4 Books: 4 Questions ~ The Book of Mark, Darkness, and Finding Hope
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.
The Gospel of Mark and Batman
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.
Easter: The Centre of the Universe
On Sunday we looked at the different stories we orient our lives around. The truth is life can turn dark quick sometimes. The truth is that life can be difficult: relationships can fail, jobs can be lost, and disaster can happen. And when that happens it becomes so easy and tempting to believe that the universe isn’t a generous place, that God is maybe not good, or that things will keep on getting darker and darker.
And that’s what we wanted to really examine and also challenge: that I don’t believe hurt, fear, or darkness is at the centre of the universe. And to do that we looked at Colossians 1 where we read this:
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
And this passage can manage to offend just about everyone. Paul begins reminding us that we are all broken. We are all sinful, and we are all hostile towards God. Whether we recognize it or not, we are broken. But Paul knows this but he doesn’t end there. Paul says that yes we are enemies of God separated by our evil thoughts and actions, but God takes an amazing step.
Paul says God responds to this enmity and hostility by reconciling everything and everyone to him through the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul says that all of creation is redeemed and reconciled to Jesus because of his depth of his obedience in and through the cross. Paul says that we are all included. That we are holy, blameless, and standing before God without a fault.
And this is so life changing, so world altering, it can only be called Good News.
The truth is that at the centre of the universe isn’t random chance, at the centre of the universe isn’t hate, at the centre of the universe isn’t disaster or difficulty.
At the centre of the universe is love.
At the centre of the universe is a God that is for you, not against you. A God that gives up all he has to bridge the gap between us. A God that holds nothing back to welcome you, to include you, to bring you into his family, his love, and his grace. This is the news that has changed the world and it does this by changing people. Its changed me, and billions of others throughout the centuries. And on Sunday I wanted to remind us of a story we so often forget: that love is at the centre of the universe.
Michael Gungor says, “Faith comes from listening to the right stories”
And so often it’s so easy to listen to the wrong or damaging stories: that hurt is around the corner, chance is the arbiter of fate, or that things will get worse and worse. But that is not the story of the gospel, the story of the gospel is that you are holy, blameless, and standing before God. This is the message of hope that we need to hold onto, that needs to shape our lives, and that we can’t drift from.
So Sunday all we sought to do was to remind ourselves of the good news: that love is at the centre of the universe. For those of us who have never heard this, we invited them to accept Jesus and this truth. And for those of us who have heard this, we invited us to never drift from this truth but to welcome and celebrate it. Because it is Good News that goodness is at the centre of the universe.
Big Idea: Love is at the heart of the universe
- We all have at certain points the feeling that things aren’t going for us but against us
- “Faith comes from listening to the right stories.” – Michael Gungor
- God is Jesusy
- We are all broken and separated from God
- Through Jesus everything is reconciled to God
- God is for you not against you
- The gospel is that the resurrection changes everything, and every single person.
- I don’t care what you or anyone else have done in your life I care what Jesus has done for your life
- Love is at the heart of the universe
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What did you think of the deer story? What would be your “deer story” where things just get worse and worse? Have you ever felt like hurt or difficulty is just around the corner? What “stories” are you trusting? How can believing that love is at the centre of the universe change your life? How can you ensure that you never drift form that good news?
Discussion Questions for Families:
Today talk to them about how easy it is to get scared, to have fear drive us, or to believe that things wont’ get better. But share with them the passage that the heart of the universe is a God who loves us and is for us.
Challenge for the Week: Trust that God is for you not against you.
Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 5: The Walking Dead, Corpses and Dead Hearts
On Sunday we continued in our series realizing one key truth from Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees:
You can be good, you can be moral, you can even be religious and still miss the point
Our morality, and our religiosity is no guarantee that we are actually following the will of God. And this sounds controversial and challenging because it is. The Pharisees were moral, upstanding citizens, incredibly faithful and religious and missed the point. So we then as Christians need to take a hard look at our lives to ensure that we aren’t missing the point.
And we did that on Sunday through looking at one of the “woes” of Jesus. Jesus says this in Matthew 23, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
And while there is lots of contextual stuff going on here, here is the main point Jesus is making. Jesus is saying, you look good on the outside (like a tomb painted white) with all your good actions, but inside you are filled with death, decay, and disease. Jesus hits the Pharisees hard saying that while their outward actions are holy and good, their inner hearts are filled with impurity, hypocrisy, and lawlessness. That they may look good on the outside but inside it’s dark and diseases filled.
So rather than unpacking this theology more, I unpacked the reality of this more. I shared stories of how in my own life recently I’ve taken the right action, with the wrong heart. And how easy it is to be good, religious, and moral but miss the point. How right actions are not a guarantee of a pure heart.
And so we came to this point. We are all broken and need to acknowledge the places, areas, and parts of our hearts where we need Jesus. We cannot ever pretend we have it all so together that we don’t need Jesus. We need him, but we can use our religious activity as excuse to not allow him to challenge us, convict us, and shape us. So on Sunday we landed on this main point: we all need heart surgery. We all need Jesus to come in and cleanse our hearts, to convict us of our lack and brokenness and change us. The one thing we cannot do as Christians is to pretend we are so put together that we are no longer in need of Jesus and his cleansing.
So we closed on Sunday with a simple challenge. To sit and take a courageous moral inventory of the things that God might want to change in our lives. To sit and listen to the Spirit and what he might call out in us. Because while we might be moral and religious it’s no guarantee we aren’t missing the point. And the true point is that if we want to live like Jesus, we had better learn to listen to Jesus.
Big Idea: We all have junk within
- You can be good, you can be moral, you can even be religious and still miss the point
- Whitewashing was a signal that there was death within
- People who look like they have it together, but deny their need of a saviour, denying that anything needs to change
- It is so easy to hide behind religious actions.
- We all need heart surgery
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? When have you done the right thing, but inside things were off? Why do you think we can do the right things, but still miss the point? Are you willing to do a courageous moral inventory? Who can help you to ensure not only that it happens, but that changes happen.
Discussion Questions for Families:
Today do something tough – model what you want to see in your family. Sit down and share with your kids or family some of the ways that you have failed with them. Maybe times when your heart wasn’t right. And then talk to them about how it’s important that we be honest with ourselves and with God about where we failed, and that’s how God changes us. Model what you want to see – honesty, and courageously owning your own stuff.
Challenge for the Week: Take a courageous moral inventory
Mental Health Sundays: What Can We Do as a Community?
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.
Mental Health Panel and Discussion
On Sunday we are going to be continuing our conversation about mental health. This is a conversation that needs to be continued if we are going to break the stigma and exclusion surrounding it.
Last week we looked at some of the myths surrounding it, and this week we are going to be looking at what we can do as a community.
So to help us with this we are going to do something different, and have a panel of experts and professionals in the field share with us what we as a community can do to help in this area. And while we absolutely need professional’s care, expertise, and necessary work – we as a community are also needed. It is not enough for someone to find healing and stability with just professional intervention, people also need caring and supportive communities. So join with us to learn about mental health from professionals, and also what we as a community can do – to do our part!
So join with us to learn, and discover some next steps for us as a community.
Mental Health Sundays: Myths, Lies, and Mental Health
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!
Challenge for the Week:
Learn about mental health
Mental Health in Church
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.
The Resurrection Doesn’t eliminate Suffering
I’ve been preparing for a series on Mental Health that’s coming up. And I came across this one line from a book called Darkness is My Only Companion, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.
It just so resonated with me, and it’s something to sit and ponder because there is power in its simplicity.
Suffering is not eliminated by the resurrection but transformed by it.