed to have a few experts and professionals in the mental health field come and share with our church on a panel.
We believed it was important to hear from professionals in this area, who have given their lives to healing, caring, and supporting others. Receiving professional help is something that in the evangelical church receives some stigma in some circles but it is absolutely crucial.
So we are grateful to the panel for their discussion, which you can hear on our podcast.
We ended our time together with three simple challenges: welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.
First, as a next step we talked about welcoming and including others with mental health challenges. That this is something we can all practically do in any church you attend. We can create safe spaces for people to journey together, and to include those who often feel excluded by the church.
John Vanier and John Swinton write this,
If the church has anything to offer to people with mental illness (and indeed to anyone else), it is the provision of a space where they can truly feel that they belong.
And I believe that is so true, and absolutely needed.
Kathryn Green McCreight writes,
From a theological perspective, the most dangerous thing about mental illness is that it can lock us in ourselves, convincing us that we are indeed our own, and completely on our own, isolated in our distress.
This is why as churches, as communities of believers, as followers of Jesus we must welcome and include people who are struggling.
The second thing we reminded one another to do was to pray. That praying for others, and letting them know you are praying for them is a tangible reminder of our care and support. In some situations as we journey with people we are not always sure of everything we can do, but one thing we can always do is pray and remind them of that.
Miriam a woman who struggles with mental health writes this:
When you don’t know what to do or say, the one thing you can do is pray and let the person you are praying for know you are. It is a true expression of compassion and Christian love
And lastly, we reminded one another to continue the conversation. That this is the just the beginning and one thing we can do is to continue to learn and listen. We can learn more about mental health, and listen directly from those who are struggling. We can ask how we can help, and take action.
And through these three steps we can start to make a difference and changing the world, by changing someone’s world. As we remember to welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.
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!
On Sunday we are opening up a really really important discussion. We are discussing mental health.
This seems to be a discussion that the church is a little unwilling, or unsure about opening up, but it is an absolutely needed one. Because if we ignore this conversation we end up ignoring and excluding people who are struggling with mental health issues. And one thing Jesus never did – was ignore, exclude, or isolate people needing help, healing, and hope. And this is what we as a church need to be doing as well – giving people healing, help, and hope.
And even though the area of mental health is incredibly complex, it does mean there are areas where we as the church body can help.
John Swinton and Jean Vanier 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. The beginning point for the church’s ministry alongside people with mental illness is the recognition of the power of graceful love. In a special way people with mental illnesses need to hear, see and feel the message of the love, acceptance and graceful forgiveness of Jesus.
I believe this is true, and this is what we are going to seek to do over the next few weeks. On Sunday I’m going to be sharing about mental health, and specifically some of the myths found in Christian circles. Then on the following Sunday we are going to have a panel of experts in the field share with how we can address some of the issues, and more importantly what we can do to help.
So I hope you join with us, because this is one conversation everyone needs to be part of.
On Sunday we began a brand new series looking at how to have a strong start this year. We looked at a very well known story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea, and coming up of a fierce storm. In this story Jesus is sleeping and the disciples wake him, and he calms the storm.
And there is so much packed in this little short narrative. Things like how Jesus sometimes leads us out into the unknown, how storms can come upon us quickly, how we can forget about God in struggles.
But on Sunday I wanted to land on one main point: Always remember who is in your boat.
The truth is that as we look forward into our futures we have no idea what they may hold. There may be already storms on the horizon, or it might look calm and peaceful. But we never know what might come upon us. And this isn’t something to bemoan or pretend isn’t true. We shouldn’t just count on positive thinking to get us through life. We should count on God, and that no matter what happens God was in the boat with the disciples and this makes all the difference.
Imagine if you could be assured God would be with you, no matter what you faced? Wouldn’t that make a difference, wouldn’t that change everything? Wouldn’t that give you hope?
And I think that’s something we need to take from this story, that God is with us through it all. God is able to calm the storms that come upon us, he is able to guide us through them. But we do need to rely on him. The disciples go to Jesus in the story and we need to as well.
So on Sunday we lingered just on that one idea: always remember who is in your boat.
We closed by looking at this wonderful piece of art by John Hendrix, and took home his piece of art as a reminder for us that no matter where life takes us – always remember who is in your boat.
Big Idea: “Always remember who is in your boat”
Crossing the sea is an image of transformation
Denying fear is useless
We shouldn’t have more faith in the storms around us than our saviour
“Always remember who is in your boat”
We are never alone
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? When you look forward in this year what do you see? Is it dark, hopeful, unsure? What do you hope to get out of this year? How can remembering God is with you help? How can you make sure you remember God is with you?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
Today it’s simple – share the story with your kids. Show them the artwork and have them create their own.
Challenge for the Week: “Always remember who is in your boat”
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 started our new series called Plan B. And we began by saying something that is honest, but difficult: Plan B’s suck.
They just do. They are hard, they are difficult, and they not only can test faith – they can break our faith. Because true “plan b’s” of our life are where we cry out to God – “why” and “where are you?”. The hardest situations to really move through are when you’re following God’s will and your life falls apart. It’s easy to understand why things fall apart, when we make bad choices. But the really tough “plan b’s” are when we follow God, and things still fall apart. It’s at those points that we do cry out “why God?” and “where are you God?”
So we began by recognizing that Plan B’s are hard. That they are difficult. That they not only test faith, but they can also break faith.
We then began to look at the life of David, who had many plan b’s in his life. He gets anointed to be King of Isreal, and then nothing happens for a long-time. And when things finally start to get moving it all falls apart so quickly. He becomes a hero killing goliath, gets noticed by the King, becomes a favorite of the people, starts to marry the King’s daughter – and it all looks like God’s promise that he will be king will come true.
But it all falls apart. And it falls apart badly, as Saul (the present king) tries to kill him.
David moves from being sure of how God is moving his life forward, to doubting and unsure what is going on. The promise that seemed just around the corner, now seems so far away. So David does what any of us would do – he runs. He runs for his life. I also think he runs too because he is not sure what to do or where to go.
And this is the trouble in Plan B’s; we have the temptation to run but so often we run in the wrong direction. Rather than running towards God, we run away from him. Rather than running towards community and church, we run away from those connections. But this isn’t what David does. David in 1 Samuel 19 runs to Samuel. He runs to the prophet the one who anointed him. David runs but doesn’t give up on God even in the dark.
And this was our main point on Sunday. That in the Plan B’s of life we can’t give up on God. We can’t give up on God, when things fall apart. And just because we aren’t in control, doesn’t mean that God has lost control. If we ever want to find our way towards God’s promises it means not giving up on him, even as everything falls apart. I’m not saying that’s easy. I’m not saying it’s simple. I’m simply saying I think that’s the only way we get through the hellish places we sometimes find ourselves. We need God.
So we ended with this challenge: that if you’re in a plan b place, don’t run from God but lean into others. Share with others where you are at, be like David and run to trusted people, run to God and don’t give in to fear and darkness. Next week we’ll look more at that. But I think the first thing we need to do when Plan B’s jump out unexpected is to resist the temptation to run and to lean into God, others, community, and care. And that’s what we learned on Sunday.
Big Idea: When Plan B’s happen, we can’t give up on God.
What do we do when our plan A’s fail?
“Everyone has shattered dreams” Pete Wilson
Sometimes the plan b’s in our lives bring about God’s best later on.
God’s will in the moment doesn’t always come to pass
God’s promises don’t have expiration dates.
When Plan B’s happen, we can’t give up on God.
“Your dream may not be happening, and things aren’t turning the way you expected, but that doesn’t mean your life is spinning out of control. It just means you aren’t in control” Pete Wilson
Don’t run from God
Adult / Group 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?
When have you been in a “plan b” in your life? What made it hard? What made it easier to get through? How did God get you through it? Can you relate to the temptation to run when things get tough? How so? Are you in a plan b place right now? If so, who can help you and support you during it? If not, who can you support that is in a plan b place.
Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families
Talk to your kids how sometimes hard things happen. Talk to them about the importance of turning towards God. Share with them from your own life, how that’s happened and what you did. Use your life to teach them, and to get closer to them.
Challenge for this Week: Don’t run from God but lean into others / Support others who are in a Plan B place.