apologetics, Discipleship, spiritual formation, Uncategorized

Monday Rewind: Beyond Meat

Too often the church argues about the non-essentials.

This is a recurring habit, as old as the first disciples. It’s also very human. You find it at the local coffee shop as the seniors in the corner banter about joint pain remedies. You hear it at the daycare as preschoolers debate – in heated battle – about the nuances of the rules of duck-duck-goose. We’re all pretty good at weighing-in on what’s trivial.

Here’s an example from antiquity. The church in Rome seemed entrenched in heated conflicts. For one, they had their own version of the “beyond meat” debate. Should you eat only vegetables or is bacon still on the menu? They also wrestled with the importance of holy days. Is it appropriate to observe sacred days or are all days essentially the same? Things must have been pretty intense for Paul to commit a large portion of his letter to this issue.

Paul summarizes his solution to the conflicts in Romans 14:17-19:

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Paul says that our priorities are disordered. When we focus too much on the non-essentials we lose sight of the big picture. We make mountains out of molehills. We elevate secondary or tertiary matters and put primary matters in a corner. The kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking – it’s about the life of the Spirit working in and through the people of God, producing righteousness and peace and joy. (And nobody puts primary matters in a corner.)

Paul also says that the kingdom life should be about building people up rather than tearing them down.

My father was a demolition and explosives expert. He made his money by destroying and blowing things up. He was masterful at demolition – but he was a lousy carpenter. I’m not overstating when I say I would be hesitant to sit on a bench if he built it. My point is that tearing things down and building things up are two very different skill sets. It is far easier to deconstruct than to construct.

We are living in highly polarized times. Ideologies are re-emerging and ideologues are rising. People are shouting at each other across the great divide but few are building bridges. It’s far too easy to label people as “conservative,” or “liberal,” or “snowflake,” or “fundamentalist,” or “millennial,” or “boomer.” And because of the impact of post-modernism, we have become adept at deconstructing other people’s positions. Sadly, we’re masterful at tearing them down but we lack the skillset to build.

In my late twenties, I spent two years studying undergraduate philosophy at a university. I swam in a sea of postmodernist deconstruction and developed the capability of ripping apart anybody’s worldview, including my own. But when you burn everything to the ground, what remains? Over time, I found myself spiraling down into disillusionment and nihilism (which, as it turns out, are symptomatic of our times). I decided that I didn’t want to live in a world of doubt and despair. I wanted to hope. To build. To create. This is one of the reasons why I left the academy and went back into the ministry.

Jesus invites us into a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. He’s calling us to something higher, something greater. What if the people of God excelled at building each other up? What if the world could see the beauty of the kingdom in how we live and how we love?

My prayer is that we would be a people who love each other fiercely, who sacrifice our preferences for the greater good, and who build each other up.

And may the world see the kingdom within us and through us.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Making Peace

Your roommate eats half of the meatball sub that you packed for tomorrow’s lunch. What do you do?

When somebody wrongs you, often your first instinct is to get others involved who aren’t part of the problem. Why do you do this? Let’s face it, most of us have insecurities and work hard at self-protection. So it could be your ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicking in. You might be looking for affirmation to prove that you are right. You could even be subconsciously attempting to build an alliance against the wrongdoer. In your more insidious moments, you might even be trying to destroy this person’s reputation. 

Jesus teaches us how to respond when someone personally wrongs us: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Mt 18:15, ESV).

The goal of confrontation should always be reconciliation, to “gain your brother.” Reconciliation means to re-align a relationship, to bring people back together. So the goal of confrontation shouldn’t be to shame the other person, to prove that you’re right, or to put them in their place. These shallow and shadow goals shipwreck relationships and never lead to reconciliation.

This is why Jesus taught that the starting point of confrontation is a personal and private conversation: “between you and him alone.”

So if somebody personally wrongs you…

Don’t go and blab about it to everyone.

Don’t tell your mother, your mechanic, your masseuse, or your meteorologist.

Don’t share it with the prayer team.

Or your BFFs or your BFAs.

Don’t post it, tweet it, or blog about it.

If they are not part of the problem, they are not part of the solution.

The moment you start talking to people who aren’t part of the problem, you are slandering or gossiping.

You are not acting in love. You are not seeking reconciliation.

A peacemaker will seek out the person directly in order to make things right.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

 

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Forgiving Is Not Forgetting

Peter once asked Jesus, “How often do I forgive someone who sins against me? As many as seven times?” The rabbis of the day taught that you only had to forgive a person three times. Peter may have felt he was being quite generous. He wasn’t a second-chance person or even a third-chance person. He was a seven-chance person. 

But Jesus’ response was as radical then as it is today. He said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Some versions even translate this as seventy-times-seven (which is 490 times…unless you’re into subjective math). This was a very Jewish way of saying that there should be no limit to the number of times you forgive someone.

God’s grace is boundless. He’s not a second-chance God or a seven-chance God. He’s a seventy-seven chance God. And if we truly follow Jesus, there should be no limit to our forgiveness.

Some believe that forgiveness is showing weakness but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Forgiveness is powerful. When somebody deeply wounds you that person has power over you. As long as you hold onto what they did, the wounds from that person will continue to dominate your life, colouring your perception and controlling your participation in relationships. They will stall you from healing and moving forward. When you forgive someone, you are engaging in a very powerful act. You are taking back control of your life, taking the power back from the person who has wronged you. You are saying, “I will no longer allow this to control my life.”

Forgiving someone isn’t condoning what they’ve done. You’re not saying what they did was okay and you’re not being passive about what happened. In fact, you are being active about what happened. You are acknowledging that something wrong has happened. Otherwise, there would be nothing to forgive. God forgives us but that does not mean he condones our sin.

A common misunderstanding is that forgiveness is forgetting. To forgive someone means to no longer hold them to account for what they’ve done. It means that you wipe the slate clean. But it doesn’t mean you forget. In some situations, forgetting what someone has done could be dangerous or destructive. If the person you are forgiving is toxic, dangerous, or abusive, you need to remember that. What happened should make you wiser about the future.

It is a huge theological misunderstanding to say that God forgives and forgets. You might wonder about verses that say, “I will remember your sin no more” (Isaiah 43:25). But these are misleading translations. The original language more accurately carries the idea of not bringing something to mind or not holding someone to account. The point is that God is not going to keep bringing up past sins. Besides, can an all-knowing, omniscient God really forget something? And keep in mind that at the final judgment, everyone will be judged according to what they have done. God forgives but he doesn’t forget.

Recently Rachael Denhollander released her book, “What Is a Girl Worth?” where she accounts her story of sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. This courageous step inspired two-hundred other women to come forward and testify against Nassar. In her statement to the court, Denhollander asked the question: “How much is a little girl worth?” She pleaded with the court to impose on Nassar the maximum sentence, “because ‘everything’ is what these survivors are worth.” She forgave Nassar but didn’t confuse forgiving with forgetting. “But we are here now, and today that message can be sent. With the sentence you hand down, you can communicate to us, to every predator, to every little girl or young woman that is watching — how much a little girl and woman is worth.”

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Sometimes a person will have to face the consequences for their actions, even when forgiven. These could be legal consequences. They may need to make restitution for what they did. And whether they pay or not, you can still forgive them.

We must forgive. Forgiving is not forgetting.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, Leadership

Honour the Emperor

It’s the morning after and many Canadians are suffering from a 2019 Election hangover. Nobody’s really happy with a minority government as it indicates progress for some, regress for others, and distress for anybody who wants to get anything done. As for me, I choose to be publicly non-partisan.

I was nudged this morning to consider that no matter who is in charge of my country, I have the opportunity to follow Jesus with gladness. In his first letter, Peter writes these words:

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.   (1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV)

How are we to relate to our government leaders? The general posture here is one of deference, which is mind-blowing when one considers who Peter is referring to. The leader of Rome at the time is none other than Nero. Peter likely wrote this letter just a couple of years prior to Nero’s public persecutions. He would blame followers of Jesus for the fire in Rome and launch his campaign of mass arrests, tortures, and public burnings. Nero’s decision didn’t come out of nowhere. Persecution was already escalating against believers when this letter was written.

Followers of Jesus are free. When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. We are free from the power and bondage of evil and corruption. Yet we are still servants of God. We have exchanged the tyranny of sin for a new Master who surrendered his life for us. And so, “for the Lord’s sake” (v.13) we are to live in glad submission under our government as God’s servants. Peter says this is how we serve our ultimate Lord.

I understand that this raises questions and potential exceptions. But the general posture still remains.

Fear God. Honour the emperor. And be glad it’s not Nero.

Discipleship, Leadership, Personal Development

Monday Rewind: Trust Accelerator

Trust is the accelerator in all relationships.

I’m not the first one to frame this concept. You can read about it in Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of TrustAll relationships move at the speed of trust. This includes our relationships with people as well as our relationship with God. Without trust, relationships move ahead as fast as a car spinning its bald summer times in a snowbank. (Yep, a shameless Edmontonian cultural reference.)

Trust in every relationship tends to move incrementally. We’re cautious creatures. So trust isn’t given automatically. It takes time to build trust. This includes every kind of relationship: friendships, work-groups, sports teams, marriages, even the political sphere.

You might remember the story of Paul in Acts 7. He began as a young religious zealot, dragging followers of Jesus from their homes into the streets and then putting them in prison. Then one day on the road to Damascus, he met the resurrected Christ. The encounter erased all doubt from Paul and several days later he was baptized as a new believer in Christ. Paul stayed in Damascus with the other disciples and began to boldly speak about the resurrection. He was so convincing that his fellow Jesus plotted to kill him. Paul had no alternative but to flee back to Jerusalem.

But now the church leaders in Jerusalem faced a dilemma. What were they going to do with Paul? It wasn’t long ago that he was beating and imprisoning them. How could they TRUST him? And here we pick up the story in Acts 9:

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

In this account, trust was gained incrementally. It didn’t happen automatically – it took time. Paul lingered in Damascus, proving that he was legit. Barnabas was his advocate, making time to convince the disciples that Paul was the real deal. If you’re going to build trust with others, don’t expect it to happen overnight.

Generally speaking, trust is gained slowly and lost quickly. One author writes that it’s like putting chips into a ‘trust bowl.’ As you build any relationship, you’re essentially putting trust into this bowl one chip at a time.

It’s always easier to break trust than to make trust. And there are lots of ways to break trust: making mistakes, not keeping your word, being a jerk-face, and so on. A sure-fire way to break trust is through betrayal. This includes things like cheating, stabbing someone in the back, destroying someone’s character, or a huge moral failure.

Betrayal is taking your bowl of trust, turning it upside-down, and dumping all the chips on the floor. Trust is lost and the relationship grinds to a halt.

Trust moves incrementally. It is gained slowly and lost quickly.

Which surfaces a really important question, perhaps the most important question in human relationships. Am I a trustworthy person?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

apologetics, Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Buffet Religion

Is it arrogant to believe in one truth? Can we say that any religion is more true or valid than the others?

A common assumption of Canadians is that religions are essentially the same and are each searching for the same outcome. As a result, if anybody says that one religion is more true or valid, they are speaking from a position of arrogance.

Because we homogenize our religious narratives, the result is we have essentially become religious pragmatists. In other words, we don’t ask whether something is true or not. Instead, we ask whether something works or not. If somebody follows a different religion, we’re very quick to say, “Well, if that works for you and makes you happy, then that’s all that matters.” Truth takes a backseat to function (and sometimes even fashion).

We’re also willing to mix-and-match components from the different religions to suit our personal needs. After all, if they’re essentially the same, why should it matter where you draw your truth from? The end result is we are now able to create our own customized religion that suits our interests or temperament. We approach religions like shoppers at the mall. This undercurrent of consumerism cannot be ignored. In the end, what we have is “buffet religion” or “build-a-bear” religion. And who doesn’t like smorgasbords, right?

You can see this religious pragmatism played out in the movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Ricky Bobby, played by Will Farrell, is a professional race car driver who’s rising to success. There’s this brilliantly funny scene where Ricky Bobby rolls his car in a professional race. When he’s pulled from his overturned vehicle, he’s so delusional that he thinks he’s on fire. He does everything he can to escape the flames. He  tries the “stop-drop-and-roll” technique. He strips to his underwear and flails his arms like…well, like a man on fire. When all else fails, he calls out for supernatural assistance.

His words have been quoted and remixed in hundreds of memes:

“Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jewish God! Help me, Allah! Help me, Tom Cruise! Use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off of me!…Help me, Oprah Winfrey!”

The irony is that Ricky Bobby is portrayed as a man who’s only vaguely religious. But when he’s in trouble, he reaches out to whatever god is available. The issue for him isn’t what’s true. The issue is what works.

This is our cultural religious landscape. So it’s not surprising that when Christ-followers claim that there is one truth, one God, or one pathway, people tend to get a bit uptight: “How can you say that? How can you make exclusive truth claims like that? Seems kind of arrogant…”

My goal here isn’t to answer these questions. If you’re curious, I’ve provided a link to a recent podcast where I do a deep-dive into this topic. You can check it out at the bottom of this post.

Instead, I’ll counter with some clarifying questions:

First, if we objectively look at the fundamental differences between the world’s largest religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism), can we really say that they are essentially the same?

Second, do YOU really think that all religions are equally true and valid? What about the Jonestown Massacre? What about the Branch Davidians under David Koresh? And the Ancient Ammonites who sacrificed humans (maybe even babies) on fiery altars?

Third, if you concede that some religions are not equally valid, haven’t you conceded that there are criteria for what’s in and what’s out? The moment you begin to insert criteria is the moment the pluralist position begins to fall apart. It becomes logically inconsistent.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

 

apologetics, Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Reasonable Cause

Everything which begins to exist has a cause. Or restated, everything is the result of contingency.

You exist, so that means you were caused by something. I’m betting it was biological procreation between two homo-sapiens. This means there was a point in time when you didn’t exist and then a point when you began to exist. But something CAUSED that to happen. It may have been influenced by dim lighting, a bottle of wine, and classic eighties love songs (feel free to insert your appropriate decade here). And then your parents got busy.

In the same way, your parents exist because they were caused by something, and so did their parents before them. You can follow these causes all the way back to the first humans. As it turns out, this causation is true of all things, both living and non-living. Everything that exists was caused by something else.

Things don’t come from nothing. Things come from something. You can’t say that something came from nothing. It’s a contradiction in terms. This is indisputable in the realm of science. It’s the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction. Science has never documented something that came from nothing.

So when we look at the universe, it can be understood as a linear regression of cause and effect relationships. In other words, you can trace everything back to a beginning. It’s what philosophers call the “first cause” or a singularity. Somehow, at one specific point, the universe began to exist.

The question is…where did this first cause come from?

Now, some have argued that the universe doesn’t need to have a beginning. Couldn’t we assume that the universe has always been, that there’s just an infinite number of cause and effect relationships rolling backwards, ad infinitum (or to quote Buzz, “to infinity and beyond!”)?

For much of history, it was difficult to dispute this line of thinking. But everything changed in 1929. Edwin Hubble made one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth-century as he scanned the skies through a 100-inch telescope. In layman’s terms, he affirmed that the universe is rapidly expanding. The implication is that it had a beginning, something that’s famously been called the Big Bang. If this is true, then the universe has not always been. There was a first cause.

Again, the question is…where did this first cause come from?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.